There was an extensive and pleasant library accommodated in a side wing of the Houses of Healing. An eight-sided room, arranged over two levels around an atrium, vaulted by an airy cupola. Heavy bookcases stood parallel to and against the walls. They were filled with manuscripts and codices hoarding knowledge accumulated by healers and herbalists over many centuries.
For Lothíriel, this library had always been a reservoir of pleasure and strength, and during the months following the great battles, a reminder that there was still order, calmness and continuation in the world. The pleasure it gave to her was of the steady and reliable kind.
To her the books in here were quiet and constant friends; they were accessible and wise counsellors, and patient teachers. But over the years she had learnt that a library could not only be a place of knowledge but also a place of error, or, as Amrothos had put it once as only Amrothos was able to put it, "Be careful of all those healing books. You may die of a misspelling."
Lothíriel had settled down at the large round table in the centre of the atrium, where she had spread every single scroll, folio or tome she had been able to find concerning injuries obtained in battle. In front of her lay her own records. Since she had come to the healers to be educated in their art and later began to work as one of their own, she had written down everything she had learnt and made notes on everything she had observed. Now she was comparing the findings she had jotted down in her journal to those which had been recorded by other healers over a period of hundreds of years.
She had hardly found the time to do her quiet private research whilst the Houses of Healing were bursting at the seams with the wounded from the great battles. With the last convalescents gone, the treatment chambers and wards cleaned and their condition returned to their former order, the healers now found the time to care for the gardens and the herbarium. Now there was time to brew fresh potions and cook salves or take some time to indulge themselves in their own interests, just as Lothíriel was doing this afternoon.
She had missed this soothing activity. Never before had she needed so desperately to do something that could settle her soul and her mind, the peace of which had been disturbed. It was totally preposterous, but she had finally come to admit to herself that this unrest in her very core had more to do with a single person – one man - than with all those occurrences and changes that had happened to Middle-Earth, especially over the past year. Her common sense scolded her that this in itself had to be considered preposterous indeed!
Lothíriel had always thought herself able to compose her mind in any situation, if only by avoiding those occasions or people which could disturb her. But Éomer of Rohan had somehow refused to be avoided. No matter how often she pushed any thoughts about him back into the shadows with every ounce of will at her command: the thoughts always resurfaced.
Deep regular breathing and severe concentration usually helped, at least for a while, and so she had been able to copy the drawing of a sliced thigh muscle into her journal to round off her own records. As she checked her work critically, but also with some satisfaction, she heard the outer door open and swift footsteps approaching. Her disappointed frown at no longer having the library for her own changed to a joyous smile when Lothíriel saw who appeared from between the bookcases.
Her brother returned her welcoming smile with a friendly grin of his own and stepped near to her chair. He took her hand and placed his lips lightly on her knuckles.
"Dearest, I have been looking for you all over this place, hoping to find you enjoying the fine weather in the gardens. And where are you? Buried under a pile of scrolls and parchments." He closed the rather large tome she had been copying from with a thumb. "What are you doing anyway?" He gestured towards her journal.
Lothíriel smiled, her eyes glittering mischievously. Wordlessly she turned her journal around so that Erchirion could have a look at her very detailed drawing. Her brother studied it with a slightly disgusted frown.
"You do have talent," he said, stating the obvious. "Have you ever thought about drawing something nice? A landscape, for example?"
"To what use?" she dismissed the idea, easing out of her chair. "To hide it in a folder afterwards or hang it in an out of the way room?"
"When was the last time you did something for pure simple pleasure?" Erchirion asked, grinning affectionately.
"This is what I do for pleasure." She raised her journal and then snapped it shut. "And how are your activities coming along? I have hardly seen you over the past month."
"So far we have done well. Tomorrow at dawn the first trek of wains will leave Harlond. As instructed, Elphir sent grain from the royal granaries of Belfalas. And Forlong's successor has pledged Lossarnach's unrestricted support. A trek from there will pass through the Pelennor in about five day's time."
"Who is successor to Lord Forlong?" Lothíriel began to roll up the scrolls, fixing them with silk ribbons. "To my knowledge he had no children of his own."
