31. Chapter 31
From the number of packhorses that jostled into line outside the City, Lothíriel knew that the journey home would be a new experience. One far removed from her childhood camping expeditions on the islands.
Her father, Calaerdis, Elphir and Meren, had returned to Dol Amroth on Wild Swan. Aragorn, however, preferred to ride (she privately felt he wanted a holiday) and Éomer had suggested they ride too, as all her previous journeys had been by ship.
Hisael had been excused, not up to the long ride, but Hulde, the young girl from the Eastfold who was acting as Lothíriel’s maid, had been travelling and camping since a baby. She had come with her parents for the wedding and now her whole family was journeying with them, along with an assortment of other servants from both Gondor and Rohan.
Beautiful hangings, colourful rugs, carved pieces of wood that slotted together perfectly to make a comfortable bed, a tub – which if not big enough to take a proper bath, had room for her to sit with her knees drawn up whilst her maid poured water over her shoulders. Neither Éomer nor Aragorn were that full of their own importance, but the livered retainers and the decorated tents, with immaculate Royal Guards outside, left Lothíriel in no doubt that she was in the company of two kings.
The second night they camped outside Pelargir, and with Sergion happy to stay in the camp, Amroth initiated a trip to the taverns for ale. Éomer, and even Aragorn, did not need much persuading, but the waterfront at night was not considered a suitable place for noble young ladies. Lothíriel didn’t mind at all; content to sit quietly around the fire as the last few days in the City had been a whirl. She had fitted in another visit to Tinusel, pleased to see the old lady reasonably comfortable. The next day she had gone with Éomer when he travelled to say goodbye to a very happy Éowyn, and then there had been the lavish farewell banquet, during which her betrothal had been announced.
A busy time indeed. Lothíriel stretched out, sitting with her back against a log and staring up at the sky, her thoughts lingering pleasantly on Éomer. The night darkened, the stars gradually showing themselves, and in the velvety peace Welwyn and Byrde started singing. Lothíriel, although not musical herself, listened entranced as their strong voices rolled around the campsite, encouraging the guards to hum in harmony.
Lothíriel found she could recognise many of the words, and blessed her penchant for learning languages.
“They are traditional ballads?” she asked when the singers stopped for a drink.
“Yes,” Welwyn answered. “The men sing about great deeds and war, but the women sing about themselves; the hardships endured over the years, how many fought alongside their men in the dark years.”
“But also,” Byrde put in, “of love. For our land, and for the Riders who protect it.”
Lính?wen, flaxen-haired Riders, Lothíriel recognised those words in the songs. Somehow the fair-haired warriors, and the tall, blonde women, symbolised Rohan, and the realisation sent a shiver of unease through her. But she pushed it aside, soon caught up in a haunting melody that invoked a picture of endless grasslands and the proud, grey stallions that ruled the vast herds.
Lothíriel blinked away a tear when the song ended. “That was beautiful, you have lovely voices. I cannot sing a note.”
Welwyn acknowledged the compliment with a nod. “It is in our blood. It comes from the far north.”
But not hers, she really had no connection with the people she would be spending the rest of her life with, or the land of which she would be queen. Lothíriel raked her eyes over the fair-skin and pale hair of her companions and her qualms surfaced in a rush. “I am very different from you. I will stand out wherever I go. Do you think that your people will accept me?”
Welwyn reached over and took her hand, giving it a reassuring squeeze. “They will love you, Lothíriel, because our king adores you and you him. Since he set eyes upon you, no other woman exists.”
Byrde leant towards her, bubbling with laughter. “That was evident from the dancing.”
“Oh!” Lothíriel gasped, the heat rushing to her face. “I told him we should not do it.”
“I have known Éomer all my life,” Byrde replied. “Nobody tells him anything, and convention is a word of which he has not heard.”
Lothíriel laughed, feeling better. “That’s probably why he gets on with my father.”
“Anyway, Lothíriel,” Welwyn said with a grin, “the most important thing is that you can ride, the Rohirrim will forgive you anything for that.”
She was in her tent long before the men returned, but still they left Pelargir early the following morning, making for the fords at Linhir. This was where Aragorn and the Army of the Dead had come to the aid of Angbor and Elphir, so they spent some time hearing all about the ghostly battle. Often along the road they had to stop as word of their passing reached some lord or merchant eager to pay his respects to Gondor’s king. Lothíriel relished the freedom of the journey and didn’t mind the delays, but if she had thought she might get some time alone in the evenings with Éomer, it had not worked out. Amroth turned out to be a lot less trusting than her father. It made her cross, but it amused Éomer, who said that he would have probably done the same. So she shrugged her shoulders and concentrated on enjoying the different scenery, and the camaraderie of the camp in the evening.
