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25
Preparations

Many thanks to Isabeau, for letting me borrow Andrahar!


~~~

Silma:

The two weeks until Crowning Day were filled with activity: with Silwen refusing to emerge from her rooms except for one afternoon at the Citadel’s Merethrond, I was perforce busy with the many details of helping to run the household, arranging for our new clothes (for the staff and Lord Dalf’s three lads as well as for Lady Silwen and myself), helping the boys with their exercises, and a myriad of meetings. Princess Lothlíriel and Lady Ėowyn carried me off several times, to help with other veterans, some of those injured at the Black Gates, and trying to find a place for many of those now homeless, in addition to many recently orphaned children. Gilannis and Rhylla were a tremendous help with everything, and I was soon very fond of Lord Húrin’s great-niece. He and his wife had entertained us both to tea, and I had had a surprisingly amiable chat with that formidable lady.

“I am entirely too partial,” she had told me privately. “That has been a large part of the problem from the beginning—I find myself so wanting to slap her mother’s silly face that I am all too apt to snap at the girl for no good reason. It really isn’t her fault she’s been so spoiled; I told the entire family she ought to be fostered out a long time ago, but no one would hear of it. You are doing her a world of good already, and we are very grateful to you for your kindness to her.”

Ėowyn demanded my help in choosing some gifts and other items she wished to take home with her to Rohan, some of them to be stored against her wedding in a year. She was radiant with happiness, one moment making some astringent comment about the endless discussions about governance, the next asking for advice on some aspect of her Healer’s training, or telling me of some outrageous prank she had pulled as a girl on her brother or cousin Théodred. She accounted it great good luck that Ėomer King had agreed to her betrothal to Faramir.

“It saved a lot of time that he did,” Lothlíriel commented one day. “You would never have not married my cousin, even if the two of you had had to run away.”

“How well you already know me,” Ėowyn laughed.

“I also know Faramir. He’s quieter than Boromir was, but more determined about some things. I wish I was betrothed!” she sighed.

“At least you have your father’s promise not to force you into a Marriage of State,” Ėowyn said. “So, Silma, what do you think?”

I had little to say of marriage; my brother’s plight was ever in the back of my mind. Instead, I cast about for something else to say, and glanced at the time-candle. “Mercy, is that the time?” I panted.

“Time always flies when you train,” she laughed wickedly.

I brushed a wet tendril of hair away from my eyes and stopped the exercise she had had me practicing. I spent at least an hour every day in her father’s salle, working with Orcsbane until I was soaked with sweat and wavering on my feet. We had also spent time on tumbling—how to fall was the first thing she had taught me—and on fighting with our hands and feet. I was somewhat gratified that I had known a few tricks, learned from Father, to teach her.

Ėowyn sat up, rubbing her elbow with a laugh. “I don’t know anyone else who’s ever slipped out of that wrestling hold, Silma!”

“Did I hurt you? Let me see,” I said anxiously.

She flexed it slowly. “Just a new crop of bruises,” she said cheerfully. “Do it again, slower, so I can see what that twist was. If I hadn’t relaxed right away, it would have dislocated it, no?”

“Where did a Gondorian lady learn the art of baritsu ?” asked a deep, slightly accented voice.

Lothlírel jumped up from the side bench. “Uncle! Come meet my friends! Princess Ėowyn of Rohan, and Lady Lindisilma Kuranya, Lady Gilannis, and Mistress Rhylla, this is my father’s Armsmaster and Swan Knight, Lord Andrahar.”

The Southron bowed to both of us, but his dark eyes were on me, filled with curiosity.

I scrambled to my feet to bow, knowing it impossible to curtsey in breeches but still feeling awkward. “My lord.”

“Lady Ėowyn, Lady Lindisilma,” he nodded his white-striped black head. I had heard one of the Dol Amroth esquires remark that it reflected his character, “Badger-hair, badger-temper,” the youth had said. Now the Armsmaster asked, “You are one of the ladies at the Dwarvish embassy?”

“My former mother-in-love’s residence, yes,” I said, wondering if he knew about my brother.

“Lords Gimli and Dalfinor are formidable axe-fighters,” was all he said. “But if you would indulge me, my lady? I do not know the baritsu style of fighting, except to recognize it. How did a lady of Gondor learn a martial art of the Sederi?”

