30. Chapter 30
I pushed the piece of meat from the left of our plate to the right - his side. That way it might look as if I'd eaten something. But of course Éomer noticed.
"Don't you like the roasted venison?" my new husband asked, leaning towards me. "Would you prefer chicken pie?"
Without meeting his eyes, I picked up a piece of bread and nibbled at it. "Thank you, but I'm just not hungry."
"What about a dish of blackberries? They're sweet and juicy."
"Please don't bother," I begged him. "Truly, I'm full."
I could sense the doubt and concern in him, but before he could pursue the topic any further, a loud cheer from the tables below us caught our attention. Another barrel of ale had been broached and the serving maids passed out fresh drinks. The men lifted their heavy tankards and toasted us enthusiastically.
"Éomer King! Lothíriel Queen!"
The fifth barrel. I knew, for I had kept count of them through the afternoon. Breguswith, the housekeeper of Meduseld, had told me that she expected our guests to empty at least ten of them by the end of the evening. Ten! Not that I would witness it, of course. Careful not to dislodge the bridal crown still resting on my head, I cast a look up at the windows. The sunbeams slanted in nearly horizontally, lighting up the gilded carvings on the supporting pillars, where high above us Éomer's forebears held their own feast, attended by blond-haired Shieldmaidens. Soon...
Thankfully, Éomer had returned to his meal and refrained from pressing any more food on me. He at least had a healthy appetite. But I could feel his regard on me every now and again as I twirled our goblet of wine in my fingers and pretended to listen to the bard who had set up his harp in front of the dais and was playing a ballad.
No doubt it would have been well worth listening to, but I found my attention wandering. Again, I glanced up. Eorl and his men were slowly fading into shadow, until only the multi-rayed suns at the top of each pillar remained lit. Then they too went dark. From outside, the call of a horn went up.
Éomer put his hand on mine. "Sundown."
At his words, my stomach contracted into a tight knot, and I was suddenly glad that I had not eaten much. In Gondor, the bride and groom would have withdrawn to their rooms at this point, ushered out by the discrete clapping of the guests, but not so here. The Rohirrim took a close and personal interest in the bedding of their queen.
Éomer leant over. "Would you prefer us to retire on our own? I can explain that it is the custom in Gondor, people will understand."
How tempting an offer! But I saw the anticipation and excitement on the faces of the riders watching us. They had waited long for this moment.
Looking up at Éomer, I shook my head. "I've made my choice: I am of the Mark now."
His eyes warmed with approval. "Lothíriel, I promise that you will never regret it."
We rose from our chairs and Éomer's squire presented a long wooden spear to him, which he hefted in one hand: the bridal staff. I put my hand on his arm, and together we descended the three steps from the dais. At once we got surrounded by well-wishers brandishing coloured ribbons, which they tied to the spear. This, too, was traditional, for every ribbon was supposed to strengthen the marriage bond with a particular quality.
Éomer's men were most enthusiastic and almost fought over who would get to tie his ribbon on first. There was much laughter and teasing about his beautiful bride, which he warded off good-naturedly. Fortunately I did not understand even half of it - just the little I did made the heat rise to my cheeks!
As we proceeded down the hall towards the great doors, the spear began to get completely covered. Some of the ribbons were woven from silk and skilfully embroidered, others just a torn-off strip of coloured cloth. To distract myself, I made a game out of guessing what colour each guest would choose. Blue stood for faith, white for trust and red for love. But by far, most of the ribbons were green: fertility. I swallowed. At least my new people made their expectations plain.
Outside, more cheers greeted us from the square below. To the east, the first stars had blossomed in a cloudless sky and a bonfire had been lit against the gathering darkness. I welcomed the evening air, which cooled my face. Slowly, we made our way down the steps and around the square, while the bridal staff began to resemble a fir tree with dark green hanging branches. Then an old lady tottered forward. Green, I thought to myself. However, she produced a bright red ribbon, edged with gold thread, and tied it to the staff where it stood out vividly against all the green. When I looked at her in surprise, she opened her mouth in a toothless smile and gave me a wink.
