2. Chapter 2
June 3010 Dol Amroth
Thud! Lothíriel always thought the particular dull thump of her arrows hitting the target to be a very satisfactory noise. And nowadays she heard it a lot. It never ceased to thrill her. One arrow remained, and it was going right in the centre. Concentrating on looking down the shaft, she shut out the noise around her, chanting to herself – you and the arrow are alone in the world. Release the string slowly, no snatching. The twang of the string reverberated in her ear, but as she had been taught she never moved until the arrow had sped halfway to the target – straight and true, she saw, when she lifted her cheek from her thumb. Yes! The blue fletched arrow thudded straight into the centre of the straw roundel, moved further down the field only the day before. Lothíriel caught her lower lip between her teeth, dancing on her toes with excitement.
“Excellent, Lothíriel; all your hard work is paying off.”
“I have a good teacher,” she said turning around. Her teacher must have crept up when she was concentrating on her shot. Sergion stood with his arms folded watching her. Like her father, he managed to look cool and smart in dark blue even on a hot June afternoon. His silver-tinged hair nudged his shoulders and grey eyes creased in a smooth, tanned face. Like her father in other ways, too – kind, dependable and patient, but with an edge of steel that commanded respect. Friend and Captain to the Lord of Dol Amroth, Lothíriel trusted him as much as she did her brothers. She grinned. “Between you being so patient with me and Erchi keeping on at me to practise, I am almost bound to do well.” She looked across to the training ring. “I imagine my brothers are still hitting the stuffing out of one another. And in this heat, too”
Sergion laughed. “They are.”
“Thank you.” Lothíriel took the arrows from the lad who had retrieved them and put them back in her quiver. “I suppose Erchi is winning, as usual.”
A faint smile passed over Sergion’s face. “Amroth fights with skill and intelligence but Erchirion has had four more years to practice. Also he has more strength than Amroth, and possibly always will.”
“Amroth says that one day he will beat him.”
“Amroth is sixteen and full of confidence, and when he gains his full weight they will be more evenly matched. He will make a fine warrior because he thinks things out, but with Erchirion it comes naturally; he was born knowing how to fight.”
Lothíriel considered this for a moment, “A bit like Amroth and horses. Erchi rides well and so does Elphir, but Amroth seems to know what his horses are thinking.”
“Hmm, something I see in you, also.”
Lothíriel giggled. “It is not hard; they soon let you know what they want. And Whitewing won’t want to go out again until the cool of the morning but I would like to go for a swim. Do you think those two have finished bruising one another?”
“If you go to the cove the watchmen can keep an eye on you, but if you are not happy to do that I will send a guard with you, Lothíriel.”
She shook her head. “No, thank you, Amroth will probably like a swim after his exertions. I will see if he will come with me.” She knew Sergion found it strange that unlike in the past when she had wandered freely; she now hardly left the city unless one of her brothers accompanied her. But that was before she had met the Serpent, now she never knew if he might be out there – or some horrible man like him, one who would look at her with a leering grin and coveting eyes. Her family found it odd too, after all the times she had sneaked out to explore the woods and the coastline with just Mista and Larca for company. They had questioned her on and off, trying to find out why she had changed, but she squirmed inside at the thought of repeating what Umar had said, sure that in someway it must be her fault. In the end they had given up.
Sergion stared hard at her for a moment, eyes thoughtful. But if he intended to question her once more about her reluctance to go to their private beach without a brother in tow, he changed his mind. “Come on, then, let’s go and see if Amroth has survived. And if you can persuade him to go with you, perhaps you will be able to winkle Oríon out of the library. I am sure some fresh air and a swim would do him good.”
“You don’t mind, Sergion, do you that Oríon’s not interested in being a warrior like you?”
A large hand ruffled her hair. “Of course I don’t. There is more than one way to fight the enemy. One day I think we will have cause to thank him.”
