3. Journeys End in Lovers Meeting
Lothíriel awoke early at the steward’s house. A deep longing for home had taken her by the heart and was constricting her throat. But she did not wish to begin the day with tears and anyway, great ladies did not weep for themselves, so she had been taught. Settling back against the pillows she tried to reach a place in her mind that she thought of as the path of dreams. If she could achieve this state she would be able to slip back into… Mortal sleep , she thought uncertainly. And so rise refreshed.
She always began by casting her thoughts west across the sea. By closing her eyes she could call up images of ships’ prows on the breast of the ocean. She saw the sails whipping in the wind. The sea reflected the blue sky, and sunlight glinted on the waves. She was a child, back in Dol Amroth where she could see the water from the stone wall of her chamber’s balcony.
Now came the high crying of sea birds. And though they sounded lonelier than the horns of ships on rainy nights, Lothíriel longed to soar with them on their silvered wings, questing beyond imagination toward distant westward shores. . . .
She was there; the gulls flying west were the sign. She was on the path of dreams. Now the vision would come.
As dream-Lothíriel watched, the waves turned all to rolling hills of grass. The cry of gulls faded. The air smelled dry as parchment, and when the sea-tang vanished, she knew she was as far from home as she would ever, living, be. She felt small, lost, unsure how she would accomplish this journey, whatever it might be.
She looked beyond the hills, and far to the east a cloud and a darkness loomed, more frightening than the unknown journey. But from the darkness came pacing a great golden wonder: a lion. The Elvish name came to her: Rhaw, like his roar. Majestic in size and lordly as any king, he was the most beautiful creature Lothíriel had ever beheld in waking life or dream. And she loved him.
He came right to her. He was so large that his face was level with hers. Enchanted, she stared into hot, pale, eyes, and he began to rumble deep in his throat. Then he reared up. She felt his paws on her chest, felt the rough caress of his tongue on her face, felt his strength as he pushed her down. Alas my homeward shores are lost, she thought. Then she fell …
… and awoke with her heart thudding, as always. The vision of the darkened east came frequently; that of the lion, only when her monthly courses would soon begin. She thought, I can sleep no more. She dressed quickly in an old frock, split for riding front and back, and her boots, and the knife she always wore on a belt. Then she slipped out to the stables, waking Rianné as she closed the door.
Over the fields, away from the manor house Lothíriel rode through the morning light. She tried to dismiss the vision, but all that she saw seemed distanced and hesitant, as if the day had not happened yet and was waiting to begin. At length she came to a cluster of trees. She decided to rest there, for Rianné was no doubt behind her, and no doubt, vexed. Dismounting, she led Nightfall toward the trees. Then she heard a male voice, and it was so dry and jocular, so much in the world, that Lothíriel regained herself at once. Creeping nearer, she spied a man who dressed like a farmer, stood like a soldier, and talked like a gentleman. He was standing over the naked body of a fair-haired young man who was bound, masked, and apparently asleep.
"I will cut your bonds but must keep your weapons, clothes and horse," the soldier-farmer was saying. "Otherwise you will follow me and do who knows what damage." The man cut the ropes about the sleeper's hands. Then he mounted a fine-looking grey horse. The sleeper began to stir.
The soldier-farmer said, "Farewell, Handsome.. Master Ruffian paid me for news of a strawhead and you are the only one about." He chucked side-mouth to the horse and sped away toward some low hills where, people said, outlaws lived.
Éomer lay dreaming, luxurious in his nest of grass. He dreamt of health and well-being and next of lazing before a hot fireplace. The sun beat upon his pale body and he stirred. Words began to work their way into his mind.
"That man took your horse," a woman's voice said. For a moment Éomer lay disoriented, as well he might, for the Onion Man had left him blindfolded. Then his wits awoke. He pulled off the blindfold, sprang to his feet, and looked upon Lothíriel.
All his life at Edoras, Éomer had thought himself a lucky man. Hunting, training, fighting unscathed, riding under the wide unfettered sky – these had filled his days and made him glad. Now all was changed in a moment, and his carefree state now seemed selfishly untutored; his heart as hollow and dry as an old earthenware pot. The disorientation he had suffered from his recent illness and the blindfold was nothing compared to this. His whole world slipped sideways, and changed, and in an instant he became a different man: a man who loved this woman.
He said, “You …by all the powers that be, you are beautiful. You are like some exotic bird, loved by the Father of Airs.”
Lothíriel was nonplussed. She knew she was fair, but no one had ever told her in so many words. True, Imrahil called her “swan” and “princess” but this was only something any father might say.
“Some, some call me Swan,” she stammered.
