9. A Long Night
What a joy it was for Lothíriel to be with Éomer for so many hours. Much of the anger, frustration and anxiety that she had felt earlier in the evening had faded as she nestled in the warm circle of his arms. Their goal no longer seemed unattainable to her. Lothíriel felt a surge of affection for her brothers and for the entire informal group on the grass, as she reflected on their implicit encouragement. Even Legolas and the Peredhil seemed supportive of their plight. All of Arda loves lovers tonight, she thought; all except my father, it seems.
Lothíriel looked up at Éomer in the dampening pre-dawn air surrounded by the wild smell of the wet leaves and bark. He had been intent on a story that Elladan was telling. Sensing her gaze, he looked down quickly, causing a heavy shock of hair to fall across his face. She felt protective at the sight of him, but reminded herself that he was no lad, but fully a man for some years now by the reckoning of his people.
The sound of her brother Erchirion's voice interrupted her thoughts. He was nearly a year older than Éomer but not yet his own man by the customs of Dol Amroth. Free--no, actually compelled--to put himself in harm's way in battle, but not to marry or dispose of his inheritance yet. Perhaps when my father thinks of Éomer, he compares him to my brothers in his mind, she thought.
Erchirion spoke softly, "All of you are have grown so gloomy, perhaps we should seek to dispel our ghosts by speaking of them aloud."
Elphir said, "My brother refers to an old folk adage of the coast of Belfalas, which holds that unexpressed longings lie heavy on the heart, while giving words to such spreads and lightens the burden. If all are in agreement, I will begin." Soft assents or nods from all, followed by the refreshment of a few cups, indicated the group was ready to participate.
The heir of Dol Amroth then sighed. "I wish my sweet wife and son were here. I wish that he were sleeping in my lap and she were resting in my arms now."
"My big brother is a dreamer, indeed," Amrothos teased, "If my nephew were here, he would not be sleeping but pestering both of them and his lovely wife would not be resting in his arms but would have been pleading with him to retire for several hours by now." Then turning very serious, he declared, "I wish to live in a house on the edge of the surf and sand and run barefoot on the beach with a lovely copper-haired mermaid."
Nimrodel grabbed his face with both hands, her sea-green eyes flashing. She answered laughing, "My wish, Amrothos, is that when you speak to my father of this dream of yours that he does not insist you are much too childish, foolish and unserious for me." She smiled at him and reached up to tousle his hair and then added, "For I would be happy with you."
Amrothos, after laughing aloud, stuck out his chest and answered, with his usual ebullience, "If he does, I will remind him that I am a heroic veteran of the Great War of the Rings and that he can deny me nothing!" Howls and hoots from the company greeted his remarks.
Lothíriel dryly stated, "I wish that Faramir and Éowyn were here, since all others who are most dear to me are with me in Ithilien already." She looked at Éomer and wondered if he noticed that she had mentioned Faramir and Éowyn together. If he had not yet heard of their love for one another, it was not her place to tell him.
"Faramir and Éowyn each sent me a letter," Éomer said, reading Lothíriel's uncertain expression. "They wish to marry," he announced, his soft smile betraying that he would accept this gladly.
Lothíriel's brothers had not heard this news. Erchirion said, without thinking, "Our quiet cousin has claimed the Shieldmaiden of the Rohirrim for his bride. I am truly impressed. What a sly one he is!" Blushing he turned to Éomer, "No disrespect to your sister intended." Éomer smiled complacently.
"None is taken. I was surprised myself. I want only my sister's happiness. But, you say Faramir is quiet? My sister is not exactly a sweet mild maid."
Elphir interjected, "Perhaps some would call him quiet, but he is not as gentle as he may seem. Faramir is a scholar and loremaster, but has served on the front line against the dark forces of Mordor as Captain of the Ithilien Rangers for years and is respected, loved and honored by those who rank among the hardest and most highly skilled defenders of Gondor."
"As was his brother, Boromir, whose loss we deeply mourn, he has ever been more brother than cousin to all of us," Amrothos said with uncharacteristic seriousness.
"Our cousin Théodred was like that to Éowyn and me. No one ever had a truer brother. My wish would be that Théodred were here with us tonight. He would have been happy in this company," Éomer said, his sense of loss and sadness transparent in his voice. Lothíriel wrapped her arms more tightly around his chest.
"Who is next?" Éomer asked hoarsely.
