Knowing the limitations of her sex, a maiden is well advised to trust her father's judgement where the selection of a suitable husband is concerned. He will make sure such an important decision is based on the worthiness and eligibility of a suitor and not on some silly fancy, which will pass as quickly as it has arisen.
(Belecthor: The Gondorian maiden's guide to proper deportment)
Gruel... Éomer tried to muster up some enthusiasm. It was food after all, nourishing and easy to digest and he'd survived on much worse in the past. He dipped his spoon in the stuff and started eating. Bland and gluey, as expected. But at least he felt stronger this morning and had actually managed to make his way to the bathing room and back on his own. A small victory.
The door opened and he looked up quickly. But it was only one of the servants, coming to gather up the used sheets that Daeron had dumped at the foot of the bed the night before. With a quick curtsy she left the room again. Éomer frowned down at his tray and pushed away his bowl - he'd had enough of the stuff. Then he sighed and had to acknowledge to himself why he felt so out of sorts. Morosely he stared at the empty chair and covered up harp next to his bed. He knew it was selfish of him to want Lothíriel's company when she was resting after last night's vigil, but he could not help it.
The door swung open again and a blond head poked in. "Awake at last, brother of mine?"
"Éowyn! What are you doing here?"
His sister grinned and stepped into the room. "Aren't you pleased to see me?" She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and sat down in the vacant chair, dumping a bundle of cloth she had been carrying on the floor.
"Of course I am," Éomer replied. "But shouldn't you be in Ithilien with your newly wedded husband?"
She waved a hand in dismissal. "Oh, don't worry. I haven't abandoned my husband already. Faramir is in Minas Tirith as well."
"He's here as well? Whatever for?"
"Éomer, first we get a message informing us that Lothíriel has been abducted and the next day another one arrives saying you are in the Houses of Healing, injured and fighting for your life. Of course we came!"
"Oh!" He had not considered that possibility before. "Well, I'm sorry to cause you unnecessary worry. They should have known better than to send for you."
His sister raised an eyebrow. "Aragorn did not think so. In fact since I arrived here two days ago, I've been taking turns with Lothíriel watching over you."
At her words he sat up straighter. "Éowyn, do you know where Lothíriel is? The healer this morning only said that she had retired for a rest."
She grinned. "Is that why you sound so grumpy?"
"I'm not grumpy!" he protested. But when Éowyn kept looking at him quizzically, he felt a reluctant answering grin rise to his lips. "Well, maybe a little bit," he conceded.
Éowyn laughed. "The Warden has offered Lothíriel the use of a small room in the healers' wing to sleep in during the day. No doubt she will be along later in the afternoon to check on you." When Éomer opened his mouth to ask a question she held up her hand. "And yes, she's got guards watching her at all times."
Satisfied, Éomer nodded. "Good! By the way, has a search been organised to make sure none of the Southrons escaped?"
"Aragorn has had the city searched, but no more were found. I know Faramir's rangers have stepped up their patrols and also Elfhelm will come along later to report on his efforts of scouring the countryside. He wanted to see you this morning, but you were still asleep."
Good. It looked like the situation was well under control. Éomer picked up his spoon and gave the bowl of gruel an unenthusiastic stir. "Do you think you could get me something decent to eat?"
"Poor brother," his sister said with entirely false sympathy. "I'm afraid the only way to convince the healers that you're better is to eat up. Then maybe for the evening meal you might aspire to something edible."
He groaned but followed her advice. Truth to tell, he was still hungry and any nourishment would help to get his strength back. "I do not intend to lie in bed all day whether the healers want it or not," he warned her. "And I'm getting tired of being treated as if I were at death's door."
Suddenly serious, Éowyn leaned forward. "Éomer, only a little while ago you were at death's door! Don't overdo it. Think of what Lothíriel would say if you suffered a relapse."
"I'll take it easy," he promised grudgingly. After all he did not want to cause Lothíriel any more anxiety than she had suffered already. He hesitated. "I don't remember anything of what happened. Tell me, was it very bad?"
"From what I've heard the first night was the worst. We did not arrive until the next day when Aragorn felt your condition had stabilized, but even then..." She looked down and in the bright noon light Éomer saw dark shadows under her eyes.
He took her hand. "I'm sorry to have worried you so much!"
