7. Chapter 6
The man liked seafood! Lothíriel watched in quiet resignation as another of her plans floundered ignominiously before her very eyes: skilfully King Éomer cracked open a crab claw and teased out the last morsel with a toothpick while comparing the taste to the crayfish he used to catch in the streams of Rohan as a boy. Not even the speciality of the house - jellyfish salad - put him off.
As a last resort Lothíriel ordered a plate of grilled baby squid, but though poor Ealdred looked suitably nauseated at the tiny tentacles, the King of Rohan simply munched down the chewy things, only commenting that they tasted a bit rubbery.
Eventually he stretched his legs before him. "An excellent meal," he said, "and finally I got to taste some of Dol Amroth's specialities. People always assume we Rohirrim like nothing but bland food."
Lothíriel gave a weak smile. "They do?"
She picked at her own meal, beef stewed in a sauce as black as the hide of the bull it had come from. Usually this was a favourite dish, but she had lost all appetite for it. What more could she do to put this man off?
Then she encountered another warm smile from him and impulsively decided that perhaps for tonight she could let her efforts rest. After all she only had to keep up her deception for another day and then he would be gone. That thought gave her a sudden pause – somehow she found it difficult to imagine life without his powerful presence about.
Lothíriel mentally shook herself. Nonsense! What had got into her tonight? Soon she'd have her peace and quiet back and could return to working on her projects.
King Éomer touched her lightly on the wrist. "What are you thinking about?"
She shrugged with a smile. "Nothing important."
"In that case let's go for a stroll."
Giving her no chance to either assent or decline, he pushed back his chair and held out his hand. Lothíriel crossed her arms on her chest and looked up at him, her eyebrows raised.
He grinned. "Princess Lothíriel, you would put me forever in your debt if you'd have the kindness to accompany me on a walk along the harbour."
He wasn't slow, she had to hand him that. Lothíriel waited a long moment before giving a nod. "Since you ask so politely, my lord."
King Éomer pressed a hand to his heart. "You overwhelm me with your graciousness!" he answered, his face all sincere, but his eyes teasing her. "I shall always remember your condescension in granting me the honour of your company. Indeed this moment will remain imprinted in my memory indelibly."
The man jumped from one extreme to the other! But he still somehow managed to whisk her away before Ivriniel and Ealdred had made up their minds whether to join them. Their guards got shed as well, leaving them with only Éothain for company.
After that he slowed down as they strolled amongst the stalls that had sprung up all along the quay. The place thronged with travelling musicians, story tellers, acrobats and even a troupe of fire breathers displaying their skill. King Éomer exclaimed in amazement as with a loud whoosh one of them spewed a jet of fire into the night air.
"I wonder how they do it?" he said as they walked on.
This was a topic Lothíriel had actually done some research on. "They fill their mouth with very fine flour," she explained, "and when they blow it over an open flame it ignites."
"Really? That's amazing."
She nodded. "Unfortunately in my experience the effects are very difficult to control." With regret she thought of the small shed that used to hold her gardening tools, blown to smithereens. A necessary sacrifice in her view, but sadly her father hadn't seen it quite that way.
King Éomer gave her a funny look. "What do you mean, in your experience?"
Lothíriel hesitated. "Well... before the war I conducted a few experiments with...eh... combustible substances." She warmed to her subject. "Just imagine, according to my old histories, the Númenoreans used to have some kind of liquid fire that burnt on water. Regrettably the formula for it got lost."
"Regrettably?" he exclaimed. "I've seen such devilry at work and wouldn't want anything to do with it!"
"When your people face a corsair fleet and nearly all your fighting men are off defending Minas Tirith, you might change your mind," she snapped.
He mulled over her words, not the least offended by her tone. "I grant you that," he said. "Nonetheless I would not use such devices – they reek of the Enemy's hand. Better to fight cleanly and find an honourable death."
"That's all very well for you," Lothíriel threw at him as suddenly her own situation came back to her. "You're a man, you can fight! When you have nothing but your wits to defend yourself with, honour and truthfulness are a lot less easy to come by!" Tears of rage rose to her eyes.
He took both her hands in his. "Lady, forgive me. I did not mean to upset you." With a sigh he brushed a finger across her cheek. "You should never have needed to fight. That is our burden."