Erchirion took one scroll after the other from his sister and put them into protective leather tubes. "He had a son, Doronion. He was one of Boromir captains. But he died last year during the attack on Osgiliath. Forlong's successor now is Lord Meldir, a son to a cousin. Meldir fought alongside Forlong at the Pelennor Fields and saw himself what the Rohirrim did for Gondor. As soon as my messenger arrived with the King's instructions he did what was necessary to ensure that the provisions from Lossarnach started on their way."
"And what about the other vassals of the southern feoffs? Will they submit themselves to the King's will?"
Erchirion shrugged nonchalantly, his shoulders moving with careless ease beneath the leather tunic he wore. "They will have no other option but to obey."
His sister tilted her head slightly. "So, there are not going be any delaying tactics? No political games? No problems at all?"
Erchirion raised his eyebrows mockingly. "Is your interest shifting from the art of healing to domestic affairs?"
"Not in this lifetime," Lothíriel assured him, stacking several large codices on top of each other.
"Do not worry, Lothíriel. Your former protégés will not run the risk of starvation." He paused a little before he continued deliberately. "Your King has Elessar's word.
Lothíriel blinked at this allusion. Usually Erchirion was by far the most subtle of her brothers. It was not like him to drop a broad hint like this from out of nowhere. She looked directly at him and saw him watching her as he had been doing since he found her with Rohan's King on the terraces of Merethrond: his shrewd gaze carefully overlaid with an air of charming amusement. But she refused to fall for his bait and forced her voice into its usual serene tone, choosing to ignore his words.
"While you are here, big brother, make yourself useful and take those tomes upstairs. They are a bit on the heavy side."
Her brother's gaze stayed on her, losing some of its amusement and becoming more scrutinizing. There was something else in his warm brown eyes Lothíriel couldn't figure out. Was it apprehension?
Watching her watching him, Erchirion's pleasant grin returned and he took hold of the leather cased tomes.
"Sweet Elbereth, Lothíriel!" He weighted the heavy codices in his arms. "How did you get them down here?"
"One by one. And no, I neither dislocated my shoulder nor damaged my spine." At times she really had enough of all the innuendos about her fragile appearance. She was much stronger than most people gave her credit for. But Erchirion only laughed at her irritated tone.
"Where do I put them?"
"You will not be able to miss the gaps in the bookcases. The one with the gold lettering goes in just opposite the head of the stairs, the other five in the bookcases to the right, second aisle."
Adjusting his heavy load, Erchirion made his way to the spiral staircase hidden behind several rows of bookcases. Lothíriel watched his retreat. She wondered why he had deliberately let slip that remark about her king? Of all her brothers this one didn't mutter a single syllable without a purpose.
Once more she wondered how long it would take before Éomer's name or title could be mentioned without her feeling a rush of longing that made her insides tighten and her breath catch in her throat. It had been a month now. And, truth be told, the state of her mind was not improving!
Another of those unsettling little chills of sensual awareness travelled down her spine at the memory of Éomer's odd coloured eyes and warm, hard body. She had been fascinated by him. She was still having problems coming to terms with the realization that he had been able to affect her so strongly. She had never been so deeply aware of a man in her life. Of course, she reminded herself, she had never known that one could be so deeply aware of a man. Actually, she had never before been aware of men!
And this one had thrown her off balance from the very first moment of their acquaintance. Everything about him had been beyond her experience: the physical appeal and even more so the force of his personality. He did not treat her with the politeness and reserve she was used to. An encounter with Éomer was always direct, challenging and forceful, sometimes downright aggressive, but at the same time he could be tender and considerate.
The man was a contradiction, if ever a contradiction had been able to take human form.
He had come to the Houses of Healing to scold her for thoughtlessly having put her reputation at stake and putting him in an impossible situation. From angry he had gone to teasing, and then he had kissed her, not caring about reputation or compromising positions.
Her father sometimes bestowed a warm, affectionate kiss upon her forehead; her hands had been kissed, but she had never received even the most chaste of kisses on her mouth or even anywhere near her mouth. Éomer had kissed her without forewarning. Those kisses had been neither chaste nor warm. They had been long, deep, white-hot kisses of passion and Lothíriel, in spite of her inexperience, had recognized them for what they were, even without the attributing adjectives.
They had felt glorious, much more than just pleasant. And that had surprised her more than anything else in her life before.
