When I wrote Beginnings, I really had no immediate plans for a sequel. In my mind, I'd gotten them off to a good start; the rest was up to them. ;) But so many people asked for a continuation that I started thinking about it at about the same time I was tossing ideas around for a birthday fic for sg1scribe.
Tolkien was a little inconsistent in regards to whether or not the Rohirrim had a written language. I've adopted the approach that the royal family and other nobles learned to read and write the common tongue (in order to facilitate communication with Gondor). Based on the idea that most Rohirrim don't read, I've taken some liberties in extrapolating other cultural differences between Rohan and Gondor.
This, then, is for sg1scribe as well as everyone else who enjoyed (and so kindly reviewed) Beginnings.
Eomer heard the roar of the water before he saw it, and suppressed an oath. His men already thought him mad; there was no point in making it worse with another display of temper. But gods, he wanted to.
Firefoot snorted as if in agreement with the men, but continued carefully picking his way through the undergrowth until they emerged onto the banks of the stream.
At least it was supposed to be a stream. But stream was an altogether too mild a word for the writhing, seething mass of water in front of him. Now what?
At a noise behind him, he glanced over his shoulder, watched Eothain ride up. The captain of his guard stared at the water for a long moment, then turned, gave Eomer a cautious look.
Eomer's gaze returned to the stream and he glared at it balefully. Autumn had seen unusually fierce rains in the mountains, resulting in swollen streams, dangerous crossings, and flooded villages. They might be able to make it across, but it would be risky, and it wasn't a risk he was willing to take – no matter how desperate he was to get back to Edoras.
If he hadn't been king, he would have sent the men back to the road and made the attempt. He knew his own skills, knew what Firefoot was capable of. But he was king, and even if he was foolish enough to try and send his guard back to the road, they'd refuse to go. And although they were all good riders, he didn't know if all of them could handle the crossing.
With the road flooded and washed out in places, they'd had a choice of turning back to Gondor and waiting until the water receded and the ground began to dry, or of trying to find an alternate route around the worst of the floods. He'd opted for the latter, had hoped this little-known route through the hills would still be passable. The stream now blocking them was so small and followed such a convoluted path out of the mountains that he hadn't been able to imagine it flooding. It had certainly never done so before. Until now.
With one final glower toward the water, he turned back to Eothain. "We'll give the road another attempt. If we take the left fork as we leave the hills, we should come back to the road just west of Calenhad. Perhaps the flooding won't be so bad there."
Eothain nodded, and started to turn, when Eomer spoke again. "We'll stop for the night at that clearing we passed not long ago."
"Yes, sire." He turned and started back toward the men.
They were loyal, and Eomer hadn't heard even a hint of complaint from any of them, but he'd been driving them hard and they were all exhausted. An early night would not go amiss – and it was not as if a few extra hours were going to make that much of a difference.
Being able to cross this stream had been his final hope, his last chance of making it back to Edoras in time. Now they had no choice but to retrace their steps back to the road, adding at least two days to their journey no matter how hard they pushed. No, a few more hours weren't going to make any difference.
Discouraged, he nudged Firefoot to follow Eothain.
Lothiriel gradually came awake. Although it was still dark, morning-noises were coming through the walls. Meduseld was waking up.
As full alertness returned, she sat up, dropped her head into her hands. The day she'd been secretly dreading was here; now all that remained was to get through it. It would be no longer than any other day, and when it was over, things would be easier.
Throwing back the covers, she shivered as she reached for her dressing gown. Her chamber was freezing, and it was only autumn. How would she ever survive winter?
No. She would not think such thoughts. There was much she loved about the Mark, its people. And eventually she would get used to the colder weather. Or so everyone assured her.
Crossing the room, she knelt in front of the fire and stirred it to a brighter blaze, was cheered by both the heat and light.
The intensity of her homesickness continued to surprise her. She'd known there would be adjustments, but not to this degree. In hindsight, it had been terribly naive to think that simply because she'd always loved excursions away from Dol Amroth – to Gondor, for example – that moving to Rohan would not be that difficult.
And in truth, it wasn't that bad. Rohan was just as beautiful as Dol Amroth if in a different way, and its people were warm and kindhearted, at least for the most part. They'd been nothing but welcoming to her.
But at unexpected times, a sudden longing to smell the sea would come over her, or a fierce desire to hear her father's laugh, and it would be all she could manage not to burst into tears wherever she was.
The weakness appalled her, and made her even more determined to adjust, to find her place here.
