32. Night's Lady
My own true love, the salty sea,
Wither will you carry me?
North, where giant fishes roam
And under icebergs make their home.
East, where beckon Gondor's shores,
Here the Ship Kings set their course.
South, where stars and moon seem close
Spices grow and lions doze.
West, where lies a distant land,
Wondrous fair, but we are banned.
My own true love, the salty sea,
Wither will you carry me?
(Sea shanty from Dol Amroth)
The music wove through his troubled dreams. Clear notes, soothing him and bringing peace with them. For a long time he just listened. A harp, his mind informed him after a while. And a low voice. A little rough. Tired. He liked the voice. It sang of the sea, and ships, and a beautiful country far across the ocean. He had never seen the sea.
Only a sea of grass, floated across his mind. A limitless expanse of green and gold, with ripples of wind running across it, and merging into the sky. Beautiful. Then the music changed, picking up speed, and his feet twitched. A dance tune. My love has claimed a ribbon from me... He opened his eyes.
A high ceiling, dim shadows chasing across it from the firelight, met his sight. He lay in a bed, covered with blankets. It was not his own room and hot and stuffy as well. The harp was still playing, but the voice had ceased. He frowned, for he wanted it to continue. Slowly he turned his head. It took an effort to do so and he frowned again. Surely turning his head had once been the easiest thing in the world? How weak he felt.
A woman sat in a chair by the side of his bed, her face lowered over her harp. Wearing a simple blue dress and with her black hair caught up in a thick braid, she absentmindedly plucked the strings. At the weariness lining her face he felt his heart contract. She should be laughing and dancing, not sitting in a dark room late at night, worrying. From the recesses of his memory rose the image of her smiling up at him, happy and carefree. Then the last notes of the song faded away and with a tired sigh she leant back in her chair. Silence spread, the hushed stillness of the dark hours just before the coming of the dawn. Somewhere outside an owl called.
He watched her rub her eyes. They seemed black in the muted light, but beautiful even when tired. Unseeing. Suddenly he realized that he knew the silken feel of her skin under his fingers, the scent of her hair, the taste of her lips. Time seemed to contract as memories crashed down on him. A man handing him a letter. Black eyes glittering malevolently in a dark face. A fight. A death.
Éomer gasped. "Lothíriel?"
She jumped up, setting down the harp with a discordant clang. "Éomer?" Her hands found his arm and travelled up it with lightning speed. "Are you awake?"
He never got the chance to finish his question, for Lothíriel grabbed his head and kissed him. At first she only got hold of his cheek, but she quickly corrected her aim. "Oh Éomer!" A sob escaped her. "He said you were on the mend and would wake up soon, but I didn't believe it."
Tears were streaming down her face and he lifted a hand to brush them away. "You're crying."
"I'm sorry." Her fingers shook as she traced them across his face. "You're awake!"
He frowned. "Lothíriel, where are we? What happened?"
"In the Houses of Healing. Don't you remember? You were poisoned."
"Poisoned!" He tried to sit up, but instead sank back into the cushions.
"Be careful, you mustn't strain yourself!" Lothíriel put one hand on his chest and sat down on the edge of the bed. "You nearly died," she said, picking up his hand and holding it against her cheek.
He tried to recall what had happened and slowly the memories came crawling back - Muzgâsh, the fight, talking to Lothíriel in the garden. "I remember now. Aragorn came to have a look at my wound." Yet after that was a complete blank.
Lothíriel nodded. "He realized Muzgâsh's dagger had been poisoned and he found the antidote...eventually. Do you remember anything else?"
"Nothing at all except suddenly feeling faint," he admitted. "Poor Lothíriel, did I frighten you?"
She swallowed. "I thought I had lost you! If Aragorn hadn't been there..."
"You fought the poison, but even so..." Her voice broke.
"Oh Lothíriel, dear heart!" He slipped his hand round the nape of her neck and pulled her towards him. "Come here."
It was the right thing to do. She hid her head against his shoulder and with a little whimper snuggled into his arms. "I thought I would never be able to do this again," she whispered into his shirt.
He stroked her back while sobs shook her, cursing himself for causing her so much anxiety. "I'm not very good at protecting you, am I." He would do better from now on, he vowed to himself. How good it felt to hold her close.
