Beruthiel's plan started with Lady Buxter, Mistress of the Bath. Since her very first day, the woman had only to see to the filling of her bath and the stocking of soaps and towels. Now Beruthiel paid extra attention to the routine. Buxter would arrive an hour or so before Beruthiel usually arose. The queen would hear her quietly gossiping with the other women who tended her wardrobe. Eventually the menservants would arrive with the cans of bath water and Buxter supervised the filling of the tub.
On the very first day of her observations, she heard Buxter direct the first man to leave his bucket near the fire. 'The queen has complained of the water being too cold. I will add it later.' Beruthiel heard some quiet murmurs from the man and then heard him exit. Several more times servants arrived and added their buckets to the bath tub. The final one was told the same as the first: leave your bucket by the fire.
Beruthiel pretended to sleep until her usual time and then rose. She went to the bath where Buxter was folding towels. 'Good morning, Lady Buxter. I hope all is well with you?' she asked.
Lady Buxter bowed slightly and replied, 'Well enough. My bones ache today, but not too badly.' She bowed again and left the queen to her bath.
Beruthiel noticed that there were two empty water cans near the door. She put her hand on each one and found them to still be quite warm from sitting near the fire. She tentatively put a finger into the bath. Lady Buxter must have emptied the cans only a few minutes before Beruthiel arrived. The water was almost scalding hot; definitely too hot for bathing. She quietly sat as she had for too many mornings waiting for it to cool. Before, she had done it because she had not wanted to cause extra work. Now she sat and plotted her revenge.
The next morning she listened to the same routine, but this time when she entered the bath there were three pails by the door and her question was much different. 'Did you check the water temperature, Lady Buxter?' she asked with a grim smile.
Startled by the change in routine, Lady Buxter stared at her queen. Sensing a change in demeanor she stumbled as she said, 'Oh, of course, your majesty. It should be nice and warm for your pleasure.' Her face flushed red with her lie.
Beruthiel stood near the tub. Even without putting a finger in, she could feel how warm it was. 'I want you to check it again, Buxter. It has not been right lately.' This time any trace of smile was gone and she stared directly at the woman with a ferocious glare.
'It is fine, your majesty, I am sure!' Buxter protested. She knew perfectly well it was too hot. Her luck had run out for some reason. This little joke had been going on for days if not weeks and she had gotten careless.
Suddenly, Beruthiel put out her hand and demanded, 'Give me your hand!'
Surprised, Lady Buxter walked closer to the queen and put out a tentative hand. Swiftly Beruthiel grabbed it and thrust both her and her lady's hand into the roasting water. Lady Buxter began to screech immediately and tried to pull away. Even though it burned her also, Beruthiel held on tight and thrust the hands in deeper.
Several of her ladies-in-waiting burst through the door at the sounds of the screams. The first one in stopped in horror at the scene. Beruthiel stood half-naked holding a struggling Mistress of the Bath's hand in the steaming water.
'Your majesty, stop! Your hand!'
Something in her words penetrated the red rage in her mind and Beruthiel let go. Buxter fell to the floor and cradled her bright red hand. As Lady Dilmit stepped to help her, the queen said in a commanding voice, 'Do not touch her!' Lady Dilmit gaped and stammered but obeyed.
Beruthiel pulled her own red hand from the water but appeared to feel no pain. She calmly walked to a bowl on a small table and plunged it into the cool water she had prepared earlier before anyone had arrived. Lady Buxter continued to wail from her spot on the floor.
'Please, your majesty let me help her. Do you have no water for her?' Lady Dilmit pleaded, 'why did you do this?'
'No, there is no water for her at least until she confesses her crimes and apologizes. As to why? I will not tolerate such behavior toward anyone and certainly not myself. Tell them what you did Buxter, and perhaps I will share my water.' She rotated her aching hand in the water. It would hurt a hundred times more without it.
Lady Buxter heard the words and finally lifted her head. Stammering in pain, she said, 'I did it, I made the water too hot. Please, your majesty, forgive me.'
'And?' Beruthiel encouraged.
'And I am so very sorry. It was wrong. Please!' she said with her eyes fastened on Beruthiel's water bowl.
'Dilmit get her some water. There is more over there. She turned her attention to the watching group cowering by the door. 'Let this be a lesson to all of you. I am neither weak nor stupid and further 'pranks' will not be tolerated. Now get out all of you.'
