Fic: The Lady
Summary: Theoden is sent a-wooing.
Disclaimer: These are not JRR’s characters. It’s all for fun and not for money
Author’s notes: This is for talullahred who asked for fic, man/man, a rarer pairing and something ‘outdoorish’.
He was born in the city, lived there as a small child, rode his first pony out of the great main gate at their leaving and now he was returned. Theoden scowled and shifted uneasily in the saddle, his hand hardening on the reins making the bay mare sidle for a few strides before he gathered her up again.
He knew that it was not the sight of those white towers climbing towards the sky that made the hair prick on the back of his neck; he had seen its image all his life in the books his father had carried with them to Edoras and it was not the curious speech that flowed around them, for they had spoken little else amongst the family, much to the annoyance of his Father’s advisors.
The mounted party were approaching Minas Tirith in the golden light of a setting sun, horses weaving in and out of the market-day traffic coming towards them, the crowds pouring out of the great gates, wending their ways homeward. There were merchants with satisfied smiles and strings of un-laden pack-animals, empty carts rattled on the trackway’s rutted surface as drivers urged on their beasts, eager to be safe home with their earnings before nightfall.
They were halted at the guard post now whilst the captain of his escort presented their sureties and a knot of travellers primed to leave waited on their pleasure, for the soldiers to be satisfied with the papers of these strangers. A couple of servant girls, riding pillion, exchanged whispered speculations on the prowess of these horsemen, with their long hair and soft beards.
Theoden felt blood stinging his cheeks and ducked his head; the girls realised that he understood and one shrieked with laughter, hiding her face in her hands, whilst the other shushed her friend all the while regarding him with a bold eye. He would have moved aside, but she reached into the rush basket over her arm and pulled forth a pastry, holding it out to him.
“Welcome to Minas Tirith, my lord!” she said, “here’s for luck,” and she pressed a little cake into his hand. Theoden glanced down, turned it over and saw the imprint of the white tree on the top. It was still warm from the oven and smells of honey and rosewater swam in his nostrils.
“What have you?” the laughing girl said, peeping between her fingers.
“I have the Tree,” Theoden replied, with a rueful grin, knowing what fresh gales of laughter that answer would provoke.
“Your seed will be good, horse lord!”
His captain was remounting and an officer of the guard had taken horse too and was readying himself to escort them up through all the levels. With the girls’ teasing echoing in his ears, Theoden spurred the bay forward across the paved court until the clatter of metalled shoes on stone drowned out the laughter. He had the reins in one hand, took a bite out of the cake and was a child again.
It was the smell of the city, of the plain before it that was not the grasslands of home, the heady mix of scents that had grown as they approached the tall gates, of men and beasts and cooking, blacksmith’s fires and tavern slops running in the gutters, all of them confined within high walls, that brought his earliest memories flooding back…and now this little cake, sold in batches of nine, stars, a crown and one white tree.
They were climbing steeply, sweeping under each gate unhindered, with guards coming to attention at their passing and ahead he could hear a peal of trumpets sounding faint in the citadel. The last bite seemed too sweet, sticking to the roof of his mouth and he struggled to swallow it. Will my seed will be thought good enough, he muttered quietly.
Theoden closed the door with a final smile for the bowing courtier and leant against it. His fingers groped blindly behind him and slid the bolt across. He could still hear, faintly, the sounds of revellers returning to their chambers but gradually silence crept over that part of the citadel.
Feeling weary and sick at heart, Theoden pushed himself away from the door and stepped into the room. It was richly appointed, with tapestries on the walls, heavy silk bed-hangings and rugs covering the stone floor. There was a fire crackling in the grate and as Theoden sank down on the bench before it, he realised that the cushioned seat was embroidered with the same device as shone on the tapestries, was repeated endlessly on the coverlet. It was a silver ship with a swan prow, on a blue ground.
They know their worth, he thought bitterly, and they will be certain that I know it too. At once he was ashamed of his grumbling and rose from the bench, shedding his elaborate tunic, stripping down to shirt and hose before he went to the side-table and poured himself a goblet of wine, which he carried to the window, cracking open the shutter so that he could breath the cool night air and gaze out over the city towards the shadowy bulk of the Misty Mountains.
Belfalas could not be faulted; they had shown every courtesy and honour due to a Prince come a-wooing as they understood it – and he was whining about his wounded feelings. It was unworthy of a future King of Rohan! And yet Theoden felt as though he was caught in a net that wound about him and threatened to choke him, drag him down into the deep.
