Waterloo – Part 2
Lothíriel had gone to sleep with the sun rising and now it must have almost disappeared below the rim of the world again, as a red glow lit the solar. Exhaustion had ensured that she slept in spite of the made-up bed. But she did not begrudge Rohan's king her comfortable one, for without him and his kinsmen she might never have slept peacefully again. Not even prepared to elaborate on what might have happened had the Rohirrim not arrived, Lothíriel stretched, pushed back the covers and reached for her robe. At that moment she heard a quiet tap on the door. "Who is it?" she called, wrapping her robe tightly around her. But it was only Eglan with a bowl of warm water.
"I've brought you a clean dress, my lady, that grey one is not fit to be worn again. And supper is nearly ready. Your father sent a message to say he will be back shortly. He and King Éomer have been down at the Ranger's camp outside the City most of the day. Some big debate taking place, or so the men are saying."
Ranger's camp? But then Lothíriel remembered hearing that the new king had set up his tents on the Pelennor. Why ever did he not come into the city? Surely it would take days to clear the aftermath of the battle, which meant it wouldn't be very pleasant down there. "It won't take me long to get ready, Eglan. But I will have to leave after I have eaten. It will be dark soon, and I have to report for duty."
"Don't you go overdoing it, my lady; you're not used to all this hard work."
No, just hunting all day and dancing all night! But Lothíriel humoured her. "I'll be fine. And I could say the same to you, Eglan, with so many mouths to feed."
"Don't you worry about me, my lady. Your father found a retired baker to give me a hand. He kneads a fair loaf, nearly as good as mine, and he's not made too bad a job of the vegetables. But I've left him with the stew, so I must get back and check the seasoning. I know just how your father likes it."
Lothíriel let the housekeeper get out the door before she giggled, hoping the poor baker was long-suffering. Then she blessed Eglan when she realised the dress she had put over the back of a chair was one of her everyday blue ones. Plain, but at least the colour suited her a lot better than grey. And if she took a little time with her hair, making sure the soft plaits framed her face becomingly, it was because it needed to stay neat all night and nothing to do with who their supper guest might be.
Many supper guests, Lothíriel discovered when she went through to the ante-chamber. And none of them noticed her at first, so she got a good look— blonde, bearded men speaking Westron with heavy accents. It seemed Eglan had dispensed hot water and spare clothes along with food and bedding because the smell had abated somewhat, and here and there she recognised garments belonging to her brothers. The long table was already crowded, the only free places at the head where Amrothos sat. Under scrutiny from a roomful of warriors, and trying to appear nonchalant whilst responding politely to the numerous greetings, she threaded her way to her place. But before she reached it, the outer door opened. Lothíriel found herself face to face with not only her father but also two tall Rohirrim, one of whom she had seen more of than the other.
Eglan must have supplied him with warm water, too, because his hair was no longer lank but glowed tawny-gold. Deep blue eyes raked over her as her father made introductions and then her hand was kissed in a manner equal to that of any Gondorian courtier. Luckily no one but her could hear her heart thumping wildly as firm lips pressed against her knuckles. Why ever was it doing that? Silly really. She was generally relaxed in the company of men, having so many brothers with numerous friends and being used to moving in the highest circles. But then she had never found any of her brothers' friends in her bed, or seen them naked, come to that. And did the front view match up with the back? Well, he might be young, but surely he was too rugged looking to be called really handsome. Although he had lovely eyelashes, well shaped lips and a neat beard… reluctantly drawing her eyes away she concentrated on his companion, Lord Elfhelm. Being introduced to the much older Marshal gave her a moment to compose herself, so that by the time she sat down she felt she had her emotions well under control and could face King Éomer with equanimity. Premature. As soon as that penetrating gaze settled on her again she felt heat rising in her cheeks.
"I have an apology to make, my lady. Your father told me you spent a day and a night assisting in the Healing Houses, and I stole your much needed bed. I am so sorry and hope you will forgive me."
Appropriated some of Erchirion's clothes, too. The dark blue suited him, Lothíriel noticed. It complimented his eyes. She also noticed that the words of contrition on his lips did not match the challenge in those eyes. She shouldn't have picked up the gauntlet, but of course she did. "I admit being surprised when I saw you there, my lord, but Eglan has made me very comfortable in the solar, so the bed is yours for as long as you are here."
