28. Rohirrim Return
Lothíriel walked quickly from the Dol Amroth princes' townhouse to the Citadel where she had promised to meet Faramir promptly at midday. She pushed against the sluggishness that pervaded her every attempt at movement. I will be late again and he will be annoyed. Her ability to motivate herself since she had returned to Minas Tirith had deteriorated dramatically. If Irilde or Cook noticed her uncharacteristic lack of intervention in the day-to-day running of the household or the kitchen they had chosen not to comment. They are probably relieved not to have to argue with me. It certainly is more peaceful around the house.
Lothíriel occasionally spied Irilde casting a puzzled, worried sideways glance at her when she responded to a suggestion or request for approval with a "Whatever you think best," or "Let us think about that later." Her only pleasure or distraction came from the time she spent with Arwen. But she felt lately that even Arwen had begun to give her those looks.
A mid-day reception she hosted for her father during the week of the royal wedding had shaken her out of her lethargy for a mere two days. But a dinner in honor of Aragorn and Arwen that she planned with the staff of the House of the Steward on behalf of Faramir had come and gone without evincing the faintest ripple of enthusiasm on her part. She dismissed a momentary flash of guilt that she had not given her beloved cousin her usual single-minded attention in that instance with a half-hearted self-assurance that the affair had been more than good enough as those things go. She had overcome any originality or flair the dinner may have lacked with a profligate raid on the finest vintages in Denethor's wine cellar.
Now she was late to meet Faramir who had invited her to ride out with him to meet the Rohirrim who were due in the City by late afternoon. When a messenger had arrived during yet another festive dinner the previous evening at the king's house, Faramir beamed with happy excitement at the news, while she felt only anxiety coupled with dread.
Spotting Faramir where he stood waiting in the courtyard outside of the Citadel, she picked up her skirts and ran to meet him, calling out to him, "I am sorry, Faramir. I am so, so sorry."
"Lothíriel, we have no appointment to keep. In fact, I am sure we will surprise them. We do this only for our own pleasure." Faramir smiled but his fine grey eyes widened with concern. "I should have asked you to meet me at the stable, so I sent someone ahead to saddle our horses." He took her hand and began walking quickly in the direction of the stables.
"Oh, dear, Gaerros prefers for me to care for her. Now I have disappointed her as well." Faramir stopped, his sudden movement jerking Lothíriel to an abrupt, slightly painful, halt. She turned to see his brow furrowed and his generous lips pulled into a thin line.
"I truly think your mare will hold up under the hardship. Are you going to tell me what is the matter with you?" he asked in a tone of voice that broached no possibility of outright refusal. His suddenly grave eyes met hers challengingly.
"Did Ada ask you to speak with me? I have already endured one interrogation on his behalf earlier today. From Erchirion."
In a circular fountain near the patch of grass that held the white tree, young mothers and nurse maids watched over a bright group of youngsters who sailed toy ships upon its wind-ruffled surface in the hot noonday sun. Some of the vessels were models of the proud Swan ships of the Belfalas navy; there were brightly-painted black-sailed Haradrim pirate ships and the occasional Vingilot, usually topped by a glittering imitation Silmaril made from rock crystal or glass.
Lothíriel recalled how she had sailed her very own Vingilot there only a dozen years ago or a little more during one springtime visit to the White City. How she longed she could return to those days when her greatest care was the superiority of her little Vingilot over a larger Haradrim vessel belonging to the cheeky son of a Tower Guard who she happened to know had perished defending Minas Tirith's Great Gate against the Enemy's battering ram. No. I do not wish to turn time back. Those days were not so bright either. The air would have smelt of sulfur and already Orodruin was belching ugly plumes of smoke with regularity on the horizon.
Faramir's deep, soft voice intruded upon her trancelike musing. His Southern accent suddenly surprisingly sweet and familiar to her ears after the absence of hearing it.
"No, Lothíriel," he said. "Uncle Imrahil has not spoken to me of his concerns. Your brother did tell me that you refused to open up yourself to him. Everyone notes the difference in you. I want no false words of reassurance just the simple truth. Did something happen in Rohan?"
