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Sunrise out of Sunset

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“Tell me again why you want your daughter to accompany the funeral procession to Rohan?”

It was the day after his arrival in Minas Tirith to pick up his uncle’s body for burial, and Éomer was closeted in a meeting with his friend and war-time companion Imrahil of Dol Amroth. Having caught up on news and discussing a variety of trading opportunities between Dol Amroth and Rohan, Imrahil had mentioned that he wished his youngest child and only daughter, the Princess Lothíriel, to join him and his two younger sons on the trip to Rohan to see Théoden King buried.

“Several reasons, Éomer, all of which are quite valid. Firstly, your sister’s betrothal to my nephew Faramir is to be announced after your uncle’s funeral, with the couple marrying in ten months, as part of the anniversary of the first year of the King of Reunited Gondor’s reign in May. Your sister knows little of the ways of the Gondorian court, and as much as Faramir loves her, she will be eaten alive by the courtiers without instruction. Lothíriel can help with this. She is familiar with the ways of the court, and as she and Éowyn are fast friends, she will help your sister without embarrassing her. You’ve seen how some of the Gondorian ladies treat Éowyn – she needs the help if she’s to navigate the quagmire that is high Gondorian society.”

“Does Lothíriel even want to come to Rohan, Imrahil? I know that Éowyn likes her, but she sounds rather worn out.”

“Which is, in fact, another reason why she should go. Lothíriel held Dol Amroth together while my sons and I went to Minas Tirith, and she’s spent the last weeks helping Queen Arwen settle in. It’s too bad that you haven’t had a chance to meet her yet, but she hadn’t arrived in Minas Tirith before you left and she was busy yesterday when you arrived. I firmly believe that the change of pace on the trip to Edoras will do Lothíriel good. And I know that spending time with Éowyn will be good for her, for both of them. Éowyn will benefit by the learning, and the two will hopefully become better friends. My daughter has few friends – she is limited somewhat by her station and many of the other noble girls deem her a bit odd.”

“Odd? That does not sound promising.”

“Lothíriel may give the appearance of a proper young princess of Gondor, but do not let that fool you. She is rather strong-willed, and has a temper than can be worse than Erchirion’s.” This gave Éomer pause – as much as he liked Erchirion, his temper could sometimes get away with him in a rather spectacular fashion. Seeing that Imrahil had noticed his consternation, he motioned for him to continue.

“Lothíriel is quite intelligent, and has pursued scholarly learning as well as the traditional female skills. She is also an excellent rider, and prefers to ride astride when she can. So you can rest assured that she will not slow the party down overmuch by riding sidesaddle.”

“We will not be travelling overly quickly anyway, Imrahil. We will be accompanied by wains, and they can only go so fast. But it is reassuring to know that Lothíriel can manage herself with horses.”

Imrahil nodded. “Lothíriel can definitely manage herself around horses – she has been riding since she was a small child. Now, are you amenable to Lothíriel staying in Edoras for a few weeks after the rest of the funeral party leaves? ”

“I suppose that I am, but I will have to double-check with my sister. They will be spending a good deal of time together if all goes according to your plan.”

“Good. Now, do you have anything else you wish to discuss before we adjourn for lunch, Éomer?”

“I think that we’ve covered everything, Imrahil. Now, if you will excuse me? I promised my sister that I would visit those of my people who had to remain in the Houses of Healing for more treatment when we returned to Rohan. Hopefully most of them will be able to return with us. I promised Éowyn that I would visit them before midday, and it is nearly so, so I had best hurry.”

“Of course. You are coming to Aragorn’s dinner tonight, yes?

“Indeed I am. It will be a good opportunity to meet Aragorn’s lady – I regret not being able to attend their wedding, but duty called me home to Rohan.”

“You will like the Queen, Éomer. And the dinner will also provide you with a chance to meet my daughter, who will also be attending.”

Éomer nodded, standing and stretching muscles that protested to long a time in a chair.

“I look forward to it, my friend. I will see you then.” With that, he strode out of the study and began making his way towards the Houses of Healing.

******

Éomer sighed to himself as he rode down from the second circle of the citadel to the Rohírric camp just outside the city after visiting the injured Riders and lunching with the Warden of the Houses to discuss his men’s condition. Why does this king business have to be so complicated? He knew his duty to his people, would fulfill it to the best of his abilities, but he was skeptical about his abilities to rule his people. He just wished that his cousin and his uncle had survived. Théodred should be king now, and him a Marshal of the Mark. It would have been enough, more than enough; it would have been the fulfilment of all his hopes and dreams since he had been old enough to understand his duty to lord and land.

He knew little of treaties, of how to solve a problem with diplomacy and words. Give him a horse, a sword, and a solid éored, and he could and would defend his people to the death through feats of arms with a light heart. But this was different. He was no smooth-talking Gondorian to seek advantage in ever-changing alliances between nobles, to use a cutting turn of phrase to bite deep into another’s mind. He longed to be back among the rolling plains of Rohan, where life was not easy, but much less complicated. But he knew his duty. The treaties and the cunning words, the snide comments and the noble ladies seeking advantageous matches with the foreign king. He was glad that he was only in the city long enough to pick up his uncle’s body. Rude though it may be, it allowed him to avoid a great deal of the maneuvering and awkwardness involved in a state visit.

He had made the gates of the city, and nodded to the guards as he nudged Firefoot out the gates and towards the camp. He snorted to himself, and thought of the upcoming meeting with Imrahil’s daughter. It would surely be awkward. While he doubted that the girl would be as simperingly stupid as many of the other noble maidens of Gondor – Imrahil had high standards for all of his children, and Éomer knew his sons were intelligent and unusually commonsensical for nobles – he had to reconcile himself to likely spending another boring evening with an empty-headed girl, even if she was better than average. Reaching the camp, he swung off his horse and passed his reins to the stable hand. When Firefoot tried to bite the boy, he shot his horse a glare and told him to behave. He watched the stable hand lead Firefoot to the horse strings as he went to his own tent, keeping an eye out for any more bites. Éothain met him on the way to his tent, his hands full of papers.

“Your meeting with the Steward and his people went well then, Éothain?”

 Éothain gave him a withering look. “You know that it was bad. That’s why you had me do it instead of dealing with it yourself, sire.”

“The joys of delegation, Éothain. Though I am saddened to not have seen Faramir – he’s to wed my sister within the year and I would like to get to know him better.”

“He’s coming with us to bury Théoden King, milord, so you will have the opportunity if you wish to take advantage of it.”

“He is? But Aragorn and Imrahil are coming with us – who will be in charge of the city?”

“I believe that the Lord Húrin will have the honour, my lord.”

“Honour my ass, you mean the duty.” The men shared a smile. “Is my sister back from the city yet?”

“The lady Éowyn is not yet returned, sire. She said that wished to visit with the Princess Lothíriel before the feast tonight. She said that she would be back well beforehand, though.”

Éomer, who had started at the mention of the Princess’ name, calmed himself. So it seemed that Éowyn actually was friends with Imrahil’s daughter. That boded well for her accompanying the funeral procession to Rohan. He didn’t have to like it, but he was becoming less unhappy with the prospect. But he needed to talk to Éowyn about the travel arrangements, and he couldn’t do that if she was still up in the city.

“Éothain, could you send a messenger up to the city to find Éowyn and tell her to come down to the camp as soon as she can? I need to talk to her about a matter that needs to be resolved before we go up to the feast.”

“As you say, my lord. After I’ve done so, will you look over the results of my talk with Steward Faramir? He’s wrangled the Gondorians accompanying us to send down most of their luggage ahead of time, and he sent a good amount of supplies – says he doesn’t want his folk to be a burden to us on the trip.”

“If you will give me your notes, I’ll start looking over them while you find a messenger. Meet me at my tent when you’re done.”

“Of course, my lord.” Éothain handed over the pages and headed towards the horse lines to find one of the messengers on duty.

******

By late afternoon, Éomer was beginning to worry. Éowyn had still not returned from the citadel, and Eothain’s messenger had returned with a reply that Éowyn said that she would be back when she was back, and he should not worry overmuch. The messenger had been worried over the temerity of the message, and he had had to convince him that it wasn’t his fault that the lady was disregarding her kingly brother’s orders. But now, several hours later, it was time to begin preparing for the feast, and Éowyn had not appeared.

Éomer reached a decision, and strode out of his tent. He turned to the pair of guards outside the door and addressed the one to his right. “Cenhelm, can you bring me Éothain, Elfhelm, and the other captains? With all speed, please.” The guard replied with a quick affirmative and went off to do his bidding. Shortly the called-for men arrived, and settled into Éomer’s tent.

“Éothain, you’ll need to send another messenger to my sister, as it’s getting on in the day and we need to prepare our party to go up to the Merethrond for the feast soon.”

“That won’t be necessary, Éomer, your sister sent a messenger down a little while ago. She is preparing for the feast up in the citadel and will be down soon to ride up with us.”

Relieved of at least one worry, Éomer continued. “Good. We’ll leave in an hour and a half. Prepare yourselves and the people that you’ll be bringing with you. We shall meet at the north side of camp.” A chorus of affirmatives. “Then begin your preparations.”

******

Forty-five minutes later Éomer was washing up behind a screen when a small whirlwind entered his tent. Éomer guessed it was his sister, back from the citadel, as no one else would dare enter his tent without announcing themselves, and was vindicated when his sister’s voice came at him from the other side of the screen. “I am returned, Brother! Did you miss me?”

“Of course I missed you. Éowyn, I know you wanted to visit with your friends in the city today, but aren’t you cutting it a little close for time? How will you be able to dress and prepare yourself in what time remains?”

“That won’t be a problem, brother. I am already ready to go. Did I not have Éothain tell you that I was visiting the Princess Lothíriel earlier? I got ready there. The princess wanted to show me how to ride sidesaddle in a fancy dress, and this provided a good opportunity. I had to borrow one of Lothiriel’s horses, though, since Winfola is not trained for sidesaddle riding.”

Éomer felt a spurt of admiration for the princess. Even Théoden had rarely managed to get Éowyn to dress in what he called a manner befitting her station very often. And a sidesaddle – Éowyn must be serious about learning the ways of Gondor to even attempt it, for those devices seemed extremely uncomfortable. If this was the sort of results this Lothíriel could achieve in an afternoon with his sister, maybe he should re-evaluate his opinion of her. 

“This princess must have a will of steel if she stuffed you into a dress and onto a sidesaddle, sister. With all that I have heard today, I must admit that I am rather in fear of meeting her.”

A moment of silence, and then Éomer heard giggling on the other side of the screen. He was glad to hear his sister’s mirth, but he was sure that there was more than one voice joining in.

“Éowyn, who do you have with you? That doesn’t sound like your maid.” Éomer winced. He knew that Astrud, Éowyn’s maid, could keep her mouth shut about any tactless or indelicate comments, as could Eomer’s manservant, but he could only assume that Éowyn had brought someone down with her who would now in all likeliness spread unfortunate rumours throughout Minas Tirith. He cursed himself for not making sure that Éowyn was alone before speaking. But it was not Éowyn who answered, but a new voice, low for a woman and musical.

“I shall take that as a compliment, my lord king. While I am not often praised for my fear-inducing capabilities, I can assume that it is supposed to be to my credit.”

Éomer froze. Shit. Éowyn brought the Princess with her, and I’ve just stuck my foot in my mouth. Well, I’m just going to have to deal with the mess now.

“Princess Lothíriel?” he asked.

“At your service, my lord King,” the musical voice replied.

“It is a great pleasure to meet you, my lady, but I must ask you to leave my tent for a moment. I am not entirely fit to greet a lady at the moment. I shouldn’t take long, though, especially if Éowyn is kind enough to assist me. If you wouldn’t mind waiting outside for a moment?”

“Of course, my lord. Éowyn, I will be with the horses. I’m sure that one of the guards will show me the way.” He thought that he heard traces of a controlled laugh in the firm tones, but he wasn’t sure. He heard footsteps leaving the tent, and then what must be Éowyn gathering up the clothes he had set out. 

Attempting to control his anger, Éomer spoke. “Éowyn, what were you thinking, bringing the Princess here? Let alone bringing her into my tent when I was clearly indisposed?”

“Éomer, do calm down. Here’s a towel – be quick.” A towel shot over the screen; Éomer took it and began to dry himself.

“You’d better have a good explanation for this, Éowyn.”

“Like I told the messenger, Lothíriel and I prepared for the ball earlier. She wanted to show me how to ride sidesaddle in a fancy outfit, and I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to do so. Lothíriel came with me to show me the finer points.”

“Can you pass me my underthings, Éowyn?” The offending garments were exchanged for the wet towel, and Éomer continued arguing while dressing. “That makes a moderate amount of sense, but why did you bring her in here with you?”

“Here’s your next layer, Éomer. I did not know you were bathing. You are always horrible at answering summonses – I thought that you were just ignoring me. I just wanted you and Lothíriel to meet without having all sorts of people watching you for signs of a match.”

“Pass my shirt over, will you? Why would they be watching for a match?”

“You and Lothíriel are both extremely eligible, Éomer. You are the young, handsome, unmarried King of Rohan, and Lothíriel is the highest-ranking female lady of marriageable age in Gondor. You are also good friends with her father. People will assume that you’re at least considering it.” 

Éomer sank onto his camp bed, his head in his hands. “You may have a point. This is going to become extremely awkward.”

“True. Now, let’s fix up your hair and your clothes. You need to look imposing at this feast.”

“As imposing as you?” For, now that he got a good look at Éowyn, she was looking very imposing indeed, in a pale green dress than picked up the blue of her eyes and the pale gold of her hair. It was very pretty, but definitely unsuitable for riding astride, with a rather full skirt, though not nearly as bad as some of those he had seen some of the Gondorian court ladies wear. He remembered her green-and-gold jewelry as mostly pieces belonging to their mother, but he had never seen the dress before. “Is that a new dress?”

“Yes. You remember how light we had to travel to come to Gondor’s aid, so none of us had many changes of clothes? Lothíriel forced me to have my measurements taken for new clothes while I was in the Houses of Healing so some could be made up for me. She took the liberty of having some dresses made up for me in Gondorian styles that are not to odious and allow for some freedom of movement, like this one.” Éowyn spun around to prove her point.

“How did she know they were needed?”

“Faramir told her.” Seeing Eomer’s scowl, Éowyn hurried to explain. “You know that they are cousins, brother. Faramir and I both trust Lothíriel to be close-mouthed at need, and so even though it is not generally known about Faramir and I planning to wed, we told Lothíriel so she could work on things like the dresses.”

“I still don’t like it. Where did the money for this come from?”

“Lothíriel said something about ‘paying off the debt owed to our people,’ and wouldn’t hear of repayment.”

“I’ll talk to her about it. Rohan pays its debts.”

“Shouldn’t we be going to the meeting-point soon? It’s getting on to the time for the feast.”

“You’re right. Let’s pick up the princess and get ready to go.”

Chapter Text

Éomer followed his sister out of the tent with a scowl. As they wound their way towards the horse lines, Éomer found himself thinking of the princess. He dearly hoped that his relationship with the Princess Lothíriel had started on a low point and would only improve. He hadn’t even met the woman face-to-face and she was already disconcerting him.

A ruckus on the lines shook Éomer out of his reverie. It seemed that one of the mares, a black, had escaped the lines and was being chased by a stallion. Éomer did not recognize the mare – though by the looks of her she was an excellent specimen – but the stallion …

Éowyn was looking interestedly at the ruckus. “Is that Firefoot chasing Lothiriel’s mare?”

Éomer groaned. “That’s the princess’ mare?”

Éowyn nodded. “Indeed it is.”

“Today just keeps getting worse and worse.”

“Here comes the princess now, Éomer. Prepare to apologize.” Éomer noted that Princess Lothíriel was accompanied by Eanulf, who had been put in charge of the horses for the trip to Mundburg.

Distracted as he was, Éomer noticed the princess’ willowy grace, how she navigated the broken ground with ease. She was tall for a woman, with her eyes coming perhaps up to his nose. He was more surprised than he should have been by her looks. She strongly resembled her father and her cousin Faramir, with their Numénorean grey eyes and black hair, which surrounded her face in an aureole, barely contained by a band of silk. The headband matched her dress, a flowing mass of dark-blue silk with a pattern of silvery feathers. He turned to Eanulf, signalling for the man to report.  

“Apologies, Sire. We weren’t expecting the lady’s mare to be such a handful and so didn’t take as much care as we should have, and she managed to get herself of the line. The hand who took Firefoot was one of our newer people, and wasn’t used to your horse’s liveliness. He didn’t bother tying him up properly, and so he managed to chase after milady’s mare with ease.” Noticing the formal outfits of the king and his sister, he continued, “We’ll keep an eye on them while you are up at the city, my lord. Bring them in when they’re done and take care of them.”

Lothíriel turned to Eanulf, but posed her question to both the stable master and Éomer and Éowyn. “I am going to be joining the party leaving tomorrow for Rohan for the burial; would it be easier for me to come and pick up Nightsong then?”

Seeing Eanulf’s nod – they both knew it might be some hours before the horses were done and recovered from their exploits – Éomer nodded. “That would probably be best, my lady.”

“Good. I shall pick her up at the end of the first day’s travel. I’ll just have to ride one of my brothers’ spares until then.”

Éomer nodded. “Eanulf, if you’ll have Wingfoot and Éowyn’s mount -” he looked to her for the mare’s name -  “Silksheen,” she supplied, “Silksheen, saddled, we will prepare to depart.”

Éowyn, ever practical, found a problem. “But how are you going to get up to the city for the feast without Nightsong, Lothíriel? We would lend you a horse, but we don’t have any sidesaddles and you can’t ride astride in your skirts.”

“That … may be a problem.”

Finally, something I can do right. “I may have a solution, ladies. Éowyn, if you’ll ride with me, then Lothíriel can use your palfrey.”

Éowyn and Lothíriel shared a look. No, they shared a Look – a Look which did not bode well for Éomer’s suggestion.

Lothíriel broke the silence. “That is an excellent suggestion, my lord,” he straightened, thinking the matter resolved, “except for the fact that the palfrey that was loaned to your sister won’t have anything to do with me. She was gifted to your sister by my cousin Faramir, and has taken an extraordinary shine to your sister. She now refuses to let anyone else ride her.”

Éomer scowled at his sister. “Faramir had to get you a mount that matches you for stubbornness, didn’t he?”

“I will train it out of her as soon as I can, brother. I just got her today.”

“Why did he feel the need to give you a horse now? Couldn’t he wait until the handfasting?”

“He wanted me to have a mount already trained for a sidesaddle, and now seemed as good a time as any. She’s still a little wild; Faramir correctly assumed that I’d like to finish her training myself. It shouldn’t take me long.”

“I should hope not.”

Lothíriel, who had been listening to the siblings argue with an amused expression, broke in to the conversation.

“As interesting as this is, my lord Éomer, Éowyn, this does not resolve the matter at hand. How do you two propose that we all get to the Merethrond in good time? What I can only assume to be the party accompanying you is gathering, and they look rather … antsy.”

With a slight shake of her head, Lothíriel directed their attention to the direction of the assembling Rohírrim, who were indeed those who were to go to the feast.

Éomer sighed. “Let’s go and meet up with the rest of the party; hopefully one of them has an idea.”

****

            It had been the ever-practical Elfhelm that had proposed the solution to the riding problem. The horse belonging to Éowyn’s maid Astrud was a placid, elderly mare, though still showed the elegance of all Rohírric horses. Astrud had been quite willing to loan her mare to a princess once she understood the need. A stable hand had put Lothíriel’s sidesaddle on the elderly mare, and after a few turns around the makeshift paddock the princess was ready to go. By this point, everyone else was long since ready.

Éomer gave a last, appraising eye-over of his people. Seeing everyone prepared, he raised an arm and cried out, “Eorlingas! We ride!” The party moved towards Minas Tirith, Éowyn and Lothíriel riding side by side. Éomer watched them, looking to see if they were as fast friends as they seemed. Despite his initial misgivings, Éomer admitted to himself that the princess knew how to handle a horse. She guided Astrud’s mare with ease, despite the uncertainty associated with a new mount. He felt a grudging admiration for the princess. She was definitely resourceful, and didn’t balk from a challenge. And like he’d told Éowyn – anyone who could stuff his sister into a fancy dress and onto a sidesaddle was a force of nature with an iron will. Maybe he’d been wrong about her. Pretty and delicate she may be, but definitely not as empty-headed as the typical Gondorian hot-house flower. Lost in his thoughts, he did not see the princess directing her mount towards him until she was next to him. He gave a start when her voice broke his train of thought.

“My lord Éomer, in all the fuss I believe that we have yet to be properly introduced.”

“You are correct, my lady. I am sorry to have made your acquaintance under such poor circumstances.”

Lothíriel gave a very unladylike snort. “You’ve met my brothers, my lord king. I am rather used to such events happening around them. You seem to fall prey to similar ill-chance; it is no wonder you get on as well as you do.”

“Your family has spoken to you of me?”

“Often and eloquently, my lord. Amrothos especially sings your praises. I understand you saved his life on the Field of Cormallen?”

“It was the least I could do, my lady. Your lord father it was who discovered that Éowyn still lived during the battle of the Pellenor. I owe your family much.”

“Well, my lord, I daresay we are even now – you saved my favorite brother’s life and your sister is to wed my cousin.”

“Indeed she is. Your cousin has made this official to at least the Rohírrim with his gift of a horse to Éowyn, though the official declaration will have to wait until after Uncle’s funeral.”

“The gift of a horse has some symbolic value for the Rohírrim, my lord?”

Éomer nodded. “A man will give a horse to a woman he wished to wed. If she takes it, they are betrothed. It is usually a bit more complicated for the upper classes, but it is the typical first step, done as a formal announcement of an intention to wed.”

“Ah. So Faramir’s gift to Éowyn –  ”

“Sends a clear message to the Rohírrim about his intentions. They will be expecting a handfasting soon, though not, of course, before the funeral.”

“That is good to know, my lord. Now mind your head at the gate. You wouldn’t want to get a concussion on top of everything else that’s happened today.”

They were entering the main gates of the city, which had been garlanded in flowers, some of which were low enough to impede a man on horseback as tall as Éomer. He bent to avoid a particularly low-hanging specimen, thanking the princess for her sharp eyes. As they made their way up to the first circle, Éomer turned to Lothíriel.

“I must apologize for Firefoot’s behavior earlier today, my lady. This is comparatively unusual behavior for him.”

“It is quite all right, my lord. I understood from your stable master that your mount is rather ill-tempered, so it is understandable that he might get away from the lines.”

Éomer stiffened. He would take criticism to himself far easier that to his horse. “He is a warhorse, my lady. Firefoot’s ill-temper has saved my life several times,” he said, with perhaps more force than was strictly necessary.    

Lothíriel noticed his vehemence. A dark eyebrow rose in response. “Perhaps his temperament matches his master’s. I mean no disrespect, my lord – a good horse needs spirit.”

“I find it unusual that a maiden of Gondor believes that, Lady Lothíriel. Many of your compatriots seem to prefer placid mounts.”

“Only because they do not know better. To be truthful, I would rather ride astride, but it is impractical in full skirts.”

“If you say so, my lady. I wouldn’t know.”

Again the eyebrow went up. Éomer kicked himself for putting his foot in his mouth. A period of silence followed as Éomer attempted to think of a way to resolve the tension between himself and the lady, but he could think of none but an apology. Fortunately he was saved from the indignity of apologizing to the princess – again! – by their arrival at the stables of the first circle. Imrahil and Faramir were there to meet them. Éomer noticed Éowyn cutting off her conversation with Elfhelm to dismount. Faramir went to her, and they stood next to Silksheen, evidently discussing the horse’s finer points. 

Imrahil came over to Éomer and Lothíriel. Éomer dismounted, and the two men exchanged greetings. Lothíriel dismounted more slowly, and stood petting her mount, thanking it for letting her ride.

Imrahil turned to his daughter, noticing her mount. “Lothíriel, I am sure you accompanied Éowyn on Nightsong. Where is she?”

“Nightsong is back at the Rohírric camp, Father. Ask Éomer King for more details, as my mare is staying there on his hospitality.” Éomer wondered if he needed his ears checked – did he detect amusement in her voice?

Imrahil turned back to Éomer with a raised eyebrow that was strongly reminiscent of his daughter’s.

“Dare I ask?”

This was going to be an enjoyable explanation.

*****

Éomer leaned back in chair, content with life. Good food and good company, with no immediate threat hanging over him. Life was good. He had reacquainted himself with many of the friends he had made on his last trip to Gondor (the unpleasant reason for them all being there notwithstanding). Éomer also had had a chance to meet some elves of renown, kin to Aragorn’s bride. Very conscious of the honor, he had been on his best behavior in their presence. The Lady Galadriel had especially disconcerted him; her great grey eyes seemed to look into his very soul. After the introductions had been made, he had resolved – at least in the short term – his argument with Gimli about the Lady of the Golden Wood. Éomer found that he preferred Queen Arwen’s quiet grace to Galadriel’s fey presence. He had always preferred dealing with people – women and men alike – who were grounded in the real world. The Lady of the Golden Wood seemed … not entirely there, like a part of her was still with her kin across the Great Sea.

He and Éowyn had sat next to Imrahil’s family during the dinner, including Faramir, and they had spent a good deal of the meal catching up. Éomer had become fast friends with the Amrothians during the march to the Black Gates, though he found Elphir rather stuffy most of the time, and Amrothos rather too rambunctious. Erchirion was more balanced, as apparently was Lothíriel. He found himself enjoying the presence of the princess more than he would have expected; she did not chatter needlessly as did so many young women when confronted by royalty, but rather talked cogently and with discretion about a variety of relevant topics. He was getting the distinct feeling that he should not have been so quick to assume the worst of her; Imrahil’s family seemed to defy all expectations of them.  

Éomer thought back to his first meeting with Faramir. He had thought the Steward rather ineffective, being put upon to remain bedridden in the Houses of Healing while others went and fought at the Black Gates. But seeing his sister and Meriadoc Holdwine – both doughty and fearless – kept ill and uncertain by the self-same thing that kept Faramir abed, the Black Breath, Éomer had been forced to admit that Faramir’s weakness was unfeigned, and not put upon to avoid battle. He had long heard of the deeds of Faramir’s brother Boromir from Théodred, for the two had been fast friends, but had been under the impression that Faramir had been less favored due to some shortcoming in his character. After spending time in his company, Éomer knew that while Faramir was cautious and grave to the point of dourness, he did not shirk from his duty and loved Éowyn deeply. Éomer just hoped that it would be enough to keep his sister happy in Ithilien, far from her native soil. Yet seeing the loving looks that Éowyn and Faramir had exchanged over dinner, Éomer was less worried that he had been before sitting down to eat.

Casting his eyes over the dancing, Éomer noticed Faramir dancing with Lothíriel. Now she wasn’t what he was expecting, either. Pretty, yes, graceful, yes, and with a fine sense of propriety and decorum, but so much more. A woman able to giggle with Éowyn over his faux pas, with an excellent taste in horseflesh. More practical than he had thought possible for a noble maiden of Gondor. Very intriguing. Very confusing. Éomer mentally kicked himself; we are not going to get distracted by a noble girl. Especially Imrahil’s daughter! The dance ended; after a short period of discussion, Lothíriel and Faramir walked over to the rest area set out near the refreshments. Taking a glass each of punch, they found seats near Éomer’s. Éomer exchanged polite nods of greeting with them before resuming his review of the dancing.

The cousins sat in companionable silence for a few moments, sipping their drinks. After they had finished, they handed their empty cups to one of the waiting servants and came and sat next to Éomer.

“Are you enjoying yourself, Éomer King?” asked Faramir.

“Indeed I am, my lord Steward.”

He wasn’t feeling overly talkative tonight. If the Steward didn’t like it, let him stew. Faramir, however, seemed amenable to a few moments of relative peace, as few people would dare bother three such high-ranking people gathered together without a very good reason, even if they were silent. They sat in companionable silence for a few moments, watching the dancing. Eventually Éowyn came looking for her brother and her soon-to-be-betrothed, and, catching sight of them, came marching determinately towards them. 

“Faramir, come and dance with me.”

“Of course, Éowyn.” Turning to Éomer and Lothíriel, he said, “I think that the next dance is a cotillion – will you two join us?”

Éomer rose. He knew that if he refused his sister would never let him hear the end of it, so he’d better make the best of a poor situation. “How can I refuse the chance to dance with a beautiful lady?” he asked, extending his arm to Lothíriel. She took it with murmured thanks, and the two couples made their way to the dance floor. Aragorn saw which way they were headed, and evidently know what musical style was upcoming, as he spoke quickly and quietly to his wife and her grandparents before all four came to join their set.

As they neared the dance floor, Lothíriel spoke, quietly enough that only he could hear. “How familiar are you with Gondorian court dances, my lord?”

“Éowyn and I had to practice them in our youth – grudgingly – but I have not had much time to practice in recent years. So not very good, I’m afraid.”

“Wartime does tend to drive out ancillary concerns, such as learning foreign dances. Follow my lead as much as you can. One of the more useful things I’ve learned is how to lead dancing while making it look like I am following.” The princess’ face was straight and dignified, but he caught a glimmer of contained humor in the twinkling of her eyes. They took their places in the initial formation, Éomer watching Aragorn and Faramir closely to see what they did.

“Are you insinuating that I am a poor dancer, my lady?” he asked, feigning affront. She wriggled slightly, enough that his hand moved slightly across her back to what he realized was the appropriate position to begin the dance.

As the music began, she replied, “Only with dances you are unfamiliar with, my lord. If it helps, I am sure that you are a quick study.” Then, as the first chords were struck, their conversation ended as they concentrated on the dance. The princess was indeed an excellent dancer, and was adept at making it seem like he did, in fact, know what he was doing. She caught him glancing at the other dancers out of the corners of his eyes to see what they were doing and winked at him.

“Do not worry overmuch, my lord. You are doing well for someone unfamiliar with the steps. And one of the benefits of being royalty is that very few people will call you out on any mistakes you make.”

He crooked an eyebrow. “They might not be laughing and pointing as such, my lady, but I know that many Gondorians look down on my people as northern barbarians, to be called upon at need and then forgotten. Many of them are likely enjoying the sight of the Dol Amrothian princess attempting to not get her feet stomped on by the brutish Rohírric king.”

An uncharacteristic scowl appeared on Lothíriel’s face. “You should not debase yourself so, my lord, not even in mockery. Your people may not have a long a history as Gondor, but it is as rich as ours. And those who demean your folk are fools to have forgotten what we owe you. Gondor – and all Middle-Earth – would not exist in anything like its current form if the Rohírrim were not a people of valor. Please remember that some of us in Gondor, at least, remember what we owe.” Her words were low and heated, and clearly heartfelt.

