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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 22: Swordplay

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XXI: Swordplay

It just wasn’t the same. Lothiriel winced at the rough gait of her gelding as they trotted along the road leading up to the castle and slowed it down to a walk. She had always been perfectly happy about riding the horses in her father’s stable and it was only since her return from Ithilien that she’d started to find fault with them. After being used to Nightwind’s beautiful manners and smooth gaits they all seemed a bit of a disappointment.

Idly she wondered if any of her suitors would agree to buy her a Rohirric warhorse. Maybe she should hint it would mean a straight path to her heart?

“You haven’t listened to a word I’ve said,” a voice said accusingly by her side and she looked over to see her brother Amrothos regarding her closely.

“I must be getting boring in my old age,” he sighed.

They had been for a ride along the sandy beaches north of Dol Amroth and on the way back he had started to tell her about a practical joke he and his friends had played on Elphir. Amrothos was an excellent storyteller and usually she would have listened with amusement, but today she had found her thoughts wandering.

Again.

“I’m sorry,” she said, “I was thinking about horses.”

Up to a certain point this was quite true.

They had reached the bottom of the cobbled road leading up to their father’s castle by now and had to slow down for the traffic. There was always a steady stream of carts bringing supplies and the going was slow even though people made way for them once they recognized the prince and princess. It was a hot day and the dust disturbed by so many hooves settled on them like a fine grey coating. Fortunately she would have enough time to clean up before dinner or her father would probably have a seizure on seeing her. She wondered if her suitors would even recognise her if they met her now.

“You’re looking serious, sister. You’re not growing up, are you?” Amrothos asked mockingly. This had always been a favourite joke between them with the answer being a resounding ‘no!’, but lately it had begun to pale on Lothiriel.

“You would be looking serious, too, if you had to make up your mind whom to marry,” she countered, not quite managing to hide the annoyance in her voice.

“Marry!” Amrothos shuddered delicately, “Fortunately father knows I’m not the right material for a husband or no doubt he would present me with half a dozen ravishing ladies to choose from.”

When his sister didn’t answer, he added brightly. “Why don’t you set your suitors a task?”

“A task?”

“Like in the old stories. Whoever fulfils the task gets the hand of the princess.”

Lothiriel stared at Amrothos. “And what exactly did you have in mind?” she enquired sarcastically, “freeing Umbar from the corsairs?”

“That’s not a bad idea, either,” he replied, “I was more thinking along the lines of killing a dragon and bringing back a necklace made from its teeth.”

Lothiriel shook her head. Her brother did have a core of common sense beneath his flippancy and jokes, but it was so well hidden that many people did not even know it existed. It tended to emerge only in times of crisis, as when Imrahil had left Amrothos in charge of Dol Amroth during the war.

She only refrained from uttering a sharp retort because she knew that he had gone out of his way to be kind to her during the last week. In fact both of her next elder brothers had, and Lothiriel wondered if it had anything to do with the talk she’d had with her father that night. Amrothos had accompanied her for rides on several occasions and Erchirion had taken her sailing on their boat.

She had been startled and then rather touched when her middle brother, usually so quiet and reserved, had taken her hand in his and had assured her she would always be able to count on him. “No matter who troubles you,” he had added significantly. Threatening her husband with her brother’s ire might not be the ideal way to ensure marital harmony, but it was still nice to have the best swordsman in Dol Amroth up her sleeve.

The sound of their horses’ hooves striking the cobbles echoed hollowly as they passed the outer gate and entered the short tunnel leading into the bailey. The guards at the inner gate leading into the keep gave them no more than a cursory glance. They were well used by now to seeing the younger offspring of their prince in less than pristine condition.

The inner courtyard boasted a small fountain and several ancient oak trees providing welcome shade and Lothiriel took a deep breath of cool air as they turned left towards the stables. She was really looking forward to that bath now.

With a sigh of relief she dismounted and then searched her pockets for a tidbit for her horse. While it was no Nightwind it had still carried her faithfully and deserved a treat. Amrothos had already disappeared into the stables and after a moment she followed him.

“Have a look at this!” she heard him call out to her as she entered through the door, leading her gelding behind her. Lothiriel blinked her eyes to adjust them to the sudden dimness after the bright sunshine outside and found her brother looking with admiration into one of the boxes kept for the mounts of visitors.

“Isn’t he magnificent?” Amrothos asked.

Lothiriel took one look at the big bay stallion looking her way with a pleased nicker and turned tail. She just dropped her horse’s reins and ran as fast as she could.

