9. The Ride
It seemed an age since he had awoken cocooned amidst sweet smelling white linen sheets. In fact it was so long ago he couldn’t really remember the last time. A thought, intriguing in its newness, eased its way into his semi conscious state: when he returned to Edoras he would be expected to sleep in that huge bed in the King’s chamber. It was even bigger than this one and he lay still for a moment whilst he tried to work out how many kings had actually slept in the carved wooden edifice over the past centuries. He named them as far back as Folcwine and gave up. Far too early to be excising his memory. It didn’t matter anyway – he had no choice other than to sleep in it as it could be counted just as much a part of Meduseld as the roof or the intricately laid floor. He would just have to make sure he had a new mattress. One thing, they were not short of horsehair in the Riddermark. He wouldn’t be surprised if Fréowyn hadn’t already organised it. The efficient house keeper usually made his best interests her priority. Why he should be a favourite he didn’t really know, although he guessed it could have something to do with him and Éowyn being orphaned.
Thinking of Meduseld made him eager to be home, he had been away too long. Returning would bring joy and sorrow. Joy that Edoras and Meduseld could be reinstated to their former glory with the removal of the evil influence of the traitor, Grima. Sorrow that it would be him doing it alone and he would not be helping Théoden and Théodred to restore the pride and dignity to a ravished land. He sighed. It would not all happen at once, he had to have patience and patience was not one of his strong points. In fact he felt totally impatient now and wanted to get on with today. He wanted to go riding, talk to Lothíriel, talk to Faramir, sort everything out and then go home. Somehow though, he did not think it would be that easy.
No light had yet invaded the chamber. Éomer wondered what time it was and looked towards where he knew the tall windows to be. He had left one of the heavy curtains open slightly so that the dawn would wake him. He stared at the wall of ink searching for a glimmer of light. He saw none. It must be just before dawn as he felt no need for further sleep: probably because he had not been too late to bed. And he had a clear head, even though he had joined his riders for a while after Lothíriel and Nienna had retired. Amrothos had been insistent that he also wanted an early start so the two ladies had made for their beds. It had been a long day for everyone.
He could not resist a smirk to himself as he wondered if Erchirion and Beren would feel as bright this morning. When he and Amrothos had returned to the hall after escorting their respective partners back to the guest quarters, each providing chaperone for the other, he had been pleased to see a crowd around the prince’s table, all evidently enjoying the spectacle of a dwarf and an elf in fierce disagreement over the merits of different Gondorian wines. He had kept well away, not wanting to get involved. So had Amrothos, which surprised him, as at Cormallen the young Prince had shown evidence of enjoying drinking as much as he evidently enjoyed fighting. Perhaps love did that to you, he mused. Ah, he could see light. The hot water would arrive soon but he had a moment to mull over the night before – his feelings hadn’t changed. In fact they had increased after spending more time in her presence but whether that was a good or a bad thing he wasn’t sure. Good if those feelings were likely to be returned and bad if they were not. At least he was returning home in a few days and if they were not reciprocated he could bury his disappointment in the vast numbers of tasks he had already set himself and forget about a Gondorian princess with silky black hair, sparkling grey eyes and a sense of humour. At least he hoped he could.
A few muffled noises from behind the door to the bath chamber alerted him to the fact that his washing water had arrived. Before he could get out of bed however there was a knock on the door and Felcon appeared silhouetted in the doorway by the light of the lamps that were necessary at this hour.
“Good morning, my Lord. You wished to be woken early. The lady Éowyn asked to be called as well.” The man made his way to the curtains as Éomer murmured an answer. Felcon pulled back the heavy drapes letting in more of the pale morning rays. “Are you sure you do not wish to take a bath, my Lord?”
“No, thank you, Felcon, it would be better when I return from riding.” He had no wish to brave the rigors of a Gondorian bathing session this early in the morning.
“Very well, my Lord, then I will bring your breakfast after you have washed. If you are wearing your leather tunic, my Lord, you will find it in the wardrobe. I took the liberty of having it cleaned and oiled last night, along with your riding boots.”
