32. Bloodied But Unbowed
I would like to sincerely thank IgnobleBard for reading an earlier draft of this chapter; any subsequent errors are my own. If anyone notices any typos or the like, I would appreciate being told.
This chapter follows the events of a tournament being held in Minas Tirith as the form of celebratory funeral games on the occasion of the Rohirrim contingent's return to Gondor to transport the body of King Theoden back to Rohan. In the previous chapter Elladan knocked Éomer off his horse jousting.
Despite all of Lothíriel's protestations, Elrond and Prince Imrahil had insisted that she return to the family townhouse to change out of her dusty, ripped dress while the healers examined Éomer. Éowyn had accompanied her, Lothíriel believed as much to demonstrate her ability to control her own apprehension and to set a good example as to extend solace for her friend.
Lothíriel knew that Éowyn was annoyed with her, although probably not to the extent that she deserved. But the act of comradely succor provided comfort. Grateful for Éowyn's attempt to support her, publicly at least, Lothíriel also knew that affection lay beneath the brusque demeanor. Spiky exterior aside, Éowyn had a warm heart and the ability to accept others complete with their faults and imperfections. Being young and female earned Lothíriel more sympathy still. A young man of her age could have committed a string of far greater indiscretions and received barely token disapproval. Apparently, Elvenkind and Éowyn granted a margin of error to young women that society at large gave only to those lads.
With a combination of his usual charm and a newly acquired stateliness, Faramir had managed to turn a portly noble out of his elegant two-horse carriage. The small conveyance was big enough to accommodate the three of them, along with its driver, and yet still small enough to maneuver its way through the narrow streets from the city gates to the level of the Dol Amroth townhouse.
If Éowyn feared for her brother, she managed to conceal her anxiety behind her habitual gesture of jerking her chin up a little to convey confidence and calm.
"Don't turn into a silly girl now, Lothíriel, and start sniveling and wringing your hands," Éowyn said. "I may not agree with you on a whole series of matters, but I have always admired your courage. The sooner you can wash your face and hands and change your dress, the sooner we can return to the Houses of Healing and see how my brother fares. Éomer has a hard head and enough natural intelligence to overshadow a loss of some brain function."
"Truly," Faramir said, laughing, "Lord Elrond did not look worried. As the Master in charge of the tournament, your father has to err on the side of an excess of caution. And as the monarch of a sovereign nation, Éomer is required to submit to physical examination. He no longer has the luxury of playing a young headstrong horse lord, but must behave as the king of an important ally of Gondor."
In contrast to the ladies' careful choice of clothing for the tournament and the extended toilette that had preceded donning it, they were able to shed their finery, wash up a little, and change into simpler garments in virtually no time at all. When Faramir escorted them back to the Houses of Healing, they entered the antechamber to the room where they King of Rohan rested to find Elrond and Glorfindel engaged in an ancient board game of military strategy. Lothíriel recognized the room as the one where Faramir had spent his convalescence only a couple of months earlier.
She also identified the black-lacquered and amber-colored wooden pieces as comprising a set which had once belonged to her Uncle Denethor. She remembered how he always bested Boromir, but Faramir more often than not defeated his father. And yet still Denethor thought of himself as the strategist, Boromir the warrior, and insisted upon behaving as though Faramir was suited only for the library and scriptorium, while he grudgingly accepted--nay, demanded--his son's valuable service in Ithilien.
"Please be seated, ladies," said Glorfindel rising to dip into an exaggerated flourish of a bow. "Elrond can tell you how King Éomer fares."
The Lord of Rivendell's handsome old-young face brightened at the sight of his visitors. Lothíriel consciously released the tightness of her chest. A twitch of a smile pulled at the corners of his mouth. Clearly, Lord Elrond intended to communicate good news to them. It was not the first time that she had noted that Elladan's full tempting lips were a happy legacy from his father.
She could hear Éomer's voice, earnest and solemn, projecting from behind the closed door leading into the inner chamber. She was, however, unable to understand anything of what he was saying or discern to whom belonged a quieter male voice responding to him.
Elrond spoke in his pleasantly resonate voice, also reminiscent of that of Elladan, reclaiming her full attention.
"The practiced healers of Minas Tirith agree with my humble assessment. King Éomer is unlikely to have sustained any serious injury, but he will need to be closely observed for another several hours. I have convinced him to postpone his departure for another day perhaps two. He should be awakened every hour throughout the night. I am happy to look after him, with my friend Glorfindel to keep me company."
"Erestor met someone," Glorfindel interjected, winking at the women. "So, Master Elrond is stuck with me." He wiggled a tiny carved representation of a man in armor before his lord's face. "I'm taking this soldier, Eärendilion." Elrond snorted in mock umbrage.
