A/N: And finally the end. Hope it satisfies. I also have a new Elfwine Chronicle ready, but I won't post it for another week or so.
"Get the King at once," Brythred hissed to his young companion. "No, wait! Go to Eothain, and he will fetch the King. They likely will not let you near him, but Eothain will not be stopped!"
Dreng answered with a toothy grin of understanding; Eothain's reputation was well known. He dashed out of the stable and hurried to the upper level gate. Even wearing livery of Rohan, he was detained there longer than he wished, explaining his purpose, but at last he was sent on to the king's house. More delays ensued, but finally he reached Eothain's room and knocked loudly.
Muttering curses under his breath, Eothain stumbled sleepily over to open the door, feeling the effects of the previous night's drinking. "What!" he demanded, snatching the door wide and scowling into the hall.
For a moment, Dreng cringed back, but then stammered, "C…captain Eothain, Firefoot is cast in his stall. You must fetch the king!"
There was an instant of blankness before his words registered in Eothain's fogged brain. "Get back to the stable and help Brythred. We will be right there." Shoving the door closed, he snatched on trousers and a shirt, then tugged on his boots and hurried out the door and down the hall.
As he reached for Eomer's door latch, one of Elessar's servants appeared and tried to stop him. "My lord! You cannot go in there. The King may not be disturbed from his sleep!"
"You are mistaken. He can and will be disturbed – by me!" Eothain glowered, causing the man to fall back a step. Not waiting for further argument, or bothering to knock, Eothain jerked the door open, letting it bang against the wall as he hurried toward Eomer's bed.
The king had come awake at the noise of the door, bolting upright in bed and reaching automatically for his sword, having forgotten it was across the room.
"It is me, Eomer. Firefoot is cast in his stall. Come quickly." There was no reason for a lot of fancy talk; that was sufficient for Eomer to understand and react.
He bounded up from the bed, and his movements matched those Eothain made earlier. Not bothering with fine clothing, he donned trousers, shirt and boots before the two men ran from the room. The guards were a little startled as they pelted by, but having recognized the King of Rohan, they decided not to interfere.
The two men skidded into the barn and hurried the length of it to Firefoot's stall. The great stallion was presently lying still, but was clearly in distress. Talking to him in a low voice, Eomer entered and went to his head, while the others positioned themselves.
Lothiriel wasn't sure why she had awakened so early, but whatever was making her fretful made it impossible for her to stay in her room. Thinking a walk might help, she strolled out to the grounds, and then continued on down the street from their townhouse. Even this early, with the sun barely up, there was activity around the stables, and she wandered idly in that direction. As she stepped into the barn, she was surprised to see a group of flaxen-haired men gathered down at the far end near a stall. What were the Rohirrim doing, and wasn't that Eothain and…Eomer.
Just then the king turned in such a way as to be facing toward her, and apparently had noted her presence. It would be rude to leave without speaking to them, now that she had been noticed, so she continued on down the aisleway.
Eomer had an eyebrow raised in curiosity. "Lady Lothiriel. I did not think to see you here."
"I…I was just up early and taking a walk. I happened by the stables, but…but what are you doing up so early?" She glanced at the others and toward the stall next to them. Inside, Eomer's great gray stallion stood munching on some hay.
"Firefoot became stuck against the stall wall. These Gondorian stalls are not so large as we have at home. I came to help them get him up before he injured himself in the attempt," Eomer explained.
"Is he all right?" she asked, turning to look at the horse more closely. A young stable lad was working at grooming him, so he did not appear very dirty at present, though perhaps those were scuffed places on him.
"Yes, he will be fine. Fortunately, he is very steady and did not panic. He lost a bit of hair in his few attempts before help arrived, but he has always been clever so he waited when his efforts were unsuccessful."
Lothiriel had turned back to face Eomer just as he reached up to scratch at his beard. Only then did she notice his attire, such as it was. If someone did not already know he was the king, they would hardly think it from his clothing or appearance. In fact, he appeared rather 'scruffy', though to her surprise she found it somewhat appealing. He looked much as the other Rohirrim gathered nearby, but who were now drifting away since the excitement had ended and they had duties to attend.
The sight caught her off her guard, and for a moment she did not know what to say, but apparently Eomer was not so hampered. He had intended to corner her and have this conversation, so now seemed as good a time as any.
"Lady Lothiriel, it has not escaped my notice that you have been avoiding me," he told her, raising an eyebrow for emphasis.
