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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 10: Let sleeping warriors lie

by Lialathuveril

Chapter IX: Let sleeping warriors lie

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that Lothiriel faced the King of Rohan at the breakfast table the next day, but nothing untoward happened. He was deep in conversation with Faramir and only nodded a civil greeting at her. In her turn she devoted herself studiously to her food and congratulated herself silently when she was able to slip outside unnoticed at the end of the meal.

However, her relief was short-lived. She was just about to lead a freshly groomed Nightwind out of the stables when Firefoot in the next-door box announced his master’s arrival by whinnying with evident pleasure. Lothiriel was rather less pleased to see the king and when asked where she was headed, answered rather evasively that she was just going for a short ride, all the time trying not to meet his eyes.

“An excellent idea, Princess Lothiriel,” he said in a genial tone, “you won’t mind if I join you, will you?”

She looked up in alarm, trying to frame some sort of excuse so as to decline his company when she noticed the amused glint in his eyes. Apparently he knew only too well that she was trying to avoid him.

“Very well then, if you must,” Lothiriel replied ungraciously and braced herself for the dressing-down she would surely receive once they were out of earshot of the manor house.

However, still nothing happened. Not once did he touch on her unfortunate remarks at the dinner table the night before. Instead the King of Rohan commented on the impressive view, the continuing fair weather and the trees heavy with fruit as they made their way down the steep switchback trail, forcing her to reply in the same manner.

The princess had to admit to herself that here was a worthy opponent and decided to put an end to the charade when they reached the valley floor.

“I think you’ve had your fun, my Lord King,” she said, drawing her mare to a halt and looking him straight in the eye, “so why don’t we get this over with and you tell me exactly what you think of my abominable behavior yesterday evening.”

Éomer started to laugh. “Oh, I think I deserved it for teasing you like I did,” he admitted, disarming her completely, “but you can’t blame me for trying to get my own back, can you?”

Taken completely by surprise she stared at him with her mouth open.

He grinned down at her. “What about a temporary truce? Shall we cease hostilities, at least for today?”

Lothiriel gave a slow smile. “Very well then,” she agreed, “I will strive not to make you choke again.”

“And I will strive not to make you late for your bath again,” he replied solemnly.

The pact was sealed with a handshake and then Éomer looked at her enquiringly. “I see you have got your stirrups and reins back. What about going for a quick run along the river bank?”

Lothiriel’s face lit up and her excitement translated itself to Nightwind who began to dance from side to side nervously. “Oh yes, let’s do that,” she replied eagerly and Éomer couldn’t help smiling at her open delight.

Without another word they turned their horses towards the river and started galloping across the meadow.

She was an intrepid rider, laughing out loud when they had to jump a fallen log half buried in the grass, but then Éomer had not expected anything else. Too soon they reached the end of the valley and had to draw rein. Lothiriel’s eyes were shining with pleasure and she leaned forward and stroked her mare’s neck tenderly.

“Oh, you are the best, Melamin, that was wonderful!”

Éomer fell a strange pang as he watched the princess lavish affection on Nightwind. Surely he wasn’t getting jealous of a horse? He shook his head resolutely as they turned round and began to ride back slowly to cool down their mounts.

“That was the best ride I’ve had since I left Dol Amroth. Thank you, King Éomer,” Lothiriel said impulsively.

He smiled back at her. “Do you often go riding back home?”

“Everyday, if I can talk one of my brothers into accompanying me.” She smiled mischievously. “I can’t wait to see Amrothos’ face when he sees Nightwind’s turn of speed. He’ll go green with envy.”

“I get the feeling I have not made myself very popular with your brothers,” Éomer remarked with a laugh.

“Oh, Amrothos is harmless. Erchirion is the only dangerous one.”

He shot her an amused glance. “And why is that?”

“He’s the best swordsman in Dol Amroth and he’s got my temper.”

“That does sound like a deadly combination,” he agreed seriously, earning him an urchin grin.

“I thought we had agreed on a truce?” she challenged him and he held up his hands in surrender.

“Very well. Let’s talk about something else. I have told you about ents and elves, so it’s your turn. Tell me about the sea.”

“The sea?” she asked with surprise, “what about it?”

“I’ve never seen it,” he explained patiently, “what is it like?”

“Never seen the sea!” she repeated incredulously.

“A grave fault of character, I know,” he agreed soberly.

“At least it is one you can remedy,” she shot back at once. “The sea, yes,” she added hastily when she saw the look on his face, “it’s difficult to describe.”

“A lot of water?” he prompted politely.

“Yes. Well, it changes constantly. It might be blue and calm one moment and then a squall draws in and suddenly the sea is stormy and gray.”

“A bit like a woman then,” he murmured with a sideways look.

She ignored his interruption. “It smells of salt and fish and there always is some wind. I think that is what I miss most here.”

Indeed the day was completely wind still and it was warm already, even in the dappled shade of the trees along the riverbank. He gave her a thoughtful look. “That sounds a bit like the Riddermark, I’ve heard it called the Sea of Grass. There is a place on the hills above Edoras where on a clear day you can see forever and all you can hear is the wind sighing through the grass. If you ever come to Rohan I will take you there.”

