A Bride ForA King
It was nearly midday. Lothíriel had spent the entire morning with a fellow healer preparing a potion made from the seed of poppies. It was administered as a potent pain reliever and they had run out of stock whilst treating the many warriors that were severely wounded in the great battles. It was a complicated brew, and wrongly prepared it could become a deadly poison instead of a medicine. Only two healers together were allowed to start the process. It also required a high level of concentration, something Lothíriel had welcomed because it kept her thoughts from the forthcoming confrontation with her father.
The night before, long after dusk had fallen, King Elessar and his Queen had returned to Minas Tirith, accompanied by the Princes of Ithilien and Dol Amroth and their entourages. As every other man and woman in the city, Lothíriel had been immediately aware of the occurrence. The tones of the silver trumpets, which had announced from the White Tower of Ecthelion the arrival of the Royal Party, had been loud enough, not only to wake every slumbering soul on all seven levels of the city, but also the very last bark beetle in the woods of Ithilien.
It had to be expected that her father would summon her in the course of the day. She could have gone up to the Citadel to join him for the first meal of the day. She knew his daily routine fairly well. Imrahil wouldn't deviate from it, not just because he had arrived late after a whole day in the saddle.
But this was a matter of principle. He had something to say to her; therefore he had to send for her first. Perhaps this attitude was childish, but the past eleven days had done nothing to soothe her ruffled feathers. She held the hope that this time she would defy her father and not back down as she usually did. In the past, something about his bearing had always her made feel that she was overreacting whenever they had been on different sides of an argument.
"We have finished," Saerwen, the other healer declared, as she took the cauldron from the hearth. "Whilst the potion cools let us prepare the new phials the glassblower delivered this morning."
Lothíriel just nodded her agreement. She was about to begin to take the phials out of the tub where they had been soaking them, when there was a resounding knock at the door. Saerwen opened it and found a boy of thirteen or fourteen years of age outside, wearing the velvet tunic denoting that he was one of the Royal pages.
"Pardon me, Mistress! I was told I would find the Lady Lothíriel here. I have a message from the Prince of Dol Amroth for her."
"I am the Lady in question." Lothíriel stepped closer, drying her hands with a cloth.
The page gazed at her dubiously, but after a look at Saerwen, who showed no inclination to contradict her, he handed her the small folded and sealed parchment he had in his hand with only a hint of reluctance. Lothíriel broke the well known seal and threw a glance at it.
"Thank you," she addressed the boy. "There will be no answer."
After he had left she read the short note. Her father expected her for a midday meal in his private chambers at the Citadel.
"Saerwen, my father has summoned me. Are you agreeable to that? Can I leave you to finish our work alone?"
"Of course. If your father wishes to speak to you, you have to go at once, my Lady."
It took Lothíriel some effort not to grind her teeth. If the mention of her father's name could cause a fellow healer to address her with her title instead of her name, what would happen when her betrothal to the King of Rohan was made public knowledge?
She thanked the other woman for her understanding and hurried through the corridors of the healer's domain to her chamber to change her garb for a presentable gown. Long ago her father had emphasized particularly that he did not wish to see her wearing her healer's garb when she socialized with her family at the Citadel, even in their private chambers. Lothíriel thought it better to submit to his wishes in this case. There were limits to everything, and she did not wish to appear to be in an infantile mood – even if she was.
Beside her healer's garb, Lothíriel did not keep many of her clothes in her small room at the Houses of Healing. Like her brothers, she had her own chamber in the Citadel which she rarely used, in fact only to store her personal belongings. There was no other choice today but to wear a simply cut silk gown of palest lavender. The only accessories she had were a matching belt and ankle laced slippers. It took her just a few moments to change her clothing and another few to unbraid her hair and comb it. As the only headdress she had in her chest was too conspicuous for the day, she arranged it in a net decorated with pearls and held by a headband.
Before she left, she pulled Éomer's letter from under a stack of folded tunics and secured it in her belt. Then she headed for the Citadel, setting a brisk pace. It must have taken the page a while to find her because it was getting late. Her father expected her at midday and it was not her way to keep anybody waiting. She had walked the street up to the Citadel uncountable times, but today, due to her haste, she emerged from the tunnel onto the Great Court of the Fountain unusually breathless. She had to catch her breath yet again when she passed the guards outside the main gate to the palace. Inside the entrance hall she paused for a moment. She could use the great staircase and all the public halls and corridors, or she could use the servants' stairs which would lead her much more quickly to her destination. The palace was reminiscent of a rabbit warren, but she was well acquainted with all its twists and turns.
