A/N: My apologies for the delay with this! I've been out of town on business all week, and thought I'd have time to write at night, but didn't. More comments at the bottom...
Eomer looked around, noted that the great hall was slowly emptying as people made their way out of Meduseld, down through Edoras and out to the plains beyond, where they had set up tents and campsites they'd dwell in during the festival.
With the wedding tomorrow adding another reason to celebrate, a lot of them probably wouldn't sleep at all tonight – they'd keep on laughing, drinking and dancing right through sun-up.
Amused by some of the comments and friendly challenges he heard as people left, he suspected many of the guests at his wedding would have headaches. He grinned. As long as they were enjoying themselves.
Across the hall, he saw Lisswyn slipping out one of the side doors. Curious, he followed her, found her standing at the end of the hallway that opened onto the porch. Leaning against the wall, she appeared relaxed.
"Lisswyn?" He moved forward, not sorry to have a few quiet moments with her. They'd been together much of the day in an official capacity, welcoming people to Edoras and the festival, but hadn't had any time alone.
She looked over her shoulder, and in the darkness, he sensed rather than saw her smile. "Isn't it a beautiful night? I couldn't resist coming out for a last look before going to bed." He stepped up, put his hands on her shoulders and looked out toward the mountains. The moon was nearly full – would be so, tomorrow. There was a crisp feeling to the air, scented with smoke from the campfires. He could hear shouts of laughter even at this distance.
"They sound so happy."
He slid his hands down her arms, wrapped them around her waist, rested his chin on the top of her head. She was wearing the cloak he'd given her during the journey from the caves. Eowyn had told him she'd hemmed it and had so far refused to wear another one. When winter properly set in, she'd change her mind on that, he suspected, and want a fur-lined one. But in the meantime, the fact that she wanted to wear his cloak simply touched him.
"They are," he said in response to her comment. "In spite of everything that has happened, we had a good harvest – enough not just for the people of Edoras, but for those who didn't fare so well, or who lost crops to the orcs. The orcs are dead, and though we know small bands of them still roam, none are big enough to cause serious problems, so we should have a safe winter. And they like you, like the fact the Riddermark will once more have a queen. That speaks to them of stability. Hope. A future."
A companionable silence fell, one Eomer was reluctant to end. They both needed sleep, but she was right – it was a beautiful night.
Eventually, he stirred, looked down. She wore a thoughtful expression, a hint of a smile on her face.
"What are you thinking about?"
"I was wondering what my parents would think of all of this. Of their daughter becoming queen of the Mark."
A bit surprised – but relieved – that there was humor in her tone rather than any sadness, he couldn't resist asking, "What do you think they would say?"
She didn't answer right away, looked back out over the view. When she did respond, her voice was soft, reflective. "They'd be surprised, of course. But I believe they'd like the fact that it could happen – that a village girl could be accepted as queen. They'd like what that says about the future of the Mark, I think." She glanced up again, slipped her hand out of the cloak to reach up and touch his cheek. "More than anything else, though, they'd be grateful you're a good man. That would matter more than your being king."
Not sure what to say, he leaned down and kissed her, then again rested his chin on her head.
"What about you?" Her voice was still quiet.
"What do you mean?"
"What would your parents think of our betrothal?"
There was a note of insecurity in her voice, and he tightened his arms, nuzzled her cheek as he thought of how to answer. "My mother would like you, very much, I think, for the same reasons Wynne does. And my father…" he laughed, a little embarrassed.
"My father would simply be grateful that falling for you distracted me from the first woman I planned to wed. I had barely learned to talk when I announced I was going to marry my mother as soon as I learned to ride a horse."
"Oh, my." Lisswyn joined him in laughter. "That does give me something to live up to, doesn't it?"
He hugged her. "I'm confident you're up to the task."
Lisswyn stood in an antechamber immediately off the main doors to the great hall of Meduseld. Normally, it held extra weapons for the doorwardens.
Today it held the nervous soon-to-be queen of the Riddermark.
She looked up, saw Thedhelm standing there, a slight smile on his face.
"The King is on the dais, and the guests are mostly settled. It's time."
Mostly settled. With more guests than seats, that was as much as could be managed.
She took a deep breath, smiled back at him. Wished the words, 'mostly settled' described her stomach, instead of the orc battle raging in it at the moment.
Stepping out of the antechamber, she turned, faced the dais at the other end. Though there was a path – more or less – through the crowd, it was still difficult to see all the way to the other end of the hall. Why had she never noticed before just how big it was? How great the distance between the doors and the dais?