“My father learned it as a young man. He rescued a slave who was one of its masters. Brel was caught while traveling in Chy, and sent further north by each owner, who would then sell him farther north,” I told him. “He was one of the Sederi, as you say, and felt bound to my father because Father saved his life. ‘A slave owns no coin,’ he said, ‘but I will repay you in the skill I have,’ and taught him for three years. Father taught me the rudiments when I was little, for he said one had to learn as a supple child to truly master it. My brother refused to learn such a barbaric thing, but I found it fun as a child, and then a challenge and a way to remember him as I grew older.” My face clouded. “I could never bring myself to use it against Jeren, only against other threats.”

“And have you taught it to other women?” he asked.

“Now and again,” I admitted evasively.

“Good! But would you be willing to teach me?”

And so two more lessons were added to my days, to teach him, Ėowyn, Lothlíriel, Rhylla and Gilannis….but in exchange, he corrected my Haradaic and answered some of my questions about that land. And the busier I was, the less time I had to worry about the future....

But that was also the day, as I came out of Prince Imrahil’s townhouse (Gilannis and Rhylla had gone earlier, to show Ėowyn a shop they thought she would like; I had left Rimbor at the house) that Prince Dalfinor suddenly hurried up to me. His hair and beard looked damp, and his nose seemed slightly swollen.

“Lord Dalfinor, what happened to your nose?” I asked.

“Never mind that!”

My eyes widened at his agitation. “What’s wrong?”

“Will you marry me?” he blurted.

“What?”

“Will you marry me?”

I had not been sleeping well, for worry about the future that assailed me in the darkness; I was tired and sore from the session I had just had; and while I knew I should expect nothing in the way of Romance—still, to be asked so curtly, in the public street, was carrying Dwarven bluntness entirely too far! This was far from the Dalf I thought I knew, and I didn’t like it. Was I so pitiable, so destitute, that such a matter could be settled with so little discussion right in public? Was this some elaborate joke?

“No,” I said.

“What?”

“No. I will not marry you.”

“But—” He put out a hand, and I stepped back, unable to interpret the emotions flitting across his face. His voice was much louder than usual; experience had taught me that when males grew loud, violence followed. I was sick of being mauled and threatened! How dare he betray what I had thought of him! How dare he belittle me this way!

“Take one step towards me, Prince Dalfinor, and I’ll make you regret it,” I said angrily. Angry? I was furious!

“And if she does not, I will,” said a deep voice, and Lord Andrahar materialized at my shoulder, his sword held almost negligently in one hand. “Is this Dwarf bothering you, my lady?”

Belatedly I remembered my manners.

“Prince Dalfinor of the Lonely Mountain, may I present Lord Andrahar, Prince Imrahil’s Armsmaster?”

“Clearly, we are not at each other’s service, let alone our families,” said the Southron pleasantly. I detected a note of humour in his voice, although his face was its usual expressionless mask under that badger-striped hair. “I suggest you depart, Your Highness.”

“I just want to talk to you, Silma!” he said heatedly.

I shook my head.

“Leave. Now, or despite your rank and position, we will have An Incident—and it is ‘Lady Lindisilma’, my lord,” Andrahar said coldly. “Captain Meriadoc, Captain Peregrin, you might want to take your friend somewhere he can cool off.”

For the first time, I noticed the Hobbits, all four of them. Right in front of the Ringbearer and his kin!

If I had not been so angry, I would have wept. As it was, I slapped Dalfinor, hard, and turned away. A hand on my elbow guided me back inside.


Dalf:

I was on my way back from the Houses of Healing after Master Kinfinning applied a cold compress, so my nose wasn’t quite so red nor as swollen, when as I passed the House of the Swan, I saw Lady Silma coming out. Why Rimbor was not with her, nor anyone else, I did not know, but even before I could greet her, she glanced at me and asked, “Lord Dalfinor, what happened to your nose?”

“Never mind that!” I said, embarrassed, and blurted out, “Will you marry me?” NO! I shrieked inwardly, for that was not the way I had ever intended to propose, but it was too late.

“What?”

“Will you marry me?” I repeated. In for a stone, in for a boulder!

“No,” she said.

I could not believe what I had just heard. “What?”

“No. I will not marry you.”

“But—“ I put out a hand imploringly.

She stepped back, anger radiating from eyes hot as the fires of Mount Doom, as her voice was suddenly colder than the snows of Lossoth.

“Take one step towards me, Prince Dalfinor, and I will make you regret it,” she said. To me!

“And if she does not, I will,” said a Southron, appearing at her shoulder, his bared sword in hand. “Is this Dwarf bothering you, my lady?” I vaguely recalled him as Prince Imrohil’s brother-in-arms; he wore the blue surcoat and white belt of the Swan Knights over chainmail, and his sweat-darkened hair was discernably striped with white streaks. I had heard that his devotion to his adopted brother the Prince of Dol Amroth was complete; why was he intervening in my affairs?

