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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 28: Homecoming

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XXVII: Homecoming

Lothiriel reached out a hand hesitantly and touched the snow, her face full of childlike wonder. Éomer had to hide a smile.

“It won’t disappear if you touch it,” he said and she jumped, so engrossed had she been.

“Éomer, it’s snow!” she said as if unable to believe it.

“So I see,” he replied, amused at the awe in her voice.

When they had reached his old home Aldburg the night before the sky had still been clear, but he had thought they might be in for a change in the weather. Well, he had been proven right, for it had snowed all night and now there was over a foot of it on the ground.

“Have you never seen any before?” he asked Lothiriel when she was still poking it cautiously with one finger.

“Only twice in my life, and never so much,” she replied, “the last time was eight years ago and it was all gone by midday.”

“Well, you’ll see it more often from now on,” Éomer said, “down here in the plains we might get snow a couple of times each winter, but it usually melts after a few days. Up in the mountains it stays all winter and is quite deep.”

She looked at him with big eyes. “Deeper than this?”

Éomer had to laugh. “As deep as a man in some places or even more. Towards spring one has to look out for avalanches.”

“As deep as a man…” She shook her head in amazement.

During the past days the weather had turned unusually cold and it had occurred to Éomer more than once that it might not be the best idea to introduce Lothiriel to his country in the middle of the winter. Whenever he had seen her wrap herself up tighter in her cloak he had felt guilty for forcing her to travel at this time of the year. She had never uttered a word of complaint, though, and now it seemed that the winter even had its compensations.

He had the impression that on waking Lothiriel had thrown on any clothes that had come to hand and had rushed right out once she had spotted the snow. Her hair was still loose and not yet braided up for the journey and as usual he had to squash the desire to run his fingers through it.

Tomorrow is midwinter - the shortest day of the year…and the longest night.

She picked up a tiny handful now and pressed it together experimentally. “Is this how you make snowballs?” she asked.

He took her by the hand and led her out further into the yard in front of the house.

“This is how you make a proper snowball,” he explained, sweeping together a big pile of snow and forming it into a ball.

“Now all we need is someone to throw it at,” Éomer winked at her and then shouted loudly, “Amrothos!”

After a few more shouts her brother came onto the porch to look for the disturbance and stopped in his tracks when he saw all the snow. He made a perfect target.

Lothiriel doubled over with laughter when she saw his face after getting the snowball straight on his chest. Amrothos was quick to react, however, and with a loud shout jumped down to take revenge. This attracted the attention of the other men inside and soon everybody was in the yard scooping up snow and taking sides. At first Lothiriel had ducked behind Éomer, but afterwards he lost sight of her among the throng.

After a quick glance outside Prince Imrahil had retired to the safety of the house again, but Elphir remained on the stairs, looking on in apparent disapproval. Before long, a massive snowball came sailing over the heads of the other men, aimed straight at him, and Lothiriel’s eldest brother indignantly sought shelter inside the house. Éomer rather suspected Amrothos and applauded him silently, but it might equally well have been his sister Éowyn, who had come to Aldburg to meet them and had already managed to clash with Lothiriel’s brother.

A wild free-for-all developed with riders of the Mark, Swan Knights and the Gondorian guards all taking part equally. After a while Éomer had to stop and lean on his knees, he was laughing so hard. It was then he got a snowball right on the back of his head and when he turned round, saw a dark green cloak disappear round the corner of one of the houses.

Grinning widely he quickly gave chase, but when he turned round the corner he stopped in confusion. The snow stretched before him unmarked by any footprints.

Where has she gone?

There was the sound of stifled laughter and when he whirled round he spotted Lothiriel up on a stack of logs piled against the side of the house. The roof nearly came down to the ground here and she reached out a hand to gather snow from the side of it.

Taking a step forward he had nearly reached her when a sudden sound alerted him and he looked up. He had forgotten that the thatched roofs of the Rohirrim were built at the exact angle to let snow slide off them effortlessly. The little bit she had cleared at the edge sufficed to trigger a small avalanche and before he knew it, the whole lot came down on him until he was completely buried in it.

