7. Shifting battlefronts
All hope was lost when, unlooked for, the Riders came out of the North and broke upon the rear of the enemy. Then the fortunes of battle were reversed, and the enemy was driven with slaughter over Limlight.
(Cirion: The Path to Victory)
Prince Imrahil was standing by the window looking out over the ocean, which was now glittering serenely in the afternoon sun. He turned round at their entrance, crossed the room with a few quick steps and enveloped her in a tight embrace.
"Lothiriel!" he exclaimed, "are you all right?"
"I'm fine father," she reassured him, "just hungry and tired."
He looked her up and down, in his turn taking in her tangled hair, the unfamiliar cloak and bare feet. She was getting rather tired of these close examinations.
"You look exhausted," he burst out.
Then his gaze went to Éomer and his eyes widened when he spotted the black eye the latter sported. Prince Imrahil's face hardened and he drew her protectively to his side.
"What have you done to my daughter?" he demanded to know.
Éomer looked surprised then irritated at this reception. "What did I do to her? Shouldn't you rather ask what she did to me?"
Prince Imrahil bristled. "I'm warning you, Éomer, I don't know what kind of behaviour you think appropriate back home, but if you aspire to my daughter's hand you will treat her with all the respect due to her."
"There is no difference in how I'd treat your daughter back home to how I treat her in Gondor," the King of Rohan snapped back, "I know she's a lady."
Lothiriel had to suppress a grin at this. Was this the same man who had threatened her with a good hiding earlier on? Her father was rather less impressed.
"Then what did you do to earn that black eye?"
"I didn't earn it," Éomer said through clenched teeth, clearly nearing the end of his patience.
"You must have done something…"
Unspoken the words improper advances seemed to hang in the air and the King of Rohan looked as if a trying day had just taken a turn for the worse. Lothiriel decided it was time to intervene.
"Please father," she said, "It's not what you think, it was simply an accident."
"An accident?" Her father looked anything but convinced by this.
"We got caught by the tide and I fell in the water. Éomer pulled me out, but I accidentally hit him in the eye." Although this was the truth the story sounded weak even in her own ears.
"You got caught by the tide?" Imrahil frowned, "My men told me they found you on the North Beach. What were you doing there anyway?"
Lothiriel never got a chance to answer this question, for behind her the door burst open with a bang.
"I told you so!" somebody exclaimed.
Lothiriel closed her eyes for a moment. With one of his lightning movements Éomer had interposed himself between her and the door, his sword half drawn already, but she did not need to see who had just entered the room. Against some things steel offered no protection anyway.
Aunt Ivriniel swept in with the irresistible force of a battle ram. Today she had chosen to dress entirely in dazzling white and as usual had emptied the contents of her jewellery box to go with this. The effect was overwhelming even to one used to her and Éomer was simply left staring at her in amazement. In the doorway behind her stood Amrothos, looking apologetic and silently mouthing 'I'm sorry'.
With a sigh Imrahil waved his youngest son to go away and to close the door behind him.
"What did you tell me?" he asked in resignation.
"I told you no good would come of this," his sister exclaimed, "Inviting this so-called King of Rohan to pay court to your daughter. Mingling the noble blood of our lineage with that of an upstart barbarian!"
The upstart barbarian looked extremely annoyed at these words and took a step towards her, his sword still half way out of the scabbard.
"The blood of the House of Eorl is as good as anyone's," he snapped at her.
Aunt Ivriniel lifted a haughty eyebrow. "My good man, there were princes ruling in Dol Amroth when your ancestors were still no better than peasants living in straw covered huts."
The King of Rohan's face darkened and Lothiriel was amazed at her aunt's temerity. Or was it foolhardiness?
"My countrymen and I saved your sorry lives on the Pelennor Fields," Éomer snarled, "What use would your noble lineage have been if Minas Tirith had fallen and Sauron's forces had swept across Gondor?"
Imrahil made a placatory gesture with one hand. "Please, Éomer," he said.
Aunt Ivriniel merely looked the King of Rohan over coldly. "You were fulfilling your oaths as was only right and proper," she replied.
Lothiriel held her breath as Éomer took another step closer.
"We fulfilled them with blood," His voice had dropped to a whisper, "my sister nearly died on that battlefield and you stand there and sneer at me and my people. I will teach you to respect their sacrifices if it's the last thing I ever do."
For the first time Ivriniel was starting to look slightly alarmed.
"Imrahil," she appealed to her brother, "are you simply going to stand by while this man threatens violence to a poor defenceless woman?"
The Prince of Dol Amroth looked rather flustered at the turn the conversation had taken, but before he could reply Éomer cut in.
"I do not threaten defenceless women," he said through clenched teeth, only to stop suddenly and colour slightly.
Her aunt did not miss this. "I thought as much," she exclaimed and pointed an accusatory finger at him, "What have you done to my poor niece?"
Lothiriel had had enough. "Éomer did nothing at all," she fired up in his defence, "he saved my life if you must know!"
