7. A worrying interlude
It was probably just as well that I had been brought up a princess, otherwise the introduction of what seemed like half of Rohan, could have disconcerted me. Of course, the irony was that if I had been born other than a princess I would not be here at all.
It had been decided that because of the limited space in the hall – it had originally been intended that the wedding take place outside – only the most important families were to be introduced. Everyone else would have to wait until the next day when further celebrations, that incorporated a Harvest Fayre, were due to take place. However, it seemed that the Rohírrim present had not understood, or had not been attending, to their instructions. It wouldn’t be true to say that the pushing and shoving was totally unseemly, but the hullabaloo caused some Gondorians amongst the visitors to stare open mouthed. In the end there were more standing in the centre aisle than were left sitting at the tables. Éomer, after having introduced me to those on the dais, shrugged his shoulders, took my arm, and using his bulk, cleared a path. It struck me that it would take quite a lot to fluster my husband. He certainly did not stand on much ceremony with his people and they seemed able to show him the respect to which he was entitled, without being the least in awe of him.
We started at one end and I quickly realised that Lord Elfhelm’s family were standing on the right of us – the east, and Lord Erkenbrand’s on the left – the west. I wondered who would take precedence and who their king would honour first. Fate stepped in though, as she often did on these occasions: Lord Elfhelm’s youngest, a pretty little girl of about five, wound her way to Éomer through the legs of others, clasped her arms around his knee’s and asked pleadingly if he would give her another ride on his big horse. Since Erkenbrand’s lot were all considerably older they were content to wait and the problem was solved. After that we moved from side to side. Éomer knew everyone’s name and took care he missed nobody out but all I could remember afterwards were a lot of damp bodies and pairs of eyes that deliberately looked me over without any embarrassment at all. The ladies studied my dress; the men just studied me. I tried to ignore such unaccustomed directness and concentrated on observing the Rohírrim in general. They appeared to be divided into two distinct types: some like Lord Elfhelm were tall and slimmer built, whilst others, as Lord Erkenbrand, were shorter and stocky. Occasionally the two came together, a tall husband and a short wife, or, even more unlikely looking, a short well built man and a tall willowy wife. Some though, as Aelfric and Helwing, were well matched. The Lord of Harrowdale still looked quite wet; his lovely wife appeared remarkably dry. She, probably because of our previous acquaintance, was the only one to openly comment on my wedding outfit.
“Your dress, my Lady Queen, it is just so beautiful,” she whispered. “I have never seen anything quite like it.”
“It is a favoured design in Belfalas for important occasions,” I explained. “It can only be made with delicate silks.”
She grinned. “I will have to send for some as soon as the trading route is open.”
“You look lovely in what you are wearing,” I smiled. She wore a soft green dress with a silver girdle. “How did you manage to keep your hair so dry, or did you arrive before the rain?”
A gurgle of mirth accompanied a quick look around to see who stood in earshot, but Éomer had become involved with talking to Aelfric, Éothain and a couple of his guards.
“It was not raining when we started out but as soon as it did Aelfric took me up with him. I snuggled into his chest and he wrapped his cloak right over me. I was only a little damp when we got here.” Grinning impishly she glanced towards her husband, “Definitely a very pleasant way to travel.”
I imagined it was, if one shared a love such as those two obviously did. I looked towards my own husband wondering if I would ever feel the same. Éomer looked up from his conversation at that moment, caught my eye and held out his hand. “There are not many more and then we can sit down,” he said quietly. As a gesture it was unfamiliar to me, but his eyes were smiling and, unhesitatingly, I again put my hand in his. I had no idea if we would ever share such deep emotions but I trusted to hope that we could at least share a friendship.
If it had not been my wedding feast I would probably have very much enjoyed the occasion. I discovered that the Rohírrim had exceptionally pleasing voices. I thought there would be a designated group of musicians but surprisingly a lyre was passed around and several of the guests entertained us with moving ballads or lively songs. Although I could take pleasure in the melodies, the words were lost to me. Judging by some raucous laugher that accompanied some of the offerings, this was probably just as well.