“Lothiriel?” she heard her brother shout behind her, but by then she had already crossed the courtyard and hurled herself through the gate leading into the main keep. Her only thought was to find the safety of her room to get a chance to compose herself.

Running around another corner she nearly collided with a man and only managed to avoid him at the last moment. She felt her boots slipping on the smooth stone floor and would have fallen then if he had not caught her with an instinctive motion.

“Watch out!” he exclaimed as she fell against his side and grabbed her.

Lothiriel froze. She would have known him anywhere, even in the pitch dark, even after a hundred years had gone by. The feeling of his hands on her, his hard warrior’s body against hers, the sound of his voice sent a sudden wave of joy and exhilaration through her.

She looked up to meet the King of Rohan’s startled gaze. His eyes narrowed as he took in the expression on her face.

“Lothiriel? What’s the matter? Did something frighten you?”

There was the sound of running feet and she found herself unceremoniously pushed behind him.

“Stay there, I’ll handle this,” he ordered her curtly and drew his sword just as Amrothos turned around the corner. Her brother took one glance at the situation and drew his own sword in one fluid motion.

“Lothiriel!” he shouted and engaged his enemy in a furious attack. It was a brave if foolhardy thing to do and the next moment his sword went flying.

Lothiriel’s mind started working again. “Stop it!” she exclaimed, “This is my brother!”

Éomer halted his sword inches away from Amrothos’ throat.

“Your brother?” he asked in surprise as Amrothos went completely still.

“Yes, this is my brother Amrothos.”

“The one who tried to drown you as a child?” Éomer asked suspiciously, not moving his blade, “What has he done this time?”

“Nothing! Please don’t hurt him,” Lothiriel pleaded, “I was just in a rush.”

“In a rush?” Amrothos asked in disbelief as the King of Rohan slowly lowered his sword, “Lothiriel who is this? And why did you look like a ghost when you saw that horse?”

“This is Éomer, King of Rohan,” Lothiriel explained and her heart sank as Éomer turned towards Amrothos.

“What horse?” he asked commandingly.

Amrothos looked nonplussed. “The King of Rohan?” He gave a bow, “What horse? That beautiful bay stallion,” he answered in confusion.

“Firefoot? You ran from Firefoot?” Éomer sounded hurt. “Are you afraid of me?”

Lothiriel didn’t know what to say and hesitated. She was just not ready to face him. Then it hit her. I have done it again! Like a complete coward she had once more run away from him.

Éomer was still staring at her and then suddenly handed her his sword hilt first.

“Take this if you don’t trust me,” he ordered her and thrust the weapon into her hands, “I need to talk to you.”

Reflexively Lothiriel grabbed the sword, even though it was very nearly too heavy for her to wield.

Amrothos had been watching them with bewilderment and now he exclaimed, “You must be joking! What would my sister do with a sword?”

Lothiriel swung round and both men hastily jumped a step back. “You sound like Elphir,” she snapped, “I can handle myself and I’ll be fine with the King of Rohan.”

“But Lothiriel…” Amrothos protested weakly just as Éomer cut in.

“You heard what she said. Off with you.”

“Please, brother,” Lothiriel added more quietly.

Amrothos looked from one of them to the other and then a sudden grin of enlightenment spread across his face.

“Is this your dragon slayer?” he asked and when Lothiriel just groaned he gave her a wink and turned to return to the stables.

Silence descended as his steps receded in the distance. Lothiriel turned to face Éomer again.

He has come! her treacherous heart sang.

Lothiriel scowled at him and lifted the sword. It felt heavy and cold in her hands and she doubted whether she would be able to inflict any damage with it. Nevertheless she kept it.

Éomer was watching her quizzically. “Dragon slayer?” he asked.

“Never mind,” Lothiriel retorted, “What is it you want?”

“I want to talk to you,” he answered, “but do you think we could go somewhere a bit more private where we won’t be interrupted by any more of your brothers?”

Lothiriel hesitated for a moment, but then decided she might as well have it out with him.

“Very well,” she replied ungraciously, “that way!” She motioned down one of the side corridors with her sword.

***


Éomer preceded her down the hallway, his head still reeling from the events of the last minutes. He had meant to approach her slowly, maybe prepare the way with handing Nightwind over and then ask for a hearing. Instead his instincts had taken over when he saw the frightened look in her eyes and he had nearly ended up killing her brother.

The revelation that she was frightened of him had been like a slap in the face. At the same time his body was tingling with the nearness of her and he was tempted to simply take the sword away and take her in his arms again. The need to touch her was nearly overwhelming.

Watch your suicidal impulses, he recalled his sister’s advice and resolved not to let his feelings run away with him this time.