On the wide tracks they were able to travel as a group and the time passed quickly with much discussion and conversation, but when they started climbing the pass that wound up though the southern arms of the Tarnost Hills, the line spread out and she had more time to talk intimately with Éomer.
Riding between some steep cliffs, he drew in close, and lowered his voice. “What do you think of Déor and Byrde?”
Lothíriel guided Bracken around a small rock fall before answering. “I like Byrde very much, the journey has deepened our friendship.”
She looked up at him, wondering where all this was leading. “I don’t know him well, yet, but I find him very pleasant company.” Éomer’s expectant look told her he wanted more, so she delved into her intuition. “He is very good looking, he is intelligent, but something about the way he moves and holds himself tells me he is skilled warrior too.”
“Yes, he is. But he uses his head as well as his sword arm?” Still his eyes questioned her.
“A bit like Amroth,” she mused. “Yes, I think he reminds me a little of Amroth.”
“Not in looks,” Éomer retorted.
“Hmm… but in character, I feel they may have similarities. Amroth would fight and give his life for his people or his land, even though he may pretend otherwise. But he is different from Erchi who actually enjoys battle and war. I think Déor may be like that.”
A slow smile crossed Éomer’s face. “You are very perceptive, Lothíriel.”
“I hadn’t thought about it until you asked me.” She fixed him with a determined look. “And why did you ask me?”
“Because I have to think about a Guard for you next year. The first person to find is a Captain.”
A Guard, she hadn’t considered that. “Will it be necessary?”
“I will not always be there, Lothíriel. You do understand that, don’t you?”
“You mean when Aragorn calls you will go?”
His eyes hardened. “It’s not all over. There are still those out there who will seek to overthrow his rule, and I cannot shut myself away behind the mountains and ignore the threat.”
“Éomer, you are a king, but you are a warrior at heart: I would not have you any other way.” She smiled to make her support plain. “I thank the Valar that I am able to marry for love, but I know what is expected of your queen. What I do not know, I will learn.”
“I have no doubts about that. And can only thank Eru I fell in love with someone so suitable. But I have to tell you, Lothíriel, that before I met you I thought very sensibly about the whole thing. Once I set eyes on you I tried to be circumspect, but really I didn’t care a damn how suitable you were.”
Lothíriel felt the blood rush to her cheeks; this was not quite the place to talk about such things. “So you will ask Déor,” she said, unable to make any other response.
His lips twitched, acknowledging her change of subject. “I do not wish for an obsessive warrior who will dislike being left behind if the Rohirrim ride to war. I have known Déor since childhood. We have ridden into danger many times together. He is from the Eastfold, and I trust him. It would mean that he and Byrde would live in Meduseld. I want someone whom you will like, for as Sergion is, he will be close to you.”
“I like him and Byrde well.”
“Good, it is an honoured but not an easy position for any man. He would have to swear to put his Queen first, protect her before all others, even his own wife and children. I will talk to them both.”
“That is difficult,” Lothíriel agreed. “Would it not be better to choose someone who is unmarried?”
Éomer shrugged, dismissing her worry. “You would not want a grizzled old warrior around you, and if I chose a younger man, who is to say they will remain unmarried. But it must be Déor’s decision. It will be easier for me to find a new second-in-command to Éothain.”
True, there was no getting away from the reality that her position in life had always required sacrifice from others. Decisively, she put away the unsettling thought and commented on something else. “That must have been another hard choice: which one of your friends to make your captain.”
Éomer smiled. “You might think so, but strangely it wasn’t. Éothain has been with me since the beginning, whilst Déor rode with Elfhelm. But more than that, Éothain would have been hurt had I not given him the position. Déor is able to shrug off things like that much easier.”
At that moment they came out of the pass, the other side of the hills. “Look!” Lothíriel cried. “In the distance, you can just glimpse the sea!”
