29. Chapter 29
25th April 3020
The leaders thundered towards him, hooves pounding the firm earth. Éomer squinted into the early sun, trying to make out the frontrunners. The second circuit of the course, and with only one to go a dozen riders had bunched together, gradually pulling away from the rest. Bent over foam-lathered necks they charged past, wrestling for position.
There were spectators everywhere, those without seats climbing on carts, and a few even sitting on ladders propped against the City walls. So many had entered the contest it had been run in a series of heats, but the final was turning out to be a wild race.
Éowyn and Welwyn screamed encouragement to their favourites; like him, they had given up on the provided seats and hung over the rail near to the finish line. Éomer leant against a post trying for some dignity, whilst on his other side, Lothíriel jumped up and down with excitement, shouting out as one of her father’s Knights shoved his horse through a gap to gain a couple of places, the only competitor anywhere near the front not from the Mark.
“How can you be so cool about it?” she admonished as the riders headed away. “You must want someone from the Eastfold to win.”
Face flushed, eyes sparkling with exuberance, she looked enchanting. Éomer couldn’t resist winking at her, creasing his face into a grin. “Well, privately I do, but now I am king it would not do to show favouritism. I am learning to be more diplomatic!”
Laughing, Lothíriel turned back to see what was happening: the leaders were coming into view again. Éomer glimpsed a flash of blue amongst the pack at the front, but much to Welwyn’s delight and Éowyn’s and Lothíriel’s disgust, on the final straight one of Erkenbrand’s men fought his way past his rivals from Aldburg and Dol Amroth, reaching the winning post a head in front.
“Phew!” Éomer breathed. “I thought I was going to regret bringing such fine horses for your father.”
“I am glad we were not disgraced,” Lothíriel said, a little disappointed, “and it was such fun. Although surely racing like that is extremely dangerous. I am surprised no one got badly hurt.”
“It is not as perilous as it looks. The horses are trained this way; they need to learn how to charge into battle without hitting each other.”
Lothíriel didn’t look convinced, and he couldn’t blame her, but thankfully, luck had been with everybody that morning and only a few had fallen with no serious injuries. And she had other things on her mind.
“I will have to go now; my archery competition is due to start.” The excitement over, she smiled a little wanly, and he guessed she had not totally come to terms with using her bow again.
“Shall I come with you?”
Her eyes lit for a moment, but she shook her head. “No, you must support your men in the jumping contest. Although I don’t think they will have any trouble beating us in that.”
They’d better not! The men of the Mark jumped their horses a lot, right over the heads of their enemies sometimes. But today it would be brushwood fences, poles and a couple of stretches of water. A tight course they had to complete with no mishaps in a given time. A spike of guilt stabbed him.
“Lothíriel, do you want to change your mind?”
“No. Why should I? Firefoot behaved like a perfect gentleman yesterday. He might be a warhorse, but he is as smooth as silk to ride.” Her eyebrows rose. “However, I can’t promise to win for you, and I am still not sure whether it counts as cheating.”
“I made certain I wagered horse against horse, no mention of the rider. Anyway, it’s only a bit of fun, but I get fed up of losing to Éothain.”
“It must do you good not to get everything all your own way,” she retorted.
“You’re probably right,” he chuckled. “I can rely on Éothain to keep my feet firmly on the ground. Well, if you are sure, the contest will be right at the end.”
“I will be back in time.”
Eyes following her retreating figure, he thought how especially elegant she looked today. Wearing a riding outfit with leggings and boots, the long suede-leather tunic that she wore over her silk shirt had been dyed in the blue of Dol Amroth and embroidered around the edge with silver swans. Very purposefully, her bow and a quiver of arrows were slung across her back. Éomer wanted to go and watch her compete, but could not really abandon his kinsmen. Still gazing in her direction, he felt a brush against his arm as someone came alongside him.
“May I ask how you are getting on with my sister?”
Éomer turned and met laughing black eyes, full of knowing. “You may ask,” he replied, folding his arms, “but whether I tell you is another matter.” The only effect that remark had on Amroth was to make him laugh louder.
