If I Fell
A symphony soars within the light
Sea nymph voices floating high
-Symphony of the Sea by Alwye
It all began with a dream.
Perhaps it was the salt in the fresh, biting air—perhaps it was merely his proximity to the sea. Whatever the cause, Éomer's dream began with singing—singing as sweet and utterly lonesome as the cries of circling sea gulls. It repeatedly broke upon his consciousness, wave after wave after wave, until he opened his eyes.
His blurred sight (true sight blurred by sleep, or the mistiness of vision in a dream? Éomer wasn't entirely certain at the time) cleared only slightly as he scrubbed his hand across his eyes, giving a slight groan as he sat up. The singing continued.
Éomer was curious as to the source of the melodies—as curious as he could be in his bemused state. The singing seemed to be floating in through his open window… he crossed over and laid his arms against the stone ledge, leaning his head out.
He was met with a sight that would forever be imprinted upon his memory.
A girl in a diaphanous green dress shot with blue and silver danced along the seashore, her curling mass of black hair tumbling down, her joy beautifully evident. She threw herself on the sand, then jumped up and began dancing again, this time in the waves, giving not a second thought to her dress. All the while, the sweet melodies that had so excited his sleepy curiosity mingled with the voice of the ocean—the girl was singing.
This sight, above all, was what convinced Éomer it was a dream. For who, in all of mannerly Gondor, would dance among the waves in the earliest part of morning, or sing with the seagulls? That she was Gondorian he had no doubt—her dark hair and elegant figure confirmed that. That her existence was real, he wasn't quite as certain.
Had Éomer been completely conscious, he might have wondered who she was, and whether she was lovely or not—her distance from his window, coupled with his cursed blurred vision, prevented him from properly making out her features. But her freedom and the loss of rigid control that so distinguished Gondorians was a pleasure to watch, and watch he did, until his eyes began to close and he knew that the dream was at an end.
Éomer could see nothing but a green and blue blur hovering on the edge of his vision, now. In mild resignation, he sank into bed once more.
His last thought was clearer than any he had had in the entirety of his dream—that he had never witnessed such an uninhibited creature in his lifetime… that she couldn't be real… that she was surely some creature out of a long-forgotten sea-tale.
Perhaps she was a sea nymph.
Dol Amroth, often called the jewel of the Bay of Belfalas, was renowned in Gondor for the old beauty of its architecture and the ease with which its structures naturally fell into the arms of the sea. And of the beautiful structures found there, the Castle of the Princes was surely the loveliest of all. Its walls were made of smooth, blue-grey stone, dressed in climbing ivy and flowers, and instead of rising imposingly above awestruck heads—as white Minas Tirith did—it seemed to grow gracefully, expansive and elegant, only a stone's throw away from the sea. Not a pebble was out of place in its construction, and not a single line was awkwardly drawn, which was just as it should have been, since workmen had laboured over it underneath the watchful eyes of elves, the fabled ancestors of the Princes.
Prince Imrahil, who had become a great friend of Éomer's, had often extended an invitation to come and visit, but a year following the downfall of Sauron had passed before Éomer felt Rohan to be sufficiently stable that he might leave for a few months. Now he made his way down stone steps that flowed towards the dining hall, marveling as ever over the craftsmanship of the entire castle.
He stopped by an arched window, gazing out. More than the grace of the castle, what struck Éomer about Dol Amroth, above all, was the sea. It was his first time so near it—to watch the blue-green waves dance so entranced him that he often found himself staying much longer at an open window than he had intended, in order to observe the waves play… as he was doing at this very moment. Shaking his head, he continued until he had reached the dining hall, without any more distractions.
Imrahil rose in greeting. "Good morn, Éomer. I trust you slept well?"
Éomer inclined his head. "I was disturbed by nothing except a pleasant dream, thank you."
Someone cleared his throat, and Imrahil's eyes twinkled in amusement. "Ah, yes. Might I introduce my two youngest children? Éomer, this is Amrothos," a gallant-looking young man—the one who had cleared his throat—grinned at him, "and this is Lothíriel." A pretty girl with her hair in a knot offered a shy smile.
"Amrothos has been quite looking forward to speaking to you," Imrahil continued, barely concealing his growing amusement. "He and Lothíriel were left in charge of Dol Amroth while I, Elphir, and Erchirion were in Minas Tirith, and he thinks you might provide a better description of our march to the Black Gate than his brothers have."
Elphir and Erchirion, with whom Éomer was already acquainted, shook their heads in mock disappointment. Éomer simply laughed and took the seat opposite Amrothos, beside quiet Lothíriel.
