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15
Fathers, Sisters, Daughters

By the description of Herumor’s gift sword, I used the daggers from the Barrow-downs as orientation. It turned out a bit different, though.


~~~

CHAPTER 15 – FATHERS, SISTERS, DAUGHTERS

While the ladies retired early from the Great Hall, it did not mean they went to bed immediately. Here was a lot of fuss ‘til the poor maids bathed Lady Almaren and her son, helped the lady to her night shift, combed her hair properly and prepared her bed according to her demands. She certainly was a… demanding mistress, not easily satisfied and not soft of words to those she could command around.

“Small wonder she has brought her own maids from Pelargir,” commented Achren bitingly. “Ours might not withstand temptation to slip something in her wine… or to throttle her in her sleep.”

Madenn laughed quietly, knowing a jest when she heard one. They were lovely together, sitting on Achren’s balcony, like the Sun and the Moon; like day and night.

“Peace has become a rare thing in these halls since she has moved into the ladies’ wing,” she agreed. “I can understand that you are bitter about that. Those used to be your mother’s chambers, after all.”

“They are just rooms,” replied Achren with a shrug. “Have I known my mother, even if only for a few years, Almaren’s presence would bother me more, I deem. But as I have no memories of Mother…” she shrugged again. “What bothers me more is the fact that she not truly belongs here – and never would. Grandmother should allow Father to choose his own wives; he would make better choices.”

“Mayhap,” allowed Madenn, though not entirely without doubt. “But what is done is done, and Father has no other choice than to live with that poisonous snake as well as he can. What about your choices, though?”

“What choices?” Achren tried to evade the question, but Madenn just laughed.

“Have you truly hoped that your little stroll with Lord Húrin would go unnoticed? There were guards with you, and servants at the fair; and when Grandmother came home, I could almost hear the sound of the wedding bells.”

“Well, I certainly will not marry just to make Grandmother happy,” declared Achren angrily. “That is one of Father’s weaknesses which I have not inherited. ‘Tis a shame that you have not been equally fortunate.”

“What are you talking about?” Madenn was understandable bewildered.

“You always do everything to please others,” said Achren. “’Tis time that you would begin to think of yourself, for a change.”

“Oh, you need not to worry,” replied Madenn. “I know very well what I am doing.”

“And that would be?” Achren arched an eyebrow. She looked eerily like their grandmother in that moment.

“Well, I could go to Halabor and live under Uncle’s outstretched hand,” said Madenn with a shrug. “Herumor certainly did his best to talk me into going with them, and I have no doubt that Uncle would take me in like his own.”

“He would,” Achren nodded. “He takes blood bonds very seriously – and he likes you well enough. Are you considering…”

“Nay,” Madenn shook her head. “I am not doing things by halves. I have been Forlong’s daughter long enough; ‘tis time I accepted who – or what – I truly am.”

“You are Forlong’s daughter,” reminded her Achren gently. “You will always remain his daughter; just like me.”

“For him and for you, perhaps,” said Madenn. “But in everyone else’s eyes I am just the base-born daughter of a common woman. ‘Tis best for everyone when I return to my own stock.”

“Is it the best for you?” asked Achren. This had been an ongoing argument between the two of them in the recent years. Madenn nodded.

“I strongly believe that it is,” she said. “But what about you? Do you know what you should do?”

“Not yet,” admitted Achren. “I do like Lord Húrin just fine, but…”

“Has he asked you?” interrupted Madenn.

Achren nodded. “Aye, he has. This afternoon, while we attended to the fair. ‘Twas an open and honest offer – and I do believe I can shoulder the tasks his wife would have to carry out. I have been taught well; Grandmother looked into it, as you know. I even believe I could grow to love him… and his little girl is adorable.”

“That she is,” Madenn agreed. “And she needs a mother badly. So, why are you hesitating?”

“I know not,” Achren sighed. “’Tis foolish, is it not? I will have to get wedded one day – I wish to have a family, if truth must be told. I just have not expected it to happen so suddenly. And the thought of wedding a man I have not even known ‘til two days ago frightens me.”

“You knew this would happen one day,” reminded her Madenn gently. “Daughters of your status rarely are allowed to choose their husbands. You are luckier than most, as Father is quite lenient towards us.”

“Of course,” Achren nodded. “It just never seemed so real; ‘til now.”

“Father would never force you, you know that,” said Madenn, understanding her anxiety all too well.