Lothíriel nodded. “He showed me some designs this morning: sails that let the ship steer almost into the wind and move from one tack to the other without men needing to pull them. The Corsairs will get a shock when we out-manoeuvre them.”
“They will indeed.”
Imrahil stared out of the window. Three familiar black heads passed below him, no doubt on their way to the cove. He sighed; fancying going for a swim for the pure pleasure of it himself, but it had been a long time since he had done that. He remembered it though – a magical day, way before he had the responsibility of running Belfalas and trying to treat with damn Southrons – a day when his wife had still lived and his father had been a strong and shrewd man. But his wife was long dead and back in the spring they had buried his father’s wasted body on a stormy morning when the spume had blown over the mourners like soap suds on washing day.
He sighed; turned away from the window and looked back across the room to where Elphir studied the document he had been given to read. His son’s thin face looked even more serious than usual and Imrahil waited until he had put the stiff parchment onto the desk and sat back in his chair, thoughtfully flicking his lips with one long finger.
“They use such flowery language it’s difficult to tell what they mean but I think you are right. He’s not spelling it out but it’s there – a definite condition, a threat even. What did Sergion think?”
“The same, any treaty between us would have to include Lothíriel.”
“Psst…!” Elphir threw up his hands and jumped from the chair, glaring out the window that looked down on the gates and in the general direction of Harad. “The man’s mad, what does he want with an eleven year old girl?”
“They wed them at twelve out there. And to be fair, most societies use marriage to strengthen alliances.” All the same Imrahil had the distinct impression he had missed something. Ever since Umar had made that ridiculous offer of marriage in the middle of a feast, Lothíriel had behaved strangely. His daughter was not the happy carefree child she had been, in spite of reassuring her he would not let it happen. And for all his efforts to find out the cause of her change of character, he had got nowhere.
Unusually, Elphir never stopped to apply reason to the matter. “Well, he’s not marrying my sister! Neither at twelve nor twenty, if I have anything to do with it.”
“No.” Imrahil chuckled. “You made that plain when he was here before. I thought you were going to challenge him. I usually expect that from Erchi, not you.”
A slight redness tinged Elphir’s cheeks. “There was something about him I didn’t like. To be frank, Father, he made my flesh crawl.”
Imrahil sighed loudly; he was doing that a lot lately. “Even so, I shall have to have him back here sometime in the future, Denethor is convinced we need to try and get him on our side.”
“You wouldn’t!” Elphir’s eyes opened wide and his chin jutted forward.
“No, no!” Imrahil waved his son down. “Surely you know me better than that. But I will have to keep stringing him along; maybe we can offer him something else.”
“A sword in the guts would be best,” Elphir murmured.
Lothíriel had always loved the cove, reached from a steep path just outside the city gates. She skipped along; happy now that Amroth and Oríon were with her. At one time she could always be found with them, a convenient butt for their games. But now, at sixteen, they had other things to occupy them and she had to almost beg for their company. It wouldn’t have mattered before the Serpent, she had liked being on her own before then. But he had changed her life and she would never forgive him.
When they reached the beach the tide was making, the surf claiming bits of sand with unstoppable regularity. The boys tugged off their boots and pulled off their shirts, running headlong into the waves before diving beneath them and emerging almost fifty yards from the shore. Lothíriel followed, diving cleanly and then kicking her legs furiously to keep up. Her first love might be horses but she had conquered the sea in her early years and on such a day as this the exhilaration of plunging through the crests took some beating.
After a while, their first flush of energy satisfied and the heat of the day finally expunged from their flesh, the threesome floated on their backs, looking up at a circle of cornflower blue sky edged with dark rock.
“The tide will be bringing lobsters back into the pools,” Amroth said. “Let’s see if we can get a couple.”