It mattered to her that none of the Rohirrim know that there were times when she ached for her homeland, as she couldn't dislodge the fear that they would misunderstand, would think she was regretting her marriage to their King, something decidedly not true.
She suspected that Eomer knew she occasionally battled homesickness. They'd never discussed it, but she'd catch him giving her a sharp look, and he'd almost immediately request her assistance with something – nearly always something that involved spending time with him, being busy. It was very sweet of him – and it usually worked, too. With her mind off of whatever had triggered the homesickness, she would find herself once again fascinated and delighted by some new aspect of Rohirrim culture.
But Eomer was away, his first extended trip since their marriage. As they had a dozen times in the last eight weeks, her thoughts went back to the afternoon he'd come to tell her of the message summoning him south.
"Gondor?" she stared at him blankly.
He nodded, glanced again at the parchment in his hand, a troubled look on his face. "A messenger from Minas Tirith just arrived." He scanned the missive again. "There are rumors of trouble in the south...word has reached Elessar that some of the Haradrim believe winter will be a good time to attack Ithilien." When he looked back up, a grim expression was on his face. "Apparently, they're assuming we will not ride to Gondor's aid in winter."
"Then they know nothing of the men of the Mark, nor of the bond between Gondor and Rohan," she said indignantly. "But..." her voice faltered. "Does that mean you will need to stay all winter?" It was hard to even voice the question.
"No." He shook his head, glanced at the message again. "In fact, Aragorn does not believe it will even come to battle, at least not yet. He seems to think that my demonstrating that I will come at need, no matter the season, will be sufficient for the moment to convince them not to attack. And in the meantime, his cavalry continues to expand, which will also help."
She nodded, tried to push away the dread that was growing. "When will you leave?"
"Tomorrow, at first light. I'm only taking my personal guard. Under the circumstances, I don't believe it's necessary to muster more riders. If it comes to battle, the beacons will be lit and Elfhelm will muster the men."
"Tomorrow?" She barely heard his comment about the beacons. So soon?
"It's not ideal, I know. But the more quickly I get to Gondor, the likelier the Haradrim are to be convinced that I could be there in time to make a difference should they attack, and the sooner I can get back. I do not like being away from Edoras right now."
She nodded, her mind already on all the tasks that needed to be done before he and his men left. With effort, she forced back the personal feelings that wanted to flare into panic at the thought of his leaving. She was adjusting, was beginning to find her place in the royal court. But it was so much harder than she'd anticipated. And it was only now, when faced with the thought of his departure, that she realized how much she'd come to depend on him as a defense against the homesickness.
He'd started to turn away, the parchment still in his hand, when a new thought occurred to her. "Eomer..."
"Yes?" he looked up, his mind plainly already on the trip ahead.
"If this is unlikely to result in a new war..." she hesitated. What if he misunderstood?
"What?" there was a hint of impatience in his voice. No wonder, given all he had to do before departing.
Ask or let it drop. She took a breath. "If battle is unlikely, perhaps I could go with you?" Despite her attempt to sound casual, the words came out rushed, nervous.
His face went still, and she hurried on, convinced she knew what his primary concern would be. "I would not delay you – you've said yourself that I ride as well as a saddle-born Eorlingas." She stifled a wince when she heard the words. They sounded more like pleading than she'd wanted them to. Too late now, though.
He dropped his hand with the parchment, stared at her. And she saw the answer in his eyes.
No. She couldn't go.
Why had she even asked? Having admitted, to herself at least, how desperately she wanted to do so, how much she wanted to see her family – some of whom must surely be in Minas Tirith given the current state of affairs – it was now even harder to face staying. And she'd probably sounded like a fool, as well.
She forced a smile, promised herself that she would not cry until he was gone. "Nevermind. I know it's a foolish idea. I'll go let the kitchens know to begin preparing supplies for your journey."
She was nearly to the door before he caught up with her. "Lothiriel." He pulled her around to face him, and she had to fight against the instinct to struggle, the desire to flee from him in disappointment and dismay.
"It's not that I don't want you to go. You must know that." His other hand, the parchment now crumpled, came up to rest on her shoulder. "And it is not a matter of how fast you ride." His gaze was direct, focused on her. "Things are not yet as stable as I might wish them to be in Edoras. There are still those who question me, who question my decisions, even my rule. I do not anticipate trouble, but I believe it would be best if one of us, at least, remains here. That is why I ask you to stay."
Ask. He placed a slight emphasis on the word, but it was enough for her to understand. Though he could order her to stay, he would not do so. He would take her with him if she insisted, as foolish as it might be. But he would be disappointed in her. And she desperately didn't want to disappoint him.