“All right, I will guess.” He put his finger to his forehead as if giving the matter serious consideration. “Very well, I think. She is happier than I have ever seen her, and spends most of her time with you. She is also up to something. I can always tell when she avoids my eyes like she did on the way down here.” The prince flashed him a wry look. “Do you know, Éomer, why Lothíriel is wearing her best riding outfit for a morning spent at archery.
After a few moments inward struggle, Éomer decided he could not lie. And anyway, he found that he wanted to share his fun with Amroth.
“She is going to ride my horse. Jumping against Éothain.” He tried to sound nonchalant about it.
His eyes opened wide and a smile slowly spread across Amroth’s face. “Now, something tells me that is a very a significant thing to one of the Rohirrim.”
Éomer sighed. “You’re sharp. I’ll give you that.”
Amroth didn’t deny it. “So, tell me, what does it exactly mean?”
“It exactly means that only a member of my family, or a prospective member, would ride my horse.”
“Ah…” Amroth’s brow furrowed. “So it means you are announcing your betrothal to my sister for those who understand the rules.”
Éomer didn’t answer.
“Does Lothíriel know this?”
“Not really,” he admitted. “But I have spoken to her.”
“And my father?”
“No, not yet. But do not worry,” he added quickly, “I have a feeling he will not object, and I will speak to him soon.”
“Hmm….” Lips twisting in uncertainty, Amroth considered the information. Finally, he let out a long sigh. “Well, I am very glad, Éomer. I will be pleased to have you as a brother, but until then, my friend, I shall make sure that I watch you like a hawk.”
“Amroth, I have absolutely no doubt that you will!”
Honour satisfied, they watched the jumping companionably for a while. The course was very tight and with the number of entrants the time allowed had been cut fine, so many were disqualified when the last grain of sand trickled into the copper bowl before they were over the final fence. Others, trying to keep their speed up, knocked down a pole or two, or splashed the water, one ending up soaked as his horse skidded on the edge of the jump and he sailed over its head, landing in the deepest part.
“Idiot!” Amroth threw his hands up in disgust. “He wrong footed him.”
Éomer laughed. “That was the last one of yours. So it’s between mine now.”
Lothíriel returned a short while later, frowning when she saw her brother staring at her. “Amroth, why are you looking at me with that stupid grin plastered across your face?”
Before he could answer Éomer quickly cut in, “Did you win?”
She laughed, and ignoring Amroth, pushed her way in-between them to get a view of the ring. “It was a very diplomatic draw. The ladies of the City have been practising hard.”
Only a few rounds to go, the competition ended with the Eastfold getting its revenge this time, although by a very narrow margin. After the prize giving Éomer saw Firefoot being led towards him.
“Are you sure?” Éomer whispered, feeling Amroth’s eyes on him.” The course is quite difficult.”
Lothíriel shrugged, dismissing his qualms. “I always did like a challenge, and a joke.”
“I am sure you can do it, Lothy,” Amroth said to her. “But be careful to keep him up together. Don’t let him get away from you at all.”
Éomer nodded, he had told her all that. Flashing him a grin, Lothíriel greeted Firefoot, speaking softly into his ear. The stallion gently nuzzled into her, perfectly behaved. Éomer admitted he would have never contemplated this if Firefoot had shown anything other than pleasure at having Lothíriel ride him, but the practice the day before had gone even better than he had expected. And he did so want to do it: announce his intentions to his kinsmen without all the formality that Gondor required.
No time for more thought, as Éothain rode up mounted on Starkhorn, both horse and man looking fresh and keen.
“Are we ready, my king?”
“Change of plan, Éothain, I am introducing a substitute”. With a nod to Lothíriel he picked her straight up and she swung her leg over Firefoot’s saddle. Whatever else, that move alone made it worthwhile: Éothain’s face, first aghast with indignation, softened into reluctant approval.
“So that’s the way of it. I can’t say I am surprised. And I might be pleased, lord, but that doesn’t mean I intend to let you win.”
Lothíriel looked between them, obviously a bit bemused by Éothain’s comment, but luckily her attention was taken straightaway as Éothain called out to his wife.
