Title: Dancing Lessons
Beta: Clodia and Finlay
Author's Notes: Middle-earth belongs to Tolkien.This is a sequel for my very short ficlet “Some Like It Hot But Maybe Not Quite So Hot” which was written for one of this group's fixed length ficlet challenges and can be found in my “Pebbles From Arda” collection.
Summary: After Lothíriel has dished up chilli paste and Éomer is nearly choking, where can the two go from here?
Word Count: 2159
"You should have given him a piece of bread,” hissed Amrothos across the table, while King Éomer continued to cough, tears running down his face. “And that was a mean trick, Lothíriel.”
“He said he liked chilli,” whispered Lothíriel. “How was I to know that he’d eat a whole forkful? I expected such a sophisticated man as the King of Rohan to be able to handle his food without explicit instructions from me.”
Casually, she broke a morsel from the white loaf in front of her and handed it to King Éomer, who took it, regarded it with suspicion and put it on the edge of his plate.
“Just a crumb,” he croaked, “that went down the wrong way.”
Lothíriel didn’t say, “I believe you, millions wouldn’t,” because she was a well-bred young lady and also because her father had been very particular about The King Of Rohan Being Our Friend And Ally And A Very Eligible Bachelor. So instead she said:
“I hope you feel better now, my lord.”
She dipped the tip of her knife into the chilli paste and spread it thinly on her breast of chicken. King Éomer watched her with half-closed eyes, then took his own knife and imitated her action. He cut off a small piece of chicken and chewed it slowly.
“Delicious indeed,” he said at last. “Tell me, Princess Lothíriel, about this fashion you have here in Dol Amroth of ladies wearing fish bones on their sleeves. Is it a very old custom?”
Lothíriel glanced at her sleeves, first to the left where King Éomer sat and then to the right. She had to muster all the restraint instilled by her refined education to suppress an unbecoming exclamation. How could he have been so quick and so sneaky? She considered her options, either to remove the fish bone – with dignity or with disdain? – or to play the game.
“This,” she said and gingerly lifted the fish bone between her thumb and her first finger, “is no ordinary fish bone. It comes from the Great Fish of Sântíago, which was caught in Dol Amroth in the days of Hémingpâd, and it has been passed on in my family from generation to generation. It must have fallen out of my locket. I am so glad you spotted it. I would have been distraught if I had lost it. It means that I am under a vow, you know.”
She opened the locket that hung on a gold chain round her neck, placed the fishbone inside and closed it with a snap.
“And what kind of vow would that be?”
“That, my lord, I cannot tell you.”
“Cannot or will not?”
Lothíriel pretended that she had not heard and turned with a little cry of delight to the desserts that were just being served.
“How delectable!” she said. “My lord, you simply must try the honey-soaked prunes, they are a speciality of Dol Amroth.”
“Certainly, my lady. Let me help you to some first, since you are so fond of them.”
Thus Lothíriel ended up with a plateful of her least favourite sweet and was obliged to eat it, since King Éomer scrutinized her closely. He did not exactly grin, but wore an expression which said very clearly that he was grinning inwardly. It did not matter. Somehow or other, she would get her own back later, but for now she decided to lull him into a false sense of security. Soon the meal was finished and the musicians began to play.
“Are you feeling cold, my lady?” he asked when she pulled on her white silk gloves.
“Have you never danced in Gondor before, my Lord?” she replied. “The gloves are for propriety, of course. During the dances, ladies and gentlemen will be very close to each other, but skin must never touch skin. It would be most unseemly if you were allowed to hold my bare hand.”
King Éomer raised an eyebrow.
“Is that so indeed, my lady? Well, since you seem to expect me to ask you for a dance, I shall have to do so. Will you grant me a dance, Princess Lothíriel?”
She almost flinched, but rallied quickly.
“You are the guest of honour, my lord, so I can hardly say no,” she replied coldly and laid her begloved hand into his outstretched palm.
There was no time to think up any kind of strategy, but Lothíriel trusted that a suitable idea would strike her soon enough. The couples took to the dance floor and formed two rows, with herself and King Éomer at the top. Lothíriel endeavoured to explain the movements to the king in two whispered sentences.
“If you are unsure, simply watch me,” she concluded.
The dance began, involving all the dignified pacing and stepping, turning and bowing, the elaborate weaving in figures of beauty and balance which made Gondorian dances such a pleasure to behold. Now they would form a figure of four, with the ladies’ hands delicately resting on the gentlemen’s, now they would cast off and take a turn to the left, then to the right, and rejoin their partner. King Éomer kept a keen eye on the other dancers and Lothíriel guessed that he was trying to anticipate their movements so as not to set a foot wrong.
Then, just as the music launched into its final cycle, she knew what to do. There was a pousette and a straight hey for eight and with imperceptible manipulation Lothíriel managed to manoeuvre King Éomer into the wrong position so that when the dance finished he found himself standing among the ladies, facing her brother Amrothos. When she saw the hint of a blush on his face, she inwardly chalked up a score point for herself.
She introduced him to a new partner, carefully chosen from among the plainer of the local ladies, and danced the next two with a handsome young nobleman from Anfalas. King Éomer, she noticed, danced only the first of these and then sat down to talk to his own men. Was he a bore then and footsore after a couple of dances? Well, she would show him that she would not get out of breath so quickly!
