A/N: This was inspired by a comment made by Lialathuveril in her story "Of Falcons and Mûmakil." Credit definitely goes to her marvelous story for giving me the idea for this one.

Disclaimer: Alas, I still do not own Lord of the Rings. I'm making no money off this, only abusing Éomer for my own pleasure.


The Thing

The day had been long and tiresome, and Éomer was looking forward to the hot bath that was being drawn while he stabled Firefoot. He had decided that he could get used to the Amrothian hospitality; Imrahil's servants always seemed to know precisely what he required, no doubt in part because of the foresight of the prince's daughter, Lothíriel. Éomer smiled; in the past month that he had spent in the seaside port, he had gotten to know the young princess quite well. Unfortunately, this hadn't escaped the notice of the princess's brothers, of whom the eldest had expressed his displeasure. The younger two, Amrothos and Erchirion, had merely grinned and clapped him on the back, saying, "High time Lothíriel found herself a respectable gentleman."

Today, the three brothers had taken Éomer on a hunting trip into the woods that surrounded the low-lying foothills of Dor-en-Ernil. It had been a successful hunt but an exhausting one, and it took all of Éomer's remaining strength to climb the stairs to his rooms where the steaming bath awaited him and remove his sweaty clothing.

Éomer sank into the bubble-filled tub with a contented sigh. He wondered if it would be possible to install the water pipes needed for such accommodations in Meduseld; surely the mechanisms would not be impossible for the architects in Edoras to imitate. In fact, they could probably reroute one of the tributaries of the Snowbourne for the endeavor. And all he would have to do to convince the witan that having running water in the hall was a good idea was send them to Dol Amroth for a week or two. He grinned; it was a marvelous idea.

Idly, the young king reached for the bar of lavender soap lying on the rim of the tub. It slipped out of his hands into the sudsy water. Éomer gave a frustrated grunt as he swept his hands along the bottom of the tub. Finally he felt his fingers brush something solid and slightly slimy. Frowning, he made to pick it up – the soap hadn't been in the water long enough to become that slimy, had it? – only to feel it move out from under his fingers again. No, not move, but swim. Frowning even deeper, he reached for it again, feeling something glide past his fingertips. Éomer quickly swept the soap bubbles away so he could see down into the tub. Sure enough, there was something else in the tub. Éomer blinked at it and then quickly jumped out of the tub, uncaring that he was splashing water everywhere.

Wrapping a towel about his waist, Éomer quickly ran out of the bathroom and into the hallway to look for someone – anyone – who could help him get that thing out of his tub. There was no one in sight, so he ran around the corner and right into Lothíriel.

"Lord Éomer?" the princess said, blinking at the sight of him. "Is something wrong?"

"Lady Lothíriel!" he exclaimed, suddenly acutely aware that he was wearing nothing save a bath towel. "I, uh… That is – " he gulped " – my lady, there is something in my bath."

The princess cocked an eyebrow. "There is something in your bath?" she repeated.

"Yes. It's alive, whatever it is."

"Oh?"

"Yes." Éomer was quickly becoming irritated that the princess did not believe him. "There is a strange thing in my bathtub. And it moves."

"I see." She sighed. "Do you wish me to save you from it?" she asked, sounding more than slightly perturbed.

"If you would be so kind as to have a servant come and remove the thing from the tub, I would be most grateful," he answered, using the same icy tone as the princess.

"Are you certain that it is not your imagination, my lord? You have, after all, had a most trying day."

Éomer frowned at the sarcasm in the princess's voice. She had always laughed and smiled around him, the image of a perfect lady. This cold demeanor was not what he had been expecting. "My lady, I would not lie to you," he assured her. "There is a very strange fish-thing in my bathtub, and I would rather not risk being bitten by it while I wash."

"Very well, show me this purported 'thing,' and I will see about fetching a fisherman to dish it out."

Éomer turned on his heel, once again very aware of his almost-nakedness, and went back to his rooms. The princess followed behind him, and he could practically feel her annoyance burning a hole between his shoulder blades. "Are you angry with me, my lady?" he asked as he led her into his chambers.

The princess turned to consider him. "Are you toying with me, my lord?"

"What do you mean?"

"Precisely what I said. Are you toying with me, drawing me into your bedroom in an attempt to compromise me?" Éomer blinked at her in confusion. "Well?" she asked.

"I assure you, my lady, I am not toying with you. There is a monstrous thing in the bathtub."

She looked at him evenly before saying, "Stay out here, and for the sake of the Valar put a robe on." With that, she walked into the bathroom and went to the tub. Rolling a sleeve back, she slipped a delicate hand into the now-cool water, feeling around for the "thing" that had Éomer in such a state.

As he came back into the bathroom, fully robed, Éomer heard the princess muttering. "Pardon, my lady?"

Lothíriel stood up. "If you will excuse me, my lord." She swept out of the room to the hallway. Thoroughly confounded, Éomer followed. "Amrothos!" the princess called. "Erchirion!"

Surprisingly, the two princes came around the corner just moments later. "You called for us, sister?" asked Amrothos, attempting to conceal a grin.

"Would you care to explain why there is a ray in King Éomer's bathtub?" she asked them.

They looked at each other, and Erchirion spoke. "No, I don't believe we would." This sent the younger prince into snorts of laughter.

"And what do you think Father will think of your little prank?" she asked.

"Come on, Lothíriel," Amrothos protested, "it was only a bit of fun."

"Only a bit of fun? Did you think of what would happen if the thing had stung him?"

"Yes, actually."

"Erchirion! How could you?" Lothíriel was quite irate by now. Éomer was sincerely grateful that she was not upset with him; he was certain even his advisers would quake under that baleful glare.

"Well, it was Amrothos's idea…"

"We just wanted to test him," explained Amrothos. "Make sure he was worthy."

"Worthy?" asked Lothíriel. "Worthy of what? Being stung to death by a ray?"

"What?" exclaimed Éomer. "What do you mean 'stung to death'?"

The princess turned to him. "If you had frightened that ray, it would have sent off a shock that could have killed you. My brothers apparently find the possibility of your death to be immensely amusing. They would be wrong of course. The penalty for killing kings is death, after all." She turned back to her brothers. "Or worse."

"What could – oh." Erchirion very quickly tried to smother his grin. He turned to Éomer. "I am terribly sorry, my lord king. Our prank was not intended to harm you, I assure you. We merely thought of our own amusement, not of your pending death."

Amrothos clapped his hands together, apparently unphased by Lothíriel's threat. "Well, your pending death will come sooner or later. Most likely sooner rather than later if Elphir gets word that we saw Lothíriel leaving your room and you were only wearing a bathrobe." The youngest prince grinned and took off down the hall before Lothíriel or Éomer could say a word.

"Yes, well… I'll see the two of you later, shall I?" said Erchirion as he, too, ran off down the hall.

"Father will hear of this!" Lothíriel called after them. She glanced at Éomer. "I'll send a servant to fish out the stingray for you. I am terribly sorry that you had to go through this. I do not know what has gotten into my brothers. They have been merciless these past several days."

Éomer nodded absently, but said nothing. He was quite certain that he knew precisely what her brothers' goal had been; it was an effort to keep him away from Lothíriel. Well, despite what they wanted, he had no intention of staying away from her. She was too beautiful and too intelligent to resist.

A/N 2: I don't know whether I should try to continue this and turn it into a multi-chapter fic or not. Your thoughts would be most welcome!