9. Chapter 8
Mechanically Lothíriel tidied up her crates. Éomer had left to check on his stallion before joining her father for breakfast and she knew she should return to the castle too, but at the moment she just felt numb. Taking a broom, she swept a few wilted mulberry leaves out the door. One of the castle cats, which had been sunning itself on the wall, strolled over to rub against her legs. The big ginger coloured tomcat was the undisputed lord of Dol Amroth's feline population and had fathered a large progeny, causing Amrothos to name him after the High King of the Noldor.
Lothíriel bent down to stroke him, finding comfort in the soft fur. "Oh, Fëanáro, what have I done?"
Unsurprisingly the cat did not reply, just purred in contentment, but Lothíriel knew the answer anyway. She urgently needed to learn how to say no to that man! But he had a way of looking at her – of touching her – that just made her want to agree to whatever he wanted from her. As for his smile, it simply played havoc with her sense of self-preservation. She cringed at the thought of what Amrothos would say to this newest plan. Foolhardy? Reckless? Raving mad?
And she wouldn't even be able to fault him – playing Gliwen impersonating a Princess Lothíriel who wanted to remain incognito surely had to rate as one of the more insane ideas she had ever agreed to. How could she hope to keep up the deception when every meeting with Éomer frayed her nerves to the point where she wanted to scream out the truth?
She closed her eyes and pictured him as he'd stood in her tower, looking through her books, touching her possessions. Large, strong hands that had nevertheless handled her things with surprising gentleness. His restless energy had filled the room, yet she had not minded sharing her solitude with him. Where her brothers at best teased her indulgently about her projects, he had shown real interest in her ideas. Lothíriel grimaced self-deprecatingly. Of course she hadn't blown up any bits of Rohan yet, which probably helped.
But what had possessed her to agree to this second outing? Now that he was gone, she could think of half a dozen reasons for declining Éomer's request – or rather command. For one, Amrothos would be in no condition to go anywhere today from what she'd heard from the servants. Having won the swimming contest, he'd been expected to finish his barrel of ale the same night, so she had been unsurprised when her maid had reported him feeling rather poorly. Could she use his absence to excuse herself from accompanying Éomer on his ride? Or would that forceful king simply drag her brother out of bed? She would put nothing past him to get his way.
If only she'd had the strength of mind to deny him. "I won't come!" she said experimentally, startling the cat, who stared up at her through slit eyes. "No!" she repeated with more emphasis, "I won't." Fëanor yawned contemptuously and started to lick his fur. Wonderful, she couldn't even impress a cat; what chance did she have to assert her will against the King of Rohan!
And what did that king want with a humble beekeeper anyway? Amrothos would no doubt have laughed at the question and wiggled his eyebrows suggestively. Nothing honourable would have been his answer. Yet though they'd been completely alone, Éomer hadn't tried to take liberties. Only at the end had she felt a brief frisson of nervousness, but nothing had come of it. She frowned. Did that mean he didn't find her attractive? Then she shook her head. What was the matter with her today! Why should she worry what Éomer thought of her? She didn't want him to grope her after all, did she? Once had been quite enough!
The kiss in the cupboard that she'd been trying to thrust from her mind for months came back to her. At the time she had felt an odd mix of terror and exhilaration at her daring. She touched her lips. What would it be like to repeat the experience? To have those powerful hands moving upon her, crushing her against his chest as he'd done that night? Holding her helpless while he traced a trail of fire across her skin with his mouth… Her heart beat more rapidly at the memory.
Sudden heat flushed her cheeks. No gently brought up maiden should even consider such thoughts! What had that man done to her? It was as if the world, so certain and solid all her life, had started to pitch and yaw under her feet like a boat caught in a storm. All his doing!
That moment the bell up at the castle rang the eighth hour. Lothíriel started, realising how late it was. Surely she hadn't spent all that time mooning over Éomer like an infatuated servant girl? Then it hit her.
"No!" she exclaimed and surged to her feet. Fëanor gave an outraged hiss at her sudden movement and stalked off, tail in the air.
"No," Lothíriel whispered again, "it can't be."
She wasn't falling for the man, was she? The thought staggered her, yet when she looked at the idea dispassionately, she had to admit that she displayed several symptoms she had observed in her maid amongst others. A couple of years ago, Aeves had conceived a passion for an extremely handsome Swan Knight. Why, the girl had been absolutely useless, daydreaming constantly. And that inability to refuse the object of her passion anything…oh yes, definitely!
