Story Downloaded from Open Scrolls Archive (http://www.openscrolls.net)

Title: The Princess and the King (#50)
Author: JMac
Chapters: 10

Archive: Tolkien
Category: Lord of the Rings
Description: How Eomer met Lothiriel of Dol Amroth
Published: 21 May 2003
Updated: 10 Jul 2003
Warnings:
Type: Romance
Characters: Eomer;Lothiriel


Chapter 1 - The Princess and the King

Chapter 1

************************


On the southwestern shores of Middle-Earth there stood a
castle upon a high cliff that overlooked the sea. Dol
Amroth had a history that stretched back many ages. And
those who ruled it pledged their loyalty to the Steward or
King of Gondor.

Though considerably smaller than Minas Tirith, Dol Amroth
was no less grand. The castle and the city that lay below
it were constructed entirely of the dark stone quarried from
the nearby hills. The castle was situated on a peninsula
where the Bay of Cobas met the bay of Belfalas and lead out
into the larger sea. From the castle steps the Elven ships
could be seen leaving the Havens from Edhellond some 150
leagues away across the Bay.

It was said that the royalty of Dol Amroth had Elvish blood
mingled with their own. Though most of the people of Dol
Amroth thought that more of a legend than truth. Whatever
the truth was, those who were of royal blood had the long
dark hair and delicate features similar to the Elves that
had first settled in Edhellond.

Lothiriel, daughter of Prince Imrahil, and her older sister
Erchirion were sitting upon the steps watching as an Elven
ship slowly sailed through the Bay. The sun was low in the
morning sky and the masts of the ship caught the sun's rays
and seemed to shimmer upon the water.

Dashing up and down the steps in front of them were their
younger brothers, Amrothos and Elphir, who were 7 and 9
years old. The burden of raising them had mostly been
placed upon Erchirion and Lothiriel, for their mother had
died in childbirth when they were in their teens.

"Rihiel said he has seen more ships leaving this month than
he has seen his entire life," Erchirion said.

"I know, I've been watching them as well," Lothiriel said.
She nervously tugged at the end of her long black braid that
hung over her shoulder.

"What do you think it means?" Erchirion asked.

Lothiriel shrugged. "It cannot be good whatever it is. But
Papa did say the Elves were leaving no matter the outcome of
the War," Lothiriel reminded her.

"I would feel better if he were here to tell me that
himself," Erchirion said. "He has been gone too long. Six
months should be time enough to rid the entirety of Gondor
of all manner of evil."

Lothiriel said nothing for she did not wish to worry her
sister. But Erchirion was right. Six months was far too
long with no word from her father. The Elven ships sailing
away daily, combined with their own troubles as of late,
made Lothiriel fear the worst.

Lothiriel did her best to ease the burden of governing the
city that fell to Erchirion when their father went away to
war. Though neither were heirs to the throne, their
brothers were far too young to do anything but be the rowdy
boys tumbling on the ground before them. But no manner of
help could completely lift the weight of responsibility from
her sister's shoulders.

Erchirion chewed on the end of her fingernails.

"That does not become the leader of our fair city."
Lothiriel reached over and took her sister's hands in her
own. "Here comes your favorite member of the prince's guard
now."

Lothiriel and Erchirion rose to their feet as Rihiel walked
up the steps to greet them. He was tall and lithe. Upon
his breast he bore the armor of the Swan Prince. He bowed
slightly. "My ladies. More people from the settlements
along the coast have arrived. The leader of them has come
to speak with you," Rihiel said.

At the foot of the steps a middle-aged man stood waiting.
His face was tanned and weathered from the long years of
living beside the sea.

"Send him up," Erchirion said.

Rihiel motioned for the man to approach. As he climbed the
steps, Erchirion straightened her braid and smoothed down
the front of her dress. Holding her shoulders back, she
stood as straight as possible.

"This is her Queenly pose," Lothiriel leaned over and
whispered to Rihiel.

Rihiel's lips curved up in a slight smile. Erchirion turned
to Lothiriel, but whatever stinging retort she had, died on
her lips when the man bowed before her. She smiled at him
and took his hands, bringing him to his feet.

"We come to ask for safe refuge, my lady," the man said.

"You are welcome within our city," Erchirion said. "What
has happened?"

"Black ships of the Corsairs are raiding the homes along the
coasts. Many of our homesteads have been destroyed," His
voice cracked as he tried to continue. "Many did not make
it out."

"The Princess Lothiriel will escort your families to homes
within the city. They are expecting you and will welcome
you as one of their own. I am sorry for your loss,"
Erchirion said.

The man took her hand and kissed it. "Thank you, my lady."

Lothiriel smiled and said, "Follow me."

The man began to follow behind her at a proper distance but
she insisted he walk beside her. His face and stance were
weary as they walked down the many steep stone steps that
wound from the castle down into the city. Those who were
not used to such climbs tired easily upon their first
attempt, and many stone benches were placed along the path
to rest. Each held a lovely view of the ocean and bay. In
most instances a journey up or down to the castle was
something to be savored. Lately, however, the threat of
ever approaching evil had ripped the serene tranquility of
Dol Amroth from its very foundations. And all who lived
within its borders were afraid, for there were few troops
left behind to defend it.

No one doubted Prince Imrahil's loyalty to Gondor, though
many were beginning to doubt his loyalty to his own fiefdom.
When word came for the desperate need of troops in Minas
Tirith, he spared all that he could and left with as much
haste as could be had. Those troops he had left behind were
enough to see to the day to day running of the castle but
not enough to defeat the threats of evil that seemed to be
closing in all sides of their borders. Although, it may
have been unwise to leave so few behind, the darkness that
had spread across Middle-Earth had not touched Dol Amroth.
And the Prince believed that whatever trouble there was, he
would defeat it on the way to Minas Tirith.

But the weeks had turned to months and still there was no
word from the Prince. And the darkness that had plagued the
rest of the world had finally found its way to Dol Amroth.

The man said nothing as Lothiriel lead him deep into the
city. And from the sad expression on his face she did not
want to trouble him with idle conversation. She stopped
upon a cobble-stone street filled with shops and houses.
"Everyone along this street has offered to share their roofs
with your families," Lothiriel said. "You may divide
yourselves up between them as you see fit."

The man bowed low, giving his thanks.

*****************************************

As Lothiriel walked back to join her sister upon the steps,
Elphir charged towards her at full speed.

"Lotty!!" Elphir yelled as he leapt into her arms. She
staggered backwards under his embrace as she caught him
against her. Laughing, she looked down into his wide eyes.
"We are killing pirates!" Elphir said.

"Oh, and I look like a pirate to you?" she asked with a
smile.

He nodded. "You are the Pirate Queen. We have taken all
your men hostage."

"Then I raise the white flag in surrender. How many have
you killed?"

"Hundreds, I am leading the men to war," Elphir said very
seriously. She gave her brother a quick kiss on the top of
the head. He rushed after his brother and yelled, "Gather
the troops, we leave at once!"

Lothiriel sat down and rested her head upon her sister's
shoulder. Erchirion sighed.

"Please quit teasing me around Rihiel. It's hard enough
being responsible for the whole city without you tormenting
me at every occasion," Erchirion said.

"But you are so easy to tease," Lothiriel said.

"If you don't quit doing it I'll. . . .I'll. . . . "

"Cast me into the dungeons? Please do." Lothiriel said
with a grin.

She and her sister both laughed but it was short-lived. "I
hate to see you like this. You haven't been yourself since
the couriers started disappearing," Lothiriel said. "You
know it isn't your fault they haven't returned."

"I know they were doing their duty," Erchirion said. "But
I am the one who sent them. I am the one who has to tell
their wives that they haven't returned."

"You are doing a good job. Do not worry so. Papa will come
and he will take care of everything."

"He will not come if he never receives word that we need his
aid," Erchirion said.

As they sat there, Rihiel reappeared, this time he was
running. "My ladies. I come with serious tidings."

"Another attack?" Lothiriel asked.

Rihiel nodded. "Two leagues within the inner hills of
Tornost. The raids are becoming more frequent and are
moving deeper inland with each attack. The Captain of the
Guard wishes to know what you would have us do?"

Lothiriel looked at her sister. Erchirion's face was pale.
No attack had come so close to Dol Amroth in centuries.
Erchirion's voice faltered as she spoke, "Send riders to
get word to all of the outlying homes and settlements. Let
them know of the situation and tell them they are welcome to
seek refuge behind the city gates if they so wish."

"How many riders do you wish to send?"

Erchirion hesitated and looked at her sister. They knew
nothing of troop movements or strengths. This was beyond
what either of them had been prepared for. Lothiriel
glanced down at her brothers, now commanding a fleet of
imaginary troops. They probably knew more of war than
either of them did.

"What do you suggest?" Erchirion said.

Rihiel was taken aback by the question but then considered
it. "I would go with no less than 10."

"Then send 20," Erchirion said.

Rihiel bowed and raced down the steps.

"Attacks so close?" Lothiriel said. "What is going on?"

Erchirion shook her head. "I don't know, but we must get
word to father. We can no more command armies than we can
wield a sword."

Lothiriel grinned. "When papa returns I shall give him a
stern lecture about why he should have instructed us in the
finer points of combat."

*****************************

Many leagues away within the Golden Halls of Meduseld, King
Eomer and Prince Imrahil were sitting around the hearth in
quiet contemplation. Since the war had begun, Eomer had not
had a chance to sit in silence. Though the roar of his
thoughts were loud enough to forgo him feeling any sense of
peace at the solitude of the morning, Eomer knew that he
would find few such moments of quiet in the coming months.

Hundreds of his people were homeless, their homes looted and
burned as orcs trampled across the grasslands. Skirmishes
with orcs were still being reported around the borders of
the Mark. And the burden of rebuilding his homeland fell to
his shoulders.

His shoulders.

That thought was almost as foreign and as strange to him as
the Elves who had filled the hall with song not three nights
before. In all his years of living in Edoras, Eomer could
never remember having more honored guests among them. The
beauty of the Lady Galadriel and Lady Arwen alone was enough
to bring a gasp of awe to all who had seen them. And the
music! Never had such music rang through the halls of
Meduseld.

As he had listened to the music of the Elves his eyes had
strayed to the tapestries of the Kings of old. And it
seemed to Eomer as if he were in a dream for he swore he saw
the Eorl the Young and his horse racing along the grasslands
to battle. Of course, it could also have been the wine.
Eomer chuckled to himself.

Imrahil glanced at the King and raised his eyebrows in
question. "Do that too often and your people will think you
are mad."

"You sound as if you speak from experience," Eomer said.

"I do."

"I shall try to keep that in mind," Eomer said.

"You would do well too," Imrahil said. "Though, in my case,
my bouts of talking to myself were brought on by my
daughters."

"Theoden had much the same problem with Eowyn," Eomer said,
with a grin. He stood and they walked to the porch of the
Golden Hall.

"Should my daughters have been like the Lady Eowyn, I do not
think I would have survived their childhoods," Imrahil said
wryly.

Eomer laughed out loud. "I pity to see what a toll married
life will have on Faramir."

"If that is any indication then I do not think Faramir will
mind it too much," Imrahil said, staring into the distance.

Eomer followed Imrahil's gaze down the steep trail that lead
down to the armory. Behind the armory, obscured from the
view of the path, Eowyn and Faramir stood locked in an
embrace. Faramir started to pull away but Eowyn pulled him
back to her fiercely pressing her lips to his.

"It will be a long year indeed before the wedding," Eomer
said, laughing. "Eowyn may begrudge me for making her wait
the allotted time."

"Faramir hopes to have Ithilien cleared of all remnants of
evil by then," Imrahil said.

They turned their glances away from the glory of young love
and walked back into Meduseld. "How long before you leave?"
Eomer asked.

"First light tomorrow," Imrahil said. "The majority of my
troops are still under Lord Aragorn's command clearing out
the last of the orcs around Mordor. Those that I have with
me, I will take to Ithilien." Imrahil sounded strong but a
moment of weariness passed over his face.

"How long has it been since you have seen the lands of your
home?" Eomer asked.

"Well on 6 months," Imrahil said. "My daughter Erchirion
was to send word if any trouble befell them, but I have
heard no messages so all is well."

"It is a comfort to know that there are yet some lands that
war did not touch," Eomer said.

Imrahil nodded. "It is that thought that keeps me fighting
the battles. Knowing that my family and my homeland lay in
peace." Imrahil smiled. "But you would not know of such
feelings yet. You are too young and the restlessness of
youth is still within your eyes. I can see it. Even now, I
think you are riding somewhere out beyond the gates of
Edoras in the rolling grasslands."

"Are my thoughts that plain upon my face?"

"Only to one who has stood in your place," Imrahil said.

*************************************

The sun had barely risen as Imrahil, Faramir, and Eowyn said
their goodbyes to Eomer beyond the gates of Edoras.

Imrahil bowed slightly. "Eomer chance and fate brought us
together on the battlefield, but I consider myself lucky to
have you as an ally."

"As do I," Eomer said, bowing slightly. "One day, I should
like to see the great sea you speak so fondly of."

A wide smile spread across Imrahil's face, "One look at it
and your beloved grasslands will seem small in comparison."

"Perhaps they will seem small but no less beloved." Eowyn
said. "For no one loves the Mark more than my brother."
Eowyn wrapped her arms around her brother in a fond embrace.

"As hard as I try, I simply cannot see you walking the halls
of Minas Tirith every day followed by a gaggle of doting
servants," Eomer said.

Eowyn grinned at him and playfully punched him on the arm.
"I have no intentions of having doting servants. The Lady
Arwen has already spoken to me about improving my archery
skills. When next you see me, I shall be the same woman I
am now."

"I do hope so. I hate to think that Gondorian life will
change you," Eomer said, softly.

Eowyn's expression softened and she smiled at him. Standing
on tiptoes, she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. "The
time will fly by," Eowyn said.

"I hope you are right," Eomer said. "Be careful."

"I shall take care of her," Faramir said.

"I would not even ask you to try," Eomer said with a laugh.
"Though if you do manage to keep up with her, then I should
think you a very worthy match for her affections."

"Keeping up with her shall be my top priority," Faramir
said. Then seeing Imrahil's and Eowyn's disapproving
expressions he added. "Of course that only comes after
cleaning Ithilien of orcs."

Eomer watched as they mounted their horses and rode away
with the sound of his sister's laughter ringing in his ears.
To him, it was the only sound that could bring more joy to
his heart than the songs of the Elves.

********************************

The day that dawned in Dol Amroth was not nearly as
enjoyable. Lothiriel was pacing the library. Throughout
her 23 years whenever she was troubled, she found solace in
the quiet halls of the library. Today the smell of the old
books did nothing to soothe her spirit. As hard as she
tried, she could not lose herself in ancient lore. Her
thoughts were too bent on the present. An idea that had
been sitting in the back of her mind had formed into a full-
blown plan. That is, if she had the nerve to go through
with it.

At dawn, Erchirion had joined the Captain of the Guards in
counsel behind closed doors. Three hours later and the door
still had not opened. They had turned away all offers of
refreshment and had locked themselves within her father's
study. Lothiriel was considering ways to climb in through
the windows of the study when the library door opened and
Erchirion walked into the room.

Her eyes were red from weeping.

"Talk to me," Lothiriel said.

"Oh Lotty, this was not at all what I expected," Erchirion
sat down at the table that ran the length of the room and
lay her head in her hands. "I wanted so badly to make him
proud of me and all I have done is fail him."

"You have done nothing to fail him."

"I'm handing command of Dol Amroth over to the Captain of
the guard."

"You can't!"

"Temporarily until papa returns," Erchirion said. "I did
not want to do it. But I knew of no other way. There will
be no formal notice, so not as to alarm the people of the
city and I will be consulted on every decision but I am
leaving most of it in the hands of Dolore."

"Have you transferred control to him yet?" Lothiriel asked.

"Not until tomorrow at dusk," Erchirion said.

"Good, then as your last official command, you can order him
to give me 10 riders. I am leaving at day break and I do
not plan to return until I find Papa," Lothiriel said.

Erchirion started to protest but Lothiriel stopped her.
"No, I have thought this out. Whoever is attacking the
couriers may be reluctant to attack a party of 10 riders
escorting a woman."

"But Minas Tirith is leagues away!"

"That is why I am going to Rohan instead. The King there
should have news of the war," Lothiriel said. "I will not
see my home crumbled into ruins."

Erchirion nodded. "You are right. But I should be the one
to go. I am the eldest."

Lothiriel shook her head. "That is exactly why you should
stay. The people have grown accustomed to your presence as
a leader. You saw the way the man looked at you yesterday.
He bowed at your feet. People respect you. You have the
look of a queen."

Erchirion did not speak for a long moment. Lothiriel held
her breath. Hoping against hope that her sister would
agree, and at the same time dreading it would happen. The
seconds stretched out indefinitely. Finally Erchirion
spoke, "You should get packed if you are leaving at day
break."

Lothiriel nodded, her stomach tying into knots. All of her
life she had wanted to leave Dol Amroth. See what lay
beyond the Hills of Tornost. For years, she and Erchirion
had begged their father to take them to Minas Tirith, but
their father had said the journey was too long and strenuous
for young girls. After their mother died, they were in
charge of tending to their younger brothers and travel was
not an option. But now, finally, after all these years,
Lothiriel was going to travel. Unfortunately, it was not
under the circumstances she had expected.

* * * *

Erchirion sat within her chambers listening to Dolore's
incessant ranting which had begun the moment he learned of
Lothiriel's plans and hadn't stopped since.

Erchirion had all but drowned out the sound of his chatter,
choosing instead to let her gaze fall on Rihiel, who was
waiting his turn to speak with her on the far side of the
room.

Dolore paced the ground in front of Erchirion. "My lady,
please listen to reason. Your father will have my head when
he discovers that I have allowed his daughter to go
traipsing about the countryside."

Erchirion stood her ground. "My father will have your head
if his country falls into ruin while under your command. My
sister is doing what should have been done months ago."

"Letting your sister go off on this vain quest simply proves
that you are unfit for leadership," Dolore said.

"Do not speak to me in such a fashion. I may have handed
control of the city over to you, but that does not go into
effect until tomorrow," Erchirion said.

"And what will you do if I should recall my troops
tomorrow?" Dolore said.

"You would not dare," Erchirion said. "If you did so, I
would think you * wanted * our city to be taken by dark
forces. For you seem to have done little so far to make our
situation known to my father."

Dolore marched from the chambers.

Rihiel bowed respectfully to Erchirion. "He is right you
know. Your sister is riding into great danger."

"I am not the fool Dolore takes me for. And I should hope
you do not take me for one as well," Erchirion said, icily.

"I have taken you for many things, but never a fool,"
Rihiel said.

Erchirion's expression softened. She sighed. "I am well
aware of the danger Lotty is riding into. It consumes my
thoughts. But I see that I have little other choice."

Rihiel reached out and took Erchirion's hands in his own.
"If there is anything I can do to ease your burden's, please
ask. You know that you have my loyalty, no matter who is in
command of the Dol Amroth."

Erchirion squeezed his hands. The words he spoke were
bordering on treasonous, but they were music to her ears.

* * * * * *

The day passed much too quickly. Lothiriel spent most of
the day deciding what would be appropriate to take with her
on such a journey. Erchirion had taken care of getting the
riders ready. What trouble she had in convincing the
Captain of the Guard, she did not reveal to Lothiriel. In
fact, Lothiriel did not see her but in passing glances until
the sun was low in the sky. Erchirion insisted that they go
down to the beach and watch the sunset. It was a long walk
but well worth it.

Lothiriel gazed out at the ocean. A sight that she had
never tired off in all her life. It consumed her senses,
the endless expanse of water. The roar of the waves. The
crisp sting of the wind whipping across the sea spray. The
salty smell of the water. She had never been away from it.

"Are you frightened?" Erchirion asked, as she took her
hand.

"Terrified."

Erchirion gave her sister's hand a squeeze.

"I have never gone a day without the ocean," Lothiriel
said.

"Nor have I."

"I am homesick and I have not even left yet," Lothiriel
said.

"Once you cross the hills, you will be so caught up in the
adventure of travel and new sites that you will forget all
about being homesick," Erchirion said.

"I hope you are right."

"I know I am."

"Remember how we used to play Minas Tirith?" Lothiriel
asked.

"We were on a long journey to visit the Steward and to
pledge our undying allegiance to him and the crown."
Erchirion said.

"And to rid the world of the dragon that lived beyond the
gates of Mordor," Lothiriel said.

"We slay that dragon at least 4 times a day that summer."

"Do you think that Papa has slayed the evil beyond Gondor?"
Lothiriel asked.

"I don't know, Lotty. But if anyone can find the answer it
is you."

* * * * * * * * * *


The sun was setting as Eomer sat within the great hall of
Meduseld. For the first time since he had become King, he
was completely alone.

His eyes wandered over the tapestries, up the wooden
columns, to the high ceiling. In all his life when he had
imagined his future, being King had never entered his
wildest dreams. He had no need for power as some men did.
Nor did he seek out the glory that came from battle. He had
been content with what he had. Following in his father's
footsteps to be the Third Marshal had been the fulfillment
of all the plans Eomer had ever bothered to make. And in
the past few years Eomer had been so preoccupied by his
uncle's failing health and Grima's silent but all too
obvious threats to Eowyn, that he had given little thought
to anything but preserving his homeland and protecting his
sister. For a while he wasn't certain if he even had it in
his power to do that.

On one never-ending night spent locked within the cells of
his own home, Eomer felt as if every bad thing that could
possibly happen was happening and he was powerless to stop
it. And for one horrifying day when he thought Eowyn was
dead on the battlefield, all of his nightmares had come
true.

And now Eowyn was off in Minas Tirith building a new life
for herself. And though he wanted nothing more than her
happiness, he missed her presence now as he never had
before. So many people were lost. Theodred was gone.
Theoden was gone. And the responsibility of Rohan had
fallen to him. It was not a question of wanting it. Rohan
was more dear to his heart than words could ever possibly
express. But Eomer, though well-versed in the arts of
battle, had never been groomed as Theodred had for the
throne. And he could not keep the worries from his heart,
"Would he be a good King?"

Eomer sighed. Moping certainly wasn't a very Kingly
quality. He rose from his chair and stretched up to his
full height.

He walked down the hill that lead to the cluster of wooden
bunkhouses where his household eored lived. While Third
Marshal, Eomer had spent many nights within those bunks
himself. As King his days of sleeping in the bunkhouse were
long over. In many ways he regretted that. He always felt
it foolish to sleep apart from his own men. Simply because
one was of a higher rank, did not mean he had to abuse the
privilege.

Eomer walked into their crowded dining hall and got in line.
The rowdy noise of the men instantly lifted his spirits. He
sat down beside Elfhelm his lieutenant and Marshal of the
East-Mark. It wasn't long before he was exchanging banter
with the rest of them.

Eomer was finishing the last of his food when a stable-hand
burst through the doors at a run.

"My Lord, the horses. . ."

Eomer and Elfhelm followed the stable-hand through the gates
of Edoras and down to the outlying stables.

Within the stables lay three dead horses. Arrows protruded
from their hearts and carved upon their skin was the eye of
Sauron.

Eomer clenched his teeth in fury. While he examined the
horses, Elfhelm investigated outside. He soon returned, his
expression grim.

"There are three sets of tracks, fresh. They lead around
the gates," Elfhelm said.

"Show me," Eomer said.

Eomer grabbed a torch and followed the footprints around the
northern side of the gates.

"They crouched low to avoid being seen by the guards,"
Elfhelm said.

"In this new moon, they were practically invisible," Eomer
said.

At the far southern edge of the gates, the footprints veered
off south and joined the path to Dunharrow.

"Get the eored ready, at first light we ride to Dunharrow,"
Eomer said.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * *


Chapter 2 - Chapter 2

*******************************

Chapter 2

Thick rain-soaked clouds hung in the sky in the early morning
light. Lothiriel stifled a yawn. The butterflies dancing around
her stomach all night long had given her little chance for sleep.
Under normal circumstances, leaving the city would have been
cause for celebration, but all she felt now was sleepy and scared.
If it was even possible to be both of those things at once.
Doubts rose up in her mind one by one, but she fought them off.

In the distance, Dolore was giving Lothiriel’s guards last minute
instructions. The sight of him gave her a well-needed dose of
courage. No matter what the consequences of her journey were,
she already knew it was the right choice. Though Dolore was a
good man and loyal to her father, he was not the one who should
be leading the people. Her father was the only one who belonged
in that position. Dol Amroth was not the same without him. And
she was determined to do everything in her power to bring him
back. Even if she had to walk to clear across Middle-Earth to
find him.

Erchirion rushed out the gates. “Sorry, I’m late.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you could care less that I was
leaving,” Lothiriel said with a grin.

“I have a present for you,” Erchirion said. She reached into her
pocket and pulled out a small vial attached to a silver chain.
“Inside is sand from the beach. This way, you will take part of
home with you where ever you go.”

Erchirion slipped the silver chain around Lothiriel’s neck. “It’s
beautiful.”

“Take care of yourself, Lotty.” Erchirion gave her sister a warm
embrace. “And remember everything. I want a detailed report of
all the lands you see and all the people you meet.”

“And I will come home with Papa riding beside me,” Lothiriel said.

Erchirion nodded and hugged her again. “I am going to miss you!”

Lothiriel mounted her horse. With one last wave to her sister,
she followed the riders along the path that lead away from Dol
Amroth.

