In the Heat of Play

by MerryK

“There! Finished at last!” pronounced the Queen, looking around the room with satisfaction.

“Ah, I am so pleased,” said Eowyn, wiping her hands free of dust and smiling. “For weeks I have been with an ache in my hands to grasp hold of a duster and whip this room into shape.”

Arwen sighed a little, and smiled at Eowyn. “And you certainly did. How I envy you, Eowyn, here in the country. You have all the benefits of nobility, and yet are not quite royalty, and so lack some of the trials. With such ease you break free of being waited upon, while I am stifled with doing nothing on my own. You cannot comprehend how often I long to send the servants away and simply wash myself, at the least—but it would never be allowed in my case, even if the servants could get over the strangeness of the desire.”

Eowyn rested a hand on the Queen’s shoulder. “Believe me, lady, none can comprehend your struggles more than I, royalty as I once was, though Rohan be more open in allowances. I fought tooth and nail to do some useful work, and consider myself blessed to be able to do so now without needing permission.”

“Is it not strange, however, that only we women felt the urge?” asked Arwen wryly. “Here we are, taking half-guilty pleasure in honest work while the servants have a day free, and our men…” she broke off, and a twitch of the royal lip gave Eowyn cause to chuckle.

“I am sure that simply being without bodyguards for a day feels like honest work to them,” she said. “But come, the time is flying, and our enjoyment must humble itself before the urgent demands of hunger.”

“Of course, you enjoyed yourselves,” said Theowyn from her corner, where Idriel, the Queen’s daughter, and her own sister Elliriel were playing at some game. Her arms were crossed and her posture somewhat slouched. “I still don’t see why we couldn’t go off to play like the boys!”

Eowyn sighed. “Wyn, dear, yesterday you told me that orcs could not drag you into this ‘deadly hot weather’, which is exactly where our men have gone.”

“At least they aren’t organizing some old library,” muttered Theowyn.

“Whatever frivolous thing they are doing, it is time that we go to bring them back,” said Arwen, looking out at the sun.

“Come then, children,” said Eowyn briskly.

“Go get Ada?” asked Elliriel, looking up.

“Yes, dear.” Eowyn nodded.

“Wyn carry me!” pronounced Elliriel, putting up her arms to her older sister. Theowyn cast a pained glance to her mother, but Eowyn stared firmly until Theowyn sighed, and reached down to pick up her sister.

“Nana, Nana!” called Idriel, running across to her own mother. Arwen carried her own young one, and the ladies made their way to the carriage.
“Elessar told me that they were going to the fields near Cerin Arnen,” said Arwen as they rolled along. “He did not tell me what they were going to do, so I hope it was not some sport that involved hiding out in the woodlands.”

“Oh yes, I do hope that as well,” answered Eowyn. “Do you remember last time?”

Arwen shook her head sadly, “Yes. Elves cannot forget quickly.”

Eowyn laughed. “Oh, it was not that bad.”

Arwen retorted quickly: “Oh? Perhaps your husband did not think it was a good idea to pretend to be a Haradrim to ‘surprise’ his beloved, then.”

Eowyn looked down at Elliriel to hide a smirk. “Not quite.”

“Exactly,” said Arwen with a little huff. “I hope they are more mature this time.”

The sun was indeed deadly hot that day, baking the fertile soil of Ithilien, and casting glares from the surfaces of the many streams and creeks to anyone nearby. A persistent cloud of dust surrounded the carriage as they headed towards Cerin Arnen, and both Queen and Princess fanned themselves relentlessly.

“Whose idea was it to go do something active outside in such weather?” asked Eowyn, shaking her head. “Were they all mad?”

“Think, Eowyn,” said Arwen. “Who suggested last year that a week-long climb to the peaks of the White Mountains in December would be ‘enjoyable and educational’?”

Eowyn chuckled. “Yes, that is certainly trademark for the King. I only hope that no one has died of the heat today.”

And then the carriage stopped, and they had arrived at their destination. Exiting the carriage with as much grace as possible in sweltering heat and dust, they looked out across the fields.

“Thank goodness,” said Eowyn, shading her eyes with her hand. “They appear to have stayed in the fields.”

“What are they doing?” asked Arwen. “Is it some sort of conference?”

“I do not care, as long as they are not spread out in the woodlands. Come, Wyn, Liri. Ada is over there.”

