29. Chapter 29
"There." Ceolwen helped me slip into the sleeves of my white undergown and then began to fasten up the rows of tiny mother-of-pearl buttons along the underside. "That will make the sleeves fit snugly and look really elegant."
I smoothed out one of the cuffs, designed to end in an embroidered point over my middle finger. My father's tent had started to heat up from the morning sun, but the silk lay smooth and cool against my skin.
Ceolwen paused for a moment. "Are you nervous?" she asked, her voice carefully neutral.
I shrugged. "A little."
Of course I was! After all, today was my wedding day. A big step to take, and which would determine the course of my whole life onward. From Princess of Dol Amroth to Queen of the Mark, from Imrahil's daughter to Éomer's wife, from maid to...
Ceolwen had finished with the buttons and went to pick up the dark green dress that would go on top. I lifted my arms and she helped me wriggle into it. We had to be careful, because my maid had already pinned up my hair. While Ceolwen tied up the laces at the back to make the bodice fit tightly, I shook out the rich skirts so they fell in a pool of shimmering emerald around me. The gown's neckline was bordered with a narrow ribbon of gold and plunged rather low.
"Are you sure this is right?" I asked, tugging at it.
With a chuckle Ceolwen chased my hands away. "Of course it's right! And I'm sure Éomer will appreciate the sight."
That made me blush furiously. Ceolwen shot a quick look up at my face and cleared her throat. "Your mother died when you were little, didn't she?"
"She died giving birth to me," I confirmed. What a strange question to ask.
"So you have no other female relatives, apart from your aunt?"
"Well, there is Aerin, Elphir's wife, though I have not seen her for over a year." Why this sudden interest in my family?
Ceolwen arranged the wide bell sleeves of the outer gown so they fell in graceful folds. "Did she ever talk to you about what happens between a man ... and a woman?"
Suddenly the tent felt stifling hot. Was this why the Rohirrim had the custom of having a married friend attend the bride on the morning of her wedding?
"Eh..." I stammered. "Well..."
"I thought as much," Ceolwen said. "Listen..."
"This isn't necessary," I interrupted her hastily. "I know all about it. My family breeds horses."
"Horses!" she exclaimed. "Really, Lothíriel, that is not at all the same!"
"I know that!"
It came out embarrassingly close to a squeak. Surely my cheeks were hot enough to fry eggs on them!
"I grew up with three brothers," I pointed out. "We used to go swimming together, so I know how they're...built."
If only Éomer would arrive and rescue me from my well-meaning friend! I took a step away and tried to act unconcerned. "Where are my boots?"
Ceolwen produced the elegant, dark green riding boots and helped me into them.
"You might know the mechanics," she said, "but there is more to making love than that. You give of yourself and receive in return - which can be very pleasurable."
This was not a conversation I wanted to have on my wedding day, but I found myself listening with a kind of helpless fascination.
"You've enjoyed Éomer's kisses, haven't you?" she asked.
"Yes," I choked out. Of course I had. She didn't expect me to go into details, did she?
"There you go. If you've enjoyed his kisses, you'll enjoy his other attentions. It might feel strange at first, being alone with a man and having him touch you where nobody has ever touched you before. But he'll be gentle, just as with his kisses."
I managed to croak some kind of noncommittal reply. The memory of Éomer kissing me at Helm's Deep surfaced in my mind, the ferocious hunger I had felt in him. But at the time it had been right and I had responded in kind. Besides, he had apologized for it and ever since he had been gentle. Well, mostly...
Ceolwen had watched me closely. Now she gave a sudden smile. "Lothíriel, I'm convinced you will have a loving and fulfilled marriage between you. Just relax, even when you might feel...vulnerable. Trust Éomer."
Relax! Easy for her to say. I had been a lot more relaxed before she had brought up this whole topic.
"Well, he should know what to do, shouldn't he!"
The words came out sharper than I had intended, but Ceolwen just grinned.
"I'm sure he does."
She straightened up and went to open the flap of the tent. Gratefully I escaped out into the cool morning air.
In Rohan, tradition called for the bride to spend her last night before the wedding under a different roof from her prospective husband and for the groom to come and collect her there, so for the occasion my father had moved his tents onto a small knoll a couple of miles from Edoras. The plains stretched gently rolling into the distance in front of me, the grass seared golden by the summer sun except where lush green growth betrayed the presence of hidden streams.
