28. Chapter 28
March 23rd 3020
Silver gleaming in the morning sun, four Dol Amroth guardsmen waited in the outer courtyard. As well as his own mount one held onto Bracken, who had been already saddled and bridled. The horse whinnied a greeting, flicking its ears in welcome.
With a nod of acknowledgement to the men’s salutation, Éomer jumped off Firefoot and handed the reins to his squire. “I won’t be long,” he called back to Déor, who stayed out on road with Byrde and four members of the Riddermark’s Royal Guard. There would be no going without an escort again.
No sign of Lothíriel in the inner court, but Meren and Wilflede were sitting on the wooden seat under the tree. Alphros stood on the back of the seat making a valiant attempt to scale the trunk. Little Bron was playing around on the stones, poking her fingers into the dirt between the cracks.
Coming up behind the crawling baby, Éomer scooped her up and tossed her round to face him. The little girl’s momentary surprise changed to gurgles of laughter when she recognised her captor, and Éomer threw her up in the air holding her at arm’s length with her chubby legs kicking excitedly. She really was adorable.
“I’m too big for you to do that.” A voice piped over the baby’s squeals.
“You certainly are, Alphros. I could only just about manage to lift you onto Firefoot the other day.”
“Say good morning properly to King Éomer, Alphros.” Meren chided, rising to her feet.
But Éomer laughed, depositing Bronwyn on Wilflede’s lap. “Alphros and I have an understanding: he only has to be really polite when I’m wearing my crown.”
“Which he hardly ever does,” Wilflede put in.
“Is Lothíriel ready?” Éomer asked, forestalling any more discussion. He wanted to get away.
“She is changing into her riding clothes. Your message didn’t get to her until she returned from visiting Durthor.” Meren threw him a wry look. “She said she hadn’t expected to be told she was going for a ride today, but she went to get ready anyway.”
Did his message sound like an order? It might have done, with him being so used to giving them. “I did speak to Imrahil and Sergion last night,” he excused himself.
“They came back late, and Lothíriel went off early this morning.” Now Meren’s eyes held a definite twinkle. “But no matter, I don’t think she really minded.”
Éomer grinned at her. “Good, and how is the lad?”
“Remarkably well, I think. But here she is, so you can ask her.”
He turned, and saw Lothíriel come out from the dark porch. She bobbed her head in greeting.
“Good morning, Éomer. Durthor is doing well; there is no sign of any infection, which is what I feared.”
With Lothíriel smiling at him, Éomer immediately lost interest in Durthor. She looked as fresh as the morning. And that pink colour really lit up her face. Her lips twitched, and he realised he was staring and should be saying something.
“You must have been up early, I am sorry my message did not reach you. But I thought you might enjoy a ride in the hills behind the City. I have arranged for some food to be packed and know a pleasant place we can enjoy a midday meal.”
“That will be nice. And I understand you have arranged with Sergion to take a guard.”
“I have, and they are waiting.” He held out his arm. “So shall we go?”
A quick goodbye to Wilflede and Meren, and Éomer led her towards the outer court. He had an idea what would happen next and sure enough before they had taken many steps he heard Meren explaining patiently to Alphros that he hadn’t been invited.
“May I?” The opportunity to put his hands around her waist was too tempting to resist. Stone- faced the Dol Amroth guard held Bracken’s reins and concentrated his eyes on the horse. Éomer lifted her quickly, but still he felt the warmth of her body through the velvet waistcoat and her heavy tail of hair brushed across his face. She smelt wonderful, even the brief contact sent spirals of awareness swirling through him.
Lothíriel settled in the saddle and gracefully smoothed down her riding skirt, her golden skin slightly flushed. Éomer could only hope it was a reaction to him, and she was not insensible to his nearness.
“You met Déor and Byrde the other night,” he said when they rode out to the road. He needed to have another woman along, but had decided not to bring Éothain and Welwyn, wanting to make sure he got plenty of opportunity for a private conversation with Lothíriel. If Welwyn made up one of the party he might not achieve his aim. But Déor should be happy to wander off with his new wife, leaving him to try and encourage Lothíriel to talk. Bema! Déor had better give him the chance, he’d dropped enough hints!
