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Trust To Hope, Book Two

Chapter 2: Good Things Come... Chapter One

by Novedhelion

Thank you for all the kind get-well wishes...the final diagnosis was a broken left wrist and a torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder, along with myriad bruises. However, faithful fans...the story must be told. So without further delay....

Trust to Hope, Book Two
Chapter One

Author: Novedhelion
Beta: Riyallyn
Rating: PG 13 for now
Warnings: Not responsible for your frustration, only theirs.
Disclaimer: Éomer is not mine, but he is Anhuil’s, and she’s mine. No money to be made, etc. You know the drill.

**************
“I am as frustrated as a pyromaniac in a petrified forest.”
A. Whitney Brown

***************
Chapter One
A Journey...
***************

Plopping herself on a low rock by the riverbank, Anhuil pulled her cloak tighter around her, and watched the chilly water rippling toward the southeast. A week of traveling with her new husband and the entire party headed for her new home in Edoras was beginning to wear on her, the need to have a few moments alone driving her away from the crowd.

It did not help that her adoring husband was adhering religiously to the ridiculous promise he had made to her on the plains of the Eastfold.

Elenion lay beside her. Digging her fingers into the warmth of his fur, she scratched behind his ears. He grunted appreciatively.

“I am glad you are here,” she told him, ruffling his fur. In response, the big animal rolled on to his side, his tongue lolling out of his mouth. “At least YOU still respond to my touch,” she quipped sarcastically.

Her head turned abruptly at the sound of approaching footsteps, and she smiled as the two blonde women approached. “Mind if we join you?” Cam asked, seating herself next to Anhuil.

“You look as if you could use some company,” Éowyn added, leaning against the rock on the other side of the queen, who sighed heavily in response. “I would not think a woman recently married would already sound so frustrated,” her new sister-in-law teased. “Or is my brother allowing you no sleep whatsoever?”

“Ha,” the queen laughed mirthlessly. “If only that were the case.”

Éowyn’s eyebrows rose. Exchanging surprised glances with Cam, she turned back to Anhuil. “What is it, then?”

Anhuil shook her head. “It is silly, really.” At their disbelieving expressions, she smiled. “Nothing is wrong, I promise. I suppose I am just a bit...frustrated.”

Cam frowned. “You throw out a statement like that and expect us to forget it?”

Anhuil sighed again. “Before the battle, when Éomer sent me to Minas Tirith, he made me a promise. It was a silly promise made in the heat of the moment, but now he insists on sticking to it.”

“What did he promise?” Éowyn asked, her curiosity piqued.

Hesitating, the queen bit her bottom lip. “It was...well, it was one evening when we were alone...and things got a little...heated...and he admitted to me how much he wanted me...but he insisted he wanted to wait.”

“Wait?” Éowyn asked incredulously. “Éomer? Are we talking about the same man, here? Tall, blonde--“

“Devastatingly handsome?” Ani finished her sentence for her, chuckling.

“He is my brother, Ani. I do not see him that way, but if you say so...”

Anhuil giggled again. “Yes, that would be him. Anyway, he insists that we wait until we are home, in our own bed.”

The two blonde women stared at her. Finally Cam spoke. “You have been married for over a week, sleeping in the same tent every night...and...” Anhuil’s slow nod cut off the rest of her sentence.

“How do you stand it?” Éowyn asked her. “I can hardly be in the same room with Faramir and keep my hands to myself. But we Eorlingas are not known for our restraint, either,” she chuckled. “I cannot believe Éomer is serious about this.”

“He is. Trust me. We spent our wedding night in Dol Amroth discussing plans for the ceremony at Meduseld.” She blew a few stray hairs from her face.

“The cad,” his sister commented wryly, casting a teasing smile at the queen.

Anhuil shot her a look. “I am serious, Éowyn! He is driving me spare!”

“Does he not touch you at all?” his sister asked, lowering her voice.

“He kisses me, and...well...yes and no. Being so close to him, especially at night, with him snuggled behind me...it is just...” her voice trailed off, her gaze falling on the rippling water.

Cam threw up her hands. “Seeing as I have no experience in this particular field, I am going to turn this one over to Éowyn. I am going to find Amrothos.” She stood and turned to go, then grinned over her shoulder at her friend. “I will say this. As long as I have known you, Ani, you have found a way to get what you really want. You just have to decide if you really want it.” With that, she headed toward the dark haired prince who stood waiting beside her palomino.

Anhuil stared after her. “If she thinks this is so amusing perhaps I should talk with my brother about putting her through the same thing once they are married,” she suggested.

Éowyn laughed out loud. “Seriously, Ani. She is right. If there is one thing anyone can say about Éomer, it is that he is a man of his word. Do you really want him to go back on a promise he made?”