Considering the difficult conditions the cooks had had to work in, the amount and variety of the dishes on offer was stupendous. Unfortunately, however, my appetite had almost completely deserted me. The feast centred on great haunches of venison and the pork that had been cooked outside. I knew I could definitely not stomach the pork or the buttered freshwater crayfish and smoked eel that were dishes prized in the Riddermark, but I took some venison and some vegetables. In the end I only managed the vegetables: the venison was never going to go down. Opportunely, just as I wondered whether I could be so rude as to leave it, I felt a bump against my legs. Hasopad! Transferring the meat from my plate to the salivating mouth on my lap without ruining my dress could prove a problem, but luckily the dog placed his muzzle directly on my napkin. As soon as I had passed him the meat he took it straight down to the floor. I thought I had done pretty well but a deep, amused voice made me jump guiltily.
“Useful, isn’t he?”
Damn, I thought he had been engaged in conversation with King Elessar. “I am sorry, my lord. I am not very hungry.”
“If you don’t want it, Lothíriel, then don’t eat it. Relax and enjoy the songs.” He must have guessed how nervous I was because his smile showed some sympathy, and he indicated to Eadric to fill my goblet.
“Thank you,” I pushed my plate away and sat back sipping at my wine. I would have to be careful to limit the amount I drank, having not had much food. I imagined I would have to rise and leave the hall with all watching me.
Éomer finished what he had on his plate and picked up his own goblet. The intense blue eyes were watching me speculatively and I sought for something neutral to say.
“I thought it would be different,” I ventured.
“What would be different?” His mobile eyebrows rose in a question.
“This feast. I was not expecting the lovely music and song with the guests sitting quietly eating and listening to it. I thought it would be much more raucous.”
“It will be later,” he chuckled softly. “They will be drinking until the early hours, I imagine, but now is the time to listen and eat. If there were only Rohírrim here there would be story tellers as well, but the stories are in Rohírric so it’s only songs tonight.”
“And there will be dancing later? There doesn’t seem as if there will be much room.” I commented looking around at the packed hall.
“Oh, the tables will be pushed aside or disassembled and the fire put out, but it has to be mostly chain dances. If the weather is better tomorrow there will be dancing all day in the square.”
“But the dancing will not start this evening until we have left?” I found this a strange custom and was not sure I had understood correctly.
Éomer didn’t answer for a short moment and I realised he was trying to hide a smile. “That’s right, at a bridal feast the dancing is for the guests. It is assumed that the bride and groom make their own entertainment.”
The heat flashed to my face, no wonder he had been hiding a smile! But he hadn’t finished. “The idea is that the dances get faster and more frenetic as the evening progresses.”
He said it with a totally straight face, but I just caught the amused gleam in his eyes. Surely he could not mean that the dances were supposed to ape what was happening in the bridal chamber, but I was sure he did because as I stared dumbly at him his face broke into a decidedly boyish grin. “I am sorry, Lothíriel. I should not have told you. But I could not resist: you blush so becomingly.”
“You do not have to apologise, my lord,” I said, in true princess manner. “If it is a custom here then I need to know about it.” The only effect of my haughtiness was to make him chuckle more.
“We Rohírrim are rather basic, you know.”
Oh, what was the use? Why stand on my dignity? I was going to lose it in the not too distant future, anyway. “Is the dancing really meant to portray ….that?” I asked joining in his laughter.
“It certainly is.”
