11. Emerald Eyes
Eyes like emeralds, shining bright,
Teeth like pearls, that catch the light,
Hair like onyx, midnight fall,
Smile like diamonds, captures all.
(Anonymous admirer: Paean to Lady Wilwarin)
Lothíriel certainly didn't lack for partners. Éomer watched with amusement as a Gondorian lord, a friend of Elphir's, forestalled Cadda from taking a turn on the dance floor with her. Like himself, the bard did not usually show any interest in dancing, but he seemed to take a kind interest in Lothíriel.
Éomer had partnered her for the traditional opening dance, but had then thankfully retired to the sidelines to enjoy a glass of wine, talk to his friends and watch the ladies. Being the nephew of the King of the Mark, he had been obliged to master Gondorian dances, but had never truly enjoyed doing so. However, since tonight they celebrated Éowyn's betrothal, there should also be some Rohirric dances performed later on. These were rather more energetic affairs and he looked forward to them - with the right partner.
"Well, Éomer," Faramir said next to him, following his glance, "Now that you've met my cousin, let me give you some advice: don't let her foist any animals on you."
Éomer groaned when he saw the other man's evil grin. "You've heard," he said. It was a statement, not a question.
Faramir laughed. "Éowyn told me all about it, but I have to admit the speed at which this happened surprised even me. I thought I'd be able to give you ample warning."
Éomer shrugged. "Against some things, warnings are in vain anyway."
"When that mood takes her, Lothíriel does resemble a force of nature," Faramir agreed. They exchanged a rueful grin.
Two lines of dancers had formed now and as the stately cadences of a Gondorian court dance filled the hall, the men bowed and the ladies curtsied. Briefly, there was some confusion when Lothíriel couldn't find her assigned place. Éomer would have started forward, but Faramir put a restraining hand on his arm.
Half a dozen men leapt to her aid, amongst them both her brothers. Éomer caught a quick glimpse of Lady Annarima, looking annoyed at being abandoned by her husband like that. Then Lothíriel was shown her place and the dance could continue.
Faramir laughed. "You see, where other women collect admirers, my cousin collects champions."
Éomer watched with interest as the princess executed the complicated dance steps with neat precision.
"How does she do it?" he asked, intrigued.
Faramir took a sip from his glass and watched his cousin thoughtfully. "Sheer determination, I think. I remember when for a while everybody played a board game from the south called Shah. She did not rest until she was able to beat all her brothers at it. The same with dancing, Lothíriel used to spend hours and hours practicing, determined to please her father. She knows the steps by heart and she just expects you to be in the right place - so that's where you'd better be."
Éomer nodded. When dancing with him, the princess had seemed completely relaxed, trusting him to make sure they would not collide with any of the other dancers. He wondered if she would like Rohirric dances, in which you held your partner round the waist and whirled around the dance floor with her.
Faramir swirled the wine round in his glass, staring down at it. "I hope Lothíriel will be able to stay in Minas Tirith for a while. Who knows, she might even meet someone and settle down here."
Éomer raised an eyebrow. "Isn't she rather young for that?"
"Yes and no. The thing is, her family underrates her. I believe she would be quite capable of running a small household if she married some minor lord. Down in Dol Amroth, she reminded me of a bird kept in a gilded cage."
"Ah! So Éowyn asking her to be her witness was your idea?"
"I went on a visit down to Dol Amroth last winter," Faramir explained. "Lothíriel spoke of her wish to come to Minas Tirith, but Imrahil proved adamant about not letting her come."
He shot Éomer a grin. "However, your sister's prestige carried all before her."
Éomer grinned back. The reverence, bordering on awe, that Éowyn was held here in Gondor never failed to amuse him. Slayer of the Witch King or not, he had seen her looking dirty and grubby too many times when a child for him to think of her as anything but his little sister.
"The horse was Éowyn's idea, though," Faramir added. "I didn't know about it, or I would have warned you. On a horse Lothíriel is absolutely fearless, even after all that has happened."
Éomer hesitated a moment, but then his curiosity got the better of him. "What did happen? She mentioned an accident."
Faramir's face darkened. "Yes, eight years ago, here in Minas Tirith. I suppose in a way it all began with her mother's death. Beruthiel was so light-hearted and beautiful, and when she died of a fever..." He sighed. "For a while Imrahil seemed to go away. Here in body, but not in spirit. It's difficult to describe."
"I know what you mean," Éomer interrupted him. Too well did he remember his mother's grief at his father's death. She had just faded away, unwilling or unable to fight the illness that finally claimed her life.
"Lothíriel went wild with grief, getting more and more reckless and not listening to anybody," Faramir went on. "Then one day Amrothos challenged her to a race on the Pelennor, and she took it in her head to ride Tempest, Imrahil's warhorse." He stopped.
