Black Eyes: 6. Aftermath

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6. Aftermath

Aftermath

While heading the profit of my counsel, avail yourself also of any helpful circumstances over and beyond the ordinary rules. According as circumstances are favourable, one should modify one's plans.

(Eldacar: The experience of battle)

***

"Lothiriel?" the voice was soft and gentle and she sighed, unwilling to open her eyes, now that she was warm at last.

"Lothiriel, wake up." She gave a yawn and stretched her arms, luxuriating in the heat given off by the nice soft cushion she was leaning against.

"You know, you really shouldn't do that." Somebody pulled her covers close around her again and Lothiriel tried to burrow deeper down. It was so cosy and comfortable, she just wanted to stay put where she was. It felt right.

"What's the matter?" she asked drowsily.

"I think your father's men have found us at last."

"Tell them to go away," she muttered.

Her cushion shook with laughter and she mumbled an incoherent protest. Her father's men? What did they want of her? Dim memories started to come back to her of the morning's events. The desperate scramble down the cliff face, warning Éomer, their narrow escape onto the little island…

She sat up with a start, abruptly realizing just what her warm soft cushion was – or rather who. She remembered now, they had been talking, he had told her stories about Rohan, and she must have fallen into a doze at some point. Lothiriel felt heat flooding her cheeks and when she finally dared to look up saw him watching her with an amused smile on his face. Then she caught her breath in distress. His left eye was looking truly horrendous by now, completely swollen shut and the whole area around it puffy and blackening rapidly.

"Your eye!" she exclaimed.

He lifted a hand to his face, but did not touch it. "Does it look bad? It certainly feels so."

She nodded and bit her lip, feeling thoroughly guilty. A too-long silence ensued.

"Did I fall asleep?" Not the most intelligent of questions.

"You did," he nodded and stretched his arms, as if he was cramped, "I was wondering when to wake you up."

Lothiriel watched the muscles rippling across his chest and remembered the feeling of resting her head against his comforting warm solidity. When she looked up again his expression was unreadable, the former amusement completely gone.

She cleared her throat. "I'm sorry I fell asleep against you like that."

"That's all right," he reassured her, "I don't mind at all."

"You should have woken me up when it got uncomfortable."

Again that slow smile. "But it wasn't uncomfortable…"

Why did she have the feeling she was rapidly getting out of her depth? She decided to change the subject.

"Did you say something about my father's men?"

He motioned towards the shore. "I think they've found us."

Squinting her eyes against the sun she looked up at the cliff top and made out several riders. Even as she watched, one of them turned his horse to canter back the way he had come, no doubt to tell her father that his missing daughter and guest had been located at last.

"Anyway," Éomer added, "I think we should be able to leave our island soon."

Lothiriel got up to glance down at the water and calculated with a shock just how long she must have been asleep for it to recede to the level it was at now. Indeed they could probably be on their way quite soon.

Éomer had shrugged back into his tunic and now examined his saddle with a frown before heaving it onto the stallion's back. He then bent to fasten the girth and checked the animal's legs again.

On her part Lothiriel went to collect her discarded clothing from the small bushes she had hung it from, glad to find that none of it had been blown away. It was bone dry by now, but when she slipped her trousers on under the cover of the cloak they were stiff with salt and scratchy. Then she hesitated, regarding the chemise and tunic in her hands. A quick look back at the shore showed her father's men still watching them and she wondered how she could possibly manage to put her clothes back on without everybody knowing that she had actually taken them off. The gossip would be bad enough without adding that juicy little titbit to it as well.

At that moment they were hailed from the other side. Before she so much as caught a glance of who it was, Éomer had slewed round, his sword drawn and ready. He relaxed again almost immediately and when she cautiously peered round Firefoot she saw that it was a small sailing boat heading their way. She recognized it at once as one of her family's boats and when she spotted her brother Elphir at the helm she could hardly restrain herself from waving madly. Anca had seen him, too, and started to bark in excitement.

The water was ebbing fast now and Elphir had difficulty making any headway against the force of the tide, so he contented himself with heaving to and hailing them again. Éomer waved back and turned to her.

"Do you think he can bring the boat close enough so you can jump on board?"

Lothiriel regarded the waters dubiously. There were probably hidden rocks just under the surface and their little island sported no convenient place where you could bring a boat close in. She shook her head.

"I don't think that's a good idea."

Éomer shouted at Elphir not to come any closer, but to Lothiriel's annoyance instead of sailing away again her brother seemed quite content to wait in the deeper water.

"Éomer," she whispered.

He looked over at her in surprise. "Yes?"

"My clothes," she hissed, "what am I supposed to do with them?"

He regarded her in puzzlement. "Aren't they dry yet?"

"That's not the problem! How can I put them on with everybody watching us!"

