32. Chapter 32
Lothíriel looked back over her shoulder; the land fell away behind her in giant steps of muted purple and green. Two days into the journey and it was impossible to pick out Dol Amroth, or even the promontory that pushed out into the waters of the great bay. All the coastal lands had disappeared in a haze that blurred the boundary between land and sea. She wiped a hand across a hot face; even the mountain breeze gave them no respite from the heat. Not a good time for a journey, but worth any discomfort – for tomorrow she would see him.
Her heart raced at the thought, three months since their parting and it seemed like an age. She had felt a piece of her being torn away when Éomer had left. It would happen again at the end of this visit, but she must not think like that, just enjoy the summer in Rohan, learning the language, meeting the people. A flash of irritation made her tighten her lips – if he were not a king and she a princess, they would probably have been married by now. But her anger quickly subsided, admitting to the truth that not all noblewomen were lucky enough to marry for love. And the wedding arrangements were already well underway, the elaborate dress in the hands of many seamstresses. It seemed that invitations had gone out to every lord and lady from two kingdoms, as well as one to Prince Amal. A giggle stuck in her throat, she wondered if he would bring both wives; or perhaps he already had a third.
And the journey might be hot and sticky, but travelling with all three of her brothers made for a lot of fun. It didn’t take much for them to revert to their joking, teasing childhood ways, which made the banter around the campfire full of wit. Even Elphir had relaxed, released from responsibility, and Sergion looked on with wry amusement.
Elphir could only stay a few weeks in Rohan, but Amroth and Erchi would be with her all summer. In fact Erchi had plans to remain in Rohan until the wedding, a recurring irritation surfaced -- why was he thought to be able to survive the winter, and she wasn’t?
She knew that Éomer had expressed very strong views that the attack on her would never had happened if they had used properly trained scouts. In response to this, and the commitment to share skills, Erchi had brought men with him, those eager to learn tracking and scouting from the Rohirrim. She also thought that he wanted to improve his horsemanship; he hated Amroth being better than him at anything. But Erchi could stay there for years and still he would never match Amroth’s natural way with horses. Amroth had spent time before the trip instructing her young maid, Ana, how best to ride her mount. The girl had only ever ridden a pony, but Amroth had found her a quiet mare and she blossomed under his tuition.
Lothíriel felt for the girl. She was an orphan whose mother had died trying to bring a sibling into the world, and then her father had lost his life on the Pelennor. Hisael had been keeping an eye on her, and she would be looked after for the rest of her life, of course, but that did not make it any easier. Lothíriel thought it would be best if she found a nice husband and made her own new family. She rode forward to talk to her.
“You are enjoying the journey, Ana?” she asked. “You are riding really well now.”
“Yes, Princess.” Ana smiled, patting her mare’s neck. “I am a little stiff in the evenings, but it is getting easier. And I am enjoying riding.” Her eyes strayed to Amroth, who rode in front with Sergion. “Prince Amrothos is very kind.”
“Well, after spending the summer in Rohan you will be an expert.” Lothíriel laughed, she was a very pretty girl. “Perhaps you will meet a young man and not come back.”
“I do not think so, Princess,” she said with a decided shudder. “They frighten me.”
“Yes, they are all so big.”
Lothíriel frowned, a little confused. “But except for a few, most are no taller than our own soldiers.”
“It is the beards; they are so wild and bushy. Not King Éomer’s of course,” Ana said quickly, “or most of their lords. But some of the men do not seem to trim them at all. It makes them look very fierce.”
That made her giggle; she knew just what Ana meant. “Yes, I admit I have to agree. I expect most need a wife to keep them in check.”
“Well, I think that I prefer dark men with no beards.”
Lothíriel noticed Ana’s eyes seeking out Amroth again, and the realisation jolted her. Oh no! She knew full well that there were few bored wives and pretty young widows (and since the war there were sadly plenty of them) who were safe from her brother’s smouldering black eyes, but she was almost certain that seducing innocent young girls was not in his nature. But the worry niggled at her through the rest of the day, and when they reached their camping place and he helped her dismount, she couldn’t keep quiet.
