Chapter 1

A sudden bold and unexpected question

doth many times surprise a man and lay him open.

(Francis Bacon, 1561 – 1626)

It was still dark when Lothíriel woke with a vague sense of disorientation, wondering what felt wrong. Then she noticed that she couldn't have moved if she had tried. Éomer had her pinned to the bed with one heavy arm wrapped around her midsection and a muscular leg thrown across her thighs.

She lay still, afraid that if she tried to move from beneath him, she would startle him awake - and in her experience that could become life threatening.

Her breathing and her heartbeat quickened, not because she feared his reflexes but because she remembered.

He had kept his promise.

Although 'good' was a much too common term to describe the experience. There were many others which could be employed: beautiful, exquisite, exhilarating . . . bewildering. She could think of quite a few more, but a single expression simply would not be befitting.

She had never felt anything so intense. His mouth had been firm with endless and devastating patience. No wildness, no greed, no urgency, only delight and soothing, offer and welcome. Whatever she had expected, perhaps even feared, it had been quite the opposite when his hard body had covered hers. There had been something thrilling about being beneath him, feeling his weight, his power, his strength. He could dominate her if he so chose, hurt her even, and yet she had known he would never do so. In his arms she had felt treasured. For all his physical power and strength, Éomer of Rohan was a tender man.

Carefully she made an attempt to loosen the tight embrace, trying to move his arm. But she achieved the exact opposite effect. The hard muscles under his skin tensed, pulling her even closer into the curve of his body. A hand found her breast and cupped it. And her body responded, as it had always responded to him, from the very first moment.

She put her hand lightly over his. It was weather-beaten and covered with calluses from handling his weapons; the rough hand of a warrior, which had wielded the sword that had killed. But on her body it had been caressing and claiming at the same time, smoothing over her like velvet.

Cautiously she began to stroke his forearm with the tips of her fingers, hoping the caress would cause him to relax his hold on her. Being skin to skin, nestled against his warmth, was an indescribably sensual feeling and she had no desire at all to leave his embrace. But her right arm threatened to go to sleep and already felt as if there were pins and needles in it. She needed to resettle herself.

She felt a scar under her sensitive fingertips. It was only a faint hardening of the tissue, reaching from about two fingerbreadths above his pulse up to the inside of his elbow. It must have been only a superficial wound, a cut, merely a scratch, caused by a thin and sharp blade. In the back of her mind she had registered a multitude of scars when her hands had begun to familiarize themselves with his body. One of them had been from a well-healed wound underneath his right arm, the wound she had treated.

It had been a year, one year ago that this warrior king had charged into her life and had conquered one after the other her mind, her heart, her body; her entire being. From tonight on, without Éomer she would no longer be whole.

Once more she tried to move the grip of his arm and this time he gave in. She was able to roll away from him to the edge of the bed. She sat up gingerly, listening to his breathing, if it indicated that he was waking up. But it stayed deep and even. Rubbing her prickling arm she slid to the foot end of the large four-poster, leaning her back against the bedpost

It was almost dark in the chamber, the only light coming from the fire, which had nearly died down. She looked at this man whom from tonight on she would call husband.

The glow of the embers gave Éomer's sleeping form something of a statue sculpted from the shadows. His head rested on one arm, the long hair falling over his face and without her body in front of him, he was now on his stomach. She noticed that he took up a great deal of the bed. The quilt covered him to his waist, leaving bare the contours of his beautiful muscled back. No doubt, he was an imposing figure, even without his armour or his regal apparel. Under this quilt lay dormant concentrated power.

Lothíriel permitted herself a tiny grin and tugged at the bedspread, not least to tuck herself up again. Without the fire the room had grown quite cold. But it held another advantage. When she pulled the quilt to her breast, the other end slid down to Éomer's hips. Pulled up over her shoulders, it allowed a very pleasant view of his buttocks and thighs. She took her time to study the sight in all its splendour.

Suddenly she realized that behind the unruly curtain of his hair, his eyes were open, watching her for his part with startling intensity. When their gazes met, his mouth twisted into an amused smile.

"I hope you appreciate what you are seeing," he said, sounding slightly drowsy.

"I certainly do," Lothíriel responded, surprised by her own husky voice and, at the same time, that she felt no embarrassment. And she felt bold enough to add, "I always have."

Without taking his eyes off her, Éomer reached into the folds of the quilt and pulled at it. She had the choice now; she could keep her hold and let herself be pulled over to him together with bedspread - she couldn't win a tugging game with him anyway - or she could just loosen her grip. She decided on the latter. Slowly the soft coverlet slid down her body unveiling it before his eyes. Under his gaze a hot wave surged through her veins, heating her cheeks. But it was still not from embarrassment.

"And do you also appreciate what you are seeing?" She could barely manage more that a breathless whisper.

His green-gold eyes glittered behind his dark lashes as he studied her at great length. His gaze moved up and down her body, taking its time, finally coming to rest on her face. At the look in his eyes, her mouth went dry.

"More than I am able to put into words."

It took Lothíriel a moment to comprehend the full meaning of what he had just said. Now she found herself at a loss for words of her own. This was not the kind of conversation she was accustomed to. Sharing a bed with a naked man . . . well, husband, actually, and being nude herself was inherently a rather unusual situation. Their nude bodies being the topic of a verbal exchange made it even more exceptional.

