On becoming engaged, the lady will allow her betrothed a single chaste kiss to seal their union. Knowing the eyes of the world on her, she will pay suitable attention to behaving in a seemly and decorous manner. This is the proper way to gain and keep your lord's esteem.
(Belecthor: The Gondorian maiden's guide to proper deportment)
The morning sun shafting through his window woke Éomer. With a big yawn he stretched leisurely, before rolling over to squint at the light. Maybe a couple of hours after sunrise, not more. He sank back onto his pillow and closed his eyes. Plenty of time yet, and no need to put the Prince of Dol Amroth in a bad mood by seeking him out before he'd even had his breakfast.
Involuntarily, Éomer wondered what it would be like to wake up next to Lothíriel, as he hoped to do in the not too distant future. Utterly delightful, he suspected. To have her smile at him with that particular mixture of innocence and trust, to smell the delicate perfume of her hair, to be able to touch her... He groaned. Better think about something else. That first kiss - he had got rather more than he had bargained for and had lost control for a moment, yet she had not minded, on the contrary, she had responded to his ardour. And it had been more than just the pent-up frustration of the last two days being released; something unpredictable and wild had raised its head for a moment.
He would have to be careful not to let Imrahil see any of the passion Lothíriel awoke in him, or the prince might well decide not to entrust his inexperienced young daughter to a rough northern warrior king. As if he'd ever hurt her! But yes, some details of his dealings with the Princess of Dol Amroth were better glossed over.
A knock on the door interrupted his musing, and stopped him from contemplating how exactly he would phrase his explanations to Imrahil of how Lothíriel had ended up quarrelling with him so badly.
"Shall I fetch your breakfast, Éomer King?" Oswyn enquired.
Éomer nodded absentmindedly and his squire left on his errand. He returned a short time later with a tray, which he set on a table by the window.
Éomer stretched and got up to have a look what the kitchen of the Prince of Ithilien had to offer. He did not expect Éowyn and Faramir to be up before noon and intended to have his talk with Imrahil over and done with before then. Also it remained to be decided what to do about a certain spiteful Gondorian lady, for he had no intention of letting Lady Wilwarin get away with hurting Lothíriel the way she had. That moment a small, tightly folded piece of parchment lying on the tray caught his eye.
"What is this?" he asked, picking it up.
"Oh, I nearly forgot," Oswyn bent down to collect Éomer's trousers, which had ended up on the floor the night before. "It was delivered for you a little while ago, but you had said not to wake you, so I thought I'd wait."
"Who is it from?"
"I don't know. An elderly woman, grey haired, gave it to me. She seemed a bit flustered."
Éomer tore open the note. No signature, and the letters formed clumsily like the writing of a child - or of a blind woman.
Father caught me slipping back to my room last night. We are leaving for Minas Tirith.
Éomer cursed. "How long ago was this delivered?" he snapped at his squire.
Poor Oswyn jumped. "I'm not sure," he stammered.
Éomer had stopped listening to him anyway. He grabbed his trousers from his surprised squire's hands and struggled into them while on his way to the door. As a last thought he also threw on a shirt, just in case he met Imrahil. However, when he reached the fifth door to the right it stood open. A quick glance inside showed one of the maids removing the bed sheets and another one sweeping the floor. They looked up, their mouths hanging open in surprise, when he stood in the doorway cursing.
"Oswyn!" he bellowed.
"My Lord King?" his squire looked at him as if he doubted his king's sanity.
Éomer brandished the piece of parchment at him. "How long ago?"
"At least an hour I think, perhaps longer."
An hour! That meant they would be gone by now. What would Lothíriel think of him - that he had failed her? He dashed back to his own room, a confused Oswyn trailing behind.
"Saddle Firefoot!" he ordered while he hastily finished dressing, but then changed his mind. "No, I'll do it myself. You go and get Éothain. Tell him to ready an escort of ten riders. At once!"
