You can find out how to restrain your temper.
You can learn to master your body's desires.
But you cannot teach yourself to rule your heart.
(Cemendur: Know thyself)
Lothíriel buried her head underneath her cushion. She didn't want to hear anything. Not the birds enthusiastically welcoming a new day outside her window, not the cheerful clatter of breakfast dishes echoing up from the kitchen, not the jaunty whistling of one of the guards on his rounds. Only her maid went about her tasks silently, her footsteps all but inaudible. Hareth had come through a fair amount of storms with Lothíriel by now.
A knock on the connecting door to the bathing room and a quick exchange of a few whispered words, then Hareth's steps again, crossing the chamber.
"Would you like your bath now? It's ready."
Lothíriel shook her head. The bed sagged as her maid sat on the edge of it. She hesitantly touched Lothíriel's arm. "My dear, do you want to talk about it?"
Lothíriel shook her head again.
She wanted to go back. Back to that morning, only four days ago, when she had woken up on a ship leisurely sailing up the Anduin, full of joy because she was coming back to the White City after her long absence. To think that she had been apprehensive about the wedding because she feared spilling wine all over the bride. Those worries paled into insignificance compared to what she had done the day before.
Hareth stroked her gently across the back. "You'll have to get up eventually, Lothíriel. Your father wants a word with you before you leave."
Of course he would. Lothíriel's rage had sustained her for the whole ride back from Lord Girion's, and fortunately her father had not pressed her for an explanation, probably wanting to wait for a more private opportunity. Once they had reached the town house she had sought out her room and refused to talk to her family for the rest of the day. Her father had let her have her way, but now he would have a few questions to ask, and rightfully so. And what could she answer?
With a sigh she let go of the pillow and sat up. Time would not stop and run backwards at her whim, but she would get through this day somehow. And the one after. And the one after that. Surely, it had to get easier at some stage.
"How much more time?" she asked, her voice hoarse. Not from crying, she told herself, but perfectly normal first thing in the morning.
"Still plenty of time to have a quick bath." With a last pat on her leg, Hareth got back up again. "And then have something to eat, for you'll need it with that long ride ahead of you."
Lothíriel let herself be led into the adjoining bathing room where a wooden tub stood ready, filled with hot water. Once she got in, she simply leaned back and tried to empty her mind of all thought, while Hareth washed her hair.
"A lovely day," her maid commented. "Sunny and warm, but with a slight breeze. Perfect for a wedding."
Lothíriel nodded. Her friend's wedding, she reminded herself, and she would endeavour not to spoil it. At least not more than she had done already, by practically accusing the bride's brother of taking advantage of her in front of the whole court of Gondor. She had to resist the impulse to simply sink into the water and drown herself. It would make life so much easier.
Hareth poured some fragrant oil into the water and Lothíriel's favourite scent of orange blossoms filled the room. But today it failed to have its usual cheering effect on her.
"There," her maid said, as she rinsed her hair, "it smells lovely now."
Lothíriel shrugged. "As you please."
It didn't matter, for Éomer would never run his hands through it, as she had dreamed of him doing. She had resolved to be icily polite to him from now on, but if he dared to touch her again... Lothíriel felt fresh rage boil up at the mere thought. She would hit him! And enjoy it. What infuriated her even more was the fact that a small part of her heart still wanted him to hold her, insisting that would dissolve all her hurts. For a moment during their quarrel she had wavered, had been on the brink of simply throwing herself into his arms. Then between one heartbeat and the next he had destroyed all her faith in him with his dishonourable proposal.
"Lothíriel? What's the matter?"
She found that she had grabbed the sides of the tub so tightly, her fingers hurt. "Nothing."
Hareth made no reply, but continued to rinse her hair in uneasy silence. Once she was finished, Lothíriel got out the bath and dried herself. Then her maid wrapped a towel tightly around her hair, repeating the process until it was no more than slightly damp.
"You can sit by the window to let it dry completely while you have your breakfast."
