8. The Dance
The reaction to his words was even greater than he had been expecting. He heard Erchirion’s intake of breath from somewhere behind him and he imagined the prince losing no time in drawing himself up to his full, considerable, height.
“My Lord, who gave you permission to address my sister in such an…informal way? I understand that, as yet, you have not been properly introduced.”
“Erchirion, please, there is no need….,” Lothíriel looked annoyed at her brother’s interference but Éomer answered before she could complete her sentence.
“We met this afternoon,” he said unperturbed and in as kingly a voice as he could manage. “It is true we should have been formally introduced before dinner. However that proved impossible. I understand, Prince Erchirion that you were not doing your job properly,” he winked at Lothíriel dispelling the image of the affronted ruler. “Princess Lothíriel had to be despatched to your rescue therefore she was not in the antechamber and our introduction did not take place.”
“Serve you right, brother, for being so high and mighty,” Amrothos chuckled merrily at his brother’s discomfort. “But what I want to know is,” he turned to his sister, “why did you tell him you were called Nessa?”
“Yes, why did you?” Erchirion appeared to have recovered his sense of humour but he looked at Lothíriel enquiringly.
“I didn’t,” she retorted, “one of you must have mentioned it. Éomer…King already knew, didn’t you?” She fixed her clear eyes on him waiting for confirmation.
Éomer did not actually want to lie, but luckily he did not have to as Erchirion glared at his younger brother, “I imagine you told him during one of your maudlin drunken sessions around the camp fire. I don’t know what’s got into you.”
“I did not mention it at all. But what if I did? If Lothíriel does not mind, then I don’t see it’s got anything to do with you. We are all friends and since when did you care about propriety anyway?” Amrothos obviously had no intention of letting his older brother intimidate him.
Éomer relaxed, happy to let the argument develop for a moment and contented himself with watching Nessa who, in turn with Nienna and Beren, watched her brothers with incredulity as they thrashed out whether or not it was allowed to call a friend’s sister by her pet name. He did feel just a tiny bit guilty being the cause of the disagreement, but not much. He had, admittedly, deliberately used the nickname to claim an intimacy with their sister but guessed that Erchirion feigned outrage merely to annoy him. Luckily the music started and before anything else could be said that he would not be able to be truthful about, he bowed to Lothíriel, “Princess would you do the honour of dancing with me?”
The voices stopped and two heads swung around waiting for her answer.
“I would be delighted, my Lord,” she took his arm and they moved out onto the dance floor. “You did that on purpose,” she murmured sweetly as soon as they were out of earshot of her brothers.
“Did what?” he asked innocently.
“Called me ‘Nessa’.”
“Do you mind?”
“Do you mean – do I mind that you did it deliberately or – do I mind if you call me Nessa?”
The conversation ceased abruptly as they joined the set for the dance. Éowyn and Faramir were already waiting for them to take their places. Éowyn, barely able to suppress what Éomer knew to be a grin of pleasure at the sight of them together. He acknowledged Faramir with a slight nod and the dancing began. He had not danced anything other than Rohirric dances for the past few years and not many of them during the difficult times in the Mark, but his growing up had been plagued with lessons of things pertaining to Gondor, and dancing one of them. Fortunate, as it turned out, except that this particular one happened to be a stupid dance where you were only able to converse with your partner for a moment when you met at the end of the sequence.
He took her hand; so wonderfully cool. She had long slim fingers and they felt soft and yielding when held by his own hardened warrior’s ones; the pumice could not undo years of ill treatment and neglect. He wanted to pull her closer and slip his arm around her waist but unfortunately they had to keep at a distance whilst they paraded sedately around the outside of the circle. Three steps away from each other, execute a turn, and three steps together followed by a bow. The only chance to make the odd remark came then.
The first time he asked her for the answer with his eyes and she whispered, “You can call me Nessa in private.”
The second time he managed to say, “Does that mean we can meet in private?” A stifled giggle rewarded that remark and the next steps together gave him the answer, “We could try.”
“When?” He could hardly wait for the sequence to come around again. At last - one; two; three; bow. He raised his head from the bow and looked into her eyes.
The music stopped.
Éomer took her arm and pulled her away from the other dancers slightly, knowing his sister would be expecting him to partner her next, “How long before we can dance again?” he asked quickly.
“Number five should be just about right. You will enjoy that one better.” Her eyes were sparkling with laughter but he couldn’t ask what she meant as Faramir and his sister were ready to change over.
