The Reluctant Bride

Tree and Flower Awards, Original Character, First Place
2014 Tree and Flower Awards
Tree and Flower Awards Nominee


Title: The Reluctant Bride

Rating: PG13

Theme - The Longest Day

Elements: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons/Summer

Author's Notes: This story features my original character Lady Adiva who first appears in "Tongues of Men and Angels

The hamam is first mentioned in "East is East"

The wedding customs are loosely based on those of Arabian Nomads.

Summary: Lady Adiva recalls the longest day of her life while relaxing with Arwen and Éowyn.

Word Count: 3,175

Disclaimer - These characters all belong to the estate of J.R.R. Tolkien. This story was written for pleasure and not for financial gain.With thanks to Virtuella.

Dedicated to Ellynn who inspired this story.

"Would you like more sherbet tea, esteemed friends?" asked Lady Adiva.

"That would be most refreshing, thank you," said Arwen.

"I should like some too, please," said Éowyn. The three ladies had just emerged from the hamam that Ambassador Tahir and his lady had installed in the Ambassador's residence. Now after bathing and being massaged with fragrant oils, they were reclining against large cushions spread over a luxurious carpet, wearing loose silk robes in the fashion of Harad.

"I have just prepared a fresh jug full, honoured ladies. It is flavoured with rose petals." Falah, Lady Adiva's devoted maid, entered carrying a jug, with which she filled their glasses, before gliding from the chamber as silently as she had entered it.

"How long has Falah been with you?" Éowyn asked.

"As soon as I came to womanhood, as is our custom, my mother bought me Falah to be my handmaid," Adiva replied. "As well as helping me bathe and dress, she accompanies me wherever I go and sleeps at my feet when my husband is not with me. My mother chose well, as I am greatly attached to Falah and she to me. We had many adventures together as young girls, Falah and I. We were sometimes permitted to visit the market place together as a treat. I especially liked to see all the horses that were for sale. I always loved horses and yearned to have one for my own."

"You did not have a horse?" Éowyn looked horrified.

"Horse riding is considered damaging to young women," Adiva explained. "Some older married women ride if their husbands permit it."

"I could not live in your land," said Éowyn. "Each day would be a torment to me."

"The horses were mostly needed for the warriors to ride into battle upon," Adiva explained. "One day, I walked with Falah to the market. A merchant there was beating a horse because it wanted to drink at the water trough. It upset me and I begged him to stop. He told me it was none of my affair. I became angry and shouted at him, forgetting the danger I was putting myself in. In our land, a woman should not chide a man and never speak to one she does not know. The merchant was furious. He swore at me and raised the whip he had been using on his horse. I thought he would strike me. Falah screamed. Just then a young man appeared and snatched the whip from the merchant's hand. He broke it in two and told him if he hit a woman or a horse again, he would see that he was conscripted to fight. The merchant slunk away, leading the horse, which had drunk its fill during the argument."

"Varda be praised that you were saved!" said Arwen.

"I gave thanks to the Moon God and Goddess," said Adiva. "My rescuer smiled at me and I felt a strange tingling sensation inside me that I had  never felt before. He was a handsome young man with a kindly face. He did not speak to me, but told Falah to take me home, which she did. I said nothing of what had happened for fear I would not be allowed out again."

"I felt as if I were in a cage at Edoras, but it was nothing like this," said Éowyn.

"I never realised just how fortunate I was to be Lady of Imladris," said Arwen. "Did your father ever learn what had happened?"

"If he did, he never spoke of it," said Adiva. "Falah and I liked to watch the sun go down and the moon rise over the desert. I would confide my dreams and hopes for the future to her as the sun dipped below the horizon."

"It will soon be Loëndë," Arwen remarked. "It is a special day for the Elves and for Estel's folk. We watch the sunrise and celebrate the victory of light over darkness."

"The folk of the Riddermark celebrate too," said Éowyn. "Faramir and I are holding a feast combining the customs of both our peoples to which, of course, you are both invited.

Arwen, who already knew of the plans of the Steward and his lady, replied. "Estel and I are looking forward to it and Eldarion always loves to visit you."

"Tahir and I should like to come," said Adiva. "We do not celebrate the longest day in Harad. Instead, we plead with the gods to shorten the hours that the merciless sun beams down upon us! We hold our festivals in mid- winter, which was when the longest day of my life was."

Falah smiled at her mistress as she handed her a drink and said. "It was the longest day for me too!"

"What happened?" Éowyn was overcome by curiosity.

"It was my wedding day," Adiva said simply.

"We were most frightened," said Falah. She giggled, then collected the empty glasses and scuttled away.

Arwen looked puzzled. "But you and Tahir are devoted to one another, or so I thought?"

"I could not wish for a better husband, esteemed friends," said Adiva. "I did not know him when we were wed though."

"You had never met?" Arwen looked horrified.

"I would never agree to such a marriage!" said Éowyn.

