As Lothíriel's Journal will not make sense unless you have read Counting the Days, I have posted my first story here as a prologue. If you have already read it you can go straight to Chapter 2. However, if it was a while ago, it may be worth scrolling down to remind yourself of the Epilogue as the new story starts from there. LBJ

Counting the Days 1

The scene that greeted him when he pushed the tent flap aside was one he had witnessed a hundred times. The morning view of a Rohírric encampment rarely altered: the lines of picketed horses; the fire with the cooking pot held above by a tripod; the smell of gently frying bacon coming from the pan resting on the stones at the edge of the flames; the men all busy with their early chores. Only the place had changed. Never before had they made camp on these southern slopes of the White Mountains. And therefore, not only the place differed, but so did the scenery. At least he imagined it would be different, but at the moment he could see little of it. Éomer nodded to his men who looked up to greet him but he did not speak. Not feeling like exchanging pleasantries even with his most trusted and treasured companions. Walking over to the edge of the plateau where they had set up the night before, he gazed out. The land fell away beneath him into an empty nothingness. Somewhere, way south of him, lay the sea. Not that he would be able to see it so many leagues away, even without the mist. It covered the land below like a soft grey blanket unravelling at the edges with the threads winding their way up the sides of the narrow valleys and curling into the crevices. It would all burn off later. Still early – early in the year as well as early in the morning. Éomer looked down at his feet, knowing he could not avoid the inevitable. Already it looked like they would start out an hour later than he had intended, and he could not blame his men for that. Just to the right of his booted foot a stunted bush struggled to survive; its small buds were showing a first glimpse of green. New life, new season, things changing. He sighed: not sure that he wanted the kind of change he was in for – not yet – not ever. Éomer turned on his heel and stalked back towards the campfire. When something nasty stood in your path then you faced it, especially if you couldn't creep around the edge.

Sitting down on a convenient rock near to the fire, he looked up only when someone passed him a bowl of oatmeal. They knew him well enough to realise that he did not wish to talk. Éothain shot him a speculative glance from the other side of the fire, but even he left him alone with his thoughts. The porridge had already begun to congeal in the dish before he even touched it with the spoon. When he did so the rapidly forming skin piled up into little creamy ridges. He pushed the skin aside and dug his spoon into the semi liquid mass underneath and as he removed the spoon he heard a decided slurp. The spoon came to a halt halfway to his mouth and he looked down at the bowl, watching the fragile crater fill up and the sides slipping into the middle in an unstoppable motion. He gave up and put bowl and spoon down onto the rock next to him.

"Didn't I make it right, Lord?"

Éomer started and looked up. The young rider gave the impression of being terrified. "No, Celm, it is fine, I am just not very hungry. Perhaps just one piece of bacon, a small hunk of bread and a mug of tea." The boy nodded, picked up the bowl and started to walk away, "No leave that, Celm, Firefoot will polish it off," he said feeling guilty and trying to smile at the lad.

Celm reappeared with the required breakfast a few moments later, "Shall I take that to Firefoot, Lord?" He pointed to the bowl of solidified porridge.

"No, I will do it; he will be a bit lively this morning. Get his tack and my other stuff would you."

The boy nodded and hurried away

Éomer cast his mind back to the first few times he had ridden with an éored and the memory of his own nervousness and fear of doing wrong forced him to eat the piece of bacon and most of the bread. At least he welcomed the tea.

He stood up and dumped his plate and mug in the proffered bucket of water. The camp was now in the process of being swiftly disassembled, his men evidently eager to get on even if he did not share their enthusiasm. Éomer picked up the bowl and headed towards the horse lines deciding he might as well enjoy the ride. It looked like it would turn into a beautiful day. Firefoot whickered excitedly when he saw his master approaching and pawed the ground with one well polished black hoof, obviously anticipating a morning gallop.

Éomer ran his hand down the dark dappled neck feeling the solid muscles ripple under the warm skin. "You'll have to wait a bit, my friend; it's going to be a rocky downhill ride first thing."