After a while her crying abated and she sat up again. "One of the healers might come in at any moment. They check on you every hour." She nodded towards a doorway behind her. "And Amrothos is sleeping next door. My father insisted on it after-" Lothíriel stopped and it seemed to Éomer that she was blushing. But then she shook her head. "Anyway, he sleeps like a log." She seized the edge of one of his blankets and wiped her eyes, attempting a smile. "And I never have a handkerchief with me when I need one."
He stroked her hand. "I will make sure you need not worry about me again. I promise."
She gave a determined sniff and nodded.
Just then came a soft knock on the door and it opened slowly. Even though Éomer knew they were in the Houses of Healing, he tensed. After his experiences with the Haradrim he would tread warily for a while. However, it was only the healer who had sown up his arm after his duel with Muzgâsh, so he relaxed again. Not that he was in any shape to defend his lady at the moment anyway, he thought with a rueful smile.
"King Éomer," the man greeted him. "It's good to see you are awake. I am Healer Daeron. How do you feel?"
Éomer considered the question for a moment. Like he had been trampled by a herd of mûmakil? But he did not want to alarm Lothíriel any further, so he rephrased his answer. "Weak and hungry, but not in any pain."
"Good." The healer set down his satchel at the end of the bed. "Are you still feeling cold?"
"Cold? Not in the least!" If anything he was too hot. The fire made the room stuffy and also his many blankets threatened to smother him.
Lothíriel had curled up in her chair again. "The poison made you cold and sleepy. We were afraid you were going to slip away from us."
Daeron pulled one of the blankets away, but then he hesitated. "Perhaps Princess Lothíriel would like to wait in the other room while I examine you?"
She looked surprised. "Why?"
"My lady!" Clearly the man's sense of propriety had been offended. "King Éomer wears nothing but a thin linen night robe."
Lothíriel shrugged. "Oh, I know that. Besides," she continued triumphantly, "it's not as if I could see anything."
"But-" The healer cleared his throat. "My lady, the King of Rohan will have to attend to certain...calls of nature." Éomer had to suppress a grin when the man threw him a wordless plea asking for support.
"Lothíriel dear heart," he said, "do you think you could organise something to eat for me? I'm really hungry."
She raised an eyebrow, but then she got up. "Of course! What would you like?"
"Meat broth," the healer answered for Éomer. "And a couple of slices of bread. There's always a servant on duty in the kitchen. She will know what is suitable."
Lothíriel nodded and groped for her cane, which she had leant against her chair. "I won't be long."
Éomer tried to sit up and held out his hand. "Just a moment!" He turned to the healer. "Daeron, is there a guard she could take with her?" He did not like the thought of Lothíriel wandering alone through empty corridors late at night and was determined not to take any more chances with his lady.
The healer snorted, the first sound of amusement Éomer had heard from him. "My Lord King, there are six of your men outside the door to this room and four men guarding the windows. Plus more men watching the main gates and an indeterminate number of riders just scattered around the Houses of Healing. It's a bit like living in an army camp."
"And anyway," Lothíriel said from the door, "Elfhelm insists I always take at least two guards with me." She grinned. "Your Marshal is worse than my father!" At her words Éomer sank back into the cushion, satisfied to hear that Elfhelm took his charge so seriously.
When the door had closed behind Lothíriel, Healer Daeron gave a sigh of relief. "My Lord King, are you feeling strong enough to be able to get up?" he asked.
Grimly, Éomer nodded. He knew from past experience that the quicker you got back on your feet, the quicker you recuperated. But even with the healer supporting him, he became light-headed just from sitting up and swinging his legs over the side of the bed. In fact he could not remember the last time he had felt so weak.
"Ready to get up?" Daeron asked.
"Yes," Éomer said through gritted teeth.
The healer staggered under his weight, but Éomer managed to heave himself to his feet. Then he had to stop to catch his breath.
Daeron watched him worriedly. "My lord, are you all right? Would you like to sit down again?"
"No." He would not let some Haradrim poison defeat him.
A little uncertainly, the healer motioned to a door across the room. "There is a bathing room adjacent to this one. Do you think you can make it?"
He took a step. Then another one. And another one, leaning heavily on Daeron. A pause to catch his breath and to give his legs a chance to stop shaking. Then another step. By the time he reached the other side of the room he felt as if he had ridden across the Riddermark without stopping. But he had made it.
