Epilogue: Queen of the Golden Hall

3020. In this year Éomer, King of the Mark, wedded Lothíriel, daughter of Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth. The harvest was plentiful and the Eorlingas prospered. It is said that ever after they called their king Éomer Éadig.

(The Chronicle of the Riddermark)


Edoras, August of Third Age 3020.

The fiddler stepped forward onto the floor of Meduseld and played a couple of stanzas of a simple tune. Then he stopped and looked around the circle to see if anybody would accept his challenge. Next to Éomer, the Queen of the Mark wriggled with excitement and tightened her grip on his arm. After a moment's pause another fiddler stepped forward and played the tune back to the first man, picking up the pace and adding a little flourish at the end. The first musician grinned and the two started to circle each other like a pair of fighters, taking turns playing melodies to and fro, each one trying to outdo the other with his skill. The crowd started clapping rhythmically and his wife joined in with open enthusiasm.

His wife. Éomer savoured the words as he watched the enjoyment playing across Lothíriel's face. She had been in excellent spirits all evening, displaying none of the customary nervousness of a bride. Tradition had it that dancing with the queen at her wedding brought good luck and she had been much sought after – but now Éomer had reclaimed her hand and he did not intend to give it up again tonight.

The fiddlesticks raced across the strings and sweat ran down the musicians' faces. Even though the doorwardens had thrown the doors wide open, the air was hot and close with so many people assembled in the hall. He couldn't help wondering if Lothíriel would like to retire soon.

Touching her lightly on the arm, he bent down to whisper in her ear. "Are you tired yet?"

She looked up with a brilliant smile. "Oh no, not at all."

"Are you sure? You had a long journey from Minas Tirith."

"Don't worry, we took it easy." She patted his hand reassuringly. "And after all we arrived here yesterday and I had a good night's rest. How well they play! I feel like I could dance the whole night away."

Actually dancing was not what he'd had in mind, but he couldn't very well tell her so. However, he did not want to spoil her enjoyment of her wedding day, so he just gave a wry grin. "In that case, would you like to dance with me?"

The way her face lit up at his suggestion was answer enough. At least he got to slip his hand round his wife's waist and hold her close whilst they whirled around in one of the Rohirric dances that she liked so much. Feeling the warmth of her body through the thin silk of her dress was a pleasant sensation and Éomer enjoyed the way she trusted his lead, completely at ease. He had expected her to be a little shy with him after their not seeing each other for three months, but she showed no sign of that.

Other couples joined them and he caught a glimpse of Éowyn dancing with Faramir and laughing at something her husband said to her. Well, his sister certainly deserved a bit of relaxation after all the hard work she had put into organising the wedding. Éowyn had also made it plain from the beginning that she very much approved of the future Queen of the Mark, which would hopefully help Lothíriel win the acceptance of the Meduseld household. Not that there had been any objections raised to her, not even by his council. His advisors had been so relieved to get him back alive, even if a month later than planned, that they had agreed to everything without a murmur. Besides, Imrahil's daughter remained a good match, blind or not.

The musicians picked up the pace for the finale and Lothíriel laughed with delight when he spun her round faster. "Tired yet?" he asked hopefully.

But she just shook her head. "Certainly not!"

What a desirable wife he had. Tailored from shimmering silk in a fresh spring green, her gown clung tightly to her upper body and over her hips, only to flare out into a wide skirt, which fell in soft folds to her feet. No embellishments distracted from its elegant lines and Lothíriel's only ornament were her mother's pearls, resting on the smooth skin of her chest. However, knowing everybody's eyes on them, Éomer did not allow his glance to linger there.

When the dance ended, they found themselves near the side of the hall and he pulled her a little apart, into the shadow of one of the massive carved pillars upholding the roof. Not that they provided any real privacy – that would have to wait for later…

Laughing breathlessly, Lothíriel leant back against the pillar. Her bridal wreath threatened to come loose, so she reached up to adjust it. In a way he still couldn't quite believe they were truly married and that she would share the rest of his life with him – that Meduseld would become her home and he would wake up to her presence by his side in the mornings. In fact he had pictured their reunion and wedding so many times in the past months that the actual ceremony here in the Golden Hall had seemed like a dream. Not until Lothíriel had placed her hand in his and spoken the vows in perfect Rohirric had it become real. Her voice had carried across the hall, confident and sure, and her face had shone with joy. His own at last.

