5. Chapter 4
Lady Ivriniel walked slowly, pausing every now and again to catch her breath. Éomer paced beside her, slowing his steps to hers and waiting patiently as she stopped at the top of some stairs to lean on her cane. The old lady had seemed quite sprightly really, but she had to be over seventy years old.
Imrahil's palace was a bit of a maze, with the oldest part in the centre and annexes built on haphazardly. He didn't know his way around it yet, but the route Lady Ivriniel took him on seemed rather circuitous.
As if reading his mind, she paused on a walkway connecting the keep to the outlying battlements. "We don't want to set any tongues wagging, you know," she said in a dignified manner. "Gliwen might be a little wild, but she's a good girl."
This was accompanied by a sharp glance cast his way that made him feel like a little boy caught filching honey cakes. Their housekeeper in Aldburg had often fixed him with an identical look!
Éomer reminded himself that he was a grown man now. And a king. "I know, my lady," he answered.
She resumed walking, her cane tapping the wooden floor lightly. "She consented to see you as a favour to her sister, but only briefly."
He nodded in agreement. "I only want to clear up a small misunderstanding."
They descended from the walkway and passed through a small postern gate watched by a couple of bored looking guards. A path led along the foot of the walls to a kitchen garden filled with orderly rows of vegetables. Beyond that a meadow sloped down gently, dotted with apple and cherry trees that were in full bloom at this time of the year. A low stone wall bordered the field, with a weathered tower looking out over the salt marshes spreading to the north of Dol Amroth. Suddenly Éomer spotted a figure sitting on the wall, huddled in a large cloak, and with the wind tugging at her loose black hair. So she really existed!
Lady Ivriniel took his arm to steady herself while walking across the grass. "Poor Gliwen is often mistaken for Lothíriel," she commented. "The two look as much alike as two peas in pod. Of course her mother resembled poor Sílavain, my brother's dead wife, which is probably why he..." she coughed delicately.
"I understand," he assured her. Next time he saw Princess Lothíriel, he would have to apologize for doubting her!
"I can tell them apart with no trouble," Lady Ivriniel chattered on, "but then I've known them from birth. You see, I brought Gliwen up after her mother's death. Lothíriel is a couple of inches taller and her eyes are bluer, whereas Gliwen's face is rather rounder and her hair darker." She gave him a triumphant smile. "And they smell different."
He blinked. What a strange thing to say. But then the girl turned her head towards them at their approach, watching them from her perch on the crumbling wall. Grey eyes regarded him gravely and impulsively he smiled up at her.
She didn't smile back.
His smile faltered under her penetrating gaze. "Lady Gliwen," he said, "well met."
Lady Ivriniel had watched the two. Now she pointed her cane at a bench next to the entrance to the tower. "I'll sit there and warm my old bones in the sun for a moment. Don't be too long."
Éomer would have assisted her, but she waved him away. "I'm not decrepit yet, young man." And with livelier steps than she had yet displayed, she crossed the lawn.
He looked back up at Gliwen. Now that he'd had the differences pointed out to him, he thought he could spot them, but the resemblance between the two sisters was really most remarkable. However, Gliwen's faded red dress and sturdy working shoes clearly belonged to no refined lady. And Princess Lothíriel most certainly had never in her life sported a streak of dirt on one cheek as her sister did.
She swung her legs over in preparation to sliding down from the wall, but he stayed her with a gesture. "Let me come up." And giving her no time to reply, he scrambled up the uneven stones and sat down next to her.
She drew her cloak around her and turned her head to watch the view again. Below them spread the flat marshes that bordered the sea, a maze of sandy humps, clumps of reeds taller than a man and narrow channels that reminded Éomer of the Westemnet. Further out the sun rippled on sheets of brackish water, incongruously pink where Dol Amroth's salt pans lay.
Shouts drew his attention as a tight group of riders trotted past on the small white horses the people of Dol Amroth kept running half wild in the marshes. He realized they were herding something in their middle when he spotted a pair of curved horns.
"What are they doing?" he asked.
Now he made out a black bull in the middle of the group, occasionally poked by a lance to keep him there. "But why?"
"Father has donated ten head of cattle to the town," Gliwen replied.
"For the festivities tonight."
She didn't seem in a talkative mood, but stared out over the magnificent view. Éomer took the opportunity to study his companion covertly. Her clothes might once have been fine enough, but the rich red had faded to brown and stains and clumsily mended tears marred it. In her hands she held some kind of veil that looked even shabbier. He frowned. Illegitimate or not, surely Imrahil's daughter deserved better than that?
