25. Chapter 25
19th March 3020
“Did you go to bed at all, Legolas?”
Éomer picked up a plate and flicked his eyes over the huge selection of food that covered the long side-table. Aragorn might have put this chamber aside for his friends, but the royal housekeeper must think a whole éored needed feeding.
“I spent the hours of darkness in the Citadel gardens, enjoying the fragrance of the night-flowers. There is a bench from which the whole southern sky is visible.” Legolas replied. “But I am not here early, you are late. The sun appeared over the Ephel Dúath a considerable time ago.”
Éomer couldn’t argue with that. At home, he would have been coming back from his morning ride, not about to eat without having gone out – another late session with Aragorn and Faramir to blame. But he hadn’t seen them for six months, and Faramir would be taking Éowyn to their new home in less than a week.
Shutting out the thoughts of how much he would miss his sister, he concentrated on the table. A wooden board at one end supported a leg of what must have been a gigantic hog. It begged to be eaten – a few slices of the moist pink ham already carved and waiting. Next to the ham blood-red sirloin vied for dominance. Baked eggs had been placed alongside, the dish kept warm by a small oil burner. A platter of various cheeses, a dish of curd, honey, jams, and two bowls of fruit ranged along the table. On another board a long plait of bread sprinkled with black seeds had already been started. Rolls and scones nestled in a woven basket, and at the far end a variety of pickled vegetables and what looked liked strips of smoked fish had found a place.
Éomer loaded his plate with ham, eggs, a chunk of bread torn from the loaf, and an apple. He hesitated between the jug of ale and the tea-kettle. He took the tea. A few short steps around the table and he sat down opposite Legolas, sniffing his cup – sweet and fragrant. The ale would have been a better choice.
“Jasmine,” Legolas supplied. “Arwen brought a quantity with her. The flowers of the variety used to flavour tea open only at night during the full moon. They are picked in the morning when the petals are tightly closed.”
“Really!” He should definitely have gone for the ale.
The first mouthful of ham had hardly been chewed when the door opened and Faramir sauntered through, looking incredibly smart in a dark tunic edged with red embroidery and wearing shiny boots. He had his cloak, sword and belt in his hands, and carefully laid them on the nearest chair.
“Going somewhere?” Éomer asked.
“I am to meet Imrahil and his family at the Harlond. I thought you might like to come with me.”
“Well, I would,” Éomer replied. He had been looking forward to them arriving, having so much to discuss with Imrahil about the trading route, as well as catching up with Amroth again. “But I am going to have to go for a gallop very soon, or Firefoot will jump out of his stall.”
“You can exercise him on the way. The ship has been sighted from the tower, but there is time yet.”
“Then yes, I shall enjoy that.”
Faramir nodded, and turned to select from the table. He piled his plate with ham and fruit, took a couple of scones and helped himself to a mug of ale. Just about to sit down next to Legolas, he stopped when the door opened again.
Éomer didn’t have to look to know who it was; Éowyn almost bounced into the room. She went straight up to Faramir and kissed him on the cheek. “Good morning, my heart. And good morning, Éomer.” She blew a kiss across the table.
With his plate in one hand and the mug in the other, Faramir could do nothing but stare at her. She looked very fetching, wearing a simple, green overgown that had long trailing sleeves knotted at the ends. The twisted waist-belt accentuated her slim figure. Hunger leapt to Faramir’s eyes, and breath hissed through his nostrils.
Éomer’s lips twitched. Perhaps it hadn’t been such a good idea to bring Éowyn here days before the wedding. Faramir already showed considerable strain. “It looks as if your betrothed had a restless night, Éowyn.”
“Oh, my love,” she said, running her hand up Faramir’s arm, which provoked an indiscernible growl. “I imagine you stayed up late again, with my brother and a flagon of wine, no doubt. That does not bode well for relaxing sleep, and makes it is difficult to face the day.”
“A cold bath helps recover one’s calm,” Éomer put in, only just managing to stifle a grin.
Éowyn screwed up her face at the thought. “Does it? I would have thought it would be more likely to make one lively. I hate cold baths, anyway.”
Faramir glared at him over the top of her head. But couldn’t keep up the scowl and started chuckling as he sat down. Éowyn moved on to Legolas, who wore his usual benign smile like a Lórien cloak. “I slept really well; it’s so nice to have more trees around. I swear the one outside my window has grown overnight.”