“You two go,” Lothíriel said. “I will sit on the rocks and watch you.” Admittedly she liked the taste of lobster but she felt mean pulling them out of their holes, and then you had to carry them back alive and hand them into the kitchens. She’d stayed to watch once and felt sick when the cook had plunged a big one into boiling water and she’d heard it scream, better not to know about things like that. So when Amroth and Oríon swam over to the pools beneath the cliff she sat on a sunny rock to dry off a bit. Hisael would probably insist that she wash the salt out of her hair and Cousin Eglaneth would tut about her walking back to the palace in a damp shirt and leggings, but nothing much would be said. They had all but given up trying to turn her into a lady. In fact her father had said she did not have to ride side-saddle and could continue to ride properly. With her finally growing out of Mista around her eleventh birthday, Sergion let her ride Whitewing. The mare had belonged to his wife and he’d kept her because he didn’t want to part with his wife’s favourite. Her father said he would look out for something special in a year or two but in the meantime Whitewing suited her fine and allowed her to keep up with Amroth.
Coming out of her reverie, Lothíriel realised that something was wrong. The boys’ voices had changed – she could no longer hear laughter and friendly banter but definite tones of alarm. “What is it?” she called getting up from her rock and looking over to the bottom of the cliff.
“Oríon slipped and his foot is caught in a crevice,” Amroth shouted. “Come and give a hand, the tide’s coming in fast.”
Lothíriel jumped up, tripping in her haste and snagging her ankle painfully on a sharp edge. She could see the danger immediately: Oríon must have fallen into a deep pool because the water was up to his neck. Before she got there Amroth had already ducked below the surface, and she could see that Oríon was trying to tug his leg free. But by the time she plunged into the pool with them, the water lapped at his chin and Amroth had gone down for a second time. Oríon’s eyes blazed with fear.
“Hold him up, Lothy,” Amroth gasped when he surfaced. “I think I can free him but it will hurt.”
He disappeared again and Lothíriel shoved herself under Oríon’s back, treading water and grasping his neck to keep his head up. Amroth was down ages and she struggled to keep Oríon’s mouth out of the water, he spat and coughed and started to thrash around in panic. Just when she thought Amroth would have to surface for air and she couldn’t hang on any longer, the water erupted and he rose up, pushing Oríon out with him.
Lothíriel took a deep breath as a big wave came crashing over the rocks into the pool swirling white foam around them. They had got him out only just in time. The water washed out again leaving Oríon shaking and Amroth gulping lungfuls of air.
Struggling onto the beach, they threw themselves onto the sand in an exhausted heap. “That was a close one. Are you alright?” Amroth asked when he had got his breath back.
Oríon sucked in air through his teeth. “It damn well hurts now it’s out the water. But that’s nothing. I thought my end had come.”
His foot was cut and scraped from where Amroth had had to pull it out, and now that the effect of the cold water had worn off it had started to bleed profusely. “I’ll use your shirt,” Lothíriel said. She retrieved Amroth’s shirt and tried to rip it but it was more difficult than she thought.
“Here, let me do it. But why my shirt?” Amroth grumbled.
“Because it is Oríon who is injured. He must be kept warm.”
“He’s not going to get cold in this heat, is he?” Amroth shot back. But he ripped up the shirt anyway, passing a piece to his sister.
Lothíriel tried to bandage it gently, aware that Oríon was desperately trying not to show his pain. She knew it had to be tight to stop the bleeding but she didn’t want to hurt him any more. Without really thinking what she was doing, she stretched her hand out and put it on his head, speaking the same elvish words she used to calm horses and dogs.
“What are you doing?” Amroth asked, staring at her in some bewilderment.
Lothíriel started, and went back to her bandaging. “I always do that with the animals,” she answered. “It seems to help.”
“Well, whatever you did, it worked,” Oríon muttered. “The pain has lessened.”
June 3010 East Emnet – The Riddermark.
