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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 31: Promises

by Lialathuveril

Chapter XXX: Promises

The bow had been created by a master craftsman. It was a thing of deadly beauty. When Lothiriel slowly ran her hand along the curve of it, the yew wood was smooth and warm and almost seemed to come alive under her touch.

“For me?” she asked in wonder.

Legolas nodded. “For the Queen of Rohan from the Woodland Elves.”

The Queen of Rohan – she wasn’t used yet to being called that. The elf and his friend Gimli watched her with amusement when Lothiriel experimentally drew the bow. She was astonished how easy it was. With it came a quiver full of beautifully balanced arrows, fletched in green and white. They had received a fair share of wedding presents today, but this was by far the finest in her estimation. She could not help herself, she had to notch one of the arrows to try it out and as she did so the string seemed to whisper softly in her ear. Lothiriel quickly lowered the bow again. They were inside the Golden Hall and already some people were looking at her curiously.

“It’s absolutely beautiful, thank you so much,” she said, trying to convey her gratitude.

The elf smiled. “I thought I owed you something for winning that bet for me and getting you into such difficulties with Éomer.”

By his side the dwarf gave a snort.

Lothiriel shook her head. “Indeed you didn’t, that was all my own doing. I should not have said the things I did.”

“Yet it all turned out for the best in the end.”

“So it did.” She cocked her head to one side. “There is something I’ve been meaning to ask you…”

Legolas regarded her questioningly. “And what is that?”

“That bet you made with Éomer,” she hesitated, “what was the stake?” Ever since seeing the elf had reminded her of that disastrous day in Minas Tirith, she had been worrying what Éomer had lost because of her. Had it been a lot of gold or even worse, one of his precious horses?

Legolas laughed. “Oh that!” he exclaimed, “It was the usual stakes.”

“What are the usual stakes?”

“Why, a tankard of ale of course.”

Lothiriel stared at him. She’d been worried about a tankard of ale? Men! She would never understand them.

Legolas nodded at the bow in her hand and she became aware that she’d been stroking it absentmindedly.

“Aren’t you going to try it out?”

Lothiriel motioned at the crowded hall. “I’d dearly like to, but I can hardly leave my own wedding celebration.”

He gave a wicked smile. “You don’t have to. What about that crossbeam up there?”

He directed her gaze to a point high up in the rafters about halfway down the hall where two of the mighty wooden beams holding up the roof were connected by another beam. In the middle of it, the semblance of a sun was carved, decorated with gold that glinted softly in the light from the many lamps. Lothiriel hesitated. From where they stood on the dais it wasn’t a long shot, well within her range, yet she would use an untried bow and the light wasn’t very good, the sun having set a while ago.

The elf raised an eyebrow. “For the usual stakes?”

They locked eyes for a moment. “Done,” she said and reached for the quiver.

The bow fit into her hands as if she’d used it all her life and when she notched an arrow she knew with complete certainty it would hit the target. She loosed her arrow and the bow sang, there was no other word for it. As she listened to the last echoes of that eerie and haunting sound fading away she belatedly became aware that everybody had stopped talking and was staring at her.

“Well done,” Legolas said into the silence, completely unconcerned, “I don’t think you will be able to retrieve that arrow, though.”

Her eyes met Éomer’s who was at the other end of the hall, talking to Forthred, and she wondered if she looked very guilty. She gave a helpless little shrug, as if to say, Sorry, but I had to try it out, and saw him break into a grin in response. He turned back to the bard to continue his interrupted conversation and after a moment everybody else took their cue from him and started talking again. About her, no doubt.

“Sister, what do you think you are doing!”

Lothiriel winced and turned round to face Elphir who was bearing down on her with an expression of righteous outrage on his face. Amrothos was trailing behind him, wearing a wide grin.

“I am trying out my new bow,” she replied evenly, “not that it’s any business of yours.”

“Not my business?” Elphir went red in the face, “you shame your upbringing with this disgraceful behaviour!”

“Don’t be a fool,” she shot back, “I know exactly what I’m doing.”

“I doubt that very much, sister. What the Rohirrim must think of their new queen I shudder to even consider.”

Lothiriel took a deep breath while beside her Legolas seemed amused at their quarrel.

