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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 13: Of swans

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XII: Of swans

Lothiriel was not enjoying herself. She had been brought up to be considerate and polite, and this put her at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with somebody like Lord Dorlas, who did not suffer from a similar handicap. Only now was she beginning to appreciate that the courtiers of Dol Amroth were far too well bred to make advances at the daughter of their Prince. And of course there had always been a watchful brother or her father lurking in the background, keeping an eye on her. By now Lothiriel had arrived at the stage where she would even have welcomed Elphir with open arms.

She shot the man sitting next to her a look of dislike, but he was completely impervious to it, obviously being of the firm opinion that no female could resist his charms. Lothiriel shuddered when she remembered how he had handed her into her chair, had brushed against her bare shoulder as if by accident several times and had been leering down at her. It was a shame she had left that shawl in her room.

Lord Dorlas had noticed her shivering and was leaning over towards her. “Are you cold, Lady Lothiriel?” he asked, somehow managing to intimate in that single innocuous sentence that he would have liked nothing better than to warm her up in a very personal manner, indeed.

Lothiriel couldn’t help blushing. “Not at all,” she replied coldly, shifting as far away from him as possible.

“I’m surprised your father let a jewel such as yourself out of his sight,” Dorlas said now with what he doubtlessly considered a seductive smile, “isn’t he afraid some other man might covet his precious Dol Amroth pearl?”

His legs touched hers as if by accident and she had to suppress the urge to give him an unladylike kick. “My father trusts me to take care of myself,” she answered curtly, not wanting to start another conversation with him.

She had had enough compliments showered on her to last her a lifetime. If he compares me to a swan one more time I’ll start screaming, Lothiriel thought savagely. She would rather be called a falcon she mused with a small smile and cast a quick look across the table at the King of Rohan. For some reason he had been glowering at them throughout the meal, not exactly adding to her enjoyment either. But as he looked up now from speaking to Melian and met her eyes he gave her an encouraging smile and for some reason she felt considerably better. The meal couldn’t last forever and at the first opportunity she would make her escape, Lothiriel vowed to herself.

It had been a mistake to smile, though. Feeling encouraged by it, Lord Dorlas leaned over even further and under the table covertly put his hand on her thigh. “My beautiful swan,” he whispered in her ear.

Lothiriel stiffened. It was at this moment that she decided she had enough. She was a Princess of the House of Amroth and would not let herself be treated in this way. The furious look she cast at Lord Dorlas suddenly made him remember that this was the descendant of many generations of fierce warriors and he hurriedly removed his hand.

She was not finished with him yet, though. Her brothers had always told her that attack was the best defense. “Why do you keep comparing me to a swan?” she asked in a threatening tone, “is my neck too long?”

This ridiculous accusation caught him completely off balance. “Not at all, Princess Lothiriel,” he stammered.

“Are my feet too wide, then?” she pressed him.

“Of course not!” was all he managed to say before she moved in for the kill.

“My brothers won’t be too pleased to hear you have been making disparaging remarks about me,” she pointed out in a deceptively soft voice, “and as for my betrothed…” Lothiriel paused a moment to savor the effects of her words on him, “…he can be most unpleasant when he feels I have been insulted. The last man to do so was left barely conscious and all he had done was to compare my eyes to the sea on a stormy day.”

“Brothers? Betrothed?” Lord Dorlas repeated in a stunned voice. This was obviously news to him.

“Oh yes,” Lothiriel replied, warming up to her story, “all of them ferocious Swan Knights, capable of hewing a man in two with a single stroke of their swords.” By now it was her leaning over and Dorlas shifting out of the way.

“Fascinating,” was all he managed to say in reply, but he excused himself soon after and left her to enjoy the spoils of her victory, a plate of berry tarts all for herself.

Night had fallen by now and all around the courtyard torches had been lit. Over on the opposite side some of the tables and benches were moved aside and the musicians struck up. Lothiriel had been expecting the stately cadences of Gondorian court dances, but instead the music they played, while sounding foreign to her ears, had a lively sound and she found herself tapping her feet.

“Music from the Riddermark,” a voice said next to her and she looked up to see Éowyn standing behind her. “Would you like to dance?” she asked Lothiriel and when the princess hesitated she added, “I’ll show you the steps, it’s really very easy.”

Without waiting for an answer Éowyn imperiously called to her brother to come over. The King of Rohan raised his eyebrows at her tone, but obediently got up.

“I need you to show the Princess of Dol Amroth how we dance in the Mark,” Éowyn explained, taking both of them by the hand and leading them to the impromptu dance floor, quite ignoring Lothiriel’s feeble protests.

Éomer looked at her with a twinkle in his eyes. “We might as well go along. Believe me, there is not much else one can do once my sister has made up her mind.”

