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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 26: Shades of grey

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XXV: Shades of grey

Grey, silver grey, dark grey, dappled grey, slate grey, light grey, ash grey, dove grey, smoke grey, iron grey…

Lothiriel sighed. How could a language have over thirty words for the colour of a horse’s coat? Not even black was black! There was true black like Nightwind and then there was grey black, where the colour would fade to a dark grey as the horse grew older. And as for the word order! Learning all those genealogies by heart as a child now helped her to memorise the strange sounding words, but she could not get her mind around the completely illogical word order.

Glumly she looked at the list of words she had made. Rohirric was not a written language, so she had just noted them down how they sounded to her. She had probably gotten it all wrong anyway.

She leaned back in the window seat and pulled her cloak tighter around her. It was overcast and blustery today and the wind was coming in through the open window of her bedroom, tangling her hair. She smoothed a stray strand back behind her ear and stared out over the garden. The paths were covered in fallen leaves and more were joining them all the time. Lothiriel welcomed the cooler weather, for it meant winter was drawing nearer.

Lately time had been alternately racing and crawling along. Her days were so busy now. She usually spent her mornings going for long rides, for she was determined not to arrive in Rohan all stiff and saddle sore. Her new people should not think that their queen could not even ride properly.

Then there was the fitting of new clothes. Her ladies seemed to think that a princess, soon to be queen, needed an amazing amount of gowns. She’d had two large trunks full of dresses sent ahead to Rohan already. At least she’d had the foresight to write to Éowyn and ask for her advice on the subject. On her recommendation she had insisted on having some more simple clothing like riding attire included as well.

To top it all off Aunt Ivriniel had descended on them on one of her infrequent but much dreaded visits. Word had reached her that her only niece was going to marry a king and she had apparently decided Lothiriel was in urgent need of instruction in the behaviour appropriate to a queen.

It had turned out her favourite nephew Elphir had written to their aunt describing in detail the scandalous scene at the handfasting and begging her to lend him her aid in having his sister brought back to the path of virtue. While Ivriniel had been pleased if rather surprised at her niece marrying a king (even if only an upstart foreign one) she had quickly perceived that Lothiriel had no idea of the proper comportment now expected of her.

Lothiriel had borne it all patiently until her aunt had cast a disparaging remark on Éomer. In a not very maidenly display of temper she had told her aunt that the people of Gondor owed their lives to these so called barbarians, that she was proud to marry one of them and that he could kiss her whenever and however he wanted to.

Lothiriel cringed at the memory. Her father had been justifiably displeased with her and it had not helped that the whole scene had taken place during the evening meal in the Great Hall and she had spoken in a voice that easily carried to all its corners. It seemed the King of Rohan was able to exert his bad influence on her even from a considerable distance.

The only good thing was that Ivriniel had left the next day. Amrothos and Erchirion had taken Lothiriel sailing to celebrate and she smiled when she remembered that day. Her brothers had taken a big basket full of food and several bottles of her father’s best wine with them to drink to their aunt’s departure. As the afternoon drew on the toasts became ever more colourful and coming back she had been the only one sober enough to navigate the entry to the harbour.

Slowly her smile faded. I will miss them so much, she thought. They might tease her mercilessly at times, but all her life her brothers had good-naturedly let her take part in their pursuits and had looked after their little sister. Or at least they had when they hadn’t accidentally tried to drown her.

She could not imagine life without them, but soon she would have to say goodbye to them and might not see them again for years at a time. Lothiriel knew her father was watching her anxiously for signs of her regretting her decision, although she did not know what he could do if she showed any, after all there was no way to go back on a betrothal promise.

You are being silly again she chided herself. After all she did not want to go back on her word. It was just that sometimes those few days Éomer had been able to spend in Dol Amroth seemed like a distant dream. They had had so little time together and most of that had been spent dispatching her suitors. Did she really know him? Where had she found the courage to set all her trust in him? It had surprised her how much she missed him, it was almost like a bodily ache. She had lived happily all those years without him and had only known him a short time, so why was it so hard to spend some months apart?

