10. The Tavern
Éomer walked fast, his long strides soon bringing him to the central part of the palace. He just hoped he could find the council room he needed. He had avoided the main corridor, working out that this one would take him in the right direction, not wanting to have to ask anyone the way. Luckily, he only met a few people and none of those he knew. The ones he had passed stopped and bowed. How they identified him he did not know but hopefully, with their heads down, they had not noticed. He would just have to brazen it out. There was no hope at all that Aragorn, Faramir, or Imrahil, not to mention various Gondorian nobles, would say nothing. Felcon had managed it of course: not a flicker of reaction had crossed his face when he had brought in the breakfast tray. Éomer wondered how long it took to learn to school one’s features into that totally dead pan expression. Perhaps the man let out a whoop of joy as he crossed the threshold to his own quarters or even lost his temper and threw the furniture around. Anything would surely be a welcome release from betraying no emotion to whatever the nobles of Gondor, or in this case a young king of a rough land to the North, did, said, or got themselves embroiled in.
He had no idea how to explain it when he got there but like in every other situation, the truth was best. Well, in this case perhaps an abridged version of the truth. That decided, he really must forget it and concentrate on what they had to talk about, although making anybody take him seriously would be the first hurdle. His first proper meeting as the new Lord of the Mark — definitely compromised now.
With some relief he thought recognised where he was. To the end, turn right out the door and across the courtyard. He had only gone a few more paces when a lady appeared from a side passage and started walking in his direction. Tall, with long black hair falling lose around her shoulders and, to him anyway, easily distinguishable. Hoping she had not yet noticed him he frantically looked around for escape but there were no more turnoffs and the only door stood between them. They would reach it together. He could hardly spin on his heel and go back the way he had come. Well, he would have to face her sometime. Holding his head high, he advanced towards her. His previous thoughts were now replaced by the nasty black one that had been plaguing him since the night before: was she now a betrothed woman?
“Éomer King, good morning,” she gave an elegant bob.
He bowed his head slightly knowing he was putting off the inevitable, “Princess Lothíriel. You are about early.” Éomer lifted his chin and allowed his gaze to lock with hers and watched, transfixed for a moment, as those wonderful grey eyes widened in surprise. Lothíriel of Dol Amroth clamped her lips together in yet another valiant effort not to laugh. It seemed that it was something she excelled at. Possibly because she appeared to see the funny side of everything.
He took a deep breath, wondering how he was going to explain this one to her: after all, inadvertently or not, she had been the cause of it.
The night before
Éomer picked up the piece of leather and stuck it between his teeth. Opening his hands wide, he put one each side of his face and slowly moved them backwards in unison trying to catch every strand of his unruly, and unfortunately rather recognisable, dark gold hair. Holding the thick mass together with one hand he retrieved the thong from his mouth and managed, after some considerable difficulty and a certain amount of bad language, to tie it tightly around his very clean shiny locks. It was much easier when his hair hadn’t been washed for weeks, which in the last few years had often been the way of things. He looked in the mirror: not so recognisable now. He stood still for a moment, angry with himself – he could almost hear the soft voice and see the sparkle of amusement in those grey eyes. ‘A Horselord with a pony tail.’
He sighed. He would have to get out of his foul mood: it would not be fair to his friends. A few jugs of ale and perhaps he would be able to forget that at this very moment Lothíriel was probably sitting down with Beren’s family. He would have to forget it as he could do nothing about it. In spite of what Erchirion had said, he could hardly go to Imrahil and ask for his daughter’s hand after meeting her only the day before. Well he could, but he didn’t want to. What he wanted to do was to get her alone so that he could talk to her and ask her to come to Edoras, but by the time he returned tonight it might already be too late. He knew he would be devastated. Why, he had been asking himself almost constantly, did he feel like this about her after so short a time? Shaking his head, he desperately tried to push the whole thing to the back of his mind. Some chance!