But immediately, Byrde and Lothíriel moved their horses next to each other, to exchange pleasantries.
Byrde was an extremely pretty young woman with small features and an abundance of gold ringlets. In a few moments Lothíriel had found out why she had not seen much of her and Déor over the previous days: they had married only just before leaving with the Royal Party for Éowyn’s wedding.
“We waited a long time,” Byrde explained. The Rohan girl glanced over to her handsome husband, her pale cheeks colouring slightly before she continued.
“Things were difficult in Edoras. My brother is away on patrol a great deal of the time and I didn’t want to leave my mother alone, especially after she moved out of Meduseld. Although, it was her choice, Éomer would never have suggested it. He had great respect for my father. But so many of Théoden’s guard died, homes had to be found for their widows and Éomer needs his own men around him.”
“Do you live in the Hall?” Lothíriel asked.
Byrde shook her head. “We might later, being that Déor is a captain in Éomer’s Guard, but Éothain and Welwyn live in our family’s old rooms. It would have been a bit lonely for Éomer with two couples and him being on his own, so some of his unmarried men have moved in for the moment. She cast a sideways look to Lothíriel. “It will probably change again when he finds a wife.”
No missing the inference, but Lothíriel well knew there would already be talk amongst his kinsmen, and her own. Men, and especially kings, did not turn up with an escort in the way he had that morning for no cause. Which was one good reason for continuing to ride next to Byrde down the long, winding street, rather than Éomer, or soon the whole court would be speculating. But would she really have minded? Lothíriel fixed her gaze on the mane of fair hair that hung down his back. Warm laughter floated back to her as he conversed with Déor. She had made a conscious decision when she had first set eyes on him to be led wherever destiny chose to take her. Nervous at first, each hour in his company reassured her that he was a man she could trust. And one worth loving – consummate warrior but benevolent king; and if she had not known him to be a caring brother, observing his dealings with Alphros and little Bronwyn had showed her he had a gentle side.
Putting such thoughts aside for a moment, she continued her conversation with Byrde. But as soon as they were through the gateway, Éomer suggested a gallop to take the liveliness out of the horses. Very shortly the ground started to rise as the track wound into the foothills of Mount Mindolluin, and the pace slackened. The track narrowed, snaking through some sparse trees before it steepened sharply and ran across the top of an escarpment that scooped into the mountainside as if a giant had taken a huge spoon to the rocks. The general banter came to a definite end with Éomer making sure she rode on the inside of him, well away from the sheer edge.
Surreptitiously, Lothíriel studied him out of the corner of her eye, trying to sort out her feelings. She had felt happy in his presence from the very first moment. Tinusel had persuaded her to spend time in the company of young men during her time in Minas Tirith, pleasant young men, polite and respectful. But none had made her feel safe and alarmed at the same time. Éomer had. Safe because of his reputation, his friendship with her father and his obvious honourable character, and alarm of the kind that started her pulse racing and brought warmth to her cheeks when she felt him looking at her, or he made one of his teasing remarks, and certainly when he lifted her onto her horse. Had she already fallen in love with him, or were Seron’s words putting ideas in her mind? One thing she did know – she didn’t want Éomer to hear about that. If he wanted her as his wife it needed to come of his free will. The outcome had to prove the prophesy, not the prophesy manipulate the outcome. Would anyone be likely to tell him? That got her thinking for a moment, but she had only remembered all Seron’s words herself recently. It had been years ago when she had told her family, hopefully they had thought it only the ramblings of a child.
“The track widens out soon and we can stop to take in the vista,” Éomer interrupted her thoughts.
Did his sideways grin mean he guessed whom those thoughts were about? She would try and put it from her mind, best to enjoy the day and let it unfold as it might.
“I did wonder if you had been up here before.” Lothíriel smiled back at him.
“A few times. After we came back from Cormallen I rode out every day, just to get away from the stone. This made a change from the river.”
As he predicted a few hundred yards on they came to a place where a large plateau thrust out from the mountainside and the view opened up around them.
Éomer cast his eyes out over the plain. A cloud passed across his face and his normal cheerful expression turned grim. “The Pelennor looks very different than it did the first time I looked from here.”
