21. The Prince and Princess of Ithilien
The Prince and Princess of Ithilien
It is only when we lose something that we truly start to appreciate its worth.
(Attributed to Isildur)
Éomer had seen snowstorms that radiated more warmth than the Princess of Dol Amroth. The fact that her brothers had taken up station on either side of her horse with expressions that could only be called belligerent did not help either. Not that Éomer had any intention of approaching her anyway. He'd had his fill of being made to look like a complete scoundrel. And his reputation in Gondor would probably not survive another beating like the one it had taken the day before.
Wearing a rich blue gown, the train of which draped over Winterbreath's croup, and with her hair elaborately braided around her head, she looked every inch the princess. Yet it seemed to Éomer that, much like a dark forest pool covered by a thin layer of ice, under her cool and collected demeanour lurked a vulnerable and lost young woman. It made him ache to see her looking like that, but Lothíriel had made it more than clear she wanted nothing more to do with him. The best service he could render her would be to stay away from her.
As Éomer watched, Amrothos reached up to help Lothíriel down from her horse. She smoothed out her skirt before taking her brother's arm and for just one moment he wondered if she would come over. However, the two threaded their way between the horses towards another group of riders waiting for the procession to assemble. From his vantage point on Firefoot's tall back, Éomer easily spotted the familiar bulk of Lord Girion amongst them.
The Lord of Lossarnach stood talking to a friend, his booming laugh ringing out over the small group of retainers, showing him to be in his normal good frame of mind again. In fact, despite its disastrous start, yesterday's hunt had turned out quite successful after all. While the birds were gone for good, they had unexpectedly scared up a big stag, which Girion himself had brought down, and the excellent lunch had mellowed him even further.
Ripples of silence spread through the crowd as Lothíriel and her brother approached, and eventually even Girion noticed and turned round to see what was happening. Éomer urged Firefoot forward to get a better view and saw an expression of what could only be called wariness chase across the lord's face. Lothíriel dropped her brother's arm and took the last steps on her own. Then she sank into a deep curtsey, her gown pooling in a shimmering heap around her.
"My lord, I owe you an apology for spoiling your hunt," she said, her voice pitched so everybody would hear her.
Girion regarded her for a long moment and Éomer gripped his reins more tightly. Couldn't the man see what it cost her to do that? If he dared to utter one unkind word to her, he would answer to the King of Rohan.
Then Girion reached out a hand and raised Lothíriel from her curtsy. "My lady, I gladly accept your apology."
"You are very kind."
He had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "Not at all. I wish you hadn't done what you did, but believe me, I don't usually take out my temper on children." He looked her over with appreciation. "Nor on pretty women." She blushed and he laughed, certain of his ground once more. "I like a lady with spirit."
With a frown Éomer noticed that the man was still holding Lothíriel's fingers. She withdrew them gently. "Thank you."
Amrothos stepped forward and she took her leave of Lord Girion. His glance lingered on her trim figure for a moment longer and Éomer could feel his temper rising. Surely the man was old enough to be her father?
Brother and sister made their way back to the Dol Amroth party and Amrothos helped Lothíriel mount Winterbreath again. Éomer suddenly became aware of the fact that everybody pointedly avoided looking at him. Belatedly he realized that by apologizing so publicly to Lord Girion, but not to him, Lothíriel had just delivered another blow to his reputation. Suppressing the curse rising to his lips, he turned back to his sister and Faramir. Fortunately Éowyn seemed not to have noticed anything amiss. She had chosen to wear traditional Rohirric dress today, although much more lavishly embroidered than her usual clothes, while her betrothed looked splendid in black and silver. She smiled at Faramir and Éomer was relieved to see that not even the worry about her brother's affairs could spoil her joy and happiness on this special day.
The clear clarion call of a trumpet rang out, the signal to take their places. The bride and groom would ride at the front of the procession, with their witnesses following right behind. Showing Lothíriel her position next to Éomer, Amrothos gave him a silent glower promising retribution if he upset his sister again. Then he left to take his allocated place behind the banner bearers with the rest of the Dol Amroth party.
