A/N: This is a birthday gift for rynogeny. Happy birthday!
Truth, honesty and romance
Eomer, King of Rohan, was hot, sweaty, and covered with the grime of a long, hard ride. He was also in an extremely good mood. There were few things better than spending a day in the saddle, and the young stallion he'd been trying out had proven to be an extremely fine creature. Strong, intelligent and totally fearless. Much as he loved Firefoot, he knew his horse could not serve him forever, and it was only fair that one who had been his faithful companion for so long should get to enjoy a pleasant retirement in the green meadows around Edoras. A replacement was inevitable, but he had not expected to find one with quite so many desirable characteristics.
Taking off his riding gloves, he headed into his bedchamber intent on changing his clothes and removing the aroma of horse from his skin before the evening meal. His new wife was extremely tolerant of the Rohirric love of horses, but she had quickly made it clear that she much preferred the scent of soap to that of either man or horse, particularly between the sheets of their bed. Personally he had no desire to smell like a lavender bush, but if it made Lothiriel happy, then it made him happy. And besides, she more than rewarded him for the few moments he spent with a wash basin.
That thought lifted his mood even higher. She was such a part of his life now it was hard to believe only two full moons had come and gone since their wedding. He was eager to tell her about his new horse. Better still, he'd take her down to the stables and show him off to her. Did life get any better than this? A beautiful and intelligent woman to share his bed. And a beautiful, intelligent horse in his stable. Right now, he was probably the most content of all men.
He closed the door to the hallway and began to strip off his dirty tunic and breeches. To his surprise, though, he realised he could hear Lothiriel's voice. Normally at this hour she would be busy with the numerous household tasks she had taken responsibility for as queen. He glanced towards the door of the small sitting room that adjoined their bedchamber and saw that it was slightly ajar. That explained it. Lothiriel was obviously entertaining a guest. A peal of familiar laughter immediately told him who. Eowyn. She must have arrived early from Ithilien because, unless he was very much mistaken, she was not expected in Rohan until the morrow. Tugging his shirt back on he moved towards the door intending to greet her. Unlike his wife, Eowyn would not mind that he smelt of horse, leather and sweat. However, as he crossed the room, he suddenly became aware of the topic of their conversation.
"That's beautiful, Eowyn," Lothiriel said. "Faramir is so romantic."
"Indeed he is." Eowyn's tone was affectionate. There was a moment's silence and then she said, "Now, share your own stories of romance with me. How does marriage to my brother suit you?"
Lothiriel gave a snort of laughter. "Eowyn, your brother is a great many things, but romantic is not one of them."
Eomer frowned at the complaint. He was as romantic as the next man. More so than most. Was he not, even now, preparing to wash to please her? Eowyn said something that he didn't catch, and then Lothiriel continued. "No, he really has no idea when it comes to romance."
Hurt cut through him. How could she be so critical? Had he not gone to great lengths to make her as welcome as possible in Rohan? He had given her a free rein to decorate their chambers as she saw fit. He had taken her side when she attempted to persuade the cook to be more adventurous in the use of herbs and spices, despite the fact he almost had a civil war on his hands as a result. And he had not said a word when she had mistaken his favourite, if somewhat well-worn, tunic for a rag, and used it to polish the grate.
Eowyn sounded concerned as she replied. "It is true he has little experience with women. For as long as I can remember his energies have been taken up with the problems of Rohan." She hesitated. "Lothiriel, I hesitate to interfere, but I would see both you and Eomer happy. If he does not know how to please you between the sheets, I am sure Faramir would be willing to speak with him."
Eomer felt his face burn at the question. How could Eowyn ask such a thing? And to suggest that Faramir should give him advice? Did she truly think him so ignorant of what went on between a man and a woman? Totally conflicted between not wanting to hear his wife's answer, yet desperately needing to know what she would say, he remained frozen in the middle of the bedchamber.
"Oh no, you misunderstand," Lothiriel replied. "I have no complaints about that side of our marriage. Eomer takes a certain pride in ensuring that we both enjoy the act of love-making. And, indeed, he is most skilled."
