10. A triumphant morning.
Aerin fluttered around the room, casting me sidelong glances from under her dark lashes. I tried to show unconcern: sipping my tea slowly, whilst waiting for the bath tub to fill. But I could not stop my lips from twitching. Being my personal maid, she had been obviously expecting me to say something, but as yet, I disappointed her. I fully intended to– but did not wish to give away any intimate secrets. Aerin, her preparations complete, swished her hand around in the fragrant water and looked up hopefully.
“I expect a bath will be refreshing, my lady.”
“I imagine it will,” I answered betraying nothing. She stopped swishing and closed the spigot. The chagrin on her face, and her pretended disinterest, finally caused me to dissolve into laughter. When I finished chuckling I decided to take pity on her, “You cannot expect me to go into details, Aerin, but suffice to say that I think you will enjoy marriage. Let me just tell you that I found the whole experience …very agreeable.”
“Oh, I am so glad, my lady!” I caught the hint of relief in her usually chirpy voice, and wondered if I had not covered my feelings as well as I thought over the previous weeks. “He’s very handsome to be sure,” she carried on, “even if he is a bit stern. But I could not help worrying if you would find it a little awkward - you not being in love and all that - however practised he might be.”
Stern! I did not find him stern. Why ever did I think that? But I could not argue with her words: it might have been very awkward. Why it hadn’t been, intrigued me somewhat. I knew one thing, though: I was glad I had not postponed consummating our marriage when given the chance to do so. Facing the hall that morning might cause me some embarrassment, but facing them having failed to do my duty, failed to uphold Gondor’s honour – would have been much worse. Aerin must have guessed that no further confidences were likely to be forthcoming, because she concentrated on making sure the water reached the right temperature and that everything I needed was to hand. She had already pinned up my hair so, when she indicated the bath was ready, I slipped off my robe and stepped in the tub. I suppose she expected the lack of nightgown because she said nothing. Feeling a bit wicked I remarked innocently, “You will have to search for my nightgown, Aerin. It’s lost at the bottom of the bed.”
Her eyebrows shot up and a giggle escaped from her pretty lips, “I’ll look for it later, my lady. I will sort out your clothes, now.” She pulled the screen across and flounced off humming to herself.
I slipped right down into the soothing water, not that I really needed much soothing. That such a physically powerful man could be so gentle, considerate but at the same time passionate, came as a pleasant surprise. I had been uncertain of what to expect from my wedding night, but whatever, it was not the sense of contentment and belonging that I now took pleasure in. The events of the night told me that in all likelihood we would be friends, and if I received my husband’s support then I could face any opposition to my new role with confidence.
“Do you know what your bridal gift will be?” Aerin broke into my thoughts from behind the screen.
“Bridal gift,” I echoed. “No, I have no idea and never thought.”
“I don’t think it’s a horse, which one would think it might be,” Aerin murmured reflectively. “Léod says that the royal herd are kept at Aldburg but none have been brought over.”
“Éomer King did not know I required a new horse, but he has said he will choose one for me.” I remembered his words – I had not asked if he wanted to be sure of me, or sure of his choice. “I think he wants to get to know me first, before he chooses.”
“Yes, that sounds like something a Rohír would want to do, I suppose,” Aerin agreed. “He will probably give you some jewellery today.”
“I imagine so,” I concurred. Something of his mother’s probably, I thought. It would be in keeping.
Aerin stopped chattering, but I could hear doors opening and closing so I guessed she had gone to find a dress for today. I relaxed back in the bath for a moment, idly holding the sponge in the air and squeezing it gently so that the water landed in a trickle on my stomach. Not surprisingly, my thoughts were still on the recent novel happenings in my life and with a sudden playful notion I experimentally ran my fingers up and down my arms and across my breasts. I felt nothing except a tickling sensation – strange that - as I felt on fire when my husband did something similar. It could not just be because his hands were a lot rougher, I decided. There must be something else going on. Giving up caressing myself, I relaxed again and started to think back to the things he had done. Almost immediately a wave of heat washed over my body. I didn’t get the chance to ponder on why this might be because Aerin called out to me.
“Would you like to wear the cherry red velvet, my lady?”