Erchirion said, "War and doubt have filled our lives from our earliest years and the threat of despair has ever clouded our happiest days. I hope all of that is indeed behind us. I think my greatest joy will be to enter the gates of Minas Tirith with Lord Aragorn and see him crowned the king of Gondor and Arnor." He glanced at Amrothos, half expecting a foolish retort, but instead his younger brother grasped and squeezed Erchirion's hand affectionately.
Elrohir then spoke quickly, as though he wished to have his turn behind him, "My joy would be complete tonight if I knew for certain that the worst had passed for my kinsman in Imladris and Lothlorien."
"Rest easy, my friend, I feel it in my heart, in the air and in the trees, that all is well tonight in your beloved lands, as well as in those of my father's people," Legolas said next. "My greatest hope is that this victory has been less costly than I fear."
"That leaves only Elladan," Elphir announced.
Lothíriel felt Elladan's cautious touch on her mind. "I am moved by the wonder of your mortal beauty." Surely he will not, she thought. She answered him, gently through the same connection, "No, you need not say that here. You have other desires you can share."
"And I wish my sister were here now," Elladan said tenderly, although not without sadness, "but soon we will fetch her and bring her to Minas Tirith where she belongs."
For a few long minutes, the entire group sat silently, each with their own thoughts of love, loss, war, and their hopes for the future.
"Look, Elladan, Elrohir!" Legolas said suddenly, pointing upwards. "It is your grandsire Eärendil the Great Mariner. He carries the morning star across the sky."
"Ai," Elladan answered, "You are right, my friend. It grows very late." The Mortals of their company stared skywards, transfixed in wonderment beyond speech, reminded again that they lived in days when myths had become reality.
Back on the main lawn where the festivities were winding down, Imrahil and Aragorn sat alone on the dais, tired and quiet.
Imrahil took a quick drink from the glass he had cradled unmoving for some time and tried to collect his thoughts.
Why do I react so strongly to Lothíriel and Éomer? Why must I see Finduilas whenever I see her with him? It disturbs me greatly that they seem capable of falling in love in a single day.
I remember Finduilas when she was only a little older than Lothíriel, laughing, dancing, yes, even flirting, at celebrations in the castle of Dol Amroth. She had many suitors, but easily dismissed them all. Father did not press her. That trip to Minas Tirith that winter changed everything.
I remember that grand gathering at the Great Hall of Feasts in the Citadel. Denethor approached Finduilas for a dance. He was a surpassingly handsome man at that time, as striking as Faramir, although lacking his warmth and charm. I felt the impact of Finduilas's reaction to Denethor from across the floor. Then, for the first time I felt a door slam closed. It never reopened.
We were so young and careless in those days, never guarding our thoughts from one another, for there been no need to do so before. How we relished the guiltless intimacy. Then she barricaded herself from me. At the time, I did not mind. I thought I understood.
I had not thought Denethor was susceptible to such passion. I was certain Finduilas was, but never imagined such a cool, proud soul to be its object. Denethor's usually sober countenance beamed transparent that night in the first rapture of infatuation and desire. Finduilas was exultant in his response.
She did everything with fervor, with the enthusiasm of youth, so much like Lothíriel. Their courtship had been scandalously short. However, no one dared complain, it was a perfect match: the daughter of the Prince of Dol Amroth and the heir to the Ruling Steward of Gondor. The marriage negotiations had been maddening for the diplomats due to the relentless badgering for haste from both Finduilas and Denethor.
I recall the early years of their marriage--a visit to Dol Amroth, when Boromir had just begun walking. Finduilas and Denethor had both seemed entranced by the sturdy, irrepressible toddler. Boromir was a droll, funny baby. I vividly recall the three of us walking barefoot on the beach and my relief at Denethor's shy attempts to enter into our jokes and banter. Denethor clearly adored Finduilas and delighted in his son. He was more open in those days than I would ever see him again.
Once it began, Finduilas's decline was rapid and inexorable. She grew pale, thin and short-tempered after Faramir was born and Denethor became Steward. She was particularly defensive when it concerned any implied criticism of Denethor. Denethor grew moodier and impenetrable. It was true the dangers to Gondor increased exponentially during this period, but even that could not account for such a dramatic change in Finduilas.
Her visits to Dol Amroth became infrequent. When she came with Denethor, she was silent and withdrawn. When she came without him, she spent the entire time in a state of agitation to return to Minas Tirith. The darker he became the less she could bear to be parted from him.