The horse spotted the bowl and smelt the oatmeal. His leathery black lips started to quiver with anticipation.

"You want this, then?"

Watching the thick pink tongue snaking around the bowl, eager to extract every last oat, restored Éomer's good humour. It could not be as bad as he thought. The bowl finally abandoned, his mood lifted temporarily as a result of watching the big grey trying to lick the goo that stuck obstinately around his mouth, his resilient tongue extending to its fullest length in an effort to reach every last scrap.

Éomer took the opportunity to run his hands down each of his stallion's strong legs. The ride through the caves had been rough and uneven, but he felt no heat or swelling and Firefoot did not twitch. Celm arrived, and Éomer suppressed a grin. The lad staggered under the load of saddle, saddlebags, saddlecloth, harness, spear and bow. A good job he had already buckled on his sword. He took the saddlecloth from Celm and placed it carefully on Firefoot's back, "Come on then," he whispered to the horse, "we can put it off no longer." With the ease of long practice he fitted the saddle to his horse's back, his hands rejoicing in the familiar feel of the supple leather. He reached one hand under the Firefoot's belly to pull the girth through and fasten it. "Don't you even think of making it difficult you old bugger." The big stallion relented, recognising the firmness in his master's tone, and lessened his waist measurement to allow the straps to be tightened. Éomer took the bridle from the young Rider and motioned the lad to put his weapons against a rock. "Go and get yourself ready, we shall be moving out soon." Celm went to do as ordered and Éomer turned to finish tacking up his horse. The fitting of the bridle and bit accompanied as always by an ever opportunistic Firefoot nudging and nosing into his master's tunic. When this manoeuvre produced no apparent reward he resorted to giving Éomer's hands a thorough licking, his eyes rolling in ecstasy as he revelled in the salty taste. Eomer tugged affectionately at the unruly quiff of coarse black hair that fell over the stallion's forehead, "You're an old softie really and I will try and give you a gallop."

"I don't think there will be much chance around here." Éothain came to stand next to him, his own saddle over his arm, "Perhaps it might be a bit better farther down."

"Well, he's going to be a pain in the ass if we don't find somewhere. It did not suit him yesterday." Horses bred in the Riddermark were meant for the rolling plains: the restrictions of mountain tracks and steep valleys did not sit well with them.

Éomer fastened his bow to the saddle and fixed his spear into its long leather holder, wondering why he had brought it. True, he felt naked without it, but he couldn't really imagine he would need the weapon on this trip and decided not to admit to a certain perverseness that made him proclaim his warrior status quite so loudly.

"Have the scouts left?"

Éothain looked up from tacking up his own horse. "Aye, I told them to report back and not to make contact. I didn't know if you wanted to ride up with standards flying and horns blowing or creep up on them and give them a fright."

Éomer grinned at his friend, "They might creep up on us."

Éothain said nothing but raised his eyebrows in a sardonic gesture.

"It doesn't become you to be too cocky." Laughing at Éothain's expression, Éomer took hold of Firefoot's reins and swung himself into the saddle. "Once we know where they are we will stop and have a clean up."

"You mean you daren't meet a princess with your hands stinking of horse's spit?"

That managed to spoil his mood. "Come on, we should have left hours ago."

The long orderly column left the plateau and rejoined the main way, heading down and heading south. The horses fidgeted and tossed their heads in frustration: impossible to train them to the peak of vigour and fitness and then expect them to be content with slipping and sliding on an old neglected track. Progress remained slow. The danger of a false move on a loose stone too real to ignore. They had gone half a league when one of the outriders returned. He came at a fair pace, the journey uphill by far the easier option.

The man oozed dampness, the braids in his tawny hair hanging like limp ribbons. Little beads of moisture were clinging to the wool of his cloak: they glistened like crystals in the now bright sunlight. A nod to his King, he addressed Éothain, "The road improves around the next bend, my lord, but not long after that you will hit the mist."