Éomer stared at his sword. He couldn’t take it. He could only wear it if he was leaving the city. Swords were not allowed to be worn inside the walls except by the guards. He already had one knife in his boot; he removed the dagger from his belt and stuck it down the other one. The warrior in him hated to go out, even to a tavern, totally unarmed.
At least the ponytail stopped all the bowing. He must just look like one of the many Rohirrim around, he thought ironically, as he headed down the main corridor. Hair scraped back, a leather tunic and a not too clean shirt made a simple disguise. Only, his Riders would be likely to recognise him tonight, especially once out in the city streets. A stray notion made him grin: the guards might not let him back in. It didn’t matter, as he could always sleep with Haldrad in the stable. He grinned again as he thought of the search party Felcon would instigate in the morning. Although the man had said nothing, Éomer had been aware of a slight stiffening of his shoulders when he found out where the King of Rohan intended going.
The grin was short lived as he passed two ladies with dark hair. They did not speak but he could feel their eyes on him. His mind immediately jumped back to Lothíriel and he cursed himself for his lack of disciplined thought. The only good thing was that he now felt that Erchirion would not make any more difficulties. In fact he gave the impression of being on his side. Not that that would mean anything if Imrahil had decided on the match with Beren. If only he could have had a private conversation with her today it might have helped. He didn’t even know, he realised, if she would be allowed any say in who she was to marry. Knowing her father, however, he could not believe that she would not. If she wanted to marry Beren, then he would have to accept it. He grimaced. He maybe used to dealing with hurt, but preferred not to have to do it again for quite some time.
Éothain and Aelfhere were waiting for him at the end of the lamp lit tunnel. Their faces broke into wide grins when they saw him coming.
“They let you out then!” Éothain joked as his king approached.
“He probably had to get out a window and scale down the wall,” Aelfhere clapped him on the back. His affection for his long time friend showed clearly in his eyes and it overrode any slight awkwardness that there could so easily have been, given Éomer’s new status.
Their new sovereign visibly relaxed. He did not want anything to change between the three of them. Aelfhere’s words took him immediately back to Aldburg: to a more carefree time when he had often exited the fortress in such a manner. The companionship of his friends and the call of the plains had, more than once, made his mother’s orders to study as ineffectual as the swipe of a twig against a stubborn mule.
“Where are we going then? The nearest place where they serve decent ale sounds good to me,” Éomer only knew the main way and he had only been up and down it a few times. The best taverns were usually tucked away in the back alleys.
“Aelfhere tells me he is an expert on the local hostelries. They were the first thing he explored when they chucked him out of the Houses of Healing,” Éothain told him.
“Lead on then, Aelfhere,” Éomer ordered with a laugh.
The three men started down the main way: Éomer and Éothain instinctively matching their pace to their friend on the crutch. However he managed surprisingly well, swinging the support out in front of him in a regular rhythm. They were soon down on the next level.
“There are some shortcuts,” Aelfhere remarked, “but they involve lots of steps so it’s quicker for me to keep to the road.”
The City heaved with people, soldiers and citizens mixed happily. As they descended, the street became almost impassable. Blond heads were very prominent amongst the varying shades of dark ones. Nobody took any notice of them. The merchants of Gondor were taking full advantage of the party atmosphere that had resulted from the defeat of Sauron and the coronation. With all the visitors in Minas Tirith stalls, selling every kind of food imaginable, had been set up and lined the road. Under other circumstances Éomer would have liked to look at the unusual fare on offer; well, not the things with more than four legs, but there was other stuff. At the moment though, he felt more than adequately nourished and more importantly, ale beckoned. However, a bit further down he just had to stop by one stall that was surrounded by people, eating something as yet unidentifiable and then spitting into a waste receptacle. The stall held a dozen or so wooden barrels some filled with small green, almost spherical, objects and others containing similar things in a variety of colours from a pale mauve to black. Some customers were taking large portions away in containers but other revellers were buying small amounts, which were given to them on a thin flatbread. The objects were wet, Éomer noticed, almost oily, but the purchasers seemed to be using the bread to soak up the juice and were then eating it when all the things on it had been consumed.