On her way up the back stairs and passageways she met only a couple of servants who greeted her respectfully and without any real surprise. Over the past four years they had become accustomed to the sight of the Princess of Dol Amroth walking their hallways.
Having reached the west wing where her father's private chambers and his study were situated, Lothíriel pulled a heavy curtain aside and stepped out onto a wide corridor - and nearly into the arms of her father and King Elessar. The two men were standing outside Prince Imrahil's study, absorbed in their conversation. The King in a burgundy velvet tunic, her father, as usual, perfectly combed and groomed in dark blue suede. The former ranger must have sensed her movement and turned swiftly to face her. Lothíriel saw him lift his eyebrows before she sank into a curtsey.
"My Liege-lord," she greeted, rising. She looked at her father and could have sworn she saw him roll his eyes. "Father."
"Lady Lothíriel. What a pleasure to see you," Elessar said, the smile evident in his voice. "A pleasure you have shown a rare talent for withholding from us."
"I was not aware, my Lord King, that you had a desire for my company," Lothíriel answered in a quiet voice, schooled for occasions like this. "Therefore I have to beg your forgiveness for my absence as well as for my ignorance."
The King's smile deepened. "It will be easily forgiven if you grace the Queen's and my table tonight. You will find it an intimate affair with your father and your cousin as the only other attendants."
"Thank you, my Lord. I am honoured," she replied automatically. Who had just received an invitation? Lothíriel of Dol Amroth or the betrothed of the King of Rohan; Elessar's friend and brother-in-arms? "I will have to inform the Warden of the Houses of Healing of my absence from his domain tonight," she added unthinkingly.
"A page will be sent to inform the Warden," said Imrahil, in what was, unmistakeably, not a suggestion.
"Of course, Father. Thank you," Lothíriel replied, feeling her spine go stiff and then added without altering the tone of her voice, "As long as the Warden will be informed." Moving her eyes to meet her father's in an unflinching glare, she was surprised to have it returned by one of Imrahil's that showed as much amusement as it showed irritation.
"As you have not seen each other for so many sennights, I will leave father and daughter to their reunion and make my farewell."
Lothíriel's gaze swung back to the King, whose eyes were friendly and somehow assessing, as if he had just seen her for the first time.
"I am looking forward to seeing you tonight, Lady Lothíriel. Imrahil." The King nodded and turned to walk away, almost noiseless, although he was wearing heavy riding boots.
When he was certain that his liege was out of earshot Imrahil addressed his daughter in exaggerated patience. "Lothíriel, is there a particular reason why you use the servants' hallways?"
"Yes, Father, there is. I was late and the back stairs are a significant shortcut. . . . And the servants do not mind," she added.
He contemplated her in silence for a while, her calm countenance, her serene tone. His mouth twisted into a wry smile. "I think there are a few issues we have to discuss."
"That I will not dispute," Lothíriel heard herself say.
Imrahil let it pass and gestured her to go first. Lothíriel led the way to her father's withdrawing room, a familiar place where the family had often gathered during the past years. On the table in front of the open window servants had laid out a simple meal of various cheeses, cold meats and salads.
"As we will feast with the King and the Queen tonight I thought a more frugal midday meal would be reasonable. And we will not be disturbed by servants." Imrahil held the chair for his daughter. Lothíriel settled down and automatically took the napkin and laid it across her lap. The prince sat down across from her. "Would you like some wine?"
"No, thank you. I will have some spelt water, if there is some."
Imrahil filled their goblets. He took his and leant back against his chair. "Very well, my dear. Out with it."
Lothíriel looked straight at her father, seeing nothing she hadn't expected. His face was unreadable. There had always been this quality of stillness about him, this air of superiority that made her doubtful of her own convictions. As if they were not thought-out thoroughly and were questionable. She decided to get to the heart of her matter of concern with one straight sentence.
"I am upset."
"I have noticed," Imrahil replied simply. "And I have expected it."
"I am upset because I despise the fact that my future life relies on a decision that I had no control over, that it depends completely on my father's will. I am not talking about customs and laws, or that it is a father's right to do what you did. I am talking about you and me, Father. I always thought you considered me a person of intelligence and sense and not as some object that the law has given the right for you to dispose of as you wish."
Lothíriel realized, with a sense of amazement, that she was actually getting more than just upset with her father. She was getting furiously angry. That had never happened before. It was deeply unsettling and she quickly suppressed the sensation.
Her father's intent gaze gave her no doubt that he had recognized the emotions whirling behind her carefully kept façade. It had always been hard to conceal anything from him. After all, he had known her before she had mastered the art of self-control. "Lothíriel, you should know that when I left Minas Tirith to accompany the cortege of Théoden King to Edoras, I had not made the decision to make an offer to Éomer."
