Éomer had always had the ability of being instantly alert on waking up, a skill that had saved his life more than once. This morning, the first thing he noticed was that he was cold, then he became aware of the fact that there was actually one pleasantly warm spot along his left side. Hardly daring to breathe he slowly turned his head and there she was, his beautiful wife, still fast asleep and curled up tightly against him. It also became clear to him why he was so cold, for she had somehow managed to wrap all the blankets snugly around herself, leaving him with none. Her head was resting on his shoulder and when he instinctively tightened his hold on her she muttered something in her sleep and nestled closer. Éomer trailed a hand across her temple in wonder, marvelling at the silken feeling of her skin. The events of the last night came back to him in a rush and it took considerable willpower on his part not to start kissing her then and there, but he thought she might not appreciate being woken up by him twice in a row. Although she hadn't complained, had she.
Éomer closed his eyes and just enjoyed the extraordinary feeling of well-being sweeping through him. She was so incredibly warm and soft against him and her intoxicating smell enveloped him like it had done last night. It still was difficult to believe that Lothiriel was here to stay and that he would actually wake up next to her many times in the future.
He did not really want to get up, but finally he firmly squashed temptation and eased himself out of the bed. With a last regretful look at his wife he picked up his discarded robe, wrapped it around himself and had a quick look out the window. The sun had already risen in a cloudless sky, so the morning was getting on. When he turned round again he found her watching him sleepily as if his mere absence from her side had woken her.
"Good morning, ladylove."
Lothiriel gave a slow smile and brushed her tousled hair from her face. "Good morning."
Then she gave a huge yawn and stretched lazily like a cat, causing Éomer to wonder if his innocent little wife even knew what she was doing to him. A moment later he noticed a glint in those green eyes and realized that maybe she wasn't quite so innocent anymore.
He crossed back over to the bed and sat down on the edge, reminding himself firmly that only barbarians pounced on their wives before they even had a chance to wake up properly. He could not stop from claiming a slow kiss, though, savouring the touch of her soft lips. My wife, he thought, well and truly now.
"Any regrets?" he asked teasingly.
"Yes…" She cast him an impish smile. "…I should have talked you into abducting me five months ago, when we had the chance back in Dol Amroth."
He laughed out loud. "Maybe it's better you didn't. I would not have taken much persuading at all."
Her stomach chose that moment to growl loudly and they both started laughing.
"I know it's bad luck to get up before noon," she said slightly sheepishly, "but what about breakfast?"
"I will get it soon," he promised, "but you realize you will have to earn it, now that you are married to a barbarian from the Northlands?"
"I will? How?" She lowered her eyes demurely. No, definitely not so innocent anymore.
He grinned. "With a kiss…for now."
And after claiming his reward he got up to speak to the guard in the corridor who sent a page running to the kitchen. In a surprisingly short time there was a soft knock on the door and Hergyth came in, carrying a tray heavily laden with all kinds of food, which she set on the table. Lothiriel had already disappeared into the bathing room, trailing the sheets behind her, but Éomer did not miss the quick satisfied look the old woman cast around the room before he was able to shoo her out again.
He shook his head at the amount of food Hergyth had brought for them. She must think they were starving! There was a basket full of small rolls of bread with butter, two bowls of porridge, boiled eggs, slices of ham, a large chunk of cheese and two mugs of steaming tea. To top it all off, there was a plate full of nut and honey cakes as well. It definitely looked like his wife had made friends in the kitchen and Éomer was glad, for the rest of the servants would follow the old cook's lead. He had no doubt that Lothiriel would manage to take the reins of the household into her capable hands and he was ready to back her up, but if that wasn't necessary, so much the better.
When his wife rejoined him he noted with some interest that while she had brushed out her hair and braided it, she had not yet dressed, but had only donned her crimson robe again. Quickly he caught her in an embrace, giving her another kiss.
"I've missed you," he said and his hands involuntarily wandered up her sleeves towards those very tempting ribbons.
"Oh no, you don't," she laughed, slipping away from him, "I'm hungry!"
So am I…
Lothiriel lifted her eyebrows when she saw the table. "All this food just for us? And there's only one chair."
Éomer had in fact spotted this earlier on and had briefly considered getting another one from his study, but only briefly. Now he gave a little shrug and held out his hand to her.
"I'm afraid, we'll just have to make do."
She accepted his hand and let herself be led over to the table.
"Don't tell me the King of Rohan has only got one chair," she teased him, but settled onto his lap quite willingly when he pulled her down.
He handed her a mug of tea. "Didn't you know you've married a pauper?"
"And here I was looking forward to my Morning Gift," she sighed.
