10. Dangerous Negotiations
When the heat of the sun awakened Lothíriel, she found that Nimrodel had already left their alcove. She had heard nothing, but found that a small copper bathtub had been prepared for her and the water was rapidly growing tepid. She quickly bathed and dressed. It was nearly noon when she ventured from her alcove to find two of her brothers and Nimrodel sitting at the long table, silently clutching cups of tea. The sides of the tent had been rolled up to admit the cool spring breezes, and the open area was comfortable and pleasant.
"Too bad I am not a true healer; the lot of you look as though you could use some sort of draught or potion," Lothíriel said brightly. "Has anyone seen Papa yet today?"
Amrothos, holding his head as though he were afraid it might explode, said, "I cannot believe that you did not hear the hearty voice of your lover earlier. It was a painful way to wake up. He passed by to walk with father to meet with Aragorn this morning."
"How did Papa and Éomer seem today?" Lothíriel asked warily.
"Cordial," Erchirion shrugged without enthusiasm.
"And Elphir?" Lothíriel asked.
"Back to work. You know Elphir—eldest son, heir, and all that implies. He is stuck with Dol Amroth, since father is busy with the business of Gondor and the allies. He is off to see the troops and then down to the docks," Amrothos yawned.
"Do not scold, sister. We have promised to catch up with him and help," Erchirion added. "The entire camp is getting a late start today."
Suddenly, Lothíriel felt nearly as tired as her companions looked. Silently she poured herself a cup of tea and thought that it would be best to keep occupied instead of taking up yesterday's worries about Éomer and Imrahil.
"Nimrodel, would you like to go out with me for a while?" Lothíriel asked. "I want to call on the Periannath. Legolas said that they left yesterday's gathering early because Frodo and Sam are still tired and weak, but that they are welcoming visitors. We will not stay if they have too much company."
"Yes. I would like very much to meet them," Nimrodel answered.
"Then I want to stop by the healers' field and see if they need more assistance or supplies," Lothíriel added.
"Ah, she reveals her true obsession," Amrothos teased. "She cannot stay away from those rugged Rohirrim warriors." Lothíriel shook her head at her brother, with a mocking smile.
"I will not dignify that with a response," she answered, "except that I will promise not let any of them steal Nimrodel away from you."
After drinking her tea, Lothíriel found a basket and began to fill it with some of the most filling of the edible delicacies among the provisions of the pavilion. She explained to Nimrodel how she had learned from Merry in the Houses of Healing that the Periannath had difficulty convincing those around them of the quantity of nourishment they required, mistaking their size as an accurate measure of their appetites. She regaled Nimrodel with anecdotes of the Periannath's ongoing love affair with food that raised its choice, preparation and consumption to an art form. The two women agreed that stores of the Dol Amroth pavilion were uniquely equipped of all of those at Cormallen to satisfy those requirements.
Finally, struggling under the weight of her well-filled basket, she turned to Nimrodel and laughed, "This should do for tea at least."
At the royal pavilion, Aragorn, Imrahil and Éomer had spent the morning consulting with the captains of their forces and greeting nobles of Gondor, high and low. Many came simply to have a better look at the man who would be king, while others--old friends and comrades at arms in the struggle to defeat the shadow of Mordor--simply came to share their satisfaction at long-held hopes fulfilled.
The three men made necessary decisions without difficulty regarding the welfare of the troops under their care, especially those recuperating from injuries. They reviewed plans for traveling to Minas Tirith by means of the Great River Anduin and discussed reports received of potential military threats. However, Aragorn put off supplicants seeking to garner favor or to present early petitions for their peacetime advantage. The uncrowned king replied that until he entered Minas Tirith and was accepted by the will of the people, such matters remained the province of the Lord Steward of Gondor.
Finally, with the most urgent matters dispatched and a lull in the steam of guests, Elladan and Elrohir sauntered in and seated themselves in the remaining camp chairs, with their usual confounding smiles. After quick exchange of conspiratorial looks, Elladan shrugged his shoulders and began, "Estel, we have a confession to make."
Aragorn raised his eyebrows, a small smile twitching about the corners of his mouth. "You have my undivided attention," he drawled.
Elrohir said, "There was a small private party last night. Imrahil's children, their kinswoman--a quite lovely young lady, Nimrodel of Belfalas--Legolas, and Éomer, of course. A most select and discreet group, I assure you."
"Somehow, the subject of our sister came up in the conversation," Elladan continued.
"So, you are here to tell me that all of Cormallen is by now gossiping of the news that this unknown Dúnadan from the north not only has the audacity to claim to be the heir of Elendil, but to intends to install an Elf as his queen?" said Aragorn, raising his eyebrows higher still.