“Thank you, my lady. It is good to be reminded of that.”

The Princess Lothíriel was indeed full of surprises.

Chapter Text

They were three days out from Minas Tirith when Erchirion had ridden up beside him and asked him, far too casually for his peace of mind, if any of the women in Minas Tirith had caught his eye. The question had stupefied him, so that for a long moment all that he could do was gape at his friend.

“No, not really, Erchirion. Why do you ask?” 

“Curiosity, I guess. Many of the unmarried noble ladies – and not a few of the married women and widows – were extremely curious in regards to your people, and especially you. And Amrothos and I noted that you seemed rather curious about them as well at the feast in the Merethrond in honor of you and your uncle.” Éomer was beginning to hate the eyebrow-cocking that seemed to be a family trait of the Dol Amrothian royal family, especially when the humor it so often accompanied was at his expense.

“You mean I was staring at them.”

“To be blunt, yes.”

“Well, if you or Amrothos have your sights set on any of them, married or not, take heart. My admiration of the ladies of Minas Tirith was given out in a general sense, with no particular one or ones especially favored. The ladies of Gondor are of a rather different breed than those of Rohan, and I was simply attempting to figure out how.”

“If you say so. Lothíriel told me that not a few of them had designs on your person.”

“I thought as much. Some of those ladies seemed to be quite adamant in suggesting walks in deserted gardens or ‘accidentally’ taking a small tumble in such a way that I was forced to catch them, while being subjected to a generous view of bosom.” Erchirion gave a semi-sympathetic snort; many of the ladies of the court had prodigious bosoms and low-cut necklines. “At least I managed to avoid getting corralled into one of their beds and/or getting challenged by an angry male relative.”

“You may still get your chance. My sister says that not a few of the ladies who are accompanying us to Edoras are among those who have not yet given up hope.”

Éomer turned in the saddle to peer at the princess, who was currently back on Nightsong (who was quite recovered from her escapade in the Rohírric camp a few days earlier, though likely with foal, a thought that made Éomer wince) and having a lively discussion with Éowyn and Faramir. Scowling, he turned back to Erchirion. “Your sister seems quite well-informed.”

“She listens. People aren’t used to that. She is also unusual in that she talks to servants; she insists that they hear all the good gossip, and from what she gathers from them I tend to agree. The things that she has learned have proved invaluable to the family several times.”

“Your point being?”

“Be careful around the Gondorian women. I don’t think that you want to get caught up in a scandal.”

“As I don’t intend to bed any of these women, let alone marry one of them, I feel fairly confident in my abilities to avoid scandal and libel.”

“Avoiding wedding or bedding these particular ladies” – Erchirion put a wealth of scorn into the word – “won’t necessarily keep you from the gossip. They will lie if it suits them, and quite possibly get their fathers or husbands to back them up.”

Éomer sputtered. “B…but why?”

“The unmarried ones would do it to wrangle you into marrying them, and the married or widowed ones would try to get something out of you – most likely a favor.”

Éomer slumped in the saddle. “Gondorians are crazy.”

“Thanks so very much.”

“You know what I mean.”

“Of course I do. Why do you think that Elphir is the only one of my siblings who’s married? He had to secure the succession; Lothíriel, Amrothos and I are much less encumbered.”

Éomer was unsurprised that the youngest of Dol Amroth’s princes was unattached – his sharp tongue and unusual outlook on life would not have gone over well with many parents of daughters. A question came to him, though. “Did Elphir marry for duty instead of love?”

He would never understand how often these Gondorians married just for duty; in Rohan personal feelings were almost always considered. Not every noble couple married for love, as they were typically expected to make a reasonably beneficial match, but most of the nobility married did. And those that did not marry for love might well marry a friend – not as good as a love match, but still enough to foster a good working relationship and life together.     

“Elphir did both. He was obscenely lucky, falling for the only child of a fabulously rich and important nobleman from Linhir. Amrothos and I are fairly convinced that Father engineered them meeting – Aredhel’s father was rather paranoid and had never let her leave her home city before Father convinced him to send her to Dol Amroth to winter with my mother. Father said that Mother needed more female company.”

“What about your sister?”

“You forget the age difference between us. Elphir is a good twelve years older than Lothíriel, and so while Elphir was twenty-one at the time, Lothí was only nine. Not the best age for companionship.”

“Did your parents push the girl on Elphir?”

“Not obviously. They just arranged for them to meet occasionally, and it just sort of happened. My parents, especially my father, want us to be happy, but they also want us to make advantageous matches. I don’t think that they would force us to marry someone we didn’t like, but if we can wed someone who will further Father’s goals he will gently nudge us in that direction.”

Now it was Eomer’s turn to raise an eyebrow. “Do I have to worry about him … nudging … your sister towards me?”

“You might. But Father would be subtle about it. He likes you, and he wants Lothí to find a happy marriage. If you get along well, he might bring it up. But he won’t force her to wed if she doesn’t want to. Look at my Aunt Ivriniel – she did not wish to marry, and my grandfather did not push her into a match.”

“I’ll keep it in mind. I’m not really looking for a wife now; I’ve got to much work to do.”

“And your experiences with my sister have been …”

“Fairly positive. She is not as bad as most of the ladies of the Gondorian court.”

“If Father asks me what you think of her, can I tell him you said that?”

“As long as you phrase it politely and don’t imply that I am interested in her romantically, go for it. I like her well enough for someone I have just met, but that is it – I don’t know her very well, and don’t want to imply that we have miraculously become good friends.”

“Good enough. Now, can you tell me the truth about what your delightfully ornery stallion got up to when my sister went down to the Rohírric camp outside Minas Tirith? My father told me what was clearly a heavily edited version of a heavily edited version of the story.”

Joy. More explanations.

*****

            At midmorning on the seventh day, the funeral party crossed the Mering Stream into Rohan. The procession had kept to its formal places with unusual strictness that day for the crossing over into Rohan, with less of the changeovers and movements as people slowed or speeded to change riding or talking companions. Éomer took a deep breath upon reaching the far side of the river, fancying he could detect a change in the air. Aragorn, who was riding beside him, noticed and laughed.

“Glad to be home?”

“Always.”

They rode in easy silence, the bond of friendship sitting easily between them.

*****

            Later that day, just as Éomer was thinking of nearby places to set up camp, Éowyn came up to ride with him, bringing Lothíriel and Faramir with her. Greeting them cordially, Éomer continued going over his mental inventory of campgrounds. His thought process was disrupted permanently when he heard his sister and the princess laughing uproariously at something Faramir had said. He smiled. He had heard his sister laugh – really, truly laugh – far too few times since the war had started. And it boded well that Faramir could get her to do so, though he needn’t look so smug about it. And then rub it in with what was clearly another well-placed phrase. He was surprised to see the princess so clearly delighted at the joke – as far as he knew, proper Gondorian maidens were prim and proper, showing the emotional range of a teaspoon in public. He wasn’t sure what to think about her; she kept acting outside his admittedly limited frame of reference for ladies.

He was especially surprised to see the bow on Lothiriel’s saddle, and a brace of rabbits, neatly shot through the eye, on a hook behind it. Seeing a lull in the conversation, he decided to ask her about it.

Riding closer to her, he caught her attention and asked, “Do you hunt, my lady?”     

The arched eyebrow was back. “Clearly, my lord. These rabbits did not find their way to my saddle for the sake of their health.”

He smiled. “Of course they didn’t. But such proficiency with a bow is unusual in a Gondorian maiden, even a noble one.”

She gave him a cool look. “With war overshadowing us, my father felt it … prudent … that I be able to defend myself. The bow seemed preferable, as I have rarely been outside castle walls for as long as this since the war started in earnest.”

“Imrahil is practical, then.”

“You ever doubted it, my lord king?”

“No, but not many fathers would be as clear-sighted as yours.”

“True enough.” Lothíriel sat tall and straight in the saddle, clearly not amused by his surprise.

“Well, my lady, we will be grateful for the meat for the supper pot tonight. This is a good area for rabbits – they come out of the Firien Woods to enjoy the sun. You shouldn’t have too much trouble.”

A slight crinkling of the princess’ eyes was the only sign of her amusement. “Yes, fresh meat is generally preferable to dried when it can be had. Faramir has some rabbits as well. Hopefully between us and the other archers there should be enough for everyone to have a few bites of fresh rabbit stew tonight.”

Faramir let out an unexpected laugh. When Éomer, Éowyn, and Lothíriel turned to look at him, he gave a self-depreciatory smile. “Master Gamgee is particularly fond of what he calls ‘a right proper coney stew’, cousin. If we are lucky, he will assist the cooks in preparing these,” he explained.

Lothíriel, bemused, replied, “If you say so, cousin.”

“Shall we give these to him now? I know that you have not had much chance to interact with the halflings, and they are truly delightful.”

“Of course, Faramir.” The two said farewell to Éomer and Éowyn, and began dropping back to the hobbits’ place in the train.

Éomer was as confused as ever by the princess, but one thing was clear. He understood why his sister liked the Princess Lothíriel so much – they had more in common than he had thought.

****

            Blowing on a mouthful of rabbit stew, Éomer reflected that Faramir had been quite right – Samwise Gamgee could really cook a coney. But then the holbytlan all took food very seriously, so it was no wonder that they could cook so well. He found it odd that they could all cook – they had demonstrated by all taking a part in the preparation of the stew, though Samwise had overseen it – but when asked about it, the holbytlan had explained that cooking was an art taught to all of their children, and in fact was begun before the children began learning their letters or their sums. Éomer smiled to himself. Clearly the little folk had their priorities in order. He would have to ask if they would give some of their recipes to Darhilde – Meduseld’s cook would enjoy the chance to try them out.

            Popping the stew in his mouth, he chewed thoughtfully. The trip so far had been fairly quiet, which was good. He, Elfhelm, and Éothain had hashed out contingency plans in case of various emergencies (Dunlendings, wargs, the seven-months-pregnant wife of one of the lesser nobles of Gondor who had insisted on coming along going into premature labor), but he hoped that they wouldn’t be needed. They would just have to keep their guard up and hope for the best. A situation he was not unfamiliar with. Unlike the situation with the princess.

            He knew that he had to wed and produce an heir, but the thought of being forced into marriage balked him. Intellectually, he knew that the Princess Lothíriel was a good match – beautiful (his mind’s eye brought forth the image of bright grey eyes contrasting with night-black hair, as well as a well-rounded bosom, though one well covered by a demure Gondorian riding dress), well-connected, the daughter of a good friend, politically savvy. And with what was likely one of the largest dowries currently available in Middle-Earth. But here his heart didn’t quite want to agree with his head. He knew that he might not be able to marry for love because of his duty as Lord of the Mark – but he wanted to at least be able to marry a woman with whom he could find a friend, a partner. Someone with whom he could get along well with. And hopefully they would find each other at least moderately attractive to each other, so that their marriage bed wouldn’t be totally devoid of pleasure.

              The trouble with the princess is that he didn’t know if she could fill these roles. She was still nearly a stranger to him. If Erchirion was right (and Éomer did not know him to speak up about a topic without being at least reasonably informed about it), Imrahil would not broach the topic of a match unless he thought that it work. This led to the conclusion that Imrahil was waiting to see if he and Lothíriel would get on well together. He resolved to spend a little more time with the lady while she was in Edoras. If they got along well, he might consider her, and if not, then she would go home after accompanying the group going to Minas Tirith for Éowyn’s wedding, no harm done.  He nodded to himself over his bowl of stew. Now if only the princess would stop putting out – what was it that Amrothos had called it? – oh yes, red herrings in regard to her behavior. She kept on confusing him, which he did not like at all. The woman was like an onion – always a new layer.

****

            The Dunlending scout watched the camp, making especial note of its defenses. After some time, he slowly crept away, heading back to the camp inside the forest. He had fallen in with the company of soldiers from the south end of his homeland after his own troop, like theirs, had been decimated by the Forgoil during the battle outside the great city of stone. They had fled the battle, slowly making their way back home in disgrace. Yet here was a large party of the hated straw-heads. Travelling slowly, with women and wains, they would make an easy target. Once taken, the Dunlending part would have ample food and booty to take home. He smiled at the thought of the treasures that must surely be in the wains, and at the memory of the attractive women he had seen in the camp, especially a tall, buxom young woman with heavy pins in her long black hair. He would definitely ask for her when they had overrun the Forgoil. Reaching the camp, he hurried to the central command tent.

Chapter Text

Éomer had woken well before dawn with a heavy heart. With only two days of fairly easy riding to Edoras, his uncle’s funeral was hanging ever closer over his head. He had slept poorly the night before, and upon waking (he thought it might be the fifth hour after midnight), despairing of getting back to sleep, had dressed and decided to check his armor. His sudden rise to kingship had given him fewer chances to tend his own gear, a state of affairs he knew would only worsen, and he found the opportunity to do so now soothing. It brought him some peace of mind, as well as bringing back positive memories of his lost kin.

It had been Théodred who had taught him to clean chain mail, getting Éomer to help him tend his gear after returning to Edoras after a skirmish. He had been much younger then, just having been brought to Edoras after his parents’ death. He had been tall for his age even then, but at that point had not yet begun to fill out and put on the muscle that was a large part of his present bulk. He had had trouble managing the heavy mail, but Théodred hadn’t laughed at him, but instead helped him with the pieces too large for him to handle. Éomer gave a sad smile, deciding to visit Théodred’s mound after his uncle’s funeral. He could tell him all that he had seen since going to Mundburg. It might not help, but it could give him some peace of mind.

He continued to work as he heard the noise level outside his tent grow, assuming it to be the normal sound of the camp slowly waking up – the cooks starting the fires, stable boys checking on the herds, and the like. He was checking the leather underlay of his armor for unusual wear when he heard a noise directly outside the tent. Thinking it was his cousin and guard captain, he called out softly. “Is that you, Éothain?” He didn’t think that it was time for breakfas –

Someone swathed in a dark cloak, with a naked sword in its hand entered his tent. The intruder sprung towards him, aiming for a fatal thrust. Éomer grabbed his sword from the pile of gear beside him, barely managing to get it up in time to counter the blow. A short period of struggle followed, until Éomer dispatched his foe with a neat thrust to the throat. Breathing deeply, Éomer shrugged on his leathers – if there were any more assailants, there was likely no time to arm properly – and stepped out into mayhem.

Most of the guards he could see were dead or dying, laid low by arrows or blows to the head. There were several fights between soldiers of Gondor and Rohan and assailants like he had faced, all of whom were doing their best to be silent. It would seem that in their surprise, none of his or Aragorn’s people had had a chance to raise the alarm. He opened his mouth to yell, and was abruptly faced by another opponent, and then another and another. It would seem that these foes – Dunlendings by their looks – had caught the funeral procession when they were at a disadvantage, and were doing everything in their power to maintain it. Gradually, more of the funeral party awakened, and those who could fight did so. There seemed to be quite a few of the Dunlendings, but they were outnumbered and the tide of battle quickly began to turn.

Éomer saw many of his friends and companions as the fight continued. Imrahil, his sons and his nephew had surrounded a group of the ladies on the trip and were protecting them on foot. He nodded to them, and continued on, looking for his people. He eventually found Éothain near the horse lines, where he had managed to capture one of the attacking party. The Dunlending was cursing his cousin and friend roundly in his native tongue, but Éothain appeared unperturbed as he bound the man’s hands with his own belt. It was obvious that Éothain, like Éomer, had been awake before the attack started, as he was fully dressed and wore his mail shirt. They were both better armored than most of the defenders, who had only had time to take up arms to defend themselves and not armor.

“You captured one, Éothain?”

“Indeed I did, Éomer. He was heading towards the horse lines – I’m assuming that he wanted to steal some. Caught up with him before he got there, though.”

“Good idea to come here, though.” He surprised himself with his nonchalant tone. “Has he said anything useful yet?”

“No, but I just got a hold of him. Hopefully he will have answers before too long.”

“Alright then. Follow me; I don’t think this fight is over yet, and other people will likely need our assistance.”         

The two Rohírs wound their way through the camp, dragging their prisoner with them. It appeared that the worst of the fight was over, with only a few scattered groups of Dunlendings left alive. The surviving defenders made short work of those that were left, and began tending their wounded and grouping together the few prisoners. Éothain went over to the growing string of prisoners to append his captured man to the line. Seeing his sister standing outside her tent with a bloodied blade but no apparent wounds, Éomer went over to her.

“You are all right, Éowyn?”

“Quite all right. And you?”

“A few scratches, but no major harm. I had a Dunlending try to kill me in my tent, but I made short work of him.”

“Lothíriel and I experienced something similar.” He nodded, remembering that the two had decided to share a tent in order to save space and trouble on the trip back to Rohan.

“Is she still within?” Éowyn nodded. “Did your attacker manage to wake you up? I know how heavy a sleeper you are, sister, and my attacker was very quiet.”

“Actually, he woke Lothíriel up; she sleeps much lighter than I.”

“Ah, so she woke you up to deal with the attacker, then.”

“No, actually. She woke me up after.”

He did not like the sound of this – he didn’t want to have to explain to Imrahil that his daughter had been raped by a Dunlending only two days out from Edoras. “After what, Éowyn?”

Seeing his expression, Éowyn huffed with annoyance. “After she’d killed him, of course.”

He gaped. “She killed a Dunlending? How? I know that she can use a bow to good effect, but there would not have been time for her to reach her bow, let alone the space for her to draw it.”

Éowyn shook her head. “Not her bow, brother. She used …” Éowyn’s eyes widened at something behind him and her sword began to go up. Recognizing a defensive stance in the making, Éomer turned as well, seeing a lone Dunlending racing towards him with a raised sword. Raising his own blade, he attempted to parry, but was too slow. He saw a killing blow heading for his neck, and Éowyn attempting but failing to divert it. Knowing his death was coming, he accepted the inevitable …

And saw a long jeweled hairpin fly through the air to land neatly through the Dunlending’s eye. The man fell to the ground, dead. Éomer gaped, unable to reconcile the dead man and his own living state to his previous assumptions.

“Béma’s balls! What just happened?”

Éowyn swallowed, clearly almost as unnerved as he. “As I was saying, brother, Lothíriel did kill our first assailant. With a hairpin very similar to this one.” Turning to the tent opening, where the lady in question stood, she thanked her.

Éomer hurried to do the same, unashamedly gawking a little. Will this woman never stop incommoding me with her new abilities? “Where did you learn to do that, my lady?” he asked.

Lothíriel was exceedingly calm for a woman who had just killed a man in cold blood. She went over to the dead man, and placing a foot on his neck, drew the pin from his eye, which came out with a sucking noise. Apparently unmoved, she began to clean the pin on her nightgown, which showed patches of similar gore, showing that she had managed to take out several of the Dunlendings. Having cleaned her weapon, she turned to Éomer.

“I learned it from my aunt, my lord. It is a skill that all the women of Dol Amroth are expected to learn. The possibility of attackers from unexpected quarters is always present for royals. It is not always possible for a lady to bear more traditional arms, especially in formal situations. Therefore a lady must be prepared. A sharpened hairpin can kill if used correctly, and the elaborate hairstyles of Gondor allow for many of them to be used. It is fortunate that I left my pins beside my bed, in case of just such an emergency.”

“I am very grateful for that, my lady. Both my sister and myself owe you our lives.”

“It was nothing, my lord.” Lothíriel lowered her head demurely. “Now, I should find my father and brothers. If you will excuse me, my lord king, my lady?” Not waiting for their acknowledgement, she went off. Éomer saw that she kept one of her pins discretely cocked to throw in her hand.

“You are marrying into a very strange family, little sister.”

“You’re just figuring this out now?”

*****

            With five in the party dead and several others wounded, the funeral party took several hours to organize itself again. After a quick burial for the dead, and the rearrangement of the wains to hold the more severely wounded, the party began to reorganize itself for travel. Éomer chafed at the wait, even though he knew it was necessary. He wanted to be home again. He would feel better when the party was farther away from the site of the attack as well.

            He breathed easier once the party was back on the road. Soon after their departure, however, Éothain rode up to him. The man wore a heavy scowl. Éomer knew that something big was up – his guard captain was usually very easygoing, and for him to be so upset was an event in itself.

 Once Éothain had reached him, Éomer turned to his friend. “Yes?”

“You almost died this morning!” Éothain was nearing incoherence in his upset state.

“Twice, in fact. One Dunlending almost caught me unawares in my tent, and the princess was kind enough to dispose of another one for me.”

“And you still want to argue about the number and placement of the guards watching your back?” This had been a regular argument between the two. As Eomer’s guard captain, Éothain was responsible for Eomer’s safety. Éomer was often … less concerned, typically not seeing the need for men dogging his steps to watch him. But these attacks were worrying. Éomer sighed.

“If I let you detail a few men to tail me will you let the matter lie?”

Éothain sagged with relief. He had clearly been anticipating a long argument in order to get Éomer to accept more guards around his person. “What’s changed your mind, cousin?” he asked interestedly. “You’ve never been so interested in your own safety before.”

“A woman with a hairpin – a foreign princess with a set of pretty razor-edged hairpins! – saved my life today, Éothain. It shouldn’t have to come to that – if I am unable to watch my own back, my own people should be able to do so.”

Éothain sniggered. He could always see the humor in a given situation. “It must be galling to have had your royal ass saved by a delicate Gondorian hot-house flower, Sire.” Éomer sighed. He had grown up with Éothain, and they were unusually close even for cousins. His respect for his sovereign was tempered by many embarrassing shared memories. That was not to say that Éothain’s position as the captain of his guard was unwarranted; the man was dedicated to his safety and was an excellent fighter. Éomer decided to get some of his own back – he had a decent store of embarrassing stories of his own to tell.

“That’s a bit rich coming from a man with a deadly fear of spiders, cousin, to the point that your lady wife has to rescue you from them whenever they appear.. And be warned, the Lady Lothíriel is many things, Éothain, but she is not delicate. You should be careful not to snub her – I, at least, have seen how effective she is with projectiles. Her aim is as good as Bedric’s.” Bedric was a man of their first éored, famous for his knife-throwing.

Eothain’s eyes widened. “I’ll keep than in mind. Is her temper as volatile as your sister’s?”

“Not that I have seen. Why?”

“Well, if it was I would step carefully indeed. At least with Éowyn you could tell when she was armed by checking for a sword. Who knows how many hairpins the lady princess keeps on her person?”

Éomer snorted. “We’d better stay on her good side, then.” He ignored the part of his mind that agreed very strongly indeed with Éothain. Éowyn’s temper was infamous, but you could see it coming. Who could tell when the always-composed Princess of Dol Amroth might decide to plant a hairpin in one’s eye?

“Have you thought was you’re going to give her for a wergild?”

Éomer paled. “I hadn’t thought about it. But you’re right, she saved my life. It’ll have to be impressive, since it was the king’s life she saved.” Turning pensive, he mused, “But what is an appropriate gift for a foreign princess for saving the king’s life?”

“Talk to Gléowine. He should be able to give you some advice.”

Éomer looked thoughtful. “Hopefully he will.”

*****

Three days later – the slower pace required by the wounded had caused a delay of a day – the party arrived in Edoras, fifteen days after leaving Minas Tirith. Éomer heaved a sigh of relief. It was good to be home.

He could see the welcoming party on the steps of Meduseld. The women of the household had brought out the traditional welcoming cups of mead. Éothain, who was riding beside him, was craning his head for a look of his wife Brytwyn. Éomer saw her standing near the aged head housekeeper,Mindred, and pointed her out to Éothain, whose relieved look was immediately evident. As the funeral party wound their way towards the Golden Hall, Éomer felt his mixed feelings towards the whole things well up in him – pride in his homeland, despair at the death of his uncle and cousin, and simple happiness at returning to his place.     

As was her duty when no royal lady was in residence. Mindred led the ceremony welcoming the party to the Golden Hall. She headed first to Éomer, handing the cup to him after he had dismounted and approached her, speaking the words of welcome in a clear voice in both Westron and Rohírric. After he had drunk and thanked her, the women of the household spread out to do the same for all the party. Out of the corner of his eye, Éomer saw Brytwyn approach Éothain with a cup; he drank, then, shoving the cup onto the tray of a maid, swept up his wife and kissed her thoroughly, swinging her around. Her protests – strident at first – slowly diminished as she began to return the kiss. A scattering of clapping and wolf-whistles greeted the event, and Éomer shared a conspiratorial grin with Aragorn, who had craned his head to see what the fuss was about. Éomer smiled – perhaps he was not the only one glad to be home after all.

Chapter Text

The three days leading up to Théoden’s funeral passed in a flurry of activity for Éomer. There was so much to be done that both he and Éowyn were up till all hours. He was grateful to Éothain and Gamling, for without their aid he would have surely been unable to handle all that he needed doing. Éowyn spoke gratefully of Lothiriel’s assistance, for the womenfolk had much to do. The princess had apparently taken her father’s instruction to be useful seriously indeed.

            Dealing with the Dunlending prisoners had been comparatively troublesome. Upon discovering that the group were survivors of the battle of the Pellenor Fields and had attacked as much for revenge as for food and mounts to speed their way, Éomer had faced a conundrum. He did not want to kill the prisoners out of hand, but could not let them simply roam free to potentially cause more harm. In the end, a solution similar to that found after the battle at Helm’s Deep was reached – the prisoners swore to never again take up arms against the Rohírrim, and then were escorted back to the border of Dunland under the watchful eyes of a large and well-armed escort. While this had not pleased all in Edoras, it had seemed the most appropriate solution to Éomer.

            Only slightly less difficult – and significantly more flabbergasting – was his one major conversation with the Princess Lothíriel during those three days. A conversation with Gléowine had confirmed that he did, in fact, owe the princess a considerable sum for saving his life in the attack on the camp; this was only increased by the fact that she was a non-combatant bystander who should have been getting protection by him, not the other way around. He knew his duty; he had approached her to discuss it in a relative private corner of the Hall, where they could converse in peace without being overheard. Her response had been vehement; she had refused all of his efforts of repayment with sharp words, saying that her actions had been a small repayment of the wergild owed the Rohírrim by the Gondorians for their bravery during the War of the Ring.

            He had eventually acquiesced to her argument, seeing that it would appear reasonable to most of his brethren. But he had managed to convince her that he needed to present her with a physical token of his appreciation for the sake of honor. After discussing what would make a reasonable token, she had discovered that a weapon was a typical gift of thanks for a man who had saved another’s life. A compromise was reached – she would accept a set of new sharpened hairpins from him as a thank you. She had lent him one of hers to give to the smith as a guide, and he had left her in a state of bewilderment.

            Now it was the day of the funeral, and the day was done. He had buried his uncle with all pomp and ceremony, feasted with the guests and seen to his sister’s handfasting to Faramir the Steward. He had run the gamut of emotions today. Sadness as Théoden’s death came crashing down on him with grim finality as his uncle’s barrow was closed. Anger at the thought of his uncle and cousin leaving him alone to rule what should have been theirs by right. Guilt at his anger. Happiness at his sister’s joy at finally being able to acknowledge her bond to that Gondorian nobleman who for some reason made her happier than he had seen her in years. Now he just felt empty, like the jug, which, being emptied of its contents, remembers their form as a last resort of usefulness.

****

            It was Lothíriel who had found him sitting on the grass outside his cousin’s mound in the small hours of the morning. She was dressed in a bed robe and a cloak over what appeared to be a similar nightgown to the one he had seen on the morning of the Dunlending attack. She had a spare cloak over her arm – it looked like one of the doorwards’ – and silently she wrapped it around him and sat beside him. After a few moments of silence in which she looked intently at him while he stared vacantly into space, she spoke.

“Do you want to talk about it, my lord?”

He tried to gather his thoughts, to give some meaningful response. After a time, he replied, speaking quietly. “I … do not know if I am up to the task left me by my cousin and uncle. I was never trained to rule as my cousin was, as to a lesser degree my sister was. My life was battle. And now I find myself thrust into a new sort of battle, and I am as unprepared as the newborn foal who is learning to stand for the first time. And soon enough my sister will be leaving me.” He put his head in his hands. “I do not wish to stand in the way of her happiness, but I will miss her dreadfully and the loss of her experience at court will be a grievous loss to me.”

            He felt a cool hand reach for his face, stroking it and making him turn to the concerned, compassionate face of the princess of Dol Amroth. “Do not worry overmuch, my lord. Does not the newborn foal have the knowledge of speed written into its very bones? Your first steps may be as shaky as that foal’s, but you will learn, and you will soon be running the fields with as much grace and strength as that bad-tempered nag of yours.” He smiled weakly. “And remember that you are not alone. Éowyn will remain here for some months yet, and you have many advisors. Surely they can help guide you while you attempt to find your feet.”

He sighed heavily. “I can only hope you are right, my lady. I am scared.”

“Good. I would be more worried about you if you were not. Fear will keep you on your toes when you are going about your kingly business.”

He snorted. “I am still quite unused to this ‘kingly business,’ my lady. I shall have to practice a great deal before I am convincing.”

“On the contrary, my lord. You are already quite convincing. You have a quite royal presence already.”

“Even when outside in my nightclothes in the second hour after midnight?”

Lothíriel laughed softly, her nose crinkling. “Even so, my lord. I will share with you one of the best pieces of advice I have gotten from my aunt Ivriniel. She told me that royalty must always appear royal, even when discomposed. Especially when discomposed, as this is typically when others are also discomposed, and someone looking calm and confident will help them cope.” She took a breath, clearly lost in reminiscing.

“Your aunt sounds wise.”

“The advice was not yet complete, my lord. My aunt then spent a good portion of the next months ensuring that I could, in fact, appear royal under most circumstances. For example, she slipped mildly poisonous herbs into my supper several times, so that I would learn to leave the table calmly and in a dignified manner while experiencing a variety in incommodious symptoms.”

Eomer’s eyes widened. “Your aunt seems … formidable.”

“She is indeed.” Lothiriel’s mouth twitched. “And she has remained unmarried all her life. I can’t imagine why.”

Éomer laughed. “Neither can I, my lady. Now tell me, if I ever visit your native city, should I avoid eating at your aunt’s residence? For her the output of her kitchen seems worse than my sister’s cooking.”

“I do not know if she would dare incommode a foreign ruler, my lord Éomer. It would be a diplomatic faux pas to be sure, but she might do it to test your mettle.”

Éomer stood, stretching. “Then I shall be very careful. If I cannot avoid becoming ill, I shall do my best to ensure that someone else shares my joy. Perhaps Amrothos.”

Lothíriel smiled again, hiding a laugh behind a hand. Éomer smiled back, though his smile quickly turned into an impressive yawn.

“Well, my lady, I think that I am going to go sleep. May I walk you to your room?”