Éomer had raised himself on one elbow, brushing his hair out of his face with a curt gesture. He watched the changing expressions on her face and waited with apparent patience for a reply. But there was a glint in his eyes she couldn't interpret. Perhaps it was just an illusion, created by the glow from the embers.

His lips curved into one of his slow smiles and before she realized his intent, he leant across the crumpled quilt, swiftly taking a hold of her and the next moment Lothíriel found herself on her back beneath Éomer's large, warm frame.

This seemed to be becoming a habit. But unlike the evening before his quick manoeuvre didn't give her a start. She rather welcomed the heat his body radiated. It warmed her much more satisfactorily than the bedspread would ever do.

He leant over her and confining her between his arms, he bent his head and slowly kissed the soft, vulnerable curve of her throat. She couldn't suppress a sigh of pleasure or keep her back from arching. She felt him smile against her skin.

"Now you have had the opportunity," his mouth moved along the line of her jaw to kiss her chin, "to see every part of me," he continued, his teeth nipping gently at her lips. "I must say I am quite relieved to hear," his tongue traced the outline of her mouth, "that I have your approval." He kissed both corners of her mouth and then the tip of her nose.

Those caresses certainly didn't help Lothíriel to gather her muddled wits. Being pressed deep into the bedding by a solid weight and having his legs firmly lodged between hers was a disconcerting position, definitely pleasant but also definitely disconcerting. And Éomer was looking at her with inviting expectancy, evidently waiting for a remotely intelligent reply. His expression was a mixture of amusement and tenderness. - And somehow hunger?

"Well, my Lady? What has happened to your capable tongue?"

"What do you want me to say?" she answered, because she couldn't really think of anything better, but she also couldn't stay mute indefinitely.

He chuckled. She could feel the ripples of his stomach muscles against her belly.

"Are you telling me that from now on - as your husband - I have the right to put words in this beautiful mouth of yours?" he teased, going over her lips with the tip of his finger. "And from now on you will say only what I want to hear?"

"That certainly depends on what you want to hear," she responded in the same tone to his jaunty mood.

"For a start, it is quite simple and easy to remember." He pushed her tousled hair gently from her face and brought his lips down, brushing against hers with the barest friction. His own hair fell around them like a golden curtain.

"Yes, Éomer," he told her playfully.

Lothíriel lifted her arms, slipping them around his neck

"Yes, Éomer," she repeated compliantly.

His mouth shifted, deepening the kiss. She gave a soft, husky little moan and tightened her arms around his neck, but he broke the kiss and looked at her with deliberate seriousness.

"And there is something else, I would like to hear."

"Yes, Éomer?"

He grinned and she was glad she was already lying down.

"Oh, Éomer!" He spoke slowly and clearly, as if teaching a small child.

She suppressed a giggle and obediently repeated his words.

"Oh, Éomer."

That earned her another kiss. This time his mouth opened over her lips, urging them to part. She followed his lead. Their tongues touched. They tasted each other. All of a sudden she was too breathless for the moan she felt forming at the bottom of her throat, but somewhere in her fogged mind Lothíriel became aware of a thought emerging, a wicked little thought. She pushed against Éomer's shoulders and pulled her mouth – with some difficulty – a fingerbreadth away from his. He looked at her quizzically.

"I would like to suggest a further addition to the so far assembled vocabulary," she said, gasping for air.

"A king should always be receptive to sound advice and suggestions." He did quite well, feigning sobriety. "What is on my Lady's mind?"

She moved one leg experimentally. Éomer let her slide it out from under his. She curved her foot and drew it up along the back of his calf. The hair on his leg tickled the sole of her foot, making her smile.

"More, Éomer!" she breathed.

The impact of those two words was staggering. From one moment to the other all the amusement, the playfulness, even the tenderness was gone from his gaze. The light in the chamber was just strong enough to illuminate the gold in his eyes, gleaming with a deep hunger. His mouth came down on hers with the impact of embers on snow. He shoved his fingers into her hair and gripping the back of her head, he held her still while deepening his kiss, leaving her senses frantically struggling to cope with the overpowering sensation of this onslaught.

This kiss was one of possession, of desire and need. His mouth claimed hers hungrily, even as his hands ran over her body, pulling her more tightly against him, if that was at all possible. Lothíriel found herself sinking into it all, letting herself melt into his body which was burying her, reaching until her hands found the powerful muscles of his back.

This kiss was not like any of the others he had given her. It was darker, more demanding and far more overwhelming. She would have thought that such a kiss would frighten her, but she had no wish to pull back from it. Instead she craved more of this kind of hunger. She was burning up. She wanted to be closer. She wanted to be one with him. The intensity of her excitement blindsided her. Desire, fierce and relentless, flooded her senses. She gripped his shoulders hard, her nails making an impact.

Éomer tore his mouth free from hers and raised his head with obvious reluctance. Lothíriel gave an unarticulated protest and opened her eyes, looking directly into his, which were shadowed with dark passion. Why did he stop? She arched herself against him.


He groaned and buried his face into the crook of her neck. "I want you so much." His voice came muffled against her throat. She felt his hot breath. "I need you. I have waited for you for so long."

Lothíriel was struggling for air. Breathing was not easy as Éomer was crushing her happily beneath him.

"I want you, too," she got out despite the weight on her ribcage. Nobody could have expected her to say anything more original in this situation.