Oswyn took off at a run. A quick look out the window showed the day to be overcast for a change and slightly blustery, so Éomer picked up his cloak on the way out. At least he hadn't yet forgotten the quickest way to ready a horse. In fact Firefoot was bridled and saddled while the stable boys still stood there staring in stupefaction. He started on Éothain's horse, Ironhoof, just as his captain came running with ten of his men.
"What's the matter?" Éothain exclaimed. "Has something happened back home?"
Éomer shook his head. "Imrahil has left for Minas Tirith," he said curtly, "and I need to speak with him."
Éothain heaved his saddle onto Ironhoof's back. "With Imrahil?" he asked with a raised eyebrow.
"I'll explain later." Éomer cut him off. "Hurry up!"
In no time at all, the horses were ready and the gates swung open ponderously. Éomer had to reign in his impatience on the switchback trail leading down the hill, but once they reached level ground, he dug his heels into Firefoot's sides. The stallion responded willingly and leapt forward, eager for a run after yesterday's sedate pace. Despite his urgency, Éomer laughed in sheer delight at the feeling of moving as one with the powerful animal and having the wind streaming through his hair. They made good time across the plain and did not have to slow down until the road started to climb the foothills. Here ancient trees, their gnarled roots exposed to the air, lined the path and the morning chill lingered. Walking and trotting the horses in turn they at last made the top of the ridge. Éothain riding at his side pointed to a pile of horse droppings lying on the road, still steaming.
"They can't be far ahead now."
Éomer nodded and reached for his horn to blow it briefly. He did not want to surprise Imrahil's knights and have them think they were faced with enemies. The road plunged downhill steeply, but they had to keep to a walk because morning mist clung to the mountainside, getting thicker as they descended towards the valley of the Anduin. He blew his horn again.
At last he could hear the muted sound of a horse's neigh and rounding the next bend they came upon Imrahil's party. The Swan Knights had formed a tight circle around the women and faced the Rohirrim hostilely, their swords drawn.
Éomer reined in his stallion at once and dismounted. Signalling his men to stay back, he approached Imrahil, who sat staring down at him with a frown.
"Prince Imrahil," he said formally, "may I have a word with you?"
Imrahil slowly sheathed his sword and motioned his knights to do the same. "You have come in vain," he said curtly. "We are riding back to Minas Tirith."
"Redeeming a promise to a lady is never in vain," Éomer replied. He had spotted Lothíriel behind her father. She smiled at him and his heart lifted. "Please, a word?"
Imrahil drummed his fingers on his thigh. "Oh, very well," he said at last and dismounted. "Let's go over there." He indicated a small clearing by the side of the road where one of the big oak trees had fallen down and lay on the ground, overgrown with ferns and mosses.
"Wait for me, I'm coming as well," his daughter called, sliding off Winterbreath's back and holding out a hand imperiously.
Imrahil turned back towards her. "Lothíriel, this is between Éomer and me."
She jutted her chin forward. "Not if it's my fate you're deciding."
Lothíriel pushed her way between the horses, but then she stumbled on the uneven ground. Éomer and Imrahil nearly collided with each other, trying to help her, but she regained her balance herself.
"I'm fine," she said, taking her father's arm and patting it.
As Imrahil led the way a little apart, Éomer suddenly wondered if Lothíriel had stumbled on purpose. She had certainly achieved what she wanted, to be included in the discussion. He also noticed that today she had chosen to wear the Rohirric riding dress Éowyn had given to her. Just for convenience or a deliberate statement?
Imrahil stopped next to the fallen oak. Tendrils of fog wrapped around the massive tree trunk, giving it an eerie look, while the sound of the horses stamping and the men talking to each other in low voices was muffled.
Éomer turned to Lothíriel. "I'm sorry I didn't come sooner, but I did not hear about your departure quickly enough."
She waved his apology away. "Oh, I knew you'd come." Her complete confidence left him stunned.
"I have told my father everything," she informed him with a happy smile.
