13. Chapter 13
I don't remember much of the rest of that day. I woke from my faint in Father's cabin aboard Bane and once he heard about the knock on my head, he sent for our healer. Curuvoron must have stocked up on valerian again, for after prescribing rest and complete quiet he dosed me with a horrible tasting brew, which sent me to sleep almost immediately. But I welcomed the darkness.
After that I have a vague recollection of being roused repeatedly, each time to find Curuvoron peering into my eyes, but those episodes somehow merged seamlessly into my nightmares of Corethir and his men. When I finally awoke for good, the setting sun was slanting in through the windows, casting a golden glow on the polished wood of the deck. I lay still, listening to the familiar creaking of the great ship around me, punctuated by the sound of water softly lapping against the side. Yet the lack of rocking motion told me we were still tied up in port. Turning my head, I found one of the maids I knew from our town house waiting next to my bed. When she saw I was awake, she helped me sit up.
"Would you like a wash, my lady?" Gwaeleth asked.
I nodded, and let her assist me to my feet. I felt curiously light-headed, but at least my crippling headache had vanished. And my mind was clear again. Far too clear. Had I really done what I had done? I groaned softly.
The maid stopped in the process of peeling off my dirty clothes. "My lady, am I hurting you?"
I waved at her to continue. "No, no."
In one corner of the room was a tub, just large enough to stand in while Gwaeleth sponged me down with lukewarm water. I closed my eyes and searched for the fury that had run through me earlier on, but found the fires of my rage burnt down to bitter ashes.
He had lied to me. From the very beginning. No wonder he had treated the Princess of Dol Amroth as his equal, looking her over like a mare for sale. A tiny spark of rage lit in my soul, but no matter how I tried to fan it into a blaze, it just drowned in a sea of desolation. Léona had lied to me.
"I hate you!" Perhaps if I said it loud enough, I would believe it.
I jumped, having completely forgotten about Gwaeleth's presence. "Nothing. Don't mind me."
The maid wrapped a towel around me and helped me step out of the tub. Somebody must have sent for spare clothes from the town house, for a clean gown awaited me. Gwaeleth slipped it over my head, tied up the laces and then brushed out my hair, before settling me in a chair by the window. A quick glance out at the dusk confirmed my guess, we were still moored up at the Harlond. Dropping a curtsy to me, the maid withdrew.
As I expected, a few minutes later my father entered. He had a couple of servants in tow, one of whom proceeded to light the brass lamps hanging from the ceiling, while the other carried a tray of food, which he placed on a table by my chair. At the sight of it my stomach growled loudly. Then I got a surprise. My brother Amrothos strode in!
I straightened up. "Amrothos! What are you doing here?"
He pecked me on the cheek. "Finally catching up with you. You've led me a merry chase, little sister, haven't you!"
"But how did you get here so quickly? The last time I saw you..." I stuttered to a halt. Would he be very annoyed with me for giving him the slip?
"You saw me?"
"Let Lothíriel have her dinner first," my father interrupted, "then we'll have her version of the events." Waving at the servants to leave, Father settled down in a chair opposite me. "Eat! I won't have you fainting on me again."
But my appetite had deserted me. "Are you very angry with me?" I whispered.
"What for?" my father asked back. "For running away? For keeping dozens of my men busy searching for you? For sending poor Amrothos here up and down the Anduin on a wild goose chase?"
I hung my head. Listed up like that, my crimes sounded pretty impressive. And he hadn't even mentioned the worst yet. "For pushing the King of Rohan in the water?"
He leant back in his chair. "Ah, yes. That."
Amrothos poured us each a glass of watered wine and sat down on my bed. "Perhaps not the most diplomatic thing you've ever done," he quipped.
My father scowled at him. "Enough of your levity." He sighed. "Lothíriel, you realize the whole of Minas Tirith has been speaking about nothing else these last two days? Speculation about what he's done to you is running rampant!"
I could well imagine. This was worse than I'd thought! But then something else struck me. "The last two days?" I asked. "How could that be?"
"Healer Curuvoron considered it best that you recover fully from the blow to your head, so he dosed you heavily," my father answered. "You've been sleeping for well over a day."
"Oh!" That explained how Amrothos had made it here. And why I was feeling light-headed.
I picked up a roll of bread from my tray and started nibbling it. "You said you wanted my version of events, does that mean you have spoken to Lé-" I caught myself, "to King Éomer?"
Father took a sip of wine. "Yes, indeed. We had a long talk last night and he has told me everything about this regrettable affair."
Everything? But before I could enquire further, my father continued. "I have yet to encounter a more unfortunate chain of events," he said. "And it appears that nobody is quite blameless. I am sorry that my offer of a reward sent those ruffians after you. Luckily Éomer was there to deal with them."
Why, I had been asleep for a day and the man had already managed to twist my father around his little finger! "Has he told you how he came to Dol Amroth last autumn?" I demanded to know.