Éomer grinned. "Don't worry, you'll get it later on today."
"What is it anyway?" Lothiriel asked curiously, "or aren't I supposed to know?"
He wasn't about to spoil the surprise. "Oh, just a few horses," he said with
She nodded in apparent satisfaction. "Anyway, I've had my gift already."
"And what was that?" he asked, puzzled.
Lothiriel gave him a shy smile. "Your heart."
At her words his arms tightened around her waist and when she glanced up at him, Lothiriel could feel her insides melt deliciously in anticipation. The lion was back again.
"You've had it for a long time now, my lady," he said huskily and she quickly turned away and picked up a roll of bread. It was still slightly disconcerting what he could do to her with a mere look or a soft word, and when he trailed a finger down her spine she had difficulties concentrating on her food. It was an alarming feeling and her only consolation was the fact that she suspected she had a similar effect on him.
Involuntarily her mind went back to their first meeting in Minas Tirith and the terrible row they had had after the archery contest. Had somebody told her then that she would be married to the King of Rohan in less than a year, she would never have believed it. Suddenly she grinned.
"So tell me," she challenged him mischievously, "are you still feeling sorry for the man who would marry me?"
Ready laughter sprang into his eyes as he remembered the words he had uttered so many months ago. "I pity him," Éomer replied seriously, "he won't have another quiet moment in his life."
"I'll make you pay for that!" Lothiriel exclaimed in mock anger.
"Please do…" he replied and bent to kiss the nape of her neck, sending a tingling feeling all through her. She gave a contented sigh and leant back into his embrace.
After a moment Lothiriel picked up her bread again. She had been so nervous last night that she had eaten hardly anything at all at the evening meal and as a result was rather hungry. He was making it difficult though, although it was a mystery to her why simply undoing her long braid should feel so sensuous. It was probably the awareness of what those hands could do to her that chased a pleasurable shiver down her back at his lightest touch.
"Would you like something to eat, too?" she asked, trying to distract him.
"Yes…" he replied, his hands still busy.
"Éomer!" she exclaimed, trying hard to suppress her laughter, "I'm serious."
"So am I," he replied, but he desisted and suffered her to feed him a piece of bread.
"Do you always have such a lavish breakfast?" she asked motioning at the spread before them.
"Not usually," he admitted, "Hergyth must think we're in need of sustenance. Generally I just get a large portion of porridge, the same as my men."
Lothiriel nodded. "It's the same back home in Dol Amroth." Then she stopped abruptly, realizing what she'd just said.
"That is not to say…" her voice petered off and she made a helpless gesture with one hand.
His eyes had grown serious. "Don't worry, dear heart. I know it will take a while for you to think of Meduseld as your home, but I know you'll be happy here."
"Oh, I will!" She was as certain of that as she had ever been of anything in her life.
Éomer put his hands on her shoulders and she could feel the warmth of them through the thin silk. "It's not like you won't ever see your family again. We could go to Minas Tirith for the midsummer fair. It should be a lot more enjoyable, now that I have you along to protect me from the fair ladies of Gondor."
She laughed. "That sounds nice. There are some members of my family I won't miss all that much anyway."
He turned her towards him and cupped her face between his fingers. "Even so, you know you can go back to Dol Amroth to visit them anytime you want to."
Lothiriel sighed theatrically. "I knew it! You are tired of me already and are trying to get rid of me."
His arms tightened around her. "Never!" he exclaimed and pulled her closer. Lothiriel found that she had lost all appetite for her breakfast.
"I'm not that easy to get rid of anyway," she said with a smile and buried her fingers in his long thick hair, "I'll stick to you like a limpet."
Éomer had no idea what a limpet was, but he wasn't about to enquire when his wife was so deliciously eager to be one.
"I just want you to be happy," he whispered, "You will tell me if you ever want to go home?"
Lothiriel smiled up at him. "I am home already," she said.
Éowyn watched with hidden amusement how Imrahil was drumming his fingers on the table while making polite conversation with Aragorn. She suspected it was all he could do to keep from pacing the hall. The prince looked like he had not slept particularly well as he sat at one of the big wooden tables, long since cleared of the breakfast dishes. He was flanked on either side by his sons, Elphir looking his usual grumpy self and Amrothos just sitting there cradling his head with both hands. The youngest of Lothiriel's brothers had not said a word so far this morning, only refusing breakfast with a nauseated look. Éowyn could not find it in herself to feel sorry for him, though. He should have known better than to indulge in a drinking contest with an elf and a dwarf.
