Éomer frowned as he poked his spoon into the piece of fruit in his dish. 'This looks like a peach. Where did that come from?'
'Lothíriel had them sent; they come all the way from Dol Amroth. Eat it, Éomer, they are delicious, bottled in wine and honey.' Éowyn put a piece in her mouth and sighed with satisfaction.
Lothíriel paused, her own first mouthful still on the spoon as Éomer's eyes swivelled her way. He didn't look too happy, perhaps not liking peaches, and made no attempt to eat the fruit. Instead, he leaned back in his chair, goblet in one hand, a look of resignation on his face. Don't say she had upset him again!
'I appreciate the gesture, Lothíriel, but space on the wagons would be better taken up with staple foods.'
He had spoken reasonably, and had not jumped down her throat since the last quarrel in the bedchamber, so she answered lightly, with uncharacteristic patience where he was concerned. 'The wagon was already loaded when I put them on, Éomer, so nothing got left behind. Besides, the jars they came in are going to be used to store herbs for the winter months; packed in salted butter and kept cool they will last a fair time. Herbs will enhance your winter meals and bring sunshine into the dark months.' One good thing Queen Morwen had done was to make sure aromatic southern plants grew in the Meduseld gardens, and some might have been neglected and gone a bit wild, but they still flourished in a sunny corner and would add to the wild ones which were plentiful around Edoras.
He smiled, but still didn't seem completely won over. 'I see I was wrong, your housekeeping and organisation cannot be faulted. But if there are luxuries like this around perhaps they should be saved for when the future Queen of Gondor gets here.'
Wrong? Lothíriel had to stifle a grin. Was he mellowing, or perhaps coming to terms with the realisation that he had no choice but to accept help? Even hers. Hopefully he could stop himself reacting when she argued against him. Which she fully intended to do. 'I don't agree that the peaches should have been saved for your guests, Éomer. We have devised a welcome feast consisting of traditional Rohirric dishes, which I am sure is what they would prefer, and anyway peaches will be plentiful when they get to Gondor. But fruit like this is unusual in Rohan and as there was enough for the entire household to have a taste, I thought it would be a well deserved treat after the hard work of the past few weeks.' She looked around the great hall taking in the massive improvements made – with long summer days light still streamed through the high louvers and the fresh colours of the pillars, tapestries and floor blended in pleasing harmony.
'Well, I agree with that,' Éothain's voice came from farther down the table. 'These are lip-smackingly good, why waste them on elves.'
A bit shocked Lothíriel swung her gaze to the twins, but to her surprise both were chuckling. Now she could see from the grin on Éothain's face that he had only been trying to get a rise out of them. Men, would she ever understand them – it seemed that the friendlier they were, the ruder they thought they could be to each other.
'Well, I for one am glad we are not leaving to meet my sister until tomorrow, these are delicious, Lothíriel. Well worth the small space they took up on the supply wagons.' Elladan smiled at her sympathetically. 'But from what I have seen of your capabilities so far I am sure no one will be disappointed in the food served to Éomer's guests. You have a knack of producing elegance from common ingredients.'
'Honey-tongued flatterer,' Éomer muttered quietly so that just those nearby could hear.
Elladan laughed. 'Ladies like to be praised for their accomplishments, Éomer. You should try it.'
'I am very grateful for all Lothíriel is doing, and I stand corrected on the peaches. Does that cover it?' Éomer stared hard at the elf, a twisted grin on his lips.
'Well, no one could ever accuse you of being sweet-talking, my friend.' Elladan turned his head away from Éomer, giving her a surreptitious wink. 'I suppose that's all you're going to get, Lothíriel.'
'We have a saying in the Mark that under the noise of speech there is a silence that speaks more.' Éomer put a piece of peach in his mouth, chewed a moment and swallowed, a look of pleasure crossing his face. 'The peach is lovely but I shall look forward to tasting the Rohirric food you have arranged for our guests, Lothíriel. I am sure they will be happy with the welcome accorded them.' His dark eyes met hers and arched brows winged upward, his intense look bringing colour to her cheeks. She had no words to say, but luckily Éowyn jumped in.
