21. Éomer and The Mearas
Éomer raised his hand to shade his eyes from the few narrow beams of light that diffused the shadows of the room. He had grown accustomed to the bright sunlight that poured in each morning through the broad, tall windows of Lothíriel's room on the sixth level of Mundburg. Temporarily disoriented, he looked around to quickly realize that he had awakened in the grand bed of his Uncle Théoden's bedchamber. My room now. The warmth of Lothíriel beside him made it seem less strange and incongruous.
He raised himself on one elbow and looked at her adoringly--how utterly exquisite appeared her pale, refined features and hair black as a raven's wing spread beneath her on the pillow. It had become a cliché in their circle to refer to her Elvish beauty over the past months, but the description did capture something distinctly out of the ordinary about her. How calm, how trusting she looked in sleep, without any of the doubts and anxiety she had tortured him with the day before. Tenderness beyond description filled him.
Carefully he slid from under the covers on the bed and stood. He did not wish to wake Lothíriel so early. She had been tired and upset the night before, understandably so. He rummaged through the large wardrobe in the corner. His clothing had been transferred here from his old room down the corridor. Nothing personal belonging to Théoden remained in the chamber. He was relieved that he and Éowyn did not have to sort through his uncle's things now. But later, maybe in a few months, he wanted to retrieve a few items that he missed seeing in the room, perhaps the shield of his grandsire Thengel and Théodred's first sword.
There would be time to look to the past, now the present and the future must take precedence. So little time and so much to do. Yesterday belonged to the people. Today he wanted to spend as much time with Lothíriel as he could. When she leaves here tomorrow, I want it to be with the desire to return to the Riddermark--to me--as soon as possible. Éomer wondered if perhaps Imrahil's points held a validity he had refused to give them in his urgency to claim her as his own in those first, heady days at Cormallen. This could be too much to ask of a young woman who would not officially reach her maturity for some time yet. Act in haste, repent in leisure, is that how the old saying goes? But he thought that it did not have to be so.
He dressed hurriedly and left to find Éowyn. Perhaps the three of them could break fast together in the king's sitting room and discuss how Lothíriel wanted to spend the day. He knew she wanted to see the nearby pastures where the Mearas ran free.
Lothíriel had asked about the Mearas repeatedly on the trip from Mundburg. He wanted to visit them as well. Will they know me? Do Mearas recognize an uncrowned king? He had already pledged himself, heart and soul, to this land, these people. Surely a coronation, simply a public, legal acknowledgement of his acceptance of the leadership of the House of Éorl, meant little to these fabulous creatures. While a living and breathing manifestation of the heart of all that was Rohan, they seemed to him more a part of an ancient connection to Béma, the Valar Orome, and Valinor itself than of this new Age of Men.
He walked down the corridor and pounded, harder than was necessary or courteous, on the door to Éowyn's room, just as he always had. He smiled at the thought of how it annoyed his sister.
"Éomer, for Béma's sake, calm down. I am coming," Éowyn called out from inside of the room. Affection for his sister swept over him. Some things never change.
Éowyn opened the door, looking fresh and rested, dressed to ride, wearing a big grin.
"How is Lothíriel today? Has she decided to let you live?" Éowyn asked.
They walked together in the direction of the staircase. They did not need to discuss where they were headed. He knew they would go to the kitchen. It is like the old days, except without Grima lurking around, without expecting to hear Théodred 's laugh, without our uncle. It is not like the old days at all, actually. But it can be good. It should be good.
Éowyn reminded him of Lothíriel at times although outwardly they could not appear more different. Éowyn could be terse and silent around those she did not know or trust, tending to broodiness, unaware of her elegance, and awkward with social formalities, while Lothíriel appeared talkative, light-hearted, stylish, flirtatious, reckless. But both were comfortable in the company of men, honest to a fault, frighteningly clever at times, and determined to find a place for themselves in the new world that would not be limited to the pursuit of womanly concerns alone.
"I do not think she is really angry. Just disillusioned, perhaps. I've never known how to make a woman happy. Never really tried before," he said.
"What about me?" Éowyn looked up at him with affection, but a challenging arch of her eyebrows.
"Only you. And that never worked. So, I've very little experience." He laughed.
"She just wants to be reassured that you love her and no matter what happens that she can be sure of you. That is all women really want. Well, there are other things, but I have heard from her and others that those have never been a problem."
I have to give my sister credit for one thing. She does not mince words.
"No. I suppose that is not a problem. But she still thinks of the Elf." Éomer said, looking to Éowyn for her reaction.
"You mean Elladan?" she asked, the narrowing of her eyes indicated to him that she had hoped not to be asked to discuss this subject.
