24. Chapter 24
At length after fifteen days of journey the wain of King Théoden passed through the green fields of Rohan and came to Edoras; and there they all rested. The Golden Hall was arrayed with fair hangings and it was filled with light, and there was held the highest feast that it had known since the days of its building. For after three days the Men of the Mark prepared the funeral of Théoden; and he was laid in a house of stone with his arms and many other fair things that he had possessed, and over him was raised a great mound, covered with green turves of grass and of white evermind. And now there were eight mounds on the east-side of the Barrowfield
When the burial was over and the weeping of women was stilled, and Théoden was left at last alone in his barrow, then folk gathered to the Golden Hall for the great feast and put away sorrow; for Théoden had lived to full years and ended in honour no less than the greatest of his sires. And when the time came that in the custom of the Mark they should drink to the memory of the kings, Éowyn Lady of Rohan came forth, golden as the sun and white as snow, and she bore a filled cup to Éomer.
Then Éowyn bade those that served to fill the cups, and all there assembled rose and drank to the new king, crying: ‘Hail, Éomer, King of the Mark!’
From the Return of the King by JRR Tolkien.
14th August 3019
Edoras - The Riddermark
“Scatha the worm? It came from a dragon’s hoard?” Merry’s eyes lit with wonderment as he turned the small horn over in his hands to study the engraved horsemen that galloped from tip to mouth.
“It did indeed.” Éomer said. “And the size belies the power of its call.” He laughed, placing his hand affectionately on Merry’s shoulder. He’d become really fond of the hobbit who had saved his sister’s life. “When you come to visit us again, sound it as you spy the golden roof of Meduseld, and all of Edoras will rush to meet you.”
“Oh, I will come. I promise you, Éomer. Strider…I mean Elessar, says he will make the roads safe and travel will be much easier.” Merry lips twisted into a half-grin. “To be honest, I want to go home, but I wonder how easy it will be to settle down to a quiet life. And I will miss you all so much.”
“We will miss you too, Merry,” Éowyn said, the corners of her mouth turning down. But then she let out a chuckle of amusement. “Although, I can’t imagine anywhere being quiet with you around. Especially if Pippin is in the vicinity as well.”
“That’s true,” Éomer agreed, grinning – the two younger hobbits always fully contributing to the singing and story telling. “We have enjoyed some lively evenings.” He squeezed Merry’s shoulder. “It’s nearly time for you to leave, and I must speak to others.” Éomer left him and Éowyn to finish their goodbyes, and strode over to Frodo and Sam, who were talking to Aragorn at the far end of the terrace.
After a few minutes’ conversation, Aragorn pulled him aside. “Walk down with me. You can accompany Arwen back up the hill.”
“I intended to come anyway,” Éomer replied. “I wish to take my leave of Gandalf. But I am surprised Arwen is not going with you. I would have thought she wanted as much time as possible with her father.”
“More words will change nothing. They have talked and talked, long into every night, and she went into the hills with him a couple of hours ago, just as dawn was breaking. Arwen is insistent she has had enough journeying for a while and wishes to remain here until I get back.” Aragorn paused, his face showing an unusual amount of anxiety. Éomer could understand that. Having waited so long for her, he probably didn’t want to let his wife out of sight.
“I intend to return within two sennights. “You will look after her? Keep her safe?”
Éomer smiled reassuringly: men ever feared for women and not themselves. “Aragorn, you don’t have to ask. She is your wife. I would give my life to protect her. You know that.”
A hard hand landed between his shoulders blades. “Yes, my friend, I do.” There is no man I trust more.”
By the time he and Aragorn reached the green space outside the walls, no trace of the Elven encampment remained, the silken tents rolled into the smallest of packages. The Royal Guard of Gondor was lined up ready to leave; soldiers were fixing last bundles to various pack animals and stablemen checking the tack. Some husbandmen had arrived to clear up after the Elven horses – maybe they thought the dung had extra powers! A large group of the citizens of Edoras hung around by the wall, taking their final look at the fair-folk of Rivendell and Lothlórien. They’d better look now, for none here would see such a gathering again. Amongst all, the Elves stood out as stately flowers sprinkled amid rank weeds. Their mounts has been saddled and waited quietly – like the fully trained horses of the Mark, Elven steeds needed no tethers.
With Aragorn drawn into a discussion on the journey arrangements, Éomer cast his eyes over Asfaloth, the horse that had carried Frodo away from the wraiths, and then to Shadowfax who cropped grass a little way off. Looking at the two magnificent animals together, one could believe in the common ancestry.
“I see it is our horses that attract the attention of the Lord of this land, and not my lovely elf-maidens.”