Her cloak nearly slipped off her shoulders as she joined Éomer's side to glower at her aunt, but she managed to catch in time and wrapped it closer around herself.
"Éomer?" Aunt Ivriniel gasped, "You call him by his first name, a man you are not related to and have known for less than a day. What kind of behaviour is that?"
It was Lothiriel's turn to look flustered. It was true that she had just slipped into the easy habit of calling the King of Rohan by his first name without even having been given leave to. She sent her father a look of mute entreaty, but in the event it was Éomer who threw himself into the breach.
"No doubt my barbarian manners are to blame. Things tend to get a bit informal when you're marooned on a lonely island all on your own."
Aunt Ivriniel gave a disdainful sniff. "That is no excuse at all. The more dire the circumstances, the more decorous a true lady's manners will be."
Lothiriel rolled her eyes. "The Gondorian maiden's guide to proper deportment by Belecthor," she whispered to Éomer.
"Not one of your favourites, I guess?" he whispered back. At least the murderous look had left his face and he seemed to have recovered his equanimity.
"Please," her father intervened at this point, "let us not argue like this. Lothiriel was just about to tell me what had happened."
"I don't care what story she tells you," Aunt Ivriniel said with a sneer, "Quite obviously your daughter has fallen for the dubious charms of this barbarian."
"I have not!" Lothiriel replied hotly, "And he's not a barbarian."
"Well, I won't have you marry him and that's my last word on it," her aunt declared.
"I will marry whomever I please," Lothiriel flashed back, only to belatedly remember that she had just done everything in her power to escape this match. By her side Éomer suppressed what sounded suspiciously like a sudden snort of laughter.
"Peace!" Prince Imrahil intervened again, "let's just listen to what Lothiriel has to say."
"Thank you father," she took a deep breath, "As I was just about to tell you earlier on, I went for a ride this morning."
Her aunt had finally taken a closer look at her. "What is this thing you are wearing?" she interrupted her at this point.
"What do you mean?" Lothiriel asked back, "It's just a cloak."
"A cloak?" Her aunt was regarding her with horror. "This is completely unseemly raiment for a princess. How can you be so immodest as to wear a man's cloak! Judging by the unpleasant colour it is his cloak as well."
Lothiriel found herself stirred to fresh wrath. "It's a lovely colour and it's none of your business what I choose to wear."
"You will take it off at once!" Aunt Ivriniel declared vehemently.
Thoroughly alarmed, Lothiriel clutched the cloak closer around herself. "I will not!"
"You certainly will."
"I agree," Éomer said beside her.
Lothiriel spun round. "What?" she stammered.
He was not paying her panicked words any attention, concentrating his attention on her aunt instead. "You are just so right, Lady Ivriniel," he said, "this cloak is of course completely unsuitable for a princess of your noble lineage."
"Quite," Ivriniel agreed, somewhat taken aback by this sudden endorsement of her opinions.
Lothiriel stared at the King of Rohan feeling like someone who had just been stabbed in the back. Shock and outrage ran through her at his betrayal. Had this been his plan from the beginning? To compromise her in a way that left her no recourse but to accede to his suit? Well if that was his idea he would soon discover that the battle had only just begun.
"You…" she breathed, words failing her. And to think that she had started to find him quite likeable.
He gave her a tiny shake of his head, but paid her no further heed, instead smiling at her aunt. "It's so fortunate that you should be here, my lady. I admired your impeccable taste in clothes last night."
You did? Lothiriel thought, finally getting a glimmering of what he was up to.
"I did indeed," he nodded gravely, "Perhaps you would be so kind as to fetch your niece something suitable to wear?"
"Well…" even her aunt was not impervious to his charm.
Éomer went to open the door for her. Under Lothiriel and Prince Imrahil's fascinated gaze the King of Rohan turned the full force of his personality on Aunt Ivriniel, giving her a warm smile exactly as he had given Lothiriel in the garden last night.
"I'm sure I can leave it to your excellent taste to select something modest and becoming."
Lothiriel held her breath as Aunt Ivriniel went out the room like a woman under a spell. Éomer gently closed the door behind her and then sagged against it.
"Let's hope this defenceless woman takes her time to make up her mind what you should wear," he said to Lothiriel with a grin.
Even her father looked impressed and Lothiriel could only regard him in awe.
She clapped her hands. "I don't know how you did it, but that was marvellous," she exclaimed.
He gave a bow. "Thank you, my lady."
There was a twinkle in his eye and she realized he knew only too well what thoughts had run through her mind earlier on.
Lothiriel blushed hotly. "I'm sorry," she stammered, "I should have known…"
He winked at her with his good eye. "I always fight fair, unlike some others I could name."
"Oh!" she gasped, "You dare!"
Her father gave a chuckle at this point and she jumped, for she had completely forgotten his presence.
"Maybe you could cease hostilities for a moment," he suggested, "and go on with your story, daughter?"
