|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search|
World of Difference
Written for fun.
Something was tickling her nose. Sara batted away the irritant impatiently, but whatever insect had chosen to plague her was persistent and annoying, hovering right over her face. Sighing, she sat up and blinked hard… what the... How long had she been asleep? Certainly not long enough for her father’s neatly mown lawn to turn into…a hay meadow? No, not a hay meadow, as looking around she saw that the grasses seemed to stretch forever – well at least to the foot of the distant, white-topped mountains. Mountains – in Surrey!
Sara let out a sigh of relief, she was dreaming of course. Falling asleep after one of her mother’s famous Sunday lunches – not to mention the sherry and the wine – was inevitable, and normally pleasurable. Then why did she feel a deep unease creeping over her? Pinch yourself, that’s what they said to do when in that world between dream and reality. She grabbed hold of her calf muscle, and squeezed hard. Oww! That was too hard, it hurt, and she bruised easily. Sara closed her eyes, opened them again and the mountains were still there.
Before she could comprehend any more, she became aware of shouting in the distance, shouting and the thunder of hooves. Getting to her feet she shaded her eyes with her hand and looked to where the clamour was coming from. A dozen or so horsemen were charging in her direction, they seemed to be chasing something. As they got closer she saw they had spears raised as though they were about to throw them. Spears? Sara felt the first fluttering of real fear in the pit of her stomach.
Then, unbelievably, she saw that the men on horseback were chasing some kind of wolf. Bigger and uglier than the ones at the safari park – bigger than any wolf she’d ever imagined. And it was coming her way. Panicking she looked around for escape, but saw nothing to aid her except a stunted tree some distance away. Could she get to it before the thing reached her? But suddenly the animal became aware of her presence, it swerved, heading for her and cutting off any chance of flight. Sara could see its jaws open in an evil grin as if already relishing chomping through her flesh.
Rooted to the spot, too frightened to move, she saw the lead rider raise his spear high above his shoulder. He pulled back his arm and launched the weapon, which seemed to glide through the air in slow motion as it tracked towards her. Wolf or spear, whichever, her end was near.
Blood soaked her shirt, splattered up onto her face, the smell making her retch. The animal slithered forward until its snout rested right against her foot, then with no more than a couple of jerks, it lay still, the spear still quivering in its body.
She turned away from the horseman closing on her, vomiting into the grass. When she looked up again, the man was studying her through the slit eyes of his helmet. His gaze left her face, travelled down her body and landed on the tops of her suntanned legs. His eyes lingered on her exposed limbs, took in the brief white shorts and her bare feet and then returned to her face as he barked out a terse question.
‘Who are you, woman? And what are you doing in the Riddermark?’
Riddermark? What was he talking about, and what a strange accent, she could only just make out what he was saying. Sara wiped her hand across her mouth and stood up straight, trying not to be intimated by the unfriendly greeting. Unfortunately the size of his horse meant she had no chance of looking him straight in the eye.
Best not to show how scared she really had been, which would put her at a further disadvantage. She drew herself up to her full height. ‘I am not doing anything,’ she said as haughtily as she could. ‘You, however, are hunting and we both know that is against the law.’ At least fox hunting was banned; the beast dead at her feet was as far removed from a fox as a lion from a kitten.
‘Hunting banned?’ He sounded so incredulous that she wondered if she had got it wrong. With a swift movement the rider removed his helmet and shook out a mane of dark blond hair, before fixing stormy eyes on her. A tanned and handsome brute, used to getting his own way, she imagined.
‘Hunting is not banned here, lady. And even if you Gondorians are too soft to hunt wargs yourselves, then I doubt you would want the creatures running amok over your lands.’
Another rider came up; he’d already removed his helmet. With his fair hair braided at the sides he looked younger and less frightening than his companion, but not nearly as arresting. ‘What’s going on, Sire? Who’s this? She looks like she’s lost all her clothes. Don’t say a warg tore them away.’
Sire? What...! He didn’t look like a king. And then Sara realised – she must have been so fast asleep that her Lord of the Rings mad sister had taken advantage of the effect of lunchtime drinking and bundled her into the car, dragging her to the Medieval event going on in the next village. The Tolkien Society had a stall there, she remembered. Wait till she got hold of Jessica, frightening her like this! Nothing to worry about, she told herself: the mountains were some kind of set, and the beast at her feet clearly not real. Pretty good though, as the cow blood or whatever it was had pooled in the grass where the spear had struck the model’s side. How on earth did they make the thing move so realistically?
‘You need to cover yourself,’ the ‘king’ said. He clicked his fingers at his companion and the young man deftly removed a cloak from where it was tied behind his saddle. He threw it at her with a face devoid of expression. She caught it instinctively, her fingers closing over coarse, scratchy wool.
‘Why would I want to put this on? It’s not cold, and anyway wool makes me itch.’
‘Cover yourself,’ the ‘king’ ordered. ‘It is not seemly to show your legs like that.’
Well, of all the cheek! How dare he boss her about! ‘Just because you want to parade around dressed like...some sort of medieval warrior, I don’t have to join in. I never did see the point in grown men playing at war games, and as for the women dressing up in kirtles and laced bodices then no thank you! And,’ she felt she had to make her point, ‘if I ride a horse, I do so in the proper attire and don’t risk getting tangled in my own skirts!’ Besides, she had always hated dressing up. At the last event her sister managed to drag her to, everyone had worn really weird garb, and Sara knew it would never suit her to be bundled in skirts and petticoats. The food had been quite good though, especially the honey cakes. But even the sweet cakes hadn’t been enough to make her the slightest bit interested in even pretending to go back to a time when women were not free to do as they pleased. ‘Next,’ she said witheringly, ‘you will be expecting me to cook for you!’
The king’s mouth thinned to an angry line. ‘You, woman, are in my realm, and you will do anything I say, or anything I wish.’
‘In your dreams, sunshine! I am going home. You lot,’ she waved a hand at the group of riders who had gathered around, astonished looks on a dozen faces, ‘had better get going too. It’s Monday tomorrow and you’ll have to forget all this nonsense and return to real life.’
‘Lady.’ Sara shuddered at the ice in his voice, causing her to hesitate. Something was not right here. She looked down at the wolf at her feet, the blood clotting over thick grey fur, the pool of it dark in the grass. She smelt the stench of the animal, saw the way its eyes had clouded and flies clustered around the wound. Truth dawned – of course the thing was real, what had she been thinking? What was this? Involuntarily, she started to shake.
The king’s dark gaze impaled her; lethal and deadly, just like his spear. ‘You are coming with us.’
Swallowing, she nodded, trying desperately to stop the trembling in her legs, which threatened to have her back on the ground. ‘Right. Okay,’ she capitulated, not seeing any choice. ‘But tell me where I am. One moment I was asleep on my parents’ lawn in Surrey, the next...’she waved a hand in an incredulous gesture towards the range of high mountains, it being patently obvious to her now that it was not the backdrop to some bizarre festival. ‘I have no idea how I got here.’
‘She must have lost her memory’, the man at the king’s side offered. ‘Perhaps she‘s taken a blow to the head.’
The king nodded, his hard expression softening a little. ‘So it seems. Hopefully she will recover and we can find out what goes on here and why she has been left in this destitute manner.’
‘Am I still in England?’ Sara asked hesitantly, annoyed as her voice came out in a frightened whisper.
‘England? I do not know this England. You, lady, are in the Riddermark, land of the Horse-lords. And I am the Lord of this land,’ he said not unkindly.
Her mind froze for a moment and then a terrifying thought pierced through her numbness. She wasn’t in England; she might not even be on Earth. Oh god, she’d been taken by a UFO, deposited on some planet where they would observe and experiment on her. See how humans reacted to such appalling experiences perhaps.
Before she had time to assimilate her dreadful situation, the king – she had to consider he might really be one now – jumped down from his horse. He took the cloak from her shaking hands, wrapped it right around her and lifted her effortlessly off her feet.
She struggled in his arms, panic setting in. ‘What are you doing?’
‘Cease worrying, lady. I am taking you to where you can be cared for. Perhaps your senses will return and we will find out how you got here and what happened to you.’ Before she could protest any more, he deposited her on top of his horse, swung up himself in one easy movement and tucked her against him.
Sara tried to relax, difficult when wrapped in a scratchy cloak and sitting hard against a man clad in stiff leather. Not much room between him and the high pommel of the saddle either. And whatever the thing was that protected his knee dug into her calf, and her thigh chaffed against the saddle. She was hot. And she bet he was too under all that armour. The motion of horse and the warmth made her sleepy, but she needed to keep alert and work out how she was going to get out of this nightmare. How she was going to get home.
‘Where are we going?’ she asked after a while.
‘Straight back to Edoras. I am hoping that was the last of the wargs, but I will send another patrol out tomorrow to make sure.’
Edoras? Wargs? Something sounded familiar, but she couldn’t place the words even though she was sure she should recognise them. Racking her brains produced no results. Suddenly she became aware of a ripple of excitement, or perhaps just awareness, running though the group of riders. Looking up from contemplating the king’s large hands and how he expertly controlled his stallion with barely a movement, she saw two riders galloping towards them.
The king held up his hand and all slowed to a halt behind him. They waited for the two galloping riders, the king’s stallion blowing nosily down his nostrils. Threat or greeting, she wouldn’t like to say.
The man in the lead reined in at the last moment, pulling his horse around so he ended up right next to the king. His eyes flicked over her for a moment before he bowed his head.
‘Éomer King. A message came from Prince Imrahil. They are only half a day away and will be here by nightfall. We thought you would like to be in Edoras to greet the Prince and Lady Lothíriel when they arrive.’
Sara felt a slight tensioning in the king’s big frame before he answered. ‘They are two days early, I was not expecting them so soon.’
‘Evidently a storm threatened and they thought to get over the mountains before it hit.’
The king nodded, looking towards the mountains where dark clouds now obscured the peaks. ‘I need to get home in time to welcome my friend and my betrothed, lady. We will set a faster pace, but I will not let you fall.’
Sara was hardly listening. Her thoughts jumped around like firecrackers. Éomer and Lothíriel – she had certainly heard those names before. Her sister, unable to get her to read the book or any of the fanfic stories she glutted on, had insisted on reading out some passages from one of her favourites fics only last week. Sara had to agree the piece had made her laugh – it was about Princess Lothíriel being given marital advice from some prude of an aunt. She even remembered the name of the story – Lothíriel’s Journal. In it the poor princess was going to marry King Éomer even though she had never met him. It was funny, but it wasn’t real. Not that Lothíriel seemed a bit put out. In fact she was thrilled with the prospect.
And if that wasn’t real then what the hell was this? Sara ran through all the options she could think of before deciding that she must have gone through a portal into another time and place like Alice. Gone into a magic land like Narnia. No, her head pounded, it was even worse, she had gone into a book! Éomer, she remembered, was the King of Rohan, and her sister had drooled over him. And, heavens, was she in Lord of the Rings itself or in some rubbishy fanfic story?
With many thanks to Lia for her excellent Beta work and also to the Ladies of the Garden of Ithilien Workshop for their continued support. LBJ
Wonder replaced fright. She would have to work out a way sort this conundrum –after all the children got back from Narnia okay, didn’t they? Anyway, she still might wake up and find it all a dream. Not seeming to be in any immediate danger, and with nothing she could do for the moment, Sara decided to enjoy what the experience offered for a while. After all hadn’t she been told she possessed an adventurous spirit? And her gap year spent travelling had not passed without the spice of danger.
‘How far to Edoras?’ she asked the king. Or Éomer as she thought of him to herself. Could she call him that to his face? No, best keep to being polite until she knew exactly how things were. Although it would stick in her throat to call anyone Sire, let alone a character from a book!
He pointed to a distant hill at the foot of the mountains. ‘Not long, but we will slacken pace soon to cool the horses.’
Good. The stallion had a smooth gait, but it was still not comfortable bouncing around in front of a solid, leather-clad warrior. And her inner thigh would likely be raw from contact with his saddle. She tucked the cloak in a bit more, glad of its protection. From the saddle and from the man. He and his men certainly seemed to be real flesh and blood. Somehow she had thought they would be more unearthly, having come from a story, but she had seen scratches on the back of his hand when he had removed his glove. His flesh definitely bled, and the heat of his thigh against hers left her in no doubt that there was some kind of life in the handsome shell. He smelt alive too, of sweat, horse and clothes that had been worn for too long.
True to his word Éomer slowed the party to a walk as they approached the town. There were big gates and houses climbing up the hill, which was crowned by a large building. Probably the hall. She remembered seeing it on one of the films her sister insisted on watching over and over again. That was the trouble with sharing a flat. One thing was different though – there were no long faces. The film had portrayed a wretched group of people that had put her right off. But all were smiles here and the king warranted no excessive salutations, just a polite bow from happy looking adults and children alike.
The houses were also a lot prettier than those miserable dwellings shown in the film. Roses – the open, single petal ones that smelt so gorgeous – twined up many of the supporting pillars. And herbs grew beneath the windows, some she recognized like thyme and sage, but others were strange to her, looking more like weeds. Sara looked around her with interest, taking in the intricately carved decoration on the houses that bordered the stone steps leading up to the hall.
‘We dismount here.’ Éomer’s deep voice woke her from her contemplations. Already a young man stood at the horse’s head waiting to lead the stallion away. ‘I normally take Firefoot to the stables myself, but I felt you shiver,’ he carried on. ‘I deem it best to get you cared for, lady.’
Well, it might have been a tremble he’d felt, after all who wouldn’t be a bit nervous, but it certainly wasn’t a shiver. Wrapped in wool against a hot male body had left her burning. But he obviously meant well and came across as compassionate. It could have been worse.
Without saying any more Éomer jumped down from behind her, immediately reaching up to lift her to the ground. Here goes, she thought, blanching a little at the fix she was in. She felt in no immediate danger, but how soon would they realize she was not of their world?
‘Found her out on the plains, Hergyth.’ Éomer shrugged at the housekeeper’s startled expression. ‘We’ve no idea where she comes from and she doesn’t seem to know either. Perhaps a bump on the head accounts for it. I’ll leave her to you to look after. She has no apparent injury, but the healer should be called to examine her.’
Hergyth, a middle-aged, stout woman with a rosy complexion, looked her up and down with a bemused expression on her face.
‘Tell me what you find out, Hergyth.’
