The outer door opened with a squeak, and cautiously Lothíriel put a foot on the gravel path. With the moon nearing the full, she would be able to pick her way between the overgrown bushes, hopefully without snagging her dress. Éomer had not said where to meet, but the garden was not that big and it seemed sensible to head for the seat placed half way along the path that ran between the two corner towers. She took a deep breath, inhaling the heavily scented air; it must have been beautiful here at one time. Queen Morwen had reputedly loved her garden and had brought many of her favourite plants from Gondor. There had only been time to clear the herb beds, but Lothíriel had seen many beautiful eglantines scrambling over the overgrown bushes, filling the air with their heavy perfume. There were also great big bellflowers and bright summer daisies poking through the carpet of weeds. If she hadn't been so busy stocking the larder, then her attention might have come this way. Maybe if she ever came back...she stopped such a thought straightaway, the only likelihood of that being if she married Éomer, and that was far from certain. Especially after his connivance with Elladan. She was sure now that the elf had not steered her to the edge of the hall without a prior motive. That would be the first thing she would want to know from Éomer.
Reaching the seat she hesitated, remembering seeing it covered with moss and lichen. After a moment's deliberation she fished up her sleeve and pulled out a handkerchief – it didn't matter if it got messed up – and laid it out over one end of the seat. Thankful to take the weight off of her feet, Lothíriel wrapped her skirt around her legs to keep if from the dirty stone, and sat down. It had been a tiring day. For a short while it was very enjoyable sitting there watching little bats flitting past as they chased the moths attracted by the tangle of weeds and flowers. One small moth alighted on a bellflower next to her, silver wings glittering in the moonlight. She watched entranced as it unrolled an incredibly long proboscis to harvest the sweet nectar. But something rustled in the bushes nearby, making her jump. Only a small mammal seeking a meal, she told herself. An owl hooted on the other side of the hill – she knew a pair lived in the stables, doing a good job of keeping the mice away from the feed. Lothíriel sighed, wondering how long she should stay. She could imagine it wouldn't be easy for Éomer to slip away, but however pleasant it was she had no intention of sitting here all night. Another few minutes, she decided. However, at that moment she heard the sound of a door being opened and shut, a key being turned. Footsteps crunched on the gravel.
'Lothíriel?' A voice whispered from the darkness.
'I'm here. Sitting on the seat.' But she stood up as she saw him approaching; no way did she want him towering over her. And her heart rate had already speeded up alarmingly – it might be better if she didn't let him too close, fearing her emotions were likely to overrule her wisdom.
Too late, he walked right up and made a grab for her hand. 'I'm sorry, I kept getting waylaid.'
Understandable, but she pulled her hand away before he could capture it, taking a step backwards. 'You are lucky I am here at all, after I realised that Elladan had set me up.'
Ahh...' He looked suitably embarrassed, and Lothíriel folded her arms not wanting to give an inch – yet.
'My excuse is that I needed help,' he said with just a hint of repentance in his voice. 'Éowyn said you were leaving in a few days so I knew I didn't have a lot of time, and trying to get near you without attracting attention was proving impossible. I did consider sending a note, but someone would have had to deliver it. And I do so want to talk to you.'
She sighed, not knowing how he could look so remorseful when she was sure he felt no such thing. But she had wondered how he would arrange anything with so many around him all the time. Perhaps she should let that go. 'I suppose.' But she fixed a steely gaze on him. 'So what exactly did you want to say?'
He let out a slightly exasperated breath, realising he was not going to be in for an easy time. Why should he be, Lothíriel thought defiantly. He'd caused her many sleepless hours.
'There's lots I want to say, Lothíriel. But first I need to apologise.'
Her chin went up and she held those dark eyes, determined not to surrender her slight advantage. 'What exactly are you going to apologise for, Éomer? Dragging me with you into the Hornburg and giving your people the impression there was some agreement between us – one you had neglected to mention to me? Or for thinking that it might be a good idea to marry me to ensure that your socks are always washed and mended?'