He lifted his head to gaze down at her, shifting his weight onto his elbows. Lothíriel panted for air, not only because the pressure on her upper body had eased and allowed her lungs to work properly again, but because of the look in his eyes. Liquid amber. They seemed to be able to burn holes into her very soul. But why had he stopped himself?

He murmured something in Rohirric.

Framing her face tenderly with his large hands, he smiled at her in a strained way. She sensed the discipline he was exerting over himself, which she didn't understand. It was there in every line of his body, from the set of his jaw to the corded muscles of his shoulders. She touched the side of his face, sliding her hand down the column of his throat, trying desperately to think of something that would make him resume his love-making. He caught her hand and brought it to his mouth, kissing the palm.

"Lothíriel, how are you feeling?"

"How am I feeling?" She blinked at him in non-comprehension. Well, she felt as if she were going up in flames at any moment and he had better think of something to prevent it. She had no idea what he should do, but it definitely was he who had to do it.

"Are you sore?"

Sore? Of course, she was sore. She had been sore for days. She couldn't even remember how it was not to be sore. But this was really a rather inauspicious moment to consider her aching leg and back muscles. He hadn't thought about them when he had come to her earlier, and actually, then she hadn't thought about them either.

"Do not worry about my soreness," she assured him. "I have got used to it by now."

For a couple of heart beats Éomer looked baffled, but then he smiled slightly.

"I was not inquiring after the discomfort you must still be feeling from your long journey on horseback."


"I was asking how you are feeling after having made love for the first time."

"I am feeling fine," she answered without a second thought - and truthfully.

Why was he asking that now? It must have been quite clear to him from her response to his kisses that she felt so good that she was rather eager to repeat making love to him . . . or rather having him making love to her. She wanted to do it again soon, because the first time, from a certain point on, everything had become blurred and she couldn't remember any details. This time she would try to concentrate and take things in.

Wrapping her arms around his neck, she tried to pull him down so that she could kiss him. But then, belatedly, she became aware of the actual meaning of his question. Startled by the sudden realisation she loosened her grip, letting her head sink back into the pillow.


How to answer that?

Her natural pragmatism took over and she performed a quick assessment of the body parts in question, tensing her inner muscles. Beside that it felt slightly sticky; there was some tenderness in that particular place, but nothing she would consider worth mentioning.

Éomer watched her, the amusement having returned to his eyes.

"I am fine . . . I think," she announced the result of her self-examination.

"You think?"

"I do not have the possibility of comparison," she explained. "It feels a bit odd, but not at all uncomfortable. I must admit I had my doubts that it was going to work when I first saw . . . " She stopped herself and blushed furiously. "I mean it looked as if . . ." She tried again. "There was a . . ." She saw him raise his eyebrows in mockingly polite encouragement and made a last effort to word a coherent sentence. "My first impression was one of incompatibility."

She frowned irritably when she felt the first waves of laughter rippling through Éomer's belly. He rolled to one side, disentangling his legs from hers. He was obviously failing in his attempt to remain master of an approaching outburst of mirth. There was not much left of the man who had just moments ago nearly buried her in an eruption of red-hot desire. Éomer's ability to switch from one state of mind to the next in a blink of an eye was not only irritating; it was – particularly in this case - also highly annoying.

"Are you laughing at me again?"

He gave a choked noise that could have been taken, with very little imagination, for a laugh. "No."

She sat up and tried to pull the quilt from under him. Without his body – and his passion – warming her, the chill in the chamber quickly became rather disagreeable. Éomer obligingly shifted his weight, freeing the coverlet. She clutched it to her breast.

"If you are, I would rather know the reason. Because I really do not understand what I could have said that took your mind off . . ." Again she broke off and let herself fall abruptly back against the pillows, tugging the quilt up to her throat. She expected some comment from him. Instead, he turned on his side, propped himself on his elbow and looked down at her.

"I would not say that it took my mind off completely." He managed to keep a straight face when her gaze darted to his groin and then quickly returned to his eyes. "It is just that your choice of words is often, somehow, unexpected."

Lothíriel thought about it. "How would you have expected me to phrase my reply?"

It had become so dark in the chamber that it was hard to make out each other's expressions. Éomer rolled over and sat up on the edge of the bed and she heard him feel for fire steel and flint. He struck a spark and immediately the tinder in a metal bowl began to burn. He used the small flame to light the candle. Turning, he regarded her with a thoughtful smile.

"I do not know what I expected for an answer. When it comes to you, Lothíriel, I do not have the possibility of comparison either."

"That can not be so!" The contradiction was out before she could help it.

He arched a single eyebrow in a deliberately curious inquiry. It was joined by the second when she failed to comply by providing an explanation.

She knew for certain that he had plenty of experience with the opposite gender, and therefore should have plenty of possibilities of comparison. But she would rather not deepen her last train of thought and broach the issue of his past relations with women. When she had rashly mentioned it the other day his reaction had been surprisingly irritated. And he had angrily stressed that he would not have his wife and queen compared to any other woman. It was not that she had a problem with it. Imagining him with another woman in the past did not arouse any strong emotions in her.

But right now she was vexed with herself for having not been able to curb her tongue. She was as infantile as Merewyn, blurting out whatever came into her head. From now on she would be better to watch what she was going to say.

Lothíriel sat up, making sure the coverlet stayed in place and drew her legs up to her breast, wrapping her arms around her knees. She looked at Éomer in silent contemplation.

