Through Shadows

Chapter 21

Chapter 21

Poor-man's Orchid

"What do you fear, lady?" he asked.

"A cage," she said. "To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire."

quoted from: The Passing of the Grey Company, The Two Towers, Book V by J.R.R. Tolkien

Minas Tirith, 29th March, 3019, Third Age

She felt relieved when the dark square of the window showed the first faint traces of grey, heralding the end of a night that had brought her little rest. Not that further nightmares has assaulted her, but her sleep had been fitful and uneasy, and more than once she had woken, unable to go back to sleep right away. Again and again her thoughts had wandered back to the strange dream she had had in the afternoon, and even now she did not feel able to totally grasp it.

There had been the frozen plain, the cold, the disorientation in absolute darkness that were more or less regular set pieces of her frequent nightmares, and it had no way been the first time she had dreamt about the abyss and a light behind her, combined with the inability to turn. But there had been several things that she had never faced in her dreams before. Why had they occurred? What did they mean?

Up to now there had always been a merciless, icy draught in her nightmares, even in those that had provided sight. And the light, that tiny golden ball, glowing like a minute sun?... Light had always been just greyish dimness, like an approaching dawn. She was sure it had to do with the Lord Faramir's talk about his mother drinking that sweet wine from Tolfalas. Had she not even heard a voice repeating his words? But had it been his voice? She was not sure. And why should something he had said find its way into her dreams? Had his mournful remark about the faceless image of his mother in his mind rekindled her longing for her own mother whose features she feared to also forget? And what about the chuckle she had heard? True, they had laughed after the Steward's incredible prank, but the chuckle in her dream had been totally different.

In all her previous nightmares she had merely reacted to the horrible situations she had found herself in, never questioning what had been happening. So why had she been thinking in this one, pondering and judging things like she normally did when awake as if it had been something in between dream and reality?

Thoughtfully she chewed the inner side of her lip. It had not been the first time she had found herself on a cold, blood-covered plain, and more than once she had dreamt about falling, sinking into it, but there never had been the impression of melting. The abyss had been there, but never had anything flown into it. She had drowned in her dreams, drowned in slowly rising ice-cold water tasting of blood, but there had never been any current. And when there had been warmth in her dreams it had been but a mockery, something that had cruelly lured her, only to turn into some horror the moment she reached for it.

As far as that went, last afternoon's nightmare at least seemed to fit in with the familiar pattern, or did it? The feeling of warmth had stayed, the voice had gone on in a soft and affectionate tone, not turned into a threatening snarl... And unlike in her previous dreams she had not felt scared by it but rather enjoyed it in a strange unreal way. What had scared her had been the fact that she had melted, and yet she had felt no pain, only the horrifying consciousness that she would cease to exist.

Still deep in thought, she got up, and having finished her morning ablutions, she spread out her garments on the bed. She managed to get into her dress a lot quicker than the day before, but still there was no chance she could fix the clasps and laces herself, and she did not want to go and ask one of the healers for help. For a moment she thought of wearing the lounge robe over her dress to hide the untied fastenings, but then she decided on the mantle the Steward had given her. It had rained during the night, and certainly it would be fresh outside this early in the morning, and anyway the mantle seemed a much preferable choice.

The garment was heavy and not being able to clasp the brooch at its collar, she would have to hold it in place from the inside, grabbing the cloth in front of her chest, but it would do. She quickly slipped into her boots and sitting down on the wicker chair, she fixed the buckles, again relishing the fact that she was able to do so without anybody's help. The Steward really had a head for the practical, and once she was back in the Mark she would think about what to gift him in acknowledgement of his thoughtful presents.

She was surprised when she opened the door to the garden, for the air was not at all as cool as she had expected it to be, but rather mild instead. Mild and moist and strangely smooth like a soft blanket spread over the land.

"My Lady Éowyn!"

She had not even stepped out from under the ambulatory when the Steward addressed her with the faint smile that was so typical of him, though it did nothing to hide the shadows under his eyes.

Worried, she frowned. "Did you not sleep well, my lord?"