“Did you? I doubt you were able to make much impression on it.” The tunic had been screwed up in his saddlebag for weeks.
“The leather is good quality, my Lord. It responded well.”
“Right, then that’s fine.” He did not know what else to say, never having had much conversation about a tunic before, but then he remembered something just as the man was going out of the door. “Oh, Felcon, that green velvet one,” he indicated the tunic he had been wearing the night before and which was now thrown haphazardly over the chest, “the collar is a little tight. Could you arrange for a seamstress to ease it a bit?”
“Of course, my Lord.” The man retrieved the garment and bowed before removing himself from the chamber.
Éomer had just finished dressing when Felcon returned with his meal. The leather tunic had certainly ‘responded’. In fact he wondered if it was his at all. But it fitted, and so did the linen shirt that had been left with it. He did not recognise that but he could not be bothered to question its provenance. His breakfast of oats, bread, cheese and fruit, disappeared fast as having taken little the night before he felt quite hungry. The last mouthful eaten Éomer reached for his tea when there was a tap at the door.
“Come in.” The door swung open to reveal his sister. “It’s not often you are ready before me, Éowyn are you keen to ….whatever are you wearing? He stared at the blue dress she had on, it did not look like silk but it had a definite sheen. “We are going riding not dancing again.”
“You have obviously not seen a Gondorian riding dress before,” She sounded quite put out. “I can hardly be seen in the soldier’s breeches I wore on the way here.”
“No, I suppose not.” He had to repress a smile. At one time she would not have cared a damn. “You do look very elegant, I suppose and the colour suits you but won’t it get in the way?”
“No, look,” She moved to show him how the skirt parted, revealing soft grey doeskin leggings and black leather boots. “Luckily Lothíriel brought two with her and we are about the same size. I am having something made to travel home in but it is not ready yet.”
“Strange that she brought two riding dresses but no horse,” he idly remarked.
“It’s not strange at all. There are plenty of horses around; it is more difficult to find the right dress.”
“Is it? I wouldn’t know.”
“Well, Lothíriel wasn’t taking any chances. I have never seen so many clothes. If she brings that many for a short visit, then you will have to add a new storeroom onto Meduseld when you actually marry her.”
Éomer, in the act of draining the last of his tea spluttered and choked. The coughing fit brought on by his sister’s startling announcement lasted until she thumped him hard on the back a few times.
“Éowyn!” he got out as soon as he could. “Have you entered the realms of fantasy? At this moment there is no conceivable reason why I should marry or wish to marry Princess Lothíriel, or for that matter any reason for her to consider marrying me.”
“If you say so.”
Éowyn spoke as if she had some knowledge not available to him. He decided to ignore her words. In that mood she would take no notice of anything he said anyway. He snatched up his sword from the chest and buckled it on, deliberately avoiding eye contact with his sister. He picked up his knife and attached that to his belt and then walked over to the bed to get the one he kept under his pillow. He could feel Éowyn’s eyes on him as he felt for it, found it and stuck it down the back of his right boot.
“You will have to stop doing that when you are married too. I can’t imagine any wife wanting to put her hand on a knife in the middle of the night.”
Éomer took a deep breath, remembrances of an annoying younger sibling resurrecting themselves with unusual clarity. She would never keep quiet from the earliest age. He had often wondered if she had been born talking. “Come on,” he said crossly, “or they will all be waiting for us.”
Amrothos was saddling his stallion as they entered the stable yard. “Good morning, Éowyn, Éomer.” The Prince sounded remarkably cheerful considering the hour, "I have already saddled Nienna and Lothíriel’s mounts,” he indicated to where two stable lads were holding a grey and a bay gelding. “Faramir is tacking up Windfola, you will have to do your own,” he grinned at Éomer. “Oh, and Éothain said he would meet you down at the gateway. He obviously thought you could manage to get through the City safely on your own,” he chuckled.
“What about your brother?” Éomer could not resist asking.
“Sore head, but determined to come. They will be here in a moment. So will the ladies, I hope.”
