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.
With grateful thanks to Raksha and Deandra for editorial assistance and to Pauline and NiRi for their expertise in subjects I know little about.
She layeth her hands to the spindle, and her hands hold the distaff – Proverbs 31.15 – The Bible
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, her skilful hands embroidering a shirt for Aragorn.
"Éowyn!" Faramir chided gently. "Leave the weeding 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 the children riding."
"I know the Princess is an inconvenience for you, my love," said Faramir. "But we are the only kin of Elphir's with whom the Princess could stay. 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. They would be more suitable hosts or even Ambassador Tahir and his lady."
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 Rohan to escort Lothíriel to her brother's nuptials. Tahir and Adiva would welcome the Princess but they are not of Elphir's kin as custom demands."
Arwen looked up from her sewing. "I only 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 also 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 Kha Khan's daughter after merely glimpsing her looking out of a window!" said Éowyn.
Aragorn laughed mirthlessly. "Kha Khan Janab 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, Janab 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, Janab 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 the Belfalas 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 Kha Khan," 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, 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 Khan of Khans, Janab son of Jabari, may the sun never burn him!" 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 Janab, on behalf of Elphir, son of Imrahil, my kinsman." he told her courteously. "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. He 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. "May he forever dwell in the shade of an oasis!"
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. "Honoured 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 esteemed 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 of a 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, honoured lady. 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 sketching, 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 honoured 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 Lady Adiva 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 skilled seamstresses in his colony 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 to hand 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! Since I have no desire to start the next war with Harad, I thought I would take the girls out riding. 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 coarse linen. In her elegant hand, the Queen wrote a message to Legolas, seeking his assistance. By the time she had 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, esteemed lady, 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 replied. She 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 esteemed 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 esteemed Kha Khan, 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 so, then 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 esteemed 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."
"As did Estel and I," said Arwen.
"Alas, although I can speak your tongue, honoured ladies, 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 you are a little older and 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.
Written for the Teitho "Opposites" Challenge where it was unplaced.