Lothíriel rose. “Of course, my lord. I must admit that I cannot completely recall the way. I am, however, sharing a room with your sister, so you should be able to assist me.” Her eyes crinkled with amusement.

He gave a bow and held out an arm, which she took. They made their way back to the Hall and Éomer directed the princess to Éowyn’s room. Before he took his leave, though, there was something that he wanted to ask.

“My lady, how is it that you came to be outside tonight? I did not tell anyone that I was going, and I don’t find it likely that you typically go out for walks in the small hours of the night in your sleepwear.”

Lothíriel sighed before answering. “Did you know that the children of many of the older Numénorean houses are sometimes troubled by visions, especially dreams?” He nodded – Faramir had told him of the dream which had sent his now-decreased older brother to Rivendell. “I had troubled dreams this night, of sorrow and uncertainty. I awoke abruptly with the image of the barrow-field before my eyes and a compunction to visit it. So I went.”

Éomer found that troubling. “Do you suffer these visions often?” he asked.

“It depends. I can go months without and then get many soon together. The War seemed to aggravate them.”

“Hopefully its end will bring you peace of mind, then.”

“Hopefully.” Lothíriel looked down. “The hour grows ever later, my lord. I thank you for bringing me back safely. I am going to find what rest I can, and suggest you do the same with what remains of the night.” She turned to enter Éowyn’s room, but Éomer caught her hand and pressed his lips to her knuckles. She looked at him. He looked intently into her eyes.

“Thank you, my lady. Truly.”

“You are most welcome, my lord.” With that, Lothíriel opened the door and entered the bedchamber. She gave Éomer a smile. “Go and sleep, my lord king. You look very much like you need it.” The door closed, gently but firmly.

Éomer smiled as he went down the hall to his own room. He had not yet moved into his uncle’s old room, preferring to keep to his old room until after the coronation. He shook his head as he took off his boots. The princess was a strange creature, but good-hearted. He enjoyed talking to her. As his dirty clothing founds its way into its corner, he smiled. Things just might be beginning to look up.

*****

            By unspoken popular consensus, everyone except the elves slept in the next morning, or at least pretended to do so. Éomer awoke uncharacteristically late, rising only an hour before noon. Everyone gathered in the Hall for lunch, many still looking the worse for wear. Éomer passed a rather bedraggled-looking Amrothos being half-supported by an alarmingly-chipper Erchirion. The elder of the two princes was looking far too happily on his brother’s distress. As Éomer passed them on his way to the head table, he heard Erchirion tell Amrothos, “Now aren’t you glad that Elphir stayed home to watch the city? If he was here you’d be much worse off. Elphir would feel it his duty to give you a royal scolding and then he’d tease you to the halls of Mandos. With me you just have to deal with the teasing.” Amrothos groaned. Erchirion grinned, and looking up to find his seat, saw Éomer. They shared a conspiratorial grin before Éomer found his own seat.

That day and those after it were very busy ones for Éomer and his sister. A variety of events in honor of their late uncle were held, and they had to attend them all. By the end, Éomer felt physically and emotionally exhausted. He had the strange sensation of sadness at his friends’ departure and a niggling corner of gladness that was relieved to see quiet begin to return to Meduseld. The first night that had seen most of the guests were gone had been a gift of the Valar. While Faramir had remained with Imrahil and his children, and a small retinue each, their remaining was no trouble. Faramir was his sister’s betrothed, and Imrahil and the two sons that had accompanied him to Rohan were solid friends.

Dinner that night had been a relief. The Hall had not been quiet – a state of affairs which would have worried Éomer no end – but instead had been full of conversation and laughter. Éomer had spent a good deal of the meal laughing, as Amrothos and Erchirion had ganged up on Faramir for ‘making puppy-eyes at his ladylove’ to the point of disrupting their meal. Faramir, who was usually cow-placid, had eventually become so fed up with his cousins that he had threatened them with his fork, vowing to defend Éowyn’s honor against the scurrilous Dom Amrothian knaves. By this point, most of the people in the Hall had been watching, and rooted for Faramir as he chased Amrothos through the room and outside after he had begun amusing himself by throwing nuts as Faramir. Seeing the bemused but slightly calculating expression on Imrahil’s face as his youngest son was tackled to the floor had, however, made Éomer wonder if the entire event had not been planned beforehand.

When he had asked Erchirion about it afterwards, he had laughed. “Well of course we planned that. We know that Faramir will be bringing Éowyn to live in Illithien after they are wed, but we want him to be accepted here as well. Am and I don’t mind being a little silly to help family. We know that we Gondorian nobles look a little … poncy … to you rough-and-ready Rohírrim, so we engineered that to win Faramir some brownie points for standing up for his girl.”

Éomer had smiled and clapped Erchirion on the back. “Well it worked, my friend. As well as providing us all with considerable amusement, I was watching many of the others in the Hall and I believe that Faramir went up in their estimation. Though I don’t think that forks will become a regular battle tool for the Riders of Rohan.”

“I should hope not. Dinner forks have horrible reach.”

“That they do.” With a final friendly clap on the shoulder, Éomer left Erchirion to return to the book he had been reading when he had stopped by the other man’s room. As he closed the door behind him, he fished in his pocket for a small jar, and, retrieving it, caught Erchirion’s attention and threw it to him. Seeing the man’s quizzical expression, he explained, “It’s bruise cream. You’ll want to give it to Amrothos – I think that Faramir hit him with a little more gusto than was strictly necessary to defend my sister’s good name.”

Erchirion chuckled. “Come on, Éomer – if you had an opportunity to rough up Amrothos without negative consequences, wouldn’t you enjoy it? As much as I love my brother, he can be a bit of an ass.”

“I didn’t say that the bruises were undeserved.” He closed the door and headed for his bed, smiling.

Chapter Text

Éomer headed to the Hall for breakfast the next morning. He had been up at dawn, as usual, but had decided to put in some time with his paperwork before heading to breakfast. His time in Gondor and then all of the fuss associated with the funeral had ensured that a several great stacks of paperwork threatened his peace of mind. He had gotten a good hour’s work at them before his grumbling stomach had driven him towards his first meal of the day.

            He was surprised to see Erchirion and Lothíriel already at table. He would have suspected Erchirion, at least, of taking the opportunity to sleep in. His curiosity was aroused when he saw them bent over papers, ignoring the remains of their meal. He wandered over to them, grabbing a mug of tea and a roll from a serving maid.

“Good morning Erchirion, Lady Lothíriel. What are you two up to?” The two looked up, clearly not having noticed his presence until his greeting. Lothíriel overcame her surprise first.

“Good morning, my lord Éomer. We are working on a letter that Erchirion will take back to our nephew Alphros for me. He is quite fond of me, and I him, and he was quite upset when he learned that I would be spending some months here in Rohan. Hopefully this letter will make him feel better.”

“Ah. How old is the child? From what Elphir told me on the march to the Black Gate, he is fairly young.”

“He is only two, and so cannot read by himself yet. Erchirion has promised to read the letter to him upon delivering it” – here a stern look was leveled against the offending brother – “but I am attempting to include as many pictures as I can, also courtesy of Erchi here.”

Éomer was intrigued. “May I see?”

“Of course.” Lothíriel pushed her current sheet of paper over towards Éomer, who put down his mug – the roll being long gone – and wiped his hands on his trousers. He took the sheet of paper and examined it.

“Is that Firefoot?” The picture that filled up the top right corner of the page showed the head, neck and shoulders of a horse that looked suspiciously like his own. 

“Yes. I had Erchirion draw him this morning. I can be quite convincing at need, my lord.” The gimlet look in the princess’ eye proved her point.

“It’s a good likeness, my lady. But how did you get him to behave and stand still long enough for your brother to draw this?”

“He behaved quite admirably after I gave him an apple and explained what I wanted, my lord. He’s quite an intelligent horse, and I think that he enjoyed the opportunity to be admired.”

Éomer smiled. A compliment to his horse always pleased him. “He is part Mearas, my lady, so of course he is intelligent.”

 Erchirion spoke up. “The Mearas are the horses like Shadowfax, correct?”

“Indeed. They are descended from Félaróf, and are unusually intelligent and sturdy.”

Now Lothíriel took up the conversation again. “Well, Firefoot is definitely a lord among horses. He is also very active, though he quieted down after Éowyn patted him a bit.”

“Éowyn was also in the stables?”

“Yes, she went riding with Faramir. You needn’t look so upset, my lord king – they took several guards, and my father also went with them. They shouldn’t get into trouble.”

“I should hope not, my lady. It just still seems strange to me to see my sister betrothed.”

Erchirion grinned. “Well you’ll have to acclimatize quickly, and also get used to the idea of your sister married.”

Éomer scowled. “Don’t remind me. And especially don’t remind my advisors. Now that Éowyn’s spoken for they will be all over me to find a wife.”

Lothíriel looked at him quizzically. “You don’t have anyone in mind, my lord?”

Éomer knew thin ice when he stepped on it. But knowing Imrahil’s children, he decided on a frank answer. “No, my lady. The truth is that I have not had the opportunity to look for a wife. When I was Third Marshall I was too busy to woo a woman, and now I am still busier, but find myself in need of a wife. And I do not wish to marry solely for political advancement – the Rohírrim pride themselves on making love matches whenever possible.”

The bedamned raised eyebrow was back. “But you cannot ignore your duty if you cannot find a love match or if the chosen woman is eminently unsuitable.”

His shoulders sagged a little. “I know. I said that I do not wish to marry solely for political advancement – I know that politics will play a large role in my marriage. But I know that I need a wife that I can at least be friends with, for I would wish my wife to rule at my side and not be a mere figurehead, and how can my queen be my partner in ruling if we are not at least cordial with one another?”

Lothiriel’s eyes were sympathetic and compassionate as she reached out and grasped one of his hands in hers. “I am sure you will find someone, my lord. There are many suitable ladies here and in Gondor. One of them will surely make you a lovely wife.”

“I know. I just have to find her.”

As he continued to look through the drawings, he noticed a disturbingly thoughtful look on Erchirion’s face.

*****

            Two days later at sunset, Éowyn was in a flurry because she could not find her betrothed. He had agreed to read to her after dinner, and had left after the meal to pick up a book from his room and now he could not be found. Éowyn was unusually upset at this, seeing no reason why Faramir would not have returned promptly, let alone disappeared for several hours without a trace. Éomer, realizing that Faramir had likely been merely sidetracked, had managed to calm his sister down by agreeing to help her look for the Gondorian.

            He had had a sneaking suspicion where Faramir might have been, and so had gone and looked first in the Queen’s garden, which had originally been set up for his grandmother, Morwen Queen. His assumption had been correct, as he had indeed found Faramir there, sound asleep under a tree. He must have been sleeping soundly indeed, for he had not awoken until Éomer had poked him with his boot several times, the last rather firmly.

Faramir opened his eyes, blinked a few times, and then spoke. “You know, Éomer, if I had to be woken up by a member of the House of Eorl in a garden, why could it not have been your sister? I distinctly remember telling her to meet me here so I could read to her.”

He must be spending too much time with Imrahil’s family; he could feel his right eyebrow attempting to climb in disbelief. “It must have slipper her mind. She is almost frantic with worry – seems to believe you’ve fallen off the face of the Earth.”

Faramir started into a sitting position. “Crap.” He sighed. “And of course I had to fall asleep and make it worse.” Éomer nodded; his sister was notoriously impatient.

Éomer leaned against the tree trunk. “Her worrying has gotten much worse since the War started. She has … we all have … lost so much. Our parents, our uncle, our cousin, so many of our childhood friends and companions.” He sighed. “I don’t know what Éowyn would do if she lost you. She has so few people she loves left to her.”

Faramir’s mouth firmed. “Then I shall simply endeavor not to die in the near future. I cannot promise it – there is still too much danger in this world – but I shall do my best. And you shall have to do the same; Éowyn would be heartbroken if you left this circle of the world too young.”

“I know.”

“Well I know that my lovely betrothed will have my hide if I don’t high myself over to her with an apology for the misunderstanding.” Faramir stood up, pushing the hand not holding the book into the small of his back as he stretched. “Well, Éomer, what’s the easiest way to the Hall from here? I wandered for a bit before finding my way here, so I don’t know the direct route.”

Éomer thought the route through mentally for a moment, then gave his future brother-in-law the directions. After he had left he headed back to his chambers. He had some letters he wanted to send back to Aragorn when Faramir left with Imrahil and his sons, two weeks off.

****

            Éomer was sitting in the Hall, enjoying a (thankfully) quiet lunch when Éowyn and Lothíriel came in, obviously fresh from a ride, as they were windswept and more than a little disheveled. Yet for all that both women were quite happy, red-checked from laughter as much as wind. As the two women made their way through the hall, Éomer realized they were debating whether or not to wash up before the meal. Éowyn, used to managing without, elected to eat first, while Lothíriel headed for one of the pages, asking in simple but steady Rohírric for a pitcher of wash water to be sent to her room. She then headed over to Éowyn, who had seated herself next to Éomer.  

“Do you want me to take your riding gloves to your room, Éowyn?” asked the princess, who had apparently decided to switch back to Westron. 

Éowyn nodded, and pulled her gloves out from her belt. “It’s not locked. And feel free to borrow any of my herbal soap for your washing-up.”

Lothíriel smiled. “I made off with your wild-rose soap yesterday, remember? It is quite lovely.” Lothíriel had been able to get a room of her own after the main crush of funeral guests had left. Éowyn had told Éomer that she had enjoyed sharing a room with the Dol Amrothian, though they were both glad to get their own room, as they were unaccustomed to sharing.

            As Lothíriel left the room to go freshen up, Éomer stared after her pensively, still working away at his lunch. He was surprised to learn that Lothíriel spoke Rohírric. He had expected it from Faramir – he was the Steward and a Steward’s son, after all – but the Princes of Dol Amroth spoke no Rohírric at all. So hearing Princess Lothíriel direct the page (one of those specially brought into service at Meduseld to serve those high-ranking foreigners who did not speak the language) was … disconcerting. He turned to Éowyn.

“Lady Lothíriel can speak Rohírric?”

Éowyn nodded. “Obviously. Why are you so surprised?”

“I know that neither her father or her brothers speak it beyond what they picked up in recent weeks.”

Éowyn looked surprised. “Really? I thought they spoke it, at least a little, as Lothíriel does. By all means, ask Lothíriel about it when she gets back; I’m curious about this as well.”

 Now it was Éomer’s turn to nod. “I will.”

Éomer took his opportunity as soon as Lothíriel had returned and been served. She was close enough to talk to directly, being seated next to Éowyn. After letting her take a drink of water, he pounced.

“My lady Lothíriel,” he began, waiting until she looked up and figured out who was speaking to her, “where did you learn to speak Rohírric? Because your skill level is certainly well above what one might expect for a beginner.”

Lothíriel nodded, and answered after taking a bite of the stew served for lunch. “I spent a summer with an elderly cousin in Lossarnach who had relatives in Rohan. She learned it there, and taught me a bit. Insisted I learn, actually.” Lothiriel’s lip twisted in what might be amusement. “I didn’t really see the point then, but I am finding it useful now.”

Éomer continued, interested. “It was an opportune experience, my lady.”

“Indeed, my lord. My cousin also told me that there were excellent gardens here in Meduseld. Would you be kind enough to show me them after meal?”

Éomer considered the pile of paperwork on the desk in his study. Showing the princess the garden wouldn’t make it any smaller, but he’d been working all morning and had been considering going for a walk through the city to take a break anyway. And escorting the princess might get his advisors off his back for a while if any of them saw the two of them together and thought they were courting. And why not show the princess the garden? It was a nice spot, if rather rundown. With the way Faramir had taken to it, it met the standards of at least some Gondorians.

            He came back to himself to see the princess staring at him, which made him believe that he had been lost in thought for an inconsiderate amount of time. He gave Lothíriel a reassuring smile.

“It would be my pleasure to take you over to the gardens, my lady. They are quite lovely at this time of year. But please finish your meal first.”

The princess accepted gracefully, and Éomer made pleasant small talk with her and Éowyn as the two women finished their meal. To be polite, Éomer nibbled on a roll and drank some tea. Éomer thought that Meriadoc Holdwine had a charming turn of phrase for what he was doing – filling up the corners? Yes, that was it. Thinking of his little holbytla friend always made him smile.

After Éowyn and Lothíriel finished their meal, all three of them rose. Éowyn excused herself to go check on the kitchen stores, and Éomer and Lothíriel headed outside. As they left the Hall, Lothíriel spoke.

“I am assuming the gardens here are fairly secluded?” The two continued to walk around the side of the Hall, moving around the hustle of city life, accepting the cheerful greetings of the people of the city with nods.

“Indeed they are, my lady. There are actually two sections of gardens here. One is the kitchen gardens, and have been here as long as the Hall. But you’ve likely already seen those.”

Lothíriel nodded. “Indeed I have. They are nice, and quite practical, but more pragmatic and have many people going in and out tending it.”

“That is as it should be, my lady.” They came to a courtyard faced on three sides by the Hall’s outbuildings and by tall evergreen hedges on the fourth, which faced outwards. “And here we are.”

“The gardens are private?”

“Mostly. They face onto the royal apartments – my grandfather Thengel built this garden for my grandmother, who hailed from Gondor.”

“That, my lady cousin mentioned.”  

“We let people into the garden occasionally. Actually, in recent years the gardens are most often used by the women who watch the children of those working in the Hall. Since the garden is enclosed, the children can have a bit of freedom and the caretakers can worry less about them wandering off.”

Lothíriel laughed. “That is lovely. Do you intend to continue the tradition? The hedges certainly appear tall and thick enough to impede children,” she said, attempting to reach the top of the foliage and failing.

Éomer shrugged. “I hope so. It makes life easier for the people in the Hall and the laughter of children is always a pleasing sound. The only potential problem would be whether my future wife would like the idea or not.”

“Since your wife is duty-bound to give you an heir and most likely a spare, it would be rather difficult for her to dislike the ordinary noise of children.” Lothíriel said wryly. “Especially since Éowyn says that Rohírric parents, even among the nobility, take a more personal interest in the raising of their children than Gondorian parents do.”

“I believe that is so, my lady. And I can’t speak far as to female tastes – they are practically a foreign species to me. Now, Princess, do you want to see the garden, or stand outside it and talk?”

“I should like to see the garden, my lord king.” Sensing his humor disguised as formality, Lothíriel had responded in kind. Éomer unlatched the garden door of worked iron with a flourish. “After you, my lady.” Lothíriel entered the garden. Éomer followed her in and closed the garden door behind him.

Éomer leaned against the inside of the hedge, watching Lothíriel look around the garden, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth. He found himself enjoying the view – both botanical and human. The garden was in a state of disorder, clearly left untended for several years. Yet Lothíriel happily tramped around, often as not stepping into flowerbeds or close to a bush to examine a particular plant more closely. It was clear that the riding garments that Rohírric women agreed with the princess, and that she enjoyed the additional freedom of movement that they afforded. Éomer caught himself watching the princess’ long braid bob as she examined the bottom half of a white rosebush, trying to count how many curls had escaped the (originally severe) hairstyle over the course of the day. When his eyes followed the line of the braid to a bottom that was clearly outlined by a woman bending over, most of Éomer’s brain began to appreciate the view. A small part, however, kept telling him that he was forgetting something important.

Then it struck him. He was, in effect ogling the daughter and sister of his friends. Who also happened to be one of the most powerful women in the realm of Gondor, and a woman he greatly respected for all their short time knowing each other. He began mentally kicking himself. This wouldn’t do at all – Lothíriel was a lady, and he should know better than to shamelessly stare at her backside while she was occupied.    

His train of thought was interrupted by a cough. He focused his eyes on Lothíriel, who stood directly in front of him. “If you are done considering whatever kingly issue was plaguing you, my lord, will you show me whatever areas in the garden are of particular note?”

Éomer heaved a silent sigh of relief that the princess had not noticed his intemperance or was being polite enough not to mention it. He stood, and held out his arm to Lothíriel, who took it. “Most assuredly, my lady. Shall we be off?” Éomer had a feeling that the trip to the garden might not have been preferable to the paperwork after all.

Chapter Text

 

            Faramir, Imrahil, Amrothos, Erchirion and their entourages were leaving in the morning, which meant that tonight was by default a farewell feast. Éomer thought that a great many of the Gondorians would be leaving with thick heads and smelling like booze. Several of his people seemed to be getting Faramir in particular totally drunk, an activity which had practically become a sport over his stay in Edoras. Hopefully he could extricate himself soon or Éowyn would have to rescue him; or not – she knew that a getting royally drunk and then going about one’s business the next morning as if one did not have dwarves delving for mithril in one’s head did wonders for a man’s standing in Rohan. 

            Éomer had, however, talked to Gamling – now his doorward – about ensuring that Faramir did not get overly drunk. It would not do for his sister’s betrothed do die of alcohol poisoning before their marriage. Though afterwards, Éothain had said that he might have difficulty containing some of the King’s guards, who were all very fond of Éowyn and were taking this out on Faramir through excessive teasing. He had had to insist on Éothain giving his men a stern talking to before the main event of the night, the feast. Hopefully the guardsmen would take Eothain’s warnings at least moderately to heart.

            The feast was enjoyable, especially as the Rohírrim did not share the Gondorian penchant for what Gamling referred to as ‘speechifying.’ Éomer had spoken briefly, as had Faramir and Imrahil, both of the latter keeping their thank-yous brief. Éomer had been seated with Imrahil on one side and Éowyn on the other, but he had been close enough to Amrothos to hear the man’s rather cutting comments during the dinner. As much as Éomer liked Amrothos, he was rather relieved that the man was leaving Edoras. He had made some cut a rather impressive swathe through the young women of Edoras, though Éomer was sure that none of those that Amrothos had romanced were unwilling. Imrahil’s sons were quite charming, and as handsome as their sister was beautiful. And the black hair they all shared, reflecting blue in the light, was quite a contrast from the blonde, red, and brown shades common in the Riddermark. It was no wonder that the women of Edoras had taken an interest in all of the Princes of Dol Amroth – Erchirion was no sloucher himself, and Imrahil, for all his age, was a widower. Though Éomer did not think that Imrahil was one to take advantage of his rank in that way.

            After several hours, the feast wrapped up, and the guests dispersed. Éomer pretended not to notice his sister dragging Faramir off after the last guest had drunk the farewell-cup, presumably to make her own farewell to him in private. He made a mental note to not visit the garden for the rest of the night; Éowyn would likely go there for the privacy. As Éomer made his way back to his room – he had not yet taken up the royal suite, so he was still in the room he had used as Third Marshall – he asked Mindred to have someone wake him before first light. He was usually an early riser, but he wanted to make doubly sure that he would be up in good time to farewell the guests.

*****

            The next afternoon found Éomer attempting – seemingly in vain – to decrease the mountain of paperwork needing his attention. He, along with Éowyn, Princess Lothíriel, and what had looked like half of Edoras had seen the Gondorian party off fairly early that morning, after many last-minute goodbyes. There had been much catcalling when Éowyn had pulled Faramir off his horse to give him a final kiss, and the only thing stopping Éomer from giving his soon-to-be brother-in-law a good thrashing at that point had been the fact that his sister had definitely been the initiator in both the kiss itself and its length. Faramir had undeniably felt Eomer’s eyes boring into his back, as he had broken off the kiss as soon as he could, murmuring something into Éowyn’s ear as she stepped back.

            After the departing party had gotten on the road, Éomer had grudgingly returned to what he was quickly realizing was the bane of his new role – paperwork. It had been minimal while he had been Third Marshall, as he had been in a more action-oriented role, but now that he was king there was a virtual mountain of paperwork to do. And the meetings – the royal advisors varied from well-meaning to totally self-centered, but they all had their own goals, methods, and arguments. Getting them to agree on anything was a trial. Éomer sighed. He wished very much that his cousin was alive – Théodred had had a much better head for this sort of thing than he did.

            The door to his study creaked as it opened, and he looked up to see Éowyn enter, carrying a loaded tray. She caught his eye and smiled.

“I brought you lunch. Botilda made nut cakes.”

Éomer rose precipitously from his desk, a large grin on his features. “Nut cakes?” Seeing one of his favorite treats on the tray, he grabbed two and shoved them in his mouth, crumbs spraying. He chewed happily, making small noised of enjoyment while Éowyn looked on despairingly.

“Really, brother?”

Éomer swallowed and attempted to get the crumbs out of his beard. “Botilda makes truly excellent nut cakes,” he said in an (ineffectual) attempt to maintain his dignity.

Éowyn rolled her eyes. “Obviously good enough to make you gobble them like a ten-year-old.” She put the tray down on a corner of the desk, and sat down on one of the chairs facing Éomer’s desk. “Now eat your lunch, and mind you eat the main course before you touch the nut cakes again.” She slapped Éomer’s hand, which had been sneaking towards the plate with the nut cakes.

Éomer harrumphed and rolled his eyes. “What is the point of being king if I can’t eat my dessert first, Éowyn?” He grabbed a pasty and bit into it.

“Stop being silly, brother. I brought your lunch to you because I want to talk to you.”

Éomer straitened, but did not stop eating. “Well then, talk.”

Éowyn put her hands on her hips. “You need to delegate some of your work. You are spending far too much time closeted here – you need to be seen out and about. And besides, all this paperwork – Éowyn spat the word out like a curse – has had a negative effect on you. Everyone’s noticed how foul-tempered you are when you’ve been working on papers.”

 Éomer felt hopeful. “And you are suggesting …?”

“One of the benefits of kingship is delegation, brother. I can take on some of the domestic stuff, especially since Brytwyn and Mindred will help me.”  Seeing Eomer’s glower, Éowyn continued. “Worrying about how much flour we use in Edoras is not the best use of your time, Éomer. I will bring the highlights of the reports to you, but you do not need to worry about every detail.”

Éomer sighed. “I guess that makes sense. But why do you need help from Brytwyn and Mindred?”

“I am leaving for Gondor in just over nine months, brother. Someone needs to be able to take over the tasks when I go. Brytwyn and Mindred and Botilda held Meduseld together when we left to go fight in the great battles, and they are prepared to help you manage when I am gone. Brytwyn and Mindred, especially Brytwyn, are going to take on many of the tasks of the lady of the house until you find a wife. You should be grateful.”

Éomer scowled. “And I suppose I should demonstrate my gratefulness by hurrying up and finding a wife, now, shouldn’t I.”

Éowyn nodded. “Indeed you should. Do you have any pearls of wisdom for me?” he asked, gesturing with his tankard.

Éowyn nodded curtly. “Yes. Have Gamling and Éothain take over some of the everyday running of Meduseld and Edoras. I know for a fact that Háma did this for Uncle – and don’t give me that glare, brother,” said Éowyn in response to Eomer’s dark look, “Háma did this for Uncle well before he became ill. Just to take some of the strain off.”

Éomer considered the issue, turning it over in his mind as he continued eating. “I can countenance having Éothain handle some of the military stuff, but I can’t give any to Gamling.” Seeing Éowyn’s questioning look, he continued. “Gamling’s spent most of his life a common solider, Éowyn – he can’t read. It’s something I had hoped to resolve this winter once everything calmed down somewhat.”

 Éowyn pondered for a moment, chin in hand. Then her eyes lit up with an idea. “Why don’t you have Goldberga help him then?”

Éomer looked at his sister askance. Why would Gamling’s wife – currently helping out with the many small children of those working in the Golden Hall – be able to help with paperwork? He was confused, and expressed this sentiment to Éowyn.

“You know that Goldberga’s family is from Edoras, right?” Éomer nodded; it had played a role in his invitation to Gamling to be his doorward. “Goldberga’s older sister was a handmaid of Grandmother Morwen’s. Grandmother apparently insisted that all of her personal servants not only spoke Westron but could write it, as well as being able to write using the Cirth. And apparently the sister taught Goldberga, hoping to get her a position with Grandmother when she was old enough. But she met Gamling and moved to the Westfold instead.”    

“Why did Grandmother want her servants to be able to read?” Typically in the Mark, only the nobility and the well-off were literate. Their oral-based culture meant that many ordinary folk never needed to learn.

“Apparently Grandmother felt that it would make them more useful to her. Most of them did not complain, at least to her face, seeing as learning to read was comparatively not harmful and occasionally came in handy.”

Éomer nodded. “I assume that Goldberga is trustworthy enough to not talk about what she reads out to Gamling, or you wouldn’t be suggesting she do it.”

“Correct.”

“Good, then. I’ll see to it, and to having Gamling learn to manage himself quicker. Is that everything, Éowyn?”

Éowyn stood up with a stretch. “Yes, it is. I’ll take the tray if you’re done with it, brother.”

“Thank you.” Éomer noticed Éowyn looking intently at his clothing; he winced a little internally at what she saw. While he had some formal clothing from his days as Third Marshall, most of his clothes were fairly normal, and to be quite frank, rather worn. He had never bothered much about his clothes before, and had not had the time to ask the seamstresses for new clothes more befitting his new station as King of the Mark. From Éowyn’s contemplative expression, she was planning to do something about it something soon. He decided to forestall at least an immediate attempt. He stood, and going over to the door of his study, opened it for his sister, trying not to look to innocent.

“Well, if that’s everything, Éowyn, I should really get back to my paperwork.”

Éowyn went through the door, trying and failing to keep the last nut cake out of Eomer’s grasp.

“Will you be closeted here the rest of the afternoon, brother?” Éomer nodded. “Then I shall see you at supper.”

Éomer wished that that did not sound so much like a threat.

****

            That threat came to fruition the next morning; Éomer, usually a light sleeper and an early riser, found himself ambushed in his bedchamber by several women, including his sister, Mindred, Brytwyn, Lady Lothíriel, and several women whom he vaguely recognized as being seamstresses, all of whom were heavily laden with various sewing supplies. Éomer had woken up at the sound of the door opening – he thanked Béma for war-heightened reflexes once again – but he had been so astounded at the group entering his room that he had simply sat up in bed and gaped for a moment. Soon, however, he remembered himself, and gathered himself up with as much kingly dignity as he could, attempting to ignore the fact that only a light sheet covering his nudity from the heat of early September and the gazes of several females, as well as his sleep-tangled hair.

Addressing Éowyn, he spoke. “What are you doing here?”  Éomer raked the women with the glare that had made his the men under his command when he was Marshall cower in fear and apprehension; the lack of a significant reaction indicated that his sister had had firm words with them before entering.

Éowyn looked at his evenly. “You need new clothes, brother. Ones more befitting your station as King. And since you would be … unlikely … to go out of your way to acquire them on your own, I have taken matters into my own hands. I have cancelled all of your appointments for the day, and as an additional measure have hidden Firefoot.”

