12. Celebration Part IV
Celebration Part IV
When I came out of the water, Inayah had Devoran sitting one side of her and Calaerdis the other, so I had no chance of hearing any more revelations about her relationship with Erchirion. She seemed happy, and her eyes smiled at me, so I pushed curiosity aside, my worry being slightly eased by Erchirion's assurance that she had agreed to wed him.
However, at dinner that night, seeing her looking so different from the other ladies, I resolved to continue my mission to persuade her to embrace a little more of our culture. I didn't think she needed to dress like conventional Gondorians, of course – after all I preferred to follow my own style – but I still thought it would be better if she dispensed with her veil.
It was mid-afternoon the next day before I had any time to myself. I had spent the morning with Amroth, Elenna, Éomer and Elfwine. Amroth had kindly given one of Drummer and Avorn's pups to Elfwine. Any foreboding I had of the havoc Drummer's offspring might unleash on Meduseld was tempered by the thought of the protection the pup would offer to my small son. That was if the dog showed an ounce of Drummer's loyalty. It was already apparent the pup would grow into a big, rangy animal by the length of its legs and the size of its feet. One with the tenacity of an errant jackdaw, as trying to stop the young thug from running off with any unattended article of clothing was proving nigh on impossible. But Amroth was convinced the pup only needed training to turn it into the ideal companion for a young prince, and had decided to take this upon himself, whilst instructing Elfwine how to manage a dog at the same time.
So Éomer and I had spent an amusing morning watching Amroth imparting his knowledge to a precocious three and a half year-old who thought he knew better than his uncle. Elfwine called his new dog Scar, owing to it sporting a slight blemish near its ear from a run-in with the kitchen cat. Little Elenna sniffed at this choice of name, and took no further interest in the proceedings, plonking herself down in the grass to play with the flowers.
After a while, seeing that Elfwine was engrossed in the difficult task of persuading Scar to lie down, I sat with her, enjoying the sun on my face and the constant murmur of the waves way below us. I realised that I missed the sound of the sea, whether it be a stormy day when the breakers crashed against the rocks, or a day like today when the surf sang a quiet lullaby that could easily have me closing my eyes. The noises I heard in Meduseld were sharper and more immediate – the ringing challenge of the doorwards, the neighing of horses, or the clash of weapons rising from the training fields. True, birds sang in our small garden and when outside I could hear the tinkle of water as the spring poured into the stone basin beneath the terrace, but it wasn't until I rode away from Edoras that I heard the soft sigh of the grasses as the wind rippled their seeded heads. Very different was my new home from the place of my birth, which made me sympathetic to any disquiet Inayah might feel living so far from her own lands.
So, after the noon meal, when the men settled around the table to discuss the possibilities of any further problems with Gondor's enemies, and Devoran and Byrde had taken the children to draw in the library, I made my way to the garden. Calaerdis had told me that Inayah liked to spend a quiet hour beside the carp ponds, watching the bright fish and feeding the little birds that came down to bathe. It promised to be an ideal location to continue my talk with her.
Care had been lavished on the garden since the war, as it had on all the green places around the palace and the city that had been a bit neglected during the black days. It seemed right to celebrate the downfall of darkness by embracing the joy of nature and allowing the beauty of flowers and plants to soften hard stone. The arched entrance to the formal garden dripped white jasmine, welcoming visitors at dusk with its heady, sweet scent. But in mid-afternoon it was the showy oleanders lining the pebbled path that filled the air with fragrance.
I could see Inayah sitting on a bench shaded by a large Tamarisk tree. There were many small birds at her feet and she was breaking off pieces of cake and sprinkling them around. With a flurry of colourful wings, the birds took off at the first scrunch of my footsteps. Disappearing into the bushes that surrounded the pond, they scolded me from their safe perches. Inayah jumped, and looked up, fingers reaching for her veil that she had pushed aside. But when she saw it was me she smiled, letting her hand drop to her lap.
I made my way towards her, thinking that she really was a lovely looking woman, with her almond shaped eyes and dark skin as smooth as satin. She had thrown off her outer garment and wore a vibrant sapphire robe embroidered with silver thread. Stopping just before I reached her seat, I stood looking down into the clear pond. The fish were huge – some golden, some bright yellow, others white with blotches of black and gold. I caught her gaze fixed on me, and laughed. 'When I was a child, egged on by Amroth of course, I put soap in the fountain in the courtyard. The suds spilled everywhere, but worse, I had no idea the fountain fed the ponds.'