He took a sharp inward breath. 'I promise that I didn't mean to embarrass you at the Hornburg, I was just happy that...' Another sigh left his lips when she kept her expression wooden. This time he shook his head as if admonishing himself. 'Look, can we sit down and talk about this? I'm well aware I have made a complete mess of things, but believe me, there is nothing I want more than to put it right.'
He reached out to take her hand again, and this time she let him, unfolding her arms a little reluctantly. But when his hand wrapped around hers he must have detected the faint trembling in her fingertips, for a slow smile lit his face. 'Will you sit with me?' Éomer looked down at the seat, frowning when he saw the handkerchief shining white in the moonlight.
'I didn't want to get my dress dirty. If you sit down you are likely to stain your tunic.'
'Oh, I think I could risk that to talk to you.' His voice was warm and sultry in the darkness. Too alluring for comfort.
'Maybe,' she said, all practicality, determined to hang on to her senses, 'but you might get some funny looks when you return to the hall.'
'True'. A ghost of a smile flitted across his lips. 'Then walk with me and I will attempt to gain your forgiveness.' He tucked her arm in his and started to lead her towards a path that cut through the middle of the garden. It was even more overgrown, the briars reaching out to grab the unwary. But avoiding being snared they reached a relatively clear area, edged by a broken wall.
'The stone looks slightly cleaner than the seat, so the tunic will have to take its chances,' Éomer said sitting down on it. 'You can put your dress in jeopardy or lean against me.'
Putting herself in jeopardy, no doubt! Lothíriel sat down beside him, making sure only their hands were actually touching. Already his nearness was having a disastrous effect on her equilibrium. 'What is it you want to say to me?'
'Lots. But I'd better start with the apologies. Get them out of the way and hope we can move on from there.'
Lothíriel waited, saying nothing, determined not to give him any help. They had talked so easily together on that mountainside – before his disastrous words. But now an awkward silence lay between them.
Still holding on to her, Éomer raked the fingers of his free hand through his hair, looking as if his thoughts were difficult to voice. Lothíriel had no sympathy, and waited until he finally found the words he needed. 'I behaved badly towards you right from the beginning, didn't I? I am afraid I was hostile even before we met. Hence my subsequent discourtesy when Éowyn invited you to come here.'
'But why were you hostile before meeting me?' Lothíriel asked. She thought she knew, but wanted to hear him say it.
He shrugged. 'I suppose because I don't like being pushed into things and got irritated when your father talked about you.'
She huffed, incredulous. 'Why should that irritate you? I bet he talked about my brothers too.'
'He did,' he agreed, giving her a highly sceptical look, 'but not in regards to me finding a suitable wife.'
'My father suggested I might fill that role, did he? I find that hard to believe.' Had her father been so obvious?
'Well, not in as many words,' Éomer admitted. 'But the insinuations were there under the surface.'
She didn't actually want to tell of the conversation with her mother, so compromised. 'I am sure you misinterpreted and his remarks were made in all innocence.'
'Lothíriel, do you really think that?' Éomer asked with a mocking laugh. 'I like your father very much, but a more shrewd and astute man I have yet to meet. I cannot believe he brought your name up in the way he did quite as innocently as you imagine?'
'Well, perhaps,' she acknowledged after some thought, deciding that her father had not wanted to miss such an opportunity. 'But I had nothing to do with that and didn't deserve your antagonism.'
'I know differently now, but at the time it seemed very likely that you had. And I am afraid that there was so much going on, so much to think about with getting our wounded back home that I had no patience with any matchmaking. Anyway,' he said with a slight chuckle, 'you were hardly all innocence, giving me the impression you were another of those useless ornaments prevalent in Gondor's courts.'
'You walked yourself into that,' she shot back. 'And deserved all you got.'
'Perhaps I did. And you soon proved me wrong, didn't you.' He laughed out loud. 'When I saw you riding up on Erchirion's splendid horse, looking so confident and haughty, I wanted to rant at you and kiss you all at the same time.'
Her eyes flew up and locked with his. 'I'm not haughty,' she retorted. He had wanted to kiss her? Way back then?