Imrahil threw his daughter a look made up of equal parts of fondness and exasperation, while Éomer felt a trickle of alarm run down his spine. Told him everything? He decided to take the initiative before the prince demanded an explanation of certain of his actions.
"In that case you know why I have come," he said. "Imrahil, I would like to ask for your daughter's hand."
Lothíriel beamed at him as if he had just said something exceedingly clever. Her father looked a lot less pleased. "I had hoped it would not come to this," he said slowly, "for I have to refuse."
"But father!" Lothíriel exclaimed. "I told you our quarrel was one huge misunderstanding. I know I said some horrible things about Éomer, but he's not like that!"
"That's beside the point."
Éomer took a deep breath, wrestling down his temper. "Would you explain the reason for your refusal?"
Imrahil frowned at him. "Éomer, I can understand my young daughter being carried away by her feelings, but I expected better of you. How long have you known each other? Four days?"
"Let me finish," Imrahil interrupted her. "Four days of having Lothíriel deliriously happy and utterly downcast in turn. Éomer, can't you see you're asking too much?"
"I know it has only been a short time," Éomer conceded, "and I feel deeply sorry for the unhappiness Lothíriel had to suffer. But surely your daughter has explained that it was all that Wilwarin woman's fault with her interfering lies."
Imrahil made a cutting gesture with his hand. "Yes, Lothíriel told me the whole confusing tale. But it still puzzles me why she should then choose to berate you in the way she did."
Éomer cast a quick look at Lothíriel. Her betraying flush let him know that perhaps she had not told her father quite everything. "Rightly so," he said smoothly, " for she felt that I had abused her trust by certain things that I said." No need to go into the details.
Imrahil did not seem completely convinced by this explanation and gave them both a sharp look. "Well, whatever happened, it did show that Lothíriel is quite simply too young to think of marriage yet. Why, by Numenorean reckoning she's no more than a child."
A child? Last night she had not responded like a child to his kisses, but he couldn't very well tell her father so. Éomer hesitated what to say, but Lothíriel beat him to it anyway.
"I'm not a child!" she exclaimed, looking rebellious. "In another two months I will be twenty-one. Mother was the same age when she married you."
This seemed to disconcert her father momentarily, but he caught himself quickly. "You can't compare that. I had known Beruthiel since childhood."
"Well, I've only known Éomer for four days, but that's enough," Lothíriel retorted. She reached out a hand for her father's arm. "Please, I know with absolute certainty that he will make me happy."
"Oh Lothíriel," Imrahil sighed. "You never do anything by halves, do you. Have you even considered what it would mean to be Queen of Rohan?"
"I have considered it," Éomer answered, "and whilst I know I'm asking a lot, I promise to do whatever I can to enable Lothíriel to manage. Would you like to discuss my ideas on this?"
But Imrahil did not take the bait. "Éomer," he snapped. "You are doing her no favour by asking her to marry you. I did not give my daughter to a Haradrim prince, though Denethor wanted me to, and I will not give her to you either. She could not cope."
Rage surged up inside Éomer at being likened to a Haradrim, but again Lothíriel pre-empted him. "How dare you compare Éomer to one of them!" she exclaimed. "The Rohirrim saved Minas Tirith from that scum."
She looked so much like a little sparrow angrily defending her young that Éomer found his humour restored.
As for Imrahil, he was forced to apologize rather shamefacedly. "I know and I intended no offence. But Éomer, nevertheless you have to see that making Lothíriel your queen would only lead to deep unhappiness."
Éomer shook his head. "I don't agree with you. You seem to think that just because she's blind, Lothíriel would not be able to manage. Well, she might be blind, but not to the things that truly matter."
"She would be helpless! How could a woman who has difficulties navigating her own home hope to cope in a completely foreign country?"
Éomer almost snorted. "I have never seen a less helpless woman. Why, she can't take a step without champions shooting out of the ground like mushrooms after the rain!"
Not amused, Imrahil scowled. "Rohan is quite simply too far away and you can't always be there to look after her."
