1. Nightmares with Nightshirts
The musicians finally stopped playingand the dancers ceased their intricate whirling. Éomer released his bride's hand. Such a fragile slender hand it appeared. He feared it might break if he gripped it too hard, not to mention being terrified of treading on her lightly shod feet. He heartily disliked dancing, which he had discovered to be one of those perils of peacetime with which a king must contend. He had hoped that holding his wedding celebration at harvest tide might mean he could escape with the simple country dances of his folk, but no, his bride's kin had brought a contingent of musicians from Dol Amroth with them to play their complicated dances for their Princess's wedding feast!
"May I have this dance, cousin?" asked Faramir, suddenly appearing beside them. "Éowyn has gone for some refreshments."
"I should like to if my lord permits," Lothíriel said demurely.
"Of course, Lothíriel. Bema forbid, I should object to my wife dancing with her kinsman!"
Éomer heaved an inward sigh of relief at being spared yet another complicated Gondorian dance. He settled himself on a bench to watch the dancers, his eyes never leaving his new bride. She was laughing now at something Faramir had said to her. If only she would smile so freely and look so at ease in his company! The two dark heads stood out in a sea of yellow hair. It was her dark hair that drawn Éomer to accept the suggestion that he wed Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, for since he had beheld Queen Arwen's peerless beauty, the golden hair of his countrywomen had seemed insipid to him.
Lothíriel's tresses were as dark as a raven's wing and her eyes like a stormy sky. She had long graceful limbs and dazzling white teeth to rival those of his finest horses.
"Your bride is most fair, is she not?" Aragorn wandered across from the refreshment table, a mug of mead in his hand. He sat down beside the younger man.
"Indeed," said Éomer.
"Seeing her dancing takes me back some fifty years," Aragorn said thoughtfully. He took a sip of his drink.
"How can that be? Lothíriel has not even lived half of fifty years!"
"I was remembering seeing Denethor and Finduilas dancing these very steps one Midsummer's eve long ago," said Aragorn. "Lothíriel is the very image of her aunt, while Faramir much resembles Denethor in looks, though not in nature. Finduilas was the fairest lady in the room then, as Lothíriel surpasses all others, save my lady and your fair sister."
"Indeed," Éomer repeated, wondering why he was suddenly so tongue- tied. Was being a married man addling his brain?
A sudden chill gripped Éomer despite the warmth of the hall. Did Lothíriel really resemble the frail and beautiful Finduilas of whom he had heard so much? He had been assured his bride was fit and healthy and a good horsewoman. Yet her eyes were sad and she seemed slightly afraid of him. Lothíriel had professed herself willing to marry him, but maybe she was simply eager to please her father and her King by strengthening the alliance between Gondor and the Mark?
Aragorn has assured him that Lothíriel would be a perfect match for him and was one of the few maidens who understood the depths of duty and responsibility that being a Queen entailed. Éomer glanced around the hall; his eyes alighting on some of the beauties of the Riddermark who might have been candidates to be his bride. They looked melancholy tonight now that their hopes were dashed. He had feared that if he had chosen a wife from amongst his countrywomen, he would most likely have offended the families of the ladies he had rejected. If she had come from the Eastfold, the Westfold would feel rejected. By choosing a political alliance, he hoped to avoid causing dissent within his realm, but would it bring happiness either for Lothíriel or himself? He knew so little about women, Éowyn being the only lady he had ever been close to. Éowyn was hardly typical of womankind, he had been told. Still, a King must do his duty and marry in order to sire a much needed heir.
"You are a fortunate man, my friend!" Aragorn rose to his feet and clapped him on the shoulder affectionately. "I had better re-join my lady now before she thinks I have gone missing!"
Éomer did not feel especially fortunate. Lovely though his bride was, he was beginning to fear she might not have the stamina required to be Queen of the Mark. Was she like the exotic plants that his sister had started to enthuse about, that flourished only in their home soil or a hothouse?"
"How fair my daughter looks tonight!"
Éomer jumped at the approach of now his father by marriage. Imrahil resembled the King not only in colouring, but also that he moved with the stealth of a cat.
"May a proud father beg the honour of the next dance with his little girl?" Imrahil asked.
"Of course," Éomer replied.
"I hope her choice of gown pleased you, Éomer," said Imrahil. He looked fondly at his daughter, who stood out in her finery, a gown of rich blue silk, embroidered with silver swans beneath an overdress of rich green, embroidered with horses in gold thread.
"I know little of ladies' gowns," said Éomer. "I do know, though, that she looks beautiful, and I much appreciate the tribute to both our peoples in the design.
"Fine silk is much easier to obtain now that we have a treaty with Harad," Imrahil observed. "I even wear silk nightshirts nowadays rather than linen. I find them more comfortable against my old war wounds. Which do you prefer?"
"I have never tried either," said Éomer. "I sleep in my skin most of the time, or in my shirt and breeches if the weather is exceptionally cold." He suddenly noticed that his father by marriage's expression had changed. Imrahil was staring at him with an expression of sheer horror. Éomer hastily continued. "That is our custom here. Of course, Lothíriel must wear whatever makes her happy."
