44. Customs and Courtship
The morning after the celebration at Cormallen dawned with a beautiful sunrise of gold with fluffy, pink clouds drifting around the rising sun. But for once I did not see the sunrise. I was fast asleep and dreaming about dancing and dark eyes. I woke only when a gentle hand touched my shoulder and the scent of lily-of-the-valley drifted up around me. Míriël had come to wake me for breakfast.
"Wake up, sleepy-head," she said smiling at me.
I blinked at her, slowly returning from my dreams to the waking world. "Did I only dream last night or was it for real?" I asked. Dancing. Éomer singing. Éomer!
Míriël's smile broadened, and there was a twinkle in her eyes. "You danced with kings, my dear. And you danced beautifully."
I sat up, folding back the covers of my cot. My stomach did a happy little flip. "I did? I did!" I felt a smile of my own spread across my face. "I really did." I sighed as another memory rose in my mind and pulled at things low in my body.
"And?" Míriël prompted gently. "Is there anything else you would like to tell me?"
"Éomer," I said and stopped. I gulped. Éomer. The King of Rohan had kissed me. Suddenly I felt all shivery.
"Éomer?" Míriël asked softly, the corners of her mouth crinkling slightly with suppressed mirth.
"He kissed me," I admitted, feeling happiness bubble up inside of me.
"And did you like it?" Míriël asked, her eyes sparkling.
Did I like it… for a moment the soft white light of the tent faded around me, being replaced by the memory of moonlight and lanterns glittering like stars in the trees, the feeling of lips like warm velvet…
The sound of soft chuckling brought me back to the present. I opened my mouth and closed it again. Míriël squeezed my hand gently. "Don't say anything, Lothy. I see the answer right there in your eyes."
I sighed deeply. Oh, yes. I had liked it.
"Do you realize what this means?" Míriël asked. And now her voice was very serious.
My heart skipped a beat. What what means?
I stared at Míriël. "Do I realize what?"
The Lady of Dol Amroth sat on the edge of my bed, her skirts spread out around her in a sea of blue silky fabric. She looked at me with a thoughtful expression in her eyes. When she spoke again, the turn of conversation took me completely unawares.
"You have no mother here to give you advice, and counsel you. Would you allow me to offer you some guidance in this particular matter of the heart? Such as your mother would, were she here?" Míriël asked politely.
My heart sped up. What was the matter? Had I done something wrong? "Sure," I said, feeling bewildered.
"Now, Lothíriel, I know that you are a woman grown, but you told me you come from a country, a society that is very different from Middle-earth. You are a stranger to the customs of Gondor and Rohan, and you have no experience with the ways of noble lords and ladies, isn't that right?" Míriël asked me point-blank.
I nodded, still completely confused about where this question would lead. "There aren't many lords and ladies where I come from. The country where I was born does not have a king or queen."
Míriël shook her head as if this was hard to believe. Perhaps it was.
I frowned at her. "Did I do something wrong?"
Míriël laughed at that and at my confusion. She put her arm around me and hugged me reassuringly. "No, dear, you did not do anything wrong. But you have to realize what it means when an unwed king dances with you in public and kisses you with thousands watching."
A rushing sound filled my ears. Unwed king? Dancing in public? Thousands watching?
The happy feelings that I had woken with were quickly turning into a feeling of complete panic. "But… he can't mean… he can't… I can't… I don't have any place in… I mean, I'm a nobody… I did not think…" I stammered.
"Oh, Lothíriel, don't be frightened now," Míriël told me in a calm voice, trying to soothe me. "I watched you two together last night. You were adorable. I think that Éomer's intentions are truly honourable and that he… likes… you too much to care where you come from. And besides, you have earned your place in the society of Gondor and Rohan, oh, in any society in Middle-earth twice over, travelling with the Fellowship and carrying messages of war that aided our victory. But you have to keep in mind that Éomer is not just any young warrior. He is a king. When you meet him, when you dance with him and especially when you kiss him, you have to keep his responsibility towards his people and his country in mind. It is important that you observe the niceties of courtship, for his sake and yours."
"Courtship?" I whispered, my heart now beating like a drum, my fingers feeling icy with shock.