"Nothing in Rohan...well, nothing so terribly important there..."
She wanted to tell him everything as she had as a child when worn into tears of desperate exhaustion by her two youngest brothers' relentless teasing. Faramir could make it better, ease the pain, and counsel her back onto the path before her. In the present case, if he could not grant her redemption, he could at least show her how to accept her doom with resignation.
The clean, clear touch of his mind upon hers, signaled that he wordlessly asked permission of her to grant him admittance. After first clenching for a moment in fear and embarrassment, she lowered her barrier. She tilted her chin to look up into Faramir's mild sea-grey eyes. He took her other hand and held them both lightly against his chest. Before he could speak she felt a slight, surprised shimmering of their bond. Now he knows.
"Ai, By the wrath of the Valar, Lothíriel! What have you done? Elladan? Aragorn's brother and an Elf?"
In the hard, bright sun of the open plaza, bureaucrats, courtiers, and guardsmen moved around them, some who lived in the upper levels of the city returning home for a midday meal and others busy with affairs state. Still others lingered farther away in groups of twos and threes, gazing with wonder at the fast-growing sapling of the White Tree. All of this activity hovered on the edges of Lothíriel's consciousness, while Faramir seemingly without effort held her attention.
Her sense of his steady power reminded her of Elladan, though he used it more gently, with less insistence. Is that the difference between a lover and a kinsman? When she and Amrothos communicated by thought she had trouble distinguishing where she stopped and he began and who had initiated the contact. But with her youngest brother, the touch was light, shallow, did not delve, composed of a flicker of understanding, a flash of shared insight, or even a sense of the absurdity of a situation.
Joining minds with Éomer was similar. Additionally, he could always sense her love and, of course, her desire for him. Less fortunately perhaps, Éomer had often sensed her conflicted responses to and feelings for Elladan. Also with Éomer she had always to initiate the contact. Faramir, however, initiated, controlled, probed, definitely seeking, yet still requiring acquiescence at each deepening level of shared consciousness. Such a beautiful mind and a perfect gentleman even at this. No wonder he is so well loved. Then slowly he withdrew. Lothíriel felt somehow lighter, less frantic, although still distressed.
"You are well, cousin. You are only troubled and confused." She had thought he would ask her why. 'Why would you do such thing? Are you mad? Is he mad? What about Gondor? What about Rohan?' But I should have known he would choose to look at one thing at time. Why create a political crisis before it has happened. Faramir is no panic monger. He dealt only with the here and now. He did not even consider what all of this could mean for him. Her actions could have made his life much more difficult as well. She might have complicated his future interactions with Éowyn and Éomer. But it was unlike Faramir to make a crisis where one did not yet exist. He had suffered enough trouble in his life to desire to look for more here. If there is to be trouble it will find us quickly enough.
"Are you a healer?" she asked, half in what seemed to her a feeble attempt at a jest but was actually half to thank him for his effort.
"No. Only a friend who considers you to be the closest to a younger sister that he has ever had or ever will have."
"I have always told you that you are much kinder than my brothers." Faramir took her chin in his hand and turned her face upward.
"You do know that you are much too young for him-several lifetimes too young. For that matter, you are too young even for Éomer, who has been forced to grow up even faster than you. But times like these show little respect for youth or fragility. So, you are faced with a choice," he said. She feared that the tears she felt burning at her eyes would spill out, but managed to control them.
"A choice such as it is. How can I know that Éomer will still want me? Elladan and I ended our connection after we left Lothlórien. He knows I love Éomer and that I would hope I can share a life with him."
"And what does Elladan want of you?" Faramir looked stern, raising an graceful eyebrow skeptically.
"He loves me!" Lothíriel said, her voice spiking in shrill defensiveness.
"I gave him that much credit," Faramir answered.
"Fine," she sniffed. "Sorry. He says that he is a Man, can live as a man. But I am not so young and stupid as to believe that. I know that he is certainly is not and never will be, however much blood of the Edain flows in his veins. And it is not that much."