I shook my head disbelievingly, trying to imagine the same thing happening in Gondor but was saved from more conversation on the subject by the clearing of the table and the arrival of the puddings. The laughter must have done me good because I managed to eat some honeyed syllabub and poached plums whilst listening to my husband translate some of the words of the ballad that was being sung by the owner of the fearless little terrier. The man had an excellent voice. The ballad, about Felaróf father of horses, had many verses and before it finished the light had almost faded and candles were being lit in the sconces and on the tables. Another song followed, and at the end of it I noticed Aerin making her way to the rear of the hall carrying a tray. Whatever was on it was covered by a cloth so I guessed it was some kind of refreshment. I glanced over to Lady Byrhtwyn, who smiled reassuringly, not yet indicating that the time had come to leave. Helwing stood up next curtseying to the top table before moving to a seat in front of the dais. She had her own instrument. It appeared to be a kind of harp which she laid across her lap. Unlike anyone else who had performed she looked towards me explained what she was going to sing about.
“My Lady Queen, I am going to sing a traditional love song. It is often sung at weddings and tells of a bride whose husband is called away to war the day after the wedding. She climbs the mountain every day to look for him returning and gets thinner and thinner until she cannot climb any more.” She laughed. “But it has a happy ending because he comes riding home, sweeps her into his arms and feeds her mead and honey cakes until she is well again.”
Helwing’s voice matched her perfectly. It was beautiful, ethereal even, and the haunting melody filled the hall. No-one even scraped a chair. As she finished, a slight movement at the end of the hall caught my eye. A doorward had entered to light the large sunset candle. My throat contracted and my heart started to thump wildly. How had I ever thought I had this under control? I looked towards Lady Byrhtwyn who nodded her head. My time had run out. I took a breath to steady myself knowing that there was only one way to do this.
I turned to my husband, rising as I said, “If you will excuse me, my lord, it is time for me to retire.” He stood up and so did the whole hall. I honoured him with my most elegant curtsey and then did likewise to King Elessar. My father received a kiss on his cheek. He took my hand and squeezed it, so I smiled to try and show him that nothing bothered me. But for the first time I saw a look of concern in his eyes and it only relaxed when I squeezed his hand in return. I did not know if Éomer would be subject to taunts and teasing, but I was not. There were a few coughs and lots of polite good nights, but nothing except a few murmured undertones. Whether it was because I was a Gondorian, different for a royal wedding, or just that the bride was left in peace I did not know, but whatever the reason, I felt truly grateful.
I closed the door behind me and leant back thankfully against it. The vestibule felt blessedly cool after the heat of the hall. Looking down at my hands I realised they were shaking. Ridiculous, I told myself. It was my wedding night, not my execution and my husband a good man. On top of that he was undeniably attractive, handsome even. Given time, I would probably relish the idea. I just needed more time. Squaring my shoulders and putting on a bright face I went to the third door along, working out that it must be the direct way in to my dressing room. I chose correctly, and Aerin waited for me.
“Oh, there you are, my lady, I thought I heard the outer door open.”
I immediately noticed the rise in temperature. The fire smouldering under the boiler made the room warm, but nowhere near as bad as the hall. They would have to open the big doors if they wanted to dance. The thought of the dancing nearly stopped me in my tracks but I managed to recover and greet my maid. “Yes, I came as soon as the Doorward lit the candle, but it has been dark for quite a while.”
Aerin looked to the window, “It’s this awful weather,” she conceded. “I think it’s still raining, my lady, but it’s cosy in here. The water’s hot; I thought you would like a wash.”
“I would, it was hot and sticky in the hall. The pleats are falling out of my dress.”
Aerin nodded and poured some water into the basin while I carefully removed my crown, pearls, corsage and dress. My nightgown and robe were hanging outside the wardrobe; they were both made of silk, in a lighter shade of pink than the dress. It was a colour that suited my dark hair but the diaphanous garments that had been made especially for tonight were very different from my usual night attire of white lawn. Trying not to think of how much of me would be on view, I passed the dress to Aerin.
“I will press the pleats back in, my lady. You may wish to wear it again.”
“I would not have thought it would be suitable for anything else,” I returned.
“Well, you never know.”
