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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 25: The seventh suitor

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XXIV: The seventh suitor

Belecthor watched them exchange a look. It wasn’t a smile or words, let alone a touch. No, it was just a look, no more than a glance really. It was enough, though. He knew he might as well pack his bags and leave Dol Amroth at once, for he had as much chance of winning the princess’s hand as of sailing across the sea to the undying lands.

Earlier on he had seen them arrive back from their trip to the town and had noticed with disquiet how that man had helped her down from her horse. His hands had lingered on her waist for a moment as if he had every right to do so and he had said something that had made her laugh and blush rosily. Belecthor had quickly ducked back inside the stables, but he had the suspicion they would not have noticed him anyway, they were so oblivious to everything going on around them.

So this was the King of Rohan. He had heard of him of course - who hadn’t - but he had never realized how intimidating the man was. When Prince Imrahil had announced at the evening meal that he had accepted him as a suitor to his daughter’s hand King Éomer’s glance had raked across the other men sitting at the table of honour. In a single instant Belecthor had felt all his weaknesses assessed with pitiless thoroughness and had lowered his eyes in confusion.

Maybe it was time to return home. His mother’s health was uncertain and he had been away a long time. Suddenly he broke into a cold sweat when he remembered the kiss he had given the princess. He had felt uneasy at the time, but now his heart plummeted. If this man ever finds out…

***


Amrothos died spectacularly. First his knees buckled and he doubled over, pressing his hand to his stomach, then he fell onto his side. Spotting them, he tried to crawl towards them, but collapsed at their feet. After a last gasping plea for help he finally lay still, his arms thrown wide.

The crowd applauded enthusiastically. After a moment Amrothos cocked an eye open and got up to bow to the spectators who cheered wildly. Tarlang watched him with his mouth open. The princess’s brother seemed to take his defeat by a barbarian very calmly.

“That’s the third time he has died today,” a cheerful voice said by his side and Tarlang turned to see the princess give him a guileless smile.

It had been her idea to come and watch her brothers train with the Rohirrim, but they were not the only ones. A whole crowd had gathered to watch the spectacular bouts. The riders of Rohan had a fearsome reputation as warriors, of course, but Tarlang had never realized before just how well earned it was.

After having defeated Amrothos their king was now facing off with Prince Erchirion and the crowd hushed expectantly. Tarlang was not a particularly good swordsman himself, but even he could see these two were in a league of their own. He knew they pulled the blows they rained on each other, but he would not have lasted for a single minute. Attack followed parry with lightning swiftness as the two somehow seemed to anticipate each other’s moves. The fight moved over towards their side, the King of Rohan driving his opponent before him with a series of powerful strokes. Then it was suddenly over, as right in front of them King Éomer somehow managed to slide his blade under Erchirion’s guard.

The prince lowered his own sword and gave a lopsided grin. “I’m not as good at dying as Amrothos, so I’ll just concede defeat.”

The crowd again clapped enthusiastically and the King of Rohan gave a bow. His cold eyes behind the two slits of his helmet roamed across the spectators.

“So who wants to die next?” he called out loudly.

For some reason his glance lingered on Tarlang, who all of a sudden had a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. He was not stupid, he could take a hint.

***


The first arrow hit the target dead centre and so did the second and the third. Pelendur watched in growing irritation. How had she done that? She had been incredibly lucky with her shooting all morning and now this. The princess was sitting on that big brute of a horse, giving him a challenging smile.

Pelendur had very definite ideas of what he expected from his wife to be. She should be graceful and charming, admire his wit and be an adornment to his household. The Princess of Dol Amroth had seemed to fulfil all these requirements admirably, but now he was no longer quite so sure. True, the kiss he’d been allowed had been a very pleasant surprise and had made him eager for more, much more, but he did not like his womenfolk to challenge him.

While he had to admit she looked rather alluring in her unconventional attire of closefitting leggings and shirt, her choice of mount was completely unsuitable. What did Prince Imrahil think to allow her to ride a Rohirric warhorse? Pelendur did not fancy having to rescue her when it ran away with her, which it would no doubt do.

He moved his own horse into a slow canter now and drew his bow. The first arrow went completely wide and he cursed inwardly. He was letting himself be rattled by a woman! The next two arrows at least hit the target, but nowhere near the centre.

Princess Lothiriel was watching critically. “Not bad for a beginner,” she commented and before he had recovered from his shock at being described in this manner, urged her own horse into a canter again. With the same fluid grace and the same deadly accuracy as before she loosened three arrows in quick succession. The Rohirrim who had gathered on one side to watch the shooting cheered her and she gave a friendly wave. She seemed to be on excellent terms with that rabble, knowing all their names and exchanging jokes with them.

