Morgengifu

Meduseld - in the last year of the Third Age.

The bed creaked slightly as Éomer carefully shifted his weight, not wanting to disturb his sleeping wife – his arm had gone numb where she had been lying on it for the past couple of hours and he needed to move. When she showed no signs of waking, he did so cautiously, giving the affected arm a shake to get rid of the tingling sensation before he draped it gently over her, pulling her into the warmth of his body. Her eyelids flickered, but she did no more than give a little sigh and snuggle in closer.

Only a hint of dawn showed through the gap in the curtains, but one of the lamps still gave a soft glow over the bed, enough for him to relish the sight of his enchanting new wife. Lothíriel of Dol Amroth– his wife. Queen Lothíriel – his wife of...about fifteen hours. A smile moved his lips and he brushed them gently across her forehead, loving the touch of silky black hair and ivory skin. Enchanting indeed, and when she woke he would be able to gaze into those huge silver-grey irises. He choked back a laugh – those striking orbs had captivated him all those long years ago. Lothíriel would probably always be able to get her way just by looking at him, and when she discovered that, he would likely be in trouble. What hope had he now, when he hadn't been able to resist back then?

ooooo

'We need no further guidance,' said Elfhelm; 'for there are riders in the host who have ridden down to Mundburg in days of peace. I for one.' (From 'The Return of the King' by JRR Tolkien.)

Minas Tirith – TA 3006

The City of Kings jutted out onto the plain almost as if it had been spewed from the mountain itself. But perhaps not content with such common stone, its creators must have studded the white rock with precious jewels, because the whole city sparkled in the midday sun. Éomer stared, never having seen anything so vast and huge that had been built by the hands of man.

'Impressive isn't it,' the Rider by his side muttered. 'Beautiful,' another one added. Éomer dutifully nodded his agreement. Impressive certainly, but as to whether it was beautiful, he wasn't sure. Used to buildings that hugged the landscape, blending in colour and form to their surroundings, this statement of authority and skill stood out as a foil to the power of nature.

'Éomer!'

'Yes, Captain?' Éomer reacted immediately to the commanding voice, riding his horse forward when Elfhelm waved a mail-clad arm.

'Ride with me a while,' Elfhelm directed, motioning to his squire to drop back.

Éomer matched his horse's pace to that of his captain, waiting for the taciturn man to speak. Never one to waste words himself, Elfhelm disliked idle chatter. But Éomer respected him more than any other man, except perhaps his cousin Théodred, and felt privileged to be riding in his éored.

'You have not been to Mundburg before? Théodred did not bring you?' Elfhelm asked at last.

Éomer shook his head. 'He visited some years ago but I was deemed too young for a long, fast ride.'

'Well, the ride back will be faster than the journey here,' Elfhelm mused, gesturing behind to the string of horses, and the outriders keeping them in line. They had been escorting more than twenty from the breeding station at Aldburg. All good horses, destined for Gondor's errand riders and, some said, for Steward Denethor's two sons. Before he spoke again, Elfhelm cast his eyes to the top ramparts of the city where Éomer could see a white flag fluttering in the gentle breeze.

'You have a choice, Éomer. Last time I brought horses here the men were quartered in the citadel barracks and ate there, but Lord Denethor was kind enough to ask me to share the daymeal with himself, his sons and some of his captains. If the same happens again, I can introduce you to the Steward as Théoden King's sister-son and no doubt the invitation will be extended to you. But if you prefer you can stay with your fellow riders.'

Éomer let out a breath as he quickly went through the options in his mind. But the decision did not take much real thought. 'I think I will stay with the men, lord.' He dropped his voice. 'I am the youngest and most lowest ranked rider in your éored, and I want to rise by my own endeavours, also I want to be accepted by the men. It will not help me to become a real part of this unit if I set myself up as different because of my relationship to Théoden King.'

A rare smile crossed Elfhelm's face. 'Then I can only advise you to remember your young age and not to be inveigled into visiting the taverns with your compatriots. They will outdo you in both capacity and stamina and quite frankly it would please most of them to see you crawling around in your own vomit.'

Éomer laughed. 'They have already tried that, but although I enjoy a mug of ale I have no wish to become so inebriated that I don't know what I am doing.'

'Good, then you might take the time to see a bit of the city and ponder on the difference between the way we do things at home and what goes on here.'

