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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 30: Will you ride with me?

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XXIX: Will you ride with me?

When Éowyn entered the room of her brother, he was standing by the window. It was facing south and the morning sun, made even brighter by all the snow outside, dazzled her eyes. Éomer turned round and greeted her with a smile.

“Have you come to get me, sister? Is it time already?”

“Very nearly,” she replied, “I just wanted to make sure you are ready.”

“Believe me, I am.”

Éowyn looked him over critically and had to admit he did her proud today. His tunic was of a deep green colour, adorned with intricate embroideries, just as was fitting for the King of the Riddermark and his blond hair gleamed like spun gold against it. No wonder the ladies of Minas Tirith were heartbroken at having this good-looking and valiant king getting married.

He had watched her observe him with a small smile.

“Do I pass your inspection?” he asked her.

“With flying colours,” she nodded, “after all we don’t want the bride to change her mind, do we?”

“No we don’t.” He did not sound in the least anxious.

Éowyn knew that in the last five months he had worried about something going wrong at the last moment, although he had hidden it well, even from her. She could sympathize with this sentiment, for she had felt the same on marrying Faramir. After all their past grief and misfortune it had not seemed possible that they would both finally gain some happiness. This morning though, Éomer appeared perfectly at ease.

She fleetingly wondered if now was a good moment to ask him what exactly he had been doing when she had encountered him last night on her way to the Yule Fair, but decided against it in the end. She had suddenly remembered where that particular alleyway led to - the street where Éothain’s house stood. The way her brother had watched his bride yesterday had not escaped her notice and she had thought it high time they were married. She had the distinct impression the bride’s father was starting to share this opinion, too.

“I took Prince Imrahil down to the Fair last night,” she remarked, observing her brother closely.

A guarded expression crossed his face. “I know. Did you enjoy yourself?”

“Yes, it was nice.” She stepped up to the window and slanted a sideways look at him, “And did you have a pleasant evening as well?”

His face betrayed nothing, but that was in itself an admission. “Thank you, I did.”

“I wonder if Lothiriel enjoyed her evening, too?”

“I wouldn’t know,“ he replied with the blandest of smiles, “You will have to ask her that yourself.”

Éowyn traced the window frame with her fingers. “As a matter of fact, I have.”

His glance sharpened. “You’ve been to see her?”

She nodded. “Earlier on this morning. I went to make sure everything would go smoothly.”

Actually she had gone to assuage any last minute wedding nerves, but that errand had been completely in vain. Lothiriel had looked calm and confident as she ate a hearty breakfast and had assured her friend that she was ready. Éowyn had left with the impression that she herself was more worried than the bride that everything would go according to plan.

Éomer had been watching her. “And what did she say?”

“She said she’d gone to bed early and slept like a babe.”

“Well there you go.”

There was a distinct smile in his eyes, a smile Éowyn knew of old. Her curiosity satisfied, she changed the subject.

“Did you know that Gimli and Legolas arrived late last night?”

“Did I know?” He rolled his eyes, “They got me out of bed just when I’d fallen asleep and insisted I share a tankard of beer with them!”

“They did?” She knew there was not much those two would stop at.

“Still, it could have been worse.”

“How?” she asked.

He seemed inordinately amused about something. “They could have arrived a day late.”

Éowyn stared at him and then started laughing.

“It might be a good idea to bolt your door tonight,” she joked, “Shall we go then?”

Éomer hesitated a moment. “One more thing, sister,” he took her hands in his, “I wanted to thank you. Not just for coming all the way from Ithilien to help organize the wedding, but also for your good advice in the past.”

She waved his thanks aside. “That’s what sisters and brothers are here for, to help each other. You would have done the same for me.”

“I would have,” he grinned, “but you didn’t need my help to make up your mind about Faramir.”

She suddenly grinned back. “You might not thank me in a month’s time.”

Éomer looked puzzled. “Why a month’s time?”

“Didn’t you tell me in Emyn Arnen Lothiriel would drive you crazy inside a month and that you would go down in the annals of the Mark as Éomer wife-slayer?”

He looked very much taken aback.

“I did, didn’t I?” he said with a chagrined smile, “you had better not tell her about that! At the moment I’d be more likely to go crazy if I had to wait any longer until I get to marry her.”