After months of waiting idle with worry, the simple act of
mounting her horse lifted her spirits. Taking action was far
better than waiting. No wonder men were so eager to ride off to
war. Lothiriel found herself caught up in the excitement of the
adventure that lay before her. For she suddenly realized that by
days end she would see sights that she had never before seen.
Not even the thick clouds could dampen her spirits.

******************************

The clear skies over Edoras did little to lift Eomer’s spirits as he
approached the stables. After the attack, he doubled the guard
on the horses but the remainder of the night past in silence.
Eomer expected that. From the tracks he and Elfhelm followed
around the edge of the gates, the servants of Sauron who
murdered the horses were long since gone. Hopefully, they would
pick up the trail in the light of the morning.

Eomer walked down the long row of stalls until he reached his
horse. Although Rohan had the best-trained stable hands in all of
Middle-Earth, most riders of the Mark tended their horses
themselves. Unlike some of the peoples of Middle-Earth who
merely viewed horses as a mode of transportation, the Rohirrim
viewed them as a revered member of society. Horses were not
merely tools, but were living, breathing creatures worthy of
respect.

Eomer’s horse had carried him through the grasses of the Mark,
over the long road to Minas Tirith, through the carnage of the
battlefields of the Pelennor. A constant companion, never once
shying away from his duty. Eomer knew men who had done less.

The sweet scent of hay instantly relaxed him as he pulled his
saddle off of the rack and lay it over his horse's back. Eomer's
eyes strayed to the empty stalls. The deaths of the horses was
disturbing, but it was the eye of Sauron that worried him.

From the time Aragorn had appeared at Eomer's feet, dreams
and legends had been springing to life around him. Stories he had
listened to as a child were suddenly true. Elves. Halflings.
Isildur's heir. Sauron.

Would the world ever return to normal?

Eomer had been at the gates of Mordor when Sauron had been
destroyed. Sanding alongside his men in what he thought would
be the last battle of mankind, Eomer had been overcome by the
unbidden joy that rose in his heart as the world was rid of evil.

But he had also heard Sauron's servants cry out in rage. Some of
them had put up a feeble attempt at a fight, but most of them
had scattered. Despite their best efforts many of them escaped.
And now? Perhaps now they were seeking revenge in whatever
why they could. Eomer had no intention of letting terror return
to Rohan.

The eored was ready and waiting when Eomer rode out of the
stable. After picking up the trail at the edge of Edoras, they
followed the footprints through the open plains that lay between
them and the shadow of the White Mountains.

Elfhelm reined in beside Eomer as they approached the looming
cliffs. "If they have ridden to Dunharrow we shall have no
trouble finding them. For there is no way of escape within that
mountain path."

Eomer nodded but he was not so certain. There was one path
that could be taken but the thought of taking it was such a
horror that none among the Rohirrim would even consider it a
possibility. Until recently, Eomer would have never considered it
either. But like all else in his life, even old fears were being
altered.

Eomer pushed those thoughts from his mind as the horses came
upon the first of the twisting switchbacks that lead up the side
of the mountain. At each turn in the road stood the "fatboys" as
Eowyn had always called them as a child. Though he would never
call them that aloud, in his mind he still thought of the short
stumpy stone statues as the fatboys. Eowyn had spent many an
evening making up stories about who could have carved the
ancient ruins.

As they climbed the last of the rocky switchbacks the road
widened and went up a steep slope into a high rolling grassland
known as the Firienfeld. The green grasses of the Firienfeld
spread out a half mile before the tall pine trees grew in the
steeping slopes that lead up to the mountains. Cutting through
the middle of the Firienfeld was a road. Tall stones lined it, some
broken, some leaning, some crumbled to dust.

They followed the tracks of the attackers along the road,
between the tall standing stones. When Eomer approached the
steepening slopes where the pine forest began, his men hung
back. He did not blame them. Nor did he urge them forward.

Only Elfhelm dared to ride beside Eomer. Eomer followed the
tracks silently. Never in all his years had he ridden so far down
this road. The Paths of the Dead. The branches of the pine
trees hung thick above the trail, blocking out most of the rays of
the sunlight. It was stifling beneath them.

"Surely they could not have gone any farther," Elfhelm said. "No
man has come back alive from the Paths of the Dead."

"You are wrong," Eomer said. "Aragorn traveled these paths with
his men."

Elfhelm shook his head. As they approached the edge of the
mountain face, one standing stone stood tall, like a guard in the
middle of the path. "Did you see him walk down these roads with
your own eyes?" Elfhelm asked.

"I did not. But I do not doubt his word, or those of his
companions," Eomer said. He urged his horse to go around the
stone as he followed the tracks. They came at last to the sheer
mountain face. The Dark Door stood before them. Upon the
archway were etchings long since faded with age. What lay
beyond it into the depths of the mountains only a few upon
Middle-Earth could say.

Eomer dismounted and followed the tracks until they disappeared
into the darkness. He gazed long into its black depths. But he
could see nothing.

"This is madness," Elfhelm grabbed Eomer's arm and pulled him
back from the entrance as if he expected him to be completely
engulfed should he accidentally set a foot across the threshold.
"Surely they are dead."

"I am not so sure they are," Eomer said. "If Aragorn was the
one spoken of in legends, the one who rose the spirits of the dead
to battle, then after they fulfilled their oath their spirits would
depart and the Path would be safe once more."

"Do you want to be the one to test this theory?" Elfhelm asked.

Eomer looked at his old friend and smiled. "No. But I will not
have my people terrorized."

Elfhelm thought for a long moment. "If they did use The Paths
of the Dead to cross through the mountains, they could be on the
other side of the Hills of Erech by now."

"If they are bent on revenge they may be back," Eomer said.
"Let's set up camp on the Firienfeld. I want to keep watch over
the road. At least for a week. Let's see what happens."

Elfhelm sighed audibly as Eomer mounted his horse and road back
to the Firienfeld. There was nothing else for them to do but
wait.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lothiriel squirmed uncomfortably in her saddle. After a nearly
week of riding, Lothiriel realized that adventures weren't all they
were cracked up to be. Since day one, her legs were constantly
aching from the long hours in the saddle. Before this trip, she
had never ridden more than a few leagues from home. Even then
she had always been back to Dol Amroth well before sunset.

Sleeping was difficult. If you could call the endless nights of
tossing and turning sleep. It was not the ground that bothered
her, that was a trivial thing, like sleeping upon the floor of
Erchirion's room when she was little. The noise was what kept
her awake. The sounds of animals foraging in the nearby bushes,
creeping ever closer to where she slept unnerved her. As much
as Lothiriel did not want to admit it, she was scared of sleeping
outside. Lying under the open sky offered a spectacular view of
the stars, but Lothiriel felt small and exposed. As if all the evil
in the world could walk up and grab her at a moments notice from
the dark corners of the night. The men standing watch as she
slept did little to ease her worries. And every day she was more
exhausted than the night before.

Her guards set a quick pace, determined to get to Rohan as
quickly as possible. If the riding and the lack of sleep wasn't bad
enough, her guards barely looked in her direction. So far, she'd
barely spoken two words. Lothiriel wondered if she would
completely loose the use of her voice by the time they reached
Rohan.

The only saving grace was the beauty of the landscape that
greeted her eyes in every direction.

They had been climbing steadily since they began following the
course of the Morthond River. Behind them, it stretched out like
a silver ribbon, winding its way down from the foothills of the
mountains to where it joined the River Ringlo. And the
mountains! Lothiriel had never seen anything of such beauty. The
tops of them were white with snow, and the jagged peaks seemed
to touch the sky.

It was the view of the mountains that she kept her eyes fixed
upon during the long rides. Every day they loomed closer and
larger before her. They were traveling north west, following the
southern edge of the White Mountains. They would cross the
River Lefnui and pass over the mountains at their lowest
elevation. Though the route was well-known among the travelers
of Dol Amroth, it was not widely enough used to even offer a
path. And only those who knew it well could find their way. The
trail was long but not a strenuous one, and for those traveling
from Dol Amroth to the northern lands of Isengard or Rohan it
took many weeks off the journey.

Lothiriel had known there was a wider world beyond Dol Amroth,
but she had not been prepared for the sheer size and wonder of
it. The empty spaces they passed through seemed devoid of any
signs of civilization. Were it not for the fact that her men knew
the way, Lothiriel would have thought they were the first people
to ever set foot upon these lands. As a child, she had imagined a
great many things. But the untamed lands that surrounded her,
was more stirring to her blood than any imagining could have
possibly been.

Even the smell and feel of the air upon her skin was foreign to
her, so different it was from the salty sea-rich air of home. The
sun was sinking low in the western sky, when they stopped to
make camp.

While the guards prepared for nightfall, Lothiriel watched the
sunset. The guards formed a circle setting their bedrolls around
the campfire. Lothiriel grabbed her own bedroll and her traveling
blanket and laid them out. When the small ration of stew had
been eaten for supper, the stars were already twinkling overhead.
A few of them men sat up talking amonst themselves, she could
hear their friendly banter, but no conversation was offered in
her direction. Tired and lonely she curled up beneath her
traveling blanket and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

"My lady! My lady! You must wake up!" a guard shook her
roughly.

Lothiriel woke with a start. Around her rose a commotion of
voices, shouts in the dark. Her sleep clouded mind struggled to
gain her bearings. She sat up and rubbed her eyes.

The young guard's gaze was full of worry. "Hurry, my lady."

"What's happening?" Lothiriel glanced around the campsite. The
guards had made a ring around the fire and were standing with
their swords drawn and ready.

"We are under attack," the guard said. "The two men standing
watch were. . .killed."

"Killed?"

"Yes. You must stay down and you must stay quiet," the guard
said. He drew his sword and stared out into the darkness.

Lothiriel lay still. She strained her ears against the silence of
the night but heard nothing but the pounding of her heart. Long
tense moments stretched out as they waited. And waited. And
then, one quiet sound cut through the darkness. To Lothiriel it
was not a violent sound, until one of the guards cried out and fell
to the ground. An arrow protruded from his chest.

The guards called the retreat and they moved to the cover of the
nearby trees where the horses were wrangled. Lothiriel stumbled
along. The circle of horses offered more protection from the
enemy's arrows. And once the horses were quieted, again all fell
into silence.

Lothiriel crouched beside her horse. Her body was tense, ready
to spring to action at a moment's notice, but what action she
would take she did not know. She had no weapon. She did not
know how to fight. And she was surrounded by unseen enemies.
She thought the night could get no worse. But she was wrong.

The silence was pierced by the loud whooping of men. From all
sides the screaming grew. The guards of Dol Amroth held their
swords ready, waiting for the attack. And it came.

In one swift and terrifying moment the forest seemed to come
alive with movement. Dark shapes penetrated their circle of
horses. The men were dark haired and darkly clothed so they
were hard to see under cover of night. A never ending stream of
curses came from their lips in a language that Lothiriel had never
heard.

And soon after, cries of pain joined the war cries as men began to
fall in battle. Swords glimmered in the moonlight. The sickly
sweet stench of blood filled the air.

Beside her, an attacker's blade plunged straight through the
body of one of her guards. He fell at her feet, his eyes gazing
up at her, gasping for breath. He reached out to her. Lothiriel
cradled his head in her hands, but there was nothing she could do.
The sounds of the battle surrounding here were all but blocked
out as she watched the young man die in her arms. As he
breathed his last breath she was grabbed from behind.

Lothiriel struggled to gain her footing as the man pulled her by
the hem of her skirt. With a firm yank, Lothiriel managed to rip
herself free, leaving the man holding nothing but the tatter
remains of her skirt.

Around her the battle waged. She looked for protection but her
men were too busy protecting themselves to even look in her
direction. The horses were pulling on their ropes in a vain
attempt to break free from the madness that surrounded them.

Quickly, Lothiriel rushed to her horse and pulled loose the reins.
She flung herself into the saddle and urged her horse away from
the carnage.

Lothiriel rode hard and fast with no clear direction of where she
was going except to escape. Her horse needed no encouragement
and soon the sounds of the battle were all but a distant memory.

After some time had passed, Lothiriel slowed her horse. Exactly
how far and how long she had ridden she did not know. The
terror of the attack had over-run any normal sense of time and
place. It seemed to have lasted an eternity, but Lothiriel knew it
could not be so. For the first light of dawn had just begun to
lighten the sky.

Lothiriel let the horse pick the way and he eagerly trotted back
to the river. The Morthlond rushed past them, flowing over the
rocks. The sound was soothing.

"Stay calm," Lothiriel told herself. But that was easier said than
done. Her horse took a long drink. Lothiriel dismounted and
filled her canteen. Letting the icy water cool her throat. She
took a few deep breaths and tried to decide what to do.

Lothiriel had no intentions of riding back to the scene of the
attack. If her men had survived they would pick up her trail and
follow her. If they did not, her attackers would pick up her trail
and follow her. Either way, someone would be behind her. But
she had no way of knowing whether it would be a friend or a foe.
And she did not plan on sitting around and waiting to find out.

Reluctantly, she mounted her horse and rode on. But where she
was riding too she had no way of knowing. Though Lotty had
poured over maps many times, looking at a map was far different
than riding over the terrain. Following the Morthlond seemed as
good of a path as any. She vague recalled stories about the Hill
at Erech and the fertile valley that lay beyond it. If there was a
fertile valley there had to be farmers. Perhaps she could find
help there.

The sun rose into the sky and she kept her horse at a fast pace.
And though she was unsure of where she was or where she was
going, the River offered comfort. For she knew that the river
wound its way far to the south and fed into the Bay of Cobas near
her home. Perhaps if she did not make it back to Dol Amroth, the
water she was staring at would.

Home had never seemed further away. Lothiriel could scarcely
convince herself that Dol Amroth even existed anymore. For all
she knew, she could be walking upon another land in another
world.

The hours blended into one another. The mountains loomed large
in front of her. And she kept her gazed fixed on them. They
seemed steady and enduring. And if they could last throughout
thousands of years of wind and rain and war, then she could
surely survive a ride alone.

Lothiriel hummed songs to herself. The sun warmed her face, and
the brilliant blue of the sky spread out above her but she could
not ease the terror rising in her thoughts.

By nightfall, she could see Erech, though it was still several
leagues away. Lothiriel was relieved to know where she was. It
gave her some reference point. Though she did not want to stop,
Lothiriel knew that she and her horse both needed rest.

She curled up on the ground, shivering. Both from fear and the
cold. Her traveling blanket and bedroll were long gone. The long
under pants she wore gave little protection from the elements,
for it was never intended to be worn alone but simply to cover her
legs as she rode in a skirt. Lothiriel cursed the attacker who
ripped off her skirt. And the thought of him brought to mind the
rest of the events of the attack. She closed her eyes trying to
force the thoughts from her mind but was bombarded by images
of death. Sleep was a long time coming.

Lothiriel woke with the dawn and began the ride towards Erech.
Beyond the Hill of Erech was the valley. And people. And help.
She steadied herself with the thought of a farmer greeting her
with open arms before the days end. The sun had barely risen
into the sky, by the time the huge black stone came into view.
The Hill of Erech rose up steeply on all sides and atop the hill was
the half-buried black stone. It was smooth as if someone had
spent long years polishing it. As Lothiriel rode passed, she
wondered how it came to sit there and she wondered if perhaps it
fell from the sky.

By noon, she approached the valley. The lands were green and
sloping rising up towards the sheer mountain face. She could see
the trees planted in orderly rows. An orchard. And she sped her
horse to a gallop when she saw the houses in the distance.

Within minutes, the first house came into view. But there was no
warm welcome awaiting her. There was no one there at all. The
supporting beams and roof still stood but the inside of the house
had been gutted by fire. She followed the well-worn path that
lead to the other houses and found much of the same. Not one
house within the valley was inhabited. Who or what had happened
to the people she didn't know. But there were no signs of life
except for the green fields that surrounded her.

Lothiriel dismounted and picked through what remained of one of
the houses. There was little inside that was salvageable.
Everything was ash. Kicking through a pile of ashes, Lothiriel
discovered the burnt remains of a man. After one glance at what
remained of his body, Lothiriel stumbled out the door of the
house. There was no help here. If anything, there was only more
danger.

Wearily, Lothiriel mounted her horse, with no clear intention of
where to go next. Then she heard it.

In the distance sound of voices rang out, yelling identical to the
haunting war cries she'd heard during the attack.

All the fears of yesterday came back in full force. Lothiriel rode
as fast as she could away from the voices. She followed the path
over a bridge that crossed the raging Morthlond River. The
mountains rose up before her and she raced into the cover of a
ravine that fed the Morthlond. Slowly her horse picked its way
up the steep slope. So narrow was the path that the sheer cliff
walls were nearly close enough for her to touch on either side.
They seemed to rise up so high that they nearly obscured all of
the sun. It was like riding from day into twilight with a few
steps. But she urged her horse forward. Higher and higher they
climbed through the steep ravine until she stopped and
dismounted.

A high-arched gateway lead into a darkened tunnel into the heart
of the mountains. Lothiriel studied it for some time. Upon the
gateway was a swirling script she had never before seen. Her
eyes could not penetrate the darkness of the cave.

What lay beyond the gateway she did not know, but she knew
that only danger lay behind her. The path she was on seemed
well-worn enough. And it was obvious that men had made the
gateway, so it had to lead somewhere. Beside the edge of the
gateway was a stash of torches. Though it took her some time,
she managed to get one lit.

Giving her horse a gentle urging, Lothiriel rode into the black
depths of the mountain and without realizing it, entered the
Paths of the Dead.

*************************


Chapter 3 - Chapter 3

***************************************

Chapter 3

The moon had risen. Eomer paced the ground impatiently. They had been waiting a
week, so far they had seen little. Eomer sighed. Perhaps he was wrong in coming here.
Perhaps the attackers were long gone. Perhaps he was only using this wild goose chase
as an excuse to have the wide open sky above him, instead of the ceilings of Meduseld.
As high as those ceilings were, he would always prefer the sky. Elfhelm interrupted his
thoughts.

"You do not have to take watch, there are dozens of men for that."

Eomer stared up the paths of the standing stones to where it vanished into the darkness of
the mountain. "I know. But I cannot sit for any longer. This place worries me."

"You feel an evil presence?"

"No, that's just the problem. I do NOT feel any presence. Always this place has filled
me with dread. As if an unseen evil was reaching out from the black depths. But I feel
nothing. Nothing at all," Eomer said.

"You worry the attackers have escaped," Elfhelm said.

Eomer nodded. "Don't you?"

Elfhelm looked reluctantly up the Paths of the Dead. "I fear you may be right. Though I
wish you were not."

A quiet noise cut through the stillness of the night. Eomer silenced Elfhelm with a
glance. They listened. The clip-clop of a horse's hooves upon stone was unmistakable.
Someone, on a horse, was in the tunnel. With a quick motion, Eomer urged Elfhelm to
rouse the men.

Eomer ducked behind a standing stone and waited. The horse emerged first, riderless. A
small figure walked beside the horse, hugging the side of the mountain, using the horse as
cover. Who was this person? Eomer raised his fingers to his lips and let out a shrill
whistle. As expected, the horse reared back, rushing down the path. Eomer's hand went
to his sword, but he did not draw it. In the darkness, Eomer could barely make out the
shape of a small boy. Eomer eased his hand from his sword and walked into view.

"Halt!" he said, holding out his hands in a gesture of peace. "Approach stranger and
name yourself."

Eomer's appearance did not have the result he wanted. For the boy simply started to run.
Futilely, the boy dashed behind the standing stones. Eomer ran the other way in an
effort to cut off his escape. The boy ran into him hard and would have fallen to the
ground if Eomer hadn't reached out and grabbed the boy's wrist to steady him.

Somehow the boy managed to wrench his narrow wrists from Eomer’s
grasp. Only a well-timed move to the right kept Eomer from getting
punched in the face. As the boy pushed past him, Eomer grabbed him from
behind. With a steely grip, Eomer easily held the boy's arms to his side in
hopes that it would calm him. But it had the opposite effect. The boy
struggled wildly. His feet thrashed out in all directions. A boot swung back
and hit Eomer squarely between the legs. Eomer's knees gave way.
Determined not to let the boy escape, he pulled the boy down with him as he
fell.

They hit the ground hard. The boy pinned tightly beneath him. Eomer
shifted his weight to get a better look at his small prisoner. As he moved,
Eomer could not help but feel the gentle curves pressed against his chest.
This was no boy.

Two wide blue eyes stared up at him. And there was no doubt that she was
terrified. Eomer felt her trembling. Instantly, he relaxed his grip. Before he
could offer his apologies, the girl fought back swinging her knee up to hit
him again. Eomer rolled off her, groaning in pain.

Lothiriel scrambled to get to her feet. All her thoughts were bent on escape.
But there was nowhere to escape to. On either side of her were armed men
with spears pointed at her.

Carefully keeping his distance, Elfhelm said, "We are riders of the
Riddermark. We wish you no harm, my lady. But please name yourself.
For these roads are dangerous and we must know whether you are friend or
foe."

"She is a foe," Eomer mumbled from the ground where he lay.

Elfhelm laughed. "Ignore him, my lady. That is his wounded pride talking.
For it is not often that he is bested by a girl less than half his size."

Lothiriel gazed at the men warily. These were the riders of Rohan? The
armor they wore was well-worn from hard use. At closer inspection,
Lothiriel realized they did not have the appearance of those who had
attacked her escort. From the top of one of the men's spears flew the flag of
Rohan. Her eyes strayed to the man who lay on the ground. He had
struggled to a sitting position. The rest of the men were trying hard not to
laugh. She felt a blush rise in her cheeks but now was not the time to worry
about that.

She cleared her throat and tried to sound dignified but given the
circumstances it was hard to do. "I am Princess Lothiriel, daughter of Prince
Imrahil of Dol Amroth. My guards were attacked by strangers on
horseback. I mistook you for them and I am very sorry. But I would -"
Lothiriel hesitated. She would what? Really appreciate it if they forget their
first impression of her and risk their own lives to go check on her men? She
would be lucky if they did not leave her stranded on the mountain pass
alone. "I would be in your debt if you could spare some men to see how my
guards faired in the attack. They were attacked 2 days ride south of here."
She motioned back towards the cave tunnel.

Elfhelm and the rest of the men stared at her in astonished wonder. "What
did you see, my lady?"

"See?" she asked.

Elfhelm pointed to the tunnel. "What did you see? What lies within those
caves?"

"What do you think? Nothing but darkness and cobwebs." Lothiriel stared
at him, "This is your own lands, do you not use the path to cross through the
mountains?"

Elfhelm stammered out a response. "That way has been closed to us for
many years."

Eomer struggled to his feet. "What manner of men attacked you?"

Lothiriel shook her head. "I don't know. They were dark haired and spoke
with an accent I am not familiar with. It was two days ago. We were
camped along the Morthond, south of Erech."

Eomer approached Elfhelm. "It has to be the same men that killed the
horses."

"I shall take the men to Erech at dawn," Elfhelm said.

Eomer raised his eyes. "You will go through the Paths of the Dead?"

Elfhelm stood tall and glanced at Lothiriel. "I shall not have this small
Princess out do us both in one day."

Eomer smiled. But his expression quickly turned serious. "I should be the
one to go. If there is still danger within those passages --"

"That is exactly why you must stay behind," Elfhelm said. "The last thing
our country needs is to lose another King." He stared off into the distance
up the Paths of the Dead. "I shall ask for volunteers. I do not want any to
go who are not certain of their courage. Too long has this been a place of
death."

Eomer nodded. "Go no further than you must, I do not wish to run the
attackers deeper into Gondorian territory. Bring back word on her guards,"
Eomer said. "I'll take the Princess to Edoras in the morning. Leave a
handful of men with me."

"Are you sure you don't want more than that?" Elfhelm asked, as he turned
to walk back to the Firienfeld.

"Why is that?"

"To protect you from her." Elfhelm grinned.

Once he was out of sight, Eomer turned to Lothiriel. She was sitting
wearily upon one of the broken standing stones, her eyes were half-closed as
if she were falling asleep where she sat. Eomer had been prepared for all
manner of people to emerge from the depths of the tunnel, except for her.
The Princess was a young woman, smaller than the women of Rohan in
stature and build. Her long dark hair was pulled back off her face, though
little wisps were sticking out in all directions due to their scuffle. She stood
when he approached her.

"I am King Eomer, Lord of the Mark," he said with a half-hearted attempt at
a bow. Formalities seemed a bit pointless after their first introduction.

At the mention of the word King, Lothiriel's eyes widened in surprise.
Eomer held back a laugh. "I promise I do not usually make it habit of
tackling princesses."

"Nor do I make it a habit of kicking Kings," Lothiriel said.

"Some of my men will leave at day break to see what became of your
guards," Eomer said.

"Thank you," Lothiriel said through a yawn.

"You are exhausted. Come," Eomer said. "We shall camp here till morning
and return to my home in Edoras tomorrow, if you are up for the ride." He
escorted her down the path towards the Firienfeld where the campsite was
located.

Eomer noticed she was moving like one who was unaccustomed to long
hours in the saddle. And he realized that what he had taken for pants, were
thin long undergarments worn by Gondorian woman. A few tattered edges
of what was left of her riding skirt hung from her waist.

"Princess?" Eomer said, and hesitated, wondering best how to broach the
subject. She looked up at him. Instead of finishing his thoughts, he took off
his riding cloak and wrapped it around her shoulders. It was so long on her
it dragged the ground.

