Stirrups and Stitches |
Rating - T
Summary - Arwen and Éowyn try to help a distressed young Princess.
Disclaimer – The familiar characters belong to Tolkien and his heirs. I make no money for writing this story.
Éowyn restlessly patrolled the beds of herbs, pausing now and then to pull up a weed. The morning sun pleasantly warmed the herb garden. Arwen sat beneath an apple tree embroidering a shirt for Aragorn.
“Éowyn!” Faramir chided gently. “Leave that for the gardeners. You will get earth on your hands. Princess Minnah will arrive any moment.”
“We have awaited her for over an hour,” Éowyn grumbled. “I could have taken Elboron around the paddock on his pony.”
“I know the Princess is an inconvenience for you, my love,” said Faramir. “But we are the only relatives of Elphir’s who the Princess could stay with. The traditions of Harad dictate that a bride to be should stay with a married female relative of the groom’s, if the families live too far apart to travel on the wedding day. She is not permitted to see her husband- to -be at all or his male kin, unless a female relative is present.”
Éowyn sighed. “I think it is a cruel tradition. I only wish that Amrothos and his wife had not decided to go and escort Lothíriel to the wedding.”
Aragorn strode into the garden just in time to overhear the end of the conversation. “Éomer could hardly foresee the situation with the Dunlendings would worsen. He cannot leave to escort Lothíriel to her brother’s nuptials.”
Arwen looked up from her sewing. “I hope that the Princess will be happy in Gondor. It seems an unlikely match. I am glad that I can be here to welcome her.”
“Sometimes, I wish I were more like you, my friend, able to make diplomatic duties a pleasure,” said Éowyn.
“It will be beneficial for you and the children to spend some time in the country, vanimelda. I am sure you ladies will have an agreeable time planning the wedding,” said Aragorn.
“While you men escape back to the City!” Éowyn retorted.
“We were fortunate to be able to be with you today at all with the full council in session,” said Faramir. Uncle Imrahil, and my cousins cannot not leave the City while the Council debates seaport tariffs. We will return to escort the bride to Dol Amroth for the ceremony. I might need to console Uncle Imrahil, as I believe he had hopes of Elphir marrying one of Lord Húrin’s granddaughters.”
“Elphir already has an heir of high Númenorean lineage on both sides so I believe Imrahil is simply thankful that his heir finally has shown an interest in remarrying,” said Aragorn. “Poor Elphir has been sad of heart since Lady Morwen died in childbirth. Imrahil is delighted, now, that I chose to send Elphir on that diplomatic mission to Harad. Now only Erchirion lacks a wife.”
“It seems almost unbelievable that Elphir decided to wed the Emperor’s daughter after merely glimpsing her looking out of a window!” said Éowyn.
Aragorn laughed mirthlessly. “The Emperor is wily as a fox,” he said. “The last time I heard, he had thirty five daughters in need of advantageous marriages. If Elphir had paid the lady merely a passing compliment, Haluk would seize on it as an opportunity for a diplomatic alliance. Elphir would not dare refuse. He seems content enough, though, by all accounts. The Princess is said to be most fair and of a gentle demeanour. She should make a kindly stepmother for young Alphros.”
“I suppose the poor woman was traded for a camel!” Éowyn said sharply.
Aragorn shook his head. “No, Haluk demanded a favourable trading deal with Dol Amroth as his daughter’s dowry. From now on his merchants will not need to pay a levy to anchor in theBelfalas harbour.”
“That is worth more than an entire herd of camels,” said Faramir. “Sadly, the women of Harad can seldom marry for love. I am sure my cousin will endeavour to make the Princess happy, though.”
Just then, a serving maid hurried into the herb garden with the news that the Princess’ travelling party had been sighted.
Éowyn hastily wiped her hands on an apron she was wearing then pulled it off and handed it to the maid. The King and Queen, together with the Steward and his lady hurried into the courtyard to await the Princess’ arrival.
“She is highly honoured to have the highest in Gondor waiting to greet her,” Éowyn observed.
“Protocol does not demand it, but it should help ensure good relations with the Emperor,” said Aragorn.
“The children wanted to be here too, but I feared too many people might overwhelm the poor girl,” said Éowyn.
“I told Eldarion he could meet her after she was rested,” said Arwen. “I do hope she speaks our language, or you will have to remain here to translate, Estel!”
“I am needed in the City, but I will stay until one of the women from the Houses of Healing who speaks her language can be summoned, if you cannot understand the Princess,” said Aragorn.