Éomer had every intention of seeing all he could, and as they entered through the massive gates into the huge paved square he looked around in awe at the intricate stonework and the imposing effigies of Gondor's past heroes. Compared to the Riddermark it was all so very old. One particular thing he noticed was that no one had stuck any jewels on the stone walls as he had thought, but the rock itself contained tiny chips of bright crystal that reflected the light. Wondrous indeed.

And he could not fault the hospitality shown by the company with which the éored had been billeted. Straw pallets had been put down ready for their bedrolls and cold fare of fresh bread, meats and cheeses laid out to sustain them until the main meal of the day, which would be served at sunset. Éomer, his belly full of salted pork, courteously refused the invitation given by some of his fellows to join them in their search for a drinking hole and set off into the city. He wanted to find a present for Éowyn.

These Gondorians were certainly a polite lot –at every shop or stall he visited the proprietor placed his hand on his chest and bowed his respects, even though most were twice his age. There were so many things on sale, from fruit, flowers and sweetmeats to boots, belts and ornamental daggers. Éomer looked at some very pretty necklets but in the end decided to buy his sister a lady's dagger, one that had a small but lethal blade, sure she would undoubtedly prefer that in spite of not yet being out of childhood. The knife he finally settled on had crystals set into the handle, much like the shining chips in the stone around him; it would help him to explain how and why Minas Tirith glittered so amazingly in the sun. Pleased with his purchase, he visited another stall that sold leather goods to buy a sheath for the dagger. The one he chose was decorated with a gold design depicting mythical birds and animals which he hoped would please her. With his shopping done, and both knife and sheath stowed safely in his belt pouch, Éomer decided to visit Fleetfoot, just to make sure his horse had settled in the unfamiliar stables. He still had a while before he needed to meet his hosts in the mess hall.

He had been looking at the shops and stalls on his way down, but walking slowly back up to the higher levels Éomer had time to take in the architecture and note the many empty houses and deserted courts. It was certainly a city with plenty of room for others to dwell. But the street still struck him as busy; in fact he had never seen so many people together who were not warriors. Most showed an interest in him, especially the dark-haired children who whispered and pointed until he smiled at them. Then they bowed civilly, before running off laughing together. The climb made him warm and he briefly considered finding a tavern and downing a mug of ale, but spotting a stall selling different kinds of fruit juice he went over to see what was on offer. Pomegranate drew his attention. Éomer had no idea what a pomegranate was, but watched fascinated as the glossy pink-red fruits were halved and upended on a rounded grooved piece of metal, which was turned by a handle to allow the juice to collect in a jug below.

'Just arrived from Belfalas,' the stallholder told him as he passed over a mug. Éomer sipped at the dark red drink hesitantly, conscious of the man watching him for reaction. But a smile broke over his face as he tasted it – unusual certainly, but sweet and refreshing.

His thirst quenched, Éomer quickly reached the sixth level and the stables, but instead of immediately going in, his attention was caught by the sound of bird song coming from further along the road. Seeing a large building on the left of the quiet street, which appeared to be surrounded by a greensward and many trees, he wandered in that direction, pleased to see that the city did contain something other than stone and there were places free of people. When he reached the large building he saw that a few steps led up to a beautifully carved door and he stopped to read the inscription above it – of course, it was the Healing Houses. Thinking he would get a good view towards the Ephel Dúath, as the wall enclosing the greensward was only about shoulder height, he decided to carry on. Opposite the Healing houses were some substantial dwellings, built against the Citadel wall and hidden behind big gates and he guessed that important nobles lived on this level. When he turned his attention back to the southward side of the road, wondering if he would get a glimpse of Mount Doom from between the trees, he heard a cry. For a moment he did not realise where it had come from but when the cry was followed by a muffled sob he located the sound and looked down over the wall.

The ground fell away from the level of the road, so the drop was a lot higher the other side and sitting on the grass below was a child – a young girl with black hair. She was rubbing at her ankle.

'Are you all right? Are you hurt?' Éomer called out.

She didn't immediately see him and looked around confused.

'I'm up here.'

'Oh...I didn't see you.'

'Are you hurt?' Éomer repeated.

'Only a little, I think, but I dropped some of my apricots.' Looking around her she gestured to where Éomer could see a linen bag, some unfamiliar orange fruits spilled on the grass. 'I got down here easily but it's a lot higher to climb up from this side.'

