The Third Age Year 2938
Gilraen* rubbed her tired eyes and looked over to see what her son was up to. Estel** was sitting by the fire playing with his toy soldiers. 'It is time for bed, dear. Put your things away.' After telling him a rather long tale of a long ago battle, she leaned over kissed his forehead. 'Good night, Estel. Sleep well.'
'Oh, Mama, one more story. Please? Just one more?' he begged.
She sighed and shook her head in resignation. 'Alright, just one more; a very tiny one.' She sat and thought for a moment and began, 'Once upon a time, there was a queen named Beruthiel…' A few short minutes later, she said, 'and now good night!'
Estel stared at her. 'But what happened, Mama? Was there really a Beruthiel? She's not on the list.' He had been studying the Book of Kings for the last month.
'Yes, she was real, and no she isn't. I'll tell you the true story some other night. Now good night!' She picked up her candle and tried to make a quick exit before her curious son could finish puzzling out her words and ask a thousand more questions.
'Aw, Mama, no fair!'
She turned at his accusation, gave him one final kiss and said, 'Sometimes life isn't fair, my son. Never forget that!'
'Aw, Mama,' came one last sleepy protest.
Sitting alone at last, her thoughts turned back to Beruthiel. There really was a lot more to the story, some of it too mature for Estel, but he deserved to hear it someday. Knowing life truly wasn't fair and was without guarantees she got out a quill, parchment and ink and began to write. It was her duty to do so.
The Third Age Year 3019
Arwen walked into her new husband's library and found him staring at a book with an odd look on his face. 'What is that, dearest?'
'It's from your father.'
She laughed. 'No wonder you're frowning. Is it more Elven advice and wisdom?'
'No, he only delivered it. It is from my mother,' Aragorn sighed.
'Gilraen?' She almost said but she has been dead for decades but thought better of it. No need to bring up that shadow; he knew it all too well. 'Whatever can it be?'
'It is apparently a story about Queen Beruthiel. Have you ever heard of her?' he asked.
Arwen frowned in thought. 'I think so. Something about cats and not being very nice but nothing more. Why would your mother write this down and my father keep it for all these years?'
'There is a letter, too. It says:
I told you the official version of Queen Beruthiel tonight, but I realized that you will need to have the real one should you ever become king someday. As I am the last woman of my line, I am writing this down in case time and the tides of fate should tear us apart before I get a chance to tell you the unofficial version.'
'It's funny. I remember that evening. I always wondered about that queen. My mother hinted that there was more, but she never got around to telling me the rest of it.' He gently stroked the cover of the book as memories flooded back.
'And that's the story? Oh, Aragorn read it to me!'
He slowly opened the cover of the book and began to read….
The First Age Year 850
Almost from the day she was born, Beruthiel knew she would be auctioned off to the highest bidder for the benefit of her family. 'Sons inherit, daughters marry,' her father told her early and often. 'I will find you a fine husband some day; one that can afford you.'
It didn't matter to Beruthiel. The sooner she married the better. Her parents were cold and distant, even cruel on occasion and her brothers were much older. Her days were spent in the company of nannies, dancing masters, teachers and protocol instructors. 'You must be well-rounded and educated if you are to attain a decent place at court,' her mother sniffed. 'Stand up straight, Beruthiel. Nobility does not slouch!'
Beruthiel listened and learned if for no other reason than if she didn't she was punished swiftly and severely. Early on, it was made clear that failure was not an option. 'When it is time, you must be ready, child,' Nanny said. 'Your father is counting on you making a good marriage. The estate has suffered in recent years and he needs you to impress some wealthy man.'
She nodded dutifully anytime anyone said these things. Protest was futile. In many ways, she looked forward to marriage. She would have a home of her own and, if she was lucky, a kind husband. If she was not, she dreaded to think of the consequences. She had attended several weddings where a young woman was given to a man far beyond her in age. Many of them had bad breath and some made passes at Beruthiel after the ceremony. She shuddered to think of having to marry such a one.
Beruthiel grew into a stately woman. She was not beautiful, or so her mother always told her. 'You'll do. Many men do not want a ravishing beauty anyway. That kind has to be watched too closely. See that you keep to your husband's bed until you bear him at least two children, maybe more,' her practical mother intoned. 'After that, be discreet.' Beruthiel wondered if that meant her mother warmed some other man's bed. She had borne four sons and a daughter.
'But Mother, I thought marriage bound me to one for life?' she asked as a naive twelve-year-old. She had just begun her first monthly and her mother was giving her 'the little talk'.
Her mother snorted. 'That is all well and good in theory, my child, but in real life? We must take our pleasures when they present themselves after we have borne a few children. Mustn't confuse the bloodlines! You will understand better some day.' This talk served only to confuse Beruthiel if not the bloodlines.