Once more Prince Imrahil's glance wandered to the door leading to the private quarters of the King and Queen of Rohan. He was clearly thinking what was taking them so long, although he must surely have a pretty good idea. Éowyn's eyes met Aragorn's for an instant and they exchanged an amused smile.
At that moment the door opened and in came Éomer and Lothiriel. The new Queen of the Mark was dressed for riding in a simple yet elegant green tunic complemented by buckskin breeches and her face seemed to glow from within as she entered the hall on her husband's arm.
As for Éomer, he looked so carefree and relaxed that it almost came as a shock to Éowyn to realize how long it had been since she had last seen him like that. Privately she congratulated herself. She had rightfully thought that nothing more could go wrong and now found that belief confirmed.
Prince Imrahil had jumped up at the entrance of his daughter and was given a light kiss on the cheek.
"Good morning, father," Lothiriel said cheerfully before dispensing kisses to her brothers as well.
Éomer clapped Amrothos on the back, causing him to wince. "I hope we haven't kept you waiting too long?" he enquired solicitously.
"Not at all, my friend," Aragorn drawled, "come and join us for the midday meal."
Indeed the servants had just started to bring in the dishes for a light lunch and with a nod Éomer sat down at their table, pulling Lothiriel down to sit beside him. A ripple ran through the Dol Amroth party when he put his arm around her waist and she snuggled up to him. Elphir even opened his mouth to say something, but thought better of it after a single mild look from Éomer. Of course no self respecting Gondorian noble would ever be seen in public with his arm around his wife – with the notable exception of Éowyn's own husband – but she suspected they had better get used to the sight. Why, Éomer seemed hardly able to keep his hands off his wife and had that look on his face like the cat that got the cream.
The Queen of Rohan rubbed her hands together. "I'm starving," she announced. "I didn't have much breakfast," she added with a sideways glance at her husband who grinned back at her unabashed.
Elphir stared at his sister as if unsure how to interpret her words and she gave him that deceptively sweet smile of hers. "Dear brother," she said, "aren't you eating? We don't want our guests to go hungry."
Not waiting for an answer she turned to her other brother and passed him a glass of wine to drink, an offer that was received with a soft groan. Then she started on her food with a hearty appetite, fondly watched by her husband.
Imrahil looked taken aback at this self-assured young woman. Éowyn had always suspected that while the Prince of Dol Amroth dearly loved his only daughter, he did not know her very well. Clearly he was in for some more surprises, but then he would probably not be the only one. Life in Meduseld might well prove to be eventful and unpredictable from now on, she thought - not that her brother seemed to mind.
The rest of the meal was spent with inconsequential chatter about the continuation of the festivities. Éowyn, Arwen and Aragorn did most of the talking, while Imrahil sat deep in thought and the newly wedded couple was mostly wrapped up in each other.
Afterwards the whole party got up to go outside to witness the presentation of Éomer's Morning Gift to his queen, which would take place on the fields outside the walls of Edoras. When Éowyn saw her brother lovingly wrap a cloak around his wife's shoulders she thought of her own husband with a distinct pang. Due to the uncertain situation on their southern border Faramir had not been able to leave Ithilien to come to the wedding and she missed him fiercely. Surely it would soon be time to return home. She was not needed here anymore, after all.
Outside the snow had nearly all melted away, giving way to green grass again and while the sun was still weak, it was shining in a clear sky and the days would grow longer from now on. Lothiriel paused at the top of the steps for a moment, a gust of wind streaming out her black hair like a banner behind her. She looked down to where Beda was waiting for them holding Firefoot's and Nightwind's reins, across the thatched roofs of Edoras and beyond that, where the grassy plains of the Mark stretched into the distance until they merged with the sky. Her home now.
Then her eyes were suddenly drawn upwards. She grabbed her husband's arm.
"Look, Éomer!" she exclaimed and he followed her glance.
High above them, two falcons were circling lazily, riding the updrafts generated by the sun warming the rocky slopes of the White Mountains. Soon they were no more than a couple of tiny black specks in the immense vastness of the blue sky.
"That's a rare sight," he remarked, "mûmakil in the Riddermark."
The King and Queen of the Mark shared a conspiratorial grin before going to meet their people.
First and foremost I would like to thank my wonderful beta Cúthalion.
Also many thanks to all my readers and reviewers!
If you have not already done so, I would very much appreciate it if you left me a comment of what you thought of my story. I'm particularly interested to hear which chapters you liked the best/the least, what you thought of the plot and the characters and what attracted you to the story (the humour, the romance, the suspense, the style, …).
Thank you very much for coming with me on this journey!
September 2006: By now there are a couple of oneshots leading on from this: Revenge is a dish best served cold and Not the usual stakes