2. Beat all your Feathers
Beat all your feathers as flat down as pancakes. - Thomas Middleton (1580–1627) - The Roaring Girl. Act i. Sc. 1...
Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain
With grateful thanks to Raksha
Éomer watched anxiously as Lothiriel waddled to the couch. She rubbed her back and grimaced. "Are you well, my love?" he enquired. "Shall I send for a healer or the midwives?"
She smiled at him reassuringly. "It is nothing, just another twinge in my back like I have been getting for some weeks now."
When Lothiriel sat down, Éomer fussed around her, putting a cushion at her back and a shawl around her shoulders. How he had grown to love this gentle lady who had become his Queen! Never had he expected that he would find true love in his marriage.
As a young man, Éomer's heart had quickened at the sight of the many lovely women at his uncle's court, but there had been no time for romance. He had been far too concerned with fighting the bands of Orcs that threatened their lands as well as thwarting the Worm who wanted to ravage his sister.
Once the War was over and he became King, he knew that he needed an heir and started to look for a suitable wife, seeking the same qualities that he would in a horse: a woman who moved well, had good teeth, and was fair to look upon.
He assumed he would choose from amongst the womenfolk of his Marshalls or Captains. Many of them had daughters or sisters with good childbearing hips. There was a problem, though. Once he chose one, the others would most likely be gravely offended, or so Éowyn warned him!
Then at the feast Aragorn held to welcome him back to Minas Tirith after the war, he had been seated next to a quiet dark haired beauty. He soon learned that she was Lothiriel, daughter of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth and cousin to his sister's then bridegroom to be, Faramir.
He had danced with the lady and made polite conversation. He then forgot all about her, until a letter arrived from Imrahil suggesting her as a suitable match. It seemed a good idea; he needed a wife, was not in love with any other lady, and the alliance would further strengthen the ties between himself and Gondor. After consulting with Aragorn and being assured that the lady herself had no objections, the arrangements for the marriage went ahead much to the sorrow of every unmarried lady in the Riddermark.
The day before the ceremony, however, he had started to have reservations. The maiden from Dol Amroth looked so fragile and slender compared to his own countrywomen. She seemed as highly strung as a nervous filly facing her first mating. Matters had gone from bad to worse when the conversation had turned to night attire and Imrahil had asked whether he preferred linen or silk nightshirts. Éomer had replied, "neither", as he preferred to sleep in his skin when it was warm enough.
The Prince had been deeply shocked and warned his gently reared brought up daughter would be horrified should her bridegroom dispense with night attire. Éomer was forced to borrow such a garment from a highly amused Aragorn. His friend told him that wearing such was indeed the custom of Gondor. Still, the marriage contract was signed and Éomer had no wish to offend his powerful allies from the South. He was duly hand fasted to his nervous bride. The borrowed nightshirt had its uses as Lothiriel laughed when her bridegroom tripped in the overlong garment when he approached the bridal bed. He had laughed with her and rejoiced she seemed more at ease with him.
Éomer had tried hard to be a gentle and considerate husband and found his bride pleasant and dutiful during the first weeks of their marriage. Soon afterwards, though, he had received Éowyn's ill- fated letter and rushed off to Gondor, leaving Lothiriel and his Marshals in charge of his realm during the cursed fight and weeks of convalescence in Minas Tirith that had followed.
Éomer had feared two things more above all others during that time of enforced idleness: that he would not be able to ever ride again and, worse still, that he would not be able to sire an heir to the Mark. Then, as the weeks had passed, Éomer had realised he missed Lothiriel more and more. He had thought long of her gentle voice, her shy smile, her dignity and her grace.
When he had finally been returned home, she had run to meet him; her lovely eyes alight with joy. After that, their union had been enjoyable and enthusiastic rather than merely dutiful and not long afterwards Lothiriel had announced that the longed for heir was on the way.
Éomer soon realised, though, that he was terrified of losing her and her presence beside him meant far more than a son, however much desired.
