7. Chapter 7
She could tell that she was in the tunnel by the echoing voices around her, but cocooned in her own warm dark place she felt no fear. At least they were becoming acquainted with each other. Which was a good job, she thought. She did not want to marry a stranger. However she had moved away from him slightly. She was not ready to put her thoughts into actions quite yet. Lothíriel heard her father's voice. He must be somewhere near and she wondered if he would have her off Firefoot the moment they were out. She listened to Éomer explaining that they had cleared a way through the mountain which was wide enough for horses. Hopefully though, he was saying, with a bit more work the road would be open for wagons, allowing trade with the coast. She must have drifted off because his deep voice in her ear made her jump.
"Did I wake you?" he asked, not disguising his amusement.
"It has been a long few days, and I have been up nursing Elphin on more than one occasion," she excused herself.
"Well, wake up now. We are out and you are in Rohan."
The Princess pushed herself upright and moved his cloak aside. "Oh, it is beautiful," was her first reaction. The ravine was narrow but above she could see bright blue sky and white scudding clouds. The whole area was glowing. Silver birch trees, their leaves already showing autumn tints, clung to the rocky sides and lined the way. The sun, slanting through and glinting on the trembling leaves, sent shafts of golden light around them. Small birds flitted from tree to tree and the air was full of twittering song.
"Yes, it is. It used to be grim and dark and no one would venture this far into the mountain. This is something we have definitely gained from the wars."
"Is the rest of Rohan so beautiful?"
"Parts of it are lovely. But I suppose it depends on what you find beautiful. I love the rolling plains of grass because that is where we run our herds. Others like the mountain vales and the tumbling streams. I admit I have a great feeling for my land. I especially like it in the depths of winter when the snow is crisp and new and the horse's breath steams in the cold. It is especially beautiful in the moonlight. As long as there is a warm fire to come home to," he added with a laugh.
Lothíriel was surprised by his eloquence and was enjoying the closeness of the conversation. He was showing no immediate desire to reunite her with Fudge and she glanced around to see if she could locate the mare. Her father was a little way behind but even he was giving no sign that he was anxious to change the situation. She relaxed. Perhaps he had given up.
Éomer must have picked up her thought. "Fudge is right at the back. It's not far to Dunharrow, so if you are comfortable enough you might as well stay where you are."
The princess decided that she could not travel in the open with her head on his chest and her arms around his waist. She made herself secure. First she tucked her slim legs against his hard muscular one to support herself and then arranged her skirt to fall gracefully. It was a bit like riding sideways but much more pleasurable. He did not show any objection to her using him as a prop and she had to admit to enjoying the feel of his warm body and hard muscles. He smelt good too. He had obviously recently washed his hair and the scent of juniper was mixing nicely with his own masculine smell. What a long way she had come since she had been so horrified on being told she had to marry him. She wondered what her father was thinking about such lack of decorum could not hide her grin when she spoke to him. "I was expecting my father to remonstrate with me. He looks to have accepted it now."
There was another of his soft chuckles as he took the reins in one hand so that he could use the other to hold on to her. "He probably knows it a bit late. But what I find difficult to understand," he carried on, "is why he is so strict with you. So obsessed with propriety. It does not fit with the rest of his personality."
Lothíriel sighed. "He was not at one time. Not before my mother died. I suppose, until then, he concerned himself with my brother's behaviour and she with mine. He was distraught when we lost her and did not know how to deal with me. Arien, the wife of one of our knights took me under her wing. She was a lovely lady. She had four children and we played together all the time. One day my two aunts arrived on a visit. They came looking for me and found all five of us swimming naked in a rock pool. They were scandalised and berated my father terribly. It was totally innocent. We were children. But they did not see it that way. I was a princess of Gondor and standards must be maintained, according to them that is. My father was only too happy to hand responsibility to them. They stayed with us until I was sixteen and by that time their rules were entrenched in his mind."
"We used to swim naked in the rivers all the time," Éomer mused. "I still do in the summer."
Lothíriel tried to ignore the unbidden thought that flashed through her mind- next week they would see each other naked! She felt her face flush and hoped he did not notice. It was best to change the subject. "When are Éowyn and Faramir arriving?"
"In a couple of days, with Aragorn and family. I was not sure Arwen would come with Eldarion so young, but I am told that the younger they are the easier they travel."
"Well, Elphin certainly travels well. He has slept all day and been awake all night," she grimaced. "I had to answer Alphros's question for the greater part of the day and help nurse the baby at night."
"You can catch up on your sleep tonight," he grinned. "It is not far to Edoras so it will not be an early start."