The housekeeper nodded. ‘I’m deciding where to put her, lord. Looking at her hands she might be a lady.’
Éomer grabbed hold of one hand, staring at the manicured nails. ‘Very likely, doesn’t look as though she’s done a day’s work in her life.’
‘Oh, I haven’t,’ Sara put in quickly, her whole body shaking. ‘And I am afraid I don’t know how to cook either.’ At least she still had her wits in spite of the terrible predicament she was in – if she was going to stay for a while, she certainly didn’t want to be treated as a servant.
He continued to examine her, his keen gaze fixing on the gold chain around her neck. ‘Yes, I think we must assume she is of noble birth, Hergyth.’
Éomer narrowed his eyes, looking for some hint in her demeanor. Or perhaps some truth. ‘Are you sure you don’t know who you are or even where you come from, lady? It would help if we knew.’
It was no good saying England, that meant nothing to them. Best to be vague until something happened to get her home. ‘I remember my name, it’s Sara.’ She had to be called something after all. He frowned, presumably at the strange name. ‘But nothing else,’ she said quickly. ‘Although I think my home might be somewhere to the west and north. But it’s only a feeling I get.’
It must have been the right thing to say because his eyes opened wide. ‘Of course, the black hair. I thought she was from Gondor, but she must be one of the northern Dúnedain.’
Dúnedain, who the heck were they? Should she deny it? Best say nothing and hope that this nightmare would end.
‘Then what’s she doing here, lord? And dressed so strangely in materials I have never seen before.’ Hergyth, who had been staring at her cotton t-shirt, frowned. ‘But Lord Aragorn will be here for your wedding, so perhaps he will be able to shed light on this mystery.’
‘Maybe.’ Éomer stared at her once more. ‘Very well. Treat her as an honored guest, Hergyth. Prince Imrahil will arrive soon? He is astute and far seeing, so may tell us more. And anyway, perhaps…Lady Sara… will recover her memory.’ With a nod he turned, striding back towards the entrance to the hall, and Sara was left with Hergyth.
‘Well, I am not sure where to put you, my lady. We are going to be that crowded, what with the wedding. And our soon-to-be queen is coming tonight, earlier than we thought. I wonder if she would mind you sharing with her until she moves in with Éomer King. If you are Dúnedain as Éomer King suspects, then it would be fitting.’
The woman couldn’t make a decision, so Sara helped her out. ‘I suppose she can always object when she gets here. Do you know what she is like, Hergyth?’
The housekeeper shook her head. ‘No, and Éomer King has only met her once. But I will say for all their high status, neither Prince Imrahil nor his sons are too high and mighty to join in with the common folk. Hopefully Lady Lothíriel is the same.’
Sara shuddered; the poor girl, coming to a strange place to marry a man she had met only once. But it was not her business. ‘Then if there is nowhere else, I suggest I use that room until the princess says differently.’ Goodness, Sara almost chuckled out loud, when did she start being able to give orders? It must be the teacher coming out in her, not to mention her bossy nature.
Perhaps giving orders was the right thing to convince Hergyth of her ‘noble blood’, as the as the housekeeper gave a decisive nod. ‘Of course, my lady. I will take you there right away. I imagine you might like to clean up a bit once the healer’s seen you. And I had better find you something suitable to wear.’ She gave some instructions to a maidservant, who hurried off, and then beckoned to Sara to follow her.
The housekeeper led her through the hall to the rear and Sara hardly had time to take anything in except an impression of a richly tiled floor and the sun slanting through high windows. Hergyth opened a door to the right of the raised dais, revealing a corridor that led to a number of rooms. She pushed open the door to one.
‘This used to be Lady Éowyn’s room before she went to Gondor to marry Lord Faramir. She’s not coming to the wedding, owing to being near her time, so I put Lady Lothíriel in here. There’s a spare bed you can use.’ She pointed to a tapestry couch that stood along one wall. ‘I will make up a truckle for the princess’s handmaiden, or they can share. Some do.’
The main bed was quite large with a canopy over the head end, covered by richly embroidered material. Sara would have liked to sleep in it, but supposed a princess would take priority. To be honest she was lucky not to be on a straw pallet in the servants’ quarters. Her reverie was interrupted by a knock at the door, and in came two maidservants. One carried what looked to be a pitcher of hot water and the other a tray bearing a cup of steaming liquid and a plate of small cakes. They were closely followed by a tall, thin man – the healer no doubt.
But although he carefully examined her head, he found no bump, not surprising Sara at all. After a few murmurings about overwrought females when he felt her pulse he left, saying he would send a draught later to calm her. Calm her! Let him be dragged through a portal into a blasted book and see how calm he felt! Sara took a deep breath, panicking wouldn’t help!
‘You might want to wash up before you take some sustenance, Lady Sara. And change.’ Hergyth’s gaze fixed on Sara’s bare legs poking out from the cloak and with a tut, she gave orders to one of the maids to search the cupboards for suitable clothing. ‘The tea will keep hot for a while.’
Tea! Oh just what she could do with. Perhaps things weren’t so bad, maybe they had Earl Grey. But after she had washed her face and hands Sara discovered that ‘tea’ was rather a misnomer. ‘What is it?’ she asked after taking a sip.
Hergyth looked surprised. ‘Barley tea, flavored with some of the first bramble fruits and a bit of clover honey. Aren’t you familiar with it?’
She had better be careful what she said. At least until she figured out how to get back to her own time. ‘Ah, well we do have…bramble tea. But the barley is new to me.’ Well, she was familiar with lemon and barley water of course, but barley in tea?
‘That’s strange, I am sure they must grow it in the north.’ Hergyth frowned, but luckily her attention was taken by the maidservant returning with a couple of dresses thrown over her arm.
‘Ah, some Lady Éowyn left behind.’ She looked Sara up and down. ‘You are much of a size, so they should fit.’
Goodness, she had never thought she would wear anything like the dress handed to her – jeans and t-shirts being more in her line. So much material! But she did like the soft green color and guessed it to have been dyed with some plant. Not that she had any idea what – not being a bit knowledgeable in that sort of way. She taught maths and business studies for heaven’s sake!
And it was a bit odd to have someone dressing her, or braiding her hair, that hadn’t happened since she was a child. But she supposed if she was masquerading as a lady she had better get used to it. The maid stared at her lace panties like they were something evil, but Sara didn’t react, instead wondering if she could wash them out every night, as there seemed nothing except a sort of linen chemise to wear under the gown. Luckily it being hot back in Surrey, she was not wearing a bra – that would no doubt have caused even more astonishment.
She eyed the suede shoes warily, so flat and with pointed toes, but there didn’t seem to be anything else on offer. Luckily they fitted, even if they were not the most comfortable things she had ever worn. But as the maid tied the last lace on the dress Sara did admit to feeling slightly good – rather feminine in fact. Something she had never bothered about before. Perhaps that haughty, golden Adonis who called himself a king would look at her more favorably now.
Hergyth, who had disappeared when she was dressing, reappeared looking a little flustered. ‘They’re here. We all need to go to outside to welcome them.’
‘The princess, you mean?’ Sara asked.
‘Yes, and her father and brothers. Prince Imrahil is always esteemed, being a good friend of Éomer King, but Lady Lothíriel needs a special welcome as she is going to be our queen.’
She bustled out again and Sara followed – biting back a chuckle – who would have thought she would be mixing with royalty! Surely she would wake up soon.
By the time she reached the platform outside the hall she could see that a dozen or so horses and riders were arriving at the bottom of the steps. King Éomer didn’t bother to wait with the others, but ran down to meet them. He clasped a tall, elegant, dark haired man around the shoulders, embracing him in what looked to be a genuine enthusiastic welcome. Likewise with two other men, from what she could see probably the prince’s sons. Then King Éomer turned to the lady, who pushed her hood back from her head before making a formal bow. Sara watched fascinated as King Éomer took her hand to his lips.
After a few words the whole party started to ascend the steps – the princess on the king’s arm.
Oh, she was pretty, Sara realized. Black hair worn in a long plait, delicate features and a slim but shapely figure. Studying the lady as they got nearer, she thought her eyes were grey; they were certainly long-lashed. She supposed if it was what they called an arranged marriage, then the king had done well, as long as the Lady Lothíriel had a temperament to match her looks. The Princess held her head high, looking around her with interest, although Sara, with nothing to do but observe the tableau in front of her, detected an undertone of wariness. Understandable – the poor girl had only met her future husband once and they would be married within a few days. She hoped a princess could handle an arrogant king.
Sara gave her attention to the others as they milled around greeting men they knew. The prince’s sons were good to look at; in fact the younger one reminded her of Luke Pasqualino, the guy who played d’Artagnan in the Musketeers – another of her sister’s TV must sees. Why Jessica had such a mania for swords and fighting, Sara couldn’t fathom. She was a gentle little soul really.
The older one, a little more muscly and strong featured than his younger sibling, suddenly noticed her. ‘Who’s this, Éomer. A new face?’
‘Ah, this is our mystery guest, Lady Sara. We found her alone out on the plains.’
Immediately all eyes turned to her speculatively, causing her face to heat.
‘She has lost her memory,’ Éomer continued, ‘possibly from a blow on the head. She seems well and we are hoping she will soon remember who she is. Imrahil,’ he turned to the prince, ‘she has the look of your race, but says she comes from the North. I am hoping Aragon will be able to shed light on her identity, but you might like to talk to her and see what you can discover.’
‘Of course.’ Prince Imrahil stared at her with a slightly puzzled but compassionate look. Under his calm scrutiny something happened to Sara’s insides, a sort of nervous fluttering she couldn’t remember feeling before.
Then he smiled reassuringly, grey eyes full of concern. ‘I will wash up and take some refreshment and then we will sit down and talk, my dear. See if I can help you.’
Prince Imrahil smiled again, sending Sara’s senses whirling. His two handsome sons had caused barely a ripple to her equilibrium, but there was something in his smile and in those fathomless, wise eyes… good heavens, her heart pounded against her ribs – she had never fancied older men. Why now!
She didn’t really want to talk to him, scared he would see past the woolen dress and the braided hair – to what lay hidden beneath. A girl not of his world, a girl lost in a swirl of mixed up time and fantasy. A girl strangely attracted to this warrior prince. And he a man…no… a character born of someone’s imagination. Old enough to be her father; grandfather?
His elegant bearing, smooth, tanned skin, and black hair, only touched by silver, gave Sara no real clue as to his actual age. She glanced across the hall to where his sons stood talking – grown up men. Seeing them she could not deny their father’s advancing years.
She stared at his hands: bronzed like the rest of him. Long slim fingers curled around the stem of his goblet - clean, manicured. A musician’s fingers she would have called them, if she did not know the calluses came from grasping a sword. And any bow he held would dispense death, not sweet melody. Prince Imrahil was an enigma, she decided, a graceful, intelligent man, honed and hardened like tempered steel. The knowing, assessing look in his grey eyes as he watched her both frightened and fascinated her.
She took a sip of wine, unable to meet his gaze.
‘Well, my dear. You have had a chance to rest and take sustenance. The healer can find no evidence of any injury, so have you remembered anything?’
She’d remembered everything, but could hardly say so. How did you tell these people they were not real and only part of a book, or, even worse, part of a fanfic story? Would they think her a witch and hang her from the nearest tree? She shuddered; all she wanted to do was go home before this nightmare got any worse– wake up back in her parents’ garden. She would never eat three Yorkshire puds or touch her mother’s sherry again!
‘No, nothing, I am sorry.’
‘But you remember your name?’
She shrugged, but said nothing more. Not showing any irritation at her unhelpful response he continued to question her, gently and thoroughly.
No, she could not explain why her clothes were so strange and made of such unusual materials.
And she had no idea if the Dúnedain had access to different fibers in the North. And who were these Dúnedain they kept mentioning? Why did they think she was one of them?
Could she ride? The question, on top of queries into her ancestry, took her by surprise. Yes, she could. Well.
Prince Imrahil nodded at her answer. ‘Then you could have arrived from somewhere by horse, and perhaps have been thrown.’
She could, she supposed, but she hadn’t. And how long before they found out she knew next to nothing about their world and gave herself away?
Perhaps realising he was unlikely to obtain any more information Prince Imrahil stood up. ‘Come, the meal is nearly ready. I will introduce you properly to my daughter. I am surprised she did not rest, but I imagine she was too excited.’
Or nervous, Sara thought. Poor girl. She took a deep breath, wondering if she should just confess and be done with it – surely Prince Imrahil was enlightened enough not to burn her at the stake, or something equally awful. She opened her mouth to say she wanted to talk more when she caught sight of a group of Rohirric women in their homespun and shawls, and stopped herself. Wasn’t it the women who used to wield the ducking stool?
The Prince was looking at her strangely. ‘Were you going to say something, my dear? You look as though you might have remembered –’
‘No,’ she said quickly. ‘It’s just that I was trying hard to do so.’
He nodded. ‘It will come, don’t worry. And Aragon may be able to help you, or even Gandalf. It’s suspected he will turn up for the wedding, being very fond of Éomer.’
Gandalf! Heavens! Wasn’t he that wizard played by Ian McKellen in the films her sister watched just about every week? If anyone could see through her it would be him. Sara gave herself a mental shake what was she thinking? None of this was real! Prince Imrahil was looking at her, obviously expecting some response. She managed to push down her anxiety. ‘ I hope it’s all sorted soon,’ she said. ‘It’s disconcerting not to be in control of one’s life.’
A look of sympathy crossed the prince’s face; he took her arm and patted her hand, causing a frisson of awareness to travel all the way down to her toes. ‘You must not worry: all will work out. And in the meantime you are safe in Éomer’s court.’ He smiled. He really did have a lovely smile. ‘Now meet my daughter, I am sure you will get on and she is very empathetic to those in trouble.’
The princess did look genuinely pleased to meet her, her lovely face and cool grey eyes lighting up when her father called to her. Sara wondered whether to curtsey, though none of the Rohirric women had when the princess arrived. Just bowed. Sara did the same, feeling very awkward – she had never bowed to anyone. She’d curtsied once – but that had been in a play at school. Anyway, the bow seemed to go down well as Lothíriel showed pleasure at the introduction. But she soon frowned when her father quickly explained the circumstances of Sara being there.
‘How awful for you. You must feel very strange and even a bit frightened, I imagine.’
That was putting it mildly. But the princess displayed nothing but genuine concern and Sara instantly warmed to her. But how in heaven’s name could she have feelings for a character in a book! First the father now the daughter. She realised that Lothíriel was still speaking and swung her attention back.
