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Éomer resisted opening his eyes. Sure that if he did the wonderful dream would vanish to be replaced by some grim reality – like being in the Meduseld dungeon. No, not there. For one thing he felt quite warm. And even though he had suffered the indignity of being incarcerated by his own kinsmen – they had not stripped him naked.
Naked. He could feel air on his flesh. So he couldn’t be camped somewhere at the base of the Ephel Duath on his way to the Black Gates. He hadn’t removed any of his clothes for the whole time between leaving Minas Tirith after the Pelennor and the final overthrow of the Enemy.
But maybe he was in the camp at Cormallen, and had bathed in the Anduin, climbed up the bank and fallen asleep in the sunshine. Any moment there would be raucous laughter and one of his men would kick him awake. Or more likely, with the stirrings going on in his groin, throw a bucket of cold water over him.
Éomer opened one eye, just a little. Reluctant to exchange the pleasant place he had been for some foreign battlefield. Dark – not the banks of the Anduin, then. A glow somewhere to his right. The crack of a log splitting. He could feel the heat from where he was lying. Perhaps he was in a cave high on the Ered Nimrais sleeping amongst the members of his éored. Resting after hunting wargs and naked because all his clothes had been torn and bloodied.
Intent on confirming his location to himself, he moved slightly. The ground didn’t give like that even when covered with bracken. But his slight shifting brought a low murmur from his left and told him someone else slept near. Alert now, he listened to gentle, even breathing. Not any of his Riders – they generally snorted and coughed like their horses. Investigating further, he sniffed. The wonderful fragrance of spring flowers filled his nostrils. His men had never smelt like that.
Éomer allowed a smile to play about his lips, enjoying the game but also desperately willing her to wake. He needed the reassurance of her. The sleeper next to him stirred and he felt rather than saw a head lift slightly away from the pillow.
“You’ve stolen all the covers again,” he whispered into the darkness.
“Oh, I’m sorry.” A flurry of movement, and a quilt got pushed across him. A slim arm landed on his chest. “You’ll have to cuddle me. I’m afraid I am just not used to the cold yet.”
Grinning, and nuzzling into her silky hair, Éomer gathered her up and snuggled her deep into the contours of his body. “My little hothouse flower will be keeping the woodcutters busy this winter.”
She muttered something, her fingers momentary squeezing into his warm flesh, already trying to return to sleep. Carefully he tucked the quilt right around her shoulders. His wife. His saviour. If necessary, he would personally fell every tree in the Riddermark to keep her here.
Éomer sighed contently; now, he just had to wait for her to wake up again ….
Author’s note – Thanks to Lia. And to reassure Adaneth and Gynnnyd – instead of de-foresting the Riddermark Éomer ordered a beautiful, thick Swansdown quilt from Dol Amroth! LBJ
It’s not often I write LotR poetry but this was inspired by my story Bound by Duty. For those of you who do not like the genre much, another ficlet in this series will be along soon. LBJ
My Anchor. Lothíriel seeks to reassure Éomer after the birth of their son.
You are the anchor that holds me to this wild land.
Without you I would be cast adrift on a sea of waving grass;
Thrown upon the rocks that hold the rampant winds in check.
Our son, my love, is but a kedge that allows me to stem the furious tide.
Helpless, I will shield him from every violent storm,
As in my newness you protected a quivering queen
From those who sought to blow her from her course.
Do not doubt my faithful heart;
Fear it lies buried under swaddling bands.
Someday he will cut the warp that binds him to me,
Look upon another woman with demanding eyes.
Whilst you, my husband, are chained to me by links of iron.
Bonds forged by trust between kings and men,
But joined by love, which as a gull takes wing,
Soared high over stilted words, to ride the turbulent air.
And if we spot that one is rusting before its time,
Then every link shall be renewed,
So that I do not flounder in the raging sea of life.
