9. Counting the Days 2
Counting the Days – 2
Éomer pushed the tent flap aside and stepped out, sweeping his eyes around the campsite. Where was everybody? He could only see Celm – crouching by the fire and lethargically stirring a large pot of porridge – and another rider in the vicinity of the horses. He looked to the rear of his tent, a duty guard as usual, but where were the rest? The sky above distant peaks already glowed with a pale yellow wash of colour. He frowned in annoyance - the first rays of the sun would shaft over the ridge soon and it looked as if no one had even thought about leaving.
At that moment Eorllic appeared from the next tent. The burly Rohir nodded a greeting before reaching for a bucket and plunging his head right in it. Éomer shuddered at the thought of the icy mountain water and watched, fascinated, as Eorllic emerged, shaking droplets from his braids before running his hands backwards from his face to squeeze the worst of the wet from his hair.
“Couldn’t you sleep?”
The sound of Éothain’s voice made him swivel round. His captain appeared from the direction of the latrine, still adjusting his clothing.
Éomer ignored the comment, unable to hide his irritability, “It’s late. Why isn’t breakfast ready?”
“Late?” A slow smile lit Éothain’s face and he glanced at Eorllic, the two of them sharing some private amusement. “I think our king is mighty eager to get going this morning,” he announced to no one in particular.
“Never keep a lady waiting,” Eorllic contributed, straight faced.
“He’ll have to wait until tomorrow night to do his bedding, however early he makes us leave.”
Éomer glared at his captain. Who took no notice of the fierce expression and calmly reached for a bowl. “Do you want some? Last time, if I remember rightly, you fed it to that insatiable charger of yours.”
“Éothain,” Éomer felt he had to make some effort to restrain the worst of his friend’s, ribbing. At least in front of young Celm. “I would be obliged if you would show some respect for the lady who is going to be my wife and your queen.”
“Respect?” Éothain’s raised one brow, winking at Eorllic, “I certainly have the utmost respect for the Princess. We all have.”
“Yep,” Eorllic confirmed. “In fact we couldn’t have more respect if we tried.”
Éomer groaned, waiting with dread for the next pronouncement from Éothain. It came as expected.
“Respect that she didn’t get right back on that fancy horse of hers and bolt the moment she laid eyes on you.”
A splutter came from Celm as the youngster tried to contain his mirth. Éomer honoured him with a look that was meant to convey his displeasure of lads who listened to their commanders’ conversations, but he spoilt it when halfway through he started to laugh. Ah well, at least no one could accuse him of standing on any high horse- and if he ever tried it, then these two would soon bring him back down to earth. Might as well see if he could get his own back, though. “I saw some unusual activity when I took a walk through Edoras a few days ago, Eorllic. I thought spring cleaning to be over a few months ago.”
“Ha, so you saw all the furniture outside his cottage as well.” Éothain jerked his head toward Eorllic. “Our amorous friend here must have thought that he couldn’t ask a certain Gondorian lady to share his bed whilst he lived in such a mess.”
Eorllic, used from a young age to the banter that went with belonging to an elite group of men, be it a Marshal’s éored or a King’s guard, just shrugged. Only a slight twinkle in his unscathed eye betraying any real reaction. “My old mother would be proud of me. It’s the first time it’s been done since she passed on.”
Éomer broke into more laughter. “She’s been dead three years, Eorllic. You are in need of a good woman.”
“And I doubt he’s thinking of the cleaning,” Éothain immediately quipped.
Éomer grinned, took the proffered bowl and sat down. For a moment their jesting had stopped him dwelling too much on the forthcoming meeting with his bride. Now that the time had come he felt unaccountably nervous. He’d given himself away in his letter, told Lothíriel his true feelings, after being so careful not to overwhelm her during her visit, conscious of how very young she was. He’d suffered such anxiety at the idea of an arranged marriage, what must she have thought? Worse, he thought, for a sheltered girl to be betrothed to a stranger, and then dragged over mountains and through a dark tunnel to a land where she couldn’t even speak the language. He was sure that she would learn Rohirric pretty quickly, though, as during her visit Lothíriel had demonstrated an unexpected enthusiasm for anything to do with her prospective new homeland. And him –he just hoped he had not misinterpreted the signs, but he thought she had shown a surprising and welcome enthusiasm – for him.
His deliberations interrupted by the sounds of the camp finally waking up, Éomer plunged his spoon into the porridge and started to eat.
Éothain sat down beside him, cradling his own bowl. “Oh good, they’ve started the bacon,” he commented watching the activity around the fire.
