While I don’t want to assume that women were ever allowed to take part in actual medieval tournaments, it is an historic fact that unmarried Viking females were, indeed, allowed to go to war with the men. They could be seen on several authentic paintings or carpets, wearing very short tunics. *g*
CHAPTER 10 – REUNION
“To take part in the tournament?” Boromir stared at Herumor in utter bewilderment. “A woman?”
“Nay; a shieldmaiden,” replied Herumor. “And you would do well to have your shield firmly in hand, for they are very good with the sword.”
“Mayhap they have the skills,” said Boromir dismissively. “But they most certainly lack the strength.”
“We shall see,” Herumor grinned unrepentantly. “I only had the chance to spar with the Lady Aud once – it took me weeks to recover from the bruises she gave me. Admittedly, I was barely sixteen at that time, but it was… educational nevertheless. Only Master Andrahar has ever beaten me in swordplay as badly as she did.”
“In that case we should go down to the gate and great her properly,” Boromir laughed. “Mayhap she will go on you easier the next time.”
“Speak for yourself,” replied Herumor, moving already. “I have seen many a self-confident knight fall from the saddle before her pike. Come with me, children; let us welcome the Prince of Rohan in the town.”
Faramir, Morwen and Liahan were more than willing to make Prince Théodred’s acquaintance – and even more, that of young Princess Idis – and followed him merrily, with an amused Boromir in tow. Only Madenn stayed behind, and she had lost that inner glow that had been shining all over her face but a moment ago. A dark foreboding crept into her heart, and all of a sudden, she felt no longer like greeting Théodred before the eyes of all people.
She whirled around and hurried back to the Castle, alone.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the meantime, the reunion at the upper town’s gate was a happy and noisy one. Boromir and Théodred embraced each other in bears’ hugs that would have knacked the ribs of any lesser man and slapped each other on the back that it echoed from the stone walls. Due to Théodred’s partially Gondorian heritage, they were about the same height – and yet Théodred managed to look even larger, with his huge shoulders and great arms and unruly golden mane, even though Boromir was rather broadly built himself.
Herumor greeted Erkenbrand on behalf of his uncle – for indeed, it was the Lord of the Westfold in the flesh, carrying the red shield with the silver fist upon it – and clasped forearms with the Lady Aud in true warrior fashion.
“Came to turn my day of honour into one of utter shame and humiliation?” he teased her in a friendly manner.
“Came to prove my skills against the haughty Men of Mundburg one last time,” she replied, smiling.
She was beautiful, Boromir decided, with eyes that reminded a man of bottomless wells, dark and perilous and the more mesmerizing. She looked gorgeous in a chain mail – she would look like a warrior goddess of old Rohirric sagas in a proper gown.
“If you wish to spare yourself the humiliation,” she continued to Herumor, “you should fight on my side in the mêlée.”
“Oh, but that would be treason,” Herumor laughed. “Surely, I cannot raise my sword against the future Steward of Gondor! That would make me forsworn, and my entire House would fall from grace, after millennia of faithful service.”
They laughed, and while the proper introductions were made, Boromir watched the Lady Aud unobtrusively. She seemed to be in her early twenties and doubtlessly counted as exotically beautiful with her dark hair and unfathomable eyes – a rare trait among the blond, blue-eyed Rohirrim. Yet there was also a lingering sadness in those deep, dark eyes of hers. Boromir wondered about the reasons, ‘til the side remark about this being her last fight hit home.
There could be only one reason for a shieldmaiden of the Mark to set her sword aside: a marriage that would serve her cynn more than her valour as a warrior would. And considering the fact that she and her father had come in Théodred’s company, Boromir could guess who else would be involved in that marriage.
He felt sorry for Madenn, who was suspiciously absent, but this was the order of things in the realm of Gondor. And even in the Mark, usually more lenient where the parentage of a worthy man or woman was considered, the Heir of the throne could not follow his heart when choosing his future Queen.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
They went back to the Castle, where the royal guests were properly welcomed by the Lord and the Lady and given guest rooms worthy their rank and position. After that, Archen, Forlong’s daughter, offered the children – including Princess Idis who seemed to enjoy her first visit outside of the Mark enormously – to go with them to the fair again, as this was the day when the Fair King would be chosen. Boromir promised his brother to join him shortly; as soon as he had the chance to speak with his friend Théodred alone.
“I would like to see the ceremony as well,” said the Lady Aud, “but it was a long journey and I believe I would do better if I put my armour aside and had a decent bath. I do not believe I would need my sword inside town. However, I would welcome the chance to know you better, Lady Achren, if it pleases you. Later perhaps?”
“Certainly, “nodded Achren. “We should be back before evening meal. I shall let you know when we returned.”
Lady Aud thanked her and rushed off, eager to become more comfortable as well as more presentable for a noble Gondorian household. Achren shot her cousin a questioning look, but Herumor shook his head, saying that he would seek out Madenn, for they had some things to discuss. Thus Achren herded the children down to the courtyard alone, to wait for the arrival of the guards who were to accompany them – this time more than on the day before, as this was the day on which the summer fair officially began, and that could make even Forlong’s town a bit less safe than usual.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
That left Boromir and Théodred alone in the anteroom, and Boromir eyed his old friend in concern. Théodred had grown into full manhood since their last encounter: he was the prime example of glorious Northern maleness, but his more refined features clearly showed the traits of his late grandmother, Queen Morwen of Lossarnach. Comely, valiant and the Heir of the throne – he could have chosen any woman he wanted.
