4. The Bath
“Shall I walk back with you, Éomer?”
“You had better. You never know where I might end up.”
Elfhelm laughed. “It is a bit confusing, but you will have sorted it out in a couple of days.”
Éomer was not too sure. He had known the way back from the Healing Houses all right but now they had reached the building which contained the royal apartments and the guest rooms it seemed like a maze to him. All the corridors were fashioned from the same stone, all were straight and the only difference being that some were wider than others. His sister certainly knew her way around though, but then she had had an expert guide.
“What do you think of Faramir?” He thought he might as well ask, after all Elfhelm had spent a lot of time with the man.
“As a warrior, as the Steward, or as your sister’s future husband?” Elfhelm looked distinctly amused.
“Just tell me what you think!” Éomer barked at him, his impatience clearly showing.
“I think that she could hardly do better. He is a rather calm person which makes him quite an antidote to Éowyn. On the other hand he is a very strong willed man, which is what I feel she needs.”
Éomer digested this assessment, “I do not know from personal experience but that fits with what I have been told.” He sighed, “I just wish he did not hail from Gondor.”
“If you are asking for my opinion then I feel it is no bad thing. No, do not look so surprised,” Elfhelm caught sight of Éomer’s raised eyebrows, “you think you wish her to stay at Meduseld, but this union could be for the best.”
Éomer paused in his stride and took a long dumfounded look at the older man, “How can you think that?”
“Because you will eventually take a wife. Éowyn has had Meduseld to herself for many years. It could be that she would not like to be usurped by a Queen, and your wife, whoever she turns out to be, will probably want to organise things her way. You know the old saying about two women in the kitchen.”
“The nearest Éowyn ever gets to the kitchen is the doorway,” Éomer immediately quipped back. “She likes to give her orders from there.”
“That’s true I know,” Elfhelm conceded with a grin, “but they are her orders. No one else’s.”
They walked in silence for a while during which time Éomer sorted out his thoughts. “What you say certainly has some merit of truth,” he said at last, “but Éowyn would not necessary live at Meduseld if she married within our own people.”
“I cannot imagine her living in a village on the Wold.”
“No, I suppose not,” Éomer chuckled, “and since she seems quite certain in her own mind, that this is right for her, then I suppose it is not much point in me worrying about it. As long as she comes home when we leave next week, that is.”
“I am sure she will.”
That reminded Éomer of something, “We need to have a proper talk about the arrangements to get all our people home. I definitely wish to leave in a week.”
“Well, we will talk in detail over the next few days, but there are horses arriving tomorrow. Faramir has arranged for a train of pack animals from Lossarnach to carry the supplies.”
“Good. We came with just oatmeal. I do not want to travel back with such meagre rations.”
“There is no chance of that,” Elfhelm laughed, “Your future brother is being very generous.”
“What about the wounded? Some of those we have just visited do not look ready to leave.”
“I have agreed with the Warden that they will stay until we return for Théoden King’s coffin. They are getting treatment here not available in our own land. The funeral cortège will, necessarily, be slow, and the wains will travel at the same pace.”
“I estimate it will take about fifteen days for the cortège to travel the four hundred miles,” Éomer mused.
“I agree. But on top of that there are many less seriously wounded who will be riding home with us next week. They will not be able to ride at our full pace. You may wish to travel ahead and leave the slower ones behind,” Elfhelm suggested.
“I certainly do not,” Éomer retorted adamantly, “We started out together and those of us who are left will go home together.”
Elfhelm smiled, looking reassured, “I thought you would say that.”
“I am just sad we have to leave any wounded behind but I can see it is for the best.” That was one more thing to put on his mental list, he thought: improve the skills of the healers in the Mark. The men he had just visited would not have survived if they had received those kinds of injuries in the Riddermark. “I am absolutely amazed with what they are doing for Aelfhere,” he added as his thoughts jumped to his friend. “I must admit I did not think he would make such a good recovery.”
“He will recover even more now he has something to aim for. It was good of you to offer him a place in your guard, Éomer.”
