19. Rohirric Tales and Troubles
The king and his party finally entered the Meduseld itself. At first the interior seemed dark to Lothíriel compared to the strong sunlight outside. Unglazed windows sat high under the eaves. In the roof a giant louver, with moveable slats, stood open exposing a rectangle of azure sky, releasing smoke, and admitting additional light. The high roof of the main hall, a single massive room, was supported by pillars decorated with carvings. The smells of cooking, bustle of activity, and a flickering show of light and sound completely dispelled any potential lingering gloom for her. Its vibrant ambiance recalled to her the glow and energy of her own youthful warrior king.
Through indirect light she studied the details of the towering supports, gilded with gold and vivid colors. To her great relief, the floor was not covered with rushes, but swept clean and scrubbed. She gladly dismissed her occasional waking nightmares of finding vermin and pests hiding beneath her feet in her new more rustic home.
Woven cloth banners hung down from the rafters, swaying gently in the rising heat, depicting spectacular scenes of Rohirric heroes, battles, feats of horsemanship, and horses—everywhere horses. At the south end of the hall facing the main door stood a dais upon which rested the king's towering golden throne. Although the space showed none of the age, nor anything approaching the legendary, nearly magical, connection to the great days of Númenor, of the castle of Dol Amroth, she felt a power and nobility reflected in this hall.
"What do you think, my love?" Éomer asked, slipping his arm around her waist, his lips close to her ear.
"I do not know what I imagined, but it is somehow different. It is truly marvelous. I am so happy to be here," Lothíriel answered. The question of Hilda, was, for the moment, relegated to a list of practical problems to unravel in time. Thoughts of anything but the fulfillment of their shared dreams for the future of this land and these true-hearted, bold people vanished from her mind.
"A great feast is being prepared. But there is time to change and rest a short while. Éowyn will show you to your room," Éomer said. He took her hands and pulled them up to his chest, drawing her against him. "Be at ease, my love. There is no problem here I cannot resolve."
Éowyn led Lothíriel up a staircase on one side of the great hall, which led to a second storey where one suite of rooms followed another around the interior periphery of the building. The doors stood open to most of them. Glancing in as she quickly passed by, seeing them all aired, spotless, and readied for occupation, pleased Éowyn greatly. When she left Edoras three months earlier most were shuttered, dusty, long unused. Shivering at the memory of her own despair in those dark days and lack of care for the simple niceties of daily life, she released a sigh of relief.
"Here we are. I thought you could use this one," she said turning to Lothíriel.
The room adjoined the royal suite. Éowyn thought of the countless bitter days and nights of attending to any small comfort she might bring to Théoden. The once proud king languished there into his dotage, while she survived by force of will alone, ever alert yet still unable to impede the sinister machinations of Grima Wormtongue. She remembered foul Wormtongue's vile words. They had frozen her heart and made her look about herself, sometimes with revulsion, always with doubt, "What is the house of Éorl but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek, and their brats roll on the floor among their dogs?" Today I saw my people lining the road into our city cheering, glad and joyous of face, at the arrival of my brave, handsome brother.
Entering Lothíriel's assigned chamber, she recalled preparing it for Aragorn. Had I truly thought to slip in here that night under the cover of darkness? No matter. That was another world, another life. In the end he occupied it with Legolas and Gimli, insisting that the enormous bed was big enough for two. She hauled in a trundle for the third. The Three Walkers courteously refused her offer that night to occupy separate quarters and warm beds while others equally exhausted and battle-worn slept on the cold, hard floor of the hall below. Or had I been so obvious? So transparently desperate?
"Éowyn, it looks most comfortable. Larger than my room in Minas Tirith. And where is your room?" Lothíriel asked.
"Down the hall, just before the turn. Only a few doors. I will show you."
Éowyn reflected that Lothíriel had not likely been so far from home before, and never without her father and at least one of her brothers. Perhaps that explained why she stood there, arms hanging limp at her sides, looking so uncharacteristically forlorn. I must explain to her that customs are simpler, easier to decipher here—without the myriad of rules of manners and protocol that gloss behavior in Gondor.
"And Éomer?" Lothíriel reddened, looking more uncomfortable.
"I cannot believe you are blushing," Éowyn said. She started to laugh, until she saw that Lothíriel looked as though she might burst into tears. "He is right next to you. Look. There is even a connecting door." She pulled the princess into the room and pointed to a door on the wall.