Éomer had got used to elves seeming to appear from nowhere and was pleased that he managed not to jump. Galadriel’s laugh tinkled like water flowing over pebbles, her hair shone fair as the summer sun. And true, her attendants were lovely, beautiful even, but like her, they struck him as something to be admired rather than actually touched. He didn’t say that, instead, “Their radiance dims in my lady’s presence.”
This time she didn’t laugh, and her eyes appraised him thoughtfully. “So, a Horse-lord can be silver-tongued when the occasion demands.”
Éomer chuckled. “It is something I am working on. The men of my éored never minded how much I bawled at them. The ladies of the court are more sensitive, and my advisors more easily offended.” He sighed. “I think in the future words will become weapons to use with care. Every time I open my mouth I am expected to say something important.”
Galadriel’s eyes flickered with light. As in every encounter he had had with the Lady, he felt his mind opened like a page in a book – one she could read better than him. “You must not worry, young king. The future is always dependant on the events of the past. And there are those who have shaped the past to secure your future.” She held out her hand before he could respond. “Thank you for your hospitality.”
Éomer took it to his lips. A beautiful hand – smooth, white skin; long, shapely nails.
“Farewell, we shall not meet again.” A whirl of white, and Galadriel was gone.
Éomer’s eyes followed her until she disappeared amongst the press of horses, materialising a few moments later atop her grey mare. Béma! He’d thought Gandalf talked in riddles, but she was worse. Give him a woman of solid flesh and blood.
21st August 3019
Meduseld – The Riddermark
Slumped back in his chair, aware that he was becoming increasingly maudlin, Éomer twirled the stem of his goblet around in his fingers, watching his sister. Stretched up on tiptoe, she pointed at figures depicted on a tapestry, enthusiastically explaining the significance to Arwen. Éomer stared at the wall-hanging in question, realising the picture showed Folcred and Fastred, killed years before in the service of Gondor, plus the wain hauling the wergild to their father. Not a lot different from the present circumstances, only now the wagons coming up the Great West Road carried supplies to see the Mark’s beleaguered people through the winter.
Éowyn moved to the next tapestry, and Éomer had to admire her: she had spent the last week trying to keep Arwen’s mind off the fact that she would never see her father again. Not that Arwen had shown any undue melancholy, those ageless, grey eyes hiding her thoughts. Only that first day had she given away the depth of her loss, when she had sat alone on one of the seats outside the hall, refusing the food and drink he’d taken out. Feeling helpless, he had let her be until an hour before supper when a chill wind had sprung up, an unpleasant threat of rain upon its breath. He’d gone out again, this time to put his cloak around her shoulders. That had broken her reverie, and they had talked until the bell was rung for the meal, mostly about Aragorn.
Well, Aragorn would return to Edoras in about a week, and the last of the guests would be going. Hopefully, if Aragorn’s predictions were correct, to Dol Amroth by way of the Dimholt Road. Opening the way under the mountains would mean all sorts of trading possibilities; salt fish from the coast, fruit, vegetables and wine from the fertile south facing valleys of the White Mountains. Next year they would have wheat, barley and oats to trade, and he could let some of their horses go, confident that in the peace the herds would recover their former glory. Just one of Rohan’s highly trained horses would buy a lot of essential goods for the Riddermark, and a few luxuries. Yes, he could see life improving.
His eyes searched out Imrahil. The Prince had promised to help him set up markets for their goods in the South, another advantage of the increasing friendship between them. Imrahil was talking to his lady, Calaerdis, and to Elfhelm and Wilflede, whose belly had grown so big it looked liable to pop. Although the babe was not due for another month. Which reminded him: where had Éothain and Welwyn sloped off to? Éomer sighed; he would have to speak to Éothain. The wedding was not until Yuletide when her parents could attend, but Welwyn had come to court to learn its ways from Éowyn. He was responsible for her until then and did not fancy dealing with Erkenbrand’s wrath if anything happened to his daughter before the wedding. Déor, on the other hand, showed no inclination to do other than sit close to Byrde in full view of the rest of the hall. A good thing with the wedding not until March, Byrde not wishing to leave her mother alone in her grief.
But there would be another, even more important, wedding in March. Éomer glanced round at Faramir. The Steward also sat back comfortably in his chair with a large goblet of wine in his hand, long legs stretched out under the table. His eyes were fixed on Éowyn and he had a contented look plastered across his face. Realising Éomer was watching him, he smiled. “Éowyn and Arwen get on well. Out of kindness, Éowyn has done her very best to try and keep Arwen busy this week, and, out of kindness, the Queen has never once shown that she would rather have been left alone to think.”
