23. Chapter 23
May 7th 3019
The open area just outside the ruined gates thronged with carts and people. Hopefully with all the goodbyes going on he wouldn’t be noticed. Sometimes simple disguises were the best – putting grease on his hair and tying it back had certainly changed his look. And the plain leather jerkin was a copy of dozens of others around. Éomer wasn’t bothered about his reputation and could easily have fielded any ribald comments directed at him, but he wanted to shield Guleth from unpleasant talk amongst her travelling companions. Her sudden decision to go had surprised him. He’d thought she had no intention of following her mother’s path in life. But she had announced the change of mind in her quiet way, stating that she had realised she could not escape her calling and wanted to get home in time to accompany her mother through the summer. The winter would see her take over the healing treks around the villages. Éomer accepted the explanation because he had to, but guessed other reasons had influenced her decision.
He searched the press of people in front of him, hoping Guleth had done what he had told her and worn leggings under her skirt.
“There she is.” Éothain pointed to where the carts and wagons were starting to line up. As Éomer caught sight of her, Guleth heaved a large pack onto the back of a cart, said something to the man holding the horse’s head, and turned to scan the crowd.
“I’ll stay here and wait for you,” Éothain said, passing the reins over. “I don’t think anyone will take much notice. There is so much going on.”
True enough. Getting the carts in line was not proving easy, and an argument had started between two different groups of soldiers at the front. Éomer ran his hand down Aéfre’s neck. “Come on, girl, I’ll introduce you to your new mistress.” He could see Guleth threading through the crowd and led the mare that way. As he got nearer he jerked his head towards a large pile of packing crates a little to his left. She realised what he meant and changed direction.
Éomer got there first, watching her walking towards him. She’d put on a serviceable brown woollen dress, and plaited her hair around her head. She looked neat and pretty, and he felt a large pang of regret that she had decided to leave.
“I told you not to do this,” were the first words she said when close enough for him to hear. He held out his hand, and with only a moment’s hesitation she took it, smiling into his eyes and saying with a soft chuckle. “But looking so different I might not have recognised you without the horse.”
Éomer pulled her closer to the packing cases. They afforded them little privacy, but at least no one was near enough to overhear their conversation. “And I told you I would. I don’t want to think of you walking the mountains in winter. Did you dress accordingly?”
“Yes, I did. Because I guessed you meant what you said. She’s lovely, Éomer,” Guleth murmured casting her eyes over the mare. He agreed Éothain had done well. Dark, kind eyes, and her coat would probably lighten to white in old age. “And not too big,” Guleth continued. “I had visions of one of those great warhorses.”
“No, I wouldn’t do that,” he said with a grin. “You will manage her easily. Just let the stirrup down when you mount, and pull it up one you are settled.” Éomer tugged at the quiff of hair that flopped over the mare’s forehead. She snickered in pleasure. “Her name is Aéfre. Éothain found her for me. She belonged to a farmer who lives high in the Ered Nimrais. So she is used to the mountain paths.”
“No, but look.” He turned the mare around so that Guleth could see the scars criss-crossing her shoulder. “Aéfre was badly wounded; she can’t carry his weight any more. The skin is delicate where she has been stitched, and could easily break out if she is over pressed. But she is surefooted and dependable. She will look after you.”
“Poor thing,” Guleth said studying the disfigurement, “she will not have to suffer anything like that again.” Gently she ran her fingers over Aéfre’s grey coat along the edge of the scarred area. The mare quivered under her touch and nuzzled her nose into Guleth’s neck.
“She likes you already,” Éomer said, pleased.
“I have some ointment that will keep the skin supple and help it to regain its strength.”
Rocked by a rush of affection for this gentle lady, he squeezed her arm. “I thought you would have.” But he couldn’t resist teasing her. “I hope it’s sweet smelling. She’s very particular”. He was rewarded by a slight staining of Guleth’s cheeks as they both remembered that first meeting.
But the corners of her mouth twitched, “I like to care for all things, Éomer.”
“I know that. Like me, she will be in good hands. And your brother,” Éomer said, going back to safer ground, “he will provide for her?”
“He will. He likes horses and is kind to all animals.” She shook her head in mild exasperation “But what I am going to tell him, I do not know. How do I explain such a gift?”
Éomer grinned. “The truth is always best. Tell him you helped to heal the King of the Mark, and he gave you a horse to assist you in your work.”
She smiled at that, but the smile froze as their eyes locked. “Guleth, you do not have to go. I will be back in a couple of months.”
“And what then, Éomer?” she said, holding his gaze. “Would you have me follow you to Rohan, or wait here for your infrequent visits?”