“Éomer? Are you all right?” Lothiriel was peering at him anxiously as he wiped snow off his face and shook it from his hair and clothes.

The look he gave her must have threatened retaliation for she hastily scrambled a few steps backwards.

“Éomer?”

Wordlessly he started to pile up snow into a huge ball, hefted it and advanced towards her.

“Éomer? You wouldn’t do that to your bride, would you…” She took another step backward and bumped against the wall of the house.

She looked up at him pleadingly, not alarmed at all really, her green eyes dancing with familiar mischief, and he could feel his resolve weakening.

“Do you yield?” he demanded.

Lothiriel shot him a glance through her long lashes and a tiny smile quivered at the corner of her mouth. “I yield,” she nodded and leant back against the wooden wall.

He let the snow fall to the ground and put his hands on either side of her, effectively cornering her.

“You owe me a forfeit now, my Lady,” he pointed out. This was the first time since sneaking into her tent that he had the chance to talk to her on her own. Although talking was not exactly what was upmost in his mind at the moment.

“I do,” she agreed and pulled him down towards her, wrapping her arms around his neck. Her cheeks were red from the cold and her eyes were shining with delight as she tilted up her face invitingly.

She is quite irresistible. Tomorrow…

It took him a moment to realize she was beckoning to someone behind his back. Her eyes flickered behind him; that was all the warning he got.

It was not enough.

A hand lifted the collar of his shirt and a large amount of ice-cold snow went down his back. Éomer let go of Lothiriel with a curse and whirled round. He should have known! His sister jumped back quickly and then doubled over with laughter while Lothiriel behind him was laughing so hard she nearly collapsed to the ground.

So his womenfolk were ganging up on him already. When was the last time somebody had been able to creep up on him unnoticed? The woman would be his undoing yet…

Sighing with resignation he started to shake the snow out of his tunic, at least what had not melted already. He would need a completely new change of clothes before they set out for Edoras.

“Shall we go back to the house now?” he asked when the two women had recovered from their hilarity.

Then he turned to whisper to Lothiriel. “Remember, you still owe me a forfeit. I will claim it tonight.”

Éomer rather enjoyed the sudden uncertainty in his bride’s eyes.

***


Their departure delayed by nearly everybody having to change into dry clothes, they did not set off until midmorning. Fortunately it was an easy day’s ride from Aldburg to Edoras and they made good time. Their party had grown into a considerable cavalcade by now and had been increased by Marshall Elfhelm and his family joining them as well.

Ever since they had entered the Mark the road had been lined with people coming to have a look at their new queen. The Rohirrim had welcomed the news of their king getting married with enthusiasm. To them it was a sign of life going back to normal after the terrible ravages of the war and it meant the continuation of the House of Eorl. Being hardy, they weren’t put off by the cold weather and brought small gifts, even if it was only branches of holly or evergreen or small presents of food.

Éomer watched Lothiriel riding ahead of him, accompanied by his sister who acted as a translator whenever the princess reached the limits of her vocabulary. He had to admit he was impressed by how much of their language she had learnt already. She seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, enquiring about the names of everything in sight and all the mountains lining their path. Only this morning she had asked him the word for snow and had been relieved to hear there was only one for it. And why should there be more than that?

“Your future queen shows great enthusiasm for her new country.”

Éomer looked over at his friend Aragorn, who was riding beside him this morning.

“She does, doesn’t she,” he replied, “I just hope she won’t grow tired of it, after all it’s rather different from what she’s used to.”

Aragorn watched the princess thoughtfully.

“I don’t think so,” he said after a moment, “in fact Lothiriel reminds me of a falcon who can feel the wind under her wings for the first time.”

When Éomer shot him a surprised look he added, “I don’t think the life as the pampered wife of one of my coastal lords would have suited her.”

The King of Rohan had to grin at this picture. “She would have been bored to death within a month of getting married.”