‘I understand we are sharing a chamber. That pleases me as we are both strangers here and can learn the customs together. I have read a lot about Rohan of course, but it is different actually being here.’
She looked excited when she said that. Sara found her attitude difficult to comprehend – how could she be so pleased to be marrying a man she had met only once before? But at that moment King Éomer strode up, taking his betrothed’s arm very gently but with a decidedly possessive air. The caring look he gave the princess softened his features, making him look almost benign. So he had a gentler side, did he? And Sara admitted he had been very kind to her once he realised she was in trouble. Good looking, brave and kind. So she supposed the princess could have done worse if arranged marriages were the norm around here.
‘Hergyth will show you to your place, Lady Sara. Lothíriel, you are of course sitting next to me.’ The King led off his future wife and the housekeeper bowed to Prince Imrahil. ‘You are next to Éomer King, my lord. Lady Sara, come with me.’
Ah, that told her something: if Prince Imrahil was addressed as my lord, then it was okay to address his daughter as my lady. She’d been wondering about that. Oh no! All other thoughts left her mind – she was being led to a place next to one of Prince Imrahil’s sons. The one who looked like that musketeer. The one with mischief in his eyes. And it was hard enough to keep herself from making a dreadful mistake and giving herself away without having to bandy words with a handsome young prince. She would have to be very careful.
He stood when she reached the chair next to him, bowing and pulling out her seat. At least he had manners. Not that she was used to being treated like that, only by her father anyway. Most modern men would not dare to treat a woman any differently than they would their male friends – women’s lib, gender perception, or whatever it was called now. Shame really, wearing a dress and have a male looking after you could be quite nice. Although strangely she would rather have attention from the father than the son. How odd was that?
‘Well, my lady, was my father of any help to you? Have you remembered where you have come from?’
She shook her head, looking down at the table rather than meet his rather perceptive eyes. But then she realised that she didn’t have to sound unbothered by her predicament. Anybody who had lost their memory would be distressed and flustered, so if she were agitated it would be a natural consequence of her difficulties. That thought gave her confidence. ‘Your father was very kind and tried his best to help, but I still have no idea how I got here.’ Well that was true, anyway.
‘But you remember your name. Strange.’ He glanced at her hand. ‘You wear no ring, so maybe you have no husband, but you are old to be unwed.’
Old! She was twenty-four!
But,’ he carried on, ‘if you are one of the Dúnedain from the North, then it would not be so unusual to be an innocent.’
Did he look disappointed? Perhaps married women were fair game and innocents not to be touched. Of course no twenty-four year old girl in her century was likely to be an innocent, but he wasn’t to know that. Sara looked across to where Prince Imrahil was sitting next to the king. If she was going to risk finding out if these people really were solid flesh and blood then…
A plate of some kind of shellfish was put down in front of her at that moment, interrupting her thoughts. They looked like big oysters – she didn’t like oysters.
‘Freshwater mussels.’ She felt Prince Amrothos’ gaze on her; how long had she been staring at the plate?
Mussels! So they were cooked, thank goodness. ‘Yes, of course, I was trying to remember if I liked them.’
‘Only one way to find out’, he said, sounding rather amused.
She nodded, looking around for some cutlery. There was none. Immediately Prince Amrothos clicked his fingers towards one of the servers. ‘The lady needs a knife.’
A dagger was put in front of her. How did one eat with just a knife? And such a sharp one? Sara surreptitiously looked at the others around her; they sliced the mussel things from their shells and held them with their thumb before putting them in their mouth, drinking the juice from the shells afterward. Thankfully she managed to copy the manoeuvre without slicing through her lips. ‘Oh,’ she said as the first one slipped down. ‘It’s delicious.’ She tasted cider and onions; it must have been cooked a little like moules- marinière. Some things were familiar anyway.
The rest of the meal passed perfectly pleasantly, the food recognisable and tasty, if a little heavy on the meat for her taste. A lump of venison certainly explained the need for a dagger. However spoons carved from horns were passed around when she was served a fruity syllabub. She couldn’t imagine eating that with a knife.
Mercifully the young prince stopped his questioning, his attention taken by a conversation going on about horses. She risked a glance towards Prince Imrahil and found him watching her with a shrewd, thoughtful look. He smiled and raised his cup in a silent toast. What did that mean? Sara acknowledged the gesture with a quirk of her lips and then turned away quickly, his gaze far too knowing for her shattered nerves. She took a gulp from her own cup, a rich red wine, hoping it would relax her. The warmth stole through her body, but she didn’t dare drink much as she needed to keep her wits about her. And anyway she should have finished it before the syllabub: it didn’t go down at all well.
Prince Amrothos suddenly turned to her again, interrupting her musings. ‘Do you like to ride?
She nodded. ‘Yes, I do. Very much.’
‘Well, no doubt you would like to join us in the morning. Éomer is taking us a few miles out onto the plains; he wants to show my sister some of the Mearas.’
‘The noble horses of Rohan, allegedly brought from the west by Oromë,’ Prince Amrothos explained. ‘Béma to the Rohirrim,’ he added when she looked blank. He shot her a sympathetic look. ‘Never mind, if you are used to riding, it may jog your memory.’
In spite of her misgivings, he was kind, she realised. But then his father was kind. His sister shared the same traits it seemed. Sara only hoped she was not as perceptive as her father and brother appeared to be. Sharing room with a girl as far removed from herself in time and upbringing would already be fraught with difficulty.
Sara felt exhausted, the day’s events catching up with her. How long would this go on? Not that the singing and playing was not excellent, the Rohirrim must take after the Welsh with their vocal achievements. Or was it that the Welsh took after the Rohirrim? Too confusing to think about. And anyway, not all spoke so she could understand them, there were many in the hall that obviously only spoke their own guttural language. It made listening difficult. Now she just wanted to sleep. Luckily at that moment Hergyth approached her.
‘You look tired, my lady, Princess Lothíriel intends to retire; you might like to do the same.’
Yes, she would. Within a few minutes she found herself being led towards the bedchamber she had been allocated earlier, where the princess was already being attended to by her maid. Sara saw that a nightgown had been laid across the couch, along with a coloured quilt and a pillow. A bowl of water and a couple of cloths stood on a nearby table.
‘Shall I send you a maid, my lady?’ Hergyth asked.
‘No, no, I can manage, thank you. But I need something to clean my teeth.’ And she needed to wash her panties.
Hergyth looked a bit surprised and pointed to a small bowl Sara had taken no notice of. ‘Everything is there, my lady.’
‘Ah…thank you. I didn’t see.’ Powder and small wads of what looked like wool, obviously one scoured ones teeth here.
Hergyth nodded. ‘Is there anything else, my lady?’
Well, she had to ask. ‘I am possibly going riding in the morning, but I have nothing to wear.’
‘Don’t worry. Lady Éowyn left plenty of clothes. I will find you something.’
Hergyth left with a bow to her and the princess. Lothíriel had already climbed into bed and her maid was still folding up her clothes. Sara quickly stripped off and pulled the nightgown over her head when their attention was taken. She whipped off her panties from underneath the voluminous garment, and dumped them in the bowl.
‘What are you doing?’ The princess sounded interested, not condemning. Sara sighed.
‘I am washing my undergarment; I only have one with me.’
‘Undergarment? Let me see.’ The princess hopped out of bed, ignoring her maid’s tut-tutting.
Reluctantly Sara pulled the panties from the water, wringing them out as best she could. She laid them out on one of the cloths, sure they would dry by the morning – after all there wasn’t much to them.
‘How strange,’ Lothíriel remarked, fingering the delicate lace. ‘Come and look at this, Bregwen, I have not seen anything like it before.’
The maid put down the pile of clothes and joined her mistress in the perusal of Sara’s panties. Bregwen gave a derisive sniff. ‘Never seen the like either,’ she huffed. ‘And I can’t imagine they’d be much use to a body anyway. Wouldn’t keep out a bit of cold.’
‘No,’ Lothíriel agreed. ‘And I thought you came from the North.’
Sara knew she had to put a stop to this. ‘I just feel more comfortable wearing them, habit I suppose. It’s tradition in my family.’
‘Oh, you remembered something.’ The princess looked genuinely pleased. ‘You have a family, I am so glad for you. But I expect they will be worried. Is there anything else you can recall?’
At least that drew the princess’s attention from her panties. ‘I am afraid not, but hopefully the memories will gradually come back.’ Sara yawned. ‘I must go to sleep now, my lady. It’s been a long day.’
‘Yes, for both of us,’ the princess agreed. ‘Worrying for you, but exciting for me.’
‘You are happy at the prospect of your marriage?’ Sara could not resist asking.
Lothíriel let out a very un-princess like giggle. ‘If you had seen some of the other suitors for my hand you would not need to ask that. My father gave me free choice, but I knew he wanted me to marry Éomer. And when I met him…’ a dreamy look came over her lovely face.
‘You knew straight away?’
‘Well, to be honest I was very attracted when I first met him, what woman wouldn’t be?’ The princess giggled again, invoking another sniffy response from her maid, which she ignored. Only raising her eyebrows to Sara before she carried on. ‘And over the last few months we have kept up regular correspondence. I feel I know him very well by now. We have made plans to restore prosperity to Rohan after the ruinous war. I shall enjoy helping him with that endeavour.’
Sara smiled. ‘Then I wish you well, my lady. And hope you will be very happy.’
‘Thank you, Sara. May I call you Sara?’
‘Of course, my lady.’
‘Lothíriel will be fine,’ the princess responded. ‘I am sure we will be good friends. In fact why don’t you sleep in the bed with me? Bregwen can take the couch.’
‘The way you fidget I shall be glad to, my lady,’ the long-suffering maid huffed. ‘And anyway I won’t disturb you in the morning.’
‘Oh, we will be up early; we are going riding with King Éomer and my father and brothers. They like to go in the cool of the morning.’
So Prince Imrahil would accompany them. Sara felt that same quiver of excitement she had felt earlier.
‘Then in that case I suggest you both get some much-needed sleep,’ Bregwen retorted.
Sara snuggled down into the soft mattress thinking however much Lothíriel fidgeted it was unlikely to stop her sleeping.
The curtains being pulled back woke her. Sara blinked for a moment not realizing where she was. The truth came back in a flood of anxiety. Another day to get through! Surely something would happen to get her out of this mess. But what?
Sara was just swilling her face with water when Hergyth appeared, a pile of clothes over her arm. ‘A riding outfit and a couple more dresses for you, my lady.’ She put the dresses over the back of a chair and laid the ‘riding outfit’ on the bed.
Sara tried not to react negatively to the unusual clothes. There seemed to be a very full skirt made from lightweight wool, some soft suede leggings, a linen shirt and a woollen tunic. She would just have to watch Lothíriel to see how you rode a horse in that get-up.
‘Thank you, Hergyth. They look as though they fit.’
‘Should do, my lady. But I can’t find any boots.’
‘Oh, I’ve got a couple of spare pairs,’ Lothíriel interjected. ‘We look about the same size.’
Hergyth nodded briefly. ‘Good, that settles that. And now I must leave you to finish dressing. Food is laid out in the hall for a quick meal. But I know Éomer King wants to be off before the day heats up.’
Hergyth bustled out, leaving Bregwen fussing over her mistress and Sara wondering what she had got herself into as she pulled on the clothing. The moss green skirt tied around her waist and was almost a complete circle, no doubt to enable it to drape over the horse. The leggings were a bit tight on her and rather uncomfortable. Thank goodness she had managed to retain her panties. The shirt felt scratchy, but she liked the tunic very much — a lovely dark green with a sun motif on the chest. She looked across to the princess; Lothíriel was wearing a similar outfit to herself, albeit in richer colours – a dark blue skirt and a waistcoat in a mixture of various bright blues and turquoise. As long as she copied her new friend she would probably get through this.
The boots did fit, although Sara would not like to walk far in them, she realized, as they made their way to the hall to break their fast.
It seemed everyone rose early, whether they were going riding with the king or not. Food had been laid out on a long table and the procedure was obviously to grab a plate, help oneself and sit down. Sara put an apple, a hunk of bread and a slice of white cheese on hers, feeling a bit self conscious when without any ceremony Lothíriel led her to where the king and Prince Imrahil were sitting. The princess sat next to her future husband, so Sara had to sit next to the prince. Not an imposition in itself, but she could do without meeting his far-seeing grey eyes this early in the morning.
‘You slept well, Lady Sara?’
‘Yes, thank you, my lord.’
‘And you had no revelations during the night,’ the prince probed.
She shook her head. ‘Unfortunately not, my lord.’ None she could tell him about anyway.
‘Well never mind, we will get you on a horse and see if that helps.’
It might have been better for Prince Imrahil not to escort her to the stables; being so close to him was not good for her equilibrium. The touch of his hand on her elbow as he guided her down the steps started woke feelings she had never really had before. Not even in those heady moments of her first love affair. A sort of sense of belonging as though this was meant to happen. What rubbish, she told herself sternly, this was no more real than ghost ships and aliens, a figment of someone’s imagination. Possibly hers. Perhaps she was ill with fever and in a delirium, or….
‘Stop thinking too hard, I can tell you are,’ the prince said softly in her ear. ‘Allow things to happen in their own time, I am sure all will work out.’
‘Perhaps,’ she replied, ‘but at the moment I feel like a fish out of water.’ Or a child out of their depth!
‘Yes, being out of time and place is disconcerting,’ he said as they reached the gates to the stables.
Oh, heck. Her heart thumped. Did he know? But his enigmatic gaze showed no concern. She swallowed. Maybe she should keep her distance, but even if she wished to, and she admitted she didn’t, there was no possibility as Prince Imrahil took her arm, drawing her closer. ‘For the moment enjoy the day and the ride. Not many get a chance to meet the Mearas. They only come close to Edoras on significant occasions like the King of Rohan’s wedding.’
Sara cast an astonished look up at the prince. ‘How ever do they know he’s getting married?’
‘They are the spirit at the heart of Rohan, of course they would know.’ Her astounded expression caused him to laugh. ‘Not all things are explainable in this world of ours. You coming here, for instance.’
She froze. He must know! What should she say? But before she could formulate an answer a large grey horse was led up to the prince. His attention was immediately taken. Thank goodness! She would just have to carry on and hope she found a way out of this nightmare. Sara concentrated on the horse.
