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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 27: Meetings

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XXVI: Meetings

Bliss! It was pure, utter, undiluted bliss!

Lothiriel sank deeper into the hot water, her hair floating all around her. She was aching in places she had not even known existed before she had spent five continuous days on horseback. Unlike her Rohirric escort that seemed to be able to do almost anything on a horse, including sleeping, she was not used to so much riding. Still, it could have been worse. At least she was still able to mount and dismount on her own! Her daily rides back in Dol Amroth had paid off after all and she faced the rest of their journey without too much dread.

This hot bath was very welcome, though. It had been a pleasant surprise to find a camp all ready and waiting for them when they had arrived earlier on today. While there was talk of building way stations all along the Great West Road, talk was all it was at the moment and they had slept in tents since leaving Minas Tirith.

Lothiriel leaned back in the tub and let her gaze travel over her surroundings. While this was a tent, too, it was much bigger than their own and made of thick canvas. All along the top a row of running horses was embroidered on it. The floor was covered with old carpets and a hanging divided the space into two compartments, one for bathing and one for sleeping. She did not know or care how they had got this big wooden tub here, but she was very, very grateful for it. In fact she did not ever want to get out again.

She closed her eyes and let the warm water soothe her aches and pains. At least they had not had to ride from Dol Amroth to Minas Tirith, or she would be in much worse shape now. Instead the horses had been sent ahead and they had taken a boat along the coast and then up the Anduin, a much more civilized way of travel. Their honour guard from Rohan had been waiting for them already and after a couple of days’ pause they had set out again, their party augmented by the King and Queen of Gondor and their men.

A small smile played around Lothiriel’s lips when she remembered her time in Minas Tirith. The first night a feast had been held in her honour and she had been much puzzled by the many hostile glances cast her way by the ladies of the court. It was not until Queen Arwen had explained that many of them had hoped to marry the King of Rohan themselves that she had understood why. Well, Lothiriel could be haughty, too, and had taken her revenge by acting like the gracious and condescending Princess of Dol Amroth they all expected her to be.

She had the suspicion that King Elessar had been royally amused by it all. At all events, he had chosen to ride by her side the next day when they left his city. Lothiriel was rather in awe of their king, but much to her surprise had found that he was very easy talking to. In many ways he reminded her of Éomer, the easygoing way he had with his men but also the hidden power lurking just beneath the surface. She suspected he had the same startling ability of going from apparent relaxation into deadly action in a single instant.

Aragorn, as he had asked her to call him, had told her about his time serving with the Rohirrim and had sympathized with her difficulties in learning their language. Before she knew it, she had told him rather more than she had intended to about her first meeting with Éomer and he had laughed uproariously when she had confessed how she had sneaked into his garden. “I think you’ll be well matched,” had been his comment.

During the following days the beacons had passed by, their names sounding like promises: Amon Dîn, Eilenach, Nardol, Erelas, Min-Rimmon, Calenhad and finally Halifirien. And so here they were on the borders of Rohan. Tomorrow she would enter her new country and be welcomed by her husband-to-be.

Lothiriel could feel her stomach turning into knots. It was silly to be feeling so nervous about meeting Éomer again, but she knew everybody’s eyes would be on them and wondered what he would do and say. The last few weeks had seemed to simply race by and it had been with a distinct pang that she had said goodbye to Dol Amroth and everything she knew.

Am I really ready to become Queen of Rohan?

Well, it was too late now to change her mind, had been the night she had accepted his suit, and if she was honest with herself, had really been the moment she had first allowed him to kiss her.

I want to marry him, she chided herself, so why am I feeling so apprehensive? It was probably just the proverbial pre-wedding nerves. At least she hoped so.

With a sigh she dipped her head back and started to wash her hair. At least she would not arrive in her new country looking like a scarecrow. Else what would her new people think of her? And actually more important to her, what would her new lord think?

It was quite warm in the tent, but even so the water was cooling noticeably and with some regret she finally decided to get out. Wrapping a towel around her and another one around her hair she stepped out of the tub and started to dry herself off. Her Gondorian maid could not ride to save her life and had had no wish to live amongst barbarians, so Lothiriel was without a maid at the moment. She planned to get a new one in Rohan, but until then she would just have to manage on her own. At least Arwen had offered to share hers during the journey, for which she was grateful.

Now, though, she just slipped on one of her linen shifts and wrapped her new cloak around herself. This gift had been waiting for her in Minas Tirith, a heavy winter cloak of a deep green colour, lined with fur. She had been grateful for it on their journey, for although Rohan was not much further north than Gondor, it was already December and the wind could blow quite strongly. The falcons embroidered all along the hem had not escaped her notice, either.