As they slowly started to move out, Éomer looked back to see Minas Tirith behind him, flags flying from every tower and turret. A brave sight. Knowing that Lothíriel liked to have the sights around her described to her, he turned to the woman beside him to remark on it, but thought better of it when he saw the tense way she sat her horse. Lothíriel did not look as if she would welcome any attempt at conversation from him. While all around them, people chatted merrily, a bubble of strained silence appeared to surround her. He sighed inwardly. How could things have gone so horribly wrong?
It seemed the whole population of Minas Tirith had turned out to see them off. Many people lined the road to Osgiliath, clapping and cheering, and the going was slow at first. Lothíriel had a smile fixed on her face, gracious and polite, yet she seemed ill at ease at the enthusiastic shouting and the flower petals raining down on her. Then it happened: a woman threw a bunch of flowers at them, hitting Winterbreath on the head by mistake and the mare started violently. But before she could rear, Éomer reached over and grabbed her bridle.
"Easy!" he exclaimed in Rohirric.
Lothíriel had flinched, but now she leaned forward to pat her horse reassuringly on the neck. "It's all right," she said, "I can manage."
Éomer let go of Winterbreath's bridle, but the mare seemed skittish still. Horse and rider both, he thought bitterly. They rode on in silence and Winterbreath gradually calmed down again. A sideways glance showed him Lothíriel chewing her lip. She was nervously twisting the string of pearls resting on her breast round one finger. With an effort, he tore his gaze away.
"Thank you," she said at last and it hurt him to see how much effort those simple words cost her. All thoughts of annoyance fled from his mind at her unhappy face.
"Lothíriel, is there anything I can do?" he asked, making his voice as gentle as he could manage.
She shook her head, then hesitated. "Actually my nephew..."
What had Alphros done this time? "Yes?"
"He would like a tooth of the warg you killed to prove to his friend how big it was. I promised I'd ask you."
A warg tooth! He had hoped for a different request, but at least he would be able to fulfil this one.
"I will send him the pelt once it has been cured. Surely that will be proof enough."
Her serious face pulled at his heartstrings. He wanted to reach out, hug her, make all the pain go away. Yet he knew that would only make the situation worse.
"Lothíriel, I'm yours to command," he said quietly. And this time it was no empty phrase.
She made no reply beyond inclining her head, yet it seemed to him that the atmosphere lightened slightly.
As they left Minas Tirith behind them, the crowd of people lining the way gradually lessened and they were able to pick up their pace, even trotting for short periods of time. Just after midday they reached Osgiliath, where they crossed the Anduin by one of the bridges. Éomer could not help looking downriver, to where the Mûmakil Stones lay glistening in the sun, innocent witnesses to his folly.
The main road continued east to the Cross-roads here, but they took a bridle path leading south along the river. To their left extended the hills of Emyn Arnen, their lower slopes cultivated with vineyards merging into woods further up. After a while the road started to climb, passing through thick forest, and finally they crossed a low ridge, giving a sweeping view to the south. A tributary of the Anduin flowed down here, swift and turbulent at first, but then slowing down and meandering in lazy curves across the wide, fertile land abutting the river. Where the foothills met the plain, the stream flowed in a wide circle around a flat-topped hill, almost turning it into an island. On it a large manor house had been built and gardens and orchards covered its slopes. A watchtower overlooked the narrow neck of land with the road leading up to the main gate. Emyn Arnen.
Built by the Steward Húrin, the house had suffered extensive damage during the Ring War, but Faramir had laboured hard to get it put right in time for the wedding. An easily defensible position, Éomer noted with approval, not that he had expected anything else of the Prince of Ithilien's home. He knew that Faramir's men patrolled the area intensively, guarding against a surprise attack from the Haradrim. He would leave his sister in safe hands.
As they rode down to cross the narrow causeway, they were greeted by the families of Faramir's rangers who had chosen to join their lord in settling in Southern Ithilien. Some of the guests would be put up in a row of tents erected at the foot of the hill, but the main party rode on up to the house. In the courtyard, grooms milled about to lead the horses to the stables and Éomer dismounted.
He turned to Lothíriel. "May I help you down?"
