10. Celebration Part 11
Celebration Part II
As we came down from the mountains, the plains opened up before us – the Morthond River showed as a silver thread snaking its way through the lush lowlands towards the coast. I inhaled deeply, imagining that I could already smell the sea. Éomer had Elfwine sitting on the saddle in front of him – the lively toddler had at last fallen asleep against his father's chest, thumb jammed in his mouth. At three and a half he was still a baby, but I guessed that when he woke again he would be clamouring to ride his pony, something we had not allowed him to do on the steep mountain road, even tied to a leading rein.
'Another scorching day,' Éomer remarked, pushing his hair back from his face. 'It'll be even hotter later.'
I nodded agreement; already I could feel trickles of sweat running down my back. We'd had days of cloudless skies, the bright blue of spring long given way to the deep, warm azure of summer. It would be better once we were in Dol Amroth where the sea breezes and the thick stone kept the palace reasonably cool, but we still had another three day's travel through the baking landscape.
'It will be lovely to cool off in the water; Elfwine will so enjoy it. And Amroth will take him out in his boat, which will be real fun.'
Éomer raised his brows. 'If you say so.'
I laughed. Éomer didn't quite share my love of the sea, although I remembered an interesting time the morning after our wedding that he'd certainly enjoyed. 'You like a dip occasionally,' I murmured giving him a coy look. He must have caught my drift for his eyes crinkled and he winked.
'I'm darn glad we've brought the tents,' Éothain interrupted our little flirtation by riding between us. 'I wouldn't fancy crowding into those inns: they'll be as hot as the Harad wastelands.'
I agreed with him. I'd loved Rohírric camping since the first time I had tried it before my marriage, but it meant a lot of trouble for the servants and involved many packhorses. Yet worth the effort for the relaxing informality and also because we would probably be able to dip our feet in a refreshing stream tonight and be lulled to sleep by its bubbling song.
'Why couldn't your father wait, and get married in the autumn, Lothíriel?' Éothain grumbled on. 'It would be much more pleasant travelling then.'
'I think he wants me to meet Erchirion's new wife, sooner rather than later. At least that's what I read between the lines of his last letter.'
'Hmm...' Éothain twisted his lips sceptically. 'Strange thing for Erchirion to have done if you ask me?'
'Why strange?' I retorted. 'I understand she's a beautiful-looking woman and a sister to Amal.'
'But they're not the same race are they. They have different ways.'
'Well, if an elf can marry a man, I don't see the problem. In fact, I am slightly different than you. And Éomer's ancestry is all mixed up.'
Éothain sighed. 'None of that is the point. There's not much to choose between us, but the Harad women have been brought up differently...'
'Too true,' Éomer interrupted. 'They walk behind their men and don't speak until they're spoken to. It sounds wonderful to me.'
I glared at him, before I broke into giggles at his innocent expression. 'You wouldn't want me to be a timid little mouse.'
He laughed, grinning at Éothain. 'I'd be willing to give it a try for a while.'
'Meduseld wouldn't be the same without your spats,' Éothain joked. 'Seriously, though' – he couldn't leave it alone – 'it must be pretty odd married to someone who keeps themselves covered from head to toe.'
'I don't think they do that in private, do they?' I looked at Éomer, him more likely to know than me.
He shrugged. 'I've no idea. We only saw a few ladies of that class and all were covered up.'
'Plenty more of another class though,' Éothain guffawed. 'And they certainly weren't covered. Far from it.'
'How interesting, do tell me more?'
Éothain spun guiltily in the saddle at the sound of his wife's voice. 'They danced for us, that's all,' he said quickly, before appealing to Éomer for confirmation. 'Just the normal hospitality wasn't it?'
I let my horse fall back to ride beside Welwyn; her two, Leofcwen and Eadred were asleep in a wagon so she was enjoying a little peace. 'I don't think you have to worry. Éomer said that they were either plied heavily with wine and arak, or they were out in the desert fighting.'
Welwyn smiled at her husband indulgently. 'Oh, I am not worried. If there was a choice between women and drink, the drink would win every time.
Éomer turned and caught my eye, but he didn't have to say anything because trust existed between us, and I had heard all about the scantily-clad dancers. One thing did puzzle me though – if the noble ladies were kept so hidden and protected how on earth had Erchirion barged through the defences? Father certainly hadn't said in his letter, but no doubt I would find out when we got to Dol Amroth.