She traced their stylised forms with a small smile playing on her lips and wondered idly where he was at this moment. Was he perhaps thinking of her, even as she was thinking of him? Had he missed her the past few months or had he been simply too busy? What were his thoughts on meeting her again?

She was hoping they would get an opportunity tomorrow to talk privately with each other, but wasn’t sanguine about it. Elphir had made it very clear he had every intention of seeing to it that she behaved herself as befitted a Princess of Dol Amroth from now on. Much to her annoyance he had insisted on accompanying them on this journey, even though Melian had not been able to come, and in the end Erchirion had agreed to stay behind in Dol Amroth and look after things there. At least Amrothos was along as well and could perhaps be entreated upon to distract Elphir so she could slip off with Éomer for a few moments…

Lothiriel sighed again and moved the hanging dividing the tent aside. The furnishings were sparse, only a narrow cot, a low table standing next to it and a single chair. In the middle of the room was a three-legged brazier giving off welcome heat and she moved the chair closer to it and sat down in it so as to dry her hair.

There was a scratching sound at the entrance to the tent and she pulled her cloak closer around her and called “Enter”, expecting it to be a servant bringing her dinner.


***


The sentries had been alert and had challenged them at once, Éomer noted with approval. He had no intention of attempting to enter the camp unnoticed, that would have been utter folly with his best men sent to escort his future queen from Minas Tirith and Aragorn’s Royal Guard along as well. He did know the password, though, and what was more important knew the exact layout of the camp. Leaving Firefoot in the charge of the few riders he had brought with him, he moved unerringly among the tents towards a particular one.

Having reached it, he hesitated for a moment, wondering if its occupant had gone to bed already. There was no sound from within, but then he expected none, and there was just the faintest trace of light escaping from underneath the heavy canvas. Would she even be pleased to see him or had the many months of waiting cooled her feelings for him? Suddenly feeling nervous he gave a slight scratch at the entrance flap and waited with baited breath for an answer.

Her voice calling for him to enter sent a jolt of pure pleasure through him and it was with a slightly shaking hand that he pulled the tent flap aside and ducked inside. Lothiriel was sitting in a chair, half facing the entrance and looked up at him with complete surprise written all over her features. Their eyes met for a long moment and then the chair went flying and the next instant he held her in his arms with no recollection of how she had got there.

He had had every intention of kissing her eventually, of course, but had meant to start with a gentle and cautious kiss so as not to startle her. After all they had not seen each other for five months and she might feel shy with him at first. All these good intentions went out the window the moment he felt Lothiriel’s soft body pressing against him and when with a glad sob she whispered his name he could not restrain himself anymore.

Her lips parted willingly under his own and for a seeming eternity he just lost himself completely in the intoxicating feeling of running his hands over her slender form, exploring those half-forgotten but entirely delightful curves. Her skin was soft and warm under his calloused fingers, her hair was still slightly damp from her bath and she smelt deliciously of the soap she had used. He had forgotten the way she was just the right size to fit into his arms, neither too tall nor too small, and how simply touching her sent a fire racing through his entire body.

Lothiriel gave an involuntary moan when he slid her cloak off her shoulders and ran his hand down her back, tracing the graceful curve of her spine with a touch as light as a feather. Then Éomer bent to kiss the little hollow at base of her throat and she clutched at him convulsively and whispered his name.

That finally brought him to his senses, that and the sudden realization that she wore very little indeed under that heavy cloak of hers. He froze and drew back despite her inarticulate protests.

Taking Lothiriel by the shoulders he forced her to look at him and with some regret saw awareness of her surroundings return to her. With a start she noticed the dishevelled state of her shift and colour flooded her cheeks. His bride-to-be did not lack courage, though. Looking him straight in the eye she said challengingly. “If you say ‘oh no’, I will slap you!”

Éomer could feel his shoulders beginning to shake and saw his mirth mirrored in her eyes.

“I would not dare,” he said and bent to pick up her discarded cloak, “you had better put this back on, though, or I will not be responsible for my actions.”

The dignified way she wrapped it round her was only spoilt by the mischievous look she shot him. “As you please,” she said meekly.

Éomer felt a sense of well-being flood through him and had the distinct impression he had a silly smile plastered all over his face. “I’ve missed you so much,” he whispered.

She leant her head against his chest. “I’ve missed you, too.”

He put his arms around her and just enjoyed the extraordinary feeling of holding her against him. It was so utterly right, he had been a fool to entertain any doubts. Of course this was the place where she belonged and they both knew it.

