Lothíriel hesitated in the door of the stables. She must have been mad to agree to this. Stark, raving mad!
Now where? Rows of stalls greeted her, their occupants swivelling their heads her way, ears pricked attentively. She took a step forward and the horse nearest her gave a loud snort, making her jump.
To her relief she spotted old Hallas hurrying her way, a look of surprise on his face. "Lady Lothíriel, you're up early! May I help you?"
She gave a nervous smile. "Yes, I would like to take Míriel out."
"Oh! I'm afraid I haven't got her ready." The stable master scratched his head. "I had no word that you were leaving. Will Lord Imrahil travel with you? How many guards-"
"I'm not leaving," she interrupted him. "I just want to take her for a ride."
"A ride?" He stared at her as if she had announced her intention to fly off the Tower of Ecthelion.
That moment the doorway darkened and Hallas's attention abruptly switched away. "My Lord King!"
Lothíriel whirled round. Tall, blond and unfairly handsome, King Éomer stood on the threshold. He flashed her the smile that had scythed through the ladies of Minas Tirith with such devastating effect. "Princess Lothíriel, what a pleasure to see a lady who appreciates the glories of a summer morning," he said as he bowed over her hand.
She decided not to mention the effort it had cost her maid to get her up in time. "Yes, it's lovely," she agreed. "I'm looking forward to a gallop across the Pelennor."
Hallas's eyes popped. "Lady Lothíriel! You're going for a ride with King Éomer?"
"I'm taking a couple of guards along, Princess Lothíriel will be perfectly safe with me," King Éomer assured him, misinterpreting the old man's alarm.
"Yes of course," Hallas stammered, "but-"
"Could you get one of the lads to get my mare ready for me?" Lothíriel interrupted hurriedly. "We want to avoid the morning traffic."
"No need for that," King Éomer threw in. "I can saddle your horse for you. I used to be the fastest stable boy in Edoras when I was training for a rider."
The idea of the King of Rohan saddling horses seemed to scandalize Hallas thoroughly. "Please, I -"
"It's no bother," King Éomer assured him. "We can manage."
So firmly dismissed, Hallas hesitated another moment, then shrugged helplessly. "As you please, my Lord King."
King Éomer took her hand and placed it on his arm. "So will you show me your mare? Have you had her long?"
"Er, yes," Lothíriel stammered. "A few years." She had no clear memory of when her father had bought Míriel. Before they had added the new library wing in Dol Amroth, or after?
"How old is she?" he asked.
"Not very old."
If King Éomer found her answers uninformative, he gave no indication. Instead he gifted her with another of those smiles that wiped all rational thought from her mind. She had no idea how he did it, just knew that she could deny him nothing when he used it on her – as witness her presence in her father's stables before the sun had properly cleared the horizon. Oh why hadn't she declined his invitation? Madness!
"Will you show me your mare?" he suggested. "What's her name?"
This at least she could supply. "Tar-Míriel." Easy to remember as she named all her father's horses.
"Called after the last queen of Númenor?" he asked, surprising her.
She smiled with pleasure. "Yes! Do you know her story?"
"A little," he answered. "My uncle had Éowyn and me tutored in history, but I'm afraid most has fled my mind." He fixed her with an intent gaze. "I'd love to have you tell me the tale sometime."
She dropped her eyes before she did something really stupid such as flinging herself into his arms. Princesses of Dol Amroth could not do such things after only meeting a man for one evening. Well, they could not do such things full stop! Even if the evening had passed with dancing and talking as if they inhabited a bubble of enchantment that held only the two of them.
"Sometime I will," she agreed.
"So where is Tar-Míriel stabled?"
A bolt of alarm shot through her as she realized she had not the slightest idea where to find her horse. However, the stable only had one aisle. "This way," she said with perfect confidence.
She suddenly spotted metal plaques with the horses' names etched on them attached to every stall and felt better. Whoever had thought up that idea deserved a reward. And progressing down the aisle slowly enough to surreptitiously read them proved no problem at all, as King Éomer was only too happy to inspect her father's horseflesh.