'Oh...' Inayah frowned. 'Were the fish hurt?'
'Luckily the gardener was in here working. But it was a frantic rescue operation. I am not sure if my grandfather ever forgave me.'
She laughed. 'I am sure he did. And I am sure you never did anything like that again.'
'No, but I have done other stupid things.' I sat down beside her and sighed. 'I sometimes act without thought, especially when my ire is up.'
'Ah, are you trying to explain why you rushed off to confront Erchirion about marrying me? He told me that you were swift to come to the defence of downtrodden women.'
I was inordinately glad that he had discussed it with her; to me that spoke well of their relationship. 'He said he gave you the choice, and you were happy to marry him. That's true isn't it?'
Her slight hesitation caused a cold feeing to well up in my stomach. Maybe I had been right all along. 'You had no choice, had you?' My voice sounded hollow, reflecting my disappointment.
'No, but I would not like Erchirion to know that.'
I pushed down my anger. It would get us nowhere and nothing could now be changed. 'I find it difficult to comprehend that a woman could be given away just because a man did something so simple as to cut the head from a threatening serpent.'
Inayah put her hand on my arm. 'Lothíriel, you must understand that it could have been different. If my rescuer had been from Harad, my brother would have offered me, but in all likelihood the man would have refused...'
I gasped... 'But Erchirion said it would have been insulting to refuse Amal's offer.'
'It depends how it is done. Most would not presume to take their prince's sister in that way. A high-born man from my country would know exactly how to phrase his refusal without causing offence, using a lot of flowery words about not being worthy of the honour of taking me for a wife, with much bowing and obeisance to my brother. Amal would reward him in some other way. A poor man would probably grovel on the floor saying he was unworthy, and my brother would instead pay him with coin.'
'But Erchirion did not know this.'
'Amal didn't tell him, and neither did you.'
'No, he never knew.'
'But why...' I gasped again as suddenly the answer hit me. 'It was because it suited your brother to have even closer links with Dol Amroth.'
Inayah bowed her head, not meeting my eyes. 'My brother has been good to me; I could not go against him in this. The support of Gondor and your father makes his rule more stable. It is for our people's sake that he wants a peaceful Harad with no more fighting amongst the tribes. I am with him in this.'
'You sacrificed yourself.' I shook my head; angry, sad and stunned all at the same time.
But Inayah laughed. 'I don't consider it a sacrifice. Oh, it is true that at first I was full of panic when I realised that Amal would offer me.' Her lovely face coloured slightly. 'I could not fail to notice that Erchirion was interested in me. In fact my brother had already pondered over it. Fate delivered me into both their hands, but once I had talked a while to Erchirion and got to know him, then I began to think that fate had grasped me firmly, leading me towards a better future.'
'So you were not displeased.'
'Your brother is a worthy man, a renowned warrior, which gives him much status in my land. The stigma of barrenness hung over me, which meant that if I wanted to marry again, Amal would have had to pay much for any high-born man of my country to take me as a wife. But Erchirion said it didn't bother him.'
I choked, turning it into a cough. Inayah caught my eyes, but then carried on when I said nothing.
'I love my country, but for a woman such as me, especially being widowed, life is very restricting. Erchirion told me what it would be like here and the freedoms I would enjoy. So no, in the end I was not displeased.'
'You are happy?' I could see that she was, and knew that Erchirion revelled in his marriage. It would be better for all if the devious way he had been caught did not become known. Anyway, who could blame Amal for taking such an opportunity?
Inayah smiled, her eyes alight. 'I am. Erchirion is a good husband and I care for him deeply. I think I will be even happier when I get better acquainted with your family and more familiar with the way of things here. It still seems very strange to mix so freely with men. Although none have treated me with anything other than respect.'
'Is that why you keep your veil on, because you are nervous with all the men you are likely to meet once you are away from the family quarters?' I had to bring it up somehow, and hoped I'd chosen the right time.
Her face coloured again. 'True, it is tradition, but also I feel slightly uncomfortable at the thought of going without it when there are men I don't know around me. I have taken it off when I am with just the family; perhaps in a little while I will be able to do so at other times.'
'I hope you will, because I believe that you would be accepted more by the common people. Keep your head covered by all means, but hiding one's expression can be seen as a little furtive to those that do not understand.'