Lothíriel blinked. That statement made her lose her thread. Was he telling her that his dealings had to be excused because she simply had not been available to discuss them?
"Erchirion said you had reasons of the political and the personal kind to proceed as you did. Are you saying those only arose after you left Minas Tirith?" She tapped with her middle finger hard on the table, emphasising every word. "Excuse me, Father, but that does not sound very likely."
He seemed to consider that for a moment, then shook his head. "No, the political reason why I wish to have you bond to Éomer arose some time ago and I was searching for a solution when a certain incident – or shall I say a chain of incidents - presented unexpectedly a resolve, which promised to be satisfying on a very personal level."
Lothíriel let out an irritated breath. "I am afraid I cannot follow you. You present an equation with too many unknowns. Please, let us start from the beginning. What is your political reasoning?"
The Prince took a sip from his wine and then set his goblet on the table. "Would you like something to eat, my dear?"
Tapping her foot, Lothíriel asked in a voice barely concealing her impatience, "Have you given Amrothos lessons in how to delay a discussion?"
"I do not know what you are referring to," Imrahil said, with his first genuine smile, "but let me assure you that your brother does not need to take any lessons from anyone, whatever about."
"But your delaying tactics are very similarly annoying." Although she didn't feel like eating she accepted her father serving her some fennel salad with apple and grated cheese.
"Does this indicate that you have had a serious conversation with your brother lately?" Imrahil's smile seemed somehow pained. "Probably about the same subject we are about to discuss?"
"In a way."
"Should I be worried?"
"It was eye-opening . . . in a way."
"Now I am very worried, indeed," Imrahil muttered, helping himself to a healthy portion of honey-smoked ham.
"You would not have to be worried about anything, Father, if you had just . . . "
". . . initiated you in my devious plans?" he interrupted genially.
". . . handled the affair less secretively," Lothíriel completed her own sentence.
"There was nothing secretive about what I did, as I was trying to explain before we became side-tracked."
"I knew nothing about what you were doing, even though it involved me, therefore it was secretive."
Father and daughter looked at each other. Imrahil sighed, reaching for the bread. "I agree that proper terminology is important in general, but do we have to dwell on semantics right now?"
"Not on my part," she replied pointedly. "I am much more interested in learning – at last – about your reasons."
Imrahil continued to look at her thoughtfully across the table, and she returned his gaze levelly.
"I am afraid, Daughter, you have the disadvantage a being a young noblewoman who has an aspiration to more than just becoming a wife and living a spoiled and carefree life. You are from the most noble bloodline in Gondor, your dowry is large enough to maybe tempt the more ambitious into a passage of arms and you have grown quite beautiful."
His utterance was totally unexpected and Lothíriel looked at her father dumbfounded, for once at a loss of words.
"Do you know why I permitted you to seek an education as a healer here in Minas Tirith?"
It had never been spoken between them but Lothíriel had always assumed her father had somehow tried to compensate for the loss of her mother; hoped to create a diversion so that her soul wouldn't fall into bottomless sorrow; wanted her mind occupied with a useful task. And it would not be spoken between them.
"I have always thought you believed me safer in Minas Tirith with the growing unrest along the coast and the threat from the corsairs of Umbar."
"Indeed, I believed you safer here but not in a military sense. In that case I would have been proven wrong, would I not?" He raised his goblet to Lothíriel and took a sip from his wine. "I wanted you out of the picture for the time being. I wanted certain people to forget that I had a marriageable daughter. Or, at least, I did not want them reminded of it constantly. Here at the Houses of Healing, as an apprentice to the healers, you move outside certain social circles."
Lothíriel had listened to her father's words and for once forgot to school her features. Incomprehension stood clearly written on them. "Do I understand you correctly: you sent me to the healers to separate me from potential suitors, so that you would not receive any proposals?"
"That is so. At sixteen I thought you much too young for such a union, although it is generally considered the proper age."
Lothíriel shook her head slightly in disbelief. "But Father, if you had not wished me to wed so young, you simply could have refused any suitor."
"Indeed, I could – and would – have refused any proposal, but I could have done that only so many times without provoking displeasure. As I said before, you are quite a prize. Rejected suitors might have turned to the Steward to enforce their claim. And I regret having to say this, but Denethor would have thought only about any domestic advantages or disadvantages. Very likely he would have supported that suit of which he could have taken most advantage."
Lothíriel reflected on that for a moment. "Could he have forced you to give me to one of any potential suitors?"
