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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 18: On the nature of courage

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XVII: On the nature of courage

They were pulling her down! Lothiriel could not get any air. They had got hold of her legs and arms and they were pulling her down! She could see the light grow dimmer and started to struggle desperately, but they were too strong. Lothiriel could hear them laughing and cackling in her ears. “We’ve caught you, little swan,” they were saying. She was kicking frantically, but it was no use. They were pulling her down!

Lothiriel sat up in bed, gasping for air, her pulse hammering wildly as the nightmare receded slowly. I am safe! It’s only a bad dream.

With shaking hands she untangled herself from her sweat soaked bed sheets and stood up. The room was stiflingly hot and she quickly opened one of the windows. Taking deep breaths of cool night air she could feel her heart slowing down to its normal rate again. The house was silent around her and she wondered how late it was.

Lothiriel’s thoughts went back to her nightmare and she shuddered. It had been so vivid, she almost expected to be wet through again. Indeed her thin linen shift clung to her, but it was only sweat. Why was her room so hot? Uncomprehendingly she stared at the fire burning in the grate. Why light a fire in the middle of the summer? Then her glance fell on the green cloak drying in front of it and she remembered.

She must have fallen asleep on the way home from the forest pool and had only woken up when Éomer had carried her upstairs. She had been shivering with cold and Melian had insisted on putting her straight to bed and lighting a fire to warm her up again. Lothiriel smiled when she remembered the King of Rohan being unceremoniously shooed out the room by her gentle sister-in-law. She had fussed over her like an anxious mother hen, but Lothiriel had only really wanted one thing, to seek the oblivion of sleep.

Now, though, she felt quite rested and realized with some surprise that she was actually hungry. It was not astonishing really; after all she had missed her dinner and had lost her lunch in that most embarrassing manner right in front of King Éomer. She had to admit he had been very understanding about it, but he was bound to think her rather weak and squeamish. Well, there was nothing she could do about that now.

What she could do something about, however, was that empty feeling in the pit of her stomach. There was always some hot stew and bread kept in the kitchen for the night guards and she would help herself to some of that.

For a moment she debated putting on one of her dresses, but they all laced up the back and she didn’t want to wake up any of the maids. In the end she decided not to bother with one and just picked up Éomer’s cloak and wrapped it round her.

As she walked softly down the hallway she could hear voices issuing from Faramir’s study. By the sounds of it Éowyn and her brother were still up. Lothiriel hesitated outside the door, but then she decided to just continue on to the kitchen. She didn’t really feel up to facing anybody just now, not even her friends.

Mercifully the kitchen was empty and she felt a lot better once she had some hot food inside her, even though her bruised lips stung when they came in contact with the hot liquid. The worst of her hunger assuaged she picked up an apple and started nibbling it. Was it really only this morning she had emptied that very bowl of apples for their picnic? It seemed more like a lifetime ago.

Her thoughts went to Nightwind. Before she had fallen asleep Éomer had reassured her that her mare had not been too badly hurt, but now she wondered. Maybe she had better check up on her before going back to bed.

***


Éomer yawned. “Well I think that’s all we can do at the moment,” he remarked and his brother-in-law nodded in agreement. They had spent all evening planning their campaign against the remaining bandits. By the time they were finished with them there would not be a single Southron brigand left alive in Southern Ithilien to threaten their people, not if Éomer could help it.

He could still feel the rage boiling inside him. He would have liked nothing better than to gather his army and to wipe this scum off the face of Middle Earth. Of course that was not feasible at the moment, for they were still too much weakened by their losses in the ring war, but eventually he and Aragorn would deal with their southern neighbours. He was looking forward to the day when he would finally teach them to fear the thunder of the cavalry of the Mark.

Faramir was regarding him shrewdly. “Why don’t you get some rest now?” he suggested and Éowyn seconded that. “You look tired, brother,” she observed, “let’s continue this discussion tomorrow.”

Éomer nodded. It had been a long day and a hard fight. There was still one thing he had to take care of, though. “I’ll just go and check on the horses,” he said.

When he got to the stables the first thing he noticed was a lamp hanging outside Nightwind’s box and then he heard her whispering. Somehow he wasn’t surprised to find her here.

Lothiriel was stroking her mare’s neck, whispering endearments to her in Elvish and looked up when she heard his steps. Her hair was still tousled from sleep and her eyes seemed enormous in the dim light. For a moment she looked very much like a startled fawn, then she gave him a brief nod as she recognized him.

