18. The Golden Hall of Edoras
King Éomer's party from Minas Tirith had made good time riding toward Edoras. As they drew closer, they passed through lush tall grasslands surrounded on all sides by snow-topped mountains. The weather was less summer-like and more resembled late spring than it had farther south. Éomer had described Edoras to Lothíriel as being less than a real city and more a fortress, the seat of government for a rural population widely scattered in small homesteads and villages on these windswept plains.
Most of the land they had passed through was far too dry to support heavily wooded areas, apart from those that skirted every river and the infrequent lake. While they had encountered burned-out settlements and ruined farmlands, they had also passed new construction and occasional fields that had been recently plowed and planted. Éomer and Éowyn had resolutely maintained a cautious optimism, rejoicing at every sign of reconstruction and renewal.
In the face of the brother and sister's determined stoicism, Lothíriel had not realized the extent of their concern until, earlier that week, they encountered two days of not hard, but steady rain. Being more accustomed to riding in the early morning and late evening fog and seasonal storms blown in from the sea, combined with her residual Elvish resistance to cold, Lothíriel was the least miserable of the three of them. But her two companions, despite suffering from the damp chill, nonetheless had been overjoyed at the rain, which they predicted would assist in the possible survival of the crops planted weeks late in most cases.
That morning, however, the sun was splendid. The bright green of springtime colored the grasses of the wide-open plains that flowed through the snow-crowned peaks of the White Mountains. When they reached the crest of the hill they had been climbing, Lothíriel shouted excitedly to Éomer, "There it is!" She easily recognized the Meduseld, the Golden Hall of the Kings of the Riddermark, from its descriptions in story and song. The fabled hall of Edoras, wrought of timber and stone, was a more magnificent structure than she had expected. It was lower, but longer, wider, far more massive than she had imagined. It dwarfed the buildings and houses that spread out before it.
Its gold-leafed roof sparked and glittered in the late-morning sunshine beneath the few cottony white clouds that drifted across the brilliant blue sky. She pulled her mare to the side of the smooth beaten road that led into the city, which had widened sufficiently at that point to carry eight horsemen abreast.
Éomer, who had been riding at the front of their column, turned his horse and rode back to stand next to her. His loosely curled, golden hair, mussed by the wind, flowed long onto his shoulders. His face was flushed and boyishly attractive, yet proud and noble to her eyes. His smile was as broad and his bright blue eyes were as merry as she had ever seen them.
"Yes. There it is, my love!" he said jubilantly.
"Oh, Éomer," was all she could say.
The Meduseld was positioned at the top of an incline, not unlike the one upon which they stood looking down at the city, although not nearly as high and rockier. Thatch-covered buildings extended before it. The tallest, which were two and three stories in height, faced the main road that led into the town and continued directly up onto the rise where the Meduseld sat. Slightly behind and to one side of the Meduseld was the only other building of a significant size. It was also made of wood, set upon strong stone foundations.
"Éomer, what it is that large structure near the Meduseld?" Lothíriel asked.
"The stables," Éomer answered, with a big smile. "You will like them I think. They are well kept. The stables in Minas Tirith are a disgrace, dark, crowded and airless. Aragorn is talking of improving them soon." Lothíriel could not restrain a laugh as she imagined that it was Éomer's relentless complaining that had wrung that concession from the newly crowned king of Gondor.
"We need a few minutes, my lord. I need to prepare myself to meet your people," Lothíriel said. Éomer dismounted and lifted his arms up to her. Éowyn pulled her horse up to them and he helped his sister down as well.
"And what are these preparations?" he asked, his eyes sparkling with humor.
Éowyn said, "Let us unbraid your hair and let it hang loose. Our people have rarely seen such hair." Her hands were already busy undoing the large braid that fell down Lothíriel's back. "You will look like an Elven princess. That should gain you some respect until they know you better at least," Éowyn added, her laughing eyes giving lie to the scolding tone she used.
"You are quite competent as a lady's maid, Éowyn. But what of you? How do I make you look respectable? Shall I brush your hair?" Lothíriel asked.
"Yes. It is a bit tangled from the ride. But they know me well enough," Éowyn laughed, "The best and the worst of me I fear."
The two women fiddled a bit more with their costumes and their hair, while Lothíriel noted that Éomer and the Riders closest to them watched with considerable interest. Éomer shooed the men back a little when Éowyn decided that Lothíriel should wear the brilliant blue jacket that matched her riding skirt, but that she would be more comfortable in the early summer heat, if she shed her blouse before donning it. Finally, Lothíriel fastened on the much-discussed, lavish adamant earrings and insisted that Éowyn borrow a pair of Dol Amroth pearls.
The ladies remounted and Éowyn leaned conspiratorially toward Lothíriel and asked in a voice loud enough to be heard by the men around them, "And is my brother suitable to be seen as the consort of a princess of Dol Amroth."