She still presented her profile to him and involuntarily he tried to trace the differences between the two sisters. Perhaps a gentler curve to her cheekbones, the nose turning up at the tip a little, a slightly rounder figure? The wind dropped for a moment and he caught a whiff of garlic. Definitely not the expensive perfume of a Gondorian lady!
As if she'd read his mind she turned her head abruptly. "Well, my lord, are you satisfied?"
"My apologies for staring at you, Lady Gliwen," he replied, realizing this had to happen to her often. "The likeness is really most astonishing."
She shrugged. "We are both my father's daughters."
This gruff, prickly creature bore little resemblance to the girl he'd comforted in Minas Tirith. What had happened to make her so guarded? "Lady, have I offended you?" he asked.
Her eyes shifted away. "Of course not."
An uncomfortable silence stretched between them, while he tried to think what he could have done to make her so antagonistic. The way he had kissed her on their last encounter? Yet she had not objected to it – quite on the contrary!
Gliwen cleared her throat. "King Éomer, you have seen me and talked to me. So now if that is all, I have work to do." She gathered herself as if to get up.
Éomer grabbed her arm. "Please, Gliwen, stay a moment longer!" They put her to work? Imrahil couldn't care much for her if she had to earn her living!
Pointedly she looked down at his hand on her arm. "My lord, I don't know what your purpose was in coming here, but let me tell you that you are very much mistaken if you think I am that kind of woman."
He could only blink at her stupidly. "What kind of woman?"
"The kind who would welcome your touch on her," she fired up. "And you might have kissed me, but that does not mean I gave you leave to make free with my name!"
He released her as if she had burnt him. "I know that!" He cast a wary look towards Lady Ivriniel and lowered his voice. "In fact I came here to apologize."
"For my behaviour in Minas Tirith."
"What!" She sank back down on the wall.
Faced with her stunned surprise, he coloured. "Believe me, Lady Gliwen, it is not my customary habit to take advantage of innocent girls." No matter how tempting they were... Involuntarily his mind went back to how she had fitted into his arms. He pushed the thought away. "You must blame it on my exhaustion that night. Will you forgive me?"
"Yes, of course," she answered, still sounding stunned. "So you won't tell my father?"
Really, both these girls seemed to think he had nothing better to do than go running to Imrahil and telling tales about them! "I won't," he assured her, only to hesitate. "Although if he asks me directly, I will have to tell him the truth. I wouldn't want to lie to a friend."
Blood rushed to her face. "No, of course not."
He wondered how she had managed to get to Minas Tirith without her father knowing. Probably not by being truthful! "Did you talk one of your brothers into taking you with him?"
"No, I managed to cadge a berth on one of our supply ships." Her lips twisted in a bitter smile. "It was a foolish idea, I know."
Éowyn's white face came back to him as she lay lifeless by the carcass of the great beast she had killed. His blood had turned to ice that moment. Slayer of the Witch King or not, he still wished she had remained behind. Yet how could he deny her the right to fight? Had this girl faced similar despair?
He studied her face. "Why did you do it?"
She chewed her lower lip. "I suppose I wanted to be with my family. Father had taken Erchirion and Amrothos with him. We're very close..."
"That's understandable," Éomer agreed. There was more, he thought and waited patiently.
"I wanted to prove something," she suddenly burst out, "wanted to show that I'm not useless with my head in the clouds all the time." It sounded like a quote. She hugged herself. "The only thing I proved was that I do not have the stomach for war."
"That's not something to be ashamed for," he said in a gentle voice.
She tossed back her hair. "Being useless?"
"To have no stomach for carnage." He frowned. "And who said you were useless?" He had a good mind to exchange a few words with the person responsible for her dejection.
She began to tear at a clump of grass growing in a crack of the wall. "My brother Elphir!"
"Oh!" It might not be the most diplomatic thing to do to chew out Dol Amroth's future prince. "Do you want me to whack him over the head the next time we practise sword fighting?"
A reluctant grin blossomed. "That won't be necessary. Amrothos and I came up with a wonderful plan to give him an accidental ducking on our last sailing trip."
He laughed out loud. "A shame I missed that."
She smiled reminiscently. "Yes, he made a splendid splash." Then she sobered. "Although I suppose he was right in the end. Father left him in charge of Dol Amroth and the very first day we had a horrible quarrel. That's when I decided to hide on one of the boats and show them that I could help, too." She sighed. "I thought to assist in the Healing Houses – of course I didn't know at the time that it mostly involved fetching linens and wiping up vomit." Her voice dropped to a whisper. "And holding dying men's hands."