"In this case your experience is far superior to mine. I have noted a distinct difference between Elrohir and Elladan and Legolas, who feels far more alien and less human to me."
"What if what they say about Elves is true and I bound him to me for all the ages of Arda and died and left him alone after only a few years? Aragorn has far more courage that I have."
Faramir laughed. "Aragorn and Arwen had more than a few years to think about their choices. And Aragorn has told me that Arwen chooses a mortal life. He believes even if she did not love him she still would not have sailed to the West." Lothíriel jerked her head up to look intently at Faramir, truly surprised by his words.
"Indeed? She is very attached to her grandfather. I do believe Elladan might wish to see Aman. He even fancied I might be able to somehow accompany him on such a journey," she said, watching Faramir's face closely for a reaction. "You know what is written of these questions."
"As do you, little cousin. However, neither of us know how much of what is written is true. You might consider speaking with Mithrandir." His eyes lit up with mirth. She knew he remembered the last time they had discussed the possibility of her inquiring of Mithrandir regarding a question relating to her personal affairs. Lothíriel hit Faramir on the arm.
"Shameless man. Do you laugh at the tragedy of my young life?"
"I am actually not laughing, Lothíriel. Do you still want to come with me to meet Éowyn and Éomer, or would you rather wait until they reach the City to see him?"
"I want to see him now."
"You would have made a stalwart solider, Lothíriel, if a bit reckless for my comfort. You and Éomer are well matched I think, but if he keeps you then you should stay closer to him until you have gained a bit more life experience," he said.
"So you do not think he will turn me away?"
"I am not a seer. I know he will be angry and hurt. But he is generous, has a most independent mind, and is certainly not lacking in courage. Now, let us go before your pretty Gaerros truly is upset with you."
"Thank you, Faramir."
"I only wish you well, cousin." He kissed her on the forehead, before giving her a wicked grin. "If you were a man, I might ask you what it was like to make love with an Elf."
"If you were not the Lord Steward of Gondor and standing in a most public place, and if I were not struggling with a broken heart, I might punch you."
"Don't pretend with me, Lothíriel. You are dying to tell me all about it. But I don't want to hear it." Faramir shook his head at her, narrowing his eyes, his lips falling into an impatient pout.
"Fine, then. I will not tell you. Ever! Except that it is astonishingly different and wonderful. So there!" She raised her chin and crossed her arms over her chest, while lengthening her stride.
"I will not fall for your baiting, Lothíriel," he said from behind, grabbing her by the elbow and laughing.
They walked in silence until they reached the stables. Before entering, Faramir turned to face her and spoke, his voice low, his eyes and expression once again serious. "Lothíriel, whatever happens, I am certain of one thing. Éomer will treat all of this as a completely personal matter between the two of you. It would be better if you spoke of it to no one else."
"Not even Ada?" she asked, greatly relieved. She knew he heard the unspoken words of gratitude of her heart
"Especially not your father. He is burdened enough as it is. Aragorn needs him here for now. Meanwhile, there is news from the south coast. Elphir is being bull-headed and dismissive of Amrothos, who in turn is responding with petty provocations. Every ship that docks from Dol Amroth carries reports and counter-reports from each of them. Imrahil fears they are perilously close to taking their bickering outside of the family."
"Why have I heard nothing of this?" For the first time since returning to Minas Tirith her mind firmly fixed upon something outside of her own head. She needed no answer to her question. Memories of numerous, half-heard references to the situation crowded in upon her now. Normally she would have deluged her father with questions and read all of the reports. "He should call Amrothos back here and send Erchirion to Dol Amroth."
Faramir threw his head back in laughter. "Amrothos should arrive before we leave for Rohan. Erchirion prepares now to depart in two days. Your father hasn't known whether to be relieved that you have not taken sides in this latest imbroglio or worried that you no longer cared."