Silma, ever the lady, said, “Prince Dalfinor of the Lonely Mountain, may I present Lord Andrahar, Prince Imrahil’s Armsmaster?”

“Clearly, we are not at each other’s service, let alone our families,” he smirked. “I suggest you depart, Your Highness.”

“I just want to talk to you, Silma!” I protested. I needed to explain—I needed to get the anger out of her eyes, the fear and hurt out of her tones. Fear? Of me?

Shaking her head, she looked elsewhere, as if I had ceased to exist. What had I done?

Andrahar’s bass broke in on my turbulent thoughts. “Leave. Now, or despite your rank and position, we will have An Incident—and it is ‘Lady Lindisilma’, my lord. Captain Meriadoc, Captain Peregrin, you might want to take your friend somewhere he can cool off.”

When had the Hobbits followed me? But there they were. Silma glanced at them, and the red in her cheeks deepened. She inclined her head to them, curtseyed to Lords Frodo and Samwise, and with Andrahar’s hand on her elbow—how dare he be so familiar!—went inside.

“Come away, Lord Dalf,” said Lord Samwise. “’Twill do you no good t’be a-standin’ here.”

I didn’t know where to go.

“How about a mug of ale?” asked Captain Merry.

“Excellent idea!” Captain Pippin said.

“Don’t you have duty soon?” Samwise asked him.

“Not for a little while yet. Surely long enough to help comfort a friend,” he said much more cheerfully than I felt.

“Are you all right, Lord Dalfinor?” Lord Frodo asked.

“I shall never be all right again,” I whispered.

“Ale,” said Pippin. “Lots of ale, that’s the thing!”

“Come along,” urged Merry.

I went with them, not really caring. And in time we were sitting at a courtyard table, with large mugs of ale. I drank mine, and drank again…Oddly, it never seemed to empty.


Silma:

Lord Andrahar escorted me back inside the townhouse, steering me into a small reception room. I sank forlornly onto a sofa and burst into tears. It was some time before I could stop; at last I wiped my eyes on the large handkerchief he produced from some hidden pocket, blew my nose, refolded it, and tucked it into my pouch. “I shall launder and return it to you tomorrow,” I told him. “Please forgive my behavior, my lord.”

“You have had a shock,” he observed.

I nodded, and wiped my eyes. Tears just seemed to ooze out; I got out his kerchief again.

Andrahar cleared his throat. “Lady Silma, I do not mean to offend you, but…you have been under great strain for a long time. I have observed that many Gondorians, particularly the nobles, tend to suppress their emotions most of the time, but sometimes it is necessary for anyone, in any of the Kindreds, to express them; why else would the gods have given them to us? There is no shame in using what is innate.”

“Unlike being a warrior, for someone like me,” I sighed.

“You have struggled about having the sword. Yet Orcsbane would not have come to you, bonded to you as she has, had she not responded to the Warrior Within.”

Startled, I looked directly at him in a chair across from me. I knew the term; tactical and theoretical historians used it, and I knew that he had quoted from Telerion’s Xenic Drills as a Means of Focusing the Warrior Within more than once. “Warrior Within? Within me? You believe that?”

He nodded. “You have ever seen yourself as failing to completely be the ideal held up to you, not so? That is a role followed with ease by many. Yet for some, it is fated to take a different, more original journey. I am one such, and so, I think, are you and some others I have recently met.”

“You have?”

He smiled. “Aye. Yourself, Lords Iorhael and Samwise, and Prince Dalfinor. We recognize each other. The journeys can be difficult, and often very lonely, but some are further blessed to be close to one similar to oneself.”

Without thinking, I blurted, “Please, Andrahar, I cannot bear more than one proposal a day!”

Throwing back his head, he laughed heartily, something I surmised he rarely did.

“Forgive me, I didn’t think—“ I began.

“Nay, nay, while I honour and respect you, lady, and would count you as a friend, I am not attracted to you in that way,” he assured me.

“I know—“ I began, and broke off, my face feeling as hot as a furnace. “Oh, dear, I don’t know what is wrong with me today! I’m sorry!”

“Lothlíriel?” he asked with a lift of his eyebrow.

“No, I—I saw you coming out of the Bell,” I said, mentioning a notorious brothel on the First Circle—notorious for supplying satisfaction of the desires of many nobles for…exotic tastes.

“You know about the Bell?” His other brow rose; ladies weren’t supposed to know that such places even existed, let alone where one was located.

