33. Children of Starlight
The sheets smelled fresh and felt clean and cool beneath him. Whatever the concoction was that they had given him, it had taken away his headache. Éomer had to admit, despite his restlessness, it felt good to lie back, with a soft pillow beneath his battered skull.
Éowyn cocked an eyebrow at Éomer in a peevish way that made him laugh. "So, I've heard you are fine," she said. "No matter though, you'll not be moving tonight. Lord Elrond is intent on keeping you here until morning. Serves you right, you know."
"What did I do now? You voiced no objections to the tournament before."
"And if I had, laddie, would you have listened for a moment? Men will always insist on getting their heads broken in the name of entertainment."
"Says the fine lady who pretended to be a boy in order to try to kill herself in battle?" Éomer patted the bed beside him. "Sit here, little sister, so I can see your shifty eyes. Is this when you tell me finally—I know you have been choking on it—that I also have only myself to blame for choosing a girl much too young and spoiled for me?"
"Aye! Béma, help us! What is wrong between the pair of you now? Did she sleep with the Elf finally? Or did she find out about another of your little hussies? The two of you deserve one another."
"How do I put up with you? I have been nearly as chaste as a maiden aunt compared to my comrades and . . . "
"Is that the euphemism now for careful not to make any babies?"
"Never mind." He loved his sister in her arch moods! "Yes, Éowyn. She did sleep with Lord Elladan, but that's over now. I had a talk with him privately, as well as with her yesterday, and I am talking to both of them together in a few minutes. We are going to settle it and move forward. And, nothing about this goes outside of this room. Well, I do assume you will be bursting to talk to Faramir. But surely the Lord Steward of Gondor knows how to keep his mouth shut. Understood?"
She sighed, with an exaggerated heave of her shoulders. "Despite myself, I like her. You just need to learn to be good to one another. She's a flighty child and you are a very ignorant young man, who has never had a normal life. Surely you should have realized that as soon as you dragged her up onto the steps of the Meduseld and presented her to your people, it became political. It always has been, but that was the point when you made it hard for either of you to change your mind. But if it's what you both want, then it is not too late for you to try again either. People have made marriages out of far less and died happy."
"I don't want to change anything."
"And her? What does she want?"
"She loves me. Just because she is besotted with him does not mean she doesn't love me. She wants to be a queen also. And I need someone with her background and connections. We're doing it."
"It's late, but not too late, to change your mind."
"You saw how our people loved her."
"Admired you for winning her! They saw a remarkably attractive girl, who sits prettily on a horse, and who tried to speak their language with some measure of success. She looks like a proper prize for a hero. Right where they all could see, she fawned over their handsome young king, the apple of their eye, when they wanted and needed something to be happy about."
He thought about what she was saying. "I think it was more than that."
"Indeed. They knew also they were looking at a weak—barely existent—harvest, homeless families, and fatherless children. They figure you marrying a princess of Gondor will mean holding off famine this winter and negotiating trade favorable to both countries in the coming period."
"They are right and we already have the beginnings of substantial aid in hand and the promise of more, with every reason to expect that our alliance will help build future prosperity for Rohan and Gondor, the likes of which has never been seen."
He felt himself rallying his own spirits as he recounted to her the strategy that he and his young betrothed had discussed together countless times. He did not think that Éowyn realized how much Lothíriel lived and breathed politics. More than any of her brothers, even the heir to Dol Amroth. "She wants all of that as much as we do. And, with or without her as part of the bargain, so do the King of Gondor, his Steward, and the Prince of Dol Amroth." He heard the enthusiasm creeping back into his voice. "She would be wasted on a Lord of Gondor. What use is there for another pretty young wife at court in Minas Tirith or Dol Amroth? I won't waste her. She'll be happy in Rohan. She's already helped me."
"And how do you feel about what she did?" Éowyn sounded skeptical and lifted her chin in that gesture of stubbornness he had always admired so much in their darkest days.