"Any sign of them?" Éomer could not resist asking.

"No, Sire, nothing. We have stopped and listened as the sound travels better upwards, but all is quiet. We don't want to go too far from the road until the mist clears."

"Let us know when you find them. Do not let them see you. They will probably have scouts out as well."

"I wouldn't count on it," Éothain muttered.

The man nodded, acknowledged the order from his king with a wave of his hand and turned back down the road. He showed no surprise at the confidence shown in him.

Once they penetrated the belt of wet mist they entered an eerily silent world, but the loose rock had, thankfully, given way to a beaten dirt road. Somewhere to the right of them would be the habitations of the great Blackroot Vale. Every now and again they passed a small stone cairn from which a treacherous looking path disappeared down into some hidden valley, the only sign that men lived in this mountainous region. The relative smoothness of the track excited the horses, especially Firefoot. None in his vicinity could fail to realise that the big horse wanted a gallop. However, the thought of blindly charging into a cloying cloud of murky grey did not appeal to his master.

Éothain laughed at the horse's antics, "You should not have given him those oats. It has made him worse. In fact…" he laughed louder, finding whatever he happened to be thinking, extremely funny.

Éomer waited patiently for the joke to come out.

"In fact… when you meet this princess, you might wish you had eaten them yourself. You might want to leg it quickly."

Éomer sighed; not in the mood for his friend's jokes. He knew he should have braided his hair, he thought ironically, as he pushed the dark gold mass back from his face and wiped his hand across his forehead for the umpteenth time, trying to stop the rivulets of moisture from running into his eyes.

"Éothain, how long have you known me?"

"Well, I can remember you running around Aldburg in a napkin, if that is what you mean." The grin on his face widened, "I had just got my first pony."

"About twenty six years then. That must be long enough."

"Long enough for what?"

"For you to tell me why I agreed to marry a woman I have never set eyes upon."

The silence stretched out as Éothain seriously considered the question. "You were drunk," he said finally.

Another long pause ensued before Éomer eventually replied, and when he did so his voice held an echo of regret, as if he wished the explanation to be accurate and therefore excuse him. "I was definitely not drunk."

"Then you must have been stark raving bloody mad…, my lord."

That's what he liked about his long time friend. The Captain of his Guard could always be relied upon to speak the blunt truth.

When no answer came Éothain relented, "All right then, you must have had some sensible reasons for agreeing to such a damn fool notion."

"Other than the fact that I found myself surrounded by Aragorn, Imrahil and Faramir, not to mention my sister, you mean?"

"I don't see that counts for anything," Éothain stated blandly, "I have seen you surrounded by a thousand Orcs and not twitch a muscle. On the other hand," he continued seriously, "I did not see Éowyn amongst them."

A loud snort came from Éomer, "I will not have you bad mouth my sister."

"I meant it as a compliment."

"That's all right then," his king grinned, but the frown soon appeared back on his face. There must have been some sensible reasons, but right now, he couldn't remember a damn one. Probably because he had pushed the whole fool thing out of his mind over the winter. It was in his mind now, though. He could hardly ignore the fact that he would meet her in the next hour or two. "It is good for the Riddermark," he came out with at last.



Yes, why?"

A good question really. Why was it? He must have thought so at one time or he would never have agreed to it. "It strengthens our ties with Gondor."

"And we want them strengthened, do we?" Éothain had never had much time for politics.

"Of course we do. We need the trade, and we will stand together if there are any further threats." Yes, that was definitely it.

Éothain looked far from convinced. "I do not see you that have to marry the Princess of Dol Amroth for that. You have the friendship of her father and her brothers, but most importantly, of Gondor's King. So no, I do not see it."

Another deep sigh, "No, you are right, maybe not exactly that. I think it had to do with her brothers."

"Her brothers?"

Éomer pushed his hair out of his eyes to gain time. "I think so." He was not usually so woolly headed. The whole damn thing would probably seriously unhinge him.

