20. A surprising confession
Without opening my eyes, my mouth curved in a smile and I languidly stretched an arm up over my head, pushing against the headboard. Not wanting to emerge into full consciousness, I drew my arm back under the covers and turned on my side, enjoying the cosy warmth that only another body in such close proximity could give. Something – fingers – slid along my chin and up to my ear, pushing strands of hair away from my face. I shivered, sighing slightly with a light exhale of breath. The fingers came back, skimming gently over my lips.
“I have been waiting for you to wake up,”
“Yes. I have been waiting to ask you; what is my dog doing sleeping on the rug?”
“Oh!” My eyes flew open. Éomer nonchalantly leant on one elbow with his eyes fixed on my face, his grin just discernable in the semi-darkness. “I had to! He would have scratched the door down and I didn’t want you to be disturbed.” Guilt made me a bit sharp but his lips were twitching.
“Do I gather you missed me so much that you encouraged Hasopad to sleep in our bedchamber?”
On the bed actually, but perhaps I could keep that quiet. The bad dreams too, I didn’t want him knowing about those. “I didn’t need to encourage him,” I excused myself. “He scratched on the door the first night I returned. Having sensed I needed company, I imagine. And, yes, I confess I made him welcome. His presence eased some of my loneliness.”
The backs of those large fingers stroked down my cheek, “Were you so very lonely, Lothíriel? I hoped you would begin to feel at home. But I admit if I had known Byrhtwyn would not be here I would have thought twice about sending you back.”
Moving closer to him, I reached my hand up, slipping it around his neck between skin and hair, rubbing that smooth spot just below his hairline. Unable to deny the difficult first few days, I aimed to reassure him, “It bothered me a bit at first,” I admitted, “but maybe it worked out for the best. I made a real effort and I am starting to make my way here, making friends. The worst is over; it won’t be so bad again.”
“I am glad. I always hoped you would be happy. With me and with living in the Riddermark.”
He may have hoped I’d be happy, and he had done his best to make me so since our marriage, but he had taken no steps to ensure it before we were wed. And I wanted to know why. Right now. “I am happy, Éomer. And I have every confidence about the future. But I still want to know what prompted you to speak to my father after such a brief acquaintance with me.”
Instead of answering he reached for my hand which still lingered on his neck, drawing it around to his mouth. Firm lips pressed against my fingers, his beard, uncommonly long, brushed against my palm. With no words forthcoming I pulled my hand away from his mouth. “Éomer?”
“Éomer!” I protested, as in a flash, he moved to lie half over me, a hand capturing my breast and his mouth nuzzling near my ear.
“After, Lothíriel. I will tell you after.”
“No!” Using my heels and elbows to try and gain some purchase on the mattress I attempted to push myself up out of his grasp. “Tell me now. It won’t take a moment.” Struggling to get myself out from under him proved a waste of effort, and giving up I sank back into the bed. Quivering lips hovered just above mine.
“You wouldn’t be so cruel, Lothíriel, not when I have been away for so long.” The lips lowered onto mine and a thumb rubbed gently against the pulse-point in my neck.
“You can wait a bit longer,” I murmured, moving my head to avoid the kiss I knew would weaken my resolve.
The lips ended up right on top of my ear. “I don’t want to. There’s plenty of time to talk but right now you are warm, sweet smelling and utterly desirable.”
“Did you think me desirable in Minas Tirith? I swear you scarcely noticed me.”
A loud groan, right in my ear, and he collapsed on top of me. “You’re not going to give up, are you?”
“I am going to expire if you do not move.” My hands pushed against his shoulders, not that they had any effect. He heaved himself off me and onto his elbow again, his expression one of amused resignation. He had a last try.
“You could at least take pity. I am a wounded man.”
“It’s only your leg that is injured, Éomer. Your voice sounds fine.” Recognising my jibe at him after his comment of the evening before, he started to grin, but ignoring his mirth, I pressed on, “Certainly well enough to tell me why you thought it a good idea to marry me. You were barely aware of me. Is it any wonder I cannot understand it?”
The grin changed to a look of disbelief. “Not aware of you!” He flung himself back on the bed, breathing deeply and then returned to his previous position, his intense eyes focusing on me. “Lothíriel, do you seriously think that I would be unaware of the daughter of one of my most valued friends.”
“Unaware enough! You spoke no more than a few words to me!” I persisted.
“Gondorian dances are not conducive to conversation and at every meal we sat apart.”