“Believe me; I would rather have Aelfhere at half strength than many others fully fit. Not that I think he will be at half strength, if he is to be believed.” Éomer looked around, “I recognise this; we go down this corridor and turn left.”
They reached the left hand turn which would take them into the side corridor, where their respective chambers were situated, when a door into the main passageway opened and Felcon appeared. “My Lords,” he bowed deeply, “the Lady Éowyn has returned to her chamber to commence her toilet for tonight’s celebrations.” He addressed Éomer, “She asked me to remind you to collect her in plenty of time, my Lord. With that in mind, shall I arrange your bath now, my Lord?”
“Yes, please do. I would not want to keep my sister waiting,” it was still quite early and Éomer briefly wondered how long he was supposed to take over a bath. The man disappeared silently after giving another low bow.
“How does he do that?” Éomer asked mystified.
“Do you mean: how does he bow so low without toppling over; how does he appear at the very moment he is needed or how does he walk without making any noise on these stone floors?” Elfhelm laughed.
Éomer shook his head in bafflement, “All three, I suppose. I find it unnerving.”
“You are not thinking of asking him to relocate to Meduseld, then?”
“Good grief, Elfhelm, Haldrad is enough. Fréowyn is perfectly capable of organising me a bath and arranging for my clothes to be washed.”
Elfhelm chuckled merrily, “Just checking to see if all this was all going to your head.”
“Well, it’s not,” Éomer retorted sharply. He laughed suddenly and gave the Marshall a friendly slap on the shoulder, “Come and check out the wine in my quarters. It will take them a little while to carry all the water judging by the size of that bathtub.”
“I would be glad to,” Elfhelm quickened his step noticeably. “I am sure they have left you nothing but Gondor’s best.”
As the two Rohír entered Éomer’s chamber they could already hear sounds of activity behind the connecting door to the bath chamber. A smile appeared on Elfhelm’s face and Éomer shrugged his shoulders, grinning at him. “They must have known we were on our way. Perhaps we could make use of their spying network,” he laughed.
“Your bath will be ready soon. We had better broach the wine with no more delay,” Elfhelm indicated the covered jug and goblets that had been placed on top of a small inlaid table.
Éomer poured two very generous measures, passed one goblet to his Marshall and raised his own goblet in the air, “Let us toast the future of the Riddermark.”
Elfhelm raised his goblet to touch his king’s and both men took a long deep draught.
“Elfhelm, let me tell you how much I appreciate all that you have done over the past weeks. To know that you had everything under control here has made a difficult time much easier for me.”
“And to know that our country will be is such good hands as yours has made it easier for all of us,” the Marshall replied.
Éomer said nothing. There was nothing to say and anyway at that moment a knock sounded on the connecting door and Idril appeared. She bobbed a curtsey and looked towards Éomer.
“My Lord, your bath is ready.” She moved her eyes between the two men taking in the wine goblets, “The water is still quite hot, Lord so there is plenty of time. I have left some jugs by the bath for you to rinse your hair, but I will be happy to assist you if you would like me to.”
Assist him? Éomer stared at her for a moment. Her eyes held a definite twinkle. Béma! “Um… no thank you. I will be able to manage myself.”
“Very well then, my Lord.” She opened her mouth slightly and ran her pointed pink tongue side to side between her teeth, “If you need anything, anything at all, just ring the bell.” Another smile and a curtsey and she exited through the door.
Éomer kept his eyes on the door for a moment and when he was sure she had gone he turned around to Elfhelm. The Marshal shook with suppressed laughter. “Did she mean what I thought she meant?” he asked incredulously.
“Probably, the Gondorian servants have proved to be extremely accommodating.”
Éomer’s eyes widened and he jerked his head in the direction of the bath chamber, “Have you?”
Elfhelm shook his head not holding back his laughter now, “I imagine she would consider me old enough to be her grandfather. You on the other hand….”
Éomer appeared to give the matter some considerable thought and then replied in as serious a voice as he could muster, “The age may be right but I prefer them a little slimmer. She is rather…cuddly.”