“Yes,” I sat up quickly and belatedly began to wash myself with the sponge, “I think that will be suitable. I can wear the girdle Éowyn gave me.” She had presented me with a lavish girdle embroidered in the colours of the Riddermark – green, gold and a dark red, tied with rich gold tassels and ornamented by red garnets. The red in the girdle would pick up the colour of the sumptuous dress, which I knew would become one of my favourites. A simple dress, but it skimmed my figure nicely, flaring out around my legs. The bell-end sleeves complimented the flaring. I did not have much gold jewellery and briefly wondered if Éomer would gift me with some. Aerin must have read my thoughts because by the time I got out of the bath and dried myself, she had searched around in my jewel box and found a golden rope-necklet that once belonged to my grandmother. I put the dress on, smoothed out the skirt and she fastened it around my neck, standing back to determine the effect.
“That looks well, my lady. How shall we do your hair?”
“What is the weather like?” I asked, not being able to see much from my seat. “If there is a chance of us going outside for the celebrations, then it cannot be completely loose.”
Aerin stretched herself to look out of the window. “The men say it is clearing. I can see a patch of blue, anyway. I could plait it just from your neck down and wind in some ribbon,” she suggested. “It won’t blow about then.”
Halfway through the plait she suddenly stopped, “Oh…do you have to wear your crown, my lady?”
“I don’t think so,” I chuckled after giving the possibility a moment’s thought. “I can’t imagine they are that formal in Rohan. Maybe for very ceremonial occasions, but I doubt if I will have to outside, especially if there is to be dancing. Anyway, we will be able to see if Éomer King is wearing his. He said he would come and escort me.”
As if on cue, a knock shook the door and a deep, “Are you ready, Lothíriel?” his voice easily penetrating thick wood. The door opened and the room that seemed quite adequate before, now appeared decidedly crowded.
“Smells good in here,” his first comment after greeting Aerin.
My cheeks warmed to his remark. He looked relaxed with his big shoulders propped against the doorframe as he waited patiently for Aerin to finish her ministrations to my hair. The memories of him untying it not so many hours ago and commenting on my perfume – were still fresh. Aerin finished, and I shifted in my seat so that I could examine him. As I thought: there was no crown on his shaggy head. He looked happy and relaxed and wore another green tunic; this one embellished by embroidery similar to that on my girdle.
“You look very Rohírric,” he grinned, pushing himself away from the frame as I stood up
I hope I did, but I deliberately chose not to wear green: wanting to give the Rohírrim time to get used to me. Éomer ushered me out into the atrium allowing me no time for any further thought. “You look lovely,” he said brushing his lips over mine. “That necklace reminds me that I have some jewellery to give you. We will do it later: everyone is waiting now.”
I swallowed. Entering the hall with all watching me was not going to be easy. “Have you spoken to my father, Éomer?”
“Yes, I took Hasopad for a stroll in the garden and he and Aragorn joined me.” His faced creased as he gave one of his short laughs, “I have to admit that neither of them appeared quite so hearty as usual. The Rohírrim know how to celebrate.”
At least his kinsmen felt they could celebrate. “What about my brothers?”
“I did not see them in the hall a few moments ago. Gimli showed himself for enough time to drink a sustaining tankard of ale and then he went outside to stick his head under the spout. Evidently Legolas decided to keep the doorwards company last night when everyone else eventually went to bed. He watched the dawn rise and looks as fresh as spring grass.”
I managed a smile, trying to hide the truth – my nerves lay only just under the surface. I, or rather we, were going to be under scrutiny from both sides. Those from Gondor would be wondering if I had capably fulfilled my role as wife to their greatest ally, and the Rohírrim would be eager to discover if I had pleased their king. Hopefully, he was satisfied with his bargain. He certainly seemed to be, but maybe just too polite to show otherwise.
My husband must have sensed my nerves because as I placed my hand on his arm he put his other over it, gave my slightly shaking fingers a squeeze, and flashed me a reassuring smile. I immediately felt better: his large solid presence already giving me confidence. Twice he’d voluntarily held out his hand to me during the wedding ceremony and twice I’d unhesitatingly put my own in it, and afterwards he pulled me tightly against him when I needed to sob out my anguish. My father was right - he was a man I could trust.
“Are you ready?”
I nodded, and my husband opened the door.