Lothíriel nodded and followed Hareth back into the bedroom. She felt like a dressmaker's doll when her maid got out her elaborate gown, sewn for this special occasion by the best tailor of Dol Amroth. It consisted of a thin silken undergarment, worn over a pair of leggings and completely covered by a riding skirt made from blue silk brocade. Sporting a short train, this overlapped at the front so it could be worn both on horseback and at the wedding ceremony. She touched the rich, stiff fabric. Laboriously embroidered with hundreds of small pearls and gold thread in a pattern of stylised flowers and birds, it probably made her look like a beautiful peacock. She had been so pleased when she had tried it on for the first time.
Hareth started to do up the laces at the back that moulded the bodice closely to her bust. "You'll be the envy of all the other ladies."
"I doubt it."
No, she did not think anybody would want to be in her shoes today. At least she would not have to see their faces and could pretend to ignore them. No doubt the whole court was laughing at her gullibility. The poor blind princess who had let herself be taken in by a handsome warrior from the north.
The lacing finished, Hareth smoothed out the long sleeves. Tight-fitting on the upper arm, they widened out at the elbow and fell in soft, draped folds.
"You'll have to watch out that you don't catch these on anything," her maid reminded her.
Lothíriel nodded. Having experienced the difficulties of ceremonial dress in the past, she knew she would have to move carefully. At least concentrating on her steps would keep her mind busy.
Hareth moved a chair closer to the window and told Lothíriel to sit there, where the morning sun would dry her hair. Then she left to fetch a tray of breakfast from the kitchen.
Lothíriel leant back, enjoying the warmth of the sun shining on her back and the sudden silence. This might well be her last chance at a bit of peace for the day.
It was of short duration. Far too soon she heard the returning steps of her maid, accompanied by somebody else's. Then a knock on the door and her father's deep voice greeting her.
He gave her a quick kiss on the forehead. "You look beautiful, daughter."
She could only manage a weak smile. "Thank you."
Hareth busied herself moving a small table over and settling Lothíriel's breakfast tray on it. "I will be back in a little while to do your hair. Make sure you eat enough to sustain you," she reminded her before she left the room again.
The scraping of another chair being moved over for her father to sit on. Not a quick morning visit then. Her heart sinking, Lothíriel picked up a napkin and spread it on her lap. The day would be difficult enough without stains all over her. A quick exploration of the tray revealed the expected bowl of porridge, a mug of tea, some slices of bread, already buttered, and a plate of dried figs and sugared dates. She raised her eyebrows at that last item. The cooks were being good to her today.
Imrahil cleared his throat. "I spoke to Alphros last night and he told me freeing the birds was their idea."
Lothíriel picked up one of the dates and nibbled at it. "Is Elphir very angry with him?"
Her father sighed. "You know Elphir, quick to anger, but also quick to laugh. I think Alphros is already forgiven."
She had hoped as much. "And Minardil?"
"I haven't told his father about it. He will probably blame you." Imrahil touched her arm. "Daughter, why did you say it was you who told the boys to free the birds? Just to spare them punishment?"
Lothíriel nodded. She would not tell her father that in truth she had just been too enraged to care and Lord Girion had made a good target to vent her fury.
He sighed again. "I wish you had chosen to go about it differently. Girion is not a bad man, you know."
"I know and I will apologize to him." Not an easy decision to make, this, but she had truly said some unforgivable things. Freeing the birds was one thing, insulting him on top of it another.
"I'm glad to hear it. And what about Éomer?"
She tried to keep her voice absolutely level. "I will not apologize."
Imrahil's chair creaked as he leaned back and silence settled between them, heavy and oppressive. Trying to look unconcerned, Lothíriel picked up some more dates and took a sip of tea.
Imrahil changed the topic. "I've brought something for you, daughter," he said.
