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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 20: Sisterly advice

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XIX: Sisterly advice

There was a cold trickle of water pooling in the nape of his neck and running down his back. Not that it mattered much, he was wet through anyway. Éomer sighed. The rain had started early midmorning, just after they had broken camp, and showed no sign of abating. That he had no cloak did not help, either.

Firefoot gave an unhappy snort and Éomer patted the big stallion’s neck.

“Nearly home now, my friend, and then you can have your hot mash. You certainly deserve it today.”

It was what he was looking forward to himself, a hot bath and some proper food. They had sent one of his fastest riders ahead to apprise Éowyn of their coming and he hoped she would have everything ready.

Suddenly the watchtower guarding the entrance to Emyn Arnen emerged from the damp gloom of the early evening. Most of the men were too tired to exchange more than a curt nod with the men standing guard there, but Faramir stopped for a quick word with their commander.

“Everything in order?” Éomer asked his brother-in-law when he cantered up again.

Faramir nodded. “Apparently all was quiet here while we were gone.”

Éomer wasn’t surprised. He had the feeling that all the rats had run for their holes and would be hiding there for quite some time to come. At least they had smoked out one particular nest of vermin. With the help of Faramir’s rangers they had been able to surprise the remaining bandits and had wiped them out. It had been a short but desperate struggle, for though they were scum, they were armed and dangerous scum.

He was still feeling grim at what they had found at the Southrons’ secret hiding place in the Ephel Dúath. There had not been many captives left alive to rescue, but they had found a few old men and women kept as slaves. The tales they told were chilling and Éomer recoiled at the thought of what would have happened to Éowyn and Lothiriel had they been taken there. It did not even bear thinking about.

They had reached the bottom of the final ascent by now and Firefoot’s pace picked up as the big bay scented the proximity of his stable and journey’s end. The steep switchback road was slippery with mud, so Éomer dismounted to lead him up the hill. He heaved a real sigh of relief when they finally reached the wide courtyard outside the house. Torches had been lit and on the broad steps stood Éowyn, scanning the arrivals for the sight of her loved ones. When she spotted Faramir her face lit up and she launched herself through the crowd to be embraced in a tight hug by her husband.

Éomer had a sudden vision of coming home to Edoras as he had done so many times in the past. On the paved terrace outside the gates of the great Hall of Meduseld, her hair flowing like a banner in the wind did not stand his sister but rather Lothiriel. Just as he was imagining the welcoming smile in her eyes he was rudely awoken from his reverie.


“Brother? Are you well?” Éowyn was regarding him with a worried expression on her face.

“Just tired,” he replied, colouring slightly.

“Are you sure? You looked strange just now.”

“I’m fine. You know me, I’m like the weeds in your garden,” he joked, “they always grow back, no matter how much they are trodden on.”

Everybody pitched in now with getting the wounded out of the rain and looking after the horses. Éomer waved Beda aside when the squire would have taken up his duties and brushed and fed Firefoot himself. A quick check on Nightwind in the box next door revealed that her injury was healing well, but although immaculately groomed the mare looked slightly dejected and Éomer wondered why.

It was only when the last horse had been seen to and all his men were settled in their quarters that the King of Rohan allowed himself a quick bath and afterwards sought out his own dinner. With a frown he noticed that only three plates had been set, but did not get the chance to ask any questions when Éowyn and Faramir joined him a moment later. His sister wanted to know everything about their expedition and it was not until her curiosity had been fully satisfied that he could finally ask a question of his own.

“Éowyn, what’s the matter with Lothiriel? Why isn’t she here?”

His sister looked uncomfortable. “She’s gone.”

“Gone?” he echoed stupidly.

“She received a letter from her father ordering her to return home at once and left for Dol Amroth a couple of days ago. I’m sorry.”

***


Éomer was sitting on his bed, sharpening his sword. This was really his squire’s job, but he liked doing it himself. Gúthwinë had been his father’s sword and had served him well all through the war. He checked all his equipment regularly, after all his very life depended on it. Only a fool neglected to make sure his armour and weapons were in the best possible condition. And in Éomer’s experience fools died an early and messy death.