‘Meet Thangail.’ The prince indicated the big grey. ‘He’s young, but learning daily.’
The horse turned intelligent eyes on her for a moment, dismissing her overture of friendliness when he realised she did not have any titbits secreted on her person. The prince laughed and fed him a bit of apple, passing a couple of pieces to Sara. ‘Save one for your own mount, here she comes now.’
A stable lad was leading up a leggy bay mare; he gave her a respectful nod. ‘She’s lively, my lady,’ he said very slowly, struggling with the words, ‘but we were told you could ride.’
Yes, but could she ride with that weird saddle? She could understand the warriors using ones with a high pommel and cantle, but ladies didn’t need one like that surely. But then she supposed she should be thankful she didn’t have to ride side-saddle.
‘I am afraid the Rohirrim make no allowances for ladies, nor would they want them, I imagine. Lady Éowyn certainly wouldn’t, but then neither does my daughter.’
The man could read her mind! ‘No, it’s fine. I will be fine.’ Luckily Lothíriel was just mounting, with Éomer’s help, and Sara watched how she draped her full skirt over her horse’s rump making sure it hung down to cover her legs.
‘What’s her name?’ Sara asked the stable lad just before the prince moved to help her into the saddle. The lad looked helplessly towards the prince and mumbled something totally incomprehensible to Sara.
‘Autumn Glory,’ Prince Imrahil translated. He gave her a wink. ‘Or as near as makes no odds.’
The horse, whether she had the right name or not, had obviously been beautifully trained. Sara could tell the mare wanted to get going, but found no difficulty in keeping her mount under control, even with the unusual saddle and different riding position. And the horse’s light, easy gait was going to mean a comfortable and pleasurable ride. Sara decided to try and forget about her problems and enjoy the experience. She would go back to worrying later on.
Once out the gates she looked around eagerly, having been so full of anguish and fear she had not taken much notice of the scenery until they had arrived in Edoras. But the whole low-lying land around was swathed in murk, only some grassy mounds poking out above the mist. Burial barrows of the past kings of Rohan, the prince told her. Once past the mounds they forded a wide stream, tendrils of smoky vapour curling up around their horses’ hooves. The Snowbourne. Evidently, it joined with the Entwash, which tumbled down to join the Great River that ran through Gondor. Not that the information meant much to her –having no idea where Gondor actually was. But she realised the Prince was trying to jog her memory. He’d have had more chance if she’d actually read any Tolkien! But the conversation ended as the group left the trees that clustered around the stream and reached the open plain. The early morning mist still lingered over the grass, but King Éomer, riding in front, picked up the pace and soon the whole group were covering the ground at a fast canter along what was obviously a beaten track, marked occasionally by tall stones. She just had to follow behind and trust the king knew the way was safe.
‘Too many of us to gallop without it becoming a rout,’ the prince said. Sara didn’t mind, these wonderful horses cantered nearly as fast as some sluggards she’d ridden had galloped. A mile or so on Prince Amrothos dropped back to ride with them for a while. Sara had the distinct impression he was expecting his father to give way and leave his son to talk to her, but Prince Imrahil chose to remain close to her side. Eventually the young prince gave up, riding off with a rise of his brows and an amused smirk on his handsome face.
‘That young man gets too much his own way,’ the prince remarked. ‘I like to exert my authority occasionally’.
Sara laughed; she imagined the prince had no trouble doing that whenever he wished. She looked around, seeing the grasslands and the lower slopes of the mountains still obscured by a misty haze. The peaks however gleamed in the morning sun. They had travelled quite a way already. ‘Do you know how far we are going?’ Sara asked. She hadn’t actually ridden for a few months.
The prince indicated a knoll someway ahead where the mountain above them spread itself like a long finger onto the plain. The knoll was topped by a ring of trees that stood out above the haze. As they got nearer Sara could make out a herd of horses gathered around its base, their shapes just discernible. Even as she looked the scattered herd came together, all looking towards the approaching riders.
‘They are waiting for us,’ she exclaimed.
The prince laughed. ‘I think it is fair to say they are waiting for Éomer. And possibly for my daughter. I certainly hope so, for if they are, then the right decisions have been made.’
Sara dragged her gaze from the horses and stared at the prince. ‘What do you mean?’
‘Éomer is in need of a new horse; Firefoot is past his prime now. Traditionally the King of Rohan rides a Meara stallion. But only if they approve of him. I am sure that will come about, but I also know that Éomer is trusting they will approve of his choice of bride and one will agree to carry Lothíriel. It is a long time since Rohan had a queen, so he is not quite sure what will happen.’
Sara couldn’t quite take that in. ‘Do I understand that the horse makes the decision?’
The prince nodded. ‘Watch, and let us hope the meeting is successful.’ At that moment two horses appeared from the trees at the top of the knoll, they cantered down to the waiting herd, which parted to let them through.
The group of riders had come to a halt now, and started to fan out in a semi-circle with the king and the princess in the centre. The whole herd moved towards them with two horses a few steps in front. Sara had never seen such proud looking horses, all of them various shades of grey or white; some had black manes and tails, others silver. The two coming towards them were white, with silver manes and tails. They stopped some yards away, seeming to bow their heads in greeting.
‘The lead mare and her stallion,’ Prince Imrahil murmured. As though the bow was a signal, King Éomer led Lothíriel forward to meet them.
They were too far away for Sara to hear the words, but it was obvious that King Éomer was speaking to the pair of horses. After a moment the mare bowed her head again and the king did the same. The mare let out a whinny and immediately another horse came forward. It was the grey of a dove’s wing with a long silver mane. It went right up to King Éomer, huffing into his hand when the king held it out to him.
‘A young stallion,’ the prince whispered to her. ‘Just what Éomer needs.’
‘He will train it?’ Sara asked.
Prince Imrahil shook his head. ‘I doubt there will be much training needed.’ He sighed. ‘Now comes the challenging part. Will they accept Lothíriel?’
‘If they don’t, will that be a hindrance to her being queen?’ Good heavens, she was hanging on the will of a horse now.
‘No, they will still marry, but the portents will not be as good.’
King Éomer said something to his betrothed and at his words she walked her horse forward a few paces, sitting still when the lead mare approached her. The mare bowed her head and Lothíriel did the same, then the horse went right up to her, nosing into her side near her heart. Lothíriel smiled, but sat motionless as the mare examined her. The horse turned its head and Sara could swear it said something to the stallion, because the huge horse spun around and let out a loud whinny, which was answered by the whole herd. After a few minutes the group of horses quietened to silence and from its midst a beautiful mare stepped forward.
Sara felt the air tighten, the humans appearing to hold their breath as the mare walked proudly up to the princess. It was certainly a lovely animal – her coat a myriad of shades of misty grey, mane, tail and shiny hooves the deepest black. The mare nuzzled into the princess’s hand.
Beside her, Prince Imrahil let out a relieved breath. ‘It looks as if your daughter has been accepted,’ Sara said.
‘Yes, and what a horse,’ the prince murmured.
With the formalities completed, the semi-circle of riders broke up with Lothíriel’s brothers talking animatedly, obviously discussing each and every horse displayed in front of them. Then suddenly, with the toss of her head and a shriek, the lead-mare called her herd together. Within moments a long tail of horses were heading out to the plain, vanishing into the mist almost in the blink of an eye. A slightly stunned group of riders looked to where they had disappeared. If it weren’t for the fact that two horses still stood next to the king and the princess Sara would have thought she had dreamt the whole episode. A dream on top of a dream!
King Éomer raised his hand and he and Lothíriel wheeled their mounts around, heading back to Edoras. The two mearas cantered one each side of them, no rein or order needed.
Amazing, absolutely amazing. Whatever came out of this conundrum, she would always remember the incredible happenings she was experiencing. At least she hoped she would remember, it would be a shame if all were obliterated when she woke up, returned to reality, or whatever.
The ride back gave her time to think, as the prince seemed to be mulling over the happenings of the morning. She couldn’t blame him, for if, as she suspected, he had orchestrated the betrothal, it must be a relief to have his meddling vindicated. Her thoughts turned back to the decision she had to make – should she tell the prince where she had come from? Maybe she should have trusted him and been honest the night before. But if she had, what would the consequences have been? The thought of what might happen frightened her, but if she didn’t tell the truth, how on earth was she to get back to her own time?
Suddenly she was aware of a surge of excitement travelling through the group of riders around her. One of the guards in front pointed out across the plain. The sun was well up now, the mist burnt off, and Sara shaded her eyes with her hand to try and make out the cause of such interest. Ah…heading through the grass towards them was a group of four horsemen, the one in front trailing bright white robes. Wow! What a horse! It moved with fluid grace, seeming to float over the grass like a beautiful yacht skimming the waves.
‘Mithrandir,’ Prince Imrahil told her. ‘And he has persuaded Glorfindel to come as well as the twins. That’s Elladan and Elrohir, Master Elrond’s sons,’ he explained. ‘From the direction they are coming I imagine they have travelled through Lórien. I can understand them wanting to look.’
She had no idea what he was talking about and her blank look must have alerted him. ‘Mithrandir is called Gandalf here,’ he clarified. ‘I mentioned he might come?’
Now she was in trouble. Not for a moment could she imagine that a wizard, real or fantasy, would not notice that there was something odd about her. But in spite of her worry it was not the wizard that noticed first.
Sara kept her horse back, away from the jumble of riders greeting each other. The prince had left her side to welcome the wizard, whom he obviously held in deep respect. She had just started to bring her racing heartbeat under control when she felt eyes upon her. Sara looked up to meet the piercing gaze of a golden-haired being. What exactly he was she didn’t know – he had pointed ears, a bit like Spock with blonde hair. Pointed ears! She dredged her memory – he was an elf! And so were the dark-haired, aristocratic looking twins he was talking to. Three pairs of questioning eyes fixed on her; Sara felt heat rising to her face and her pulse rate went into overdrive. Alerted, perhaps by his companions’ interest and the tension between her and them, Gandalf broke off his conversation with King Éomer and the prince and fixed her with a penetrating stare. He frowned, a look of perplexity crossing his face as he urged the great horse he was riding closer, holding Sara rigid with just a commanding gaze.
Another moment’s intensive scrutiny of her and he turned to King Éomer. ‘This is an unexpected happening; I deem a mistake has been made. How did this woman get here?’
The Ducking Stool was specifically used as a torture method for women. It was situated by the side of a river. The device comprised of a chair, which hung from the end of a free-moving arm. The victim was strapped in and then the chair would be swung over the river by the use of the free-moving arm. The woman would be ducked into the freezing cold water. The length of immersion into the water was decided by the operator and the crime of which the woman was accused. It could last for just a few seconds but in some circumstances this punishment process could be continuously repeated over the course of a day.
‘You know this lady, Gandalf? She appeared under strange circumstances and seemingly can tell us nothing about herself.’ The king’s eyes narrowed as he stared at her. In fact they all stared at her, although Prince Imrahil flashed her a sympathetic smile.
The wizard frowned. ‘Know her? No, I do not know her. Know of her, perhaps I do. But was I expecting to see her? Of course not. Did I not say a mistake has been made?’
The whole party looked a little confused at this, all except the three elves who just looked thoughtful and interested.
It seemed to Sara that Prince Imrahil was holding onto his smile, fearing it would turn into a full-scale grin. ‘Perhaps, Mithrandir,’ he managed to say, ‘you could explain to us mere mortals your thoughts on our visitor’s origins. For she, and we, would be happy to hear them.’
‘I imagine she knows exactly where she comes from. Even if she has not had the courage to enlighten you. But her presence here is proof that the line of the Men of the West endured through the long eons of time, in spite of the changes wrought on Arda by fire, flood and upheaval, as well as the destruction inflicted by men themselves in their continuing fight for dominance.’
No one looked fazed by this uttering, which had Sara baffled and more than a little wary. Was he saying she was back in the historical past of her planet, and not in a story at all? She had trouble believing that, but any moment now everyone else was going to realize that she came from another world, another time. Her insides clenched at what that would mean for her. Would it be better if she just owned up? She had been wanting too since she got here, now there was probably no choice but to do so.
‘So you are saying she is of the Dúnedain line, Gandalf?’ King Éomer had grasped the essence of the speech anyway.
‘Really, Éomer, you only have to look at her to see,’ the Wizard tutted. ‘He threw a benevolent smile in Sara’s direction. “I think it would be better if you helped us out here, my dear.’
Sara swallowed. What should she say? How could she explain such an event? All stared at her, the gaze of the golden-haired elf burning right into her eyes. Maybe it would be best just to blurt out the truth. But then what? She had no idea how they would react. She shivered at the thought of them all turning on her but what else could she do? They were waiting expectantly and she took a deep swallow. ‘I don’t know about being Dúnedain, that means nothing to me. But I come … come from some other time, I think.’ She didn’t feel it wise to accuse these people of being just characters in a book.
‘As I thought.’ The Wizard nodded, obviously pleased with himself. ‘Your fea shows me that. But I will need to question you further before I can fully understand.’
Fea? What did he mean? No matter, he knew, that was the only important thing. ‘I did nothing to cause this, I have no idea how it all happened.’ Sara blinked back a tear and looked beseechingly at the wizard.
‘Of course not, my dear. How it happened I am not quite sure. The challenge of working out why is already causing my thought patterns to collide alarmingly.’ He beamed at them all. ‘It just shows what can happen when one expects to just enjoy a peaceful ride on a beautiful day. To think I had nothing more pressing on my mind than the speech I intended to make at your wedding, Éomer.’
The Rohan king frowned. ‘I thought there was something odd going on with this woman. Hergyth reported that her clothes were of materials unknown to us. And now if I understand this, we are being told that Lady Sara comes from some other age.’
‘I think, ‘Prince Imrahil said in a voice that resonated with appreciation, ‘that maybe she arrived in Rohan somewhat by accident.’
Prince Amrothos moved his horse slightly to get a better look at her. ‘Are we sure about this? It seems a strange idea to me.’
‘Well, it doesn’t to me.’ King Éomer shrugged. ‘No stranger than immortal elves and walking trees, anyway.’
‘But why?’ Prince Amrothos persisted, ‘If she is descended from the Dúnedain, would she not materialize in Dol Amroth, or in the North? Why Rohan?’
‘I didn’t have a choice,’ Sara murmured. Did they think she had somehow engineered this? ‘I had no intention of leaving my own world, but after falling asleep on my parents’ lawn I woke up somewhere on the plains of Rohan. Believe me, I did not wish to come here.’