When the music stopped, Lothíriel returned to her seat to take a sip of wine, but she suddenly found herself addressed by King Éomer.
“Please allow me, Princess Lothíriel, to secure your hand for a second time. I would like to repay the kindness you have shown in introducing me to Gondorian dances. May I now show you how we dance in my homeland? In Rohan, you must know, we are less concerned with the question of whether skin touches skin. We believe it is more important that feet should not touch the ground quite so much.”
This was an unexpected development, but Lothíriel smiled as charmingly as she could and let herself be led to the far end of the dance floor, where the musicians sat. King Éomer nodded at a few of his men, who came up and joined him, and then he asked the musicians to turn over their instruments to the Rohirrim. Lothíriel could see the knuckles whiten on the hand of the fiddler. The musicians cast a helpless look at their master.
Imrahil gave a genteel shrug that meant as much as, “Don’t worry, he’s a king,” and a gentle nod that meant, “Do what he says or else.” There was no gainsaying the prince.
Lothíriel saw the Lady Éowyn coming up with cousin Faramir, and several men of Rohan with partners picked from among the youngest of the ladies of Dol Amroth. The couples formed a large circle and linked hands. As soon as the first few notes of music arose, the Rohirrim set the circle in motion. They rushed around with swift sideways steps and Lothíriel, not from stiffness of constitution but from sheer surprise, struggled to keep up. No sooner had she found her feet than the circle dissolved into a figure in which the ladies moved to the left, the gentlemen to the right, each time briefly linking arms with the person they passed. Lothíriel knew this figure well from Gondorian dances, where a decorous touching of the palms served for the linking of arms, but she had never seen it performed with such energy and speed.
Next the dancers took three stomping steps into the middle, clapped their hands three times and stomped backwards again. From the corner of her eye, Lothíriel could see the scandalised expressions on the faces of Dol Amroth’s elegant matrons, but she had no time to give a thought to this. King Éomer hooked his arm into hers and began to spin her round, round, round till she hardly knew where she was. For a couple of seconds, both her feet left the ground.
Then it was the original circle again and the whole dance repeated itself. This second time round she was not caught out as she had been before. When the patterns repeated for the third time, she began to enjoy herself, though she suspected that King Éomer trod on her gown on purpose. A fourth round came to pass and then the music stopped and Lothíriel stood beside King Éomer, panting, her hair tumbled down on one side of her head and, yes, there was a rip on the hem of her gown. She felt the disapproving eyes of the older ladies on her and quickly withdrew to a side chamber to ask for the assistance of a maid.
Once presentable again, she went back into the feasting hall, where another Rohirric dance was underway. This time she was at leisure to observe the indignation of Dol Amroth’s most respectable ladies. There was a pursing of lips and a tutting of tongues and the very way heads were inclined towards other heads indicated that this Rohirric extravagance would be Much Talked About. The gentlemen, however, seemed to be, on the whole, rather pleased. She even saw her father tapping his foot.
After that dance, however, the instruments were returned to their rightful owners and a more stately tune commenced. Lothíriel had the pleasure of being conducted through this dance by the graceful movements of her own dear father, and if she did not enjoy this quite as much as she would have an hour ago, she hid her feeling well.
“The final dance,” Prince Imrahil announced.
Lothíriel kept a straight face when King Éomer asked her again. She gave him one brief smile and from then on looked demurely, or at least with the appearance of demureness, at her shoes. His steps did not go wrong and she did not endeavour to mislead him.
“Will you not tell me, my lord, what your impression is of Dol Amroth now?” she said when the dance finished and the guests began to rise from their seats.
“Only if you tell me what your vow is.”
Not for the first time in her life, Lothíriel’s mouth was quicker than her head and to her dismay she heard herself saying,
“Never to marry a man who is easily outwitted.”
King Éomer made a short bow.
“I believe the score after tonight, my lady,” he said, “is pretty even. As for your question: Dol Amroth is as worthy a princedom as Gondor could wish for. Furthermore, I can safely say that meeting you has been an education. Good night.”
And with that, he strode away.
The Rohirric delegation did not stay in Dol Amroth, being as it was on its way to South Gondor to join into talks between King Elessar and the chieftains of the Haradrim. They set off in the afternoon on the day following the dance. At her father’s request – though it had to be assumed that had he not requested, she would have thought of another reason to make her presence necessary - Lothíriel came out into the courtyard to see them depart. Polite words were exchanged between both parties, and eventually King Éomer took leave from the princess. He nodded and cast a meaningful look at her locket.
“Can I have my fish bone back, my lady?”
“Your fish bone?”
“I would like to keep it for sentimental reasons.”
“Your insolence has been noted. The heirloom fish bone of Dol Amroth shall remain in its traditional place.”
She succeeded in making her voice sound stern, but in the end, she couldn’t help her smile. King Éomer bowed with the demeanour of one who had been duly chastised, but she did not believe his air for a second. Then he mounted.
“Princess Lothíriel,” he said and left a little pause, just long enough to give her time to take in his impressive figure on his equally impressive horse. He smiled openly, broadly, and the fact was not lost on her that it was really more a grin than a smile. “We shall meet again.”