The healer opened the door for him and helped him step across the threshold. How could such a small thing take such a ridiculous amount of effort! The bathing room was tiny, with a wooden tub taking up nearly all the space. In one corner, next to a small chest, stood a stove with a basin of water on it. Éomer eyed the tub dubiously, not sure if he would be able to get in it, let alone out of it.
Daeron followed his glance. "I suggest that for the time being you just have a quick wash."
At Éomer's grateful nod, the healer helped him undress. Then he unwrapped the bandage on his left arm. With some surprise Éomer saw that the wound had started to heal already. The arm was still bruised, but no longer hurting.
Daeron inspected his work, careful not to touch it. "Healing nicely and no sign of redness." He nodded in satisfaction. "I think we can leave it open to the air now."
Above the drain in the corner a wooden grid lay on the floor, and Daeron helped him stand on it before going to fetch the water. Then he picked up a sponge and started to wash Éomer down with lukewarm water from the stove. It felt odd to have a stranger ministering to him so intimately and involuntarily Éomer's mind went to Lothíriel. Would she tend to him this way the next time he returned tired and worn from hunting orcs or patrolling the Ered Nimrais? The thought rather appealed to him.
Almost on cue, from the next-door room he heard her voice and a quick peal of laughter, then a man replying whom he recognized as Aragorn. Daeron threw a nervous look at the door as if he expected her to come bursting in any moment and picked up speed. "Almost finished."
Éomer nodded. How good it felt to have the sweat rinsed off and to have cool air brushing against his skin. Surely his strength would return soon. Daeron handed him a towel to dry himself and a fresh robe and after attending to his other bodily needs, Éomer followed him back into the bedroom. Lothíriel stood by the window, which she had just opened, but when the door creaked she whirled round.
"Éomer! How are you feeling now?"
"A lot better," he said and it was almost true.
Lothíriel smiled with delight and trailing one hand along the wall, crossed the distance between them. She held out her other hand to him and when he caught it, squeezed his fingers. "You will be back to normal in no time."
Éomer locked eyes with Aragorn, who sat on the edge of the bed. "Will I? Or will there be long-lasting effects from this poison?" he asked, voicing his secret fear.
Aragorn shook his head. "I don't think so. You are just very weak, that is all. Eat and you will feel better." The quiet authority in his voice convinced Éomer that his friend spoke the truth.
Lothíriel waved towards Aragorn with a flourish "The King of Gondor and I have endeavoured to bring you the best the kitchen of the Houses of Healing has to offer."
Aragorn grinned. "What she means is that she needed somebody to carry the tray for her and I came in handy."
Healer Daeron seemed slightly scandalized at hearing of his king ordered about like that, but Lothíriel looked unabashed. Dropping Éomer an exaggerated curtsy she held out a hand. "Would you require your evening meal now, my Lord King?"
Warmed to see the lines of care chased from her face by a mischievous smile, he laughed. "My Lady Princess, I would indeed."
Leaning only very slightly on the healer, he made his way across to the bed with slow, deliberate steps. Daeron made him wait a moment while he changed the sheets with the ease of long practice and then helped him to sit down. With a sigh of relief Éomer leaned back against the cushions.
The healer gave him a curt nod. "I have to continue on my rounds now, but I will look in again later." His hand on the handle of the door, he paused and shot a look at Lothíriel. "My lady, remember that the King of Rohan needs a lot of rest."
"Of course," she replied in her most demure tone and folded her hands in her lap.
Daeron regarded her uncertainly. "Right," he said.
When the healer left, Éomer caught a glimpse of his riders in the hallway. One of them turned round and his face split into a huge grin when he spotted his king. He elbowed one of his comrades, who also had a look. As the door closed behind Daeron Éomer could hear his guards starting to talk to each other in Rohirric. No doubt the news that he was better would spread quickly now.
Aragorn had picked up a tray from a nearby table and now placed it on the bed. By some ingenious mechanism short legs folded out to support it, so Éomer did not have to balance it on his lap. The smell of meat broth rising from a bowl made his stomach grumble.
Aragorn handed him a spoon. "Here my friend, but take it slowly."
Éomer nodded and started with a small spoonful. He knew the effect too much food at once could have on an empty stomach. Lothíriel had sat down in her chair again and now put her head to one side, listening attentively to every slurp he made and making him feel rather self-conscious.
"You look gaunt with hunger," Aragorn commented, handing him some bread to intersperse with the broth.
"Like a wild barbarian from the North?" Éomer asked.