"I have been so blessed," he told his wife impulsively.

She blushed rosily. "So have I."

He brushed back a strand of her hair that had come loose during the dancing. "It doesn't bear thinking about what would have happened if I hadn't met you."

Dimples appeared in her cheeks. "You would have married Wilwarin of course."

Éomer shuddered. "Certainly not!" At least he hoped he would have had enough sense not to fall into that particular trap. But for sure he would have ended up with a marriage made from duty, not love, if Lothíriel had not romped into his life, upsetting all his carefully laid-out plans and stealing his heart without even trying to.

She was still grinning. "Did you hear that Wilwarin got married?"

"What!"

"Apparently she stopped over in Lossarnach to break her journey home." Lothíriel's voice shook. "Girion the Fat ended up offering for her hand."

Éomer stared at her. "Are you serious? Why, he must have been roaring drunk!"

They broke into laughter. But hearing about other people's marriages reminded him of his own.

He leant towards her. "Are you thirsty? We could share a goblet of wine somewhere..." Preferably the bridal cup in their rooms.

"Oh, I'm fine, please don't bother."

"Or perhaps something small to eat?" He had given orders to leave a plate of nut cakes in their bedroom in case Lothíriel was hungry later on. Although she had shown a healthy appetite at the evening meal.

Smiling, she shook her head. "Truly, don't worry about me." A little hesitantly her hand wandered up his arm. "I would much rather just enjoy my husband's company."

He caught her hand and lifted it to his lips. "And I would like to enjoy my wife's."

Lothíriel's face became serious. "It's a shame we've had so little opportunity to talk to each other alone since I got here."

"I know," Éomer sighed. He had been busy with welcoming all their guests and Éowyn had spirited Lothíriel away at once to show her around Meduseld. In fact he had not exchanged more than a couple of words with her in between greeting his bride-to-be at the gates to Edoras the day before and speaking their wedding vows that morning.

Lothíriel leant closer. "But perhaps we could go somewhere else?" She lowered her voice. "To a more … secluded … place?"

Éomer stared at the blush slowly spreading across her cheeks. Was she saying what he thought she was saying? It dawned on him that he would have to be much more direct in his dealings with his bride. "Tell me, would you like to retire now?" he asked a little diffidently.

Her colour heightened, but she answered at once. "Yes I would."

"As you wish, my lady wife." Suddenly he had to laugh. "It's what I've been trying to suggest to you for the last half hour."

Her mouth opened with astonishment. "You have? But you only asked if I wanted to eat or drink."

"Well yes. But you see, I had doing so in our rooms in mind…"

"Oh!"

Éomer took her hand and settled it on his arm. "I'm sorry for not speaking more plainly."

The mischievous grin that he knew well by now flashed across her face. "My Lord King, you should have mentioned eels!"

At that Éomer had to laugh so loudly that the people standing nearest to them, who had turned their backs discreetly, looked round in surprise. But he just ignored them and drew his wife with him to make their way towards the dais at the other end of Meduseld, where the door leading to their private quarters lay, covered by a curtain. He did not head straight for it – that would have been foolishness – but stopped to listen to another fiddling contest for a moment before moving on unobtrusively further down the hall. With beer and ale flowing so freely his riders would get rowdy, and while he did not doubt his ability to quell any of them, he did not want Lothíriel to suffer the least embarrassment. By far the best strategy would be to slip out the door without anybody being the wiser.

