9. Chapter 9
It was still dark when she woke. At least there was no light peeping through the shutters. She had left one candle burning, not because she was afraid of the dark in such a large room, well only a little bit. But because she was unfamiliar with her surroundings and she wanted to make sure she was able to find her way around to dress and wash. Lothíriel jumped down from the bed and reached for her robe. She was just tying it around her when there was a loud bang at the door. It was one of the Doorwards. He was holding a wooden tray on which was an earthenware mug, a square of something that looked like a kind of bread pudding, and a candle in a holder.
"Good morning, My Lady. Éomer King has gone to saddle his horse; he said he would meet you at the entrance to the hall."
The Princess took the tray from the man's outstretched hand, thanked him and shut the door. She looked curiously at the items on the tray. Somewhere deep inside her she was starting to chuckle. Never in her twenty–one years could she remember being offered tea, at least that's what she thought it was, in a thick, rough earthenware mug. She had also never been given anything to eat that could be used as a paperweight, or possibly even a building brick. She had also never thought that doing so would please her so much. She could just imagine Éomer rushing off to the stables and giving orders for her to be woken with a tray of tea. What would be available at this time of the morning? Just this - tea and stodgy food, probably left out for the night watchmen. The guard had brought what they had. He was not afraid to, and did not feel that she was some fancy foreign woman who would get upset. She was not upset. She was definitely very pleased.
Lothíriel tentively took a sip of the tea. It was strong and sweet but not unpleasant. She experimentally broke off a piece of the solid slab of pudding and dipped in her tea before tasting it. She was not really hungry but did not know how long they would be out. It had a pleasant spicy flavour but a couple of mouthfuls were more than adequate. The mug was large and she only managed to drink half of the tea.
The first chinks of light were noticeable through the shutters by the time she was ready. The clothes felt strange. The feel of the doeskin breeches hugging her legs would take some getting used to but she could already feel the benefit of the lack of skirts. Lothíriel almost ran along the corridor towards the hall, pulling her hair back, and fixing it with a plain ribbon as she went: revelling in the freedom of the simple action. The Princess hurried down the length of the hall. She did not wish Éomer to think she took ages to get ready and was relieved to meet him coming up the steps when she emerged onto the terrace.
"Good morning, Lorí," he greeted her, kissing her on the cheek. "Did you sleep well?"
"Yes I did. Although I was awake before the guard came. But you must have been up even earlier," she remarked.
"I am used to it. I often go riding first thing. Sometimes it is the only chance I get. You look nice," he carried on before she could answer.
"It is lovely, and so practical," she grinned. Thank you for thinking of it."
"Hmm…well it was Éowyn really. She couldn't wait to ask me what I thought about you after our first meeting and…." he dried up for the moment.
"And you couldn't actually tell her?" Remembering his remark of the night before she had difficulty in keeping a straight face.
"No, not really," he chuckled. "So I said the first thing that came into my head. That I was pleased you were so interested in improving your horsemanship and that you hated riding sideways."
"What did she say to that?" She asked amused.
"She was a bit irritated," he confessed. "She muttered something rude about me, and the men of the Riddermark in general. Evidently we think of nothing but horses," he laughed. "So I told her that I would be spending this week helping you get used to riding astride and it would be a good chance to get to know you better. It was she who realised you probably had no suitable clothing. I cannot claim any credit for it, I am afraid."
"I will remember to thank her, and Hulda," she laughed. "It will be nice to see Éowyn again. We got on well."
"If you feel up to it tomorrow, we can ride out and meet them. They are staying at Aldburg with Elfhelm tonight."
"I would like that."
"Then in that case we had better start you practising. Come on."
Éomer set off at a fast pace, his long legs making light work of the steps. He stopped suddenly. "Sorry, I am so used to running down here."
"I am going to be forever holding you up," she said somewhat hesitantly.
"Lorí," he said taking her arm. "There is going to be adjustments for both of us to make. We have made our bargain, but make no mistake – I want this - I want my life to change. Meduseld has been a man's world for far too long."
She nodded and smiled up at him. "You already have dresses in your wardrobe."
"Good. Come on."
