A/N: Éomer came on a surprise visit to Dol Amroth at a time when Prince Imrahil and all his sons were in Minas Tirith, leaving Lothíriel in charge. This story ties in with both my drabble called "Confessions" and my oneshot called "The Deserted Courtyard". Read "The Deserted Courtyard" first, if you like, but do NOT read "Confessions" unless you want to spoil this story. :) Also, I apologize for the lateness. It was supposed to be published on Valentine's, but I was swamped with schoolwork, and then I decided to publish it on my birthday so it was special, but real life caught up with me then as well. So, without further ado, here it is, my Valentine's Day special...
A Sea-Side Evening
Lothíriel flew about her room like a demented bird, cautiously patting her upswept hair, toying with her silver belt in front of the looking glass, twirling carefully so as to inspect her clothes one last time. Her maid watched her in amusement.
When she finally decided that, yes, that curl did look better pulled down, she turned to face Faervel anxiously. "How do I look?"
Her maid suppressed a laugh before answering. "Do you truly know how lovely you look, my lady?" Faervel said, obvious entertainment in her voice.
"But that isn't what I meant at all! Is my hair quite arranged? Is my belt fixed on properly? Is the dress too much, perhaps?" Lothíriel looked down at her cobalt dress doubtfully.
Faervel didn't bother suppressing her laugh now. "There is only one thing missing now, my lady." She plucked a silvery-white flower from a vase on Lothíriel's dressing table and tucked it into the black waves of her hair.
"There," she said, in a satisfied tone. "You look just as pretty as you wish to look in front of the Lord Éomer."
Lothíriel blushed bright red. "Oh, no, Faervel," she said a little too quickly, the words tumbling out in a rush. "I must keep up appearances for Father, of course. It would be most unseemly if I didn't appear presentable, at the very least."
Faervel surveyed the girl standing in front of her, the blue dress with silver netting, the laboriously-worked-over hair, the knot of white flowers—the same as the flower in her hair—settled at her waist.
"At the very least," she agreed, her eyes twinkling.
Eight-year-old Triwath was skipping in excitement, hardly able to keep still.
"Lady Lothíriel is coming here, Mama? Here?"
Cellin, the former cook for the Prince, smiled indulgently. Her daughter had idolized Lothíriel when they had lived at the castle, and had carried her admiration far beyond the Prince's stone walls, when Cellin decided to come back and live in a small house just in sight of both the town and the Prince's castle. It was good to be living under the same roof as her fisherman husband, after years in the Prince's service.
It seemed, however, that the Prince's offspring were under the impression that no one could serve such oysters as Cellin could, and she often found herself entertaining many a noble personage underneath her humble roof.
But to think, a king! A barbarian king from the North! This would prove to be most interesting, indeed.
"Lady Lothíriel is bringing a visitor, darling."
Triwath nearly crashed, so enthusiastic was her skipping. "Oh, truly, Mama? Who?"
"Éomer, King of Rohan."
Triwath's skips wavered for a moment. Her brow puckered in a frown as she contemplated this. "I am afraid of him," she finally pronounced, looking troubled. "He is so very big and… yellow."
Cellin laughed. Her daughter probably meant his hair, which was, indeed, astonishingly golden to the dark-haired people of Gondor. "You must not say so, Triwath. It would be most rude. And remember, we owe him our lives."
Her daughter nodded obediently. "Of course, Mama."
Cellin turned back towards the array of seafood on her rough wooden table.
Éomer paced nervously, awaiting Lothíriel's arrival. They were to partake of their evening-meal, so it would seem, at the home of Cellin, who was once a cook who served at the Prince's castle. After hearing Éomer declare that seafood was delicious but didn't taste quite as fresh or hearty as the food of Rohan—looking back, perhaps not the most diplomatic of comments—the Lady Lothíriel vowed to introduce him to the best of Dol Amroth's food.