"Taken sides! Elphir deserves loyalty and respect. He is in a difficult situation. But he has always underestimated Amrothos's capacities, is overwhelmed by the responsibility and defensive of his own authority. Amrothos presents considered, serious opinions as a joke and when it comes to discussing anything with Elphir he shows the diplomatic skills of a drunken orc."
"Well stated, Lothíriel, but old news," Faramir said, in a gently chiding tone.
"Now who is being arrogant and dismissive?"
"Ai, feeling a little better now are you? If you want to be queen of Rohan your opinions are going to have to stand up to more than a little teasing from your favorite cousin who has always told you how clever he thinks you are..." His handsome face burst into a dazzling smile. "...for your age," he added, his smile transforming into nearly a smirk. "There will be few allowances in your new life for Éomer's age or yours."
She sighed. "I know that. The leaders and counselors I met in Rohan are either tough warriors, some of them older than my father, used to governing under the harshest of conditions, or younger than you, hot-headed with strong opinions. None of them deal in any of the courtliness of Dol Amroth or diplomacy found in the ruling circles of Minas Tirith."
"And what did they think of the pretty little Gondorian Princess Éomer brought home to them?"
"They seemed to like me well enough. They do not know me, of course. People grow up fast there and are judged on their merits. They adore Éomer. His people are proud of him. They see his uncle, his cousin and his father in him. Éomer receives great respect from his countrymen who make few allowances for youth or rank. Oh, but, Faramir, they are splendid. You will love them when you go there. They are honest, fair, outspoken and generous. But I have told you many times how much I love the Rohirrim."
"So that is truly what you want to do and where you really want to be?" He brushed a lock of hair aside that the strong wind of the top level of the City had blown across her face. Faramir's face turned serious again yet tender.
"I am certain of it," Lothíriel said.
"Then you must fight for it. Make sure Éomer understands you are willing to do that."
"So you do think there is hope for me?" she asked. Faramir laughed.
"There is always hope. Look at what we just survived. Shall we be off to meet my heart's joy and your possible doom?"
"Now you sound like Amrothos. I love you, Faramir."
"I love you too."
Faramir and Lothíriel rode in silence, despite the fact that their escort followed several lengths behind them to permit them privacy. The heat had grown less oppressive after they left the glare of the City's white stone behind them. Lothíriel suppressed any guilt she might have felt at depriving Faramir of an additional hour of Éowyn's company, by observing to herself in an admittedly self-pitying way that he could look forward to a lifetime with his beloved, while she had only a fool's hope of holding onto Éomer.
Considering that to be the case, she thought a little self-indulgence might be permissible and allowed her thoughts to drift to Elladan. Best to get him out of my system before I see Éomer, because it will not do to think of him then. After the most recent time they had broken their pact not to make love again, Arwen pulled Lothíriel aside and lectured her. She asserted that she took no position on their choice, but warned Lothíriel that they were torturing themselves with the repeated "last times."
After that, Elladan and Lothíriel had engaged in yet another emotional discussion and tearful farewell. One remark cut her to the core. She shuddered at her memory of the pain in Elladan's eyes when he remarked, not for the first time, "The idea of a political marriage is one concept of the Edain that I will never understand."
She refused to argue the point again, as much to spare him anguish as for any other reason. If he chose to cling to the explanation that she had somehow decided to stay with Éomer principally for political reasons, how could she deprive him of comfort of that opinion. Since they had arrived in Minas Tirith there had been no more lovemaking, no more painful discussions.
Lothíriel saw the first glitter of sunshine against bright metal in the distance. Her heart had just begun to palpitate wildly in her chest as Faramir called out to his aide, "Unfurl the banner!" The unadorned white flag of the Steward of Gondor, now sharply cracking in brisk wind, would identify them to the rapidly approaching Rohirrim.
Faramir flushed madly. The wind lifted his dark hair away from his handsome sun-darkened face. The sight of his uncomplicated joy flooded Lothíriel with a wave of sympathy for her dearest cousin's much deserved happiness mixed with sorrow that she could not share such an untainted emotion due to her choices and actions in Éomer's absence. Faramir and his gelding slowly pulled ahead and then picked up speed. Gaerros clearly made it be known that she wanted to follow with an enthusiasm that Lothíriel did not feel but acquiesced to readily.