Éomer chuckled: at Faramir’s perception, and his understanding of Éowyn’s forthright ways. “I think you love my sister very much.”
An eyebrow rose. “Do you mind?”
Éomer smiled at him, “No, of course I do not. You are just what she needs, although I will admit that I shall miss her greatly.” He laughed at his own thoughts. “What I cannot understand is how you can bear to wait until next March to marry her. I think that if I felt for a woman the way you do for Éowyn, I would be throwing her over my saddle and riding off somewhere quiet.”
Faramir took a gulp from his goblet before answering. “There is the small matter of somewhere to live. But Éomer,” he carried on, “there is a difference between love and lust, you know. Love will wait.”
Éomer thought about that for a moment. “I am not convinced.”
“Well, a cold bath helps,” said Faramir, eyes twinkling.
Éomer burst out laughing. Still chuckling, he reached for the wine jug and refilled both their goblets to the brim. Faramir continued to surprise him, and the more they had got to know each other, the closer their relationship had become. It struck him, that in looks and acuity, Faramir resembled Imrahil very much. And Amroth come to that, when the young prince could be induced to be serious. Once again he wondered why Amroth had not come to Edoras, having been surprised when he had returned to Minas Tirith to collect Théoden’s body, to find that instead of coming with them as planned, Amroth had changed his mind and returned home to Dol Amroth. ‘Family matters,’ Imrahil had said. Éomer was disappointed, he liked Amroth very much, enjoyed his jocular company. But perhaps his elder brother had needed help, although from what he had heard Prince Elphir was quite capable of ruling Belfalas in his father’s absence. Maybe there was trouble with the odd daughter. Hadn't Merry said something about her turning up in Minas Tirith? But perhaps he had been mistaken. Éomer felt sorry for Imrahil, but it happened in the best of families. A pity there was not another daughter, a younger one. That might have solved one of his problems.
“Deep in thought, Éomer?”
Startled from his musings, he blurted it out before he had time to think. “Faramir, I need a wife!”
A slow smile crept across Faramir’s face. “Yes, I suppose you do,” he said thoughtfully, “but is it such a problem? From what I have seen, Éomer, many of the Ladies of Gondor would be happy to oblige.”
Éomer realised he must have pulled a face because it was Faramir’s turn to laugh. “I gather from your reaction that none pleased you.”
“I am sure there are some very lovely ladies in Gondor, but those I met at the court tended to be too …,” he sought for words, “… affected for my taste. And don’t forget, you would have had plenty of opportunity with them, yet you waited for my sister!”
“Hmm…true. I admit that I have always likened them to a disappointing meal – beautifully presented, but tastes sharp on the tongue.”
Éomer spluttered into his wine.
“Also, my friend,” Faramir carried on, glancing towards Éowyn, “do you not find that what is so blatantly on offer is not nearly as desirable as that which is not?”
“How very true,” Éomer chuckled. “But it doesn’t solve my problem.”
“What about your own country? There must be suitable ladies who would relish being queen.”
“Well, I suppose there are a few who would accept the job, but none that make my heart beat any faster. The trouble is that the situation is getting desperate.” He grinned over the top of his goblet. “We have very cold winters!”
“If that is the case,” suggested Faramir with a wry look, “why not solve your problem in the way powerful men have been inclined to do through the ages?”
“And what way is that?” Éomer retorted, a bit suspicious of Faramir’s meaning.
But the grey eyes twinkled again. “Find a lady willing to warm your bed until a good match comes along!”
“Oh! That’s what I hoped you meant.” Éomer said, relieved. “Although, it’s not quite that easy in the Riddermark. It has always been frowned upon for the lords of this land to take and discard at will. Of course,” he added, “there are always some who will oblige. But if I make an advance to any lady, she will expect to be queen!”
“So, what have you done during the hot-blooded years of your youth?”
Probably, if he hadn’t been drinking so deeply, Éomer would have made some light remark, but within a moment he found himself telling Faramir about Bergit. What was it about this man? Memories he had managed to push aside during the war, surfaced with their usual guilt and pain. “I swear I would never have instigated anything myself,” he said at last. “But she turned up in my quarters one night and …,” he shrugged, “…our relationship continued for a good many years.”
“Did her husband know?” asked Faramir.
Éomer shrugged his shoulders again. “I hope not. We always got on well. I would sit with him in the evenings and share some ale. As I said, he was a good man.”
“What happened in the end?” Faramir asked.
Even now he couldn’t voice the details. “Their village was raided by orcs. I was far away. She hid the children, but wouldn’t leave Edwick. She loved him, and died defending him.”
“The women of the Mark always amaze me,” Faramir mused.
They drank in silence for a moment.