“I know its staff is discreet, but my first spouse often went there. Most of the staff knew me well, from when I would seek him,” I explained.

“Ah.” Clearly he knew about my first husband’s reputation among certain circles. “Do you despise me, then, my lady?”

“One thing I learned from him, Lord Andrahar, was that for some, the desire for a mate of the opposite gender is absent, replaced instead by desire for a partner of one’s own sex,” I said slowly. “Because it is illegal here, why would any intelligent being choose to wish that? I know that he struggled against it; I believe that he married me from a sense of duty and in the hope that somehow marriage would end those desires. It did not. That he ultimately allowed himself to be degraded by others was a choice, but it was in part caused by bitter self-loathing. I would not wish his suffering, or mine, on anyone else. A friend said to me once that one of the worst things about it for me was that he lied to me. That is true. If there is dishonesty in a relationship,, how can there be respect, and without honour and respect, how can there be love? Had he not been so constrained by the role he felt he had to portray, we would not have married, and he might not have lost his honour.”

“There are many who believe that such a man, with such desires, by definition has no honour.”

“Is a person, male or female, of any Kindred, to be judged based on only one aspect of character?” I asked.

“And many, wronged as you were, would not show such courage in considering such questions.”

“I am no paragon, my lord. I am as capable of being small and petty, spiteful and weak, as anyone. It took a long time for me to arrive at the conclusions I have, and those not easily.”

“Yet that takes courage, my lady, a necessary part of the Warrior,” he said. “But we will not settle all these matters today.”

“Forgive me!” I exclaimed contritely. “I am keeping you from other matters!”

“That is my choice, but I do not wish the members of your household to worry. Prince Dalfinor is right to have a care of your safety,” he said seriously.

“I do not wish to be helpless,” I said.

“Then between us, we will help you learn not to be—with or without Orcsbane.”

I stared at him.”That’s it—that’s part of my resisting!” I realized. “I cannot always be walking around with a sword at my side, and if I come to depend on it, what will I do if I am in danger and do not have it?”

“Another Warrior thought,” he agreed. “But, lady, you are not helpless—you already have the basics of baritsu, as you said yourself; you merely need to hone them. Would you be willing to describe to me how you killed those orcs?”

I did so, as he listened intently. Then he nodded. “As I thought, you were using what was available. Another element of the Warrior. You see? You are far from being helpless or dependent.” He rose to his feet. “My lady, may I escort you, or will you now accept Lothlíriel’s invitation to stay here?”

I rose as well. “Thank you. I cannot neglect my duties there, and I will deal as I must with Prince Dalfinor.”

He looked at me seriously. “The proposal may not have been to your taste, but it was based on a sincere emotion,” he said.

“It was more the place and manner of it,” I said, knowing it for truth as I spoke, and feeling the heat in my face.

He nodded, but said no more on the subject; our conversation on the way was of lighter matters.

Samno was diligently polishing the brass plaque outside the house as we approached, and Lord Andrahar bowed and took his leave, declining my invitation for some slight refreshment. I glared at the buhdelier. “And since when do you do that, when Nahemion has been doing it early every morning since it was installed, Ferren Samno?” I demanded.

Only slightly abashed, he repled, “We expected you back over an hour ago, m’lady.”

“I was not aware that I had to sign a time-slate,” I snapped.

“Sorry, m’lady, but Lord Dalf said—”

“Lord Dalf neither employs nor owns me, nor does any other male,” I snarled. “So long as I do not neglect my duties, the rest of my time is my own, and my own concern!”

“Yes, m’lady,” he said as I stomped in and slammed the door.

After taking three deep breaths, I opened the door again and looked out at him. “Master Samno, I apologize. There is no reason why I should visit my own bad temper on you or anyone else.”

“Accepted, m’lady,” he said with a duck of his head. “I know as you’ve a lot on your mind. Is Lord Dalf still up at the Citadel?”

“I don’t know. Are Lady Gilannis and Rhylla back yet?”

“Yes, they’re a-showin’ Lady Silwen their purchases.”

“Thank you.”


Dalf:

I woke with a bump—I had fallen off a sofa in what I recognized as the guesthouse parlor. A small covered tray was on a nearby table, with a note; I held onto my head, which felt only tenuously connected to my body, and squinted at it, written in Khuzdul runes:

To His Highness Prince Dalfinor:

Lord Gimli will be at the Embassy ready to discuss the trade proposals with the Dunlendings at the ninth hour.


I winced at the formality of the phrasing, and the lack of a signature. Clearly Gimli knew all about the previous day’s events, and did not approve.

I did not approve either, for whatever good that would do me.