He shrugged. "I obviously slept too little, and it seems that my health is not that stable yet that the lack of sleep does not show. I received detailed news from Pelargir last night, concerning the casualties they had and the damage that was done to the city, especially to the harbour quarter, and I immediately convened the council."

He reached out for her hand to kiss it in courtly manner, and Éowyn let go of the mantle and wriggled her hand through the front opening, careful lest the garment slid off her shoulders.

Only now the Steward seemed to notice that the mantle was just draped loosely around her and hung unfastened.

"Didn't you have any help dressing?" She could sense the frown in his voice.

"I didn't, but I can manage quite well." With a few sentences she explained her technique to dress herself. "The only problem are the fastenings and laces. The kirtle is laced at the sides, and anyway I cannot tie a bow with one hand, and there is the clasp of the underdress... But I did not want to bother the healers and I think it isn't such a problem as the mantle covers all."

She could not help the impression that he tensed somehow and she almost gave in to the urge to snort. Certainly she had again overstepped one of the invisible lines of ladylike behaviour, not only by walking around in unfixed raiment but more so by talking about it openly, but were they not friends? Comrades both brought low by wounds and the Black Breath, both fighting to recover? And still he was such a Gondorean prude! But his next sentence left her speechless.

"Well, let me try then to get you dressed properly. Just lift your arm a bit and let me tie those laces for you." There was suppressed laughter in his voice, contradicting her assumptions concerning his behaviour. Had she really read him so wrongly? Angry about her misjudgement she lifted her arm brisker than necessary and immediately the mantle slid off her shoulders.

In the blink of an eye the Steward's hands shot out, grabbing the heavy folds, and all of a sudden she found herself encircled by his arms, and though not touched directly, she felt caught in a wall of man and mantle, unable to move. Caught! Locked in! She felt her breath catch. Scolding herself, she fought the rising bile. How idiotic to panic! She knew he meant no harm, would not do anything against her will, and yet... She tried to regain her composure like she always did: breathing deeply and steadily through her nostrils, forcing herself to calm, adjusting her mind to the steady rhythm of her breath till her brain had sobered enough to work untroubled.

Pine... faint and yet unmistakable. Pine and a trace of leather, and a waft of something musky hidden below it, inextricably interwoven with it... Confused she stepped back, intent on widening the distance between herself and the man in front of her, the mantle on her back entirely forgotten until the moment it hampered her movement. She tensed, but immediately the Steward let go of the garment on her left hand side, and pulling it over to her right shoulder, he gathered it in the crook of his arm.

Embarrassed, Éowyn swallowed. He had only wanted to keep the mantle from falling in the dirt. There was no need to behave like a headless chicken! And yet she found it difficult to face him, when she phrased her apology. "I'm sorry, my lord. I just did not consider that the garment would slide if I raised my arm."

He gravely shook his head. "It's my fault, my lady. I should not have told you to do so, but I have to admit that I did not consider it either. I did not mean to startle you." He threw the folded mantle over his shoulder. "Now... Shall I tie the laces?"

Relieved that the awkward moment was over, Éowyn raised her right arm to give him access to the laces of the kirtle. It took him only seconds to fix them and tie the bow, and then he turned to her left side, where things were a bit more complicated due to her broken arm, but he worked nimbly, and soon the kirtle was correctly laced. How similar that was to the comradely help with fixing the buckles and clasps of gambeson and armour before sparring... A smile crept into her face as he stepped back a bit, surveying his work with a critical eye before he draped the mantle again around her shoulders. He was just about to fasten the brooch, when a thought came to Éowyn's mind. "My Lord Faramir, could you please also fix the clasp at the neckline of the underdress? As I told you, it is very small and too complicated for me to fix with one hand."

Almost imperceptibly he nodded, and she raised her chin to enable him to reach the clasp. She felt his fingers seize the hem of the collar, felt their warmth touch the vulnerable skin of her throat as he fumbled a bit with the tiny clasp.

She could trust him. He was a friend.

Having finished his task, he carefully fixed the brooch of the mantle and then offered his arm to her. Smiling, she took it, and in silent accordance they headed for the walls to watch the sun rise over the black ridges of Ephel Dúath.