'Yes, I can see that. Can you walk? If so there is a little door in the wall along there.' Éomer pointed a few yards on.

'It's locked. I tried it before. That's why I had to get over the wall.' She got to her feet and took a tentative step. 'It doesn't hurt much now, I will have to try and climb again.'

She had a cultured voice for a child and wore a very pretty blue dress, which made Éomer think she must be some nobleman's daughter. He wondered why she was collecting fruit and scrabbling over walls. 'Why don't you go into the Houses and come out through the front door?'

She lifted her head and stared at him. Now she was standing, he got a good look at her – an attractive little thing with a pale, heart-shaped face and big silver-grey eyes. About seven or eight, he guessed. But her expression told him she thought him a bit stupid.

'Because then they would know I'd been in here filching apricots, wouldn't they?'

He hid a smile. 'I suppose they would.'

'You will have to come down here and give me a hoist up.'

Definitely a nobleman's daughter! 'Will I?'

A little grin broke across her face and she fixed her huge eyes on him. 'Please will you climb down here and give me a hand to get back up?'

When he said nothing, she pointed to the bag on the grass. 'You can share my apricots.'

'But they're not yours, are they?'

She dismissed that idea with an impatient wave of her hand. 'Well, only the wasps seem to be eating them, and our cook makes wonderful apricot tarts. It would be a waste to let them rot, don't you think?'

'I suppose it would,' he agreed.

'So you will come down?' She smiled appealingly up at him.

Someone knew how to get her own way. Giving in — after all she couldn't stay down there all night – Éomer heaved himself up and put his leg over the wall. He hung by his hands, lowering himself down as far as possible before he dropped the last couple of feet. 'I will be able to get you up; I just hope I will be able to get myself back over.'

'You are very tall,' she said, looking him up and down. 'And anyway you will probably be able to climb one of the trees that hang over the wall.'

Climbing trees and assisting in filching fruit, Éomer was not sure his captain would approve. 'Right, let's see about getting you out of here.'

'Don't you want a apricot?' She picked up a beautiful ripe golden apricot and held it out to him.

It did look good, and Éomer chuckled. 'I suppose I might as well since I'm here.' He felt a bit of a fool admitting he had never tasted one, so kept quiet on that.

She nodded and sat down on the grass. 'If we eat the ones that fell out of the bag there will be room in it for us to collect some more.'

Us! Laughing to himself, Éomer sat down beside her. He took a big bite of the apricot and had to lean away so the juice didn't dribble on his clothes. 'Hmm... I must admit that is one of the best fruits I have ever tasted. We don't get these at home.'

'Good aren't they,' the girl mumbled, her mouth full of apricot. Wiping her sleeve across her mouth she looked at him intently. 'Where is home?'

'My home is a long way from here; I come from a country called The Riddermark.'

Her eyes travelled over him. 'I suppose that's why you look so different,' she said after giving him a thorough assessment. 'I look like everyone else here, although my home's a long way away too. I come from Belfalas and I am here with my aunt and uncle to buy things. Why have you come here?' She bit into another apricot, juice dripping down her chin as she waited for his answer.

Éomer smiled to himself, wondering how many she had already eaten. 'I came here to bring horses for Steward Denethor.'

Her eyes widened, bigger than ever. 'Did you, that's interesting. You must be important then.'

Éomer laughed. It would be a long time before he considered himself important. 'I am not important at all,' he said with an indulgent smile. 'Just the youngest and lowliest rider in Captain Elfhelm's éored. But we brought numerous horses, so it took many of us to keep them safe on the journey. Horses figure very highly in the way of life of us Rohirrim.'

She nodded, looking intently at him. 'I would like that. I've got a pony at home, she's called Moonbeam.'

'A very nice name for a pony,' Éomer agreed. 'I have a horse called Fleetfoot.'

'Is that because she's fast?' She looked around the grass and found another apricot, handing it to him.

'Fleetfoot's a gelding,' Éomer corrected her. 'And yes he is fast. Most of our horses are, which is why the Steward likes to buy them.'

She picked up an apricot for herself and took a big bite from it, the juice dropping onto her dress. She scowled at the stain, and put the rest of the apricot in her mouth, fishing out the stone after a moment and flicking it away. 'I like riding, and I was doing really well because my brother Erchirion was teaching me. But now he's gone to sea, and Amrothos isn't good enough to teach me yet, and Elphir is always out on patrol.'