“Guleth I …”
“No, Éomer, don’t say it.” Guleth reached up, putting her finger on his lips and staring into his eyes. Her own were full of unshed tears. “I knew from the first I would have to let you go. I made a choice. I decided my path, and I will not keep you from yours.” Her voice faltered, but she breathed deeply and recovered. “You have given me a precious gift and for that I thank you. And I will always remember a golden time when I held a king in my arms. I feel privileged to have eased your restless nights. But you are destined to marry a Great Lady,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “and she will be very lucky.”
Éomer pushed down the lump of stone in his throat, trying for lightness. He wanted to hug her, kiss her, but not here. “I don’t know who she is, or where I will find her. Not in the courts of Gondor, anyway,” he said, thinking of the painted pleasure-seekers he had encountered over the past few days.
“You will find her. And I wish you all the happiness you deserve. But remember me sometimes when your shoulder aches, as it will surely do.” Her lips quivered, “I am certain your lady will be happy to rub it for you! And hopefully the times between your bouts of warring will become farther apart so that it should not trouble you too much.” A quick glance showed no one taking any interest in them – there were so many goodbyes going on, between warriors and part-time soldiers, between lovers. What would it be like when his own men left? Putting his free arm around her, he pulled her against his chest, placing his lips just above her ear. She smelt clean and fresh. “I will not forget.”
Guleth sniffed, and wiped a hand across her eyes. “I think it’s time to show me how to get onto this horse.”
She looked around once, her eyes resting on him for just a moment before she kicked Aéfre into a trot and caught up with the wagon in front of her, riding by the side of it and talking to the woman perched on the high seat. Éomer walked back to where Éothain waited for him, leaning against one of the buttresses of the massive walls. He pushed himself up straight as Éomer approached.
“Guleth seems to be handling the horse well.”
Éomer refrained from glancing after her again. It would do no good. “Yes, I was pretty confident. But she hasn’t ridden for a while, so I told her to alternate riding and walking or she will suffer. And I am sure Aéfre will be well looked after. Thank you for organising it. It would have been awkward for me.” He nodded his respect. “You chose well.”
Accepting the praise without comment, Éothain quipped, “I can understand you giving Duinhir a horse, but mistresses usually get jewellery. Might be cheaper too.”
Normally he would have made a joke of that, but his heart wasn’t in it. “I’ll not be making a habit of it – mistresses, or making presents of horses. But I care for her, and if she is going to spend her life travelling from village to village, I want her on a horse I can trust.”
“That’s understandable, and she’s been good for you. But it couldn’t have gone on you know, Éomer. It wouldn’t have worked. Not for you, or her. The Riddermark will take all that you have to give, and you will need a woman who can cope with that. One who can help you rule.”
Éothain in sensible mood was a formidable force. “I know that. And Guleth also knew it, which is why she left. I suppose that deep down I am grateful, but sad that she felt she had to.” He smiled wistfully. “Life hurls boulders at us, and sometimes we forget to jump out of the way. But I appreciate your support.” Éomer slapped his friend on the back, deliberately cheering himself. “I owe you one.”
“Just take me home, Éomer. We have been here long enough.”
Something in Éothain’s voice alerted him. “Welwyn?” A surge of envy – life was so much simpler for others.
“I hope so. But not only that, I have had enough of this stone. And even Ithilien was not like the Mark. I want to see the plains, gallop through the spring grass, and feel the wind on my face. Breathe the fresh air.”
And last of all Aragorn greeted Éomer of Rohan, and they embraced, and Aragorn said: ‘Between us there can be no word of giving or taking, nor of reward; for we are brethren. In happy hour did Eorl ride from the North, and never has any league of peoples been more blessed, so that neither has ever failed the other, nor shall fail. Now, as you know, we have laid Théoden the Renowned in a tomb in the Hallows, and there he shall lie for ever among the Kings of Gondor, if you will. Or if you desire it, we will come to Rohan and bring him back to rest with his own people.’
And Éomer answered: ‘Since the day when you rose before me out of the green grass of the downs I have loved you, and that love shall not fail. But now I must depart for a while to my own realm, where there is much to heal and set in order. But as for the Fallen, when all is made ready we will return for him; but here let him sleep a while.’
And Éowyn said to Faramir: ‘Now I must go back to my own land and look on it once again, and help my brother in his labour; but when one whom I long loved as father is laid at last to rest, I will return.’
From the Return of the King by JRR Tolkien.
