Inspired by Lena1987's Béma, in which Eomer utters the immortal phrase “Too right”. I now hear his voice with an Aussie accent. And it has struck me that, given their temperament, the Rohirrim could well be Australian...
So here is a little story for Lena, and today seemed an appropriate day to publish it...
Therefore, without further ado let us take ourselves to the Field of Cormallen, where it is the morning after the night before (the night before being covered by Lena's story).
The sun was now high enough in the sky that the trees round the edges of the fair green meadow were shortening. Two blond figures stood amid the cluster of Rohirric tents, eyeing a third, dark-haired man who was lying face down on the turf.
“Strewth, he's still out cold.” Éomer poked the prostrate body of Amrothos with his toe.
Amrothos groaned, rolled onto his side, then turned green.
“Watch out, bugger's gonna chunder,” said Éomer. Éothain stepped back just in time.
“Farrrrrkin' hell, that's gross. Rothos, you're right ocker!” Éothain left no-one within earshot in any doubt as to his disgust at the lack of control of his erstwhile drinking companion.
Amrothos levered himself into a sitting position, and opened his eyes, only to screw them tight shut once more. “My good fellows, couldn't you find it in you to have the common decency to leave a chap to die in peace?” He opened one of his eyes and looked blearily at Éothain. “And how do you find yourself this fine morn?” His tone suggested that he hoped to find a fellow-sufferer.
“Bonzer,” came the somewhat disheartening and irritatingly upbeat reply.
Éomer's attention, however, had been drawn elsewhere. “What's going on over there?” The others turned, very cautiously in Amrothos' case, to follow his gaze. There, in the middle of a smooth patch of turf cropped short by the local sheep population, stood Imrahil and Elphir. Elphir was hammering a set of three wooden stakes into the ground.
“What the hell are they up to?” asked the King.
“A game of Thar-rhevia! Fantastic!” Suddenly Amrothos' mood seemed to lift. He got to his feet. The two Rohirrim looked at him in puzzlement.
At that moment, the flap of a tent in the Gondorian part of the camp lifted, and a somewhat raffish looking Erchirion emerged, closely followed by not one, but two buxom dark-haired beauties.
“A game of Thar-rhevia! Superb!” said Erchirion. Éomer was torn between asking them what the bloody hell they were talking about, and admiring the women Erchirion had been lucky enough to share his bed with. Admiration for the women won out.
“Strewth,” said the King of Rohan, for the second time that morning, but this time in a tone of reverence.
Amrothos, his brother and his beautiful camp-followers set out across the grass towards Imrahil. Quite a crowd seemed to be gathering. Aragorn was already there, together with Legolas and Gimli. Elphir strode across the turf, carefully counting out twenty-two paces, then hammered a second trio of stakes into the ground.
“Thar-rhevia! Splendid!” said Aragorn. “Mind you, I haven't played since the days of Steward Adrahil. I think I'm a bit rusty, unfortunately. Best volunteer my services as umpire.”
Eomer's exasperation got the better of him. “Will one of you Gondy Bastards just tell me what the hell thar-reevyar is?”
“It's a game,” said Amrothos.
“Or, as our cousin would insist, the game,” said Elphir.
“Oh Valar, Faramir and his love of Thar-rhevia,” groaned Erchirion. “Thank Tulkas he's not here. He can quote match statistics going back three and a half centuries. You think he's bad on the lore of Middle Earth? By the time he was thirteen he had the whole of Gûl's Thar-rheviarrim almanac committed to memory. And just don't ever get him onto the subject of the overlap between the mathematics of ballistics and the art of bowling...” Erchirion's voice tailed off as he registered the thunderous look on Éomer's face.
Elphir hastened to play the diplomat, and set to, explaining with expansive gestures. The odd fragment lodged in Éomer's brain, but not in any coherent way. “Two teams... eleven players... one in, one out... the team that's out try to get the team that's in out, and when each man who's in is out, he has to go back in and one of his team comes out to take his place... then once the team that's out have got all of the team that's in out,then they're in... six balls... no one scores then that's a maiden...”
“Well, she would be, wouldn't she?” muttered Éothain.
Undaunted, Elphir continued. “Of course when the tenth wicket's fallen, the last man is not out. But the team is... Towards the end of play... night watchman... wouldn't want to lose a decent bat just before close-of-play for the day...”