One Mug too Many
Edoras – Yuletide 3020
Éomer caught his wife’s hand, pulling her to his side. She didn’t stop singing but looked up into his face, eyes sparkling. But when the main candles were dowsed as the huge ash log began its journey from the doors of Meduseld to the hearth, they dropped hands. Clapping now and stamping their feet in time with the fiddler, and joining all the other merrymakers to welcome the log with gusto. Once it reached the centre of the hall, and the four bearers had carefully lowered the mighty piece of trunk onto the hot embers, Éomer grabbed her hand again and, as the hall hushed, together they added the rowan twigs and dry beech leaves that would kindle the log into life. Not once faltering, Lothíriel spoke the traditional words to signal the start of Yuletide. Pride swelled in Éomer’s chest. How well she had adapted to a new land, a new people and a new husband. Well, not so new now, but sometimes he still couldn’t believe she was his. And he loved her more each day.
Twigs and leaves sparked and crackled, light and sound invading the silent space. Everyone held their breath as flames licked up the sides of the seasoned ash and then a great cheer went up as Éomer raised his hand – the log had caught. The ash burned bright and would be kept smouldering for the whole twelve days.
Lothíriel turned at the new commotion coming from the doors. “Éomer, here comes your boar.” The wonderful smell of roasted hog wafted over them and she stood on tip-toe to see. “Oh, it’s huge! Did you really kill it on your own?”
Did his wife doubt him? But she grinned and started clapping again as men struggled in with supper. He leant down, whispering in her lovely little ear. “I might spend a lot of time at my desk but I have not entirely lost my skills, you know. Although Éothain might tell you he had a hand in the hunt.”
“Well, I doubt he let you out of his sight so he must have been there.” They both laughed, sharing a private joke between them.
As if on cue Éothain appeared with a tankard of cider, passing it to his king. “Where’s my wife’s?” Éomer asked him.
“Cider! Surely not. I will get some wine.”
“Éothain,” Lothíriel poked him in the side with a long slim finger, “I am perfectly happy to drink cider, and anyway I understand it is traditional to have it mulled at Yuletide.”
“It is my lady, but I thought it may be a bit rough for you.”
Éomer laughed and pushed his friend and captain towards the cider barrel. For some reason Éothain had never quite got over him marrying Imrahil’s daughter and thought a Gondorian princess would be far too gently bred to settle well in the Riddermark, but he had been mistaken. Lothíriel might be well mannered and cultured, but she was also down- to-earth, practical and fun. A surge of love welled up in him for his wife and he had to stop from sweeping her into his arms. Instead he reached into the hearth for the hot poker. “Here, this is what you do. The cider has spices added and we heat it up like this.” He plunged the poker into the overfull tankard.
With a hiss hot cider splashed over his wife’s dress. But typically, Lothíriel laughed, shaking her head at him. “How many did you have before I appeared in the hall?” she accused him jokingly.
He grinned, passing her the tankard. “Only a few; it’s a special time. And I had to keep my men company.”
Lothíriel took a sip of her cider, and then another, larger one. “It’s lovely, very warming. And Éomer, you deserve some relaxation. I know full well that last Yule was very different from this one.”
True. And that was another reason he felt so happy this night. A good harvest; a peaceful realm; a beautiful wife. What more could a man want? A mugful of cider! Éothain returned with another mug and once again Éomer plunged in the poker, this time keeping well away from his wife. “Here’s to good friends and good cheer!” He downed half the mug, wiping the warm liquid from his beard. Lothíriel still sipped at hers, but she seemed to be looking indulgently at him so he finished his and made no protest when Éothain took the empty tankard, replacing it with a full one.
“They’re carving the boar.” Éothain told him. “Finish that, because as the hunter you will have to down the mead-cup.” Oh, he’d forgotten he had to drink the mead. But no matter, it would be well within his capabilities. He might not imbibe much now, but in his younger days…
Éomer tucked in heartily to the boar, the cider and mead had given him an appetite. But beside him Lothíriel picked at her food. “Is that all you’re going to eat?” He was used to his wife’s small appetite but even so, one tiny piece of pork, a slice of bread and an apple could hardly be called a meal.
“Just not very hungry tonight,” she replied. “The cider filled me. And the boar is so big it won’t all get eaten. I will be able to have some tomorrow.”