I saw that same passionate, single-minded look on Lothíriel's face today, when she greeted Éomer. She looked so like Finduilas looking at Denethor, that it chilled my blood. When she said "He needs me," I wanted to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. Éomer is no Denethor, but he has his dark side as well. My beloved older sister had said the same of Denethor, "He needs me." I see in Lothíriel's eyes, when she says those words, "He needs me," that she is drawn not only to Éomer's virtues, which I well appreciate, but to his darkness as well.
I saw the fatalism in him when he thought all was lost. The sound of his magnificent voice singing his blood lust as he rode to almost certain death froze my heart.
I would not have my daughter sucked into such darkness as my sister was.
"You are pensive and troubled, my friend." Aragorn said.
"Do you remember my oldest sister, from the years you served in Gondor under Ecthelion?" Imrahil asked.
"Finduilas? I remember her very well. An admirable woman and exceedingly beautiful. Your daughter resembles her remarkably," Aragorn answered.
"I remember when she was at least as impulsive and full of joy as my Lothíriel," Imrahil said with emphasis. "She was reckless to taste all of life."
"Yes, she was like that when I met her," Aragorn said.
"Finduilas altered greatly after you left. I think her transformation was something other than the result of maturing; she changed after she married Denethor," Imrahil said.
"When I knew them, they seemed very much in love," Aragorn answered noncommittally.
"I never questioned that. You will recall then that, Denethor was older than Finduilas. He had not seemed inclined to look for a wife, although there was, of course, the expected pressure from his father to do so. He was a man of strong intellect and proven attributes as a military leader and statesman. I admired him, but I did not like him. Although he could be self-confident to the point of arrogance, he had a poignant and sensitive side that I think she found appealing," Imrahil continued.
"I saw that melancholy part of him as well. Women are often drawn to a man when they perceive he needs them. Finduilas had a generous nature," Aragorn answered.
"She was afraid at the end of her life. I was young then, but it was palpable to me, green as I was to life's problems. She sacrificed herself to Denethor's pain," Imrahil said with force. "It has been said she pined for her home by the sea, but I believe she was the one who could not bear to leave Denethor alone in Minas Tirith."
"Do you think she knew of the palantír?" Aragorn asked.
"What of the palantír?" Imrahil asked surprised.
"I thought you were there when Mithrandir spoke of Denethor and the palantír. He said that Denethor burned to death holding the palantír of Anor in his hands. Mithrandir believed that he used it and that through it was touched by Sauron," Aragorn explained.
Suddenly a series of events became clear to Imrahil. They had marveled for years at Denethor's presumed net of spies and resources so vast it seemed that they scarce could be believed. Denethor had seen things and had knowledge that could not be clearly explained to anyone's satisfaction. It was not foresight. He never had foresight. In fact, he had ridiculed Imrahil's and Faramir's dreams.
Then Imrahil knew. Certainly, Finduilas would have known if he had used the palantír. Denethor kept nothing from her. She would have seen his hopeless struggle to control it against Sauron. That would explain her fear of leaving Denethor alone. He had not lost his sister to Denethor, but to the dark force that her husband could never fully resist.
Everyone helped the Dol Amroth brothers gather up the remains of the night's hospitality, when they finally stood up and prepared to leave. Lothíriel stared at Éomer when the lamplight fell upon him briefly illuminating his golden hair, his laughing eyes and endearing mouth, his lips so full and nearly red. Her heart quickened as always at the sight of him. Most members of the party carried a parcel or two and they walked in the direction of the Prince Imrahil's pavilion. Éomer and Lothíriel trailed at the end of their procession.
Where the ground began to slope upwards, Éomer stopped and Lothíriel turned to him. He dropped a heavy basket to the ground, placed his arms around her waist, and whispered, "Can you even begin to imagine what it has meant to me, after all I have seen and done," Éomer asked, "to have found such beauty?"
"Surely, you know that you are wonderfully handsome. But, without your bright fëa even fairness of such measure would have been worth little to me, but animated by it…" her voice broke and she could not continue.
"I spoke not only of your face, your eyes, or your body, although my need tortures me," Éomer smiled ruefully at his own wanton desire for her, "but of all of you," he finished, suddenly afraid of being misunderstood. "Do you remember when I asked you for a kiss? You already consumed me. I was afraid if I did not speak to you, that we would part forever."
She burst into light laughter, "So, you complained of your shoulder and then stood before me half-naked and asked me for a kiss."