"Yes, courtship," Míriël repeated in a firm voice. "If I am not completely mistaken, Éomer has set his eyes rather firmly on you."
I did not faint, although for a moment I felt my vision grow rather hazy. I said the first thing that came to mind, "I'm too young to marry."
Míriël laughed at that again, a bright, amused laugh. "How old are you?"
"I am twenty-four. No, twenty-five. Do you know that I have completely forgotten about my birthday?"
"I imagine you had other things on your mind at the time," Míriël commented.
I tried to remember where I had been on the twelfth of January. In Moria?
"But at twenty-five you are actually rather old to be married. Among the nobility of Gondor or Rohan most girls marry at sixteen or seventeen. Why, I believe that Éomer is only three years older than you are."
"At sixteen?" I stared at her. I should have known. On Earth it had been like that, too, in earlier centuries, not really very long ago actually.
Míriël nodded. "I married when I was sixteen. My husband is fifteen years older than I am. That's pretty common."
My mind had stopped functioning. "He looks much younger," I said and then felt the heat of acute embarrassment rising to my cheeks.
But luckily Míriël was not offended. She only chuckled softly. "He's going to like hearing that. It's that elvish blood of his; it makes him look younger than he is."
"And you were seventeen when your daughter was born?" I asked hesitatingly.
Míriël nodded, her eyes misting slightly. "Yes, I was," she sighed softly. "My Lothíriel would be twenty-six this year, and I would probably be a grandmother several times over by now, had she lived."
Then she took my hands and squeezed them. "Lothíriel, I don't want to spoil your joy or the romance of this encounter for you, for either of you. But you have to realize that anything that is between you can never be as simple as such affairs are between common born men and women, who are free to conduct their courtship any way they please."
"Then I will just have to stop this," I said.
"Do you?" Míriël raised her eyebrows at me. "Do you really?"
Just stop… could I simply forget dark eyes, a deep, mellow voice, and strong hands on my waist, dancing in the moonlight…?
"Well, no," I admitted grudgingly. "I feel… drawn to him. Oh, for heaven's sake, I think I just might have a huge crush on him. But how can I know if… if it's real, real enough for marriage, for a life?"
"You don't," Míriël answered matter-of-factly. "No matter how old you are, you can never know what the future may bring. And here at least we find a valid reason for our ancient customs of courtship and betrothal. They give you time and opportunity to see what is in your hearts, if your hearts are strong enough to risk a shared future."
You can never know what the future may bring…
But I did know. Didn't I? Éomer would marry Lothíriel. If one Lothíriel was dead, and the other was alive, did that mean I would marry Éomer? My heart skipped a beat or two. My stomach lurched sickly. But even as I felt panic overwhelm me, I remembered dark eyes, a deep, beautiful voice, a spicy, male scent enveloping me and velvety lips. A memory that set up a flurry of butterflies in my stomach.
Did I really want to stop?
Did I really never want to see Éomer again?
But what about those ridiculous customs of courtship and betrothal? How would I be able to find out what there was between us, if there was anything between us, between Éomer and Lothíriel, if I was caught in a web of rules and customs I did not understand? Then another thought occurred to me. If this was now my home and it was, because I had chosen it to be, then the laws and customs of Middle-earth were now my laws and customs. Even if they were not, I had no right to scorn them only because they seemed strange and quaint to me.
Apart from all that, one single evening of music and dancing did not mean anything like courtship or betrothal or marriage, the small voice of reason and logic argued at the back of my mind. There was a long way to go from this evening to any one of those things. But did I want to stop seeing Éomer at this point of getting to know him because of whatever might or might not be in my, in our, future? Only because I was scared out of my wits, because he was a king?
"What should I do?" I finally asked in a very small voice.
Míriël smiled at me encouragingly. "You should smile and be happy that a handsome man had only eyes for you on such a great evening as yesterday. You should enjoy yourself and not be frightened because of customs that are strange to you, and consequences that may or may not come about."
Then she halted. She looked at me, and her eyes grew dark and a strange, wistful expression slid across her face. But then her smile deepened again, and that moment was over. "And finally, you should allow me to mother you a little bit. If you want me to, I will take care of you. I will look out for you, so you don't have to worry about unfamiliar customs and the pittfalls of courtship."