Because she'd never had to walk its length before, the focus of every eye in the room.
And all those eyes were already turning toward her, various conversations dying as they looked back at her expectantly.
She started through the crowd, reminded herself to smile. It would never do for the people to misunderstand her expression – frozen with nerves – and think she was anything less than pleased to be becoming their queen.
And then she glanced up, saw Eomer at the dais, waiting for her.
He was dressed in the anticipated green velvet tunic with gold trim, his sword at his side and the crown he seldom wore proving it fit fine, just the same. So proudly he stood there, so regal he looked that it nearly took her breath.
Then she saw his eyes, dark with emotion, and her heart jumped at what she saw there, the knowledge that that emotion was all for her.
And found it easy after all to smile at the people around her as she walked the rest of the way to the dais.
It helped that she saw people she knew, and they were nearly all beaming at her. Freawald and his family, Tille, Betta, Wynne, Ceolwyn, who winked at her, and many others.
As she reached the front, Eomer stepped down, took her hands. Startled – that wasn't part of the ceremony – she looked up, saw the glint in his eyes as he squeezed her fingers.
Later, Eowyn told her that she spoke her vows, and the oaths she took as queen, perfectly.
But Lisswyn, despite having struggled to memorize the ancient words, had no memory of saying them. All she remembered from the ceremony itself was Eomer's eyes.
Then came the moment she'd been dreading, when Eomer turned to the crowd and asked them if they accepted her as queen. It was a mere formality, more an acknowledgement of the respect that the Kings of the Riddermark had for their subjects than anything else, and no one had seriously entertained the notion that anyone would protest.
No one but Lisswyn, anyway, who'd had more than one nightmare over it.
But the people rose up almost as one and cheered, and sudden tears came to her eyes as she finally, truly, understood the depth of their acceptance.
Eomer merely laughed, and then pulled her to him. "This isn't part of the ritual, either," he said with a grin before thoroughly kissing her, and she heard laughter mixing in with the cheers.
Someone cleared their throat, and Eomer reluctantly lifted his head. Elfhelm, smiling, was standing next to him, holding the queen's crown on a pillow. It was a smaller, more feminine version of the King's crown, and just looking at it brought her nerves back. It wasn't to Eomer alone that she was making vows, and the circlet of gold about to be placed on her head represented those promises to the people of the Riddermark.
Eomer was watching her, a steady look in his eyes, and she understood that he knew exactly what she was thinking, and that he had no questions at all in her ability to live up to those responsibilities. He nodded his thanks to Elfhelm as he turned, lifted the crown, then looked back at Lisswyn.
Her eyes on his, she knelt before him, and unbidden came the memory of the night he'd knelt before Hunlaf, pleading for her life.
He gently placed the crown on her head, and then lifted her chin with his hand and smiled at her, his eyes gleaming with love and pride, before helping her to her feet and turning her to face the crowd.
They cheered again, were cheering when he made the formal presentation of her as their queen, but no one seemed to mind, and Lisswyn spared a moment to wonder if they were really cheering for her, or just that the ceremony was over and the feasting could begin.
They were Eorlingas, after all.
"You're being remarkably patient," an amused voice said from behind him.
Startled, Eomer turned, saw Imrahil standing there, a glass of wine in his hand, a smile on his face.
Motioning to the dance floor, where Lisswyn was currently dancing with Aragorn, the Prince continued, "It's late enough that no one would blame you if you and your bride slipped off, you know."
Eomer smiled in response, then turned back to watch the dance floor. "She's having such a good time, I hate to end the evening for her," he finally said. "I think this is the first time she's truly allowed herself to believe in how much affection the people have for her."
"Very true. But that doesn't mean she's not also interested in discovering how much affection you have for her," Imrahil countered, amusement still evident. "She's spending so much time watching you that she's just lost her focus and stepped on Elessar's foot for at the least the second time this dance. Perhaps you should spare him before she does any real damage."
Eomer laughed, but felt compelled to defend his wife. "I'm sure it's not that bad, but I believe I will take you up on your suggestion."
"Go, enjoy yourselves. You've done your duty, both inside the golden hall and outside, among those who were unable to squeeze in during the ceremony. The rest of the evening belongs to you."
Eomer nodded, and started across the floor as the dance ended. Imrahil was correct, as usual. Although duty had required they spend a certain amount of time with their guests, he was certain the sun had taken at least twice as long as normal to set.
Lisswyn saw him coming, and the smile she gave him nearly had him tripping over his own feet. Oh, yes. It was past time for some private time with his bride.