"If you were born in Harad you would have no choice," said Adiva. "Soon after a girl reaches womanhood, either her parents choose her a husband, or a man might ask for her hand in marriage. The girl has no say at all in the matter."

"That is appalling!" said Éowyn. "There are arranged marriages, especially amongst the nobility, both in Gondor and the Riddermark, but both parties must freely consent."

"A marriage without consent is not lawful," said Arwen. "If anyone is being forced into marriage they can appeal to my husband."

"Your customs are very different from ours, esteemed friends," said Adiva. "Maybe things will change now that the Lord of Gifts is overthrown, for every girl was expected to marry as soon as possible to bear strong sons to fight in his armies. As the daughter of his favourite wife, I was fortunate that my father allowed me to learn to read and write, and as result, I was different from the other girls as I often asked questions and was independent in my thinking."

Adiva settled herself more comfortably against the cushions. "One day the darwisa came on one of her regular visits to my father's harem and my mother insisted that she examine me to see if I were yet ready for marriage. It was not long afterwards when my father summoned me, together with my mother, and told me that I was to be married on the night of the next full moon. I had always known that this would be my fate, but I was greatly distressed. I wept and pleaded with him to allow me more time.  I felt I was yet too young to wed. He replied sternly that the darwisa was satisfied I was ready and that a respected man of our tribe had offered ten camels and two horses for me as a bride price with a further six camels after the wedding night if I pleased him. He bade my mother make me ready for my bridegroom and dismissed us from his presence.

I pleaded with my mother to change my father's mind, but she told me I must accept that he knew best. My husband to be was a wealthy man and a brave warrior and I should be pleased that such a man had asked for my hand.

"This is what comes of your father having you educated," she said. "Your head has been filled with all manner of unsuitable ideas. I accepted the husband my father had found for me without question."

I wept bitterly as soon as I returned to my chamber. Falah tried vainly to console me, but I could see that she was frightened too".

"I can understand that she would be distressed, but why would she be frightened?" Éowyn asked.

"If a woman proves barren or bears no sons, her handmaid will be expected to do so in her stead," Adiva explained. "I see you look shocked, esteemed friends, but it is the custom of our people. Falah and I talked long into the night. We feared my husband would be old and cruel and beat us both while his other wives would be unkind. I tried to think of a way to escape, but there was none. If I ran away, or took my own life, Falah would have been punished. Moreover, I had nowhere to go, and little idea how to survive on my own. The only women amongst our people who are not married are the darwisa and the pleasure women, neither of which I wanted to be, neither did I want to die."

Arwen and Éowyn looked increasingly horrified as Adiva's story progressed. They could only murmur their sympathy.

"I would have taken my own life rather than marry Wormtongue," said Éowyn. "I would have much preferred to kill him, though!"

"You are so strong, my esteemed friend," said Adiva. "Alas, I am not like you. I had had less than a month left before my life would change. I would live in a strange home at the mercy of an unknown man and be expected to seek the company of the married women rather than the maidens, so I would not even have my friends to console me. The day before my wedding, my mother and Falah took me to the hamam, where my body was sugared, my hair dyed and my hands and feet decorated with henna tattoos. My mother declared herself well satisfied and said I made a beautiful bride who would surely delight my husband. I only wished I could break out in spots and look exceedingly ugly! How I yearned for some miracle to save me from my bridegroom. It was not to be,though. I cried myself to sleep and wished never to awaken on my wedding day, but of course, I did. I was awakened by Falah at dawn and the longest day of my life began."

"I was filled with joy on my wedding day," said Arwen. "Estel and I had waited so long. It did take me a while to become accustomed to marriage, though."

"My mother and Falah dressed me in scarlet and gold robes and placed a thick gold chain around my neck and bracelets around my wrists, which were a gift from my father. I felt like hurling them out of the window! A veil was placed over my face and I was led out to the town square before the sun grew too hot. There my husband was waiting for me; also veiled, as is our custom. I could see only that he was tall and broad shouldered. His grip was firm when he took my hand for us to be married before all the people. My father spoke the words giving me to him and we were made man and wife. We then went to his home, which I saw to be large and spacious, but I cared not. I was weeping and could hardly see through my thick veil. There was feasting then, the women in one chamber and the men in another, as is the custom. The women of his household all congratulated me and told me I had a fine husband. I was surprised, though, how few there were. It did not seem that he had other wives or concubines. The feast dragged on for hours while musicians played. It seemed endless, but every moment brought me nearer to my wedding night. I was terrified. I had never even been alone with a man before!"

"I can scarce imagine your plight," said Arwen. "An Elf would most likely fade."