"Aye," Lothíriel said, "He will have to make do as he is. Although he already is far more handsome than any man has a need or right to be." Having earned the laugh from the Riders that she had hoped for and a wary look from Éomer, Lothíriel straightened her back and shoulders, flung back her shining raven black hair, raised her chin with determination, and they started down the hill.
As they drew closer to the town, they could see that the streets were lined with crowds of people. A festival atmosphere prevailed. As soon as their party was spotted, repeated shouts in Rohirric of "Hail Éomer King!" broke out from the assembled populace.
Along the road into the town, there seemed to be countless swarms of flaxen-haired children, girls and boys together, running to and fro, dangerously close to the hoofs of war horses of great stature, squealing with high-pitched gleeful laughter and demonstrating a sassy distain for protocol. As Éomer passed, clusters of them would stop for a few seconds and assume expressions momentarily stern and militant and, in imitation of the fierce Riders they idolized, raise their fists to shout, "Hail Éomer King!" in startlingly deep voices. They then immediately returned to their irrepressible merry making.
Lothíriel could not restrain her laughter at the sight of them, which only encouraged some of the bolder lads to run along side her mare and yell directly at her. She was disappointed that she understood little of what they said. Éowyn was laughing too, but was not above shouting an occasional scolding response to some of the rowdiest of the children.
One boy, perhaps thirteen years of age, engaged Lothíriel in the Common Tongue.
"Pretty darkling princess! Pretty darkling princess!" he shouted until she looked down at him. "Are you Éomer King's newly betrothed?"
"Yes," she answered, laughing. "And who are you?"
"Déor, son of Éothain a Rider of the éored of the Eastfold, milady. But our family will be living in Edoras now to be near our king. Does the Elf Legolas of the Woodland Realm ride with you?" the boy asked.
"I am sorry, Déor, but Legolas stayed in Mundburg. But you will see him here again in late summer I am sure. How do you know the woodland prince?" she asked, charmed with the well-spoken handsome young lad.
"I stood near him at Helm's Deep. I plan to excel in archery as well as sword craft," he said, his bright blue eyes filled with pride.
"You could not have chosen a finer or more valorous model of that skill. Perhaps if you work hard, when you are older and I have a son you can teach him archery," Lothíriel said. She felt her eyes fill. The thought of such a youth being placed anywhere near Legolas at Helm's Deep starkly brought home to her how truly desperate those days had been.
"Déor," Éowyn said. "Your father rides near the back of the line. Go and greet him."
"Thank you, Lady Éowyn," he answered respectfully and then, before running off, he looked at Lothíriel again with a dazzling smile, and said, "And thank you, beautiful princess."
"He survived." Éowyn said, sighing with emotion. "We lost far too many fine young men like him." Lothíriel sighed as well, thinking again of what this land had suffered, but also that its people were hardy. At this boy's age, she and her brothers had only just been allowed to sail a tiny boat alone in a near and sheltered cove, while he had already fought along side of a great Elven warrior prince in one of the most desperate battles of the recent war.
At that point, as they neared the staircase that led up to the gilded doors of the Meduseld, Lothíriel finally turned her attention from the enchanting, roguish children to observe close at hand the magnetism with which her beloved held his people. She could not resist drawing closer to his steed and saying, "Éomer, they are all wild for you."
She could see from Éomer's face, which was flushed with a breath-taking glow, how overcome he was with gladness to be home at last. He turned to her and said, "I only hope that you are still wild for me, my love. It has been too long since we have had the opportunity for more than a few stolen moments alone together."
Just as Lothíriel had met his eyes and was ready to respond, she saw that another had taken his attention from her. Éomer had slowed his horse to a near stop and looked down at a young woman who stood in front of the crowd that pressed together along the street, in front of a row of houses and shops.
"Hilda," he said. His voice was filled with consternation and surprise.
"Wes ðu hal, Éomer cyning min," the young woman answered in a firm voice. Her eyes were filled with tears and her face reflected a mixture of relief, happiness, and regret. Thick reddish golden curls fell to and beyond her shoulders, framing a remarkably pretty face. She was taller than average, with rosy cheeks and bright green eyes. A rounded mound that protruded gently below her waist, showed her to be noticeably with child.
"I will find you later, Hilda," Éomer answered, turning to look back at her as the procession passed forward.
Lothíriel was disturbed by Éomer's, to her unreadable, reaction. She asked, "Who was that?"
Éomer answered, "Her name is Hilda."
They reached the steps that led up to the Meduseld. Éomer turned to help Lothíriel from her horse, while Elrohir helped Éowyn dismount. Éomer was immediately pulled into strong embraces by each of a small group of hoary-haired older men, who, Lothíriel thought, by the looks of them, to have been counselors or advisers of Théoden. They all climbed the stairs to stand on both sides of Éomer, who intended to greet the crowd before them.
It was nearly impossible to hear, but Éowyn said, with her mouth very close to Lothíriel's ear, "Oh, dear."