Aerin started to carefully straighten out the creased garment and I slipped behind the screen. She had laid out everything I would need so I undid the shoulder fastening on my shift allowing the silky fabric to slither to the floor, leaving me naked and shivering. I could not pretend the temperature set me quivering. The connotation of removing my clothing and nakedness was just too much for my fragile nerves. It took a few moments of speaking sternly to myself before I was able to sponge down my reluctant body. I’d reminded myself how kind he had been in arranging for a desk and bookcase and that he had been sympathetic over my lack of appetite. I could only hope that he would be equally receptive to my mood tonight. No, that was not fair – I would have to get rid of the nerves and show as much willingness as I could. If I shut my mind I would be fine. Deciding this, I reached for the large drying cloth and spotted the bottle of perfume. Whatever I had put on earlier had probably long gone so after I had cleaned my teeth, I reapplied it generously. “What do you think I should do with my hair?” I called to Aerin, with more assurance than I felt, as I waited for the oil to dry.
I heard her wicked giggle before she called back, “I wouldn’t wear your sleep net, my lady, that’s much too staid. Men like to run their fingers through ladies’ hair.”
“Do they? Did your mother tell you that?” I asked, somewhat intrigued.
“Yes, she did. I bemoaned the fact that I had short curly locks and not long straight tresses like yours. She said as long I kept them silky clean the effect would be the same.”
“Oh,” I digested that for a moment, “Would you pass my nightgown please, Aerin.”
The garment fastened at the shoulders with ribbons in the same way as the shift, but the material much more sumptuous, having been embroidered all over with a delicate tracery of flowers. It must have taken hours but no expense had been spared in the production of my bride clothes. So much was expected of me - I just hope that I did not disappoint.
“I will need to do something with it,” I remarked coming out from behind the screen and reaching for my robe. “I cannot leave it loose; it will fly all over the place.”
“Why, don’t we tie it back with a ribbon and then it will be easy if he wants to undo it,” Aerin suggested with another giggle.
“I suppose so,” I agreed. A few days ago I could not imagine the King of Rohan wanting to run his fingers through my hair, but now I could not entirely dismiss the idea. There had been something in his eyes that made me wonder.
I sat on a stool whilst Aerin undid my braids and used long calming strokes to brush out my long hair until it was tangle free and silky soft. I handed her a pink ribbon and she loosely gathered it up and tied it back at the nape of my neck.
“Almost ready, I think, my lady.”
Not being able to put the moment off much longer I purposefully got to my feet.
“It’s a lovely room,” Aerin remarked as she opened the door to the bedchamber.
It was certainly large, taking up the whole corner of the tower. The bed was also very large and draped with green and gold brocade hangings which matched the curtains at the two big windows. I looked around: the walls were the same pale ochre as the sitting room, again partly covered with rich tapestries. This time as far as I could tell in the candle light, they were mostly of horses. A dark gold carpet covered a good deal of the floor and a fire burnt merrily in the grate. Leather armchairs and a small table were placed near the fire and a huge carved ornate chest stood at the bottom of the bed. Smaller versions of the chest were placed each side of the bed head serving to hold night lights and water jugs. In spite of the size of the room and the terrible weather the overall effect created by the glow of the fire, lamps and candles was warm and homely.
“I have prepared the bed, my lady. There is an extra sheet that can be removed after….” She came to a halt.
“Thank you, Aerin, I understand perfectly.” I walked over to the bed; she had turned back the thick patterned quilt exposing the pillows and the tops of white linen sheets. I managed an inward chuckle: there was no bolster down the middle. Then I realised that Aerin had put my book and a clean handkerchief on the chest at the end of the bed. It hit me suddenly that I was not just here for a wedding night, I would be sleeping here for the rest of my life. The realisation was shattering.
Determined not to show my apprehension to Aerin I looked around the room again, this time my eyes fell on the small table which held a tray on which were two squat cups and some small cakes.