The hall was full, but not quite as full as the night before. All rose as we mounted the few steps onto the dais and Hasopad thumped his tail loudly on the floor. The dog must have decided to show a bit of extra respect, given the occasion, because he struggled wearily to his feet, giving the impression he had been chasing rabbits all night and not snoring in his master’s study. He padded towards us, first shoving his wet nose in Éomer’s hand and then in mine. Éomer pulled at his ears, said something like - ‘lie down’- in Rohírric, and the lurcher resumed his customary position.
I greeted my father and King Elessar, perceiving that both men were looking extremely complacent. Knowing that they had already conversed with my husband that morning I did wonder if they guessed that the wedding night could be considered a reasonable success. My brothers just made it to the meal but looked decidedly seedy. In comparison to our father they were watching me with looks that varied between concern and curiosity. I smiled at them and said my good mornings, keeping my emotions well hidden. All three of my siblings had eagerly agreed with me being betrothed to a virtual stranger and I forbade myself to give anything away to these two. Let them wonder. Having acknowledged everyone on the dais a general greeting rose from the hall and we all sat down.
It was not only my brothers who were curious. The Gondorians amongst the guests were at least making pretence of being more interested in the meal than the empathy between the bridal couple - the Rohírrim were openly staring. I briefly considered standing up and making an announcement but controlled the impulse and tried to smile at those who caught my eye. A glance around the hall showed me that the seating arrangements were much more informal than the night before. Families were sitting together; even the two Marshals were sitting with their wives and children. Most of those eating were on wooden benches, but the more important graced large carved chairs. Helwing sat not far from the dais and she flashed an understanding grin. I also noticed Byrhtwyn sitting at one of the tables and I thought that at least two of the females near her could have been her daughters. I could see Elfgyuu, but she seemed to be in charge of the serving of the meal - intent on dishing out something from a large cauldron. As I watched, she said something to a tall auburn headed girl and gesticulated in the direction of the dais. I took no more notice because at that moment Eadric offered me some tea. I accepted the tea – blackberry and nettle- and studied the food on offer. There were plates of ham; three different kinds of cheese; baskets of crusty bread; raspberry jam; scones and small cakes. A bowl of fruit adorned the centre of the table – it held apples, pears and plums. Just as I contemplated what to have, a voice interrupted me.
“My Lady Queen.”
The auburn headed girl stood next to my chair. I smiled, waiting for her to say her piece.
“I…that is, Mistress Elfgyuu, thought you might like some porridge. It being traditional …so to speak.” She held out a brown bowl with a slightly shaking hand.
I didn’t particularly want porridge, although I was not adverse to it. However, deciding that it would be better not to offend Elfgyuu after Aerin’s tangle with her, I smiled, “Thank you, that would be nice…?”
“Æscwyn,” my lady.
I smiled again, wondering why the girl looked so nervous. Surely she did not think me that frightening? “Well, thank you, Æscwyn.”
She put the bowl down in front of me and executed a quick bob before leaving the dais with considerable speed. Shrugging to myself I picked up my spoon, looked down at the bowl and stopped, my spoon in mid air. Unlike the normally creamy coloured oatmeal this was pale grey. I put my hand around the side of the earthenware bowl. It was cold! Elfgyuu had quickly taken her revenge by serving me cold porridge. It might be possible to get through it with a liberal helping of honey and cream but I could see none on the table. I gave no consideration to a mixture of raspberry jam and porridge. No, there was no way I would eat the glutinous glop, but neither did I feel inclined to tackle the Meduseld housekeeper in front of a hall full of guests. Dealing with the woman did not bother me, but when I did confront her – we would be alone. I could just push the bowl aside for now but it would probably cause comment. Luckily, I knew that the saviour of the situation laid curled up only a yard away from me, behind my husband’s chair.
Éomer’s ongoing conversation with my father meant I could probably attract Hasopad’s attention without him noticing, so, confident of the sensitivity of a dog’s hearing, I reached my hand under the table and clicked my fingers a few times. Not long after my hand connected with a wet nose. Sneaking food from the table could be considered a newly acquired skill. Nobody noticed, and when I retrieved the bowl, it was pristine clean. Grinning to myself, I tucked into some lovely fresh bread with goats butter and fruity raspberry jam, intending to finish my meal with an apple and a small piece of cheese.