Lothiriel absentmindedly stroked the green fabric of her cloak – Éomer’s cloak really, but he had told her to keep it. Having been washed several times since, it no longer held his scent, but she found it comforting to wrap around her anyway. If only he was here and would take her in his arms and drive away all her niggling doubts!

Her fingers came to rest on the circular brooch fastening the cloak at her shoulder. It was the work of a master craftsman, a beautiful piece of jewellery with an intricate pattern of interlaced designs. Éomer had sent it as a gift, writing that it used to belong to his mother and Lothiriel had worn it ever since.

As promised he had also sent a bard to teach her the customs and language of the Rohirrim. Forthred had been a bit of a surprise. She had expected an elderly man, serious and full of his own importance, instead one day a travel stained young rider had arrived and had introduced himself as the promised teacher.

She had thought him quite an average young man until he got out his harp and started to sing. He had the most beautiful voice and brought the songs to life, even though she didn’t understand a word at first. Also he had an astounding memory, knowing hundreds of songs and stories by heart. When they had started their lessons Lothiriel had been startled, though, to discover that he could not read or write. Apparently in Rohan bards were not allowed to do so for fear that written down the songs would loose their power.

Forthred had proven to be quite a hard taskmaster. He had taken to accompanying her on her morning rides, which were now dedicated to learning the history of Rohan, while in the afternoons he would teach her the language. Lothiriel looked down at her list of words. She was daydreaming again and neglecting her studies! Today’s assignment was to learn all the many different names for the colour of a horse, no doubt important knowledge, but not something that really held her attention.

There was a knock at the door and she looked up in guilty relief.

“Come in!” she called and Melian peered in, hesitating on the doorstep.

“Am I interrupting?” she asked.

“Not really,” Lothiriel sighed, “I’m not making much progress.”

Her sister-in-law came in and settled down in the window seat opposite her. She looked serene and was more beautiful than ever. No wonder Elphir could not stop fussing over her in a rather endearing manner. Lothiriel still felt vaguely guilty that Melian had taken over her duties of running the castle, albeit with some help still. On the other hand she would have had to do it eventually anyway when Lothiriel left for Rohan and it was easier for her to get used to her task while her sister-in-law was still here.

“So what do you have to learn today?” Melian asked her and Lothiriel showed her the list.

“Horses’ colours? How fascinating,” her sister-in-law said in a neutral tone and suddenly the two women had to share a smile.

“It’s typical of the Rohirrim, isn’t it,” Lothiriel grinned, “They probably have another fifty words for all the tack and another twenty for ‘grass’… and I’ll have to learn them all,” she added with a groan.

Melian gave her a sympathetic look. “I don’t know how you do it, I could never manage to remember all that.”

Lothiriel stared down at the parchment. “It’s a lot of hard work,” she admitted, “but I don’t want them to think me an ignorant foreign woman who can’t even be bothered to learn their language.”

“I’m sure they won’t,” Melian said gently, “but you can’t expect to learn Rohirric in a few short months, you know.”

Lothiriel sighed. “I know, but I want to do my best.”

“It seems to me you are doing your best,” Melian said, “I’m sure King Éomer will be surprised at your progress.”

Lothiriel looked up. “Do you think so?” she asked doubtfully.

Melian frowned at her. “It’s not like you to be so despondent, Lothiriel. Is something wrong?”

Lothiriel hesitated. “It’s just that I sometimes worry if I’m really made out to become Queen of Rohan. What have I really got to offer him?”

“Why don’t you let King Éomer worry about that,” Melian suggested with a sudden smile.

“He might regret having offered for me by now,” Lothiriel pointed out contrarily.

Melian laughed out loud. “Then how come there arrives a letter from him every second week by fast courier?”

Lothiriel looked a bit shamefaced. “I suppose so…but they are so formal,” she suddenly burst out, “all he ever writes about are the improvements he plans for Meduseld!”

Melian shook her head. “Really Lothiriel, what do you expect, ardent love letters? He probably wants to avoid offending your father.”

“My father?” Lothiriel stared at Melian in complete bewilderment.

Her sister-in-law nodded, “Don’t you realize that most fathers would read the letters first before handing them over to their innocent daughters? My father certainly always did.”

