58. Grubby Grub
The next morning dawned bright and sunny. The clouds and rains of the night had been swept away, leaving the air fresh, but soft with humidity.
No traveller had arrived at Tarnost during the night.
Perhaps he would not come.
Perhaps Sorcha was wrong.
But I could not find it in my heart to return to Minas Tirith on my own. At least not now.
I rose with the sun, just as Sorcha did. We had breakfast of thin, grey porridge with the word "honey" whispered above it and a large pot of tea. Poor people's luxury. Right. And for the time being, Sorcha was well off. I had not realized just how well the noble lords and ladies were eating and living in comparison to the common folk.
No one interrupted our breakfast.
He had not come yesterday. Why should he come today?
In four days they had to leave for Edoras. He would have other things to do than trying to find me. The rain would have washed away my tracks. How should he find me here?
Would he really want to find me?
His last words, before I had simply turned and run away, still echoed in my ears.
I put my hands over my ears and swallowed down tears.
Did I really want him to come?
After breakfast I offered to help with Solas again. The little girl seemed to be actually happy to see me. One minute she had been sullen and struggling against her mother's efforts to dress her in a little frock that looked more or less like an old potato sack, the next she waved at me, giggling away. I felt a warm feeling of pride and joy rise up inside me as she greeted me with a crowing laugh.
"Thank goodness!" Sorcha breathed and simply handed me her daughter. "I thought I would never get her dressed. And Mistress Garthen will call on me later with some commissions for children's dresses. I have to take them. She's an important lady here; her husband sits on the Council. I really can't be bothered by Solas' antics today!"
"How about I take care of her?" I offered. "You have given me a place to sleep, food and advice. The least I can do to thank you is to keep this little minx out of your hair so that you can get your business done."
"Would you really?" Sorcha looked at me with relief spreading across her face.
"Why shouldn't I? Solas is sweet, and I am even more useless to a working life here than I am – than I was – to a noble's life in Minas Tirith." That was too true. But I would learn, I thought. I would have to learn. I did not really think he would come. Éowyn, perhaps. Or the Lady Míriël. But I realized that – although I would always want and cherish their friendship – it would not be enough to get me back anywhere near Minas Tirith, as long as he was there.
There is such a thing as pride and self-esteem. I would not go back to be pointedly ignored by him. Or worse, to have to stay in my room until he had left Minas Tirith.
"Would you take her outside in the yard?" Sorcha asked. "The weather looks about perfect."
It was something of an effort to smile at my friend. "Sure I will, as I am all thumbs with baking and cooking and don't even start on mending." I shuddered.
"Very well," Sorcha told me. "But I am warning you. It will be dirty work. She loves mud. And after last night, there will be mud."
"Oh, yeah. Icky stuff. Now I know that I will enjoy myself." I hunkered down to Solas, suddenly understanding the wisdom in the choice of apparel for the little girl. Panties and an old frock: perfect clothes for getting dirty. "Hey, sweet, how about we bake some dirt cake together?"
Solas grinned at me toothily and answered with a happy, but unintelligible spout of Solas-talk. Sorcha shook her head. "Out with you. To think that once upon a time I had your patience with my child…"
As that would have been the time when her husband was still alive, I did not say anything, only hugged her quickly. Sorcha brushed at her eyes, then shooed us out of the kitchen.
The yard was small. There was a chicken coop, a few beds with vegetables, a gnarled apple tree and… mud. And several puddles of different sizes. Yay! Solas was gone from my hand in an instant and jumping from puddle to puddle, scaring the chickens into retreating to the far corner of the yard. As far as she was concerned, a few puddles and a bit of mud were the best playing ground imaginable.
I kept as far away from the flying mud and splashing water as possible while still being able to watch and applaud. It was so sweet that Sorcha allowed her daughter to get dirty and have fun like that. I smiled to myself. So it was not entirely true that in a medieval society children were not allowed to be children. Or perhaps Sorcha was an exception to the rule. She sure was an exceptional woman.
I could have known. I should have known. Mud. Solas. Me. My clothes. My clean clothes.
No, forget what I mentioned about "clean" clothes. We played "Fang mich doch" that is, "Catch me if you can" around the puddles, when Solas suddenly turned and ran right into my legs. I lost my balance and landed on my butt in the largest puddle. Solas screamed with delight and jumped me. I gasped.
There was mud everywhere.