His father had been quietly implacable; Theoden would go to meet with the eldest daughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth. The younger one was already spoken for, betrothed to the son of the Steward of Gondor. Ecthelion had hosted the evening’s banquet with the affable smile of a ruler, albeit a caretaker one, who saw a politic alliance on the horizon for his own family too.
It had been a less formal occasion than Theoden had feared, Denethor had gripped him in a warm embrace on meeting and then presented to him Finduilas, who was visiting from Dol Amroth and who would return with them on the morrow. Theoden had found himself immediately drawn to the gentle girl. It was easy to see what had so entranced the Steward’s son for not only was she beautiful, but seemed to have a grace, a wisdom beyond her years that had already recruited the Steward’s household to her devoted service.
Theoden could only hope that her elder sister was so gifted a lady, for it seemed to him that Finduilas saw through the artifice to the anxious young man before her and talked easily of her country, and of her much-loved sister. Once or twice, despite his reticence, she had coaxed him to laughter and once or twice, on glancing about him, he had caught a glitter in Denethor’s eye that reminded him of nothing so much as a dog with a bone. Then Theoden would turn the conversation aside for a while to include more of those around them.
Belfalas had sent a courtier to open negotiations with the councillor entrusted with the task by his father, although at this point there was nothing so crass as outright haggling to be seen. The respective envoys had exchanged eloquent written expressions of goodwill from one ruler to another and also gifts, nevertheless, he had never before felt himself so powerless, so much a game piece to be moved where others willed.
He had a small token of his own, tucked into a saddle-bag to lay before the lady. His father had given him free rein, within reason, in the vaults and at the bottom of a chest, in the remnants of a treasure captured long ago, or perhaps it had been traded, no-one could remember, Theoden had found a flat wrap of linen, that crumbled at his touch to reveal coils of coloured wire and Theoden knew he had found a gift of great prize.
Belfalas was renowned as the home of the greatest harpers. The bards of Rohan strummed on harps strung with gut, but the harpers of Dol Amroth plucked at metal. Here was a set of harp strings, gold for the warm lower notes, silver tongues for the melodies and bright bronze for the glittering birdsong that wove in amongst the tunes. Rohan had heard tell that Ivriniel was a harpist, so this would be his gift.
From far below in the city, Theoden heard a watchman call the late hour and turned from the window to prepare for sleep. He doubted it would come easy. He felt restless and troubled, mostly in his own doubts. He was a prince and this was the fate of princes, good princes, who prepared for their people’s futures with children of their bodies trained up from birth to serve as they did. He was of an age to be wed and the lady Ivriniel was like to be a good match…and yet, he thought him of those he had left behind, no one who held his heart but the companions of his hearth and bed.
Thengel had not begrudged his heir company, and he had steered Theoden early towards women ripe in years and experience and too wise to find themselves with child, and to the warrior way. There had been shield companions who had warmed his bedroll, although none who had touched his heart since Thorongil. Theoden knew the Ivriniel would be schooled to look aside, but there was something that made his stomach roil about the way that they would likely be bound together by policy, for all that Thengel had promised his son a voice in the matter.
Then there was the lad. Ivriniel waited in Dol Amroth for her suitor to come, but they had sent her brother to view him and to bring Finduilas home. From the look of him, this might be his first true diplomatic mission, a tall colt of a youth, with dark hair that curled about his head and the clearest grey eyes Theoden had ever seen.
At the banquet Imrahil had begun by chafing against his new role; he had likely been dining in this household since a small child and now he was no longer the indulged young hope but a princeling come to view his sister’s intended and backed by a sizeable retinue whose presence plainly made him uneasy. Theoden had admired the adroit handling of his principal courtier, who had enabled the lad to play his part and then had let him be. Freed from the bounds of ceremony, Imrahil had revealed himself to be a whirlwind of laughter and eager questions about Rohan, respectful to his elders, whatever their rank and clearly beloved by his sister. Watching, Theoden thought that Denethor chose to treat him rather as the child he plainly no longer was.
Theoden, by contrast, found himself reluctantly charmed by the young man, infected for a time with his good humour. Before the meal was over, he had persuaded Finduilas and Theoden to travel back with him by sea. The main party and the copious baggage that he insisted Finduilas always travelled with, much to her feigned indignation and the company’s amusement, would go by road, but he had his ship-master bring up a small, fast boat that they could sail homeward in.