As he helped Lothíriel ascend the steps to the dais, he cast a quick look ahead. The last and most difficult hurdle was to get past the table of honour without being delayed. All three of Lothíriel's brothers sat there with their families, as well as half the Riddermark's council. At least Imrahil was so deep in conversation with Aragorn that he paid no notice to them. Hurrying would only draw attention, so Éomer sauntered along the edge of the dais, much as if they wanted to sit down to have a rest after the energetic dancing. Lothíriel glided alongside him, the perfect Gondorian lady, yet he got the distinct impression she would have liked to skip excitedly instead. Nearly there now! Ahead of them, the man guarding the door straightened up and reached for the curtain.

"Lothíriel!"

For a moment Éomer was tempted to simply ignore the voice, but Lothíriel had already turned towards the speaker. "Is that you Amrothos?"

"Come and join us for a glass of wine," her brother called loudly.

"I can't," the Queen of the Mark said with a happy smile, "Éomer wants to retire." Then she bit her lip as if suddenly realizing what she had said, her hand tightening on Éomer's arm and blood rushing to her cheeks.

Around them conversation ebbed abruptly and Éomer found a large number of eyes levelled at him with an unmistakable hint of amusement in them.

Alphros, who had been watching the dancing with a bored expression on his face, leant forward. "Does Aunt Lothíriel have to go to bed already?" he asked his mother in astonishment.

Annarima hushed him at once, but her voice shook. Sitting at her side with an arm around his wife's shoulders, Elphir suffered from a sudden coughing fit and turned his face away. By now the silence had spread to the nearby tables as well.

It was Imrahil who broke it. "In that case we won't keep you." He got up to cross the distance between them and placed a kiss on Lothíriel's cheek. "Good night, daughter."

"Good night," she replied gratefully.

Imrahil cast a look at his sons and after a moment they obediently chorused his words. Éomer took the opportunity to attempt a dignified exit. With a last nod at the assembled company he grasped his wife's arm and guided her towards the door leading to the passageway abutting the hall. Behind him he could hear conversation starting up again, but not a single jest was levelled at them from his riders. Not quite believing his ears, he looked round before leaving. The tables nearest the dais were occupied by his best men, the éored he had sent to Gondor under Elfhelm's command to escort the future Queen of the Mark to her new country. Just then a rider from another table opened his mouth as if to call something, only to get such threatening frowns cast his way from Éomer's men that he closed it again abruptly. By the looks of if Lothíriel had acquired more champions!

But even so he heaved a heartfelt sigh of relief when they finally entered the small anteroom leading to their quarters and he closed the door behind them. They had made it. Alone at last!

Lothíriel sagged against him. "Oh Éomer, I'm sorry! Why didn't I have the presence of mind to lie to Amrothos."

Suddenly struck by the funny side of the encounter, Éomer started laughing. "Dear heart, you are hopeless at lying." He tilted up her chin. "Your face would have given you away at once."

Her lips curved into a rueful smile. "You are probably right."

"Anyway," Éomer whispered, slipping one hand round the small of her back, "they will have to get used to the sight of their king and queen retiring early." Unhurriedly, he pulled her closer and claimed her mouth for a first kiss. Gentle and restrained, light and teasing, allowing none of the hunger he felt for her to leach into it. They had all night and he had sworn to himself to take it slowly.

Lothíriel gave a happy little murmur and yielded into the circle of his arms, moulding herself against his body. How delicious she tasted. He permitted himself to slide his other hand round the nape of her neck, resting his thumb on that sensitive spot just below the ear and massaging it gently. In the three months that they had been apart, he had forgotten the softness of her skin and the subtle, ravishing scent that clung to her. Had forgotten how her hair, piled up and pinned, called to him to set it loose and run his fingers through it. Had forgotten how her grey eyes were wide and unfocused and drew him into their dark depths with utmost ease.

She raised herself on tiptoe and clasped her arms around his neck, pressing her slim form against him. Her touch seemed to vibrate through him, kindling a slow fire deep within him, and he caught his breath. How he had missed her. Without thinking he deepened his kiss, demanding more. When she responded eagerly Éomer felt his control fraying. He wanted her. He needed her

But he had not yet forgotten how holding her could cause his desires to bypass his brain quite effortlessly. It would not happen, not tonight. With an effort Éomer disengaged himself and drew back, causing Lothíriel to mutter a soft protest. "Patience, lady love," he whispered, tracing a finger along her partly opened lips. "I intend to do this properly."

