11. Celebration Part III
A short chapter, but more soon. LBJ
Celebration Part III
Impatiently I tore off my skirt and flung it down in the sand, wading into the water near to where Erchirion was floating on his back a fair way from the shore. Luckily Elfwine was involved with the other children in trying to splash their grandfather, with Éomer and Elphir looking on amused; otherwise he would no doubt have tried to claim my attention. Just about to dive under a wave, my legs were grabbed and I lost my footing to fall with an inelegant splash.
'Amroth!' I spluttered as I regained my feet. 'Do you have to behave like an idiot!'
'My my! What's got into you?' Amroth stood up and pushed his sodden hair back from his face, smirking like a sleek cat. 'You were marching down the beach as if you intended to murder someone; I thought you'd better cool off quick.'
'It might be you I murder,' I flashed back angrily. 'It strikes me you must have known!'
The realisation made me lash out in an attempt to push him over, but he was too quick for me and dived out of the way, splashing water in my face. 'Am I in trouble? What should I have known, little sister?'
His engaging grin only incensed me further. I wiped the salt from my eyes and advanced towards him again. 'That your friend Amal gave his sister to Erchi just because he saved her from some damn snake!'
'Whoa, Lothy,' Amroth held his hands up in submission. 'I didn't know that, I promise.'
'Are you sure? If you stood by and let Inayah be treated like a... a...chattel... a reward...I'll never forgive you.'
'I swear it's news to me. For some reason Amal must have kept that quiet.' He drew his brows together thoughtfully.' Although, it certainly explains a lot.'
Amroth appeared to be a bit shocked, so it didn't look as if he was lying, and it would be very unlike him. I took a deep breath. 'What does it explain? And don't try to hoodwink me.'
'I wouldn't, and I can see why you are angry if that's true about Inayah being handed over like a prized camel. I just assumed Erchi had got fed up with what was on offer and thought to try his luck with someone a little classier.'
'About time he got some taste.'
Amroth chuckled. 'I did laugh to myself when I spotted them on a couple of occasions before we rode out, sitting close and talking outside Amal's tent. But both times that servant of hers was there as well, sitting just out of earshot. I admit it amazed me that he was allowed to talk to her at all. He wouldn't say anything, however much I teased him. And I remember him being mighty keen to get back to the main camp after the fighting was all over. My little adventure delayed him a bit, but he rushed off as soon as I returned. I guessed he had something going, although at that stage I never really thought he'd bring her here. Still, looking back, I suppose it was to be expected.'
'Because I don't imagine he would have been anywhere near her if Amal hadn't agreed to them meeting. When it did cross my mind he was serious, I deliberately kept well clear. Then I couldn't give anything away to father. Much more fun that way.'
Fun! It might have been, if Inayah had been a willing participant. I glared him, before turning away to disappear under the next wave.
Long strokes took me quickly out to where Erchirion was still floating. Amroth had been right; the water had cooled my anger, at least enough for me to behave rationally. Erchi heard me coming anyway, so no chance of drowning the big hulk. As I came up alongside him, he dropped his feet and started to tread water, staring at me a bit bemused.
'What's the matter?' You look as though a crab's caught your toe.'
Not the best place to start an argument–bobbing up and down out of my depth – but I wasn't prepared to wait. 'I've been talking to Inayah.'
Erchi frowned through a curtain of wet hair. He pushed it away irritably. 'Didn't you get on? I was sure that you would.'
'Oh, don't worry, I got on with her, it's you I have the problem with.'
'Why? What I have I done to upset you? I would have thought you'd be pleased to see me married.'
'Not married to a woman who was given no choice in the matter. Handed over like a bag of coins just because you did no more than chop off a filthy serpent's head!' I spluttered as water went up my nose; shouting not being conducive to staying upright.
Erchi grabbed my arm, holding me up. 'Before you berate me anymore, let's go where we can at least stand.' He started to tow me, but I shook him off and kicked my legs, striking out for the rocks that edged the cove.