“When you get to my age, cuddly is better. It gives me something to rest the old bones on.”
“You, old bones!” Éomer snorted. “But you may have a point; parts of them need to be a bit cuddly.” Before he could stop it an image of well shaped breasts, a trim waist and grey eyes flashed into his mind. He was immediately angry with himself. That thought could go straight back where it belonged. “Right,” he said louder than he had intended, “I had better take that bath before the water gets cold.”
Elfhelm looked a bit surprised at the change of direction and drained his goblet. He made a move to leave but then looked as if he had remembered something, “Éomer, did you have a bath last time you were in the City?”
“Are you enquiring into my hygiene habits, Elfhelm?”
“No,” he laughed, “just tell me.”
“Well, I didn’t. When I wasn’t with Éowyn I stayed in Imrahil’s quarters. I cannot even remember taking my armour off, although I suppose I did. All the hot water available anywhere was needed for the wounded.”
“That’s what I thought,” Elfhelm moved towards the bath chamber. “Then you will need an explanation.”
“An explanation of what?”
“The bathing habits of Gondorian nobility.”
Éomer was so bemused he said nothing and just followed Elfhelm into the adjoining room. For a moment all looked normal: steam rose in tall spirals from the large bath; there were four jugs of water on the floor alongside of it; a stack of drying cloths were piled on a chair; various combs and brushes and a tin of tooth powder were arranged on the wash stand. His gaze then went to a low wooden bench on the other side of the bath tub and he cast his eyes over the strange array of objects laid out along its length. He looked up at Elfhelm knowing that there was a question on his face.
“As I said,” the Marshall grinned, “an explanation is needed.”
“Well, I recognise the bar of soap and the scrubbing brush.”
“That’s a start then. It will be oil, to put in the bath water, in that bottle.” Elfhelm picked up the glass bottle and removed the stopper holding it to his nose, “It’s not bad. It smells like the pine woods in spring.”
“I could have worked that out for myself,” Éomer muttered, “but what is this?” He had picked up a flat, pale straw coloured object about a foot long. It felt slightly scratchy.
“It’s a gourd. In fact it’s a dried gourd called a luffa.”
“A gourd. What is a gourd?”
“I think our nearest thing is probably a marrow. These are something similar. They grow in the south and once the flesh is removed the fibrous inner is used for washing. It will change shape when you put it in the water.”
Éomer immediately threw it into the bath and watched with interest as it expanded and became cylindrical in shape.
“You rub soap on it and then it’s good for reaching down your back,” Elfhelm informed him. “It’s good for scratching your back, too.”
“Really, and this?” He reached for a small piece of what he had thought was some kind of pale grey rock. It felt too light in his hand to be rock, though.
“That is pumice. It comes from volcanoes. No, not from Mount Doom,” Elfhelm laughed when he saw Éomer’s face, “from long ago.”
“What do you do with it?” Éomer asked rubbing his fingers over it.
“Just that really,” Elfhelm replied. “You rub your hands with it. Evidently the ladies of Gondor are not keen on a warrior’s rough callused hands caressing them. That will not get rid of the calluses but it will make them smoother.”
Éomer grinned. “Does it guarantee that there will be a lady to caress?”
“Try it and see,” Elfhelm gave him a wry look.
There was one item left. It was nearly the same colour as the luffa but it was round and full of holes. “That’s a sponge,” Elfhelm informed him when he picked it up.
“Yes, it is really good for washing. It lathers up the soap better than anything else I have known, and it holds a huge amount of water so it’s ideal for rinsing it off afterwards. I am surprised you did not come across one when you stayed with Imrahil. They come from the warm waters around Dol Amroth.”
“Do you mean the sea?” Éomer asked doubtfully. He had no doubt that Elfhelm was enjoying himself immensely. His next statement confirmed it.
“Yes. It is a sea creature.” Éomer looked at him open mouthed and the Marshall obviously could not resist a smirk. “Right, I will leave you to it or the water will be cold. He gave a little bow, “I will see you tonight, my Lord.”