"No, not even the Stewards or Kings of Gondor have any rights over those of a father." Imrahil stated, and continued, uncharacteristically hesitant, "I wanted to avoid you becoming an obstacle of domestic politics. Whilst under the threat of Mordor we did not need an additional contentious issue putting strain needlessly on the unity of the Steward and the vassals."
"So far I believed me only a pledge but certainly not an obstacle." She squeezed her hands into small fists.
Sighing, Imrahil sat back and regarded her thoughtfully. "Please, Lothíriel. I thought we agreed not to quibble over terminology."
She didn't respond to that. "You were nothing but foresighted," she told her father in a painfully neutral voice.
The Prince drummed his fingers on the table, just a couple of times. "Not that much, I am afraid." Seeing Lothíriel's confused look, he said, "Do you remember meeting Herion of Linhir at Elphir's wedding?"
"Elphir's brother-in-law?" She tried to remember. "I cannot recall his face, or even if I have been introduced to him."
Shortly before their mother had passed away, her eldest brother had wed Oraineth of Linhir. He had chosen her because he felt that one day she would make the perfect wife for the ruler of Dol Amroth. If she had any other virtues beside that and being reasonably attractive, Lothíriel couldn't have said. She hardly knew her sister-in-law. Erchirion refused to say anything that could imply a judgement; Amrothos insisted that he always suffered from frostbite after he had been in the same room with his brother's wife.
"You may have overlooked him, but he certainly became aware of you. A short time after the wedding celebrations I received a proposal from him for you which I refused on the grounds that you were too young and that your mother was terminally ill."
"And after Mother's death you let me relocate to the Houses of Healing, hoping you would not have to refuse other suitors?"
"Well, it worked," Imrahil said in a rather placating sort of voice, but then added, "At least, until now. To be precise until a few days after Elessar's coronation. Lord Herion renewed his proposal."
"But I was not present at the coronation. Therefore it could not have been seeing me that led him to approach you again."
"True. For some reason you avoided attending our King's coronation." His voice had acquired a tone of dry speculation. "The question why - let us say - it is at the moment irrelevant."
Lothíriel kept her mask of composure in place with willpower alone. She had found a convenient excuse because she didn't want to risk being spotted – or worse – introduced to the warrior she had treated and who had turned out to be the new King of Rohan. "One of my patients had a very serious bout of fever." Strictly speaking, it had been the patient of one of her fellow healers, one who desperately wanted to attend the coronation. So she had offered to stay behind in her place.
He waved her statement away with an elegant hand. "So you said before. And as I said, this is now irrelevant." He took up his fork as if he was going to begin to eat but then put it down again, unused. "Herion did not have to see you to remember your existence. All those years he kept you in his pocket – so to speak. After all, his sister is married to your brother. And I am afraid, because of her; he is pretty well informed about the size of your dowry. And he needs this dowry rather badly. You see, Herion inherited the Lordship over Linhir at a very young age and proved not to be an overly far-sighted ruler. He neglected, among other things, the reinforcement of the defences of Linhir with nearly devastating consequences for the city when the corsairs attacked. Now he is under royal order to make up for this neglect within a limited time frame. For that he needs money; your dowry."
"But you have refused him again?"
"Yes, I have," he confirmed evenly. "His proposal, and that of another, one from a man of no consequence, I received the day before I left with the Rohirrim for Edoras."
"What can they do after you have refused them? Unlike our uncle, King Elessar will not listen to any complaints from suitors who have been turned down by you." Lothíriel paused, frowning slightly as though trying to sort out her thoughts. "There are certainly more important issues to be taken care of."
"Lord Herion is a troublemaker. If he wants to repay me for refusing him and consequently withholding the money he needs, he will do it in a way that not only is going to hurt me but also, as I am known to be our new King's supporter and adviser, he can create quite some unrest amongst the southern vassals. Some who are not in the least happy that they are no longer left to themselves but have now to answer to a strong central authority here in Minas Tirith."
"So now I have become an obstacle indeed."
Amusement briefly replaced the earnestness in Imrahil's eyes. "Let us take a note that it is you who insists upon referring to yourself as an object." But he continued in a more sober tone. "I spoke to Elessar about my fears that my personal concerns might trigger political complications. He did not see that this unfortunate matter should influence our dealings with each other in any way - and he did not expect me to respond preventively in any way."
"What would you call my betrothal to Éomer King if not a preventive measure?"