Struck by that thought, it took her a moment to really process the rest of what he'd said. 'One of us.' He was asking her to stay in order to represent him while he was gone. To rule in his stead, as his mate, his queen.
Slowly, she nodded, struggled to find the words. It was hard when she was feeling both pride that he trusted her, needed her, that much, as well as some fear at the thought. There was still so much she didn't understand about the Mark. What if she let him down? What if she let their people down? She took a deep breath, then simply nodded. "Then of course I must stay."
She saw the relief in his eyes, relief which yet warred with concern for her. He brushed his hands down her arms, linked his hands with hers, the parchment crumpled between them. "Thank you."
She forced a smile, looked away from him. Tugged on her hands. "I must really go to the kitchens if you're to have supplies for the journey."
He released one of her hands, cupped her chin, forced her to look at him. "Lothiriel..."
The concern was still there. She tugged harder. If he didn't let her go, right now, she was going to embarrass herself with tears, something she badly didn't want to do. "I'm fine. But I really do need to go check on plans for your departure."
Reluctantly, he released her, his eyes still troubled. She smiled again, hoped it looked vaguely sincere. "I'm fine," she said again, before turning and exiting.
She sighed, shook herself out of the memory. And so, understanding that he wouldn't always ask it of her, she'd stayed, doing her best to represent him. 'As king and queen, the needs of the Mark will frequently take precedence over our own desires.' Not for the first time since his departure, she recalled the words he'd spoken to her on their wedding night. He'd been right, but she'd give anything if the first proof of that duty hadn't been being left behind, while he went to Gondor.
She'd met daily with his advisors, half of whom assumed she knew all there was to know about ruling Rohan, while the other half assumed she was an empty headed female who must be pandered to in the absence of the King. To her relief, she'd also met regularly with Elfhelm, whose eored was based in Edoras and was in charge of the city's security. The older man approached her with a mix of respect and practicality that was always reassuring.
He reminded her in some ways of her father. He would no doubt be startled by the idea of being compared to the Prince of Dol Amroth, but the same ...steadiness was there. The same wisdom, the same sharpness of mind.
One of the things she shared with the Marshal was a growing concern over how delayed Eomer was in returning. He'd expected to be gone for no more than a month, six weeks at the most. Eight weeks had now passed, and she saw worry growing in Elfhelm's eyes as his gaze ever more frequently turned south. What had happened to cause the delay?
It wasn't war, that was the one thing they were sure of. If battle had broken out, the beacons would have been lit, and Elfhelm would have mustered the riders and ridden off with them.
But something had obviously happened.
She'd marked the weeks, day by day, growing progressively more excited as the time of his expected return grew nearer, only to have anticipation turn to disappointment, then disappointment to worry, when he didn't return. And now worry was gradually turning to fear. Where was he?
A soft tap came on her door, and she smiled inspite of her anxiety and sadness. Acha, one of the kitchen maids, had taken it on herself to bring Lothiriel tea every morning, and seemed to take pride in arriving at the door not long after Lothiriel awoke, without actually waking her. How the girl managed to know when to bring it was a mystery, but it was one of those small gestures that meant a great deal..
Standing, she crossed the room, opened the door with a smile.
"Good morning, Acha," she said in Rohirric. The girl's smile broadened at hearing the greeting in her own language – or maybe it was at Lothiriel's mangling of it. She could never tell.
Acha placed the tray on a small table near the fire, then gave a quick bow before exiting the room. Lothiriel settled at the table, poured herself a mug of the tea, and tried to plan the day. She simply wouldn't think about what the date was and would keep herself busy. The first part of that would be easy enough, since the Rohirrim never thought about such things – calendars were extremely rare in the Mark. The Rohirrim lived from season to season, new moon to new moon, and generally saw no need to identify any particular day. Even feasts and celebrations were tied to the season and the phases of the moon.
There were Gondorian calendars in Eomer's study – along with one of the Shire – but they were not the norm in the Riddermark, and maybe that wasn't an altogether bad thing, she mused. Perhaps there was something to be said for a life lived in a more relaxed fashion, thinking more of seasons than individual days. She suspected that only she and Elfhelm were truly aware of how late Eomer was in returning, and perhaps that was a blessing for the wives of the men who rode with him.
In terms of the day before her, she could only pray that it would wind up being important primarily because it saw the return of Rohan's king. Please, she pleaded to the world at large. Let him return soon. I miss him more than I would have believed possible.