It is—and I know he has no bloody idea it is—one year. One year to the day.
…and I have made arrangements.
In Gondor, for all their prudishness, there are bathhouses. The rich, Númenorian stock won’t touch them for their lives, think of them as some sort of Lesser Men nonsense, won’t be seen in, around, or near them for fear of “tainting their blood” or some other fucking filth. So it is the tradesmen, the merchants, the poor that use them.
…all but one.
“You wish to—what?” Aragorn sputters as I suggest it.
“Your bath house. You had it built for an Elf—don’t lie to me, I know, I bloody built and designed the damn thing—and the least thanks you can give me is to let my Elf bloody use it.”
“It—I had it made for the Lady Arwen!”
“I bloody well know it. I bloody made it for the bloody Lady Arwen and she can let my Elf use it for one bloody night!”
“What’s this?” we’re interrupted by the Queen, trailed by her hand-maidens.
“Nothing,” Aragorn lies, d anrather unconvincingly. “The Lord Gimli and I were merely discussing—“
“My bathhouse is at your disposal, Zirak Gimli,” she bows low, as courteous as her grandmother before her. “You and yours have kept my husband safe through many dangers. It is not great sacrifice to grant you this thanks—indeed, I wish there were more that I could give to express my gratitude that my husband is safe now here with me.”
“He is a Dwarf, he does not ask lightly,” she touches his arm as a mother might a child. “And Legolas is my kin, however distant, and I would right the wrongs that are between our two peoples. Surely, if the Queen of Men and Elves can show this courtesy, what might Dol Amroth or my mother’s kin grant them?”
[Dol Amroth. Don’t get me bloody started. Trying to charge Elves a fortune for wood, for harboring fees!]
[As for the bloody, fucking Noldor…they can go and fuck themselves.]
“Besides, Estel, it would do the Dwarves of Erebor a great honor to know their Lord is welcomed in the highest circle of the Citadel.”
“But to the Queen’s bathhouse?” he frowns. “Arwen, Vanimelda, it might give the appearance—“
“You are a King,” she remonstrates. “You care not what others of ill repute may say.”
“But Arwen, Vanimelda—“
“The nobility may be offended.”
“The nobility may be replaced,” she sniffs. “He is my kinsman, and he is my guest. He may use my baths whenever it pleases him, and gladly.”
“You wouldn’t refuse a Queen, surely?” I ask.
“Indeed he would not,” Arwen smiles. “Yet this Queen needs not her husband’s permission to grant what is her own: the bath is yours, Zirak Gimli. Any night you should wish it.”
“My thanks, Lady,” I bow in return. “But I only intended—“
“Any night,” she insists as I kiss her hand in parting. “And if you would only be so good as to inform my ladies in waiting of your needs, I will see to it that it is prepared for you.”
And prepared it will be. Roses of Imloth Melui, lillies from Lebeninn, soft towels of the finest white cotton of Near Harad. Hearty wine from Imladris, Lórien, and the vales of the River Running. Dates. Figs. Pomegranates. Cold legs of roast lamb, soft bread and butter. Candles of scented beeswax and taps brimming with water, ice-cold from the springs and rains of Mount Mindolluin, and piping hot, steaming and salty from hidden wells of hot springs deep within the heart of the mountain only a Dwarf could have discovered.
…and oil. Plenty of oil.
And if her Noldor and Gondorian ladies in waiting or Siv take offense, they can all go and bloody fuck themselves. I, for one, will be far too busy fucking my Elf to care.
“Where are we going?” my Elf frowns as I lead him by the hand through the city. Still no bloody good at this, can hardly talk to him, but this I can do. I can hold him by the hand while I walk.
“It’s a surprise.”
“Why?” he asks.
“Why what, you stupid, fucking Elf?”
“Why is it a surprise?”
“I can’t tell you.”
“Because it’s a surprise, Mahal-Dammit!” I do not mean to be so angry. Not always. Not with him.
But Mahal-damnit he is a constant bur in my beard! He sees we are at the gate to the Seventh Circle, and he stops, suddenly cold. The song dies on his lips. “We are to sup with Aragorn and—“ he wrinkles his nose.
“His wife?” I ask him sharply. “What grievance do you have with the Lady Arwen?”
“I have no grievance with the Lady Arwen. I dislike those with her,” he tells me as we are halted by two soldiers in the garb of the Tower Guard. One is tall and dark-haired, so like to Aragorn and Faramir he could be their close kin. The other? The other wears a white cloak woven with the golden tree and seven stars: the White Company.