Lothíriel had expected reproaches, but now she heard the soft scraping of a key turning in a well-oiled lock and the click of a box being opened. Imrahil got up and settled a necklace around Lothíriel's neck. She reached up a hand and examined it, making out the regular round shape of pearls, each one separated from its neighbour by a small knot in the string. Resting cool and smooth on her skin, they felt familiar to her touch. She knew then what she had just been given.
"Yes. I want you to have them."
Her mother's rare blue pearls, presented to her as a courting gift by her husband-to-be. As a child Lothíriel had seen her wearing them almost constantly and at times had even been allowed to touch them admiringly. Perfectly graded and of a luminous blue colour, their lustre had fascinated her.
"Thank you, father!" she exclaimed.
"Beruthiel would have been so proud to see you today." He sat down again and touched her gently on the knee. "I know it's been difficult for you, growing up without your mother. And then of course the accident...If only I'd taken more care!"
Lothíriel had expected reproaches, but this was infinitely worse: her father reproaching himself.
"Father, you're not to blame," she insisted.
Imrahil sighed, obviously disagreeing. "I know it has closed a lot of doors to you. As a child you used to set your heart on something and not give up until you got it, but now you'll have to accept that it is not always possible."
Lothíriel had never looked on it this way. She shook her head "But doors can be opened."
"Not all doors," her father said heavily.
Lothíriel did not like the way the conversation was heading, so she said nothing, but picked up the bowl with her slowly congealing porridge and started eating it, even though she didn't feel very hungry.
Imrahil could be just as tenacious as his daughter, though. "Lothíriel, did Éomer tell you he could not marry you because of your blindness?" he asked.
She shook her head.
"Then what did he say?"
When Lothíriel remained stubbornly silent, he touched her on the leg. "Daughter, I have to know, for I intend to have words with him."
She nearly choked on her porridge. "Father, no!"
"Lothíriel, you have to see I cannot let this pass. You couldn't have chosen a more public place to throw those accusations in his face."
Fully aware of the truth of his words, she lowered her head. Once again, her anger had gotten the better of her. Would she never learn? She could not possibly tell her father what offer Éomer had made to her, for that would mean facing the fact that for a moment she had been tempted to accept it. The memory fuelled her fury, and she welcomed it, for she knew that as long as she could hold on to that rage, the despair hovering just behind it would be kept at bay. But in truth, all she wanted to do was to get back in her bed, bury her head underneath the pillow and never have to show her face to the world again.
"Lothíriel, I have always believed Éomer to be an honourable man through and through. What did he do?"
"Nothing." Suddenly she couldn't stand it anymore. An honourable man! Pushing her bowl away with a violent motion, she got up and went to stand at the window, turning her back on her father. "He did nothing."
Imrahil stepped up to her and put his hands on her shoulders. "Lothíriel, you shouted at him not to touch you! Did he try to kiss you the other night?"
"I know he can be hot-headed and I didn't like the way he looked at you. Did he force his attention on you in other ways?"
"Then what happened?"
Lothíriel could hear a hint of iron in his voice. Usually an indulgent father, he could become unyielding when pushed too far. "It's just something he said," she explained reluctantly.
"Are you sure you're not mistaken? What did he say?"
Lothíriel gripped the windowsill. "I don't want to talk about it. Can't we just let it rest?"
"You must know we can't! Daughter, you told the King of Rohan, our most important ally and saviour of Minas Tirith, that he had the manners of an orc."
She winced. "Perhaps I should have phrased it differently."
Imrahil let out his breath in exasperation. "How?"
The tact of a mûmak? The sense of honour of a warg? She kept stubbornly silent.
"Dearest," her father said in a gentle voice, "I told you Éomer resembled a flame attracting poor moths and it seems to me you have just burned your wings. You were so happy yesterday morning - did he disappoint your expectations? Is that why you're so angry with him?"
How to explain to her father that his honourable friend had made a thoroughly dishonourable proposition and his daughter had been tempted to accept it? And Éomer had known it as well, had seen the answering flash of desire on her face. The man read her like a book. She dreaded the thought of another confrontation; it was far easier to just give a small nod.
