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Ten days later...
The early morning mist rose from the meadows in lacy swirls, swiftly dissolved by the rising sun, and on the long grass by the river, dew drops glittered like diamonds. Éomer looked down at the woman walking by his side.
“You don’t mind getting up early?”
Lothíriel suppressed what he suspected was a yawn. “It’s nice once you’re up,” she replied.
He grinned. “Why, Lothíriel, you’re getting diplomatic! Admit that you’re cursing me for dragging you out of bed at a time when all sensible people are still asleep.”
That earned him an answering grin. “I would of course never hold the King of Rohan in anything but the highest esteem.”
She flashed him one of her urchin smiles. “I know. Father would be proud of me.”
They continued on their path along the river in contented silence. Éomer knew that she was not an early riser, but he had wanted to talk to her alone and in a busy camp that was not an easy task. At least there had not been the least danger of Amrothos trailing along at that time of the morning.
Underneath the long cloak she’d wrapped around herself, she wore her acrobat’s costume, he noticed, with the feathered mask dangling from a ribbon.
“Will you give a performance later on today?” he asked.
“Yes, this afternoon. It’s the final one before we return to Minas Tirith, so Mother is determined to have it absolutely perfect. You see, Lord Aragorn will be there.” She cast him a sideways look. “And perhaps the King of Rohan?”
“He will be,” Éomer assented. Not surprisingly, really, as he had attended most performances, but nevertheless Lothíriel looked pleased.
She took his arm with easy familiarity. “Wonderful. I promise we will try extra hard to make it spectacular.”
Éomer could not help feeling alarmed. The routines they performed changed every time and some of them had the dancers tossed high into the air or balancing on each other’s shoulders. More than once his heart had nearly stopped! However, when he said anything, Lothíriel only laughed and breezily assured him broken necks were rare.
“Are you still planning to leave tomorrow?” he asked to distract himself.
“Yes, it takes a while to take down the stage, and since Mother wants to show her tableaus in Minas Tirith, we need to get there in plenty of time before the coronation.”
“Will I see you there?” he asked.
She studied the ground. “If you wish. We have a house on the Sixth Circle, you’ll always have a welcome there.”
From her father or from her? Yet he did not voice his question. While he had made up his mind days ago, he could only guess at her feelings. For a moment doubts surfaced: did he have the right to ask what he wanted to ask? Despite her self-assurance and quick wit, she was still very young. Not Imrahil’s little girl – oh no, she knew the power of her charms – but even so with a limited knowledge of the world.
They rounded a bend of the river and came upon a meadow crossed by a creek. Empty and peaceful, with its trampled grass recovered, the place nevertheless was familiar at once.
“Look!” Lothíriel exclaimed. “Our log is still there.” She shed her cloak and thrust it at him.
Éomer regretted the loss of her warm, subtle form leaning against him, but he did watch in appreciation as she danced across the log, arms gracefully extended like a flying bird. The yellow, orange and red ribbons sewn onto the sleeves floated out behind her, while the silken top hugged her figure closely. On the other side, she twirled round and turned a cartwheel. Shapely legs flew through the air.
Remembering his dunking in icy water, he followed more cautiously across the log, but reached the other side without mishap. By unspoken consent, they sat down on some boulders by the river. The Anduin made a wide turn at this point, revealing a small, pebbly beach.
Lothíriel stared out over the water glinting in the sun and sighed. “I will be sorry to leave. It’s so informal here, quite unlike the court at Minas Tirith.”
“It must be,” Éomer agreed. He had certainly taken every opportunity to make use of that informality – although Lothíriel had seemed to enjoy being whisked away for horse rides or walks through the woods.
“Yet I think you are also looking forward to going home?” Lothíriel asked. She picked up a pebble and turned it round slowly in her hands.