Anhuil inhaled deeply. Clasping her hands under her chin, she leaned her elbows on her knees. “I honestly do not know, Éowyn. At times like this it all seems so silly, to be so frustrated about something like this. But other times I feel so overwhelmed, as if I...” Her voice trailed off, unsure of how to voice her feelings.

“Need him?” The Lady of Rohan ventured.

“Yes,” Anhuil answered. “Exactly that.”

Éowyn nodded. “I understand that all too well,” she said, smiling.

“I suppose I only have two options. Accept it or try to seduce him.” Anhuil’s green eyes sparkled mischievously.

The White Lady giggled. “I say go for the second option, but that is solely my opinion. His resolve cannot last forever.”

One eyebrow raised, the queen shifted her gaze to her sister in law. “You truly think so?”

Éowyn shrugged. “It is worth a try. Even if you do not succeed, at best you can be assured he will be in at least as much misery as you.”

The two exchanged giggles as they rose to their feet and rejoined the rest of their party.

~~~~~~~~~~

Éomer waited patiently beside Firefoot, smiling widely as Anhuil approached with Éowyn. Glancing from one to the other, his brow furrowed at the expressions on their faces. His gaze met Éowyn’s as she strolled past them. She smiled innocently at him, then winked at Anhuil before turning to Faramir.

“What was that about?” Éomer asked Anhuil as he lifted her on to his horse.

“What?”

“That look from Éowyn,” he muttered. “I have seen that mischievous look far too often in my time. It usually means she is up to something.”

“I have no idea what you mean,” Anhuil answered, as he climbed up behind her.

Reaching around her to gather the reins, he pressed his lips to her ear. “You are not a good liar, Ani,” he whispered, kissing her lightly on the cheek as he guided Firefoot toward the road that would take them to Edoras.

~~~~~~~~~~

Éomer walked toward his tent, purpose in every stride. Anhuil had been her usual chatty self, but he had not failed to notice that she often shifted her weight in the saddle in front of him, each time making him wish he had been wearing his armor. She had more than once clasped his thigh tightly when Firefoot quickened his pace. And it did not escape his attention that the dress she had chosen this day, while practical for riding with its narrow split skirt, had a particularly appealing low cut neckline that allowed him a generous view from his position behind her.

If she was trying to get to him, she was succeeding.

Ducking into the large, two chambered tent, he headed for the small sleeping chamber off to the side where a pallet had been made on the fur-strewn floor. Thick coverlets lay in a heap, a small fire in the brazier nearby warming the air slightly. He dropped the heavy drapery that separated the smaller chamber from the larger, opening his mouth to call her name. Instead, he stopped short.

A thin blanket had been hung as a makeshift curtain, behind which his wife stood. The small lantern she had placed on the table beside her to provide light and a bit of warmth cast her shadow against the fabric, the silhouette outlining clearly every curve as she undressed. Éomer stood, his feet glued in place, watching as she removed her dress, carefully unbuttoning it down the front and laying it aside. She pulled the shift over her head, and began washing up with the basin of warm water.

The aroma of lavender permeated the air of the tent. The water in the basin was so warm he could see the shadow of the steam rising from it as she dipped the cloth and washed her face, spreading the cloth down her neck, her shoulders...his breath caught as his eyes followed the path the cloth took, his fists involuntarily clenching at his sides, his hands aching to...

“Éomer? Is that you?”

The king cleared his throat. “I certainly hope no one else would see you like that,” he said, finally finding his voice.

Anhuil smiled to herself. “I will be right out,” she called innocently, continuing to wash up.

“Take your time,” he said, sitting down to pull off his boots, but not taking his eyes from the curtain. She finished washing, toweled off and pulled the shift back over her head. Pulling her hair from the braid, she began brushing it slowly, the curls now falling past her shoulders. He smiled, remembering the way her shorn hair had fallen in her face only a year ago, and how his fingers had itched to brush it from her eyes. Just now he wanted his hands buried in the thickness of it, entwined in it, holding her captive as his mouth ravished hers...

He moved to the brazier, warming his hands near the flame. He watched as she laid the brush aside, blew out the lantern, and stepped from behind the curtain. She reached up with both hands to re-braid her hair as she stepped toward him. Reaching out, he caught her wrists with his hands. “Leave it down,” he said softly, pulling her to him. Before she could answer, his mouth claimed hers, gently but insistently. His warm hands spread across her back, searing her flesh through the thin fabric of the shift. “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered against her ear. “Cam is right. Propriety is highly overrated.”

Anhuil shivered, as much from the kiss as from the chill in the air. “Cold?” he asked, as he scooped her up into his arms, carrying her toward the pallet.