Lothíriel stood up in her stirrups and shaded her eyes from the sun, she could see a great way down the Anduin and upstream to Cair Andros. The Pelennor was spread out like a rich tapestry; the different colours of the crops and the ploughed fields contrasting in sharp relief.
“Yes, and it is much different from when I came last summer. Everyone has worked hard.”
She could see the mounds by the river and the blackened area where the foul beast had been burnt, but most had returned to farmland. It must be awful for him knowing so many of his kinsmen lay buried under Gondor’s soil. Then something caught her eye, it looked like a banner waving and she was sure she could she a flash of white on it.
“Éomer, is that a second Rohan Standard, close to the one marking where King Théoden died? I am sure that I can see a White Horse.”
Éomer looked to where she was pointing “Yes. It is my uncle’s Banner. Éowyn placed it when we arrived last week; it is to celebrate Théoden defeating the Champion of Harad.”
“King Théoden did me a great service. I shall always be grateful to him for that.” Oh! It was out before she realised.
Éomer stared at her, a frown creasing his brow. “For killing the Prince of Harad?”
“Yes.” Her fingers clenched on the reins as she remembered those malevolent eyes on her. “I don’t like to wish death on any person, but if there was one that deserved to be hewn to little pieces, then it was that…that evil pig,” she spat out.
Éomer’s face had turned rigid. Lothíriel swallowed trying for normality. “It is too fine a morning to dwell on such things, shall we ride on?” But he didn’t make a move and she fidgeted under his scrutiny.
“Ride on! After you have thrown that at me.” he whispered a moment later.
Lothíriel dropped her eyes, but the decision had already been made. She knew she had to tell him before their relationship could progress. Déor and Byrde were out of earshot and the guards were waiting on the track. She looked back up into his face and met only compassion and concern. One short sentence would break the dam of silence and she would be unable to stop the rest from flooding out.
“Not here, Éomer. I can’t tell you here.” With determination, Lothíriel pulled on Bracken’s reins and trotted him over the stony ground back onto the track.
What in Béma had the Prince of Harad to do with this? True it fitted with what Aragorn had told him, but besides that something niggled at his mind, a comment Imrahil had made after the war, but he couldn’t quite remember, and anyway, she was right: he couldn’t talk to her here. Éomer caught up, his mind alive with possibilities and none of them pleasant. Luckily, for he had no wish to skirt around the subject and end up talking insignificances, Déor started telling Byrde about the Wild-men of the Drúadan forest when the dark smudge of trees appeared in the distance and Lothíriel joined in with the conversation. It was another hour before they reached the glade where he had decided it would be pleasant to spend a couple of hours, and hopefully talk. The delay chafed at him.
No fires and roast rabbits today, but delicacies of cold food provided by the Citadel kitchens. Éomer tried to put the whole thing out of his mind while they ate; discussing the tournament to come and the general rivalry that existed between the éoreds. Lothíriel said there was always fierce competition between the soldiers of Minas Tirith and the knights of Dol Amroth. Without warning, the mention of Swan-knights brought back Imrahil’s words. After that the snippet of knowledge burned in him, and it became almost impossible to hold down his irritation – everyone was eating too much, and being too slow about it.
The sun warm on their heads, a drowsy languor settled on all except him. Every now and again he caught Lothíriel’s eye, and she smiled at him. But now the need to know was a lance cutting impatiently through him. The guard changed watchmen, those not on duty sitting in a circle to play dice. Byrde leaned against Déor, her eyes half closed. He glared at his friend, trying to get him to go somewhere else. Anywhere else but here!
Catching on at last, Déor winked at him, pulling Byrde up by her hand. “Come on, you are falling asleep. Let’s go for a little walk in the woods.”
Lothíriel’s eyes followed them as they crossed the glade to the trees. Déor had his arm draped around Byrde’s shoulder. “Will they be all right?”
“They won’t go far. The whole area is well patrolled and to the west is the Drúadan forest. No orcs would survive there.”
Lothíriel nodded, accepting that. “I didn’t realise they had only just married, that must explain why they disappear most evenings.”
Who could blame them? Éomer firmly squashed the thought. He didn’t know how much time he had to talk and had no intention of wasting any of it dreaming about being alone with Lothíriel. Not until he had found out a few things, anyway. He took a deep breath.