Éomer nodded and went deeper into the stables to find Firefoot: he stopped briefly to greet Faramir. The man looked different this morning, he decided. Dressed in a leather tunic much like himself he looked younger than and not quite as severe as the night before. Faramir finished with Windfola and Éowyn took the horse to lead him outside. Both men followed her with their eyes.
Faramir waited until Éowyn had gone before he spoke, “Éomer, I know we will be seeing a lot of one another in the next few days, with the number of meetings that are planned that is. But I would like the opportunity of a private conversation with you sometime. I imagine you probably know why.”
To give the man his due, he sounded neither nervous nor bothered by the prospect of asking a king for his sister’s hand in marriage. That was all to the good since he did not have much time for wimps. “I have nothing planned outside of the meetings you mentioned, I suggest you arrange a convenient time and let me know,” Éomer said in an unusually pleasant manner. After his conversation with Éowyn that morning the prospect of her relocating to Gondor had become more appealing. Faramir, however, showed no surprise or relief at the King of Rohan’s changed attitude but just nodded and turned to finish tacking up his own horse. Éomer watched him for a moment, the Gondorian whispered in his gelding’s ear, and the horse reacted to his master with a considerable amount of nuzzling and soft sounds. The Rohír wondered whether to comment on the obvious bond between the two of them, but decided that it would seem as if he thought only the Rohirrim had such affection for their horses and instead strode off to find his own.
“Haldrad, what are you doing here?” The young lad was grooming Firefoot. Éomer had to admit that the dark grey coat gleamed beautifully.
“Oh, Good morning, my Lord. I have been sleeping here. Quite a lot of us are. We are taking turns. These local stable lads are alright, but we thought it best if there was always a few of us around.” He gestured to Firefoot, “He’s quite used to me now, but I thought you probably wanted to tack him up yourself.”
Éomer took an apple from his pocket and enjoyed the familiar feel of the leathery lips rubbing briefly against his hand before the horse crunched the crisp fruit between powerful teeth. He checked over the stallion for a moment before reaching for the saddlecloth that Haldrad held ready for him. “How is your brother, Haldrad?” he asked as he smoothed the cloth over Firefoot’s broad back.
“Recovering, my Lord. They can do wonders here. He will have a few scars and will limp a bit but he will manage fine.” The serious look was replaced by a smile. “He is coming with us when we leave.”
“Good, I am glad. Pass me the saddle will you.”
Once Firefoot was ready Éomer led him out into the stable yard. He arrived in the open air just as Lothíriel and Nienna entered through the gateway accompanied by a very green looking Erchirion, but no Beren. Éomer did his best not to stare, but even at this time of the morning the Princess of Dol Amroth, in his opinion, was certainly worth staring at. She wore a dress the colour of which he could only liken to that of dark red cherries. Her black hair was plaited, from the nape of her neck downwards, into one heavy silky braid and tied with a cherry red ribbon. Éomer let his eyes linger on her lips for a moment; cherries were abundant there as well. His slight hesitation allowed Amrothos to shove past him and the prince immediately greeted Nienna with a light kiss on her lips but Éomer reluctantly had to restrain himself to kissing the back of Lothíriel’s hand. Even then he could feel Erchirion’s gaze upon him. Thankfully though, after a brief nod, the princess’s watchful brother obviously decided that his sister was in no immediate danger from a barbarian king and headed to the stable to seek out his mount.
“So this is Firefoot. I have heard lots about him from Éowyn. She’s says you are both very much alike.” Lothíriel grinned at him with that mischievous sparkle in her eyes that he already loved.
He groaned, “I don’t think I want to hear what she said.”
“Oh, it wasn’t terrible. Just that both of you need a considerable amount of grooming and are stubborn, impatient and prone to be bad tempered in the mornings.” She said it with a hint of challenge that would not go unmet.
Éomer’s eyebrows shot skywards, “I cannot speak for Firefoot but if he is at all like me then he will certainly not be bad tempered in the presence of a beautiful lady, however early in the morning, especially if she is of a mind to groom him.”