‘The answer to your question, Amrothos, is obvious ,’ the wizard declared. ‘I am here, and not in Dol Amroth.’
Everyone seemed to accept that. Sara didn’t. Why she would end up anywhere other than where she had been comfortably snoozing was a complete mystery to her. She surreptitiously pinched herself, willing this whole nightmare to be just that – an awful dream. Although to be fair her situation could have been a lot worse. It didn’t look as if they were going to chop off her head or burn her at the stake. Even the king saw nothing particularly odd about her being there. If she ever got home she would definitely read the darn book and find out more about them. If she got home! She must! Finally admitting to herself that it probably wasn’t a dream, she turned to the wizard.
‘Gandalf.’ Her voice sounded reedy and thin, fright taking away her natural confidence. ‘Can you help me get home?’
‘Possibly. Probably. I will think on it. There may be an auspicious time just after the wedding. And Elessar will be here. That will help.’ He turned to the three elves. ‘I knew you came for a reason.’
With no more to be discussed at the present time, King Éomer ordered the party forward towards Edoras. Once more Prince Imrahil rode alongside her not saying anything at first, as she kept her head down discouraging conversation. Feeling shaky and weak she let her mount follow the horse in front with minimum participation from herself.
‘Don’t look so worried,’ the Prince eventually said, ‘Mithrandir will sort things out. ‘ Sara shot her head up, trying to read his expression. He smiled. ‘Not immediately hopefully, I don’t wish to be robbed of your company too soon.’
‘You don’t mind?’she asked tentatively.
‘Mind that you never told me the whole truth or mind that you will be leaving us shortly?’
That was the second time he’d intimated he would be sad to see her leave. Sara pushed that aside for a moment. ‘When we talked I never admitted I knew where I came from. I was frightened no one would believe me,’ she said.
‘Understandably so. But I assure you that I knew you were keeping something back.’ He shrugged. ‘As you seemed to pose no threat I decided to give you time to trust us. Then Mithrandir forestalled your opportunity to tell the truth.’
‘Yes, I was working up the courage to tell you,’ she said quietly. ‘I am amazed he worked things out straightaway. And totally surprised that everyone seems to have accepted a happenstance that I find astonishing, and am still trying to come to terms with.’
The Prince laughed. ‘I have noticed in the years since I have known him that Mithrandir perceives the strange much quicker than he does the normal.’
She smiled. ‘And King Éomer, he had no problem accepting my unorthodox arrival in his kingdom, yet fearing his reaction was the main reason I hesitated in confessing to you.’
‘Ah well, Éomer has had to come to terms with many strange things. And he trusts Mithrandir explicitly, so his acceptance is easily explained.’
She nodded. ‘What did Mithrandir mean by an auspicious time just after the wedding?’
Prince Imrahil thought for a moment. ‘Probably something to do with the fact that Eärendil's star will be very close to us in a few days’ time.’
‘Yes, it’s our most important star and at the moment hangs low over the horizon as dawn breaks.’
And she had thought that was Venus!
‘We are nearly back at Edoras,’ the Prince continued before she could say anything. ‘Later I will tell you the story of Eärendil, for it makes a good tale.’
As he had promised Prince Imrahil sat next to her at dinner and told her the story of the Silmaril rescued from Angband. Entertaining, but it couldn’t possibly be true of course. The evening had been pleasant, in spite of the strange looks from some of the Rohirrim. But with their king’s acceptance of her, no one had done more than whisper a little behind their hands.
Lothíriel had been truly excited and Sara knew she would want to know more once they had retired to their chamber. She would have to be careful what she said, all seemed convinced that she hailed from their future. But there was no way Sara could believe that, being rather a pragmatic sort of person. She taught maths for heaven’s sake. How could the events of someone’s – albeit a very learned man’s – imagination overset Earth’s documented history? It just couldn’t be.
Lothíriel could hardly wait for Sara to get into the chamber before she started questioning. The princess insisted Sara’s clothes be brought out so she could examine them. ‘You really arrived wearing these?’ Astonished, Lothíriel held the shorts against her. Probably more than a dozen pairs of the skimpy garment could be made from the dress she was wearing.
‘It was a hot afternoon; I like to get my legs brown.’
‘You wanted to tan your skin?’ Lothíriel gawped. ‘In Dol Amroth only the fisherwomen get brown. Ladies try and keep their skin soft and pale.’
‘Where I come from it’s considered attractive to have lightly tanned skin,’ Sara explained.
‘Even so.’ Lothíriel considered the shorts for a moment. ‘Is it not thought scandalous to expose your flesh? One’s legs especially?’
‘Not in my culture, although not all races adhere to that.’ Sara let out a giggle. ‘King Éomer was a little shocked, I think. One of the first things he said to me was to cover up.’
‘Oh dear, he must have been so embarrassed. I doubt he’s seen a lady’s legs before.’
Sara had her own view on that one, but thought it best not to voice it. Lothíriel was still engrossed in the shorts. ‘Why don’t you try them on?’ Sara suggested.
A growl came from the corner of the room, ‘I don’t think that’s appropriate, Princess.’ Lothíriel’s maid wore an even more sour expression than usual.
‘Oh, Bregwen, don’t be stuffy. My dress has to come off anyway, so it won’t take a moment.’ Lothíriel had the shorts on before her maid could make any further objections, holding her shift out of the way. ‘I can see why you wear an undergarment now. But I am not sure I could wear them even with… what do you call those things?’
‘Panties.’ Sara smiled at her. ‘I suppose it’s what you get used to. I find it strange to walk around wearing so much material. I do wear dresses of course, but they are nothing like this.’ She ran her hands down the shirts of the full dress she had been loaned.
‘So what are they like?’ Lothíriel wanted to know. ‘Can you draw me one?’
‘Tomorrow, my lady.’ Bregwen interrupted. ‘You need your rest. King Elessar will be arriving tomorrow and there is bound to be a welcome feast, so you will have another late night.’ Lothíriel opened her mouth to protest but then closed it, flashing Sara a rather obvious smirk. ‘Very well, Bregwen, we will retire. After all we both wish to give the king a good impression.’
‘Have you met your king?’ Sara asked, as Bregwen fussed around getting her mistress’s nightclothes.
‘A few times,’ Lothíriel replied. ‘He’s very nice and friendly. So is the Queen, although being an Elf and so beautiful most find her rather intimidating.’
Another Elf! ‘Is she coming as well?’
Lothíriel shook her head. ‘Father doesn't seem to think so. I imagine King Elessar can travel faster with just his men. But,’ she dropped her voice, ‘I have a feeling she may be in an interesting condition, so the long ride would not be wise,’
‘No, I suppose not.’ Sara had no idea how far it was from Gondor to Rohan, but imagined that it wouldn't be very luxurious for a queen if the journey was all on horseback.
Bregwen came over with Lothíriel’s nightgown, so Sara started to get herself ready for bed. When she slipped under the covers Lothíriel leant towards her and spoke under her breath. ‘Don't go to sleep, I wish to talk to you. Bregwen will be snoring soon.’
Sara nodded agreement but in truth found it hard not to drop off; it had been an exhausting day. She didn't really want to talk either, sensing Lothíriel’s curiosity would lead her to ask questions of what life was like in the future. What should she say? How could anyone here imagine life in the 21st century? Cars, trains, planes. The Internet? Guns? How could she explain them? Should she?
But to Sara’s surprise Lothíriel’s questions never touched on any of that. She wanted to know entirely different things. What did they eat? What kind of houses did they have? And of course what their clothes were like. It was when telling her that food was prepared on a stove that didn't need to be heated by a fire, that Sara realized explanations needed to be kept simple - the imagination of someone living with horses and carts and where wars were fought with swords might not stretch as far as motor cars and planes.
Although it was once Sara admitted that she lived in an apartment with just her sister that the trouble started.
‘So you are not married,’ Lothíriel concluded from that.
Sara shook her head. ‘No we don't really get married so young or….’ she stumbled a bit wondering how to explain, but before she could do so Lothíriel let out a disappointed sigh.
‘So you know no more than I do about men and marriage. I was hoping you could tell me exactly what goes on.’
Agh… How to explain. She did feel sorry for the princess wedding a man she barely knew. ‘In the age I come from marriage is not compulsory for a relationship between a man and a woman, so I do know a little about men.’ Quite a lot really, but perhaps better not mention that.
Lothíriel had gone quiet with that revelation, so Sara continued. ‘In my culture women have the same rights as men and we choose our partners or husbands. Only some women, mostly in other lands than mine, have arranged marriages.’
‘Partners?’ Lothíriel whispered, looking warily over towards Bregwen who was breathing heavily with the occasional snort. ‘You mean you … are able to lie with a man without being married or handfasted?’
‘If we wish to. It is quite common to live with a man and have his children without being married to him.’
‘But you don't live with a man?’ Lothíriel asked.
‘Not now, but I did when I was at university, although it didn't last for long after we left.’
‘University?’ Lothíriel immediately wanted to know what that was.
‘It's where we go to learn,’ Sara tried to explain. She should never have started this! Never have come here come to that. ‘Look,’ she said, guessing what this was about and trying to put herself in the princess’s position - however unlikely that was! Not that she had any intention of discussing anything truly intimate, but she could try and put her mind at rest a bit. ‘I understand you are worried about your wedding night, but from what I can tell you find King Éomer attractive and he seems a kind man and attentive to you, so you have nothing to worry about.’ She paused. ‘Didn't any of your female relatives speak to you about marriage?’
‘Well, yes.’ Lothíriel let out a muted laugh. ‘My aunt. But it was terrible, she obviously hated any intimate contact with her husband and told me to close my eyes and think of something else.’
Sara suddenly went cold. ‘It wasn't pickled cabbage, was it? She didn't tell you to count the jars in your larder?’
‘Pickled cabbage?’ Lothíriel exclaimed. ‘No, why ever would she tell me to think about pickled cabbage?’
Oh, thank goodness. For an awful moment Sara had thought she really had landed in a fan-fic story. That would be even worse than where she actually was. ‘Sorry, I misunderstood you
Lothíriel continued after a moment, not surprisingly a bit confused by the mention of pickled cabbage. ‘I am not really bothered too much about what happens, I have a fair idea of the procedure, but I more wanted to know,’ she hesitated ‘…what I should actually do. I do not want to appear foolish and our marriage get off to a bad start. Éomer has been so thoughtful explaining in his letters what is expected of the Queen of Rohan, and I don't have a problem with any of it. But …well in the end he is a man and will…’she trailed off.
Sara really didn't want to say anything, but knew she should try and help. ‘If you know the basics then just relax and let things happen. It's natural to be a bit shy at first, that will be expected. You will learn to…pleasure each other.’
‘Pleasure,’ Lothíriel murmured. ‘You are sure it’s pleasurable?’
‘Very, with someone you are attracted to,’ Sara confirmed.
‘I’m relieved to hear that. My aunt had me worried even though I didn't really believe every woman thought like her. Thank you, I feel much better and can go to sleep now you have told me that.’
It was obvious Lothíriel was still smiling as she settled down and Sara snuggled into her own pillow prepared to enjoy her dreams of a grey eyed man with war-honed muscles and kind words. She resolutely dismissed the errant idea that popped into her head about staying here for a while.
Note. The reference to Pickled Cabbage refers to my story ‘Lothíriel’s Journal.’
At least her new status meant that Sara could ask questions of her own - like what was the brown mush they were enjoying at breakfast?
‘Apple butter,’ Lothíriel told her. ‘It's made by boiling apples till most of the liquid has gone and they turn sweet and syrupy. We have pear butter as well. It adds sweetness to food when honey is short.’
Of course, they wouldn't have sugar. A discussion on various foods continued through breakfast, Lothíriel seeming relaxed and happy. The wedding was due to take place the next day, providing her king arrived before nightfall. So far neither King Éomer nor Prince Imrahil had shown themselves, and Sara wondered if they had been and gone, but didn't like to ask. The prince’s sons were sitting with a group of soldiers but too far away for her to glean any information. She was just sipping her tea - something with a citrus flavour, possibly lemon balm, when there was a slight commotion at the other end of the hall. Ah, here they were - the King of Rohan strode down towards the food table, admittedly a magnificent sight, but Sara’s eyes were immediately drawn to the elegant figure beside him. Oh, goodness, how was it she found him so fascinating?
Both men had obviously been out for an early ride and were wearing similar outfits of full-sleeved shirts, leather breeches and boots. Very alluring, and Sara shamelessly continued to stare at Prince Imrahil. Her heart did a little flip when he caught her gaze, the answering smile totally undoing her. This had to stop, she told herself. In a few days’ time she would be leaving, back to reality where…where… no man had attracted her for the past couple of years. Darn, how inconvenient was it to want to get into bed with a man in the past? In a book? Not to mention when living in a medieval hall surrounded by others? It was very unlikely she would get the chance to act on her thoughts, so her lust would just have to go home with her. And why did she fancy a man so much older than herself anyway? That started her wondering if she would remember these intense feelings. If she did it would spoil her for the wishy-washy men she normally came into contact with. But on the other hand if she did not remember any of this then her dreams would not be half as interesting.
Pushing her errant thoughts aside Sara acknowledged Rohan’s king with a bow of her head. He sat down opposite her and next to Lothíriel with whom he immediately started to quietly converse. A server arrived with a jug of what she now knew was small-ale – a weak brew drunk during the day to quench thirst. The Prince followed behind, carrying his own plate. Sara thought he would take the place next to his daughter, but he didn't. The brush of his leg against her skirt as he sat down beside her caused more frissons of want to course through her. She had to stop this!
‘Good morning, Sara. You look well rested. I imagine it is less nerve-racking now everyone knows who you are.’
‘It is,’ Sara admitted. ‘Although there is still the worry about getting back home.’
Prince Imrahil raised a black brow. ‘Would it be so bad to stay?’
‘I…I…’ she stuttered. ‘I don't know. My family would be devastated if I just disappeared. No… I don't think it’s possible.’
‘Probably not,’ Imrahil mused, leaning slightly closer, ‘but a nice idea.’
Sara felt her face flush, had she imagined the wistful inference in his voice? Before she could think more, or embarrass herself, Lothíriel drew her attention. ‘I have been telling Éomer that you can cook food in an oven without lighting a fire, you just have to turn a small lever.’