"I…I…" She stopped her stammering, completely unable to think of a response to his bluntness. She wasn't sure why it had never occurred to her that he might notice her evasions. Finally she fell silent, unable to deny the accusation and not quite knowing how to explain it.
When it was evident she was not going to reply, Eomer persisted, "Your brother explained about the prophesy made by Gandalf. Being friends with me does not require you to marry me."
Her eyes went wide in surprise, not having realized he knew about all this. How long had he known? What had her brother told him. She was so caught off her guard, that she blurted out the first thing that came to mind.
"What…what if I decide that I do wish to marry you?" she asked softly, blushing furiously. She had no idea where the question had come from, though she truly wanted an answer, but she could not look at him, likely even more stunned at her temerity than he was.
The merest of grins tweaked Eomer's mouth, but Lothiriel was too discomfited to notice. Finally, looking quite serious, he told her, "Well, in that event, then I suppose you will need to find a way to persuade me to court you!"
At her wide-eyed, stunned expression, he leaned slightly toward her and smilingly added, "Do not look so worried – I do not believe you will find the task to be very difficult!"
She stared at him for several long moments, and then could stand it no longer. "Please excuse me!" she squeaked, bolting for the exit.
Eomer made no attempt to follow her, his eyes narrowed speculatively. It would seem she was not so immune to his campaign as he had thought. That inadvertent question had revealed much about the effect of his efforts. Perhaps she was more inclined to know him than she even realized. Still, how to proceed now? She was as skittish as a yearling just starting training, and she would require careful handling. But now he knew that it was not hopeless. And why did that please him so immensely?
Lothiriel hurried down through the silent streets of Minas Tirith, unwilling to return home until she had had time to calm herself and put her disarrayed thoughts in order. What had just happened? And why on earth would she ask him such a question! "I do not believe you will find the task to be very difficult!" Why had his words warmed her so, and sent a thrill of excitement coursing through her? She did not want him to court her! She did not want to marry him! Did she?
She clasped her head in frustration. What was this man doing to her! She had been confused ever since that first encounter with him, and nothing since then had improved matters. She must avoid him, must not let him get her alone. He would return to Rohan now that the wedding was ended, and she would return to Dol Amroth. Perhaps then she could finally find peace. Likely they would have little reason to see one another ever again. And she refused to acknowledge the sorrow that thought provoked.
For awhile, she was successful. She redoubled her efforts at evasion and was able to elude him, though some part of her rebelled at her victory. However, despite getting what she wanted, looking at him across a room, on the few occasions when their gazes met, she did not feel entirely victorious. Why did she have the distinct impression that he had allowed her to win, and that he could turn it around in an instant if he chose? And why did part of her want him to try? Always she looked hastily away at such times, but some part of her knew that he still watched…and waited. That knowledge left her slightly breathless with anticipation…for she knew not what.
The Rohirrim remained at Minas Tirith longer than she had expected, and she overheard her father mention that Eomer had decided to extend his stay for awhile. She wondered if she was part of the reason, but as he continued to keep his distance, it was difficult to lend credence to that notion.
Despite all her precautions, however, he arrived at their door one day just as she came into the entry hall. Eothain accompanied him, to her relief, and she sent a servant to fetch her father while remaining to politely keep them company until Imrahil arrived. As soon as the servant moved toward the door, though, Eothain spoke up, "My lord, I will wait outside for you." He gave a short bow and followed the servant out, closing the library door behind him as he went and leaving them alone.
Nervously, Lothiriel fidgeted on the couch before rising to offer, "Would you like a glass of wine, my lord?" She moved to the decanter without waiting for his response. Whether he wanted one or not, she was feeling desperately in need of something to drink, and something to occupy her hands.
Eomer had not been seated, but instead had moved over to stand by the window. For the first time he spoke, not answering her question. "I had thought I understood previously that you avoided my company because you feared being pressed into a marriage not of your choosing," he said quietly, turning to look out the window.
Her hand stilled on the wine decanter and goblet. "Yes…" she reluctantly agreed, wondering why they were having this conversation, and surprised that he knew so much of her circumstances. Apparently her brother had told him everything.
"Yet, I see no evidence that anyone is pressing such a thing upon you, and still you are evasive with regards to me. I do have to wonder what it is that you find so objectionable." Now he turned back to look at her, his arms crossed over his chest.