'I am sure they will be happy; after all they will have been sleeping under canvas since Lothlórien and will still have a fair journey to go.' Éowyn hesitated a moment and then said to Elladan, 'What is your sister like?'
'You will find out in two days, Éowyn,' Éomer said with a laugh. 'Better that you form your own opinion as siblings can sometimes be pretty scathing of one another.'
Éowyn made a humph... sound, looking a little irritated with her brother. Elladan didn't bother to respond, but a knowing smile quirked his lips.
Lothíriel finished her peach, tempted to ask Elladan herself. But decided she too could wait. For a man like Elessar to risk so much, Arwen Undómiel had to be something special.
Two days later Lothíriel didn't need to witness Éomer's reaction to his first sight of Arwen to confirm that she was indeed special – coming to a halt at the top of the steps, the King of Rohan's eyes widened and his mouth opened and shut. A bit like a floundering haddock, Lothíriel reflected irritably. But to be fair she had never thought a woman could be so beautiful; actually an elf, of course, but it amounted to the same thing. For once Éowyn remained speechless, offering the welcome cup with the appropriate words but leaving it to her brother to make conversation.
Once over his initial shock, Éomer greeted Arwen and her father with confidence and Lothíriel could not fault his manners. Perhaps it really was only herself who brought out the worst in him. Watching the scene from a few feet away, her eyes met with those of the elf-woman who came up behind Master Elrond, also stunningly beautiful, but in a much more ethereal way, and as fair as Arwen was dark. Lothíriel shivered, it was as if her whole mind had been opened up, on show to this unearthly creature. But then Lady Galadriel smiled and the shivering was replaced by warmth that spread through her body like heady wine.
'A flower far from its native soil sometimes has to struggle to flourish and show its beauty, but if lovingly nurtured, will grow all the stronger.' Lothíriel stared into Lady Galadriel's serene face, what a strange thing to say on a first introduction. But before she could comment or ask what she meant the Lady moved on, speaking quietly to Osythe for a few moments.
With the introductions over, and after time given for their guests to refresh themselves, the bell rang for the sunset meal. Lothíriel sat at the end of the top table, she didn't have to actually serve or do anything as Éowyn was officially the Hlafdige, responsible for seeing that the guests had filled plates, but she wanted to be on hand in case there were any problems in the kitchen and Osythe needed her help. She took a moment to look down the table – what a gathering; nothing had convinced her more that they were indeed moving into a new age than being seated amongst such a mixture of Rohirrim nobility and legendary elves. A glance at Arwen, who met her interest with a smile and a nod of the head, made her sigh inwardly – even wearing one of her loveliest dresses, and with her hair washed and brushed by Hungife till it shone like polished jet, she felt like a straggly wayside flower pushed into the same vase as a faultless rose.
Éowyn had felt it too, whispering to her earlier that no wonder she had stood no chance with Aragorn, but she had laughed as she said it, secure and happy now in Faramir's love. Well, never mind Arwen, Lothíriel didn't think she could compete with Rohan's White Lady either. Éowyn looked striking tonight, with her skin glowing from the summer sun and her golden hair shimmering in the fading light. But at least Lothíriel knew she could be proud of the meal and sure that the elves appreciated it too – they certainly seemed to be tucking into the wide variety of foods on offer. Venison provided the centre of the feast, killed just before the closed month for hunting and hung until tender and flavoursome. Served with a sauce made from the golden cups, it made a dish to remember. But there were also many side dishes: eel from the Snowbourne smoked over oak and garnished with cress harvested from the fast-flowing streams; crayfish swimming in butter flavoured with ransoms; freshwater mussels stuffed with horse-mushrooms and leeks and baked with cheese. Besides fresh, crusty bread, great bowls of salad gathered from the woods and fields around Edoras were placed between the meat and fish to lighten the fare – fat hen, jack-the-hedge, chickweed, bittercress plus a mixture of pot-herbs and greens found in the garden, all drizzled with a dressing of walnut oil, wine and honey. Sharp, soft cheeses cleansed the mouth and puddings like honeyed milk set with rennet, wild strawberries and thick cream provided a sweet ending.