“They’re olives,” Aelfhere announced, seeing his interest. “They are very bitter. I reckon they are an acquired taste.”
Éomer made a face. “Like a lot of food they eat down here,” he muttered.
“You have to spit the stones out,” Aelfhere commented rather unnecessarily considering they were surrounded by people doing just that.
A bit further down he stopped again. The stall that took his interest this time held baskets, and gave out a definite fishy stink. All the customers had dark hair. That didn’t surprise him. “Aelfhere,” he whispered so as not to offend anybody, “please tell me my eyes are deceiving me – it looks like they are eating snails.” He was sure the patrons were delving into mollusc shells with long bone pins. They were. He watched incredulously, as they winkled out the ‘body’ and then sucked it off the end of the pin. Ugh - it turned his stomach.
Aelfhere pulled a face, “They are some kind of shellfish. I think those big ones are called whelks and there are lots of different kinds of smaller ones. Some soldiers from Dol Amroth brought a whole basket into the Healing Houses for their friends. They stank the place out. I couldn’t face trying one.”
Éomer swore under his breath. He’d forgotten her for a moment – now it was all back again. Great Béma, what if she liked them. He tried to imagine those lovely lips sucking a snail body – whatever they were called they looked like snails – off a piece of bone. Not surprisingly his imagination failed on that particular manoeuvre. Surely she couldn’t – wouldn’t. It was better to linger on just lips. Cherry red lips that so easily broke into a smile or a grin. He started to wonder, for the umpteenth time in less than forty-eight hours, what they would feel like pressed against his own…
“Come on you two,” Éothain’s voice broke his spell. “If I don’t get a drink soon I am going to be one very bad tempered man.”
“A drink won’t help,” Aelfhere threw back at him immediately, “at least it never has up to now.”
“Éothain’s right,” Éomer managed a chuckle. “How much farther is it, Aelfhere?”
“An alley goes off just around the next corner. It’s not far.”
They turned off the main street and immediately the press of people lessened. Aelfhere led them along the alley with the confidence of a man who knew where he was going. He took a left and a right turn and they found themselves in the courtyard of a hospitable looking tavern. Éomer looked up to the sign hanging above him – The Singing Stonemason - it seemed appropriate for a city like Minas Tirith. The masons would surely be singing as they would never be out of a job. He followed the other two into the courtyard; reasonably large and filled with round wooden tables. Barrels had been pressed into service as seats, about half of which were taken. The drinkers outside were generally talking quietly to each other but emitting from inside were more raucous sounds of laughter and shouting.
“Do you want to go in, Éomer or sit out here?” Aelfhere asked.
“Let’s sit outside for a bit and talk. We can go and join in when we’ve had a few jugs.”
They made to sit down just as a harassed looking man appeared from within carrying a lighted taper. He lit the lamp nearest to them before addressing his latest customers, “Is it jugs of my best ale you’re after, my Lords?”
Éomer opened his mouth to protest at the salutation but the man laughed. “Oh, you can’t fool me. I’ve been doing this too long. Though I doubt anyone else will notice.”
“Good,” Éothain remarked curtly, “and they will notice even less when we’ve got a great tankard in front of our faces.”
“Coming right up,” the man chucked, lighting two more lamps on the way back inside.
“It must be you,” Aelfhere grinned at Éomer. “He’s never called me, lord before.”
“I can understand that,” Éothain retorted, deadpan. “But Aelfhere’s right,” he turned and looked Éomer up and down, “It’s your fault: somebody’s polished your tunic.”
Éomer gave a mock groan, at least going out with these two kept his feet firmly on the ground. He sat down on the nearest barrel, which luckily had a post behind it, enabling him to lean back and stretch his long legs out under the table. It was good to get away from the Palace, even though he had only been there two days. It was formal with Aragorn in charge; it must have been dreadful before.
The other two men drew up some seats, smiles crossing their faces as a roar came from somewhere inside and the general noise level increased somewhat.
