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Duty Bound  by Bodkin

Ensuring the Succession

‘You should be grateful that you are a younger son,’ Boromir declared.

Faramir attempted to suppress his grin and look sympathetic – failing, in his brother’s opinion, abysmally.  ‘And that I am not yet of age,’ he added.  ‘Although, short of falling foul of an orc’s arrow, that will not save me for long.’

Boromir scowled.  ‘Father is determined that we should produce sons of our own before anything like that can happen – he said he had been remiss in not remarrying, but that he hoped we would make up for his dereliction and produce heirs in plenty for our house.’

‘Has he already decided who should be their dams?’  Faramir sounded slightly uneasy, his brother was glad to note.  Denethor was not one to be crossed and, if he had his mind set on negotiating for the hand of suitably aristocratic and wealthy maidens of notedly fertile families, there was little or nothing his sons could do to change his mind.

‘I know not if he has decided who should be your bride, little brother – that may well depend of the outcome of the match he has planned for me – but he certainly knows whom he intends me to wed.’

The tall captain’s voice was unexpectedly grim.  After a decade of service with Gondor’s finest troops, Boromir was accustomed to taking charge of his campaigns and there were few in the field who could hold him to account.  The Steward recognised his skill in warfare and listened to his advice on military matters, even in the face of those who had led Gondor’s armies for years – but, when it came down to it, he required – and got – his son’s obedience. 

‘Do not keep me in suspense!’ 

‘It could be worse, I suppose,’ Boromir conceded.  ‘At least he has informed me before doing anything irrevocable.’  Not, he thought, that he had really been offered a choice – just asked to inform his father if he had a particular aversion to any of those on the shortlist.  With his father’s tone of voice telling him that he would not appreciate any such feeling being voiced.  ‘He has selected three he would not mind seeing as his daughter – and ranked them in order of suitability.  I think he has very little doubt that he will be presiding over my wedding to his first choice before the summer is out.’

‘Surely he will let you get to know her before you make an offer!’  His little brother sounded almost scandalised.  That was what you got from reading too much poetry – an unnecessary sense of the romantic.

‘You think so?’

‘Father was nearly twice your age when he married – and he has never entirely reconciled himself to Mother’s death!  Why is he in such a hurry to see you wed someone you cannot love?’

‘Have you any idea how many brats you can squeeze in your nursery in a score of years?’ Boromir smiled ruefully.  ‘Especially when it is put to you as a matter of state importance!’  He sighed.  ‘I suppose it will not matter much.  She will take up residence in the Steward’s House and assume the responsibilities of its lady – and I will still be with the army.  Father will see more of her than I will.  As long as I do my duty by her at regular intervals …’ Boromir shrugged. 

‘I do not think that the begetting of children is the only duty of a husband,’ Faramir declared.  ‘How can you expect any woman to be happy with such a … a bloodless match?’

‘I do not think happiness is on the list of requirements, little brother.’  The Steward’s heir looked at him ruefully.  ‘At least I can feel that I am saving you from having to rush into matrimony before your beard is full-grown.’

‘He is that determined?’ Faramir’s eyes met his brother’s anxiously. 

‘Probably not,’ Boromir reassured him promptly.  ‘I daresay he will grant you a year or two yet.  But I am not looking forward to arrival of my wedding night, little brother – and you should not envy my fate.  Not the least amount.’


She was pale and thin and looked about as keen as he felt to stand here in this stuffy hall, surrounded by hundreds of braying, dagger-eyed spectators, chosen and placed to reward or snub them according to Denethor’s assessment of their value to Gondor.  Tall, grey-eyed and dark-haired as befitted one whose lineage had been traced back with nit-picking detail through a raft of younger sons and disregarded daughters to the glory of the Sea Kings of Númenor.   Her formal gown looked slightly too big for her – as if she had lost weight since the stiffly-embroidered brocade had been measured.

Boromir felt a pang of guilt.  This was not what he had wanted, for sure, but he, at least, had an escape – in the field, riding abroad to support Gondor’s alliances, in the inns and houses of the city – but what could she do but endure?  His father had loved his mother dearly, but still she had paid for his greater devotion to the needs of state, until she had faded and died in the confining luxury of her silken prison.  Would it be like that for this girl?

He squeezed the cold hand he held, as much to convince himself that she was real as to reassure himself that he would not allow that to happen.

