In the morning when she woke, the king was already gone. Her ladies-in-waiting arrived en masse to greet their new queen with more sly smiles and smirks. They were all much older than Beruthiel and were unknown to her except by name.
'And how are you this fine morning, your majesty?' Lady Buxter enquired with an arched brow.
Beruthiel had spent half the night preparing for this moment. 'Well rested if a bit sore, Buxter. I would like a bath and some breakfast.' She would never betray Falastur, and she was not about to wither under these ladies stares and jests. Lady Buxter had the grace to look slightly embarrassed at Beruthiel's comment.
Beruthiel flung back the covers and climbed out of the bed making sure the assemblage noticed the small blood stain on the sheet. Falastur's efforts might as well be appreciated at least once. She made no attempt to hide her nudity. Without looking to see the reaction of the women, Beruthiel strode into the bath. A steaming tub had already been readied she was pleased to see. Rank did have its privilege.
When Lady Buxter bustled into the room and made as if to help Beruthiel, she was sent packing in short order. 'Bath time is my own, Buxter. I will ring if I need any assistance.'
'But it is my right as Lady of the Bath to attend you, your majesty,' she protested.
'A privilege perhaps, but not a right in my court, Buxter. And after all, since you have the title do you really need the work, too?'
Not the sharpest tool in the shed, it took Lady Buxter a moment or two to figure out that she still had the prestige and didn't have to do much for it. 'Why, yes, of course, your majesty. Quite right.' She backed out of the room and left Beruthiel to her bath.
The rest of Beruthiel's day was spent telling her ladies what they didn't need to do for her. Had the first queen really had them do all these silly things? About the only thing she needed help with was dressing, and if the fardling clothes weren't so complicated she could do that by herself to. As queen, she would need to see about setting a new fashion for simpler raiment.
Her ladies were less than pleased with her 'headstrong willfulness' as she heard one call it. Beruthiel snorted. They hadn't seen anything yet! If she was going to have to be known as a barren queen, she was going to live the way she wanted to and it wouldn't be to please others! She had hidden her real self long enough.
She didn't see Falastur until dinner that evening and even then they sat at opposite ends of a large table filled with the usual crowd of courtiers and hangers-on. He seemed jovial and comfortable nodding in a friendly manner in her direction before resuming his conversation with his table mates. Beruthiel continued her smile and laugh routine with strangers. None of them seemed to have much of interest to say even though she tried to listen and learn.
After dinner there were card games and music which was pleasant enough, but eventually it was time to retire for the night. Word of the blood-stained sheet had been disseminated throughout the court and more than one man had given Beruthiel a barely concealed leer when he had greeted her that night. Now as she rose and made her excuses to the court, a few more ribald comments could be heard muttered from various corners. Beruthiel straightened her shoulders, put her nose in the air and walked proudly from the room.
Falastur joined her later. 'How was your first day as queen, Beruthiel? You seem to have caused quite a stir among your ladies.' He had heard twittering all through dinner about how 'the queen won't do this or that'. It had made him smile to see the women in such a pet. It sounded like his opinion of her was correct.
'Very good, Falastur, if a bit boring. Everything seems so rigid and bound by tradition. I knew all of that before, but living it is a different story.' She was amazed at how companionable they were this night without the stress of the 'deflowering' hanging over their heads. She began to think that they might eventually be friends.
'If there is anything I can do, please let me know. The last thing I want to do is to cause you more pain.'
Beruthiel stared at him. She had never thought he would be so kind. 'Pain, Falastur? You mean last night? That wasn't much.' Her face reddened as she realized how that must sound. 'I didn't mean….'
Falastur laughed. 'I understand, Beruthiel. What I meant was the pain of never having a child. I know how important that is to a woman.'
Again Beruthiel stared. 'The funny thing is, for me it was always a duty never a desire, Falastur. I was taught that my place was to wed, bear children and provide glory to the family name. There was never any discussion of anything else so now I do not know what I am to do with my life.' In fact, Beruthiel had dreaded the whole idea of childbearing. She had seen women grow old and worn out from too many children or killed outright in childbirth. Her arms had never ached to hold a child as so many other women claimed theirs did.
'You may do what you desire within reason of course. And you will be in charge of the Ladies' Court. I think you might find that interesting,' the king said.
The Ladies' Court handled domestic cases that were too trivial in the eyes of the law for the more official courts to hear. Beruthiel had been intrigued when she had heard that she would sit in judgment eventually.
'Lord Wilwood is to begin instructing me tomorrow. He said I am to sit beside him and watch for a few days, and then he will give me some of the simpler complaints to handle on my own. I think I might enjoy that a little.'
'Wilwood will bow down and kiss your skirts and not because you are his queen. He has had to run the Ladies Court since Gwynad died and it drives him insane,' the king observed.
'Is it that terrible? I have always heard that Gondor's courts are a model for all of Middle-earth,' Beruthiel worried. Would her one task become a burden?