The slight indrawn breath told her he recognised the significance of the saw. "Thank you, you are very kind. And I hope that the sights you have seen in the last days have not shocked you too much."
The words nearly made her gasp out loud. Well. Really! Two could play at that game. "Oh no, my lord. I have recently discovered that I am quite un-shockable, even when encountering the most horrifying spectacles."
His lips twitched, and his eyes glittered with mischief, but any further fencing with words was curtailed when her father broke in on their conversation, speaking quietly. "Lothíriel, you must keep this information to yourself. I do not want our plans to come as a surprise to you." He dropped his voice further. "We will all be leaving the day after tomorrow."
"Leaving for where?" Her father shook his head, and waited for the servants to leave the room before he answered. "We are going to confront the Dark Lord in his lair."
What! They couldn't be! Just when she thought things were getting better.
With the meal served and the door closed, the whole company discussed the plan to march to the Black Gates. The complete reason was not given, although it was obvious some diversion was planned. All her brothers and a large part of Gondor's army would be going, but King Éomer would be leading only a relatively small number of Rohirrim. The rest of his forces, under the command of Lord Elfhelm, would be confronting the enemy army still holding out in Anórien. The placid Marshal carried on with his meal, looking totally unfazed by the task given to him.
Lothíriel concentrated on trying to eat, ignoring the churning in her stomach. Knowing that she needed strength for the night ahead made her force the food down. How could these men look so unconcerned when they were probably marching to their deaths? Had all the sacrifices already made merely put off the inevitable? Were they all doomed? What if none came back and she lost all her family in one foul blow. The morbid thoughts raced around her head until she decided that she could manage no more, and anyway it was time for her to go.
"If you will excuse me, Father, I must report for duty. Maybe Amrothos will escort me."
Her brother pulled a face but immediately King Éomer wiped his mouth with his napkin and stood up. "I wish to visit my sister before I retire, so with your father's permission, my lady, I will be honoured to escort you."
To her annoyance it started again – her heart thumping, that is. But any errant thought that she would be alone with him stopped before it had begun as two of his men stood up, ready to accompany their king.
Gone for her cloak, by the time Lothíriel reached the courtyard the three Rohirrim were fussing their horses. She saw King Éomer slip his grey stallion a piece of apple. "They look a lot brighter than when I saw them this morning," she remarked, stepping as close as she dared. King Éomer's horse turned his head and dark, intelligent eyes studied her. Like master, like horse. She nearly giggled. "What's his name?"
"Firefoot. He's a great boy and performed superbly yesterday." King Éomer ran his hand down his horse's powerful neck. "They all did well. We gave them just gentle exercise today with a short trip to the grazing area. The same tomorrow and they will be fit for the next battle."
Good job they would, if they had the travel to the very gates of Mordor. Unable to stop herself, Lothíriel shuddered at her thoughts. Unbalanced for a moment she put her hand to her mouth fearful of losing her dinner. King Éomer immediately left his horse and took her arm, leading her out onto the road, the two guards following behind. His teasing way had gone and that intense gaze softened to gentleness. "Are you alright, my lady?"
"Yes, I am sorry. I felt a little faint for a moment."
"I know what worries you, but we have no choice, my lady. It's all or nothing. We must gamble everything we have on the final throw."
Feeling slightly embarrassed that he had picked up on her fear so easily, Lothíriel thought she might as well admit to it. "I understand that, but I do not understand how you and others can be so brave about it. I quiver at the notion of confronting the enemy, and wonder if I should have gone to Lossarnach. I will be no use here."
"No use!" He shot his brows skywards looking down from his considerable height. "You have not shirked your duty, my lady and I am confident you would not. There are many forms of bravery, and dealing with men suffering from such terrible injuries requires resilience and fortitude. I will tell you that your father is very proud of his daughter. It is natural to be fearful for your family and yourself. But do not worry too much, the last hand has not been played and who can tell what cards have been dealt. I do know that with Aragorn and Gandalf on our side the game is certainly not over."
Lothíriel squeezed his arm, feeling hard muscles through the soft wool. "Thank you. You are kind as well as valiant, King Éomer. And I shall cheer a welcome loud enough to be heard right across the Pelennor when you all ride back victorious."
