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Chapter 2: Truce
In the evening, Éomer decided to visit the Dol Amroth encampment. Rumour had it that the ships that morning had brought foodstuff, musicians, jugglers and other entertainers, so it was only natural to want to go and see. It had nothing at all to do with a certain slim, dark eyed girl, he told himself.
Imrahil had set up camp near the Anduin on a meadow encircled by trees. Lanterns hung from their branches and there were tables of food and drink dotted about. One entire end of the meadow though was taken up by a newly erected stage, screened by curtains hung from trees either side. Just as they joined the crowd, the curtains were drawn back, revealing a forest scene with a woman in a long, flowing dress and a man kneeling at her feet. Another man stepped to the front of the stage and began to narrate the story of Beren and Lúthien.
Éomer had never seen anything like it and watched in fascination when the curtains were drawn closed, only to reveal the next scene at Thingol’s court a little later. As the story continued, some of the changes in scenery needed more time, so to divert the audience, a succession of musicians, boys on stilts and tumblers displayed their skills in front of the stage.
Suddenly he spotted a movement that seemed familiar. Half a dozen girls wearing feathered masks and with colourful scarves sewn onto their sleeves had come forward to much cheering of the crowd. They probably would not have needed to do much at all to garner applause, but without a pause they launched into a complicated routine of walking on their hands, turning cartwheels and somersaults. The masks showed nothing of their faces except the eyes, but Éomer honed in on one of them at once: he recognised that extra flash of exuberant confidence the little figure radiated.
Exchanging a glance with Éothain, Éomer began to move forward through the crowd towards the stage. This time he would discover more about her and at least learn her name. Could it be the girl was just a dancer and acrobat? Yet he could have sworn her accent marked her for a noblewoman. One who had fallen on hard times? He frowned, remembering Amrothos putting his arm around her waist with far too much familiarity. Yet he would have sworn his friend was not the type of man to take advantage of a woman’s hardship.
“Éomer, my friend,” somebody hailed him that moment.
Looking round, he found Imrahil beaming at him. “Have you come to admire our tableaus?” the Prince of Dol Amroth asked him.
“Tableaus?” Éomer asked, momentarily distracted. After a last round of somersaults, the dancers were disappearing behind the stage and the curtains opened again. She was getting away!
Imrahil took his arm and motioned at the stage. “Look, the Halls of Mandos. Isn’t it wonderfully done? So lifelike! My wife organises it all,” he continued, before Éomer could even think of a reply. “She believes in educating people in our history and culture.”
Éomer had to admit the home of the Judge of the Dead looked suitably dark and gloomy. “Very lifelike,” he agreed dryly.
Imrahil looked pleased at his praise. “Yes, Aglarel puts a lot of effort into it. Every year we do a different story and they tour Belfalas.”
“They do?” Éomer tried to inch away, but his friend would not let such a sympathetic audience escape.
While Imrahil explained in great detail how the scenes were changed over, Éomer discreetly craned his neck, but to his disappointment the troupe of dancers did not come on again. Very soon Lúthien and Beren reached Ossiriand and the curtains came down on the final tableau.
“My friend, you have to meet my wife and young daughter,” Imrahil said, drawing him towards the stage. “They only arrived this morning.”
“I really don’t want to intrude on your family reunion,” Éomer protested. By the time he would be able to excuse himself, the girl might be gone! Out of the corner of his eye he encountered a sardonic look from Éothain, who no doubt guessed his thoughts.
“No, no, I insist,” Imrahil told him. “They will be so pleased to get to know you. Little Lothíriel has been plaguing me with questions about you all afternoon. Ah, here’s my wife,” he exclaimed.
A slim woman in a rich, red dress that clung admiringly to her figure joined them and gave her husband a peck on the cheek.
“Aglarel, my dear,” Imrahil said, “Let me introduce you to the King of Rohan.”
For a moment Éomer was completely taken aback. The tawny skin, diminutive size, black eyes... But this woman had a maturity his dancing girl lacked.