But they had to get a lot closer before Éomer could grasp the vastness of it, the endless restlessness of white-topped wavelets that sparkled in the sunlight and gleamed silver under the moon. He could see no land out there except a few small islands that Lothíriel said were empty of people, although the fishermen landed to collect eggs from birds and turtles. The coast road ran along the shores of the Bay of Belfalas, sometimes with nothing between him and the sea but marsh and salt pan, where flocks of fluffy sheep nibbled on the sea-grass. After they left the garrison town of Londpeler behind, great beaches stretched out, empty and desolate. But every so often they came to a village clustered in a river valley, and the inhabitants rushed out, eager to witness the passage of their king on his way to their lord’s palace.
Dol Amroth: it rose out of the cliffs, commanding the land and sea around with an impenetrable gaze. Éomer stared at the massive walls, such a difference from the wood and stone of Edoras. Silver notes rang out a welcome from blue-clad trumpeters lining the battlements. Without a pause they trotted under the arched gates and across a square lined with cheering citizens. Here, Éomer found himself of more interest than Aragorn, and guessed his intentions towards their princess were well known.
Through another gateway and into the palace courtyard. Imrahil and Elphir were waiting on the steps, but before anyone else moved, Erchirion strode up to Lothíriel. Giving no other any chance, he lifted her down from her horse, laughing loudly.
“Well, little one, what a surprise. Will I have to bow to you when you are a queen?”
“Surprise indeed!” Flashing a sideways look to Éomer, she grinned. “You do not fool me, Erchi. I know the lot of you planned it. Even Éowyn was in on it. You just conveniently forgot to tell the main participants.”
“I suspected as much,” Éomer growled as he dismounted.
“Neither of you look as if you object!” Erchirion replied unabashed.
He certainly didn’t, and neither did Lothíriel. She kissed her brother on the cheek.
“Luckily for all of you we do not.”
Éomer cast his eyes around the huge hall; all the citizens of Edoras could fit in here. Seeing Lothíriel in her home made him realise their different upbringings. A sharp stab of unease, not the first, made him speak. “Meduseld is so much smaller.”
Lothíriel immediately put her hand over his. “I know it is. Arwen and Calaerdis gave me a pretty good description. They said it is very beautiful, made of ancient wood carved in intricate patterns and the pillars are adorned with gold leaf and fine tooled leather. They think I will be happy there, and that it will make a beautiful family home, as well as a court.”
A family home. Something he had not thought possible, but now within his grasp, even though he would have to wait many months. But Faramir had waited that long for Éowyn without complaint…
“The weather is set fair for the next few days.” Amroth interrupted his thought. “We ought to picnic on one of the islands whilst we have the chance.”
Éomer agreed, they should make the most of the time before the damn Haradrim got here. They had a planned a couple of lazy days exploring the different scenery along the coast, probably something he would enjoy more, but he had promised Lothíriel he would go out to the islands.
Two days later, with the weather bright and fair as Amroth had promised, they gathered on the harbour wall. Aragorn had declined, wanting to discuss a few things with Imrahil and Elphir before the Harad Prince arrived. So had Meren, not liking small boats.
“Then we will need three boats.” Lothíriel worked out.
“Oríon can take one,” Amroth suggested. “He and I will be able to manage on our own, you and Erchi can sail one between you.”
Éomer felt a little doubtful looking down at the tiny craft that bobbed about on the end of thin ropes. “Are you sure?” he asked. “They look very small and fragile.”
“Of course.” Lothíriel laughed, pulling him towards the steps. “The sea is calm today, with a gentle breeze. It’s just right for your first time.”
The boat looked even more unstable when he was close, but with a grin Lothíriel held it against the stonework for him to get in.
“Sit in the middle and keep still. Erchi and I will do the rest. You will have to remove your boots, we need to wade ashore.”
Sit still! He wanted to do nothing else – every time he shifted his weight, the thing slewed to the side causing Lothíriel to laugh and him to hang on. He could swim well enough, but it was a long way to the shore. However, he tried to relax, and found that as long as it didn’t tip, he could enjoy the sensation of skimming over the water. But quite quickly they reached the island and Lothíriel nudged the little boat up the beach, the sail flapping furiously until Erchi unhooked it from the mast. But once ashore Éomer had to admit it had been worth it. Amroth and Oríon provided them with a feast of colourful blue fish, which Lothíriel said were numerous around the islands. Content, Éomer lay back against a rock, watching her showing Welwyn and Byrde how to make necklaces from shells. He wanted to enjoy every moment of these peaceful days, for all too soon he would be back in Meduseld wrestling with the problems of ruling a land that was only just beginning to emerge from years of conflict.