He had written to his sister for advice. Éowyn had replied promptly, expressing regret that she could not leave Faramir while his spirits were so low following his then estrangement from Aragorn. Éowyn had suggested that Lothiriel needed experienced and trusted women surrounding her. She had recommended Dame Ivorwen, a skilled midwife from the Houses of Healing in Minas Tirith. Old Hild, who had helped deliver him and Éowyn in Aldburg when she was but a young lass, would assist her.
Éomer had also brought Alis, Lothiriel's maid from before her marriage back with him when he had last visited Gondor, hoping it would help Lothiriel to have a familiar face at her side.
Still, Éomer fretted. Finally, he had penned a missive to Aragorn begging him to come. He trusted his brother King above all others and felt with him nearby, surely all would be well. He had been a fool not to write to him weeks ago, but had never guessed he would feel the way he did as the time for the birth drew closer. He wanted everything to be just right for Lothiriel when she gave him his heir.
"I have put you together in one of the guest chambers," said Éomer, drawing the two friends aside when it grew late. "I thought you would prefer to be away from the men in case you are still troubled by nightmares."
"Thank you, that is very thoughtful," said Aragorn, though he felt it would have been unlikely that either he or Faramir would be troubled in the large, well-lit hall. Still, he valued his privacy, as did his Steward.
"Lothiriel is tired, so we will leave you now," said Éomer, "I bid you good night, my brothers." Thus saying, he embraced Aragorn and Faramir in the Rohirric fashion by clasping their forearms. Lothiriel kissed her cousin on the brow and clasped Aragorn's hand before retiring to bed with her husband.
"Come, my lords, I will show you to your chamber," said a serving maid. She led the two men to a small chamber leading off from the great hall. Several candles illuminated the room, which was dominated by a bed, decorated with elaborate carvings of horses. There was also a washstand, on which stood two bowls of steaming water, and a chest, on top of which lay Aragorn and Faramir's packs. There was a large fireplace, but no fire was laid in the hearth.
"We don't usually light bedchamber fires until November; save in the Queen's bower," the girl explained," Éomer King said you were to tell me if you wanted one."
Aragorn and Faramir looked at each other. Both shook their heads, neither wishing to appear less hardy than their hosts.
The girl bobbed a curtsey and took her leave.
Aragorn and Faramir began to prepare for bed, rummaging in their packs for their night attire.
"Lothiriel looks sad," said Faramir, splashing water on his face.
"I expect she misses her family and is nervous about the birth," said Aragorn. "I only wish we could have brought our wives to visit her. I believe ladies need each other at such a time. Like Arwen and your lady, she suffers from having no close kinswoman at her side."
"Motherhood should make her contented," Faramir mused. "Éowyn is never happier than when she is with Elestelle." He dried his face and walked over to the bed, where he had placed his nightshirt and began to undress. "It is so cold in here!" Faramir exclaimed, as the air touched his skin. "I am used to it when camping out, but after the warmth of the great hall, it comes as something of a shock!"
"Sleep in your clothes then," Aragorn suggested. "I shall and I am hardier than you. Rohan is chilly in October. Just look at you, you are already covered in goose bumps; put your shirt back on before you catch a chill!"
"That is not fair!" Faramir protested though he hastily re-donned his recently discarded clothing. "You are more than twice my age, yet you never seem to feel the cold!"
"That is because I am a hardy northerner, not a soft southerner like you," Aragorn said smugly.
Faramir's only reply was to throw a pillow at him.
Aragorn caught it then laughingly threw it back, thinking absurd though a pillow fight was for two men of their age and status, their exertions would soon warm his Steward up. He still fretted over Faramir's health after the Steward's recent misadventure with one of Shelob's kin.
Faramir ducked nimbly, only for the pillow to catch the corner of the washstand and burst, showering them both in a cloud of goose feathers.
"We had better send for the serving maid," Aragorn said ruefully. "We can ask for a fire at the same time."
"Éomer will never let us hear the last of it if he gets to hear about it," Faramir groaned. "How the servants will laugh. They will think us both soft and childish!"
"Well, we can try clearing them up if you prefer," Aragorn replied. When Faramir nodded his agreement, he picked up the younger man's nightshirt, tied up the sleeves and neck, and started to stuff it with the feathers. Faramir helped him crawling round on his hands and knees and scooping up handfuls of feathers. They got up his nose and he started to sneeze, sending them flying again.