A door at the end of the corridor opened onto a small enclosed courtyard with a well in the middle. After the comparative cool of the castle with its stone walls the trapped heat hit him like a wall. On the opposite side there was a small shed with a row of rakes and hoes leaning against it.

“This leads into the kitchen garden,” Lothiriel explained, nodding towards a door next to the shed, “nobody comes here at this time of the day.”

He noted that she was careful to maintain a considerable distance between them and did not lower her weapon. The light was bright and he saw she was covered in a thin film of dust and sweat from her ride. She looks simply wonderful.

“Well?” she challenged him, “So why did you come to Dol Amroth?”

Éomer found that the carefully crafted speech he had prepared during the long ride from Minas Tirith had fled his mind altogether.

Grovel! he reminded himself.

“I came to apologize for what I said and did that night,” he said, “I’m sorry I kissed you.”

She was watching him unblinkingly. “You’re sorry?”

“I never meant to,” he explained, “Please forgive me.”

“Never meant to?” she asked in a colourless voice.

“Absolutely not,” he assured her, “It just happened. I’m so very sorry.”

“Very well,” she said with quiet dignity, “I accept your apology.”

Surely it could not be so easy. He tried to make her understand the depth of his remorse.

“Truly, I’m sorry. I don’t know what got over me when I touched you.”

“You’ve made yourself perfectly clear,” Lothiriel said and there was the first hint of temper in her voice, “You never meant to kiss me and now you’re sorry.”

Why was she angry? Was now the right moment to compare her to a swan? Somehow he always ended up saying the wrong thing.

“That’s not what I meant,” he floundered.

“Well what did you mean?” Lothiriel asked crossly.

Éomer tried to explain. “It’s just that when I embraced you and you put your arms around me I couldn’t help myself.”

She was plainly furious now. “Are you saying it’s my fault?”

“No!” he exclaimed, but he could feel his own temper beginning to stir. How many more times would he have to say he was sorry?

Grovel! he reminded himself again.

“I apologize for my words,” he said in his most reasonable tone, “but I have to say you should not wander round at night like that.”

Her eyes were flashing dangerously. “You have no right to tell me what to do and what not to do,” she hissed, stabbing the sword in his direction, “I can do whatever I want to. It was entirely your fault!”

Éomer took a deep breath. He would not loose his temper with the Princess of Dol Amroth again. And it had been his fault.

Grovel!

“Very well,” he agreed, “I didn’t mean to make you run away like that. Again, I’m sorry I kissed you in that manner.”

Lothiriel stomped her feet. “I didn’t run,” she said through clenched teeth, “and if you apologize one more time for kissing me I will slap you!” She made a sound much like an enraged kitten.

Éomer stared at her and all of a sudden decided to ditch his sister’s advice. It had been a silly idea as well to give her Gúthwinë.

“Hand me that sword!” he ordered her and she obeyed meekly.

Éomer sheathed his sword.

“Now listen,” he said firmly, “I lied earlier on. I did mean to kiss you that night and I’m not sorry for it. In fact I enjoyed it and what is more I intend to do so again.”

Her eyes widened. She threw back her hair and lifted her chin in challenge.

“Really my Lord King?”

Éomer nodded and took a step closer. “I do indeed, My Lady Princess. So if you intend to run, now is your last chance.”

“A Princess of Dol Amroth never runs.” Her smile lit up her eyes.

“No?” he asked and bent down to kiss her. It was so easy in the end and so gloriously right, the way she fitted into his arms as if she’d always belonged there, the way she put her arms around him as if she’d done so a thousand times before. Éomer felt that he had found something he had been searching for all his life and hadn’t even known he was lacking.

This time he was prepared for the rush of passion and did not let himself be carried away. Even so he was feeling light-headed and their breathing was ragged by the time they broke off. The pupils of her eyes were dilated and she was swaying slightly on her feet, but the look she gave him was direct and filled with joy.

“Éomer,” she whispered and leant against his chest, “You came.”

He stroked her hair and took a deep breath of her wonderful scent. He did not want to ever let her go again.

“Of course I did,” he replied, “there was no way I could have stayed away.” And he suddenly realized this was the absolute truth. It might have taken a little longer without his sister’s prodding, but he would have had to come in the end.

Then he took her chin is his hand and lifted up her face to his.

“One more thing, though. Once we are married, if I ever catch you in the stables half naked with another man I’ll do something exceedingly unpleasant to him.”

“What did you say?” she looked stunned and he had to suppress his laughter.

“I said I’d do something unpleasant.”