Lothíriel suddenly became aware of curious glances sent their way, while Éothain was intently studying a honeysuckle plant climbing up a nearby wall. She gently disengaged her hands. "Thank you." Trying for lightness, she smiled at King Éomer. "It never worked anyway. All I managed to do was to blow up the garden shed."
In an abrupt shift of mood he snorted with amusement. "It's a good thing Imrahil never mentioned how redoubtable the ladies of his family are or I might never have come to visit!"
And then the ladies of Imrahil's family would not have needed to proliferate as they had! However, Lothíriel kept the thought to herself. They strolled on, letting the crowd carry them along. As adventurous as ever, King Éomer purchased a bag of almond sweets at one of the stalls, a speciality from Harad, which he generously shared with her and Éothain.
As Lothíriel licked sticky fingers, she couldn't help thinking how different this relaxed man was from the King of Rohan who had intimidated her so the night before. A fanciful thought struck her - perhaps he had a twin brother who did all his formal appearances for him, while he enjoyed himself!
"What's happening over there?" King Éomer interrupted her thoughts. "Isn't that your brother?"
Lothíriel looked up to see Amrothos standing on a row of overturned barrels lined up along the quay. She groaned. "Probably the swimming competition."
Other competitors joined her brother, some of them definitely the worse for drink. "The winner gets a barrel of ale, which makes it very popular," Lothíriel explained. "However, Amrothos is just in it for the glory." She winced as one man lost his balance and fell in the water with a splash.
"How far do they have to swim?" Éothain enquired.
Lothíriel pointed to the far side of the harbour, where torches winked in the night breeze. "Over there and back again. And as an extra challenge the competitors have to down a mug of beer halfway." She had always considered that a supremely silly rule, but both the Rohirrim nodded approval.
Éothain laughed. "That should sort out the chaff from the grain."
A group of sailors staggered by, singing off-key, and reminded Lothíriel that her father probably wouldn't appreciate her watching the race as it tended to attract rather a rough crowd. Though only somebody completely out of his mind would try to accost her with a hulking warrior either side. She had noticed how even strolling through the market and chatting with her, King Éomer always stayed aware of everything around them. So far a single glance from him had sufficed to dissuade troublemakers from approaching.
"Does your brother stand any chance?" he asked.
"That depends on how much drink he's imbibed already," she answered, pondering the matter. "Some of our sailors are pretty good, they have to be. I suppose just as the Rohirrim are considered the best riders of Middle-earth because they learn to sit a horse from an early age, so the people of Dol Amroth are the best swimmers."
He frowned. "Most Rohirrim can swim, you know."
"Oh, I'm sure they can," she replied with a placating smile. "I meant no offence. But swimming in the sea is a very different matter from splashing about in a pond."
"I'm not talking about ponds! We have plenty of rivers in the Mark."
Why did he sound so offended? "The tide's coming in and the currents will be tricky in the dark," she pointed out. "You have to know what you're doing."
His frown deepened. "Crossing the Entwash during the spring floods is tricky, too."
"Yes, I imagine it must be," she tried to soothe him. "But just as you wouldn't put up a green rider on one of your warhorses, so we tell novices to beware of the sea. Especially in the dark." It seemed perfectly logical to her, but for some reason her words didn't quite have the desired effect, on the contrary.
"Let me tell you that I'm considered the best swimmer of my éored," he informed her and strode forward.
She stared after him in surprise. What had got into him? Then she encountered an anguished look from Éothain.
"My lady," he whispered, "please watch what you say! He's the last scion of the House of Eorl. The Mark needs him."
Belatedly she realised what King Éomer intended to do. Stupid male pride! "Well, in that case I hope he's as good a swimmer as he says," she snapped.
"Please, he's the only king we have! You have to stop him."
At Éothain's anxious face she relented. But what did the man expect her to do to dissuade his king? "I can hardly order him about," she pointed out.
"Try to talk him out of it," Éothain begged. "I know Éomer King, he won't listen to me in that kind of mood."
