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Of Falcons and Mûmakil

Chapter 7: The journey begins

by Lialathuveril

Chapter VI: The journey begins

The day of their departure dawned clear and bright but Lothiriel got up with a heavy heart. She was dreading the upcoming journey. She had so looked forward to this trip to see her cousin; it was to be a last sweet taste of freedom before her twenty-first birthday and the call of duty, but now she had lost all enthusiasm for it.

She got up slowly and tried to figure out what to wear. Finally she made her decision: she left her riding skirts aside and chose trousers instead. In her brother’s eyes she had sunk below all redemption anyway, so why bother with propriety? It was going to be a miserable trip; she might at least be comfortable.

Lothiriel sighed. At least it would be nice to get outside again after having spent the last two days indoors. Elphir had forbidden her to leave the house and she had been too dispirited to fight his edict. Only once had she crept out when she had heard that Éomer’s squire had delivered Nightwind and she had secretly visited the mare in the stables, using the same route she had used the other night.

Her things had all been packed the day before, so all that remained for her to do was to pick up her saddlebags full of provisions in the kitchen. Angwen sat her down at the big kitchen table to have breakfast and fussed over her anxiously. She had been horrified when Lothiriel had come back after the tournament soaked to the skin and shivering with rage and tears. Now she tried to persuade her to eat some more hot porridge, but Lothiriel just wasn’t hungry. She was relieved when the cook got distracted by two of the scullions picking a quarrel, and grabbing her saddlebags she quickly slipped outside.

Much to her delight the horses had been brought to the gate already. Nightwind seemed to have picked up the general excitement, was rolling her eyes and dancing from side to side nervously.

“Feeling frisky, melamin?” Lothiriel asked her tenderly, stroking the black mare’s neck. A velvety nose searched her hand for apples and she felt slightly more cheerful.

“I would love nothing better than to take you for a run down to the river, my darling, “ she whispered softly, “but I doubt that we will be allowed.” In fact she knew she was lucky to be riding Nightwind at all. Her brother had objected vociferously, but she had flatly refused to ride any other horse and in the end he had given in. Anything to get me on my way as soon as possible, she thought bitterly.

He emerged from the house now, Melian on his arm and helped his wife mount her little white mare. Then he got on his own horse to accompany them down to the city gates where their escort would meet them. It was an impressive cavalcade that made its way down the wide cobbled thoroughfare of Minas Tirith in the pale dawn light. Besides Lothiriel and Melian there were a number of servants and no less than eight packhorses. In her entire life Lothiriel had never traveled further than from Dol Amroth to Minas Tirith and now she began to understand why they had always come by ship up the river Anduin. Two packhorses were kept busy just carrying their tent and bedding.

She had her hands full with Nightwind. The spirited black mare was restless after spending two days pent up in the stables and was testing her new rider. She was spoiling for a run, but although Lothiriel would have loved to oblige her she had to keep her to a slow pace. She had a lovely smooth gait, though, and settled down somewhat when Lothiriel kept her on a tight rein and got her attention. She would sooner die than have the King of Rohan see her loose control of her horse, Lothiriel vowed to herself.

As arranged the Rohirrim were waiting for them just outside the city gates. The sun had risen over the Ephel Dúath by now, dispersing the low-lying mist, and was glinting on their mail coats and helmets. Lothiriel kept well back as her brother went to greet King Éomer. He was sitting astride Firefoot with the ease of one who had spent most of his life on horseback, easily checking the big bay stallion’s antics. Like most of his men he wore his long blond hair loose and falling down his back. As if he had felt her gaze on him he looked over and Lothiriel quickly dropped her eyes, but not before seeing the cold expression on his face.

Her heart sank even further. This time her lamentable temper had betrayed her well and truly! She shrank from thinking what her father would say when he heard she had accused the King of Rohan of not keeping his promises, the same king who had come to the aid of Gondor in their hour of need. That Prince Imrahil would hear of her folly Elphir had made perfectly clear, not trying to hide his displeasure. More than her brother’s displeasure, though, she dreaded her father’s disappointment. She was a princess of Dol Amroth and should have kept better control of her temper than to have insulted their closest ally, the man King Elessar called his brother.

There was just something so particularly provoking about the King of Rohan’s attitude towards her, the way he assumed he knew best what was good for her and what wasn’t. Even so, she shouldn’t have said what she did, Lothiriel reminded herself and firmly resolved to avoid him for the rest of the journey.

***


Éomer was watching the line of packhorses resignedly. It was going to be slow traveling, just as he had feared. Eager to be on his way he arranged his men to ride with the women and servants in the center and waited impatiently for Elphir to take his leave. The prince seemed quite keen to see the last of them and wore a relieved expression on his face when they finally set out. Éomer couldn’t blame him.

