He could not sleep. He was supposed to rest but he could not sleep. He tossed and turned but no matter what he did he was wide awake.
Three days. It had been three days. Three long, restless agonising days. They were supposed to relax and just enjoy a few days free of any responsibility, but... He fiddled with the covers, shook his head and sighed. He turned again. This time he bumped into the body lying next to him. He stilled. No need to wake anybody else. He closed his eyes and forced his breath into the long, deep breaths said to make the body relax and let sleep come.
"What is it?"
He tensed. He had not meant to wake her and now she would want to know. He knew she would not understand.
"Husband? I know you are awake."
Éomer sighed. "I did not mean to wake you. It is nothing."
Lothíriel got hold of his nightshirt in the dark and tugged on it until he turned around and faced her. "I am not so blind that I can not see that something has been gnawing you the past few days. I am not unfamiliar with the burdens and worries of command; my father and my brothers are all leaders, and I have learned to see the signs. Why will you not confide in me? I am your wife."
"You would not understand," Éomer dismissed her.
"I know well all the affairs of state. I …"
"The Mark is safe. I have no worries there," he cut her off.
"You are restless, and you do not sleep. Something is worrying you."
"No," he answered. "No worry as such. I just … You would not understand."
Lothíriel hoisted herself up and began to climb over him.
"You insisted on me sleeping by the wall; you are yourself to blame," she said, and reaching the other side of the bed she got up and found her way to the door. Opening it she called for light and after a while a lamp was brought. She closed the door.
Éomer sat up, but did not leave the bed. The boards creaked and moved slightly underneath her, but Lothíriel was as steady on her feet as if she walked on firmest ground.
"Éomer," she said. "Husband. I know you do not like boats, but you have been on them before. Surely you must have gotten used to the movements by now?"
"I have," he said. "And I have grown to like the smell of the sea and the wind. The ship does not bother me. It is just…" He looked at her. Well, perhaps she would understand? Her father had knights.
"It is Firefoot," he said. "The day before we left he dragged his left hind and would put no weight on his right. Then the tide came and I had no chance to ride the next day before you dragged me on the ship and now we have been gone three days with no sight of land, and…"
"You did not tell me he was lame. Even so you know he will be taken good care of, and some rest will do him good."
Éomer just looked at her. She did not understand after all.
"Husband," she began. "He will be fine."
"He is not lame."
"Then why the worry?"
"I have not had the time to train him properly, and now it shows. I should have started already, yet here I am on a piece of wood being tossed around on the sea. And while I am here, Firefoot will not improve. At best he will run around trying to impress your father's mares. At worst some oaf will take it into his head to exercise him, and when I return he will be worse."
She looked at him.
"He had even begun to dish."
"And this is your great worry?" she asked. He nodded. "You began to fuss and fiddle on the second day; is there even something wrong with that horse?"
"As I said; he would not put weight on his right hind, he…"
"Is he lame?"
"What? No! He has never really wanted to; it is his weak side. But he was improving before the trip, and the day after we arrived, he had finally begun to stretch and swing through his back again; he always tenses in the back when …"
He found himself outside the door, in his nightclothes, holding the lamp. The sailor on watch outside took one look at him and said nothing.
He had known she would not understand.
He sighed. He could as well walk out here not sleeping as lie in there. At least he would not disturb her again. The sea was relatively quiet too, and he had, despite what his wife's teasing remarks would imply, learned to walk the deck of a ship without falling. He found his way to the side and stood there for a while, watching the stars. Those he could see.
The night was overcast, but the clouds did not hide all of the sky. A light wind blew, but not enough to chill him. Soon his thoughts had him see other skies and others sights, and he did not notice when one of the men joined him by the side of the ship.
"A fine night."
Éomer startled. He could not make out the man standing beside him, but the sailor (he had to be one of the sailors) kept looking out over the water and nodded his head to something out in the dark.
"The wind is a little slow, but she is steady. We will reach shore early."
"We will?" Éomer said.
"Yes," the man said. "Too early; we will have to wait for the tide before we can sail into the harbour. The water will be too low."
"How do you know that?"
"Because we are already in sight of land." The sailor nodded again and this time Éomer could see that there was something darker out there than water. The dark land was closer than he would have guessed.
"How long do you think before we come in sight of the harbour?" he asked.
"An hour, maybe two."
It was the longest hours of his life, he would have sworn to it. He stared. He paced. He stared again, and each time the dark shadow was as large (or small) as before. The sky lightened towards morning before he saw the lights from the harbour. He hurried to the helm.
"How long must we wait?" he asked. "How long before we can go ashore?"
"Not before the bell rings. Two hours, maybe more."
"That is too long!"
"It can't be helped."
"But we are here," Éomer said. "I can see the lights of the harbour. It can not take that long to sail from here to there."
"Can't sail in before the tide comes in. The bell will signal when the water is high enough."
"I am the King of the Mark."
"Were you the Elfstone himself, we still would have to wait. The tide will not hurry for any man."
Admitting defeat, Éomer withdrew to pace the deck once more. Dark became grey and slowly he began to make out the coastline and the houses. They were so near…
"How much longer!" he called, no longer caring that he might wake those that slept.
"An hour more, at least."
He had had enough. He gauged the height from the rail to the water, took one deep breath and dived.
The splash caused a wild scramble on the deck, but Éomer refused to care. He did not listen to the shouts behind him; with steady stokes he made for the shore. The water was colder than he had thought, but warmer than the spring-melts in the mountains and the work helped. The swim was longer too, than he had thought; still he reached the harbour earlier than he would if he had waited. The tide was still low, low enough for him to wade the last part. Reaching the ladder on the pier he had to pull himself up the first steps before he could climb up.
When he finally stood on firm ground again (or at least the floor-boards of the pier), he saw the first red light of dawn fall on the castle-walls. His hands were cold. He walked through the harbour and between the houses, following the road that led to the castle and the stables where some of his men would be. And his horse.
Still dripping wet Éomer woke up the stable-hand. "Ready my horse."
Even in his wet and muddy nightclothes the lord of the Mark would be known.
"I said ready my horse."
"My lord," the poor man said. "How did you come here?"
"I swam. The boat was too slow. I must train my horse. Ready him now."
"But you can't. You must get dry clothes and warm yourself and get dry. And eat and rest before you ride."
"No. First I will ride. Get my horse. Now!"
The man could not win that fight, and when the ship at last had reached the quays and Lothíriel had come up from the harbour she found her husband on his horse. His hair was still damp and he was wearing what she thought looked like a stable-hand's clothes. Firefoot's neck was arched and his ears were turned towards his rider. He turned in small circles; left and right and left again, then sideways and a halt and back again. He turned a corner and stretched his neck and legs forward in a flowing trot. At the sight Lothíriel's rebuke died on her lips.
Oblivious to the world, Éomer smiled.