“It’s lively in there tonight,” Aelfhere remarked as another jeer reached them.
“It certainly is. There will be trouble before the nights over. You mark my words.” The landlord had appeared at their table carrying a tray which held three tall pewter tankards, overflowing with frothy ale and a large jug suffering from the same indulgence.
“What’s going on then?” Éothain asked just before he raised his tankard to his friends.
The landlord waited until all three had taken a long draught. He must have known thirsty men when he saw them. “There’s a whole group of your lads in there and some of our lot are giving them grief.” He shook his head, “It’s always women at the bottom of it.”
“Women?” Aelfhere showed immediate interest.
“Yes, it seems the ladies in the city are enjoying the novelty of fair hair. Our boys reckon they’re not getting a look in.”
“Can’t fault that,” Éothain remarked in his usual pokerfaced way.
“No, I suppose you can’t,” the landlord agreed, “and it’s reasonably good humoured at the moment.” He shook his head again and added with the voice of one who was long experienced in his trade, “An hour or so from now it could be very different.”
“It might be good,” Aelfhere remarked after the landlord had disappeared again, “I haven’t had a good fight in ages.”
Éomer nearly choked on his ale. Losing a bit of leg was not going to slow up one particular Rohír.
“Aelfhere,” Éothain looked as if he was about to chastise an unruly child, “bringing our king out for a night in the city is one thing. Getting him involved in a tavern brawl is quite another.”
“He doesn’t have to join in.”
There was a split seconds silence before all three of them broke into laughter. They had been together for too long without all being aware that it would be impossible for one of them to be involved in any kind of fight without the others giving a helping hand.
Éomer looked between his two soul mates, cherishing a friendship made as children which had survived hardship, accusations of treason, battle and war. Maybe it was because they had quite different personalities that they got on so well, he mused. A strange thing – attraction between different people …he stopped himself realising he was drifting again and would soon be going somewhere he wanted to stay away from – at least for tonight. He tried to concentrate on Aelfhere who had started discussing possible replacements for his dead warhorse, Shield. In spite of Éothain’s suggestion that he took over a fully trained one, Aelfhere, totally adamant, insisted he wanted one to bring on himself and that he was perfectly capable of managing a lively youngster. Éomer thought he probably was. If anyone showed the true resilience of his kinsmen, then it was this man. No wonder the Riddermark had survived through all that had happened these past few years and their new king would do his damned best to make sure that the future was more than just a fight for survival.
“Éomer, what’s up? Are the responsibilities weighing so heavy on you that you are off your drink?” Aelfhere’s voice broke into his reverie.
He looked up to see both his friends watching him with sardonic expressions on their faces. He picked up his tankard and drained it in one draught. “Nothing’s up,” he replied holding out the mug to be refilled from the jug.
“Well, you are not yourself,” Aelfhere continued as Éothain grabbed a passing serving boy and shoved the empty vessel in his hand. “Mind you, I am not surprised. It’s bad enough living in the city amongst all this stone. Living up there in the Palace with all that cold shiny marble would give me the jitters.”
“It’s not too bad,” Éomer couldn’t help grinning, “and it is only for another few days.” He took another long draught to try and show all was well but was not at all surprised when Éothain took a long calculating look at him and announced in a totally confident way.
“I know what is bothering our regal friend, and it’s nothing to do with cold marble. It’s a woman.”
“Is she cold as well, then?” Aelfhere immediately asked with a smirk. “Is that what the trouble is?”
“I doubt he’s had time to find out, yet.” Éothain answered him with considerable enjoyment.
Éomer ground his teeth and kept quiet. He knew from past experience that if he reacted they would keep up the ribbing for longer.
Aelfhere looked at him with mock incredulity plastered over his naturally jovial features. “Surely you’ve tried the five word test. It’s never failed.”
Éomer gave in. He groaned aloud. “Go on then. What is the five word test?”