"I have never seen so many feathers in one pillow." Faramir finally managed to speak between sneezes.
"Rohan is famous for its goose quilts and pillows," Aragorn explained. "Éomer sent some to Arwen and I for a wedding gift. I can still remember how much we laughed we got into bed and sank into all the feathers." Faramir was sneezing again too much to comment. "Let me do that, or your sneezing will rouse the household! It would not surprise me if our wives can hear it in Minas Tirith!"
"They probably hear your snoring too in a few minutes!" Faramir retorted, blowing his nose.
"If any of the silver trumpets break, we could always ask you to blow your nose instead!" Aragorn teased, pushing great handfuls of feathers into the nightshirt.
"Why you…" Faramir sputtered. He sat on the bed and started to take off his boots, his expression suggesting that he might be thinking of throwing one at his lord.
"Peace, ion nîn, I was but jesting," Aragorn soothed. "That will have to do." He climbed into bed and pulled the covers round himself.
"You still have your boots on. Whatever will Arwen say if she finds out?" Faramir chided.
"I wager you will be wearing yours in a few minutes too," Aragorn said enigmatically.
"Whatever for?" Faramir asked, climbing into bed. "I want to sleep, not go for a walk." He stretched out his long legs only to find that his feet extended several inches over the edge.
"The Rohirrim are shorter than we are," said Aragorn. "So why would they need long beds? I remember it well from my time here serving King Thengel, but I never said anything, as why should a special bed need to be made just for me? The answer to the problem is simply to sleep in your boots."
Sighing, Faramir climbed out of bed again and pulled on his boots again. "Next time, Éomer needs some company, Éowyn can come here instead!" he grumbled. "I wish we could stay with our guards in the main hall." he sighed, thinking enviously of the warm fire they were all huddled around.
"So do I, but it would insult Éomer if we appeared less than pleased with the room he has given us. But where, save in Rohan, could you experience such fine mead and such nice feather quilts?" Aragorn replied.
"Or be so cold!" Faramir retorted.
"I am warm now under all these feathers," Aragorn replied with a yawn. "Just pretend we are camping out of doors."
"You are always warm," Faramir replied. " I wonder how Éowyn survived here; she always has cold feet. Even in summer in Minas Tirith."
"Bed socks," Aragorn mumbled, already half- asleep. "Everyone wears them here."
Faramir was about to enquire how Aragorn was so certain but the King was already snoring loudly. Sighing, the Steward decided that he could at least try to get warm before waking him. He settled down beside the one who had become both father and brother to him, burying his ears in the thick goose down pillows, and deciding they had their uses after all. Unfortunately, Aragorn's snoring was very loud and his nose was still tingling from his earlier sneezing. The sensation grew worse and the Steward gave a loud sneeze followed by another and another.
"Your sneezing is keeping me awake!" grumbled a suddenly wide- awake Aragorn.
"So is your snoring!" Faramir retorted. "It is a marvel that your lady is not deafened by it!"
"Remember, if were sleeping in the Hall, you would have to contend with a good many snoring Rohirrim. Arwen never complains about my snoring," Aragorn informed him. "Neither does she sneeze!"
"What never?" Faramir found this somewhat hard to believe.
"Well hardly ever," Aragorn conceded. "You have feathers in your hair. Maybe they are making you sneeze."
"Where?" Faramir enquired, sitting up abruptly.
"Let me get them or you will only sneeze again," Aragorn said in his most fatherly manner, retrieving the offending objects swiftly and stuffing them in his pocket. "Try to sleep now. The Rohirrim rise at dawn, so we must take our rest while we may. "
"I know, Éowyn is always up with the lark even after three years of marriage," said Faramir thinking it would be pleasant if she lingered at his side after dawn. The bed always felt so cold and empty without her. He lay back against the pillows again and this time, exhausted by both the sneezing and the journey, fell asleep. If Aragorn snored again that night, Faramir was oblivious to the cacophony.
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