17th May 3019
Aldburg - The Riddermark
Aldburg, his first true sight of home. They might have slept the past two nights on the good soil of the Mark, but not until he saw the shape of familiar rooftops, did Éomer really accept he had returned. With the sun already plummeting to its hiding place behind the mountains, the rest of the fortress had sunk into shadow. However, when they got nearer a ripple of excitement ran through the men as the crowds of people clustered around the gate became distinguishable against the dark of the palisade. For Éomer, seeing the waiting throng turned pleasure to sadness, as although many who lived here would have husbands or sons to meet, others would be still reeling from the shock of bereavement. And hoping that Eorllic had passed on the worst news already, with the lists having been sent weeks ago, only racked him with guilt. But he wouldn’t escape the blank looks of despair entirely, as he would have to speak to every widow and suffering mother during the short time he had here.
But for a moment he could join in the general hubbub of anticipation as the men around him expounded their enjoyment of being back, with talk of wives, soft beds and familiar food. And even those who would be riding on looked forward to a night’s hospitality from their kinsmen.
Then when closer still his heart leapt as he realised a guard of honour lined the last length of the road that ran straight to the gates. As soon as Firefoot’s head turned for the entrance, spears and shields were raised high, and banged together in a raucous greeting.
“Pleased to see us all, or want to make a good impression on their new king.” Éothain, ready with the wisecrack as always. But Éomer knew his comment covered the deep emotion stirred up by the sight of their brothers-in-arm. Here, amongst the old warriors, were the survivors from Helm’s Deep, men who had not been fit enough to ride to Gondor’s battles: some maimed, some standing straight, some leaning on their friends, but all welcoming their comrades home. And Éomer’s heart lifted more when he saw Guflaf in the middle of the line, his empty sleeve tucked into his belt. Aragorn had done more than fight for the Riddermark that fateful night.
News to be given on both sides, but that would have to come later as Eorllic waited to greet him. Éomer rode up to the temporary Master of Aldburg, and Firefoot, catching the excitement, snorted and tossed his head in response to the clamour around him. But gradually the worst of the noise ceased. Along with the stamping and the occasional whinny of a horse, only the children could be heard, as their mothers failed to hush them entirely. Silence unlikely to be achieved, Eorllic took his chance, raised his spear, and bellowed out the salutation, “Hail, Éomer! Lord of the Mark! The fortress of Aldburg stands ready at your command.”
The end of the formality signalled the rush for reunions, and such was the closeness of the community here that even the grieving had some family member to welcome back. Éowyn drew Windfola alongside him and together they watched the eruption of joy as children were swung upon shoulders and wives hugged ferociously against mail-clad chests. His cousin, Edyth, hurried past to greet Beorn, Éomund and Félewyn running with her. The boy had grown: long legged, with his father’s broad shoulders. Memories surfaced, firmly pushed out of the way. The future needed all his thought.
But as he helped Éowyn to dismount – spending time in Gondor had obviously changed her, or was she practising to be Faramir’s wife by wearing a riding dress – he became aware of someone standing behind him. Éomer turned around, and saw Éomund. But the lad shuffled from foot to foot, fearful of approaching. When Éomer’s gaze landed on him, he gasped, twitching in embarrassment. His face red, he bowed his head quickly.
“Éomund!” A step took Éomer right up to him, and he dropped his hands on the boy’s shoulders. “It’s good to see you. Is Félewyn well? Have you been looking after her?”
Éomund nodded. “She doesn’t cry very much now. Although Gárbald died, and that started her off again.”
“Oh, I am sorry. But he was very old.” Éomer remembered the loyal collie with affection.
A surreptitious sniff proved nine year old boys also missed their dogs, but were too proud to show it. “I told her you killed lots of orcs.” Éomund’s lips turned down in disgust, “but she’s more interested in the new kitten Edyth gave her.”
“Hmm…,” he didn’t quite know how to answer that, “Girls are different, Éomund…”
“They certainly are,” a voice chimed in, “Are you going to introduce me, Éomer?”
He’d forgotten Éowyn. “I’ve told you about Éomund and Félewyn,” Éomer reminded her. At least he’d told her the children were orphaned, and he’d found their parents butchered.
Éomund bowed again, Edyth had taught him manners, but then he looked up into Éowyn’s face and blurted out. “You look like my mother.”
“Do I?” Éowyn smiled. “And you have the same name as my father. Come and help me unsaddle my horse, and we can talk about them both.”
