Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence. Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting. Therefore the skilful leader subdues the enemy's troops without any fighting. He captures their cities without laying siege to them. He overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field.
(Thorongil: The Way of Strategy)
The door shut behind her lady-in-waiting with a soft click. Lothiriel turned to face the King of Rohan with a frown.
"You have my father's permission?" she asked. She wasn't at all sure if she liked the sound of that.
Éomer smiled innocently. "He told me to take you for a walk in the gardens last night, didn't he?"
She couldn't suppress an answering smile. "I doubt that explanation would have satisfied Lady Idril, my Lord King," she teased him, "In fact I'm surprised and deeply shocked by your unscrupulous methods."
"Deception is the basis of all warfare," he quoted her own earlier words back at her, "I have had an excellent teacher, you see."
"And you're a quick learner," she shot back and he laughed out loud.
She noticed he had found the time to change and have a bath, for he wore fresh clothes and his hair was still slightly damp. Then her eyes fell on the saddlebags lying on her desk.
"Oh, have you brought my things?" she exclaimed, momentarily distracted, "That's good, Lady Idril was asking about them and I didn't know what to say."
He nodded and with a flourish emptied out the bags and handed over her crumpled clothes and boots.
"Here you are," he said, "I've also checked on your horse while I was in the stables and am happy to say she's no worse for her little adventure."
"That's very kind of you," Lothiriel thanked him and he smiled back warmly. Her airy study suddenly seemed rather small and crowded.
"I'll get your cloak for you," she said a little breathless and made her escape into the other room. When she got back he was studying the books and household ledgers lined up on the shelves. These took up all four walls from floor to ceiling, leaving only space for the window and the shipping tables and map of the environs of Dol Amroth that she had hanging up behind her desk.
"You probably have more books here than what my uncle had in his entire library," he remarked.
"Really?" she was rather surprised, "This is just my personal collection, copies I've had made for me."
She motioned at the shelf next to the window. "This is the Rohan section, not very extensive I'm afraid."
He shook his head at the titles. "Half of them I've never even heard of."
"I can have copies made for you," she offered, "I keep a small army of scribes busy as it is."
He laughed. "That's very kind. I might take you up on the offer one day when I have more leisure. My primary concern now is to somehow get my people through the winter."
"I've had an idea on that," Lothiriel began hesitantly. In fact the idea had sprung into her mind fully formed while she'd had her bath and she had been thinking on it and improving it ever since.
"I've just explained to your father that you are far too dangerous to force into a marriage you do not desire," he took a step towards her, "Are you going to tell me you have changed your mind and intend to become my wife after all?"
"No, no," she replied all flustered, "That's not what I meant!"
Lothiriel tried to gather her scattered wits. He really should not spring surprise questions like that on her when she had thought everything settled between them.
"I won't become your wife," she explained, "but I'll become your agent."
"My agent? What do you mean?"
"If you authorize me to act for you I can buy grain and other food and have it shipped to you."
He frowned down at her. "Lothiriel, that's a kind offer, but like I explained we have no way to pay for it."
"I know," she replied and took a deep breath, mustering her arguments. "I've been thinking you must surely have something you can trade to us. What about horses? After all Rohan is famous for them."
Éomer shook his head. "I have considered this, but our herds have suffered as much as the people tending them. We won't be able to sell any until the year after next at the earliest."
"That's all right," she replied, "I can extend you credit and you can pay later when your horse herds have recovered."
"Credit?" The idea seemed completely new to him. He really needed those advisors.
"That's right," she nodded, "and don't worry about getting a good price for them, I'll see to that. Now about those sheep…"
The King of Rohan was clearly bewildered by the way this conversation was going and Lothiriel couldn't altogether blame him, but then he shouldn't have rattled her with that proposal a moment ago. She tried to make herself clearer.
"You were telling me your people keep sheep in the mountains, right?"
"What do you do with the surplus wool?"
"I'm not sure…" It was obviously not a question he had ever pondered before.
