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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 6: May the best man win

by Lialathuveril

Chapter V: May the best man win

The horse was a joy to ride. Lothiriel had been surprised to see Legolas lead up what was obviously a Rohirric warhorse but she had been too much overjoyed at his offer to lend it to her to question where he had it from. The elf had organized a saddle for her somewhere and before she knew it, she was in the warming up yard behind the tents practicing shooting under his critical eyes.

She rode up now, her confidence enormously buoyed. The horse was obedient to her slightest touch and one of its ears twitched back as she whispered encouragements to it in Elvish. The crowd hushed as her name was announced.

Concentrating fiercely she rode in at a slow canter and rose in her stirrups. Her first arrow only hit one of the outer rings but the next two went true. Lothiriel cursed inwardly as the fourth missed the target entirely but her last arrow hit dead center. She blushed as the crowd started cheering and risked a quick look at the King of Rohan. He was watching her with a stony expression while next to him Legolas stood grinning broadly. Her heart sank again and she decided to stay out of his way and observe the other contestants for a while instead.

Over on one side Nightwind was grazing peacefully, entirely unaware of the events going on around her. She nodded to Beda who was looking after the mare and settled down close by. As she watched the other archers she realized with dismay some of them were very good. One of the Rohirrim in particular made it look so easy one felt he didn’t even have to try to hit all five arrows dead center.

There had been no wind all afternoon and the heat had been oppressive, even though growing clouds to the south had started to cover the sun. But as the next few riders prepared to ride by, Lothiriel for the first time noticed a slight breeze bringing relief. It would not make the shooting any easier, though.

In fact the next contestant missed the target entirely because of a gust of wind and cursed his horse roundly as if it was its fault. One less competitor to worry about she thought uncharitably. The afternoon drew on until all the contestants had had their turn. In the end only half of them made it to the last round.

Lothiriel was feeling decidedly nervous as she lined up with the first five competitors at the start of the third round. The rules were easy now; each of them had three tries to hit the bull's eye and if you didn’t you were out. She could feel Éomer’s disapproving glare on her back like a heavy weight weighing her down and resultantly missed completely with her first shot.

Taking a deep breath she told herself to relax, after all she had done this distance many times before. It was not as if it mattered what the King of Rohan thought of her. She imagined her old archery master watching her, bellowing instructions as she practiced shooting. “Concentrate girl,” he always used to shout at her. It seemed to work, for the next arrow hit home. Breathing a sigh of relief she stood aside for the next archer to take his turn.

Privately Éomer had to admit she seemed quite competent if rather erratic. Why, that first arrow had gone nowhere near the target. The princess was definitely the favorite of the crowd, even though she didn’t seem to realize it at all. His practiced eye, however, had already singled out the men who would make out the winner between them. Besides Éothain from his own éored there was one of the guards of the white tower and a man clad in the brown garb of the rangers.

The rising wind might become a factor yet, he thought and frowned as one of his riders missed at a distance he usually mastered easily. He watched Lothiriel as the butts were moved to sixty paces and she lined up for the next round. She wore a determined look on her face as she concentrated on the target, but again the first arrow went wide, this time because of the rising wind. For the second shot, though, she somehow managed to catch a lull between two gusts of wind. How did she do that? he wondered and cast a look at Legolas next to him who was looking pensive.

Lothiriel could feel her confidence rising. The crowd was cheering and some were even calling her name. They didn’t know that they were helping her in more than one way. During the last round she had realized that what seemed to be a distraction to be ignored could actually be of help. She had seen several women in the crowd wearing gauzy headscarves and had noticed how the breeze lifted them as she shot her first arrow. By observing them she had managed to time her second shot better.

There was a pause as the spare targets were removed, there being only five contestants left over and banners were affixed to the remaining butts. At seventy paces Lothiriel knew she was at the outer limit of her range, unlike the men around her. In the end it all came down to the fact of their superior physical strength. She had underestimated their skill and knew she was outmatched. There was only one thing left in her favor, sheer determination. Her brothers used to call it pigheadedness; she had always preferred to call it willpower.

They lined up for the next round. On her right were two of the Rohirrim riders and a guard of the citadel while on her left, much to her surprise, was one of her brother’s guards. He gave her a nod and a friendly smile and she felt better again. Then a thought struck her and she turned to look at the pavilion. Just as she had feared there was her brother, wearing a shocked and outraged expression on his face and next to him Melian, looking white. The King of Rohan stood beside them with an impassive face. She tried to ignore him.

