So that is the Queen...

Standing behind the long trough in front of the Royal Stables, the lad gaped at the black-haired woman that was retreating towards the Golden Hall besides Éomer King. Having taken up service in Édoras while the royal couple was on a tour to the Westfold, he had not seen her yet but the vivid gossip about the fierce Gondorean princess, who had won their king's heart, had even reached the remote settlement in the Eastemnet he hailed from.

He had imagined her to be quite different. Stern and proud, a shieldmaiden with hair like black steel, and here she was: smiling and obviously happy in the king's company.

Could it really be, that that slender young woman had shoved Éomer King, the hero of his childhood, off the pier at Mundburg?

He watched, as she laughingly leant into the king at a remark from Éothain, the Captain of the King's Guard. The king's arm circled possessively around her waist, pulling her even closer. The lad sighed. Ah, well... at least he could understand the men's remarks about the king being "a lucky bugger" now.

He couldn't hear, what they were talking about, them being too far away, but he kept staring, pondering the stories he had been told, his imaginations running wild. Four days alone on the great river...His mouth went dry, as her saw the king's hand slide down to rest on the queen's hip. The Lion and the Lioness of Rohan...

"Shut the gap, you're catching flies!" A brisk voice shook him out of his daydreams, laughing blue eyes meeting his. He blushed, sheepishly turning his gaze. The smell of freshly beaked bread, mingled with that of hay was about her, and something else, something he recognized, something that had made his senses reel the day before.

Heat, dark clouds billowing overhead, everyone frantically gathering the dry hay before the approaching thunderstorm, hastening like mad to save a week's labour, the supplies for the coming winter... The lass high up on the wagon, piling the sweet-smelling hay, rallying them to work faster, breathless, urgent but laughing at the challenge of the skies. Sweat and hay...

He had felt utterly spent, when the last wagon had rumpled off towards the barns, and there she had been again, handing him a jug of water, smiling proudly, relishing their victory over the elements, smelling of sweat, hay and something...

Out of the corner of his eyes he looked at her face, as she stood beside him: sunburnt, freckled cheekbones, a straight nose and a proud chin. He tried hard, not to look at her lips. He had wanted to claim them, yesterday in the sultriness of the approaching thunderstorm...and how much he wanted them now.

Instead he had kissed the sunburnt tip of her ear, telling her, it would prevent blisters. She had not pulled away though...

Neither did she pull away now, their bare arms nearly touching as she stood gazing over the stable yard. Short hairs, the same nearly white colour as her thick braid contrasted against the tan of her forearms.

How glorious these arms had felt around his waist, as she had sat behind him on Brunfel's broad back, when they finally had headed for Édoras in the first gusts.

The gale whirling around them, hair streaming into his eyes, thunder rolling nearer, and then the first lightning, tearing the clouds apart.

The rain had started as if a dam had broken, splashing down like a waterfall in the mountains, refreshing but not cold, and within seconds they had been drenched to the skin. He had screamed with joy and she had joined him, her body against his, their laughter rising over storm and thunder.

The steaming horse, his wet clothes glued to his body, her nipples hard against the skin of his back...

Embarrassed he tried to keep his breath low and steady, feeling thankful that his shirt fell wide and low to midthigh. Avoiding her eyes, he looked at the royal couple again...and gasped in disbelief.

While Éomer King was still talking to Éothain, his hand wandered further down in an absentmindedly caressing move to come to rest on the queen's buttocks. And she didn't pull away.

The king, his lord, his idol... He couldn't tear his eyes away, staring mesmerised at that hand.

Fresh bread, hay and something...What if he..? Could he...? Would she...?

She was so tantalizingly close, her smell making his nostrils flare. His mind was bubbling, as he imagined his own hand sliding down her back, her lithe body arching against him, leaving him enveloped in her smell .

He sensed that his gasp had given him away. Feeling her eyes on him, he blushed furiously and kept staring at the king's hand. He heard her breathing in sharply, as she obviously realized, what he was looking at.

" You would like to be in his place, wouldn't you?" Her low voice trembled just so slightly.

He closed his eyes, breathing deep and said without thinking: "Yes, indeed."

The angry shout of a female voice, followed by a loud splash, startled the only other three people in the yard.

Éomer King whirled round, pushing the queen behind his back with one hand, the other reaching for his sword, but no danger met his eye, just the sight of a stable lad, surfacing bedraggled in the big trough in front of the Royal Stables and the pink heels of a lass, storming off with flying skirts towards the kitchens.

"What's wrong?" demanded Lothíriel Queen.

"Oh, nothing at all," Éothain hastened to assure her, only to add with a smirk at his king and friend from childhood: "Just Gondorean customs of courtship gaining a foothold in Rohan."

Annotations:

"Below the Salt" refers to the fact that salt, being a rare and expensive commodity in the Middle Ages, during meals was placed in the middle of the "high table"only, where the nobility was seated.

Commoners and servants sat at lower trestle tables and had no access to the salt.

They sat "below/beneath the salt".