"Why her brothers?"

Why indeed? Difficult to explain, even to Éothain. He would probably laugh his head off. "I have to marry someone."

"Yes…"Éothain said slowly, "you probably do, and a woman is preferable, I suppose. Did you want to marry one of her brothers?"

"What! What ever are you talking about?"

"All this going on about her brothers is confusing me. I wondered if I missed something."

Éomer stared at him for a few long moments, his lips tight with the effort of suppressing his laughter. Trust Éothain to lighten the atmosphere. He could contain himself no longer,

"Go fall in a fire pit. I knew I should not have mentioned it."

"No, I consider it my duty to help you out on this one. Explain slowly."

Éomer ran his tongue around the inside of his cheek and eyed his friend, wryly. "If you remember after Théoden's funeral, how much the council pressurised me. In fact before he was even buried they had drawn up a list."

"And you did not fancy anyone on the list?"

"Did not fancy, is a polite way of putting it."

"And you could not supply your own?"

"I suppose I could have done, one or two perhaps. However," a deep chuckle brought a grin to Éothain's lips, "I doubt they would have obtained the official seal of approval."

"So enter the Princess of Dol Amroth." Éothain sniggered merrily. "No doubt that she would be acceptable to those blown up old windbags, but how do you know you are going to fancy her?"

"I do not, of course. In fact I now realise it was the most stupid thing to have done, but I thought she might be like her brothers."

Eothain looked mystified. "So you do fancy her brothers?"

"Will you listen instead of making brainless remarks," Éomer began to feel exasperated, but not sure who with, himself or Éothain. "I have to marry someone. One of sufficient rank and who will make a good queen. A princess, especially a princess who is Imrahil's daughter, is likely to fulfil that role admirably."

"Yes, but it would have been better to have met her first."

"I know, but it was just easier to agree and get one thing out of the way. It meant I could concentrate on restoring prosperity to the Mark and not worry about searching for a woman."

"You have never had to search much."

Éomer did not bother to deny this, "The right kind of woman, Éothain."

"Not so easy, I agree. So if we accept that as reasonably sensible, where do her brothers come in to it?"

"You have to admit that there is something about them," he painfully searched his brain for words, "they are elegant."

"Poncey, you mean," Éothain had no trouble finding one.

"Éothain, you saw them fight. They are certainly not poncey."

"No, you are right. They just look poncey. It must be all that silk and velvet not to mention the silver."

Éomer grinned, "Yes, there is a bit much of it. But I have to say since I have worn the crown, so to speak, I do have to wear a bit of it myself."

"But you would not be so daft as to wear that stuff out riding. Horse snot makes a right mess of velvet."

"That aside, I have it on good authority that all three of them are good looking."

"Whose authority?"

Éowyn's for one. She is a woman, Éothain, in spite of what you may think."

"Hmmm," another chuckle, "well, I admit she appears to have turned into one."

Éomer chose to ignore that remark; Éothain had known Éowyn from her birth. "Anyway, it was not only her. It may have escaped your notice but the two unmarried ones were very popular in Edoras."

"It did not escape my notice. Luckily my daughters are too young for me to be bothered by it. But I still do not see the point."

"The point is," he took one hand off the reins and held it in the air. "One: all three of them are tall; two: they are good looking; three: they are elegant," he counted on his fingers to emphasize the points, "and, although I do not feel elegance is a particularly desirable quality in a man, I do have a penchant for elegant women."

"Do we have elegant women in the Mark?"

Éomer laughed out loud, "Don't you let Éowyn hear you say that. But anyway, observation has shown that there are many in Gondor."

"Not only observation, I observed that you…"

"All right, all right…it was purely a matter of research."

"A new name for it. I haven't heard that one. It would have been better if this princess had been there, then you could have researched her and you would have known what you were letting yourself in for."

"Evidently a series of mishaps prevented her coming to Minas Tirith."

