Chapter 34 – The Rules
As they walked in silence through the well-lit corridors to Éomer's room, Lothíriel heard Glorfindel's wholehearted laugh and the soft, mildly ironic voice of her father, colored by the lilt of the Elvish spoken in her native coastal area. She had tired recently to soften her own regional accent, while Imrahil flaunted his like a badge of honor. Another proof she thought of how young and stupid, unsure of herself that she could be.
"Ah, there you are," Imrahil said as they rounded the last corner. "Faramir claimed he could find you. Thank you, Faramir." He then bowed to Elladan. "Lord Elladan, you created quite a stir leaving the tournament when you did. Technically you were the champion, but your brother kept insisting, with passion, until we finally accepted his word, that you had verbally withdrawn as you left the field to follow King Éomer to the Houses of Healing."
"I did. Well, I certainly meant to," Elladan said, stopping in the antechamber to Éomer's room. "I am almost sure I said so. I can't exactly recall my words . . . "
At that moment, Éowyn emerged from Éomer's room. "Lord Elladan is right. I heard him," she said in her sweetest and most feminine voice, one that Lothíriel had learned almost always meant trouble. "I clearly recall his exact words as he walked by the judges' table. He said, 'Sod this bloody tournament. I want nothing more to do with it. I am finished here.'" Éowyn did know how to cut through tension, or raise it, depending upon her mood.
Elladan stopped in his tracks and turned to her. Smirking, he said, "Excellent, my lady. I hoped I had made myself clear, but wasn't sure I had enough of my wits about me to carry through. Excellent. That means Éomer is your tourney champion. Small payment for a busted head . . . "
"Except, of course, he would never accept a championship by default," Éowyn said laughing. "A rider of the Rohirrim especially could never claim a tournament prize when he had ended unhorsed in the dirt."
"Well, then," Elladan said. "I suppose my brother the King will have to decide."
It made Lothíriel happy to see her father laugh as he watched Elladan and Éowyn, each so cocky and confident, ribbing one another. "Our beneficent King Elessar wasted no time in doing exactly that," Imrahil said. "He awarded the purse to the Rohirrim to help rebuild the Eastfold, which has been so devastated by the war."
"That is generous and sorely needed," Éowyn said, turning serious. "Éomer cannot refuse that."
"Clever too," Lothíriel added. "Not only will the aid to the Eastfold ease suffering for its outlying homesteads and villages throughout the coming winter, but it will stimulate the economy of Anórien, which, in turn, will speed the recovery of both Rohan and Gondor over the next period."
Elladan grinned at her with a small nod. She appreciated his approval, despite still feeling more like a star pupil showing off than an equal in the discussion. If she and Éomer could get beyond their problems, she would prove herself in the future.
"Well put, darling," said Imrahil, ever the supportive father. "Aragorn also said that the judges may consider any reasonable claims to the title of champion and rule on it at their leisure. Although, no one put themselves forward on field. Erestor relinquished his position to the young and valiant riders of Dol Amroth and Rohan. In light of that, I suppose, if Éomer refuses, my own son might have a claim to it."
"Heh," snorted Lothíriel. "I am surprised Erchirion has not raised the matter already. No one could ever accuse my brother of an overdeveloped sense of honor."
"Shame on you," her father scolded. "Even in jest that is nearly treasonous talk. Don't let any of the Swan Knights hear you say such a thing." Looking around at the company, he said, "Sibling rivalries die hard." He put an arm around her shoulders, pulling her close to him and kissing her on the temple. "You looked tired and bedraggled, little one. I think your betrothed is waiting to speak to you. You should take care of that quickly before you collapse. I'll wait for you if you like."
"No, no, please do not. I may want to stay awhile," she said. She intended to spend the night, unless Elrond forbade it.
"Then we can we talk tomorrow, sweetheart. I am happy to have another day with you before you leave. We've barely had any time together since you returned from your last trip. One might get the impression that you have been avoiding me."
"Nonsense, Ada! You have been busy with business of the realm." A slow flush crept up her face, betraying her.
Imrahil arched an eyebrow. "That has never stopped you before. I can tell when you are hiding something. But never mind that. I have secrets too, including a huge one that I am long overdue to share with you. So, will I see you for a late breakfast? You may bring Éomer with you if you wish. What I must tell you will concern him as well."
A swift spike of fear pierced her. "Yes, ada," she said in a pathetic bleat, lowering her eyes with a sinking heart, much to her embarrassment.
Her father responded quickly to relieve her. "It is nothing bad. Quite the contrary." He kissed her on the forehead. "Until tomorrow, sweet girl. Do not stay up all night. The point of a day's delay is that Éomer may be rested for the trip."
"Shall we?" asked Elladan, gesturing in the direction of Éomer's room, after Imrahil had bade everyone good evening and left.
"All right," Lothíriel said with a shrug. I'd rather be flogged, she thought.