Lothíriel stamped her feet. "Stop talking about me as if I wasn't here. Both of you!" Then she sneezed.
At once, Imrahil took her arm solicitously. "Dearest, are you cold?"
She rolled her eyes. "Father, I'm not an invalid!" But Éomer noticed that she shivered. If anything, the fog had thickened and she only wore a thin cloak over her dress. A quick glance back at the road showed him the men walking the horses, his riders and Imrahil's Swan Knights mingling in friendship again. Amrothos kept looking their way with bemusement.
"It's time to ride on," Imrahil said and turned to Éomer. "I stand by my decision. Promise you will stay away from my daughter."
Éomer hesitated and Imrahil's face darkened. "You're only making her unhappy."
"I can promise not to make her unhappy."
The prince gave him a hard look, but that was all he would get. Éomer nodded at him. "If I ever hurt Lothíriel you may call me to account."
"I will." The threat was unmistakable.
"Father, I'm perfectly well able to call Éomer to account myself," Lothíriel threw in, annoyance in her voice.
Éomer gave her a rueful smile - she certainly was! But he felt that for the moment, Imrahil could not be persuaded to see his daughter's strengths. A retreat and regrouping might serve better for the time being.
"I will be back in Minas Tirith in three days' time," he said to Imrahil, "and will seek you out again. It will give all of us some time for reflection."
Not that he intended to change his mind, but perhaps he would be able to think of a way to convince the other man.
Slightly mollified, Imrahil nodded his agreement. "Let's go," he said to Lothíriel.
"Father, may I talk to Éomer alone for a moment?" She squeezed his arm. "Please?"
After a short hesitation, her father agreed, no more proof against the beseeching look in her eyes than Éomer. "Only briefly and stay within sight," Imrahil cautioned her, before going back to join his men.
Éomer took the hands she held out to him, relishing the contact, though it was a poor substitute for a kiss.
Looking dejected, Lothíriel squeezed his fingers. "I've ruined everything, haven't I, by calling you all those names in front of the whole court of Gondor. Father will never believe I'll make a suitable queen now. I'm so sorry!"
"It's not your fault," he exclaimed. "I wish I could wring that lying woman's neck."
She gave a weak smile. "And like a complete fool, I believed every word she said. I've racked my brain what to do, but I don't think declaring publicly that you did not take advantage of me would do any good, would it?"
His mind refused to imagine the scene. "Please don't!"
"If I said that you have beautiful manners? Not in the least like an orc's?"
"That might be marginally better," he grinned, "but it will probably still not convince your father that I'm fit to marry you."
"I tried to explain the whole sorry muddle to him last night, but he was so annoyed with me, he wouldn't listen." She made a helpless gesture. "You see, I had promised to stay away from you and he thought I had sneaked out to meet you. The wet gown didn't help either. What shall we do now?"
"I'll think of a way," Éomer said, trying to put some reassurance into the words.
Lothíriel wasn't fooled and gave a sigh. "I don't want to wait four years to marry you."
"I need my father's consent if I'm under twenty-five," she explained.
This was news to Éomer, very unwelcome news. "I'll think of something," he assured her again. "I just wish I could marry you straight away!" He stopped, uncertain of her reaction. Would she think him too pressing? But he need not have worried.
"If it was up to me, I would marry you here and now!" she declared.
He lifted her hands to his lips. "Lothíriel, I swear to you I will make you my queen."
Beads of moisture like tiny pearls had collected in her black hair and her grey eyes seemed enormous as they sought his own. "I consider myself bound to you."
A slight breeze sprang up and wafts of thick mist drifted across the clearing, obscuring the view of the road. Lothíriel shivered.
"You are cold," he said and took off his cloak to wrap around her, fastening it at her shoulder. It covered her completely. "Keep this to remember me by."
"I will!" She smiled her thanks and touched the circular brooch. "Is there something engraved on it?"
"Running horses for the Riddermark," he replied. "It came to me from my father."
"Oh! But I have nothing to give in exchange."
