Author's Note: It's scary that we're nearing the end. Two more chapters (give or take) and a sequel. Thank you to all who left me lovely reviews and to Deandra for her awesome beta work.
Chapter 30: When the Sun Rises, and Parts the Fog (Éomer POV)
"What exactly is going on here?"
In the doorway stood the Swan Knight – Kel, Amrothos had said his name was – whom Lothíriel had flattered during lunch. And he looked angry.
I felt Lothíriel draw away from my embrace and turn towards him. "We were discussing important business," she said innocently yet truthfully. I stood slowly, and she reached out for my hand to help her up.
"Important business?" Kel spat out, clearly not believing her. "If this is important business then – "
"Kel." Lothíriel silenced the Swan Knight, and I too found myself looking at her. She held herself tall, eyes shining and her voice commanding. I immediately saw shades of the fierce determination both Aragorn and Imrahil had shown in battle - a true descendent of Númenor.
"The King of Rohan was merely assisting me. You will recall how my ankle has not fully healed and cannot support my weight for extended periods of time." Her voice softened as she continued, "Yet you need not worry, Kel, for I am a grown woman and can take care of myself. And if you will excuse us, the King and I have matters to discuss."
A look of annoyance mingled with something else – sadness, perhaps – crossed the man's face. Without another word, Kel bowed sharply and left the room.
Lothíriel sighed, then turned to me. "I'm glad you told me," she said, reaching for my hands.
"I had originally wanted to send a courier, but my sister convinced me that telling you myself would be best."
"Why did you not tell me immediately?" she asked. "Why wait at least a day?"
"I take the blame for that, dear sister," a voice said from the doorway. Amrothos leaned against it, almost exactly where Kel had stood earlier.
"How so?" she asked, cautiously.
"I sent a letter to Edoras," Amrothos said, entering the room. "And upon the arrival of our dear Eorlingas, discussed the matter with their King and counsel."
"Your brother told us what happened in Dol Amroth –" I told her.
"And of course the King sought to make amends," Amrothos added.
"Of course." I needed her to know that I wished - with all my heart - none of this had happened.
"But you did not expect to make it in such a manner." Amrothos smiled, and Lothíriel continued to evaluate both of us with her critical eyes.
"Indeed – I had intended to tell you immediately, but your brother told me to wait."
"I thought it best to wait until today, when the two of you would be near each other for longer than mere minutes," Amrothos said. "It was Faramir's idea to go on a picnic, and it took little goading to have Kel invited as well. And with Kel around, of course my dear sister would act ridiculous and of course you would be upset. And when you went storming off, I knew Lothíriel would be equally uneasy. Getting the two of you in one room was not difficult."
"But Kel?" I asked.
"I knew that if the two of you were reconciling – which I knew for certain you would be – then how to lose a puppy better than to show no further interest in it. I sent him here with a cloak," Amrothos held up a scrap of fabric in a dark blue hue, "which I said Lote had left behind, knowing exactly how he would react."
Lothíriel stood silent, looking at her brother before she smiled. "Well done, hanno," she told him. "Your devious behavior is most impressive."
"I prefer to think of it as political maneuvering," Amrothos said with a smile. "Now, I believe the two of you have certain things to discuss, and I shall take my leave. Elphir's caravan is said to be spotted on the edge of the Pelennor."
Lothíriel nodded, and I was happy to remember her hands had not left mine.
"I was a fool," Lothíriel repeated. "I thought I was lost forever. I took leave of my better senses and allowed my sadness to cloud my vision."
"I cannot tell you enough how sorry I am," I said, taking the chance to draw her close to me and with her arms around me and her head against my neck, I felt peaceful. Content. It was as if something had been returned I hadn't realized I had lost – or perhaps, never thought to find again. With Lothíriel in my arms, I realized how greatly I cared for her, and how much I needed her with me.
She pulled back from me, her eyes searching my face for a moment. I thought, perhaps, I should lean in to kiss her, but she looked down and I did nothing.
"Though this revelation does much to ease my troubled mind, Éomer, I have to admit there is still a great deal I must grapple with."
"I understand," I said, worried that my moment of happiness was just that – a moment, taken hastily and never to be granted again.
"I should talk to him," she sighed, and I assumed she meant Kel. "But first we should go welcome my brother."
"I look forward to meeting him," I said. "Your father has told me much about him."
"He is a good man," she said. "I hold him in great esteem."
"By all means, Lady Lothíriel, I would be most honored to escort you to the courtyard, where I am sure the rest of the welcoming party awaits." I offered Lothíriel my arm which she took with another warm smile.
The rest of our party was waiting in the courtyard talking amongst themselves in an animated manner. Éowyn stood by Faramir, looking increasingly happy and it made me sad to realize, once again, that I would be leaving my sister to her new life in Ithilien in a few short days.
"You were right," I said to Lothíriel. "They do look happy."