So she had brothers, no wonder she was used to getting her own way. 'Isn't there anyone else to teach you?'

She shrugged. 'There's the stable-master, but he's a bit grumpy. I don't think he likes girls. I wish Erchirion would come back. I thought he was too young to go to sea, but Father says boys go at sixteen. '

Éomer wasn't quite sure what going to sea meant, but not liking to show his ignorance he merely asked. 'Your brother won't be at sea forever, will he?'

'He'll be back in a few months, I suppose.'

'Oh, is he trading goods?'

'Of course not,' she scoffed. 'He's fighting the corsairs. They're horrible and have to be kept away from the towns and villages.' She dropped her voice, whispering as though someone other than him might hear. 'They are really nasty men and they steal people, you know'

Éomer absorbed that, always keen to find out things he knew little about. 'That is nasty; it's a good job your brother is trying to help stop them. But how do they actually fight at sea? Do they send warriors onto the corsair ships?' He wasn't quite sure of the use of asking a child, but she answered readily enough.

'Sometimes, but the ships have big catapults on them and they launch rocks and burning brands at the corsair's ships. Don't you know anything about fighting?'

'I know about fighting from horseback,' he answered a bit piqued. 'It's what I will be doing for the rest of my life. I have been practising for years, and as soon as I am sixteen I will be able to go out on patrol.'

'Do you have corsairs in your country?'

'No, we do not have to worry about being attacked by enemies on ships. Instead we have orcs.'

'Orcs!' She stared at him with an expression of pure horror. 'But they are awful evil creatures, aren't they, even worse than corsairs. That's what Amrothos told me anyway, but he could have just been trying to frighten me.'

'No, he wasn't,' Éomer let out before he could stop himself. 'Orcs are ugly looking, filthy smelling spawn of Sauron.'

Shocked for a moment, she never commented, but then she said, her face taut and serious. 'You must be very careful. I think you look too young to fight horrible, evil things. You might die and that would be a shame.'

'I'll do my best not to.'

She stared at him as if she had seen a ghost. Fool, he should not have made such an offhand quip, or said anything about orcs or fighting. She was just a child after all.

Too late! Her pretty little face had gone quite white and she sniffed and swallowed down a sob. 'Erchirion said exactly that when I didn't want him to go. But people die all the time. My mother died, you know.'

That was something he did know about and Éomer's heart contracted with pity, no wonder his flippancy had upset her. 'That must have been awful for you.'

She blinked rapidly. 'I try not to cry, but it's hard.'

'I understand that. When my mother died my sister was only seven. She cried for a long time.'

She wiped a hand across her eyes. 'I am nearly eight, and I don't cry much now. But when it happened I cried a lot.'

'How long ago did your mother die?' Éomer asked as gently as he could.

'I was five. My father cried as well although he tried not to.' She dropped her head and went silent for a moment, when she looked up she was blinking back tears. 'Did your father cry when your mother died?'

The familiar pain hit him. It had lessened over the years, but however deeply he had buried it, it was still there. 'My father died first, so he didn't know.'

Her eyes opened wide and she stared at him with that intense silver gaze. 'You haven't got a mother or a father?'

'No, I haven't.'

'That is sad,' she said, pulling a sympathetic face. 'How old are you?'

'I am fifteen, my sister is twelve. But my uncle has acted as a father to us.'

She nodded, still looking a bit wan. 'My Aunt Ivriniel looks after me. Of course I still have a father so it's not quite as bad as for you, but he is always busy fighting the corsairs. He could die as well, I suppose.'

It sounded as if all her family were involved in fighting corsairs, no wonder she was bothered by it. 'So your father is at sea like your brother?' Éomer asked.

'No.' She frowned at his non-comprehension. 'He's a great warrior and he and his men patrol the coast in case of any raids.'

Éomer wanted to change the subject before she got any more upset. 'Tell me about your pony,' he asked to distract her.

It worked because her face brightened immediately. 'She is the best pony in the world. My father gave her to me when I was seven. She's grey and has little black spots on her back. And she comes when I call her, but that might be because I always take a piece of apple or a carrot when I go to the stable or the paddock.'

'That's a good thing to do,' Éomer agreed. 'I always take a treat when I go to see Fleetfoot.'

Looking a bit brighter, she selected another apricot from the grass and bit into it, spitting out the stone. It landed on Éomer's boot. 'Sorry.'

