Éomer took her face in his hands and lowered his mouth to hers. She gasped at the first contact and he took advantage of her parted lips by sliding his tongue between them. He had wanted to taste her from the very first moment, . . . or at least from the moment she had cut his shirt off him. And now he found her sweet and salty and warm.
She stiffened slightly, but it seemed more to do with surprise than anything else, and so Éomer allowed one of his hands to slide down the length of her spine until it rested on the small of her back, pulling her closer against him. In response her arms slowly edged up, hesitantly gripping his tunic in the area of his hips. Encouraged he deepened his kiss, letting his tongue smooth its way along her palate, and then he heard a tiny moan forming in her throat, its faint breeze caressing the cavity of his mouth.
This was insane. They were standing in a treatment chamber, ten feet from an open door through which at any moment somebody might enter. And yet, despite their previous conversation, and the possible consequences they had discussed, he couldn't care less. Having her wrapped in his arms and pressed against his body felt even better than he had imagined.
He slowly pulled back from her; just enough so that he could touch her chin again and tilt her face up towards him. Her eyelids fluttered open, revealing eyes that were dazed, certainly no longer cool and composed. Her cheeks were flushed, her lips still lightly parted and swollen from his kiss.
It took a moment before her gaze focused on his face and for once she had no comment ready. Éomer waited for whatever was to come, but she only looked at him and blinked; not just twice but again and again. She lifted a hand to her mouth, her fore, middle, and ring fingers just barely touching her lips. Finally she had managed to assemble enough air in her lung to expel a baffled "Oh!"
"Oh?" Éomer echoed, making this one syllable an unmistakeable request for clarification. He saw her swallow . . . and blink again.
"That was not what I would have expected," she said with a voice filled with surprise.
"What would you have expected?" Knowing her well enough by now he almost dreaded her reply. And he had good reason.
"I always thought having another person's tongue in my mouth would be rather disgusting."
It was Éomer's turn to stand with his mouth falling open ever so slightly. He must have lost his touch! That observation certainly was more prosaic than anything any other women ever had remarked after being kissed by him. But then he saw her eyes being drawn to his mouth.
"It was . . . pleasant. Amazingly pleasant," she added.
Éomer fought the bubble of mirth rising from his throat. This was definitely not the time to laugh, but Lothíriel of Dol Amroth was indeed a strange and unearthly creature. Soul-stirringly beautiful, utterly desirable and completely unpredictable. "I am relieved that you think so," he murmured, waiting for her gaze to return to his eyes, "because I am going to kiss you again."
And he leant towards her to do just that. Once hadn't been enough. Twice wouldn't be enough.
He wrapped one arm around her back, pulling her more deeply into his embrace. And she was melting against him. He could feel her, the entire length of her. He had held her in his arms before, the night she had treated him, but this time it had nothing to do with comfort. This time he allowed himself to explore. Her breasts pressed against him, separated from his chest only by the thin fabrics of their clothes. They were not lush and soft, as he had usually sought them out, but firm and well defined. Her whole body felt so different. He let his other hand slide down to cup her bottom. Her hips did not flare, but curved gently. He spread his fingers, letting them bite slightly into her derriere. It was just perfect.
Her hands had moved up to his shoulders to steady herself and then they were around his neck, one buried deeply into his thick hair. She was kissing him back. Innocent and inexperienced without a doubt, but she was definitely kissing him back. It made him feel like nothing ever before.
He growled softly and his kiss became fiercer. He could hardly believe it. She wanted him. She might not understand it, she might not know what to do with it, but she wanted him. And he wanted her so much that it should have terrified him.
He pulled her even closer into him. Somewhere along the way it had ceased to matter that this was not right; that this was not proper; that she was Imrahil's daughter, whom he shouldn't be groping in a place open to anyone, being on the verge of losing himself completely. All that mattered was his unprecedented hunger for her.