Theoden’s heart had begun to beat hard in his chest at the thought of sailing on the open water. Like many Rohirrim, he could not swim and had little experience of anything more venturesome than a river-ferry, but this was an adventure and when Finduilas turned to him, smiling gently and said,
“My lord, you must see Dol Amroth the first time from the sea…we look to the sea.”
He could not refuse their joint urgings and raised his glass to toast, “To ship it is!”
That cheerful mood had not lasted out the end of the banquet for the simple reason that, with dawning horror, he had begun to suspect in Imrahil’s occasional shy smiles and the friendly hand with its long fingers that rested on his arm when it could, an interest in him alone that was answered by his own flesh. When the formal banquet seating was finally abandoned, Imrahil had slipped onto the bench beside him and he could not mistake the long thigh that pressed against his own, whilst above the table, the young man talked animatedly to Denethor.
Bereft of speech Theoden had emptied his glass and beckoned over a page. As the wine was replenished he watched Denethor smile indulgently; Imrahil was enthusing about his boat, her sleek lines, whilst the muscles of his thigh flexed against Theoden’s, who suddenly realised that the ‘green lad’, Imrahil, was playing Denethor with the skill of a fisher
Feeling suddenly out of his compass, Theoden had pleaded weariness and had retired to his room to brood, only to find that he was surrounded by reminders of his situation. He was half-hard and the memory of that insistent thigh made his blood thrum. Whether the young man sought to test him, he did not know, but for the honour of Rohan he’d not risk any thing that could be construed as an insult to Dol Amroth.
As he shrugged the coverlet up about his chin, for he’d left the window wide to breathe fresh air, he realised that he could smell salt faintly on the air. The cool breeze was coming to him from the sea as he took himself in hand.
To the end of his days Theoden remembered the first sight of Dol Amroth and the Sea Ward Tower, standing high on its cliffs, skirted with sea-foam. They had a smooth passage out in the Bay, said Imrahil, but there was enough of a swell that close to shore the waves crashed onto the rocks in a thunder of spume.
Theoden was not sure he would have called their progress smooth. He had heeded Denethor’s friendly advice not to feed too well before they boarded, but once the shock of viewing the narrow vessel, crewed by no more than two men besides their party, had begun to die away as he realised how capable both Imrahil and his sister were in handling rope and sail and tiller, the transition from river passage to open sea drove home to him how strange and terrible this place could be.
He had thought the movement might be like the galloping of a horse, but the planking beneath his feet rose and fell slowly and he felt like a beaker in which the ale was being swirled around, all too ready to spill over. When she had seen him grow pale as they left the mouth of the Anduin and met the rising swell, Finduilas had pressed a round of plain, hard, biscuit into his hand and bid him take a little. He had been surprised at the strong taste of ginger that stung his lips as he bit into it. In truth it had settled his gut before long, but that left him with no excuse for the terror that gripped him on being set upon the deep in what seemed to him a tiny craft.
The small ship scudded across the water, her sails filled with a lively breeze. Theoden could hear every creak of the planking and gripped at the rail until his knuckles were white, but his pride in his warrior blood forced a smile to his face.
At the helm, Imrahil was calling orders to his motley crew. Even Theoden had been given a rope to mind, but he could see it was firmly tied off. Smiling broadly, Finduilas passed him, moving easily on the bucking deck, to join the ship-master hauling on a line. Theoden looked back at Imrahil and saw a young man at ease with himself; his eyes sparkled with excitement and yet his voice was calm. Theoden saw that his timing was most skilful, giving his crew space to make any change to the gear that might be needed before he called out a warning as they came about and the long boom swung clear across the deck. Theoden knew that Dol Amroth was increasingly troubled by corsair raids and wondered whether Imrahil had his first command. He probably has few enough times to relish simply running before the wind, Theoden thought and suddenly realised that he was imagining the sleek little craft as a sea horse and even more, he was beginning to find pleasure in the way that she sped across the water.
Imrahil shouted to the sailors, one who began to work quickly at a set of ropes in the bow, letting out a sail like the swelling breast of a dove, whilst the elder was on his knees before Imrahil, winding at a crank set into the deck. Finduilas was coming quickly towards him, hauling herself hand-over-hand along the rail.
“He’s moving the keel!”
She looked into the questioning eyes of the Rohirrim.
“We need to be across there, ready to lean out,” she cried, raising her voice above the rushing wind and pointing to the other side of the deck.
Theoden made his hands unclench and scrambled after her to settle on the narrow bench. Finduilas pointed towards the distant land. He could just make out the seawalls about the city curving away around the edge of a bay. Then the men were returned and sat next to them, grinning broadly and one grasped his arm to steady Theoden as he cried out in alarm. The boat was tilting, the wind stiff into the sails pushing it forward, but surely they would go over!