"Yes of course," Lothiriel agreed obediently and tried to order her thoughts. The quick flash of anger at her aunt had passed and now she felt tired and exhausted again.
"It's a long story," she sighed.
It seemed to be her fate to be constantly interrupted. This time it was Éomer who held out a hand.
"Just a moment," he said, "Lady Lothiriel has had nothing to eat all day, she nearly drowned and has been chilled to the bone by the cold wind. Don't you think she deserves to sit down while she tells her story?"
Her father threw her a startled glance. "Of course," he said and pulled up a chair.
Then he got busy pouring her a glass of wine, which she accepted gratefully. At her frown he grudgingly offered one to Éomer as well, but the King of Rohan refused with a curt shake of the head. Lothiriel made sure she held her cloak tightly around herself and then explained how she had gone for a morning ride along the coast.
Her father interrupted her again almost at once. "And what were you doing so far away from the castle? You know that you are supposed to stay close."
She had the sinking feeling that her freedom would be severely curtailed in the future. "It's not that far away," she temporised, "and anyway I had Anca along."
At the sound of her name her dog that was sitting patiently by her feet wagged her tail. Her father sent her a sceptical look, apparently dubious about her abilities as a protector.
"Never mind," he said, "what happened next?"
"I saw Éomer out on the mud flats going for a ride and knew I had to warn him because the tide was coming in," she explained.
"Had you arranged to meet him there?"
"Certainly not!" she exclaimed indignantly, "it was pure chance I took that path."
"And a lucky thing for me that was," Éomer interjected.
"Anyway," she went on, "I decided to try and send Snowflake home for help and then climbed down the cliffs and told him to turn back."
"You climbed down the cliffs? But it's almost a sheer drop!" Imrahil looked like he could not quite believe it was his gentle little girl telling him these adventures.
"There was a footpath. Well a kind of footpath anyway," she amended with a rueful smile, "but unfortunately the tide was coming in so fast we could not make it back to the shore. Luckily we managed to reach a small island, though."
Éomer now spoke up as well. "In fact your daughter saved my life with her warning."
She waved that aside. "Please Éomer, you saved mine when I nearly drowned reaching that island."
"That's true Lothiriel," he admitted, "but you wouldn't have been there in the first place if it hadn't been for my stupidity in underestimating unknown territory. I blame myself."
"You couldn't have known," she protested, reaching out a hand and just remembering in time to draw her cloak around herself.
Her father cleared his throat. "So what happened then?"
Lothiriel spread her hands. "Nothing."
"Nothing," Éomer agreed, "We just had to wait for the tide to recede."
Prince Imrahil was tapping his foot. "While I do not doubt your word, this will give rise to a lot of gossip. It is really most unseemly for Lothiriel to spend the whole day with you without any female companionship."
Lothiriel hunched deeper into her cloak, for defeat was staring her in the face. She had seen it coming, of course. Next her father would appeal to Éomer's chivalry, the latter would offer to restore her honour by making her his wife and everybody would be satisfied.
"I suppose the proper thing for me to have done was to drown," she muttered rebelliously.
"I fail to see the problem," Éomer cut in sharply before her father could utter more than an incoherent protest, "Lothiriel was perfectly safe with me and if anyone wants to contend this he can take it up with me."
"Oh, I don't doubt it," her father hastened to reassure him, "I'm just trying to warn you that there will be a fair amount of gossip. And what about tonight?"
"Are you still going to announce your betrothal?"
Éomer hesitated, but not so Lothiriel.
"No," she said firmly.
Her father was looking from one to the other. "But you seem to have come to some sort of understanding."
"An understanding?" she was alarmed, "What are you talking about! On the contrary we've decided we are definitely not suited."
"Not suited? But…"
"Definitely not," she stated firmly and frowned at Éomer to corroborate this statement.
"Your daughter has convinced me that now is not a good time for my suit," he obliged, although she did not miss the emphasis he put on 'now'. What did he mean by that curious choice of words? Some kind of message seemed to pass between the two men and she gritted her teeth.
"I will retire now and have a rest," she said sharply and got off her chair, "since my presence won't be required at the ball tonight."
"Yes of course." Her father suddenly seemed remarkably calm about the turn of events, "You have a bath and a hot meal, my sweet, and I'm sure you'll be feeling a whole lot better again."
She did not like his condescending tone at all and was tempted to utter a sharp reply, but then her exhaustion caught up with her and she decided to let it pass. After all she had won her victory, even though she was much too tired to feel the expected elation about it. Giving them a curt nod she turned to go, but before she could reach the door Éomer called out to her.
She turned round and regarded him with narrowed eyes. His face was perfectly straight, but that did not fool her. The King of Rohan was laughing at her again.
"Yes?" she asked.
She stared at him. He wouldn't dare.
"Shall I collect it later?"
She firmly resisted the temptation to slam the door behind her. That man was urgently in need of a firm set-down.
The quotation at the beginning of the chapter is from the appendix to 'Return of the King', describing Eorl the Young riding to the aid of Gondor.
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.