“Undoubtedly,” Legolas agreed.” All green things grow at night when the air is cooler.”
“And double their speed of growth when there is a full moon, I imagine.” Éomer decided to give up on the tea. “Éowyn, could you please pass me a mug of ale.”
The wrinkle of her nose showed her personal distaste of ale in the mornings, but probably because she saw the mug in Faramir’s hand, she passed him one without comment.
Éowyn chose fruit, bread and honey, and poured some jasmine tea. “Arwen gave me this yesterday. It’s lovely.”
Winking at him, Faramir stared to eat.
“Faramir and I are meeting Imrahil this morning, Éowyn. Are you going to come with us?” Éomer asked.
“No,” she said straightaway. “I decided I might trip over my bridal dress, so Arwen’s seamstress is going to look. But if you are going to meet Imrahil, Éomer, you will have to change. You must put on something more…kingly.”
“Kingly!” Éomer exclaimed, looking down at his brown leather tunic – very suitable for riding, and it did have a small sun motif embossed on the left breast. “Éowyn, what is this obsession with my wardrobe? You have driven me mad with it all winter.” Along with the Meduseld housekeeper, Éowyn and Byrhtwyn had spent much of the winter delving into the great chests at Edoras which contained the ceremonial clothes that in the Mark were passed down from king to king. Byrhtwyn was expert with a needle, and he supposed she was glad to have been kept busy, but now he was in possession of a large number of rich looking clothes that he tried to avoid wearing. “Firefoot will probably slobber all over me anyway.”
“Maybe,” answered Éowyn, “but now that we have brought so many, you must wear them. And anyway,” she carried on, waving her hand carelessly, “I have heard that Prince Elphir is a stickler for formality.”
“If that’s the case he must be very different from his brothers,” Éomer retorted.
“He’s the heir. Rank brings with it certain responsibilities. And you do not want someone mistaking you for a stableman.”
Éomer glowered at her, but pushed his plate away and got up. Some battles were lost before you reached for your spear. “I will meet you at the stables,” he said to Faramir who was struggling not to laugh. “Do you wish to come with us, Legolas?”
The cloak slipped, and Legolas’s smile widened. “No, thank you. I am content to wear green and brown.”
The streaks of red that had first lit the sky behind the Ephel Dúath now spread across to the far walls of the City. She would have to change soon, and her hair needed sorting, but Lothíriel begrudged any time spent below. Eventually retiring to her cot in the early hours, after falling asleep on Amroth’s shoulder, she had stirred again just before dawn. Determination not to miss the first glimpse of Minas Tirith had dragged her from the warm blankets. But she could stay on deck no longer, knowing her maid would be waiting with a plate of food and a brush. With one last look at the emerging landscape, Lothíriel put her foot on the steep stair that led to the cabins.
“A waste of time washing your hair yesterday when you go and spend most of the night out in the wind, Princess,” Hisael complained, pulling a comb through the tangles. “How do you wish to wear it?”
“Loose, I think,” she replied, before sinking her teeth into a piece of fruit-bread.
Hisael grumbled on, only a slight smile giving away her pleasure. “Well, I will have to keep brushing. But it will get into the same state again if you go out on deck before we dock.”
“I want to go back up, Hisael. I don’t want to miss anything.” Lothíriel protested.
“Not much point in curling it properly, then,” the maid muttered. But she brushed until it shone again, and spent time twirling Lothíriel’s long hair around her fingers so that it hung down her back in loose curls. “Have you decided on a dress?”
Lothíriel thought for a moment, licking her fingers, before she got up and went to the bowl on the washstand. “Not a dress, one of my riding outfits. Amroth will take me up with him, and a dress will be a nuisance. I refuse to travel to the City in a cart.” She remembered that on her last visit she had been worried the King would object to her riding dress. She knew him better now. But none could mistake her new outfits for dresses – wide, full-cut trousers that fell like a skirt, worn with silk or linen shirts. And on top, embroidered waistcoats and toning surcoates in bright colours that suited her strong colouring. True to her word, Calaerdis had spent many hours with her, surrounded by bales of materiel and sample garments, insisting Lothíriel should be guided by her personal inclination and not expected convention.
“You will be pleased to have your own horse again.” Hisael remarked as she got out the required clothes.