“So, having had the minimum of conversation with me you asked my father for my hand. And, after that, without one word to me, you rode back to Rohan.” As I said it I knew that it was what really bothered me – him not waiting one day, but there were other issues “What’s more, the only communication I received from you sounded like a cross between a treaty and a trade agreement with an enquiry about my family thrown in.”
“Lothíriel, it was not like that.”
“Then what was it like?” I knew my mind had dwelt on other things back then but could not believe I had misread the situation so drastically.
He answered my last question first. “After I got back to Edoras from my meeting your consent arrived and the whole thing was rather taken out of my hands. The council did not all agree and rather than argue myself I left it to Lord Bertwald to sort out. I made it clear I considered my decision final and …”
“He, Bertwald, drafted the letter because, knowing everything was settled, I decided to take a trip to the East Emnet. The herdsmen needed support and I wanted to see the new foals.”
I suppose I would have been more stunned if I hadn’t been saddled with three brothers. But knowing how quickly their priorities moved from women to horses, hunting and in Erchirion’s case, fighting, I let out a long sigh of resignation. “You still have to explain why you requested my hand in the first place.”
His turn to sigh, “It’s is difficult to explain, Lothíriel. I rather said it without thinking.”
“You said you wanted to wed me without thinking about it?”
“No…Yes. It’s difficult.”
“Try going through your reasons slowly,” I said, not letting up at all. “Because to be honest I would never have suspected you of looking for a wife at Eowyn’s wedding. I know better now, but most of the time I thought you decidedly ill-tempered.”
“I admit to being ill-tempered, but not to looking for a wife. That came as a surprise.”
“To us both, then,” I muttered. His eyes dropped from mine and suddenly I relented. He looked so uncomfortable. Not his usual assured self at all. “Firstly, tell me why you were so cross.”
“Not really cross,” he said lying back on the bed and putting his hands under his head. “Overwhelmed, weighed down with it all, I suppose.”
“Being King, you mean?”
“Not particularly being King, more with the continual fight. Against the remnants of orcs proved bad enough, but against starvation and the cold, even worse. We had women and children whose homes had been burned to the ground and in many cases their men folk lay under mounds of earth on the Pelennor Fields.”
I put my hand on his arm in sympathy, understanding the depth of his gloom at that time, but it still did not explain his actions.
A half-smile acknowledged me and he carried on. “Supplies came from Gondor but they had to be moved to the remote villages in sometimes treacherous conditions. At the end of the winter, even after all the aid, we were left with so little that I had a hard job to provide Éowyn with the farewell feast she deserved. I thought we would never get through it, but of course we did. And when I arrived in Minas Tirith, there was so much. So much splendour, so much food. A seeming excess of everything. I wanted the Riddermark to be able to celebrate like that. I wanted my people to enjoy the peace and plenty.”
“But now you are selling horses again…”
“Yes, I know. But at the time I found it difficult to believe we would have ample again. And, if I am honest, as much as I wanted happiness for Éowyn, letting her go was not easy.”
“No,” I agreed, “it could not have been. Is that why you looked for a wife?”
Those mobile eyebrows rose in denial. “Lothíriel, I did not set out to seek a wife. I noticed you because of who you are. I could hardly overlook Imrahil’s daughter, however wretched I felt. The long discussions and advice from Aragorn and your father, the promise of more aid until the crops ripened, restored my humour but by then it was my last evening. I had no choice but to leave when I did if I wished to reach the meeting point with the Dunlending chieftain on time. My decision on that has proved itself. We have not had a raid since.
I nodded. I suppose I could allow him that but we still hadn’t got to the point. “So, why did you speak to my father?”
He grinned, his face lighting up after the previous more serious expression. “They started on me. Oh, ever so gently. Suggesting I look to the future, secure the succession. Told me how much better it would be if I had a wife to discuss the problems of government. I tried to change the subject but they can be very insistent. Anyway, to get away from the unrelenting looks they were giving me, I gazed around the hall and my eyes fell on you, dancing with Aelfric. You are a very beautiful woman, Lothíriel. But more than that I suppose there must have been some response to you deep within me, because I remember thinking how graceful you looked, and, of course, I had noticed how you behaved so graciously during Eowyn’s wedding. The dance ended and you came straight over and excused yourself. You passed a few polite remarks, gave us an elegant curtsy, a smile and were gone. I watched you as you left the hall and then for some reason I do not know I turned back to your father and said that it was a pity I did not have more time to get to know his daughter because at the present time you were the only one I could contemplate making my queen…” his voice subsided and he turned his head to look straight at me.