Just then, a band of scarlet and gold horsemen armed with scimitars clattered into the courtyard. Aragorn and Faramir’s guards instinctively placed their hands on their swords.
An ornate carriage drawn by four black horses followed behind the horsemen and another group of armed riders brought up the rear of the procession. The carriage halted and one of the riders opened the door. The horsemen all turned away as the carriage’s occupants emerged.
A young woman clad in rather crumpled scarlet and gold robes was helped from the carriage by a plainly clad young woman who was obviously a maidservant. The Princess appeared to be very young. She had olive skin, delicate features, and soft brown eyes that held weariness and apprehension.
The Princess espied Aragorn and Faramir and prostrated herself on the ground before them, her maid quickly following her.
“Please rise, Princess Minnah, and your companion,” Aragorn said gently in the tongue of Harad. “I am King Elessar and this is my Queen, Lady Arwen. We are honoured to welcome you to my kingdom of Gondor and Arnor. May you dwell in our lands in peace and gladness.”
“The honour is all mine, o great and exalted King,” said the Princess softly. She raised herself to a kneeling position and held out her hands, palms-up. “I am Minnah, daughter to the Emperor of Emperors, Haluk Al-Siddik, upon him be praise.” After rushing the lengthy salutation out in heavily accented Westron, the princess looked up expectantly.
Faramir came forward and raised her up gently but firmly “Welcome, Minnah, daughter of Haluk, on behalf of Elphir, son of Imrahil, my kinsman.” he told her courteously, with a slight nod. “I am Faramir, son of Denethor, Prince of Ithilien, in whose lands we now stand, and Steward of Gondor. My lady and I welcome you to our home and hearth.” Faramir released her slender hands and was rewarded with a hesitant smile. He gestured to a waiting servant who handed him a small box, which he offered to the Princess. “Prince Elphir has sent you this gift, an heirloom worn by all the Princesses of Dol Amroth. He eagerly awaits your arrival to unite with him in marriage.”
Minnah opened the box and lifted out an exquisite mithril and crystal pendant in the form of a swan. She looked pleased at the gift. “My lord and husband- to- be honours me greatly with this gift of great excellence,” she said.
Éowyn smiled at the young woman. “I am certain you must be tired after your journey,” she said. “I will show you to the chamber we have prepared for you. I am Lady Éowyn, Princess of Ithilien and of the Mark. There is refreshment and accommodation for your guards in the barracks.”
“May my handmaid, Raha, be allowed to accompany me, most honoured lady?” asked Minnah. She gazed at Éowyn with sad brown eyes, looking more like a hunted doe than a joyful bride.
“Of course, Princess, and I will provide any other servants you might need,” said Éowyn. “Come now, you will wish to bathe and change your gown.”
“I cannot, noble lady!” said Minnah and promptly burst into tears.
“You cannot?” Éowyn regarded the weeping princess in bewilderment.
Aragorn and Faramir gestured for the guards and servants to leave. Once they had done so, they tactfully withdrew, leaving the three women alone.
Arwen hurried forward and placed a comforting arm around the girl. “No one will make you do anything, you do not wish to, Princess,” she soothed. “If you are unhappy about your forthcoming marriage you have only to tell the King. Elphir is an honourable man who would not wed you against your will.”
Minnah shook her head. “Lord Elphir seems kind, I like him, I am sad to leave my homeland and fearful about becoming a wife, but I could have a far worse husband chosen for me,” she said between sobs.
“Tell me then what troubles your heart so,” Arwen coaxed.
“I cannot change my gown.”
“You can have only your own maid to help you dress in the privacy of your bedchamber.” Arwen now looked as perplexed as Éowyn. Whatever could be so daunting about changing a gown?
“You not understand, honoured lady,” Minnah sobbed, her Weston becoming increasingly garbled. No other gown do I have. We crossed great river and horse drawing the cart with my dresses stumbled. The cart went in river and all my clothes are gone, including gown for wedding!”
Éowyn looked greatly relieved. “Do not worry, Princess Minnah. We can lend you some clothes until the seamstresses can make you new ones.”
Minnah shook her head. “You most kind, honoured lady, but wedding robe from Harad most special. The honour of my esteemed father is besmirched! I bring shame on my noble ancestors and my Lord Elphir too!” She sobbed even more piteously.
“My seamstress is highly skilled. She could make you a beautiful wedding gown.” Éowyn struggled not to roll her eyes at so much commotion over a mere dress.
“My gown had much embroidery from greatest seamstresses in all Harad,” sobbed Minnah. “Another such cannot be made!”