Sara looked up, catching King Éomer’s interested gaze. Was he intrigued by the idea of modern cookers or had he overheard the exchange between her and the prince? She hoped it was the former. ‘Yes, we do, Lord. The power comes through a wire.’ Seeing the blank looks around her she tried to explain. ‘It’s more or less the same force that makes lightning in the sky. We call it electricity.’ She’d had enough trouble explaining the idea of a switch to Lothíriel the night before. In the end they had settled on leaver. So she was not expecting this idea to be easy to get across.
‘So you somehow catch lightning and harness the power?’ the King wanted to know.
Sara shook her head. ‘No, we make it.’ Now how to explain a generator? ‘We use the power of fuel burning or water to turn wheels which then make the electricity.’
‘So,’ King Éomer said, rubbing his chin, ‘you use burning fuel to turn a wheel to make this electricity which heats an oven, when you could burn fuel like peat or wood to cook directly. That makes no sense to me.’
Put like that it probably didn't, but Sara wasn't up to arguing the point - the concept would probably take a lot of understanding by these people.
“I think it may be beyond our comprehension,’ Prince Imrahil offered. ‘I imagine changes like these happen over eons of time and the people gradually adapt.’
‘Yes, we are talking far in… far in your future, and things are very different.’ Now they had got her at it, as if they really were distant ancestors and not someone’s fantasy.
‘And she says that in her time women are treated equally to men and have the same rights
‘What do you mean by equally?’ King Éomer asked. ‘Do you fight wars and protect your lands?’
‘Some do choose to join the armed forces,’ Sara answered, ‘but what it really means is that they can do any job they wish, a women can be a firefighter or anything else she fancies and likewise a man work in a baby’s nursery if they are so inclined.’
The king thought for a moment obviously digesting her words. ‘So these women of yours are strong enough to be say… a blacksmith? Excuse me, Lady Sara but I do not see you able to wield a large hammer.’
‘Perhaps they have hammers that are smaller, lighter but just a powerful,’ Prince Imrahil ventured.
Sara laughed. ‘I do not know if they have, but what I explained to Lothíriel is that for centuries women stayed at home and minded the house, then when wars called all our men to fight women had to take over their jobs. Now, because of that, many years later all jobs have to be open to men and women.’
King Éomer shrugged his shoulders. ‘I do not see much difference, when men go to battle in the Riddermark the women are left behind and have to chop the wood and mend the fences. When the men return most chose to give those tasks back to the men and go back to their weaving. If they still want to chop wood who would stop them?’
‘But women still wait on men and prepare the food and do the cleaning and I doubt there are any men at the wash house dealing with the sheets.’ Sara knew she should not get into this, but just could not resist. ‘Where I come from household jobs are shared by men and women and so is childcare.’
The King frowned, not looking too pleased. Sara could see that Lothíriel was hiding her amusement behind her hand.
‘When was the last time your country was threatened by war, Sara?’ Prince Imrahil asked.
‘Long before I was born,’ Sara admitted.
‘Then I think that is where the answer lies. It is true that some women can fight and fight well, but as a general rule men are stronger than women and make better warriors. We have been living with the threat of war and other dangers for many decades, so in our culture it is natural for men to be the protectors and women the homemakers. The arrangement suits the way we live but maybe in time that will change.’
‘I hope not’, King Éomer muttered, ‘I am sure I would get the sheets tangled and screaming babies frighten me.’
‘About the only thing that does,’ Prince Imrahil immediately responded. He grinned at his friend’s scowling face. ‘Now that you are no longer fearful of the Lady of the Wood.’
That caused a lot of laughter, even the king gave up his scowl and joined in. Only Sara had no idea who the lady was. No time to ask either, as King Éomer thought it prudent to change the subject. ‘What about horses?’ he asked. ‘What are they like? Do you revere them?’
Now what did she say? Did the Rohirrim eat horsemeat? She didn't know and didn't like to ask. Upsetting her host any more would not be a good idea. ‘Horses are used for pleasure and fun. People ride for enjoyment. But many are bred for racing. Horse racing is a popular sport.’
The King frowned. ‘If they are just used for pleasure then how do you get from place to place, how do you cover long distances?’
Ahhh…. A tricky one. ‘We use machines; machines that travel fast and carry people.’ Did they know what a machine was? She had no idea how to explain.
‘Machines! Machines are evil,’ King Éomer sneered. ‘The Wizard Saruman made machines and they dispensed evil’.
‘I suppose, Éomer, that he fashioned them to his purpose.’ Prince Imrahil interrupted. ‘What is made to be good can be turned to evil by a devious mind.’
Saruman? She really would have to read the book! This conversation was running away with her. Thankfully she didn't have to say anything else as the outer door opened again and Mithrandir appeared, along with the three elves.
He came up to them beaming. ‘I intercepted your scout, Éomer. Aragon is only an hour away.’ As the king rose, his face showing his pleasure, the Wizard turned to her. ‘Sara, my dear, you will be pleased to know that we will attempt to send you back, or should I say forward?’ He thought for a moment. “Forward, I think. Anyway, we will try on the morning after the wedding. At dawn.’
Sara held back a shudder…did he say attempt?
Sara had no time to wonder any more about her proposed ‘return’ to her proper life and no time to question Gandalf further, as the whole place came alive with the thought of the imminent arrival of Aragorn, who she deduced was a beloved friend of King Éomer’s. Not that everyone called him Aragorn, she heard various names mentioned as the household scurried about making sure everything was as perfect as it could be and Meduseld was prepared to welcome such an illustrious visitor. She soon realized that King Elessar – another of his names – was loved by the common people as well as King Éomer, for the part he played in saving Rohan from the evil Saruman. Then she heard Gandalf refer to him as The King of the West. That got her thinking as she had already picked up on whispers that King Éomer and the Rohirrim might be called to help King Elessar fight the remaining evil in the east of Middle-earth. Nothing much had changed then – back home the West and the East were often at loggerheads. Tolkien had got it right there. She must read the book!
Aragorn – Elessar was not at all like she had imagined he might be, not at all arrogant or puffed-up. She had time to study him and his behavior as he made his way around the hall greeting everyone. He seemed to be both regal and ordinary, able to put all at ease without losing any nobleness or dignity. Eventually King Éomer brought him up to her, she could hear her presence being explained in an undertone as the two kings approached. She bowed when he stood in front of her, looking up into kind wise eyes which reminded her very much of Prince Imrahil’s. But although Lothíriel had told her that King Elessar was indeed older than her father, he appeared to have been blessed with youthful looks, although weather-beaten and rugged; honed for battle even more than the elegant prince. Sara found herself hoping that none of them would have to go back to war anytime soon. Why couldn’t countries exist together in peace?
She started out of her thoughts when King Elessar spoke to her. Another one who showed no real surprise at her appearance amongst them. He spoke some pleasantries and then said he would confer with Mithrandir to see what could be done about getting her back.
After that there wasn’t a lot for her to do except listen to the soft music being played by a minstrel, just audible over the hum of conversation. Prince Imrahil, Gandalf and the two kings, along with elves and a few others sat themselves around the table on the dais deep in conversation. Men’s talk, probably about war! Well that had certainly changed over the centuries and now it looked has as if a woman would be the next incumbent of Downing Street. Presumably she would be heading up any discussions about Britain interfering in other nations’ fights. Sara let out a deep sigh, all this time, and the world had made no real progress.
‘You look bored.’ Lothíriel plonked herself down beside her. ‘I’d suggest a ride, but it’s raining.’
‘I am not bored, just thinking.’
Lothíriel put her hand comfortingly on Sara’s arm. ‘Are you worried by what Mithrandir said about trying to return you to your home?’
‘A little,’ Sara admitted. ‘I want to go back, but I have no understanding of how this all happened and therefore cannot imagine how the process will work. I don’t want to end up in… oh I don’t know, suspended animation or something.’
Lothíriel frowned, and Sara guessed she didn’t quite know what that was. But after a moment the Princess confirmed her comprehension. ‘Somewhere between worlds, I imagine you mean.’
‘I don’t think you need worry, after all you came here on your own with no problem and you will have a lot of help to get back. Mithrandir obviously, but also Glorfindel and from what I have heard ancient elves are very powerful.’
‘You’re right of course.’ Sara managed a smile. ‘I am sure it will be fine and I must try not to worry.’ Sara didn’t like to say that the other thing bothering her was having to say goodbye to Prince Imrahil. She felt that when she resumed her normal life it would seem incredibly lonely. How pathetic was that!
‘You need something to take your mind from it,’ Lothíriel suggested. ‘It’s no good sitting here worrying. Come and help me with my dress, Bregwen wants me to try it on so we can decide on a hairstyle.’
Sara stood up willingly, Lothíriel was right: worrying never achieved anything.
Not that she thought she would be much use Sara decided when she entered the bed chamber and saw the beautiful silky dress hanging up. Her sister would be better to make comments as she often wore similar things to her Tolkien festivals. Not quite as luxurious as this dress though. A wedding dress fit for an aspiring queen. Although it was nothing like a modern wedding gown and not white, but a lovely shade of blue, the same that Sara had seen adorning the Dol Amroth banners.
‘Do you like it?’ Lothíriel asked. ‘I didn’t want anything too ornate and rich looking because the people of Rohan have suffered a lot and it wouldn’t seem right.’
Sara laughed as she stared at the dress, which had a full skirt, fitted bodice with flared lower sleeves of finely pleated fabric and a silver belt and sash that looked to be embroidered using seed pearls. ‘You mean it could have been even more ornate?’
Lothíriel laughed with her. ‘My aunt wanted the whole thing covered in pearls, but I thought it would be too much.’
‘Humph, I think you could have had a few more, my lady,’ Bregwen huffed. ‘As I doubt you’ll get the chance to wear the like again. They don’t seem to care too much for clothes here.’
‘Better things to concern themselves with, I imagine.’ Lothíriel gave Sara a wink, not at all put out by her maid’s cynicism.
Sara held back a laugh and sat down on the bed, waiting for Lothíriel to put on the dress. It did look good, the style suiting the princess’s slim figure.
‘How do you think I should do my hair?’ Lothíriel twirled around obviously enjoying the femininity and feel of the silky material.
‘The crown needs to fit firmly, my lady,’ Bregwen offered. ‘So I suggest two long braids that fall to the front, intertwined with ribbons. It will look pretty but leave your head free of clutter.’
‘That would be good,’ Sara agreed, remembering photos of medieval dresses and hairstyles she had seen in her sister’s room.
Lothíriel smiled. ‘We will agree on that then. I don’t think we need to do it now, but have we got matching ribbons. Bregwen?’
‘Yes, I made sure to bring some, my lady.’
‘That’s fine, thank you.’ Lothíriel turned to Sara. ‘Would you like to borrow a dress? I have other pretty ones I haven’t worn here.’
‘That’s kind of you.’ Sara stood up and went towards the ornate wardrobe. ‘But I have this one that Hergyth found specially. I would not like to be rude and wear another after she was so kind as to look it out for me.’
‘It’s very lovely,’ Lothíriel agreed as Sara held it up. ‘The embroidery around the neck is very well done and contrasts nicely with the dark green.’
Sara nodded. ‘The Rohirrim have welcomed me in spite of my unconventional arrival, I am happy to honor them.’
‘Of course.’ Lothíriel sighed, turning so Bregwen could unfasten the dress. ‘It’s hard to believe I will be a queen tomorrow. I really never thought that would happen.’ She laughed. ‘There are not many queens in Middle-earth.’ A thought must have struck her as she sat down. ‘Is there a queen where you come from?’
Sara smiled to herself, anticipating the reaction. ‘Yes, we have a queen. She rules our country. We have no king.’
Lothíriel gasped. ‘No king! You mean the queen is totally in charge?’ Doesn’t she have a husband?’
‘Yes, But he’s not a king, he’s what we call a consort.’
‘Goodness that is strange.’
‘It’s been like that for centuries now,’ Sara explained. ‘If a king only has daughters then the eldest will be the heir. I imagine it’s different here.’
Lothíriel frowned. ‘Yes, a queen would be unlikely to be able to lead her people to war. Does yours?’
‘No, but she commands the military forces and has generals to act for her. So if you have only daughters, who would rule after King Éomer?’’
‘Umm…well the nearest male relative. But I don’t think there is anyone close at the moment.’ She shuddered. ‘I just have to hope we have a son. Many sons would be good.’
‘I am sure you will.’ Sara was going to say that perhaps the rules could be changed, but then thought better of it. After all it wasn’t her business and things needed to change slowly over time. She thought back to her history lessons trying to work out the first ruling queen of England. Wasn’t it Lady Jane Grey? Not that her rule lasted long. Hang-on, the thought made her laugh –what about Boudicca? Evidently she would have been warrior enough even for the Rohirrim. Sara was just going to tell Lothíriel about her when Hergyth came in.
She bowed to Lothíriel. ‘My lady, Éomer King wants to go through the ceremony with you. And then we are dining earlier than usual as it’s a busy day tomorrow and King Elessar and his party have been traveling fast and hard.’
‘Of course.’ Lothíriel smiled at the housekeeper. ‘They must be tired and an early meal will also mean you and your helpers can have a good night’s sleep before all the hard work for the wedding feast.’ She stood up, brushing down her skirts. ‘I will come now. I will see you when we eat, Sara.’
But Lothíriel sat with King Éomer, King Elessar and her father at the top table, so Sara didn’t get chance to talk to her until they retired for bed. And not much then as Bregwen insisted with the privilege of an old retainer that they settle down.
‘It’s going to be a long, exciting and testing day tomorrow, my lady. I have had some chamomile and valerian tea made up to help you both sleep. You need to drink it when it’s still warm.’
‘Are you nervous about tomorrow?’ Sara whispered when they had given their empty mugs back to Bregwen.
‘No, I am not,’’ Lothíriel confided. ‘Éomer and I spent a couple of hours together this afternoon and he’s so nice and caring, that I really have no worries. I can tell it is different where you come from, Sara, but here, in this time, the best thing for a woman is to marry a good man.’
Sara didn’t admit that the idea was not abhorrent to her either, but finding a good man was likely to be a problem.
Sara never thought she would admit that it felt rather nice to be wearing a feminine dress. The ladies didn’t wear hair loose here, so she had let Bregwen plait it and wind it around her head with some red ribbons, which looked well with her dark colouring and picked up the hues of the embroidery around the V-neck. The style suited her, she felt she looked her best, and determined to try and put the happenings of the next day to the back of her mind, and enjoy the wedding.
