6. Slayer of the Witch King
The Slayer of the Witch King
Darkness mastered, morning gained,
His vows fulfilled in honour bright.
Yet shadow fell on mighty king,
And bloodless foe a dart let fly.
Now heart lies broken, Snowmane slain.
(Anonymous ballad from Rohan)
The horse fidgeted under her and Lothíriel tightened her hold on Elphir. She felt impatient too, but refrained from saying anything. After last night's incident it seemed politic to avoid calling undue attention to herself. As a matter of fact, she considered herself lucky not to be confined to the town house for the rest of her stay in Minas Tirith. However, Lady Éowyn wished to see her, so here she was, about to pay a visit to the camp of the Rohirrim.
"Is everybody ready?" Elphir asked.
What had been planned as a simple morning ride with Amrothos had grown into a minor expedition. Lothíriel had the feeling that her father no longer considered her youngest brother a sufficiently steadying influence on her, which was why Elphir had been obliged to tag along. Then Alphros had insisted on coming as well, to have a look at what he still considered his pony. This had in turn caused Annarima to decide to accompany them, since she did not want to leave her precious son in the care of his unreliable aunt. At least her voice, icily polite the few times she addressed Lothíriel, seemed to imply as much.
Just as they had been about to leave, Annarima's mother and her younger sister, Lady Wilwarin, had arrived for an unannounced visit. Two young noblemen, obviously ardent admirers of the latter, accompanied them. The whole party had decided to join their outing as well, and it had taken a while to sort out guards to escort them. But now it finally looked as if they could get under way.
Riding through Minas Tirith always was a treat for Lothíriel. She just let the conversation wash over her and instead imagined the sights she knew would greet them at every corner. The glimpses into people's courtyards, the small, twisting side streets leading off from the main avenue and the little fountains tucked away into hidden corners. A whole network of paths led along the back of the houses, really meant for the use of servants, but very useful for children as well.
New sounds and smells assailed her ears and nose once they reached the fair. Mountebanks were noisily advertising their wares, each one trying to drown out all the others, and she roused herself to question Elphir as to what he saw. This was the advantage of riding with her eldest brother. Amrothos was witty and amusing, but he often did not have the patience to answer all her questions in as much detail as she liked. Kind Elphir answered untiringly, describing the stalls with colourful silks, precious spices and chased silver jewellery imported from the far south as well as the many vendors of foodstuffs. It was getting on for noon and Lothíriel's stomach growled at the delicious smells. Idly she wondered if they would be served any refreshment at the camp of the Rohirrim.
Not that she was entirely sure of her reception there. What had seemed such reasonable behaviour the night before looked a lot like recklessness this morning. Before leaving, her father had taken her aside for a few words, and although he hadn't said much - he never did - his displeasure at the way the King of Rohan had ended up with an admittedly not very useful additional packhorse, had been more than evident. She'd had to promise to be scrupulously polite, even if turned out that King Éomer had already got rid of poor Galador. That had actually been an easy promise to make. One thing she was sure of: he would always keep his word.
What still puzzled her was why he had come to her rescue the night before. She had not even known he was there until he had spoken up - being so intent on persuading her father to let her keep the pony. Somehow, the King of Rohan's reaction did not quite agree with the picture she had formed of him. All the stories she had heard described him as a mighty warrior and masterful leader of men. It had come as almost a shock to find that someone who had seemed like a hero out of an ancient tale had a human side as well. Now she felt curious as to what that even more legendary figure, the slayer of the Witch King, was like.
At that moment the first sentries posted around the camp of the Rohirrim hailed them, sharp and alert even in peacetime. However, they recognized Elphir, welcomed them courteously and guided them further into the camp, to where their king's tent was situated.
He was already waiting for them and greeted them warmly. Lothíriel's slight nervousness vanished when she heard the genuine pleasure in his voice at the sight of them and she smiled down at him when he offered to help her dismount.
"If you would be so kind, my Lord King," she answered, expecting him to give her a hand so she could slide off the horse's back.
