3. Chapter 2
The Morthond Vale
The journey seemed interminable, the sound of their voices incessant. If it had not been safer to travel in company Devoran might have ridden ahead on her own, but it would be stupid to arrive at the wayside Inns as a lone woman. So she shut her ears to their blather and retired to her room immediately the small party arrived at their nightly stops. What could she say? Her cousins wouldn’t listen however many times she told them she hadn’t spent any time completely alone with Amroth.
At last they reached the final crossroads; Devoran heaved a sigh of relief. Alhael’s village lay a mile to the left at the beginning of a narrow valley that carved its way into the western side of the Vale, hers straight along the road. She could ride on up the Blackroot herself. “You will probably want to take the road straight to your home, Alhael. There is no need to come up to the house with me.”
“You mean you don’t want me telling your father what a slut you have been,” he answered with a sneer.
She’d had enough! You would think he’d be proud she’d attracted the attention of a prince. But he always liked to think the worst of her. “I doubt that Prince Amrothos would have introduced a slut to the King, do you?”
Without waiting for an answer she kicked Coll forward, leaving her cousin with his mouth open. Let him think on that! And with any luck Coruves would give him a hard time – she had been after meeting the King herself.
Devoran clattered into her home village to be met by the inevitable pack of dogs and children. Éldes was outside sweeping her porch. She looked up, smiling when she saw who disturbed the peace. “Oh, it’s you, my lady. Did you have a good time?”
A good time? A wonderful, unexpected, bewildering time! But she said nothing of that. “Yes, thank you, Éldes. And how is Thathar? Is his chest any better?”
“A bit, my lady, now that the weather is warming. But those devils did for him; he will never be the same. Still,” she bent down and pulled out an errant weed from the paving before looking up at Devoran again, sadness in her face, “at least he came back.”
Devoran met her gaze, and nodded. So many hadn’t. But even those who did bore the scars, like Thathar and her father.
“I will get on; my father will have missed me.”
“Yes, you do that, my lady. He’ll be glad to see you home.”
Coll knew where he was going, the horse trotted eagerly up the steep road that led to his stable. The house stood out clear against the escarpment in the midday sun, glaring down the valley, solid and imposing. Her father would see her coming: she couldn’t imagine he would be anywhere else than in his usual chair at the dining-hall window. Not a cosy place to sit, but he liked the view. She doubted he’d get up to meet her.
There was someone to welcome her though. She heard the barking before turning the last corner, so slid off Coll quickly, ready for an exuberant greeting.
Drummer charged through the gate. Huge paws landed on her shoulders, a warm tongue lashed her face. “Drummer, get down!” Devoran tried to push him away. “You will have me over. Now that’s better,” she said as he bounced around Coll’s legs, the long suffering horse doing no more than blowing through his nostrils in disgust. “Stay still, Drummer, so I can stroke you.”
Eventually she managed to persuade Drummer to walk alongside her, and they headed for the house. Already she could see Ashild waiting at the door, wiping her hands on her apron. And as she crossed the courtyard, Bregil came out from behind the house. A big beam split his face; they would both be glad to have her back. Better to spend the rest of the year with these two honest servants, than another hour in her cousins’ company.
“I’ll take him, my lady. You be getting in to see your father. He’s been asking for you.”
“Oh, thank you, Bregil.” Devoran started to undo her pack from behind the saddle. “Make sure Coll gets some mash. He’s looked after me really well.”
“Aye, I’ll do that, my lady.” The old man liked having another horse to take care of, and took hold of Coll’s reins eagerly, rubbing the gelding’s ears. “Come on, lad, you’ll be glad of a bit of rest.”
“Here, I’ll take that, my lady.” Ashild reached out for the pack as Devoran approached the door.
“No, you won’t. I can perfectly well carry it myself.” Devoran pulled it away from the outstretched hand. Ashild was getting too infirm to carry anything heavy, and Bregil not much better. But there was someone else on her mind. “How is my father?”
Ashild sighed, her wrinkled skin puckering even more. “About the same, except he’s not eating much. Perhaps having you back will persuade him to something other than a piece of bread. Not that we’ve got a lot else, except cheese. You will have to get your bow out, unless you want Bregil to butcher one of the goats. A bit of meat might tempt him.”
“I’d rather not lose a goat yet. But hopefully someone will bring us a deer, the herds will be coming back up from the lowlands soon.”
Ashild shot her a sour look. “I doubt if that cousin of yours will, my lady, but the villagers might. Now the weather is better they will be out. It’s about the only way most have of paying their dues.”
“We could certainly do with replenishing the larder.” She had known she would have to do something as soon as she got back. The end of the winter was always difficult, but this year…
“I think you’ll have to insist, my lady. Your father cares nothing about it.”