“Ana’s riding has much improved.”
“Yes, she is doing well.” Amroth took hold of Bracken’s reins to lead him away with his own horse, but Lothíriel caught his arm to stay him.
“Amroth, Ana has feelings for you.”
He raised a black brow, lips twitching in amusement. “She is very young, she will get over it.” Amroth walked a few steps leading both horses, but then stopped and turned, looking at her over his shoulder.
“Lothíriel, during the battle, when I was wounded and pulled from my horse, her father was the first to come to my aid. Later, I watched him die.”
With raw emotion catching in her throat, Lothíriel pushed between Bracken and Aero, and flung her arms around his neck to kiss him on the cheek. Young Ana would always be safe, and she, however much she wanted to marry Éomer, would miss Amroth terribly.
The camp had been set in a small corrie just off the road, and after the meal, with the sun disappearing behind the shoulder of the mountain, they sat around talking, munching on some rather sour apples found growing nearby. Lothíriel scanned her surroundings. There were no signs of habitation, but below the opposite ridge she could see sheep grazing the slopes. “We passed a bridge a while ago and I saw a wide track going up the other side of the river. Where does that lead?”
Elphir passed her the map. “To the Blackroot villages,” he replied. “If you go almost to the top of the vale, that is where Duinhir, the Lord of Morthond lives.”
Erchi shuffled around and looked towards the top of the valley. “Brave men.”
A sigh came from Amroth and he sat up; she thought he had been asleep. “It must have been hard going home, with so few left.”
Elphir nodded. “Aragorn honoured them and sent much aid. But how do you replace a lost generation of men. I hear that the vale is a sad place now.”
Lothíriel looked around at her brothers, seeing the first serious faces of the trip. “What are you talking about?”
“Duinhir came to the aid of Minas Tirith with about five hundred bowmen,” Erchi told her. “Few returned. Most, including his own two sons, were crushed to death by those monsters.”
Silence descended, and Lothíriel said a prayer for a mother she did not know. After a moment Elphir raised his eyes from where he had been staring at the ground.
“The family came to my wedding. Duinhir’s wife played and sang beautiful, haunting songs.”
Erchi pursed his lips in thought. “I remember. She played on a lyre made from a turtle shell.”
“Her name was Annulin: she was a beautiful woman with bright chestnut hair. I think she originally came from the coast.” All of them swung their eyes to Sergion, who had been sitting silently for some time.
Amroth laughed first. “She must have been beautiful to make you notice. Although.” He grinned wickedly, winking at Erchi. “I have seen you a lot recently in the company of Adian’s widow.”
“Really!” Lothíriel gasped. How had she missed that? “You never told me. Marin is very nice, I am sure you will suit.”
“We are just friends,” said Sergion shaking his head. “That is the trouble with the palace, nothing is private.”
“Well, I hope you become more than friends.” Lothíriel leant over and gave him a kiss. “But now you will have to be apart all summer.”
On his other side Amroth dug him in the ribs. “Think of the welcome you will get when you return.”
“There was a daughter,” Erchi said suddenly.
“Marin has not got a daughter,” Lothíriel stated.
“No, the chestnut woman. She had a girl sitting at her feet, scrawny little thing with the same colour hair. A bit younger than you, Lothíriel. I do not expect Elphir to remember, he only had one thing on his mind, I should hope.” Erchi laughed loudly. “But surely you and Amroth noticed?”
Amroth shrugged and lay back down again, closing his eyes.
“Lothíriel probably had her head in a book,” Elphir chuckled. “And Amroth was no doubt busy chasing some man’s wife!”
“No, surely not!” Lothíriel exclaimed. “Even Amroth could not have been chasing wives at that age!”
Erchi let out a choking sound. “Don’t you believe it.”
“Lothíriel is absolutely right,” Amroth spoke from his prone position. “I have never, ever, had to chase any woman, wife or otherwise!”