Éomer stuck his foot in the middle of the orc’s chest and wrenched out his spear, hearing a loud glug followed by a satisfying gurgle – another one who wouldn’t be stealing horses or harming his kinsmen. He got the worst of the blood off his spear by wiping it across his victim’s rough leather tunic, noticing a small notch an inch from the point as he did so. That would need fixing soon. Walking back to Fireball, he assessed the slaughter area around him: at least ten of the brutes lay dead and so far without the loss of any Rider. The remaining few were being rounded up and dispatched and he watched dispassionately as one got bowled over by flying hooves only to be speared through the back as he struggled to his feet. The small group had made the mistake of being caught in the open and in the daylight by Elfhelm’s patrol; they stood no chance.
With spear and sword given a perfunctory wipe – he would have time to clean them properly around the fire that evening – he returned to the body of the orc he had just killed. Béma, how ugly they were, and the stink never got any less. This one was huge and had great thick arms. Éomer grabbed his shoulders and pulled him easily across the uneven ground. In the two years he had spent riding the plains his body had changed from that of a boy to one of a man. Other things had changed too, he acknowledged; hotheadedness had been replaced by a cold determination and a vow to rid his homeland of the vile beasts that continually invaded it. He had made that promise almost to the day two years ago when he had watched Bergit, still wrapped in a blanket, throw a handful of earth over the mound where they had buried her family.
Éomer heaved the body of the orc onto the growing pile just as Elfhelm returned from dealing with the remnants. His captain brought his horse to standstill next to him and studied the orc he had just added to the heap. “A big one. How did you finish him off?”
“I rammed my spear into his black heart before he could get near, but he pulled it out of my hands,” Éomer answered, grinning. “It didn’t do him any good, though.”
Elfhelm returned his grin. “You’re getting good at it; you must be going up in the rankings.”
He probably was – they kept a rough score, mostly so they could rag each other – but he would have a long way to go to catch up with the man looking down at him. Elfhelm was a formidable warrior and an inspiring leader of men and with the éored split into patrols to enable them to cover a wider area, Éomer felt privileged to be allowed to ride with him. But those were things you did not say so he just nodded and turned his attention back to the stack of filth. “We will have to camp away from this lot. I can’t bear the stink of them alive, let alone burning.”
Elfhelm mused for a moment. “I think we will head for the village. We are not that far away and our supplies are running short. A bit of relaxation will do us all good, too.”
Éomer concurred with that. The hard ground didn’t particularly worry him but he certainly wouldn’t pass up the chance of a comfortable bed for the night. And he knew he’d be offered one. For some reason Edwick and Bergit felt they owed him. They didn’t, he hadn’t done anything except speak the truth as he saw it. But whatever, Bergit had clung to him when they had buried her parents, and Elfhelm, always quick to pick up on clues like that, had ordered him to lift her onto Fireball when they were ready to depart the camp. Leaving half the éored to deal with the herd, they had made good speed. His father’s great, grey gelding making light of the burden of a half-grown man, a girl and a bundle of possessions retrieved from the ransacked camp. But they were heading into a sinking sun by the time they reached the village. His arm had gone to sleep and Bergit had started to shake uncontrollably, hiding her head under his cloak as soon as the first roofs had been spotted.
“It will be all right,” he whispered, seeing the silent welcome party. They had sent ahead to prepare the villagers for what had happened, and he thought he recognised the woman waiting slightly apart from the main group as Bergit’s grandmother. Before he got fully into the square a young woman had reached up to take the only other survivor from Adwine. She hugged the little boy to her breast but from what Éomer could see, she got no reaction. A path cleared and he guided Fireball in the direction of the tall grey- haired matron who took a step towards him, but before they were within touching distance a man appeared at Fireball’s side. A giant of a man.
“I’ll take her.”
“Edwick?” The apprehension in her small voice cut right to Éomer’s heart.
“Come on, lass, I’ll take you home.”
He’d transferred the trembling bundle into a pair of tanned, brawny arms. Edwick gave him a nod of thanks, their eyes meeting for only a fleeting moment which allowed no time for him to gauge any of the man’s sentiments. But reassuringly Edwick had gently arranged the blanket to cover the ends of his betrothed’s cruelly shorn hair. Another nod and with Bergit’s grandmother hurrying behind, he marched off down a side street, leaving Éomer feeling slightly bereft.