"As I remember, it was you who removed my tunic," he said.
"You helped me. Your shoulder did need attention," she declared, laughing softly.
"It was sore, but I admit that I knew it would improve with three days of riding," he answered lightly.
"How shameless of you, but I cannot pretend I am sorry, for you were most pleasant to behold," she said. Éomer laughed.
"You always amaze me with your frankness. When you gave me hope that day, I felt all the love I feel for you now—before I left for the Morannon. Did you not know it?" he asked.
"I hoped for it. Yet it all seemed too romantic, fraught with drama. Still, you became my hope, sometimes bright, and other times dim, but always there. I spoke of your kisses to Éowyn. I told her I knew not your name and she insisted it must be you. I was afraid it was you and afraid it was not," she said.
"I felt that too—the hope and fear I mean. I was only half joking when I asked in Minas Tirith if you were an Elf princess. The thought of you, the memory of you, renewed my resolve, but I wondered if you were my destiny or if I had been ensorcelled," he answered.
"Ensorcelled? Poor helpless boy," she touched her fingers to his lips. He kissed them and ran his tongue across her fingertips and then closed his lips upon them, as though to let her know that he knew how to enthrall her as well. She shuddered with pleasure and then continued seriously, "I went to the wall at dawn on the day you left. I looked first for you and the green banner of the horse and the sun," she choked up as she spoke. It had been something she had not admitted to anyone, not even herself, that her loyalty had been drawn first to her unnamed lover and Rohan.
"It was far too late by then for me as well," he said huskily, overcome with the truth of his words and a surge of desire, he kissed her passionately and she responded with equal urgency.
"When I thought of you, I felt that I had overstepped all boundaries and was already wholly yours," she answered. "I had a dream of a future with you and I together. I knew not if it was a gift of foresight or simply a reflection of my longing," she said.
"It does not matter for it will be so. My certainty about you confused me. I felt I had not known myself until I knew you. I accepted it. What else could I do?" Éomer said.
"Éomer, I want you now. I want you to make love to me. I want more than kisses and pretty words. I would not wait for the approval of others," Lothíriel said her voice unsteady, all the warmth of her youth and desire apparent in her voice.
"Be careful what you say, my love. I am but a mortal Man. There are limits to my control. I want with all my heart what you so easily offer." His hands slid down from her waist and grasped her backside pushing her pelvis firmly against him. He wanted her to feel his arousal, to know how he ached with need, half hoping it would startle her into temperance. Instead of drawing back in any form of maidenly reluctance or alarm, she pushed back against him, nearly undoing him.
Her response caused Éomer to jerk involuntarily, moan with his rising ardor, and then to catch his breath in an audible grunt. He grasped her by the shoulders and held her body away from his. "Ai, we must stop this torture now."
After a moment, he finally dared to lightly touch his lips against her burning cheek, and said, "Listen to me. I want you to stand by my side as the queen of Rohan. I cannot rule alone. It is too heavy a responsibility. I need your support, your light and energy. We must do this the right way."
"The right way? And for us to make love would be wrong? I want to bind myself to you, as Elladan said the Elves do. If we pledge our love in such a way then no one can part us," Lothíriel said seriously.
"Elladan, again," he laughed. "Of course it could not be wrong. But there are others who would judge it differently," he said with a smile. "I appreciate your Elvish reasoning. But remember, I have given you my word. I have pledged myself to you. Please, my love, for a short while, if we can bear it, we must play at politics and diplomacy. I promise you that if this tactic becomes too burdensome, we will reconsider your more direct approach," he said cheerfully.
Mollified, she smiled up at him. "I will hold you to that promise," she said. "But my logic is not so Elvish as all that. Have you heard of Ilúvatar's great music and how many believe that our fate is part of that song and cannot be altered?"
"Yes, my love, I have read of it," Éomer answered perplexed, thinking, not for the first time, that if only he had spent more time reading he would understand her more easily.
"I believe we are intended to be together, but that such a destiny is never assured. We must make it so," Lothíriel said with determination.
"Then, we are agreed. We will reach that destiny together. We will grab fate and bend it to our will," he responded jubilantly, dazzled as always by her boldness and his own good fortune. For Éomer there was something immensely compelling in the way she spoke. In contrast to her innocence, she was no meek soft girl but a determined woman. He had thought this of her when he first observed her and, as he knew her better, he was ever more sure.