Devoran sighed. Things had been so tough after the war that her father had not wanted to collect the taxes for the first couple of quarters, and now he didn’t want to be bothered. But they had to eat. And even though the King had given them respite after the losses of the war, the reserve of coins was diminishing. Fat Alhael always charged full price for anything he delivered.
“Anyway, my lady,” Ashild carried on, “did you enjoy the wedding?”
“Yes, I did, a wonderful occasion. I will tell you all about it later. I’d better go and see Father first, I am sure he will have seen me coming.” Devoran put her pack down on a chair in the wide passage, casting her eyes around. She would need to get polishing; the wood had developed a dusty bloom in the short time she had been away. And flowers, the vases were empty. Little around this time of the year, but catkins looked nice and there were plenty of primroses. The outside of the house might be neglected, but her mother had always kept it sparkling and homely inside. She wanted to do the same, for her father’s sake.
He looked up when he heard her footsteps on the flags and stretched out his hand. But he stayed in his seat.
Devoran took hold of his fingers, putting her other hand on a thin shoulder and squeezing gently.
“Ashild bullies me.”
She laughed. “Someone has to.” There was a light in his eye, it happened so rarely now. “I had a wonderful time, Father. I met the King.” Please let him respond normally.
“The King gave me a horse.”
“Yes, I rode Coll to the wedding. But it was the other king I met. Our new king. Gondor’s king.”
His brows drew together in thought, but then his eyes clouded and he shook his head looking down the valley again. “It’s going to rain.”
Devoran sighed, and hearing footsteps, looked around. Ashild shuffled across the hall, carrying a loaded tray.
“Here’s Ashild with some food, Father. I am very hungry, but it looks too much for one. Shall we share it?”
He ate a bit with her pressing every mouthful, but soon pushed the plate away irritably. Devoran gave up and left him looking out the window as always. She wanted some time to think by herself, but couldn’t get away for a couple of hours. Ashild wanted to know all about the King and Queen and what the ladies were wearing, and Bergil went on about Alhael. Devoran refused to ask her cousin for any more help, not when he gave it so unwillingly.
But at last she called Drummer, and set off to the other side of the walled garden, where she could sit on a boulder and glimpse the lowlands through the gap in the hills.
Drummer rushed around hopefully, but the rabbits had taken cover at the first bark. She would have to lock him up tomorrow and come down with her bow. “Drummer, they’ve all gone, you daft dog. Come here, will you!” He reluctantly bounded up at her calling.
“When will you learn to keep quiet, you silly thing,” Devoran chided him. But she patted his head when he sat at her feet, pushing his hairy body against her legs. “I am going to have to try and cut your coat, it is so uneven. Besides, it’s going to be far too hot in the summer, you are panting now.”
Thinking he had seen something else Drummer went to run off again, but Devoran grabbed the fur around his neck.
“No, stay here. I want to talk to you.” Resigned, and with his large tongue lolling out of his mouth, the dog sat back down, leaning against her. “I have missed you, Drummer. Ashild said you have been very naughty, sneaking into my room and sleeping on my bed. You are not to do that. Well, at least you are not to let them know you do it: it is supposed to be our secret.” She took one of his ears between her fingers, rubbing the velvet flaps lovingly.
“Your ears are silky and soft but the rest of you is awful. I do wish you would let me bath and brush you. We must go to the river tomorrow and I will throw sticks. But it is not the same: you need a proper bath with soap. Stop it!” She pushed his head away. “You are not to lick my face!”
But she would not be honest if she did not admit to enjoying the dog’s unreserved affection. And it was only with Drummer she could forget her cares for a moment. But a jolt hit her – no not true! Amroth had made her forget them, and she wanted to tell Drummer all about him.
“No, you are not to go chasing rabbits again.” Devoran hauled him back as he made a final attempt to get away. “I said I want to talk to you, and anyway if you want to catch them you must stop barking. They are laughing at you, Drummer.”
She put both arms around his neck and hugged him. “I want to cuddle you. I want to tell you, Drummer, there is no one else. I want to tell you about my wicked, handsome Prince.” It looked as if he was content to sit now, so she let him go and sat back. If she spoke about Amroth, he would seem real, not just a handsome hero who had passed through her dreams leaving her unsettled and wanting.
“I do not know where to begin, Drummer.”
Drummer whined softly, and rested his chin on her thigh, gazing up with expectant brown eyes.
She laughed; content to believe he was listening. “Yes, of course you are right, Drummer. I must tell you from the start.