"You might not change your mind," she acknowledged, with a graceful nod of her head, "But I intend for you to make your decision after tasting the finest Dol Amroth has to offer."
And now, he was here in their great stone hall, awaiting her arrival. He was not nervous about eating at the home of a cook, doubtless neither grand nor refined. He rather welcomed such an experience.
It was the Lady Lothíriel herself who caused his apprehension.
He had first met the Lady Lothíriel at a deserted courtyard in Minas Tirith, and they had become fast friends since that time. But, little by little, Éomer had felt himself losing a part of his heart to her—when she smiled, when she spoke passionately, when she spoke gently, when she shook her head.
And here she was, stepping lightly down the stone staircase. Oh, but she was beautiful. She was all silver and blue and light, floating on grey net and white foam, every inch as exquisite as his first glimpse of the sea. Her eyes shone with a starry sort of gleam, and Éomer wondered with desperation, not for the first time, how he could ever hope for such a lovely creature to love him.
"Éomer!" she called out, smiling. "Shall we?"
He kissed her hand perfunctorily, offered his arm, and away they went, out on the soft white sand towards the cozy little house that sat within sight, twinkling comfortably.
It seemed as though only a few minutes had passed before they had arrived at the small house and were stepping over the threshold, greeting their hosts.
"Thank you for agreeing to entertain us—" he felt a guilty thrill go through him as he used that short word "—me, thank you for agreeing to entertain me tonight."
Cellin and her husband, Erthor, were most hospitable and very kindhearted. They ushered the two in, commanded them to treat the house as their own, and Cellin jogged back towards the kitchen to bring the food out—Erthor's freshest catch.
All of a sudden, there was a little girl, no more than eight, shyly curtseying to him. "Good eve, your majesty," she said in a small voice.
He got onto one knee, gave her a bow, and then kissed her hand. She looked awestruck. "Good eve, my lady."
She seemed to lose all her bashfulness after he addressed her. "Are you truly the King of Rohan?" she demanded, taking in his simple, nondescript tunic.
"Indeed I am," he said, laughing. "Forgive me for not bringing my crown, but it is far too heavy for my liking. What is your name, lady?"
"Triwath," she answered, bobbing another curtsey, "and I shall show you our house."
Before Éomer could react, Triwath had seized him by the hand and began dragging him across the room.
"This is my favorite room," she pronounced, waving a hand at the rough wooden table and simple seats. "We have three windows. You can see the town through this one—" she pointed at the window on the left, and Éomer barely caught a glimpse of small, indistinct blurs and flickering lights before being hauled away "—and you can see the sea from this one." She brought him to the foremost window, and they gazed for a while at the sea, which was much nearer than the town was. Éomer almost felt as though he could touch it from here, and he listened with delight to the water's song.
"And what can you see through that last window?" he questioned, turning towards the window on the right.
"Just some sand," she remarked carelessly, waving a hand. "It stretches on for ever so long—"
"Triwath," her mother's voice interrupted her, "Don't keep King Éomer from the food."
Éomer smiled as he turned his gaze towards the table. The display of food didn't look overwhelming or jaw-dropping at all—it seemed simple and just enough for five people. It was oddly refreshing.
He smiled at the kindly couple and their little daughter, seated himself next to Lothíriel, and tucked in.
"There is no one in all of Dol Amroth," Lothíriel announced proudly, "who can tell a story like Erthor can."
"I do enjoy spinning a good yarn now and then," Erthor conceded around his mouthful of shrimp, "but there must be many a sailor who can recount better tales than I."
Lothíriel laughed. "Let us be the judge of that. Do tell us a story, Erthor."
"At the dining table, my lady?" he asked, looking mildly horrified, but there was a teasing twinkle in his sea-grey eyes Éomer did not miss.
Lothíriel rolled her eyes. "After we eat then, Erthor, you must tell a story. Éomer King demands it," she added, glancing slyly at aforementioned royal personage. Éomer, who had been struggling with a particularly stubborn oyster, was taken by surprise and simply nodded.