Lothíriel was fascinated by her first sight of a Rohan village. Everything looked neat and tidy as the war had not really touched this part of Rohan. Only the Firienfeld had been used as a gathering place.
Halldor, the new Lord of Harrowdale was waiting to greet them with his wife, Eldrid and Lothíriel's new maid, Frecca. She was a pretty girl with laughing blue eyes and an open face. She had the flaxen hair typical of her race but the princess was pleased to see that she was hardly any taller than herself. Most importantly she spoke fluent Westron. Lothíriel, however, did manage to greet her hosts in Rohirric.
She relaxed in a bath while Frecca sorted out a dress for the evening meal. Her father and brothers and all the ladies had been accommodated in Halldor's house. It was quite extensive but not big enough for all. Many had to sleep in tents. After seeing the Rohan tents for the first time, Lothíriel thought she may have to review her previous ideas on camping. They looked cosy and luxurious.
She sighed, swishing the water around with her hand. It had been blissful to have Frecca remove her tight braids and wash the travel dust from her hair. She was wondering if she would have the nerve to go through with her plan when Frecca gave her just the impetus she needed. "I am not sure if I will be able to braid your hair in quite the same way, Princess. It looked to be a very complicated arrangement. I think I will need to practice."
"You will not need to at all, Frecca. I am not going to wear it like that any more. I cannot imagine that there is any lady in Rohan who wears their hair in that stupid way."
The girl chuckled. "None would have the time to bother with it, Princess. Or see the need."
"Good. Then we have to find a new style."
Lothíriel got out of the bath, dried herself and sat down in front of a mirror wrapped in her robe. She played around with her hair for a moment. Enjoying experimenting with various alternatives.
"It might be nice to wear one or two braids, Princess. Most do. As it follows the tradition of the Riders wearing warrior braids." Frecca came and stood behind her looking critically at her reflection. "You have fine delicate features so you do not want your hair all over your face. We could make a braid with hair from each side and then twine them together at the back. The rest could be softly curled," she suggested. "We have time to rag it and your hair is not totally straight anyway."
She sat contentedly when Frecca ragged her hair. This was her second act of rebellion since her betrothal to Éomer. Perhaps he, or the fact that she would be a queen, gave her courage. The first revolt had been over her wedding dress. She had decided what she wanted: a slim fitting dress to make her look taller. Gondorian wedding dresses were usually designed with a tight bodice and waist and a huge skirt consisting of layer upon layer of material. At Éowyn's wedding however she had observed that Éowyn and indeed none of the other Rohan ladies wore anything remotely like that. She knew that in Rohan, the amount of material needed would be one reason why not. That was not the point. She did not want to look that different. Her black hair set her apart enough and she was determined that her dress would not. She had chosen a slim fitting underskirt in Dol Amroth blue, and had designed a white, gossamer like, semi transparent overdress. It was to be sprinkled with small pearls and embroidered around hem and neck with delicate silver swans. The white over the dark blue would look lovely, she decided. It would soften the vibrant colour. It had just been started when her aunts had arrived on a visit. She had never heard such a fuss. In the end she had refused to speak to them, had been rather rude and stayed in her room throughout supper. The next morning her father had come to try and make peace. For once though, she had really stood up for herself.
"It is my dress, Father. My wedding dress. Surely I can have what I like?"
"They say it is tradition."
"I will start a new one." She saw a little twitch on his lips.
"I am not bothered about that, Lothíriel, but they quite rightly point out that you will not be able to curtsey in it."
"There are not many people I need to curtsey too. And any way," she pulled out her trump card, "I am getting married in Rohan. The ladies do not curtsey there, they bow."
"But you are not from Rohan. You are from Gondor."
She sighed, exasperated with the whole argument. "I cannot believe that King Elessar will worry if I bow or curtsey to him. I have made up my mind, father. I will wear what I like or I will not go!"
Imrahil looked surprised. He was not used to her behaving like this. It must be wedding nerves, he thought. Personally he did not see the problem but his wife's sisters were dragons. There was nothing for it he would just have to face them. He kissed her on her forehead. "Don't get upset, Lorí. It is not worth it. I will speak to them."
She had not heard another word.
"There you are, Princess. You can rest on the bed while it dries."
Frecca was just putting the finishing touches when there was a knock on the door. She hoped it was one of her brothers. She did not wish to face her father until she sat down for supper. She knew he would be reluctant to make a fuss in public. But it was neither her father nor Erchi or Amroth. It was Éomer.
"Oh, I was not expecting you. Not that I am not pleased, of course," she added hurriedly.
