Fairer Sex, The: 3. Chapter Two: The Easterlings

Reader Toolbox   Log in for more tools

3. Chapter Two: The Easterlings

What Arwen knew of Far Harad was scant.


There was little reason for the daughter of Elrond to study the
race of men who gave their allegiances to Morgoth and following the banishment
of the dark lord to the void, to his lieutenant Sauron. The Eldar had learnt
long ago that whenever these dark powers chose to bedevil them with some form of
mischief, orcs or goblins customarily carried out their bidding. Sauron reserved
the armies of men under his sway for the periodic attacks on Gondor and all the
descendants of the Westernesse.


For years, Gondor struggled against the Easterling forces that
were composed of the Haradrim, the Balchoth Variags and the barbarians known the
Wainriders. Intermittent wars throughout the last thousand years kept the
Easterlings at bay and ensured that the rest of the western lands did not know
the constant battle that had become a way of life for Gondor.


It was due to this sacrifice by Gondor and all her sons, that
the Eldar had little reason to contemplate the Easterlings. To the elves, the
danger they posed was a human matter since the hearts of men were easily swayed
and they made allegiances easily. As the power of the First Born began to fade
from Middle earth, the elves withdrew from their affairs, allowing the race to
deal with its aberrant offshoots in its own manner. Indeed, until the War of the
Ring, there was very little reason to even waste time and effort thinking about
these swarthy skinned invaders since it was likely the elves would ever
encounter them.


However, the War of the Ring had changed Middle earth
significantly and for the first time, the Easterlings warranted some measure of
interest from the elves since they had played such a significance role in
Sauron’s offensive against his enemies. Unfortunately by this time, all
knowledge of the Easterlings and how they came to be was almost non-existent.
What was known of them was garnered from soldiers who had engaged them on the
field battle. These snippets of information did not however, extend beyond the
constraints of warfare and thus almost nothing was known of the Easterling
races, their language, their culture or their society.


Melia’s arrival into their lives had shed much needed light on
this mystery. Most who saw her had difficulty trying to place what race she
belonged to for she resembled neither the dark haired Gondorians nor the fair
Rohirrim. In Angmar, they guessed that she was from a distant place but could
not name her origins beyond that simple observation. Only those who were well
traveled had some inkling of where she had originated. Faramir who had fought
the Haradrim even before the siege of Gondor and the Battle of Pelennor claimed
that he and those who had fought at his side, had never seen an Easterling
woman.


However, it was from Melia that they learnt that battle was a
way of life for the peoples of the Easterlings. Morgoth and Sauron drove it into
their natures after him. From the moment they had existed as a race, the lessons
of the dark lords had been soaked into their skins, willingly or not. They knew
only what they had been taught and what they were taught was to embrace
destruction and to survive by conquest. Since their entire way of life was
forced into this singularity, all other aspects of their culture were duly
ignored. Learning was halted, exploration – non-existent, agriculture was
considered a weakling’s choice and society was locked in a void of stagnancy.
They fed themselves because of tributes and when that was not enough, they
conquered those who could. It was a deadly cycle endorsed by Baradur.


But Baradur was no more.


The might that they had known was gone and with the Reunified
Kingdom sitting on their borders, filled with seasoned warriors that had battled
more then just men, conquest was no longer a certainty. Without Sauron’s power
behind them, their strength had waned considerably. Unfortunately, for the
Easterlings, time had run out because they were paying the price for their
neglected social and economic structure. The price demanded was the unthinkable;
an alliance with enemies they had battled since the dawn of their existence in
Middle earth.


However, the unthinkable was surmounted because the men of Far
Harad were marching into Minas Tirith, led by their own king and queen, a guard
of escorts a hundred strong. They entered the city on chariots that were seen
only during battle before this day. The Far Harad were cavalrymen by nature and
as they rode through the streets of the White City, their weapons of spikes and
scimitars were held close. If not for the effect upon their hosts, they would
have entered Minas Tirith on their mumakils, instead of horses or on their feet.


The procession made their way through the city, under the deep
scrutiny of the Gondorian archers poised covertly on high towers flanking the
route taken or by soldiers, hidden in the crowds, disguised as common folk.
Despite the overture of peace, Gondor’s war masters were not foolish enough to
let down their guard when inviting such a formidable enemy past their gates,
even under the banner of peace.


Before they could near the Citadel, the Easterling soldiers
were led to barracks built specifically to accommodate them. During the
arrangement of this historic meeting, the king of Far Harad was most insistent
that he enter the White City with his personal guard at his side. In an effort
to show the man that this was a genuine offer of friendship, Aragorn had
consented but with a few conditions of his own. As it was, none of Gondor’s
military leaders were entirely thrilled with an armed entourage of a former
enemy being in the White City, let alone near the Citadel.


Once through the Citadel, the king and his existing entourage
journeyed past the High Court and the Place of the Fountain to reach the White
Tower from which the banner of Telecontari flew in its proud colours in the
breeze. The Easterling delegation was first allowed to refresh themselves after
their long journey while the household staff went about the business of
preparing the court of Gondor to receive them. In this, Arwen had taken personal
charge. As Elrond’s daughter, she had become quite accustomed to this duty,
having performed the service on numerous occasions for her father when she
prepared the Lord of Imlardis to receive his many visitors.


As customary, the visitors remained in the suite of rooms
prepared for them. Compliments were sent back and forth between the two kings
but no official meeting would take place until the delegation was presented at
court. Banquets and entertainment was prepared and though she was merely
directing the preparation, Arwen found it terribly exhausting. When it was all
said and done, she found a certain measure of satisfaction in knowing that her
labors had come to fruition without incident and that all was in readiness for
the historic meeting.


