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Chapter 3 – A Wedding Awaits
Gilraen looked at the door through which her mother had just left. She was confused. Her mother seemed to be happy when she came to tell her that Dirhael had just accepted Arathorn’s proposal of marriage. She said all the right things and talked of how kind and how handsome Arathorn was. All of which was true, but it was unlike her mother to prattle on needlessly. And though her face smiled at the prospect of the match, the smile never truly reached her eyes. They remained in a slight shadow. Gilraen asked her about it, but she brushed it aside saying that she was just sorry to be losing her only daughter. Gilraen did not quite believe her, but she decided to let the matter drop for the time being.
Walking back to the hall to finish off some weaving that she had been working on, Gilraen thought upon her betrothal. In truth she still thought she was too young for marriage, but her father had granted his permission. He would not have, had he thought this beyond her abilities. She could not lie; if early marriage was to be her fate then she was glad it would be to Arathorn. He was strong and admirable. He had compassion and a good heart. Her chances of happiness were as good with him as they were like to be with anyone. What she had told her father earlier had been true. She did love him in as far as she knew anything about the emotion. She had not looked to forward to marriage. She knew it was her fate, all Dunedain women owed their legacy a marriage and children to help their people survive on in defiance of those who would see them vanish from Middle Earth, but she had not relished the task. That was until she had met the stern and yet gentle man who was son to the Chieftain. She bent over her work, engrossed in these thoughts when she felt eyes on her back. She turned her head and saw Arathorn gazing at her. Laughter in her voice, she said, “My lord, you are staring again. Have you never seen a loom before? It’s for weaving fabric, quite useful.”
Arathorn broke his gaze and laughed, “I come to offer my hand in marriage to a vision of grace and beauty that I first saw sitting at this same loom and instead I find I’m betrothed to an impudent baggage with a waspish tongue. Some power that I do not understand is certainly at work here.”
Gilraen again laughed, “Who is this vision of grace and beauty and why was she allowed to sit at my loom!” flicking her long plait over her shoulder in indignation.
With a look skyward and a cry of “Valar, be merciful!” the Chieftain’s son walked over the loom and drew the Thane’s daughter up from her stool. In a swift shift of emotion, Arathorn took both of her hands in his and looked earnestly into her warm hazel eyes and smiled. “I think that we can be very happy together. It is my wish that we are.”
Gilraen felt her cheeks colour as she stared into his gray eyes wordlessly, lost in the gentleness that she first saw there. The plain honesty with which he spoke the words tugged at her heart and all doubt then fled her mind. It was her destiny to marry this man and bear his children. For once she let earnest thought, untempered by the humour she so often used to colour her words as a form of defense, flow from her soul. “I wish it, too, with all my heart, my love.”
Arathorn caught the endearment, it was the first time she had ever used anything other than his name or title. His eyes grew softer and he bent to kiss his bride-to-be.
Gilraen sat outside the door to the hall spinning wool and enjoying the warm late spring breeze. It had been almost two months since Arathorn’s proposal had been accepted by her father and the settlement had been a whirl of activity since. The ceremony was to be held at Fornost in accordance with Dunedain custom. Wedding celebrations between tribes were always celebrated among the groom’s people, the sooner the bride was within the bosom of her new tribe the sooner the couple’s lives could begin. Much preparation had taken place already before the wedding party could depart for Fornost in a week’s time. A special Mead spiced with heather and rosehips was being fermented for the occasion and would be the Thane’s contribution to the wedding festivities. Gilraen smiled when she thought of the day that the heather from the surrounding hills had been picked for this particular mead batch.
Two months earlier…
Arathorn had yet to leave for Fornost much needed to be done ahead of the wedding festivities and he would leave at first light the next day. Gilraen wanted to spend some time with him before he had to leave. She found him in the stables brushing down his horse and laughing with Erithain and Erkenthal.
“I thought I would find you three in here. Escaping duties again, Erithain?”
Her younger brother looked indignant, “I have finished mending the fence to the sheep enclosure, just as Father asked and I only came in here to return the mending tools when, when.”
Gilraen lifted an eyebrow and waited, staring at her little brother.
“Curse the Valar! All right, guilty! But I was headed out to fix the fence right now!”