Lothiriel pushed her hands against him and looked up. “What exactly are you doing here anyway?” she asked, “and how did you get past those sentries? You have no business to take me unawares like that!” There was sudden wrath in her voice and he had to fight hard not to laugh outright.

“Do you greet all men who enter your tent like that then?” he teased her.

Lothiriel ground her teeth. “My lord King! I’m warning you. We are not in Rohan yet and I can still change my mind.”

This was as empty a threat as any he had ever heard. “I thought Princesses of Dol Amroth don’t run?”

When he saw her ball her hands into fists he took her in his arms again. “I could not stay away, dear heart, knowing you so close,” Éomer said simply and she relaxed into his embrace.

“So you haven’t changed your mind and found somebody better suited to being Queen of Rohan?” she asked him, her voice muffled against his chest.

“Certainly not,” he replied, “everything’s ready for you.“ Lothiriel gave a contented sigh and he tilted up her face and kissed her as he had first intended to, lightly and teasingly.

“And you, any regrets?” He wondered if she could hear the faint anxiety in his voice, for she gave him a long considering look.

“No,” was all she said, however, and he gripped her tighter.

Suddenly there was the sound of steps outside the tent and a voice called Lothiriel’s name, causing both of them to freeze where they stood.

Lothiriel licked her lips. “Is that you, Elphir?” she asked.

“Who else?” her brother answered in a disgruntled tone, “Father sent me to bring your dinner. Can you lift the flap to the tent please?”

She shot Éomer a panicked look. “What shall I say?” she whispered.

Éomer shrugged. The truth was, he did not really care if he was caught in her tent. There was nothing that officious brother of hers could do to stop him. It was his guards outside, they were on the borders of the Mark and he had no intention of letting his lady slip through his fingers now.

Elphir must have heard something. “Whom are you talking to?” he asked suspiciously.

“Nobody,” Lothiriel called out, “…I was just practising my Rohirric.”

Then inspiration struck her. “Leave my dinner outside the tent, you can’t come in,” she said firmly, “I’ve just had a bath, I’m not decent.”

Éomer could not help himself, he ran one finger slowly along the line of her jaw and down the side of her neck, causing her to shiver involuntarily.

“What a shame I did not come earlier,” he whispered in her ear.

The indignant look she shot him promised revenge.

“Oh, all right,” Elphir said grumpily, “you had better hurry up, though, or it will go cold.”

His steps receded and Lothiriel breathed a sigh of relief. “You…” she said threateningly, pointing one finger at his chest and words seemed to fail her.

Éomer grinned. “It’s not my fault that you’re simply irresistible.” She had the most delightful way of blushing at his compliments.

“Well, at least make yourself useful and get that food,” she ordered him and went to pick up the chair that had gone flying earlier on.

He sat on her bed while she ate her stew and bread, content to simply drink in the sight of her. She offered him some of her bread, but he wasn’t hungry, at least not for food. Something must have shown in his eyes, for she blushed again slowly, but he had the feeling she was not completely displeased.

Some things were worth waiting for.

***


The fog was so thick the next morning, all Lothiriel could see were a few yards of the road in front of her and the trees on either side with their bare branches covered in hoarfrost. The Rohirrim had sent out scouts and packed up camp with their usual efficiency and they were on the road early. From past experience she knew the fog would lift by midmorning, but until then she would be glad for her warm cloak, for the air was chill and clammy. Beneath her, Nightwind was fidgeting impatiently and she wondered if the mare could tell she was going home or if it was simply her own excitement transferring itself.

“Well, Lothiriel, how are you feeling?” It was her father who had ridden up next to her.

She considered her answer carefully, for he looked serious. “A little bit nervous, I suppose.”

“Are you sure you do not regret your decision, daughter? It’s not too late to change your mind.”

Lothiriel stared at her father. “Not too late? I have given my word and we are on the very borders of Rohan!”

In fact they were in the middle of the Firien Forest and would reach Mering stream, which divided the realm of Gondor from Rohan in another few minutes.

“Even so,” her father insisted.

Lothiriel tried to picture the scene of her father informing the King of Rohan that she would not marry him after all. After last night she somehow did not think Éomer would back down meekly, on the contrary, she had the feeling she might find herself thrown over Firefoot’s back soon after on her way to Edoras. That was quite a pleasant picture, actually.

Belatedly she became aware of her father watching her closely, still waiting for an answer, and was glad for the hood of her cloak hiding her betraying blush. That man once more showed his bad influence.

“I’m perfectly happy to marry Éomer,” she assured her father. In fact his visit the night before had dispelled her doubts like the sun would soon disperse the mist.

