(July, 3019 III)
"You do not like him, do you?" Faramir's voice was quiet in my ear.
"I do not know him," I replied, not turning to look at my cousin.
He stepped onto the balcony with me. "You do not want to know him, either, do you?"
"His manners are coarse," I defended.
"So are mine, and those of every other soldier. Not to mention his culture is different than ours." He paused and then commented, "It used to be that you were eager to meet people of other cultures and learn of their ways. Yet the King of Rohan you reject outright with no effort being made. Why?"
"You know why," I said coldly, willing myself to hold back the tears that threatened.
"Thiri, you know your father will not force you to marry anyone. He merely wishes to see you make a good match. All he is asking is that you give Eomer a chance."
"It is not so simple as that, and you know it. My father, and no doubt my brothers as well, will throw us together at every opportunity. Everyone will be hanging on our every word spoken to try and spy some hint that we favor one another. It is too much!" I wailed.
Consolingly Faramir wrapped his arms around me and pulled me close. "My future brother-in-law is a good man, Thiri, and I believe he would make a good husband. But only you can decide if he would make a good husband for you. Do not dismiss him without coming to know him. I am sure he does not wish to marry where he does not love any more than you do."
While I very much wanted to believe Faramir's version of things, I could not quite do so. Ever since the War had ended, Father seemed determined to marry me off to some eligible man, and the man most particularly favorable in his eyes was the young king of Rohan. They had formed a close friendship, and Father appeared determined not to rest until I was made queen.
And if it were not bad enough having Father so singleminded, my brothers seemed in complete agreement on the matter. Even my dear Faramir, soon to wed the man's sister, was no less eager to see the match made. He might conceal it better, and not press so hard as my closer family members, but I could see it in his eyes. Nearly the instant we had arrived, Faramir made a point to direct my attention to this Eomer. It was all too irritating. I could appreciate that they wanted my happiness, and thought this would achieve it, but it irked me that none of them seemed to care what my thoughts were on the matter.
But, for the moment, I was forced to put aside my irritation, for we were due at the welcoming feast. It was there that I would be formally introduced to this king. I did not know how, but I was determined to make my sentiments clear on this unwanted matchmaking. I would have to be careful, of course, not to offend so important a man, but I would find a way!
We returned to the hallway from the balcony where we stood, and Faramir escorted me toward the feast hall. Just as we turned the corner at the end, a slight movement caught the corner of my eye, and I glimpsed a tawny-haired man following us at some distance. If I was not mistaken, it was the very king I was desiring to avoid, and for an instant my heart seemed to stop beating. Why was he there? Had he been listening to our conversation? I dared not look too closely at his expression, and draw Faramir's attention there, but as we continued on our way, it occurred to me that if he had heard my words that might well play in my favor. At least he would not approach me with any delusions that I sought his suit.
Because we stopped to speak with friends of Faramir's, Rohan's king made it to the feast hall before us and was already seated. Though Faramir went to sit with Eowyn, the contingent from Rohan was seated on the far side of King Elessar from where my family was placed. At least I would be able to enjoy a peaceable supper. Temporarily, I relaxed, able to delight in the celebrations and the safe return of my family members. But once the meal was concluded and tables pushed back for dancing, I felt the muscles in my neck start to tense once more. Part of me desperately hoped I would find a way to avoid what I knew was coming, but I could not quite convince myself there was any way of accomplishing it.
Sure enough, Father soon had me by the elbow and was steering me toward King Eomer, in the company of my brothers. Perhaps he thought I would attempt to bolt away unless they all circled me to prevent it. It was some consolation that the king was watching our approach and looked no more eager for the encounter than I was.
"Eomer, I would have you meet the rest of my family. My sons you already know, but this is my daughter, Lothiriel."
Rohan's King bowed politely to me as my father added, "Thiri, this is Eomer, King of Rohan."
I dropped into a stiff curtsy, and managed a smile, but said nothing. To be sure, the man was handsome. And few men I had ever met were so tall and well built. I would even allow that he had a charming smile, but I refused to be drawn in by appearances. As King, he no doubt expected me to swoon at his feet and hang on his every word. I would not do it.
To my mortification, as the music began, my father suggested, "Eomer, perhaps you and Lothiriel would like to help get the dancing started." Father was looking expectantly at the man, so what could he do but make the offer?
"I would be quite pleased to dance with your daughter, Prince Imrahil, if she is so inclined."