Giving my cheeks time to cool off again, I strolled down to where grooms were watering the horses. The morning mist still lingered near the small brook at the foot of the hill, but the rising sun had already started to burn it away from the high ground. My father and brothers turned round at my arrival and Father came to meet me with outstretched hands.
He looked me over searchingly. "My dear, are you sure of this?" he asked.
I nodded. "I am."
Was my nervousness so obvious? I smoothed down my skirts. The gown I wore had belonged to Éomer's grandmother, Morwen of Lossarnach. Not her actual wedding dress, but one used for formal occasions and carefully put away in a chest for the last thirty years. A gown meant to impress, as functional in its way as a suit of armour. Luckily she had been tall and I possessed the same colouring, so the white, green and gold suited me well.
Nimphelos had been decked out in the same colours, her mane braided into dozens of plaits to display the elegant curve of her neck. She condescended to accept a rind of bread left over from breakfast.
"Shall I help you up?" my father asked.
I nodded and he hoisted me up into the saddle. For once I was riding sidesaddle, as my gown permitted nothing else. I had practiced during the past week and hopefully Nimphelos would behave. Father helped me arrange the folds of my train so they fell gracefully across the mare's croup, but when he stepped back, I reached out a hand to stay him.
He looked up enquiringly. For the first time I noticed a few grey hairs along his temples. A wave of love for him swept through me.
"Thank you. For loving me. And for letting me follow my heart."
He gripped my hand. "Lothíriel, I only ever wanted you to be happy."
"Is that why you agreed to have the wedding so soon?"
A shadow passed over his face. "It was something you said, about time being precious." He stopped and I thought he would say nothing more, but then he fixed me with his penetrating grey eyes. "Lothíriel, live your life to the full. Your mother and I, we thought we'd have a lifetime together, but in the end we had so little time."
He hardly ever spoke of my mother. Tears rose to my eyes. "I'm sorry."
He squeezed my hand. "Please do not cry on your wedding day. Silmarien would have been so happy to see her daughter today." He smiled. "Courageous, beautiful and marrying a man who so obviously loves her."
"I'm sorry for shouting at you the other day," I apologized impulsively.
"Your mother used to do that, too, occasionally."
My mouth dropped open. Everybody had always described my mother as the perfect lady. "Really?"
One of his rare grins lit up his face. "Only in private."
A shout from the sentry on top of the hill interrupted us.
"The King of Rohan is coming," my father said.
With my mouth suddenly gone dry, I nodded.
Father mounted up and we rode towards the edge of the camp. I was touched that my brothers all urged their horses over for a quick peck on my cheek or a squeeze of my shoulders.
"Just tell us if Éomer ever gives you any trouble and we will set him right," Amrothos told me, making Erchirion chuckle.
Elphir frowned at them. "As if she'd need your ham-handed meddling in her affairs."
But before they could continue their bickering, the thunder of approaching hooves reached us. Then the Rohirrim were upon us. Grey horses burst forth from the mist, cresting the hill in front of us like a wave and racing down towards us at a dead run. At the last moment, the stallion at the front veered right, leading the éored in a tight circle of our camp.
The warhorses of my father's knights startled and neighed their challenge. Only Nimphelos stood like a rock in stormy seas, unimpressed by this display of male prowess. I did my best to emulate her when Éomer brought his snorting, foam flecked stallion to a stop in front of me, although my heart beat like a drum. He wore a tightly fitting dark green tunic edged with gold to match my own and looked simply splendid: The Lion of Rohan.
"Princess Lothíriel," his glance swept over me. "I have come to claim my promised bride. Are you ready?"
"I am ready." Miraculously, my voice sounded cool and collected.
He flashed me a smile of approval and took out something from a leather bag hanging on his saddle. "Will you receive this from my hand?"
The bridal crown. Usually just a wreath decorated with flowers, but in this case the petals were cut from precious stones and set on a circlet of gold. If I accepted the bridal crown, I accepted the man.
I inclined my head. "I will."
In a fluid motion, he rose in the saddle and reached over to place the crown on my head. It was surprisingly heavy.