For a short moment I felt angry. I had tried to keep more or less clean. Now I was about as dirty as one can get. And I did not have a change of clothes. Then Solas' laughter rang out, echoing like the sound of little bells in the yard. I discovered that I was too happy with Solas' laughter to care about clothes or dirt. She had been so sullen and dispirited before she realized that someone would have the time to really play with her yesterday, or this morning, when she had thought, she was all alone with her mother… I was more than happy to see her smile and hear her giggle now.
So I simply tickled her belly and grinned at her.
"Look at me, I'm a mess!" I told her.
Solas giggled and reached out her hand for my nose.
"Oh, yeah, colour my nose, so that I'll look like a clown. Go ahead, you monster!"
"Clown?" Solas chirped.
The first word she had actually pronounced in a way that I could understand her.
"Yeah, a clown, a painted guy who makes fun, does faces, plays tricks and pranks." I made a truly horrible grimace for her.
Little Solas hooted and tried a grimace of her own, which was not bad. Not bad at all. Somehow I got the feeling that Sorcha would live to regret it that she had ever allowed me to play with her daughter. "Very nice," I told the child. "But we don't do that where Mummy can see us, o.k.? It's a secret, only for you and me. Right?"
"Goo goo…" I don't think she quite understood what I wanted to convey to her, for she turned to the kitchen door and made another grimace, then hid her face against my chest.
"She is in the yard, playing with my little daughter, my lord," I heard Sorcha's voice.
I felt the blood draining from my head and my heart was suddenly thumping madly. Then the kitchen door opened onto the yard. I sat on the ground in the puddle, splattered with mud, a small child in my lap that was equally covered with dirt and stared up at Éomer.
He looked horrible. He was pale, and there were deep circles under his eyes.
I probably should not have enjoyed seeing him like that, but I have to admit I felt some perverse satisfaction.
He stood in the doorway and stared at me.
I sat in the mud and stared back.
Why is it that real life can get more embarrassing than anything a writer or director could ever come up with?
He opened his mouth and closed it again. I kept staring at him wordlessly.
On my lap, Solas wriggled. She chanced a look at the strange man.
"Who that?" she asked, her voice clear and high. So she could talk correctly.
Éomer stepped slowly into the yard and walked towards us.
I had to force myself not to draw back.
Éomer squatted down next to me.
I inhaled his spicy scent, which only a few days ago had driven me almost mad with desire. Now this scent made my eyes burn with tears. Éomer did not look at me, but at Solas.
"I am a friend of Lothíriel," he said, his dark voice tense.
Solas looked at me, thinking so hard that she creased her forehead into small wrinkles.
Finally she asked, "Friend?"
Almost as if she did not believe him. And perhaps she did not. My body was as tense as Éomer's voice. My stomach was tied into a hard knot.
"I hope I still am a friend," Éomer said. "Lothíriel, we have to talk."
When had I heard that before…
I would not cry. Damn his eyes.
"Yes," I said, and I wished I could have made my voice sound neutral, I wished I could have kept the pain from my voice. I put Solas on her feet and slowly rose from the puddle. My bottom was wet, and my front was smeared with mud. My nose was caked with a dash of dirt.
Yes, that was exactly how I had thought I would look like for another chance of talking to Éomer.
"How about we go inside?" Éomer suggested.
I shook my head. "No. I have to watch Solas. Sorcha's husband died on the Fields of the Pelennor. She's waiting for a commission to make some children's dresses. She needs the money to keep the house."
"Can we at least sit down somewhere?"
I shrugged and tried to brush the dirt from my nose. I sneezed. "That bench over there?"
I bent down to Solas. "Hey, little one? Can you play on your own for a moment, so I can talk to this man? But I will be watching you, so there's no need to try eating mud. Do you hear me? No mud in you mouth!"
I sat down as far away from Éomer as I could get. I think he noticed. What the hell. I did so not want to start crying only because I felt the warmth of his body and smelled his spicy scent.
"How do you know Sorcha?" Éomer asked finally.
"How did you find me?" I asked back.
Perhaps it would have been better if he had not found me quite that soon, I realized. I felt so heartbroken that I had to hold onto myself not to strike out at him or simply collapse into a crying heap of mud-caked Lothíriel.
"Frodo remembered about the letter for one Fynbar of Tarnost that you carried for his wife to Cormallen. It was the best guess."