"Thank you," she said, as she pulled it around her. "My skirt fell victim to
the attack. I decided it would be better to let the ruffian take my skirt than
take off with the rest of me." Though her tone was light, Eomer could hear
the fear behind her words.

"No harm will come to you here," Eomer said.

They walked passed the rows of tents. He stopped at his own and pulled
back the flap. Eomer was horrified when he remembered the state of his
room. Old maps, his extra clothes, and armor were scattered throughout the
tent. Eomer quickly tossed his few belongs off of his cot onto the ground.
"I'm sorry we don't have better accommodations, but we were not expecting
visitors."

Lothiriel smiled. "My room in Dol Amroth is not much better, it will feel
like home."

When Eomer had finished piling his stuff in the corner, he turned to bid
Lothiriel goodnight, but she was already curled up on his cot asleep. He
gazed at her a few long moments and couldn't keep the questions from
dancing through his mind. What was she doing here? Why had she traveled
so far from home?

***********************

Lothiriel woke the next morning at dawn. Since leaving Dol Amroth, she
had found it nearly impossible to sleep any longer than sunrise. The noise of
the birds as they woke had come to be the sound she most despised. She
sighed and snuggled down beneath the covers trying to block out the sound.
The blanket was warm and smelled of hay and horses and of. . .a man.

Remembering where she was, she sat up and glanced around the tent. In the
corner was a pile of junk, mostly traveling gear from the looks of it.
Lothiriel had been so sleepy the night before she barely remembered laying
down and falling asleep. What she did remember vividly was her grand
introduction to the King of Rohan. She moaned and flopped back down on
the cot. Lothiriel couldn't decide whether to laugh or to cry at the absurdity
of it all. Despite her embarrassment, she had to admit that she was relieved
to be in Rohan. A good night's sleep had done wonders for her spirits. She
stood up and stretched. Her stomach rumbled loudly. Instead of dwelling
on her mistakes, she listened to her stomach and wrapped the King's cloak
around her before leaving the tent.

Nearby, she saw a group of men gathered around the morning campfire. She
hesitantly approached them, hanging back a little as she drew closer. One
of them saw her and smiled.

"Are you hungry?"

"Starved," Lothiriel admitted quite truthfully.

"Come, sit, eat."

At her approach, they immediately stood, staring at her with a look of awe.
Several of them bowed politely, while other scrambled to give her a place to
sit. Amused and a bit embarrassed by all the fussing being made over her,
she sat down and gratefully took the plate of food and coffee handed to her.

Lothiriel eagerly began to eat, giving little notice as most of them dispersed
back to their own tents or to eat elsewhere.

She was half-finished with the food when a voice said, "You are much too
small to be able to eat all that food."

"You would be wrong in that assumption," Lothiriel said.

Eomer laughed as he sat down beside her. She studied him for a moment in
the light of day. It had been so dark the night before that she did not have
the chance to get a good look at him. And at the time she had been so
worried he was going to try to kill her that whatever features she saw she
had immediately turned into those of an enemy. It was no wonder she so
easily mistook him an enemy, for his size was intimidating. He was as tall
in stature as the men from her own city. Except where the Dol Amroth's
were dark haired and clean shaven, Eomer had long blond hair and a short
stubbly beard covering his cheeks. There was an intensity to his gaze that
demanded attention, but at the moment that gaze held nothing but boyish
amusement.

Eomer took a seat beside her on the ground. "How do you feel this
morning?"

"I feel much better," Lothiriel said. "I'm sorry to have kicked you out of
your bed."

Eomer smiled. "That is quite all right. You look well-rested."

"It has been too long since I had the comfort of a ceiling above me, even
though it was made of cloth," Lothiriel said.

"Your escort did not provide a tent for you?" Eomer said, surprised.

She shook her head, as she had a mouthful of food. "We needed to travel
light and fast, not be weighted down by gear."

Eomer smiled. "Your father did not tell me that the women of Dol Amroth
were made of as stern of stuff as you."

At the mention of her father, Lothiriel dropped her fork. "You ---- you have
seen my father?"

"He left Edoras a fortnight ago headed for Minas Tirith. He was on his way
to lead his men to Ithilien," Eomer said.

"So he is alive and well?" Lothiriel could not keep her voice from shaking
with emotion.

"Of course. You didn't know?"

"We have not heard from him since he left for Minas Tirith. That was nearly
6 months ago," Lothiriel said. "I left Dol Amroth hoping to find him."

"I know he sent a courier to you soon after the last battle."

"There were no couriers. And those we sent to get news of how things faired
in Gondor have disappeared." Lothiriel said. "I came with the urgent
message that my father should return home with his knights immediately."

"What has happened?" Eomer asked.

"The Corsairs of Umbar are sailing along the coasts attacking the villages.
My father took the majority of our troops to aid Minas Tirith."

"I saw them, they fought valiantly and their presence may have turned the
tide of the war," Eomer said.

"I don't doubt that, but we need him back at home. My sister was left in
command but she was forced to turn the power of our land over to the
Captain of the Guard. We know little about planning for war and I refuse to
let our country fall into the hands of evil due to our inexperience," Lothiriel
said.

"I will send word to your father at once," Eomer said.

"Thank you," Lothiriel said. "I know you are burdened with problems of
your own, without having to deal with those of my home."

"It is not a burden," Eomer said. "I am pleased to help your father. He is a
good man. I owe him much."

"How was he when you saw him last?"

"He missed his family," Eomer said. "But he was comforting himself with
the thoughts of you being safe at home. He will be greatly troubled to find
out it is not so."

After eating breakfast and breaking camp, the riders readied to depart for
Edoras. Lothiriel mounted her horse and waited for the rest of the riders.
Wordlessly, Eomer approached her horse and checked the cinch to make
sure the saddle was secured. Satisfied with his inspection he swung onto his
own horse and winced in pain.

Lothiriel glanced over at him. Her gaze drifted to his waist before quickly
rising back to his face. "I hope you are all right." A blush spread across her
cheeks.

"I will recover," Eomer said, grimly.

Eomer rode beside her. Their horses slowly wound their way back down the
mountain pass. Eomer wondered if Lothiriel was strong enough to ride that
far. Though she was still weary from her long journey, she did not look like
one who was about to fall over in the saddle. Lothiriel seemed to guess his
concerns. "I have made it this far, I can certainly make it a few more
leagues. I assure you I am tougher than I look."

A smile spread across Eomer's face. "I am well-aware of that, Princess."

*************************


Chapter 4 - Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The first thing Lothiriel realized was that
Meduseld was a man's castle. Except for the woman
sent up to tend to her bath and bring her some
clothing, Lothiriel had seen only men since she had
stepped within the Great Hall.

And what a hall it was! Stretching the entire
length of the castle with an enormous fireplace and
almost unbelievably high ceilings. The wood of
which everything in the castle seemed to be made,
was ornately carved and inlaid with gold. Long
tapestries of intricate designs hung from the
ceilings depicting stories that Lothiriel had never
before heard. And horses. Horses seemed to be
everywhere, in the designs on the walls, carved
into the high gates that surrounded the city, on
the tapestries. Lothiriel wondered if they thought
more of horses than they did of people.

After what Lothiriel decided had to rank as one of
the best baths of her life, she slipped on the gown
the Rohirrim woman had left behind on the bed. It
clung to her frame tighter and hung down lower on
her chest than she was used to wearing. It seemed
extravagant compared to the traveling clothes she'd
worn since leaving home. And from the glimpses of
the women she had seen as they had ridden into
Edoras, Lothiriel knew this was not the typical
attire of the Rohirrim women.

Lothiriel pulled open the doors to the wardrobe.
It was filled with a handful of other gowns, all at
least as revealing if not more so than the gown she
had already put on. Lothiriel sighed wishing not
for the first time that her sister was with her.
Erchirion knew far more about clothing and
etiquette than she did.

As much as she would have liked she knew she could
not hide away in her guest room all evening.
Taking a deep breath, Lothiriel left the room and
walked purposefully down the hallway. The Great
Hall was deserted. She stepped out the heavy front
doors of the castle. Beside the doors stood two
guards.

Lothiriel smiled at them. "Where is King Eomer?"

"He has gone to dine, my lady." One of the guards
said. Lothiriel tried her best not to blush as she
felt the guard's gaze sweep down the length of her
body.

"Could you point me in the right direction?"

The guard hesitated a moment before pointing out a
building a little ways down the path.

"Thank you."

Lothiriel walked down the path that lead to the
building and opened the door. With one glance,
Lothiriel realized this was not a formal dining
area but the mess hall for the troops. Her father
had often eaten with his men, but it was an
unspoken rule that it was no place for women.
Lothiriel was debating whether or not she should
leave when all talking in the mess hall stopped.

* * *

Eomer had been so preoccupied by worries of his own
that he had gone to eat in the mess hall without
giving it a second thought. In the past few weeks
he had come to rely on the easy camaraderie of his
men to drown out the sound of his own thoughts.
But unexpectedly, the room fell silent. That in
itself was unusual enough to jar Eomer out of his
daydreams. He glanced around the room and his eyes
fell on Lothiriel. For a fleeting second, her long
dark hair flowing loose around her shoulders
brought Arwen Evenstar to his mind.

However, Lothiriel lacked the almost unnerving
grace of Arwen. She was standing uncertainly at
the edge of the room. From the expression on her
face, Eomer expected her to bolt like a frightened
horse at any moment.

Determined not to let that happen, Eomer quickly
crossed the room. The sight of her, nearly took
his breath away. This could not be the same girl
he had mistaken for a boy the night before. There
was nothing at all boyish about her now. The dress
she wore accentuated every curve.

"I -- I did not realize that you dined with your
men. I did not mean to intrude," Lothiriel said.

"You aren't intruding." Eomer sighed, mentally
kicking himself for being such a poor host. Theoden
would never had made such a mistake. "I am the one
who is at fault," Eomer said. "I have grown
accustomed to dining with my men, as there are no
ladies in the house. I have been inexcusably rude.
We shall retire to the formal dining room."

"No," Lothiriel grabbed his arm. "No, don't
change your habits for me. I get all the formal
dining I can stand back at home. This would be a
welcome change."

Eomer smiled. "We would be honored."

Eomer escorted her to the buffet style food line.
The men in line stood back to let her pass. Eomer
waited for her to get her food but Lothiriel did
not move.

She shook her head. "I will not cut in line. They
have worked hard today. I will not keep them from
their meal."

Eomer was surprised at her request. He gave the
men a small nod and they resumed moving down the
food line, albeit very very quickly.

After Lothiriel got a plate of food, Eomer lead her
to the table. Eomer pulled out the bench and she
sat down beside him. They both ate their food in
silence. Indeed, the entire room was filled with
only the sounds of forks hitting plates.

"I am ruining everyone's evening," Lothiriel
whispered. "This was not my intention."

Eomer's eyes met a few of his men and he silently
urged them to speak. Slowly the men began talking
amongst themselves though not quite as loud and
boisterous as when Lothiriel first arrived in the
dining hall.

"Had I known I would cause such trouble, I would
have stayed in my room," Lothiriel said.

"You are no trouble. Forgive me," Eomer said. "I
have not been King for long. And there are certain
things that will not occur to me. Is there
anything else I have overlooked?"

Instantly Lothiriel replied. "Clothes."

Eomer frowned. "Clothes? I was told that clothes
were brought to you?"

"Yes, they were. Very nice clothes," Lothiriel
said. "The women of Rohan do not dress like this
every day do they?"

Eomer smiled, taking the opportunity to glance down
at her dress. "No, it's a pity they do not."

"If I had to dress in such a fashion every day, I
would have left home many years before now,"
Lothiriel said.

Eomer leaned back and laughed. "You sound like my
sister! Since you insist, I will see that more
clothes are brought to you."

"Thank you," Lothiriel said.

Eomer could hear the relief in her voice and he
wondered what other manner of gowns were left in
her room. He regretted that he would not see them
on her.

"You said you had not been king for long? I hope
it was not tragedy that brought you the crown,"
Lothiriel said.

"I'm afraid it was," Eomer said. "Theoden was our
last King. His son Theodred died in battle. And
Theoden fell not long after."

"You must miss them."

Eomer nodded. "They were the only family besides
my sister that I had left."

"No doubt you would rather have them back than be
King."

Eomer's eyes rose to meet hers. Since he had
become King, a lot of people had made a lot of
comments about his rise to the throne. Most were
well-wishes from his own people and how they knew
he would do his uncle proud. The rest were pats on
the back as if he did something grand to become
King. All he had done was live.

Lothiriel was the first to mention his position for
what it was. A loss. He had lost much to be King.
And he would give it back without hesitation to see
them both alive again.

"You are right about that." Eomer sighed.

"Do they lay within the mounds we passed before we
entered the gates?"

Eomer nodded. "All the Kings of Rohan lay within
those mounds. One day I shall lay there as well, I
suppose." The thought was a novelty to him. And
he shook his head in sad amazement.

Lothiriel eyed him up and down. "You have at least
a few more years yet before you should be thinking
about that."

"Maybe. As long as I don't run into anymore
Princesses like you." Eomer winked at her.

"You should have named yourself right away,"
Lothiriel said with a shrug.

"But I had no weapon in my hand," Eomer said.

"I couldn't tell. All I saw was someone moving
towards me."

"And one look at me sent you running?" Eomer
teased. "Thanks a lot."

"It was dark." Lothiriel smiled, clearly enjoying
their banter.

"And now that you've seen me in daylight?" Eomer
asked with a smirk.

"I thought about running but I didn't think it
would be polite," Lothiriel said, very seriously.

She pushed the bench away from the table and stood.
Eomer laughed and followed her out of the mess
hall.

* * *

The wind was blowing hard as they walked up the
road back to Meduseld. Lothiriel had not felt in
such high spirits in weeks. She could hardly keep
a smile from her lips. Her father was alive. Just
knowing he was all right, lifted a great weight
from her shoulders. And after the somewhat shaky
beginning to the evening, she had enjoyed dining in
the mess hall. It was relaxed in a way that Dol
Amroth had never been. They had made it to the
steps of Meduseld when a guard approached Eomer.

Lothiriel listened to their short exchange in
Rohirric not understanding a word of it. But from
Eomer's tone, she could gather that it was
something unusual.

Eomer turned back to her and ran an impatient hand
through his hair. "Two children have arrived at
the gates, but are reluctant to come in," Eomer
explained.

"Children? What are they doing out alone?" she
asked.

"I don't know," Eomer said. "Excuse me, Princess."
He started off down the path at a quick rate.

"My I join you?" Lothiriel asked, rushing to keep
up. She did not especially look forward to
spending the rest of the evening alone in her guest
room and seeing more of Edoras even under cover of
darkness sounded appealing.

"If you wish." Eomer waited for her to catch up.

They walked down the steep path that lead through
the city. It wound passed wooden buildings of
varying sizes. Obviously related to the upkeep of
Meduseld. Further down the path, were the houses.
They were small and quaint. It was dark enough
that Lothiriel could easily see through the windows
of the homes. Families sitting around dinner
tables, or gathered around fires. It looked cozy.
Comfortable.

As they approached the front gates, a guard met
them. "What's the trouble?" Eomer asked in common
tongue. Lothiriel knew this was on her behalf and
she smiled at him gratefully.

"Two children. They knocked at the gates but
whenever we opened them to let them in they backed
off. Whenever we get too close they dash a few
steps away." The guard threw his hands up in the
air, frustrated. "I have tried everything."

"Let me see them," Eomer said.

"Go right ahead," the guard said.

Eomer walked out the gates and called to them. "I
am King Eomer, you are welcome here."

Hiding in the shadows, Lothiriel could just make
out the two small children. At the sound of his
voice they disappeared into the darkness.

"No, wait. Don't run off!" Eomer yelled. He
turned back to the guard and sighed. "Why do they
do that? Didn't you tell them we just want to help
them?"

"I did my Lord, several times," the guard said.

"Can I try?" Lothiriel asked.

"Why should you be able to do any better?" Eomer
asked.

Lothiriel grinned. "It is dark. You are scary."

Eomer rolled his eyes and smiled. "Thank you for
reminding me."

Lothiriel took the lantern from the guard and
stepped outside the gate. Just a few yards beyond
the gate stood two young girls no older than 5 or
6. They were wide-eyed and trembling.

Lothiriel smiled and took a step towards them, but
they dashed a few steps further away. Setting the
lantern down, Lothiriel knelt down to their level.

"You look like you have come a very long way,"
Lothiriel said. "Did you walk all this way on
your own? If you did you are the two bravest girls
I have ever met."

One of the girls shook her head. "We came on
horses. But people came and they ran away.
Everyone ran away."

"See those lights upon the hill? That is a
beautiful castle and there is a warm bed and food
waiting for you." Lothiriel said. "If you come
inside, we will try to find out where your family
ran away to."

The girls stared at her for a long moment but did
not run away. "You have black hair." One of them
finally said.

Lothiriel nodded. "It is not near as pretty as
your blonde hair. I am from Dol Amroth it's a very
long way from here."

Lothiriel stood and walked over to the girls.
Neither made any move to run. She knelt in front
of them and checked the over. "Are either of you
hurt?"

The girls shook their heads. One of the girls
reached out and touched the lace upon the sleeves
of her dress.

"Will you stay with me in my room tonight?"
Lothiriel asked. "I have an entire closet full of
dresses we can dress you up in."

The girls giggled and nodded. Lothiriel took their
hands and lead them through the gates. As she
passed Eomer, Lothiriel smirked at him
triumphantly.

* * *

When the children were asleep within the covers of
Lothiriel's bed, she left the guest room to find
Eomer. He was pacing the floors of the Great Hall.
Lothiriel sat down in front of the fire.

"I wasn't aware that you have had troubles of your
own," Lothiriel said.

Eomer sat down beside her. "A week before you
arrived some of our horses were murdered. The eye
of Sauron had been etched upon their skins."

"That is why you were at Dunharrow?" Lothiriel
asked.

Eomer nodded. "We followed the tracks to the gate
of the Paths of the Dead."

"And I came out instead."

"I prefer you over them any day," Eomer said with
a grin.

Lothiriel smiled, but it was fleeting. "You think
those same men attacked my guards?"

"I don't know. But if the families of those
children were attacked out on the open plains there
must be more of them camped out somewhere else.
They could not have made it back through Dunharrow
without encountering Elfhelm," Eomer said. "Plus
it would scarcely be enough time for them to travel
that distance, especially if they are only moving
under cover of darkness." Eomer sighed and turned
to her. "I am sorry. I shouldn't trouble you with
this."

"If it is the same men that attacked my guards then
it is already my trouble," Lothiriel said.

"I wish your trip to Rohan had been under happier
circumstances," Eomer said.

"As do I," Lothiriel said. "Though I am still
pleased to be here. Until now, I have never seen
anything but Dol Amroth and even that was
restricted only to those places less than half a
days ride away."

The astonished look on Eomer's face almost made
Lothiriel laugh.

"This is your first time away from home?"

Lothiriel nodded. "My father is a bit on the over-
protective side. Before I left, my sister and I
were taking bets as to how long after he hugged me,
would the yelling begin," Lothiriel said with a
grin.

"No one would dare to raise their voice to a lady
in my presence," Eomer said.

Lothiriel smiled. "Do not worry. I yell back."

"Why doesn't that surprise me." Eomer said through
a yawn.

Seeing him yawn, caused Lothiriel to yawn. They
both smiled. "It has been a long day." Eomer
said.

Lothiriel nodded. They both rose from their seats
and walked down the hall to the sleeping quarters.
They stopped in front of the door to her room.

"If you get any word on the attackers, please let
me know. You do not need to censor information
from me," Lothiriel said. "No matter how grim, I
wish to hear it."

Eomer bowed. "You will be the first to know. Good
night, my lady."

"Goodnight," Lothiriel closed the door to the room
behind her.

After pulling off her gown, she squirmed into bed
between the two girls. Despite the long ride from
Dunharrow or maybe because of it, Lothiriel's mind
was racing. She replayed the events of the day in
her head. When she'd left Dol Amroth she was
certain that all the answers would be found in
Rohan. But so far all she'd found were questions.
Nothing had happened like she had expected. Eomer
was certainly not the King of Rohan she had
envisioned. Though he was fun to tease, Lothiriel
thought with a grin that pushed away all her
worries. There was much to be grateful for, her
father was still alive, there was still hope yet
for her guards, and she was in a warm bed with a
ceiling above her. And for tonight that was
enough.


* * *


Chapter 5 - Chapter 5

Chapter 5

Several days passed while Eomer waited for word on the victims
of the attack. Being King had altered his usual course of action.
Instead of riding off to investigate the children's family, he'd
allowed members of his eored do it. In the off-chance that the
attackers should approach Edoras, Eomer felt it was his duty to
guard the city.

Eomer had quickly discovered he hated waiting. He paced the
steps of Meduseld for the zillionth time that morning.

"You look like my sister," Lothiriel said, as she joined him on the
steps.

"I pity a girl who looks like me," Eomer said, wryly.

Lothiriel smiled. "I meant your pacing. It's a wonder you haven't
worn a hole in the steps as much as I've seen you walk back and
forth here."

"I'm not used to waiting," Eomer said. "Is this how wives feel
awaiting the return of their husbands from battle?"

"That is much worse," Lothiriel said, certainly. "Especially when
they do not return." Remembering how Erchirion had taken word
of the missing men to the wives.

"You are right, it is," Eomer said. "I have had to deliver too many
of those messages, myself."

The sound of a horn pierced the crisp morning air. Lothiriel
looked at Eomer.

"Elfhelm has returned," he said.

Lothiriel watched the flurry of activity as the riders approached.
Elfhelm rode directly to Meduseld. Draped over the back of his
saddle was a man. From the squirming and protests coming from
his bound mouth, the man was obviously alive.

Elfhelm dragged the man roughly out of the saddle. "This was the
only person we found. He had this on him."

Elfhelm handed Eomer a small dagger. Upon it was the symbol of
Dol Amroth. "Take him to the dungeons. We'll deal with him
later," Eomer said.

Elfhelm handed the prisoner to a member of the eored and he
lead the prisoner away.

Lothiriel walked down the steps. "What is it?"

Eomer handed Lothiriel the dagger. She looked at the designs.
"It's from one of my guards."

"It was on the prisoner," Elfhelm explained.

"Did you find anything else?" Lothiriel asked.

"There were signs of a struggle, my lady, and evidence that -
bodies had been burned, but not enough to distinguish who was
the victor." Elfhelm hesitated a moment. "What is Dol Amroth's
tradition of dealing with the dead on the battlefield?"

"I don't know," Lothiriel said. She had never been in a position to
know traditions such as those and it was not something openly
spoken of within the castle. And certainly not around her.

"I want to speak to the prisoner," Lothiriel said.

"No," Eomer said, instantly.

"Yes."

Eomer shook his head. "It's far too dangerous."

"I am the only person who was at the attack. I'm the only one
who will know if he's telling the truth," Lothiriel said. "It is my
duty."

"Your duty is to stay safely out of harms way and enjoy yourself
until your father arrives," Eomer said.

At his words, Lothiriel cringed. "My homeland is falling apart and
you expect me to enjoy myself?" Lothiriel sighed. "I spent 6 long
months of waiting idly at home and I refuse to do so any longer.
As long as there is action to take, I will take it."

"Out of the question," Eomer said. "You are under my protection
and I will not have you interrogating prisoners." His eyes held
amusement and he spoke to her as if dealing with a child.

"Don't patronize me," Lothiriel said, angrily. "My father may think
I am a child, but I am far from it. I am a grown woman."

Eomer looked her over. "With a temper like yours you will never
be considered a woman."

"Who are you to talk about women? You don't know a woman
when you see one," Lothiriel said. "You can't tell women from
men until they are laying beneath you."

And with those words she turned and marched into Meduseld.

Elfhelm grinned as he watched her go. "With her tongue perhaps
you should let her interrogate the prisoner."

Eomer said, "Don't even suggest it."



* * * * * * * * * * *



Lothiriel paced the short distance back and forth across her
bedroom. Her face burned with anger and embarrassment. Being
treated like a child was bad enough without having letting her
tongue get the better of her and prove her immaturity.

Lothiriel sighed and sat down abruptly on the edge of the bed.
Her father had warned her that her quick temper would cause
her trouble. She hated the fact that her father was right. Or was
he right? Her father had always taught her to stand up for what
she believed in. And as much as Eomer was against it, Lothiriel
knew she had every right to interrogate the prisoner. It was her
responsibility to see what happened to her men. There was no
one else to do it. And who was Eomer to speak to her as if she
were a weak child incapable of doing anything but enjoying
herself? Lothiriel's embarrassment, gave way to anger. If Eomer
was not prepared to find out what happened to her guards. Then
she would do it herself. It is what her father would do in her
situation.

Before Lothiriel realized what she was doing, she found herself
approaching the entrance to the dungeon. She stopped just out
of sight of the two men standing guard at the doors. What could
she possibly tell them to get inside? They certainly wouldn't let
her just waltz into the dungeon without so much as raising an
eyebrow. After concocting a half-hearted plan, she stood up
straight, pushed her hair back, and did her best impression of
Erchirion's royalty pose as she walked around the corner.

The guards eyed her warily. She struggled to sound as confident
and dignified as she could. "Has King Eomer arrived? He and I
are going to speak to the prisoner."

"No, my lady, we have not seen him," one of the guards said.