“I haven’t danced with my beautiful cousin for many years,” Faramir said smoothly as he led Lothíriel away.
“Well?” Éowyn demanded as soon as they would not be overheard.
“Well, what?” Éomer took his sister’s arm and they joined the other dancers.
“What do you think of her?”
“Who! Lothíriel of course,” answered Éowyn, glaring at him.
“Éowyn, I only met her today. It is too soon for me to form an opinion,” he retorted.
Luckily for Éomer the second dance was much noisier than the first and involved some clapping, making it impossible to carry on a conversation.
For the third dance he partnered Nienna and enjoyed a few pleasant words about the difference in the climate between Dol Amroth and Rohan. He wondered how two young women could be so much alike but so different and why one should affect him so much and the other not at all. The music for the fourth started up and as Nienna was taken away from him he watched Beren leading Lothíriel onto the floor. He resisted grinding his teeth and could not think of any suitable excuse to challenge the young man - whom he really did quite like - to a duel so he resolved to sit it out. Turning to make his way back to where Erchirion was sitting he came face to face with a Gondorian noble he knew slightly.
“Ah, my Lord, perhaps you would allow me to introduce my daughter.”
Éomer felt sorry for her. She looked decidedly embarrassed and as if she would rather be anywhere but in the middle of a dance floor being shoved in front of a king. He took pity and led her out for the dance. A pretty girl, not very tall and so nervous she could hardly get a word out of her mouth. He could watch Beren and Lothíriel over the girl’s shoulder and after giving up on conversation spent the whole time trying to assess if they looked pleased to be dancing together. Luckily, the sequences kept the couples well apart for most of the steps and their hands only barely touched. The music ended and he sensed his partner’s relief when he returned her to her father.
Erchirion definitely scowled at him when he claimed Lothíriel for the promised dance. He soon realised why: the dance involved the man holding one of the lady’s hands against her shoulder and slipping the other around her waist. Ten steps one way and then ten steps the other, three twirls and then a lively reel around the ring.
He wondered if she could feel the heat of his hand through the thin silk of her dress. He certainly felt on fire – the dancing position gave him a wonderful view of a very attractive cleavage.
“Did you know number five would be this?” he asked intrigued. If she did it would surely mean something even if it was only that she was perhaps a bit flirtatious.
“I did. There is a programme in the lobby for those that care to look.” She did not sound at all discomfited by admitting that she had chosen a dance which would allow him to hold her.
Encouraged by her directness he asked expectantly, “How long before I can dance with you again?”
“At least four. Any sooner and it would be frowned upon.”
“Then do you remember the number of one that is very energetic and will make us hot and thirsty?”
“Number ten. But why that one?” she asked with an arch of her fine brows.
“Because,” he lowered his voice, “if you do not promise any dances to anyone else after that, then I can escort you outside with a drink to cool off.” A faint smile appeared on her lips but they were into the twirls and then he had to wait until after the reel to hear her answer.
“Number ten, then.”
“Good, I must pay attention and not loose count.”
“On the wall at the end,” she waved an elegant hand towards the entrance, “the numbers are put up.”
He had not noticed but the number of every dance was displayed quite prominently. The Gondorians thought of everything.
He resolved not to keep watching to see who she danced with next: it would only annoy him, so he decided to seek out some of his friends. A good move, because after he broke from Lothíriel, he could feel many eyes upon him. Feeling much like a stag must do when being stalked by a tribe of determined Dunlendings, he exited the hall into the side passage before any could catch him for the next dance. The passing servers eyed him curiously but he took no notice, let them think what they liked, and he emerged unscathed back into the main atrium at the farthest end of the hall from the dais. He had become aware of, by the noise mostly, of a large group of Rohirrim at that end. It included Elfhelm, Éothain and Aelfhere.
“Ah, my Lord.”
Elfhelm noticed him first and went to stand up but Éomer waved to him and all the rest of the group to remain seated.
“Phew,” he plonked himself down in a convenient chair and thankfully took the cup of wine that somebody shoved towards him.
“Do we take it that Gondorian dances are not to your liking, my Lord?” Éomer stared at his marshal who took no notice and carried on, “or do we take it that they are only to your liking when your partner comes from Dol Amroth?”
A buzz of stifled laughter swept around the group. How had they come to that conclusion so soon? Éomer groaned aloud which brought forth some not so stifled laughter.
“My Lord,” this from Éothain, “Lady Éowyn has told me you will be riding in the hills behind the city tomorrow. You do realise that you must take a guard, myself and at least ten others.”