He sighed. "Lothíriel, I wish you had come to me and told me your troubles. Surely you know that you'll always have my love and support, no matter what happens."
She felt tears springing to her eyes. "I know," she whispered, "Please, can we just not mention it again?"
In his hesitation she could read that Imrahil had no intention of dropping the matter and still intended to talk to Éomer. Lothíriel desperately searched for something to convince him.
"Éowyn!" she said.
"Lady Éowyn? What has she got to do with it?"
"You wouldn't want to spoil her wedding, would you?"
Still he hesitated and she plunged on. "Just think of what we owe her. It would be poor recompense to ruin her welcome in Gondor for her, wouldn't it."
"I suppose so," her father agreed at last. "But Lothíriel, you realize that we'll all be staying in Emyn Arnen overnight?"
She nodded unhappily. It had all been arranged with Faramir before she had come to Minas Tirith.
"No more scenes," Imrahil warned her. "I want you to stay away from Éomer."
"That's easy to promise." Not that he would want to come near her anyway, after the angry words she had hurled at him. And she should be glad about that, Lothíriel insisted to herself.
Her father took her by the shoulders and gently turned her round. "And Lothíriel, I think it best that after the wedding, you return to Dol Amroth."
Too discouraged to protest, she just nodded mutely and allowed her father to enfold her in his arms. King Elessar and Queen Arwen would not want her at their court anyway, not after she had managed to insult one of Gondor's chief lords and their most important ally all in the same day. Resting her head on Imrahil's shoulder, she found a brief moment of peace. But most infuriatingly, a part of her heart still insisted that she would prefer Éomer to hold her.
Hareth knocked on the door soon after and her father left to get ready. Lothíriel settled back down on the chair to continue her interrupted breakfast. She could not face the rest of the porridge, but nibbled a slice of bread.
Her maid brushed out Lothíriel's hair and then started plaiting it into two long braids, which she arranged around her head like a crown.
"Those are Lady Beruthiel's pearls, aren't they?" Hareth asked.
Lothíriel nodded and touched them lovingly. Had her father known that wearing them would help her make it through the day? She could almost imagine that a trace of her mother's favourite lilac scent still clung to them. How she missed her at times like this. Perhaps her mother could have warned her to be more circumspect in her dealings with the King of Rohan. Although she doubted it would have made a difference. Lothíriel remembered his hands sliding down her back, powerful and gentle at the same time, his warm breath, the smell of leather, horse ... and man. When he had told her to wish for the moon she had known that what she wanted was much closer - within touching distance.
Lothíriel mentally shook herself. To think that she had believed Éomer felt the same. It just went to show her lack of experience in these matters. And he hadn't even kissed her! Not hungry anymore, Lothíriel let the last piece of bread drop back down to the tray.
Far too soon, Hareth finished with her hair and it was time to join the rest of her family downstairs. She had dreaded sharp words from Annarima for leading Alphros astray again, but her sister-in-law proved to be unusually reticent. In fact she didn't say much at all and even complimented Lothíriel on her gown.
Her nephew was there as well, although he would not come to the wedding. Apparently he had already been forgiven yesterday's mischief. He took the first opportunity to tug at her sleeves. "Aunt Lothíriel?"
"What is it?"
"You haven't forgotten my warg tooth, have you?"
She had of course forgotten it and now did not relish the idea of having to ask Éomer for it. "I don't think I can get it for you," she said.
"But you promised!" he wailed.
Lothíriel had to bite back a sharp retort that she had only just saved his skin for him. Why did she have the feeling the day could only get worse from now on?
"I will try," she sighed.
He gave her a hug. "You are the best aunt there is!" Back in charity with him again, she tousled his hair.
Soon after, it was time to leave and to ride down to the main gate of Minas Tirith, where the wedding party would assemble.