'You're not saying anything about the kissing?' His lips quivered, as he tried to hold on to his amusement.
'I don't believe you wanted to kiss me all that time ago,' she snapped, embarrassed by the easy way he had got her blushing.
'Oh, Lothíriel, I have wanted to kiss you for weeks. You can't imagine how I had to hold on to myself during that cold night on the mountain.' He lazily stroked her hand with his thumb and his dark eyes gleamed with obvious desire, causing her heart to jump alarmingly.
'Oh...' It was all she could get out for a moment. But then her wits returned, still stung by his words that fateful morning. 'So you think it would be handy to have a queen you wouldn't mind kissing as long as she can count bed sheets and feed everyone? That's your requirement in a wife, is it?'
'Oh, Fengel's guts!' Éomer jumped up and turned around to face her. 'You are the most infuriating woman I have ever had the pleasure of meeting...'
'The thought is reciprocated,' she shot back, rising to her feet. She was not staying here to listen to this! But as she made a move, Éomer grabbed her arm.
'Lothíriel wait! I should never have made those stupid remarks that morning, especially when you were so tired and anxious, but please don't make me regret them for the rest of my life.' He looked so distraught that the anger went out of her, and her stiff posture relaxed, giving him leave to say more. She sat back down, but he didn't join her, pacing around before he collected himself enough to say in a strained voice.
'The truth is that I was attracted to you right from when you pulled me up on my manners, glaring at me with fire in your eyes. Then I got annoyed with myself as I considered a Gondorian Princess totally unsuitable to be Queen of Rohan, in spite of hints from Aragorn and my sister. In fact that made me even more antagonistic. But you must know that I started to change my mind about you on the journey when I realised you were plucky and resilient, not a bit the soft-living noblewoman I'd imagined.' Lothíriel said nothing and he carried on. 'After I made an idiot of myself over Hungife...'
'Yes, why did you?' she interrupted, not being able to let that go. 'You thought the worst of me right away.'
'I think I felt let-down,' he said after a moment's reflection. 'I'd believed ill of you at first, and then changed my mind deciding you were a woman who didn't need constantly cosseting. It made me disappointed to find I might have been right the first time. But please don't hold that against me; blame my confused thoughts and feelings.
'And your temper,' Lothíriel said, keeping her voice still rather cool.
'That too,' he said with a slight laugh. 'I am not making an excuse, but that time was rather difficult for me. Coming back to Edoras made me face the reality of being king, having to provide for a whole people and try and keep them safe. There was so much on my mind that love and courtship were way down the list.'
He looked down at her, capturing her gaze and holding it. She could not pull her eyes away, seeing the raw emotion she had been wrestling with mirrored in his.
'My feelings for you grew during the time at Edoras. But I suppose I still had not decided to speak as I felt it was a big commitment for you to move to another country far from your home and you might very likely say no. Also it's not easy to admit I had been totally wrong, and had fallen in love with the woman I intended to keep at arm's length.'
Lothíriel's eyes widened, but she said nothing, causing a flicker of inner mirth to cross his face.
'On the journey to the Hornburg you seemed so happy,' he went on, 'so one of us that I could see a real future between us. You coped with the ride, my men and the rougher conditions of fast travelling. But besides that I felt a new closeness between us. By the time we got to the keep, I felt so elated that I took your arm and ran up the steps out of sheer joy, and because I so much wanted Brythwyn to like you. I promise that, stupidly perhaps, I did not think of the consequences of such a simple action.'
Lothíriel nodded silently. She had felt that closeness, and at the time considered it a turning point in their relations. She sighed. 'I wish you had said something then.'
'I'd made up my mind to speak to you when we got back to Edoras,' Éomer continued, 'before I left for Gondor, but then you were abducted.' A shudder passed through his body. 'Believe me, Lothíriel, I was beside myself when I heard. Once I realised you had escaped, but were alone on the mountain with night falling, I panicked, rushing off after you without giving my men chance to follow. I just wanted to get to you and keep you safe. Having found you and discovered I loved you, the thought of losing you was beyond any imaginable horror.'