By later afternoon, the guests had rested and all was in
readiness to receive them in a ceremony that was as much for their visitors as
it was for the people of Middle earth. The lords and ladies of Middle earth were
now in their appointed places in the great hall, waiting for the chamberlain to
make the announcement that would begin the ceremony that many of them had
traveled so far to attend. Since Denethor’s time, the great hall had been shed
of its somber mood. To aid with the dimness of the room, new windows had been
carved through the stone walls, illuminating its wide aisles and giving greater
definition to the carvings on the tall black marble columns that extended toward
the ceiling.


Aragorn’s throne sat on the dais at the end of the room. It was
carved from marble with an ornate canopy and the figure of the White Tree set in
gems behind it. The queen did not possess a throne of her own but a place had
been made at his side, carved from marble and gilded with gold. However, it was
set apart from the king’s throne by more than an arm’s length.


As she stared at her husband in his kingly garments with the
crown of Gondor upon his head, Arwen could not deny how splendidly he wore the
mantle of king and how handsome he looked in all his adornment. Whether or not
he had seen her affectionate stare, Aragorn nevertheless turned briefly to his
wife and offered her a playful wink, reminding her that despite all this
fanfare, he was still her Estel.



At the foot of the dais, in a less ostentatious seat carved
of black marble, the Steward of Gondor also bided his time waiting for the
guests to arrive. Arwen stifled a smile as she noted how decidedly uncomfortable
Faramir appeared. The man might have been Denethor’s son, but becoming Steward
was never a part he had expected to play. Eowyn, who sat in the seats provided
for the other leaders of Middle earth, was offering her husband a sympathetic
smile, aware of how much he hated to take part in such ritual.


When the chamberlain announced the eminent arrival of the
Easterling entourage, Arwen and the rest of the occupants in the hall turned
their attention towards the great arched doorway. The doormen on either side of
it pulled open the polished wood doors, following a collective breath of
anticipation from the gathering awaiting the arrival of the guests. For a few
seconds, nothing transpired and the chamberlain glanced nervously over his
shoulder when suddenly, instead of the Easterling king and his queen, appeared a
troop of dancers. They were clad colorfully and performed a lively dance as they
made their way up the red carpet leading to the throne.


It was the first time any of the assembled guests, save Melia,
had ever been treated to any aspect of Easterling culture. The women wore veils
across their faces and the dance they performed was graceful and fluid, almost
elven in their execution. It was a sensual feast of acrobatics and coordination.
Exclamations of awe escaped the spectators as they saw the dancers leaping into
the air, landing with almost feline perfection. The dancers were adorned in
jewelry but it seemed to be a necessary part of the performance. Their clothes
were unlike any fashion seen by the Westernesse, with their midriff exposed and
the skirts of their garment little more than numerous lengths of soft material
trailing from their hips.


The dancers were midway down the hall when they were followed
by a small troop of acrobats wielding batons bathed in fire on either end. The
acrobats were men and in the performance of their display, Arwen noted that all
their limbs seemed to move in perfect synchronicity. She began to understand the
technique behind Melia’s style of combat. The Easterlings were smaller in
stature then the men of the Westernesse, their limbs were slender and compact
instead of muscular, thus requiring deft strikes instead of powerful ones. The
acrobats were able to use their legs like they used their hands and as the
batons flew about the air, creating spirals of color in mid air, they delighted
the audience to no end.


When the dancers had reached the foot of the throne, they bowed
graciously to the king and his steward before withdrawing to flanking positions
on either side of the carpet. The acrobats followed the same pattern, increasing
the anticipation of everyone present at the appearance of the Easterling lord
and his lady. Following the entertainers were the Easterling guards dressed in
their finest and carrying ceremonial weapons as they marched past the audience,
a prelude to the eminent arrival of their king.


Leading them was a general of Far Harad, an imposing man with
skin like carved mahogany. His dark eyes surveyed the faces before him,
committing them all to memory. He wore a band of animal hide across his
forehead. His black hair was short and crinkled tight against his head. He wore
a thick cloak of animal hide and carried a spike. At his waist hung the scabbard
of a scimitar, whose hilt was made of ivory and carved in the head of an eagle.
He bowed briefly before Aragorn because joining his troops who was standing
abreast of the carpet, their weapons held against their chest as the chamberlain
announced, finally, the arrival of their king.


When he finally made his appearance, the Easterling king was
not what anyone had expected, Arwen included.


He was surprisingly young. Arwen estimated that he was perhaps
a little older than Faramir for it was difficult to make any comparison against
Aragorn whose mortal span was greater than most because he was the Dunedain.
When Haradrim king strode into the great hall with his queen following two steps
behind, he captured the undivided attention of everyone by his striking
appearance. His coloring and hair was like that his general. However, he did not
seem to be as aloof and broke into a little smile when he regarded those
assembled before him. Upon his shoulders, he wore the cloak of an animal native
to his lands for none present had ever seen a beast with an orange pelt mottled
with dark spots. The hood of the cloak, which resembled more a headdress was the
great cat’s cured head, making its wearer appear almost as fearsome.


Still, as imposing as he was too look at, it was his wife that
captured most of the court’s attention.


Arwen had thought Lothiriel was fair but this woman had a
different kind of beauty that was far removed from the fragile loveliness that
Lothiriel possessed. The eyes of every man in the room were fixed upon her the
moment she entered it. With long black hair that shimmered when she moved, her
brown eyes of dark amber looked straight ahead, giving little attention to
anything else in the room. Her garments would be considered improper anywhere
else in Middle earth for her limbs and her midriff was exposed. The skirt of her
gown was slit all the way to her hips on either side and she was adorned heavily
with jewels where there should have been fabric. She looked sultry indeed with
her made up eyes and her reddened lips.