Arwen suddenly smiled. “I have some skill with the needle, Lady Minnah. I promise you I shall make you a wedding gown that will bring honour to you and your house. I know the seamstresses of Harad are skilled, but the skill of the Elven women is even greater. I am the only granddaughter of Galadriel, a great Elven lady, who taught me the art of needlework for years uncounted in the golden wood of Lothlórien. Fear not, young Princess; I shall make you such a dress that it will long be remembered in song and story!”
Minnah’s sobs final quieted. “You would do this for me, exalted Queen? I am but a stranger; and the daughter of those who once drew swords in these lands. ”
“Gladly, child.” said Arwen. “For I, too, came to this land a stranger. First, though, you must refresh yourself and permit us to lend you something to wear for the time being. When you have eaten, you can tell me exactly what sort of a wedding gown you require and we will send for the materials needed.
Minnah beamed through her tears and allowed herself to be escorted indoors.
Éowyn sighed with relief. Praise the Valar that Arwen was here. In the meantime, she looked out a gown of her own for the Princess and while the lady was bathing, her maids hastily took up the hem and took in the bodice, as Minnah was shorter and even slighter of build than the Princess of Ithilien.
Éowyn then led her guest into the dining room. She stood with the others to face West before they ate, though she was obviously puzzled by the custom.
“Facing the West reminds of where we came from and who we are,” Faramir explained. “Also the Higher Powers dwell in the utmost West.”
“Ah,” said Minnah. “Our High Ones dwell in the sky.”
“The One who created us dwells everywhere,” said Aragorn.
Minnah looked more bewildered than ever but said nothing.
Fortunately, Princess Minnah seemed to like the dishes set before her. Éowyn had asked the cooks to add extra spices to the dishes served to their guest. Minnah hardly spoke throughout the meal, though, and seemed to be overwhelmed to be in the presence of the King and the Steward despite their best efforts to treat her kindly.
When the meal was over Aragorn and Faramir announced they would set off to return to the City, Arwen asked if they could delay for an hour or so. The men agreed and Arwen then obtained a large sheet of parchment from Faramir and then, armed with a tape measure, quill and parchment, escorted the Princess to her bedchamber.
“What was your wedding gown like, Minnah?” she asked the girl.
“It was scarlet and gold as is the custom of our people.”
“I know it must grieve you greatly to lose a dress that you must have put such time and care into choosing.”
“I did not choose it. It is what is appropriate for a princess of my people.”
Arwen thought for a moment, then dipped the quill in the ink and started to draw on the parchment. After a few moments of drawing, she showed her sketch to Princess Minnah. “I think something like that would suit you,” she said. “It is a flowing robe like those worn in your land, but the design also has elements from Gondor and from the Elves in the style of the sleeves, bodice, and train.”
“It looks beautiful!” Minnah whispered, gazing in awe at the design. “Like the bride’s dress in the tale of Prince Gengi and the Fire-spirit!”
“Do you have a headdress?” asked Arwen.
“My jewels and the gold for my dowry were in another chest,” said Minnah. “They are safe. I have too Lord Elphir’s gift to wear for wedding.”
“And what of nightgowns and under linens?”
“I had some with me in a bag in the carriage, but most were with my gowns.”
Arwen picked up the tape measure. “Now if you stand still for a moment, I will measure how much material we will need. We will first make the design roughly in plain linen to make sure it fits you. Wait there while I go and speak to my husband.”
Arwen found Aragorn in the solar with Faramir and Éowyn. “I have an errand for you, Estel,” she said. “When you return to the city, I want you to speak to my lady in waiting, Lady Haleth, and ask her to send me a bale of the scarlet silk that the Ambassador’s wife sent me last Mettarë. It is genuine Haradraic silk and should be perfect. I also need gold, silver and mithril thread, and three rolls each of blue, white, and gold lightweight silks and plenty of sewing thread and needles. I also need several rolls of fine linen and a roll of lace, and at least three seamstresses from the City to help with the trousseau.”
“I had better write all that down, vanimelda,” said Aragorn looking worried. “Does a wedding really take so much material?”
“It does indeed,” said Arwen. “Did you not notice my gown when we were wed?”
“I had eyes only for you, not for what you were wearing,” said Aragorn.
“I have worn it since at feasts,” said Arwen. “You must recall my blue and silver gown!”
“Yes, of course, it is most fair, but you would look fair in a flour sack,” said Aragorn.
“No lady would feel fair wearing a flour sack,” chided the Queen, though her eyes were smiling. “I need the materials and the seamstresses as quickly as possible, on the morrow if that can be arranged.”
