By the Sea.
Chapter Twenty-two: Minas Tirith.
The time to leave Dol Amroth had come sooner than she wished. But in her heart, Lothíriel was ready to depart from her childhood home. Before the time of their departure, her family had congregated in Imrahil's personal library, content to say their goodbyes away from the public eye.
Lothíriel hugged her father farewell and smiled as he bent to gently kiss her brow. "I shall miss having you here, daughter."
"Do not lie, Ada," she teased lightly. "I know you are eager to be rid of us. The horses belonging Éomer's men are taking up too much space in your stables and I can see that you wish for some peace!"
Imrahil chuckled sheepishly. "Yes, there is that." He sighed, "I will never understand the reverence they hold for horses, as I am sure they will never understand why we covet the sea."
Lothíriel laughed as she remembered the particular day she had persuaded Éomer and the two men of his personal guard to join a sailing excursion she had put together for her family. It had been an... interesting day, to say the least. She had never seen her husband so unsure about anything as she had when he stepped foot on the boat. Much laughter had occurred that day at Éomer's expense and her brothers had shown him no quarter to defend himself. But he took it all in with a good-natured smile and thoroughly thrashed them in the training ring after the outing.
Her brothers had not been pleased but Lothíriel was hard pressed not to say they deserved it.
That evening, as she and her husband spoke to one another amiably in their chambers, he announced that it would be a long time before he could be persuaded to step foot on another boat. But there was nothing to be done about it as she reminded him, much to his chagrin, that they would be journeying to Minas Tirith on her father's Swan ship; the Rohirrims' horses, most of the luggage and a few of her husband's men would be travelling by road, but she and Éomer would reach the White City much quicker by the sea and river now that it was safer to use such means of transportation.
She bit back a laugh as she remembered the anguished expression on his face which he tried to cover with a brave mien.
Her father raised a brow at her secret amusement but Lothíriel shook her head gently and moved on to say goodbye to her elder brothers.
From the corner of her eye she could see Éomer speaking quietly with her father and she held back another smile as she saw the depth of respect and admiration in her husband's gaze as he listened to the words his sworn father.
"Honestly, sometimes I swear you have nothing between your ears, Lothíriel," Amrothos huffed mockingly.
Lothíriel smiled serenely and turned to look at the youngest of her brothers. "Whatever can you mean, dear brother?" She asked innocently.
Shaking his head with faked frustration, Amrothos cupped her cheek and kissed her nose playfully. He grinned boyishly as she swatted him away. "You know exactly what I mean, my little Oyster."
Putting on her best queenly face, Lothíriel sneered down her nose at her troublesome grey-eyed sibling. "Must you call me that? I am not so vile-looking as an oyster."
"And what else, pray tell, would you have me call you? Perhaps I should dub you Stingray or Cockleshell?"
Giggling at the ridiculous turn of the conversation, she waved her hand with authority. "Cockleshell shall be fine. Anything but Oyster."
Amrothos heaved a deep sigh and bowed dramatically, "As my Lady Cockleshell bids, so I shall dub thee!"
"I believe neither of you have anything between your ears," Elphir interrupted, snorting as he listened to their conversation with a poorly hidden grin.
"Brother!" She hugged Elphir, her eyes twinkling. "I hope you realise that I do have a little more wit than you and Amrothos combined."
Amrothos cried out in protestation.
Elphir merely smiled as he drew back and pointed a finger in her face. "Behave."
Lothíriel grabbed the offending appendage, shaking her head.
The siblings laughed together, but their mirth soon faded as they noticed Erchirion did not share in their amusement. He stood by the window and continued to gaze out longingly at the sea beyond the sandy shore.
Remembering that all the descendants of the Royal family of Dol Amroth tended to turn to the sea in times of grief, Lothíriel placed placating hands upon her brothers' shoulders as she moved towards Erchirion.
