To Become A Queen

Chapter 7


Éomer followed the disappearing form of his wife with his eyes.

His wife.

His consort.

Lothíriel . . . of Rohan.

He smiled.

Never before in his life had he wanted something as desperately as he wanted Lothíriel as his wife. For a pure egoistical reason; he wanted her just for him.

Since he had – admittedly - rather spontaneously agreed to Imrahil's offer, his mood had gone through very different stages. Right after he had sent the letter with his proposal to Lothíriel he had asked himself, in all seriousness, if he had gone out of his mind when he had done so. No matter what the others: Imrahil, Aragorn, Faramir and Éowyn – the last didn't even know the Princess of Dol Amroth – said, he had asked a woman, of whom he knew next to nothing, not only to become his wife but consequently the Queen of the Riddermark.

During those days when he had been waiting for her answer he had been torn between the rational conviction that it would be for the best if she refused him and the simple fear that she would do just that. When he had held her consent in his hands his first reaction had been relief. Then he had been overcome by a deep feeling of happiness, one more intense than he had ever known before. But finally, after having read her reply several more times, he had begun to feel disappointment and doubt.

The tone of her letter had been pointedly impersonal and indifferent. He could virtually hear her speaking the words in that cool, reasonable voice she had used when she had explained to him that she considered it her duty to accept an arranged union with a man chosen by her father if it would be for the good of Gondor.

Had that been the reason for her consent? That she felt she had to do her duty to Gondor? The last thing he had wanted was a woman who felt herself to be under an obligation to become his wife.

No, the last thing he wanted was for Lothíriel to consent out of a sense of duty.

He had cursed Imrahil – and Aragorn – for rushing him into this proposal; for giving him rational grounds to justify his decision to himself. Yet he had known from the very first moment that he had not proposed to Lothíriel because it made sense but because he wanted her.

But he had not merely wanted her; at least not just in his bed. It was not that he had asked her to become his wife because that was the only honourable way he could have a woman like her.

He wanted her as his wife.

His wife.

Until then he had never truly considered the question of what kind of woman he wanted at his side for the rest of his life, wanted to have children with. In times as bad as they had been then, one simply did not think about having a family. It was something which he just kept in the back of his mind for the foreseeable future. He had even expected that he might never have a family of his own.

And when he had became king certain parties in his vicinity had given him barely time to adjust to the situation as such. Almost immediately they had demanded that he find a wife and beget an heir. He had opposed those requests on the grounds that it was hardly the right time to search for a wife while Rohan stood on the brink of disaster and was fighting for its survival. The true reason had been that he hated being pushed, and quite certainly, being pushed in a matter that he considered personal. Although he was conscious of the fact that there was next to nothing personal about a king's life.

Éomer reached for his goblet and took a sip of wine. He grinned to himself. He had to put the blame on his Marshal. It had been Elfhelm who had first mentioned those two words in connection with Lothíriel: wife and queen.

Although he had rejected the idea emphatically then, it had grown roots in his subconscious, very deep and strong roots. And Imrahil had delivered to him all the excuses he had needed on a silver tray. The Prince's offer had given him the opportunity to kill a whole flock of birds with one stone.

Those who had urged him to take a wife and secure the line of succession, and as such the continuation of Rohan's existence, would be satisfied. He would please his friends – mainly Aragorn and Elfhelm – who feared he would become too isolated once Éowyn had left for Gondor. It would salve his sister's guilty conscience; she had halfway persuaded herself that she was selfishly abandoning him and Rohan. He had certainly not wished to affront Imrahil, who – for some reason he still had difficulty understanding – had appeared quite determined to get him to agree to his plan.

But most of all it had provided him with the justification for following those mystifying and powerful emotions that this ethereal looking princess had aroused in him and ignoring his common sense, which was urging him to let reason prevail; trying to convince him that it was not possible to become so completely lost in a feeling for a woman he had met only four times. That this infatuation wouldn't last.

But this had never been about common sense. He had come to realize that the night he had bidden his farewell to the healer he had left something behind. Something essential: his heart.

He just hadn't comprehended at once what had happened, because everything had been coming thick and fast in those days. He hadn't recognized that there was something missing. Not until he had seen her again. Not until he had been forced by her father to decide once and for all if he wanted a life with her at his side or a life without her.

When he received her detached and carefully worded answer to his proposal he had felt thoroughly disappointed. Nothing in that letter had indicated that she might return his feelings in an even rudimentary way. His dismay had caused him to pen a brusque acknowledgement that he regretted having sent almost immediately. But then it had been too late. The messenger had already been halfway to Minas Tirith.

After that he hadn't heard from her again personally. Not that her silence had surprised him. It had been his own fault. He had never felt comfortable composing letters. Words on parchment somehow always took on a different meaning to those you spoke directly to a person. And belatedly he had to admit that his proposal had not been exactly a masterpiece of prose. No wonder she had answered it so cautiously and with so much restraint.

