Lothíriel took down a large stoneware jar, glad there was an assortment of provisions left in the kitchen storerooms. Quite a lot of jars of various sizes lined the sturdy shelves, many with the same squiggle etched into them. No recognisable writing, probably someone's unique way of labelling the contents. 'A kind of fungi,' she announced after a moment. 'Golden cups, by the look of them.'
'Are you sure?' Osythe peered over her shoulder. 'Then they would have been there for quite a time, I suppose they have not gone mouldy?'
'No,' Lothíriel confirmed, sniffing at one of the deep orange pieces. 'Whoever dried them knew what they were doing.'
Osythe nodded. 'That would have been the old cook.' She took the stopper from another jar with a different squiggle etched into it.
'What's in there?' Lothíriel asked, putting the golden cups back on the shelf.
'They look like and smell like horse mushrooms.' Osythe held out a handful.
Lothíriel took one from her. 'Yes, but they are bigger than those we get at home.' She laughed as she checked a few for mould. 'Not surprising with all the horses you have to manure the fields.'
'We always have a good crop,' Osythe agreed. 'Perhaps we ought to save these until those elves get here, they will add flavour to the meat. We can make do with plainer things.'
'Good idea. We ought to make a list of things that might be suitable to serve and put anything we need away so it isn't used. It's going to be a while before they get here, but if we don't plan things like these will probably disappear.' Lothíriel looked for an empty shelf, spotting one almost out of reach that would be perfect. Already ideas for tempting dishes were floating through her mind.
Osythe found a cloth to dust it off. 'Hodrwyn and Burghild are willing to continue to cook and have plenty of help, but I think the planning for so many will be beyond them. Although they are prepared to learn. Cooking suits them better than cleaning.'
Lothíriel sniffed, laughing as she smelt an appetising aroma of stew coming from the kitchens. 'I am glad because I don't actually like the thought of doing the cooking, even though I am happy to plan the meals and organise supplies. It's what I have been helping to do for quite some time at home.' Although in Dol Amroth, with much more variety of ingredients on offer and expert cooks, producing interesting meals had been a lot easier.
'I am certainly glad you came, Lothíriel. I am confident I can supervise the servants but am no expert at providing for a hall full of people.' Osythe smiled, but couldn't hide her sadness. 'When times were better I used to earn my keep here by repairing the embroideries. I enjoyed that and could do it with children playing around my feet or when talking to Háma during his off-duty times. I came as a young girl when Queen Morwen still lived here; the hall sparkled and the food served would have graced any table. But the years grew grimmer and everything was neglected. I didn't want to leave the hall but Háma insisted. I miss him terribly, but I know what he would have wanted – for me to do anything I could to help Éomer King. He loved Théoden as a brother, but if he had still been alive he would have served his nephew just as faithfully.'
Lothíriel wasn't sure she was quite so keen to serve the King of Rohan, but she nodded with a sympathetic twitch of her lips seeing the wetness in the older lady's eyes. So much sorrow, all they could do was to get on with life and make things easier for the living. 'Well, the next job will be cleaning the tapestries, the bran should be here in a few days and we can get on with it.'
'We can find plenty to help with that, and repairing the hangings. My eyes are not good enough now, but I know what needs to be done...' Osythe stopped as the door opened with a bang.
Éowyn burst through. 'There you are, I knew I'd find you around the kitchen somewhere. The new mattress for the king's bed has been made; I thought you could help me sort out the room, Lothíriel. Éomer ought to be sleeping there, not on the floor of his study. If we change the wall hangings, the rugs and curtains it won't look like our uncle had just stepped out of it and he should feel happy to move in.
Lothíriel wrinkled her nose disparagingly. He could sleep in the stables for all she cared: not only had she got no apology for his mistake about Hungife, but he had hardly exchanged a word with her during the first week of her stay, entrenched in deep conversation with his advisors most of the time, even at meals. In fact the only attention she'd got was the odd frown when he saw her laughing with Elladan. Now Éomer and the twins had gone off to the Westfold, admittedly so Éomer could see firsthand the state of the damage to the farmsteads, but she still didn't feel like refurbishing his rooms. She bit back an irritable retort, managing not to sound too grumpy. 'Do you need me for that, Éowyn?'