Tar-Súrion, Tar-Ancalimë, Tar-Ciryatan, ... Then a grey head poked over the top of a stall. Míriel? Yes, the elegantly inscribed plaque confirmed it.
"Here we are," she announced.
"This one?" King Éomer asked with evident astonishment.
Why was he surprised? "Yes," she confirmed.
After a moment's hesitation, he opened the stall and went in, whispering to the mare in Rohirric. It took Lothíriel a moment to identify the odd feeling that filled her at hearing his soft, low voice – surely she couldn't be jealous of a horse?
He patted Míriel's neck, then clicked his tongue and obediently the animal followed him out of the stall. The Rohirrim really had a way with horses! "So this is your mare?" he asked, lifting an eyebrow.
Since it seemed to be expected, she stroked Míriel's nose. "Yes..." Her voice petered out as she followed his pointed gaze along the animal's belly. There was something hanging there... She felt her mouth drop open as she realized what she was staring at. "Oh! It's a...it's a..." Heat rushed to her cheeks.
"...stallion," he finished her sentence. "One of ours actually, Fréaláf. I traded him to your father."
"Oh!" It seemed all that she was capable of saying.
Steps approached from down the aisle. "Lady Lothíriel," Hallas called, carrying her saddle in his arms. "I'm afraid we had to shift the horses around. Míriel is down there." He indicated another stall with his chin.
"Very good," King Éomer answered, taking his burden from the old man. "Thank you for your help." He nodded firmly and Hallas took the hint and withdrew.
Another soft command sent the stallion back into his box, although he whinnied a protest. "Next time perhaps," King Éomer promised him.
Then he turned to Míriel's stall and began to saddle the horse – a darker grey, of course! Lothíriel watched his sure, economical movements, all the while praying that the earth would rise up and swallow her. Why oh why had she agreed to this morning ride! What would he be thinking of her now? He'd been so nice and understanding last night, so easy to talk to – she had even told him a little of what it had been like in Dol Amroth during the war, left with a castle full of refugees and no men to defend them – but surely now he would despise her. Or laugh at another silly girl to lose her heart to him and try to impress him.
King Éomer pulled the cinch closed, slapped Míriel's hindquarters and turned to her. "Finished. Shall we go?"
Lothíriel straightened up and lifted her chin. "My Lord King, there is no need to carry on with this charade." She took a deep breath. "The truth is I don't like getting up early, horses are animals that get me from one place to another, nothing more, and I find books far more interesting." Recklessly she added, "I only agreed to this outing because I wanted to impress you."
There. Now the awful truth was out. He would look at her with disdain and make some polite excuse to never see her again. She braced herself for his contempt.
Instead a slow, infectious grin spread over his face. "I have a confession to make as well: I didn't have a clue who Tar-Míriel was. Your brother Amrothos mentioned your horse's name and I had to look it up in the library last night."
Thoroughly confused, Lothíriel could only stare at him. "But why?"
His mouth quirked in a smile. "Everybody told me what a notable scholar you were and I wanted to impress you."
"Oh!" She kept saying that.
He took a step closer and by some Rohirric horse wizardry Míriel shifted neatly to block off any view of them from the entrance. "So now that we have so thoroughly impressed each other..." Without any recollection of having moved, she found herself in his arms.
Their lips met and Lothíriel forgot about the world around them. Her embarrassment and anxieties all melted away at the realization that she had found the place where she belonged. Nothing else mattered.
A long time later they separated. Lothíriel rested her forehead against his chest, relishing the warm, solid feel of him. She lifted her head. "You don't mind that I can't tell horses apart?"
He grinned down at her. "Lady of mine, as long as you don't mistake one horselord for another..."
Lothíriel shook her head. There was not the least danger of that.
A/N: Just a little fun story inspired by something Lissa said about her daughter's horse. Thank you, Lady Bluejay, for betaing!