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A/N: This is just a short, fun scenario in three chapters of how Eomer and Lothiriel could have met. I'm mostly busy with original writing these days, but this particular idea just wouldn't leave me alone, so in the end I gave in and wrote it down. I hope you'll enjoy it!
Chapter 1: Challenge
Field of Cormallen, April 3019
The Rider hit the water with a splash. Éomer winced in sympathy. Not another one! There went their fifth man, but the Rohirrim were still ahead, even if their lead had narrowed dangerously. On the opposite side of the creek, Amrothos twirled his staff in his fingers and gave an exaggerated bow as his men cheered him.
“Ready to surrender yet, horse boys?” he called.
Éomer growled. “Not to a piece of bilge scum like you,” he shouted back, using one of Amrothos’s favourite insults.
While their men exchanged colourful descriptions of the opposite side’s ancestry, he and the Prince of Dol Amroth exchanged grins of perfect amity.
Éomer hadn’t enjoyed himself so much in ages. But honour demanded that he take the game seriously – it wouldn’t do to lose to a bunch of harbour rats like Amrothos’s friends. “We’ll drown you, just you wait!” he yelled across the creek.
In answer, Amrothos strutted forward onto the thin log bridging the stream between them and did a little jig. It was a mistake. The wood, carefully smoothed in preparation and by now covered in mud and water, wobbled under his weight. Amrothos threw out his arms and tried to recover his balance, but to no avail. Splash!
The Rohirrim howled with laughter when Amrothos resurfaced in the middle of the creek, which was only chest-high anyway, a stunned expression on his face. Amongst much mocking and ribbing he had to scramble up the bank of the stream and hand the Dol Amroth staff to the next man.
Éomer did a quick count of the tokens in his pocket. Five pieces left to distribute to the ‘dry’ men on the Rohirrim’s side, including himself. By his reckoning the Dol Amroth camp now had only three left, but they had more than halved the gap since the beginning of the bout.
“Let me have a go,” Éothain begged.
With a grin Éomer handed over one of the tokens to his friend. “Go get them.”
The log shook when the big man stepped out onto it. In the centre, a red ribbon marked the border between the Rohirrim’s and the Dol Amroth side, which was forbidden to cross.
Éothain raised the staff with its blunted end high. “Who wants to swallow water next?”
One of Amrothos’s friends took up the challenge, though looking none too happy. The Dol Amroth men were game, Éomer had to give them that. And they might even win the triad yet, though the Rohirrim had built up a lead in the riding contest. However, the men from Belfalas had held their own during the archery tournament and seemed to think that they still had a chance to triumph by carrying off the third part.
Éothain and his opponent exchanged a few blows, carefully at first. The rules were simple: if you overstepped the red ribbon in the centre or were driven back onto your bank of the stream, you lost. Otherwise anything was allowed and the bout only ended when one of the contestants fell in the water. Very cold water, as the creek, a tributary of the Anduin, carried meltwater from the Ethel Dúath.
Slowly Éothain began to step up the attack, raining blows down on his hapless opponent. Of course strength only counted for so much in this game, but Éomer got the impression that the Dol Amroth men had been rattled by the loss of their leader. The tide had turned, he thought, only to grin at such a nautical expression, picked up from Amrothos. But true enough, a moment later Éothain’s opponent slipped and tumbled into the water.
“Who’s next?” Éothain shouted amid loud cheers from the Rohirrim.
Two left. As another of Amrothos’s friends picked up the Dol Amroth staff dripping with water, a wave of contentment swept through Éomer. To have no worries but how to win a silly game!
After years of having life and death riding on his decisions, of facing each day with the knowledge that it might be his last, it seemed an incredible luxury. He stretched leisurely, revelling in the warmth of the sun, the green smell of Ithilien’s woods, the simple feeling of being alive.
On the log, Éothain faced off his new opponent and sharp raps rang across the water. “Forth, Eorlingas!” he suddenly roared out. The other man hesitated at the Rohirric war cry a moment too long. Another splash.
