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33

It was the pride and wonder of the Northern Line that, though their power departed and their people dwindled, through all the many generations the succession was unbroken from father to son.

LOTR: Appendix A: Annals of the Kings and Rulers


~~~

There they are, my lord leading his horse up the dusty path with my son perched atop. Edainion's fingers twist deeply in the horse's mane as he squeals.

"Mamil! Mamil!" he cries when he catches sight of me. "Look! I ride at'inya horse!"

I think every surface of the house well-scrubbed. Linens were taken out and shaken only to be refolded and placed in their chests with sprays of lavender or rosemary. The floor swept. The hearth raked. The buttery and pantry checked over yet again for holes, insect and mice. The bed aired and the window rugs beaten. Oh, but it is hard upon the evening meal and the sun dips below the forest upon the west. Long are the shadows through which they ride and long have been the hours of my waiting.

"Aye," I call back to him from the toft to my lord's home. "So I see."

My heart pounds so at the sight I see little of my lord. Rather, my eyes are fixed upon the small child kicking his heels in his excitement so very far from the ground. Had I thought to look elsewhere I might see my lord's gaze intent upon me and their clothes creased and hair wild as if their locks had dried without the benefit of a comb.

My lord brings the horse to a halt and hands his reins to Master Baran who waits beside me. When my lord reaches up for his son, the boy's face darkens and he bounces in the saddle.

"No, I want to stay. I want to ride Ro'ryn," he cries and the great beast turns back his head to eye his distressed rider. I think there is little in the training for battle that could have prepared the horse for quite this, and he seemed a little disconcerted for it, his ears twitching and air bursting from his nostrils in a great snuffling.

"Nay, onya, 'tis time to get down," my lord says. "Roheryn needs his rest and would like the saddle off his back." With that the child relents, clinging to his father as he is lifted from the back of the horse.

"Do you hunger, onya?" I ask and my son nods.

"Then come," say I, holding out my hand.

"Aye, Mamil," he says, and once released he comes close to tug on my fingers.

His face is bright and his voice chatters on as we go indoors and climb the stairs. The meal is ready and we have but to sit down to it. But first my son must be cleaned of the stains upon his face and fists and his clothes put to rights. He suffers it willingly, for his father, without greeting welcoming him home or queries as to his comfort, proceeds his son into the solar, where he will do the same.

"Mamil!" my son says, his voice loud and the words pouring forth from him. "We see Master Merlan and he told the story of the bad Witch-King. And at'inya put me on the horse and I ride it all the way from the river! At'inya got me," here he pauses to laboriously unfold his fingers, "Four!" he cries, holding upon his fingers. "Atto got me three apple pasties and I eat them all, but Ruful eat one. Him was a bad dog. Him pull it out my hand. It fall in the dirt. Atto said I should not eat it, because it make me sick. But, then Lothel want some, too, and Atto got more so I could share. And then Ruful clean our hands and it tickled!"

All this my son says as I kneel before him and strip him of shoes and tunic, muffling his voice as I tug the cloth over his face. My lord's face is bright with mirth and, I think, more than a little pride, as he pours water into the bowl upon the tall chest there at the end of the bed.

"And why are you so damp, onya?" I ask, for indeed he is. Deep in the seams of his clothes he smells of the river.

"Oh," the boy says, the current of his thoughts faltering. "I falled in the water."

"You did?" Of a sudden, my lord falls very still and I hear little noise of water or cloth in his corner of the solar.

"I walked on the tree, Mamil, and then I slip."

"You were? You did?"

"I was very careful!" he protests, for, no doubt my alarm shows plain upon my face. "Atto falled in the water, too," he goes on, looking up at me hesitantly from beneath his dark lashes, as if he hopes this last shall forgive him of the sin of frightening his mother, or, if naught else, avert a portion of the blame.

"I am sure he did," say I.

"Atto said 'twas the moss," Edainion says. "It was slippery, was it not, at'inya?"

"Aye, onya, it was, I think," comes his father's voice above us.

I know not what to say, but stare dumfounded up at my lord where he stands over us, washed and ready for his meal.

"But you were very brave, onya." The boy seems nigh to busting for the pride beaming from him at his father's ruffling of his hair.

"Aye, and Mamil?" my son says and his face bursts with sudden mirth now he seems to have our approval. "And Atto," he gasps, breathless between fits of giggling, and points a wavering hand at his father. "He falled, too, and he say "

"Aye, onya!" my lord says, mayhap a little too loudly and a little too swiftly. "Now it is time to bathe and let your mother get you ready." His father's voice softens some. "Do not linger over your washing too long. I shall see you in the hall."

And with that, my lord strides from the solar, leaving me sitting upon my heels and his son staring bereft after him.

"Come now, onya. Let us get you bathed," I say, though slowly do the words come to me.

I have hardly the breath to speak and I think my son knows it, for he stamps his feet, his brow puckering and lips pouting as he pulls at my grip.

"No!" he says, "Mamil! I do not want to bathe!"

"Hist," I say gently, stopping my attempts at removing his shirt and, instead, rub his back, for I know my child is merely over-tired and anxious to see his father. Now my lord has washed his hands and face and combed out his hair, his feet made short work of the flight of stairs into the hall. "Come now, do you not wish to join Atto in his meal? He washed, should not you?"

"Aye, Mamil," he complains, scowling, though he now no longer stomps upon the floor.

"Then let us wash and you shall be ready to go downstairs." "I will let you do most of it and help to make it go quickly," I go on, when his look remains reluctant.

'Tis truly the sorest trial to have his shirt pulled over his head and his breeches removed, but my son suffers it.