Her own horse! She’d decided some time in the winter, after borrowing her brothers’ for so long. Amaurea would always hold a special place in her heart, but she had to move on. Another horse from a foreign land, but this time it would come from over the mountains. Her father allowing her first choice of those he had ordered from Rohan.
Hisael pulled a deep-pink waistcoat from the small cabinet, holding the garment up for Lothíriel’s approval.
Hands dry, Lothíriel took it from her, smoothing down the soft velvet. The trumpet-shaped hibiscus flowers that grew freely around her home had inspired the tracery of embroidery that covered it. “This is the nicest of them all, I think.”
“Might as well make an impression, Princess. One can only arrive once!”
The ship had picked up speed, and by the time Lothíriel emerged back on the deck, the City of Kings dominated the view – a vast stone edifice rising out of the plain, testimony to the glory of the past, and the hope of the future. Lothíriel walked for’ard. Her family would probably gather on the stern, but finding she wanted to be alone, she went right to the front of the swan-prowed ship and leaned against its carved wooden neck. A shiver ran thorough her – the morning air tingled with anticipation. Something was about to happen! She knew it from the way her senses had sharpened – the slap of the water against the hull, louder; the twitter of a flock of buntings reaching her from the fields; the clear voices of the crew in the rigging talking about their wives.
Lothíriel gazed out across the Pelennor – the colours intense: spring flowering lilies waved bright heads against the dark earth of the ploughed fields. A shy golden-oriole shot into a bush, bright yellow plumage giving away its hiding place. To her left, a flash caught her eye as the sun reflected on burnished metal: four riders were heading towards the river. She focused on the small party – two men rode in front, the two a little behind were carrying pennants. Esquires no doubt, but as yet they were too far away for her to see whose devices they bore. Some instinct made her wrap the warm cloak tightly around her and draw back into the shadow of the foremast; a sailor pulled a coil of rope out of her way. The sail would be coming down soon and she would have to move, but just for a moment she indulged her urge to remain unnoticed.
As the riders neared the river she recognized her cousin, Faramir, but the other was unfamiliar to her. She watched as the two men rode closer, their track converging with the ship. Half hidden, she would not be spotted, and it gave her the chance to observe. Faramir was always dear to her, and normally she would enjoy the sight of him, but her eyes were ambushed by the other. Her memory jolted: it was as if a dream played out before her. Forgotten words flooded her mind. Words of comfort offered to ease her dread. ‘You must not fear, child, for no dark haired man will have you. For from the North the fair-haired warrior will come, riding over the plain toward you, claiming what is his.’
Blood pounded in her head! Her heart raced! He was near enough now for her to study him – this young king of whom she had heard so much. Taller even than Faramir, and where Faramir’s hair was raven black, his glowed tawny-gold. It fell past his shoulders free and untamed. But more than all the green and gold, and the White Horse running, it was the assured, easy grace of him, the blending of horse and man, which spoke his name.
Suddenly a freshening breeze whipped across her face. A cry went up. A spar cracked as tension tightened. The great sails flapped, a sudden wind shift taking the sailors by surprise. Lothíriel shrunk against the mast as men rushed past her, grabbing for ropes to stop the sail from slamming round. Through the noise of the shouting, and the snapping of angry canvas, an ancient voice reminded her of counsels given.
Her mystic friend had laid a fire on that hillside long ago – a fire waiting for a spark to ignite. Should she decide to touch the tinder, the flames would soar high, engulfing her in the heat and joy of love, but blazing so fierce she risked being scorched and singed down the years ahead, burnt by the searing pains of life. However, should she waver, should she leave the fire cold and turn away to seek shelter in the cave, then beasts would rummage amongst the fuel. Scattering sticks until there were not enough to catch, and every attempt would fizzle and die.
The choice was hers to make.
The noise ceased. The sails settled, and Lothíriel’s eyes raked the bank. She could see his face, laughing eyes and boyish grin as he joked with Faramir. The ship turned toward the quay, and the riders drew alongside.
Clutching at courage with trembling hands, Lothíriel moved from behind the mast and stepped up onto the prow again. Her hair streamed out, her cloak blowing back from her shoulders as the wind took hold. He must have caught the sudden movement for he looked up. She acknowledged him with a smile, and his mouth opened in a gasp. He stared at her, until maybe realizing his rudeness, grinned back an apology and inclined his head. But still with his eyes on her, he reached a long arm over to Faramir who was watching the activity on the stern. She saw his lips move as he spoke to her cousin, but the noise of the winch took away his words.