All worth the effort involved when Éomer passed his congratulations and his thanks down the table. Lothíriel looked up to seek him out as the server gave her the message; the jolt of pleasure when he raised his goblet to her brought on another embarrassing blush.
A few days later, when the elves were well on their way to Gondor, Lothíriel knocked on the door of Éomer's study a little tentatively. She had sworn she wouldn't be alone with him again, but straightening her shoulders she told herself that was stupid – surely, if he felt so ill, his mind would not be on flirtation. Anyway it would have looked odd had she asked someone to accompany her. And sending a servant would have been cowardly, he might refuse to drink the tisane and a servant would not dare argue. She had no qualms about encountering his wrath – it was his other moods that bothered her.
A muffled call to enter made her smile – no risk today. Poor Éomer was not himself, but if he behaved sensibly then the summer fever would not last long.
The Lord of Meduseld was sitting at his desk, head in hands, not looking as if he had any interest in the pile of documents in front of him. Lothíriel marched over and put the tray down on the desk with a slight bang. 'I've brought something to help.' She poured some of the hot liquid from the jug into a pottery mug and held it out. But all he did was screw up his nose.
'What is it?' The scowl on his face told her he would not be an easy patient.
'A tisane made from lemons, honey and willow-bark. Luckily I had a load of lemons sent; they have proved useful with many having the same illness as you. Drink this and you will feel much better, the fever only lasts for about two days.'
'Lemons?' he queried, frowning even more.
'Yes,' she said, immediately bristling, 'and don't go on about the space they took up, there was plenty of room, and anyway it was a good job I thought to pack them – nothing is more soothing to a raw throat than honey and lemon.'
Éomer sighed suddenly, and reached for the mug. 'I am not going to berate you for providing lemons, Lothíriel, but please sit down. I need to talk to you about something else.' He took a big gulp of the tisane, and then another. The frosty look was replaced by something approaching a smile. 'I hope we haven't sent our elven friends on their way to Gondor with this malady. Aragorn will not be pleased if his beautiful bride arrives with a headache and a dripping nose.'
Lothíriel's lips trembled as she tried not to laugh, imagining the incomparable Arwen sneezing through her wedding ceremony. The twinkle of mirth in Éomer's red-rimmed eyes told her he'd had the same thought and then a chuckle escaped from his normally firm mouth. That did it – she started giggling. She laughed so much she had to wipe her eyes with the back of her hand. 'Perhaps elves don't suffer from such common ailments,' she stuttered out when she could get a breath.
Éomer groped for a handkerchief, his mirth had started his eyes running even more. 'No, difficult to imagine, I agree. I think Lord Celeborn would look down his nose and totally deny anything was wrong and Master Elrond would just wave his hand imperiously and no contagion would dare go near.'
Their eyes met and shared a moment of understanding – wonderful though it had been to be amongst so many high beings, they were rather overpowering.
'I mustn't jest anymore,' Éomer said after a moment, 'for they bleed like the rest of us. And fight better than most.'
Of course that would earn respect from this esteemed warrior. Lothíriel nodded. 'I agree, no more joking.' She settled in the chair. 'What did you want to talk to me about?'
Éomer took another swig of the tisane, smiled and then emptied the mug. He put it back on the tray. 'Thank you, it feels easier already.' He drummed his fingers on the desk, looking a little uncertain. 'I need to talk to you about Hungife.'
He nodded. 'I don't think you quite understand our way of doing things here; I am told you gave her silver pennies.'
'I did,' Lothíriel confirmed wondering what she had done wrong. 'She needed a dress fit to wear in the hall so I advanced some of her wages.'
'But we don't pay servants with silver, it's far too much.'
Lothíriel stared at him dumbstruck; the amount was nothing like her maid earned in Dol Amroth.