"What do you wish to know?" he asked, as a servant silently came forward and settled a heavily-laden plate in front of him.
"Oh, it's only your first day in Dol Amroth—I wouldn't want to bother you with memories of the Black Gate," said Amrothos, waving a hand. "Perhaps another time. You only arrived last night, as I recall. Was the journey difficult?"
"Not at all," Éomer answered, "though I'm sorry I wasn't able to see Éowyn on my way here. And I had a good rest afterwards—the sea air is rather conducive to good dreams, I'm beginning to suspect."
"Hmm." Amrothos ladled some soup into a bowl. "They say that dreams within these walls often have some meaning."
"Within these walls?"
"Yes—they were built by elves, weren't they? Why, Father himself saw Mother in a dream before they ever met."
Éomer pursed his lips. "You Númenoreans are famed for your dreams. I doubt mine would qualify as having meaning."
Amrothos' eyes twinkled, just as his father's had a few minutes ago. "Why don't you tell me what your dream was about, and let me be the judge of that?"
Éomer paused, trying to recollect. "Everything is faintly blurred, but I certainly remember singing. There was a girl singing on the beach… I saw her outside my window. She was dancing in the waves, with her hair streaming down. She looked rather like a sea nymph." He glanced at Amrothos, grinning. "What do you make of that?"
Amrothos gazed solemnly at him. "I fear you were right, my friend—you certainly do not have Númenorean blood."
Even as they laughed, a thought occurred to Éomer—he did have Númenorean blood, through his grandmother, Morwen of Lossarnach. But he brushed the thought aside.
Lothíriel stood up abruptly, meekly asked to be excused, and left the table. No one noticed that the food on her plate was untouched.
As Imrahil toured Éomer around the castle—and his wonder grew with every turn they took—he regaled him with tales of his unruly brood. Imrahil, though wise and at times serious, had generally been of a more lighthearted nature, even when the situation was at its grimmest; he had a gift of bringing hope and good cheer to darkened hearts, and now that the darkness had finally passed, Éomer completely enjoyed his spirited banter.
He had just ended his story of Elphir—quiet, well-mannered Elphir—and some stolen oysters with a hearty peal of laughter when they came upon a figure reclining on a cloth-draped couch. Lothíriel had a slim tome in her hands, but her gaze rested on the view outside the window—her eyes were bright, and she seemed caught up in a very vivid daydream.
"Lothíriel?" her father interrupted softly.
She awoke from her reverie and, upon seeing the two people in front of her, scrambled off the couch. "Father! My lord king! I—" Éomer held up a kind hand, and she stopped abruptly.
"Please don't distress yourself, my lady," he said. "Your father was giving me a tour of your beautiful home." He smiled, and she smiled back, but her face seemed… seemed guarded in a strange manner, somehow.
A servant entered the room and murmured a few words in a low undertone to Prince Imrahil. He frowned, and said, most courteously, "Éomer, I'm afraid I must attend to something. May I leave you in Lothíriel's capable hands?"
Éomer nodded in return. "Of course. I'd be delighted to make Princess Lothíriel's acquaintance more fully." He glanced back at her as she gave a cordial nod of assent, a polite smile plastered on to her face. Judging from her expression, she had no desire to do the same. "That is, of course," he hastened to add, "if my lady doesn't mind. She seems to be rather occupied at the moment, and I would hate to get in the way."
Imrahil waved a dismissive hand. "I'm sure she'd be happy to."
She nodded. "I'd be delighted." She appeared to be pleasant enough, but overly careful with her manners and her speech—the exact opposite of the free-spirited nymph from his dream.
Imrahil bowed and left them.
They both seated themselves on the couch, and an uncomfortable silence ensued. Finally, obviously struggling to overcome her discomfort, Lothíriel said, awkwardly, "How—how do you like Dol Amroth, my lord king?"
"It is breathtaking, my lady," he said quickly, grateful for a topic for which he felt genuine eagerness. "The sea is like nothing I have ever seen before—the colours and the waves breaking upon the sand—and how vast it seems—" he paused, slightly embarrassed by his over-enthusiasm.
But Lothíriel laughed in that quiet manner of hers, and Éomer was pleased to detect a slight note of something more genuine than her restrained smiles. "Many visitors to our land feel just as you do, my lord. Even those native to Dol Amroth feel the same." Her eyes softened. "The seashore is an enchanting place, and though it has been my home for so long, I can't help but hold it in awe."
"Rightly so," said Éomer. "Your feelings echo mine—I will forever wonder at the beauty of my homeland. But seeing all this elegance nearly forces me to admit that Gondor comes close to Rohan." His features took on a droll look. "Close, but not quite."