Sitting at supper later, Éomer realised he felt comfortable in Aldburg, far more comfortable than he would at Edoras, for a while anyway. The hall packed to bursting that night, he and Éowyn sat on the dais with Erkenbrand and other senior men with no relations around. But most gathered in family groups, the noise of their chatter a reassuring barrier, keeping grim thoughts under control – Meduseld would seem a vast empty space without his uncle there. Dealing with the distribution of food across the Mark would take a great deal of organisation, and experienced men who could have helped were rotting to dust under the mounds of Mundburg. He would be returning to a community harder hit than this one – virtually all Théoden’s guards having been killed on the Pelennor, their wives and children would need providing for. And he would miss Hama dreadfully, but thank the Valar he was bringing home his young son. Byrhtwyn had watched the lad ride out from Dunharrow with pride and fright vying for dominance on her unyielding face. The suffering of the mothers always got to him – which stirred him to look over to where Déor sat, his mother on one side of him, his sister on the other. Æbbe leant hard against her brother quietly talking, for once not trying to be the centre of attention. But his mother, Elwyth, did not join in the conversation and only gazed at her son, rubbing her hand up and down his arm as if she couldn't believe he'd come home safely. Every now and again Déor turned from his sister and smiled at her, putting his own hand over hers to squeeze it reassuringly.
Touched by the scene, as soon as he finished his meal, Éomer excused himself and went over to see his friend. Déor got up to talk, but not wanting him to move away from her, his mother clutched at his arm until she could reach no more.
“You don't have to come back with me, stay with your family for a few days.” Elwyth’s eyes lit with hope, but her son shook his head moving away a bit.
“No, it’s not going to be easy for you, and friends around will help.” Déor chuckled. “Especially if Éothain disappears to the West-mark.”
“Yes, there’s that,” Éomer agreed, glancing towards Æbbe. Luckily Éothain had shown no reoccurrence of that infatuation. “Welwyn is a much better prospect for him than your sister.”
Déor grinned. “You are right. Æbbe would lead him a merry dance.”
“Stay then, I can spare you for a few days.”
Dropping his voice, Déor moved closer. “Well, to be honest, I have other reasons.”
Ah…of course, Byrde, Hama's daughter. Everyone would be pleased with that match. It looked as if there would be a few weddings over the coming months, which would help to chase away the inevitable gloom of the difficult winter ahead.
14th June 3019
Edoras –The Riddermark
Three months of kingship already, but these last weeks back in Meduseld had passed like one of the whirlwinds that sped over the plains in high summer, kicking up dust and spooking the horses. Éomer wondered how he managed on so little sleep, and why every sinew in his body wasn’t aching with the strain of being pulled in so many different directions at once.
Déor had been right: he needed friends around him, friends he could trust to do a task he just didn’t have time for himself. And his opinion of elves had changed dramatically. Elladan and Elrohir might be amongst the most skilled and fiercest warriors he had ever encountered, but during the weeks they had stayed in the hall he had come to welcome and rely on their counsel. He supposed none could live on Middle-earth for nigh on three thousand years without gaining considerable knowledge, and having a father like Elrond of Rivendell, one of the wisest of the wise, was bound to add to that.
Well, he would miss the sons, but looked forward to meeting their father, and maybe even more, their sister. The prospect of setting his eyes on the woman Aragon had chosen was as appealing as it was intriguing. It couldn’t be long: the twins had left at daybreak to meet Arwen and her escort.
Éomer sighed, and put down his quill – he’d need to light a candle, but anyway, he’d had enough juggling with allowances and amounts for that day. Although they were a lot better off than he had dared to hope with the supplies arriving weekly from Gondor. And Erkenbrand had reported the quick-growing beans sprouting well. Not a crop they were familiar with in the Riddermark, but it had readily adapted to the rich soil of the Westfold. And with the haulms providing fodder for their cattle, they would get through.
A tap on the door gave him the excuse he needed to stretch his legs – the escort had been sighted.
Dusk had crept over the plain and Éomer could see nothing moving at first, but then he saw a glow half a league along the road. It reminded him of the luminescence that hung over the reed-marshes on warm evenings, but this trail of ghostly light travelled at a fair pace. Éowyn joined him on the high terrace as the procession disappeared between the barrows. Together they waited: watching the excitement below them as houses emptied, their inhabitants erupting into the street, not wanting to miss such a spectacle. Soon, ringing out from the gates below they heard the challenge of the guards followed by the musical tinkle of elvish voices wafting upon the evening breeze.