Listening to the conversation across the table, which ranged around the amount of work required to open up the Dimholt pass to wagons, I did not notice Elfgyuu approach until she stood next to my chair. She hovered over me like a grey-hooded crow.
Her eyes fixed on the empty bowl. “Did you enjoy your porridge, my lady?”
I stared straight at her, and held her eyes long enough to banish the smirk from her face. If she wanted to battle with me now, then I would not disappoint her, “I am fond of porridge, Elfgyuu. I discovered a partiality for it during the many times I stayed with Princess Éowyn. However, I am sorry to say that I much prefer her way of serving it. I found that served cold, it is not very appetising. Éowyn always presents it piping hot, and with plenty of honey and cream. Maybe, she discovered that way of eating it in Gondor?”
“What’s that?” Éomer butted in. “Discovered it in Gondor! Éowyn has always eaten it that way, so do most ladies.” He glared at Elfgyuu, “Was my wife served cold porridge?”
“An oversight, my lord. It won’t happen again.”
After throwing my husband a restraining glance, I turned back to Elfgyuu, “It must be because you are so busy,” I said in my sweetest voice, nodding a dismissal. The housekeeper clamped her lips together, picked up the empty dish and a few other things and dropped a slight curtsey before stalking from the dais.
I am sorry, Lothíriel,” Éomer sighed. “She will come round, but in the meantime I will not have her bully you.”
“Don’t worry,” I replied, “she won’t. I can deal with her, and anyway,” I grinned at him, “Hasopad enjoyed his breakfast.”
He answered my grin with one of his own, “I know you can deal with it, Lothíriel but I wish you did not have to – I don’t want my dog getting too fat!”
“I’ll find another way next time,” I chuckled.
He sighed again. “Unfortuately, I have to say that there may be a few more times before she gives up. I don’t want to dismiss her, but I won’t put up with her being rude to you.”
“No, don’t dismiss her, Éomer. I am sure I can sort it out.”
“I am confident you can,” he said laughing. “I remember Éowyn’s wedding when you sorted out that idiot, Malpin, who caused all that fuss about the seating arrangements. I have always wondered how you did it.”
“Lord Malpin…? Oh, I remember,” I said, casting my mind back. “He kept on complaining that the place he and his family were allocated ranked below that which his status demanded, and especially below that of the Burgon, Lord of Lebennin.
“Oh, that’s what it was, was it? It doesn’t surprise me.”
“Well, to be honest, Éomer,” I replied, finding it difficult to keep a straight face, “The real reason appeared to be that whilst Lord Burgon’s daughter sat directly in your line of sight, his, had the bad luck to be shielded by a pillar!”
“What! Oh, for Béma’s sake.” He shook his head disbelievingly, “I never noticed either of them. How did you resolve it?” he asked curiously. “I suffered more than a strong urge to throttle him for holding up Eowyn’s entrance but I saw you send a message to him via the steward, and he sat down like lamb.”
Surprised that he even noticed, let alone remembered the incident, I answered glibly, “I just offered to change places with his daughter. He must have been so embarrassed because I realised the real reason why he persisted in making a fuss that he gave up immediately.”
“I bet he did! The silly old fool.” He looked thoughtful, “So…, I’ll leave you to it with Elfgyuu. But if anything gets too much, please alert me to it.”
“It is bound to take a time, Éomer. It is understandable that your kinsmen would have preferred one of their own for their queen.”
“They can prefer what they like! It’s up to me who I want for my wife and I think it’s about time I made them aware of that.”
Éomer looked around the hall: he appeared to waiting for something. Afterwards, I realised that he had been waiting for a lull in the conversation. He did not have to wait long because, as I noticed the day before during the wedding ceremony, the Rohírrim tended to concentrate on their food. Conversation and entertainment were mainly saved until after the meal.
“Elfhelm!” The Marshall of the Eastmark looked up from his plate, so did most of the others who sat in the body of the hall, Éomer’s voice undoubtedly commanding.
“My Lord King.” Elfhelm started to rise, inclining his head and wiping his lips with a large napkin.
Éomer, having got everyone’s attention, waved at his Marshall to sit back down. “Elfhelm,” he moderated his voice slightly as the hall lapsed into quiet, “the mare, Lyftfætsceadu, how does she go on?”