She rolled her eyes, but hurried after the King of Rohan, Éothain in her tow. By the time she caught up with him, he had already stripped off his shirt in order to take his place on one of the barrels. For a moment she got distracted by the sight of the many faded scars crisscrossing his chest. It brought home to her that here stood a man who had spent all his life since early manhood fighting for his life and that of his people. Her heart ached in sympathy. Yet the scars did not deflect from the simple power of his form. He reminded her of the great cats of the south depicted on the pages of her books.
Éothain cleared his throat, making her realise that she was staring at his king. She coloured and fixed her eyes on King Éomer's face, ignoring the state of his dress - or undress. "My lord, I beg you will reconsider."
He glared down at her. "My lady, I'm afraid my mind is set."
It would serve him well to drown for his stupid pride! However, she was aware of Éothain at her back radiating silent entreaty. "Please, my Lord King," she said and sank into a deep curtsy. "I have so looked forward to your company on a stroll through the market. You would put me forever in your debt if you'd have the kindness to agree to escort me. Indeed it would quite overwhelm me…" She saw the corners of his mouth twitch and pursued her advantage. "Besides, the water's cold and mucky."
He laughed out loud, all sternness wiped from his face. "Oh very well, you've convinced me." He shrugged his shirt back on and offered her his arm. "The lady has a point, don't you think, Éothain? The night is too nice to waste on getting wet and chilly."
"Absolutely," Éothain agreed as they strolled on, towards the night market with its colourful stalls. Lothíriel cast a last look over her shoulder to see Amrothos in the middle of a row of staggering figures. She had a feeling he would not be in the best of shape the next morning.
King Éomer seemed to have forgotten all about the challenge. "This reminds me that I need your help," he said and drew her towards a booth selling scarves and cloaks. "Whenever I'm away from home, I take back a small gift for my sister. Will you help me choose?" Then he checked his steps so abruptly, she nearly ran into him. "I forgot," he said, "of course Éowyn lives in Ithilien now!"
At his crestfallen face, a wave of sympathy swept through Lothíriel. Did he miss his sister? "Will you see her soon?" she asked.
"Not for a few months. Though she and Faramir might come for a visit in the summer."
"You could send her a present by courier," Lothíriel suggested. "My father's men ride to Ithilien quite often, they could take it for you."
King Éomer nodded. "Yes, I suppose you're right." He gave her a lopsided smile. "I just like to watch her face when she opens it and finds something completely frivolous."
Lothíriel laughed. "Is that what you buy for your sister?"
"Most of the time. She usually sighs and calls me a fool, but wears it anyway."
How strange to have the slayer of the Witch King described that way. "So what did you have in mind?" she asked.
He fingered a scarf of pink silk. "I'm not sure. What do you think of this?"
Lothíriel looked at the flimsy fabric edged with lace. Was he serious? "For Lady Éowyn? Wouldn't she want something...well...more martial?"
King Éomer picked out a flame coloured scarf instead. "Do you think she'd prefer a brighter material?" He looked rather doubtful.
Lothíriel inspected the silk, as always envious of the smooth finish and rich colour. How did the Haradrim make such brilliant dye?
That moment the owner of the stall, smelling a wealthy customer, came forward to greet them. "A present for the lovely lady?" he asked.
"No indeed," Lothíriel assured him. "We're just looking."
"I have the best quality silk in the whole of Gondor, shipped directly from Harad," the man said with a deep bow. "May I show you more?"
"From Harad?" King Éomer interrupted. "Unfortunately I'm looking for something characteristic of Dol Amroth, but thank you."
He pulled her along to the next stall, which sold an assortment of pottery. "I know the type," he whispered to her while pretending to admire an earthenware jug. "Within five minutes he would have talked me into buying half his wares. I'd rather face a Nazgûl!"
Lothíriel chuckled. "You should have taken my aunt with you. Then the poor merchant would probably have ended up selling you half his stall for a pittance instead. Her bargaining skills are legendary."
He put his head to one side. "Well, since I'd really much rather have your company than your aunt's, I will just have to rely on you to protect me from myself. You'll tell me the truth if I get carried away, won't you, Gliwen?"
"Yes, of course," she murmured, but couldn't meet his eyes. Oh, let him never find out that truth and Gliwen didn't mix! He had a special way of saying the name, the hard consonant softened, that gave her a pang every time she heard it. And when had he dropped the 'lady'?
With a conspiratorial smile, he tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. "Come on, we'll find something for Éowyn yet."