"Oh, yes, and I understand your ire," my father said, sounding annoyingly complacent. "But Éomer assured me he only had the best intentions. You see, being Queen of Rohan is an exacting position, so he wanted to make sure of choosing a suitable bride, one who could handle the demands of state. It's unfortunate he did not act more openly."
Pigswill! Éomer had not come to Dol Amroth to check my suitability as a queen, I was sure, but only to see if he fancied marrying me. Men! Already they were closing ranks on me again. However, it was no use arguing with my father on that. "What else did he tell you?" I asked.
Amrothos stirred from his position on my bed. "That I was lucky to escape a ducking in an ice cold river."
He was no help! But my father waved him down. "Never mind about that, Amrothos." He leant forward and twirled his wine glass between his fingers. "Éomer explained that he felt compelled to offer you his escort to Minas Tirith, Lothíriel. And he assured me upon his honour that nothing inappropriate happened between you." A sharp look accompanied that last statement.
Nothing inappropriate? Involuntarily my mind went back to our kiss. But I did not want to go into that! "No, nothing happened," I said, lowering my eyes.
Father sighed. "Unfortunately that's not the impression that your actions engendered. The gossips have been busy, for you couldn't have chosen a more public spot to call the King of Rohan a liar."
"I didn't choose it!" And he was a liar. An odious, loathsome, detestable liar! I held on tight to my anger, for it was the only thing that kept the misery at bay.
Amrothos leant back on the bed and watched the swaying shadows the lamps cast on the ceiling. "The story of how Éomer abducted you in a fit of unrequited love has made the rounds of Minas Tirith," he remarked.
"Him abducting me!" My father winced at my tone, so I modulated my voice. "People will believe anything! As if I would let that..." Swine? Scoundrel? Troll bait? "...man abduct me."
"An abduction is usually involuntary," Amrothos pointed out.
I drew breath for a heated reply, but my father held up his hand. "Please, children!" He set down his glass of wine. "Unfortunately Amrothos is right about the wildest rumours circulating at court. Some even say that Éomer enticed you into running away with him by promising to marry you and then broke his word."
"Nonsense!" I protested. "He would never break his word."
Father raised an eyebrow. "You and I know that, but your arrival at the Harlond, hurt and dishevelled, and your subsequent accusations paint a different picture."
Silence descended while I mulled his words over. What had I done! Even I could see how damaging such rumours would be to the relations between Gondor and its closest ally. For a moment I considered blaming Amrothos for the whole mess, because he had so disobligingly slept in his bed instead of on the carpet that night, but then reason reasserted itself. It was entirely my fault. I closed my eyes as my headache threatened to return. If only I had never come to Cormallen.
Outside, the guards exchanged a few words of muffled conversation and some ducks quacked softly. I opened my eyes again.
"What is going to happen now?" I asked my father.
"Éomer has withdrawn his offer of marriage..."
"What?" He dared!
"That's what you wanted, isn't it?" Amrothos asked.
"No!" I snapped, only to correct myself. "Yes, of course."
"Peace!" my father interrupted. "As I was going to say, Éomer has withdrawn his offer of marriage and instead has asked for permission to woo you." He rose from his chair. "Lothíriel, I want you to think over this proposal when you're home."
My mind still spinning from his words, I could only stare at him. "Home?"
"On my orders Amrothos is taking you back to Dol Amroth tomorrow. Enough damage has been done and I am not willing to countenance anything until we've all had the time to calm down. I will have no hint of scandal attached to the noble name of Dol Amroth."
"Does Lé-... King Éomer know?"
"Not yet," Father answered. "I will see him tonight and explain my decision." He embraced me and placed a kiss on my forehead. "Goodbye, Lothíriel. I intend to stay in Minas Tirith and smooth matters over, but will be home in another month or so, I hope."
"Goodbye, Father," I said, my mind still in a whirl. Home to Dol Amroth! Why did the prospect please me so little? And the King of Rohan wanted to woo me! You are mine, he had said.
Father took his leave, but my brother lingered behind a moment longer. At the door, he hesitated. "Lothíriel, what did Éomer do to you?"
Amrothos nodded, but before he shut the door behind him, he stuck his head back in. "Is that the problem?"
I was too slow. By the time my roll of bread hit the door he had already ducked out. Brothers!
After a restless night, I awoke early the next morning. Fed up with lying in bed the whole time, I did not wait for my maid to come, but got dressed on my own and went up on deck. My father's men were already busy storing away supplies in the hold, and I went up on the poop deck in order to get out of the way of the sailors rolling casks of fresh water up the gangway. The large drum up there, which governed the rowing speed of the galley, sat wrapped in its oilcloth cover – it would not be needed for the journey down the river. Amrothos was conferring with the captain and greeted me absentmindedly, but did not interrupt his conversation.