Astonishment made me interrupt. “And… what happened next?” If I understood him correctly he had spoken from pure impulse.
“I encountered two very stunned expressions. And when your father recovered he asked me if I seriously would like to consider making an offer. I said that I fully intended taking a wife but there were few choices open to me. What I had seen of you made me wish to pursue the matter but with my commitments there would be no opportunity. Imrahil explained that in Gondor the father had the right to decide on his daughter’s husband, although he would never enforce that. He assured me he would put any request to you but the final decision would be yours. So I formally offered for your hand.”
Still mystified and more than a little peeved, I chose my words carefully, “Éomer, did you really think that I, or any other woman for that matter, would find it easy to say yes after so short an acquaintance?”
He paused and eyed me cautiously, “My intuition led me to broach the subject to your father so I decided to leave it to providence. So much has happened to me that I did not anticipate. I did not expect to be King, and would have much preferred to support Théodred in the role, but there I was. My fate determined for me. Fate would probably take a hand again.”
“Leave it to providence, whether I said yes or no! Let fate decide!” Indignation made me sit up.
“Now that’s why I didn’t want to say. I thought you might get angry,” he said pushing me back down. “But my instincts were right, so there is no need berate me.”
I said nothing, but lay flat on my back starring up at the hangings of the bed. Did I really believe he would decide such an important a matter on a whim? No wonder Éowyn couldn’t understand it. But then she had said he was impulsive and went his own way.
A jolt on the mattress told me he had turned on his side again. A hand landed on my midriff, the thumb caressing the underside of my breast. “Don’t you agree my instincts were right? I have always relied on first impressions, in fact…”
Roughly pushing his hand away I succeeded in sitting up; easier to shout at him. “Éomer, don’t you dare compare choosing a wife with choosing a horse!”
His face was only inches from mine, certainly near enough for me to witness that innocent look he had perfected. “I wouldn’t do that, Lothíriel, there is no comparison. Choosing a horse is a very serious matter.”
Enraged, I opened my mouth to issue an angry retort and then closed it again. What was the use of continuing with this? But I kept staring, wondering which one of us would break first. His face remained expressionless with just a glint in his eyes portraying amusement. As usual, my sense of humour won over my outrage and my lips started to quiver – which he took as capitulation and a signal for one of his slow smiles. “Lothíriel, why don’t we just admit that whatever the reason I acted as I did, we are both happy with the way it turned out.”
Happy yes, but not prepared to wholly give in, I said nothing. Getting no response, he lovingly stroked my face, again pushing a few wayward strands of hair back behind my ear. “I told you at the Hornburg that you have made me happier that I could ever have thought. You are the woman I desire, the wife I want, however it happened. I realised how much I love you on a cold mountainside sometime last week. My mind insisted on wandering back to Edoras, imagining what you were doing, how you were coping. We spent a lot of time waiting around and most of that time I spent thinking of you.”
Emotion made it impossible for me to answer for a moment. Instead, putting out my arms, I leant against him, burying my face into that hollow between shoulder and neck. My lips contacted with warm smooth skin smelling vaguely of sandalwood. All the anxiety of the prelude to my marriage, the difficulties in mastering a new language and understanding a different culture, now pushed into insignificance by my love for this man. For a moment I lost myself in the bliss of being loved. The pure physical pleasure of having his hard body pressed against mine and a hand, which could be so harsh, caressing me tenderly. Wonderingly, I remembered thinking in the months before our marriage if I would ever want to hear him speak endearments, and now they filled my heart with joy.
His velvet voice whispered somewhere close to my ear, “I haven’t forgotten those feelings for me, Lothíriel, the ones you mentioned last night.”
Slowly I lifted my head, gently disengaging myself until my eyes met his directly. I raised slightly trembling fingers, leisurely tracing them across one eyebrow down the side of his strong face. I scratched lightly amongst the hair of his beard, reaching his mouth and playing with his bottom lip for a moment, before I spoke. And all the time our eyes remained locked. “I knew I loved you at the Hornburg, Éomer, when you rode away. Standing with Gamling on the wall I learnt about the man I had married, and my heart filled with pride.”
The next moment my back collided with the mattress and my head with the pillow and demanding lips met mine. A wave of desire took my breath away, involuntarily my body arched against him, my hands clutching at his shoulders and sliding down the taut muscles of his back.
