For Lady Bluejay on her birthday and for anyone, like me, who is afraid of horses but likes the Rohirrim anyway. Special thanks to Deandra, warrior beta, who fights off headaches so that I don't make a fool out of myself. ;)

Barrel Riding

Minas Tirith

"Lothíriel, please open your eyes. Don't be embarrassed; nobody's watching," Éomer patiently pleaded with her.

I'm not embarrassed—I'm terrified, you great oaf!

Sorry, you aren't truly an oaf, she apologized even though she knew he couldn't read her mind.

"Please, Lothy?"

She obeyed after his voice reached a new, pathetic pitch. How often did kings beg for anything?

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the twilight. The dim light glowed from the torches, reflected on the stone walls of an empty courtyard where they'd been for three quarters of an hour. Most of that time they'd spent arguing.

"Now breathe."

She gulped air and the protective fog settling in her head dissipated. That's right. She wasn't where she wanted to be – safe on her own two feet. Instead, she perched high over the ground in an unladylike position while wearing her brother's clothing.

Out of the corner of her eye she noticed the faint laugh-lines on Éomer's sunburned face, the red color heightened by the torch behind them. His head reached the level of her shoulder, giving her an unusual advantage. Lothíriel laughed a little on the inside; his fair skin did not weather the southern sun very well.

He must have noticed her momentary mirth and took that as a signal of capitulation. "Very good. Now, let go of my arm," he quipped.

Lothíriel balked. He could not ask this of her – not after all he'd asked of her already.

"You need to hold onto the reins," he pointed out.

She shook her head, the very idea sending a wave of dizziness through her. "But then it will think I want to move."

Éomer's laughter boomed and echoed around the walls. "Sort of. You'll use your legs for that, sweet. But you have to take command and clutching onto me will not do. I promise you won't get hurt. Will you let go?"

"No," she hissed. Lothíriel let her fingernails bite into his shirtsleeve like a cat.

"Please?" he asked patiently, turning the full force of his blue eyes on her.

"You can't make me," she bluffed, knowing full well that he could. Of all the men to fall in love with – a horse lord! Curse his personality and good looks.

Mirth threaded through his voice. "I wouldn't make you do anything you didn't want to."

"No, because throwing me up here in the middle of an argument when I specifically told you I didn't want anything to do with this experiment isn't making me do anything I don't want to do! I want to get down. Now."

She sat with her back ram-rod straight out of fear as her mount wobbled under her tirade, but it doubled nicely as a posture of defiance.

Éomer changed his tactic on her. "I'll make you a deal. You take the reins – I promise it will not go anywhere – and we'll call it quits for the day."

"Really?" She brightened considerably, knowing that he'd have a very hard time tricking her into this again once she got down.

Éomer nodded.

Lothíriel glanced down behind her shoulder at the hard cobbles between the grey hind legs of her mount and instantly regretted it. "It's a long drop."

"I won't let you fall. Trust me."

"This had better be worth it," she muttered under her breath.

"I promise. Otherwise you can think of something worse for me."

Her laughed came out a bit strangled. "Oh, it will be."

"Ready?"

Lothíriel nodded and closed her eyes. Slowly, her stiff fingers unclenched and released the solid forearm that anchored her to safety. Looking again, she scrambled to find the reins and locked them in her hands.

"Well done," Éomer praised.

Lothíriel smiled for the first time.

"Soon you'll be able to try this on a real horse."

She scowled at him but he grinned back. "Never mind, lift me down from this barrel before the sawhorses collapse!"

oOoOo

AN: A reviewer wanted to know how Éomer would end up with a queen who was a diffident rider and afraid of horses (re: Good Lord for Alliance) and this sort of answers it…or begins to. The idea, of course, comes from Lothíriel's cousin Faramir, who as everyone knows, rode a barrel in the charge of Osgiliath.


To be followed by "Day Trip."