Lothíriel took a deep breath to steady herself. Every problem had a solution, she just had to work it through logically. So she might like the King of Rohan rather better than she should. On the other hand she wasn't yet blind to his faults – and the man had many, chief amongst them his overbearing ways! So perhaps there was still some hope left. Also, unlike Aeves with her Swan Knight, she didn't consider Éomer the most handsome man who had ever drawn breath. Admittedly his height and unruly blond mane made him rather striking, but his features were too harsh for the Gondorian ideal of beauty. Although when he smiled…
Lothíriel strangled that train of thought, realising it led onto a slippery slope. No, the solution to her problem was quite simple: she only had to guard her heart another day and then he would be gone. At the thought of that she felt a funny constriction, as if somebody had tightened a bond around her breast cage, but she chose to ignore the sensation.
One more day of pretending to be Gliwen, of lying to a man she'd come to respect and like. But she had to hold out, for if she didn't… She tried to picture Éomer's face at the revelation of her duplicity. He would despise her! And she wasn't sure if she could bear that.
She bit her lower lip at the realisation of how firmly she had tangled herself in the nets of her own making. What should she do? If she owned up to the truth of being Gliwen he would hate her, but if she didn't, there could be nothing between them. And did she want there to be something between them? Perhaps, she admitted to her innermost self. Oh, why had she gone to Minas Tirith! It would have been nice to blame Elphir for that wretched quarrel, but in all honesty she had to shoulder the blame herself. Her impulsive decision to shut up the King of Rohan with a kiss – though certainly effective in the short run – had brought down nothing but disaster on her.
Lothíriel straightened her shoulders. There was nothing for it, she simply had to see this through. He would be gone by tomorrow and then she could settle into her old life again. Surely in a few months' time she would have forgotten all about Éomer and his dangerous smile, after all it was not as if she lacked occupation.
The decision taken, she turned to the practical considerations of tidying the broom away and locking up her tower. Soon after she trudged up the path to the castle in Fëanor's wake.
Time to change into a princess again.
Breakfast was the most informal meal of the day, with people arriving and leaving as they chose, so Lothíriel had hoped that her tardiness would make her miss their Rohirric guests. However, she had no such luck. Upon entering the airy breakfast parlour, she found herself at once hailed by Lord Ealdred. And next to him… Her heart sank at spotting Éomer. King Éomer she reminded herself as she swept him a curtsy.
"Princess Lothíriel," he greeted her politely enough, but with no real pleasure.
They shared a small round table with Éothain and Ivriniel, who beamed at her niece. "Lothíriel, won't you join us?"
Having no choice in the matter, Lothíriel assented, her appetite gone. The Rohirrim at least seemed to have made a hearty breakfast, for empty dishes littered the table, but what did they need all these salt cellars for? As one of the servants served her scrambled eggs, she reached to pick one up, but Ivriniel stayed her with an exclamation.
"Oh, not that one, that's Eorl!"
Had she heard correctly? "Eorl?" she asked. A lifetime of her aunt's company had inured her to surprises, but even so that statement needed an explanation. Out of the corner of her eyes she saw Éomer exchange a wry grin with Éothain.
Lord Ealdred smiled at her. "Our apologies, Princess, but we were just re-enacting the Battle of the Field of Celebrant."
"Ealdred has made a study of it," her aunt threw in. "He has the most amazing knowledge of the events and has been so kind as to share it."
"Not at all," he demurred. "It was the least I could do after your fascinating discourse on the Battle of the Camp last night."
Under Lothíriel's unbelieving gaze, her aunt actually blushed. "You flatter me." Her dress sported even more lace than usual and on her head perched a velvet cap with a pink feather trailing down coquettishly. Lothíriel couldn't help staring. Were those red patches of paint on her aunt's cheeks? "It's such a pleasure meeting a fellow scholar," she sighed.
Instinctively Lothíriel sought Éomer's eyes to share her amazement, but he wasn't paying her any attention, being too busy observing the other guests. She felt a stab of irritation. Would he ignore her in this fashion if Gliwen instead of Lothíriel shared his meal? Lady Cadworwen of Ethring, recently widowed in the war, swept by that moment in a wave of perfume, a morning robe floating around her that surely belonged more in a bedroom than a breakfast parlour. Just as she passed their table, the robe got snagged on a chair, providing a glimpse of a long length of leg. She moved on unhurriedly, well aware of the Rohirrim's eyes following her.
Lothíriel would have liked to kick Éomer. Didn't he realise that Lady Cadworwen had the heart and morals of a praying mantis? She would fawn over him mercilessly until she had fastened his interest and then she would gobble him alive. Rumour had it that her late husband had preferred facing a mûmak head on, rather than return to his wife and her sharp tongue.
"So what are your plans for today?" she asked Éomer, endeavouring to regain his attention.
This had the desired effect as he turned a guarded regard on her. "Why do you ask, my lady?"
The sudden urge to see him squirm for a change took her. "It's going to be a lovely day," she commented with a bland smile. "Perhaps you would enjoy a tour of the gardens this afternoon. They are at their best this time of the year. Just imagine, we have over fifty different types of lilies and irises blooming."