"Feel? Hurt. I was pretty angry. I'm over the wanting to get back at her though. She gave me her virginity and has given me hope. Sacrificing her dashing immortal Elf-lord is penance enough, I think. I'm willing to forgive her and to try to forget. I am not perfect either, Éowyn. You do not even begin to know everything. There are things about me that neither of you know. But she'll be worth it, and more importantly I'll make it worthwhile for her."
"I might know more than you think I do. About you, I mean," she said, tender and gentle in tone.
He studied her face, lifting up a hand to stroke her cheek. Éowyn looked lovelier every day. Faramir was older, which he thought would be right for her. He seemed instinctively to know how to court and treat a woman. Éomer was sure they would be happy. Rebuilding Ithilien the way they wanted would be a life's work. Women needed that also, not just men.
"Maybe you do and maybe you don't. Know about me, I mean," he said, laughing softly. He saw no point in raising the question any lack of suitability as a husband on his part. It was better to leave that untouched. He was a king and he needed a queen and an heir. It was just that simple.
"It could be a disaster. Try to be nice to her, please."
"I always have been! I told you I do love her. I'm happy about that."
Shadows lengthened among the pillars, trees, and shrubbery of the garden of the Houses of Healing. The golden afternoon light had shifted into a rosy sunset. Lothíriel fought back her tears with a laugh and a sniff.
A serving boy, face sunburned from the tournament, moved with a lit taper from sconce to sconce that lined the far wall. The boy spotted the Princess and the Elf-lord and startled in surprise. Yet with that irritatingly endearing cheek of working lads of the city, he shot them a conspiratorial wink. It was as though he had caught them up to no good, but they could trust him to keep their secret. Lothíriel could not resist smiling back at him. Elladan, eyebrows drawn together and lower lip stuck out in a pout, seemed not to notice.
It was not even dark yet and the lad sought, doubtless under orders from his master, to chase away even a hint of the incipient darkness. Minas Tirith craved light these days.
She remembered the short, dark days of that past March when they guarded every drop of oil and every cheap stub of a tallow candle against the possibility of a drawn out siege. The thought put into sharp perspective the shallowness of the question of which she should choose of two noble valiant lovers. Her situation was not as tragic as she might try to make it in the dark hours of the night. But still the thought of losing either of them hurt so badly. A year ago she knew nothing of love or life and now, she might not be wise, but, oh, so much more experienced.
"I hope you are not going to be hysterical," said Elladan with a haughty sniff. "I'd hate to watch you flip back and forth between tears and giggles the way any common young woman would do." She even loved his arrogance.
"You flatter yourself that you made an excellent choice when you fell for me. Face it, Elladan, you bought the bold front I was trying to sell you. I am not much different from most young maids you might meet in Gondor, except younger and louder and somewhat higher born. Better read also."
For the second time in as many minutes he had reached for her hand and then appeared to realize how filthy he was, looking down with a grimace at the dried blood and grime. "Oh, fuck it all!" he said. "Give me your hand. It might be my last chance ever."
"Of course, my lord!" She tucked her small soft hand into the crook of his elbow and placed his calloused dirty one over it. Not perfect like the rest of him, his hand was no less attractive for its imperfections, probably more so. She adored his beautiful long fingers that looked to be more suitable to playing a harp than plying his dirty trade. Perfectly imperfect, she thought, silly, besotted girl that she was.
"I'm not hysterical," she added. "Just thinking of how many ways in which my horizons have been broadened. Just thinking about how free access to the libraries of Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith does not give a young girl any real life experience."
"Travel broadens," he said, giving her a wicked snort. She could not resist laughing at that. Her laugh turned agitated when she thought of silly romances, and how at this moment the young heroine puts the back of her hand against her forehead with a tortured sigh and says, nearly swooning, 'last year this time, I was an innocent girl; today I am a woman.' He looked at her and smiled indulgently again.
"Indeed," she said. "Travel broadens and getting sweaty under the sheets with a randy, jaded Elf-lord does also."