"No, Legolas. Of course, I mean Elladan!"
She took his upper arm and squeezed, pressing her cheek against it, as they started down the stairs. "I am sorry, Éomer. I know she loves you. She will settle down. It was only yesterday that you presented her with a former lover great with child, possibly your own."
They walked across the long hall, slowly coming to life around them. Scullery maids laid a table at one end, probably for the rangers, and Elladan and Elrohir. Riders assigned to the Meduseld and others ate in small, quiet groups, scattered about the remaining tables still in place. Others of the household staff bustled about sweeping the hall and carrying loads of produce and bags of flour or meal into the kitchen at one end. As the brother and sister neared the kitchen the din of voices and clatter of utensils met their ears.
Shortly before they reached the kitchen doorway, Éowyn grabbed him by both arms and pulled him to one side. "Look at me, Éomer. She is young. Give her time. Can you say that you no longer notice other pretty girls?"
"It is more than that, Éowyn. I can read her thoughts. This is a strong fascination he holds for her, an infatuation of sorts." A puzzled, irritated look flickered across her face.
"Oh, you are reading minds now? How elegant and Elvish you've become," she said.
He laughed. "I do nothing. She opens her mind to me. Most of her strong reactions or emotions reach me. It is a strange gift--or curse perhaps."
"How like Lothíriel. She exercises no restraint and apparently even less common sense. Faramir has such a gift as well, but he uses it sparingly. I do not think I would want him to know my every thought or to be aware of all of his for that matter. It is only evident to me in the most intimate of circumstances." She looked sideways at her brother, blushing at what she had just revealed.
"How intimate, little sister?" he asked, with a taunting grin.
"Oh, unlike you, brother, I'm as chaste as the day I was born," she said, making a silly mug at him that revealed her blatant insincerity. "What makes you think that Faramir and I would be interested in such carrying on as you and your princess flaunt before everyone?"
"We have not had much time to talk. I can see that you are happy and Faramir is too. You are happy are you not, sister?"
"Very happy. And I know you will be too." She threw her arms around his neck, staring up into his face, her own countenance gleaming with contentment, appearing much as she had as a girl of fourteen years of age, with an untroubled brow, grey eyes clear, cheeks rosy, and golden hair flowing loose on her shoulders.
"I feel as if we went overnight from being orphans cast out into the mercy of a storm to being part of a large and often rather strange family," he said, shrugging his shoulders and patting her on the back.
He mused that he had been comfortable with Lothíriel, her brothers, and their father immediately, and by extension their cousin Faramir, who resembled in them in so many ways. They possessed a comparable openness of temperament and lack of guardedness to that of Thengel's grandchildren. Intimacy was a habit among the Dol Amroth heirs much as it had been for him with Théodred and Éowyn.
"Strange, but nice," she said, with absolute conviction. "Despite their fancy clothes, fine manners, and bookish tastes, I could see any one of Lothíriel's brothers easily riding with an eored if that should be their fate. Of course, it won't. But I am sure this marriage is the right one for you, Éomer. She will resolve her contradictions. And, if she does not, or hurts you in any way, I will personally wring her neck."
"There are then advantages to having a shieldmaiden for a sister?"
"Don't re-open an old argument, Éomer," said Éowyn, eyes flashing in a way that reminded Éomer there were also disadvantages to having a sister with Éowyn's resolve.
"Let us seen then what Ætta has to offer today. Something smells good. I did not eat well yesterday. Too much happening," Éomer said.
The kitchen smelled of cinnamon and freshly baked bread and bustled with the organized racket that Éomer remembered from his boyhood. Ætta, the fixture and general of this chaos, red-cheeked and round of figure with an air of authority and a glint of humor about the eyes, spotted him immediately. She abruptly broke off a movement--to pull him into her strong embrace he wondered--to fall into a low curtsy.
"Your grace," she said, waving her arm in the direction of several trays loaded with hearty rolls, covered bowls, and individual teapots, "we had not expected you up and about so early. I shall send these up immediately." Nodding toward Éowyn, she asked, "Lady Éowyn, will you and his grace be eating together? And what of the Princess from Gondor?"
"Ætta," Éomer interrupted, "It is Éomer to you." Éowyn, her face plastered with a mischievous grin, appeared to be greatly enjoying a private joke.
"Éomer King, then, if you will," Ætta said. "Nothing less formal would be fitting. Why, Lady Éowyn, you look as lovely as I have ever seen you."
"Thank you, Ætta. What is that wonderful scent?" Éowyn asked.
"It is cinnamon from south Gondor or perhaps even Harad or thereabouts. A gift from the Princess--a fine lady, who does not object to being addressed properly," Ætta said, with a sniff in the direction of Éomer.