“I will do my best, vanimelda,” said Aragorn.
“Why not ask Legolas for help too?” Faramir suggested. “There are surely some seamstresses in his colony and it is but an hour’s ride away.”
“That is an excellent idea, my friend,” said Arwen.
“There is space in my sewing room for eight ladies,” said Éowyn.
“Do you have any material I could use to make a pattern with?” asked Arwen.
“I expect so, but you would need to ask my maid,” Éowyn replied. “She is in charge of my seamstresses and sewing supplies.”
“I will leave you ladies to the dressmaking,” said Aragorn. “We must depart now if we are to reach the City before nightfall.”
“May Lady Star Kindler protect you on your travels, my love,” said Arwen. The royal couple embraced as they said their farewells, as did Faramir and Éowyn. The men then took their leave.
“I must write a message to Legolas at once,” Arwen told Éowyn. “Then I must return to Minnah. I need to make a pattern for her dress. Do you wish to join me?”
“I would stick so many pins in the unfortunate maiden that it would cause a diplomatic incident! I have no desire to start the next war with Harad. I thought I would take Elboron out on his pony. Shall I take Eldarion too?”
“Thank you, he would like that. I fear I will be spending less time with Eldarion today than I had hoped to. Will you tell him I will read him a bedtime story?”
“Of course, my friend.”
“I shall see you at the evening meal then.”
The ladies went their different ways, Éowyn first to the nursery and then to the stables while Arwen asked the maid the fetch some rough material. In her elegant hand, the Queen wrote a message to Legolas, seeking his assistance. By the time she finished, the maid had returned with a roll of coarse linen. Arwen returned to Minnah’s chamber with it.
“I shall need you to undress to your underwear while I fit this material on you, Princess,” said Arwen. “I will try not to stick any pins in you.”
Minnah gestured to her maid who helped her out of the long sleeved, high- necked gown she was dressed in. Beneath it, she wore long silk drawers secured around the ankles and a long sleeved high- necked shift of the same fine material, which was secured around the wrists.
“You will need a shift with a lower neckline if you wish to wear Elphir’s gift at your wedding,” said Arwen.
“Will the sand not irritate my skin?” asked Minnah. “Lord Elphir told me his land had much sand like mine. Sand blows everywhere so we wear special garments to protect the skin. Do they not do so in my lord’s lands too?”
Arwen struggled not to laugh. “The sand in Dol Amroth is moist and does not blow around. The tide washes the beach twice every day.”
Minnah looked at her wide- eyed. “So much water that even the sand is washed? These lands have many marvels.”
“I have never seen a desert; that too must be a marvel to behold, so my husband tells me.”
“The King knows my land?”
“You should ask him to tell you about his travels when he returns.”
“I could not be so bold, honoured lady.”
“I shall ask him to tell you then, he enjoys sharing tales of his travels.” Arwen continued to drape and pin the folds of fabric around Minnah. “Elphir’s father is quite well travelled too, though I doubt any who still dwell in Middle-earth have travelled as much as my husband.” Arwen stood back to survey her handiwork. “I think a slightly fuller skirt should suit you better and wider sleeves. You will look beautiful, Minnah. Elphir should be well pleased with his bride.”
“I hope I can give my lord many sons,” Minnah said though she looked fearful at the prospect.
“He has an heir. I am certain daughters would please him too,” Arwen said reassuringly.
“My honoured mother bore only daughters to my exalted father and lost his favour,” Minnah said mournfully.
“I am certain you will not lose Elphir’s favour,” said Arwen. “Will your kinsfolk be attending the wedding?”
Minnah shook her head. “The Emperor, may he live a thousand years, has matters of state more important to attend to.”
“And your mother?”
“The women in our land rarely travel and if they do only with their husbands or fathers. The honoured ambassador, may he forever prosper, will take my father’s place at the wedding. He is of my tribe and my kinsman.” She suddenly burst into tears. “Alas, I will never see my mother or my sisters again!”
A sorrowful look came into the Queen’s eyes as she drew Minnah close. “My father was at my wedding as were my grandparents and brothers, but my mother was far away. I shall never see her again until the breaking of the world. Do not despair, Minnah, your parting is not so final. Elphir might take you to visit your family one day.”
“I am sorry, my lady,” Minnah sniffed. She rubbed her eyes on her sleeve.
Arwen patted her shoulder. “There is nothing to be sorry for. You are very young and a stranger in a strange land, but I hope in time you will look upon me as your friend and you will gain a new family when you wed. I have gained far more than I lost through my marriage.”