He had found out that she had written instead to Elfhelm. That had more surprised him than it had hurt him. After his Marshal had found them in what was commonly considered a compromising situation, he would have thought Lothíriel too embarrassed to seek out his friend for whatever reason. Sensible, as Elfhelm always was – he certainly could take some lessons there – he had referred the princess to his wife and over the following months the women had been in regular communication. Whenever he had met Cynewyn, she had told him details about their correspondence, had even given him some of the letters to read. He had felt reassured by their contents. The words did not sound as if they had been written with apprehension. The letters bubbled over with curiosity and demands for information about everything concerning life in Rohan.

They just did not enquire after him.

He had pushed that from his mind. To bring Rohan through the winter had demanded his entire strength, body and soul. But many a night he had lain awake and had wished for her to be there with him. He had begun to count the months, the sennights and finally the days until she would come to Rohan. Until he could tell her what he could not write to her. And all the time he had feared that she would come only out of duty.

And when she had finally arrived and he had looked up into those large beguiling eyes he had nearly breathed a sigh of relief. She did not know how to be indifferent. She would never try to fool him about her feelings. She did not know how to play games. In those beautiful fawn eyes there was as much nervousness as he had been feeling. And he had not been wrong. She felt drawn to him; she came into his arms willingly and as naturally as if it had been a long time habit.

If it had been up to him he would have found the time to talk to her, although he had to admit having her so close caused his body to become rather distracted. And from her remarks he had realized that there were several items which needed to be out in the open between them; that she certainly needed more reassurance than him. After all, they had brought her here, to a foreign land, to wed a man she barely knew and who had not been capable of conveying his feelings over all those months.

Why hadn't he said a word in all those months? He wouldn't have reacted so irritably to her question if it hadn't hit him so squarely in his own conscience. He had begun to understand that she had fears of her own, that she was afraid of being only part of a political bargain. That she was just another woman, for a change legitimised so that she would be able to bear the heir.

And he began to understand that Lothíriel would always speak what was on her mind. To hem and haw was not in her nature. Éomer chuckled. How had she survived in Gondorian society where they seemed to communicate among themselves in a sort of code, never voicing what they truly meant?

"And may I ask what that chuckle is about?"

He turned towards Aragorn, looking into his friend's amused face.

"My wife." He liked the sound of those two words.

"Why am I not surprised?" The King of Gondor took his goblet and leant against the back of his chair. "But you have surprised quite a number of people today. I do not think that anybody in attendance at the wedding ceremony was left in any doubt about your feelings for your wife."

"That was the idea," Éomer affirmed. "I just hope Lothíriel caught on as well."

His friend managed a sound somewhere between a snort and a chuckle, looking slightly baffled.

"Well," Éomer began to explain, absentmindedly removing his circlet and putting it next to his empty plate, "if I have already learnt something about my wife, then it is that she prefers straightforward answers to her questions. And believe me, there are plenty of them." He rubbed the mark, which the pressure of the circlet had left on his forehead.

Aragorn watched his gesture with a half hidden grin. "She is young, Éomer. In certain ways very young, much younger than her years."

The King of Rohan stopped massaging his forehead and looked at his friend quizzically.

"Arwen has spent much time with her over the last months and found her intelligent, self-confident when it comes to her profession as a healer and sophisticated in quite a few areas. But Imrahil's precautionary measure of hiding her in the Houses of Healing has left her with a certain lack of experience."

"What sort of experience are we talking about?" Éomer asked, raising one eyebrow in enquiry.

"Her experience in dealing with people in general," Aragorn replied. "Imrahil and his family joined us quite often for the evening meals, with the consequence that they turned out to be very lively. Lothíriel appeared to be interested in virtually everything and is quite well able to draw the right conclusion from the facts. That is when she proved that her head is much older than her years. But she has also a tendency to take many things you say quite literally."

"And you had better take literally what she says." Éomer stared down at the table. He pushed his circlet back and forth as his thoughts wandered back to that night about a year ago. He wasn't able to stifle his laughter and when he looked up he saw that Aragorn was watching him with a smile, both amused and bemused.

"You know," he said to his friend, "I have yet to make up my mind what threw me most off balance that first night I met her; that she slapped me or that she ordered me to take my clothes off and get into a bathtub."

Aragorn stared at him disbelievingly for a moment as if trying to comprehend what he just heard. Then he looked around to find Imrahil standing at the other end of the table, talking to Legolas and Gimli.

"Oh, do not worry," Éomer reassured him. "I am quite certain my newly acquired father-in-law knew much more than he let show. Imrahil of Dol Amroth is a shrewd man who knows how to get what he wants."

"You do not feel manipulated?"

Éomer laughed. "Manipulated? By getting one's deepest wish granted?" He laid his hand on his friend's forearm, the laughter giving way to a more serious expression. "You were right, Aragorn. I need her at my side. I just hope it is also what she needs."

Gondor's King covered the younger man's hand with his own. "May I give you a piece of advice?" he asked, grinning, when he saw a pair of straight eyebrows raised in mock resignation. "Well, I could be your father," he reminded his friend.

"You could be my grandfather," he found himself corrected.

"You know, Éomer, I think your wife has the right idea. You need to be slapped from time to time."

They laughed together.

"Well, what kind of grandfatherly piece of advice do you have to offer?"