“The day? This game goes on for more than one day? Strewth!” Éomer said, again.
“Yes, we'll be playing the three day version, but before the war got in the way we used to play proper five-day matches against Near Harad,” said Erchirion.
“Ai Elbereth,” muttered Legolas, reverently. “At last, a mortal pastime that proceeds at a sensible pace. The blood of the Eldar does indeed still run true in the men of Numenor.”
Gimli muttered something which sounded far less complimentary, but since his words were in Khudzul no-one was quite sure how much less complimentary he was being.
“Can we not play a one-day match?” asked Amrothos. “They're really catching on among the younger generation,” he added for the benefit of the Rohirrim, who found themselves singularly unenlightened by this extra piece of information.
“One day match!” expostulated Prince Imrahil with a snort of disgust. “That's just not Thar-rhevia!”
“Well, while the purist in me agrees with you,” said Aragorn reasonably, “Given that this is our good friends' the Rohirrim's first attempt at the game, I think short and sweet might be the order of the day.”
“What, you want us to play?” gasped Éothain. “But we still haven't got a bloody clue how you play it.”
To his surprise, the taller of Erchirion's camp followers stepped forward. “It's nowhere near that complicated. We used to play it in my home village. If you're batting, two of you go out with a bat each, stand one in front of each of the wickets...” She gestured to the sets of stakes. “The bowler throws the ball from one end...”
“Throws?” said Imrahil in an outraged tone, but the young woman quelled him with an icy stare.
“He throws it and tries to hit the wicket, you use the bat to wallop it as far as you can, then run like hell towards the other wicket. You're out if the ball hits your wicket, or if it's caught before it touches the ground, or if you don't run fast enough. The team with the most runs at the end of the day wins.”
“Why didn't you say so?” said Éothain to Elphir. “Sounds like a piece of piss.”
“So, we need eleven blokes?” asked Éomer.
The camp follower gave a shy smile. “Or lassies...”
“Good mercy of our lady Nienna,” Imrahil expostulated. “We can't have women playing. Just not Thar-Rhevia!”
The camp-follower stared at him mutinously but clearly didn't dare to say anything. Éomer decided to step in.
“You can play on our team. We've got nothing against sheilas playing. Hell, my sister's a shieldmaiden. And we need someone who knows what the hell they're doing. The rest of us are going to be about as useful as tits on a bull.”
“What's your name,” said Éothain (inwardly congratulating himself on managing to keep his eyes fixed on her face rather than her rather impressive cleavage).
“Erin, daughter of Largalen,” said the camp-follower, with a proud tilt of her chin and a beaming smile.
Out of the corner of his eye, Éomer saw Erchirion and Elphir exchange a shocked glance, and overheard Elphir mutter, “Cursed cock of a kinslayer, Dad's dropped us right in it!”
The next half an hour passed in a frenzy of activity as both team captains (Éomer and Imrahil) gathered their teams together. Imrahil seemed (from the odd comments that drifted across on the wind) to be selecting a balanced, skilled team. Éomer simply picked a further eight men who were fast runners and had shown skill in ball games in the past. As the two made their preparations, Aragorn hastily explained the rules to Legolas so that he could keep score. Gandalf agreed to be the other umpire. At last, they were ready. Imrahil and Éomer met in the centre of the field. Gandalf tossed a castar into the air where it turned and twisted, sparkling in the sun, before coming to rest on the turf.
“Heads,” said Gandalf. “Your choice, my Lord Prince.”
“We'll bat first,” said Imrahil without hesitation.
Some minutes later, the Rohirrim were spread round the field. Éomer had decided to take first go at “bowling”. After all, how hard could it be to knock the stakes down from only 22 paces? Amrothos, who was leaning casually against his bat at Eomer's end of the wicket, offered some advice.
“I'd move Erin round if I were you. Fine leg.”
“Of course she's got fine legs, you stupid bugger,” Éomer answered. “Any idiot can see that.”
“No, I mean get her to stand at fine leg – diagonally behind my father's leg side.”
“Oh,” said Éomer, and waved to Erin, then gesticulated as to where he wanted her to stand.