She had given the matter of kissing some thought from time to time, mainly when she came across couples indulging themselves in the pastime. The gardens of the Houses of Healing and the Citadel appeared to be quite popular for this kind of activity. Reflecting upon it, she had asked herself what all the fuss was about. It hadn't looked like something she would do voluntarily. Éomer had managed to revise that notion within half a dozen heartbeats. She would quite willingly do it again – at least with him. She couldn't imagine kissing another man.
But he had not only kissed her. He had touched her. Lothíriel had been as unfamiliar with touching as she had been with kissing. And as she hadn't been able to comprehend the attraction of a kiss, she hadn't understood the appeal of a touch, the feeling of another warm body against her own. Perhaps she had began to long for the feeling the night they had met, when she had treated his wound and he had given her a hug of comfort. It had been tempting to stay in his arms just to savour his warmth.
And it was this warmth that she was now craving. She hadn't known that she had been cold, even on a hot day, until he had wrapped her in his arms. This warmth was about far more than just temperature. It had found its way into her core, filled her, and warmed her heart and her soul.
But, of course, her annoying mind had tried to interfere; had tried to regain control; had forced her to make an attempt to rationalize. She couldn't even recall in detail what she had prattled. Éomer's angry and passionate response had smothered that patronizing voice of reason and instead provoked her own frightfully fierce reaction. She had only a vague idea where that outburst of passion might have led, but having contemplated that moment again and again, she had to confess to herself that she would have had followed him wherever he might have taken her.
That was a frightening thought. A confusing thought. Highly confusing. That longing and those feelings that had flooded through her, contradicted all the moral values and proprieties she had been brought up to believe in. And so she had done what she always did when she feared she wouldn't be in control any longer. She removed herself from the source of the disturbance. She had made certain that she wouldn't see Éomer again before he left Minas Tirith. After all, they had already agreed to avoid each other.
The familiar creak of the outer door of the library took her out of her reverie with a jolt. She had never been a daydreamer. Her cheeks felt unnaturally warm. She covered them with her hands. What was wrong with her? Taking a deep breath she turned her gaze towards the entrance. This time it was Amrothos whom she saw approaching, with his usual cocky smile firmly entrenched on his handsome face.
Hardly ever could one of her brothers be found in a library. But both of them at the same time in the library of the Houses of Healing? That was most unusual. Lothíriel sighed. She loved her brothers, but she would be an imbecile to believe in coincidences where they were involved, especially Amrothos. She'd better be prepared to be on her guard against whatever there was to come.
"What is this supposed to be?" she asked ironically. "An impromptu family gathering?"
Amrothos ignored her remark, and just grinned with one of his nerve-racking smiles. "I heard you are to be congratulated."
Lothíriel permitted herself a very unladylike groan. Conversations with Amrothos had the vexing tendency of starting somewhere in the middle. And then you had to work your way from there in both directions, on your lucky days reaching the actual beginning before the conclusion. Lothíriel preferred any of her verbal exchanges in a remotely logical order, so she tried – not for the first time, and again probably not to be crowned by success – to stir her brother to the initial question of whatever he was trying to communicate.
"There is nothing I like more than to be congratulated, though I find the pleasure immeasurably increased when I know what for."
Amrothos quirked a brow. "Have you not been informed yet?"
"Informed about what?" Patience was paramount.
"The good news you are to be congratulated for," her brother replied jovially.
Lothíriel stifled another small groan. "We better call this to a halt right here. Tell me what you believe you know or go away!"
"Such tender words for your favourite brother. I am quite undone."
There was a pregnant pause. "Our father has found you a husband." His voice was very soft . . . and very serious.
Lothíriel stared at him with some dismay, ready to shrug off this claim as one of his frolics, but she recognized something in his eyes that let her world drop away from beneath her feet. Not another prank! The truth! For a heartbeat she was on the verge of a very primitive sense of panic. Her face went pale and she held her breath so long that she became dizzy and covertly gripped the edge of the table to keep from collapsing. She swayed ever so slightly. A firm hand grabbed her on her upper arm, not so much to steady her as to urge her back into her chair. Without her noticing, Erchirion had reappeared at her side.
"Amrothos!" he hissed, all the habitual lightness gone from his voice. "You have the sensitivities of a rutting warg."
Ignoring the hollow humming noise in her ears, Lothíriel fought back the panic, ordered herself to be calm and to think. The first clear thought that came to her head was that she must look very pale indeed, because Amrothos had begun fanning her with a large folded parchment. To her great dismay, she realized that it was a very precious manuscript. She shot up from her seat.