"I shall look forward to it, my lady. But perhaps since we have become so well acquainted, you could call me Éomer." His eyes flashed in the lamplight and Lothíriel just knew some of his teasing would follow. It did. "After all, we have shared the same sheets."
She managed to keep a straight face and responded politely. "Of course, Éomer, do call me Lothíriel, and you are welcome to the sheets. I have no yearning to have them back."
He burst out laughing. "I don't blame you. I must say I vaguely remember a lovely perfume when I got into them, but I wouldn't vouch for them now."
"You smell better than you did last night, anyway. Oh!" Lothíriel put her hand to her mouth in horror. "I am sorry!"
But he laughed. "Never apologise for telling the truth, Lot..thíriel. A pretty name but difficult to pronounce."
"Difficult to pronounce," she retorted. "I have been trying to converse with your countrymen and believe me, getting one's tongue around your language is nigh on impossible."
"Oh, I am sure you will find no difficulty learning our language, Lothíriel." He grinned. "You see, I managed your name easily that time. Which proves my point – practice is everything."
They had reached the Healing Houses and one of the guards ran up the steps to open the doors, which stopped her asking why she would be likely to learn his abominable language. No chance after that, because when he saw the rows of injured men, once again his demeanour changed. This time his whole body tensed.
"I will leave them to their rest now, Lothíriel, but Elfhelm and I intend to visit in the morning." Before she realised his intention, Éomer lifted her hand to his lips and planted another firm kiss. "Thank you and everyone here for your care of my kinsmen. I will not forget it." A quick bow and he turned abruptly, heading towards the hall that housed his sister.
She watched his retreating back. Perhaps not conventionally handsome but very, very attractive.
True to his word, Éomer and Lord Elfhelm arrived very early the next morning. Still in the hall and busy with the last few changes of dressings, Lothíriel had chance to observe how the two Lords of Rohan took time and care to talk to every man. It couldn't be easy: some were severely maimed and would possibly never ride again. Not wanting to intrude she kept a distance away, but although not understanding what was being said saw faces light up and hope flare for a moment as king spoke to subject.
"Lothíriel!" Just about to leave the hall she stopped; Éomer was beckoning to her. "This man wishes to relieve himself. Could you find someone please?"
She nodded. "It's all right. I'll deal with it." Éomer's face froze and she wondered if she had shocked him. For a moment she'd forgotten that in her previous life such a thing would have been inconceivable. But his face relaxed and he smiled.
"I seem destined to be surprised by women, Lothíriel. My sister rides to war and pits herself against unimaginable evil, and Prince Imrahil's daughter takes bedpans to common soldiers."
"Lothíriel shook her head. "I cannot answer for your sister, Éomer, but perhaps like me she just did what had to be done."
Another day spent sleeping in the solar, but this time when she went for supper she had the pleasure of the company of all her brothers. Although the conversation centred purely on the logistics of moving men and horses through such hostile territory as they would face on the journey to the Black Gates. Sitting between Elphir and Erchirion she found it hard to join in the table talk. For a start she didn't want to think about the next day and the danger they all would face. She'd have to go soon and had had no chance to talk to Éomer as he sat a few seats away talking mostly to her father. Of course, there was no reason she would especially want to talk to him. Having told herself that, her heart should not have leapt into her mouth when he stood up as she announced her intention of leaving, and it should not have plummeted when Erchirion rose as well.
"I'll walk with you. Someone I have to see."
Her brother didn't elaborate, but something in his expression made her suspicious. Éomer said nothing, and she probably misread what she thought…hoped… might be a look of disappointment on his face. But surely she didn't, because then, right over the top of her father's head, the King of Rohan winked at her. A deliberate, definite wink. Luckily her father stood up, which blocked Éomer from view and enabled her to hide her confusion in her father's chest.
Perhaps saying goodbye to her father, Elphir and Amrothos in front of all the warriors made the parting easier. At least she had to keep control of herself. Dissolving into tears would not help any of them. They all had to believe they would be coming home. Lothíriel managed to hold on to herself until she got out the door but then tears filled her eyes. She didn't want that: not with Éomer one side and Erchirion the other. Irritably, she swiped the back of her hand across her eyes. "How's your arm, Erchirion?" Anything to distract herself.
