AN – Sorry for the long wait, I've had four essays since the start of the New Year - but this chapter is extra long to make up for it! Thank you for all of the LOVELY reviews, you guys are awesome – particularly TKH, Define X, SternAmBauch and anyone else who answered my question.
AN2 – Rohirric words are derived from Old English in this story and hollantide is the name of a Manx festival that I borrowed.
The room Eomer led her too was large and spacious – in fact, it was more of a suite than a single room, with three other doors leading to rooms unknown. It reminded her of a hunting cabin: all carved wooden beams, wall hangings depicting horses, furs on the flagstone floor and a huge fireplace, currently unlit. There was a table that could seat four, though two of the chairs were pulled back at angles as if they had been left in a hurry. The bed was large, easily big enough for more than one person, and covered in both cotton sheets and furs – she tried to ignore the fact that they would be real animal skins, silencing the squeamish voice inside her.
"This is nice," Nicola said, sitting down on the bed and hesitantly touching the rough fur, letting it slip through her fingers. "A little rustic, but nice."
Eomer was giving her a strange look, watching her lounge on the bed. "This is also my room."
She stood up quickly.
"That door leads to my study, that one to the latrine," he said, gesturing towards the doors – Nicola had a sudden flash of trepidation, wondering what the plumbing in a quasi-medieval society would be like. "You will be through here," he continued, walking across the room and opening the remaining door. Following him, she peered around his shoulder into the room beyond, lit by a single window set high in the wall. This room was much smaller, containing only a narrow bed, a small bedside table and a wardrobe.
"Might I ask why I will be living in your quarters?" she asked mildly, realising she would have to walk through his room each time she wanted to go to her own.
"I want you somewhere I can keep a close eye on you. This room was intended for a nursery, if and when I have a child. Mostly unfurnished at the moment, but it is big enough for you," he said gruffly. "Does it meet with your approval?"
"No, it's fine – I suppose this is all I need, really," she said, slipping around his broad frame to enter the room. It was certainly small, but being a student she had spent more than her share of nights crashing on friends floors after going out – at least the bed looked reasonably comfortable.
She considered his words about this room being for a child, knowing that he would be the King of Rohan and living in Edoras when he had children. If she remembered rightly, Eomer married Princess Lothiriel and had a son called Elfwine. Her eyes slid sideways to glance at him as she realised she was in the presence of future royalty.
She mentally shrugged – he may be a future king, but it didn't make him any less of an ass.
Eomer lingered at the doorway as she flitted about, lost in her thoughts as she brushed her hand over the woollen blankets at the foot of the bed and then moving to open the armoire. It was empty, though there were several shelves and a rail to hang clothes. Affixed to the inside of one of the doors was a small piece of polished metal. Realising that this was a rather basic mirror, she leant forward to view her reflection for the first time since she had left the bathroom of the nightclub the previous evening.
Her hair looked like a bird had nested in it, but worse than that her mascara had ran halfway down her cheeks in faded black tracks. "Have I been walking around like this all morning?" she said, horrified at her appearance.
"Is this not usual when you cry?" he asked, seeming genuinely curious. "I thought perhaps black tears were the norm in your world."
She snorted, not wanting to explain the effects of water on mascara to him. Instead she licked her fingers and, using the mirror, focused on rubbing the smears of black off her cheeks. Eomer vanished from the door and then quickly reappeared, holding a damp washcloth which he proffered wordlessly. Thanking him, she took it and set about scrubbing away all lingering traces of her make up – she tried to ignore the feeling that, in doing so, she was removing part of her identity as a modern woman. She supposed she would have to get used to not wearing any cosmetics, a feat which was practically unthinkable in her old life.
When she was done she handed the cloth back to Eomer, who was still watching her curiously. Feeling an awkward atmosphere start to settle between them, she gestured quickly to the bed. "I think I'll just …"
He nodded sharply. "Sleep well," he said abruptly, before turning on his heel and closing the door firmly behind him.
She breathed a sigh of relief, grateful to finally be alone with the prospect of sleeping. Twisting around to undo the zip at the side of her play suit, she quickly pulled it off, followed by her tights (which were now looking a little worse for wear with grass-stains and several ladders) until she was standing in her purple bra and pants. Casting a nervous look at the door, hoping Eomer wouldn't come back in when she was just in her underwear, she tossed her clothing over the foot of the bed.
She wondered if it was strange that he had put her in a room so close to his own, within the very same suite. She believed what he had said about wanting to keep an eye on her – but wasn't sure whether it was for her own safety, or because he was still suspicious of her, despite Gandalf's assurance that she wasn't a spy of Sarumans. Then again, she hadn't missed his roving eyes as she had served breakfast; it was possible he had a more lascivious motivation. She snorted at her own whimsical vanity, dismissing the notion as foolish – any man would look at a women dressed as 'provocatively' as she had been in the Hall, it didn't mean he had any intentions towards her. Besides, he had said outright that he didn't like her barely half an hour ago – it was far more likely that he simply didn't trust her.