"Have you gone mad? That is over a millennium old." She wrested the parchment as carefully as possible from his hands and laid it down on the table to smooth it out. "That is irreplaceable. Be a bit careful around here."
Erchirion exchanged an incredulous look with Amrothos who shrugged one of his shoulders.
"If I have the sensitivities of a rutting warg – which reminds me: should you mention the condition of a rut in the presence of our virginal sister? . . . Well, we had better start from the assumption that she still is and there was not some necessity behind father's sudden decision . . . hmmm? – then how would you describe her sensitivities in the face of this just displayed single-mindedness?"
Erchirion had listened to his brother's rhetorical eruption with the practised patience of many years. "Amrothos, do you always understand everything you say?"
"Yes," the youngest Dol Amroth prince answered without as much as batting an eyelid, "if I listen attentively."
Lothíriel heard the familiar bickering but it went in one ear and out the other. The distracting moment of annoyance with Amrothos had been ephemeral. Now she watched her hands still smoothing over an already smoothed out parchment. She gave her head a tiny shake to clear out the fog which had settled inside her brain. She had to gain control of herself, to tamp down her confusion by focusing on practicalities.
"Erchirion!" Her brother's eyes locked instantly with hers at the strange tone of her voice. Lothíriel took one more calming breath. His name had come out more sharply than she had intended. "You knew! Why have you not told me?"
"Yes, I knew, and it was I who was supposed to inform you." He slanted his brother an accusing glare, but Amrothos was right now studying the construction of the cupola with concentrated interest. "I just did not want to bring it down on you like a battle axe."
"Father instructed you to do so?"
"I received his letters this morning."
"Letters? He sent a letter?" she asked, finding her own voice sounding awfully strained. "How can he find me a husband when he is still in Edoras?"
At once she found herself at the cross point of genuinely surprised glances from both her brothers. Lothíriel switched her gaze back and forth between the two, puzzled.
"Indeed, he is in Edoras," Amrothos said in the tone one used on a particularly dense child when trying to explain something.
She blinked at this remark in non-comprehension. She frowned slightly and then the realization hit her. Her knees gave way and her bottom landed hard on the chair, causing her coccyx to send out an ignored protest. She stared at them wide-eyed.
She couldn't have said with certainty if she had spoken his name out loud or if only her lips had formed it in silence. Her heart hammered in her chest; she could hear it. She was certain her brothers were able to hear it. She could feel her cheeks getting hot. She was just grateful for the healer's garb which covered her except for face and hands, because she could feel a hot flush running all over her body.
"Lothíriel, I think it is considered rather unhealthy not to breathe."
Amrothos squatted in front of her and despite his flippant words he was gazing at her face with slightly worried look. He was right, of course. She'd been holding her breath again. She hadn't even realized she'd been holding her breath. She opened her mouth and felt a rush of something utterly foreign fill her lungs. It was air, she realized dumbly.
"Very good," Amrothos commented satisfied. "And now let us try something else. Can you speak?"
Lothíriel swallowed and looked up at Erchirion, who was half sitting on the table, arms crossed, brows raised, watching her with his customary amused countenance.
"A single word would reassure us," he demanded gently.
How was she supposed to find a single word of some sense in a brain that had gone completely blank? Lothíriel concentrated and somehow this single word formed all by itself.
"Why?" Amrothos echoed. He sat down unceremoniously on the floor at her feet. "Well, that is not the word I would have expected."
"What would you have expected?" Erchirion asked with only mild interest.
"A little bit more drama, perhaps?"
Both turned with identical raised eyebrows to look at their sister, who, after some struggle, had managed to slip on her mask of composure that was so familiar to them. Only a deeper than usual frown just above the bridge of her nose gave away to those who knew her well enough the inner turmoil she felt.
"I do not think that displaying any drama is part of Lothíriel's nature," Erchirion remarked.
"You are right," his brother acknowledged. "She is not the kind of hysterical female to jump off the Bastion, so we are unlikely to find her bones shattered all over the Pelennor Fields one morning."
"If I jumped off the Bastion I would not end up on the Pelennor Fields but very likely in the back yard of one of the potters on the third level," Lothíriel reminded him absent-mindedly.
