Beneath the Midsummer Moon by Linda Hoyland
Summary – Midsummer’s Eve proves a time of both dreams and nightmares for Ccaptain Thorongil.
Disclaimer – These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.
Dedicated to Harrowcat on the occasion of her birthday.
The dancers swirled around the hall; the ladies colourful as spring blossoms in gowns of many and varied hues: the men resplendent in more muted shades. For once Denethor was smiling as he led his new bride in the first dance of the evening.
Thorongil watched them somewhat morosely from the side of the room, a place usually reserved for those too old or infirm to take part in the dancing. His thoughts were far away with a maiden, fairer by far even than Finduilas, dancing unshod beneath the birches to the music of the wind whispering amongst the leaves.
“She is a lovely woman, is she not?” Ecthelion remarked, his old eyes following the moves of his new daughter in law as she glided gracefully across the floor on her husband's arm.
“She is indeed,” said Thorongil. He forced himself out of his daydream and back to the present.
“ I hope I shall live to see my boy's grandchildren now,” the Steward continued. “Children are such a blessing.”
“What greater joy could any man have than children!” Thorongil's tone was wistful as he imagined holding a son or daughter in his arms.
“There are plenty of fair maidens yet unwed,” said Ecthelion. “Lady Lothwen would suit you well. She is most fair and something of a scholar too. A man needs more than soldiering to be happy, my friend. Why not take a wife and make your home permanently amongst us? Lady Lothwen likes you and her father would give his blessing to the match.”
Thorongil glanced across the room to where Lady Lothwen was dancing with her brother. She was indeed fair and learned too. Like many of the ladies of the City she helped in the fight against the enemy by growing healing herbs to provision the soldiers while they were on patrol and Thorongil had held several interesting discussions with her on the subject. She could also sing sweetly and write skilful verses. She would make some fortunate man a fine wife.
The music drew to a close.
“You should not be sitting here, Thorongil, with the old folk,” said Ecthelion. “Go and dance. See Lady Lothwen's brother is about to dance with his wife now.”
“My heart is not free,” said Thorongil. “It belongs to a lady in my homeland.”
“You are not betrothed, though?”
“I do not have that honour.”
“Dance then, my friend. All too swiftly your youth will have flown and you will sit with the elders whether you will it or not.”
Thorongil had little choice but to rise and offer to dance with the young lady. The skin on her hands felt delightfully soft and she smelled of fresh roses. Her sea-blue eyes looked trustingly into his grey ones. She was indeed a fair woman. She was not Arwen, though. When the dance ended Thorongil made his excuses and left the hall.
“I thought you were attending the Steward’s midsummer festivities tonight?” Maedros, one of Thorongil's fellow captains, hailed him as he made his way back to his lodging.
“I have reports to write and left early,” said Thorongil.
“The night is yet young,” said Maedros. “Share a mug of ale with me before you immerse yourself in reports.”
“Very well.” Thorongil needed little persuasion. Truth to tell the report was almost ready and the thought of a long night alone in his room was less than appealing. The dance with Lady Lothwen and Ecthelion's talking about children and grandchildren had reminded him all too keenly of what he was missing that other men enjoyed.
The small tavern was crowded mostly with soldiers; Thorongil supposed it was because many were excused duties tonight because of the midsummer festival. The ale was good and he and Maedros sat sipping it at a table the innkeeper had shown them on recognising two captains.
Thorongil became aware of a rising feeling of excitement in the room. “Is something afoot?” he asked his companion.
“They have dancing girls from Umbar tonight,” Maedros replied. “I thought that was why you came here with me.”
“I desired only a mug of ale and company in which to enjoy it.”
Maedros laughed. “So speaks my worthy comrade! You will soon forget your drink when the dancing starts. Legend says that these girls have power to bewitch any man!”
A hush fell over the room as a small group of musicians made their way to the platform at the front of the tavern. A drummer began to beat a rhythm while pipers played a strange wild tune.
Six dancing girls glided into the room moving with slow sinuous motions. They were clad in filmy garments, which revealed far more than they covered. Thorongil could not help but gaze at them as they gyrated across the platform, displaying seemingly endless expanses of shapely leg.
One of the girls cast aside a layer of veils so that even more of her curvaceous form was revealed.
Thorongil was seized by strange and powerful sensations. “I think I should leave now,” he told Maedros.
“The entertainment has only just started,” said his companion, draping a restraining arm around his shoulders. “You cannot leave yet. More ale!” he called to the innkeeper.
Unwilling to make a scene Thorongil sipped his drink and tried not to watch as the girls struck up ever more suggestive poses. There was something wild and animal like about the dance.
At last the music stopped. The dance was over. The watchers applauded enthusiastically and threw coins on to the stage. The girls bent and stuffed the bounty into their skimpy bodices and then left the stage to mingle with their audience. One walked straight across to where Thorongil and Maedros were sitting.