"Not at all, little brother," said Elladan, completely relaxed. "They are all sworn not to speak of the matter to anyone who was not present." By now, Imrahil was open-mouthed with curiosity and Éomer's eyes crinkled under the forced suppression of a grin.
"The assurance of your absolute discretion relieves me greatly," Aragorn said wryly. Although he continued to scowl in the direction of his foster brothers, he seemed more amused than upset.
Turning to Imrahil, Aragorn continued, "My friend, I will not leave you in the dark, since all of your children are already privy to this news. Arwen Undómiel, daughter of Elrond, lord of Rivendell, has pledged to wed me when I am crowned King of Arnor and Gondor. Something that I had chosen not to speak of until that is an accomplished fact."
Imrahil recovered quickly from his surprise and replied smoothly, but not without humor, although it did require that he relinquish a hope he had entertained, if only fleetingly, for his daughter, "Aragorn, you may rest assured that I am at least as discreet as the most trustworthy of my offspring."
At that, Elladan jumped to his feet, followed by his brother, "Well, that is settled. And you forgive us, Estel?" he asked with a grin.
"Do I have a choice?" Aragorn asked, not expecting an answer.
The brothers bowed together with Elven elegance, "My lords," and exited the tent without further comment.
The three men sat quietly, while Aragorn filled and lit his pipe. Éomer, seizing the opening, drew a deep breath and addressed himself to Imrahil.
"Imrahil, when I presumed to ask for the hand of your daughter in marriage last night, you told me to wait for a better time…" Éomer began.
Imrahil interrupted, "When I asked for time, I had hoped that, despite the impetuousness and rashness with which both you and my daughter have pressed this matter upon me, I would receive more than twelve hours' grace before I would have to consider your proposal again."
"Imrahil, my friend, Lothíriel and I told you that our dearest hope is that we might be wed without delay. I know little of courtship and marriage contracts, as I have been concerned with naught but war and battle for my entire life. Nor did I expect to be in a position to have met, much less have fallen in love with, a high lady of Gondor such as your daughter," Éomer said, earnest and determined not to be put off, poignant with youthful longing.
"I raise the question here, in the presence of Lord Aragorn, for I feel such a union, under the present circumstances, is of concern not only to Lothíriel and me personally, but could serve as a further proof of our intent to reforge the historic bonds between Rohan and Gondor," Éomer added more softly.
"You must know that your worthiness as a suitor is not an issue for me, nor am I blind to the political advantages of such a union. I have tried to communicate to you and to Lothíriel that it is the intensity and suddenness of your purpose that disturbs me. I do not wish to settle this matter so hastily. I must insist on the deferment of this match," Imrahil declared.
"I think you do not know your daughter as well as you believe, my lord. She is not a naïve young girl who will gladly accede to your position without argument. But in deference to your wishes I will accept a longer period of betrothal and beg her to agree," Éomer, said calmly, only the harshness of his usually faint Rohirric accent betraying his impatience and growing annoyance.
"You must understand me fully, Éomer. I want to delay the betrothal ceremony as well. I want my daughter to be free, not bound to you or any man, until she is of an age to choose," Imrahil answered coolly and composedly.
"I think that you know me less well even than you know your daughter. She will always be free. For it is not by a piece of paper or a council of old men that I seek to bind her, but by her love alone. I want only that which she freely gives, before or after any legal union." The quality of Éomer's voice now took on a strained unnatural timbre, displaying considerable effort at control.
"Éomer, my friend, I would not have you wroth with me over this. King Elessar and I have spoken of the difficulties you will face upon your return to Rohan. Gondor owes Rohan greatly and we realize your losses have been dire. Théoden did not ask the cost when he rode to Minas Tirith. You will receive all the aid you need to rebuild your ravished country in the coming years. I am fully sympathetic that your need is great and Lothíriel's dowry is lavish." In a white-hot rage, Éomer's hand involuntarily went to the hilt of his sword.
"I am sorry, Prince," Éomer bit off coldly, "I thought we spoke here of the happiness of your only daughter and the woman I love. I did not come here to bargain for a brood mare or discuss how to fill my depleted coffers. I pray you will excuse me, my lords," Éomer said standing and bowing stiffly to both men, "before I say or do something I deeply regret." He bowed deeply again and turned without a word. In his haste, he narrowly avoided a tent post and his sword clanged explosively against it as he found his way out of the door.
Turning on Imrahil sharply, Aragorn snapped, "Take hold of yourself, man," and swore under his breath.