It was late and there was no sound to be heard except the gentle patter of rain against the windowpanes and the faint scraping of his whetstone. These were soothing sounds and reminded him of former, simpler times when he had just been a rider in his cousin’s éored, expected to look after his own equipment. Life had been so much less complicated when all you had to worry about was staying alive for another day.

In those days he had been too busy to worry much about women and his relationships with them had been pleasant and straightforward. That had changed the day he had become King of the Mark and was suddenly expected to marry and beget an heir.

And of course ever since the Princess of Dol Amroth had entered his life he’d had nothing but trouble.

Why has she gone without a word?

Éomer frowned. He had run through a whole gamut of emotions when Éowyn had told him she had left. At first disbelief that she was gone, followed by the urge to ride after her at once and demand an explanation and at last remorse at what he had done to drive her away in this manner. For a short moment his temper had even flared up, that she had robbed him of the opportunity to apologize and maybe even kiss her again. He had sat silent for most of the rest of the meal, lost in thought.

During the journey back he’d had plenty of time to think and had come to hope Lothiriel might not be completely indifferent to him and might forgive him. In his mind he had already phrased a tentative apology and now this.

He was a complete fool. Somehow his whole dealings with the Princess of Dol Amroth were turning into one disaster after the other. It had started with him hurting her arms and shouting at her in Minas Tirith and here in Emyn Arnen he had held a knife to her throat and had signally failed to keep her safe, to say nothing of what had happened in the stables that night.

It was really quite an impressive list. Éomer knew that had another man done so by her, he would have killed him without hesitation and would have enjoyed doing so as well. Why, he had nearly strangled that fool Dorlas just for trying to kiss her.

Éowyn said she was really eager to go home.

He had been given a gift and had thoughtlessly thrown it away by grabbing it too greedily. Trampling a rare flower like the mûmak she had once named him, he had destroyed her innocent trust in him.

He heard a soft footfall and the door swung open. By habit Éomer had positioned himself on the bed so he could see both the door and the window, as was second nature to him by now. However, he didn’t need to look up to know who had just entered the room. His even scraping did not falter.

Éowyn watched him wordlessly for a while.

“That’s going to be a very sharp sword. Soon you’ll be able to cleave stone with it,” she finally remarked in a conversational tone.

“Just so,” Éomer nodded curtly. His tone should really have warned her he was not in the mood for lengthy discussions, but she had always been insistent.

“Brother, what are you going to do now?”
There were some things a man simply did not want to discuss with his sister.

”Now that I’ve had dinner and a bath, a good night’s sleep sounds nice.”

Éowyn frowned and stepped closer.

“That’s not what I meant and you know it,” she said.

Éomer could feel irritation rising within him. What was the matter with all the women in his life? His sister did not seem to sense his mood and instead sat down uninvited on the other side of the bed.

“Are you just going to let Lothiriel go?” she asked, “I saw the look on your face when I told you the news, don’t deny that you care about her.”

“She is a free woman, she can go wherever she wants to,“ he replied, ignoring the last sentence, “It’s quite understandable that being ambushed by those Southrons made her eager to go home. Not everybody has your fearless disposition, sister.”

“I don’t know,“ Éowyn looked thoughtful, “I don’t deny she was shaken by the whole unfortunate episode, yet she was so brave that day.”

Éomer shook his head. Surely only his sister could call nearly being raped and killed an unfortunate episode. Her next sentence, however, surprised him.

“I blame myself.”

You blame yourself?” he asked, startled, “Why?”

“It was my idea to go swimming,“ Éowyn explained, “Had we stayed at home, none of this would have happened. Lothiriel looked so dispirited and haunted when she left, not at all like her usual self.”

She looked haunted? Éomer remembered the horrified look on her face the last time he had seen her and felt like kicking himself. He didn’t deserve her!

“ I am tired and I can’t think straight,” he said and it was nothing but the truth, “Let’s just leave it. Maybe she’s better off back home.”

“Maybe she is. She certainly couldn’t wait to be gone,“ Éowyn agreed with a sigh, “I should have listened to you and not have meddled in her life”.

