8. An intimate exchange
The book landed heavily and the momentum sent it skittering across the floor. Éomer remained still for a moment, surveying the scene before him. I had no doubt that his superior height enabled him to see the book even though the bed stood between it and him. I knew he could, when that tell-tell amused expression appeared on his face, but he addressed me with perfect gravity, “Oh, dear, Lothíriel, I do hope you have not lost your place.”
I gawped at him, embarrassed into silence by my show of nerves. He had not changed into a robe, but thankfully, neither was he naked. In fact he wore hose and a long linen shirt. A few strides took him to my side of the bed and in one fluid movement he retrieved the book and took it to a lamp to read the title.
“ ‘The Voyages of Eärendil.’” he read aloud in his deep voice, a slight frown appearing on his brow as he contemplated the words. “Didn’t he have a lady who had to be rescued from the sea?”
“Yes…,” I replied haltingly, “her name was Elwing, and ever after, she would not go with him but waited on the shore.
“I thought so; it was one of my mother’s favourites.” He put the book carefully on the chest beside me and with only the slightest hesitation perched his large frame on the edge of the bed, his eyes searching my face. Neither of us said anything for a short second, the only sounds being the beats of some unfamiliar music that were escaping from the hall. For a few tense moments I registered that, without the crown, the formal tunic and with his abundant hair newly washed, he looked much younger and less terrifying than my previous observations had made me think.
I swallowed, and shook slightly under his scrutiny - his gaze intense but not unkind, “My lord, that reminds me, I must thank you for your thoughtfulness in providing me with a desk and bookcase. I appreciated the gesture.”
He didn’t answer but, keeping his eyes on my face, reached out and took my hand. Try as I might I could not stop it trembling and could only lower my own eyes to watch with nervous fascination, the rubbing of his large thumb across my knuckles.
My eyes flew back up to meet his, encountering not that particular gleam that I had already learnt to recognise, but more a look of compassion.
“… are you very frightened?”
“No!” I said quickly, intent on denying my trepidation. “No…, I would be a poor spirited fool, my lord, to be frightened of something that I have found to be sought after by women of all classes and ranks. Something that must happen every hour of every day…it is just that…” I stopped, taking a deep breath of courage, “It is just that we are almost strangers …that is the only thing that makes me uncertain.”
A twitch of his lips and a squeeze of my hand told me he had sympathy with my feelings, “I am not surprised, and admit it is probably easier for a man. I suggest, Lothíriel that we take some time to get to know one another. I will sleep in my study for the next few weeks and perhaps then, when you know me better, you will feel more comfortable.”
The look on my face must have betrayed my mortification because his eyes grew warm with laughter, “Do you think I am not interested? My lovely wife, the gaze of every male present fell upon you today. I would have to be an imbecile, totally infirm, or only half a man, not to want to consummate our marriage and believe me,” he said, his eyes twinkling merrily, “I am none of those. But I do not want our life together to start with you being unhappy. There is plenty of time.”
Had he considered the consequences? It would not go unnoticed. I could not believe that the servants in Meduseld were any different from those in Dol Amroth. Here I was, being offered a way out but not sure I wanted to take it. My own perversity of disposition made it impossible to draw back once given the opportunity to do so. Besides that, my repute amongst the Rohírrim did not stand very high now: deny their king and it would not leave the ground. A glance around the room to seek a way of conveying my misgivings on not conforming to tradition must have drawn my eyes to the mead-cups, causing another soft laugh.
“I am sure we can dispose of those. I won’t tell anyone.”
A wave of heat rose steadily from my breast to my face but I forced myself to voice my doubts, “It is not only that, my lord, the servants will know…the washerwoman…”
“Ahh…, well I have lost quite a bit of blood in my life, a bit more will not go amiss.”
“No...,” shaking my head. “No, my lord,” I uttered firmly with more resolution than I felt. “I appreciate your consideration but no-one forced me to come here. My life is now as your wife and Queen of the Riddermark, I will not begin it by cheating you or lying to your people.”
“You mean that, Lothíriel?”
I nodded, holding his set gaze, “Yes, my lord, I do.”