Two grey eyes, dark as winter rain clouds, shifted to meet his, as surprised as he was to realise that the man beside whom she stood was more than one of the chill white statues with which this place was infested.

The ceremonies carried on above their heads, declarations intended to assure that all Gondor knew the Steward’s heir had taken a wife – and that bonds of kinship had been forged between his house and hers, but both of those at the centre were able to ignore them.  Their part in this was no more than a word or two in confirmation of their acceptance of the fate chosen for them by their elders.  Indeed, their presence was barely necessary and would soon be dispensed with as they were dismissed to the bridal chamber to address dynastic concerns – while the serious business of politics carried on in their absence.

Afterwards, Boromir realised that he barely remembered any of the feast that followed.  His father’s speculative gaze as he regarded the girl he now called daughter, perhaps.  The warmth of Faramir’s clasp and the brotherly clap on the shoulder.  His uncle’s soft voice, underlaid with the rhythm of the sea he loved.  Before he knew where he was, her older sister and his aunt had escorted the girl from the table to prepare her to welcome him to her bed – and he was honour bound to follow.

The heavy door closed out the last remnants of the sounds of celebration and the sudden silence was – unexpectedly alarming.  The blood pulsed in his ears and his throat, he found, was dry.  Not what he usually expected on secluding himself in a woman’s bedchamber, where the atmosphere was more commonly one combined of laughter, intoxication and desire.

‘My lady,’ he said politely.

‘You may call me by my name,’ she said.  ‘If you can remember it.’

She almost had him there, he thought fleetingly – but years of practice in earning the affection of his troops had made him the master of the half-heard name.

‘Emeldís,’ he amended.

She sat up in the huge bed where custom had presented her – clad in fine white lawn and with her hair unbound – looking like a little girl dressed up in her mother’s garb.

‘How old are you?’ he asked.

She looked startled.  ‘Old enough, I am told,’ she told him, ‘to fulfil the duty demanded of me.’  She pressed her lips together to conceal their trembling.  ‘And young enough to do it many times over.’

He winced.  ‘You are not a brood mare.  I will not have you speak of yourself so.’

‘As my husband commands.’  There was an edge to her voice that informed him that it mattered not one whit how the idea was phrased, the reality was the same.

He sighed.  ‘This was not my choice,’ he said.

‘Nor mine,’ she replied.  ‘But we are here nonetheless.’

They looked at each other – neither of them able to think of anything to say to break the awkward silence.  It was up to him, Boromir realised.  She was younger and less experienced – his father would have made sure of that – and this was his home.

‘Wine?’ he asked and, without waiting for a response, he poured a generous amount into both of the glasses on the table by the fire and walked over to hand one to her. ‘It will warm you and make matters seem less – intimidating.’

‘I doubt it will be that simple.’

For a moment, Boromir was aware of a decided irritation.  He was doing his best, after all – the least she could do would be to meet him half-way.  Anyone would think that she had not wanted to marry him!  And he had enough experience of the ruthless hunt of high society to know that he was a prize worth having – and that many of those maidens who had attended the day’s nuptials had been weeping from frustrated ambition rather than any sentimentality.  Most of those who had felt impelled to voice their congratulations on his betrothal had considered that the girl had been undeservedly fortunate to be singled out from her peers and chosen as his bride – and she ought, at least, to be prepared to acknowledge that to herself. 

‘I am not, generally, considered to be that bad company,’ he said.  ‘Some people have even been known to seek me out willingly.’

‘I do not mean to offend you.’

She sounded defiant, as if she was afraid to show any signs of weakness.

‘This is not a battlefield,’ he said more gently.  He sat down on one of the red velvet chairs – she would, surely, be more at ease if he stopped looming over her.  ‘This is a marriage – a bond between two people.’

‘Only two?’ she asked.

He nearly barked at her in his best parade-ground voice before it occurred to him that she was probably not talking about his – his reputed interest in rather less respectable members of her gender, but referring to the link between houses.

‘Why did you choose me?’ she continued rather forlornly.  ‘Surely there were plenty of likely girls from more important houses from whom you could have had your pick.’

He hesitated, but decided to tell her the truth.  ‘I had no part in it,’ he admitted.  ‘My father made the decision.’  He smiled wryly.  ‘I do not believe the choice was as wide as you might think.  By the time the genealogists had drawn a line through anyone who was too closely related to me and ruled out any family that had allowed its blood to become diluted, there were not many left.  Then the candidates had to be judged on age and likely fertility – and their ability to support the role of Steward’s wife.  I was under the impression that your sister was first choice – but it seems my father came too late and she was already wed.’