'You have such good taste; look what you and your mother did in Minas Tirith. I'll organise all the moving about if you choose what to use. The linen-room is full of stuff my grandmother ordered, she must have lived rather grandly.'
Reluctantly Lothíriel nodded, finding it difficult to refuse the pleading look thrown her way. 'It's getting late, but we can decide what needs to be done now and get on with it tomorrow.' She followed Éowyn along the passage that led to the main hall, hearing the happy sound of chatter as the door opened. A couple of the women looked around, smiling when they saw who had entered. Progress in itself, as some had been a little reluctant to follow her orders until they realised she was prepared to get her own hands dirty. Lothíriel glanced guiltily down at her nails, if she wasn't careful they'd never look good again.
'The leather's coming up really well, my lady.' A freckled young woman called her over, proudly indicating the pillar she had been polishing. The hall had pillars running down each side similar to Aldburg, but here they were much more lavishly embellished, wrapped with tooled leather in red and green and inlaid with gold decorations.
Lothíriel went to look. The beeswax was bringing the colour back, but the gold would shine more when they could clean it with vinegar, as would the bronze candle sconces. She had been right to arrange for plenty to come on the wagons, as there would not have been enough here for all the jobs to be done. They still had to tackle the beautifully tiled floor; in places grease had blackened it.
Knowing the wagons would be here soon, and so that the walls could be washed down, all the hangings had been removed and stacked ready for cleaning. Lothíriel knew from seeing it done over many years that a gentle bran-rub would freshen the colours without damaging the fabric. With valuable pieces, such as the tapestry depicting Eorl the Young on Felaróf, the cleaning had to be very carefully carried out.
'Come on, Lothíriel. I want to get everything finished before Éomer returns.' Always impatient, Éowyn was holding open the door to the West Tower that housed the royal apartments.
Lothíriel hadn't been in there before, and immediately saw that they would have to get the buckets out – the passage looked decidedly grimy and the window at the end would let in more light after a good wash. Like Aldburg, Meduseld had been extended over the years and the corner towers added to give more privacy and space. 'Queen's solar,' Éowyn indicated the first door they came to. 'It's been closed for years so there will be a lot to be done, but it can wait. It's the bedchamber that needs sorting first; nothing's been changed in there since I can remember.'
There weren't many rooms and only one bedchamber. Lothíriel hoped the kings and queens of the Mark had got on or Éomer wouldn't have been the only king to sleep in his study. But from what Éowyn had told her most royal marriages had been for love rather than for political reasons. It seemed the Rohirrim had got a lot of things right. But she couldn't imagine who Éomer might choose, no one likely had showed themselves yet. But perhaps there was another reason for him to disappear to the Westfold, one besides surveying the aftermath of the war. The thought that he might be visiting a lover made her strangely uneasy.
'Here we are.' Éowyn pushed open a heavily carved door and Lothíriel followed her in. So dim, and it smelt musty. But there were two big windows so she went straight across to one and pulled back the heavy curtains. What a difference: the window must face west as the setting sun splashed colour across the floor. When she looked out she could see right over the tops of the houses to the plain beyond.'
'This one looks towards the mountains,' Éowyn said as she opened up the other.
Turning away from the view, Lothíriel looked around the room, seeing past the dust and the faded fabrics. 'It's a beautiful room, and we can make it look really lovely.' In spite of the dark panelling the room had an airy feel with the curtains back. It just needed cleaning, and perhaps changing around, she thought. Especially if Éomer found it difficult to sleep here because it was full of memories of the last king. 'We ought to move the bed to a different place,' she mused, going to stand with her back against the panelling. 'If we put it against this wall the view would be better – the mountains from one window and the plain from another. That's certainly how I'd like it if it were mine.'
'Then that's what we will do,' Éowyn said with a slight twitch of her lips that Lothíriel couldn't quite understand. 'I will get some men to move the bed first thing in the morning and we can raid the linen-room. There's a pile of wall hangings in there, you will have fun picking some out.'
Lothíriel agreed with that, the ones on the walls now were a bit grim – the kings of the Mark might be warriors, but surely they did not need to sleep with all that blood and gore depicted around them. 'It will need a thorough clean first; I am surprised it got so dirty in a few short months.'