Instead, he took hold of her round the waist and simply swung her down in one smooth motion. For a heartbeat she was completely helpless in his powerful grasp, but to her own surprise found the sensation not unpleasant. Her pulse speeded up.
He set her down gently. "Thank you," Lothíriel stammered in confusion.
"My pleasure, my lady," he replied. "May I offer you my arm? My sister is very much looking forward to meeting you."
She nodded, still feeling unaccountably unsettled. He offered her his shield arm and she could feel the powerful muscles flexing under the thin fabric of his tunic. Fortunately, at that moment he was distracted. The rustle of a gown indicated a woman coming up on his other side.
"King Éomer," she exclaimed in a soft voice. Lady Wilwarin, Lothíriel recognized her straight away. "I hope you'll excuse the imposition, but indeed it is such a lovely day that I couldn't help begging a place accompanying my sister."
"You are always welcome here," the king assured her. Lady Wilwarin thanked him with a charming, silvery laugh. Her voice, golden and satiny, reminded Lothíriel of liquid honey.
Lothíriel had not forgotten Amrothos's words that the King of Rohan was thought likely to offer for the beautiful and accomplished Lady Wilwarin, but although she listened carefully, she could hear nothing more than polite admiration in his tone. If only I could see his face, she thought suddenly, and then told herself sternly that it was none of her business.
"Well, Éomer, are you going to take all day?" a new voice enquired to her left, making her jump.
King Éomer must have noticed her startled reaction, for he briefly put a reassuring hand on hers. "Princess Lothíriel," he said, "let me introduce you to my sister, Éowyn, who is as impatient as ever. Éowyn," he added, "you've met Lady Wilwarin, haven't you. She is joining us as well."
"Delighted," his sister replied in a tone devoid of all emotion.
"My pleasure," Lady Wilwarin said. If anything, her voice had gone even gentler. Was it Lothíriel's imagination or had the temperature just dropped considerably?
"If you'll come to the pavilion," Lady Éowyn said, "you can have a drink and something to eat and we can have a nice chat." To her brother she added, "Let me have your other arm, Éomer, and do hurry, your guests are waiting for you."
He laughed, but obeyed her meekly. On the way, King Éomer introduced Lothíriel to a couple of the lords and ladies present, but she could not exchange more than a polite greeting with them. In no time at all, she found herself seated in a small chair to one side of the open pavilion, with a couple of slices of bread and what a cautious nibble revealed to be a small selection of cheese on a plate.
"Do you like wine?" Lady Éowyn asked her and when Lothíriel nodded, she had a glass thrust in her hands. All around her, people were speaking Westron with that particular musical lilt common to the Rohirrim.
"At last," said the slayer of the Witch King, the chair creaking as she sat down. "You know, I've been dying to meet you."
Lothíriel felt rather startled by this announcement. "You have?"
"Why yes! I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw that extraordinary animal you'd foisted on Éomer. I knew then that I'd have to meet you."
"But I didn't foist him on your brother!" Lothíriel exclaimed and had to grab her wine glass to keep it from being knocked over. "Indeed, he offered to take Galador of his own free will."
Lady Éowyn patted her hands. "Yes, of course. Please don't worry. It will do my brother good and might even teach him some humility."
Lothíriel's appetite had quite deserted her. "Please, Lady Éowyn," she said and pushed her plate away, "believe me, that was not my intention. I will take the pony with me when we leave. I'm sure my father can find a place for him."
"But I didn't mean it that way!" Lady Éowyn said, just as the King of Rohan's low voice interrupted them.
"Éowyn," he said sharply, "what have you said to upset the princess?"
"I'm sorry! I didn't intend to, please forgive me," his sister replied.
Embarrassed at having the slayer of the Witch King begging her pardon, Lothíriel spoke up, "It's my fault, my lord," she addressed King Éomer. "But like I just said to your sister, I can take the pony with me when we leave."
There was a moment's pause. Lothíriel noticed that the King of Rohan did not ask which pony.
"Please don't," he said instead. "Galador has only just settled down. I think he likes it here."