“Welwyn, it is up to you to uphold our honour.”
Welwyn had a big smile on her face, the significance of Lothíriel sitting on her king’s horse not lost on her, but at Éothain’s words the smile changed to a grin and she hurried forward. Éomer had suspected Éothain might do this, although he had hoped Welwyn would not be dressed for riding. No such luck, to his surprise, and the amusement of the growing number of spectators, she fumbled at the ties around her waist for a moment. And then, with a chuckle and a toss of her head, she stepped right out of her skirt. Clad in hose and boots and with her tabard reaching her knees, Welwyn could have planned this herself.
“Well, I’ll be mistaken for a mûmak!” Éomer grumbled. Éothain hooted with laughter, sliding off Starkhorn and holding the reins out to his wife.
“I think it’s fairer,” Lothíriel joined in. “Have you ridden him much, Welwyn?”
“Only a few times, but we get on well.” She gathered up the reins as Éothain adjusted the stirrups for her. “Who’s going first?”
Many of the dispersing crowd, sensing something unusual was going on, wandered back to the edge of the jumping ring. Éomer had primed the judges and Lothíriel and Welwyn were going to be given a longer time to complete the course, but even such experienced riders would find it a real challenge. Looking at the fences again, he wondered why he had thought Lothíriel stood a chance against Éothain, for however good a rider she might be, she was on an unfamiliar horse, and a big one at that. And now with Welwyn riding he had a horrible feeling he might end up with a shovel after all.
Welwyn led Starkhorn out and waited for the judge’s signal. Shoulders set confidently, and the coin having landed her way, Lothíriel sat quietly on Firefoot, studying every move of her friend and rival. She didn’t look nervous in spite of the growing audience. Éomer saw that the royal party, which included her father, having got down from the dais were now working their way slowly in his direction, chatting to some of the spectators.
But Welwyn had started, taking the first fence at a fair speed and sailing over it.
Beside him, Éothain smirked with satisfaction. Premature! Starkhorn dragged a hind at the next fence and clipped the pole.
“Oh, he does that if you drop your hands too soon!” Éothain exclaimed.
“What a shame.” Éomer tightened his lips to stop the grin.
When Starkhorn ran out at the fifth fence, he couldn’t stop it. “I think he’d better go back to school, Éothain. And you will be pleased to know that Firefoot’s stable is particularly gruesome.” He looked down at his sleeve, flicking an imaginary speck. “For some reason it wasn’t cleaned out yesterday.”
“Confident, are you!” Éothain said, sounding none too pleased. He moved a few feet, straining to get a better view. Welwyn cantered to the next jump on the far side of the ring.
“Fancy making herself a spectacle,” a shrill voice wafted over. “You would think she would want to keep in the background with that ghastly scar on her face.”
Seething, Éomer swung around. He thought so! It was that awful Heleguin woman! She was talking to a man who from the matching nose had to be related. Éomer glowered, clenching his hands in anger. The man reddened under the heat of the fierce glare, but Heleguin, damn her, simpered towards him.
“Oh, my Lord King.” She bobbed her head and fluttered her eyelashes, looking for all like a scraggy hen. “I was just telling my brother…”
“Go away!” Éomer hissed through gritted teeth.
“But, my lord…”
“Go away! Before I forget you are a woman and upend you in a pile of dung!”
Her face blanched. A few sniggers came from a nearby group of Gondorian nobles. They would really think him a savage now, but he didn’t care.
Heleguin opened her mouth again, but her brother grabbed her arm, pulling her away. He nodded what looked like an apology before determinedly leading her towards the City gates.
“I think you got your point over,” Amroth whispered in his ear. “Remind me not to fall out with you.”
Taking a deep breath, Éomer could only be thankful he had retained some control over his temper, but her type made him mad! Sniping at Welwyn, who was worth a dozen high-born bitches.
A groan went up from the crowd, drawing his attention back to the ring: Welwyn, having jumped the water safely, had edged off another pole. Éothain shook his head in disbelief. Thank the Valar he had been concentrating on his wife and missed the commotion.
