A Lady's Tale - Part Twenty Seven

Part Twenty Seven
Guests at Lómaelin

Analsiel lay in the bedroom she had found the day of the Mador's first attack. They had been coming steadily now for the past two weeks, and Analsiel had received orders from the king to call Mena and Reliand to her castle since their combined forces would be a stronger defense. He had of course only sent this when he received Analsiel's letter that she had located the camp of these evil things. If he had been shocked or felt any emotion at all upon reading her letter, which had explained the existence of the Mador-hai, his return letter did not show it.

But the one thing it did show was that he was proud of her. He mentioned that "his finest student of the sword is also a great leader too." He joked that she would truly have to marry one of his sons so that Gondor could have such a marvelous Queen. But Analsiel didn't waste paper on replying to such nonsense, even if it was kingly nonsense.

Another thing was that he persisted in calling this fortress her castle. She was sure it was far more his castle than hers, but she rather liked the idea of having a castle of her own. Aragorn had told her that she must name the place so that it could be formally given to her when she returned to court. Analsiel didn't know when that would be, but the castle definitely needed a name. Lady's Keep. Galadriel's Tower. Star of Ithilien. Horrible, every single one. So she just lay on her bed in the early hours of the morning before she was needed for other things, trying to think of something to call her temporary home.

The door slid open and Firnciliath stuck her head in.

"Are you awake?" she asked.

Analsiel rolled over and sat up in bed. "Not if you need me to do something."

Firnciliath grinned. "Not really. I had an idea for a name."

Analsiel looked at her expectantly. "Well?" she asked.

"Lómaelin," said Firnciliath. "It means `Echo Lake.' I thought it would fit, as the lake is our chief defense against the Mador-hai, and it seems to echo that way."

Analsiel chewed on her lip thoughtfully. "Lómaelin," she said softly. "I like it."
Days became weeks. Weeks became months. And months, as they always will, become seasons. So it was that winter had come early to Ithilien, and Analsiel and her troops had set up permanent home in Lómaelin, as it was now called by one and all.

Analsiel was always the lady of it, but she never enforced and never pulled any unnecessary authority on people. The soldiers had built a barracks out of habit, and since they wanted to get it done before winter, but Analsiel had offered one and all the invitation to sleep inside the castle once the nights got cold. It was rather large, and exploration had revealed the way into the extra wing. Analsiel gave that entire wing to her soldiers, and the rest was always open to them. She had a generous heart, and her men loved her for it.

Of the Mador-hai, little had been seen. Analsiel's scouts, and the scouts sent out by Mena and Reliand who had arrived only a few days after the first battle, had concluded that they had left for the Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains, of Mordor. They were hiding in the deadly winter there, waiting for spring, when they could move into Ithilien again.
"No, no, NO!" cried an exasperated voice from behind the door. "I need black for milady, not grey!"

"But Nianel, the fur alone was expensive enough without black fabric! And there's other winter cloaks to be o'course! You can't be forgettin' that, now can-"

"Bren, I don't' have the time for foolish prattlin'. Like ye said, there's cloaks to be made. But there's no need for being so stiff with gold. We've plenty from the king, so all wi' be well if you'll stop bein' such a skinflint!" came Nianel's tart reply.

Analsiel bit back a grin. Nianel was a very gifted seamstress, and she some of Arwen's ladies worked busily at supplying the people of Lómaelin with everything they needed. But Nianel had a special desire for perfection, and if Analsiel said she wanted a black cloak with black fur, then it would have to be. She appreciated the woman's devotion, but they gray would be fine, and there was no use making her worry about it. So Analsiel stepped into the room.

"Nianel, really the gray will be fine," she said calmly.

Nianel blushed. "Lady, I didn't know that you were listening. I just wanted the best for you. I am sorry if I upset you."

Analsiel grinned to put the nervous woman at ease. "Really, Nianel, it's quite alright. I think grey and black will be pretty than black and black anyway."

Nianel sniffed, obviously not believing her.

`But that's not why I came down here," said Analsiel. "I need you to make a cloak for Lady Nori. You see," here she dropped her voice conspiratorially, "I need a Midwinter present for her, and I think a cloak would be best."

Nianel smiled, obviously glad to be in on the secret.

"So," continued Analsiel. "I want it to be something really striking. I wanted red satin with white fur, since it would only be for show. Do you think you can have it and everything else done by Midwinter?"

Nianel nodded, a look of fierce concentration on her face. "I will, lady, or die trying!"

Analsiel laughed. "That's the spirit!"

Then she left Nianel to her own work and began her rounds of the castle. She checked weekly to make sure that everything was going as it should, and so far, no one minded. But she was not very patient with those who weren't moving as quickly and efficiently as she wanted them to be, so she was planning to appoint her friend Quelleanon, a very patient Elf, to watch over all these things. She just had to speak to Quelleanon about it.