Lothíriel had given up fighting his overbearing ways, so let herself be swept down another row of stalls. Suddenly a display of belts caught her eye and she tugged at his arm. "What is that?"
Readily he stopped to have a look at the table covered with a simple black cloth, on which lay a selection of girdles and ornamental belts. One in particular stood out, composed of circular plaques of chased silver, set with tiny pearls.
"Éomer Cyning!" the man behind the stall exclaimed. A gush of incomprehensible words followed, greeted with pleasure by King Éomer and his captain.
"A fellow countryman," Éothain explained to her.
Lothíriel forbore to say that she had guessed as much and waited patiently for them to finish.
"Beocca was with me at the Black Gates," King Éomer translated for her, "but he married a Gondorian woman after the war and lives here now."
At the back of the stall, a pretty young woman curtsied shyly at his words. Lothíriel smiled at her. "Do you make your wares yourself?"
"Some of them," the man replied with a thick accent, "but we import most of our materials from home – the Mark that is."
She picked up the silver belt. The plaques were joined together so cunningly that it had the same flexibility as a leather belt. "Do you think your sister would like this?" she asked King Éomer.
"It seems rather wide," he answered hesitantly. "Éowyn is very slim, just like you." He gestured at her waist.
"The belt is worn low on the hips, that's why," Beocca interjected. "I'm told it's all the rage amongst the ladies in Minas Tirith."
King Éomer grinned. "In that case I need to have it. I can't let Gondor's ladies outshine my sister." And he settled down to haggle, though it seemed to Lothíriel that he didn't put in much of an effort.
"Thank you for spotting that," he told her when the merchant wrapped up his purchase. "Rohirric workmanship combined with Dol Amroth pearls make the perfect gift. Yet what about you, don't you want to buy anything?"
She had been idly playing with one of the girdles, but at his words she shook her head. "Oh, don't bother about me. I'm not fashionable and never have been."
He frowned. "You sound like a staid matron. Yet surely a young woman like you wants to buy pretty things every now and again. Doesn't your father give you a suitable allowance?"
Aware of listening ears all around them, she blushed. "He does! I just spend it mostly on books."
"That's all I need," she soothed him. "Anyway, beautiful things don't last long around me. I tend to spill ink on them."
King Éomer still didn't look satisfied with her argument. But that moment Beocca's wife cleared her throat. "Perhaps one of our belts would suit the lady," she interjected timidly. "We have more of them, but they're only made from brass."
"No, no," Lothíriel waved aside the offer.
However, King Éomer would have none of that. At his orders, the merchant brought out the rest of his goods, chattering away in Rohirric again. She felt rather forgotten as the two men compared belts and even Éothain got drawn into the discussion.
Then suddenly King Éomer exclaimed with pleasure and plucked something from the pile of metal and leather littering the orderly display table. "This one!"
Proudly he presented her with his find. Lothíriel took it gingerly, wondering what had caught his eye, but ready to admire it. The brass circles glinted warmly, decorated with stylised flowers made from small chips of amber. Then she spotted it: around each flower the artist had engraved swarming bees, perfectly formed down to their tiny wings.
King Éomer was already haggling away again without waiting for her opinion. Lothíriel suppressed a grin. Apparently she was meant to have this gift, whether she wanted it or not.
The bargain was clinched quickly, but when Beocca's wife reached for a piece of linen wrapping, King Éomer held up his hand. "That won't be necessary."
He took the belt and turned to Lothíriel. "Allow me."
Before she knew it, he had knelt down in front of her. Reaching round her waist, he placed the belt on her hips and the metal links settled around her, solid and heavy, encircling her. The clasp closed with an audible click.
King Éomer stepped back. "I knew it was made for you." He looked inordinately pleased with himself. And for a moment something else flashed across his face that she couldn't quite make out. Possessiveness?
She shook herself mentally at her fancies. He had given her a gift, nothing more. "Thank you, my Lord King," she said in her most formal tone.
They took their leave of the Rohirric merchant and his wife, who looked well pleased at having such illustrious customers, and the stall got surrounded by people after they had left.
"I'm surprised the Rohirrim decorate their accoutrements with bees," she commented. "Somehow I would have expected them to use horses."