When they reached the stable yard it was getting properly light. Two members of the royal guard were leading their horses out from one of the stable blocks and Éomer spoke to them. She thought he said something about them waiting at the gate. He turned to her.
"They have to come with us I am afraid. The council is adamant. I can get away with two as long as I am in sight of Edoras. But until the succession is assured, if I go any farther, then I have to take the whole darn lot."
No wonder he was keen to get married. Lothíriel briefly wondered what would happen if she failed to fulfil everybody's expectations. It was too awful to think about so it was better to forget it.
"It is a sensible precaution," she said neutrally.
"I suppose so." He did not sound convinced and she realised how different life probably was for him since he became king. She also knew though, mostly from her father, what a good job he was doing in fulfilling the role.
"You wait here a moment. Firefoot is already saddled but I will bring your horse out to you. You can get a better look at her out here than you would be able to in the stable."
Her excitement was beginning to mount. In some ways she would miss Fudge. She was a pretty, sweet natured little thing, but she was not suitable for her new life and Merilan would treasure her.
Lothíriel heard the slow clip clop of an approaching horse and fixed her eyes on the stable entrance. Éomer appeared leading what Lothíriel at first thought, was a normal grey coloured horse. One with dark kind eyes who was already observing her with obvious inquisitiveness. But when they emerged into the full light she caught her breath. The horse before her was pale grey but its mane and tail shone like silver as they picked up the light. Her back and flanks, were sprinkled, yes, sprinkled was the word, with small spots of different shades of grey. The palest ones were silver and shone like her mane and tail. The darkest reminded her of deep pewter. Stardust was the princess's first thought. It looked just how she had always imagined stardust to be.
"This is Jewel, Lorí. I hope you like her."
Jewel. It was absolutely perfect. "Éomer, she is beautiful."
He broke into a grin. "Yes, she is rather."
He led Jewel right up to her and the Princess ran her hand down her silky neck, allowing the horse to investigate her face with her soft velvety nose. Lothíriel started laughing when Jewel put her head down and nuzzled in the pocket of her tunic. "I saved a piece of apple," she told Éomer.
"You like her then?" Éomer asked, as Jewel started munching.
Lothiriel now had her arms around the horse's neck. "Yes, very much. I am not an expert but she seems quite young."
"She is only six, and has not yet borne a foal," he confirmed. "So she is lively and fun. But I don't think she will be too much for you. Jewel has a lovely nature. She has been with me all summer and I have found no real vices."
The Princess considered the mare for a moment. "She is nearly as tall as Firefoot, but of much lighter build."
"Yes. I knew you would not want a small mount. She will carry a man, but not of course with armour and weapons. Éomer ran his hand across the horse's flank. "She was bred at Aldburg from a line that has long provided the horses for the Ladies of the Mark. My mother and Queen Elfhild rode her kin.
"Then I am honoured," she replied in total sincerity.
"It is your right, Lorí, and I am looking forward to seeing you ride her. Stay here a moment and I will fetch her saddle and bridle."
Éomer disappeared back into the stable to reappear only moments later carrying the required tack. At the same time a lad led Firefoot out from the opposite block. Jewel gave a little wicker of pleasure.
"I think she's fallen in love with him," Éomer laughed. "So she is unlikely to run off."
"Oh, so will you…?" she looked between the two horses.
"I am not sure. I will have to discuss it with the Horsemaster at Aldburg. They share some common ancestry. But enough of that now, let's get you in the saddle."
"It's beautiful," Lothíriel ran her hand over the supple intricately tooled leather. It was without doubt a lady's saddle and was decorated with an attractive design of leaves and flowers.
"It was my mother's. Éowyn insisted on having a man's. I arranged for this one to be refurbished for you." Éomer quickly removed Jewels halter and replaced it with the bridle and then put the saddle on her back, fixing the girth in one fluid movement.
"You make it look so easy."
"Have you ever looked after your own horse?"
"I used to look after my pony when I was young," she sighed irritably, "but when my aunts took charge of me they soon put a stop to that. I had to wait on the castle steps for him to be brought round. I have never done anything to Fudge except ride her and feed her titbits. I imagine you like to look after Firefoot yourself? My brothers spend a lot of time with their horses."