"Ask your wife what she wants and what she needs. I am absolutely certain she will give you a straight answer." His eyes locked on something behind Éomer's back. "And you can ask her now."

The King of Rohan turned around and saw the wife of the Marshal of the Eastmark entering the hall from the inside corridor. When Cynewyn caught his eyes, she gave him a quick smile and then went back to her seat, settling down next to her husband.

Éomer did not move for a moment. Then he looked over his shoulder at his friend. "Do you think you can prevent Gimli from giving any more embarrassing toasts at my departure?"

"Perhaps. But why should I?" Éomer found that the King of Gondor must have spent too much time in the company of the male members of the Dol Amroth family. He had already adopted their customary look of deliberate innocence to perfection. "He was deprived of his – and our – fun when your wife left. Which was, of course, quite right. But you should be able to endure it. After all, it is an old custom to bid the groom farewell with all our good wishes accompanying him."

Éomer confined his reply to a noncommittal grunt and got up from his chair. He looked fleetingly over to Gimli who fortunately seemed occupied with carving up a huge ham in front of him. He might escape undetected after all. He had nearly made it to the door when Aragorn called after him, loudly and audibly.

"Éomer!"

He turned around, trying really hard not to grind his teeth.

"You have forgotten something." Aragorn quirked an eyebrow at him, holding up his circlet.

The King of Rohan went back to his friend's seat and snatched the symbol of his rank out of the hand of his Gondorian counterpart. "How long are you going to stay in Edoras?" he asked politely.

"Oh, for several days."

"Good. Then I have enough time to get back at you."

He was determined to keep his promise, especially when he saw Gimli, whose attention had now been drawn, jump up onto his seat and raise his goblet above his head enthusiastically, so that the most of the wine in the vessel slopped over.

"To Éomer King," he boomed. "May his efforts tonight be granted success and the Mark blessed with an heir in . . ." He looked down at Merry. "How long do humans take to breed?" he demanded. Fortunately the Hobbit wasn't quite sure and turned for clarification to his companion. But Pippin was stumped for an answer as well and so the three indulged themselves in a heated discussion about the subject. For some reason, none of them thought it advisable to consult one of the humans in their vicinity.

Éomer decided that this was the right time to make his escape as the attention of most of the celebrating guests was held by the vehement argument which had evolved at the top table.

The next hindrance on his way to his wife showed up in form of his wife's youngest brother. Prince Amrothos leant nonchalantly against the wall next to the door, smiling at him sweetly. A man was not supposed to smile sweetly.

"Lothíriel's most prominent trait is her curiosity," he explained without any introduction. "And she has never been more curious about anything in her life than she is about you… and tonight," he added. Somehow Éomer had this bad feeling there was more to come. "I took the liberty of giving her some pieces of brotherly advice."

"Bema grant me mercy," Éomer muttered in his own tongue. He glared at this pain in the neck he had to call brother from today on. "Tell me, Amrothos. Why do you feel so safe?"

"My sister loves me," came the modest answer.

"That only shows that she still has a lot of experience to gain."

When he had made it into the corridor at last, he exhaled heavily. He was very grateful that this was going to be his only wedding. It was just another nuisance, which came with being a king. Nobody expected a marshal to make such a fuss about something that should have been between him and his wife. But then he had himself chosen to make his relationship with Lothíriel very public by turning his vows into a declaration of his feelings. He only hoped that his wife had truly understood what he was trying to tell her. With Lothíriel you could never be entirely certain. Her brain worked, not only permanently, but also, somehow differently.

He walked down the corridor towards the western corner tower of the Golden Hall where the Royal Chambers were situated. When he passed the outer door of the Queen's Chamber he hesitated. He was tempted to just knock and join Lothíriel right now. He had waited for her long enough. But then again, he could wait a little bit longer and do this properly.

As difficult as he found it, he walked on to the last door in the corridor, the door to the King's Chamber. Entering, his eyes were drawn immediately to the connecting door between the two bedchambers. Behind that door Lothíriel was waiting for him and being so close to finally having her, he couldn't any longer ignore the tug in the vicinity of his groin.

It should have been a rather familiar feeling, a reaction he had known from a certain age at the sight of an attractive female. He had always liked women. He liked their form, their smell, and their feel against him. And women had always liked him.

But this was different. This was beyond anything he had ever experienced before. This tug was much more intense. And it was accompanied by another tug, one in his chest. A tug that came from his heart when he thought about her and one that nearly took his breath away when he looked at her. And it became worse when she looked at him. When she blinked those devastating grey eyes at him, he wondered if some entity had arranged things so that the male stopped thinking clearly when the female looked at them in the way Lothíriel looked at him.

As a way to ensure reproduction and the continuation of his House, it had a lot going for it.

He put his circlet, which he still carried in his hand, on the massively carved table in the centre of the room and began to undo the fastenings of his tunic. He looked at the huge four-poster bed where his robe lay across the dark green covers. In his opinion there wasn't any need for a queen's chamber. This was his bed and he wanted his wife to be in it with him – every night. He had this inkling that as soon as he finally had her in his arms he would have a problem in ever letting her go again.

