1. Gilraen, the Fair
Arathorn surveyed the noisy room full of revelers, gulped down his beer and held out his mug for another. The mettarë festivities had been swirling all day without him as he strategized with his commanders and endured another lecture from his father on his wifeless, heirless state. While he could not articulate to his father what he wanted in a wife, he was sure he did not want to marry the worthy and arch candidate, nor the worthy and smug one, nor the worthy and blunt one, nor the tongue-tied one even though he had been assured of her worth. She would not say more than single word responses so he could not judge for himself and the thought of having to drag conversation out of her for the rest of his life appalled him.
The noise level rose as the musicians tuned up. Arathorn watched a general drift of the younger men and older boys towards a point at the far side of the room. He caught a glimpse of a lithe girl in dark red and gold in the center of the group. Her hair, with the blue-black sheen of raven's wings, flowed around her, showing and obscuring the gold worked on her belt as she laughed and turned to follow the multiple requests to dance.
Leaning across to the keg-tender, he asked, "Who is that?"
The musicians struck up a loud chord and the first part of the reply was swallowed in the din, but Arathorn heard "…. The Fair." Perfect. Young, vain, no doubt frivolous. He would fulfill his promise to his father to "at least dance, damn you" and, as he was more than twice her age, not even the girl would take his attentions seriously.
He drained his mug and handed it back, then strode across the floor, the swains melting back out of the way as they saw him approach the girl. Arathorn gave her a formal bow and held out his hand. "I believe this dance is mine?"
She hesitated for a heartbeat, then smiled at him and placed her hand in his. "I am honored, Lord Arathorn." She had a very winsome smile. Her thwarted suitors fell back as he led her to the front of the set and she favored him with another smile as the other couples formed up behind them. "I thank you for the rescue. Being called 'the fair' has its burdens in a crowd."
Vain indeed! Was she fishing for compliments? But her, really quite attractive, face looked open and guileless and her smile sincere. Well, he remembered the proper forms for empty compliments, even if he had had little practice of late.
As the movements of the dance brought them together he leaned a little closer and said in a quiet undertone, "Your eyes are like stars in the winter sky and your lips rival the roses."
She turned startled eyes towards him and stammered, "Why I, I thank you for the compliments but…." Enlightenment spread across her features and she laughed. Neither a chortle, nor a giggle, nor a titter, her laugh was a joy-filled trill that brought an answering smile to his face, though he was baffled as to the cause of her mirth. "I have been firmly set into my place. I thought all the north knew why I am called 'the fair' but you have obviously never heard of me."
"And that amuses you?"
"Should it not?"
Perhaps he had misjudged her vanity. He bowed over her hand and settled it into position for the promenade portion of the dance. "You must tell me the story. I would not wish to be thought ignorant of common knowledge."
She acquiesced with a twitch of her shoulder. "My first grown-up dance was nothing like this; only a few families together, though we were far from home and I knew none of them. My mother impressed on me that I was descended of kings and should never dance more than two dances with anyone, man or boy, as I would be thought wayward and intemperate. I dearly love to dance and so I danced with first one, and then a second and a third. And there was no one else who asked to dance with me. And so I danced with them each again. And still the musicians struck up another tune. The three boys I had danced with stood around me, each beseeching me to choose them for my partner again as they were tired of dancing with each other's sisters. Their sisters were glaring at me. Mother was glaring at me from across the room. Besides, not one of them had impressed me so much that I wished to favor them with a third dance. They were well enough, and highborn enough to please my uncle, but not so attractive that I wished to disobey my mother to gain their favor."
She smiled and shook her head, apparently at her own youthful folly. As they changed hands and bowed, Arathorn's gaze slid down her smooth, rounded cheek and rested on top of her smooth, rounded breast where it peeped out from the neckline of her gown. Wherever her story was leading, she - What was her name? He felt as if he ought to know it. - certainly had enough beauty that the "fair" appellation suited her very well.
"Go on," he encouraged her. From the practiced way she told it, it was clear she had told it many times.
"I looked around and I saw against the wall another boy, younger even than I, and I was barely sixteen. He wore his best tunic but it was too short and his face was at the truly awkward stage of all spots, but he looked at me with adoring eyes. I grabbed his hand and told him it was his turn to dance with me. He stammered out, "M… m… me?" and his voice cracked, and all the other boys laughed at him. And as I drew him into the dance, I faced back to the other boys who were protesting my choice and said the fatal words, 'You've had your turns. I'm only being fair.' Behold, here I am still - Gilraen, the Fair."
Arathorn laughed with her and said, "Are you still careful to apportion your favors fairly?"
"I am, though it is more difficult in such a crowd. Do I choose the best looking men, or the ones who are not chosen by others, or…" She looked up at him from under her lashes. "… by rank? Lowest first? Highest first? Some mixture? My mother tells me it is good training. All women need to be diplomats."
He turned her around and finished the dance with a bow. She made him a reverence. Arathorn held onto her fingers. "I am finally pleased to have my rank, if it is what got me a dance with the most beautiful woman in the room." She looked up with an astonished grin, and he stood mute for a second, knowing she knew he had not meant that as an empty compliment. He raised a brow as he remembered her name. "Gilraen. I do know you. Are you not Ivorwen and Dírhael's brat? The last time I saw you, you were only a babe. You seemed barely out of leading-strings, yet you constantly broke into my room, clambered onto my bed – always jostling my aching, broken leg - and you insisted to everyone who would listen that I was your husband and you had to be the one to take care of me. How I survived your ministrations without getting a limp, I will never know."
Gilraen hung her head and he saw a rosy flush rise to her cheeks. "I hoped you had forgotten that."
He had forgotten her, hadn't he? He had certainly never thought of her from that day to this. Had he? That dainty child had rested her head on the pillow next to his face, stroked his cheek and pleaded with him to wait for her to grow up. The beautiful young maid she had become raised her face to him and her eyes were familiar; long-lashed grey pools the color of the evening sky just before the blue fades away. Eyes he could happily drown in. She already attracted him more than any woman had done since he had reached manhood. Had she seen truly? Had his reluctance to marry meant he had been waiting for her to grow up? Only the future mattered. Arathorn saw her adult face on the pillow next to his, and, with a younger man's desperation, he wanted to stroke her cheek and run his hands down under the covers to... He blinked. For now, he did not want to let go of her hands.
The musicians played an introductory chord to the next dance.
"Dance with me?" he pleaded.
"I am still too young." That quiet answer was to a question he had not yet asked.
"It is only a dance, Gilraen." He held her hands lightly in his, not constraining her.
"A second dance immediately after the first? That is nearly as wanton as a third dance would be." But Gilraen smiled the same sure smile he remembered and took her place at his side as the music started.
The first dance had been a stately promenade. The second was a wild romp. Gilraen's waist felt… right, almost familiar, under his hands as he swung her high and set her lightly down. They were both grinning and breathless when the music finally stopped.
Arathorn bowed to her as the end of the dance called for, asking, "If I ask you to dance again, will you regret having to say no?"
This time, her hands tightened on his. "Yes. But I will say 'no' just the same."
"Then I will not ask you." He drew her arm under his and escorted her towards the side of the room. His father and hers stood together watching them approach with approval in their nearly identical astonishment. "I will ask your father."
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.