"Just don't do it again," she said, squeezing his fingers. "I only have the one brother."
"I'll try not to." Bemused, Éomer pulled up the sheets to have a look at his left leg. The scratch Muzgâsh's dagger had left on his shin was barely perceptible. "It seems incredible that such a small wound nearly killed me." In a way he still could not quite believe it, even though his weakness bore witness to his body's struggle to stay alive.
His sister bent down to have a closer look. "Aragorn said that if the dagger had penetrated any deeper he would have been too late with the anti-venom. The poison had spread throughout your body, which is why it took such a long time to purge." She looked up at him. "Don't you remember any of it?"
"Nothing in between feeling faint after the fight and waking up here last night."
"Nothing?" Suddenly, Éowyn's eyes seemed to glitter with something that looked suspiciously like laughter.
"Ah well," his sister pursed her lips in amusement. "In that case you missed the best part of it."
She was definitely laughing at him! But what did she mean? "Out with it!" he commanded. "What happened?"
"Well, from what I heard you started to feel cold and sleepy."
Éomer nodded impatiently. He knew that already. "And then?"
"Aragorn guessed the Harad Prince would have an antidote to the poison on him somewhere and went to search the body. But it took a while to find because it was hidden so cunningly and in the meantime Lothíriel had to keep you awake somehow..." Éowyn paused for a moment. "...my sources told me her method was unorthodox but very successful."
At the expression on her face, Éomer got a hollow feeling in his stomach. "Unorthodox? What did she do?"
"She started to kiss you. So...thoroughly... that you insisted on slipping your hand inside her clothing and asked for more."
Éomer stared at his sister with dawning horror. "I didn't! Éowyn, are you serious? And right in front of Imrahil?"
Éowyn could not suppress her laughter anymore. "It must have been quite a sight! Both her brothers were there as well."
"It's not funny!" Éomer snapped, appalled by what he had done. Then he groaned. "Her father will never give his consent now."
"I wouldn't be so sure. After all you have a solemn promise from the lady herself."
Éowyn leant back in her chair, obviously enjoying herself. "When Aragorn arrived with the antidote you refused to let go of her and swallow the stuff. She got you to cooperate by promising that you could have more whenever you wanted." She grinned. "You made Lothíriel swear on her honour."
Silence. Éomer hid his head in his hands. "What have I done!"
His sister laughed, but then touched him lightly on the arm. "Come on, Éomer, you were not yourself. I'm sure Imrahil realizes that you would never ask anything dishonourable of Lothíriel in your right mind."
"You think so?"
"I'm sure." Éowyn nodded emphatically.
"But how can I ever face Imrahil again!" Éomer tried to think of words to apologize to Lothíriel's father for his behaviour, but could not come up with any.
"Éomer, he consented to his daughter staying here and looking after you, so his opinion of you can't be all that low."
Well, that was something, a small ray of hope. Éomer picked up his spoon to finish off the remains of his meal, stone cold by now, when suddenly he was struck by another, worse thought. "What will Lothíriel think of me?" And what had she thought of him when he had wanted to kiss her last night?
His sister took one look at the expression on his face and dissolved into fresh laughter. Éomer glared at her. "You are not helping! This time she has every right to call me a piece of scum."
She held out a hand. "Please, I wouldn't worry about that. I'm sure if she objected to your actions she would have said so - loudly - and not spent every waking moment by your bedside."
Éowyn nodded again. "Believe me, brother of mine, no woman minds being told that the man she loves desires her." She paused for a pregnant moment. "Although admittedly most men choose a less public place to do so."
Éomer groaned. How embarrassing for Lothíriel! He would have to apologize to her. No, better still, grovel! "Is the whole court talking about it?"
His sister just shrugged. "I don't know and if I were you I wouldn't care. And anyway, it had one good result: your riders are convinced that Lothíriel saved your life. Actually, they worship her! Even Elfhelm has come round."
Still unhappy, Éomer nodded distractedly. He had the sinking feeling that his visit to Gondor and stormy courtship of the Princess of Dol Amroth would be talked about for a long time to come.
Éowyn bent down to pick up the bundle of cloth she had carried with her. "I thought that you would want to get up and sit in the garden, so I've brought you this." She handed him a pair of soft buckskin trousers and an embroidered tunic.