It pained him to see the shadow of pain flitting across a face that had held a smile only a short moment ago. She should smile more often! It gave him a pang to think of her innocence lost to the reality of war. And in all truth he'd played a part in that as well, by forcing his attentions on her.
"Lady," he said, "when you're in pain and far from home, a hand to hold is worth more than all the gold in the world."
Gliwen regarded him with those large grey eyes. "You're very kind." She sounded surprised.
Red clover bloomed in pockets of soil on the wall, and attracted by the flowers, a bee landed on her arm. Quickly he moved to brush it off. "Gliwen, careful!"
She withdrew her arm. "No! Don't frighten it." Patiently she waited for the bee to take off again, which it did after a moment. "They're mine," she explained. "I believe they know me by now."
"Yes." She showed him the old veil she held in her other hand and he realized it was the kind of headgear beekeepers wore to protect their faces. "You could say I'm the mistress of Dol Amroth's bees. Although old Hingam holds the title officially, I do most of the work." She grinned. "Somebody has to brew all that mead your riders are drinking so enthusiastically, you know."
He frowned. "Surely your father has servants to help with that?" Suddenly he remembered what Princess Lothíriel had said the night before. "And I thought your sister supervised the mead making?"
"She...she does," Gliwen answered with a stutter. "That is...she oversees the whole process, but I look after the bees and collect the honey."
So Gliwen ran the risk of being stung and her sister got all the praise for the excellent mead? Unaware of his thoughts, she beamed down at another bee that had landed on a flowerhead. "They're such interesting creatures! When I was a child, I got stung by one and demanded that my father ban them from the garden and have their homes destroyed. So Aunt Ivriniel took me to see the beekeeper who explained all about them." She gestured enthusiastically. "Did you know a queen bee rules the whole hive? And the worker bees are all female, the drones do no work at all."
Éomer grinned. "Sounds good."
She laughed. "I'm not sure, for they don't live long at all. Although I suppose they enjoy their life while it lasts."
Struck by a thought, he put his head to one side. "What a funny coincidence that your mother should have given you the name 'honey maiden'." Although the name suited her.
She looked away, her smile fading. "Yes, it is."
Regretful of having reminded her of her dead mother, he looked around for something else to talk about. Another group of riders had appeared in the distance, moving their charge along with loud whoops. Trying to distract her, he motioned at them. "So what kind of festivities will they have in town tonight?"
"Oh, the usual." She rolled her eyes. "Besides the cattle, Father has also gifted them a dozen casks of ale, so they will be pretty merry. I suppose there will be bonfires, the usual competitions, music, dancing..."
He noticed her voice had taken on a wistful tone. "Would you like to go?"
She shrugged. "I doubt Amrothos would want me to tag along with his friends, so with Erchirion away that only leaves Elphir, who is much too dignified for that kind of thing."
"I could take you."
An evening spent away from the court suddenly seemed very attractive. "Look on it as an apology for my behaviour in Minas Tirith," he suggested.
She hesitated. "That's very kind, my lord, but-"
He held up a hand to forestall her refusal. "If you want to, I'll ask Imrahil for permission."
"Surely he wouldn't object." Wasn't she allowed any time off to enjoy herself?
"That's not necessary," she protested. "But, really it wouldn't be seemly to be alone with you, even if you had a guard along."
He raised an eyebrow at such high standards of propriety in a girl who kissed strangers in cupboards. However, it would be unkind to say so. "Very well, we'll ask your aunt to accompany us and lend us respectability," he suggested.
"My aunt! But–"
"Doesn't she like the celebrations?"
"She does, very much, but..." Gliwen bit her lip. "...it's just... I don't like to go out, people stare so at me."
Was that the true reason? He could well imagine that people would whisper behind her back, discussing her. Then he had an idea. "Nobody need know who you are!"
"What do you mean?"
He grinned triumphantly. "Just borrow one of your sister's dresses and everybody will assume that I am accompanying Princess Lothíriel and her aunt for an evening out. We don't have to tell people you're not the real princess. So what do you say?"
She looked stunned. "But...but..."
Éomer took her hand and raised it to his lips. "Please?"
"I suppose so..." Gliwen shook her head, as if she couldn't quite believe what she had said.
He gave her his best smile. "Good, that's settled then. And I promise to behave."
The way back seemed just as roundabout, even though Lady Ivriniel took him by a different route. Gliwen had asked him not to speak to the old lady about their planned excursion yet and he wondered how she would greet the news.