'I see, I did not realise that.'
'I married into another culture, and there were things I found daunting. When Edoras became my home, I had to get used to living much closer to people who were not family members. I found the lack of privacy quite difficult at first. Éomer lives with his guards and their families and even the servants in one big hall. Only a few rooms are separate and private, and we hardly ever eat alone. The people would not understand if we shut ourselves away.'
She nodded. 'I do realise it would be better if I did gain courage to remove my veil, but I would still like to keep close to my way of dressing. And Erchirion likes it; he says our clothes are elegant and colourful.'
'They are, once you remove your black outer garments. It might be best not to shroud yourself quite so much.'
'I would like to do as you say, but as a woman in Harad I have had little contact with men other than my father, brother and husband. I think I would feel exposed without robes when I walk in the city. It was difficult the first time I ate in the Feast Hall, I thought everyone was watching me.'
'I imagine they were if you had to push your veil aside for each mouthful, they would have thought that very strange.'
Her lips twitched. 'I suppose they did. It's very awkward, which is maybe why Harad women do not eat in public.'
'It is not up to me to tell you how to conduct yourself, but from my experiences I would say that it would be easier to become established in your new home if you conform a little more to expected convention. I am sure you will get used to it, and no man here would dare offer Erchirion's wife anything other than the greatest respect.'
Inayah laughed. 'I imagine that is true, but I will have a fight with Luja; she will say that I have given up my heritage, especially if I remove my veil.'
Blow what the servant thought! 'But what would your brother think, seeing that he wanted you to strengthen relations with Dol Amroth? Surely he would wish you to do everything you can to be accepted here.'
'Yes, you are right, he would. And I have no wish to appear strange. I do not want to give up all my traditions, but if removal of my veil and a little adjustment to my dress would make me look less different, even though the thought makes me nervous, I am willing to do that.'
'I am sure it would be worth considering. A slight alteration to the style of your garments will make a big difference. You will still look like a lady from Harad, but not as far removed from the other wives as you do now. Calaerdis would help you; she has a real knack with clothes.'
Inayah laughed. 'You are very persuasive. But I think you are right. To be honest I have been thinking about this very thing and wondering what to do. If it wasn't for Luja I might have arrived without my veil, as Erchirion suggested. But once I arrived with it on, it felt even more difficult to take it off and change my way of dressing. But I will give the matter great thought and try and ignore Luja.'
'You will have to be firm, even if she grouches. If Erchirion is on your side then you can say you are just obeying your husband. I am sure he will soon make it plain to her.'
'Luja disappears when he's around. She is appalled that he does not consider my rooms to be private.'
I must have shown my surprise, because Inayah raised her brows in amusement. 'I know it seems odd to you, but in my country men and women lead separate lives for a great deal of the time.'
I giggled inwardly – maybe that was why she had been barren. Trying hard to show no trace of my wayward thoughts, I brought up another subject that confused me. 'There is something I am curious about. I hope I don't offend you with this, but Éomer told me about the dancers. I find it odd that some women can appear scantily dressed in front of men and the rest have to cover themselves completely.'
'So do the dancers when they are not working. It would be improper for any woman to appear uncovered in public.'
'But not improper to...please the men.'
She looked strangely at me before she answered, as if I had said something bizarre. 'For others, yes, of course, they would be ostracised, banished from their families. But for the women of the Abayas, it is their role, their birthright. And there is no shame in what they do. It is a skilled profession.'
Aware I was staring at her with my mouth open, I firmly shut my lips together. Was she telling me that these girls were born with no hope of being anything other than a harlot? I tried not to show my shock. 'That is indeed astonishing to us.'
Her eyes opened wide. 'But you have women who fulfil the same role, surely.'
'Yes...but they are considered to be loose women and are shunned by others.'
'And you think that is fair?'
I found that difficult to answer; my sense of right was shaken by a completely different view on something I had thought so clear. 'Our traditions are far different on this point. It is hard for me to change ideas I have grown up with.' I smiled. 'Perhaps I am wrong asking you to change some of your customs.'
'No, I have heeded your words. They have helped strengthen my resolve. I am happy in my marriage, Lothíriel. Happy to live closely with your family.' She stood up, her hand going fleetingly to her stomach. 'I hope...' But she shook her head. 'It would please me to give Erchirion a child, perhaps the gods will be kind to me.'