Amrothos frowned and drew with his forefinger the imaginary line of a falling body through the air. "True," he said after recalculating. "And your corpse would damage quite a lot of pottery and give the good people a bit of a scare. Not to mention the mess which would have to be cleaned up afterwards."
Erchirion had closed his eyes in exasperation and shook his head. "Very well," he said. "Now that we have established these finer points of geography, perhaps we can get back to Lothíriel's initial question." He ducked his head, trying to catch his sister's gaze with his own. "Dearest, what do you mean? Why . . . what?"
Lothíriel had to think about this. Somehow her brain refused to work with its usual speed. It was as if it had itself shielded from any input. She had to concentrate really hard to remember what she had wanted to know. Finally she accomplished the most basic of questions.
"Why is Father going to make this offer to Éomer King?"
Erchirion sighed. He drew another chair next to his sister's, settling down on it. He stared at her silently for a moment before he said: "Lothíriel, I fear there is a misunderstanding. Father did not wish me to inform you about any plans he is going to discuss with Éomer King. They have already reached an agreement. Éomer did consent. You are betrothed to him."
"Oh." She was unable to shake off the daze she was in. She seemed to be standing on the outside, looking in on the three of them, without any real interest
"Oh?" Amrothos eyes snapped up. "Lothíriel, are you well? You have just been told you are going to wed the King of Rohan and all you have to say is Oh!? At least half of the female population of this city would, at such an announcement, turn on their heels and walk straight north all the way to Edoras. And not because he is a King but because he is . . . what he is, I suppose." He snorted. "I am just glad he is no longer staying here. It is a real nuisance to be always the second in line."
Erchirion cleared his throat in reprimand, but his brother's one-shouldered shrug matched his lopsided grin to perfection.
"She is not listening, anyway." He waved his hand in front of Lothíriel's face. When she looked at him startled, he said: "Again, little sister, say something." Not getting an immediate reply he added: "The first words that come to your head."
"I belong to the second half."
"Ah, you are listening after all." Amrothos grinned slyly. "Second half, hmm? Well, you could have fooled me."
Lothíriel felt her cheeks go warm as Amrothos's voice trailed off.
"As usual you are talking nonsense," she dismissed.
"That is better than listening to it."
Lothíriel let out an irritated breath.
There were days when Amrothos was simply too much to bear. This was one of those days. And there was only one person in the whole of Middle-Earth who was truly able to manage the youngest Dol Amroth prince. And, contrary to what he believed, it was not their father.
"Erchirion, make him go away."
"You are trying to get rid of me? I am your favourite brother." Amrothos sounded like a kicked puppy.
"Why are you always insisting upon being my favourite brother? You made me eat frogspawn."
"That is still a criterion?" he retorted. "It was fifteen years ago."
"I was sick for three days."
"You also get sick when you eat fish."
Erchirion decided that this was the time to intervene and put a hold to his brother's frolics. He had let him prattle because it had helped Lothíriel to get over the initial shock.
"Amrothos, I think it is time to make your grand exit."
Imrahil's third son was not by half as insensitive as most people thought, and he also knew when his elder brother was no longer in the mood for jesting. The brothers exchanged a look, Erchirion's gaze unwavering. Amrothos understood, but he wasn't one who would just retreat quietly. He clapped a hand over his heart. "The two of you wound me deeply. But where I am not wanted, I will no longer tarry." He got up from the floor, executed a small, but dramatic bow and walked off, disappearing between the bookcases. His sister and brother waited for the creak of the outer door. Instead Amrothos's upper body reappeared around the last bookcase, his forefinger pointing at Erchirion.
"Do not forget to give her the love letter." With that parting shot he was finally gone, the door first opening and then being slammed shut.
"If he did not look so similar to Elphir and me, I would say Father must have found him under a bush," Erchirion mused affectionately.
He turned towards his sister and watched her observantly. Outwardly her face betrayed none of her feelings, but her grey eyes were the windows to her soul and they were as turbulent as the low clouds that scuttled across a twilight sky. Erchirion sighed and sat forward.
"Lothíriel, I apologize. I wanted to find a more considerate way to bring this news to you. When I received Father's messages this morning, Amrothos was with me and there was no way to keep it from him. I am certain he did not mean any harm. He was just . . . well, he is Amrothos - as always."