Deciding to think about this later, she crawled inside the covers, eager to slip into blissful, mind numbing sleep. The sheets were a little scratchy, but thick and heavy enough to provide warmth. She wiggled her bottom slightly, testing the mattress. It was malleable and crackled when she moved. Digging her fingers into it, she deduced that it was stuffed tight with both straw and wool – certainly no match for her mattress at home, but it was better than the cold flagstones on the floor.
Her jaw cracked as she let out a mighty yawn. Burrowing down in the narrow bed, she drew the covers up over her head to block out the morning light until she was in a cocoon of blackness. Finally alone with her own thoughts, she briefly considered indulging in a crying-jag, as any heroine thrown into another world would be expected to do. Dispelling the melodramatic impulse, she lay perfectly still and listened to the sound of people and horses outside her window. Within mere minutes her exhaustion had caught up with her and, instead of dwelling on her predicament, she was fast asleep.
Eomer closed the door to Nicolas room, pausing with his fingers on the handle for a long moment. Inside the room he could hear the sound of her kicking of her shoes and getting undressed. Leaving her to her rest, he headed slowly toward the stand for his armour, unbuckling the bracers from his wrists as he walked. Each piece of armour was meticulously removed, checked for damage and then placed on the stand. It would need cleaning and oiling, but that was a task for later
Finally free of its weight, which he had been wearing for several days' whist out on patrol, he flexed his shoulders to relieve some of the tension that had built there and pulled his tunic over his head. It was soiled with sweat and dirt, so he left it draped over the back of a chair to be washed later. On top of his chest of draws was a large bowl of lukewarm water, from which he had retrieved the washcloth for Nicola to use. Cupping some water in his hands, he splashed his face and neck, rubbing vigorously to remove any lingering dust from riding.
Feeling as clean as he could without fully immersing himself in a bath, which would be pointless since he was heading down to the training grounds later, he donned a fresh tunic and headed to his study – his own, private sanctuary. It was a small but serviceable room, with only a desk and a few shelves, mostly containing ledgers for Aldburg. Very few people ever disturbed him here, and so it was normally an area of quiet contemplation.
Lowering himself into the chair, he placed his elbows on the desk and dropped his head into his hands, finally permitting himself to let out a long, loud groan that had been threatening to escape for most of the morning.
Only a few hours, he thought, irked at the disruption this slip of a girl had caused in his life in such a short space of time.
He cursed all Wizards under his breath, blaming them for this difficult situation he now found himself in. Gandalf had said that Saruman would be searching for Nicola, but how ardently would he look and what means would he use? Aldburg didn't have the strength to fight the full might of Isengard, should the White Wizard choose to unleash it. She simply didn't understand the danger her presence had stirred.
He knew that he had lashed out at her in the stables, his formidable temper getting the better of him. But then something strange had happened – she had lashed right back. Not even his most sturdy warriors would argue with him when he was in an ireful mood, some of them not daring to look him in the eye. But Nicola had glared at him, her fingers turning white as they gripped the top of Firefoot's stall door, and had essentially accused him of throwing a tantrum.
And there is was, the smallest shift in perspective. She wasn't a spirit that had risen fully formed from the grass, nor was she the conjurings of Wizards. She was a person – a highly unusual person that he neither liked nor respected much, but a person nevertheless.
In many ways he could see her point; yes, she had been thrown against her will into an unknown world but she was still only one person. He had to look at the bigger picture - a country on the edge of war, where food provisions had to be put aside, weapons and armour stock piled, villages fortified against attack and all defences enhanced. Many of the herds would have to be moved out of the range of raiders and patrols would have to be increased.
He sighed and raised his head, rubbing one hand over his beard. Standing, he moved to the shelves and pulled down a few of the large, leather bound books, stacking them on the desk in front of him. Updating the ledgers was a thankless task, one that he found arduous. Being away from Aldburg on patrol for weeks at a time always caused the work to build up, so that he spent his free days adding up columns of numbers.
For several years now Eowyn had been subtly pointing out that finding a wife would take these tasks out of his hands. Of course, it wasn't that simple: a woman to take over the running of Aldburg would have to be suitable. Rohan did not set much store by a class system - theoretically he could marry a farm girl if he wanted, despite being of the House of Eorl, but practicality dictated that his future wife should be able to read and write so that she could manage the books as well as her other duties. At the moment Dernhild helped him with the upkeep of Aldburg, having taken over the role of housekeeper after his mother had died, managing the staff and food supplies with a firm hand, while he managed the books and ledgers.
Largely, the Rohirrim were not literate, having no written language of their own. Both the nobility and high ranking Riders could read and write Westron, but the rest of the people had neither the need, not the inclination to learn the skill. The kind of woman that would make him a 'suitable' wife did not generally frequent Aldburg, a fortress that didn't hold any of the court pleasures of Edoras.
Inking his pen, he settled down for a long morning of work, trying to ignore the heaviness of his eyes – Nicola had complained that she hadn't slept the night before, but he too was in the same situation; the last time he had slept was nearing two days ago, and that had only been a scant few hours on the cold, hard ground.
For the next few hours he worked his way steadily through ledgers containing details of food orders, horses, rent of houses in the town and taxes until they all blurred together. It was well into the afternoon by the time he was finished, his wrist aching and a headache pounding between his eyes.