Aragorn signalled the start of play. With an anxiety he couldn't remember feeling since his first skirmish as a teenager, Éomer tried desperately to recall Erin's advice. He paced out the number of steps she'd suggested, then turned, jogged to the stakes and threw the ball as hard as he could at the other wicket.
“No ball,” called Aragorn, signalling to Legolas on the boundary.
“Pig's arse!” Éomer said angrily, then demanded, “What the fuck was wrong with that?”
“Your arm's got to be straight,” Aragorn answered.
“How's that going to work? Can't get any heft on the ball with a straight arm,” said Eomer, grumpily.
“Sadly, those are the rules. Go for line and length,” Aragorn said, as helpfully as he could.
Muttering to himself, Éomer stomped back up to the start of his run up, trotted back and lobbed the ball, underarm, towards Imrahil. The prince seemed almost to dance up the grass to meet the ball where it bounced, bat swinging straight along the line of the ball's flight. The ball took to the air and sailed over Éomer's head, over the fielders' heads, and right over the line of white stones from the river which marked out the oval boundary of the field of play.
Aragorn raised both arms in the air.
“Six,” said Legolas to Gimli, and marked the sheet of parchment with an elegant figure in flowing Tengwar. Gimli took a long pull of his tankard of ale. Legolas eyed him. “Steady, friend, you'll be drunk by lunch at this rate.”
“That's the general idea,” Gimli responded.
Five more balls from Éomer, and Imrahil had scored a four and run three. Amrothos then scored a six, a four and run two. Éomer turned to walk back to his mark, but Aragorn put his hand on his fellow king's arm.
“That's the end of your over, my friend.”
“How much did they get?”
“Twenty six, including your no ball.”
“Is that good or bad?”
“For you? Disastrously bad, I'm afraid.”
“Bloody oath!” Éomer made his way disconsolately to a position near the boundary.
At the other end, Erin purposefully strode up the field, dropping her bowler's mark a good thirty yards from the wicket. Éomer couldn't quite see what it was; some piece of fabric. Over on the boundary, Legolas gave a quiet chuckle. His keen elven eyesight enabled him to see the piece of flimsy cloth for what it was: a frilly lace garter. She then kilted up her skirts, tucking them into her girdle.
“Shit a brick,” muttered Éomer in awe. “Fine leg doesn't even come close.”
Erin spat on the ball and polished it against her skirt, then set off, gradually picking up speed. By the time she arrived at the stakes, she was sprinting flat out. With a kind of skipping motion, she turned side on to the direction of her run, her arm whirling round like the sail of a windmill. The ball left her hand at speed, whizzed down the pitch and bounced viciously, zipping just past Imrahil's ear as he hastily pulled his head back out of the way. The Prince of Dol Amroth looked really quite rattled. From his position in what Erin had told him was called “the slips” Éothain gave a wolfish grin. Perhaps the Prince was reconsidering his hasty dismissal of the ability of this particular sheila. Meanwhile, behind the wicket, Éothain's sergeant, Aelfred, dusted himself down after diving to grab the ball. He moved back a few paces further back in anticipation of the speed of the next ball. He too gave a grin. Quite aside from the effectiveness of the delivery, his position and Erin's lengthy run up gave him a really bonzer view of the way her ample tits bounced as she ran.
“No ball,” said Aragorn.
“What do you mean, 'no ball'?” demanded Erin, suddenly sounding surprisingly imperious.
“Your arm came over your head,” said Aragorn.
“Nothing in the rules says it can't. Rules just say your arm has to be straight.”
Aragorn frowned, and signalled to Gandalf. The two retreated a few yards, and stood, deep in conversation. To the onlookers, the discussion appeared to get quite animated; in fact it occurred to Imrahil that they were arguing rather more vociferously than they had during the meeting in which they decided to launch the seemingly crazy attack on the Black Gates. Eventually Aragorn returned, looking slightly crestfallen.
“I have decided, on Mithrandir's recommendation to concede your point. You may bowl overarm.”
Erin looked triumphant. Imrahil's shoulders slumped visibly.
