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53. Mother Knows Best
Wynne tried to hide her shock and surprise. Why was Mother here? The plan was for Wynne to return home with the horses and an elf fiancé as soon as they finished their quest, Mother had not mentioned any intentions to meet them on the way. How had she even known they would be here? Through King Éomer?
“Oh my darling, how I missed you!” Mother caught Wynne in a hard hug, and then held her at an arm’s length as if to memorize her features. “You look so well, so healthy, only a little tanned but that is only natural I guess!” Despite the warm greeting, Mother’s smile did not reach her eyes. Her penetrating gaze scoured Wynne from head to toe, maybe she was trying to discern symptoms of pregnancy?
Father was waiting patiently behind his wife, and when she at last finished scrutinizing her daughter, he stepped forward to catch Wynne in a hug of his own. The familiar smell of tobacco, horses and leather reached her nostrils, and her chest grew tight with emotion.
“I missed you,” she murmured against the wool of his tunic. As usual he did not reply, but his strong arms around her spoke clear enough, and when he pulled back after a while his green eyes were moist.
“How are Grandmama and Grandpapa?”
“Oh they are very well, my dear, don’t you worry about them now.” Mother took Wynne’s arm and herded her toward the guest house. “Let’s have you change into something nicer.”
King Éomer and his lords would stay down another corridor in the same house as Wynne. She noticed none of the other lords had brought their wives.
Mother looked about her with satisfaction. She and Father had been assigned a suite; two rooms joined by a door in the middle, the latter completely unnecessary as it would probably never be opened if Wynne knew her parents.
“Lovely place. Finally I shall sleep somewhere decent!”
Mother explained they had initially planned to arrive yesterday evening, but then the king’s horse had come down with a limp and they had been obliged to sleep another night on the road, with Minas Tirith less than a league ahead. “It was horrible, I tell you. But what would I not do for my dear daughter?”
Two servants came in, heavily ladened with bags and a chest.
“Oh, here is my luggage, wonderful!” Mother picked out a large bag. “I brought more clothes for you, darling. I can only imagine what state your old ones must be in by now.”
Her friendly smile disappeared as soon as the door closed behind the servants. “Now, how did it go? Have you succeeded with the elf king?”
“No? NO?” She sighed dramatically. “Oh Eru, how could you fail something so simple! Did you not show skin?”
“Yes, I did.” Wynne found her gaze had wandered to her feet. How come Mother always could make her feel this small and weak?
“And serve them fire water?”
“Well no wonder it did not work if this is how you have been looking! What on Arda happened to that dress?” Without asking permission, she briskly pulled it over her daughter’s head. She tut-tutted over the chemise too, and removed that as well.
Wynne hugged her naked chest, feeling exposed and slightly ill, while Mother rummaged in the bag. “Here, put this on. But what have you done with your hair? Wynne, Wynne... have I taught you nothing at all? With that round face of yours, you must wear your hair up.” She rather forcefully untangled the braids Legolas had plaited. Wynne bit her lips to hold back her tears.
When Mother was finally satisfied, Wynne found herself in a dark gown with a wide skirt and very low decolletage, painfully tight around the waist. Her hair was combed back and confined in a pearl hairnet, and between her breasts rested a heart shaped diamond pendant on a silver chain, one Wynne recognized as belonging to her Grandmama. It was a dreadful, heavy thing.
Mother eyed her critically.
“It will have to do, I guess. Now, during the meeting today you must introduce me to King Thranduil, and I shall see what I can do. There is probably something he needs that I can supply, in exchange for his taking you as bride. A large dowry, jewels, horses… there is always something, and now that he already knows you it will be easier to persuade him. You have made friends with him, at least?”
“Yes.” Wynne’s stomach sank, this would be a disaster. Should she tell Mother of her feelings for Legolas and end this circus? But she was still not sure Thranduil had agreed to their courtship, and the minute Mother realized Legolas liked her daughter, she would be on Thranduil’s back, making plans and demands. Something which might very well have him change his mind.
No, it was best to keep silent for now.
The first meeting with the uruk-hai would be held in Merethrond – the Great Hall of Feasts in the Common Speech – which was larger than the throne room. To this event all the more notable citizens of Minas Tirith were invited; Aragorn had decided during yesterday’s informal supper that it would be beneficial if as many as possible could hear Nugu’s story. Gossip would spread through the city, and if the uruk later was spotted by someone they would not sound the alarm. Later, the kings and lords would council alone and discuss the peace treaty.
The Hall was indeed great, it was the most grandiose room Wynne had ever been in. White stone pillars held up a far distant roof, and the curved windows were more than twice a grown man’s height, with stained glass panes assembled into pictures of queens, kings, animals and dragons. A rosette window above a platform on one side was largest of them all, a midnight blue circle with the white tree in its center and seven stars around its branches.
The Hall was almost full of finely dressed guests. On long tables along the walls were bowls and platters with fruit, nuts and cheeses, from which they helped themselves while waiting for the king to arrive and open the meeting.
“Don’t eat anything, it makes you seem immoderate,” instructed Mother.