She broke into a radiant smile, like a child being promised a treat. "I'm sure you will."

The confidence in her voice took his breath away. He still didn't know what he had done to deserve such unconditional trust, but he would do anything in his power to justify it. Her bridal wreath had started to slip in earnest now, so he steadied it with one hand while letting the other hand roam down to her waist and drawing her closer again. "So tell me, my lady wife," he asked, keeping his tone light and playful, "would you like that glass of wine now?"

Lothíriel nodded. "Yes please." Then as if struck by a sudden thought she wriggled out of his embrace. "But first I have to get changed."

Surprised, he let go of her. "This instant?"

With a suspiciously demure expression on her face she smoothed down her dress. "Yes. Hareth said she would wait up for me. Can you show me where the dressing room is?"

"Why yes, of course." Slightly mystified at her sudden urgency, he offered her his arm. Had he overwhelmed her with that first kiss after all? Yet she seemed completely relaxed with him as he escorted her to the door leading off from the anteroom to the Queen's rooms and held it open for her.

On the threshold Lothíriel turned round with an impish grin. "You see, I want to do things properly as well." Then she pulled the door closed behind her.

Éomer stared at it for a moment. What had she meant by that last statement? But he got the distinct impression that from now on life would be full of surprises. Lothíriel had proven her unpredictability more than once! Shaking his head in bemusement, he turned and headed for their bedroom.

A quick look round showed everything to be in order. A dozen candles shed their soft light on the newly tidied room, and the table by the window held a plate of small cakes and the bridal cup. Éomer smiled when he saw the harp standing in one corner and crossed over to touch it admiringly. The dark, satiny wood was polished to perfection and the strings hummed with pleasure when he ran his fingers over them. On his orders the instrument had only been delivered this afternoon to make sure Lothíriel would not come across it on her tour of Meduseld. A traditional Rohirric harp from the best instrument maker in the Mark: his morning gift to his wife. Lothíriel would of course receive the customary lands and horses of a queen as well, but this was his personal present to her. He was looking forward to seeing her face when she got to play it for the first time! Unless he was very much mistaken, she would insist on trying the harp out immediately once he presented it to her in the morning. Not too early though, he promised himself.

Involuntarily his eyes were drawn to the bed, whose oak frame with its massive four posters had served many Kings of the Mark. White and crisp, the sheets had already been turned back and a short robe laid out for him. Éomer picked it up and shook it out. It was thickly embroidered with gold thread and not the kind of garment he usually wore, but no doubt his servants considered it appropriate clothing for a king's wedding night. With a shrug he started to shed his clothes and donned the robe instead. Hopefully he would not wear it all that long anyway, he thought with a grin.

Tying the sash at his waist, Éomer went to open a window to let some cool night air in. The rooms all faced south and offered a breathtaking view of the Ered Nimrais. Overhead the sky was still clear and slowly fading to a deeper blue, but above the mountains clouds were piling up into large towers shaped like giant anvils. They would probably shed their burden of rain later in the night.

Behind him a creak sounded and he spun round, old reflexes taking over. Lothíriel stood in the doorway, a shy smile on her face. She closed the door and took a couple of uncertain steps into the room. "Éomer?"

Her hair tumbling in a luxurious mass down her back, his wife wore a flowing nightgown that revealed and concealed her curves at the same time. His wife… It took a couple of attempts to clear his throat to give a coherent answer. "I'm here."

She smiled at him and twirled round, the midnight blue silk billowing out around her, revealing tantalising glimpses of white limbs. "Do you like it?"

Did he like it! With a couple of strides Éomer crossed the room and gathered her up in his arms. When he brought his lips down on hers and buried his fingers in her long black hair she laughed with pleasure. All of a sudden a wave of red-hot fire flared through him. Heat and hunger. Éomer fought for control. With an effort he loosened his grip on Lothíriel. Did his desirable, provocative wife have any idea how very much she tempted him?