The diffuse light of dawn showed the space towards the river shrouded in mist that obscured the sight of anything low to the ground, and even the whereabouts of the Anduin itself could only be guessed by the thicker bank of fog following its course. How peaceful everything seemed... A treacherous peace, a fake comfort that would cease to exist as soon as the rays of the rising sun had eaten away the obscuring blanket. She nearly jumped when the Steward's voice woke her from her musings.

"I have to thank you for your skilled arrangements for the departing Rohirrim, my lady. Old Bahor was full of praise for you."

Had she even believed for one moment that despite his other tasks he had not talked over their arrangements with his counsellor? With a wry smile she shook her head. "I can reciprocate that compliment without hesitation, my lord. He certainly is a most able counsellor and it was obvious that he had given thought to the task ahead of him and was well prepared. I am sure I would have complained less about council work had all council members at Meduseld been that capable."

The Steward smiled. "With your permission I will tell him so. He certainly deserves praise, and I have to admit that I highly enjoy seeing him blush like a youngling."

Laughing, she pretended indignation. "Fie upon you! The poor old man."

The Steward's smile deepened. "Do not pity him, my lady, for I assure you he will enjoy the occasion as much as I will."

"If you say so. And how went your investigations at the camp? Did you get the information you were looking for?"

His face grave again, he nodded. "I did. If I'm not entirely mistaken the repatriation of the people from Near Harad should not really be too complicated, though it certainly will take some time before there can be made arrangements for their safe travel. I'll just have to work out what can be done until the connections to Harad are established again."

"And you think that will not be a problem?"

He shrugged. "Not really. Rather a matter of time. Most of the Haradrim lords are traders of some kind, so they are interested in contacts with Gondor. And as there is no central king or lord in Near Harad, sooner or later one of the clan leaders will take the first step and then others will follow, not to lose any profit. No, what is much more of a problem are the people from Far Harad. And not only because of the distance. Not one of them wants to go home, because being branded and made slaves means that they have lost their standing and would only bring shame on their families. Some of them even seem to have been sold to the king's slave traders by their own clans. Even the boys might not be received well by their families, because they being the only ones to come back might raise superstitions that they are cursed by the enemy, that is by us, and we are only sending them back to carry that curse into their villages."

Béma! And she had always believed the Eorlingas to be a superstitious lot! Shaking her head, she asked: "You talked to Irodebasa?"

"I did." He grimaced. "I told you, I did not believe her a mere commoner. Well, as it seems we caught the golden blackbird. She not only was the High Priestess of the River-Tribe but also the principal wife of the late King of Far Harad."

"The principal wife?"

The Steward nodded. "In many cultures the number of wives is not restricted. Up to now I had only known about that custom in Khand and Near Harad though. And as tradition in those countries stipulates that all wives have to be treated alike as far as housing, upkeep and presents go, a man can flaunt his riches by parading the number of well-fed and well-clad wives he has. The only legitimised reason for the open preference of a certain wife would be the number of sons she has born. Though that certainly does not prevent rivalry amongst wives and offspring. In Irodebasa's case her eldest son who would have followed his father on the throne was killed by one of his half-brothers, who then took her hostage to subdue the tribe she hails from. And to keep her under control he even took her with him to war when he followed Sauron's call to muster."

"But he was killed on the Pelennor. What could hinder her to return to her people now, if not the distance?" She could not help the impression that he hesitated a moment before he answered.

"I can't tell exactly why, Éowyn, and I am sure there are reasons she has not told me about. She said she did not want to return, because she lost face. The only thing she could do back home, and the thing that would also be expected of her if I understood her correctly, would be to give herself to the river-goddess' crocodiles."

"Crocodiles?" Éowyn had no idea what the Steward was talking about.

"Large carnivorous animals that live in the rivers and lakes of the far south. I have never seen one in the flesh, only once a picture of one in a book on Far Harad. I will have the librarian search for it if you are interested in seeing it. They look like I have always imagined a cold-drake to look. Obviously the people of the river tribe worship them as the goddess' incarnation and sacrifice people to them."