The little crowd stumbled out like scared rabbits and Dilmit, Buxter and her bowl went out after them as fast they could manage.
Beruthiel tested the water once again and found it to be tolerable. Slowly sinking in up to her neck carefully keeping her scalded hand dry, she sat back in the bath and plotted her next payback.
She did nothing for several more days. Her ladies walked on eggshells around her keeping alert any time she said anything or moved in the slightest. Every time they twitched and jumped, she smiled quietly to herself. Lady Buxter had resigned her commission as Mistress of the Bath and fled Osgiliath.
Beruthiel spent time in her nook near "The Bench" and listened to her ladies bemoan and bewail the horrible thing the queen had done. None was more surprised than Lady Merdith. 'I would never in a thousand years believed her capable of such cruelty,' she muttered to Sayla who was visiting once more. Word of Lady Buxter's departure had spread, and Sayla wanted the whole story.
After Merdith had finished, Sayla said, 'But what has happened since? You said that all sorts of pranks had been played. What if she finds out about the others?'
Lady Merdith was very quiet. She had not considered this before. 'Well, Buxter's was rather heavy-handed. How could she not know the water was getting too hot? You can only hide that for so long. I will trust that she does not know of the others. No one is doing anything anymore, believe you me! Well, except for Filia. She is still braiding things into that bitch's hair. Tonight at the reception she is putting in those little trinkets that the whores use to announce their availability. The queen will know nothing of those.'
'I think that is playing with fire. You said that she turned into someone completely different in the bath. What if she learns what Filia has done?' Sayla cried.
'That is Filia's concern, not mine. My pranks have always been very subtle and hard to trace. She will never know the things I have done…or will do!'
Beruthiel could hear the bragging smile that Merdith gave her friend. Her eyes narrowed and she listened to catch every word.
'Oh, Merdith, what have you done and I beg you to stop! You know what they say about the black-hearted Numenoreans and you have seen that Beruthiel can be the same.'
'Yes, I know the reputation, but I will not bow to that one. She merits little respect as far as I am concerned. That I serve one so below me galls me more every day. As for what I have done? Her clothes are what I mess with. A small pin in the wrong place, the wrong color for the wrong event. The pin tweaks and pinches and the colors show the court how ignorant she truly is. When I am done with her, Falastur will see the error of his ways and put her aside. Now come, I must get back before the bitch awakens from her slumber.'
Sayla paused for a moment longer. 'I hope you do not live to regret this, Merdith. I really hope so.'
Beruthiel gritted her teeth as she listened to their departure. 'So do I Merdith, so do I,' she muttered under her breath.
Filia was up next. Beruthiel didn't understand it. The woman was one of the few even close to her in age and had always been very pleasant. She did Beruthiel's hair every morning and in the evening if there was a social event. It was an easy task as the queen usually wore it in a long braid. Beruthiel liked to have flowers and other small items that sparkled woven into it and Filia excelled at the task. Beruthiel had even begun to hope that someday they might be friends. Now she prepared to put her second act of retribution into motion.
Filia stood by the dressing table waiting for the queen to finish being dressed. She neatly arranged the items to be woven in along the edge of the table. Beruthiel took her place before the mirror and watched as Filia brushed and braided her hair.
'You always do such nice work, Filia. What are you weaving in tonight?' she asked.
Her lady-in-waiting pointed to four white roses and several silver bells. 'These, your majesty. I know how much you like silver and white, and I thought these would please you.'
Beruthiel picked up one of the silver bells. Contrary to Lady Merdith's information, Beruthiel knew quite well what they were. With four brothers, she had seen them among the litter on their tables and had overheard enough to know that they were from whores. 'They are very pretty. I like how they sparkle. It really catches the eye.' She watched Filia in the mirror to see her reaction.
Filia gave her a small, satisfied smile. 'They are all the fashion in some circles, your majesty. Everyone will notice them.'
Beruthiel's heart sank at this proof of betrayal. She had hoped that Merdith was wrong. 'That is very kind, my dear. I appreciate it.'
Filia sealed her fate by not showing one ounce of regret or hesitation as she swiftly wove the damning bells into her queen's hair.