Torches lit the steep path to the hall, and with the horses taken to the stables, the party climbed up between the gawking crowds. In the front strode two elf-lords, their golden hair shining brighter than a summer day. So fair were they that when they reached the bottom of the steps that led up to Meduseld, Éowyn gasped aloud. The man behind them had to be Master Elrond: dark haired, his ageless features a stronger copy of his sons’. And then two beings that walked in light – one a lady with long fair hair and a face he imagined would grace a goddess. Without being told, Éomer knew he was looking at the Lady Galadriel – Gimli’s obsession now understandable. Suddenly Éowyn gripped his hand, for gliding up the steps with a brother each side of her, was Arwen, daughter of Elrond, the future Queen of Gondor. Midnight dark hair tumbled over her shoulders, her beautiful face radiated her inner joy and when she looked up and smiled at him, Éomer knew why Aragorn had risked all for the love of this woman. But concerned what Éowyn might be feeling he whispered quietly, “Don’t worry, youth is on your side, she’s ages old.”
“Do you see any wrinkles!” Éowyn hissed back.
Too late he remembered the remarkably sensitive hearing of the elves, feeling, rather than hearing, the ripple of amusement around him. Éowyn clapped her hand over her mouth as she realised. But then her sense of humour took hold, and she started laughing. Grinning, she stepped forward with him to greet their guests.
Upon the very Eve of Midsummer, when the sky was blue as sapphire and white stars opened in the East, but the West was still golden and the air was cool and fragrant, the riders came down the North-way to the gates of Minas Tirith. First rode Elrohir and Elladan with a banner of silver, and then came Glorfindel and Erestor and all the household of Rivendell, and after them came the Lady Galadriel and Celeborn, Lord of Lothlórien, riding upon white steeds and with them many fair folk of their land, grey-cloaked with white gems in their hair; and last came Master Elrond, mighty among Elves and Men, bearing the sceptre of Annúminas, and beside him upon a grey palfrey rode Arwen his daughter, Evenstar of her people.
Then the King welcomed his guests, and they alighted; and Elrond surrendered the sceptre, and laid the hand of his daughter in the hand of the King, and together they went up into the High City, and all the stars flowered in the sky. And Aragorn the King Elessar wedded Arwen Undómiel in the City of the Kings upon the day of Midsummer, and the tale of their long waiting and labours was come to fulfilment.
From the Return of the King by JRR Tolkien.
12 July 3019
Change was everywhere: since the new king had been crowned the river was alive with trade. Lothíriel felt quite excited to think that it was to here, in Pelargir, where he had led the Dead Army to rout the Corsair pirates, liberating the slaves and sailing up the Anduin to victory. She looked down at all the to-ings and fro-ings of the busy port, admitting that although she might not want to go to Minas Tirith to pay her respects to the King and his new queen, she could take pleasure from the journey. The argument had been long and hard, as she had been fearful of giving up the anonymity she enjoyed in the healing houses for the courts of Gondor, where her failings would be difficult to hide. But Elphir had got his way, and at least tomorrow she would see her father. Pushing her worries aside, Lothíriel concentrated on her surroundings. Bigger than the harbour in Dol Amroth, Pelargir had all the same workings – albeit more of them. Stalls with brightly striped awnings lined the road that ran to the dockside, and right below her men and women hawked an incredible assortment of goods. Everything, from food to undergarments, was all laid out on trays hanging from their shoulders. Across the hard, sailors sat outside a seedy looking tavern, and a group of gaudily dress ladies clustered around a tree, calling out to the men on the ships that were berthed along the wall, lifting their skirts and showing their knees to gain attention. Which was why Sergion had said she must stay on the ship; it was different from home where she knew everybody.
Wild Swan had almost six hours to wait, and it would be nearing midnight before they started the last leg of the journey to the White City. The great swan-prowed ship needed the strong flood tide coming up behind it, for otherwise even with a fair wind it would be difficult to get up the Anduin against the fast current. But the delay gave them time to let the horses stretch their legs, for they had been nearly three days on board. Smelling the land, the lively animals pranced down the gangway, eager to ease their cramps. Sergion joined her on the guardrail as they watched them being taken along the dockside to a special enclosure. “You look to be enjoying this, Lothíriel. Are you glad you came now?” he asked.
“Not exactly glad, although I am looking forward to meeting our King and Queen, but,” Lothíriel hesitated: he would think her silly, but she hated the gossip and backbiting that went on in the upper echelons of Gondorian society, “I am afraid the Queen will want me to be a Lady-in-Waiting, or something equally awful.”
Sergion stared at her, looking slightly astonished. “Lothíriel, you are a Princess of the Realm, an ambassador for the great fief of Belfalas. And now that you actually look like one, if you behave like one, you will be expected to wait on nobody. Not even a queen.”
Lothíriel nodded, relieved. Thank goodness her mother’s dresses fitted her well and had been stored beautifully over the years. She could not have done this at all had she been expected to wear the eye-catching, frivolous silks most of the ladies favoured. But in the formality of the regal outfits she somehow felt protected and more confident. It was as though the Dol Amroth insignia shielded her from prying eyes. Elphir had been pleased anyway: he hated her in grey smocks with her hair all covered up. Not that she had let Hisael loose on it now: firmly squashing the maid’s hope of brushing out the heavy braid.