Two apple cores immediately flew in his direction.
“Ouch!” Amroth sat up rubbing his head. But grinned at his siblings, knowing he had deserved that. And he welcomed the fun: it pushed thoughts of Duinhir’s dead sons from his mind.
“What time will we meet Éomer tomorrow?”
Amroth smiled to himself; his sister had turned her thoughts to her main preoccupation: her betrothed. He was pleased Éomer made her so happy, but would miss her.
“Late afternoon, I should think,” Elphir replied. “Certainly well before dark. They will have supper ready.”
“I can hardly wait. I have missed him so much, the letters were not enough. I hope you two” – her eyes challenged first him and then Erchi – “are not going to behave like bores all summer. You will surely let me have a little time alone with him!”
Amroth turned and caught Erchi’s obstreperous look. “No!” they said in unison.
Lothíriel tightened her lips, frowning at them. “Father trusts him, why cannot you?”
Neither said anything for a moment, they had discussed this and unusually were in total agreement. Like Éomer? –Yes, very much. – Glad that she was marrying him? –Yes, of course, could not be better. But trust him to keep his hands from their enticing, beautiful little sister for a whole summer? – Absolutely not! For among many other things, they were both very aware of the fact that at Cormallen, after the last battle, the only pretty lady anywhere around, had been in the King of Rohan’s bed!
Amroth shook his head. No, they could not tell Lothíriel that.
“It is better that you are accompanied all the time.” Erchi spoke first.
Lothíriel’s chin went up. “Better for whom?”
“For both of you,” Amroth replied.
Angry eyes flayed them. “Well! I think that the pair of you are judging him based on your own disreputable behaviour!” She got up quickly, whirling around. Amroth flung himself to the side, worried she intended to kick him, but flashing him a furious look, she stalked to her tent without even saying goodnight.
Sergion said nothing, but Elphir chuckled loudly. “I feel that you two have managed to seriously upset our little sister!”
Lothíriel rode with Sergion the next day. Still cross with her brothers, at first she ignored their efforts to make her talk to them. But she couldn’t keep it up, not when they found a place just off the road where she could wash off the dust of travel and change into a clean riding outfit.
They kept guard, and knowing her hair would dry in the sun and the breeze, Lothíriel ducked herself right under a small waterfall. Sweet Elbereth! The deluge sucked the heat from her body in moments. Gritting her teeth, she rubbed soap into her hair, the lather coming easily in the mountain water.
“My cloak quickly!” she called to Ana as soon as she had washed away the suds. Content to just wash the main bits, Ana passed her a woollen cloak and a couple of cloths. A bit of a fuss to get clean, but worth it, she thought, after the heat of the last few days.
Feeling refreshed, and wearing a light riding skirt with an embroidered blouse, she felt ready to meet Éomer.
But Amroth looked her up and down with one of his cheeky grins. “You look nice.” He sniffed. “You smell good, too. But that will be wiped out by the pervading smell of horse when we meet up with your king.”
“Amroth, you can be a toad, sometimes.” She swiped her hand at him, but he dodged out of the way. “I hope you get lots of sparring with Éomer, and you end up black and blue! And,” she threw at him, as he guffawed with laughter, “you are a bit ripe yourself!”
She should have kept quiet, knowing he’d only been teasing her, for now they all decided to plunge under the waterfall. Lothíriel sat on a rock listening to their raucous yelling, whilst Ana pulled a brush through her hair.
On the road again at last! She continually scanned ahead, even though Elphir said they were not due to meet until the end of the day. Finally, when she had almost given up, two Rohan scouts appeared seemingly from nowhere, one each side of the road.
“We will have to learn to do that.” Erchi remarked, visibly awed.
“I am sure Éomer will be happy to teach you,” she said with her sweetest smile. “If you are nice to him.”
Erchi threw her a sideways grin, and went to meet them.
One man rode with Elphir and the other returned the way he had come. They continued up the steep road for another half hour and suddenly around a bend, he was there.
