'I can only manage One', is the third of my little scenarios about Éomer and Lothíriel's first meeting and the reason they married. The first two were from Éomer's point of view, one love match and one arranged. This one had to be from Lothíriel's side. She is a very different young lady from my others; no sword wielding princess here. However, if you manage to stay with the story I think you will find she has hidden depths. Hope you enjoy, there is quite a lot of canon in this one for those who like it.
Thanks as always to my friend Eirwen for the punctuation. Not my strong point! Also a big thank you to all who reviewed my other stories. If your email was shown then you should have heard from me. If not, then please accept my thanks now.
Dol Amroth. March 3019
She could not believe they were doing this to her. It was just not possible. Lothíriel stared at her father and brothers, willing one of them to change their minds. Right up to this moment she had thought one of them would relent. That they would realise just what they were asking of her. She cast her eyes over the ranks of soldiers, over the Swan Knights expertly controlling their impatient horses; no, of course it was far too late. However unprepared she was for this; they were all going to go.
Her father was giving some final instructions to his steward and to the chief scribe. They were nodding in agreement at whatever he was saying. He finished his conversation and then he turned to her, resting one of his strong hands on her shoulder. She was conscious of its weight. "You will be fine, Lorí. Heclan and Gerwin know all there is to know about the running of Dol Amroth." He smiled gently and tucked a stray black hair back behind his daughter's ear. "But you are my daughter, if there are any decisions to be made, then it will have to be you who will have to make them. There is no one else."
Make decisions? Why suddenly did he expect her to make decisions? A shaft of apprehension ran through her How could she make decisions about the running of Dol Amroth and Belfalas when the only decision she had ever made; ever been allowed to make, was whether to use a red silk or perhaps a purple in the new cushion she was embroidering. Or even better; what plant to place where in her garden. Or the really big decision of each day: should her dress be blue or green? The panic, or was it anger, rapidly threatened to rise but with acquired skill she pushed it once more beneath the surface. She had no choice, however unprepared she was, she could not make a fuss now with so much at stake. Her father was right; there was no one else. At least no one else of royal blood. Whatever her father felt about women having any say in 'country running' or politics he would not leave other than a family member in charge for more than a few days. Every Knight and soldier in Dol Amroth was going, including her three brothers. None wanted to be left behind. Oh, she had listened to the arguments; they had been raging for days. But the outcome was always the same. All of her brothers wanted to fight for Gondor; the last stand against the Dark Lord.
"Lorí," her father carried on, "you know that this has to be. It is no use us pretending otherwise. If the White City falls: then we all fall. Dol Amroth would be no refuge, however many I left to defend it. If we fail, they will come here next. You know what you have to do if that happens?"
"Yes, Father. I have to get Alphros away," she said dutifully, cringing inwardly at the words, her mouth dry with fear.
"You take him north. He will be the only Prince of Gondor left alive. Tinas will lead you through the caves and you follow the coast." He held his daughters eyes. They both knew that what he was asking of her was well nigh impossible but neither were going to say it. Hope needed to be kept alive. That a twenty year old slip of a girl, without any training, either with arms or living in the wilds, could lead a mother and her twenty month old son over countless leagues of rough inhospitable terrain to seek safety with the Elves? It was laughable; but nobody was laughing.
Prince Imrahil hugged his daughter one last time and moved to where his eldest son, Elphir was saying his goodbyes: kissing his wife, Merilan and then reaching down to pick up and hug his young son. Imrahil took his grandson from Elphir's reluctant arms and cuddled him against his chest before giving his mother a kiss on the cheek and putting the young child into her waiting embrace.
Erchirion and Amrothos kissed their sister quickly as if knowing long goodbyes were going to upset her more. She thought her brothers looked incredibly handsome, their armour and blue cloaks adorned with the emblems of Dol Amroth; Ship and Silver Swan. Amroth went towards his horse and then turned again, "We will be back, Lorí. I promise." She nodded, unable to say anything.
The trumpets sounded and Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, his three sons, his company of Swan Knights, mounted on grey horses, and seven hundred men at arms marched proudly to war.
Lothíriel and Merilan climbed onto the battlements and stood with Alphros between them, watching until the blue and silver column disappeared behind a low hill.
The woman and the girl turned to each other after they were out of sight, both fighting back the tears. They would not, could not, show their fear. Both were Princesses of Gondor: one by marriage, the other by birth. To give in to terror was not an option. The castle was full of frightened women: wives and daughters of Knights and men with only a few retired soldiers to guard them. It was necessary to show that there was indeed hope, lest all resorted to panic and dread.
Merilan touched the younger woman on the arm, "I am going to take Alphros for a nap, we were up so early. I will see you at lunch?"