“Why is she laughing, Éomer?” Éothain came back alongside him, looking for support “How can she knock another fence down and laugh about it.”
Welwyn certainly didn’t seem to be taking the competition very seriously. Finishing the round with no more mishaps, she rode over to where Lothíriel waited. Waving her arms at the fences, it looked as though she was giving her fellow contestant advice.
“I don’t believe it,” Éothain exclaimed, thoroughly disconcerted. “Does she want me to lose?”
“Probably.” Amroth also seemed to find it funny. “I don’t think ladies feel the same about these things as we do.”
“Lothíriel will do her best,” Éomer said aloud, more confidently than he felt.
At first it appeared it she would, after waiting for the applause from the crowd to stop — mostly Rohirrim voicing their approval at the goings on – she jumped the first two fences cleanly. But at the third Firefoot decided he knew better than her and took off too soon, crashing through the brushwood top. A bit flustered by the roar of disappointment that went up, she unbalanced the horse at the water jump and he landed short, splashing mud and water all over her.
“She’s still one ahead,” Éomer remarked as she gathered the stallion together. Firefoot looked chastened — the proud animal didn’t like making mistakes. They jumped the next two with no problem. But when she approached the last, a suspicion entered Éomer’s mind: surely Lothíriel should be urging him on a bit.
Twang! The crack of a hoof against a pole resounded around the hushed ring. The pole tottered and fell. But when Lothíriel cantered over to join Welwyn a raucous cheer went up as the two of them shook hands. Laughing together, they turned their mounts and headed for the gap in the rails.
“Aren’t they going to go again to decide a winner?” Éothain said, a bit puzzled.
“I don’t think so.” Éomer replied. Actually he was sure of it, the grin on Lothíriel’s red face as she rode towards them told him all he needed to know.
“You drew,” he said unnecessarily.
How could she look so pleased about it, and so lovely with mud spots splattering her face?
“And we have decided the outcome,” Welwyn announced, smiling from ear to ear.
Éomer took hold of Firefoot’s reins and groaned audibly. “I am not sure I want to hear.”
Sliding off the horse’s back Lothíriel wiped her face on her sleeve, eyes full of amusement. “We think it only fair that you clean out each other’s stable.”
“A very reasonable decision, I think,” a voice came from behind.
“You would!” Éomer shot back. Aragorn’s sense of humour usually matched his own, but there were times…and he was still not sure Lothíriel hadn’t knocked the last fence down deliberately.
“Lothíriel, come here. I think you need more than a sleeve to clean yourself up.” Imrahil produced a spotless handkerchief, his squire a flask of water. He led his daughter a few paces away.
“Oh, thank you.” The wet handkerchief was so refreshing; Lothíriel wiped it over her face and around her neck. She poured some water from the flask over her hands, even though she’d worn gloves they would smell of horse. Her tunic had splashes of mud up it, but better to let it dry, Hisael would get it looking as good as new.
“Lothíriel, you frightened me half to death, riding that stallion. I don’t know what Éomer was thinking of.”
Handing the flask back with a thank you to the squire, Lothíriel took her father’s arm, hugging into him. “Firefoot will always look after me, Éomer told him to keep me safe. Rohirric horses hate anything to happen to their riders. We only made mistakes because we are not used to each other. Next time it will be better.”
Her father had shot his eyebrows skywards, but Lothíriel recognised that look of pretended indignation, and anyway, his lips were twitching.
“Éomer wouldn’t have suggested it if he thought I would have come to any harm, Father.”
Her father squeezed her arm. “No, I am sure of that. Now I think the archery competition is about to start, shall we watch it together?
The Royal Party moved over to the main butts, declining chairs and sitting on the grass. The targets had been moved right back for the men’s events. This was where Gondor scored, for there were none to touch the Rangers of Ithilien.
After the archery, they were offered refreshments whilst some of the Lords and Ladies of Gondor flew their hawks, something those from Rohan hardly did at all. It was nearing noon when the tournament came to an end and the crowd started to disperse. Éomer had disappeared, but as Lothíriel stood up from her seat on the grass, she saw him leading Firefoot towards her.