Carefully he took Lothíriel's hand from the arm of her chair, apparently uncertain if he should touch her. When she didn't pull back, he clasped it between both of his. Lothíriel looked down at their entwined fingers. She couldn't remember the last time Erchirion had touched her hands more than fleetingly. The way they were brought up, physical contact between grown siblings of different gender was not regarded proper behaviour. And yet, having her cold clammy hand between his much bigger, warm ones was as soothing as the gesture was simple.
"And now tell me how you really are," Erchirion said gently.
Lothíriel snapped back to attention and searched the whirl inside her for something comprehensible. "I am confused." She found that that was the most general term to describe her present state of mind.
"A sudden betrothal certainly warrants a state of confusion."
"I am not confused about the betrothal." She frowned, as if puzzled by her own statement. "No, that is not entirely true. I am confused about that as well. But mainly I am confused about my feelings. They are not what I would have expected." She gave her brother a small, helpless smile. "I am in a state of total bewilderment, and that is confusing indeed. Does that make any sense to you?" She laughed, the sound still a bit unsteady.
Erchirion reflected on that for a moment. "At least it gives me an idea how you feel," he said eventually.
"I have always told myself that I have accepted that one day our father would choose a husband for me. And I have convinced myself that he would do so considering my . . . considering me." Lothíriel stopped, irritated at her own inability to articulate herself with her usual precision. "I have always thought he would let me have a say, or at least talk to me before he negotiated and concluded a contract; that he would ask my opinion before everything was settled and not just inform me at a point when it cannot be undone. I am confused because nothing has happened that I should not have expected and that I should not be able to accept. But instead I feel disappointed and betrayed. I am confused because I know our father would not make decisions over my life thoughtlessly and that he wishes to do only what is best for me, but I blame him for determining my fate without having had the courtesy to talk to me."
Lothíriel felt her hands shaking ever so slightly and she didn't want Erchirion to become aware of the turbulence inside her. She pulled her hand back from his grasp, but it was too late, anyway. His shrewd look told her, that he had a pretty good idea that her displayed calmness was only a facade, threatening to crack open.
"My feelings are not what they are supposed to be."
"I doubt feelings are meant to be subjected to rules," Erchirion pointed out, a sympathetic half-smile on his face. "But I think I understand now. It is not so much the situation but the way Father brought it upon you that troubles you."
No, he didn't understand at all. How could he guess that a dozen different battles waged inside her?
True, the way her father arranged this bond for her, and presented her with a fait accompli, made her feel like a pawn on a chessboard. And she still hadn't been answered on the question as to why he acted this way and why he offered her to Rohan's King. Why did he choose Éomer as her husband? No, it was not only the way this situation was brought upon her that had plunged her headlong into this whirl of emotions; it was the situation itself.
She was going to wed a man who had made her ache for him, made her long for something she couldn't even name, but at the same time she knew with absolute certainty that only he was able to give it to her. And she had not the slightest inkling what she meant to this man. He had taunted her; he had scolded her; he had yelled at her. More than once she had been afraid that he might just grab her and shake her. Something about her seemed to make him angry. Instead he had kissed her. And even in his kiss, at least in his last kiss, she had sensed anger. She didn't understand this man. She did not know what to do to make herself understand him. She was sitting in a library, surrounded by the knowledge and the wisdom of hundreds of centuries, but she doubted that there was anywhere a book or a manuscript that could explain Éomer of Rohan to her. And that was her basic dilemma. She was accustomed to knowing everything she could about a subject before embarking on a new venture, and now she had been thrown into this situation without the slightest prospect of preparing herself for it. There were no books to read and nobody she could question about it or ask for advice.
She looked at her brother. Erchirion had leant his head back against the chair and was watching her quietly, the customary amused gleam in his eyes, waiting patiently for her to eventually resume their conversation. Her brother's composure was more an inherent phlegmatism than it was an instilled attitude. For a fleeting moment Lothíriel was tempted to challenge it by demanding an explanation from him about the nature of a man's desire.
No, that was not something she wished to discuss with Erchirion, and certainly it wasn't something he would wish to discuss with her. She had her doubts that he saw her as a potential object of a man's desire, and even if he did, he wouldn't like to think it through or, worse, talk about it. She was his sister, after all. His little sister, ten years his junior. For Amrothos she had been a playfellow, favourite target of his pranks. For Erchirion and Elphir she had been that sweet little doll they doted upon, felt protective about and would have preferred to be secured in a glass cabinet. Four years ago they had objected strongly against their father's decision to let her relocate to Minas Tirith and to allow her to seek an education as a healer.