"I meant what I said. I want to spend as much time with you this week as I can," he said quite seriously. "I think it is important to know each other as well as possible before we become man and wife."
She was surprised, but not displeased at his determination but before she could make any remark his face changed to a grin. "You look nice. I like the hair. Just don't fall against any pillars."
"I'll try not to," she laughed as she took his arm. The first time of many, she realised, that she would be entering a feasting hall of Rohan on the King's arm. She was more nervous, however, of her father's reaction than the impression she would make on her soon to be kinsman.
All stood as they entered the hall. Éomer led her to the head of the table. She could feel everyone's eyes on them and her father's on her. Her place was, as usual, between her father and Éomer and she sat down, nervous but determined.
Imrahil said nothing until all were engaged in conversation and the noise levels rapidly increasing. "Your hair, Lothíriel. What have you done?"
"I have removed those awful braids."
"I can see that. But why?" He was speaking quietly but she could tell he was holding his annoyance in check.
"Because I do not like them."
"It is not a case of whether you like them or not. All noble ladies of Gondor braid their hair to show that they are spoken for. You know that!"
"Oh, I know that father. But I consider it a ridiculous tradition. And we are in Rohan, not Gondor. Anyway everyone knows I am betrothed to Éomer. I know it and he knows it. Wearing braids to show it is totally unnecessary." She was trying to speak calmly as he would dig his heels in if she was rude.
"I will not have it said that you are not upholding the traditions of your country." He sounded adamant but she was not going to be put off.
"I will make a promise, Father. If Queen Arwen and Princess Éowyn of Gondor are wearing their hair braided when they arrive, then I will put mine back."
Imrahil stared at his daughter for a moment, not quite sure of his feelings. He could not make a scene over a hairstyle and it was difficult to force her. He could hardly braid it himself. A good warrior knows when to retreat, was his next thought. A strategic withdrawal was needed. "Very well, Lothíriel. We will leave it until then."
Lothíriel relaxed and prepared to enjoy the evening. They were all sitting at one large table that ran the length of the hall. It was very crowded as everyone in the household obviously sat down together. She saw that each place was set with goblets and tankards and wondered if the women drank ale. Her tankard was not so big as the men's and she noticed that most of the other ladies had smaller ones as well. Farther down the table though, they all appeared to be the same. She turned to Éomer.
"Do your womenfolk normally drink ale?"
"Mostly. Although on evenings like this one wine is offered as well. Just tell the server which you want."
"I think my father has had enough to put up with tonight," she whispered conspiratively. "I have won on the hair. I do not think he will recover if I drink a tankard of ale."
"Wait to Éowyn gets here," he whispered back. "She has always preferred ale so you will have an ally."
"It does not bother you, ladies drinking ale from tankards?" She asked with interest.
"No," he looked amused. "They both have the same effect so I cannot see it matters which you drink. Surely it is a matter of preference only. As long as you do not spear me, that is." He was grinning openly now.
Their conversation ceased as the time came for Éomer to stand and welcome his guests to Rohan. He made the address in Westron and then in Rohirric and although Lothíriel could understand quite a lot she knew it was going to be some time before she could speak her new tongue fluently.
The meal went on for some considerable time and she had to stop herself yawning. All the ladies from Dol Amroth were tired. Travelling tended to have that effect so there was a general agreement to retire early. She was quite happy. Éomer was in deep discussion with Elphir about the trading possibilities now that the old road to the coast would be open. It was not worth staying up.
She was awake early the next morning though and walked outside to get some fresh air before breakfast. The stable area was a hive of activity, with horses being fed and groomed. She found Éomer talking to a man she recognised as Éothain, the captain of his royal guard. Éothain gave her slight bow and turned to leave, "I will leave it with you then, Sire."
Éomer nodded to him and took her hand to his lips. "Good morning. Did you sleep well?"
Lothíriel thought how relaxed he appeared. He was just wearing a shirt and breeches and looked totally at home with the horses and men around him.
"Yes, I did, thank you. A totally undisturbed night."
"I am glad for you," he laughed. "Lorí, it appears that Fudge has a slight injury to her leg. It must have happened in the tunnel. Probably on some loose stones, I would think. It is not serious but you will not be able to ride her today."
"Oh, are you sure she is alright?" the princess asked worriedly. She might not like riding sideways but she loved her horse.
"A few days rest and she will be fine. Evidently she was a little unnerved, having no rider, and with the strange stallions around her." Her eyes flew to his face, but he was looking totally innocent. He carried on. "It does give us a problem today. We have spare horses but none of them are used to side-saddle and the track to Edoras is not the easiest. I think you will have to ride with one of your brothers or me."