Elfhelm left rather speedily and Éomer stared at the object in his hand for a moment and then dropped it back onto the bench. He did not know if Elfhelm had been pulling his leg or not but thought it most likely.
As soon as the Marshall had gone he returned to the bed chamber to remove his clothes. Having done so, he strode naked back through the open door to the bath, picked up a comb from the washstand and tugged it through his long locks. Luckily Éowyn had removed the worst of the knots. Just about to ease himself into the warm water when he stopped as a thought struck him, causing him to gather up the pile of drying cloths that were on the chair and deposit them on the end of the bench. He jammed the chair under the handle of the door that led to the back passageway. He was not particularly bashful, but he had no wish to instigate anything with a young servant. Whether she was innocent, or possibly not so innocent, it could lead to trouble.
Surveying the items on the bench again he selected the bottle of oil, took off the top, sniffed it and poured a measure into the bath. Hopefully it would get rid of the smell of camp fires. When he finally stepped into the tub he found out two things: the water was still hot and the bath had plenty of room even for his large frame. He ducked down and totally immersed himself without sending too much water over the side. It would be better to wash his hair first, he decided, and reached for the bar of soap. Luckily it smelt the same as the bath oil. It took more than one go before he could work up a good lather. Fortunately the floor was made of marble as the suds were flying everywhere. But the servants knew their job and the jugs of clear water were in reach to rinse it all off. Since he could find no flannel he reached for the luffa and smeared it with soap, starting to scrub his body with it. Elfhelm was right about it: he found it easy to get right down his back and it was useful to be able to wash all the way down his long legs and even his feet without much effort. And yes, he had to admit it felt rather nice – a sort of pleasant abrasive feeling.
Now though, the part of him out of the water was covered with soap. He eyed the sponge with suspicion. He was sure Elfhelm had been joking and that it was some other kind of plant, but he picked it up gingerly, none the less. It certainly had no legs, and since he had come to Gondor he had eaten plenty of sea creatures with legs. Also, there were crayfish in the rivers of the Riddermark which were good to eat. But it had no fins; neither did it have a shell, so how could it be a sea creature? Elfhelm must have been teasing him. Even so, he drew his knees up towards him and made sure it went in at the far end of the bath. It certainly was not swimming. It was not doing anything much really. Perhaps it had grown slightly and it looked softer, but the luffa had changed shape, and that was a plant. Somewhat reassured, he reached forward and made a grab for it. Water shot everywhere. Elfhelm had spoken the truth about that; it certainly absorbed a large amount.
Once clean to his satisfaction he reached for one of the drying cloths, rolled it up and shoved it behind his head. He did not often get the chance to relax in a bath and the water was still lovely and warm. Éomer closed his eyes.
Damn! Éowyn would kill him. He stood up quickly and managed, by leaning over precariously and stretching out his arm, to flick a comb from the top of the washstand without getting out of the bath. He would have to comb his hair properly before it dried or it would be even more of an unruly mess than usual. He pulled the comb through his wet hair, and when he was sure all the tangles were out and it would dry reasonably tidily, he went to sit down again. A soggy wet mass lurked in the bottom of the bath. Bugger, the headrest had landed in the water when he had got up so hurriedly. He fished it out and twisted it around and around to get out as much water as possible. The floor swam with water already.
Taking another cloth from the bench he sat down again, sighing audibly. It was his sister’s fault: wanting him to look presentable because she obviously had some female ready for him to meet. No point in wondering about her identity and what she was like as he would find out soon enough. Unfortunately Éowyn was probably perfectly correct, and while they would not be exactly lined up at the top of the steps outside Meduseld, the speculation would already be rife. And although he did not really want to admit to the truth, let alone voice it, he was well aware that whilst he had reacted fiercely when Aragorn had mentioned them picking him out a wife, if he wanted to choose his own, then he would have to find one fast.