"Hmmm, so now, if I understand you correctly, because her brothers are tall, good looking and …elegant, then you think she will be too."


"Well, I don't want to worry you but the theory does not stand up."

Éomer waited in trepidation for what was coming.

"Hamund is a good looking sort of a man, but his sister Bronwyn, looks like the back end of Firefoot."

Éomer groaned, "Don't insult my horse, and she topped their bloody list. I suppose the only good thing is that the Princess of Dol Amroth could hardly be worse."

"Well, you will know soon enough, my lord." Éothain couldn't restrain his laughter, "Perhaps you had better start thinking about contingency plans in case she does look like Bronwyn."

"I really do not believe that Imrahil's daughter will look like Bronwyn." At least he hoped not and if she did then there was nothing to be done. He could not back out now. He stared down the road ahead of them wondering what the next couple of hours would bring. "I think the mist is lifting."

"Aye," Éothain agreed, "it's definitely not so thick. I wonder where they are. I thought we would have met up with them long before this."

"Perhaps she's refused to come," Éomer suggested, allowing hope to creep into his voice.

"What, you mean a nicely brought up princess of Gondor might baulk at the thought of marrying an uncivilized Horselord from the north?"

"Oh, go to Mordor." Éomer fixed his eyes on his friend with a look that would have crushed a lesser man, but Éothain held them until they both started to laugh heartily.

They travelled in companionable silence for another half a league, the subject of princesses, reluctant or otherwise, being pushed aside as it became possible, if not to gallop, but at least to canter at a reasonable pace. The scout returned, appearing suddenly, with the last wisps of mist still clinging to him, and a definite smile.

"We have found them, my lords."

"Ah," said Éomer, trying to sound pleased, "how far are they behind you?"

"They are camped, my lord."

"Camped? At this time of the morning?" Éomer gaped at Éothain who just shrugged his shoulders. He turned back to the scout, "Where are they?"

"Where the road from the south meets the road that travels along the foothills of the mountains through Tarlang's Neck," the rider replied.

Éomer searched his mind, trying to recall the topography shown by the map he had studied the day before, "Near Erech?"

"Yes, Lord."

"Did they see you?"

The man grinned openly, "No, my lord. They are camped in a corrie between the two roads, we were able to get above them on the Lamedon road and watch them for a while. They have guards but there are no scouts out."

"Told you," Éothain grunted.

Éomer suppressed a smile. "Right, I would like to have a look as well. Is it possible to move the men all onto the top road without being spotted and then Éothain and I can take a look?"

"I am sure it is, Lord. And, if you have not forgotten your skills, you will be able to see the whites of their eyes. Shall I go and tell the others about your plans? You have about a league to go."

"Yes, do that. And I shall ignore your remark about my skills." Éomer felt slightly affronted by that. "We will slow down and keep quiet when we get nearer."

The rider nodded, barely suppressing a laugh, and disappeared back down the road. Éothain looked enquiringly at his King. "What are you going to do, turn around and go home if you do not like the look of her?"

"Unfortunately, Éothain, it is an option I do not have. I merely want to be prepared so that I show nothing untoward when I actually meet her."

"And then you will have the six months to your wedding to prepare yourself for the idea, good or bad."

"Humph!" He could not even imagine what the next three weeks in Edoras would be like. What if they found they could not stand each other? He put the thought away for a moment, but it seemed that no sooner had the scout left them, he was returning again with the news that the party from Dol Amroth were still camping and there would be no problem spying on them.

"I cannot understand why they have not moved on. Could you see any reason?"

"None, Lord. They look like they are sitting around waiting for something."

Éomer shrugged his shoulders, "Oh well, no doubt we will find out what soon enough."

The whole guard turned silently onto the Lamedon road and they had only gone a short way before another Rohan scout materialised from behind a rock and beckoned to his king.

"There is a large grassy ledge which overlooks them, Lord," he pointed towards the edge of the escarpment, "once you get to that tree go on your bellies, otherwise they may spot you."