“Poor brother,” Éowyn said with false sympathy, “having to wait five months for your bride. I had to wait eight months and that was considered scandalously short by some!”

“That wasn’t my fault,” he pointed out, “I can’t help it if these Gondorian wedding customs are so complicated.”

“Well I’m mystified how you got Imrahil to agree to such a brief engagement period, but I don’t begrudge you your good luck.”

He gave her a hug. “I know.”

Éowyn hugged him back. “Well, let’s go then.”

Surely Éomer deserves some happiness and a family of his own, she thought.

***


Aragorn was waiting outside the Golden Hall for them. It was traditional for the bridegroom to be accompanied by his two witnesses when he went to fetch the bride and since Éomer had no living male relative left he had asked the King of Gondor to stand in a brother’s place. The two men embraced briefly and Aragorn clapped him on the back before they started down the stairs.

“Ready, my friend?”

Éomer just nodded.

Also waiting for them, but much more impatiently, was Firefoot. His coat had been groomed until it was literally gleaming in the morning sun and he seemed to know he had an important role to play today, for he was dancing in place nervously outside the royal stables.

As Éowyn watched Beda trying to calm the stallion down she was thinking to herself that if Éomer’s squire was any indication, Lothiriel would be creating considerable havoc amongst the young men of Edoras. Quite without intending to either, for she seemed completely oblivious to the admiration her exotic looks excited. As for Éomer, he was well aware of it, but just looked on with amusement, his mere presence making sure nobody would dare to overstep the line.

He had taken Firefoot’s reins in his hands and his touch and soft words calmed the fractious horse down.

“Come on, my friend, we don’t want to be late,” he said and the stallion’s ears pricked forward as if he did indeed understand his words. Well, Éowyn had always considered him an eminently sensible animal, often more sensible than his master.

They started down the paved road, a road she had trodden so often that she knew every step of the way. All along the route the houses had been garlanded with fir branches wrapped in colourful ribbons and the inhabitants of Edoras lined the way wishing their king good fortune on this day.

Éowyn remembered the watchful and discouraged faces during the last years of her uncle’s reign and the quiet grief and desperation immediately after the war when only Gondor’s generous aid had saved them from a winter of starvation. The difference was marked and she felt proud of these hardy and resilient people who once again looked forward to the future with determined confidence.

Leading his horse behind him, her brother set a fast pace, although he refrained from taking any shortcuts through back alleys. Very soon they approached Éothain’s house where a considerable crowd had gathered already. As tradition demanded, on Éomer’s third knock the heavy doors swung open and they were allowed into the small courtyard fronting the main house.

On the steps Prince Imrahil and his sons waited for them, their faces impassive, along with Queen Arwen, Éothain and his wife. The crowd went quiet when Éomer came to a halt in front of them.

The Princess of Dol Amroth wasn’t there.

In the sudden silence Éowyn could hear a dog barking in a backyard somewhere and a child grizzling that was hushed quickly. Éomer scanned the faces of the people waiting for him and then he raised his voice. The Lord of the Mark had come to claim his bride.

“I seek Lothiriel of Dol Amroth,” he called.

The princess was nowhere to be seen.

Firefoot shifted fretfully and gave an impatient snort and Éomer absentmindedly stretched out a hand to calm him down. Éowyn regarded her brother closely, but he seemed completely unperturbed. Twice more he repeated his words. She could see Elphir fidgeting in the background; no doubt he was thinking it a very poor idea to leave this kind of decision to a woman, when her father had already given his consent. The silence stretched to breaking point and still the princess did not appear.

This was of course completely according to tradition, for it would not be suitable for the bride to appear too eager. Indeed in the Mark it was considered an insult to tell a woman that she would come running at the first call. Maybe the Princess of Dol Amroth was overdoing it a little, though? Just as Éowyn thought her nerves were about to fray, the door opened and Lothiriel emerged. Her emerald green dress tightly hugged her figure before flaring out at the waist and falling in soft folds to the feet. She looked absolutely calm and every inch the Gondorian princess as she descended the steps, her silken gown rustling softly.

Éomer gave a deep bow, for he came as a supplicant today. It seemed to Éowyn that a subtle message passed between the two, but neither one gave anything away.

“Princess Lothiriel,” Éomer said, “Will you ride with me?”

