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‘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.’
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