There were servants everywhere. Eowyn's room was full of them, some wrestling with heavy velvet gowns, some meticulously packing hairbrushes and gloves and stockings and some humming cheerfully as they swept the floor or beat the rugs. There was nowhere to go without being advanced upon and asked, "Would my lady like the silk nightgown packed first, or the cotton chemise?" Lothiriel didn't care. She couldn't help but see the servants, helpful as they were, as intruders. There was nowhere to go to think and be alone. The great hall was swarming with departing guests, hot-faced servants performing last minute duties and her whole family. Lothiriel knew she should be there too; they were departing within an hour. But she wasn't ready, not yet.
Finally she found herself a tight corner at the back of Meduseld, somewhere cool and quiet. She could hear the busy hum from the kitchens but it didn't bother her. No one would find her here. She did not want to go. That was the awful, pathetic truth. She was too cowardly to tell anyone but she could admit it to herself. She did not want to leave. And knowing that Eomer didn't care, that he'd gotten over her with the help of a woman in a tavern...it made it all the more humiliating. She'd never tell anyone now. They'd all think she was happy. She'd got what she wanted, after all. Freedom. Now all she wanted was to be tied to Eomer again.
She laid her head back against the cool wall. It soothed her aching head a little. If only she could stop time at this very moment. Stop everything and let her rest here until she could move again.
"Lothiriel?" a familiar voice rang through the hall.
Lothiriel sat up straight. Silarien appeared in front of her with an unreadable expression on her face. She did not enquire as to what Lothiriel was doing or why she was sitting on the floor in a corner. She sat down next to her cousin and sighed deeply.
"Your father wants to leave soon," she told Lothiriel. "He asked me to find you."
"How did you find me?"
"I've been looking for ages."
They fell into an easy silence. Silarien played with her loose braid. Lothiriel twisted her fingers into shapes.
"Are you coming with me?" Lothiriel asked in a quiet voice.
Silarien shrugged. "Yes. Eothain won't even look at me now."
Lothiriel's heart clenched. "That's my fault."
"No, it's not. You didn't tell me to refuse him."
"But if I had accepted my marriage in the first place, you would have been able to have yours."
Silarien smiled sadly. "Perhaps. But what's done is done," she paused and touched Lothiriel's hand gently. "I'm sorry for being angry with you."
"I'm sorry," Lothiriel insisted. "It's my fault. I'm sorry."
Silarien tugged on Lothiriel's hand. "We'd better leave now. It's almost noon and your father thinks you've run away or something."
Lothiriel smiled wanly. "No, I'm far too disciplined for that sort of wild, reckless behaviour." They laughed together as they walked to the great hall, but Lothiriel's heart gathered speed as they approached the wooden doors. Every step she took closer to that hall, her heart thundered more and more. Louder and louder. Heavier and heavier until it sank into the bottom of her stomach and churned like angry butterflies.
The huge wooden door creaked open before them. For a moment there was dark and then golden light flooded Lothiriel's eyes. Groups of people stood around talking mindlessly while servants shuffled about with luggage and the impatient noises of waiting horses came from outside the open golden doors.
That was when she saw him. Eomer was standing by the door, deep in conversation with another man. Lothiriel stopped in her tracks. She did not think she could do this. She clenched her fists and curled her toes, gathering what little strength she had left. Then she breathed in slowly and deeply and began to walk towards him. It was good manners, after all, to say farewell to your host.
He spotted her before she reached him. He frowned slightly but excused himself and went to meet her. Lothiriel could hardly bear to look into his face but when he spoke, his voice was kind.
"How are you this morning, my lady?"
"I am very well, thank you, my lord," she paused. "And yourself?"
"I would be better if I could see your face, Lothiriel."
Swallowing, she looked up at him nervously. He grinned. "There, that wasn't so bad, now was it?"
Lothiriel had no choice but to shake her head. As she looked up at Eomer, she was overcome with a sudden rush of anger coupled with the realisation that she was never going to see him ever again. He had lied to her. He had told her he loved her and then he had kissed another woman in a tavern, of all places! If there was ever a moment to speak her mind, something told her that this was that moment. At least she could depart for Dol Amroth knowing she had done all she could to make her thoughts clear.
However just as she opened her mouth to speak, Eomer began. "I know you were looking for me," he said to her in a low, quick voice. "Eothain told me. What did you want me for?"
Lothiriel gaped at him, her censure forgotten. "What?" she choked.
"Eothain told me you were looking for me," he repeated patiently. "What did you want to say? I've been eager to know."
He looked eager. He looked almost boyish in his eagerness. Somehow this only made Lothiriel more annoyed. "What does it matter to you?" she snapped. "As soon as I'm gone, you can go straight back to your tavern friend."
He looked utterly bemused. "What are you talking about?"
"You know exactly what I'm talking about!" she muttered furiously, schooling her features into a calm smile. She was all too aware of the curious looks they were already attracting.
"I'm afraid I do not. You shall have to enlighten me."
"Last evening I saw you in the tavern," she said reluctantly. "Do you need me to say anymore?"
"It seems so. I did not go to a tavern at all yesterday."
She frowned in scepticism but he was not lying, she could see it in his face. "But then...who did I see?"
"I'd like to know that too."
"I saw you, or at least someone who looked very much like you," she stopped and blushed. "Kissing a woman in a tavern," the irritation washed over her again. "And for all your pretty speeches about loving me, you certainly forgot me quickly!"
"Don't try and make excuses, I saw you!"
"That was not me, all right? I promise that wasn't me," comprehension dawned on his face and to Lothiriel's bemusement, he grinned. Scanning the room, he located someone and twisted Lothiriel around so her back was facing him. "Do you see that man over there? The tall one with his back to you?"
"That's who you saw."
Lothiriel frowned. She tried to picture the man she was looking at with the man she had seen in the tavern. Then a slow flood of colour spread across her face. "Sorry," she mumbled, ashamed. "He does rather look like you from behind."
"But he is not me, you admit?"
"Yes. I was wrong."
Eomer cleared his throat. "Perhaps you were wrong about something else too?"
"About what?" she asked but her face burned.
"When you said you wanted to go home? Or perhaps when you rejected me?"
Lothiriel was overcome with regret. "I – I wish I had never said those things. You're right, I was wrong and I wish I could take them back. But it is impossible."
"Why is it impossible?"
She stared at him in disbelief. "Because you've broken off the betrothal!"
"It is not yet so broken that it cannot be mended," he told her seriously. "But it needs you to be honest to mend itself."
She saw her choice. Maintain her pride and leave and never come back. Or throw away any pride she was still clinging to and have a chance of happiness. The choice was the easiest she had ever had to make.
"I – I am in love with you," she confessed. "And I wish to stay here and marry you. And I wish you would let me stay. I believe I could do a great deal of work here, for you and your people. But most of all, I just want to stay here to be with you." She wondered if it was possible to turn any redder.
Eomer beamed. "It took you long enough," he chuckled. "Shall I tell your father the good news or shall you?"
"Oh please, let me," grinned Lothiriel. "But you might tell Eothain."
Eomer returned her grin easily. "Don't worry, my darling, I am going to tell everybody."
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