"Well, I'm certain he'll be along shortly," Lothiriel said. The wind
blew and she crossed her arms against the cold. "You wouldn't
mind if I waited just inside, to get out of the cold? We don't have
this sort of weather at Dol Amroth. I'm unaccustomed to the chill
in the air." To emphasis her point, Lothiriel coughed a few times.
She smiled up at them sweetly.

"Of course, my lady." The guard bowed and opened the door for
her. "But wait at the top of the stairs."

"Thank you," Lothiriel said.

Once the doors closed behind her, Lothiriel wasted no time in
dashing down the steps into the dungeon. A long corridor
stretched along the length of the dungeon. On one side of the
corridor was a long row of barred cells, along the other side was
a wall lined with torches. Lothiriel peered into the first cell. The
flames from the torches cast flickering shadows into the cell,
making it hard to see.

As her eyes adjusted to the dim light she could just make out the
sillouhette of a man sitting crouched in the corner. His head was
resting on his knees and it was obvious that he wasn't aware of
her presence. For a long moment, Lothiriel stared at him. He had
dark hair, almost but not quite black, pulled back off his face.
Lothiriel took a step towards the cell and the prisoner shot to his
feet.

Lothiriel gasped, when she saw him. He was young, probably
only in his late teens, Lothiriel guessed. And he was afraid, but
the fear quickly turned to smugness as he saw her.

"Do the men of Rohan send women to do their dirty work?" the
prisoner asked. "Or perhaps you are an enticement of my reward
should I tell them what they wish to know?"

"Neither," Lothiriel said. "I'm not Rohirrim. And I'm certainly no
prize for any man to claim."

"Then why are you here??" He stepped towards the bars of the
cell to get a closer look at her.

"I'm from Dol Amroth. You and your people attacked my men
south of Erech," Lothiriel said.

The prisoner smiled. "We did? And how would you know that? As
I recall there were no survivors of that attack."

"I was there," Lothiriel said, struggling to keep her voice steady.

"You were not there at the end," the prisoner said. "I would have
remembered you. As would the rest of the men."

"I left before the battle ended," Lothiriel said.

"That is a pity, you missed all the fun," the prisoner said.

Lothiriel glared at him. "I don't think so. Seeing you behind bars
is the most fun I've had in weeks. Now, will you tell me what I
wish to know? Or do I have to get the King to entice you? Either
way, I shall get the information."

"Why should I bother. I'm dead already," the prisoner said.

Lothiriel took a step towards the cell, careful not to be within
arms reach. "Yes, you are dead already. But you can still choose
to die as painless as possible with your honor, or to die a slow
and painful death."

"That is how your men died," the prisoner said, at almost a
whisper.

"How?" Lothiriel leaned forward to hear him speak.

"Slow and painfully, without honor," he said, coldly. "Screaming.
I have never heard such honorless screaming - - "

Lothiriel felt a chill run down her back at the prisoner's words.

"ENOUGH!" Eomer yelled, from behind Lothiriel.

Lothiriel was so startled by his voice that she took an involuntary
step towards the cell. That was all the mistake the prisoner
needed. He reached out, clamped a hand roughly around Lothiriel
and dragged her towards the cell. His other hand snaked around
her neck, squeezing tightly enough to cause Lothiriel to loose her
breath.

"One move and I break the pretty little Princess's neck," the
prisoner said, to Eomer, who stood frozen with inaction, hands
poised ready for attack.

"I'd like to see you try!" Lothiriel managed to squeak out. Her
temporary shock at being grabbed, was replaced by fury and she
fought back. She reached behind her, clawing at his face. The
distraction was enough, to give Eomer time to draw his dagger.
In the next instant, the prisoner was slumping to the ground.

Lothiriel staggered out of his grasp, coughing and gasping for
breath. The prisoner lay dead in his cell, a dagger protruding
from his chest. The noise of the commotion had attracted the
guards and Eomer was speaking to them in harsh tones of
Rohirric. No doubt getting onto them for letting her down there.

"It is no fault of theirs," Lothiriel said. "I deceived them."

Eomer turned his attentions from his men and stormed over to
Lothiriel. "I told you not to come down here. Look what
happened!"

"You think I did this on purpose?" Lothiriel said, hoarsely.

"You almost got killed!" Eomer yelled.

"I was doing fine until you came in the room, you lackwit!"

"You should not have been down here in the first place!" Eomer
yelled.

"You would have done the same," Lothiriel yelled. "You barely
had the patience to wait for news of your own people and you
expect me to wait while the man who knows what happened to
my guards is only a few rooms away?"

Eomer said nothing because he knew she was right. He clenched
his fists at his side. Taking a deep breath, he ran an impatient
hand through his hair. After regaining control of his temper he
pointed at the steps. "Get out of here, Princess. Now."

Lothiriel opened her mouth to say something, then thought
better of it and turned and marched up the steps and out the
door.

* * * * * * *

Lothiriel marched through the city streets. She wanted to hit
something. How dare he! Lothiriel thought to herself as she
marched down the steep hill of Edoras. How dare he blame the
whole thing on her.

Lothiriel walked with no clear direction in mind except that she
wanted to escape. And having no libraries to hide in, anywhere
beyond the city gates would suffice.

The guard standing at the gate seemed in no hurry to open the
gates.

"I will go no further than just beyond the gates," Lothiriel
explained. "I just want some fresh air."

"No further than the gates," the guard said firmly.

Lothiriel nodded. The guard pushed opened the doors and let her
out. She walked beneath the guard tower and waved up at him.
He smiled and waved.

Lothiriel turned away from him and rolled her eyes. She was tired
of people protecting her. She was tired of people looking out for
her best interests. Why couldn't people mind their own business
and let her live her life? Why couldn't she ever decide for herself
what was best for her? Why did it always have to be a long
debate? Every freedom she'd ever had, she'd had to fight for.
Even walking outside the gates of Edoras. Did it ever stop?

Lothiriel sunk down to the ground and leaned heavily against the
high wooden walls that surrounded the city. She had been so
angry at Eomer, she'd had little time to be afraid. Now that the
ordeal was over, fear washed over her at once. Her hands shook.
She closed her eyes and took deep breaths. The wind rippled
through the grass and sounded like waves on the sea. Slowly,
her fear subsided and she enjoyed the feel of the grass beneath
her, the wind caressing her face. It was crisp and cool with the
hint of coming winter.

Lothiriel gingerly moved her neck and winced. During her
struggle to get away she had pulled every muscle in her neck.
She had been so intend on escape that she had given little
thought to her neck as she was trying to get away. But it hurt
terribly now. Her muscles protested as she tried to get the kinks
out of her neck.

A while later, the gates opened, Lothiriel didn't bother to turn
around. She could already guess who it would be.

"I meant leave the dungeon, not leave Edoras." Eomer sat down
next to her, stretching his long legs out in front of him.

"I knew exactly what you meant," Lothiriel said, rubbing her
neck.

"How is your neck?"

Lothiriel snatched her hands down from her neck and shrugged,
somewhat painfully. "It is no concern of yours. You are a King,"
Lothiriel said, formally. "You have far more important things to
do than play nursemaid to me."

Eomer sighed. "Anything that happens within the gates of Edoras
is my concern. Now, come here," he said softly.

Somewhat reluctantly, Lothiriel turned towards him. Angry
bruises shaped like fingers had already begun to form. Lothiriel
forced herself to remain still and aloof but at the first touch of his
hand on her neck, she stiffened. His hands were gentle as they
ran across the sensitive skin of her neck.

"Did he tell you anything?" Eomer bent closer as he turned her
head slightly to look at the other side.

"Only that my men were dead," Lothiriel said, quietly. His fingers
were warm and soothing as he methodically worked the stiffness
from her tense muscles. He seemed to know what he was doing
because the pain gradually eased from her neck under his touch.

"How's that?" Eomer asked.

She tentatively turned her head from side to side. "Better. Thank
you." Lothiriel caught his gaze, his face was inches from hers, his
hands still resting gently upon her neck. Suddenly, she was all
too aware of his close proximity to her. A blush rose in her
cheeks.

Eomer sat back abruptly. "You'll live."

"I think I could've figured out that for myself," Lothiriel said.

Eomer leaned back against the gates and they stared out at the
rolling plains. For some time they sat in companionable silence
simply enjoying the view.

"How do you do it?" Lothiriel asked, breaking the silence.

"Do what?"

"Give orders to your men, send them into danger, knowing they
are your responsibility?" Lothiriel asked.

"They are grown men. They know what the risks are and they are
willing to take them," Eomer said. It was what he told himself
night after night, when the faces of the men he'd lost came back
to haunt him. Unfortunately, it did little to ease his conscious.

"You did not answer my question, and you know it," Lothiriel
said.

Eomer sighed. When he had some looking for her, he had
expected to be drying tears. Wasn't that usually the way of it
with young women? Tears though unsettling, he could handle.
Instead he found himself in an ethical debate. One that he'd had
with himself more times than he could count. He glanced at
Lothiriel, in her eyes he could see the same questions tugging at
her own conscious.

"I do it because it must be done, and it is my responsibility to do
it," Eomer said. "And I mourn for every man I have lost."

"If - - if I had stayed in Dol Amroth, they would still be alive,"
Lothiriel said, so quietly Eomer barely heard her.

"You don't know that," Eomer said. "If you had stayed behind,
many more could have been lost in other attacks. You may have
saved more people than you can imagine."

"If only I could convince myself to believe that," Lothiriel said.

"Believe it," Eomer said, softly.

Lothiriel closed her eyes and leaned her head against the gate.
The wind blew across the plains and the tall grasses of Rohan
rustled. The sound rolled with each gust of the wind.

"Rohan is not so different from Dol Amroth," Lothiriel said.

"How so?"

"When the wind blows through the grass it reminds me of the
waves on the sea. It sounds like I'm hearing the sea from a
distance," Lothiriel said.

"Your father spoke often of the sea but he never mentioned
that," Eomer said. "He only spoke of its beauty and that it could
not be surpassed by mere grasslands."

"My father would be lying if he said he was not reminded of home
when he looks out upon the plains of Rohan," Lothiriel said.

Eomer remembered the conversation he and Imrahil had upon
the steps of Meduseld. It was when Imrahil had been gazing out
at the plains that the had been thinking of home. Perhaps he had
seen the ocean in the rippling of the grasses. "I think his pride
would not let him admit it," Eomer said.

"Edoras is much like Dol Amroth," she said. "They both have a
high commanding view of wide open spaces. Except. . ."

"Except?"

"You have no library," Lothiriel said, as if it were a horror that
she could not conceive of.

"My uncle kept some books within his study, if you are that
desperate to read." Eomer watched as Lothiriel's eyes lit up at
the mere mention of books. "But I warn you, you may not be
interested in anything he has. Most of them are historical texts
from Gondor."

"I don't care. I read anything." Lothiriel rose to her feet.

Eomer laughed. "You want to go now?"

"If that is all right?" Lothiriel asked.

"I should like nothing better," Eomer said.

"I - - I am sorry about today," Lothiriel said, very softly.

Eomer sighed. "You were right. I would have done the same had
I been you. It's as much my fault as it is yours."

As they turned to the gates they heard a cry from the guards.
"Someone's approaching!"

Eomer turned back towards the plains. In the distant he could
just make out the figures of riders on horseback. Flying from a
tall staff was the flag of Dol Amroth.

* * * * * * *


Chapter 6 - Chapter 6

Chapter 6

The riders of Dol Amroth rapidly approached the gates of
Edoras. When she could finally distinguish her father’s
horse from the rest of the soldiers, Lothiriel breathed a
sigh of relief. Imrahil had barely given his horse time to
stop before he dismounted and strode over to Lothiriel.

“Lotty!” Imrahil crushed her to him in a tight embrace.

“We’ve been so worried about you,” Lothiriel said, her face
buried against her father’s chest.

“I had no idea of the troubles back at home,” Imrahil said.
“If I had. . .”

“I know you would have come back.”

“I’m here now,” Imrahil said. “And I’m glad you’re all
right.”

Eomer watched the reunion between father and daughter with
amusement, until he realized he was about to have his own
family reunion. Riding in the midst of Dol Amroth’s troops
was Eowyn.

Eomer took the reins as she climbed off the horse. “Don’t
tell me the palace life at Gondor is already boring you? Or
did they kick you out for improper behavior?” Eomer asked,
with a grin.

“Neither. Well, maybe a little of both,” Eowyn admitted.

Eomer laughed.

“Faramir spends every waking hour in Ithilien. I foolishly
promised not to go within 10 leagues of danger and the
forests of Ithilien are still filled with orcs.” Eowyn
sighed heavily. “In Minas Tirith, I was forever
suppressing the urge to ride out to see him. It is easier
to miss him at a distance, than to know he is nearby but I
cannot see him. Besides, I heard about the trouble here and
wanted to make sure that after I was married I had a home to
return to.”

Eomer nodded grimly and updated her on the recent attacks.

“Will this war ever end?” Eowyn asked.

“At least we still have a homeland to defend, for a while
not even that was certain,” Eomer reminded her gently.

Eowyn glanced at Lothiriel and Imrahil who were talking in
quiet tones at the edges of the gates of Edoras. “So, is
this your Princess?”

“She is not *my* Princess,” Eomer said.

Eowyn grinned. “I heard all about your introduction to
Lotty, several times in fact. Imrahil insisted on hearing
the story every night from our escort.”

Eomer groaned. “He didn’t.”

“He did.” Eowyn grinned. “It seems he couldn’t quite
imagine his sweet and gentle daughter taking down the King
of the Mark. I had a hard time believing it myself.” Eowyn
giggled.

“It was NOT funny,” Eomer said.

Eowyn laughed harder.

The sound of their laughter caught Lothiriel’s attention and
she looked towards Eowyn. Imrahil brought her over to make
proper introductions.

Eowyn smiled warmly. “So this is the infamous Lotty, who
traipses through the Paths of the Dead and takes down Kings
without batting an eye.”

Lothiriel blushed. “It wasn’t quite like that.”

Eowyn leaned in towards Lothiriel and whispered, "Don't tell
the men that, make them think you did it on purpose.
That'll keep them guessing."

Lothiriel grinned.

* * * * * * *

They spend the afternoon sitting upon the wide porch of
Meduseld discussing the events that had taken place in Dol
Amroth. Imrahil was more than a little surprised to hear
the long and treacherous journey Lothiriel had undertaken to
get word to him. He listened intently as she recounted the
tales of the attacks.

Eomer and Imrahil compared the attacks on Rohan and Dol
Amroth, trying to discern the similarities and differences
and discover what weaknesses could be found in their enemy.
Lothiriel had never been allowed in on such discussions
before and listened with rapt attention. She was determined
to learn all she could about battle tactics.

The sun was sinking low into the sky, bathing Meduseld in a
golden glow, when a servant of the castle approached Eomer
and spoke to him softly. Eomer smiled. “Dinner awaits us.”

Lothiriel had become so accustomed to eating within the
dining hall of the eored that she headed for the steps.
Eomer cleared his throat getting her attention. With a
slight jerk of his head he motioned towards Meduseld.
Lothiriel raised her eyebrows, realizing this was a night
for formal dining.

The dining hall in Meduseld was laid out with the finest
linens and utensils. Candles lined the tables. It was much
more formal and much more elaborate than any meal she’d
eaten since she’d left home.

“Dinners at Dol Amroth are not much different than at
Edoras, Lotty. You should be feeling quite at home,”
Imrahil commented.

“I think that to myself everyday,” Lothiriel said.

Eomer hid a grin, but his eyes met Lothiriel’s from across
the table and he winked at her.

As dinner ended the discussion fell back towards matters of
war. Lothiriel was all but ignored as they discussed
possible courses of action. For not the first time,
Lothiriel wished she was more like Eowyn, who spoke easily
of war and offered suggestions that even Imrahil took
seriously.

“Lothiriel has seen more of the attackers and the Paths of
the Dead than anyone,” Eomer said. “What is your opinion
on it?”

“I saw nothing within the paths that would lead me to
believe that anyone was hiding within them,” she said.

Eowyn leaned forward in her seat, eager to hear more. “What
was it like? What was in there? Until you, only Aragorn
was able to lead anyone through the Paths unscathed.”

“It was dark,” Lothiriel said sheepishly. “There wasn’t a
whole lot to see except. Some carvings were upon the walls,
but it was written in a script I’ve never seen. If I'd
known the significance of the journey I would have paid more
attention.”

“Elfhelm has been through it, as well,” Eomer said. “He
has deemed it safe.”

Imrahil nodded. “Very well then, I will leave at first
light and ride for Dunharrow tomorrow. It will save
countless leagues off the trek.”

“Tomorrow? So soon?” Lothiriel asked.

Imrahil nodded. “This has been put off long enough. I
won’t have my people wait another day for my return.”

Imrahil looked to Eomer. “Thank you for taking care of my
daughter. I am in your debt.”

“It’s been a pleasure,” Eomer said.

“I’m glad to hear it, because I’m about to impose on your
hospitality once again,” Imrahil said.

“Name it.”

Imrahil sighed. “Can Lotty stay here for a time? She is
far safer behind the walls of Edoras than upon the open
roads. And I don’t know what we will encounter on our way
back to Dol Amroth. There’s no way I would be able to focus
upon the battle at hand, if I had to spend every hour
worrying for her safety.”

Eomer nodded. “I would be honored. She is welcome to stay
as long as she likes.”

Imrahil raised his eyebrows. “You may change your mind on
that before she leaves. My daughter can be quite. .
.stubborn.”

Lothiriel listened as they planned her future without giving
a thought to her opinion. Anger boiled just under the
surface, but it was quickly quenched by embarrassment. She
was far too old to be passed off like a child that needed
constant attention. She wondered if her life would ever be
her own or if she would forever be at the mercy of other
people's wishes.

Imrahil turned to Lothiriel. “I know you don’t want to
stay. But you’ve done more than enough to aid your country.
Words can’t express how proud I am of you.” Imrahil reached
across the table and took her hand. “But now, I need you to
stay here. Knowing you're safe is the best thing you can
do. There is no shame in it."

Lothiriel nodded. Her father said there was no shame in it,
but she felt shamed nonetheless. If she was a man, he would
not ask this of her. If she were stronger like the Lady
Eowyn, he might not leave her behind. But she knew she
would be a burden, and she felt ashamed.

“Do not tell me you already tire of Edoras?” Imrahil said.
“You had been begging me for years to take you on a journey.
You should make the most of it. Take the opportunity to
learn something new. The Rohirrim are the finest horsemen
upon Middle-Earth. None are better, not even the Elves.”

"Would you mind if I took those lessons up tomorrow?"

Imrahil frowned at her. "What plan to you have in that head
of yours, Lothiriel, I can almost see the wheels spinning."

"Could I at least accompany you to Dunharrow before you
leave?" Lothiriel hated the fact that she had to ask
permission.

Imrahil sighed. “I’m sure Eomer has better things to do,
than to take you roaming about Rohan.”

Eomer smiled. “Roaming about Rohan sounds like a grand idea
to me.”

* * * * * * * * * *

The ride to Dunharrow was pleasant. Lothiriel and Imrahil
rode close together. It was the last time she would see him
in many weeks, so she made the most of it. She gave Imrahil
a stack notes to pass on to Erchirion that she’d been
writing since she’d first arrived, detailing her adventures.
Lothiriel caught him up on the news of home. And Imrahil
told her tales of the battlefields of Gondor.

By nightfall, camp had been set upon the fields of the the
Firienfeld

After a companionable meal under the stars, everyone went to
bed early. Eowyn and Lothiriel were sharing a tent. Eowyn
brought her sword and was going through a set of training
maneuvers. Lothiriel sat upon the edge of her cot as she
watched Eowyn bring the blade around in graceful swinging
arcs.

“I have never seen a woman wield a blade,” Lothiriel said.

“Neither had any of the women of Minas Tirith, until they
met me.” Eowyn smiled broadly. It was obvious she was
quite proud of that fact.

“May I hold it?”

“Certainly,” Eowyn said. “Many women of the Mark learn how
to fight. I was fighting with Eomer when this sword was
taller than I was.”

Lothiriel held the sword in her hands. She liked the heavy
weight of it and the way the hilt felt within her palm. It
made her feel strong, dangerous.

Eowyn studied her a long moment. “You aren’t like the other
ladies in the royal court I’ve met in Minas Tirith.”

“If they are anything like the ladies in Dol Amroth, I
should hope not,” Lothiriel said. “They are the most dull
bunch of women I’ve ever met in my life. All they do is
spend their time comparing the anatomy of the royal guards.”

Eowyn laughed. “You are right about that!”

Lothiriel handed the sword back to her. “I wish I could
wield a sword. I suppose that is an art best learned as a
child.”

"Not necessarily. I could give you a few lessons, if you
aren't afraid of hard work." Eowyn offered the words as a
challenge.

"I can handle a challenge," Lothiriel said, raising her
eyes to meet Eowyn’s challenge.

Eowyn smiled. “We’ll see.”

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Eomer retired to his tent. From the tent next to his came
the sound of girlish giggling. It had been so long since
he’d heard the sound come from Eowyn that he’d almost
forgotten how it had sounded. He was glad to hear it. No
one deserved happiness more than his sister.

Eomer pulled off his armor and boots and sat down upon his
cot. The ride to Edoras was far from a short ride, but
instead of satisfying his desire to have the open sky above
him, it only inflamed it. He lay back on his cot. The
dingy frayed roof of the tent stared back at him. As Third
Marshal, all he’d had was the stars for a ceiling. Eomer
sighed realizing he preferred it that way.

The silence of the autumn night was disrupted by a loud
shriek. A call rang out from one of his guards. The call
of attack. Eomer sprung from his cot, grabbing his sword,
before rushing out of the tent.

In the tent beside his, Eowyn opened the flap of the tent,
sword in her hand. Lothiriel peaked out of the tent behind
her. Members of the eored and Prince Imrahil’s guards
rushed past them towards the Path’s of the Dead. “Stay
there!” Eomer growled.

Eomer followed his men up the trail. There was no time to
get to the horses, so the men were on foot. Imrahil caught
up with him. They heard the clank of metal on metal.
Somewhere in the darkness in front of them, the battle had
begun.

Imrahil said, “Can you hold them long enough for my guards
to get mounted?”

Eomer nodded. He rushed around one of the standing stones
blocking the trail.

Before him, rushing from the Path’s of the Dead came a
never-ending flow of darkly clad enemies. Their armor bore
no distinguishing mark that Eomer could see in the darkness.
But in all honesty, he didn’t care who his attackers were,
he cared only about protecting his people and his country.

Compared to other battles, this one would never have songs
sung about it, nor would it be remembered in history except
by the families of the few that were lost.

To Eomer time seemed to stretch during a battle. Seconds
could last a lifetime. Minutes were an eternity.
Everything else in the world faded from his mind, except for
the blade in his hand and his opponent in front of him.

In the midst of intense fighting, Eomer heard the sound of
horses. The sound was a comfort, and he redoubled his
attack. However, as the horses passed him, he caught a
glimpse of Eowyn astride her horse, blade in her hand,
racing along behind Imrahil’s guards. She leaned down in
the saddle, deftly taking out one of the enemy, before
disappearing up the trail. Eomer cursed at her in Rohirric
but it was lost amid the sounds of hooves.

Despite the eored’s best efforts, some of the attackers made
it past their defenses and headed towards the campsite.
Eomer yelled for some of his men to guard their rear. As he
turned to give them orders, he froze. In the distance,
standing outside of her tent, was Lothiriel. A sword was
clutched in her hand. Fighting had broken out around her.

From behind him, he became aware of an attacker. He spun on
his heals, swinging his blade as he turned. One fell and
two more took their place. On even terrain in boots he
wouldn’t have had any trouble. Without boots, it was a
different story. His foot slipped out from under him as he
stepped on a rock. That small break in form was all the
mistake his attacker needed. The sword was swung low and
Eomer turned his body away from it to let his armor deflect
the brunt of the blow. A split-second later, he remembered
he wasn’t wearing armor. Instantly, Eomer pivoted to block
the attack, but came up short. A blow that should have
simply knocked him off balance, easily sliced through his
shirt, grazing his side with a long gash.

Before the attacker had a chance to get in another hit,
Elfhelm rode past, neatly sheering off the enemy’s head.
Eomer raised his sword in acknowledgement and threw himself
back into the battle.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

As the fighting came to an end, Eomer found himself at the
entrance to the Paths of the Dead. Most of the enemy had
been driven back, chased by Imrahil’s forces. Those that
hadn’t lay strewed about the Firienfeld.

Eowyn was riding hard as she came out of the tunnel. Her
hair was flying out behind her and her sword was bloody in
her hands.

"Imrahil is trailing the attackers on towards Erech." Eowyn
leaned on her sword, catching her breath. Her eyes were
bright with excitement. "I never thought I would live to
see the Paths of the Dead."

"And I never thought I would live to see my sister taking up
a sword in battle again," Eomer growled.

Eowyn sighed as she cleaned off her sword. "What would you
prefer I do? Stand idly by in my tents while the battle
rages around me, like Lotty?"

At the mention of Lothiriel's name, Eomer's eyes widened.
"Where is she?"

"She is not with you?" Eowyn glanced around, all traces of
sibling banter left her. There was no sign of Lothiriel
anywhere.

"Did you see her ride off?" Eomer pulled on his boots.

"Well, no I did not, I was preoccupied by a few dozen
enemies at the moment," Eowyn said.

Not wasting a moment, Eomer called for his horse. He swung
into the saddle. "I'm riding back to Edoras, if. . .if I
don't find her I'll be back."