"I'm no lord. And apparently, I am not as jaded as I once thought," he said in a bemused tone, which made her smile.
"You are Elrond's heir. I heard your sister say it."
"You've heard him also. He calls himself Master Elrond for a reason. He rejects the concept."
'High King!' she thought, awed. That might have been his title. Elrond would have been Gil-galad's heir.
What prescience he had more than an Age ago to have realized the Age of the Elves had ended—burning out with all of its glory and tragedy like an exploding star. It had taken the rest of the world another long Age to realize that his time had already passed. The world had entered the Ages of Men, but the likes of Elrond and Galadriel had only lingered to see it done properly. For whatever their flaws and those of their compatriots or ancestors, they were the Children of Starlight, and, even when the Valar fumbled, took seriously the responsibility of helping their younger brethren, the Second Born. Now their tasks had ended. Éomer and Aragorn would bring in a new Age of enlightened Men. It made her head hurt. She wished she'd been born earlier, even while realizing she should be very happy she had not.
No doubt about it, her horizons had been widened all around. She had pledged her troth to an attractive young King and sworn to turn her back on all others, without any past experience with love. Then quick as an unexpected lightning storm, she had betrayed him with the elder son of Elrond.
People called Elladan, as well as his father and his siblings Peredhil or Half-Elven. She thought herself to be nearly half-elven, since the Falas had been lousy with Elves since the Second Age and before. Intermarriages there had gone on largely unnoticed and little talked about, except among the nobles of Dol Amroth, who prided themselves on their mixed blood.
But she had known, long before she worked out the arithmetic, that Elladan was not simply a half-blood prince of the Eldar, whose father had turned his back on a crown. By her own calculations, which she done in her head during the more boring stretches of road between Rohan and Lothlorien, his lineage made him over seventy-eight percent Elven, some three percent and a little Maiarin, and the rest Mortal Man.
But no matter, as far as she was concerned he might as well be full Elven. There was no doubt in her mind that Elladan, along with his brother were not intended by the Powers to die and be buried on this side of the sea. He must sail West with their father when the time came for them to make that choice. Arwen had chosen for her brothers. After losing her, Elrond deserved to keep his sons.
She had conveniently set those considerations aside when she had wanted so badly to be made love to by Elladan. During the painful few days back in Minas Tirith, surrounded by uneasy concern, seeing the hurt on Éomer's face just the day before, and faced with her inability to look her own father in the eyes, the consequences had come crashing down upon her. The mildness with which the circle of Elladan's kinsman had treated their scandalous behavior caused her to shoulder the responsibility for it in a way that harsh rejection or scolding never would have.
Those childhood dreams of discovering or forging her personal connection to the Children of Starlight were the last among the fantasies that she had to let go. She had not known her mother and her brothers and father spoke of her little. There was something missing in the story of her parentage also. It was time to learn the truth she thought, to insist upon a straight answer, to give up the silly Children of Starlight nonsense.
Perhaps her mother had abandoned them. She had been allowed to believe that her mother had died in childbirth, or shortly enough thereafter that the assumption was that she might have perished of complications related to Lothíriel's birth. Without the details, like little girls are wont to do, she invented a fairy story. Sometimes she had pretended that her mother was a full Elf, preferably someone of importance.
She also had not admitted it consciously, but the truth was she had barely suppressed fantasies of Elladan and herself being like Imrazôr and Mithrellas, or Beren and Lúthien, or even Aragorn and Arwen. She could take Elladan as her lover and refresh the bonds of Elf and Man in the Falas before the last of the Eldar had sailed.
She had never played make believe with other girls growing up; it had seemed so childish at the time. She had chased after her brothers and her tutors, seeking approval by mimicking adult behavior. But her denial of childish fantasies had come back to bite her long after it was time throw them off. The announcement of their betrothal in Edoras had made Éomer her liege lord. This had become the business of princes, states, and governance, not a game played by privileged little girls in a garden or sitting room with dolls with pretty porcelain heads dressed as Elf-lords and princesses.