“I was,” she admitted, as he laid her back, reaching around her to pull back the covers. She slipped underneath the coverlet, reaching for the fastening of his tunic. “You are overdressed,” she commented quietly.

He glanced down. “So I am,” he conceded, pulling off the shirt over his head and slipping under the covers with her, his arms wrapping around her. “Better?”

“It is a step in the right direction, anyway,” she teased, snuggling against his shoulder. His hands, still warm from the fire, roamed down her back, sliding over her hip. He lowered his head, his lips finding hers, his hand on her hip gently pulling her over on top of him.

A sigh of pleasure escaped his lips as he buried both hands into the dark waves at the nape of her neck, his fingers lost in the thick curls. “I love your hair,” he murmured. She arched her neck back against his hands, and his mouth took the opportunity to explore the curve of her throat.

“I thought you did not want to do this,” she said softly, turning her head to one side to grant him better access. “I thought you wanted to wait.”

“I said I wanted to wait to make love with you,” he answered, his voice a soft rumble. “I never promised I would keep my hands entirely to myself.”

Anhuil placed her hands on his chest and pushed herself back slightly, her gaze meeting his. “This is not very fair, you know, teasing me this way.”

“Oh, and your squirming in the saddle is?” he quipped in return. “I found your choice of attire rather interesting as well. And just perfect timing for your bath, do you not think?”

Frustrated, she tried to wiggle away from him, only to find herself flipped over and pinned beneath him. “Where do you think you are going?” he asked. “You started this, with your own teasing all day. You will stay here and take your comeuppance.” Éomer buried his face in the mass of curls at the side of her neck, his teeth nipping lightly at her exposed shoulder. “I should punish you,” he chided teasingly, his mouth moving lower.

Closing her eyes, Anhuil dug her own fingers into his hair. If this was punishment, she would have to misbehave more often. His warm lips explored slowly, savoring every inch of her he could reach, his hands just as busy as his mouth. Giving herself over to the pleasure of his exploration, the queen sighed his name softly.

Éomer’s hands and lips froze in place, the soft sound of her breathing his name causing the knots of desire already in his belly to tighten almost painfully. Gods, but he wanted her, promise or no promise. His attempt to pay her back for teasing him all day was failing unequivocally.

Opening her eyes, his wife looked up at him, the desire in his dark eyes a visible flame. “Still insist on keeping your promise?” she asked, the silken tone in her voice making it all too clear she would not protest.

A growl of frustration from low in his throat rumbled against her neck as he buried his face in her hair. Anhuil almost giggled out loud, but instead raked her fingernails lightly across his back, causing him to shudder slightly. There was no mistaking the effect she was having on him, and she certainly would not deny her own desire. “Éomer, I know you are a man of your word, but...”

Éomer closed his eyes, breathing in deeply the scent of lavender. Why the bloody hell did she have to smell so good? “Ani...”

“Our situation was much different when you made that promise, love,” she said softly, turning her head to press her lips to his ear. “We are married now...” Her teeth found his earlobe.

“Oh, gods...”

The queen smiled at his muffled response, continuing her gentle assault. “You cannot deny you want this,” she whispered, instinctively pressing her hips suggestively against his, giggling when his hand clamped tighter on her hip, trying to still her.

The king’s senses reeled as his wife wriggled beneath him. She was right. He could not deny it. He would not. Every fiber of his body ached for her, and her nails skimming over the solid muscles of his back coupled with the softness of her under him did nothing to quell the fire that blazed through every inch of his skin, not to mention what she was doing with her teeth to his ear. Perhaps she was right. After all, they were married.

Reluctant to move where her teeth could no longer reach, he raised his head and looked down at her. “Are you certain? You will not be disappointed if we do not wait?”

Anhuil laughed out loud. “Disappointed?” she asked sarcastically. “Éomer, I have been trying to--“

His mouth took hers, effectively cutting off the rest of her sentence, but she didn’t care. His tongue traced her lips and she parted them readily, her own gently coaxing his into a subtle duel. Questing hands moved to the lacing of her shift, the delicate silk closures offering only a pittance resistance to his insistent fingers. Tracing one finger behind the lacings between her breasts, he tugged gently at them as his lips followed the trail his fingers had made.

Her soft moans only encouraged him further, urging him to continue. He inhaled deeply, filling his lungs with the scent of her, blocking out anything and everything else until only the warmth of her beneath him existed, the sound of her breathing his name echoing in his ears.

She suddenly went bowstring taut under his hands. A moment of perplexity passed before he raised his head and realized she was responding to sounds in the camp. Men shouting, a loud barking, horses whinnying in fear.

Voices shouting. “Wolves!”

He held her gaze a moment longer. “Go,” she said softly.