“It is hot in here tonight,” the dancing girl, bending over Thorongil. “Would you escort me outside for some fresh air?”
Maedros rolled his eyes. “It seems fortune always smiles on you, Thorongil,” he said ruefully.
Thorongil led the girl outside into the moonlit gardens. “Are you unwell?” he asked her. “Shall I fetch your companions?”
She laughed, a throaty musical sound and then pulled the surprised Captain into her arms and pressed her lips against his. He was enveloped in a cloud of exotic spicy scents. Her hands stroked his face then fumbled to unlace his clothing. His heart beat wildly and he felt as if his blood would boil in his veins. His body responded hungrily to what she offered while his soul recoiled in horror. His vision spun and he beheld another woman, a pure maiden with eyes like stars.
“No!” he cried. “I cannot, must not!”
“Your woman will never know,” said the girl. “ I know you want what all men desire.”
“No!” he repeated, pushing her away as gently as he could.
“What?” the girl’s ardour was swiftly replaced by fury. “Aren’t you a proper man? Are you some sort of eunuch? Your companion would have pleased me, but I chose you!” With that she slapped his face and stormed back into the inn.
His face burning, Thorongil fled into the night. How could he have been such a fool?
He passed a horse trough and splashed cold water on his face, all the while inwardly berating himself. He should not have drunk so much ale, he should have left before the dance has started; he should never have followed the girl outside. What had happened to him? How could he ever be worthy of Arwen if he showed so little self-control? Men were weak, but he had the blood of Lúthien in his veins! His lips felt unclean from the woman’s kiss. He cupped water in his hands and drank deeply.
He chose to return to his lodgings via a network of alleyways that were usually deserted after dark. He had no desire to encounter further temptations that night. He walked swiftly and almost silently through the deserted streets.
“Help me! He...”
The cries swiftly stifled came from a woman. Thorongil drew his sword and hastened in the direction from which they came. A woman was struggling frantically against three ruffians who were trying to hold her down.
“Release her at once or you will taste cold steel!” Thorongil’s tone was full of menace.
The ruffians fled into the night. Thorongil wondered for an instant whether to pursue them or to tend to their victim. The woman lay sobbing in a crumpled heap and her face was streaked with blood. He swiftly decided on the latter.
“Have they hurt you, mistress?” He dropped to his knees beside her.
The woman groaned and sat up, her eyes full of fear. “They struck me and took what little money I have, but nothing worse.”
“Can you walk, mistress? I will take you home. You need have no fear of me. I am Captain Thorongil.”
Her eyes widened, but she permitted him to assist her to her feet. “The Captain Thorongil?”
“I am, mistress.”
She sighed with relief. ”My husband, Faelthor son of Faron used to serve with you.”
“Faelthor was a good man. It greatly saddened my heart to hear of his death. Is your dwelling nearby, mistress?”
“In the next street. I take in sewing for my neighbours and was just returning home after delivering a shirt I had made. They must have followed me and seen my neighbour give me my payment.” She swallowed hard and swayed on her feet. “I shudder to think what might have happened had you not come along. My children!”
Thorongil gripped her arm firmly yet gently and supported her as they walked the short distance to her home. “Is anyone waiting for you?” he asked as they approached the threshold.
“My three babies are asleep in bed,” she replied. “I hope they have not taken harm with me gone so long.”
Thorongil remembered now how thrilled Faelthor had been at the birth of his first-born. It was soon after that he had been transferred to the Ithilien Rangers, as he was exceptionally skilled with the bow.
Somewhat recovering now they had reached the safety of her home, the woman lit the lamp illuminating a small, shabby, but comfortable and homely dwelling. A vase of wild flowers stood on the table and an aroma of fresh baked bread wafted from the kitchen range. Two rag dolls and a ball lay on the couch beside a stack of freshly washed small garments.
“Would you like some tea when I have seen how my children fare?” she asked.
“The cut on your face needs tending,” said Thorongil. “You should rest. You have suffered a nasty shock.”
She ignored him as she made her way into the next room where three small children lay on a low bed, huddled together like a litter of kittens. The eldest had her arm flung protectively around the youngest, who sucked her thumb in her sleep.
“They miss their father,” said the woman. “And how shall I feed them tomorrow now those villains took my money?”
“Worry about your own comfort first, mistress,” said Thorongil. “Sit down and let me tend that cut. I will make the tea for you afterwards.”
There was water simmering on the hob and Thorongil gently bathed the ugly cut that disfigured the woman's face. She was still young, not more than thirty, he surmised, with dark hair and grey eyes, which suggested a noble lineage.
As they drank the tea, she spoke fondly of her late husband and proudly of her children.