His face changed. The look of understanding replaced by one that showed quiet satisfaction, “I am not surprised,” he said softly. “I would have expected nothing less of one of Imrahil’s offspring. You are no less brave than your brothers.”
“Do I need to be brave?” I asked jokingly and succeeded in breaking the tension because his face displayed a more boyish grin.
“Only if I loose my temper and I promise I won’t tonight.” He let go my hand abruptly and stood up from the bed. One by one the lamps and candles were doused, the room sinking further and further into darkness while I watched, with growing anxiety, until only the nightlights remained. The sides of the room were put into shadow but enough light remained around the bed to see perfectly adequately and I wondered fleetingly if I would be brave enough to keep my eyes open when he started to remove his clothing. He threw a log onto the fire but then, to my total surprise, he didn’t get in his side of the bed but plonked his full length down on top of the quilt. Once the bed had given up its protest at the unwarranted assault, he rested his head on his hand and surveyed me with that sardonic expression of his, “Well, my lady, you have set me a fair challenge.”
“I have?” Relief that I did not have to test my bravery at that very moment must have shown on my face because even the dimmed light in the room did not dull the gleam of laughter sparkling in his eyes.
“Getting to know you, wooing you and making love to you, all in one night! It is a task to relish, I think. Perhaps it would be a good idea if you came down here and talked to me to start with.”
Since I had chosen to sit bolt upright but he had lain on his side with the pillow being pushed up by his elbow, I could see his point, and so I wriggled down, easing the covers away as I did so. Fiddling with the pillow for a moment in order to prop myself facing him, I realised that my nightgown, which during the manoeuvre had managed to get caught up and pull tight against my breasts, could be considered the subject of some close observation. Trying to yank it straight only produced a wry comment.
“Don’t bother on my account. I did say I wanted to get to know you.”
Even though I knew the flimsy garment did not leave much to the imagination, I had to stifle a giggle. Probably due, I suspected, not only to my natural sense of humour but also that I had softened to him directly he had offered to forgo his marital-rights in deference to my stupid nervousness. More curiously though, I had to admit to being intrigued to see how he would approach the task of seducing an anxious bride. Chastising myself for behaving no better than a flirt, I managed to make myself comfortable without exposing anything else to inspection. I fixed my eyes on him.
“You did say you wished to talk first, my lord.”
“It’s because I want to talk that I have remained outside the bedclothes,” he said with another laugh. “Once inside I may find it difficult to hold a conversation.”
“I knew a bolster would not suffice.” I muttered it more to myself than anything, wondering why when most things Gondorian were rather prudish, bride-clothes were apt to be quite tantalising.
“A bolster?” A short puzzled frown appeared for a moment before he must have remembered his comments to Byrhtwyn. The memory caused a burst of laugher which resulted in a, “No, you are right, it wouldn’t,” and another judder of vibration through wood, horsehair and feathers as he fell back against the pillows. Finishing with his mirth he raised himself up to face me, “Are you cross that I decided not to reinstate the Queen’s bedchamber? I thought a proper solar would be more useful to us.” He looked so contrite that I had to laugh myself.
“To be honest, it probably will be, as I intend to be a wife and not just a consort, my lord. I am sure that is what your people expect,” I did not say that I had probably only decided that after my lecture from Byrhtwyn.
“If you are going to be a wife, Lothíriel, then may I respectfully suggest you use my name?”
He had a way of saying things with a twinkle in his eyes but sternness in his words. Perhaps I had missed the twinkle when had I met him in Gondor, but I thought not. Whatever, it could not be ignored now and it made him more human as well as slightly easing my nerves. “Of course, my… Éomer.”
“Thank you,” he smiled, “that’s much better. Did you like the solar?” his tone indicated he sought reassurance. “I thought it would serve well as it benefits from the afternoon sun. We don’t always have to eat in the hall.”
“It is very pleasant. I love the desk and you providing the bookcase pleased me very much,” I said, returning to my first unanswered remark.
“Hmm… my mother loved it.” His eyes had glazed. Lost in some memory, I realised. I waited for him to carry on which he did so, thoughtfully. “It is one of my poignant memories of her – sitting writing letters at that desk. My father had it made as a wedding present.”