"Actually I spoke to Elessar on the day the Rohirrim had left Minas Tirith for their ride home. At that point it did not come to my mind that Éomer could be the solution for our problem. That dawned on me only after he had returned to escort his uncle's body back to the Mark; during that welcoming feast Elessar and the Queen gave in his honour. You remember that feast? The one I nearly had to drag you to? You had about half a dozen good reasons why you should not go. That was the feast where my daughter chose to start a quarrel with the King of Rohan."
She had known sooner or later this subject would arise. She braced herself. "I did not start that quarrel," she said much too defensively. "That was your friend from Rohan."
Her father gave her a wry look. "And you were so engrossed in it that you did not even realize what a spectacle you were making."
"And you thought because we were quarrelling so amiably he would make an ideal husband?"
Both amusement and a little irritation were palpable in Imrahil's reply. "To my knowledge he was the first man you have ever cared to take notice of. And a father takes notice when a man looks at his daughter as if he would like to throttle her."
"And you gave him permission to accompany me out to the terrace?" Her voice climbed in spite of her best efforts.
Imrahil gave a chuckle. "It seemed to be the safer option at that moment."
"People tend to wonder how you could have produced a son like Amrothos. I feel no amazement at all."
To Lothíriel's surprise her father laughed out loud. "To which of the two of us is this statement to be meant a compliment and to whom as an insult?" he asked, subduing his laughter to a wide grin. "I doubt there are half a dozen men in Middle-Earth who can hold themselves against Éomer King. But I do not believe him to be dangerous. He would never cause any harm to a woman, certainly not one of your standing. And if I were not certain of that," he let a meaningful pause spread between them before he continued, "I would have had to ask you – both of you – long ago, what you, Lothíriel, had been doing in his bedchamber early one morning?
It took Lothíriel's brain a few heartbeats to register the meaning of her father's words. Only with an effort was her mind able to wrap itself around what he had just said. But when she finally grasped the significance, she first went cold and then hot, and the heat showed in the colour of her cheeks. She closed her eyes with mortification. Blast this blushing. She made a strangled sort of sound that finally converted into a couple of incoherent words.
"What . . . ? How . . . ?"
"What am I talking about? Or how do I know?" Imrahil inquired in a genial tone of voice as if he had just announced the day to be sunny.
The amusement in his voice gave her the courage to open her eyes. After three deep breaths she had herself under control again. At this point it would have been foolish to deny or to play stupid.
"How do you know?" she repeated one of the offered questions carefully.
"Lothíriel!" Imrahil said with a hint of impatience. "This palace is swarming with servants. Of course you could not enter the King of Rohan's bedchamber without being detected. Just because the domestics are accustomed to seeing you using their stairs and corridors and you believe yourself somehow invisible in your healer's garb, does not mean they do not know perfectly well what you are up to most of the time. Someone saw you . . . sneaking into Éomer's chamber; that someone told my squire, who told me."
"I did not sneak in. I knocked," Lothíriel found it important to point out.
"Well, I am so glad you do remember your manners when you pay foreign rulers unexpected and not entirely proper visits in their bedchambers," Imrahil said magnanimously and continued with his former train of thought. "At first, I was admittedly slightly confused by yours and Éomer's behaviour during those days. Firstly providing the entertainment for an evening and - following from that - the gossip for at least a sennight. Both of you carried on acting peculiarly over the next day. It did not make sense until I learnt about that absence of consideration by you on that particular morning. And also that the King of Rohan had gone to meet with his kinsmen at the Houses of Healing in the afternoon, where he - in all likelihood - had seen you again. And after every one of your – presumed – encounters one or both of you behaved somehow . . . oddly."
Imrahil reached for the small pot with the mustard and put some of it over his ham. As if he had all time in the world he began to cut the smoked meat into bite-sized pieces.
Lothíriel felt . . . stupid. There was unfortunately no other word to describe it. Downright stupid. She had sought out Éomer at an inconvenient time, at an improper location, to come to an agreement with him about how to avoid making her father suspicious. Looking back at it she had to admit that it would have been a true surprise if nobody had spotted her. Calculated risk indeed. Of course the servants gossiped. And of course her father's servants would pass on to him everything of what came to their ears regarding his family. Instead of keeping him from becoming suspicious she had just added grist to the mill.
And she really wasn't certain if she wanted to know what he suspected about her encounter with Éomer on the afternoon of the same day; that encounter that had turned her approach towards quite a few things in life upside down. Her father couldn't really know what had occurred in the treatment chamber. He may have made an educated guess that there had been another clash between her and Éomer, but she had the distinct feeling that if he knew the truth, he wouldn't be viewing the affair with this annoyingly calm amusement, but would be packing her up and sending her directly to Rohan.