Aragorn laughed, but Lothíriel sat up straighter. "You are not a barbarian!"
Éomer brushed back a strand of tangled hair from his face. "Thank you, my love. It's a good thing you can't see me, though. My hair looks as if I'd slept on it for three nights running."
Aragorn looked at him a bit strangely. "You have," Lothíriel said.
Éomer let the spoon sink back to the bowl. "What?"
"You were injured three days ago," she explained. "I'm sorry, I forgot to mention it."
Three days! No wonder he was so weak. "Have I really been asleep all that time?" he asked in disbelief.
Lothíriel nodded, a shadow passing her face. "Mostly."
Éomer looked to Aragorn for an explanation. "You were unconscious most of the time," his friend said, "but sometimes bad dreams troubled you. Nightmares of the war - you probably won't remember them."
Appalled that she'd had to witness them, Éomer reached out to clasp Lothíriel's hand. "I'm so sorry."
She gave him a shaky smile. "Don't be. The only thing that matters is that you're better now." Bending forward, she trailed light fingers across his cheek. "I washed your face, but I didn't think about the hair." She turned to Aragorn. "Could you get me a comb please?" She appeared to have lost all her shyness with the King of Gondor.
With the air of one well used to being ordered about, he disappeared into the bathing room and emerged a short while later with a comb held triumphantly aloft. Lothíriel accepted it with a word of thanks and then settled herself on the bed next to Éomer. He picked up his spoon and resumed eating. Feeling her clever fingers brushing through his hair, separating small strands and combing them gently, the thought flitted through his mind that getting poisoned had almost been worth it.
When he looked up again he saw Aragorn watching him with a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth and wondered if his thoughts had been so transparent. He cleared his throat. "Lothíriel said you found the antidote to the Southron's poison?"
Aragorn nodded. "I thought that the Harad Prince would have had some along, in case he nicked himself on his own knife. We found it in a cleverly disguised compartment in the pommel." Lothíriel's hands stilled for a moment in their task, but then continued.
"So I owe you my life," Éomer said quietly. And life was precious now. "Thank you."
Aragorn got up from his place on the end of the bed. "We are brothers. There are no debts between us." He gave a yawn. "I think I will leave you now and seek my own bed." At the door he turned, a grin on his face. "Just remember what Daeron said, you need your rest."
Peaceful silence descended, only broken by the birds in the garden starting up their dawn chorus. Lothíriel got up and shifted her position to his other side while he carried on with his meal. The broth finished, he leaned back and closed his eyes, simply revelling in her presence. When the last tangle had been smoothed out, she ran her hands through his hair.
Suddenly not feeling quite so tired anymore, he turned to her, caught her fingers and raised them to his lips. "Thank you." Then before she could answer, he snaked his arm around her waist and pulled her close.
Lothíriel leaned into him, slipping her arms round his neck, her face a finger's breath away from his. Trembling lashes framed eyes like a clear forest pool and Éomer wanted nothing better than to drown in them. Her lips tasted salty from recent tears, but curved into a smile when he kissed her. Warmth spread through him.
But then she gently disengaged herself. "Please, you mustn't strain yourself."
"Kissing you is no strain," he protested.
She slid her fingers down his throat, to where his pulse beat near the surface. "Éomer! I think you need a rest now."
He gave a small growl of frustration, but reluctantly let go of her. It was true he was tired and besides the healer might come back any moment. Or worse, her brother might wake up!
She picked up the tray and put it on the floor, then sat down on her chair and felt for her harp. "Let me play for you." Soon the soft strains of a melody filled the room.
Sleep dear heart, close your eyes
Horses race across the skies.
Éomer smiled when he recognized a Rohirric lullaby. Where had she learnt that?
Black and brown, white and grey
Flowing manes, loud they neigh.
Sliding down on the cushions, Éomer turned on his side so he could watch her.
Their riders call, heed them not
Following them is not your lot.
He remembered their first meeting in Imrahil's garden and sitting in the embrasure of the wall walk, the sun setting behind Mount Mindolluin. With a simple smile she had taken possession of a piece of his heart forever, although he had not realized it at the time.
You stay safe, by the hearth
With the one who gave you birth.
Did she remember how during their conversation he had asked her to play for him one day? Little had he known the circumstances under which she would redeem her promise.
Sleep, dear heart, close your eyes
Horses race across the skies.
His eyes dropped shut.
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.