"Yes," Lothíriel bent down and kissed her young nephew. He was yawning and starting to grizzle. "I am going to the beach for a walk and then I will spend some time with Gerwin, although no doubt he will not really need me." She took one last look along the East Road before heading to the steps that led down to the castle gate. With a quick word to the guard, she headed to their private beach. She wanted to think.
She was angry she decided, angry that she had been given no preparation for this. Her father and brothers all thought that a woman should only concern herself with domestic things. All the occasions that she had tried to take an interest in the running of Belfalas, it was a waste of time. They had pushed her away. She was a high-born lady and as such was expected to be content with her embroidery, her books, her garden and the pictures she made from shells. It would be amusing if it were not so serious. The Princess reached the beach and walked to the water's edge. Forgetting her fear for a moment and with a sudden sense of freedom and not without a certain amount of deliberate rebellion, she kicked off her shoes, lifted her skirts and paddled in the surf. When had they stopped her doing this? When she was about fourteen, she remembered. That was about the same time that they made her ride sideways on a horse. She refused to call it by its given name. Sideways was an awkward word and it was an awkward way to ride a horse, she thought defiantly. She liked riding but it would never be the same as, when a child, she used to gallop her pony bareback through the surf. Then there was the swimming, she used to love it, but now she had to hide behind the rocks, wear the most ridiculous of outfits and arrange for a least two maids to guard her. As for learning to use any weapons? What a stupid thought, Lothíriel! She had asked and asked but why would a Princess need to use a bow, leave alone a sword? Well now they know why! Carry Alphros to safety through the caves indeed. Armed with an embroidery needle perhaps! She shuddered; facing the caves would be the worse thing: she hated enclosed spaces, especially dark enclosed spaces ever since Amroth had locked her in a cupboard and then forgotten her. Thinking of her brother made her forget her anger for a moment. If they would all come back she would do anything. Anyway, she reluctantly conceded, even if she was skilled with a sword what use would she be against the hordes that would pursue them? No, if Minas Tirith fell then they were all as good as dead and might as well accept it. Not that that would stop her trying of course. Her anger dissipated, she headed back to the Castle.
Lothíriel hurried across the courtyard towards the entrance to the working part of the Castle to be met by the housekeeper, Ketill. The woman bowed her head to the young Princess.
"Did you wish to talk to me, Ketill?"
"Yes, Princess. It is about the dining arrangements now there are so few."
"I suppose there are. What are you suggesting?"
That we use the small hall, Princess. It will be cosier. And I need to know where you and Princess Merilan wish to take your meals.
"Yes of course you do." Lothíriel thought for a moment. Her first decision. "Princess Merilan and I will use the garden or our private dining room for breakfast and lunch as the weather permits but we will take our dinner in the hall. Alphros will be in bed and the others need to know that things are carrying on as near normal as possible." She smiled, "You are right: we will use the small hall."
The housekeeper acknowledged this with a pleased nod of her head and Lothíriel felt she had said the right thing. The head scribe Gerwin next, she thought.
Belfalas was run from a large room opposite her father's study. There were about six scribes; some concerned with the shipping and some with the farming and fruit production. The surrounding countryside was extremely fertile. Gerwin oversaw them all.
"Ah, Princess." She thought he looked pleased to see her although it was difficult to really say. "I did not wish to bother your father but we have been offered a large quantity of salted fish from along the coast. Far more than we would normally need, with the war I do not know if we should buy it."
Salted fish? She knew nothing about salted fish. "Is it good quality, Gerwin?"
"Oh yes, Princess. The very best."
"Does it keep and travel well?"
"It does indeed, Princess. It is good for many weeks."
"Then in that case, Gerwin, I think we should buy it. We have to assume that we will win this war." If they did not it would not matter anyway. She smiled at the man. "Even if we do win, I imagine that the land around Minas Tirith will be devastated, they will need help with supplies. Buy the fish and anything else you can. In fact send word out to all our farms to make as much cheese and bottle as much fruit and vegetables as they are able."
"Yes, Princess," a look of respect crossed his usually expressionless face. "An excellent idea."
She had never been so busy; she was glad: it took away the fear. All were busy, the women doing things their men would normally do. It meant they were able to push the terror away, not to think of what would happen it they did not win. At least they managed quite well until the darkness came. It flowed from the east, blotting out the sun and bringing despair. The women of the Castle huddled together in fright; five days of unmitigated horror made worse by rumours of a ghostly army crossing the land from the Ringlo Vale to Pelargir; routing all in their path. Some said the Heir of Elendil was at their head but Lothíriel gave no credence to the rumour: thinking it a device of the enemy.
It was early on the 15th March that they felt some lightness in the air. The Princess ran to the battlements and breathed in the fresh sea breeze which was coming with the dawn. The darkness was at last receding.
It was three days later that there was a call from the watchtower, three days that all had spent in trepidation.
"A fast barque," the lookout called. "She carries an ensign: the White Tree of Gondor," he shouted excitedly.