Lothiriel had to smile at this and they obediently joined the other couples, finding a place next to Éowyn and Faramir. Most of the other dancers were riders of his éored as well as a few of the more adventurous young Gondorian noblewomen and a couple of women from Rohan who had followed their mistress to Ithilien.

Éowyn showed her the steps and Lothiriel had to concede that to someone used to the extremely formal and complicated court dances of Gondor they were easy to learn. With the dances she had been schooled in however, all you ever touched were your partner’s fingertips and it felt strange to have a man’s hand round one’s waist and to be whirled around by him. For a moment she wondered what her father would say, could he see her now.

At first she felt extremely self-conscious at being so close to King Éomer, but he just held her gently and after a while she dared to take her eyes off her feet and to look up. He smiled down at her warmly. “That’s better, I prefer to see my partner’s face, no matter how pretty her hairdo might be.”

Lothiriel felt herself blush. “I’m still concentrating on my steps,” she explained with disarming candour, “I hope I won’t step on your feet too often.”

“Your are doing very nicely,” he reassured her, “and anyway I have been toughened up by years of learning to dance with my sister.”

They went on dancing for a while and as Lothiriel was getting more confident she started to enjoy herself. It rather reminded her of the harvest festivals back home, when the peasants used to dance while she looked on in envy from the table of honour, not being allowed to join in.

The first dance ended, but Éomer showed no inclination of letting go of her. “Would you grant me another dance?”

Lothiriel was slightly breathless and feeling rather flushed, although with the coming of the night the air had cooled down a bit, but she nodded spiritedly.

“So tell me Lady Lothiriel,” the King of Rohan took up the conversation again as the music started up, “do you like our style of dancing?”

“I do!” she replied enthusiastically, “With you it’s fun, although with the wrong partner it would probably be torture.” By now she was quite used to speaking her mind with King Éomer.

“The wrong partner being?” he asked with a frown.

“Well, I was thinking of that horrible Lord Dorlas,” she replied with remembered indignation, “I am sure he would never keep his hands to himself.”

Lothiriel was considerably startled when his hands tightened convulsively around her waist and they nearly collided with another couple. He recovered with his usual quick reflexes, but the look on his face was thunderous. “Lothiriel, would you like me to teach him manners?”

Lothiriel looked at him in surprise. She had grown so used to treating him like an indulgent elder brother, that it was only in moments like these that she remembered he was a king and a warrior not to be trifled with. For a moment she was tempted to say yes, but then she shook her head. “I don’t want to cause trouble for Éowyn, after all it’s not her fault.” Was it her imagination or did he look slightly disappointed?

However, all he said was. “Next time something like this happens, you tell me and I will deal with it.”

She felt strangely warmed by his words, but nevertheless found herself forced to point out, “I am quite capable of looking after myself. I got rid of him in the end, didn’t I?” It was a victory she would savour for some time.

He nodded. “I don’t doubt your abilities, it’s just easier for a barbarian king from the Northlands like me to be rude to people like that. They more or less expect it.”

“You’re not a barbarian king!” she exclaimed with indignation and then reddened as she suddenly remembered that she had called him just that not so very long ago.

“Thank you,” he grinned down at her, obviously enjoying her mortification.

Her eyes narrowed. “My Lord King, I thought we had agreed on a truce?”

“So we have, My Lady Princess,” he agreed and went on in a more conversational tone, “so tell me, how did you get rid of your persistent admirer, anyway?”

She chuckled as she remembered the look on Lord Dorlas’ face. “I invented a story about my fierce brothers.”

“That put him off, did it?” he sounded rather contemptuous of the man.

“It did when I told him they could cut a man in half without even trying.”

Éomer grinned down at her. “You are rather bloodthirsty at times!”

The music came to an end now and he gave her a bow as she curtsied. Lothiriel did not get another chance to catch her breath, for her hand was claimed at once by Éothain and after him by various others of the riders from Rohan. While training Nightwind she had gotten to know them and had found that most of them spoke at least a couple of words of Westron. Even Éomer’s squire Beda asked for a dance, although he spent the whole time blushing furiously and only managed to stammer a few words of conversation.

Éomer wasn’t really a very keen dancer, so when he saw Faramir sit down on a bench and pour himself a glass of wine he excused himself from his partner and went to join his brother-in-law.

“Feeling exhausted, too?” Faramir asked with a lopsided grin and poured him some wine as well. Éomer accepted with a word of thanks and for a while they just sat there and watched the dancers. He smiled to see Beda whirling by with Lothiriel laughing in his arms, her eyes flashing in delight. The poor boy was so obviously smitten with the princess, the other riders had been pulling his leg and taking bets whether he would get up the courage to ask her for a dance. It wasn’t surprising the squire had fallen for her, Éomer mused, she was looking very pretty tonight and was a graceful dancer.

