A one-shot written to meet the challenge on Countries United.

The game of love

"We have to do something," Eowyn said, pacing the bedchamber. "Lothiriel leaves tomorrow."

"My dear wife," Faramir said in a longsuffering tone. "You may as well just accept that your brother and my cousin are going to thwart the advisors of both their kingdoms. They are as stubborn and pig-headed as each other, and the more we try to persuade them, the more they'll dig in their heels."

Eowyn snorted in exasperation. "But they are perfect for each other. Why is it that everyone can see it except for them?"

"Well, they say love is blind." He flinched as she turned a searing look in his direction.

"Blind to faults, yes. Not totally blind!" She paced some more. "We have to do something. And I think I know what."

Faramir groaned. "Not another scheme, Eowyn. I still haven't recovered from the last one. And I'm not sure my friendship with your brother can survive..."

She cut across him impatiently. "This is our last chance, Faramir. But for the sake of your friendship with Eomer, if this doesn't work I promise to leave well alone."

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There were certain things about the King of Rohan that really annoyed Lothiriel. For one thing he was handsome. He really had no right being so attractive. It made life very difficult. Then there was the way he looked at her when he thought she wasn't watching. It was surprising her dress hadn't caught fire, so heated was his gaze at times. So much for his apparent agreement that he didn't want an arranged marriage either. She was quite sure that the situation between them would have become very interesting, very quickly, had she not adopted the demeanour of an ice maiden whenever they were forced together. Revealing any attraction - mutual or otherwise - simply would not do. Not after the fuss she'd made before arriving in Rohan.

She paced back and forth across her bedchamber. Tomorrow she would leave and that would be an end to it. And if her stubborn pride robbed her of the chance to be with the one man who made lust pool like a hot liquid in her belly then so be it. The thought made her kick the bed in frustration. Damn him. Why did he have to be the king? And why had she been so foolish as to tell her advisors that she would never marry a man chosen for her? Now she was completely conflicted. Her pride told her to continue with the pretense that she did not care for Eomer, King of Rohan. Her heart told her to stop being so stubborn and admit her father's advisors were right. He was the man for her. Damn. Damn them all!

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No. No. No. He was not going to give them the satisfaction of knowing they were right. Eomer paced the Golden Hall in frustration. Why hadn't he kept his temper in check at the first mention of the Princess of Dol Amroth? Life would be simple then. He could simply have met her, courted her and married her. But, oh no, he had to make a huge issue about being free to marry whomever he chose. Had he stopped there it would not have been so bad. But stupidly he had told his advisors that they were a bunch of old fools incapable of knowing who might or might not suit him as queen. How was he to have known they would come up with Lothiriel?

Damn it. She was perfect. Everything about her set his blood on fire. Everything except for the fact that she was the choice of his advisors. It had taken all his self-control not to let his feelings show. Especially since he was sure that she would respond to him if he gave her but the smallest bit of encouragement. He'd seen the way her gaze followed him as moved around the Great Hall. The intensity of her looks had branded him with a promise of seduction and passion and - yes, he dared to believe - love. Sometimes it had been so heady he could barely breathe. So much for her assertion that she had no interest in an arranged marriage either.

He flung himself miserably into the waiting arms of the throne, sitting less than regally with his legs over the arms. He would never hear the end of it if he gave in and admitted they were right. But if he continued with his current behaviour - a chill shot through him at the thought of living the rest of his life without her. Wretched woman. She had no right to do this to him. He'd been perfectly happy as a single man all these years. Why did she have to come along and wake such strong desires in him? And why, in the name of the gods, did she have to be the one woman he had been so determined not to marry!

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Faramir still couldn't believe he'd allowed himself to be talked into this. It would never work. He knew his cousin too well, and if she was determined not to admit her feelings for Eomer, then nothing would drag them from her. He glanced at her now as she walked beside him. Beautiful, but oh so stubborn. Would Eomer actually thank him if this worked?

He smiled to himself. Yes, he decided, Eomer would. Eowyn was right. If ever two people were meant to be together it was her brother and his cousin.

"What are you grinning at?" Lothiriel suddenly demanded.

"Nothing!"

"Don't lie to me, Faramir. You were smiling like a cat that had just stolen the cream."

Desperately he came up with an excuse. "I was merely thinking how pleasant it would be to return home with Eowyn. Much as I've enjoyed the hospitality of Rohan and the celebration of our wedding, I am looking forward to starting our marriage proper."