She didn't look sorry, and giggled when he scowled at her. 'I expect you would have the patience to teach me to ride.'

'Possibly,' he said, as he wiped away the mess on his boot. 'If there were no apricots about, that is. But I am only here for one more day so I don't think there would be time.'

'And Moonbeam is at home anyway,' she said, looking a bit disappointed. 'How about your sister, does she ride?'

'She rides very well.'

'Did you teach her?' she wanted to know next.

He laughed. 'Are you always so full of questions?'

'Yes.' Head on one side, she smiled at him winningly. 'Well, did you?'

She was certainly an engaging child, and determined. Much like Éowyn really. 'No,' he answered after a moment, 'our cousin taught her mostly. Him and others in my uncle's household.'

'Did your cousin teach you?'

More questions. He had better go as he still wanted to see Fleetfoot. 'Not really,' he answered, standing up. 'My father started me off. But my cousin taught me to fight.'

'Do you like fighting?'

She obviously wasn't ready to stop grilling him, but he answered honestly. 'It's been mostly practise so far, they haven't let me loose on orcs yet.' His jaw hardened. 'But that time is coming soon.'

'I am sure you will be good at it; everyone says my brother Elphir will be as good as our father when he's older.'

'I'm glad, now we must get you out of here. It's getting late.'

'But we haven't picked any more apricots.' She scrambled to her feet, looking at the tree behind her. 'There are some lovely ones just out of my reach but they will be easy for you.'

Éomer sighed, somehow knowing he had no chance of deflecting her. 'Just a few then, or I will be late for the daymeal.'

'Oh, the warning bell hasn't even rung yet. You've plenty of time.'

He didn't bother telling her he wished to visit his horse first, quicker to just do what she wanted. 'Let's have your bag before I change my mind.'

She passed it to him and he filled it as quickly as he could, obeying her instructions of not picking any with brown on them. The bag full, he just had to get them back over the wall. 'Come on...' he smiled. 'I have to get us out of here.'

'You could lift me up the wall and I can put my foot in a crack and climb over,' she suggested. 'That's what I was trying to do, but I slipped.'

'Right.' He scanned the wall looking for a suitable place. 'Here, I think. There are some holes in the mortar you can put your feet in. I will lift you and if you can sit on top of the wall I can hand you the bag and then climb up myself.'

She had soft leather slippers on; goodness knew what climbing walls would do to them. But her feet were small enough to fit in the cracks and she was agile and light enough that he had no trouble lifting her onto his shoulders, which allowed her to reach the top of the wall quite easily. It was going to be a bit harder for him. He managed to stand on a stone a few feet up that had been set a bit proud of the others. From there, with him reaching up and her reaching down, he was able to pass the bag to her. Now he just had to get over himself. Using another couple of footholds he jammed his fingers into a crack near the top, hoisting himself by strength alone. He found another crack for his foot and got an arm over the wall.

'I thought my arms were going to come out of their sockets,' he muttered as he joined his companion on top of the wall.

'I knew you would be able to do it,' she said, smiling at him confidently. She scrambled down onto the road and Éomer jumped down beside her. She looked up and down the street. 'And we are lucky because there is no one about.'

That was a relief. He had no wish to be found encouraging a child to get up to things she obviously should not be doing. 'Where do you live?' he asked, hoping it was somewhere close.

'Just along there.' She pointed to one of the large houses he had passed. The gate was closed.

'Can you get back in?'

She nodded, grinning at him. 'I'll knock. And the gatekeeper will be so embarrassed I was able to distract him and get out without him seeing me that he'll let me back in without telling my aunt. She thinks I'm reading in my room.'

It sounded as if a new gatekeeper was needed, but that was none of his business. 'You obviously have everything under control. It's been nice meeting you, but now you had better get home before your aunt checks on you.'

'I will.' A secret little smile crossed her face. 'But I want to give you something first.'

He didn't want any more apricots, but before he could say anything she had put the bag down and reached behind her neck to unclasp the necklet she was wearing. 'I want you to have this to guard you from those terrible orcs. I was going to give it to Erchirion to keep him safe, but the tide was just before dawn. I thought I would wake up in time.' Tears glistened in her big eyes. 'But I didn't.'

Éomer looked down at the small pendant that hung on the silver chain, some kind of ship in the shape of a swan. 'That's very kind of you, but perhaps you should give it to your brother when he comes home, before he goes to sea again.'