He nodded, crawling from under the furs to yank on his tunic and cloak, then turned back to her with an apologetic look. “Ani...”

The shouts were becoming louder, the horses sounding increasingly panicked.

“Go!” she repeated, sitting up and reaching for her own clothes.

He shook his head. “Stay here.” Her eyes shot up, her mouth opening to argue. Grabbing her chin with his fingers he silenced her with a kiss. “Stay here. Stay warm. I will be right back.” Éomer grabbed his sword and darted out of the tent.

~~~~~~~~~

Exhausted, the king crept quietly across the fur-strewn floor. Lifting the heavy drape that separated their sleeping quarters from the main tent, Éomer peered in before entering. Anhuil lay on the pallet, curled on her side, sleeping soundly. He noticed with some small satisfaction that she had not re-braided her hair. Doffing his clothing once again, he slipped under the coverlet and furs with her, snuggling against her back and burying his face into the mass of sweet smelling curls upon his pillow.

She stirred slightly, wriggling back against him. “Horses all right?” she asked sleepily.

“Yes,” he answered softly. “Only one was slightly injured, but she will be fine.” He nuzzled her neck. “I am sorry, Ani.”

She sighed. “I suppose someone out there wants you to keep your promises.”

“So it would seem,” he responded resignedly.

His wife was so quiet for a while Éomer wondered if she had fallen asleep again. Finally she spoke, almost startling him. “How much further to Edoras?”

Éomer laughed softly. “A week or less,” he answered, “depending on the weather.”

“Then we shall pray for good weather.” She yawned widely, and squirmed a bit closer to him as he slid an arm around her waist. “Losto vae, meleth nín,” she murmured quietly.

Pressing a kiss to the back of her neck, Éomer closed his eyes. “I love you, Ani,” he whispered, letting himself slip into oblivion.

~~~~~~~~~~

The next morning had dawned grey and dull, low clouds billowing across the horizon. Anhuil snuggled back against Éomer, shrugging deeper into her cloak against the chill.

Éothain rode up beside the king, nodding a polite greeting to Anhuil. She smiled in return from beneath her hood. “Éomer,” he said, addressing him by his first name. Éomer had insisted that at the very least he address him as the friend he grew up with. “This weather is not going to hold. We should seek adequate shelter. The wind is already picking up.”

Eyeing the storm brewing to the north, the king frowned. They could search for a semi-sheltered place to set up camp, but tents would be little protection should the storm bring driving snow, or worse, sleet and ice. And there was no way to shelter so many horses with such a large party.

“This storm will be here before the day is out,” Éothain observed. Éomer knew what his suggestion would be before he voiced it, and cringed inwardly. “We could make for Aldburg. It is only a half-day’s ride from here,” the marshal suggested.

Aldburg. It had been his childhood home, when his father was marshal of the Westfold. It had once felt like home, but now the idea of stopping there even for one night held no appeal whatsoever.

“I am certain Lord Abrecan would be honored to host you and your new wife, as well as her family,” Éothain offered. “The men and I can stay in the bunk house. There will be adequate stable space there, as well.”

Knowing all of his friend’s suggestions made perfect sense did not stop Éomer’s stomach from giving a lurch at the thought of staying at Lord Abrecan’s estate again. He cast a glace at Éowyn, who was deep in conversation with Faramir as they rode. Perhaps she was right. Perhaps nothing HAD happened. He certainly could not remember anything. Regardless, he could not let his party or their horses freeze in a storm because of his own insecurities.

He nodded at Éothain. “Make for Aldburg. Send a rider ahead to let them know we are coming. We should be able to beat the storm.”

With a nod, the marshal rode off to pass along the orders. The king blew out his breath and shifted his weight in the saddle.

“Éomer...”

He almost jumped at the sound of her voice. “Yes, love?”

“Aldburg is where you grew up?”

“Yes,” he answered softly. “When my father was Third Marshal, we lived at the fortress there.”

“Who is Lord Abrecan?” she asked.

Éomer swallowed a lump in his throat. “He is a landowner who has a large estate near the fortress. He owns much of the land in this region. He is a good man. An honorable man, and very wealthy. He takes good care of the people who work his land and raise his horses.”

Anhuil smiled at the obvious admiration her husband had for the man. “You speak as if you know him well,” she observed.

“I have known him all my life. He was a friend of my father’s. He used to bring Éowyn and I presents when he came to visit. Carved horses that he made with his own hands.” He smiled at the memory, almost forgetting his reason for avoiding a visit to Aldburg.

Almost.

His wife settled back against him contentedly. “Sounds like a lovely man. I am looking forward to meeting him.”