Éomer glowered at his sister, an image of dissatisfaction. She was nonplussed. “Oh, get over yourself. This needs doing.” Looking around his room, she grabbed his hairbrush and tossed it at him, motioning for him to straighten his hair. “Face it. As much as it hurts your dignity, you have been cornered.”  

Éomer scowled as he tossed back the brush and began to put his hair in a quick braid. “That doesn’t mean I have to like it.” When he was done, he looked around and found that his sister had, in fact, had one of the maids bring in a modesty screen. Sighing with relief, he got out of bed, winding a sheet around himself as he went, and dove behind the screen. Éowyn threw over a wet washcloth, forestalling the need for him to ask for one. As he began a cursory wash, he asked, “How long do you intent to keep me here, Éowyn? I would like to get some work done today.”

To his surprise, it was Lothíriel, not Éowyn, that answered. “This is work, Éomer King. You must look like royalty to be treated as such, and your manner of dress is part of that. And many of your clothes that are of acceptable quality are in rough shape.”

Éomer was ashamed to say that his next words came out rather petulantly. “I do not want to be in fancy clothes all the time, my lady. They get in the way.”

“Do not complain. You have never had to endure skirts.” The princess’ tone was dry, but he detected a faint trace of humor behind the tone. His sister’s snort was accompanied by titters from the maids; Éomer admitted to himself that the image of the King of the Mark in one of the fancy gowns favored by Gondorian ladies at court functions was rather funny. He snorted, and put the washcloth up on the top of the screen.

“Éowyn, will you be kind enough to pass me some undergarments? I can’t get poked and prodded without them.”

Éowyn, who was directing the maids and seamstresses on the best way to set up shop in Éomer’s room – made rather cramped by the many people now in it – directed Lothíriel to fish out the required items from the chest at the foot of the bed. Éomer did not relish the thought of the princess fishing through his clothes, especially those clothes. He resolved to have a word with his sister later. He heard his chest opening, and faint noises of moving cloth.

“If all his clothes are in this state, Éowyn, it is no wonder that you had to take drastic action,” said Lothíriel with a disapproving note in her voice. The noises of moving cloth were accompanied by the titters of the maids. Lothíriel spoke addressing one of the maids in firm Rohírric.

“Somerild, can you take these down to the rag-bins, please?” The maid accepted whatever it was and left the room at a trot. Soon afterwards, Éomer heard Lothíriel’s voice on the other side of the screen.      

“Be prepared, my lord. I am about to throw over some clothes for you.” The offending garments soon followed. Éomer dressed, glad that the screen hid his blush. While this was not the first time a woman had seen his underthings, it was unusually an occurrence that happened more at his own convenience. Éomer took up his sheet again, and, wrapping it around himself while gathering his courage, stepped outside the dressing screen. Having resigned himself to spending the next several hours as a dressmakers’ dummy (an experience he dreaded from the last few times it had been necessary for him to acquire new formal clothing), he headed for the dressmakers’ platform in the middle of the room. Not relishing the idea of being poked with needles by giggling seamstresses for overlong, he eyed his sister and motioned for Leofgifu, the head seamstress, to begin, who in turn had had one of the girls take his measurements – as Mindred said emphatically, just in case anything had changed since the last time they had checked.

            As the morning wore on, Éomer – never an extraordinarily patient man – found himself bored. He was occasionally asked for input into decisions concerning color, cut, and style, but he was rather unhappy to see that most decisions were being made in concert by Mindred, Éowyn, Lothíriel, Brytwyn, and the senior seamstresses. They had raided the royal apartments, which Éomer had yet to move into, for examples of ‘royal’ styles, and were happily going over them. Éomer spent a good deal of the time wondering when he could feasibly get away from the gaggle of clothing-minded women. When he was finally released at mid-afternoon with the promise (or threat) of more fittings by the end of the week, Éomer was relieved at being done. As he left his room, feeling extraordinarily henpecked, Éomer decided that he would have to have a stern talk with Gamling about letting him be shanghaied into clothing fittings. They were – perhaps – to be avoided as much as council meetings.

Éomer also made a mental note to review his memories of the fitting to see whether or not the Princess had been surreptitiously been observing him with more than an eye for the fitting of clothing.  

Chapter Text

September passed in a flurry of activity – Éomer found himself drawn into a flurry of activity, trying to figure out how Rohan would face the coming winter. Saruman’s orcs had burned crops and stolen or killed livestock in many areas. There was thus a very scanty harvest to hold against hunger in the coming winter, and many people were displaced or needed help to repair their homes. The displaced people were a fairly easy problem to fix in the short term – the war had decimated the population in the Westmark, and once the Council had convinced the leaders among the villagers and farmers in that region that they needed to condense themselves into fewer groups to conserve resources, they had been quite willing to go.

The main problem was becoming food and supplies. The poor harvest, combined with the war’s loss of life, meant that Rohan would not be able to supply enough food or critical supplies for its people over the winter. Éomer had hashed the numbers out with his council several times – as things stood, many people would die in the coming winter unless he did something. He knew his duty towards his people, but he was unsure of what to do. He did not want to go begging to Gondor for the means to feed his people, but he would if he had to. Éomer found himself being drawn into an increasing amount of Council meetings, trying to figure out what course of action would work the best. 

The new clothes started arriving a few days after the – not very enjoyable – all-day fitting session, and Éomer had admitted to himself that they were actually beneficial. Most of his old clothes had been in pretty rough shape, so having new ones was helpful. And the nicer ones made a positive impression on all of the dignitaries that he had to meet as King of Rohan; it appeared that Lothíriel had been right in that appropriate clothing did, in fact, add to his kingly dignity. Compared to the many setbacks he was facing in terms of feeding his people, Éomer felt that the success of his new clothing was a small mercy.

Éomer had noticed that Éowyn and Lothíriel, in their quest to get Meduseld prepared as much as it could be before Éowyn’s marriage and subsequent departure for Gondor in May, had begun a major cleaning-repair-overhaul of the Golden Hall. The plethora of servants of the Hall – somewhat swollen by refugees and the families of deceased soldiers in the Ring War – was hard at work frantically cleaning and refreshing everything in sight. Éomer was glad that his room and his study had not yet been touched in the cleaning spree, but given the recent thoughtful looks given him by the ringleaders of the endeavor during what he could only assume were planning sessions during meals did not bode well for his being spared much longer. He just hoped that they gave him some warning, and only did one of the rooms at once; he would need to temporarily move into the other for his own safety. 

****

Éomer was spending an unproductive afternoon checking over the lists of what villages needed what supplies when he heard a knock on the door of his study.

“Enter,” he called, pitching his voice so that whoever it was who had knocked could hear him. Lothíriel entered the room, carrying several letters. Seeing his confusion as to why she was being a messenger instead of one of the servants, she dropped a pile of letters on the desk in front of him and then spoke.

“A courier came from Dol Amroth. He seemed to think that the whole packet was for me. I already gave some to Éowyn and put most of mine in my room.” Éomer noticed that one letter, already opened, had been tucked into the belt of Lothíriel’s gown. “Faramir must have been in Dol Amroth for a visit, for some of the letters have his seal. Éowyn let out an ungodly squeal when she saw Faramir’s letter for her. She ran to her room giggling like a little girl with a handful of sweets.”

Éomer chuckled, and motioned Lothíriel to take the seat opposite him; she sat gracefully. “Éowyn tries so hard to be dignified that one can forget that she can be anything else.”

The eyebrow twitch was back. “It must be a family trait, then, my lord.”

He countered with an eyebrow twitch of his own, deadpanning with a “Is that a complement, my lady?”

Lothíriel wore an expression that Éomer had seen on Amrothos’ face when he was up to some particularly nefarious deed – total and complete innocence. “If you say so. I suppose it would not do to insult a foreign monarch in his own hall.”

Éomer chuckled. “A few mild insults are welcome. It will keep me from getting a swelled head, or so Éowyn tells me.”

“Good. Then you will permit me to tell you that your shirt is inside out.”

Éomer looked down – his shirt was fine. He looked up to see Lothíriel snickering into her hand.

Éomer gave the princess an irritated glance. “I am reminded greatly of Amrothos; this is something I would expect of him.”

Suddenly downcast, Lothíriel answered in a significantly more sober tone. “I am sorry if I upset you, my lord king. It is just that you seem very serious of late.”

 Realizing that he had hit a sore point, Éomer . “I did not mean to censure you, my lady. I respect Amrothos very much, and only meant to infer that you share a sense of humor.”

Lothíriel perked up a bit, but she still had a rather disconsolate look in the corner of her mouth. “We do share a sense of humor, my lord, but it is deemed unladylike for a princess of Gondor to crack jokes of the type that Amrothos favors.”

 “I suppose that Amrothos isn’t very ladylike, at that.” Éomer winked conspiratorially at Lothíriel, who smiled back. “And you needn’t worry too much, princess – we of Rohan are much less fussy about jokes than Gondorians, even those at the expense of royalty. I don’t mind if you make fun of me, as long as you save the really bad ones for a more private setting.”

Lothíriel seemed to be recovering her composure, for she managed a fairly good quip in return. “I had better not get to familiar in my speech, my lord. When I go back to Gondor after your sister’s wedding, I shall have to be stiffly formal once again.” Her nose crinkled. “Though propriety does help in dealing with unappealing situations.”

Éomer held in a laugh. “Like royal ladies who squeal at the sight of a letter?”

Lothíriel nodded, smiling. “Though that was less unappealing than many situations I have faced. A good ‘polite face’ can serve one well.”

“Indeed. It is almost as useful as having a good store of pithy comments at one’s disposal.”

“Are you teasing me now, my lord?” Lothíriel truly did remind Éomer of Amrothos, with the easy way that she kept turning his comments against him.

Éomer grinned at her. “Yes. It is very easy when you leave yourself open like that.”

Lothíriel, still smiling, was now looking at him in a rather disconcerting fashion, rather like a bird that has seen a particularly juicy and stupid worm.

“What is it, my lady Lothíriel? Have I suddenly sprouted an extra head?” 

“Now will you tell me what’s bothering you? You were very broody when I came in and Brytwyn says that you have been snapping at the servants, which is a truly horrible plan unless you expect cold bathwater and poorly cooked food – just you, not anyone else – for the rest of your life.”

Éomer sagged in his chair. “You’re not going to let this go until you get a satisfactory answer, are you?” Seeing Lothíriel’s emphatic shake of the head, he sighed. “You are like a terrier, Princess, never letting go until your prey is dead of a broken neck.”

Éomer walked over to the sideboard along the wall. Hearing Lothiriel’s sound of protest, he spoke without turning around. “Don’t worry, Princess. I will explain. It’s just a long story, so I want a drink to keep my throat moist.” He finished pouring as her protests died. He turned in her direction. “Anything for you?” Seeing her shake of the head, he grabbed his wine and went back to his seat. Lothíriel looked at him expectantly. Éomer squared his shoulders and began to speak, beginning haltingly.

“You know that Rohan fared badly at the hands of Saruman’s Orcs during the last years of the Ring War?” Seeing the Princess’ nod, he went on. “This past year was particularly hard. Many of my people will not be able to survive the winter without aid, and there are enough people in that situation across the country that there is no way that there is enough food to go around. And I cannot in good faith go begging to Gondor when they undergone so much hardship in their turn. I am faced with the deaths of many of my people and their livestock due to slow starvation this winter.” He put his head in his hands. “And I cannot see what I can do to alleviate this, to see my people fed. I feel like a failure – I cannot see to my people’s needs when they need me the most.”

He found his hands shaking slightly. How odd, he thought, I so rarely lose control. He realized that he was crying silently, and that Lothíriel had come around the desk and that he was sobbing into her shoulder, while she murmured comforting words for the long moments it took before his crying ceased. He was grateful that she had closed the door to his study after entering. When the worst was over, she took a blue handkerchief edged in silver out of her belt pouch and handed it to him. 

“Blow your nose.” He did so, and would have handed the hanky back if she had not motioned for him to keep it. “Feel better now?” He nodded mutely, still quite surprised that he had cried, let alone done so in Lothiriel’s presence. He looked up to see that she had returned to her seat, and was looking at him intently.

“You had best listen closely, Éomer King, as I shall say this only once, and it is very important. You have not failed your people by any means.” He opened his mouth to protest, and the princess put her hand up. “Hear me out; you should hear this, especially as you seem to be in the dark about how much you have achieved for your people. You came to the throne during a critical point, on the Pellenor Fields, and kept your people together when they all could have fallen in a disorganized mess.” The princess’ voice was gaining in strength and passion. “You contributed to the defeat of Sauron and reestablished ties with the new King of Gondor. Then you immediately came home and began to rebuild your battered nation. Even your current worry is only a stepping stone to future success. Do not believe that this cannot be overcome. Surely it cannot be worse than the Morannon.”

 “But I cannot go begging to Gondor for aid. Surely the people there are as badly off as we are.”

Lothíriel shook her head vehemently. “Much of Gondor was untouched from raids during the War. Lossarnach, the Falas, Lamedon, and my father’s lands were all mostly untouched during the war, and all of these regions should be able to contribute to Rohan if you but express your need.”

Éomer was confused. “But why should they do that? They owe us nothing.”

Lothíriel looked as if she was ready to shake him. “We owe you everything, you great ass! Minas Tirith would have fallen if the Rohírrim had not arrived when they did, and Gondor would have likely fallen with it. You saved us all, for without your people King Ellessar could never have arrived in time. You quite likely assured the safety of all Middle-Earth!”

“All we did was fulfill our oaths.”

“For the love of the Valar, Éomer!” Éomer noticed that the Princess, in her righteous wrath, had switched to his given name only. She must be quite perturbed; normally she seemed quite a stickler for propriety. “Gondor owes you! Even if you think you don’t deserve it, they will offer you aid. Take it and feed your people. You need the help, and they will be more than willing to offer it. You should know by now that duty takes precedence over personal preference. No matter what you personally feel, do what is necessary to see the people of Rohan fed and safe.”

Éomer saw that Lothiriel’s suggestion had some value, but a snag presented itself to him. “How do I explain this to my people, Gondor sending all this aid? I do not wish to jeopardize my rule so soon after taking the throne by being seen to take handouts. The Rohírrim are a proud people, my Lady, and we do not like relying on others.”

Lothíriel seemed to have an answer for everything. Immediately, she retorted, “Well, you should be able to play the gratitude line for a while. After all, King Ellessar has said often and loudly how he owes his throne to the timeliness of the Rohírrim. And you have the firm friendship of my father, King Ellessar, and a few other key nobles, and you could say that you got some gifts to welcome you to your new position as king.” Seeing his enquiring look, she explained, “It’s traditional in Gondor to give a newly-raised noble a gift. This would especially hold true for a new king.”

“But that would hardly make a dent in the amount of supplies needed to cover what we need.”

Lothíriel looked thoughtful. “Do you not have kin in Lossarnach? Could you not persuade them to provide supplies cheaply?”

Now it was Eomer’s turn to look thoughtful. “Perhaps. I think that some of Grandmother Morwen’s daughters married in Gondor. They might be amenable to some sort of aid.” He sighed, “But that is uncertain, and might well not be enough.”

Lothíriel thought a moment more, and then brightened visibly. “Could you not get pass off the supplies as some sort of wergild as repayment for your dead from Gondor? I remember reading a history book that mentioned some of your royalty dying in the service of Gondor at the Crossings of Poros and a good deal of gold finding its way back to Rohan in repayment.” Lothíriel sat straight up in her chair, looking moderately pleased with herself and very hopeful.

Éomer leaned back in his chair, mulling over the idea. He thought that the idea had potential, not least because Lothíriel was right and there was a precedent. Steward Túrin II’s hefty payment in gold after the deaths of the twin sons of Folcwine King set a precedent for at least the shedding of royal blood in the aid of Gondor. After a few moments’ thought, Éomer looked at Lothíriel and smiled.

“That just might work, Princess. I shall send letters to Gondor to ask in this fashion. Hopefully it will allow me to feed my people without shaming them.”

Lothíriel nodded. “Good. Your people are not proud without cause, my lord king, but pride cannot feed a nation.”

Éomer sighed. “I just hope that posing the necessary supplies as a wergild will allow people to get over themselves and take it.”

“A hungry belly filled will soothe many ills, my lord king, especially for those of your people with children,” Lothíriel said sympathetically.

“I hope so too, my lady. I hope so too,” replied Éomer. “And before I forget, I have something for you.” The discussion of wergild had reminded him of his obligation towards the princess. A representative of Edoras’ smiths had given him the pins he had in his desk several days ago, but he had not had the change to give them to Lothíriel before now. The hairpins were a repayment for Lothíriel saving his life from a Dunlending intent on taking it, and had been a joint effort between one of the weapons-smiths (who, as best as Éomer could understand, had created the bladed backings so they could pierce flesh without cutting Lothíriel unduly), and a silversmith, who had made the front ornaments, in the shape of small silver stars. The two smiths had had to work together to make the balance work.

            Éomer stood, and walked over to the cupboard where he had stashed the bag with the hairpins. Opening it, he took the bag out and checked that none of the hairpins had fallen out during their stay in the cupboard. Satisfied that they had not, he closed the shelf and walked over to Lothíriel, giving the bag to her and returning to his seat. She looked at him enquiringly, clearly having no idea why he was giving her this, and then opened the bag, giggling a small gasp. The set of ten hairpins – each about two inches long – were a matched set, and were, according to the silversmith, meant to be worn as a set. Éomer had asked for silver because he thought that they would make a nice contrast against Lothiriel’s dark hair, and also because silver was one of the colors of Dol Amroth. He had seen Lothiriel’s father and brothers sport silver jewelry before, mostly in the form of clips or ties to keep their hair, fashionably long in the Gondorian style, out of their faces, or as accents in or on daggers, armbands, etcetera. With their dark hair and pale skin, their colors of dark blue and silver suited them.     

            He looked at Lothíriel in an attempt to gauge her reaction, and saw her smiling at him. “Thank you very much, my lord. These are lovely.” She picked one up and examined it closely. “Excellent craftsmanship.” She hefted the hairpin, and threw it up, catching it after a moment’s flight. “Good weight – not to heavy.” She stuck the pin in her hair for a moment, twisting her head in an apparent attempt to dislodge it, seeming pleased when it remained in place. “Won’t fall out under stress. Good, good. Only one thing left to test, then.” In a quick motion, the pin was out of her hair and flying towards an exposed beam at the joining of the wall and the ceiling of his study. Éomer felt the wind as the pin went a scant inch beside his ear, feeling thankful that he did not flinch.

“You shall have to congratulate your craftspeople, my lord King. These are exceptional. When I return to Gondor I believe that I shall continue to acquire my throwing pins here.”

“I shall tell them that, my lady. They will be pleased at your praise.”

Lothíriel nodded. “Will you be king enough to remove the pin from the beam? It is too high for me to reach.” After replying affirmatively, Éomer retrieved the pin and handed it to her.

“My lady Lothíriel, I must really thank you again for your quick thinking. If you had been much slower, quite likely Rohan would be without a king,” said Éomer solemnly.

“It was no trouble, my lord. Reacting well under pressure is a skill that I have had to develop.” Lothíriel seemed rather too at ease about the whole incident. Éomer decided to pursue a question that had been bothering him ever since he had had time to recall the incident in detail. 

“Most assuredly, my lady. But one issue still concerns me. You killed the man who was headed for me with great ease for one who is a gently-reared lady.”

Lothíriel raised a disbelieving eyebrow at him. “While I am a ‘gently-reared lady,’ my lord” – she made the term seem an insult – “this was unfortunately not the first time I have been forced to defend myself and others from potential harm, even to the point of killing another.” Seeing Éomer sputter in an expression of disbelief, she continued, “Five years ago, when I was sixteen, a rich merchant from Pelargir decided to ally himself with the Princes of Dol Amroth by having me marry his son. When the boy – he was a year older than me but had the common sense of a twelve-year-old – failed to make a positive impression on me or my father, the man attempted to abduct me, feeling that Father would be unable to do anything if his son and I had been wed, even without his consent.”

“But surely a marriage would not have been valid without your consent, or your fathers’ if you were still underage.” Éomer was aghast at the idea that anyone might go to such lengths to acquire a bride, even one that might significantly improve one’s station.

“He hoped to coerce me to agree through threatening me and my maid, expecting that a delicate young maiden such as myself would fold at the thought of violence.” Her mouth twisted. “I managed to escape with my maid, though I had to kill several of the merchant’s guards to escape. The man himself was too fat to do anything, and his son too insipid.”

Eomer’s jaw tightened. “I hope that that merchantman faced dire consequences.”

Lothíriel nodded. “Oh, yes. Uncle Denethor had him killed for attempting assault on a Princess of the Realm.”  

“Killed?”

Lothíriel sighed. “It’s one of the old laws, and the proscribed punishment for those who attempt harm on royalty in Gondor. I cannot find it in me to be overly concerned in this case.”

“I should hope not. The man deserved death for what he tried to do to you.”

“Indeed.” Lothíriel gave herself a small shake, and put the hairpins in her belt pouch. “I must be off, my lord. Éowyn and I are helping Botilda too do an inventory in the kitchens to see what is needed. By the way, you should expect a list of things that we will need sent from Gondor for the renovations shortly. You will be able to send it on with your requests for aid.”

Éomer knew an order when he heard one. “Of course, my lady. I shall have the letters ready to go soon enough. And thank you for listening to me.”

Lothíriel, heading for the door, turned to him. “It is no trouble at all, my lord. Please feel free to talk to me again if you feel the need.” She went out the door, shutting it firmly behind her.

Éomer smiled. He would definitely take her up on that.

Chapter Text

            As much as it galled Éomer to beg for help, he had the letters sent out within the week. Éomer had penned letters for Aragorn, for Faramir, and Imrahil, all of which included several addendums from Lothíriel and Éowyn for required household items. He had also written an awkward letter to his kin in Lossarnach asking for aid if there was any to send. Lothíriel had backed up her fathers’ claim that his grandmother Morwen was still alive and in her home region; the issue had come up when, soon after the Battle of the Pellenor, Imrahil had let slip the (surprising, but not unwelcome) news that their families were distantly related through Éomer’s grandmother Morwen. After a bit of explaining, and a bit of family tree-diagramming, Éomer had mostly understood the relationship. Éomer had asked for, and received, Lothiriel’s help in drafting that particular letter, since he knew that she had spent time with her cousins in the region and thus had information which had proved helpful indeed.   

            Several errand-riders had gone forth rather heavily-laden, with Éomer’s letters accompanied by a fat letter and a package for Faramir from Éowyn (the subject of much suspicious giggling between his sister and Lothíriel), and letters from Lothíriel herself for her father, brothers, Faramir, and one that went to her kin in Lossarnach.

*****

            After the couriers had gone, Éomer found himself seeking Lothiriel’s counsel more often. She had a good deal of experience ruling, and Éomer found himself thanking Béma – and more pragmatically, Imrahil – for the straightforward and unbiased advice she offered. It rarely occurred to him that she was eight years younger than him, for Lothíriel’s steady nature and astuteness gave her wisdom beyond her years. Éomer found himself enjoying spending time with the princess more and more, for her presence as much as her council, though he was unsure if she reciprocated his friendliness or was just putting up with him for her friendship with Éowyn.

            Despite his uncertainty, Éomer was glad when, one day in the middle of October, he invited Lothíriel to go riding with him the next morning after breakfast, she agreed without any apparent reticence.     

            They rode for a grove of trees near a stream’s bend that was nearly an hour’s ride outside Edoras, one of Eomer’s favorite spots to just go and be, with only two guards trailing them at such a discreet distance it was almost possible to ignore them.

Éomer and Lothíriel kept up a steady stream of chatter about small things on the way there – the progress of the cleaning of the Hall, Éothain and Brytwyn’s recent announcement of impending parenthood (their second child, and the couple was hoping for a girl to balance their son, Éoraed, currently two years old), the latest news from Gondor. Éomer enjoyed himself immensely, and from what he could tell Lothíriel did as well, which pleased him; she was extremely serious most of the time, and it was good to see her smile. Éomer thought that Lothíriel looked particularly lovely when riding, and especially so today, with her long black hair bound in a coronet, grey eyes sparkling. She wore one of the riding dresses she had brought from Dol Amroth, blue shot with silver thread, and it accentuated her pale skin, rather tanned from her months in Rohan, without hiding her curves at breast and hip.

When they arrived at the small grove, they left their horses with the guards and wandered over to the stream’s bending, spreading their horse blankets out so they could sit near the water’s edge. They threw stones into the water, and their conversation began to taper off as they simply enjoyed the moment. Éomer and Lothíriel sat in silence for a long while, enjoying the serenity of the small brook. Eventually, Lothíriel broke the silence by turning to Éomer and addressing him, face and tone unusually serious, even for the typically staid princess.

“My lord king, may I ask you a rather blunt question?”

Éomer found himself rather disconcerted. The princess had never been reluctant to discuss an issue with him before now, though she had had the sense to wait and show disapproval of an idea of his in a more private setting several times; for her to be visibly perturbed meant that whatever was bothering her must be of significant concern. He turned to face Lothíriel completely, and tried to form his face into an expression that let his concern at her discomfiture show without proving too overwhelming.

“If you have a concern, my lady, please feel free to air it. I would not have you unhappy over something if I could prevent it.”

If anything, Éomer’s words seemed to make Lothíriel cringe more. But she soon recovered, and seemed to gather her courage before addressing him again.

“May I ask, then, why you brought me here today?” Lothiriel’s facial expression was a curious mix of curiosity, determination, and caution.

Éomer’s brows drew together in confusion. “I simply wanted to spend a few companionable hours with a friend away from the fuss and bother and court, and thought that you would enjoy the same, my lady.” A niggling suspicion entered his mind, and as he turned it over in his head the thought seemed to gain more credence, so he decided to voice it to either (hopefully) have it squashed immediately, or to have it acknowledged so that he could react appropriately. “Did you think I brought you here to court you, Princess?” he asked gently.

Lothíriel blushed and dropped her gaze. “It … may have crossed my mind, my lord king.” She looked at him squarely. “I am not unaware of the political benefits of a potential union between Rohan and Dol Amroth, my lord. Apart from your friendship with my father, your people are in desperate need of supplies, supplies which could easily be procured through your marriage to a high-ranking lady of Gondor.” Lothíriel looked at him sidelong, as if unsure of what her statement would have on him.

Éomer sighed. “My lady Princess, you must remember that we in Rohan have a rather different view of marriage among the upper classes, and even our royalty, than the upper classes of Gondor. A good political match is by no means the most significant factor in a marriage among the nobility here. Compatibility – whether it be on a romantic basis or simply close friendship – is seen as equally if not more important than bloodlines.” Éomer wrinkled his nose. “This is also important in royal marriages; it is well-known the king’s choice of consort impacts the quality of his reign, especially in terms of those issues where women insist that men are total incompetents.” Éomer was rewarded for his small attempt at humor by the corners of Lothiriel’s mouth curving up into a small smile. “So you needn’t worry about anyone in Rohan, including myself, wishing to marry you for political or financial advantage alone. It would not even occur to most of my countrymen as a possibility.” Éomer was grateful to see some of Lothiriel’s tension begin to drain away, though she still seemed like a frightened bird, ready to fly off at any loud noise or nearby motion.

“As for you and I, my lady, I actually had a discussion about this very topic with Erchirion on the way here for my Uncle’s funeral.” Lothíriel scowled in disapproval, giving a look he remembered strongly from Éowyn’s attempts to foil what she called his ‘older-brother meddling.’ Éomer decided to forestall any potential sibling revenge before it got beyond this initial discontent. “You needn’t worry, my lady. Your brother merely enlightened me about a few things.”

Taking a swig of water from his bottle, Éomer continued. “Your brother Elphir, he was wrangled into a match that was both parentally and personally suitable by your father, yes?” He waited to see Lothiriel’s acknowledgement, which he was glad to see came with only a second’s hesitation. “Erchirion told me that your father wishes for something similar to happen to you, presumably while you visit Éowyn here in Rohan.” Lothíriel stiffened with what could only be ire at the possibility. She turned a heated gaze on Éomer.

“If you think, my lord, that I will meekly fall swooning into your arms like a delicate maiden out of the stories, then you are quite mistaken! I am no – ”

“You are no blushing empty-headed maiden without two thoughts to rub together, yes.” Éomer realized that interrupting Lothíriel’s tirade would be the only way to get his opinion out. “Frankly, Princess, you have impressed me very much during your stay here” – a deathly glare was being directed at him by the Princess; if looks could kill, he thought wryly – “but I do not wish to pursue any sort of romantic relationship with a woman who is unwilling, least of all one who I respect as much as I do you.” Lothíriel sagged slightly with relief.

Éomer was pleased to see that he had judged the situation correctly so far, and hoped that he could finish off the less-than-entirely-comfortable discussion with as much grace. “However, Princess, I did have something of an ulterior motive when asking you here. You see, while I have hopefully dispelled your fears about immediate matrimonial intent, I would like to pursue a closer relationship with you.”

As soon as the words had left his mouth, Éomer realized that his choice of words was ill-advised at best. He expected some sharp words to be directed at him, and braced himself for such, but not expect what he received – a right hook which took him in the eye and made him see stars while he reeled, his balance gone. His yells alerted the guards, who came running.

“Béma’s balls, woman! What was that for?” he sputtered.

The princess was red with rage. “You cad! That you would dare to suggest that I would be amenable to such a situation ….” The princess, overcome by anger, continued to rant, while Éomer did his best to look repentant and sorry for his words.

During a break in the rather impressive lecture given by the Princess on exactly how horrid a man he was, Éomer managed to send the guards back to their posts. After they were looking the other way, he shut Lothíriel up in the most expedient manner – putting a hand over her mouth. She glared daggers at him, but did not embarrass herself by struggling or attempting to continue speaking.

“Princess! Will you cease talking for a moment?” She nodded, and he released her. She sat after he gestured for her to do so, after which he followed her.

“Lady Lothíriel, I am sorry. My comment was thoughtless, and the black eye I will indubitably be sporting tomorrow is definitely deserved. What I meant to say, however, is that I would very much like to be your friend. Quite frankly, I like you.” Seeing her dark look, he hurried to explain himself. “Like, princess, like. I would like to become friends. As things stand, you are more Éowyn’s friend than mine, but I would see us become closer than we are.”     

 Lothíriel appeared to have overcome the worst of her ire, but she still seemed skeptical of him. “And why would the King of the Mark wish to be friends with a lady without wishing to pursue the relationship further?” she asked in a guarded tone.

“Because the lady in question treats the Lord of the Mark like a real person.” Eomer’s lips twitched in suppressed amusement. “Even if that means punching him in the face.”

“And you will not attempt to woo me?” Lothíriel asked.