Smiling flirtatiously at the golden warrior, Éowyn giggled with relief, while Faramir wrapped one arm around her shoulders in a possessive half-embrace. "Did I hear you say 'humble,' my Lord?" she asked Elrond. "Your reputation as a healer is legendary. Even the much praised healing powers of King Elessar are reputed to be largely due to your tutelage."
"I won't deny my gift, Lady Éowyn. But the healers of this city have had the unfortunate advantage of dealing with a stream of traumatic injuries in the recent period. Your brother could not be in more competent hands. Please make yourself comfortable."
He gestured in the direction of two upholstered chairs and a settee. Beyond those a table in the corner of the room was covered with an assortment of cold meats, rolls, sauces, a huge fruit pie, recognizable by its lemony grapey scent, and silver pitchers of cold beverages sweating with condensation.
"You might as well take your ease and eat if you are hungry. Éomer is occupied with another guest at the moment," Glorfindel added.
"Who might that be?" asked Éowyn, wide-eyed with curiosity.
Glorfindel caught Lothíriel's glance, waggling his eyebrows at her and grinning with the obvious wicked intent. "Princess Lothíriel's special friend his knightliness Elladan of Rivendell," he said, with a wink. "He didn't stay at the tournament to receive his prize."
"You horrid man!" Lothíriel snapped. Clapping her hands over her mouth as soon as she had spoken, scarcely able to believe she had said the words aloud.
Glorfindel laughed. "Have you ever heard the expression, sweet Princess, 'If you want to dance, you must pay the piper'?"
Elrond shook his head in mock disbelief at Glorfindel. "My dear young lady, it is not as bad as it could be. Your young man will forgive you and my son will indeed play the part of the noble knight and retreat strategically to nurse his broken heart, and write poetry, no doubt. You've done him a world of good. He may even be able to meet a more suitable maid now and fall in love again. You need not waste your time pitying Elladan. He'll recover. Despite what the minstrels would have us believe, very few people die of a broken heart, and fewer still among the Eldar."
"Thank you, Lord Elrond." Lothíriel fought to restrain a flood of jealous regret. "Have you seen my father?" she asked, her voice quavering only a little.
"You should be happy to know that your father has returned to his duties at the tournament ground. He will reassure the crowds that their popular young hero is doing well and conclude the day's festivities. You must take advantage of the fact that you will be left to settle your affairs without paternal interference."
"Pay the piper," Faramir snorted, smirking at Glorfindel.
Éowyn punched her sweetheart in the arm. "Leave her be. You were kind enough and generous in your appraisal of me under circumstances that were not so very different, except, perhaps, for my lack of opportunity."
Faramir smiled with the good nature of a man who is secure in his prize. "My precious lady can always be counted upon to tell it like it is."
At just that moment, Elladan opened the door to Éomer's chamber slightly and popped his head around the edge. He drew in a deep breath and licked his lips. "Ah, Lady Éowyn, you are here now. Your brother would like to speak to you, please." She stood up and walked to the door. Elladan bowed and held the door open for her. He turned to Lothíriel and bowed. "Would you consent to walk with me for a moment, my lady?"
Elladan's face looked pale, almost translucent in the afternoon sunlight, more fey than Mortal. A scratch stood out deepest scarlet against his white forehead, beneath a fringe of tousled black curls. He was still clad in mud-streaked armor, although he was missing his gloves, gauntlets, and helm. Faint lavender shadows beneath his eyes and his grubby hands combined to create an aura of fragility about him. Nothing about him resembled the perfect Elf Lord who had so confidently and with such energy seduced her on the road to Lothlórien. Her heart clenched with the longing to touch him and for a chance to relive those few days of joy between them that had vanished like a morning haze before a midsummer sun. He did not wait for her to respond, but walked across the room and extended his arm to her.
She did not look back, but left with Elladan, filled with hope and dread, although she could not have told anyone for certain what she hoped for or dreaded most. The inner courtyard of the Houses of Healing glowed with the last rays of the afternoon sun filtering through a rose arbor extended above the far end of the wall. The air on the Sixth Level felt crisp and cool compared to the arid heat of the recently denuded Pelennor Fields.
"I came to apologize to Éomer," Elladan said. "He accepted that apology easily, but wanted to raise a whole series of other questions again. I am afraid we have to re-visit the same discussion more than once before everyone is willing to leave the past in peace. I told him that you had chosen him over me and that he could trust me not to press my suit any further."
She dropped her hand from his arm and then reached out and took both of his hands in hers. "It will never be truly over for me. Oh, Elladan, I've told you that a dozen times. But it is something I need to put behind me now. Why are we talking again?" she whispered, annoyed at how rushed and defensive she sounded, as though Éomer were listening.