Eowyn nodded, she put a hand on his knee. "I'm sure she's
all right. She may not know how to fight, but she's no
fool."

Though the battle was over, Eomer was fighting a silent one
with himself as he rode down the mountain path. He was both
worried and angry. Worried for Lothiriel’s safety. And
furious at her for putting herself into harms way. She
should have had the sense to hide, Eomer thought. She was
smarter than that.

“Lotty!!” Eomer yelled.

* * * * * * *

Lothiriel was half way down the switchbacks of Dunharrow
when her horse threw her. The attack had made him skittish
and he'd been reluctant to go down the steep trail. A
misstep on a rock was all the enticement he needed to toss
her painfully onto her bottom.

Lothiriel hadn't even considered walking back up. The trail
was impossibly steep, so she kept going down the mountain,
certain that eventually someone would come after her. She
sighed. She was so tired of running away every time danger
presented itself. It made her feel like a coward. Although
she was terrified and felt anything but heroic, she'd rather
stand and face what was to come, than leave everyone else
behind to do the fighting.

The moon had risen and the path was well lit. The stars
twinkled overhead. She'd walked alone before. She could do
it again. If not for the fight, the night would have been
lovely. It was cool, but not uncomfortably so.

Lothiriel had made it down the mountain trail and was a half
league away when she heard the sound of hooves. Soon after
a deep voice broke the silence of the night. "Lotty!"

"Over here!" she yelled.

Eomer slowed his horse to a stop.

"It's about time you showed up," Lothiriel said.

Eomer got off the horse. "Where’s your horse?"

"He threw me, the old brute. He doesn't particularly care
for battles or steep trails," Lothiriel said. "I can't say
that I blame him."

"You probably deserved it," Eomer said.

"What on earth for?"

"What for?" Eomer stormed over to her. "You couldn't just
stay in your tent, you had to go out in the middle of a
battle with a sword? How many times have you fought with a
sword. HOW MANY?"

"None. But -"

"But you think you can just jump into battle like you're
some warrior?" His face was red with anger. "Do you have a
death wish? In the past few days you've almost been killed
twice!"

Eomer looked down at her. Lothiriel's eyes were wide, her
cheeks flushed, her hair had loosened from the braid and
fanned out upon her shoulders. She was alive. Not another
casualty on the battlefield. Alive.

Without consciously realizing what he was doing, Eomer
pulled her to him. His lips sought out hers, as if he
needed her touch to convince him she was all right. Her
soft lips were wonderfully alive with warmth.

The sound of her muffled protests brought him quickly back
to his senses. No sooner had he let her go, than she swung
her fist at him. He staggered backwards, grabbing his nose.
Blood oozed down between his fingers.

Lothiriel's mouth dropped open in a stunned silence. Eomer
glared at her, as he wiped his nose on his sleeve, wincing
as he did so.

Eomer crossed the distance between him, not at all certain
of what he was going to do or to say. Lothiriel took
several steps backwards obviously intimidated by his
approach. Eomer stopped, scaring her away was certainly not
what he had in mind. She gazed at him warily. The
confusion on her face was plain to see.

Eomer felt as confused as she looked. The situation had
gotten completely out of hand.

"Let's go, it's long way to Edoras," Eomer said.

Before she could protest, Eomer hoisted Lothiriel roughly up
into the saddle and swung up behind her. He wrapped his
arms around her waist to grasp the reins. They rode up the
trail in silence.

The thoughts that were running through Lothiriel's head were
so loud that she scarcely noticed the quiet. She couldn't
think straight. How had this happened? One moment she was
ridiculously happy to see him and the next moment she was
punching him. What was wrong with her? And that didn't even
begin to cover what happened in between. Yelling. Kissing.

Lothiriel cringed with regret as she replayed the last few
minutes over and over again in her mind. Whatever her
intention had been, she'd never meant to hurt him. It
wasn't the kiss, so much as the suddenness of his actions
that caught her off guard. For one brief moment, she
actually wondered if he was going to hit her and then - -

Lothiriel sighed. She had been kissed before. The men of
Dol Amroth, who put propriety above all else, were not
immune to a stolen kiss along a secluded stretch of beach at
night. Those kisses however, were nothing compared to the
fierce urgency of Eomer's lips against hers. It terrified
her and excited her and confused her. And because of her
stupidity she doubted it would happen again.

Lothiriel had been so lost in her thoughts that it was some
time before she realized that Eomer had spoken. "What?"

"When you fell from the horse, were you injured?" Eomer
asked.

"I thought you said I deserved it," Lothiriel said.

Eomer sighed. He had fully intended to apologize, but the
ridicule in her voice changed his mind. "You deserved more
than that, foolishly running into battle."

"I wasn't fighting but I wish I had been," Lothiriel said,
angrily.

"Then what were you doing? Going out for a leisurely
stroll?" Eomer said.

"Running away." Lothiriel sighed. "Eowyn gave me an extra
sword and told me to stay put. And that's what I was doing
until they decided to take the battle inside my tent!"
Lothiriel's voice rose as her anger grew. "I wasn't
fighting. I was running. I'm a coward." Lothiriel said
bitterly. "Is that what you wanted to hear? I'm a coward
who can do nothing more than run and hide."

She was furious at herself for her admission. And furious
at Eomer for forcing her into admitting it. How dare he get
pleasure out of her weakness. How dare he. She was tempted
to turn around and punch him again, but took a deep breath.
A sudden wave of homesickness washed over her. She wished
she was on the beach, or in her bedroom back at home.
Anywhere but here and now.

"You are no coward," Eomer said, softly. "Sometimes
surviving is more courageous an act that taking up a sword.
I should not have lost my temper. I - - I was worried for
your safety."

When Eomer saw her amid the sounds of battle, she had looked
anything but cowardly. The sword was balanced perfectly in
her grip. She was poised on her heels ready to spring into
throes of battle. Eomer had seen enough battle to last him
a lifetime. And he tired of innocent people being caught up
in it. Over the course of the war he had seen too much. Too
much battle. Too much death. Boys barely strong enough to
lift a sword. Peaceful Rohirrim caught unaware. Woman.
Children. None were spared. Eomer knew that better than
most and he wasn't willing to sacrifice another life
needlessly. It would not happen again. Not while he was
King.

"How did things go?" she asked.

"Your father and his men are trailing the attackers towards
Erech," Eomer said.

"So much for a proper goodbye. He'll be chasing them clear
to Dol Amroth," Lothiriel said. "Once my father sets his
course there is little that will turn him back."

Eomer nodded. “I am sure he will send a messenger, one that
will make it through this time. You won’t be left in the
dark like before.”

“I hope not. I’ve had enough of darkness to last me a
lifetime,” she said.

Eomer looked at the sky. “I’m afraid, you have a few hours
left til sunrise. If we’re lucky we’ll make it to Edoras
before dawn.”

They rode on in silence. The tension between them somewhat
lessened. Lothiriel's hair blew back and tickled Eomer's
nose. He wrinkled his nose against it, and winced.

Eomer sighed. He figured he was lucky to have gotten away
with only a broken nose. She probably thought him every bit
as savage as he felt. His quick temper had gotten him into
trouble on more than one occasion during his life, but never
had he frightened a woman. And a Princess at that. After
his actions, it was a wonder she agreed to ride with him at
all. Not that she wasn't doing everything in her power to
keep from touching him. Her posture was stiff and formal in
front of him.

"Relax," Eomer said. "It is a long way to Edoras. And I
promise I don't bite. . . .unless you ask me to."

"Mmmmph. I didn't ask you earlier and that certainly didn't
seem to stop you," Lothiriel retorted. "Do you learn all
your manners from your horses?"

"Only the good ones."

"Well, then, you'll have to educate me properly," Lothiriel
teased. "Valar forbid, I stay in Rohan without behaving
like a horse."

Eomer considered it a moment while they rode slowly down the
road. "My personal favorite is the traditional Rohirrim
welcome greeting." Eomer made a throaty horse sound and
blew into the back of Lothiriel's hair, nuzzling his face
against her neck.

"But that welcome is only used for people we like," Eomer
said, with a laugh.

"I should hate to see what your greeting is for someone you
don't like," Lothiriel said.

"We kiss." Eomer grinned.

Somewhat reluctantly, Lothiriel laughed. Eomer winced
audibly, as she leaned back against him. Since he’d been
injured, he had ignored the burning pain in his side. But
now as the heat of battle wore off, the pain became more
noticeable. Lothiriel’s weight against him made it worse.

“You’re hurt!”

“I’m fine, it’s just a scratch,” Eomer said.

Lothiriel turned around, trying to see over her shoulder.
She pulled his hand from his wound. It was covered in
blood.

“Stop this horse! Right now,” Lothiriel ordered.

Eomer did not plan on stopping. Lothiriel did not plan on
going any farther. She tried to take the reins from him.
Firefoot did not like the conflicting messages and whinnied
loudly in protest.

“Stop!” Lothiriel said.

“Why?”

“I’m not going to have you bleeding to death,” she said.
“Now stop the horse, or I won’t give you a moment’s peace
the rest of the ride.”

Eomer gave in. He climbed off the horse and Lothiriel
followed him.

“Let’s see it,” she ordered. Her voice reminded him of one
of the healers at Meduseld.

“What do you know about healing?” Eomer asked, somewhat
amused at her sudden concern for his health. He pulled his
shirt up.

“Nothing.”

Eomer smiled. “So what do you suggest we do about it?”

She frowned at him. “What do you usually do?”

“Leave it til I get home.”

Lothiriel bent down to look at it. A deep gash went along
the line of his ribs. “It looks awful! And you were just
going to go all the way to Edoras bleeding all over
yourself? Are all men as stubborn as you?”

Eomer looked down at it. “I was too busy worrying about you
to worry about myself.”

“Oh, put all the blame on me, excellent tactic,” She knelt
down and ripped out the hem of her skirt. “Let’s at least
bind it with something to stop the bleeding,” she said.
“If you fell out of the saddle there’s no way I could get
you back up again.”

Eomer smirked. “You probably would just leave me at the
side of the road and ride on without giving me a second
thought.”

“Yes, but I’d feel very guilty and it would ruin a perfectly
good night’s ride,” she said.

Eomer laughed. Lothiriel smiled at him. She tried to hand
the strip of cloth to him.

He shook his head. “You’re the healer, not me.”

Eomer held back a grin as Lothiriel stared at his wound in
serious contemplation. After some consideration, she placed
the middle of the strip of material around the gash and
pulled the ends tight around his waist. Her hands brushed
over the bare skin of his stomach. He jumped under her
gentle touch.

“Did I hurt you?” she asked, concerned. “Is it too tight?”

Eomer shook his head.

After securely tying her bandage, she pushed his shirt down
and smiled. “Good as new.” Lothiriel looked at the
Firefoot. “I’ll ride behind you, so I won’t lean against
the cut.”

Eomer was more than a little relieved at her suggestion.
Much to his annoyance, his body had wasted no time in
reacting to her touch, as innocent as it might have been.

He pulled Lothiriel up onto the saddle behind him and they
resumed their journey. Lothiriel sneezed. She swatted his
hair away from her face.

“If that’s your attempt at a Rohirrim greeting, it was a
very poor one,” Eomer commented.

Before Lothiriel could reply, the blare of a loud horn rang
out across the fields of Rohan. It wasn't the gallant sound
of the Gondorian horns, it was something deeper and much
more menacing. Eomer slowed to a stop. In the distance was
an echoing call. And still another, father away. They
listened until the sound of horns grew silent. Firefoot
danced nervously beneath them. Eomer strained his ears
against the silence of the night. Hearing nothing, he let
out the breath he'd been holding.

"What is it?" Lothiriel whispered.

Eomer shrugged. "I don't know. I have never heard its
equal."

* * * * * * * * * * *

By the time they reached Edoras the morning sun was hanging
low on the horizon. Lothiriel had gone off to bed. After
having his cut properly taken care of, Eomer spent the day
pacing the length of the Great Hall lost in his own
thoughts. The kiss was nothing more than relief at finding
her alive. Wasn't it? It was nothing more than that. But
then he recalled how her body felt pressed against his, and
the feel of his hands around her. Eomer sighed.

He was no longer Third Marshal, free to consort with
whatever woman caught his fancy. And this time the object
of his affections was much more dangerous than any woman of
the Mark. Lothiriel was a Princess of Dol Amroth. Her
safety was his responsibility. No doubt Imrahil would have
taken his chances on the threats of the open road had he any
inkling of the thoughts that were running through Eomer’s
mind.

His thoughts were disrupted by Eowyn and the rest of his men
arriving back from Dunharrow. “Did you find Lotty?” Eowyn
asked.

“She’s in bed.”

“Not injured I hope?” Eowyn asked.

Eomer shook his head. “No, just sleeping. We didn’t get
back til after sunrise.” Eomer yawned.

“Looks like you should be in bed as well,” Eowyn said.

He shook his head. “I couldn’t sleep. Did you hear the
horns?”

Eowyn nodded. “Sounded like some sort of signal. I was
waiting for a battle to begin.”

“As was I,” Eomer said. “I take it you haven’t heard
anything similar while you were in Gondor?”

Eowyn shook her head. “The only horns I heard were those
from the towers of Ecthilion.”

Eomer sighed. “I’m sending a messenger to Minas Tirith.
See what Lord Aragorn has to say about it. Perhaps he’ll be
able to give a name to this new evil.”

Eowyn stared at him intently. "What happened to your nose?"

Much to his chagrin, Eomer felt heat flush his cheeks. He
shrugged. "Must have happened during battle."

Eowyn's eyes narrowed. "If you say so."

"I do say so." His tone allowed no room for debate.

"Well, you and your nose go get some rest. I'll see to
sending the messenger," Eowyn said.

Reluctantly, Eomer nodded and headed off to bed.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Eomer dreamed of death. The fertile farmlands and fields of
the Pelennor were crawling with all manner of evil. The
stench of blood hung heavy in the air. Amid the chaotic
screams, he heard one alone above all the others. Eomer
turned. In the distance, the Witch King loomed over Eowyn,
drawing his sword back for a blow.

Eomer charged towards them, trying his best to fight his way
to her. The harder he tried, the further away she seemed.
Horrified, Eomer watched as the Witch King's sword swatted
Eowyn, lifting her into the air as if she were no more than
a rag doll. It was only after she hit the ground that
Eomer's feet could move. Except he did not want to. He
wanted to get no closer, but he couldn't keep himself from
running to her.

Eomer knelt beside her. Gently, he turned her body over.
He was so startled by the sight that greeted his eyes that
he fell backwards. Instead of Eowyn's pale face staring up
at him, it was Lothiriel.

"No!"

Eomer bolted upright in bed. His body was drenched in cold
sweat. He lay back against the pillows, catching his
breath.

Since the battle of the Pelennor, he'd had the dreams. He
watched helplessly as death once again claimed another
victim. Accuracy didn't matter. His dreaming mind was all
too eager to fill in those gaps for him. Some nights it was
Eowyn, Theoden, Theodred, his father, his mother. It didn't
matter that some of them had never set foot upon that
battlefield, much less died upon it. His nightmares were
always the same. The innocent green fields of the Pelennor
always took away everyone he'd ever cared about.

Knowing there would be little sleep this night, he climbed
out of bed. He ran his fingers vigorously through his hair
to wake himself up. Though he didn’t particularly want to,
he stuck on his breeches and a shirt. One of the hazards of
being a King was that he couldn't go walking through the
castle naked. Well, he supposed he could. . . but he didn't
think that would be very kingly. He drew the line however,
at wearing shoes. The floor was icy against his feet.

He yawned. As always, the fires within the Great Hall were
still burning. He sat down at one of the wooden benches,
leaned against the edge of the table, and propped his feet
upon the hearth.

Eowyn had always been the sleeper of the family. She could
sleep through anything, any time, anywhere. Eomer on the
other hand could easily lay awake all night long, sleep
evading him while his mind bounced from one thought to
another. Many times he’d come down to the Great Hall and
sat beside the fire, and listened to Theoden tell him great
tales about the Kings of old. It seemed like an impossibly
long time ago.

Eomer wiggled his toes as the warmth pleasantly crept up his
feet. The fire crackled.

He heard the door to the hall open. Lothiriel walked into
the room. His riding cloak was wrapped tightly around her.
He had wondered what had become of it. As he watched her
walk across the room, he decided it looked better on her
than it ever had on him. She disappeared into one of the
side rooms and came back with a cup and a picture of water.
From her deliberate movements, Eomer could tell this was a
routine she had done more than once since coming to Edoras.

She went back for a small kettle and poured the water into
it. It wasn’t until she approached the fire that she saw
him. She hesitated a moment, then walked to the hearth,
hanging the kettle over the flames.

“Would you like some tea?” she asked.

“Only if you have something stronger to put in it hidden
within the folds of your cloak,” he said.

“It’s your castle, I’m sure you could find something.”

He nodded. “True, but then I’d have to get back up and I
just got my feet warm.”

She sat down on the bench beside him, she stuck her feet out
but they were too short to reach the hearth. "Yes, well, at
least your feet can get warm."

She wrapped the cloak tight around her. "Can't sleep?"

For reasons that he didn’t quite understand, he told her the
truth. “Nightmares."

She nodded sympathetically. “Whenever I couldn’t sleep. My
sister and I’d take turns asking each other what if
questions.”

Eomer stared at the fire. "What if the war had never
happened?"

Lothiriel shrugged. “I would be in Dol Amroth, trying to
convince my father to let me go to the havens and learn the
language of the Elves. And I'd be fending off unwelcome
advances from the local nobility. And hiding amid the sand
dunes watching the tides roll in."

“I’d probably be sleeping out under the stars tonight,"
Eomer sighed. "I would have still been 3rd Marshal of the
Riddermark. Patrolling the borders."

"Well, it seems as if war has altered the paths of both of
our lives,” Lothiriel said. “And given us not a choice at
all in the matter.”

“I suppose we should be adult about it and make the most of
the situation,” Eomer said, dejectedly.

“You can't dwell too much on what ifs," Lothiriel said,
gently.

Eomer smirked. "It was your idea."

Lothiriel grinned. "Yes, but I was talking about fun what
ifs not the bad ones."

"I didn't realize there was such a thing." Eomer said.

The water in the kettle had begun to boil. Lothiriel took
it off the fire and fixed her cup of tea. Seeing the
steaming cup changed Eomer’s mind. He made his way across
the hall, cursing about the cold floor. He came back with a
cup and a bottle of whiskey.

Lothiriel fixed him a cup. He then added a generous dose of
the contents of his bottle. He took a sip and sighed
contentedly. “You know, tea isn’t so bad after all.”

Lothiriel reached for the bottle and took a sniff. She ran
her finger along the inside edge of the bottle, and licked
her fingers. “Whiskey?”

Eomer nodded. “Finest in the Mark.”

Eomer was rendered speechless as Lothiriel lifted the bottle
and took a sip. Her eyes widened. “Better than any in Dol
Amroth as well, I should say.” She poured a small amount
into her own cup.

“And exactly how long have you been a drinking woman?”
Eomer asked.

Lothiriel scrunched her eyebrows and counted on her fingers.

Eomer said, “Don’t tell me it’s been so many years you have
to do calculations? If you started drinking whiskey as a
girl, it’s a wonder you aren’t the size of a halfling.”

Lothiriel laughed. “When I was little, I mistook Elvish
Wine for the juice I usually drank. I eagerly downed glass
after glass until I staggered into the throne room and threw
up all over an Elf visiting from the havens."

Eomer leaned back and started laughing. He laughed so hard
that one of the guards peeked his head into the hall to make
sure all was well.

"It was very good wine," Lothiriel said, laughing with him.

Eomer wiped his eyes. They drank their tea and watched the
fire crackle.

Lothiriel turned around on the bench to face him. She
pulled her knees up to her chest, resting her chin upon her
knees. The cloak billowed around her, and only the very
tips of her toes poked out from beneath the velvety folds.

“What if you could have anything you wanted right at this
very moment?” Lothiriel asked.

"Is this a fun what if question?" Eomer asked.

Lothiriel nodded. "No answer is too ridiculous. In fact,
the more ridiculous the better."

“I wish I had a cool pint of ale, a crowded tavern filled
with pipe smoke, tall-tales, and beautiful women.” Eomer
glanced at her. “But. . .I suppose I’ll just have to make
due with the beautiful woman. That’s the most important one
of the list anyway.” Eomer grinned.

Lothiriel blushed.

“What about you?” Eomer asked. “What if you could have
anything you wanted?”

“I wish I could be a man,” Lothiriel said.

Eomer laughed out loud. "You would never be mistaken for a
man." The moment after he said it he realized his error.
"All right, I confess, that I did mistake you for a boy, but
I assure you, I shall not make that mistake again."

“I'm being serious." Lothiriel kicked him in the side. He
caught her bare foot and trapped it between his hands.

"I don’t want to be one forever, just long enough to kick
the trouble makers out of Dol Amroth. Or at least I wish I
was as strong as your sister. I've heard some of the
stories about her.”

“I’m glad she knows how to defend herself, every woman
should know how to do that,” Eomer said. “But. . she need
not risk her life on the battlefield.”

“But it is her life to risk. It should not be the decision
of a man to tell her what she can and cannot do. If I were
her, I would ride off and help fight the orcs beside
Faramir,” Lothiriel said.

“Then why didn’t you ride off and do the same with your
father?” Eomer asked.

“Because I have never been trained in the arts of war like
Eowyn has. And I’m not foolish enough to go riding into a
situation where I could get myself killed,” Lothiriel said.
“I would get in the way. I am. . .too short. . .too
scrawny. . .and too weak to do any good.”

“Size isn’t all that’s important when it comes to fighting,”
Eomer said only half paying attention to his words. He was
more focused on gently massaging Lothiriel's feet.

Lothiriel snorted. “That’s easy for you to say."

“Some of the fiercest fighters I’ve ever come across have
been the smallest,” Eomer said. “When Eowyn fell in battle
against the Witch King, Merry, a halfling came to her aid.”

“A halfling?”

Eomer nodded. “One who had never picked up a sword in
battle until a few months before.”

Lothiriel raised her eyebrows. "Are you suggesting I forgo
any training and throw myself into battle?"

Eomer frowned. "Not at all. I meant.. . .I. . ." He could
not remember what he meant, instead he tickled the bottom of
her feet mercilessly. She screamed and kicked him in the
side, wiggling easily out of his grasp.

Her eyes lifted to meet his. Eomer was delighted at the
amusement in her eyes. But quickly her smile faded. "I'm
sorry about your nose."

Eomer shrugged. "I had it coming."

"Does it hurt?"

"Only when I sneeze."

Lothiriel frowned. "I wasn't trying to hit you. . .I. . ."
she struggled for the words, but shrugged helplessly.

Eomer smiled. "For one who knows nothing of battle, you've
done quite a job on me."

"You startled me. I wasn't expecting it." Lothiriel stared
out at the fire, reluctant to meet his gaze.

"And what would you have done, had you been expecting it?
Broken my arm? Laid me out flat on my back?" Eomer teased.

A mischievous smile tugged up the corners of Lothiriel's
mouth. She downed the last sip of tea and rose to her feet.
"You'll just have to find out, won't you?"

"I intend to," Eomer said softly, as he watched Lothiriel
leave the room.

* * * * * * * * * * *


Chapter 7 - Chapter 7

***************************************

Chapter 7

The weeks blended together. The warm winds of late
summer gave way to the crisp chill of autumn.
Winter was coming soon.

Behind the armory, Eowyn and Lothiriel were having
their daily training exercises. While she would
never match Eowyn’s skill, Lothiriel was competent
and she never complained. Having Eowyn as an
instructor and not complaining said more about
Lothiriel’s strength of character than her skill
with the blade.

Since the horns had sounded on the night of the
attack on the Firienfeld, no further attacks had
come. Messengers from Minas Tirith to Dol Amroth
reported hearing the same. Though no one knew what
they meant. Some hoped they were the call to
retreat but Eomer was not so sure. Regroup was
more likely. Eomer understood the reckless power
of men who had nothing left to loose. But what he
couldn't understand was what they were waiting for.
Why hadn’t they attacked again?

Eomer stared out at the gently rolling plains of
Edoras. All looked peaceful. But looks were
deceiving. Tracks of small parties of men had been
spotted heading towards Gondor. Reports of horses
disappearing from the plains came from all portions
of the Mark, Lothiriel’s horse being among them.
Supplies had gone missing. The grass trembled in
the wind, tension lurked just beneath the surface.
It was as if the very air itself were waiting for
something to unfold.

Eomer sighed. It was not idle worry that lead his
thoughts down such dark roads but the fact the he
would be upon those roads within a few days. If
there was something out there, he wanted to be
prepared for it. Especially since he would be
traveling with Lothiriel.

Word had come from Dol Amroth, the roads were safe.
Or were deemed safe enough by Imrahil. Although he
was aware of the risk, Imrahil stated that he knew
Eomer was more than capable of returning his
daughter into his safe hands.

Eomer ignored his worried long enough to watch
Eowyn flip Lothiriel neatly onto her back. She
pointed a blade at Lothiriel’s throat.

Eomer cringed. “Eoywn, must you keep attacking our
guest?" He helped Lothiriel to her feet.

"She asked to be attacked."

Eomer shook his head. “She’s going to return to
Dol Amroth with horrible stories about the Mark.”

“And when will that be?” Lothiriel asked, dusting
herself off. “We saw the messenger arrive this
morning.”