“Already I see you as a friend, esteemed Lady Arwen.”
Now let us see, how the bodice of this gown should look,” Arwen said briskly. “I think a square neckline should show off the pendant well, but not too low.”
The preparations for Minnah’s wedding dress and trousseau continued apace. The next day, three of Arwen’s seamstresses from the City arrived, bringing with them the materials that Arwen had requested. Three Elven seamstresses also arrived from Legolas’ colony, and together with Arwen, and Éowyn’s seamstress, they set to work with a will, cutting and pinning and stitching. Arwen decided to concentrate her efforts on the embroidery for the wedding gown as that was her especial skill. The three Elven seamstresses stitched the gown together while the other ladies worked on day dresses, a travelling dress, undergarments, and night gowns. It was a time- consuming task. Arwen was careful, though, not to neglect her son. She would tell Eldarion stories while he sat at her feet for part of each day while she sewed.
Éowyn had plenty to occupy herself with and yet she felt oddly at a loss and left out. She had always heartily detested sewing and begrudged every hour spent learning it as a girl. Now the knowledge served her only when she needed to stitch a patient’s wounds. She much preferred to leave the household’s sewing needs in the capable hands of her seamstress and maids. Truth to tell, although she desired to look her best on state occasions, she saw dresses as being solely for warmth and decency.
Although she and Arwen were close friends, where the feminine arts were concerned, they were complete opposites. Usually, they complemented one another with their different skills, but since Princess Minnah had arrived, Éowyn had felt oddly excluded. She only saw both Arwen and the Princess at mealtimes when they all dined together and even then, their talk was all of dresses.
The days passed until one day, a letter from Elphir was delivered to Princess Minnah. It arrived while the ladies were dining together.
Minnah studied the seal with apprehension. “My lord has sent me a message? I hope he is not displeased with me.”
“It is our custom for betrothed couples to write to one another,” said Éowyn. “Lord Faramir and I exchanged many letters before we were wed.”
“Alas, although I can speak your tongue, I cannot read or write it,” said Minnah.
“I will read it to you,” said Arwen. She did not tell the Princess that she had written to Elphir to express her concerns about how young and afraid Minnah was. It seemed the Prince had sent a prompt response. She began to read the letter aloud; “My dear Minnah, It gladdens me to know you have arrived safely. I hope you are in good health and contented to dwell with my kin until our wedding day.
I eagerly await your arrival. I long to show you our fair land with its beautiful beaches and cliffs. I long also to show you the castle of which you will be mistress and for you to meet my son.
Have no fears of the wedding night, my dear one, I only desire our marriage to be complete once we have grown to know one another better.
I look forward to riding through the streets of Dol Amroth with you after the ceremony and showing my beautiful bride to my people.
In eager anticipation of your arrival, Elphir, son of Imrahil.
Arwen had carefully watched Minnah’s face as she read. The young Princess had let out a sigh of relief at Elphir’s promise to get to know her better, but before the letter had finished she looked utterly woebegone. “Are you quite well, Minnah?” the Queen asked.
“My lord expects me to ride through the streets with him?” Minnah said dolefully.
“That is the custom in Dol Amroth so the people can see their new Princess.”
“But I cannot ride!”
“You cannot ride?” Éowyn looked shocked. “I have been told that not many women in your lands do, but I assumed as you were about to marry a Lord of the West you would have been taught. Are you afraid of horses?”
“I like horses very much, honoured Lady Éowyn,” said Minnah. “I would watch my honoured father ride his great war stallion into battle and I was sometimes permitted to visit the foals and fillies.” She smiled wistfully. “Horses are prized by the chieftains even more than their second-born sons. Yet no maiden in Harad is permitted to ride. It is said such exercise might cause her fail the sheet test on her bridal night and bring great shame upon her family!”
“There is no such test in my lord’s realms,” said Arwen. “Our maidens are well chaperoned and protected, but the young women of the noble houses learn to ride, alongside their brothers.”
“Alas!” cried Minnah. “I will bring shame upon my honoured lord and upon my house!”
“I am certain that Elphir would-“
“Nonsense!” interrupted Éowyn. “I can teach you to ride, Princess Minnah.”
“But how can I master such a skill in so short a time, honoured lady?”
“All you need to learn is stay atop a gentle horse,” said Éowyn. “it is simply a question of balance. You like horses so that is a good start as they know full well who likes them or not. Arwen, do you need the Princess for dress fittings in the morning?”