“Is that some kind of refreshment?” I asked, walking around the bed to investigate.
“It’s mead-cup and honey cakes. Traditional for a wedding night, they told me,” she replied with a little laugh.
I picked up one of the small cups. They were similar to those that were offered at my arrival but these were decorated with ears of corn. I smiled at the blatant fertility symbol, “Are we supposed to drink this before….” It didn’t get any more out because Aerin dissolved in a fit of giggles.
“No, after the marriage has been consummated,” she said through her amusement.
I couldn’t help grinning, “To celebrate the deed, I suppose?”
“No!” She giggled even more, “It’s intended to give you strength to do it again.
I put the cup down carefully, not able to share her amusement. No wonder he had smiled when he asked me if the mead was to my taste. “I see. The Rohírrim are nothing if not practical,” I remarked with all the confidence I could muster.
“My lady,” Aerin started cautiously, “I can tell you are nervous. I don’t think you have anything to worry about. It won’t be like Léod and me, fumbling around not really knowing what we are doing. Éomer King is bound to have years of experience.”
“Is he?” I asked, more in astonishment at Aerin’s frank announcement than at the thought of my husband’s past amorous affairs of which there were probably many.
“Of course, at his age and in his position….”
“Yes, quite, Aerin, I am sure he has. It is bound to help. Now I think you had better return to the hall.” I really didn’t want to encourage any further confidences and I couldn’t put it off any longer, anyway.
“You are sure you have everything?”
“I think so; I will see you in the morning.”
Aerin pointed to a corded rope, “There’s a bell pull connected to the kitchen. Ring it twice and they will send someone to find me.”
I nodded; I just wanted to be alone for a few moments. “Thank you. Goodnight, Aerin.”
“Goodnight, my lady.”
A curtsey and she was gone. I hung my robe on a hook behind the door and stared at the bed, not sure which side to get in. Normally I slept in the middle, but I couldn’t do that anymore. I had no idea which side he would prefer, but he would no doubt come in from his dressing room so it made sense for him to get in that side and me the side nearest to mine. Thankful to have made a decision, I picked up my book and handkerchief, deposited them on the appropriate side-chest and pulled the quilt back a bit more. Maybe something else had been sent from Gondor because the sheets looked new. However, when I actually plucked up the courage to get in the bed I felt the slight ruckle of the extra draw sheet. Yes, the Rohírrim were certainly practical but the thought of its use nearly had me leaping out again. Rejecting this impulse as worthy only of the wimpiest of women, I told myself that I could be considered lucky as nowadays only the washerwoman would bear witness to the loss of my maidenhead. Pulling the sheets over me – they were cool and smooth - I glanced apprehensively towards the door that led to the king’s dressing room. Now, what did I do? My inclination was to lie down and tuck the covers up under my chin, but I dismissed that immediately. Conversely, I did not feel I could push them back and lie on my side in what I assumed would be a seductive pose, surely he would not expect that. I plumped up the pillows and sat up, but after a moment I felt uncomfortable and exposed. Normally when I got into bed I read, but could I do that now? I decided I could. If I casually put the book down when he came in, it would look as though I was relaxed. I reached for my book and turned the pages until I found my place. Trying to read proved useless. I did not manage one line before my thoughts centred onto what was going to happen, very soon now. Putting down the book, I stared at the dressing room door again; he would surely come through wearing a robe, wouldn’t he? My sister-in-law’s words returned in a rush – ‘I’d seriously advise you, Lothíriel to try not to look at it until after the deed is done. You will get used to it, of course but at the start it may unnerve you. Especially as he’s quite a big man.’ Unnerve me! I was already totally unnerved and I definitely had no wish to look at it! Perhaps he wouldn’t notice if I closed my eyes. Sighing, I picked up the book again but at that moment the door opened, a tawny-gold head appeared, and the book jumped out of my hand falling with a loud thump onto the floor.
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.