Lothíriel and Merilan hugged each other in their relief. The whole castle was cheering. It seemed ages before the ship rounded the harbour wall. The Princess was waiting impatiently on the quayside. She could see Earen, one of their Knights, standing on the deck. He looked to have a gash down the side of his face and his arm was in a sling. She saw that there were a few dozen more men, all appeared to have some kind of injury with some being supported by others. She turned to Heclan who was standing by her side. "Call for wains to take them to the Castle." The man nodded and moved to do as he was bid.
Earen was first to disembark, he was dirty and dishevelled and he limped down the gangway, bowing to her as he reached the quayside. "I bring news and messages, Princess." He was carrying a role of parchment, Lothíriel glanced down at it. "And a list of the dead," he grimaced.
She hardly dared ask, "My father? My brothers?" The man smiled reassuringly, "All lived when I left, Princess. But it was a bloody battle with much loss of life. Thankfully Rohan came in our hour of need. It seems also that if we are victorious in the final battle then Gondor will have a new King."
"It is not over?"
Earen shook his head, "A force marches to the Black Gates. Your father and brothers amongst them. They are seeking out Sauron in his lair."
Lothíriel turned cold. "Why are they doing that?"
He shook his head, "I am not sure, it is some kind of diversion. But I am not party that information."
She nodded, "I must go and tell Merilan that Elphir is safe. For the moment anyway," she added.
"What about the list of the dead, Princess? There are many more in the Houses of Healing. Some are badly injured. I am afraid that here will be more bad news yet."
Lothíriel swallowed, this was beyond her. "Let me have the list. I will tell those who need to know." She reluctantly took the parchment from the man's outstretched hand, her own was shaking. "You must rest and bathe now, but please will you and your wife join Princess Merilan and myself for dinner tonight. I would know all that has happened."
Merilan was waiting at the Castle gates. So was every other woman in Dol Amroth; all wanting yet not wanting to hear the worst. Lothíriel whispered in her sister-in-law's ear and watched the relief spread over her face. "Merilan, I have to give everyone else the news," she indicated the parchment in her hand.
The older girl clasped her arm, "I will stand with you. Alphros is with my maid."
They used her father's study. Looking down the list together, the Princesses had to fight back the tears as they read the names. "Shall we start at the top with the Knights?" Merilan asked.
"No," Lothíriel shook her head. "We start at the bottom with a kitchen maid's son. The Ladies are trained to wait."
It was the worst thing she had ever been asked to do. It was not the complete list Earen had explained: only those whom they definitely knew had been killed on the Pelennor. There would be more.
Dinner was not a cheerful meal; many could not face the hall. Lothíriel, however sad she felt, was eager for news of the battle and her family's part in it. By the time she went to her bed names and events were flashing through her mind: Gandalf and Hobbits, the Rohirrim arriving at dawn with horns blowing, Théoden King dying on the field, the Lady Éowyn slaying the Witch King of Angmar, Éomer of Rohan taking up his King's Standard and his meeting in the middle of the battle with Aragorn the heir of Elendil, who had indeed led the Dead Army to war. It went on until her head was spinning.
The next week was grim with the Castle full of grieving women and others wondering when their turn would come. On March 25th something happened they could not explain: a silence came on the land and the air was still. Watchers on the battlements saw a great cloud arise in the east and all held their breath.
Three days later another ship arrived. It was over. Sauron was defeated and her father and brothers had survived. King Elessar was to be crowned and musicians were invited to the City. Rejoicing was tinged with sadness for all those lost. As Lothíriel had thought, food and supplies were needed: evidently there were about four thousand men of Rohan alive. They had ridden to Gondor with nothing but their weapons. She ordered ships to the Harlond; taking musicians for the celebrations and the crowning but also vast stores of fish, cheese, corn, fruit and spare linen. The ships would bring back their wounded.
It was about a month later when her brother Elphir came home.
Lothíriel watched with pleasure the meeting between her brother and his wife. Elphir clasped his wife and young son to him in an embrace she thought would crush them. Suddenly realising that husband and wife may wish to be alone, she took her young nephew from her brother's arms. "Why do not I take him for a walk on the beach and then give him his supper. I will see you at dinner, Brother." She grinned when they both gave her a grateful look.
At dinner they spoke, not surprisingly, about everything that had happened. All the details being filled in: the reason for the journey to the Black Gates, how her uncle Denethor died, how the new King healed her cousin Faramir, Éowyn and Merry and very much more. They talked late into the night.
The next morning Lothíriel was eating breakfast when Elphir came down.
"Sleep well, Brother?" she grinned.
"Too well," he laughed. "It's good to be home."
"I'll go over the shipping schedules with you after breakfast," she said smiling.
"Oh, do not worry," he said with his distracted air. "I will talk to Gerwin."
"I wish to, Elphir," Lothíriel stated firmly. She could feel the anger starting to rise. She just knew this would happen.