Aragorn, wise man that he was – not to mention recently married – must have recognized the look in his eye, because he smiled, and escorted Lisswyn over to him.
Bowing, he smiled at her. "Thank you for the pleasant dance, my lady. I believe the next one belongs to Eomer."
Momentarily confused by the humor she apparently caught in Aragorn's tone, he saw her expression change as understanding dawned. Blushing, but with a smile, she held out her hand, allowed herself to be pulled into his arms.
The music was being provided by several fiddlers who broke off in the middle of the lively piece they'd been playing while Aragorn and Lisswyn had danced to something slower and rather more romantic as they saw him take Lisswyn into his arms.
Eomer grinned, and leaned down to nuzzle her cheek as he started around the floor with her – all the while steering her towards the edge of the great hall, and their chambers.
The whoops and laughs from the guests, an odd contrast to the flowing nature of the music, told him very few of them were fooled by his subtle attempts to stage a quiet exit, but he didn't care.
They were both laughing at the comments they could still hear coming from the hall – including many rather ribald toasts suggesting the next best thing after a queen would be an heir – when they reached the door to their chambers, and he quickly led her in, closed and locked it, then pulled her to him. He'd planned to kiss her – to devour her – but instead, settled for wrapping his arms around her and burying his face in her neck.
Hunger for her demanded he carry her into the bedchamber and claim her, love her in every possible way. Love for her demanded all the tenderness that was threatening to consume him.
As his heart settled a bit, he realized there was something else he wanted, something even beyond the physical pleasure they'd waited so long for, and that was simply to relax with her, to enjoy being with her – in all ways, not just in the bedchamber. He lifted his head, traced her cheek with his thumb, rubbed it across her lips, saw the puzzlement in her eyes.
He smiled, leaned down to kiss her, slowly and thoroughly, then led her over to the table in front of the fire. Settling in one of the chairs, he pulled her into his lap, nuzzled her as she laughed in response.
Per his request, Betta and Tille had set a light meal out, and he reached over, poured a goblet of wine and handed it to her. "I'm not sure you've had any of this most excellent wine Aragorn gifted us with."
She sipped it, and over the rim, her expression was amused. "I was afraid to. I didn't want people to remember our wedding day as the day they saw the queen tipsy."
He grinned at the thought. "Given the amount most of them have had to drink, I doubt you've anything to worry about."
She took another drink of the wine before setting it on the table and settling back against him. "Best not to take any chances. I'd rather them remember their own headaches than me making a spectacle of myself." The humor in her tone faded when she looked up at him, was replaced by something altogether deeper. She pulled him down for a kiss, and said softly, "I also wanted the queen to remember every detail of tonight."
That fierce mix of desire and tenderness was back, making it difficult to speak, and he had to swallow before he could do so. "That is something the king has no objections to whatsoever," he murmured against her lips.
She smiled back, and reached for the wine. "I think I can risk another drink or two, though. You're right – it's very good." She offered the goblet to him, and he took a drink, enjoyed sharing it with her even more than the taste.
"I saw your dance with Brynwyn. She was so excited over it." Humor and tenderness were in her eyes again. "How did your feet survive?"
He laughed. "They're fine. She doesn't weigh that much." Most of his 'dance' had been with the little girl standing on his feet as he'd swayed around the room with her.
Lisswyn sat the wine back on the table, then pulled him down for a kiss. "That was when I first started falling in love with you, you know."
Confused, he cocked his head, allowed his own humor to show. "Only tonight? When I danced with your sister?"
"No…the night you rescued us from the Dunlendings. You came down off Firefoot to reassure Brynwyn. Such a thing wouldn't have occurred to many men, but it did to you. There was so much to do, but you still took the time to talk to her." Her eyes were shining with moisture and a look that humbled him. "I think my heart was probably lost from that moment on, I just didn't know it."
He cleared his throat, laid his hand over her heart, felt its steady beat. "And fortunate am I to have been given that heart."
She sighed, rested against him again, and silence fell between them. He leaned down, pressed his lips against her hair, glad he'd done this – taken the time to just relax with her before going to the bedchamber.
"I'm sorry Maegwen isn't here." He regretted the words as soon as they were out. He'd been thinking of it all day, had known Lisswyn was, as well. But he hadn't intended to speak of it.
But when she looked up at him, her expression was thoughtful, not sad. "I think she knew."
"Knew what would grow between us. I know it doesn't make any sense, not really. But this morning, while I was dressing for the ceremony, I remembered a conversation she and I had in the caves."
He brought his hand up, cupped her cheek. Waited.