“Lothíriel, something has come to my mind. When I was discussing the battles with your father, going over the things that had happened, I remember now that he made a remark that at the time I found strange.”
Her body tensed, but she drew her gaze away from the trees and met his squarely. “What was it?”
“We were talking of Théoden and his deeds. He said, if I remember correctly: ‘It is good that he slew the Black Serpent, for my Knights would have cut him into little pieces and fed him to the dogs for the trouble he has caused me and mine.’ I felt it was unusual for Imrahil to speak so, but for some reason never got the chance to ask him more. What kind of man would generate so much hate in your father and make you glad to see him dead?”
For a moment he thought she would not answer. The silence rang hot and heavy, only the multitude of insects providing a stifling background drone. A shout of triumph came from one of the guards, followed by a guffaw of laughter, and Lothíriel jumped. But she continued to look straight at him, her hand trembling slightly as she played with a blade of grass all that showed of her unease.
“A man who would look upon a nine year old child and desire her.” Her voice came out flat and emotionless.
“What!” he let out, as anger stabbed him. The nearest guard looked up, but impatiently Éomer waved him down. “I am sorry; I suppose that came as a shock. Now you have to explain it.”
“I want to tell you, Éomer. But it is a long story and that was only the beginning.”
He deliberately spoke softly, not wanting to put her off. “We have time. Déor won’t be back for a while. And they,” he gestured to the men, “will be happy playing dice and sleeping in the sun.”
A slight nod of agreement, and beckoning him with her eyes, Lothíriel got up. Together they strolled in the direction of some rocks, farther away from the guards. She picked a few wild flowers on the way remarking on their perfume, before sitting back against a boulder, clasping her arms around her knees. He propped himself next to her, sitting as near as he dared with an audience not far away.
She started hesitantly, but confidence grew as she spoke, although for the most part she looked into her lap, only occasionally meeting his eyes…
Béma! No wonder Imrahil would have liked to chop the bastard into little pieces – and that was too good for the swine. Éomer tried to listen without making too much comment, but once she told him how she had blamed herself he couldn’t keep quiet.
“Lothíriel, in case no one has ever told you straight – it was not your fault! You might have been dressed like a waif with bare legs and a torn dress, but any proper man coming across a child in those circumstances would have escorted her home to her family!”
That made her look up. “I know that now. In fact I realised a few years later. It wasn’t guilt that made me run away, it was fright. I didn’t trust my father, and thought Uncle Denethor would make me marry Umar.”
Run away! What had she been thinking of? Surely even Denethor would not have done that. A week! Éomer blanched when she told him how long she had stayed away. Imrahil must have been out of his mind with worry.
“Where did you go, Lothíriel?”
“Somewhere in the Tarnost Hills. I let Mista have his head; he seemed to know where to go. I think that I must have fallen asleep.” She laughed, breaking the mood for a moment. “A habit I have, as you know.”
She looked so lovely, laughing up at him, but he didn’t want to be distracted. “Carry on with the story, or Déor and Byrde will be back.”
Incredibly he heard about her meeting the old man. “And this…Seron… gave you no clue as to where he came from or who he really was?” Éomer asked. The man was obviously a mystic, telling her she would not marry Umar.
“No, never, and it was very strange, he knew all about me, but for some reason I accepted it. I tried asking him but got only riddles for an answer.”
“Riddles,” Éomer echoed, his mind whirling with possibilities. “And you say he could keep the fire going?” That alone gave him a suspicion of the old man’s identity. But he would keep that to himself for the moment because – from the veil that shrouded her eyes – he knew she had not told him everything.
“So, Amroth and Oríon found you? And your dog, a lurcher, led them to the Valley?” Definitely something mysterious, even magical at work, and whereas once he might have doubted, now, especially with his suspicions, he accepted totally.
“Yes. But when I got back I couldn’t tell my father the truth about Umar. I was still ashamed, I suppose. In the end I let it all out to Sergion and he told him. And afterwards I always had a guard. Father put Sergion in charge of me. He and my father had always been close.
“Was Sergion already injured? Is that why he took the job of guarding you?”