“He did?” Lothiriel felt as if a heavy weight had been lifted off her. So that explained it! Suddenly she jumped up and gave her sister-in-law an impulsive hug.

“Thank you!” she exclaimed.

Melian laughed. “My pleasure! And now I have to be off again.”

Lothiriel settled back down in her window seat. “And I have to get back to work.” She frowned down on her list and concentrated fiercely. Outside her window the sun had broken through the cloud cover, but Lothiriel never even noticed.

***


The clouds were scudding across the sky, chased by a bitter west wind. This morning he had noted with satisfaction that for the first time the fire had been lit in the great hearth of Meduseld. Winter was coming, only a few more months and then she would be here.

“Éomer King?”

Éomer started. Twelve pairs of eyes were looking at him, some of them amused, some of them trying to hide their irritation. Kings of the Mark did not blush, so he didn’t, but it was getting embarrassing. Of course the council meetings had never been his favourite activity, but at least he had in the past been able to keep up the semblance of paying close attention to what all his advisors were saying. Nowadays his thoughts just kept on drifting down much pleasanter paths.

He cleared his throat and sent a silent plea for help at Éothain sitting next to him. The newly appointed Captain of the Household did not disappoint him.

“We were just discussing the final resettling of the East Emnet…”

Fortunately this was a topic Éomer had already made his mind up on. “Of course. This is what we’ll do…”

As he outlined his plans and the counsellors nodded in agreement he let his eyes roam down the table. As well as the Marshals of the West-mark and the East-mark no less than nine other men were on the king’s council. Maybe now was a good time to diminish their number, especially as he wanted to add a new member soon. In his first days as a king he had felt unsure and much in need of advice, but lately all their endless talking had begun to irk him.

Just take their reaction when he had announced his decision to marry the Princess of Dol Amroth. Half of them had been offended because he had not consulted them beforehand, the other half because they had daughters of marriageable age themselves. Also some of them had questioned the wisdom of having their king marry a refined and sheltered Gondorian princess when their country was so much in need of a strong regent in case Éomer had to go to war again.

The discussion would have gone on all morning if he hadn’t simply declared that he had already asked for the hand of the lady in question and she had accepted him. It was time they learnt that their new king was perfectly capable of making up his own mind. And he rather thought they might be in for a shock as far as the sheltered Gondorian princess was concerned.

When the meeting was finally over and his advisors had taken their leave, he strolled over to the window and looked out. Edoras had prospered in the last year. Many roofs were newly thatched, the main road had been repaved and the long neglected fortifications had been restored. After a harvest that had been the most bountiful in human memory the storehouses were as full as they had ever been.

Even Meduseld was starting to look again like it had in the days before Théoden’s slow decline. When Éomer had returned from his journey to Dol Amroth he had seen the Golden Hall with new eyes and had decided to make it a place fit to welcome his young bride. It was only too evident that there had been no Queen of the Riddermark for over forty years, ever since Elfhild had died in childbirth.

The Queen’s Rooms had remained unchanged all this time, its furniture dusty and faded and the King’s Rooms weren’t in much better shape. After the war Éomer had been so busy at first just getting his people through the winter and rebuilding their homesteads that he had not spent much time in Meduseld and had left his uncle’s rooms pretty much as they were.

Now, though, he wanted Lothiriel to feel at home when she arrived from her southern homeland and so he had set out on a thorough program of improvement. Fortunately Dunstan, who had taken over after King Théoden’s seneschal retired after his master’s death, had supported him enthusiastically. Éomer had also written to Éowyn to ask for advice and she had sent him a long letter full of recommendations what to do. His sister had also promised to come and help with the organisation of the wedding. Apparently she did not trust anybody else to lead the whole undertaking to a successful end.

Éomer turned from the window and made his way to the door, picking up his cloak on the way. It was a thick, deep blue fabric with a row of embroidered animals along the hem. When he had received this gift from the Princess of Dol Amroth he had at first taken them for strangely shaped horses before he had looked closer and with considerable amusement had realized that they were mûmakil! Now he put it on and for a moment wished it were her arms wrapping themselves around him. Éomer shook his head. Better not think about that! It was no use tormenting himself with the memory of how she had yielded into his embrace that last evening. Five months! What was wrong with those Gondorians?