A flush of colour suffused her cheeks. She held his eyes for a moment but then Amrothos called for her to come and take her horse. Éomer followed her over, grinning to himself; determined to help her mount. Luckily Erchirion was still in the stable and Amrothos busy assisting Nienna so he passed his own reins to a stable lad and turned to help Lothíriel onto her, or rather Amrothos’s, grey. The horse was quite leggy but with a totally natural grace and an ease of long practice she swung her leg over its back as he lifted her. He was able to enjoy the welcome, but unaccustomed, feel of a, slim but muscled, calf, clothed is soft suede. Never before had assisting someone into the saddle had quite such an effect on his own equilibrium, if that was you called it, he thought ruefully.
The horses were becoming restive, skitting around on the cobbles eager to be out but neither Lothíriel nor Nienna had any difficult controlling their mounts and both looked completely at home. He was not surprised, as the horsemanship of the men from Dol Amroth could not be faulted, and presumably both girls had also been riding from an early age.
Éomer turned as he heard Faramir and Erchirion exiting the stable building. The Prince was certainly not displaying his usual grace or sporting his sardonic smile. “Where’s Beren?” Éomer asked neutrally. “We are all ready to go.”
“He decided not to come,” Erchirion definitely glared at him. “He is in a worse state than me. For some reason Gimli was under the impression that he is an expert on wine and kept forcing it on him. He normally drinks ale.”
“Really,” Éomer tried valiantly to keep the smirk from his face. He failed.
“I thought as much,” the Prince muttered. But then his natural sense of humour got the better of him, “It won’t do you any good,” he grinned.
“We’ll see,” Éomer gave him no chance to make any further comment because he swung himself on top of Firefoot and followed Faramir and Éowyn who were already heading out through the gates. He put himself next to Lothíriel but as they started down the road Erchirion caught up and rode the other side of his sister. Very unfortunate, Éomer decided, that there was room for three. Amrothos and Nienna were content to bring up the rear.
The whole city was waking as they rode down the steep paved road. Shopkeepers were putting out their wares and the smell of baking bread mixed with the distinctly salty, or was that smelly, tang of the fish on offer. They were all dressed rather informally but it was just not possible to make the journey without a lot of bowing from the citizens who were about and without attracting the attention of the children who were beginning to show themselves outside. Faramir was always recognised, and anyway they almost had to be a party of importance, as not many horses were kept at the top stables.
Éomer guessed that he was unlikely to have any real chance of a private conversation with Lothíriel, he had a feeling that Erchirion would stick to him like glue. He also doubted that he would get much chance to talk to Faramir, but that did not matter: he had already made up his mind. They reached the square inside of the gates and he had to admit to a feeling of pride: Éothain had his guard of ten lined up, all looking decidedly smart. Not surprisingly, clean unripped clothing was in short supply for the Rohirrim and most were wearing an assortment of handouts and anything else they could beg or borrow. From somewhere Éothain must have procured at least eleven almost undamaged embroidered cloaks.
“They look very smart, Éomer,” the Princess smiled at him with a slightly amused look in her eyes. “I imagine they will be following you around for years to come.”
“I will have more freedom when I have a couple of heirs, my Lady,” he replied quietly, but rather pointedly, looking straight into her eyes. He was rewarded by the tell-tell flush of colour that swept over her cheeks.
“Hah, so he can make you blush. Good for him.” Erchirion had definitely discovered his fun side again.
“It a shame you didn’t stay in your bed as well, dear brother.” Lothíriel kicked her horse forward to ride alongside Éowyn and her cousin leaving her brother chuckling behind her and the King of Rohan rather amused.
They left the city with Éothain and six of the guard at the front and four riding behind. Éomer only had Erchirion’s company but at least he had a delightful view of the princess rising to the trot and then cantering up to the foothills of Mount Mindolluin. A faint breeze stirred the new leaves as they threaded their way up through the birch trees and he took the opportunity to catch up with her. Erchirion appeared to have given up annoying him for the time being so he was able to enjoy some polite and innocent conversation with Lothíriel, mainly about the weather, the view and the geography of the area. He didn’t get the impression that she was cross with him at all.
They emerged out of the trees and trekked north along the ridge until they found themselves looking down into the Stonewain valley. Éothain stopped and waited until all the party had assembled together. He swept his eyes along the belt of trees beneath them “It looks different from up here, my Lord,” the Rohír mused, addressing his king.