At the first sight of the Steward's flag, several horsemen in the front rows of the Rohirrim had unfurled long red and green banners with their figures of the stylized white Meara and the golden sunburst, which were now visible to the company from Minas Tirith. The comforting sound of Rohirric horns rang out, as rank upon rank of riders appeared over the slight rise at the horizon. The approaching Rohirrim, several hundred in number, were not clad in full armour yet wore chest plates that glittered in the mid-afternoon sun and only a few wore helms. Despite the predominance of light hair--hues from nearly white, to yellow, to copper, to even a pale brownish shade--Éomer was easily distinguished by his superior height and wild, extraordinarily bright gilded mane.
Lothíriel belatedly remembered that she should have ordered the Dol Amroth flag raised. She turned her head back around to the small group of horsemen accompanying them and sought eye contact with the leader of the Swan Knights. No sooner had she nodded her head and raised one hand than the alert captain had unleashed the standard of Belfalas. The white-swan ship upon a field of blue, prompted a shout of approval from the ranks of the Riders of Rohan. An agonizing burn suffused Lothíriel's face at the sound. Well aware that the acclaim had been raised almost entirely in affection for Éomer, she nonetheless became painfully aware again of how beyond personal desire had been the matters she had toyed with in the past few weeks.
When the two groups had drawn close together Éomer raised his right arm straight up signaling the troops behind him to stop. The small company of two dozen or so, made up in equal parts of Swan Knights and City Guards, also stopped behind Lothíriel and Faramir. The Princess and the Steward rode forward to meet Éomer and Éowyn. Éomer swung off of his horse, landing easily, firm and sure. He raised his arms up to Lothíriel and she permitted him to help her dismount from her horse. She felt tears on her cheeks, but he simply laughed and kissed her. She thought, as she always did, that he nearly overpowered her with his wanton, generous sensuality so imbued with the urgency of mortal youthfulness. She had encountered Elves in Lothlórien who surpassed him in perfection of mien but none who were any handsomer, not to mention none more dashing or regal, than her horse lord. If I have lost this opportunity forever even a semi-immortal life with Elladan in the Blessed Lands to the West would not comfort me. When he claimed her with a scorching kiss, she could think of nothing but how welcome were his lips. Lothíriel noted that a similar moment of joyful reunification took place along side of them where Faramir greeted his white lady of Rohan.
After they had led the horses down the sloping side of a small embankment to a stream, which ran for some distance nearly parallel to the road, and allowed them to graze and rest for a while, Éomer finally insisted that Lothíriel mount Firefoot and ride together with him the short distance to Minas Tirith. Although Lothíriel had not attempted to unguardedly link with Éomer, neither did she sense in their light touch of mind-upon-mind any suspicion or anxiety upon his part.
The throng of the populace of Minas Tirith awaiting the return of the Rohirrim, both before they reached the refurbished city gates and after they had passed through them, nearly rivaled the crowds which had gathered to bid them farewell some weeks earlier. Lothíriel watched fascinated at the innate regality with which Éomer greeted all and sundry. If she had not believed in doom or fate, watching her beloved, who had never presumed or aspired to rule his people, accept both the adulation and responsibility of that role with modesty and sureness of purpose would have convinced her. She was ever delighted to note that Éomer was well-loved by the people of Minas Tirith, perhaps nearly equally to their own favorite son, Faramir, or her father, Prince Imrahil, who had been beloved by the City since his youth as the younger brother of their own Lady Finduilas and the heir to Gondor's most illustrious fiefdom. Of course, the true heroes among heroes of the City of Minas Tirith were the illustrious members of the Fellowship of the Ring.
Once inside of the city walls they were forced to a walk by the slippery streets on the uphill trip, level-by-level and gate-by-gate, to the Citadel. Éomer whispered into her ear a question which nearly caused Lothíriel's heart to stop: "So, my sweet, have I managed to hold onto to your heart during our separation or did your Elf-Lord make use of his opening?"
