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"I cannot find Laurea. Have you seen him, Uncle Faramir?" asked Elbeth. She looked around anxiously. "I wanted to feed him before the guests arrive."
Faramir shook his head. "No, Elbeth. I have not seen your cat since breakfast. I expect he is enjoying the sunshine out of doors."
Elbeth sighed and glanced down at the elaborate gown she was wearing. "I would much rather be outside on such a lovely day as this! If only we could go on a picnic with the little ones."
"I wish so too," the Steward said ruefully. "Entertaining visiting dignitaries is the price we pay for our rank and privilege, though. Before the ambassador arrives, I will help you look for Laurea. He cannot have gone far. Let us look in the solar."
It pleased Faramir how devoted Elbeth was to the ginger tomcat. She had first taken a liking to him when he was a scrawy kitten living on a farm and had remained inseparable from him. The once tiny kitten had grown into a large tawny cat with a mischievous and lovable personality. "Look, there he is!" exclaimed Faramir, spotting the cat curled up asleep on the couch, his ginger stripes merging with the floral pattern on the cover, making him near impossible to spot.
"Come on now, Laurea!" said Elbeth, gently stroking the cat's head as she spoke.
The cat yawned, revealing ferocious looking teeth that had been the nemesis of many a mouse, then slowly sat up and stretched. Before Elbeth could pick him up, he had sauntered through the open door into the dining room, which was set ready for the King and Queen, together with the Ambassador from Rhûn and his attendants to dine.
Seeing something new that demanded his inspection, Laurea took a flying leap up on the table, landing amidst sparkling glasses and finest china. Elbeth reached out to grab him.
"No!" cautioned Faramir. "He is more likely to break something if we attempt to catch him. It is best if he comes down on his own." He called the cat's name. Laurea blithely ignored him and continued to daintily navigate the tableware with the skill of an acrobat. Faramir and Elbeth watched with baited breath.
Just then, a servant walked past the open door with Eldarion's spaniel puppy Nimrodel on a leash. The pup caught sight of Laurea and broke loose from the grasp of the surprised servant. Her leash trailing and barking frenziedly, she leapt up on the table in hot pursuit of the frightened cat. Glasses, plates, and cutlery were swept from the table with a deafening crash, while Faramir, Elbeth and the servant looked on in dismay.
Faramir lunged and grabbed hold of Nimrodel's trailing leash. Meanwhile Laurea had retreated to the top of a cupboard where he sat washing his whiskers and regarding the company with an air of supreme disdain.
"I'm sorry, my lord," stammered the servant.
"Return Prince Eldarion's dog to the kennels then go and find someone to clear up this broken glass and crockery," said Faramir, handing the leash back to the red-faced man. "You will return to your duties in the gardens and no longer have care of the Prince's dog since you obviously cannot control her."
"Yes, my lord, at once, my lord." The servant scurried away with a dejected Nimrodel trailing behind him, her tail between her legs.
"Whatever is Éowyn going to say?" said Faramir. He sat down heavily on the couch and sighed." However we shall we entertain the guests now?"
"What has happened?" called Éowyn. "I heard a crash just then." She appeared in the doorway together with the King and Queen. "Lord Bema protect us!" she cried on espying the carnage.
"Nimrodel chased Laurea," said Elbeth. "It wasn't poor Laurea's fault. He was scared."
"We should quickly change into our riding clothes," said Aragorn.
"Go riding?" exclaimed Éowyn. "Men! How can you think of such a thing when the best crockery is ruined and the guests are expected any moment?"
"The Men of Rhûn know little of our dining customs," said Aragorn. " I know something of theirs', though. When I travelled through their lands many years ago, I learned that they like to entertain their guests out of doors. The dining room is unusable, but the food is untouched. We can ask the cook to prepare a picnic for our guests. The children can come too with their nursemaids."
"An excellent suggestion!" said Éowyn.
"I will send to Minas Tirith for some of our state crockery and glasses to be sent here for you to borrow," said Arwen. "They should be here by this evening if we have a late dinner."
"I never did like those plates," said Faramir surveying the remains of the official dining ware of the House of Stewards. "Would it please you, Éowyn, if we chose some new ones together?"
The Princess of Ithilien nodded, already envisioning plates decorated with images of white horses frolicking beside the White Tree. "Elbeth, take your cat to the nursery. In future he is not to come downstairs when important visitors are expected."
"Arwen and I enjoy Laurea's company, so be sure to bring him down when we visit," said Aragorn. "I think he has perhaps done us a favour. I would rather be outside on such a fine day!" He stroked the cat as Elbeth carried him towards the door. Laurea purred loudly.
"How thoughtful of you to entertain us according to the custom of our lands," said the Ambassador from Rhûn. He contently sat cross-legged on the grass beside Aragorn and Faramir. "Our ruler will be happy to allow more trade between our peoples in future."
"We are honoured that our hospitality pleases you," said Aragorn graciously.
"Let us drink to our peace and prosperity!" said the Ambassador.
"To peace and prosperity!" Aragorn and Faramir echoed.
"It delights me to meet your families and such a perfectly behaved dog," the Ambassador continued.
Aragorn stole a glance towards the next field where the children were playing with Nimrodel. He exchanged a knowing wink with Faramir.
A/N I wrote this a few years ago for the prompt "Table" for the AA Group since when it has languished forgotten.
Laurea, as yet unnamed, first appears in "Web of Treason". Nimrodel first appears in "Partners in Crime".
Laurea – = like gold in Quenya
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