The sailor pushed a rope into his hand and shouted,
With something like horror Theoden saw the men and Finduilas too, stand and lean back over the rail. The sailors stepped up onto the rail itself, pulling at their lines. With a whispered prayer, Theoden scrambled to his feet and let his weight take him backward, legs braced on the deck. The little boat found her balance again and leapt forward.
He could feel the spray on the back of his neck…and he could also feel the power and speed running in his veins like hot wine. He heard Finduilas beside him laughing and laughter began to bubble up in his chest too. Theoden wanted to shout aloud and glanced unbidden towards the lad, but Imrahil of all of them was the calmest, stood, legs braced on the shifting deck, and smiling faintly, eyes flicking from the water ahead and back to the blue pennants that flew from the tops of the masts, straining in the breeze.
They ran before the wind for a few minutes only and then gradually righted again. Theoden would have lent a hand with the sails, with any thing, but he was urged to sit again by the ship-master and slumped down, only too aware of how out of place he felt.
Finduilas stowed away her last line and sat beside him. The shelter of the bay and calm water were much closer now.
“Imrahil will take us in there,” she said, nodding towards a forest of masts visible behind the sea wall. “We need to swing into the main channel. Even though it’s sheltered, she’ll go forward on a very little sail.”
Her cheeks were pink and she was slightly out of breath, but smiling still and it suddenly occurred to Theoden to doubt whether Denethor would allow his lady to be so venturesome once they were wed...and he was sorry for it.
“Come and try her,” Imrahil called. Theoden rose to his feet, took a moment to find his balance on the wet planking and crossed to where the lad stood.
“Here, take hold and I’ll guide you.”
Theoden was standing, with his hand on the tiller and Imrahil close behind him, an arm wrapped around Theoden’s waist to steady him.
Theoden could feel the heat from the young man’s body pressed close and a moment’s thrill ran down his spine as Imrahil leant forward to murmur into his ear. He could feel warm breath on his neck, but Imrahil’s voice was quiet and he spoke only of what it took to hold craft between wind and water.
Soon, Theoden was watching the fluttering pennant, listening to Imrahil’s steady commentary on tides and sandbanks and river channels. He understood very little, but he knew they were in the hands of one who read the dark water as he read the wide grasslands of home and he relaxed, allowing his hand on the tiller to be soft, and move wherever Imrahil willed it.
As they came closer to the harbour entrance, Theoden glanced across the bay and towards the mouth of the river. He could just see the outlines of tall structures, in white stone, shimmering in the sunlight. He had studied the maps before he left Rohan and knew what lay there, Edhellond, the deserted Elf-haven. It occurred to him, momentarily, to ask if he might visit the place, but before he could speak Imrahil clasped his shoulder, saying cheerfully,
“I can see our reception committee waiting…perhaps it might be wise if it didn’t look as though I’d made our guest do all the work. Why don’t you help Finduilas with the lines?”
Once more he found himself, back braced against a closed and bolted door, listening to retreating footsteps. When he opened his eyes this time the room was a different shape, the furniture a lighter style, all pale wood that twisted and flowed about the great bed, the high-backed chair before the fire, but the hangings were the same…everywhere the swan boat.
This time he strode directly to the window and threw the shutter wide. Immediately the sound of the waves coming ashore on the rocks below the apartments flowed over and around him, steady, soughing back and forth, like a heartbeat. Theoden leant against a stone mullion and let the stone cool his cheek. There was a pale moon, flitting in and out of cloud and casting occasional glittering streaks across the water. He watched the water shimmering, listened to the lullaby of the waves and remembered the scene below.
Whereas the Steward of Gondor could afford some informality in the matter, the Prince of Dol Amroth had welcomed him with a degree of pomp and ceremony the like of which Theoden had never seen before. His father had once said to him that the Princes in Belfalas lived more of their elvish ancestry than was comfortable for a plain horseman. Certainly, the formal greetings had kept a crowded banqueting hall on their feet and silent for over an hour. He had been most grateful then for the good offices of Thengel’s man, who had evidently made a study of the codes of etiquette pertaining in the case and who was both dignified and down-to-earth, embodying Rohan’s respect for Belfalas’ customs whilst upholding the Rohirric character…he had never realised the man was so skilled a courtier and vowed to value him the more for his service to Rohan and for his friendship on this most difficult of days.