““Lord Gimli Elvellon, Lord of Erebor, Emissary of King Thorin III Stonehelm, King of the Longbeards and the Seven Clans of Dwarves, and his husband, the Lord Legolas, Prince of the Elves,” Page announces us dully. My Elf flushes. How he hates that title!
“Hail and well met,” the voice surprises me. “You are expected, Lords.”
“Look, look!” Yi cries. “He’s a lady!”
“She’s a lady,” Na’il sniffs. “Get it right or you’ll make us all look fools.”
“But look, look, Nimir!” she tugs my Elf’s skirts. “He’s a lady! Look!”
“She is!” Mzisi cries, near to breaking rank before she remembers herself. “Amahle! She is!”
“I see her,” my Elf tells them kindly, one hand on each of their small shoulders. “Would you like to meet her?”
Tall. Fair. Blond hair in a braid down her back, shoulders straight as a soldier’s with legs bowed from years on horseback. Could bloody well be Éowyn, but her jaw is too heavy and her cheeks far too weathered. “Who the bloody hell are you?” I ask. I am a Longbeard. I have no problem with Dwarrowdamns. But a Man? In this city of backwards, prudish Men who still own their women? On the White Company no less? This is a strange sight indeed!
“I am Everild,” she speaks, her Westron rough with the strange tongue of the Rohirrim. “Daughter of Eadric, sister-daughter to the Lady *Elfhild. I am to accompany the Lady Éowyn and Lord Faramir to Ithilien, and my Lady saw fit to raise me up within the Guard of the Citadel to better learn the law of this strange land.”
“Aye. But have you seen battle?” I ask her warily.
“Do you believe the women of the *Eastfold have not stood against the Dunlendings for generations, Dwarf? Do you believe we cowered as the maidens of Lebennin while the Uruks ravaged our lands, killed our men, and stole our horses?” she asks in wrath, removing her helm. Now I see it: her left cheek is ravaged with scars, and the eye is blind. I feel a fool. “Did you think the Lady Éowyn was the only to don the guise of a man that she might seek vengeance against those who would destroy her home?”
“Forgive me, lady. I meant no offense.”
“I am no Lady.”
“Forgive me, then, Everild daughter of Eadric. You fought the Pelennor?”
“Aye. Myself and six others I know of beside the Wraithsbane. And that is the Eastfold alone.”
“Hail and well met!” my Elf cries. “So the women of Rohan did ride to our aid. This I did not know!”
“You FOUGHT?” Yi gasps.
“Did you kill orcs?” Mzisi asks, unimpressed. The Blacklock women are all hardened warriors, even at her young age. “Variags of Khand? Haradrim? How many?”
“And Oliphaunts!” Rotha cries. “Did you kill an Oliphaunt like Lord Legolas?” My Elf flushes. He didn’t want to kill the damned Oliphaunt, thought it a shame, wept as much afterwards as if it’d been our own Arod. Mahal-damned creature still feeds the fucking things every chance he gets in the wains from Far Harad and Khan. Costs me my beard in hay and fruit!
“A true warrior counts not lives slain but those saved,” Everild bows to our little Blacklock as a fellow warrior, right hand clasped over her heart “And Everild daughter of Eadric has saved many.”
“That is very wise,” Rotha nods, then elbows Na’il in the gut. “Write it!”
“Mzisi of the Blacklocks has slain many!”
“I haven’t,” Yi flushes and stares at her small silk slippers. “I haven’t saved or slain anyone.”
“There is no shame in service, however small. Nor is their glory or honor to be found by the sword alone if it is wielded for evil.”
“Or spear,” Mzisi insists.
“Or axe!” Ólavur grunts.
“Or axe,” Everild continues. “It is whom we serve, how, and why. That is all.”
“I serve Lord Legolas and Nimir!” Yi says. “Is that good?”
“I serve them, too!” Rotha butts in.
“I serve both Amahle and Lord Gimli!” Mzisi puffs her bare chest out proudly. “And I have a spear!”
“I have an axe!” Ólavur boasts.
“Rubbish,” Na’il sniffs. “Women fighting wars!”
[Bloody Stiffbeards. Lived too long in Near Harad. Veiling and covering heads? It’s well and good for Men, perhaps, but Dwarves? The heat’s gone to their bloody heads.]
“Be careful, Na’il,” my Elf suggests. “Or Mzisi will try to bite you again, and I will not stop her.”
“There will be no biting!” I tell them. “If you disagree you may settle it as Dwarves, but no biting!” Bite’s a dirty, dangerous thing. Don’t know what my bloody Elf is thinking.
[Then again, Elf is…Elf. His kind don’t get sick. Wounds don’t fester.]