Thorongil found himself loth to leave the cosy dwelling, but forced himself to do so as soon as he had finished his drink. Ere he departed, he surreptitiously placed some coins where she would be certain to find them and resolved to speak to Ecthelion concerning her welfare. Lady Finduilas was known for her kind heart. Maybe she could find some employment for her at the Citadel?
Thorongil's mood was more sombre than ever as he walked back to his lodging. The dwelling he had just left showed him just what he was missing all too plainly. Faelthor was younger than he was when he fell in battle yet he had left three children behind. Was Thorongil destined to be the last of his line?
He had to pass the barracks, which housed the recruits on the way home and was surprised to see Callon, one of the youngest members of his troop, slumped on a bench in an attitude of abject misery.
He went over to the usually lively and cheerful young man to see what ailed him.
“What is the matter, lad?” he asked.
“I've lost her!” Callon moaned. His eyes were red rimmed in the bright moonlight and Thorongil could smell drink on his breath.
“It will seem better in the morning,” said Thorongil. “You should go to your bed now or you will get into trouble.”
“Don't care!” said Callon. “I'd be better off dead!”
“You had better come with me and tell me all about it then,” said Thorongil, not wishing to leave the boy in such a state. There could be more miscreants around and the quartermaster was known to be something of a tyrant. He did not want the boy to be fined, or worse, flogged. He took Callon firmly by the arm and shepherded him towards his own lodgings.
Once inside, Thorongil lit the lamps to illuminate his sparsely furnished living room. “Sit down,” he ordered Callon. “I am going to mix up a drink for you.”
Thorongil rummaged in his pack where he kept healing supplies and selected some herbs to calm the nerves and cleanse the lad’s abused liver. He prepared a draught of valerian and milk thistle.
“It tastes horrible!” Callon grimaced.
“Drink it down. That is an order!” Thorongil said in a stern tone.
Callon complied and then began to sob uncontrollably.
Thorongil placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder and allowed him to weep for a few moments before saying, “Dry your eyes now, lad. I think you had better tell me what the matter is.”
Callon hiccupped and rubbed his sleeve across his eyes. “I had a letter from my mother today,” he said.
“Is she unwell?” He knew that Callon's mother, a widow, was much plagued by rheumatism.
“Her leg pains her but it was what she told me about Eiren that has broken my heart!”
“And Eiren is?”
“The fairest maid that lives and I have lost her!”
“Is the lady betrothed to another?”
“No, but she has told my mother that there is nothing for her in our village and she is going to live with her aunt in Rohan!”
“Was Mistress Eiren betrothed to you, lad?”
Callon sighed and rubbed his hand across his eyes before meeting his Captain's gaze. “No, she is not bound to me. I meant to ask her to wed me before I joined the army, but my courage deserted me. We did walk out together and I know she liked me. I thought if I waited until I had won honour in the field and a promotion I would have more to offer her. Now I have lost her forever! She joins her aunt next month and I don't have leave until Mettare!”
“Why not write to Mistress Eiren and tell her how you feel?” Thorongil suggested.
“She is unlettered and I have little skill with words either,” Callon said miserably.
Thorongil thought quickly. His troop was to spend the rest of the week drilling before setting out on a mission against the Southrons. Callon excelled at drills and could have almost done them in his sleep. He hardly needed more practise.
“You had better go tomorrow and ask for Mistress Eiren's hand,” he said.
“But recruits are only allowed leave once a year until their third year,” Callon protested.
“Unless given special permission by their Captain to visit a sick relative,” said. Thorongil. “I shall give you some healing herbs to take to your mother and a salve for the rash your sister's baby suffers from. Now take heed that you do visit your mother too and that this time you pluck up the courage to ask for Eiren's hand! I shall expect you back here in three days time.”
Callon beamed. “Why thank you, Captain!”
“A heart broken soldier is a danger to himself and his colleagues,” said Thorongil dryly. He scribbled a note and handed it to the boy. “Here is your pass to give you three days leave. Now be off, lad, and get some sleep, as you will need to leave early. I think a horse could be spared for you. Come to me for the herbs in the morning.” He clapped Callon heartily on the shoulder.
“Thank you, sir!” Callon's manners returned with his sobriety. He rewarded Thorongil with another beaming smile and made off into the moonlit night, a spring in his step.
Thorongil watched him depart, his own heart feeling considerably lighter. He made his way to his bedchamber and prepared for sleep.
The night was warm and he opened the window. He lay on his bed and gazed up at the Star of Eärendil and new hope filled his heart. Somehow, someday his heart's desire would come true and he would prove himself worthy and win Arwen's hand in marriage. Until then he would live with hope in his heart. With that thought Thorongil drifted into pleasant dreams of his beloved Evenstar.
A/n This was written for the “Teitho” “Dreams” contest where it was placed 3rd.