After making a turn of the square, we returned to the hall. As we entered through the doors, Éomer's riders began to stomp their feet and bang their tankards on the table. The deafening noise, mixed with shouting and cheering, echoed back from all sides. I winced and at once Éomer's arm went round my waist.
"Nearly done," he said in my ear.
An overoptimistic statement, for apparently we had missed some guests on our first tour of the hall. Anyway, I knew the worst part was still to come: the putting to bed. I also wondered how heavy the spear was getting, but every time we got stopped, Éomer held it out patiently. Halfway down, I caught a glimpse of Lady Rían and her daughter watching the goings-on with their mouths open. Did Emeldir still want to exchange places with me?
Finally we reached the high table, trailed by a crowd of well-wishers. Here a last batch of ribbons awaited us from our guests of honour. My father, I was touched to see, twined a red one round the staff, as did Éowyn.
When she was done, she took my arm. "Quick, come with me."
This was not according to plan. I looked up at Éomer in inquiry, but he just nodded at us. Like a dog cutting out a sheep from the flock, she herded me towards the door leading to the private quarters and whisked me through. In the hallway beyond, Ceolwen waited for us.
"Good! You've got her," she exclaimed.
What was happening? Before I knew it, the two hurried me down the corridor and past the guard into Éomer's rooms. I only had time for a quick glance around - just enough to note that the chair by the fireplace was gone - then they pulled me into the bedroom. Éowyn shot the bolt behind me.
"Success!" she crowed.
"Well done!" Aeffe answered.
By her side, Leofe gave me wide grin. What were they doing here? She and her twin sister stood by the window. Then I looked around the room and spotted Aescwyn as well, Háma's widow. Wearing a shy smile, she stood by an open cupboard with a pile of red fabric thrown across her arm.
"What is happening?" I asked Éowyn. "I thought the guests were supposed to accompany me to the bedroom with Éomer?"
"Just a small conspiracy," she answered. "We thought you would not enjoy getting undressed in front of the assembled female population of Edoras."
"Or at least as many as could cram into this room," Aeffe piped up.
Ceolwen nodded. "So we arranged to spirit you away beforehand. Éomer is well able to deal with them on his own and we will see to it that they leave quickly after the bedding of the couple."
Some of the tension that had turned my stomach into a knot of nerves all afternoon eased. I had forgotten that I had friends here.
"Thank you," I whispered.
Ceolwen drew me into her arms. "Poor Lothíriel, you looked like a prisoner being led to her execution."
"Did I really?" I exclaimed in distress. What if Éomer's people thought that I did not want to marry him!
"Only to those who know you well," Ceolwen assured me.
From the other side of the door, laughter and singing reached us, growing louder by the moment.
Aeffe rolled her eyes. "Here they come. Men!"
Ceolwen drew me forward into the room. "Let's get you ready. Then it will be over all the quicker."
The twins started undoing the laces at the back of my dress while Ceolwen unpinned my hair and combed through it. Giving myself over to their clever hands, I got my first chance to look around Éomer's bedroom - our bedroom now. Inevitably, my eyes got drawn to the four-poster bed with its massive carved posts, where Éowyn was just folding back the dark red counterpane to reveal creamy linen beneath. It was smaller than I had expected. Back in Dol Amroth, my father's bed could easily have slept a family of five, but this one seemed less than twice the width of a normal bed. With Éomer being such a large man, it might well be rather a snug fit. Éowyn looked up that moment and gave me a wink. Hastily, I concentrated on the rest of the room.
Not that there was a lot else to see. A clothes chest, a wardrobe and a small table with some covered dishes on it by the empty fireplace. In one corner a weapons stand held Éomer's hauberk, on top of which he had placed his horsetail helmet at a jaunty angle. That moment loud laughter sounded from the other room and somebody lifted his voice in a song. I could not understand the words, but they were greeted with much mirth.
The twins helped me out of my dress and Aescwyn brought over the nightgown she had laid out ready. Cool and smooth, the crimson silk slid across my skin with a seductive whisper. But I looked down at it in dismay. The fabric was sheer and the neckline so low, it did not leave much to the imagination at all!
"I can't wear this!" I protested. My face probably matched the colour of the nightgown.
My friends began to giggle.
"That is just for Éomer," Ceolwen told me. "There's another one that goes on top."