“My room was so crowded. There were six of us girls, they were all giggling and laughing, Drummer. All except me.” In fact she had felt so out of place that she couldn’t face the feast the first night, so had wandered outside the city gates to look at the sea.
“My mother loved the sea, Drummer, didn’t she? I think I love it too.” She’d certainly loved it in Amroth’s boat. But even now she found the events at the wedding almost unbelievable. Why had a prince taken an interest in her? Especially when he could have had his pick, if the excitement in her room was anything to go by.
“I went to bed before the other girls came in, Drummer, but you should have heard their nonsense –
‘He is so handsome.’
‘He is so bad.’
‘Did he dance with you?’
‘He danced with me.’
‘I made my father introduce me. He did not want to.’
‘I will make mine tomorrow.’
“I put the pillow over my head, Drummer, and went to sleep.
“It was the same in the morning. They were looking out of the window.
‘Come and look,’ they said, ‘you have not seen him yet.’
“But by the time I got there I only saw his back. He was riding with his sister and they were going to meet King Éomer. All I could see was lots of blue and silver and great big horses.
“The courtyard was full with everyone waiting for the Princess to return with her King. So I went outside the city gate, Drummer, and stood with the people from the Port. It kept me away from my cousin and I was near to the sea.
“Then we saw them coming, a great long procession winding along the road. First came King Éomer, and the Princess was riding with him, sitting on his horse. They were smiling and laughing and waving to everyone.
“And there he was behind them, leading the rest. What a sight that was. Everyone cheered. There was a guard of blue and silver, and one of green and gold. A Wizard and a Dwarf came next and a man dressed in an odd assortment of clothes. It was my Prince’s brother, Erchi, although I did not know it then. The Lords of Rohan with their flaxen braids and the Ladies with their long blonde hair. He was leading them all, Drummer.
“And the girls were right. He looked so handsome. Proud and handsome, and elegant, on that beautiful big grey horse – his name is Aero, Drummer. And yes, my heart did flutter, although I pretended it did not.”
She remembered thinking that she was not so different from the other girls, thrown into confusion by the sight of a black-haired prince on a fine, strutting horse. But if that had been all, she would not be feeling so disturbed now. With a sigh, Devoran acknowledged the start of the upset to her dull life – because she would not have walked with him and danced with him, would not have kissed him, if beneath that wicked, handsome Prince she had not seen the lovely laughing boy?
“You want to know about that, don’t you, Drummer? Well, I will try and explain.
“Just as they approached the city gates there was a cry! And a colourful toy with ribbons and bells went rolling in the road. I thought his horse would shy, but of course he trains them too well for that. He made it neatly sidestep and held up his hand. Everybody stopped. The little girl was crying, she thought she had lost her toy. But he smiled at her and spoke gently, Drummer. He told her to come and fetch it, that his big horse would not hurt her because he would make it stand quite still.
“And of course it did stand still, Drummer. Her father pushed her forward and she picked up her toy. It was so funny, Drummer. She tried to bow. She was only little and she looked so sweet. He grinned and laughed, and bowed right back. She was a little girl from the Port but he treated her like a princess.
“If I had been in the courtyard, Drummer, I would not have seen that lovely laughing boy.”
And perhaps the rest would not have happened, because she would have been much more wary. Devoran picked up a grass stem, twirling it around in her fingers as she remembered how her heart had been grabbed from that moment.
“Anyway, Drummer I had to go and change for the wedding and it all started again. They could talk about nothing else –
‘Did you see him?’
‘He looked so splendid on that horse.’
“Then they turned to me.
‘Have you seen him now?’
‘Well, yes I have.’
‘And what did you think?’
‘I thought he was nice and kind’
‘He stopped the procession for a little girl to pick up her toy.’
‘So that is what happened.’
‘His father was very cross.’
‘Do you mean he stopped all those Lords and Ladies for a child’s cheap toy?’
“Yes, I thought it was very nice of him.’
“And I did, Drummer. I thought he was very kind.
“The wedding was lovely, Drummer. The Princess looked so beautiful and King Éomer so grand. They looked very happy, and I was glad for them.”
But she hadn’t been able to resist sneaking a look at Amroth, had she?
“He was sitting next to an Elven Prince, Drummer. He is handsome too, I suppose, with long, shining hair.
“I thought my Prince looked rather sad. He looked deep in thought. And of course I had no idea then, Drummer, of what would happen next.
“Can you imagine what I felt when I turned and saw him standing next to me? He has black eyes. Black eyes with a wicked twinkle, and he twinkled them at me. Why do you think that was, Drummer? I really do not know why he wanted to spend so much time with me. But he made me laugh and I have not laughed for a very long time.”