The master of the tournament now gave the sign they could shoot at will. Lothiriel watched the silver swan banner behind her target flapping wildly then drooping in a lull. The others took the opportunity to shoot, but Lothiriel had noticed the telltale flapping of the scarves in the crowd heralding another gust of wind that blew their arrows wide. When the wind dropped again she mustered all her strength and not inconsiderable skill and loosened a shot that hit the mark dead center. The crowd gasped. Lothiriel closed her eyes. Now if only nobody hit the bull’s eye at eighty paces she’d win, as she was the first at this distance. The wind was actually turning into an ally!

Éomer was astonished. Lucky again! How had she done that? He watched in dismay as one of his men, Garmhold, was so rattled by being beaten by a woman that he missed twice more at a distance he usually mastered easily. With a sheepish look at his king he had to retire.

Gimli turned to Legolas in amazement and remarked, “If one more competitor drops out you’ve actually won your bet.” The elf was looking slightly surprised himself.

The master of the tournament now came up to ask if he should suspend the contest to be continued at a later time, but Éomer shook his head. “Whoever masters these conditions deserves to win, “ he said.

The temperature had dropped considerably and the light was waning as thunderclouds were slowly drawing in. “Eighty paces!“ the new distance was announced and Lothiriel got ready to shoot again.

But now the wind betrayed her and a dead calm descended. The Rohirrim hit the center of the target at his first try and so did the guard of the citadel to her right. Lothiriel bit her lip as her first arrow fell short. At this distance she would consider herself lucky if she just made the distance let alone hit the target. It was no consolation that her brother’s guard fared no better, at least his second arrow hit the target on the edge whereas hers fell short once again.

Lothiriel was feeling exhausted and her left arm was aching dully, but she remembered how their archery master had always insisted the key to successful shooting was in the mind, not the arms. One year he had made them practice with their eyes blindfolded. Feel where the target is, aim with your heart he used to tell them.

Once again she looked over to where Nightwind was grazing and somehow found reserves she didn’t know existed. She poured everything she had into that last shot and then closed her eyes. When she opened them again it was to see her blue and silver arrow quivering dead center.

Mercilessly the butts were moved back another ten paces. It was hopeless, she thought, there was just no way she could shoot that far. Her brother’s guard gave her a pat of encouragement on the back before he had to quit the field. She hadn’t even asked him his name.

Then she suddenly felt the wind picking up again. The clouds overhead were threatening rain and fierce gusts of wind were making archery almost impossible. It was not much use to her, however, as the rider from Rohan would win if nobody hit the target at this distance. He had been the first to hit the bull’s eye at eighty paces.

What I need is a miracle! she thought as all their arrows were blown off course in the first round. The second round was no better and the two men were starting to look annoyed. Her trick with the spectators didn’t help anymore either, as the wind was now changing direction constantly, sometimes blowing from the side, sometimes from the back. Not that a lull would have been much use to her anyway at that range.

The rider now managed to hit the target on one side with his third try whereas the guard of the citadel missed completely once more, rattled by another violent gust of wind.

Now there was only herself left. Lothiriel hesitated. She was loath to fire her last arrow, for then it would be over and the mare lost.

Afterwards she never knew what made her look behind her, but she did and then she saw it: a gust of wind, raising dust and last year’s dry leaves, coming her way. She turned back towards the target, concentrated on the silver swan and drew her bow. When the wind reached her she closed her eyes, breathed “Elbereth Githoniel!” and loosed her last arrow.

There was a stunned silence then the crowd erupted into wild cheers and started to call her name. Lothiriel’s eyes flew open. She couldn’t believe it when she saw her arrow stuck in the center of the target and for one wild moment wondered how it ever got there. It was only when the other two competitors came over and congratulated her stiffly that the truth began to sink in.

Then she suddenly felt herself swept up into strong arms. “Well done sister!” exclaimed her brother, hugging her. “You’ve shown them what stuff we of Dol Amroth are made of!” She stared at Elphir in total surprise as he was carried away by his enthusiasm. This was not the reaction she had expected of him.

As the first fat drops of rain started to fall the crowd dispersed hastily to find shelter and she suddenly found herself face to face with the King of Rohan, who congratulated her coldly. Next to him stood Legolas, grinning broadly.

Of course, she thought, he has won his bet.

“May I have a word with you and your sister?” Éomer asked Elphir in a formal tone and led them over to one of the smaller pavilions. Lothiriel could feel her elation fading fast.

