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The Princess and the King

Chapter 5: Chapter 5

by JMac

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.

* * * * * * *

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Chapter 5
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20 May 2003
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