From the wardrobe Aescwyn got out a robe made from heavy brocade and draped it round me. Elaborate patterns in gold thread covered the red fabric, making it stiff and scratchy as I tied the belt on firmly. But I did not mind, for at that moment I would have welcomed a set of chainmail. Then Éowyn and the others helped me into the bed and stuffed cushions behind my back, so I could sit comfortably.
Éowyn straightened the bridal crown on my head. "Ready?"
I took a deep breath and nodded. While the other four took up stations on both sides of the bed, she crossed to the door and slid back the bolt.
Éothain entered first, carrying the beribboned spear. Next came Erkenbrand and Elfhelm, each with a torch in their hands, followed by my father and brothers. Then Aragorn and Faramir led the rest of the men in, but I only had eyes for my husband: clad in a robe of black and gold, and moving with the dignity of a great lion, he filled the room with his presence.
Éothain laid down the staff in the middle of the bed, and Aragorn turned back the sheets on his side, so Éomer could join me. The mattress sagged from his weight and our shoulders touched, while underneath the cover of his long sleeves, a warm hand sought mine and gave it a quick squeeze. Reassured by the brief contact, I relaxed against him.
"At least we can't complain about a lack of witnesses," he murmured to me.
Slowly the room quietened down. I had expected jests and laughter, but even though some of the riders swayed on their feet, all wore a serious expression. Éomer cupped my cheek and leant over to kiss me. I braced myself against the sensation, but he only brushed his lips across mine lightly. Reaching up, he removed the bridal crown and tossed it on the bed. Our marriage was consummated.
Cheers went up and suddenly it all happened very quickly. Éowyn and Ceolwen moved forward, as did Erkenbrand and Elfhelm, herding the others before them. I stared in surprise as the room emptied as if by magic. Éowyn was the last to leave and closed the door behind her with a soft click. Alone! I sagged against Éomer.
He squeezed my hand again, but I could feel the tension in him as he listened to the noise of the witnesses retreating through the study. Finally a thud announced the departure of the last of them. He jumped out of bed.
My mouth dropped open as he strode across the room and out the door. Where was he going? Then I heard him shoot the bolt of the main door with a loud crack. A moment later he reappeared in the doorway.
"Done!" he announced with satisfaction. "We've seen the last of our guests."
He sat down on my side of the bed and took my hand. "Lothíriel, I'm sorry you had to go through all this."
Disarmed, I smiled up at him. "I do understand the importance of this marriage to our people," I assured him. "And in fact it wasn't as bad as I had feared."
"You're a brave woman." He kissed my hand.
"For marrying you?"
"For bearing up so well. I promise I will make it up to you."
How, I wondered, when belatedly the meaning of his words dawned on me. Hastily I looked down and shrugged. "Well, it can hardly get worse."
Then I realised what I had just said. "That is..." I stammered, "I mean..."
Éomer started laughing. "Oh Lothíriel! Nobody can accuse you of not being honest."
Blood rushed to my head. "I only meant to say that...well, it should get better, shouldn't it..."
He was bent over with laughter by now. "Thank you for your confidence!"
I glared at him. "It's not funny!"
By now my husband was gasping for air. "No, of course not."
I pulled my knees up to my chest and examined with disfavour the quivering heap that a moment ago had been a dignified king.
"It's nothing short of a miracle that you managed to find somebody to fill the position of your queen," I told him.
He wiped tears from his eyes. "I know. She kept slipping through my fingers."
"Maybe she had more sense than you."
"Absolutely," he agreed and smiled at me.
A smile that did strange things to my pulse. I lowered my eyes and smoothed out one of the ribbons that lay spread across the bed. Green, of course. How close he sat to me. And how quiet the night had gone all of a sudden. The thick stone walls muted the noise of the feasting in the hall to a distant murmur. We were all alone.
I was being silly, I told myself. Of course we were alone. It was our wedding night after all! Éomer shifted, and the bed creaked, making me jump. He reached over to take the ribbon from my hand.
"Lothíriel, don't let that bother you."
"Expectations seem high," I countered.
Éomer shrugged. "All in due time." He picked up the spear and got up. "And I think we do not want this in our bed."