“Best we leave as soon as possible. Tomorrow if I
can get the eored ready and find someone to take
care of things while I’m away.” He glanced in
Eowyn’s direction.

“Consider it done,” Eowyn said. “A ride to Dol
Amroth will do you good. You’ve been too worried
as of late and the journey will get you back into
high spirits I’m sure.”

“All my worries will be lifted when I get Lotty
away from you. And I plan on starting right away,
do you mind if I steal your prized pupil?” Eomer
asked. “She and I have plans to attend to.”

“Steal away. Besides, I’ve discovered that it is
next to impossible to keep her attentions once you
arrive as a spectator,” Eowyn said with a grin.

Eomer smiled.

“So let’s hear it,” Lothiriel said, once they had
started walking down the dirt roads towards the
stables.

“Hear what?”

“The lecture. Stay close to the eored. Don’t
wander off,” Lothiriel said. “I heard it all from
Dolore the captain of the guard of Dol Amroth
before I left. It was not so long ago that I have
forgotten it.”

“Indeed, it seems that you are still insulted that
he thought you such a fool,” Eomer said. “I have
no intention of making his mistake. You know well
enough what is required of you.”

Lothiriel was pleasantly surprised at his remarks,
if a little confused. “Then what did you wish to
speak to me about?”

Eomer smiled. “Something far more enjoyable I hope
than a lecture.”

He lead her to the stables and to a deep brown
horse called, Starlight, that she’d been riding
since her own had gone missing.

Starlight leaned his head out of the stall and
nuzzled against Lothiriel’s hand, sniffing for the
treat she usually brought him.

“Shall I ride him to Dol Amroth?” Lothiriel asked.

Eomer nodded. “And longer, I hope. Consider him a
gift, to remember your first journey into the
world.”

Lothiriel rubbed Starlight’s nose and looked back
at Eomer. “This is a grand gift, one I could not
possibly accept. I have done nothing but intrude
upon your house and hospitality since I have
arrived. Not to mention - - “

“You have kept life interesting and that is no
small thing. It is worthy of repayment. Please,”
Eomer said.

Lothiriel smiled. “Thank you. I wish I could
repay you someday.”

“You’re presence here has been payment enough,”
Eomer said.

And considering the courteous and formal sound of
his words, Lothiriel bowed. Eomer smiled, “A
princess could not have done it better.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “Well do not get used
to it.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Lothiriel found that packing to leave Rohan was
harder than she had expected. She'd arrived with
nothing but the clothes on her back. Eowyn had
seen to outfitting her with enough clothes to keep
her comfortable. She folded the favorite of her
dresses into a saddle bag and then sat upon the
edge of the bed to look around the room.

Lothiriel knew she should have been happy, excited
even, at the prospect of going home. Instead her
feelings were torn in two. Although she looked
forward to seeing her sister and her home again,
she was also sorry to be leaving Rohan. In a short
time she had grown comfortable here. Rohan lacked
the formalities of Dol Amroth. Here she had been
able to study and train whatever struck her
interest. Eowyn had become like a sister to her.
And Eomer. . .

A quiet knock at the door interrupted her thoughts.
Eowyn smiled. "I knew you would still be up. I
always have trouble sleeping the day before I leave
on a journey."

Lothiriel smiled. "I will miss being here."

"You sound surprised," Eowyn said.

"I am. All I've wanted to do since I've arrived is
be at home. And now that I'm going home - - I'm
not sure what I want anymore," Lothiriel said.

Eowyn smiled and sat down beside her on the bed.
"Well, I know what I want," Eowyn said. "If you'd
be willing, I'd love for you to be my attendant at
my wedding. The thought of having the giggling women of
Gondor help me, makes me ill."

Lothiriel smirked. "You forget, I am a giggling
woman of Gondor."

Eowyn laughed. "You may be a woman of Gondor, but
you don't giggle."

At that, Lothiriel laughed. "Don't be so sure
about that. You may change you mind when the
wedding arrives."

"I won't," Eowyn said. "Besides, it will also force
your father into letting you out of the house
again. I have a feeling that the walls of Dol
Amroth may seem higher than before."

"I hope you are wrong," Lothiriel said, quietly.

* * * * * * * * * * *

Three days upon the road was enough to remind
Lothiriel why she didn't like long journeys. Every
muscle in her body ached. Lothiriel was not so
sore as she had been when she'd first arrived in
Edoras, but she doubted if she would ever be a
skilled enough rider not to be relieved to see the
days ride come to an end.

Lothiriel slid down out of the saddle. Although
the Paths of the Dead took a week off their travel
time, Eomer kept up a brisk pace as if even the
saved time were not enough to want him to delay the
journey any longer.

Lothiriel walked around the perimeter while the men
set up camp. The mountains were still large in the
distance, but soon they would be no more than a
memory. She signed and flexed her fingers, they
were stiff from hours of gripping her horse’s
reins.

“Wearing gloves helps,” Eomer said, as he
approached her.

“I was wearing gloves,” Lothiriel said.

Eomer grinned. “Well, then don’t grip the reins so
tight."

She shrugged. “I didn’t think I was.”

Eomer took her hands in his and rubbed them
briskly. He slowly worked his way up each finger,
working out the stiffness.

“Do you offer this service to all your men after a
long ride?” she asked, grinning.

“I do not. This is reserved only for you,” Eomer
said.

Lothiriel grinned.

“Sore anywhere else?” Eomer asked. The corners of
his eyes wrinkled in amusement.

“I am, but I don’t think it would be quite proper
for you to be rubbing my bottom,” Lothiriel said.

“Alas, I suppose not,” Eomer said. In the
distance one of his men called his name.

“Duty calls,” Lothiriel said.

Eomer sighed. As he turned to walk away, he
swatted Lothiriel lightly on the backside. “Will
that suffice?”

“For now,” Lothiriel said.

Lothiriel watched as Eomer joined his men. From
their expressions, she could tell that something
was wrong. Eomer's body language changed, he
tensed and his eyes scanned the perimeter of the
camp. Without a word he motioned for her to come
to him.

She crossed the distance quickly. "What's
happened?"

One member of the eored held a spent arrow in his
hand. "Someone's playing games with us."

"And we are the pieces on the board I suppose?"
Lothiriel asked.

Eomer nodded grimly as he sent some of his men to
investigate.

That night, they slept in close quarters, huddled
behind an outcropping of rocks and trees. Three
men were placed on guard. Eomer should have joined
them for all the sleep he was getting. After
careful inspection, his men had found tracks
similar to those seen throughout Rohan and leading
in the same direction, but no further signs of
people were seen.

Eomer stared at the sky. For the first time in his
life, the sight of the stars shining brought no
comfort. He wished his party were safe within the
halls of Meduseld. In front of a roaring fire.
Eomer sighed. He shifted his weight.

He heard Lothiriel stir beside him. She raised up
on an elbow and looked at him.

“I didn’t mean to wake you,” Eomer said.

“You didn’t.”

"I am sorry about all of this," Eomer said.

“This is not your fault. No one was hurt. They
are just trying to frighten us,” Lothiriel said.

“They have succeeded.”

“I find it hard to believe that you would be scared
of something as inconsequential as a scratch from
an arrow,” Lothiriel said.

“It’s you I fear for,” he said softly.

She reached her hand out until it found his, and
gave it a squeeze. "I shall be fine."

* * * * * * * *

Though no further troubles greeted them upon the
road, Eomer did not relax until they approached the
lower gates of Dol Amroth.

“Where is this sea you speak so fondly of?” Eomer
said. “I think I can hear it and smell it, but I
have yet to see it.”

Lothiriel smiled and urged her horse to a gallop.
Eomer chased Lothiriel over a small rise of dunes.
At the top he stared out in front of him. . . and
for the first time in his life his gaze was not
hindered by land or mountain but reached on
indefinitely to the horizon. The great wide
expanse of water stretched out before him and he
could not tell where the sky ended and the sea
began.

The roar of the waves mingled with the rush of wind
in his ears as he raced through the edges of the
beach, urging his horse to catch Lothiriel’s. As
the horse ran, Eomer gazed out at the ocean and
felt that he no longer riding upon the earth but
was flying in the midst of a never ending blue sky.

Lothiriel slowed her horse to a stop and Eomer
reined in beside her. She was smiling.

“So? What do you think?” she asked.

Eomer stared out at the sea and back at her. “I
have never seen its equal.”

They dismounted and walked along the shore, leaving
the horses to wander where they wished. Eomer took
a deep breath.

Lothiriel sat down on the sand, and tugged off her
shoes. “Take them off, it doesn’t count as a real
trip to the sea unless you put your feet in the
water.”

“Is that so?” Eomer sat down in the sand and
pulled off his boots and his socks.

They walked back down to the water, letting the
waves gently lap their toes.

“It’s cold.”

Lothiriel nodded. “Even in summer it doesn’t get
very warm.”

They walked in quiet contemplation down the
shoreline. Lothiriel stopped every now and then to
pick up a shell or a rock.

By the time they turned around to return to their
shoes, her father was riding up the shoreline to
meet them. As they watched him ride towards them,
Lothiriel asked, "So. . .do you like it?" Her voice
was slightly anxious.

Eomer turned to her and smiled. “I like it very
much.”

She smiled. “I’m glad.”

Imrahil dismounted and grasp Eomer's hand. "Thank
you Eomer for returning Lothiriel safely home,
though I fear my daughter has forgotten all sense
of custom and propriety. I should have greeted you
as you arrived." Imrahil shot Lothiriel a
disapproving glance.

"I'm afraid that is my fault, I insisted upon
seeing the ocean."

Imrahil smiled. "And what do you think of our fair
land?"

"Lovely." Eomer said, but his eyes were on
Lothiriel.


* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Eomer had planned to stay longer at Dol Amroth but
the incident upon the road caused him to change his
plans. Even with the men of the eored to protect
the city and its people, he did not like the
thought of abandoning his people should they need
him. Less than a week had passed before he was
preparing to leave. And that week was spent in
council with Imrahil. Eomer had seen little of the
city, and even less of Lothiriel for which he was
regretful.

Upon his last night in Dol Amroth, council was put
aside for festivities. A large feast was held in
his honor and in the return of Lothiriel. Songs
were sung, the best wines were savored, and the
people of the city rejoiced in the peace that had
once again returned to Dol Amroth.

Eomer took a drink of wine enjoying the
festivities. Erchirion sat at her father's side,
the perfect picture of composed nobility. Her
smile was so friendly Eomer could only imagine what
stories Lothiriel had been telling her.

Across the table, Lothiriel was being tormented by
her brothers. They hung on her, seeking to get her
undivided attention over whatever boyish game they
were playing at. From the looks of it, Eomer
deduced that Lothiriel was an orc, captured by the
great wielding of forks and knives and held at
their mercy.

Eomer excused himself from the table and walked to
Lothiriel.

“Would you care to walk with me? I’d like to see
this sea of yours once more before I leave,” Eomer
said. “that is of course, if your father has no
objections?”

Imrahil smiled, "None at all."


* * * * * * *

The sound of the waves filled the silence between
them. They walked along the shoreline for some
time. “I leave in the morning and I wished to say
my goodbyes here,” Eomer said.

“You think I would not be there to see you off?”

Eomer shook his head. “No, I know you will be
there, but so will half of Dol Amroth.”

“Ah, you mean it will be formal and polite and you
want your goodbye to be otherwise?” Lothiriel
said, with a grin.

“I have had the pleasure of your company to myself
for so long, I simply wanted it one more time
before I left,” Eomer said. “I enjoyed having you
at Edoras.”

“I liked being there.”

“I am glad to hear it.” He wanted to say something
more. To tell her how he felt, but his own
feelings had become so muddled as of late whenever
he was in her presence that he wasn’t certain of
anything anymore, least of all his own emotions.

Lothiriel took a slow step towards him until she
was almost but not quite touching him. She looked
up at him expectantly. Eomer breathed in deeply,
he could smell the sweet scent of her mixed with
the salty spray from the water. He started to
reach a hand out to touch her face, but thought
better of it and quickly took a step away, putting
some distance between them.

“We should return to the castle,” Eomer said.

“You do not wish to stay a bit longer?” Lothiriel
asked, puzzled. She took a step towards him but he
stepped away.

“Forgive me, my lady, I should not have - -

“No, the fault is mine,” Lothiriel said. “It was
just that when you asked me here, I assumed that -
- “ She shook her head trying to clear hheer
thoughts. “I misunderstood your intentions.”

They frowned at each other a moment. Lothiriel
headed back up the shoreline towards the path that
lead to the castle. Eomer caught up with her.
“And what intentions should I have had when I
brought you out here?” Eomer raised his eyebrows.

“Nothing so scandalous as that!” she said, reading
his expression. She sighed and turned to him.
“When a man wishes to steal a few kisses, he asks
the lady for a walk upon the beach. I thought you
were a bit bold to ask me for a walk with my father
and the rest of the dinner table present, but then,
you are a King.”

Eomer groaned. “No wonder everyone at the table
looked at me as if I was Sauron himself. I’m
surprised Imrahil hasn’t sent his whole army down
here for me.”

“Don’t let it worry you, Dol Amroth never gets
enough to gossip about.” Lothiriel laughed.
“Besides walks upon the beach are innocent enough.
Everyone knows that sand isn’t a suitable place for
anything but walking. As enticing as it looks, it
doesn’t make a comfortable bed.”

“You sound as if you speak from experience.”

“I guess you’ll never know, will you?” Lothiriel
said.

“I suppose it would be a shame for us to let
perfectly good gossip go to waste,” Eomer said, as
they walked along the beach. “If they are going to
talk anyway, we might as well make the most of it.”

“Do you really need a reason to kiss me?”

“The last time I kissed you, you broke my nose,”
Eomer pointed out. “I want to make sure the
pleasure is worth the risk of bodily harm.”

“And?” Lothiriel shot him a look of pure
exasperation.

Eomer took both her hands firmly in his. “I think
battling a hoard of orcs would probably get me into
less trouble than one walk along the beach with
you.”

She was still smiling from his remarks as he bent
and touched his lips to hers. Eomer had expected
an innocent kiss, sweetly chaste, becoming of a
princess. It started off as he had imagined. But
after a few moments of hesitation, her lips parted.
She eagerly welcomed his lips against her own and
wasted no time in exploring the depths of his
mouth. It seemed as if she pulled the very breath
from him. He pulled her closer to him until he
could feel her soft curves pressed against him.
And then he did not know whether it was the roaring
of the waves or the pounding of his heart that
filled his ears.

Eomer wondered if her claims about the sand were
true. Surely it could not be that uncomfortable.
And he was more than willing to find out but he
never got the chance.

“Ahem.”

They pulled away from each other so abruptly that
Eomer nearly lost his balance. Erchirion stood at
the edge of the beach, grinning. “I thought it
best that I came to get you before father sends out
a search party.”

Eomer bowed. “I did not mean to keep your sister
so long. She was just instructing me in the lesser
known customs of Dol Amroth.”

Erchirion grinned. "So I see. Lotty has never
been one for customs."

“There are some customs that are not to
disagreeable,” Lothiriel said, as Erchirion took
her arm and lead her from the beach.

* * * * * * * * *

Imrahil met Eomer as he walked up the path towards
the castle. “Eomer, may I have a word.”

Eomer ran a nervous hand through his hair. “I knew
nothing about the custom of Dol Amroth until Lotty
told me of it as we walked along the shoreline.
Had I, I assure you I would not have dared to
injure her reputation among her people.”

Imrahil laughed. “Lothiriel is more than capable
of handling her reputation. That is not what I
wished to talk to you about. Well, not precisely."

Eomer followed Imrahil into his study. It was a
comfortable room with shelves and shelves of books.

Imrahil looked at Eomer across his desk for a long
moment. "You are a good man, any one would be
proud to call you ally. Prouder still I would be
to call you son."

Eomer started to speak but Imrahil raised a hand in
silence. "I'm not asking anything of you. Only
that you listen and consider my proposal. What is
spoken in this room never leaves it."

Eomer nodded.

"In these last few years before the war, the ties
between Rohan and Gondor were broken. Indeed,
Theoden himself felt alone at the battle of Helm's
Deep and for that I am greatly troubled. The rift
between us should never have happened. A marriage
between our countries would ease some of those past
hurts and bring our countries together closer than
they have been in recent memory."


"It would."

"You have met Lothiriel and seem to find her
companionable enough," Imrahil said.

The door to the study opened and Lothiriel walked
into the room. Her voice was quiet, but her words
were sharp.

"I'm capable of making my own decisions about my
life," Lothiriel said.

Imrahil sighed, heavily. "We were only talking,
Lotty."

"About me. You're treating me like a horse to be
sold to the highest bidder," Lothiriel said. "Do
you want me to let Eomer examine my teeth? Or
perhaps you want me to take him up to my chambers
so he can see how I ride?"

"Lothiriel!" Imrahil stood and took a step towards
her. She held her ground and glared at him.

Eomer cringed at her words. While he had been a
bit uncomfortable discussing the future, he had not
foreseen a confrontation such as this. It was ever
bit as rough as those fights Eowyn had waged with
Theoden.

"We weren't making any definite plans. We were
only discussing the future," Imrahil said.

"If you want to discuss my future. Then I should
be the one you're talking to, not a man who has
barely known me a few months," Lothiriel said.

"I have tried talking to you. For the past 4 years
I've tried. It gets me no where," Imrahil paced
the room.

"That's because you already know my answer. I will
not marry for a political alliance," Lothiriel
said.

"You have an obligation to your people."

"Not when it comes to marriage."

"My marriage to your mother was political and it
lead to love. That has been the way of it for
centuries. Have you no loyalty at all to Dol
Amroth?"

"I rode across half of Middle-Earth looking for
you, so you could protect the city. I held one of
our soldiers in my arms as he died. Is that not
enough to prove my love for my home?" Lothiriel's
voice cracked. She took a deep breath, when she
spoke again her voice was soft. "I know you think
you're doing what is best. And I love you for it.
But in this matter my mind will not be swayed.
When I marry it will be for love. Or not at all."

With those parting words, Lothiriel fled the room.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Erchirion sat at the edge of Lothiriel's bed
patting her back gently. "Why did you say such
things?"

"Because someone has to say them. You have been in
love with Rihiel for years and yet you have said
nothing to father about it. Someone had to let him
know that we will not be used as pawns in his
political game of chess," Lothiriel said.

"I thought you were fond of King Eomer?" Erchirion
said. "You did not look like one who would object
to a marriage when I saw you on the beach together.
If anything you looked already betrothed."

Lothiriel glared at her. "It was only a kiss. I -
- I had hoped that some day it may have hhaad the
chance to become something more."

* * * * * * * * * *

The last thing Lothiriel wanted to do was see Eomer
off but she knew it would be rude if she did not.
And it was not Eomer's fault he was caught up in
her father's scheming.

The members of the eored were mounted and waiting
just beyond the gates of the city. Lothiriel
watched from a polite distance while her father
said his goodbyes to Eomer. When he was finished
Lothiriel stepped forward. Eomer smiled at her.
She shifted uncomfortably on her feet. "I hope you
will forgive my outburst yesterday, you should not
have gotten caught up in my quarrels."

"There is nothing to forgive," Eomer said. "Women
must fight hard for their independence."

"It is a constant battle," Lothiriel admitted.

Eomer nodded. "I have seen Eowyn fight that same
battle many times. And more than a few of those
fights were with me."

"And how did she fair?"

"She always won. But there was little celebration
in her victory." Eomer bowed formally. "I've
enjoyed meeting you Lothiriel. Whoever wins your
affections will be a lucky man."

Lothiriel sighed. "I doubt there is a man who
would go to the trouble."

"I wouldn't be so sure of that." Eomer smiled
broadly, and then swung into the saddle. "I shall
see you at the wedding?"

Lothiriel nodded. "I look forward to it."

"As do I."


* * * * * * * * *


Chapter 8 - Chapter 8

Chapter 8

The tower of Ecthelion gleamed in the morning
sunlight. The entourage from Dol Amroth had been
upon the road for many days and their destination
was finally in sight.

Six months had past since Lothiriel watched as
Eomer had ridden from the gates of Dol Amroth.

Lothiriel found that drifting back into her routine
at Dol Amroth was harder than she had anticipated.
The sound of the waves did not ease the discontent
that grew in her heart. Her father had refused to
continue her training with the sword, and had been
angry for months over her outburst with Eomer.
Although he did permit her to assist him with the
duties of Dol Amroth, he sheltered her from the
grittier aspects of leading a country. The very
things that she most wish to learn. So she
devoured books throwing herself into her studies as
she never had before.

But the long months were behind her. She gazed at
the White City.

Imrahil noticed his daughter was lagging behind and
turned back. “Keep up, Lotty. We must make our
formal entrance together, you are not in Dol Amroth
nor gallivanting around the fields of Rohan any
longer.”

“In my dreams I did not imagine the city would be
so vast or so lovely,” Lothiriel said.

Imrahil smiled. “I have grown so accustomed to it’s
look that I have not given a thought to it’s beauty
in many years.”

After leaving their horses at the stables they made
their way through the bustling city streets to the
castle. It seemed as if the entire city were
involved with the wedding preparations of Faramir
and Eowyn. People were coming and going with
provisions of food and drink for the festivities.
Visitors from Rohan browsed the shops. Excitement
was in the air.

Heralds who watched from the parapets had announced
their arrival. By the time they had reached the
courtyards of the castle, the King and Queen
awaited them.

If the beauty of the city had astonished her, it
was nothing compared to the beauty of the Queen and
King of Gondor. They reminded Lothiriel of the
stories of the Elves in songs of ages long past.
Imrahil greeted Aragorn and Arwen with a slight
nod. “Aragorn, Lady Arwen. May I present my
daughter Lothiriel.”

Aragorn bowed and took her hand. “It is an honor
to have you here. Words of your deeds have
preceded you. You risked much for Dol Amroth. I
owe you my thanks.”

Lothiriel was surprised at his words. “No thanks
are necessary. I did what I must to protect my
home. I would do it again.”

“I hope your journey was a pleasant one," Aragorn
said.

“It was not too tiring,” Lothiriel said.

Arwen smiled. “That is good for I think Eowyn
plans to keep your time occupied before the
wedding.”

Before Lothiriel could respond, Faramir and Eowyn
walked down the steps into the courtyard.

“Sorry we are late,” Eowyn said, she carried
herself with the dignity of a queen but there was
mischief in her eyes.

Eowyn gave Lothiriel a hug and took her hand.
“Come, there is much to be done. If I’ve been put
through the torture of being fitted for a dress
then you must endure it as well.”

They excused themselves and walked along the outer
gardens of the castle.

As they walked through the castle, Lothiriel
noticed the guards. There seemed many more of them
than she was accustomed to in Dol Amroth.

“Have you had any more troubles?” Lothiriel asked.

“There have been signs of movements of people,
tracks, deserted campsites, nothing to give any
indication of who or what or where they were
going,” Eowyn said.

“Several months back, we could see the lights from
ships as they sailed along the coastline, but by
dawn there was no sign of them,” Lothiriel said.

Eowyn nodded. “Faramir has doubled the guard on
Ithilien. And I’ve noticed more guards around
Minas Tirith as of late.”

"I hope all is well in Rohan." Lothiriel said.

Eowyn smiled. "If you mean my brother, then yes,
he is well."

Lothiriel sighed. "We didn't part on the best of
terms."

"So I heard."

Lothiriel groaned. "What did he say?"

"I think his exact words were that you wield words
in argument the way men wield swords in battle,"
Eowyn said. "Though he never did tell me what
exactly was said."

"I would rather not repeat them. They've haunted
me enough in these past few months," Lothiriel
said.

"My brother has always been one for battle whether
with words or with a sword, if anything you're
words will be a challenge," Eowyn said.

***************

Eomer stood upon a high wall looking out upon the
Pelennor. He had not been back since the war.
Though barely a year had passed it seemed an
eternity. So much had changed.

Earlier upon their arrival Eowyn had asked him to
go to the Mounds of Mundburg, she always showed her
respect for those who fell in battle when she first
returned to Minas Tirith. He had refused to go.
It was not something he wished to relive. Not with
her. It brought up too many bad memories.

Upon the edge of the Pelennor near the gates to the
city, huge canopies were being set up. So many
people had arrived for the wedding that the
courtyards of the city were not large enough to
accommodate the crowds. He watched the comings and
goings with a quiet detachment. Eomer sighed. He
wanted to share in his Eowyn's happiness but knew
he would not be able to do that with the past
whispering over his shoulder.

Before he realized what he was doing, he found
himself in the stables. The rich smell of horses
and hay was always a comfort. He waved off the
stable boy who offered to saddle his horse. As he
walked down the row of horses he froze in his
tracks. Starlight was in a stall beside Firefoot.

“Princess Lothiriel and her father Imrahil have
arrived?” he asked.

The stable boy nodded. “They arrived early this
morning.”

Eomer walked to Starlight. The horse looked to be
in perfect condition. He noted the saddle and
realized that Lothiriel had gotten one made in the
Rohirrim style but with the decorations of Dol
Amroth etched upon the leather.

He lead Starlight out of the stables and swung up
into the saddle. Eomer had gotten as far as the
wedding canopies when he stopped to assist them
with the last of the large tents that were being
constructed. Despite the protests from the other
laborers he threw himself into the work. Manual
labor was preferable to facing ghosts.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

It was late afternoon when Lothiriel finally
managed to escape from the clutches of the
seamstress. The streets were busy. The noises and
the people were a distraction. She followed the
crowds of people until she was at the edge of the
city walls. She looked out at the fields and from
a distance saw Starlight. Beside her horse stood a
man.