"Oh! I see your difficulty." He actually had the impudence to laugh out loud and she gave him a quelling look.

"Give them to me," he ordered her and when she handed them over simply stuffed her tunic and shirt into the saddlebags, adding her still sodden boots for good measure as well.

"There," he said, "just wear the cloak and nobody will notice."

"But what if they do!"

"You're a princess," he grinned, "surely you know how to look haughty. If you have the right attitude you could ride through the town stark naked and nobody would dare to comment."

Before she could think of a suitably crushing reply he took Firefoot by the reins and very carefully led him down one side of the island, where the going was easiest. It took considerable coaxing and Lothiriel was surprised by the patience and gentleness the King of Rohan displayed, but finally the stallion could be persuaded to step into the water again, low though it was by now.

"Are you coming?" he called and Lothiriel gathered her cloak around herself with as much dignity as she could muster and gingerly clambered down as well, her dog following behind her. Picking her up as if she weighed nothing at all, Éomer threw her in the saddle and she had to grab the pommel to keep from falling down the other side. When she threw him an icy glare he simply laughed back at her.

"That's exactly the look I meant," he teased her, "nobody will ever know."

You know, she fumed inwardly, annoyed at having gotten herself into this situation. If her father ever found out he would probably think himself obliged to force her to marry Éomer, black eye and all. The man had been nothing but trouble ever since he had arrived in Dol Amroth!

"When did you say you are leaving?" she asked pointedly as she draped the cloak around herself, but that only earned her another grin.

She held her peace, though, as he slowly led the horse towards the dryer parts of the beach. The footing was treacherous with stones hidden in the murky waters and deep tidal pools they had to circumvent. Pretty soon his trousers were thoroughly soaked again and she was secretly grateful at being allowed to ride. After the morning's exertions she was stiff and sore, her numerous cuts were still aching dully and her belly was altogether empty. She wasn't sure how far she could have made it on foot and privately wondered if he guessed as much. They probably made a pretty pair, she thought with an ironic smile, looking down at her dirty feet.

After a while they hit the sandy part of the beach and the going got less hazardous if not exactly easier. They turned south to parallel the shore at that point and then finally reached the path that would eventually bring them back to the castle. There was a small stream emptying into the sea here and they stopped to have a drink.

Éomer looked back at the way they had come.

"Did you really clamber down those cliffs?"

Lothiriel had trouble herself imagining that anything but a bird could make it down there in one piece.

"Maybe it's less steep where I climbed down," she offered, "Mind you, it seemed rather like a controlled fall some of the time."

He shook his head. "Brave but foolhardy," he declared.

"Well hardly that," she demurred.

"Being foolhardy or being brave?" he asked with one of his contagious grins.

"Being brave of course," she said, looking up from where she was bathing her feet in the cool water of the stream, "I leave that to my brothers, they are the warriors."

"Courage is sometimes found in unexpected places," Éomer replied as he held out a hand.

"More Éomer Éomundsson?" she asked with a smile as he helped her to her feet.

He looked down at her, suddenly serious. "No, it's the halflings that have taught me that. A salutary lesson for every warrior I think."

Lothiriel watched him thoughtfully as he led Firefoot over and whistled to Anca who came bounding up obediently. Truly a man full of surprises.

"You've met them, haven't you," she took up the conversation again, "What are they like?"

"To look at, they seem like children to us."

The big stallion gave his master a playful nudge with his head and he stroked him absentmindedly, "Not very respectful towards their elders and thinking of their next meal all the time."

As if in response to that Lothiriel's stomach chose to give a growl and they both laughed.

"And yet?" she prompted.

"And yet they have that well hidden streak of stubborn courage that we all owe our lives and everything we hold dear to."

He shrugged, "You should talk to my sister. She rode with one of them all the way to Minas Tirith."

"I would like to do so." He had told her quite a bit about Lady Éowyn and she had found it difficult to reconcile the picture he drew of a stubborn but much cherished sister with the slayer of the Witch King of Angmar.

Éomer gave her a leg up and when she was settled in the saddle she leant forward to pat Firefoot on the neck.

"You're not at all afraid of him, are you," he commented with an approving nod.

"You shouldn't be surprised, after all I told you I like to pet horses," she said and threw him a mischievous look from under her eyelashes.

"Be careful, my lady," he warned her as they started out again, "You haven't reached the safety of your home yet."

It was a threat that singularly failed to impress her. "I'm perfectly safe with you," she asserted and then suddenly blushed at her own words. Fortunately he just let them pass. They had joined the main path between the castle and the harbour town by now and in the distance she could already see the flags flying from the highest tower of the keep of Dol Amroth.

"It's not much further now. You're bearing up well," Éomer threw over his shoulder and Lothiriel told herself sternly it was silly to feel so warmed by this praise when she wasn't even sure if it was directed at her or the stallion.