He would be a hypocrite if he denied the strong physical desire he felt for Lothíriel. When the travelling party from Gondor had arrived two days ago and he had stepped out onto the porch at Aldburg, his eyes had been drawn to her as soon as she had ridden through the gate into the courtyard. Without any warning desire had whipped through him; hot, sweet and urgent. It left him shaken and half-aroused. It would have been ludicrous if it had not been so bloody uncomfortable. He should have been grateful that he had been wearing his armour and that protocol demanded that he greet Aragorn first. It had given him the few moments he needed to compose himself.

And since then those abrupt fiery rushes of passion were coming upon him with increasing frequency. Each time they crashed through him, they seemed stronger. The anticipation growing within him was almost unbearable in its intensity. He would have to make love to her soon. Very soon. It had to be soon or he would go out of his mind.

And he was afraid that she had not the slightest idea what she was doing to him.

He had taken off his festive clothes and put them tidily folded on the bench at the foot end of his bed. He was not necessarily tidy by nature but he had found it much easier to get into his clothing in the mornings, possibly when in a hurry, if he left them in a remotely neat way before he lay down for the night.

He shrugged on the wine coloured robe. Éowyn had had it made for him together with several other pieces of clothing she had felt appropriate for a king. He had never worn it before. Usually he went from his riding clothes into bed and from the bed into his riding clothes. There was no real need for a robe. He tied the belt and looked down at himself. Tonight he was quite grateful for the heavy velvet as it quite effectively covered the evidence of his desire for his wife. He really didn't want to alarm her right away.

He was rather uncertain how much Lothíriel knew about the physical aspect of love. She was a healer and had to know about the different anatomy of the genders. She had shown absolutely no problem in ordering a complete stranger out of his clothes or any reluctance to touch him in a rather intimate fashion to make an examination – thank Bema for that loose linen wrap – but she didn't necessarily make a connection to feelings of desire and lust. In that aspect she seemed to be a complete innocent.

He just prayed that he would do everything right tonight. The last time there had been a virgin in his bed it had been himself. The decision to be celibate after he had agreed to the betrothal had seemed to be the proper thing to do at that point. Apart from the fact that as a king he had, all the time, all eyes on him and therefore little chance to conduct a liaison undetected, he had felt absolutely no desire to bed any other woman. His mind and his body had seemed to be fixated on midnight dark hair, large, grey eyes and a svelte figure. Éothain, who never knew when to shut up, had found it necessary to voice his opinion - that it was rather inconsiderate of him to go without a woman for months and then bed a virgin. Éomer had just thrown him of his study.

He only hoped his friend hadn't been right.

He knocked at the connecting door.

"Enter."

That was not Lothíriel's normal composed voice. Somebody was definitely nervous. He had wondered what it would take to ruffle his bride's . . . his wife's smooth feathers.

He opened the door and stepped into the Queen's Chamber. It was lit only by the fire from the hearth and a couple of candles; one on the stand next to the bed and one on a table where somebody had left a jug of wine and two goblets.

This chamber had not been in use for many decades and had been redone especially for Lothíriel. Not that he thought she would spend a lot of time in here, at least not in that bed on which she sat right now, her legs tucked under her and virtually sitting on her feet.

She looked up at him with her beautiful fawn eyes, and for a moment he felt rather off balance. She wore an expression of dignified insecurity and a long-sleeved, prim white chemise with it. Womanly armour. Did she not know the challenge it presented?

"How do you feel after the day's events?" he asked.

She looked lovely, her glossy hair falling down her back like a mantle made of mink fur. It was a gorgeous mass but they had to do something about it. It would be in the way.

"I am fine," she replied, her voice slightly hoarse. Her frown indicated that she was surprised by it herself.

He went over to the table with the wine. "Would you like something to drink?"

"No, thank you. Wine does not normally agree with me, and I have already had two goblets of mulled wine today." She had managed to force a firm tone back into her voice, but she clenched her hands in her lap and her entire posture could only be described as tense.

Éomer decided that this was probably a good time to start talking. He poured himself some wine, not because he wanted some but to occupy himself with something. He went over to one of the comfortable armchairs in front of the hearth and sat down. Perhaps it was better for the moment to keep some distance between them so she had a chance to get used to the idea that a man – her husband – was in her bedchamber.

She must have read his thoughts. "I have hardly ever been alone with a man before with my dress on," she stated. "With my dress off, it is most unusual."

Éomer chuckled at this attempt of humour. "Are you nervous?" he asked gently.

"Did you think I would not be?" She tried to give her voice an ironic tone.

Éomer smiled in response. "There is nothing to fear."

"Perhaps," she allowed, "but still much to be nervous about. After all, I am doing this for the first time."

His smile broadened. "Yes, I rather expected that."

"Usually, when I am about to try something new, I gather as much information as possible beforehand," she explained. "That was not so easy in this case."

It sounded as if she had done some research. Why wasn't he surprised? He tried to hide his amused grin behind the goblet. "But you do know what is supposed to occur between us tonight?"

"I am aware of the basics of the manoeuvre."

Éomer nearly choked on the sip of wine he had just taken. "You are?"