Éowyn grimaced. 'Don't think we are such terrible housekeepers, at the end Gríma wouldn't let anyone in to clean it. He wanted control of my uncle in every way.'
She had never worked so hard. Just over a week since Éowyn had asked her to help refurbish the king's bedchamber and during that time they had also managed to finish cleaning the hall. Everyone worked frantically once the wagons with the cleaning materials arrived. No one had actually said, but it became obvious they wanted the hall to look its finest by the time Éomer returned. The man might not show his best face to her, but the people certainly loved him.
Nevertheless, however irritable he made her, Lothíriel couldn't help but let out a deep sigh of satisfaction. She had not wanted to take on the task of providing Éomer with a bedchamber worthy of the king of the Mark, but could not help being pleased at a job well done. Wishing everything to be perfect she pulled the quilt strait, before running her hand over the beautiful embroidery. Éowyn had been right when she'd said there was plenty of linen to choose from and someone had stored it well, interspersing the folds with lavender and rosemary. The whole room smelt fresh now. She ran her hand down one of the bedposts, the wood glowed with a deep shine. It had taken hours of work to brush the dust from the intricate carving, but then there were plenty ready to help. She reached out a hand to smooth down the head-sheet but instead swung round as she heard a noise behind her... 'Oh...we weren't expecting you until later.'
'Obviously.' Éomer filled the doorway. He still had on his outer clothes, looking travel worn and tired, but he fixed his dark eyes on her accusingly. 'And what do you think you are doing in this room?'
Why did he always stare at her in that way, like he was about to chastise a naughty child. 'It has been refurbished; I was just checking that everything was in order for your return.'
His whole body stiffened. 'I never asked for it to be done, you have exceeded your authority. I...'
Something snapped and Lothíriel glared at him, her heart thumping wildly. 'You are an ungrateful pig. I did not want to come here and only did as a favour to Éowyn. And I certainly did not want to have anything to do with this.' She swished her hand round angrily. 'But your sister thought you should have quarters befitting your station and pleaded with me to help. For all I care you can sleep...in...the midden. The stables are too good for you!'
His face paled and he took a step towards her. Involuntarily Lothíriel took one of her own backwards until she felt the knurled bedpost dig into her back. Her lips trembled with the enormity of what she had said, but she wouldn't apologise and lifted her chin, blinking back a tear.
Éomer stopped abruptly. 'Lothíriel, I'm sorry. And I didn't mean to frighten you.' He looked distraught, as if he had run a cart over a favourite dog.
'You didn't,' she snapped crossly. 'But your manners are appalling.'
'I know, and you're right; the – stables are too good for me.'
What! Had she heard that correctly? A look up into his contrite face told her she had. Nevertheless, she wanted to get out of there. Determinedly she tossed her head ready to sweep out past him. 'I will relieve you of my presence, my lord.' She expected him to move but instead of getting out of the way he caught her by the arm. She didn't look up, only tried to shake off his grip. He hung on; she might as well try to rid herself of a hunting lion.
'Let me go!'
He dropped her arm instantly. 'Don't leave, I need to explain. I should never have reacted like that when I found you here.' His mouth curved into a hesitant grin. 'Only please, not the midden.'
'It's what you deserve,' she retorted, but her anger faded as Éomer ran his fingers through his long hair dispiritedly and flashed her apologetic smile.
'My only excuse is that I now know the full extent of the damage to the farms in the Westfold and will have to beg more from Gondor. I am finding the necessity of that a little difficult, but I shouldn't take out my discomfiture on you when you are doing your best to help.'
'No, you shouldn't. You have thought ill of me from the beginning...why I don't know.' He still blocked her way but as she took a step to the side he grabbed her arm again and pulled her towards the bed.
'Lothíriel look, sit down a moment.'
'Stop doing that!' She flung his hand away irritably. 'I will not be moved about.'
He stepped away from her, holding both hands up to show he would not touch her. 'Sorry, but I didn't want you to rush off. My cursed temper gets the better of me, I'm afraid, and you have every right to walk out.' He let out a strained chuckle. 'But I should know by now that it would take more than a belligerent Horse-lord to face you down.' Éomer took an audible breath and gave a small bow. 'Will you please sit and converse with me, my lady.' He waved his hand to indicate the bed.