"Éomer, I will always love you," she protested, the energy of her response fueled by a surge of dread and guilt.
"Ai, so the answer is not as simple as I had hoped. Well, we will speak when we reach the Citadel," Éomer said. "You came to meet me at least and seem happy to see me. Perhaps I should be grateful for that."
"Stop, Éomer. Later. Look there is Aragorn and his Lady, our Queen, whom you have not yet met." She felt a sharp intake of breath against the back of her neck.
"Indeed. So that is the sister of the famous Peredhil twins. Now it is obvious to me how he could wait decades one such as her," he said.
"I am told I resemble her," Lothíriel said, utterly unable to keep the peevishness out of her voice.
Éomer let loose a broad laugh. "Oh. I believe you are jealous. Well, rest easy, little one, I can see the resemblance myself. Perhaps you do look a bit like she might have in her early youth."
After they had left their steeds at the stables, they walked back into the open courtyard before the Citadel, where Elessar awaited them with his Queen. The royal couple stood alone, accompanied only by Legolas.
"My good friends," Aragorn said, greeting both the Rohirric lord and lady warmly, bending to kiss Éowyn's hand before clasping Éomer by the forearm. Gesturing toward Arwen he permitted an endearing, pleased-with-himself smile to pull up at the corners of his mouth. "And this is my wife and Queen, Arwen Undómiel. Arwen, please greet Lady Éowyn of Rohan and King Éomer."
Arwen stepped forward and approached them with open arms, black-tressed, tall and slim, and yet consummately womanly in figure, her features exquisitely fine and her complexion fair with rose-colored cheeks and red lips. The queen first embraced Éowyn and then Éomer, saying, "I have heard so much about you. You are both much admired in Minas Tirith, in all of Gondor."
Lothíriel was left standing alone, with a heavy and fearful heart, acutely aware of how Arwen apparently had enthralled Éomer. Since she had known him she had never seen him react with such obvious fascination to any woman aside from herself.
"We will stand on no courtly formality this afternoon," Arwen continued. "If you are not too tired, I would like to invite you to come inside and share a quick drink and some light refreshment before you leave to change from your travel garb and rest. It would please me if you would meet some of our family members briefly now. You may become better acquainted with them tonight at dinner and afterwards."
Éomer bent graciously over Arwen's hand and kissed it, then, looking up into her eyes and smiling, he said, "Whatsoever your highness shall command of me, either now or in the future, I shall most gladly do."
"Your lady told me that you were handsome, brave and capable, my lord, but she did not tell me that you were a model of courtly considerateness," Arwen said, smiling at Lothíriel with an encouraging wink invisible to all except for the anxious Princess. Arwen took Éomer's arm and Elessar took hold of Éowyn and the royal party of Rohan, along with Lothíriel, Faramir, and Legolas, entered the Citadel.
One of the smaller and more elegant of the halls and meeting rooms near the entrance to the Citadel had been set with two long tables set end-to-end and covered in pristine white cloths. Handsome young serving-men, simply but elegantly clad in black tunics bearing a stylized monogram of the White Tree, moved among the newly-arrived guests offering them wet cloths and towels for cleansing their hands before seeking refreshment. Platters of Elven-style fluffy, buttery pastries filled with vegetables, meat or mushrooms were arranged side-by-side with plates holding fragile pyramids of individual-sized custard and berry pies and a wide selection of fresh fruit and cheeses. Large carafes of wine, both red and white, were placed near clear glass pitchers holding a variety of iced fruit-waters and tea.
Legolas drew alongside of Lothíriel and took her hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm. "Chin up, Princess," he said. "Arwen will put him neatly in his place and you are certain in any case that you are the one he truly loves."
"Would that were all there is to it," Lothíriel said.
"Indeed!" Legolas said, with a laugh. "You have no secrets from me. Trust me when I say that much is forgiven the young, foolish and too beautiful for their own good. Éomer is also more clever than he is proud," he added in an enigmatic whisper.