Feeling very put on the spot, Lothiriel struggled to come up with an answer, finally blurting out, "Nothing! I do not find you objectionable!"
He gave a lazy smile and quirked an eyebrow at her. "Indeed? I fear your actions bely your words, my lady! If I am not objectionable to you, then why do you avoid me?"
Suddenly the room felt very warm, and she knew her face must be ablaze with color. Certainly she was finding it difficult to breathe. She moved to a bookshelf and fingered a book there, anything to keep occupied and have an excuse not to look at him. In truth, it was a fair question he asked, and she realized she did not have a good answer for it.
He moved so quietly that she did not notice his nearness until he stood right behind her, so close she could feel the warmth radiating from his body. She drew an unsteady breath and forced a reply, "I…I do not know, my lord."
She doubted very much he would accept something so vague as that, but she was not expecting the arm that slid around her and turned her to face him. "Why, Lothiriel?" he persisted.
Some tiny portion of her brain registered the familiarity of both his words and his tone, but she was finding it difficult to think clearly. She nervously licked her lips as she gazed wide-eyed up at him. "I…I…I am afraid of you!" she whispered breathlessly.
"Afraid? Is that why you tremble now?" he asked, stepping close enough that their bodies touched.
"Y…yes!" she stammered, realizing she was trapped between him and the bookcase.
"What is it about me that frightens you?" he murmured softly. "Perhaps I can act so you will be less fearful."
At that moment, she felt almost dizzy with desire for…something, but she couldn't quite put her finger on what it was. Then, his lips brushed lightly against her forehead and in a blinding flash she knew what she wanted. She wanted him, she wanted to be in his arms and have him truly kiss her, she…wanted him to love and marry her!
With a gasp her eyes jerked up to meet his rather amused gaze. Apparently, he could interpret what he read in their depths, for he slowly leaned in and pressed his lips to hers.
The strangest thoughts began running through her mind – how scratchy his beard felt against her face, how soft his lips were, the masculine smell of him, how hopefully Mithrandir had been right. Oh, hang Mithrandir! she thought in annoyance. Let the wizard mind his own business, and simply let her enjoy this moment and this marvelous man. Her arms slid up around his neck drawing him closer, and he grinned against her lips as he felt her capitulation, but she could not be bothered by it. This wasn't being foisted on her by others – she was choosing it for herself, and it felt wonderful!
They were lost in the sensations of that moment for quite some time, but when they finally broke the contact in order to breathe, Eomer said softly, "Marry me?"
"Because of the prophesy?" she asked, almost fearfully, not entirely able to let go of it just yet. This moment had been so beautiful; she was sorry he had spoiled it with that question.
"No. Because I love you, and because life is not worth living if you are not part of my life. Please, marry me," Eomer told her sincerely.
It had all come down to this. She did love him in return; she knew that now. Would she throw it aside in order to avoid fulfilling some prophesy made by a wizard many years ago? It seemed so predictable and planned to accept his proposal, but then she looked into his eyes, gazing tenderly upon her and waiting for an answer. One thing was certain – she had not planned to love him as she did. She had not planned to give her heart so completely. Noblewomen of Gondor usually married for more practical reasons than love, so she had not planned to be any different. And, yet, she was different. With or without the Istar's soothsaying, she had fallen in love with a good man, and one that happened to be suitable for her to marry. Why should she allow Mithrandir to interfere and set all that at naught?
"Yes, of course! I love you also!" she told him fervently. "I do not have to, but I will! Because I want to."
10/19/08 – 11/27/08
Brythred – ("wisdom giver")
Dreng – ("youth") (Yes, I'm reusing names I've used before in the Chronicles – for different people.)
FYI: A "cast" horse refers to one that is stuck on the ground for some reason-- either its legs are under a fence, or the horse has rolled up near a wall or object that prevents it from being able to get up.
When a horse is cast, it is at risk for injuries. Cast horses may panic and thrash, injuring themselves on a fence or wall. They can injure their eyes or neck when they struggle to get up. Horses down for long periods of time, especially those lying on their back, may actually suffocate from the pressure of their digestive system pressing against their lungs.
Freeing a cast horse is a matter of putting him in the position and giving him the space to go through the naturally awkward movements of regaining his feet. In most cases, you need to roll the horse over to bring his feet away from the wall. With a calm horse, this is not difficult, but you still need to be careful to stay out of harm's way.