In order not to strain Faramir’s resources, he had left half his men behind in the camp on the Pelennor but even with only half an éored they were still a formidable fighting force. He didn’t really anticipate any trouble on the way, although there were still some bands of orcs and easterlings rumored to be left in the Shadow Mountains. It always paid to be prepared for trouble, however, and once they left the settled lands around Minas Tirith he would send out scouts.

For the moment, though, he just enjoyed the feeling of finally being on his way, the road spreading smooth and empty beneath their horses’ hooves. Firefoot, of course, was yearning for a run, but they were forced to a very sedate pace by their baggage train.

He cast another look back and let his glance linger on Lothiriel who was ignoring him studiously, riding ramrod straight and concentrating on her horse. He had been annoyed when he saw her riding up on Nightwind, but not really surprised, although he knew only one other woman who would have dared to flaunt his will in this way. Maybe he was finally starting to take the measure of the Princess of Dol Amroth.

Éomer had to admit she was a better rider than he had thought. He had expected to have to keep Nightwind from bolting with her, but although the mare was higher spirited than usual the girl seemed to have her well in hand. Inwardly he sighed. Maybe he had been a little bit too harsh on her and had said things he didn’t really mean. She still had no business riding a warhorse, though, he thought grimly. He shouldn’t have lost his temper the way he had, but it was her stubbornness and unwillingness to listen to good advice that had provoked him. He decided to try to ignore her for the rest of the journey.

It was strange to think they were following the same road they had taken over a year ago on their way to the Black Gate. The land had recovered and was green and fertile again, but there were still the ruins of burnt down farmhouses to be seen every now and again. By midday they reached Osgiliath, which was slowly being rebuilt, and crossed the river Anduin by one of the new bridges.

Éomer called a quick halt for some food, but soon pressed on again, impatient to be on his way. They would follow the old Morgul road as far as the crossroads and then turn south toward Emyn Arnen. On their own and riding at speed they could have reached the crossroads in one day, but as it was they were forced to make camp late in the afternoon when Lady Melian was visibly beginning to flag in the heat.

The site he chose was situated in an easily defensible position on the banks of a small stream backed by a steep embankment and once he had posted sentries he set to the ordering of the camp. As the weather promised to stay dry they didn’t bother with their own small tents, but the women’s tent was put up at the foot of the embankment and cooking fires were lit. Some of his men had brought down small game while scouting the way ahead, which was now added to the provisions they had brought from Minas Tirith.

***


Lothiriel watched the purposeful goings-on in the camp for a while. Her own servants had shooed her away when she had offered to help with putting up the tent and now there was no work for her hands. She was secretly impressed with the efficient way everybody seemed to know what to do; these Rohirrim had obviously set up camp many times before.

Melian was so exhausted that she retired to have a rest once the tent was up, but Lothiriel was feeling too listless to join her. It had been a long tense ride and she decided to stretch her legs a bit. Picking up an apple she paid a quick visit to Nightwind who was picketed with the other horses and appreciated the treat, then wandered down to the ford.

The bank was strewn with pebbles mixed with bigger stones and balancing on them she slowly made her way further upstream. There was a bend a little further along and just beyond that a couple of flat boulders jutting out into the river, where Lothiriel sat down. She knew she was still within earshot of the camp, but at least she had the illusion of some privacy. The opposite side of the stream was steep and densely wooded and she saw a fox disappear quickly in the underbrush, startled by her presence.

The evening sun was glinting on the water, turning it into liquid fire as she knelt down and scooped some up to wash her face and arms. The bruises on her left arm had faded almost completely by now, she observed thoughtfully. Soon she would be able to abandon her long sleeved shirts for more comfortable clothes. It had been another scorching hot day and the stream looked very enticing, but she had to content herself with taking off her riding boots, sitting down on one of the rocks and dangling her feet in the cool water. Even her audacity didn’t stretch to taking a bath with a whole camp full of men just around the corner.

Picking up a small piece of wood washed up on the bank she threw it in the water and watched as the current slowly whirled it around and then swept it away downstream. It would eventually reach the river Anduin and from there the sea, she thought wistfully and suddenly felt terribly homesick and alone. This was the furthest away from home she had been in her whole life.

It was then she heard light steps behind her and somehow knew without even turning around who it was.

Éomer had seen the princess make her way down to the ford, of course, but it was only when she disappeared round the corner that he decided with considerable irritation he had better go after her. After his past experience he didn’t trust her to do the sensible thing and stay near the camp. It was therefore with some surprise that he saw her directly he rounded the bend.

She was sitting on a boulder, her long legs dangling in the water, and was watching the river with a forlorn expression. He had meant to berate her for straying from the camp but instead found himself asking her in a much gentler tone than intended to come back with him. She had stiffened when she heard his steps and now looked up at him warily. Her eyes were really the most striking color he had ever seen, Éomer thought as he extended a hand to help her up. After a short hesitation she accepted his help and got up slowly, still not uttering a single word. She was looking absurdly young as she stood there in her bare feet, leaving wet footprints on the stone, a carefully neutral expression on her face, as if she expected him to start shouting at her again any moment. He had to remind himself sternly that it was the princess’ unreasonable behavior that had provoked their argument.