"She said you would like it," Lothíriel whispered breathlessly.

"She?" The sound of his ragged breathing filled his ears.

"Éowyn. It is a present from her."

Trust his sister to come up with such a wedding gift! She had truly taken his measure by now. "It's a very pretty gown," he said, letting his hand run down Lothíriel's back, "but it is you who makes it beautiful." And he realized that indeed somewhere along the way her features, including a determined chin and her nose turning up at the tip endearingly, had become his measure for beauty.

She coloured with pleasure at his compliment and looked up at him expectantly, as if waiting for him to take the next step. Éomer swallowed. What if his lovemaking brought back memories of what she had suffered at Muzgâsh's hands? He realized that he was nervous – more nervous than his bride on her wedding night!

"A glass of wine?" he asked.

She nodded and let him guide her to the table at the window. Why did he get the feeling he was being humoured? Filled with red wine and with cinnamon, cloves and honey added, the bridal cup sat on a little stove to keep hot. Carefully he poured a measure into the golden goblet set out ready for them and lifted it to Lothíriel's lips. She took a sip, lightly resting her fingers on his.

"Nice." With unconscious sensuality she ran her tongue across her lips.

Éomer set the cup down on the table again. He wanted to taste the wine directly on his wife! Taking her by the shoulders, he claimed her mouth for another kiss. Warm, sweet and spicy. Like love itself. Silk whispered under his fingers as he let his hands glide down her sides, tracing her gentle curves, until they settled on her hips. Such a narrow waist. Even though in his mind he knew not to underestimate his wife, he still felt like he might snap her in two if he wasn't careful.

Éomer drew back a little. "More wine?"

She exhaled her breath in a little sigh. "No."

"A nutcake?" After all he did not want her to think that he would pounce on her at the first opportunity.

Lothíriel shook her head. "No." She leant into him. "I'm not hungry…" A little hesitantly, as if doubting her own daring, she let one hand trail up his chest. "…except for you. Éomer, may I feel your face?"

He smiled down at her. "Of course you may, my lady wife."

When her fingers rose to his face he closed his eyes and tried to imagine what the world felt like to her. He had done so repeatedly in the past three months, earning himself a fair share of bruises from walking into things. But as a result their suite of rooms was now bare of all but essential furniture. Through the cool silk of her robe he could feel her stretch to stand on tiptoe, the faint scent of her favourite perfume clinging to her. From afar echoes of the celebration in the hall reached his ears and the taste of sweet wine lingered in his mouth.

Lothíriel followed the line of his eyebrows, then her fingers fluttered across his cheeks, the touch more intimate than a kiss. "Your wife," she repeated his words wonderingly. "It doesn't seem possible that we are together at last!"

"Oh, Lothíriel!" he whispered, opening his eyes again and drinking in the sight of her. "How I've missed you."

A look of intense concentration on her face, she traced his mouth. "And I felt like you had taken a piece of myself with you when you left for Rohan and only being with you would make me whole again." She sighed. "At the same time I was convinced something would happen to keep us apart, that father would change his mind."

Involuntarily Éomer tightened his grip on her waist. "Believe me, in that case I would have come and abducted you! Even if I had to ride to the City of Serpents itself and seize it."

"Well, I would have run away to Rohan anyway." At the determination in her voice Éomer had to smile. Yet he could almost see her arriving in Edoras tired but triumphant after a journey of hundreds of miles and with a gaggle of champions in tow.

"Nobody and nothing will ever part us now," he promised.

She smiled up at him and quoted her wedding vows in Rohirric. "You are mine and I am yours." Her hand trailed down his neck, the light touch making him shiver, then cautiously slipped inside his robe, much like a little bird coming to rest. She stopped abruptly. "Éomer, you're burning hot! Are you all right? Have you really recovered from that poison?"

Torn between embarrassment and amusement, he only just managed to stop her from bending down and checking his leg. "I'm fine, Lothíriel!" Although he got the feeling he would never recover – from her.

When she lifted an anxious face to him, he found himself obliged to attempt an explanation. "I'm afraid that's what your closeness does to me, lady love."