“I can walk with you, or you can ride with me.”
She hesitated; the crowds were thick, some guards trying to clear a way through for Aragorn and her father. She really should go with him and Calaerdis. There was no sign of Amroth, or Elphir and Meren.
“Come on, I told Sergion I would escort you.”
He probably hadn’t mentioned riding! But she laughed. “All right, I will take the chance. I am getting so many strange looks now, a few more will not matter.” Many of the Rohirrim had started to openly smile at her, she couldn’t quite understand why, as she had made a bit of a mess of the jumping.
Éomer had to manoeuvre the big horse carefully through the crowd. And as she had suspected, riding with him provoked even more interest from his kinsmen, grins and well-wishes accompanying them up the road. Perhaps she should not have succumbed, but she liked the closeness of having his warm body pressed against her, she felt safe and loved.
“I do not understand why the Rohirrim seem so pleased,” she remarked, tilting her head to try and catch his expression. “Is there something you are not telling me?”
“They just like a bit of fun,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders.
“Éomer, is that a guilty look on your face?”
He didn’t look guilty now; instead he had a big grin. Lothíriel gave up, sure she would find out whatever was causing the amusement very soon.
They wound their way up through the City, where preparations were well in hand for the wedding that would be taking place very soon. With the fun of the tournament and the expectation of much celebration that evening, the streets were already taking on a party atmosphere. As well as the merchants’ stalls, from which appetising smells of a multitude of different foods spiced the air, tables and chairs had been set up in all the squares where oxen roasted on great spits. Torches had been set, lining each side of the steep road, to be lit when Faramir and Éowyn made their way to Ithilien. At first Lothíriel had thought it strange them wanting to ride so far, but now, with her feelings for the man who held her tightly growing hour by hour, she could understand their need to retreat to the peace of Emyn Arnen. At least they would be as alone as any noble couple could be with servants stalking every step.
Éomer wanted to spend some time alone with Éowyn before the wedding, but knew that he would be in for some teasing, as although she had left before the end of the tournament she had stayed long enough to watch Lothíriel ride Firefoot.
Honed and polished as well as time would allow, after his quick session with the pitchfork – they’d agreed to do a better job the next day – he tapped lightly on his sister’s door. A maid answered and let him in.
“I will not be long, my lord, I am just finishing Lady Éowyn’s hair.”
Éomer wedged himself into a spindly legged chair and watched as the maid fixed a garland of small white flowers around Éowyn’s head. Whatever the woman had used on his sister’s hair must have been effective as it shone like sun on water, cascading down her back in a glittering stream. With a few final brushes, the maid finished, handing the brush to Éowyn.
“Just run it through the ends before you go outside, my lady. At least there does not seem to be any wind.”
Éowyn thanked her, and they were left alone.
She stared into the mirror, as if not sure it was herself she could see in it. Éomer got up and stood behind her, resting his hands lightly on her shoulders. He smiled at her reflection.
“Faramir is a lucky man. I am not sure I should let you go, the Golden Hall will miss your beauty.”
“Hmm…,” Éowyn swivelled around in her chair forcing him to step back. “From what I saw this morning, you will hardly miss me at all. You know, Éomer,” she carried on, nose in the air, “in Gondor, I understand that one is supposed to ask for permission to court a daughter, not announce a betrothal without even having talked to the father!”
“As I have said before, Éowyn,” he retorted, “when I returned from Cormallen a certain Steward of Gondor told me that he was marrying my sister. I do not think permission ever came into the conversation.”
Éowyn’s lips twitched and her expression turned dreamy. “Well, although you are both very different, you are quite alike,” she replied.
Éomer digested this piece of information. Pulling up the chair he sat down facing her. “I agree that men do not like to ask for that which they already consider to be their own, if that is what you mean.”
“Something like that.” Her brow creased. “And your Princess, does she mind her betrothal being announced in a Rohirric way?”
“She does not know,” he admitted.
Éowyn opened her mouth indignantly, but he interrupted whatever reprimand was about to hit him.