Faramir suddenly looked up and asked. “Who was the lady I saw coming out of your rooms in Minas Tirith? It was very early one morning.”
Éomer laughed, banishing the shadows. “Believe me, Faramir, I did not really instigate that either.”
“You gave her a horse!” Faramir exclaimed after Éomer had told him about Guleth. “How is she going to explain that?”
“I told her to say that she had nursed me back to health!”
Faramir raised his eyebrows, but said nothing.
“And now you know my dark secrets, are we any nearer finding me a wife?”
“Well,” said Faramir, entering into the spirit of it, “what sort of woman do you want?”
“I know what I do not want,” Éomer replied, “not some meek lady, who will lie submissively beneath me to produce an heir for Rohan. I want a queen, proud and strong, to rule alongside me.” He looked to the other end of the Hall and then turned and gave Faramir a sideways grin, “One with the beauty and compassion of Arwen, and the bravery and loyalty of my sister.”
“Oh, that’s good,” Faramir guffawed, “it is well to know that you are not setting your sights too high. Now we know that, it should be easy!”
“One can hope,” said Éomer standing up, his head spinning slightly. “I must get some air after all that wine.”
He turned to go, but Faramir called him sharply back. “Fool that I am, the drink is addling my mind. Éomer, I may have the answer.”
Éomer raised a brow speculatively, “Really, so soon?”
“Maybe,” he replied. “You have not yet seen the best that Gondor has to offer. Wait until my wedding; she will be there.”
“Who?” asked Éomer.
“A relative of mine...”
“Faramir, if you are going to try and foist that awful cousin of yours on me, then let me tell you...”
“Cousin? What cousin are you talking about? You have not met…”
“The one with the hawk nose … Heleguin, I think. Every time I left my quarters she managed to be around. ”
“Heleguin?” A frown puckered Faramir’s brow. “I agree she is an irritating woman, and I suppose she is a cousin, but a very distant one. No, I meant another, but I will say no more about her yet.” Placing a hand on his arm, Faramir looked deep into his eyes. “Promise me you will wait. Do not choose a wife until the spring. I have a feeling about this.”
Sensing the sincerity in Faramir’s appeal, Éomer nodded. “All right, my friend, I agree. I will wait.” He turned to go again, and Faramir got up as well. But he shook his head when Éomer asked him if he was coming outside.
“No, I imagine you will be some time talking to that mettlesome beast of yours. I will have a few words with Imrahil before I see if I can persuade Éowyn to take a last stroll on the terrace.”
Imrahil looked up as he heard his name, in time to see Éomer slap Faramir’s arm in a friendly goodnight. “I am sure you will have no trouble,” Éomer added, heading for the doors.
As Faramir marched across the hall towards him, Imrahil pursed his lips in amusement. “You have a very determined stride, Faramir.”
Rising from her seat, Calaerdis nodded to Faramir, “It looks as though you wish to talk, my lord, so I will take the opportunity to retire.” Elfhelm and Wilflede followed her lead and also excused themselves.
“Did I scare them all away?” Faramir asked as he sat down next to Imrahil.
“You do have a rather purposeful look on your face.”
“Éomer wants a wife,” Faramir told him bluntly.
“Ah…,” said Imrahil. “I wondered what you two were talking about.”
“Have you heard how Lothíriel is?”
“So, that’s the way your mind is working, is it?” Had the thought crossed his own –probably – at least in his optimistic moments? But he waited for what Faramir had to say.
“I don’t know why I didn’t remember before. It only came to me whilst we were talking. She told me years ago that she would marry a king. You remember when she went missing and met that soothsayer fellow. It was one of the things he told her: a king with fair hair.”
Imrahil cast his mind back. “I don’t remember her telling me anything about a king, but she did say she would never marry Umar because he had black hair.”
“It would be a wonderful match.”
“For Gondor? Or for my daughter? You are talking like your father, Faramir.”
“For all of us. You would surely welcome it.”
Imrahil sighed. “For her to find love with a good man is what I wish for most. But it depends on Lothíriel. Aragorn has total confidence that the Lady Galadriel will have helped her. I would have gone back home myself, but Amroth was the obvious choice. And if Elphir had not written to say there were great improvements, I would not be lingering here now.”
“If Elphir is confident…”
“I will wait until I see her with my own eyes before I entertain any hopes.” Imrahil interrupted him. “I need to be sure she could cope with being Queen of Rohan. But if they happen to be attracted to one another, then the trust I have in Éomer would probably outweigh any fears of her being so far away from home.” He mused on the possibilities for a moment, “You did not say anything to him?”
“Nothing much. I hinted that I had a suitable relative, and advised him to wait until my wedding before choosing a wife.”