"I met Sorcha when I carried the message to Prince Imrahil to go to war in March. She explained to me the different companies of the armies of the south-western provinces."
I shuddered at the memory of those dark, cold days. "Her husband was a foot-soldier with the company of Tarnost."
"So many died that day," Éomer said in a low voice.
"Every second fighter died, there and at the Morannon. And another few thousand died of the wounds." My voice sounded thin. He had not come here to talk about this.
"How do you know that?"
"Because I asked the captains at the Field of Cormallen."
"You really care for this world as though it were your own."
Was that a question? I looked at Éomer. His face, his voice were kept so very carefully calm.
"It is my world now," I replied a little sharply.
We fell silent. Thoughts were running in circles in my mind, questions were choking me.
Do you really believe I lied to you? Do you really believe I wanted to deceive you? Do you really believe that I am a whore and a slut?
Suddenly Éomer turned to me. The mask of calmness that had hidden his thoughts and feelings was gone. His eyes were dark with anguish. His lips were white and pressed together tightly. "I am so sorry, Lothíriel."
I sighed. "I am sorry, too."
Now we had both said we were sorry. But I discovered that it was not that easy. Certain rash words were still between us. A simple "I'm sorry" would not take them away.
"Do you really believe that I lied to you? Do you really believe that I wanted to deceive you? That I'm… that I'm a whore?"
He closed his eyes. The lines of his jaws tensed. I saw that he did not want to hear what he had said to me. He sighed deeply. After a long moment he answered, "No. No, I don't think that you lied to me. I don't think that you wanted to deceive me or betray me. And I don't think that you are a whore… or a slut." It was obvious that he had to force himself to say those words. The words seemed to cause him now the same pain they had caused me, when he had shouted them at me. I watched how he swallowed hard. "But you did keep so much hidden from me. It was hard to believe what you told me. It was hard to accept what you told me."
"I am sorry, Éomer. I should have told you sooner. I know that now. But it was difficult. I was afraid how you would react to… my story. As it turned out, I had good reason to be afraid of your reaction."
"Oh, Valar," he said, turning away from me and covering his face with his hands. "Yes, I can see that. And you did tell me everything. How many would have just lied? How many would have told a lie about what kind of life they had led in that other world?"
I clenched my teeth. "My life in that other world was a perfectly ordinary life. I was a good girl in that other world. I never committed a crime. I never took drugs. I had two boyfriends by the time I was twenty-four which is really not many. I was faithful to both of them. We broke things off in a friendly manner when our relationships did not work out and moved on. As is the custom of that other world. There is nothing I have to be ashamed off. There is no reason there for any lies."
I stared at Éomer. Then I went on. I realized that I was really angry at him. I was angry and hurt. "And I don't think that there is anything in my life here that I should be ashamed of or tell lies about, either. There was no time to fall in love with Boromir. But I needed him and he needed me. I am not ashamed for that, even though I probably should have known that it would lead to difficulties later on, the way society works here."
"Only if you talked about it, and you could have simply kept silent," Éomer said, "You really believe that you did nothing wrong."
There was only one possible answer. "Yes. The way I was raised I did do nothing wrong."
"I am so sorry, Lothíriel. Will you forgive me?"
I stared at Éomer, and I wanted so much to be held close, to be kissed and forgiven and to forget. But forgiveness does not come that easily. Words can hurt as much as sticks and stones.
"I want to," I said slowly. "I really want to. But where do we go from here, Éomer? Will we be friends? Will we be more than friends? And you know, I don't really know much about you either."
"What I said to you at Cormallen is still true," Éomer said softly. "I have nothing to offer you yet."
I shook my head. "That is not true. You have everything that I ever wanted from you. I don't want a king or a kingdom. I have fallen in love with you, Éomer. Éomer, the man. Éomer, the dancer. Éomer, the singer. Éomer, the warrior. Éomer, the rider. I don't want a king."
"But will you take him – the king? Should he ask you?"
"And who will he ask?" I countered. "The Lothíriel of this world or the Lothíriel of that other world? A lady Lothíriel, if you can convince Aragorn to have me elevated to peerage? Lothíriel, the member of the fellowship? Lothíriel, the…"
"Don't say that again, please," he interrupted. "I would ask my Lothíriel," he continued. "I would ask the woman who says she can't dance and can't ride and does both. I would ask the woman who makes my head spin. I would ask the woman who makes me smile every day. I would ask the woman whose perfume drives me crazy. I would ask beautiful, brave, funny, smart and caring Lothíriel. I would ask the woman who I have come to know and love. I would ask Lothíriel."