Éomer frowned, “Do we need to have bacon? I want to get on.” As he said it he knew how ridiculous he must sound. They were not riding to battle, they were riding to escort the soon-to-be Queen of the Mark to her wedding and coronation. A joyful occasion – and his men deserved their breakfast. His captain must have thought so too because Éothain stared at him, one of his characteristic smirks starting to show.
“I doubt she’s even out of bed yet, my lord. Aren’t they staying with Duinhir?”
“They are, but I don’t trust that spindly-legged mare of hers on the mountain track. It’s likely to spook and I want to be there.” A poor excuse that sounded, but he could hardly say that after a parting of five months he couldn’t wait to set eyes on her again.
Éothain suppressed a smile. “I am sure her father and three brothers can keep an eye on her. She will reach us safely.”
Éomer raised his brows; he’d had experience of her brothers keeping an eye on her. Too close an eye sometimes. “I suppose you are right. I just want her to have an easy journey.”
“I think you’ve got it bad.”
“Got what bad?” he asked, regretting the question almost at once, having a pretty good idea what Éothain meant.
“The Princess. I reckon you’re smitten.”
Éomer stirred the last bit of porridge around in the bowl. Smitten? Yes, probably he was. Although exactly why still eluded him. True, she was a feast for the eyes. He still remembered his first sight of her after that embarrassing interlude when they had spied on Imrahil’s camp. She’d certainly looked like a vision as she had come walking towards him – a vision of womanly loveliness, fresh and untouched. Lothíriel was so much the princess –elegant and charming, knowing exactly what to say and do. She could make the lowliest servant feel at ease but quell an arrogant courtier with a disdainful remark. But maybe it was what lay beneath the polished façade that appealed to him, for when he looked into her eyes he saw the hint of a tender and passionate nature. Release that –combine it with her innocence and tantalising allure and …. Éomer smiled, “Yes, Éothain, I think I am.”
“Thought so.” Éothain nodded sagely, obviously pleased by his own astuteness. “But I still think you should have taken advantage of what was on offer over the last months. Now you are liable to frighten your lovely bride to death.”
“What are you talking about?” Éomer asked, wondering why a prolonged conversation with his friend always ended up exasperating him.
“Spending every night alone – that’s what I am talking about. Especially with the offers you had.”
“How do you know I had any offers?” Éomer shot back. Béma, did they watch every move?
“How do I know? It’s my job to know, that’s what. Not that it took much surveillance to work out what that Lady Rívorwen had in mind. I just cannot understand why you didn’t resume where you left off after the war. She’s the sort of woman it must have been difficult to refuse. Elegant! Isn’t that one of your requirements for a bed-partner?”
Elegant described the lady well, but he could use a few other words – tenacious, shrewd, determined, all fitted. Avoiding that particular mantrap had been more difficult than Éothain knew. It had taken all his ingenuity. Women like the beautiful Lady Rívorwen did not give up easily. “Difficult, Éothain, but not impossible. I did not want Lothíriel upset by any gossip in Minas Tirith and had to make it plain to the lady that our relationship had ended.”
“Very noble of you, I’m sure. But there was nothing to stop you availing yourself of young Edyth’s voluptuous charms these past months. She might not be elegant but she was more than willing.”
“Nothing to stop me!” Éomer retorted incredulously. “Sometimes I wonder, Éothain where exactly you keep your brain. Do you really think I want my wife speculating on as to who amongst the servants have shared my bed?”
Éothain chewed thoughtfully for a moment, before sticking his spoon upright in the glutinous mass and putting the bowl on the ground. “Oh, I suppose you are right on that. But it means you will be bedding a virgin after months of abstinence. It’s bound to cause problems. If you take my advice…”
“Éothain,” Éomer interrupted, “this is one area where I really do not think I need your advice.”
“On the contrary, if you think about it you’ll realise that I actually have more experience than you.”
Éothain looked so cocky that Éomer just knew he was not going to enjoy the rest of this conversation. He shook his head, sighing in resignation, “Go on, I am all ears.”
“How many times have you bedded a virgin?”
Éomer put the last spoonful of oatmeal into his mouth, chewed and swallowed and then with lips twitching, and shaking his head in a gesture of long-suffering, finally answered. “Alright, I haven’t”
“Thought so,” Éothain declared, puffing out his chest. “I, of course, have.”
“How many?” Éothain’s eyes narrowed, “Well, only the one. But that’s one more than you.”