Then Éomer turned to greet my father and brothers. "Shall we ride?" He wore a satisfied expression on his face.
Entirely too satisfied.
"Yes," I answered, kicking Nimphelos forward and leaving him to sort himself out.
Put on their mettle, my father's knights formed a tight formation around me as we rode out of camp. Laughing, Éomer caught up to my side within a few strides. His men fanned out behind us.
"It's traditional for the groom to come and collect the bride," he reminded me.
"Is it also traditional to bring a whole éored along, as if for a surprise attack?"
Unabashed, he grinned down at me. "No, that was my idea. You never know, somebody might try to abduct me."
He dared! It became clear to me that those words had been a grave tactical error. Then suddenly I was visited by a vision of Lady Rían and her daughter lying in ambush in the tall grass beside our path and started laughing helplessly.
"Why anybody would want to abduct you is beyond me."
"There have been threats," he answered darkly.
He was irrepressible! Involuntarily I grinned back, feeling more relaxed than I had all morning.
"So are there any more customs I should know about?"
He waved a hand about airily. "Oh, you'll see."
What did he mean by that? Some of my nervousness returned, for Éowyn had told me details of what to expect. By the sound of it, weddings in Rohan were rather different affairs from the dignified proceedings in Gondor. But my father chose that moment to ride up on my other side and I got no chance to enquire any further.
As we approached Edoras, more and more people lined the road. It seemed as if the whole population of the city and the surrounding countryside had assembled to watch us arrive. Not until I saw the joy and hope on the many faces lifted to us, did I realise how important this very public joining of a man and a woman was to the common Rohirrim - a symbol of renewal after the grim times of war and the promise of the continuation of the line of Eorl.
At the gates to Edoras we shed most of our guard before we continued upward. The road was so packed with people that there was only just enough room for three horses to walk abreast. Fortunately Nimphelos took the noise and cheering in her stride and the stallions either side sheltered her from the exuberance of the crowd.
Guards had been posted to keep half of the square in front of the steps to Meduseld clear and it was a relief to reach the open space. Éomer dismounted and came round to help me down, but my father forestalled him.
"My privilege for the last time," he told him.
With a smile, Éomer bowed to him. "I defer to you, my friend."
Father held out his arms and I unhooked my leg from round the pommel and let myself slide down. He caught me and set me on my feet, letting his hands rest on my waist for a moment.
"You look beautiful, daughter," he said and kissed me on the forehead. "Like a queen."
I threw my arms around his neck. "Thank you, Father!"
He laughed and squeezed me back, before he offered me his arm to escort me up the steps to Meduseld. On the terrace, the nobles of Gondor and Rohan were assembled, all who had been able to find a place, and the great doors stood open in order for those inside to catch a glimpse, too. It warmed my heart to see so many friendly faces: the King and Queen of Gondor, Éowyn and Faramir, Erkenbrand with his family and many more.
Right at the top of the steps a space had been kept clear for us. My father stepped back to leave me to face Éomer on my own. By bringing me here, he showed his consent to the match, but the final decision was up to me. Éomer waited a moment for the crowd to settle. It was midday by now, the most auspicious time for a wedding, and the sun threw his short shadow on the freshly scrubbed flagstones. A stiff breeze blew, tugging at my skirts and teasing out a few loose strands of hair. Slowly the noise of the crowd subsided, until all I could hear was the flapping of the horse banner above us.
In what a strange way fate had brought me here, to this time, this place, this man. I lifted my eyes to his face and found him looking down at me searchingly. Suddenly I noticed every detail about him. Hair bleached flaxen blond by the summer sun, the scar from the arrow wound on his neck, long since faded, freckles on his tanned skin that I had never spotted before. I would have liked to reach out and trace the shape of his lips.
They curved into a smile.
"Lothíriel, Imrahil's daughter, Princess of the South-kingdom," he said in Rohirric. "I ask you, have you come here of your own free will?"
Although he did not raise his voice, surely it must have carried to every corner of the square.
I had expected the words to come out wobbly with nervousness, but instead they rang steady and clear, as if the confidence he wore like an invisible mantle enveloped me as well.
"Then I ask you, Lothíriel, will you wed with me?"