The grass was brown and rustled noisily under their feet as they traversed the plain, noticing as they grew ever nearer that the ‘conference’ was by no means quiet. As Eowyn drew close her brow compressed, as she guessed by the movements that her husband and the King were having some sort of disagreement. There were certainly raised voices, and they did not stop until Eowyn and Arwen were only a few yards off.

“Is something wrong?” asked Arwen. “Is anyone hurt?”

All talking ceased, and all heads turned. It might have been a comical sight, all the flushed and sweaty faces, with various degrees of frustration and distress upon them. Even Legolas, who had joined his mortal friends that day, looked out of sorts and uncomfortable. But nothing was so indicative of the situation as Turion, Eowyn’s youngest son, who came over to collapse on top of his mother’s feet with a choking sob.

“What on earth has gone on?” demanded Eowyn, kneeling to scoop up her distraught son, but looking directly at Faramir.

“Don’t give in to him, Mama,” said Beren darkly. “Turion has been throwing a tantrum all day!”

“I have not,” protested Turion tearily from his mother’s arms. “You’re lying!”

“Turion!” said Faramir. “You may not say such things to your brother!”

“Ha!” said Beren, sticking out his tongue. Turion began to wail again.

“He’s doing it again!” moaned Eldarion, sinking down into the grass and covering his ears. “I can’t take it anymore!”

“Oh, you would say so, even though you were a thousand times worse before!” put in Elboron bitterly.

“I did not throw a tantrum!” cried Eldarion, hands coming off his ears. “You called me a cheater and I responded! That’s different!”

“You did cheat,” growled Elboron. “And you know it, little prince!”

“Elboron!” cried Faramir.

”Eldarion!” cried Aragorn.

“I wish I was dead,” sobbed Turion, his hot tears soaking Eowyn’s dress.

“I wish you were, too,” muttered Beren.

“Beren!” cried Faramir, and as he ran his fingers through sweat-dampened hair he looked about ready to fall apart himself.

“Can we go home now?” begged Eldarion.

But Eowyn, who had been looking from husband to sons in bewilderment, looked next to Arwen, and the Queen spoke up. “Not before this is all explained,” she said firmly.

There was a pause. “It was nothing much,” said Aragorn with a sigh.

“Was it not?” asked Faramir with more than a tinge of sarcasm.

“No, it was not,” said Aragorn testily. “If you had just sent your sons home the first time they misbehaved, none of this would have happened.”

“Do you not even realize the part you played in this?” asked Faramir indignantly. “You seem determined to lay the blame everywhere but on yourself!”

“Please, Faramir!” said Eowyn.

“Aragorn, my love,” added Arwen, “this is not helping.”

Eowyn turned to Legolas. “Legolas, will you not tell us what happened? You seem to be the most calm at the moment.”

The Elf nodded, and everyone else grew quiet as he began to speak. “It did not start out on the wrong foot; we were only playing a ball game, though one I had never played before. The point of the game was to take the ball back and forth across the field, but it allowed for members of the opposite team to tackle the man with the ball, which was where the trouble began.”

“There should have been no trouble,” muttered Aragorn. “It is a simple game, and I have played it before without anyone losing their temper.”

“We should have picked a less violent game on such a day as this,” said Faramir. “That is what I said from the beginning, and see what turned out?”

“As I said,” continued Legolas, “trouble began. When your son Turion had the ball, Eowyn, he was tackled by Beren and scraped his hand. It was nothing much, and I did not think it a matter of importance, but then in the next play, when Eldarion had the ball, Beren tackled Turion again.”

“I didn’t mean to!” argued Beren.

“Yes, you did!” put in Turion. “You always try to tackle me!”

“Hush!” said Faramir firmly.

“They argued about it for a while,” said Legolas, “and fists nearly came to play, so Elessar advised that the boys should be sent home, as they could not control themselves.”

“And so they should have,” said Aragorn.

“Oh yes,” said Faramir dryly. “You obviously have only one son, or you would not have advised that I send them away where they would only continue the fight out of my reach and control. No, it was best that they be where I was.”

“It was best that they be disciplined!” said Aragorn sharply. “You were too lax.”

Faramir’s hand clenched and unclenched. “I did everything that I could to restore good humor,” he said quietly. “Anything more would have made the situation worse.”

“Well, the play was continued,” said Legolas, “while Beren and Turion sat on the side. It seemed like everything was well, until Faramir tackled Eldarion.”

“You did what?” cried Eowyn, casting a reproachful look at Faramir.