"I am back now Lorí," he said disregarding her tone completely. "You do not have to bother yourself with those sorts of things any more. I thought your garden looked neglected."
The Princess rose from her chair, she knew that if she remained she would say something better left unsaid. Were all men so insufferable as her brothers? "Excuse me," she said stiffly. "I will go and collect some shells."
It was nice on the beach; she had not had much time over the previous weeks. Lothíriel resolutely kicked of her shoes and paddled in the clear water. She decided that it was the only act of defiance allowed to her. Shield Maidens of Rohan rode to war and she collected shells. Not that she wanted to ride to war but that was surely not the point. Anyway she was probably too short to be a Shield Maiden and she would bet that they didn't ride sideways! What was the use? Nothing would ever change: she was a princess and therefore condemned to a life of boredom.
By the evening her anger had turned into her usual resigned acceptance. She loved them and she was just glad they were all safe. Life would be dull but her family would be home. She managed to greet Elphir with a smile at dinner.
"When is father coming home?" she asked amiably.
"Not till the autumn sometime."
"Why ever not?" She asked, the disappointment showing.
"Well, he is staying in Minas Tirith to give Aragorn a hand. He is a magnificent man and leader but he is new to being a King. He looks to Faramir's and our father's advice, not knowing much about the running of Gondor," her brother explained.
"Oh, I see." She supposed that was understandable. "And that will take until the autumn, will it?"
"No, but rumour has it that Aragorn will be getting married. To the daughter of Elrond of Rivendell no less. We will have an elf for a Queen," he added laughing, seeing her surprise. "Anyway there will be great celebrations. Amroth and Erchi will stay for that. Then they are all going to Rohan."
"Whatever for?" she asked surprised. She had been looking forward to seeing them all.
Well, we have all made a firm friendship with Éomer, the new King of Rohan. I have told you about him. He will be returning to Minas Tirith to escort King Théoden's coffin back to Edoras and father and our brothers are going with him. Faramir will be going as well; it seems he has fallen for Éowyn of Rohan," he clarified.
"Éowyn of Witch King fame?" She could not imagine Faramir falling for a warrior maiden.
"Yes, it looks as if a betrothal will be announced."
She mulled over this development for a while. Her brother's voice jolted her from her reverie.
"Lorí, father thought you may like to visit the City, meet the King and attend his wedding." She was aware of a conspiratorial glance pass between her brother and his wife. "He also thought you may wish to accompany them on the visit to Edoras."
"I would like to meet the new King, of course," she replied hesitantly, "but Elphir, why should father think that I would wish to accompany a funeral cortege?"
She was sure Elphir had an odd look on his face, but it passed before he answered her.
"Oh, he thought you may like to see a bit more of Arda. You have never travelled far," he said nonchalantly. He carried on eating trying to show her it was of no real importance.
She thought for a moment. She would like to of course, knowing that she would be back in the same tedious routine as before now that her brother was home. In fact it would probably be worse having tasted a little freedom. Even though it had been such a grim time, now that her family were safe, she had to admit that she had enjoyed her moment of power. If her father and brothers were not coming home for a while; then of course she would like to see them. Travelling to Rohan however was fraught with worry. Whatever would the strong women of that country think of a mollycoddled and over protected Gondorian Princess? Then there were the weeks in the saddle to be endured; made worse by that stupid and uncomfortable riding position. Also there was the camping. How did one keep clean and deal with other things? She tried to imagine her father allowing her to bathe in a stream. She could not.
The Princess replied at last, "I imagine it will take quite a time and it will be the height of summer. It may not be pleasant in the heat. When is the King's wedding, Elphir?"
"I understand that they are aiming for midsummer's day. The party from Rivendell are due to arrive just before."
"Oh, good," she exclaimed. "That means I can go the wedding and be back for Alphros's birthday on July 15th." She did not wish to miss her little nephew's second birthday. He loved playing games. "I will not go to Rohan." She had definitely decided.
Elphir opened his mouth and looked aghast. "But you will miss Éomer," her brother blurted out. "He intends to come back to the City on July 18th."
Lothíriel was surprised by his vehemence. He had stopped eating which always signalled something was wrong. "Well, it would be nice to meet him I suppose, since Rohan have done so much for us and you all are friends. But no matter," she said after another moment's thought, "if his sister and Faramir are to marry I will meet them all then." She still could not quite believe the news about her cousin.
"That may be ages, Lorí," Elphir tried to hide a flash of annoyance. "It would be much better this summer."
Of all her brothers Elphir had never been very good at hiding things even though he was the eldest. His sister searched his face suspiciously.
"What are you trying to say, Elphir? You may as well enlighten me. There is obviously more to this than me travelling for my education." She put down her fork, folded her arms and waited. Merilan refused to meet her eyes.
