11. The Threat
“Will you keep still! It will get in your eye and it’s sure to sting. Mind you, it will serve you right if it does,” Éowyn was her usual sympathetic self.
Éomer tried to stand still. He wasn’t good with anyone fussing over him – even his sister, “What’s in it anyway? It smells like a harlot’s boudoir.”
“Do you mind!” Éowyn gave a good imitation of being shocked but her brother knew her too well. He grinned as she stepped back from him, holding the large pot of flesh coloured balm with one hand and pushing him away with the other. “You are not with those two degenerates now.” She shook her head incredulously, “I cannot believe they let you get involved in a tavern brawl.”
“It was not a case of them letting or not letting me, our kinsmen were outnumbered. And,” Éomer puffed himself up, pretending a pomposity he did not possess, “I do not think that you ought to refer to the Captain of the Royal Guard as a degenerate.”
“I can think of a few more names,” Éowyn muttered crossly, ignoring his posturing. “Are you going to let me do this or not?” Her demeanour changed suddenly and she smiled sweetly at him, “You had better - after Lothíriel went to the trouble of getting it for you.”
Éomer let out the excess air he had been holding, “What is in it? It definitely smells poncey.”
Éowyn looked at the pot but there were no markings. She shrugged. “I don’t know. She had it made up. Something that is used to cover ladies’ blemishes mixed with arnica, I think.”
Éomer grimaced. “I will end up not only smelling, but looking like a hussy.”
Éowyn ignored him and recommenced applying the camouflage around his eye. “Lothíriel said that her brothers have often used it. It smells a bit strong because there is a lot of it in the pot. On your skin it won’t be noticeable.”
Éomer grunted, unconvinced, and Éowyn carried on, “It didn’t matter much last night, just among friends, but in the hall tonight you won’t want everyone staring at you.”
“I got some funny looks in the meeting yesterday; only of course, the Gondorians are too polite to say anything. I can not say the same about last night, though,” he grinned sheepishly. “Gimli must have mentioned it at least a dozen times. On top of that it caused untold hilarity this morning when I inspected the contingent of horses that had arrived.”
“I am surprised you could even see the horses this morning, how long did it go on for after we ladies left?”
“Frodo and Sam stayed for another hour; the rest of us kept going until the first hint of dawn. Pippin fell asleep in the end, and Merry collapsed. Probably from overeating, rather than drink,” he told his sister with a laugh.
It had been a good evening: relaxing informally with Aragorn and the rest of his brothers –in-arms, but he had had no chance to talk to Lothíriel. True, she had been sitting opposite him and he had been able to feast his eyes on her until she, Nienna and Éowyn had left them to it. The three girls having had enough once the men, particularly the Dol Amroth Princes, started on the finer points of each battle and Legolas and Gimli returned to their much loved and ongoing argument over numbers. There had been a definite smirk on Erchirion’s face most of the evening but neither he, nor anyone else, had mentioned anything about a betrothal. So he was none the wiser. Maybe tonight he would at least get a chance to talk to her, even if it was in the middle of a dance. He sighed. He would be leaving in a few days—if this went on— he may have to at least drop a hint to Imrahil
“You are doing a lot of sighing.” Éowyn stepped back again. This time to admire her handiwork.
“I was thinking about going home.” Almost true.
Éowyn’s face softened. “It won’t be long, and Éomer, it will be fine. You will be fine.”
He just hoped she proved to be right. He stretched out his hand and stroked a stray strand of hair back from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “We will both be fine.” Éomer broke the short silence with a rueful grin, “Have you finished? I don’t want to keep the honourable Steward waiting. I will see you later in the hall.”
Éowyn stiffened, “You will remember what I said.
He raised one eyebrow in a deliberate challenge.
“I meant it, Éomer,” she had that very mulish look on her face. A distinctive Éowyn expression as he knew to his cost. “What are you going to say to him?”
“Éowyn,” he struggled to keep his face straight, “he asked to see me, until I know what he wants, then I do not know what I am going to say.”