"King Elfrain of Haradrim, Gondor welcomes you," Aragorn spoke,
breaking at last the charged silence of the moment.


"We are honored by your invitation King Elessar," Elfrain
responded, his words sang with an unfamiliar accent and Arwen supposed the
spoken word of the Haradrim instead of their battle cries sounded very different
indeed. "May I present to you, my wife, Akallabeth."


"I welcome you lady," Aragorn regarded her for a moment and
then added, "Akallabeth - that is a Numorean word."


She did not answer at first, turning instead to her husband for
permission. Elfrain nodded slightly and only after this leave was given did she
raise her eyes to meet that of Aragorn’s.


"Yes," she answered, her voice soft and meek. "It means
downfallen."


Aragorn found the whole notion of the woman needing her
husband’s permission to speak rather demeaning and started to understand why
Melia had fled from the Sunlands if this was the kind of conduct that was
demanded of her by the men of that realm.


"I hope that it is not a literal meaning," he responded kindly.


"In the eyes of our people," Elfrain spoke, "all women are
downfallen."


"An interesting position," Aragorn remarked disagreeing
completely but the Haradrim’s traditions were their own, he had no right to
offer judgement. "I should like to talk more about this."


"Certainly," Elfrain replied graciously.


"This is my wife, Arwen Evenstar," Aragorn extended his hand
outward towards Arwen.


Arwen rose to her feet and glided across the dais, her head
held high and her eyes unafraid of meeting that of the visiting king. Her gaze
upon him was received with a hint of indifference as if he was merely tolerating
her audacity for the sake of the peace accord. Arwen wondered what he would say
if he knew that she was thinking the same in regard to his reprehensible control
over his wife.


Ulfrain stared at her a moment before turning his attention
back to Aragorn, "then it is true, your lady is one of the First Born."


"Yes," Aragorn nodded, surprised that such intelligence would
be of any interest to the Easterlings. "Arwen is the daughter of Lord Elrond,
formerly of Imladris."


"I have never met an elf before," Ufrain said with genuine
curiosity, "I should like your leave to speak to your lady about the First
Born."


"You may speak to me whenever you choose," Arwen spoke up
before Aragorn could answer.


Aragorn lowered his gaze as he smiled, amused at his wife’s
strength of will, coming to the conclusion that the next few days were going to
be very interesting indeed.


**********


Following the official introduction of the Easterling king and
his queen, the entire party moved into the banquet hall where a lavish meal had
been prepared for the all the guests. After Ulfrain had introduced his wife and
his war master, General Castigliari, Aragorn had presented the rest of his
court, starting with Faramir, as Steward of Gondor before moving on to the rest
of the leaders of Middle earth assembled for this gathering. Ulfrain seemed
genuinely interested in Arwen and Legolas, being the first elves he had ever met
while his wife, Akallabeth, remained silently and spent her time observing those
at the banquet table.


"Lady Melia," General Castigliari directed his question at
Melia when the evening had worn on and the Haradrim men had come to the
conclusion that it was socially acceptable to address the females at the table
directly. "You are not of the Westernesse are you?"


Melia supposed at some point in the evening, this observation
would be raised and had sufficiently prepared herself for the inevitable
questions that would follow. "No, I am from the Sunlands."


"From the Sunlands?" Castigliari exclaimed, drawing the
interest of his king and his queen to the subject as all eyes centered upon
them, much to Melia’s dislike.


"Yes," Melia nodded. "I am from the Tribe of Bors."


"The Bors," Castigliari nodded contemplatively. "You are a very
long way from where you began. Our people have waged war with the Bors for many
years."


"I left for reasons of my own," she replied, having no wish to
explain the details of her life.


"I am surprised you were permitted to depart," Ulfrain
retorted, with a hint of disapproval in his voice that she had dared to break
tradition by leaving on her volition it seemed.


"Melia has told us how women are confined to their homes,"
Legolas spoke up, compelled to defend Melia no matter what the occasion, "it
seems rather restrictive, if not somewhat cruel."


"It is for our protection," Akallabeth surprised everyone by
countering. "In the days of darkness, when we were forced to live under the rule
of the dark lord, his minions would walk among our people. They did many
terrible things to our women. It was decided that it was for our protection that
we remained hidden from their eyes and from the eyes of all men."


"But you, yourself are here," Eowyn pointed out.


"Yes," Ulfrain answered instead. "My lady is a queen and a
queen must take certain risks for her people. It is necessary for Akallabeth to
be present during these proceedings but we still observe the custom in our
lands."


"As it is your right of course," Aragorn added with a tone of
appeasement, before this debate became any livelier than it was. "We do things
differently here. Our women are accustomed to speaking at their own discretion
and sometimes picking up a sword to defend their homes."


"A woman in a battle?" Ulfrain laughed arrogantly. "Women do no
have the sensibility to endure in combat."


From where he was seated, Faramir threw a sidelong glance at
Eowyn and warned under his breath, "Eowyn, restrain yourself. They are
guests."


Eowyn glared at him through narrowed eyes, "you ask a great
deal of me."


"I know," Faramir said quietly, beneath the hearing of the
Easterlings. "But knowing your temper, it is for the best that you refrain from
making comment."


Eowyn smoldered in her seat and noted the grateful expression
Aragorn was offering the Prince of Ithilien for his timely instruction to his
wife whose temper Aragorn knew as well as Faramir himself. Fortunately, it
appeared that Eomer was not about to let that remark slide out of respect to the
women present. It was also an effort to gain some kind of vindication for his
sister whose own retort would not be as tactful.