“You know, Princess, you should really have let your father know that you were coming.” Sergion interrupted her thoughts.
Princess? She grinned at him. Was he practising for the court, or did she look that different? “If I had done that, Sergion,” she replied, “there would have been a lot of fuss and in any case the letter would not have got there before us.” She realised that Sergion was worried that not only her brothers would be staying at their house in Minas Tirith, and laughed. “Do not worry, I will send word as soon as we get to the City so as not to embarrass him. I am sure my old room will still be free.”
“I am sure it will. Now, let’s go and get some dinner.”
Tomorrow night she would probably be dining in Merethrond. But from what her father wrote, the court had changed a great deal: not nearly so formal. So as long as she stayed close to her family, she might get through it.
The river swept around in a long right hand bend and then, with no warning, the City suddenly appeared – vast and tall, the tower gleaming white in the sun. She had always loved this sight of it, but as the fields of the Pelennor came into view Lothíriel could see the devastation that had been caused. Homesteads now lay in ruins, and where there should have been crops were great, blackened areas where nothing grew. As they drew nearer, she saw many men working in the ruins, rebuilding and repairing the damage of the terrible battle. Ploughing and planting had started on some fields, whilst others lay untouched. Looking farther, she saw great mounds of earth with new grass growing. Suddenly she felt sick as she realized what they were. How many would have died had they had not won, if the Ring Bearer had not got through?
Sergion organised a wain to take maid and luggage to the City. The horses were unloaded and once they were all safely on the quay, Lothíriel took the reins of her brother’s big dark-grey and led him to an area of soft sand. She scratched his forehead, whispered a soft command in his ear and he obediently knelt on his front legs so she could swing into the saddle. Convention dictated she presented herself to the King on her arrival, so she should not really be wearing a riding dress – another of her mother’s outfits – but the skirt was so cunningly cut perhaps he would not notice – or hopefully not care. And she liked it because the top was cut high, covering her breasts and exposing only a little flesh. No extravagant decoration to attract attention either – just one small embroidered swan-ship relieved the plainness. But around her head she wore a circle of silver and on the front of it, a small swan made of pearl.
The party set off towards the City Gate, herself and Sergion leading. Four guards were following, dressed in the livery of her House, with pennants flying. It was only then that Lothíriel remembered there were no gates.
The afternoon sun beat down on her head, and there was a haze hanging over the City, the silent stone walls hiding the hustle and bustle that no doubt was going on inside. As they got nearer she could see that around the outer wall many wooden stables had been built and areas fenced off; horses had been turned out to exercise. This was certainly new, she thought. Before the war, horses had been rare in Minas Tirith, but probably King Elessar’s friendship with Rohan had changed all that. She could see the great gap in the wall where the gates had been, now there were just guards.
As she took in the differences around her, she became aware of two riders leaving the City and heading towards her party. Suddenly one broke away from the other, cantering quickly towards them. She could see it was a man, and then he waved his arm and shouted.
“Lothíriel! It is you!”
“Amroth!” Lothíriel kicked her horse forward to meet her brother, who, when reaching her, sidled his horse alongside her own and plucked her bodily off her saddle, enveloping her in a resounding hug.
“Careful of my dress,” she protested, laughing. “I am supposed to be calling on the King and Queen.”
Amroth let her slide back to her own mount, frowning “Why did you not give warning you were coming?” he asked. “Father won’t be back for a couple of days, or Erchi.”
“But where have they gone, Amroth?” Disappointment made her voice crack. “I was looking forward to seeing them.”
“Well,” he replied with controlled amusement, “they have gone off with Faramir, Mithrandir, and an assortment of Elf Lords.”
Lothíriel raised her eyebrows in surprise, but said nothing, waiting for the explanation.
“Firstly they are to find a suitable place for Faramir to build a house, and then they are travelling through Ithilien hoping all the ‘Elf Light’ will chase away any lingering darkness so that the area can be repopulated.”
“I am surprised Erchirion went. It does not sound like something he would usually do,” she said.
“No, it is not,” Amroth agreed, “but I think he’s hoping to find a couple of orcs that have been missed.”
They both burst out laughing, for they knew their brother well.
“But why didn’t you go, Amroth? You might have enjoyed the experience.”
He grinned, that boyish grin that she loved, and indicated behind him where a pretty young woman sat patiently waiting on her horse.
“I had already committed myself to teach this lady how to ride,” he answered with a twinkle in his eye.