"At one time no one else used to touch him, but that is not always practical now. I still do most of the time but there are occasions when it is just not possible." He smiled. "It would be a good idea if you learnt to do some things for Jewel."
"I would like to."
"Good," he smiled. "Now, Lorí, as much as I would enjoy lifting you into the saddle I expect you would be happier if you were able to mount her elegantly yourself."
She was pleased at his understanding. Her brothers, especially Erchirion, had the annoying habit of sweeping her up and depositing her on Fudge's back without even asking her if she needed help.
"Yes. I would like to be as independent as possible."
"There are mounting steps over there." He pointed to the left of the stable door.
Lothíriel took hold of Jewel's reins and led her over to the steps. She climbed up, took the reins in her left hand, put her foot in the stirrup and swung easily onto her back.
"Well," said Éomer, "I am impressed."
"I have been watching and practising," she laughed.
"Practising?" He asked surprised as he checked the girth and adjusted the stirrup leathers slightly.
"On one of those wooden horse things that my brothers use for battle practice," she explained. "It soon came back to me, but it was not so easy in a skirt."
"Oh, I see." He chuckled with considerable amusement. "The practice paid off though. That gave you no trouble."
"It's alright when there is a mounting block," she said ruefully, "but I will never get on her back if I have to mount from the ground."
"Most of the time you will be with me. Even if you are not, Lorí, there will be someone with you. I am afraid that, like me, you will not really be able to ride out on your own. But often," he carried on, "there are rocks or logs you can use. If not, I have been training her to go down on her knees so you can mount. You must only do that on soft ground, of course," he added firmly.
"Yes, I realise that. I will be careful but it would really please me to manage on my own."
He nodded and turned to mount Firefoot. "Are you comfortable and ready to go?"
Jewel moved to follow Firefoot at the lightest squeeze from the princess and they headed out of the stable yard to the roadway that led down to the gates. The two guards were waiting, passing the time with the men at the gate. There were greetings in Rohirric to which Lothíriel managed to reply and then they crossed over the dyke and urged the horses into a canter across the Barrowfield.
"Are you alright?" Éomer asked. "You look fine. I really can find no fault with your seat."
Lothíriel was laughing. "It is much better than I thought. It is all coming back to me, and it is really just using different parts of my legs."
"You will need to build up strength in different muscles. You must not overdo it. I do not want you hobbling around Meduseld."
"I am fine. I love it. Can we gallop?" she asked pleadingly. "She is so smooth and has such a lovely easy action I feel I could do anything."
Éomer was looking a little dubious. "If you feel confident enough. But you must not let her have her head. Stay in control. She is faster than Firefoot over short distances but do not let her get out in front."
"I will stay with you. She is so well schooled I am sure I can hold her. I have purposely spent a lot of time riding this summer."
He gave in. She was looking so expectant and he knew, only too well, the lure of a morning gallop. "Alright then," he agreed. "Once we cross the Snowbourn we will gallop to that far pointed rock and then we will walk to cool them off. One the way back we will stop and you can try to get back on her."
She nodded in agreement and Éomer turned to tell the Guards of his plans.
It was wonderful. All those years she had missed galloping bareback along the sand. This was definitely nearly as good, the swishing of the tall grasses replacing the rush of the surf running up the beach.
The reined in when they reached the rock and brought their horses to a walk as the guards caught up. The princess was flushed and her eyes were sparkling with excitement.
"Thank you." She said to Éomer. "Thank you so much. She is wonderful and so well trained. I love her already."
"It is a pleasure Lorí," he said sincerely. "We can hardly have a Queen of the Mark ride anything other than a beautiful horse." He laughed, "I thought I was going to have to spend all week instructing you, but you have done so well that I shall just be able to enjoy showing you around and just teach you some more voice commands."
"It is due to your schooling rather than me," she offered.
"Not entirely. Now let's dismount and you can get back on using that log over there and then try making her kneel."
The log was no problem. But getting the right accent for Jewel to respond to 'down' in Rohirric, was more difficult. On the third attempt however, with the princess's small hand pressing lightly on her withers, she was rewarded with Jewel obediently bending her front legs and Lothíriel was able to jump lightly onto her back.