“Then if you’ve finished, let’s dance,” he said standing up and dragging her with him. “The fiddlers are about to start.” He loved dancing with her. She had such wonderful rhythm and was so light on her feet he could whirl her round and round.
By the third dance his head spun faster than the fiddlers played, but his wife laughed in his arms and kept pace with the wild Rohirric tune that built into a crescendo, mimicking the coming together of the herds as they raced across the plain. The music slowed as two stallions met and fought, building again as they battled each other until ending in a climax of victory. Coming to a sudden halt, Lothíriel stumbled against him, a perfect excuse to hug her. “Look where we’ve stopped,” he whispered, jerking his head upwards to indicate the huge bunch of mistletoe that hung from the beam above their heads.
Giving her no time to protest, he swooped down. First feeling her surprise in the stiffness of her body but an instant later she relaxed and leant into him. Maybe he should have just kissed her chastely, after all they were in the middle of the hall, but unable to stop himself he crushed her against him. Éomer devoured her lips with his until he became aware of the cheers going on around them and the stamping of feet from his men. Reluctantly, he pulled away, holding on to her until she steadied on her feet. Gradually the stamping stopped and the fiddlers wisely struck another tune.
“Well, I think we’ve provided enough entertainment for tonight,” she remarked. But although red faced, to his relief, she looked amused not mad.
Éomer took her arm and led her to the side. “Sorry, perhaps I should not have done that.”
“Not kissed me? Or not kissed me quite like that?” She didn’t give him time to answer but sat down on the nearest bench next to Bryde, the wife of one of his guards. “Éomer, I am hot. Could you please get me a cool drink?”
When he returned she and Bryde were talking avidly together. Lothíriel looked up, took the lemonade, thanked him, smiled and returned to her conversation. He sat down next to her, only to be joined a moment later by Éothain and a few of his men. Pulling up chairs one passed him a tankard, but he sipped it slowly, his head already thick and woolly. Then, as often happened he became embroiled in a friendly argument over hunting techniques. His could hardly be at fault – he had got the boar! A bit later a movement to his right alerted him to his wife getting up. He went to rise also, but she waved him down.”
“I will be back shortly,” she murmured before heading towards the door to their private quarters.
Éomer watched her slip behind the curtain, wondering if he should follow.
“You’ve upset her!” Éothain announced.
“Upset her? How have I upset her?”
“Embarrassed her, haven’t you? With that display in the middle of the floor. They don’t do that sort of thing in Gondor.”
“A fatuous argument, Éothain. We’re not in Gondor, are we?”
“That’s the point, isn’t it? She probably misses it. Especially tonight. It’s her first Yule away from her family, you’ve had one mug too many and slobber kisses all over her.”
Éomer didn’t hear what else Éothain had to say as his heart gave a great big lurch. What if Éothain were right. She’d certainly seemed to enjoy herself tonight, at least until his lapse of conduct, but come to think of it she’d been quiet the last few days. What if their love did not compensate for being torn away from her home by the sea? Strange customs: strange language. Looking around his hall, he noticed how after her ministrations all the woodwork glowed in the candlelight. He loved his home but compared with the palaces of Gondor it must seem small and cramped. Then he saw that the gold on the pillars caught the gleam of the fire and in it he could see shadowy shapes of his warriors and their families, drinking, talking and laughing. Maybe she didn’t like it that they all lived so closely together. She had never said anything and always joined in with the women when there were communal tasks to be done. But she was not yet fluent in Rohirric. And tonight, as more cider and mead went down and everyone, including him, got louder and louder, she might have felt an outsider, in spite of being queen. Then perhaps he really had embarrassed her— kissing her under the mistletoe like that and setting the whole hall cheering. True, he might have been a little inebriated, but it was more because he loved her so and wanted everyone to know it. A gush of pure anguish surged through him; he couldn’t bear the thought of her being unhappy, of not telling him she didn’t really like it here. Suddenly he had to go and find out.
As soon as Éomer entered the passage, a draft of icy air whipped around his legs. Lothíriel must have gone outside and left the outer door open. She had! It stood ajar, a shaft of moonlight falling on the slate floor.