"Well, you probably sell it to passing traders, but if you let me have it I can sell it here in the south and get a much better price."
Another thought struck her. "In fact I can trade it for the wine we import from Lebennin, and you can have the wheat we usually send as payment. That way everybody is served."
"Are you sure that is feasible?" He seemed to have recovered from his initial surprise and now was regarding her sceptically.
"I do this kind of bartering all the time," she reassured him, "Now what else do you have to trade?"
"I don't know," he was forced to admit, "I was always so busy fighting, I never really paid any attention to that aspect of ruling a kingdom. Now I wish I had!"
"That's not your fault," she consoled him, "I'm sure my father would be just as lost if he had to cope on his own. Here in Gondor it's the woman's responsibility to see to the provisioning of the household."
He sighed. "My uncle's seneschal used to do all that, but he was killed at Helm's Deep and I haven't been able to replace him yet."
"Well you should," she opined, "And at the same time you should also seek out some good advisors."
"Yes, my lady," he said meekly.
Lothiriel decided to ignore these words. "Well, find out what else you have to trade and let me know. I'm sure we've had salt from Rohan in the past and possibly furs and leather goods. Now that the passage under the mountains is open the way is much shorter."
She went over to the shelves that housed her precious collection of maps and mounted the small stool that helped her access the top shelves where they were stored away in long leather tubes.
"Give me a hand," she ordered him and held out the map she had been looking for.
She had meant him to take the map, but instead he seized her round the waist and swung her down from her precarious perch. Momentarily alarmed she clutched at him and found herself suddenly face to face with him. Her pulse speeded up as he gently set her down, his hands lingering a moment longer than was altogether necessary.
"Thank you," she said, annoyed with herself at sounding so breathless. What was the matter with her? Then she quickly escaped over to her desk, where she unrolled the beautifully drawn parchment and weighed down the corners with four pebbles she kept for the purpose.
"Southern Gondor," she explained and tapped her finger on the tiny castle signifying Dol Amroth. "It would be easiest to take the Old Coast Road to Edhellond, then follow the Rivers Ringló and Ciril as far as Calembel where you hit the road to Erech."
He stepped up behind her. "That's the route we took coming here."
"Good!" Lothiriel had thought as much, "I know the road will take wagons as far as Erech because I've traded with them before, but what about the passage under the mountains?"
"I'm not sure," Éomer sighed, "I didn't really pay any attention."
"Well, have a look on your way back and let me know," she ordered him, "Otherwise we'll just have to use packhorses."
Thinking furiously, she traced the long line of the Anduin with one hand. "I think I'll ship some grain up to Minas Tirith anyway and have it transferred to wagons there to take the Great West Road. Faramir can make himself useful for a change."
He nodded in bemusement and she continued with the next step of her plan.
"Guards," she said, "I'll organize guards this side of the mountain, but it would be useful if you have your people meet them outside the tunnel and take over. Can you do that?"
"Yes of course," he replied, "But won't your father mind if you use his men?"
She grinned. "He's the one who keeps telling me we owe you. Anyway, he leaves all that to me, he probably won't even notice."
"Lothiriel," he said hesitantly, "This sounds like a good plan, but are you sure you can manage to organize enough stores for us? A wagonload or two would of course be welcome, but are nowhere near enough. We are talking about feeding half a country here."
"I know," she replied offended, "And I have plenty of experience. Feeding farmers is no different from feeding soldiers. Who do you think organized supplies for your armies during the war?"
He stared at her. "You did?"
"Certainly. Father could not spare any of my brothers to do so and I'm better at it anyway," she explained.
"I suppose that is why the Swan Knights always had the best food at Cormallen."
"They did?" she was pleased, "I was so busy I could not come."
"A real shame," he remarked and she quickly dropped her eyes again. Did he have to stand so close to her?
"Quite," she agreed, "Now what do you need? Dried fish is plentiful and cheap here, but your people might not like it."