Arwen shook her head.
“Good, then we will begin your riding lessons after breakfast on the morrow, Princess Minnah.”
“You honour me, esteemed Lady Éowyn. I shall strive to master this art.”
“Have no fear that you will,” said Éowyn. “I taught Elboron to ride when he was three years old.”
A little later, Arwen and Éowyn found themselves alone together when the Princess retired to her chamber.
“Why did you not let me suggest to Minnah that Elphir would surely not mind if she rode in a carriage?” asked Arwen.
“The girl is timid as a mouse,” said Éowyn. “She needs some confidence before she becomes a bride. Learning to ride would give her that. I deplore how women in Harad are treated like fragile hothouse plants to be plucked by the menfolk! Exercise and fresh air should make Minnah blossom.”
“I believe you are right,” said Arwen. “And should she fail to learn to ride there is always a carriage.”
“She will learn,” said Éowyn. “I need the help of the children first. May Eldarion join Elboron outside?”
“Of course,” said Arwen. “Are you planning to take them riding? I must return to my embroidery.”
“I simply need them to go to the paddocks with me,” said Éowyn rather mysteriously.
“The fresh air will be good for Eldarion,” said Arwen. She was already halfway out through the doorway.
Éowyn went first to the stables to speak with her grooms and then to the nursery and told the children to gather up all their musical instruments. A few minutes later, she led them out to the paddock where her young mares were grazing. She told Eldarion and Elboron to bang their drums and play their toy trumpets as loudly as they could.
“I thought we weren’t supposed to make a lot of noise near the horses,” said Elboron.
“Usually, you should not,” said Éowyn. “I want to find one that is not scared by noise and making lots of noise is the only way to do it. So please make as much noise as you can.”
The boys set to with a will and produced an ear- splitting din that made Éowyn cringe. She carefully observed the mares. Several bolted off to the far side of the field with their ears flattened, others simply stopped grazing and looked around while one or two took no notice at all.
Éowyn told the accompanying servant to fetch her grooms. They arrived a few moments later carrying tack, as Éowyn had instructed them previously. She ordered them to saddle up the mares that had remained calm and ride around the paddock. She then told the boys to play the instruments again and alternately cheer and boo at the tops of their voices. She sincerely hoped that most of the folk in Dol Amroth would welcome Princess Minnah, but there was always a risk that some might not.
One of the mares reared and almost threw her rider. She told him to dismount and unsaddle the horse. She continued to watch the others, most of them looked fairly calm, but two, a bay and a sorrel seemed especially calm. Éowyn instructed the grooms to take those two to the stable and release the others back into the field. She then returned to the nursery with the children and stayed with them for a while.
Before bedtime, Éowyn visited the two mares in the stables. She had been trying to breed horses that would be good for riding under a variety of circumstances. She tried to decide which of the two would be most suitable for the nervous Princess, but both mares were equally friendly and placid. It might be best if Minnah chose her mount, or better still the horse chose her! In the Riddermark, horses almost always chose their riders.
After breakfast the next morning, Éowyn found some riding boots that would fit Minnah and took her out to the stables. The ever- present Raha trailed behind them. Éowyn introduced the Princess to the two horses she had chosen the day before. The bay hung back, but the sorrel immediately nuzzled against the girl.
“She is beautiful!” Minnah exclaimed.
“If you can learn to ride her, she is yours,” said Éowyn.
“You would give me so great a gift, honoured Lady Éowyn?” Minnah’s eyes lit up, though she looked as if she could hardly believe her ears.
“She will be my wedding gift to you if you can master her. She is a good horse, her sire is of elvish stock while her dam came from my homeland, which is famed for its horses.”
Minnah beamed and clapped her hands in delight. She turned to her maid and for a moment chatted to her excitedly in her own tongue before returning her attention to Éowyn. “I have heard of the horses of Rohan,” said Minnah. She fed the sorrel a carrot that Éowyn had handed to her. “What is this horses’ name?”
“Her name is Rusca,” said Éowyn. “My husband named her soon after she was born. Now let us get her saddled and you can begin your first lesson.”
“I can hardly wait, honoured lady. Long have I desired to ride a horse.”
Éowyn smiled at the girl who was almost childlike in her excitement.
One of the grooms saddled Rusca and led her to a nearby paddock where Elboron usually rode his pony. Éowyn asked the man to bring a mounting block and hold the mare’s bridle.
“Today, you will just learn to get used to sitting upon Rusca’s back,” said Éowyn. “Tomorrow, you can start learning to ride at a slow walking pace. This mare is well trained and you can trust her, but she will need to trust you too.”