Lothíriel came and sat down beside him, showering him with sand. He sat up quickly, brushing his tunic.
“I think I prefer grass.”
She laughed. “I spotted some turtle tracks, but you looked asleep.”
“Just thinking,” he took hold of her hand. “Was that not turtle soup we ate last night?”
“Yes, but we only take so many. Some eggs as well. The rest are left.”
“Lothíriel, this is all very different from the Mark. Are you sure you will be happy?”
Her eyes met his, reassuring, trusting. “I am sure.” She leant against him, running her hand down his arm. “And it is not so far now, with the Dimholt road open. Four days’ ride. I am sure we can visit from time to time.”
“Of course, at least a yearly visit, I promise you.” Éomer shaded his eyes with his hand, determined to completely dismiss any worries. “The tower on that small island just off the shore, is that the one you were telling me about?”
She looked in the direction he indicated. “Yes, it is.”
“Well, I am glad you reach it by horse and not boat!”
The next day they set out early for a ride along the coast. Apart from Lothíriel, Amroth and Erchi, only Éomer knew where they were going. The first part of the trip was an exhilarating gallop, but they slowed when they reached a fishing village where wooden houses lined the beach, contents and inhabitants spilling out onto the sand. With a sign for them to wait amongst the nets and upturned boats, Erchi trotted up the beach to have a word with some of the women. Éomer saw a few coins change hands, and Erchi came back smiling.
“There will be a meal waiting when we return. A spicy fish stew, as good food as you will get anywhere.”
Beyond the village the shoreline became heavily wooded and a long beach stretched before them. After another good gallop they slowed their mounts, trotting along the edge of the waves to cool them. Lothíriel had gone quiet, not joining in the general banter, her upright, tense posture telling Éomer how much strain this was causing her. But she had been determined; a closure was needed before she could move on.
It was just past noon when they reached a place where the beach swept inwards and they saw a wide river in front of them. Éomer realised they were here, and Amroth nodded when he caught his eye, putting up his hand to hold everyone back. Without saying anything, Lothíriel kicked Bracken forward and rode up to the bank. The river had cut a sand cliff through the beach and she jumped Bracken down into the shallows, walking him out to the edge of the channel in the middle. The water swirled in front of her, rushing down from the hills. Bracken moved uneasily, not wanting to go any further, but she spoke reassuringly to him and then when he had quietened, took a handkerchief from her pocket. Wrapped in the handkerchief was a dried, pink flower. Lothíriel tossed both into the current, her eyes following the offering as it was swept out to sea, her lips moved, but the words were lost on the wind.
“What’s she doing?” Éothain asked.
“Saying goodbye to a memory.” Éomer answered.
Back on the beach, Lothíriel looked around, her expression tight and controlled. She focused her eyes on the area near the woods.
“Here it was that six good men died for me, six brave men and one very brave horse.”
Amroth moved his horse close to her. “More would have died if you had turned and galloped away.”
“Perhaps.” Her face relaxed, and she smiled an apology to those who had no idea what was being talked about. Then she started talking, briefly going through all that had happened here, something Éomer had not expected.
Her words shocked everyone into silence, no one questioned or asked for more information, although a few stifled gasps were heard. Byrde had gone white, only Welwyn didn’t look surprised.
Lothíriel’s words trailed to a halt, and still no one spoke until Erchi broke the hush.
“All Sergion’s tuition paid off, for during the siege she killed a few more.”
“The siege?” Byrde gasped.
“Oh yes,” Lothíriel answered. “The man was completely insane, obviously used to getting all he wished. He trapped me in the city, so sure he’d win and survive the battle.” She laughed, throwing her head back. “But Rohan arrived with horns blowing and your Théoden King smote him down.”
“And you are still prepared to meet this Prince Amal?” asked Byrde.
Lothíriel shrugged. “King Elessar wishes it.” She gathered up Bracken’s reins, ending further discussion. “And now you all must be hungry, we ought to be getting back.”
Later, as they sat at the rough wooden tables with the roar of the surf an accompaniment to an excellent meal, he watched Lothíriel laughing at something Welwyn had said. With a swelling heart Éomer recognized how proud and pleased he was that she had felt comfortable enough with his friends to lay her past bare like that. Her behaviour must have had an effect on the others too, because as he was wiping soft bread around his bowl, mopping up the last of the tasty red sauce, Déor murmured in his ear.
“The position you offered me, I shall be honoured to accept it.”