Éomer managed to grab Faramir’s arm to get his attention without drawing his gaze away from the strikingly beautiful young woman. For a moment she had been so close: such golden skin and luxurious hair. Her loveliness framed by a garment the colour of the roses that ran wild in the Meduseld garden. “Who is she, Faramir? Who is she?” he demanded, impatient for the answer. Dreading to be told she was some other man’s wife.
Faramir looked up to the prow, smiled, and raised his hand in a wave. She waved back, but the ship was drawing away now into its berth. “The lady I told you about, Éomer, remember. The relative I wanted you to meet.”
Éomer breathed out; anticipation filling him, warmth suffusing him. “You are sure she is not promised to another?”
Faramir shook his head. “No, she is not promised to any man.”
“Well, she is now.” Éomer said it under his breath, but Faramir heard his muttering and did not bother to restrain his laughter. “I am glad to hear that you have given the matter such a great deal of serious thought, Éomer. But bear in mind our other conversation, there is a difference between love and lust, and love only comes with knowing someone.”
Éomer sighed; trust Faramir to say the sensible thing. “You are right. I spoke with my eyes.”
A black brow arched, and Éomer grinned, “I am sorry. But she looked so lovely standing there, she took my breath away. Go on then,” he said laughing. “Tell me about her. First of all, who is she?”
Waiting for Faramir to answer, his gaze moved back to the ship. She had walked towards the stern. As she turned to go below, the wind flicked her hair and there, emblazoned on the back of the dark cloak, shone the Silver Swan-ship of Dol Amroth.
Éomer let out an astonished gasp. Faramir held back his laughter and managed to reply, “She, my friend, is my cousin, Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, Princess of Gondor, Imrahil’s daughter. The highest unwed lady in this land.”
“Imrahil’s daughter?” Éomer echoed, totally taken aback. He had not expected that and searched his memory. What had he missed? “I didn’t realize he had two daughters.”
“No, he hasn’t. Lothíriel is the only one.”
“But what about the older daughter? She’s a bit odd, isn’t she?” Maybe he shouldn’t have brought it up; perhaps they had shut her away.
The pucker on Faramir’s brow emphasized his mistake. “Éomer, there is no older daughter. Lothíriel is twenty-one. And I am not sure why you think her odd.”
“I don’t,” he hedged. “I mean, I haven’t met her, so I don’t know. She certainly doesn’t look odd.” Oddly captivating, perhaps, he mused. And surely Faramir would never have suggested a possible match if there really was something wrong with her. “But I heard strange things about her from Amroth and Imrahil. So I suppose I assumed.”
Faramir frowned, but something in his eyes told Éomer his suspicions might be correct. A great gush of disappointment doused him. “There is something, isn’t there?”
“What have you heard?”
“That she spends most of her time in the Healing Houses, for one.”
“It is true that Lothíriel has a healing gift, but she is not odd,” Faramir retorted. “She worked tirelessly during the war. But she doesn’t spend all her time there now. However, for many years Imrahil thought it best to keep her out of sight.”
“But why was Imrahil happy for his only daughter to hide herself away with the sick?” he queried.
Faramir sighed, and hesitated. “Well,” he said at last, “Lothíriel has had a difficult time. Not of her making, I might add. But Éomer, it is her story, hers to tell.” He hesitated, and then went on. “As for Imrahil’s reasons, well you know that old adage that in times of war men will keep their most precious treasures hidden? It is something near to that.”
Hope resurfaced. Éomer looked right into his eyes: however attracted he was to a woman, duty would not let him trust the succession of the House of Eorl to one he knew to be seriously flawed. But Faramir would not mislead him over something so important. “Tell me,” he said,” is there any reason that I cannot court her for a wife; any reason that I could not make her Queen of the Mark?”
Faramir shook his head. “No,” he replied, “Lothíriel is able, brave and virtuous as well as beautiful, that I promise you.”
“But,” said Faramir carrying on, “Elven blood runs thickly in her veins, more than the rest of the family. As well as having the healing gift, she is a little fey.”
“Fey?” Great Béma! Not another Galadriel.
“Yes, in the darkest hours, when the armies of Mordor were gathering on our borders, and my father sinking into madness, she told me I would find a great love.”
