Black Eyes: 5. Parley

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5. Parley

Parley

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.

(Ecthelion: On War)

***

Lothiriel judged that the high tide mark had been reached by now, but it would still be a long time until the water was low enough for them to make it back safely to the shore. She had settled down where she had a good view of the cliffs, just in case their rescuers arrived. Now she leant back against the big sun-warmed boulder at her back, hoping that some of its heat would transfer itself to her. While her teeth had stopped chattering she was still chilled to the bone and only warming up slowly. The October sun was weak and it didn't help either that the wind had started to pick up.

Éomer was staring at the sea as if he could force it to recede by willpower alone. After a moment he took off his tunic and wrung it out before hanging it up on one of the bushes to dry. Lothiriel quickly dropped her gaze at the sight of his bare chest, but not before noticing his well-defined muscles and the tracery of long healed scars criss-crossing them. A warrior indeed.

"You should do the same, you know," he remarked conversationally, "it dries much quicker this way."

Lothiriel stared at him. Was he serious? It was true that her clothes were cold and clammy against her skin, but to take them off when she was all alone with him? On the other hand she somehow knew without question that he was an honourable man, even if he had threatened her with violence earlier on. It came as a bit of a surprise to discover that she felt absolutely safe with him. She still hesitated, however.

"I can't," she explained, "it wouldn't be suitable."

"Why not?" he asked, "You're still shivering and your lips have started to turn blue. You'll end up catching your death, you know."

In a way it made sense and anyway, his cloak covered her completely, being much too large for her, but at the same time she knew what her aunt would have to say on this idea. However, Aunt Ivriniel wasn't here.

"Turn your back," she ordered him imperiously and he complied with an ironic grin.

As quickly as she could manage, she stripped off her trousers and tunic and hung them up to dry, after a brief hesitation adding her silken chemise as well. It felt strange to have nothing but the rough cloth of his cloak against her skin and she had the feeling she was blushing furiously by the time she was finished. Making sure even her bare toes were covered she sat down on the ground again.

"You may turn around now."

He sat down cross-legged on the grass a good distance away from her, quite ignoring the curiously festooned bushes, and took out another of the dried meat sticks to chew on it. No doubt he was quite used to having half naked women about and thought nothing of it. Anca, that traitor, crept over to him and put her head in his lap looking up at him beseechingly.

He laughed. "It looks like I've finally found the one being in Middle Earth that actually likes these things."

"I fed her mine," Lothiriel admitted.

"So I noticed," he grinned, "not that I blame you. During the war we subsisted on these the whole way to Minas Tirith and my riders were grumbling all the time."

"On these?"

Éomer nodded. "For six days! We didn't have time to prepare anything else and this was all we had left in our stores. No doubt deliberately," he added grimly.

"Deliberately?" she asked, "But that would be sabotage!"

"I think it was. My uncle was gravely ill and his advisor being a traitor, he did not want us to help Gondor."

She now dimly remembered her father mentioning something about the last King of Rohan being healed by Mithrandir, but she had not paid much attention to it at the time. All the books on Rohan she had read had covered more ancient events.

"Well, you have my sympathy!" she shuddered, "I'm surprised you had the strength to fight a battle after six days of nothing but these."

He chuckled. "It was a good motivation to reach Minas Tirith and the stores there. Those Southrons never knew what hit them."

Lothiriel had to laugh at his words. Somehow the King of Rohan having a sense of humour had rather surprised her. The impression she had gotten from her father's and brothers' description of him had been of a dour warrior who thought of nothing but the training of his men and the disposition of his forces.

"I wish I had some of those stores here now," she remarked wistfully, "do you suppose it will be a long time before my father's men find us?"

He squinted up at the cliffs. "I have no idea, but even if they find us, what can they do?"

Lothiriel had not really considered this and her heart sank. "You are right," she admitted, "there is really nothing they can do, except tell my father we are safe."

She picked up a stone and threw it at the water. "We'll be stuck here for hours!"

"I'm afraid it will be a while before you are rid of me," he shrugged.

"That's not what I meant," she protested, "I don't mind your company."

"Thank you, Princess Lothiriel." With an impudent grin he bowed from the waist, "At least that's an improvement on last night."

She shot him a quelling glance and he had the cheek to laugh at her.

Then he grew serious again. "Lothiriel, why didn't you simply tell me you did not want to marry me?"

"What and throw myself on some unknown man's mercy when my own father won't listen to me?" She still felt bitter.

He conceded the point without even arguing. "But why are you so much against this match?"

Was it her imagination or did he sound wistful? She drew the cloak closer about her and rested her head on her knees, suddenly thinking what a mess she must look.

"It's nothing personal," she tried to explain, not quite meeting his gaze, "I just want to be in charge of my own destiny and not have two men deciding my fate for me. You see, Gondor is my home, I don't want to leave here."