Lothiriel puffed out a breath. "The sooner we can all leave Rohan, the better, if you ask me. Now where this is amazing thing that you wish me to see?"

"In here," Faramir said with relief as they came to a small annex. He pushed the door open. "After you, cousin."

She stepped through the doorway and came to a shocked halt as she saw the other occupants of the tiny room. Hastily remembering court etiquette she bowed her head. "Your Majesty. Lady Eowyn."

"Ah, there you are, at last." Eowyn darted past her. Standing in the doorway she smiled. "You've met my brother, I believe." And with that she pulled the door closed.

For a moment, Lothiriel could only stand and stare at the back of the door. Then Eomer pushed past her. He grabbed at the heavy iron ring that served as a door handle, rattled it ineffectually and then slammed the palm of his hand against the door and swore colourfully.

"Eowyn! You open this door now! Do you hear me? Eowyn!"

There was no reply. Eomer swore again and kicked at the door in frustration.

"It seems we are the victims of a prank," Lothiriel said, trying to keep calm. Being locked in a room with the man she was trying desperately hard to avoid was definitely not how she'd envisaged spending her last afternoon in Rohan. She reined in her emotions and gave him what she hoped was a suitably disdainful look as she coldly added. "And I'd appreciate it if you would refrain from using the language of the battlefield in my presence."

Eomer swung round to face her, his eyes glittering dangerously. "Given my current situation, I believe such language to be entirely appropriate."

"I don't exactly relish the idea of being trapped here with you either," Lothiriel retorted, glad he was currently making that true. She muttered quietly to herself as she turned away to investigate the room. "King of the horse lords? More like king of a horse's backside." Fortunately he'd returned to thumping the door and so didn't hear her.

Now that she'd got over her shock, she realised they were imprisoned in a storeroom. A small window provided enough light for her to make out boxes of soap and other domestic essentials. Unfortunately the window was set too high to offer any hope of escape.

"Ouch! Damn it!" The hammering on the door suddenly stopped. She glanced over her shoulder, and saw him shaking his hand. The way he'd been laying into the door, she wouldn't be surprised if he hadn't broken something. Right now, though, she couldn't afford to feel sympathy. That road led to dangerous ground, such as maybe having to touch him to check he hadn't done himself serious harm. Definitely not a good idea. She was painfully aware of the effect his mere presence had on her. Physical contact was absolutely not something she wanted to think about, let alone indulge in. No, what she needed to do was concentrate on getting out of here. And away from him.

Turning her back on him again, her attention was caught by a boxful of metal banner poles on one of the topmost shelves. Perhaps she could use one to force the door open. Hitching up her skirt, she climbed on top of a handy crate, yanked one of the poles from the box and weighed it in her hands, trying to figure out if it would be strong enough to act as a lever. It certainly felt solid enough. And although she didn't have enough muscles to put it to good use, she knew from several days of careful observation that the king certainly did. Excited by the prospect of immediate freedom, she spun round to suggest her idea to him, and realised far too late that he had silently come up behind her. The end of the pole contacted sharply with the side of his face. His eyes widened in pain and alarm, then the colour leached from his face and he dropped unconscious to the floor.

Horrified Lothiriel stared down at him. Oh no! She'd just knocked the King of Rohan out cold!

"Eomer!" She flung the pole to one side, jumped from the crate and dropped to her knees at his side. "Eomer. Please wake up."

He didn't stir. Pressing a finger beneath his jawline, she was relieved to find a strong, steady pulse. Thank the gods. She hadn't killed him at least. "Eomer," she pleaded again. She tapped gently at his right cheek, flinching at the sight of the bruise that was forming rapidly on his left one. Still he didn't move. Gathering up her skirt, she hurried to the door and banged on it with her fists, shouting as loud as she could for help. It was useless. The door was so thick, it merely absorbed the energy. She doubted if anyone would hear.

Dismayed, she returned to Eomer's side and flopped down next him. Carefully she checked him again, fearfully pressing her fingers to his cheek in search of broken bones. Fortunately, apart from the bruise, which would no doubt spread far enough to give him a spectacular black eye, she was able to reassure herself that he was merely unconscious and would wake soon enough. In fact, now she was certain she hadn't done any serious harm, she thought he looked oddly peaceful, as though he'd simply decided to lie down and have a nap. Reaching forward, she soothed his hair back from his face. Best to make the most of the calm. When he woke, he would no doubt be furious with her. She'd be fortunate if she escaped trading her current prison for a cell in the dungeons of Meduseld. One could not simply go around assaulting the king with a banner pole even if it was an accident. So much for any fanciful thoughts of being his wife.