Beruthiel attended that evening's affair with all senses alert. In the past, she had often been a mere spectator. Greeting those she had to greet and aimlessly chatting with those who wanted a word with the queen to further their position at court. This night was different. With Falastur was absent, she sat proudly and nodded regally to all who bowed and scraped before her. Her long dark braid with its bells was prominently draped over her shoulder. The bells glinted and sparkled for all to see. Many of the men and some of the women stared at them and then at Beruthiel. She smiled innocently and gave no response to any of the looks she received.
As the night progressed, she could see clusters of attendees whispering and furtively pointing in her direction. It was obvious what was attracting their attention. At last, one of the women who was not a regular court follower took Beruthiel aside. 'Your majesty, I hesitate to say anything for fear of offending you.' She waited for the queen's response.
'Speak plainly, Lady Mika; I will not hold it against you,' Beruthiel said.
Lady Mika's face reddened as she whispered, 'your hair, your majesty, is quite beautiful, but the bells….'
'What about the bells, Mika? I find them charming,' Beruthiel replied.
If it was possible for Mika's face to get any redder, it did. 'Yes, they are charming, but do you not know what they are? Who they are for?'
Beruthiel wanted to release the poor woman from her embarrassment, but she needed to know for sure about the bells. Innocently she said, 'Why no, Mika. I thought they were just a pretty trinket that Filia found for me.'
'Beware of Filia, your majesty, she has betrayed you. Those bells proclaim your...your...Your sexual availability to men,' she finally managed to stammer out.
Beruthiel lifted her chin and managed to contain the burst of anger that bubbled up from the very bottom of her heart. 'Thank you, Lady Mika. I was unaware of that. I will not forget your bravery in approaching me nor your loyalty to myself and the king.'
Lady Mika curtsied low and then bowed her head. 'I am sorry for you, my dear. Gwynad was a close friend of mine. Your life cannot be an easy one.' Without waiting for a reply, Mika backed away from the queen and fled from the room.
Watching her leave, Beruthiel puzzled out the meaning of her words. It sounded like the late queen had not kept Falastur's secret from everyone. Lady Mika at least knew the truth. In a small way, she found that vaguely comforting. However, that comfort was fleeting. She still had Filia and the bells to deal with. Holding her head high, she faced the crowd bells and all for the rest of the evening.
Later, as Filia undid the traitorous braid, Beruthiel put out her hand. 'I would like one of the bells, Filia. They are so very pretty.'
Filia looked at her suspiciously in case the queen had figured out the prank. It was hard to see how she could not since the entire room had buzzed with the sight. However, Beruthiel kept her look of wide-eyed innocence and Filia forgot the incident in the bath. 'Certainly, your majesty. They were much admired tonight and suited you well.'
Beruthiel gritted her teeth at the double insult and stored her rage deep inside. She would be able to release it soon enough. 'Thank you, Filia. I will not forget this night.' She rose and left her hairdresser staring after her with just the smallest twinge of worry flitting through her mind.
She had to wait a few more days before implementing her newest plan. It would work best with another formal event. The opportunity arose a week later. Falastur was still absent and a similar reception was planned. It would be the perfect answer to her prior humiliation.
Filia again did her hair, only this time when she was finished, Beruthiel said, 'Filia, I want to repay you for all your efforts. Please take my seat.' She stood and motioned for the woman to sit.
Somewhat nervously, Filia sat in the vacated spot. 'No thanks are needed, your majesty. I am only doing my duty.' The small twinge she had felt before suddenly reawakened.
Beruthiel began to undo Filia's elaborate hairstyle. 'Nonsense. You have done my hair all these months, now it is my turn.' She brushed out the last of the style. 'Close your eyes. I want this to be a surprise!' she cooed.
Filia's heart began to race, but she did not dare to disobey the queen. She anxiously closed her eyes but still tried to see what Beruthiel was doing.
Beruthiel hissed, 'Close them, or I will close them for you!' The hiss drew the attention of the other women who were waiting for the group to proceed to the reception. Filia squeezed her eyes tightly shut and gripped the arms of the chair.
Beruthiel calmly gathered most of Filia's hair to one side of her head and wove it into a tight braid. She then did the same with the rest of the hair on the other side leaving only a small amount in between over the forehead. Then she reached into a pocket and pulled out the silver bell she had kept the other night. This she braided into the tuft of hair.
Filia heard the bell chime as it was woven in and fought to keep her eyes closed. 'Please, your majesty, what are you doing?'