Éomer strode towards the door, turning his head back towards her just as he grasped the handle, “And, believe me, Éowyn, I remember exactly the warning you gave me.” He pulled the door open and darted out before she could reply, closing it behind him with a slight bang. He leant back against it for a moment holding onto the door handle with both hands and trying not to chuckle too loudly. He had to get one back at her occasionally.
Releasing the handle, he headed down the corridor towards the outer door. True, he did not know exactly what he was going to say to Faramir and briefly wondered if he should ask for some sort of declaration from the man. Perhaps not, he thought as he left the building and wound his way through the private garden until he came to the gate that led to the white-paved court in front of the Tower of Ecthelion. He hesitated, nodding to some Gondorian Lords who were strolling in the pleasant air before partaking of the evening meal, and then turned and made his way to the back of the tower. He would go up the rear stairs – the marble hall with the row of sombre images of long-dead kings did not fit with his errand.
The Guard let him pass with nothing more than a salute and he took the stone steps two at a time. The first floor held the main council chamber and Aragorn’s study. He had not been further up but knew that Faramir’s niche could be found on the next floor. He stopped outside the door for a brief second and smoothed down his tunic: the velvet one again – but at least the collar felt better. He resisted running his fingers through his hair and hoped it still retained some order after Éowyn’s erratic attention. Faramir always looked so darned neat and tidy. The beginnings of a grin moved his lips – did the Steward really know what he was letting himself in for? He rapped on the door and, by the time he heard the call to enter, the grin had expanded to a full blown chuckle.
Faramir bowed his head in greeting and then looked up, his grey eyes staring unwaveringly at the king standing in front of him, “You seem in a very jovial mood tonight, Éomer King.” He moved his gaze to the decanter of wine on his desk, picking up a goblet and pointing his chin towards it in an unspoken question.
Éomer nodded his acceptance of the suggestion, taking in the well groomed black hair and spotless dark blue tunic, before announcing with some glee. “My sister informs me that if I do not reach some agreement with you this evening, then I will have to tie her to her horse to make her return to Edoras.” He grinned, as Faramir’s hand stopped in the very act of transferring the rich red liquid from carafe to cup. “If I manage to get her back to Meduseld, then at the first opportunity, she will take the fastest horse in the Royal Stables and return to Gondor.” He watched with satisfaction the passage of emotions that crossed the Steward’s normally unruffled countenance before he spoke.
“Ahh…” he hesitated just for a moment, before the twitch of his lips gave away his amusement, “your sister, my Lord, is a lady who possesses a singular determination.”
“Quite so. I just wanted to let you know what you may have to handle in the future.”
Faramir said nothing but raised his eyebrows and allowed the twitch of his lips to become an upward curve. He handed the, now filled, goblet to his prospective brother.
Éomer took the silver cup and strolled to the large widow to consider the expansive view. “One thing bothers me,” he said, staring out to where he could see the dark wash of green that he knew to be the woods of North Ithilien, “is that I am not sure she will be happy surrounded by all this cold stone.”
“She won’t be,” the stark works caused Éomer to turn around abruptly.
“Won’t be happy or won’t be surrounded by stone?” he enquired immediately.
“Surrounded by stone - at least all the time.” Faramir moved from behind his desk to join Éomer at the panoramic window. “It will not be announced until the official honours are dished out but I will be building a house in Emym Arnen,” he pointed south west to the line of low hills not a days ride from the city. “When Éowyn marries me she will be the Princess of Ithilien.”
Éomer breathed an inward sigh of relief, deciding to ignore the premature use of the word ‘when’. As if he really had much chance of stopping the union. But however much Éowyn loved the man he could not imagine her happy for long walled up in a marble edifice. “Still a Ranger at heart, Faramir?”
“My interest now is to see the woods of Ithilien shake off the evil that has walked there. To see Gondor’s children running and playing amongst its shimmering trees is my aim. If I have to be a Ranger for a bit longer to achieve that – then so be it.”