Éomer began to address the crowd in a clear, sure voice, which carried far in the open air. The approving roar from the crowd, which greeted each remark he made, caused him to pause repeatedly.
Lothíriel stood face forward, next to Éomer, with a forced smile on her face and muttered to Éowyn who stood by her side.
"Oh, dear, what?" she asked.
"Hilda." Éowyn answered.
"I have heard that name at least three times now," Lothíriel snapped. "Who, by all the Valar, is Hilda?"
"Never mind. Do not worry about her now. We will talk about it later," Éowyn said.
"Éowyn," Lothíriel asked, feeling increasingly confused and desperate, "Who is she?"
"Shhh," Éowyn whispered. "I am trying to think. I am trying to count."
"Count what?" Lothíriel whispered back at her.
"Months. Well, she is obviously pregnant," said Éowyn. "I have never paid that much attention to such things. How far along did she look to you?"
"Maybe four, no more five months," Lothíriel answered. "Conceivably she could be carrying twins, or a large baby, in which case she could be as little as three months along. I do not know, Éowyn. Why does it matter? Who is the father?" Suddenly she knew there was, indeed, a problem. "Éowyn, is it Éomer's child?"
Éowyn said, "I do not know. I was not there! Éomer? Théodred? I really have no idea. It could be Grima Wormtongue's for all that I know of Hilda's, or my cousin's, or my brother's affairs during that last period."
"Ai, Elbereth! You clearly know a lot more than I do, sister," Lothíriel said. Her awareness was sharply drawn back to Éomer when he reached and grabbed her hand, pulling her closer to him. He was saying something, completely incomprehensible to her, which included her name. The crowd broke into cheers, whistles, and clapping.
"She had them both?" Lothíriel asked amazed.
"I told you I do not know," Éowyn said. "I know she wanted them both. Not at the same time. It is a long story. We can talk about it later."
"He certainly looked upset when he saw her," Lothíriel whispered in the direction of Éowyn.
Éowyn shrugged, with a slight raise of her eyebrows. Then, with her usual self possession, Éowyn smiled radiantly, inclining her head with a shallow courtly bow in the direction of Lothíriel, and began clapping enthusiastically along with the masses of people gathered below them in front of the steps.
Éomer began to speak again, this time in the Common Tongue, apparently repeating what he had just said. "This is my betrothed, Lothíriel, a Princess of Gondor, the daughter of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth of Belfalas. I pledged myself to her in Mundburg, before the King of Gondor and Arnor, all of the lords and captains of West, and allies of the Riddermark. I ask for your approval as well to marry her and to make her your queen." Éomer placed Lothíriel's hand firmly in crook of his elbow and covered it with his own, pinning her arm tightly between his hard bicep and his chest. Another wave of cheers and shouts shook the crowd.
"Smile," he whispered fiercely, "Wave to the people." Lothíriel smiled, bowed with her free hand over her heart in the Elvish manner. She then began to wave to the crowd spread out before them and looked up into Éomer's face again with an utterly convincing simulation of a besotted, adoring smile.
"Who, you big blustering fool, is Hilda?" she whispered through clenched teeth.
"Please keep smiling, princess. We will talk about it later," he whispered back imploringly.
Lothíriel continued waving and whispered, "Éowyn, you told me that your brother had no history that I need fear."
Without turning her head in Lothíriel's direction, Éowyn answered, "I remember exactly what I told you. I only told you that he would not play games with a woman of high Gondorian nobility, who had not yet reached her majority, if he did not have the honorable pursuit of her heart in mind."
"I thought you told me he had always been discreet," Lothíriel said.
"Perhaps I did," Éowyn said, with a weighty sigh. "I do not remember. I thought he was."
Éomer turned to face the two women, with a blistering forced smile. "Will you both please stop this now. You are upsetting me," he whispered.
Lothíriel knelt to accept a huge bunch of flowers from two tiny girls with thick blond braids, using the opportunity to wrench herself free of Éomer's iron grip.
"Thank you. Thank you. You are both so beautiful and the flowers are lovely too," she said. She hugged and kissed each delighted pinked-cheeked tot. The multitude loved this demonstration of warmth and affection from the elegant princess of Gondor. Lothíriel stood and waved to everyone again, her face beginning to ache from the frozen smile she held there.
"You are upset! What about me?" she whispered to Éomer without looking at him. He suddenly turned and grabbed her into a crushing embrace and kissed her full on the mouth. She reflexively threw her arms around his neck, flowers and all, forgetting, at the touch of his lips to hers, how distressed she had been. The applause and cheers roared around them. When he finally allowed her pull away from him slightly, he whispered into her ear.
"I love you so. Please do not push me away," he said in a truly wretched whisper.
"As though that were even possible for me," she whispered back to him, feeling her smile spread to her eyes this time and the muscles in her face relaxing. "We will talk about it later, Éomer. Smile. Talk to your people now. They want a speech from their new king."
 Wes ðu hal, Éomer cyning min = Hail (or be well), my king.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.