"I half think I know you already, my lady," Lothíriel said, then blushed at her temerity.
Éowyn clicked her tongue against her teeth, perhaps disapproving, perhaps speaking to her horse.
"King Éomer speaks of you with great favour." And then there were the stories: the shieldmaiden who had struck down the unslayable, the hero of the Pelennor, the White Lady of Rohan and Gondor. The most beautiful Daughter of Men in Middle-Earth.
Still Éowyn did not answer, and Lothíriel glanced back the way they'd come. Her carriage and escort were already well out of sight, and she wondered how far they would go.
"Have I done aught to offend you, my lady?"
"Nay." That marked the first word Éowyn had said to her since asking her on this excursion, and almost the first in two days since she'd met Lothíriel's company at the border. It seemed for a time all the answer Éowyn would give, but then she turned, her expression fierce, and said, "Yet I fear for you."
Lothíriel looked down, fixing on the ears of her sorrel mare. After months of lessons, she still rode it uneasily, unused to split skirts and riding astride. Again she wondered if it were true that the women of Rohan birthed their children on horseback, and what might be expected of her. Finally, she said, "You need not concern yourself, my lady, I am not my mother," to flee to her homeland when foreign ways became too much and war loomed, "Nor my aunt," to pine away to nothing for the want of the sea. Ah, the sea. Would she ever hear it again?
"So your father has told my brother," Éowyn said, her voice colourless but a softness about her eyes betraying concern. "But your maidens told mine a different tale; they say you have left more behind than a city and a home."
So that was it. "I am not otherwise pledged, nor my heart engaged," she said, and did not regret the lie. She had left Nime behind, parting from her as a friend. That seeing a woman riding with the wind—resilient as steel and shining like white gold—had stolen Lothíriel's breath, and that in the two days since she never quite got it back, did not count towards the question.
"So careful with your words, my lady. Truly, you will be shocked by the Sons of Eorl." Éowyn seemed not to move, but her horse edged against Lothíriel's until their ankles brushed under their skirts. "And the Daughters."
Heat crept into Lothíriel's face, and she dipped her head. Yet when she looked up, sliding her gaze sideways, Éowyn was smiling.