“He will be honored to meet you as well, I am sure,” Éomer responded, hoping the optimism in his voice would mask the fact that his insides were tied in a knot.

~~~~~~~~~~

The party rode up to the home of Lord Abrecan just as the sleet began to slam down from the darkened sky, the tiny bits of ice bouncing off the hard, frozen dirt at their feet. Anhuil watched as the miniscule droplets fell and stuck to Firefoot’s mane, the warmth radiating from the stallion quickly melting them.

From inside, a woman watched through a window as Éomer rode up to the front gate and dismounted quickly. As he turned and lifted his wife from the saddle, sliding her to the ground next to him, the woman’s full lips moved into a pout. She sized up the new Queen of the Mark. Short, dark-haired...hard to tell what her figure was like under that heavy cloak. The petite queen turned to scan her gaze over the estate house, smiling her approval from under the deep blue hood of her cloak. Although she could not hear the words, the adoration in her gaze when she spoke to her husband was clear.

So this was the woman he had spoken so much about on his last visit. Tossing her long blonde waves over her shoulder, Willa’s lips curled into a smile. She may have the title of Queen of the Mark, but I will still have my due, she thought to herself as she watched Anhuil slide her arm into Éomer’s and walk briskly toward the doorway. Who does she think she is, a woman of Gondor, taking the throne of the Mark? Willa humphed, crossing her long arms under her breasts and watching the couple approach.

“Willa!” She turned at the sound of her name. Her uncle stood at the end of the hallway, smiling broadly. “There you are! Our guests have arrived, dear. Come and help me greet them!” He gestured with his hand for her to follow and walked briskly toward the entrance. She glanced down at the dress she wore, smoothing a hand over her skirt, deciding it was appropriate enough to greet the King of the Mark and his...bride.

Éomer clasped a gloved hand on his wife’s arm as she lifted her skirts with both hands, darting through the now pouring sleet. Cam and Amrothos were right behind, followed closely by the rest of the party. They stamped the ice from their boots and pushed hoods back as Lord Abrecan greeted them all warmly, leading them into the large main hall, its huge stone fireplace framing a roaring blaze that warmed the entire room.

The king returned the greeting graciously, introducing his party as Abrecan instructed various servants to show them to rooms he had prepared for them. Orders given, he returned his attention to the king.

“I am honored that you grace my home with your presence once again, Your Majesty,” the older man said with a bow.

“Abrecan, I have told you before, any man who bounced me on his knee as a child need not bow in my presence,” the king teased. “For the love of Béma, you were friends with my father.”

Abrecan laughed. “Yes, and you are every bit Éomund’s son, Éomer.” He beamed at the king. “And how a rogue like you managed to capture the attention of such a lovely creature is beyond my comprehension,” he teased, his gaze falling on the queen. He took Anhuil’s hand in his, kissing her fingers lightly.

“You have a lovely home,” the queen observed, taking in the ornate carvings that covered every inch of the wooden pillars around the hall. “We are grateful for your hospitality, particularly under such short notice.”

“I fear the beauty of this place will dim greatly when your presence is no longer felt,” he answered charmingly, his hand still grasping the queen’s fingers.

Éomer reached out and took her hand from Abrecan, laughing. “All right, old man, that is enough,” he joked. “This is my wife you speak to, not some tavern wench.”

The old man laughed heartily. “Still fiercely protective, are you, lad?” He turned his grey eyes to the queen, the mischievous sparkle in them unmistakable. “He used to scare the daylights out of any young man who showed attention to his sister, regardless of the fact that Éowyn could have bested any one of them in a fight.” Anhuil stifled a giggle with the back of her hand. Éomer’s eyes darted around the room, adjusting to the dimmer light of the lanterns. He was about to release a sigh of relief when he heard the voice he had dreaded.

“Éomer!” Willa greeted him enthusiastically.

“Lady Willa,” he responded woodenly.

He reached for her hand to kiss it politely, but she waved him off, planting a bold kiss on his cheek instead. She slid her arm through his, snuggling up to his side and casting the queen a self-satisfied look before turning to the king. “Please, Éomer. Need we be so formal? I would have thought you and I had progressed to first names by this point,” she crooned.

Trying to contain her grin at Anhuil’s rather poorly concealed look of shock, Willa smiled innocently.

Éomer gently withdrew his arm from her grasp and pulled Anhuil to him. “Lady Willa, I would like you to meet my wife, Lothíriel, Queen of the Mark.”