After losing her horse while in Rohan, she had
become overprotective of Starlight. Rarely did she
ever let him out of her sight. So to see the horse
in possession of a stranger infuriated her. She
was trying to decide on the best way to torture the
stable hands who let him get away, when the man
with Starlight turned around. The man swung up into the saddle and
with a jump of her heart Lothiriel realized it was Eomer.

He smiled at her.

"Is this how the King of Rohan gets his horses? By
stealing them?" Lothiriel asked.

"I wanted to see how she faired while under your
care."

"And? Do I pass inspection as a competent owner?"

"I haven't decided. I was about to take her for a
ride out on the Pelennor," Eomer said. Then
impulsively he asked. "Would you like to come with
me?"

"I would love to, shall I run along behind you?"
Lothiriel asked.

Eomer laughed. "I don't think you could keep up."

"Then kindly get off *my* horse."

"How about a compromise," Eomer said, his eyes
were twinkling and from the grin on his face she
knew he was up to something.

"A compromise sounds acceptable," she said,
narrowing her eyes, wondering what compromise he
had in store.

"We shall both ride *your* horse," Eomer said, his
tone of voice made it sound almost like a dare.
She tried to stammer out a protest but the words
somehow got stuck in her throat and before she knew
what was happening, Eomer leaned down, grabbed her
arm, and hauled her onto the saddle in front of
him.

She squirmed around until she was comfortable. She
could feel the warmth from his chest radiating
against her back.

"Comfortable?" he asked, his breath against her ear
cause a chill to run down her back.

She nodded wordlessly.

"I thought my sister would have you under the
torturous hands of the seamstresses of Gondor."

"I was but I managed to escape when they came back
for her for one last fitting."

The green grass of the Pelennor stretched before
them. They rode along at a slow trot, Eomer seemed
in no hurry. Indeed, Lothiriel realized she had
never seen him ride so slow in all the time she had
known him. Well, she would change that. She put
together a sentence in Rohirric, but was hesitant
to use it, for he would be the first Rohirrim to
hear her attempt at speaking their language and she
was worried of his reaction. And her
pronunciation.

She turned at him over her shoulder and said in
Rohirric, "Can we go any faster?"

Eomer was so surprised at hearing his native
language coming from her lips that he slowed
completely to a stop. A grin of delight spread
across his face and he locked an arm tightly around
her waist before urging his horse to a gallop.
They seemed to fly across the Pelennor.

Eventually, he slowed to a stop and dismounted. He
offered her his hands and she slid off the horse
into his outstretched arms. He set her on her
feet, a smile upon his face as he looked down at
her.

He spoke a sentence in Rohirric but said it so
quickly that she could not follow all of his words.
Realizing his error he spoke slowly, clearly
enunciating each word, "How did you learn my
language?"

Eomer watched amused as he could almost see her
thoughts in her serious expression as she
translated his words and formed an answer.

"A stable hand in Dol Amroth is from Rohan,"
Lothiriel said slowly. "It was my horse that got
him to telling me of his home. And I asked if he
would teach me."

Though her grammar and pronunciation was far from
perfect, the sound of his language coming from her
lips was like music to his ears.

"You speak it well," Eomer said.

Lothiriel raised an eyebrow at him, skeptically.
"You are a liar. . . . but thank you."

Eomer reverted back to common speech. "What made
you want to learn it? Faramir can barely string
together one sentence and he is marrying a
Rohirrim." Eomer gazed at her intently.

She shrugged self-consciously. "I had little else
to do in Dol Amroth."

"What about your endless beaches? Surely they were
more enticing than learning an all but ignored
language."

"As beautiful as they are I cannot spend all day
staring at them," Lothiriel said. "Besides. . I
wished to give Eowyn a proper Rohirric greeting on
her wedding day. She asked me to be her wedding
maiden. Eowyn said she had no one else to ask."

"That's because it is a position usually held by
the mother or a married sister," Eomer said.

"She didn't tell me that," Lothiriel said quietly,
obviously surprised at the significance of the
role. "She didn't tell me *anything*. We have no
similar custom in Dol Amroth. What is required of
me? I want to do this as well as any sister would.
She deserves that."

Eomer smiled. "But you are not married."

"Why should that matter at all," Lothiriel said.

Eomer considered his words carefully, trying not to
smile. Discussing the customs of Rohirrim wedding
nights was something girls giggled over in large
groups behind closed doors, it was not a topic of
discussion that Eomer had been expecting. "In the
Mark, it is considered bad luck to enter the
wedding chambers before the ceremony. The day of
the ceremony, the wedding maid prepares the
chambers for the night."

"That does not sound so hard. Is that all?"

"Before the celebration gets too late, the maid
escorts the bride to the wedding chambers - - "

"And?"

But Eomer did not answer. Lothiriel stepped in
front of him blocking his way.

"Out with it, or I shall have to fluster my way
through this same conversation with a complete
stranger," Lothiriel looked up at him frustrated.
"And once is quite enough."

Eomer smiled. "The maid is always a married woman
because she offers the bride advice. . on. . . "
Eomer struggled for the most inoffensive word. ".
. .the art of love."

Lothiriel considered his words. “I suppose I can
come up with something.”

“Do you?”

“The libraries of Minas Tirith are well-known
throughout Middle-Earth. They have books on all
subjects. Some. . .even have drawings,” Lothiriel
explained.

Eomer laughed. They gazed out across the Pelennor.

"What are those mounds?" Lothiriel asked, pointing
into the distance.

"Where they buried the dead from the battle,"
Eomer said.

"It came so close to the gates of the city?"
Lothiriel asked.

Eomer nodded. He pointed back where they had come.
"This whole area was surrounded by Sauron's forces.
I was not sure I would live to see the end of this
battle," Eomer said. "And in some ways, I did not
wish to."

"Why ever not?"

"Theoden was dead. Eowyn was gone." Eomer
shrugged uncomfortably.

"Eowyn?"

"I saw her and she was so pale and still she had
the look of death about her. Was it not for your
father, she might have died. He saw the life
within her, though it was very faint and had her
taken to the Houses of Healing," Eomer said. "But
I did not know that until the battle was over."

"So you fought the rest of that day thinking your
entire family was dead," Lothiriel said.

Eomer could only nod.

"You would not have recognized me," Eomer said.
"I did not even recognize myself."

He should not have come back here. It was a
mistake. The memories were still too fresh in his
mind. He had spent the past year burying them, and
standing upon these grounds brought it all back in
a rush. The madness. The death. "I did not
expect to live through the battle. I did not want
to. I - - wanted only to kill."

"You thought your family was dead. Anyone would
have been filled with rage," Lothiriel said.

Eomer shook off her words. "You don't understand.
I didn't just kill. I made them suffer. I enjoyed
it. The sound of their screams...their blood on my
hands. I * enjoyed * it. No man of honor would do
what I did upon this field." He should not have
spoken. He should not have told her.

Eomer turned to her, uncertain of what he was even
asking or what he even wanted. She opened her arms
and he pulled her to him in a tight embrace.

"No matter what happened here, you are an honorable
man," she whispered softly. She offered him the
forgiveness that he could not give himself.

Eomer held onto her, resting his chin atop her
head. For a long time they did not move nor speak.

"I had forgotten about that," Eomer said.

"About what?"

"That conversations with you are entirely too
exhausting," Eomer said.

"That is no fault of mine."

They rode back to the stables in companionable
silence and met Eowyn as they headed back to the
castle.

Seeing the two of them together, Eowyn smiled. "So
my brother is your kidnapper. I should have
guessed as much."

"He's not so much a kidnapper as a horse thief,"
Lothiriel said with a grin.

"You shall have to tell me the whole story at
dinner, you have just enough to get washed up
before it's time to be seated," Eowyn said.

Lothiriel started to go but Eomer stopped her by
taking her hand. She looked up at him.

"Thank you."

"I meant what I said," Lothiriel said, softly.

Eomer bowed slightly and gave her hand a squeeze
before letting her go. He watched her go until she
disappeared through the castle doors.

“There is no shame in admitting you've missed her,”
Eowyn said.

Eomer raised his eyebrows. “I thought I was
suppose to be the older and wiser sibling?”

Eowyn linked her arm through his. “You are a man.
And every woman upon the earth, no matter her age
understands matters of the heart better than a man
ever will.”

Eomer snorted. “You women can keep your matters of
the heart. They are nothing but a headache.”

“Poor dear brother,” Eowyn teased. “Whatever
shall I do with you?”

“Cut off my head and put me out of my misery,”
Eomer said.

“Your head?” Eowyn laughed. “I was under the
impression that a man suffering from such a
condition would have trouble in quite a different
part of the anatomy.”


Chapter 9 - Chapter 9

Chapter 9

Though most of the city was already out in the Pelennor awaiting the evening’s ceremony, Lothiriel was still in the castle. Between helping Arwen greet guests and keeping Eowyn from murdering her seamstress, she hadn’t had a free moment to see to the wedding chambers until it was almost too late.

In record time, she’d arranged the fresh flowers and put their belongings in the wardrobe. She was setting out the candles when the door opened. Assuming it was Eowyn, she continued across the room.

"I have managed to obtain a few choice pieces of advice on the arts of love," Lothiriel said.

"Have you now? And what did you discover?" Eomer asked, quite amused.

At the sound of his voice, Lothiriel dropped everything she was carrying. Candles rolled across the floor. She stooped to pick them up. Eomer strode across the room to help her.

Kneeling down beside her, he began piling the candles back into the basket. "Well?" Eomer asked, clearly enjoying her discomfort.

"You know those words were not meant for you," Lothiriel stammered, as she rushed to gather up the rest of the candles. "I thought you were Eowyn."

"That is a pity." Eomer winked at her. He took the basket of candles from her. "Where would you like these?"

The door opened and Eowyn stood just beyond the doorway, not walking inside. Seeing the two of them together her eyes rose in amusement. "What are you doing in here, Eomer?"

"Tormenting me," Lothiriel said.

"If he continues to do so, just give him a swift kick in the shins, it always worked for me as a child," Eowyn said.

"Actually, as much as I enjoy teasing Lotty, I am here in an official capacity," Eomer said.

"Official?"

"Faramir asked me to see to some things.”

At the mention of his name, a smile spread across Eowyn's face. "See to what things?"

Eomer shook his head. "I am sworn to a vow of silence. And if he knew you were near this room at all, he would be very disappointed."

Eowyn sighed and handed a box over to Lothiriel and started to close the door behind her.

"Oh, before you go, Lotty has some words of advice for you," Eomer said.

Lothiriel cross the room and whispered in Eowyn's ear for a long minute. With each passing second Eowyn's eyes grew wider. She looked at Lothiriel and said, "Really? Are you certain?"

Lothiriel nodded.

Eowyn glanced at her brother and shook her head, "Men."

The smile on Eomer's face had turned to an expression of outright curiosity for it was seldom that anyone told Eowyn something she did not already know. Growing up in a houseful of men there was little that she had not seen or heard.

Lothiriel had a smug grin on her face as she began to set out the candles.

"What did you tell her?"

"I am certainly not telling you."

"Perhaps if you will not tell me, someday you will be willing to show me?" Eomer asked, his eyes were twinkling.

She lifted her foot as if to kick him. He held his hands up in surrender. "I shall torment you no longer."

"Good."

Eomer left the room and caught up with Eowyn. They walked out to the edge of the city together. Eowyn had been so busy preparing for the wedding that she’d had little time to see to the arrivals of guests. The rows upon rows of tents decorated in the colors of Rohan that dotted the Pelennor took her off guard.

“So many…” Eowyn said softly. “I never imagined that so many would make the journey.”

“They are proud of you,” Eomer said. “No matter how far away from home you are, you will always be Rohirrim. I trust you will not forget that.”

Eowyn smiled. “Never.”

* * * * * * *

Amid the glowing reds and pinks of the sunset, Faramir and Eowyn said their vows to one another. They turned to the crowds and raised the wedding goblet and each took a drink. The crowd broke into cheers.

The festivities followed immediately. The Pelennor was a wonderful mix of Rohirrim and Gondorian cultures. It was possible to walk from tent to tent hearing the different languages as well as sample the varying music, food and drink of each culture.

Eomer joined Imrahil and Lothiriel as they sat beneath one of the tents. Buffets of food were close at hand, and the music was just far enough away to allow for conversation.

“Was the ceremony similar to those in Rohan?” Lothiriel asked.

“Rohirrim customs are not as formal as those in Gondor,” Imrahil said.

She turned to Eomer. “How so?”

“Once a lady has consented to the union, a public announcement of their betrothal is made. After that time they live as husband and wife,” Eomer explained.

“No formal ceremony at all? No wonder Eowyn complained so about this one,” Lothiriel said.

“Yes, they are a country of heathens,” Imrahil said with a grin.

“A wedding feast is not held until a year later,” Eomer said. “It has been that way for centuries. For often when war was upon us, a man who was betrothed may not live until the wedding date. Things are not so hard now, but we hold onto our traditions.”

Imrahil chuckled. “At least the good ones, eh?”

“Well tonight anyway, we only have to remember the Gondorian ones,” Lothiriel said. “If we do not hurry and escort Eowyn and Faramir away, I feel I may come to bodily harm. She’s been shooting evil glances at me for the last few minutes.”

Imrahil laughed. “Go then. Take care of your duties. I will entertain myself with another glass of elvish wine.”

* * * * * *

With great cheers from the crowds, Faramir and Eowyn rode through the Pelennor on an open carriage before Eomer and Lothiriel escorted them back to the castle. One of the stable hands took charge of the carriage. Although, there were four of them on the steps, Faramir and Eowyn acted as if they were the only two people on the face of the earth.

Faramir bowed formally in her direction. Eowyn smirked at him, "Please, I can stand no more formalities this night."

"I am relieved to hear it," Faramir said.

Eowyn shrieked with laughter as Faramir scooped her up into his arms carrying her as gracefully as possible up the steps into the castle.

Eomer and Lothiriel watched until they disappeared behind the castle doors.

“I would be honored if I could escort you back to the Pelennor. You owe me a dance,” Eomer said.

“Or we could check on the horses.” Lothiriel turned in the direction of the stables before he could answer.

Eomer glanced over at her. Her innocent expression hid a challenge. “We could,” Eomer said. He took her hand. “You know there is one difference between sneaking a lady to the beach in Dol Amroth and sneaking one to the stables in Rohan.”

“And what would that be?” Lothiriel asked.

“Unlike sand, hay is very very comfortable.”

A small smile spread across Lothiriel’s face. “Let me be the judge of that.”

The moment they were alone, Eomer could tell this meeting between them was different. Although unspoken, something had changed between them. In the long months at Edoras, Eomer had danced around the subject, fooling even himself. But there was no denying this. He could not have kept his hand from reaching out and takings hers even if he had wanted to.

The streets were deserted, everyone was in the city was taking part in the celebration. They walked silently up the sidewalk, their fingers carrying on the conversation for them. Her hand was soft and small within his large one. His fingers intertwined with hers, exploring every line on her palm, every finger, as if his hand had never touched another before this very night.

The distinct blow of a horn pierced the night. Eomer froze. He listened to the short staccato notes blown in succession.

"What is it?"

"Intruders within the city."

Before he could form another thought, they heard horses running towards them. The carriage galloped recklessly through the streets, the stable hand urging the horses faster. Following behind the carriage was a company of riders in black. A few yards away they caught up with the carriage and slowed it to a stop. One of the riders, yanked the stable hand from the seat.

Instantly, Eomer pulled Lothiriel off the road and into the cover of a doorway. It offered little cover but it was better than being in the street. Eomer covered her body with his. Hoping the shadows the doorway offered would hide them from view. He drew his sword.

While a handful of men questioned the stable hand, the other men bided their time by looting the nearby shops coming precariously close to Eomer and Lothiriel’s location.

Grimly, Eomer reached down and drew a dagger from his boot. He pressed it into Lothiriel’s hand. She held the dagger so tightly that her knuckles were white. Almost as white her pale face. He realized that she was depending upon him to see her to safety.

Responsibilities had been forced upon Eomer all his life but never one so precious as this. When he went to battle, always it had been to protect his homeland, his way of life, his people. They were all abstract things compared to her. Never had someone's immediate survival depended solely upon his skill as a warrior. He felt inadequate for such a burden and at the same time honored that it fell to him and no one else to bear. And he knew, with a certainty that he'd never felt before, that he would not hesitate to give his life to protect her. There was no hesitation. No second thoughts. It was a truth.

"No harm will come to you, so long as I stand," Eomer whispered.

"I know, but it is your falling that I worry about."

Eomer raised his eyebrows. She gave him a weak grin.

Lothiriel stood with her back pressed hard into the doorframe. Her heart pounded furiously in her chest. Eomer's jaws were clenched, his hand twitched on the hilt of his sword. He leaned out and looked down the road.

"How many?" Lothiriel asked. She knew he heard her but he did not answer. "How many?"

"Too many." Eomer's eyes told her more about their situation than she knew he would have ever admitted aloud. There was a desperate fierceness in his gaze that gave away his worries. He was not certain they could win.

A knot formed in Lothiriel's stomach. Certainly, Gondorian troops would arrive at any moment? This was the White City, it was suppose to be safe. Lothiriel's thoughts were interrupted by the sound of breaking glass. Laughter drifted to her ears as the men looted the shop next door. They were close. Gravel crunched underfoot. Someone was almost upon them. This was it. There would be no rescue, unless they rescued themselves.

Lothiriel noticed the almost imperceptible manner in which Eomer's posture changed. His body tensed. He adjusted the grip of his sword. She strained her ears as the footsteps came ever closer.

One step.

Two steps.

Three - -

In one sweeping fluid motion Eomer stepped from the shadows and plunged his sword into the enemy's chest. With a strangled cry the man fell. The sound caught the attention of two other men.

Eomer grabbed Lothiriel by the arm, “Run!” They raced down the nearest alley, as they came out on the adjoining street they were cut off by the enemy. They drew their swords.

“Surely you don’t believe you can succeed at this attack? Even with all the might of Sauron, the White City would not fall,” Eomer said.

“We have no wish to succeed, simply to see that those responsible for our master’s death avenged,” the man said.

“If that is the case, then let this lady go, for your quarrel is with me,” Eomer said.

“And who might you be?”

“I am Eomer, son of Eomund, King of the Mark, keeper of the Oath of Eorl. I fought beside King Elessar in the battle of the Pelennor. I stood beside him at the Black Gates when your master fell,” Eomer said. “If it is revenge you seek, you would do well to take me, but let this lady go.”

“Very well. The lady will be free to go, after you are dead,” the man said.

Eomer considered the man’s words. He was no fool. He knew none of them were honorable enough to keep their word. As he tried to think of a way out of the situation his eyes caught movement from the tops of the walls. Gondorian archers were moving into position. They were simply waiting for the safe shot.

Eomer nodded. “Agreed.” He slowly set his sword on the ground beside him.

Eomer caught Lothiriel’s eyes and gestured up to the walls. Without looking, she understood and took several steps backwards. One of the enemies grabbed her, pinning her arms behind her.

“On your knees, King of Rohan.”

Obediently, Eomer went to his knees. And all hell broke loose. Around him, the men fell. He grabbed his sword and joined the fight.

Lothiriel struggled with her attacker in a panic until she remembered Eowyn’s instructions. Instead of pulling away, she pushed herself closer into his grasp causing him to lose his balance. His grip loosened, and she reached for her dagger. He lunged towards her. Instinctively, Lothiriel raised her dagger. She could feel his flesh give way as the dagger sunk into his chest.

And as suddenly and unexpectedly as it had begun, it was over. The streets were silent. Around them the ground was littered with dead and wounded.

“Are you all right?” Eomer asked.

She nodded.

“We should return to the castle.”

Eomer raised his sword in thanks to the Gondorian archers, before taking Lothiriel’s arm and heading back to the castle.


* * * * * * * * *

Eowyn met them on the steps. Beside her, Faramir was red with anger. He was half-dressed holding his longbow staring out into the darkness.

“What’s happened?” Eomer asked.

"They were hidden within the spectators, dressed as Gondorians and Rohirrim,” Eowyn said.

“Targeting royalty only. One of Arwen's ladies took an arrow for her," Faramir said seriously. Then he looked at Lothiriel. "Imrahil was hit. He is in the House of Healing."

"What?”

Faramir nodded. "You should go to him." Faramir's eyes caught Eomer's. From his grave expression, Eomer guessed the wound was deadly.

"I'll take you there," Eomer said, softly.

Before they could walk away Faramir said, "Aragorn is gathering the troops."

Eomer nodded. “Tell him I did not take the Oath of Eorl and not expect to use it. I will ride.”


* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Lothiriel hesitated as they approached the doors to the house of healing.

“Shall I go see how he is?” Eomer asked.

Lothiriel shook her head. “No. I want to go. It’s only. . .I am afraid of what I will find.”

On a bed on the far side of the room, Imrahil lay stretched out, as still as death. An arrow protruded from his chest. Lothiriel’s knees gave way. Eomer arms slipped around her waist, keeping her on her feet.

"Lotty -- you shouldn't be here," Eomer said, gently.

"I have to speak to him. I have to."

Eomer nodded but he did not let go of her as they crossed the room together. Lothiriel sat down on the bed beside her father.

Imrahil jaws were clenched in pain, beads of sweat were pouring down his pale face. Seeing Lothiriel, relief washed over his face. "You are all right?"

She nodded. "I'm fine. I was not harmed." She took his hand. He was not even strong enough to squeeze it.

"If I do not make it --"

"Don't talk like that Papa, you will be all right."

"If I do not make it -- see that Erchirion leads our people until Amroth comes of age."

"I will."

The healers approached to do their work. Eomer took Lothiriel’s hand and helped her to her feet. Imrahil reached out and grasp Eomer's arm. "Take care of her."

Eomer bowed. "Yes, my lord."

Once the door to the Healing Room closed behind them, Lothiriel let the tears fall from her eyes. Eomer pulled her to him, holding her gently in his arms.

Elfhelm approached them.

"Get the eored ready," Eomer said. "Let me change and I'll be down in a moment."

Elfhelm nodded. "Shall I send a man to assist you?"

Lothiriel wiped the tears from her face and gathered her composure. "I will assist him."

* * * * * *

In his chambers, Eomer stripped down to his tunic and trousers. Wordlessly, Lothiriel handed him his coat of chain mail. He slipped it over his head. Lothiriel walked behind him, making sure there were no kinks in the chains and that it hung properly down his back.

Eomer pointed to the breast and back plates and held them in place while Lothiriel tightened the holds. Piece by piece she helped him get his armor in place.

In all his years of fighting, Eomer had never had a woman assist him with his armor. Preparing for battle was a private ritual. It was a rare intimacy that was generally only shared with the members of his eored. Though unspoken, each of them knew that it could be the last time they stood together.

Eomer knew this reality was not lost on Lothiriel.
There was so much he wanted to say, but there was no time for any of it. So he said the only words that mattered, "I love you."

And he walked out the door.

* * * * *


Chapter 10 - Chapter 10

Chapter 10

Within the Houses of Healing, Lothiriel sat beside her
father’s bed reading a book. She had scarcely left
his side since the attack a week ago. Imrahil was
weak but recovering, as was apparent in his
ever-increasingly bad attitude. He sighed heavily.

Lothiriel looked up from her book. “Is there
something I can get you?”

“My sword. My horse.” Imrahil winced as he struggled
to a sitting position.

“You would look rather silly riding a horse in what
you are wearing now,” Lothiriel said.

Imrahil glanced down at the white sleeping gown he
wore. “I want out of here.”

“Impossible. You must rest and regain your strength.
You’ll do no good to anyone if you ride off to
battle.”

A string of curses came from his lips. Lothiriel
ignored them and looked back at her book.
Reluctantly, Imrahil lay back against the pillows.
“What are you reading?”

“A book on Rohirrim history. I’m reading about Helm
Hammerhand at the moment.”

Imrahil raised his eyebrows. “His history is
well-known. He and his sons died during the war of
the Dunlendings. His nephew took the throne, which
was the beginning of the second line of kings.”

“Theoden’s line?”

Imrahil nodded. “Eomer begins their third line of
kings.”

She nodded. Her thoughts strayed to Eomer. “When do you think they’ll return?”

“There’s no way to tell. If the enemy wanted a fight
it would have already taken place. My best guess
would be that Aragorn and his men are in pursuit. And
if that is the case, it could be well on a month
before we receive word of them.”

“I thought when the War ended, it would be ended for
good,” Lothiriel said.

“Sadly, that is rarely the case. There are always
enemies. Some worse than others,” Imrahil said.
“The worst of it is over. These men are little more
than ruffians. The battles against them will be mere
skirmishes compared to the War that just ended.
Though that does not mean people will not die.”

“When - - when you kill a man in battle. Even though
it is in self-defense, do you still feel guilty about
it?” Lothiriel asked.

Imrahil sighed. “That is a question I did not expect
to have to answer until your brothers were grown.”

“Then consider me practice,” Lothiriel said.

Imrahil stared at Lothiriel, she would not meet his
gaze. Instead she was content to stare at the pages
of the book, though it was obvious she wasn’t reading.
“What has happened, Lotty? There is something you’re
not telling me.”

When she spoke it was barely a whisper. “I killed
a man. In the alley, during the attack.”