Only one left! His Riders surrounded Éothain, slapping him on the back and offering encouragement for the final bout.
Éomer joined in. “Looks like I won’t get to have a go after all,” he said.
“I hope so, for I could do with a drink,” Éothain shot back. “And not river water either!”
The men laughed at that, shouting their agreement. On the Dol Amroth side meanwhile, some kind of conference seemed to be going on. The men from Belfalas huddled close together with Amrothos in the centre, discussing something – probably whom to choose for the last round.
However, Éomer felt confident. True, the Rohirrim had taken a while to get the hang of this game, but they were naturally athletic and had that instinctive balance developed by years of horseback riding, which would surely carry the day. Choosing a sun-warmed boulder, he settled down to enjoy the final bout.
“Are you ready yet?” Éothain yelled across the stream. “We haven’t got all day!”
Amrothos stepped forward. “We are,” he said quietly, before motioning to one of his men.
It was a lad Éomer had not seen before and he wondered if the boy had been on the boats conveying Imrahil’s wife from Dol Amroth, which had arrived that morning. He seemed very young, with not even a trace of down on his cheeks, and strangely enough wore one of those hats with netting hanging down from its wide brim, useful in the evening against insects, but surely unnecessary in the middle of the day?
“Protecting your delicate complexion for the ladies, little one?” one of Éomer’s men called out.
“First they have to find him,” another one teased, “which they might not do unless they stumble over him.”
As a third added a taunt on the lad’s virility, Éomer winced. The boy had not reached his full growth yet and was of slender built. Did he know not to take such words spoken in jest seriously?
But in answer the boy just accepted the Dol Amroth staff from Amrothos and stepped onto the log. It seemed to Éomer that white teeth flashed in a grin for a moment, but his face was difficult to make out behind the netting. Lithe as a cat, he moved forward.
Éomer had a sudden premonition of doom. He started up from his seat to warn his friend, but the two contestants had already touched staffs in a brief salute. Éothain initiated a couple of easy exchanges, obviously intending to let the lad save face. Their staffs met with a whack, though Éothain did not put much force behind his blows.
Éomer sank down on his boulder again. Had he been mistaken? The lad had good balance and moved nimbly, yet that hadn’t caused the sinking feeling in his stomach. No, it had been something else in his bearing just now, a cool, steely confidence completely at odds with his years.
“Ouch!” Éothain exclaimed and rubbed his elbow.
The boy lowered his staff for a moment. “Can we stop playing games now,” he said in a soft voice, “and fight in earnest?”
Several of the Riders caught their breath. Éothain was known for having a temper only second to Éomer’s! He swung round his staff and brought it down in a whistling arc, no doubt intending to end the match then and there.
Somehow the lad managed to catch the blow and let it slip harmlessly past him and away. Then, while Éothain was still regaining his balance, he threw himself down on one knee and spun his staff round and up between the Rider’s legs.
Time seemed to stretch and stop. The thought flashed through Éomer’s mind whether Stanhild, Éothain’s wife, would ever forgive him for leading her husband into such danger. He doubted it.
An involuntary gasp of horrified sympathy escaped from all Éomer’s men. Yet the staff stopped an inch from its deadly target. Éothain stood frozen, not daring to move. The two looked at each other for a moment, then with a twist of his wrist the lad swept Éothain’s feet away from under him.
A howl of outrage went up from the Rohirrim’s side. Éomer mechanically handed out a token to one of Éothain’s friends, who were all clamouring for revenge. Something was niggling at him, a feeling that all was not as it seemed.
Their new man did not last longer than a few heartbeats. In a fiendishly clever move, the Dol Amroth lad feinted at his head and when the Rider brought up his staff to parry, in a flash slipped below his guard and tripped him up before he could strike a single blow. He was fast! Éomer began to wonder if it had been him playing with Éothain earlier on, rather than the other way round.
The next man fared no better and ended up in the water before his predecessor had even climbed out. On the other side of the creek, Amrothos’s friends had taken up chanting ‘Amroth! Amroth!’