With a slight huff – she didn't know why she was bothering to talk to him – Lothíriel sat herself down on the edge of it, which brought her eyes level with the ornate silver buckle on his sword belt. 'If you want to talk, then please sit down yourself, I will not have you towering over me like that.'
Éomer raised one of his provocative eyebrows and started to sit down beside her, but when she glared he thought better of it and looked around for a chair. There was only one that could be easily shifted and he stretched out an arm and grasped the back of it. Turning it round in one movement he sat down the wrong way, wrapping his long legs around it. With an impatient motion he unclasped his cloak, dragged it from his shoulders and threw it onto the bed a few feet away from her, before resting his arms and chin on the chair's high back.
Lothíriel just stopped herself from saying that there was a large wardrobe behind the panelling for his clothes, deciding that someone would be happy to clear up after their king. She waited for him to speak but when he said nothing she let out a resigned sigh. 'You were going to explain why you are so rude and discourteous to me when I have only been trying to help.'
Éomer twisted his lips, looking unusually embarrassed. 'The truth of it,' he said at last, 'is that I thought such a grand lady as you would look down on us.' Lothíriel gasped, but he held up his hand. 'The last Gondorian noblewoman to come here was my grandmother. I was only a child when she returned to Gondor but she ruled Meduseld with Thengel for twenty-seven years. Thengel tried to be a good king, and Morwen meant well, but she did a lot of harm which is still talked about today. Trying to make us more like Gondor she altered many things, not for the good. The Mark doesn't need that kind of change; it needs its traditions and its beliefs. That's what holds us together and makes us strong.'
Lothíriel shook her head; surely that was years ago and she had no real authority here anyway. 'I understand that, Éomer, and have no wish to impinge on the way the Rohirrim do things. Éowyn wanted me to help supervise the cleaning and refurbishment of Meduseld and to ensure that there would be enough food for your guests, that's all. And all I have done I hope is in keeping. I have no more influence on life here than that, and any I might have will soon wane when I go home at the end of the summer. But if you do not want me here I can return to Gondor with Master Elrond's party. In fact,' she said standing up, 'perhaps that would be best. I hope you use this room, Éomer, because I do not think the king of Rohan should be sleeping on the floor.'
'No, Lothíriel please don't go.' Éomer tried to rise but tangled his legs in the chair. Lothíriel stopped, finding it hard not to laugh as he tried to extricate himself. She had never seen him otherwise than in command and perfect control, and she rather enjoyed his discomposure. In fairness he saw the funny side and started to chuckle. The chair got banged down on the tiled floor and he stood facing her with one hand on its back. 'I don't want you to go early. After all the work you have done it would be a shame for you to leave before Théoden's funeral. I will be officially taking up my crown and also I hope to announce Éowyn's betrothal. You will not want to miss that.'
She didn't. But she also did not wish to stay where she was not wanted. 'Maybe, but I am a bit fed up with you berating me for no reason other than your imaginings. This is not the first time you have mistaken my motives.'
'I never apologised for my wrong thinking about Hungife, did I? If I do so unreservedly will you stay and carry on with what you have been doing?'
Lothíriel shrugged. That was probably all the apology she was going to get.
He must have taken that as agreement for he smiled. 'I have never seen the hall look so well, you must have worked extremely hard in so short a time to make it gleam as it does.'
'I only supervised, Éomer. Others have done all the hard work...'
He laughed. 'I wouldn't expect you to scrub the floors, Lothíriel. But it takes a certain skill to get others to do such a good job. And this' – he swung his gaze around the room. 'It is difficult to believe it's the same place that Théoden slept.' But then he frowned as he studied the changes she had made. 'You have replaced the wall-hangings.'
'I can put the old ones back if you wish,' she said quickly. 'They can be easily cleaned.'
'No, I like the new ones,' Éomer said with a reassuring smile. 'What made you choose these in particular?'