‘The contracts had been signed,’ Emeldís agreed.  ‘My father was furious.’  She drew up her knees and wrapped her arms round them.  ‘But your father and mine decided that I would do instead.’

‘You are too young,’ Boromir exclaimed in sudden realisation.

‘Women can be married at fifteen,’ she informed him, ‘although it does not happen often.  I am well beyond that age.’

He looked at her in sudden sympathy.  ‘There is no need for us to consummate this union yet,’ he told her.  ‘We can wait until you are better prepared.’

She smiled wryly.  ‘And if we do not produce a child within the time laid down, my lord?  Should I be seen to fail in my duty?   Will the Steward have me put aside as barren?’ As Boromir blinked at her in confusion, she added, ‘Have you even read the marriage contracts, my lord?’ 

When he did not respond, she scrambled from the bed and held up her overlong nightgown to pad across to a chest under the window.  Boromir felt the first stirrings of interest as the fine fabric outlined her figure, but the sensation left him as she returned triumphantly with a scroll.  She proceeded to unroll it and pushed it in front of his eyes, finger stabbing at a closely-written clause until he obediently read it.

‘But that is outrageous!’ he declared.


‘She is nice,’ Faramir declared, as he topped up his brother’s flagon of ale and poured himself a rather more modest amount.  ‘Brave, too.  Well – except where you and Father are concerned and that is understandable.  She refuses to let the servants bully her – and they would, given half a chance.’

‘M’mm,’ Boromir grunted, taking a long swig.

Faramir glanced at him, but decided against saying any more.  He settled into his chair, back against the wall so he could look out into the taproom.  

‘She is a pleasant-enough girl,’ Boromir admitted grudgingly.  ‘Just – not really my type.  We get on well enough – and she is willing to please.’  He up-ended his flagon and gulped down the ale.  ‘Only Father,’ he said bitterly, ‘would be able to rob the act of all its pleasure.’

A crack of laughter escaped from his brother.  ‘Is this the big brother whose eighteenth birthday gift to me was a night’s entertainment at the Mermaid?  Are you becoming mealy-mouthed now you are a married man?’

A reluctant grin brightened Boromir’s face.  ‘Is this the little brother that recited Elvish poetry to the girl and made her cry?’ he retorted.  He paused and the smile drained from his face.  ‘This is different.  I have never before been forced to focus on the begetting of a child.’

Faramir sat back, one of his unspoken questions answered.  ‘It is a fairly standard clause,’ he said mildly, making a leap of association that would have amazed his brother, had Boromir not already drunk his way through several great pots of ale.  ‘At least in ruling families and for the eldest son.  It is rarely implemented.’

‘What guarantee would you care to place on that?’ his brother asked.  ‘Might not the reason Father settled on such a minor house have something to do with the ease of putting her aside?  The least I can do is give her a child and make her safe.  It has been six months now.’

‘I hesitate to ask this,’ Faramir grinned, ‘but are you sure you know what you are doing?’  Boromir scowled at him indignantly.  ‘A quiet word with the healers might be in order – they know there is more to the getting of babies than the act.’

His brother shook his head.  ‘Even mentioning the thought would put her under worse scrutiny,’ he said.

Faramir poured more ale as he considered the problem.  His brother accepted the mug and took a mouthful.  It was something of a relief to have his little brother thinking about the problem, he realised.  He trusted Faramir as no-one else – and he knew, none better, that his brother could find solutions where others only saw difficulties.

‘Take her to Dol Amroth,’ Faramir said after a few minutes.  ‘Get Emeldís away from the eyes watching her.  It will get you away from Father – and you can just get to know each other.  And talk to Aunt Almiriel.  She has had four children – she must know something about what it takes.’

Boromir turned the idea over in his mind.  ‘That is not a bad idea,’ he admitted.  ‘And I do not believe Emeldís has ever seen the sea.  She would enjoy that, would she not?’

‘Probably,’ Faramir said amiably.

‘I will do it.’  Boromir put his mug down on the table and dragged himself to his feet. 

‘Not now!’ his brother exclaimed in alarm, grabbing Boromir’s arm.  ‘If you want Father to agree, you will not speak to him when you have been drinking – and I daresay Emeldís would not welcome your return just now.’  He pulled his elder back down.  ‘Let us think for a moment how we can make Father decide to send you to Dol Amroth – then all you need to do is offer to take your wife with you.  He could hardly criticise you then for a lack of marital enthusiasm.’

