57. A Pot of Tea
When I woke, it was evening. The first silver stars were shining in the eastern sky, and the setting sun was obscured by dark clouds. My head was aching and my eyelids were swollen and itchy from the salt of my tears.
Mithril was grazing peacefully a few feet away.
Then the memory of last night came back to me, and I promptly started crying again. How could he think that I had tried to deceive him? How could he think that I had lied to him?
Oh, if I only had kept quiet! If I only had not listened to Éowyn!
If you had not told him yesterday, but waited until after he asked you, how much better do you think the conversation would have gone?
Back was the voice of reason ridiculing me at the back of my mind. I clenched my teeth and hit the grass with my fists. It did not help. I still felt like my heart was breaking. Only now my hands were aching, too, and were covered in greenish-black spots. I gulped down my tears.
I rose to my feet and walked over to Mithril.
"Oh, Mimi," I whispered and leaned against her, rubbing her back. The horse snorted softly, looking at me with her calm eyes, as if she understood exactly how I was feeling. I sighed deeply. Then I unsaddled Mithril, brushed her coat with the saddle blanket and cleaned her hooves with a small branch. Afterwards I went down to the river and splashed some water in my face and drank a few handfuls of the cool, clear water of the mountain stream. Then I saddled Mithril and let her run again.
I let her run through the night.
But even though the beautiful Meara was fast as the wind, she was not faster than my thoughts. And my thoughts were bleak. It had only been a dream. A beautiful, beautiful dream, but only a dream. Only a dream. I had never believed in true love or love at first sight anyway.
We were just too different. I could never be a queen. In real life such things never happen anyway. That's stuff for fairy tales and fantasies. He should marry someone like the dead Lothíriel. A lady of noble birth. A virgin. Someone who would never keep anything from him.
I should have told him, I thought bitterly. I should have told him at once.
But the time had never been right!
Oh, and yesterday evening it had been right?
But I am not a whore.
I am not a slut.
I was glad that I did not need to cross the bridge over the Ethring river. I left the road a mile or two before the bridge, giving the guards of the bridge a wide birth. I only returned to the road quite a bit south of the bridge and was very grateful indeed that no one was on the road at this hour of the night. I rode along the banks of the Ethring like a shadow, swift and barely visible in the night.
As I galloped towards Tarnost, another dawn was colouring the eastern sky. And a dawn of pretty colours, too; as if to spite me. I did not want to stop. I wanted to keep running, I wanted to escape those painful words and accusations, the feeling of failure. But Mithril was getting tired, and I had not had anything to eat or drink for a day.
"A message for Mistress Sorcha," I called out to the guards; Tarnost was a small town, they would know her. And they did. I could see a hint of surprise and unasked questions in their faces, but they let me pass. This time I rode Mithril up into the city.
I knocked at Sorcha's door, afraid she would be gone, afraid she would not let me in. But she opened the door and even smiled at me. "You did not have to come, Lady Lothíriel. I know he's dead. The messenger came only a day after you had left."
"I'm so sorry," I managed to say. "I'm so sorry."
Then I started sobbing.
"Tomil, would you see to that horse!" Sorcha called out to a small boy who was standing nearby and gawking at the strange lady crying on the Mistress Sorcha's doorstep. The boy eagerly came forwards. Mearas do that to a person. You fall in love with them at first glance.
And their riders, too, I thought bitterly, remembering how beautiful Éomer had looked, up on his Hiswa.
"Now, come in and tell me what has happened to you, Lothíriel." Sorcha led me into her kitchen. She sat me on a wooden bench, much as you sit down a child that has fallen and scraped a knee. She poured me a cup of hot tea and put a large spoonful of honey into it, and another cup without honey for herself. Then she sat down on a stool next to me and looked at me with worried green eyes. "Now, tell me."
I started at the end of the story, which promptly made me cry again, then I tried the middle, got lost, cried again and started again, only to come to a halt after a few sentences, not knowing how to continue.
Finally Sorcha shook her head. "You're in a rare state, Lothy. That way I'm gonna make neither head nor tail of your plight. Come here and just cry yourself out. And then you go and get some sleep. When you are yourself again, you can tell me about this Éomer character and how he gets the idea that you would have lied to him."
She rose to her feet, sat down on the bench next to me and embraced me, and then she simply held me close and let me cry.
Sorcha put me to bed in the small chamber where I had stayed that night months ago when I had ridden for Minas Tirith and the Field of Cormallen. I did not think that I would be able to sleep. But exhausted as I was from riding fast for two nights in a row with no food and drink and from the tears and the turmoil in my heart, I quickly succumbed to sleep.
When I finally woke, it was evening again. Outside a heavy summer rain was pouring down, echoing my feelings. Sorcha had already put Solas to bed when I came down into the kitchen. I felt more than a little embarrassed and awkward about the whole situation. But Sorcha acted as if there was nothing unusual about my presence in her kitchen, or about my rather blotchy appearance.