He was absentmindedly pulling up tufts of grass and feeding them to his stallion that had ambled over. " The Riddermark is not so bad, you might like it."

"And how would you feel if you had to leave it?"

He looked up startled. "I never would. It's my home!"

"Well this is my home."

He looked thoughtful and they both stared out over the roiling waves.

"Are you going to return to Rohan now?" she broke the silence after a while.

He sighed and leant back against one of the boulders. "I'm not sure. That's what I was considering on my ride this morning. You see, it's a matter of survival for me, too."

"Survival? What do you mean?"

Éomer seemed reluctant to go on. "Didn't your father tell you why I suggested this match?"

She frowned as she tried to remember her father's exact words. "He said it would strengthen the alliance between Rohan and Gondor … and that you needed an heir," she added blushingly.

"That's not all." He wouldn't quite meet her eyes. "I need your dowry," he said at last.

Lothiriel's laughter faltered when she saw the guilty look on his face. "That was a joke, right?" she floundered, "I mean, you're a king…"

He groaned and hid his head in his hands. "A king of a country ravaged by war and completely impoverished."

"My dowry? That's why you wanted to marry me?" Lothiriel could only stare at him in stupefaction when he nodded shamefacedly.

"You see, your father agreed to hand over part of it immediately and to pay in grain." He looked up suddenly, his expression pained, "Lothiriel, please understand, if we do not receive aid my people will starve in the coming winter."

"Starve? Surely not!"

"You have not seen the devastation in the Westmark. Saruman's orcs plundered everything they could lay their dirty paws on and what they could not take they burned to the ground."

Lothiriel heard the quiet desperation in his voice and also the fury at his enemies. This was a man who cared deeply for his people and who would do everything in his might to protect them. He jumped up and started to pace the narrow confines of their prison.

"So many of my farmers lost their lives in the war," he exclaimed and balled his hands into fists, "The planting was delayed and we do not have enough stores to last us through the winter, let alone seed grain for next year."

"I'm so sorry," she said impulsively, but then she frowned, "why didn't you ask King Elessar for help, I thought he was your friend."

"I will not go begging!" he replied, affronted.

Sometimes Lothiriel felt that despite growing up with three brothers she would never understand men. What was wrong with asking for help when you needed it?

"So you decided to have my dowry instead?" It came out sharper than she had intended.

He opened his mouth to reply and closed it again with a snap. "Yes," he admitted.

"You deserve a good hiding," she said quite without heat, "That was the best idea you could come up with?"

Éomer ran his hands through his hair. "It seemed such a brilliant plan at the time, so simple! I get a wife and the Mark gets the food we need."

They looked at each other and involuntarily his mouth quirked up at one corner. Suddenly the whole situation seemed utterly absurd. Lothiriel could feel her shoulders beginning to shake with laughter.

"And to think you criticized my plans!"

Éomer plopped down next to her. "It sounds rather bad when phrased like that, doesn't it," he said with a disarming smile, "I never even considered your feelings."

"You're not the only one," Lothiriel felt angry, "are you telling me my father knew of this when you proposed the match?"

"We did touch on it. Imrahil was willing to help by sending some of the grain straightaway," Éomer hesitated, "don't be angry with him. I'm sure he had your best interests at heart. He seemed to think we would suit very well…"

Lothiriel shook her head. "Father must be mad!"

"He sang your praises, saying how beautiful and accomplished you were and what a good rider and elegant dancer."

"He did?" she suddenly grinned, "It must have been a bit of a shock to meet me after having that vision of beauty described to you."

Éomer rolled his eyes. "It certainly was, but I put it down to a father's fondness for his only daughter. Now I'm not so sure anymore…" He reached over to very gently touch a strand of her dark hair.

Her heart missed a beat and when she looked up at him there was something disturbingly intense in his face. Here was a dangerous man and one who would not give up easily. No wonder he had not lost a single battle in the war. He seemed unable to concede defeat, which was a useful quality in a leader, but an alarming one in a suitor. She did not think he had met many women immune to his dangerous charm either. Fortunately she knew exactly how to deal with such unwelcome compliments, she'd had enough practice over the years.

"The customary comparison for my hair is to a cascade of midnight silk," she said sweetly, "although it stretches the imagination a bit in its current state."

This kind of frontal assault usually worked like a charm. Not with the King of Rohan, though. He twirled her hair around his finger and grinned at her completely unabashed.

"Oh, I'm not fussy. To a barbarian like me black hair is quite exotic enough even when it's a mess like yours."

Lothiriel ground her teeth. "It's not a mess," she snapped and snatched her hair out of his grasp, showing more bare arm than she had intended to. With as much dignity as she could muster she wrapped her cloak around herself again and gave him a crushing look. Somehow he seemed to be able to bring out the worst in her without even half trying.