Éomer grinned. “At least she gets it right.”
Faramir didn’t deny it. “Meet her, Éomer. Spend some time in her company. See what happens.”
They dismounted as Wild Swan came to a halt, thick ropes snaking down to tie her to the bollards on the quay. Éomer scanned the decks for further sight of the princess. Amroth came to the guardrail, another man with him about the same age, but he carried no sword. Amroth waved, before disappearing again. A tall man emerged from down below, with a small boy in his arms. From his looks Éomer guessed that he was Prince Elphir. Then he spotted her, talking fervently to an older man with the bearing of a soldier, richly dressed, long hair mostly grey. Lothíriel finished her conversation and reached up to kiss her companion on the cheek. He ruffled her hair and walked away, limping badly.
The gangway clanked down, and she waited at the top for it to be secured, waving to Faramir. Éomer stood back, concealed by Firefoot’s bulk, content to watch. She looked so different from any woman he had so far met in Gondor, as though she lived in the sunshine and fresh air. A colourful surcoate had replaced the cloak, and when she moved he realized she wore clothes suitable for riding, unfamiliar to him, but very attractive.
As soon as everything was secure she ran straight down to Faramir who picked her up, swung her around and kissed her on the nose. “Faramir, it’s lovely to see you again.” She giggled as he put her down. “But you have cheated me. Where is your Éowyn? I cannot wait to meet the lady who has ensnared my serious cousin.”
Faramir laughed, “She is with the seamstress, and I am not allowed near. You will meet her soon, but meantime you must make do with her brother.”
Éomer stepped forward and bowed. Lothíriel inclined her head briefly, and then lifted her eyes to his. The simple action jolted him like a great kick in the belly from his own horse. Large green orbs met his – surely some hesitancy in them, but as if to belie that impression, small gold flecks danced boldly. Thick black lashes brushed glowing cheeks and her lips needed no paint to help shape them.
“Hail, Lord of the Mark, it is good to meet you. I have heard of your deeds from my father and brothers. My family values your friendship.”
Éomer found it hard to speak. Mentally shaking himself, he managed something credible, “And of you, Princess I know not nearly enough. A situation that I intend to remedy immediately!”
Her laugher was soft, and easy on the ear. “Now that we have said all the correct things, perhaps you would introduce me to your horse. For I noticed him from the ship, and I have seldom seen the like.”
Noticed his horse! Beside him, Faramir smirked. “Come then,” he reached for the reins which he had let fall, “for there is nothing Firefoot enjoys more than having his ears tickled by a pretty lady.” At least he hoped he did, most would not go near him.
But of course Imrahil’s daughter knew just how to approach the capricious stallion, speaking quiet words before she moved near to let the horse snuffle her. And Firefoot did indeed relish the attention, soon nuzzling contentedly into her neck.
A second ship reached its berth, soldiers, Swan-knights and their wives lining the decks. Calling up one of the waiting carts, Faramir went over to talk to Elphir and a pretty lady who must be his wife. Wild Swan began to discharge her share of the horses, with Amroth supervising. The stablemen – whom, he noticed, wore brown leather jerkins – led the excited creatures onto the dockside. “Which one is yours, Princess?” Éomer enquired, seeing nothing a lady would normally ride.
Still cuddling Firefoot she looked up. “I lost my horse some time ago, my lord. But my father said you are bringing us plenty. Will you help me choose one?”
“I will of course, but if I had known I would have brought mounts more suitable for a lady.”
She laughed. “Do not worry yourself on that score, my lord, for this past winter I think I have ridden every horse in Dol Amroth.”
“Well, in that case we can spend all afternoon looking at and trying out different horses, which I freely admit is one of my favourite pastimes. But please, my name is Éomer.”
“And mine is Lothíriel,” she said, confirming the arrangement with a smile.
He probably would have gone on gazing into her face, but a shout startled him. “Éomer!”
He hadn’t noticed Imrahil disembark and immediately turned, holding out his hand in welcome. “Come,” the Prince said after greeting him. “You must meet Elphir.”
A few moments in Elphir’s company and Éomer began to seriously doubt his sister’s words. But then he felt prickles on his neck and realized he was being scrutinized intently.
“Sergion.” Imrahil said, introducing him. “My good friend, and Lothíriel’s protector.”
Bema! Suddenly Éomer was glad he had dressed up, he felt like a young rider on his first patrol.