'Wilwood has no patience for the domestic side of life, Beruthiel. If it doesn't involve a sword or drinking, he hates it. I have only kept him there as long as I have because he offended me long ago. After this, he will be much more careful with his words. If you decide you do not like it, please let me know. I can always punish some other willful lord!' Falastur observed.
Beruthiel had been in bed when Falastur had arrived and at first he had stood by the fire. Now he turned and settled next to her. She had wondered all day what tonight would bring in light of the previous experience. She needn't have worried.
'I know you must be tired after today. Goodnight, Beruthiel, sweet dreams.' Her husband leaned over, kissed her cheek, blew out his candle and settled down for the night. She followed his example and was soon sound asleep.
Lord Wilwood sought her out immediately after breakfast. 'Your majesty, we have much to discuss today. I hope you are ready?' he asked eagerly.
Beruthiel eyed him. Wilwood was a tall man and every inch screamed vibrant he-man activity. She understood why this must bore him. 'Sit, Lord Wilwood, and have a cup of tea.' She could tell he wanted to refuse, but he sat and took the delicate cup she offered. 'Now tell me what I am to do.'
Over the next hour he told her how the court worked, what kinds of cases she would observe and the types of judgments she would be called upon to make. 'If there is anything you are unsure of, you can delay the resolution and seek the advice of other counsel, but often these people have traveled some distance to attend the court. They want quick settlements of their questions, not dithering.'
Beruthiel had a vision of Wilwood racing through each day's cases with little or no thought. She nodded but did not speak her mind. Without having observed him in action, she hoped he was more thorough than that.
At last they rose and Lord Wilwood escorted her to a waiting carriage that took them to the House of Judgment not far away. He seated her next to him at a high table overlooking an empty room. 'Let them in, bailiff,' Wilwood said. A liveried man opened two doors and a line of people filed silently in.
Beruthiel watched for the rest of the morning as Wilwood settled disputes between neighbors, minor theft charges and domestic issues. She could see why it would try his patience. Often they were petty things that two reasonable people could have resolved on their own if they each had bothered to think about it. There were a few, however, that were troubling. In the end, she didn't understand how Wilwood reached his decisions.
At last, he abruptly stood. 'That is all for today. Come back tomorrow.' The room burst into groans and complaints quickly stilled by a glare from Wilwood and a motion from the bailiff. Wilwood bowed to Beruthiel and offered her his arm. 'Come, your majesty. It does no one any good to sit for so long. One's judgment becomes impaired without a break.'
On the way back to the King's House, Beruthiel peppered him with question after question about the day's events. 'I don't understand how you make some of these decisions, Wilwood. To me, both sides sounded like they had valid complaints.'
'Both sides most likely did, your majesty, but you will find that sometimes you just pick one. Without further information there is really nothing else you can do.'
'But what if you are wrong?' she asked.
'I may be wrong, and so will you at times, but these people expect an answer and they assume we know what that is.' He saw her look of worry. 'Don't take this too seriously, my queen. You saw a good representation today. It is seldom more. Nothing much is ever at stake.'
'Not for you and me, Wilwood, but it matters a lot to some of those people,' Beruthiel said. She had seen it in their faces when the decisions had gone against the losers. 'I wouldn't want to ruin someone's life.'
'If you truly believe your judgment would do that, than by all means refer it to the other judges. That is what they are there for,' Wilwood told her.
'Thank you, Lord Wilwood for this advice. It eases my mind,' she said. Who knew, maybe someday she would be able to find a better way than just guessing.
The first month of her marriage went quickly as Beruthiel learned to find her way around the King's House and the rhythm of the household. However, she was a quick learner and soon she found herself with nothing much to do. The ladies-in-waiting chattered constantly about their families and not much else. When she could no longer tune out the din, she walked in the garden courtyard that formed the center of the King's House.
One day while sitting on a bench she made an interesting discovery. A ring she was playing with fell to the ground and rolled away. Searching for it, she found a small private nook. It was sadly neglected and she had to push through a thin hedge to gain entrance. Once inside, she found a table and chairs. It was the perfect retreat from the clamor of the court. On nice days, she retreated there with a book to read being careful to keep the screening hedge intact.
Sitting in her new hideaway a week later, one of her ladies and a guest happened to sit on the bench across from her lair. Instead of announcing herself and giving away her retreat, Beruthiel did her best to ignore their conversation until she heard herself mentioned.
'So this new queen, what is she like? Rumor has it that she is a bit difficult,' the guest commented.
The lady-in-waiting, Lady Merdith, replied, 'Well, she does have her quirks, but so far nothing too terrible. She ignores us for the most part, and the king seems to like her. If anything she seems a bit weak.'
'Why ever did he choose someone from so far away? Someone the court never even heard of; that's what I don't understand,' the guest said.
Lady Merdith replied, 'They say her father is descended from a family of Black Numenoreans from near Umbar and that the king hopes the connection will prove useful in the future. He has always wanted to explore further south when his new ships are ready.'