"In the kitchen? Anyway, she does not know you. Nor you her. She is not as fine as all that," Éomer said, determined to have the last word. "The last time I was in here, not six months ago, you rapped my fingers with a wooden spoon and chased me out with a broom. And, I was nearly starving, wounded, and half-frozen."
"Begging your pardon, Éomer King, but I remember the evening well enough. A warm bath awaited you in your room. You stank like pig, were covered with orc blood, and supper was ready to be served. What a way to speak of your betrothed and the future queen of the Mark," Ætta said, appealing to Éowyn, with a long-suffering look.
"Ah, then, Ætta, I will pardon you your insolence and let you call me Éomer King, if you will give me a kiss and promise not to strike me anymore."
"Éomer King," Ætta said, turning beet red, all the way up to the roots of her graying golden hair, and pecking him on the cheek. "There is your kiss, you handsome devil. You were a wicked charmer when I met you as a boy of ten years and you still are. I hope the Lady Éowyn will be staying for a while. Someone will have to teach you your place before the lovely, young Princess comes here to stay."
Éowyn laughed. "Éomer was right about one thing, Ætta. You do not know Princess Lothíriel."
After breakfasting in the private sitting room of the royal chambers, Éomer, Lothíriel and Éowyn went to the stable and saddled up. Éomer could not bring himself to invite either the Peredhil brothers or the Northern rangers to join them. He would have welcomed Elrohir and the Dúnedain, but could not ask any of them without inviting all. He could not tolerate the thought of watching Lothíriel steal surreptitious glances at Elladan and the Elf studying her uninterruptedly until she chanced to look in his direction. Neither of the lackwits thinks the other or anyone else notices.
As they rode across the open grasslands, Éomer relaxed, taking in the scent of the late-spring growth and the movement of cloud shadows drifting across the undulating expanse of green stretching out before them.
Éomer felt the same thrill that he first experienced when, as a small child nestled securely in front of his father, he rode out to see the Mearas. His father told him he had taken him to see the fabled horses when he was an infant, but Éomer, of course, did not remember. Pictures and symbols of the Mearas had always surrounded him, but, until that day, they were only semi-mythical creatures of songs and bedtime stories.
Trips from the Eastfold into Edoras occurred infrequently in those years with a steadily increasing number of orc raids into outlying areas occupying his father. But that day had dawned fair and sunny. He recalled not if Éowyn had been born yet, or was perhaps still an infant. His mother and father, high-spirited and happy, talked and joked with his Uncle Théoden. Théodred, merely a lanky, impetuous lad, rode ahead and circled back, until Théoden good-naturedly scolded him for making a pest of himself.
A soft nicker from Firefoot jolted him back to the present. He took a quick look at Lothíriel. Her eyes reflected her usual intensity, while a faint smile softened her face.
She turned to him and said, "The movement of the grass reminds me of the sea on a calm day."
Finally he saw them in clusters here and there in the distance. As the riders drew closer he observed a number of the superbly beautiful and capricious Mearas spread out across the wide pasture, which, for as long as Éomer could remember, they had chosen as their site of favor during the late spring and early summer.
Éomer pointed to the center of the pasture that extended in front of them. "See the large white stallion not far from that group of mares. He is the highest ranking of the Mearas in the absence of Shadowfax. The dapple grey mare standing slightly apart is his lead mare," Éomer said. The three stood watching the magnificent, awe-inspiring creatures. Éomer suspected from observing subtle physical cues-the Mearah's head held up high, his ears pointed toward him-that the stallion noticed him.
"Look," Lothíriel said. "There is a small, black foal near the center of the band of mares."
"He eventually will be grey or white like the others," Éowyn said.
"I know that," Lothíriel said with a characteristic, impatient, upward jerk of her chin.
It amused Éomer that she always reacted strongly when she believed that he or Éowyn impugned her knowledge of horses. Lothíriel never tired of reminding them that, in comparison to the rest of Gondor, the people of Dol Amroth truly knew horses. Éowyn held the position that outside of Rohan no one understood much, if anything, about horses. He laughed softly, drawing a look from both women. Éomer believed the truth lay somewhere in between but the fact that Lothíriel did love horses boded well for her future in Rohan.
"Are they immortal like the Elves?" Lothíriel asked. Éowyn rolled her eyes behind the younger woman's back and Éomer gave her a warning look, pursing his lips together with a barely perceptible shake of his head.
"No their lifespan is but that of a long-lived man. In nobility and intelligence the difference between a well-bred horse and a Mearah is greater than that between a man of Numenor and an Elf. They have the instincts of horses, tempered by wisdom, and understand the language of men. Unlike Celegorm's hound Huan, they never speak," Éomer said.