Imrahil sat up in bed, ignoring the pain that radiated
through his chest. “Tell me. Now.” Though his words
were firm, his tone was gentle.

Once her words started they seemed to flow out of her
in a tumble. “Eomer and I were on our way to the
stables. We heard the horns and then the enemy was
everywhere. It all happened so quickly.”

“That is usually the way of it,” Imrahil said,
grimly.

“I was grabbed from behind, we struggled, and then my
dagger was in his chest. There was no time to think,”
Lothiriel said.

“But there is plenty of time to think afterwards.”

Lothiriel nodded.

“I shall tell you what I intend to tell your brothers
before they go off to battle.” Imrahil took her hand.
“There is no shame in mourning the loss of another
life. But do not let that guilt eat away at you. If
they did not fall, you surely would have. Be thankful
for every breath you take. And hope that the souls of
those who fell in battle found their way to the halls
of their people.”

Lothiriel considered his words and nodded.

“I know it is little comfort to you now, but in time
you will learn to live with your actions.” Imrahil
reached out a hand and smoothed down Lothiriel’s hair.
“You have seen more of battle than I would have
liked.”

“I’m sorry.”

Imrahil smiled. “It is no fault of yours that things
rarely go according to the visions parents have for
their children.”

“I’m sorry, anyway,” Lothiriel said. “I never meant
to be a disappointment.”

“Disappointment?” Imrahil tipped her head up to meet
his gaze. “I am anything but disappointed in you. I
could not be prouder to have you as a daughter.”
Imrahil kissed Lothiriel on the cheek. “Now, you
needn’t sit here with me all day long and brood. Go
and enjoy the day. The fresh air and sunshine would
do you good.”

Lothiriel stood to go. “Is there anything I can get
you before I leave?”

“You could tell me exactly what you and Eomer were
planning to do in the stables?” Imrahil asked with an
innocent grin.

“W-W- We were going to check on the horses,”
Lothiriel stammered.

“Is that what they are calling it now?” Imrahil
smiled. “Perhaps you are not as against a betrothal
with Eomer as you once were?”

“Perhaps you should get some rest,” Lothiriel said,
as she rushed from the room.

* * * * * * *

Lothiriel followed her father’s advice and walked out
upon the high walls that lined the gardens outside the
Houses of Healing. Eowyn was already there. Eowyn
was staring off into the distance as if she could make
Faramir appear simply by the strength of her will.

"It was upon these walls that I fell in love with
Faramir. I did not expect to spend the first days
after my wedding here," Eowyn said. "But I suppose I
should not be surprised. Men are forever rushing off
to battle."

"It wasn't too long ago that you were one of them,"
Lothiriel reminded her.

Eowyn smiled. "Those days are over. I swore a solemn
oath. Besides, I expect Eomer would throw me over his
shoulder and cart me back here if he saw me so much as
in sight of a battle."

At the mention of Eomer's name, Lothiriel's teasing
demeanor faded. Eowyn noticed and gave Lothiriel a
quick hug. “Do not worry. Eomer is strong and
stubborn, there is no orc or enemy alive that could
defeat him. He’ll be back.”

"He told me he loved me.”

A huge grin lit up Eowyn’s face. "It’s about time.
All he did after he returned from Dol Amroth was pace
around Meduseld. I don’t know what you have done to
him while you were in Edoras, but he has never been
the same.”

“Nothing.” Lothiriel said, pacing the high walls in
frustration. “I’ve done nothing. I didn’t even tell
him I loved him in return. I simply stood there and
let him go. If anything happens to him -”

"Nothing will happen to him,” Eowyn said. “Now come
along with me. We can’t have you pining away, sword
practice will do you good.”

“Why does everyone think they know what will do me
good?” Lothiriel teased as Eowyn dragged her towards
the stairs.

* * * * *

An unspoken frustration rippled through the ranks as
Eomer and the rest of the host stopped to rest the horses.
After seven days of pursuit they were still no closer to capturing their quarry. Indeed the majority of the enemy forces had scattered to the winds, taking different directions after their initial attack. Small troops of rangers had been dispatched to investigate all the possible leads, while the main force of Aragorn’s army followed the largest retreat
of enemy troops.

The mingling sound of men and horses filled the air around them with a companionable noise as they watered their horses at a stream. Eomer knelt beside the stream, splashing the water on his face. Except for the company of Rangers and the warmer weather of the South, this pursuit had been no different of those he had led while Third Marshall. Like those, this was mostly pursuit with little action. It was a tiring but necessary fact of a warrior’s life.

Beside him, Faramir sat in not so quiet contemplation.
A dramatic sigh issued from his lips. “Why do they
run? If they wanted a fight, then let us fight.
Surely they know these long distances are wearying to
morale and stamina should it come down to a fight.”

Eomer grinned. “Surely your stamina is such that you
will recover sufficiently to keep up with Eowyn upon
your return.”

Aragorn chuckled. It was a well-known fact that
Faramir had been interrupted in his wooing of Eowyn on
their wedding night and was eager to return to Minas
Tirith.

Farmir ignored the comment. “And they bring us ever
closer to their own settlements. Do they wish to
endanger their women and children?”

“I think that is exactly what they wish,” Aragorn said.

“Rider coming!” a voice yelled. The men turned to see one of their scouts riding at full speed towards them. He dismounted and approached Aragorn.

“My Lord, the band of Haradrim is but two leagues from here. If you ride hard, we may yet catch them before they reach their outpost.”

“How many leagues beyond is their outpost?”

“I am uncertain. It has been many years since we patrolled so far south,” the scout said.

All thought of rest was forgotten, as the riders took off at full speed over the vast lands of Harad. Pushing their horses to their limits, they raced the Haradrim to the gates of the outpost. But the enemy had too much of a lead to be caught. As the last of the horses rode within the gates of the city, the archers manned the high parapets and shot a wild volley of arrows towards them, forcing them to keep their distance from the gates.

Eomer reined in Firefoot, and approached Aragorn. “We should have no trouble waiting them out. A siege would be easy in these lands.”

Faramir nodded in agreement. “They cannot stay inside forever.”

Aragorn shook his head. “Tomorrow we turn back.”

“After coming so far?” Faramir asked.

“We could wage battle here,” Eomer said.

“We could,” Aragorn agreed. “A siege would be
possible but I will not have a siege. I have no
desire to subject innocents to the cruelties of war.”

“They did not hesitate to take innocent lives,” Faramir reminded him.

“There have been enough lives lost already, I will not add to that number,” Aragorn said.

“Would you have them continue to terrorize your people?"
Eomer asked.

"No. I will not allow that,” Aragorn said. “I will leave a small party of Rangers to patrol the area. Should the enemy leave their outposts we will be forewarned.”

Aragorn stared at the gates and signed wearily. “This battle will be fought another day. Though I wish it did not have to be fought at all.”


* * * * * * *


A week later the company rode within the gates of
Minas Tirith. It was well after midnight, most of the
castle was asleep but the men had decided to push on,
mostly due to Faramir's urging. Aragorn had been just
as eager to return home. It seemed that the comfort
of a beautiful woman waiting in a warm bed gave them
endurance to ride straight on till dawn. Eomer yawned.
He wanted only to sleep. Although he had to admit
that the prospect of a soft bed was tempting even if
his was empty.

Eomer saw to his horse and walked back to the castle.
Every muscle in his body was sore. He glanced up at
the darkened windows of the castle. He wondered which
one Lothiriel was in. The feelings that stirred within him
were so much stronger than happiness that it was more
akin to the anticipation he felt before battle. But
that would have to wait until morning.

He opened the door to his room. It was dark and he
felt his way across the room, too sleepy to bother
with lighting a candle. Deftly, he unbuckled the ties
to his armor and one by one put each piece away. He
pulled off his chain mail, and stripped off his shirt.
After spending days in armor, he enjoyed the feel of
nothing but the air on his skin.

Eomer sat down on the bed and removed his boots. It
had seemed like a year had past since the last time he
was within this room, not merely two weeks. Had he
really told her that he loved her? What had he been
thinking? More importantly what was she thinking? In
the two weeks he was away, he’d managed to push the
worries from his head. But now that he was back in
his room, his worries came back in full force. Eomer
stared at the ceiling. He knew sleep would be a long
time coming.


* * * * * * * * * *

Lothiriel awoke at dawn to the sounds of noise and
commotion outside of her bedroom. From the bustle of
people moving in the hallway.
Lothiriel knew something was different. She poked her
head out the door and stopped one of the girls who
worked in the castle.

“Why the rush?”

“The King returned late last night. We only got word
of it this morning, my lady,” the girl said as she
continued rushing up the hallway. “We must have food
prepared for more than we were expecting. The cook is
in quite an uproar.”

Lothiriel’s heart pounded in her chest. Eomer was
somewhere in the castle. The thought sent a
simultaneous jolt of excitement and dread through the
pit of her stomach. She sat down on the edge of the
bed. She had seen him a thousand times before, why
should this time be any different?

* * * *


Eomer sat at the end of one of the long banquet tables. The kitchen staff had only just set out the breakfast trays. One by one the members of the castle made their way to breakfast. Eomer yawned. Despite the soft bed he’d gotten little sleep. He knew exactly the reason why but he did not wish to admit to it. In his entire life, the only
woman he’d ever lost sleep over was Eowyn. And that
was only in recent years when Wormtongue had been
tormenting her.

Elfhelm sat down beside him. “I had heard you arrived
late, but from the look of you it was later than I
realized.”

“It was not so late that anyone should notice by
looking at me,” Eomer said.

Elfhelm smiled. “Only those who know you well will
notice the difference.”

“How did things fare while I was away?”

“A messenger arrived from the Mark yesterday. All is
well, they await your return.”

“How were things here?”

“Quiet. I rode patrols with the Rangers.”

Eomer set down his fork and turned to Elfhelm. “Were
their horses as good as I have heard? Those among the
Rangers who rode with Aragorn were magnificent
creatures.”

“They were that. But there are better horses in the
Mark.”

“Indeed there are. If you have time, find the head of
the stables and set up a meeting with me before we
leave. I wish to discuss a trade of sorts,” Eomer
said.

“Breeding?”

“We do not have the stock with us now, but perhaps we
could take a few of theirs with us on good faith.
Bring the foals down here when they - - - “ Eomer cut
off his sentence for he had just noticed that
Lothiriel had entered the room. She crossed the room
and Eomer said, “Please join us.”

Elfhelm rose from his seat. “Excuse me, my lady.
Duty awaits me.” Elfhelm said with a grin, making an abrupt exit.

“Was I interrupting something?”

Eomer shook his head. “We were just discussing
breeding practices.”

“Eowyn said that such matters were not far from most
Rohirrim men’s thoughts but I didn’t think you would
admit to it,” Lothiriel said.

Eomer laughed. “Not breeding children..though that is
not a bad idea either. We were discussing horse
breeding.”

“Ah. The one thing that combines both of your
favorite subjects. That takes true talent,”
Lothiriel said.

“Would you like to hear the finer points of it? I’d
be more than willing to - - show you,” he grinned at
her.

She looked him up and down. “I don’t think any mares
of Gondor would have you.”

“Then would you? You are as wild as any mare and far
more beautiful,” Eomer said.

Lothiriel said nothing but gave him a pointed look.

“I meant no offense,” Eomer said.

“I never take offense at your words…but others might.”
Around them several ladies of the courts of Gondor
had taken seats and were watching them intently.
“Perhaps we could finish this discussion elsewhere?”
she suggested.

Eomer nodded. But before he could rise from the table
Aragorn approached him.

“We are convening a council to discuss what measures
should be taken about the Haradrim,” Aragorn said.
“I would be honored to have you in attendance.”

“Honored?” Eomer gave a sound that sounded like
something between a sigh and snort. “The last time I
attended one of your councils, the only assistance I
lent you was my rumbling stomach as an excuse to
reconvene later.”

Aragorn smiled. “This council will not be one of
diplomatic niceties, I assure you. You will not be
forced to hear all the customs of crowning the King of
Gondor. If we were I would find an excuse not to
attend that one myself.”

“Then I shall be there.”

Aragorn looked at Lothiriel and pointed to the banquet
tables. “Shove some of that bread into his pockets
before he leaves.”

Lothiriel bowed. “Of course my Lord, though he most
likely already has some sort of horse treats that
could suffice.”

Aragorn laughed as he took his leave of them.

Eomer took a few quick bites of food.

“You’re leaving now?”

“Sadly, yes,” Eomer said, with a mouth full of food.
“If there is one thing I’ve learned about the new
King, is that he doesn’t waste time once he gets down
to business.” Eomer shoved another bite into his
mouth, trying to finish his meal as quickly as
possible. Knowing Aragorn and his aides, the council
would last well into the morning and probably into the
afternoon.

“Oh.”

“Is there something you wished of me?” He reached for
his goblet and downed the contents in one long drink.

“No - - - there was something I wished to tell you but
it can wait until later.”

“Tell me now. This council could take up the entire
day,” Eomer said. He grabbed a piece of bread and
held it between his teeth, while he struggled to put
on his coat, dropping his bread in the process. A
flurry of Rohirric curses was mumbled under his
breath. Across the room, he saw Faramir leaving with
Aragorn. “I must go. What did you want to say?”

“Just that I love you, too,” she said, with a little
shrug as if it were nothing of consequence.

He had expected his declaration of love would come up
in later conversation, but he did not expect her to
return the words so freely. He stared at her in
astonishment, until a slow smile spread across his
face.

“Do not keep the King waiting, go to your council,”
Lothiriel said.

“I would rather hold council with you,” Eomer took a
step towards her. She took a step back.

“We can discuss this later.”

“I will hold you to that promise.” Eomer turned to
walk away.

“Eomer.”

He turned back to look at her. She tossed him a piece
of bread. He grinned and slipped it into his pocket.

* * * * * * * *

The members of the council listened as the various scouts reported their findings. Due to the skill of the Rangers, the scattered bands of enemy troops had been pushed back into the Haradrim territory. The threat to Gondor had diminished, for the moment. Whether the peace would last weeks or months was unknown and Aragorn prepared for the future.

“We will have Rangers patrol the area.” Aragorn stood
at the head of the council room, studying the large
map of the lands south of Gondor. "Do we have enough
forces to expand our patrols to the south while
keeping the patrols heavy in both Minas Tirith and
Ithilien? I will not leave our people unprotected."

"We are not the strengths we once were, it will
stretch our resources to their limits," Faramir
said.

Imrahil said, "I can leave you a squad of my men to
help patrol the city. That would leave your Rangers
to patrol outside the city gates where they could be
of more use."

"I have not the men to leave my lands unguarded, but
my eored will be ready to ride whenever you call us,"
Eomer said. "You need not fight alone."

Aragorn nodded. “Until the enemy makes an attempt
at another strike, all we can do is wait. I fear this
fight will be a long one, friends.”

“We will see you through this, no matter how long it takes,” Eomer said.

The council meeting lasted well into the afternoon
until all the details of the protection of Gondor was
established to Aragorn's satisfaction. Once the
council was dismissed, Eomer had every intention of
finding Lothiriel as quickly as possibly. However,
his plans were quickly stalled by Imrahil. "Eomer,
walk with me."

Eomer fell into step beside him. He noticed that
Imrahil was still moving stiffly from his injuries
received during the attack. "How are you feeling?"

"Sore. I'm on my way to the Houses of
Healing now for them to change my dressings,"
Imrahil said. "Lothiriel was there when last I saw
her. She and Eowyn have been spending quite a bit of
time there as of late. . .she told me about
what happened on the night of the attacks."

“I am sorry I could not have done more. She should
not have been exposed to such violence,” Eomer said.

“I did not mention it to fault you, but to commend you
for your actions. It could have turned out much
differently. I have you to thank that it did not.”

"I would have taken whatever actions necessary to protect
her."

“I am well aware of that,” Imrahil said.

For some time they walked in silence, following the
narrow streets to the Houses of Healing. The sky was
a dazzling blue and the people of the city bustled
around them going about their daily business. A
renewed sense of hope was in the air. Though scars
from the battle could still be seen around the city,
only those who had lived through it knew how close the
city came to falling into darkness.

“You spoke to me once of an alliance between our two
countries,” Eomer said.

“So I did. I still believe a marriage between our two
countries would do much to ease the hurts of the
past,” Imrahil said. “But my daughter is stubborn.”

“I intend to persuade her otherwise… with your
blessing of course,” Eomer quickly added.

“You have my blessing," Imrahil said with a smile.
"And my luck."

They entered the Houses of Healing. Imrahil was led away by a healer, while Eomer walked through the houses into the herb gardens.

He followed the sound of voices, past the rows of
high hedges until he found them. Eowyn was on her
hands and knees in the dirt examining a plant. A
Healer knelt beside her, speaking to her in low tones.
Behind them, wandering aimlessly, was Lothiriel.

Eomer stepped into the path and approached her
quietly, careful not to disturb Eowyn and the Healer.
Lothiriel’s eyes caught his. He motioned for her to
be silent, taking her hand. They walked past the
rows of high hedges to the corner wall that surrounded
the garden. It wasn’t until they were secluded from
prying eyes that Eomer stopped, pulled her to him, and
set his lips to hers in a thorough kiss.

Eomer had heard tales of a potion made by the elves, one sip of which would
wash the weariness from a mortal
mind. But no magic of the Elves could compare to the
feel of Lothiriel’s lips against his. A peace washed
over him that he hadn’t realized he was lacking. He
may have been in Gondor but with her arms around him,
he felt at home.

Unfortunately, no kiss could last forever.

“How was your council meeting?” she asked,
breathlessly.

“It lasted an eternity thanks to you.”

“Now you know how I felt while you were away.”

“You missed me then? I was not sure that you would,”
Eomer said.

"You know how to make quite a memorable exit,"
Lothiriel said, softly.

"I felt I could not leave without the words being
said." Eomer took his hands in hers.

"But you gave me no time to return them. Promise me,
you will not do that again," Lothiriel said.

"Only if it means you will be in my chambers every
time before I leave for battle." Eomer wrapped his
arms around her. "And when I return… especially
when I return," he whispered into her ear.

"Dol Amroth is a long way from Rohan," she reminded
him. "And I am leaving in a fortnight."

Eomer looked down at her, he stepped back and ran a hand through his hair nervously. “I know you said you were against a marriage of political alliance.”

Lothiriel opened her mouth to speak, but Eomer covered her lips with his hand. “Let me finish. My feelings for you go far beyond that of politics. Your father wants to heal the broken ties between Rohan and Gondor. Yet simply your presence is enough to heal what is weary within me. Will you have me?”

Her answer had barely escaped her lips, before Eomer showered her with kisses. And both were caught up in the moment that things like time and space and distance were forgotten.

* * * * *

“I assure you, I don’t any more advice,” Lothiriel said as she escorted Eowyn to the door of the bedroom.

“You did not hesitate to give me any,” Eowyn said with a grin. “Plus, I enjoy seeing how red your face gets.”

“You are worse than my own sister!”

Eowyn stopped at the edge of the doorway. “I’m glad it’s you, and not some courtly woman of Gondor whom I can call sister.”

“So am I.”

“Besides it is only fair that I get to torment you. Eomer insisted I follow Gondorian tradition and wait an entire year before Faramir and I wed. It is not fair that you get to follow Rohirrim tradition. Announce your betrothal the same night you - - ”

Lothiriel grinned and closed the door in Eowyn’s face. She paced the room. Her belongings were sitting amongst Eomer’s. Instead of feeling like they belonged, she felt as if she had intruded on someone
else’s private space. Things changed so quickly. Was it only a month ago she had been sitting back at Dol Amroth, staring at the sea?

The door opened. Eomer walked in, a smile lighting up his face.

“Where have you been?” Lothiriel asked. “Eowyn has been in here for what seems like an age of the world, giving me last minute instructions, as if she is an expert.”

“You make it sound as if you were learning battle
strategies,” Eomer said, as he stood in the doorway.
“I should hope the night will be more enjoyable than
that.”

Lothiriel grinned. “Well, I do plan on attacking
you.”

“Oh?” Eomer closed the door behind him and crossed
the room. “You look unarmed to me.” He walked up
behind her. His hands followed the delicate lines
of the thin gown she wore. “What will you attack me
with?”

“My lips.” Lothiriel turned around to face him, Eomer
slipped his arms around her waist.

“Then please, show me no mercy.” Eomer whispered
before his lips captured hers in a soft but insistent
kiss.

“Tongues make good weapons as well,” Lothiriel
muttered as Eomer trailed kisses down her neck.

“That they do.” Eomer said, as he continued his
assault on her neck.

Lothiriel clung to his arms trying to keep her balance
until she backed into the bed and they fell onto the
soft mattress.

The feel of his warm body pressed against hers was far
sweeter than anything she had imagined. She slid her
hands through his hair and pulled his head down to hers.
He deepened the kiss, his tongue slipping past hers,
around hers exploring the soft depths of her mouth.
And Lothiriel could do little but try to keep from reeling
from the sensations that crashed through her body in
waves.

And then his hands were. . . .everywhere. It took
her breath away. He grasped her waist, tracing the
curves up her body. She arched into his touch, inadvertently grinding her hips against his. Eomer moaned at the sudden contact. She felt him shift his weight a bit. And when he sought out her lips, they both got a mouthful of hair.

Eomer pulled away abruptly to sneeze several times,
swatting at his hair.

The spell of the moment was broken. Lothiriel
exploded into fits of giggles. “Shall I braid it for
you?” she teased. “Or pull it back into two tails,
like I used to wear mine when I was little?”

Eomer grinned. “Neither.” He leaned against the
headboard. She scooted up to sit beside him.

Lothiriel pushed his hair back behind his ears. Her
hand drifted down his cheek. He kissed her palm.

“You may not believe this now, but I did not intend to
simply tackle you and toss you onto the bed this
evening,” Eomer said.

“It was the way we made introductions,” Lothiriel
reminded him. “Why should I expect any less than that
on this night?”

He sighed. “Things never go as I plan when you are
around.”

“It might make things easier if you let me in on your
plans,” Lothiriel said. “What do you have in mind
for us next?”

“Whatever you wish, my lady,” Eomer said, softly. His eyes strayed to her gown. The ties to the front of it had loosened and gave the slightest glimpse of skin beneath.

“You first,” Lothiriel whispered.

Eomer sat on the edge of the bed and took off his
shoes. So far, this night was nothing like Lothiriel
had imagined it would be. In the great romantic songs
of old, it was all loving glances and kisses and
sweeping tales of romance. They spoke nothing of the
practical matters such as getting hair in your mouth as you kissed, or taking off your shoes.

But Eomer did not just stop at taking off his shoes. When he finished his eyes met hers, and a mixture of excitement and nervousness swept through her. No song ever described anyone who looked the way he did. Lothiriel decided she preferred reality.

* * * * * * * * *

They stayed at Minas Tirith for a fortnight, before heading back to Rohan. Imrahil rode with them as far as the borders of Rohan before turning towards Dol Amroth.

“You shall make a beautiful Queen,” Imrahil said.

“Do not look so sad. This was your idea remember? Send Erchirion to visit me soon.”

Imrahil nodded. “She will probably insist on leaving the day I get back once she hears news of you.”

“And you will let her go?”

“If I did not, you would probably convince Eomer did send out an eored to retrieve her.” Imrahil hugged her. “Send word as soon as you arrive in Rohan.”

“I will.”

Imrahil grasped Eomer’s hand. “Take care of her.”

“Yes, my lord.” Eomer said, with a slight bow. He looked back at Imrahil’s squad, which was less than a third of what he had arrived with. Imrahil had insisted on leaving most of his squad to assist Aragorn in Minas Tirith.

“My offer still stands,” Eomer said. “If you would like an escort to the borders of Dol Amroth, my men would be honored to ride beside you.”

Imrahil shook his head. “No, I will not take up your time. I fear neither of us will have as much as we should like before Aragorn calls us back to Minas Tirith.”

“You are probably right. And there is still much to be done in the Mark,” Eomer said.

“Aragorn will hold you to your oath,” Imrahil said. “You will see battle yet again. More times than I hoped any of us would like to.”

“My oath is good for as long as Gondor needs me. Where
the flag of Gondor flies to battle so will fly the flag of
Rohan,” Eomer said.

That night, as the sun was setting, Eomer stood at the opening of their tent and looked out at the rolling plains. “Look at the sunset,” Eomer said.

“I would rather be looking at you,” Lothiriel said. She walked to him and tugged at the laces of his shirt.

“It reminds me of the sun setting upon the seas of Dol Amroth,” Eomer said. She continued to tug at his laces. He took her hands in his, stopping her. “Lotty, if you ever get homesick don’t feel as if you have to keep if from me. You are free to go home whenever you wish.”

“Are you trying to get rid of me already?” she teased.

“Never!” Eomer pulled her to him. “But I want you to be happy.”

“I am happy,” Lothiriel said. “Are you quite finished with your foolish worries? Because I have a far better idea with what you can do with your time.”

Eomer grinned. “If it is anything like your idea last night then I do not expect we’ll be getting much sleep.”

Lothiriel shrugged and stepped out of his grasp. “If you are not up for it, then by all means sleep.”

Eomer grabbed her and pulled her back to him. “I doubt I shall ever get a good night’s rest as long as you are in my bed.”

“And how long will that be?”

“As long as my heart still beats within my chest,” Eomer said.

THE END
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Printed from Open Scrolls Archive (http://www.openscrolls.net) on Tue Jul 17, 2018 4:37 am