Éomer nodded and the two men passed their horses over and made their way to the tree on foot, dropping to the ground when they reached it. They slithered forward on their stomachs for the last few yards until they were able to look over the edge of the overhang

and into the corrie below.

"It looks as if they might be thinking about moving out," Éothain whispered.

Éothain spoke the truth. The Dol Amroth soldiers were starting to take down the blue and white tents, but they looked to be in no hurry.

Éomer nudged Éothain on the shoulder "There's Imrahil…and Amrothos." Father and son had appeared from out of one of the larger tents. They were dressed for travel, wearing their cloaks, carrying gauntlets and resplendent in blue and silver.

"See what I mean about elegant?"

Éothain stifled a laugh. "What do they look like when they're dressed up for some grand ball?"

Éomer said nothing but raised one eyebrow with an amused expression. "Look," he suddenly pointed. A woman had appeared from the tent nearest to them but they could only see the side of her dark blue dress. She stood just out of vision for a moment and then walked towards Prince Imrahil and Amrothos. She had her back to them.

"She's short," Éothain stated unnecessarily.

Éomer swallowed, he did not know if the words would leave his mouth, "She's fat," he got out at last.

"I don't think she's fat," said Éothain generously, "she's plump. It is being so short that makes her look fat."

"She is short and fat."

"Perhaps it's not her," Éothain sounded far from convinced.

"Then who do you think it is?" Éomer hissed. "Do you see another woman?"

Éothain looked around. The last tent came down and the camp was rapidly dismantled although no-one made for the horses. "I am afraid not. That theory of yours worried me all along. It might not be too bad," he said, obviously trying to reassure his king; "Perhaps she is pretty and has a sweet nature."

"What does that matter? She looks like a plum pudding tied around the middle," the King of Rohan protested in total disgust. "I will kill them," he spat through gritted teeth, "slowly."

"Kill who slowly?" asked Éothain, instantly diverted and drawing his eyes away from the plum pudding.

"Her brothers, of course."

"Oh, we are back to them. Well, as much as I still think they look poncey, they cannot be blamed because their sister is not tall," Éothain said in all fairness.

"They could have told me. Both Amrothos and Erchirion are well aware of my taste and they assured me I would be happy with the match." In fact Éomer decided he could not really understand it and wondered if he had done something to offend them. He cast around his mind but found nothing. They had always been on the best of terms. He shook his head disbelievingly, "Why would they do this?"

"They probably have done nothing," Éothain stated. "Sometimes we do not see our dearest as they really are."

Éomer glared at him, "If you are making any insinuations….oh, Morgoth's balls!"

Éothain followed the line of his horrified gaze. The woman still talked to Imrahil but she had turned around to face them looking over towards the horses. Not pretty, but not exactly downright ugly.

"She's not that …" Éothain started to say, but at that moment she opened her mouth and gave a great laugh.

"Did you see that, Éothain?" The Lord of the Mark had turned white and looked to be suffering from some kind of seizure.

"The last time I saw teeth like that they were coming straight at me with an orc riding on their back," Éothain had given up all pretence of normalising the situation. He looked sympathetically at Éomer who now lay flat on his back with his hands covering his face. "I think it's time for those contingency plans," he said very quietly.

Éomer let out a muffled utterance which Éothain must have interpreted correctly as, "I have not made any."

"Well," said Éothain as brightly as he could, "we had better go through the options."

"Are there any?"

"Of course, there always are." Éothain thought for a moment, "The easiest way out would be to totally put her off marrying you. Behave so badly that she refuses, throws a tantrum or something."

"What do you suggest I do?" Éomer asked in a somewhat strangled voice.

"It shouldn't take much. Don't wash for the whole three weeks. Get drunk every night. Pick your nose when you are eating. Make lewd remarks to the serving maids. That should do it," he sounded pleased with himself.