"I beg to differ," Eomer spoke up, "the lady Eowyn fought at
the Battle of Pelennor. It was she who slew the beast of Angmar."


"You were the warrior that killed the Witch King?" Castigliari
stared at Eowyn with unmistakable astonishment.


"He was terribly confident that he could not be slain by mortal
man," Eowyn shrugged, remembering Faramir’s order and forced herself to respond
with civility, "therefore my presence at the battle was fortuitous."


"An amazing story," the general replied with a smile that had a
tinge of admiration in it. "It is customary for your women to learn the sword,
King Elessar?"


"Not customary," Aragorn answered, "however, we do not prevent
them if they wish to learn."


"And do you know sword craft, Queen Arwen?" Ulfrain inquired
with distaste by the whole notion of women bearing arms.


"I have learnt in my time," Arwen replied. "One cannot live for
as long as I have and not. While the First Born have not warred for many
centuries before the last war, we have known our share of troubles from orcs and
goblins. It is a necessary skill to have in the absence of warriors."


"Perhaps our own women will surprise us in time," Castigliari
commented. "With the world changing as it has in recent years, it is difficult
for things to remain as they are in our own lands."


"I cannot see any reason why they should not," Ulfrain
interjected. "I personally find it offensive for a woman to fight. Their use
should be as child bearers, nothing more. Certainly my queen’s only purpose in
the scheme of things is to produce a son for my continued reign."


"My father taught me how to fight," Melia found herself
speaking before she could stop herself. How many times had she heard the
arrogance of this same argument during her youth? The belief that women were too
weak for anything beyond the business of child bearing, as if that were not a
laborious task in itself. "He taught me to fight without a weapon and with
it."


"She does not lie," Gimli added, disliking the disregard for
the fairer sex being displayed. While he was mindful of Easterling customs, the
very idea of anyone thinking his Lorin weak or useful only a tool of procreation
offended his sensibilities. "I have seen the lady Melia with a crossbow and
would pit her skills against any man."


"Your father taught you?" Ulfrain turned a disapproving eye
upon her. "I suppose they do things differently in Bors. Perhaps that is why
they have been at odds with the rest of the Haradrim for so long."


"Actually," Melia confessed, "the Bors think much the same as
you do in regards to their women. However, my father was different. He felt the
daughter of Hezare should be capable of defending herself."


"You are Hezare’s daughter?" Ulfrain exclaimed with shock,
obviously recognizing the name.


"You know of him?" Legolas asked.


"Yes," Castigliari nodded without hesitation. "The tale of
Hezare’s death is of great legend among my people, even though he was considered
an enemy."


"He died well," Ulfrain explained for the benefit of those who
did not know Easterling culture. "For our people, there can be no greater honor
than falling in battle. It was said that during his last battle, he took a dozen
men to his death before he finally succumbed."


"A warrior to the last," Imrahil remarked.


"It was what he desired," Melia offered, having come to terms
with his death long ago and was somewhat pleased that Hezare had died exactly
how he had lived, on his feet with a sword in his hand. "I am grateful to know
that he went into the next world with honor."


With that statement, Arwen steered the conversation in another
direction, asking Ulfrain to tell them about Far Harad and the Haradrim, sparing
Melia any further indignity by having her past discussed as a subject of dinner
table conversation. Despite her efforts to accept the Easterlings for what they
were, Arwen could not help feeling a wave of dislike regarding their way of life
and wondered if they would be equally merciful if it were Gondor who was in
need. Arwen was almost certain they would not be. However, Estel’s desire to
make them allies would ensure stability in the region and any action that
prevented war had Arwen’s full endorsement.


The rest of the evening transpired smoothly with everyone at
their best behavior despite the nature of some of Ulfrain’s questions.
Castigliari was not as intrusive in his inquiries and while the sense that Arwen
drew from the general that the notion of peace was one that was foreign to him,
he appeared to be making an honest effort.


Of the queen Akallabeth, Arwen had no sense of anything at all.
On several occasions throughout the evening, Arwen had cast her gaze across the
table at Legolas, wondering if the elven archer had sensed the same things as
she, however Legolas seemed oblivious. Like all the men at the table, the only
thing that did not seem beyond his notice was the sinful pleasure of
Akallabeth’s effect upon them. Even Aragorn was stealing glimpses of the woman
in her scandalous clothing but his interest was the universal reaction of all
males when sensing a new female in their presence, whether or not they were men,
elf or even a much lower order of animal.


She should have felt jealousy but Arwen had too much faith in
Aragorn’s love to doubt his faithfulness to her and she was not so insecure in
character, to feel jealousy over what was merely an atypical male response.
Still, her instincts would not relax in their disquiet because she sensed
something from the woman that put her on guard. It was foolishness of course.
Akallabeth was powerless by her own culture to visit any mischief upon Arwen and
her own. Ulfrain clearly did not approve of allowing her to act upon her own
accord despite the furtive connection her eyes made with many parties at the
table during the course of the evening.


And yet when Arwen looked at Akallabeth there was this
unsettling feeling rising from the pit of her stomach that she could not
explain. It was foolishness, she knew but Arwen could not help it. One could not
live for three thousand years and be unable to recognize when something was
amiss. Yet, Arwen could not sense a single thing in Akallabeth’s company, that
might give evidence to her suspicions. In fact, Arwen sensed nothing at all
about Akallabeth.


It was almost as if she was not even there.