He sighed, "I suppose I had better tell you." He knew he should have explained properly in the first place. Now she would be angry.
"It would be a good idea," his sister replied neutrally. She was starting to have a very good idea of what was coming next.
"Éomer is young and unmarried. He will be looking for a wife now he is King." He shrugged his shoulders. "It makes good sense." He braced himself for the storm that would follow.
Lothíriel tried to keep a straight face but could not and burst out laughing. It was not the reaction her brother was expecting. "You think it makes good sense?" She asked when she had stopped chuckling. "And how pray, do you intend to get him interested in me? From what I understand he is eight foot tall, eats Orcs for breakfast and his sister fought and killed the Witch King of Angmar. I am sure I am well qualified to be the Queen of Rohan. Perhaps I could lead a charge of Shield Maidens brandishing my trowel!" she said scathingly. "Riding sideways!" the Princess grumbled irritably as an afterthought.
"Lorí, he is not eight foot tall. He is quite tall, yes."
"And I am quite short. He will probably not notice I am around and trip over me!"
"That is ridiculous! You are not that short and he is not that tall," he replied exasperated.
"But he does eat Orcs for breakfast? And," she carried on giving him no time to answer, "If I understand all that I have heard from our men then he took down a whole company of Southrons single handed!"
Elphir raised his eyebrows skywards. "That is naught but an exaggeration. He was leading an éored of the Rohirrim. However if you mean that he is a great warrior, then I agree he is but…"
"And you think I am just the right match for such a warrior then?" She interrupted him.
"I do not know. But if you meet him we will find out!" Elphir looked pleased with himself: considering that he had scored a point.
"I will meet him at his sister's wedding," she shot back triumphantly.
Her brother clamped his lips together; it helped him to keep his temper. His father had charged him with this mission and would not be pleased if he failed. He controlled himself with difficulty wondering if he could order her to go. Persuasion would be better. She was normally quite compliant but this last year she had occasionally dug her heels in. "Even if you do not take the trip to Edoras, if you stay in the City until after the 18th, Lorí, then you would meet him earlier," he stated calmly.
"Maybe I should, just to prove to you how ludicrous the notion is. However, it is your son's birthday and since our father and our brothers will not be there, then I will make sure I attend."
Her brother tried a different tack. "There will only be so many that our father will consider for you. Do you not want to get married, Lorí?"
Of course she did. She wanted babies and her brother probably knew it: seeing her with Alphros. However she had never foreseen herself wed to one as she imagined the King of Rohan to be. Or living in a country far from home for that matter. A refined Gondorian noble was more to her taste she thought. Skilled with a sword; but not an out and out warrior.
"You probably know that I do, but from what I have heard of the King of Rohan I cannot believe that we would suit." She smiled sweetly at her brother trying to appease him, "I really cannot believe he will be interested in me but I promise that when I do meet him I will be polite."
"Lorí," Merilan spoke for the first time. "Alphros is only going to be two. He will not really understand his birthday. If you come home a few days later we can have the main celebration then." Her husband smirked jubilantly; his wife was ever the diplomat.
"Oh, very well" his sister sighed. She realised they would not give up. "The sooner I meet him the sooner we can forget about this." Once she met him they would realise how unsuitable the match was. She would bet the King of Rohan would laugh at the idea. She had heard that he rode the biggest and most bad tempered horse in the land, just the thought of riding next to him on her small palfrey made her giggle. The Princess was sure that her father would have to look elsewhere. But it would be nice to go to the City, she decided. Last time she was there she had danced every evening with a variety of her brothers' friends and acquaintances. She had fond memories of her waist being squeezed; a little too tightly perhaps. Hopefully there were enough left alive to provide interest.
"Anyway," she grinned, "if I go to the White City, I may meet someone else. There is no one in Dol Amroth.!"
Unfortunately she never met Éomer or any other possible suitor because a week before she was due to leave, Alphros and his mother went down with a virulent fever. Closely followed by half the castle. The child would bear no one but his mother or his aunt near him and, since Merilan was too ill to nurse him, then the task fell to Lothíriel. Just when they thought it was over, the Princess became ill herself and all thoughts of the visit were pushed aside.
Messages were sent to her father and Elphir admitted defeat.
The rest of July passed in a haze: she had worn herself out with the nursing and then the fever laid her really low. She spent the month of August doing very little. It was exceedingly hot and the mid part of each day was spent indoors. She rode in the cool of the morning and took Alphros for a walk in the late afternoon. It was a gentle, safe, boring life she decided. In the second week of September her father and brothers came home. They had ridden from Edoras to Minas Tirith and then loaded their horses on a ship for the rest of the journey.
At last the Castle sprang to life. The presence of Imrahil and all three of his sons could not be ignored. The ship arrived early in the morning and that night a feast was held to welcome the Princes home. It was a happy and sad event with so many missing but it could have been so much worse. Although her brothers often drove her mad Lothíriel was relieved to have them all back safely. The next day her father spent catching up on things and Amroth and Erchi wanted to check on their hunting dogs and horses, so it was early evening when the family sat down together for supper in their private dining room.
