Éomer woke sometime later, and smiled when he felt Lothiriel's body pressed against his. He'd intended to return to his own bed, or at least to ask her if she'd rather sleep alone, but when he'd found her curled up and cold, his only thought had been to warm her. But now it seemed clear from the way she was cuddled up against him that she didn't mind.

He was glad, as the idea of going back to his own bed after what had happened between them earlier didn't really appeal. He shifted, brushed her hair back from her face – more as an excuse to touch its silkiness than anything else – and heard her sigh softly in her sleep.

He hadn't known what to expect from her, and still felt somewhat foolish that it hadn't occurred to him she might be apprehensive about their wedding night. He'd been a bit nervous – why hadn't he realized that she would be?

Perhaps because he'd never seen her be anything but calm and in control. As a possible queen, those traits appealed to him, but he'd realized during their earlier discussion that between the two of them, honesty was going to be critical. And she'd given him that and more, both when she trusted him enough to be frank about her nerves, and when she'd called him back to her.

That trust was a gift, one he intended to treat carefully.

He liked knowing that she could be nervous, uncertain. It made her seem more human, somehow. More complex. He was going to enjoy getting to know her, discovering all the layers of the woman he'd joined his life to that afternoon.

Wedded. It still didn't seem quite real, despite the elaborate ceremonies, guests from nearly every area in Middle Earth, and the woman now sleeping in his arms. But it felt right. The timing was right, and more and more, he thought the woman was right.

At least the wedding should earn him some peace from his advisors for a while. Increasingly, it had been like being surrounded by agitated chickens, their continual clucking about the Mark needing a queen and heirs growing louder by the month since Éowyn wed Faramir and relocated to Ithilien.

He hadn't been in any particular hurry to wed – there'd been too much to do in terms of setting the kingdom right after the war to think about personal matters – and it had been a simple matter to name Éowyn as his heir.

In the end, though, it had actually been Éowyn herself who convinced him that he would benefit from having a queen, not just to secure a child from his own body as heir, but to help with the burdens of ruling. He'd resented the implication at first – as if she was suggesting he was lacking in the ability to rule.

But once Éowyn had moved to Ithilien, he'd quickly come to understand how lonely Meduseld could be. Even his closest friends, men from his eored, no longer felt completely easy with him. They were undeniably loyal, but now never forgot that he was their sovereign – in a way they never had when he'd been merely Third Marshal and nephew of the king. When Theodred had still been alive and destined for the throne.

A queen, however, could be a mate, an equal, a partner with him in his rule. The idea had started to appeal to him, but finding the right woman had proven a problem. Before the war, he had never had time for relationships, so there was no Rohirrim woman he could bring to Meduseld and wed. And since becoming King, anything approaching a normal relationship with a single woman had been impossible.

Even if it hadn't been, even if he'd been able to talk to them in a normal manner, not one of the women he'd encountered had seemed likely to be able to cope with the tasks of being queen.

And then various individuals – Éowyn, Faramir, even Aragorn – had suggested the Princess of Dol Amroth as a possible mate for him. He'd resisted the idea at first. If companionship was part of the point of the marriage, why start off with someone you didn't know, weren't sure you could have a relationship with?

But he'd admired her, every time he'd seen her – starting with the first time, when he'd encountered her in the Houses of Healing after the war, determined to make herself useful however she could. She was lovely and compassionate, and knew about royal households, but gradually he'd become aware that there was a hint of something more there – an adventuresome spirit as well as a glint of humor in her eyes that had given him hope that marriage to her might not only be good for Rohan, but also for himself.

He brought his hand up, gently stroked her hair again, lightly touched the soft skin of her shoulder. Could not help bending and brushing it with his lips.

He wasn't sure what love was. His parents had loved so much his mother had grieved herself to death when his father had died; he'd seen the relationships between his sister and her husband, and the King and Queen of Gondor. But he still didn't understand what it was or where or how it came from. It mostly mystified him.

But rather than love finding you, maybe there were times when it could be nourished and encouraged, grown through careful tending. If so, he would do all in his power to bring it about between himself and his new wife.

Éowyn had been right. He needed someone like Lothiriel, someone with whom he could have a unique relationship, one like none of the others in his life – someone who would share the duties of ruling with him, and would thus understand him in ways no one could. And in return, he would give the same thing back to her, beginning with an awareness of what she'd already given up to be with him – her home, her family, her friendships.

He'd meant what he said about her needs being a priority for him, especially over the next few months as she adjusted to life in the Mark. His advisors might well be thinking that having accomplished getting him wed, they could now redirect his attention to some of the other myriad tasks they were always plaguing him with.

They were wrong.

Although the needs of his people would always take precedence over his own life, he fully intended to spend as much time as possible over the next few months with the woman currently asleep in his arms. Getting to know her, making sure that she never regretted leaving Dol Amroth, laying the foundation for all their future life.

Tonight had been a good start. Her honesty with him about how she was feeling when he'd first come to her – her admission of vulnerability – had been a good sign, he thought. And then they'd been able to bring each other pleasure, had trusted each other enough to do so.

It was not a bad start to a relationship.