Her brother lifted his arm up and flexed it. "It's fine. Almost like new. Did you know my sister is an expert needlewoman, Éomer?"
"No, but it doesn't surprise me. I have no doubt that Lothíriel is a very resourceful and accomplished lady. In fact I am rather hoping for a small wound. The thought of her tending to me is extremely appealing."
Lothíriel gulped. "Don't joke about it please. I don't want any of you to get any kind of wound. I have seen enough torn flesh to last me a lifetime." Immediately Éomer took her arm and put his mouth close to her ear.
"Come on, don't let go now, not when you have done so well. Keep smiling for all of our sakes."
"I am sorry. I will try." She looked up into eyes full of compassion and her heart jumped.
"Éomer's right, Lothy." Her brother took her other arm. "We are proud of you, and when we all come back there will be the biggest celebration you have ever seen. We'll show these Rohirrim a thing or two. They think they can drink!"
Éomer laughed. "I know a challenge when I hear it. But I imagine your sister would prefer to dance rather than drink, so I will claim the first one now. I might not get the chance later."
Dancing and drinking! They could be riding to their deaths on the morrow and … but they needed to joke. Even warriors must want to keep the fear at bay on a night like this. "I will dance with you, Éomer, and I imagine my brother has already picked out his partner. She will just be finishing her shift and need an escort home. Isn't that right, Erchirion?"
Her brother laughed, but didn't deny it. He let go her arm and bounded up the few steps to the Healing House, opening the door for them. As usual at that time the halls were quiet, most already sleeping. Erchirion cast his eyes around obviously looking for Cammir. Lothíriel pointed to the far chamber where the amputees were housed, "She will probably be in there, Erchirion. They need more help settling down." In fact the men liked Cammir, she had proved to be able to deal with the seriously maimed with cheerfulness and good humour.
Erchirion treated her to a half-grin, a kiss on the cheek, and left her with Éomer. But only for a moment because Ragnor appeared at their side.
"Ah, my lord, I am glad you are here. Your sister is tired but she wanted to see you before she slept. She's been trying to stay awake."
Lothíriel sighed as she rinsed out the last bowl, her shift nearly over. That was it. Éomer had rushed off to see Éowyn, leaving later with only a wave because she had been sitting with a young boy who had been shouting out with nightmares. And he had not been the only one, many men becoming upset as they started to realise just how their lives would change. Dying too, they'd lost more in the night. Ragnor said many gave up in the hours just before dawn. Dawn! Lothíriel gulped. They would be leaving soon. When she got home the ante-chamber would be empty and a mere seven thousand men would have ridden to confront the mighty power of Mordor. She might never see them again: her father; her brothers; Éomer…a great surge of regret welled up, she hadn't even had chance to say goodbye properly. Impatiently she wiped away a stray tear. Fool! He'd probably given her no further thought and, even if she hadn't imagined their brief flirtation, he'd surely seen it as no more than a pleasant distraction in unpleasant times…
"Éomer?" As if to countermand her thoughts he was there, standing in the doorway of the small room looking handsome and sure of himself and kingly and …Oh, why had he come now when she must look such a mess? Her hair had started to come down and her dress… "I thought you would have gone." She hadn't seen him wearing armour; it made him appear powerful and invincible, but he wasn't. His flesh could be torn apart just like that of any man …
"I came to say goodbye to Éowyn but I also wanted to say farewell to you."
His sister. Of course he'd come for his sister, not her at all. Just for a moment she had thought… "Oh!" Éomer stepped close to her, forcing her back against the sink. So close she had to look up to see his face. He wasn't smiling; in fact she couldn't read his expression. But his eyes had darkened. Perhaps her tears lingered because he raised his hand and a large thumb stroked at the corner of her eye.
"Lothíriel, I hope very much to return, but if I am to die then I do not want to do so without ever having kissed you."
Kiss her! Here! But even if she'd had the inclination, she had no chance to protest, because his hands moved to cradle her head and his lips descended on hers. Gentle for only a moment before he dropped his hands from her head and crushed her hard against him, in a demanding, fierce kiss. Not even a heartbeat passed before she kissed him back, matching his passion with her own ardour. Lothíriel plunged her fingers into his hair, not wanting to let him go. How could this be after only two days? Her heart thumping wildly, she willed the kiss not to end for then he would leave. But inevitably and breathlessly lips had to part and he gently held her from him.