Perhaps she shouldn't have sent Amrothos away after all. If she found the courage to ask for advice, Amrothos might be the only one willing to give answers. Might! Even though he occupied most of his time chasing women – if rumours were true – he definitely made a distinction between those women and his sister. On the other hand: he liked to provoke and to challenge boundaries.
Lothíriel remembered the taunting of his parting words. What letter had he been talking about?
"Ah, finally another word. I have been tempted to take a nap," Erchirion said with a grin. "What is going on in your pretty head?"
"Nothing you want to know." Her brother quirked a brow in surprise at her waspish tone. Lothíriel was slightly baffled herself but decided not to give it a thought and not to give her brother the chance to comment on it. "Amrothos mentioned a letter you have to give to me. Is it a letter from Father?"
"No, the letter Father sent was addressed to me, but I do not mind you reading it if you wish. The letter Amrothos referred to is from Éomer."
Lothíriel straightened her spine. "Éomer wrote to you?"
"No, he wrote to you. The letter is for you." Erchirion reached into his tunic to pull out two parchments folded into squares. One was still unopened and sealed. He held it out to her.
Another chill went down her spine. She starred at the letter and swallowed. It carried a large, thick seal, the wax of which was a dark, almost blackish red.
When she didn't take hold of it, Erchirion put it down on the table and pushed it until it lay directly in front of her. Now she could make out the details of the seal. It showed the heads of two horses facing away from each other. Even in this stylised depiction there was an obvious fierceness in their countenance. Beneath them was a multi-shafted sun.
"Lothíriel, would you like to be alone to read the letter?" Erchirion asked quietly.
"This is the Royal Seal of Rohan, is it not?" She looked up, not aware that her eyes betrayed her disappointment. "I have my doubts that even kings close their – as Amrothos called it – love letters with the State Seal."
"Are you disappointed?" He eyed her thoughtfully. "Did you expect a . . . well, let's call it due to a lack of another expression, a love letter?
"No. Certainly not." She forced herself to smile her cool and serene smile. But she felt somehow let down even though she didn't know what she had expected. She hadn't even expected a letter at all. But now, having it in front of her she wished it would look less official.
"Perhaps you should just read it," Erchirion suggested gently. He got up from his chair. "I will leave you to it." He hesitated, obviously searching for the right words. "I am sorry, Lothíriel. Truly sorry." She gazed up to him, a bit perplexed at his words and that he looked utterly serious for the first time. "I wished I had known Father's plans and could have intervened, could have tried to induce him to proceed differently. I know the reasons for what he did. They are both of the political and the personal kind. It is not my right to reveal those reasons to you. That is the prerogative of a father and of the Lord of Dol Amroth, alone. What he did was the best solution, as you will understand when he explains it to you. How he did it . . . for that I ask you to forgive him."
Once again he picked up one of her cold hands which lay flat on the table, one left and one right of the letter adorned with the Royal Seal of Rohan. He drew it to his lips and kissed her on the knuckles, then laid it back carefully. With a last smile he turned and left the library.
Being on her own Lothíriel let her arduously kept facade crumble. She groaned and slouched deeply into her chair, leaning her head against the back, staring unblinkingly upwards to the cupola. The movement made her veil slip. Impatiently she tore it off and with it her plaits, pinned together at her neck, came down. She ran her hands over her hair. It was so tightly braided that it made her scalp hurt. She shoved all ten fingers into it, massaging her skull. She was getting a headache. She pressed the balls of her thumbs against her temples, into her eye sockets.
What were those men doing to her?
Her father had betrothed her to a man without dropping the slightest hint beforehand. Sweet Elbereth, that man was a king; she was going to become a queen!
Her brother tipped riddles onto her and then just disappeared.
And Éomer? He had kissed her, then dispassionately negotiated their betrothal with her father and finally wrote an impersonal letter.
Lothíriel looked down at the parchment in front of her. She knew she was irrational. She couldn't know if the contents of this letter were impersonal, even if it was carrying the Royal Seal. But who put a State Seal on a personal letter? Certainly not a Rohír! But perhaps a king who wrote to his betrothed?