At that moment Pelendur resolved to pay a prolonged visit to his estates. While the Princess of Dol Amroth was a considerable prize to be won, some things just weren’t worth the trouble.

No, he did not like his womenfolk to challenge him and even less did he like them to best him at something.

***


Egalmoth missed a step and stumbled.

“Are you all right?” the princess asked solicitously. He nodded weakly and apologized for his clumsiness. These Gondorian court dances were so complicated, any lack of concentration automatically resulted in a misstep. But how was he supposed to concentrate when he’d had the King of Rohan glower at him all evening, ever since he had complimented the princess on her gown?

Egalmoth’s problem was that he had seen the man fight at the battle of the Pelennor Fields. He had been on the ships sailing up the Anduin, had in fact been standing next to King Elessar, when they had seen Éomer raise his sword and laugh at them in defiance! His own king had laughed in delight and had ordered his standard unfurled with its white tree and the seven stars. The man was mad of course, but it was a bright and blazing madness that had called to something within Egalmoth.

The question was only if a man who had laughed in the face of death like that could be relied on to adhere to the niceties of Gondorian court etiquette, specifically that it was bad manners to punch another man in the face, just because they happened to woo the same woman.

The princess gave him a bright smile. “It’s nice to see a man who enjoys dancing,” she said, “I was disappointed when King Éomer told me he did not like to dance.”

“He doesn’t?”

“He does not consider it a manly pursuit,” she explained, “although I have to say I don’t see why you can’t be able to kill a man and still like to dance.”

He stared at her. So far they had mostly talked about her father’s court or he had described his home in Linhir. In fact he had done most of the talking as was really only fitting, him being a man of so vastly more experience. These opinions were entirely new to him.

“You do?” was all he managed to say in reply.

She nodded. “Well just look at me…”

“At you?” he asked.

“I killed the leader of those Southron bandits who attacked us in Ithilien, but that does not mean I can’t still enjoy dancing.”

Egalmoth was left speechless. He had always admired her delicate looks and slender figure. The kiss she had given him that evening in the garden had been like the touch of a butterfly.

Perhaps the Princess of Dol Amroth was a suitable match for the King of Rohan after all…

***


“Of course they probably wear special armour or they would be cooked, wouldn’t they.”

“Cooked?” Hallas squeaked, then repeated in a more normal tone, “They would be cooked?”

“Why yes,” Amrothos nodded, “it is said a dragon’s fire can burn a man to cinders before he even has the time to lift his sword.”

Hallas gulped and tried to imagine facing a dragon. He failed utterly. “And he has slain one?”

“I’ve been told so,” Amrothos replied, “It’s the kind of thing barbarians do, isn’t it?”

“You think so?” he asked.

“Why yes. They are impulsive and act before they think.”

“They do?” Hallas felt uneasy.

“Look at those poor Southrons who tried to attack Lothiriel,” Amrothos pointed out, “I have heard it reported that he slew the whole lot single-handedly.”

Hallas felt extremely uneasy now.

“I hope my sister gets a dragon’s tooth,” his friend went on blithely, “I’d like to see one.”

“Why should Princess Lothiriel get a dragon’s tooth?” he asked.

“Apparently it’s a traditional courting gift,” Amrothos explained, “although I don’t quite see what she’ll do with a tooth the size of a man, but maybe there are smaller ones as well.”

The size of a man? That did it. Hallas felt a pang, for the princess was beautiful and he was half in love with her, but he was really too young to marry.

And definitely too young to die.

***


Artamir watched the princess lead her horse into the stables. She was humming to herself, but stopped abruptly when she spotted them. Beside him Elphir stiffened.

“Lothiriel!” he exclaimed, “Where have you been? We’ve been looking for you all morning.”

Now she looked decidedly guilty. “I’ve been sailing,” she explained.

Artamir frowned. He had seen the King of Rohan ride in only a moment ago and wondered where he had been. Apparently Elphir had the same thought.

“Did you take King Éomer with you?” he demanded to know.

She lifted her chin. “So what if I did?”

“It’s not behaviour suitable to a princess and I won’t have it,” Elphir exclaimed.

Artamir could only agree. He knew only too well that women were foolish creatures and easily led. Why, he had caught his own sister mooning over the King of Rohan! He had of course done the proper thing and sent her home at once.

Lothiriel gave them a furious look. “Don’t tell me what to do or not to do, brother. I’m perfectly safe with Éomer.”

Éomer? She calls him by his first name?

“I am your eldest brother,” Elphir said through clenched teeth, “I demand respect.”

“You will have to earn it then,” she replied coolly and moved past them to stable her horse.

The princess definitely needed a firm hand to instruct her as regarded her proper place in life, Artamir thought. That was after all a husband’s duty: to look after those in his care, but also to chastise them if necessary. Daughter of his liege lord or not, when she was finally his own he would quickly curb such unseemly behaviour.