I stared at her in wonder. "You would do that for me?" I asked, touched and confused. "Why?"
There was a soft, sad smile on her face. "Because I like you very much, Lothíriel," she said simply. "And because I never had the chance to do those things for my daughter."
Then she visibly shook herself out of the sentimental mood we were in, and her voice was brisk as she asked, "Well, what do you say? Do you think you still need a mother with all of your twenty-five years of age?"
I simply flung myself into her arms. "Of course I do," I cried. "Of course I do!"
When I had calmed down again, Míriël made me eat breakfast and take a bath. It was around noon when I was finally dressed – in very faded blue jeans, a grey silk shirt, and a long black dress-tunic – and eager to leave the tent. I had finally remembered that there was still a task that I had to accomplish, a promise that I had to hold. So I set out to find a foot-soldier from Tarnost, one Fynbar, husband of Sorcha, to deliver the last letter of this war that I carried with me.
"If you meet Éomer, don't go off with him on your own. If he wants to take you for a walk or anything, you come to me and I will accompany the two of you," Míriël told me.
Don't go off with him on your own! My thoughts flew back to a smiling Éowyn and her reasons for staying at Minas Tirith. Staying at Minas Tirith! Alone with her sweetheart! I ground my teeth. Just you wait until I see you again, I thought. I will chaperone your every breath! Just you wait…
"I will, Míri, I will," I promised meekly. She raised her eyebrows at me but did not say anything, just motioned to me to get myself away. I grinned to myself. The lady of Dol Amroth was probably more than eager for some privacy with her sweetheart. I sighed. And she did not need a chaperone anymore.
I had not gone far into the encampment when I found myself surrounded by hobbits.
"Hullo, Lothy, where have you been all day?" That was Merry. "Tired from all that dancing, I bet," Pippin commented. "And the kissing!" He burst into a fit of giggling. Sam glared at him, blushing. Thousands watching…oh ye gods! Míriël was right!
"Oh, come on, guys, leave her in peace," Frodo told his friends. "You are just jealous that there were no sweet girls for you to dance with."
"Yes," Pippin grumbled, "because Éomer wouldn't leave her alone." Then he yelped as Merry trod heavily on his foot.
I decided to ignore their bantering. "Pippin, would you know where I can find a certain foot-soldier from Tarnost? I have a letter for him from his wife and his daughter."
Pippin and Merry stopped their good-natured squabble and looked at me. "Sure," Pippin nodded. "Just come with me, I will take you to their tents."
The others decided to come along with us, and so we walked together through the encampment, four hobbits and one woman. Apart from the elves everyone looked up and watched us as we went by, many and mostly grey eyes filled with barely concealed curiosity.
Pippin and Merry were totally oblivious to the looks that followed us, but I could see that Frodo felt uncomfortable, and Sam was blushing hotly.
The tents of the men of Dol Amroth were at the end of the encampment, close to the tents of the healers, so we had to pass all the others tents on our way. To my surprise, the tents were not grey or dun, but colourful, taking up the colours of the various coats of arms. Pippin was greeted every now and again by soldiers. He called back to them in a friendly manner. He knew each of them by name and affiliation.
Watching Pippin, I realized that the youngest hobbit had changed, too. Like Merry he had grown about three inches and was now half a head taller than Frodo and Sam. He was lean and he looked very much like a young squire of Gondor in his black and white livery; he was strong, muscular from fighting and handsome with his bright hair and his light, greenish eyes. But even though his eyes were as light and twinkling as I remembered them, shadows lurked in their depths now, shadows of war and evil he would never forget. He did not look like a boy anymore, I noticed somewhat astonished. Even at Amon Hen he had still looked like a boy. Now he had grown into a man of his folk. Small of stature compared to a human, sure, but a man grown nonetheless. His cheerfulness and pertness had been tempered by the war and now there was a core of steel to his amiable personality.
I sighed – well, perhaps not out loud, but certainly in my mind. All of us had changed. But with the young hobbits, the change was most noticeable.
"Here it is," Pippin said and halted at a couple of pale blue tents. "I will just go and ask their captain. Wait a moment, please. The name was Fynbar of Tarnost, yes?"
"Yes, Fynbar of Tarnost, husband of Sorcha," I said. Would he be here? Would he be alright?