And being the High-Priestess certainly Irodebasa had participated in that. Éowyn shook herself with disgust. How could the Steward stay so calm when faced with such atrocities? Forcing her voice to composedness, she asked: "And she told you all that?"

He nodded, his face grim. "That and other things beside, my lady. I offered her a deal once I was sure she was loath to return to her people. I promised a decent and honourable existence in Gondor under my special care for her and the prisoners of war from Far Harad in exchange for a full disclosure. And she trusted me."

Éowyn suppressed a snort. What other chance did the woman have? And yet, would not she herself have trusted him, even if there had been nothing that had pressed her to do so? Again Merry's comparing the Steward to Gandalf came to her mind. Perhaps he was no wizard, but Gondor's Steward certainly could touch people's minds.

"And what did Elfhelm say to your agreement?"

A faint shadow of a grin flitted over the Steward's face. "I assure you he was simply delighted to have taken her off his hands. Though when I suggested having her and the others established in the city, she told me she would prefer to stay under the protection of the Rohirrim as long as the marshal and his men stayed in Minas Tirith."

Éowyn chuckled. "Elfhelm will no doubt feel flattered by that statement. But it is not a little thing you promise her, my lord. I hope the information you got is worth it."

"Tenfold. She knows the Satë Uhli, and what is more, she is willing to teach it to me."

"The Satë what?"

"Satë Uhli, "shadow-sign" in their language. It's a secret way to communicate via very subtle gestures, used at the courts in Harad. It is restricted to only sworn members of priesthood and nobility, and though Gondor has known for centuries that it exists, none of our spies have ever managed to get access to it in more than just a very rudimentary way. If I could learn it properly it would give me an incredible advantage in further negotiations with Harad."

"Especially if nobody expects you to know. But how did you find out she knew it? Certainly not by simply asking her."

He shook his head. "No, I did not have to. I asked her to teach me to speak Haradric properly, and she offered to also teach me the secret language."

Éowyn frowned. "Strange. I don't know, but I would have expected her of being too proud to become a traitor to her people."

"Not to her people, Éowyn, but to the leading casts. That makes quite a difference. And I am sure she does not see it as treason but rather as revenge for what those circles did to her."

She was about to answer, when Beregond appeared at the top of the stairs, bowing to them in silent politeness, and then retreating again.

His face serious now, the Steward motioned to the stairs. "Come, my lady. I'm afraid we will have to have breakfast a bit earlier than usual and there will be no time for a further walk in the garden. I have taken up my office, and apart from these early hours there will be little time I can spend in your company, as much as I regret it."

"You have taken up your office? And the healers agreed?" Taking in his dark undereye-circles, she was sure they had not, and his evasive shrug confirmed her doubts.

"I promised them to spend the nights at the Houses, at least for a transition period, and listen to them should they raise any objections. And I would very much like to keep our tradition of an early morning meeting. And as you seem to be worried about the healers' agreement: You could help me making them agree by ensuring that I have what they would call a proper breakfast in the morning."

She was surprised how much she regretted to have to forego the walks in his company in the future, but she did not say anything. Had it not been clear from the very beginning that their meetings would be restricted to the time of their healing? He was the Steward of the realm, no idle daydreamer, and the sooner he took up his tasks, the easier it would be for him to find his feet again.

It was only when he had poured her the first cup of tea that she addressed him, enquiring after last night's council. "Will you tell me about the news from the coast, my lord? Certainly anything concerning Pelargir is most important for the whole of Gondor."

He put down the teapot. "Things fortunately look better than I had expected. The city of Pelargir itself is highly fortified, so damage was mostly restricted to the harbour area. The corsairs more or less burnt down the entire quarter on finding the great warehouses in the immediate neighbourhood to the river stripped of nearly all their riches. The messenger said that the day before their arrival the city had been warned, and the quarters outside the walls had been cleared."

Éowyn frowned. "Do you keep errand riders in the south, like the ones who brought the Red Arrow to Théoden King?"