“You’re asking me, when I’ve seen you use it so often?” Aelfhere stopped as the jug came back. The lad placed it down in front of them, miraculously without spilling much more than a few drops. As soon has he had gone, the irrepressible Rohír sat forward and propped his elbows on the wooden table He stared straight at his king with an expression of supreme innocence.
“You know. You put your arm around them, give their waist a squeeze and then putting on one of those seductive Rohirric accents you whisper quietly in their ear …” he waited for effect. “ ‘Do you or don’t you?’”
He couldn’t help himself: he started laughing. He knew he had been right to come out with these two. As soon as he had finished chuckling Éomer sunk the rest of the ale in his mug. Thankfully starting to enjoy himself. His contentment was short lived, however, as Éothain put his tankard heavily down on the table and spoke severely to Aelfhere with just the faintest quiver of mirth evident on his lips.
“I do not think that it would be appropriate to address her Highness the Princess of Dol Amroth in that manner.”
Éomer closed his eyes. How could he have even have thought for the briefest moment that Éothain would not have known? The only consolation was that when he opened them again the look of concern on Aelfhere’s face was priceless. It mirrored the look of a mother whose young son was taking his first riding lesson – on a warg.
“Éomer,” he said seriously, “are we talking about Prince Imrahil’s daughter?”
Éomer knew it was no use pretending so he just nodded.
“The one with those two warrior brothers?”
“That Prince Erchirion who took on one of those troll monsters.”
He nodded again
“And that younger one, what his name? It begins with Am…”
“Yes, that’s it. The lad in the next bed to me was in his Company. He said he watched him hack his way through at least a dozen Southrons, single handed.”
“Without a doubt.”
“Well, if I might say so. I don’t think even you could manage both of them at once. One at a time of course,” Aelfhere shook his head sagely, “but not together.”
“No, I think you’re right there.” He glanced at Éothain who was having great difficulty in keeping his usual composed expression.
Aelfhere looked down at the table as if to collect his thoughts and then back up to his king, “Éomer, I know you can get away with a lot of things now, but I really would not advise you to mess with that particular lady.”
Éomer took a deep breath of consideration. If he hinted at his feelings to these two then he might well be in for another ribbing but he knew without a doubt that it would go no further. Also if they thought he was even considering her as a wife, then all the rude innuendos would immediately stop. The brief pause for thought allowed tankards to be refilled and the jug to be despatched for replenishing. When they were settled again, wiping froth from their beards, he looked briefly between the two of them and said distinctly, “I am not just messing with her. Nor do I have any attention of doing so. I think I am serious.”
It was worth it for the enjoyment of watching the passage of conflicting emotions cross two very different faces as his companions took in the significance of his statement.
“I am not surprised,” Éothain remarked thoughtfully, “I did wonder when I saw you do all that dancing.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Aelfhere agreed. “It should have been a dead give away. I am amazed I didn’t notice.”
“It must have had something to do with all that free wine on offer,” Éothain stated blandly, earning himself a couple of grins.
That did not distract Aelfhere for long and he quickly got back to the main subject. “I hope you are not just considering the political benefit to the Riddermark, Éomer. I know you will do your duty, but you don’t have to go as far as to marry some stuck up, prissy Gondorian.”
Éomer opened his mouth to protest but there was a loud splutter from Éothain, “Aelfhere, you must have had your head in the wine barrel. Didn’t you see her?”
“No. I saw him dancing with someone with black hair but she had her back to me.”
“Well, I got a close look when we went for a ride this morning. I don’t think he would be actually sacrificing himself...far from it. In fact….”
“When you two have quite finished discussing me…and Princess Lothíriel you…”
It was no good. He had opened his mouth and now they were unlikely to leave it alone, he realised, as Aelfhere interrupted him.
“Queen Lothíriel … Lothíriel Queen! Hmm… it has a certain ring. What does she think of the idea of moving to Rohan?”
“Aelfhere,” he said with more than a little exasperation, “I met her yesterday. I do not know what she feels.”
