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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 14: Éomer's shirt gets ruined

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XIII: Éomer’s shirt gets ruined

“You are a glutton,” Lothiriel said fondly as Nightwind searched her hands for more apples. She had only been able to bring two and one of them had gone to Firefoot, so now the mare was watching her with a disappointed look in her velvety eyes.

Lothiriel was stroking her glossy black coat, savouring the quiet in the stables. Although she had been enjoying herself, after a while her head had been spinning from all the dancing and she had decided she needed a break. Now she was humming softly to herself, as she remembered how she had danced with the King of Rohan. “Do you think he will ask me again, Melamin?” she whispered softly.

The only warning she got was her mare throwing back her head, her ears laid flat, before the door to the box opened and Lord Dorlas stood there, an arrogant smirk on his face.

“What a lovely surprise,” he purred, “the enchanting Lady Lothiriel, all on her own.”

She could smell the ale on his breath from where she stood; yet his voice was remarkably steady. Firefoot in the box next door suddenly gave the wooden dividing wall a violent kick and beside her Nightwind was shifting nervously.

She held out a hand to calm down the mare. “This is a Rohirric warhorse,” she warned him sharply, “don’t step any closer.”

He snorted. “A very likely tale. How would a gentle little thing like you get hold of a warhorse?”

“It is a long story, so I won’t bore you with it, but for your own sake you had better believe me,” she retorted angrily.

“I am sure you could spin me a riveting tale,” he replied, his eyes glittering dangerously, “like the story you told me at the dinner table.”

Caught on the defensive Lothiriel took a step back. “I don’t know what you are talking about,” she said.

“Let me refresh your memory, my little swan maiden,” he said sarcastically, “what about a fierce warrior you are betrothed to. Only I have been talking to some of the other guests and nobody seems to have heard of him.”

“It’s a secret betrothal,” she improvised after a slight pause, “we haven’t told my father yet.”

He gave a nasty laugh and stepped closer. “You are a bewitching little minx, but somehow I don’t quite believe you. What is more, I think you owe me a forfeit for all the lies you have told me. What about a kiss?”

“I would rather kiss a toad!” Lothiriel replied hotly, all the time trying to keep Nightwind from attacking the stranger in her box. It didn’t help that Firefoot next door was neighing angrily.

Incensed at her contemptuous tone Lord Dorlas crossed the distance between them with a couple of quick steps and tried to snatch a kiss, but Lothiriel quickly turned her face to the side so he only managed to plant a soggy kiss on her ear.

“What do you think you are doing?” she exclaimed in disgust, wiping her wet ear and trying to push him away. His only reply was to grab her even tighter.

At first Lothiriel was more annoyed than concerned, only to find there were hard muscles beneath that soft exterior. He probably expected her to melt into his arms once he got hold of her and was completely unprepared for the vicious kick she dealt him in the shin. He still didn’t let go of her, however, but swore savagely and only grabbed her harder. As she struggled in his arms, Nightwind reared up in alarm behind her.

Then several things happened at once. Firefoot stopped trying to batter down the wall, a man’s voice cursed roundly in Rohirric and Dorlas was abruptly hauled off her.

“Éomer!” she exclaimed in relief, somehow knowing at once who had come to her rescue. He had Lord Dorlas by the scruff of the neck and now slammed him against the wall of the box, looking down at him with murder in his eyes.

“You cur!” he hissed through clenched teeth, “you will pay for this!” Dorlas was clawing ineffectually at the iron hands holding him up and his eyes started to pop when the King of Rohan shifted his grip and began to slowly strangle him.

“Éomer!” Lothiriel exclaimed again, this time in alarm, but he ignored her completely, he was so caught up in his deadly rage. While she had not liked being assaulted by Lord Dorlas she did not really want to see the man dead. When his face started to turn purple she tried to pull back Éomer’s arms, but she might as well have tried to shift an ent. Without even taking his eyes off the other man, he effortlessly shook her off, causing her to nearly fall over a bucket of water she had brought earlier on for Nightwind to drink from.

For a moment Lothiriel stared down at it unseeingly, then inspiration struck her and without pausing to think she picked it up and emptied it over the two men. It certainly had the desired effect; Éomer let go of Dorlas with a curse and the other man sank to the ground desperately gasping for air. The King of Rohan, however, turned on her with an angry snarl. “What do you think you are doing?” he demanded.