The queen finished and stood back to admire her work. The beautiful Filia now had two ungainly, uneven braids sprouting out from the sides of her head with the little bell perched prominently above her nose where it could never be missed. 'Open your eyes, my dear friend and see!' she crowed.
Slowly cracking her eyelids, Filia stared at her image. Although she looked a fright, she sighed in relief. Nothing had been burned and her eyes still functioned. She had gotten off easy. Or had she?
Beruthiel put her hands on the woman's shoulders. 'Do not ever think you can fool me, Filia. I know all that you did to me last week and on other occasions.'
Filia put up a hand and started to unbraid the large braid.
Beruthiel slapped it away none too kindly. 'Leave it! You will attend tonight's function with your hair as it is.'
'But your majesty, it looks…' Filia cried, 'and everyone will see…'
'The bell, Filia? Yes, everyone will see it and what is more, they will talk and whisper and point and perhaps, since you are not the queen they will believe it. Some men may even take you up on your offer!' Beruthiel dug her fingers deeply into Filia's shoulders as she remembered all she had gone through herself.
Filia squirmed under the pressure and cried out in pain. However she did not surrender as easily as Lady Buxter. 'I most certainly will not! You cannot make me! I will not appear like this,' she challenged.
Had she cried and begged for forgiveness, Beruthiel may have relented but this was too much. She was her father's daughter after all and he had never allowed a challenge to pass unanswered. The queen reached once again into her pocket and pulled out a very sharp knife. 'Very well, you need not appear like this.' Reaching up quickly, she grasped the larger braid and sliced it off.
Filia and all the ladies present gasped in horror. Like most women in Gondor, Filia had not had her hair cut since reaching puberty. It was almost as long as Beruthiel's but now more than half of it dangled from the queen's hand. 'You will attend like this instead, or must I cut the other half off also? It doesn't really matter, one way or another you and that bell will be at the reception tonight!'
'But I cannot. I will be disgraced,' Filia moaned. 'I am so sorry, your majesty. Please forgive me. I will do anything!'
Despite begging and pleading, Beruthiel refused to relent. 'It is too late for apologies and you are already disgraced. Now, we are late. Merdith, get her ready to go.'
Lady Merdith did her best to soothe Filia and tried to help do something with the remaining hair, but it was still a horror to look at. 'You truly intend to do this, your majesty? It will be terrible for her.'
'Yes, yes it will, Merdith, but those who cross me need to know that I do not forgive nor do I forget. I meant what I said when I say I know what has been done to me.' She looked Merdith straight in the eyes with these words and the woman's face paled as all the blood left it.
Lady Merdith heard the threat behind the words and her heart shriveled in her chest. She could not meet this fierce woman's eyes knowing the extent of her own sins. 'Yes, your majesty, I understand.' And she did all too well…
In the end, Beruthiel only made Filia attend the reception for a short time. However, she did make her stand right by her side as she greeted all the guests. Filia wanted to hang her head and hide the bell, but any time she tried to do it, Beruthiel elbowed her in the side. 'The less they see that bell, the longer you will stay!' she whispered harshly.
Filia's head would jerk up for a few minutes and then slowly sink back down. The guests stared at the woman with the bizarre hair and as soon as they passed would turn to their companions and commence whispering. Many of the men smiled and motioned to their foreheads with a wink and a nod.
When the last guest had been greeted, Filia made as if to leave. 'Not just yet, dear,' Beruthiel said. 'I feel a desire to take a turn around the room. You will accompany me and then I will release you. Now hold your head up and smile for the crowd.'
'Please, no, please,' Filia begged and tried to pull her hand free.
'It won't take long. Just think how I spent several hours doing almost the same thing and remember it in the future,' Beruthiel hissed.
True to her word, Beruthiel released Filia after one lap around the room. The woman barely made it. She kept stumbling over her own feet.
'If you would hold your head up, dear, this would go much more quickly,' Beruthiel reminded her. By now the crowd was avidly watching the show. Some of them had a good idea of the reason for the display having been present before when the queen wore the bells.
At last Beruthiel let Filia go. 'Remember this, Filia. I will not be taken for granted or betrayed without reprisals. Make sure your fellow ladies know that too!' Filia nodded and with head bowed quickly ran from the room. Beruthiel turned back to her guests and nodded and smiled as though nothing odd had happened.
Not ALL of Beruthiel's reputation was undeserved...