“It’s nice to see Lady Lothiriel enjoying herself again,” he finally remarked, his tone causing Faramir to frown.

“Has something happened?” he asked concerned, “did Lord Dorlas bother her?”

“By the sound of it he’s a complete cad,” Éomer replied, “Whatever possessed you to invite him?”

Faramir looked annoyed. “I know he bothered Éowyn last time he was here, but she soon put him in his place. It’s a mystery to me why she wanted to invite him again tonight, but this will be the last time he’s here, no matter what she says.”

Éomer was very much surprised by this piece of information, as it did not agree with what Éowyn had told him earlier on. With the benefit of twenty years’ experience of his sister’s innocent expressions he had thought at the beginning of the evening that she was up to something and now he decided to get to the bottom of things.

So when Éowyn soon afterwards arrived at their table, out of breath and eager to sit down, he swept her up and led her back to the dance floor. Her laughing protests died down when she saw the determined look on his face. Experience had taught Éomer it was best to get his sister off balance from the beginning and to keep her there.

“I thought you liked Lothiriel?” he accordingly asked in an accusing tone.

“I do!” she replied, looking startled.

“So why did you invite somebody like Lord Dorlas and more or less forced him on her?”

“I didn’t!” she protested, but he saw the quick flash of guilt pass across her face.

“That’s not what Faramir just told me. He said it was your idea to invite him.”

She cast an annoyed look at her husband who was deep in conversation with a friend.
Éomer gave her a stern look. “I don’t know what kind of practical joke you were planning, but I won’t have the Princess of Dol Amroth subjected to that kind of behaviour again. Is that clear?”

His words came out sharper than he had intended and he half expected his sister to fire up in defense, but she just cast down her eyes and nodded silently. She did look inordinately pleased with herself, however, just like she used to when they had carried out a successful prank as children. Only who was the butt of the joke this time? Somehow he didn’t think it was Lothiriel or Faramir.

His eyes narrowed. “You invited him for my sake, “ he breathed slowly, thinking aloud and seeing the confirmation of his reasoning in the guilty look in her eyes. “Only why?” he wondered, “It seems rather an extreme measure just to tease me.”

They had come to a halt at one end of the dance floor and brother and sister were facing each other, oblivious to everything else around them. Éowyn was pressing her lips together, stubbornly refusing to answer, but he could tell he was getting nearer the truth.

“If it’s not to annoy and tease me…” his voice trailed off as he was suddenly struck by a monstrous idea. “Oh no,” he said in disbelief, “even you couldn’t think up such a harebrained idea!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Éowyn protested but he just ignored her.

“You still haven’t given up on the idea of me marrying Lothiriel, have you? You wanted to make me jealous!” he accused her.

Éowyn felt that her plans were unraveling fast. “So what if I did,” she defended herself, throwing discretion to the winds, “it worked, didn’t it? Don’t even try to deny it, I saw the looks you cast at Lord Dorlas over the dinner table.”

He looked angry. “Have you any idea what you put the princess through? I think you owe her an apology! Of course I was annoyed, she’s the daughter of a good friend of mine.”

Éowyn was not at all convinced by this explanation, but she suddenly noticed the people around them looking at them in open curiosity. It was a good thing they had been talking in Rohirric, she thought, only to spot Éothain nearby who looked at her and gave her a wink.

More softly she said. “I’m only trying to help you sort out your feelings, brother.”

“Help me?” he echoed incredulously, “with help like that I don’t need any enemies! I would be grateful if in the future you would keep from meddling in my affairs, Éowyn,” he added scathingly and just left her standing there on her own.

She watched him go back to his seat next to Lady Melian and pour himself another glass of wine. He was obviously very much annoyed and downed his wine in one go. Poor Melian watched him rather nervously, not sure what to say and in the end settled on silence as the safest course.

Éowyn sighed inwardly. There would be no talking to him now, she thought. She knew only too well how stubborn he could be; after all she shared the same trait. Looking round at the other dancers she noticed with some relief that at least Lothiriel hadn’t been a witness to their altercation. Come to think of it, she hadn’t seen the princess for quite a while and couldn’t spot her anywhere amongst her guests.

Making her way to the head table and ignoring her brother’s unfriendly look, she enquired of Melian if Lothiriel had retired already.

“I don’t think so,” Melian replied thoughtfully, “she said she was hot and needed some cool air. That was quite a while ago, though...”

Éomer looked up with a frown, their animosity forgotten for the moment. Searching the crowd for a sight of Lothiriel, he was the first to spot the absence of another of their guests.

“Dorlas is missing as well,” he said grimly, looking at Éowyn as if she was to blame for that as well. “You go and look in your garden,” he ordered her curtly, his glance lingering on a bowl of apples on the table, “I have an idea where she could be.”

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Chapter name
Of swans
Created
20 Nov 2005
Last Edited
20 Nov 2005
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