"They deserve it," she said, before removing her hand from my arm and heading across the courtyard to where Erchiron, Amrothos, and Kel loitered in the shade. I turned away from them as Aragorn joined us with his queen.
"You look a great deal less troubled," he commented, and once again I was surprised by my friend's powers of observation.
"I am," I admitted, though I did not elaborate as Imrahil and the betrothed couple soon joined us to wait for Elphir's arrival.
The oldest son of Dol Amroth's prince strongly resembled his kin – the steel-grey eyes, dark hair, and tanned complexion of Imrahil, and the height of all the men of Gondor. There was strength and dignity, too, which ran in the family. He was good-natured enough, expressing his happiness at Faramir's betrothal and complimenting Éowyn appropriately.
After introductions were concluded and we made to enter the King's quarters for light refreshments – there would be supper later, another intimate affair with the two families and the King and Queen – Lothíriel seemed to appear from nowhere and it was only then that I realized she had been gone for some time. After she embraced her brother, we entered the royal apartments. Lothíriel and Amrothos lagged behind, discussing something in whispered tones in a foreign tongue.
I turned my attention once again to Imrahil and his sons, noting with some happiness the absence of a certain Swan Knight. I could not help but wonder at the conversation they must have had.
Light refreshments ended in conversation, and some time spent with my sister walking around the citadel and the court, discussing her future. She was happy, I knew, and I wished her great joy in her new life.
"And your new life, brother?" she inquired. "Have you discussed matters with your lady?"
"I have told her that she was deceived, and offered my apologies for her heartbreak, but we have not talked further," I told her. "I hope that tomorrow we shall."
"Does she forgive you, then? Faramir said there was a Swan Knight who had won her favor…"
"As far as I know – from what the lady has told me – all should be well and the Swan Knight will be of little consequence," I admitted, though I still felt as if the matter was not yet resolved. "Maybe I will speak with her after supper."
"I wish to see you happy," Éowyn said, reaching for my hand.
"You and I both," I said in reply.
Supper was simple, and I felt for the first time in a while as if I once again had family. Imrahil and his sons had always treated me with kindness, and I thought the Prince to be a good friend, but now they seemed to welcome both Éowyn and me into their family.
Lothíriel, though still appearing distracted, smiled far more during dinner than she had at any point since my arrival, and occasionally I caught her staring at me with both apprehension and admiration in her grey eyes.
"It is natural," Éowyn whispered to me during the meal, "when betrayal is so fresh in her mind. To be fed lies in place of the truth threatens one's sense of what is right and wrong."
I nodded, remembering the deceptive words of Grima Wormtongue and hoping that whatever poison Lothíriel had been given, truth would be the antidote.
After dinner, the men of Dol Amroth found cards and started to play a gambling game, drawing in both Faramir and the King, while Éowyn and Arwen discussed other matters over wine. My eyes sought – and found – Lothíriel, seated near a window overlooking the Pelennor. Her eyes met mine as I went to stand near to her.
"There is enough room," she said, curling her feet towards her. I sat down, and looked out over the fields and the city.
"Is it not beautiful?" she asked, looking down at the houses below us which were decorated with candles and other forms of light. In the distance, bonfires lit the Pelennor for both safety and celebration. "I am sure your sister will come to love Gondor as much as she loves Rohan."
"I, too, find myself becoming enamored with this land the more I visit it," I told her. She smiled.
"It is lovely, but so is Rohan. And you must come visit Dol Amroth one day," Lothíriel said. "I will take you out to the sea, and we will find shells and have a picnic."
"I would love to see your fair city," I told her. "Your father has often invited me."
"I hope you will come for my father's sake, but also for mine," she said, and I felt some of the weight that rested on my heart lift. Despite my earlier confession, I still worried that she did not love me as much as I continued to love her.
"I would like to go see the lights from the court," she told me. "Will you escort me there? Everyone else seems caught up in other forms of merriment and I could use the fresh air."
Was she trying to get me alone? "I would be honored, m'lady," I told her. With a brief glance at Elphir, who was in her line of sight, and a nod, Lothíriel and I left the royal apartments and walked in companionate silence towards the courtyard. In the center, the sapling grew, green and strong, and Lothíriel stopped for a moment to admire it before we continued onwards.
"After tonight, the days will blur together until the wedding," she said. "An endless series of feasts and parties and royal assemblies and then the wedding itself," she said with a smile. "Of course, afterwards we'll all be terribly fat and drunk and bored."
I laughed, and she turned and smiled at me.
"We will not have much time to speak, though we shall have many occasions to see each other…" Lothíriel trailed off. We reached the edge of the court, and found ourselves at the steps to the great hall.
"Shall we sit?" I asked. I looked around and noticed both Rohirrim and guards of the Citadel lingering in the distance, watching us as we walked and talked. I felt a distinct lack of privacy, and wished she had taken us elsewhere.