Wynne had no appetite anyway, and instead she silently observed the people. It was easy to spot the Rohirrim among the Gondorians; they were plainer dressed and had blond hair and beards, as compared to the others’ dark brown or black nyances. Her parents were exceptions; Father had inherited his dark colors from Grandmama, who was Dúnedain like Aragorn, and Mother was born in Gondor.
In a corner Wynne spotted her friends; the elves, Gimli, Sidra and her husband – still with his hood up. Both Thranduil and Legolas were looking at Wynne and her parents, probably curious about who they were. She wished she could tell them to look away; if Mother perceived it she might understand the truth.
Luckily a herald sounded his trumpet just then, and the massive double doors from the throne room opened to let in the King of Gondor, his queen and the young prince. The people parted, bowing and curtseying deeply, as the royalty walked through the Hall to stand on the raised floor under the window with the white tree.
The king began with a short speech introducing the topic, and because of the acoustic design of the walls, his voice carried through easily.
“Strange news have reached me; news of a new colony, whose inhabitants wishes to establish peace with the free races of Arda. Long have they been our enemies, but now they humbly come before us, seeking to overcome past grievances.”
The room buzzed when the guests murmured to one another, probably guessing who those enemies were, and very likely guessing wrong.
“If you would come forward, Nugu son of Staurz.” Aragorn’s clear voice suppressed the commotion.
The uruk obeyed, and soon stood next to the king. Even from this distance, Wynne noticed he was trembling. Then he folded back his hood, producing a collective gasp from the audience, and shrill squeals from some of the finer ladies.
Mother screamed too, as soon as she perceived the other ladies’ reaction.
“An orc! My dear, hold me or I shall swoon!” She leaned heavily on Father’s shoulder, fanning herself.
Then the Hall became silent, as Nugu commenced to tell his story. He spoke well, but his nervousness shone through and made it sometimes hard to hear. When he came to the part where he had met Sidra, she joined him on the stage with the orclings, again generating gasps of surprise, and in many cases, disgust.
“She wedded that… thing? I feel sick. Races should not mix! It’s unnatural!” Mother’s whispers were less than discrete, and Wynne’s jaw set. So, mixing races was unnatural, was it? Well, she should not try to make her daughter marry an elf then.
The elf in question and his son just then went to stand by the uruk’s family. Thranduil elaborately described how well he had been treated in the orc town, and how his son had been healed. Legolas filled in some details of the graveness of his injury, and how he would not have survived without Goltur’s skill. Since he was a Fellowship hero, this argument probably weighed heavily with the citizens.
“They are beautiful! So tall, so muscular! And that blond hair, too.” breathed Mother, clearly not listening to what the elves said. She nudged her daughter. “The son is almost as handsome as the father.”
Wynne bit her lip to hold back a sharp answer, she did not like Mother drooling over Legolas like that.
When Aragorn at last ended the meeting, the Hall again was filled with a roar of voices, as the people discussed what they had learned. Wynne left her parents and walked around, discreetly listening, curious about how the Gondorians had taken the news. She found that most seemed not altogether negative to the idea of friendly orcs, although there were of course many who were opposed to it as well. There was also many excited whispers about Saruman’s evil deeds in the breeding dens, especially among the ladies, surprisingly.
Wynne had just come to the other side of the room, when she almost bumped into Gimli. The dwarf was talking with King Éomer and his sister, and she remembered they had rode to battle together during the War.
“Lady Wynne, meet my brother,” said Éowyn when she caught sight of her.
Wynne curtseyed as deep as she could without losing her balance, awed to be in front of her fierce warrior king for the second time in her life. Just like last time though, he barely noticed her, except for a slight inclination of his head.
“How do you think it went?” continued Éowyn. “I do hope this will work, for Sidra’s sake. I don’t want her children to grow up in a cave, it’s not healthy.”
“The people seem mostly positive,” said Wynne, and recounted a little of what she had heard.
“When they ken the mighty Dwarf Lord of the Glittering Caves has signed the treaty, they’ll agree to it,” said Gimli firmly.
“I am not so certain.” Éomer frowned. “I cannot trust an uruk-hai so easily, and neither can my vassals, I dare say. Helm’s Deep is still fresh in our memories, as well as other ill deeds done by those atrocities.”
“Ach, ye will come around when ye talk with the laddie. He’s a bit shy, but there’s a good heart in him. And his wee bairns are lovely.”
“They are!” Galion cut in. He and the other elves had joined them, and Wynne’s heart twinged with happiness when Legolas came to stand next to her. Again he was clad in his pale blue prince outfit, and although Wynne was getting more used to seeing him look fine, she still prefered him in his hunter’s green. Thranduil wore an impossibly wide, red velvet robe with a white leaf pattern. How many luxurious garments had that elf brought?
“I like your dress,” whispered Legolas. “But what happened to your braids?” He seemed disappointed, but before Wynne could explain, Mother had caught up with her.
“Wynne my darling! I looked everywhere for you!” She kissed the air an inch beside her daughter’s cheek. “Well? Are you not going to introduce me to your friends?”
Will Mother behave, or will she embarrass Wynne in front of Thranduil?
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