In the garden, Éothain hailed him with relief. Éomer had noticed that his captain increasingly gave the impression of a mother hen who had lost one of her chicks when the last male descendant of the House of Eorl was out of his sight too long.
"I have survived the odd battle," he reminded Éothain, accepting a cup of ale from him, "so I doubt that a seventy year old lady would provide a significant threat to me."
"I'm not worried about the seventy year old lady," his captain shot back, "but I bet you didn't spend nearly an hour chatting to her."
"You know me too well," Éomer murmured.
"My Lord King," his friend said, provoked beyond endurance, "may I remind you that we're here on serious business! The Mark needs a queen."
"I know," he snapped, suddenly no longer in the mood for teasing. "But I'm the one who will have to spend the rest of his life bound to her." Meduseld simply wasn't big enough to avoid a person you didn't like – especially if you were expected to do your part in filling the royal nursery.
"What about Princess Lothíriel?" Éothain asked, motioning to the lady in question, who had just emerged from a walkway between some shrubs, accompanied by her brother. "Ealdred is in raptures over how well connected she is. I thought you liked black hair and she's pretty enough, isn't she?"
Éomer pondered the question. The flowing pale green dress displayed a slender figure and she moved gracefully amongst her father's courtiers, a polite smile fixed to her face. Yet who lived behind that refined facade? He had no idea, except that she didn't particularly relish his company.
"I hardly know her," he pointed out.
Éothain sighed. "Really, Éomer, you weren't half as picky as a Marshal."
Éomer choked on his ale. "That's not the same," he hissed.
"I know, but..." His captain shrugged. "It seems quite simple to me: you need to marry and beget an heir, so why not pick one of these beauties the Gondorians keep throwing at you and get it over and done with?"
"Because it won't be over and done with for me!" Simple! Feeling a headache forming, he tossed back the rest of the ale. "Unlike you, I happen to care who lies in the bed I crawl into at night."
"I do care," Éothain protested. He put his head to one side, considering the matter in more depth. "At least when I'm sober."
Why had he started this! Éomer held up his hand. "Thank you for your valuable advice, Éothain, but I think I've had enough of this conversation."
His friend grinned. "I live to serve you, my liege."
As he lived to serve the Riddermark. Éomer frowned down at his empty cup. So why did this prove so difficult? Before the war, he had never given the matter serious consideration, as he would only have made a wife and children into targets for Wormtongue's malice. Yet he wanted a family, wanted a son to show the delights of racing across the green plains of the Mark. But beyond that, he wanted to come home to a wife who greeted him with more than a cup of mead and a polite smile. Was that so much to ask for?
Morosely he watched the Princess of Dol Amroth listen to the words of the elderly Lord of Lamedon, a captivated expression on her face, as if she had never listened to more interesting conversation. The man was a bore and talked of nothing but wine making! Surely she had to be screaming with boredom inside?
He couldn't help thinking how different the two sisters were. They might look like twins, but whereas Gliwen was all fire and spirit, this one had the warmth of a winter storm. Even so he supposed he would have to seek out Princess Lothíriel eventually and apologize for having forced her to talk on a subject which had to be distasteful to her sensibilities. And would she mind lending her sister one of her dresses? Gliwen hadn't seemed to think so, but it would also mean that the princess had to stay in for the evening to avoid having two Lothíriels walking about. Éomer frowned. He had not before considered this aspect. Hopefully he hadn't got Gliwen into trouble!
Then he became aware that he was not the only one watching the Princess of Dol Amroth. "Lothíriel has much improved, don't you think?" he heard somebody say.
Éomer turned his head and spotted her brother Elphir talking to one of his friends behind some ornamental bushes. Talking of bores! Luckily the man hadn't seen him yet, so Éomer stepped back into the shadow of a tree. Silently he signed to Éothain to retreat back the way they'd come.
"I agree," he heard Elphir's friend reply. "Probably due to your esteemed father's presence. Some women need a firm hand on the reins."
Éomer shot a look of distaste over his shoulder. The other man had to be nearly double the princess's age. Did he fancy himself in the role of providing such firm guidance? The woman was mild as milk anyway!
Still, it was none of his business. But it would be nice to get away from this place, even for a short time. He was looking forward to an evening of simple pleasures, not complicated by dynastic considerations or diplomatic quandaries.
A/N: I will be going away on holiday next week and I'm not sure if I'll have internet connectivity, so you might have to wait a little longer for the next chapter - I will just have to see.
Have a good time!
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.