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The Princess and the King

Chapter 3: Chapter 3

by JMac

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

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 Eomerís
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."

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Chapter 3
Created
20 May 2003
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