Éomer rolled back onto his side, glanced down into the corrie, gave a big sigh and stared straight at Éothain. "You don't think Imrahil might be a little surprised if I behaved like that? He has after all spent a long time in my company, in Minas Tirith as well as Edoras."

"I suppose he might, but on the other hand he may conclude that being a king has gone to your head."

"Something is going to happen to more than my head if I have to marry his daughter," he said bleakly. "I cannot get out of it, Éothain, I gave my word."

"Then look at it a different way. Because you are a king you will not have to see much of her. You can spend a lot of time travelling around the Mark, staying with Elfhelm and Erkenbrand. King Elessar has hinted that he will be calling on your services, you will not have to live in Meduseld much at all."

"Meduseld is my home, Éothain. I want to live there."

"All right then, have separate chambers. You will only have to see her when you… you know."

A long low wailing moan emitted from Éomer. "I don't think I could, Éothain. In fact I am sure I couldn't… it's…it's the teeth," he gave a long horrified shudder.

"You might if you were desperate enough."

"I really don't think I would ever be desperate enough…oh," he sat up with his head in his hands oblivious to the fact he might be seen, "what ever have I done for the Valar to do this to me?"

Éothain grabbed his arm and pulled him down to the ground, "Too much research, most like," he muttered. "You will have to do it occasionally; the whole point of this charade is to get heirs for the Riddermark."

Éomer shook his head, "I really don't think I could manage it."

"In that case you will have to use the bag trick."

"Talk sense, Éothain, or don't talk at all. I am not in the mood."

"I am talking sense. You put a bag over her head. One of Firefoot's feedbags would do, but I would make sure it's a clean one."

The King of Rohan stared at the Captain of his Guard, his mouth dropping open very slightly and a look of complete incredulity spreading over his face, "And you think the Princess of Dol Amroth would allow a feedbag, clean or otherwise, to be placed over her head whilst in the nuptial bed, do you?"

"Oh, I suppose not." Éothain thought for a moment, never one to give up, especially when the sanity of his king was at stake, "In that case you will have to keep your eyes closed until you have got her legs wide apart, they all look the same then, anyway."

Éomer, however distraught he felt, could not let this pass, "Éothain, when did you last have a woman other than your wife?"

"I haven't, at least not since I was about eighteen."

"Not even after the war? They were queuing up." Éomer grinned, intrigued now.

"I dared not risk it. Berwyn would have flayed me alive."

"I don't think even Berwyn would have known what you were up to from four hundred miles away," Éomer chuckled.

"She would have smelt it when I got home."

Éomer had a hard job not to laugh out loud, "They had plenty of baths in Minas Tirith."

"Believe me, there are some smells you can't wash off."

"In that case, then let me assure you that they do not all look the same, especially from that angle."

"I know that. It is obvious that the Gondorian ones will look different from those from the Mark, dark and light so to speak. But the main design of the thing can't vary much."

"Accept this as true; they vary a great deal…in fact…"

"What varies a great deal?"

Éomer and Éothain looked at one another, an awful truth dawning on them. Both turned their heads in unison, their startled gazes settling on a pair of highly polished black boots.

Éomer let his eyes wander slowly upwards, taking in the dove grey deerskin breeches, the dark blue tunic edged with silver embroidery, the breastplate with its superbly embossed Swan. He stopped there for a moment before he jerked his eyes upwards and noted the sardonic amused expression on the handsome face. "Erchirion?"

The middle of Imrahil's sons bowed his head, "Éomer King, what a surprise."

"We were…" Éomer looked beseechingly towards Éothain, hoping his friend's inventiveness would not let him down. It didn't.

"Éomer King, fearful that his royal duties have been keeping him from practising his scouting skills took this opportunity of brushing up on them. In other words," he said with a deadpan face, "we were spying on you."

"Not on me," Erchirion looked even more amused, "I wasn't there. But I would advise you to make less noise next time. I could hear you from the road."

Éomer thought it best to ignore this; attack was always the best means of defence. "Where were you then? Were they waiting for you? We thought to meet up with you hours ago."