Lothíriel stared out of her window, she could just see the tops of the masts – the Haradrim had arrived sometime before dawn. Prince Amal would be making his way to the Palace and whether he stayed the night, or straightaway return on his hired ship, would depend on Aragorn’s and her father’s insight into his motives. She might, or might not, get to meet him, and for a moment considered her feelings on that. Sense told her that not all Haradrim could be like Umar, but although she had confidence that she had conquered all the terrible memories, she dreaded putting it to the test.
A knock on the door, and Hisael hurried in, looking around for her tray. Her eyes scanned the half-eaten meal, but she said nothing about that. “King Éomer has asked if you would be kind enough to accompany him for a walk on the beach, Princess. He is waiting by the side door.”
He cared for her, she knew he always would. Determined to keep her away from the Haradrim until absolutely necessary, he’d made sure she would not have to go near the main doors. Lothíriel’s heart surged with love when she saw him waiting, all green and gold and handsome.
She took his arm, and they slipped out of the gates and under the city wall, scrambling down the rough path that led to the long beach. It was one of the rare times they had been allowed to be alone, her brothers and Sergion busy entertaining the large number of advisors and guards that had come with the Prince.
After a walk along the shoreline enjoying the way the little red crabs scurried in and out of the surf, they sat at the top of the beach watching some fishermen casting nets in the shallow water. Neither spoke for a while, content to sit close and drink in the serene view of sky and ocean. Éomer did nothing more than play with her hair, twisting the long strands around his fingers. But after a while he stopped and Lothíriel looked up to see his eyes smiling at her.
“You have never told me all about the old man in the cave. We have time now.”
She hesitated, not really surprised that Éomer had guessed there was more, and if she told him some, the rest would come out. But perhaps it was time as they had committed themselves to one another, prophesy or not. “I remember bits and pieces. I was a child and it was long ago, but it was as if I had always known him, met him before, but of course I had not. It was not that he really spoke in riddles, but he would tell me something, not finish it, and then tell me something else. Perhaps the next day he would go back to the first thing. I have already told you he suggested I learn to heal, use the gift that I had been given. It certainly has given me more peace, channelled my energy, I suppose.”
“Is there anything you remember of the man himself?” Éomer asked.
“He was dressed in grey, with a long beard.” She thought hard. “There are memories on the edge of my mind. Strange things, like the fire, I told you it never went out.”
“Are you sure about that?” Éomer asked.
“Yes, I am sure now. He just threw the odd little stick on it and muttered something. There is something else, it has just come to me. All our conversations were in Sindarin, but he was neither Elf nor man of Gondor.”
She couldn’t read Éomer’s expression, any thoughts he hid well. He smiled evasively. “Well then, go on, what else did he tell you?”
“Many interesting things, he told me a lot of the history of Middle-earth, how things came and went and then the same things happened again.” Now came the difficult part. “It is hard to explain, but he seemed to have some plan for me. He said that I did not have to worry about Umar.” She hesitated, taking a breath. “Then he told me about you”
“Me?” That shook him.
“Not all at once. He told me you were fair, a warrior from the north of my own land. Then days later he said I would marry a king.”
Éomer let out a long sigh, and took hold of her hand, rubbing his thumb across her knuckles. “What makes me think that our fate is woven tighter than plaited leather?”
Lothíriel leant back against him. “Or we have as much chance of stopping destiny as we have of halting the tides that sweep up the beach twice a day.”
“But that didn’t prevent others trying to take a hand.”
“No.” Lothíriel laughed, snuggling against him. “When Father, Faramir and Erchi came back from Edoras I saw through them straight away, especially when they tried to avoid my questions about you. They thought they had planned it well, they did not realise that I already knew.”
“How, when you hadn’t met me?”
She gave him a wry look. “There are not that many fair-haired, warrior kings around. But of course if Sauron had not been defeated, none of this would have happened. Everything would have gone a different way.”
“I seem to have been the only one who knew nothing of this, and looking back I feel that you were right when you said Éowyn must also have known, for she kept going on about my clothes.” He chuckled, giving her a squeeze. “She made me dress up to escort you from the ship. Did you know that was the time we would meet?”
“I knew I would meet you at the wedding, of course, but I did not remember all the old man said until we were nearing the Harlond. I saw men riding towards the ship and knew it was you. I hid behind the foremast so that I could observe you without being seen.”
A flick of an eyebrow. “And what did you think then when you first set eyes upon me?”