Éomer shook his head. “I will not agree to that unconditionally, my lady.”

“But - ”

Éomer put a finger to her lips. “I will, however, agree to certain conditions for this.” Lothíriel raised an eyebrow, and removed his hand from its position near her face.

“Pray tell, then.” Lothiriel’s face was inscrutable.

Éomer looked at her squarely. “I shall not woo you unless I am acting on genuine feelings of affection towards you, feelings that I shall ensure are reciprocated before continuing. In more general terms, I shall also do my best to state my intentions clearly and think before I speak.”

Lothíriel cocked her head at him. “That … is a start. What would you do if, given hypothetical feeling on your part, I rebuff you?”

Éomer thought about it. “I do not know. Since we share kin, we would likely still have to interact often. I suppose that I would retreat to being firmly polite.”

Surprisingly, Lothíriel nodded. “Your proposition seems acceptable. We shall endeavor to become … friends. I shall, however, reserve the right to punch you again if you presume to take liberties with me, though.”

Éomer laughed. “If I continue to stick my foot in my mouth, or otherwise take liberties, feel free to punch me, my lady. It will remind me to be careful.”

“Good.” Lothíriel nodded. “Though I am still concerned about the lack of a blanket ban on courting.”

Éomer snorted. “Princess, I am given to understand that such a blanket ban would either have us hating each other’s’ guts or falling completely in love but unable to discuss it within the year.”

Lothíriel looked at him as if he had grown a second head. “I think, my lord, that you have been listening to too many tales. That sort of thing rarely happens in real life.”

Éomer shook his head. “It does! Ask Éothain and Brytwyn when we get back to the Hall. They didn’t want anything to do with each other when they first met. Yet they were married within two years of their first meeting.”

“While I do not doubt the nuptial bliss of your captain, my lord king, such occurrences are surely the exception and not the norm.” Lothíriel sniffed, still sounded doubtful. 

“Will you allow me to leave myself a loophole, then, my lady, just in case the near-impossible happens?” he asked exasperatedly.

“If you insist, my lord.”

Éomer gave a lazy smile. “I do insist. And if you promise not to hit me, I have a suggestion.”

Lothíriel stiffened. “I shall not promise, my lord, for if you think that I may cause you harm for your idea, then there is a good chance that it is an inappropriate one.”

Éomer snorted. “Don’t worry so much, Princess. I was just going to say that if we are going to be friends, than you may as well call me by my name. All of my friends do so. And I would like to call you by your name as well.”

Lothiriel’s eyebrows tightened in an expression of deep thought. “I … am not sure if that would be entirely appropriate. People might assume a closer relationship between us than there actually is.”

“I know. How about this – we can use each other’s’ names when we are in relative privacy.” Éomer flashed Lothíriel a smile, trying his best to make it a charming one; he must have succeeded, as some of the tension in the Princess’ shoulders eased.

“I suppose that that should do.” Lothíriel looked at the sky thoughtfully. “Do you have any other groundbreaking issues to discuss? We both have work to do back at Meduseld, and I would like to get at mine.”

Éomer sighed. Apparently he had exhausted Lothiriel’s patience for the day. “If you must … Lothíriel.” He replied, savoring her name on his lips, challenging her to disagree with his use of her name with his eyes.

“Let us be off, then, Éomer,” said Lothíriel, evidently intent on throwing his rudeness back at him at every opportunity.

They rode back to Edoras and responsibility in silence that was as a living thing. It began as an almost painful lack of words, but gradually morphed into a more companionable thing that Éomer welcomed as much as he had their lively conversation on their way out to the stream. One of the things that he appreciated about Lothíriel was that she did not feel the need to fill every moment with words – she understood the value of silence.

*****

When Éomer and Lothíriel entered the stable-yard, they were met by the chief stablemaster, Baldric, which surprised Éomer, as the man was quite busy and did not usually come out to meet him unless he had some need to. Occasionally they would meet to discuss the status of the stable in general, but Baldric generally waited for a more opportune moment to do so than when Éomer was clearly busy with a guest. Eomer’s surprise was compounded when, after he and Lothíriel had dismounted, Baldric addressed them both.

 “If I could have a word with my lord and my lady?” Like most Rohírrim when dealing with nobles, Baldric was respectful while still being direct. Seeing Éomer and Lothíriel acknowledge him, the stablemaster gestured for two of the grooms to take their horses and led Éomer and Lothíriel into the converted box stall that served him as an office. After having the two seat themselves and giving them some of the thick tea favored by the stable-folk, Baldric spoke in halting Westron.

“When Eanulf returned from leading the grooms who accompanied you to Mundburg, Éomer King, he mentioned in his report to me that there was a chance that the lady’s mare was in foal to Firefoot, and that I should check on this once the potential pregnancy would be far enough along to be monitored and checked.” Here Baldric took a breath, and seemed to hesitate, a reaction that Éomer did not fail to notice.

“Your reticence leads to me to believe that Nightsong is indeed in foal to Firefoot.” He had switched to Rohírric to make the ordeal a little less painful for the stablemaster, who nodded glumly in acknowledgement of Éomer’s hypothesis.

Lothíriel was next up. “Master Baldric, when do you expect Nightsong to foal?” Éomer absently noted that the Princess’ Rohírric had improved greatly since her arrival in Rohan – she spoke with far less of an accent than before and her vocabulary also appeared to have improved. Baldric looked at Éomer questioningly, and he nodded for the stablemaster to answer Lothiriel’s question.

“The end of May to the middle of June is likely, lady. It’s hard to be certain this early. I’ll be able to be more specific as the pregnancy progresses.”

 Lothíriel sighed heavily. “The timing’s certainly inconvenient. Is Nightsong still in good health?” She acknowledged Baldric’s confirming words with a nod. “Then we shall have to discuss changes in my mare’s care at a later date. Tomorrow afternoon, perhaps, after lunch?” Now it was Baldric’s turn to nod, in mute acceptance of Lothiriel’s maneuvering.

“Thank you for your time, then, Master Baldric.” Lothíriel rose smoothly. Éomer rose as well, making his own farewells, and then offering Lothíriel his arm, which she took. The two made their way up to the Hall.

Lothíriel broke their companionable silence. “It appears that I may need to borrow a horse from your stables when I return to Gondor in a few weeks, my lord king.”

Éomer swallowed a grimace and nodded. He had forgotten that Lothíriel was to return to Gondor before Yule – if she did not, she would be caught in Rohan over the winter. “Indeed. Nightsong should still be able to manage the journey if she is led and not ridden, especially since I doubt that your party will be going at a great speed. I have a few horses that I have been considering giving to your father; perhaps at a later time we could go visit them to see if one would suit you for a riding animal on your way home.”   

 Lothíriel laughed happily as they climbed the steps, Éomer not noticing until he was several steps ahead of her. “I have always wanted to have the chance to ride a Rohírric horse, but my father always deemed them to spirited for me. This will be a good opportunity for me to remind him that I am a grown woman, able to manage myself.”

Éomer, who was privy to a not ungenerous view of bosom by dint of the steps, knew very well that Lothíriel was a woman grown. He sent a mental apology to Imrahil, both for accidentally ogling his daughter and for disregarding his parental authority. He had to work at keeping his voice smooth; apparently that view of bosom had affected him more than he had thought.

“Given some practice, Princess, you should be able to manage any of the horses we have in mind with ease. Now, it is almost lunchtime, and I am not in the mood for a formal meal in the Hall. Shall we go and bother the cooks for some food?”

Chapter Text

Éomer had quickly received assurances of aid from Aragorn, Faramir, and Imrahil, which he found extremely reassuring. The letters from his friends also included stringent rebuffs that he would even consider the possibility that they would not assist him in his need;

Imrahil’s assistance had followed his letter fastest, within a week of his letter’s arrival, and more to come when more supplies arrived, which Éomer had expected. The opening of the Dimholt Road had opened a quick route between Rohan and Gondor’s southern fiefs – foodstuffs and other necessities could be shipped overland or on barges and then carted through the road and then onwards to wherever they were needed. Imrahil had been more than generous, having sent supplies for immediate use as well as seed crops for the spring. Imrahil had also sent a variety of other useful items, ranging from medical supplies to cloth. The party had been guarded by a party of Swan Knights, whose captain also had led the supply train as a whole. What Éomer found most surprising in the shipment was a package of metal pipes, wrapped securely and placed in baskets so they would not suffer mishandling. He had queried Lothíriel about them – since he knew nothing about the pipes’ providence, he supposed that she had asked for them – and had been pleasantly shocked by her reply.

It seemed that the royal quarters in Meduseld had the singular honor of having piped-in water for cleaning. Apparently, Morwen Queen had insisted on it as one of the conveniences of rank. When the women had been going through the royal quarters to see what needed refurbishment, they had noticed that the system was still in fairly good shape, but that some of the pipes had suffered greatly due to neglect. The new pipes were replacements, and with a few other odds and ends, would enable Éowyn and Lothíriel, in concert with the other women of the Hall, to finish overhauling the quarters so that he could move in by the end of the week. Lothíriel had warned him that he would have to live through having people in and out of his study to finish up the work there, but she assured him that the people chosen for the job were not only quiet but discreet and as unobtrusive as Rohírs could be.  

Several days later, the company from Minas Tirith arrived, with Faramir at their head. They had sent word to Edoras of their impending arrival, so a welcoming party was arrayed on the steps of Meduseld, with Éowyn practically bouncing in excitement to see her betrothed again. Éowyn ran to her betrothed as soon as the party of the recently-proclaimed Prince of Illithien had made it to the steps and dismounted, even before the cup of welcome had been offered, and seized him in an enthusiastic hug, kissing him soundly. Faramir, clearly surprised by this obvious show of affection, quickly recovered, kissing Éowyn back to the wolf-whistles of several people in the crowd. After the pair had separated, Faramir led the Gondorian delegation up the steps to receive the formal welcome of the King of Rohan to the Steward of Gondor.

oOoOoOoOoOoOo

            The welcome feast – some of the dishes fitting for a guest of the Steward’s standing a little impromptu, at least according to Éowyn – was an enjoyable evening. Éomer was pleased to see the soldiers of Gondor and Rohan mingling as well as they were. Faramir, who had the seat next to Éomer, with Éowyn on Faramir’s other side, was also holding up well. When the conversation between Éowyn and Faramir lulled, Éomer broke in to sate his curiosity with a question.

“Faramir, why is it that you came to bring the supplies to Rohan yourself? I know that you must be eager to see my sister” – here, Éomer could not keep his mouth twitching slightly with amusement at Faramir’s discomfiture – “but surely your duties back in Mundburg and Illithien must be not inconsiderable?” Éomer knew that his question was rather tactless, but it had been bothering him since the Gondorian party had arrived that afternoon. He knew that Faramir would not abrogate his responsibilities in Gondor lightly, so there must be a legitimate reason for the man to be here beyond seeing Éowyn again.

Faramir smiled, and nodded. “As much as I enjoy seeing Éowyn again, and hope to spend some time with her during my stay in Rohan” - Faramir sent a loving look Éowyn’s way, which was returned, and Éomer had to work at not sending a harsh word or a blow in the direction of his soon-to-be brother-in-law – “it was, in fact, your grandmother who persuaded me to come here.”

Éomer started in surprise. “Grandmother Morwen? But how?”

“You will have to ask Lothíriel – I believe that her actions caused Cousin Morwen to come to Minas Tirith.” Faramir craned his neck towards his cousin with a rather sullen stare, causing Lothíriel to blush deeply, an action which roused Eomer’s suspicions in itself – Lothíriel did not embarrass easily. 

Éomer turned to Lothíriel. “You know my grandmother?” Lothiriel’s blush depended, and Éowyn, finishing her conversation with Elfhelm, who sat on her other side, tuned in to what was obviously a hot topic.

Lothíriel was fidgeting in her seat, obviously attempting to get her story straight before speaking. Finally she met Eomer’s curious stare.

“You have heard me mention that I spent a summer in Lossarnach with family?” Éomer nodded; the princess had mentioned that that was where she had begun learning Rohírric.

“I … neglected to mention that the cousin in question was your grandmother, my lord. I did not know it at the time, and when I figured it out I did not wish to bring it up.” Éomer nodded; likely the princess would have thought that he would not have believed that she was unaware of the connection.

“Do not worry, Princess. I shall forgive you as long as you tell me what you told my grandmother to get her to high herself to Minas Tirith. I knew that she still lives, but I was given to understand that she had retired from the world at large and was living out her last years among her kin in Lossarnach.” Éomer smiled at Lothíriel in an attempt to show her that he was not angered at her nondisclosure. She smiled back, obviously relieved.

“I simply told her of Rohan’s need, my lord king. To the best of my knowledge Cousin Morwen has always felt Gondor to be more her home than Rohan, but she has always known her duty to her husband’s people.”

Éomer exhaled heavily. “It is well-known that Morwen Queen, Steelsheen as our people call her, was always more a daughter of Gondor than a lady of Rohan.”

Éowyn leaned across the table to grasp Éomer’s hand. “Do not worry overmuch, brother. Grandmother has not forgotten Rohan it its need.”

Faramir nodded. “Much of the grain and fruit that was being gathered up to be sent was gathered at the lady Morwen’s will, Éomer. Your grandmother is … formidable.” 

Éomer snorted. “Formidable?”

“Quite.” said Lothíriel. “In fact, you rather remind me of her in terms of your intensity of character. Though you tend to bully people less than your lady grandmother, my lord king.”

Éomer looked at Lothíriel strangely. “I do not know if I should take that as a complement or an insult on my house, my lady.”

Lothíriel laughed. “A complement on you and your house, my lord, for lady Morwen is quite likely even now bullying some Gondorian lordling into sending foodstuffs here either for free or at a criminally low price.”

Éomer gave Lothíriel a smile. “That is all very well, my lady. I cannot complain about bullying when Rohan benefits.” He turned to Faramir. “I assume that Grandmother used these same bullying tactics on you when she arrived in Mundburg.”

Faramir, who had obviously not been spending much time outside in the past summer, blushed furiously. This surprised Éomer and roused his curiosity as much as Lothíriel’s earlier blush had.

“No, not exactly.” Faramir seemed to be remembering the event with a mixture of dismay and consternation about the reaction to it that made Éomer’s suspicions rise.

Éowyn poked Faramir in the ribs. “What did she do, Faramir?”

Faramir took a long chug of ale, then spoke, looking into the middle distance, apparently for fear that he would not be able to finish if he had to face anyone while telling his tale. “You know that Erchirion draws fairly well?” Faramir looked around to see general nods of acknowledgement. “Well, before we left to go back to Gondor, I twisted Erchi’s leg until he drew some pictures of Éowyn for me.” Seeing Éomer’s black look, he hurried to add, “Nothing offensive, mind, just what he could do up in the ordinary course of the day without Éowyn noticing.” 

Éowyn nodded slowly. “I remember seeing Erchirion drawing, but I only remember being the actual model for his talent once – he said he wanted to take a picture of me to show his nephew the brave shield-maiden.”

“And that one did make it back to Dol Amroth – it was in one of my letters for Elphir and his family,” Lothíriel broke in.

“Erchi is very sneaky. Not as sneaky as Amrothos, but enough to work without being noticed.” Faramir seemed especially smug about this familial collusion. Éomer felt the need to take him down a notch or three.

“What do these drawings have to do with my grandmother’s presumed wrath?”

Faramir was suddenly very interested in examining the contents of his plate. “I was in the habit of carrying some of the letters with me when I went about my duties in the city – for the purpose of personal fortification, you understand. When the lady Morwen arrived in the city and came up to the Citadel, I was looking at one of the pictures in question while sitting in one of the niches off the pink rose garden on the seventh circle, the one right by the path on the way to the Palace, and –”

“So you were ogling the offending picture in one of the most well-known and highly-visible lovers’ nooks in the city and cousin Morwen caught you at it,” Lothíriel broke in.

Faramir was practically crimson with shame. “Well, yes.”

“You are lucky to be alive, cousin.”

Faramir nodded vigorously. “Indeed I am. I thought that I was going to get my bottom reddened, right there in the rose garden. Lady Morwen did, however, tell me off vigorously and then drag me up to the Palace, where she told me off again in front of Aragorn – before being formally introduced to him! – and then insisted I escort the supplies here personally.”

Éomer guffawed. “It looks like you should be thankful, Faramir! You got off lightly, and got to see Éowyn as well. I do not remember my grandmother very well – she left Rohan to return to Gondor well before my birth, and her visit back when my mother died was brief. She did not return after that.”

“That may not be such a bad thing,” Éowyn muttered in Éomer’s ear, attempting to alleviate the solemnity of the moment.

Lothíriel had evidently been close enough to overhear Éowyn, for she gave the older woman a hard stare. “You should not dismiss your grandmother so, Éowyn. She has always stood by Rohan. She could very easily have convinced your grandfather to remain in Lossarnach, had she so desired.”

Éowyn wilted a little under the other woman’s disapproval, murmuring an apology, for all the world sounding like a little girl caught with her hand in a jar of sweets.

Lothíriel gave Éowyn a smile. “I can understand if you do not like your grandmother overmuch, Éowyn. You have not seen her in years, and she is not the most likeable of women. I just do not want to have to give another member of the House of Eorl a black eye for undue impudence towards a daughter of Gondor.”

Éomer was caught between laughing at the priceless reaction of the Steward of Gondor – he sputtered, choking on his mouthful of ale – and irritation at Lothíriel for once again putting him in an inconvenient position. Though in this case he rather deserved it – as he had the black eye. The two guardsmen had surely used that story to get free ale for a week, spreading it across Edoras in a flash. The population of Hall and city was split between those who would mock him about it– either directly, like Éothain and Éowyn had, or indirectly, like the bevy of tittering serving maids – and those who ignored it obviously but clearly knew, and let him stew in knowing that they knew. He wasn’t sure what reaction to his injury had been most irritating. But no matter what, Lothiriel’s standing in the city had improved immensely, especially with the womenfolk, some of whom had been skeptical about the Gondorian princess who had entered their lives in a flurry of change.

oOoOoOoOoOoOo

The next morning, Faramir, Éowyn and Lothíriel joined Éomer in his study. They spent the day discussing the movement of people and goods between Rohan and Gondor, events affecting both areas, and issues of note.

The most surprising thing for Éomer was that Lothíriel had decided to stay in Rohan over the winter. He knew that she had originally planned to stay in Rohan over the summer, and he had thought that she would have taken the opportunity to return home with Faramir via Minas Tirith. But apparently she and Éowyn had colluded to decide that she would stay, and Lothíriel had convinced her father to let her. Faramir, seeing a losing battle when he saw one, did not argue overmuch, though he did complain about being dominated by his women-folks, at which point he got two definitively angry glares and promptly shut up. Éomer, despite his commiseration for Faramir’s plight, knew better than to argue; Éowyn was exceedingly stubborn when she made up her mind about something, and he had learned that Lothíriel was no better.

Chapter Text

 

Faramir stayed a week before returning to Gondor. Éomer was of two minds about his departure; he liked the man, and found his insights valuable, but he did not want Éowyn to have a horse’s-rump wedding, an event which had been becoming increasingly likely, given the looks exchanged by his sister and her betrothed. Faramir’s leave-taking had fortunately been precipitated by the onset of winter, which had begun with a vengeance. The Steward’s party had had to leave or risk being unable to complete their journey. The Gondorian party, used to the mild southern winters, had not been prepared for the late-November snows, so had had to be re-outfitted with winter gear.

The departure of Faramir and his people – less the supplies they had brought – brought a measure of peace back to Meduseld. Éowyn moped around for a while, but Lothíriel managed to draw her out of the worst of her despair by colluding with Brytwyn and Mindred to have the royal chambers finished, and drawing Éowyn into the work. Éomer discovered that the task was done when, one day after a particularly exhaustive all-day council meeting that discussed the placement of the éoreds for wintertime, he had returned to his old chamber to find it emptied of his possessions and refitted as a guestroom. He had inquired of his sister where his belongings had moved to – perhaps a little less politely than was sensible – and had received a clout on the head and a push towards his new chambers.

Éomer had to admit that the women had done an impressive job of reinvigorating the king’s suite. During his uncle’s last years, his rooms had seemed dark and dour, and were not as clean as they should have been. The rooms were now much lighter, and had been cleaned until they were spotless. His new rooms were still rather spartan, if made with the best materials, for which he was rather thankful; he had always lived simply, and it would be difficult to change now. Mindred had disturbingly and pointedly commented that they were waiting for him to get married so his wife could put the finishing touches in the rooms, especially for the Queen’s solar. Éomer had just smiled and nodded; for all that everyone was pressuring him to fins a wife and beget an heir, he would do it when he was ready, not before.

 Perhaps the most alarming part of Mindred’s diatribe was that Lothíriel had been included in the marriage comment, though Éomer did not think that she had noticed Mindred’s pointed look, as she had been looking at Éomer at the time, assumedly to see his reaction to his rooms. He knew that Lothíriel and Mindred had taken to each other, but apparently the housekeeper had taken to the Princess quicker than he had anticipated. While Mindred might not say outright that she thought that Lothíriel might make him a good wife, Éomer knew that she was not above making sure that he knew that she thought the younger woman fit for the role. Though Éomer would privately admit that the possibility of marriage to the Princess of Dol Amroth was becoming less distasteful as he spent more time with her.          

He found living in the new rooms a mixed blessing. They were certainly lovely, and quite convenient, with their running water (a previously rarely-experienced luxury), the soft, but not too soft bed, large enough for several people his size (though thankfully reupholstered), and simply all the space. Yet the rooms were a constant reminder of his uncle and his cousin, of what could have, should have been. Using those rooms made him feel like an usurper.

oOoOoOoOoOoOoOo

As Yule approached, life in Meduseld began to slow down a little. As the weather worsened, Éomer went out less to inspect outlying villages and to confer with his lords and commanders in the further regions, but still conferred with closer ones and spent a great deal of time planning with his advisors. Éowyn and Lothíriel were great helps. Éowyn was much more familiar with the workings of the royal court than her brother, as she had lived their almost year-round since they had come as children, while Éomer had been based in Aldburg since becoming Third Marshall, only rarely coming to Edoras. Lothíriel was used to ruling, and could often find solutions to problems that Éomer would never have seen, though she was quite honest about needing to adapt many of her solutions to a Rohírric mindset. Lothiriel’s council was especially helpful when dealing with those who saw Éomer as extremely inexperienced in terms of politics and sought to guide him and thus strengthen their own positions. After suffering the machinations of Gríma Wormtongue, Éomer knew better than to trust such people outright, but Lothíriel, long since used to managing similar folk in Dol Amroth, doubters who thought a female ruler could not compare to a male, began to teach him how to manage those would manipulate him, turning them to his own ends.

Éomer found himself spending more time with Lothíriel in non-advisory capacities as well. They exchanged many stories, as well as some family history. Éomer and Éowyn were both eager to hear stories about Faramir, though for different reasons. For all she loved the man, Éowyn did not know a lot about her betrothed’s life before they had met, and she wished to learn about his history, and even the most mundane recollection was of great interest to her. The two women spent time many days discussing Faramir’s tastes in clothes, food, books, and what have you. Éomer, on the other hand, wished to know his soon-to-be brother-in-law better in a more general sense. He wanted to be sure his sister would be happy with Faramir, and also wished to grasp the mindset of a man with whom he would be working with a great deal in the future.

   Lothíriel had managed to tease the story of his parents’ deaths and his arrival in Edoras with Éowyn fairly quickly, as well as the story of Théodred’s death and Théoden’s slow decline. Éomer had found the experience as discomfiting as it had been relieving. Lothíriel was an excellent listener, and provided enough sympathy and commiseration to ease his mind while not letting him roost on his worries. He discovers that Lothíriel still somewhat blames herself for her mother’s death, despite the fact that it cannot possibly truly be her fault. Her mother had died during her birth, and a certain amount of residual guilt had always plagued her. So it came to be that Éomer and Lothíriel came to comfort each other, giving and receiving aid in turn.

oOoOoOoOoOoOo

The week before Yule, a convergence of couriers brought a mass of correspondence to Meduseld. A great packet of letters and packets from the Shire were the prize of the lot. Éomer had sent off letters to Meriadoc Holdwine and his companions in October, and had been expecting replies sooner. Éomer had sent the letters out in time to arrive at the Shire soon after the holbytlan had planned to arrive home, so he assumed that something had come up, as Merry took his duty as his sword-thain very seriously indeed. Yet he had in front of him several letters from the Shire, and the one from Meriadoc seemed quite thick. Éomer had quickly sorted the letters by recipient, and had handed off the ones not for him off to Éowyn to distribute to their recipients.

Éomer opened the short letter from Samwise first. Remembering that Samwise had been loath to accept any measure of gift, reward or recompense for his bravery, Éomer had had several types of plant native to the Mark that were unavailable in the Shire shipped to him, especially roses; the holbytlan’s love of gardening was well-known, and Meriadoc had mentioned that Samwise’s ladylove back in his home bore that name. In his letter, Samwise waxed effusive with thanks about the flowers – it seemed that he had successfully transplanted the cuttings. Finishing the letter and putting it aside, Éomer smiled. Samwise was truly stout-hearted, and had apparently managed to get back into home life easily.    

Frodo’s letter and Pippin’s letter after it were also fairly short, discussing the proposed trade with the Shire and exchanging news. Éomer also learned that Sam was well on his way to managing to convince his Rose to marry him, and that he might be unable to accompany Merry and Pippin to Éowyn and Faramir’s wedding because of this, as May weddings were generally auspicious for hobbits. Frodo also mentioned that he would be unable to come due to having accepted the Deputy Mayorship of the Shire for the present time. Frodo and Pippin also mentioned that their letters had been delayed due to some unforeseen circumstances, but they said that they would leave it to Merry to explain. Very intriguing. After placing those letters with Samwise’s, Éomer made a note to find a suitable gift to send for the wedding; he had the feeling that however averse to gifts Samwise might be, he might well accept one for his beloved Rosie. Meriadoc’s letter, saved for last, was retrieved and its seal cracked. Éomer settled himself in his chair and began to read.

Hail Éomer, King of the Mark, it began,

            I am very sorry to have had to delay writing to you, especially as you were kind enough to send those letters home. I am especially grateful for the letter to my father; it definitely got him off my back in terms of what he called “going gallivanting off on Outlandish business.” And he was relieved by the (very generous, and I thank you again for it) moneys you sent, as well as the pony. I believe that Father was worried that I had gone and attached myself to a foreign king and would have to dip into the Brandybuck coffers to maintain my obligations to you. Not that he wouldn’t have me not fulfill my obligations – such things are taken seriously as in the Shire as they are in Rohan – but that I would have gone and put the family on the line thoughtlessly. It was also well done to send your kinsman Éofor as head of the group of couriers – you obviously paid attention when I said how much we hobbits value family!

Éomer smiled to himself. He had learned about the predilection of holbytlans for genealogical lore the hard way; when Meriadoc had discovered that he was distantly related to the Princes of Dol Amroth, he had, in a few short and cunning questions directed at himself and Imrahil, deduced the degree of their relationship, managing to do it easier and quicker than the two Men had.

There have, however, been a variety of going-ons here in the Shire, and I have been delegated to speak of them to you. On our return to the Shire, Frodo, Sam, Pippin, and I were alarmed to discover that Saruman, under the alias of Sharkey, had moved onwards from Rohan to our homeland, in an apparent desire to enact revenge. After some difficulty, we put him and his people out, and Saruman was killed by our archers….  

Éomer blanched, and read the section again, and then through to its end. So Saruman had managed to cause more mischief before his death. And had clearly gotten a good bit of revenge at Merry’s people while doing so. He would have to see if some supplies could be sent to the aid of the hobbit-folk; while not much could come from Rohan, perhaps Gondor could be of aid. All four of the hobbits in the Fellowship had been dead-set against receiving any personal gifts of thanks for their efforts in the war, but Éomer thought that they would take aid for their people. He himself knew what a bitter pill such aid could be to swallow, but he, and likely Frodo and his companions, would accept gratefully for their kin.

Things are gradually getting back to normal here. It is admittedly rather difficult to reacclimatize to the slow pace of life here in the Shire after all the fuss and bother of the War, especially for Frodo and Sam. Though we all appreciate getting the proper amount of meals a day – I still don’t know how big Men such as yourself and Aragorn can manage on just three meals a day!

You have likely heard from Sam (or failing that, Frodo) that Sam is going to be married to his Rose in the spring. We are all very happy for them. Rosie likes the flowers you sent, which pleases Sam greatly. On a side note, if you’re going to send them a wedding present, you should do so well in advance – it is generally seen as unlucky to receive presents for any occasion in advance, be it birthday, wedding etc., and at the actual event hobbits actually give out presents. I am certain any lateness could be excused due to your Mannish strangeness, but another good impression of Men will not hurt.

Éomer remembered that hobbits gave out presents at their own birthdays, at least, having heard Merry bemoan having missed his birthday back in the Shire to Pippin when they were in Gondor in the immediate aftermath of the war. It has stuck in his mind because he had been unable to believe that Merry would be so petty as to miss his party and the receiving of gifts after the greatness of heart he had seen. When he had found out that Merry was actually upset about not being able to give gifts to his kin, Éomer had felt rather horrible.

 Speaking of weddings, I will likely be marrying myself in the next months.

Éomer gaped at the letter. Meriadoc getting married?The man – hobbit, rather – had never mentioned a betrothed or a girl back home in any sense.

I know that this may be rather unexpected news, but Estella and I walked out for a good span of time before I went on the Quest, and if I had not been drawn into the events that led to the destruction of the Ring we would likely already be wed. Estella was understandably upset at my rather abrupt departure, especially as I was not able to leave her a note. She actually chased after me with a frying pan when I went to go and try to make up to her, and managed to knock me out for a few hours, amusing Pippin greatly when he found out. I have since managed to get mostly back in her good books, though she does not like to see me too far from her for long, hence our admittedly rushed wedding plans. I believe that my plans to attend Éowyn and Faramir’s nuptials may have something to do with Estella’s haste, but I am not complaining. I figure that I just have to sit tight and take the heat for my admittedly abominable behavior. I do hope to convince Estella to accompany Pippin and I to Rohan for your sister’s wedding.

Éomer smiled. It was good to see his small friend happy. It seemed that he had met a hobbitess who could match his spirit, which was good. And having another holbytlan guest at Éowyn’s wedding would undoubtedly be interesting. It would be good to meet the hobbitess who had managed to catch and keep Merry’s attention, though he had a feeling that he would have to be careful if she got her hands on any frying pans.

Speaking of Pippin, he has gotten into a whole mass of trouble at home. You already know that he is still legally underage (even though he’s a year older than you, which I believe he does not like at all), and so his presence on the Quest without parental knowledge or consent has caused problems for him with his parents. Apparently the letter Strider sent for the Thain (Pip’s father) was the only reason that Pip was not thrown out on his ear….   