"She knew I was attracted to you, and commented on it. I expected her to lecture me on my foolishness, to tell me that it could only lead to heartbreak, but instead she simply said that…" she faltered, and he watched a blush come into her cheeks.
"That there was nothing ordinary about me, and that you would see that."
He stroked her cheek with his thumb, leaned down to brush her lips with a light kiss. "Maegwen was a very wise woman."
He rested his cheek on the top of her head, and thought about what she'd said. Thinking of everything she'd told him of Maegwen, everything he remembered from the encounters he'd had with her, himself, perhaps Lisswyn was right. As unlikely as it seemed, maybe Maegwen had somehow known what would happen, would grow between them.
He liked the idea of it, anyway, because of the comfort he knew it would offer Lisswyn.
She stirred against him. "Eomer?" She turned his face back toward her. Her eyes were dark, and even in the dim light of the fire he could see another blush creeping up her face.
"I don't want any more wine just now."
As her meaning registered, he swallowed. She was sitting in his lap. She had to know what he wanted – his body wasn't keeping it a secret.
She wiggled against him, gave a soft laugh – a laugh that faded when he slipped his hand up and gently cupped her breast. It pleased him no end that her heartbeat immediately sped up to match his.
She had gone very still, her eyes on him, waiting, and he leaned down, kissed her, felt her tremble in his arms as she linked her hands behind his neck and kissed him back.
Long moments later, he lifted his head, was about to stand and carry her into the bedchamber when she suddenly pulled away from him. Slipping off his lap, she touched his lips with her finger before whispering, "Wait here."
And then she was gone. Turning, he watched her go through the door to the bedchamber, closing it behind her. His mind still addled by passion, he tried to grasp what was happening. Was he supposed to follow her?
No. She'd told him to wait, and she'd been smiling.
Shaking his head to clear it, he went over to stir the fire, more for something to do than because it needed it.
Was she nervous? She didn't seem so. A little shy, yes, but nervous, no.
He was. He very much wanted the night to be perfect for both of them.
He turned, looked over at the door she'd gone through, felt himself settle. It would be perfect, he thought. They would make it so.
The door opened, she peeked out, and he felt his insides clench again, even as he saw that now, there was nervousness in her eyes, mixed with the love.
She stepped through the door, and his throat closed. She was wearing a silk gown and had released her hair from the complicated arrangement it had been in during the wedding. The gown was ivory in color, trimmed in some sort of gold thread, and it clung to her in places, and seemed to float tantalizingly around her in others.
She was awaiting a response, and for a moment, he wasn't sure he could get anything out. But this too, Eowyn had told him about, apparently not at all convinced he'd understand the significance of the nightgown Lisswyn had made. But how could he not, when he could see such love, pride and hopefulness in her eyes?
"It's beautiful," he whispered, then words simply failed him. He walked over to her, lifted her hand to his lips, kissed it. "And so are you."
Her smile broadened, and she leaned up, kissed him.
Aware of love, desire, and gratitude for the miracle that had allowed her to be in his life, he kissed her back.
A/N: Here ends the main part of the story. I was aiming for a bit of sweetness more than anything else, and hope I didn't disappoint.
There are going to be sequels -- something similar to what Deandra has done with her Elfwine Chronicles, I think, where stories of different lengths will pick up the events of Eomer and Lisswyn's lives at different points along the way. They'll all have the main title of "Home of the Horselord" followed by a unique subtitle, and will have different ratings. Only the first one is written, though, and I'm going to be focusing on writing a novel, so I'm not sure how often they'll appear. If you want to read them, make sure you've got your notifications set to get stories from me. :)
First up, though, hopefully posted sometime late next week or next weekend, is a direct sequel to this -- the, er, more detailed wedding night. I didn't want to give the whole thing a rating of 'M' just for the final chapter, but it's not fair to people who prefer not to read bedroom stories to add it to the end of a 'T' rated story. So it will follow as a sequel in just a few days.
In regards to the MPA site -- blocks URLs from being posted, which is the reason it was invisible. If you do a Google search on 'MPA My precious awards' the main website (with previous years' winners) is one of the first hits. Change the 2005 in the URL to 2006 to get the details for this year. I'm sorry it's so complicated, but I've enjoyed reading some of the stories from other years -- the site is worth a visit for that alone.
And that's it, then. I'm a little sad to be posting this, even knowing that I'll be posting the wedding night scene next week. I've enjoyed this whole experience, and have been thrilled beyond words that so many of you have liked this story, and taken the time to tell me so. A million, million thanks.