“Where are you going…?” A protest escaped from my lips as he broke from the kiss, and pushed himself up onto one elbow.
“Stay there. Right there. Hasopad will have to go. I don’t think he will approve of what I intend doing to you. He moved away to sit on the edge of the bed, before getting up and testing his leg. A grunt, a click of his fingers behind him, and he headed for the door, limping badly. The dog never moved. Éomer stopped, his hand on the door handle, and looked back over his shoulder, glaring stony-faced at the lurcher. “Just because I am grateful to you for looking after your mistress does not mean I will put up with disobedience. Out!” He opened the door and pointed.
Hasopad, unimpressed by his master’s tone, lethargically unfolded his long legs, struggled up and ambled toward the door.
That set off a fit of giggling. Seeing a naked man ordering a reluctant dog from the bedchamber brought me close to tears. The relationship Éomer, an acclaimed and ruthless warrior, had with his dog, had amused me from the very beginning. I followed Hasopad’s slow progress, trying hard to suppress my bubbling laughter. But once he had shut the door on the recalcitrant animal, concern replaced mirth. “Éomer, how much pain are you in?”
He stopped halfway back to the bed and flexed his leg, “I’m not.”
Slowly, my eyes wandered upward from his bandaged leg.
He chuckled, in that wicked way of his, “At least not enough to affect any other part of me.”
Well, wound-care could wait.
Two months later.
Illness delayed Aerin’s wedding by a few weeks as Léod’s mother took to her bed with a virulent fever that settled on her chest. Luckily she recovered, but the near tragedy had an unforeseen consequence. Aerin’s popularity rose considerably. Her devotion to nursing the ailing woman sealed her acceptance into the seclusive Rohírric community of Edoras.
Added to that, all welcomed such a festivity in the middle of winter, and with two other couples choosing to share the day, the celebrations promised to be lively indeed. Of course, when I realised the literal translation from the Rohírric word for wedding feast was Bride-ale, I understood why weddings were so popular, and with Éomer donating a few barrels from the store at the hall, none would go short. I had missed the drinking bouts at my own wedding, although the custom of imbibing of large quantities of ale had spilled over to the Harvest celebrations the next day.
Éomer and I walked out of the doors to be greeted by cheers from the huge crowd that covered the dais, steps and the open space below. I did not really think they applauded me, and possibly the show of appreciation belonged more to the barrels of ale rather than their king, but for the first time I really felt included in the general well-wishing.
I looked up into a sky the colour of cornflowers, across which a few large fluffy clouds sailed liked majestic full-rigged ships. How different from my own wedding when the grey leaden day had matched the weight in my heart and the heavens had cried my tears. No tears around today, unless the brides cried with happiness – two blonde and one dark-haired maiden, who grinned at me with a mixture of shyness and glee.
Gazing around the faces in the crowd I relished my new feeling of belonging. At my wedding I had looked out onto a sea of strangers but now smile was met with smile or a respectful nod of the head. Most I knew, some were friends, such was the difference in a few short months.
Gradually the noise and chatter subsided and Éomer let go my hand and stepped forward to make his opening speech. I waited with Byrhtwyn who, happily, had returned from Aldburg the previous week.
“Aerin looks lovely,” Byrhtwyn whispered.
“Yes,” I agreed, my gaze roamed over the three couples who were waiting for us to hear their vows, “the colour suits her.” Aerin had no family to support her today but a dress had arrived from her parents in Minas Tirith. Deep-raspberry looked good with black hair. She also wore my contribution: an embroidered Rohírric girdle made by the craftswoman of Edoras.
“Éomer King will be getting used to this,” Byrhtwyn said under her breath, “we had a rash of weddings last summer…my lady, are you all right?”
Nodding, I clutched at one of the door pillars. Suddenly my stomach had clenched and a wave of nausea hit me. The tang of roasting pork wafting up from the main square was probably responsible, charred pig-skin never my favourite aroma. “Just the smell of pork, I think.” She kept her eyes on me for a moment but I smiled to show my recovery.
Éomer started speaking then, his rich voice easily reaching those standing at the back of the crowd. I feasted my eyes on him. Dressed in his velvet finery, he looked much like he had on our own wedding day. But now he was achingly familiar, and warmth stole through my body every time my eyes raked over his tall powerful frame. Today, in his beloved dark green, the golden crown topping his mass of tawny hair, he appeared made for the role that had been decided for him. My heart filled with love and I could only be grateful to the Valar, and maybe my father and Elessar, that we had found each other.