Lothíriel was torn between not wanting to impose upon King Éomer any further and the knowledge that she had nowhere to quarter the poor thing.
She bit her lip. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely," he assured her. "In fact I consider it a great privilege."
Lothíriel swore then and there to never ask the King of Rohan to look after one of her charges again. Next he would probably thank her for doing him a favour. It was just too humiliating and she had never felt so guilty before.
"Thank you, my Lord King," she said quietly and settled into her chair again.
"Let's talk of something else," Lady Éowyn suggested and Lothíriel was happy to agree.
The King of Rohan excused himself to go and talk to his other guests and Lady Éowyn started telling her of the planned festivities. Some of them Lothíriel had of course already heard of - like the reception at the Merethrond taking place in the evening - she had in fact already sent her maid on an errand concerning that. However, most of the preparations for the wedding proper were news to her.
"At one stage I thought I'd never get married at all," Lady Éowyn joked. "The plans were getting more and more elaborate and took longer and longer."
Lothíriel laughed. "Well, it's only another few days now."
"I don't think I could wait much longer," Lady Éowyn sighed, "and I know poor Faramir is getting very impatient."
Lothíriel didn't quite know what to reply to such a forthright speech. She felt herself starting to blush. That was not the way gently brought up Gondorian maidens talked of their upcoming nuptials.
"Lady Éowyn, may I ask you something?" she said after a short hesitation.
"Yes, of course," the other woman replied at once, "and please call me Éowyn. After all, we'll be related soon."
"I'd be honoured to," Lothíriel answered and asked the question that had been preying on her mind for the last few months. "Why did you ask me to be your witness? I don't mean to say that I'm not pleased," she added in a rush, "but you don't know me at all."
It was Éowyn's turn to hesitate. "Faramir told me about you," she said at last, "and he mentioned you were his favourite cousin."
"Did he tell you I was blind?" Lothíriel asked. What else had Faramir said about her?
Éowyn did not seem offended by her bluntness. "Yes, he did," she admitted, "but I don't see what that has got to do with anything."
Lothíriel suddenly found herself liking the other woman very much. "Nothing, of course," she said and gave her best smile.
Éowyn laughed. "We've got it easy anyway. All we have to do is be there in time and look pretty, which shouldn't be a problem. Faramir tells me his steward is close to a nervous breakdown, trying to organise all the festivities. In fact Emyn Arnen is where Faramir is at the moment, but he promised to be back for the banquet tonight."
"I'm just worried I'll spill wine all over you just as you're exchanging your vows," Lothíriel confided.
"Oh, don't worry," Éowyn replied offhandedly. "Faramir probably wouldn't even spot it. You know what men are like. They never notice what you wear."
Lothíriel involuntarily saw a mental picture of a completely infatuated Faramir gazing at his bride, while she stood there, soaked to the skin with wine.
"Well, he might notice that, I think," she could not help chuckling.
Éowyn joined her and soon they were laughing so hard, Lothíriel nearly tipped her glass over. That only set them off again.
"There's one thing I have to ask you, though," Éowyn said when they had recovered their breath. "You know there will be a procession from Minas Tirith to Emyn Arnen. Do you ride?"
"On my own, you mean?" Lothíriel asked back.
"I have got a horse back in Dol Amroth," Lothíriel explained and she could not quite keep the bitterness out of her voice. "It's the oldest and most placid animal in my father's stable and won't move above a walk. Amrothos calls him Lightning."
"Ah!" Éowyn said, "I suspected as much. Yet Faramir said you love horses and are a good rider."
"I was," Lothíriel corrected her.
Éowyn fell silent. "I think I'll have to talk to Éomer," she muttered half to herself and then called out so loud that Lothíriel nearly fell off her chair, "Cadda!"
"Lady Éowyn?" a new voice answered after a moment.
"Lothíriel, this is Cadda, my brother's bard," Éowyn introduced the newcomer. "Cadda, would you look after Princess Lothíriel for a moment while I go and speak to Éomer? I'm sure she likes music. All the ladies do, here in Gondor."