He loved her! He really loved her! All the ire and anguish she had felt receded in a great wave of relief.
He smiled, accurately reading her expression. 'And then in the morning I suppose I got cold feet about actually declaring what I felt as you were unlikely to be thinking the Riddermark a safe place to live, and so used the excuse that your father would expect us to get married.'
'Is that supposed to placate me, Éomer? That you thought you could speak with my father without finding out if I was agreeable?' But she was teasing, and he knew it. Taking a step towards her, he reached down to take her hand again. This time the silence between them was not awkward, but contemplative, as the implication of his declaration sunk into them both.
'Wrong of me, I know. So you had better tell me what happens in the best Gondorian circles when a man decides he wants to marry a woman.' He was obviously trying to keep a straight face, but a gleam of humour crept into his eyes and the corner of his mouth twitched.
She stuck her nose in the air, not being able to resist a bit of mockery. 'There certainly are ways of doing things, Éomer. First the man would need to ascertain from the lady if she was agreeable for him to speak to her father.'
Lips twitching openly now, he nodded. 'And then?'
'He asks her father for permission to court the lady. If agreed the courtship would take at least six months.' An eyebrow rose at that, but Éomer never said anything. Lothíriel stifled her grin and carried on.
'If the lady responds to his courtship then her father is approached for permission for them to marry.'
'Another six months, I suppose,' Éomer remarked blandly.
She nodded. 'Unless there are special circumstances, yes.'
'So now I know how they do it in Gondor. But we do it rather differently in the Riddermark. Much more like this.'
Before she even had a chance to draw a breath, let alone make any response, he pulled her against him and his lips captured hers in a hungry, searing kiss. Lothíriel kept her body rigid for only a moment before she sagged against him, revelling in the feel of his hard body and the shock of heat and desire that tore through her.
After that first scorching collision of passion, his kisses became gentler and more probing. She gasped softly as his tongue teased her lips apart until he could slide it between them. When she acquiesced he deepened the kiss, encouraging her to explore with her own tongue – a new experience to be savoured. With the fire raging within, if he let her go now she would probably melt in a heap on the floor.
A groan escaped his lips as he eased the pressure enough to whisper. 'I want you as my wife, Lothíriel. Not to provide me with food and clean clothes, but because I cannot imagine living without you. And I am willing to follow Gondor's way if I can have you in the end, dear heart. So, do I have permission to speak to your father?'
All the fight went out of her; she wanted him and didn't care if he knew it. She could barely get the words out, and when she did her voice sounded decidedly shaky. Berenor's polite courtship and chaste pecks had not prepared her for Éomer's hot and hungry kisses. 'You have my full permission and my father will agree, we both know that. But no betrothal can be announced for another month at least.'
'Never mind, it will give me time to court you. I think I owe you that after being so crass.'
'But I won't be here...' She sighed, wondering if she could change her mind and stay awhile.
Still holding her against him with one hand, he stroked a finger down her cheek thoughtfully. 'Perhaps it's a good idea that you go home, I'm not sure I could cope with having you near for the next weeks without even having the right to hold your hand. But besides that you probably need some time to enjoy the peace with your family for a while. I am well aware you gave that up to come here and help us. But don't worry.' His lips brushed against hers. 'I will know where to find you, my love. And what I might lack in time will have to be made up by extra effort.'
Find her? Nearly three hundred leagues stood between Edoras and Dol Amroth. But then she remembered Éowyn's wedding. From the progress they had made during the last hour, three weeks spent in Minas Tirith should be ample for a courtship. And she did want to go home. But as Éomer pulled her into another kiss, her resolve on that started to waver.
'Damn!' Éomer suddenly let her go, putting his finger across her lips to stop her protesting. Then she heard what he with his warrior instincts had picked up on before her – giggling voices in the kitchen garden. 'I locked the door to my quarters so Éothain couldn't come looking for me,' he whispered, 'but I forgot the passage from the kitchen.'