She found that her last thought had something rather disturbing about it. It could not be the meaning of a bond between two people to tiptoe around each other, always afraid to offend or to upset. Of course she had been taught the value of reserve and prudence in dealings with others. But that could not apply to her relationship with her husband. This was Rohan! This was Éomer! If she could not be plainspoken with him then with whom? It was not as if she was deliberately trying to unsettle somebody the way Amrothos did with his impertinent candour. Something Éomer had said had triggered this thought and it was only sincere to voice it. And if she expected something in her relationship with her husband, then it was sincerity.

She realized that he was watching her with unconcealed amusement. Suddenly he leant forward and put a finger against her forehead, right above the bridge of her nose.

"I have discovered one thing already. If this little frown appears, inside my wife's head something is working vigorously."

"I am weighing up two possibilities," she said, just a touch hesitantly.

Éomer gave her a questioning look. "Which would be?"

Lothíriel decided to plunge in, head first. "Should I explain to you what thought induced me to make my last remark, or would I be better to avoid the topic in order to evade a likely argument," she set out and then added, when something else occurred to her, "The last option would probably make it necessary to find a way to distract you."

His mouth was edged with a hint of laconic amusement. "Whatever the topic is which might likely cause an argument, somehow I have the feeling you do not want to avoid it at all. Neither the topic nor the argument. But before we get into that, just satisfy my curiosity: how do you plan to distract me?"

"I have not had the time to consider it," she admitted, wrinkling her nose. "But perhaps I could kiss you?"

His mouth twitched into a smile and he put a finger on her collarbone, letting it slide up and down. "You are learning quickly, my Lady."

"I think my ability to learn has never been in question," she told him primly.

"That will increase my pleasure in teaching you," he said, his voice dark, soft and faintly amused.

"Has anybody ever told you that those who teach will learn the most?" she dared to challenge him.

"Indeed? Are you promising me a lesson?" It was amazing what he could do with that voice. It set tremors off in her body.

For a few heartbeats she became distracted by the glint of passion that had returned to his gaze. He held her eyes with his own. Another switch in mood. She let out the breath she was holding, watching a brief, self-satisfied smile appear on his face. She cleared her throat and found her own voice again.

"I think what I can promise you - at any time with the utmost probability - is an argument."

Éomer groaned, a sound between disbelief and wry amusement. "You are persistent or - to put it bluntly - bloody stubborn."

"I was told just the other day that that is a character trait we share."

"And who was the profound judge of our characters?" Éomer asked, mildly curious.

"That piece of information has to remain undisclosed."

"I could easily make you reveal it."

"How?" The glance she regarded him with called his claim clearly into question. "As you said: I am stubborn. What I do not want to tell you, I will not tell you."

In a single sleek movement he was over her on all fours. Surprised, she fell back into the pillows and found herself caged between his arms, his knees on both sides of her hips on top of the quilt, trapping her efficiently underneath it.

"I can think of more than one way to make you tell me whatever I want to hear," he threatened her in a voice as smooth as velvet. It seemed her husband was once again in a playful – and seductive – mood.

She clutched the quilt to her throat. "Do you intend to employ your greater physical strength to force a name out of me?"

He shook his head, his long strands brushing over her face.

"Then what do you intend to do?"

"Are you ticklish?"

"Am I ticklish?"

He nodded. "Ticklish."

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously. "Why?"

"That sounds like a 'yes' to me," he said with a satisfied grin.

"Éomer, you will not . . . Oooohhh!" She let out a shriek, the volume surprising herself no less than Éomer.

"That should have been heard in all of Meduseld," he laughed. "I would not be surprised if your brothers turned up to break down the door, their swords in their hands."

That prospect, however, did not cause him to stop tormenting her. Lothíriel squealed and squeaked, having not the slightest chance to escape his titillating fingers, although she floundered underneath the quilt like a beached fish.

"Do you surrender?"


She opened her mouth to take a deep breath, enough for a scream that would have, in all likelihood, indeed alerted everybody under the roof of the Golden Hall. Guessing her intention Éomer came down on her hard and she found herself trapped beneath him, his full weight forcing all air from her lungs. His mouth closed on hers before any sound could have been formed. He kissed her, long and hard and deep; so deep that she forgot everything else, even the shortage of air until it became a serious problem and she simply needed to breathe or she would faint.

Éomer must have sensed her discomfort. He released her mouth and shifted most of his weight on his elbows.

"Do you surrender?"

Her breathing was heavy and ragged and it took her another three gasps before she was able to get out her reply.


"Well, in that case . . ." His fingers were aiming for a particular sensitive spot under her armpit.

"Nooo!" She braced her fists against his shoulders but could have just as well tried to move a rock wall.

Éomer showed pity. Laughing he rolled onto his back and took her with him, quilt and all. She spilled across his hard body and lay captive between his thighs. He locked one leg over her calves to keep her from wriggling. The heat that poured from him threatened to burn her, even with the bedspread between them. How could he stay so warm although he had been without a cover for quite some time? She spread her fingers across his broad shoulders, feeling the warmth of him. His muscles rippled and flexed under her hands. Who would have thought that they would end up in a tussle like a couple of puppies? Or rather in a tussle between a fully-grown wolf and a lap dog.

"I never expected it to be like this."

Two of his fingers wandered down her spine, counting the delicate vertebrae.

"What did you expect it to be?"

"I imagined that the marital act would be conducted in a more sober and grave fashion."