“That must have made it precious, to her and to you now. I am surprised Éowyn did not wish for it.”
“She is not much into books and writing. You will appreciate it more.” He grinned suddenly, white teeth gleaming, “It showed how besotted my father was with my mother – he was always an out and out warrior, and she learned and gentle. She liked nothing more than to spend time with her books, and he loved her for it.” His eyes fixed on me for a moment causing another flush to steal up over my cheeks - so much for him being bothered that I had a ‘bookish’ nature, as Éowyn called it.
I dropped my eyes, and sought for something else to say; knowing that we could not continue talking all evening, but not yet ready to voluntary exchange conversation for something more intimate – understandably, still not totally comfortable with lying in a bed in such close proximity to such an imposing man.
“You told me that one of the two people who could make you do something you did not want to do was your father, but what about your mother?” I asked, looking up again and realising that his eyes still focused intently on me. He had propped his fair head on one hand; whilst the other played with the fringe of the quilt. As I watched those large, but sensitive fingers, an irresistible wish to have him run them through my hair, struck me hard. I felt so unexpected a longing, that I only just managed not to gasp out aloud. Luckily he did not notice, as at that moment he smiled reminiscently.
“I loved my mother more than I can say, but I am afraid I could wind her around my little finger.”
“Sons have a way of doing that,” I agreed. “You must have missed her very much.”
“I still do, I suppose.” He sighed and I noticed he had started to wind the fringe tightly around his fingers. “After she died, I could only feel furious anger.”
“You were angry because she left you?”
“More because she left Éowyn. My sister had barely reached eight summers. Mother did not bother to fight her illness. When my father died she lost the will to live. It made me so angry to think she did not want to stay in Middle-earth for us.”
“Perhaps she became more ill than you realised and could not help herself,” I ventured, understanding that even after all the years the wound still festered.
“Perhaps. I’d like to think so,” he said quietly, continuing his destruction of the fringe. “How about you, Lothíriel, were you angry with your mother when she left you?”
It had come, the question I had been dreading when the conversation turned this way. Even then I could feel the sobs welling up in my chest and I shook my head slowly, “No, I was angry with myself.”
His hand stopped its twisting and his gaze sharpened, “So that’s it,” he said softly. “The only thing that almost stopped me asking for your hand was that I felt afraid you would miss the sea and Dol Amroth, but your father assured me you would be happier living somewhere else. He did not tell me why. Do you somehow blame yourself for your mother’s death, Lothíriel?”
“I know it could not really have been my fault but…” I could get no further- my voice choked and my body shook, but even before the first violent spasm racked through me he had pulled me down on top of him, holding me tightly against his chest. I do not know how long I sobbed; I only remember the feel of his arms around me, the soothing voice and the stroking of my hair. As my shameful crying eased and my tortuous breathing started to return to normal, I became aware of the warmth of him, the hard muscles and the clean masculine smell. His grip on me lessened and I pushed myself up on my elbows to rub my hand across my eyes and grope for my handkerchief.
“Hold on, I’ll get it.” He shuffled us both across the bed, keeping me close to him with one arm and reaching out to the bedside chest with the other. “Here we are.”
“Thank you.” I wiped my eyes, blew my nose and wondered how I could have been so weak as to break down in front of a virtual stranger, for husband or not, we did not yet know one another. “I am sorry,” I gulped, more out of embarrassment than anything, “I have made your shirt decidedly wet.”
His response came immediately, “Don’t worry; I am hoping to be allowed to remove it sometime tonight anyway.”
I managed a watery gurgle and as I found it more comfortable than propping myself up, let my head sink back down on his chest mumbling my apology into damp linen. “Éomer, I don’t know what to say, I should never have lost control like that.”
“You don’t have to say anything. Do you think I don’t understand what a strain this has been for you? For whatever you say, Lothíriel, I know you were compelled to marry me. On top of that, to have to live in a land where you know hardly anyone and struggle with a difficult language would daunt the most robust of individuals. Also, you have not received the welcome that you have a right to expect, so it is no wonder that my thoughtless words caused that violent reaction.”