And so, after the meal, and after Triwath had been forcefully put to bed by an unyielding mother, they found themselves seated comfortably, all faces turned expectantly towards Erthor. The fisherman seemed lost in thought, and then slowly straightened up and began to speak. Éomer found himself leaning forward to catch every word.
"Years ago," Erthor began, his voice sounding quite different—deeper, more mysterious, and almost hazy, as if lost in the tale—, "there was a young boy, no more than sixteen, perhaps, who was walking in the sand, near the Prince of Dol Amroth's dwelling. He had done it often, when needing solitude, or time alone to think. But on that day, to his utter amazement, he saw a girl dressed in simple grey walking along the shore, quite near him." He paused. Cellin smiled quietly, as if the story had been told many times and was familiar to her.
"At the exact moment that he saw her, she turned to meet his eyes, and he felt a thrill run through him at the sight of her beautiful expression and lovely countenance. And he knew, there and then, that he loved her and would love her evermore.
"She spoke not a word, but continued to walk, and he watched her. And after a few minutes, she smiled at the boy, turned towards the Prince's palace, and walked back, her feet leaving soft marks on the sand, never glancing back at him. And the boy felt despair upon seeing where she was headed, for how could he ever expect a Princess to love him, the son of a simple fisherman?"
Éomer glanced at Lothíriel to see whether the story was familiar to her, too, as it seemed to be to Cellin, but this other princess was enraptured by the story, her eyes concentrated on the bearded man.
"As the years passed, he saw her a few more times, always in the same place, but still he could never find the courage to speak to her. Though he lived a normal, happy, cheerful life, the image of the beautiful girl was always in his mind. When he grew to be a young man, he decided that he would win her love through great deeds.
"He joined the fleet of the Prince and fought bravely, and became a great sailor, exploring new lands before he reached his twenty-fifth summer. And when he finally returned, he kissed his mother in greeting and then strode straight towards the beach, determined to finally speak to her and make known his love."
Éomer felt a shiver pass through him and couldn't help but glance at the lady by his side.
"But she was not at their beach. He paced, and when she did not arrive, he finally, tentatively made his way to the home of the Prince.
"And there, he saw his love, as beautiful as she had always seemed to him, in the same simple grey. But he did not find her seated on a throne with a circlet of gems on her head, as he had expected."
Lothíriel's mouth made a little "o" of surprise. Éomer waited for Erthor to elaborate.
"She was scrubbing the floor of the throne room, her lovely hair caught up in a kerchief, her face sweet despite the black smudge on her nose. And she looked up, and smiled at the boy, and the boy found himself just as much in love with her as ever before.
"I took her hand, and without preamble, told her I loved her. I have been a fisherman for the rest of my life, with the daughter of the Prince's cook for my beautiful wife." Erthor smiled gently, and kissed Cellin's hand.
Éomer was taken aback. Erthor, Cellin…? It seemed so very strange that the two—such a normal, happy, simple couple—could have such a beautiful love story.
"That was wonderful, Erthor," he found himself saying, sincerely.
Cellin shook her head. "It was a great risk marrying him, but I, too, had loved him since I first laid eyes on him. I lived at the castle while he built this house, in the exact spot where we first met."
Éomer found his awe increasing with each word they spoke. And they lived so simply, so ordinarily! No one would suspect.
"What, no words from the great lady herself?" teased Erthor, gently nudging Lothíriel.
Lothíriel shook her head, apparently dazed.
The weather was cool, the hour was not very late, and the stars had come out to play. Éomer invited Lothíriel to take a stroll along the beach before retiring to the Prince's castle. Lothíriel had assented, and they now walked in silence, watching the water wash upon the sand.