"Fish?" he shook his head, "No, I don't think so. All we need is grain really, the rest we can manage."
"Grain it is then," she decided and studied the map again, "You have all those mountains, don't you have any deposits of ores or precious stones?"
He looked thoughtful. "As a matter of fact we do and what is more we now have the help of the dwarves. I have to speak to Gimli, he is going to make his home in the caves near Helm's Deep."
"That's all settled then," she agreed, "So are you going to let me act as your representative here in Gondor?"
"Do I have a choice?" he asked with a grin, but when she held out her hand to seal the agreement he took it in his own and gave her a firm handshake.
"Well, I am curious to see how this works out," he said and she had the feeling he did not expect much to come of their discussion. But she would show him. It being soon after the harvest, wheat was still cheap, so she would buy in bulk now before the price started to rise as the winter progressed.
"It will work out." She was absolutely determined. Nobody would starve in Rohan this winter, not if she could help it in any way. She did not tell him that she had decided to dip into her father's funds if necessary. If Prince Imrahil was so terribly eager to hand over her dowry, he could just as well extend some credit to his ally, even if he would have to wait some years before he got paid back. That would serve him right, Lothiriel thought to herself.
She became aware of the fact that Éomer was still holding her hand and was giving her another intense look. It was surprising what magnetic force he could exude with just the one eye. The other one looked truly horrendous now and she cautiously extended a hand towards it.
"Have you seen a healer?"
He shrugged. "Not yet. I have survived worse."
"I'm sure you have," she replied tartly, "but if you don't have it seen to, it will take longer to heal. You just want me to feel guilty," she accused him half in jest.
"Of course," he agreed with a smile, "after all the official explanation of my black eye is that I got into a fight when somebody criticized your taste in gowns."
"What?" she exclaimed and then started to laugh. "You are terrible! Wait there!" she ordered him and gently freed her hand from his grasp. Lothiriel had just remembered the lotion that she had used on her own cuts and bruises earlier on and now went to fetch it from her bedroom.
The vial she brought back was tiny and Éomer gave it a dubious look.
"Are you sure you know what you are doing?" he asked.
"This oil is made from the roses of Imloth Melui and is very rare," she explained, "I have had good results with it whenever my brothers got into a fight."
"Are you a healer as well as an administrator then?"
"Not at all," she demurred, "but I perforce picked up some knowledge of the treatment of wounds during the war."
"Now hold still," she ordered him and stood on tiptoe to apply the rose oil to the swollen skin around his black eye. He winced when she first touched it, but obeyed her meekly.
His breath was warm against her hand and she was ridiculously conscious of how close she was to him. Taking a firm hold on her thoughts she sharply told herself that she had rendered this kind of aid many times before and to concentrate on what she was doing. A strand of his blond hair had fallen across his face and when she brushed it aside she was surprised how soft it was.
"There," she said when she had finished to her satisfaction, "If you like, you may take the vial with you when you leave tomorrow."
"Thank you," he replied, "are you so keen to see me go then?"
"That's not what I meant," she stammered, surprised by this unexpected accusation.
"It seems to me you are willing to do almost anything to get rid of me," he observed slowly.
Unnerved by his change of mood, Lothiriel wiped her sweaty palms against her dress.
"Like I explained before, it's nothing personal," she said defensively and took a step back, only to bump into her worktable. How had she ended up trapped between him and her desk?
"What if I choose to take it personally?"
His tone was so low it was almost a whisper. She licked her lips, trying to think of how to reply, when he abruptly crossed the remaining distance between them and pulled her into his arms.
"Éomer!" was all she managed to protest before he claimed her mouth in a possessive kiss that left her senses reeling. This onslaught was so utterly unlike the kind of polite and considerate behaviour she was used to from her other suitors that she was completely at a loss how to react. No man had ever dared to handle the daughter of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth in this rough way, crushing her against his chest and besieging her lips with his kisses. By the fireplace Anca was snoring softly instead of defending her mistress.