"I love you well, sweet prince, for you never allow me to become too vain nor to languish in self pity," Lothíriel said, reaching up to touch Legolas on the cheek. He took her hand and kissed it graciously. At that moment she heard the crack of Éomer's laughter and looked up to see him totally absorbed in a conversation with Arwen and Frodo, but beyond him stood Elladan who watched her with shadowy eyes his arms folded across his chest in a defensive, gloomy stance.
Lothíriel hung back in the company of Legolas as Éomer, Éowyn and a number of the Rohirric King's captains and advisors were introduced to Elves of delegations from Imladris and Lothlórien. A familiar snort of laughter barely heard above dim of conversation around her called Lothíriel's attention to the front of the hall where she noticed that Gimli and Éomer seemed to be engaged in some tomfoolery that greatly amused the Periannath and Aragorn. Introductions had been made and the diverse assemblage relaxed and began to mingle. Lothíriel smiled to herself watching Lord Celeborn's serene face closely, his long silver hair, pale gray eyes. Despite their complete contrast of coloring, she again was struck at how greatly Elladan resembled his grandfather. She involuntarily glanced in the direction where she had last seen Elladan and he instantly caught her gaze and smiled with understanding, and slowly wended his way to her through the gathering. She blushed but did not look away.
"Why?" Lothíriel asked, when her bold Elf-Lord reached her side.
"Why not? Am I not permitted to speak to you at a public reception now?" he asked, feigning to be innocently aggrieved. Lothíriel dropped her shoulders and sighed, wheeling around without answering him only to find herself face-to-face with Éomer.
"Enough," Éomer said and took her by the elbow and led her quickly out of the chamber and down the hallway. Lothíriel would not have said she was pleased to leave the hall with him, nor was she disappointed. She did not like to postpone inevitable encounters.
"Where can we talk?" Éomer said.
"There. The door to Faramir's study is open," she said pointing. "He will not return soon."
They entered the chamber, flooded with late afternoon sunshine. The charm of its dark wood and comfortable interior was marred only by the desk in one corner, overflowing with papers and official-looking documents.
Éomer kicked the door shut behind him. Lothíriel examined his face without trepidation to determine his temper. He looked less angry or sad than resigned.
"So, nothing has changed," he accused.
"Everything has changed."
"But not for the better."
She reached out for him and then let her hand fall without touching him. She had forfeited the right to touch him. The fevered touching of another could deprive her of him. And yet, though she could not unwish those other touches, she feared she could not live without those of Éomer.
She and Éomer had always touched when they should have talked, had made love instead of making plans. She had opened her mind to him, pretending to him and to herself to offer the purest form of honesty, when in fact it seemed her to now a cowardly refusal to make choices and be willing to defend to those to him. Now it may be too late.
She could not look up to meet his eyes, but instead fixed her glaze upon the gold braid and lacings at the neck of his tunic, inhaling his scent of sun light, horses, and leather in brokenhearted desperation and need. At that moment he took her chin in his hand and roughly jerked her head upward forcing her to meet his eyes-those eyes the blue of a summer sky, darkened now in sorry, anger, or confusion?
"What do you want of me, Lothíriel?" he asked, the naked pain in his clipped voice as hard, fine and sharp as the edge of a newly honed sword.
"I only want you to still love me." She fought to keep her voice from trembling. It will not do to appear to bid for his sympathy with the quavering voice of a spoiled child deprived of a trinket. This is the man that I want to marry-a creature of rare passion and pride but not one to be mastered by the excesses his own emotionalism. This is the man who offered me his love, a kingdom and a life of purpose.
"I am doomed for good or ill to love you. You presumptuous Elvish witch." The quiet tone of his voice might have hidden his anger if the emergence of a rough Rohirric accent had not betrayed him.