“Oh yes.” He wondered if he had bored her with his talk about the Mark. “I’ve had regular couriers from Edoras, of course,” he explained, “but I’m still impatient to return.” He also wanted to find out what kept Éowyn in Minas Tirith’s Houses of Healing, though she wrote that she was recovered. More and more his brotherly instincts told him that her letters did not tell the whole story.
“So you won’t stay long in Minas Tirith?” Lothíriel interrupted his brooding. She seemed uncommonly serious for once, quite unlike her usual teasing self.
“No, not above a few days. I need to see to things at home.”
“Of course.” She tossed the pebble aside and jumped up. Skipping down to the beach, she balanced from one stone to the next.
More slowly, Éomer followed. He had noticed before how Lothíriel always liked to be in motion, though she was not usually so restless. Yet he loved to watch her slim form – would have liked even better to touch it, but that was a thought better suppressed.
He had no right. Yet.
“I suppose you will be very busy in Rohan?” Lothíriel asked.
“Oh yes. Our best farmlands lie in the West-Mark and were devastated by Saruman’s orcs,” Éomer answered, “but I also need to see to the horse herds in the East Emnet and our homesteads in the mountains.” Aragorn had promised to help with supplies, but it would still mean a lot of work to make sure the Rohirrim would face the next winter with confidence.
Lothíriel jumped onto a large boulder lying half submerged in the water, then onto another one further out. She had put her bird mask on and only her dark eyes showed, making it difficult to guess what she was thinking. “You will be doing a lot of travelling about Rohan then,” she stated flatly.
Was he missing something, Éomer wondered? Her exuberant zest for life that he liked so much was subdued and she showed none of that delightful impertinence, meant to tease him, but which just made him want to kiss her.
“Yes, I will be travelling a lot,” he said in answer to her question.
Lothíriel leapt onto another stone and looked back over her shoulder. There were a couple more boulders further out, but the distance was too big to jump. “In summer we’re usually down in Dol Amroth, but we spend the autumn in Minas Tirith,” she said, letting her voice peter out.
Was he imagining things or had Lothíriel just given him a hint she would like to see him again? He wasn’t exactly an expert at finding out what was going on in a woman’s mind and this one was as clever at sparring with words as she was at sparring with staffs! She so delighted in teasing him, he found it difficult to know when she was serious.
From the start she had treated him much as she treated her brother Amrothos – a good sign or not? For one thing was certain: she would not let any conventional considerations guide her in her choices. As she had said that first evening, she intended to live life to the full. And beneath her playful manner lay a core of inner steel. The woman who had contemplated letting herself be led into slavery in Umbar, just to strike a last blow at the enemy, would not marry to please her father or to strengthen an alliance.
Not that he wanted her to!
When he hesitated what to say, she turned away from him and looked out over the river. Something in the line of her back, the way her arms hung limply by her side, spoke of being forlorn. Forlorn? His laughing, teasing rogue, always overflowing with energy and wit?
Éomer kicked off his boots and waded into the water. He needed to know – and for that he had to put her somewhere she could not elude him, neither with her quick feet nor her clever tongue.
Hearing him splashing through the water, she turned round. “Éomer?”
He picked her up, threw her over his shoulder and strode out into deeper water.
“Éomer! What are you doing!” Lothíriel exclaimed.
Gently he put her down on the boulder furthest out in the row. The water, coming down from the mountain slopes and decidedly chilly, came up to his knees. “I’m giving a demonstration of how to deal with superior forces,” he answered. “First you have to get them on their own and unarmed, then you put them at a disadvantage.” He grinned up at her.
The stone wobbled and she had to hold on to his shoulders, but she quickly caught her balance and straightened up. “Éomer, I’m warning you! This is my best costume and I need it this afternoon. Don’t you dare get me wet.” Yet she grinned back, the sparkle that made her his Lothíriel rekindled.
He reached up to snatch her mask. “I’ve got you now.”
Lothíriel put her hands on her hips and the costume’s silken ribbons twirled round her in a riot of yellow, orange and red. It suited her; the vibrant colours brought out the warm tone of her dusky skin and dramatic contrast of black hair. He could not wait to see her in vivid emerald green.