She hesitated at first, but then nodded reluctantly, freeing her boots from the stirrups. When Éomer stepped up, she swung one leg over Winterbreath's withers and sitting sideways rested her hands on his shoulders. He reached up and gently lifted her down, suddenly very much aware of her proximity. The memory of Lothíriel leaning against him, looking up with her eyes shining with faith darted through his mind. No more foolishness, he reminded himself sternly, letting go of her at once. He had shattered too much of that innocent trust already. Yet she had not quite got her footing, or perhaps was stiff from the long ride, and stumbled. At once he reached out and grabbed her by the arms to steady her. For one heartbeat she leant against him, her hands resting on his chest, just as they had the other night. Contented and relaxed.
"Lothíriel!" a female voice called.
She pushed herself away violently and spun round, just as an elderly woman ducked under Winterbreath's neck.
"Here you are!" the woman exclaimed. She paused and surveyed Lothíriel closely. "What's the matter?"
Éomer suddenly found himself subjected to a close examination by a pair of shrewd blue eyes. Involuntarily reminded of the time when he had been caught filching honey sweets by Aldburg's housekeeper as a five-year old, he reflexively put on his most innocent expression.
Looking from one to the other, the woman snorted. "So this is your King of Rohan?"
"Yes. No." Lothíriel blushed.
Pushing back a strand of grey hair, the woman nodded sagely. "Quite. Now are you coming inside the house to freshen up before the wedding?"
Lothíriel hesitated. "What about Winterbreath?"
"I will look after her," Éomer volunteered.
"Good." The old woman took Lothíriel by the hand and led her firmly away. Yet before she disappeared into the crowd, those blue eyes gave him a last thoughtful look. Éomer wondered if he'd just made an enemy...or found an ally?
Faramir's steward had set out a light meal in the gardens and the guests congregated there, chatting and admiring the view. Éomer had to admit that the sight of Minas Tirith, situated across the Anduin at the foot of Mount Mindolluin, was magnificent. Although in his opinion nothing quite rivalled the view from the terrace of Meduseld across the green, grassy plains of the Riddermark.
After a while, his sister and Faramir joined him. Éowyn had changed into an elegant gown of pure white silk, her flaxen hair flowing loose past her shoulders.
She waved back the way they had come. "Faramir showed me the view from the top of the house. He claims on a clear day you can see the sea."
The view? Her eyes shone with happiness as she smiled up at Faramir. Well, it was really none of his concern if his sister wanted to spend a private moment with just her husband-to-be. He had noticed they had crept off together several times over the last few days.
"And did you see it?" he asked.
With a visible effort, Éowyn tore her attention away from Faramir. "See what?"
Éomer rolled his eyes. "Never mind." He took a bearing on the sun slowly setting in the sky. "I think it's time." And by the hungry looks you two exchange, in more than one sense, sister.
A large lawn extended to the western side of the house, where the ceremony would be held. Already the guests were gathering in a loose circle, and some of the rangers' children held up arches made of willow branches decorated with flowers and ribbons for the bride and groom to pass under. Éomer extended his arm to his sister and with a smile she accepted it. With Faramir and Lothíriel following close behind and Aragorn and Arwen making up the rear they ducked under the willow branches and entered the wedding round.
He escorted Éowyn to the centre and then took up his own place at the eastern point of the circle. He was gaining a brother today, not losing a sister, he reminded himself. With a bow Faramir's steward handed him a small loaf of bread. Facing him in the west and holding a torch stood Aragorn, while Arwen and Lothíriel had taken up their positions to the south and north respectively.
In remembrance of Númenor, long sunken under the waves, weddings in Gondor always took place at sunset. The rays of the westering sun seemed to set Éowyn's dress on fire, turning it a deep orange, and even the ever-present wind dropped as if in expectation. Slowly the crowd hushed.
Faramir took Éowyn's hands in his own and lifted his voice to speak his vows.
"Éowyn of Rohan, daughter of Éomund," he began, his voice firm and clear. And as he promised to cherish and protect his White Lady and went on to pledge her his life and his love, his eyes drank in the sight of the woman standing before him.
Éowyn looked back at him, solemn yet joyful. "Faramir, son of Denethor, I receive you as my husband," she replied, enunciating each word loudly and full of conviction. In her own turn she promised to be true to him and to be his joy and his strength.