She got up slowly and made to leave the room. Éomer saw the guilt in his sister’s eyes and found he couldn’t let her go thinking she was to blame for Lothiriel’s unhappiness. They had always been honest with each other.

“Éowyn…” he said hesitantly and she turned back to face him, “…it’s not your fault.”

She looked confused. “What do you mean?”

All of a sudden he had the overwhelming need to unburden himself and to seek her advice.

“I am the one who is to blame,“ he burst out, “I made a complete mess of everything. She will never want to see me again.”

“Come on! It can’t be that bad.” Éowyn was frowning at him now.

He looked down at the sword in his lap. “You said yourself she practically ran away.
I’m no better than those brigands who attacked you.”

“You flatter yourself brother, believe me,” Éowyn said dryly, “Come on, what did you do, ravish her?”

This was clearly meant as a joke and when he didn’t answer at once she stepped closer.

“Éomer?”

He gave her a disgruntled look. “It’s not funny.”

Éowyn looked at him with her mouth open.

“Brother? What did you do?”

“That day you were attacked by the Southrons, I happened on her in the stables in the evening and we had a talk,” he said slowly, “She was upset about having killed her first man.” He paused.

“That’s quite understandable,” Éowyn replied, “What about it?” She sounded impatient.

He squirmed. “Somehow we ended up kissing…”


One of the corners of her mouth twitched. “Again entirely understandable, I would say. Come on, brother, Lothiriel never struck me as being prudish. Surely a kiss is not such a terrible thing.”

He squirmed even more and refused to meet her eyes. “It went a little beyond that.”

“How much beyond?”

He had not really meant to go into so much detail, but conversations with his sister somehow never went the way he intended them to. Why hadn’t he let her leave the room when he had the chance?

“Éomer?” she asked sharply.

“I am an honourable man,“ he snapped, “I stopped before anything happened, but she was upset.”

“Upset?” she echoed in disbelief, “After what Lothiriel had just been through with those Southrons you could think of nothing better to do than …”

“I know!” he interrupted her, “I feel awful about it. But that’s not the worst.”

“It got worse? How could it get worse?” Éowyn sounded almost furious now. “Well, what is it?” she insisted when he didn’t answer at once.

He gave a sigh. “It’s what I said…”

“Well what did you say?” she was rapidly loosing her patience.

“I said oh no…” his voice trailed off.

“Oh no what?“ she looked confused now.

It looked like he would have to spell it out to her, painful though this was.

“I said ‘oh no’” He emphasized each word carefully, but Éowyn simply stared at him.

“Oh no? You kiss a beautiful woman and then you say ‘oh no’?”

He nodded in misery and suddenly she burst out laughing.

“Where is your finesse gone? You never had problems dealing with women before.”

Éomer groaned. “It’s not funny! Lothiriel is different. I can’t seem to do anything right where she is concerned. I was so horrified at my own behaviour it just slipped out.”

“Well, did you apologize at once?”

“I never got the chance. She just ran away.” Again he remembered the look in her eyes.

His sister was watching him thoughtfully. “I’m not surprised she ran away. I’m more surprised you let her.”

“It was late. I followed her into the house but I did not want to break down her door,” Éomer explained, “I thought I’d talk to her the next day, but we had to leave. I left her a jar of ointment.”

The moment the words left his mouth he knew how stupid they sounded. Éowyn was her usual merciless self.

“How very romantic! It tells her just what you think of her.”

“I knew at the time I should have broken that door down,” Éomer said half to himself.

Éowyn shook her head. “Maybe you should have. Well, brother of mine, as I see it, you’ve got three options open to you now.”

“I have? What are they?”

She numbered them on her fingers. “You can wither away in Meduseld from unrequited love,…”

Éomer groaned again. His sister’s tongue was still as sharp as her sword.

“…you can send her your head on a platter as an apology,…”

He had to laugh despite himself. “The princess might not appreciate that. I think she’s more squeamish than you,” he interjected.

“…or…”

“Or?” he asked.

“Grovel! Go to Dol Amroth and grovel at her feet!” He jumped at the vehemence in her voice.