Lothíriel nodded and sat down, drawing her blue skirts around her and leaning her chin on her knees. "I do not know if there is much to talk about, now that I sit and think. Or, maybe I don't know what to say."
"I want you to know that I still hold you in the highest regard," I told her. "And that will never change."
"And I thank you for that. My opinion of you, though undiminished in its intensity, has suffered some. I do not think it will take much to redeem it, but I wanted to be honest with you." Lothíriel took a deep breath, looking out across the green grass. "I care a great deal for you, Éomer, but it will take time to mend what I have broken. It is my own fault, for believing lies, as much as it is those who misled me."
"I understand," I said softly, and was startled to find her hand reaching for mine.
"Swear to me that you do understand," she said, "and that you think no less of me for it."
I brought her hand up to my lips, brushing them across her knuckles. I was rewarded with her eyes fluttering briefly, and watched as she took a trembling breath. "I promise you with all my heart, Lothíriel, I will never think less of you for anything you do."
"I believe I have found the air I need," she said, slipping her fingers from my grasp and standing up. "Please, Éomer King, escort me back to our families."
I smiled. "With pleasure, m'lady."
I would wait as long as she needed me too. I understood too well how lies could damage, and how falsities could be mended.
Lothíriel was right in saying that the days leading up to the wedding would be a blur. Function after function – private parties and grand feasts, social calls and even political meetings between the Captains of the West – took up every moment of my day, though I struggled to see Lothíriel. While I did not spend much time with her the first day after our discussion, though, I was heartened to see a change in her demeanor. Her father noticed it as well, and mentioned it to me after dinner that day.
"I am glad to see that Lothíriel's mood has lightened," he told me. "I hope that she told you what troubles her so."
"We did discuss the matter," I admitted to my friend, "and I feel that a weight has been lifted from her shoulders." Despite of what I answered, I was not sure of the truth of the matter, though I did not tell Imrahil as much.
"Thank you, my friend," Imrahil replied. "It does my heart good."
I wondered if he knew of my feelings for his daughter, but decided not to ask. Things still being unresolved with Lothíriel, I thought it best not to risk anything. My grandmother's necklace was still hidden in my luggage, and I hoped it would not remain wrapped up for long.
Festivals and tournaments went on for days, and often Lothíriel joined our party for various outings. Twice we were seated next to each other and enjoyed friendly conversation and, afterwards, some dancing. Touching her and being near her for so little time always made me want more, and I was grateful when she whispered "Time mends all things" after one dance. I hoped it would work swiftly, and found myself counting the days until all of the excitement was over and I could steal some time for us.
The night before the wedding, it was Amrothos' idea to have all the men of our party gather in the Steward's study for some drinking and discussion. He did it to ease his cousin's nervous mind, and I could tell the company and merriment chased away demons still left from before the war.
The princes of Dol Amroth and I wandered back to our lodging at a leisurely pace, and while I found myself grateful to be acquainted with warmhearted – and boisterous – men such as the Prince's sons, I desired some time alone. Once inside the house, I found my way towards the library My veins were humming with the strong brandy that Elphir had brought, and I thought it a trick of the drink when I heard a soft voice call my name.
I turned around, surprised to see Lothíriel standing at the balcony. She was dressed almost as she had been that night so long ago, before the march to the Black Gate and the fall of Mordor, before I had known her better. She stood, ethereal in the archway, her eyes sparkling in the moonlight and my breath caught in my throat.
This must be a dream, I thought.
"I fear not," she said. "I can't sleep. I'm too anxious for tomorrow." At the look of confusion on my face, she laughed. "You spoke your thoughts aloud."
"Forgive me, I thought I was…thinking," I apologized lamely.
"No matter. Would you care to join me on the balcony?" she asked, turning back towards the moonlight which beckoned to us both.
"Yes." It was all I could reply, for it was all I wanted.
We sat together, looking out at the city, and neither of us said a word. I was still trying to understand the situation when, suddenly, Lothíriel spoke.
"Éomer," she said, "kiss me."
I turned towards her, startled. I could not wipe confusion off my face and she studied me carefully before smiling.
"I would like it if you kissed me," she said, and I could not help but to oblige her. Leaning down, I carefully pressed my lips against hers, happy at least to be so close to her.
I was surprised, however, when she deepened the kiss, fingers threading through my hair and pulling me closer to her. I responded reaching for her hungrily.
I was not surprised, however, when she pulled away. Kissing me one last time, she said, "Thank you." She stood, and I saw that she was breathless and flushed, her eyes heavy and lips swollen.
"I should retire –"
"Wait," I said, catching her arm. "How do I know this isn't a dream?"
"Because, my lord," she said, leaning close, "I shall remind you of it tomorrow." She lifted my hand and placed a kiss at my wrist, then dropped it and ran into the library. I stared at the doorway, contemplating a great many things but most importantly time, which had mended my fair lady's heart.