She embraced his rigid stance as best she could. He did not seem to move, nor notice her but Lothíriel could see a shadow glaze his grey-blue eyes as she wrapped her arms about him. Eventually, he reciprocated the embrace by sighing and pressing his cheek to the top of her head. "All will be well," she murmured, her heart aching for her brother. She knew that he loved his son, but what else was there to be done for a bastard? Lothíriel hated that word. To call a child, any child, such a cruel name grated at her like poisoned nails.
Lowering Erchirion to her height, she spoke fervently and only for his ears. "There is still time. Tell Ada you wish for him to be formally adopted in your name. People will speak, but then they always do when it comes to court intrigue, rumours and gossip. It may or may not hurt Ada's reputation but you know he will do whatever he can for you. It was your wish that he be sent to Rohan, not Ada's." She looked her brother imploringly as she hugged him tighter. "Éomer will not take your son into his household until we return to Rohan," again Lothíriel smiled sadly as she uttered words of hope; "There is still time."
Inhaling sharply, Erchirion nodded and managed a faint smile.
"I love you, brother, with all my heart. It grieves me to see you suffer with so much doubt and despair."
Staring at her briefly, Erchirion lowered his head slightly in acknowledgement of her words. "And I, you. It has been too quiet without you here, Lothíriel."
She knew that he did not wish to speak about his troubles and so she respected his wishes and remained silent. "Too quiet? Oh I believe you shall not miss one selfish creature of a sister."
"Selfish, maybe. But you are changing for the better," he grinned.
Rolling her eyes, Lothíriel pulled away as she heard Éomer's cough. "Take care, muindor nín."
"Take care," he echoed absently.
And so it was, she left with a heavy heart.
"How do you stand it?"
Lothíriel started with surprise as Éomer's voice sliced through her heavy thoughts. The ship was steadily making it's way along the coastal fief of Belfalas.
It was not yet noon as they had made an early start from the port of Dol Amroth and so with the free time, she found herself up on the deck, near the keel of the ship as she watched her father's princedom glide past, the cool breeze ruffling her braided hair.
"Stand what?" She finally questioned with confusion, looking at her husband with large eyes as he joined her near the keel.
Éomer motioned discreetly to her personal guard from Dol Amroth, standing a few feet away from them. "Since I do not remember my time as King," he began lowly, "I have not become accustomed to having guards trailing my every move." He smiled wryly, "How do you stand it? It vexes me beyond words to have my freedom so thoroughly taken away."
Lothíriel chuckled and shrugged gracefully. "I know not, Éomer. It is not something I dwell upon. Many times I even forget they are there. Perhaps, when I was younger and visiting my cousins in Minas Tirith, it bothered me terribly not to have the freedom to run around and do as I pleased. But as I grew, I came to understand that with Royalty and lineage, one must be ready for the unexpected. My father would take no chances with mine or my brothers' safety." She stopped and looked at him curiously. "You did not have a guard when you went to live with your uncle in Meduseld?"
Éomer grimaced but nodded. "When I was still a young lad. But then I became a Rider when I came of age and so it was unnecessary for me to have one, as I would often by thrown into danger on patrols. The years were dark and the land was rife with danger. A few years later, I was promoted to Third-Marshal with my own éored to look to but by then, my uncle was not in the right frame of mind to see to such petty things," he said rather dryly.
Silently, Lothíriel reached out and placed her hand over his as it rested upon the railing.
"You are a King now, Éomer," she soothed. "And after what happened the last time you rode out, your people are all the more worried about your safety. None know what happened to you in the east of Rohan and your men feared for you... I feared for you. So I can see why your councillors wish for you to have a guard; not that you are incapable of protecting yourself, of course," she added hastily.
"I hated having a guard when I was younger and living in the King's household," he continued softly. "I still abhor it." Éomer turned and barely held back a glare at his own guard, swathed in green and gold, hovering near him but far enough away that he could not hear their conversation.