Chapter Text

            It was the afternoon before Yule, and Éomer had spent a solid few hours finishing up the planning for the festivities with the mix of the staff and residents of the Golden Hall, townspeople of Edoras, and representatives of various guild groups to see done what needed to be done. After the group had dispersed, Éomer had held Éothain back so the two could enjoy a pint of ale and some conversation in peace; Éomer found that the kingship left him less time to spend with his friends as friends, and he wanted to spend some non-work time with his cousin.  After catching up on the news of Eothain’s wife (her pregnancy made her tire more easily, but overall, she was doing well), and his son (who had recently learned to throw and catch a ball), and comparing notes on their horses, Éothain managed to render Éomer completely speechless with one pointed question.

“Have you asked your princess to marry you yet?”

Éomer blinked. And blinked again. “What?” he sputtered.

“Have you asked your princess to marry you yet?” Éothain repeated himself in the tone of voice Éomer remembered him using on Éoraed when Éothain was trying his best to be patient, usually when the boy had done something only a toddler could dream up – messy, loud, and stupid.

Éothain rolled his eyes. “For Béma’s sake, man. You two have been making sneaky puppy dog eyes at each other for weeks now. More and more of the staff are talking to her instead of Éowyn or Brytwyn or Mindred if they have a problem. Last week Botilda nearly dismissed one of her kitchen maids for insulting your lady.”

“She’s not my lady, Éothain – was that why Botilda was so upset the other day? She was as ruffled as a chicken chased by a cat. But seriously, Éothain, there’s nothing romantic going on between myself and Lothíriel.”

Éothain looked about ready to hit his head on the table. “Are you fucking kidding me? You two have enough unresolved tension to set half the city on fire. Will you at least admit that you’re attracted to her? I’ve seen the way you’ve been looking at her.”

Éomer looked around the Hall, glad to see that it was comparatively empty, and that there was no one near the high table, where he and Éothain sat. Seeing the steely look in his cousin’s eyes – a sure sign that he wasn’t going to back down until he got some straight answers – he relented. “Alright, alright. I am … very fond … of the Princess.”

“Then why haven’t you done anything about it?” asked Éothain skeptically. “You’ve always been successful with women before. You shouldn’t have too much trouble with this one. I mean, if you’re going to marry her, than you have to play the game a little differently, but you should be able to pull it off.”

Éomer sighed. “That’s the trouble. I did talk to her about it. You remember when the Princess gave me the black eye for being lippy?” Éothain nodded; the outline of the story had spread quickly due to the guards, and Éothain in particular had enjoyed teasing him about it, even if they did not know the details.

“Well, I got that for suggesting that she consider the possibility of us being wed. Not that I would force it on her, mind, but that we could think about it. And then she socked me.”

Éothain nodded sagely. “Well, there you go. You pushed her to hard. She probably thinks that you tried to make up her mind for her. She seems the independent type.”

Éomer nodded glumly. “I had to promise to not try anything obviously romantic towards her. Though she at least did not make me promise to never ask her to marry me.”

Éothain laughed. “Obviously you paid attention when I got married! But seriously, if you are in” – he saw Éomer’s dark look – “alright, alright. If you have feelings for the Princess, there is an obvious solution. Go and talk to her. And be nicer this time. You want to woo her, not scare her away again.”

Éomer exhaled heavily. “I’ll consider it.”

“Tomorrow’s Yule – you should have an opportunity to talk to her. Just go for it.” Éothain thumped him on the shoulder as he rose. “I’ll see you later, alright? I promised Brytwyn I’d take Éoraed out to play in the snow this afternoon so she can take a nap.”

Éomer acknowledged his departure, then stared dourly into his mug of ale. He had come to the conclusion that his feelings for Lothíriel had gone beyond friendship slowly – it had crept up on him gradually. He found himself looking forward to her smile, her laugh, her approval, and found himself particularly happy when he could do something to please her. It was a new sensation, but not altogether unpleasant. Éomer figured that the cinch was figuring out if she felt the same. He just had to be brave enough to talk to her about it. The mere thought of approaching her and asking her again made his eye ache.

            He toyed with Eothain’s suggestion of cornering her at the next day’s celebration, trying to think if it would work, if he could make it work. An idea came to him. He gave a toothy grin, stood up, finished his ale, and went off to find Éowyn.

oOoOoOoOoOoOo

            He found Éowyn in the kitchens, finalizing plans for the Yule feasts with Botilda and Mindred. After making up some (admittedly rather thin) excuse about needing his sister for something – just his sister, mind, and no, there wasn’t anything wrong – Éomer managed to drag Éowyn to his quarters, with her protesting at his haste all the while. After hauling her to the room that he thought was to be the private living and dining room (at least, that was what the furniture arrangement suggested), barring the door, and seating Éowyn and himself in the chairs placed for conversation around a fireplace, Éomer spoke.

“I need your help, Éowyn. Rather badly.” He must have imbued his voice and manner, because Éowyn managed to switch from angry and very annoyed at him to concerned and only a little annoyed.

“What have you done?”

“The problem is more what do I need to do, Éowyn.” Éomer watched his sister warily; he had a feeling that she might think his problem was rather stupid.

Éowyn raised an eyebrow at him, mouth pursing. “It’s not a what, then. I’m assuming it’s girl trouble. Who have you done?” Éomer sputtered at the gall of her comment, and Éowyn laughed. “Come on, then. Do you have the girl chasing after you, or her father?”

Éomer scowled. “Be serious. I am.”

Éowyn sobered. “Alright, alright. It is girl trouble though, right? Does Lothíriel still want nothing to do with you?”

Éomer straightened in surprise. “Does everyone know about this?”

Éowyn rolled her eyes. “Not everyone knows the particulars, no, but it is quite clear that you and her are rather smitten with each other and that neither of you will fully admit it or act upon it. Though you have tried a bit and been rebuffed.”

Éomer shrunk in a bit on himself. “Am I so obvious?”

Éowyn nodded vigorously. “Yes. I assume you want me to help you push her over the edge?”

Éomer nodded, abashed. “Please. I don’t really know what to do with her.”

“Don’t worry so much. It’s Éowyn to the rescue!” Éowyn gave her brother a smile. “Now, have you gotten her a Yule present?”

Éomer nodded. “I ordered her a pair of riding boots. They’re hidden in my study – and in the same place as your gift, Éowyn, so I cannot show them to you.”

Obviously peeved, Éowyn replied, “How do you know the size of her feet? Giving her boots that don’t fit will not help your case, you know.”

Éomer gave a huff of displeasure. “I was sneaky. You remember when Lothíriel ordered new shoes because hers had developed a hole in the left one? I recommended a cobbler to her - Osmund, who lives by the stables – and then when she was done I went to the same place and ordered a pair of riding boots to her measure. And I told him that they were to be a gift so he wouldn’t mention it to anyone.”

Éowyn gave him an approving look. “That is sneaky. Now, I firmly believe that Lothíriel does have some feelings for you, but she is still a bit uncertain. As best I can tell, she’s had suitors climbing all over her for years, so the idea of someone wanting to be with her because they love her – don’t give me that look, Éomer, it’s true – rather than for political advantage is still kind of foreign. You will have to go very softly with her.”

Éomer glared daggers at Éowyn. “The main trouble is that, as much as I care for her, I can’t completely deny the political element.” Seeing Éowyn’s inquisitive look, he continued. “There is no going around the fact that I am a king, and that she is a princess. If we wed, her dowry will help me take care of my people, and another link to Gondor would be a help.”

Éowyn scowled. “So try to make her forget about the politics. Just be a man wooing a woman. That’s the best advice I can give you.”

Éomer scowled. “I hope you’re right.”

Éowyn got up and gave him a hug. “Just go talk to her, brother. Hopefully she won’t give you a black eye this time.” 

oOoOoOoOoOo

            Since the Yule festivities did not start until the late afternoon, most people spent the morning and early afternoon with their families and close friends. Éomer, figuring that Lothíriel would go to the stables to visit her horse at some point, had bribed one of the boys forming the skeleton crew in the stables to tell him when she arrived. So when said boy tipped him off just after lunch, Éomer was prepared. He detoured quickly to his rooms to get the boots – neatly wrapped in serviceable canvas – and trotted down to the stables.  

            He found Lothíriel feeding Nightsong a carrot, with a few extras beside her. She did not notice his presence for a few moments, as she was too wrapped up in coddling her mare, who was now obviously pregnant. After casting an eye on Firefoot – taking a nap a few stalls away – Éomer gladly took the time to enjoy looking at Lothíriel without having to worry about people making assumptions. Lothíriel was dressed plainly in a grey woolen gown with little ornamentation, her hair in a single braid down her back. Éomer assumed that, like many of the ladies who were here for Yule, Lothíriel would change out of her ‘everyday’ clothes for the feasting later in the day.

Éomer was surprised when, out of the blue, Lothíriel turned to him, hands on hips, and spoke to him, her calm demeanor at odds with her words.    

“If you’re going to just stand around, will you move about a foot to the left? You’re blocking my light.”

Éomer moved. “Apologies, Princess.”

Lothíriel, obviously suspicious, did not turn back to her horse.

“Why are you here, Éomer?”

“If I said I wanted to coddle my horse, would you believe me?”

The skeptical look was back. “No. Firstly, Firefoot didn’t wake up when you came in, which would lead me to believe you’ve already visited him today, as that horse is usually extremely happy to see you. Secondly, one of the stable boys was lurking around Nightsong’s stall, and ran off a few minutes after I got here, soon after which you arrived. And when you arrived, you did not go to your horse immediately, but instead proceeded to ogle me for several minutes. Your skill at covert maneuvers is obviously lacking,” she said with a sniff.

Éomer gave her his best winning smile. “Then you’re not angry at me?”

“That depends. Are you going to try to many any untoward advances?”

Éomer shook his head vigorously. “No, Lothíriel, I am not going to try to make any untoward advances. Though I did bring you a Yule gift.” Here, Éomer held out the canvas-wrapped boots, and hoped for the best.

Lothíriel sighed. “Are you trying to bribe me, Éomer?”

Éomer shook his head vigorously. “I am not. Can I not give you a Yule gift without being suspected of ulterior motives?”

“Watch it. I may feel the need to punch you again. Or kick you. And with three brothers, I’ve learned to kick where it hurts.”

Lothiriel’s tone was so bland that he couldn’t tell if she was joking or not; to play it safe, he decided to keep an especial watch on her feet. Lothíriel had acquired a pair of the heavy clogs that many of the women of Rohan wore over their shoes to protect them during winter weather, and he had no doubt that a kick from those somewhere tender would be painful.

“There’s no need to give me puppy eyes, Éomer. Hand that over, whatever it is.”

Feeling slightly less disconsolate, Éomer handed over the cloth-wrapped package, and watched as Lothiriel’s expression changed from watchful caution to surprised delight as the boots were unwrapped. After examining the boots thoroughly, Lothíriel put them on, carefully placing her clogs and slippers on the canvas wrapping. Lothíriel tested the fit of the shoes, wriggling her feet around and taking a few steps. Éomer was pleased to see the happy smile on her face as she looked up at him, though he had a niggling suspicious that she was analyzing his reaction to her reaction to her gift. Her next comment, however, floored him completely.

“I have something for you, too, Éomer. It’s back in my room, though. If you’ll escort me there, I’ll give it to you.”

“Of course. Do you want me to carry your shoes?”

Lothíriel, who had picked up the wrapping with the clogs and slippers and secured it for carrying, hefted it.

“No, thank you, I can manage.”

“If you insist.” Éomer fought down a smile; Lothíriel reminded him greatly of Éowyn of times, especially when she was being stubborn. He offered Lothíriel his arm, which she took, and they began to make their way to the Hall. It took some time to get to Lothíriel’s rooms, as the Yule practices celebrated in Rohan differed greatly from the Mettarë celebrations in Gondor, and Lothíriel was full of questions as to what the significance of everything was. Most of the people preparing for Yule over the past weeks had been happy to explain themselves, and the people putting the finishing touches on the current activities were no exception. When they reached Lothiriel’s room, she turned to him as she opened the door.

“I don’t suppose it’s entirely appropriate to have a man in my room. I shan’t tell Father if you don’t,” she said, a laugh in her voice and a small smile on her lips as she closed the door behind them.

“Please, sit. I just need to fish out your gift.” Lothíriel gestured to the chair by the fireside, and .began vigorously rummaging in one of the drawers of the clothes chest; from what was poking out as a result of her movement, Éomer surmised that the drawer held undergarments, at which point he averted his eyes, though not without an admittedly telltale blush.

Éomer nodded as he sat. “Of course I won’t tell. But I do hope that you trust me not to simply throw you on the bed and ravish you.” Éomer wiggled his eyebrows suggestively, hoping that Lothíriel would take the joke and that he wouldn’t find the toe of her new riding boots connecting with his crotch. Fortunately, he had judged her correctly, and she laughed.

“I suppose, especially as you are trusting me to not lie and say you did ravish me and then force you to marry me so I won’t lose the remaining shreds of my virtue,” Lothíriel joked. Now it was Éomer’s turn to laugh, but his expression soon turned serious, and he stared at Lothíriel intently.

“Lothíriel, I would not dare ravish you – or touch you at all – without your full consent. Not only have I seen your father and brothers fight, I have seen your skill with those hairpins of yours. I have the feeling that if I were to do anything to you that could possibly construed as harmful or taking advantage, I would not only have four very angry Princes of Dol Amroth chasing after me, swords drawn, but I would already likely be at least missing an eye courtesy of yourself.”

Éomer noticed that Lothíriel had stopped looking through her drawer, and was staring at him very intently. Then he blinked, and when his eyes opened again Lothíriel had managed to seat herself on his lap and her hands were in his hair and she was kissing him and he was kissing her back, one hand rising to frame the side of her face and the other arm pulling her closer to him, and two things rose to the front of his mind before all thought left him – where had she learned to kiss like this and for Béma’s sake, what was this woman doing to him with just a kiss?

When they finally came up for air, gasping like fish caught on the riverbank, they spent a moment catching their breath, foreheads leaning against each other. Once Éomer had regained a small measure of composure, he caught Lothiriel’s eye and gave her a small smile.

“You’ve changed your mind, then? You’ll let me court you?”

He got a sharp slap upside the head for an answer, followed by another long, sweet kiss, made all the sweeter for being anticipated.

“You may court me, Éomer, but do not expect me to fall into your lap like some delicate flower You are going to have to work to win me.” Lothiriel’s fierce expression was belied by her kiss-swollen lips, a juxtaposition that was not lost on Éomer. A sly look crossed his face.

“If I’m to work for your favors, Lothíriel, then may I start now?” He began slowly trailing kisses down her jawline, and was pleased to see her quiver at the touch of his lips. She moaned slightly when he pulled away, her silvery-grey eyes darkening with desire.

“Don’t stop, please, Éomer,” she said breathily.

 “Where did you learn to kiss? It’s not a skill I’d expect of a nobleman’s daughter.”

Lothíriel giggled and pressed her face into his chest. “One of my suitors decided that he could make me fall head over heels in love with him by smothering me in kisses.” Seeing Éomer’s worried expression, she hurried to explain, “it didn’t work at all, Éomer – he was rude, and always pinched the maids when he thought I wasn’t looking. And you don’t need to go chasing after him, as he fell at the Pellenor.”

“Humph. I suppose I’ll just have to bear the disappointment and enjoy the results,” said Éomer, bending down for another kiss, only to find a slim finger pressing against his nose.

“A moment, please. I still have to give you your Yule present.” With that, Lothíriel hopped off of Eomer’s lap, and dug a dark blue cloth bag out of the still-askew drawer, before closing it firmly. The package was dropped in Eomer’s lap, and Lothíriel sat on the edge of her bed, feet tucked up under her. Éomer hoped for the sake of the laundry maids that Lothíriel didn’t have too many horse droppings from the stables on her boots. 

“Open it!” she said, a note of anxiety in her voice.

He opened the bag to find a pair of hair ties, both braided out of many white, green, and red thread, with a leather insert, presumably to go at the top. Both of the leather pieces showed signs of Rohan – one had a full sun in ruddy yellow gold, and the other the white horse in some silvery-white metal.

“I got the idea from a tapestry in Dol Amroth. If you didn’t know, one of my longfathers, the then-Prince of Dol Amroth, was there at the original swearing of the Oath of Eorl, and he commissioned the tapestry when he came back. One of the Rohírs in the picture is wearing something like this” – Lothíriel reached out and touched one of the hair ties – “and after I got here I thought you might like one. I got my sister-in-law to have them made at home, and she sent them up with one of the packets from Dol Amroth.”

Éomer looked up at her and smiled, and hoped that his voice carried through all the emotions in his heart.

“These are lovely, Lothíriel. I shall wear one tonight at the feast.”

Lothíriel nodded, and got up from her precarious perch on the bed. “That reminds me, I need to start getting ready. You need to go now – if you stay I shall make you rinse my hair and scrub my back.” Her fierce tone was belied by the smile in her eyes.

Éomer laughed as he stood, stretching. “Don’t tempt me. You’ll dance with me later?”

“Of course. Now shoo.”

oOoOoOoOoOo

            As he looked over the dancing in the Hall, Éomer thought to himself that the Yule feast was (thankfully) looking to be a rousing success, for which Éomer was very thankful. It was his first time presiding over it, and any mistakes could have reflected badly on him and his reign. The ceremonial dousing and relighting of the fire had gone off without a hitch, the food had been excellent, and he had danced several times with Lothíriel and Éowyn, as well as with a few of his female friends and the wives of his lords. He had had to suffer some pointed glances from Éowyn and Éothain for dancing with Lothíriel so often, but he ignored them. A good night, and a good way to bring in a new year. 

Chapter Text

The first three weeks of January were spent buried under a series of harsh snowstorms. During this period, Éomer made great strides with the council, but felt increasingly trapped by the inclement weather. His usual method of escape – riding – was rendered void by the ability of storms to rise up with very little warning, ensuring that any parties leaving Edoras would have a very small chance of finding cover before freezing to death due to cold or wind.

             Eomer’s only consolation was Lothíriel’s change of heart towards his suit. She had somehow wrangled it so that when the council broke for luncheon and he went back to his study to review and prepare what was needed for the afternoon session over his own meal (there being nothing better to do with the storms), she was the one who brought him his food. This provided them with a small opportunity for privacy each day – a great luxury, even if it was seized in a rush. A few stolen kisses and a conversation about what was happening that day was all that time allowed, but Éomer deemed it the best part of his day by far. Though he had the sneaking suspicion that most of Meduseld knew what was going on and was turning a blind eye in the name of increasing the possibility of getting him a wife and an heir in the near future. A possibility that was (surprisingly) beginning to seem less daunting.

            The end of the storms brought an end to being stuck indoors, though the massive snowdrifts took days to push back from the streets of Edoras. Éomer had gladly jumped on Erkenbrand’s proposal of returning to the Westfold with him to see the state of affairs there since his last visit, with a particular eye to a visit to Helm’s Deep. Two days leisurely travel had brought them there, and two weeks’ stay had cured Éomer of most of his restlessness, though as the trip went on he found himself missing Lothíriel dreadfully; Éothain noticed this and teased him relentlessly about it. Éomer only regained the upper hand by reminding Éothain about a few choice incidents during his cousin’s courtship of his now-wife, after which the two had decided to leave each other’s love lives alone, at least for the short term.  

            Returning to Edoras was a trial; the heavy snowfalls had been replaced by a biting cold that penetrated through leather, fur and cloth to chill to the bone. Progress was slow, especially as Éomer wanted to spare the horses the worst of the cold. Eventually, they made it back to Edoras, and Éomer was grateful to see the roof of the Golden Hall shining in the morning light as he approached the city, as it represented the hot bath and comfortable bed he’d been fantasizing about for the past several days. Though he had to reconcile himself to the fact that the bath and the bed would not be accompanied by a willing Dol Amrothian princess. Éomer knew – mentally – that their relationship had not progressed to anywhere near that level, but it was a distinction that his libido apparently had not yet processed. Becoming king had limited his options immensely in terms of going and finding a woman to share his bed for the night, and he had a feeling that it was beginning to become obvious. Though since he had fallen for Lothíriel, his desire for random sexual experiences had waned.

            As his party entered the city and made for Meduseld, Éomer started at himself. Had he admitted to himself that he was falling for Lothíriel? He had! Truthfully, he had missed her enough over the past two weeks as to make the feeling a steady ache, but did that mean that he loved her?

            After the horses were handed over to the stable hands, Éomer climbed the steps to the Hall, the rest of his party close behind him … and he felt something loosen inside him at the sight of Lothíriel that he hadn’t realized had tightened on his departure. She stood beside Éowyn and another woman that he did not recognize, who had the look of Gondor on her face and in her height – in fact, she looked very like Lothíriel – but her eyes were a green-brown that Éomer knew was very similar to his own. The three women stood a little in front of the women who had gathered to distribute the cup of welcome, each holding a brimming mead-horn. Éomer caught Éowyn’s eyes for a moment, and they shared a quick smile before Éomer climbed the final steps and reached the landing.

Éowyn stepped out to him, said the ritual words of greeting, and presented him with a full cup. He drank, replaced the cup, and gave the ritual response. She nodded, smiled at him again (he saw a mix of happiness at having him back and apprehension about something in her gaze), and moved down the line of the returning group. Lothíriel stepped up and repeated the procedure. Éomer thought that she might have thrown herself into his arms for a hug if they had not been in public; since they were, she contained herself with a relieved look that he thought promised a better homecoming later before she, too, moved on. The strange woman, up next, spoke the greeting in good Rohírric, though laced with an accent that he should have been able to recognize. He knew that he should know who this woman was, and resolved to ask Éowyn later. Was she one of the cousins that he knew still lived in Lossarnach, descended from those of Thengel’s daughters that had accompanied their mother back to Gondor? And if so, which seemed likely, why was she here?

After the welcome was completed, Éomer strode into the Hall, hoping to find his way to the kitchens to scrounge some food before having a bath and taking a nap. He knew that Éowyn would likely have planned a small feast to celebrate his return – there wasn’t much to do in the depths of winter, so any excuse to liven things up a little was taken – and he wanted to be clean and rested beforehand.

Éowyn, who had followed him into the Hall, realized his intended destination and grabbed his ear, forcing him to stop. He turned to stare at her balefully.

“What is it, Éowyn?”

“A delegation from Dol Amroth arrived while you were away. Prince Amrothos and his party brought several missives and a large package for you – which we haven’t opened – as well as some things for Lothíriel and I. Apparently Faramir was in Dol Amroth for Yule and found something that he and Imrahil thought might interest you.”

“Then why didn’t Faramir come himself?” Éomer knew that his annoyance wasn’t entirely charitable; Faramir’s task as Steward kept him quite busy, and he could not be everywhere, and Amrothos was likely at loose ends, the third son of a well-run fief, where soldiering was less needed.

“Amrothos says – and Faramir’s letter confirms – that Faramir finding this mystical item of note occurred during a midnight stroll induced by a vision of some sort. Faramir found his way to a hidden shelf in an obscure corner of the library, but fell off the ladder trying to get down because his arms were full. He broke three ribs and got a minor concussion. The healers expect him to make a full recovery. He should be almost back to normal by the wedding, so that’s still on.”

Éomer was caught between a wince and a snicker. “I sympathize with Faramir. Broken ribs are a great annoyance.” It was annoyance he had experience with; when he had first attempted to catch and tame Firefoot, the stallion had kicked him in the ribs. The blow had broken several ribs even without horseshoes and through a layer of chainmail– if the horse had been wearing horseshoes he probably would have died from the blow. “But if Faramir won’t be completely healed by May you’re going to have to play nicely with him and not cause him any more harm.” Éomer gave his sister his most innocent look, which did not stop her from lightly punching him on the arm.

“Shut up, Éomer.”

“No. Where’s Amrothos now?”

 “I think that he went down to the smithies – he mentioned something about needing his gear retouched.”

“Alright then.”

            They had reached the kitchen, and soon after Éomer had expressed his desire for a snack, he found himself pushed into one of the corner tables with a full plate and a tankard of (non-alcoholic, given the hour of the morning) apple cider. Éowyn took a mug of cider and sat to keep him company. After taking the edge of his hunger and easing his thirst with a long draught of cider, Éomer turned back to the situation at hand.

“So if Amrothos’ arrival has been accounted for, who’s the girl? I’m assuming they arrived together.”

Éowyn nodded. “They did. Gleril is one of our Lossarnach cousins – she’s the granddaughter of our eldest aunt. She has letters from Grandmother Morwen for us.”

Éomer was confused. “How did she come here with Amrothos, then?”

“She detoured to Dol Amroth before coming here. Apparently Grandmother has kept up a correspondence with Imrahil’s sister, and saw an opportunity to have letters sent directly.”

Éomer continued chewing, then nodded. “Alright, then. I suppose I’ll meet them at the feast tonight?” After Éowyn’s agreement, he stood, his plate and tankard empty. “Good. Now, I intent to take a nap. I shall see you later, sister.” With that, he took his plate to the sinks and left the kitchen.

            Éomer made his way to his chambers slowly, greeting those he passed. After entering his rooms, he stripped off his armor, leaving it for his squire to clean, thanking royal prerogatives. His dirty clothes went into the basket by the door; the small voice in the back of his head that sounded suspiciously like Éowyn nagging him to go pick up the sock that had missed the basket and put it inside quieting after the task was done. As he headed towards the washroom, he noticed that his saddlebags had been placed beside the door.

 The running water going into the bathtub made a nice background noise to his search for toweling, soap, and other bath necessities. He was very grateful to Grandmother Morwen for insisting on the piped-in water, as it was gloriously convenient. He had promised himself that he would see if it could be put in in at least the rest of Meduseld, and then perhaps in other areas of the city or perhaps in other lord’s houses. People in the Mark were proud of their traditions, but some of the ideas from Gondor could be useful.

He almost fell asleep twice in his bath because he was so tired, but finally managed to clean himself up, dry himself off, put his hair in a braid so it wouldn’t dry funny, and then collapsed in to bed naked, since putting on his nightclothes seemed like too much trouble for his admittedly sleep-addled mind. He was asleep almost as soon as his head hit the pillow.

oOoOoOoOoOo

The nightmares were back. A horrifying montage of war, scenes plucked from his memory and his imagination as if to highlight all the blood and violence he had seen, the death he had caused, witnessed – and missed. Battles and skirmishes – the Pellenor, the Morannon, the Fords of Isen and so many more – surrounded by death and killing and blood. Knowing his father dead, his cousin dead, his uncle dead, believing his sister gone, so many true companions fallen, at home or so very far from the green fields of the Mark.

These dreams had plagued him on and off for months, but never at quite this intensity. Before, he had always managed to wake himself up, and after a while get back to sleep without too much trouble. This time, while he was still aware that he was dreaming, he could not shake off the dream, and instead had to submit to seemingly endless rounds of despair as he relived many of the least-loved parts of his past. Just when he was about to be overwhelmed by despair, he felt himself being shaken – someone was trying to wake him up. He cracked open his eyes, thankful to whomever it was. He saw long black hair and big grey eyes staring worriedly at him.

“Lothíriel.”

He barely croaked out her name, but it helped in bringing back a measure of his mental balance. He twisted his arms out of his blankets – which had gotten thrown around during his nightmare but thankfully still covered most of his lower body – and reached out for her, holding her against him and smelling the sweet floral perfume she used, which he had never been able to identify. She wriggled a bit against him until he loosened his hold, but she only moved herself into what he could only assume was a more comfortable position and hugged him back. Éomer buried his face in Lothíriel’s hair and was glad that, for whatever reason, she had known to come to him. They lay together like that for several moments, in complete silence.

Once Éomer had calmed somewhat, he straightened, and pushed an errand lock of Lothiriel’s hair away from her face.

“How did you know?” he asked curiously.

“I … had a feeling. I was talking to Éowyn and Botilda in the kitchens about what we were going to have at the feast tonight, and I just knew that you needed me. I made some excuse about needing the privy and then came here.” Her nose wrinkled. “Hopefully they don’t come looking for me to soon. I don’t think anyone noticed me come in here, but you never know. And I implied I had the runs, so I should be in the clear for a while.”

Éomer laughed softly. “Though Botilda might try to dose you later.”

Lothíriel shuddered. “Bletch. As effective as her simples are, they taste absolutely horrific.”

“Thank you for coming.”

Lothíriel smiled at him and snuggled into his chest. “It was nothing.”

His arms tightened around her almost convulsively, and he kissed the top of her head. “It wasn’t nothing. I was having a nasty nightmare, and you broke me out of it.”

Lothíriel looked as if she was about to speak, then looked down, apparently gathering her thoughts. She looked up again almost immediately, face turning crimson. “Are you naked?” she asked incredulously.

Éomer looked down to find that his blanket had shifted. He moved it back to a position in which it covered him more thoroughly, a furious blush rising on his own cheeks.      

“I was too tired to get dressed after taking a bath. I am sorry if I embarrassed you, Lothíriel.”

She swallowed, still red-cheeked. “It is … alright. I suppose that if one cannot sleep in the nude in one’s own bedchamber… ” She gave a small laugh.

“If you’ll turn around, I’ll get dressed and save you any further awkwardness, sweetheart.” He gave Lothíriel his best cheeky grin, one that Amrothos might have been proud of.

“That might be best.” With that, Lothíriel turned around to face the wall furthest away from his closet and clothes-chest. Éomer got out of bed and quickly dressed – the fire had gone down during his nap and the chill in the air reminded him that it was the depths of winter. After he was done, he strode over to Lothíriel and picked her up to show her that he was done, kissing her soundly. After they finished, Lothíriel pushed him away so that she could examine him critically.

“Your clothes are fine, but I’ll need to fix your hair. Where’s your comb?”

Éomer fished out the offending implement and handed it to her. Lothíriel gestured for him to sit on the bed, and took a place behind him after he had done so. She began undoing the loose sleeping braid he had put in after his bath.

“Éowyn told you about Amrothos and Gleril’s arrival?”

“In brief. Faramir apparently did an impressive job on himself.”

Lothíriel sighed. “Indeed he did. He has the strongest visions in the family. We all have it to some degree, but what we can do and to what degree really depends.” She applied the comb to Éomer’s hair, carefully working through the snarls.

“How much difference?”

“Well, Father says it was a hunch of a vision that told him to check if – hold still! – if Éowyn was truly dead on the Pellenor. He has no talent for delving the future or the past like Faramir, but he can do the now, if that makes sense. People stuff.”

“So like you.”