The two younger Princes were in high spirits: for however much they had enjoyed their stay in the City and the visit to Edoras; they were pleased to be home. The Princesses asked many questions about the new King and Queen but Lothíriel most wanted to know about her cousin Faramir. She had always been very fond of him and was eager to hear about his betrothal.
"I cannot understand him falling for a warrior maiden," Lothíriel remarked.
"She is very beautiful with long blonde hair. Quite different from the ladies of Gondor," her brother Amroth answered.
Her father looked up from his conversation with Elphir, "I think that Éowyn was only a warrior because of circumstances. She was brought up by her brother and Rohan has been in constant danger for the whole of her life. The women of the Mark needed to be able to defend themselves I understand that she has no intention of picking up a sword ever again."
Erchirion, who had been sinking a large quantity of wine, started to guffaw. "Perhaps Lorí will take over from her when she's Queen of Rohan. Maybe we should have let her learn to wield a sword after all." He dug his sister in the ribs suggestively."
"Ouch!" Lothíriel slapped him on his arm. "I am extremely unlikely to be Queen of Rohan, Erchi. I imagine that there are very many ladies in the Mark much more suitable than me."
A deathly hush fell on those around the table and Lothíriel realised that her father was glaring at his middle son. She looked between her father and her brothers. "Is there something you are not telling me?"
Imrahil had the grace to look slightly embarrassed. "Lorí my dear, I have not had chance to speak to you. To prepare you," he glared at Erchi again. "I was going to speak to you privately tomorrow."
"Oh Elphir has already told me your plans," his daughter laughed. "I will meet the King of Rohan at Faramir's wedding but do not expect too much. I cannot believe he will be interested in me or I in him."
Erchi spluttered into his wine and Amroth concentrated avidly on cutting up a piece of meat. Lothíriel sensed the tension, "What is it? You had better tell me," she looked at her brothers and then at her father.
Imrahil coughed, "Lorí, Éomer and I have come to an agreement. I have promised you to him in marriage. I did not intend for you to find out like this."
The Princess felt a jolt in her stomach and a trembling through her body. "You cannot be serious Father?" She knew that her marriage would most likely be arranged but never for one moment had she imagined her father would do this without first consulting her. To a man she had never met!
"I am serious, Lorí. He is a good man and will make you an excellent husband."
"An excellent husband!" she shrieked. "He is a huge ugly warrior who will frighten me to death. What are you thinking of?"
At this Amroth intervened. "Lorí he is certainly not ugly. The ladies of Gondor find him most attractive. In fact they hardly leave him alone," he added slightly peeved.
"Oh, so he is a womaniser? Obviously an ideal husband," she hissed sarcastically.
"He is not a womaniser," Amroth replied firmly. "At least no more than the rest of us," he elaborated with his customary honesty.
"Well if he has all these ladies running after him why should he be interested in me? I am not suitable to be Queen of Rohan. I cannot ride a horse properly and the women of the Mark will laugh at me." She was biting her lip with anxiety. "What did you tell him about me? You must have made something up."
"We had quite a conversation," Amroth smiled remembering. "I told him you were sweet and gentle, liked playing with children and gardening."
"Oh and what did he say to that? Fell about laughing I suppose," she remarked angrily jabbing her fork into the table.
Amroth gave her an amused grin, "Actually, Lorí, a wistful look came over his face and he said 'how delightfully refreshing'."
"Mind you he was drunk at the time," Erchi could not contain himself.
"Drunk!" Lothíriel stood up and spoke with venom to them all. "I thought you loved me but you are sending me to live far away. You have all connived in this and you are marrying me to a drunken womaniser who rides a monster and eats Orcs for breakfast…"
"Lothíriel sit down!" Her father had lost patience with his daughter and his sons. "I do not know what you have heard but it is certainly not the truth. Éomer is a fine young man who will be a first-rate King and a good friend to Gondor. I have promised you to him; as is my right. Your official betrothal will take place at his sister's wedding in March and your marriage has been arranged for September in Edoras. I hoped you would have had the chance to meet him but it was not to be, so you will have to trust me in this."
His daughter sat stock still, unable to utter a word. Imrahil's features softened, "Lorí, not only do I admire him very much but he and your brothers have become great friends. That must count for something."
"That is no recommendation: they are great friends with Pascon but you would not have me marry him," she retorted icily. Pascon was a sea captain of dubious reputation who had been unable to keep his eyes from her since she was sixteen.
"That is not the same at all and you know it. I will hear no more!" Her father was getting angry now. "I have decided and King Elessar is extremely happy with the match. There is no more to be said. Éomer will be writing to you and I expect you to pen a polite and suitable reply."