'You think there is a possibility?' I probed.
For a moment longing flashed across her face, then she gave me a tepid smile. 'It is too early to tell, perhaps I am imagining it. When one wants something so much...'
'Inayah,' I jumped to my feet and squeezed her arm, 'I think you will have good news very soon now.'
I had done all I could, it would be useless to keep on at Inayah; she understood the need to integrate herself and only had to find the courage. It couldn't be easy, and I tried to imagine how I would feel in her position. My mind naturally went back to my childhood run-ins with Umar, not anywhere near the same, of course, but the thought of men leering at one could be daunting even as a grown woman. Not that I thought anyone would leer at her, not in Dol Amroth anyway. Then I giggled to myself – Erchirion had lusted after her, in spite of the concealing robes.
A good few days' relaxation followed my talk with Inayah whilst Éomer and I concentrated on Elfwine, introducing him to the fun that could be had on or near the sea and making sure he was confident in the water. A visit to one of the islands was therefore a must, and a small flotilla carrying family and friends set sail one fine morning. My father and Calaerdis stayed behind, finalizing the arrangements for their wedding, and so did Devoran as the hot weather made her very tired. But the still airs persuaded Meren to come, the thought of being rowed across flat water being more pleasing to her than an exhilarating sail that some of us enjoyed. Unusually Elphir left his duties behind, keen for his two eldest sons to brush-up on fire-making and the rudiments of camp cookery. No reason he could not teach them if he stirred himself, and Amroth took them out a lot, but Elphir was quick to take advantage of the presence of Eóthain and Déor. The Rohirrim were acknowledged as being masters of living in the wilds.
I didn't think Inayah would join us. But she arrived at the quayside arm in arm with Erchirion and, without giving her any chance to protest, my hulking great brother swept her into his arms, robes and all, depositing her towards the middle of one of the boats so that she would not get wet.
'I wish she'd let herself go a bit more,' Byrde whispered as we gathered the children together. Welwyn nodded her head; she had left baby Eadrid with young Eldir under the care of Meren's nursemaid, and looked intent on enjoying the day.
'Inayah will in time, I'm sure.'
Byrde shrugged, and concentrated on keeping hold of Elenna whilst Amroth brought one of the boats close to the steps. Seeing my friend hand in hand with the lively little girl brought on a stab of sympathy – Bryde's failure to conceive was a still a raw wound. My own anguish surfaced for a moment, but I squashed it firmly as Éomer had told me to do. Maybe I was wrong and I had not lost the chance of having more children.
The island as always provided a perfect place for a bit of respite from our formal lives and I was content to let the men take charge of Elfwine, Amroth teaching him how to rig a hook and line and cast it into the water. Alphros, however, confident of his skills with rod and fire, preferred to spar with Erchirion, using some of the driftwood as makeshift swords and spears. Inayah watched them intently and I wondered at her thoughts, hoping that she would soon be aware of the joy to come to her.
Then the next day I found out that my suggestions to Inayah had not gone unheeded. She took me aside after the noon meal saying that she wanted a word, so we walked together up onto the battlements to try and get a breath of wind, the day being hot and humid.
I wore a lightweight green linen dress with loose sleeves, Inayah had on a flowing robe in dark blue that covered her head to foot. And of course she wore her veil.
We moved well away from the guards and stood looking out to sea; the water shimmered in the heat, the fishing boats not moving in the still air. A haze hid the islands, the far horizon merging into the summer sky. She hadn't said what she wanted to talk about, so I waited for her to voice her thoughts. When she remained silent, I sighed.
'I love looking out to sea, and I miss it. Just as I imagine you miss the desert.'
'They are both empty spaces that can be beautiful, but also cruel. Today the sea looks benign, but I imagine it can rise up as an angry monster when the storms come.'
'True, but I love the wild days when the waves crash against the rocks and the spume blows high over the palace.'
'That will be something else for me to get used to. Our storms bring different dangers.'
'As Amroth found out.'
'He was lucky. I have only ever seen one sandstorm and it was horrible. They are usually only a problem in the deep desert.' She turned towards me, her velvet eyes unfathomable. 'Our way of dress evolved because of where we lived. Covering one's body and face is only sensible to keep it protected from the searing heat of the sun and the abrasive effects of the blowing sands.'