He shook his head. "No, but there is an elaborate system of mirrors to convey signals. What might turn out to be the worst problem is the fact that, as far as Lord Thólinnas can be believed, Pelargir is now being overrun by refugees from the destroyed villages along the delta, and therefore reaching the ultimate limit of its means to support."

"So you think said Lord cannot be trusted?"

The Steward gave a bitter laugh. "After what I have seen of him before I do not trust him as far as I can spit. I am sure he exaggerates the situation to be spared paying for the damages of the war. But that does not bother me right now. What troubles me is that I fear he might not supply any refugees that turn to him for help at all, putting the blame for their suffering on my father's neglect of the navy. And he even might use them as mere material to weaken the King's claim of power. There have always been rivalries between Pelargir and Minas Tirith, even before the kin-strife, and my father marrying the woman that had been designated for the Lord of Pelargir did not really help."

"But your father certainly must have seen that danger."

The Steward nodded. "He certainly did, and he tried to conciliate Thólinnas in every way possible afterwards. Why do you think Boromir married Thólinnas daughter?"

For a second Éowyn stared dumbfounded. "Your father made his son pay for the diplomatic damage he himself had created and forced Boromir to marry his rival's daughter?"

"Not exactly. Lord Thólinnas proposed it, and as Boromir confirmed that the lady probably was as good as any other, my father took the chance to bind Pelargir closer to Minas Tirith. Neither Thólinnas nor our father bothered to inform Boromir about the fact that the Lady Cuileth had been spoken for by Tadion from Lamedon, and that she had begged her father to agree to a marriage to him. But as the young man was nothing but a minor lord's son, her father had not agreed and instead sped a marriage to the Ruling Steward's son. I am sure that my father knew about it, and I am also sure that Boromir would not have agreed to marry Cuileth had he known. It is one thing to accept an arranged marriage, but quite another to arrange a marriage that goes against the declared wish of one of the persons involved. But at that time our father had entirely turned into the Steward of Gondor, and there was no thought and feeling left for anything else. He wanted to assure Pelargir's fealty, and that was the only thing that counted. And as he could provide the means to upholster Thólinnas' hurt pride, it did not matter to him that others, even his favourite son, were hurt."

Thoughtfully Éowyn fumbled with her cup. "And did your father never have plans for you?"

"Oh, he certainly had. But the Lord from Harondor he thought to bind to the realm by marrying one of his daughters to me would not settle for only the second of the Steward's sons." A wry smile curled the corners of his lips. "You see, it sometimes is not that bad to be only second in line."

Éowyn shook her head. "But has your heart never reached out for a woman? Have you never desired one enough to want to share your life with her?

There was a long silence, and Éowyn scolded herself for not having suppressed her curiosity. But when the Steward finally answered, his voice did not hint at hurt feelings. "I was little older than twenty when I fell seriously in love with a young lady from Morthond who reciprocated my feelings, but my father intercepted any contacts as soon as he got to know about them. She was of a noble family and absolutely acceptable as my wife, but a marriage would have made me useless as a pawn in my father's political games. She soon married the heir of Edhellond, and who knows, may be a widow by now."

"That could be a chance to finally wed her."

He solemnly shook his head and Éowyn could not help a frown. Did he think it below himself to marry a widow? Or was there even a law in Gondor that forbade the remarriage of widows? Bluntly she asked him, ready to give him a piece of her mind, but he only shook his head again.

"No, my lady. The fact that a woman was a widow would not stop me from marrying her if we loved each other nor is there any such law in Gondor that would prevent me. And believe me, it would be the first law I would ask the King to scrap as soon as he has taken office. But it is more than fifteen years since we were separated, and as life went on, feelings changed. I know she truly came to love her husband, a most noble and valiant man, highly esteemed by his father's people. He fought at Linhir against the corsairs, and men coming to Minas Tirith after that battle reported that he had been fatally wounded. But I can't tell for sure."

Reaching out for one of the small rolls, he cut it up, and then motioned to the laid table. "Let the past rest, my lady, and let's concentrate on the present. Tell me, what would you like to have for breakfast today?"