The Princess swallowed and pushed down the response she felt like making. "Excuse me, Father I am not hungry and I need some air."
Lothíriel stalked from the room with as much dignity as she could muster, knowing that is she stayed she would say something she would regret later.
There was silence around the table for a moment before Amroth turned to his brother Erchi. "Why could you not keep your mouth shut? No wonder she is upset, having it sprung on her like that."
"Well I doubt she will be upset when she meets him," Erchi laughed, "judging by every other woman's reaction."
"That is six months away. She will imagine all sorts of things."
"Amroth," Merilan spoke quietly, "the men came back with such tales about the fierce Rohirrim: their huge horses and their war cries. Lorí did not like the thought of their big bushy beards either."
"But Éomer has only got a small neat beard," Amroth replied slightly puzzled.
"But your sister does not know that. Why do you not go and speak to her on your own? If she believes anyone then it will be you."
"Yes, do that, Amroth." His father had regained his temper and was now feeling rather remorseful. He knew exactly what was likely to be most troubling to his daughter.
"All right, I will. And make no mistake: I will tell her the truth."
Lothíriel knew she was more hurt than angry. She was hurt when Elphir had come home and said nothing about the way she had coped in his and her father's absence. She was hurt when her father had returned, patted her head, said well done and nothing more. Now she was really hurt. In fact she had an awful feeling she was going to find it very hard to forgive her father and possibly Amroth as well. Elphir had at least tried to persuade her to meet Éomer and as for Erchi: well he was never serious about anything. But Amroth, how could he connive in this? She pushed the thought of her brother aside and considered her father's actions: were they unusual? It was true he had control over her life and had exercised it fully in the past, thus the way she was supposed to conduct herself. That a Princess of Gondor would behave other that with total decorum was not even considered. However, although he had certainly controlled her behaviour these last years, the thought that he would arrange her marriage in this way, not considering her feelings at all, had never entered her head. Yes she was hurt, more than hurt actually.
The Princess realised she had reached the rocks at the end of the beach, the sun would be going down soon and the water was already starting to take on a rosy glow. The first flush of real anger at her whole situation swept through her and she violently kicked off one of her pretty shoes. It went flying into the surf and disappeared. Damn! That was stupid, she cursed herself. They were her favourites and she had spent a considerable time embroidering a pair of swans onto the blue satin. She sat down on a convenient rock and took off her other shoe. Lifting her skirts to her knees she started kicking the water with her feet; it was cool and pleasant and should have been soothing. But it wasn't. How could they?
"Lorí." Amroth was coming towards her. "I knew I would find you here."
"Well you have found me. Now go away."
"I had to come and explain, Lorí."
"There is nothing to explain. I have never had any control over my own life so why should I expect any now?" Her anger had evaporated and she knew she was in danger of crying. Something she definitely did not want to do.
Brother and sister sat in silence for a moment, Amroth trying to think of a way of discussing the situation sensibly. He realised his sister had bare feet and was glad his father could not see. "Where's your other shoe, Lorí?"
"Floating towards Umbar I imagine." She gave sniff.
"I doubt it," he laughed. "The tide is on its way in." Amroth looked around the rocks and found the errant shoe caught in a crevice. He managed to retrieve it without getting too wet himself. "Come on we will have to sit higher up the beach. I do need to talk to you."
She sighed heavily and rose from her rocky seat. "I doubt much will help, Amroth, but I suppose I must listen."
They sat down again on the dry rocks above the tide line, the Princess sinking her head in her hands. "Lorí," Amroth started hesitantly, "I really feel you will like Éomer."
"Yes, really," her brother smiled. "You could do a lot worse. He is young, attractive to women and although he is indeed a warrior, he will be nothing but gentle with you. He brought up his sister after they were orphaned and is very protective of her." Seeing that Lothíriel was making no response he tried to lighten the atmosphere, "Honestly he is not eight feet tall and does not have a big bushy beard."
"None of that is the point, Amroth. Do you not understand?"
"No, I do not. What is the point then?
His sister looked at him unbelievingly. "That you and my father feel you have the right to marry me off to someone I have never met without even consulting me!"
"Father does have the right, Lorí."
"I know he does. But I never thought he would invoke it. That is the point. That is what hurts so much," she said sadly.
Amroth knew he would have to explain, "There is more to this than father exercising his rights, Lorí."
"What do you mean?"
"Well, we have defeated Sauron but other evil will arise. Not in our lifetime perhaps, but maybe in that of our children or our grandchildren. We only managed to win this time because Rohan and Gondor stood together. Aragorn, Éomer and our father have forged a friendship that will endure for their lifetimes, but who knows after? When we were at Edoras Gandalf and Elrond gave their advice. We have to listen: they are leaving Middle Earth and will be unable to help us in the future. They are totally in favour of this match, for along with the union between Faramir and Éowyn it will ensure that the ruling houses of Gondor and Rohan are forever linked and friendship will endure. Maybe they will be linked further by the marriage of the various offspring. That is certainly hoped for."