She should open it and read it instead of speculating over its contents. But she feared that it was just what she . . . feared it would be.
She took the letter, stroked with her forefinger over the seal. The Royal Seal of Rohan.
A rough land in the North. Home of a rough and hard people. She had taken a liking to those men who had been under her care. She had liked their candour, their bluntness, their simplicity. She had admired their sense of a common bond and their staunch loyalty towards their king.
And now she was supposed to become their queen. How did one become a queen? How did one become a queen of a land one knew very little about? How did one become the wife, or rather the consort of a king who was virtually a stranger?
She would have to leave everything behind. Her family; the home she had made; the Houses of Healing. She was going to be separated from everything she was content with to venture into a life where she did not know what to expect.
Had those men wasted a single thought about what their agreement was going to do to her?
She turned the letter around. Her name was written on it, her name and her royal title: To Her Highness, Lothíriel, Princess of Dol Amroth. It suited the State Seal.
There was no reason to put it off any longer. She broke the seal and unfolded the parchment. The first thing that struck her was that his penmanship was quite a bit neater than she would have guessed. Somehow she had difficulties seeing the boy Éomer bent over a desk, practising his flicks. He had a good, legible hand, amazingly fluid for somebody who shouldn't have had a reason to write much in the past.
Lothíriel frowned. At least, she thought it was his own handwriting and not that of a scribe. She looked at the signature at the bottom of the letter. It had definitely been penned by the same hand.
She took a deep breath and concentrated on the words, which slowly began to make sense. It was a formal letter. For somebody who didn't care much about formalities, the introduction was very formal. Words like honoured, appreciative and gratified were used. It would have taken her probably half a day to write a letter matching the stiltedness of the tone. If she was induced to answer it, she would make certain she took that time.
When reading over the second half of the letter, it became clear to her that she was indeed expected to give an answer. She stared at the words, not quite certain if she truly understood what was written there.
She laid down the parchment and got up from her chair. Not being aware of what she was doing, she circled the table once, her hands on her hips, her breath coming in short, sharp gasps. She fought to even her breathing. She had to grant Éomer that he knew how to keep throwing her off balance. How many men could accomplish that with a stiffly formulated letter? She sat back down, taking up the parchment and reading it again, slowly, word for word, making certain that there was no misunderstanding. After all, Westron was not his own tongue. Though remembering their various verbal exchanges she had no reason to believe him unable to say precisely what he intended to.
No, she did not misunderstand its contents. The wording was formal, perhaps even a bit pompous, but the meaning was unequivocal.
This was a proposal.
The King of Rohan asked the Princess of Dol Amroth to be his wife.
His wife. Not his consort. Wife.
He didn't consider them betrothed as long as she hadn't given him her consent.
Her consent. Not her father's.
There must be a misunderstanding. Definitely! Either she misunderstood Erchirion; or Erchirion misinterpreted the letter he received from their father; or her father had misunderstood Éomer.
But in all probability it had been Éomer who had not fully comprehended Gondorian customs.
Her father had given her to him. She had no say. But he, Éomer, asked her nevertheless. He wanted her consent. He gave her the chance to say no.
Lothíriel felt as if something had hit her squarely in the chest, and then it began to spread, warm and lovely. She couldn't quite explain it; it was almost as if someone had heated her blood. It started in her heart and then slowly swept through her arms, her belly down to the tips of her toes. It made her light-headed. It made her content. It made her whole.
He wanted her to become his wife because she wanted to. Because it was her choice.
She read the lines a third time. This was most certainly not an ardent love letter. But that she didn't even want! Truth be told, at this point she would have probably not known how to deal with. But this felt right. Éomer acknowledged her. Her! Not the Princess of Dol Amroth. Not Imrahil's daughter. Her!
Perhaps she saw too much in those words. Perhaps she read what she wanted to read. But it felt right. It felt good. She felt good.
She could refuse. Not that her father would let her. But theoretically, she had a choice. And it was Éomer who had thought it right to give her this choice
She pushed her chair back and got up. She looked at the table. Usually she wouldn't leave such an untidy mess behind. But she didn't have the time now to sort all those scrolls and codices back into the bookcases and chests. She had to find Amrothos. He had to read this letter. Amrothos was honest; he was brutally honest. He would tell her what he thought about this proposal.
And he was going to answer her a few question about men. If he wished to, or not!