She was sure there was a gleam in his eye and she began to wonder if Fudge was that much hurt at all. Her stomach gave a little flip. "I would prefer to ride with you; they would probably let me fall."
"I think I can promise you that I won't."
Neither mentioned the problem with Fudge at breakfast so her father was totally surprised when Éomer lifted her onto Firefoot.
"Fudge is lame, Father."
"Well, there is no excuse today, Lothíriel. You will have to ride with Amroth. It is not fitting that you ride with Éomer. Whatever will the people think when you get to Edoras."
"They will think, Father, that their King and their soon to be Queen, are getting on well together. Surely that is a good thing, and also-" she carried on in a tone of voice that made her father think something had happened to change her on the journey from home. Something that he had missed. "I am safer with Éomer than with anyone else on the mountain tracks."
Imrahil was torn between not letting his daughter get away with downright defiance and a niggling suspicion that she was right. He was not quite sure how to answer her but Éomer stepped in and answered her father in what she thought was a very assertive manner.
"If you do not mind, Imrahil, I think Lothíriel is right. The people will be pleased and will welcome the significance of us arriving on the same horse".
"Even Éomer can't do much on a horse Father." Erchi was his usual joking self, but her father glared at him. Lothíriel however, found it hard not to giggle; after all she was well aware of Éomer's reputation with the ladies. There had been many who had been more than delighted to tell her. But then she realised that he had gone quite still and that his hands were gripping the reins rather tightly. He was only just holding on to his temper. She was used to her brother, but he did have the habit of annoying others. She put a hand lightly on Éomer's arm and whispered quietly. "Shall we go?" With a nod to her father and brother he said something in Rohirric to Firefoot, and the big horse headed for the gates.
Imrahil gave a sigh of resignation - he could hardly call after them. He was well aware that things were different in Rohan and it was only a week to the wedding. The Prince gave in and went to find his own mount.
They started down the steep track that led to the Snowbourn. It was not easy and she felt quite insecure perched on his saddle. The feeling did not last long however. .
"You will have to sit against me," he whispered putting his arm around her and pulling her backward. You can sit more elegantly when we get nearer Edoras." Lothíriel decided she was not bothered about elegance. The pleasure of having his strong arm around her waist and being pulled so closely to him was driving any thought of correctness from her mind. "You smell lovely" he remarked, after she had stopped her slightly apprehensive fidgeting and settled into a comfortable position. "What is it? I meant to ask you before."
"Something I make myself from rose petals and the oil from patchouli leaves."
"Hmm, the roses will grow in a sheltered position but I am not sure about the patchooo…?"
"Patchouli. "It is a tree that will only grow in the southern lands. But it's all right; the leaves are leathery and will travel from Dol Amroth."
"Well," there was one of his soft chuckles, "if I am going to have my mouth full of hair in future then it is better that it smells so nice."
"Oh, I am sorry," she realised that the wind coming up the valley was blowing her loose hair back into his face.
"Don't be sorry." She was sure his voice was slightly husky. "It is something that I shall enjoy getting used to."
Damn! The path widened out suddenly allowing Amroth and Erchi to ride up alongside them. Typical of her brothers, she decided, to arrive at such an interesting moment….
It must have been about midday, because Lothíriel was starting to feel hungry, when they came around a bend and the rocks opened out giving her her first view of Edoras.
"We are approaching from the back," Éomer explained to her. "The gates are around the other side. It is the only opening in the Dike. Tomorrow you can try out your new horse and we can ride out, so you get the best view of the Golden Hall from across the plain."
As much as she was looking forward to meeting her new mount and riding properly she felt a stab of apprehension. She had watched Frecca mount her horse this morning; leggings under a skirt were not very elegant. Her father would not be pleased. She could just imagine his reaction to seeing his daughter sitting astride a horse with her skirt almost around her waist, leggings or not. Oh, well. It was something else he would have to get used to. She sat up from Éomer and arranged herself as she had done the day before. It must have prompted a thought in her betrothed.
"I assume that you do not wish to ride sideways again, Lorí. What is going to happen to Fudge?"
"Merilan is going to take her on. Her own mare is quite elderly."
"Well, you have got your wish. The people of the Mark will not ever see you ride sideways," he laughed.
The Princess sat up straight. A flash of memory searing across her brain, "I have remembered what Gandalf said,"
"Yes. I told you I think. He was very understanding when I grumbled to him about the silly riding position. He sympathised greatly with me. He also said something very strange. I have only just remembered. He said: 'don't worry, little princess, you will never have to ride sideways in Rohan.' I had no idea what he meant then."
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.