Boromir blinked at his brother.  ‘You are very clever,’ he said approvingly, reaching for his ale. 

‘And you have already had too much of that,’ Faramir declared.  ‘Come on – let us walk up to the wall and have the wind blow away the fumes as we think how we can wangle this.’


A wife, Boromir had discovered, was not comparable to a junior officer.

For one thing, it was not possible to sentence her to punishment detail – and, for another, she always – always – had access to her husband’s ear.  And, however young, and however inexperienced, she was – and however irritating – she demanded respect and a gentle treatment that was quite different from the boisterous hail-fellow-well-met camaraderie of the barracks.

She had been surprisingly unenthusiastic about the journey to the sea – seeming almost to fear being taken away from the city.  He had had to put his foot down and insist – then endure a fit of the sulks that had lasted all the way down the Anduin.  I was not until they had entered the Bay that she had relaxed her suspicion and begun to enjoy the deep blue of the sea and the clean brightness of the sun.

‘What brought that on?’ he asked, holding her steady as she walked rather uncertainly to the stern to watch the land disappear behind them.

She shook her head, using her free hand to hold back the streaming black hair. 

Her husband looked down at her and a smile quirked the corners of his mouth.  ‘Did you think I might be planning to fasten a chain round your ankle and cast you overboard?’ 

Emeldís slapped his arm in reproof.  ‘I am not stupid,’ she announced.  ‘If you wished to drown me, you would have a much better opportunity here.  It was just …’

‘I will never send you back like an outgrown toy,’ Boromir promised. ‘No matter what.  You do not need to worry.’

‘Do not say that.’  She drew a jagged breath.  ‘You cannot be sure of it.’

‘I can.’  Boromir sounded very certain.  ‘I am not given to saying things I do not mean.  I give you my word, Emeldís.  Whatever happens, I will see that you are kept safe.’  He grinned.  ‘You may very well decide to dispose of me,’ he said.  ‘I have made sure you would be a very wealthy widow.’  He turned her to face him.  ‘And, while I am alive, my wife, I will protect you.’

She looked at him searchingly for several moments before nodding.  ‘You are very convincing, Boromir,’ she said.

‘But you do not altogether believe me.’

She shrugged.  ‘You cannot control everything – and things do not always turn out as we expect.’

He wrapped a comforting arm around her and gave her a reassuring hug.  It would take more than words to convince her, he knew by now.  He found that he sometimes wondered just why it was that his wife was so insecure.  There was – surely – more to it than simple worry over the timely production of an heir.  ‘So – what do you think of the sea?’ he asked.

‘It is big.’

He laughed.  ‘Observant of you.’

‘And it moves a lot.’

‘You are not, I concede, proving a good sailor.’

‘And it is going to take for ever to comb the tangles from my hair.’

He brightened.  ‘I do not mind giving you a hand,’ he offered.  She had nice hair, he thought.  Long and silken, black and straight, it reminded him of some of Faramir’s poems about elves. 

‘I can hardly arrive in Dol Amroth looking unkempt,’ she fretted.  ‘It will not make a good impression.’

Boromir laughed.  ‘My uncle will not notice,’ he said, ‘and my aunt will not care.  They are used to the winds that whip the coast – and will be more anxious to see you smile.’

‘And your cousins?’

He grinned.  ‘As long as you are prepared to tell her stories, Lothíriel will welcome you with open arms.   And Amrothos is probably the most curious child I have ever encountered – worse even than Faramir.  If you have anything you wish to keep secret, I suggest you avoid him.  The older two – we are unlikely to see much of them, except at meal times.  Between lessons and training, they are kept pretty busy.’ 

‘I like children,’ Emeldís said wistfully.

‘I daresay you will go off them when you have them round you all the time,’ he assured her cheerfully.  ‘I would rather deal with a troop of soldiers – they are far less trouble.’

‘Perhaps,’ she said, ‘you would feel differently if they were your own.’

His grey eyes met hers and he reached out carefully to smooth the wind-blown hair back from her face.  ‘We could,’ he said carefully, ‘make another attempt to find out – if you wanted.’

Her gaze held his and she drew a steadying breath before answering.  ‘If that is your wish, my lord,’ she agreed. 


‘She does not give me the impression, dearest,’ his aunt said thoughtfully, tapping her closed fan against her lower lip, ‘of coming from the happiest of families.  What do you know of them?’