Éomer choked, on what she did not know, but he choked nonetheless. "Act?" he finally got out. "Conducted?" The corner of his mouth twitched. "Grave?" he asked, lowering his voice to a wilfully grave tone.

Lothíriel frowned. He was mocking her.

"Well, yes," she said with an injured air. "And if everybody had not been so intent on keeping me ignorant of the realities of the marital . . . whatever you want to call it, misunderstandings – and misconceptions - like this - and the one earlier tonight - could have been avoided."

Éomer looked at her cautiously. "Who is everybody?"

"I was speaking generally," she enlightened him. "It is the custom to keep young women ignorant of these matters. At least in Gondor. Had I not been educated as a healer I would – very likely – not have known that there is a significant difference between the male and the female anatomy below the waist."

"Not only below the waist," Éomer stated, glancing pointedly at her breasts, which lay slightly crushed against his chest.

"Indeed, but that is easier to detect, especially as it is common fashion in Gondor to reveal quite a bit of a woman's bosom."

"I noticed," he agreed, reminiscently.

"I am not surprised." She remembered fleetingly the Lady Cuillwen's voluptuous form before her mind settled again on her original train of thought. "And though the education as a healer clearly informs you about quite a few aspects of these matters, there are others which simply get hushed up. For example, I have several times witnessed women giving birth and I was taught in detail what to do when the babies come out, but they let me more or less guess about the act of procreation."

"You could hardly expect them – whoever they were – to let you witness that."

She cast him a suspicious glance, but he looked perfectly innocuous.

"Of course not. A detailed description in writing would have been sufficient. But there is none. I looked for one in the library. And the only person I dared to talk to – and he proved not to be really helpful – was Amrothos."

Her husband grunted beneath her. It couldn't be her weight. He seemed to be quite content having her lying on top of him. His hands had settled firmly on her derriere, holding her in place.

"You spoke to Amrothos?" When she nodded, he grunted again and muttered, "And I thought he was merely trying to taunt me."

"Amrothos is never trying to merely do something," she assured him. "He always does it . . . or has already done it."

"Yes, and he is a brother you are rather fond of," he pretended understanding and then added something in his own tongue. When she glanced at him with a watchful frown forming between her brows he hastened to continue, "But what about your kinswomen?"

"Aunt Ivriniel?" She wrinkled her nose doubtfully. Putting her fists on top of each other on his breastbone, she rested her chin on them. "She never leaves Dol Amroth. Moreover, after she has explained something to you, you tend to be more confused than before."

"Aragorn told me that you spent much time with Arwen. Would she not have been a better choice than your brother to answer any questions you may have had?"

"I could hardly trouble my Queen with such a matter, especially as said Queen is a nearly three thousand years old elf."

"So, what was the actual issue? That Arwen was your Queen; or that she is nearly three thousand years old?"

"The issue was that any attempt to request information would have made me look like a perfect imbecile. As I said, in Gondor, an unwed woman is not supposed to inquire after such matters. And anyway, I was not so much interested in getting to the bottom of why people apparently are so keen in engaging in the marital act – even when a marital status is non-existent – than in a man's frame of mind – generally speaking, of course. And therefore the obvious respondent had to be a man."

"A man's frame of mind? Oh my!" He regarded her with the kind of guarded look which reminded Lothíriel very much of one of Amrothos's expressions when her brother was steeling himself against a topic of conversation he objected to. She wondered how Éomer would respond if she told him so. But before she had made up her mind, her husband continued, "May I ask in what context you felt it necessary to catch up on that particular subject?"

She gazed down at him contemplatively. She had still problems in judging Éomer, reckoning how he was likely to respond in certain situations. To her he was as unpredictable as he had always been. All she could say about him with certainty was that she loved him and that she trusted him. And all she could say about their relationship was that it would be . . . changeable. But then, she had never expected perfect harmony.

Therefore there was absolutely no point in avoiding the actual subject, which had once led her to seek out her brother. After all, Éomer had indicated that they had to discuss, sooner or later, those uncertainties they both knew were lurking at the fringes of their bond. After tonight they were no longer as unsettling as they had been, but they were still there. He had wanted to wait until they could be certain that there would be no more awkward interruptions when they talked, and it was rather unlikely that they would be interrupted now.

"I spoke to Amrothos after I had received your proposal." She kept her tone neutral, waiting for his reaction. Would he try to leave it at their playful banter, or was he willing to go into this - still – sensitive matter now?

She couldn't have said precisely what it really was but from one moment to the other she felt a kind of stillness in his body. He gave her a searching glance from behind half-lowered lashes. "You took advice from Amrothos? I am surprised you consented."

Lothíriel did not like the sarcasm woven into his words. "You should be more surprised that I gave my consent despite the dreadful phrasing of your proposal." She couldn't help herself, but it was still eating at her.

Éomer looked startled, although whether from her statement or from the sharpened tone of her voice, Lothíriel did not know. They were silent for a long time while they gazed at each other through the shadows. Then he gave a low groan and closed his eyes, letting his head sink back into the pillow. She held herself very still, watching him thoughtfully. His lips had thinned and his jaw set in a hard line. It would seem that this had not been the right moment to address the issue. Suddenly she no longer felt comfortable in the intimate position she was in. But when she tried to move and roll off him, his arms wrapped tightly around her.

"I need to apologize, Lothíriel." His voice was very soft. He kept his eyes closed. "That proposal was certainly not one of my greater achievements. Composing letters is not among my more prominent abilities even under the most favourable circumstances."