He tried to think of something else for a moment but then groaned out loud when he couldn’t. It would be stupid not to acknowledge that the Mark stood in urgent need of an heir. Not long ago there had been a King and two possible male heirs. Now there was just a King. And on a personal front he would be lying if he denied the fact that he enjoyed the company of women, very much enjoyed it actually. There was the rub: relationships that had been of no importance to anyone but the parties involved when he was Third Marshall would take on a much greater significance now he was king. As much as it pained him to say it, he would very soon require a wife. Being quite relaxed, the opportunity to think about possible candidates was tempting. But were there any? There had to be. But admittedly none sprang to mind. He was fairly well acquainted with most of the nobles’ daughters in his own land, and could not imagine himself married to any of them. He wanted a proper loving wife, not just a queen. He was totally unfamiliar with any of the nobles’ daughters in Gondor. Even the one Éowyn apparently had up her sleeve. His first reaction had been irritation when Imrahil had mentioned his daughter but she could be a possible candidate. The only problem with taking a look at her was that she resided in Dol Amroth. Would his kinsmen want a dark haired Gondorian as Queen, anyway?” He decided to be honest with himself; he had felt definitely attracted to Amrothos’ intended. It had been immediate. Something about her had stirred him. Perhaps he just liked black hair. Even the ‘ladies’ at Cormallen had not been so dark. He guessed there would be others in Gondor with hair of a similar colour, if the men were anything to go by, so he should definitely have a look around tonight. Of course, a union with a dark haired woman would have consequences for the Riddermark. Even though Éowyn was fair, a true daughter of Eorl, his own hair was darker than usual, no doubt a legacy from Morwen of Lossarnach. Another dark haired Gondorian in the mix and the Lords of the Mark might not bear any resemblance to their people. No, he would look at home. He grinned to himself, perhaps he should go on his own quest – travel around the land in disguise. One thing he was sure of: he wanted a wife who wanted him, not a crown.
Éomer shivered suddenly. The water was getting cold and he had better get out. He reached for a large cloth and his eye fell on the pumice. There would probably be a lot of hand kissing tonight and he did not want to upset the fastidious ladies of Gondor. He examined his hands, the nails were clean, as he had scrubbed them earlier, but his palms and fingers were ingrained with dirt. He looked over his body for some delicate skin; he couldn’t find any but compromised by running his fingers up the inside of his arm. His hands were certainly rough. He picked up the pumice and started rubbing at his fingers and palms. True, it did not remove the calluses – a warrior’s hands needed to be hard anyway, but it smoothed them off. It also removed months of muck. Finally satisfied he stood up and wrapped a large cloth around himself, took another and used it to dry his arms and legs. He opened the tin of tooth powder, smiling at the number of times in the wild he had used the end of a mashed up twig to clean his teeth. Finishing with his teeth, he glanced along the washstand. His eyes landed on a razor. Of course, his beard, he had to trim his beard. With everything in reach it didn’t take much more than a moment. Perhaps he ought to think about taking a Gondorian servant back to Meduseld. A last comb through his hair and he could get his clothes on.
Standing in breeches and shirt, he studied the velvet tunic. The white horse stood out starkly against the dark green. He had not seen that particular item of clothing before and Théoden had certainly not worn it. It must have been made for Théodred. No choice but to wear it and try to live up to his cousin’s memory. He put it on and reached for the shiny boots. His hair was still wet and it was still not quite time so it made sense to go outside for a bit. He had liked the look of the garden and his hair would dry much quicker.
Éomer left his chamber and headed for the door that led to the private garden. It was already slightly open but when he pulled it wide and looked out he could see no-one. Good, he did not wish to talk. It seemed natural to head directly for the view over the Pelennor but as he approached the nearest seat he realised that he was not alone as he had thought. To his left, where the wall turned in a curve, a woman stood looking out.
Her black hair was caught in a sort of net of ribbons and jewels, but even so, it reached down her back. She wore a blue dress which was tight at the waist and then flared out gently, skimming her hips. Although she faced away from him, he recognised her immediately.
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.