"I was away on patrol at the time. But from what I heard, the horse got into a fight with another stallion over a mare. He threw Lothíriel and she hit her head against a rock. At first the healers thought she had just broken an arm and a couple of her ribs, but when she regained consciousness she had lost her sight. Nobody knows why." He frowned. "The guards at the gate should have stopped her, of course, but she charmed her way past them. My uncle was furious with them and with the stable boys, Amrothos, the stallion...he had Tempest put down, you know."
Faramir sighed. "Lothiriel cried her eyes out when she heard of it and refused to speak to her father for a long time afterwards. I think most of all Imrahil was furious with himself. But at least that brought him back. And then of course we had all that trouble with the Haradrim as well." He bit his lip as if he'd said more than he had intended to.
"What have the Haradrim got to do with it?"
Faramir hesitated. "You have to understand, those were desperate times. My father hoped to forge an alliance with Harad and had offered their king a suitable bride for one of his sons..."
Éomer couldn't believe his ears. "Lothíriel? Surely she didn't give her consent to that? Why, she couldn't have been older than twelve years anyway!" He forced himself to relax his hands that had involuntarily curled into fists.
"The marriage wouldn't have been consummated straight away," Faramir said defensively and then shook his head. "You are right. I don't know why I'm still trying to justify my father's actions. I suppose the plan arose out of his growing desperation, only he could not offer a blind princess to the Haradrim as a suitable bride. When Imrahil found out about it, he quarrelled with my father and took Lothíriel home to Dol Amroth, swearing she would never return to Minas Tirith."
The sight of his sister laughing with Arwen caught Éomer's eye. Would he have sacrificed Éowyn to buy peace with the Dunlendings? He did not have to think about the answer to that for a single moment. Did the fact that he would rather fight them to the last man than sell her into that kind of slavery make him a lesser king? He thought not.
"Does Lothíriel know about it?" he asked.
"I don't think she did at the time." Faramir shrugged. "But I'm sure she heard all the gossip about it afterwards."
Éomer shook his head in disbelief. "Surely Imrahil wouldn't have gone along with that plan?"
"With a treaty signed and when breaking it might mean war with the Haradrim? Or worse, strife within Gondor itself - I don't know." Éomer saw Faramir's fingers tighten around the stem of his glass until they were white. "That's what my father counted on, you know. For the good of Gondor, he used everyone harshly and himself most harshly of all. In a way Lothíriel was lucky that day."
Lucky? These Gondorians had a strange idea of luck.
"Oh, dear!" a woman exclaimed softly behind him at that moment and Éomer whirled round, old instincts once more coming to the fore.
It was no enemy behind him, though, but Lady Wilwarin. When she spotted him, she gave him a beseeching look.
"Oh, my Lord King, would you be so kind as to help me?"
She had caught her dress on the leg of one of the chairs provided for the elderly guests, but Éomer freed it without any problems. A brilliant smile rewarded him.
"Thank you so much for coming to my rescue," Lady Wilwarin said. A little fan dangled from her wrist and now she opened it and fanned herself. "It's just so hot in here, don't you agree? I thought to go for a stroll in the garden." She shot him an inviting look out the side of her eyes.
By his side, Faramir coughed. "I think Éowyn wants me," he excused himself with an amused glance at the two of them.
Éomer stepped forward and offered Lady Wilwarin his arm. "May I accompany you?"
A slight shake of his head at his guards kept them from following him out the hall. After all, he was well able to look after himself.
They left by of the small side doors spaced at even intervals all along the side of the hall. Outside, dozens of small, colourful lamps dotted the gardens of the Citadel and they were not the only ones to stroll along the paved paths leading between flowerbeds and low bushes. When Éomer had ridden up from their camp, he had noticed clouds building up over the mountains to the west, but for the moment the air was balmy and still.
"Shall we go for a walk along the wall? Lady Wilwarin suggested.
Éomer assented and they took one of the smaller paths that led to a flight of stairs hewn into the stone of the big wall encircling the Citadel. The stairs were uneven and at one point Lady Wilwarin stumbled and had to hold on tight to his arm.
"How clumsy of me!" she laughed.
He took hold of her elbow and helped her up the last steps. "Not at all," he reassured her. The flimsy silk of her sleeves brushed against his fingers.
A low parapet ran the whole length of the wall walk, and leaning against it, they enjoyed a sweeping view of the Pelennor and beyond that, of the Anduin glittering like a ribbon of liquid silver in the moonlight.
He stole a glance at the woman beside him. An exquisite profile: gently arched brows, small straight nose, dainty chin and lips curved in a charming smile. She took a deep breath and the emerald pendant resting on her flawless, white skin sparkled in the muted light.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she asked.
"Yes," he agreed, not so much thinking of the view, however.
A small smile seemed to play around her lips. "Is it possible to see your camp from here?"
Éomer pointed out the road leading from the main gate towards the northern gate of the Rammas Echor. "It's along that road there. You can see a circle of campfires."