He talked quietly into my ear, all the time stroking his hand over my hair. I could have stayed there all night, comfortable and warm, but I must have looked a mess. “Your words were not thoughtless and I should be able to talk about my mother without going into hysterics.” I pushed myself up again, cross for behaving so badly, “I had better go and wash my face.”
“And whilst you do that I will fetch us some wine. It will do you good.”
“You don’t have to go into the hall to get it, do you?” I could hear music, growing louder and livelier now, and I could imagine the surprise if he appeared still clothed.
“No, I brought some with me but I left it in my study.” He gave me a sideways grin, “I thought you would banish me there.”
“I am glad I didn’t,” I said softly, which resulted in a raise of the eyebrows and a grin. I was glad, I decided, as I picked up the nightlight and headed for my dressing room. Even crying over him had one advantage – I felt so mortified, that any awkwardness over the intimacies to come would be of no account.
Splashing my face with cold water made me feel a lot better and I spent a few moments trying to improve my appearance by tidying my hair. When I got back to the bedchamber Éomer had already returned to the bed. He still lay outside the covers but he had changed into a dark-wine coloured robe. I imagined he still wanted to talk or surely he would have got in the bed. I put the nightlight back on the chest next to a large goblet of wine, if I drank all that I would not care what happened.
I resolutely put my shyness aside, got partly under the covers but moved towards the middle until I sat very close to him. I could not deny the cosiness of my position: sitting up in the bed, sipping wine and listening to the vibrant music coming from the hall, whilst the rain beat against the window. He made a few remarks about the wine, the weather and then surprised me by saying.
“It took me a long time to forgive myself for Théodred’s death. I could not bear to think about it, let alone talk about it. Not until Cormallen, when I talked it over with Aragorn and your father. They made me see that I could have done nothing to prevent it.”
“I know he died at the Fords of Isen, but I don’t know the story,” I encouraged.
Éomer sighed, settled back against the bed head, and took a gulp from his goblet. “You know the Fords were vulnerable to any attack from Isenguard, don’t you.
“Yes, I have studied the maps.”
He nodded, “Théodred had been defending the crossing against continual skirmishes, but he realised that Saruman intended to unleash much greater forces. He sent word for me to bring reinforcements. However, Grima persuaded Théoden to retain my companies to defend Edoras. After a lot of argument Elfhelm was released with four éoreds, but by the time he got there Théodred had lost his life.” He stopped to drink some more wine and I did not say anything, not wishing to interrupt something I guessed must be causing him difficulty. “Evidently Saruman’s uruks had deliberately targeted my cousin, heedless of their own losses. Grimbold got to him before he died; he shielded his body from those who would dishonour it, until Elfhelm arrived.”
I put out my hand and laid it on top of his, “But it you had been there, Éomer, then you would have been a target as well. The Riddermark could well have lost its two male heirs and Théoden might never have recovered from such a blow and would have lost the heart to go to war.”
He smiled. “That’s what your father said, but Théodred expected me to come. His last words to Grimbold were ‘Let me lie here and keep the fords until Éomer comes.’ But I did not get there until after Helm’s Deep.”
“Does Théodred still lie there?”
“Yes, we have erected a cairn. I will take you before winter sets in. Now the Dunlendings are not troubling us, it is a peaceful place.”
“I would like that,” I replied softly. “It will be good to see a different part of the Mark.”
He appeared lost in thought for a moment but then transferred the goblet that he had been cradling in two hands to his right one and put the other around my shoulders, pulling me closer to him.
“Now, tell me about your mother.”
I stiffened immediately, realising how expertly he had led me to this point. I could hardly refuse to confide in him when he had unburdened himself to me.
“Did she resemble you?” he asked when I did not answer.
“Livelier, full of fun and much more beautiful,” I said at last.
“She must have been wondrous indeed; it is not surprising your father fell in love with her.”
“Did he tell you that?” I asked, not able to hide my astonishment.
“It’s a funny thing, Lothíriel, but after you have won a battle there is initial euphoria but then a few days later, melancholy sets in. So much has been gained but so much lost. It was like that at Cormallen, many confidences were shared around the camp fires.”