Their victory was slipping away from them! This time Éomer took more time to consider whom to send into the fray next – he refused to think of it as sacrificing one of his men – and chose Beornmod, not their strongest fighter, but level-headed and agile. Beornmod approached his task warily, exchanging cautious blows with his adversary and never once lowering his guard. The lad from Dol Amroth danced forward and back with supreme confidence, making it look as if he were treading a level road instead of a wet, slippery log.
“The little wretch,” Éothain, who had come to stand next to Éomer, said. Yet there was a hint of admiration in his voice. Or perhaps he was just relieved to still be able to father more children.
Éomer had to admit that Amrothos had chosen his last man well. On a normal training field, the lad’s size, lack of strength and smaller reach would have put him at a disadvantage, but here it was speed and balance that counted. And ferocity! Éomer winced when Beornmod got hit in the side. By the time he brought his own staff to bear, his opponent had already ducked away.
Then it happened: taking a step back, the lad seemed to lose his footing as his right heel slipped. Seeing his chance, Beornmod attacked at once to loud cheers of encouragement from the Rohirrim. His staff hissed through the air, straight for the boy’s midriff.
He wasn’t there. Beornmod’s staff passed harmlessly over the lad’s head, as he had thrown himself down prone on the log. And before Beornmod could recover and bring it round again, the boy jumped up, as sure-footed on the slippery wood as a sleepwalker, and tipped him into the water.
“He did that on purpose!” Éothain exclaimed.
“Yes,” Éomer agreed grimly. Only one token left.
Leaning on his staff, the lad was catching his breath, watching them warily. Behind him, the Dol Amroth men were jumping up and down with excitement.
“Enough is enough,” Éomer declared. Once Beornmod had climbed out of the stream, wet as a drowned rat, he held out his hand for the staff.
“Éomer Cyning!” his men began to chant as he stepped out onto the log.
The lad’s eyes widened behind the netting, but he lifted his own staff in a salute. Éomer took a cautious step forward. The wood was even narrower and more treacherous than it had looked from the shore! Suddenly he wondered if he had let his temper get the better of him. Again.
They exchanged the first few wary feints and he looked his adversary up and down. The hand on the staff was slim and tanned. Of his face, he could make out very little, just a pair of dark eyes and a hint of black hair. The boy wore loose clothing, a baggy tunic in Dol Amroth blue over trousers, but though it was plain and unadorned, the quality hinted at him being more than a simple foot soldier. Besides, his self-assurance surely marked him as noble. Could he be related to Amrothos? Éomer knew that the prince had no younger brothers, only a little sister, while Elphir’s son was still an infant, but perhaps a cousin?
Whack! Éomer cursed. Distracted by his thoughts, he’d nearly let the little rogue land a hit, only reflexes honed by constant combat saving him. The boy was as fast as a striking snake! White teeth flashed behind the netting, as if the lad could read his thoughts. He was enjoying himself, was he? Grimly Éomer settled down to business. Let him find out what it meant to take on the King of the Mark.
So far they had mostly exchanged feints, but now Éomer began to put real force behind his blows. He had the reach of his opponent and on the training field, a single, powerful strike would soon have put an end to the bout, but on the slippery log he could not bring his whole advantage to bear. Somehow the lad always managed to deflect Éomer’s staff, skipping forwards and backwards nimbly. Also, though there seemed to be a few moments where he faltered and Éomer could have pressed an attack, Beornmod’s example was fresh in his mind as a warning.
He could not help a feeling of satisfaction though when he managed to land a blow on the lad’s left arm. Not a disabling stroke, but it had to hurt. Unfortunately he could not move forward on the log fast enough to pursue his advantage and nearly slipped when in a furious counter-attack the boy slashed at his legs. On the opposite side the Dol Amroth men had fallen silent and Amrothos hovered anxiously near the shore like a mother duck anxious for her ducklings. Really, what did the man think? He was no orc! Yet if the boy wanted to play men’s games, he had to take the consequences. Besides, losing four of his Riders to him so ignominiously still smarted.