After a moment's thought, he leant it against the wall. Next he gathered up the bridal crown still lying on the bed cover and frowned at it. "Or this." Nonchalantly he tossed it to land on top of his helmet.
"And now, my lady wife, now that you're mine..." He put his hands on his hips and stood looking down at me. "...and I have you to myself..." Teeth flashed in a white grin and I could not look away. "...you will...eat."
"I've been watching you through the afternoon," he said. "All you had was half a roll of bread and a little wine."
"I'm just not hungry," I protested.
"Well, you should be."
He picked up the tray from the table by the fireplace, carried it over, and placed it in the middle of the bed.
"Go ahead," he nodded at me.
Intrigued, I lifted the lid off one of the dishes. It revealed half a dozen tiny cherry tarts nestling close together. Next to them was a basket of buns studded with currants and a bowl of fresh blackberries. Other dishes held different types of cheese and nuts.
"All this for me?" I asked.
"It's traditional to leave a plate of honey cakes as a fortifying refreshment for the bride and groom," he answered. "I just gave orders to bring more."
Touched by his concern, I smiled up at him. He was taking his promise to look after me very seriously! The table also held a flagon. Éomer filled two goblets from it and brought them over. Settling down on the opposite side of the bed, he handed me one.
I took a cautious sip. Tasting of honey and rather strong - I would have to be careful not to have too much of it!
"We're supposed to drink this for a month after the wedding," Éomer explained. "But don't worry. If you don't like the taste, I can smuggle in something else."
He lay down on his side and propped his head on one hand. With the other he took a blackberry and popped it in his mouth.
"Eat!" he commanded.
My stomach growled in response and to my surprise I found that I was hungry after all. Drawing my legs underneath me, I settled down more comfortably and surveyed the feast. The buns smelled of freshly baked bread and when I broke one open it was still warm from the oven. I busied myself tasting the assortment of dainties while my husband looked on with an indulgent smile.
"Was it your idea to have Éowyn spirit me out of the hall?" I asked in between bites of bread.
"Ceolwen suggested it," he answered. "But I had to promise Éowyn that you'd render the same service to her when she gets married. You're coming with us to Gondor, aren't you?"
Our marriage had given Éowyn the perfect reason to move forward her own wedding date, so as a result she would be leaving for Minas Tirith in another month's time. Éomer would of course accompany her, and I had no intention of staying behind and enduring more waiting.
Éomer took another sip of mead. "Good. For I want to show off my new wife." He rolled the word on his tongue with obvious relish. "You don't mind all the travelling?"
I shook my head. "Not if it's with you." How strange it would feel to return to my native land as Queen of Rohan!
With the worst of my hunger slaked, I made inroads into the cherry tarts, which were seasoned with honey and cinnamon and tasted delicious. When he saw my enthusiasm for them, Éomer grinned, his eyes dark in the candlelight.
Licking off cherry juice from my fingers, I smiled back at him. This was not how I had envisioned spending my wedding night. He looked so relaxed lying there, content to just watch me eat. His black and gold robe covered him down to his legs, except at the throat where it gaped open to show the fine blond hair on his chest. How would it feel to touch him there? The knowledge that I would soon find out was exciting and alarming at the same time.
Hastily I directed my attention back to the dishes in front of me and picked up another cherry tart. Not that I was all that hungry anymore, really.
"May I have a bite as well?" Éomer interrupted my thoughts.
I broke off a piece, but when I wanted to pass it to him, he made no move to take it. Instead he opened his mouth, a challenge in his eyes. After a short hesitation, I leant over to pop the pastry in. Briefly his lips brushed across my fingers and he smiled. It dawned on me then that he was about as harmless and relaxed as a lion on the prowl. I was being seduced - by my own husband. And I was enjoying it.
My pulse beating loudly in my ears, I withdrew my hand. Through the movement, my overrobe had come undone and now he reached over lazily to play with the belt. Surely to pull it closed again would be undignified. And probably futile anyway.
"Are you still hungry?" he whispered.
"I am," he added. "But not for food."
I swallowed. Éomer took my hand and twined his fingers through mine. "You could drive a man mad with these, you know," he said quite matter-of-factly.