Éomer held out a hand and I placed mine in it, which seemed small and fragile when he closed his strong fingers around it.
"I call to witness the sky above us, star holder, path provider," he took up his vows. "I call to witness the fire within us, heart kindler, foe defeater." His fingers brushed across mine in a caress. "I, Éomer, Éomund's son, Lord of the Mark, take you, Lothíriel, Imrahil's daughter, Princess of Dol Amroth, to be my wife. I bind myself to you, to know no other, to hold and protect you and be the father of your children."
My turn. I took a deep breath. "I call to witness the earth below us, grain yielder, life giver. I call to witness the wind around us, rain bringer, tale singer. I, Lothíriel, Imrahil's daughter, Princess of Dol Amroth, take you, Éomer, Éomund's son, Lord of the Mark, to be my husband." The world narrowed down to this man, who regarded me unblinkingly. "I bind myself to you, to know no other, to love you and care for you and be the mother of your children."
In one practiced movement, Éomer drew his sword and knelt down to present it to me flat on the palms of his hands.
"I put my honour in your keeping."
I reached out and took it gingerly, for it was sharp and heavy: Guthwinë, his battle friend. With it, I quite literally held his honour and the fealty of his people in my hands. To cut myself would be a bad omen, to drop it disastrous. I regarded the shining length of steel, handed down from father to son, the pommel worn smooth by many hands. The last time I had seen it unsheathed, it had been black with orc blood.
Now was the last opportunity for the bride to refuse. Éowyn had even told me the tale of a Shieldmaiden who had taken off a hateful suitor's head at this point. I looked down at Éomer and because I knew him well, I saw the hidden twinkle in his eyes. So he knew the story, too.
Holding the sword out before me, I sank to my knees. Fortunately I had practiced this with a wooden staff and managed to do so gracefully and without displacing the bridal crown on my head.
"Take it to defend your wife, your children, your people," I said and handed it back to him.
A profound silence descended at the end of my words, even the wind died down. I was Éomer's wife and queen now. So easily - somehow I had expected to feel vastly different, but I still remained myself: Lothíriel, with a knot of nerves in my stomach, but trusting the man before me.
Still holding the naked blade in one hand, he helped me rise. Then he drew me to the edge of the terrace to look down upon a sea of faces lifted up to us.
"Just stand still, my sweet," he whispered. "One more custom."
It was all the warning I got.
He threw his sword up in the air. My heart stopped. Rising up, the blade spun round and round, the steel sparkling in the sunlight. For an impossible moment it was poised right above us, point facing down, then started to fall and twist again. Out of the corner of my eye I caught a glimpse of my father's white face as he started forward. But I had no time to react before Éomer caught Guthwinë and sheathed it in one smooth motion.
"Eorlingas!" he shouted. "Behold your queen!"
The crowd roared their approval. My heart decided to resume beating, but at double the usual rate. Éomer's hand slipped around my back to support me discreetly.
"You could have warned me," I whispered at him out the side of my mouth.
"You would only have worried."
"I might have changed my mind about marrying you!" I hissed.
"There is that," he agreed. "But don't worry, I practiced beforehand."
And then he pulled me close and kissed me. Any rejoinder I might have made got lost before it ever reached my lips. The first kiss between husband and wife sealed their marriage bond and there was nothing perfunctory about the way Éomer performed this duty. I decided not to worry about Gondorian propriety and yielded into the circle of his arms. After all, I was Queen of the Mark now and had to comply with my new country's customs. And my new husband's wishes...
When he finally let go of me, I blinked up at him like a swimmer surfacing into the sunlight after a long dive. My breath came short.
He straightened the bridal crown, which had started to slip, and brushed a finger across my lips. "Lothíriel, I would never risk hurting you. I swear to you, you were never in any danger." His face was serious, the protective veils of teasing torn away for once, to reveal the man behind them. "You're safe with me," he said.
What danger? I gathered my scattered wits. Of course, he meant throwing Guthwinë in the air.
"I know," I answered. I had always known.
Slowly I became aware of the world around us again. The Rohirrim seemed to take our kiss as a good omen and were cheering louder than ever. It was a strange feeling to hear my name called out with Éomer's: Lothíriel Queen.
Now I just had to survive the rest of the day.
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.