Willa’s blue eyes regarded her coolly. “So you are the lucky girl,” she commented wryly, the condescending tone not lost on the queen. “You know, Éomer was quite sought after here in the Mark. Many hearts were irreparably broken when news came that he had taken a wife.”

The slight tinge of bitterness in her words did not escape Anhuil’s notice, but she smiled politely anyway. “I consider myself quite blessed,” she responded, sliding her hand into the king’s.

“It is I who am blessed,” he returned, smiling down at his queen. Willa’s cheeky smile vanished.

Abrecan watched the exchange with interest, frowning at his niece’s behavior. “Willa, see that the cook prepares some hot tea. I am sure our guests are chilled.”

“I am sure that the king knows there are other ways of warming, Uncle,” she answered coyly, her gaze falling on Éomer.

“Willa...” Abrecan growled low, his warning tone causing her to take a deep breath and step back slightly.

“I will see to it, Uncle,” she said resignedly, her eyes raking over the king once more before she turned to sashay slowly down the hallway. Éomer deliberately ignored her, squeezing his wife’s hand and smiling at the older lord.

Turning to the queen, the old man smiled humbly. “Please excuse my niece. She has always been a bit...forward. Her behavior was entirely inappropriate and I promise to speak to her about it.” Unsure what to say, Anhuil only nodded politely. “I will have you shown to your room. I am sure you would like to remove the wet clothing and clean up before dinner,” Abrecan continued. “Shall I have a bath prepared for you, Your Majesty?”

Anhuil’s thoughts had wandered as she turned to look over her shoulder at the empty hallway where Willa had disappeared. The woman certainly seemed to be familiar with the king, addressing him by his first name and touching him so inappropriately. The innuendo was clear, and the implied intimacy with which she spoke of Éomer made her uncomfortable. If nothing else, it was indisputable that they had met before.

Éomer squeezed her hand again, and she jerked her head around to face him. “Lord Abrecan asked if you would like a bath prepared,” he said quietly.

“Oh, I am sorry,” Anhuil said apologetically, her cheeks coloring. “My thoughts had wandered a bit. Please, forgive me.”

“The fatigue of the journey is catching up with you,” Abrecan scolded. “A warm bath, a good meal and a few good nights of sleep in a real bed is what you need.”

“You are right, of course,” the queen answered, trying to sound as sincere as possible. Éomer cast a curious sideways glance at his wife. It was not like her to be so easily distracted, particularly in diplomacy. She tossed what she hoped was a reassuring look in his direction before smiling at Abrecan. “And a bath would be delightful.”

With a nod, the old man grinned. “Consider it done. Now, if you will follow Derian, he will show you to your room.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anhuil sat at the dressing table, brush in hand, her back to the mirror as she faced Camwethrin. “I am being silly,” she muttered, tapping the brush against her palm.

“I do not think so. I, for one, found her behavior abhorrent. And Éomer certainly did not appear flattered,” Cam commented. “She was blatantly flirting with every man at the table, including your father!”

Heaving a sigh, Anhuil turned to the mirror and began dragging the brush through her hair. “It is not that I would ever mistrust Éomer, Cam...but she was just so...familiar with him.” She sighed again. “I am being ridiculous and petty. He is married to me. He loves me and I trust him implicitly. I am not going to let some woman I do not know get me riled.”

She caught Cam’s amused expression in the mirror, and looked back over her shoulder. “What?”

“Then why are you pulling your hair so hard you are about to yank it all out?” Cam asked, moving to take the brush from her hand. Gently she started over, working on the unruly curls. The queen frowned at her reflection. “Ani,” her friend said soothingly, “you are tired. Get some rest. The men will be some time yet. Amrothos said your father wanted to speak with Abrecan about purchasing some of his horses. You know how your father loves to negotiate.”

“Gods, they could be there all night,” Anhuil lamented.

Cam finished brushing her friend’s hair and set the brush down. “Get some rest, Ani. I am going to bed as well. Tomorrow things will be different, I promise.”

Anhuil rose and gave her a quick hug. “You are right. I am tired. Daylight is best for examining one’s troubles.”

Cam smiled in return and opened the door. “Nite, Ani.”

“Losto vae, Camwethrin,” she called after her as the door fell shut.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Éomer made his way down the quiet hallway to the chambers he shared with his wife. Lord Abrecan had haggled with Imrahil good-naturedly until a price was agreed upon, then it was celebrated with a tankard. And another. And a few more, until Imrahil gave up and headed for bed. Faramir had begged off as well, and Amrothos had not been far behind.