Lothiriel stood her ground. “Éomer,” she said again, talking hold of one of his sopping wet sleeves, “please stop now! I’m fine, nothing happened.”

The rage cleared from his eyes as quickly as it had arisen. “Lothiriel,” he said deeply chagrined, “I’m sorry, I didn’t want to frighten you. Are you all right?”

“I am now,” she replied with a sigh and sagged against him in relief, closing her eyes for a moment. “I thought you were going to kill him before my very eyes,” she said weakly as he looked down at her in concern.

He laughed ruefully. “I might well have done so. It’s my temper again. I’m sorry I gave you fright.” He sounded remarkably unconcerned over just nearly having strangled somebody.

They turned to look at Lord Dorlas who was cowering on the floor, coughing wildly and holding his throat. As the King of Rohan took a threatening step towards him, he scrambled to his feet unsteadily and gave him a frightened look. “Don’t hurt me,” he croaked.

Éomer felt his hands curl into fists again. “Not so brave now, are we? Attacking helpless women is considerably easier, isn’t it?”

“Please, your majesty, I meant no harm.” He was shivering with fear.

Lothiriel looked with astonishment at the transformation from a confident nobleman to a shivering wreck.

Éomer mustered the other man with disdain. “You needn’t be afraid, I won’t foul my hands with you any further. You will apologize to Princess Lothiriel and then you will leave and not come back ever again.”

The relief on Dorlas face was laughable. He stammered a profuse if incoherent apology and then staggered out of the stables as quickly as he could manage.

“Good riddance! I don’t think he will be pestering you again,” Éomer said with some satisfaction.

Lothiriel could only nod faintly and sank down on a conveniently placed bale of hay, the events of the last minutes finally catching up with her. She found her heart was hammering in her chest as if she had just run a race. Nightwind gave her a concerned nudge with her head and she stroked her absentmindedly.

Éomer knelt down next to her and gently took hold of one of her hands. “I’m sorry you were put through this nasty experience. You should have let Nightwind deal with him, after all that is what this warhorse is here for, to protect you, not just to get stuffed with apples.”

“I suppose so,” she agreed, “I just didn’t want Éowyn to have one of her guests reduced to a bloody pulp.”

Éomer snorted. “You are being far too considerate of my sister, when she’s partly to blame anyway. I will have words with Éowyn.”

She looked surprised at this statement. “Well, it’s hardly her fault, is it? Please don’t worry about me. As I have told you before I am tougher than I look.”

Éomer had no intention of telling the princess of his sister’s mad ideas and embarrass her even further, so he contented himself to saying. “I only meant that she should choose her guests more carefully.”

“She might, if you tell her she nearly ended up with a dead body in her stables,” Lothiriel quipped, having recovered somewhat.

He grinned. “It’s a good thing you kept a cool head, most women I know would just have had a fit of hysterics. You might have tried to empty the bucket of water over Dorlas, though, and spare me. This is my best shirt, or at least it used to be.”

Lothiriel stared at him for a moment, and then she started to laugh weakly. “I’m sorry if I spoilt your shirt, but it seemed to me you were the one in need of cooling down. Anyway, it could have been worse, what if it had been a bucket of manure?”

“You would have been in serious trouble, then!” he shot back at once.

Lothiriel looked him straight in the eye. “I don’t think so,” she said simply and after a short hesitation added solemnly, “Thank you for coming to my rescue King Éomer.”

“Rescuing damsels in distress is my specialty,” he answered flippantly and held out a hand to help her up. Then, however, he did not let go of her at once, but instead looked down at her searchingly. “My friends call me Éomer, would you?” he asked her softly.

She blushed. “I would be honoured to…if you call me Lothiriel.”

Very slowly he lifted up her hand and kissed the palm of it, his eyes not once leaving hers. “I will.”

Lothiriel felt a strange and slightly unsettling shiver run down her spine and was suddenly very much aware of how close he stood to her with his wet clothes plastered to his body. She cast her eyes down in confusion and blushed even more furiously. Very gently he took hold of her chin with his other hand and lifted up her face. In the dim light of the stables his blue eyes were almost black and there was an unnervingly intense look in them as he stared down at her.

The Princess of Ithilien chose that very moment to come storming into the stables, causing Éomer to drop Lothiriel’s hand as if it was a piece of red-hot coal and jump back a step.

“You’ve found her!” Éowyn exclaimed as she spotted them. “Are you all right, Lothiriel?” she asked solicitously and then stopped in her tracks when she saw Éomer’s wet clothes.