"It cannot be very much different from what I have observed animals doing," she stated matter-of-factly.

For a moment he just stared. "No, it is not," he finally managed to reply in a half-strangled voice. Bema! Lothíriel and her observations. "At least . . . basically," he added after a second thought.

That sweet little frown above the bridge of her nose appeared. "It does not look very pleasant."

Oh my! Where was this leading? This was not the kind of talk he had in mind. "What . . . kind of animals have you . . . observed?" he asked carefully.

"The common ones, I would think; dogs, horses . . . and giant tortoises."

"Giant tortoises?" He couldn't help it. His voice was a good half octave higher than usual. He coughed and tried again, his voice returning to its usual register this time. "Giant tortoises?" he repeated.

"Do you know what giant tortoises are?"

"I have only a vague idea what they look like as I have never seen one with my own eyes. But I have been told about them."

"My Aunt Ivriniel keeps a couple," she explained. "One female and one male. They are more than one hundred and fifty years old."

If he remembered correctly then 'Aunt' Ivriniel was Imrahil's oldest sister. "Your Aunt Ivriniel keeps a couple of one hundred and fifty years old giant tortoises?"

"Yes. And a boa . . . and some carnivorous plants."

"That sounds . . . strange." What else was he supposed to say?

"She is a bit strange. I mean Aunt Ivriniel," she clarified, "not the boa. That is a 'he' actually. His name is Denethor."

Éomer wondered if he was losing the thread of this conversation. "Denethor? Like the late Steward of Gondor, Faramir's father?"

"The very same. As you probably know, he was husband to my other aunt, Finduilas, and Aunt Ivriniel did not like him."

"A perfectly good reason to name a boa - after a brother-in-law you do not like. How does she know he is male? The boa, not the brother-in-law." He felt he had to make certain that there was no misunderstanding.

"I have no idea. Amrothos just mentioned it in passing."

"Ah, Amrothos." Éomer refrained from rolling his eyes. "That explains a lot. I suppose he is quite close to your aunt?" he couldn't help asking.

"He has always been her favourite."

"As I said: that explains a lot. – And you observed your aunt's giant tortoises . . . mating?"

"Yes, I did. Although not recently. I was eight or nine years old."

"And you remember that occurrence after all these years . . . in detail?"

"Oh yes. It was a rather frightening experience."

"Frightening?" This conversation was taking a rather frightening turn. "How?"

"I thought he was dying. Or at least that he had seriously injured himself."

"He? The male giant tortoise?"

"Yes. He made awful noises."

Éomer took a long ragged breath. "Awful noises?" he echoed.

"That was what drew my attention in the first place; those hoarse roars. And the knocking sound."

"There was a knocking sound as well?" He couldn't believe he was having this conversation on his wedding night.

"From their shells. They were knocking against each other."

"Were they?"

"Yes, he was on top of her or rather on the slant behind her."

Éomer looked at one of his wife's delicate hands with its long slim fingers. She held it out in front of her, indicating a certain angle. If this were not Lothíriel he would have been convinced that she was trying to make a fool of him. But she was perfectly serious – and desperately nervous.

He looked up from her hand and met her gaze. Was it possible that those beautiful eyes could get any bigger? There was the customary double blink. He smiled. "I think I get the idea," he murmured.

"They are not exactly pretty – the giant tortoises," she continued in a pontificating tone. "I mean, the patterns of their shells are rather intriguing, but the heads are . . . I would not call them ugly, but they have this long neck with this dirty grey, wrinkled skin, and these glassy eyes and no nose, just two holes. And a large lipless mouth. And he had it wide open."

"The male giant tortoise?" Éomer asked, not because he needed clarification, but because he thought he just should say something at this point.

"Yes, he had his mouth wide open and made those awful noises."

"And what happened then?"

"I was about to run to the hothouse, where my aunt can usually be found, to fetch her, but on my way I met Erchirion and Amrothos."

"Oh my." That referred to the latter.

"I told them what was happening and Erchirion went to have a look. When he came back he reassured me that it was nothing serious and that the giant tortoise would be perfectly fine after a short while."

"And that was all he said to you?" he asked with all the solemnity he could muster.

"Yes." She gave a single nod.

"Then how did you make the connection between what you had just witnessed and the mating of the species?"

"Amrothos explained it to me later that evening."

"Why did I ask?"

"He explained about the entire subject in general."

"When you were eight or nine years old?" he asked disbelievingly. How old had that bloody brother of hers been at the time? Being a nuisance must have been his primary goal in life from a very early age.

"I did not say that I understood everything." She made a pause and frowned. "Actually, thinking about it, I did not understand anything."

"Has your father ever considered fixing some sort of permanent muzzle on Amrothos?"

When he saw a rather belligerent expression appear on her face he waved off his last remark. It seemed he had to accept that when Lothíriel said that she was fond of her brothers, she meant, particularly, that menace on two legs - never mind that she had cursed him during their wedding ceremony.

"Do you mind if we change the subject?" That came out more irritably than intended, causing one of her blinks.