Muzgâsh watched the riders gathering outside the city walls. Already a crowd had formed, cheering and shouting good wishes. He and his men had made their way to the front of it, close to the Rohirrim. They were easy to spot, standing a little apart with their grey horses. His eyes narrowed as he saw the King of Rohan talking to his sister and the Prince of Ithilien. Another two who deserved to feel Muzgâsh's wrath, but unfortunately he could only deal with one enemy at a time.
Movement near the gate drew his eye to a party of new arrivals. The swan banner was unmistakable and he leaned forward with interest. Yesterday evening, rumour had run rife through the fair about a breach between Prince Imrahil and King Éomer. The nod the two men exchanged did indeed seem rather chilly and the two parties regarded each other warily, not mingling at all. Muzgâsh smiled with satisfaction - it could only be a good thing for Harad if her enemies were at each other's throat.
Then Lady Éowyn urged her horse forward to greet Prince Imrahil and the atmosphere seemed to lighten. Only the King of Rohan hung back and suddenly Muzgâsh surprised a look of mixed anger and desire on his face. He followed the king's gaze to see the Princess of Dol Amroth, richly dressed, her whole demeanour cold and reserved as she sat her horse with her back ramrod straight. Muzgâsh almost chortled at the sight. A chink in King Éomer's armour indeed! What a fool to give a woman that kind of power over himself. But then the men of the West were witless in the amount of freedom they allowed their women. This one had clearly never been taught her proper place in life. But she would learn. Soon.
He nodded to his men. "I've seen enough. Let's move on."
Trying to stay inconspicuous, they slowly made their way to the back of the crowd and then along the foot of the wall to the Great Gates. With so many of the inhabitants of Minas Tirith about to watch the wedding, it proved easy to slip past the guards there without being noticed. A couple of his men had already been inside the city the day before anyway and now led them up the main road. Two levels up, they took a lesser-travelled side road and finally reached a small passageway between two houses.
Muzgâsh threw a quick glance back the way they had come. Nobody about. Also the houses would be half-empty with most of the residents gone to see the procession get underway. He nodded to his men and wordlessly they disappeared down the alley. It was overgrown with brambles and nettles, the walls on either side covered with thick ivy. One of his men gave another a leg up, and holding onto the thick hairy stems the man scrambled over the wall. Shortly after, he opened a small gate nearby to let them into the garden of the house.
The door creaked loudly when they shut it behind them and Muzgâsh listened intently for any sounds of alarm from inside, but all remained quiet.
"You are sure only one man lives here?" he asked one of his scouts.
The man nodded. "Yes, my Lord Prince. The family who owned this house died out and now there's only a caretaker left. Moreover, he's old and drunk most of the time."
"He very occasionally makes a bit of coin by letting people use the rooms for secret trysts," the other scout added. "That's how we heard of it."
The garden showed long years of neglect, the paths overgrown with grass and the flowerbeds covered in weeds. Rotting leaves everywhere muffled their steps, making their progress soundless. Very soon, they reached an archway leading into a small courtyard with a well in one corner. The house extended on three sides of this and his men tried the doors. The very first one proved unlocked and at a nod from Muzgâsh they entered to search the inside. Muzgâsh stayed in the courtyard and looked around. It would make a good killing ground, far enough from the neighbouring houses that their presence would not be noticed. At least not until it was too late.
The sound of cursing and dishes breaking coming from one of the windows made him spin round, then two of his scouts dragged a man out. Rheumy eyes looked up at Muzgâsh in confusion.
"What's happening?" the man stammered.
"You are the caretaker of this house?"
His clothes ragged and smelling of sour wine, the man nodded.
Muzgâsh would not soil his sword with the likes of this sorry old drunk. He turned to one of his men. "Kill him."
A moment later the caretaker crumbled to the ground, clutching at the dagger protruding from his chest. A last convulsion and he lay still. He wouldn't be missed.
With a smile Muzgâsh watched the blood slowly pooling on the cobbles - first blood.
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.