When Prince Imrahil was still looking doubtful, she added, “Please don’t worry, father. A bath and a good night’s sleep really worked wonders. I’m now looking forward to seeing Rohan.”

…and Rohan’s king.

“It was very thoughtful of him to have that camp ready and waiting for us,” her father conceded.

“Actually, that was Éowyn’s idea,” Lothiriel answered and then bit her lip. That piece of information she owed to last night’s visitor.

“You think so?”

“I’m pretty sure,” she improvised, “after all it’s not something a man would think of, is it?”

“No, I suppose not,” her father agreed.

Ahead of them the trees were slowly thinning out and she could hear the first faint sounds of running water, muffled though this was by the fog.

Aragorn had come up on her other side. “Mering stream,” he said and she could feel her pulse speeding up.

It was not a very deep river this time of the year, in fact the water hardly even covered their horses’ fetlocks, but it was quite wide. By the time they had reached the middle of the ford the trees on either side were lost in the mist and they seemed to be entirely alone in a world quiet except for the low murmur of the stream and the sound of their horses’ hooves striking the pebbles.

Suddenly the riders of Rohan loomed out of the mist, their grey horses moving as silently as ghosts. Lothiriel’s heart gave a funny little jump when she spotted Éomer on his big bay stallion at their front. He was tall and regal, his golden hair streaming down his back and when his blue eyes sought hers Lothiriel suddenly felt shy. Once she crossed this river she would be in his kingdom, where he held absolute sway.

Having reached them, he graciously inclined his head to the King and Queen of Gondor and welcomed them into his realm. Then he greeted Imrahil and her brothers with fair words, as was proper.

By the time he directed Firefoot over towards her, Lothiriel had regained her composure and was able to graciously extend her hand for a kiss. Éomer took her gloved hand in his own and with his other hand pushed back the hood of her cloak, trailing across her hair as if by chance. The slow smile he gave her was more intimate than a kiss, meant only for her.

“Well met, Princess Lothiriel, and welcome to the Mark…”

His eyes were dancing with devilment as he added, “…It’s been a long time since last we spoke.”

For a moment she was simply speechless. How dare he tease her like that! And then Lothiriel suddenly became aware that her whole Rohirric escort wore a knowing smile. She once again cursed her fair complexion as she could feel a slow blush spreading across her face. When she spotted Éothain amongst Éomer’s riders he gave her a wink and even Aragorn was starting to look suspicious.

“Thank you for your kind welcome, my lord King,” she answered with quiet dignity.

Her training as a princess stood her in good stead, for she did not even blink. She did wonder, though, if there was anybody left who did not know where the King of Rohan had been last night, apart from her father and brothers.

I will make you pay for this! She thought at him and saw the smile in his eyes deepen.

Prince Imrahil and his eldest son were watching approvingly as Éomer turned his horse and decorously accompanied her to the other side. After the unseemly scene at the announcement of their betrothal Elphir had probably feared the worst, but then what could even the King of Rohan do in the middle of a river? What indeed…

As if he could read her mind Éomer leant over.

“I’m sorry, but I could not resist that,” he grinned, entirely too sure of her forgiveness.

The mist was starting to lift now and the sun could be seen as a pale disc over the trees. Above them blue sky peeked through the cloud cover and the wind picked up, tangling her hair that she had chosen to wear loose today.

Éomer ran a hand over her dark tresses. “I love it when you wear it like this.”

“I know,” she acknowledged and lowered her eyes before the sudden heat in his gaze.

They had reached the other side of the stream now and as Nightwind scrambled up the bank of the river it came to Lothiriel that she had finally entered Rohan.

It’s called the Riddermark, she reminded herself.

Of course the grass looked no different from the Gondorian side, yet when she stole a quick glance at her companion he seemed subtly changed to her. This was his home and would be hers from now on.

Éomer put his hands on her reins to stop her, letting his fingers rest lightly atop her own. When he looked down at her Lothiriel forgot about his riders and her father’s Swan Knights, it was just the two of them, completely alone, and nobody else existed in the whole world.

“Dear heart,” he said, looking serious, “You will be happy here, I promise,”

One summer many years ago Lothiriel and her brothers had practiced jumping off the cliffs of Dol Amroth into the sea. Their father had eventually stopped this when being told about it by Elphir, but she had never forgotten the breathless sensation of standing on the edge looking down and then the sudden wild exhilaration of the dive.

With sudden and utter certainty she knew that here was where she belonged and that she was more than ready to take the plunge. The King of Rohan was well known for always keeping his promises. Lothiriel smiled radiantly and saw her smile mirrored in his eyes.

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Meetings
Created
07 Mar 2006
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07 Mar 2006
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