Éomer looked at them with delight. Just wearing his own clothes would make him feel better and to get some fresh air sounded wonderful. "Éowyn, did I mention I love you?"
Lothíriel did her best to keep still, so Hareth could do up the laces of her dress. But she felt so excited that Éomer was finally better! "Can't you hurry up?" she asked.
Her maid snorted with amusement. "You'll see your horselord soon enough. Don't you want to look pretty for him?"
"Yes of course." Lothíriel took a deep breath and told herself to be patient.
Hareth's deft fingers continued with their task. She had insisted on going back to serving her mistress the day after the kidnapping, pronouncing herself fully recovered from her ordeal and adding dismissively that it would take more than a few Southrons to shake her. Lothíriel wondered how she would like it in Rohan - maybe Éowyn could find her a Rohirric girl as an assistant? Then she shook her head. Here she was already planning her married life when she hadn't even got engaged yet.
"There," the maid said, tying off the last laces. "I'm finished."
Lothíriel whirled round and gave her maid a quick hug. "Thank you!"
Hareth laughed. "He must be a lot better if you're in such good spirits."
Humming a tune from Rohan and taking a few dance steps, Lothíriel smiled. "Oh, he is!"
That moment came a knock on the door. "Lothíriel, are you up?" Her father's voice.
While Hareth crossed the room to open the door, Lothíriel smoothed down her dress and schooled her features. Her father would not approve of her skipping around like a giddy child. And of course staying on his good side was important, for he still had to give his consent to her marrying Éomer. She grinned to herself. Not that he had much choice really.
"Good morning, father," she said, holding out her hands. "Or is it afternoon already?"
He placed a quick kiss on her cheek. "Actually it is. Did you sleep well?"
"Thank you, I did." In fact it had been her first truly restful sleep for days. She had dozed off in her chair once she could hear Éomer's deep, even breathing and only woken up briefly when Amrothos had carried her to her own room at daybreak.
"I've been told that Éomer fares better. Is that right?" Imrahil asked.
"Yes it is!" She had to stop herself from taking more dance steps. "He got up last night and had something to eat. Aragorn says he'll improve rapidly now!"
Her father laughed and stroked her cheek. "It's good to see you happy again. Shall we go and see him? I have something to discuss with him."
Lothíriel caught her breath. Could it be that her father had finally come round? "What exactly?" she asked, trying to keep her voice nonchalant.
He took her hand and placed it on his arm. "Well, I still have to thank him for saving you from the Haradrim."
Her face must have fallen, for he laughed again. "Patience, Lothíriel! You'll find out soon enough." He led her out the door, where her Rohirric guards greeted her with cheerful voices before falling into step beside them.
A long, echoing corridor led from the healers' wing back to the main quadrangle, and once they got there a servant directed them to the gardens. When they stepped outside Lothíriel took a deep breath of the fresh air. The last three days she had spent all her time either in Éomer's sickroom or sleeping off her exhaustion. How good it felt to have the sun shining on her face! A gentle breeze brought the scent of flowers and medicinal herbs with it. While the gardens of the Houses of Healing were famous for their beauty, they also served a practical purpose.
Her father led her along the winding paths between the flowerbeds and soon they could hear the sound of voices ahead of them, talking in the lilting tones of the language of the Rohirrim. It took considerable willpower to curb her impatience and keep her steps to the slow gliding motion appropriate to a Princess of Gondor. Then they turned a corner and found themselves greeted enthusiastically. Elfhelm and Guthlaf, she identified two of the speakers, Cadda the bard, Aragorn, the clear voice of Éowyn... but where was Éomer?
Her hand was taken in a firm but gentle grip and a kiss dropped on it. "Lothíriel, it gladdens my heart to see you." The low voice, deepest red with rich veins of gold running through it, seemed to wrap itself around her. A tingle started at the bottom of her stomach.
"Éomer!" she could not keep the pleasure out of her voice. "How are you today?"
"Much better." His forefinger stroked across the palm of her hand and Lothíriel shivered. It was amazing what an accidental touch like that could do to her insides.
"Here, sit on the bench beside me," Éomer said, pulling her towards him. Lothíriel followed his lead willingly and sat down next to him, but half expected her father to utter a protest. However, he said nothing.
"Let me get you a cushion, my lady," Elfhelm offered.