When it came down to just Éomer and Abrecan, the old man had cajoled him into “just one game” of Stratagem, for “old times sake.” The elderly lord had taught Éomer to play as a child, and had often challenged him on his visits to Aldburg and then to Meduseld as Éomer grew. In all the years he had only beaten the old man a handful of times, but tired as he was he didn’t have the heart to deny the request.

So a few tankards later and another hard-fought victory under his belt, he shook the old man’s hand and headed for his chambers.

Making his way as quietly as possible, he was so startled by the sudden hand on his shoulder that he nearly shouted.

“Willa!” he whispered loudly. “Bless Béma, woman, you scared me.”

“Shh!” Willa chided, grinning as she pulled him into a corner of the hallway, leaning against him. “I was beginning to wonder if the old codger would keep you all night,” she said softly, running a finger down the front of his tunic.

Éomer pulled back from her, only to find an unmoving stone wall at his back. “Yes, well, it has been a long time since Lord Abrecan and I had a chance to game, and --“ He stopped suddenly at the touch of her lips to the side of his neck. He attempted to push her back, trying not to be rough. “Willa, I --“

With long fingers she clasped his face and brought it to hers, her full mouth covering his protests. Neither one heard the soft creak of the door at the far end of the hall.

Eyes wide, the king wrenched himself from the wall, his hands grasping her shoulders and firmly pushing her away from him. “I am a married man, Willa.”

“That does not stop most of them,” she quipped, grinning coyly.

“Perhaps not, but then, I am not most men,” Éomer stated.

Her eyes narrowed. “It did not seem to trouble you the last time you were here.”

“The last time I was here, I was not yet married. And I do seem to recall having a conversation with you about the fact that my heart did belong to another already.” He stood straight, his gaze meeting hers squarely.

“Again, it seemed not to trouble you too deeply.” Her blue eyes glinted mischievously, almost maliciously. “Admit it, Your Majesty,” she intoned, using the honorific so sarcastically it took him aback. “You enjoyed your last visit.”

Éomer’s mind reeled, but he gave no indication. “To be perfectly honest, Willa, I do not remember much of my last visit.” He turned abruptly on his heel and headed for his own bedchamber.

Fuming, the tall blonde clenched her fists at her sides. Go on back to your little wife, then, she thought to herself. We shall see how devoted she is soon enough.

It was then that she noticed the man standing in the doorway of another bedchamber at the far end of the hall, a puzzled expression on his face. His dark hair tumbled loose over bare shoulders as he stood there, wearing only a pair of sleep pants. She wondered briefly how much he’d seen, then remembered he was unmarried and cast him what she hoped was an alluring smile. He glanced her direction once more, his dark brows furrowed, before turning and closing the door.

Tossing her hair over her shoulder, she stormed off down the hall to her own chambers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Soft light from the lamp in the hallway fell across the fur-covered floor as the king gently pushed the door open. Closing the door behind him and flipping the latch, he was grateful for the firelight still flickering in the hearth. Crossing the room to it, he picked up another log from the basket and tossed it into the fire.

His gaze traveled to the big bed. Anhuil lay curled on her side, barely visible with the coverlets pulled up to her neck. Her dark hair was unbraided, he noticed with a slight smile, and spread across the pillow behind her. The blankets rose and fell with her even breathing, though he heard no sound except the crackle of the fire behind him as the new wood caught.

With a deep sigh, he turned back to the flames. Willa. What was he to do about her? What had truly happened that night? Try as he might, the huge gap in his memory could not be filled. The blonde had tried, convincingly enough, to make him believe something had happened, but had it, really? He could not believe...did not WANT to believe, that he would willingly betray Anhuil.

Had he really been that drunk?

Quietly removing his clothing, he slipped under the covers and slid over to his sleeping wife, who backed against him with a contented sigh as he snuggled behind her, his arm around her waist. The lavender scent of her hair enveloped him as he closed his eyes and breathed deeply.

Past, Éowyn had said. It was in the past. There was no need to bring it up if the only result would be hurting her. In a few days they would be gone, away from this place, away from Willa. As soon as this storm let up and travel was possible, they would leave here.

In a matter of days, they would be home.

