1. An Unpleasant Assignment
Rohan, Middle-earth, Fourth Age 8
"I have decided you shall marry an elf."
Mother said the shocking words quite calmly when they were clearing the table after dinner.
"An elf ? Why?" Wynne stared at her in disbelief.
"You clearly did not inherit your grandmama's beauty, so I've realized we need elven blood at this stage. Your children will not be plain." She sounded like she was discussing which stallion to mate with which mare to produce the most desired offspring, as if Wynne was one of their horses. "In addition, I have good hopes you will catch the king, or at least the prince."
"But we don't know any elves… How–"
"Don't interrupt! I have been informed by our dear relative Aragorn, that the Elvenking of Mirkwood has decided to clear the Brown Lands of orcs during the summer, and for this quest he needs horses. He specifically inquired for Rohirric horses – and who have finer Mearas than we? Nobody has. Well, so I made your father speak with dear Aragorn, and tell him we would be happy to oblige. We have agreed to lend King Thranduil ten of our finest, and they come with a groom. Someone who can tend to the horses and help the elves with whatever they need. And that groom is you , of course."
" Me? But–"
"Will you be quiet, girl!" Mother pounded her fist on the table and Wynne stood straighter. "Your real mission will be to catch a royal elf – the king or his son – and make one of them marry you. And if that fails, pick a lesser one. They will be accompanied by three guards."
Wynne stared at Mother. Was she being sent away? A quest to chase orcs sounded terribly frightening, but trying to make an elf marry her, even more so. She was no beauty, her life had been spent on horseback so far, and her body was hard, lean, and muscled. No plump arms and soft bosom to impress them with, and her face was all tanned and freckled from the sun. Wynne was plain just like Mother had said; they would not look at her twice.
"Mother, I can't. Not this, please, I–"
A hard slap on each cheek silenced her. "You will do as told. You are no child anymore, this summer will be your twentieth. I was married by that age and already with child, and so was your grandmama. I don't understand what you are fretting about anyway! Have you even seen a male elf before? They are exceedingly handsome." Mother pulled out a chair for Wynne and sat down opposite to her daughter. "It should be easy. You will be the only woman of the company – it's you and five elf males. You will be close to them at all hours, sleeping in their camp, sharing their meals, tending to their wounds if they get any. If you play your cards well it will only be a matter of time before some – or all of them – are attracted to you! Males are weak. Show them a little skin and they won't be able to resist you. Elves are no different than stallions; a mare in heat will make them mad with desire. Trust me on this."
Looking down at her folded hands, Wynne tried to push back the disturbing images of mating horses that came unbidden before her inner eye. She had seen it happen since she was a girl; she knew exactly what the stallions did with the mares, and the thought of this happening to her made her shudder.
"You must encourage them, especially the two royal elves, King Thranduil and Prince Legolas." Mother rose and began to pace the room, speaking with increasing eagerness. "It will be the perfect alliance. Elven blood – elven royal blood at that – bred into the lines of Rohan Rohirrim! Your offspring will be half elves, long lived and beautiful. The future Lords and Ladies of Örn will be famous!"
Wynne remained silent, knowing she would only be struck again if she made more objections. Her cheeks still burned, and apparently Mother did not mind if her daughter was covered in bruises when she met the elves. She never hesitated to raise a hand against Wynne. Perhaps she beat Father too, who knew?
"Elves are not accustomed to humans, and you will use this against them," Mother continued. "Undress before them, seduce them with alcohol – I do not care what you do as long as it's successful. If you become pregnant first and marry them after, that is of no matter. Even if they refuse to marry you we will have a half elf child at least."
Wynne could not keep silent anymore. "What if they get offended and send me away? I would be all alone in the wilderness, and the orcs would kill me." Her voice sounded more childish than she liked, but she could not stop herself.
"Nonsense! They need the horses, and they know it. They will not send you away. They will just think it's the way of humans, and get used to it. And as time passes, their desire will work its course. They will not be able to resist you in the long run. Like I said; males are weak."
Wynne felt bile rise at the thought of seducing an elf, or any male. She had been living at home with her parents and grandparents all her life; she had never even talked in private to a man. They were large and burly, and, judging by the men she saw at the marketplace, they were ugly and stank. Elf males, as far as she knew, might not be any better. They were said to be handsome, but then again, other women thought human men were attractive too. Maybe Wynne was an oddity to think males ugly and vile, but she just could not imagine she would ever want one to mount her like a stallion.
"I can't do it. Please don't make me!" she begged.
"This is not up for discussion, it's decided already. You will go." Mother had a threatening frown.
"I refuse! You don't own me. I'm not a mare you can force to mate!" Wynne's outburst surprised even herself. She hardly ever talked back.
Mother's face turned white, and she gripped Wynne's arms with fingers like claws, her nails digging deep into the flesh. Then she pushed her so forcefully against the wall that her skull felt it would crack.
"You. Will. Not. Disobey me." Mother's voice was quiet, and deadly cold. "You will go to the elves, and come back with an elf husband, or at least his child in your womb. If not, you shall regret it."
That silenced Wynne. As compared to her mother's fury, even an elf in her bed was to prefer.
"When do I leave?" she whispered, defeated.
"Next week. You had better start packing."