"I merely intended to ease his mind," Imrahil said, stunned at Éomer's reaction. "I did not want him to fear we would leave Rohan without the means for survival."
"I know your reputation as a diplomat and yet you behave with Éomer, not as though you are engaged in a discussion with the king of a sovereign country over a matter of vital importance to him, and to Gondor I might add, but in a petty argument with one of your headstrong children," Aragorn said.
"I am sure you know Lothíriel has not reached the age at which women of the Dúnedain are accustomed to marry," Imrahil stammered.
"That I do. But what does Éomer know of your concept of youth? He had no youth. By the time he was Lothíriel's age he had battle experience as great or greater than any Lord of Gondor," Aragorn answered.
"My mother was considered a child bride by many," Aragorn continued. "Though I do not think she regretted her choice." He raised his eyebrows and observed Imrahil with a hint of a smile. "Perhaps you should consult the Rohirrim troops and ask if they think your daughter is fit to be their queen. The answer may surprise you. Éomer may be rash at times, but he is no fool."
Imrahil opened his mouth, was about to say something, reddened, and finally said, "I do not think you realize how hard it is for me to deny my children anything."
"I do know that you have labored to be both mother and father to them for years. Perhaps you have been indulgent in reaction to Denethor's severity with his sons. But, it has been your acceptance of Lothíriel's independence and assistance that has put you in the situation in which you now find yourself now," Aragorn commented.
"Next I suppose you will tell me that I cannot expect her to forget the terror, filth and squalor of war. That after assuming responsibilities beyond her years, she cannot return unmarked to the calm, carefree youth that the relentless struggle against the Enemy took from her," Imrahil responded in desperation.
"No. Those are your words. What I do advise you is that for all of our sakes that you quickly make your peace with Éomer," Aragorn sighed. "Perhaps you are able to ascertain my attitude on the matter of your daughter's betrothal. However, my opinion is not paramount. This is something that must be settled among the three of you."
At last prepared for their day's errands, Lothíriel and Nimrodel left the tent. The air was springtime fresh and soft breezes carried the faintest scent of the blossoms from the border of trees, although the sun glittered hot above them. The two women walked in the direction of a single large tent on a hilltop overlooking the wide river on one side and the open grassy fields on the other. Turning to her companion, Lothíriel pointed in its direction.
"The Periannath are staying there. If they are resting, we will leave the basket," she said.
Lothíriel unexpectedly spotted Éomer, sitting under an oak in the meadow that stretched out of the right of their path. He sat on the ground, his back against the tree trunk, his forearms resting on his raised knees with his hands dangling. His head drooped against his chest in a posture of exhaustion or defeat. Thrusting the hamper quickly at Nimrodel, Lothíriel said:
"Please, take this. Tell them I sent you. You will be greeted warmly I am sure," she said speaking rapidly. "Something is wrong with Éomer. I must speak with him." She quickly kissed Nimrodel on the cheek and ran down the sloping lawn toward Éomer.
Nimrodel stood, her lovely mouth hanging open in surprise, for several minutes before with a puzzled shake of head she moved forward toward the tent of the Periannath alone.
Éomer looked up at Lothíriel only as she dropped to her knees on the grass in front of him and clutched his face with both of her hands. His cheeks were flushed, nearly feverish, and his eyes were wild. He stared at her for a moment, looking battle-weary and confused, almost as though he did not recognize her.
"Éomer, my love, tell me what has happened." Lothíriel pleaded, her heart throbbing violently at the unmistakable signs of his distress.
"I came close to drawing my sword on your father," he said, his voice cracking with self-reproach.
Lothíriel released a soft sigh of relief, trying to move his head forward, fighting his resistance, to cradle it against her breasts, and said, "I am glad that you did not. What did the old fool say now to provoke you?"
"No," he answered. "You do not understand. Imrahil is not the fool. I am. I am out of my depth here."
She hesitated a moment and then asked quietly, "Were you alone? Was anyone else present?"
"Aragorn was there," Éomer said, still looking down.
"You must tell me what my father said to upset you," Lothíriel said, forcing her voice to remain calm and not to take on any sign of her rising sense of dread.
"He insulted me and called me a liar," he told her, with a despairing look.
"That sounds very unlike my father. Perhaps you misunderstood him; tell me exactly what he said," she demanded as softly as she could manage.
"Imrahil wanted to delay our betrothal. I said I would speak with you. Then he began to speak of the size of your dowry and Rohan's need. His implication was clear. He does not believe I love you, but that I seek your hand in order to rebuild Rohan with your coin," his voice icy with anger.