"If you say so," he agreed with her politely. The man was laughing at her!

"Can we just agree we do not suit and dispense with further compliments?" she asked pointedly.

"Very well." He touched her briefly on her cheek, "Don't look so worried, Lothiriel. I do not want an unwilling wife, I have got quite enough trouble at home without adding that to it as well, believe me."

Lothiriel had to resist the impulse to touch the spot where he had rested his fingers. "Stop teasing me then," she grumbled, "and maybe we can come up with an idea how to help your people."

He lifted one eyebrow. "What could you possibly do?"

"I don't know," she had to admit.

"Maybe you can introduce me to another heiress," he suggested flippantly and she frowned at him.

"I do not intend to inflict that fate on some other poor woman," she flashed.

He seemed unperturbed by her unfavourable opinion. "Some ladies actually like me, you know" he remarked "And it's not just the crown either."

"Oh, I'm sure," she retorted, "Was that the original plan then? To come here for two days, charm me thoroughly and then leave with part of my dowry?"

"Something along those lines." Was he so completely shameless there was nothing that rattled him?

"You need better advisors."

Éomer shrugged. "I have none. Uncle's only advisor turned out to be a traitor and I haven't had time to find new ones. It's one of the reasons why I can't stay away from Edoras too long. In fact I will have to return tomorrow."

He turned to stare out at sea morosely. Lothiriel mulled over what he had just told her about the state of his country. Somehow she felt guilty at depriving his people of their much-needed food, yet there must surely be another way to find enough grain to last them through the winter.

"What about the other areas of Rohan," she asked, "can't they provide you with food if you share it out carefully?"

He shook his head. "The Westmark is the most fertile and the most heavily settled part of the Riddermark. In the east we keep our horse herds and further up in the mountains it is mostly sheep country."

He swept an area of the ground bare and picked up some stones to make a rough map of Rohan. The rocks became mountain chains and a passing crab was chased off towards Mordor as he explained the layout of his country. One question led to the next and before long he was telling her about the battles with Saruman and their desperate ride to Minas Tirith. Lothiriel watched the animation on his face as he drew a map of Helm's Deep on the dry ground and when he suddenly looked up and gave her a blinding smile she could not help but smile back at him.

"You should write this down," she remarked, "after all it's an important part of your people's history."

His smile faded and he sighed. "I hope to do so one day, but at the moment I have more pressing concerns."

With a violent motion he swept the stones away from his makeshift map. "What's the use of winning battles when your people just die of hunger afterwards! As I've read in a book somewhere: you cannot feed on honour alone…"

"… but you can choke on dishonour," Lothiriel absentmindedly completed the quotation. "Hyarmendacil again," she explained at his surprised look.

"If you say so," he shrugged, "you're the expert."

"Only in theory, I never got to put it into practice. That is at least not until last night," she added after some consideration.

That caught his attention. "Last night?"

She hesitated for a moment. "Well, it seemed a bit like a battle, didn't it."

"Not to me! I was under the impression I was having a conversation," he pointed out. "Don't you need two people to start a fight?"

"Not according to my books," she answered with a grin, "in fact Ecthelion maintains it is easier to win if you strike before your opponent is even aware that hostilities have started."

He shook his head in wonder. "I think I remember the passage now. Something about deception being the basis of all warfare."

"That's right," Lothiriel nodded, "and it would have worked like a treat as well if you hadn't insisted on going for this silly morning ride when the tide was coming in."

"My apologies, my lady," he replied gravely, "but you'll never make a decent field commander if you can't handle surprises."

She gave a laugh. "You are the surprise! I never thought you'd actually possess a sense of humour."

"What did you expect then?"

"Well, my brothers kept going on about what a brilliant leader you were and what a great warrior. They nearly swooned when describing the way you waved your sword at the black ships. I was expecting somebody like Lord Denethor."

"Lord Denethor?" He stared at her, "I am starting to understand now why you did everything you could to get out of this engagement!"

"Well you could have been like him," she defended herself, "your ancestors sound like a pretty grim lot."

"My ancestors! What do you know of them?"

"Only what I've read in 'The land of the horse lords' by Beregond. He gives an interesting account of them right up to your grandfather Thengel's time."

Éomer put his head in his hands and started laughing. "You've really done your research well! No, don't tell me," he interrupted her when she opened her mouth to reply, "I know, good preparation might not win you victory, but no preparation will ensure defeat."

She wrinkled her forehead. "I don't know that one. Is it by Thorongil?"

"No," he replied with a completely straight face, "it's by Éomer Éomundsson."

***

The quotation at the beginning of the chapter is from Sun Tzu's 'The Art of War'.



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.

Story Information

Author: Lialathuveril

Status: Reviewed

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Romance

Rating: General

Last Updated: 05/04/07

Original Post: 05/24/06

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