~~~~~~~~~

Less than two days later, they had once again set out on their way. The storm had passed, the weather quickly warming enough to melt the layers of ice that covered the trees and road. Travel was slow and muddy, but at least it was travel.

Avoiding Willa had not been nearly as difficult as he had thought. Apparently she had realized he meant what he said, for he had not seen her again after that first night. He hoped he had seen the last of her.

The queen had determined her stallion was feeling decidedly rejected, and had announced that she would ride him at least part of the way this day. After all, she had reasoned, it was not fair to Firefoot to have to carry them both the entire way to Edoras.

Her husband had argued that her slight weight was no additional burden to his steed, but she persisted, and he grudgingly relented. Now as she rode alongside his sister and her best friend, giggling like schoolgirls, Éomer smiled at them.

“I am never going to get this right, Éowyn,” Anhuil lamented as they rode side by side, after once again forgetting a word in Rohirric. She was determined to learn the lines for the ceremony in his tongue, although he had assured her it was not necessary.

“You will be fine. Now, try again,” the White Lady grinned, repeating the line, as Cam bit her lip to stifle a snicker.

~~~~~~~~

“Feeling abandoned already?”

The king looked up at the grinning face of his youngest brother in law, and shook his head. “I cannot be too possessive, I suppose,” he answered. “In a few weeks I will have her all to myself. I shall not begrudge her a little female company for now. Besides, Éowyn is determined to teach her Rohirric.”

Amrothos chuckled. “Ani has always had a thing for languages. Words of any kind, in truth.” His gaze wandered to his sister, then to the blue-eyed blonde that rode beside her, chatting animatedly. Cam turned toward him suddenly, as if aware of his eyes on her, and smiled. The prince’s heart did a small flip as he returned the grin before she turned back to her friends.

“You know Ani is very happy for you both,” Éomer mentioned casually. “I do not know that she would leave Cam if it were not for you.”

“It will be a hard separation for both of them,” Amrothos agreed. “They have always had each other.”

Éomer merely nodded, not knowing how to respond. He felt much the same way when Éowyn had left.

They rode in silence for a few moments before Amrothos spoke again. “Éomer, I need to ask you something.” The king turned to him, one eyebrow raised in question. Taking a deep breath, the prince lowered his voice. “The other night, there was a woman at Aldburg...Lord Abrecan’s niece.”

“Willa,” Éomer stated calmly, although his heart skipped a beat.

“Yes. Willa. She is very...friendly.”

Éomer nodded in agreement. “A bit too friendly at times.” He tried to ignore the clenching of his stomach, keeping his eyes on the path ahead.

“I saw her with you.”

The clenching became a tightly twisted knot. Éomer swallowed, struggling for words.

“I heard what you said to her, what she said to you. I did not mean to eavesdrop, I was trying to find my way to the privy when I saw the two of you in the hall.”

A small wave of relief washed over the king, although his insides would not fully unwind. “Willa can be very persistent. She has caused more than her fair share of trouble for men, both married and not.” His dark eyes met the prince’s. “I would never betray my vows to your sister, Amrothos. I love her more than my own life. Surely you know this.”

Amrothos nodded. “I do. I did not mean to imply otherwise. But I could not help overhearing what she said about your last visit to Aldburg.”

Éomer took a few moments to steady both his thoughts and his voice before responding. He would not lie to Amrothos.

“The last time I stayed at Aldburg was before Éowyn’s wedding. They held a large feast. You know we Eorlingas do not need much encouragement for a celebration, and my sister’s impending wedding was enough reason. In any case, I had a few drinks with Abrecan. Willa was...shall we say...rather friendly, and I had a hard time explaining to her that my heart belonged to another. The next thing I remember is waking up in my bed with a splitting headache and flowers under my pillow.”

“Flowers?” the prince asked.

“The same ones that had been in Willa’s hair,” he answered. At the prince’s incredulous look, Éomer shook his head. “I do not know what happened, Amrothos, but I have no memory of that night whatsoever.” He sighed. “I had planned to tell Ani what happened, but Éowyn insisted I should not. I do not have a history of forgetting things like that, even when I am deep in my cups. My sister insisted that to tell Ani when I have no idea if anything untoward happened would only cause her unnecessary pain.”

Amrothos blew out a slow breath. “You have no memory at all of it?”

“None,” the king replied. “I have had a few too many ales many times in my life, and I have yet to forget something like that. I do distinctly remember telling her about Ani, and that I had no interest in any other woman. I will not deny that I have had probably more than my share of tumbles in the past, but I love your sister, Amrothos. I would never knowingly and willingly betray her. For the love of Béma, I have turned down every other woman in sight for over a year!”

Unsure how to respond, the prince glanced at his sister. She threw her head back in laughter at something Cam whispered.

“Éowyn is right,” he said softly. “Regardless of what happened, there is no need for Ani to know. It was before your marriage to her, and knowing it now would be of no benefit to her or anyone else.”

Éomer felt the tension slide just a little, realizing he gripped Firefoot’s reins so tightly his fingers were going numb. “I would rather slit my own throat than cause her even one second of pain or doubt.”

The young prince nodded. “Good, because I would hate to have to take you to task so early in your marriage,” he warned jokingly.

“And I have not forgotten that my wife has three older brothers,” Éomer responded, not quite as lightly.

“Best not to,” the prince said curtly, but the corner of his mouth still curled into a smile.

The laughter of the women washed over them both as they spurred their mounts on.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Ok...I have had numerous emails and messages about posting this chapter. Here it is. Since posting, I have had over two hundred hits. And ONLY TWO REVIEWS. What's up with that? I know you guys can do better...come on...motivate me! Review, please!

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Good Things Come... Chapter One
Created
10 Aug 2004
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10 Aug 2004
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