“It’s pretty obvious what she feels to me,” Éothain interjected. “I reckon it’s easier to tell here than at home.”
“How do you work that one out?” Éomer asked, rather mystified. Things were much more straightforward back in the Mark. Aelfhere was right – mostly they did or they didn’t.
“Well, with our women you can ask and they might tell you the truth or not, play you along a bit. Or you can make a move and risk getting a belt round the ear. But here they give you clues.”
“Oh yes, I was told all about it … one night at Cormallen when I shared a few ales with some of King Elessar’s new guard.”
“Go on then,” two voices spoke together.
“Well, we are talking about the ladies here of course. I imagine the others are much the same as anywhere else, but the ladies are a different matter – there are unspoken rules.”
“Rules?” Fascinated, Éomer waited for clarification.
“She would not have had the first dance with you if she wasn’t interested in you, but there’s other ways of telling. Take that dance when you had you arm around her waist a lot. She wouldn’t have promised you that one unless she at least liked you, see. She would have suggested a different one.”
Éomer didn’t know whether to be more surprised that Éothain had taken so much notice of what dances he had participated in, maybe he was taking his new role too seriously, or that he had retained such trivial information. Then a thought hit him causing him to draw his legs in and sit up straight: Lothíriel herself had suggested both those dances.
“So what you’re saying, Éothain is that we know that she is at least considering being made a Queen because of the type of dances she allowed him.” Aelfhere eyes drew together; he seemed to find difficulty in following the logic behind Éothain’s pronouncement. Éomer couldn’t blame him and in spite of a momentary lift of spirits felt obliged to add.
“I think we will find that she was just being polite to a friend of her father’s.”
“Well you were a long time when you took her outside.”
Éomer stared at his friend, the now captain of his guard. Béma, he was definitely going to have to curb this over zealousness or privacy would be at a real premium. “Éothain, I spoke to her for a few moments before Amrothos came along and then I escorted her to the Guest Wing of the palace. With her brother and Nienna in tow,” he felt it important to make that clear.
“There you are then,” Éothain’s voice betrayed complete satisfaction. “She would not have let you do something so significant as to escort her to her quarters out of politeness.”
“So, we can look forward to a new Queen and the all fun and celebrations that will accompany a royal wedding, can we?” Aelfhere sounded as if he was already anticipating the surfeit of food and drink.
“Théoden King is not yet buried,” Éomer stated firmly, “and there is unlikely to be enough provisions or are our people liable to have the inclination for a royal wedding for quite some time. Anyway,” he carried on not realising that his voice was just slightly betraying his feelings, “Princess Lothíriel is much more likely to become the Lady of Lebennin than the Queen of the Mark.”
“I think your wrong there,” Éothain remarked in his thoughtful way, “I think a royal wedding is just what they would enjoy and probably what they need…”
“Hang on, hang on,” Aelfhere butted in, “what’s this about her becoming the Lady of Lebennin?”
“At this very moment she is dining with Beren and his parents. According to Erchirion, Beren’s father is determined to marry them off and will probably try to make Imrahil agree tonight. He wants the alliance with Belfalas.” Éomer tried to keep his voice neutral but it didn’t stop indignant expressions crossing his friend’s faces.
“And what does the lady think about that?” Aelfhere asked obviously affronted. “Surely she wouldn’t,” he looked at Éothain with some disbelief, “have given those clues if she wanted to marry Lord Beren.”
“I don’t really know what she thinks as I have never had the opportunity to ask her. According to Erchirion, however, they are just friends but Beren is likely to do what his father tells him to.”
“What are you going to do about it then?” Aelfhere asked sharply, looking as if he expected his king to rush back up the hill and seek them out, collecting his sword on the way.
“I am not going to do anything. It is no good trying to change something one has no control over.” Éomer replied without so much as a tremor showing.
“You don’t fool me,” Éothain spoke for the first time for a while. “You are obviously just like your father. It is well known that once he made up his mind, no one else would do.”