He deepened his kiss and Lothiriel felt as if a big wave had risen above her and was now sweeping her away in its wake, completely helpless. For a moment she debated struggling against it and then suddenly surrendered and let herself be carried away by it, drowning in the sensation of his hands moving up her back and burying themselves in her long hair, his clean male smell overlaid with the subtle scent of her oil, the hard muscles of his chest under her hands.
At first feeling clumsy and inexpert she nevertheless opened her lips to him and started to kiss him back as best as she knew, welcoming the unfamiliar rush of passion running like liquid fire through her veins, blazing, scalding, burning. It was a long time before Éomer finally broke off the kiss.
"Do you know," he said hoarsely, "I've been meaning to do this all day."
She took a deep breath of air and clutched at him wildly to keep from simply collapsing onto the floor. Although there was really no danger of that, he held her much too tightly.
"You have?" she asked in stupefaction. Herself, she had not known how much she ached to kiss him until a moment ago.
"Ever since I lost my temper with you this morning," he admitted.
Involuntarily she stiffened. "Is this supposed to punish me then?" she asked, feeling hurt by his words.
"Oh Lothiriel," he exclaimed, "Does it feel like punishment?"
"No," she was forced to admit.
"An honest answer from my lady love for once," he teased her, "Lothiriel…"
At that moment there was a loud knock on the door, causing both of them to jump guiltily. He did not let go of her, though.
"Éomer King?" somebody called from outside.
He gave a low curse in Rohirric under his breath. "It's Éothain, the captain of my guard," he explained to Lothiriel in an undertone.
"What is it?" he called.
"Prince Imrahil awaits us for the evening meal. Unless we hurry, we will be late," the rider said, "May I come in?"
"No," Éomer replied curtly, "Wait there. I'll be with you shortly."
He cupped her face between his hands, his calluses rough against the smooth skin of her cheeks.
"Lothiriel," he began hesitantly, "I wish I could stay longer, but I have to go now and tomorrow I'll be leaving at first light."
"I know," she nodded with a lump in her throat.
He cursed again softly. "There is so much to do in the Riddermark to get us through the winter, I don't think I'll be able to leave again until spring."
Spring? It seemed an eternity away. He gently stroked a thumb across her lips. "I want to do things properly this time, for I want a wife who will come to me full willingly. If I woo you again in the spring will your answer still be the same?"
"No," she said, "Yes. That is…" Lothiriel had never felt more confused in her life, but she had been brought up to be truthful, even if she had not lived up to it much the last few days.
"I think…no," she finally admitted and was rewarded by one of his blazing smiles that wrapped itself around her and insinuated itself into her brain until she could not think straight anymore. What had she just agreed to?
"I will hold you to it. Until spring then, my lady," he whispered.
Lothiriel remembered what Amrothos had said.
"Father promised to take me to Minas Tirith in March for the celebration of the victory over Sauron," she said hesitantly.
He gave one of his irresistible grins. "I should certainly be able to obtain an invitation to that from Aragorn. Your father mentioned something along those lines."
"My father?" She remembered the look the two men had exchanged in the study and a terrible suspicion suddenly crossed her mind. "Did he put you up to this? What else besides talking to me did he give you permission to do?"
Éomer took one look at her face and much to her annoyance started to laugh. "Oh Lothiriel," he gasped, "no, he didn't tell me to kiss you, that was entirely my own idea."
When she continued to frown at him he added, "I'm afraid you are just far too enticing, my Lady Princess."
With a deep breath Lothiriel let go of her resentment at Prince Imrahil's interfering ways. After all there existed more important matters, like the fact that Éomer would have to leave in another minute. Maybe her brother was right and she did not have to fight every battle that presented itself to her.
"Oh never mind," she said, winding her arms around his neck, "just do it again."
And the King of Rohan was happy to oblige with another very thorough kiss, taking his time with it as if he wanted to remember the taste and feel of her through the long cold winter months.
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.