"So you do know me, after all?"
"Yes," he said. "I do know you."
Then, as if we had been touched by an angel's wing, grace and forgiveness were suddenly there for us to take. And take it we did. Humbly. Gratefully. Tenderly.
Until Solas tripped over a root of the apple tree and landed headlong in the mud. She was not hurt. But the fall had scared her. She screamed like a banshee.
I was in the mud next to her in a second. I took her small, warm, muddy body in my arms and held her close to me, calming her, drying her tears. Suddenly I thought how it would be to have a little daughter of my own. I raised eyes to look at Éomer. My heart thumped almost painfully in my chest at the depth of feeling visible in his eyes and in his face.
"Now, everything alright again?" Solas rubbed at her eyes. By now she was so dirty that I don't think she had a spot the size of a coin of white, clean skin left on her body.
"Will you look at yourself, Solas! I think you have turned into a rain worm, so grubby are you! You're a real grubby grub! Your mom's gonna love that."
"Grubby grub?" Solas piped up, her eyes beginning to brighten again above the white streaks left on her face by her tears.
Then I looked down at my body. "And look at me! I look just the same!"
"Grubby grub!" Solas called out, smiling happily. "Grubby grub!"
And she danced away, happy with a new expression. "Grubby grub!"
I rose to my feet and found myself right in front of Éomer. He had come for me. Relief flooded through me. He had come for me.
"Come home with me," he whispered and reached out for me.
"Don't, you'll get all that dirt on your fine tunic!"
"Grubby grub?" he asked laughingly and drew me against his chest. Then he lowered his head and kissed me, mud and dirt notwithstanding. And I let him.
Love is to accept pain. And if you love someone to the end of the world and back, if you love someone right up to the moon and back again, you will hurt him. He will hurt you. In the best of worlds, in the best of lives, in the best of loves, there will be hurt. Thoughtless words. Uncaring moments. Love is to accept this pain and to overcome it and move on together.
As I allowed Éomer to kiss me that day, I learned that lesson for the first time. We had hurt each other. Not on purpose, but we had. We had somehow managed to overcome the pain and the hurt. We would be able to move on together. Not the King-to-be and the woman from another world.
But simply Éomer and Lothíriel.
Éomer had brought some clothes for me. That was just as well, because in the state I was in, covered in sludge from head to toe, there was no way for me to ride for Minas Tirith.
"Éowyn told me to take them with me," he said as he handed me the bundle.
"You have no idea how mad my sister was at me," he shuddered. "I have never seen her so angry before."
I did not say, maybe you deserved it. I simply accepted the clothes and disappeared to get clean and dressed again, leaving little "grubby grub" to her mother.
Washing thoroughly with cold water is not my idea of fun. But as I really wanted to return to Minas Tirith with Éomer, I had to get clean. Restored to as much cleanliness as cold water and home-made soap could get me, I returned to the kitchen. There I found Éomer chatting amiably with Sorcha, a clean Solas busy with her wooden toys on the floor. My stomach flipped as Éomer turned to me, his eyes lighting up as he saw me. My feelings towards him had not changed. My desire for him had not changed either.
"I have saddled Mithril already," Éomer told me. "Though we would both like to stay longer, Mistress Sorcha, I have to be back in Minas Tirith to escort the body of my uncle home for his funeral. We are to leave Minas Tirith in four days."
"I am very sorry for your loss, my lord," Sorcha said.
"And I for yours," Éomer answered. His voice was filled with honest regret. He might be a noble, he might be king, but he did not hold himself aloof from the common people.
I could see how Sorcha liked his easy and polite manner and was filled with pride. Look, I wanted to shout and dance, look, that's him, that's my Éomer. My Éomer!
Then it was time for me to say goodbye to Sorcha and Solas. I kissed little "grubby grub". I embraced Sorcha. "Thank you. Thank you for everything. I will return as soon as I can and visit you again, if I may."
"We'd be happy to have you," Sorcha told me. "I'm glad I was right. He's a good man. And he really loves you. Never forget that."
"I won't," I whispered and hugged her.
"Now shoo!" Sorcha told us. "I have still work to do today!"