"I'm sorry." She wanted to touch his hair, barbaric in the golden splendor of its wild, sun-scorched curls. It had grown since she had seen him. Wind or sun had reddened his cheeks. He shaved his beard for me, because I say I like to see his face. To touch his face. She raised her hand to caress his lower lip, chapped, with a tiny crack in the center, but could not complete the gesture, unable to bear the thought that he might grab her hand or push her away.
"Dare you tell me you are sorry when you reveal your every thought to me, force me to view the hopeless clutter of your emotions?" he asked, his voice a harsh whisper.
"Éomer, I am sorry. Surely you can read that?" No tears. Tears will push him out of my reach entirely.
"Sorry you hurt me? Perhaps. Sorry you did what you did. No."
He grabbed her by the shoulders--suddenly, painfully hard. His strong hands, so graceful, so beautiful--the blood of Westernesse? His mouth upon mine. Not tender or gentle this time, but so necessary, so desired. Yes, my love, yes.
Releasing the kiss, he breathed into her ear. "That's better. Not so cluttered now is it?"
He softly stroked her cheek and then pushed her against the wall. With both hands, he lifted the layers of her light, summer skirts, ripped a delicate undergarment into two pieces, and pulled it off of her. He held it up for moment, as though for her inspection, with the barely perceptible upward turn of the corners of his mouth--the guilty smile of a bad boy satisfied with a small success--before shoving tattered remnants of lace into the deep side-pocket of his jacket.
Her heart pounding with relief, she began urgently, but efficiently, without fumbling, to unlace the front of his breeches. The doorknob rattled. Projecting his voice to be heard through the closed door, Éomer asked, "Who is there?"
Faramir answered, "Sorry. Not important." Receding footsteps echoed on the tile floor beyond the door.
Éomer released a sigh. "A good man, your cousin." He drew another deep breath and spoke slowly enunciating each word carefully, no Rohirric accent now, but elegant, Gondorian Elvish, "It must end. I cannot bear it. I cannot live like this."
"Please, Éomer...no." Her words came in out in a pitiful-sounding bleat. She felt her throat closing up. I cannot breathe. Her chest felt as though it might explode, while she stood there painfully aware of his hands holding her skirt hiked up to her waist--exposed, vulnerable and totally bereft--her arms now dangling at her sides.
Unable to speak, feeling weak in the knees, she allowed herself to collapse against him. He dropped her skirts and took her in his arms.
"Not us. You and him. Apparently your Elvish communication-by-thought is fallible after all." There was a return of tenderness to his voice, if colored still by anger and exasperation. He leaned heavily against her, pressing her body against the wall.
"If you want to be with me, you cannot see him any more. You must agree not speak to him. I cannot even bear the thought of you seeking him out for explanations and fond farewells. I know what that sort of thing involves," he said. He sounded hoarse, his tone young and hurt.
"I love you, Éomer. I love you so much," she threw her arms around his neck, with an elation that matched the intensity of her sense of terrible loss of a moment earlier. "I thought you understood. It is over. We...I already told him that...He promised me...I explained..."
"Hold your tongue, woman. Spare me the details," he said, his voice dangerous with warning.
Éomer felt his immediate outrage melt away as he realized Lothíriel's sense of defeat and despair when she believed he intended to break with her. He loved and hated the way her Elven senses and emotions were sharper. The manner in which Elves could open their minds to another mixed with their apparent aloofness and detachment baffled him. The ones he had met so far, the Peredhil brothers and Legolas, had an ability to crawl inside of one's mind and have a quick look around. Before Lothíriel had taught him to recognize when it was being done to him, he never would never have imagined or noticed such things. Legolas did it lightly, affectionately, almost as though he were announcing himself with wink and smile, and then withdrawing quickly if he felt he had interrupted a thought too dark or private. Elladan and Elrohir, on the other hand, marched in like mûmaks on parade almost daring one to object. Lothíriel, however, tortured him with the indiscriminate sharing of her thoughts with him. No privacy. No sense of proportion. Maybe we are too different. But I will not decide today.
He held her in his arms and, although he felt betrayed and angry, for the moment he comforted her.
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.