He gave her a smile, his expression understanding rather than critical. 'Our culture is unlike that in Gondor. It's difficult to explain, but we have less difference between people, which is one of our strengths. Of course the lords in their halls live more lavishly than those on the farms or in the camps of the Eastemnet. But we try to make sure that those we are responsible for live as equally as possible. Just because Hungife is your maid, or if she were Éowyn's, she would not get paid more than any other servant in the hall. Yes, true, she would get benefits like finer hand-me-down dresses and perhaps a little extra for some special service, but nothing much else.'
'But I haven't got any dresses to hand down,' Lothíriel said mortified – how could she have been so stupid, she had seen herself how everyone was looked after. 'I've barely enough everyday ones for myself. I can hardly give her any of my court dresses, they would be totally unsuitable for a maid.' She let out a frustrated sigh. 'I am sorry, I should have asked Éowyn.' A reluctant grin crossed her face. 'Hungife did seem rather pleased. Have I caused a lot of trouble?'
Éomer chuckled. 'A bit of envy and a few grumbles, but most accept that Hungife is lucky and anyway Gondorians are known to be much more affluent than us.'
'Oh...' Lothíriel closed her eyes with embarrassment; that was the last thing she wanted to flaunt. 'I never meant to imply that.' Who had he got his information about the silver pennies from, she wondered? Éowyn had her head in the clouds most of the time and anyway would think it beneath her to take notice of mutterings. Osythe would surely have spoken directly to her. She sighed to herself; there were probably many more who would have enjoyed the tittle-tattle. Only to be expected, she supposed, but it would have been better if Éomer hadn't had to take her to task. Although to be fair, he had done it in a very kindhearted way.
'I know you never meant to show off your wealth,' Éomer said, his voice more mild than she expected or perhaps deserved. 'But consider that Hungife has now been paid for the length of your stay here and then the mishap will be put right. Lothíriel,' he said, raising a brow at her anxious frown, 'don't look so downcast, the matter is closed. But there is something else I wish to discuss.'
Oh no, what had she done now. She waited in trepidation.
'Presuming that your lemons work, I intend leaving for the Westfold in two days' time. I shall be staying with Erkenbrand, and I wondered if you would like to come. Éowyn can manage here and I know you were keen to see more of the Riddermark. It's a good opportunity and I think you deserve a respite from all the work you are doing.'
Pleased beyond measure that he had recognized her contribution, Lothíriel took an excited breath, hardly believing it. 'Go to Helm's Deep?'
'Yes, I have some things to discuss with my marshal and want to fit in another visit before I ride to Gondor to collect Uncle's body.'
'There is time for you to go the Westfold and still get to Minas Tirith on the agreed day?
He laughed. ' We don't hang about when we journey, and I'm sure that horse of yours will keep up with us for our ride west, and the trip to Gondor will be fast as I shall take only my finest. So we shall be able to spend a week or more in the Westfold.'
She had intended to start planning and preparing for the winter months now the elves had gone, and there was still the provisioning needed to feed the guests at the funeral, but all that could be done when Éomer was in Gondor. 'I would love to,' Lothíriel hesitated as a thought hit her. 'But Hungife could not come with the baby and I cannot go without another woman. Not because I cannot manage on my own,' she added quickly, keen not to worsen Éomer's opinion of her after the silver incident, 'but because...'
'Oh, I know that, Lothíriel,' Éomer interrupted, giving her a sideways grin. 'I do not suspect you of needing pampering anymore. Of course you need a companion.' He thought for a moment. 'How about Osythe, I think she might accompany you, I remember she mentioned that she would like to visit Háma's grave.'
'Oh, what a good idea. Then yes, if Osythe is willing I would like to come very much.' She stood up to go, picking up the tray from the desk. 'Thank you, I appreciate you asking me as I know it will mean more organization and trouble for your men.'