“Éothain,” his voice rose a little, “besides myself there will be Faramir, the princes Erchirion and Amrothos and Lord Beren. I am sure that we can protect ourselves and the ladies.
Éothain shook his head, “I am sorry, Éomer,” he said forgetting the title. “We do not know how safe the surrounding countryside is, and the Riddermark only has you. We cannot risk the last of the blood of Eorl. Elfhelm and I have discussed it,” he looked around the group which contained some of the Mark’s most senior riders, “we are all in agreement.”
This time he did grind his teeth but he knew it was no use arguing. He also knew they were right. The Mark faced difficult times after the horror of the past years, without him, it would be even more difficult. His freedom would be severely curtailed until the cribs in the Golden Hall were full of squawking babes. Funnily enough that thought did not seem so strange now, as it might have been once.
“Very well, I suppose you are right,” he reluctantly admitted. The whole group relaxed and someone filled his goblet again.
“Éomer King!” a gruff voice boomed in his ear. “You need to help us out.” Gimli held three or four wineskins; they were clutched against his massive chest. “This elf here,” he indicated Legolas who stood slightly behind him with a benevolent smile on his serene face, “cannot tell a good wine from a bad. I need you to settle an argument. I’ve four here for you to try.”
Éomer glanced at the wall to his left: already number eight. Suddenly a wicked thought came into his head. “I am sorry, Gimli,” he said trying to sound apologetic, “I am needed elsewhere. I am not good on wine anyway. But,” he looked towards the other end of the hall, “Prince Erchirion and Beren are experts. Beren especially, I believe they grow a lot of grapes in Lebennin.” He saw Legolas raise his eyebrows at this: salt plains not being the best environment for growing vines. Luckily Gimli had no idea. “I am sure they will be able to help you out.”
“Of course, of course, you are right,” Gimli boomed. “And I always could rely on that pretty prince when it comes to wine.”
The dwarf strode back down the hall but Legolas leant down and whispered in his ear, “Vines in Lebennin, eh? You will owe me.” He chuckled and followed Gimli towards the prince’s table.
A steward hoisted number nine up on the board and Éomer thought he had better move. He drained his goblet and got up, “I will see you in the morning then, Éothain. It will be nice and early so if you are coming with me, then go easy on the wine.”
“It will take more than this thin stuff to stop me being ready,” Éothain announced confidently.
Éomer retraced his steps down the side passage. When he emerged into the main hall he could see Gimli pouring out goblets of wine and passing them to Erchirion and Beren. His eyes searched the mass of swirling couples. The movement and the kaleidoscope of colours could give one a headache, he decided. Fresh air was definitely needed and if it wasn’t for a certain princess he would probably have made his escape or at least stayed the other end of the hall. He eventually spotted Lothíriel, dancing with Aragorn. He waited for the dance to end and then moved towards them.
Aragorn had a grin on his face, “I may not give her up, Éomer. She dances divinely.”
“I think Faramir has some people lined up for you to meet. He’s over in the corner.” Éomer jerked his head to where the Steward and his sister were conversing with a group of stuffy looking nobles. Éowyn looked bored but no doubt she would get used to it, given time, he decided.
Aragorn followed his gaze, took in the scene, and burst out laughing, “Nice one, I’ll give you that.” The high king bowed to Lothíriel, “I will leave you in safe hands then, my Lady.” He went off still chuckling.
“You are good friends?” she asked her lovely face showing only amusement.
“Yes. Well, most of the time,” he grinned. Looking towards the dais he saw that the musicians were picking up their instruments again. He then spotted Imrahil. The Prince leant casually against the wall, sipping at his wine and watching them with a thoughtful expression on his face. He had the distinct feeling that the Prince would not mind if he took his daughter outside for a breath of air. “Come on,” he took her hand, “the music is about to start.”
They joined one of the lines of couples. Number nine was an energetic dance which involved a series of lively twirls and then a reel in turn down almost the length of the hall. Éomer thought the steps must have been borrowed from one of the Rohirric romps. Totally impossible to talk with the loud music and the clapping but hopefully he would get the chance for some meaningful conversation outside. He could not wait: his collar grew tighter all the time.
Others were making their way through the doors after the end of the dance and servers were holding silver trays on which were mugs of fruit cup. Éomer took two and passed one to Lothíriel. “I think everyone else has the same idea.”
“It is certainly hot in here. I have never seen so many people in the hall.”