Yes, he made her laugh! So easily and so naturally, they could have been friends for years. Her brothers had made her laugh, teasing her, sometimes tormenting her. But always loving her… Now she was being stupid, Amroth had enjoyed her company, nothing more. Probably because he missed his sister.
“He took me out in his boat, Drummer, and his little nephew came. It is obvious he loves his uncle, and I am not surprised.” The memories of the boat trip brought more thoughts to the surface. “Why do you think he makes me blush Drummer? I cannot remember blushing much before.
“The girls in my room were very quiet. They hardly spoke to me.” If she had felt out of place before, she had felt ostracised after the boat trip. The gossipers must have already been busy. When the knock on the door had come – ‘Is Lady Devoran there? Your bath is ready, my lady. Will you please bring your things?’ – she could have sunk through the floor.
“I went as quickly as possible, Drummer, and all the girls stood with their mouths open.”
A strange experience, using his sister’s room. And the maid, Ana, had been a little odd. “She was very nice to me, Drummer, but there was something else in her manner that I just could not place. Perhaps she felt I should not be there. But when I went for my bath the next day, she was different, happier, I think. We talked about Lady, and then she told me proudly. ‘I am getting married. He is very nice; I got friendly with him when we went to Rohan. But he is one of Prince Erchirion’s soldiers and stayed the winter to learn tracking from the Rohirrim. He asked me when he got back, just as soon as he had stabled his horse. I did not say yes straight away but now that I have met you, Lady Devoran, then I think that I will.’
“I have no idea what she meant, Drummer, what a funny thing to say. But before I could ask her, an older maid called Hisael came to see if I would like her to do my hair. She said that I must look my best for the King, but I am sure she came because she wanted to get a look at me. Can you remember, Drummer, years ago it seems, when my mother used to brush my hair?
“Amroth took me to the beach on that last night …and that was when he kissed me. It was very nice and I could not be cross, he was so clever. I cannot help it, Drummer, can I, that I am frightened of spiders?”
She paused, remembering the walk back from the beach. He had held her hand, but neither of them had said much. And then reaching the guesthouse they’d just stared at each other, no words coming.
“I wanted him to hold me; I know he would have done. If I had taken one little step, he would have reached for me. Can you remember, Drummer, the last time somebody put their arms around me? I can. I remember quite well –
“My brothers hugged me tight, and then my father, and that was the last hug I ever had. My father kissed me and said he would be back quite soon.
“When they were out of sight my mother cried. I put my arms around her, but she never hugged me again. I hugged her. She never brushed my hair or sang to me again, ever. My father did come home. But he came alone.
“You remember, Drummer: he went to hug my mother, but she turned away. So I put my arms around him instead. He has never held me since, has he? But I keep on holding him.”
Devoran brushed at an escaping tear, crying would not help. “I wanted my Prince to hug me, but I was too scared. For if he had done that, Drummer, could I have come home? Could I have faced this accursed Vale if he had put his arms around me? I did not know, and I never found out, because I turned and ran away.”
Attuned to her mood as always, Drummer nosed his face into her lap. She patted his head, smoothing down the rough hair. “And now, Drummer, there is just you and me. But I will always remember the wonderful time I had with my Prince.”
Devoran gazed south, following the line of the Morthond River until it disappeared into the haze. Her mother used to sit here, imagining she could see her old home along the shores of the Cobas Haven. Now she would come here too, looking towards Edhellond, and the high turrets of a castle that loomed above the trees. Then her mind might travel back along the vast beach where they had galloped, and farther, to the place below the city where he had kissed her. A memory to be treasured when the cares and worries of her grim life closed around her. A light for the dark days ahead when her father got worse, as she knew with horrible certainty that he would. With a deep sigh she got up. She must get back, the evening meal would be ready and her father would eat little if she were not there to cajole him.
“Come on, Drummer, you will want your supper, too.” The dog woofed and bounded ahead, but ran back panting after a few moments, his pink tongue flicking foam. At least she had Drummer to talk to.
“Oh, I forgot to tell you, Drummer, that I met the King. He was very kind and understanding. He told me that if I was ever alone, ever in need, then there was a home for me. A place at court. You would have to come too, of course.”
To be continued.
Original Characters in this chapter.
Alhael- G Devoran’s cousin. Son of Duinhir’s elder sister.
Coruves- G Alhael’s wife.
Ana- G Junior maid in the Palace
Hisael- G Senior maid in the Palace. Once maid to Lothíriel
Thathar- G A Bowman from the Morthond Vale. Wounded badly on the Pelennor.
Éldes-G Thathar’s wife.
Ashild - G Housekeeper to Lord Duinhir.
Bregil- G General Servant, Ashild’s husband.
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.