He looked down at his goblet. He thought it better not to make an attempt to drink any more. You never knew when he might choke in earnest. He got up and took the goblet back to the table. Turning around he looked at his wife who still squatted in the middle of the big bed with her legs tucked under her.

"Lothíriel, may I ask you a question?"

She raised her brows quizzically, but the next moment her face crumpled and she gave a soft groan. "You want to know why I am prattling such utter nonsense the whole time."

He wasn't able to hide his grin. "No, that is not what I was going to enquire after. You are prattling because you are nervous, and I understand that. What I do not understand is: why are you sitting in the middle of the bed – on your feet?"

"Because they are cold."

"Your feet are cold?"

"They have been cold since this morning, even before I stepped out onto the terrace. I chose the wrong shoes with much too thin a sole. And now it feels as if they will never get warm again."

He hesitated a moment. Then he went over to the bed and sat down. "Give me your feet," he ordered gently, patting his thigh.

"What for?"

There was so much suspicion underlining her voice that he had to grin. He looked over his shoulder at her.

"I want to give you a foot rub. The best cure for cold feet. Ask any rider who comes in after long ride in the middle of the winter, having lost all feeling in his feet. It works miracles."

"Oh." She seemed to consider that.

But then, quite abruptly, she unfolded from her squatting position, plopped down next to him on the edge of the bed and swung both her feet without prior warning into his lap. That did very little to help the rather urgent state of his groin. Éomer breathed in deeply through his nose and pushed her feet carefully slightly further southwards.

"Are they so cold you can feel it even through the thick velvet of your robe?" Lothíriel enquired into his reaction.

He swallowed and looked down. She had small delicate ankles and beautiful arched feet, he noticed. He took one between his hands and began to rub it gently. It earned him a giggle. The toes curled.

"That tickles. You have to grip it more firmly," she advised.

Not only her feet were cold but her lower leg up to her knees. Éomer massaged and rubbed her feet and her calves and she obviously seemed to enjoy it. She leant back on the bed, propping herself up on her elbows, looking relaxed for the first time since he had come to her chamber. Her position caused her thin linen chemise to cling to her breasts; lovely breasts, firm and well defined. He remembered perfectly well how they had felt in his hands and his body tightened further at the memory. He wondered if it would make any difference if they put off talking until tomorrow.

She recognized his gaze and she recognized where it was directed. A blush coloured her cheeks and averting her eyes, she let her shoulders roll awkwardly slightly forward.

Éomer put both her feet on his thigh and covered them with his hand. "Better now?" he asked.

The answer was only a jerky nodding. But then she cleared her throat. "Yes, thank you. Much better."

"Perhaps you should put them under the quilt before they get cold again," he suggested, watching her for her reaction.

He saw her swallow and take a couple of deep breaths. Then she looked up straight into his eyes. "Perhaps it is time to retire. We both should go to bed."

"Yes, I think it is time." He looked at the cascade of dark hair falling down her back. "Do you usually wear it unfastened at night?"

"No, I braid it to a loose plait."

"Turn around," he ordered her again.

"You are going to braid my hair?" she asked surprised, a half-smile on her lips. "You know how to do it?"

"Of course I do," he answered with deliberate indignation. "I do braid my own hair from time to time - and that of my horse."

"Of course," she replied ironically. With the same kind of quick and elegant movement which had surprised him when she put her feet into his lap, she turned her back to him keeping her feet on the bed.

Éomer ran his fingers through the glossy mass. It was heavy and silky and perfectly straight. Letting it slide between his fingers was definitely a very sensual feeling. He separated it into three strands and braided them to a loose plait which started at the level of her shoulder blades. He certainly wouldn't mind caring for his wife's hair more often in the future. When he had finished he put the plait over her shoulder so that it fell over her breast. He bent forward pressing his lips lightly against the back of her head, savouring the faint smell of her hair. Almond and honey.

"I will put some more wood on the fire," he said in a low tone. He felt her nodding.

Éomer got up, walked over to the table with the wine and blew out the candle. He took some logs from the pile of wood next to the hearth and put them onto the fire, stirring it with the poker. It could still get very cold over night. Not that he needed the additional warmth, but Lothíriel was certainly not used to the colder temperatures of the north. She would need sturdier shoes around Meduseld.

Turning around he saw that she had moved across the bed to its other side but was still sitting on top of the cover eying him with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation. Bema, he'd never made love to a virgin before and, without anything else, trying not to rush things was something of a challenge. But there was no point in putting off the inevitable. He walked over to the bed and blew out the other candle. Now the only light in the chamber came from the fire – which he had just stirred and which was flickering quite brightly.

He untied the belt of his robe and slipped it off, hanging it on a hook nearby, waiting for whatever there was about to happen. He heard a raspy sound coming from Lothíriel. Looking at her, he saw that her eyes were wide, her lips parted. She gazed at his arousal with what had to be considered a rather alarmed expression. He couldn't help it, but it looked quite comical. He had to dispel a grin from his lips.

"How did that happen? I mean . . . Why?"

"Why?" How could he have expected that anything involving Lothíriel would turn out the way he . . . well, the way he would have expected it. "My dear wife, you said you knew the basics."

