It was the night before the journey and Araiel sat upon her window ledge to look out upon her city for the last time. For days, she had been powdered, washed, and pinched far more than she ever had for any ball. Her seventeenth birthday should have been a happy occasion, but Araiel was downtrodden. The Princess could very well runaway as Arin suggested, but sooner or later she would be found, and she could not bear the thought of angering her parents in that way. Araiel also knew she could not survive on her own. A star danced across the sky and fell behind the hills. What lay beyond those hills? What kind of land was she going to? She would soon find out…
The Princess was awoken early in the morning. Her scented bath was prepared, and the maids washed her skin with soap and oils till it glowed like silver. They scrubbed her long ebony hair until it shone, but could not contain the luxurious curls from spilling out. Finally the part she dreaded was at hand; the corset. That abominable piece of clothing worked around her already perfect delicate waist and threatened to suck the life from her body as it wrenched ever tighter. Finally, the exquisite white dress was placed over her head. It rested beneath her shoulders giving her some relief. The trims were of lace and silver, and flowers covered every inch of the train. Elanor was interweaved into her glossy dark hair, and then a heavy veil was placed over her head and hung over her face. Everyone gathered to bid farewell to the Princess. Her mother and sister embraced her.
“You are more beautiful than Luthien herself,” Aure kissed Araiel’s cheek. “I’ll miss you very much, Ariel.”
“You will be a good queen. I love you, my sister. And I will write,” Araiel replied.
Finally, the Princess faced her father, and he slowly lifted the veil from her face and kissed her forehead. Then he lifted her hand. “I pass the Ring of Barahir to my eldest as is tradition. After one thousand years, it will finally leave Minas Tirith. Bear it well, daughter. I send all my blessings with thee.”
“Namaarie, Ata,” she smiled.
As Araiel climbed into the carriage (already laden with gold and silver relics for her dowry), King Araron watched her with unsteady eyes, and a single tear fell down his cheek as his beauty waved at him. The carriage left Minas Tirith, and when the beautiful city was gone from view, Araiel finally turned to her lady in waiting; Lendia.
“Dear Princess, tears are in your eyes. Is this not an exciting experience?”
The Princess smiled. “It is, but I cannot bring myself to feel the joy that you do.”
“It is understandable. You leave your entire world behind whereas I have been to the southern lands many a time, my lady.”
“What is it like, Lendia? I am ignorant of such matters.”
“It is…different, your highness. Not in a bad way…but different. It is very hot I shall inform you. Many of the girls there dress differently. It is a very wealthy place because of the many goldmines there. The palaces are truly works of art, and rich silks are everywhere.”
“When will we reach it?”
“This evening, my lady.”
Araiel prayed to Varda and hoped to endure the remainder of the journey. Araiel soon drew out her fan when they passed the southern border line. She tried her best to accustom herself to the searing heat and the golden sun pouring upon her dark head. She also learned they were traveling to the most fertile and large of the oases. When they passed the first, it seemed very poor. Slaves were being sold at the side of the road, and she nearly threw up in disgust at the sight of children and women being treated as chattel.
The scenery shifted to miles of desert and mountain land. Araiel’s discomfort grew, and sweat spilled down her head. Finally, the night ensued granting her some merciful sleep and relief from the extreme heat. She did not awake until the carriage finally stopped.
Her eyes popped wide as the carriage door opened. She widened her eyes and stepped out in shock. A long carpet of crimson velvet was spread upon the ground before her. Maidens dressed in foreign garments danced before her spreading flowers upon the velvet carpet. They were dressed in a style that would be considered immodest anywhere else in Middle Earth. Their entire midriff was exposed but for the chest portion and they wore a sort of skirt which was slit up the sides revealing the side of their dark skinned legs.
Wardens stood on each side of the Princess holding lanterns and between them, Easterling soldiers raising their swords crossed to the opposite side. The Princess suddenly stopped as a beautiful white horse charged into the darkness in the distance at the end of the carpet. It reared up on its hind legs and neighed. The man riding it calmed the horse with an easy word of command and then dismounted. He wore a simple tunic of silken material that left much of his bronzed chest bare. He wore a long gleaming sword at his side and a golden tiara on his head. His hair was shiny brown, and his face was handsome. His skin was tan nearly glowing to Araiel. He had high set cheekbones, full lips with the under larger than the upper, a well defined jaw, and deep brown eyes, which were warm and inviting as they looked upon Araiel. They finally stopped inches apart, and slowly and deeply Araiel began to curtsy. She was glad of the veil as it hid the enormous blush in her cheeks. The Prince placed a gentle but firm hand beneath her chin and raised her up. Then, he removed the veil. She noticed the smile instantly come to his face, and the color rose in her cheeks even more. Finally, he broke the silence.
“Lady Araiel of Minas Tirith,” he had a foreign accent of the Easterlings but spoke well and in a firm voice between boyhood and manhood, which she well liked. He continued, “Long have I awaited your presence since I first received your letter of acceptance.”
She curtsied slightly with a bowed head. “My lord honors me with his kindness.” She wondered if her voice cracked.
He held out his hand, and she took it with trembling fingers, but he took her delicate hand in his large firm one and guided her down the carpet.
“Your room has been prepared. You must be fatigued after a long journey.”
Ariael was about to say she wasn’t since she slept most of the time, but she kept silent as he continued.
“There will be a number of feasts celebrating your arrival. My people are eager to meet their new queen.”
“When is the wedding, my lord?”
“Two nights from now.”
Araiel glanced at her feet. Two days to fall in love with a foreign prince soon to be her husband. As if reading her thoughts Hamir continued, “I hope you will be content here and grow to love my land. I believe I can easily grow to love you if you offer me the chance.”
Araiel looked up momentarily and nodded. The ascended a grassy hill, and her eyes widened as she looked upon a golden glowing city in the distance.
“My city of Elendriel.”
“It’s so beautiful it almost frightens me,” she whispered.
“Why do you say that?”
“I was taught never to hold such things as beauty in high regard. My father always said beauty doesn’t last.”
“He must have been wrong about you then.”
Araiel blushed, and Hamir noted her trembling hand. He squeezed it gently and smiled at her a perfect smile revealing a set of pure white teeth. She would always remember that smile.
They rode into Elendriel the Prince atop a shiny black stallion and Araiel on a sparkling white mare. The people shouted praises upon the Prince and his fiance and threw ribbons and sparkling confetti as they approached the Citadel. It was larger than Minas Tirith’s Citadel, and once they reached the courtyard, they dismounted and allowed the stable boys to take their horses. Hamir showed Araiel the great hall first. It was far more ornate than Minas Tirith filled with tapestries and gold filigree on the walls. He then took her to her room, and she was surprised by the elegance awarded to her. Transparent white sheets encased the bed, and a window was open allowing the fresh desert night air in. A nightstand stood to the left of the bed and a dresser to the right where a basin of water rested so that she could wash.
“My room is across from yours if you need anything. Is the room satisfactory?”
“Indeed,” she smiled.
The Prince closed the door behind him and approached Araiel slowly. He took her small white hands within his own and raised them to his lips.
“I do not normally do this, but we shall be wed within two days and it seems appropriate.”
Skillfully and deftly, the Prince drew Araiel into his arms and kissed her mouth slowly and softly. She closed her eyes confused as to how to respond, but there was no need for he was in complete control. Finally, he released her and brushed aside her dark hair.
“Goodnight my lady.”
She managed a small curtsy, and as soon as he left, Araiel crawled into bed. She thought it would be quite easy for her to fall in love with the Prince. He was quite different from what she expected. Quite different indeed.