"Don't you want to get rid of the rest of that armor first?" called Glorfindel, a hint of the old master of arms in his disapproving tone.
Elrond looked up from stroking his chin and studying the chessboard with a furrowed brow. "Don't bother with him. Elladan likes to milk every drop of misery out of a situation before letting it go. Don't you, son?"
His father's words won a reluctant smirk from Elladan. "That is what you always say." She hated how her heart flipped over in her chest at every one of Elladan's smiles, smirks, or remembered mannerisms.
Lothíriel knew Éomer's room as well as she knew the back of her hand. She had spent untold hours in it the previous spring when it had belonged to Faramir, with Faramir, and with Faramir and Éowyn as an unofficial chaperone. Faramir's beautiful red and gold patterned rug from far Harad was missing along with his blue counterpane, with its border of Dol Amroth swans; otherwise it looked much the same.
An open window allowed cool night breezes to enter the chamber. The day's heat had vanished with the setting of the sun and the air held a scent of the river and the promise of rain. Distant thunder rumbled from over the mountains. She glanced in the direction of the window, forgetting for an instant that it revealed only the view of a white-washed wall covered with ivy, visible in the light of the moon.
After looking for the last hour or so at Elladan's begrimed face and blood-stained hands, Éomer looked fresh, clean, and boyish, propped up against huge pillows. His white shirt fell open halfway down his golden-brown chest revealing defined muscles, ever so slightly bulkier than those of Elladan. He shifted as though uncomfortable with greeting them from a bed. Éomer did not sit much as general rule, preferring to pace or lean against a mantelpiece when talking, even at his leisure.
He jerked upright suddenly at the sight of Elladan. "Oh, no. Look at you. It's been hours now. You need to get rid of the rest of that armor before we can talk. Lothíriel can help you. She is an old hand at it. Three brothers and a father who have seen too many battles."
"Fine," grumbled Elladan. He looked at Lothíriel, holding his hands out from his sides. Up for the challenge, she wanted to show him how nimble and efficient she was at locating and unbuckling what seemed like a dozen fastenings, even hoisting the hefty breastplate and backplate off him and leaning them against the wall near the door. Elladan endured her ministrations with a prideful Elven stoicism.
"Thank you," he said softly, looking down at himself. His shirt was stained with dirt, sweat, and blood, and a jagged rip started beneath one arm and extended onto his chest.
"I think they brought me an extra shirt or two. Look in that wardrobe at the end of the bed," Éomer offered. "There is wine on the table also. For my guests they tell me."
Elladan unceremoniously pulled his filthy shirt over his head and dropped it into the laundry basket next to the wardrobe, before he started rummaging for a shirt. Lothíriel winced at the mottled bruising on the left side of his upper body. She didn't know if he had done it to himself when he had knocked Éomer off his horse, or if he had sustained a blow from Erestor or Erchirion earlier. It occurred to her that he might be flaunting his shirtlessness in front of Éomer, as though to make the point to him that there was no part of his body that she had not seen and enjoyed. Dirty and pale as he was, he did still look stunning. She shuttered that thought tightly within her, afraid she might project it to one or both of them. It did not matter for what she needed to do that day that Elladan Elronnion looked incredible without a shirt. Quite the contrary, it made everything that much harder.
However, when Elladan spoke to Éomer, his manner was humble and gracious, without a hint of confrontation. He clearly had made his peace with their situation, or intended to appear as though he had. "Thank you, Éomer King," he said, carefully using the Rohirric word order. "May I pour you a glass of wine?"
"Unfortunately, your father has restricted me to lemon water, not even sweetened enough to make it moderately palatable." Shuddering, he wrinkled his nose at the beverage on his bedside table that resembled nothing as much as glass of dirty dish water. "But Lothíriel looks like she could use a drink."
She thought, if she had a choice, something stronger than wine would be preferable. "You should wash your face and hands before putting on that nice clean shirt," she snapped at Elladan. For some reason she could not comprehend, both Éomer and Elladan found that remark unbearably funny. "Go on. There is water in that pitcher and wash cloths in the top drawer." They both laughed at her again. "I know how things are arranged here," she said defensively. "All the private rooms are basically the same. I'll pour myself some wine and some for you also, Elladan."
"She will make you a good wife," Elladan said, winking at Éomer. "She has mastered the tone already."
After pouring the wine, despite her fear of provoking further teasing about fussing, she sidled close to the head of the bed and reached out a hand to gingerly touch Éomer's brow.
"It's fine really. I didn't lose a hair. No stiches. It does not even throb anymore. Lord Elrond gave me something for the headache."
"Athelas I'd imagine," Elladan said.
"The very same," said Éomer. "The Elven miracle herb. It works like magic."
Lothíriel could not resist adding, "Númenórean, actually. I am so relieved that you were not hurt worse than you were. I blame myself."