“Hmm…” Lothíriel thought for a moment. “I had feelings that I had never had before. I tried to work out what they were. I decided that it could not be ‘love’ as I had not even spoken to you. There was only one thing it could be: I decided it was ‘lust’.”
“Lust!” His eyes opened wide with astonishment.
She giggled, feeling extraordinary brave. “Well, of course, what else? Love came later, I believe, when I fell asleep in your arms. Now the feelings of lust and love are totally mixed up. It is quite confusing.”
Éomer stared at her for only a moment before she was tipped flat on her back, his heavy body pinning her to the sand. The slumbering lion had woken up! Heart thumping in her chest, she gulped for air. Blue eyes bored into her, a pebble dug painfully into her back, but she couldn’t move.
“Do you mean to say that I have been tip-toeing around you, hardly daring to lay a finger on you in case you scuttled away like a frightened rabbit and all the time…” But suddenly he let out an expletive. Rolling off her in an instant he got to his feet, pulling her with him. Lothíriel brushed herself down realising, with a jolt, the sharpness of his warrior’s instinct, because her father’s steward, Ephrem, plodded towards them.
The man’s face was totally expressionless. Éomer put his lips next to her ear. “Obviously he’s used to seeing kings and princesses rolling in the sand.”
Lothíriel stifled a giggle as Ephrem bowed his head.
“My Lord, Princess, King Elessar sends his compliments and asks if he could have a word with you both. He is in Prince Imrahil’s study.”
“Yes, of course.” Éomer replied. “We will be there shortly.”
“Ah, Lothíriel,” said Aragorn, standing up as they entered, “I have something to ask you. It may upset you so I thought you would like Éomer with you.”
Upset her? Beside her, Éomer stiffened. She glanced around the room; her father and Elphir stood by the window, looking tense and strained.
“Please go on, my lord.” The situation called for formality.
“We have had some encouraging talks with Prince Amal. He is asking for much, but offering a great deal in return, the chance for us to keep the southern tribes under control. Skirmishes in the future perhaps, but not full scale war. He would like to lease ships from your father, trade with us, protect his new coastline from the Corsairs. It seems that he genuinely wishes to progress his country, help his people. Your father thinks that he is truly very different from Umar. I myself have the feeling that we can trust him, but we need to make certain.”
She nodded, not sure what to say.
“To show faith, I have asked that he apologises to you on behalf of his people.”
Éomer’s fingers tightened on her arm, and Aragorn must have spotted the reaction because he smiled.
“This is asking a lot of him, as the men of Harad do not value women as we do.”
“It’s asking a lot of Lothíriel, Aragorn,” Éomer snapped. “She has put it all behind her. I do not want it raked up and upsetting her.”
“No, Éomer,” Lothíriel said, knowing however much he wanted to protect her, some things could not be avoided. “We must put my feelings aside.” She turned back to Aragorn. “What did he say?”
“He has agreed to our request. That he will put his people before his pride shows, we think, just how desperate but also how true he is. I would be grateful if you feel you can do this, it will be him, his bodyguard and us, of course. Amal is well versed in the common tongue.”
She nodded. “I would like to go and change first.”
Aragorn’s’ eyes flitted to Imrahil and back to her. “Thank you, Lothíriel. Shall we say here in half an hour?”
Éomer was waiting for her at the bottom of the stairs. He raised his eyebrows at her choice of clothing – a demure long-sleeved blouse with a high neck worn under a tabard, and a plain skirt. “Their women cover themselves,” she explained.
“You are my woman, and personally I prefer your usual way of dressing.”
She laughed, the mischievous gleam in his eyes dispelling some of her nervousness. Grinning, he took hold of her hand, not letting it go even when they entered her father’s study.
The Prince sat in one of her father’s leather chairs, very upright; he rose when she entered. Lothíriel wondered if he had ever stood for a woman before. She studied him during the introductions: about Éomer’s age, tall, clean shaven, not unlike Amroth in his features, but darker of course. A red tunic over black trousers, but Umar’s writhing serpent had been banished to an embroidered sleeve. Black eyes met hers, pride and intelligence glowing clear.
Any moment he would speak, but what would it cost this proud young man to apologise to her in front of two kings and two princes. The future of both their lands depended on trust and cooperation, not domination. She had had time to think when dressing. The Prince stared at her, took a breath, but she spoke first.
“Prince Amal, I accept your unspoken apology.”