Lothíriel was crying in earnest now. Éowyn pulled her into her arms, patting her on the back. "There. There. I am so stupid. I thought you were embarrassed. Had suddenly developed a sense of privacy. Not much chance of that, hmm?" she asked.
She took Lothíriel's cheeks between both hands, meeting her eyes, while making a silly face, trying to make the younger woman smile. "Now tell me what is wrong? Is it that stupid girl?"
"How would you feel?" Lothíriel said, hitching her chin up, stubbornly inconsolable.
"Faramir would never be so dim-witted as involve himself with a cow like her."
"Éowyn! That is unfair to Éomer. No son of a Steward of Gondor would suffer lack of suitable womanly companionship. Especially not one with an older brother like Boromir ever mindful of his welfare."
"Certainly Éomer was less cosseted. She seemed a nice enough girl, but for her chasing after first my brother and then my cousin. Yet not someone my uncle would ever have been happy to see either of them wed. Éomer knew that," Éowyn said.
"Must you always be so thickheaded? Tell me what I am to do. What does Éomer expect of me now?" Lothíriel's voice climbed a scale of shrillness and intensity that Éowyn feared would be heard in the hall below.
Forcing her voice low and level, dropping almost to whisper, Éowyn said, "He made himself perfectly clear today, on the steps, in the noonday sun, in front of half of Rohan. Do whatever it is you always do. Surely you can see he is completely smitten with you." She received a wet-sounding sniff as an answer. Then Lothíriel buried her face against Éowyn's chest, holding her tightly around her waist.
"You would not break off your contract over something he did before he ever laid eyes on you?"
"Of, course not! You think I do not love him well? It is not so much this Hilda that concerns me. But, Éowyn, there is a child. You know Éomer. He would never turn his back on a child!"
"So. He made a mess; let him clean up the wreckage. He will do the right thing. If I were you though, I would not let him anywhere near my bed tonight. But, then, you and I have a different manner. You are more forgiving," Éowyn said, rolling her eyes broadly, causing Lothíriel to laugh at last.
"I love you too, sister. I only wish Amrothos were here, or better still Faramir."
"Oh, do not wish for that! Now that would be a nightmare. You and I can handle this one far better. Men would only muck it up, cloud the issues."
"I suppose--no, I know--you are right. Yet only a day ago everything seemed perfect and now…"
Éowyn interrupted her, as though unable to listen. "Nonsense. Speaking of perfection, what of your peerless Elf-lord?"
"You know nothing of that, Éowyn."
"Indeed? I know what I see. You watch him and he watches you. And Éomer is not blind."
"I have made my choice. Do you think the Valar will seek to punish me because I am not pure enough of heart?" Lothíriel asked.
"I only know myself. No heart is wholly pure. I think of things today that I thought far behind me. Last I stood in this room, I wanted more than anything to gain Aragorn's love. He touched my hand and I trembled, scorched to the core. I often wonder what a kiss—or more—from him might be like?"
"Humph. Can any woman look on him and not wonder that?"
"You are incorrigible."
"No, only truthful. Life is never simple. And what of you, virtuous shieldmaiden? Are not Faramir's kisses warm enough?"
"Aye. They are an admirable recompense, indeed. Your cousin is most ardent and skillful. But, have you ever thought of Legolas? With his fierce wild-Elf beauty, so thinly concealed by that calm veneer," Éowyn asked, with a long sigh and a sinful smile.
"Ai, yes, there is none more comely than Lasse…and you, wicked wench, dare to call me incorrigible." Both young women laughed and embraced, joyful again for the moment.
Éomer, Lothíriel, and Éowyn, refreshed and changed into courtlier garb, entered the great hall and walked toward the dais. The noise level increased as more people crowded in behind them. Éomer nodded right and left, as he took Lothíriel by the hand and led her further into the long room. In front of the dais, a long table, raised above the level of long rows of others, was covered with a fine white cloth and a richly embroidered runner. They took their seats at the center of the table, with Elladan next to Éomer and Elrohir by Éowyn.
As soon as the king and his party were seated, the rest of the assembled guests scrambled to find places. The lack of the pretentiousness added to Lothíriel's sense of the welcoming simplicity of Éomer's court. So this is Rohan, she thought. I like it already, but I knew I would since those first days in the Houses of Healing among the Riders of Rohan.