Lothíriel came to a halt and stared. She had forgotten how utterly handsome he was, how magnificent he looked astride his great stallion. Her whole body trembled, and she could not move. Éomer however spurred Firefoot away from his guard, past Elphir and right alongside her. In one swift movement he plucked her straight off Bracken’s back and into his arms.
Leather and horses, and underneath she detected the fresh tang of soap. Lothíriel savoured the pure maleness of him, the heat of his body searing through her thin clothing. But she felt safe; safe and loved. Without caring about the audience she snuggled closer. His lips buried in her hair. “I’ve missed you.” The deep voice vibrated through her skull.
“I gather that you are pleased to see my sister.”
Éomer raised his head. “You are nothing if not observant, Amroth.” Still holding her against him, he turned to Elphir and greeted him, “The camp is about a league ahead. We have set up tents for you and prepared a meal.”
She thought her brothers might object, but they said nothing so she stayed where she was, riding with him on Firefoot and talking about what they had been doing over the previous months. He: riding all across the Mark, checking on the rebuilding. She: riding and sailing, writing the invitations for the wedding, and helping in the healing houses during an outbreak of measles.
The Rohirrim had set up camp on a wide plateau, beautifully ordered with the tents in a circle, and outside one tent the White Horse flew.
Lothíriel immediately felt very much at home. Éomer dismounted and lifted her down and the first person to greet her was Byrde. After saying hello, Lothíriel turned to Éothain who had been riding with them. “Did not Welwyn come?”
He shook his head, a beaming smile appearing on his face. “I have forbidden her to ride a horse. I cannot trust her not to gallop, and in her condition…”
“Oh, congratulations, how lovely for you. But does that mean that she will not be at our wedding?”
“She is hoping to, Princess, it is custom for babes to travel from a few days old.”
Lothíriel took Byrde’s arm and they walked towards the tents. “It seems to be the occasion for babies?”
Byrde looked across to her handsome husband and whispered, “A little more time on our own will suit us well!”
Lothíriel laughed, she could not blame her.
“Come and eat now,” Byrde said. “You must be hungry after all that travelling.”
“Yes,” Lothíriel agreed, “and I smell something good cooking.”
They ate a tasty vegetable soup, followed by chicken, which had been cooked to melting tenderness on spits over the fire. Éomer sat talking with Elphir, but every time she looked up his eyes were on her. As soon as they had finished eating he came over and took her hand, pulling her to her feet. “Come for a walk with me.” Amroth got a wry grin. “We are not going out of sight!”
Lothíriel tugged at his arm as soon as they were out of earshot. “Éomer, what on earth have you done to make my brothers distrust you so?”
What could he say to that? Her lovely eyes sparkled with fun and as he hesitated, she burst out laughing. “No, you are right. I suppose you had better not answer.”
But he ought to say something. Éomer sighed, and ran his fingers through his hair, gaining time. “When I met them, I had no idea that they had a marriageable sister.” He shrugged, trying to excuse himself. “And we talked a bit, well a lot, about various things.”
“Well, let me say,” she grinned at him, amused not shocked, “that I am not at all concerned with your behaviour before we met, only after.”
A surge of love rocked him, so much that his step faltered. Untouched and innocent! And she’d stay untouched until they were married, in spite of her brothers’ fears. Because Imrahil trusted him, and never in his life would he abuse a trust again. Her father had clamped in him a hold stronger than Melkor’s chains: clever, clever Prince.
Regaining balance of body, if not mind, Éomer led her behind the tents to where the cliff dropped away. In view, but far enough for some privacy. Unable to hold off any longer he wrapped his arms tightly around her, drawing her head against his chest. The sweet scent of her filled his nostrils, reminding him that the months ahead would shake resolve to breaking point. “Lothíriel, having you near me and not being able to touch is exquisite torture, but, my little love, I am looking forward to a lifetime of loving with you, so we will just enjoy the summer.”