He grinned. "I have something of yours already."
"What do you mean?"
"Your ribbon." He lifted her hand and kissed her palm. "And I hope a piece of your heart as well?"
She nodded solemnly. "You have had it for a long time now." Then she lowered her voice. "Éomer, may I feel your face?"
He remembered how she had explored her nephew's face that evening when he had first met her. It seemed a lifetime ago. He nodded. "Of course."
Standing on tiptoe, she tentatively reached out to stroke his hair, starting at the top of his head. "I hadn't expected it to be so soft," she said with a shy smile. "Is it flaxen coloured?"
"Slightly darker." He had never really wasted much thought on his looks. "Tawny, I suppose."
"Like a lion's mane," she pronounced. Her fingers moved on to his forehead and with a touch as light as a feather she began to trace the shape of his eyes. "Blue?"
"Yes." Her red lips were really most distracting. Would he get to kiss her before she left? Her father...
The fingers brushed down his nose, ghosted across his cheeks and stroked his short beard.
"Soft, too," she remarked with a smile, "and hiding a firm chin. Are you obstinate at times?"
Éomer laughed. "I can be. Especially when I want something."
She blushed and let the tips of her fingers run further down to his shoulders, the delicate touch like a trail of fire across his skin. Lastly she lifted one hand to trace his lips and lingered there.
"Éomer," she whispered, "is my father watching us?"
He cast a quick look back towards the road. Half obscured by trails of mist, Imrahil stood next to his horse, arms crossed across his chest, radiating impatience.
She bit her lower lip. "Are you going to kiss me anyway?"
Her face lit up. "Now?"
Éomer watched the fog rolling in. It would be easy really, compared to snatching a ribbon from a woman's hair at full gallop.
"The mist will hide us. It's all a matter of timing," he said slowly. "Now!"
Soft lips, responding eagerly. Arms sliding round his neck. A slim body pressing against him. Over far too quickly. They broke apart, breathing heavily, just as a gust of wind lifted the fog again. A glance at the road showed Imrahil having taken a step forward, a suspicious expression on his face.
Éomer sighed. "Lothíriel, I think your father is getting impatient and wants to leave. But I promise to come and see you in Minas Tirith as soon as I am back."
She nodded, her unhappiness plain to see, and took his arm, clinging to it as if she never wanted to let go again. Slowly they walked back to the road and he lifted her onto Winterbreath's back, savouring the brief touch.
As she gathered up the reins, he patted the horse's neck. "Carry your mistress home safely," he murmured and the mare's ears pricked forward.
With a nod, Imrahil gave the signal to depart and took the lead. The Swan Knights took up their positions either side of the women again, guarding them. Éomer told himself that he would soon see Lothíriel in Minas Tirith and that at least he could trust her father to keep her safe. Yet when the horses disappeared into the thick mist, her red dress at once swallowed up by grey fog, a shiver of unease ran down his spine. The trees either side of the road seemed to reach out threateningly with their long branches and he had to fight the irrational urge to ride after her at once.
"Let's go back," he said to Éothain who had led up Firefoot. The words tasted like ashes in his mouth.
The sound of horses clattering into the courtyard made Lady Wilwarin look up. She had taken a seat near one of the windows of the hall, ostensibly to have better light for her embroidery, an occupation at which she excelled. Looking out, she caught a glimpse of grey horses being led away to the stables and sure enough a moment later a page came pelting in, stopping in front of the head table.
"King Éomer is back," he announced.
With indecorous haste, Lady Éowyn jumped up from her midday meal and ran to meet her brother, who had just entered the hall.
"Where have you been?" she exclaimed.
"To have a word with Imrahil," he replied curtly. "I'll explain later,"
Wilwarin noticed that he looked grim and wondered if Lothíriel had managed to yet again humiliate him publicly. If so, he might well be receptive to some sympathetic female company. Glad that she had chosen a low cut dress to wear, Wilwarin put on her most seductive smile and sidled towards the front of the crowd. With the ignominious retreat of the Princess of Dol Amroth from the battlefield, the way to becoming Queen of Rohan was clear at last.