“I can’t,” he objected, “what if she sends me packing? I’d look a complete fool.”

Thankfully Éowyn refrained from pointing out that he was a complete fool and just held her peace.

“I’ll write her a letter,” Éomer decided after an uncomfortable pause.

“A letter?” Éowyn rolled her eyes, “What will you write?”

“I’ll explain somehow and beg her forgiveness.” Even as he said it, he had to acknowledge to himself it would probably take him as long to write that letter as it would to ride to Dol Amroth.

She only shook her head. “You will have to go in person. Or are you afraid of a twenty-year-old slip of a girl?”

He decided to ignore that last jibe. “Maybe I should just forget about her, we might not suit anyway.”

He recalled the emotions he had felt when he held her in his arms on the way back from their battle with the Southrons.

I was so absolutely certain then.

His sister was watching him closely. “Is that truly how you feel?”

“Yes,” he answered, trying to persuade himself.

“You won’t mind then, if she marries someone else?” Éowyn asked blandly.

“Marry someone else? She wouldn’t!”

“I hate to tell you, brother, but her father expects her to choose a husband on her twenty-first birthday from amongst her suitors.”

“Lothiriel has suitors?” There was a sharp pain in his thumb and when he looked down, he realized he had just cut himself on his sword. Carefully he wiped the blood off the blade and put it aside. He would oil it later, when he was calmer.

His sister was watching him with a knowing expression on her face. “She has half a dozen suitors by her own words.”

He stood up and started to pace the room. “But she’s so young,” he exclaimed, “Surely she’s too young for marriage.”

Éowyn rolled her eyes again, but this time she seemed rather amused. “What exactly did you have in mind then?”

Éomer felt himself colouring and she shook her head. “The workings of the male mind never cease to amaze me.”

Marry her? He remembered the feeling of holding her in his arms, the softness of her skin and her intoxicating scent. In his mind’s eye he saw again the vision of her waiting for him outside the Hall of Meduseld. The thought of maybe not ever seeing her again was all but unbearable. Something must have shown in his face.

“You have to let her know how you feel,” Éowyn said in a gentler voice, “Stop comparing her to drowned rats and what was the other thing? A bag of something or other, wasn’t it?”

“A bag of grain…” he supplied.

She gave him a sharp look. “You look guilty – out with it!”

“I said worse than that when we argued in Minas Tirith,” he had to admit.

“Why am I not surprised?” his sister sighed, “What did you say?”

“I compared her to a falcon.”

“A falcon?” Éowyn frowned, “That’s not so bad. She’s not one of your spoilt court ladies to be offended by being compared to a falcon.”

“Actually, it was a falcon with sharp talons.”

“Éomer!”

“I know, it’s hopeless,” he agreed. He had stopped his pacing and looked out the window. The rain still hadn’t stopped and all of a sudden he wondered if she was in Minas Tirith or already on her way to Dol Amroth. Travelling in this weather was no fun.

“I seem to have got everything wrong in my dealings with Lothiriel,” he said dispiritedly, “and now she’s run away from me. Maybe I should just return home.”

His sister had come up behind him and now she laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Would you be happy there? Go to Dol Amroth and apologize to her is what I recommend you do. And control your suicidal impulses better in the future!”

He still wasn’t convinced and it must have shown in his face.

“Éomer,” his sister said reasonably, “When you kissed her, how did she react? Was it really repugnant to her?”

Casting his mind back to that night, he remembered how Lothiriel had clung to him at first, how she had responded to his kisses before he had ruined it all with his foolish words. True, he had been swept away by his passion, but there had not been anything indifferent in the way she had returned his kisses. Éomer came back with a start and saw his sister was watching him quizzically.

“No…” he said slowly, feeling the first glimmer of hope since he had heard his sister’s news.

“Trust your own feelings,” Éowyn advised him, “and as for myself, I’m off to bed now.”

Just before she closed the door behind her, she delivered a parting shot.

“One more thing: If I were you, I would practice comparing Lothiriel to a swan for a change!”

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Sisterly advice
Created
21 Jan 2006
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21 Jan 2006
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