She smiled, pleased. “And if you ever come to Dol Amroth I will take you sailing in the Alqua.”

“What is the Alqua?” Éomer asked puzzled.

“It’s a small sailboat and quite seaworthy,” she reassured him when she saw his skeptical look, “we are not allowed to go out of sight of the shore anyway.”

Éomer wasn’t sure if he wanted to visit Dol Amroth with such dubious pleasures in store, but he was too polite to say so. Instead he asked, “Who is ‘we’ then?”

“My brothers and me,” Lothiriel explained, “we use the boat to go swimming.” She smiled, remembering, “I was born in a caul, so tradition says I can’t drown. Well, one day Amrothos decided to put the old wives’ tale to the test and threw me overboard.”

Lothiriel laughed at his shocked look. “Luckily Erchirion was along and fished me out before I swallowed more than half the water in the Bay of Belfalas. I’ve never seen my father as angry as when he heard about it. Afterwards he insisted I learn to swim properly, though.”

Éomer could only shake his head. “No wonder you take being jumped at in the Queen’s Garden in your stride.”

They had reached the orchards at the foot of the house now and by silent agreement dismounted and turned to the banks of the stream to water their horses.

“Do you still remember the Rohirric I taught you yesterday?” he asked and took some apples out of his saddlebags. When she nodded he drew his knife and cut one into quarters, handing her the pieces. “What I want you to do today is to practice calling Nightwind to come to you and to stand still.”

“Watch!” he commanded and called Firefoot’s name. The big bay stallion lifted his head from the water and obediently came to his master. “Stay,” Éomer said in Rohirric and walked away from him, openly carrying an apple in his hand. The stallion’s ears pricked forward and his eyes followed him, but he stayed where he had been ordered.

“Good boy,” Éomer said, turning back, and gave him the apple as a reward. Firefoot nuzzled his hair affectionately and he laughed. “Your turn now!”

Lothiriel cleared her throat and called Nightwind’s name. The mare lifted her head but showed no inclination to come out of the water until she spotted the apples.

“It’s a start,” Éomer remarked, “now tell her to stay.”

But instead of staying where she was, the mare followed Lothiriel close behind, eager for more tidbits.

“You mustn’t reward her until she obeys you,” Éomer explained at her frustrated look, “she knows the commands, but she has to accept you as her mistress. Have patience,” he recommended as he cut up some more apples for her.

Then he took Firefoot’s reins and led him over to where a conveniently placed boulder lay in the grass. Leaning back against the sun warmed stone he settled down to watch the princess practice and suddenly found himself yawning. Having a lot of catching up to do, Éowyn and he had talked until the early hours of the morning, yet by habit he had still gotten up at his usual early hour to check on his men. The sound of Firefoot cropping the grass and the lazy droning of bees made him feel drowsy. He closed his eyes for just a moment.

Lothiriel was slowly having more success. By putting considerable command in her voice she had finally gotten the mare to stand still and had then praised her lavishly. Now she was going further and further away and called her to come to her. Nightwind was a quick learner and soon picked up what was wanted of her. When all the apple pieces were gone she turned to Éomer to ask him his opinion of her progress, only to see that the King of Rohan had fallen fast asleep.

Firefoot lifted his head as she walked over but then settled down to grazing again, apparently not considering her a threat to his master. Lothiriel sat down in the grass a few paces away from him and regarded Éomer thoughtfully. It was a rare opportunity to study him unobserved. In repose and with his cool blue eyes closed he looked much younger and she was suddenly struck by how much responsibility rested on his shoulders. From what she had heard he had inherited a kingdom ravaged by war and now devoted all his time and energy to rebuilding it. The deep love he bore his country and the pride he took in its people was evident in every word he had told her about Rohan. He had seemed more at ease and relaxed this morning and she wondered if it was due to the presence of his obviously much beloved sister.

Suddenly she grinned; she could now tease him mercilessly about what a good guard he made. First she would let him sleep a bit longer, though, after all it was still early and they weren’t expected back at the house anytime soon. What was more she didn’t have any chores to do, being a guest here.

Idly she started to pick some flowers when she heard him mutter unintelligible words in Rohirric and glanced over. He was frowning in his sleep and was tossing from side to side, plagued by some sort of bad dream.

Hesitantly Lothiriel leaned over and touched him lightly on the shoulder. “King Éomer?” she asked.

It happened so quickly she didn’t even have the chance to scream. One moment he was fast asleep, the next he had rolled over onto her, pinning her down beneath him. Still caught up in his dream, he was looking down at her unseeingly, holding a naked dagger to her throat.

“Éomer!” she gasped in alarm, not daring to move, “Éomer, wake up! It’s me!” Suddenly she remember that this was the man her father had once called one of the deadliest warriors on Middle-earth.

The fog slowly cleared from his eyes to be replaced by incomprehension. “Lothiriel?” he asked, “What has happened? Are you all right?”