He looked quite sheepish, but said only: “We all agreed to play this game, knowing that everyone would be tackled at some point. I did not think it would be a difficulty.”

“My son is only eleven years old,” said Aragorn. “You knew that!”

“I did not tackle him very hard,” protested Faramir.

“I would not have played that game if I had known what tackling was like,” put in a distressed Eldarion. “I did not know how it felt!”

“You did not have to cry about it like that, though,” said Elboron from the other side of the circle of men. “It couldn’t hurt that much!”

“I’m not a crybaby!” said Eldarion stoutly.

“I didn’t say you were!” answered Elboron. “But I could have.”

“Eldarion was in tears for a while,” said Legolas before the fathers could burst in again, “but after a pause he seemed all right, and we continued. And then, in the next play, Eldarion was tackled by Beren, who was back in the game, but it turned out that Aragorn had the ball. Beren was upset, because Eldarion had pretended to have the ball, and he thought it was cheating.”

“It was cheating,” said Beren. “Everyone said so!”

“It was not,” said Aragorn. “There is nothing wrong in fooling the other team.”

“It was deceitful,” said Elboron disgustedly, “and a play not suitable to men of honor.”

“Are you impugning my son’s honor?” growled Aragorn.

“Elboron, do not speak so harshly,” said Faramir. “It was not cheating, for nowhere in the rules was it forbidden.”

“But Ada, have you not always told us that a true man is open in all his dealings, and only crafty men will try to pull the wool over another’s eyes?” pleaded Elboron.

“This is not quite the same case,” said Faramir.

“I do not like the contempt your sons have for the son of their King,” commented Aragorn pointedly.

“They are idealistic,” defended Faramir. “Perhaps they applied it wrongly here, but I will not discourage that which prompts them to speak.”

Aragorn opened his mouth to speak, but was cut off. “And it all went downhill from there,” concluded Legolas shortly.

The ladies looked around again, taking in the tear stains, glares, and bits of grass in their loved ones’ hair. The moment of silence and the looks on the newcomers’ faces seemed to bring everything into a new perspective.

“We were quite foolish today,” said Faramir after a pause, a stronger flush coming to his face.

“Some more foolish than others,” began Aragorn, but concluded quickly, “but all foolish.”

“I think that it is time to wash up and go home,” said Eowyn quietly.

“I agree,” said Arwen.

And so, sheepishly, exhaustedly, the various men all walked over to the nearest stream. Eowyn followed carrying Turion, for the eight-year-old boy was physically and emotionally worn and clinging to her for comfort. As dirty hands were cleansed and sunburnt faces splashed with cool water, Arwen looked over at Eowyn, and they had no need for words: it was perfectly clear what they should do.

Before Aragorn or Faramir could comprehend the loud splashes that came suddenly to their ears, they felt hands upon their backs, and were pushed irrevocably headfirst into the stream. The younger boys had no greater luck, and before the ladies could nod and smile to each other, heads were bobbing up, gasping for air.

“You!” choked Aragorn. “You!”

“Eowyn, this was not helpful!” cried Faramir as he came up spluttering.

But Legolas laughed, and dunked Faramir in a quick movement. The Steward came up spitting water and staring at Legolas as if he had gone mad.

“Come, Faramir, relax!” laughed Legolas. “The heat has addled our brains, and we have turned a day of enjoyment into a day of argument. Your lady has but tried to mend it; which is what we should do as well.”

“Catch me, Ada!” called Eldarion as he jumped from a rock onto Aragorn’s chest. They both went under, but to Arwen’s relief, came up chuckling as well as wet.

“Can I go in?” asked Turion.

“Of course, love,” said Eowyn. “Jump right in.”

And so he did, though unfortunately splashing Beren heavily as he did so. Beren retorted by dunking his little brother—some things would never change—but tempers could not flare hot in such an atmosphere, and no one was frowning in the end when they all lay to dry on the grass. Soon the sun began to sink behind the far hills, a breeze blew in from the south, and every male stomach growled with fearsome hunger.

As the carriages returned to Emyn Arnen, Faramir sighed and turned to Eowyn. “Can you forgive us for how badly we handled this day?” he asked.

“Certainly,” said Eowyn with a smile. “But—I think it would be best if we did not all come together like this in the summer again.”

“We could climb the White Mountains this December instead,” mused Faramir.

Eowyn froze for a moment, and stared at Faramir.

“It was but a jest, beloved,” he answered, and kissed her with a smile.

The End