He sank onto the bed, bemused at just how relieved he was over that particular revelation. So, he wasn't a total disaster as a husband then. There were some things that he did right. But obviously that wasn't enough, for here was his new wife complaining to his sister about the lack of 'romance' in their marriage.
"So what exactly do you expect of him that he doesn't do?" Eowyn asked.
Good question! Eomer leapt to his feet and moved closer to the door, not wanting to miss a word of this particular answer.
"Well," Lothiriel said thoughtfully. "To be perfectly honest..." She lowered her voice. Reining in his frustration at not being able to hear her words, Eomer moved even closer. Still he couldn't hear, but then suddenly Lothiriel spoke louder. "My father once wrote a poem for my mother. He gave it to me after she died." She sighed. "He wanted me to know how much he loved her – how much he missed her."
Poetry? Was that what she desired? She wanted him to write poetry? A rather lewd rhyme that he had recently heard in a tavern came to mind. He dismissed it quickly. Presumably not that kind of poetry. He considered a moment, trying to remember if he had ever heard or read any other kind. There were the stories the minstrels told of heroic deeds and bloody battles. Did they count as poetry? Yes, he decided, they probably did. Very well. If that was what she needed in order to deem him romantic, poetry was what he would provide. How hard it could be?
Pleased that he had solved the problem of his failure to be 'romantic' he quickly washed and dressed. Deciding it best to keep his eavesdropping to himself, he then hurried back into the hallway so he could enter the sitting room via the main door, and greet both his wife and his sister with an innocent smile on his face.
Twenty-five pieces of parchment, three quill pens and a wasted morning later, Eomer was facing an unwelcome realisation. He swore colourfully, screwed up the latest piece of parchment that he had ruined and hurled it across the room. Writing poetry wasn't easy. In fact, it was impossible. The concept of rhyming words was clearly designed to drive sane men mad. As for attempting to write his feelings down - well, it simply wasn't natural. He felt foolish. Ridiculous. Whatever had possessed him to think he could do such a thing?
His back was aching. His hand was cramped from writing. And his head throbbed. He pushed his chair away from the desk and strode to the window. Out in the paddock, his new horse was grazing peacefully. Riding - that was what he was good at. And killing orcs. Rough, tough action suited both his skills and his temperament. Not pretty words and fancy phrases. There was a reason that, as king, he had advisors and ambassadors, people he trusted to say what needed to be said with diplomacy and tact.
Of course. That was the answer. Why hadn't he thought of it before?
He gathered up the pieces of parchment and tossed them on the fire. Then he strode from the room, headed through the Golden Hall and out onto the training ground. As he'd hoped, he found Elfhelm giving a sword lesson to a group of eager-looking young boys. "Master Elfhelm," he called. "A moment of your time, if I may."
"Of course." The Marshall barked terse instructions at the youths and then joined Eomer at the edge of the dusty ring. "How can I serve you this fine morning, your Majesty?"
As he looked at his old friend, his nerve suddenly failed him. Elfhelm would no doubt think his request foolish. Instead he jerked his head at one of the youths. "Who is that? He has talent."
"Anlaf, Son of Brema. He's a fine rider as well as a promising swordsman."
"Suitable for a place in an eored?"
Elfhelm nodded. "He is young yet. I'd like to see him pass another summer without such responsibility on his shoulders."
Eomer sighed. "I would like all our youths to pass their summers carefree, but unfortunately the needs of Rohan dictate otherwise." He turned his attention back to the sparring, and tried to ignore Elfhelm's gaze. Finally, though, he could no longer do so. "What?" he asked.
Elfhelm gave a wry smile. "You did not come out here to ask about the lad. What is the true purpose of this visit, Eomer?"
"It is nothing."
That made Elfhelm raise an eyebrow. "You couldn't lie to me when you were a boy. Do not think that wearing a crown has changed that."
Eomer blew out an exasperated breath. He was no coward, but the truth was he would really rather face a hundred angry orcs than explain his problem. However, if he did not seek Elfhelm's help he was undone. Lothiriel would continue in her belief that he was incapable of romance, and since he loved his wife dearly... "I have need of your skill with words," he said gruffly.