She had to laugh, Amroth never changed.
But the grin left his face and he looked serious for a moment. “Lothíriel, if you are going to see King Elessar, then I think we ought to warn him. He is very newly married!”
“But it is the middle of the afternoon,” she said, wondering is she had caught what he meant correctly.
“Yes, but he was betrothed to Arwen for forty years! In fact I think that is why everyone has gone off, to give them a little peace.”
“Forty years!” Lothíriel echoed amazed. She could not imagine Amroth waiting forty minutes for a woman, let alone forty years.
“Wait here a moment. I will just organise a message to be sent up, although I suppose someone will have noticed Wild Swan in the harbour.”
Lothíriel waited while he had a word with one of the guards on the gate. As he cantered back she knew a messenger would already be running up the steep short-cuts that linked the levels of the city. “Do you wish me to come up with you?” he asked when he reached her again.
“No,” she replied amused, “I would hate for the lady to be disappointed!”
He laughed and said, “You will be able to use our own stables with Father away. The City is much more hospitable to horses now, and besides the stabling outside the wall some empty houses have been converted near to the Citadel. Although they won’t be used until Éomer returns to take King Théoden’s coffin back to Rohan next week.”
She stiffened, memories surfacing. “I shall make sure that I pay my respects to King Théoden.”
“Yes, he deserves some recognition for saving Erchi and me the bother of finishing off that swine Umar.” But then her brother must have realised she wasn’t smiling because he took her hand and rubbed his fingers across her knuckles. “Elphir wrote to father about the siege. You must not blame yourself, the provocation was great. It is over now, Lothíriel.”
“Not for me, Amroth,” she smiled at him, intent on hiding the misery she still felt in her unguarded moments. They all expected her to get over it, and get on with life. But that was not easy when demons still gnawed relentlessly during the night hours. “I must go now. I cannot put off meeting the King any longer.”
“Go then, I will see you at supper. You will come to love him you know, everyone does.” He thought for a moment and said, “There is something about him that reminds me of you!” She stared at him astonished, but he just laughed and waved a greeting to Sergion. “Tell Sergion we will have a good talk tonight.”
Lothíriel nodded and turned to ride back to her escort, but Amroth called after her. “The hall is full of elves and hobbits. You will love it.”
The air might be heavy and hot, but Lothíriel sensed a new lightness in the City. Voices were a little sweeter; smiles replaced the grim expressions that had greeted her last time she was here. Even the houses looked less inhospitable and forbidding, and some householders had taken the trouble to plant window boxes of summer flowers, softening the hard stone. It seemed to her that the City had woken up from the long years of shadow, liked what it saw, and joined in wholeheartedly.
Their escort led the horses away at the entrance to the Citadel, and Lothíriel walked with Sergion up through the tunnel, across the Place of the Fountain, and towards the door of the great reception hall that lay beneath the tall, white tower. She had passed that way many times, but never had she seen the lords and ladies of the court strolling in the shade of the walls, talking together and laughing. In her Uncle Denethor’s time the area had been sombre and sad. Then she saw the new sapling that stood in the place of the long dead tree, and gasped. She had heard of it from her father, but had not expected such a small tree to exude so much life.
When she entered the marble hall the change was even greater. Sweet music, song and laughter floated through the vast space. Even the line of statues looked less sinister, with groups of chairs and round tables set amongst them. The door steward bid them wait, and hurried off. Lothíriel looked towards the source of the music and there saw a group of…elves? Some had hair that gleamed silver like dew on a sunny morning, but others were dark, with long raven tresses. Together they strummed and sang, their fair faces alight with joy. But the steward had returned so she and Sergion followed him down the centre of the hall. As they walked its length, Lothíriel noticed that in one of the alcoves on the left, there were what she first took to be four children sitting at a table. As she moved nearer she recognised them from the descriptions in her father’s letters. “Look,” she whispered to Sergion, “the Hobbits.”
Three were playing a board game, noisily; the other was sitting quietly reading. In spite of the warm day there was a blanket wrapped around his shoulders. Her heart lurched, for with her seeing eyes she became aware that he appeared quite stretched, and as fragile as gossamer. He must have caught her scrutiny for he looked up. Lothíriel stopped, and Sergion also, both bowing before they passed on to the waiting steward.
The throne at the end of the great hall was empty and as Lothíriel glanced at it the steward said. “The King wishes to see you alone, Princess.”
She looked around at Sergion in sudden panic. He squeezed her arm, “You will be fine. I will wait here for you.”
Lothíriel nodded, and then the steward led her through to an ante-room leading off the hall. He opened the door and announced in a clear and loud voice.
“Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, my Liege!”
Nervous beyond measure now she was this close, Lothíriel forced herself to walk through the door, and the King and Queen rose to meet her. King Elessar, tall and stately, not unlike her father. But although he was young and lithe in body, the grey eyes that met her reflected long years of life. She bowed her head and when she raised it again looked into the face of the most beautiful woman she could ever have imagined seeing.
“Welcome, Princess Lothíriel,” King Elessar said. “I have heard much about you from your father, and it is good to have you here.”
Lothíriel shook her head, “I am sorry, my lord, that I did not come before.”
He shrugged off her apology and smiled. “I do not blame you, Princess. You had many duties. I sent you ships, full of maimed and injured men, and you coped admirably.”
“It was not me.” Lothíriel hastened to inform him. “I am still learning, but our Healing Master is of the best. And my brother Elphir”, she went on, “much fell upon him to house and feed so many.”
“I know, and am looking forward to meeting him again.” His gaze fixed on her face. “But you child, you may still be learning, but I see in you that you do have a great gift to heal.”
Lothíriel thought she had her unhappiness under control, but at those words despair flooded in. Unable to answer, her lips trembled. King Elessar’s eyes softened when he witnessed her distress: laden with compassion, they searched her soul. In one enlightening moment Lothíriel realised that he was the one person who would understand. Breath caught in her chest, so she could only whisper, “That may be, lord, but do you also see that I have the tendency to kill?” Voicing it made her falter and she swayed. No, not now, she mustn’t! But unheeding her shame, the tears welled up and she could do nothing to stop them.
The king reached forward and put his arms around her. “Your father has told me of your troubles, and I fear you blame yourself.” And at that Lothíriel began to sob, all her past suffering rising like an upwelling of rotting weed from the deep ocean, and great racking sobs shook her body. But the King held her tighter.
Vaguely Lothíriel was aware of Queen Arwen leaving the chamber, but she couldn’t stop crying. Ambassador? He would think her a feeble-minded fool! She’d never be able to come to court again. But no apology left her lips, and she could only gulp air. The King said nothing, and just held her until gradually the sobs subsided, and then he eased her down into the seat recently vacated by the Queen. His voice was close to her ear, soothing and reassuring. He put a goblet of wine in her hand and when she had calmed said, “I think a change would be good for you. We are all leaving for Edoras in a few days, for the funeral of King Théoden. Your father, brothers, Faramir. You must come.”
“No! She must not.” A voice like nothing she had ever heard before – music and light, a whip of steel.
Lothíriel jerked her head around to the door: Queen Arwen had come back in, and with her a tall lady clothed all in white, the Elven power streaming out in a radiance that filled the chamber with light.
Feeling as though she was part of a dream, Lothíriel looked at the King in confusion. “Lady Galadriel disagrees with me,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. “I will bow to her greater wisdom.”
“It is not yet her time to go to Rohan, for at the appointed hour Rohan will come to her.”
The Lady Galadriel held out her hand, “Come child, for you have walked too long in the shade of guilt.”
As in a daze, Lothíriel took her hand, and they went together, out into the sunshine.
To be continued.
Original characters appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Mistress Guleth - An aide in the Healing Houses. Originally from Lamedon. Treated Éomer in Cormallen and became his mistress.
Guflaf - A Rider of the East-mark. Was on Éomer’s first patrol and ridden with him since. Lost an arm at Helm’s Deep – tended by Aragorn.
Éomund - The orphaned son of Bergit and Edwick – current age is 9.
Félewyn - The orphaned daughter of Bergit and Edwick – current age is 6.
Edyth- Cousin to Éomer, related through his father. Wife of Beorn, foster-mother to Éomund and Félewyn.
Beorn- A rider of the East-mark. Husband to Edyth and foster-father to Éomund and Félewyn.
Gárbald - Collie dog hidden with Éomund and Félewyn when their parents were killed.
Déor- Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. A Rider in Elfhelm’s éored, given his own command for the Battle of the Pelennor.
Eorllic- Déor’s father. Left in command of Aldburg when Éomer rode to war in Gondor
Elwyth- Déor’s mother
Welwyn- Daughter to Erkenbrand and Winfrith. Wounded in the Battle of Helm’s Deep and healed by Aragorn.
Byrhtwyn Hama’s widow.
Byrde Hama’s youngest daughter.
Sergion - Friend of Prince Imrahil’s. Was a Commander of Swan Knights but now the Captain of Lothíriel’s Guard. Injured when an attempt was made to kidnap Lothíriel. Charged with the defence of Dol Amroth during the Ring-war.
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.