By now the rain had started to fall in earnest and she was glad to get under cover. Lothiriel was feeling exhausted and realized she hadn’t had anything to eat since that late breakfast with her sister-in-law. It seemed a very long time ago. As she sat down on one of the benches provided, Legolas brought her a glass of wine and she gave him a grateful smile.

Then her attention was caught by Éomer talking softly to Elphir over in one corner. Her brother was looking thoughtful and nodding his head. He seemed to have recovered from his unusual excitement remarkably fast. She had a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach as the two came over towards her.

Elphir cleared his throat. “King Éomer has made a very kind proposition,” he said in a pompous tone, “and most generously offers to send for more horses to Rohan, horses which are much more suitable for you to ride. You may choose one of them.”

“No, “ Lothiriel said flatly and jumped up. Then she added more moderately, “Thank you for your kind offer, but I want Nightwind.”

Éomer was frowning again. “What do you want with a warhorse? Are you planning on riding into battle?”

“Of course not,” Lothiriel replied reasonably, “it is not that I want a warhorse, I just want Nightwind. It is as if I was meant to have her.”

He shook his head. “Under normal circumstances you would never have won the tournament anyway, “ he exclaimed, “it was a complete fluke!”

“I know,” she had to acknowledge. At least he couldn’t fault her for not being truthful.

“Maybe she was really meant to have the mare,” Legolas now interposed, looking thoughtful.

The King of Rohan rounded on his friend. “Haven’t you done enough today to get the princess into an early grave?”

Legolas looked startled. “Why an early grave?” he asked surprised.

“It takes more than a couple of apples and some Elvish words to control a Rohirric battle steed. This is no gentle lady’s mount we are talking about, Nightwind is trained to kill. The princess will be a danger to herself and those around her.”

Lothiriel felt offended. “You are assuming just because I am a woman I cannot ride, “ she accused him.

“I have seen what kind of horse you usually ride,” he reminded her in an annoyed voice, “Nightwind is highly trained and if she goes to a warrior might well save his life in battle one day.”

She could feel her temper rising. “She might save my life one day,” she pointed out, “and I am certainly not afraid of riding her.”

“It is not your courage I am doubting, not after last night,” Éomer said with a significant glance at her brother who was looking confused at the exchange, “it is your commonsense I am questioning.”

Lothiriel took a deep breath. “My Lord King, you are being insulting!” she said evenly.

“My Lady Princess, you are being unreasonable,” Éomer replied, finally loosing his temper, “you are acting like a willful child who wants something and is told she can’t have it.”

It was Lothiriel’s turn to loose her temper. How dare he use that tone with her! “You are just annoyed that you lost your bet, “ she accused him, “that is why you are trying to weasel out of your promise!”

The moment the words left her mouth Lothiriel knew she had gone too far, but it was too late to take them back. Melian gasped and in the sudden silence they could hear the rain drumming on the roof of the tent.

Éomer had gone white with fury. “The King of the Mark always keeps his word,” he said stiffly. “Very well then, take the horse, but don’t come running to me if you fall off and break your neck!”

“I am hardly likely,” Lothiriel snapped back, standing her ground, “and what is more you don’t have to escort us to Emyn Arnen either. I wouldn’t travel one yard in your company!” She felt as if the whole conversation was rapidly spinning out of control, but she was simply too mad to care.

“Oh yes you will,” he replied threateningly, “I promised your brother I would take you there and that is what I will do, even if I have to tie you to your horse. And what is more you will be following my orders on the journey.”

“I won’t” shouted Lothiriel angrily, “you are nothing more than a barbarian king from the Northlands.”

Behind Éomer Melian looked ready to faint. He compressed his lips into a thin line. “I feel sorry for the man who is going to marry you,” he said grimly, “a swan is far too meek and mild an animal to have on your coat-of-arms! You are like an untamed falcon, rending everything in its way with its sharp talons, even the hands of those who would help you.”

Lothiriel dashed a tear from her eyes. “And you are like a mûmak, trampling everything that won’t get out of your way!” she exclaimed with a sob.

She stormed from the tent.

Éomer stood thunderstruck, looking after her. Then he turned to Elphir who took a step back at the look in his eyes. “I expect you to exert enough control over your womenfolk to have them ready to depart in two days time.”

When Elphir nodded weakly the King of Rohan in his turn stalked out of the tent. He did what he usually did when he was angry or upset. He swung on Firefoot’s back without even bothering with a saddle and went racing across the plain. Had there been any orcs in his path, they would have fared badly.

It didn’t improve his temper that he got soaking wet, but at least it cooled him down.

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Chapter name
May the best man win
Created
02 Oct 2005
Last Edited
02 Oct 2005
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