Just not the one he loved, it seemed.
“Is this what I believe it is?” asked Boromir. “Is your father about to get you wedded?”
“Not right away, but soon enough, aye,” replied Théodred with a shrug. “I always knew this would happen one day. And the Lady Aud is more than worthy to become the Queen of the Mark. I could have done a lot worse.”
“Was it your choice or that of the King?” asked Boromir quietly, wondering when his father would make the same demand.
He could hope for a little more time, as the Men of Westernesse could expect a much longer life than lesser people, even though their blood had been diluted since the days of the kings; and besides, the Lord Denethor had married late himself. But one day the Steward, too, would expect his firstborn to wed a suitable noblewoman and sire Heirs to the stewardship – and Boromir truly dreaded that day.
“’Twas a choice we both agreed with,” Théodred answered to Boromir’s question. “I have known the Lady Aud all my life; though she is a few years my elder, we used to have weapons training together. She is noble and courageous and wise and beautiful – what could I wish for more?”
“Naught if all you want is a suitable wife,” answered Boromir dryly. “But if you wish for love…”
“I would if I could,” said Théodred with a sigh. “Yet love is not something for men like you or me… not in the long run. We have to wed as it suits our realm, not as it suits our heart. I cannot make Madenn my Queen, no matter how much I love her, just as Father could not take Idis’ mother as his second wife. No-one of us belongs to himself.”
“True enough,” admitted Boromir, “but is this honest towards the women? To the one whom you love or to the one whom you shall wed?”
“The Lady Aud enters our bond with her eyes wide open,” said Théodred. “And we both hope that in time we shall learn how to love each other beyond the bonds of friendship and shared duty. It worked for my father and mother, short though their time together was. Why should it not work for Aud and me?”
“I hope for your sake that it will,” said Boromir gravely, “but what is to become of Madenn? People know of the bond between you and her I deem – and they will talk. How is she supposed to find a suitable husband when she is known to have been the mistress of the Prince of Rohan? Customs in Gondor are not so forgiving as they are in your own realm… have you even considered that?”
“You speak true, I fear,” Théodred sighed again, “yet we did not think of the future when we first fell in love. I was a barely sixteen back then; a man grown as we see it in the Mark, yet still barely more than a youth in the eyes of your people. I was overwhelmed when she chose me, but mayhap you are right. Mayhap at the age of sixteen one is truly too young. I would not do the same now. But what is done is done, and I cannot change it. And even though I know I have wronged her, I cannot regret having loved her… and been loved in return.”
“I wonder, though, whether she has any regrets,” said Boromir thoughtfully.
Théodred shrugged in defeat.
“She might… and that I do regret,” he paused for a moment, then added. “You shall have your own regrets in time. Judge me not, my friend.”
“I would never dare,” replied Boromir. “Our young knights go to pleasure houses – at least you have been with someone you honestly loved. ‘Tis a good thing you did not give her a child, though. Base-born children have a much harder life in Gondor than they would have in the Mark.”
“She is a skilled healer; she saw into it so that I would not sire any son or daughter unwanted,” said Théodred. “For though I would love to keep something of her – and of what we had together – had I sired a son, it could cause… trouble when it comes to chose the Heir of the throne after me. Our people make no difference between legitimate and base-born sons, so there could have been a bitter struggle for power, which would harm the Mark greatly.”
“’Tis better so, for every one involved,” agreed Boromir. “You have come to end it between the two of you, then?”
“I have come to say my farewells,” answered the Prince of Rohan mournfully, “and to see her one last time… and never again. I did not wish her to learn about my betrothal from someone else. I owe her that much.”
“Betrothal?” Boromir frowned. “Has it been announced before the royal court already? We have not received any official writ yet.”
Théodred shook his head.
“Nay, it has not. ‘Tis just an agreement between the two families yet. I am not to be wed before I turn twenty, and there is the year of betrothal that must be fully observed, with all the proper ceremonies,” he flashed Boromir a mirthless smile. “We do not write books as you grave folk do – we have rites for everything instead, and at least these include great feasts with honest amounts of ale.” He paused for a moment again. “I wish you to stand with me before the norna as my witness, when the day of my wedding comes. As I have no brother, nor any male cynn of the right age, I have to choose a friend instead. I wish you to be that friend.”
“I am honoured,” said Boromir with an elegant little bow; despite soldiering, Lady Tirathiel’s lessons in courtly manners were not easily forgotten. “Call me when the time is come, and I shall ride to Edoras, save an all-out war on our borders.”
“If there is a war,” replied Théodred solemnly, “our swords will sing the same song in battle, my friend. For I shall renew the Oath of Eorl when I come into my own, and no trick, no treachery, nor any dark power would ever be able to stand between Gondor and the Mark. This I swear you by the burial mounds of my longfathers, and may their bones be my witness.”