“I will be, if could please remove your knife from my throat?” she answered, relief flooding through her.

He looked down in horror, only now realizing what he held in his hand and abruptly rolled off her. The dagger fell to the ground. “What have I done?” he groaned.

She sat up gingerly and with shaking hands felt the back of her head where it had hit the ground. Her hair was full of bits of grass. I will have to brush them out before we go back she thought inconsequentially. Then she cast a look at the King of Rohan who had buried his head in his hands. “Éomer?” she said tentatively.

He looked up slowly and she saw the pain in his eyes. “I very nearly killed you Lothiriel,” he said incredulously, “had you struggled I would surely have killed you...” His voice trailed off.

She closed her eyes for a moment. “It wasn’t your fault,” she said reasonably.

“Not my fault?” he echoed incredulously, “I hold a knife to your throat and you say it’s not my fault?”

“You had a nightmare…”

“Lots of people have nightmares,” he interrupted bitterly, “yet they don’t go around hurting defenseless women.”

“Éomer, you didn’t hurt me,” she protested, starting to feel concerned for him.

He shook his head in wonder. “How can you defend me, after what I very nearly did to you?”

“I know you would never ever harm me intentionally,” she pointed out, “and indeed you didn’t. Please don’t blame yourself for what happened.”

“I don’t deserve your generosity, Lothiriel,” he said bleakly.

“You must have seen a lot of horrors in the battles of the ring war, it’s no wonder you suffer from nightmares.” Lothiriel said hesitantly. She knew her brothers had seen some disturbing sights even though they had tried to keep it from her and had not told her much.

“It’s not the battles I’ve been through that I dream of,” he burst out unexpectedly, “it’s the one I haven’t.”

“What do you mean?” Lothiriel asked in confusion.

“It’s always the same dream, of the battle on the Fords of the Isen,” he explained bitterly, “I watch my cousin Théodred being cut down by Uruk-hai and I try to reach him in time, but I’m too late. I am always too late!”

“Yet you weren’t there?”

He shook his head. “I had orders to stay in Meduseld, but I should have been there. He died in despair, without a kinsman by his side, thinking the Mark would fall to Saruman.”

Lothiriel didn’t know what to say. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered, feeling her words to be totally inadequate.

He went on without hearing her. “I never wanted that stupid crown! I would much rather be Third Marshall again and have Théodred back!”

She didn’t know what to say at this revelation. He had always seemed the quintessential king to her and she could not imagine him as anything else, he was so self-assured and absolutely in command. It came as a bit of a shock to find out he was human after all.

“He was your uncle’s only son?” Lothiriel might know the genealogy of all the noble families of Gondor for many generations back, but she only had a vague idea of the Kings of Rohan.

Éomer nodded silently and she suddenly wondered what it would feel like if all her brothers had died and she had inherited the Princedom of Dol Amroth. Lothiriel shivered. It didn’t even bear thinking about, for she loved them all dearly, even poor stuffy Elphir.

“I cannot say why your cousin should have died and you should have lived,” she said slowly, “yet you cannot bring him back. All you can do is to be the kind of king he would have wanted you to be and to keep his memory green.”

“I will,” Éomer said tiredly and they were silent for a long time.

“Well, thank you for listening to me, Princess Lothiriel,” he finally said in a more formal tone. Apparently the time for confidences was over. He extended a hand and helped her to her feet but did not let go for a moment.

“Will you forgive me?” he asked, his blue eyes serious.

When she nodded, he wordlessly tucked away a wayward strand of hair behind her ears.

“You’re not afraid of me now?”

Lothiriel shook her head silently and it was nothing but the truth. For a moment his fingers lingered on her cheek.

Then they mounted up again and slowly rode back to the house, both of them deep in thought. Just before they passed through the gate Éomer stopped and looked over at her.

“I promise you it won’t happen again.”

“Oh no, it won’t,” she replied fervently, “next time you have a nightmare I will send in Firefoot to wake you up.”

He gave a weak chuckle. “You do that, it’s his fault anyway. He shouldn’t really let anybody near me when I’m asleep.” In a more serious tone he added, “You really are all right?”

“I’m tougher than I look,” she replied with a smile, “don’t worry. After all, nothing happened.”

“No, nothing happened,” he agreed.

Éowyn gave them a sharp look when they rode in together. Something had obviously happened, she thought. The Princess of Ithilien also noticed how quiet both of them were over lunch, but she forbore to comment on it, instead noting with silent approval that some sort of unspoken truce seemed to have been reached between them.

She did wonder, though, where all the grass in Lothiriel’s hair had come from. Maybe it was time for her to get to know her husband’s cousin better?










Melamin – my love
Alqua – swan

Note: A caul is the remnants of the amniotic sac that occasionally covers the newborn child immediately after birth. By tradition possession of a baby's caul was said give its bearer good luck and protect that person from death by drowning. (Source: Wikipedia)

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Let sleeping warriors lie
Created
30 Oct 2005
Last Edited
30 Oct 2005
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