Outside the door to his study he hesitated for a moment, then he passed through the door opposite that led into the Great Hall. At this time of the day it was pretty much deserted, there were only a few servants left clearing up the dishes of the midday meal. He passed the long hearth in the middle of the hall and nodded at the guards who opened the door for him.

Outside on the paved terrace overlooking Edoras the wind was blowing strongly, but he welcomed the fresh air. Below him the many houses of the town were spread out, encircled by a broad wall and a dyke. Beyond that the River Snowbourn flowed past on its way to join the Entwash and along its bank lead the Great West Road. He could see a group of riders making their way eastwards, no doubt Marshall Elfhelm and his riders returning home to Aldburg. For a moment he was tempted to ride after them, only he would have carried right on to Minas Tirith. Six days on a fast horse to Mundburg, he thought, and another five to Dol Amroth…I should have abducted her when I had the chance.

Then he spotted Éothain coming up the broad stone steps that led up the final ascent to the Hall. Éomer nodded at his Captain of the Household as he joined him on the terrace.

“Did you see Elfhelm off?” he asked.

“Yes, and also Marshall Erkenbrand,” Éothain assented.

The two men stood silently for a while, looking out over the green plains of the Mark. Éothain shot his king and friend an amused glance.

“Only another two months now,” he said.

“Is it so obvious what I’m thinking of?” Éomer asked with a slightly sheepish smile.

Éothain shrugged. “I’m afraid so.”

Éomer gave a sigh. “Do you think she will like it here?” He did not have to specify who she was.

“Why shouldn’t she?” Éothain sounded surprised, but then he had never known any other life than here in the Riddermark.

Éomer remembered the castle of Dol Amroth with its elegantly appointed rooms, the beautiful formal gardens and the sweeping view of the ocean. Meduseld might rival the view, but life here was a lot rougher than what the princess was accustomed to.

“It’s so different from what Lothiriel is used to,” he explained, “What if she changes her mind?”

“It seems to me Princess Lothiriel made her mind pretty clear that last night in Dol Amroth.” Éothain pointed out. In fact Éomer’s men had been roasting him about it all the way home to Edoras.

“I’m just worried her father might convince her she’s not suited to life here or that her brother Elphir will try and put a spoke in our wheel.”

His captain gave a grin. “I wouldn’t worry about it, after all she has already sent those two trunks ahead. No woman is going to abandon that many clothes.”

Éomer had to smile at the memory of the sensation those dresses had created. As a result nearly every woman in Edoras had insisted that she needed a new gown for the wedding, or preferably several.

“Does Alfhild require a new dress too?” he asked slightly maliciously. After their return from Dol Amroth his friend had finally mustered the courage to ask for the hand of the woman he had admired for so long and she had accepted with alacrity. This being the Mark they had got married within a month, a fact that still considerably rankled their king.

Éothain shook his head. “Alfhild is the envy of all her friends. The silk the Princess of Dol Amroth sent as a wedding gift will stretch to several more dresses. You’re not the only one looking forward to the arrival of Princess Lothiriel, you know.”

“No?” Éomer hadn’t realized how much speculation there was about his bride-to-be.

“All the women are looking forward to meeting a real princess. They are expecting an exquisitely dressed and delicate young lady.”

Éomer stared wordlessly at his friend for a moment and then they both started to laugh. He had seen Lothiriel play the gracious princess and knew she could do it well, but he did not think she would want to do so here.

Éomer clapped his friend on the back. “What about a ride?” he asked in a considerably lightened mood and they passed down the stairs on their way to the stables. Behind them the sun peeked through a break in the cloud cover and bathed Edoras in its golden light.

It was a good day to have a look at the horses and sort out his Morning Gift to bestow on Lothiriel when they were wedded. His queen would have a large herd of horses to call her own, all in the traditional shades of grey.

If only she were here already, Éomer thought. In fact he would not feel safe until they had said their vows and he held her in his arms. Surely then nothing more could go wrong.

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Chapter name
Shades of grey
Created
01 Mar 2006
Last Edited
01 Mar 2006
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