She stood for a moment, hesitating. They had finished their breakfast as usual, but she had not been able to hide her lack of appetite. Leaving, the Steward had told her that he wanted to look in on his cousin Amrothos, and had bid her good bye till the next morning. She angrily clenched her fist. How could the simple fact that she would have to spend the day alone spoil her mood that much? She did not feel inclined to continue her walks alone nor did she want to go inside where the feeling of being closed in would give her a headache after a short while.

Perhaps a look out over the Pelennor now that the sun was shining would improve her mood. But when she was about to climb the steep stair that led up to the ramparts, for the first time her gaze fell on the path that followed the small strip between the Houses and the outer walls. She hesitated. A paved path, a low, carefully cut boxwood hedge in front of the massive ashlar masonry of the wall... It had to be the very space she could see when she climbed the footstool in her room to look out of the window.

A few steps brought her to the corner of the building, and curiously she walked down the path. For quite a distance it went straight, following the gap between the House and the ramparts, until it disappeared around a corner at the far end. Following it, Éowyn examined the windows, and there it was: In one of the last windows high in the wall she spotted her flowerpot, the tiny flowers of heart's ease blazing in the morning sun. Smiling, she continued her way. When she reached the corner, she found that the outer wall turned, too. The path continued until it was blocked by a stonewall of masonry visibly different from the massive ramparts. And there was a door in the wall. Her curiosity provoked anew, Éowyn had just walked a few steps towards the far door, when an angry male voice cut through the silence.

"Just stop your bloody, prissy drivel. Why should I agree to have her put up in Dol Amroth's town-house? Put her up in the Steward's residence if you think the Houses are not good enough for her."

Intrigued, Éowyn stopped. The man had spoken Westron, but his accent differed from any she had heard up to now, making the language sound harsher than usual.

"Didn't you listen to me?"

With surprise she recognised the Steward's voice.

"Of what use would the Steward's residence be? I told you she has felt closed in from the very first moment, and no matter what window you look out here in the Houses, you are staring at walls. I would like her to have a free, unhampered view, and you know quite well that all rooms at the Steward's abode open towards the yard or the garden."

The answer was sardonic laughter. "Oh, yes. How could I forget! Your horse-girl is used to the open plains!"

"Shut it, Roth!" The Steward's voice came like the crack of a whip. "I can well understand that you are bitter, and I give you that my father did not treat you right, put that does not authorise you to refuse your assistance in an affair your father would do everything in his power to further."

"Why don't you wait then till he comes back from Cormallen and ask him?" The exaggerated sneer in the man's voice made Éowyn want to strangle him. But when the Steward answered, his voice was calm and composed again.

"Amrothos, please. At least try to make sense. I told you that I too don't understand why my father wanted you here at Minas Tirith, and all I can assume is that he insisted, knowing how few skilled horsemen we had."

So that was Amrothos, Prince Imrahil's youngest son, the Steward's cousin... She had no time to ponder, as the angry voice objected.

"He had father and Erchirion. What did he order me for? And as for Gondor's needs: What about the coastal areas? What about Tolfalas, Pelargir, Dol Amroth and the countless villages left without any defence? I would have been of more use out there on board a sturdy war-ship, commanding a crew of cutlass-happy sea dogs than getting myself slashed on your father's bloody doorstep."

Éowyn heard the Steward sigh before he answered. "Amrothos, as I said, I don't know details about Tolfalas yet, nor about Dol Amroth. And as I told you the corsairs made no attempt to take Pelargir as Thòlinnas' defences stood, but..."

There was a bitter laugh. "Thólinnas is but a pain in the arse, and we both know it. Were it not for Radhruin, things would have gone worse at the mouth of the Anduin."

"You are certainly right, and I know how much you would have preferred to fight at sea..."