Watching Éomer so closely my thoughts had naturally returned to my own wedding. It should have been a wonderful day but instead of enjoying the music and the singing, I had been consumed by anxiety. Rather than looking on my husband with joy and love, my heart had held only trepidation. With the up-welling of my present happiness filling my mind it must have been catching sight of adoring look that passed between Aerin and Léod that started it – my outpouring of emotion. Somehow I felt cheated and perhaps that is why the tears started rolling steadily down my cheeks.
Gulping frantically, I ran my hand across my face, desperately hoping all eyes were on Éomer. Useless to tell myself Queens did not cry, this one had cried on her wedding night, but at least in front of no one other than her husband. Now she was crying before the whole of Edoras.
A hand took my arm and soft words were spoken close to my ear, “Come, my lady, just step back a little and we will be through the door.”
I retreated into shadow as Byrhtwyn guided me into the anteroom. I swayed slightly, until a hand grasped my other arm firmly.
“Sit her down here. I will fetch some tea.” Elfgyuu’s voice permeated my hazy perception and the pressure on my arm ceased as she hurried away. So it had been Elfgyuu the other side of me. Somehow though, breaking down in front of the Meduseld housekeeper did not bother me as much as it would have done only a few weeks before.
“Just sit quietly, my lady. You will feel better in a moment and Elfgyuu will be back with some tea.” A clean handkerchief came out of Byrhtwyn’s pocket and I took it gratefully.
I wiped my eyes and blew my nose, sniffing to stop any more tears. “I am sorry; I don’t know why I did that. Whatever will the people think of me?”
She smiled, her deeply-lined face showing only support, “I doubt many noticed, my lady and anyway when they realise the reason, they will understand perfectly.”
“Reason? What reason?” How would they know my thoughts on regretting my own loveless marriage ceremony?
Her smile deepened, “Your condition, my lady. Elfgyuu told me she suspected as much as soon as I returned.”
Immediately flushing, I put my hands to my warm face, trying to hide the flicker of certainty she would see there. No secrets here. They would know that twice, the time of my monthly flow had passed without the call for linen, but I muttered something almost inaudible about it being too soon.
Byrhtwyn sat down beside me so we would not be overheard, “Yes, my lady, too soon to say anything to others but not too soon to know. And Elfgyuu has always had a shrewd instinct for these things. She usually knew mine were on the way before I did myself.”
Instinct or nosiness, my first thought. But I dismissed that as being unfair especially when the housekeeper reappeared smiling and carrying a tray with three earthen cups.
“I won’t look so strange if we all have one, my lady,” she said passing a steaming cup to Byrhtwyn and me, before sitting down on the wooden bench herself.
I sniffed, expecting blackberry and nettle but the unmistakeable aroma of hibiscus rose from the cup. “Your favourite, my lady but I did add some rose-hip, it’s very good for keeping one in good health and we don’t want you to take ill, now do we.”
No point in denying their suspicions so I drank the tea and murmured my apologises for causing a fuss. “Not surprising,” Elfgyuu said in her usual caustic manner, “all those people and that stink of pig. We will have to make sure you are kept a bit quiet for the next few weeks. Once the babe quickens you will feel less nauseous, and happy rather than weepy.”
Her tone might be a bit cutting but once I grasped it was directed at the citizens and the unfortunate hog, I realised her words were kind. Only protecting a possible heir to the throne, I suspected, but she smiled and patted my arm and the smile showed in her eyes.
Éomer appeared in front of us, his tall form towering over me, “Lothíriel, what is it? Are you ill?”
Before I could answer Byrhtwyn got to her feet. “Now don’t make a fuss, my lord. We do not want everyone wondering what is going on. The Queen felt a little faint. She will need to be a bit cosseted over the next few weeks. We cannot take any chances.”
Éomer stared at me as realization dawned. His mouth opened and closed, before a huge grin covered his face. Thrusting my cup at Elfgyuu, I stood up and stepped right into his open arms. So much for not making a fuss.
“Are you well enough to come back out for just a short while?” he whispered after a few moments. “Everyone will be disappointed if you do not take part.”
“I am fine now, Éomer, but don’t you dare say anything yet.” He made an effort to take the look of elation off his face, but did not quite succeed. Yes, all men did exhibit that special pride.
To be concluded.
Just the epilogue to go when we find out why Lothíriel was crying in the first chapter.
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.