Her plight gripped her again as she gazed down at him. Curse her meddling advisors, for he was indeed a handsome man. It would have been a sweet pleasure to be kissed by those lips. A wicked thought crossed her mind. Should she? No, most definitely not. What kind of a person was she to even think such a thing? But now the thought was there - could she do it? Well, this would most likely be the only chance she got. Dare she? Oh yes, Lothiriel of Dol Amroth dared to do many things that others did not. And what harm could there be in one stolen kiss before he woke and vowed never to speak to her again? Slowly she leaned over him, closed her eyes and then pressed her lips to his. They were warm and soft, and she couldn't help but be disappointed that the kiss was one-sided.

Sorrowful over what might have been except for her stupid pride, she opened her eyes again. And found him staring up at her - dazed and confused. Horrified at being caught in yet another form of assault, she tried to jerk away, but the fingers of his right hand were suddenly tangled in her hair, and she couldn't pull away.

"Don't stop," he murmured, pulling her gently back down. His eyes were dark with desire, and she felt a rush of fire shoot through her. It was madness to even contemplate kissing him again. But the temptation was overwhelming. His lips were mere inches from her own, and his gaze was a searing heat that drove all sense from her mind. All she could think was that she wanted him. Needed him. Didn't know how she was going to live without him.

She gave herself up to the moment. And this time, instead of the feel of warm, but unresponsive lips, she received a jolt of pure pleasure as he moulded his mouth to her own. The kiss deepened and she welcomed it. Welcomed the intimacy. Welcomed the promise of what was to come. Welcomed everything that was this man she had fallen in love with despite her pride and her foolish denials.

As the kiss ended, he gave a deep sigh and wrapped his arms around her, drawing her down so her head rested on his chest. "Love you," he murmured. And promptly passed out again.

She froze, concerned that he was once again unconscious, but also stunned by his confession. No, surely that couldn't be. Clearly the blow to his head had addled his brains. He was delirious. Or dreaming. Or both. Too confused to know what to do she didn't move. It seemed so natural to lie beside him, his arm curled around her, the sound of his heartbeat strong and steady beneath her ear. And yet, it was also strange – frightening and exhilarating in its promise of what it would be like to be with him as wife and soulmate.

What was she thinking?! He was hurt and here she was daydreaming like a love-struck sheep herder. Had in fact just taken advantage of him in a manner that would've been outrageous were their roles reversed.

"Eomer." She carefully extricated herself from his arms, then shook his shoulder and was relieved when he stirred.

His eyes opened slowly, confusion in their hazel depths. "Lothiriel? "He raised his head, groaned softly as he glanced around at the storeroom and then focused on her. "What happened?"

He deserved the truth, but it took her a moment to summon up the courage to confess to him. "I hit you with a banner pole."

"You did?" He frowned, raised a hand and prodded gingerly at his bruised cheek. With another soft groan he dropped his head back to the floor. "Yes, you did."

"It was an accident. I'm truly sorry. Please, you must believe me."

He drew in a deep breath. "From what I remember it was as much my fault as yours. Think no more of it."

She gazed down at him. Knew their future rested in her hands. Knew too what she wanted, and what she hoped he might want. "There's something else," she said nervously.

"Oh?"

"While you were unconscious - I kissed you." There, she'd said it. Admitted the truth. Thrown her heart before him like a gauntlet in challenge.

His head jerked up again. He stared at her for a long moment, a shocked look on his face. "You did what?"

"I kissed you. And I'm afraid that was not by accident. It was, in fact, quite deliberate." She could feel her cheeks burning. Knew that she could never recover from the embarrassment of her confession if he did not return her feelings.

"That wasn't a dream?" His voice was softer now. The shock had gone and in its place was a strange look. Did she dare to believe it was hope?

"No, it wasn't a dream." Her heart was pounding as she held his gaze. "Actually you kissed me back. Quite passionately, I might add."

"Did I now." His words were half statement, half question. A hint of amusement crept into his eyes.

"Yes, you did," she said firmly, uncertain whether he was genuinely confused or merely teasing her.