“What has happened to you?” she exclaimed in consternation.

“Lothiriel poured a bucket of water over me,” her brother replied, his usual cool look of amusement back on his face.

Éowyn stared at him incredulously and then rather unwisely said the first thing that came to her mind. “What did you do to deserve that? Don’t tell me you tried to kiss her. I knew it!”

The amusement was wiped from his face and for the second time that evening his temper got the better of him. He had had a trying evening and now his patience snapped. “What are you talking about? Have you had too much wine? I did nothing of the sort and never intended to, either. Cease talking nonsense!”

At Éowyn’s words Lothiriel had first gone white, then scarlet. “I think I will retire now,” she interposed stiffly, “if you’ll excuse me, Éowyn … Éomer.” The formal curtsy she gave them would not have been amiss in the halls of King Elessar himself and she swept out of the stables without once looking back.

Éomer watched her go with a wooden expression on his face and when the stable doors had closed on the Princess of Dol Amroth rounded on his sister. “Look what you’ve done now!” he said savagely and made his own not quite so dignified exit by the other door, slamming it violently behind him.

Éowyn was left staring after him, standing on the soggy straw while Nightwind snorted softly beside her. It was then that it dawned on her that her plans might have gone slightly awry.

***


Later that night, after the last guests had departed, Faramir joined his wife at the window of their bedroom. She had thrown the casements open to let in the cool night air and was staring unseeingly at the view over her garden.

“Counting your carrots?” he asked as he slipped his arms around her waist.

She started. “No, I was just thinking.”

“What about? Do you want to tell me what happened tonight?”

Éowyn looked at him suspiciously. “What do you mean?”

“First you have a very public argument with your brother, then you both disappear looking for Lothiriel, but in the end only you come back,” he pointed out with impeccable logic, “and then of course there was that business with Lord Dorlas…”

“Dorlas!” she exclaimed, “I had wondered what happened to him.”

“Well, when last I saw him he looked as if he had encountered something exceedingly unpleasant,” Faramir recounted with a reminiscent smile, “in fact he was riding out of here as if he had a pack of slavering wargs baying at his heels… and he was wet through.”

“Wet?” his wife asked in astonishment, turning round to face him. “Are you sure?”

When he nodded, a look of speculation crossed her face. “I wonder what this means? Ah, I see! He must have been in the stables…” her voice trailed off as she was thinking furiously.

“Éowyn, dear heart,” Faramir interrupted her firmly, “this seems to make perfect sense to you, but I assure you it doesn’t to me, so why don’t you tell me what happened tonight and make sure you start at the beginning.”

Éowyn hesitated a moment, but by his tone she knew he would not be satisfied with anything but the complete truth, so she decided to make a clean breast of it.

His eyes widened as she told him of her plans and by the end of her tale he was shaking his head. “You wanted to make your brother jealous?” he repeated incredulously.

“It seemed like a good idea,” she answered defensively, “at least at the time it did.”

He could only stare at her in wonder. “Don’t you think that trying to make Éomer jealous is a bit like taunting a sleeping lion?” he asked finally.

“What, inadvisable?”

“Dangerous!” he stated with deep conviction.

Éowyn gave a weak smile. “It looks like it. He was a little bit annoyed when he found out.”

“I am not surprised. He is a grown man, surely he can make up his own mind.” Only Faramir’s sense of self-preservation stopped him from telling her outright not to meddle in her brother’s affairs.

“I don’t think he really knows his mind where Lothiriel is concerned,” Éowyn replied obstinately, “you didn’t see the look he wore when I entered the stables. But he is so stubborn; he won’t even admit his feelings to himself.”

“Maybe you should just give him some time,” her husband suggested mildly.

“How much more time? I think he needs something to shake him up.”

“Stubbornness seems to be one of the traits of the House of Éorl.” Faramir commented dryly, causing his wife to grin.

“Well, this descendant of the House of Éorl certainly isn’t going to give up that easily,” she declared and threw back her long blonde hair.

Faramir paused for a moment, not sure how to phrase his next words. “Éowyn,” he began hesitantly, “has it ever occurred to you that Lothiriel might not want to marry Éomer?”

She looked offended and took a step back. “Why not? What is wrong with my brother?”

“Nothing!” he said in a placating tone, pulling her close again, “you know I like Éomer very much. But Rohan is a long way away from Dol Amroth and Lothiriel might not like the idea of leaving her family and everything she knows so far behind.”