************


 


It was well into the night when the revelers finally ended
their feasting and retired to their rooms. Scattering across the expanse of the
palace, Ulfrain and his queen were escorted to their chambers by one of their
own guards. Neither spoke as they stepped out of the hallway into the seclusion
of their private quarters. The guard bade them a hospitable goodnight before
withdrawing himself, ensuring that his king and queen had everything they
required for the evening. The guard took his sentry position outside their door
and would remain there to ensure the protection of his sovereign. In an alien
land, in the court of a foreign king, Castigliari had insisted on this measure
of protection for his king and queen.


"That was tedious," Ulfrain stated the instant he and his queen
were alone in their chambers.


"I agree," Akallabeth remarked removing the jewelry that
adorned her body. "However, it served its purpose."


"I do not see how," Ulfrain grumbled, shedding his cloak like
the animal whose pelt he was wearing might shed its summer coat. The garment
pooled on the floor behind him before he went to a chair and lowered himself
into it.


"One must study the enemy if one is to strike," Akallabeth
replied. "Your race’s natural disbelief that the female of the species is a
weaker animal is a dangerous flaw. You discount them as enemies and are taken by
surprise when you learn that they are quite capable of defending themselves and
their lands. It was necessary that I observe all of our enemies, not merely the
kings and lord of Middle earth but also their women."


"What concern are they to us once your scheme comes to
fruition?" Ulfrain declared slighted by her tone.


"Never discount an enemy," Akallabeth said turning to him. "You
may think that because the odds are great and because they are women, they will
not be able to fight. Me and mine will not take such risk, nor will we discount
the danger that the Evenstar poses to us. We have done so before to the utter
ruin of everything we held dear. We will not do so again."


"This is different," Ulfrain started to say, fearing a little
the sparkle of bald hatred in her eyes. Long before this notion of sealing their
alliance in this ceremony of peace was conceived by the Gondorian king, Ulfrain
had already sealed his people’s fate in a secret agreement with the new ally
presently occupying the room with him. Not even Castigliari or any of his people
had any idea of the bargain he had struck to ensure their freedom.


"No it is not," Akallabeth countered, smoldering fury in each
word that escaped her lips. "You have done your part in this endeavor. You have
allowed us to enter Minas Tirith undetected. I require nothing further from you
but silence until our game is done. By the time the twilight sets upon the first
day of the treaty, you will have acquired what even your former master, the
underling of Morgoth could not, the taking of the White City."


"And what will you have?" Ulfrain stared at her, feeling a
shudder of cold fear following her venomous words.


"The dark," she smiled, "we will have the dark again."


 


*************


"I think that went well," Aragorn replied as he and Arwen
prepared for bed following their return to the royal chambers.


"I suppose," Arwen agreed as she undressed, unaware that this
was her husband’s favorite ritual at bedtime.


"You do not think it was so?" Aragorn asked as he draped
himself across their bed, watching her in fascination as she prepared to join
him. He knew the ritual almost by heart now, the little things she would do
before coming into his arms at night. He simply loved watching her shed the mask
of queen so that she could come to him as his beloved Undomiel who needed no
embellishment to make his heart flutter at the sight of her.


"They are a difficult people to like," she remarked as she ran
her brush through her hair before her dressing table. "Their concept of a
woman’s place is most barbaric."


"I agree," Aragorn replied sincerely, "unfortunately, there is
very little we can do about that. Their customs are their own; I have no right
to impose my values upon them. It was difficult enough convincing them that we
had no ulterior motive for providing them with the grain to help their people. I
am afraid that Sauron’s will upon them has left its mark. It will take many
years to change their way of life. I only hope that close ties with the rest of
Middle earth in the years to come will open their eyes to other
possibilities."


"I noticed yours were very open," she teased as she looked over
her shoulder at him, her brow arched in mischief. "Particularly where Akallabeth
was concerned."


Aragorn gave his wife a look, "I would not worry if I were you.
To admire a beautiful painting does not mean a desire to have possession of it.
I would not be a man if I did not notice her. She is very beautiful but somewhat
unnaturally so, do you not think?"


Arwen swung around on her stool to face him, "that is a
peculiar description, Estel. Why do you say unnaturally?"


"I do not know," Aragorn shrugged because there was something
in the back of his mind that wanted to speak but was clouded over and difficult
to express into words. "Undomiel, you are the fairest in the land, there is no
one in all of Middle earth who would say either wise."


While the flattery was not unwelcome, she did not understand
what he was point he was attempting to make. "What about Lothiriel?" She
countered,


"She is but a girl in compared to you," he grinned as he moved
up along the bed to its edge, so that they were face to face. "I meant that you
are truly fair but it is because of your heart that you are loved by all, men
and women alike. To know you is to see that the only thing more beautiful than
your visage is your soul. It is that I love more than all else."


"You do know how to melt my heart, King Elessar," she smiled
and leaned forward to kiss him on the lips.


"Only because you do me the same turn with your smile," he said
warmly before returning to the point he was making. "I make the distinction
because when I see Akallabeth, I see beauty but nothing else beneath it. It as
if she were a sculpture made of stone, created to be aesthetically pleasing but
little else."


"That may not be by her choice," Arwen pointed out, "she is
encouraged to be little else by her people. That is what the men of Harad expect
her to be. "


"I suppose," Aragorn remarked as he took her hands and pulled
her to him. "I wonder will she remain silent throughout their entire visit
here."



"Perhaps the time here will open her eyes a little," Arwen
remarked as she nestled comfortably in the crook of his arm as they held each
other. "Once this business of the treaty is done, we all relax and truly become
acquainted with one another."


"I never thought diplomacy could be such hard work," Aragorn
sighed, breathing in the scent of her hair and feeling himself become
intoxicated by the comfortable warmth of her embrace. "I do not know Elrond
managed it for so many years."