With two kingdoms counting the months until Rohan's heir would be born. Lothíriel was absolutely unable to stifle a groan or avoid the next heat wave colouring her cheeks.
Imrahil looked up from his plate and then laid down his cutlery. He leant back in his chair, his gaze becoming scrutinizing. "Until today I failed to notice that you have a tendency to blush," he observed. He continued in a tone of heavily used patience, "Please tell me, Lothíriel, that there is no reason why this betrothal should be shortened to very few sennights."
Lothíriel felt caught; she felt guilty . . . although there was no real reason to be; and that reaction made her angry with herself and, of course, with her father. "Your way of thinking is very similar to Amrothos's, Father," she accused him through gritted teeth. She reached for her goblet to take a few sip of her spelt water . . . and to hide her face behind the large drinking vessel.
Imrahil's expression was speculative for a moment before it faded back into one of lingering amusement. He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Amrothos asked you something of that sort?" He took up his fork again and turned his attention back to his meal. He put a piece of ham into his mouth and chewed it reflectively for a moment. "I had assumed that nothing truly inappropriate had happened," he said casually after he had swallowed. "Otherwise – I am quite certain of that – Éomer would have forestalled my offer with a proposal of his own. He may be hot-headed and stubborn, but he also has a great integrity and is governed by his own strict code of honour."
That was now an interesting question. What would her father consider as truly inappropriate? She sipped her water and gazed out of the window into the lush green of the garden. She could feel his gaze on her profile.
"Lothíriel, I do not want to know all the details of what happened between you and Éomer that night when you treated him at the Houses of Healing. Although I do not believe that his fierce reaction when meeting you again at the welcoming feast was due alone to the fact that he had been kept in the dark about your identity. I do not want to know why you felt you had to see him in his bedchamber – even though I may have a fairly good idea. And I do not want to know what occurred that same afternoon at the Houses of Healing that led you to rudely ignore an invitation from our King and Queen in the evening and caused you to perform some kind of disappearing act over the following days. Days when Éomer looked distinctly uncomfortable for quite some time and acted as if he expected some sort of final judgement."
Imrahil's mouth twisted into a wry smile at his daughter's uneasy expression. "One of Éomer's more amiable shortcomings is his inability to lie or to pretend. That does not make a consummate politician out of him but, more importantly, it does make a trustworthy and admirable friend."
Without a doubt Imrahil had addressed a fundamental fact. With Éomer there were no pretences, no games. He was what he was; direct, focused and aggressive - a warrior. But also totally unpredictable - at least for her. Somehow she had always failed to forecast his actions. And his feelings for her – if there were any – she couldn't even guess their nature. She had agreed to wed a man who was a riddle to her.
Belatedly, Lothíriel realized that her father was waiting for a response. Pulling her composure around her like a protective cloak, she said in a steady voice, that she was actually surprised to hear coming from her, "Father, you are a shrewd man and I know you see more than most do. You have witnessed a few dealings between Éomer and myself and you have heard servants' gossip and know some tales second hand. From that you draw your conclusions. But perhaps you presume too much."
"Do I?" Imrahil asked simply. He scanned the food on offer thoughtfully and finally decided on some courgette salad with a raspberry vinaigrette. He refilled his goblet before continuing.
"There is a spark between the two of you. I have noticed it and so have others." He gave her a faintly impatient glance. "Well, one would have to be blind, deaf and dumb not to. But for some reason you and Éomer would rather prefer to deny it – most fervently to yourselves. Yet as soon as the name of one is mentioned in the presence of the other you jump as if pricked by a needle. Over the past couple of years I have hardly ever seen you lose your composure – and certainly not blush. And Éomer . . ." He cut a slice of courgette into quarters. "As I said before; pretence does not come naturally to him."
Lothíriel watched her father eating calmly and with a healthy appetite. There was a certain smug air about him which she did not appreciate. Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth was well on the way to besting one of his children once again – and he knew it. And yet, the raging flame of anger that she had initially felt towards her father had dulled to a flickering glow. Common sense asserted itself. She understood his motivation, comprehended his intentions, even his actions, although she could not condone them.
"Have you ever thought that I may feel like a pawn in a game of chess who happens to be in the way of the King and therefore gets removed from the chess board? How convenient that you have detected that spark between me and a man, so you can hand me just over to him. Problem solved!"
At her words Imrahil had halted eating and glanced up, giving her a long, considering look. "Now you are being deliberately obstinate," he said in a calm voice that gave no indication if his mood had been changed by her accusations. "Is it truly necessary that I assure you of my deep affection for all of my children? You are not a pawn; you are not a pledge; you are not an obstacle. You are my daughter. Your concerns are always of the greatest importance to me and I will never do anything regarding you without having given the matter the most thorough thought."