“I see,” I said thoughtfully. “Well yes, he did love her and she him. I had a happy childhood, safe and secure. My mother was so proud of her sons but she and I had a special relationship and we spent a great deal of time together.” I stopped again, wanting to tell him but finding it so difficult.
“But not riding together,” he prompted.
“Sometimes, but not much,” I smiled. “Then a Harad prince presented her with Zante, when we were still more or less friends with those from the south. Mother virtually gave her to me as soon as I grew big enough to ride her.” Determinedly ignoring my drying mouth, I forced myself to carry on, “Horses did not steal my mother’s heart: that honour belonged to my father, and the sea. Most days, she and I would go down to the beach just after dawn. I would gallop Zante along the water’s edge, splashing through the shallows and my mother would spend the time swimming. She had more skill in the water than I probably have on a horse.” I stopped again and the hand on my shoulder squeezed gently.
“Tell me what happened.”
I had to swallow convulsively before the words would come, “We had had days of storms and had not been out. The first clear day we went down to the beach as usual.” I brought my eyes up from where they had been contemplating the rich pattern on the quilt, “You know those mornings when the air is so fresh you just want to take deep breaths to savour it?” He nodded but said nothing, giving me time. “Zante could hardly wait to go”, I continued. “She had not been out for days. I went much farther than usual. I think I could have ridden all the way to Langstrand on such a glorious morning.” The memories crowded in on me and I could go no further for a moment.
“Did something happen to her then?”
I nodded. “When I got back to the part of the beach where I had left her swimming, I could not see her. I guessed she had given up and gone home, but then I saw what I thought to be a log in the water. The tide was gently moving it, up the beach and back again. When I got closer I realised it was not a log. My mother lay face down, her long black hair spread out - floating in the water.”
Éomer gave a sharp gasp and his arm tightened around me, “She drowned?”
“Not exactly. At first we thought she must have been stung by a jellyfish but there were none of the distinctive wheals on her body. Later, we found a wound on her foot. She had stepped on a stone fish.”
“A stone fish?”
“They lie half-hidden in the sand and look like a large pebble. They have poisonous spines along their back. If you step on one it is very painful but they do not usually cause death. However, Aunt Ivriniel remembered that during her childhood, a cousin of hers stepped on one and died within minutes. Evidently there are some people who react badly.” I stopped, remembering the anger that I had felt then at the injustice of it. “My mother must have been one of them,” I said finally. “She normally wore something on her feet but had forgotten that morning. I blamed myself because if I had got back earlier I might have done something.”
“I don’t know…, maybe at least dragged her out of the water until help arrived.”
“In reality, Lothíriel you could probably have done nothing. One of my riders got stung by a wasp once, a common wasp, but he died within a few minutes. I have been stung quite a few times and have found it only mildly irritating.”
“I know you are right, of course,” I said bleakly.
“To lose your mother is bad enough, but for you to find her like that…” He shook his head, “I can understand why it has taken you a long time to get over it.”
“I went to pieces. I did try to go down to the beach. I tried to ride Zante but I couldn’t: every time I saw even a branch in the water, I froze.”
“You know, I would like to visit Dol Amroth. “It’s not far now and we can easily go next spring. You and I will go down to the beach together and lay your ghosts. Firefoot will gallop carrying us both; he has not seen the sea.”
I smiled, the idea suddenly appealing to me very much. Already I felt the blackness that had occupied a part of my mind for so long, slowly dispersing, “You will take Firefoot rather than the young stallion you were riding yesterday?” I knew all about Firefoot from Éowyn.
“Yes, he is well up to it. He will fight no more wars but would enjoy a journey before complete retirement.”
“And I will have a new horse?”
“You will. I shall select one as soon as I am sure of my choice.”
I could not be certain if he meant - sure of me, or sure of the horse he would choose - but before I could ask the music from the hall reached some kind of zenith, enthusiastically accompanied by loud whoops and cheers.
“I think our guests are way ahead of us, Lothíriel – I haven’t even kissed you.”
To be continued
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.