1. Preliminary skirmishes
All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable, when using our forces, we must seem inactive, when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away, when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
(Ecthelion: On War)
Dol Amroth, Third Age 3019.
All her life she had been an obedient daughter, the gracious and accomplished Princess of Dol Amroth, chatelaine of Prince Imrahil's castle.
Not any more, Lothiriel thought grimly, this time father's gone too far.
She surveyed herself in the mirror, slowly running her hands across the stiff fabric of her gown. It was made from silk and heavily embroidered, but the most striking thing about it was its colour, a bright pink that was a credit to the skill of the local dyers' guild if not its taste. In combination with the copious white frills the dress made her look like one of those confections made of spun sugar that the cooks of Dol Amroth sometimes stuck on cakes for special occasions. A slow smile spread across Lothiriel's face. Where the vibrant colours she usually wore made her golden skin seem to glow, the pink only made it look sallow and sickly.
"Please, my lady, won't you reconsider?"
Lothiriel had to suppress a quick twinge of guilt when she looked at her lady-in-waiting who was standing behind her, wringing her hands.
"Why, what's wrong with this dress?" she asked deceptively mildly, "My aunt gave it to my for my last birthday." She did not add that it had hung in the wardrobe ever since.
"Nothing," Lady Idril said faintly, "but perhaps the green might be better suited to the occasion?"
With a hopeful look she lifted one of Lothiriel's favourite dresses from where it was lying on the bed. For a moment Lothiriel eyed the rich green silk wistfully, but then she shook her head. As her brothers always said, if you did not care properly for your armour you could not expect to win the battle. It had to be the pink dress.
She turned back to the mirror and frowned. Her hair was still a problem. Glossy and black it fell nearly to the waist and she hadn't been sure what to do with it, but at Lady Idril's words an idea had formed in her head.
"Something green," she murmured, "of course, how very fitting."
Before the other woman could do more than give her a startled glance she had picked up a green veil and had thrown it over her hair, securing it with a white ribbon in that style at least half a century out of fashion like her aunt wore hers. Behind her, Lady Idril looked close to fainting and sat down heavily on the bed, startling Lothiriel's dog that had been dozing there. The great deerhound stretched and gave a huge yawn, regarding its mistress sleepily. Lothiriel thought wryly that the dog with its long slender legs, dainty ears and gracefully curved tail was now the most elegant being in the room. Was she just imagining the surprise in Anca's eyes?
The combination was really rather … unusual, Lothiriel mused with another look at the mirror and wondered if the courtiers of Dol Amroth would even recognize her dressed like this. Of course she would make a laughingstock of herself, but then there were always casualties in a fight and the first sacrifice in this one just happened to be her vanity. The girl she saw in the mirror bore no resemblance to the elegantly dressed princess that usually attended her father's balls. The only features that reminded her of her old self were her eyes. These she had inherited from her mother, who had hailed from the south, and they were large and of the deepest black. Many a would-be suitor had remarked on their lustre and unusual colour. She would have to be careful to keep them lowered at all times, Lothiriel reminded herself.
Then she gave an inward sigh. In her heart of hearts she knew of course that it didn't really matter even if she were ugly, bowlegged and bad tempered. The only important issue was whether she was young enough to bear children and at twenty years of age she unfortunately fulfilled that requirement.
There was a soft knock at the chamber door and with a last horrified look at her charge Lady Idril pulled herself together and went to answer it.
"Is she ready yet?"
Lothiriel recognized her father's deep voice. So her guard of honour had arrived to escort her to the ball. Or was it to make sure she would not make a run for it? Giving her dog a last pat on the head, she went to join them at the door.
"Yes, I am ready," she answered her father herself and swept past him into the corridor, "Let's go."
For a moment Prince Imrahil looked at her thunderstruck then an expression of deep disapproval crossed his features. He had never been slow and unlike poor Lady Idril realized at once what plan she had in mind.
"Lothiriel!" he exclaimed, "What have you done to yourself? You will change into something more suitable at once."
By his side, her hapless lady-in-waiting was again wringing her hands. "She just wouldn't listen to me, my Lord Prince!"
Prince Imrahil totally ignored her, his attention being focused on his uncustomarily recalcitrant daughter.
Lothiriel lifted her chin. "If you say so father, but Aunt Ivriniel won't be pleased when I tell her I wasn't allowed to wear the gown she gave me."
That gave him pause. Even he did not take on her aunt without a really good reason.