'A Black Numenorean! What delicious gossip! You know they are supposed to be very skilled in the sexual arts! Perhaps that is why Falastur wanted her.'
'Hush, Lala! Don't breathe that even to me! Besides, it is all rumor anyway.'
Beruthiel had already been riveted by the two ladies words, but now she leaned close to the hedge so she wouldn't miss a single word.
'Oh, pish, I don't care what anyone thinks. I have no place at court nor do I desire one. What I want is to know about the king! Why does he have no mistress? You know very well that the men of the court are constantly chasing women besides their wives. Falastur was widowed for over a decade and I never heard the least bit of tattle about him. I cannot imagine some of the court ladies have not tried over the years to lure him to their beds.'
'By the dozens, Lala, and they still try even with a new wife. He will look at none of them, but I do know he beds the queen at least on occasion,' Lady Merdith said.
'Sleeps with her, or beds her, my dear?' Lala asked archly. 'There is a difference. Do you think that he prefers the men of the court?'
Lady Merdith gasped. 'Do not say such a thing, Lala. He has shown no inclination that way either. This is very inappropriate, and I will hear no more such talk!'
Beruthiel heard the swish of Lady Merdith's gown as she rose and left her friend behind. Lala laughed a tiny laugh and then rose to follow leaving a stunned Beruthiel behind her hedge.
With her new hideout, Beruthiel developed a taste for eavesdropping. She never started out to be a spy, but the bench in front of her nook seemed to be a favorite gossiping spot for her ladies. Her bedchamber allowed her direct access to the garden and she often went out when the ladies thought she was taking a nap.
Eventually she gave up pretending not to listen and actively hoped someone would stop for a chat. She heard all kinds of inside information that she never would have otherwise. Most of it was useless, but she still found it entertaining. Sometimes, however, what she heard made her ears burn or worse drove her to rage.
Lady Merdith was a great frequenter of "The Bench" as Beruthiel came to think of it. She was the most senior of her ladies-in-waiting and had more free time than some of the others. She also was very fond of gossip. 'Come sit, Sayla. Tell me all the news,' Lady Merdith encouraged her latest visitor.
'Me? My news is nothing to what you must have what with the new queen and all! Everyone at home is dying to hear about her! She must be very fierce,' Sayla whispered.
'Fierce? What makes you say that? If anything I find her rather timid. Always so polite and quiet. And you would not believe how much she naps! Everyday all afternoon it seems. She's napping right now which of course works in my favor!' Lady Merdith laughed.
'Perhaps she is already with child? That would be news; a new heir for Gondor and the king!'
'No, I doubt it. She shows no other signs and she bled not long ago. For all the time she spends with the king, there is no sign of a child.' Lady Merdith added, 'I find her to be an ignorant country bumpkin and wish the king had made a better choice. My own daughter would have served him well!'
'Your daughter? She is a dwarf compared to the queen! I doubt that would have pleased him much. At least Beruthiel is tall enough for him.'
'But she is so unsophisticated! She knows nothing of the ways of the court and protocol and refuses to learn. You should see the way she dresses away from the public. It is scandalous,' the lady huffed.
Beruthiel looked down at her very comfortable dress and frowned. She knew it wasn't quite what the ladies liked, but scandalous? She turned her attention back to the gossip.
'She is young. Perhaps she can learn in time,' the kinder Sayla said.
'I doubt it. You should hear the tricks we have played on her and she doesn't even seem to realize it. We switch pieces of her clothing, or put something in that mess of hair she has and she doesn't even notice. The whole court laughs at her behind her back. Such a waste of a grand position on a dimwit.'
Sayla hated to hear this. She had known Lady Merdith all her life and knew that she could be mean as a snake. 'But why, my dear? Wouldn't it be better to be her friend? And what does the king think when you do such things?'
'We never do it when he will be present, but he is often gone for days at time and we need something to amuse ourselves. Lady Buxter has slowly been making her bathwater hotter each day and yet she has said nothing!'
Beruthiel's eyes narrowed. She had noticed how hot the water was getting but had not wanted to seem like a complainer. She merely waited for it to cool before she bathed. That would now have to be addressed!
'I think that is horrible, Merdith. You have all the experience of age and could teach her.'
'Unless and until there is a child, Sayla, this queen is a failure. The whole town thinks it whether they say it or not. I will not tie myself to her until she breeds.'
'Well, I feel sorry for her then. Queen Gwynad never had a child and they were wed for twenty years. I always wondered if it was all her fault,' Sayla replied.
'Falastur is King of Gondor. Of course it is not his fault!' Lady Merdith stated despite her other conversation to the contrary not that long ago.
'And that is always the way of the world, and I resent it!' Sayla groused.
'Come, my dear, enough of this queen. She isn't worth it!' Lady Merdith said as she led her friend away from the ears of Beruthiel.
Beruthiel sat in her little corner and seethed. Too timid? Not complaining? Bumpkin? She knew her ladies didn't much care for her but to the point of tricking her? She had been abused by her parents all her life. She was not about to put up with it here! Things were going to change….