During the journey the day before Éowyn had talked to Lothiriel about wedding customs in Rohan, and the princess had joked how typical it was that the question should be framed in this way. Nothing of that amusement was found in her composed face now as she searched the eyes of the man standing in front of her. He met her look openly and all of a sudden she bestowed a devastatingly lovely smile on him.

“I will ride with you,” she replied in perfect Rohirric, her voice filled with certainty.

Éowyn released the breath she hadn’t know she’d been holding. As Éomer lifted Lothiriel onto Firefoot’s back and then swung up behind her, putting one arm possessively around her waist, he whispered something to her, but Éowyn only heard the princess’s answer.

“I was ready, my Lord King,” Lothiriel said, “but I did not want to thwart your country’s customs. Did you have to wait long?”

Éowyn raised her eyebrows at the mocking challenge in Lothiriel’s tone. Should she warn her friend that it was extremely difficult to get the better of her brother? Although on second thoughts Lothiriel might actually be the one person in the Riddermark to have the means to do so.

She became aware of Aragorn watching her with some amusement. He seemed to be able to read her mind, for he said in a low tone, “Don’t worry about these two, Éowyn, they are perfectly matched.” She was forced to agree.

The procession now turned round with Éomer and Lothiriel riding ahead and everybody else following on foot. The sun was shining brightly and although it was midwinter the air was quite balmy. Already some of the snow was starting to melt, sliding off roofs onto the unwary and filling the stone channel that followed the main road with ice-cold water.

The streets were thick with people as the whole of Edoras came to have a look at their new queen. Éomer was very popular and the Rohirrim were well aware of the great personal risks he had taken for their sake and the sacrifices he had had to pay. They would welcome any wife he had chosen and Éowyn thought that Lothiriel’s unpretentious ways would soon win their hearts. She was so eager to please and be pleased and so very much in love with their king that she would be welcomed with open arms.

By the time they reached the stairs leading up to the Golden Hall the press of people was so thick that it was difficult to get through and the square in front of the stables was completely filled. When they had dismounted Éowyn saw Lothiriel surreptitiously feed an apple to Firefoot. She had the ability to make them appear as if by magic, a trait she shared with her bridegroom. Éomer had noticed, too, and watched his bride with a fond smile. Éowyn suddenly grinned to herself.

If I were unkind I could even call his expression besotted!

His riders had been very much amused to see their king at the mercy of a young and impulsive girl that he could easily have snapped in two, and he’d had to endure a fair share of teasing. She had the impression that he was getting tired of being reminded that tonight was the longest night of the year. As if he didn’t know already.

Éomer offered his arm to Lothiriel and led her up the stairs onto the paved terrace surrounding Meduseld. The procession was briefly thrown into disarray when the bride stopped abruptly to have a look at the fountain - “Éomer! Are those real icicles?” – but after a moment it got underway again.

In the Riddermark weddings were simple affairs, and even a king getting married followed much the same pattern. Being one of his witnesses, Éowyn lined up beside Aragorn on Éomer’s side, while Imrahil and Arwen stood behind Lothiriel and the other guests looked on from the stairs or pressed against the doors of Meduseld.

Éomer took Lothiriel’s hands in his own and once again Éowyn was struck by their ability to shut out everything around them, as if only the two of them existed in the whole of Arda and no one else mattered. They made a striking couple, so different to look at with Lothiriel’s dark hair and slender figure and Éomer’s strong warrior’s frame and blond mane. At the same time they had a lot in common, not least a strong will and an inborn stubbornness. Éowyn wondered if Éomer knew that his bride had asked her to teach her how to handle a knife and what he’d say to it. She did not think he would object, but if he did she very much suspected that he would come up against that well hidden core of steel Lothiriel possessed and that she did not even seem to know about herself.

Slowly the buzz of the crowd stilled until only the sighing of the ever-present wind and the quiet dripping of melt water off the eves of Meduseld could be heard.

Éomer now lifted his voice to speak his vows. “Lothiriel, Imrahil’s daughter,” he began, his tone firm and sure, “Before these witnesses, and of my own free will, I bind myself to you from this day forward. I receive you as mine, so that you become my wife and the mother of my children.”

His eyes never once left the woman standing before him.

“My love for you will be deep and enduring like the bones of the mountains beneath us, wide as the sky stretching above us and gentle as the spring rain that nourishes our fields. While there is a drop of blood left running through my veins I will shelter and protect you, while there is a breath of life left in me I will treasure and cherish you.”