But soon a tiny devious voice whispering in the back of his mind was growing louder. And then he could understand what it was saying:
He was making a grave mistake.
Before his body could react to this voice of reason he suddenly felt Lothíriel's hands planted on his chest bracing herself against him. Where her mouth had been soft and welcoming, now it was pressed into a firm line with her chin dropping down to her collarbone. Éomer's lips trailed over her face, not quite ready to give up the contact, but when she pushed more insistently he let her go, all whilst he felt light-headed, even dizzy, as if he had held his breath for too long.
He watched her taking a couple of steps back, distancing herself from him. Her hands, with fingers spread, kept in front of her: obviously prepared to fend him off. For the moment she was staring at the floor and her breath came uneven and flat as if she had been running. Finally she raised her eyes, and he didn't see confusion in them as he would have expected, but rather bafflement, as if something had utterly surprised her.
"That was . . . stupid," she said, and there was the same surprise in her voice as was in her eyes.
And even though he had the feeling that stupid had not been the description she had intended to choose, he had to admit that a truer word had hardly ever been spoken! Of all the ill-advised foolishnesses he let himself be carried away with when it came to the Princess of Dol Amroth, this had beaten everything for stupidity.
Éomer inhaled deeply: trying to calm his own breathing. Never before had he been in a situation like this and he had not the slightest inkling how to handle it sensibly. Especially as sensibility wasn't one of his stronger points, even under the best of circumstances. "I apologize. I should not have done that."
Not exactly an epitome of eloquence, but then he had never had to apologize for a kiss before; he had never kissed anybody to whom an apology might be necessary.
"No, we should not have done that," she agreed, including herself into the misdemeanour as if it were only natural. Probably her sense of responsibility. She looked towards the door leading into the garden. "Even with the door open, I think that was the most compromising position so far."
Did she just say so far? That choice of words indicated continuation and . . .
"Do you expect an extension, or perhaps improvement?" Éomer asked with heavy-handed sarcasm.
She blinked, obviously not understanding what he was getting at. But she picked up his change of mood and with her usual sincerity she hit back quite effectively. "Are you angry with me again?"
"I am not angry with you."
"Then you are angry with yourself which usually leads to you trying to bite my head off."
"I can assure you at the moment I am not thinking of bringing any harm to your body."
Not even Lothíriel could miss the lewdness of that remark. "Why did you kiss me?" Dealing with her brothers had probably taught her that attack was the best means of defence.
"Why did you let me?" Not that defence tactics were something foreign to him.
"It took me by surprise."
"Me kissing you, or you finding it amazingly pleasant?"
She looked as if she were seriously considering that question. "Both, I think," she answered after a short while. She was probably the only woman in the whole of Middle-earth who would give an honest answer to such an impudent question. "And it was really educational," she added after another pause
"Educational?" he repeated, staring at her in disbelief. And she had accused him ofhaving the ability to disconcert her! "I have heard kissing described in many different words. So far educational had not been amongst them."
"It is just . . . Finally the various pieces of my observations seem to reconcile."
Éomer blinked. The bloody habit was contagious! Only with some difficulty did he manage to strangle out the next three words.
"Care to elaborate?"
"Virtually everybody seems to be so very keen on doing it. . . . The kissing, I mean," she clarified. "Sometimes I have the feeling Amrothos is thinking of nothing else."
"I doubt he is only thinking about the kissing," Éomer murmured.
She didn't take any notice of his interjection but went on as if giving a lecture on salve cooking. "It never added up. If you really think about it then it is rather unappetizing. I was always curious why people should find something like it worth striving for. Now I know it can be pleasant."
"Curiosity about virtually anything appears to be part of your nature." He didn't even try not to let it sound like an accusation or to cut down on the sarcasm.
"You seem to consider it a bad trait. In my opinion it is a desirable one." For a moment she looked as if she were tempted to substantiate her thesis. But all she finally said was: "Thank you!"
"For showing me what it is all about."
