Flying Free

A/N: First off, this story HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH THE ELFWINE CHRONICLES. Just so you know. Actually, it is yet another version of how Eomer and Lothiriel met. This makes, what, four or five versions for me, plus all the versions by other folks – anybody want to try channeling Tolkien and find out which one is the truth? Surely, one of us has guessed right! Ah well, onto the story.

This started out as an adjunct to my story "Alone", seeing the same situation from Lothiriel's POV (some of you had mentioned curiosity about that), but then it swung off in a different direction and this is the result. So, you may recognize some elements here that are similar to that story. Except for Eomer's dream and the way they are introduced being different, this could pretty much be a continuation of that story. I'm using all the same backstory that I outlined there.

Also, I'm doing something a little different here. Before, I was using xxxxx to separate sections (a jump in the story). I still do that here, but you will also find xx, which is meant to be a mini-break within the main sections. The reason for that is the switch from seeing what's going on at Point A, then looking at Point B, and then back to Point A. Not a lot of actual time (or a jump) is taking place, you are just getting to see a larger picture as you go along (sort of "meanwhile, back at the palace…" type of thing). Hope that makes sense.

Chapter 1

Dol Amroth, March 3020

Lothiriel awoke to the sound of gulls crying outside her window, as the sun was just beginning to peek over the horizon. As usual, the fishermen were up and around early, and the gulls did not miss any opportunity for easy food when it came their way.

She yawned and stretched, contemplating trying to sleep for another hour, but finally decided she was too awake for it to be likely she could drift off. Sitting up, she reached for a robe. The spring weather still brought cool mornings, even though she knew it would warm considerably as the day progressed.

Not bothering to call her maidservant, she brushed out her hair, leaving it hanging loose, and quickly donned a linen dress of a seafoam green color with dark green trim. Eyeing herself in the looking glass, she ran her hands down over the skirt of the dress. Though it was an attractive gown, it was more practical than showy. She would need to begin thinking differently now that the War was over.

While her father and two of her brothers rode off to do their part in the battle, she and her eldest brother, Elphir, had remained in Dol Amroth, to rule the city and provide whatever defense they could along the coast. There had been much work then, and Lothiriel had readily pitched in and done whatever she could to aid her brother. Additionally, they were not isolated from danger and the House of Healing was in continual need of hands to help with injured men. She had stepped forward there, as well, learning as she went and becoming quite skilled in herbal treatments.

Now, with the war ended, she was expected to return to the rather leisurely life of a noblewoman. Her daily tasks would include dressing elegantly so as to impress any visitors her father or brothers might have, run the Prince's household in her deceased mother's stead, and pursue the womanly domestic arts of embroidery and crafts. How very dull it all seemed.

She sighed deeply. It had felt good to truly be useful during wartime and she was finding it difficult to return to such a vacuous life. But it was the sort of life she was expected to live as the daughter of a Prince...and eventually as the wife of a nobleman. She knew her father was already considering likely suitors for her. Her status as the daughter of a Prince, and an attractive one at that, made her a desirable companion for many men. All that remained was to find one who was both suitable and would provide sufficient reason for an alliance. She was not expected to love the man, though of course it was hoped in time she would come to care for him, and she accepted that it was her duty to form a marriage alliance that would be beneficial to her people. Still, she would wish to find love as well, as her cousin Faramir had.

Another sigh escaped her. She had finally had an opportunity to meet Faramir's wife, and found her a bit intimidating. The women of Rohan, if Eowyn was representative, seemed very strongminded and capable. In many ways, Lothiriel envied her that. How she would love to have the nerve to kick over the traces now and then, and do exactly as she wished! But she had been too well schooled in decorum and proper courtly behavior. She knew she would never dare act in such a way.

Thoughts of Eowyn drew her mind to the girl's brother, Eomer, who was now king of Rohan. Her father and brothers had spoken much of him since their return after the War, and again after they came back from attending Faramir's wedding to his sister. She had intended to accompany them to the latter, indeed had looked forward to the trip to Minas Tirith, but Elphir's wife gave signs that her travail was imminent, and she had reluctantly volunteered to remain and assist however she could. As a result, she had never met this king so much spoken of in her family. For that matter, she had not yet had a chance to meet her own new king, Elessar.