She did not wait for an answer, but was gone with a swish of her clothes. Lothíriel felt very much startled by her hostess's abrupt departure, but the bard seemed to take it in his stride.
"Do you like music, Lady Lothíriel?" he asked after a brief pause.
"As a matter of fact I do," she stammered, "but please, I'm fine just sitting here. I do not need a minder and you need not waste your time on me."
"Time spent in the company of a pretty woman is never wasted," he demurred. "Are you the lady with the pony?"
"Yes." Had everybody heard of that unfortunate incident?
"I see," was all he said. "Let me get my harp."
He came back a short while later and set down his instrument with a slight thump.
"This is Leofwen," he said, his voice gentle and loving. "She differs from most Gondorian harps in that she has twenty strings, not just twelve."
"May I touch ... her?" Lothíriel asked.
"If you'd like to."
Lothíriel reached out a hand and ran her fingers across the harp. The wood was warm and satiny and the strings hummed softly under her touch, deeper and more resonant than her own small harp.
"She likes you," the bard stated. "What would you like me to play for you?"
An easy question, that. "Something about Rohan."
She closed her eyes when he started to play. It was a silly habit when she couldn't see a thing anyway, but somehow it helped her to concentrate. He was very good and she just gave herself over to the music and let it carry her away. She had thought him quite young when he had first spoken to her, but now his voice became fuller and more powerful, at times harsh and merciless like the mountains and the next moment soft and gentle like the wide, open plains. She didn't understand the words of his song, but she didn't need to.
Like precious pearls, the last notes dropped into the silence and for a moment all was quiet. Lothíriel gave a sigh and then people started clapping, startling her. She had never even been aware that a crowd of people had surrounded them to listen to the bard playing,
"That was beautiful," she told Cadda.
"Thank you. What would like to hear next?"
Lothíriel hesitated, not sure what to ask for. Behind her, she heard the two young men who had accompanied Lady Wilwarin talking to each other.
"What was that about?" one of them asked. "I didn't understand a word of it."
"Probably about a horse," the other answered. "All their songs are about horses."
She stiffened at their muffled laughter, annoyed at such discourtesy, and hoped that the bard hadn't heard them.
"A love song," somebody in the crowd called out. "Sing us a love song."
"My lady?" Cadda asked. Despite the control he exerted over his voice, Lothíriel was sure she could hear a trace of annoyance in it.
"Sing to us of love," she nodded.
He tuned one of the strings and played a few introductory notes, then he stilled the harp.
"This is one of our songs that I have translated into Westron," he explained. "It's called Heart Breaker."
The crowd hushed, expecting beautiful, golden-haired maidens and soft words of love and devotion.
Instead they got horses thundering across the grasslands in desperate need, horns blowing bravely under a morning sky covered in a blanket of black cloud and the harsh sounds of battle and death. He told the tale of how Théoden King rode to meet his fate and how he vanquished the chief of the Haradrim, he who flew the black serpent. Lothíriel caught her breath when the bard told of how the shadow of the nazgûl darkened his shield and Théoden's steed fell, crushing his beloved master underneath him. By the time Cadda sang the last lines she had tears in her eyes.
Complete silence reigned when he finished, then somebody slowly started clapping. Lothíriel had to wipe her eyes on her sleeve before she could join in.
"I'm sorry, my lady," the bard whispered to her under the cover of the thunderous applause. "I did not mean to make you cry."
"You were right to remind those fools of what we owe the Rohirrim," Lothíriel replied fiercely. Cadda gave a surprised laugh.
"Princess Lothíriel?" As usual, the King of Rohan had crept up on her unawares, but she was getting used to it.
"My Lord King?"
"My sister thought that perhaps you'd like to have a look at how Galador fares," he said. "Also there is something that Éowyn would like to show you."
Lothíriel sat up straighter. "I would love to," she exclaimed. She set her plate on the ground and turned to thank the bard.
"It was a pleasure to play for a lady who is as discerning as she is beautiful," he replied.
Lothíriel coloured and had to remind herself sternly that to the Rohirrim anybody with black hair would seem exotic.
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.