“So, from one roll in the hay you are proposing to give me advice about my wedding night.”
“It might only have been once,” Éothain said, clearly affronted, “but it was not a roll in the hay. If I could have persuaded her to oblige in that way then I wouldn’t have had to marry her, would I?”
“Éothain, you astound me with your logic. Are you telling me that you only married Berwyn because you could not persuade her to lie with you?”
“You have no idea how much I wanted her. She was very pretty at eighteen, with a lovely sweet nature,” Éothain mused. His voice dropped and he grimaced, “I should have looked at her mother. That would have brought me to my senses.”
Éomer burst out laughing, “Berwyn’s still a very attractive lady, don’t deny it. And I have even greater respect for her now that I know how she dangled you on the end of a line.”
Éothain grinned. “Well maybe, but what I am saying is that she was a virgin on our wedding night and virgins need to be treated gently. You have to ease them in.”
“I think I know that,” Éomer agreed, “I am not a complete fool.”
“No, not a complete one,” Éothain said. “But surely you realise it is going to be worse for the princess. Everyone will be watching her and commenting so she will be nervous to start with. It would be best if you make sure she has plenty to drink.”
“Plenty to drink!” Éomer opened and shut his mouth in astonishment. “Are you suggesting I get her drunk?”
“Only a little bit, so that she relaxes. And then don’t rush her to bed. Also it’s best if you keep yourself covered until the last moment in case it puts her off. These high born ladies can lead a very sheltered life. It’s not like here in Rohan where the women are used to seeing the stallions performing.”
“Perhaps I should blindfold her,” Éomer suggested, not quite believing he was bothering to listen to this.
“I don’t think you need to go that far, but don’t have too many candles lit.”
“So, your advice is to get her drunk, steer her to the bed in the dark, and then what – pull the sheet over her eyes until I get my clothes off?” He looked incredulously at his friend, “I think I rather go by my own instincts.”
“Well,” Éothain stood up, picked up his bowl and took Éomer’s from his hand. He started to head for the fire but stopped and threw a parting remark over his shoulder. “I am just trying to warn you that going without a woman for all that time and then finding yourself presented with an innocent young virgin might not be as straight forward as you think. After all, you don’t want to put her off for the future.”
Éomer did not want to put her off at all. Not that he thought he would. On the few occasions he had come near to losing the strict control he kept over himself, she had responded wonderfully. His mind went back to the last occasion they had been alone – in the Citadel garden when he had asked her to walk with him. No brothers around and no father in sight, he’d finally given in to his urge to kiss her, really kiss her. He’d revelled in immersing himself in her silky softness; her sweet scent – and then – that sneezing fit of hers… Éomer started chuckling, remembering how exasperated and amused he had felt at the time.
He was still chuckling when Éothain handed him a mug of tea and plate of bread and bacon. “You might as well eat it. We have got plenty of time.”
“Maybe, but tell everybody I want to be on our way within half an hour.”
Whatever he thought, Éothain didn’t argue. He nodded and turned away, barking out his forthright opinion of indolent sods who lazed around chin-wagging until the morning had almost passed. This had the effect of those around the campfire all staring a bit bemused at him and their king, before making a noticeable effort to finish their meal.
The first shafts of sunlight tentatively reached across the plateau as Éomer led the column onto the steep downhill track, glowing autumnal colours of a few stunted trees the only relief from a landscape of drab grey rock.
“Bit different than last time we rode this way,” Éothain remarked as he carefully guided his mount onto the less hazardous area of the stony way.
“I can’t say I will miss the mist,” Éomer agreed. “We should be able to see almost the whole of the western marches of Gondor from where we are meeting Imrahil’s party.” He looked around, checking the men riding behind him. “Have you sent the scouts out? I want us to sound horns this time.”
“No creeping up and spying then?” Éothain grinned.
“Don’t remind me of that,” Éomer grimaced. But then he couldn’t help smiling as he recalled how Lothíriel had saved him from embarrassment within moments of meeting him. “And no clever suggestions about picking flowers,” he shot at Éothain. “In fact it might be a good idea if you refrain from saying much at all.” Éomer started to laugh, “On second thoughts perhaps you could use your considerable verbal skills to help further Eorllic’s chances.”
“Who says I need any help?” A voice came from behind. “The time I need any assistance from Éothain to snare a woman, is the time I shall give up.”