She took hold of his arm again, stood on tiptoe and leant closer to him, to get a better bearing. Her dress brushed against his legs. "Ah yes, I think I can see it!"
She smiled at him. "What a warm reception we got at your camp today. Marshall Elfhelm told me such interesting stories about the history of Rohan."
Éomer had wondered what they had talked about at such length. "You are interested in that kind of thing?"
"Oh, I'm not a scholar of any sort," Lady Wilwarin laughed. "I'm afraid, I'm not clever enough, I leave that to the men. But you must be proud of the noble house you hail from."
The House of Eorl, he thought, and he the last descendant. With an elegant gesture of her hand she indicated the fields stretching below them. "Minas Tirith would have fallen to the Enemy if it hadn't been for you, riding to our rescue." She looked up at him, her large, green eyes filled with admiration. "I will always be grateful to you and your countrymen."
Remembering the battle and the price he had paid that day, Éomer looked away. "We only fulfilled our vows."
"You only saved Minas Tirith, you only defeated Sauron..."
She seemed to be determined to make a hero out of him. Éomer shook his head. "We didn't."
For a moment Lady Wilwarin looked taken aback. "What do you mean, you didn't?"
"Frodo the Halfling defeated Sauron. We were nothing but bait really, to distract the Enemy. Fortunately for us, Frodo destroyed the Ring before the jaws of the trap had quite shut on us."
"Oh!" She turned to look back out over the Pelennor. Hundreds of campfires dotted the black expanse of the fields below, mirroring the stars in the sky above them.
"They say the view from your ancestral seat, Edoras, is magnificent, too," Lady Wilwarin took up the conversation again after a brief pause.
Éomer considered this for a moment. "That's true. To the south you have the Ered Nimrais, the White Mountains, and to the north our grasslands extend as far as you can see. And the wind..." All of a sudden, he felt stifled by the still air around them and thought with longing of the clean, cold mountain air of home.
She sighed. "How well you describe your homeland. I wish I could come and see it."
"Perhaps one day you will?"
A sudden silence stretched between them, giving his polite words more significance than he had intended.
"Perhaps," she agreed softly. She lifted her face up to him, her lips parted very slightly, and the air was so calm, he could detect the delicate, musky scent of her perfume. She stood very close to him. The world seemed to narrow to this space and point in time.
A burst of raucous laughter issued from the garden behind them, breaking the spell. Éomer took a step back and looked round. A group of young noblemen had gathered around one of the small fountains scattered across the garden. One of them had just been dunked in the water and swore violently while the others stood around him and laughed.
Éomer turned to Lady Wilwarin. "Shall we go back?" he suggested. The language used by the hapless victim could only be considered unsuitable for the delicate ears of a lady.
She lowered her eyes and agreed in a soft voice, but for a moment it seemed to Éomer that a flash of rage flickered across her face. He shook his head. Surely he was imagining things.
They walked along the wall, to where another flight of stairs led down to the back entrance of Merethrond. Just as they were about to enter the hall past the big double doors, Éomer looked back over his shoulder. The group of young noblemen had moved on, but it seemed to him he caught a glimpse of someone in a light coloured dress strolling down the main path towards that end of the garden. Something about the slightly built figure seemed familiar. He frowned, but then dismissed it as a coincidence. Lothíriel was by no means the only woman to wear a light blue dress that evening and she wouldn't be in the garden all on her own now, would she.
Nevertheless he felt slightly uneasy when he could not find the princess amongst the dancers anywhere and when he spotted Amrothos on the other side of the hall, he excused himself to Lady Wilwarin to go and talk to him. However, Amrothos did not know where his sister had disappeared to, either.
He waved towards crowd. "Lothíriel has been dancing all evening, she's bound to be around somewhere. Or, more than likely, father has taken her home already."
Éomer frowned at his insouciant tone. Briefly he considered hunting down Imrahil to see if indeed Lothíriel had retired already, but his unease kept growing by the minute. All of a sudden, he decided he did not have the time and turned on his heel.
Outside all was quiet. The few couples strolling along the garden paths looked at him in surprise when he hurried by, but he disregarded them in his growing concern that something had happened to the princess. He had not formed a very high opinion of some of Gondor's nobility. Might those young noblemen think it funny to play a practical joke on a blind woman? Lothíriel had been through enough trouble for one day, he did not want to see her distressed any further. When he reached the small fountain where he had last seen the group, only the puddles of water on the ground bore witness to the fact that they had been there at all. He could hear no laughter or see any sign of them. Remembering the view from the wall, he took a shortcut to the staircase leading up to it.
The flowerbeds and bushes stretched before him in the moonlight, peaceful and quiescent, as if to mock his anxiety. None of the ladies that he could see walking with their escorts along the paths wore a light blue dress. Perhaps he had overreacted after all? But, just to be sure, he would have a look a bit further along the wall.
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.