The Abduction of Éomer, King of Rohan.
Dol Amroth, October 3019 TA
I suppose the whole wretched affair started with that courier from Rohan. But I had no warning: no black geese flying by as he rode in through Dol Amroth's gates, no threatening clouds of thunder overhead, no sudden infestation of rats. Only the dogs barked, but they do that with every stranger.
It was one of those late, sunny autumn days, all the more precious because a trace of chill was in the air, hinting at winter rains to come. I had been schooling my mare in the practice ring behind the stables, and was just returning to the keep to get changed, when the courier rode in. For a moment I wondered if my father had sent him to prepare for his arrival four days hence, but then I saw the green tunic and the blond hair spilling out from under his helmet. From Rohan, then.
One of the grooms ran to take his reins and the rider dismounted with the easy grace of a man who has spent half his life on horseback. I saw him take off his helmet and exchange a quick word with the groom, so I went to join them. Had my father been present, he would no doubt have chided me for my impatience, but I'd had enough waiting for news the past few months to last me a lifetime.
"Welcome to Dol Amroth," I addressed the rider. "I am Princess Lothíriel and in charge of this castle. How fares Rohan?"
His nostrils flared and his eyes widened in surprise, but he caught himself quickly. "Thank you, my lady," he answered with a bow, "Rohan fares well."
I suppose I did not agree with his picture of a Gondorian princess, for he raked his eyes over me, starting at my dusty boots and ending on my less than pristine riding tunic. Perhaps I shouldn't have let Tuilin slobber all over me, but she was such a pretty thing. Too late now, anyway.
"You have messages for my father?" I asked. "He's on his way home from Minas Tirith, but won't be back for another four days."
"I carry a letter from the King of Rohan to Prince Imrahil," the rider confirmed and turned to his saddlebags to extract his missive.
This gave me the chance to study him more closely: a tall man, carrying himself with the same assurance of the accomplished warrior that my brothers displayed. While his clothing was nondescript and worn, the pommel of his sword gleamed with polish and his horse's tack looked well cared for. As for his stallion, his quality was unmistakable in the fine line of his neck and his powerful chest. If an ordinary courier had a steed like this, no wonder my father had been impressed with the horses of the Rohirrim.
The rider handed me a parchment sealed with the Sun of Rohan. As the stiff vellum crackled under my touch, I wondered whether to open it, but decided against it. Father would be home very shortly and quite likely it held some private communication for him. After all, he had become close friends with the King of Rohan.
I lifted my eyes from the letter to find the man studying me. Were they all so tall in Rohan? It was rather disconcerting to have to look up at somebody – not something I was used to, except for my father and brothers. Also not only did he tower over me, he also leant forward slightly, balanced on the balls of his feet in the swordsman's manner.
Another woman might have been intimidated by this, but I had been raised amongst warriors from childhood. And being thrust into the running of Dol Amroth during the war had taught me how to deal with men doubting my authority. The trick was not to let them encroach on your space, but rather hold your ground.
So I straightened my spine and lifted my chin. "Your name?"
"Léona they call me," he answered.
What an odd phrase. But I had noticed the speech of the Rohirrim often sounded strange to our ears. Although this man's Westron, spoken in a deep, rich voice, did not even hold a trace of an accent.
"Did King Éomer require you to return with an answer from my father, Léona?" I asked. "You are welcome to wait here for him."
He shrugged nonchalantly. "That won't be necessary; I am leaving again tomorrow morning."
"In that case let me extend the hospitality of Dol Amroth to you for tonight." I nodded a dismissal. "You may see the steward about supplies for the journey back."
He thanked me politely enough, but only when he led his horse into the stable and I was free of his presence did I realise what had bothered me about him. All my life the people around me had accorded me the respect due my rank, but this rider from Rohan did not treat me as a princess.
He treated me as his equal.
For the rest of the day I pushed the matter from my mind, a task made easier by the demands of my position. My father had been gone for over half a year, and the big merrymaking planned to celebrate his victorious return from the war demanded a lot of preparation.
I did not see Léona again until the evening meal held in the great hall of Dol Amroth. Occupying my father's seat at the high table, I got a good view of him, for he had chosen a place at one of the long tables near the dais where I could see him clearly. Or was it the other way round? More than once during the evening I felt his eyes resting on me. He had a healthy appetite, I noticed, helping himself generously to all the courses presented to him. The serving maids stopped by often, not only offering food, but also smiles to the exotic looking visitor. Still, that was none of my business.
I was tired that evening, so I retired early. As I walked down the steps of the dais, nodding a good-night here and there, I again felt his gaze on me. And while I had lately become used to drawing the regard of men, this was different. Almost against my volition, I found myself stopping at his table.
He rose lazily to his feet. "My lady?"
Now what to say? Fortunately I was used to playing the gracious hostess. "Has the steward been able to resupply you, Léona?" I asked.