"But we have not done anything yet! I have not done anything," she stressed with some emphasis. "And certainly not to . . ." She waved her hand vaguely in direction of Éomer's groin.

Éomer managed to fight back the laughter that threatened to explode from him. He really couldn't take any more. She was so bloody innocent. "Lothíriel, I thought you, as a healer . . ."

"Yes," she interrupted, "but that," again the elegant wave, "is not what I would have expected."

Éomer took a slow calming breath. He had heard that phrase before. "I know I am going to regret asking you this. In fact, I regret it already, but what exactly did you expect?"

"I thought it would just get . . . stiff, not bigger! Now I understand why those animals did not look as if they were enjoying the mating. At least not the female ones."

That finally did it. Éomer let himself fall forward onto the bed and buried his face into the pillow, his shoulders shaking with laughter. After a short while he felt one of his wife's slim fingers poking into his side.

"Cease laughing," she demanded, indignation dripping from her voice. "Or at least, get your face out of that pillow before you suffocate," she added pragmatically.

She had a point. Breathing had become difficult. He raised his head, already red in the face and barely succeeding in suppressing the laughter still rumbling in his belly. Lothíriel lay on her side, bracing herself on an elbow, knees slightly bent, hips curved in graceful, seductive lines. She looked utterly desirable and ready to punch him. More than twelve years experience with all kind of women, even a lifelong experience with Éowyn, hadn't been able to prepare him for Imrahil's daughter.

"Are you laughing at me?" she demanded.

He shook his head, not trusting his voice.

"Then what are you laughing about?"

He took a deep breath. "You have a lot to learn."

"I am the last one who would dispute that. But it seemed that nobody wanted me to learn about it. Everybody – even Amrothos – dropped only hints. Nobody was willing to give me a straight answer. Carnal gratification! What am I supposed to understand by that? Wait until your husband illuminates you. And what is my husband doing? Laughing his head off and telling me I have a lot to learn. Well, teach me!"

She looked so beautiful in her outrage that Éomer wouldn't have minded if she had gone on with her tirade. On the other hand, her unequivocal request happened to tally with his own desire quite closely and he saw no reason not to comply with it.

As a precaution he stayed on his stomach when he stretched out his hand and wrapped it gently around the nape of her neck. Slowly he pulled her closer. She didn't really resist, but he had to put a bit of pressure against her neck. When their lips where only a mere finger's breadth apart, he murmured,

"There is nothing in the world I would love more than to teach you . . . whatever you wish to know . . . about making love."

He covered her mouth with his own. And the rush hit him. Just as hard and fast as it had all those months ago. Without any warning he rolled her onto her back and came down on top of her, bracing his weight on his elbows. He shoved his fingers through her hair and clamped her head very gently between his palms.

"What do you think you are doing?" she asked suspiciously, pressing her back deeper into the mattress.

"I think we should begin our lessons with you learning about the difference between a man and a turtle." He lowered his head and brushed his lips across hers.

"Giant tortoise," Lothíriel corrected, her voice coming muffled from underneath his kiss.

He smiled against her lips. "Whatever," he whispered. "I promise you will find that there is quite a big difference."

He kissed her again, slowly. This kiss was light and questioning; the next one was firm and questioning. She still held herself rigid, but there was a fine trembling in her body that told him of her gathering excitement. He could not recall the last time a woman had shivered in his arms like that. He realized his own hands were not completely steady. He gathered her closer and ran his palm down the length of her side, sculpting those delicate curves he remembered so well.

"You are so slender," he said, raising his head to look down at her. "I feel as if I could break you in half if I was not careful."

Lothíriel gazed up to him, swallowing hard. "Then you will have to be very careful, will you not?"

"You have my word on it. I will be very careful with you. Just trust me, my sweet. Let go of all your fear and trust me."

"I do not fear you."

"You have no reason to. You never will. Do you trust me?"

He could see the, now so familiar, frown over the bridge of her nose which meant that she was seriously considering his question.

"Yes, I do, and I do not think that I will ever have a reason not to trust you."

"No, you never will have. I will always cherish you and I will do my best to keep you safe."

His fingers moved slightly on her throat, pushing aside the silky strands of her dark hair. He leaned close again and kissed that particularly sensitive spot directly behind her right ear. He was rewarded by a soft moan. She took such a deep breath that he could feel it as a breeze on his cheek and then she timidly touched his jaw. He turned his head and his beard rubbed over the vulnerable skin on the inside of her wrist. Her fingers trembled. Éomer smiled again when he felt those tremors going through her.

He drew his forefinger down the curve of her neck. She lifted her face up to his; her whole body seemed to follow his on its own accord, arching against him rather involuntarily. He bent his head again and took her mouth, kissing her with a slow inviting passion. Another one of her soft moans escaped the depth of her throat. When he opened his own mouth and invited her inside she hesitated. But then he sensed how her curiosity overcame her just before her tongue touched his. She tasted him cautiously.

One of his hands tightened tenderly on the nape of her neck, the other went to the drawstring of her chemise, pulling it open; his fingers slid over her collarbone and then slid deeper taking the garment with them. Gently his hand curved around her breast. She tensed and her breath quickened.