'Lothíriel.' Éomer rubbed his hands across his eyes and sniffed, giving her a weak smile. 'I have not shown how much I value your contribution here.' He sighed. 'I have never found it easy to accept help. But in spite of what you may think, I very much appreciate what you have done. It was good of you to listen to Éowyn's plea for help...' he hesitated, lips twitching, 'especially as you had to ignore my crass rudeness. So let me say now that I am very grateful for how you have helped us. Showing you a bit more of the Riddermark is a meager repayment.'
Her color rising, more discomfited by his praise than she ever had been by his scorn, Lothíriel gave him a quick nod. 'Thank you for saying that. It means a lot.' She took herself out of the door before he could say anything else.
They left before first light, hooves kicking up the dry dust as they thundered along the West Road, dawn splashing the sky with colour behind them. Despite the trepidation she had felt about coming to Rohan Lothíriel had enjoyed the journey, finding travelling with an army a unique adventure. However, a fast ride with the cream of Éomer's guard was already proving to be a much more awe-inspiring experience. She could not help being thrilled at finding herself amongst so many expert warriors and relished the magnificent sight they made – the gold on their cloaks glinting in the brightening sun, long braids flying behind them as their splendid horses stretched out, enjoying the cool of the morning.
As the day heated the pace slowed, Éomer choosing to spend some time at her side. He proved a pleasant companion telling her the names of the villages, the peaks above them and pointing out various landmarks like the place high in the mountains where Walda had met his untimely end. He had been slain by orcs with all his companions, after only being king for nine years. Fascinated by him recounting some of the Mark's great events, she listened avidly when he described the battle of Helm's Deep and told her the history of the Hornburg. Then, to her surprise, he described his first meeting with Aragorn. She had come to appreciate Éomer's strengths over the past weeks – always the consummate warrior and leader, but now she discovered he had made decisions that had contributed to their final triumph over evil.
They made camp where a fast stream dropped down from a high escarpment, spreading out over the plain in a silver sheet. It had been a wonderful but tiring day, and with her muscles aching, Lothíriel crawled happily into her cot, feeling herself quite the expert at living under canvas. She must have fallen asleep before Osythe, but the next morning got up as soon as she woke leaving the older woman still softly snoring.
But in no time, after a bowl of porridge and some dried fruit, they were on the road again, Éomer determined to reach their destination that day.
An hour later, cantering along a wide swath of sheep-mown grass, he signalled for a full gallop and Lothíriel willingly dropped her hands, allowing Storm to surge forward. The horse picked up on his rider's excitement, streaking past a couple of heavier war-horses in his eagerness to get in front. Laughing with the joy of the morning, Lothíriel pulled him up a bit, not thinking it judicious to out-run the Lord of the Mark, especially as Éomer had been good enough to bring her. She had got to know him better during this journey, enjoying listening to his tales and seeing first-hand the interaction and comradeship he shared with his men, but what still impressed her most was the caring side she had discovered. It showed in the way he considered his people, slowing everyone down when they met a cart or a flock of sheep on the road instead of flying by covering all with dust. And the enquiries he made as to health and welfare were obviously genuine, as he listened intently to the answers. More than anything that had pushed aside her irritation with his sometimes high-handed ways – he was a king, after all.
Her attention taken with thought for a moment, Storm suddenly veered to the right, convinced it was a good time to try and pass the frontrunners, but Lothíriel curbed his eagerness with a sharp word and firm hands. Her time at Edoras had strengthened the bond she had with her brother's matchless gelding, as she had ridden out most days. But the rides had been short and confined to the immediate surroundings of Edoras. Here was real freedom – the road still tracked the foothills of the Ered Nimrais, crossing wide streams that tumbled down from the high valleys, but away to the right the great plain of the West Emmet stretched out under a vast open sky, still tinged with the pink of dawn. She loved it, and the experience made her think longingly of riding on the beach at home, racing along the flat sands with the waves pounding the shore. The immensity of the sea always made her feel like a speck on the surface of the world. She had that feeling now and drew rein a bit reluctantly when Éomer put up his hand – a wagon in sight farther along the road.