He seemed genuinely interested in her reasons, so she pointed to the tapestry depicting Eorl the Young's charge onto the Field of Celebrant which showed more of the men and horses than the one in the hall. 'That one must be obvious: it's so like I imagine the Rohirrim charging onto the Pelennor. I am sure there will soon be many portraying the battles of the Ring-war, but I thought this the nearest without being too bloody.'
'The old ones were a bit dour,' he conceded with a smile. 'But that one certainly lightens the atmosphere in here.'
Lothíriel swung round to look at the large embroidery that he could see over her shoulder. It took up a good bit of one wall and she didn't really know why she had chosen it, probably only because she liked the open vista – a view of Rohan's White Mountains, snowy tops reaching up into a cloudless sky, and in the foreground the vast spread of the grasslands, dotted with the flowers of summer. But perhaps not quite right for a man.
However Éomer nodded his approval as he perused the scene thoughtfully for a moment, before turning to look at the third hanging. 'And who's that?'
'Éowyn says it's Brytta distributing largesse during a hard winter. Evidently he was a good king, loved by all.'
His expression inscrutable, Éomer let his eyes wander over her. 'And you thought that having such a good example to follow would spur me to be a better ruler, did you?'
Now she had upset him again, he always misunderstood her intentions. She had meant quite the opposite. 'Strange as it may seem, Éomer, I have no doubts that you will serve your people well.' His gaze never wavered and honesty made her say more. 'You are generally held in high regard by everyone...'
'Except you?' he butted in.
'And whose fault is that?' she shot back. 'As I said before, you set out to be antagonistic to me, judging me harshly with no evidence.'
'And I realised my mistake... and then repeated it again. I should have learnt,' he shook his head slowly as if trying to reason his behaviour, 'but somehow... I can't seem to help myself as far as you are concerned.'
The perplexed look on his face made her smile. To some extent she could understand, as her responses to him had often been laced with unexplained spleen. 'It might be best to resume the truce, although I do remember you saying you enjoyed our spats.'
'I did, didn't I?' One of his infectious grins crossed his face, banishing the stern king and revealing a more boyish demeanour. Which was the real Éomer, Lothíriel wondered. Perhaps both as responsibility tended to chase away youth.
'Well, I prefer the truce,' she said with a glimmer of a smile, 'so would you mind settling for one. After all it will only be for another couple of months, you should be able to manage that.'
'Oh... I think I could.'
Lothíriel swallowed as he drew out the words and took a slow step towards her, his expression changing again, from boyishness to something else. Something altogether more disturbing. She wanted to escape but mesmerised by the way his brown eyes ranged over her – just like the night at Aldburg – found that her legs would not obey her. No! She would not fall for him; she would not join those simpering women who had followed him around in Minas Tirith, for that would surely lead to heartache. What had he said – that he had no intention of marrying a Gondorian. But she still could not move, even when telling herself she was mad even to be thinking that way.
'The more I get to know you, Lothíriel, the more I like the sound of a truce.' One large hand reached out and rough fingers gently stroked down her cheek. 'Perhaps we could...'
'Oh, there you are.' Éowyn flew into the room, a smile from ear to ear. 'They said you were back, Éomer. Do you like it? You can't refuse to sleep here now, Lothíriel has done so well.'
Feeling her cheeks ablaze, Lothíriel took a deep breath to try and calm herself. Luckily Éomer's bulk shielded her for the first few moments of Éowyn's abrupt entrance, and anyway her attention was fixed on her brother. He caught hold of Éowyn as she surged towards him, pulling her into a hug.
'Don't worry, little sister. I like it, you have both done well. With such lavish quarters I might even start to feel like a king.'
Éowyn linked her arm in his, eyes alight with happiness. 'You'll make a great king. That's why Lothíriel chose that tapestry of Brytta. She said she could forgive you many things because of the way you treated your people.'
'Oh, did she?' Éomer turned around, eyes dancing with laughter. 'So you don't think I'm all bad?'
Lothíriel gave him one of her sweetest smiles, now she'd had a moment her wits had returned. 'No one can possibly be all bad, my lord. Not even you.'
Éowyn opened her eyes wide in astonishment, but Éomer guffawed. Lothíriel took the opportunity to make a hasty exit. She would be very careful not to be alone with him again.
To be continued.
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.