“Exactly,” Aragorn nodded, “whereas she will have her hands full here for many years to come, but I believe she will thrive on it.”

The first was certainly true. While the worst damages done by the armies of Saruman had been repaired there was still a lot of work to be done. What troubled Éomer most were the many orphans and widows left behind by the riders killed in the war. He had made a few tentative plans how to better their lot, but he’d need help to realize them, preferably her help.

Éomer watched two young girls ride up on a grey warhorse, probably the steed of their dead father. They exchanged a few words with Lothiriel and their faces glowed with pleasure when she accepted a handful of nuts from them with the same grave courtesy she would have accorded an elven prince bringing gifts of mithril and gold.

Aragorn had been watching, too. “In looks she reminds me of your grandmother, yet she’s very different in character.”

Éomer had never met the redoubtable Morwen of Lossarnach, having been born after she returned to Gondor following her husband’s death, but he suddenly perceived that his friend would have done so while serving under King Thengel.

“How is that?” he asked, intrigued.

“They have the same dark haired beauty, but Morwen always seemed proud and cold to me. She stayed in Rohan out of duty to her lord, but she didn’t even bother to learn the language, at least not more than to give orders to the servants.”

“That’s entirely unlike Lothiriel,” Éomer replied, “my bard Forthred has told me if it only took willpower to learn a language she would speak it completely fluently by now.”

Aragorn laughed. “That tallies with my own observations. I think your people will open up to her, whereas Morwen was respected, but not loved. They called her Steelsheen.”

“Well, Lothiriel certainly isn’t cold,” Éomer remarked absentmindedly and then coloured slightly.

His friend cast him an amused glance. “No? It seems to me she has the same quick temper as you.”

“It’s what makes life interesting.” Éomer winked.

“I have the feeling your life will be very interesting from now on, my friend,” Aragorn laughed, “from what I’ve heard, the challenge will probably be how to keep her out of mischief.”

“I know,” Éomer acknowledged with a grin, “Meduseld will never be the same again!”

***


When the sun sank towards the west, they stopped for a short break to rest the horses before pressing on for Edoras. There was a small hamlet with a few farmhouses and Éomer stepped up to Lothiriel just as she gratefully accepted a mug of hot tea from one of the farmers’ wives. He had noticed with some concern that she looked cold and was shivering slightly.

“Nearly there now,” he tried to cheer her up.

“That sounds nice.” she gave him a gallant smile and his heart went out to her. Once again he cursed himself a brute for making her travel in this inclement weather.

Éomer stared down at her for a moment. “You will ride the rest of the way with me,” he decided and called his squire over to hand him Nightwind’s reins.

Before she had a chance to say anything he had lifted her onto Firefoot’s back and swung up behind her, wrapping his cloak around both of them. After a moment she leant back against him with a grateful sigh.

“What do you think you are doing with my sister?” an angry voice exclaimed.

Éomer frowned. I might have known. That interfering fool of a brother had been dodging his steps ever since entering the Riddermark. He turned his horse to face Elphir, firmly resisting the temptation to simply ride his future brother-in-law down.

“Your sister will ride with me for the rest of the journey. It’s traditional for the queen-to-be to enter Edoras riding with her husband.”

Before Elphir had the chance to raise any further objections he gave the signal to mount again and ignoring him rode out of the village.

Lothiriel chuckled. “That’s a nice tradition.”

“It isn’t, actually.”

“What?” she asked, offended.

“I meant it’s not a tradition,” Éomer smiled, “I invented it for Elphir’s sake.”

“You know,” Lothiriel remarked with a yawn, “I’m getting rather tired of my eldest brother.”

Not as much as I am, he thought to himself and wrapped her up more tightly in his cloak. Elphir had been watching them all the time and had insisted on posting two Swan Knights in front of her tent at night as if suspecting him of the basest motives.