"I have to go now. Don't lose hope, Lothíriel."
Gone! As quickly as he had appeared he had gone. Lothíriel raised her hands to her lips, running her fingers across the bruised flesh… gradually she became aware of a figure standing near the door. "Oh, Lady Gailrin." The heat rushed to her cheeks, now she would be in trouble.
"Don't look so embarrassed, my dear. Normal rules do not apply in these dark times. Feelings become intensified and courtship cannot wait on convention. A warrior needs to know there is someone to come home to."
Come home? Lothíriel swallowed. They would all come home; she would not contemplate anything else.
Edoras – Year 5 of the 4th Age.
Lothíriel put her fingers to her mouth, running them gently over her lips. Sometimes she could still feel that bittersweet kiss, especially in the dark of the night when the memories crowded in on her. But she made no excuse for reliving those days occasionally, lest she forget the sacrifices made by so many. The world had changed, and her life and that of many others had altered for ever. Smiling to herself, she knew what had sparked those particular reminiscences. One thing certainly hadn't changed — six years and two children later, she still enjoyed the sight of Éomer's naked body. Her brave and fearless husband, who had played such a significant role during those fateful days. Time had not stopped her tingling at the remembrance of his valour and daring. Sighing with a certain amount of frustration, she gazed at the prone figure. His first night home after an absence of four sennights and she had hoped…. but children never did cooperate and Elfwine would choose tonight to have a bad dream. She'd left Éomer in the tub and now he'd gone to bed and fallen asleep. Hungrily, her eyes lingered on his muscled back, shadows from the lamps throwing the deep contours into sharp relief. A beautiful sight; a wonderful man. The quilt barely reached his hips: except in the depth of winter he rarely covered himself. Lying on his stomach with his head on his arm, his wavy hair veiled his face and flowed down his back. Which made for a glorious view, but only succeeded in increasing her desire.
"You've been standing there looking at me for ages. Why don't you just get in the bed?" The voice came huskily through a tawny curtain.
Lothíriel jumped. "You're awake!"
Flicking himself over, Éomer impatiently pushed aside his wayward, newly-washed hair. Intense, glinting eyes raked over her. "Of course. Did you really expect me to be asleep after being away for weeks?"
Warm with expectation, Lothíriel dropped her robe and slipped into the bed, trying to draw the covers over them. But Éomer immediately flung himself half over her. "I thought you were never going to join me," he murmured, his lips nuzzling into her neck, rough hands already running over her curves.
"Time spent enjoying a view is never wasted."
The lips moved to brush hers. "I am glad you still get pleasure from it."
Giggling, she pushed his hair away from his face so that she could look deep into his eyes. "To be honest, I was remembering the first time I saw you – filthy, naked and in my bed."
Kissing her on her nose, Éomer laughed back. "Hmm…well I'm definitely clean now." His lips nudged against her cheek and besides the tickle of his beard, she could feel his grin. "And if I recollect correctly, it took me about two minutes to fall into your bed, but it took the best part of a year and a handfasting before I could get you into mine."
Lothíriel turned her face so their lips connected again. She breathed the words into him, "Maybe, but since I have been in your bed, I've found that I like it very much."
Authors' note – The phrase 'to meet one's Waterloo' has become absorbed into the English language as meaning a great test with a final and decisive outcome. Although this is not why I named this story after the great battle, but rather for the role played by the Ladies of the British Aristocracy. First alerted to this in one of Georgette Heyer's books, I read how the citizens of Brussels threw open their homes to succour the mass of wounded men returning from the battlefield. Officer's wives and other ladies, who had only hours before been dancing in silks and satins enjoying the social whirl to the last, rolled up their sleeves to administer aid and comfort.
In many of my stories I have been guilty, for the sake of a fun scenario, in characterizing all Gondorian womanhood, (except Lothíriel) as fragile creatures only concerned with manners and etiquette. This of course could not be true and many would have been strong and noble women such as Lady Gailrin and Cammir LBJ
With thanks to Lia and Deandra for their help.