The rest of the morning fell into a fairly predictable pattern. Éomer, and when he tired, Éothain, got carted all over the ground during their overs, Imrahil and Amrothos scoring effortlessly. Erin rarely conceded more than a run or two per over, and had three maidens to her credit (Over on the boundary, Erchirion murmured to his brother, “Now there's a contradiction in terms.”) As the sun rose towards its zenith, her persistence bore fruit. After a scorching bouncer which nearly took the Prince's head off, she sent the next ball in long and low. It skidded under Imrahil's guard and split the middle stake in two. With an economy of effort (or perhaps simply because he couldn't move, swathed as he was in the spare garments shed by the Rohirrim as the day gained heat), Gandalf raised a single finger in the air. Imrahil was out, clean bowled, for a respectable forty-seven.
Elphir strode to the crease full of confidence. So full of confidence, in fact, that he edged his first shot straight into Éothain's waiting hands. He too had to make the long walk back to the boundary, but unlike his father, for a duck.
Erchirion was next to face Erin, on the final ball of the over. He arrived with a cocky smile on his face, and gave Erin a salacious wink. “I know you'll remember last night, my sweeting. And more importantly, how generously you were paid this morning!”
Erin drew herself up to her full height and said, “The money you paid me this morning I earned fair and square. I don't owe you anything. I may be a tart, but I'm Harald of Largalen's daughter and I don't fix matches!” She turned heel, paced up to her frilly garter, turned and ran. Éomer, now fielding out at “square leg” (how the hell did the Gondy bastards come up with these names) swore the ball left her hand so fast he couldn't even make out its flight. He was half expecting a short ball which rose to head height, but instead she pitched it long. It still rose sharply, but only far enough to reach waist height... well, not quite waist height. Erchirion couldn't even utter a sound. He crumpled to the ground.
Amrothos started towards his brother, looking anxious. Éothain, from his position in the slips, waved him back. “He'll be right,” he said casually.
Aragorn looked at Erchirion, writhing on the ground clutching his groin. “Perhaps we'll have an early lunch.”
Lunch, from the Rohirric perspective, turned out to be even more disappointing than the score line. Erin's erstwhile companion in professional attentions to the wealthy, having clearly realised that further business from Erchirion was unlikely in the immediate future, was trying instead to ingratiate herself with the flower of Gondorian knighthood. Her approach was simple. She flitted round the room, offering round a silver tray containing small white triangles, all the making small talk with a dazzling smile affixed to her face. As she passed Éomer and Éothain, they snagged a mysterious triangle each. It turned out to be bread, with something suspiciously green inside. Cautiously, Eomer pried the top off his, to reveal that the green stuff consisted of small, thin disks with dark green outsides and paler insides.
“What the blardy hell's with this rabbit food, Rothos?” he demanded.
“Cucumber sandwiches, old fellow. Traditional at Thar-rhevia. The chaps would feel most hard-done-by if they didn't get their cucumber sandwiches.” Amrothos turned to the young woman bearing the tray. “Top hole, Firiel. You've even remembered to cut the crusts off.”
Éomer's misery was complete a few moments later when he was handed a tankard, only to discover it contained tea. To make things worse still, it appeared to have had a dash of milk added to it.
The only person who seemed to be enjoying lunch was Aelfred. He had somehow managed to get Erin all to himself and was asking her a series of detailed questions about improving his wicket-keeping, questions which he appeared to be genuinely interested in knowing the answer to (if only in the hopes of impressing the daughter of Largalen). During the course of the morning, Aelfred's mental state had shifted from lust, through admiration, finally reaching (with the last delivery) a state of complete hero-worship.
However, Aelfred didn't manage to monopolise Erin for the whole of the lunch break. She excused herself to have a word with a couple of the other Riders. Osred was a tall, rangy young man – Eomer remembered him from the races which formed part of the midsummer celebrations in Edoras as being a very fast runner. Erin seemed to be trying to demonstrate the sideways skip and release of the ball that she used. Hereric, on the other hand, was a middle-aged, grizzled veteran, not known for his speed. Instead, Erin appeared to be concentrating on showing him some sort of strange way of holding the ball between his fingers, demonstrating a complex twist of the wrist as the ball left her hand. Hereric clearly recognised an expert when he encountered one: he listened with close attention.
Hereric's parting shot (as Aragorn clapped his hands and announced the resumption of play) was a cheery, “Don't you worry, love. We'll stuff the buggers right and proper.”