Not much longer now…

Tomorrow was midwinter, their wedding day. He had waited more or less patiently for five months now and a few more days should really have been easy. Instead the last four days had seemed to drag on interminably with the tantalizing awareness of having her so near, yet not being able to touch her. One of her graceful gestures, a glimpse of her black hair or the simple sound of her laughter was enough to send a jolt of desire right through him.

He put an arm around her waist under the cover of the cloak and felt her relax against him. When he looked down a little later she had closed her eyes and seemed to have slipped into a light doze. This was the second time she had fallen asleep in his arms, the first being on the ride back from the ambush by the Southrons. The third time would be tomorrow, Éomer thought tenderly. Even wrapped up in all her warm winter clothing he still found her incredibly desirable and the open enthusiasm with which she had thrown herself into her new life warmed his heart. Lothiriel just did not know how to do things by halves. This was a rare gift.

They were close to the foot of the mountains and ahead of them he could see the line of willows bordering the River Snowbourn. The road turned to the south now and after a while the lonely outcropping of rock on which Edoras was built came into sight. The last rays of the setting sun chose this moment to pierce the thick cloud cover that had stayed unbroken all day and cast a golden light over the whole snow covered landscape.

“Lothiriel?” he said softly and she woke from her doze.

“Are we there yet?” she yawned and sat up straighter.

“Nearly.”

As he watched her observe her new home he wondered what she made of it. He had returned this way so many times before, often half dead with exhaustion or even wounded, and the sight of Edoras had always been so welcome.

Next time she will be waiting for me and it will be even more welcome.

Most of the houses were built at the bottom of the hill just inside the shelter of the thick stone wall or along the winding road that led up to the top of the hill. Their thatched roofs were covered in snow and thin trails of smoke escaped from the chimneys. He noted that between the wall and the river the colourful tents of the traditional Yule Fair had already been set up, a lot of them this year due to the good harvest.

High above all this stood the Great Hall of Meduseld, its roof glowing in the sunshine as if it were indeed made of pure gold. As they watched, a sudden gust of wind unfurled the great banner hanging above the doors showing the white horse on a green field. His home – and soon hers.

He tried to look at it as if seeing it for the first time, as a stranger would. While Meduseld was not as grand as Aragorn’s palace in Minas Tirith or as elegantly appointed as the castle of Dol Amroth, it was beautiful to his eyes and very dear.

“Do you like it?” he asked and could not quite keep the anxiety out of his voice.

“It’s beautiful,” she replied with a sudden smile, “to be honest, as long as there is a tub of hot water to be found somewhere in Edoras I have no complaints.”

He laughed. “I think we can manage to do that. Are you still cold?”

She settled herself more comfortably against him and looked up teasingly.

“No, you’ve warmed me up nicely.”

“My pleasure, my Lady” he replied gravely. She must be feeling better if she was exchanging banter with him again.

They had reached the Barrowfield now, the mounds today being white not from simbelmynë, but rather covered in snow. Here lay his forebears from Eorl to Théoden and she nodded as he named them to her.

“Where is Théodred buried?” she asked when he had pointed them all out.

“Théodred’s grave guards the Fords of the Isen,” Éomer was silent for a moment, “I will take you there one day.”

“I would like that.” She put her hand on his and gave it a quick squeeze.

Éomer realized with some surprise that his piercing grief at his cousin’s untimely death had faded over time to a dull ache. While he would always miss Théodred, he could now look to the future again. They would take whatever time and happiness the Valar granted them, he thought, and not squander it.

Word of their arrival had spread and now the inhabitants of Edoras were coming to have a look at their new queen. First to pour out the gates were the children who were shrieking in delight as they were running their way. Their elders were more dignified, but equally sincere in their greetings.

Éomer nodded to them and every now and again exchanged a few words with those he knew well, while Lothiriel just smiled shyly, slightly overwhelmed by their welcome.

As they rode through the great gates held open by his guards he gave a relieved sigh.

“Home at last,” he whispered in her ear.






***


Many thanks to Rohannion for giving me the idea of the snowball fight!

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Chapter name
Homecoming
Created
13 Mar 2006
Last Edited
13 Mar 2006
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