When she had finished, Arwen stepped forward with her usual inhuman grace, carrying a small dish, which she presented to Faramir. On it lay salt crystals, a reminder of the sea which had carried the ships of the Numenoreans to these shores. Faramir took one and placed it on Éowyn's lips -his wife now - and in her turn she did the same with him.
Éomer knew it was his turn next and he stepped up and handed the loaf of bread to his sister. She broke off a small piece to share with her husband, before giving it back to him. Now Amrothos, who stood just behind Lothíriel, whispered something to her and with a look of fierce concentration on her face she carefully walked towards the bridal couple, balancing an elaborately decorated goblet of wine in her hands. Everybody held their breath as she presented it to Éowyn, who quickly steadied the slightly wobbling cup, raising it first to Faramir's lips and then her own.
Lastly Aragorn came out of the west and handed the torch to Faramir. A large stack of wood had been piled up at the bottom of the lawn, overlooking the view, and with their witnesses following behind, the newlyweds stepped up to it. As the sinking sun touched the horizon, they thrust the torch into the wood, which caught fire at once. When the flames leapt up with a roar, Faramir looked troubled for a moment, but then his newly wedded wife squeezed his arm and whispered something to him and he smiled down at her. The fire would be kept burning and on the last of the three days of feasting, they would collect some glowing coals from the bonfire to light their hearth fire with.
Then Faramir took his wife's face in his hands and kissed her. She wrapped her arms round his neck while the guests cheered and whistled. The Princess of Ithilien now, but still the White Lady of Rohan. Éomer reached for the horn hanging at his belt, raised it to his lips and taking a deep breath, blew with all his might. The sound rang out clear and powerful, answered after a moment by the horns of his riders from below. Echoing back from the hills behind them, the call rose higher and higher, brave and true.
As the last notes died out, absolute silence reigned. Then Aragorn turned to him.
"Surely that was heard as far as Minas Tirith, my friend," he said and clapped his arm.
Éomer nodded and slowly people started talking again. Faramir and Éowyn led the way into the house, where musicians would shortly strike up for dancing, but he lingered behind. His eyes fell on the Princess of Dol Amroth, standing a little apart, her face turned towards the fire. A single tear glistened on her cheek.
"Did I startle you?" he asked. "I'm sorry."
Lothíriel shook her head. "That was magnificent! The great horns of the North - I have heard them at last!"
She actually gave him a genuine smile and he took a step towards her. But it was wiped off her face as quickly as it had come, replaced by a wary expression. The same moment, her father appeared out of the crowd and took her elbow.
"Let's go inside, dearest," he said.
By now Éomer expected the distrustful look Imrahil shot at him. He sighed in resignation.
"All day you've been watching her like a hungry dragon."
Éomer's head snapped back to his sister and he coloured. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"The Princess of Dol Amroth." Éowyn lifted her wineglass and took a small sip. The Great Hall of Emyn Arnen was ablaze with lights and filled with music and dancing couples. She indicated one of them: Lothíriel and Lord Girion.
"You even frowned at Aragorn exchanging some words with her. And I'm surprised poor Girion doesn't drop on the spot with the dark looks you keep throwing his way. It's a good thing he's so well cushioned."
Despite himself, Éomer had to laugh. She grinned at him, in high spirits. "Come on, brother. Cast off your gloom! Can't you just apologize to her for whatever you've done?"
He looked down at his own glass. "It's not that easy."
Éowyn drew him back a bit, into the shadow of one of the stone pillars supporting the lofty roof. "Do you love her?" she asked abruptly.
"You're the Princess of Ithilien now, you should learn to be more diplomatic," he protested, trying to gain time.
"Do you?" she insisted, not to be diverted.
"Yes," he sighed.
"And do you want to marry her?"
She nodded in satisfaction. "So you've found the woman you were looking for - a gracious hostess for Meduseld, regal, dignified and always courteous and polite?"
Éomer stared at her. "What are you talking about?"
"Well, that's what you said you wanted, isn't it? I noticed Lothíriel has been very regal and dignified today."