“I shall try my utmost, honoured Lady Éowyn,” said Minnah. She allowed Éowyn to help her sit in the side- saddle, and place her feet in the stirrups. The young Princess nervously looked down and around her. “It is very high up here, esteemed lady!” she said.
“You will learn that is a good feeling,” said Éowyn firmly. “Now, don’t slouch, keep your back straight and your hands steady. If you pull at Rusca’s mouth, you will hurt her. Keep your legs steady too so that you are secure. Your toes should point towards upwards. Keep your ankles flexed and your heels down as that will keep you secure by not allowing your feet to slip through the stirrups.”
Minnah screwed up her face in concentration as you tried to follow these instructions. “What if I fall?” she asked anxiously.
“You will not if you do what I say,” said Éowyn. “Try to feel at ease. If you feel upset, so will Rusca.”
“I do not wish to upset her,” said Minnah. “She is so beautiful.”
By the end of the morning, Minnah looked almost as relaxed upon Rusca’s back as she did sitting upon a chair. Éowyn was pleased with her pupil and told her so.
The next morning, Éowyn again took the Princess out into the paddock and helped her mount the mare. Then she handed the girl a whip.
“I will not hurt Rusca!” Minnah protested indignantly.
“Neither do I wish you to,” said Éowyn. She was beginning to warm to the girl. “You use the whip to give your horse cues, as riding side-saddle you only have one foot to show her where you want to go. Now keep your posture correct. Your hips and shoulders should be square on and your spine aligned with the horse’s spine. Your heels should be below your toes and both ankles flexed. The left heel must touch the side of the horse whilst in the stirrup, and the right heel stays down for balancing.”
“There is so much to remember, honoured Lady Éowyn.”
“I shall teach you to remember,” said Éowyn. “I shall now lead you round the paddock. Hold on to the reins evenly.” She started to lead Rusca around the field at a very slow pace. With every step they took, Minnah became more confident.
“I’m riding a horse!” she exclaimed when they reached the far side of paddock.
“Indeed you are,” said Éowyn. “Is it not the most wonderful feeling? Tomorrow, you shall try guiding Rusca yourself.”
Minnah nodded and smiled broadly.
At the noonday meal, Minnah excitedly informed Arwen that she had been riding. Her eyes were alight and her skin was glowing. She ate her food with enthusiasm and even requested a second helping.
As the days passed, Minnah became increasingly confident. Éowyn concluded the young princess had a natural affinity with horses. As her riding skills increased, she blossomed like a flower too long in the shade, suddenly exposed to the sun.
When Aragorn and Faramir returned for a visit, they found their wives engrossed in wedding preparations.
“How is our timid Princess faring?” asked Aragorn, putting his head around the door of the sewing room.
“You will be surprised when you see her,” said Arwen. She put her embroidery to one side and went to join her husband. “Éowyn is teaching her to ride and she is blossoming.”
“That is excellent news,” said Aragorn. Linking his arm in his wife’s, the royal pair walked outside to where they could see Minnah riding around the paddock under Éowyn’s close supervision. The Princess’s laughter was carried to them on the breeze. “Elphir will be delighted. Faramir and I were talking to him while we were in the City. He told us that one of the reasons that he asked for Minnah’s hand in marriage because he felt so concerned for her wellbeing. It seems that no one wanted to marry her because her mother is presently out of favour with the Emperor. The Emperor tried to persuade Elphir to marry another of his daughters instead, the sister of his heir, but Elphir was able to decline as the girl was only fourteen years old.”
Arwen sighed. “I feel for the maidens of Harad.”
“The lowly born women have far more freedom then their high born sisters,” said Aragorn. “As do the nomads, many of the wandering groups are led by very competent women.” His eyes fixed on Minnah as she executed a perfect turn around a hedge on the sorrel mare. “I believe Minnah’s mother came from one of those tribes. Minnah reminds me of the nomads in the way she sits on the horse as if it were part of her.”
The King and Queen wandered over to the paddock. Arwen was somewhat apprehensive, wondering how Minnah would react to the King’s presence. The Princess from Harad rode over to them and inclined her head. “Greetings my esteemed Lord King and my esteemed Lady,” she said with a smile.
Aragorn smiled back as he called out a greeting.
The days passed until the date of the wedding neared. It had been decided that the wedding party would travel to Dol Amroth mostly by water, along the Anduin and then along the coast to their destination.