“I am not sure why he decided to give up his prestigious position to look after me, but it was later he got his injury. Umar was responsible for that, when he tried to kidnap me.”
“Kidnap you!” So he was right, she had been attacked.
“I am jumping ahead. I haven’t told you about my horse.”
“Horse?” He had guessed the horse to be an important part of this.
“Umar sent me a Harad war-mare.”
By Eru, the man was mad! He’d come across a few, and none were suitable for a young woman. “You rode her?”
“She was the most beautiful creature I had ever seen. It was love at first sight, for her as well as me, I think. I called her Amaurea, her Harad name was far too long and Amroth’s groom had named her Dawn. The good thing about having Sergion and my own Guard was that I could ride out whenever I liked and the next two years were better. I had more freedom, I had Amaurea and I was working with the healers.”
She stopped, staring at him with haunted eyes. “But then Umar sprang his trap.”
A beautiful spring afternoon: somewhere in the woods Déor and Byrde would be enjoying an amorous interlude, across the glade his men were relaxing and probably trying to take a few coins off their counterparts from Dol Amroth. But here, in this spot, horror unfolded …
“…How many I killed I do not know, but nearly every arrow found its mark. I was making a difference, but then Umar directed his men to aim towards me, but not at me, at Amaurea. She went down with two arrows in her chest. I fell into safe water, but she thrashed around in her pain and fright and pulled away from me. I couldn’t hold her and she dropped into the deep channel.”
Her voice choked with a little sob, tearing at his heart. No way should she have had to put up with anything like that. And the cruelty involved in training a horse to behave in that way horrified him.
“There are times when I can still hear her screams. I thought she would have been washed up on the beach, but there must have been a rip-tide at the entrance to the river and she was swept out. For weeks I could not look at the sea, imagining her washed up on some lonely shore, the gulls pecking at her beautiful body.”
Then something struck him so hard he gasped.
“What is it?”
“Nothing, I was upset for you.” She wouldn’t know, he was damn sure nobody would have told her. But he intended to find out why in the Valar’s name Aragorn and Imrahil, and not to mention Elphir, had been talking to emissaries from Harad. A bloody good job the bastards had gone or he would personally have ended any negotiations with the point of his sword!
Anger coursing through him and not caring about the guards, Éomer took hold of her hand. Small and cold in his large warm one, he wanted more than anything to pull her against him. But underneath his rage sense prevailed – he wanted no tales of improper conduct getting back to Imrahil. He took a few deep breaths to calm himself; she had gone very quiet staring down into her lap. But she didn’t remove her hand and he edged slightly closer, trying to give her support by his very presence.
“I didn’t think I could save Sergion. We had to get him to the village and he had lost so much blood. We couldn’t move him for days. And when we got back to Dol Amroth it was terrible. My brothers took the City apart looking for the informers, questioning so many people before they found them. I hid in the palace when the executions took place. I had never known them so vindictive before, but we had lost two knights and four men, and Master Nemir was still fighting to save Sergion’s leg.”
Executed them! Dying was too good for traitors! “Did they come from Dol Amroth?” he asked, tight lipped.
“No, not originally. But some of our people are quite dark skinned, and the spies had been planted years before.”
What planning! What blind obsession! But there was worse to come – Éomer learnt about the siege – her shooting the mercenaries.
“You did what!” Tried to give herself up to the Haradrim! Morgoth’s balls! What had she been thinking of!
She had gone white at his outburst. Guiltily, he toned down his reaction. “Lothíriel…”
She shook her head. “No, don’t say it. I know how wrong I was and can only be thankful for the outcome. My only excuse is that all the death had affected me greatly. And for months after I had no interest in anything, even after I heard that Umar was dead. It was only the arrival of the casualty ships that kept me sane. I had no time to think.”
“And you talked to the Lady Galadriel,” he prompted. Éothain had passed that on to him.
“Yes. She helped me understand a lot of things. And afterwards I went home with Amroth. He was a wonderful help and so was Oríon. We spent the whole summer behaving like children. Gradually I found my true self again. Lady Galadriel said Umar had robed me of my childhood.”
Lothíriel picked up the few flowers she had let fall on the grass and looked sadly at them, already they were wilting. “I have faced up to all of it. Over the winter I decided to take my proper place in society and not hide anymore.”