"Sit down, I have some stew ready." Sorcha set a full bowl of stew and a slice of grey bread in front of me. "Cooked in good dark ale, should go down a right treat, it should."
I ate slowly. Although I was ravenous with hunger, I had no appetite at all. When I had finished, Sorcha poured us large cups of tea. She lit a candlestick in the embers of the hearth and put it at the centre of the table. For a while we sat in silence, sipping our tea.
"I am sorry that I did not come back at once to tell you about your husband," I said. "I should have."
Sorcha shrugged. "What could you have told me that the messenger did not say? He came to Tarnost the day after you had left. I already knew that my Fyn was a good man and brave before he ever went to fight the enemy. But now tell me what's got you so upset that you are haring through the country all on your own and with no gear at all like a stupid girl."
I tried a smile, but it turned awry. "I guess I am a stupid girl, Sorcha."
And then I told my story for the third time, including the disastrous conversation in the Tower of Ecthelion.
When I had finished, Sorcha looked at me with very round eyes. "That is sure some story. Are you sure you aren't a travelling story teller? You can make quite a good living with such tales."
When I inhaled and opened my mouth to swear a thousand holy oaths that every word I had said was true, she simply smiled at me and laid a calming hand on my arm. "I believe you, Lothíriel. This story is much too crazy for someone to make it up. And running away like you did is much too stupid for it not to be true. You know, you should stop this running away of yours. You are making rather a habit of it, and it's not a good habit to acquire."
I hung my head. She was right. Running away is generally not a good idea.
"Oh, sweetie, don't hang your head like that. If you're in love, you can't help it but behave in a bit of a hare-brained way. All of us do that. More than once. Love makes a fool of you. That's the way it is."
"I feel so horrible. My Mama may be weird, but she's not a whore, and neither am I!" I rubbed at my burning eyes furiously. Sorcha stared at me for a long moment, and I could not tell at all what she was thinking. Was she shocked? Or just mulling over what I had told her? But before I could say anything else, she replied. "No," she said soothingly. "That she isn't, and that you aren't. Your background may be… strange. But anyone could see that you are a good lass. Especially after all you have done!" Sorcha shook her head. "But the noble lords and ladies are strange that way. We, we ordinary folk that is, we don't hold with such kafuffle. Some girls are still virgins when they marry and then some aren't. 'Tis right and proper, mind, to be a virgin; but it's not the only thing that makes you a virtuous woman. But the rich and the gentry don't see beyond the surface. And why not? They can afford it! Virginity does not make a good marriage. Well –" she hesitated, and there was too much sympathy in her eyes. "Maybe it's different for kings. But I have been married. And what made my marriage, were different things, even though I was a virgin on my wedding night. 'Tis love, my dear, and faith and a lot of patience that makes a marriage. But I think it was not so much that you aren't a virgin or what kind of blood is in your background. I think your Éomer, he really thought you had kept from him who you really are on purpose to deceive him in some way. Do you know why he would be so very distrustful?"
I stared at Sorcha. Why would Éomer react so strongly about… Then realization struck.
I gasped. I could have kicked myself. Why had I not taken the time to just think about things?
"Wormtongue," I muttered. "There was a counsellor to the royal family of Rohan who betrayed them to the evil wizard, Saruman, in Isengard. Wormtongue had been promised Éomer's sister as a reward for his treason. Wormtongue almost killed the old king, and he had the king's son betrayed to his death."
I put my face in my hands. Why had I not seen this? Why had I been too blind to see through his words? Suddenly I felt ashamed that I had simply run away, that I had not tried to see things through. I had run away like a love-sick girl. I had run away like a coward.
"Oh, Valar, Sorcha, how can I have been so stupid? And now it's too late!" I moaned.
I had had the chance at something special, at something extraordinary. And now it was gone.
I should have talked to Éomer weeks ago. I should have kept talking. I should have…
"Well, what he said to you, that was not really kind. It's quite understandable that you reacted with a little tantrum of your own," Sorcha said soothingly. "By now he will have realized that he really hurt you with his words and that you did not mean to deceive him. He will come and get you. Just you wait. Tomorrow, or the day after. He will come and get you. He would be a fool to let you go."
My heart thumped painfully. I felt my lips quivering as if I was a little child on the verge of tears. "Do you really think so?"
"After what he did earlier that evening? Choosing you above the Queen Evenstar and the Lady of the Wood?" Sorcha looked at me with an incredulous expression on her face. "Now, don't take me wrong, Lothíriel, you are a very, very pretty girl, but…" She simply shook her head at me. Then she smiled again, a very sure smile. "Trust me. He will come for you."