“But Mahal forbids me to hit a dwarrowdam!” Na’il wails.
“Then don’t insult one,” Balin sulks. “Or she’ll sock you in the jaw and leave your grandkids beardless.”
Page (as usual) says nothing.
“Take pride in your service, little one,” Everild tells Yi. “To serve with your whole heart for your Lord and Lady—or Lords—is no less or more than to carry a sword. Or spear.”
“Or axe!” Ólavur insists.
“I’ll—try?” Yi offers shyly.
“I will do both!” Mzisi slaps her spear against her shield. “Mzisi for Lord Gimli and Nimir!”
“I can weave?” Rotha frowns. “But I’m only an apprentice. Is weaving the same as a sword?”
“Or axe?” they roll their green eyes at Ólavur. “Weaving’s alright?”
“I write!” Na’il wonders. “Does writing count?”
“It ALL counts. Bloody hell,” Balin snaps. “I’m surrounded by idiots.”
“Westu Everild hál,” my Elf says. How the bloody hell he manages to pick up bits of every language spoken in Gondor is beyond me. “You must come to dinner some day! You and any like you!”
…yes, Elf. Of course, Elf. I have plenty of time to play host to every woman in Rohan who’s ever held a sword, Elf. But the little ones—the pages, damn me—are happy, and I suppose it would do them good. Also bloody well show some support for Rohan in front of these Gondorians, maybe help with the matters of *succession.
“Er, well hail and well met, then, Everild,” I say with a clumsy bow. “Do come to dinner.”
“I thank you, Lords. You do us honor.”
“Bye, Everild!” Yi calls.
“May your axe be sharp and swift, Everild!” Ólavur bows.
“May your beard be long, Everild!” Mzisi says. “May you kill many foes!”
“Seven blessings of our—“
“Na’il?” I ask.
“Yes, Lord Gimli?”
“She’s not a Dwarf.”
“May you…not…have a beard?” Mzisi chokes, eyes wide at the seeming insult. “Not even a little one?”
“You meant well,” Rotha shrugs their shoulders, green eyes twinkling. “I think Balin said that’s what she said counts.”
“What was your complaint again, Elf?” I ask him as we are shown through, free at last to walk the gardens of the Tower of Echthelion.
“I have no complaint against the Lady Arwen,” he sighs, frowning up at the tower’s many lit windows and the music streaming from them. “But I would not dine with those who wait her.”
“Bloody Noldor and bloody Wood-Elves! If you and I can marry, if Everild can be on the White Company, if Éomer can let the bloody Uruk-hai settle in Isengard in peace can you not let your fucking feud rest?”
His eyes flash. “Peace!” I tell him. “I meant no offense, and I do not wish for their to be an argument between us. Not this night.”
“Why what, you stupid, fucking Elf?”
“Why this night?” he asks me suspiciously. “You are quite happy to argue any other.”
*Elfhild was Théoden’s wife who died in childbirth with Théodred. This makes Everild the niece of Elfhild’s sister, or a second(ish) cousin of Éowyn and Éomer.
*Elfhelm, the leader of the Éored that Dernhelm and Merry accompanied was from the Eastfold, charged on Théoden’s righthand side during the Battle of Pelennor Fields, and was appointed the first ever Marshal of the East-mark by Éomer after the War of the Ring. If any commander in the Rohan army were to turn a blind eye to women/accept their presence without question, it would be him. Also, I’m a huge fan of the idea that Éowyn wouldn’t go alone. It makes sense she’d invite other like-minded women to join her, especially those she could trust among her close kin. Or, barring that, that she wasn’t the only woman in Rohan to come to the conclusion that it’d be better to go off to fight Mordor than to wait for Sauron to bring the fight to them!
[Or perhaps I’ve read too much Fuenteovejuna, where the townswomen, fed up by their oppression and waiting for their men to actually do something, organize a meeting and decide to storm the castle on their own to rescue Laurencia’s dude in distress. It’s fucking epic/hilarious! Also inspired by true events. It’s sad when an obscure play written in the 1610’s about Inquisitional Spain shows better agency and depiction of women than the top-selling book of the 20th century.]
*Viking women could choose husbands, divorce, and own property. While Byzantium women were given much the same rights 9and much greater rights than their counterparts in Western Europe) and Minas Tirith is basically the Constantinople of Middle-earth, I find a contrast between two Mannish cultures with regards to women’s rights to create more drama when writing fanfic. Basically Arwen, Éowyn, and Lothiriel are the Empress Theodora’s of Gondor, fed up with the way women are treated, and shit’s about to get crazy.