"He had his moments," Arwen sighed contently in her husband’s
embrace as she felt the same drowsiness pushed gently against her consciousness.
"However, when it became too much for him, my father did resort to an ancient
form of meditation and relaxation."


"Oh?" Aragorn asked interested. "Do not keep it a secret, if it
would help fade the crease in my brow, I would be willing to learn."


Arwen smiled against his and replied, "it is called
screaming."


Aragorn lifted his head just enough to meet her gaze before
remarking with a lopsided smile, "on second thought, do not trouble yourself. I
think I am familiar with that technique."


"I thought you might be," she giggled softly.


"I love you Undomiel," Aragorn replied as he covered her body
with his and showed her just how much.


************


 


Lothiriel had spent much of the night wishing she were in any
place other than in the banquet hall amongst the kings and lords of Middle
earth. Though the conversation throughout the evening was even interesting to
her, she had no desire to participate. It was not that she was being unfriendly.
It was simply the fact that everyone around her had lived through such great
times and she felt rather overwhelmed in their company. Despite herself, she
could not deny that her father had been correct. She had been living
inside books and spells for too long.


It seemed everyone at the table had gone out and found their
own destinies, instead of waiting for it to unfold before their eyes. Even the
ladies had not simply waited in complacence for their life to change. Arwen had
lived through times Lothiriel could not even begin to imagine and the queen was
not one to let the world pass her by. When her child had been endangered, Arwen
Evenstar, Queen of the Reunified Kingdom had ridden off to the far north to
defend him with her sword and her life. Lothiriel had not even the courage to
leave her room until her father gave her no choice.


When she left the banquet hall, retiring for the evening during
the thick of the feasting, she had sneaked away like a frightened child. It was
no wonder she was never able to perform the magic she knew she was capable of.


How could she when everything frightened her?


"You should not be wandering about the palace at this time of
night unescorted," a voice that was not her father’s stated behind her as she
left the hall.


Lothiriel paused in her steps and looked over her shoulder to
find Eomer standing behind her in the corridor. Throughout the evening, he had
barely said two words to her though he did glance her way occasionally.
Lothiriel felt uncomfortable being alone with him because she did felt an
unwilling curiosity to know what was behind that intense gaze he seemed to aim
in her direction when he thought he was not being observed. As he stood before
her, she was suddenly struck by the notion that he was just as uncomfortable as
she. It had never occurred to her that he might be just as unwilling as she
about this entire situation.


"I do not think I will be in great peril," Lothiriel found her
voice, though rather meekly. "This is the palace of the king."


"True," Eomer agreed with a little smile, "but I should like to
escort you to your suite nevertheless."


"I do not know whether my father would approve," she replied
before frowning inwardly at the fact that Imrahil would most likely be thrilled
that his desire for a match between them was beginning to show signs of success.
She despised her father when he thought he had won. He could be terribly
smug.


"I think we both know what your father would approve," he said
sardonically, placing himself at her side and ensuring a respectable gap lay
between them.


"Do you want to marry me?" She asked him pointedly as they
began walking down the wide corridor.


"I do not know," Eomer offered sincerely because such a direct
question deserved an equally direct answer. "I must confess my counselors have
been hounding me on this issue for some time now and as king I suppose it is
only right that I should marry. A kingdom without an heir is dangerous and my
people have known too much war of late for me to let them suffer such
uncertainty."


"So you do not want a wife but rather a breeding mare,"
Lothiriel spoke with more boldness than she thought herself capable.


"If I did, I would not be in the position of risking my
friendship with your father because of this whole affair. I would have simply
consented to the union he so obviously desires between us and be done with
it."


In truth, Eomer was not offended by what she had said but
rather surprised that she finally produced enough spine to say it. He had
watched her for the past two days and noticed how she tried to fade into the
background. He could not imagine a nobleman’s daughter could become so sheltered
that she was terrified to speak her mind. Eomer did not imagine Imrahil being a
restrictive father. On the contrary, the manner in which the man spoke of his
child indicated that he thought highly of Lothiriel and yet she was so lacking
in the skills of social interaction, Eomer had to wonder if Imrahil had kept her
in some tower for most of her life.


"I apologize," Lothiriel said after a moment, "that was
undeserved."


"Consider it forgotten," Eomer replied. "Though you might tell
me why he is so insistent that you be married. I have the sense that this is
more about you then it is about me finding a queen."


"He thinks I spend too much time hiding behind books,"
Lothiriel offered, confiding in him because he was as much a victim in this as
she was and Lothiriel was starting to feel some empathy towards him. "He wishes
to marry me off so my life might begin, so he says."


"That is hardly a crime that deserves you being married off at
a moment’s notice," Eomer replied, thinking it would be strange that Imrahil
would object to his daughter improving her mind with books. Imrahil was learned
himself. If anything, Eomer thought he would encourage it.


"It is the kind of books I read," she added reluctantly.


"Oh?" He raised a brow. "Not those awful things with overt
description about intimate relations between men and women?"


Lothiriel’s jaw dropped, "of course not!"


"There," Eomer replied with a smile, "I knew that there was a
voice somewhere there."


"There will be curses too if you make that comment again," she
returned tautly but broke into a smile of her own a moment later.


"So what then?" Eomer asked. "What kind of books would upset
your father so?"


Lothiriel supposed that there was no harm in his knowing.
Besides, if he knew the truth then perhaps he would tell Imrahil outright that
he would have nothing to do with her and that might put an end to her father’s
plans of marrying her off.


"Books of magic," she admitted quietly.