The water shallowed suddenly, and I waded the last few yards, wringing water from my hair. Most of the rocks were rough, barnacles and limpets making them poor seats, but there were a couple that had been avoided for some reason. I clambered on top of one, sitting with my feet dangling in the water. Erchirion stood facing me, his eyes level with mine. I had often seen his characteristic belligerent look, but until now it had seldom been directed towards me.
'So, what did Inayah actually tell you? Not everything, I presume, or you wouldn't be hurling flaming barbs my way.'
I opened my mouth and closed it again quickly, suddenly wary that I could have got it wrong, 'She said you saved her from a snake and so Amal gave her to you.'
'That's it? That's all she told you? She didn't go on to say anything else?'
'Well...well.' Guiltily I realised that I had given her no chance, being so cross that I'd rushed off. But instead of being contrite, I raised my chin defiantly. 'What else is there to say? It sounded pretty clear to me.'
'You mean, Lothy, that you jumped to conclusions.' Erchi folded his arms, standing in front of me as solid and unyielding as the rock around us. When I didn't say anything, he fixed me with fierce dark eyes. 'You've a pretty poor opinion of me, haven't you?'
Glad I was his sister and not his enemy, I sighed. 'Well, if I made a mistake I apologise.' I gave him a hesitant smile. 'So what is the truth?'
He still had a mulish expression and I thought I'd annoyed him so much that he wouldn't tell me more, but then I noticed a glimmer of amusement start up in his eyes. 'It was just like Inayah said – I chopped off a snake's head and was given a wife as a reward.'
But I knew him too well to react to that. And now that my temper had abated somewhat, I brought to mind my first thoughts on their marriage. 'Come on big brother, tell all. I did think initially that Dol Amroth's consummate warrior had fallen in love at last. So there must be more.'
Unusually embarrassed for a moment, he visibly relaxed when I smiled encouragingly, the stiffness leaving his body. 'I don't know why I should tell you,' he grumbled. 'Not after your poor treatment of me.'
I made room on the rock and after an initial show of reluctance Erchi came and sat down beside me. He might be the toughest of my brothers, but he was also the most malleable, and I had always been able to manipulate him. 'Did Amal really give Inayah to you?' I prompted after a few moments' silence.
He nodded. 'But before you get all mouthy again, let me tell you that I tried not to accept his incredible offer. But in the end I had no choice.'
'Do you mean he forced you to marry her?'
'It's not as simple as that.' He raked through his hair with long calloused fingers; a gesture I recognised, as Éomer often did exactly that when he didn't quite know what to say. 'Look Lothy, let me start from the beginning.'
'A good idea,' I agreed.
'Well, I first saw Inayah at the official welcome. She was standing behind Amal's wife. And I don't know why even now, but there was something about her that attracted me.'
'What, all covered up and veiled?' I interrupted.
He twisted his lips. 'That just shows what you know about men. It was something about the way she moved and held herself. And she has lovely black eyes.'
Amazed, I stared at him for a moment. He gave me a sheepish look. 'Go on,' I said, stunned that after all these years my usually insensitive brother could surprise me.
'I saw her again later when I went into the pavilion. I went a bit early on purpose,' he admitted, giving me a self-conscious smile. 'But I got absolutely nowhere; she wouldn't even talk to me –mumbled something innocuous and disappeared into the folds of the tent. By then I'd realised she was Amal's sister anyway, so thought I'd better go easy. There were plenty more women thrown in front of us, no need for anyone to go short.' He threw me a sideways look.
'I know. Éomer told me.'
Erchi chuckled. 'Smug idiot.'
'Never mind Éomer's morals! How could you justify sampling every available woman around, and then marry another only a few weeks later?'
'I didn't know I was going to get married, did I? Had no intention of it, actually.'
That was certainly true. I couldn't help grinning at him. He'd always made no secret of his preference for casual relationships. But the thought that Inayah had no choice still festered. 'So what changed?'
Erchi shrugged. 'I saw her a couple of times, flitting about, trying to avoid being seen. As I said, I was attracted. To be honest, the easy meat was beginning to choke me, so I decided to try and get a word with her. I hung around near the armoury, where I had a good view of the women's tents, for a couple of mornings hoping to catch her on her own. That last morning I decided to give up. I told myself I was a fool to even try and get near her and stalked off. But some instinct, a tension in the air maybe, made me turn around and that's when I saw Inayah mesmerised by that snake. Luckily I had a clear line to it.'