She shook her head vehemently, sniffing, and closed his fingers over it with her small hand. 'No, I want you to have it. If you carry it, I know that you will keep safe and my brother will be protected as well. Please,' she pleaded when he hesitated. 'It will make me feel better.'

Éomer nodded, not wanting the tears to get worse, and he doubted it was very valuable. 'All right, that's kind of you. But you must have this in return.' He fished in the inner pocket of his tunic and pulled out a wooden carving of a horse. Small, but accurately sculpted from cherry wood. 'If you carry it I will know you will turn into a good rider.'

'It's beautiful,' she said, tears drying up. 'Did you carve it?'

'No, my cousin did when I first lost my mother. So I hope it will help to comfort you as well.' Quite why he was giving it to her he didn't really know, already his pocket felt empty. Théodred had given him others since, but this one was special and he had carried it ever since. He experienced a moment's pang, Théodred's gift had always been dear to him, but perhaps it would help her more than him now. Anyway, he told himself, what use was a thing if you could not let it go at need.

'Thank you,' she said, rubbing her finger along the back of the little horse. I shall keep it safe.' She looked up at him, her sweet little face all serious. 'I am certain you will be a great warrior like my father and my brother Elphir, and that you will kill lots of orcs without getting hurt yourself.'

Not much likelihood of that! But Éomer smiled and ruffled her hair. 'I am sure your little pendant will keep me protected.' She watched him intently, her new treasure clutched in her hand, as he tucked the pendant into the pocket which had held the little horse, right next to his heart. 'There, that is safe there, but now I think you had better wake up that gatekeeper of yours.'

She nodded. 'But I wish you could come home with me and teach me to ride.'

'I am afraid that's not possible.'

'No, I suppose not.' She sighed a little despondently. 'But I hope I will see you again sometime.'

Éomer thought it highly unlikely, but he smiled. 'Perhaps you will, but if we do meet again I am sure I will find you are just as unruly.'

She giggled. 'They will try to turn me into lady, but I think they are wasting their time.'

No doubt about that, Éomer thought as she skipped off, turning once to wave at him before she knocked on the gate to her house. Éomer waited in the shadow of the wall until the gate opened and he saw her slip inside. He put his hand on his heart where the little pendant lay hidden, praying for her sake that all her brothers would keep safe.

The door had closed tight when Éomer walked past it and belatedly he realised he had not enquired after her name. But they would be unlikely to ever meet again, so he had to consider his little horse lost for all time. Looking up he studied the devices on the stone arch – a ship and a swan like the pendant – and wondered to whom the house belonged. A bell started ringing, breaking his thought, the sound coming from the Citadel above. That meant half an hour until the meal would be served. He just had time for a quick check on Fleetfoot, it would only take him a few minutes to run up through the tunnel to the mess hall afterwards.

The stables were quiet, the horses settled for the night with full haynets, and most likely the stable-hands had already gone for their meal. He walked fast but quietly to the end of the passage and out into an open court. But he stopped when he saw a young man brushing down one of the horses they had brought with them. Tall, with straight black hair, around twenty-two or three, and Éomer thought he had a noble look about him. He certainly wasn't a stable-hand, easy to tell that by the rich clothing.

The Gondorian put down the brush and ran his hands down the horse's strong neck before he took hold of the halter and looked straight into its face. 'You will do for me, my friend. I think we will make a good team.'

'You have made a good choice there, lord,' Éomer said stepping forward and giving a quick bow in the manner of the Rohirrim. 'He is the best of those we brought.'

The Gondorian turned around smiling; he kept hold of the horse with one hand and put the other on his heart bowing as did all the stone-dwellers. 'Welcome, young man, and especially welcome to one of the Rohirrim who speaks our tongue.'

Éomer laughed and went back to the common tongue. 'I am out of practice and if we are going to have more than a few words I will find the common speech easier.'

'Ah,' said the Gondorian, 'but the easy way is not always the best.'

'I suppose not,' Éomer agreed. 'But there is scant contact between our realms now, so speaking Sindarin does not seem so important as when my mother made me learn it.'

'It is a pity,' the Gondorian said, smiling at him. 'But I am remiss, we have not introduced ourselves. I am Faramir, son of Denethor.' He bowed again.