Merry poked his head inside. “Ah, Lord Dalf, you’re awake,” he said with disgusting cheerfulness.

“Aye.” I felt as if fifty angry orcs were pounding—and twisting—needle-sharp spikes into my skull, the light was as bright as the heart of a forge-fire, and there was a taste in my mouth like an orc’s midden that had not been cleaned for sixty yéni. My spirits were leaden.

With dragging feet, I made my way out, after thanking Merry for their hospitality, and went slowly back to Lady Silwen’s. Slinking in, I jumped as Samno appeared. “The day’s greetin’, Lord Dalf,” he boomed—I had never noticed before what a loud voice he had—”Can I get you aught?”

“Is my cousin here?” I asked.

“He’s been delayed, but should arrive in ‘bout two hours,” he replied.

Just then, the parlor door opened and Silma came out. She looked at me with the cool gaze of a stranger, as her slight curtsey reflected, and walked past without a word.

I put out my hand after a hasty bow; the movement almost caused me to overbalance, as the top of my skull slid forward sickeningly. Swallowing, I said, “Lady Silma, could I have a word?”

Her expression as she glanced at my outstretched hand was that of a fastidious housewife seeing a small, unwelcome, filthy rodent, and it fell to my side. “No, you cannot. Excuse me,” and with another formal curtsey, walked away.

I may have groaned.

Samno’s eyebrows were up. “Oh,” he said.

I gazed after her forlornly until he touched my arm. “Lord Dalf, you just put yourself into my hands an’ come ‘long wi’ me,” he said firmly.

Unresistingly, I allowed him to draw me upstairs to my chamber, and in a short time he had me out of my crumpled clothes and into a steaming bath with a cold cloth on my head. He brought me a glass filled with a dark liquid. “Now you drink this right down, m’lord,” he said encouragingly. “’Tis nasty, but ‘twill help, believe me.”

I took a sip and gagged. “Nasty? It’s poison!”

“No, it ain’t, just powerful. A lot of poisons taste nice, so I’ve heared. You just drink it down at one go, an’ you’ll see it helps, m’lord,” he assured me.

I forced it down, felt as if my innards were turned inside out, scorched, iced, and the top of my head lift off my skull, turn around in midair and then gradually settle back into place. In a few moments, my stomach felt much better, as did my head. “What is that?” I gasped.

“A recipe from the stillroom,” he replied. “I understand Lord Falli swore by it. Best variation on the usual remedy I’ve ever come across. Lady Silma perfected it, an’ made it for Erragol and me—I’d tried to keep pace with him one night when he was upset about a wee spat he had with Lady Silwen. Them Rohirrim can drink!”

“So can Hobbits,” I said feelingly.

When I descended to the ground floor, I was more my usual self, but still deeply depressed. Gimli took one look at my expression and said nothing personal until several hours later, and then he spoke in our own language, “I have already had a word with those two young Hobbits. You will not misbehave this way in public again.”

“No, Gimli,” I agreed.

“That includes your behavior towards Lady Lindisilma. Are you out of your mind? This is far from the custom here, not to mention far from our own ways. By rights, I should send you straight home in disgrace! The only reason I am not is that I would have to inform your father of the reason, and that would ensure that you never have any chance to wed anyone at all. I would also have to tell Arargorn and Faramir why—and they could insist on reparations which would be not only expensive but also generate unfortunate talk. It would be another scandal attached to this House, and neither Lady Silwen, nor even more Lady Silma, deserve that with all the other trouble they must weather with this ugly trial looming. What on earth possessed you?”

I was silent.

“Princess Lothlíriel asked her to stay there, to be away from you,” he went on grimly.”Luckily for us, Lady Silma has such a sense of duty and good sense that she insisted upon returning here, where you will act with complete correctness in her presence. You will not approach her on this subject, do you hear?”

I nodded.

“You must think before you speak and act! That is the essence of our task here. I thought you understood that! Be not hasty!”

“Have I your leave to go?” I asked, rising.

Aye.”

I bowed to him, and left the room. How could I speak to her when she had made it all too clear that she wanted nothing to do with me?

I immersed myself in all the myriad activities leading up to the coronation.

~~~

1. Baritsu is an actual system of marital arts, first brought to my attention in "The Adventure of the Empty House" in The Return of Sherlock Holmes .

2. Yes, I'm a fan of a certain Macedonian princess and her bardic companion.

3. ...as well as of a certain butler of butlers, chronicled by one Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, and portrayed years ago on Masterpiece Theatre by Stephen Frye, when he was still partners with Hugh Laurie,


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