More introductions as the whole party started to assemble. No Erchirion, though, he’d volunteered to stay in Dol Amroth. Elphir’s wife, Meren, climbed up on the front of the cart Faramir had procured. She tried to encourage her son to join her, but the boy held on to his father. Then the young man he had seen with Amroth, Oríon if he’d caught his name correctly, hurried over with great rolls of parchment wrapped in a cloth. He stowed them carefully in the cart and sat up beside Meren.
“Oríon won’t let his plans out of his sight.” Lothíriel explained with a chuckle.
“Oríon has ideas of extending Gondor’s navy and making it great again. To make sure our coastline is always protected. He talked with Aragorn for ages about it, and now has to put his ideas to the Council. In fact,” her eyes lit with the memory, “we had a riotous evening playing out mock battles. Everyone took charge of a model ship; we have many of all types. Of course Arwen and Calaerdis know nothing about sailing, and Meren very little, so they kept losing the wind. It was great fun.”
He was just about to respond when she let out a little sound of annoyance before it changed to one of amusement. “Alphros has stolen my ride. He hero-worships Amroth.”
The little boy had slid down from his father’s horse and begged a ride from his uncle. What luck! The first foray always gave one a hint of how to proceed in a campaign. If you wish, Lothíriel, and your father agrees, Firefoot will easily carry us both.”
She didn’t answer immediately, and he cursed himself as he sensed a slight withdrawal. Damn fool that he was! The urge to touch her had overwhelmed sense.
But her smile returned. “My father might not object because he knows you well, but Sergion probably will.”
“He’s the Captain of my Guard and has looked after me since I was twelve. Sometimes I feel he is worse than an old mother hen, but I love him dearly.”
Why did she need her own guard? Éomer wondered whether to ask her, but Imrahil had mounted and rode up with Sergion and Calaerdis. Lothíriel straightaway sought permission.
“Father, do you object to me riding with Éomer? I was going with Amroth, but Alphros got there before me.”
Imrahil frowned, obviously undecided. But Sergion was clear in his mind. “If you don’t want to come with me, Lothíriel, I am sure Elphir will take you up.”
However, Calaerdis intervened, her cultured voice adding weight to her words. “I doubt that there are many ladies who would prefer to ride with their brother when they could ride with the Lord of the Mark.”
Her remark caused laughter. Éomer shot her a grateful look and encountered wry amusement.
“We are all riding together so there will be no harm,” Imrahil came down on his side.
“And anyway,” Lothíriel added, “Éomer has the better horse.”
Better horse! But then he caught the twitch of her lips. So, she had a sense of humour, did she?
“May I, Lothíriel?” Before any other objection could be made, he put his hands on her waist and lifted her so she could reach the stirrup. She smelt of warmth and sunshine, and a fragrance he did not recognize – sweet, but compelling. She swung into the saddle gracefully, and made room for him. But however tempted to pull her against him, he sat back as far as he could, their bodies touching lightly. Even so, each movement seared a hot dart of awareness into his flesh.
Amroth fell in beside them and they started on the short journey to the City. Amroth had his young nephew tucked against him, the little boy holding onto the reins importantly. However Alphros’s attention transferred to his aunt, or more to the man she was riding with. Éomer realized he was now under scrutiny from a three year old. One whose young eyes already held a challenge.
“My father said you are a king.” Alphros wrinkled his nose as though not believing it.
“I am afraid it’s true.” Éomer replied. A quiver ran through his companion but she withheld any laughter.
“I’ve already met a king,” Alphros stated. “He had black hair like mine.”
Amroth, grinning, winked at him. Not helping him out.
“King Elessar is a more important king than me.” Éomer conceded, smiling at the lad.
Alphros obviously agreed. But it appeared any king would do. “King Eles..,” he stumbled on the word, but it didn’t stop him. “The king I met gave me a ride on his horse.”
Knowing what was expected of him, Éomer replied with only a twitch of his lips. “If you like, Alphros, I will give you a ride on mine tomorrow.”
Honour satisfied, Alphros nodded and concentrated on steering his uncle’s magnificent, grey gelding towards the City.