He encountered a look of enquiry in Aglarel’s eyes and hurriedly recovered his manners. “Lady Aglarel, I’m yours to command.”
“King Éomer, it’s a pleasure meeting you,” Imrahil’s wife replied smoothly. She was probably used to men staring at her foolishly!
“And here’s my daughter,” Imrahil said at that moment, “my sweet little Lothíriel.”
For the second time in as many minutes Éomer found himself gawping stupidly at a woman. This one he knew only too well.
“Honoured to make your acquaintance,” the Princess of Dol Amroth said, sinking into a demure curtsy. “And that of your men,” she added, causing Éothain to close his open mouth with a snap.
“Lothíriel has been assisting her mother with her educational work,” Imrahil said with a fond look at his offspring.
Had she! Why did he get the impression that she wrapped her father around her little finger? “How good of her,” Éomer said.
She must have caught his sarcastic undertone, for a corner of her mouth quirked. “We all do what we can to help,” she answered modestly. A small red feather had got caught in her hair, he noticed. From her costume?
Imrahil turned to his wife. “My dear, Éomer has been admiring your work.”
“Oh, are you interested in that kind of thing?” Lady Aglarel asked, her eyes lighting up. “It is so important to keep our heritage alive, isn’t it?”
Not giving him a chance to reply, she launched into a description of past performances. With amusement, Éomer recognised a similar enthusiasm in her that his keeper of the studbook displayed when discussing horse breeding. He did not get alarmed until she looked him up and down appraisingly.
“We’re always looking for volunteers,” she said. “I wonder... perhaps you’d make a good Huor.”
“Or of course. Eorl the Young! What more fitting story than that!” She gifted him with a dazzling smile.
Éomer’s alarm grew. “I really don’t think I have any talent in that direction.”
“Oh, everybody’s a little nervous at first, but you’ll soon get used to it,” Lady Aglarel assured him.
“Perhaps we could have straw horses, Mother, to make it more realistic,” her daughter suggested. That girl delighted in getting him into trouble!
She turned to him. “Don’t worry, King Éomer. You’d just have to stand there and look heroic.”
What a handful! He narrowed his eyes at her and she must have felt she treaded a thin line. “But, Mother,” she said, “didn’t you want to tell the legend of Isildur and the Oathbreakers at the Stone of Erech next?”
“Yes, that’s true,” Lady Aglarel said. She sighed. “With recent events there are so many stories I would like to remind people of. Never have they been more relevant! I’m afraid it might be a while until we can concentrate on Eorl the Young.”
Able to breathe again, Éomer assured her he did not mind. Then he decided to take his chance. “Your brother Amrothos has been praising Dol Amroth’s food,” he remarked to Lothíriel, “perhaps you would be so kind as to show me round the tables?”
“I would be delighted to, my lord king.” She looked at her parents for permission. “If I may?”
“Yes, of course, my sweet,” her father replied, no doubt thinking what a well-behaved, docile daughter he had. “You’ll be in the best of hands.”
A flick of the eye told Éothain to stay behind and a moment later Éomer escorted the Princess of Dol Amroth towards the tables under the trees.
Once they were out of earshot, he looked down at her. Eyes modestly lowered, she walked with just the fingers of one hand resting lightly on his proffered arm. “So tell me,” he said, “does Imrahil have any idea at all of what his sweet little girl is up to?”
She gave a gurgling laugh. “You mean dunking allied kings? No, not really.”
Her audacity took his breath away. “I wonder what he’d say if I told him of your adventure this afternoon?”
“You wouldn’t,” she declared with utter certainty.
“What makes you think so? I have every reason to feel provoked.” He did his best to look stern and intimidating.
Apparently he failed dismally. “You’re friends with Amrothos,” Lothíriel answered as if that explained everything. “He’s infallible at finding kindred spirits.”
“I’m not sure whether to take that as a compliment.”
“I know! He calls me his favourite sibling,” she confided to him. Her eyes danced with mischief.