“I know,” replied Achren, “but I know as well that I would be hard-pressed to find a better-suited husband.”

“This means you shall accept?” asked Madenn.

“Mayhap I shall,” said Achren thoughtfully. “I just… I just need time to get used to the thought. At least once I am gone, you can leave, too.”

“You need not to make any hasty decisions on my behalf,” said Madenn warmly. “I have all the time of the world now. I can wait.”

“Mayhap so, but ‘tis better for you, too, to care for your own future while you still have the strength to do so,” replied Achren. “You and your mother have been separated long enough.”

“True,” admitted Madenn with a melancholic smile. “I am looking forward to be with her at last.”

“It seems there will be profound changes, for both of us,” Achren’s eyes shone with unshed tears, and she hugged her sister tightly. “I shall miss you.”

“So shall I,” Madenn held her for a moment longer. “I am certain, though, that our paths will cross again. Even if you shall become one of the noblest ladies of the White City and I shall remain a mere healer.”

“It matters little what we might become,” replied Achren solemnly. “We shall always remain Forlong’s daughters, and no-one can ever take that from us.”

“Nay,” Madenn agreed. Then she let go of her sister and rose to leave. “We should go to bed now. There will be much work to do tomorrow, to prepare everything for Herumor’s knighting ceremony the day after.”

“Have a good night… what is left of it,” Achren walked her sister to the door, to bolt it after her departure.

Neither of them noticed the Lady Almaren’s most trusted elderly maid hovering in a shadowy corner.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
In the next morn, the people of the Castle rose early, for indeed, there was much work to do to prepare the upcoming ceremony. The carpenters began to construct the place of the event right after first meal, and the merry thuds of their hammers could be heard everywhere in the Castle as they worked in the courtyard. Pages and esquires were cleaning and polishing various pieces or armour furiously. Laundresses laboured in the wash-house to have the finest clothes of the Lord, his family, and their guests in perfect order. Grooms were scrubbing and walking the chosen horses, so that they would be in their best shape for the tournament. The kitchens were in utter uproar, and the huntsmen had been sent out to the Lord’s woods to bring in delicious venison for the festive table.

Although it would have been the Lady Almaren’s duty – and her privilege – to oversee the preparations, old Lady Achren had grabbed the reins from her daughter-in-law firmly, declaring that she had still much to learn about how a proper household in Lossarnach had to be run. The matron employed the help of her granddaughters instead (at least they had been taught by her personally) and even that of Forlong’s chatelaine, despite the fact that she despised Tynellas for having been Forlong’s mistress once. Things, indeed, ran smoothly under their experienced hands, although one could only guess how the Lady of the house took in this slighting, which most likely had not been the first one.

Thus Lord Húrin had no chance to talk to Achren again. But he was content nonetheless, watching her brisk and efficient manner as she dealt with household tasks and upset servants. A woman’s true skills never showed better than at times when her house was overrun by guests during a feast, and it seemed that Achren could handle just about everything and everyone – including her own grandmother.

“She is nice,” declared little Morwen. “She never screams with the servants as the lady Almaren does, and yet they do everything she tells them to do. She could handle Grandmother just fine, I guess.”

The Warden of the Keys, second-ranking official of the White City and highest authority after the Steward of Gondor himself, gave his sweet-faced, eleven-year-old daughter a slightly panicked look.

“What are you talking about, little one?”

The look Morwen gave him was that patented, patient one bright children liked to give their beloved yet slightly… slow-witted parents.

“You do want to wed her, do you not?” she asked in a manner that made it clear that she agreed with her father’s choice.

Recovering a little, Húrin nodded slowly. “That I do, aye,”

“Have you asked her at all?” demanded Morwen, obviously ready and willing to do the task herself if her father should be too much of a coward, and Húrin shuddered from the image how that would be done. Like most children of her age, Morwen had the tendency to be very straightforward.

“Aye, I have,” he replied hurriedly, to nip any possible actins from his daughter in the bud. Having an eleven-year-old to get him a wife would have been more than his pride could bear. Even if said eleven-year-old was his own adorable daughter.

“Oh, how splendid!” Morwen clapped her hands in excitement. “What has she said? When will the wedding take place?”

“Whoa, slowly, slowly, little one!” Húrin laughed. “She has not accepted yet.”

“She has not?” replied Morwen with a dissatisfied frown. “Why not? Mayhap you asked the wrong question?”

“Nay, I think not,” replied Húrin, resigning to the apparent fact that his daughter considered him a fool. “She wanted to think about if first. ‘Tis not an easy decision to make, you know.”