“Well, are you real, or am I still feverish?”
"She is real enough," said a third voice. Its owner emerged from the trees, her horse's reins hooked around her arm that was bending a bow. A strung arrow pointed directly at Éomer.
He hardly noticed. “Shoot if you will, lady, but I am harmless.”
"Well certainly you are ... unarmed," she observed.
Éomer noticed that he was unclothed as well. He looked down at himself. The sun had reddened his skin over the entire front of his body, except for one place where his arm had lain across his belly as he slept. The result was, his skin bore the pale shape of his hand, and the hand seemed to be reaching for his crotch.
"This is not good," he said, and then, predictably as the women gazed at him, matters grew worse: doubly, or more. Éomer sighed , thinking, Well, what of it, I am a man, and then found he did not mind. He liked his man’s body. He was as clean as a wash-day, thanks to the Onion Man’s ministrations, and by the feel of his head, he had been inexplicably barbered and shaved as well.
Lothíriel regained her composure. "You may as well drop that - mask - you hold in your hand," she advised. "It will not make a sufficient breechcloth."
"Not at present," Éomer agreed.
The other lady said, "It is not wise for masked strangers to trespass on the lands of the steward of Dol Amroth. This lady is Lothíriel, daughter of Imrahil, and I am Rianné, her companion. Who are you, Outlaw?"
Daughter of the prince! Now it was Éomer who was at a loss. He imagined saying “I am the foster-son of Théoden King of Rohan.” They would peal with laughter. Or, if they believed him, his naked, robbed, sorry plight would soon be the talk of both realms.
They shall not know, he resolved. Not unless I desire the amusement of the lords of Gondor for the rest of my life. But what to tell them?
Now here it must be said that Éomer was a poor liar, and he knew it. The one untruth he could remember uttering deliberately concerned some boyish nonsense about riding one of the young stallions without his trainer present. The elders forbade the inexperienced youngsters from risking their necks unsupervised. "Green on green means black and blue," they said, yet almost everyone tried it at least once. Éomer was nearly twelve when he tried it, and when they asked him about it, Éomer mumbled he had not done it.
In Éomer's defense he was still new to Edoras and worried about the trouble this might cause the trainer, whom he admired. But he got no chance to explain this. All he got were looks of complete disbelief from his elders, a few well-chosen words from Théoden in front of everyone, and a trip to the stables with Algar the weapons master.
Algar took him there by the ear, edifying the journey with many persuasive arguments in favor of truth-telling and against the ignoble practice of lying. At each pause Éomer said "Yes, sir," guessing that the time for any other remark was past. When they came to the stables Algar bent him over the hay manger and went to look among the tack for a suitable strap.
"There is another reason you should not lie, Éomer," he said. "You are not very good at it. You have too honest a face. Your eyes are as clear as spring water. The whole point of lying is to deceive, you know."
"When have I ever tried before?" said Éomer around a face full of hay. "I was worried my actions might bring trouble to the trainer."
"You are more in trouble than the trainer. Is anyone beating the trainer? This happens to the trainer all the time. But I believe you did not know that." In truth Algar felt kindly toward the orphan lad. "You are a good-hearted boy, Éomer, and no deceiver. You made a mistake, that is all. Please do not repeat it." Algar considered a moment. "I shall not beat you much. Just you yell loudly anyway."
Éomer looked up with wide-eyed surprise. "Is that not deceitful?" he asked.
Algar heaved a sigh.
That was Éomer; honest to a fault. So even though few occasions had ever begged more for invention, though he stood bare as a bone in a field with a beautiful woman and was robbed of weapons, clothes, identity, and worst of all his horse, Éomer could not lie.
But he could act.
In one reach he had Lothíriel by the waist. His very daring thrilled him, or perhaps it was the feel of her slender body. "My name is a secret. My business is to find a horse thief. For that I need your help. I'll take that knife, lady. If you struggle I shall be forced to, ah, - forced to what? – ah, bind you! Rianné, drop the bow and quiver."
She put the weapons on the grass. Her look might have withered a field of it.
"Now the lady has noticed I lack clothes, and I do not wish to ride naked. So one of you must tear off a strip of your dress and make me a breechcloth."
"Certainly," replied Rianné. "When the sun sets east of Rhûn -"
"Oh, peace, Rianné," said Lothíriel unexpectedly. "Use your undershift, for I have none, and rip away a goodly strip."
Grumbling, Rianné lifted her skirt and began to tear at the undershift’s seam. Soon a piece came away. "Now what? You'll need your hands to dress yourself, and I will put an arrow through –“
"I will dress him," said Lothíriel.