Ah, had she reached a decision? I smiled. 'That makes total sense; the accepted dress for ladies in Rohan is very different from that in Gondor. It would be stupid to insist that women always wore skirts and petticoats for a life spent around horses.'
'Of course, and I have given the problem of convention a lot of thought these last few days. When we went to the island, I was envious of the freedom your clothes gave you to move. I decided that I must fully embrace my new life whilst not losing who I am. So I spoke to Calaerdis as you suggested and she gave me some good advice.'
'Did she, I am not surprised. She is very wise.' And discreet because she had said nothing to me. 'What did she say?'
'She understood my discomfort, and also that I now felt awkward about altering my style of dress, having worn my own clothes since I arrived here. She suggested that I make the change at her wedding, because it represents a new beginning here, a substantial alteration in the way things are. Also, people's eyes and thoughts will be concentrated on their prince and his bride. I will be only a small player that day and what I do will not be important.'
'An excellent idea. And many of those coming for the wedding you will not have met; they will accept how you choose to look on the day. Did Calaerdis give you any help in what to wear?'
'Yes, she took me to the seamstress' this morning, who have luckily finished all the other wedding outfits. I am having some clothes made that will not overly show the form of my body, but look nearer to the styles worn in Gondor.' She smiled, her eyes shining. 'I think they will be lovely.'
I clutched her arm impulsively. 'Oh, I am so glad. Calaerdis designed a whole new wardrobe for me before my marriage. I loved the riding skirts the best, but I don't suppose you would consider wearing anything that resembles trousers.'
'Now in that you are wrong, I wear them a lot whilst in my private quarters. I could not wear the same kind in public of course, as they are made from semi-transparent material, but I have talked to Calaerdis about adaptations.'
Semi-transparent trousers! I bet my big brother enjoyed that.
The talk on everyone's lips on the morning of the wedding concerned our chances of getting through the day before the weather broke. No one could doubt that the stifling heat would soon be eased by the clash of thunder and the deluge that would follow. Luckily the guest list was a lot smaller than my own wedding and everyone had a place in the Great Hall. Many nobles of Gondor were here, including, of course, Aragorn, Faramir and their families. But Prince Amal had declined, feeling that with his country not long recovered from war, he had duties at home. I wondered if this pleased or saddened Inayah.
The sky darkened as the time approached, and I thought it fortuitous that father had decided against taking Calaerdis to the tower for their wedding night. Instead they were staying in the palace for a short while before they took a trip to Ithilien and then to Minas Tirith. I could understand his choice, carrying off a second bride to the tower would only awake bittersweet memories.
Ready early myself, and wearing a traditional gown in the deep-red popular in Rohan, I was impatient to see how Inayah would look. I couldn't help being more interested in her outfit than in Calaerdis' dress, which I had no doubt would be elegant and eye-catching.
When she came in, with Erchirion holding on to her possessively, there was an audible gasp from those around me. She might not be the centre of attention once the bride appeared, but at that moment all eyes were on her.
Her face was unveiled, although part of her hair was covered by a gauzy net sparkling with tiny stones. She wore a full-length garment reminiscent of Gondorian surcoats, but cut with more material to mask her curves. The sleeveless surcoat, made from a deep peacock-blue silk, had been put over a shimmering long-sleeved dress of a lighter shade, embroidered lavishly with the silver thread she favoured. I guessed that this was from her own wardrobe, and that Calaerdis had designed the surcoat to blend with it, combining Harad and Gondorian styles into an attractive whole. Modest but beautiful. I could tell from the murmurs from the family around me that all approved.
I caught her eye as she walked past me to her place; she smiled but I could sense the strain of being under such scrutiny from so many. Luckily, within moments, the trumpets sounded and attention turned to the big doors that would open to allow entrance for my father's bride.
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.
Umar Previous Prince of Harad who tried to kidnap Lothíriel.
Calaerdis A Gondorian widow, mistress to Imrahil.
Meren Married to Elphir.
Eldir Third son to Elphir and Meren.
Devoran Daughter of Duinhir of Morthond, married to Amrothos.
Elenna Daughter of Amrothos and Devoran.
Déor Friend to Éomer, Captain of Lothíriel's guard.
Byrde Married to Déor.
Welwyn Daughter of Erkenbrand, married to Eóthain.
Eadrid Youngest child to Welwyn and Eóthain