That was the cue for an explanation to be given to the girls about the part paid by Ghân-buri-ghân and the Wild Men.
“Their help was important?” Lothíriel asked.
“It turned out to be imperative,” Éomer answered her. “We would have had to fight our way through the army that waited in Anórien. By the time we had won through we would have been too late and too few.” He grinned impishly, “Elfhelm finished them off later.”
She smiled, “He is as much a warrior as you, I gather.”
He only knew only one way to counteract that statement, “Worse, he has been doing it longer.”
“It’s a damn good job there are so many warriors amongst the Rohirrim, if you ask me,” Amrothos had managed to drag himself away from gazing into Nienna’s eyes.
It was a good spot to take a break so they all dismounted to give themselves and the horses a rest. Faramir produced some apples, honey cakes and a skin of watered wine and one of cold fruit tea from his saddlebags. Lothíriel was able to get her own back when Erchirion screwed up his face at the offer of even watered wine.
“I never thought I would see the great manly Prince of Dol Amroth drinking cold tea,” she could not hold back her laughter.
“Perhaps you had better ask our king here just why I am drinking it,” he jibed back at her.
She turned to Éomer with a definite enquiry on her face but with a wicked spark of amusement in her eyes.
“You can blame Legolas,” Éomer informed her, “he never told me they did not grow vines in Lebennin, Gimli was looking for someone to settle an argument.” Not a lie just an embroidery of the truth. He was sure, however, that she knew exactly what had been going on.
The three girls decided to sit together on a convenient rock and indulge in what sounded like a very feminine conversation. Éomer sat down wondering if he was making any headway at all. Erchirion immediately joined him. The prince sat in silence for a moment munching an apple. When he had finished he twirled the core around for a few moments holding the stem between thumb and forefinger. Éomer waited for what was to come; he had a good idea of what it might be.
“Are you amusing yourself with my sister or do you have any serious intentions?” Erchirion struggled to get it out.
“I am not amusing myself but anything else is between Princess Lothíriel, your father and myself,” Éomer said, more than bluntly.
“Oh, don’t get me wrong,” Erchirion seemed to ignore the harsh tone, “I do not object to having you as a brother and I can see the sense of it, of course.” He hesitated before sighing audibly and saying in a rather resigned voice, “I have always sort of thought that she and Beren would get together, so to speak.”
“And what does your sister think of that idea?” he almost didn’t dare to ask but it was pointless not to talk to the prince. They had become particularly friendly over the past weeks and he might as well find out what he had to deal with.
“I am not sure really,” Erchirion admitted. “They have always got on well, but to be honest I have never witnessed any more than friendship between them. It is Beren’s father who is keen on the match.”
Well that was understandable, Éomer thought wryly to himself. “What about your father, would he be amenable to an alliance with Lebennin?”
“I imagine he would have been before you came along,” Erchirion answered honestly. “Besides the fact that he admires you personally, we would be foolish not to acknowledge the political advantages. I imagine that is why we have been invited to a private meal with Beren and his family this evening. The Lord of Lebennin is getting anxious, he probably wants to try and get things settled before anyone else gets in the way.”
Éomer said nothing for a while. If an offer was made tonight and Imrahil accepted it then there was nothing he could do. He would stick to his principles whatever it cost him: he refused to go to Imrahil before he was sure of the Princess’s feelings. He did not want a wife who did not love him. “If I ask for your sister’s hand, Erchirion, then it will not be because I think it will make a desirable political alliance. I do not need some arranged union. I want a wife.”
The Prince stared at him a slow smile creeping over his face, “Then go to my father when we return. You will take precedence over anybody.”
Éomer stood up, “I know.” He looked his friend squarely in the eye, “That is why I will not do it. I will not have any woman forced to marry me against her inclinations.” He strode over to where Éothain was talking to Amrothos and Faramir, leaving Erchirion open mouthed. “Éothain are you and Aelfhere up for the tavern tonight?” he asked more jovially than he felt. He would need a drink, preferably more than one.
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.