"Oh!" Colour flooded her cheeks as understanding dawned. He had feared she might shrink back in maidenly confusion, but instead after a moment she answered with that rare honesty of hers. "You do the same to me."

He traced the delicate line of her jaw. "I would not have you think that I'm no better than that Harad Prince."

"Of course not!" she exclaimed. "Éomer, you love me and you care for me as a person." Lothíriel shivered. "Muzgâsh just saw me as a convenient means to take his revenge. A thing."

He drew her into the protective circle of his arms. "Lothíriel, forgive me. I did not intend to remind you of him!"

Pressing herself against him, his wife twined her arms around his neck. "Éomer, just forget the troubles of the past." Her lips sought his own. "We are together at last, you and me," she whispered. Through the thin silk he could feel the heat of her body. "Husband of mine," she breathed, "now is the proper time and place." And she gifted him with a smile. A supremely confident smile, full of anticipation for a wonderful venture about to be undertaken. "Love me."

Éomer stared down at his wife: shy and bold, vulnerable yet strong, innocent and wise. Giving herself completely, without holding anything back. Suddenly he felt joy well up within him, filling him to overflowing and spilling out as laughter. In one smooth motion he gathered her up in his arms. "Lothíriel, I'm yours to command!"


Later…

Lothíriel swam up through the waters of her dreams, floating lazily for a while before rising to consciousness. Soft thunder rumbled outside. Another sound … rain, she recognized it after a moment. Heavy drops hitting the pavement and water gurgling through gutters and flowing off eaves. She stretched languidly, revelling in the feeling of utter relaxation pervading her. The dragon at the bottom of her soul was sated. Finally set free, it had tried out its wings, rising high in the air, swooping and soaring, before ending the flight in a mad, plummeting tumble that had robbed her of all conscious thought.

A breeze from an open window brought the smell of wet earth with it and brushed a chilly touch across her skin. But she was nice and cosy, the heat spilling off her sleeping husband keeping her warm. Her husband – in every sense now. She supposed it should feel strange to be lying naked between the sheets with Éomer snuggled up against her back, his heavy arm thrown across her waist, but instead it seemed the most natural thing in the world. Sensing the slow rise and fall of his chest, Lothíriel smiled. They had embarked on a wonderful journey tonight and while the waters would not always be as calm as now, she knew that together they could weather whatever storms life would throw at them. She belonged here.

Gradually she identified other sounds. The sudden creak of a wooden beam, a gust of wind rattling the windows, the bed curtains whispering in the draft. Idly she thought that she would have to get used to the absence of the ever-present murmur of the sea and the differing noises of her new home.

Her husband's soft breath caressed the nape of her neck and a kiss was placed on her shoulder. "Did the storm wake you, dear heart?" he asked.

Remembering how his hands had moved upon her, gentle but sure, Lothíriel felt little shivery thrills run through her whole being at his touch. Not trusting her voice she just nodded.

In lazy whirls he started to trace the outline of her spine. "It's early yet with dawn still several hours away." His voice held that dark warmth that he kept for her alone. "Nobody awake but you and me."

Lothíriel knew that there would be guards outside on their rounds, yet that moment it truly felt as if Arda had ceased to exist at the boundaries of their room. His hand continued its leisurely exploration and at the same time he leaned forward and nibbled her ear. Involuntarily she gasped and Éomer gave a low chuckle. Oh yes, he enjoyed the effect he had on her, playing her like a harpist played his harp. But she had made a surprising discovery last night.

Twisting round to face him she ran a hand across the muscles of his chest, feeling them tense beneath her touch, and up to his neck. Then slowly, teasingly, she laced her fingers in his hair and pulled his head down towards her, only to stop when their lips were a finger's breadth apart.

Éomer groaned softly. "You're learning fast."

She laughed and pulled him down the rest of the way, putting all her newly acquired skill into the kiss she gave him. "I've got a good teacher."

"You're an apt pupil!" He sank back onto his side, settling her in his arms more securely and she nestled against his shoulder. With his other hand he brushed back her hair, fanning it out on the pillow. "Oh Lothíriel, I love you."