"My daughter will be greatly shocked!" Imrahil spluttered. "She has been most delicately brought up. Never has she beheld an unclothed man! She has, of course, been instructed by one of the midwives concerning wifely duties and bearing children, but not for such a circumstance as beholding her husband thus!"
It was suddenly too much for Éomer. The horror of the situation struck him like a blow from a weapon. He had bound himself to a woman whom he hardly knew , who no doubt would soon consider him some sort of barbarian for his lack of sleeping attire!
"I need some air," he told Imrahil. He got up and strode towards the doorway, pausing only to take a large tankard of mead from one of the serving maids. His face was burning and he was thankful for the feel of the air against his skin. What right had Imrahil to criticise him! The man might be a great Prince, but he was a guest here! On the other hand, he had no desire to distress his bride. She reminded him of a skittish young filly, and he intended to woo her as slowly and gently as he would tame an unbroken horse.
Éomer took a deep breath of the refreshing evening air and gazed out across the golden fields of ripe wheat. The sight calmed him. This year, the harvest was abundant and he rejoiced. His folk would not go hungry this winter, nor would he suffer the indignity of having to seek aid from his more prosperous neighbours. The apple trees were heavy with fruit and the bees buzzed around the hives at the foot of the hill. There would be cider and mead aplenty this year and apples to eat during the long winter months ahead as well as a good crop of hay for the horses.
"What ails you my friend?"
Éomer started for the second time that evening at the sound of the Ranger King's voice. He was silent for a few moments and Aragorn did not press him, but stood beside him in companionable silence. "It is but a foolish thing," he said at last.
"Maybe it would help you to speak of it," said Aragorn. "It can be hard with no kinsman to seek advice from, especially on such a night as this. It is natural to feel nervous. Let me assure you that marriage is like fine wine that matures over time."
"It is not that," Éomer replied. "Though it does concern tonight." He stared out across the plains so that the older man could not see him flushing. "Imrahil, um well, Imrahil expects me to wear a nightshirt tonight and tells me that Lothíriel would be horrified if I did not. Is that truly the custom in Gondor?"
"Indeed it is," said Aragorn.
"Even for married couples?" Éomer's tone was almost pleading.
"Especially for married couples. A little mystery and modesty enhances a marriage," said Aragorn. "Some sights are best left to midwives and healers."
"That is all very well for the good folk of Gondor!" Éomer exclaimed. "I am Éomer of the Riddermark and proud to sleep in my skin!" He buried his face in his hands. "Not for the world, though, would I distress my bride! She looks frightened enough already. A fine wedding night I will have if she swoons at the sight of me and I must send for a healer! But where shall I find a nightshirt? It is too late to ask a seamstress to make one and I would not feel it was right to wear one belonging to Lothíriel's father or brothers."
Aragorn gave a snort, which sounded suspiciously like repressed laughter. The older man quickly collected himself and said, "Put your heart at rest, Éomer. I have plenty of nightshirts with me. You shall borrow mine until the seamstresses make you some of your own. Maybe Lothíriel might find making one for you a romantic gesture."
Éomer looked doubtful. "I would not have my wife a drudge. Éowyn claims sewing is a most tedious chore!"
Aragorn laughed, this time not struggling to conceal his mirth. "It all depends on the lady, my friend. Arwen likes nothing better than to sew. She has embroidered all my nightshirts with her own fair hands. Lothíriel has asked her several times for advice on fine embroidery, so I can assure you that your new bride loves to sew! Now come, let me find you a nightshirt before you are missed from your own wedding feast."
Éomer permitted himself to be led to the private chamber off the main hall, which had been allocated to the King and Queen of Gondor during their visit. Aragorn rummaged in a chest full of spotless linens. "You had better take two," said Aragorn, his voice muffled within the depths of the chest. He emerged with two voluminous white garments, which he handed to Éomer.
"I am supposed to wear this?"
"It should fir you well enough," said Aragorn. "I am a little taller than you, but you are broader."
"It looks like a dress!" Éomer exclaimed. "You men of Gondor dress up in these to go to bed? I thought one undressed at bedtime!"
"We wear undergarments too when sharing a bed with a friend or kinsman," said Aragorn.
"Your customs are strange indeed!"
"Customs can divide or unite our different peoples," said Aragorn. "You will soon become accustomed to wearing a nightshirt."
Éomer shook out one of the garments and looked more doubtful than ever. "And the Men of Gondor have happy marriages?"
"I can speak only for myself to assure you that my marriage is very happy," said Aragorn. "Nightshirts in no way diminish the joys of marriage."
Éomer sat down heavily on the bed. "I hope I can make Lothíriel happy."
"Do not sound so worried, my friend," said Aragorn. "The two of you are well suited."
"As well suited as fire and ice," Éomer said grimly.
"You are more like earth and water," said the older man. "You will complement each other's best qualities. Be gentle and patient with Lothíriel. She will prove the ideal helpmeet to you, I am certain. This could be far more than a political alliance; you will grow to love one another, so my farsight tells me. Now come, my friend, once you have placed your nightshirts in your chamber, we must return to the feast ere we are missed."