“Is there a problem?” a threatening voice said behind them and he jumped.

Elphir took a step backwards. “I was just pointing out to my sister that it is not really a very good idea to go sailing all on your own.”

“Why not?” the King of Rohan asked. He had not moved at all, yet he looked decidedly menacing.

“It’s not really behaviour appropriate to a Princess of Dol Amroth,” Elphir stammered.

King Éomer gave him a hard look. “It might not be appropriate to a Princess of Dol Amroth, but it is appropriate to a Queen of the Riddermark.”

Artamir suddenly thought of a cousin of his, a nice biddable girl he had considered taking to wife before he had met Princess Lothiriel. Maybe it was time to pay her a visit?

***


Once again Lothiriel was standing on the castle wall looking out over the harbour of Dol Amroth. The sun had just set and the sky was still ablaze with colour. There would be no moon tonight, but already the first stars were twinkling in the east.

She felt elated and sad at the same time. This morning the last of her suitors had ridden off, but so would Éomer tomorrow. The feast tonight was in his honour, before he had to return home.

There were soft steps on the gravel path and she turned round. It was him! He looked serious as he ascended the steps to the walkway along the wall and she felt her heart sink. She knew he had been to see Prince Imrahil again and had hoped her father would relent and let them announce their betrothal early.

“What did my father say?” she asked anxiously.

He looked down at her gravely and then suddenly his face split into a huge grin. “He said yes!”

Lothiriel took a deep breath. “Éomer!” she growled, but then she could contain herself no longer and flew into his arms.

He lifted her up and whirled her round, laughing out loud in delight. “He did indeed, dear heart.”

Carefully he set her on her feet again, but did not release her. “Now that all your suitors are gone you will just have to settle for me.”

She grinned up at him. “I will have to bow to the inevitable. What made father change his mind?”

He shrugged. “I’m not quite sure, but I believe he was disappointed none of them stood up to me. How could they protect his daughter if they did not even manage to do that?”

“So we may announce our hand fasting tonight?”

Éomer nodded. “And we’ve settled the date for the wedding.”

Lothiriel frowned. “Shouldn’t I have a say in it as well?”

He gave her an intense look, which made her blush. “I assumed you would like it as soon as possible, the same as me?”

Lothiriel lowered her eyes. “Yes,” she admitted. What had happened to her maidenly modesty? She had the distinct impression he knew only too well what a bad influence he was on her.

He bent to kiss her softly and for a while that was all she could think of. Some things had not changed. She wondered if she would ever get over this breathless feeling and then wondered if she wanted to.

“So what date have you settled on?” she asked him.

“Midwinter.”

“So soon?” Lothiriel was very much surprised.

“Soon?” he cocked an eyebrow at her, “Five months would not be considered ‘soon’ in the Mark!”

She smiled. “Well for Gondor it’s not a very long betrothal period. What did you say to my father to make him agree to that?”

“Nothing improper...” he grinned at her.

“Improper?” She frowned at him in puzzlement and then coloured furiously when it dawned on her what he meant.

“Éomer!” she protested.

He laughed. “I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist that. You blush so adoringly.”

Lothiriel gave him her fiercest frown. “Just remember you told me I could slap you the next time you annoy me. So what did you say?”

“In the Mark it’s considered a good day to get married because the sun returns and the days get longer after,” he explained.

As it happened, this was the truth, but not all of it. What he should have done of course was to tell her what he had really said to her father and she would probably have laughed. Éomer had not yet learnt that these things always come out in the end.

“Your father loves you,” he said gently, “and he does not want to stand in your way to happiness. I think the way we disposed of those suitors convinced him we are serious.”

“Well I’m glad all that hard work paid off,” Lothiriel grinned, “I never would have thought we’d get rid of them that quickly, not after what I did.” She stopped abruptly and could not help lowering her eyes guiltily.

He gave her a mystified look. “What did you do?”

“Nothing…”

He put one hand under her chin and forced her to meet his eyes.

“Lothiriel, has nobody ever told you that you are a rotten liar? Come on, out with it, it can’t be all that bad!”

“I kissed them,” she confessed. What would he think of her?

She went on in a rush. “It was before you came to Dol Amroth! I just wanted to find out if it was the same as being kissed by you!”

There was sudden laughter in his eyes. “And - was it?”

Wordlessly she shook her head.

“Well, that’s nice to know,” he said gravely but his eyes were dancing with suppressed mirth, “however, I would appreciate it if you could from now on confine your experimenting to me.”

“I think I can manage to do that,” Lothiriel conceded graciously, “even if I will have to wait for a while.”