Tears appeared on her lashes. With measured gentleness he stroked his thumb across first one glistening eye, and then the other. She didn’t move but continued to stare at him for a moment, her lips trembling. “Éomer, I love you so very much.”
So difficult not to use any excuse to hold her against him, but the dark ride through the mountains held no fears for Lothíriel, so she stayed on Bracken. The echoing caverns and dripping water were enough to spook any young horse, he would not rob him of the reassurance of a rider.
They passed out of the mountains and Lothíriel looked eagerly around her. “Welcome to the Riddermark.” Éomer so much wanted her to love everything about his cherished land. Today the valley glowed gold in the sunlight, and reaching the Firienfeld her gasp of astonishment as she took in the magnificent vista sent pure pleasure through his heart.
He’d arranged to spend the night in Harrowdale, with Dúnhere’s heir, Halldor, and his wife, Eldrid, and led the party off the road to the large fortified dwelling. Bema! Éomer reckoned the entire household, and most of the villagers waited outside to welcome them. And he knew they were not the only ones eager to take a look at the woman who would be their queen. His chosen wife would cause interest wherever they went.
Eldrid stepped forward immediately Lothíriel’s feet hit the ground.
“Welcome to the Mark, Princess. Your room is all prepared. I thought that you might enjoy a bath after such a journey.” Maybe Lothíriel didn’t notice the shudder, but Éomer did, the people of Harrowdale were still suspicious of the way under the mountain.
Lothíriel turned to him and he smiled reassuringly. It would be a bit unnerving for her with so many strangers, but Eldrid had a fair command of Westron.
He squeezed her arm. “Go with Eldrid. I will come and escort you to supper later.”
She nodded, and joined Eldrid who waited to show her to her room. A fresh-faced smile greeted her. Eldrid had a rosy complexion and yellow-blond hair that had been wrapped around her head in two thick braids. Lothíriel matched the quick pace and Ana hurried behind, carrying a big travelling bag.
“Can you mange that, Ana?” Lothíriel asked, seeing the girl struggling.
“Here, I’ll take it.” Eldrid, a big woman, took the bag from Ana, waved away a protest, and strode ahead. Ana’s eyes opened wide and Lothíriel had to stifle a giggle. Imagine a lady in Gondor carrying a bag like that when there was a servant to do it. But no one could doubt the welcome and the kindness. She was shown to a large room with stone walls, adorned with colourful hangings, mostly depicting hunting scenes and galloping horses. A good size bed dominated it, over which had been thrown a woven green quilt, plain and comfortable. Soon she was soaking in a wooden tub, but something disturbed her peace.
“Ana, do you hear a baby crying?”
The girl tilted her head towards the door, and shrugged. “Yes, I do. But do not they all do that?”
“This one sounds in pain.”
She could still hear the baby when she sat down at the long table that ran the length of the hall, even above the chatter of so many people. Everyone had been crammed in to eat, even though most of her party, and Éomer’s guard, would be sleeping in tents. The servers carried in great plates of roast pork, but the sound of the baby’s distress took all thought of food from her mind. Wholesome and well prepared as it was, she could hardly manage to get a mouthful down. And of course Eldrid noticed.
“Is the food not to your liking, Princess, shall I fetch you something else?”
“No, it is very good,” she answered, “but I can hear a baby keening, and I cannot rest.”
A look of sorrow passed across Eldrid’s face. “I am sorry if it disturbs you, it is my brother’s child. His wife died giving birth, and he is full of grief and spends the whole time out on patrol. The babe seems ill and does not thrive.”
“Perhaps I could look; I have some skill, and may be able to help.”
“Oh no, Princess.” Shocked eyes met hers. “The babe is always soiled, however hard we try to keep him clean. It would not be fitting.”
Lothíriel tuned to Éomer, appealing, though knowing she did not yet have the right to interfere.
However Éomer responded immediately. “Let the Princess see the child, Eldrid.”
Eldrid looked as though she was going to argue for a moment, but encountering Éomer’s steely eyes, she bobbed her head. “Yes, of course, my lord.”