That had been the last he’d seen of either of them until three months later when the patrol had been back in the village. He had been watering Fireball when Edwick approached him. Éomer got the chance to study him this time: five or six years older than himself, he guessed, a few inches taller but almost twice as wide, and all muscle. He sported a neat beard and wore his flaxen hair tied back with a leather thong; his eyes were blue and in them Éomer saw only amity. Yes, a giant, but a gentle one, he concluded.
“Lord, if you think it’s fitting, Bergit and I would be mighty pleased if you would share a meal with us.”
“I will not be a lord until I am eighteen,” he replied, “but I would be as honoured then as I am now.”
Well, he might be eighteen going on nineteen now, a lord and the king’s nephew, but out on the plains he was just a member of Elfhelm’s patrol who tonight would share a meal with friends and sleep in a narrow bed in the hut across their yard as he had done every time he had stayed in the village during the last two years, and he’d be grateful for it. Finishing with the orcs, the smoke from their pyre already rising high in the still air, Éomer used some of the water from his water-skin to wash the blood from his hands before remounting Fireball; the rest of him could wait.
The icy water gushed over him, not a lot of lather but if he scrubbed any more he’d lose a layer of skin. “I think that’ll do.”
Edwick stopped pumping and handed him a cloth. “Have you got a clean shirt?”
Éomer pointed to his saddle bag. The housekeeper at Aldburg still liked to look after him; welcoming his visits – more frequent now that he served the East-mark. She kept him well provided with linen. He started to towel his hair, pulling the shirt over his damp head when it got handed to him. “I’ll have to clean all my stuff, orc blood stinks worse than shit but besides that, it eats into the metal.”
“How many did you get?”
“Over a dozen altogether.” Éomer grinned; “Only two were mine but one was a big bastard.”
Edwick nodded, satisfied. “Come and eat now and I will give you a hand after supper. We’ve got a little surprise we want you to see.”
Something in Edwick’s voice alerted him. “The baby’s come?”
The big man flushed slightly. “Yes, the bairn came a bit early. But he’s fine and so is Bergit”
“He!” Slapping him on the back Éomer pushed him towards the cottage. “Lead on, or won’t that great head of yours get through the door now?”
A least it was one door where neither of them had to duck. Edwick’s father had evidently been a man of gargantuan proportions and had built his house accordingly. Éomer wondered if father and son had chosen their profession or it had chosen them. Wheelwrights and wagon builders needed to be strong and they didn’t come much stronger than Edwick as he had found out to his cost when he’d been stupid enough and drunk enough to suggest an arm wrestle. Now they did it every time and it wasn’t a matter of whether he could win but how long it took before he lost.
“What’s his name?” Unprepared for the jolt of emotion he felt, Éomer looked down at the little bundle in the cradle; fast asleep with a thumb stuck in his mouth. He remembered Éowyn looking much the same, although then he had only taken a cursory look wanting to get back to his pony. But that had all changed when they had lost their parents and to his surprise he’d suddenly felt totally responsible for her. This little mite had two to care for him and Éomer fervently hoped he always would.
“If you don’t mind, Éomer we thought we would call him Éomund after your father. He was our lord and often came this way. I remember seeing him when I was about twelve. So fine he looked, and fierce, on his great horse, but he laughed a lot and told us children a story.” Bergit reached down and smoothed her baby’s head. Éomund gave a little sigh and tiny lips sucked furiously on the thumb for a moment before he relaxed into deeper sleep again. “And now we know you…”
“Éomund’s a good name. It will suit him,” Éomer agreed.
“Right, now that’s settled put the food on the table, Woman. Éomer must be starving.”
“You just be careful who you’re ordering about.” Bergit chided her husband, but she went to the stove anyway.