Lothíriel shifted uncomfortably on her hard seat, "I see, so I have to sacrifice myself for the good of Gondor. Is that it?"
"Lorí, many have paid a heavy price. The people of Rohan have suffered much. It is another reason for the match. We are having to send them a great deal of aid to make sure all survive the winter and it makes it easier if it is part of a marriage contract. Do not be too hard on father, he did wish you to meet Éomer first."
"I cannot understand, even after all you have told me, why Éomer would think I would make a suitable Queen of Rohan." She was drawing circles in the sand with her toe: trying to make sense of all that she had heard.
Amroth took hold of her hand, "He was very impressed with your efficiency. It was obvious from the speed the supply ships arrived that you had realised that provisions would be needed. Also you had the forethought to send the spare clothes and linen. He was very grateful on behalf of his Riders. He asked Elphir to pass on his thanks, did he not do so?"
She shook her head, "No it must have slipped his mind." A thought wafted through her head: even if her father and brothers had not appreciated her efforts then the King of Rohan had.
"Well it was certainly appreciated," her brother confirmed. "The Rohirrim had nothing but what they stood up in and most of that was torn and bloodied. The citizens gave what they could but it would not have been enough. We of course always keep a great deal in the City and shared it around but even Aragorn had nothing. There was some ceremonial stuff but Faramir had to divide Boromir's wardrobe between him and Éomer. Aragorn had all with Gondorian devices on and Éomer the rest." Amroth grinned, "You see, Lori, he is not that huge if he could wear our cousin Boromir's clothes."
"I would rather that Boromir was here to wear them himself," she replied sadly.
"So do I, but as I said, Lorí. Many have made sacrifices in this, and a great many the ultimate sacrifice."
"I think this war has changed you, Amroth. You have grown up."
"You will find that it has changed a lot of us," her brother smiled.
"Yes, you are right. And now I must be prepared to do my bit, I suppose," she sighed. "Marry for the security of Gondor. But Rohan is such a long way away," she said suddenly, remembering another worry.
"It won't be for long," Amroth laughed. "By the time you wed, the road under the Dimholt will be open. Aragorn checked it out when we were in Rohan. It is free of ghosts now but there are some rock falls to clear to make it safe. Éomer has to concentrate on rebuilding the ravished villages. But that will be next. Rohan will soon be only four days ride away."
She shuddered as she thought of travelling under a mountain but it would be better than weeks on horseback. She supposed that she could bear the marriage, being a Queen was bound to have certain advantages. She smiled to herself, she could not imagine the ladies in Rohan having to wear those annoying beaded lace caps that married women in Gondor had to put up with. That was certainly an advantage. What about the other side of marriage though? But then after all she did want babies. It would probably not be so bad. She would most likely have a big bedchamber to herself and only see her husband when he wanted to do…well whatever men did to produce babies. She had a fair idea of what went on but was not entirely sure of the details. It was something her father and brothers seemed determined to keep from her. Anyway once she was carrying a child she would be left alone.
"Alright Amroth, I will bear it with good grace. I imagine I will not see much of him anyway. Being an arranged royal marriage gives it some advantage, separate apartments and all that."
Separate apartments? What was she thinking of? Amroth tried to envisage the King of Rohan, having married his delightfully desirable little sister, being content to sleep apart from her and visit perhaps once a week. He failed dismally. He had always been perfectly sure that Éomer would find Lothíriel totally captivating. He had good reason to believe that her elfin features, her huge green/grey eyes with their long black lashes, her slender but well proportioned figure would be very much to the young King's taste. He knew his friend was very partial to the dark haired beauties of Gondor, just as they were partial to him. In fact, he mused over pleasant memories for a moment, in the days following the defeat of Sauron they were very accommodating to all the returning heroes. He wondered how to relate these facts without causing her more anxiety. He failed dismally in that as well.
"Lorí, royal couples do not always sleep apart. Merilan sleeps in the same bed as our brother."
"Yes," she replied absently, "but not at first. It was only when they got to know each and fell in love that they started sharing."
"Rohan is not like Gondor, Lorí."
"I know its not…." she stopped suddenly. "Amroth what are you trying to say?"
"Um….well," he hesitated but there was nothing for it. "Meduseld is not that big. I do not think the royal apartments have more than one bedchamber. They do not see the need and….they do have very cold winters," he finished lamely."
Her eyes widened with indignation, "Are you telling me that I am expected to spend the whole of every night in a bed with a man I have never met?"
"You will have met him by the time you are his wife, Lorí," her brother answered somewhat logically.
Amroth scrambled out of the way as she picked up her wet shoe and hurled it at him. "Go away! Just go away!"