When Éomer re-entered the great hall, Lothíriel was dancing with her brother, Amrothos. When that dance was concluded, Éomer signalled the beginning of the harvest festivities. He sat beside his bride while the young men and maidens of the Mark performed the traditional harvest dances, which concluded with a maiden and a matron presenting them both with the corn dolly.
Lothíriel had watched everything with a keen interest, which Éomer found admirable, as he struggled not to fidget. Whether or not she was genuinely impressed or well- schooled not to look bored was impossible to tell. "We have similar ceremonies at home- that is I mean in Dol Amroth," she remarked. "What is the corn dolly for? In Dol Amroth, we bury a sheaf of grain."
"We hang the corn dolly in the hall all winter until sowing time." Said Éomer. "It is a symbol of fertility." His bride flushed and stared at the floor as if the rushes had suddenly become very interesting.
The festivities went on until late into the night, but finally they drew to a close. Too soon for Éomer's liking. There was still one final ceremony to complete the marriage ritual.
A great mead horn was brought to the table, which had been in the House of Eorl for generations. First Éowyn approached and offered a small horn of mead to her new sister by marriage, "Was hael!" she cried.
Aragorn, at Éomer's invitation, performed the same office for his friend. Éomer took the horn and poured its contents into the large one. "I am no longer one, but two," he said in the tongue of the Riddermark and smashed the small horn. Lothíriel did likewise. She said the same words, but in the common tongue. The couple then drank from the large horn together. The guests cheered at this sealing of the marriage vow. Now it was time for the bride and groom to retire for the night.
Éomer stole a glance at his wife as her maidens escorted her to the bridal chamber. If she had looked apprehensive earlier, she now looked terrified! He surmised that could he but behold his own reflection, he might appear equally so, especially at the thought of wearing the ridiculous night attire!
It was the custom in the Riddermark for the groom to share a horn of mead with his male companions before entering the bedchamber to where his bride awaited him. Éomer had invited Aragorn and Faramir to join him as well as Éothain, Elfhelm and Erkenbrand, His Rohirric companions undressed him with many a bawdy quip concerning rising to the occasion and visiting the stables of Dol Amroth and leaving a foal there.
Éomer dismissed them when they had wrapped him in a green velvet robe embroidered with a white horse. Aragorn lingered behind and whispered to him "Do not forget to don the nightshirt. You do not wish to upset Lothíriel! Treat her gently, reassure her, and tell her you desire only her happiness. May your marriage be blessed and fruitful!" With that, Aragorn embraced him in warrior fashion and followed the others through the door. Éomer gazed after him wistfully for a moment. With his uncle gone, Aragorn was the nearest he had to a father at the times he might wish for a father's counsel.
Éomer swiftly pulled off the velvet robe and pulled Aragorn's nightshirt over his head. Despite his sturdier build, there was plenty of room in the voluminous garment. It was much too long for him and looked like a sack! At least it was linen, which was more masculine than silk and devoid of adornment, save for a tiny white tree embroidered upon the left breast. Éomer gritted his teeth. If only a horde of Orcs or Dunlendings might invade and call him away to do battle at this moment! But there was no hope of reprieve. He must make his new wife happy- he must! Not bothering to put the velvet robe back on, he strode into the bridal chamber, holding the nightshirt off the floor with one hand.
Lothíriel lay in the centre of the bed, the covers pulled up to her chin. She had a look in her eyes like a wild horse that has just been captured. "My lord?" she murmured.
Éomer was anxious to calm her fears. "Lothíriel," he began. "You have no need to fear me. I will not hurt you. We can get to know one another better before we lie together as husband and wife and think of begetting heirs, if that is what you wish."
"I am sworn to be your dutiful wife, to be bonny and buxom, in bed and at board," Lothíriel replied in a tone devoid of expression.
Her lack of emotion made something snap inside Éomer. If she had wept, he could have comforted and reassured her, if she had been angry, he could have argued with her. This bleak devotion to duty unnerved him. It were almost as if she were wearing a mask to shield her thoughts from him.
"Lothíriel, you are my Queen, not my slave!" he cried, taking a step towards the bed and forgetting his unfamiliar night attire in his emotion. "I am your husband, not your captor!" His foot caught in the trailing material and he fell heavily across the bed, the nightshirt tangled around his feet.
A strange gurgling sound came from his bride, followed by a peal of laughter! For an instant, Éomer was annoyed that she should find his mishap so funny. How beautiful she looked when she laughed though, and how absurd a spectacle he must present! He joined in her mirth as he sought to disentangle the folds of linen from around his feet. Lothíriel emerged from beneath the covers to help him, revealing a nightgown of silk so fine it was almost transparent. When he finally scrambled into bed, she was still smiling and wiping tears of mirth from her eyes. Maybe nightshirts had their uses after all!
Impulsively he kissed her on the lips for the first time. She responded shyly, but did not draw away in revulsion to his delight and relief. It was a beginning. Maybe Aragorn was right and they might be well suited after all. In time, maybe they could reap a rich harvest between them both for the Riddermark and for one another.
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.