He looked at her as if to store her sight away in his memory for the days to come. “It’s going to be a long five months,” he said.

She nodded in silent misery. “You know, if this were a story I would disguise myself as one of your riders tomorrow.”

Éomer chuckled. “You couldn’t, not in broad daylight.”

She wrinkled her forehead. “I suppose I’d have to find a way to dye my hair blond.”

He laughed out loud. “Do you think that would make any difference?” He let his hands rest lightly on her waist. “Let me tell you, none of my riders have these delightful curves or these enticing lips.”

As if to prove it, he took her in his arms again. This time there was a hint of desperation in his kiss, as if he wanted to remember how she felt and tasted in the long months to come. Lothiriel clung to him and buried her hands in his hair, for this was probably her last opportunity to have him for her own. When he’d take his leave tomorrow she would have to be the Princess of Dol Amroth.

Time had gone so quickly. In her mind she knew it would only be for a few months and that it was not as if he was going off to war. She would see him again very soon and then they would be wedded. Her mind knew all that, her heart knew only one thing: he was leaving.

***


The Great Hall hushed expectantly when Prince Imrahil rose after the evening meal had been cleared away. He stepped up to the dais at one end and motioned for his family and Éomer to join him. Lothiriel nervously smoothed her hands over the silk of her dress and went to stand at her father’s side.

It was silly to be feeling so nervous. After all this was what she wanted, wasn’t it? She stole a glance at Éomer who was standing at her father’s other side, facing the hall. He was looking very handsome in a simple dark blue tunic, edged with golden embroidery, but his face had a stern and slightly aloof expression.

I am binding myself to this man for the rest of my life, she thought, once I give my consent there is no honourable way out anymore. All her father’s objections chose that moment to crowd into her mind. What if she hated life in Rohan and longed for her family all the time? It was a big step into the unknown and she had met this man little more than a month ago.

As if feeling her eyes on him the King of Rohan looked over and then suddenly winked at her. The smile he gave her transformed his face and Lothiriel could feel her spirits lifting again. Relief swept through her. She was doing the right thing!

Tonight she had chosen to wear the midnight blue dress Prince Imrahil had given her for her last birthday and her father smiled at her warmly in appreciation.

“You look lovely tonight, daughter,” he said, “Are you absolutely sure of this?”

She nodded firmly and what he read in her face seemed to convince him, for after giving her a last searching look he turned to face the hall.

“Dear guests,” Prince Imrahil said in a carrying voice, “It is with great pleasure that I announce that Éomer, King of Rohan, has asked for my daughter’s hand in marriage and that she has granted his request.”

There was polite applause by the Gondorians and loud cheering from the table where the Rohirrim sat. She did not quite catch anything they shouted at Éomer, but maybe that was all for the best to judge by the grin he quickly had to hide. Behind her Amrothos and Erchirion clapped enthusiastically while Elphir just looked resigned.

Imrahil waited patiently for the cheering to die down again and then took their hands in his and joined them together. Her hands trembled slightly and Éomer gave them a gentle reassuring squeeze. It was now traditional for the betrothed couple to exchange a kiss and for a fleeting moment Lothiriel wondered if Éomer knew of this custom. Apparently he did, for he placed a light decorous kiss on her lips, as was proper. It was so faint as to be almost impersonal and not what she was used to by now. She could see the acknowledgment of that in the glint in his eyes as he did so. Lothiriel could feel herself starting to blush and cursed her fair skin. How dare he look at her in that fashion in front of all these people!

When the guest applauded again he said loudly. “And this is how we seal a betrothal in the Riddermark.”

There was that look in his eyes again.

“Éomer!” Lothiriel whispered threateningly and then her eyes widened as he bent down towards her. He isn’t going to…? He is!

The kiss he gave her wasn’t the chaste peck on the cheek permissible in public to a betrothed couple in Gondor. In fact it went far beyond that. She could feel her legs starting to turn to jelly and was glad he held her so tightly. Behind her Elphir made an outraged noise.

That decided her. It would be undignified to struggle and after all she did not want to flaunt the customs of her new people, did she? So she wound her arms around his neck and when he finally broke off he looked down at her with an approving twinkle in his eyes.

There was dead silence in the hall, then everybody started talking at once and avoided their eyes.

“If this was the Mark I would carry you off here and now,” Éomer whispered in her ears, still holding her tightly.

Her cheeks were aflame when she turned to face her father, but she met his eyes defiantly. Prince Imrahil had a bemused expression on his face, as if he’d just discovered something new and surprising about his daughter. Beside him Elphir was beet-red in the face and looked stunned while Erchirion and Amrothos both gave the King of Rohan a look of awe.

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Chapter name
The seventh suitor
Created
23 Feb 2006
Last Edited
23 Feb 2006
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