Leofcwen and Elfwine chattered excitedly when at last we could point out the ramparts of the fortified city, trying to extract promises of visiting the beach that very evening. Although Elfwine couldn't possibly remember what it was like to play on the sand. Eadred, too young to anticipate the fun he might have in the coming days, slept contently against Welwyn's chest.
Hewn out of the rock on which it stood, Dol Amroth dominated the flatlands around and the children stared wide-eyed as the towering edifice got ever closer. The rest of us were just glad the journey was nearing its end, and clean sheets and cool water would welcome us tonight. But for now we had to make some effort to ensure an orderly and reasonably ceremonious entrance into the city. My father, not a great one for being overly pomp, would certainly have the trumpeters out and no doubt a guard lining the way from the city gate to the palace. Some formality would be expected until we were hidden behind the closed doors of the family quarters.
The welcome party on the steps certainly seemed to get larger every time we came, and looking at Devoran's stomach it was obvious it would carry on that way. Three nephews and one niece for me to greet now, I just couldn't hug everyone at once. I managed Devoran, Amroth and my father, plus a quick congratulatory kiss on Calaerdis' cheek. So much to say to them, but it would have to wait. Elfwine looked a bit awed at being surrounded by cousins and held on to my hand, but Leofcwen showed no such concerns, already attaching herself to Elenna, who would probably be glad of her girlie support amongst so many boys. In the end, my father picked Elfwine up, and Éomer and I were able to be introduced to Inayah.
I had been expecting her to be covered – I remembered making sure I wore a modest outfit with long sleeves when I first met Prince Amal – but I was not sure that I had expected the veil. It made her stand out as totally different from every other woman around her. Both Meren and Devoran dressed becomingly without a huge expanse of flesh being exposed, but their faces and feelings were on show to all. Which I suppose, when I thought about it, was why noble ladies were trained to hide their thoughts and desires behind schooled countenances. I found the veil a little disconcerting, even though it didn't mask her eyes, where emotion was more difficult to hide.
Inayah's eyes were black. Not the deep, bright black of Amroth's, but big and velvety soft. I immediately sensed confusion there and my heart went out to her. A strange land, surrounded by people of a completely different culture, it couldn't be easy. And although I could see the pride in Erchirion's face and recognised with some amazement the depth of love he felt for her, my big, rollicking brother was not renowned for his sensitivity.
I was a little relieved that she removed her veil when we sat down to supper – the family eating quietly together that night after the arduous journey. Certainly a beautiful woman, she had replaced the black robes for dark blue garments shot with gold embroidery. The headdress that covered all her hair framed a high-cheek-boned, heart shaped face and a flawless complexion, not that much darker than my own. If she dressed like that all the time I couldn't see any problem and I was sure her shyness would gradually ease. But father had whispered that she would veil herself again at the end of the meal and every time she left the family quarters she shrouded herself in black, which caused all the citizens to point and stare. Even if it was behind Erchirion's back.
I had the distinct feeling father expected me to do something to change this; I could understand that he didn't like such behaviour. Meren and Devoran had slotted straight into the close and supportive family life my father liked. He treated them as his daughters and I knew it must irk him to have Inayah so much on the outside.
Talking it over with Éomer that night, he admitted that he had been slightly concerned I would not immerse myself in Rohírric culture, and find the intimacy of Meduseld difficult to deal with. He could certainly understand my father's feelings and suggested that I use my experiences to form a common ground between us. But I had never been all that easy in other women's company and tended to have a few close friends whom I valued, finding it difficult to talk trivialities with strangers. Still, for my father's sake I set myself a challenge – the wedding was a week away, I had to persuade Inayah to attend it without her veil.
Obviously I had to work on getting to know her, form some kind of relationship before I could even attempt to persuade her to give up a tradition her people had followed for years. And besides the mystery of her meeting my brother, there was another point I felt puzzled about – Inayah must have been about my own age, so why had she not married until now as custom dictated? They were all things to discover, but I had to gain a little trust before I could hope to learn anything.
The next day the whole family went down to our private cove, the servants carrying baskets of food and drink which they spread out on the rocks. I would normally have gone straight into the water and already had breeches under my skirt, but I knew that there would be no way Inayah would do this. She had gone to sit near the food, removing her black outer garment to show an all enveloping overdress of pale blue with matching veil. Devoran might have swum also, but in her condition she settled for taking her shoes off to wade. So did Meren; like Calaerdis, she never went deeper than her ankles. The water beckoned me, but it might be better to talk to Inayah before I got soaking wet, so after making sure Elfwine was happy with his father and the other children, I strolled back up the beach to join my new sister. I could swim later when it would be even hotter.