He began to push himself upright, wincing as he did so. Unable to simply watch him struggle, she moved to his side again, slid one arm around his shoulders and helped him to sit up.

"Are you well?" she asked, suddenly keen to change the subject.

"You mean other than the fact you just hit me in the face with a metal pole?" he asked dryly.

"I really am sorry about that," she said. She brushed his hair away from his face again so she could inspect the bruising. Yes, he was definitely going to have a black eye. "Do you feel dizzy?"

"No."

"Sick?"

"No."

"Headache?"

"Lothiriel." He reached out and cupped her cheek in his hand. "I'm fine." For a long moment they simply stared at one another, then Eomer spoke again, his voice husky with emotion. "I think it's time we were honest with one another. Or rather, it is time that I was honest with you since you have already confessed to much." Her breath caught in her throat as his fingers brushed her skin, his eyes drinking in every detail of her face. Then he drew his hand away and smiled almost shyly. "I have been a fool," he said. "I was determined not to be forced into an arranged marriage by my advisors, and so, when you arrived in Rohan, I did my utmost to deny the attraction I felt towards you." He gave a soft laugh. "It seems my sister decided drastic methods were required to force us together and that fate agreed with her." He rubbed ruefully at his own cheek, then he cleared his throat in embarrassment. "Can you forgive me for my rude behaviour over the past few days?"

"If you can forgive me for mine," she replied. "For I have tried to do the same. I hated the idea of being matched to a man I did not know and for whom I had no feelings. But when we met, I too felt an attraction and tried to deny it rather than admit that perhaps my father and his advisors knew me so well."

Eomer chuckled softly. "It seems we have both been rather foolish."

"Indeed. Perhaps the grassy plains of Rohan are not as unlike the seas of Dol Amroth as we might at first have wished."

"There are certain differences between us that are most desirable," he replied, his gaze drifting down from her face.

"Eomer!" she protested, even though she was not in the least bit offended by his frank admiration.

"Forgive me," he said, shaking his head as though to clear it of a magic spell. He sucked in a ragged breath and then glanced around the storeroom. "I believe it would be best if we were to make our escape from here before I compromise your honour more than my sister has already done in accidentally locking us up together."

She nodded modestly, deciding it might be taking their new honesty a step too far if she confessed that she would thoroughly enjoy any compromising that he might care to indulge in.

He climbed to his feet and then offered her his hand, helping her up from the dusty floor. Picking up the banner pole, he weighed it carefully in his hands and then glanced at her. "I presume you intended to use this to force the door open rather than to remove my head from my shoulders."

"I'm never going to live that down, am I?"

He smiled, then suddenly a mischevious glint lit up the green in his eyes. "Perhaps we can make the incident work to our advantage. Maybe even paying back Eowyn for her trickery."

"What do you mean?" she asked eagerly. The prospect of revenge on not only Eowyn but also her cousin was extremely attractive.

"Well, ordinarily there would probably be a great deal of gossip about what we got up to while unchaperoned behind a locked door. However, given our coolness to one another before and the fact that I am now sporting a bruised cheek - "

"Yes," she said, quickly seeing where he was going. "We can continue to pretend that we care nothing for one another."

"Indeed. We can perhaps convince Eowyn that scheme merely provoked a fight in which the hot-tempered Princess of Dol Amroth struck the insolent King of a Horse's Behind."

"You heard me say that?" Lothiriel was mortified.

Eomer laughed. "I did indeed. But given my behaviour at the time, I considered it was deserved. So what do you say? Shall we continue with our pretense in public?" He hesitated and then added. "At least until I can ride to your father's court and surprise the advisors of both our countries by officially asking for your hand in marriage."

Her heart danced within her at his words. "I think that's a wonderful idea. But promise me you will come soon."

"I doubt I will be able to tarry more than a week," he growled huskily. He turned towards the door, then stopped and turned back. "There is one more thing I would ask of you before we resume our charade."

"Yes?" she asked breathlessly as his gaze burned her.

"I would like to have a kiss that I fully remember."

She laughed softly, and then stepped willingly into his arms. Their lips met, gently at first, and then more passionately. She savoured every moment, every touch, every sensation. The taste of him. The feel of his beard on her skin. The firm muscled body beneath her hands. The honeyed- scent of his hair. And her heart sang in celebration that this magnificent man was hers. Always had been. And always would be.