“Well, you’ve got me at your mercy now,” she conceded with an urchin grin. Even so she cast a measuring glance at the closest boulder, but luckily must have decided against trying to jump. “What do you want? A suitably high forfeit next time we play the water joust?”
“No more impudence from you!” Éomer exclaimed. However, he hesitated over his next words. It was disconcerting that this young girl, slim, graceful and hardly coming up to his chin, held a large part of his happiness in her hands. He cleared his throat. “Listen, Lothíriel, I want you to consider something in the next months and to think well about it.”
She went still. “What is it?”
“If...if perhaps, in due time, you might become my wife?” Éomer did not wait for an answer, but went on hurriedly: “I do not ask lightly, for I know it’s a big step for you to take, to leave your family behind and move to a strange country.”
“But I would do all I can to help you settle in the Riddermark and be happy there,” he tried to reassure her. “Please think about it over the summer and autumn.”
She took a deep breath. “I don’t have to.”
“What!” His heart plummeted.
She held out a hand. “Éomer, I already know my answer. Yes.”
He looked at her stupidly. “Yes?”
“Yes.” She leant forward, making the stone wobble, and at once he reached up to steady her. Shyly, Lothíriel touched his face. “I had thought that you rather liked me. And had hoped... that you might...” She blushed.
Like her? How little idea she had of her allure. “Oh, I wouldn’t call it liking,” he breathed.
“No.” Luckily he knew just how to explain. They had sparred with staffs and words, now it was time to move on to the third stage. And for once he might even get the better of her.
He kissed her.
Lothíriel flung her arms round him and responded enthusiastically. She pressed her body against him and wrapped her legs around his, so he found his hands full of delightful, eager woman. Soft lips, supple body, hair scented with rose perfume, warm skin burning under his touch. For a while he forgot all other sensations.
Breathing hard, they separated at last, though Éomer let his hands rest on her hips. She nestled against him and gave a sigh of contentment. “That was marvellous, just as I had imagined.”
He was surprised into a laugh. “How had you imagined it?”
Lothíriel lifted her face to him. “Well, like those moments when it all comes together, the music, the rhythm, all dancers moving as one and you’re doing a line of somersaults, feeling as light as a bird.”
She set him quite a target! “Well, I’m glad you liked it.”
Dimples appeared in her cheeks. “Oh, I wouldn’t call it liking.”
She had recovered her wits all right! With her as his wife, staid, dignified Meduseld would never be the same again. But he didn’t mind, not if she filled it with warmth and joy. He shook his head at her. “What a rogue you are!”
“Yes, but you knew that.”
He slid his hands up her back, still finding it difficult to believe the reality of her in his arms, pliant and yielding. “Lothíriel, are you quite sure?” The moment the words left his mouth, he realised it was a stupid question. That had not been the kiss of a woman who was unsure of her feelings!
Lothíriel tilted up her face for another kiss. “Really, Éomer, how could I possibly resist you?” Her eyes danced with laughter. “You swept me off my feet at our very first meeting.”
A/N: I hope you've enjoyed this story, even if it's only a short one. I'm rather busy with Real Life at the moment and writing original stuff, but quite probably I'll write some more Éomer / Lothíriel stories in the future. Thanks so much for reviewing - it's always such a pleasure to post here!
And many thanks, as always, go to my beta Lady Bluejay and the ladies of The Garden. Also thank you to Deandra for inspiring me to return to Middle-Earth, Adelie P for bringing this particular idea back to my mind and Thanwen for feeding me during the writing of it!
A/N: Finally, if you've enjoyed this story, I hope you won't mind if I plug my original novels, now available as eBooks and in print (just search for 'Lia Patterson' on Amazon/iBook/Kobo/Nook etc). I write fantasy romance and stay true to my usual spunky (and often stubborn) heroines, but the stories and the worlds are very different from my LotR fanfics.
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