A small spark of hope wanted to flare up in my heart. Then I realized that no one would know where I had gone.
"They don't know where I am," I said. Then I made a decision. I jumped up. "I will have to go back. I will have to go back and ask his forgiveness. A new chance. Now. At once."
Sorcha again shook her head at me and pulled me back down on the bench. "You will do know such thing. Sure, you made a mistake. But he made a mistake, too. You don't call your betrothed a liar or – whatever. And they are warriors and rangers, that noble folk at Minas Tirith. They will find you here, if their skill's worth a grain of salt. Might take them a day longer, perhaps."
She smiled at me suddenly, deeply delighted. "You will be a queen, Lothíriel. And you will be a good queen. And that's that. Now it's high time that you start behaving like a queen."
"And how does one behave if one wants to be a queen?" I asked shakily.
"For one thing, you don't run anywhere. To or from. And although it might have been wiser to tell him about your origins earlier, or tell him in the presence of a trusted chaperone – for example the Lady of Dol Amroth…" Sorcha raised an eyebrow at me. I only groaned. "Anyway, you did not leave it too late. You did nothing wrong. Well, not much anyway," she qualified.
"Do you really think…?" I trailed off helplessly.
"Yes, I do," Sorcha said firmly.
I promptly started crying again. Sorcha patted my back until I had calmed down.
Then she made us a new pot of tea.
"I have not even asked," I started hesitantly after I had finally calmed down. "How are you? And Solas?"
Sorcha sighed, her green eyes clouding over. She put down her cup in a very careful movement. "I am fine. She is fine. We have still a little money left. Put aside for hard times. And I have my work. I'm a bit of a dressmaker, you know. We'll get by. Perhaps some day there'll be someone again."
She sighed. Then she looked at me again, very calmly. "Tell me again, what did that captain say?"
"He said that your husband fought valiantly. He said that he died as a hero. He said that all of the company were proud to have known your husband," I replied. I wished I could tell her more. Sorcha downed her cup of tea. Then she looked into her cup for a long moment. Then she sighed again. A deep, sad sigh that went through her entire body. "I bet they say that about all dead soldiers."
We sat in the candle light in the silent kitchen. We drank our tea without speaking. Then we just sat there, in silence. We sat there and stared into our tea cups. We stared into our empty cups for a long time, as if we were trying to find the answer to all our questions in the dregs at the bottom of the cups.
Why did Fynbar of Tarnost have to die on the Fields of the Pelennor? Why did Éomer survive? Why did I have to fall in love with Éomer? Why did I have to meet Boromir first?
But the tea leaves at the bottom of our cups were only wet and black and muddy, and there were no answers to be had there.
Sorcha finally raised her head and gave me a small, lopsided smile. "How about another pot of tea? And I tell you how I met Fyn, and how he wooed me, and how he loved me. How little Solas was born, and how he came up with that silly name."
"I think I would love that," I said and smiled at my friend.
In the morning I felt much better. I woke with the dawn. I rose and washed with cold water from a chipped ewer. Then I went down to the kitchen. Sorcha was already up and baking bread. Solas was fussing. As I knew not enough about things to be of any help in the kitchen, I kept Solas amused while her mother was working.
At noon Sorcha was smiling at me with relief evident on her face. "Solas has been a bit more demanding lately. She misses her Daddy. Thank you for minding her. I would never have gotten all that work done without you. Perhaps I can even get some mending done this afternoon."
We had some boiled cabbage for lunch with another huge pot of tea. Sorcha smiled. "A little luxury even we poor people can afford. And mind, as long as I can hold on to the house, I am positively rich. Affluent. A woman of means." She grinned at me. I don't think that she expected to be able to hold on to her house on her own.
In the afternoon I took Solas to have a look at Mithril, who had been splendidly taken care of by the neighbour's boy, Tomil. When I told him that she was really a royal Meara, he wanted to sleep in the dingy stable. I guess he did.
I returned with Solas to the kitchen and settled down on the floor with her and a few wooden toys, playing with her and listening to her sweet, high voice, talking gibberish but smiling all the time. Now and again I caught a look of Sorcha, a strained, sorrowful look. I realized that Solas must look very much like her Daddy, and that the little girl was taking it very hard that her Daddy was not coming home again. The afternoon passed quickly and quietly. When the sun set, dark clouds drifted down over Tarnost with another rush of summer rain. We had another pot of tea and some of the boiled cabbage in a watery soup for dinner.
"He will come, Lothíriel," Sorcha said as I made my way upstairs to the small chamber where I had slept last night. "He will come."
Will he come? Or will he be too proud? Or does he really think I'm, I'm… I lay awake for most of the night, tossing and turning on that narrow cot. My thoughts were running in circles.
Will he come? Oh, please, God, Valar and Eru, Jesus, Jupiter, anyone!
He did not come the next day either.
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.