That suited me fine, as I did not feel like talking. Instead I leant on the railing and watched the goings-on below me. Only today the sights of a busy port did not excite me as they usually did. Always before, I had dreamt of starting out on some grand adventure, but now that I'd had it, I felt empty and depressed. The sun sparkled on the waters, promising a cloudless day, and mocking me. It should be grey and drizzly!
That moment hoof beats carried over the noise of the merchants hawking their wares. Lots of hoof beats. I straightened up. Was my father coming to see us off after all? But the horsemen trotting onto the pier in perfect formation did not wear the blue and silver of Dol Amroth. Anyway, I did not need to look at the white and green pennant they carried to know exactly who had come, my treacherous heart had already told me who it was. At some unseen signal, the company halted, except for their leader who continued along the pier: tall and blond, sitting his stallion with arrogant ease, a long green mantle sweeping from his shoulders and a sword at his hip. Every inch the king. What a fool I'd been not to see it!
At the bottom of the gangway he dismounted and handed the reins to one of the gaping sailors. Then he looked up, straight at me. White teeth flashed in a grin. I gripped the railing as my knees threatened to give way. I would not disgrace myself by running down there and throwing myself into his arms! Instead I raised my chin in a challenge. His grin widened. Infuriating man!
"What is he doing here?" Amrothos said next to me, drawn by the commotion. "Father won't like it."
He hurried down the steps to the main deck and then down the gangway. I was too far away to overhear what the two men discussed, but it was obvious from my brother's gestures that it concerned me. After a short while, he came back up.
"Éomer wants a quick word with you," he explained, "but it's up to you if you want to speak to him or not."
I hesitated, for my mind was in turmoil. Speak to him? What more was there to say between us? He had lied to me... he wanted to woo me! If I sent him away without a word, would he take that as a final refusal? My heart gave a pang at the thought. But wasn't that exactly what I wanted?
"A quick word would only be polite," I said to my brother, "don't you agree?"
He shrugged. "Well, it can hardly get worse than you pushing him in the water. But remember, we're nearly ready to go."
I nodded and let him escort me down to where the King of Rohan awaited me.
"My Lord King," I greeted him and dropped a curtsy of the exact degree required by a Princess of Gondor to a foreign ruler, say the Sultan of Harad or an equally unsavoury potentate.
"Princess Lothíriel, I am honoured," he replied, "will you walk with me?"
The request took me by surprise. "Walk where?"
He gestured at the pier. "Up here?"
Amrothos leant against a conveniently placed bollard. "Go ahead, Lothíriel." He seemed amused.
Éomer offered me his arm, but I ignored it. Silently we walked along the pier until we were out of earshot of my brother, stopping near the steps that led down to the stone platform where we had tied up Cawelcwén two days before. A quick glance showed the boat still there, looking a bit forlorn. The place where he had kissed me. I pushed that memory firmly into the back of my mind.
"Why have you come?" I asked, turning to him.
He raised an eyebrow. "Why, to woo you of course."
The way he said it sent a shiver through me and I just knew that he was thinking of our kiss. But did he now expect me to forgive and forget everything and fall into his arms? And what was even more annoying, as his dark eyes caressed me, I was tempted to do just that. I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to kill him. What a maddening, maddening man!
"Is this where I say how honoured I am?" I snapped. It came out sharper than I had intended.
His brows drew together. "What is that supposed to mean?"
"You have settled it all with my father to your mutual satisfaction, haven't you," I said. "What more is there to add?"
"All I did was to resolve our misunderstandings," he protested, "surely that was in your interest too."
"Misunderstandings," I spat. "What a fine word." As if he had ever cared about my interests! "You have the gall to tell my father that you only concerned yourself with Rohan's welfare, when you came to Dol Amroth with the simple purpose to look me over. You lied to my very face!"
He coloured. "I didn't exactly lie. My men call me The Lion, Léona in our tongue. And anyway-"
"You're splitting hairs," I interrupted him. "You just don't want to admit that you lied!"
"And you don't want to listen!"
"I don't have to," I shouted at him, "I am going home." And I turned my back on him so he would not see the tears in my eyes.
I had not taken more than a couple of steps away from him when something heavy was thrown over my head, cutting off my sight. For a moment I was too surprised to act and then it was too late. Deftly he wrapped the thick fabric around me, entangling my arms in the heavy folds. His cloak!
"Let me go!" I cried, but my words came out muffled. What was he doing!
Strong hands grabbed me and lifted me up. He dared! I tried to struggle free, but only managed to entangle myself even further. A confused impression of movement, then I was dumped on a hard surface. The floor tilted below me. It couldn't be!
A/N: there will be one more chapter of the story proper and then an epilogue, so 15 chapters in total. However, as I'm going away on holiday at the end of next week you will have to wait for the epilogue until I get back. But I promise to get the next chapter out in time for Wednesday! This might mean that I will not have the time to answer all reviews, but I hope you'll forgive me.