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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 4: Love at first sight

by Lialathuveril

Chapter III: Love at first sight

Lothiriel woke up late the next day. For a long moment she just lay in her bed listening to the sounds of the household, enjoying the unaccustomed luxury of being a guest and not having any duties to attend to. Idly she wondered how her father fared in Dol Amroth without her to run the castle for him. It served him well to have to cope on his own for once, she thought. Maybe now he would not be quite so keen to have her safely married off as soon as possible.

Her stomach chose that moment to make its presence known with a loud growl and she decided to go in search of something for breakfast. But when she made to get out of bed she suddenly winced with pain and had to catch her breath. Her left shoulder was sore and aching and when she looked down at her arm she noted with surprise that it was covered in bruises.

Then the events of last night came rushing back and she remembered the way the rider had brutally twisted her arm behind her back. Only it hadn’t been a rider, she reminded herself, it had been the King of Rohan.

Marshall of the Riddermark, indeed! She rather thought she had a score to settle there and hoped his shin was aching as badly as her arm was.

Gritting her teeth, she slowly rotated her shoulder to loosen it up a bit. She would have to wear long sleeved dresses for the next few days if she wanted to avoid awkward questions. Opening her window and looking outside Lothiriel groaned to herself. It was warm already and the sun was shining from a cloudless sky. It promised to be another hot summer’s day and she would be absolutely sweltering.

Still, at least it would please Elphir if she dressed so modestly. She had been very much surprised how well he had taken her appearance at court last night. He hadn’t uttered a single word of censure at her behaviour. Lothiriel wasn’t quite sure if it was because he was still suffering from shock or because of the warm welcome the king and queen had extended to her. She had a feeling, though, that it would be better to stay out of his way for a bit. Maybe she should take the opportunity to have a look at the midsummer fair.

Once she was dressed she made her way down to the kitchen. It was a large, sunny room overlooking the garden and had always been one of her favourite places when they were children. The cook was an old friend of hers who used to have sweet treats in store for them on a regular basis. She wouldn’t mind if Lothiriel grabbed a quick bite to eat.

When she got there, a delicious smell assailed her senses. “Angwen, you’ve baked berry tarts!” she exclaimed. The cook laughed at her delight. “I am not so old as not to remember your favorite sweet. Always begging for more you were.”

She sat Lothiriel down at the large kitchen table and surveyed her critically. “Child, look at the way you’ve grown. You have inherited your father’s height and your mother’s beauty.” She laughed when Lothiriel blushed at her words and added, “I remember the way Celerian looked on her wedding day, there never was a fairer bride. Not much older than you now she was.”

Angwen gave a sigh, remembering those long ago days and her dear departed mistress. In a more sombre mood she began laying out food for Lothiriel. “Time for the midday meal soon, anyway, “ she said, “you might as well have something proper to eat.”

“As long as I get a berry tart after, “ Lothiriel replied, trying to lighten the mood.

The cook laughed, “eat up and we’ll see.”

Halfway through the meal Melian came in. With a sigh she sat down next to her sister-in-law. “You look run off your feet, “ Lothiriel observed, pouring her a cup of cider. A thought occurred to her. “Elphir isn’t mad at you for my coming to the Citadel last night, is he?” she asked.

Melian shook her head and took a slow sip. “It isn’t that. It’s having to get ready to leave in two days’ time.” When she noticed Lothiriel’s look of surprise she added somewhat acidly, “my husband has seen fit to ordain that I am to accompany you to Emyn Arnen.”

Lothiriel stared at her mild mannered and unfailingly gentle sister-in-law and felt suddenly guilty. “He probably wants you to keep an eye on me.”

“No doubt, “ Melian nodded. “And that’s not all, he has got us an escort as well.”

“What do you mean?”

So Melian told her about their encounter with the King of Rohan the night before. “He really was most courteous and polite,” she finished.

“Courteous?” Lothiriel repeated unbelievingly, “I wouldn’t call him that.” Then her eyes widened as she suddenly realised why he had been so keen to introduce her to the king and queen. “So that is what he meant by owing Elphir a favour,” she said half to herself.

Nibbling a berry tart she frowned. “Why so soon? I thought I was going to spend at least a week with you in Minas Tirith?”

“That is when King Éomer means to leave.” Melian got up with another sigh. “I have much to do yet if I am to be ready in time.”

“Is it all right for me to go down to the fair?” Lothiriel asked her as she left, “that way I’ll stay out of your way.”

Melian nodded. “Just take a guard with you. You can borrow my horse.”

***


A short time later Lothiriel made her way down to the midsummer fair, one of her brother’s guards trailing behind her looking bored. She had been rather dismayed when she saw what her sister-in-law considered a suitably gentle mount. The little white mare she had been given was overfed and had most likely never moved faster than at a slow trot in her whole life. If this was the kind of horse she was expected to ride to Emyn Arnen the trip would prove to be a burden.