Disconcerting, only to see her eyes. But it didn't stop the jolt of awareness that rocked me as I sat down – she was pregnant! With my insight I had no doubt, even though she might not even know herself. It shouldn't have surprised me, but somehow I had never imagined Erchi as a father. I pushed the knowledge to the back of my mind, a far too intimate thing to discuss with her yet.
'Have you ever been in the sea, Inayah?'
'No I haven't.' She looked towards the water. Everyone was in, even my father, and Devoran was up to her knees, holding her skirt out of the water. Only Calderis and Meren waded on the edge of the sand. Was it a wistful look I detected?
'It looks fun, but...I'm not sure. This is the first time I have been to the cove.'
Her voice was deep and melodious, the accent giving it an attractive lilt. She spoke Westron quite well, but then I would expect her to, being Amal's sister. I smiled. 'I bathed in the sea as soon as I could walk, but I imagine it might be a little overwhelming for others. However, you have plenty of time to get used to it. Maybe you'd be best to go with Erchi on your own and just dip your feet in to see how you like the sensation.'
'Perhaps,' she replied, giving nothing more away. 'But you are not enjoying the sea with the others. Why is that?'
I shrugged. 'I thought I would keep you company.'
I laughed. 'Not really. To be honest I wanted to get to know you. I am only here for a few weeks so thought I had better make a start. And I was going to ask you how your brother is.'
'Yes, I met him some years ago, and he came to my wedding.'
'He is fond of your family...'she hesitated; her eyes guarded... 'He told me that you had not been treated well by his cousin, Umar, but none of you held that against him. And your brothers did not seek revenge.'
'Why should they? He was not responsible for his cousin's behaviour.'
'That is...I do not know the word...generous of them. Is that right?'
'It will do. But let's not say more about it.' A culture difference best left alone. I changed the subject. 'Did Erchirion tell you that way back on our mother's side we have an ancestor from Harad?'
'No, he didn't.' She frowned, thinking, and fixed her gaze on me as if discovering something. 'You have the emerald eyes of a seer.'
'So I understand, and Sawda, my ancestor, was a seer...' I told her about my mother's books and what I knew of the history. She showed considerable interest in Sawda and I wondered about offering her one of the copies to read, but as the books stressed Gondor's victory over Harad, albeit a long time ago, I thought it might not be wise quite yet.
'And you have the gift?' she asked when I had finished.
'I am what we call fey. With a seer on my mother's side and an elf way back in my father's linage, I suppose it's not too surprising. Mostly my gift comes in the form of healing, but I see other things as well. I knew when Éomer was badly injured for instance, even though I was hundreds of miles away.'
'It must be strange to know things like that, not always easy.'
'No, it's not. But there is one thing I would love to know that my sight won't tell me...'
Her head tilted to one side as she waited for me to speak. I plunged in. 'How did you meet and get to know my brother? From what I can understand about your culture, men and unmarried high-born ladies do not have much contact.'
She dropped her gaze to her lap and said nothing.
'I am sorry, have I offended you? Don't answer if you'd rather not.'
'No ...' Light brightened her black eyes and beneath the veil I was sure she smiled. 'We are sisters. I am happy to tell you...'
Fazia had been weeping for hours; why Amal had to bring his young wife to a soldier's camp Inayah couldn't understand. The poor girl was petrified that he would never come back from battling the Southron invaders and she would have to return to her father in disgrace because she was not yet with child.
Inayah could have cried herself; Fazia's fears brought back disturbing memories of another time, the preparations for another battle and a husband who had not come back. Barren – the word had haunted her. Even when her husband had taken another wife and no child had swollen that one's belly, the stigma still clung, like thick brown resin on a damaged levonah tree.
By the end of the Ring-war she had no husband and no child. But Amal had been good to her so she didn't really mind nurse-maiding his delicate little wife, pretty thing that she was. But being in the camp was even more restricting than her usual life – the women's quarters were small, there was no library, and it was impractical to bathe properly every day. It was almost impossible to even stretch one's legs – there was no scented garden where she could enjoy feeding the colourful little serins – and leaving the tent risked a meeting with one of the commanders from Gondor who moved freely around the camp. She had seen most of them by peeping through the folds of cloth that lined the big pavilion where they dined with Amal. Some were swarthy and black-haired much like her own people, but some had light hair and skin and looked most odd. She certainly didn't want to come across one of those.