"No, I want the green soap," he protests when I pick up his usual bar of soft, sheep's-milk soap.

"Then how must thou ask for it?" and he screws his face up in a great act of patience.

"If it please you, Mamil."

"Aye, it pleases me," I say and he bows his head to peer closely at the cloth as I kneel and rub his father's soap upon it. "But, have a care, for it will sting if you get it in your eyes." The scent of bay and almond rises from the cloth and I must smile at my son's intent look. For it does please me my son would wish to be as his father, in most things.

"Mamil! Not so much!"

"There you are," I say, forbearing from lathering the cloth too thickly.

A rime of dried dirt lines his neck and jaw. I think he must have feared to put his head below the water for a more thorough dunking after his first.

"Do my face, Mamil," he asks, lifting his chin. "If it please thee, Mamil." I wring out the cloth in the bowl of water beside us and, with care, wipe the soap and dirt from his cheeks and about his eyes.

"There," I say, with a last touch to his nose. "You wipe off the rest and dress, and then you will be ready."

~oOo~

I must have been very quiet throughout the meal. I can think of no words to say and am glad my son's chattering fills the silence. We dine on a soup of sausage, onion, dried herbs and apple from the noon meal we did not have, together with toasts of smoked cheese upon thin slices of a stale bread, for my lord had forgotten the flour for which I had sent him to the market. My son tells of his day and I let the dry bread lay upon the soup, waiting for it to soak up the broth as I listen.

"Master Tanaes, Mamil? He had a big fish." Here the child gestures wildly with his spoon and I must lay my hand upon his arm to guide it back to his bowl so he does not fling his sausage across the table. He minds it not, but chatters on. "Him say it was the biggest fish ever, Mamil. Was it the biggest fish ever, at'inya?"

His father swallows so he might answer, breaking off a piece of the crust to dip it into his soup. "Mayhap the biggest caught upon the river here. Bigger than ever I have caught upon it."

"'Twas very very big, Mamil." The boy nods eagerly. "Atto hold its mouth and it was tall as me!"

Here my lord smiles and I wonder if it truly was of a size. His son slurps loudly at the soup, kicking his feet.

"Aye, a marvel Master Tanaes should have pulled it from the river, alone as he was and with a fish so heavy as a big lad such as you," my lord goes on, looking upon his son fondly.

Edainion giggles around his mouthful, delighted as he is at the attention. But my lord falls silent, his laughter falling from him quickly when he catches sight of my face. Ah, perhaps this moment is not one in which he would be wise to compare my son to a fish.

Ai! But this meal is a trial to my patience.

As the tale unfold, it seems my son and his father wandered the square and purchased their noon meal from the strolling vendors. A roasted leg of chicken and a pie of chopped meats and beans they found, and the pasties were purchased as the meal's end. There they called on the folk of the Angle and my son's father took him to speak to cotter and baker and goodwife.

But still their day was not done, for after my son had napped in the shade of the carpenter's stall while his father listened to the tales of the Angle from the man, they took to riding upon the shaded groves and deep paths that wind about the river. There my son learned of the small beasts of the forest and the tracks they make.

All in all, the venture had been more a matter of success than I could have hoped. For my son lost his reserve around his father and my lord claimed new confidence in the care of his son.

It is not until we are done with the meal and I take our bowls to the buttery that my lord speaks to me. He, too, had sat through much of the meal in silence, though, atimes, had looked upon me as if he wished to catch my eye. But I would have none of it. And so he waited until we were out of hearing of our son. He left him there in the hall, following me into the buttery.

"Edainion," I heard his voice call through the door. "Come put away thy men. I should not want to step upon one, for surely I would break it."

I hear not my son's protest, though often he resists the task, preferring instead to leave his carved toys laying about so he may play with them at will. In its place I hear the scrape of wood upon stone and know my son leaps to do his father's bidding.

I scrape the bowls clean and through my lord's opening of the door I see Elesinda helps my son, they both kneeling about the hearth.

"Truly, lady, I had not intended to be so long gone," my lord says, his voice low.

I stack the bowls so Elesinda may wash them and, finding the lid, clap it over the bucket of waste scraps. I turn and lean back against the shelf to better see my lord. The light of the setting sun falls upon him and, though his look is solemn, it holds naught of penitence.

"But then my son fell in the river," I say and, from his sudden grimace, it seems the father was not long after his son. I wonder then if he had plunged in after the child of his own intent or of an accident.

"Aye, well, in truth, lady," he says, "it was not the river, more a stream leading off from it. 'Twould all have been put easily aright had not the clothes taken long in drying." And it is only now my lord has the grace to look abashed.

True it is, for all the dirt and creases they bear, I shall be much put to it to make them fit to be worn again. But I care naught for them and I choke on his concern.

"My lord, I trust the danger in which his father placed my son " and here I bite off my words. My jaw hurts and I reach up to rub against the bone.

"Aye," he finishes for me when I cannot, " served to teach him to be more cautious." "Be assured, lady, it did."

"My lord," I say, my voice slow and nigh so heavy as my heart. "I rejoice you find joy in your son. I could wish for naught better. He is yours and must be yours body and mind and heart. One day I must endure his leave-taking and know he faces perils from which I cannot protect him, and my heart shall break for it. Did not your own lady mother suffer so? But, I pray you, do not give me cause to suffer needlessly before it is my time."

At that, my lord falls silent and still. I cannot read the thoughts upon his face, but then he lifts my hand from where my arms are folded across my breast. And, with his thumb rubbing gently upon the bones of my knuckles, bows low over it before pressing his lips there.

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