Lord Ealdred leant forward. "What a splendid idea! I'm sure you would enjoy that, especially with such charming company." Being the only one at their table who did not know about the substitution of Gliwen last night, he was obviously eager to further the acquaintance of his king with the well connected Princess of Dol Amroth.
Lothíriel turned an innocent face to Éomer. To her satisfaction a slight tinge of red coloured his cheeks. "What a shame to miss such a treat," he answered. "Unfortunately I have already got a prior engagement."
Éothain shot him a surprised look at that, but said nothing. Lord Ealdred however, frowned. "Surely you could cancel that, my lord? After all our time here is limited…" He let his voice trail off suggestively.
Lothíriel folded her hands in her lap and said nothing. Why should she be the only one telling half-truths?
Éomer cleared his throat. "I have long promised Prince Amrothos to accompany him on a ride, so I really feel I cannot break that engagement."
"But Amrothos will be going nowhere today," Ivriniel innocently threw in. "He's been asking his valet to put him out of his misery, a sure sign he'll spend the rest of the day in bed."
Lord Ealdred beamed at his newfound ally. "Well, in that case-"
However, the King of Rohan proved to be the better tactician. "How unfortunate," he said and rose, "I will have to visit him at once to enquire after his health. Will you excuse me?"
Grudgingly Lothíriel had to admit that he had extricated himself in a masterly fashion. It did not help her temper that Lady Cadworwen had lingered at the exit to the room and now exchanged a few words with him. It would serve the man right to fall into that particular trap, she thought savagely.
Lothíriel had not expected that a small problem like a missing escort would put Éomer off his plan and she was proved right almost at once. Upon returning to her room, her maid delivered a hastily scrawled missive from Amrothos. If you love me, Sister, it read, go on a long ride with your barbarian king. My delicate constitution really cannot tolerate much more of his presence, so just take him away! At the bottom of the page her brother had added a postscript: If anyone asks, I will swear you were with me the whole afternoon.
She grinned, mentally depicting the scene of Éomer getting that promise out of her brother. Poor Amrothos! It seemed to her that with the King of Rohan you either had the choice of fighting him at great personal effort, or letting yourself be swept along by him. In a sudden reckless impulse, she decided to do the latter. They would have to part soon enough, why shouldn't she enjoy a last afternoon with him? The alternative, to show King Éomer 'The Icicle of Rohan' the garden in her role as demure princess did not appeal to her in the least.
So she dismissed her maid with the information that she would be with Amrothos for the rest of the day. Ivriniel would not miss her either, as she and Lord Ealdred planned to spend the afternoon in the library, looking at old maps. Her aunt had even hinted at the possibility of a match of Shah and Lothíriel wondered if Lord Ealdred realised that he would play the best tactical mind in Dol Amroth? Probably not until it was too late!
Her wardrobe yielded only a small supply of riding dresses, so after a brief hesitation she settled on a russet coloured gown with a split riding skirt, for somehow she couldn't imagine Rohan's ladies riding sidesaddle. A bright orange scarf added a splash of colour and she freed her hair from the hasty bun that she had arranged for breakfast and brushed it out. When she gave a last twirl in front of the mirror, she wasn't dissatisfied with the result.
Slipping downstairs, she suddenly realised she had no idea where Éomer expected her to meet him. At the stables or somewhere outside the castle walls? As she hesitated on the bottom step of the staircase, her brother Elphir entered through a door, Lord Dorgam at his side. The older lord was accompanied by one of his hunting dogs, an elegant, lean creature that obediently followed at its master's heel.
Just what she did not need! Lothíriel looked round for an escape, but it was too late to avoid meeting her brother. Hoping to keep the encounter brief, she tried to look busy and nodded at them while she made for one of the other doors. However, Elphir stopped her with an outstretched hand.
"Sister, where are you going?"
She gave him a noncommittal smile. "I just need to check on my bees."
Lord Dorgam captured her hand to bow over it. "How lovely you look today, my lady."
"Thank you." She motioned at his dog that at a soft command had sunk down. "You are planning to ride out hunting?" Hopefully not in the same direction as Éomer!
"Oh no," Lord Dorgam assured her, "we are going to the kennels to observe the training of your brother's hounds."
"How nice," Lothíriel said and would have moved on, but Elphir frowned at her.
"You spend too much time with your bees, Sister," he said. "Why don't you let Hingam do his job, that's what we pay him for."
"He's old and needs help," Lothíriel pointed out. "Besides, I enjoy looking after bees, it's an interesting and useful occupation." The Rohirrim at least certainly enjoyed the fruits of her work!
Lord Dorgam cleared his throat, a grave expression on his face. "I'm afraid I have to agree with your brother," he said. "Though it is of course commendable to take an interest in the details of running your father's household, beekeeping is below your station, my lady."