A fortnight ago her father had announced that Eomer would be coming to visit, and then the two of them were to travel to Minas Tirith via Emyn Arnen. Lothiriel had begged permission to accompany them, anxious to get to the city once more. She had begun to feel very isolated and out of touch with all that was happening, and hoped such an outing would bring her back into the stream of life in Gondor. So much had changed since Sauron's defeat, and she had never had a chance to properly enjoy it yet.

Pulling her mind back to the here and now, she remembered that King Eomer was due to arrive today. If she wanted any time to herself, she had best get moving. Once his royal party arrived, she would be trapped into preparations for the welcoming celebration, and seeing him settled and entertained. King Eomer. For a time, with all Imrahil said, she had wondered if her father would choose to arrange a marriage alliance with Rohan. That subject had never come up, however, and she was a little relieved. Apparently her father was no more desirous of having her live so far away than she was to do so. Whomever she married, she hoped she could dwell near to her family all of her days.

Taking a shawl to wrap around her, she moved toward the door and made her way through the empty halls to the garden. In less than an hour, the place would be bustling with servants and couriers, but for the moment she could enjoy the quiet and solitude of her home. She slipped out into the early dawn sunlight, though the palace still blocked much of the sun's rays and kept the garden in cool shadow. Shivering slightly, but enjoying the brisk sea air, she moved among the shrubs that were slowly unfolding new green foliage. Many of her bulbs had broken the ground and were now beginning to put forth greenery in preparation for flowering. Smiling happily to herself, she snugged her shawl closer around her. Spring was a lovely time of year, made all the better for the absence of Mordor's darkness.

A sound to her right caught her unaware, and when she turned she was amazed to find a strange man in the garden. Cautiously, she turned to face him, uncertain what threat he might be.

For several moments, the two just stared at one another, but then he gave her a small smile, apparently realizing she was suspicious of him. "I am sorry. I did not mean to startle you. I did not think anyone else would be up just yet, but I have always been an early riser."

Lothiriel's eyes narrowed; he sounded like he thought he belonged in the Prince's garden. "Who are you?" she asked cautiously. His clothes were non-descript – breeches and linen shirt. He did not even wear a tunic, but still seemed oblivious to the chill in the morning air.

The man smiled apologetically, "Forgive me, I forget my manners sometimes. I am Eomer. I am here visiting...your father?" He hazarded a guess as to who he might be addressing. "Are you, perhaps, Lothiriel?"

Eomer...the king of Rohan? She was surprised by his informality. He did not even mention his title, though looking at him she would have been more likely to guess he was the king's bodyguard than the king himself. The man was powerfully built and appeared more like one of the soldiers in the Swan Knights than a royal personage on a state visit.

Realizing she had become lost in her musings and not responded, she nodded, "Yes. I am Lothiriel. It is a pleasure to meet you, my lord. I did not think you were expected to arrive until today." Without even thinking, she dropped into a curtsy.

Eomer's face reflected his dismay at her response. With a somewhat pleading tone, he asked, "Please, can we not dispense with the formalities when we are out of the public eye? I am weary of all the bowing and scraping and 'my lording' I receive." He gave a her a rueful, entreating look.

Against her will, she smiled and nodded, a slight blush tinging her cheeks. "Of course, my...Eomer. You must understand that old habits die hard. You will forgive me if I slip up and fawn over you?"

His laughter was deep and resonating. "Yes, I will forgive a few minor slip-ups, but do try to avoid them if you possibly can!" He paused and then asked hesitantly, "May I...call you Lothiriel?"

She smiled with pleasure, "You may. Indeed, my father and brothers have spoken of you so often, I feel as though I should already know you. I am happy to finally make your acquaintance. What brings you to our shores? Father said only that you would be visiting."

Eomer turned and walked to a low wall around the garden, his hands clasped behind him. Turning to look at her over his left shoulder, he quirked an eyebrow skyward, "Would you know the truth or the official reason for my visit?"

Intrigued, she moved up beside him and responded, "Both!"

Grinning, he told her, "The official reason is to begin negotiations for trade routes. The true reason, though, is escape." At the final word, his countenance sobered and he fell into his own thoughts.