"Words?" Elfhelm asked, wincing as one of the boys was whacked hard on the shin. He hollered across the training ground. "Brenwine, you are a horse's behind. Have you learnt nothing of defence? Keep your blade moving."
Eomer grimaced. Perhaps this wasn't such a good idea. Yet he knew that Elfhelm was skilled at being tactful when it was required. On more than one occasion he had consulted with the Marshall when a particularly diplomatic turn of phrase was needed for an official letter. Deciding it was best to simply come to the point he caught Elfhelm's arm and drew him away from the boys, well out of earshot. "I need to write a poem."
Elfhelm stared at him for a long moment. And then he gave a raucous laugh. "What in the name of the gods would you want to do that for?"
Eomer glared at him. "It's the queen. She thinks..." He hesitated and then, his cheeks burning, decided to employ some tact of his own. "I believe she would like such a thing." He stared into the distance, unable to meet Elfhelm's gaze. "Actually it's not so much that I need to write one as that I need a poem written."
"Eomer," Elfhelm said slowly. "Are you asking me to write this poem?"
"For your wife?"
"And the subject of this poem would be...?"
"Love. Yes." He wished he'd just kept quiet. This was quite probably one of the most embarrassing moments of his life. But what else was he to do? "I overheard her talking to Eowyn. She said her father wrote poetry for her mother, and that it was romantic."
"I'm sure it was, but that does not mean..."
"Elfhelm, she accused me of not knowing the first thing about romance. Said it right out loud. To my sister of all people."
"So you will do this for me?"
"Are you asking as my king or as a friend?"
Eomer stared at him, surprised by the question. "You know I wear this crown with reluctance, Elfhelm. I seek your aid as a friend, one I have long valued."
"Then, as a friend who loves you dearly, my answer must be no."
"Elfhelm..." His shocked protest at the refusal was cut off.
"Eomer, do you not think that the queen is astute enough to know whether a poem is written by you or another?"
"And what do you think her reaction might be on learning that her husband got another man to write such a thing for him?"
Realisation hit Eomer. "She would think me even less romantic." He swore softly. "What am I to do?"
"Personally I do not see the need for 'romance', but since women seem to put such import by it, and since you clearly adore the queen..."
"Yes?" Eomer asked impatiently.
"I suggest you find some other way to achieve your goal."
"She's your queen, Eomer. You know her better than any. I'm sure you'll think of something." Elfhelm turned away and then added casually. "I will give you one word of advice, though - from one friend to another. Women do not equate sex and romance."
Eomer glared at him. "I'm not a complete imbecile."
"I did not mean to imply that you were. However, you are young and newly married and..."
"Yes?" Eomer demanded as Elfhelm hesitated.
Elfhelm smirked. "And judging from your smile most mornings, your wife obviously pleases you a great deal. More than a few people have commented."
Eomer groaned at the observation. "Does everyone in Rohan consider my love life a suitable topic of conversation?"
"You are the king," Elfhelm replied merrily. "Everything you do is of interest to people. And most especially your love life." He slapped Eomer on the back. "Don't worry about it. They're happy to see you smile and glad that a political union has also turned out to be a love match."
Lothiriel was worried. Something was wrong with Eomer. At first she had thought she was imagining it, but over the past couple of days she had become more and more convinced that something was preying on her husband's mind. For the first time since they had wed, though, he was not willing to share whatever it was with her. Her attempts to draw him out had been met with overly firm insistence that he was fine. Even more strange was his behaviour when they retired to bed. Each night he'd inform her that he loved her more than life itself, which would've thrilled her except he delivered the words in a manner that suggested he was doing so under pain of death. He would then kiss her thoroughly, but - just when things were heating up - would suddenly stop, wrap her in his arms and say that he was quite content to merely hold her. So strange was this behaviour, and so reticent was he to speak of what ailed him, that she hadn't found the courage to question him about it or to protest that she would prefer for him to finish what his kisses started. Instead she had lain beside him each night, frustrated and confused.