Éomer nodded and moved away from the window looking around the room. Books lined every available wall-space, but a single long-bow stood propped in a corner. He moved towards it stretching out his hand and turning to its owner, “May I?”
The yew was smooth and unadorned. He ran his hand down the considerable length of it noting how the middle section flared out, probably to the full width of the stave from which it had been cut. “What’s the killing range?”
“With the heavy arrows, about two hundred yards.” Faramir answered. “Draw it if you wish.”
The Rohír grasped the end of the string and bent the bow to notch it into place. It took considerable effort. When it was set Éomer raised it up slowly, pulling back the string. No wonder his handshake had had no effect on this man. It must have a draw of near on 150lbs. “Impressive,” he admitted as he eased the tension off again.
“But no good on horseback.”
Éomer gave him a sideways grin. “No, and we have to limit the weight of our arrows as well as the length of our bows. We don’t need to be as accurate as you. With the mess made by the cut-out splayed points, they generally bleed to death anyway.”
“After you have ridden on.”
The King of Rohan released the string and put the bow back. He picked up his goblet. and took a long draught, watching Faramir over the smooth silver rim. “Your Rangers impressed me greatly. Their scouting skills are second to none. We would have been in trouble at the cutting if Mablung and his men had not warned us.”
Faramir allowed a smile to linger on his lips before returning to his chair. He indicated to Éomer, inviting him to sit also, reaching for the decanter and refilling their goblets. “My lieutenant is exceptionally skilled and well versed in his profession.”
“Your lieutenant is extremely competent and well trained. So were all the other Rangers I came into contact with. A company is only as good as its captain, Faramir.” Éomer held his eyes for a moment, “You know if you had decided differently, about Frodo I mean, we would not be here having this conversation.”
“That may or may not be true.” The Steward paused. “If you, Éomer had not followed your own path, Merry and Pippin would have been torn apart by the monsters of Isengard.” Faramir smiled wryly at Éomer’s expression, “When you are interested in a woman it behoves you to find out all you can about her protector. Merry is an excellent conversationalist.” He paused again and thoughtfully surveyed the younger man opposite him. “In some ways our choices were the same were they not?” No, I don’t mean Merry and Pippin,” he said reacting to the Rohír’s surprised look. “But if I had Frodo and the ring of power at my mercy, with a group of armed men at my command, then you, Éomer, had the heir of Elendil surrounded by a ring of spears. It is by such decisions that men shall be judged.”
Éomer let forth a rueful laugh, “To be thrown into a dungeon, you mean?”
“Or in my case - to be thrown to the wolves.”
“Luckily, they spat you out. Probably afraid of chronic indigestion,” he added with the intention of lightning the atmosphere.
Faramir chuckled, reaching for the decanter again. His next words showed that he had decided to follow Éomer’s lead. “Your eye looks considerably less noticeable. Do I detect some female intervention?”
“You certainly do. What with your cousin and my sister, I had no choice.” Éomer made a low growling noise, “I must look like a painted whore.”
Faramir moved his head around to get a better look at the offending orb, “No, it’s not too bad. Once the candles are lit it won’t notice much.”
“Well, I hope Lothíriel knows what she’s about. I don’t want the stuff running down my face when it gets a bit warm.”
“I can’t imagine whores would wear anything that did that,” Faramir said with a sublimely innocent expression. He laughed out loud at the affronted look Éomer gave him, “Don’t worry, Lothíriel was always getting her brothers, at least the youngest two, out of scrapes. The taverns of Dol Amroth are famous, and Amrothos is, or was, particularly fond of them.”
“That’s reassuring,” Éomer muttered. He didn’t really want to talk about her but Faramir had other ideas. He concentrated on his goblet for a moment and then jerked his head up sharply at the Steward’s next words.
“I’ve felt that you and my cousin are getting on exceedingly well, Éomer.”