Her heart lurched with pity when Eldrid pulled aside a curtain. The exhausted baby had given up crying and moaned softly to himself. Lothíriel picked him straight up out of his cradle.
“Princess, your dress.”
“What is a dress, Eldrid, compared with the life of a child? Please could you fetch me a bowl of warm water, I need to clean him.”
The baby quietened in her hands as she swabbed him. Laying him on her lap gave her the chance to examine him; gently she ran her finger over the tiny body. He looked malnourished, his skin blotchy and red, but she could feel no excess heat. “Is there a mother who feeds him?”
Eldrid shook her head. “The woman feeding him took ill, Princess, so we took him back for a few days, but now with him like this…” She shrugged her arms helplessly. “Perhaps we should have found someone else straightaway, but we have a herd of cattle down the mountain. We use their milk, and have done so many times with others whilst waiting for a foster mother.”
Lothíriel put her finger in his mouth. “He is very hungry.”
“We feed him all the time, but he is so sick.”
She thought hard, she could be wrong but the solution might be reasonably simple. “I think that the milk is upsetting him. I have seen this before. Do you keep goats?”
“Yes, there are some in the village,” Eldrid answered in surprise, “but we have never used their milk for babies.”
“Perhaps you could send for some, fresh if possible, and the udders must be well cleaned.” Eldrid looked doubtful but at that moment the doorway filled with a large body.
“The Princess has much skill, Eldrid.” Éomer looked down at the baby on her lap, who lay quietly with no strength to move. “We cannot afford to lose this little Rider. Please do as she asks.”
Eldrid bowed to him and left. “Thank you.” Lothíriel smiled gratefully. “It pains me to see a child suffering so. Could you please ask Ana to fetch my medicine bag?”
He bent down and pressed his lips gently onto hers, ruffling her hair, before he left. Lothíriel finished cleaning the babe, talking softly to him until she heard a noise in the room.
“Oh, there you are, Ana. I will need boiling water and a clean cup.”
When the girl returned Lothíriel added herbs to the pan of water. “Pour a little in the cup to cool, use the rest to scald out that feeding bottle over there.”
As soon as the water in the cup was cool enough she dipped her finger in and then let him suck. She did this many times, while Ana watched her fascinated.
“These herbs will help to cleanse his body of the other milk.”
Eldrid returned with the goat’s milk, and Lothíriel explained that the leather feeding bottle would need to be scalded out between each refilling. “What’s his name?” she asked as she gathered the baby into her arms to feed him.
Little Aldred took the milk greedily, his thin lips fastened tight around the leather teat. Thank Eru he still had the strength to suck. But Lothíriel knew it would not be until morning that they would know if the milk suited the little mite. “He will need many feeds for the next few days, but not too much at a time. I will see to him tonight, perhaps you would move his cradle into my room. It will give you some rest.”
Eldrid started to protest, but Lothíriel held her eyes until she nodded. The news that the next Queen of the Mark cleaned up smelly babies and acted as a nursemaid would probably keep the village, and the countryside around, talking for days. But the Rohirrim would have to accept her oddities, if they wanted to keep their king happy.
Lothíriel put the baby back in his cradle. Her stomach growled now that he was settled. “He will sleep for a while, and I am very hungry.”
The next morning, holding a contented baby in her arms, Eldrid’s face was wreathed in smiles. He had taken four small feeds without rejecting the milk, so the signs were good. Lothíriel stroked a finger across his forehead.
“I have left some herbs; add a pinch to the milk each time you fill the bottle, it will help until the foster mother can take him. Do not give him milk from the cattle until he is well grown, and then try a little.” She could only hope her instructions would be followed.
Eldrid nodded. “We will take care. When my brother recovers a little from his grief, he will be glad to have his son.”
But sitting on Bracken, waiting for everyone to line up, Lothíriel became aware of a commotion and saw an old man being held back by one of Éomer’s guards. He was gesticulating pleadingly, looking between her and Éomer.