"I never had a reason to believe you were not perfectly able to say precisely what you intend to express." Lothíriel raised her objection with a hint of caution, but then added candidly, "Even if you might prefer to take it back a while later."

Éomer's mouth curved at the corners in fleeting amusement. "As I said: you are learning quickly." His next words were contemplative. "But I have always felt that there is a big difference between something you say and something you write down."

"What difference could there be?" She tilted her head, studying him. Had she not watched him so closely, she might have missed that his eyes opened just a slit, slanting her a glance, before they closed again.

"Parchment and ink are nothing but uncomplaining tools." That sounded rather dismissive. "You see the words, but not the one who has put them there. You do not hear his voice; you do not look into his eyes. Words on parchment are as flat as the vellum they are written on."

Somehow his last remark confirmed the suspicion she had entertained for a while that Éomer did not overly appreciate the written word in whatever form.

"But if a letter is well composed you will recognize its intent."

"If a letter is well composed you will only recognize what the writer wants you to. That makes all the difference. If somebody addresses me directly, I have the opportunity to appraise him, to guess his intentions. And if a letter is not well composed . . . a word on parchment is so easy to misinterpret. It may be written with a certain desire, but if the consignee misunderstands, there is no immediate opportunity to clear up any misconceptions. And as the writer you have no way of knowing how your words are going to be comprehended, especially when you do not know well the one who is supposed to read them. Words are meant to be spoken not to be put on parchment."

Lothíriel wondered if he pontificated about the possible deceptiveness of the written word in full because he tried to avoid the real issue. She propped herself up on his chest, pressing her elbows hard between his ribs. The discomfort caused him at last to open his eyes again and look at her.

"Are you saying you found it difficult to write that letter to me?" she asked in an attempt to cut straight to the essential part.

"Difficult?" Éomer's mouth twisted into a self-mocking grin. "It kept me up most of the night and afterwards there was a serious shortage of parchment in the whole of Edoras."

"And the best you could get out, after all your efforts, was that proposal?" she asked in feigned consternation.

He gave an embarrassed groan and squeezed his eyes shut. It felt quite good being for once the teasing party. She caught his face between her palms, gave him a small, determined shake.

"Éomer! Look at me!" When he complied she asked, "Why was it so difficult to write to me?"

"Because I had to do it in a rush. I remember thinking that I would have liked more time."

Lothíriel's eyes widened with bemusement. "You felt pressured?"

"Not pressured. Rushed."

"What is the difference?"

Éomer gave her a long, considering look. "I suppose there is no genuine chance that in the near future any debate between us will turn out to be facile and straightforward?"

"Proper diction is important or there might be occasional misunderstandings. Those must be nipped in the bud."

"Very well." He yielded to her argument with the shadow of a grin. "I did not feel pressured to do something I was opposed to but rushed into doing something for which I would have liked more time, so that I could do it properly."

"And the one who rushed you was my father." Lothíriel felt it not necessary to emphasise this statement as a question.

"Imrahil is a very astute and subtle man. I would be well advised to learn some lessons from your father. But, no, it was not he who rushed me – a least not intentionally." He kept one arm tightly closed around her and raised his other hand, pushing her hair behind her ear and tracing its outline with his finger. The caress caused goose bumps to run down her body, which in turn made her notice that her backside was getting rather chilled.

"I knew," Éomer continued, "that after I had agreed to Imrahil's offer, he would send an according notification to Minas Tirith with the messenger leaving the next day. But I did not want you to be informed of the agreement in such an impersonal manner. I did not want you to become my wife because several people in our vicinity believed it to be a sensible match."

When she opened her mouth to tell him that she had understood and appreciated his intentions quite well, despite the hapless wording of his proposal, he stopped her by laying his forefinger vertically against her lips.

"I wanted to ask you to be my wife. I wished then - and I still wish it now - that I could have asked you in person. I needed to know – and I still need to know - that you have come to me and to the Riddermark because it was your true wish and not out of some mistaken sense of duty."

"And I still need to know why you agreed to my father's offer."

He twisted his fingers gently in her hair.

"The day at the Houses of Healing when I kissed you, Elfhelm reminded me that self-delusion is a wonderful thing. And I am afraid that was what I had been afflicted with for many months: self-delusion. I had persuaded myself that nothing had happened during that night we returned from the Black Gate, when I met that aggravating and enchanting healer. That nothing had happened that had not happened before."

Lothíriel looked down at Éomer reflectively, being oblivious that the tell-tale frown had resettled between her eyebrows. She reconsidered his words. Proper diction was now essential.

"Are you saying that that night I treated your wound you began to feel something for me but assumed that it was only the usual male feeling of lust?" Without responding to the odd strangled sound Éomer made, she followed her thread. "I understand that a man's carnal desire is not necessarily only for one woman, but rather some urge the vast majority of men feel for women in general. Therefore it is easy for them to get confused about the true nature of their feelings." She ignored that his hands had released the hold they had kept on her and that Éomer's head had come up and his eyes had narrowed. "But I suppose you had had enough experience with women to recognise me – even before we met again at the feast and were introduced properly – as the sort of female to whom a man without serious intentions had better give a wide berth to avoid getting into trouble. Especially after I had mentioned that I have three brothers."

"What are you talking about?" His voice was filled with consternation.