Faramir surveyed him with, what he was sure was, a totally calculating look. Tempting, to ask which cousin he meant but he decided that would make him look foolish. “She is a very attractive lady and easy to talk to,” he answered with what he hoped passed for a detached air.
“If she were not my cousin I would say she was more than attractive.” He mused for a moment… “Attractive, of course, to those of ambition who would seek to further their position through a liaison with Dol Amroth, but to a man who has no need to elevate himself, then beautiful and desirable come readily to mind.”
Éomer froze, unsure what to say next. The probing had to be deliberate. Whilst he was wondering how to extricate himself from any necessity to admit to any interest in Lothíriel, Faramir carried on.
“In fact Imrahil had to deal with one of such ambition only recently. Except, it is to be noted, that the aspiration was rather that of the father than of the son.”
If Éomer had frozen before, this time he made the graven images in the hall below seem positively lively. Faramir, however, relaxed back into his chair, nursing his goblet with two hands.
At long last the image moved, at least it moved its lips, “And how did Imrahil deal with such aspiration.”
“Oh, he refused the offer,” Faramir answered lightly before adding with the distinct look of someone disclosing important and secret information, “at my cousin’s request.”
Éomer swallowed and then took a gulp of wine, trying to hide the wave of relief that flooded through him. He cast around for something sensible to say but once again Faramir’s words jolted him.
“I imagine that now the war is over and Lothíriel is on the social scene, so to speak, she will evoke serious attention. Anyone who has any aspirations in that quarter would be well advised not to delay registering their interest.”
Damn the man. Those grey eyes missed nothing. He and Imrahil had obviously had words on the subject. Not surprisingly, he admitted to himself after a moment: they were family and Lothíriel’s marriage could have serious consequences for Gondor. He would have to say something: Faramir still watched him closely with the faintest look of amusement in his eyes.
“I did think of asking your cousin to join the funeral cortège to Edoras. Unfortunately I have never been alone with her long enough to make the request.”
“You could ask Imrahil.”
“I could, but I wish her to come because she wants to, not because she has been persuaded to… for the good of Gondor,” he added sardonically
“Ahh…” Faramir took another sip from his goblet and appeared to be considering something. He must have decided because he got up from the chair and went to a slim wooden cupboard on the wall. He opened it and ran his eyes over the many keys hanging up inside, selecting one; he closed the door and turned back to Éomer.
“Here.” He tossed it towards the Rohír whose reactions were swift enough to be able to reach out one hand and catch it in mid air.
Éomer scrutinized the key in some surprise and then put his head on one side, looking up and questioning the Gondorian.
“Instead of going outside to the courtyard for air tonight, I suggest you take Lothíriel out of the back of the hall. There is a door in the corner of the ante-room. That is the key. The door leads directly to the private garden. A very secluded part of the garden, I might add.”
Éomer took a deep sigh; he and his future brother-in-law would no doubt get on very well. “Thank you. I appreciate your insight and understanding.” He drained his goblet put the key in a pocket and stood up. It was getting late.
“Éomer, she is my cousin,” Faramir’s voice tightened.
“I promise you, Faramir, she will be safe with me.”
The Steward nodded. A faint smile appeared on his lips as Éomer made to leave, “Éomer King you have not yet given me permission to wed your sister.”
Éomer gave him a characteristic grin, “And you have not yet officially asked.”
Faramir stood up to his full height before executing a perfect bow. “My Lord King…”
Éomer waved his hand before he could continue… “Oh, give over with that, of course you can wed her. You can announce it as soon as Théoden is buried.” He strode to the door, before Faramir could make the proper responses.
The King of Rohan grasped the handle and pulled open the heavy door. He stopped, turned around and looked straight back at Faramir. “There was never any doubt, you know…” he hesitated, grinning hugely at the tall grey eyed man who would be his kin, “the fastest horse in the Royal Stables…is mine.” Chuckling to himself, he ran down the stairs and out of the building.
To be continued.
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.