"My Lady!" said Rianné and Éomer.
"I have three brothers, you know. Here, Outlaw. It should be a treat for you to have a serving woman." Next thing Éomer knew, her cool hands were about his bare waist, pulling the cloth between his legs, cupping, wrapping, touching, tying. Éomer thought he might die of it.
When Lothíriel was done, and Éomer was breathing deeply, she removed the saddle and blanket from Rianné's horse. She folded the blanket in two. "Cut a hole in the middle for your head," she instructed. Éomer took her knife and cut the hole.
"Your blade is sharp," he observed.
"It would draw blood from the wind," Lothíriel replied. She slipped the blanket over his head for a tunic and placed her belt around his middle. At the last notch, it just fit. Then she observed her handiwork.
Clad in rags and barefoot, he was the finest figure of a man she had ever seen. Tall, broad of shoulder, layered with muscle, and as purposeful as a hunting cat. The men at her father's court played as pleasant foils for her girlish diversion, responding indulgently to the Prince's daughter. This blunt outlaw, she realized, did not play courtly games. He expected none from her. Precocious Lothíriel, who was smarter than most of the court folks put together, found in the outlaw's eyes a prize never offered by anyone else. She was no girl to him, but a woman, and like a woman , her heart began to warm to him.
"I would clad you like a knight if I could, Master Outlaw," she said, smiling, "for you have that bearing and look."
"I am an honest traveler," he said. Rianné made an unladylike sound.
“The man who took your horse said he was paid for news of strawheads,” said Lothíriel. “I guess you are of Rohan?”
“I am. But he cannot have been paid for news of me. No one knew I was coming. I did not know myself until the last minute.” For a moment Éomer stood musing over his capture by the Onion Man on the Rohan road. He felt near to touching some truth that would be critical to his house, if only he knew the right question to ask. Then Lothíriel interrupted his thoughts.
“He said he was going to find a ruffian,” she said, “and ruffians live in the hills yonder."
"Then I will go there, but I must take the loan of your good horse."
Lothíriel grew willful in an instant. "That horse is the pick of my father's stables, and my friend! You shall not take her - unless you take me too. Rianné, I asked you to be at peace. Outlaw, I can show you the way."
"I can find the way, lady.” Boasting a little: “They say I can track a shadow on a cloudy day."
"If you do not take me with you, I shall return at once to the manor and raise the alarm. I pity you if you come alive to my father after menacing me."
Éomer believed her. His lack of credentials had two sides, he saw. He could find himself in prison until Théoden got him out. Then with a sinking feeling, he remembered the confusion of Théoden and the ill will of Gríma. He thought, what am I doing here? and felt again an urgent need to ask the right question, if only he knew what it was.
"I do not wish to meet the lords of Dol Amroth in such a manner," he said aloud. “For now, I wish only to retrieve my horse and gear, and question the Onion Man.” And to remain with you, he added in thought. Do you ride well, I wonder? Do you like my yellow hair?
"If Lothíriel goes I shall raise the alarm myself," Rianné said. "It is my duty to the girl."
"I respect your duty, Rianné. I would say the same in your place. But while we debate the Onion Man is getting away!" Éomer thought a moment. "What about this? Give me a head start, until the sun is three fists higher in the sky than now. If I have not brought her back by then, raise the alarm. But lady, I promise I will bring her back unharmed."
"The right answer is 'no,'" she said, thinking, He seems as much a gentleman as any of the steward's men.
Then Lothíriel spoke. "Please!"
"You must be mad, Lothíriel," Rianné said finally. "And so am I. But I will give him the head start." She turned to Éomer. "Bring this headstrong girl back unharmed, sirrah. And I shall keep the bow."
Éomer bowed. He assisted Lothíriel to her horse and got behind her. The Onion Man’s trail across the fields was clear; he had not expected pursuit.
They rode, with Éomer's arms about Lothíriel’s waist and she leaning against him. He pressed his bristly cheek against her soft one. “You ride well,” he said.
“Today I feel as if I could fall, so hold me close,” she replied.
Once, showing off, Éomer leaned down while at full gallop and plucked a handful of wildflowers. He gave them to Lothíriel. She turned her head and put a kiss on the corner of his mouth. And then another.
The sun rose higher. They neared the outlaw hills, and were watched by outlaw eyes.
1. The dream imagery at the beginning of this chapter was inspired by ErinRua's "The Lion and the Swan" which is the most lyrical love poem in Tolkien fandom. Used and mentioned with permission.
2. Many thanks to the Sindarin Dictionary Project (French law applies regarding intellectual property) for supplying the Elvish word for lion.
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