Now morning was here again. He had stolen from their bed without waking her, and apparently no one had seen him since the early hours. This too was a new habit. Something was definitely troubling him. Perhaps it was Eowyn's presence? And yet he seemed quite at ease with his sister. Had in fact apparently thrilled that she had arrived early. Was it his new horse then? She had expected him to regale her with every detail of the stallion's performance, but he hadn't uttered a word until she'd asked, and then all she received was a gruff reply that the horse was suitable for his needs. Unease gripped her again. Had she done something to displease him? Was that why he had stopped making love to her? Or could it be that his heart had simply grown cold towards her? That she was wrong in thinking that her love for him was returned.
She straightened the bedcovers and headed into the sitting room. The breakfast tray was on the table by the fire, the food on it untouched. Yet more evidence that something ailed her husband. He never left without eating breakfast for, all too frequently, affairs of state would keep him from the midday meal. With a sigh she cut herself a slice of bread, spread it with honey, and then moved to the window. It was a beautiful day outside. The sky was blue with barely a puff of cloud. Out on the meadowland, the horses were grazing peacefully. It would've been perfect, but for the sick feeling in her stomach at the distance that had mysteriously sprung up between her and Eomer. With a heavy sigh, she gave up pretending that she was going to eat breakfast. She turned to put the bread back on the tray, spotting a piece of screwed up parchment beneath the dresser as she did so.
She picked it up fully intending to drop it into the fire, but then curiosity got the better of her. What if it was some political issue that was troubling Eomer? This discarded note might just shed some light on the matter and enable her to assist him - or at least to know what questions to ask to draw him out. Before she could talk herself out of looking at his private correspondence, she'd smoothed out the parchment.
It was a poem. A love poem. Or at least an attempt at one. There was no mistaking the handwriting as Eomer's. She stared at it, confused. Why would Eomer suddenly take to writing poetry? Rather bad poetry if she was honest. It was certainly not the kind of gesture she expected from him. He was practical, down to earth, and extremely forthright in his opinions and speech. In fact, she could not think of anyone less likely to waste time with pen and ink on such a frippery.
She jumped at the sound of the door opening. Whirling round she found herself staring at her husband. His gaze fell on the parchment, and she saw embarrassment - or was it shame? - colour his face.
"I didn't intend for you to see that," he said.
She stared at him, shocked by his words. And suddenly everything fell into place. Clearly he was enamoured of someone else. The poem was not for her, but for another. All her dreams, all her hopes lay shattered. Theirs was to be a marriage of convenience after all. Perhaps it always had been and he had simply been playing the role of dutiful husband for what he deemed to be a suitable period of time.
"I see," she said, clutching the edge of the table with her free hand. This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening.
He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, looking guilty and ill at ease.
A spark of anger lit a fire in her belly at his behaviour. How could he do this to her? She was a princess - no, she was a queen. His queen. He did not have to love her, but it was not too much to ask that he treat her with respect. She tilted her chin and met his gaze with a coolness she did not feel. "Well, since I have seen it, perhaps you could have the decency to tell me who she is so I can avoid making a fool of myself."
He frowned, puzzlement chasing away the embarrassment. "What?"
"Tell me the name of the woman to whom this is written. I may not be able to prevent you taking a mistress, Eomer, but I can at least avoid having her amongst my friends."
"Lothiriel..." He stepped forward, his hand reaching for her.
"Don't!" she snapped, backing away. To her dismay tears began to run down her cheeks. "I loved you, Eomer. I want you to know that. From the moment my father introduced us, I loved you. I thought you felt the same."
"I do!" he protested. He stepped forward again and this time he was too quick for her. He snatched the parchment from her hand. "I wrote this for you."
"For me?" She stared at him in disbelief, trying to make sense of his odd behaviour and the evidence of his betrayal. "Why would you suddenly start writing poetry for me?"
Colour flushed his cheeks again. "I overheard you talking to Eowyn."
"You did? When?"
"The day she arrived. You were in the sitting room together. Talking about how unromantic I am."
"Oh." Guilt hit her as she remembered the conversation.
"And then I heard you say something about poetry, and so I assumed..." He tailed off, staring down at the parchment in dismay. "I'm a terrible poet, Lothiriel. That's why I didn't want you to see this."