“Well,” said Imrahil, “I think it would be best if I mention nothing to Lothíriel. I can judge her mindset over the winter. Only if I am happy will I let fate continue what it has started.”
22nd August 3019
“Lothy, you are getting that all over you.”
His sister looked up, held the impaled fish in one hand and wiped the back of the other across her greasy mouth. She grinned impishly, white teeth bright against her tanned skin.
“Am I?” Taking another bite of the fish, Lothíriel leant forward and let the juices drip down onto the sand rather than over her leggings. “I am going for a swim afterwards, so it doesn’t matter,” she said, licking the bits from her fingers.
“I will say one thing, Amroth. You know how to catch and cook a fish.” Finishing his, Oríon used the stick to flick the head and remaining bone up into the air. Immediately a gull swooped down, snatching the offering without missing a wing beat.
It was true, he liked fishing. And they always tasted better cooked over an open fire when really fresh. “Do you want another? This one’s ready.” Amroth retrieved the fish from where he had balanced it between two tripods over the fire, and passed it to Oríon. He took another from the canvas bucket, gutted it, and threaded a piece of sharpened wood right through its mouth and into its tail, before supporting it over the embers. He threw the guts into the sea. The opportunist gull swooped again, but too late, as with a splash, a gaping mouth plucked the bloody entrails from under its indignant beak. Squawking furiously the gull gained height, scolding its displeasure as it circled around them.
“Here, gull, have this!” Lothíriel shouted.
Amroth felt something hit him in the back as he hovered over the fire. Putting up his hand he came away with a smelly mess of fishbone and skin. By the time he turned, Lothíriel and Oríon were collapsed in laughter.
“Sorry,” Lothíriel giggled. “I tried to flick it like Oríon, but it went in the wrong direction. It’s a good job you haven’t got a shirt on.”
He glared at her, which sent her into more giggles. “You can come and watch this one whilst I wash myself off.” Lothíriel rearranged her expression and slid on her bum a few yards to sit by the fire. She looked up at him from under her lashes, lips twitching. “Don’t let it burn,” he ordered.
When he returned, damp but clean, Lothíriel passed him a perfectly cooked fish. “You are learning,” he said, grinning at her.
Lothíriel sighed, lying back on the sand. “It’s so beautiful here. And I had forgotten how much fun it was to camp on the islands. We used to do it a lot, didn’t we?”
They did. When they were young. Before the shadow had darkened all their lives until the only reality was war and death. And before Lothíriel had been confined behind stone walls for her own protection, until, driven into her own secret hell, she had created walls around herself. But their last visit seemed like an age ago, and the little necklace of islands around the coast had been left to the birds and the crabs. Amroth let his eyes linger on his sister – he should have realised how bad it was. He should have helped her before, should have gone straight home after the battles and not immersed himself in pleasure seeking. It had taken the Lady Galadriel to tell him – to tell them all – what Lothíriel needed. So obvious really: her innocent childhood had been stolen when that desert snake had pursued her so relentlessly. She had to find it again before she could even begin to heal.
Lothíriel sat up. “What are you thinking, Amroth? You are staring at me.”
“I am thinking that you don’t look much like a princess.” Her hair tied in a loose plait, a grubby linen shirt, and even grubbier hose, she looked like a waif. A waif who spent most of her time under the sun. Saying nothing, Lothíriel wiggled her brown toes into the sand, and stretched her arm out to pick up a pretty pink and black shell, but as her fingers touched it the shell got up and scurried farther along the beach. Something else in disguise.
Lothíriel laughed as the hermit crab settled again, well out of reach. “But it’s fun. I shall go back to being a princess at the end of the summer when father comes home. For now, I am enjoying the freedom.”
Amroth smiled. It had been fun for him as well – the wild rides, splashing though surf tinged pink from the dawn; the picnics in the woods with the dogs bringing them supper; racing their boats across the Haven – a cleansing time after all the filth and carnage of the Pelennor, and the excesses of the celebrations. “All three of us are enjoying it, Lothíriel.”
“And for a bit longer, I hope,” Oríon murmured. He lay flat on his back gazing up pensively. “Those clouds look like a flock of stupid sheep waiting to be rounded up.”
Lothíriel glanced at the puffy clouds amidst the blue. “See!” she said, and jabbed him in the side. “Get you away from those charts and plans and you can be as childish as the rest off us.”
Rubbing his ribs, Oríon sat up and looked straight at her. “A good idea from the Elf Lady. What else did she say to you?”
Amroth waited for Lothíriel’s face to stiffen and her to clam up, but surprising him, she looked thoughtful, as if she was trying to recall. He caught Oríon’s eye. His friend winked. Would they get her to the next stage – persuading her to talk about it?