He picked up the basket, took her hand and they climbed the short incline to find their party waiting at the top.
"You waited," Éomer said. "Thank you, my friends. I hope we did not keep you too long."
"We did not want to leave you to arrive at the pavilion, just the two of you alone together," Elphir said in matter-of-fact tone, with no hint of judgment or impatience.
"It was not so long," Elladan said. "I wanted to come look for you, but Elphir said we should wait only a few minutes and you would come. He was right."
The magic of the star-filled sky of the spring night was fading gently as it gradually lightened. It was darker near the river, but even there, faint mists on the reeds were becoming visible. At the front of the magnificent Dol Amroth pavilion, Imrahil and Aragorn now stood in conversation, their heads close together.
Imrahil did not look toward the approaching group until they were quite close, so absorbed he was in his conversation. However much anxiety he may have had for his daughter's future, when he turned toward them, he seemed untroubled as to whether his daughter would remain virtuous or if her brothers were capable of looking after her. Éomer mused that propriety or the lack thereof was not Imrahil's principal concern. These Elvish Númenoreans of Belfalas seemed to Éomer as exotic as they were attractive and difficult to understand.
After many greetings, bows, handclasps and comments to Prince Imrahil and Lord Aragorn, the group grew quiet again, with a general reluctance to break apart.
Imrahil gestured in the direction of the entrance to the pavilion saying, "There is still wine and hot water inside if you would like a drink before leaving. No one remains to serve you, but Lothíriel or her brothers can assist you with anything you might like."
They entered the tent and Éomer looked around in surprise. Gilded finely wrought lamps hung from the supports, rich gem-colored cloths and intricately woven tapestries laced with golden threads draped every surface. Carpets and furs of strange animals covered the ground under their feet. The long table held crystal glasses and delicate porcelain cups, bowls of nuts and candies, curious fruits, and decanters of wine and fine liqueurs. A large filigreed silver urn steamed in the pre-dawn freshness.
Lothíriel caught Éomer's eye and apologized, casting her eyes about her dismissively at the opulence surrounding them, "All of this is a monument to the trade that passes through the port of Dol Amroth, ostentatiously displayed for diplomats and courtiers who may find their way here over the next few days. Nevertheless, there is nothing to prevent us from enjoying it. Is there anything at all you would like to eat or drink?"
"No, thank you," Éomer said absently, still looking around him. The impression it gave was more of a dwelling of desert potentate out of a fantastical tale of south Harad than that of a lord of Gondor. He considered the contrast to Rohan and wondered if Lothíriel would miss such luxury.
Reading his thought, Lothíriel answered swiftly, embarrassed, "We live more simply at home, certainly more tastefully. Would you like to look around?"
"For all its show, it is but one more big tent," she explained as they walked about and she pulled back curtains to reveal simple well-made camp beds, folding chairs and tables. "Here is a more luxurious alcove befitting a princess of Gondor's wealthiest province," she wrinkled her nose in mild self disdain. "I see another cot has been added. Nimrodel will be sharing my chamber. She is always good company, and I am certain has gossip from home for me tonight, but I wish it were you sharing my space." Her comment, a straightforward statement of fact, contained no hint of flirtation.
"As I do," he said with warmth. She caught his heat and unconsciously stepped closer to him. She wanted to touch his face, to kiss him again, but hesitated, turning to see if anyone was watching them. The others had seated themselves around the long table, except for Imrahil, who, still talking with Aragorn, now stood inside of the door facing in their direction.
"We should go speak with Lord Aragorn and my father for a while. That would be the correct way to behave," she said teasingly, seeking to remind him of his earlier counsel. "I am sure they will want to confirm your attendance at the inevitable discussions among the illustrious and powerful tomorrow."
Finally, the tent was quiet and Lothíriel and Nimrodel had retired to their private quarters. Lothíriel patted the bed next to her and looking inquiringly at Nimrodel.
"Come, sit here with me. Tell me all about it," she said.
"He is marvelous, Lothíriel. You know him better than I do. You must know of what I speak," Nimrodel answered, suddenly serious.
"Yes. Amrothos hides a large and generous heart and much discernment behind his youth and pranks. You are wise to have seen beyond all that," Lothíriel answered. "But I would ask one favor of the two of you."
"What is that?" Nimrodel asked.
"Beg him not to speak of his intentions just yet. I do not think Papa is ready for another surprise," Lothíriel answered. At that, both young women dissolved into giggles that they were helpless to control.