Hereric and Osred seemed to have taken Erin's advice to heart, and the tactics of the de facto captain (as everyone on the field of play now recognised her to be) were as near to genius as the princes of Dol Amroth had ever witnessed. The way Osred's pace alternated with Hereric's cunning slow deliveries which bounced in wildly unpredictable directions led to an utter rout of the middle order batsmen, followed by the complete collapse of the tail end. Less than an hour after lunch the Gondorians were all out for one hundred and fifty nine. Erin declared herself well satisfied – it was, she said, a quite attainable target to attack. The Rohirrim nodded sagely at her masterful, or perhaps more accurately, mistressful summing up. Even Éothain found he no longer struggled to look at her face rather than her knockers.
The Rohirrim approached batting in much the same spirit they had approached charging the rear of the siege lines surrounding Minas Tirith: with vast amounts of blood lust and no finesse whatsoever. Finesse was over-rated, anyway. At least such was the Rohirric opinion. An hour and a half later, they had scored a hundred and twenty three, but had lost seven wickets in the process (mostly through scything the ball high into the sky, only to see it drop into the waiting hands of the fielders). Éomer, who had opened the batting, was (quite remarkably) still at the crease, with forty-one runs to his name. Imrahil was beginning to look quite uncomfortable. Éomer had a feeling the Prince of Dol Amroth would be more than a little disgruntled if he, Éomer King, managed to pass his total on his first attempt. He gave a broad grin at the thought.
Hereric was facing the last ball of the over. “Strewth, this is hotter work than it looks,” he commented. “I'm drier than a dead donkey's donger!”
“Fear not, stout fellow,” said Elphir. “This is the last ball before tea.”
“Tea?” said Éomer, in tones of disbelief. “Not more of that farrrrkin' gnat's piss with milk in?”
“Well, yes, there will be more tea to drink, but also a light repast, similar to luncheon.”
“Bugger,” muttered Éomer. “I've had a bloody gutful of those farrkin' cucumber sandwiches.” Grumbling, he followed Aragorn and Gandalf off the field. On reaching the boundary, he found himself facing yet another plate of dainty morsels of bread containing more distinctly unmanly fillings. But it was being proffered to him by the most beautiful woman he had ever seen, a tall, elegant dark haired woman with silvery grey eyes.
“Strewth!” Éomer managed to say once more, and took a poncy cucumber sandwich with no complaint whatsoever.
Imrahil suddenly appeared beside his elbow. “Éomer King, allow me to present my daughter, Lothíriel of Dol Amroth. My wife and daughter arrived while we were playing. They have come from Minas Tirith along with some of the other ladies of the court, not wishing to miss out on the celebrations and exciting pastimes here at Cormallen.”
It occurred to Éomer that “exciting” was the last word he would have chosen to describe Thar-rhevia, but that all the phrases that did spring to his mind were not ones he could say in front of the princess. Before he could come up with a suitably diplomatic answer, however, Amrothos appeared and slapped him firmly on the back.
“Thirty-seven to make, and three wickets standing,” said Amrothos. “My dear fellow, you simply haven't a chance. Especially if Erchirion recovers sufficiently to bowl. He's a bit of a demon bowler, you know.”
“You know,” Elphir added, with a note of patronising smugness in his voice, “You chaps have done jolly well to score as many as you have.”
Éomer felt himself beginning to seethe with annoyance, but to his surprise, Lothíriel stepped in.
“You must pay no attention to my brothers. They are 'sledging' – deliberately trying to provoke you so that you play rashly. It's a tactic much in vogue amongst younger players, though as my father would put it, the older generation consider it to be 'Not quite Thar-rhevia'.”
“No worries! It'd take more than those two to wind me up,” Éomer said, his desire to impress the princess trumping any vague thought he might have harboured of telling the truth. Lothíriel wasn't entirely taken in by this.
“My brothers can be exceptionally annoying. I should know – I've had to put up with nearly twenty years of them.”
“Lothi!” expostulated Amrothos in tones of pretended outrage. “Whose side are you on?”
“Why, it seems only sporting to take Éomer King's side, since he is new to the game. My lord, would you care to wear my scarf as a favour in what remains of your innings?” Lothíriel held out a silk scarf in the deepest of blues, shot through with silver threads. Éomer managed (to his mind) quite a creditably elegant bow of thanks, and just for a moment their eyes met.