I couldn't see any way to avoid it without being rude, so I smiled weakly and nodded, "Thank you, my lord." He took my hand and led me toward the dance area. There he slipped a gentle hand on my waist and I raised my hand to meet his. I tried to keep my eyes averted, but it was awkward to do so, and again, though I did not care for the situation, I did not wish to be rude. I frantically searched my brain to dredge up the sort of mundane conversation the circumstances called for, and asked, "And how do you like Minas Tirith, my lord?"
"It is pleasant enough a place, though I do not care for all this stone. I miss the open plains and mountains of my home," he answered. There was a wistful note to his voice as he mentioned home, and I lapsed into silence, unsure what to say next in response to such a declaration.
He added, "I suppose part of what makes me nervous about Minas Tirith is my sister's earnest desire to marry me off to a noblewoman of Gondor. Apparently, people who are in love want everyone else to be in love also."
"And you do not desire love?" I asked, kicking myself for saying such a thing.
Seizing the opportunity, he explained, "I have nothing against love, but I am not overly fond of matchmaking on my behalf. I wish Eowyn could understand that I am far too busy just now to concern myself with such things."
So, he wasn't inclined to be pushed into this any more than I was, but even so, I found myself asking, "And you think you will have more time for it later?" I had no idea why I had asked the question. It just seemed to pop into my head at his comments, so I tried to justify it with an explanation, "I would think the longer you are King, the busier you will be."
Eomer's eyes narrowed slightly at my response – he apparently had not expected the question. Finally he answered with, "You may be right. Perhaps my real objection is that advisors are taking over every part of my life now and I do not wish to let them interfere in that particular part. I do not want a marriage solely for political reasons or a desperate need to produce an heir."
I smiled at his words, my first genuine smile of the evening. "I cannot say that I blame you for that." I hesitated, but something about him was very comfortable so I risked saying too much, "However, I fear, my lord, that your sister, as well as my father, are quite determined. We will have our hands full trying to avoid their matchmaking!"
He grinned at me. Not the polite smile I was used to seeing in royal courts, but the kind that is shared between friends. I think we understood one another, and somewhere in that a conspiracy seemed to be born for us to rebel against outside influence on us. I leaned slightly toward him and whispered, "I will ignore their best efforts if you will, my lord!"
With a nod, he twirled me to the left and continued the dance with more enthusiasm. Perhaps this whole thing wouldn't be so tiresome as I feared. If our families could plot against us, why shouldn't we return the favor. When the dance ended, he bowed and I curtsied and we went our separate ways, to the chagrined looks on our relatives' faces. I knew I would have no trouble finding dancing partners, and even though I sometimes wanted nothing more than to slip out into one of the nearby gardens and spend the rest of the evening in solitude under the stars, I knew I needed to stay visible and occupied. Only in that, could I thwart their attempts to pair me off with the young king.
Eomer, for his part, tried to stay engaged elsewhere, though a time or two I did catch him watching me. I wondered if he had been upset by what I said. He had appeared to be pleased to find me of the same mind as he was on the matter, but it was possible I had misread his response. I hoped I hadn't made a mistake. His assistance in stonewalling our relatives would make things ever so much easier, and possibly we would be entertained in the process by watching their frustration.
As the evening wore on, I finally felt I had stayed long enough to feign weariness and be excused. I said my goodnights to my family, Eowyn and the King and Queen, before making my way out of the hall. I had lost track of Eomer in the last hour, so I hadn't been dragged over to say goodnight to him, or have someone make some embarrassing suggestion about the two of us.
Once I had gone far enough to think my escape secure, I leaned down and removed my shoes from my aching feet. I had not danced so much in a long time, but I hadn't dared sit any out. The cool stone floor felt good as I made my way back to my room. On impulse, I sidetracked out into one of the gardens I was passing. Now that no one knew where I was, it felt safe to do so, and I found a spot on a bench to gaze at the stars.
Mordor had spread its smoke and darkness over Gondor for too long. It was good to be able to look up and see the star-encrusted night sky. I hadn't traveled a great deal in my life, mostly only between Dol Amroth and Minas Tirith, but I found myself wondering if the stars looked the same in Rohan as they did here. I supposed I would find out as I would be joining the funeral procession for King Theoden in a few days time.
It was both thrilling and frightening to think of going so far from home. Already I had discovered with my own eyes the existence of dwarves and hobbits. And for the first time in my life, I had been in the company of Elves. What new experiences would come to me on the journey and in this strange land to the west?