There were not many people on deck, most of the Rohirrim men and women were in their cabins below, wishing for land. The captain of the ship was navigating and so, the King and Queen of Rohan almost had the deck of the ship to themselves. It was a nice change from the hustle and bustle that had surrounded them prior to their departure from Dol Amroth.
"I understand the need for safety," Éomer growled to himself. "But Béma, we are on a ship with trusted people from Rohan and Dol Amroth! I do not see what they could protect us from out here," he waved at the rippling waves beyond the ship and towards the shoreline of Belfalas.
"There are pirates," Lothíriel murmured so quietly and innocently, that she saw Éomer falter for a brief second before a deep chuckle erupted from him.
"Yes," he finally agreed, smiling. "There are those, I suppose."
Smiling in return, Lothíriel patted his hand. "Give it a few more weeks and you will hardly know that he is there. It was safe in Dol Amroth but your guard, and mine, were still there to do their duty and not to burden us. And they will be with us in Minas Tirith and Ithilien until we return to Edoras."
"Yes. You are right." Éomer blinked and frowned up at the cloudless sky. "Come," he offered his arm without preamble.
Startled, she gazed at him blankly but took his arm. "Pardon?"
"It is almost noon and it will be too hot to remain on deck unless you are accustomed to it. I am taking you below," he smiled genuinely, a hint of concern glinting in his deep brown eyes.
Lothíriel stopped abruptly and allowed a sly expression to cross her face. "Oh? And how do you know that I am not 'accustomed' to it?" She demanded haughtily.
Éomer's brow furrowed thoughtfully. "I do not—"
"—Ah," she interjected, "So you assumed that I am not accustomed to riding on a ship in such weather? Are you implying that I – a daughter of Númenorean and elven descent – am unable to handle such a paltry journey on a ship because of the weather?"
The King of Rohan flushed imperceptibly at his presumption and reluctantly moved to release her arm but Lothíriel held it firmly in her grasp, her eyes glimmering with suppressed mirth. Leaning close, she whispered, "I am teasing you, my lord."
He looked at her strangely. "You are by far the oddest Lady I have ever come across."
Lothíriel smiled broadly. "You must learn to laugh at my idiocy, King Éomer. Or else all your days will be filled with looks such as the one you are giving me now!" Fluttering her eyelashes playfully, she lead him down below to their cabin with Éomer snorting and shaking his head at her strange sense of humour.
A week passed without much excitement aboard the Swan ship, she had sailed majestically past the island of Tolfalas and was now steadily making her way up the Anduin towards the harbour at Osgiliath.
From what could be seen as they neared it, the city was a shadow of it's former self but repairs were slowly being made and the progress was clearly visible to any who gazed upon it. It filled Lothíriel with hope to see that the destruction caused was gradually being wiped away. The joy of having a King upon Gondor's throne caused many a heart to lighten and the spirits of Gondor's people were still evidently rejoicing in the return of the King.
Éomer, meanwhile, felt doubt begin to creep into the corners of his heart. The last time he had seen his sworn brother, in his mind, was before he had ridden out with his men for Gondor. He wondered at the reception he would receive now, in times of peace. Was Aragorn still the same man he had once known in the midst of War? Or was he as changed as his name; King Elessar.
Only time would tell, but the ship was moving ever so slowly towards the docking bay of Osgiliath. And they were still a good few hours ride away from Minas Tirith.
By nightfall, they were riding through the quiet streets of Minas Tirith towards the Citadel and the seventh ring of the city.
They were greeted at the Citadel gates by King Elessar himself and Queen Arwen; the Royal couple had been informed earlier about the arrival of the party from Rohan by messengers and Aragorn was already pacing with anticipation at seeing his dear friend once more. It had been far too long since they had last been in one another's company.
Lothíriel, at the front with her husband, smiled joyfully as Aragorn embraced Éomer as a brother.
Éomer returned the firm hug with surprise and equal enthusiasm.
"Long have I desired to see you again, brother!" Aragorn uttered sincerely, his eyes shining with pride.