Éomer kicked Firefoot forward and gave a sign to let him speak. He listened patiently to what sounded like an impassioned plea.
“What is it?” Lothíriel asked Byrde when the tirade ended. She’d barely understood a word of the heavy accent.
“His wife is in great pain. Nobody has been able to help, he wishes you to see her.”
What had she started! Already preparing to dismount, Lothíriel realised Éomer had not agreed to the delay, but he nodded, with only a hint of resignation. “Go with her, Byrde, you will need to translate.”
Returning to the waiting company a little later, she could only shake her head. “I eased her pain. But it is too late for anything else. I had the impression she wishes to delay her passing for a few days as her daughter is due to arrive with her grandchildren. I have done my best: I hope that it is enough.”
Éomer lifted her onto her horse, his lips brushing across her ear. “One’s best is always enough. Now, let us go home.”
A strange introduction to those who would be her new people –dealing with one at the start of life and one at the end, and her mind hung on her experiences for a time. But natural curiosity soon overcame her sadness and she looked around eagerly. Besides the villages, many dwellings dotted the expanse of Harrowdale, but none came anywhere near the size of the hall in which she had spent the night. Most were simple homes made of stone and wood but all looked to have their own pig-pens, and many had a house-cow; everywhere chickens scraped the rich earth for worms. Farther away she saw fields of crops on the lower slopes of the hills, and here and there were horses grazing. Every homestead they passed disgorged children and barking dogs, collected together by tall, blonde women wearing coarse aprons, who stared at her openly before bowing their heads.
“They are intrigued by me.” she remarked to Éomer as she saw one little girl pointing from her mother’s arms.
“I am afraid you will come under much scrutiny. But the Rohirrim are fair in their judgements. Do not worry that your differences will matter. Once they get to know you I have no fears that you will not be accepted fully. You have made a good start today. Your actions will be talked about around many hearths…” He hesitated, lips twisted as he worked out what to say.
“But?” She prompted, sensing some difficulty.
“Lothíriel, dealing with babies is one thing, but the healers across the Mark, the men who patch up our wounded Riders, might find it difficult to accept a young woman with equal or perhaps even more skill than them. Especially one with a gift. We will have to go carefully.”
Men and their pride! But she had no wish cause antagonism before she had even been crowned, and thought carefully on what to say. “Éomer, my gift is only to calm and ease pain for a while, all my other skills have been learnt over long years. I understand that I will have to be diplomatic and tread cautiously, but the Rohirrim, Riders, babies, all of them, deserve the best healing we can give them. Erchirion and my father are not afraid, accomplished warriors that they are, to admit to lack of certain skill when it comes to scouting and traversing the land without being seen. They are keen to accept help from your men. I hope that Dol Amroth can offer something in return. We have an excellent teacher in Master Nemir who would be happy to train suitable novices as well as those seeking to improve on their natural abilities.”
His face relaxed, and his mouth curved into one of the grins that always sent her heart racing. “A good plan, if we can persuade some of those entrenched in their ways to agree to it.”
“Reminding them what Aragorn did in the war might be a start, and how well your injured were treated in Minas Tirith.”
A deep sigh and he shook his head in exasperation. “Being a king is not easy. One thinks one knows what is best, but persuading others…”
“There is time, and do not worry. I will be on my best behaviour and let your people get to know me before I try and initiate any change.”
Éomer raised a brow. “That reminds me, I hope you will not mind, but because there are many wishing to greet you, we are holding a feast tomorrow to honour you and our betrothal. A few are disappointed that the wedding is not here, so I thought a big celebration would go somewhere to make up for that. The Rohirrim love to dance and sing, especially in the open air, which we can do with the weather fine.”
“That sounds fun. And I did think it a little unjust that we were betrothed, and will be getting married, in Gondor.”
“True, but it is tradition for the men of the Mark to ride to collect their brides, I just have to journey father than normal.” He gave her a broad wink. “Well worth it, I might add.”