She nodded, realising that a couple of the servants had taken the opportunity to find privacy outside. The giggling had stopped and now she could just hear murmurs and endearments coming from behind the yew hedge that separated the herb beds from the private part of the garden they had been enjoying. With an inward smile, she wondered if the couple were used to kissing and cuddling, or new to it like her, and being rocked by passion and wonder as much she had been.
With just a beckoning of his head, Éomer led her back to the door of the East Tower. He had no difficulty in walking quietly on the gravel path, but Lothíriel winced every time she put her foot to the floor – it sounded louder in her ears than a clanking bucket. But either they hadn't been heard or the giggling couple wanted to be noticed as little as they did and they reached the door undetected. Éomer drew her into his arms, resting his lips against her hair.
'It's doubtful we will have time to be together again before you leave, but I will speak to your father as soon as I get the chance and perhaps you will trust me to sort out with him what it's best to do. As much as I would like to drag you back here at the earliest opportunity, I do not wish to ride roughshod over anyone's sensibilities.'
After the hectic day she had had and all the emotion of the night, she felt drained. Sure her father would work something out that suited her, she nodded, dropping her head onto his chest. 'Speak to him, Éomer; it would not do for me to show any outward interest in you until the six months is up, but I am sure he will not want to wait overlong to announce a betrothal.'
His hand gently smoothed over the back of her hair. 'I promise we will spend some time together before any announcement is made. But right now I think you need to sleep, my love. I am afraid the next few days are going to be tiring for you. I can't tell you how much I appreciate your efforts on our behalf.'
'Don't say it.' Lothíriel raised herself on tip toe and kissed him on the lips. 'If Éowyn had not invited me here, we might never have got over that initial animosity.'
'Oh, I think your father would have found another way.'
She laughed softly as he pushed the door open for her. How true that was.
Lothíriel pulled on her riding dress wondering why Éowyn was so insistent they go riding quite so early, especially the morning after the funeral feast. With Éomer officially taking up his crown and Éowyn's and Faramir's betrothal being announced, everyone had wanted to celebrate long into the night.
But once she emerged into the cool, fresh air of dawn, she could only be glad Éowyn had shaken her from slumber. She didn't have many more mornings to ride with Éowyn and not many more to ride Storm either. She couldn't believe her brother would not want him back once they started the long journey home. But at least her father had indicated he would be buying some horses from Éomer, she could only hope he would give her first choice.
When she reached the stables there was no one in the yard except a boy scrubbing out a water trough, but she heard the clop of horses and moments later Éowyn appeared leading Windfola. Behind her came her groom, leading not Storm as Lothíriel expected, but a black mare of incredible beauty. Lothíriel stood stock still for a moment, taking in the fine lines and excellent conformation. Arching her neck proudly, the mare turned to look at her, considering the stranger before her with intelligent, dark eyes.
'I thought you might like a change from riding Storm this morning,' Éowyn said with a self satisfied smile seeing Lothíriel's undisguised admiration. 'This is Nightshade, I am sure you will get on well with her.'
So dark, the mare's coat shone almost blue. 'So not all your black horses were taken,' Lothíriel remarked as she quietly approached the horse with a piece of carrot secreted in her palm.
'Even the most determined orc never got in sight of Aldburg,' Éowyn explained. 'Once we realised what the filth were after our best horses were kept there.'
A velvet muzzle nuzzled into her hand and with a soft chuckle Lothíriel released the carrot to be crunched by strong white teeth. 'If this is why you got me up early, Éowyn, then I will forgive you.' She ran one hand down the mare's smooth neck, her fingers still being investigated for more titbits. 'She's utterly gorgeous and it seems she will not object to me riding her.'
'Horses are good judges of character, and I expect she is looking forward to a gallop this fine morning.'
Lothíriel took the reins from the groom, but spent a little more time fussing over the mare before she nodded to him to give her a leg up.
Perfectly schooled, the mare never moved as she mounted, getting into motion with only the barest command from her rider. But Lothíriel could tell that Nightshade's compliance was due to training, not because she was not lively and fun to ride. 'I am afraid you'll spoil me for any horse my father provides.'