"And more than that, we will be late," Lothiriel added. She would make sure they were. Her eyes met her father's and after a moment he pursed his lips in displeasure and gave a curt nod.
"Very well," he said, offered her his arm and turned to lead the way, nearly forcing her to run to keep up with his long strides.
Thanks to the advantage of surprise she had won the first skirmish, but Lothiriel had no illusions that her father was beaten, he was far too canny a warrior not to regroup quickly. After a few steps he slowed down, in control of his temper again.
"Lothiriel," he said warningly, "you will remember what you owe your station as a princess?"
"Of course, father," Lothiriel answered with her eyes downcast, "I always do." It wasn't as if she was ever allowed to forget, was it.
"We owe the man our lives and the survival of Minas Tirith."
"I know." And she was grateful for it, she just did not want to be the one to have to pay the price.
Her father gave an exasperated sigh. "Please, Lothiriel, just give him a chance, I'm sure you will come to like him."
They had covered this ground before; the battle lines had long since been drawn. "It doesn't matter one way or the other if I like him, does it," she shot back, "since you have already come to your decision."
He looked pained at her words and usually she would have relented, but ever since he had returned from King Théoden's funeral two months ago she had been seething with rage inside. It had been that or panic, so she had opted for the former. As if reading her mind, he stopped and took both her hands in his.
"I'm sorry that I was unable to consult you on this, daughter," he said earnestly, "but I was just too far away."
"There are fast couriers and the way under the mountains is open now," she reminded him, "it would only have taken a few days for my answer to reach you." And it would have consisted of a single word – no.
A shrewd tactician, he shifted his ground. "Surely you must have known this would happen one day, after all it's hardly unusual in Gondor."
"And is it so unnatural that I should have wanted a say in this decision?" she asked back, "After all it is my life we are talking about here."
For a moment Prince Imrahil almost looked old and Lothiriel could feel a twinge of guilt. She wasn't about to pass up an advantage however.
"I would have expected some consideration for my feelings after keeping our people safe during the war." she said in a low tone, "I'm not a child anymore, you know." Even if she sometimes felt like throwing a tantrum.
He caressed her cheek with one hand. "I know I had to ask a lot of you," he sighed, "and I would have given anything to spare you that experience. I'm sorry."
Lothiriel frowned, for that was not what she had meant. During the war she had been left in charge of the whole province of Belfalas all on her own because her father and brothers had been fighting in Minas Tirith. It had been proven to be the right decision, even though her father still blamed himself for putting such heavy responsibility on her shoulders. But while those dark days had been frightening and she had known they would not stand the slightest chance if the forces of Mordor attacked them, she had also felt truly useful and needed for the first time in her life.
Her father was still looking at her earnestly. "It's truly unfortunate you could not join us at Cormallen," he said, "that would have facilitated things considerably."
"I was rather busy at the time," she replied with some heat. He seemed to have forgotten already that she had organized the supplies not only for their own troops from Dol Amroth, but in concert with Faramir for the whole Armies of the West.
"Yes I know, but still…" he made it sound as if it was her fault she had been unable to join the celebrations, when in reality she'd been deeply disappointed to miss them.
"Trust me on this one," he told her, "just think of Elphir and Culwen and how they've come to love each other."
Lothiriel knew it was no use arguing that her brother and his wife had liked each other tolerably well since they were children, quite apart from the fact that Culwen was such a sweet and amiable girl that no son as obliging as Elphir would have objected to the match.
Her father took her hand and put it back on his arm, giving it a light pat. "We have to go now or we'll truly be late after all."
She nodded and fell into step with him, feeling like a prisoner being escorted to her execution. Her father seemed to have recovered his equanimity and threw her an encouraging glance.
"Don't look so downcast," he said with a smile, "I'm sure you'll like him. The ladies in Minas Tirith were extremely taken with him."
She almost snorted, only her upbringing as a princess preventing her from doing so. So he was a ladies' man as well. Was that supposed to be a recommendation for her? It was no use saying so to her father however.
"I'm sure I will," she answered tonelessly and they walked on in silence, both preoccupied with their thoughts.
Long before they reached the Great Hall, they could hear the low humming sound of so many people talking. When they passed the great double doors flanked by guards, Lothiriel nearly laughed out loud. They faced a sea of green, seemingly all the unattached ladies having chosen to wear that colour tonight, and there were lots of them. For many years now, ever since her mother's untimely death, Lothiriel had arranged all the great entertainments of her father's court and she had made sure to invite all the prettiest women of Dol Amroth tonight - and also all the most predatory. It looked like every hopeful father of the province was here tonight, together with his equally hopeful offspring. Lothiriel wished them luck.