Boromir shrugged, glancing at his uncle for help.

‘Her father is not in the highest councils,’ Imrahil offered.  ‘He attends the broader gatherings – and always seems to me …’ he hesitated briefly, as if unwilling to voice any criticism, ‘to be seeking the greatest advantage, regardless of principle.’

His wife smiled at him.  ‘What greater condemnation could there be!’ she teased affectionately.  ‘But I do not mean simply what of her father.  What of the family amongst whom she grew?’

‘We spend little time talking about that sort of thing,’ Boromir admitted.  ‘Should we?’

‘It might be pleasant if you showed some interest in her beyond the bedroom,’ his aunt said dryly.

‘She is the fourth child.’  He dredged him memory for more.  ‘She has an older brother and a sister who married shortly before our betrothal – and one brother who died in a childhood accident.  There are several – four, perhaps five – younger children.’

Imrahil’s wife sighed.  ‘I do not recall any talk about her mother’s reasons for not attending the wedding,’ she said. ‘I wonder why … that is most unusual.’

‘She could not come.’  Boromir knew that.  ‘She had recently given birth to the latest and was not considered strong enough to travel.’

The princess nodded slowly, as if the information reinforced something she suspected. ‘What does she say about her mother?’ she asked.

‘Nothing,’ her nephew said promptly.  ‘We spend more time talking about my mother than hers.’

His aunt and uncle looked at him.  ‘And not much of that, either,’ he admitted.  ‘After all, my visits tend to be fleeting – and quite brief,’ he said rather shamefacedly.  ‘Talking is not the matter most on my mind.’ 

‘Poor girl,’ his aunt said compassionately.  She raised her fan like a weapon and pointed it at Boromir.  ‘While you are here,’ she commanded, ‘you will walk with her and talk with her and treat her as if she is another living creature, with interests and hopes of her own.’

Imrahil shook his head at his nephew’s desperate look.  ‘Do not expect me to help you,’ he said with amusement.  ‘My sympathies lie with your aunt.  You are a man of action, Boromir, and, if you will take a word of advice in the interests of marital harmony, you will learn to act as if your wife’s words are pearls of wisdom.  At all times – even when they quite clearly are nothing of the sort.’


Emeldís held Lothíriel’s hand as they descended the steep steps from the castle walls to the beach.  It did not seem right, she thought, that she was receiving support from the little girl rather than offering it – but the child seemed completely unconcerned by the steep drop to the rocks below and skipped down the steps chatting merrily about … tides and rock-pools and limpets and shrimp and passing whales and all sorts of other things that were completely meaningless.

‘I had never seen the sea before I came here,’ Emeldís remarked.

Lothíriel stilled – stunned to silence, apparently, that there were people to whom the sea was alien – and turned to gape at the older girl.

‘It is beautiful,’ Emeldís added, ‘but rather – frightening.  There is so much of it.’

Dol Amroth’s little princess stared briefly at the constantly-moving water as if a friend had suddenly turned into a stranger, then resumed her swift descent of the steps, pulling Emeldís after her.  ‘You have to be sensible, of course,’ she said in an authoritative tone that sounded comic in one so small.  ‘You must not come to the beach alone and you have to be sure the tide is ebbing and tell the guards where you are going.  But there is no reason to be afraid of it.’

She was such a happy child, Emeldís thought – so confident.  It made her hope that nothing ever happened to shatter the girl’s world and make her realise how dangerous life could be.  It would, though.  Sooner or later, Lothíriel would be forced to realise that she was just a disposable piece in someone else’s game, there to be placed to their maximum advantage and with no voice of her own.  Or perhaps not – perhaps she would escape.  The Prince of Dol Amroth seemed to be an indulgent and loving father to his brood. 

Lothíriel let go of her hand and sat on the steps, pulling off her shoes and stockings and hitching up her skirt to tuck it through her belt.  She placed the small slippers neatly by the rock wall and jumped down to the pale sand, a look of delight on her face.  ‘Come on,’ she encouraged Emeldís.  ‘Let us go and look in the rock-pools – you will love them!’

The morning on the beach was fascinating, Emeldís found, like nothing she had ever seen before.  For all this … this rocky meeting place between land and water looked barren, it was filled with life.  Tiny life, mostly, and some of it rather unappealing – she had been forced to cover her mouth to hide her revulsion when Lothíriel had informed her that some of these repulsive-looking creatures might end up on the dinner table – but interesting to watch.  