Lothíriel laughed, as had been his intention, more freely than before. Her laughter was silver, he noticed, the kind that made you want to laugh along with her.
"Tell me more of Rohan, my good king," she said, "for if you presume to say it takes precedence over Gondor, I'm sure it must have some redeeming qualities."
He told her of the rolling plains, the wide green spaces, the occasional herd of wild horses that thundered across, free, and watched as the mask settled so carefully upon her features chipped away, little by little.
"And once," he narrated, "Éowyn and I were watching a particularly spirited herd when she took it into her head that she wanted a rather fine cream-coloured pony grazing near us. We were very young, and the pony seemed more docile than its elders."
"And?" Lothíriel prompted.
"She ran off to fetch some rope, and I kept an eye on the pony until she returned. It let off an almighty bellow that set off half the herd when we attempted to rope it… we might have been trampled to death had our father not seen and rescued us." His voice had trailed off rather wistfully, and he realised that her eyes were bright with sympathy.
"What was your father like?" she asked.
Ordinarily, Éomer would have felt offense at the presumptuousness of such a question coming from a near-stranger, but coming from the princess, whose eyes were still soft with sympathy, it didn't seem intrusive at all.
"He loved horses," Éomer said, after a pause, "and detested orcs. He was always noble, sometimes to the point of idiocy, but he was always doing the right thing… He had a famous temper." He smiled. "I remember how he yelled at us the day we attempted to rope that troublesome pony… he shouted and shouted for hours, how we could have been killed, and how stupid it had been of us, but you could always see the worry and the relief shining in his eyes. When his words ran out, he knelt down and embraced us." He paused again, and said, "He rode out on an orc raid the next day, and he never came back."
Lothíriel's voice was full of compassion when she spoke. "It was tactless of me to ask such a question, my lord. I apologise." He nodded, unsure of the words he should use to assure that he didn't mind. Her forehead continued to crease with guilt. Finally, she said in an even quieter voice than usual, "I lost my mother when I was very young as well."
Éomer remembered how Imrahil had once spoken of Firith, his wife, to him. "I miss her," he had said, frankly, "but none of my children save Amrothos speak of her anymore, and least of all my youngest daughter."
He felt ridiculously flattered that she had spoken of her mother to him. He opened his mouth to say something—though he had no idea what he was about to say—when Lothíriel suddenly jumped up, looking out the window. He followed her gaze and found that the sky had stained orange, awash in fire.
"I didn't realise how quickly time went by," said Lothíriel, busily smoothing her skirts down. "I apologise for being so abrupt, my king, but my aunt is expecting me, and I must depart."
He wondered for a split second whether she had fabricated this as an excuse, but she looked him straight in the eye and smiled as she said, "Thank you for your time, my lord king… I truly enjoyed myself."
He took her hand, kissed it, and said, merrily, "Until our next meeting then, my lady."
Ivriniel made a disapproving noise in her throat when Lothíriel rushed in, face flushed. "You're late."
"I'm sorry, Aunt," she said, her words spilling out of her mouth far too quickly. "Father left me to entertain the King of Rohan and I lost track of—"
"Stop, stop," interrupted Ivriniel impatiently. "I've told you many times before, Lothíriel—speak slowly. Do not let emotions control you. Being always calm, always aloof, that is the key."
She nodded, but said, falteringly, but in the calmer tone of voice Ivriniel had instructed her in, "Aunt, I've been thinking…"
"Yes? Oh, do call Taeneth for our wine and bread first."
"Yes, Aunt." Lothíriel did so—some of her impatience trickling back, Ivriniel noted critically—and then sat herself beside her aunt once more. "Aunt, I've been thinking." She hesitated, then continued. "Perhaps what I'm doing isn't right…"
When Ivriniel spoke, her tone of voice was icy. "Do you mean to say that what I teach you isn't "right"? That I do not have your best interests at heart?"
"No, no, of course not," she said at once. "What I mean to say is… perhaps it works for you, Aunt, but it doesn't for me… perhaps I should simply stop trying so hard to—"
"Do you hear yourself, Lothíriel?" Ivriniel felt furious. All the time she had spent helping the child, all the improvements that had occurred would be put to waste because of a silly whim.
"But Aunt, I—"
Ivriniel controlled herself. That was the point, of course—she was a child, still, and didn't know what was best for herself. She spoke in a softer tone of voice. "Lothíriel, do not make the same mistake twice."
Lothíriel remained silent and hardly spoke a word during the entire duration of her visit.
A/N: Edited, yay!