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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.
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