And the little girl had chatted endlessly, treating Emeldís as a trusted friend to whom she confided all kinds of information, from tales of items washed up by storms in the bay, to legends of mermaids enticing sailors to throw themselves in the sea and stories about her older brothers and their antics.  Emeldís thought she had laughed more in this one morning than she had since her father had summoned her to put her name to the marriage contract.

High on the rock stairway, Boromir paused.  His wife seemed an entirely different person here – not the tense and rather defiant young woman he had come to know.  Not the duty his father had imposed on him, someone who faced the tasks of the heir’s wife with her shoulders determinedly held back, but a girl – her dress salt-stained and untidy, bare feet covered in sand, cheeks flushed with colour and a warm smile on her face as she played with his little cousin.

‘How did you and my aunt learn to deal with each other so happily?’ he asked rather despondently.

Imrahil looked at him with amusement.  ‘It took time,’ he said. ‘And patience.  And, I have to say, we knew each other well before your grandfather consented to a betrothal.  Adrahil was never one to insist on marrying his children off to the advantage of the house.’  He rested a comforting hand on his nephew’s shoulder.  ‘It was chance that your mother wished to wed Denethor,’ he declared.  ‘Had she rejected him, his position as Steward’s heir would not have gained him her hand, whatever he wanted.  You have a harder job – and many other things to do that keep you too busy to give getting to know Emeldís as much attention as it deserves.’

‘She is afraid,’ Boromir blurted out, ‘that, if she does not produce a son quickly, Father will have her put aside – perhaps for one of proven fertility.’

‘He would not do that.’  Imrahil sounded quite certain.  ‘Not, at least, until he felt he had no other option.  For one thing, it would be an admission that he had chosen awry – and Denethor does not enjoy being wrong.  And he knows that it can take time – after all, you did not arrive until your parents had been two years wed.’  He grinned.  ‘In fact, a child arriving too swiftly is not considered a good thing – it suggests intemperance and a lack of dignity.’  He squeezed Boromir’s shoulder.  ‘Come,’ he suggested.  ‘I promised my daughter I would play with her before the tide came in and washed away the rock-pools – and if I do not return her to her maid in time to get her cleaned up for lunch, you will begin to doubt that your aunt and I are really on such good terms, after all!’


Her husband was different here, Emeldís thought as she watched him teasing his cousins.  Less the commander, frowning over dispatches; less the richly-clad heir playing the simple soldier while he managed his father’s councillors; less the newly-married man, trying rather awkwardly to put her at her ease – more beloved kinsman, younger, more relaxed, happier.

‘He is a good lad,’ Imrahil murmured in her ear, watching him affectionately as he let Amrothos attack him with a wooden practice sword, fending him off with a battered wooden shield.  ‘He lost his mother at a bad time – neither young enough to weep out his grief, nor old enough to understand it.  He is afraid of hurting you – but without enough sense to ask you what you want.  You will have to tell him, if you want to get him past stepping round you as if you will break.’ 

Emeldís’s eyes opened wide.  Boromir appeared so overwhelmingly confident that it seemed impossible that anyone – let alone someone who knew him as well as Imrahil did – should think that she might have the upper hand in any part of their relationship.  ‘But …’ she protested.

The prince smiled at her reassuringly.  ‘Perhaps you should talk to Almiriel,’ he suggested.  ‘She knows more about him than he probably suspects – and she would do a great deal to ensure that he is happy in his marriage.’

Boromir yelped as Amrothos managed to clip him on the knuckles.

‘You have to keep your attention on what you are doing,’ his cousin informed him.

‘I will try to bear that in mind.’  The captain in Gondor’s army grinned.  Not that the lad was wrong – but it was difficult to focus on this game with Emeldís in quiet-voiced conversation with his uncle.  There was no knowing what they might be saying to each other.  ‘You are getting quite skilled,’ he said.  ‘Last time we tried this, I had far less trouble with you.’

‘You should try a practice bout with Elphir,’ Amrothos suggested.  ‘Now he is good.

‘I will,’ his cousin said, straight-faced.  ‘If he is prepared to give me a chance, that is.’

Emeldís watched him – she had never imagined that Boromir could be playful.  She found that he was a great deal less intimidating like this – more likeable.  As she stood to follow – reluctantly – his uncle’s advice, he glanced in her direction and smiled warmly, distracted for just long enough to let Amrothos through his guard.