I was startled out of my reverie by footsteps nearby and let out a gasp of surprise. The steps halted and then a voice said, "My apologies. I did not see you there." It was Eomer. Wonderful – I had been trying to avoid this all night and now we found ourselves in the garden together anyway.
"It is alright, my lord. The night is dark and I was making no effort to be seen," I answered politely.
He shifted nervously, then commented, "It is late. Shouldn't you be going inside soon?"
I let out a laugh, "Perhaps, but I have escaped the evening relatively unscathed and I want to savor my first, hopefully one of many, victory over my meddlesome family. What better a place than in the dark, under the stars?"
I could just see his smile in the moonlight. "Indeed. We did very well at thwarting them, to be sure."
There were another few moments of awkwardness until, on impulse, I invited, "Will you join me for a bit? If you are as tired as I am, your feet would likely welcome the respite."
He hesitated only briefly before nodding and taking a seat beside me. "I know I will find out for myself in a few weeks, but I have just been wondering – do the stars look the same in Rohan as they do here?"
He pondered this, then replied, "Mostly they do, though they are positioned somewhat differently in the sky. But most of the shapes are still recognizable, though their placement isn't the same."
My earlier comment seemed to sink in, and he asked, "You are coming to Rohan?"
"I will accompany my family there for King Theoden's funeral. I hope you will forgive my excitement at the prospect of the journey, despite the somber occasion."
He smiled at that and replied, "My Uncle would not have wanted to dampen such enthusiasm for visiting Rohan, so neither shall I. We will be honored to have you there and do all that we can to see that you enjoy yourself."
"Thank you." We lapsed into silence then, though it was not uncomfortable as might have been expected.
I shifted my position, and in so doing kicked one of my shoes and exposed my bare feet to the moonlight. Eomer looked down and broke into a grin. "I am envious, my lady. Your attire, or lack thereof, seems most inviting, but I fear Kings are not indulged in such frivolous behavior as going barefooted."
I smiled teasingly in return, "Tis a pity, then, that you do not wear skirts, my lord." He gave me a startled, curious look and I explained, "A lady's skirts can hide many things, including bare feet! I am afraid trousers are too revealing for such activities."
"The King of Rohan in skirts? Now that would be a sight to see!" he laughed.
I blushed and added, "But do not tell my father I said so. He would be mortified that I would suggest such a thing – even in jest."
"Your secret is safe with me. And now, at least, when my feet are hot and tired and I would gladly remove my boots but am unable to do so, I may privately distract myself with the image of the King wearing a skirt whilst barefoot!"
I laughed appreciatively at the picture in my mind, and told him, "Ah, but if you ever succumb and do actually wear a skirt for that purpose, beware! What a King does is always considered fashionable, and soon you would find all the men of Rohan in skirts and bare feet!"
Eomer exploded with laughter at my foolishness and I could not help but laugh along with him. However, even though I was enjoying myself, I could not suppress a yawn. It had been a very long day. Eomer noticed and rose. "Perhaps we should go in, before you think of any other changes to my wardrobe." He offered his hand and I took it after collecting my shoes.
We walked in comfortable silence to his door, where he bowed and entered. My own room was only a few doors down, but before I reached it, my Father appeared at my side. I could tell he was angry, and he followed me in and closed the door behind us. "What on earth were you thinking, Lothiriel? Going barefoot in front of the King!"
"Father, it was not my fault! He came upon me unaware, while I had my shoes off in the garden. Once he had noticed my bare feet, it seemed silly to bother putting them on, particularly when he expressed a wish that he could remove his own."
"That is not the point! What will he think of a girl who is so familiar with him after barely making his acquaintance? You are of the highest nobility, and I expect you to behave as such. Let me hear no more of something like this taking place. When you are with the King, or anyone else for that matter, I expect you to be appropriately attired. Is that clear?"
"Quite, Father," I answered stiffly, the pleasant mood of the evening evaporating.
He stepped forward and kissed my cheek. "I am sorry to be harsh with you, Thiri, but this is not one of your brothers. You can not be so informal with such a man. It will not reflect well on you, or on our family."
I nodded, still annoyed by the rebuke and bid him goodnight. Slowly I undressed and got into my nightgown, then sat glaring at the floor while I brushed out my hair. Unbidden, an image of Eomer, in one of my dresses, came to mind and I could not hold back a laugh. Despite what my father had said, I could not believe I had materially damaged our reputation with the King.
I climbed into bed, the smile back on my face, and drifted quickly off to sleep.