I gaped at him. Then I looked down at my fingers as if they were a stranger's: long and slim against his strong, calloused ones. Drive him mad - did I really have that kind of power?
"Shall we clear away the plates?" he asked.
"If you wish."
Slowly Éomer sat up, as if he was afraid to startle me into flight, and picked up the tray. He put it on the floor, together with the empty goblets of mead. Meanwhile I had collected the lids to the dishes. But when I held them out to him, he suddenly cupped my face between his fingers and bent over to kiss me. The lids clattered loudly as I dropped them on the bed, from where they rolled onto the floor.
"I'm sorry," he said when he drew back, "but I just couldn't resist the opportunity when I saw you so defenceless." His eyes laughed down at me.
How he enjoyed teasing me! I gave him my most ferocious frown, but it impressed him very little, for he knelt on the bed and the next moment I found myself pulled gently but inexorably into his embrace. His hands slipped inside my robe and around my waist, while his mouth sought mine. Yielding readily, I relaxed into his warmth and slipped my arms around his neck. How good it felt to have him close, to smell his spicy scent. His lips moved up to kiss my eyelids, then brushed across my temples and down my neck. Taking his time, tasting and exploring, leaving goosebumps in his wake. Leisurely, he moved on to trace the neckline of my gown with kisses breathed on so lightly, they tantalized the senses. A tremble rose deep within me and I felt his lips curve in a smile against my skin.
But I would not let him have it all his way! Greatly daring, I slid my fingers inside his robe - to encounter nothing but bare skin. I faltered. For some reason, I had expected him to wear a shirt or something underneath his robe, like I did. But there was nothing there except naked man. A lot of naked man.
Éomer felt my hesitation and looked up at me. The tightly leashed hunger I read on his face intimidated me. Yet at the same time excitement pooled at the bottom of my belly.
"Trust me," he breathed. His voice wrapped itself around me, velvety and warm.
"I do," I whispered.
A smile rewarded me. Cradling me in his strong arms, he eased me down amidst the cushions. I had no recollection of taking off my heavy robe, but it ended up on the floor somehow. Then Éomer sat back on his heels and surveyed me. Heat rose to my face at the possessive way he ran his eyes over me. Clearly he had me where he wanted me. I lifted my chin in a challenge.
His smile deepened. "I remember the first time I saw you, min heorte," he said softly in Rohirric. "How you emerged out of the mist, prickly and belligerent. And so very desirable."
"If I recall correctly, you were pretty belligerent yourself, my Lord King," I countered, trying to keep my voice level.
He leant over me, and I tensed, but all he did was blow out the candle by my side of the bed. Briefly, the sharp smell of smoke filled my nose.
Éomer looked down at me, his face cast into sharp relief by the one remaining candle. "I saw you that night in Aldburg, you know. You hesitated on the threshold of the hall and I knew that you would rather have been anywhere else but there, amongst the pain and fear of the wounded." He combed his fingers through my hair, spreading it out on the pillow. "I dismissed you for a refined Gondorian lady, sure that you would turn back. But then you stepped into the hall. And into my life."
How well I remembered that moment! And how strange that it had led me here, to this very different night.
"I knew then that I wanted you for my own," Éomer went on, picking up the drawstring of my nightgown and playing with it as a cat would play with a mouse. "But I had to wait for nearly a whole year, for you behaved like a skittish filly every time I gave a hint." He grinned. "And called me my Lord Marshal."
"You deserved it, for teasing me!"
"I know." He let his hand roam down my side and across my belly as if he had every right to. Which I suppose he did. "But how could I possibly resist you?" he asked. "Of course, getting treated to the sight of your nightgown soaked with water helped."
He dared! Without thinking, I reached for a pillow to throw at him. But I had forgotten his warrior reflexes. Just as I swung it round to connect with his chest, he straightened up and grabbed for it. A loud tearing sound. And suddenly there were feathers everywhere! They whirled around us like snowflakes in a blizzard.
I don't know who was more surprised, him or me. For a moment we both froze, exchanging a guilty look, then he sneezed when a feather went up his nose. I started laughing.
Éomer swept the pillow onto the floor and pounced on me. "Is that the way to treat your husband?" he growled, seizing me by the waist.