Then an idea struck her. There would probably be a section of the fair dealing in horses and maybe she would be able to find something a bit more spirited there. Accordingly she cast a warm smile at her guard and asked him, “tell me, Hilarion, is there anywhere where I can purchase a horse for the journey to Ithilien? I am sure I can rely on you to advise me.”

He straightened up visibly. “Indeed there is, my lady. I would be happy to show you the way and to lend you my assistance.”

“Please do, “ she said graciously.

When they got there she was disappointed, though. Most of the animals for sale were working horses meant to pull ploughs or heavy carts. As for the rest, even Hilarion, who was obviously no connoisseur of horseflesh, had to admit they were a sorry lot.

“Maybe we should have a look what the Rohirrim have to offer,” he suggested. Lothiriel looked up from inspecting the hooves of one of the slightly more promising candidates.

“I thought they don’t sell their horses, “ she said, surprised.

“Sometimes they do, if they have spares along,“ Hilarion told her.

Lothiriel frowned. She did not really fancy meeting that king of theirs again; on the other hand it was unlikely they would run into him if they just had a quick look. It was worth the chance she supposed.

The Rohirrim had set up their camp underneath some trees on the northern end of the Pelennor, near the road to Anórien. When they got there a considerable crowd had gathered. Intrigued, Lothiriel went to have a look, only to discover that some of the riders were displaying their skills.

Stopping to watch for a while she had to admit they were pretty good. She had grown up around horses and was no mean rider, but these men seemed to be one with their mounts, knowing instinctively how to move with them. As for the horses, they were magnificent. Just looking at them made you covet one. She caught her breath as one of the men leapt from the ground onto his horse’s back as it went running by at full speed. The crowd cheered wildly.

Hilarion was watching the spectacle with his mouth open and she had to call his name several times before he remembered their errand. When he made inquiries, they were directed towards the back of the tents where temporary paddocks had been set up, and with a last regretful look they went that way.

The camp seemed to be pretty much deserted as they made their way across it. When they got to the paddocks there was nobody about and Lothiriel sent Hilarion off to find somebody while she dismounted and leaned on the railings. She had spotted an old acquaintance.

“Hello my friend,” she called softly in Elvish and one of the horses lifted its head and stepped closer. It was the beautiful bay stallion she had seen last night in the stables, just as she had thought. His coat was gleaming in the sunshine and he gave a soft whicker as he condescended to let her stroke his neck. From old habit she had pocketed a few apples in the kitchen and now she fed him one of those.

“What are you doing there?” somebody exclaimed, startling her.

She whirled round and with a sinking heart recognized the King of Rohan who was scowling down at her. It seemed her luck had run out.

“My Lord King, “ she acknowledged him in a formal tone, “you seem to make a habit of creeping up on me and startling me.”

“My Lady Princess, you seem to make a habit of being where you have no business to be,” he replied in an annoyed voice.

“I was just feeding this horse some apples, surely that’s no crime, “ she said, her eyes flashing dangerously.

The stallion was leaning over the railings, nuzzling Éomer’s chest affectionately and he gave him a fond pat. “He’s yours, “ she realized.

“He is indeed. Firefoot is a trained battle steed and might easily have attacked you when he recognized you for a stranger. You should be glad he didn’t try to bite your fingers off.”

Lothiriel felt now was not the best moment to explain that she was in fact no stranger to his horse.

“What are you doing here all on your own, anyway?” he asked her with a frown.

“I am not on my own, I have one of my brother’s guards along,” she answered.

Hilarion came hurrying back that very moment. “Oh my lady, I see you have found a groom, “ he exclaimed.

“Let’s rather say he found me, “ Lothiriel said dryly, “Hilarion, meet the King of Rohan.“

And as the young guard went beet red in the face and stammered an incoherent apology she remarked to Éomer, “maybe you should wear a crown so people will find it easier to recognize you.”

He stared down her with a stony expression and for a long moment she wondered if she had gone too far, then the corners of his mouth twitched and he started to laugh.

“I left my crown back home in Meduseld and anyway, it pinches, “ he replied and she had to laugh, too.

She had a nice honest laugh, Éomer noted, not like the artificial simper some of the ladies of the court affected. Surveying the fat little white mare she had been riding, he didn’t think much of her choice of horses, though. If this was what Imrahil provided her with, he didn’t think much of his daughter’s equestrian skills. Interpreting his glance correctly she explained the reason why they had come to the camp of the Rohirrim.

Éomer shook his head. “We haven’t got any horses along to sell this time.” When he saw her disappointed expression he explained, “we had grievous loss of horses in the war and until our herds are recovered we will not sell any.”