"That I do not dispute, but I am perfectly capable of minding my own affairs." Lothíriel interjected, crossing her arms stubbornly. In a way he was right. She was deliberately obstinate because she simply couldn't just give in. It was a matter of principle – never mind what Ioreth had said about principles. "Is it too much to be asked if I wish to play a part when you make decisions regarding my future. Why did you not advise me beforehand about your intention to make an offer to Éomer?"
"As I explained to you, when I left Minas Tirith for Edoras, I had not made a decision to discuss a union with Éomer." Imrahil regarded his daughter with the utmost patience. "And had it only been for those emotions that had obviously flared up between you, I would not have thought about talking to him. Human emotions are not very reliable. They are subject to too many influences and insinuations. They always threaten to die down as quickly as they have flared up. But I feel you will match well - beside this spark. – I begin to wish I had chosen some other term."
Lothíriel wanted to interrupt, but her father gestured her silent with a graceful wave of his hand.
"I met Éomer on the battlefield and could not do any different but acknowledge him to be a great warrior and an honourable man. Since then he has also proven to be a very capable leader of his people who understands duty, responsibility and dedication towards his land. He may be hot-headed, proud and wilful, yet he is also compassionate, caring and empathetic. You possess all those qualities as well. . . . Well, perhaps you are not so hot-headed. You have learnt to keep your temper hidden – most of the time."
He paused, watching her closely as she struggled with the ambivalence inside her, with all those contradictory feelings, thoughts and wishes.
"None of the men of Gondor are your match," he said gently but firmly. "You need someone who is your equal. Éomer is a good and noble man. He will make a good and noble husband. He will honour and respect you as his wife and as his consort and hold you in esteem for what you are. He will not attempt to form you. At his side you can be the woman you truly are and not the woman someone else thinks you should be."
For a moment Lothíriel was not able to say anything. She bent her head to stare at her hands clasped before her. How could she go against him when all what he had just said made sense? When nothing he had done contradicted her own wishes in any way?
Imrahil's gaze became reminiscent. "I know you are still the girl who loves to argue a position that she does not necessarily believe in, simply for the sake of arguing; or because she wishes to be presented by a counterargument that will convince her without the shadow of a doubt that what she secretly desires is the right thing to do."
He got up and walked to her chair to stand behind her. Putting his hands on her shoulders, he squeezed gently.
"We do not have to argue about this. It is the right thing to do, my dear. If you cannot agree with the way I handled the affair, do not let that prevent you from doing what you feel you wish to do. But if the very idea of being bonded to Éomer is abhorrent to you for whatever reason, I do not think he will insist upon the betrothal."
"By now Éomer should know how I feel about your agreement," Lothíriel announced in a deliberately neutral voice.
Imrahil stopped short. He stepped to the side so that he could see her face again. Looking down at her he asked with a slight frown: "How come?"
Now she was behaving in a truly infantile way, but she had heard for a first time a hint of uncertainty in her father's voice and she wanted to make the most of it. Just for once she wanted Imrahil of Dol Amroth to fidget.
"The messenger who delivered your letter to Erchirion had also a letter for me . . . from Éomer."
"Indeed?" Imrahil walked back to his chair, sitting down in it in careless grace. "So he did write a letter to you after all."
"You talked to each other about this letter," Lothíriel inquired, becoming uncertain in her own right.
"I suggested that he might consider writing to you as there would hardly be another possibility to get in touch."
"Oh!" Did she have to understand her father's remark to mean that Éomer hadn't written this letter on his own initiative, but because he had been urged to do so? That would change her entire perspective towards the whole affair. In that case it would have no value. All she had thought she had read there would mean nothing. "You persuaded him to write this letter?" Lothíriel asked hollowly.
Imrahil's frown deepened. He appeared puzzled by her sombre response. "Persuaded? I certainly did not have to persuade him. As I said, at one point I suggested that he should write to you, and that was even before he agreed to my offer."
"So you do not know what the contents of this letter are?"
"I did not know until you mentioned it just now that he had written after all." He watched her for a moment thoughtfully, tapping a finger on his chin. "Lothíriel, I will not withhold from you that Éomer did not plan to take a wife as long as his land is in such a state of devastation. He felt he had to devote himself entirely to the rebuilding of Rohan and that it would be an unreasonable demand on a woman to share such a life. Actually, when I first made my offer he put up quite a fight." He gave an appeasing smile when he recognized the nearly horrified expression in his daughter's eyes. "Do not worry. I did not have to put the thumbscrews on him to change his mind."
