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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.
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