"I was wrong," he said. "Wrong from beginning to end. But I'll never be sorry, you know."
"I know we were both wrong and I'm not really sorry either. The problem was that you were able to read me so easily. Why shouldn't you have tried to seduce me when you could see how much I wanted you? You were free and I was not. Surely I am more at fault, aren't I?"
He cast aside her questions with a dismissive shrug. The familiar gesture tugged at her heart. "Now, I am supposed to say that you are young and Mortal and I am of the Eldar. La, la, la, etc." She giggled at him and he pretended to frown. "Éomer wants to talk to both of us together. He wants us to agree to certain conditions and said that he is willing offer a few concessions."
"Is he mad?" Lothíriel raised her voice in surprise. "What are you talking about? What can he be thinking? I can't see what kind of concessions Éomer could possibly consider."
"You will have to ask him that, won't you, my dearest Princess? He would not talk about it without you being present. Don't look so sad. He wants you if you're still willing. That is the kind of man he is. He can make you happy. He'll give you children and a life of purpose. He has a point also. Think about me for a moment! If you and I had ever had children they would be strange creatures, as likely as not faced with stranger choices."
She had never thought of children with Elladan, but his raising of the question nearly broke her heart. Arwen was willing to take that chance of strange and unknown fates. But Lothíriel had always known that she would never ask Elladan to abandon the opportunity to accompany his father to Elvenhome. And children, an heir and a spare at least, and perhaps a couple of lovely girls, that is what Éomer would want. That was what she had been schooled to want also.
Elladan took her chin nudged her chin with his knuckles, trying not to dirty her face, but wanting her to look into his eyes. "I thought I had killed your sweetheart, the idolized boy King of Rohan."
"He's not a boy. He's past twenty-five years of age!"
"So old!" Elladan smirked. "Well, he looks like a boy and people love a handsome, brave, clever lad, so that is what they see when they look at him. I reckoned if I had hurt him badly that Aragorn might have to lock me up and throw away the key at best. At worst I might have earned myself a trip to the Halls of Mandos. I did feel very bad for you and him as well." He managed a wan imitation of his mischievous smile on the last sentence, which caused Lothíriel to hiccup and giggle.
"That's my girl! Do you think we have time for a quick kiss?"
Surely he was not serious. "You are a dreadful, dreadful man. Your father just finished telling me that you'd be noble. Noble my fanny," she said with an arch tone of accusation, but unable still to quash her amusement at his cheek.
"And what a lovely fanny it is!"
"You and your insufferable arrogance! It was exactly that kind of wanton talk that made me love you in the first place!"
"That and my astonishing looks! But I fell in love with you not just because you're pretty, but because you laughed at my bad jokes and showed me no respect that I had not earned. We had better walk back now or Adar will come looking for me and that would not be a good thing for either of us today."
"One good thing is that the breeze from the river is tempering the heat," she said. She did hate the entrapped summer heat of Minas Tirith.
"It's only fair for me to remind you that might regret turning me down when he gets old and fat and snores and is more interested in ale than making love. Of course, I will still be young as springtime and even more beautiful by comparison."
She gave him the giggle he wanted. True, it was a slightly hysterical one. He wanted to pull the cloak of humor over his wounds and she wanted to help if she could.
When he started to speak again, his voice sounded gruffer. "Well, you're a romantic girl. You know all the twaddle bards sing of--love eternal despite all odds. One story after another about how illicit passion is the most powerful one of all, the spice of the forbidden, and so on and so forth. Or maybe I am getting confused? There are the stories also where the brave king gets the pretty princess and the kingdom grows in peace and harmony. Yet, seriously, in the real world, you and Éomer are perfect for one another, personally, politically, intellectually . . . ." Elladan's words tumbled out, one after another. She could no longer tell if he was speaking for his own benefit or hers or even cared what he was saying. "Oh, I don't know what I am talking about. Éomer wants a wife and a queen, and you want a kingdom and children. How many more times must we be forced to make the same choices?"
"You are supposed to be strong for me," she said accusingly. "This is the first time since we returned to the city that I have heard you make a jest. Please don't sound maudlin again now. I do still intend to marry Éomer."
"I know you do. I promised him he could have you."
"You actually believe it is within your prerogative to grant that? What insufferable presumption." Tears streamed down her face. "How will I live without you?" She wanted to grab his biceps and squeeze them hard, but they were still covered with chain mail bit into her fingers. Frustrated, she let her arms drop, jerking her head up, lower lip trembling.
"In peace and comfort, I hope," he said, his voice silky smooth and lightly sardonic. "A life filled with good works carried out in a spirit of womanly virtue and self-sacrifice!" He held the door open leading back into the main hallway with the deep bow to the waist of a courtier, which made her laugh through her snuffling.
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.