“It will be getting dark soon,” he said and motioned for her to precede him, “Let’s go back.” She nodded and picking up her boots took a few steps in the direction of the camp. Then she stopped and turned to face him.

Lothiriel’s conscience had been pricking her all day and now she took a deep breath. “King Éomer,” she began hesitantly. Though he had sounded stern and forbidding the look in his eyes had been strangely kind and this gave her the courage to go on.

“I would like to apologize to you for my words,” she said, and because she didn’t believe in doing things by halves threw her pride completely overboard and added, “I know you keep your word. You and your countrymen came to our rescue in Minas Tirith and saved us all, including my father and brothers. You paid for your oaths in blood. Please forgive me my thoughtless words.”

There it was, she had said it and thrown herself on his mercy. For a long moment he just stood there looking down at her, obviously very much surprised by her forthright words. His eyes warmed perceptibly.

“Princess Lothiriel, I accept your apology,” he answered with a sigh, “I said a few things myself I didn’t really mean.”

This was really more generous than she had any right to expect, Lothiriel thought. For some reason it made her feel even worse. “It’s my lamentable temper,” she explained contritely, biting her lips, “my father keeps telling me I have to learn to control it.”

There was a sudden rueful smile in his eyes. “My uncle used to say the same to me. I even ended up in prison once because of it.” He stopped abruptly as if he’d said more than he had intended.

Lothiriel’s eyes went wide. “In prison? Whatever for?”

“Disrespect towards the King of the Mark in his own hall,” he said dryly. She looked up at him uncertainly, not sure if he was joking or not. Something in his tone made her doubt whether she was going to get more of an explanation.

Firmly changing the subject he went on, “Let my tell you, though, Lady Lothiriel, that I still do not consider Nightwind a suitable mount for you. Please let me get you another horse.”

“One nice and docile as befits a Gondorian lady?” she asked bitterly.

“I can see you are a good little rider,” he said in a voice so reasonable it set her teeth on edge, “I just think you have no business riding a warhorse.”

Somehow they seemed to have ended up at the same point they had been before. Lothiriel reminded herself firmly that she did not want to start another argument, she had said quite enough last time. Instead she tried to explain.

“Have you never been in the situation where you saw something and absolutely knew you had to have it, no matter the consequences?” she asked him pleadingly and he looked down at her with an odd expression on his face.

“The moment I saw Nightwind I knew she was mine and I was hers,“ Lothiriel went on earnestly, “I am sure you feel the same about Firefoot.”

Éomer frowned. “That’s different and you know it. You might think you can control a Rohirric battle steed, but you will end up giving her the wrong signals or saying the wrong words and somebody will get hurt.”

“Teach me,” Lothiriel replied.

And when he looked at her in complete surprise she added, “I am planning to visit with your sister for four weeks. Teach me as if I was one of your riders, and if at the end of my stay you still feel the same you can take Nightwind home to Rohan with you.” She crossed her arms and gave him a challenging look.

“And you would accept my judgment?” he asked in disbelief.

“I trust you to be fair,” she nodded.

Éomer watched the princess with narrowed eyes. It was an unusual and surprising offer, but then he was starting to realize she was an unusual and surprising woman.

“It will be a lot of hard work,” he warned, but she just shrugged.

“I am not afraid of hard work. Do we have a deal?” she asked, holding out her hand.

“We have,” he assented and took her slim white hand in his large calloused one.

“Is there anything you are afraid of?” he asked her with a twinkle in his eyes.

“Spiders!” she replied at once and shuddered. “I hate those hairy creatures.”

Éomer had to laugh out loud. “Spiders? You are not afraid of mûmakil then?”

Lothiriel blushed and gave a shamefaced laugh. She had the sinking feeling her rash words were going to haunt her for a long time to come. Then she threw him a quick look out the corner of her eye. “I am sure they are delightful creatures once you get to know them better,” she said demurely, “in fact I have been told they are quite clever.”

“Really?”

“Oh yes,” she replied not noticing the note of warning in his voice or perhaps choosing to disregard it, “it is said they can even be taught simple tricks.” She gave him a cheeky grin.

Éomer shook his head. “You are irrepressible!” he exclaimed, but he had to laugh in spite of himself. Offering her his arm he escorted her back to the camp.

***


It was only when they were well out of sight and the startled fox had returned to the riverbank to finish his drink that the scout on the other side of the stream stood up carefully and made his way to the hiding place where he had tethered his horse. His master would be pleased he thought. Women, the possibility of rich plunder and the hated horselovers!

Oh yes, Mashrak would be pleased.








Melamin – my love

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The journey begins
Created
08 Oct 2005
Last Edited
08 Oct 2005
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