But if she went around the back of the tent where the wine and arak was kept and approached the healer's tent from the side, she should be able to get the calming herbs she needed for Fazia and return with little risk.
Pulling her headdress right across her face, Inayah emerged from the women's tent warily. The armoury was not far away so she had to be careful. Seeing no one she took a few steps out onto the hot sand and stopped, not daring to move. Unnoticed by her, a man had been standing in the shadow. As he came out into the sunlight she saw it was one of the Gondorians, the big handsome one who drank a lot and enjoyed the dancers. Luckily he had his back to her for she had already felt his eyes on her when she stood behind Amal and Fazia during the welcome ceremony, and had encountered him again when he'd entered the pavilions early and she had been supervising the presentation of the feast. But this time he hadn't noticed her, so as he walked away she flitted quietly behind the storage tent, slowing down when she was safely shielded by the large canvas structure. Her heart was still beating fast from her narrow escape, last time she'd had to bow quickly and leave when he tried to engage her in conversation. Maybe she should have sent one of the servants to fetch the herbs, but the urge to get out of the confines of the tent had won over caution.
Inayah paused for a moment, her nose picking up the fragrance of bay and the oily eucalyptus that edged the camp. She would have loved to walk through the trees, but there were too many men about to take the chance. Perhaps when the bulk of them had ridden off to war...with a sigh she bent to smell a struggling rock rose. Sweet and fragrant, its seeds must have blown in from the coast. Straightening up again, something flickered on the edge of her vision.
She stood like a statue, fear choked her throat, numbed her muscles. But if she moved it would be all over: the Black Naja had fangs that could pierce thick linen. It would bite through her light raiment like a poisoned dagger ripped through padded leather.
Sweat ran down her back and trickled between her breasts – the snake was well within striking distance, its evil hood spread menacingly as it sized her up. Not like the dull Bitis that only struck when you trod on it, this serpent was evil and deadly. It cared not that it had been chosen to decorate the Haradrim banners – friend or foe, it killed without favour.
Could she risk a step backwards, if she inched slowly...but the snake fixed yellow eyes on her, daring her to move. Giving up hope, leaden feet sunk heavily into the sand.
Swiss...sh, her robe fluttered in a draft of air as something whistled past, before she realised what was happening a dagger pinned the serpent to the ground. The snake thrashed and writhed and Inayah screamed out in horror. She heard running footsteps and a split second later a flashing sword slashed off its ugly head.
'Are you all right?' The Gondorian took her arm; she tried to pull away but he held her firmly. 'Calm down, you're safe now.'
But it was too late; two guards arrived alerted by her screams. Through her panic-stricken haze she heard the Gondorian explain what had happened, pointing out the corpse that stained the sand.
They would call her brother and she knew exactly what Amal would do...
'What did Amal do?' I prompted when Inayah dried up, wondering why she had still sounded so terrorized after the incident was over.
'What any brother would do. He gave me to my rescuer.'
'What! He gave you to Erchirion?' I couldn't believe it.
'Of course, Erchirion saved my life, therefore I belonged to him.'
I sprung to my feet, looking wildly around for my brother. He couldn't have. Surely even Erchirion wouldn't take a wife in such circumstances. I was so furious I could hardly speak. 'It might be your way, Inayah, but it is certainly not ours.' Too late to change anything perhaps, but Erchirion would feel the depth of my anger.
Inayah stood up and put her hand on my arm. 'Lothíriel please, it's all right...'she stopped, dropping her head as Meren and Devoran came smiling towards us. Good, that gave me a chance to go in the water and talk to Erchirion. The way I felt I would probably drown him.
To be continued.
Original Characters appearing in this chapter.
Welwyn Daughter of Erkenbrand married to Éothain
Leofcwen Éothain's daughter
Eadred Éothain's son
Devoran Daughter of Duinhir of Morthond – married to Prince Amrothos.
Meren Married to Prince Elphir.
Lady Calaerdis From Sirith in Lebennin. A rich widow, mistress to Imrahil
Elenna Daughter to Devoran and Amrothos
Prince Amal Ruler of Near Harad.
Sawda A Harad princess and ancestor of Aearin.
Inayah Amal's half-sister. Married Erchirion.
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.