Tomorrow she would talk to her father; no one could stop her. She would tell him her all her secrets and insist that she be told if he had any. Of course, she had loved Elladan; she still did, but she loved Éomer as well.
"Lothíriel, are you alright? You look sick."
"I'm not sick I am just really, really tired. This is not easy!"
"But you are a tough little soldier. Let's go."
Walking back to Éomer's chambers, clinging to Elladan's arm, she allowed him to be strong for her. His body radiated warmth. He smelled of horses and armor, and sweat. True it was a fresher scent, one that she normally associated with Elven perspiration. But it was still human and familiar. People had told her that her father smelled like an Elf. There were no Children of Starlight, likely never were. Waking under starlight always had sounded like a myth to her. There were only Elves and Men, both human and flawed, with a long history together and apart, so close and yet so distant in their fates. All of it made such heartbreakingly beautiful tales. But the reality was simpler and took more courage. She might be young, but she was a woman grown and should be beyond such nonsense.
She did not know if she felt crushed or lightened by once again choosing Éomer over Elladan. More accurately, she thought the feeling could be described as emotionally wrung out, like a wet cleaning rag, or a limp old petticoat washed too many times. The thought of those things made her snort--as though she might have known anything about either one before she had worked in the Houses of Healing during the Siege of the City.
"Remember me," Elladan said, stopping as they drew closer to Éomer's room.
How like a boy he could be, always wanting attention. Now that they had kicked over the traces and been slapped on the hands, and she had made her choice, she doubted Elladan would be alone for long. The thought called forward a sharp pang of jealousy and unwarranted resentment.
"Don't be an ass. Like I could ever forget you are here," she snapped. "Now that you have decided you do not want to be alone any longer, I would wager that you will find another woman before Mettarë." Her voice had turned from testy to low and filled with hurt.
He stopped and kissed her forehead before sighing. "Aw, Lothíriel, don't be stupid. Give both of us more credit for what this has meant." Then he laughed, reverting to his earlier, mock dramatic tone. "Remember me, sweetheart, but do not cry. Especially don't cry when we go back inside. I am enough of a cad already in the eyes of everyone inside of that room. The last thing I want is for Glorfindel to see you weeping. Or, if my brother has shown up by now, for the sake of the One, don't cry in front of him. Or my father!"
"How about Legolas?" she teased, starting to feel steadier again. Elladan would always be a true friend to her. The deed might have been less than worthy in the eyes of others, but the choice had been magnificent on her part. No regrets. "Can I cry in front of Legolas?"
"Absolutely. He deserves it, the bloody flirt." Surprised, she turned and studied Elladan, tousle-haired and smirking, with a smudge on the end of his of his striking nose, and two bright spots of color on the apex of each cheekbone. "I am deadly serious," he insisted, grinning wider. "Try it. He has his own hopes and dreams and they include looking after Éomer. Not that he doesn't like you. Of course, he does. He is an egalitarian sort of fellow. He likes everyone." She had no idea what Elladan was yammering about.
As they turned from the patio into the hallway, they saw Faramir approaching them walking quickly, smiling. Everyone looked happy, as though Éomer narrowly avoiding killing himself was a cause for a grand celebration.
"I was looking for you two." Éowyn was the really lucky one. Faramir was a rock.
"It's almost moonrise. Éowyn and I are starving. And Éomer wants to speak to both of you." He looked at Elladan up and down, taking in the armor, the dried blood, and the dirt. "Ai. Look at you, my lord," he said, suddenly formal and sweetly apologetic, but with a hint of grit and fortitude behind the silken voice of a diplomat, totally Faramir. "I am so sorry, Lord Elladan. There is no reason you cannot shed your armor and wash up first. Let me find someone to assist you. I will tell King Éomer that you need a moment to clean up and something to eat and drink first."
"I appreciate your consideration, Lord Faramir, but I am fine, really. I'm not hungry. Let's get this over with now."
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.