"They were waiting for us," Erchirion did not sound at all apologetic. "I have a friend who lives in the next valley," he pointed along the road in the direction of Lamedon. "I wished to take the opportunity of spending a little time with him, and my sister decided to avail herself of his hospitality in order to bathe and prepare for the forthcoming meeting with her betrothed." His grey eyes managed, with one look, to take in Éomer's crumpled tunic, the pieces of twigs and grass on it and the mud on his boots.

"I see…," said Éomer slowly, "so you and your sister spent the night in a house down the road and not in the camp." He got up trying to brush the mess from his tunic, and glanced down into the corrie. The horses were being saddled and everyone looked to be preparing to leave.

"That is what I said."

"And where is your sister now?" Éomer asked in a tight voice.

"Lothíriel is talking to your men and to Firefoot. She is, naturally, slightly nervous of meeting you and feels that making friends with your horse will put her in a good light and it will also, perhaps, give her an insight into his master's nature. Personally, I doubt if conversing with a bad tempered stallion will be advantageous to her."

Éomer had stopped listening. His gaze held captive by the vision walking hesitantly towards him. Béma, he prayed she was not a vision. She wore a tunic similar to Erchirion's, except it had been cut fuller and longer, more like a dress. No breastplate, though. Breasts! Éomer gulped. Tall and slender, with a ruffle of snow white lace at her throat, the wonderful proportions of her figure could not be hidden. Her black hair had been fastened at the back but the long tail of it brought forward to hang down the right side of her chest. Chest! He gulped again. She smiled softly at him— the smile on her full, very kissable lips, matching the shy smile in her clear grey eyes.

"Princess Lothíriel," he managed. Surprised he could utter anything as his tongue felt like a gag in his mouth.

Her smiled deepened as she reached him and held out her hand to be kissed. Too late he remembered that he had not washed his own since Firefoot had washed them for him. He brought her hand to his lips. Hopefully she wouldn't notice if she had been petting his horse.

"You had better be very sure about this, Loti," Erchirion managed to sound amused and haughty at the same time. "I do believe your betrothed has spent the last half hour ogling your worthy companion."


Edoras three months later-

Éomer found himself staring into space again, doing nothing. He had done a lot of that lately. A very pleasant way to pass the time. Well, he would have to do something, the messenger would be returning to Dol Amroth in the morning and he still hadn't written a single word. A light tap came on the door and Éomer looked up, startled, and slightly resenting the intrusion.

"Come in."

"Fréowyn told me to bring you this, my lord." The maid put a tray down on his desk. Bending over far enough for her king to see most of her very ample breasts. The tray held much more interest for him – tea and a fruited cake. The girl fluttered long dark lashes at him, her pouty lips curling into a seductive smile. "She said you did not have an early meal."

Éomer sighed, "Thank you, Edyth, just leave it there, would you."

Edyth gave him another flirty smile. She turned around and made for the door, wiggling her bottom all the way.

He speculated on when she would give up. She had been in Meduseld for two months now and there was no sign of the signals abating. Éomer took a long deep sigh and wondered when other women had ceased to exist for him. He allowed himself a smile. No, not true really, he knew exactly when it had happened, but he just liked to think about it. It had happened when he had let go her hand, looked up, and locked his hazel eyes with her grey ones. Whatever had he done for the Valar to be so good to him?

Éomer turned back to his desk; he would have to write something. He stared down at the piece of parchment in front of him; it stared blankly back, berating him for his neglect. How did you tell such a Lady that she set you on fire, stirred your very soul? How did you tell her you were counting the days to their marriage: dreaming of hot steamy nights when alone in your cold wide bed?

You did not, of course. Sighing, he picked up his pen.

Dear Lothíriel,

I hope this letter finds you in good health. I have been very busy and it looks as if it will be a good harvest. The horse I have chosen for you is well into her training….

To be continued— when we find out how Lothíriel feels about her betrothed.