Slowing down, Lothíriel shaded her eyes and looked ahead, seeing a smudge of purple on the horizon. The Misty Mountains, Osythe told her, and carved into the southern tip, not discernible in the haze, would be Nan Curunír, the Wizard's Vale. So close, and as it turned out, so deadly for Rohan.
The first day they had passed villages tucked into the folds of the land, the surrounds highly cultivated, untouched by war. But on this second day, as they progressed towards Helm's Deep, they saw the burnt out ruins of cottages and crops flattened into the ground. Rebuilding had started though, many wagons on the road carried wooden roofing tiles cut from the forest that clothed the valley sides. Occasionally Éomer called a halt, spending a little time talking to the farmers who were struggling to replant and restore their homes at the same time.
By late afternoon, with the sun sinking towards the top of the mountains they reached the fork where the way led up to the Hornburg. They rode up and up, following the course of a fast stream until they entered, what Osythe said, was the Deeping Coomb. It looked like a great green chunk had been bitten right out of the mountainside. The noise of the water became more intense as they neared the far end of the coomb where the stream issued from a gorge and rushed downwards, eager to reach the plain. It seemed that they were entering the very mountain itself as huge cliffs towered either side of them, and then they reached the dike, the first defence of this ancient fortress. Beyond the dike they came to a triangular patch of greensward that spanned the distance to the Wall.
The road climbed gradually up across this high-meadow and they passed between two huge burial mounds, new grass already greening them. But on its own, in front of the gate, was one solitary mound. A spear and a standard marked the grave of Háma: King's friend; King's protector; Osythe's beloved husband.
Lothíriel knew that Osythe had tokens from her daughters to bury in the earth along with their father, but that would be a private moment. Now, only a tear in her eye betrayed the emotion she must be feeling. Éomer dropped his horse back and rode alongside Osythe for a few moments, and together they rode through the gate and over the long causeway.
Lothíriel came on behind, looking around her with deep interest – walls hewn from great blocks of stone, and everywhere was so dark. High summer it might be but only a few rays of the remaining sunlight peered their way through the chinks in the rock. She had wanted to come, but shivered at the stern face of this awesome fortress.
Lord Erkenbrand, however, met them with anything but a stern face. Visibly pleased to see his king again so soon, his goodwill extended to Lothíriel, and he welcomed her enthusiastically with a few inquiries about how she had settled in to Meduseld, even before she had dismounted.
But as she slid from her horse, passing the reins to Bealdric, Éomer surprised her by taking her arm. 'Come, I want you to meet Brythwyn, I think you will like her.' Pleased he was making sure she would be instantly accepted, she went with him without argument. But his long strides caused her to almost have to run to keep up as he marched her across the inner court and towards the huge carved doors that led to the keep. 'Slow down,' she murmured irritably.
'Sorry, I forgot you are a woman for a moment.' A humorous twinkle accompanied that remark – if there hadn't been so many around she would have kicked him.
'Westu Éomer hál.' A tall, fair lady, dressed in traditional green, walked forward bearing the customary mead cup. She would have been lovely in her youth as although her skin showed signs of age it hugged fine bones that shaped a proud face.
'Brythwyn.' Éomer smiled warmly at the lady, who Lothíriel assumed was Erkenbrand's wife. Without letting go of her arm he tossed the drink back in one gulp. 'Let me introduce Lothíriel of Dol Amroth. I imagine Erkenbrand must have told you she came with us all the way from Gondor. You will be pleased when you come to Edoras for Théoden's funeral,' he went on as Brythwyn nodded her respect, 'I cannot remember when Meduseld looked so fine. Lothíriel took the refurbishment in hand and the change is staggering. The hall looks better than I have ever seen it and the King's Bedchamber is almost unrecognisable.'
A gasp came from behind Brythwyn and she turned quickly. 'Alwunn come and pay your respects to Éomer King and Lady Lothíriel.
Lothíriel smiled as a pretty girl a couple of years younger than herself moved into the light, she had been holding the tray of cups.