The hall was full when she took her place to the right of the dais. She thought Lothíriel looked slightly nervous, but Sara was pleased to see Éomer reassure her and the princess smile up at him. The ceremony started with a blast of horns outside and involved Gandalf and King Elessar; hands being tied with ribbons; a cloak and a crown for Lothíriel and lots of words in Rohirric she didn’t understand but guessed was oath-taking. Plus lots of singing.
The wedding ended with the tradition kissing, Sara was glad to see – lots of cheering and the stamping of feet here. King Éomer looked pleased and proud and Lothíriel excited but composed now she was actually married. Sara had no doubt that between the two of them Rohan was in competent hands.
Then the feasting started with Prince Imrahil seated on the dais well away from her. Already she missed him and wondered if she would get any chance to spend a little time with him before the next morning. But it could have been worse, as thoughtfully she had been seated with some of King Éomer’s guard and their wives, those who could speak what she now knew was Westron. Her dinner companions were incredibly polite, but they couldn’t resist quizzing her on a world they knew nothing about. She had more or less understood the language from the start, but had to listen carefully to the questions, the accent being unfamiliar and some of the words strange. But Rohirric sounded double-dutch to her and as she could hear it being spoken quite loudly all around her, the whole thing was a strain.
The speeches gave her some respite, which were luckily delivered in Westron in deference to those from Gondor and of course the new queen who only had a smattering of Rohrric as yet. Having said that, while the speeches of King Elessar, King Eomer and Prince Imrahil made sense, Gandalf’s rambled on and hers was not the only bemused face.
Eventually, hours after the actual ceremony, the eating stopped if not the drinking, tables being pushed aside so the dancing could start. During the lull Gandalf sought her out, reminding her to be ready at dawn and trying to ease her worries. His assurances didn’t help much.
The Prince had not moved, still talking to King Elessar. A disappointment she tried not to let bother her. But at least she could enjoy the dancing, finding her hand grabbed many times to be pulled into a set. She didn’t have much difficulty as the lively reels and squares were not that different from those enjoyed at barn dances back home. Her parents had often dragged her and Jess along when they were younger.
When it just seemed that she could dance no more - she needed a drink - a great cheer went up. The fiddlers started a raucous tune to which the whole company stamped and clapped in time. King Éomer and his queen were retiring. The Rohirrim formed lines down the side of the hall, cheering and clapping their king as he picked up his bride and marched towards the dais. Within moments they had disappeared accompanied by one final hail of shouted words. Sara thought it was probably best the she didn’t understand Rohirric; she hoped Lothíriel hadn’t picked up too much either.
She was just thinking of finding a drink when she became aware of someone at her side.
‘Come, I think it’s our turn to dance.’ Prince Imrahil took her arm leading her towards the floor where couples were already lining up.
Her thirst could wait. The dance for couples, something akin to the Gay Gordons, did not allow time for talk, but at least they were close, not like the square sets.
Sara gave herself up to the rhythm and the joy of the moment, the beat of the music thrumming through her body, turning her bones to mush. The music? No, she kidded herself; the man whose hand held hers was responsible for the fizzing in her blood and the thud, thud of her heart.
The dance ended, but the Prince did not release her, instead he ran a calloused thumb across her palm, making small circles that seared her skin.
‘It’s hot in here, would you like some air? It’s a beautiful night and a shame to miss it.’
Sara nodded, afraid if she opened her mouth he would be able to tell how nervous she was. Or how much being close to him affected her. ‘I…I must have a drink first though, I seem to have been dancing for hours.’
He smiled, and placed her hand on his arm, leading her towards the table at the side of the hall where barrels of ale and pitchers of cool drinks were on offer. The Prince poured her a drink of barley water, and himself a small mug of ale. They stood in silence for a few moments, watching the swirl of dancers as another reel was played. Suddenly the prince put down his mug and took her arm again. ‘Come, there are only a couple of hours before the eastern sky will lighten. We must make the most of the time given.’
Eyes watched their progress through the hall. If she had been going outside with one of Imrahil’s sons there might have been a few sniggers, but none of the speculative, slightly disbelieving glances. What the hell, she would be gone tomorrow, back to reality and what she now recognized to be a somewhat innocuous existence. How had she drifted from the adventurous teenager to the dreary, conscientious teacher, more concerned with routine than excitement?
The smell of roasting pork hit her when they emerged onto the high platform. Below, in the central square, a fire blazed. The sound of a flute wafted up on the breeze. The prince led her out of the glow of the lanterns to the far side of the platform, out of the direct line of sight of the doorwardens. But although the moon had hidden itself behind a cloud, all was bathed in sliver light. He said nothing, but dropped her hand and pulled her gently against his hard chest, shielding her body with his.
Her mouth dried. But telling herself not to be a coward she laid her cheek against his shoulder She wanted this, had wanted to feel his taut body against hers since the first time she saw him. He fascinated her – the mixture of powerful warrior, compassionate leader and learned intellectual made for a heady aphrodisiac. She couldn’t believe she wanted to make love to a character from a book; a dream; a fantasy. Not that the feelings felt like a fantasy – they were undoubtedly real.
She knew with certainty he felt the same, and had they had the opportunity the outcome would have been inevitable.
‘Turn around and look,’ he whispered. Needing to gather her wayward thoughts, she turned, easing back into him, conscious of the rise and fall of his chest and the gentle breath moving her hair. His arms went around her waist and warm hands settled across her stomach.
Sara shivered; ‘It’s beautiful.’ The moon had emerged from the cloud and hung above the mountains, heavy and lustrous.
‘The moon is at the full and will set in the West, and just before dawn
Eärendil’s star will rise in the East. It will be time for you to go.’
‘Yes,’ her voice broke, but truth had to be faced. ‘Evidently it is the most auspicious time. As well as the power from Gandalf and Glorfindel I am told the twins will connect with their father, and also Lady Galadriel. They will send me home.’ Gandalf had collared her just after the feast and before the dancing started and had explained. She now knew who The Lady was.
The Prince lowered his lips to her ear. ‘Some things we cannot change, in the here and now rules and tradition dictate our actions. But maybe, if the Valar are kind to us, then in another place, another time, it may be different.’
Sara pulled away, swinging round to see the expression on his face. But before she could respond he reached inside his tunic. ‘I have something for you, something to remember me by.’ He pulled out a silver broach, quite large and bearing the design of the Dol Amroth Swan-ship. ‘Put it on, it will be thought Lothíriel gave it to you, so will not cause talk. Anyway, not many will witness your departure.’
Wordlessly, Sara pinned it on her dress. She had just fixed it when there was the sound of laughter and excited chatter. Many more were leaving the heat of the hall to take some fresh air. The Prince took her arm, holding her in the polite, accepted manner. ‘Let us go down and listen to the flute playing; we can watch the townspeople dancing until it is time.’
The townspeople certainly knew how to celebrate, little remained of what must have been a huge boar, and empty barrels were piling up. But in spite of the drink all was good-natured. Sara didn’t need to understand the language to pick up on the fact that all were glad their king was marrying and they seemed to approve of his choice of bride. Prince Imrahil’s welcome confirmed that, and he spoke to many whom he said had been on the march to the Black Gates. She herself got some strange looks and polite bows, but no-one appeared hostile. The welcome over, they sat on some turned up barrels, neither saying much. What could they say? Even if she found the courage and was selfish enough to stay, who knew what would happen. Two worlds had collided and the results of trying to bind them together might be devastating.
Even so, Sara didn’t want this time to end, just sitting next to him, even without making conversation felt so right. But time was spiraling away from her; the huge fire that had been burning brightly began to die down as the night hurtled towards dawn. The flute player started to play what sounded to her like a lament for what might have been. Gradually people drifted away, seeking their beds as the sky lightened.
The Prince stood up, pulling her to her feet. ‘It’s time I think.’
Sara nodded, her stomach turning somersaults. ‘I never had chance to say goodbye to Lothíriel.’
‘No,’ he chuckled. ‘I doubt they will surface for a while yet. I will tell her she was in your thoughts.’
‘You think she will be happy?’
‘I am as sure as I can be. Éomer is the best of men, and I understand he is attractive to women. Lothíriel certainly showed no reluctance when I suggested the match and introduced them. Both their choices are limited, so I think their marriage is a good resolution to a tricky problem. I am sure it will have a happy outcome.’
Sara agreed. ‘From what I have seen I think they will come to care for one another deeply. And both seem determined to do their best for Rohan’s people.’
‘Duty and service are bred in both of them.’ He sighed, a little wistfully she thought. ‘As it should be in all who rule during these times.’
They had reached the bottom of the steps. Sara looked up to the platform; the braziers were still burning brightly and she could see dark forms moving about against the light.
‘I think they are waiting for you.’
This was it then. Sara clutched Prince Imrahil’s arm, drawing on his strength. She would need it.
‘There’s one thing to rejoice. We will get the opportunity to see Mithrandir unveil his true power, not to mention witness an Elf-lord revealed in all his glory.’
Was that supposed to reassure her? He was trying to take her mind from the mess she was in, she knew that. But it was hard to joke. ‘I am glad everyone is to get to enjoy my predicament.’
‘Ah, but think of the tales you will be able to tell when you return to your own time. Surely that is worth a little inconvenience.’
Sara shuddered. ‘Possibly, if all works out, but I doubt anyone would believe me.’
‘No, I suppose not.’ He squeezed her arm reassuringly. ‘But you will know and that is what counts.’
Sara fingered the broach pinned to her dress. Would she remember? Would his token survive whatever journey she had to make? Would she survive?
But then an errant thought almost made her laugh: her shorts had made the journey, so hopefully the dress and broach would. She hoped Lothíriel would treasure her clothes as a reminder of her. She could wear them in secret. In fact Éomer might get to like seeing a lot of his wife’s long legs.
A compassionate voice broke into her reverie. ‘Ah, there you are, Sara. Come, it is nearly time.’ Gandalf held out his hand encouragingly.
Sara glanced up at the prince, who gently pushed her forward. ‘Have faith, all will be well.’
She nodded, determinedly swallowing her fear; she had to put her faith in a wizard and an elf. If she made it back would she ever be the same again?
They were all standing in a semi-circle near to one of the braziers. Glorfindel had a cloak wrapped around him, but his tall form seemed to emit a pale white light. King Elessar stood between the other two elves, who looked both fierce and serious. The King smiled at her. Another trying to reassure her, but it wasn’t working.
‘Stand in front of me, my dear, and just relax. You will feel nothing, so do not fear.’
She could see Prince Imrahil over the Wizard’s shoulder. He wasn’t smiling now, and his eyes seemed to burn into her.
Gandalf lifted his hand and suddenly all around was bathed in light: Glorfindel had removed his cloak. It was as though he was lit from the inside. Before she could marvel at the phenomenon Gandalf murmured words she could not understand, lifted his rod and pointed it towards the nearest brazier. She saw a flash of red and then a blast of light streaking from his hand. The fire flared skywards and the world went black.
Sara woke with a start, the dream still vivid. The sun hurt her eyes and she put her hand up to her face as voices and sights filled her mind. She didn’t always remember her dreams so clearly, which was perhaps a good thing as the jumble of memories made her slightly uncomfortable. She felt stiff, closed her eyes again and stretched, hoping to feel more like herself. Not a very sensible place to fall asleep: her seat was hard. Sara blinked a few times to wake herself up and as a thought struck her, looked down. Why was she sitting on a tree stump? Surely her mum had got the deckchairs out.
What she saw confused her even more: green wool clothed the lower part of her body. As she stared at the weird clothes she was wearing, voices floated through her mind – ‘But I have this one that Hergyth found specially. I would not like to be rude and wear another after she was so kind as to look it out for me. Had she said that, or were the words part of the odd dream? Sara put her hand up to her neck feeling for the embroidery she somehow knew would be there. Her heart thumping when she confirmed her suspicions, she drew her hand down to her left shoulder. Gasping she caught hold of a brooch and turned it upwards to look at the design. The image of the Swan-ship burned into her consciousness. Suddenly all the memories, sounds and bizarre scenes sorted themselves – it was no dream. She felt sick; she wanted to curl up and sleep again; she wanted to go back to Rohan. She wanted to cry.
‘Sara! What are you doing here?’
Sara started at her sister’s voice, but Jessica carried on before she had chance to say anything. ‘All the times I tried to persuade you and then you just turn up.’
Turn up where? Sara looked around, taking in her surroundings for the first time. Her tree stump was on the edge of a large field, a field covered in stalls. A market or something. But then she realized her sister was wearing the blue gown she had helped her make. Of course, it was the medieval gathering where her Tolkien Society had a stand.
‘Are you okay, Sara. You look very pale.’
‘Yes, I am fine.’ Sara stood up, not feeling fine at all. She wondered if she would ever feel fine again.
Jessica grabbed her hand. ‘You look wonderful,’ she said standing back to look at the Rohan dress, ‘you must have made that on the sly. Why didn’t you say? We could have come together.’
‘I… I was tired after mum’s lunch. But after you left I thought I would call in for a short while to see what it was like.’ She’d never lied to her sister, but this was something they could not share. At least not yet.
Jessica linked her arm. ‘Well come on, there’s only an hour or so to go. You missed the sword fighting, but have a look around at the rest.’
Still in a daze, Sara allowed her sister to lead her towards the stalls. She hoped she made the right noises as they viewed people doing all sorts of traditional crafts from weaving and spinning to a big, bearded guy putting the flights on arrows and lots of leather workers whose main output centered around swords and armor. Strangely none of this felt quite so alien to her as before…her adventure…escapade? She had no idea what to call it. Had it all really happened? Sara put her hand up to the brooch, the memory of Prince Imrahil giving it to her so intense it made her stumble.
Jessica grabbed her arm. ‘Are you sure you’re all right. You don’t seem your usual self.’
‘Just a headache,’ Sara mumbled. ‘I think I had better go home.’ She wanted time alone to think.
‘So, you managed to persuade her to come.’
‘Oh, hi, Penny.’ Jessica greeted her friend. ‘Yes, Sara decided to take a look. Doesn’t she look great?’
‘Hmmm…’ Penny’s eyes slid over the green dress, taking in every detail, her gaze finally landing on the Swan-ship brooch. ‘Not very authentic though: the embroidery is far too intricate for the Rohirrim and you’ve mixed your cultures. That brooch has Dol Amroth insignia. It shouldn’t be there.’