Her chief claim was her height and her hair which was raven black. It hung down her back in a thick braid that Nanny interwove with flowers or gems depending on the occasion. 'You are tall enough to wed a true Numenorean!' Nanny often told her. Beruthiel knew that she had Numenorean blood in her veins, no matter how diluted. So she grew and learned and listened to her parents plans for her future until the day came for it to unfold before her.
There was a knock at her door. 'Enter', Nanny called.
A maid came in and bowed. 'Your father orders your presence, Miss Beruthiel.'
Beruthiel leaped to her feet. 'Oh Nanny, now what? What complaint does he have?' She started to rush to the door. One did not keep her father waiting.
'Wait, child, your dress!' Nanny exclaimed. Beruthiel was wearing a comfortable linen dress that would appall her father and bring his wrath down upon her head.
Beruthiel looked down at the comfortable gown and began to tear at the laces down the front. Behind her Nanny and the maid searched the wardrobe for something more suitable. Finally a heavy, stiff velvet dress was lifted over her head and tightly laced to her body.
She ran as quickly as the dress would allow but slowed before reaching her father's rooms. It made no difference. He knew she had been running.
'Late as always,' he grumbled but without the usual snide tone. 'Sit!'
She sat before him with downcast eyes. Beruthiel had learned years ago to never look directly at her father. He considered it a sign of rebellion and rebellion was usually rewarded with a beating. Outwardly, she no longer rebelled. It wasn't worth it.
'I have good news at last. Someone has requested your hand in marriage.'
So that was what this was all about. Beruthiel knew her father considered all girls a waste and she was a particularly large waste since he had to support her.
'Yes, Father,' was all she said.
'Don't you want to know who?' he asked almost playfully.
'Yes, Father,' she said again more out of obligation than real desire. Whoever it was would probably be horrible.
'None other than Falastur!' her father crowed.
Almost against her will, her head came up. 'F-Falastur the king?' Despite raising her eyes, she still didn't look at his face but a brief sideways look had revealed a rapacious smile.
'Yes, none other than King Tarannon Falastur; apparently one of the many portraits I sent out caught his eye.'
Beruthiel's father had long blamed her plainness for her slowness to wed. Although she was not yet thirty which was still young for a part-Numenorean, he had despaired of shuffling her off onto a husband and ridding himself the expense of a useless daughter. The traditional portraits had been painted and sent the length and breadth of Gondor to find a taker.
'When, Father?' was all she could think to say.
'One month from tomorrow we will leave for Osgiliath,' he said rubbing his hands at the thought.
Her heart thudded in her chest. One month and she would be free! Or would she? She boldly asked, 'And you father? Will you take a position at court?'
He snorted. 'Absolutely not. I have no patience for that drivel, and it is too far away. No Beruthiel, I will have to trust that you do not sully the family name in my absence.'
'Yes, Father,' she said yet again. Beruthiel knew this meant that her bride price was to be paid in gold. Once he had that, her father would not care what became of her. Mentally she sighed in relief. Free from her parents at last. Nothing the king would do with her could be any worse and it might be better.
'Go now to your mother,' he ordered.
Without another word, she left her father. A short time later she stood before her mother eyes again cast down. If anything, her mother was quicker to anger than her father, and she had to spend much more time with her.
'It's about time you got here!' her mother exclaimed. 'With only a month to prepare we will have to work night and day to get your wardrobe ready.'
'You mean the maids and seamstresses will work night and day,' Beruthiel thought but said only, 'Yes, Mother.'
There was one last battle with her father before they parted forever (at least Beruthiel hoped it was forever). The day before they were to leave, she stood before him once again. 'You and I will leave early on the morrow. Your mother will follow with your ridiculously expensive wardrobe in another two days.'
Beruthiel refrained from commenting on the stiff, heavy dresses that had been made for her. She intended to rid herself of them as quickly as possible. 'And Nanny? Will she go with us or with Mother?' she dared to ask.
'Nanny? Why ever would I bring Nanny along? You are a grown woman, Beruthiel although you seldom act like one. Nanny will be retired when you depart.'
'No, she will come with me. I want her at my wedding as a guest not a servant. She means more to me than anyone.' For the first time in years she raised her head and stared him directly in the eyes.
Immediately he began to raise his hand to quell this rising rebellion.
'Would you send damaged goods to the king, Father?' she taunted as she lifted her chin even further and intensified the stare.
Slowly the hand came down. 'Be thankful there is not enough time for you to heal, girl.'
'And Nanny? She will come?'
Her father looked into the eyes of his only daughter and saw the steel that she had hidden from him all these long years. 'She may come.'
Beruthiel smiled, turned her back on her father and left the room without another word relishing her first act of freedom in years.