"As well you should," Éomer scolded, obviously teasing. He took her hand and kissed it, patting the side of the bed for her to sit next to him. "You forced me to participate in the tournament today, as well as insisting that I drink too much last night, and to stay far too late at the celebration flirting with the Queen. She is mesmerizing." He turned to Elladan. "Your sister, I mean."
Lothíriel punched him in the arm. "Oi! My poor head," he said.
"So I have been told," Elladan answered, shifting from one foot to the other. "Do you want to tell Lothíriel your rules?"
"You make me sound like a harsh schoolmaster."
"Something like that." Elladan smiled, his tone gentle, although his eyes looked sad. "But not an unreasonable one."
Éomer, put a hand on Lothíriel's cheek, forcing her to look into his eyes. "If you still want to marry me . . ."
"I do. I really do," she insisted in a frantic manner. "I have thought about it a lot and I know I do." Her voice cracked on the last few words. She looked up at Elladan again and released a heavy sigh.
"Don't, Lothíriel, please. Don't feel bad for me. I already explained to Éomer that everything that happened between us was entirely my fault. I would plead insanity, but I have never been more calculating and determined. I cannot explain how or why I did what I did. I know what I wanted. It was wrong of me."
Before Elladan could say anything more, Éomer interjected, "What I would ask of both of you is very simple. I know I asked you . . ." He paused and looked embarrassed. " . . . never to see or speak to him again." He shot Lothíriel an apologetic grin. "That was stupid. And not even feasible. I admit to injured vanity. But really, I need to think of Rohan. I love you, Lothíriel. I am not sure I could find another woman I could love so well."
"I am sure you could, but I don't want you to!" Could he possibly be serious? Women swooned over him from Gondor to Rohan and everywhere in between.
"Just listen before you agree. Obviously, you will see one another. But I would prefer a measure of external hypocrisy-no loving glances, no attempts at secret meetings. You cannot make love to one another. A King marries for heirs and I am no exception. I want a real Queen as well. Rohan has suffered without one. Lothíriel can help me and not just by her connections—to Gondor, to Minas Tirith and Dol Amroth. We understand one another and agree about what we want to see in the new world we will be building. Rohan needs a strong leader at home and this new world needs a strong Rohan. I need her by my side."
He stopped to take a breath and Lothíriel blurted out with stubborn determination, "Yes. I agree." She looked at Elladan with reluctance, afraid of what she might or might not see in his face and her own reaction to him.
"I already agreed," Elladan said, his pride showed in the lift of his chin and his set jaw, longing and vulnerability in his eyes. "I will follow your rules, sire. Allow me to take my leave now. You don't need me here any longer."
He bowed from the waist, a courtier's formal and distant politeness in his movement, as he inched backwards toward the door. At that, Éomer flung off the sheets and jumped up and strode to stand in front of him. Barefoot and in light sleeping pants, he nonetheless looked every inch a warrior king. "Let us shake on it then." He extended his hand to Elladan, who clasped it double-handed. Unexpectedly, Éomer pulled him into an embrace and kissed him on the cheek.
"I have no idea if we can ever be friends, but I would wish it could be so. I do trust that, should anything ever happen to me, my lady will have a staunch protector. I am told that Elves are constant in their affections."
Elladan's rigid control broke again and he smiled at Éomer, not looking in Lothíriel's direction. "Constant as the sun, sire. More so even. Until the end of Arda."
"Beloved!" the word was not spoken, but came to Lothíriel through the gentle but firm, unmistakable touch of Elladan upon her mind. The arrangement they had agreed to would change everything and nothing between them. It did not mean that he would stop loving her.
"Will you agree to keep this promise until death shall part us?" Éomer asked Lothíriel again, with that young and hopeful expression that never failed to take her breath away.
At that moment, it felt to her like the choice she had made was a silly and unbearably romantic one, but then she was a silly, romantic girl. Elladan, on the other hand, lived completely above the pulls of mortality or any hard sense of the shortness of a mortal life. He grieved for his sister, but she thought he did not yet fully comprehend the nature of his family's coming loss, with any luck it would not arrive until many, many happy years had passed.
His father understood mortality because he had lost his only brother and dearest friend. Elladan had lost comrades and friends to death, some he would see again and others lost forever, but still he seemed not to comprehend her mortality. Lothíriel's promise of supporting Éomer until death meant something different to her than it could ever mean to Elladan. She undoubtedly would, absent ill chance or foul mischief, outlive her brave and generous Éomer. Elladan's transmission of the endearment "Beloved," meant that he could make this promise and still wait for her. But she feared he did not understand that she would no longer be the lively girl with whom he had fallen in love.
"I promise," she said, clearly and louder than was necessary within the small enclosed room.
"Yes," Éomer said and pulled her into a hard, fierce kiss. He had torn her gaze away from Elladan, who, arms crossed over his chest, looked upon them, Elven grave and inscrutable again.
When Lothíriel finally broke free from the kiss, Éomer said without looking away from her, "Thank you, Elladan." He had not noticed that the Elf lord had already slipped out of the room.