Somehow Éomer knew instinctively he would have to tread carefully tonight. She reminded him of a filly that had been spooked by rough handling and needed to have her trust restored.

“How is your mare?” he asked softly as he stepped into the box.

The princess took a step back and wrapped her cloak tighter around herself. “She seems all right,” she said.

Éomer inspected the mare’s haunches, where the arrow had hit her. The wound itself was clean and the flesh around it didn’t seem infected.

”My horse leech told me to let her rest for a few days and to take it easy afterwards,” he remarked and Lothiriel nodded in agreement. An awkward silence descended.

“And how are you feeling?” Éomer asked at last.

“I’m better now,” she replied and then hesitated before asking in a low voice, “did many of your men get hurt?”

“We were lucky and nobody got killed,” Éomer replied, “although there were some nasty cuts and bruises.”

The worst off was Beda who had a deep gash on his left cheek, but he wasn’t going to tell the princess about it, she looked guilty enough as it was. The young squire had fought like a madman.

“What about the horses?” Lothiriel now asked.

“Two horses got killed,” Éomer acknowledged, “but it could have been worse, much worse in fact.”

It was warm in the stables and he wondered why she didn’t take her cloak off. “Are you still cold?” he asked her.

She only shook her head, but it didn’t look as if he was going to get his cloak back anytime soon. It covered her from her head to her toes.

“I never even thanked you for coming to our rescue,“ Lothiriel said haltingly, “seeing you riding up was the most wonderful sight I’ve ever seen in my life.”

It was Éomer’s turn to look guilty. “I don’t want your gratitude,“ he said more harshly than he intended and she looked up startled. “I’m sorry that I failed you,” he added more softly.

“You didn’t fail me,” she exclaimed, “what do you mean?”

“We knew about the bandits,” Éomer said bitterly, “we didn’t warn you because we didn’t want to worry you, and as a result you were put through this horrifying experience.” Éowyn had been very angry with them, but that was nothing to how he blamed himself. He had failed utterly at protecting them.

“You knew!” Lothiriel was silent for a moment, digesting the impact of his words.

“Well, you acted for the best of reasons,” she pointed out slowly, “You came in the end, didn’t you? That’s the main thing.”

She seemed to have an endless capacity for forgiving him. He would take a lot longer to forgive himself. Once again he could feel rage boiling up inside him.

“You do not have to fear those men anymore,” he said, “we will follow them and stamp them out like the vermin they are.”

Her next question surprised him. “But how will you find their hiding place?” she asked matter-of-factly.

“We have captured one of them and have the means to make him talk,” he admitted, not quite meeting her eyes. It was not something he enjoyed doing, even though it was necessary.

“I suppose I should feel sorry for them, but I don’t,” Lothiriel said after a moment, sounding surprisingly fierce.

Éomer thought to himself that it was nothing to what the Southrons would have done to the women, had they succeeded in capturing them. From what his sister had told him they deserved death ten times over. He would not tell the princess that, though.

There was another silence for a long moment.

Lothiriel took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I was sick all over you,” she said falteringly and Éomer gave her a surprised look. Was this what was bothering her?

“Don’t worry about that,” he replied soothingly, “I have seen it many times before. In fact I’ve held many a young rider after his first battle.”

“You have?” she sounded relieved, “The stench was so horrible, I just couldn’t help myself.”

“It’s only natural,” he reassured her.

She gave a self-deprecating smile. “You know, when I was younger I dreamt of sailing to Umbar and freeing it single-handedly. I was going to hand the keys of the city over to my uncle Denethor, much to his eternal gratitude.”

Éomer smiled at the image this brought to mind. He had had similar dreams before being confronted with the realities of war.

“I was so glad Éowyn was there,” she said slowly, “I’m not brave like your sister, without her I would surely have panicked completely.”

“I think you underrate yourself,” Éomer averred, “Éowyn is … Éowyn. Like me she is slightly insane when furious. It makes being brave so much easier.”

Lothiriel shrugged. “I was so afraid. All I wanted to do was faint.”

“You didn’t though, did you?” Éomer replied. “Do you know who is the bravest person I’ve ever met?” he asked her.

“Your sister?”

Éomer shook his head. “No, the halfling Frodo. He wasn’t a trained warrior, yet he went into Mordor with little hope of succeeding and even less hope of ever returning, because it was the right thing to do. People are already forgetting that the ring war wasn’t won by force of arms.”

“That is true,” Lothiriel assented, looking thoughtful.