Lothíriel finally broke the silence. "I never knew," she said wonderingly. "I have known Cellin and her family since infancy, and still, I never knew…"
Éomer bit his lip. The story had affected him, too. It had planted an idea in his head that refused to go away, no matter how hard he tried, no matter how many valid arguments he attempted to present it with.
They took a great risk. It was unrealistic. He is lucky that he was so blessed, now with a beautiful wife and a beautiful daughter… A daughter… And children to come…
And suddenly, in his mind's eye, he saw raven-haired children with bright blue eyes playing in the grass, and golden-haired, grey-eyed boys riding among the plains of Rohan. And by his side was a lovely woman with eyes of the sea…
Being a king, one must the put his own land's best interests into consideration as well. It is much less difficult for a simple fisherman! Lucky Erthor, who had to think of nothing but true love.
True love? Is that what this is, then?
"Éomer? Is something wrong?" A concerned voice cut through his turmoil. Startled, he looked up into Lothíriel's worried face and knew, all of a sudden, what Erthor meant when he said that, seeing her, he felt himself as much in love with her as ever. And with that, he made a decision.
"No, of course not. I was… I just… I was… admiring the view. The sea is lovely tonight."
If he could only find the courage to actually speak truthfully, instead of stammer like a complete idiot. Of course the sea was lovely tonight—it was breathtaking whenever he looked at it. She completely intimidated him in a way no orc could.
Lothíriel had knelt on the sand and picked up a beautifully patterned shell, thoughtfully turning it over.
"I love everything about the sea," she said, quietly.
He knelt beside her, looking curiously at the object in her hands, still unable to speak properly.
"It's a seashell," she explained, smiling, but in the same soft voice. "You put it to your ear to hear the sea."
Éomer tried to marshal his scattered wits and form a coherent response. He traced the intricate patterns, trying to marvel at nature's design, but altogether too lost to another design of nature's by his side to appreciate it fully.
"It's beautiful," he murmured, handing it back, but not thinking so much of the shell.
She continued to gaze wistfully at the object, tracing the swirling patterns. He stood up once more, and saw her in a way that, he knew, would be forever imprinted in his mind—kneeling on the sand, waves lapping near her prone figure, her hair blown out of its twist by the sea-wind, a sweet, pensive look on her face as she contemplated the seashell. It would be a picture he would keep forever—but he wanted more than a mere memory. He turned away.
"Lothíriel," he began, his back still turned—but his voice was raspy and came out instead in a strange grunt. He wondered if she had heard him.
She hadn't. She was speaking now, still in that quiet voice, but the words sounded hesitant, somehow. "The sea has always had my heart in its keeping…"
Éomer tried to clear his throat, knowing that he had to tell her now, before the moment was gone.
"But now—" her voice was so soft that he had to strain to hear it "—my heart belongs to another."
He felt his heart hammering as he turned back to look at her. He knelt again, nearer to her motionless figure. Her eyes were glimmering.
She wordlessly placed the shell in his hands. A thousand words and thoughts exploded in his mind—he couldn't breathe properly, much less speak—he encased her in a tender embrace instead.
They stayed that way for a while, and when they finally broke apart, he fervently took in her glowing face, and out tumbled the words he had wanted to say all along.
"Lothíriel, I love you. I love you now and will love you forever, and even beyond that if it were possible… You've captured me with your smile, your voice, every small gesture that you do, and more than that, everything about you, and if it were possible to die of love and happiness, I would do it now—"
She put a finger to his lips and laughed joyously.
Faervel was awake, waiting for Lothíriel, when her charge finally tripped into the room, humming. The girl's cheeks were rosy, and a dreamy smile was on her face.
"Did King Éomer enjoy the seafood, then, my lady?" Faervel questioned noncommittally.
"I trust you managed to keep appearances up for your father, my lady?"
"Did you manage to make him admit that sea-treasures can be just as enjoyable as those from the North?"
Lothíriel's smile widened. "Oh yes. I do not believe the King will ever object to treasures from the sea again."
Faervel shook her head.