With an effort Lothíriel tore her attention away from the sensations engendered by Éomer's closeness and smiled at the Marshal. "I'm fine, please don't bother."
"It's no bother," he assured her. "And the stone bench is cold."
Over to the side somebody chuckled. Éowyn. "You didn't offer to get a cushion for me, Elfhelm," she teased the Marshal.
"You're a Northern Shieldmaiden," her brother shot back. "Tough as boiled leather."
Everybody laughed and Lothíriel leant back, relaxing. Éomer's voice had lost the tiredness of last night and he seemed remarkably high-spirited. Then she had to lean forward again as Elfhelm handed her a cushion for her use. Ever since the combat the Marshal seemed to take his promise to Éomer to look after her very seriously. At times he reminded her of an anxious mother hen.
Her father sat down on her other side. "Ah, here come Faramir and your brothers," he remarked.
The three were also greeted warmly, even more so because they had apparently brought a couple of bottles of wine with them.
"We wanted to raid the kitchen of the Houses of Healing for glasses," Amrothos explained, "but they only have tin cups. Not quite appropriate for finest Moragar, but they will have to do."
Lothíriel raised an eyebrow in surprise. It wasn't often that her father parted with his favourite vintage. "Are we celebrating Éomer's recovery?"
"Not quite," Imrahil answered and got up. He raised his voice. "Éomer?"
Around them the others fell silent. Éomer relinquished her hand and stood up too. "Yes?" For some reason he sounded nervous.
"Do you remember that morning when you caught us up on the way to Minas Tirith?"
"Yes, of course I do."
"You asked me a question there in the fog. Now you may do so again in the sunlight." Lothíriel's heart started to beat faster.
Éomer drew her up to stand beside him. "Imrahil, will you grant me your daughter's hand?"
Lothíriel could contain herself no longer. "Father!" She flew into his arms and embraced him. "Thank you!"
He pulled her close. "Lothíriel, I only desire to see you happy."
"Oh, I am!" She brushed a tear from her eye. Then she found herself caught up in Elphir's arms and Aragorn's after. With all the felicitations getting exchanged it took a while to get back to the one she wanted the most, but finally Éomer took hold of her again.
"I want to kiss my betrothed too," he complained and then followed up on his words.
How good it felt to have his lips pressing against hers, a strong hand slipping round her back. However, before she could respond by throwing her arms around his neck he had already let go of her again. Lothíriel bit her lip. But aware of her father standing right behind her, she suppressed the irrational disappointment at the brevity of their kiss.
A cup was thrust into her hands by Amrothos. "A toast!" her brother exclaimed. "To Éomer and Lothíriel."
"Éomer and Lothíriel!" the others echoed.
The wine tasted rich and heady. She would have to be careful not to drink too much of it! That moment a hand slid around her waist. "To us," her husband-to-be whispered in her ear.
"To us." Lothíriel took a small sip, her heart suddenly overflowing with happiness. She smiled up at Éomer. "I have to be careful not to have too much Moragar on an empty stomach or I'll end up getting drunk and embarrassing you."
He chuckled. "I'm sure you're a delightful drunk. Haven't you had anything to eat yet?"
Blushing, she shook her head. "I was in a bit of a rush when I got up."
Éomer ran a finger along the line of her jaw. "I think I'll have to make it my task to ensure you're fed properly. Fatten you up!"
He drew her down to sit beside him and sent one of his riders to fetch some food. Leaning against him, she was quite content to just let the conversation wash over her. It looked like Éowyn had decided to take organizing the wedding into her capable hands. Listening to her prospective sister-in-law discussing the details with Elfhelm, Lothíriel got the distinct impression that the two had spent considerable thought on the arrangements already.
"You agree with getting married in Edoras, don't you?" Éowyn asked them. "It's traditional for the Lord of the Mark."
Éomer laughed. "So we actually get a say in the matter?" he teased his sister. "But to be honest as long as we do get married, I don't mind where."
Just then servants arrived with platters of food and Éomer busied himself being true to his word and making sure she got plenty to eat. Leaning back in the crook of his arm and nibbling a piece of cheese, Lothíriel gave a sigh of pure contentment. A day ago she would not have thought this scene possible: to sit with Éomer in the garden, surrounded by their family and friends, celebrating their betrothal. She was so happy it almost hurt.