I squealed and tried to wriggle away, sending more feathers into the air. He started to tickle me and I convulsed with laughter.
"Yes, it is!" I gasped, reaching for another cushion and pounding him on the head with it.
Éomer briefly let go of me to wrestle my weapon from me, which gave me the opportunity to roll onto my stomach and crawl away. Or try to. He lunged after me and at once I found myself caught by the legs and expertly flopped over onto my back. A cushion landed in my face, smothering my laughter.
"You will pay for this!" my husband said in his sternest tone.
He closed in on me like a big cat stalking its prey. I flung the cushion back at him, but missed him completely. It flew by him and with a heavy thump landed somewhere in the darkness of the room. But there were more. I scrambled backwards while he advanced on me menacingly, and threw everything at him that I could get my hands on: pillows, the coverlet, feathers. Finally he trapped me against the headboard of the bed.
"Attacking the King of the Mark! That calls for punishment," Éomer threatened, looming over me.
I tried to ward him off with my hands, all the while gasping for air with laughter, but he caught hold of my ankles and implacably pulled me towards him, until I lay flat on my back. Deftly, he lay on top of me and imprisoned my arms against my sides.
"This deeply reprehensible and totally unmotivated attack on my royal person will have to be atoned for," he whispered, his face a finger's breadth away from mine.
My breath came in short gasps. "Not unmotivated," was all the protest I could manage.
He propped himself on his arms and grinned down at me, while his weight pressed me into the mattress. So close. Leisurely he picked a feather out of my hair. Most of them seemed to have ended up on the floor through our struggle. What the servants would think when they saw the mess tomorrow morning I did not even want to imagine. No doubt the gossip would be all over Meduseld before noon.
Éomer's hand travelled down across my temple to settle round the nape of my neck. "And now that I have you where I want you, my sweet torment," he said softly, "we will need to address this matter of flagrant disrespect towards the King of the Mark."
In contrast to his stern words, he bent down to kiss me lightly on the lips. The merest hint of what I knew he was capable of.
Blood pounded in my ears. "How do you propose to go about it?" I whispered.
Having his weight pressing down on me should have been uncomfortable, but instead I found all my senses sharpened, my skin burning wherever it touched his. He kissed me again, more demandingly, and I could taste the mead he had drunk earlier. My belly tightened with desire.
Warm breath ghosted across my face. "I'm afraid such a heinous crime carries a heavy sentence." His lips began to roam down my throat and across my collarbones. "Although I might be persuaded to leniency where the damage to royal property is concerned."
"You...might?" The words were embarrassingly difficult to string together. Each touch seemed to shatter my concentration like reflections in a pond.
"Hmm..." He had reached the neckline of my gown, which had slipped off my shoulders in our fight. "Taking this off would make a start."
I felt laughter bubbling up inside me, mixed with delicious anticipation. "If you say so," I answered obediently.
Éomer helped me wriggle my arms out of the nightgown and slipped it down to my waist. Taking his time about it, he then eased it across my hips and down my thighs. How could stroking along the length of my leg make me bite my lip with tension! When he reached my feet, Éomer bunched up the silk negligently and threw it to the floor. A few feathers floated back up. Then he made his way back up with the same slow deliberation, as if he were surveying his domain.
Enough was enough. When he took my mouth in a kiss again, I wrapped my arms around his neck and ran my hands through his hair. Thick and soft, it whispered through my fingers. A quiver ran through him.
"Your turn now," I challenged him, pushing back his robe from his shoulders. Where had my nervousness gone?
The black and gold velvet joined the other debris on the floor. I slid my hands up his sides and across the wide expanse of his back, letting my fingers dance over his skin like butterflies. Close, so close. But I wanted to be closer still and arched my back against him.
His breath caught. "Oh, Lothíriel!"
No, I was not completely helpless. Then his lips seized mine and the sensation drove all other thoughts from my mind. His skin felt flushed against mine and his breath came in fast, shallow breaths, matching mine. Yet strangely enough, I found the thought reassuring that Éomer was not as relaxed and in control as he had seemed.
Trusting myself to him, I let him sweep me into a rising spiral of bright colours. We would find our way together.
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.