“She didn’t wave her hand and make everything all right, if that is what you are thinking. I remember she said the same as you, Oríon: that it was me that had to help the scars to fade. At first I heard her voice, melodious, insistent, but then it was like the thoughts were there without her speaking, impinging on my mind. Sometime, then or since, I do not know, I realised that the constant scourging of myself had to stop. Forgiving others can be difficult, but forgiving oneself even harder. You two have helped enormously by spending so much time with me, but the final curative can only come from within. I see it within my grasp, then just as I reach out, it slips away.” Lothíriel dug her hand into the sand, lifted it up and let the grains trickle through her fingers. “But each day I get a little closer.”
She stopped and Amroth thought she would say nothing more, but Lothíriel sighed deeply. “When we talked about the healing she told me that amongst her people many had the gift, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t do other things. She said I had been born a princess, and I could not escape that fate. I will not run from it any more.”
Another pause and she smiled wistfully. “I know now, Amroth that I don’t have to continually work in the Healing Houses. The knowledge is there for when it is needed, but I have other things to do than bandage cut fingers and treat old men for gout. Tell that to Elphir when he asks you how I am getting on. He will be pleased.”
The sea. They had glimpsed it all day, but as they rounded a bend, the vista opened up and he saw the vast expanse of ocean stretching to the horizon. A few boats were fishing between the islands, and a trader crossed the Haven on route to Dol Amroth from Edhellond. Tonight he would be eating in his own hall.
Imrahil glanced over to the woman riding next to him. As always she looked elegant and composed, the dark red of her riding dress setting off her fair skin and black hair. His decision to take her to his home had not come easily, but since the war, Calaerdis had been his constant companion. Now he didn’t want to give her up. And as long as the conventions were outwardly maintained, it shouldn’t cause too much talk. But it was dependant on her getting on with Lothíriel. Elphir knew Calaerdis would be coming and would have told her, but if there was a problem he had to put his daughter first. Hopefully it wouldn’t come to that. He saw that Calaerdis had raised herself from her saddle, to look towards Dol Amroth. “We will be there by this evening,” he said to her.
“I shall be glad,” she answered. “I have run out of dry clothes.”
Hmm… not a good journey. First that awful tunnel – of the women, only Calaerdis and Arwen had sat straight in their saddles, the maids huddling fearfully under enveloping cloaks. Then the rain – the weather had broken just after they had left Éomer at Erech. That evening they had watched the lightening searing across the southern sky. But the worst of the storm had stayed on the coast, and the next two days they had just a persistent downpour to contend with. But now it was sunny and warm again, and Calaerdis looked happy their journey neared its end, although she must be a little apprehensive of how she would be accepted. He supposed that if she did not feel comfortable in the Palace, she would sail on to Minas Tirith with Aragorn and Arwen. That would be a great shame.
The road between Edhellond and Dol Amroth ran along the edge of the Cobas Haven, following the pinewoods that spread down to the dunes. So the sea was obscured again until the road turned and headed straight for the city and the port. Between the road and the high walls the home paddock showed as a swathe of green after the recent rain. A few horses nibbled at the grass. “That’s my old charger, Warlord,” he pointed out to Aragorn. The horse looked up at the sound of many hooves, cantering over to the fence to investigate those who broke the peace of a warm afternoon. The others in the field followed him, kicking their heels in excitement at the great influx of their kin. But then Imrahil’s attention got taken by movement around the gates. Out marched a guard, blue and silver tunics vivid against the grey stone. The soldiers lined up each side of the road, spears pointing to the heavens. On the battlements above the gates a dozen trumpeters appeared. And two standards flapped limply, waiting to be raised high as soon as he and Aragorn entered the city.
“Imrahil,” Aragorn came alongside. “Once we are inside, forget the protocol. Your family will want to greet you first. You have been away for months.”
Imrahil nodded, Gondor’s king was not a strutting parrot, full of his own importance, but a strong, caring man, for whom he had total respect. “I think they will wait on the Palace steps, so we will be out of sight of the common crowd. But you must take precedence until then.”
As Imrahil thought, the people crammed the square, with only a narrow lane left leading to the gates of the Palace. Guards kept them back, but it was almost an impossible task as the citizens surged forward eager for their fist glimpse of King Elessar and his Elven Queen.
Once through the crush and in the Palace courtyard, Imrahil dismounted and handed the reins to his squire. They were all there waiting: Elphir holding Alphros in his arms; Meren looking pretty; Amroth grinning; Sergion, Oríon, and other nobles, standing in order of rank. But no Lothíriel. But before he could be anxious about her absence a clear voice called out from the doors.