“Yes. And Erchirion’s talent only seems to come into play when he’s in danger. His troop took hardly any losses during the battles because of it. And Elphir … Elphir’s talent is mostly like Faramir’s except to a lesser degree.” Lothíriel had finished brushing his hair and was doing something to it, hopefully to keep it out of his face.

“And Amrothos?”

“Amrothos’ talents are mostly to do with animals – he makes good money breeding and training horses and hounds and other animals. He seems to have an affinity for them. And it extends to small children and pregnant females of all sorts.” Done with his hair, Lothíriel came around and sat in front of him.

“Really?”

Lothíriel nodded. “Really. It was actually Amrothos who picked out my name. When Mother was ponderously pregnant with me, Amrothos was three. He was spending an afternoon with Mother and at one point put his hand on her stomach and had a fey moment. He … asked why ‘little sister’ was dancing under the light of the moon with flowers in her hair. They couldn’t figure out what it meant, but Father and Mother liked the image so much they named me after it – Lothíriel means ‘flower-garlanded maiden.’”

Lothíriel, seeing the gobsmacked look on Éomer’s face, looked at him questioningly. “What.”

He took a deep breath, and hoped for the best. “It … is traditional in the Mark for a bride to wear a flower wreath in her hair at her wedding.”

“Oh.”

Seeing a solution to a problem he had been anticipating for some days, Éomer forged on, hoping to simply get the awkwardness over with all in one go. He looked Lothíriel straight in the eyes and just talked, hoping that he could get out everything he needed to.

“I know that we haven’t really talked about marriage. When your father suggested that you accompany us here I was frankly skeptical. But you have somehow crept into my heart, and I would be more than happy to have you as my wife.” Éomer reached out and touched Lothíriel’s cheek, and then let his hand drop. She appeared to be thinking hard. When she spoke, her words were halting.

“For my part, I … hope that my actions have been clear enough.” A small blush graced here cheeks, but she carried on speaking. “But before anything … official … happens, I will need Father’s permission. I do not expect any problems, but it is important that things are done in the right order. Father would insist.” She smiled at him and wrinkled her nose. “And I don’t think he would like it if he came here for Éowyn’s wedding and found that I had gotten married in the meantime.”

Éomer chuckled. “I don’t believe that he would.” He caught Lothíriel up in a hug and planted a kiss on the top of her head. She leaned into him, enjoying the embrace.

Lothíriel stiffened with a sudden thought. “Damnation! The feast!” She pulled away again. “I’m sorry, but I have to go get ready. There’s still a good deal to do.” She raised one of her eyebrows at him. “You should probably get changed as well. Now, go look outside and see if anyone is out there. I don’t want people to see me leaving and gossip.” She stood up and put her hands on her hips, and nodded approvingly when he stood up with a groan.

Chapter Text

Éomer was happy. He was home, the feast was going well, the food was good, and Amrothos wasn’t making a complete fool of himself. Lothíriel had – conditionally – agreed to marry him earlier in the day, which pleased him no end. And his newly-met cousin, Gleril, was intelligent and quite funny, and spoke excellent Rohírric; he was thankful that his grandmother had been good enough to send her instead of another, potentially more stuck up and less competent cousin.

            He shook himself from his fugue when he heard Gleril, Lothíriel and Amrothos arguing good-naturedly. They were all at the head table, Amrothos next to him on his right and the women next to him, so he could hear the argument clearly. Amrothos was complaining vociferously about Gleril stealing some of his clothes for the journey. Gleril, who was apparently as pragmatic as Lothíriel, pointed out that breeches were much easier to travel in than skirts, and that their party was less likely to be bothered by undesirables (here Éomer thought she meant brigands or Orcs) if they did not know that they travelled with a woman. Amrothos wondered out loud in a petulant voice why Gleril had not brought her own clothing in men’s style instead of making off with his. It was at this point that Lothíriel broke in.

“Amrothos, stop complaining. At least this time Gleril simply took your spare clothes. The last time that that happened, you ended up in Gleril’s clothes, concussed and the author of an international incident under three jurisdictions.” Dead silence surrounded them. As the group realized that they had caught the attention of others, Éomer wondered who had turned a brighter red – Lothíriel, Gleril, or Amrothos. Éomer felt that he had to inquire, at least for the sake of his peace of mind.

“Dare I ask?”

Lothíriel and Gleril looked to be smothering snickers while Amrothos looked mildly embarrassed. The two women turned to Amrothos, but it was Lothíriel who spoke. “Do you want to explain, brother? I wasn’t there, so my input is limited.”

Amrothos sighed. “I might as well. The fall that I was nine – I believe it under the calendar it was 3005 – my father brought me to the city along with my oldest brother Elphir. There was a trade delegation of Rohírrim coming to the city, and Dol Amroth was to participate in the talks.”

Éomer nodded. “I remember – I went as well. Théodred was in charge, but since I was fourteen he let me tag along as his squire. He said it would be good for me to get some experience of Mundburg.” Éomer began to have an inkling of where this story was headed – for all that this had happened almost fifteen years ago, there had been several – notable – events during that trip to Gondor, of which the trade was perhaps the least. His suspicion was only furthered when his comment caused Amrothos to blanch.

“Well, cousin Morwen also came to the city with some of her daughters and grandchildren. Now, while Elphir got to participate in the talks, being eighteen, I was lumped in with cousin Morwen’s granddaughters, which I did not like, figuring that I had better things to do. One day while the trade talks were going on, being curious, I snuck out to see the city.”

“At which point I, being equally curious, followed him,” broke in Gleril. “I had never been to Minas Tirith before, and wanted to explore. I knew, however, that a young girl wandering the city alone was inviting trouble. So, since Amrothos and I only a few months apart, and were about the same size at this point, I followed him, waited until he passed by an alley …. ” Her voice tapered off in embarrassment, and Amrothos picked up the tale again.

“At which point you hit me over the head with a rock, dragged me into the alley, and switch out clothes. You even did up my hair to look like yours. I woke up an hour later, alone, with a blinding headache and unable to walk in a straight line. I then tried to make my way back to our townhouse on the seventh level so that I could change and then get my revenge.”

Éomer laughed in disbelief. “No one noticed that you were a boy?”

Amrothos shrugged. “Well, at that age, there’s less physical differentiation between the sexes – most of the cues are behavioral. And I was wearing a dress. Though I think a lot of people thought I was a very bad-tempered and unladylike young lady,” he added, to general laughter. He smiled ruefully. “It’s one of the only times I’ve been upset at my Numénorean heritage – it does tend to make one look prettier than is good for one’s health.” More general laughter. Éomer had to hand it to Amrothos – he really knew how to milk a crowd. The exceptional ‘prettiness’ of the princely family had been commented on by many Rohírs, though few would deride a family that had showed such bravery on the Pellenor and the Morannon.

After the laughter had died down, Amrothos continued. “I was almost home when I found myself caught up by Prince Théodred. He thought I was Gleril, and didn’t notice that my eyes were the wrong color.” Amrothos grimaced, seemingly not wanting to go on, but Gleril gladly took up the tale.

“My absence had been reported, you see, and search parties sent out. It was cousin Théodred’s bad luck that he stumbled upon Amrothos and thought that he was me – due in no small part to my deception, melded with what Amrothos calls his ‘undue prettiness.’ Théodred was quite angry with ‘me’ for wandering off, and went on for some time in Rohírric about the dangers to little girls of wandering off alone. But Amrothos’ blow to the head, combined with his lack of knowledge of Rohírric, meant that he was scared, confused, and lost.”

“I didn’t recognize your cousin, and thought that he was going to do … something … bad to me, from the way he was yelling. So I started to fight back. I blackened one of Prince Théodred’s eyes, caused a few other injuries, and generally tried to escape. At one point, I was cornered by a young soldier, and I bit him until he let me go. He wasn’t wearing mail, so I managed to draw blood.”

At this point, Éomer started, and raised a hand to stop Amrothos from continuing, rolling up his left sleeve to show the younger man the faded but still clear bite mark on his lower arm. Amrothos gaped, and Lothíriel and Gleril peered over to see what Amrothos was looking at.

“That was you?” Amrothos sputtered.

Éomer nodded. “You fought like a cornered badger. We all thought you were a Gleril – daughters of Rohan are all taught to fight, at least a little, and you looked a girl in the dress.” Éomer smiled slightly. “None of us realized that a ‘girl’ with such a mouth full of curses and a rider’s gait was unusual – it isn’t here.”

Amrothos smiled weakly, obviously relieved that Éomer wasn’t angry at making the connection that it had been him that had bitten the future king of Rohan. Éomer nodded to him. “Go on with your story, then, Amrothos. I want to hear how your version is different than the one I remember.” The younger man gulped nervously.

“Well, at this point, a fuss had been raised and the guards called. Prince Théodred had managed to pick me up again when a squad of guards arrived. I knew that guards meant trouble, so I pulled the first defensive move I learned.” He squirmed a little.

Lothíriel laughed. “Father taught this to all of us – it’s a two-part move, a fist to the nose and a knee to the stomach, intended to give the user a chance to get away without permanently disabling the assailant. But Amrothos misjudged somewhat – his fist connected with your cousin’s face, but I believe that he broke his nose instead of getting his eye again” – she looked enquiringly at Éomer, who nodded – “but his knee went wild and he accidentally got Prince Théodred in the crotch. The prince promptly dropped Am, who took the opportunity and fled.”

Éomer nodded reminiscently. “It took us an hour and a half to get back to the Citadel because so many of us were hurt. When we got there, we found Amrothos – still in the dress – trying to explain himself to Boromir while Elphir told off a rather disheveled ‘boy’ in the livery of Dol Amroth.”

Now it was Gleril’s turn to laugh. “Yes. Elphir was out looking for me and saw what he thought was Amrothos. He figured that ‘Amrothos’ was up to something and went to catch him, but when he got to me he realized who I was and brought me back by my ear. He was furious.”

Amrothos laughed. “He paddled your behind in the Court of the Fountain!” He sobered in remembered mortification. “And then he paddled mine.”

Éomer sniggered. “Then we did an exchange of hostages, got everyone back into their proper outfits, and figured out what we were going to tell Prince Imrahil and Denethor Steward. Not that they believed us.”

Gleril smiled. “Grandmother wormed it out of me eventually, but I don’t think that Cousin Imrahil or Lord Denethor ever got the full story.”

Éomer nodded. “Grandmother wrote and told Uncle what happened, but he let it lie. I think that he figured that the crown Prince, his cousin, and several members of the royal guard of Rohan knowing that they were roughed around by a nine-year-old was enough.”

Amrothos nodded. “I think that Father just didn’t want to know what I’d done. Since no one was out for my head he seemed content to let sleeping dogs lie.”

Lothíriel laughed and poked her brother in the ribs. “That’s so. You’ve caused enough of Father’s grey hairs without him going looking for more.”

Éomer wondered if he was going to make it through the rest of the evening unscathed.

oOoOoOoOoOoOo

            The next afternoon saw Éomer, Éowyn, Lothíriel, Gleril, and Amrothos in Eomer’s study, at ease in the overstuffed chairs that surrounded the fireplace, enjoying the tea and snacks that Botilda had sent up. Amrothos and Gleril had brought with them the official correspondence they had carried, the more personal letters and packages having been delivered the day before. Éomer noticed his sister sporting a new bracelet – some sort of white stone showing phases of the moon in silver – and assumed that it had come from Faramir. Not a great one for jewelry, Éowyn would occasionally hit the bracelet against something and then jump in surprise, but then touch the bracelet with a soft smile. Éomer smiled to himself upon seeing his sister do it again, this time raising a soft clink as her bracelet hit against the metal of her cup.

            After a period of catching-up on the actions of relations and friends of mutual acquaintance in Gondor and Rohan, conversation turned to more serious matters.

Turning to Amrothos, Éomer asked, “So, Amrothos, will you finally hand over this mysterious package?”

Amrothos slowly dragged the canvas-wrapped package out from beside his chair and over to Éomer. It was evident that the package contained something heavy. After the package made it in front of Eomer’s seat, Amrothos went back to his seat. 

“It’s actually several items. You know that the then-Prince of Dol Amroth, a distant ancestor of yours truly, was present at the swearing of the Oath of Eorl?” Éomer nodded, and Amrothos went on with his explanation. “Well, since no upper-class Gondorian can so much as take a shit without making a written record of it” – Éomer snorted to hear Amrothos’ depreciation of his folk, though he was not about to disagree – “we have some records of this at home, notably some journal entries, a tapestry, and other general historical information.”

Amrothos took a deep breath before continuing. “But when Faramir decided to go exploring in the middle of the night, he found some sort of hidden room off of the library full of things that we can only assume were too valuable to leave out in the general-access areas of the library.” Seeing Éomer’s questioning look, he explained, “Most of the library is open to whomever in the castle wishes to look into it. Visiting scholars and travelers often come in as well. But more importantly, the room Faramir found contained many historically valuable items. We found some first-hand accounts of events long-passed which we are going to keep for some scholars, but buried in a chest in the back, we found … this. Open it – you’ll be surprised.” 

            Éomer slid to the floor and opened the bag to find an extremely battered and abused breast- and back-plate set in what was clearly a Rohírric style from the design and the , though one that Éomer had never seen before. It was also obviously quite old. The leather sections had mostly rotted out, though a few heavily gilded (though withered) sections still clung to the rusted metal. Yet what immediately caught Éomer’s attention was the obviously damage done to the armor from use, not age – various dents, gouges, and nicks in the armor proved it seen hard wear, and a fist-sized hole in the side meant that whoever had worn it had sustained at least one major injury. The next thing to catch his attention was the designs on the armor themselves – they included most of the major symbols of the House of Eorl. Several things clicked together in his head.

Éomer looked up at Amrothos from his position on the floor and asked, “So what exactly am I looking at?”

Amrothos took a deep breath. “From ancillary information we know that this came back to Dol Amroth after the declaration of the Oath of Eorl. We believe – though we are not sure – that, from the quality of the armor and the designs, that this belonged to Eorl himself or one of his close relatives. The damage done would make the set much less useful, hence its abandonment in favor of what we can assume was a less distinctive but more useful set. Faramir thinks that this stuff just got dumped into the luggage and dragged back – perhaps as a memento, perhaps so the gold that remains could be melted down.” Amrothos shrugged. “In any case, it was forgotten for many, many years.”

Éomer mulled this new information over, and then smiled. “This is a great find. I shall have to thank Faramir.” Éomer looked at Éowyn and patted the armor. “This should go on display somewhere, yes? It’s a valuable historical artifact.” Éomer remembered how Éothain always teased him for his use of what he called ‘unnaturally big words,’ but he found more and more that a few bigger words – used judiciously – were appropriate. 

Éowyn wrinkled her nose. “But not before it’s been cleaned up a bit. It’s covered in rust and dirt.”

Éomer stood and dragged the armor over to a corner of the room. “I’ll see to it later.”

oOoOoOoOoOo

            Amrothos ended up staying for a week. He had also been tasked with discussing many wedding-related items – ensuring that the traditions of both the Mark and Gondor were honored was the official byline, but Amrothos laughingly (and rather truthfully) said that what he was really there to do was to help make sure that everyone ended up equally offended. The news that Aragorn wished to come to Edoras early to do something about Isengard had been received in both Dol Amroth and Rohan, and when Amrothos asked if the Dol Amrothians could also arrive early, the response had been an enthusiastic affirmative. Éomer was gladdened at the thought that he would get to see so many of his wartime companions at once; it almost made up for all of the fuss associated with Éowyn’s wedding.  

            Amrothos also made a point of spending a good deal of time with his sister. Éomer felt the younger man’s eyes on him often, especially when Éomer spent time with Lothíriel himself. He had the feeling that Amrothos knew that he was cultivating a relationship with Lothíriel, and while Éomer knew that Imrahil and Erchirion seemed amenable to the idea, he was not sure about Amrothos. Éomer also suspected that Lothíriel had had an encounter with Amrothos herself about the issue; after one particularly obvious fit of staring (during a dance that Éomer believed was slightly improper by Gondorian standards, if not Rohírric), Lothíriel had taken Amrothos aside in the Hall for a brief but intense discussion from which she had emerged the obvious victor, after which the staring had almost disappeared. Éomer had been thankful when Amrothos left – the man simply seemed to spawn fuss.

            Gleril, however, had stayed. Éowyn had wormed out of her that she did not have much of a place at home. Her parents had had three children – all girls – of which she was the last. The eldest, the heir, had married well, as the middle girl, though she had been widowed in the war and taken in by her husband’s people. Her family was not the richest and there were not as many opportunities for a young noblewoman to go and earn a living. So their grandmother had hoped that Gleril could make herself useful in Rohan. It had been Lothíriel who had come up with a solution that had enabled Gleril to stay. Apparently part of the household-management training required of young noble maidens was instruction into how to manage a household’s accounts, a skill that Lothíriel knew that Gleril excelled at. So Gleril went to assist the bookkeepers of Meduseld, with the understanding that she would assist them in expanding their work.

Chapter Text

It was April, and spring had arrived. The mild winter had passed quickly, though Éomer felt that this had been due in no small part to the great amounts of work that needed to be done. He had still been troubled with occasional bouts of nightmares, but they seemed to be decreasing in frequency as time passed.

            It pleased Éomer immensely to see that Gleril was settling in well; he had been worried that she would take after their grandmother and be overly bossy and high-handed. In truth, however, she reminded him more of Lothíriel – firm with the staff, but understanding, and always with a ready ear for anyone who needed it. Éomer had asked her to stay on after Éowyn’s wedding as the Lady of the Hall, at least until he himself was married, a position which she had gladly accepted. Brytwyn, Mindred and Botilda could have managed most things on their own, but having someone around to help coordinate and deal with the nobles was good. And Éomer didn’t have to worry about anyone getting matrimonial ideas because Gleril was family.   

            He and Lothíriel had also spoken of their own plans for after Éowyn’s wedding. He had known that Gondorian betrothals tended to be long, but had been dismayed to hear that Lothíriel fully expected her father to draw out an engagement period between them, so that even if they were betrothed before Lothíriel left for Dol Amroth again, they would likely be unable to wed for many months more. She had pleaded practical considerations, saying that her father would likely insist in order to dispel potential rumors of their wedding being ‘rushed’ – with the implication that it was being done to ensure the legitimacy of a child. Éomer had had to reconcile himself to the near-certainty of an extended period of waiting, which he did not like, but felt worthwhile. 

            The guests had begun arriving in the last week of March. Gimli and Legolas had arrived first, speaking glowingly of their visits to the Glittering Caves and Fangorn Forest. At the beginning of April the Gondorians had arrived in a great mass, having all gathered at Dol Amroth and then travelled together under the Dimholt Pass. Éomer had greatly enjoyed seeing all of his Gondorian friends again, and had been happy to see Lothíriel welcome her kin to Edoras. Her father, brothers, and nephew (for Elphir’s son Alphros had accompanied him, though not his wife) had practically mobbed her after the formal welcome, and all except for the child had commented on how healthy and happy she looked.  

            Young Alphros had almost spoiled the companionable period of conversations that followed the formal greetings by puttering off to the stables while the adults were busy talking. The toddler was apparently in a horse-mad phase and had successfully connected the living quarters of his favorite animal with where all of his family’s steeds were being taken by grooms. So when Elphir had set him down for a moment to hug his sister, Alphros had taken the opportunity to go visit the horses. After a hue and cry had been raised, it had taken three quarters of an hour for the smallest Prince of Dol Amroth to be found. Éomer had actually done the finding, having decided to check the stables on a whim. He had found the tyke trying to wriggle through the metal lattice that functioned as a barrier to Firefoot’s stall while the big grey stallion looked on interestedly. After picking up the toddler and introducing him to the horse (figuring the child’s awe at meeting a Mearas would keep him quiet until he got him inside), Éomer was in the process of giving him a once-over for injuries when the toddler caught sight of Lothiriel’s horse, at which point he began to writhe furiously.

“Auntie Lothí’s horse! Auntie Lothí’s horse!” Alphros escaped Eomer’s grasp and ran over to Nightsong, and managed to get inside the stall. The horse whickered and nudged Alphros’ head, leaving a trail of drool in the wavy black hair. Alphros giggled charmingly and patted Nightsong.

“Pretty Auntie Lothí’s horse.” He looked at Éomer inquiringly. “Auntie said her horse is going to have a baby.”

Éomer nodded. “Indeed. A baby horse is called a foal.” Alphros repeated the word, savoring it. “Foal.”

A shadow passed over Alphros’ eyes, and he swooned a little until Éomer supported him. “Pretty foal is black with a white blaze. Runs like wind over water, fast, fast.” As soon as it had begun, the fey mood passed, and the small child collapsed in Éomer’s arms. Éomer picked him up and carried him towards the Hall, where he was fussed over at length by Lothíriel, Gleril, Elphir and Imrahil. Éomer got the distinct impression that the toddler had only been allowed on the journey because of dire promises made to his mother about his safety.

            When Éomer had told his Amrothian friends about Alphros’ apparent vision, they had seemed pleased. Imrahil had smiled and patted his grandson’s head, saying it was about time, but that they should wait and see what the foal’s actual coloring was before taking any next steps. Amrothos had laughed and tried to bet Éomer a tankard of ale that Alphros was right, a bet that he refused; he had seen enough of the visions of that family go right that he didn’t want to bet against it.

oOoOoOoOoOo

            The next day Aragorn, Éomer, Imrahil and their entourages sent off for Isengard. Thankfully, Gimli had come with them, for without his Dwarvish clever-handedness they would not have recovered nearly as many of the useful items and heirlooms of both Gondor and Rohan that had been secreted around the wizard’s tower. The recovered goods had been carefully stored away for travel.

            The trip back from Isengard brought with it a meeting with a mixed party of Dunédan and hobbits. The group of Aragorn’s kinsfolk, tall and dour, had come to bring news from Eriador to their erstwhile Chieftain, and the hobbits had come with Merry and Pippin. Apparently many of the Holbytlan were suspicious of men, and so a delegation of hobbit notables – for as Éomer had been surprised to learn, the hobbits did not have a single outstanding leader – had accompanied Merry and Pippin to the wedding to take a look at Aragorn.

             As soon as the parties had organized themselves for travel to Helm’s Deep (the nearest habitation who could take so many people in on short notice), the newcomers had split themselves up. The Dunédan, as well as Pippin and a few hobbits who resembled him somewhat, headed for the Gondorian party, and Merry kneed his pony Stybba over towards Éomer, with a few other hobbits tagging along, including two females, one younger, one older. Merry had a wide grin on his face that Éomer was sure matched the one on his own.

“Éomer King! It is good to see you again!”

Éomer laughed. “It’s good to see you too, Holdwine. Now, will you tell me who you’ve got with you?” he asked curiously. He had a suspicion about the younger female at least, but didn’t want to stick his foot in his mouth unnecessarily.   

Merry nodded. “May I introduce my parents” – Merry motioned towards the older hobbit couple – “Saradoc Brandybuck son of Rorimac, Master of Buckland, and Esmerelda Brandybuck, nee Took, daughter of Adalgrim, Lady of Buckland. This here is my cousin Berilac Brandybuck, son of Merimac, who is my father’s brother’s son, and this is my wife, Estella, daughter of Odovacar.” This last was accompanied by an especially proud smile. Éomer gave polite formal greetings to all of Merry’s relatives.

“Well, Merry, you’ve been busy if you’ve gotten married since you left.” Merry blushed, his mother laughed, and his new wife glowered darkly and fingered what Éomer thought was the handle of a frying pan attached to her saddle.

“Well, to be fair, it was in the works before I left all in a hurry,” Merry said, shrugging, a blush still very much in evidence. He seemed to be favoring his right arm, a fact which did not escape Éomer’s notice.

“Did you injure yourself, Holdwine? It shouldn’t take Aragorn long to whip something up for your arm.”

Merry shook his head. “No, it’s fine. It’s just my arm’s a bit achy. Aragorn said that it might happen; apparently it’s a last present from the Witch-king. It’s better than it was before.”

Éomer nodded. “If you say so, Merry.” A thought came to him. “I do hope Eowyn isn’t suffering from something similar.”

Merry looked thoughtful. “I believe that Aragorn spoke to her about it as well. But either way, it passes. Éowyn will be fine.” Merry, almost always a shrewd judge of character, had seen the concern and unease on Éomer’s face and acted upon it.    

Éomer gave himself a little shake. “I must apologize. I am ignoring your family.” He smiled at the other hobbits and was relieved to see that Merry’s little wife and his cousin smiled and giggled a bit, and his small friends’ parents gave him encouraging smiles. “Now, masters and mistresses holbytlan, tell me about your journey here.” After a moment’s discussion to see who would start the tale, Merry’s cousin – Berilac, was he called? – took up the tale.

“Well, we left the Shire in March with the King – that’s Pippin’s king, I suppose, not Merry’s, since you’re Merry’s king –  and around Bree we found out that a party of Dwarves from the Blue Mountains were going down to the Mines of Moria to work on the rebuilding. We decided to go with them for safety of numbers, and they let us tag along as long as we promised to cook for them a bit. It was fairly easy going except for a few spots of rain. At Tharbad we parted ways with the dwarves, and …”

Eomer smiled. Young Berilac – he was fairly certain that that was his name – was very like Meriadoc. Though he would have to ask Merry later what was meant by him being ‘his’ king.

oOoOoOoOoOoOo

            The now greatly expanded party returned to Meduseld with the evening sun. Éomer was surprised when Éowyn, Lothíriel, and Gleril were nowhere in sight, especially Gleril, who was taking her soon-to-be duty as the Lady of the Hall quite seriously and so was zealously applying herself to her new duties. Instead, his grandmother Morwen led the welcoming party. Morwen had accompanied the Gondorians to Rohan for Éowyn’s wedding, but had declined to come with the party to Isengard due to aching joints. Éomer kept his wondering to himself until everyone had made it inside, at which point his grandmother paused in directing people to beds and rooms to talk to him.

“Éomer, child, you needn’t worry about your sister. She is feeling rather poorly – apparently her injury from the Battle of the Pellenor is acting up again.” Morwen saw Eomer’s look of surprised concern, and held his arm so that he wouldn’t go off to Éowyn’s rooms directly. “Now, mind, she’s recovering, and won’t take well to your hovering. Take Faramir and go and visit her. I have the feeling that the Steward will need a chaperone with Éowyn. Not that she’ll be up for much in her condition.” Morwen pushed him off in the direction of Éowyn’s room with a laugh for his stunned expression, before heading off with a determined expression towards Éothain.    

            Éomer found Faramir in short order and dragged him towards Éowyn’s room. They found her listless but in fairly good spirits, having been affected by her wraith-wound similarly to Merry but to a greater degree. Éowyn had been cheered immensely by Faramir’s return, and after having extracted a promise from her soon-to-be husband to read to her later, promptly fell back into a doze. Éomer once again forcibly dragged Faramir out of the room – this time with the intention of keeping him away from Éowyn – when he found Éothain hovering outside the door, white as a sheet.

“Éomer, Brytwyn went into labor this morning and they won’t let me into see her!” wailed Éothain.

Well, that explained the hovering. “Who won’t let you in?”

“Any of them! Lady Lothíriel threatened to hit me with a frying pan if I didn’t leave, and Lady Gleril threatened to sic your lady grandmother on me. And Mindred just pushed me out of the doorway.”

“Calm down, Éothain. Let’s go get a pint of ale to take your mind off your troubles.” Éomer looked over to Faramir. “Want to come?”

Faramir nodded. “Turn down Rohírric ale? Of course not! And I’ll gladly help Éothain here keep his mind off his worries.”

Several hours of light drinking, storytelling, and playing with Éothain’s son (as well as a few explanations of why he couldn’t visit his mother at the moment and why he was getting a new brother or sister), Lothíriel and Gleril came into the Hall to fetch Éothain to greet his new offspring. Lothíriel walked the stunned new father to the healer’s wing while Gleril washed her still-slightly-bloody hands and took a plate that one of the doorwards offered her from their stash of food.

“Well?” Éomer asked, trying to stem his curiosity while wrangling Éoraed into a more comfortable position on his lap.

Gleril sighed. “Another fine boy. Though it was a hard birth – Brytwyn will need some time to recover. It’s especially awkward with the wedding coming up.” Gleril nodded towards Faramir, who was sitting next to Éomer. Several minutes of baby-related small talk followed, with some of the other experienced parents reminiscing.

Gleril broke the charmed period by addressing Éomer again. “Éomer, there’s something that you should know. After Éowyn had to take to her bed because of her arm, Grandmother started overseeing everything in Meduseld. It was fine for a few days, but …. Well, you’ve heard the stories about how dominating Grandmother can be?”

Éomer nodded with trepidation curling in his belly; he wondered what Morwen had done to cause such a reaction in the usually good-natured Gleril.

 “Grandmother was being rather rude to one of the maids. The girl had broken a dish, but it was earthenware and so not too valuable, and the mess was manageable. But Grandmother really took her apart. And then Lothíriel arrived. She had heard the yelling from the kitchen and come to investigate.”

Éomer was not sure whose groan was loudest, his, Imrahil’s, or Elphir’s. The two Princes had come to keep Faramir company some hours before, and were now wearing identical expressions of dismay.

 “What did Lothíriel do?”  asked Imrahil with obvious anticipation.

Gleril grimaced. “To cut a long story short, there was a two-hour shouting match. Fortunately most of it was in Sindarin. Though enough of it was in Westron and Rohírric to get the point across.”

“The point being …?” asked Éomer.

“It has long been a bone of contention between Morwen and the rest of the family about her treatment of servants,” said Imrahil. “For some reason she has always had trouble with the idea that people lower than oneself should be treated respectfully. Especially servants. Lothíriel knows that not only do servants have an important role to play in the running of any household, a noble’s duty of care is owed to all people, not just the powerful.”

Gleril nodded. “I’m just surprised that Lothíriel won the argument.”

You could have heard a coin drop in the silence that followed.

“Lothíriel won an argument with Cousin Morwen?” sputtered Elphir.

Gleril nodded. “She did. Grandmother apologized to the maid. She’s been better since then as well.”

Éomer shook his head. “Lothíriel surprises me every day. I suppose I should be grateful that she didn’t stage a coup while I was gone.” There was good-natured laughing form those who knew the princess, and looks of confusion from those who didn’t. Éomer pretended he didn’t hear Erchirion’s muttered comment from the next table over.

“And who’s to say that she already hasn’t?”

Chapter Text

Small hands shook Éomer into partial wakefulness. “Éomer! Wake up!”

Éomer cracked an eye open. “Holdwine? What is it?”

The little hobbit grinned from his position on the corner of Éomer’s bed and poked at him again. “You need to get up. A bunch of us are making breakfast for our ladyloves, and you need all the help you can get.”

