The Deserted Courtyard
He leant on one of the ornate stone posts encircling the courtyard, watching her with a faint trace of amusement. The rain was positively pouring, sending bucket-loads of water down, the rain churning and merging with the overflowing fountain set in the middle of the stone-paved courtyard. But she stood in the middle of the downpour, laughing pleasurably like a little girl, dancing and twirling and uplifting her face to the grey skies.
He had discovered the lonely courtyard a few days ago. He had been wandering about the Seventh Circle, and, to his surprise, had come upon the place, conveniently near his chambers, comfortably secluded from outside eyes and obviously deserted by any of the erstwhile visitors who had once passed time there. It was quite silent, with an empty fountain at its center, and an intricate tree fashioned out of copper planted at the heart of the fountain. He had seated himself at the fountain's edge, silently wondering how many lovers had kept trysts there, how many troubled girls had mingled their tears with that of the fountain, how many philosophers had sat there and quietly contemplated the meaning of their existence. Now, it was deserted.
And then, on his second visit there, he had chanced upon another discoverer of the forgotten site—a dark-haired girl cloaked in wintry-blue. It was obviously her first time there—she had walked around with quiet, reverent steps, reaching a gentle hand out to touch the copper tree. He had watched her silently, unseen, and then left her to her new, rare find.
Now, on his third visit, he had come across her once again. She spun in breathless circles, her dark hair plastered to her face, her eyes closed. He watched her with a sort of quiet delight—it was rare indeed in stiff, formal Gondor to find a lady who danced in the rain.
She came to a halt, let out a joyous sigh, and opened her eyes. Horror spread across her features as her gaze came to rest upon the man leaning opposite her, arms crossed, a smile playing on his lips.
"You dance well, my lady." There was no hint of mocking in his voice, only amiability.
She pushed her sodden hair out of her face, obviously attempting to regain her poise. She drew herself up to her full height—she reached his chin, perhaps—and dropped a curtsy, clutching her soaked skirts. "Thank you, good sir." Her voice held no embarrassment whatsoever, and was smooth and elegant. He had to admire the grace with which she attacked the awkward situation she found herself in.
He had to laugh—he could not help himself. He saw her stiffen and her eyes narrow, but he quickly held out a placating hand. "My lady, I do not laugh to ridicule you—it is simply quite a while since I met a lady who could handle herself with such finesse in a difficult plight, and it did my heart good to see you act so."
She relaxed, an endearing smile softening her features. "You would have had no reason not to mock me, I suppose—I was rather ridiculous." She tilted her head to one side. "I am afraid I do not know your name, my lord, nor aught else about you, save that you are one of the Rohirrim."
"Perhaps we can be equals in anonymity, for the moment," he said hurriedly; he had no wish to be reminded of his duties and his rank at the moment. "And I am not entirely certain whether you wish me to know your name as well, my lady, given the… circumstances." He could have slapped himself the moment the words were out of his mouth—surely she would take offence.
But she didn't. She absently toyed with the hem of her cloak, thoughtful, and then said, smiling a little, "You are right, of course. But it would be strange not to call each other by name." Her smile widened, revealing white teeth. "I am… Idril Celebrindal, Princess of Gondolin."
He understood immediately, and searched through the stories his tutors had once taught him for a suitable name. "And I am Helm Hammerhand, King of Rohan, at your service, Lady Idril."
"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, Lord Helm," she said gravely.
"And I yours, Lady Idril."
A comfortable silence ensued as each studied the other.
He saw a young woman, younger than he, dressed today in a sea-green cloak, her dark curls dripping, her coral-pink lips curved upwards in a smile. Her eyes, he noticed with a start, were Éowyn's betrothed's eyes—grey and piercing, as if the owner could see your innermost thoughts. But this girl's eyes were wider, softer and more feminine than Faramir's, raindrops clinging to her eyelashes. She moved with a certain grace and elegance, chin studiedly aloft.
He wondered what the young woman's captivating eyes saw. A young man in a simple tunic, yellow hair tousled, tall and warrior-like?
"Golden hair is scattered liberally among the children of the Rohirrim, Lord Helm," she finally said, as if she could hear his thoughts.
"As are grey eyes and dark hair among the people of Gondor, Lady Idril," he answered. He hesitated, then said, "My lady, do you not want to move inside? You are very wet—the day is cold."
She waved a hand dismissively. "Do not worry yourself, my lord. I am fine. The very wildest storms pass by my home, and this is but a light spring rain." She saw his dubious look, and she laughed. "Perhaps light is not the most appropriate term, but it is quite tolerable." She seated herself at the edge of the fountain, which had stopped overflowing—the rain had grown lighter.
"Please, do come and join me," she added, gesturing to the side of the fountain.
He did so, and said, curiously, "You said that the wildest storms pass by your home, Lady Idril—pray, where are you from?"
An affectionate look passed across her face. "I hail from Dol Amroth, jewel of the Bay of Belfalas."
"Ah, the home of Prince Imrahil."