Lothíriel lifted her hand and traced the planes of his face. She knew them by heart already, yet she would never get tired of doing so. "I love you, too."

He bent down to kiss her, taking his time about it and in no rush to proceed, although she knew with delightful certainty that proceed he would. His hair fell like a soft curtain across her breasts – no wonder the ladies of the court of Gondor used to call him the Lion of Rohan. From the window the sound of rain intensified.

All of a sudden a loud clap of thunder sounded and she jumped. At once his arms tightened around her protectively. "It's only the storm."

"I know." She savoured the feeling of being held safe while outside the elements raged. "Will we get them often?"

"In the summer, yes. They arise unexpectedly, but pass quickly. In the morning it will seem as if the storm never happened." His voice took on a dreamy tone. "Then everything is fresh, the dew glittering like thousands of diamonds in the light of the rising sun. And in the distance you can see the tips of the mountains, crowned with snow, so clear that you feel you can reach out and touch them." He sighed. "Oh Lothíriel, the Riddermark is beautiful. I wish I could show it to you."

"But you do with your words! Éomer…does my blindness matter to you?" Lothíriel held her breath. She thought she knew his answer, but found that hearing him say it aloud had taken on a sudden and overwhelming importance.

Gently he kissed her eyelids. "It does for your sake. If only you could see our sea of grass, turning from spring green to burnished gold as the year progresses!"

"I see the world through your eyes." Lothíriel smiled at him. On this night, with her whole being filled with joy, she could not find it in herself to be sad. "Éomer, when I'm with you, there is no darkness. If my accident was a step on the road that led me here, I can accept it." Stroking her hand across his shoulder and down to his chest, she resolved to get to know every inch of him, to sculpt an exact picture of her husband in her mind. His skin seemed to burn under her caress and she felt a tremor pass through him.

"Fate can take strange turns," he agreed, his voice sounding strangled.

Lothíriel paused, enjoying her power. It was a heady feeling, almost as if she'd had too much wine – or like playing with fire. "I could have ended up married to Muzgâsh…"

When his arms closed on her possessively, she added, "but I think I prefer being Queen of the Mark."

Éomer went still. "Oh, do you now?"

"It's marginally better."

Powerful muscles rippled under her touch and the next moment Lothíriel found herself pinned below her husband's body, her head cradled by his arms either side. "Are you sure?"

Not fooled by the menacing growl in his voice, but nevertheless with her heart hammering wildly, Lothíriel shrugged. "Well…" Suggestively she trailed her fingers along his sides and around his back.

He quivered, taut as a bowstring, radiating a sense of barely controlled power. "Yes?"

But knowing she was perfectly safe with him, Lothíriel just laughed up at him. "…I suppose so."

With a hiss Éomer drew his breath in. "I am warning you…" He buried his fingers in her hair, pinioning her head. "…Queen of the Golden Hall or not…" She waited for him to take her mouth in a kiss, but he just nipped her bottom lip teasingly. His warm male scent enveloped her. "…if you say something like that…" Éomer lowered his head and slowly and lingeringly kissed the hollow at the bottom of her throat. It was Lothíriel's turn to have a tremor run through her. "…my lady wife…" His lips trailed lower and involuntarily she dug her fingers into his sides and arched her back against him. "…you will have to live with the consequences!"

"Yes, please!" she whispered.

And the Lion of Rohan was happy to oblige.


A/N: Éadig means 'blessed' and according to Tolkien is the name his people gave Éomer. The rest of the quote as well as all the other 'quotes' in this story are my own invention.

A/N: Many thanks to my wonderful beta, Lady Bluejay, and to Willow-41z for their comments and encouragement. Also thank you very much to the ladies at GoI for their input ranging from stylistic issues to plotting and characterization. And finally many thanks to you, my readers and reviewers! I really appreciate all the positive comments I've had for this story and will miss hearing from you. Take care!

Update: there is now a small follow-on story called 'The Salt in the Soup'. Just a oneshot for Yule.