"That I am not the sort of woman a man would philander with and therefore - as you were – as you said yourself – not aware of any deeper feelings for me – you began shortly afterwards a liaison with a woman of a different sort. The Lady Cuillwen," she chose to clarify. She tilted her head when a thought hit her. "Was that to distract yourself?" she asked with genuine curiosity.

For an instant Éomer stared at her with his eyebrows closely knit together above the bridge of his nose, his look one of utter incredulousness. When his reaction came, it came with vehemence.

"Damnation, Lothíriel." He surged up off the bed, dislodging her and sending her tumbling back onto the pillows. This absence of self-awareness of his physical strength threatened to become a serious – and painful – issue in the future.

He stood next to the bed, his back towards her, shoving all ten fingers through his tangled mane. When he turned to glance at her over his shoulder, she saw a look of mingled perplexity and frustration on his face.

"Do you always understand everything you say?"

She had heard that – an accusation disguised as a question - before. It appeared she was going about this the wrong way. She retrieved the quilt, which had been flung halfway to the floor during his abrupt exit from the bed. Slipping under the warming coverlet she tried the voice of reason.

"Of course, I do. I understand that all men – I mean all men who are not bound in a union . . . or at least those should not engage in a liaison . . ." That did not sound well thought through or even convincing. She made a grab for her composure. "I mean, I know that a liaison is not about romance, but conducted only for the purpose of carnal gratification and therefore should not be taken too seriously."

Lothíriel waved her hand in a graceful gesture of frustration. Suddenly she felt awfully out of her league. She wasn't so certain anymore that she truly understood what she was trying to say. Éomer had turned around and looked down at her as though she had just metamorphosed into some unknown life form before his very eyes.

"Lothíriel," he said, his voice suspiciously even. "Where in Bema's name do you draw your diction from?"

"Amrothos used those phrases when explaining the matter to me."

"Amrothos?" Gone was the even tone. He spat out something in Rohirric, which sounded very much like a angry threat.

That was something else she considered to be a serious issue in the near future.

"Éomer, I would be very much obliged if you could refrain from muttering in your own tongue as long as I have not mastered the language of the Riddermark. But I can assure you that I am bound and determined to begin learning it as soon as I can find an appropriate tutor."

This would probably be a rather awkward moment to try and discuss with him if he already had somebody in mind or if he wished her to approach Lady Cynewyn for a recommendation.

The glare he regarded her with made her suspect that the only serious consideration he was giving right now to any matter was throttling somebody. His next words confirmed it. "I only made a mental note to remember to strangle that bloody brother of yours at the earliest convenience."

"Amrothos has done nothing wrong – at least not in this case. I asked him a question and he answered it to the best of his knowledge." She chose to pass over his snort. "And I really do not understand why you are reacting so . . . skittishly."

"Skittishly?" To describe the tone of his voice as offended would have been an understatement.

"Well, yes. And there is no reason to. All I have been trying to express is that I understand that – as a rule - men are different and have gained, more often than not, certain experiences. And Amrothos said that that is just as well. Otherwise there would be two clumsy virgins in a bed, not knowing what to do."

There was tense pause before Éomer spoke again, articulating every word in Westron with unmistakable accuracy. "I will refrain from strangling him and I am not going to wait until he might do everybody a favour by falling onto his sword. I will run that very sword through him myself first thing in the morning."

Lothíriel eyed him doubtfully. "You do not really mean that," she said in a soothing tone as if reassuring a frightened horse.

Éomer just gave his head a little shake and rubbed his hand over his face. "If you had to talk to one of your brothers, could it not have been Erchirion? At least he appears to have not only a brain but also some common sense."

"I did talk to Erchirion . . . as well."

There was another pause while Éomer took a deep open-mouthed breath and then let the air slowly escape out of his lungs.

"Do I want to know what you talked to Erchirion about?"

Lothíriel hesitated to answer that. Somehow she had the suspicion that it wouldn't be a good idea to mention that she had discussed her earlier apprehension regarding their betrothal with Erchirion.

Éomer had watched her and shaking his head again he raised both hands in an averting gesture. "No, I do not want to know," he answered his question himself. He took another deep breath.

"Lothíriel, before I ask you to enlighten me why we are having this conversation at all, please tell me: you do not believe that I am just another man who indiscriminately dallies with women, do you?"

"No, I do not." She thought it better not to confront him with Amrothos's theory about his similarity with her aunt's carnivorous plants. She had an inkling that such a remark would indeed be disastrous for her brother's constitution.

"And your earlier – slightly surprising – exposition does not mean you expect me to have the occasional liaison in the future?"

Lothíriel felt dumbfounded for an instant before, with an involuntary jerk, she straightened up. "Certainly not!"

"Bema be thanked." Sarcasm was dripping from his voice. "I am quite relieved to hear you are, after all, not indifferent to your husband's moral conduct. Be assured, it is my intention to be faithful."

"I have always assumed that goes without saying."

Éomer threw up his hands in resignation, turned and marched over to the hearth. He squatted down in front of it on the thick artfully woven rug and began reviving the fire. Thrusting a handful of wooden splints into the embers with more force than necessary, he ignored the bellow and just blew several times into the glowing cinders, rekindling the flames. Lothíriel watched him piling logs onto the fire and stirring it with the poker. He kept his posture, staring into the flames. He was much too close to the heat to be comfortable.

"Éomer?" she finally said, eager to break the silence.