She watched the expressions playing over his face and wondered what a king would need to escape from. But even as she thought it, she could guess the answer. Her father was a consummate diplomat, but after being away at war for many months, he had chafed upon his return, finding it difficult to settle back into the daily routine of meetings, paperwork and obsequious advisers. This man beside her belonged outdoors, under the sun and physically active. She could not envision him happily seated behind a desk for hours and days on end.

Lothiriel looked away, out across the sea spread below them. Perhaps she was not the only one trapped in an existence not of her choosing and preference. After several moments, she looked up at him appraisingly and asked, "Have you ever been to the sea before, Eomer?"

He pulled himself from his reverie and shook his head. With a smile, she took his arm and steered him toward some stairs that led down to the family's private beach. "Then let me introduce you to life outside your prison walls!" she teased.

A surprised furrow appeared between his brows, but then smoothed as a pleased grin formed on his face. "Do we not need an escort of guards? Shall I be safe from attack, do you think?" he asked mockingly.

With a laugh, she solemnly nodded, "Quite safe! You are only in danger of enjoying yourself. I would not think you would want protection from that!"

xxxxx

Imrahil and his sons glanced up as King Eomer entered the dining hall, looking a bit windblown, but surprisingly cheerful. "Good morning, Eomer. I hope you slept well. I did not think to see you quite this early," Imrahil greeted him.

"It is difficult to change one's habits. My eored was always up and moving early, and I have not yet shaken the tendency to be awake at the first rising of the sun," the king explained.

Just then, Lothiriel entered the dining chamber also, and while Erchirion moved to hold her chair for her, Imrahil hastened to make introductions. "At last you get to meet my daughter, Eomer. This is Lothiriel."

Eomer grinned at her, and informed her father, "On the contrary, my friend. The lady and I have already met, walked along the beach and had a lengthy conversation about Rohan. Her curiosity about my country seems boundless."

Imrahil's brow shot up in surprise. "Lothiriel? How did all this come about?"

Lothiriel smiled reassuringly at her father, answering, "As it happened, King Eomer was not the only early riser this morning and I encountered him in the garden. Since he had never visited the sea before, I took him down to the beach for a walk and I fear I overwhelmed him with my questions. It is fortunate he does not seem to object to speaking of his homeland, particularly since I still have many questions not yet asked."

Eomer chuckled, "I would be happy to do all I can to satisfy your curiosity on the matter. Though perhaps a better option might be to persuade your father to bring you to Rohan on a visit. His time spent there was not intended for pleasure, and I should very much like to entertain all of you at Edoras."

Talk moved on to other matters, and once the meal concluded, Imrahil and his sons departed with Eomer while Lothiriel made ready the palace for the welcoming feast that evening. Apparently Eomer had stressed to the Prince that he preferred keeping his visit to Dol Amroth low key, so Imrahil had only invited a few of the local nobility to meet the king and the supper was to be far less formal than otherwise would have been the case.

For that, Lothiriel was relieved. She always found formal state suppers to be rather tedious. The threat of war had dampened things in recent years, but ever since their victory the noblemen had readily reverted to their usual affected behavior of self-importance. After spending more than an hour with Eomer this morning, Lothiriel rather wondered how he fared in such an atmosphere. He seemed quite straightforward and to the point, and she could not imagine him to be very tolerant of all this false posturing. Perhaps things were different in the royal court of Rohan than they were in Gondor.

With only a few couples to be in attendance, music would be provided as a background, but there would be no dancing. That simplified matters considerably. Undoubtedly, once the supper was concluded, the men would engage in some form of political debate, and it would be Lothiriel's task to lead the ladies to the parlor and provide them with wine and the opportunity to gossip. Considering the good looks and marital status of Rohan's king, she could readily guess what the main topic of conversation would be tonight. Many of the women who would be in attendance had daughters of a marriageable age, and they would be anxious to find a way to make introductions and ingratiate themselves to Eomer.

By the middle of the afternoon, her head was aching as she fretted about all the details of the evening. A servant went to fetch her some tea, in hopes that it would help, as she settled at a writing desk to review her plans. In truth, she suspected her efforts would be more appreciated by her father and the nobles of Dol Amroth than by Rohan's king.

The man she had met this morning did not seem likely to care overly much about seating arrangements and keeping guests happy and amused. He seemed a practical man, who would rather expect his guests to be responsible for their own enjoyment of the occasion so long as he provided food and an excuse to gather. The thought made her smile in amusement. Gondor, and Dol Amroth as well, would be horrified at so casual an attitude toward such assemblies. They took their socializing far too seriously to leave anything to chance!