It was probably mutual between his parents, Éomer thought bleakly, as his mother had died of grief. He pushed the thought away. He would have to stop this conversation, now. That particular thought lifted him slightly: it would be like stopping a fully grown Mûmak with a toy sword.
“What I don’t understand,” Aelfhere said, looking a bit perplexed, “is if you’ve got it bad, and it sounds as though you have, why didn’t you go and see Prince Imrahil before she went to this dinner? That’s how they do it here.”
Éothain let out a deep sigh, “Because he didn’t want to use his rank. That must be obvious even to you, Aelfhere.”
“Why not? What’s the use of having it, if you can’t use it?” He grinned suddenly, “I shall make full use of my new position and my war wounds when we get home. Falhwyn won’t be able to resist me.”
“For some reason, that I find difficult to comprehend, she has never been able to resist you. It’s about time you stopped sneaking around after dark and made an honest woman of her,” Éothain muttered irritably.
“And have her mother live with us? No thanks! She boils stuff in a cauldron,” Aelfhere shuddered.
“She makes potions for the healers,” Éothain explained patiently.
Éomer suddenly thought of a way of removing the focus from himself, “Aelfhere, you could leave her mother in the cottage and you and Falhwyn could move into Meduseld. There will be some spare quarters going and with you one of my guard…”
It didn’t work as Aelfhere refused to be distracted from the issue at hand. “We can talk about that later, I still want to know what you are going to do about this Princess. If you want her and she would make a good queen, then we can’t let Lebennin have her.”
Éomer couldn’t stop the laughter; his friend sometimes had a very simplistic view of life. He wondered briefly if, just for fun, he should suggest they kidnapped her. Aelfhere would no doubt be up for it. Éothain beat him to it.
“I don’t see what he can do if Prince Imrahil agrees tonight. Unless we kidnap her.”
Éomer stopped laughing and stared at his normally pragmatic friend but before he could say anything there was a loud crash from inside and the unmistakeable sounds of a scuffle. All three of them turned towards the Tavern door to see the landlord hurrying out towards them. At the same time the other party in the courtyard, who had been drinking quietly all night, sensibly exited into the street.
“I knew there would be trouble, my Lords. Your lads are totally outnumbered. A group from Lebennin came in the back way. He jerked his head towards the rear of the building, “They were spoiling for a fight.”
“Lebennin, eh.” The two Rohír rose in unison. Aelfhere making a grab for his crutch.
“Now, you two,” Éomer knew it was useless before he even opened his mouth. He could try a direct order but, well, it sounded as if his kinsmen needed a hand.
“You stay here,” Éothain put his hand on his shoulder.
“Not likely, come on.”
“Éomer, you can’t.” Éothain looked like he was about to bar his way.
“Yes I can, and we had better go now,” Éomer jerked his chin in the direction of the door. Éothain turned to see Aelfhere disappearing inside. He let out a vehement expletive.
“Oh, Morgoth’s Balls! What does he think he’s doing? He could have least have waited for me.”
Éothain got to the door first, as Éomer had to negotiate the pillar. The stocky captain had to stand aside a moment as two men lurched out, both clutching their heads. Éothain pushed them out of the way and all but launched himself into the building. Éomer followed, vaguely acknowledging that he should not be doing this. But rational thought had been lost somewhere at the bottom of a large jug.
The first thing he noticed when he entered the main room, other than a mass of men knocking the stuffing out of each other, was that the lamps lighting it were high up and wooden shutters had already been pulled down over the bar area. The tavern obviously well used to this, Éomer decided, as he stumbled against a sand filled barrel. No chairs here. It would be a strong man indeed, who threw these makeshift seats around.
He grabbed the nearest two Gondorians who were trying to dodge the lethal weapon that Aelfhere wielded. The Rohír stood near the door with his left arm circling a pillar for support. In his right one he was holding his crutch and using it as both a stave and a sword: side swiping every black-haired head in range and then jabbing the resulting unprotected stomachs.