'This is my daughter, Alwunn, my lady.' The girl bobbed her head and Brythwyn took a cup from the tray. 'Welcome to my house, my lady.' She passed the cup, and finally shaking off Éomer's arm Lothíriel murmured the appropriate response and put it to her lips. Over the rim she caught Alwunn's eyes fixed on her, cold blue orbs that somehow spat fire. In her direction.
Reeling from the barbs of hostility flying her way, Lothíriel swivelled her gaze to Éomer. Had he brought her here to shield him from unwanted attention, or to make sure she realised his interest lay elsewhere than a princess from Dol Amroth? Either way, she didn't like it. But to be fair Éomer looked totally oblivious to any tense atmosphere, already talking happily to Brythwyn and Erkenbrand about the progress made with the planting during the previous weeks. Did he really not comprehend what he had just done?
No time to find out now, as except from the open hostility shown by the daughter of the house, their welcome proved warm and generous: a cup of wine and honey cake provided to see them through to the evening meal; a quick explanation of the layout of the Burg so that they wouldn't get lost and promises of a tour of the entire fortress on the morrow. Brythwyn suggested a maid to wait on her, but Lothíriel, feeling Éomer's eyes straying in her direction, refused the offer, merely asking that someone press the couple of dresses she had brought with her.
The welcome over, Lothíriel and Osythe followed their hostess through stone passages and up a wide flight of stairs. Lothíriel could only be thankful it was well into summer, she didn't want to think how cold all this stone would be in the depths of winter. And dark; she imagined little sunlight would penetrate the narrow windows when the days shortened.
Having agreed to share, the two women were shown into a small room that contained not much more than a bed and a wash-screen. At least there was a rug each side of the bed and much of the stone walls were covered with hangings, mostly depicting scenes of battles or horses. Her bags were waiting but before she had time unpack a girl arrived with two jugs of washing water. A cheerful smile on her face, she chatted on to Osythe whilst waiting for the creased dresses to be produced. From what she could gather Lothíriel understood her to be asking about various people she knew at Edoras.
'It doesn't seem to have bothered them that we arrived without notice,' Lothíriel remarked when the girl had gone.
'Not Brythwyn, no,' Osythe agreed with a twinkle in her eyes, 'but Alwunn was certainly bothered.'
Lothíriel felt heat rise in her cheeks. 'Oh, you noticed?'
Osythe outright laughed. 'I imagine everyone did, except Éomer, he focuses on the job in hand and things like that tend to pass him by.'
Osythe turned her back to shake out her nightgown. Going round to one side of the bed, she pulled back the bedcovers and tucked it under. Lothíriel, her own gown in her hand, hesitated, fingering the ribbon around the neck uncertainly as she wondered whether to speak her thoughts. But satisfied that she had prepared her sleeping place Osythe forestalled her.
'He's known Alwunn since she was knee-high; she's just a child to him. I doubt he's noticed she's grown up.'
Lothíriel let the ribbon slide out of her hand. 'Oh...I did wonder.'
Osythe shook her head. 'No doubt she's got a crush on him, but then so have half the young lasses in the Riddermark. What they don't realize is that if they want to gain his attention they should be more like you.'
'More like me,' Lothíriel croaked, her throat tightening.
Osythe's eyes gleamed with unmistakeable merriment. 'They should stand up to him and pretend no interest, rather than make sheep's eyes at him the whole time. It usually works with strong-minded men. It certainly worked for me, Háma enjoyed the chase.'
It was only after Osythe had disappeared behind the screen that Lothíriel grasped that she had been accused of pretending no interest. Of course that wasn't true, was it? And surely Éomer escorting her into the Hornburg had only been to make sure she was accepted here, and show that he approved of her. It couldn't be anything else.
Luckily, at dinner he sat between his hosts and she was given a place between Erkenbrand and his widowed sister, Elswite, a pleasant lady who she found out kept herself busy helping Brythwyn with the management of such a challenging fortress. But Lothíriel excused herself early, the ride and fresh air had made her tired, and anyway it seemed better to avoid Éomer for a while.
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.