Theoden had been seated at the high table at some distance from Ivriniel. He would be granted a first audience with her on the morrow, but from what he could judge of her profile in snatched glances, she was fair but perhaps a little more solemn in her bearing, as befitted the elder sister.
The food had been excellent, with all manner of fish in delicate sauces and light chilled wines. It was after the meal that a trio of harpers had been ushered before the company and began in a cascade of silver notes, so like the morning lark singing high above Meduseld, that Theoden almost gasped and found a tear springing to his eye.
One harper had laid aside his instrument to sing to his companions’ playing. It was a ballad that told of lovers parted and winning through to be re-united and Theoden had no doubt that it had been chosen for the occasion. Glancing sideways he could see that Ivriniel had leant forward. She was watching the harpists’ hands and Theoden hoped then that his gift would be adequate to the rippling melodies that wound around them.
The evening ended with the Prince rising and himself escorting Theoden from the hall, at least he ushered him from public view and then, turning to Theoden, bowed his head slightly and since he was leaving him in his son’s care, he would bid him a good night’s sleep and surely the sea air would aid his rest.
It was as the royal party turned a corner and were lost from sight, that Theoden felt an arm about his shoulders and was aware that there was more strength in the boy than he might have expected. The men surged along the corridor and to Theoden’s chamber. This time he was ready and shrugged Imrahil off laughing as he opened the door, hastening into speech about the evening’s entertainment. Imrahil lounged against the open doorway and smiled at him, let Theoden run out of inspiration when he did not answer.
“Shall I come in, horseman?” he said quietly, in the silence as they faced one another.
Theoden felt what was almost a blow to his chest, and at the same time, could feel himself begin to harden. Imrahil smiled and a small dimple appeared beside his mouth and Theoden knew that his tormentor felt his power.
Theoden began to grow angry, as much at his own weakness as at this princeling’s insult to his sister, and drew himself up, to gaze sternly on Imrahil.
“We shall meet on the morrow, when I go to meet with the lady Ivriniel, which is an honour.”
But the lad did not seem at all perturbed and merely sketched a bow and loped off down the corridor, leaving Theoden to wonder what kind of a tangle the web about him was beginning to resemble.
His first interview with Ivriniel was conducted at one end of a long parlour, with her ladies sat quietly sewing at the other. He had not been mistaken; Ivriniel was fair, but with something of her brother’s cast of countenance in clear grey eyes that regarded him with intelligence and some sympathy.
It was plain that she did her duty in this; he hoped that he did his, but at the same time he was saddened for both of them, for the stiff formality with which two young people were meeting on such an important matter. She was gracious and interested and asked many acute questions about Rohan and its people. He could envisage her moving through Meduseld, but as yet he could not see her doing so at his side.
He thought her pale and grave and it was not until he began to describe their sea journey of the day before, not sparing his blushes in the re-telling, that Theoden saw the sparkle begin to return to the lady’s cheek. She did not laugh at his misfortune, but enjoyed with him, his many discoveries and when the interview was ended by her father’s arrival, Theoden saw only too clearly the quiet veil drawn over her face that blotted out the joy.
He had been pleasantly surprised when, ceremonial apparently ended, Dol Amroth had waved aside all objections and suggested that the young people take themselves off for an expedition, if Prince Theoden would care to see Edhellond?
Thus it was that he found himself, seated between the sisters as Imrahil and his crew set sail for the short journey across the bay. They had tied up the little ship at the foot of a set of wide stone steps and to bollards that had been designed for mightier ships than their frail craft.
At the top of the staircase a roadway, its flags broken now for the most part and overgrown in places, wound away before them.
“Lead on, sister,” said Imrahil and Theoden was surprised to see Ivriniel take the lead. Her train was trailing across low growing thyme and sea pinks and they followed her in a cloud of perfume.
The ruins of Edhellond, should have been a dead monument washed by the salt spray, the bleached marble bones of a city, that now only heard the cry of seabirds, but as they rounded a cluster of pillars Theoden began to hear music, winding towards him through the shattered walls.
It was harp music and suddenly Theoden bethought himself of his gift for Ivriniel, still in his pocket, but before he could say aught, they were entered into a paved square and around him Theoden saw many musicians, sat in clusters in the sunshine and he realised they were come upon a school for musicians.
As they passed amongst them, each little group was working on a different tune and yet there was no clashing of the sounds. He also became aware that there were many peoples represented there, their different costumes marking them out.