The Steward's son. He might have guessed. Éomer inclined his head. 'I am Éomer, son of Éomund.'

Faramir's brows drew together in thought. 'That makes you King Théoden's nephew.'

'It does. You are very well informed, lord.'

'I try to know as much as possible about the world around me,' Faramir answered. 'But now you must excuse me, I had better take this fine fellow back to his stall or I shall be late for the meal and my father abhors tardiness.' He led the horse across the court to an open stall. Éomer hurried to where he knew Fleetfoot was housed and of course his horse was waiting expectantly, having heard his voice. He petted his friend, feeding him a piece of apple he had saved. When he turned away he saw that Faramir was waiting for him.

'Shall we walk up together?' Faramir asked.

'I am going to eat in the mess-hall,' Éomer told him.

Faramir frowned. 'But I am sure you will be welcome at my father's table.'

'So I have been told, lord. But I am here only as a rider in Captain Elfhelm's éored, and a very junior one at that. I need to establish myself, not show how different I am.'

'A wise head on young shoulders indeed,' Faramir said with a smile. 'I applaud you. But come, we can still walk a ways together.'

They went out into the street where the shadows were longer, the sun sinking over the shoulders of Mount Mindolluin. 'I assume that the noble families live on this level,' Éomer remarked. 'It is very quiet, so different from the lower areas of the city.'

'Yes, there are only a few houses, mostly belonging to those whose lineage goes back to the founding of Gondor. And farther on,' Faramir pointed down the street past the Healing Houses, 'is the closed door which leads to the Hallows where the past Kings and Stewards of Gondor are interred. That alone makes it quite quiet,' he said with a wry smile.

'I imagine so,' Éomer agreed with a laugh. 'I walked along some way in that direction. Mostly to enjoy the view and the greenery. On my walk I noticed a large dwelling with a device over the door, it was a ship and a swan. Who does that belong to?'

'Ahh... that house belongs to my uncle, Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth. He is the lord of Belfalas, the largest of our Southern Fiefs.'

'Oh, of course.' Éomer said, feeling a bit stupid. 'I should have known that, but somehow it had slipped my mind.'

Faramir laughed. 'I imagine a young Rohir has more important things to learn about than the devices of far-away princes.'

So was the mischievous child a princess? He smiled. 'Aside from anything else I should have remembered because I am sure Théoden King once mentioned something about my grandmother being distantly connected to the House of Dol Amroth.'

Faramir nodded.' I believe that might be right, although it would be a tenuous connection only. But anyway, you have something in common perhaps more dear to your heart, as Imrahil has always favoured cavalry warfare and leads a highly trained company of Swan-knights.'

'So I understand; and I now recall that my uncle also told me that the Prince bought some of our horses many years ago. The men of Belfalas must fight the corsairs by land and sea.'

'That is true. Imrahil's eldest son is a fair way to following his father in his preference for fighting from horseback, but his second son, Erchirion, has the sea in his blood and recently joined his first ship. But with your shared love of horses,' Faramir went on, 'you would no doubt enjoy talking to my uncle. Unfortunately though, he is back in Dol Amroth and only his young daughter, my cousin Lothíriel, together with my Aunt Ivriniel and her husband, are in residence at the moment.' His face broke into a fond smile. 'Lothíriel is sweet child, but she is a bit of a handful and leads my aunt a merry dance.'

Lothíriel? A pretty name, and one he would remember. He touched his heart where the pendant lay hidden, hoping again for her sake that her brothers stayed safe. Faramir told him a bit more about Dol Amroth and the Prince's cavalry, but by this time they had reached the lamp-lit tunnel and they hurried up, neither wanting to be late. Faramir acknowledged the salute of the guards, and stopped a few feet past them. 'This is where we part for the present, unless you have changed your mind and would like to come with me.'

Éomer shook his head. 'Thank you, but no. My place is with my fellow Riders.'

'Then I hope we meet again, but in the morning I will be off on that new horse of mine to the outposts, so it will not be for a while.'

Éomer bowed. 'I will be gone soon, lord. But tell me, what are you going to name your new horse?'

'I will think on it overnight,' Faramir said. 'Perhaps something akin to Rohan's Pride.'

Éomer laughed. He liked this serious, grey-eyed, young man and he liked Faramir's boisterous little cousin. He wondered if he would feel the same about the rest of the family and if he would ever have the chance to meet them.

To be continued.