“Don’t look so shocked,” he said, laughing. “She has agreed to marry me. I just wanted do something different. Once I speak to her father the vultures will swoop. But I promise I will tell her soon.”
Éowyn went quiet for a moment, fiddling with the hairbrush. “Éomer, I am really glad for you. I was afraid you would be lonely. And I wanted to say that you are the best brother a girl could have.”
Éomer got up so quickly that the chair crashed over. Ignoring it, he put his arms around her, hugging her tightly against him. He had wanted her happiness before his own. Now, if the Valar were with him, there would be a chance for both.
“Mind my hair! I will never get it right,” she rebuked half-heartedly.
He let her go and she turned back to the mirror, ostensibly to check her headdress, but her finger wiped away a tear. Time to change the subject.
“Enough about me, Éowyn. I really came to make sure you were happy about everything… and I know it is a bit late, but you have talked to someone about tonight?”
Her colour flared, and she put down the brush and grabbed a goblet from her dressing table, taking a big gulp. “Yes, of course, I talked to Faramir.”
“Well, I am marrying him. Who else should I ask?”
He shook his head laughing. She could still surprise him. “You are supposed to talk to a married lady.”
“I did that as well, I spoke to Welwyn. She, Lothíriel and I have had some interesting conversations. Your princess is very well informed.”
Éomer opened his mouth and shut it again, tightly.
“Do not look like that.” Éowyn said, obviously enjoying herself. “You could hardly send her hundreds of wounded men and not expect her to be familiar with the workings of the male body.”
Stunned, he could find nothing to say.
“It is quite all right, brother dear, you need not worry. I assure you that up until now at least, her interest has been only in relation to her calling.” She giggled. “That will probably change now.”
“Éowyn, have you been drinking?”
“No,” she said, looking at her empty cup. “Well, not much. Just enough to steady my nerves. It is the ceremony that bothers me, nothing else!”
Éomer started laughing and found it difficult to stop, “You are right, Éowyn. Faramir and I are quite alike. We are both very lucky men!”
Unchecked, the tears trickled down Lothíriel’s cheeks. She hadn’t cried at Elphir’s wedding, but here the emotion was so much greater. Éowyn and Faramir were saying their vows in front of their king – the man who had brought them both back from the dead. But it had been the sight of Elphir standing next to Faramir that had set her off: it should have been Boromir supporting his brother. If only Denethor had listened. With her own troubles it had not really struck her before, just how alone Faramir must have felt. Losing his brother, and then his father in such a way…. Even though he would not be lonely in the future, he must be remembering his lost family on this special day.
Sniffing, she studied the bride. Éowyn looked utterly beautiful. As suspected, she had chosen simple white and looked like an ethereal being. It was a shimmering, slim fitting dress, worn with a jewelled and tasselled girdle in green, red and gold. Flowers were around her head, and her pale blonde hair fell down her back like a silken cloak.
Her brother looked pretty good as well: dark green velvet tunic, embroidered with white horses, ceremonial cloak, his mane of tawny hair. Lothíriel let her gaze feast on Éomer for a moment, chuckling to herself. Not long ago she had thought she would never look at a man and now here was one that she could not keep from eyes from.
And watching him gave her more reason to love him: for the way he held his sister’s arm, whispering to her, giving her support. Girls with older brothers were blessed. Words flitted through her mind but she could not catch them; the old man in the cave, something he had said about ‘choices’, “you will know great love child, but you will have to make choices.” What was that about? Whatever, that would be long in the future, and then prophesies could be wrong. Choices would need to be made at the time, not now. Now there was only one way.
Faramir and Éowyn said their vows. White ribbons bound them together and as the last was tied the high note of a silver trumpet rang out. The call immediately taken up by others, their urgent notes raced down the winding road to the gates, telling everyone in the City that Gondor’s favourite son was married. The cheers rose up from the streets below, joining with the ringing of congratulations from the invited guests.
Long tables had been set up around the courtyard leaving room for a variety of minstrels and dancers, the entertainment mixing with course after course of exquisite food. King Elessar made a speech, though bride and groom were oblivious to most of it, their heads close together for most of the time. Lothíriel decided that Éomer must have thought the same. Sitting across the table they’d had no conversation, but catching her eye, he winked, which earned her a nudge in the ribs and a smirk from Amroth.