Left, right, up, below. He nearly got caught by the regular rhythm when the lad suddenly ducked and instead of parrying the stroke let it whistle over his head. Cleverly done! Éomer began to think that perhaps he should offer the boy a place as his squire, since he’d promoted his own to a full member of his éored after the battle of the Pelennor Fields. Such cool-headedness and fighting spirit deserved to be rewarded and they would soon feed him up to a proper size.
But now it was time to make an end. The lad was getting tired, he could tell. Inexorably Éomer pressed his advantage of greater reach and power, wearing him down. Suddenly he saw his chance. The boy had barely managed to block the last stroke and when Éomer swung round his staff was a moment late responding. Shifting his grip, Éomer sent the staff whistling through the air, putting all his weight behind it and aiming low at his legs – there would be no ducking away this time! The lad cried out.
And he jumped. Like a tumbler, he twisted his body into a backward somersault, somehow still holding on to his staff. Éomer’s own weapon whizzed by harmlessly and taken by surprise, he teetered. The log rocked as the lad landed on it, unbalancing Éomer further. He threw out his arms wide to catch himself.
Kneeling on one knee, the boy swung his staff round. Once again time seemed to stretch and slow. Éomer arched his back, desperately trying to regain his balance.
A tap on his side, light as a love pat. Just enough to topple him over.
With a rush time speeded up again. Éomer met the stream face down, flailing about wildly. But at the last moment, his staff connected with something.
Cold! Éomer surfaced and spat out a mouthful of water, disgusted with himself. They had lost! He brushed back his loose hair and stood up, for the stream only came up to his chest.
A hat floated by.
What? That moment a splutter came from behind him. He spun round.
“You cheated!” The lad rose from the water, eyes blazing with wrath.
He must have felled the boy without intending to! “I didn’t mean to, I’m sor–” He broke off. Soaked, the lad’s clothes stuck to his body. Éomer felt his mouth fall open.
Following his glance, the lad looked down. Blood rushed to his face and he hurriedly ducked back into the water. “What?” he – she! – snarled.
“You’re, you’re a...” Stunned, Éomer motioned at her.
“You still lost. You hit the water first!”
Her hair floated in a black tangle around her. How could he have been so blind! Dark, almond shaped eyes set over haughty cheekbones scowled at him. Suddenly he realised what he’d done. He’d struck her with his staff. Twice, in fact!
“Lady...” he stuttered, aghast at himself, “I never meant to hurt you!” A sense of grievance swept through him. “But what were you thinking of? You might have got seriously injured, had I landed a blow in earnest!”
She sniffed in disdain. “First you’d have to hit the mark.”
The girl had a point there. But he’d walk barefoot through Mordor rather than admit as much! They glared at each other.
Suddenly she grinned. It transformed her face from haughty lady into impish rogue. “That’s not fair actually, I’m sorry. You did hit me right and proper earlier on. Few people manage to do that.” She gave him a smile. “I’m sure I’ll have quite a bruise.”
“That’s not something I’m proud of,” he exclaimed.
She put her head to one side. “No, I’m sure you’re not. But it won’t be my first bruise ever, you know. And how I enjoyed myself! Amrothos never lets me play at home, he claims I put the men off their stride.”
Éomer wasn’t surprised. He wouldn’t be able to concentrate either with such a bundle of mischief around! That moment Amrothos came splashing into the water, a borrowed shirt in his hands, which he wrapped hastily around the girl.
“Enough! Get out of here,” he commanded.
The girl obediently followed him to the other side of the stream. Éomer couldn’t help wondering in what kind of relationship she stood to Amrothos when he slipped his arm with absentminded familiarity round her waist. A very trim waist, Éomer noticed, as shapely as what other glimpses he had caught of her.
Amrothos hustled her up the bank of the creek and his men surrounded her with more offers of coverings. Yet for a moment she paused and looked back over her shoulder. A grin, inviting him to share her amusement, lit up her face.
Unexpectedly, Éomer found himself caught up in her childlike enjoyment. He saluted her gravely. “I bow to the victor.”
She flashed him a brilliant smile. Then she was gone.
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