Éomer tended to agree with Eorllic but having provided the fuel left his two commanders to trade insults, which allowed his mind to return to Lothíriel. He just hoped he had not misread the letter she had written him. He’d look a damn fool if he had, after what he’d written back to her. He almost knew her words by heart …The weeks I spent in Rohan with you were the happiest of my life, how I long for the time I will call Meduseld home … Surely that was clear enough, he could not have mistaken that. A little chuckle escaped his lips: the last time he had ridden this way he had been bad tempered and apprehensive about meeting a woman he had been virtually forced into agreeing to marry. This time he was nervous in case that same woman didn’t return his feelings. Affairs of the heart seemed to be rather complicated for kings. Well, soon now, he’d find out the truth. He had no doubts that whatever she felt would show in her eyes and that even if she greeted him with the banal utterances dictated by the conventions of Gondorian society, he would know.
The sight of one of the scouts riding back up the track towards him interrupted his reverie.
“I’ve been down to the meeting place, my lord. They won’t be reaching it for a while. But I could see a dust cloud down in the valley, so they are on their way.”
“We don’t have to wait on the road, might as well ride down to meet them.” Éomer remarked.
“I wouldn’t advise it, my lord,” the scout answered. “The track is quite narrow and looks treacherous; two large parties meeting could cause problems.”
“You’ll have to wait a bit longer,” Éothain murmured under his breath.
Éomer rested his foot on a convenient rock, leaning forward on his knee to stare down into the valley: the individual figures were discernable now. Behind the standard bearer and two pairs of guards he could see Imrahil and Erchirion. Lothíriel rode behind her father with Amrothos by her side and then Elphir, leading his young son who rode a piebald pony. Elphir’s wife and Lady Anniel came next, followed by a large group of Swan Knights, a few women, various retainers and a line of packhorses.
As he watched he saw Lothíriel’s head come up to search the ridge above her. He pushed down the urge to wave but stood up straight so she would see him.
“Shall we sound a greeting?” Éothain asked.
Éomer shook his head, “I don’t want to risk upsetting any of the horses on that track. We will offer a welcome cup instead. The ladies may be glad of a short rest after their trek up the vale.”
Patience not being one of his strong points Éomer walked a little way to the edge of a cliff face and whiled away the time trying to pick out the prominent features of the vast landscape that lay spread out before him. The peaks of the Ered Nimrais stretched away to his right, lowering in height as they ranged northwest. A purple spur of hard rock pushed deep into Pinnath Gelin as though trying to reach the far ocean. Below him, the silver ribbon of the Morthond River wound out onto the flatlands of Western Gondor. Shading his eyes from the morning light, he followed its course to the horizon – mist in the distance or the smudge of sea, he could not tell.
“They are nearly atop the ridge, my lord.”
Éomer turned and saw the top of the standard appearing above the ridge. Within moments bearer and horse came into full view as they took the last steps that brought them onto the main way. By the time he had returned to the place where the track from the Blackroot joined the road, Imrahil had attained the top. The Prince jumped from his horse as Éomer reached him, holding out his hand in greeting. “You were here early, Éomer. I imagined we might meet you further up the road.”
“Such a beautiful morning,” Éomer replied. “I thought we might as well get on.” Only half his attention was fixed on the Prince as Lothíriel now gained the road. Muttering an excuse to Imrahil he stepped across and took hold of her horse’s bridle, leading mount and rider away from the steep drop at the edge of the road. “Come over here, my lady, it’s safer.” Motioning one of his riders to the mare’s head, he looked up into a pair of sparkling grey eyes. “Welcome, Lothíriel and I hope your journey has not been too tiresome,” he said, eager for her to speak.
“A little tiring, my lord but it’s good to be here. It pleases me to look upon you after all this time.”
Éomer wanted to laugh, actually he wanted to shout. The formality of her words was totally at odds with the way she raked her eyes over him. He reached out his hands, “May I assist you to the ground, my lady?”
Lothíriel started to very elegantly move her right leg across her mount’s withers, all the time keeping her gaze locked with his. “Thank you, my lord that would be agreeable.”
Once she was sitting sideways on the saddle he reached up and clasped his hands around her tiny waist. Her hands touched lightly on his shoulders and already he could smell the wonderful scent of her, distilled from a plant called Gardenia, he remembered her telling him. “And I hope the correspondence we have had was agreeable to you,” he whispered as he settled her on her feet, with his mouth close to her ear. She did not break contact, instead her fingers squeezed gently into his shoulder muscles.
“Oh yes, my lord,” she replied, her voice controlled but her eyes dancing, “I would say that it was extremely agreeable.”
To be concluded – when Lothíriel tries to find time to write in her journal.
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.