Éomer went still. She talked about those kisses as if they had been done as some kind of research and thanked him for lending a helping hand.
This couldn't be true. She simply couldn't be that detached. When he had kissed her he had felt her desire. She hadn't been untouched by it. The kiss hadn't just satisfied some kind of obscure curiosity. She had felt the same passion, the same hunger, the same lust as he had. Perhaps she hadn't really understood it, but it had been definitely there.
Éomer's quick anger surfaced. She was not going to fool him or herself. He was going to prove that he was not the only one overcome by desire and longing.
"Perhaps I can satisfy your curiosity some more," Éomer said, capturing her attention with his suddenly soft and seductive tone, "and educate you even further on this subject."
And then, before she even had a chance to utter a word, before she even had a chance to draw a breath, he crashed her against him and his mouth swooped down and captured hers in a hungry searing kiss. He was none of the things he should have been with an innocent like her. He wasn't gentle; he wasn't seductive; he wasn't teasing. He just kissed her with everything he had.
For a moment her body became rigid as a statue but then he felt her arms going around his neck and holding on for all she was worth. She wanted him! Whatever explanation she might come up with about kissing him back and not even making an attempt to stop him, he wouldn't believe it. Now he definitely knew better, and he was sure, innocent and inexperienced or not, she knew as well. He had just proved it to her.
His heart pounded harder and his body began to tighten. Somehow they were against a wall and he could barely breathe as his hands crept up and around, skimming over her ribs. He let them come to rest just beneath her breast. He felt her heart racing against his palm.
At the same time he let his mouth break from hers, dipping to taste the line of her jaw and the base of her throat. He flattened his tongue against the hollow and could feel her rapid pulse behind her silky, salty-tasting skin. She made a soft moaning sound, the sort that came from the very bottom of one's throat. He loved that sound of her voice: hoarse and uncontrolled with desire. Now he was certain that hidden behind this cool and composed facade, overruled by her incessantly working mind, lay a deep and rare sensuality to be explored.
He found her mouth again and let his hands slip upwards, cupping her breasts and squeezing them gently. He could feel her nipples harden against his palms even through the fabric of her garb. She arched against his body. It took everything in him, every last ounce of restraint, not to reach around to the back of her gown and slowly pull open the laces to seek the feel of her skin.
He eased his lips off hers, just enough to whisper her name into her mouth.
Right here, right now, in this moment her name was perfect; she was perfect. She was everything he could think of, everything he desired. He kissed her again, pressing her back against the wall with the pressure of his mouth and his hands on her breasts.
In the past he had been less stunned by Orcs suddenly jumping out of hiding and attacking. His brain refused to fit Elfhelm's voice into his present state of mind. He hardly managed to separate his lips from Lothíriel's and let his hands slide lower to her waist. Her arms loosened from around his neck and fell from his shoulders. But he couldn't let her go.
"Éomer!" There was a warning in his Marshal's voice and his tone reminded him very much of that of his Captain when he reprimanded a certain young rider for his ruthlessness.
He braced his palms against the wall and pushed himself back from her body. Still breathing hard he looked down searching for Lothíriel's eyes. They were well hidden by her long lashes, but she was obviously fighting for her composure . . . and she was losing the battle. Never had he seen her blush so deeply. Her cheeks had turned bright pink. She was without a doubt mortified by having been caught in the worse of compromising positions. And unlike Éomer she didn't know the Marshal of Rohan very well and therefore didn't know what to expect. Not that Éomer was quite certain what there was to come.
He turned towards the other man making sure that his body hid Lothíriel from Elfhelm's view. Not an exactly difficult endeavour taking into consideration their very different build. The other Rohír looked like the personification of a thunderstorm. But if there was something Éomer never had problems with, then it was confronting somebody who could be considered his equal.
Their eyes met. Whatever there was to be said, they wouldn't be saying it in the presence of the Princess.