He looked down at the water swirling foam around our feet. 'I wondered at first why she was so panicky even after the thing was dead. Of course, when Amal spoke to me I realised. Poor girl! What a prospect – to be pushed into a marriage with me.'
'It's a disgusting practice. I hope you told Prince Amal that.'
'No, not in those words, I didn't.' He raised black brows. 'I am surprised at you, Lothy. I'm not notorious for my tact, but even I know better than that.'
Erchi was right of course; my anger had pushed away rational thought, as it often did. 'But you're not a woman, are you.' I sighed; exasperated by customs I had little hope of changing. 'Arranged marriages in Gondor are bad enough, but at least the woman gets some say. To be given away like a ...'
'Hang on! I didn't say I accepted.'
'Then what did you say?'
'That I needed to talk to her. I made it plain to Amal that it wasn't our way and I couldn't consider taking a wife against her will. But if we got to know one another, and she was agreeable, then of course I would be honoured. You have to realise how insulting it would have been for me to have totally refused. She's Amal sister.'
I shrugged, sure he could have got out of the situation had he wanted to. But obviously, he had been quite happy. More and more it became clear that Erchi had followed the tradition of the males in my family and fallen in love almost instantly. I would have found it funny had I not still been concerned for Inayah. But my suppressed mirth made me flippant. 'So you had to woo her? What did you do, flex your muscles?'
'I talked to her,' he shot back. 'In spite of what you think, I can hold a conversation on something other than war!'
'I know, I am sorry,' I said, putting my hand on his arm. 'But it's such a strange situation.'
'You're telling me! That old crone sat in on every meeting. And I bet she's not as deaf as she makes out.'
I didn't think Luja was at all deaf, but I kept my mouth shut. The thought of Erchi being able to do nothing more than talk to a woman to try and persuade her to marry him was so incredible that I could hardly stop from laughing out loud. 'So you talked to her. Watched over by her maid. I'm fascinated to find out how you persuaded her to marry you.'
'I don't know what I said, I just talked. I explained how we lived here, what her life would be like. I told her that I was attracted to her and if she would do me the honour of becoming my wife, I would try and be a good husband... That's the normal thing, isn't it?' he sputtered out when he saw the scepticism on my face.
'And she said yes, just like that?'
'Not really,' he admitted. 'I had to convince her...' he hesitated...'not that the idea horrified her or anything, but she didn't want to deceive me.'
'Deceive you. What about?' Although I had a pretty good idea. It fascinated me that she had actually discussed it with him.
'Well, she was a war widow. From what Amal said, I reckon her husband got shafted by one of Amroth's lot. I kept that quiet. But that's not the point – she's got no children although she'd been married for years. That's a big stigma out there, and it embarrassed her a lot. But I didn't tell her that Amal had already filled me in on that. He apologised for her barrenness in the same breath he offered her...'
But...' I stopped, jamming my teeth together to stop me from letting out what I knew. Then the anger came back. 'I suppose a woman's not worth much if she can't breed.'
Erchi sighed. 'Look, I'm not saying I agree with it, but it's their business, not ours.'
I took a calming breath, imagining what would have been said of me had I not produced an heir for Rohan. And what still might be said if no more arrived, as I feared. Éomer couldn't even take a second wife. 'You told her it didn't matter if she couldn't have children?'
'I wanted her, not children. I made that plain. She had difficulty believing it, but agreed to marry me.'
'You don't think you'll regret not having your own family?'
'Not at all. From what I can see children are nothing but trouble. Imagine having a little pest like Alphros to deal with.'
I turned away so Erchi would not see the glee on my face. He was in for a big surprise.
To be continued.
Original Characters appearing in this chapter.
Prince Amal Ruler of Near Harad.
Inayah Amal's half-sister. Married Erchirion.
Luja Inayah's servant from Harad,
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