"It must be me," he addressed the flames, his words laced with resigned self-mockery. "It seems I am unable to express any matter of importance in an appropriate manner. I fail to do it in writing and I am incapable of revealing my feelings when I am face to face with you. At least not in a fashion that arouses your attention."

Lothíriel searched for her robe, but it was hanging on the other side of the room on the screen shielding the washing facilities, and her chemise lay rumpled on the floor. So she slid out of the bed, wrapping the quilt around herself. She went over to the hearth, stepping from rug to rug, avoiding the cold floor tiles and trailing the much abused coverlet behind her. She joined Éomer in front of the inviting warmth of the fire, kneeling down beside him. She slanted him a cautious glance and nearly sighed in relief when he turned his face towards her and she saw neither anger nor frustration in his eyes. He rather seemed to be at a loss.

"I am sorry, Éomer. I am prattling again. I really do not know why I am doing this. It is not that I am usually . . . but. . ." She stopped herself, realising that she was on her best way to going on with her prattle.

". . . but this is all very new to you," he completed her sentence sympathetically, but with a hint of teasing. "Even if it is not to me."

He sat down on the rug, reached out for her and pulled her against his side.

"Of course, you were right, when you pointed out the other day that we hardly know much about each other. We . . . I should have done something about it during those months of our betrothal. It is entirely my fault that we have wasted all this time. I should have tried to find a way to come and see you in the White City."

"But that would have taken you away from Rohan for several sennights," Lothíriel protested. "You could not have been spared for that period of time."

"We Rohirrim travel fast. I can make it to Mundburg at a reasonable pace in five days. So I could have returned to the Mark in under two sennights. But back then I could not even have afforded to be away for two days."

"No, of course not. Rohan and the welfare our people will always have to come first. I understand that."

"Yes, you do understand that indeed, do you not?"

"When I consented to your proposal I knew that I was not only going to be bound to a man but also to his duty and his position. And I suppose you knew that I have been brought up with the knowledge and the acceptance that, though our birth means certain privileges, they are paid for by the service to our people. And that this service has always to be put above and beyond anything we may wish or long for. That makes me the kind of woman you need as a consort."

"Lothíriel, please!"

Éomer gave her a not too gentle yank and tumbled her across his lap. He cradled her chin in his palm. "Could we - just for once - forbear from reasoning? What I have been trying to tell you again and again and - in the process – have been interrupted again and again, was that my proposal to you had nothing to do with a political agenda or even common sense. I wanted you to become my wife most notably and above all, because . . ."

He stopped and looked as if he was waiting for something to happen.

"Éomer, what is it?"

"Well, I am waiting for your brother's next grand entrance."

This time she punched him against his shoulder, but apparently not very hard. At least not for him because it just made him laugh whilst her wrist began to hurt a little. One could sprain one's limbs with a manoeuvre like that.

"It goes beyond reasoning and beyond common sense," he continued with a chuckle. "It is what it is. I love you, Lothíriel."

Three simple words and they warmed her all the way to her bones. A deep sense of rightness flowed through her. Knowing it was one thing, but hearing it . . .

She caught his face between her palms, caressing his bearded cheeks with her thumbs. "I think you do quite well, revealing your feelings, my Lord. The wording was perfect and certainly aroused my attention."

When he opened his mouth to reply she prevented him from doing so by putting her finger against his lips, the way he had done with her earlier.

"It is what it is. And we shall enjoy our love and not ask for the 'why'. But we are what we are. I am Prince Imrahil's daughter. My ancestry, my upbringing, even the influence of my brothers, has made me what I am. Nothing can change that. And you are what you are, Éomer Éomundsson. Not long ago I heard my father say about Elessar that kings are not made, they are born. And that applies to you as well. You were born to be a king and even if you had not come to the title you would have had all the attributes and qualities, which make a king. Besides our love we suit each other because of what we are."

"I doubt that Imrahil would have looked for common ground so readily had I been a Marshal of the Mark."

"Never underestimate Imrahil of Dol Amroth. And never underestimate me."

"I had better not"

Éomer tilted her chin with his forefinger and gazed at her for a long time. "Whatever pertains to you," he said after a while that seemed to have gone on for an eternity, "my possibility of comparison is simply non-existent."

His thumb moved across her lower lip, tugging it gently away from her teeth. His mouth closed over hers before she was able to say a word; before she was even able to think about what to say. But then, right now, nothing could have been further from her mind than talking. Her arm stole around his waist and she cuddled closer. Abruptly the quilt was flung aside and she instinctively made a grab for it.

"Do not worry. I will not let you get cold again," Éomer assured her, lowering his head to press his lips against the hollow of her throat.

Lothíriel let herself be eased onto her back and Éomer came down beside her. She wove her fingers through his thick hair. Closing her eyes she savoured the feeling of the thick, soft strands sliding between her fingers.

"I suppose this means a bed is not necessarily necessary for being bedded?"

His teeth nipped at her collarbone. "You are learning quickly, my Lady." There was a smile in his voice, but it was also thick with desire.

Lothíriel relaxed back onto the fleecy rug, surrendering to the vibrant sense of well being that filled her. Éomer's hands smoothed over her body with infinitely patient movements. And where his hands went, his lips followed. Time ceased to have any meaning for her. She felt heavy and warm, filled with a languid sensuality that made her begin to twist and turn.

Her last coherent thought was that it was rather unlikely that she would be able to concentrate on any details this time either.