"My Lord, a herald came from the Citadel." Elfhelm kept his voice painfully neutral. "You must have forgotten to inform anyone where you were heading after you left the council. It took the messenger a while to find your whereabouts. King Elessar wishes to invite you to a more intimate feast tonight."
"Meaning only three hundred instead of five hundred guests?" Éomer couldn't help asking. His Marshal shot him a decidedly frosty look
"As I understood it, there will only be Queen Arwen and her kin, Gandalf, the Hobbits, Master Gimli, the Princes Faramir and Legolas and the Prince of Dol Amroth and his kin. I have been invited, too."
When Elfhelm mentioned her father Éomer could sense the Princess stiffening behind his back. But then she moved and stepped around him. She had finally succeeded in regaining her mask of composure. He had seen her doing that before and it had struck him as a quite impressive ability. Though this time the effect was rather spoilt by the sight of her mouth. Her lips were flushed and swollen and the tender skin around them reddened from the contact with his beard. This was all but the right time to make her aware of it.
"My Lords, you must excuse me." She had to be admired. Her voice bore hardly a hint of the mortification she must be feeling in Elfhelm's presence. "There are still patients to be looked after. My Lords!"
With a terse nod she disappeared quickly though the door leading inside the building. It was not the first time she had done that: extracted herself from a situation she could no longer control, retreating to retrieve her dignity of which she had been stripped by his doings.
Swallowing against the acidic taste of guilt that flooded his mouth, Éomer stared at the space she had occupied. Only the oil-stained cloths, with which they had earlier cleaned her face were now lying on the floor. He fought the impulse to go after her, but he doubted that she would appreciate it right now. And he doubted very much that Elfhelm would let him.
"Do I have permission to speak as a friend to a friend rather than a marshal to his king?" the other man demanded in a stiff, measured tone.
"Do you lately require permission to speak your mind?" he asked back, just barely managing to draw his eyes from the door through which Lothíriel had vanished from his sight.
"Do I have permission?"
"Elfhelm!" he barked.
"You must have gone mad!" his Marshal barked back.
In view of his abominable behaviour and lack of self-control just moments ago there was nothing he could have said to dispute this observation. Therefore he decided to remain silent and waited for whatever Elfhelm was going to say.
And his friend had quite a few words to say.
"This morning when you and the Princess came stumbling out of your bedchamber I thought it a rather harmless embarrassment and saw the humour in the situation. But this," he pointed towards the wall, "lack of control, of prudence and of decency is beyond anything I would have expected from you."
His voice was hoarse in his outrage and Éomer felt thoroughly stunned by his friend's angry tirade. It had been quite some time since he had been dressed down in such a manner. And the feeling that he was just getting what he deserved was growing stronger and stronger. With Lothíriel out of sight his sense of judgement was returning.
"She is not only an innocent, which on its own should be enough for you to keep your hands off her, but she is also Prince Imrahil's daughter. Your friend's daughter! And this is not the way you treat friendship. This is a betrayal of friendship! What consequences will there be for the Mark in the current situation if you lost the friendship and the respect of the Prince? I cannot believe you are risking that. Forgive me if I begin to question your sanity."
Éomer pinched the bridge of his nose. "I am beginning to question it myself."
Elfhelm threw his King a sharp look and found however that this had not been meant to be some flippant remark.
"I do not understand, Éomer," the Marshal said in a milder tone of voice. "It is not your way to force yourself upon a woman who does not know what she is herself getting into."
At these words Éomer winced inwardly. "There is nothing you just said that I have not told myself. Believe me; I never had the intention of dallying with the Princess."
"One would be hard pressed to deduce that based on your recent behaviour." Sarcasm rarely found its way into Elfhelm's speech, but here it was virtually dripping from his voice.
A short silence followed. Torturing his brain Éomer found that there was nothing fairly sensible he could have said to explain himself. Everything just sounded like a lame excuse. "Whenever I meet her something spins out of control." Well, if there ever had been a lame excuse . . .