The Royal Barge was large enough to comfortably accommodate the King and Steward and their families as well as the Princess and her maid and their horses. Minnah’s escort travelled overland to meet up with the bride at her destination.
Minnah was as excited on the journey as Eldarion and Elboron. Fortunately, she was not seasick. She could hardly believe her eyes when they reached the coast. “So much water!” she exclaimed as she stood on the deck beside Arwen and Éowyn and their sons. “It is as vast as the desert!”
“You will soon grow accustomed to your new home,” said Arwen.
“I like it already, esteemed lady Arwen,” said Minnah. Then she looked anxious. “Shall I see you and honoured Lady Éowyn again?”
Arwen smiled reassuringly. “Of course you will. We often visit Lord Imrahil and his family as do Faramir and Éowyn.”
“And Faramir and I shall invite you and Elphir to stay with us in Ithilien,” said Éowyn.
Faramir owned a house in Dol Amroth, which he had inherited from his mother. He had decided it would be perfect for the bridal party to stay there for two days before the wedding. The ladies continued with wedding preparations and shooed their husbands and children off to the beach.
The day of the wedding dawned clear and sunny, a perfect day for a celebration. The Ambassador from Harad and his wife had arrived the previous day. Aragorn had been asked to perform the ceremony in the town square where the groom and his family, including Faramir and Éowyn, would be waiting. The newlyweds would then ride through the streets in their wedding finery before enjoying a wedding banquet.
Arwen and Minnah’s maid helped the young bride dress. After she had bathed in water scented with rose petals, Arwen and Raha dressed her first in a linen shift with a low neckline and then eased her into her bridal gown. After the initial fittings, Arwen had kept the dress hidden from the young princess. Now she saw the finished dress for the first time, she clapped her hands in delight. It was truly a magnificent dress. The full skirt of scarlet silk fell in graceful folds as did the long sleeves, which were lined with the blue of Dol Amroth. The bodice was of the same blue and embroidered in silver and mithril were two graceful swans with diamonds for eyes. Around the hem, coiled the serpents of Harad, embroidered in gold thread. A train of shining gold silk, and a silvery veil secured by a gold coronet, completed the outfit.
“It is beautiful!” Minnah breathed. She hugged Arwen gratefully. “Truly this gown will be remembered in song and story. Even my esteemed father’s favourite wife does not own such a gown!”
“I enjoyed making it,” said Arwen, returning Minnah’s embrace. “The silk is of a good quality so it should last well so you can wear it for many state occasions after today if you wish.”
“It shall always be my favourite dress,” said Minnah. She admired her reflection in the glass as if hardly able to believe what she saw.
“The Ambassador and his wife are waiting for you,” said Arwen. “I must go now and join Estel in the town square.”
“I like the honoured Ambassador and his wife,” said Minnah. “They are most kind.”
A short time later, the bridal procession made its way to where the groom and his family were waiting. First came Minnah’s guards from Harad and then the Ambassador and his wife, escorting the bride.
Music was played by Imrahil’s minstrels, but the crowd remained silent, unsure of what to make of this young woman from the land of a former enemy.
Elphir stood waiting, flanked by his father, son, brothers and sister, together with the rest of his kin. When he beheld his bride, his eyes opened wide in admiration and amazement. He beamed at Minnah and she smiled shyly back at him.
Aragorn, with Arwen at his side, bound the couples’ hands with a silken cord and asked them to repeat their vows after him. There was no hesitation in the voices of either bride or groom as they declared their commitment to each another. Aragorn pronounced them to be man and wife. He looked at the crowd expectantly and a cheer went up. The people of Dol Amroth might have their reservations about the foreign princess but they loved their Prince and his heir and trusted their King.
Elphir escorted his new bride to where the horses were waiting and helped her mount the sorrel mare.
The procession set off through the winding streets. First came the musicians and then the guards from both lands, and the Swan Knights, then the bride and groom, Imrahil and his family, the Ambassador and his wife and the King and the Steward and their wives. More guards and Swan knights brought up the rear.
Minnah rode confidently beside her husband and smiled at the crowd. They cheered their lord and his bride for his sake. Some younger voices seemed to cheer the bride for her own sake as well.
“No one would guess that Minnah has only just learned to ride,” Arwen whispered to her husband. “Éowyn achieved a marvel in teaching her so swiftly.”
“She did indeed,” said Aragorn,“as did you my love, in making that fair dress for her.” He smiled proudly at his wife and then caught Éowyn’s eye and smiled at her too. No two ladies could be more complete opposites, but together they had helped Minnah begin her new life.
Riding references –