"You know?" Amrothos voice was acrid. "What do you know about the sea, Faramir? Nothing, Cousin. Nothing at all. What is it to you but a stretch of water, a liquid path to travel on? No, you don't know anything of a mariner's eternal bond with the sea. Tell me, have you ever felt the tide in your blood, dragging you out into immeasurable vastness? Have you ever felt the salt on your lips, the taste of Uinen's breath, ever seen her limbs in the whiteness of the squall, her beckoning making you ache in fathomless passion? Yes, you are right, I could have also been hurt on board a ship, and yes, without your healers' skill I might have lost the leg, or even my life. So what? For I would have died under an open sky, the wails of the gulls in my ears."

Stunned Éowyn witnessed the change in his voice, and she felt moved against her will by the almost desperate longing it revealed, but the enchantment lasted but a moment, for when he continued to speak, Amrothos fell back to his former jeering.

"No, Faramir. As I told you: I intend to move over to the town house myself as soon as the evacuated servants have come back, and I see no reason to stay any moment longer in this prison just because you want to pamper your sweetheart."

"For crying out loud! I told you..."

Amrothos sneered. "Yes, my Lord Prig, you told me she is not. And if she is not, why can't she stay in the same house with you? Why do you demand me to step down for her sake?"

There was a short pause, as if the Steward hesitated to answer or needed time to regain his composure.

"I told you, and I am tired of repeating myself. I thought she could use Lothíriel's room, for it has a balcony that provides a great view..."

Amrothos's laughter sounded shrill. "Oh, yes! A great view and also a stair down into the gardens for some hypocritical snot of a Steward to visit her on the quiet."

"You are mad, Roth! Mad or boozed up already in the morning!"

Éowyn sensed the effort it cost the Steward to keep his anger under control, and probably Amrothos did so too, for his answer had a triumphant tone.

"Am I? Am I mad? No, cousin, I am not. And I tell you what: I will go home as planned, and as soon as a certain lady comes back into town, I will have her there. Openly, mind you, and not in your bloody clandestine ways."

"Amrothos..."

"If Dol Amroth's town house is to become a brothel, it will be by me, Faramir. Though I do not mind you participate. But I forgot: You are not too fond of the Lady Vilwarin's services, are you?"

"Imrahil will have your hide should you let Vilwarin enter his house, and you know that." The Steward's voice sounded tired. "I regret having ever asked you, Amrothos. I should have known better. But do not bluster into something you'll certainly regret afterwards. Even if your father forgives you, considering your situation, you should not risk your leg just for a moment of stubborn lust. You know that still one wrong move might ruin all the healers' work."

Amrothos laughed again. "Don't you worry, I do not plan to move. What do I pay her for? And she knows to move in quite imaginative ways, cousin. It's a pity you did not bother to learn from her, for how will you give your sweetheart a good performance now."

There was no answer from the Steward, and the sneering laughter could be heard again. "Did I touch a sore spot, cousin? But thinking about it: Why don't you send your horse-girl over? I can certainly make some use of a golden-locked cunt."

There was the noise of furniture toppling over and then for three heartbeats no sound at all. Éowyn held her breath, and then the Steward's voice could be heard, low, cold and deadly like frozen steel: "Say that again, and cousin or not, I will kill you."

No answer came, only the sound of receding steps and then the crash of a door being slammed shut.

She waited a moment with bated breath, and then she heard another voice, obviously belonging to a young man, worried and uncertain. "My lord? My Lord Amrothos, are you all right?"

There was an answering grunt, followed by a hacking cough, and then she heard Amrothos' strangled voice. "Water, pour me some water."

For a moment she could only hear the faint noise of somebody moving, and then Amrothos spoke again. "Uinen's tits, that bloody bastard nearly squashed my larynx, and rightly so. Absolutely fucking rightly. I have to get out of here before I totally turn into a troll. Go over to the town house and get me some litter or at least a stretcher and tell Hwinril to ready my room."

Annotations:

poor-man's orchid is one of the many names for impatiens grandulifera, a "weed" with very beautiful pink flowers. After flowering between June and October, the plant forms seed pods, which explode when disturbed, scattering the seeds up to 7 metres. The green seed pods, seeds, young leaves and shoots are all edible, but a high dose can cause vomiting. It can even be used as an emetic. I simply could not resist to introduce it as a quite fitting "heraldic figure" for Amrothos. ;D


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