"Father!" she groaned. Her emotions were really forced into one somersault after the other. "You are truly unbelievable."
"It may be of some interest to you," he said soothingly, keeping his eyes on hers, "that any objections he had and all his considerations were on your behalf. And I do not think he was even conscious of that fact."
"But there is no getting away from the fact that he was originally averse to your offer," Lothíriel pointed out with a trace of bitterness. "What did you have to do to persuade him?"
"Surprisingly enough, nothing," Imrahil replied, studying her with amused sympathy. "I left him early in the morning to think about my offer and expected another discussion to occur between us later. I admit, I had my arguments prepared and was rather baffled when he approached me before midday to announce that he was accepting. Just like that. No conditions, no reservations. Not even any question about the settlement – as any proper Gondorian suitor would have done." A pained expression flitted over Imrahil's features. "Actually, when I tried to talk to him about your dowry I fell victim to a truly remarkable fit of temper. I rather not repeat what he advised me to do with the money. After he had calmed down, he suggested I take it and pay for the provisions given to Rohan. A few days ago, on our journey back, I approached Elessar about this matter, but he also refused me, declaring it was up to Gondor to pay its debts to the Rohirrim. Now I am in the highly unusual position of a father who is sitting – so to speak - on his daughter's dowry and nobody is willing to take it." He heaved a sigh quite worthy of Amrothos. "Kings can be truly difficult."
"Do not expect me to pity you," Lothíriel snapped, ignoring the upward movement of her father's eyebrows. "I feel as if the ground has been cut from under my feet. Can you not understand how it is to be degraded to a faceless, exchangeable object others can do with as they like?"
"You cannot truly believe you are faceless or exchangeable for either Éomer or me." Imrahil tapped his apparently mounting irritation out against the edge of the goblet before him with his fork. "You mentioned the letter. What does it say?"
Lothíriel pulled the folded parchment from her belt. It had suffered since Erchirion had handed it to her. Being carried around stuck to her waist had left it thoroughly crumpled and unfortunately Amrothos had dropped a shrimp on it, so that now a large grease spot decorated it together with the State Seal of Rohan. Rather for those reasons she hesitated to hand it over.
"It is a proposal." She watched her father for any reaction, but Imrahil just leant back against his chair and gestured her to continue. "Éomer asked me for my consent and made it perfectly clear that without it he would not consider any agreement reached between you and him as binding."
Absorbing that information Imrahil slowly began to smile. "So he sent a proposal. Somehow I am not surprised" he added, more for himself. "And have you given him an answer?"
"I sent my answer the day after his letter arrived. The messenger must have passed you half way to Edoras."
"It did not take you long. And may I ask what that answer was?"
"I did consent."
For a moment Lothíriel stared at her father in incomprehension. Then slowly the complexity of this superficially simple question hit her. Why had she consented indeed?
Because she felt drawn to this man, body and soul. Although the answer she had given Amrothos still stood. She did not know if it were love that she felt for Rohan's King. But deep inside her she knew her father was right; she had even known it before Imrahil had given her his reasons. Éomer and she would suit each other well. With the warrior she had treated, she had found herself sharing the same values, the same sense of right and wrong. The King she had come to know was entirely dedicated to his people, to their well-being. They would always come before his own person. That was something she could easily relate to.
And Éomer accepted people for what they were. No pretences. He would never expect her to bend.
What she would probably never have with him was harmony; not if harmony was supposed to mean a subdued existence side by side without any contradiction or dispute. And what she would never have to fear was indifference. It was impossible to feel indifferent towards Éomer, and it appeared highly unlikely that a man with his temper and his passion would ever face anything or anyone, indifferently.
And he was a caring man. He would take care of her as she would of him. And together, as King and Queen, they would take care of Rohan. Her father had not only betrothed her to a man, but to his land and to his people. He had pledged her to a task, a duty. And amazingly enough that did not make her afraid. She felt relieved. She had feared nothing more than that being bonded to a man would mean a life without any significance. Hollow; idle; futile. As the wife of a Gondorian noble that would, in all likelihood, have come true. But not as the wife of the King of Rohan.
She became aware that her father was still waiting for her answer.
"Because it is the right thing to do," she said simply.
"Indeed, it is," Imrahil answered with the same simplicity. "And Lothíriel, in regard of something else which is of great importance between a woman and a man who will spend their life together, I can only give you the same piece of advice my mother once gave me in the same situation: if you wish to be loved, love."