"If you feel that is not going to change, then you have two options: avoid her for the rest of your stay here at Mundburg or, if you want her so badly that you cannot even think straight, then go to her father and ask him to give her to you as your wife."
Why was everybody throwing the word wife at him lately . . . today? "I cannot make her my wife," Éomer uttered, sensing something close to panic behind this statement.
"And why not?"
Simple question; complicated answer! An answer he hadn't thought about because until now it hadn't come to his mind that there was a question.
"There are several reasons," he tried stalling.
"I am listening."
"I cannot drag her to Edoras even if she agreed, which is rather doubtful anyway. Under the best of circumstances life in Rohan is much different from what she is used to. I cannot put her down in Meduseld and then just let her be. Somebody must look after her, and I do not have the time. And I do not want to imagine what she would be able to do if she was left without proper supervision. Besides: one does not choose a queen for your land and people because one is lusting after her."
"Apart from my humble opinion that this particular woman you are lusting after would make a perfectly fine queen, are you certain this is only about lust?"
Éomer pinched again the bridge of his nose in what Elfhelm was coming to recognize as a stalling tactic. "What else can it be? Before last night I had seen her only once."
His Marshal gave no answer, just looked at him steadily.
"That is just what it is." Éomer insisted, his tone was irritable and insecurity leaked through, but he was not inclined to examine the reasons why.
Elfhelm made a sharp sound of impatience. "Self-delusion is a wonderful thing."
Éomer's mouth thinned. "What are you getting at?"
His Marshal did not answer this directly but returned a question of his own. "What are your requirements for your queen?"
"Yes, your queen. You are a king therefore your wife would be a queen. What are your requirements for her?"
Being a king made life complicated! "I have not thought about it."
"That is what I thought."
"I have not had the time," Éomer stated impatiently. "Until recently I have not been expected to provide a Queen for the Riddermark."
"Now it is not only expected, but it is necessary. You need an heir and therefore a queen!"
"Have you spoken to Aldhelm or Erkenbrand lately?" Éomer asked viciously, referring to the head of the Royal Council and the Marshal of the Westmark. "Since I have returned from Minas Tirith after Aragorn's coronation every second word I hear from them is heir."
"You know that for most part I am reluctant to agree with Aldhelm on anything without having given the subject consideration in great detail. But in this case he is simply right. The Riddermark needs an heir. And as the last of the House of Eorl you are the one who has to provide him."
"Éowyn's children . . . "
"Your sister is not even officially betrothed. And do not shift the responsibility onto her. It is yours. And in this case sequence is essential. Therefore first you need a wife. "
Éomer gave him a look of exasperation, fighting not to howl in frustration. "Yes, for Bema's sake! But not now! And certainly not some wraithlike princess from Gondor, who will probably be blown from the steps of Meduseld the first time she dares to venture outside. And may I remind you that the last queen from Gondor is, after more than forty years, still loathed by many of the Rohirrim. Meaning by all who have known her?" Éomer's grandmother, Morwen of Lossarnach, was still a legend amongst the Rohirrim, but the memories of her were everything but fond. "No, whoever I make Queen of the Riddermark; it will not be the Princess of Dol Amroth." Éomer stated, his firm tone giving no hint of his inner doubts, which somehow had started creeping up on him insistently.
"Then keep away from her. If you need a woman there are plenty of females readily available. Last time I looked you were in the enviable position of having a wide assortment to choose from, my Lord King!" For today, it would seem that Elfhelm and sarcasm had become good friends.
Éomer suddenly felt so hollow that he couldn't even imagine that there were still words inside him. It rather surprised him when some came out of his mouth. "A woman who is readily available is not necessarily worth having." Then his brain registered what he had said and he looked up at Elfhelm, who raised an eyebrow and gave him a mocking salute.
"My felicitations. You finally got it. There is a time in the life of every man to acknowledge that. Just remember: the Princess of Dol Amroth is a woman you can have only as a wife."