“That is understandable, “ she said politely but he could see she was disheartened.

Feeling unexpectedly sorry for her, he wondered briefly if there was a horse amongst their spares that he could let her have, but they didn’t have any fit for a lady to ride. They sometimes kept some of the culls not suitable for fighting or herding if they were a nice colour, but he hadn’t thought it necessary to bring any of those along. Not that he could have given her a horse outright anyway, as for the Rohirrim it amounted to a proposal of marriage for a man to give a horse to a woman. He could have gifted it to Imrahil, though, for her to ride.

He cast around for something to cheer her up. “Would you like to have a look around our horses,” he found himself asking her and was rewarded by a slow smile.

“Thank you, I would like that very much, “ she answered with evident pleasure.

She was not at all afraid of horses, he had to admit as he showed her around the paddock, unlike some of the other Gondorian ladies he had met. Surprisingly enough Firefoot seemed to have taken a liking to her. He had a vicious temper and even his own men stepped cautiously around him, yet this slip of a girl just pushed him laughingly away when he came begging for more apples. On the other hand, though, she wore those ridiculously unpractical riding skirts that all the noblewomen here seemed to favour. One thing he was sure of, he would never see his sister Éowyn wearing them.

Lothiriel was pleasantly surprised by this new side to the King of Rohan. He seemed to know every single one of the horses and obviously cared very deeply for their welfare. His big stallion was following them along like a faithful hound, getting an absentminded pat from him every now and again.

Shooting him a mischievous look she inquired innocently, “May I ask you, King Éomer, why you told me last night you were a Marshall of the Riddermark?”

He had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. “It was not really a lie. I used to be Third Marshall under my uncle and the king is traditionally the First Marshall. You weren’t exactly forthcoming with your true identity, either, were you, “ he shot back.

Laughing, she had to admit the truth of that. “And being surrounded by ten-thousand orcs in front of the Black Gate?”

“That was the truth, “ he answered more seriously, staring into space for a moment, “in fact I planted my banner next to the silver swan of your father, Prince Imrahil.”

Almost to himself he remarked, “I never really expected to survive that last battle.”

She shivered. “Down in Dol Amroth everything was peaceful. I didn’t even see as much as a small mûmak.”

He had to laugh at that, his black mood dispelled. “There is no such thing as small mûmakil!“

“Maybe when they are babies?”

He shook his head, remembering the fearsome beasts that had nearly been their undoing at the battle on this very field. “I think not, “ he said dryly.

Then Lothiriel suddenly noticed a mare in a separate enclosure to one side that was watching them attentively. She was a beautiful animal, tall like all the steeds of the Rohirrim and completely black except for one white sock on her right foreleg. “Why is she kept on her own? “ she asked curiously.

Éomer led the way over and softly called out to the horse. “This is Nightwind,” he said stroking her glossy black coat, “my squire will have to get her ready soon, for I am giving her away.”

“Giving her away?” Lothiriel asked in amazement, “I am surprised you can bear to part with her.” She was feeding the mare her last apple and gazing into her soft brown eyes.

It was love at first sight.

“She is one of my spare horses,“ Éomer explained, “but Firefoot here won’t let me ride any other horse but him. She deserves better than that, so I have decided to give her up. The new owner will have to earn her, though.”

“How is that?” Lothiriel asked with sudden interest.

“I have put her up as the first prize at the archery tournament this afternoon. Mind you, I expect one of my men will probably win her, “ he added complacently, “they are pretty good archers.”

“And what exactly is this archery tournament about then? “ she asked, keeping her voice studiously neutral. Melian, who knew her sister-in-law rather well, might have been alarmed by her tone, but Éomer with his limited experience just went on talking, blissfully unaware of the thoughts boiling away behind those demure green eyes.

“It consists of three parts,” he explained. “The first part is designed to weed out those who can’t shoot: the targets are set at fifty paces and three arrows out of five have to hit. The second part is similar, but the contestants will have to shoot from horseback at a canter so it will weed out those who can’t ride.”

“And the third part?”

“The remaining contestants will have to shoot at targets again, but this time they will be moved further and further back after each round. Whoever hits the bull’s eye at the furthest distance will be the winner.”

Lothiriel was stroking Nightwind’s soft velvety nose and whispering words of endearment to her in Elvish, all the time thinking furiously. “So can anyone take part in this archery contest?“ she asked finally, holding her breath.

“Certainly, “ the King of Rohan replied, still not realizing the drift of her questions.

He also thought nothing of it when soon afterwards she had a word with her young guard and sent him off to fetch something for her. It was not that he was a bad judge of character; it was just that he had never encountered anybody like the Princess of Dol Amroth before.

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Chapter name
Love at first sight
Created
20 Sep 2005
Last Edited
20 Sep 2005
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