Éomer knocked his captives’ heads together and threw them out into the courtyard. “It will be easy. Belt all those with dark hair,” Éothain shouted before disappearing into the mêlée at the other side of the large room where Éomer could see blond heads amongst a sea of black. He stayed near Aelfhere, concerned that his friend may have overestimated his strength after loosing part of a limb. He need not have worried. Only his prop looked likely to get hurt. Éomer contented himself with removing as many reeling bodies from the fray as he possibly could. Slowly an empty space spread around Aelfhere and when he was sure his friend could manage - did he ever doubt it - he crossed the room to join Éothain
The captain was using his fists rather like a battering ram: if you kept going long enough then something would give. In this case it was about six men who were pole-axed at his feet. Éomer picked up a couple who looked as if they might be getting up for another round and shoved them towards the rear door. Kicking them outside he headed back to the main fracas. The odds there were now even, but hearing something slightly behind him, he turned.
He didn’t, or at least he wasn’t quick enough, he was hit hard, just to the side of his eye. Luckily the force of it pushed him backwards, bowling over the man about to knock him over the head with a large jug….
“I am glad to be able to provide amusement, my Lady.” He found himself grinning: she had lost her battle with laughter and her mirth proved infectious.
“I supposed you walked into a door. That is what my brothers always say.” She was struggling to stop her laughter erupting again.
“No, I walked into a crutch.”
“My friend Aelfhere. I did not duck in time. But it was probably better than a blow on the head by a heavy pottery jug. So I will forgive him.”
“Oh,” her laughter was replaced by concern. “That would be painful. It’s a good job it missed your eye.” As she spoke she moved towards him her hand outstretched. She touched the livid bruise with delicate fingers. Éomer stood stock still – her face was inches from his and, besides the wonderful scent of her, he was aware of the extreme smoothness and the velvet bloom of her skin. She stepped back and he exhaled deeply.
“Do you have any salve for it?”
He shook his head, “Felcon offered to get some, but I didn’t have time.”
“I will get something for you. There is one that will help to disguise it a bit. I will pass it to Éowyn.”
Éomer groaned at the thought of what Éowyn would say. “You sound used to this.”
Lothíriel raised an elegant eyebrow. “I have three brothers. And believe me, the taverns of Minas Tirith are nothing compared with those around the port at Dol Amroth.”
He grinned. “Well, I imagine it will be a while before I am allowed in a tavern again.”
“Were you recognised?”
“Unfortunately Aelfhere shouted my name. But Éothain threatened everyone to silence.” he shrugged, “if it gets out I can live with it.”
“Well I hope it was all worth it and you had a good evening with your friends.”
“I did and it was. How about you, Lothíriel, did you enjoy yourself?” He wasn’t sure why he felt brave enough to ask. Except that when something unpleasant had to be faced then the sooner it was behind you the sooner one could move on.
“A very pleasant evening but…” she hesitated for a few long heartbeats, “certain expectations were not…”
“What’s my favourite cousin doing around so early?” Faramir clasped Lothíriel around the waist and planted a kiss on her cheek. “Good morning, Éomer King.
He had crept up on them, as only a Ranger could creep. Éomer fleetingly wondered if the man had done it deliberately but admitted that the fault was probably his. Being somewhat distracted.
“Ah…!” Faramir had noticed his black eye. “You had a good evening then?”
He could give Felcon a run for his money when it came to bland expressions, was Éomer’s next thought. But then he noticed the twinkle deep in the Stewards steel grey eyes and he grinned.
“Lothíriel has offered to find me some camouflage. I don’t want my reputation to suffer more than absolutely necessary. Most think us barbarians already.” he chuckled.
“Nobody who knows you would think that.” Lothíriel’s voice sounded very indignant.
“There, you have an ally in my lovely cousin,” Faramir winked at him. “Come on, we will be late. I am looking forward to seeing some of their faces.”
Éomer followed Faramir down the corridor, halfway to the end he glanced back. She was still standing where they had left her. Staring straight at him.
To be continued.
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.