Imrahil looked up, as his precious, beautiful daughter flew down the steps and, oblivious to King and Queen, ran straight into his arms. Gone were the prudish plait and the unbecoming clothes. Clouds of soft black curls framed her face; her gown was sea-green, nipped and tucked to show off her tiny waist, the neckline cut low edged with silver lace.
Feeling a great weight lift from him, Imrahil hugged her against his chest, burying his lips in her fragrant hair. Her change of look must mean she had started to make headway through the mire. “Make your obeisance to Elessar and Arwen,” he whispered. “And after that there is someone I would like you to meet.”
Calaerdis inclined her head very slightly, exactly right for a high-ranking, older lady being introduced to a young princess.
The warm smile on Lothíriel’s face told him all he needed to know. “Welcome, Lady Calaerdis. My father wrote that you would be our guest for some time. The Blue Chambers in the West Wing have been made ready for you.”
Imrahil nearly choked in surprise, but managed to turn it into a cough. The Blue Chambers were on a different level to his, but connected by one of the hidden stairs that abounded in the Palace.
The last time the Great Hall had been prepared so splendidly had been for Elphir’s and Meren’s wedding. Then masses of bluebells had softened the stone. But the candles and lamps would be lit tonight, so they only needed to put flowers on the tables. Lothíriel tucked some large blooms from their native passion-vine into the massive silver centrepieces, and added some ferns to give height. Her fingers trailed along the feathery edge of a fern for a moment as a memory of Lady Tinusel caused an inward chuckle – if her eccentric friend were here, she would already be fanning herself with one of the long fronds.
She stood back to check the arrangement and caught sight of her father. He and King Elessar were studying the ancient banners of the last Kings of Gondor that hung on the end wall.
“That’s lovely, Lothíriel. You and Meren have worked hard.”
“Oh, Lady… I mean, Calaerdis. Do you think these look good enough? They grow everywhere here, but I do love them.”
Calaerdis gently touched one of the vibrant, pink flowers. “I always think they are very beautiful, and very exotic. A little like you, my dear, with your wonderful colouring and unusual eyes.”
Lothíriel’s hands flew to her face. “I tan so easily, and I really hate having to stay indoors. At least when I next go to Minas Tirith it will be at the end of the winter. I must make an effort to keep out of the sun.”
“Now why should you do that? I understand you love riding and sailing.”
Lothíriel chewed her lip. “The ladies at the court will think me even stranger. When I was there before I found it hard to dress and act like them.”
“Do you wish to dress like them?” Calaerdis asked, her eyes running up and down Lothíriel’s delicate blue gown.
“Not really. I know I cannot wear riding dresses all the time, but I wore this to show my father I am getting better. However, I am not sure flimsy silks suit me. But that is what the ladies of the court all wear.”
“Lothíriel, within reason you must do as you please. You must not slavishly follow the dictates of convention. I try not to.” She raised a dark brow and her eyes lit with mischief. “I can get away with a certain amount of unusual behaviour because I am very rich, you because you are a princess.”
Lothíriel couldn’t help laughing at that. “You think so?”
“Absolutely. I love designing clothes, perhaps over the winter we could keep the seamstresses busy.”
“I think we are nearly ready.” Imrahil interrupted them.
“Oh, Father,” Lothíriel grabbed his arm. “Calaerdis is going to help me replenish my wardrobe.”
“Is she? Then we had better organize some merchants to call. We will talk about it later; the musicians have taken their places, and the trumpeters are lining up.”
Surrounded by people she had known all her life as well as those she had become fond of, Lothíriel enjoyed the incredible splendour and pageantry. She knew Elphir had been determined that Dol Amroth would honour their liege-lord with unrivalled magnificence. But she would be glad for some intimate time with their royal guests. What with everyone being tired after the journey the first night, the King and Queen touring the port and the city with her father all day, and the banquet tonight, there had not been much chance.
But the next night they all got together in the family’s private dining room. So much to talk about: Lothíriel wanted to hear about the finding of the White Tree from the King, for one of her regrets was that she had not stayed long enough in the City to meet Mithrandir. The last time the wizard had visited Dol Amroth, she had been too young to remember. Now she might never get the chance to see him. Elphir asked some more questions about the battles, but his father firmly silenced him, saying it was too gory for the ladies.
“Then tell us about Rohan, Father. Is the hall really golden?” Amroth butted in.