"That was an abominable thing to imply, but unlike my father. Perhaps he did not intend to be malicious. He will apologize. I am sure of it, my love. In any case, Aragorn will insist on it. But I cannot think of a better use of a dowry," she said, greatly relieved.
"You do not understand. He made it a matter of honor. I do not understand him. I thought I knew him. Such insinuations reminded me of Grima Wormtongue," he answered despondently. Éomer allowed himself at last to look up into her eyes. His sense of injured pride conflicted with the fierce longings of his heart and his desires for the future of Rohan and all of Arda.
For her part, Lothíriel was at first annoyed at the countless ways in which men could elevate anxiety or irritation into matters of pride and personal honor. However, the truly devastated look on Éomer's face, and the fear of what her father's ill-chosen words could cost her, squashed the possibility of any trifling response on her part.
A swirling rush of contradictory emotions flooded her. Have I been too rash and inconsiderate with my father and forced him into this anxious opposition? Have I taken advantage of the passion and need of Éomer heedless of the weight of his responsibilities and burdens? Have I mistaken first love and the awakening of desire for some lofty destiny and in doing so threatened all the good I have wanted to accomplish?
Perhaps I cannot put it right, but I must try, she thought. Still kneeling on the grass in front of him, she once again took Éomer's face in her hands, forcing him with her imploring gesture to look into her eyes and said:
"My love, if I have been the one who has acted thoughtlessly and caused harm to either you or my father, I am sorry. He is a good man. I am certain he did not intend to offend you," she said desolately. "I was the one who provoked him and treated him with neither respect or patience. Perhaps he truly was worried about the needs of Rohan and of depriving you of an obvious way to meet them."
"Lothíriel, you could be right. But his words directly touched something that has been troubling me. I have not made clear to you that I cannot offer you more than my love and respect. Rohan is devastated and life there is hard at best compared to what you have known. Your life with me will be difficult," Éomer sighed finally.
He drew a deep breath and began anew more softly, "Yet, I imagined great joy and honor for us in that life. When I looked at you I did not see a privileged princess of Gondor, but a brave young queen who would face with me, despite all the hardship, the work of restoring Rohan in an Arda renewed."
Her voice was trembling as she answered, "I see now, that I have truly been vain and proud in my certainty that I deserve the trust you have placed in me. I want with all my heart to be worthy of that confidence." After a sniff and a sob, she managed a small grim, "The only thing I have done recently which shows good judgment is to love you."
"Then you are not afraid? You are still willing to join me in this challenge?" he asked hopefully, his face brightening.
"Perhaps I should be afraid, but I am not. I want to be with you in all things, unless you tell me to go from you," she said, still fighting back the tears in her voice.
"Lothíriel, I want you by my side," Éomer said, leaning down and touching her lips with the softest whisper of a kiss.
Sensing they were no longer alone, they simultaneously looked up to see Imrahil and Aragorn walking slowly toward them. Éomer struggled to stand as quickly as he was able and held his hand out to help Lothíriel. Imrahil reached them first and began to drop to one knee with the words, "King Éomer, I owe you an apology…" Springing forward Éomer grasped him by his forearms and lifted him to his feet.
"Prince Imrahil, please," Éomer beseeched the older man. "Both you and I have spoken with little thought and listened less well than we should have. May we put all that behind us and begin anew?"
"No, my friend. You must permit me to speak," Imrahil answered heavily. "I must apologize for things I said, with meanings I did not intend. Throughout this discussion, I have spoken too little of my true feelings. I sought to temporize and delay because I was not ready to accept that my daughter would leave me so soon. The terrible things that occurred in those last days before leaving Minas Tirith left me in a living nightmare. The loss of Boromir, Denethor's madness, my memories of my sister, my fear of losing Faramir as well, taking my sons to almost certain death at the Morannon, leaving Lothíriel to possibly face the onslaught of the full force of Sauron against Minas Tirith alone…"
Aragorn placed an arm around Imrahil's shoulder and added, "My friend, none of us escaped unscathed."
Imrahil leaned into Aragorn, seeking physical support, while addressing his words to Éomer, "You are so young to have already known so much death and such weighty cares. Lothíriel has seen things no maiden should have knowledge of and you have both clutched at life, so eager to build the future, while, since the Morannon, I have sought only a respite." Éomer looked at Imrahil with empathy and then grabbed him in a hard embrace.
"Papa," Lothíriel interrupted, asking in a tiny voice, "does this mean that you do approve our marriage?"
Imrahil threw back his head with the wholehearted laugh that Lothíriel knew so well, but had not heard in months. "My relentless youngest child," he chided her. "Yes, you have my approval, on the condition we do not have to discuss any of the details before we return to Minas Tirith."
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.