I thought about Sorcha, the pleading look in her green eyes, little Solas with her dark blue eyes intent on the letter her mother was holding out for me to take. Please, let him be alright.
But when Pippin returned with a tall soldier who wore the uniform of a captain and a sombre look on his face, I knew that Sorcha's husband wasn't alright.
"Lady Lothíriel?" the captain asked.
"Yes, that's me. I have a letter for a foot-soldier from Tarnost. His name is Fynbar. It's a letter from his wife, Sorcha," I replied in a low voice, steeling myself for what I knew would come next.
"I am sorry, my lady. But Fynbar is dead. He died at Minas Tirith, in a sortie to assist Lord Faramir," the captain told me, his eyes grave, his voice filled with sorrow. "He fought valiantly. Though I know it will be only a small comfort for his wife, let her know that her husband died as a hero. All of us are proud to have known him."
"Thank you, sir," I answered, because I could not think of anything else to say. The officer saluted us smartly and then returned to his men.
We turned around and walked along the banks of the Anduin towards the Field of Cormallen in silence. I realized only then that the lament for the fallen heroes Éomer had sung last night would not be enough to overcome the losses of the war. The war, its sacrifices and losses, would haunt us for many months, if not years, yet.
"How come that you carried a letter for that soldier?" Sam asked after we had walked quite a distance. For an instance I was surprised. When I had seen Sam the last time, he seldom ventured forth with a question or a comment of his own but kept silent most of the time. He, too, had changed. There was a new strength in his eyes and the way he carried himself spoke of a self-assurance that had not been there when I had seen him the last time on the green meadow below Amon Hen.
"I rode as a messenger to Tarnost to summon the armies of the south-western provinces to Minas Tirith. In Tarnost I met this soldier's wife, Sorcha, and their little daughter, Solas. When everything was over and I rode back to Minas Tirith myself, Sorcha asked me to take a letter to her husband," I explained. And now that letter would never reach her husband.
I would have to write to her today. How do you tell a friend that her husband, the father of her child is dead? Then I realized that I could not even write to her. I did not know if she was able to read – and even if she was able to read and write, I could not write the tengwar letters used in Gondor well enough to write a real letter.
Lost in thought I did not see him until we were almost in front of him. Halfway to Cormallen field, a leather-clad figure stepped out of the trees. My heart skipped a beat. It was Éomer, of course. He was dressed for riding; high boots, soft leather trousers, leather tunic and a green shirt with wide sleeves. His dark eyes sparkled when he saw me; his face lit up with a smile. I felt an answering glow spread on my face, driving away all dark thoughts of war and death and letters instantly.
Oh, God, I thought. I am really falling for him!
"Frodo, Sam, Merry, Pippin, it's good to see you well," he greeted the hobbits in a friendly voice. Then he looked directly into my eyes and I felt heat rise to my cheeks. "My lady Lothíriel. How wonderful to see you, too."
Giggles went up behind my back and I heard Frodo make hushing noises and whispering something that sounded like "let's leave them alone". I turned around and slowly shook my head, remembering with difficulty what I had promised to Míriël. "Please, don't go! You can't just leave me alone," I implored. The hobbits hesitated. Sam scratched his head, obviously thinking hard.
"But you would not be alone," Éomer told me with merrily twinkling eyes. "I would be here."
I raised my eyebrows at him. "Indeed, your highness," I said, pointedly ignoring the fact that he had asked me to call him Éomer. But my cheeks were flushing with heat as I realized that I had again used a title that was known to me from books but that was not actually used in Middle-earth. Now it was Éomer's turn to raise his eyebrows.
He gave me a long, searching look; then he sighed. "And who might you have been talking to since last night? Or should I ask who has talked to you about last night?"
I looked at him and I think he saw in my eyes what I was feeling. A longing for last night. For dancing and touching and kissing softly in the moonlight. I sighed deeply before I answered,
"It was the Lady Míriël, my lord. The Lady of Dol Amroth. She was most insistent that I should not be alone with you as that is apparently not at all appropriate."