"We will practice every day this week," Éomer stated. "By the end you will have no trouble."
By the time they returned to Edoras the street was awake and the stables a hive of activity. The guards went off with their mounts and Éomer jumped from Firefoot's back. The big horse trotted into the stable totally on his own.
"He wants his breakfast," Éomer explained laughingly.
"Now Lorí," he said quietly. "We both know you are perfectly capable of dismounting on your own, but perhaps you would allow me to help you." He threw her one of his challenging looks.
Since her only answer was for her now cool face to flush again, Éomer signalled to a hovering stable hand to take Jewel and he reached up and lifted her down from the saddle. Holding her far too close and for far too long and kissing her on her lips in the process.
His eyes twinkled with amusement when he noticed her slight embarrassment. "I deserve some reward for my endeavours this morning," he whispered. "And you smell so nice, even at this early hour," he added.
Actually she had very much enjoyed it. The trouble was that there were so many people around. Not that anyone took any notice really. After all, what was more natural for a man, king or otherwise, to give a hug and a kiss to the woman he was going to marry in a few days time. In Gondor it would have been scandalous to have done that in public, but they were in Rohan, not Gondor and she could see no one she knew.
"I shall consider it one of the pleasures of riding with you, Éomer King," she said boldly, following Jewel into the stable before he could answer.
Éomer was still chucking when he introduced her to Díor, the young man who had charge of Firefoot and Jewel.
"Díor will do all the heavy work, but I suggest you always try to rub her down when you have been out riding for pleasure and not duty. If you can manage to groom her a couple of times a week it will help her to bond with you," he suggested.
Lothíriel nodded and took up a handful of straw to start work on the mare, "Shall I groom her now?"
Éomer was checking her legs. He got up shaking his head. "Just rub her off. We will come back after breakfast and I will spend sometime going over things. You can meet with Fréowyn after that."
After making sure both horses were happily munching they headed, arm in arm, back to the hall, talking over the events of the morning in amiable companionship.
Lothíriel was aware of eyes turning towards them as they entered the hall, her father and brothers had already started breakfast and were staring at her with undisguised amazement.
"Should I go and change?" She asked Éomer.
"What for?" He said surprised. "We are going back to the stables straight after breakfast. If you do not wish to, then there is no need to change until supper." He led her over to a table just inside the door where there was a bowl with jugs of water, soap and drying cloths. "We just need to wash our hands. It is always kept here."
"Where have you been?" Amroth asked pointedly before she could even say good morning.
"Riding. I met my new horse."
"Just the two of you?" Erchirion joined in.
Éomer sighed. "No, Erchi, we took some guards. But as you have remarked before – even I am unlikely to do anything on a horse - especially so early in the morning."
Lothíriel was still giggling when she kissed her father good morning and sat down beside him.
"Lothíriel, you should have changed."
The Princess helped herself to a piece of bread and reached for the honey pot before she answered him. "There is no point, Father. I am going back down to the stables straight after breakfast."
"Éomer is going to show me how to groom Jewel properly."
"Lorí," he said patiently, "there is no need for you to groom your own horse. They have plenty of stable hands."
"Yes, there is. It will help me to bond with her. Éomer says so," she replied sweetly.
"Well," he said resignedly, "please make sure you change immediately afterwards."
"What I am wearing is perfectly acceptable until supper time, Father. Acceptable and practical in a land where life revolves around horses," she said with total assurance. "In fact I will need to commission at least one other outfit. This one will not be enough."
The Prince was quiet for a moment realising that he would have no control over what she wore once he had returned to Dol Amroth. "I suppose that things like that are different in Rohan. Make sure, however, that you dress appropriately whenever you visit Gondor."
Lothíriel put her knife down with exaggerated care and turned to look her father in the eye. "Father, it was your wish that I should become Queen of Rohan. When I am, I shall fulfil that role to the best of my ability. I shall adhere to the traditions of the Riddermark and, other than observing the rules of common politeness, then the customs of Gondor will be of no interest to me."
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.