Ivriniel had stopped at the edge of a group surrounding one of the harpists from the banquet. He was playing a dance tune so that Theoden felt his toes begin to itch, but playing so fast that he thought if they tried to dance to it they might take flight. The harpist ended in a flourish and a burst of laughter and applause. Then he beckoned forward Ivriniel, who went to sit beside him. Someone gave her their harp and after laying her hands for a moment quietly on the strings, she and the teacher began to play – a lament for two voices.
Theoden felt Imrahil move close to him and turned to warn him away but was truly startled to see anger in the young man’s eyes, where, to his shame he would there were only desire.
Imrahil half turned so that his face was hidden from the crowd and glared at Theoden, hissing softly,
“This is where my sister would be, horselord, not exiled to some hillock in a sea of grass!”
Theoden struggled for words, but could only return, so softly that Imrahil had to lean in to catch them, that he had no desire to force any lady to an unwilling match.
The crowd around the harpists was growing. Gradually other groups had stopped playing and come to join the audience and Theoden realised that he stood in the presence of a truly gifted musician…and that even if they were persuaded both of them by their duty and their elders to make the match, his lady would be a lark without a voice, so far from the glittering harps of Belfalas.
The song ended and more speaking than raucous cheering was the moment of silence and then the softly swelling applause that grew and grew to thunder around the square in waves of sound.
Theoden thought he could see tears in the lady’s eyes and determined to let her know at the least that he would try to honour her first love, so he began to push his way through the crowd towards her, Imrahil behind him.
By the time he stood before her, the noise was dying away. Ivriniel was returning the harp to its owner and the teacher had laid his instrument across his knees and watched his approach with interest.
“Lady Ivriniel,” he began quietly, but firmly, “I had thought to present you with this gift at our meeting, but your kind interest in Rohan and my small adventures put it from my mind. Please accept it…and I hope they will serve lady,” he added ruefully, “for we had not your skill to know if they would sing.”
Ivriniel took the wrap of silk from his hand and opened the package. Theoden saw her pale, saw her hand shake as she reached into the stuff. Imrahil saw it too and stepped forward with a low growl that was cut short when the bard leant in and gasped, then threw back his head and halloed.
Ivriniel was lifting the coils of glittering metal from their wrappings and the bard was slapping his knees. Then he looked up at Theoden in amazement and cried out,
“My Lord, it is a wonder! The work of dwarf bards!” and when he saw that Theoden still had not grasped their import, he cried out
“These are mithril strings! Not since an age past have such been made.” Then he turned to Ivriniel and with awe in his voice said,
“These will voice the Lady Harp!”
Behind him Theoden heard a murmur run through the crowd and heard too Finduilas exclaim as she saw her sister begin to shake with grief and press her hands to her face.
In the banqueting hall, the crowd was fallen silent as Ivriniel came forward. One harper carried a low stool and another carried a harp like none that Theoden had ever seen. It was smaller than the instruments he was used to and almost squat in appearance, with a large sounding box, a strong curved top and a front pillar carved in the shape of an elf-maiden lifting up her hands in supplication.
It had taken many days and all the skill of the bards to string the Lady Harp and bring it to tune and at the last it was only Ivriniel’s hand that the harp would suffer.
As she sat down on a low chair and the harp was placed on the stool before her, Theoden saw Dol Amroth’s hands clench.
The first notes were soft, rippling in the air like the sweetest silver bells and as she played, letting the harp grow in power, terrify with its anger or caress them in love, Theoden believed that he saw the music shimmer in the air, hang in the candlelight, a will o’ the wisp.
The Prince had come to him with regret to tell him that his suit would no longer be entertained, for they could not part now with their dearest daughter who brought the music of their ancestors to life again. He would always be their most beloved brother, for his had been the hand that had made this wonder possible and whatever boon the Prince could grant, save that of marriage to the lady Ivriniel, he had only to ask. After some thought, Theoden had begged that Rohan be able to hear a harp player trained in Edhellond, play on metal strings and Thengel had been promised the services of a fine bard, Ulfwin and his daughter, Elfhild.
So it was that Theoden broke his journey once more in Minas Tirith with young Imrahil of the party, travelling with his father’s blessing, to see something of Rohan. The window shutter stood open and he could just smell the salt on the night air.
Theoden stretched lazily in his bed and ran a nail gently around the curve of his lover’s muscled arm. He leant in and pressed his lips to Imrahil’s shoulder.
“I will teach you to drown gladly in a sea of sweet grass,” he murmured softly.
There was a snort from the body beside him,
“Rather more to the point, Rohan,” said Imrahil, “I will teach you to swim.”