“It’s a humbling thought to owe your own and your people’s lives to somebody no taller than a child.” Éomer remarked.

Lothiriel looked him straight in the eye. “Are you ever afraid?” she asked.

Éomer remembered the terror he had felt that afternoon. “I was afraid when I rode up that path and didn’t know if you were still alive,” he replied.

“Of course,” she nodded in understanding, “you nearly lost your sister, the last member of your family.”

“Yes,” was all he said after a short pause. He felt that now was not the time to tell her about his true feelings.

Lothiriel extended one slim hand to stroke her mare’s neck. “You know,” she changed the subject, “Nightwind here saved my life in the end.”

Éomer raised one eyebrow. “She did, but not in the way she was meant to. Next time you should know better. You made three very basic mistakes.”

“Only three?” Lothiriel asked quizzically, “what were they?”

Éomer specified them. “First of all you should not have gone on your own, secondly you shouldn’t have fallen asleep…”

“…thirdly we should have managed to escape?” Lothiriel hazarded a guess.

Éomer shook his head. “No, but you should have told the horses to guard you. They would have given you plenty of warning. However, you got everything else right.”

The princess looked surprised. “You think so?”

He nodded. “You managed to send for help, you did not panic and most importantly you survived. You were incredibly lucky, though!”

“What do you mean?”

“You were lucky you didn’t get drowned,” he explained, “it was a stupid idea to try and seek shelter in the lake.”

Lothiriel frowned. “I wasn’t looking for shelter, I was trying to delay them. It worked as well, didn’t it?”

Éomer felt startled. “It was deliberate?”

She looked offended. “Certainly! I couldn’t very well let them take us with them into the woods, could I? I knew I had to give you time to reach us.”

Éomer stared at her. “Are you telling me you planned it?” he asked in disbelief.

“Of course,” she replied, only to qualify “well, not nearly getting drowned myself, but the rest, yes. I’m not completely helpless, you know.” She sounded angry.

Éomer looked at her as if he saw her for the first time. By the sounds of it they had to thank her for the relative ease with which they had defeated the Southrons. It dawned on him that he had once again underestimated the Princess of Dol Amroth.

“I’m sorry,” she apologized, “I didn’t want to snarl at you, not after you just saved my life.”

“Don’t apologize,” Éomer replied, feeling slightly dazed, “just treat me as before and tell me when I say something foolish.” This earned him her first true smile that evening.

He still couldn’t quite believe it. “So you killed that man in cold blood?”

“Yes,” she assented in a small voice and then hesitated. “I suppose I should feel guilty for killing him, yet I just feel relieved.”

“Believe me, he deserved to die!” Éomer exclaimed, “just think of what he would have done to you.” Then he cursed himself for saying such a tactless thing.

“I know.” The princess looked haunted and he swore inwardly. Éowyn had told him some of the things she had been threatened with and once again he wished he had come earlier.

“I’m sorry you had to kill someone.” He reached out, but did not quite touch her. She had wrapped herself even more tightly in her green cloak.

“Well, I’m not much good at it, anyway. He nearly took me with him.” She shivered at the memory.

“You know, my first orc nearly was my last one.” Éomer found himself saying unexpectedly.

She looked up in surprise. “It was? What happened?”

“It was on my first patrol, when I was fifteen,” he remembered, “orc bands were raiding us for horses even then and we surprised one in the Eastemnet. I just froze after I killed him. My cousin Théodred saved my skin that day. I still have the scar to prove it as well.” It was no more than a thin white line under his left armpit now, but he knew he had been lucky.

“Do you enjoy killing?” Lothiriel asked. Her voice was no more than whisper.

Éomer felt he had to be honest with her. “Not usually,” he replied slowly, “but when the battle rage takes me I just don’t care. I’ve inherited that from my father Éomund. His temper betrayed him in the end.”

“How was that?”

“He heard of an orc raid and took after them with too few men. It was a stupid thing to do and he got himself killed.” Éomer’s face darkened when he remembered his mother’s grief. “Our mother Théodwyn died soon after and we had to move to Meduseld.”

Another silence descended. It was Éomer who broke it this time.

“I used to be really angry with him,” he sighed.

“Because he got himself killed?” Lothiriel asked in a gentle voice.

He nodded. “It was foolhardy and stupid. I vowed never to put my wife and children through the same, it’s one of the reasons why I never sought to get married. I didn’t really forgive him until the battle on the Fields of the Pelennor.”

“Why is that?”