“If I were you, I’d be careful,” he remarked to Elphir, “she’s armed now.”

“…and she has a dragon slayer at her disposal,” Amrothos chimed in.

This was of course pouring oil into the flames. While Elphir could not reprimand an elf prince and member of the Fellowship and had long since given up on his youngest brother, he had no scruples to reprove his sister.

“I will not countenance such unseemly conduct and that’s my last word on it,” he declared.

“You won’t have to,” she replied hotly, “as it’s none of your concern any more!”

Amrothos applauded her words loudly and she shot him an irritated look. He really wasn’t helping. Meanwhile Elphir was frowning at her with his mouth drawn into a thin line.

“Lothiriel, hand me that bow” he ordered her, “and I’ll take care of it. You’ve obviously had too much to drink.”

“Too much to drink?” Her voice rose despite her best efforts to keep hold of her temper.

At that moment a hand gently descended on her shoulder and Éomer’s firm voice cut in. “Is there a problem?”

“A problem?” Elphir looked at him in disbelief and motioned at the arrow still stuck up in the rafters, “Lothiriel shoots around wildly and you ask if there is a problem?”

The look he received from Éomer seemed to remind her brother whom he was speaking to and he added in a more civil tone, “surely you do not consider this conduct appropriate to a princess, King Éomer.”

Before she had a chance to tell Elphir exactly what she thought of his ideas of propriety, Éomer lifted a hand. His other hand had slipped down around her waist, pulling her against him, and she was suddenly very much aware of his warm presence at her side. Her husband’s presence…

“Prince Elphir,” he now said, “I think we’ve had this discussion before as to what is appropriate to a Queen of the Riddermark as opposed to a Princess of Dol Amroth, haven’t we.”

He looked down at Lothiriel. “Is that what you were aiming for?” he said and motioned at the carved sun.

Lothiriel gathered her scattered wits. It was ridiculous to be so conscious of his proximity. “Yes,” she replied.

“And why did you do it?” he asked.

“I’m afraid I am to blame once again,” Legolas cut in smoothly, “it was my idea to have a bet.”

“The lass has won herself a tankard of ale,” his friend added.

Of course Éomer knew only too well that she only drank wine. “So my wife is not only beautiful, but also resourceful,” he said with a completely straight face.

Her brother had been listening to this exchange with growing irritation.

“Is that all you’re going to say?” he asked, obviously still decidedly outraged.

Éomer lifted one of his eyebrows. “I fail to see your problem,” he said to Elphir, “after all Lothiriel hit what she was aiming for.”

And while her brother was standing there with his mouth hanging open, Éomer turned to her to offer her his arm, his eyes alight with laughter.

“But I did not come here to argue with your brother, my lady wife, but to ask you to dance.”

Indeed the lower half of the hall had been cleared of tables and the musicians now struck up a lively tune. Already several couples were whirling enthusiastically across the impromptu dance floor. Lothiriel handed the bow back to Legolas and with a smile put her hand on Éomer’s arm.

Elphir chose that moment to recover his voice. “You can’t be serious!” he exclaimed, “to want to indulge in such a completely unsuitable activity.”

The laughter abruptly vanished from Éomer’s eyes and he slowly turned to face her brother again. For a moment she was forcibly reminded of the fact that he was not only the King of Rohan, but also a deadly warrior.

“Prince Elphir, I will begin as I mean to go on,” he said in a low voice that was nevertheless full of menace, “It is now up to me and of course to my queen what we want to do, and to nobody else. Is that clear?”

Her brother had turned white, but Éomer did not wait for an answer, instead offering her his arm again. “Lothiriel, would you like to dance?”

The Queen of Rohan cast down her eyes demurely. “As my lord pleases,” she replied, the faint tremor of laughter in her voice the only thing that spoilt the picture of wifely submissiveness.

Behind her Legolas hastily converted his laugh into a coughing fit and Amrothos gave a loud guffaw.

As Éomer led her onto the dance floor, he whispered appreciatively in her ear, “Aren’t I lucky to have married a properly brought up Gondorian princess?”

“You’re not annoyed with me then?” she could not help sounding slightly apologetic.