A strange look he couldn't quite interpret passed across Idril's face, but it vanished so quickly that he might have imagined it. "Yes, it is."
Silence ensued once more, but he wanted to hear her speak again, and so pressed on, "What is it like in Dol Amroth?"
She laughed softly. "More beautiful than any place in the world. The water, the sea-birds, the sand and smell of salt in the air…" She cleared her throat. "I have heard that the Rohirrim possess a sea also, a sea of rolling grass, green where ours is blue."
"Yes, that is true." He felt foolish saying it, but he was lost for words.
She twisted her head around and stared into the depths of the well of water, then moved her scrutiny up to the proud copper tree. "Exquisite workmanship," she mused. "I wonder who made this fountain."
"There is a belief, a legend among our people," he heard himself saying, to his surprise.
"Indeed?" she turned once more to face him, eyes sparkling.
"They say that when you find a small pool of water, or a well of some sort, if you give the water a trinket, the nymph of the water may grant you a wish." He had no idea why he was speaking so—he had never set much store on myths. A sword was more reliable.
She seemed lost in thought for a moment, and then slipped a ring from her finger. The single white stone shone, the water collected on its surface glistening.
"It was the ring my betrothed once gave to me," she said, in answer to his questioning glance.
He raised his eyebrows.
She sighed. "It was an arranged marriage. A week before we were to be married, he told me he could not marry me. He left me the ring as a parting gift. Now—"
She held it near her mouth, whispering a wish, and then dropped it into the water. It fell with a soft plink, the sound lost among the hammering of the raindrops. He wondered whether the ring was not very valuable, or simply not important to her.
She stood, and said apologetically, "I must depart, Lord Helm. My father will be worried."
He stood as well, a strange disappointment overwhelming him. He realized a moment later why he felt so—he was not sure whether he would ever meet the woman again. All he said aloud, however, was, "Thank you, Lady Idril, for your time. It was most pleasurable."
When she spoke, her voice was sincere. "Thank you also, Lord Helm." She paused, and then spoke his fear. "It may be that we will not meet again—but I certainly hope that, someday, we will."
He nodded solemnly, and she began to walk away. But he called out—he couldn't help himself—, "Lady Idril!"
She turned slowly, facing him with a questioning look. "Yes, my lord?"
He swallowed. "What did you wish for, my lady?" He knew that it was forward, but it was much too late for second thoughts.
She smiled her beguiling smile once more. "Perhaps if we meet again, I will tell you."
He bowed, and when he straightened, the beautiful Idril was gone.
"I do not know why King Elessar must hold a feast," grumbled Éothain in Rohirric.
"He holds this feast to honor the Rohirrim, Éothain," Éomer reminded him. "Do not protest."
"Éomer? Come, Prince Imrahil wishes to introduce you to the rest of his family." Éowyn's voice carried across the crowd, and she appeared out of nowhere, leading him away by the hand and leaving a disgruntled-looking Éothain.
Faramir was conversing with a lady whose back was turned towards them, and Imrahil stood beside her, surrounded by his sons. "Ah, my friend," Prince Imrahil said warmly, holding out welcoming hands. "I would like you to meet my youngest son and daughter. Elphir and Erchirion you have already met." They both inclined their heads, and he grinned at them—they had become fast friends in the march towards the Black Gate. "This is Amrothos, who took charge of Dol Amroth and much of the Bay of Belfalas in my absence—" a young man with smiling eyes and the stance of a deadly swordsman bowed "—and this is my only daughter, Lothíriel." The woman turned as her name was called and curtseyed, then straightened.
Éomer gasped. It was the mysterious Idril of the courtyard, whom he had never expected to see again—she was the daughter of Prince Imrahil?
Her eyes widened when she recognized him as well.
"Children, this is Éomer, King of Rohan, and my good friend."
They murmured formalities and exchanged pleasantries, but Éomer never took his eyes off of Lothíriel.
"They say that Idril Celebrindal was beautiful to behold," he said unexpectedly, causing Prince Imrahil, his sons, Faramir, and Éowyn to look confused.
Lothíriel held her own. "And they say that Helm Hammerhand was brave, strong and true. But they also say he had quite a temper," she added, a mischievous twinkle in her eye.
"I have heard tell that you dance well, my lady. Perhaps you would be willing to demonstrate such skill?"
Her eyes flashed as she remembered the circumstances in which she had been caught by Éomer. "The pleasure would be all mine, my lord."
He held out his hand, she took it, and they marched to the dance floor.
Amrothos commented to his cousin, "One would think they had met before."
Imrahil's eyes sparkled with laughter.
Two Weddings and Several Funerals is going through a rough patch -- an extremely rough patch -- at the moment, but I do love Éomer and Lothíriel (though of course they aren't really in love yet at this point), and so I decided to write this. It is a oneshot at the moment, though I'm pondering doing a companion piece -- just a quick look at how she reveals her wish to Éomer -- but I'm not sure if I'll push through with it. We'll see, I suppose.
Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this story.