She took the half-written verse from him and desperately tried to think of something positive to say. Finally, though, all she could do was laugh. "I'm afraid I have to agree. Poetry is definitely not one of your skills." She smiled up at him. "However, had you heard all the conversation, you could have spared yourself."
"What I said to your sister was that I did not mind that you weren't romantic. That I preferred your honesty and bluntness of speech to any amount of flowery words and poetry."
"I did." She reached up and kissed him, her lips brushing lightly against his.
"But you said your father wrote poetry for your mother. I thought..."
She cut him off again, amused by his confusion. "He did. But that does not mean that I need you to do the same. Eomer, I love you. Just as you are."
She saw relief wash over him, but then he frowned again. "But why did you assume the poem wasn't for you? Do you really think I would so readily cast you aside for another?"
Now it was her turn to be embarrassed. She didn't want to confess to her thoughts, but now he had asked, how could she not? "You haven't exactly been yourself of late. You've always been so open and honest with me, and suddenly you seem barely able to speak a whole sentence. Not even in answer to my question about your horse. When I wake you're already gone from our bed and... "She couldn't bring herself to look at him. "You've stopped making love to me."
"Elfhelm." Eomer growled the name.
"Elfhelm?" she repeated. "What does he have to do with this?"
"He reminded me that women do not equate sex with romance. I was trying to be... romantic."
"You think that is romantic?" she said incredulously. "I thought perhaps you were just trying to drive me mad with frustration." She closed the distance between them, and poked him hard in the chest to emphasise her point. "Perhaps the next time Master Elfhelm offers you marital advice you could inform him that action speaks louder than words in the bedroom."
Eomer laughed at her indignation. "Can you forgive me for being so foolish?"
"Only if you make good on that which you have denied me," she replied seductively, snaking her arms around his neck and moulding her body to his to make sure he was aware she was definitely not adverse to being naked with him right here, right now.
He wrapped his arms around her. "Lothiriel, I may not be much good with words, but know this. I love you and I always will." His lips brushed hers, gently at first, almost hesitantly. With a relieved sigh she responded willingly, meeting his tenderness with passion, wanting him to know that there was a much deeper language with which they could communicate. When finally they broke a part, his heart was beating fast against her chest, his eyes were dark with passion and a very pleasing bulge was pressing against her stomach. Catching his hand in hers, she led him into the bedroom.
It was some time before she realised that there was still one question that he had not answered. Untangling her legs from his, she rolled on to her stomach and gazed at him. He looked up at her, his lips curled into the content, sated smile that she knew only she could put on his face. Unable to resist, she brushed a stray strand of hair from his face and kissed him tenderly. "There is one thing I am still confused about," she said.
"Where have you been going each morning?"
"Get dressed," he said, planting a kiss on the end of her nose. "And I'll show you."
Puzzled, she did as she was told, and allowed him to lead her from the room, through the meeting hall and then out into the sunshine. Hand in hand they walked down the steps of the Golden Hall, and then turned right to skirt around the sheltered side of the building. Finally they came to a small area of freshly dug earth enclosed with a low wooden fence.
"Well?" he asked.
"I don't understand," she said, staring down at the bare soil."
"I wasn't going to show you this until it was planted, but since you prefer honesty." He laughed as she elbowed him indignantly in the ribs. "I thought perhaps some of the herbs you love so much might flourish if grown away from the wind."
"It's a herb garden?"
"It will be when finished. A Dol Amroth herb garden. Right here in Rohan." Standing behind her, he slid his arms around her waist and rested his chin on her right shoulder. "I dug the ground and built the fence myself. That's what I've been doing these past mornings before breakfast. And I've sent to Dol Amroth for the herbs. They should be here soon."
Happiness pooled in her stomach at the thought. She turned to face him again, his arms still around her waist. "I was wrong about you," she said softly. "You are the most romantic man I know."
"But still the worst poet?" Eomer joked.
"There is more to poetry than words," she replied softly. "Let me show you." Reaching up she pressed her lips to the those of the man who would forever be her soul mate.