“I did,” she pointed out, still sounding ruffled.

“So you did and I love you for it. But Lothiriel is young and life in Rohan could prove difficult for her. She knows neither the language nor the customs.”

“I think you underestimate Lothiriel,” Éowyn replied stoutly, “and anyway she would have Éomer to support her. I am sure he would do his outmost to make her happy.”

He hesitated again. “I am sure he would, but he will not always be there. What if he has to go to war?”

She looked up in alarm. ”What makes you say so?”

Faramir sighed. “Aragorn reckons that at some stage we will have to go to war with the Southrons. They are already testing our southern borders again. And I don’t think your brother will sit safe in Meduseld while Aragorn rides into battle.”

Éowyn shivered despite the tepid night air. They both knew only too well that when the King of Gondor went to war so would the Prince of Ithilien. “How long have we got?” she asked quietly.

Faramir didn’t pretend to misunderstand her. “A couple of years of peace, maybe three, but certainly not more,” he replied soberly and pulled her into his arms, giving her a gentle kiss.

Éowyn remembered the many times she had stood outside the great wooden doors of the Golden Hall and watched her brother and her cousin ride into battle. “Just hold me close,” she whispered into Faramir’s ears and he did just that.

But later still, as she lay in her slumbering husband’s arms and sleep was just about to claim her, she made a decision. Experience had taught her that you had to snatch whatever happiness came your way and not to dwell too much on what might one day come to pass.

No, she would not give up that easily.

***


Sleep was eluding Lothiriel. The music had ended some while ago so she could not even blame the musicians for keeping her awake. In the end she gave up the unequal fight and got up again. Maybe it was simply too hot in the room, she thought and went to open her windows.

The guest rooms looked out over the gardens to the back of the house and all was quiet now. She settled down in the window seat and leaned her head back, watching the stars that were bright tonight with no moon in the sky.

Quite unbidden Lothiriel’s thoughts turned to the events that had unfolded earlier in the evening. She smiled in remembered triumph at the way she had routed Lord Dorlas at the dinner table. Too bad the man had turned out not to be shaken off so easily. It was a good thing Éomer had stepped in to rescue her from an uncomfortable situation, although he might have overdone it a bit.

He nearly killed that man, and just because he tried to kiss me, Lothiriel thought with a frown. She would do well to remember that the King of Rohan was a dangerous man, in more than one sense. That look he had given her before his sister had interrupted them still had her feeling unsettled. For a moment she had been absolutely certain he was going to kiss her and had been unsure whether she wanted him to proceed or not. Yet when Éowyn had barged in she had felt a sudden sense of disappointment. Now she would never find out if she would have liked it or not.

You are imagining things, she thought, mentally shaking herself, after all his words of denial were clear enough. And anyway, I’m sure he has looked at many a woman in that way. But still…

She felt annoyed with herself at the way her thoughts kept turning back to the sensation of being whirled around the dance floor by him and feeling the warmth of his hand on her back through the thin silk of her dress.

What had got into her all of a sudden? He had seemed just like an easygoing elder brother and she had treated him accordingly, teasing him at every opportunity. How could a single look change everything between them?

Lothiriel decided not to let her imagination run away with her any further and went back to bed. It took her a long time, though, to finally fall asleep and her dreams were unquiet and filled with images of swans and falcons. All she remembered the next morning was that there had been a mûmak charging through it at the end.

***


High up on the hillside overlooking the valley of Emyn Arnen, Razmir was watching the sleeping house broodingly. They had heard the sounds of revelry earlier on and although the smell of roasting pork had not reached that far they had imagined it had.

It was a perfect night for an ambush as there was no moon, yet his brother Mashrak had decided against it once again. The place was swarming with those cursed horselovers and they could simply not afford to take the chance. The whole area around the valley was heavily patrolled by the rangers and it was only because they had lately concentrated their efforts on the Morgul vale that their band had been able to get that close to the main house.

It had all been in vain, though, as they could not get any closer without running the risk of detection. Razmir’s hand closed on the hilt of his sword as he remembered the sounds of music and laughter drifting up on the warm summer air. How he would have liked to turn them into screams and curses! It was a long while since the last time they had captured any women and he was starting to get tired of his brother’s waiting games. Yes, he thought, his patience was running thin.

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Éomer's shirt gets ruined
Created
26 Nov 2005
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26 Nov 2005
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