They came at last to Edoras, and joined the track that crossed the plain, riding upwards through the green barrow mounds, to the gates. The stone way that led up to the Golden Hall of Meduseld thronged with people: children, mothers with babes in arms, grandmothers; warriors and those with leather aprons; a baker with flour on his coat, all fervently craning their heads for their first glimpse of their next queen. Lothíriel smiled until her face hurt. Answering the greetings of so many meant she gained no impression of Edoras itself, just the friendliness of its people.
Only at the bottom of the steps that led to Meduseld itself was there any calm. Éomer lifted her down and the horses were led away by fair-haired lads dressed in green. Éomer kept hold of her hand and together they gazed up at the high platform and the great studded doors, which stood open in welcome.
His fingers tightened on hers. “I just hope you like it.”
“I will love it.”
She did love it. Right from the first moment she loved it. Dark and cool, Meduseld embraced her after the heat of the day. The sky showed through high windows in the gabled roof, and here and there sunlight played on the coloured tiles that had been laid in strange, elaborate patterns under their feet. But she had no time to grasp any more because Welwyn ambushed her, brushing away Éomer’s protest that she might be tired, and steering her towards the rear of the hall and a door to the side of the dais.
“I will take you to your room in a moment, but you must see the Royal Chambers. Byrde, her mother and I took them in hand, with Éomer’s blessing.” With Welwyn so obviously excited, Lothíriel could do no more than follow meekly.
Not dark here, the south-western tower had plenty of light. Welwyn led her into a newly constructed anteroom. The wooden panelling was not yet finished but the space had been planned so that she and Éomer could eat together, sit and talk or privately entertain guests. Leading off was a small queen’s solar, the stone walls covered with pale plaster and adorned with woven hangings.
Welwyn smoothed her hand down a tapestry that depicted a long line of women and children with carts and packhorses. Lothíriel guessed it was the Eorlingas trekking from the north to their new land. “We went through all the chests that haven’t been touched for years, some of these are very old but have been cleaned as well as we can.”
The shield-maiden had become a home-maker. “Lothíriel hugged her friend’s arm. “When is the baby due, Welwyn?”
“Oh!” Her face tinged pink. “I was going to tell you myself. I bet the great lump couldn’t keep quiet.”
“He did have a big, proud grin on his face, but said you would be able to come to the wedding.”
“It will be a Yule baby, so I will be able to travel easily.”
Lothíriel sighed. So long to wait, why had Éomer ever agreed to it?
After a quick peep into the royal bedchamber, green and gold and still very masculine, Welwyn took her past Éomer’s study, which ran across the back of the hall and looked over a small garden, to the guest quarters in the opposite tower. Lothíriel sank gratefully onto the bed, her senses overwhelmed. Thank goodness nothing except a quiet meal with the household had been planned for that night. She would have chance to take proper stock of her surroundings.
Although Lothíriel was up not long after the sun the next morning, Éomer, his senior men and her brothers were already at the table. Lothíriel took her place, saying her good mornings before she asked Éomer her burning question. “There are guards outside the hall all the time, are there not?”
A hint of a smile on his face confirmed her suspicion. But he answered nonchalantly.
“Yes, and on the gates, in the lookout towers, and around the stables of course.”
“Then why has some poor man been standing outside my room all night?”
His straight face creased in laughter. “I thought it best. Two months is a long time for Amroth and Erchi to go without sleep.”
To be continued.
List of Original Character appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Hisael - Lothíriel’s maid
Ana - A young maid.
Sergion - Friend of Prince Imrahil’s. Was a Commander of Swan Knights but now the Captain of Lothíriel’s Guard.
Nemir - Master of Dol Amroth Healing House
Marin - Widow of Adian. (Swan-knight)
Halldor - Lord of Harrowdale
Edrid - Lady of Harrowdale
Baby Aldred- Halldor and Eldrid’s nephew.
Byrde Hama’s youngest daughter. Married to Déor
Welwyn- Daughter to Erkenbrand – married to Éothain.