Éomer seemed to her untroubled as well, although she did notice his eyes occasionally drifted to the rows of tables below them. She wondered if he sought someone—that Hilda woman perhaps.
Pages leaned in among them to fill the goblets set at every place. Éomer leaned closer to whisper, "If you prefer wine, I am sure we can find some."
"Don't be silly. I intend to eat and drink whatever is placed before me. I face a hard enough task in dispelling people's notion that their king has chosen a fussy princess of Gondor as his bride instead of one of their own. See. Elladan and Elrohir drink ale."
"Yes, for all their Elven graces, I sometimes think that they are rangers at heart."
A minstrel took up his pipes and struck up a rousing, triumphal tune as servers placed a platter with a roasted suckling pig on the table in front of them. Others hurried to and fro among the tables below with ample servings of sliced meat. The fare was hearty and simple in comparison to the number and delicacy of dishes presented at feasts of similar consequence in Dol Amroth or Minas Tirith, but no less pleasing to Lothíriel.
Éomer watched Lothíriel. She appeared diverted and absorbed by the sights and sounds of the boisterous crowd. I have always known this is what I uniquely had to offer her—this Hall, these people, this kingdom. I hold her heart by offering her not just my love, but the chance to build and serve an Arda restored, purpose and the satisfaction of duty fulfilled.
Elladan inclined his head toward Éomer's ear. "Estel often talked of his years in your land, among your people, of their spirit of honor, their dashing, rash bravery, the warrior heritage. That vitality is palpable here."
"Honor and rashness can be uneasy companions at times," Éomer answered, following his own thoughts. And the Rohirrim are plain-spoken to a fault. I have none of his silky smoothness of tongue.
"I have not heard you called rash or reckless, Éomer son of Éomund. And Estel argues any attribution of such qualities to your sire were overstated at best, and, at worst, conscious slander by Grima Wormtongue intended to undermine you."
What does this Elf-lord want of me? Confidences? Confessions? "Then you do not think it rash that I betroth myself to one such as her?" Éomer asked. Is that direct enough for you?
"Nay. Yet it does bespeak a courage befitting a warrior king." Elladan ducked his head, as though to hide a teasing smile.
What is this now, Elf-lord? A concession or a challenge? "Perhaps…" Éomer answered aloud. "Rohan needs far more than a pliable maid as their queen, however highly born she might be. I am fortunate that my heart's desire and political necessity are well served in her case."
"Éomer!" Lothíriel nearly shouted, startling him from his focus on the Elf-lord he pondered as a rival. A rollicking Rohirric air, grown popular in the South since the coming of the Rohirrim, brought Riders and their sweethearts to their feet. "Dance with me, meleth-nin. I do so love this tune."
Éomer took her hand, led her round the end of the long table, into the open area on the floor below. He caught a glimpse of Elladan's face and the flash of his bittersweet, tender smile trained upon Lothíriel. Elven detachment: he loves her, yet can smile at the sight of her gaiety in the arms of another. She does not observe that he studies her from afar.
Lothíriel, content within the warm grasp of Éomer's strong arms, perceived nothing of her lover's pensiveness that followed his exchange with Elladan. One large, graceful hand encompassed her own and his arm firmly circled her waist, as he swept her around into one dizzying spin after another to the thrum of the wild Rohirric beat. Her horse lord, her handsome young king, moved with a natural flair and innate musicality.
She wondered, why does Elladan watch me so closely? Since they left Minas Tirith, whenever she found herself aware of the elder of the Peredhel brothers, she tried to quickly look away and push him out of her mind. She did so again and fixed her thoughts upon Éomer, the exotic strangeness of his court, and its brave, merry occupants.
Éowyn said to let Éomer work out the details. That is what I will do. The last thing I need is to think of Elladan. She forced her mind to fasten on Rohan like that of a dedicated student on a complicated but fascinating tome. Acutely aware this visit would be short, she determined she would learn all she could before she left.
The afternoon sun gave way to twilight. Servants lit large torches on the walls as the natural light faded. The altered play of light and shadow, each flare of gold and glint of color, enhanced Lothíriel's awareness of the great hall. The scent of the log fire, the lingering fragrance of roasted meat, the faint smell of leather, men, and horseflesh assaulted her senses agreeably. The carvings on the columns--each figure, man or horse, every floret and leaf--testified to the skill and valor of Mortal Men and their resolve.