We had already passed beyond the junction of the road near the bridge of Ethring, turning our backs to the bridge and our faces towards the east, when I realized how unusual it was that Éomer had come for me on his own. We were riding side by side in comfortable silence.
I would have preferred to ride with him. That is a most exhilarating experience.
"How come you were allowed to go and get me on your own?" I asked.
"You have to thank Arwen for that," Éomer replied.
"Yes. The others were so mad at me that they wanted to throw me into the dungeons rather than allow me to ride to find you on my own."
"Really?" I could not keep back a small, delighted chuckle.
Éomer groaned. "You have some very good friends, my love."
I almost fell from the saddle. I reined in Mimi. Éomer stopped, too, and looked at me, a little confused. "What did you just say?"
"You have some…"
"No, not that." Had I only imagined that?
But he did smile at me tenderly, a deep, deep smile, filled with love and desire.
"That… oh my… my… Éomer!… Would…" I felt my cheeks grow hot.
"Would what?" he asked back, his smile deepening.
"Could I ride with you?" I blurted out.
"Don't you do that already?"
My heart was thumping madly. "On Hiswa, I meant ride with you on Hiswa. I… would, I would love to be held right now."
"I would love to hold you," he said, his voice so deep and dark and full of love that a shiver ran down my back.
So I slid down from Mithril's back, secured her reins, and let Éomer draw me up before him.
He held me against him tightly as we rode on.
"But don't tell the Lady Míriël about this – or worse, Sam," he whispered into my ear. "They would kill me, or worse, maim me. And it's a wonder I was able to come and find you and still be a man."
I could not restrain a giggle.
"Laugh all you want, I know the joke's on me," he whispered and managed to sneak in a quick, quite chaste but nevertheless delightful, kiss.
"You said I had friends, didn't you?" I asked, the grin audible in my voice.
"Oh, yes, you do, my love. I was berated by no less than four women, one dwarf, one wizard, one king, one steward and four hobbits. The only one who did not shout at me, but contented himself to throwing dirty looks at me that by rights should have killed me on the spot was a certain elf."
Growing serious once more, he went on, "Galadriel and Faramir talked with me about Boromir. I cannot say that I like knowing that… he… and you… But I think I can understand what happened. And for his sake, I am glad that you were there. Though I cannot but feel glad he is no more and that makes me ache with guilt. Gandalf told me about your world, and how it was much more like ours is now even a century ago – and how it changed. He was very insistent that I should understand your background." Éomer shook his head. His soft beard tickled the back of my neck. I had to suppress a gasp of sudden desire at this soft, feathery tickling.
"That wizard is cunning. I think there is nothing he doesn't know. I wonder why he goes to your world…"
"Well, when I met him, he had bought a new pipe," I said. "But I don't think that's all he did there, or all he does there. But how did Arwen manage to get them to agree to let you go looking for me alone?"
"She gave her husband one of those long looks that have us men quivering in our boots and said that this is a matter between you and me, and as you did not need a chaperone in your world, why should you need one now. Lady Míriël was of a different opinion, but she bowed to the authority of the Queen. Though she made me promise by my life's blood that I would not… take advantage of you? Should you agree to forgive me, that is."
"You promised?" I asked, a little breathlessly. Being held so close to him, feeling him, inhaling him, made me regret him giving such rash promises. He shifted lightly in the saddle behind me, and suddenly I felt him against me. A throaty gasp burst from me. I felt him draw a deep, deep breath.
"Yes, I promised," he repeated, holding me even tighter against him.
"And you hold your promises?"
"Oh, yes, I do. Or would you make a liar of me?" he murmured into my ear.
"Should I get back on Mithril?" I asked, though I did want to stay with him, even if there would be nothing but the almost painful closeness of unfulfilled desire between us.
"No, my love, stay with me. For today, let me hold you. When we return to Minas Tirith and to Edoras, I won't be able to hold you for a long time."
I rested my head against his chest, breathing in his wonderful, masculine scent.
"The other world's sure easier on a body."
Then I felt his lips against my neck, and deep rumbling laughter reverberated softly through his body, the vibrations of it sending shivers down my spine. I leaned against him and answered with a soft chuckle. For a moment he let go of the reins and held me with both his arms and hands against his body, burying his face in my hair, his lips hot against my throat.
Laughter turned into breathless gasps.
"Don't worry, my love, our time will come."
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.