He groaned in exasperation. "Of course I don't want her to be cold and formal with me! Really, Éowyn, today is supposed to be the happiest day of your life! How can you tease me so cruelly?"
She just lifted one eyebrow and he groaned again. His sister was right, though. When had he given up that vision of his ideal queen? Two nights ago? Or even earlier?
Éowyn swirled the wine round in her glass. "And what will your advisors say to your marrying a blind woman?"
"I don't care," he replied irritably. "They should be glad that I'm doing my duty. Elfhelm keeps harping on it."
"I'd love to see their faces when you tell the council your plans."
He shrugged. "They are free to retire and make room for younger men. I'm still the master of my own house."
His sister grinned. "Well, whomever you marry, somebody will complain. A woman from the East Mark or the West Mark, a Gondorian... you can't please them all, so you might as well please yourself."
Across the hall, Lothíriel had taken a seat next to Cadda, talking animatedly to him, no doubt exchanging stories or songs. He spotted a blue ribbon wound round his bard's harp and felt a stab of annoyance. Then she gave Cadda a guileless smile, full of enjoyment, and Éomer had to close his eyes, he was so surprised at the black rage rushing through him, the urge to strangle the other man.
"Éomer?" his sister sounded worried.
He shook his head. "It's nothing."
"It doesn't look like nothing to me. And moreover I think you had better do something about it." She took him by the arm. "Come on, apologize for whatever you've done. Beg for forgiveness. Crawl!"
Why did he get the impression his sister was enjoying herself? But after a moment she turned more serious. "Éomer, just talk to her, tell her how you feel."
"It's not that easy," he said again.
"Ask her to dance."
Éomer watched as Imrahil crossed the hall towards his daughter and Cadda. He exchanged a few words with them, then Lothíriel nodded and got up. She held out her hand for the bard to kiss before taking her father's arm and leaving the hall with him.
"Too late," he said.
Éowyn had followed his gaze. "Lothíriel is retiring already?" she asked in dismay.
"Looks like it." Not that it mattered, anyway. One or the other of her brothers had hovered near her all evening, no doubt ready to repel any attentions from his part.
Then he saw the open worry in his sister's eyes and chided himself for spoiling her wedding day. He took her hand. "Éowyn, please don't trouble yourself over my affairs. I'm sure it will all work out." He smiled. "You should be dancing with your husband, not leaving him to all the Gondorian beauties."
She squeezed his fingers. "Are you sure?"
He turned her towards the hall and gave her a gentle push by the shoulder. "Yes, I'm sure."
With a last smile back at him she disappeared amongst her wedding guests. Soon after he saw her dancing with Faramir. Something in the way those two looked at each other told him she had already forgotten her brother's troubles. Good.
Éomer slipped one hand into a pocket of his trousers and fingered the ribbon there. Smooth and soft, if a bit crumpled, and Lothíriel still owed him a forfeit for it. All through the day, the conviction that he was missing something had grown in him. Suddenly he decided that he would have it out with Lothíriel and tossed back the rest of his wine. As a great general had said, if you risked nothing, you might not taste defeat, but neither would you ever drink from the cup of victory. And he desperately wanted to drink from that particular cup.
Keeping to the side of the hall, he slowly made his way towards the exit. He had nearly reached the doors when he heard his name called.
Turning round, he half expected to see Lady Wilwarin, as she had been throwing inviting glances at him all evening. However, to his surprise he found that her sister had hailed him.
"My lady, may I help you?" he asked.
Lady Annarima smiled rather nervously. "King Éomer, I just wanted to thank you for saving my son from that warg. I know we owe you his life."
He bowed. "Please, I only did what every other man would have done. The boy has recovered well?"
She nodded and he noticed that she stepped into the shadow of the stone pillars as if she wanted to avoid being seen from the hall. "My Lord King," she said in a low voice, "things might not be quite as they seem..."
With a frown Éomer took a step towards her. "What do you mean?"
She almost looked as if she had said more than she had intended to. "Just talk to Lothíriel!" she whispered and then whirled and disappeared into the crowd.
Éomer stared after her. Then he turned to go. He was determined to get some answers. Tonight.
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.