After a short pause, Éomer returned the sentiment. "And I, you... Brother." Even though the word felt foreign to his mouth, oddly enough, he felt perfectly at ease with claiming Aragorn as his kin. Perhaps all would not be as awkward as it seemed.
The King of Gondor turned to Lothíriel and bowed politely, kissing her hand as was required. "Mae govannen. It is good to see you again, my lady-Queen."
"Mae govannen, my Lord-King Elessar," she curtseyed appropriately with deference and returned his grin before she and her husband turned to greet Arwen.
The Queen of Gondor was eyeing Éomer with such intensity, that he almost felt himself blush under her scrutiny. Her beauty was unparalleled; grey eyes the colour of glinting steel and hair the shade of a raven's wing, along with the most delicate features he had ever seen. It affected him like a kick in the stomach. He had heard of elven beauty but realised that she must have far surpassed the normal requirements. Éomer had to physically shake himself before he could bow in greeting and kiss her hand.
Lothíriel curtseyed again before she was swept up into a familiar hug by Arwen. As she pulled away, her face blanched as she caught the elven Queen looking at Éomer again with a unfathomable gaze. She knew that the King and Queen of Gondor had already been informed about Éomer's current condition, and she wondered at the elf's particular interest.
"You must be weary from your travels," Arwen began melodically, her voice hinting at nothing. "Your guest rooms have been readied for you in the King's House. Dinner will be served in the King's suite; our manservant will show you the way. A feast shall be held tomorrow in honour of your arrival."
Lothíriel smiled, "Thank you, my lady-Queen Arwen."
Arwen's laugh echoed beautifully around them, embracing all with it's comforting lilt. "Lothíriel, you should know better by now than to be so formal with me in my own home! Save that for when we are playing court to the other nobles of Gondor." The group laughed before she continued. "Come now, I can see that your journey has been taxing and I would have you rest before supper."
Lothíriel nodded in ascent.
Throughout the interaction, Aragorn's eyes had narrowed as he inspected his dear friend and King. Éomer stood rigidly, so unsure of himself and acting nothing like the man Aragorn knew him to be. Within in his heart, his piercing grey eyes could immediately see that something was wrong... Grievously wrong.
Though he had been informed about the King's condition, it still pained him to see his brother in such a state. Loss of memory was difficult to deal with and it had shown itself in the greeting he received from Éomer. It had been far more formal than Aragorn had ever experienced since their first meeting upon the plains of Rohan. And slowly, a nagging sensation tugged at his mind as he watched the King and Queen of Rohan being ushered through the courtyard towards their rooms. Aragorn wondered how deeply the memory loss was affecting Éomer. He knew that the would have to have words with the horse-lord before he left Minas Tirith, and he could only hope that speaking with him would aid Éomer in healing his mind.
Aragorn turned to his wife and offered his arm as they slowly made their way back to their House. The other nobles that came to greet the King and Queen of Rohan also dispersed back to their respective habitats.
"He seems much changed," Aragorn murmured sadly, barely registering that their personal guards were following at a respectable distance.
Arwen did not look surprise but merely nodded. "I agree, Estel," she replied softly. "But it will take time for him to return to his former self."
Shaking his head, he placed his hand over Arwen's as it remained perched on his arm. "Still, it is good to see that he and Lothíriel are in better spirits." He paused, looking down at the wondrous profile of his wife. "Should I have a word with him? Perhaps it may help him along in his recovery."
The elven Queen agreed quietly with him. "Perhaps you should. Your past experiences and wisdom may aid him."
"I do not wish to seem presumptuous."
Undómiel laughed brightly. "Nay husband, nothing you do will be seen as presumptuous."
Aragorn chuckled. "Really? And what if I were to... Kiss you now, in front our guards?" He threatened.
She tried to appear affronted but could only smile serenely. "I do not have a problem with your displays of affection, Estel."
"You tempt me too much wife," he growled quietly, earning another warm laugh from his beloved. "Besides, I believe that your elvish sensibilities would be offended." His words earned him a sound smack against his shoulder.