His wife hadn’t even collected her cloak. She would freeze out there. He stood in the doorway for a moment, looking out and letting the cold air clear his head. While they celebrated everything had been covered in a thick white frost. He loved nights like this when the moonlight sparkled on glistening branches and the stars covered the world with a net of gleaming jewels. But just now all his concern was for his wife. Looking around the small garden he saw Lothíriel standing by the low wall. She had not noticed him and remained gazing up to the snow-topped peaks of the Ered Nimrais. High above Harrowdale, their jagged teeth stood out stark against the night sky. And beyond them Gondor swept down to the sea. She was looking towards Dol Amroth.
Lothíriel didn’t even move when Éomer stepped out onto the stone terrace. Nor when he crossed the lawn with a few quick strides, coming up behind her and slipping his arms around her waist. “Whatever are you doing, my sweet?” He gently turned her to face him, dreading to see the shimmer of tears in her eyes.
But her grey eyes shone silver, rivalling the moonlight with their brilliance. Chilly arms wound around his neck as he hugged her to him, intent on sharing his warmth.
“Oh, Éomer, it is so beautiful. We hardly ever had frost because of the salt air…”
The relief must have shown on his face because she stopped, and raised her hand to his cheek. “What’s the matter, my love?”
“I thought you had left the hall because you were mad at me for kissing you. Éothain said I embarrassed you.”
Lifting her head, she let her lips brush his. “I like you kissing me, Éomer. In private is better, but anywhere will do.”
“Well, I am sorry if I slobbered over you. I know I had one mug too many, but I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“Éomer, you didn’t! As I said before, you deserve tonight. I know how hard you have worked since the war. And with three brothers it is not as though I am not used to seeing men a little worse for drink.”
“That’s another thing, Lothíriel. Éothain says you will be missing your family. And I have been thinking, do you really like it here? We live so differently than you are used to…”
“Éomer! Will you stop repeating what Éothain said. The drink is making you unusually maudlin. I left the hall because I felt hot and wanted some fresh air. No other reason. I love it here. It’s so wild and free. Everyone likes to enjoy themselves and children have such a wonderful time, especially in winter. I have just been thinking that our child will be able to make snowballs and go sledging on the slopes…”
“Whoa…Lothíriel! What did you say? What child?” His head was not so thick that he misread that remark. Pushing her away slightly, he searched her face, wanting to see her lips frame the answer. But his jaw dropped, for already his shock had lit joyous laughter in her eyes.
Éomer couldn’t remember when he had last felt so elated, probably his wedding night. But this morning’s ride had been nearly as rewarding. A chuckle escaped before he could stop it – best not to let Lothíriel know he was even thinking of any comparison.
‘What’s that chuckle for?’ Éothain asked with a knowing grin, as they approached the steps that ran up to Meduseld. ‘Are you thinking of your new wife, or your new horse?’
Éomer threw him a sideways look; Lothíriel had taken Meduseld, and even Edoras, by storm, her enthusiasm for her new people and country spilling over like a waterfall pouring into a barrel. He eyed the tubs of flowers that now lined the way up to the hall – green foliage and marigolds – at least no one could fault her taste.
‘Firestorm,’ he said, not wanting to discuss his wife. ‘I never thought I would find a horse that could compare to Firefoot, but I would swear that the young devil has learnt his tricks from the same source.’
‘Not surprising.’ Éothain nodded his agreement as they crossed the platform. ‘They are both progeny of Wingfoot; it must be in the blood.’
They entered through the massive doors still discussing the Mark’s breeding strategy. So engrossed in their conversation were they, that they had reached the large hearth in the middle of Meduseld before Éomer realised something was happening on the dais. And then only because a loud thump, followed by an even louder Rohirric expletive grabbed both men’s attention.