The Great Hall had been turned out to its full glory for the occasion. The great marble floor was polished to perfection, reflecting the light from the hundreds of lamps hanging on long chains from the vaulted ceiling and on the wall opposite hung the freshly dusted banners. Lothiriel's heart swelled with pride when she beheld the brave swan-prowed ship in silver and blue, only to drop when she saw the banner hanging next to it. It was only polite to honour their guests after all, she reminded herself sternly. As her father kept telling her, they owed them an awful lot.
All along the wall were arranged sheaves of wheat as was traditional in Dol Amroth for the Harvest Festival, the province being the breadbasket of Gondor. Tonight was the first full moon after the autumn equinox and all across the country people would be gathering around bonfires and celebrate. As her father led her across the floor, past all the curious and covert glances thrown her way and she could hear the whispering starting in her wake, Lothiriel suddenly wished passionately to be just another peasant girl out there on a hillside dancing the night away.
She spotted them some way off, their height and colouring setting them apart, and took the opportunity to study them surreptitiously before being noticed on her part. They all sported the long flaxen hair she had been told about, worn either loose or plaited down the back. Some of her father's Swan Knights were talking to their former comrades-in-arms, amongst them her youngest brother. One rider was at least a head taller than the rest and as she watched Amrothos say something to him she could tell from the deference in her brother's face who this was. The man had his back to them, but when feeling her eyes on him he suddenly turned round in a startlingly swift movement and scanned the crowd almost as if he had felt the approach of an enemy and expected an orc to jump at him at any moment.
Lothiriel had seen that look before, on her brothers' faces when they had returned from the war, unable and unwilling to tell her about the harrowing sights they had seen there. Fortunately they had soon lost it again in the familiar surroundings of their beloved home, but this man looked as if it had become so much second nature to him that he was unable to drop that unnatural vigilance for even a moment. He reminded her of a sword, honed again and again until its edge was so sharp it would cut air. A man not to be trifled with, shot through Lothiriel's mind and a shiver ran down her back. Ice-cold blue eyes sought hers and she found herself unable to look away, feeling herself assessed as a threat and dismissed again in a single instant. For a moment she almost felt insulted at being discounted so quickly, but then reminded herself that it could only be to her advantage to be underestimated. Just let him think that surely nothing wearing pink could be a threat to him and his plans.
According to her father, who had sung his praises ever since returning from Minas Tirith, he was one of the most formidable warriors on Middle Earth and had survived the Ring War without a scratch. Not surprising really, for only a fool would take this man on. A fool or a princess?
He had spotted her father now and greeted him with a smile, stepping up to them. The transformation was remarkable, warming his eyes and making him seem years younger. He clapped Imrahil in an embrace, obviously pleased to see him, and Lothiriel wondered if she had imagined things, being so much on edge herself. Her father returned the embrace warmly and then turned to her.
"Éomer, let me introduce my daughter, Princess Lothiriel."
She sank into a deep curtsey, but not before she had seen the surprise on his face, quickly wiped off to be replaced by a polite smile. So this was the King of Rohan, Gondor's most important ally and one of the best friends of their own newly crowned king.
The man who tomorrow night would ask for her hand in marriage in front of all the nobles of Dol Amroth. And have it granted to him, unless she could make him change his mind.
"I'm pleased to meet you," he said courteously, "you look lovely, Princess Lothiriel."
"Thank you King Éomer, you flatter me." Or you are colour blind. She was careful to keep her eyes lowered.
"That's an eye-catching outfit you're wearing today, sister." It was her brother Amrothos who had come up on Éomer's other side.
"I know. Thank you."
She shot him a warning glance, only to see him grinning back at her widely. Amrothos had never been slow either and was obviously enjoying himself hugely. Easy to do, she thought, when it wasn't his future at stake. After all he wasn't the one who might end up spending the rest of his days in a cold barbarian country far away from home, knowing neither the language nor the customs and married to this block of ice.
As she saw it, tonight was her only chance to turn the tide in her favour and she was determined to do whatever it took. She was a warrior's daughter, she would at least go down fighting.
The quotation at the beginning of the chapter is from Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War'.
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.