Good fresh bread was something he missed while out on the Emnet for weeks at a time and Bergit made a particularly fine loaf. Éomer used the last of his portion to mop up the tasty gravy, just as the first mews of discontent came from the cradle. Bergit immediately got up, but went to the stove first, picking up a cloth so she could carry the golden-crusted fruit pie to the table. She fetched a jug of cream from the pantry and by that time Éomund had started complaining loudly. “You’ll have to serve it, Edwick or he will start yelling.”
Edwick feasted his eyes on the pie with gleeful anticipation. “The first of the windberries, you were lucky to come today.” He cut a huge wedge and set it down on Éomer’s plate, covering the pastry and oozing purple juice with thick yellow cream.
Digging his spoon in, Éomer grinned at him. “If you feed me like this I shall soon beat you.”
Ploughing into his own helping, Edwick laughed. “Young Éomund’s got a mighty appetite too, one day he’ll likely beat me.”
Bergit nursed her son, with a shawl wrapped around both of them. She was crooning softly to the baby, one finger stroking his cheek. Her golden hair must have almost reached its original length, Éomer decided, and thankfully her pretty face had escaped any scaring. She looked up, caught him watching her and met his eyes with a smile. He knew from Edwick that she had suffered from nightmares for quite a while but feeding her child, she looked at peace. Reluctantly drawing his gaze away, he went back to his meal.
Empty plates pushed aside, Edwick rammed his elbow down on the table. “Come on, Warrior, wielding that sword of yours so much lately must count for something. Let’s see what you can do against a wheelwright.”
Not much, the answer to that. Éomer lost the arm wrestle, straining until he thought his bone would split. Although he managed an extra minute or two, which earned him a slap on the shoulder and a good-natured cuff around the ear. Afterwards he brought in his weapons and his mail and companionably he and Edwick cleaned and oiled them. The hour had grown late by the time Edwick lit the lantern that would see him across the yard. Éomer went to take it from him but he shook his head. “I will come with you; there is something I want to show you.”
The room behind Edwick’s workshop only held a bed and a small table, but as always the simple accommodation was spotlessly clean. An earthenware jar stood on the table holding a few blue flowers. “Give me a hand with the bed.” Edwick said.
“You think it’s necessary?” Éomer queried as Edwick showed him the cunningly crafted compartment he’d fashioned under the floor of the room. A trapdoor led to a dug out, wood-lined space, big enough Eomer realised for Bergit and the child to squeeze into.
“You know it’s getting worse and so do I. The herdsmen say they often see orcs travelling down the borders of our land. The talk is that they are going to that evil place they call Mordor. You get a few of them, Éomer but they are many and you cannot be everywhere. It’s no good saying we are not in danger because I wouldn’t believe you. We are the largest village on the Emnet and have rich pickings. We are also the first they come to across the plain. The fortress at Aldburg is too far away for us to reach in any reasonable time, so I am making preparations.”
Éomer couldn’t deny his reasoning. Eastfeld had grown into a prosperous village, a trading station for the herdsmen of the Emnet. But it lay over fifty miles from Aldburg, and when the Entwash ran in flood the fortress could only be reached by using the flat platform-like boats that ran on ropes spanning the river. The number of orcs using their land to reach Mordor, and subsequently looking for sustenance on the way had increased in the two years he had ridden with Elfhelm. They had talked about providing more arms and training the Herdsmen, as well as ways to protect the few villages that lay between the Entwash and the Wall. He looked steadfastly at Edwick, not quite knowing what to say.
“I am showing you so if anything happens you will know where to find them. I’ll never let them near Bergit or the child. I’m not good with a sword but I know the rudiments and I’ve got a strong arm and a long reach.”
No doubt that Edwick would put up a fight. But whether that would be enough if it came to it… Éomer prayed they would never find out.
Alone in the narrow bed, sleep would not come. Éomer tossed and turned as images of Bergit filled his mind: lying curled up amongst torn canvas; feeding the baby, her face soft and relaxed. He tried desperately to shut them out, the hot blood of youth a poor excuse for lusting after another man’s wife. For lusting after the wife of a friend— no excuse existed.
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.