On my first meeting with Marshall Elfhelm at Eowyn’s wedding I decided that he must have been a handsome man in his youth, but the hero of the battle for the Fords of Isen and of the clearing of Anorien, probably had spent most of his life riding the plains of the Riddermark. Now in middle age, his strong face bore the signs of his responsibility and lifestyle … his demeanour, while not being exactly harsh, could be considered a bit forbidding and his skin, what you could see of it around the beard, showed a great deal of …weathering. What’s more, however much those in Minas Tirith held him in respect; all knew that his disposition bordered on - uncompromising. Therefore, the change in his countenance at the mere mention of a horse could only be described as - remarkable. The hard, keen eyes softened. A smile, prized for its rarity, swept the corners of a firm mouth into a shallow curve. He let out an audible deep sigh.
“My lord,” the mighty Rohír sat back in his chair and fixed his gaze on his sovereign, “never have I seen her like. She is well named: for if her sire is the silver streak of the swiftly running stream, then she is the shaft of shadow that flashes across the plains at night. Her coat can glisten like moonbeams, and yet few will notice her passing, so steady, but so fleet of foot is she.”
There were nods of agreement from those sitting near the Marshall who no doubt, hailed from the Eastmark. Hiding a smile at such poetic speech from so acclaimed a warrior I glanced toward Amrothos. My brother’s grin showed that he shared my amusement.
My husband, however, did not even blink, and exhibited no surprise at his Marshall’s lyrical uttering. “And her temperament, Elfhelm?” he asked sharply.
“Ah… well, my lord, she has fulfilled all our expectations. She is biddable, but with that flicker of fire and sparkle of independence that raises her above the common kind. She is a true daughter of Felaróf and now only needs some intensive training to bring her to perfection.”
“Good,” Éomer looked extremely pleased, “it is as I thought. You will oblige me, Elfhelm by sending a small escort to fetch her to Edoras.
“Fetch her, my lord? Now?” Elfhelm looked discomforted for a moment.
“Not exactly now. Those you send may finish eating first. But I would like the mare here by nightfall… my wife is in need of a horse.” He paused to allow his words to sink in, I felt. “I will supervise the completion of her training myself.”
The words must indeed have taken a moment to sink in, because at first no one said anything. But then, there were few whispers between those sitting at the tables in the hall. There were even a few smiles and nodding of heads. I glanced over to my father; his earlier complacent look unquestionably replaced by one of total satisfaction.
A voice rose above the whispers. A voice in which I detected a note of annoyance, and when I turned to see to whom it belonged, I recognised a man whom I thought a little hostile when he had been presented during the wedding ceremony.
“My Lord King, Lyftfætsceadu is the best of our mares, and with her sire now given to that wizard, she is even more important to us…”
Although Éomer’s chair stood a little apart from mine – I immediately became aware of his controlled anger. His body stiffened. His hand clenched hard on the cup he was holding, but luckily, being made of pewter, the drinking vessel survived the onslaught. When he did speak, his silky smooth voice held a veiled menace. “Thank you, Cereth, for confirming my opinion. I do not think that anyone would deny the rightness that my wife… and your queen, should be given the best horse we Rohírrim can produce, do you not agree?”
It could not only be my imagination - the strained atmosphere that circulated throughout the hall since our entrance that morning, perceptibly lightened. The Lord of the Mark effortlessly conveyed to everyone, Rohírrim and Gondorians alike, that he was pleased with his wife. Lord Cereth bowed his head, but his reply vanished into the hubbub that followed. Mutterings of accord were followed by much discussion. The snatches I could hear led me to believe that the decision being already accepted, the only important thing now: to discuss the finer points of the horse.
I deliberately sought out King Elessar. He returned my look with a smile on his lips, a small nod of his head and a gleam of amusement in his grey eyes. I quickly dropped my own before I betrayed my feelings with a laugh. His assessment of my husband shrewdly accurate - no one, especially his kinsmen, would ever mistake anything Éomer of Rohan had to say.
To be continued.
A/N Before I get a rap over the knuckles by allowing Lothíriel be given one of Shadowfax’s offspring let me say that I thought it over carefully and decided that such a great horse would probably have sired a good number of foals – many would be mares. I would imagine that the best pure bred Mearas stallions were kept for the King and his sons but the mares could be ridden by Queens and daughters – equal rights! LBJ
Lyftfætsceadu - Moonshadow
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.