I heard a low, but decisive "Aha" behind me. Then I felt someone step up next to me. I looked to my right and discovered that Sam had taken up position at my side, his feet rooted firmly to the ground, a fiercely protective expression on his face. Out of the corners of my eyes I saw a wide grin spreading across Frodo's pale face, whereas Merry and Pippin dissolved into unhinged giggles behind my back. I could see that Éomer was hard put to hide a grin that mirrored Frodo's, in spite of his annoyance.
In a sound caught somewhere between a chuckle and a sigh, the King of Rohan said, "Then allow me to escort you to the Lady Míriël. If she deems it at all appropriate, I would like to take you for a ride, my lady Lothíriel." He offered me his arm. Sam glared at him. I lightly put my hand on Éomer's arm and managed to gasp only very slightly as he covered my hand with his, sending tingling sensations through my body.
"I am sure she will allow it... if she comes with us, that is."
Éomer groaned but led me gallantly back towards the tent I shared with Míriël – closely followed by Sam, who had his shoulders squared in acceptance of this new task.
"May we enter?" I called wisely before parting the drapes at the entrance of our tent. Just how wisely, I only realized when I heard a muffled oath, the rustling sound of fabrics being smoothed down and a rather breathless "Come in" called out by the Lady Míriël. I knew that I had to be grateful to Míri for preventing me from making a mess of things. Nevertheless I felt a perverse satisfaction at seeing her lord with dishevelled hair and a disgruntled expression on his face on the sofa and Míri standing at the table with burning cheeks and equally tousled hair, pouring some water into a beaker.
When I glanced up at Éomer, I saw a slight grin tugging at the corners of his mouth. "My lady of Dol Amroth, Imrahil, I am sorry to disturb you. But when I asked the Lady Lothíriel to take her out riding this beautiful spring afternoon, I was informed that I had to ask you first if such an excursion was appropriate."
Lord Imrahil slowly looked from Éomer to me to his wife and back to Sam, who had entered the tent behind us. It was almost funny to see comprehension dawn on the Prince's face.
With a sigh he swept his long, silvery hair behind his shoulders. He rose from his seat and quickly walked over to his wife. He placed a soft kiss on her cheek. "I see you have found another waif to adopt. And I can't fault your choice, my love. Nor yours, sire," he said to Éomer with a slight bow. "But I warn you, my lord. My wife is very serious about any responsibility she takes on. And I have to admit that I feel a certain sense of responsibility for the Lady Lothíriel, too."
I gaped at the Prince of Dol Amroth. The Prince smiled at me and placed his right hand on my shoulder. "As a woman with no husband and children of your own yet, you will not know what it means for a soldier to have to fight and expect death without having had the chance to say goodbye to the ones you love. That you carried my thoughts to my lady from Tarnost freed my heart and mind when it was necessary. For that I will always be grateful."
Then the Prince of Dol Amroth turned to Sam. "My lord perian, would you care to accompany me to the King of Gondor? I believe he mentioned that he wanted all of you to join him for tea and perhaps a pipe."
Satisfied that the Lady Míriël would watch out for me, Sam bowed to the Prince and followed him out of the tent.
"So, my lord, you want to go riding with the Lady Lothíriel," Míri picked up the original conversation.
"If it is at all appropriate," Éomer replied calmly, his right eyebrow rising just a little, though the inflection of his voice did not.
Míriël grinned at the King of Rohan unrepentantly. "But of course it is. Could I offer you a cup of wine or some juice while I get ready? As you can see, I am not dressed for riding. I will be in the next room. It will take me no more than five minutes to get ready." She pointed at the table set with cups and two jugs. Then she disappeared into her room.
I slumped down on the chair and put my face into my hands. I felt my cheeks positively on fire with embarrassment. When I heard the sound of some movement, I looked up, almost afraid that Éomer had decided that this was way too much trouble for an afternoon of horse-riding with Lothíriel and simply left.
But when I raised my head, I found that Éomer knelt in front of me. He took my hands into his and clasped them tightly. "I should have thought of what is appropriate or not before this morning, my lady. I hope you don't feel bad about last night." His dark eyes were filled with concern. Looking into his eyes, hearing his mellow voice so close to me, the tingling sensation from before intensified into a fluttering feeling that made me shiver all over.
"Never," I said. "And please, call me Lothíriel."
And then I did something that was not at all appropriate.
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.