Lothíriel felt a flush rise up from her neck, and quickly put her goblet to her lips to hide her face in case anyone might notice. She couldn’t understand why she’d only recalled it a few days ago. She had remembered about the healing and that it would have importance in her life, the old man telling her she wouldn’t marry a man with dark hair, and about her horse. But she had been only twelve, and so much had happened over the years, she must have forgotten the rest. The storm had done it – when she’d sat on her window seat looking out at the lightening sizzling into the foaming waves. There had been a storm out to sea the night she’d run away, which was perhaps why it had come back to her – a searing flash, a huge crack of thunder and she’d heard Seron’s voice clearly. A fair-haired warrior! A king! She was sure there was more that wouldn’t come, however hard she tried to recall it. And what had the Lady said – Rohan will come to you. She had barely six months to complete her cure and prepare herself for a meeting that might change her life.
Putting down her goblet, Lothíriel sat back and listened to her father describing King Théoden’s funeral, so different from the burial of her grandfather. And then the feast when Faramir’s betrothal had been announced. She whispered to her cousin who sat next to her, “I told you that you would find great love.”
“Hmm…so you did.” Faramir winked at her. “Perhaps we ought to have you on the council. You might be able to tell us what Gondor’s enemies are thinking.”
“Is King Éomer really happy that his sister will be coming to Gondor?” Elphir addressed both his father and Faramir.
“Undoubtedly he will miss her,” Imrahil answered. “But he wants her happiness more than anything.”
Lothíriel could remain quiet no longer, the wine made her bold. “And what is King Éomer like?”
Silence. No one answered. She looked from her father to Faramir and then to Erchi. Was there something wrong with him and they felt embarrassed to say? “Well?” she said.
“He is a very great warrior,” Erchi replied at last.
Her father nodded his agreement. “And he is going to make an excellent ruler. Rohan will be safe in his hands, and we are sure he will be a good friend to Gondor.”
“I have understood that from what you have been saying, but what does he look like?”
Again no one answered, although she was sure the King’s lips twitched. But he didn’t say anything so she carried on. “Must I assume that he has warts on the end of his nose?”
“No, he has not!” her father barked, unusually irritated.
“He is very tall,” Faramir contributed.
“If you would like a woman’s opinion of him, Lothíriel, then I would say he reminds me of a lion. A large, golden lion.” Calaerdis was sitting opposite, so Lothíriel could see the amusement on her face, which made her respond glibly.
“A lion?” she spluttered. “Do you mean that he sits around all day and roars while the lionesses do all the work?”
Everyone except Arwen burst into laughter. The Queen’s lips only twitched and she waited until the laughter subsided. “Calaerdis means, Lothíriel, that he has a mane of long, shaggy hair.”
“Shaggy hair!” she echoed, trying not to grin. “Does he not wash or take care of his person?”
“Yes, of course he does! You, young lady, have been spending too much time with Amroth!” Her father sounded totally exasperated and determinedly changed the subject.
To be continued.
Look out for the next chapter folks!
List of Original Character appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Mistress Guleth- An aide in the Healing Houses. Originally from Lamedon. Treated Éomer in Cormallen and became his mistress.
Lady Heleguin- A relative of Faramir’s
Sergion- Friend of Prince Imrahil’s. Was a Commander of Swan Knights but now the Captain of Lothíriel’s Guard. Injured when an attempt was made to kidnap Lothíriel. Charged with the defense of Dol Amroth during the Ring-war.
Oríon- Son to Sergion. Childhood friend of Amrothos and Lothíriel
Lady Calaerdis- From Sirith in Lebennin. A rich widow. Mistress to Imrahil.
Princess Meren- Elphir’s wife. Rescued by him from Corsairs to whom she refused to give away the hiding place of her brother’s children in spite of being assaulted.
Lady Tinusel- Comes from Lossarnach. Made friends with Lothíriel during her visit to Minas Tirith.
Welwyn- Daughter to Erkenbrand and Winfrith. Wounded in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and healed by Aragorn
Déor- Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. A Rider in Elfhelm’s éored, given his own command for the Battle of the Pelennor.
Byrde- Hama’s youngest daughter.
Wilflede- Hama’s eldest daughter – married to Elfhelm
Bergit- Daughter of the horse-breeder, Egbert. Raped by orcs when her family’s camp was attacked. Later married Edwick and bore him two children – Éomund and Félewyn. Started a relationship with Éomer after her husband was crippled. Killed by orcs in a raid on the village of Eastfeld.
Edwick- A wheelwright in Eastfeld. Husband to Bergit. Crippled in an accident and killed by orcs alongside his wife.
Desert snake- slang for Umar - Prince of Harad. Device – the Black Serpent on Scarlet. Obsessed with Lothíriel. Killed on the Pelennor by King Théoden of Rohan.
Seron- A soothsayer Lothíriel met in the wilds.
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.