Laughingly, they entered their private suite and found themselves together, alone. His official duties meant that he had not seen his wife for most of the day and his yearning for her grew to insurmountable heights.
Aragorn drew his wife closer to him, his stone-grey eyes gleaming against the candle-light. He peered into the infinite depths of his wife's own eyes and felt as if he was plunging off from the highest cliff into a bottomless star-filled lake... Into her soul.
"Meleth-nín..." Gently, he placed his battle-worn palm upon her forehead and brushed away the wavy tendrils of loose dark curls before pulling her flush against his chest as he did so. His calloused finger traced the delicate point of her ear and he almost smiled at the blush that bloomed across her high-boned cheeks.
"You have that look about you again, Estel," Arwen said, her eyes widening with anticipation.
"What look is that?" He asked quietly, his gaze growing more intense.
Arwen laughed suddenly, placing her free hands upon his cheeks before moving her ruby lips towards his ear. "The expression you give me when you wish to kiss me to make my knees tremble and give way," she breathed.
Smiling, Aragorn drew back. "Is it still there upon my face?"
"Yes; and it is glorious."
Her eyes fluttered as her husband's lips deftly brushed her own, leaving her alarmingly bereft as he pulled back for a brief second.
She resisted the urge to sigh with contentment when his full lips found her again in a kiss that left her trembling like a butterfly's wing from head to toe. "Arwen... my love, my life, my heart," he whispered softly against her lips.
The elven Queen closed her eyes as her husband slowly teased her with his mouth, his hands inflaming every line, contour and curve of her body as they wandered without restraint, making her feel deliriously heady and intoxicated all at the same time. Heart shuddering, knees trembling, she clung to him as though nothing else could save her from drowning in her joy. Immortality be damned... This, his love, was enough. It was enough to save her from sinking into grief and despair at the loss of her father and kin, gone into the West. It was enough for the enduring pain that would follow his death and her sorrow would pale in comparison to the love they now shared.
Her thoughts flew from her, soaring away as all the world seemed tofade and spiral from her grasp as she and her husband remained in their passionate embrace.
Yes. It was enough.
Éomer sank down into the nearest seat of their private rooms in the King's House; his body was nearly back to full strength but his mind... His mind was still the cause of much weariness. At night he found no rest, as frightful but unrecognisable images accosted him from all sides, giving him no quarter. In the day, the unfamiliar visions abated but still lingered at the back of his thoughts, never too far away to give him the peace he needed.
He sighed, rubbing his hand across his heavy eyes.
Moments later, soft fingers began to trace his temple and instinctively, he knew it was her. His wife. His beautiful, but strange, wife. A woman he did not recognise; a woman he found disconcerting for no real reason...
Without a word and expecting none in return, Lothíriel pulled his hand away from his face and began to massage his temples. The silky smooth pads of her fingers nearly caused him to groan with relief as they moved in slow but steady circles.
What surprised Éomer the most was the gentle, soothing kiss she delivered at the crown of his head. It was like a balm, reminding him of the first breath of spring upon the plains of Rohan. There was nothing behind it, no motive nor deception, save to offer comfort. And it served it's purpose well; slowly but gradually, he felt his muscles relax and his countenance grow lighter.
"Thank you," Éomer offered quietly as she finally stepped away from the chair.
Lothíriel gave no words of explanation, nor did she require any thanks. He could see that as clearly as the sun dawning on a new day, with the gentle smile she bestowed him. Her small palm cupped his bearded cheek for a brief moment before she left the room to change for the evening meal.
Watching her go, Éomer pondered the strange sinking sensation in his stomach.
Added Notes: Again, thank you all those kind enough to review and give their opinion. Hopefully, you can see the gradual shift in Éomer and Lothíriel's relationship. Please do let me know if you think it is being rushed :) I don't want it to seem too unrealistic.
- Translations -
Muindor-nín – My brother.
Mae govannen – Well met.
Meleth-nín – My love.