She was enchanting – and she probably knew it. “You’ve certainly given me a new picture of Gondorian womanhood,” he said dryly “It’s not every day you see a princess drenched in muddy water.”
“No, I suppose not. And not every day either you see a king balancing on logs and playing silly games...”
Involuntarily, he had to grin. “You’re right. There’s something very intoxicating about being alive when not long ago you never expected to see another sunrise.”
“Oh, yes, it can make you giddy,” she said in a low voice, almost as if talking to herself.
Startled that she would understand, he stared at her. They had halted underneath one of the trees and he drew her deeper into its shade. “What makes you say so?”
Lothíriel shrugged. “It’s not only the men who faced death. We always knew that if Minas Tirith fell, Dol Amroth would not be able to hold out. Naturally the women discussed what to do, whether to kill themselves before capture or try to take some of the enemy with them.”
Éomer felt stunned. She said it so matter-of-factly!
“Mother has Umbarian roots,” Lothíriel continued. “In fact we’re descended from the last lawful Lord of the Haven before the usurper Castamir took over, so the Corsairs would probably have wanted to take us there. I thought I might be able to do some damage, for example set fire to their fortress before...” Her voice stumbled. “...well, they killed me.”
They would have done much more than simply kill her! It was unbearable to consider. “I’m so sorry,” he exclaimed.
She looked at him in surprise. “But you have nothing to apologise for, you came to our rescue.”
He did not know why he felt he ought to have protected her better when he had not known her above a day. “I just wish you had never needed to face such a decision.”
Lothíriel inclined her head. “So do I. Yet it made me realise how lucky I am and that I want to live life to the full.”
“And so you shall!”
For a moment something unsettlingly intense lay between them. But Éomer was not quite ready for it. He looked away.
“You say you have Umbarian roots,” he remarked after a moment, trying for a lighter tone. “So your mother hails from the south?” He offered her his arm and they started walking again, along a path down to the river bank. It would lead them away from the tables of food, but she offered no protest.
“Yes, mother’s family is proud of being the last loyal Umbarians,” Lothíriel answered. “After the kin-strife they had to flee and settled in Tolfalas. But they brought many of their customs along and a tradition of having tumblers and acrobats.”
“Is that how you learnt your skills?”
A grin flashed across her face. “Yes. Mother let me tag along with her from when I was a little child. Of course she wanted to teach me about Gondor’s history, but I was always more interested in playing with the acrobats.” She chuckled. “Poor Mother, I must have been quite a disappointment to her, for she loves her tableaus.”
“She won’t really try to stick me in one, will she?” Éomer asked with a shudder.
Another grin. “Well, since you won’t give me away, I’ll talk her out of it. Mother can be very persuasive, but don’t worry.”
Éomer slowed his steps when they reached the river. Behind them, the lanterns still twinkled between the tree branches, but they had left the crowd behind. “Does this mean we’ve reached a truce?” He lowered his voice. “I would like that very much.”
The bright moonlight showed her blushing. So after all Lothíriel was not always quite as self-assured as she seemed. “If you wish,” she answered.
“I do.” He turned her to face him and picked the red feather from hair. “Your father mentioned you asked him lots of questions about me.”
Her flush deepened. “Perhaps I did.”
Knowing that he was playing a dangerous game, with a friend’s daughter moreover, he nevertheless could not resist the impulse to trail the feather across her cheek and down her throat. It was just too delicious to see her thus unsettled, with a blush spreading across her dusky skin, her dark eyes large and startled. Considering what she did to him, it was only fair to get his own back. “And what did your father tell you about me?”
She lifted her chin in a challenge. “That you’re honourable and brave, will make a great king to your people, unflinching in battle and dauntless in the face of the enemy.”
“Oh!” He couldn’t help feeling flattered by her words. “That’s high praise from Imrahil.”
Lothíriel gave a guileless smile. Éomer instinctively knew it boded no good. “Yes, but then that’s the same man who thinks me his sweet little girl.”
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