“You are a beautiful woman, Lothíriel. But that does not give anyone the right to hound you. Umar was a madman.”
“I know, but believe me, for most of my life I have hated any man looking at me, wishing that I had been born downright ugly.”
“Well, that would have been a shame,” he teased hoping to get her smiling. Béma, no wonder Amroth had warned him to go careful.
“You see,” she managed a grin. “You men are all the same!”
Éomer squeezed her palm between his thumb and fingers. He wanted to say so much but now was not the time. “You know that is not true.”
“Yes, I do. Otherwise I would not have fallen asleep in your arms.”
“I admit to hoping that next time you are in my arms you will not be so inclined as to fall asleep!” He shot it back before he thought, so much for being careful.
“Sorry,” he added at once.
“You don’t have to keep watching what you say, Éomer. I do not need to be treated as different. I know Umar was evil and that most men are good and honourable. I had a bad time because I was ashamed of what I had done. I always will regret losing my temper and causing more death. But I have learnt to live with my mistakes; few go through life without making any.”
“Certainly not me!” he said straightaway. “I am afraid I have done a few things I regret, and one or two I am ashamed of.”
Those lovely eyebrows arched. “So, Éomer, you have stories to tell.”
“Many. And you will hear them all.” He chuckled. “Well most of them, but not now.”
Her eyes were fixed on him; he wanted to know more about her, all that lurked in their green depths. He wanted the right to care for her and protect her. He had always thought that he would meet a lady, find her attractive, get to know her, fall in love and marry. That he would fall completely in love with a woman and then have to get to know her had not occurred to him. Faramir had teased him, but the instant he saw her on the prow of her father’s ship he had immediately known that she was the one he had been waiting for. Her long dark hair and her cloak blowing in the breeze, tall and proud, she had looked like a queen.
“There will be no secrets between us, Lothíriel. When you are my wife I will tell you of my misdemeanours, and you will tell me what else your friend Seron prophesied.”
“How do you know he did?” she gasped, her eyes opening wide.
Éomer nearly laughed out loud. Had she missed the word wife? “Because I saw it in your eyes.”
“Oh.” She dropped her gaze, lips trembling.
Her hand fluttered in his, as though he held an injured bird. He probably should give her more time, it was not as if Imrahil would ever use her as a bargaining tool, but she had put up with enough because of what she looked like and who she was. There were many nobles in Gondor who would see her as a way to further their position and ambition and more than anything he wanted to make sure that she was never bothered in that way again. There was only one real way to do that.
“Lothíriel, may I have your permission to speak to your father?” What a way to make a proposal. Damn conventions that stopped him being alone with her!
She let out a long breath and for a moment he thought she was upset, but the face she lifted to him told him otherwise. Amongst the surprise, and dare he say it, the pleasure, surely amusement gleamed in those superb eyes. “Yes, with my blessing. And when I am your wife, Éomer, I will tell you all Seron’s words.”
Music drifted in from the main body of the hall but the dancing and the gaiety held no attraction for Éomer, all he wanted was contained in this anteroom. Arwen had retired early, Aragorn not far behind her, only Meren and Elphir had gone to dance. Amroth having persuaded Legolas to go jaunting in the taverns, the company had thinned out. At one time Éomer would have been happy to have gone along with them, but a languid peace had settled over him since he had spoken to Lothíriel.
Not the way he’d ever thought he would ask a woman to marry him, but that’s how they did it in Gondor. Frustratingly though, he couldn’t even speak to Imrahil yet because Lothíriel had made him promise he would wait until after Éowyn and Faramir’s wedding. She didn’t want any talk of a betrothal between the King of Rohan and the Princess of Dol Amroth taking any attention away from them.
She certainly got on well with his sister; he glanced to the end of the long table. Again! Lothíriel, Éowyn and Welwyn were sitting in a huddle. They looked to be in a serious discussion but every few minutes all three would erupt into gurgles of laughter. Not for the first time it crossed his mind that Lothíriel was happier in the company of the Ladies of the Mark than she was with those of her own land; possibly their tougher upbringing matched better with hers. At least it boded well for the future.