The age and lofty grace of her ancestral keep on the sea at Dol Amroth always brought to her mind the mighty mariners of Numenor in its prime and their links to Elvenkind. The soaring marble, cold stone, and statuary of the Citadel of Minas Tirith recalled the kings of Gondor both in their ascendancy and decline. This hall reflected the love and labor of its hardy Rohirric builders, descendants of the Edain who never passed to the West upon whom this New Age of Men must be built.
As night fell, the festive atmosphere diminished not at all, but metamorphosed into a jollier, bawdier party. The temperature of the long high-ceiling chamber, comfortable while she was seated, caused Lothíriel's cheeks to burn after the exertion of the Rohirric dances.
She glanced from Elladan, across the hall, to Éomer at her side. I fear all is fraught with symbolism for me this night, she thought, even these two examples of intoxicating masculinity embody the ancient mystery of the Elven and the vigor of the New Man.
A blond, burly Rohirric bard approached her and Éomer, holding his polished, dark wooden harp. With a sharp martial bow, he announced, "An air to honor the Lady of Dol Amroth and our Elf-friends as well, fell and steadfast comrades-at-arms."
"I learned this one down South from a minstrel of the Bay of Belfalas. He claims 'tis of the fair Elf folk who lingered long in those lands. Chose a partner, lovely princess," he said, indicating Elladan and Elrohir with a sweep of his hand.
Lothíriel heard Éomer suppress an amused snort. Elladan's face froze, impenetrable, while Elrohir smiled at her, with the slightest wink and barely perceptible roll of his eyes in direction of his brother, conveying to her that he would solve the dilemma of her choice.
She walked in Elrohir's direction. He met her half-way. "Hannon le, mellon nin," she said.
When the bard began to pluck the strings of his instrument, the thrilling of his harp, despite its being far larger and deeper in tone than those of her people, translated one of the sweet, ancient songs of her homeland with a perfection of melody and mood equal to any minstrel of Dol Amroth.
"This song is always played at our Midsummer's fetes," she said, looking up into Elrohir's eyes, smiling in relief at the sight of his affable grin. His eyes reflected nearly an Age of Arda but none of the unruly ache of his brother's.
"And at those in Lórien as well," Elrohir responded.
"You are always a comfort to me, Elrohir," she said.
"And, why would you need comforting tonight, young one?"
"Look," she said, nodding her head in the direction of Éomer. Her shining horse knight, her own soldier king, walked up to that woman. Hilda shook burnished red-blond curls in negation as he spoke to her. Éomer's brow creased; his stance remained rigid. His lips moved again. The woman's face reddened. Then she nodded slowly in affirmation. His visage doubtful, he took her by the elbow, and guided her toward the door.
"Tying up loose ends, is he?" Elrohir asked.
"I suppose one could call it that."
Lothíriel tried to concentrate on the music. Dancing with Elrohir was far from a chore. It normally brought her great pleasure. He combined the Elvish grace of Legolas with the energy of Éomer. She was aware that Elrohir, mindful of her restless agitation, did what he could to distract her. She danced with Riders of Rohan, old friends and new. Northern Dúnedain drew her into conversation and dance, she suspected at the instigation of Elrohir. She learned that those handsome, dark-clad, stern-faced men, were not nearly as dour and serious as she had feared. But her mind was relentlessly drawn to Éomer and Hilda, to what he might learn, and what it could mean for her and for their future.
A minstrel began a bawdy song that in Gondor would have been viewed as supremely disrespectful. It told first of the glorious deeds of Éomer King, moving quickly to praise of his horsemanship, and finally his formidable sexual attributes and prowess. Elrohir translated it for her, laughing all the while, as he explained that here it signified only the highest regard. By that point, her growing anxiety overwhelmed any possible sign of appreciation on her part of the absurdity or humor of the lyrics. Riders raised their tankards and joined in the oft-repeated refrain: under the sky's broad expanse, between the Great River and the Sea, no mother's son who bore a shield, was more worthy of their kingdom.
Finally, she could no longer bear the heat of the hall and the throbbing music. She also dreaded someone would ask her the whereabouts of their lauded lord. Éowyn passed nearby and Lothíriel grabbed her by the arm. "Come walk with me, Éowyn. I need some air." They passed out through one of the secondary doors onto the porch in front of the Meduseld.
"There he is," Éowyn said pointing to a solitary figure, standing by the front wall, his back to them. "I'll leave you to speak with him."