"Oh, we do," he answered. "However, we value bees for the mead that is brewed from their honey. No festive occasion would be complete without it. So bees really stand for prosperity."
"I see." Something that Faramir had written in a letter came back to her. "My cousin mentioned that Lady Éowyn and he were expected to drink mead for a month after their nuptials."
"Yes, it's supposed to ensure a...prosperous... marriage."
"That's a nice custom." She still had to get used to the feeling of a weight encircling her hips, almost like an arm resting there, but she liked the idea of all those bees buzzing round her. "Thank you, King Éomer," she said again, but this time with real warmth.
He smiled down at her. "Won't you do without the title? I've dropped yours."
"So I've noticed." She had meant to infuse her voice with sternness, but instead it wobbled with amusement.
"The Rohirrim aren't formal amongst friends," he explained. "So will you call me Éomer?"
She hesitated. Her teacher of comportment of course would have pointed out that a lady did not call a lord by his first name unless she was related to him within three degrees. Even amongst husband and wife, titles were sometimes used in public. On the other hand, those rules applied to noble ladies, not to lowly beekeepers.
"Very well," she agreed. "After all nobody need ever hear me – nobody at court, I mean."
He frowned. "Don't you ever go into society?"
She squirmed, reminded of her deception. "I don't particularly like it. I prefer the company of my books."
"Your father seems to keep you very close," he said, still scowling. "Aren't you allowed to just enjoy the pleasures of life like any other young woman? I have a mind to talk to Imrahil."
"No!" she exclaimed. "Please don't! You've promised not to speak to my father."
"I won't, if it upsets you," he assured her. Yet still the frown lingered as he mulled over her words. "I bet it's that prig Elphir," he said suddenly. "Does he object to having your low birth paraded around? Just you wait, next time I see him..."
Panic swept through her. The threat was clear. "No! You mustn't do anything."
He took her hands. "You've gone ice cold," he exclaimed. "What has he threatened you with! He's not going to find you a husband as well, is he?" His voice had dropped to a whisper, heavy with rage.
"As well?" Lothíriel repeated, feeling faint.
Éomer hesitated. "I overheard something last night," he admitted, "while your brother was talking to a friend of his. A lean, dour fellow about the same age as him. I believe he fought on the Pelennor. Elphir fancied him as a husband for your sister, I thought."
"Lord Dorgam," Lothíriel confirmed her worst fears. "He has a large holding to the east of here where he breeds horses." And tamed them. She swallowed. "His war steeds are said to be the best trained in Dol Amroth."
"You know him."
"What did he do to you, Gliwen?"
She stared at him, hearing the angry hiss in his words. The use of her false name reminded her that she had to be careful not to give herself away. Oh, but how tempting to pour her fears into his ears! However, that was out of the question. "He did nothing," she answered. "I'm merely worried about my sister. Beekeepers are below Lord Dorgam's notice. He thinks that his rank and wealth entitle him to marry a princess."
"What an innocent you are," muttered Éomer. "He might have no intention to marry you, but that does not mean he would have no other plans..."
It dawned on Lothíriel what he was speaking of. What an irony! "Don't worry," she said. "I'm sure he doesn't even know of my existence." After all nobody did, except for Éomer and her band of co-conspirators. If only she could rip apart this net of lies that choked her! But if she did so, surely that would deliver her right into Dorgam's hands.
Unaware of her thoughts, Éomer was still brooding on the man's iniquities. "Those prim and proper ones are the worst. You're a beautiful young woman, the picture of your sister. Who's to say what he'll do if he can't have her? And it's not as if your father and brother look after you particularly well either."
Lothíriel felt as if she was going to break down screaming if this conversation went on much longer. And what were his intentions anyway, taking a lowly beekeeper for a stroll through the market, buying her expensive presents and making her enjoy herself much more than was good for her?
"No, they don't," she agreed. "Perhaps we should return to my aunt."
That brought him up short. "Gliwen..."
"Please," she interrupted him. "It's getting late and I'm tired." Tired in heart and soul.
Silently he acceded to her wishes and offered her his arm to escort her back. The colourful tents of the merchants seemed garish and cheap now and the music blared in her ears. Her head started to ache. Oh, why had she come!
And all the while, the belt he had given her encircled her hips with firm weight.
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.