Oh, yes it should! Sara bit back the remark she was about to make: that would really be stupid. She needed to keep quiet or they would think her mad.
But Jessica jumped in, always ready to defend her, a grin on her face. ‘What’s that you’re drinking, Penny?’
Penny looked down at the large polystyrene cup in her hand. ‘Oh, it’s a double shot, caramel latte.’ She waved her hand towards the other end of the field. ‘There’s a coffee cart near the entrance.’
‘Oh, very authentic.’ Jessica smirked. ‘I imagine they drank lots of those in medieval Britain. Are they doing Paninis as well?’
Sara laughed. Her sister was always so quick.
After a frustrating few days when Sara went through the motions of trying to lead a normal existence after all that had happened, she wondered if life would ever be the same. If she could accept the enormity of her experience and move on. Jessica kept asking her what was bothering her, but so far Sara had felt unable to share anything. Probably she never would.
A busy week at school gave her no time to think through all that had occurred, but lying in bed struggling to sleep one night she made a decision: It was no good trying to ignore her feelings – they were real and she needed some outlet for them. That made her feel a little better. She had been putting off delving into her sister’s world, but attempting to push aside the strange things that had happened to her was not working.
The next Sunday, alone, and with her prep and marking done, she took a deep breath, grabbed her laptop and typed in the fatal words – Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth.
‘One Wiki to Rule them all’ was the first thing to come up. She absorbed the main details on the page. Well, presumably they had the facts right as per Tolkien’s writing, but the picture of her prince was naff. A thought struck her – was she the only person to know what he really looked like? And what about the other characters she had met? Quickly she looked up Éomer and Lothíriel. Images from the film for Éomer – not a good likeness at all. And why had they used an actor with naturally dark hair? Black eyebrows and fair hair didn’t work. As for Lothíriel – well the artist’s impression certainly didn’t do her justice.
Sara looked through a few other sites but nothing came up to the reality. Reality? She closed her eyes. Was she going slowly insane? She sat still for a moment staring out of the window before she got up and walked hurriedly into her bedroom and pulled out her bedside drawer with a yank. Her fingers clutched the silver Swan-ship brooch – no, she was not mad. But she had to find a way to live with the knowledge she had.
Back at her laptop Sara wondered how to proceed: she wanted to find out as much about Imrahil as possible. When she had casually mentioned him to her sister she had found out he hadn’t appeared in the films, a fact which had annoyed a lot of people. But then she had heard her sister rant on about how badly some of the characters were portrayed by Peter Jackson even though she watched the films avidly. And often.
Sara started typing again, this time trying FanFiction, having heard of the site from Jessica. A few filters applied and she had the stories up that included Imrahil. Most of them seemed to be about Éomer and Lothíriel, not actually Imrahil. Halfway down the page she came across a story called Hidden Currents by someone called Thanwen – ‘How did Prince Imrahil meet his wife.’ Sara hesitated, wondering whether to read it. It would have been set before she met him anyway, so it wouldn’t hurt to have a look.
Two chapters on and Sara had to admit that the writing was excellent; she would have to take back all the rude things she had said about fanfic writing. But the story was only going to tell her one person’s impression of the prince. Maybe she should read what Tolkien said about him first before she read another’s imaginings. She left her seat and walked over to the bookshelf, to search through Jessica’s books. No paperbacks there, only the huge hardback. Sara took it out feeling the weight; not very easy to read. But her sister had certainly bought a beautiful copy, although Sara had never seen her actually reading it either, only leafing through looking at the illustrations and the maps. She must keep the paperbacks in her room. Sara knew she would have to wait: they lived together and got on great, but some of that came from respecting each other’s privacy, after all they were two grown women. So neither would go into the other’s bedroom without asking. Sara sat back down at her laptop, but before she could continue reading she heard the front door open. A moment later Jessica was in the room.
‘Hi,’ she said dropping down on the sofa with a sigh, ‘have you finished your marking? I felt sorry for you this morning; glad I’m not a teacher.’
‘Yes, I’ve finished.’ Sara hesitated: this would probably give her sister a good laugh. “Jess, I think I might like to read Lord of the Rings at last. Could I borrow your paperbacks?’
Sara shrugged at Jessica’s stunned expression. ‘If you can’t beat them, join them,’ she said with a grin.
‘Right, of course.’ Without any more reaction Jessica jumped up and disappeared inside her room, returning moments later with three paperbacks. She handed them over. ‘If you really want to read it I can give you a digital copy, then you can load it onto your Kindle. It makes reading the whole thing a lot easier.’
Digital copy? Sara bet that didn’t come from Amazon. ‘Thanks, that would be great.’ And she could use the search to read about Imrahil. But as she thought it she dismissed the idea. Having met so many characters, it would be nice to find out what Tolkien said about them all. And she remembered that when she had been at Edoras she’d vowed to read the book.
In all fairness her sister never said another word until the next weekend when Sara had read the whole book and admitted she had thoroughly enjoyed it.
‘Well, I thought you would, once you gave in and tried,’ Jessica said, looking just a little superior. ‘It really is a classic, and Tolkien created such a believable world, not to mention the skill he had in inventing new languages. It’s no wonder people like me become obsessed with the story and the characters.’
‘I suppose so,’ Sara agreed. Not that she would admit becoming obsessed with a character. She wondered how she could slip Imrahil’s name into the conversation when her sister gave her the opening.
‘Who was your favorite? Most people start by liking one character over the others.’
‘I like a lot of them, Faramir, Aragorn and Éomer. But definitely one of my favorites was Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth.’
‘That doesn’t surprise me; you were wearing that Swan-ship brooch. Which reminds me, I’ve been so busy I never asked you where you got it.’
‘Somebody I met gave it to me.’ And that was all she was going to say.
Jessica waited for more but when it didn’t come she gave Sara a sly grin. ‘Fine, keep it to yourself.’
Sara grinned back; pleased she had got away with that. ‘I looked up Imrahil in FanFiction, but there are not a lot of stories where he is the main character.’
‘No, he’s not so popular, although there are a good few good ones. Thanwen wrote a great story about him meeting his wife, and so has Lady Bluejay, with a different wife of course,’ she said, raising her brows suggestively. ‘That’s the great thing: Tolkien encouraged people to write about his world using their own imagination. The majority of stories are about the Hobbits, Aragorn and Legolas: Tolkien tells us a lot about them, but with others, Imrahil and Lothíriel for instance, we don’t know much, which means the authors can really be inventive. Although I like the stories best that weave their way around the facts Tolkien gave us. You might like ‘The Sell-sword and the Prince’, it’s part of a series by Lady Bluejay. Starts in Dol Amroth at Éomer and Lothíriel’s wedding, but goes back to when Imrahil was a young man.’
‘But King Éomer didn’t get married in Dol Amroth,’ Sara blurted out before she could stop herself. ‘The wedding took place at Edoras.’
Jessica laughed. ‘See, that’s your take on it. Tolkien only gave us the year, not the place, so authors can choose. Although I agree, a king is more likely to get married in his own hall. Perhaps you ought to write your own story, Sara, you have plenty of time. You don’t seem to be going out much.’
No, she wasn’t. Mooched around dreaming mostly. She made an instant vow to change her life; she needed some excitement in the real world.
But as time passed Sara could not settle to anything. Being honest with herself – nothing much interested her and how could anything be more thrilling than falling into another world. A fantasy world that seemed so real she had started to wonder about the partition between reality and the imagination. Maybe the idea of veils between universes that could be drawn aside in the right conditions was not so bizarre an idea as many people thought. Perhaps Jess was right and she should write her own fanfic story. But from what she could gather most of them included romance and she was certainly not going to write a romance for Imrahil, not without her being involved, anyway.
Summer passed slowly and she knew she needed to shake herself out of her lethargy or winter would be long and dull. Maybe she should go on holiday before school started again. An adventure holiday perhaps. But even when she booted up her laptop and started trawling through various sites, her interest didn’t last long and she irritably pushed it aside and stared out the window instead. The swallows were gathering on a nearby telephone wire – a pity she just couldn’t fly away with them.
‘You look more miserable than ever. Are you going to tell me what’s wrong?’ Jess’s voice made Sara start and she guiltily looked around at her sister. She’d been so deep in thought she hadn’t ever heard the front door go.
‘Sorry, Jess. I know I am a drag at the moment, I suppose I am bored and don’t quite know what to do about it…’ She stopped before she said anything else and stared at her sister, frowning. ‘Well, I think it suits you.’
Jessica laughed. She’d had her hair lightened; her dark brown hair now sported blonde and gold streaks. ‘A bit mad, I know, but there is a very good reason.’
‘Oh?’ Sara grinned at her. ‘And is that reason called Oliver by any chance.’ She’d met her sister’s latest flame a couple of times. Blond and beautiful, and she supposed when he was dressed up at one of their gatherings he would look as near a Rohirrim as anyone could in the twenty-first century.
‘Of course. We have our end of summer tournament in a couple of weeks and I wanted to be more authentic.’
‘It must be serious this time,’ Sara remarked. ‘You have changed your hairstyle and colour many times but never for a man.’
‘Jessica rolled her eyes. ‘One has to make sacrifices.’ She hesitated over the next words. ‘Which reminds me, there is something I want to ask you.’
Sara cocked her head to one side, waiting. She had a pretty good idea what her sister wanted. ‘Yes?’
‘Could I borrow your Rohirric dress? There’s not a lot of time to make a really good one. And yours is great.’
Sara would have felt mean saying no, although she nearly did. Naturally the dress was special to her and she had hung it carefully in her wardrobe, getting it out every day and staring at it. Just like she did the brooch. The only evidence of what had happened to change her life. Curtail her normal life that was. “Yes, of course you can, but don’t spill any mead over it, or anything else for that matter.’
‘Oh, thanks, I knew you would agree.’ Jess pulled her into an enthusiastic hug. ‘Look why don’t you come? It will be a great day. Oliver will be in the archery competition, firing from horseback. That’s always fun. And he’ll be taking part in the sword bouts. Since I am going to be wearing your dress you can wear my blue one. Your brooch will be great with that.’
Sara said nothing for a moment, her mind on overdrive. A blue dress; her Swan-ship brooch. She didn’t know if she could do it. The whole thing felt too poignant.
‘Come on,’ Jessica pressed. ‘You need to get out. You’ve done nothing much all the holidays. You will be back at school soon.’
Why not? She had to get her life back. Mooning around the fanfic archives was doing her no good at all. Sara nodded. ‘Okay, I will. But don’t expect me to do any weaving or stick holes in bits of leather.’
Jessica had high hopes of the coming weekend – studying the weather forecast avidly and keeping Sara updated not only on the prospect of sun but as to what would be taking place at the tournament. It sounded as if the main events would consist of fighting and eating. But in truth, having read Tolkien’s masterpiece, Sara realised that though the Hobbits spent their time eating, most others spent theirs fighting. So she couldn’t fault the authenticity.
‘I don’t know whether to leave my hair loose or braid it.’ Jessica twirled around in front of the big hall mirror.
‘Braid it.’ Sara answered straight away. ‘The Rohirric women don’t wear it loose.’
Jessica stared at her. ‘You are reading too much fanfic. It’s only the writer’s imagination, no one really knows. Except Tolkien, I suppose, and he wasn’t great on women.’
‘I suppose that’s true,’ Sara conceded. She would have to be really careful what she said at the tournament or she would get into trouble. How complicated everything had become. ‘But if you leave it down I would put in a couple of braids like you see in
Sara had her own braids wound around her head; she had liked it when Bregwen had styled it like that, thinking it suited her. Jessica agreed she looked good with her hair off her face, but refused to have all hers up, obviously influenced by Éowyn, who rode to war with unbridled hair tucked beneath her helmet. Sara was sure a few braids would not have stopped the shieldmaiden being recognised as a woman.
Finally ready, they walked arm in arm to Jessica’s car. ‘Should we have hired horses?’ Sara asked. ‘Not very realistic arriving in this.’ Jessica drove an old jeep.
Jessica laughed. ‘There will be lots of horses, but most will get there in horseboxes, I imagine. Oliver shares one with his friend.’
A whole way of life. Sara didn’t know if she really wanted to get involved. No make-believe world could take the place of her real fantasy.
The field was crowded when they got there, although none of the bouts had started so they hadn’t missed anything. As always there were many stalls, but no coffee-carts Sara noticed with a grin to herself, determined not to spoil her sister’s day by being miserable.
‘Come on, let’s go over to the horse lines, that’s where Oliver will be and I want to wish him good luck.’ Sara went with her; happy to be led along and hoping she would enjoy herself – something that hadn’t happened much lately.
‘There’s Oliver.’ Jessica pointed to where the horses were tethered. Sara glanced that way, and immediately noticed two men. Both were wearing similar outfits of full-sleeved shirts, leather breeches and boots. Oliver she recognised immediately, big and blond, you couldn’t miss him. But her eyes were drawn to the elegant figure beside him. Tall and dark, his long hair tied back in a tail. She closed her eyes. She must be dreaming. Or she really was losing her mind.
‘Oh, great.’ Jessica squeezed her arm. ‘Brennen’s here, I didn’t know he was back from New Zealand. That will make the competition fun. He’s ace with a sword.’
‘Brennen?’ Sara stuttered. Luckily Jessica didn’t notice her discomposure. ‘Yes, it means prince; he blames his Irish grandmother for that. Come on, I’ll introduce you. He and Oliver are great friends; it would be really nice if you got on.’
Sara could hardly put one foot in front of the other; frightened her imagination was working overtime, hoping against hope it wasn’t. Luckily Jessica still held onto her arm or she would never have covered the distance without falling over. It just couldn’t be him, all sense told her that. But nothing had made sense since the Sunday afternoon she had fallen asleep in a deckchair on her parents’ lawn. As if from somewhere far away she heard her sister’s voice introducing them. A poke in the ribs from Jessica stirred her to mumble a hello. Jessica and Oliver moved away slightly and Sara looked up into familiar grey eyes, which held an amused gleam. She could not utter a word. But as always he knew exactly what to say.
‘You look wonderful in that outfit.’ Smiling openly now, his hand briefly brushed against the silver Dol Amroth brooch pinned on her shoulder and he dropped his voice, although Oliver and Jessica were immersed in one another and taking no notice. ‘I always thought blue would suit you.’
|Home Search Chapter List|