Gilraen just laughed and ruffled her younger brother’s mane of dark hair. “It’s all right! I’ll not say anything!” and planted a sloppy kiss on the boy’s forehead with a motherly air that she was sure would embarrass him.
She was not disappointed, “Sister! Stop!” he shouted, obviously embarrassed by this show of sisterly affection around the two men he most admired. He glared at her.
Stifling a laugh, Gilraen looked at her baby brother thinking how good it was that he was no longer the sullen, angry young man of six months ago. It had pained her greatly to see her youngest brother change from a sunny-natured boy into the anger filled youth that had challenged Arathorn. He was now a confident young man on his way to becoming a fine warrior. She had Arathorn to thank for that.
She looked at her betrothed, who was trying not to laugh in order to save some of Erithain’s tattered dignity after this sisterly onslaught of affection, “Well, my lord! I cannot have you leading my family astray so I have decided that you are going to make yourself useful.”
Turning an interested look upon her, Arathorn drawled, “And just what do you have in mind?”
Gilraen held out a couple of flower baskets and stated emphatically, “We going to pick heather!”
“Pick what?!” Arathorn asked incredulously.
“You heard me! Heather!”
“But weed picking is woman’s work!”
Gilraen looked at him through slitted eyes and Erithain barked a short laugh saying, “My lord, I’ve seen that look in her eye. That’s not one you’ll be wanting to feel the force of very often.”
Tapping her booted foot Gilraen said, “Woman’s work it may be but, if you are going to drink the mead then, you going to have some hand in making it!” She looked up at her husband to be and did not give an inch. “Come! The hour grows late for picking.” She shoved the basket at his chest, turned on her heel and started out of the stables.
Arathorn caught the basket before it dropped and followed the Thane’s daughter out the door with a confused look on his face. He turned back to Erkenthal, shaking his head as if to say, “How do I get myself into these things?” Erkenthal chuckled wryly and after the couple had left the stable said, “Heather collecting, indeed! Young Erithain,” he said, clapping his hand on the slender youth’s back, “I’ve never seen a man so much in love as our Arathorn.” He looked at Gilraen’s younger brother, whose face splitting smile gave indication as to his opinion of the matter at hand and said, “Come, I’ll help you mend that fence and then we can get some swordplay in before they return. Agreed?”
“Agreed,” said the youth, now enthusiastic about fence-maintenance, due to the offer of swordplay to follow.
Arathorn’s face was a picture as he walked behind his betrothed fully sensible of the indignity being doled out in the form of heather picking or so he thought.
Looking up at her husband-to-be, Gilraen saw the storm brewing. “My lord! You won’t need to pick the flowers if you continue to glower like that! The buds will simply jump into your basket out of fear.” Arathorn continued to glower. Gilraen relented somewhat. She stopped and grabbed his hands at his sides. “I will never ask you to ‘weed-pick’ ever again. But it was the only way to get you alone before you left. And I very much wanted to do that. Forgiven?” she smiled, mischief dancing in her eyes.
Glowering still, Arathorn felt a smile tug at his lips. He tried to resist for as along as possible, but found it was no use. As the smile reached his eyes he looked down at his betrothed, “Wench, you are going to be the death of me!” he said sternly but trace amusement was in his voice.
Gilraen laughed and resumed her trek uphill. She looked back and saw he was still staring after her, bemusement in his eyes. “Well step lively, many heather blossoms to be picked!”
A look of dismay replaced the bemused expression as the Chieftain’s son said, “Do you mean we still have to ‘weed-pick’?”
“Yes!” came the oh-so-innocent voice, “I said I wouldn’t ask you again. But I have not released you from my service just yet. Oh wipe that scowl off your face! I’ll never breathe a word about the great Chieftain’s son gathering heather.”
Arathorn made a noise at the back of his throat that left his opinion about his current situation in no doubt, but he soldiered on anyway.