A whirlwind of activity finally brought Beruthiel to Osgiliath and the king. They met a few times and apparently she passed some test because one day she was called to meet the king privately. She bowed in greeting. 'Your majesty.'
'I hope you will call me Falastur, Beruthiel. Your majesty is rather formal address for one's future husband,' the king said with a smile. He looked at the tall woman before him and wondered yet again if he was doing the right thing. When she merely nodded, he continued. 'I would be pleased if you will agree to marry me, Beruthiel.'
Again she nodded, but this time managed to squeeze out a few words. 'You honor me, your majesty, Falastur. It would please me greatly.' Her heart pounded in her chest. She had just promised to wed a man she barely knew. A man almost two hundred years old although he did not look it.
Falastur took her hand and kissed it lightly. 'If there is anything I can do for you, Beruthiel, do not hesitate to let me know.'
'I want to know why me?' Beruthiel dared to ask.
'Because I looked at many portraits of sweet young things and you appeared to be anything but sweet!' he said with a wry smile.
She stared at him for a very brief moment before lowering her gaze. 'Very flattering, your majesty.' Perhaps this was not the escape she had been hoping for.
'Please, Beruthiel, call me Falastur. It is a compliment. I did not want some simpering idiot who would demand constant tending. You looked competent and able to stand on your own two feet. Was I wrong?'
Gazing at him from under her eyelashes, Beruthiel felt hope grow again. Already he seemed to know her better than her family ever would. 'No, your majesty, Falastur. Do you think I will need to?'
'Yes, my dear, I fear you might,' he replied.
Before she could question him further there was a knock at the door. When bid to enter, a courtier said, 'Sire, the delegation from the south is here whenever you are ready.'
Falastur smiled at Beruthiel. 'You must excuse me, my dear. Duty calls. I will see you soon.'
And that was the last time she saw the king until she faced him on their wedding day.
The rattle of shutters opening and light woke Beruthiel. She had only gotten to sleep a few hours ago after a night of her mind chasing itself endlessly in circles. 'Wake up, sleepyhead, it's your wedding day!' a cheery voice called. Instead of rising, Beruthiel burrowed deeper into the covers and squeezed her eyes closed against the growing light. She had never hated the dawn more than she did right now.
This day had been destined to come sometime. All her life she had been raised and prepared to be married off to someone advantageous to her family if not to her. Now in a few hours she would be wed and not to just any wealthy lord of Gondor but to the king himself. Her family was ecstatic; Beruthiel less so. However, she understood how these things worked and was resigned to do her duty. She would marry King Falastur and beget an heir. Beyond that who knew? She hoped life would at least be luxurious and comfortable with minimal abuse.
'Get up!' the voice demanded a little more firmly. 'You must be ready in four hours.'
Beruthiel sighed and opened her eyes. Her nurse stood at the window, hands on hips, lips pursed. 'Oh, Nanny, just a few more minutes!' she sulked. She hated to think how many times they had played out this same scene over the years.
Nanny acted as she always did. Her hand reached out, grabbed the covers and whipped them off her reluctant charge. 'Now Beruthiel make your old nurse happy and get out of that bed!'
Beruthiel sat up and sighed again. 'Do I really have to do this, Nanny?' The old woman was the only person she ever revealed her feelings to.
Nanny nodded sadly. 'Yes, child, you do. The king awaits and one does not keep a king waiting for very long. Don't worry. Falastur is said to be a fair man unlike your father. You could have done worse, my girl. I hear Lord Dirmer is looking to wed.'
Beruthiel shuddered. Dirmer was ancient, with warts and he smelled. 'I know, I know. I have listened to too many love songs and poems.' She stood and put out her arms for the robe Nanny held. Once clad she stood before her mirror for her morning assessment. She and Nanny had spent much of the day before washing her hair in preparation for the big event. Now it fell over her shoulders and past her waist in flowing, graceful waves.
'Well, if I must, I must. Let's make the most of it, Nanny.' After today, her faithful servant would be denied her. Only courtiers served the royal family. There was no place for a loyal retainer as the nobility jostled for positions of power in the household of the king.
Ten hours later it was over. Beruthiel was well and truly wed to Tarannon Falastur, twelfth king of Gondor. The ceremony had taken place in the King's House before all the nobility in Osgiliath. The city was decorated everywhere with flowers and banners. The citizenry had cheered and waved at the seemingly happy bride as she rode into the palace for the ceremony.
Beruthiel had smiled graciously throughout the procession, the ceremony, the congratulations, and the dinner. She wondered if her face would ever be able to return to normal after such a day of facial rigidity.
Other than her parents and Nanny, she had known very few of the guests. She knew their names of course, but she didn't know them. She nodded, smiled, and sent her mind out to wander the fields and forests of the countryside while her body performed its new royal functions. Oh well, she wasn't of pure Numenorean blood. How much longer would she live? Seventy eighty, ninety years; but at least she was free of her parent's house at last!