But at last the sun sunk to an orange ball behind the mountain, and the White Guard lined up along the tunnel. Faramir and Éowyn walked through an archway of flowers and sparkling lamps to their waiting mounts. Éowyn had changed into a sliver-grey riding dress, embroidered with a tracery of ferns. She looked radiantly happy, but clung to Éomer for a moment, whispering something in his ear, just before Faramir lifted her into the saddle.
Once they had gone, Lothíriel hurried over to the wall. She wanted a good view, but so did everyone else. Although by being quick she managed a place at the front. Above her, the stars hung like a net of jewels, below she could see the fires of the encampment, but beyond the Pelennor was hidden by dark shadow. She could judge the bridal couple’s progress down the street by the bouts of cheering that ascended to the high Citadel. After what seemed an incredible time she glimpsed the glow from the guards’ torches as the procession emerged from under the walls. The burning brands could be seen as pinpricks of light along the road that led to the ferry-crossing, before shrinking to tiny dots, finally to be swallowed up by the night.
“What are you thinking?” asked a deep voice in her ear.
How had he managed to get so close? But then Lothíriel had noticed that the thickest crowd parted as if by magic for the King of Rohan.
“That it is very romantic to ride off like that. We have something similar in Dol Amroth, what do they do in the Mark?”
“I do not think that I had better tell you just yet,” he whispered. “Something entirely more earthy. Although from what I have heard from my sister, you would be unlikely to blush.”
“I never blushed before I met you,” she retorted. “And what has Éowyn been telling you? It was just a bit of fun.”
His lips brushed against her ear, a soft touch that seared her skin. The vibration of his laughter, quivered against her cheek “I know, and I am teasing you. I came to ask you to dance.”
“I am not very good,” she murmured, hearing the tremor in her own voice. “I used to skip dancing lessons to go riding.”
“Well, so did I, but these genteel Gondorian dances have one great advantage; I am allowed to hold you and, in this crush, hopefully quite close.”
“In that case, Éomer, why are we standing here talking?”
It had been beautiful wedding, then the splendour of the sun going down and the torchlight procession. And now it had turned into a perfect evening. She did not dance much; usually it was too hot and stuffy, but outside in his arms! They danced dance after dance, even though she protested that they should not, there would be even more talk. But Éomer dismissed her worries with his usual brusque disregard for convention.
“You wish to dance with someone else?”
“No, of course not.”
“Well, neither do I. And your father does not seem to mind.”
True, every time she caught her father’s eye he smiled benignly. And although they might dance a lot they were in full view of hundreds of people. It was hardly a clandestine tryst. “He is not a great one for propriety, he judges people differently. My father trusts you.”
She hesitated, but she had started. “Sergion says he absolutely insists that you will not… will not take advantage of his daughter.”
“Ah…” Éomer brought his head down to her ear, breath whispering across her face. “And now there is no way I can let him down, and just when I was thinking of ravishing you, right here on this spot.”
Lothíriel couldn’t help laughing. “I wouldn’t suggest trying it here, the court ladies would never recover from the shock.”
“No, probably not,” he said, changing to a cheeky grin. “Come on, you look hot. Let’s get a drink.”
They strolled over to the table where jugs of ale and various cordials were on offer. As she took a sip of juice, a familiar voice sounded above the general hubbub. “Have you one dance for me, Lothíriel?”
“No, she has not. Go away!” Éomer said curtly before she had a chance to open her mouth.
But surprisingly Amroth only laughed, poking Éomer in the chest with a long finger. “You just make sure you look after my sister.”
To be continued.
List of Original Character appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Sergion - Captain of Lothíriel’s guard.
Hisael - Lothíriel’s maid
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 Calaerdis- From Sirith in Lebennin. A rich widow. Mistress to Imrahil.
Heleguin - Court lady distantly related to Faramir.
Welwyn- Daughter to Erkenbrand and Winfrith. Wounded in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and healed by Aragorn.
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