“I trust you will uphold my honour and administer the sound beating these two scoundrels so roundly deserve,” Lothíriel said with a smile.
“Abso-farrrrkin-lutely!” As soon as the words were out of his mouth, Éomer felt as if the world halted on its axis. A silence descended on the assembled crowd. Béma, I might as well have farted at a coronation, Éomer thought, cringing.
Then, to his relief, Lothíriel started to laugh. She gave a delighted giggle, clapped her hands together, and said, “Oh good, it seems that we understand one another perfectly.”
However, to start with it looked as though Lothíriel's hopes were doomed. Erchirion had indeed recovered sufficiently to bowl, and dispatched Hereric in the first over after tea. Osred came out to the crease. He and Eomer managed to put on another fourteen before Imrahil bowled a particularly wily ball that seemed to hang in the air, defying gravity, before breaking viciously. Osred edged it into the slips where Amrothos, with a feat of gymnastic ability which surely should have been impossible in one so hung over, dived and caught it. Osred began the lonely, gloomy plod back to the boundary, passed by Erin on her way in.
“Last man in and twenty-three needed,” said Lothíriel. “Do you think they can do it?”
Éothain looked speculatively at the distant figure of his king. “Yeaaaahhhh... nah!”
However, Erin had a trick up her sleeve. Imrahil having finished his over, it was now Erchirion's turn to bowl. Éomer managed to score a single, with the result that the camp-follower-captain ended up facing the bowling. The prince delivered his next three balls with increasing venom. He had clearly not forgiven her for the sharply rising ball which had left him writhing in agony in the dust. But Erin calmly dealt with each one – with left elbow pointing skywards, and bat angled downwards, she killed each ball dead at her feet. Éomer could sense Erchirion's frustration building. It was like watching an expert fencer taunt his (or in this case, her) opponent into making a mistake. Sure enough, with the next ball, Erchirion's patience and control failed. He dropped it short, and it bounced temptingly high. Rather than step to the ball, Erin stepped back and let the ball come to her. She played across the line of the ball, and it flew flat and true straight to the boundary.
Erchirion lost his head completely. The next ball came sloppily and loosely bowled, well wide of the off stump. This time Erin played off the front foot. In a movement reminiscent of Imrahil's opening shot, she danced up the pitch and drove the ball over Erchirion's head for six.
Lothíriel gave another delighted clap of her hands, and looked at Éothain. “Oh ye of little faith. Twelve to win. Looking much more do-able now!”
Her prediction turned out to be all too accurate. It took another two and a half overs, but eventually the score crept up to the required one hundred and sixty.
The Rohirrim ran onto the pitch, cheering wildly. The Gondorians looked utterly disconsulate. Aelfred managed to reach Erin ahead of his compatriots, and, grabbing her round the waist, lifted her off the ground and whirled her round. Following at a rather more sedate pace came Lothíriel and her mother. For a moment Éomer wondered whether it would be worth the diplomatic incident that would ensue were he to do the same to the princess of Dol Amroth. But tempting as the thought was, he brushed it away. If there was one thing he had learned from Erin over the course of the day, it was that sometimes the long game played dividends. One day... but not today.
Finally, to the immense relief of Éomer and Éothain, some decent food got served. The Rohirrim not involved in the game had started a merry fire on the edge of the field of play and had a wild boar roasting. And after the meal, Éomer managed to detach Lothíriel from the Gondorians and take her for a walk (followed at a discrete distance by Elphir and his wife). With her hand tucked in the crook of his arm as if it belonged there, he led her down to the river. Here they came upon a very strange sight.
Erchirion had started a small fire and was carefully burning the wooden stakes from the game. Amrothos sat on a nearby boulder, writing on a sheet of parchment.
“What on earth are you doing?” asked Lothíriel.
“Writing to our cousin,” said Amrothos.
To Eomer's disappointment, Lothiriel let go of his arm, and walked over to the boulder. She started to read, then burst into a merry peal of laughter. Then she began to read aloud.
“It is with regret that I must announce the sad death of the game of Thar-rhevia within this realm of Gondor. In accordance with the customs of the faithful of Numenor, the body has been burned on the banks of the Great River, and the ashes will be sent to Edoras.”