"King Éomer," she pitched her voice low. "Surely you must be hungry after your ride. Won't you join us for a bite to eat?"
He turned round slowly and involuntarily she took a step back. His eyes seemed to bore into her, ice cold yet burning at the same time.
"Lady Wilwarin," he said. "What a happy coincidence to meet you here, for I need your help."
"My help?" she stammered.
"Yes indeed. Please, refresh my memory. Did I escort you home after the fireboat ceremony in Osgiliath?"
All around them, people had fallen silent, even though he hardly spoke above a whisper. Wilwarin felt the cold hand of panic closing on her heart.
Worry and confusion mingling on her face, Lady Éowyn tugged at his arm. "Éomer? What's the matter?"
Effortlessly, he shook her off and took a step towards Wilwarin. "Did I?"
Feeling like a hapless goat being cornered by a lion, she shook her head. "No."
"And did I ever propose marriage to you?"
Unable to utter a word, she shook her head again.
"I didn't quite catch that, I'm afraid," he said, still in that deceptively gentle voice.
"No," she managed to say.
He nodded. "Very good. Then perhaps you would care to explain why you told Princess Lothíriel that I had done so?"
The silence in the hall was absolute. Wilwarin looked around, hoping for support, but found only confusion and condemnation.
Her heart plummeting, she moistened her lips. "A regretful misunderstanding! I assure you, I never said anything to dear Lothíriel to imply that you had asked for my hand. After all, the Princess and I are the best of friends..."
Her voice faltered at his icy look and watching his hand clenching on the pommel of his sword, she realized on what a tight rein he held his temper. Feeling like a woman who thought she petted a dog, only to find she had touched a wild warg, she took a step backwards. Whatever had possessed her to think she could handle this man? He frightened her out of her wits - Lothíriel was welcome to him!
"You are a bad liar," King Éomer enunciated very clearly, "although you have had plenty of practice. Let me inform you that I have asked Princess Lothíriel to become my wife. For she has the qualities I seek in my queen: courage, truthfulness and a heart...none of which you possess."
With that he brushed past her and left the hall. The door shut behind him with an ominous bang. Wilwarin tried to smile, "Just a misunderstanding..."
Her smile froze when she spotted Lady Éowyn's face. The Slayer of the Witch King looked as if she wished for a sword. "A horse!" Éowyn shouted suddenly and everybody jumped. She turned to one of the pages. "Ready a horse and an escort of two rangers. I want this woman out of my home at once or I will do something I might regret."
"But I'm not dressed for riding!" Wilwarin exclaimed.
Lady Éowyn slewed round. "I don't care," she hissed. "I will continue my meal now and if I find you still within the bounds of my home when I'm finished I will..." her hands clenching at her side, she obviously thought of and discarded several possibilities, "...throw you in the midden. Personally."
Wilwarin gulped and dropped a clumsy curtsy. "Of course. I will return to Minas Tirith at once."
"Not to Minas Tirith," a soft voice interrupted her. "You will return to your home. I do not want your like at my court."
"Queen Arwen," Wilwarin stammered, "Please!"
The Elf's cool grey eyes seemed to see into her very soul and the condemnation she read in them was worse than Éowyn's rage. "Your home," she repeated. Before she turned her back on Wilwarin she gave her a cool nod. "You will stay there until you prove yourself fit to return."
Taking their cue from the queen, the people around her returned to their meal, ignoring her studiously. The thought of having to return to the backward Lamedon valley she hailed from froze Wilwarin to the spot. And what would her brother say about her disgrace? Would he expect her to help with the running of their small holding? She could almost smell the stink of pig already.
The scraping of a chair made her look at the head table. Éowyn was tucking into the meal, half finished, and threw a black look her way. "Midden," she mouthed.
Panic rising inside her, Wilwarin hurried out the door.
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.