“Oh, aye, it is, if you know what you will,” declared Morwen with the unshakable self-confidence of the precocious child that she was. “You see, I know for certain that I shall marry Elphir when we are all grown up.”

Húrin nodded all his considerable self-discipline (trained into him by his formidable mother) not to laugh out loudly. Although, knowing Morwen’s iron determination – she was of the same stock as the Steward of Gondor, after all, and that meant a lot – he would not be surprised if the girl succeeded in the end.

“That is still quite a few years away yet,” he replied in a forcibly serious manner. “We should work on my wedding first, should we not?”

Morwen nodded eagerly.

“Shall I help you?” she asked, and Húrin had to suppress a grin again.

“I think we should give Lady Achren a little more time to decide,” he said mildly.

Morwen sighed and shook her curly head in exasperation.

“Grown-ups,” she said with a long-suffering mien and ran down to the Castle’s inner garden, where she had spotted Elphir at the fishing pond.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
After midday meal, Prince Adrahil called Herumor to his chambers. Lord Orchaldor and his chief knight, Peredur, were already present. Liahan stood in the background, quiet and attentive as always.

“My Lord Prince,” Herumor bowed respectfully, “how can I serve you?”

“I wanted to speak to you, for you shall become one of my Swan Knights tomorrow, and a Swan Knight needs a proper weapon,” said the Prince. “I know that the hereditary sword of your forefathers got lost in battle, several generations ago. Your father has gained great honour with a lesser blade, but I find that your House has earned to wield a worthy sword again. Liahan…”

The little page stepped forth, carrying a sword upon his outstretched arms. It stuck in a black scabbard that was adorned with serpent-forms in silver and red, as if they were breathing fire.

“Here is your sword,” declared the Prince. “Try it!”

Herumor laid a hand upon the sword-hilt carefully. When drawn, it gleamed almost on its own, wrought of some strange metal, light and strong. The wavy sheen of the blade revealed that it was sea-steel, perchance made in Númenor itself. A he swung it around to examine its balance, it proved as good as its steel, and it suited his own lighter stature much better than the heavier sword he had inherited, whether he wielded it one- or two-handed.

“How do you like it?” asked the Prince, though Herumor’s dreamy eyes had answered that question already.

“I heard of this sword before, my Lord,” replied the young man in awe. “’Tis Starfall, is it not, the blade that came from Númenor, almost an Age ago; it belonged to one of the lords who sailed with Anárion, just like Erellont. They say, ‘tis named thusly as it has been forged from a piece of iron that had fallen from the sky. ‘Twas one of the four blades you once offered Master Andrahar to choose from.”(1)

“Indeed it was,” the Prince nodded, “and now I offer it to you.”

“But my Lord, ‘tis an heirloom of your House!” cried out Herumor in concern. “Surely Prince Elphir would wear it proudly when he grows up.”

“No doubt,” agreed the Prince. “But there are several more precious blades in our armoury, and I do not want Starfall to lie collecting dust for ten more years. And your House is probably the only one in Gondor that is older than even mine. What worthier place could I possibly find for a sword that came from Númenor like your ancestors? The truth is, Prince Angelimir wanted to gift Starfall upon your father already, but it was too light a sword for a man of Lord Orchaldor’s stature,” he grinned at his old friend and vassal. “You, however, were born to wield it.”

That was undoubtedly true, and Herumor blushed profoundly. To be honest, he had fallen in love with that magnificent sword at first sight, as if it had been forged for him, more than three thousand years earlier, in the smithy of some long-dead Númenórean master-smith.

“I am honoured, my Lord,” he stammered with shining eyes. Adrahil nodded.

“Then I am content,” he said with a small smile. “I am certain you shall wield it with courage and honour.”

Herumor promised to do so readily, unable to tear his eyes from the sword, now resting in its scabbard again upon Liahan’s arms. He was overwhelmed, which was understandable. Not only was he about to be made a Swan Knight – a rare honour among the youth of Gondor – he would also be dubbed with an ancient Númenórean sword and allowed to keep the blade afterwards… what more could one wish for?”

“Soon, my son,” his father said in a low voice. “Soon, you shall be counted a grown man and a knight. And then we shall return home, together. Your people have been waiting for you long enough.”

~~~

End note:
(1) This particular event is described in the 3rd chapter of Isabeau’s “Kin-strife”, although I changed the look of the sword a little.


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