Unlike her nephew, whose thin voice piped in a comment at every opportunity, Lothíriel seemed to be happy just to sit and listen as he told Amroth of the efforts he was making to re-home his people after the atrocities of the war, and of the skirmishes that they had fought over the winter, clearing their borders of insurgents who had fled from the north. Half way there she wriggled to get more comfortable and without thinking he put his arm around her and held her to him. Bema! She felt good. But Amroth’s eyes were on him, so he tried to appear nonchalant.
She didn’t object, so he left his arm on her waist, revelling in the warmth of her slim body against his, enjoying the fragrance of her hair. Suddenly she looked toward the nearing walls and exclaimed, “Oh, Legolas has already planted some trees. He told of his plans when I visited Minas Tirith last summer, but I did not expect him to come back so soon.”
“He passed though Edoras during mid-winter with a great consignment of greenery and many of his kinsmen.” Éomer told her. “They stayed long enough to plant the beginnings of an oak woodland near to Edoras.”
“He’s certainly made an impression here,” Amroth said.
Numerous trees had been planted outside the City wall that would give shade to the stables and paddocks in the years to come, but most striking was the sight of young trees that lined the last few hundred yards of the road leading to the square outside the gateway.
With the rest of the party lagging behind, Éomer and Amroth passed through into the City and up the long winding road towards the Citadel. Lothíriel exclaimed at the new planting around the squares and the groves of saplings where before all had been stone.
As they reached the sixth level Éomer wondered whether to go through with his original intention, but the temptation was too great to resist. He turned to Amroth, “Now I am going to take your sister where you cannot go.”
Amroth didn’t immediately realize what he meant, but then his face broke into a slow smile of reluctant admiration. “A planned campaign, Éomer?”
“What do you mean?” Lothíriel asked.
“Only the horse ridden by the King of Rohan is allowed up there.” Amroth replied
“Do you mean up to the seventh level? Into the Citadel?” exclaimed Lothíriel. “No horse has entered for ages past.”
“It was a gift to honour the Rohirrim,” said Éomer. “Not all our horses could be allowed, so it is just the King’s. I have not yet exercised the right, except on the day it was given.”
A small voice rose petulantly. “I want to…”
“Tomorrow!” Éomer promised swiftly. With a wave of his hand to Amroth, and not giving Lothíriel time to object, he kicked Firefoot into the lamp-lit tunnel. The tunnel was empty and private and he didn’t want to alarm her, so increased his pace, clattering straight through the gate, past the guards and up to the Place of the Fountain.
If he had wanted to make an entrance he would have been hard put to have made a greater one. In deference to the warm weather, the noon meal had been set out near the newly planted trees. All around the courtyard the Lords and Ladies of Gondor and the Mark were strolling and talking. The unusual sound of a horse’s hooves, noisy on the stone, caused all to look and stare.
Lothíriel stiffened slightly as all eyes fixed on them. But too late now, so unabashed, he trotted Firefoot straight up to the King and Queen. “Aragorn, I found a princess hanging around the docks so I thought I had better bring her here.”
Aragorn laughed and reached up and lifted her down kissing her on the forehead at the same time. “It is good to see you again, Lothíriel, you look really well.”
Éomer dismounted, watching the meeting with interest, pleased with the easy intimate friendship she obviously enjoyed with Aragorn and Arwen.
“Stop gawping, Éomer, and introduce me to your princess.” Éowyn could still discomfit him when she chose.
Lothíriel swung around to face her. “I am Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, and you must be the Lady Éowyn, soon to be my kin.”
“Faramir has told me about his favourite cousin. It is good to meet you at last.” Éowyn replied.
So different. His sister had been called the White Lady of Rohan. Now, released from years incarcerated in Meduseld, she had blossomed into life. Palely kissed by the spring sun, hers was a delicate beauty. Lothíriel – a vivid and vibrant splendour, glowing with the colours of high summer.
However, both sounded determined to be friends. Lothíriel put her hand on Éowyn’s arm. “I love you already, not just for your deeds but for the joy and happiness that you have brought to my cousin, Faramir, whom I hold dear.”
Éowyn chuckled, throwing a grin his way. “And I love you, for by arriving with my brother in such a manner you have managed in just a few moments to greatly upset the ladies of the City. I have been trying all week and not achieved such good results.”
“But don’t forget,” Lothíriel lowered her voice, “I have had many years of practice.”
To be continued
List of Original Character appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
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.
Byrhtwyn- Hama’s widow.
Seron- A soothsayer Lothíriel met in the wilds.
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