“I detect a lessening of the tension in you, Éomer,” Faramir said right next to his ear. “Am I right in thinking your wooing is going well?”
Trust Faramir to notice. “She told me about Umar today.” That remembrance took away some of his calm. He would be speaking to Imrahil about that, too. Emissaries from Harad! The thought appalled him. But they had gone, so he supposed he had better wait until after the wedding. No point in causing a ruckus before.
“Ah…good!” Faramir said, obviously pleased. “I thought she would, it has taken her a long time to recover. For a child to be hounded for so many years and by such a filthy brute, it was bound to affect her.”
“I hardly believed it,” Éomer replied. “I think he must have been quite deranged, probably affected by some vile disease. No sane man would behave like that.”
“It is certainly true. And Erchirion, for one, thought that very thing. How much did Lothíriel tell you?”
“Most of it, I think: her running away; the kidnap attempt; the siege and her trying to give herself up.”
“You can’t blame her for that. All her family had gone to war, and she had endured so much.”
Éomer shook his head. “I don’t. Everyone is allowed a few mistakes. Thank the Valar it turned out as it did, and I imagine she has learnt from it. But I am treading very carefully. I do not wish to frighten her and I understand now why Sergion is so protective. I just wish to make her happy.”
“Well, you have a head start over any other,” said Faramir, laughing.
“And why is that?” Éomer asked. Faramir was still grinning at him. “Oh, you mean the mystic telling her she would not marry a man with black hair.” He shrugged. “I don’t see that really signifies, he probably said it to ease her fright. And anyway, many of the noble lords that live in upper Gondor have lighter hair; she might have married any one of them. It means nothing.”
Faramir opened his mouth to say something, but closed it abruptly. He took a gulp of wine instead.
“What is it?” Éomer shot at him. “What were you going to say?”
Faramir retched as the wine went down the wrong way. He got a hard thump on the back and a suspicious glare from Éomer. But when he had recovered he twisted his face into a grin.
“I imagine that over the years some of the more enterprising Rohirrim slipped over the mountains, hence the lighter hair.”
Éomer was sure that was not what Faramir had been going to say, but he let it pass with a snort of derision.
“Are you going to speak to Imrahil?” Faramir asked after a moment.
“I have Lothíriel’s blessing to do so. But not until after your wedding.”
Faramir raised his brows, his grey eyes alight, looking proud of his matchmaking.
“Yes, you were right: I had not seen the best Gondor had to offer. And it was probably a good thing I did not meet her before. I feel that many of the shadows have disappeared since she spoke to me but I want to make sure that they have completely gone away. You know what will happen when I speak!”
“Hmm… “Faramir mused, “The King of Rohan is to wed with a Princess of Gondor. As a match, it will be more than all the elders of Gondor and Rohan could wish. They will rub their hands with glee. The marriage contract will be pages long. It will take a week to decide where the wedding will be and another to set the date. You will be lucky if it is within a year.”
“I have no idea why there has to be a marriage contract,” Éomer snapped back, dreadfully afraid Faramir had it right. “The fuss and the formalities take any romance out of it.”
“It’s the way it is done here. Really, you should ask the father for permission to ask the daughter for her blessing to speak to the father.” Faramir said, laughing into his goblet.
That brought back a gripe, remembering a very interesting interlude in Faramir’s study. “I don’t remember much asking on your part. I came back from Cormallen to find you making moon eyes at my sister, and when I challenged you with it you told me you were going to marry her. I fail to recall the use of the word permission at all!”
“No, we started talking about swords and bows if I remember. Anyway, you signed the contract.”
Éomer let out a huff. As if he would have stopped Éowyn marrying this noble man, but he wasn’t prepared to let him get away with all the honours.
“So would you, if you had a sister like Éowyn. She’d have taken a knife to my throat. You had better make sure you don’t annoy her.”
Faramir laughed so loudly that everyone else looked up. Lothíriel stared straight his way, their eyes connecting instantly; Éomer winked at her, pleased to see a slight staining of her cheeks.
“The only good thing that I can see about an official betrothal,” he said aside to Faramir who was watching the exchange with interest, “is that I might get to spend more than a few moments alone with her.”
Faramir let out a long sigh. “Believe me, Éomer, that only brings its own complications!”