"Magic?" Eomer exclaimed, taken by surprise. Aside from
learning that perhaps she was not as vacuous as he initially thought, the girl
had personality enough to acquire a very peculiar hobby. No wonder Imrahil was
determined to wed her away. Eomer’s friendship with Gandalf the White had made
him accustomed to the ways of wizards and to a smaller extent, magic. Though he
did not like the invocation of powers he could not see, Gandalf had taught him
that it was not to be feared if used wisely. Magic was an untapped part of the
natural world that only a select few had access.


"Yes," Lothiriel nodded, fearing the worst by his reaction. "I
have always wanted to learn about magic and spells. I suppose you think me an
oddity as my father does?"


"Do you practice it?" Eomer asked, ignoring her preconceived
notions about his thoughts.


"Not well," she replied, supposing she might as well reveal
this to him, since she had told him so much already. No doubt, he was thinking
of what he would say to Imrahil about extricating himself from any possibility
of a marriage, even as he stood before her. "A good many of my spells have gone
awry. My father was most upset."


"I can well understand that," he pointed out, trying to stifle
the chuckle that wanted to escape him at the ordeal Imrahil must have endured
throughout the years, loving a child with such a mischief making past time. "He
was probably beside himself with fear that you might harm yourself or
others."


"He did mention that," Lothiriel shrugged. "I suppose that you
will tell my father now that you have no wish to marry such a strange
maiden?"


"Have you met my sister?" He gave her a look. "After having her
spar with me for most of our childhood with the sword, for me strange is a
matter of perspective."


"You mean you do not intend to tell my father you wish to
abandon the possibility of a marriage between us?" She exclaimed, uncertain
whether or not she should be upset with him or impressed at his open
mindedness.


"Not until I know you a little better," Eomer replied. "This is
our first real conversation. It will take more than this one occasion for me to
decide I cannot abide you."


She stared at him, "thank you, I think."


"Lothiriel," he said seriously as they finally reached the door
to the suite of rooms occupied by her and her father, "I will not be party to
forcing you into anything you do not wish. Your father may desire the marriage
but if you do not, then that is all there is to it. He is my friend and I do not
relish the insult I would give to him by refusing your hand in marriage but I
will if it suits neither of us. You need not fear being forced into it, at least
not by me."


Lothiriel found herself captured by that penetrating gaze and
believed with all her heart that he meant to keep that promise. He was so unlike
what she had expected. Prior to her arrival here, she had built in her mind the
illusion that he was some heartless creature that was forcing her into a prison
like existence she did not wish. This fantasy had allowed her to feel justified
in her decision to flee Minas Tirith, leaving behind all she knew. However, it
was not so easy to maintain now that she had met the King of the Mark and
discovered that he was not the monster she believed but rather a man with a
seemingly kind heart, caught up in this situation as helplessly as she.


"Thank you,’ she spoke after a moment debating these thoughts
in her head. "I do not know how it will all turn out King of the Mark, but I
will not forget your kindness."


"I am glad," he replied with a smile. "I bid you goodnight
lady."


With that, he departed, leaving her to watch him
contemplatively. Lothiriel turned away when she could not longer see him, her
thoughts had suddenly become a storm of emotions conflicting with one another.
She did not know whether or not she could marry Eomer of Rohan but for the first
time since her father had told her of his desires, Lothiriel realized
something.


Marrying the King of the Mark was still frightening but loving
him was not.


*************


The White Tower seemed to gleam like a needle in the sunlight
on the day the history treat was to be signed. After so many years of toil and
battle, when the folk of Gondor believed that they would never know anything as
luxurious as lasting peace, the people of Middle earth were about to enter a
union that would bring them to the day when war was merely a distant memory.
Despite the importance of the occasion, the actual signing of the treaty was a
private affair, with only the leaders of Middle earth in attendance at the great
hall. The celebration would come later, when the representatives of the king
made the announcement on the wall of the Citadel, to all the people of Minas
Tirith.


Throughout the city, all those who would rejoice at this new
peace were preparing the eminent celebration with great fervor. It was the same
within the walls of the palace as servants went about their duties, happily
chatting amongst themselves and looking forward to the celebration that they too
would have some opportunity to enjoy once their service was done. For many of
them, it was difficult not to be effected by the atmosphere of revelry, not when
they still possessed fresh memories of how Minas Tirith had almost fallen to the
forces of dark lord in Mordor.


The business of the treaty was a matter for men and as the
leaders of Middle earth, assembled in the throne of King Elessar; their ladies
busied themselves with other matters. Arwen was not offended because she knew
that their absence was a concession made to the Easterling king, who felt that
women should not be present in what was wholly a matter for men. Although
Aragorn had been prepared to argue the case in her favor, it was Arwen who
beseeched him to let the matter pass. After all, she knew her worth to her king
and she did not need him to prove it to her by insisting upon her presence when
it might jeopardize the peace that he had so carefully cultivated these past
months.



Eowyn who lived at the court of Rohan for most of her life,
was well aware of the demands of politics and did not take this as a slight
while Melia had no wish to be anywhere near Ulfrain at all. The Easterling king
had far too much interest in how she had come to be so far from the Sunlands
then the former Ranger found comfortable. She was more than happy to be excused
from the duty of being present.


Thus, Melia and Eowyn spent the day riding, with Nunaur
escorting two ladies. Arwen was certain that the march warden of Eden Ardhon’s
insistence on joining them had more to do with his curiosity about the White
City and the surrounding lands then to providing a suitable escort for two
ladies who were capable of fending for themselves. Arwen had wished Lothiriel to
accompany them but the young woman was nowhere to be found and Arwen suspected
that she was most likely hiding somewhere to escape the talk of impending
marriage. Arwen herself, would have like to have joined Eowyn and Melia but she
was needed at the palace for there was much to do this day and even the Queen of
Gondor had endure the occasional sacrifice.