"Relax, my sweet. I am not going to rush you." Éomer raised his head slightly to look at her. "We have got all night."

He gazed down into those huge grey eyes, which were now dark and bottomless. He felt her move beneath him, but couldn't have said if she was trying to get away or to get closer. He waited for a sign from her.

"Éomer." She shivered and her hands brushed over his sides, over chest and to his shoulders. "Kiss me." Her voice was a mere breath. He guessed the meaning of those two words more than he actually heard them.

"Kiss me," he countered.

She looked slightly startled, but with only a heartbeat of hesitation her hands began to move slowly from his shoulders up his neck to the back of his head, her fingers spearing through his thick hair, her eyes never leaving his. She tugged at his hair, drawing him down but at the same time lifting her face up so that their lips met.

He kissed her once more, using everything he had to seduce her into response. He was not sure what he expected but he knew what he wanted. When she melted in his arms and tightened her hold on his neck, kissing him back with unfeigned and inexperienced passion, it would have been pure triumph he felt, had it not been tempered by the sheer enormousness of his sense of relief. Until this moment he had not even realized how badly he had needed her response, needed her to mirror his desire.

He felt her hands leave his hair, felt her stretch beneath him. Reluctantly his mouth separated from her lips and he propped himself up on one of his elbows to look at her. She had both arms extended above her head.

"Take it off," she whispered. When he didn't responded immediately her tongue soothed nervously over her lower lips. "I want to be closer."

He smiled, pushing himself up above her on his knees. She kept her eyes on his face. He gathered her chemise in his fists, slowly raising the hem to her calves, to her thighs. She lifted her hips slightly and it slid past her bottom and on upwards. Her body arched and curved in unconscious sensuality to assist him. Éomer lifted the thin linen further, gathering it in his fingers as he went, slowly and steadily uncovering her waist, her breasts, her shoulders and drawing it over her head and arms to cast it aside.

For a moment he didn't touch her with anything but his eyes, memorizing her and sculpting her in his mind.

"You are staring," she whispered, as breathless as if she had been running.

"I am admiring," he corrected. "You had an advantage over me. You saw much more of me than I had ever had the chance to see of you."

She understood what he was referring to. Her blush spread not only over her cheeks, but further down her neck and over her breasts. She was so lovely, so utterly beautiful and he felt a rather strange and primitive sense of satisfaction, that no other man would ever see her like this.

She smiled tremulously. "I may have seen more, but not everything. Do you remember? You sat on one part."

"There will be no more secrets between us."

Her eyes slid down his body and coming to rest on his groin, she swallowed convulsively. He caught a flash of anxiety in her eyes. He smiled gently. "Trust me, my sweet," he murmured. "There is nothing to worry about. This is not about mating." He lowered himself down beside her and took her into his arms, nestling her against him. "I am going to make love to you."

They lay on their sides, facing each other. His fingers lightly traced the delicate indentation of her spine, settling at the small of her back, pulling her closer to him. Her breathing increased and he could feel the breezes of her gasps against his lips.

"Éomer," she whispered. She touched the side of his face, her thumb brushing the corner of his mouth. "I love you."

He stared at her for a long moment, his eyes locking with hers until he felt they must be one person. And then the strangest thing happened. Laughter bubbled up inside him. He was overtaken by the pure joy of the moment.

"I hoped that you would," he said, fighting against those waves of laughter. "I have hoped for it more than for anything else in my life."

Lothíriel looked at him with her large eyes, in equal parts confused and amused. There was a lot they needed to say to each, but not now. Now was the time to make love. When she parted her lips to speak, Éomer took her mouth with heated passion. But almost immediately he altered the kiss, made it less demanding, more coaxing and intimate, probing and persuasive.

She gave one of those soft, husky sounds that told him of her own desire and set his senses vibrating. Like its echo he groaned deeply. He wanted her so much that it virtually hurt. He had promised himself that when this moment came he would take his time and savour the experience. He knew the risk of rushing things. But the unprecedented hunger was an ungovernable force that threatened to overwhelm his will.

He rolled onto his back and took her with him. His arms closed around Lothíriel and he pulled her across his chest. He slid his fingers into her dark hair, catching her face between his hands and bringing her mouth down to his. She returned his kiss with a sweet urgency that made the blood in his veins pound. His fingers in her hair tightened.

"This is going to be good," he said in a hoarse tone of voice, not moving his lips from her mouth. "I promise."

FINI


I think this is the right moment to let our favourite couple have some privacy. Learning - especially particular lessons - is much easier when you are not under constant surveillance. But don't worry. We shall be back in the morning.

But not in twenty four hours, I'm afraid, but in about two months. I will be a bit busy over the coming weeks with my exams, but after I've gotten through with them – however successfully – there will be another story directly following this one.

Over the last weeks several of you have complimented me on my English. Let me put it this way: without the support of Lady Bluejay I would have never dared to put any of those stories online. She has been a great help and her own stories a wonderful inspiration.

And should you miss our Horselords, check out Katzilla's Rohirrim Camp at the new Forums; the place for anything Rohirric.