Éomer stared into space unseeingly. “I lost my own temper and it betrayed me in its turn. I thought Éowyn was dead and lost all reason for a while. If it hadn’t been for Aragorn we would all have died that day. Oh, we would have done great deeds worthy of song, but we would still all have died.”

“Well, it seems understandable when you thought you had lost your last kin,” Lothiriel defended him.

Éomer sighed. “I am king now and have to better control my temper. But when those I love are threatened it still breaks through…”

“Well I’m glad it did today,” Lothiriel remarked. Absentmindedly she touched her swollen lips and shuddered.

Very gently he reached out and brushed a finger across her cheek. “Was it the one I killed who did this to you?” he whispered.

“No, it was the one I drowned,” she replied and he blinked in surprise.

Lothiriel was absentmindedly twisting a strand of her black hair and didn’t notice. “Do they ever come back to haunt you?” She asked in a low voice, looking very young.

“Why do you ask?” he said gently.

The princess didn’t quite meet his eyes. “I had a nightmare earlier on,” she explained haltingly, “they were trying to pull me down.”

She looked up suddenly. “Oh Éomer,” she exclaimed, “It was so horrible! He had me by the ankle and he just wouldn’t let me go. I thought I would die down there in the cold and the darkness!” Her voice broke.

Éomer somehow found the right words, much to his own surprise. “You are safe now. It’s all right to cry.”

She stared at him for a moment, and then she started weeping. He took her in his arms and held her wordlessly while her slender frame was wracked with sobs. It took a long time for her to cry away all her terror and misery.

“From now on I’ll protect you. You are safe,” Éomer repeated and stroked her soft black hair.

Slowly her sobs died down and she took several deep breaths.

“I must look a sight,” she said weakly and gave a sniff.

Éomer put a finger under her chin and lifted up her face to his. Lothiriel looked up at him, her eyes red, her face blotched with tears.

“You do,” he agreed with a crooked smile.

She was beautiful and he just couldn’t help himself. Her lips tasted of salt when he kissed her gently and it felt as good as he had imagined it would.

Surprised, she drew in her breath, but then her arms went around his neck and she clung to him as if she never wanted to let go again. Unnoticed by either of them her cloak fell to the ground. Éomer was completely undone when she whispered his name and his arms closed around her quite without his volition. His eyes widened when he realized she wore nothing but a thin linen shift, but by then he had gone past the point where stopping was an option.

Their kiss deepened and she laced her fingers in his hair and closed her eyes. Éomer could feel heat cursing through him as he pulled her supple body against him. It felt just so good! To himself he finally acknowledged that he had wanted to do this for a long time now, almost since he had first set eyes on her in the Queen’s Garden in Minas Tirith.

If Éowyn barges in again, I will simply kill her he thought. Lothiriel’s skin was as soft as silk when he slowly slid one hand inside her shift. She gave a little sigh and pressed closer. It was only when he started to slip the sleeves off her shoulders that his mind belatedly caught up with his actions.

What are you doing? he thought in alarm. This is the daughter of a friend you are thinking of dishonouring. This is Lothiriel!

“Oh no!“ he breathed and pulled back abruptly.

Lothiriel’s eyes flew open and a look of horrified realization at what they were doing crossed her face. White as a sheet she simply stared at him for a moment and opened her mouth as if to say something, but no sound emerged. Before he could even begin to frame an apology she picked up her cloak, pulled it around herself and with a strangled sob ran from the stables as quickly as she could.

With a groan Éomer buried his head in his hands. Once again he had lost control completely. What had gotten into him? I am as bad as those Southrons who attacked her earlier on today, he thought in despair, to try and take advantage of a complete innocent like her when she’s emotionally vulnerable!

He hesitated, not sure what to do, then he decided to go after her.

It was late and the house was dark and quiet. Very softly he knocked on the door to her room, but there was no answer. “Lothiriel?” he whispered. Again there was no sound from inside her room, but he was absolutely certain she was in there. He could almost see her leaning against the door on the other side. For a brief moment he considered just breaking it down, but then he squashed that impulse. He had done enough damage for one day.

He would talk to her the next day, he decided, and apologize for his abominable behaviour. He couldn’t really blame her if she never wanted to set eyes on him again, but maybe she would forgive him. After all she had done so before.

It would really have been much better to break down the door, but this was Gondor where such things were simply not done.

It would have spared Éomer a lot of trouble, though.

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On the nature of courage
Created
08 Jan 2006
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08 Jan 2006
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