As she fled, she could hear the youngster’s crow of victory echoing across the lawns and Imrahil’s burst of musical laughter at the discomfiture of the noted warrior.

Almiriel was sitting beneath her roses, an embroidery hoop resting on her lap, but she was not bothering to stitch, instead watching contentedly as her daughter poured tiny cups of some brightly coloured liquid for her dolls to drink, her voice taking on different tones as the child provided the words for each of the participants in her game. 

The princess smiled and patted the bench beside her as Emeldís hesitated in the gateway.  ‘It reminds me of when I was her age,’ she admitted.  ‘Although I confess I was more inclined to make my dolls ride off to challenge dragons to battle.  I was never as feminine a little girl as Lothíriel.  I never found it fair that boys got to have all the fun in stories, while girls stayed at home and waited for them to return.’

‘Except Lúthien,’ Emeldís remarked.  ‘But none of my brothers ever wanted to play Beren.’

Almiriel laughed and shook her head.  ‘My brother, also, refused to play any game where he had to fall in love.  He used to say it with the utmost disgust, too – as if there could be no worse fate.  Being captured and put to torment was infinitely preferable, it would seem.  I am glad to say,’ she added impishly, ‘that he fell very deeply in love with a suitable maiden and married her – and she winds him round her little finger.’  She leaned back and inhaled the fragrance of the first of the early white roses scrambling over the arbour.  ‘This is my favourite time of year,’ she admitted.  ‘The castle is beautiful, I admit, but it is draughty and damp and, in the winter, so cold.  There are times when I would happily exchange it for a cosy house with windows that fit tightly and rooms small enough to heat.  It is one of the things I enjoy about visiting Minas Tirith – our house there is far more comfortable.’

The expression on Emeldís’s face made her smile again.  ‘Not, I concede, something that can be said about Denethor’s dwelling.  Poor Finduilas was constantly asking him to consider modernising – but he never got round to it, and, since her death, I think he has made it something of a shrine to her.’

‘I am afraid to move anything,’ Emeldís confessed.  ‘Lord Denethor does not say a word if I do – but, somehow, I will go to endless trouble to replace everything exactly where it was before.’

‘He was a very different man before Imrahil’s sister died,’ Almiriel said.  ‘Still quite – aloof, I think describes it best, and far too intelligent for his own good, but a loving husband and father.’  She watched Lothíriel’s game.  ‘He blames himself, I know, for her death.  Even now.’

‘Mama,’ the girl carried her tray of little cups and small cakes across the grass. ‘Milui says that you should have tea with us.’

‘Thank you, sweeting,’ Almiriel smiled, taking a sip of the orange liquid. ‘Delightful.  May I have a cake, too?’

Emeldís raised her cup to her lips, but something about the smell made her feel vaguely queasy again.  ‘What is in it, Lothíriel?’ she asked, looking at it doubtfully.

‘Just juice,’ the little girl told her, gulping the contents of one cup in a single mouthful.

‘Peaches,’ her mother said rather more precisely.  ‘And passionfruit.  Lothíriel adores it – and finds that holding tea parties for her dolls generally enables her to obtain rather more than she would be granted otherwise, as they generally allow her to drink their share.’

‘It is just …’ Emeldís put the cup down and leaned back to inhale the fragrance of the roses and try to clear the cloying scent of the juice.  ‘I do not think …’

Almiriel looked at her sharply before turning to her daughter.  ‘Your father and brother – and your cousin – would doubtless appreciate a chance to share your generosity, poppet.  Why do you not take the juice to them?’

Her daughter looked at her sceptically, but obligingly removed herself together with the tray of cups.  After all, it was not often that she was actively encouraged to involve the males of the family in her games.

‘How long have you been feeling like this?’ Almiriel asked gently.  ‘Unwell at times – and a little … delicate, I suppose I could call it, for want of going into any more detail out here.’

‘A few days now, I suppose,’ Emeldís admitted.  ‘A week or two?  I did not really want to travel this far – although I am glad I did,’ she added hastily.  ‘I would not have wanted to miss meeting you all.’

‘Well,’ Almiriel smiled as she patted the girl’s hand, ‘at least there is one matter that need no longer concern you.  We will have to get confirmation from the healer, of course, but I think I have enough experience to know what might be making you feel unwell – and I believe you will be pleased at the news.  I suspect the succession of the Steward’s house is shortly to be made more secure.’


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