March 24th 3020
What a way to spend a morning, leaning on a fence in the spring sunshine, watching the woman he loved. She was certainly good with a bow, but so were they all; archery being the sport practised by most highborn ladies. Although he was pretty sure that Lothíriel was the only lady present who had actually killed. She had told him she had not used her bow since the siege, but the night before Meren had been persuasive, with the honour of Dol Amroth at stake. Lothíriel only had today to practice, but hopefully the fact she had decided to take part meant she was putting the past behind her.
Éomer stretched. He seemed to be the only one doing nothing. Activity abounded all around him. Carpenters were finishing the assembly of the tiered seats from which the nobles would watch the tournament, and a black and white canopy already flapped over a raised wooden dais. These Gondorians looked after their King and Queen. On the far butts some of Faramir’s rangers were honing their skills, and in the main ring men from the East-mark were practicing over the jumps. Éothain, Elfhelm and a few others were riding around the outer track checking there were no hidden holes. The men liked to race hard and fast, but they looked after their horses.
The circuit completed, Éothain trotted over to him.
“Does all look well?” Éomer asked, suddenly a little envious. At one time he would have been in the thick of any preparations, now others did all the hard work leaving him to watch from the sidelines. His role centred on attending the most boring meeting imaginable.
“Yes, our hosts have been pretty thorough. The have prepared the ground painstakingly. Which is surprising since they have no chance of winning.” Éothain smirked.
“Don’t you be too sure, some of Imrahil’s men will be riding horses we sold them.”
Éothain dismissed that with a snort. “I just wish I didn’t have to leave the upholding of our honour to others,” he grumbled.
“It comes with rank. I can always demote you for the tournament.”
But by then Éothain had a grin on his face with some thought. “How about we have a private contest at the end. Like we used to. Over the jumps. It must still be allowed even though you are a king.”
Éomer laughed. “I gather, Éothain, that you think Starkhorn would beat Firefoot.” Unfortunately it was all too likely, and Éothain knew it, Starkhorn being nimbler on the tight course.
“Well, I do!” he replied, “Starkhorn is in his prime. What is more,” he said laughing loudly, “all the good living has probably affected your riding weight!”
Éomer wondered if he could put up with the humiliation for the sake of some fun, but at that moment he saw the ladies had finished and Lothíriel walking towards them.
She did look wonderful, wearing one of her unusual riding outfits. This time the top was in a deep shade of turquoise, reminiscent of a kingfisher’s wing. Suddenly a wicked idea popped right into his head, something that would serve two turns, and give him plenty of fun. Quickly he turned back to Éothain. “That is settled then – Starkhorn against Firefoot over the jumps, yes?”
“Agreed. I shall enjoy having a king clean out my stable.”
“Do not be too sure,” said Éomer, grinning at him.
With a chuckle Éothain bowed to Lothíriel, and went off to converse with Elfhelm. She looked at Éomer with a suspicious expression. “I have a feeling you two are up to something.”
He took the bow from her and tucked her arm through his. “Nothing terrible, I assure you. Will come for a ride with me this afternoon? I do not feel like being indoors.”
“Hmm…” Her face creased with laughter.” I will, but I still think you are up to mischief.”
“Wait and see. And would you ask Sergion for an escort? I do not wish to take my own men.”
“Now I really know you have something planned.”
To be continued.
With thanks to Lia who allowed her Kingfisher to dart in my direction.
List of Original Character appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Sergion - Captain of Lothíriel’s guard.
Durthor - A member of Lothíriel’s guard.
Oríon - Son to Sergion. Childhood friend of Amrothos and Lothíriel.
Master Nemir- Dol Amroth Healer
Welwyn- Daughter to Erkenbrand and Winfrith. Wounded in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and healed by Aragorn.
Wilflede - Hama’s eldest daughter – Married to Elfhelm
Welwyn- Daughter to Erkenbrand and Winfrith.
Déor - Friend of Éomer’s
Byrde Hama’s youngest daughter. Married to Déor
Umar - Prince of Harad. Device – the Black Serpent on Scarlet. Obsessed with Lothíriel. Killed on the Pelennor by King Théoden of Rohan
Seron- Mystic 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.