"Yes, my lady," he answered. "Dol Amroth's hospitality is impeccable."
"I am pleased to hear that."
This would have been the right moment to move on, but my feet just would not obey me. As for my mind, it had gone completely blank.
After an awkward moment's silence, Léona bowed. "Good night, Lady Lothíriel."
Released from his dark gaze, I took a step backward. "Good night." My silken skirts rustled against my legs, as I retreated from the hall.
Why did my hasty exit feel like a flight? And the man probably thought me a featherhead who could not even hold a proper conversation beyond simple banalities! Still, I told myself fiercely, it did not matter what he thought of me.
But later that night, sitting on my bed and brushing out my hair, I pondered the question as to why his quiet intensity bothered me so much. And suddenly I knew what his scrutiny reminded me of: the way my father watched new horses being put through their paces for him by the stable master. I squashed the thought.
Call it cowardice, but I had my morning meal in my rooms the next day. And then I collected a couple of guards and went for a long ride along the beach. Tuilin needed the exercise and I needed the fresh air to blow the fancies from my mind. Besides, by the time I got back the courier would be gone; King Éomer's riders always left early.
South of Dol Amroth the land met the sea in a series of jagged cliffs. Big waves rolled in from the Bay of Belfalas, gnawing away at the rock and forming it into fantastically shaped boulders and towers. But at low tide a sandy beach emerged at the foot of the cliffs, stretching flat and empty for many miles. Like a blank canvas, it invited you to draw lines across it, and Tuilin and I spent an exhilarating morning alternatively galloping and trotting along the shore. I revelled in the almost forgotten freedom of sea spray on my lips and wind in my hair, for my duties had kept me indoors far too much during the last months.
We rode as far as a place called The Castle for its jumble of rocks shaped like archways and turrets, where I had often played with my brothers as a child, before deciding to return. The sea was coming in again, reclaiming the sand and reflecting back the sky like an enormous mirror, and the horses enjoyed cantering through the surf. Then near the ravine that would lead us back up onto the cliff road, we spotted another rider.
What was he doing? He and his horse would take a couple of strides after a receding wave, only to pivot round and race back when the next breaker rolled in. And then the game would commence again. And it was a game, I realized. As for the big grey stallion managed with casual skill by his rider, I had the sinking feeling I recognized him. Was there no getting away from the man?
When we got closer, he ceased his antics and watched us critically. Aware of a horselord's eye on me, I sat up straighter in my saddle – although why it should matter I could not say.
"Princess Lothíriel," he greeted me without waiting for my acknowledgment of his presence.
"Léona." I inclined my head. "Shouldn't you be on your way home by now?"
He patted his saddle bags. "Yes, I am all set to go. But I've never seen the sea, so I wanted to have a look before I returned."
I raised an eyebrow. "Won't your king mind if you delay your mission for a bit of sightseeing?"
He grinned as if at some secret joke. "Oh, I don't think so. Éomer King is quite easygoing."
That was not the impression I had formed of Rohan's new king from the reports I'd heard, but it was none of my business. Maybe he thought he could make up the time on the road.
I gathered up my reins. "Well, don't linger too much longer," I warned him. "The tide is coming in."
"I don't intend to." And like a dog cutting off a sheep from the rest of the herd, he fell in beside me, leaving my guards to sort themselves out.
A gorge overgrown with gorse and tussocks of tough, wiry beach grass led back up onto the road along the top of the cliffs. The wind whistled through cracks in the rocks and tugged at my hair, but Tuilin had been up and down the narrow path many times, so that presented no problems. However, I noticed that Léona kept a close eye on us and interposed himself between me and the precipice on the other side whenever possible. Did he think me such a poor rider?
"So, horselord?" I asked when we reached the cliff top. Gulls wheeled around us, shrieking their protest at our intrusion into their territory.
"You ride well," he acknowledged my unspoken question.
"Thank you," I answered sweetly. "So do you."
I spurred Tuilin forward and did not look back until I reached the entrance to the castle, but I fancied I heard his laughter on the wind. However, he did not follow me, his path lying to the east and north. Hopefully that would be the last I saw of him.
And so it proved to be, at least for the time being. My father and brothers arrived home three days later and during the winter months many couriers from Rohan rode to and fro, but Léona was not amongst them. Perhaps King Éomer had been dissatisfied with his services? Yet annoyingly enough, every time one of the Rohirrim clattered into the courtyard, I found myself compelled to check for a tall rider on a grey stallion, bearing himself with far too much confidence.
Léona – lion
Tuilin - swallow
A/N Well, here we go again! Many thanks to my beta Lady Bluejay and the people at GoI for their encouragement, advice and plain fun. By the way, I'm on Livejournal now (see the link on my profile page), so if you want to know what's going on writing wise, you can check there.