Looking out the window, Éomer saw that it was not quite dawn. The kitchen staff would be hard at work preparing the day’s baking and the Hall’s breakfast. “Won’t the kitchen staff be angry if we disturb them?”

Merry shook his head, curls bouncing and eyes dancing with mischief. “No. Pippin and I ran it by Botilda last night. They are going to leave us alone while we work in the ancillary kitchen.” The ancillary kitchen was a small kitchen off the main one, used for particularly delicate work or other unusual items. Éomer suspected that Merry had made good use of his (in)famous puppy-dog eyes to convince Botilda to let them take it over.

“You really have Botilda wrapped around your little finger, don’t you?” he asked.

Merry smiled. “Well, the cook is a very important part of any household. Staying in their good books is of critical importance.”

“Well then, I’d best get ready.” Éomer sat up and swung his legs over the side of the bed. Gathering the bedsheet around him (he had once again forgotten to put on his nightclothes before sleeping, and he didn’t want to scar Merry for life), Éomer picked out some clothes and headed to the bathing room attached to his bedroom, closing the door firmly behind him.

He emerged dressed and neatened up, tossed the sheet onto the bed, put on his boots, and then turned to Merry. “Lead on, Holdwine of the Mark!” They left his rooms and began to quietly make their way to the kitchens. Éomer was not surprised to find Faramir and Pippin there (the latter still rubbing sleep from his green eyes), since the idea of impressing ladyloves was of especially import to a man to be married within the week, but he was surprised to see both Merry and Pippin’s fathers there, as well as Merry’s cousin Berilac.

            A crowd of greetings met Éomer and Merry as they approached the others. After everyone had settled themselves around the big central table, Merry’s father – who seemed like an older, and thankfully rather wiser, version of his son, though still ready for some mischief – cleared his throat.

“If I’ve understood correctly, we’re making breakfast for three hobbit lasses and three daughters of Men, since Pippin was kind enough – or silly enough – to haul his bones out of bed to bring breakfast to Lady Gleril. That right?” he asked.

“Not quite,” piped up Berilac. “I promised Lady Brytwyn I’d bring her breakfast today. She and Éothain seem run off their feet with the new faunt and the older child and all the work to do besides for the wedding.” Berilac seemed faintly embarrassed by his generosity.

“That’s kind of you, nephew. So it’s three hobbit lasses and four human ones.” Saradoc turned a steely gaze to Faramir and Éomer. “Now, how much can you lads cook? I know it’s not as expected among Men for your males to cook, but anything you can do is good.” Saradoc reminded Éomer greatly of Elfhelm; steady, reliable, and not to condescending. He also very much enjoyed having someone else who did not fear treading on his kingly dignity.

“I can cook fairly well,” said Faramir. “In terms of breakfast foods, I have some skill at making bannock bread.” Saradoc nodded. “Go and make a start at that, then.” He turned to Éomer as Faramir headed to the supply shelf. Éomer winced.

“Come on, Éomer, you can’t be as bad a cook as Éowyn is,” said Merry cajolingly.

“Unfortunately I am.” His éored had never let him cook on patrols due to the poor quality of his cookery.

Merry grimaced and looked towards his father, and then back to Éomer. “Well, I suppose that you can get things down from the high shelves for us.”

Saradoc nodded. “And maybe cook some bacon. It’s hard to ruin bacon.”

“Though it’s no wonder that Princess Lothíriel is leading you a merry chase if you can’t even cook for her, Éomer,” said Merry in an exasperated tone of voice. “I mean, food is one of the main courting gifts for a lass! And hand down the mixing bowl, would you? I need to make scrambled eggs.” Saradoc nodded firmly.

Éomer laughed as he took down the bowl form the high shelf. The other hobbits had joined Faramir in happy industry, laughing amongst themselves as they worked.

“Well, Merry, in Rohan we give different gifts. For example, a few months ago I gave Lothíriel a very nice set of hair clips.”

Merry squealed. “You gave her something for her hair and she accepted? And you said you weren’t making progress!” Merry turned towards Pippin, singing out, “Pip, guess what – Eomer’s given Lady Lothíriel hairclips – and she took them!” 

Pippin clapped his floury hands, letting out a small cheer. “That’s lovely! That’s another wedding before the year’s out, then.”

Éomer chocked. “What?”

Merry rolled his eyes. “Come on. Everyone knows that if you give a lass something fancy for her hair, and she takes them, you have to get married within the year. Though in the Shire it’s usually nice hair ribbons; I suppose since Lothiriel’s a princess and you’re a king you had to step it up a notch.”

Éomer wasn’t sure who was more shocked by this, Faramir or himself. While Faramir, Imrahil and his sons were aware that Éomer and Lothíriel had started a romance, the subject of marriage had yet to come up. Merry’s pronouncement, however, was not quite accurate. Faramir had turned purple with shock, and Éomer was sure that his own face was red as a tomato’s.

“Holdwine,” Éomer chocked out, “giving a woman hair ornaments does not have quite the same … import … in Rohan as it does in the Shire. So while Lothíriel and I are courting, and do hope to wed, we aren’t as far along as you think.” Merry reddened in embarrassment and hung his head, and Faramir seemed to have the edge taken off of his outrage.

“I’m sorry. I do seem to stick my foot in things.”

Éomer sighed. “It’s no trouble, Merry. Just remember to ask about customs again. You should remember after what happened with Bertulf’s cow.”

Merry winced. “True. I’ll just have to get into practice again.”

With that, everyone got back to work. The meal was soon ready, and as everything was divvied up on trays, Faramir sidled up to Éomer.

“I should really not let you go and serve my cousin breakfast in bed. It’s not entirely proper, since you aren’t even betrothed yet.”

Éomer gave Faramir a level gaze. “That’s a little rich coming from a man who’s going to do the same for my sister.”

Faramir sagged a little. “Alright.” He looked around furtively. “I won’t tell Uncle if you don’t tell your grandmother. She’d skin me if she knew I was doing this.”

Éomer clapped Faramir on the shoulder before grabbing his tray. “It’s a deal.”

            After carefully sneaking to Lothiriel’s room, Éomer knocked on the door, entering after hearing a sleepy ‘Enter.’ Lothíriel sat on a chair by her dressing-table, combing out her hair. She laughed when she saw him.

“Now I know why my maid suggested I do my own hair this morning! It’s a conspiracy!”

Éomer smiled, and putting the tray down, took the brush out of Lothiriel’s hands and began brushing her hair. “Indeed it is. The hobbits wanted to do romantic gestures for their ladyloves, and roped Faramir and I into making breakfast with them.”

Lothíriel smiled up at him. “That’s very sweet, but from what I’ve heard your cooking isn’t very good.” She wrinkled her nose at him.

Éomer laughed. “I cooked the bacon, and fetched and carried. The holbytlan did most of the actual cookery. Though Faramir made the bannocks.”

Lothíriel brightened. “Faramir makes excellent bannocks!” Lothíriel looked up at him. “Though I am surprised you aren’t upset that he’s giving her breakfast in her room.”

Éomer chuckled. “Well, we made a deal – as long as we get to spend time with our respective ladies, we won’t tell on the other.”

Lothíriel smiled. “Well, after we are done eating, I shall have to thank you for your efforts.”

“I look forward to it.”

oOoOoOoOoOo

Éomer was trying his best not to look bored. Even though he understood that Éowyn and Faramir’s wedding presented a wonderful opportunity for trade and diplomatic talks, he was getting sick of them. The talks had been going on for the three weeks since their return from Isengard, and the wedding was to take place in three days. Thankfully, the talks for today were almost over, with Aragorn simply giving a final speech, so Éomer contented himself with looking around the council table surreptitiously.

 He could see Imrahil, Elphir, and Lothíriel down the table; Lothíriel and her brother were listening eagerly to Aragorn’s speech, while Imrahil looked to be hiding his own growing boredom by examining some of the ornamental carvings within his view. While Imrahil was a practiced statesman, he had laughingly told Éomer at lunchtime that one of the benefits of having a grown heir was that he could fob off some of the less enjoyable matters of state on Elphir in the name of job training, a comment which had made Elphir lose some of his enormous composure and roll his eyes at his father.

Faramir was giving an excellent show of full attention, but the glassiness of his eyes and his occasional sigh made it clear to those who could watch him that he was thinking of his soon-to-be wife.

The two representatives of the Shire folk – Merry’s father and Pippin’s – had also contributed to the conversation. While Éomer had known that his Holdwine was heir to one of the larger families in his home region, he had been surprised to discover that the hobbit was heir to the Mastership of Buckland, one of the three major leadership positions in the Shire, and that one of the other two would go to Pippin. The Shirefolk were also recovering from war-time troubles, though to a lesser degree than many other regions. While they did not have much to trade with the outside world, their pipeweed, among other items, would soon travel south for trade, along with several delegations of ambassadors.

   Éomer noticed a servingman enter the council room and approach Lothíriel, and speak quietly to her. After a moment, her brows tightened, and she nodded. Speaking a few words to the servant, Lothíriel excused herself and left the room. The servant came over to Éomer next, speaking to him discreetly.

“There’s guests at the gate, my lord. Apparently from Erebor and Dale? The Lady Lothíriel told me to tell you that she suggests adjourning” – the man sounded out the unfamiliar word carefully – “the meeting so you can greet them. She went to help the lady Gleril prepare the welcome.”

Éomer quirked an eyebrow at the servingman. “You told her about this before me, Gosfrid?” Éomer asked, having finally placed the man. He was a fairly recent arrival to Meduseld, having come into service after the war. His lost right hand did not stop him from being quite efficient.

Gosfrid shrugged. “Lady Gleril told me to. Said Lady Lothíriel is the true Lady of the Hall, and that she’s just keeping the seat warm until she’s here for keeps.” Gosfrid’s face was carefully blank, but a hint of a smile showed at the corners of his eyes. Well, no one said the Rohírrim were not blunt.

“She means until I get my royal behind in order, I suppose.”

“If you say so, my lord.”

“My thanks, Gosfrid.” The man bobbed a bow and left the council room.

Aragorn had kept on with his concluding remarks, despite the unobtrusive interruptions, but wrapped it up at Éomer’s discreet motion and sat down.

Éomer cleared his throat. “Since it appears that more guests are arriving, this meeting is adjourned until tomorrow. Feel free to accompany me to the gates to see the new arrivals. Good day.” With that, Éomer bowed slightly and strode out the room.

Imrahil caught up to him after a few dozen feet. “You know, we’re going to have to talk about Lothíriel soon,” he said quietly. “I find it … interesting that she was approached about whoever is coming before you were.”

Éomer felt a mild blush on his cheeks and shrugged noncommittally. “Can I help it if she’s been adopted by the people here?”

Imrahil eyed him skeptically. “Don’t play the innocent with me, Éomer – I raised Amrothos.”

Éomer sighed. “My intentions are perfectly honorable, Imrahil. It’s just that my people can be … overly enthusiastic sometimes.”

Imrahil snorted and looked at Éomer out of the corner of his eyes. “Overly enthusiastic? From what I and my boys have seen, most of the city treats my daughter as if she were Queen of Rohan.”

“That is very much what I would like her to be.” It was out; now all Éomer could do was wait.

Imrahil rolled his eyes. “Finally. But as I said, we’ll talk about it later.” They had reached the gates of the Hall, and Imrahil’s eyes widened when he saw the people gathered on the terrace.

“Do you know who these people are, Imrahil?” asked Éomer. The mixed party of Men and Dwarves contained no one he know, and they flew unfamiliar banners and wore unfamiliar livery.

“The men are from Dale, and from their sigils the dwarves are from Erebor,” said Imrahil. “Do you see the tall man in the center – black hair just starting to grey, green eyes – well, eye now, I guess – grey tunic with an arrow-sigil on it?” Éomer nodded. “That is my first cousin once removed Bain of Dale, my father’s sister’s grandson. He was nephew to Brand King of Dale, who fell in battle before the Gates of Erebor during the War, and first cousin to their current king Bard the Second. The Dale-folk and the dwarves of Erebor must have sent an embassy for the wedding.”

“That’s good to know.” With that, Éomer stepped out and greeted his guests. Bain was a genial (if loud) man, with a lost eye and a limp from the War of the Ring, and a laugh that echoed loud. After he had been formally greeted, he had seized Imrahil in a bear hug and shaken him until he seemed ready to lose a tooth or two.

            The dwarven company was thankfully quieter, though they had also come seeking relatives. Éomer had been greatly surprised when Gimli had come barreling out of the Hall to throw himself on the leader of the Dwarven contingent just before he (it was best to assume that all dwarves were male unless expressly told otherwise) could be introduced. After the hubbub had died down, Éomer discovered that the dwarf under consideration was female, and was in fact Gimli’s sister – Glaín daughter of Gloín. She led the embassy from Erebor, and said she had been sent with three goals – officially, she had been sent to attend a royal wedding and attempt to increase trade with Gondor and Rohan, and unofficially, she was to make sure that Gimli had, in fact, survived the war in one piece.

Chapter Text

Éomer sat up in his sweat-soaked sheets, panting heavily. His nightmares were back, assisted by the flowing ale and spirits that had attended his sister’s wedding feast. He was tired and still rather drunk, but he wasn’t at all sure that he could get back to sleep in his current state of mind. If only …

Practically on clue, his bedroom door cracked open, and a whispered ‘Éomer?’ broke the silence of his room. He smiled; of course she would come.  “Hello, sweetheart. You’re getting better at figuring out when I have nightmares.”

Lothíriel entered, closing the door behind her, and crossed the room, sitting on the edge of his bed. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He shrugged, knowing that she would be able to see the gesture in the pale moonlight that came in from the windows. “It’s always the same… dreams of death and madness and war.” A thought came to him. “Will you stay here with me tonight? To ward off more nightmares?” A flat glare and a raised eyebrow was his only response. He smiled faintly. “Just for sleeping, I promise. I’m dressed and everything.” Éomer put on his best pouty face, one that he had used to good effect in the kitchens as a child.

Lothíriel wavered, then relented. “Alright. But you’ll have to wake me before dawn so I can return to my own chamber. I don’t want a scandal on our hands.”

Éomer grinned wolfishly. “Good. C’mere.” He opened his arms, and Lothíriel snuggled close to him. He pulled them both into a horizontal position and dragged the covers over them. Holding Lothíriel close, Éomer dropped a kiss on the top of her head. “Goodnight, dearest.” He fell asleep to the sound of her breathing.

oOoOoOoOoOo

            Despite his late night and his mildly pounding head, Éomer woke at his usual predawn hour. Atypically, he woke with his head pillowed on a pair of full breasts covered in thin linen – a truly lovely way to wake up, especially facedown as he was – but all to soon he realized why exactly he was waking up this way.  

“Shit,” he exclaimed softly, in an attempt to simultaneously vent his disgust at himself while not waking the woman currently asleep in his bed. While his idea had seemed wonderful at the time – the late hour, his inebriated state, and his post-nightmare anxiety making sure of that – he was now, if not regretting his actions, then wondering how much harm four incensed Princes of Dol Amroth could do to him if they found out that he had spent the night in the same bed as Lothíriel.

            Said Princess began to wake up, eyes cracking open as she stretched. “Good morning,” she murmured sleepily. Éomer could see the realization of where she was hit her – her eyes widened, her jaw dropped, and she let out a curse in Sindarin that he had never heard before, but quietly filed away for future inquiries. “What time is it?” she asked.  

“Not yet dawn,” he replied.

“Good,” said Lothíriel, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes. “Can I have a goof-morning kiss before I go back to my room?”

Éomer grinned. “Of course.” He moved to comply when a loud knocking on the door caught both their attentions. “I’ll get it,” sighed Éomer grudgingly. “Lie down, sweetheart, and don’t move. Whoever it is shouldn’t be able to see you if you’re quiet.”

Éomer opened the door to a distraught-looking Éothain, who was holding two wriggling toddlers – Éoraed and Alphros, the latter very unhappy. When Éothain saw Éomer, his facial expression was a study in thankfulness. “Is Lady Lothíriel here, Éomer?”

“No,” said Éomer, trying for his best innocent face. It clearly didn’t work on Éothain, who simply rolled his eyes.

“Come on, Éomer. She’s not in her room, so where else could she be. And I need her for something legitimate – her brother-son isn’t a happy camper, and her brothers and father are ill.”

Lothíriel had clearly been listening to their conversation, for at this point she got out Eomer’s bed and crossed the room, grabbing Alphros and cuddling him close. “Morning, Éothain. How’d you get Alphros in the first place?”

“Good morning, my lady,” said Éothain, face far too placid. “Brytwyn volunteered us to mind him since he and Éoraed get on well. But he can only last so long among strangers, so he’s not a happy camper right now.”

Lothiriel’s brows lowered in suspicion. “Is something wrong with my brothers and father?”

Éothain shrugged. “Amrothos at least is recovering from a thick head. I think that the others ate some bad crawfish – the sauce was off.”

Éomer nodded. “Right. They ate a lot of that, but hardly anyone else would eat it. Though Éowyn might’ve had a less-than-optimal night as well,” he said. The crawfish in spice-sauce were a favorite dish of Éowyn’s, though the sauce sent most others reeling.

Éothain grimaced. “Well then, it’s her own fault for eating that nasty hot sauce.” He nodded towards Lothíriel. “Since the child’s been delivered, I’m off to put the fear of the gods into the doorwards. Farewell.” He turned to leave, but didn’t make it far before Éomer caught his arm.

 “Éothain – if anyone asks, Lothíriel wasn’t here, alright?”

The older man sighed. “Aye, alright. I handed over the child in her room. Where she spent the night. Alone.” His mouth twitched. “Morning, then.”

Lothíriel and Éomer looked at one another. “He doesn’t think we - ” chocked out Lothíriel.

Éomer nodded. “Can you blame him?”

Lothíriel hung her head. “Not really.” She eyed the window. “I really should be getting back to my room.” She picked up her now-calm nephew, hoisting him on her hip. “See you at breakfast?”

“Of course.”

oOooOoOoOOo

            It was four days after the wedding, and Éomer was out on one of the training fields watching Imrahil and his cousin from Dale happily beating each other to a pulp. It was a beautiful spring day, and so people were taking the chance to be outside; many of the soldiery types had chosen to do a series of exhibition matches for fun.

            Elphir, having finished his own match against Bain’s son, ambled over to Éomer and took a seat next to him on his bench, groaning.

“I’d forgotten how hard Brede hits. It’s been so long since I’ve seen him, I guess.”

Éomer looked at Elphir quizzically. “You met with your cousins from Dale fairly often?”

Elphir shrugged. “Often enough. Since Cousin Bain’s line is the secondary one, and he has the best relationships with the family in Gondor – us – his kin were typically chosen as Dale’s ambassadors to Gondor. Though with the war there was less international communications.”

Éomer nodded, then decided to voice a question that had been bothering him for some days. “Elphir, if it is not overly rude, may I ask how your great-aunt came to wed into the royal family of Dale?”

Elphir laughed, such an uncharacteristic gesture that Éomer started. “You haven’t heard this story from Lothíriel? It’s quite good.”    

Éomer shook his head. “I haven’t asked her. Will you tell me?”

Elphir nodded. “No trouble. It all began about eighty years ago, after the reclamation of the dwarven kingdom of Erebor after the death of Smaug the dragon. Dol Amroth sent an embassy to establish a diplomatic relationship with the newly-restored Line of Girion, food supplies as a goodwill gift in hand. My grandfather Adrahil led the embassy. My Great-aunt Eärwen went with him in disguise to escape pressures of an arranged marriage from her own father.”

Éomer was confused. “But I thought that your family wasn’t big on arranged marriages?”

“Not typically, and that’s exactly why aunt ran off. Now, at this point, it’s important to note that my grandfather and his sister were twins, born some twenty minutes apart, and very close in looks. So Aunt Eärwen bound her chest, cut her hair, and went off to Dale as grandfather’s identical twin brother. She got away with it because her voice was very low for a woman, and the rest pf her party was too surprised at her daring to do anything.” Elphir wrinkled his nose. “Father intimated when he told this story to me the first time that Aunt may have threatened those who would have sent her home tied over her saddle until they let her stay.”

Éomer laughed. “If she was anything like Lothíriel, that is quite likely.”

Elphir smiled softly. “Too true. But anyway, Aunt pulled a stunt rather like Gleril’s – stole half of Grandfather’s clothes and overall pretended to be a boy. When they got to Dale, however, she switched back to women’s clothes, as she had packed some of her own clothes. She met the younger son of the then-king, fell in love with him, and married him within six months.”

“Without parental permission?”

Elphir shrugged. “It was somewhat of a scandal, but she had her brother’s permission and her new father-in-law’s. And the fact that she was all the way in Dale kept Great-grandfather from taking drastic action. It died down fairly quickly.”

Éomer snorted. “Does your family have a blood-tie with every major lineage of Men in the known world? It certainly looks like it.”

“Most of them, yes. It’s quite useful. And quite fortunate given that almost all of them were love-matches.” Elphir looked to be on the verge of saying something else, but his attention was drawn to a small, black-haired figure on the other side of the field who was far too interested in a practice sword that, despite its dulled edges, could still do harm to a small child. “Alphros! Get out of there!” The recalcitrant toddler’s refusal to do so had Elphir running over to him in an impressive burst of speed to separate his son from the weapon. Elphir waved to Éomer as he took his son inside the Hall; both princes were dirty, stinky and messy (though from different causes), so Éomer supposed they were going to clean up.     

            Éomer heard the thump of heavy dwarven boots and turned to see Gimli approaching the field with a smaller dwarf who was hanging attentively to his words. Noticing Éomer looking at him, Gimli headed in his direction.

“Good morning, Eomer King!” he said jovially.

“Morning, Gimli. And who do you have with you today?” asked Éomer, gesturing to the smaller and younger-looking dwarf, who looked rather like Gimli, down to the stance and the color of the hair. Perhaps a son or daughter? thought Éomer. Though Gimli had never mentioned a wife.

Clapping the younger dwarf on the shoulder, Gimli said, “This is my sister’s son, Milen son of Milek. Glaín is working in the forges today, so I have the charge of minding Milen.” Milen gave his uncle the stink-eye at his audacity in claiming that he needed minding; a protest to that effect died on his lips at a look from Gimli.

“You’re sister’s a smith?” asked Éomer, surprised. 

Gimli nodded. “Most dwarven women work in a craft to some degree. Glaín is an excellent weaponsmith, eh, Milen?” The dwarfling (for in comparison to the adult dwarves Éomer had seen, Milen seemed to be a juvenile) nodded enthusiastically.

Éomer was still unconvinced. “But why is she working now? Aren’t your people here as an embassy, not a trade group?”

Gimli laughed. “Aye, but Glaín is simply repairing the gear of some of our group. They met some Orcs on the outskirts of Mirkwood and had a skirmish. This is the first opportunity Glaín has had to repair what needs it. Though she complains that all the tools are far too large.”

Éomer bristled. “Our smiths aren’t good enough to be of help?”

Gimli patted his arm. “Your smiths aren’t bad, laddie, but no human smith can do as good work as a dwarf. Especially one as talented as my sister. And some of the arms and armor that was brought uses means and methods we don’t share with outsiders.”

Éomer nodded. “If you say so,” he said grudgingly. “But I am loath to let guests work under my roof.”

Gimli laughed loud and long. “You forget, Éomer, that crafting isn’t nearly the chore for dwarves that it is for Men. Working with our hands is part joy, part prayer, and part fulfilment for a dwarf, and only a small part work.”

“I’ll have to take your word for it.” Éomer looked around, eager to change the subject. “So are you showing your nephew around the Hall?”

Gimli nodded. “I had hoped to show Milen some of the tricks of fighting larger opponents, so I brought him here. It’s an unfortunate truth that dwarves are most often fighting against foes significantly larger than them.”

“Then I shall do my best to be of service. I am bored of watching Imrahil get trounced by his cousin, and surely any kinsman of yours is a formidable foe,” said Éomer. He was glad to help Gimli teach his sister-son. Sure enough, Milen was a fierce fighter for all his lack of experience, and Éomer spent a good part of his afternoon with the two dwarves, practicing until he had to bed off in favor of a hot bath to soak his aches out. Gimli was an excellent training partner, but practicing with him always left Éomer coated with bruises.

oOoOoOoOo

            Éomer sat at his desk, feeling morose. The Hall seemed to quiet with all of the guests gone and the fuss over. And, he admitted, with Éowyn and Lothíriel gone. He missed his sister dreadfully, though he was glad to see her happily wed. And Lothíriel …  he touched the small locket she had given him, now shoved into his belt pouch for safekeeping, and smiled sadly … he missed her more with every breath, if it was possible. It would be hard to wait, especially as he did not know how long it would be until he could actually marry her.

            The long-anticipated talk with Imrahil had gone better and worse than he had expected. Better, for Imrahil had been happy to see Éomer offer for Lothiriel’s hand, but sad because he could not offer a firm date for a betrothal or a wedding. And while Éomer could not fault Imrahil’s reasoning, he could be unhappy at the timing. Though, again, the reasoning was quite understandable, as well as the previous silence about it.

            Imrahil’s sister, Ivriniel, was dying. She had caught ill some months ago and was slowly fading away. Not wanting to deny Faramir his wedding at the appointed time, her illness had been carefully hidden from the outside world. Now, however, her time was short, and she wanted to see Lothíriel before she died. It was a request that Lothíriel could not deny, since her maiden aunt had had much of the raising of her since her own mother had died in her early childhood. It had been decided that, while unofficially there was a wedding in the offing, there could be no definite official overtures until after matters were more settled in Dol Amroth. Unless, as Imrahil had pointedly asked with a glare, there was cause for a rushed wedding? That suggestion had caused two dark blushes and as many stringent denials.

             When the Gondorian party had left, Éomer had had to try extremely hard not to give in to his emotions and either cry or flat-out punch someone. Apart from his brothers-in-arms, the two best-loved women in his life had left him in one fell swoop, and he didn’t like it. Had had too much loss in his life to ever really feel comfortable with seeing people close to him ride out with no certainty of when he would see them again.

            Lothíriel had, however, left him a present. He had returned to his chambers to regain his composure – Éowyn would likely have said he was sulking – and found a surprise waiting in chest when he went to change out of his formal gear. Several of his shirts were gone – not that that would be a problem per se, as in his opinion he had far too many of them, anyway – but in their place was a small bundle of … ladies’ undergarments? … with a note on top. He picked it up, praying to Béma that some poor fool girl wasn’t trying to set up an illicit rendezvous with him, and opened it.

Dear Éomer, it read in Lothiriel’s neat handwriting,

            By now I will have left and you (obviously) will have discovered my devious plot to make off with some of your spare shirts. Before you break off our relationship in order to avoid my clear insanity by such an inane action, allow me to explain myself. My reasoning is twofold. Firstly, I intent to make shirts for you myself, sing these as a pattern. And don’t scowl – I do not find needlework nearly as much of a hardship as your sister does. My second reason is much more selfish – keeping some of your clothes with me reminds me of you. I have only to touch one of the (illicitly obtained) shirts to be reminded of you, to close my eyes and imagine myself held in your arms again. 

Until better times allow us to meet again,

Lothíriel of Dol Amroth.

Ps – I hope you appreciate what I left behind in the place of the shirts!

Éomer grinned. His princess, so thoughtful. He put down the letter and reached out for the bundle of clothes she had left, teasing out one shift from the pile. He held it to his face, breathing in the mixed scents of flowery perfume, soap, and the distinctive scent that was Lothíriel. It smelled like home.     

Chapter Text

Nineteen months.

Nineteen months without Lothíriel by his side.

Nineteen months of letters, of small gifts, of the couriers traveling between Edoras and Dol Amroth competing over who could make the trip fastest. Not enough, not ever enough to fill the hole left by her (necessary, but still painful) departure.

Now, with Yule pending, Rohan would welcome a new year and a new queen. Guests had been arriving for weeks, with the party from Dol Amroth arriving the week before the wedding. Amrothos and Erchirion had accompanied their father and Lothíriel to Rohan – Elphir had stayed behind to mind the city and be near his wife, who was near her time with their second child. All three Princes had collected hefty sums from the friends they had made in Rohan who hadn’t believed Alphros’ prediction about Nightsong’s foal, who had turned out to be black with a white blaze, and the long legs and deep chest that showed well for future speed and endurance.  Éomer, who had taken the prediction to heart and won money of his own, had laughed at Eothain’s disgruntlement when Amrothos cornered him for payment.

            Merry had come, bringing with him his wife and their six-month-old daughter Mirabella. They were accompanied by an embassy group from the Shire, who were to travel on to Gondor as the representative of the land of the Halflings. Éomer found the company of the hobbits refreshing, though the cooks complained loudly about the strain on the kitchens. Éowyn and Faramir had arrived with the party from Minas Tirith, and their three-month-old son, Elboron, had managed to charm the pants off of most of the Rohírric nobility. The few holdouts were holding their tongues. Éowyn had been greatly displeased when Éomer had managed to sneak off with her son and for several hours to argue with Merry about which child was the more attractive. The argument was ongoing. 

            When the party from Dol Amroth had arrived, it had only been Éomer’s newfound sense of kingly dignity (and perhaps Éothain’s fist holding tight to the back of his shirt) that had kept Éomer from sweeping Lothíriel off her horse and into his arms to not let her go for a month.

And now … and now they were wed, and sitting at their wedding feast, and Lothíriel was as radiant as a sunrise against the rays of the setting sun that came through the windows of Meduseld. Lothíriel, seeing Éomer staring at her, completely enraptured, leaned close and pinched his arm.

“Distracted, my lord husband?” she asked with a chuckle.   

He raised an eyebrow, and deadpanned, “Indeed. The food is excellent tonight.”

He had admired Lothiriel’s ability to keep a straight face since he had first met her. “Of course. Mindred has outdone herself. Though I must say that the company here leaves something to be desired.”

“How so?”

“My dining partner is clearly to overcome by the charms of a foreign lady.”

“But you are surely mistaken. This foreign lady has recently married into a Rohírric family, which makes her, if not entirely local, then at least a regular fixture.”

“Then my dining partner is making eyes at another man’s wife?” The amusement in Lothiriel’s voice was palpable; she was obviously enjoying taunting Éomer, who was at somewhat of a loss. He was wondering if it was appropriate to stick his tongue out at his new bride when the music changed from accompaniment to the first dance tune of the evening – traditionally opened by the newly married couple. Eomer sighed with relief, muttered a brief prayer to Béma, and turned to Lothiriel.

“Shall we?” he asked, and stood, holding out his hand.

She smiled. “Of course,” she replied, and took the proffered hand, rising gracefully.

As he swirled Lothíriel around the dance floor, Éomer was reminded of exactly how lucky he was.

  Finis