“Of course not, dear heart,” he smiled, “What’s a little thing like an arrow in the roof? This is your home now, you may do as you please. That is, as long as you leave your bow outside our bedroom door tonight…”

Her home. And she was dancing with her husband. It would take some getting used to, to think of Meduseld and Éomer in those terms. Lothiriel cast down her eyes to concentrate on her steps, suddenly flustered by his closeness and the way he whirled her round in his arms. Tonight he would teach her another dance.

Éomer regarded the lowered face of his wife and felt her fingers trembling slightly in his own. It had not escaped his notice how little she had eaten at the evening meal and how she had pushed the food around her plate. He could sense the sudden tension in her body and felt guilty for making her uncomfortable with him, but the words had just slipped out. Not surprising really, considering how absolutely bewitching she looked tonight.

There was an awkward pause and he cast about for something to say to ease the atmosphere.

“I see you haven’t forgotten our Rohirric dances,” was the best he could think of.

“Well, it’s not that difficult.” She still did not look up.

“Do you remember the last time we danced together?”

She gave a small nod and finally met his eyes. “I do indeed. How could I forget the way you got rid of that horrible man who pestered me!”

He grinned at the memory. “A thoroughly enjoyable business, I have to admit. Except for having a bucket of cold water emptied over myself.”

She was surprised into a laugh. “That was your own fault!”

“I beg to disagree, my lady.” He said with mock severity.

Éomer caught sight of Imrahil amongst the onlookers. The prince was quite obviously wondering where his daughter had learnt to dance like the Rohirrim. Since his own liege was dancing, too, he could not very well disapprove, though.

“Does your father know you attacked the king of an allied country?” he teased her.

“I did nothing of the sort,” she protested, completely at ease with him again, “and no, I didn’t tell my father.”

“Why do I get the feeling Imrahil doesn’t know half of what you’re getting up to?”

Her eyes were brimming over with mischief and she looked very alluring. “I really wouldn’t know. It must be the bad influence you exert over me.”

“I do, do I?” he breathed. With a sudden jolt of desire he wondered how soon it would be considered acceptable to retire, “so tell me, is there anything you keep from me?”

“Well…” Lothiriel hesitated just the barest instant and he lifted his eyebrows. What has she been up to?

“Well, my lady?” She was so endearingly transparent when she felt guilty.

“There is one thing,” she admitted, “I’ve asked Éowyn to teach me to fight.”

He stared at her in surprise. “What?” he asked in disbelief.

“Only with a knife,” she hastened to reassure him. It did nothing of the sort.

“Is this your idea of a joke, Lothiriel?” he asked with a frown and drew her to one side, where they could talk without being observed.

A stubborn expression crossed her face. “No, it’s not, “ she said, “Éomer, I’m serious. Next time I’m captured I want to be able to fight back.”

“There will be no next time,” he pointed out, “I promised to protect you, remember?”

Her face softened. “Of course I remember. Yet it might come in useful one day.”

Éomer tried to imagine those slender white hands wielding a knife. There would be accidents while training, even with the most care taken there always were, weapons just being inherently dangerous.

“This is important to me, please understand,” she pleaded, “Éomer?”

How could he deny her the very first request she made of him? It seemed not all that long ago that he had listened to the very same argument raging between his uncle and his sister.

Lothiriel was looking up at him full of determination. “I will never be that helpless again,” she declared and her hands clenched on his.

He found he could sympathize with that. After all, he remembered well how powerless he had felt when faced with his uncle’s slow decline and Gríma’s machinations. The worst thing was that he had been unable to protect his own sister.

“Very well,” he conceded reluctantly, “but I swear, you will never need it, not while there is a breath of life left in me.”

The smile she gave him lit up her face. “I know. The King of the Mark always keeps his promises.”

He drew her slowly into his arms. “Do you realize what you do to me when you smile at me like that, my lady wife?”

“Show me…” She yielded into his embrace with practised ease and lifted her face for a kiss. It was an invitation he could not resist. My queen, my wife, my heart’s desire…

“Shall we retire now?” he whispered to her.

Her body that had been soft and responsive an instant ago went as taut as a bowstring. He frowned in concern. “Lothiriel, what’s the matter? You’re not afraid of me, are you?”

She leaned her head against his chest and wordlessly shook her head.