Grinning at Lothíriel, he chuckled and added, "Although the simplest of horses can usually make himself understood in variety of other ways."
"What is the difference between a Mearah and an Elven horse?" Lothíriel asked.
"I am not competent to fully answer that question. Both are thought to have descended from the horses of Valinor. Elrohir claims that the Elven horses are bred lighter and longer of leg. The Mearas are of the bloodline of the horses of Béma the Hunter, the Vala you call Oromë, and will only carry the King of the Mark or his sons."
"Will you try to ride one?" Lothíriel asked, her voice and expression reflecting her anticipation and excitement at the idea.
"I have not decided yet." Éomer said. "Let us dismount and leave our horses with our escort and move a bit closer. I think the lead stallion is watching me. I will wait and see what he does."
"Does he have a name?" Lothíriel asked, lowering her voice to nearly a whisper.
With a flash of a teasing smirk shading perhaps into sisterly pride, Éowyn said, "If he has, he has not told us what it is. As my brother, apparently now an authority on the Mearas, explained, he does not speak. But we call him Wintergewæde, which means snow."
Handing off Firefoot to one of the Riders who accompanied them, Éomer moved quietly away from where the two women stood together, motioning them to stay.
The man and the Mearah stallion looked at one another for a short while before the horse broke into a trot in the direction of Éomer, slowing to a walk as he drew closer, then stopping for only a moment before carefully approaching him with a low, almost welcoming nicker.
Éomer reached out to pat and then stroke the Mearah's broad, silky-smooth neck, extended toward him in a gesture of curiosity or greeting. He felt assured that stallion accepted his presence gladly and thought it likely that he would accept the weight of him upon his back, but still a slight uneasiness held him back.
Finally he spoke softly in the Mearah's ear, "May I ride you, Wintergewæde?" The great stallion lowered himself into a regal but respectful bow before him, stretching one front leg out before him with the other bent. The gesture overwhelmed Éomer with emotions of both profound humility and exhilarating pride. He accepts me as the representative of the House of Éorl and the King of the Mark. Éomer slipped his leg over the great horse's back and tangled his fingers securely into the heavy mane. He settled onto the Mearah's broad back and Wintergewæde heaved to his feet.
Éomer gave the horse his head and the Mearah set out smoothly, increasing gradually in swiftness, making a wide circle of the plain, as though the stallion wanted to take Éomer on a tour of inspection of the various groupings of Mearas scattered throughout the entire pasture area. He grew more acutely aware of the physical sensation of the horse under him-of the strength, heat, and the perfection of it-when its spirit suddenly flooded Éomer's mind. It took him in a manner unlike any similar experience.
The rush of emotions and semi-coherent thoughts he had when his mind linked with Lothíriel felt nothing like this. He perceived the connection to the Mearah as simultaneously darker and yet more innocent, primitive and primal.
The bright sun which he felt hot upon his cheeks seemed to diminish. Within a dreamlike state he experienced the passage of time and shifts from day to night and back again. He understood the timelessness of the land beyond the Western seas, then the immediacy of the here and now in the grasslands rising up around him as reality slammed hard against him again. He could not control the wide grin that swept across his face. For the first time since he assumed the responsibility for Rohan and his people, he felt a logic in it and a joy, that went beyond duty and the will to fulfill it. I can do this and do it well. The talks of destiny and fate he and Lothíriel indulged in at Cormallen no longer seemed wishful thinking or philosophical pretensions but tangible aspirations.
The coming of the Age of Men that he recently thought of as some unfortunate phase in the final sundering of Arda, he now perceived as the dawn of something new. But he believed that he would not live to see it fulfilled, only its beginnings. His responsibility and that of his heirs included the protection of the Mearas and preservation of the memory of the passing of the Elves, their history, and the mystery of the direct intervention of the Valar in their daily life.
At last the Mearah returned to stop a few feet away from where Lothíriel and Éowyn stood watching. Éomer did not recall dismounting or exactly when the link between his fëa and that of the great horse broke apart. He did remember Wintergewæde's last expressive look from his large, beautiful eyes before he turned and ran back across the pasture, his silhouette contrasting against the intense blue sky, his mane and tale caressed by the wind.
A huge grin still stretched from ear to ear across Éomer's face as he approached the two women.
"Incredibly gorgeous," Lothíriel whispered, her silver-grey eyes glistening with emotion and her cheeks pink with enthusiasm as she reached to take Éomer's hand.
"Magnificent animal," Éowyn said, her face shining as well.
"Yes," Lothíriel answered. "Also the Mearah."
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.