With a sigh, she sipped the hot tea the servant had brought and rose to give a few final instructions. There still was time to lie down for an hour before she had to dress, and between a nap and the tea, hopefully the headache would be gone before she must face her guests.

xxxxx

As Eomer stepped into the parlor, and all eyes turned toward him, he felt his entire body tense. He knew Imrahil meant well by this gathering, and he had kept it small and probably about as informal as Dol Amroth got, but still he would much have preferred just a quiet supper with Imrahil's family. He had learned there would be no dancing, which was something of a mixed blessing. Not having to dance with every eligible woman in the room was a good thing, but he also would not have the opportunity to use Lothiriel as an escape when the conversation got too tedious. He had often made use of Eowyn in that way, catching her eye and claiming a dance as he apologetically slipped away from some windbag who was droning on endlessly about anything and everything. He suspected Lothiriel would have readily fallen in with his plans and aided him however she could, but that avenue was not going to be available to him. The only thing working in his favor was that Gondor had a strict code of behavior that required the guests to leave at some defined point, rather than lingering until they passed out from drink as often occurred in Rohan.

A servant was passing with a tray of wine goblets and Eomer procured one, taking a large gulp and then a deep breath as he plastered on a smile and began his dutiful greeting of the assemblage. The longer the socializing went on, the more he realized how hungry he was, and he sincerely hoped his stomach would not embarrass him with some rude sound. To his relief, a few moments later the guests were summoned to the table, and were being shown to their seats. Apparently there was a rather rigid arrangement to the seating, even at 'informal' gatherings, and he watched the protocol dance unfolding before him until a hand touched his arm.

Glancing down, he found Lothiriel at his elbow. "This way, my lord," she said quietly, her right hand motioning in the direction she wished him to go. Though her face was impassive and a slight smile graced her lips, it was the look in her eyes that caught his notice. He had the distinct impression she knew his reaction to all of this, and found it quite amusing.

He suspected the evening would be far more pleasant if he were able to sit and talk with the lady, but to his disappointment, she took a seat several chairs down the table from where he sat. However, he had been placed at the head of the table, with Imrahil on one side and Elphir on the other. That did provide something of a cushion against the nobles who were no doubt eager to catch his ear. Imrahil was flanked on his left by Erchirion and Amrothos, while Elphir was seated next to his wife and then Lothiriel next to her. Elphir's infant had been colicky earlier so this was the first opportunity Eomer had had to meet his wife.

The night unfolded pretty much as both Eomer and Lothiriel had expected it would in each of their respective cases. Eomer was soon bored with the constant chatter about political and economic matters, and Lothiriel's hunch had proven correct about the subject of gossip in the ladies' group. A couple of times she had to choke back her laughter at some of the women. Several made unguarded comments which hinted more than a little that rather than secure the king for their daughters, they wouldn't mind having him for themselves! While she could sympathize with their admiration for his physical looks, she very much wondered if they would find life in Rohan nearly so appealing as they found the king. From what Eomer had told her earlier about his homeland, things were far different there. These ladies were used to living lives of leisure and excess. Rohan seemed to be a more practical and simple place, where even royal women contributed their efforts in getting things done. Life to the north appeared decidedly dissimilar to anything with which Gondor was familiar.

As Eomer had noted, at a certain point there seemed to be an almost unspoken agreement to end the evening. He was not entirely clear how it was accomplished, but he didn't really care either. Just so long as the people left and he could relax, things would be fine.

Imrahil and two of his sons gathered for a nightcap, and Eomer joined them. Elphir, his wife Alcathir and Lothiriel all excused themselves and headed off to bed, and Eomer's eyes followed Lothiriel as she climbed the stairs. When she was out of sight, he moved to join his hosts.

Amrothos handed him a goblet of wine as Imrahil told him, "Not the most enjoyable of evenings for you, I am sure, Eomer, but I hope not too tedious. And it was necessary to set the wheels in motion for you with regard to the trade agreements. These men were the ones you will most likely need to interact with in that regard. However, with our departure in a sennight, this should be the only official gathering you will have to endure. Now you may turn your attention to rest and relaxation."

"Hear, hear!" Erchirion seconded, and the four of them laughed together.