Éowyn shrugged. 'Then you might as well enjoy her while you can.'
They walked the horses down the hill towards the gates. Meduseld had been strangely quiet when she had passed through the hall, but life started early in Edoras and those already up and about nodded or doffed their caps, smiling as their eyes flicked over the horses and commenting to each other. Lothíriel had picked up quite a bit of Rohirric and she managed to decipher that she was not the only one who thought the mare exceptional. Already she could feel the smooth gait and the responsiveness of the horse. 'Are we going out on our own?' Lothíriel enquired.
'A small escort is waiting. After your experiences there is no way Éomer would allow us out without one.'
Lothíriel suppressed a sigh; there had hardly been any opportunity to talk to him since their hour spent in the garden. Those memories were going to have to last her a considerable time. But the sheer enjoyment of riding such a wonderful horse pushed aside any irritation that it would be a while before she could be alone with him, and much, much longer before she would be his wife. And yes, she thought, as they emerged from the barrows and she saw the grasses of the plain glowing in the early sun, she would miss the sea, but she would be happy here.
Reaching the fine sward that ran along the side of the beaten road, Éowyn nodded and Lothíriel dropped her hands. Nightshade shot forward, confirming what she had expected – balanced and beautiful, the mare stretched out, eager to gallop, eager to please.
'She's wonderful,' Lothíriel called across to Éowyn when they slowed their mounts. 'I am just wondering if I could persuade my father...'
But Éowyn shook her head as she closed the distance between them. 'Sorry, but she's not for sale.'
Lothíriel pulled a face. 'I'd thought you'd say that. Then thank you for letting me ride her. But now I think we had better get back, as the guests are likely to be seeking nourishment.'
In contrast to when they had left, they returned to a stable yard full of people. Not only was Éomer leaning against a rail with his eyes fixed on her, but Elessar, Faramir, her father, her brothers, even Gandalf and the hobbits were hanging around. They must all need fresh air after the excesses of the night before, she decided. Lothíriel slid down from Nightshade's back and went round to pet the horse, running her fingers up the velvet-soft nose to scratch her under her forelock. 'Thank you,' she whispered into the mare's ear. 'I enjoyed that.' She looked around for the groom to pass the reins over but instead Éowyn stood alongside her.
'You don't have to pass her back, Lothíriel, she's yours.'
'Mine...,' Lothíriel stuttered throwing a quick glance towards her father. 'But you said she wasn't for sale.'
She isn't,' Éowyn answered, mischief written on her face. 'She's a gift, from me. From us,' she murmured in a much lower tone, her eyes flicking towards her brother. 'Just a small repayment for all the help you have given us.'
Éomer hadn't moved, he stood a few yards from her. 'Éowyn wanted to say a big thank you, and she thought this the most appropriate way. Something she knew you'd appreciate.'
Was he saying he had nothing to do with it in spite of the mumbled words from Éowyn? It seemed unlikely, but then he gave her a surreptitious wink, which confirmed her suspicions. But no chance to ask him as her brothers immediately crowded round. Erchirion tweaked her plait. 'I suppose this means I get my horse back. And we can enjoy a fast ride home.'
It was only later that day that she realised why Erchirion wished to return home with all speed, the information given to her by a gleeful Amrothos – Erchirion had found himself a woman. Wife, if she would have him, the youngest Dol Amroth prince had made clear with a mocking laugh. Lothíriel didn't think it funny at all, pleased for her brother who had evidently met the lady when she had come to the castle to visit her wounded father. She wished them well with their courting, happy that they had no hindrances like bereavement periods and distance to contend with.
Still, when the morning came for them to depart she tried to smile; indeed part of her relished that she would be able to enjoy her homeland before winter set in. But in the midst of the goodbyes, as they gathered to leave, Éowyn met her with a stony face.
'You're not still cross, I'm going.' They had said their personal goodbyes the night before and Éowyn had not shown anything except a natural sadness that they were parting for a while.
Éowyn let out an angry huff. 'No, I am cross, livid even, with interfering old men who think they know what's right!'