He stroked her soft dark hair. It smelt wonderful. “Don’t you trust me, dear heart?”

“Of course I do,” she replied and looked up at last, “Didn’t I tell you so? I just wish we could get it all over and done with.”

He stared at her and could not help laughing. “I’m glad you are so much looking forward to our wedding night.”

Lothiriel blushed crimson. “That’s not what I meant!”

“What did you mean? Lothiriel, what worries you?”

“It’s the bedding of the newly married couple…” she said in a rush, “Amrothos and his friends have been drinking all afternoon and they will be rowdy.”

He frowned and looked to the head table where her brother sat with his friends, strategically blocking the exit to their chambers. They had been joined by Legolas and Gimli and were laughing and talking loudly. In the Mark the bride and bridegroom were traditionally put in their bed by their men and women friends and it was true that things did sometimes get slightly out of hand. In fact Éothain might have some reason to get even with him tonight.

“If Amrothos jokes one more time I forced you to marry me at sword point I’ll probably do something I’ll end up regretting,” Lothiriel said fiercely.

“Well we don’t have to adhere to all the traditions, do we?” he said. Anyway, a lot of couples stole off on their wedding night, or at least tried to.

She relaxed slightly. “We don’t?”

“Don’t worry,” he said firmly, “I’ll think of something.” He seemed to be making a lot of promises today.

Éomer’s first thought was to simply sneak out the front doors and round the side of the hall to the servants’ entrance to their chambers. This plan was nipped in the bud when he noticed Éothain and some of his riders loitering around purposefully near that end of the hall. Apparently they suspected the newly wedded couple might try to give their friends the slip. Well, it looked like he was badly outnumbered, but then he was used to that from his battles in the Ring War. It had not stopped him then, it would not stop him now. What he needed was an ally…

A little later Éowyn and Lothiriel went out the doors arm in arm. “Let’s get some fresh air,” the White Lady of Rohan said to her new sister-in-law, “we can always do some more dancing later.”

***


Lothiriel could hear the steps of her friend crossing the anteroom and then a muffled thump as the door to the corridor closed behind Éowyn. Alone at last! She leant back against the thick oaken door with a sigh. So far so good. Just as planned they had been able to reach the bedchamber unobserved by taking the back entrance. Now it just remained to wait for Éomer. Her husband.

It was silly, but she felt like a trespasser sneaking into his rooms. Their rooms, she corrected herself and took a hesitant step away from the door. There was a fire burning in the hearth, providing enough light to have a look around. Éowyn had earlier on put out some of her things to make her more welcome, but the effect was rather contrary to what had been intended, making her possessions seem unfamiliar in this strange setting. The room was also uncannily neat and tidy, not betraying any of its owner’s personality. Only over in one corner Éomer’s armour hung on a stand, polished to perfection as usual, his helmet with its white horsetail seeming to observe her watchfully.

She shivered slightly. The stone floor was covered in furs but was still cold under her bare feet. Before leaving Éowyn had helped her undress and now she wore nothing but her bridal robe made of the thinnest of silks. Its rich crimson lengths lightly caressed her legs and whispered softly with every step she took, but did not provide much warmth.

With a loud crack one of the branches burning in the hearth broke and fell in a shower of sparks, making Lothiriel jump. She crossed to the big four-poster bed dominating the room and sat down on it gingerly. The covers were already turned back, waiting for her, and after a short hesitation she slipped under them. The sheets were crisp and smelt freshly laundered and the bed was simply enormous, easily big enough to sleep a family of six. Lothiriel felt slightly lost in its white expanse. Somehow she had expected to have the room decorated in green and white, but although there was a wall hanging depicting the white horse on a green ground, the curtains of the bed were of a warm red colour and so was the coverlet.

For a moment she considered getting up again and having a look at the other rooms reached by a connecting door, but then she decided against it, suddenly feeling rather tired. With a small yawn she slipped deeper under the bedcovers. At least they were slowly warming up. Lothiriel involuntarily wondered how many Kings of Rohan had been born here. More to the point maybe was the question how many kings had been begotten in this bed?