The last part of the way they were escorted by her father's men and the big courtyard in front of the stables was thronged with Swan Knights when they finally got there, everybody having been roped into the search effort. Even so, Éomer managed to swing her down from Firefoot without anybody being the wiser as to her state of dress or rather undress. To herself she had to admit grudgingly that sometimes being so tall and powerful had its advantages.

They were surrounded at once by a crowd of curious helpers asking questions as to where they had been and exclaiming at his face, but the King of Rohan simply waved them away.

"Not now," he decreed, "the princess needs a rest first."

He beckoned to on of the grooms. "See to my horse," he commanded and then put his hand on her elbow to steer her into the keep. Miraculously a path opened before them and they had nearly made it to the safety of the back corridors before encountering the next obstacle.

"Lord Éomer!" a soft female voice exclaimed and a figure trailing a wave of perfume descended on them. Her green gown, made of the finest gossamer silk, floated around her like the tentacles of a giant jellyfish. With some surprise Lothiriel recognized Lady Eilinel whom she had introduced to Éomer the night before.

"My lady?" the King of Rohan seemed just as surprised by this enthusiastic welcome as herself.

"Your poor face!" Lady Eilinel cried out, "You must see a healer at once."

She laid a hand on Éomer's arm and cast a soulful look up at him. "Did you get attacked by bandits? You are so brave!"

Éomer seemed bereft of speech for a moment, but not so Lothiriel.

"Lady Eilinel," she said coldly, "Please do not worry, as it happens it wasn't bandits we encountered."

The other woman seemed to become aware of her for the first time and looked her over critically, starting with her dirty feet and ending with her hopelessly tangled hair. Lothiriel was very much conscious of what a sorry sight she must look, but she took Éomer's earlier advice and just lifted her chin and stared back haughtily. After an infinitesimal pause Lady Eilinel dropped her prince's daughter a reluctant curtsy.

"Princess Lothiriel," she acknowledged her, "I did not recognise you at first."

"So it seems," Lothiriel purred back silkily, "did my father send you with a message for us?"

The temperature dropped another several degrees. "No, he didn't," the other woman admitted, "I just happened to pass."

Éomer wisely kept out of the conversation. Lothiriel gave a chilly nod. "In that case we really do not want to keep you any longer from getting ready for the evening meal."

It was as clear a dismissal as any she had ever uttered and Lady Eilinel dared not disobey it, especially when a beseeching look at Éomer was only met by a bland smile.

"My Lord King, my Lady Princess," she swept them a curtsy displaying a generous amount of her cleavage, "I will see you later."

"Just passing by!" Lothiriel exclaimed wrathfully when she had gone, "When she's probably been waiting here all day. The cheek of that woman!"

Éomer started to chuckle. "It's slowly coming clear to me that the most dangerous thing in Dol Amroth is indeed not bandits or corsairs, but rather the ladies."

"Well that one certainly has only one thing in mind." Lothiriel was still feeling outraged at Lady Eilinel's presumption.

"Don't worry," Éomer said soothingly, "I'm not going to make someone my wife who only wants to marry me because of my crown."

He took a step closer to her while she was still trying to marshal her arguments why she did not worry in the least.

"Now if I found someone who might marry me despite my crown…"

His voice trailed off suggestively and she could only look at him in helpless fascination.

"Éomer…" she faltered, but was saved from having to answer by her brother Amrothos coming running around a corner, calling her name. For a moment she wasn't sure if she was relieved or displeased at the interruption and then got annoyed with herself for even wondering. What was the matter with her all of a sudden?

"Lothiriel!" her brother hugged her tightly when he had caught up with them, "What has happened to you? You look a fright!"

"Thank you very much," she replied sarcastically, but was secretly touched by the concern in his face.

"I will tell you later," she added, "I urgently need a bath, a meal and a change of clothing now." Lothiriel did not dare to look at her companion when she mentioned that last item.

Amrothos looked her over anxiously. "Father wants to see you," he explained, "at once he said."

They exchanged a resigned look and then Éomer shrugged. "Very well, we're coming."

On the way to their father's study Amrothos drew her slightly to one side. "Are you all right, sister?" he asked darkly, "Éomer didn't try to…"

His voice petered out when she lifted an eyebrow at him as if waiting for an explanation and he coloured slightly. "You know…" he stammered.

Lothiriel took pity on him. "He behaved perfectly honourably. In fact he saved my life."

Amrothos looked somewhat relieved at not having to challenge the King of Rohan to a duel after all and took his leave soon after, promising to organize that hot bath for her.

Éomer was waiting for her at the door to her father's study.

"Remember," he whispered to her with an impudent grin, "just look haughty."

***

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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