What had brought this on? 'I'm listening,' Lothíriel said drawing her away from the rest of the group, some of whom were eyeing her with undisguised interest.
'Evidently, according to the great and good of Gondor, it's not thought proper for Faramir to marry quite so soon after his father's and brother's death.'
'Ah...I did wonder.' So that was what all the talk had been about the night before. With the long journey ahead, she had retired early. But it didn't surprise her; after all she couldn't even openly show any interest in Éomer for a good few weeks yet. 'So the wedding is off for the moment.'
'Unless Aragorn overrides them. But Faramir thinks that as he is so new to ruling, it would be better if he sticks to the traditions and not be seen to be changing things too quickly. He needs their support.' She let out a big, despondent sigh. 'So I will be spending the winter here after all. Better for Éomer, I know. But both Faramir and I have had a dark time and we thought the best thing to chase away the bad memories was to start building a new life together, with no delay. But now we have to wait.'
'I'm sorry, Éowyn. Gondor's traditions go back for ages past, change comes only slowly.'
'My sister telling you her problems, is she?' Éomer moved close to her, his arm brushing against her, causing her heart to speed up and a warm flush suffuse her body. Quite why he had such an effect on her by just being near, she had no idea. Especially after the weeks they had spent wrangling with each other. It had to be the kissing, now every time she saw him she wanted those lips pressed against hers again.
Almost as if Éomer guessed what she was thinking, he gave her a long, lazy smile, his eyes gleaming warmth. She wished he wouldn't, it was hard enough leaving without the problems of trying to hide her feelings from the "great and good" as Éowyn had so aptly put it. She could only be thankful that riding with her brothers and an escort of Swan- knights, they would soon leave the Gondorian nobles, their wains and their plodders, far behind.
'Some things just have to be.' Drawing his gaze away from her he fixed sympathetic eyes on Éowyn. 'I am afraid Gondorians do not see things as simply as us.'
Éowyn threw her hands in the air in exasperation. 'I am sure you could have done something about it.'
Éomer wrapped an arm around his sister, pulling her against him. 'I did suggest you get married here and forgo all that fuss, but your betrothed has a highly developed sense of duty and tradition. '
'Lothíriel, we're all set to go.' Erchirion looked extremely happy, possibly a combination of his new found love and the fact he had Storm back. She smiled up at him, realising how lucky she had been that he had lent the horse in the first place. But now, after getting used to her new mount the past few days, no way would she swop. Already she felt an incredible bond with the mare.
Éomer clicked his fingers, and a groom brought Nightshade forward. 'May I?'
Lothíriel swallowed; unable to say anything, she nodded her assent. Éomer grasped and lifted the lower part of one leg and she swung the other, luckily quite elegantly, over Nightshade's back. Dropping her head to arrange her skirts allowed her to cover the visible reaction to him touching her.
'Let's go,' Amrothos said. 'We might as well get in front of that procession of amblers right from the start.'
Éomer's eyes narrowed. 'I hope you are not going to overtax your sister.'
Amrothos let out a laugh. 'Oh, don't worry, if there is anything she doesn't like she will just dig her heels in. Nobody forces Lothy to do something against her will.'
'How true,' Éomer murmured, from close beside her.
Lothíriel decided she had better get out of there, quickly. After a quick clasp of Éowyn's arm, and a promise to write, she looked Éomer straight in the eye and inclined her head, putting on her best princess voice. 'My lord, thank you for your hospitality. Being in Rohan has been...enlightening.'
She didn't wait for any comment back. With a nod to her brother that she was ready, Lothíriel headed Nightshade towards the entrance to the stable yard, where she could see the Dol Amroth standard fluttering amongst a group of knights.
It was only when they crossed the ford and started cantering down the greensward that Lothíriel realised another consequence of the postponement of Éowyn's wedding – Éomer had promised they would have time together before any betrothal announcement. But now he would not be coming to Gondor until the following year.
To be continued.
This was supposed to be the last chapter, but as it got so long I decided to end it here and post a short final chapter. LBJ
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