After about a half an hour of collecting the lightly scented, lavender buds, he looked over to where Gilraen was kneeling. He could just see a streak of dirt across her forehead, and some of her honey brown hair had come loose from the single thick plait that hung over one shoulder as she kneeled at the heather bush. A stray thought of that honey hair completely unbound and flowing across her bare shoulders caught Arathorn and held him in its pleasant, sensual grasp. Gilraen looked up from her cutting as if she could read his thoughts, she slowly smiled and flicked the plait over her shoulder as she laid down her basket and cutting knife and walked over to where Arathorn stood, slightly uphill from him, otherwise the top of her head would only reach his chin; this way she stood almost to his nose. Arathorn was staring at her intensely. He reached out a hand to smooth back a stray tendril, “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered. He saw her colour slightly at the compliment. “Has no one ever told you?” She shook her head. “Then they are blind,” he replied fervently. She smiled and he saw his whole world in her full hazel eyes. Their lips touched in first a gentle kiss, which slowly grew more passionate….
“Sister! Hello! You’re miles away!”
Gilraen shook herself from her reverie, looked up and saw her brother standing there with an amused look his face, “Where were you? Because you certainly were not here spinning wool that’s for sure.”
Gilraen looked down at her drop spindle and viewed the uneven mess that was spun around it. Colouring red, she snapped, “Never you mind where I was! Did you want something?”
Erithain smiled, “No need to bite my head off! And yes, Mother wants to see you. She said to tell you she’s at Nedraril’s dwelling.”
“Thank you! Now be off with you!”
Erithain left for the stables, whistling.
Gilraen turned her thoughts away from her impudent little brother and thought about what he just told her instead. Nedraril’s dwelling was on the edge of the settlement. Nedraril and Ivorwen were especially close, not only were they cousins but also devoted friends. Nedraril’s husband had died in service to the Rangers ten years back at least and since that time Ivorwen kept an eye on her and her two daughters, both married now with families of their own. She was the best weaver in the settlement and Gilraen had learned much about both weaving and spinning sitting at her knee, the current example notwithstanding. She looked at the drop spindle in her hand and quickly stored it inside the hall. She would pick it up later, too embarrassed to let such misbegotten handiwork be discovered as hers by the older lady who had taught her so much.
Her soft boots kicking up little puffs of dirt, Gilraen walked along the path until she reached Nedraril’s dwelling. She noticed that some of the thatching on the roof of the cottage needed to be replaced. Making a mental note to tell Dirhael about the repairs, she called out, “Mother! Nedraril! Erithain said you wished to see me?”
Almost immediately her mother’s voice bid her, “Come in, child.” Gilraen pushed open the wood plank door and was immediately enveloped by the smoky warmth of inside. That smell always filled Gilraen with a sense of warmth and love, many hours of her girlhood had been spent here watching and learning what she would need to know on how to make a house and home for a future husband. The hearth fire burned low and tallow candles had been lit in a corner where the two women sat near the loom, the most prominent feature of the little dwelling, save the hearth fire itself.
Ivorwen and Nedraril sat on two stools sipping what Gilraen assumed to be apple cider as it was her mother’s favourite drink. Nedraril motioned for her to sit on the hearthrug near them and offered her a mug of the cool cider, which Gilraen gratefully accepted and sipped as she sat cross-legged on the plaited rug of many colours. “What did you wish, Mother?”
Ivorwen looked at her daughter and smiled a sad smile that again failed to reach her eyes. Gilraen frowned with concern. “My daughter is getting married. How proud I am of you.” That strange something that Gilraen had noticed of late flared in her mother’s eyes and then quickly died away. “My child, Arathorn is a good man. Love him well.”
“I shall, Mama, “ Gilraen said slipping back into calling Ivorwen “Mama.” It was always a sure sign that she was feeling emotional or somewhat insecure, “Is there something that you are not telling me, Mama? Is there something wrong with Arathorn?”
“No,” came the somber answer, “There is nothing wrong with him. In fact everything is as it should be.” Ivorwen took a long sip of her cider, perhaps too long. Valar, give me strength, she thought, to show Gilraen a happy and untroubled heart. She suspects that something is not quite right and I CANNOT tell her what I know. It will destroy her few remaining years of happiness and I WILL NOT destroy what happiness she CAN have. By the time Ivorwen put her mug down she had gathered herself more completely than she would have imagined possible just a few moments earlier. She smiled at her daughter and when Gilraen smiled back without a hint of concern she thanked the Valar because she knew that her smile had finally reached her eyes.
“Now then,” Ivorwen started brightly, “To the business at hand.” She looked conspiratorially at Nedraril who, as if on signal, got up and walked over to the chest in the corner opposite them to retrieve something. “What is something that every bride needs?”