Falastur had been everything a king should be. He smiled nodded and accepted congratulations. Beruthiel often thought he was as bored as she, but he must be used to it by now. When at last the evening's events were over there was only one last degrading procedure to endure: The Bedding of the Bride.
Falastur and Beruthiel were escorted to the royal bedchamber by an entourage of high nobles. Beruthiel was allowed a bit of privacy in an antechamber while her new ladies-in-waiting stripped off her bridal clothes and dressed her in an elaborate nightgown, giggling the entire time and giving her sly knowing winks. She then had to return to the bedchamber where a slavering group of men made rude comments to the king about his vaunted physical assets and performance. Falastur took it all in good stride as Beruthiel tried to keep from bursting into flames of embarrassment while climbing into bed next to the king.
At last they were settled into the vast bed and the crowd withdrew. Unlike some kingdoms, Gondor did not require a public exhibition of virginal deflowering. Beruthiel's heart pounded in her chest as she sat propped on the pillows next to her newly acquired husband. She kept her eyes focused on the coverlet.
'I am sorry they were so rude, Beruthiel. It is only a tradition. They mean nothing by it,' Falastur assured her.
She smiled weakly and finally managed to look at him. 'I understand, my lord. It is the way of men or so I am told. The women were almost as bad.'
'Remember you agreed to call me Falastur when we are in private. Save my lords and your majesties for the public,' he told her.
'Yes, of course, Falastur.' She had gone back to her examination of the coverlet.
Now it was Falastur turn to be a bit uncomfortable. 'You do know what is expected tonight, do you not?'
'Yes, my-er Falastur.'
Her mother had told her in great detail what she would most likely experience this night. 'Not that it's always the same for every woman, but it most likely won't be very pleasant.'
Beruthiel knew the basics, but it didn't make it any easier. If only she cared for this man in any way. If only he weren't a stranger.
Falastur brushed her hair from her face and rested a hand on her shoulder. 'You are very striking, my dear. Has anyone ever told you that?'
She shook her head as he leaned over and kissed her ear. She forced herself to hold still and not cringe away from his touch. At least he was being gentle. Nanny had told her some men were very…forceful…with their women. 'You must try to make the best of it, child,' she counseled.
His lips moved towards hers and she turned her head to meet them. She would follow Nanny's advice. The kiss was soft and not unpleasant. Falastur's other hand brushed against her breast as it reached for her waist. He deepened the kiss as he pushed her back into the pillows. She sent her mind out again into the forests of her childhood and waited for it all to be over.
In the end, it didn't take as long as she had expected. Falastur continued his kissing, working his way down to her breasts. His hands had wandered over her body, stroking it in a not displeasing manner. Eventually, one found its way between her legs and explored that area. For a few minutes at least, she returned from the forests and enjoyed the sensation.
Falastur murmured some words on occasion, but they were mostly unintelligible. When at last he got down to the true business of the evening, she remembered Nanny's words and did her best to relax. She felt a sharp, stabbing pain as he took her virginity but then that was it. According to her lessons, more should have happened, but Falastur thrust once or twice more and then rolled off her body and lay by her side. She felt a trickle of moisture between her thighs.
Swallowing, she finally said, 'Um, is that it?'
Falastur gave a snort of derision. 'Unfortunately, Beruthiel, most likely it is. We are lucky I got as far as I did. Most days this old boy couldn't even deflower a cream cake let alone a woman.'
She looked at him. He stared grimly at the ceiling. Now she thought she understood. His first wife had been called barren and worse until the day she died of the fever, but apparently it might not have been completely her fault if at all. 'Why did you marry me then?'
'Because it is expected that the king produce an heir and to do that he needs a wife. I am sorry, Beruthiel, but I could not stand the carping of the court any longer and was convinced that I should remarry.' He did not look at her as he spoke. He didn't tell his new bride, but he had also hoped that maybe this time it would be different. The ceiling was as interesting to him now as the coverlet had been for her earlier.
Beruthiel slowly digested his words. After a long silence she finally said, 'So, what does this mean for me? I heard how they spoke of your first wife when she bore you no children. Is this why I may have to be strong and stand on my own two feet?'
Falastur sighed. 'It probably means the same for you, child. You must never breathe a word of this to anyone. A king must always appear infallible, never impotent. However, you must always know that I do not hold you in anyway responsible. I will see that you are kept in comfort and have everything you desire. And besides, who knows? Maybe one of these days, I will get lucky!' he said scathingly.
Feel free to ask any questions! I know some of you may not be familiar with this character but I have always been intrigued by her.
*Gilraen is Aragorn's mother.
**Estel is Aragorn's boyhood name in Rivendell. He is about seven as the first scene unfolds.