Éomer, lost in thought, stared off into the distance, over the rooftops, across the grassy plains, and toward the mountains beyond. The stars in the dark sky above him blazed strangely bright. Lothíriel approached him and placed her hand upon his arm. He covered her hand with his, looking down into her face.
"I was coming to look for you soon," he said.
"Your men sing a song of you, my lord."
"Since when do you call me your lord?" he asked, smiling at last.
"Since I learned of your impressive size and sexual renown. When first I saw you unclothed, I asked you if your member might be considered large. You told me it was typical for a man of your tall stature and long limbs. Apparently, you lied."
"Ai!" Éomer laughed. "I well remember that you shocked me. Are they so deep in their cups already as to sing that outlandish old song? This is no Dol Amroth, princess. Are you still willing to be queen of these rough horsemen?" he asked, his voice husky, his eyes tender. He cupped her chin in his hand, lightly kissing her forehead, nose, and mouth.
"I never reconsidered, not for a moment. For their king is tall, strong, and comely…"
"That foolish song again?" He smiled and kissed her longingly. "I love you so. Now I must tell you what I learned. I still do not know how it all will end. Yet my heart tells me that we can weather it, if you will but stand by me."
Then Lothíriel listened while Éomer spoke in a quiet, clear voice, gazing out beyond the snow-topped mountains to where white stars sprinkled the inky sky. Éomer opened his mind to Lothíriel, so she heard not only his words, but sensed his emotions as well. He told a tale of himself as a brash young rider first seeking the favor of a pretty girl--Hilda. He shared kisses and his first tentative, intimate touches of a woman's body with her. He even fancied a future for them together at times. Yet he soon occupied itself more with duty than courtship, saw her less and finally not at all.
He heard of an affair with his cousin, Théodred, heir to the throne of Rohan. Yet he suffered little grief from that knowledge; in fact, he wished them well, though he held fond memories of her still. He later learned that Théodred, who gave even less time to romantic dalliances than he, had broken with her. The dangers to their land and people grew graver as the shadow of the enemy lengthened. By then, he served as Third Marshal of the Riddermark, the youngest ever. His charge, the defense of the East-fold, and his responsibility for his éored tested him and occupied all his time. He did not see her for years.
After the stand at Helm's Deep, before the Riders departed for Gondor, Éomer encountered Hilda by chance among the evacuees. They spent an evening speaking of their shared anguish at the bitter loss of Théodred, her former lover, his dearest friend and foster brother. She confessed to Éomer that she and Théodred had made love again just two months earlier. They dried one another's tears, talked of less troubled days, and took brief comfort that night in one another's arms.
Éomer turned to Lothíriel, shook his head with an air of self-reproach, and said, "I thought of her no more until I saw her standing along the side of the road upon our entrance into Edoras. I immediately wondered if the child she carried might be Théodred's, or even my own."
"I spoke with her tonight. At first, cold and defensive, she would scarcely give me a hearing. She said 'You were my first love and Théodred my most cherished'," he said, his voice cracking. "As though I thought to judge her."
"No doubt she was afraid. Fearful that you thought of heirs or succession."
"I think not. It is not done that way here. Uncrowned though I may be as yet, this throne is mine. Yes, Théoden spoke, but my people accepted me on what they see as my own merits. No. If she resents me, it is for her own reasons."
"I am sorry," Lothíriel said. She struggled to hold her silence, but the words flew out of her mouth unbidden. "And the child? Is it yours? Or Théodred's?"
"Hilda said that when she last saw Théodred, she realized they would never be together, so she wed a man who had asked her many times. He fell on the road to the Hornburg. She claims she is not far along enough for Théodred to be the father, and will give birth too soon for the child to be mine."
"That is good. Is it not?" Lothíriel said.
"It is never good that a child should have no father and I do not know if I believe her. She asked me to leave her in peace, that two sets of grandparents look forward to his birth," Éomer said, laughing bleakly.
So, now it is a he. "And?"
"I promised her I will not trouble her, but that the child would want for nothing," he said, looking at Lothíriel questioningly. "I told her if she has second thoughts she should speak to me. Also, that we would foster him if ever she wanted that."
"You might have asked me first," Lothíriel said, suddenly feeling dispirited. Yet he would not be the man I love if he had offered less.
"Would it have made a difference?"
"No. It would have made no difference at all." If I had come to you with child. Now that would make a difference.
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.