The held breath came out in a controlled hiss. His eyes never leaving hers, he smiled. “The Princess is as wise as she is beautiful.”
Prince Amal bowed, Éomer squeezed her hand. The atmosphere in the room perceptibly lighted, Elphir winked at her.
Lothíriel inclined her head, first to Prince Amal and then to Aragorn. Now she wanted to get out before they noticed her shaking. In the passage, Éomer pulled her against him, kissing her on the cheek. “I did not realize you were such a diplomat. What made you do that?”
What made her – a strange premonition that one day her actions would be remembered, but also – “I think you know that when Aragorn was a child he had to be kept safe and hidden from Sauron, so they called him by another name. They called him ‘Estel’.”
“‘Amal’, it means the same as ‘Estel’. It means ‘hope’.
So different from when Umar had joined them in the hall for those terrible dinners, tonight her father had even invited Prince Amal to their private quarters for a glass of wine before the meal. Feeling his eyes on her, Lothíriel went over to speak. The Prince bowed as she approached.
“Your father tells me that you can speak our language, Princess?”
“Only a little now, I learnt when I was a child and did not have occasion to use it.”
His lips curved into a smile that was far removed from Umar’s leering grins. “Perhaps with a new understanding between our lands you will have the opportunity.”
“Maybe, my lord, but I shall be living far away.”
“Ah, yes,” His glance flicked to Éomer. “I understand that you are to be a queen. My congratulations: I am sure that you will make a very good one.”
“Thank you.” He had well shaped lips; they parted in a lovely smile that showed even white teeth, gleaming against his dark skin. Lothíriel swallowed, wondering why she was thinking this.
“Your Rohirrim King, I saw him on the battlefield, but luckily for me we did not actually meet.” His eyes gleamed mischief, reminding her of Amroth. “But I imagine, Princess, that he is considerably gentler with you.”
Feeling a little unsettled, she schooled her voice to politeness. “I assure you, my lord, that he is.”
“When is your marriage taking place?”
“Early next year.”
“That is a long time to wait.”
“I think so, but it is generally thought that as I am from the south I will not survive a Rohan winter. I need to acclimatise.”
His arched brows drew together. “Do they not have blankets and fires?”
“Yes of course,” she said with a laugh, “but Éomer says the Royal Apartments are draughty; he is having them improved before we wed. Do you have a wife, Prince Amal?”
“Ah.” What else could she say to that?
“I know it is not your way, but it is a good arrangement: they argue and fight with each other and not with me.”
Lothíriel tried not to laugh, but failed dismally. The Prince laughed with her, but then he stopped, his eyes fixing on her seriously for a moment.
“You may be interested to know, Princess, that whilst it is true that girls in our country marry at twelve, they do not live as a wife until nature says they are ready. We are not all monsters.”
“I have no doubt of that, my lord.” Elphir appeared at her elbow, ready to escort the Prince to dinner. “You must excuse me now, but I will ask my father to send you an invitation to my wedding.”
“I shall be honoured, Princess.”
Relieved, she crossed the room back to Éomer, who took her arm rather possessively. “What is it about you that drives these men of Harad wild?”
“What do you mean?”
“He cannot take his eyes from you.”
She resisted the urge to look round. “Really? Well he has two wives already. I am sure that is enough for any man, and he was very pleasant, very polite.”
“Good!” his voice dropped to a growl. “For I would hate to have to run him through and spoil all these delicate negotiations.”
Lothíriel shook her head, torn between amusement and irritation. “He said that he was very glad he did not meet you on the battlefield. I imagine that if he had, I would not have been given the opportunity to talk to him!”
To be continued.
List of Original Character appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Lady Tinusel - An elderly lady, friend of Lothíriel’s
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.
Hisael - Lothíriel’s maid
Ephrem - Imrahil’s steward
Oríon - Son to Sergion. Childhood friend of Amrothos and Lothíriel
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 defence of Dol Amroth during the Ring-war.
Byrde Hama’s youngest daughter. Married to Déor
Déor- Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. A Rider in Elfhelm’s éored, given his own command for the Battle of the Pelennor.
Welwyn- Daughter to Erkenbrand – married to Éothain.
Hulde- Lothíriel’s temporary maid from the Eastfold.
Umar - Prince of Harad. Device – the Black Serpent on Scarlet. Obsessed with Lothíriel. Killed on the Pelennor by King Théoden of Rohan.
Amal - The new Prince of Harad
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.