Éomer took a deep breath.

“You will be mine and I will be yours and my people will be your people. Throughout the seasons of our life, whether our days together are long or short, I pledge you my life and my love.”

He paused. “I give my hearth and my heart into your keeping.”

Lothiriel looked back at him solemnly, the wind playing gently with her loose hair.

“Éomer, Éomund’s son,” she replied, enunciating each word clearly and carefully, “Before these witnesses, and of my own free will, I bind myself to you from this day forward. I receive you as my lord and husband and the father of my children.”

Her voice rose, ringing out loud and clear.

“My love for you will be constant and firm like the stars in the heavens, warm as the sun looking down on us and soft as the grass beneath our horses’ hooves. While there is a drop of blood left running through my veins I will be loyal and true to you, while there is a breath of life left in me I will be your joy and your strength.”

Her whole face seemed to shine with her conviction.

“You will be mine and I will be yours and your people will be my people. Throughout the seasons of our life, whether our days together are long or short, I pledge you my life and my love.”

“I will keep your hearth and your heart warm,” she finished softly and Éomer gave her a look such as his sister had never seen on his face before.

Hergyth, the old cook had been waiting with a small loaf of bread and a cup of mead and now stepped forward. Éowyn knew that Hergyth had been rather dubious about Éomer marrying a foreign princess, but she seemed to have resigned herself to it and even greeted Lothiriel with a small smile. Of course Éomer had been able to wrap the old woman round his little finger ever since he had come to Edoras as a small boy.

He took the loaf of bread, broke off a small piece and offered it to his bride who chewed and swallowed it with fierce concentration. Obviously Lothiriel was aware of everybody’s eyes on her and knew it would be considered a very bad omen if she choked on it. Traditionally it was the groom’s mother who would bake this bread and if she did not like her son’s choice she could take her revenge by making it hard and inedible. In her turn Lothiriel then broke off another small piece and offered it to Éomer.

Next he took the wedding cup and handed it to Lothiriel. It was made of solid gold, filled with strong mead and so heavy she had to hold it with both hands. Lothiriel was careful not to spill any, but only took a small sip before handing it back. Éomer looked at her quizzically and belatedly she must have remembered that the cup had to be emptied in one go to avoid casting misfortune on their marriage. The look of dismay, verging on panic, that crossed her face was almost comical. Fortunately Éomer was up to the challenge, although everybody waited with baited breath while he emptied the cup.

When he was finished he upended the cup to show there was no drop left in it and a mighty roar went up from his riders.

“Eorlingas!” he shouted in the clear voice that was easily heard over the din of battle, “Behold your queen!”

Strictly speaking this was not entirely true, of course. Lothiriel would not have the right to wear the queen’s crown until she was presented with her Morning Gift after the consummation of the marriage by sharing a bed and a roof. Éowyn wondered if Lothiriel knew she was now the owner of a large herd of horses, for by all accounts Éomer had been more than generous.

The people in the square were cheering wildly and calling the names of their king and queen. Imrahil had stepped up to Éowyn and asked her curiously what they were shouting. For a moment she was at a loss how to translate some of the ribald suggestions jokingly shouted at her brother, but then she just replied tactfully, “They are saying what a lucky man Éomer is.”

Imrahil nodded in satisfaction, but when she met Aragorn’s eyes a moment later he was fighting hard to suppress his laughter. Of course, she thought, he understands our language. She was considerably relieved that Lothiriel wasn’t all that fluent in Rohirric yet.

At last Éomer decided to put some of the advice their people were calling out to him into practice and with an impish grin pulled his new wife into his arms and kissed her. Éowyn had heard rumours of his outrageous behaviour at the betrothal ceremony in Dol Amroth and now decided that perhaps they had not been exaggerated after all.

Lothiriel emerged from his embrace looking slightly stunned and Éowyn could not blame her. She soon recovered, though, and gave her husband a luminous smile, completely oblivious to all the people around her.

Seeing this, Éowyn congratulated herself, for surely now she could leave them to their own devices. By the looks they had given each other they would manage fine from now on and nothing more could go wrong.







Many thanks to my beta Cuthalion, you were right - as usual!

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Will you ride with me?
Created
25 Mar 2006
Last Edited
25 Mar 2006
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