Gilraen quickly said, “A groom!” her eyes snapping with amusement.
Laughing, Ivorwen said, “True! And you clearly have one of those! But something else, something that you’ll treasure always. And that is something that cannot always be said of a husband!”
At that Nedraril laughed, “So very true!”
Ivorwen’s eyes sparkled as she looked at her friend and then back at her daughter, “Close your eyes, my child!”
After waving her hand in front of Gilraen’s eyes, Ivorwen silently took the package from Nedraril’s outstretched hands and placed it on her daughter’s lap. “Now open them.”
Gilraen open her eyes and on her lap lay a large cloth package wrapped with her mother’s best blue ribbon. After tugging at it Gilraen gasped; sitting amid the folds of cream linen lay a fitted surcoat of deepest blue wool. Intricate patterns had been woven into the fabric and a swirling design in silver thread decorated the hem and neckline. The surcoat was joined in the front with a brooch wrought of finely interwoven leaved vines. Gilraen recognised it as Ivorwen’ wedding brooch which she had admired since a child. “Mama!” she exclaimed, “You cannot give me this. It is yours!”
Ivorwen demurred, “It is yours now! My mother gave it to me for my wedding day and now I pass it onto you to wear on yours.” She reached out and smoothed a strand of the hair that so mirrored her own colouring back behind Gilraen’s ear. Her hand fell on the thick, single plait of hair sitting on her daughter’s shoulder. She sighed, “You will make a beautiful bride,” a tear forming in her eye. Her daughter smiled.
Lifting the blue surcoat from amid the folds of linen Gilraen saw beneath an undergown of brilliant white. Setting the surcoat to the side for the moment she ran a hand over the soft, snowy wool. It had a scoop neckline that had the same silver border as on the surcoat, encircling it. She stood up and shook out the undergown of twill weaving to hold it against herself. The sleeves were fitted at the shoulder and stopped at the elbow where wide trailing cuffs would reveal bare forearms. “It’s beautiful!” Gilraen breathed as she swirled the voluminous fabric around, not allowing it to touch the ground. “I love it! Mama!”
Ivorwen smiled, “I’m so glad you like it, my child,” It is precious little to give when considering all that you will be asked to endure, was a thought her mother left unsaid, looking at her daughter through eyes that saw both present and future.
The velvet feel of the wool on Gilraen’s fingertips brought to mind thoughts of many winter nights sitting at the loom weaving by rush light and hearth fire. “When did you do this, Mama?” she inquired trying to think of times past when this rich, beautiful fabric could have been woven.
Her mother smiled enigmatically, “Times when you weren’t noticing. I have been weaving portions of this fabric since you were a little girl. Don’t you recognise the patterns on the surcoat. Nedraril taught you those patterns on the very cloth that was cut to make it. I taught you to spin with the wool that went into the undergown. When each length of fabric was finished I put it away for safe keeping, waiting for the time when you would marry. Granted nobody thought it would come so soon, but Arathorn is a good man. You will love your life with him.” That much at least I’m sure is true, Ivorwen thought. Out loud she continued, “Nedraril has had the actual sewing of the gown over the last two months and many of the women have helped with the embroidery.”
Gilraen looked at the beautiful gown and surcoat with new appreciation. Her mother had spent most of her daughter’s life preparing the garment. The private, peaceful times spent between a mother and her daughter when the mother passes on both knowledge and wisdom had been spent over the making of this dress. It was in essence a woven document of their relationship. All the love and care, laughter and tears throughout the years had been marked in its making. Gilraen studied the blue fabric of the surcoat and through tear-blurred eyes thought she could see a long ago mistake made by young hands weaving a pattern for a first time. She looked up and saw tears running down the faces of the two women who had taught her so much about life. “I love it!” She cried and hugged first Nedraril, “Thank you,” she whispered. She saved the longer hug for her mother, both crying at this point. Ivorwen whispered in her ear, “I want you to be happy, my dear.”
“I will, Mama. I promise.” Gilraen said wiping her eyes with her sleeve. Ivorwen smiled sadly, then said briskly, “Well, don’t just stand there holding the thing. Let us see how well it fits!”
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