‘What the...’ Éomer saw the culprit immediately – it was difficult to miss Eldric, the gargantuan carpenter. Famous for his ripe language, he always had a choice set of swear words suitable for any occasion. Still swearing, thankfully this time under his breath, Eldric stood up straight from whatever he had been doing, rubbing at his back. Hard to miss the other man up there either, Wulfred being a large man – even by the general standard of the doorwards. Which was why Éomer did not notice his wife immediately, not until she appeared from behind them, brushing her hands together and looking extremely pleased with herself. He would have words to say to Eldric about his language, but luckily Lothíriel was not likely to have any idea what the carpenter had actually said. Hergyth would though, Éomer spotted the maid at the back of the dais clutching a broom, a mop and a bucket, and sporting a red face.
‘What’s going on?’ Éothain echoed his thoughts.
‘Oh, you’re back!’ Lothíriel called out. ‘I thought to have all this done before you returned and surprise you. But it took more moving than I thought. We’ve got it in the right position now though.’
What was she on about? And then he saw – the great gilded chair that was the throne of the Riddermark’s kings had been shoved right to the back of the dais. Not quite believing what he was seeing, Éomer strode up to the steps that led to the dais and took them in one jump. Speechless, he stared at the place the throne had been for hundreds of years. Only a dark square and four holes, where the massive chair had been bolted down, remained to confirm its original resting place in the middle of the dais.
‘Oh,’ Lothíriel followed his eyes with hers, ‘you are looking at the holes. But don’t worry; Master Eldric is going to fill them in with...?’ She looked at the carpenter for help.
‘Dowels, my lady.’
‘That’s right.’ She beamed at her husband. ‘Dowels. The holes will hardly show when Master Eldric has finished.’
Hearing a choke of laughter from Éothain, Éomer took a deep breath. ‘Lothíriel, would you mind telling me why you decided to move my throne?’
‘Don’t you remember me saying how awkward it was with the throne stuck right in the middle of the dais, it gets...got...right in the way when we have a large number of people to seat.’
He didn’t remember. And when he looked blank, she put her finger to her chin, trying to recall the occasion. She must have done so because the thoughtful expression changed to one of enlightenment. ‘I am sure I mentioned it at our wedding feast; don’t tell me you’ve forgotten?’
‘He was probably rather distracted at the time, my lady.’
Éothain managed to make the remark with his face deadpan, but Éomer had enough experience of his friend to know that inside he would be laughing fit to bust. He ignored him and concentrated on his wife. ‘It must have slipped my mind, dearheart.’
Lothíriel frowned. ‘Well, no matter, it’s going to be much more convenient like this. We will be able to put two tables together and spread them right across the dais, and as well as using them that way for feasts, you will be able to sit all the council members around for your meetings. Before, you couldn’t use the side nearest the steps in case anyone tipped their chair and fell back over them.’
‘Lothíriel.’ Éomer tried very hard not to show any of the exasperation he was feeling. ‘Nobody has ever fallen down the steps, and in fact if any of the people wish to petition me, then that is where they do it from – the top of the steps...’
‘Exactly,’ his wife interrupted eagerly. ‘There was not a lot of room between the top of the
steps and your throne, this way a whole family will be able to speak to you. Wulfred said it is often crowded on the dais.’
He what! Éomer flashed his eyes across to Wulfred, daring him to have contributed more to this than his strength. But the doorward shrugged helplessly. Understandable: Lothíriel tended to carry along with her anyone not capable of chaining their ankles to the ground. Éomer sighed with resignation, feeling the battle already lost, but he had to try one more marshal of his meagre forces.
‘Lothíriel, that throne has been in that very place for nigh on five hundred years, in fact ever since Brego built Meduseld...I don’t think...’
‘You don’t have to tell me that!’ Lothíriel cut in with an outraged expression, hands on her hips. ‘I have never seen such a thick layer of dust. Hergyth had to really scrub to get it all clean, and as for what else was under there...well, you don’t want to know. But be assured, I shall have it moved at least every year now; nothing will get a chance to fester under your throne, my lord.’
Move it every year! A muffled string of curses came from the carpenter’s lips. Éomer couldn’t have put it better himself.
With thanks to Lia for the beta and the title. LBJ
With thanks to Lia for the beta and the title. LBJ
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