The short epilogue I promised. Sorry to have been so long, so thanks to everyone who kept with me. LBJ

Epilogue

Edoras – Last year of the Third Age

Dawn, at last. Surely she would wake in a moment. This time, when Éomer shifted in the bed, he made sure the change of weight rocked the mattress. Nothing. He tried again. Still no movement from his new wife other than the gentle flicker of her breath on the pillow. He bit back the urge to shake her awake, instead deliberately returning his thoughts back to his visit to Dol Amroth to pass the time.

Fate had certainly taken a hand in his life, because if he hadn't confronted the pickpocket and drawn a crowd, then they would probably not have been noticed. But he supposed Erchirion's first mate, having seen the princess, would have had no choice but to report to his captain that Lothíriel was in the company of some roughish looking stranger.

The triumphant smirk on Erchirion's face had been maddening, as had the enigmatic smile that had crossed Imrahil's mien when they arrived back at the castle – using the front gates this time. But by then Éomer had accepted the consequences of their illicit jaunt with no show of reluctance. Resigned, and perhaps a little relieved that the decision had been taken out of his hands. Lothíriel had said nothing, which worried him slightly. She had however agreed to all the arrangements being made for a wedding at Meduseld in the early summer. Although to be fair, she had not seemed displeased. Though he wished he were really sure, really knew what she felt about the whole outcome.

True, she had shown great enthusiasm when preparing for her new role as Queen of the Mark in the hectic days since arriving at Edoras. And she had responded to his lovemaking with an eagerness tempered by a delightful innocence – which was as it should be, of course. But then she had been trained from an early age for the sort of position she was now embracing. Duty and responsibly had no doubt been hammered into her since her early years. As they had been with him.

Marriage however, was about more than duty. That was what he had always believed anyway – having witnessed the tangible love his parents shared. And then there was Théoden; he had never shown any inclination to take another wife after his beloved Elfhild had died. If he had, then likely Éomer would not be lying here in the king's bed now, as there probably would have been other heirs. Heirs! He certainly hoped they would produce more than one; the Mark needed strong sons to take them forward into a new age… that thought drew him from his reverie, and he sighed again. That was when he became aware of the slight change of atmosphere. Turning his head he saw he was being regarded thoughtfully.

'Good morning, my lord. You looked to be deep in thought.'

Unable to hide his jubilant smile, Éomer leaned over and brushed a kiss over those enticing lips, at the same time telling himself that it would be crass to expect to do anything else when her body would need time to recover from last night's invasion. 'You appear to have slept well, my lady. I have been waiting for you to wake up.'

'Oh.' Shapely eyebrows rose. 'Is it late? I am afraid I was quite exhausted after all the celebrations.'

'You had every right to be, and every right to sleep your fill.' He ran the back of one finger down her cheek, loving the soft feel of her unblemished skin and the drowsy look in her eyes. 'And it is not late at all. I was just…eager for your company.'

'Ah,' her lips quirked knowingly. 'Well, I am awake now and would not wish to deprive you of my…company for a moment longer.'

Did she mean what he thought she meant? She did, because his wife moved closer, snuggling against him. All the invitation he had been waiting for.

The sun had risen well above the horizon when he next became aware of the room around him. They would have to get up soon as they were expected in the stables. But first: 'Lothíriel, you have heard of the custom of 'morgengifu'?

She smiled. 'The morning gift. Yes. We have something similar in Gondor.'

'Well, I have something to gift you later, which I am sure you will like. But there will be many to witness that gift. Before that I have something very personal to give you, a gift that I think will come as a surprise.' He went to lean over to reach the small package that rested on the side table, but her hand stopped him.

'Wait. Indulge me, Éomer. First I would like to give you something.' She scrabbled under the pillow for a moment and drew out a small item wrapped in a piece of blue silk.

'I would like you to have this…back. For it was very kind of you to part with it all those years ago.'

Éomer stared at her for a moment, but could not make out the thoughts behind her inscrutable expression.

'Go on, open it.'

Éomer pulled carefully at the silver ribbon. The silk fell aside to reveal the little carved wooden horse he had thought he would never see again. Stunned, he had to remember to shut his mouth. 'You kept it all this time.'

'It is one of my most treasured possessions and has been with me constantly.'

'You knew it was me who gave it to you?'

She laughed. 'Of course. My cousin Faramir mentioned he had met you that day, so I have always known. And I avidly soaked up any of news of you over the years.'

'Then why did you not say? I have been waiting for you to recognise me, but you seemed oblivious to our previous meeting.'

'So, you recognised me? You never said either.'

Éomer frowned. It seemed they had both been waiting for a sign from the other. 'Well, I might not have recognised you, but I found out from Faramir who you were too. So I have known since that day in Minas Tirith. It's just that at first I could not reconcile the sophisticated princess with the imp I met filching apricots.' And then, of course, he'd been a bit peeved that she had not recognised him and so did not say.

'I suppose I have changed more than you, because I was younger.' A big grin crossed her face. 'Whoever would have thought we would end up married.'

Who indeed? 'I had better give you this now.' He passed his own package, the pendant he had wrapped up in a piece of linen. 'I have carried it ever since, in the pocket of my tunic. I know it couldn't really have kept me safe, but… well you were so insistent and so upset that you had not had the chance to give it to Erchirion that I felt for you. And I have come through all the troubles relatively unscathed.' He shrugged. 'So who knows the ways of the Valar.'

She turned the little pendant over in her hands, studying it, before she passed it back. 'Would you continue carrying it, Éomer? If it has worked so far then why take a chance. I want my husband by my side for many long years.'

'You do?' A warm feeling crept over him.

'Of course.' She hesitated a moment and then said. 'I was an impressionable child when we first met. You were my hero. I carried the little horse, hoping against hope that one day we would meet again. I have carried your image in my heart all that time; calf love, I think it is called. But it spoiled me for anyone else. My father ensured we met, fate decreed we would marry. I know you were averse to the idea at the start, and I so wanted you to be as keen as I.'

Éomer grabbed her, hugging her against him. 'What fools we are. I was so worried you had no real feelings for me and I did not want you to marry me from duty alone. Marriages in the Mark are not like that.'

'And this one won't be either,' she murmured into his chest.

The End

My thanks to Lia, for her beta.

I have started another story, but am unlikely to get back to it until the autumn. In the mean time I hope you all have a good summer. LBJ