Just then, a boy, Crip, who had been in Carneth's squad, but had been removed when Analsiel had found out he was 12, came running up to her. She had given him permanent look-out duty until he ready for battle. So he went at it with a will, but there was very little to report now that the Mador's had left for the season. Yet now he seemed frantic.

"M'lady, there's a train comin' up to the castle! It looks important, but I can't quite see what the flag is! I think it's either the Queen or the Prince o' Mirkwood!" Then he paused, having relayed his entire message in one breath.

Now it was Analsiel's turn to gasp. "Crip, run back and call down to the courtyard who it is once you can see the flag. They'll tell me. Now hurry back up there!"

Crip nodded, his rugged cheeks flushed with excitement. "Aye, milady."

As soon as he was out of sight, Analsiel ran to Nori's room.

"Nori, someone's coming. It's either Arwen or Legolas, and I don't know what to do! Help me!" she cried.

Nori raised her eyebrows in mock disbelief at Analsiel's upset.

Analsiel growled at her, too frantic to be teased. "Oh, I saw the way you flushed when I said `Legolas!' Now stop fooling and help me!"

Nori blushed again, but she did volunteer to go to the kitchens and ask the Elves who were cooking to prepare something festive. They wouldn't be happy, since they had used most of their best things preparing for the Midwinter feast. But there was nothing to be done.

Then Analsiel ran about and knocked on the door of every room in which one of Arwen's ladies stayed. She had predicted there reactions correctly.
Astianen was relieved at the thought of seeing Arwen again.
Lhunidil was frantic with giggles at the thought of Legolas.
Vanadar laughed and didn't even get out of bed.
Luinduriel looked calm, but Analsiel knew she was nervous.
Firnciliath was hopeful that her brother, Firndil, might be with them. (Analsiel rather hoped as much too.)
Quelleanon went rushing down to the kitchens to help without even bothering about what to wear or how to do her hair.

Analsiel ran back to her room and realized that the whole affair probably hadn't taken more than 10 minutes. She sighed and flopped onto her bed. Then she took a few deep breaths before she got up. Only then did she begin to think about what to wear.

The choices were not thrilling.

She only had a few dresses, and they were all the ones she used for cleaning or fighting, as she never really did anything else. But none of that would do for the Queen, or Legolas, or anyone.

So she humbled herself, and went to Lhunidil.

It took three knocks to get her to leave her mirror and open the door. But when she did, she smiled and groaned half-heartedly, but silenced Analsiel's questions and cries with a look as she came into the room. Then she silently pointed to a closet and began work on herself again.

Analsiel approached it apprehensively. Lhunidil was an Elf, and she probably had dresses that would flatter a pale and stately Elf, not a dark mortal girl. Nevertheless, she had no choice, and she opened the closet with a sense of depression.

It quickly changed to awe. Lhunidil's wardrobe was filled with all her court ball gowns and dance dresses and all kinds of useless fabrics. Analsiel wondered if she borrowed her work clothes from someone, and ordinarily would have been upset, but tonight, these gowns would serve their purpose.
She picked a full length one of a dark burgundy. It clung to her figure from the off-shoulder neck all the way to her hips, but loosened then and slipped fluidly to the floor in a cascade of wine-colored silk. Even Lhunidil looked at her choice approvingly before returning her attentions to herself. But Analsiel didn't really mind what Lhunidil thought. She thought the dress was perfect, and nothing would sway her from it. She thanked Lhunidil profusely, but the Elf was too absorbed with the mirror to really notice. Analsiel let loose a sigh of exasperation and left the room. She had some jewelry in her own and wanted to put her hair up as well.

Crip was knocking on her door when she came down the hall. She called his name and blushed and turned around to face her.

"Beggin' your pardon," he said humbly. "But it's a great many fancy folk. Not the Queen, but Lady Meranyn, Prince Legolas and Sir Firndil."

"ALL of them?" Analsiel's voice reached an undignified squeal.

Crip hid a smile. "Yes lady, all of them."

"Well, run and tell someone so they get enough rooms prepared. Hurry!" All her serenity left her at that moment and she bolted into her room and slammed the door, nearly catching Crip's nose.

Breathing hard, she leaned against the door. Firndil. Crip had said Firndil was coming, and Firnciliath would not be the only one happy to see him. Analsiel hadn't had much time to think about romance, but just the thought of Firndil made her feel happier.

But then her heart dropped back to her feet. Meranyn and Legolas were coming as well. She hadn't spoken to Legolas since the summer, just before she had left. It had been a very awkward parting as well. And Meranyn was always a headache.

Bu then a voice inside her head slapped her gently. Come on, girl! You're the lady of Lómaelin, Aragorn's most prized student, Arwen's lady, and a daughter of the highest nobility of Rohan! You can hold up your head beside any of these people, and you will! Now don't go to pieces, just be calm and be gracious! You are strong enough, and your men need to see it!

Analsiel was surprised at her own thoughts. But they were true, and she had to be ready when her guests arrived.

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