“Have you spent much time in Minas Tirith?” He realised he had no idea of what kind of life she led..
“Not for the past few years, but I used to come with my mother when she was alive. There were a few feasts – for Boromir’s birthday and things like that. My uncle Denethor did not celebrate much though. My aunt died before I was born and evidently he never got over it. It must have hit him hard when Boromir did not return.”
Éomer made to say something about Denethor’s madness but stopped himself, after all the previous Steward was not the only ruler who had lost his mind. Luckily Théoden had found his sanity just in time. He changed his words, “Why did you not come to the City when your father asked you?”
She hesitated a moment and he guided her towards part of the wall, away from the main crowd, which afforded a seat and a view down into the streets below. She sat down, elegantly sweeping her skirt beneath her and resting her hands in her lap. He remained standing resting one foot up on the wall and leaning on his knee, looking down on her whilst he waited for her answer. “They needed me at home with so much still to do,” she said at last.
“But you came when Amrothos wrote to you?” Not the whole story, he felt.
“Yes, Nienna and I have been friends since childhood. She felt happier making the journey with me along.” She chuckled, “I was just glad that my brother figured out what he wanted most. It has taken him long enough.”
“Gandalf told me that sometimes the clearer our eyes see things, the cloudier our minds become.”
“I think that is often true but it is also true that sometimes we see things clearly and our mind has no doubts.”
He had no chance to ask her what she meant because they both turned when they heard a stifled giggle coming from the large bush to their right. Éomer quickly brought his foot back to the ground and strode to pull the branches aside, “I might have known,” he declared fervidly.
Merry and Pippin sat crossed legged under the bush. A large silver serving platter rested on the ground between them, piled with all kinds of pies, tarts and fruit. It also held a hunk of cheese and a loaf of bread.
“Ah, my Lord,” Pippin spoke through a mouthful of tart. “They do not seem to provide supper around here. We had to find our own.”
He sighed, perhaps expecting a moment alone in a place like this was too much to ask for, “Lothíriel, have you met these two mischief makers.”
She got up and walked towards the bush, “No, but I saw what they did to my father. I have not been so amused since…since someone told me a story about a sponge this afternoon.”
Éomer shot his head around to look at her. Her eyes were sparkling with merriment and she had her lips clamped together. He had to resist the urge to pull her into his arms, Béma; he had never had this trouble before. “You two might as well stay there. You can meet Princess Lothíriel another time. He let go the branches and covered the hobbits up again. Murmurings of ‘Did you hear that, Merry? A princess, no less,’ coming from behind the greenery.
“Shall we sit a little farther away,” he suggested quietly, “we may at least be able to manage some kind of a remotely private conversation.”
“I would not count on it,” she laughed looking towards the many guests who were strolling around the area between the hall and the walls. But she moved along the wall a little before she sat down, smoothing her dress under her with one hand and pushing back some stray strands of hair that were threatening to blow in her eyes.
Éomer fixed his gaze on her for a moment before impulsively blurting out his thoughts, “You have the most beautiful hair. Why did you not wear it loose tonight?”
Lothíriel’s hand stopped and she stared at him transfixed. He thought he had made an unforgivable blunder but she suddenly smiled, “I do most of the time but it is not practical for dancing.” She gave him one of her thoughtful assessing looks, “What do you do with yours in battle? Do you braid it like most of the Rohirrim I have seen?”
He shook his head relieved that she had not taken offence, “No, I usually tie it back with a leather thong, much like you did with yours at the coronation this morning.” If she was surprised that he had taken so much notice then she did not show it. The thought of her graceful action that morning unexpectedly caused a wave of desire to flood through him. He took a deep breath to steady himself but her soft laughter reached him.
“A Horselord with a ponytail, somehow I think that must be fitting.”
He grinned, grateful to be distracted, “So that is what Éowyn’s new hairstyle is called.”
“Surely not a ponytail,” she laughed catching his good humour, “more like the proudly held tail of the finest bred of Rohan’s horses. She looked lovely.”
“She did indeed,” he said softly, suddenly wistful that his sister’s burgeoning beauty would be lost to his homeland. Before he could say anything else, however, he became aware that Lothíriel’s attention had been taken by something or someone behind him. He turned around to see Amrothos and Nienna strolling towards them.
They were holding hands, looking into one another’s eyes and laughing. With Lothíriel standing the regulation distance apart from him, Éomer felt considerably envious of their intimacy. Jealousy and envy, until this night both emotions had been virtually unknown to him. A strange day.
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.