She bristled at his tone, which implied he had every right to judge her conduct. "Thank you for your opinion, my lord."
The irony went right over his head. Dorgam nodded, as if it were only right that she should look to him for advice. "If your man is not up to the work, you should get rid of him. I do not keep useless servants."
Even Elphir looked a bit uncomfortable at that.
"Hingam has been serving the family for all his life!" Lothíriel protested. "It would break his heart."
Dorgam bowed to her with a condescending smile. "Your sentiments do your feminine nature honour, but luckily you have men to relieve you of such burdensome decisions." He turned to Elphir. "I believe that misplaced sentimentality will only hamper you when dealing with your subordinates, so I keep tight reins on my household."
Lothíriel's feminine nature strongly prompted her to kick him in the shin, but she resisted the temptation. "Oh, do you?" she asked in a sweet voice. "How marvellous."
His eyes narrowed. "My lady, I have found that people are happiest when they know their proper place." His dog gave a soft whine at the sharp tone.
Blood rushed to her cheeks. Where did he think she belonged? Ruled by some man's firm hand, to keep her suitably timid and wifely? His hand? Lothíriel took a deep breath.
Then all of a sudden their attention switched away from her and they both bowed. "My lord," Elphir said.
The hairs on the nape of her neck rose as she realised who stood behind her. She turned round and sank into a curtsy. "King Éomer!"
He must have come in through a side door, unnoticed by them. Panic flooded her. How much had he overheard? Frantically she tried to remember if her brother had called her by her name. Who did he think she was?
He bestowed a bland smile on them, but something in the tense way he carried himself told her that hidden anger smouldered inside him. "My lady," he said to her. "I've been looking for you. Amrothos begs you to succour him, for he's in a bad way."
Subtly he shifted to stand beside her, somehow emanating a solid presence, warm and protective. Lothíriel smiled up at him. "Thank you, I will come at once."
Elphir chose that moment to display his most pompous side. "Really, Sister," he said, "Amrothos is only getting what he deserves. You should leave him, perhaps that would teach him to mend his ways."
Lothíriel might have thought the same earlier on, but she wouldn't let somebody else criticise her favourite brother. "Nonsense! Of course I will see him."
Dorgam frowned at that outburst. "My lady, I'm afraid Lord Amrothos is not really fitting company for a delicate female like you."
Éomer took a step closer. "I think Gliwen is quite capable of deciding that for herself."
Lothíriel froze at the use of her nickname and saw with rising panic that Elphir sported a scowl of displeasure.
"My lord," he said, "such familiarity with a lady, though no doubt completely acceptable in Rohan, is not quite appropriate here."
Lothíriel held her breath as silence fell.
Then Éomer smiled. "Thank you for enlightening me on Gondorian customs, Prince Elphir," he answered. "As always I find it a fascinating topic. However, since Gliwen has given me permission to dispense with titles, I will adhere to my own barbaric ways." The smile vanished from his face abruptly. "And now permit me to enlighten you on something: I intend to ride to Gondor often in the future. And if I ever hear that you have forced your sister into something distasteful to her…" He shot a significant look at Dorgam. "…you will regret it." His voice remained completely level, not raised above a conversational tone, but there was steel in it, sharp as an Elven blade. "Both of you."
Flustered, Elphir began to protest. "I'm her brother, I-"
Éomer tapped his fingers on his sword-hilt. "Exactly. That's why I would regret having to do something to compromise my friendship with your father." His voice fell to a whisper. "Sadly my temper sometimes gets the better of me."
Lothíriel broke out in a cold sweat, though the words weren't even directed at her, and Dorgan had gone completely still, the dog at his side pressed against his legs. As for Elphir, he flushed, two bright red spots standing out on his cheeks. All his life people had treated him with deference, but his station offered no defence against this man.
Éomer held the two men motionless with nothing but the power of his eyes. Then he released them with a dismissive nod. "I think you were on your way to somewhere?"
Dorgan swallowed. "Yes, to the kennels."
"In that case don't let me keep you."
Dorgan gave a jerky bow and pulled his friend away. Folding his arms on his chest, Éomer watched them go. When the door closed behind them, he turned to Lothíriel.
"Well, that's taken care of those two." He looked grim. "I find that the reputation for a temper can be quite useful at times."
Lothíriel released her breath and gave a shaky smile. "Do you?"
His gaze sharpened with worry. "What's the matter, Gliwen? I didn't frighten you, did I?" He lifted his hand to her cheek, but did not quite touch her. "Believe me, you have nothing to fear from me. Not now or ever."
Didn't she? Lothíriel looked away from him, unable to bear the honest concern she saw on his face. How easy it would be to lean forward into his hand and claim the promise of comfort and shelter that he offered. But how could she with her lies forming an invisible barrier between them? For she knew with absolute certainty that she would rather die than have him use that tone of voice with her.
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.