A frisson of nervousness swept through her, although she had meant it when she had told Éomer that she trusted him absolutely. Even so she could not help feeling a bit like a deer waiting for the lion to make his appearance. Then she chided herself for these silly thoughts. Surely it was just having to wait here for him that made her feel so anxious. Lothiriel’s mind went back to what her irrepressible sister-in-law had whispered to her just before leaving.

“Lie back and enjoy it. Let him do all the work…” Éowyn had said with a wink.

This was rather different advice from what she had received before. There had been furtive whisperings amongst the other girls, of course, but most memorable had been Aunt Ivriniel’s words when she had come on that abortive visit to Dol Amroth last autumn. She had drawn her niece aside one afternoon to give her a talk on the subject and Lothiriel still cringed at the memory.

“It is a woman’s duty to surrender her body to her husband,” her aunt had lectured her, “distasteful though this might be at times. Just treat it as if you had a toothache, for there is nothing to be done but to submit and endure.”

Lothiriel had found this excellent advice when applied to her aunt’s lectures, but she wondered if Éomer would appreciate being compared to a toothache?

She yawned again and snuggled a bit deeper into the sheets. The truth was she had been up since dawn, being bathed and perfumed, and it had been a long exciting day following on a wearying journey of over two weeks. All of a sudden she was simply too tired to worry overmuch.

I might as well be comfortable while I wait for my husband to join me, she thought.

***


Éomer saw his sister come back and briefly met her eyes. It was the signal he had been waiting for. Surreptitiously throwing the cloak he had swiped from Éothain’s chair around himself he quickly made his way along the dimly lit edge of the hall towards the great double doors. Now he was just another rider on his way home and nobody paid him any heed. When he cast a last look back, he saw Prince Imrahil searching the crowd with a slightly anxious expression, much like a parent bird whose fledgling has just flown the nest. Éomer made his escape quickly, before his father-in-law could ask him the whereabouts of his only daughter.

Once outside, he left the cloak with the guards and made his way along the western side of the hall. Too late did he realize he should have kept it, for now he was recognized for the king and everybody wanted to stop and congratulate him. Delayed by his well-wishers it took him a considerable span of time to reach the servants’ entry and when he cautiously peered in the door he had to suppress a curse. It was as he had feared, their absence had been noted and now Amrothos and his friends stood outside his door, questioning the guard stationed there.

He quickly ducked back outside before he was spotted and considered his options. The easiest would be to just march in there and face his brother-in-law down, but of course this would create exactly the kind of scene Lothiriel dreaded. The second option would have been to simply wait them out, but he discarded that one without any further thought. Time was definitely not on his side tonight.

No, there only remained to regroup, to bring his superior knowledge of the terrain to bear and recruit another ally.

Soon afterwards an elderly woman carrying a pile of sheets made her way along the corridor and entered the room next to the royal apartments. Not surprisingly, Amrothos and his friends did not pay her any heed, being too busy practising their bawdy songs.

Éomer waited for Hergyth to come out again and when she gave him a quick nod he dropped a light kiss on one of her withered cheeks.

“Thank you,” he winked, “you’re the queen of all cooks.”

“Never mind about me, lad,” she snorted, but was obviously not displeased, “get you gone now, don’t keep your lady waiting.”

“I don’t intend to,” he replied and made his way round the back of the hall. There was one of his guards stationed there, which was quite useful, as the windows of the bathing room, now thrown open, were quite high up.

He knew his guards had drawn straws as to who would have to stand duty tonight, but it looked like this one at least would have a juicy bit of gossip to share in the barracks later on. He was well trained, however, and refrained from asking why his king had to climb in the back window. Maybe there even was a twinkle of envy in his eyes as he gave Éomer a leg up.

I hope she appreciates what trouble I go to for her sake!

“Lothiriel?”

Éomer closed and bolted the door to the bathing room behind him and turned to face his wife. She was lying in their bed, her black hair spread across the pillow, her robe a pool of crimson silk, and one slim arm was thrown across the sheets.

Smiling tenderly, he sat down on the edge of the bed and gently pushed a lock of hair from her face. His newly wedded wife looked utterly desirable.

She was also fast asleep.

***






For Maddy. Thank you for your early advice on archery and other matters concerning Meduseld and the Rohirrim.

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Promises
Created
01 Apr 2006
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01 Apr 2006
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