There would be time enough to celebrate when the treaty was
signed.


***************


Aragorn Elessar had much reason to be proud on this day once
the ink had soaked into the parchment that made up the papers of the newly
formed alliance. As they shook hands and commended themselves at being able to
put aside past differences to build a new future, he felt for once the weight of
responsibility was not such a terrible burden when this was the end result.
Behind closed doors, Ulfrain and he had met, with Faramir, Legolas, Gimli,
Imrahil, Eomer and Castigliari bearing witness to they occasion as they each
cast their seal upon the scrolls that would return to each of their realms as
the proof of their alliance.


"You have been most hospitable Elessar," Ulfrain declared once
they had done away with the business at hand and were relaxing around the table
where the treaty was signed.


"You are my guest Ulfrain," Aragorn said graciously, "and while
you continue to remain in my kingdom, you will be treated as a friend."


"Thank you," Ulfrain bowed his head in gratitude. "I would like
to show you a token of my appreciation." He gestured to a servant who had been
allowed in the room to replenish goblets and see to the needs of the party
present. The young man, one Aragorn knew well, was apparently anticipating
Ulfrain’s beckoning and stepped forward promptly. He came forward with a curious
looking bottle and several goblets poised on a silver tray.


"This is a spirit of my realm," Ulfrain explained as the
serving boy began to pour the amber fluid into the goblets upon reaching the
table. "We use it to celebrate important occasions for it is rare indeed."


"Yes," Castigliari added. "It comes from the flower of a plant
that blossoms only once in seven years. The plant itself is rare so there are
very finite quantities of sektari, that is what we call it, in existence
anywhere."


The servant offered the men at the table a goblet each of the
sektari once it was poured and Aragorn took a exploratory sniff and found that
it had some measure of potency. "A good reason to imbibe it so
infrequently."


"I am always eager to try different kinds of spirit," Gimli
remarked but did not hold the goblet to his lips, not yet.


Ulfrain noted their hesitation but did not take offense. If
anything he had half expected their hesitation. After all, poison was a very old
way of removing a political rival and Elessar would have been within his rights
to employ a food taster in such a situation. However, to allay the fears of
everyone present, despite the mood of supposed goodwill, he raised the goblet to
his lips and took a deep swallow. Castigliari followed suit and only when both
the Easterlings had lowered their goblets, did the Westernesse of Middle earth
partake from their own.


"A very distinct flavor" Faramir remarked after a moment as the
fluid warmed his insides.


"Yes," Legolas nodded and his senses were far keener than those
present. "It leaves something against the tongue."


"It does take some becoming accustomed to," Castigliari
volunteered politely. "This vintage however, does seem a little different from
what I have tasted before."


"How so?" Aragorn asked. Despite himself, the king could not
deny his healer’s instincts who was curious to know the effects of any
concoction, mostly because he had acquired a vast knowledge of herb lore during
his time as a Ranger and employed them often when healing the sick or
injured.


"If there is fault in it, I cannot taste it," Eomer remarked,
draining the goblet because its contents were so pleasing to the taste.


"Yes," Imrahil agreed with a nod, having in his time,
experienced a great deal of fine spirits and found none that could compare to
the texture of this one. "It is truly magnificent."


Castigliari stared at the men before him and noted that they
were enjoying the drink a little too much for his liking. Even the elf, who
apparently had little stomach for hard spirits, had downed the contents of his
goblet and was reaching for the bottle for more. King Elessar was somewhat dazed
but he appeared to have as little restraint as the others when he wrestled the
bottle away from the lord of Eden Ardhon and filled his own goblet with almost
ravenous need.


"What is going on?" Castigliari turned to Ulfrain in question
and saw his king, unaffected by the wine.


Aragorn heard Castiglari’s demand but he could not open his
mouth to respond. Suddenly, he felt as if he were trapped in amber, with
everything slowing to a snail’s pace around him. Castigliari’s words became
slurred in his hearing and he noted Legolas dropping his goblet onto the table.
It seemed as if the chalice took a long time to reach the polished wood before
it finally landed and rolled onto the floor. Legolas was staggering and his
words reached Aragorn’s ears as a muffled sound. He saw Faramir trying lowering
his goblet, eyes flaring in understanding before the fog overtook him too. Gimli
was trying to stand up from his seated position but could not quite manage it.
Eomer had actually succeeded in leaving the table but he did not reach further
than that before he was driven to his knees. Imrahil had already given up in
defeat.


"What have you done to us?" Aragorn shouted but the sound came
out of his mouth in a whisper.


Suddenly, what had appeared to Aragorn as the servant boy he
knew since coming to reside in the palace, was no longer a boy at all but rather
something else entirely. Whether or not it was because of the wine or some power
Aragorn could not discern, the boy’s features seemed to melt away and was
usurped by a was a decidedly feminine replacement. It took Aragorn several
seconds for him to recognize her.


Akallabeth stood before him, her lips pulled across her face in
a cruel smile as she regarded him and the effects of the sektari upon him. When
she spoke, her voice was slow but he understood every word of it.


"Now that you are in a better frame of mind to listen," she
smiled coldly, "it is time we can discuss our treaty."



This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Scribe

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/07/03

Original Post: 04/03/03

Go to Fairer Sex, The overview

Comments

No one has commented on this story yet. Be the first to comment!

Comments are hidden to prevent spoilers.
Click header to view comments

Talk to Scribe

If you are a HASA member, you must login to submit a comment.

We're sorry. Only HASA members may post comments. If you would like to speak with the author, please use the "Email Author" button in the Reader Toolbox. If you would like to join HASA, click here. Membership is free.

Reader Toolbox   Log in for more tools