“No!” she sounded annoyed, “Before that of course!”

“I said once we’re married?” It was not really a question.

“Are we going to be?” Lothiriel cast down her eyes demurely, “Haven’t you forgotten to ask me?”

“Princess Lothiriel,” Éomer said with the laughter clearly audible in his voice, “If you think you can kiss me like that and then not marry me, I’ll have to have words with your father about your upbringing.”

“Kiss you like what exactly?” She tilted up her face invitingly.

He was quite happy to demonstrate again. Somehow it got better every time.

“Now listen Lothiriel,” he said when they surfaced for air again, “I have one more thing to say sorry for and then I’m done with apologizing.”

“What’s that then?” She was looking slightly dazed.

He grinned. “I refuse to compare you to a swan. I just can’t do it.”

Lothiriel was surprised into laughter. “I hate being compared to a swan, anyway. The last man to do so ended up drowned.”

“Lucky for me I didn’t make the same mistake then.” It looked like his sister was not infallible after all.

Éomer took her face between his hands and lovingly traced the line of her cheekbones with his fingers. Her skin was slightly flushed and incredibly soft.

“You’ve led me a merry chase!”

Lothiriel hung her head. “I’m sorry I ran away. I thought you’d despise me.”

“Despise you!” he exclaimed, “Why should I possibly despise you?”

“I was certain you’d think I wanted to trap you into marriage.” She sounded embarrassed.

Trap me into marriage? Éomer shook his head.

“Lothiriel, you’re such a complete innocent,” he said, “only you could think of such an absurd idea!”

“You sounded so disgusted that night…” She looked upset at the memory and he drew her closer into the circle of his arms.

“Poor sweet,” he said, “did you think I was disgusted with you?”

Lothiriel nodded in silent misery.

“I was angry with myself,” he explained, “that’s why I said those words.”

He saw the unshed tears in her eyes and cursed himself for a brute.

“I never meant to cause you any pain. I wish you had slapped me!”

That made her smile again. “I’ll keep that in mind for the next time you annoy me,” she threatened.

“You do,” he agreed, “and in the meantime you may trap me into marriage any time you want to. I did not come all this way just to fetch my cloak back, you know.”

“Your cloak!” Lothiriel looked decidedly guilty.

“My cloak.” he agreed with mock severity, “First you ruin my best shirt and then you steal my cloak. Your only saving grace is the fact that you left me Nightwind as an excuse to come to Dol Amroth. At least that’s the reason I gave you father.”

Lothiriel’s eyes had lit up. “Nightwind!” she exclaimed, “is she here?” She looked very much as if she wanted to go and see her mare straight away. Éomer felt laughter bubbling up inside him.

“Now just a minute, dear heart,” he said and made no move to let her go, “I have to warn you, I’m not taking second place to a horse.”

She laughed out loud and settled back into his arms. “No? Very well, as long as I won’t have to either.”

“There is no danger of that,” he replied, “I don’t have the least wish to kiss Firefoot. You, on the other hand…”

He did not think he would ever be able to get enough of her. Her lips were so soft and inviting and the way she pressed her body against his made him want to slide his hands inside her shirt and experience the feel of her silken skin again. Éomer was not such a fool as to make that particular mistake twice, though.

“You’re so wondrous fair,” he whispered and slowly traced one finger down her back.

Lothiriel blushed. “Fair? I don’t know. You always seem to catch me when I’m either half drowned, red eyed from crying or just plain dirty such as now.”

Éomer chuckled. “Believe me, you are eminently kissable even then”

She grinned up at him and cocked her head to one side. “So if you didn’t come for your cloak,” she said slowly, “and you didn’t come to bring back my mare, what did you come for then?”

“I came because a certain impudent Princess of Dol Amroth stole my heart,” he replied and gave her another kiss. It was starting to turn into a habit and not one he would ever want to break.

“Do you want your heart back now?” she asked.

“Not really,” he said, “I would much rather she gave me hers instead.”

“She can’t I’m afraid,” Lothiriel said, “It has long gone to a certain imperious and overbearing King of Rohan.”

Éomer knew he had just been handed a great strength and a great weakness. He had someone to fight for now and there was absolutely nothing that could possibly stop him from claiming her. At the same time fear would accompany him from now on for the rest of his life whenever he wasn’t with her, the fear that something could happen to her.

I will keep her safe. She is mine, only mine he thought and held her close. It was a strangely primitive and possessive feeling, yet it felt so utterly right.

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Chapter name
Swordplay
Created
03 Feb 2006
Last Edited
03 Feb 2006
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