"All too soon it was time for bed," said Adiva. "The women took me to the chambers prepared for the bridal night and undressed me. They bathed me and anointed me with fragrant oils, then dressed me in a robe; much like these we are wearing now, esteemed friends. I shuddered. To be seen by a man in such a flimsy garment! The women left my chamber save for my mother and Falah. My mother told me I must submit to my husband and not struggle whatever happened. Falah's eyes were full of unspoken sympathy as she helped me into the rose petal strewn bed. Then she and my mother withdrew and left me to await my husband. I pulled the sheet up to my chin and lay there trembling and trying not to weep, my heart pounding like a trapped bird. Then the door opened and a man entered. I hardly dared to look at him. He spoke my name softly and I timidly raised my eyes. I looked up and beheld the young man I had met in the market place!"

"My fair blossom!" he said, reaching out a hand towards me. I shivered and pulled the sheet more closely around myself. He looked troubled and took a step backwards.

"You are not pleased to see me?" he asked, his brown eyes filled with concern.

"I have never been alone with a man before," I told him.

"You have nothing to fear, my beloved," he said. "I shall not seek to lie with you until the fear in your eyes is replaced with longing. A blossom withers and dies if plucked too soon. I have loved you since the moment I first beheld you in the market place. I was overjoyed when your father agreed to our marriage. I would not seek to quench such a flame!"

I stared at him amazed. Surely, no man living would pay such heed to a maiden's fears? "But what of my father?" I said. "He will be angry if he does not get his camels and what about the bloodied bed sheet to prove I was a maid?"

"I will take care of everything," said my husband. "The fear in your eyes when you look at me is proof enough you have never known a man's touch. Now, sleep, my fair blossom. I have a surprise for you early in the morning. I will send your handmaiden to you." He smiled and I recalled how I had felt when I first beheld him at the market place.

"I do not even know your name," I said.

"I am Tahir son of Nasih," said my husband. "May the sun never dazzle your eyes, my fair blossom!" He kissed me lightly on the cheek and disappeared into the adjoining chamber."

"What an ordeal for you!" said Éowyn. "But never did I think a man of Harad would be as kind and patient as my Faramir."

"Your first meeting was a little like mine with Estel," said Arwen. "He loved me from the first moment he beheld me too. Something stirred in my heart then, but it was a while before I realised that I loved him."

"What happened the next morning?" Éowyn asked.

"Falah came to me almost at once," Adiva continued. "I do not think she had gone to bed."

"How could I?" said the maid, who had entered bearing a tray laden with sweetmeats and glasses of sherbet tea. "I imagined the most cruel fate befalling my honoured lady and was pacing my chamber when my honoured lord bade me go to her. He was with her so short a time I feared that he was most displeased with her and we would both be beaten. I was amazed to find her smiling and even more amazed when she told me what had happened! He's a good man, is our honoured master!" She put the tray down in front of Adiva and disappeared back into the chamber behind.

"Just after dawn the next day," Adiva continued, "my husband knocked on the door of my chamber and bade Falah prepare me to go outside. When we were dressed, he told us wait for him in the gardens. He said he must make the bed look as if we had both spent the night there before my father and the other witnesses arrived.

A little while later he joined us leading a beautiful white mare. "What a lovely horse!" I exclaimed. "Is she yours, my husband?"

He shook his head. "No, my fair blossom. She is my bride gift to you."

I gaped at him open mouthed. Such a thing is unheard of amongst our people. "I cannot ride," I said sadly.

"I shall be happy to teach you," he replied. "It will be a good way to get to know one another. Your maid can come too if you fear to be alone with me."

He handed me an apple to give to the horse. "I must go now and give your father his camels," he said. "I will leave you to choose a name for your mare."

"What a wonderful gift!" said Éowyn.

"I named her Husna, which means beautiful in our tongue," said Adiva. "I have her still, though she is getting old now. Each day I grew to love my husband more. Like me, he loved to read and had studied the poets of distant lands, where he had read of one man loving and honouring one wife. He told me that if I were fruitful, he would take no other wives, yet he waited more than two years to share my bed until I wanted to bear his children. Cruel tongues wagged against him when my belly did not quickly swell and he took no other woman, yet he remained true to his word. He told me how he dreamed of the land at peace and showed me the emblem of the rising sun tattooed above his heart to show his hatred of the Lord of Gifts and his tyranny."

"Estel told me he had seen that when they shared the hamam," said Arwen. "Tahir is a man of great courage."

"Once the false Lord of Gifts was overthrown," Adiva continued, "my esteemed husband asked his kinsman the Great Khan if he might come to these lands as ambassador. Things are changing in our land, but all too slowly. Tahir yearns to work for peace and wanted to bring me where I might have more freedom and our children too."

"I hope you will make Gondor your home," said Arwen.

Adiva drained the last drop of tea from her glass. "We shall, esteemed Lady Arwen. We are happy here and our children are thriving. But it grows late, I will call for Falah to help us dress."

"I can hear children playing outside," said Arwen. "And is that not Eldarion's voice?"

"I can hear Elestelle's laughter," said Éowyn.

Adiva rose to her feet and peered through a small hole in the shutters. She smiled broadly and beckoned the others to join her.

Outside in the rose garden, their three husbands lay sprawled across the grass while their children tried to cover them in rose petals.
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