After a while the conversation turned from wedding preparations to more general topics like trade and horses, but Lothíriel noticed that Éomer did not say much.
"Are you still tired?" she asked.
"A little bit," he admitted. "Still, finally having something proper to eat and drink should help."
"Don't overdo it."
He squeezed her hand. "I promise I won't."
Soon afterwards Aragorn took his leave, saying he had a council meeting to attend, and as if that was a signal, the others also started to drift off.
"May I stay here a little longer?" she asked her father when he got up.
"Of course. Enjoy the company of your betrothed."
"Father," she asked impulsively. "What made you change your mind?" Next to her, Éomer suddenly tensed.
Imrahil brushed a kiss across her forehead. "Do you remember when your mother fell ill?" He sighed. "I would have done anything to keep her alive - anything at all - and the last few days I saw the same desperation in you."
Lothíriel jumped up and hugged him. "Oh father, I'm so sorry!"
"Don't be sad. This is supposed to be a happy day for you." Imrahil kissed her again. "I just wish your mother were here to see you all grown up, for she would have been so proud of her brave and beautiful daughter. You will make a fine Queen of Rohan."
"Thank you," she whispered past the lump in her throat.
"Besides," he added dryly, "I grew up by the sea and know you cannot sail a boat against the tide." He let go of her. "Éomer, my friend?"
"I'm leaving my daughter in your safe hands."
"Thank you. I promise to look after her." Lothíriel could have sworn Éomer sounded embarrassed. But why?
When Imrahil was gone, taking her brothers with him, Lothíriel sank down on the bench again and Éomer put his arm around her shoulder. Leaning back against his solid, warm presence she thought to herself that she would have to get used to thinking of him as her betrothed now. Her betrothed! It had a good ring to it. And how nice to have the sun playing across her face and to listen to the birds chirping in the bushes. An insect flew by, buzzing lazily.
"Éomer, are we alone now?" she whispered, lifting a hand to his face.
His voice shook with sudden amusement. "Well, except for half a dozen guards."
"Oh!" She snatched her hand away and her cheeks warmed up.
"Ceorl!" he said loudly.
"Éomer King?" The rider's tone was completely impassive.
"Do you see that rosebush over there?"
"Yes, my Lord King."
"I think it needs guarding..."
Silence for a moment. "Shall I take my men round the corner and make sure it doesn't come to any harm?"
"An excellent idea," Éomer agreed. "Good man!"
Lothíriel's cheeks burnt with blistering heat by the time the riders' steps receded.
Chuckling, Éomer took her hands and lifted them to his lips. "Don't worry about them, dear heart. They are Rohan's finest." Then he lowered his voice, suddenly serious. "But I think I owe you an apology."
"An apology?" she asked, surprised.
"I don't remember any of it, but Éowyn told me what I did when you tried to keep me from falling asleep after I got poisoned."
"You were right to accuse me of having the manners of an orc." The self-recrimination in his voice rendered her momentarily speechless. Did he really worry about that? But she did not get the chance to answer, for he went on at once. "After what you'd been through that day, to ask to touch you! All I can say is how sorry I am."
"But I didn't mind."
"Well, at the time all I could think of was to keep you alive," she tried to explain. "Although of course I did mind..." What a muddle she was making of her answer! Why did Éowyn have to go and tell him? She made a helpless gesture. "I mean I did mind...you doing it so very publicly..."
"And if it were less..." he hesitated, "...public?"
"Then I wouldn't mind." Surely he realized that by now! "That is, at the proper time and place..." Now she was blushing in earnest. "We're going to be married, aren't we."
Éomer squeezed her hands. "Lothíriel, believe me, I would never ask anything of you that you're not willing to give."
"I know that," she said simply. "I'm safe with you."
He caught his breath. "Thank you."
What a silly thing to be worried about! Suddenly another thought struck her. "Éomer," she asked, "is that why you didn't kiss me properly earlier on?"
"Well, is it?"
Éomer started laughing. Then his arm slid down to her waist and he pulled her towards him while his other hand cupped her cheek. He dropped his voice to a whisper. "My lady, are you complaining?"
A most delicious tingle ran down her spine. She lifted her face to him in anticipation. "Not anymore."
Then he kissed her. Properly. And he would not let her feel his pulse either.
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.