Bema, give me a dozen orcs any day, he thought to himself, closing the last of the books. He yawned hugely, interlacing his fingers and pushing his arms out in front of him, stretching the sore muscles until his knuckles cracked loudly.
As he re-entered the main room his eyes were automatically drawn to Nicola's door. Before he could think about his actions, he had crossed the room and quietly opened the door to check on her.
She was fast asleep, completely covered by the sheets with only the top portion of her face peeking out over the blanket. Her body was curled into a tight ball and her dark brown hair was spread in disarray over the pillow. He studied her silently, internally marvelling how such a tiny women could hold the potential for so much damage.
He frowned to himself as he looked at her – he hadn't really put much thought to the fact that she actually had knowledge of the future. Just how far did her knowledge stretch? Did she know what would become of Rohan if Saruman attacked?
Her clothes were strewn haphazardly over the end of the bed, her strange pointed shoes on the floor. They reminded him that he needed to find clothes for her, knowing that Dernhild would have words with him if he let her serve in the Hall again wearing only that short dress again. He doubted any of the Domestics would have spare dresses that would accommodate her small, curvy frame, so she would have to go down to the seamstress in town to be fitted.
Closing the door softly, he went in search of something she could wear in the meantime.
Nicola woke to the sound of knocking. Grumbling at her sleep being disturbed, she blearily lifted her head from the pillow and squinted towards the door. Eomer was leaning casually against the frame, a bundle of cloth in his hands. He was watching her impassively.
"What?" she demanded groggily, still not quite awake.
"It's time to get up now, you've been asleep several hours," he said.
Nicola groaned and dropped her head, mashing her face into the pillow once more. "Five more minutes," she mumbled, her voice muffled by the pillow.
A hand grasped her shoulder, still covered by the blankets, and shook firmly. "I said now," he repeated sternly, looming over her while she glared belligerently up at him.
"Urgh fine," she muttered, sitting up in bed and stretching her arms above her head languorously.
Eomer had backed away a few paces and was staring at her in what could only be described as shock – she glanced at him in confusion, and then realised that the blankets covering her had pooled at the waist, revealing her bra as she stretched. He cleared his throat and looked pointedly away from her.
Feeling her face flush, she quickly grabbed the blankets and pulled them to her chin.
"I bought clothes for you," he said, still not looking at her as he deposited the items at the foot of the bed. She noticed that he had changed out of his armour. He looked less bulky without it, the dark brown tunic he was wearing hugging his frame. "They are men's and will probably be too big, but they will do for the walk to down to the town."
"We're going to the town?" she asked, leaning forward to rummage through the clothes, keeping one hand grasping the covers to her chest. In the bundle was a dark green tunic, a belt, some light brown leggings and a pair of boots.
"You are going to town, I am going to the training grounds," he told her. "We don't have anything here that will fit you, so you have to go down to the seamstress."
"Shopping, cool," Nicola said, ignoring Eomer's confused look. "This seamstress, does she speak English?"
His confusion deepened into a full-blown scowl. "What is this Een-glesh you speak of?"
"Oh, I mean Westron," she corrected herself – she would have to remember that one.
"Yes, she does," he said, his scowl fading. "Here, you will need this." He dug a hand into his pocket and drew out a tiny bag, which he tossed onto the bed in front of her. It was surprisingly heavy and clinked when she picked it up. Tipping it up, numerous coins spilt out on the covers. Large, thick coppers, dainty silvers and a single tiny gold one.
"Huh, I wonder what the exchange rate is," she mused to herself. She weighed the gold coin in the palm of her hand, speculating how many pounds it would be worth.
"That is your wages," he told her, nodding to the puddle of coins strewn haphazardly over her bed. "You are being given it in advance so you can buy clothes, though it should last you a long while. You should get several dresses, nothing fancy, and maybe a pair of leggings for riding. Don't forget a decent pair of boots, I doubt those ones will fit you properly."
"Dresses?" she said, pulling a face. The dresses Rohan's women favoured all seemed to be floor-length with long sleeves, lovely but impractical to her modern mind. She had only worn a long dress once, at her school prom, and had spent most of the evening stumbling over the hem. "Would it be inappropriate for me to wear just leggings instead?"
He gave her an odd look, but didn't argue. "No, that's fine."
"Great," she said with a smile. "That's more like what I wear at home, so I'll be more comfortable and probably won't trip up as much."
She thought she saw his lips twitch in faint amusement, but he didn't comment. Instead he brusquely excused himself so that she could dress, telling her to find him in the Hall when she was ready. The moment the door closed she pushed the covers off, knocking several of the coins to the floor. The cool air hit her bare skin, so she quickly reached for the clothes.
The leggings were soft and supple, the texture similar to suede. They were too long for her, but she rolled the hems up at the ankle to accommodate their length. Next, she pulled the tunic over her head. It had a v-neck, showing the barest hint of cleavage and falling to her knees. The thick belt was too long to wrap round her waist, so she settled it over her hips instead. Donning the boots last, she found that they were slightly too big, but decided to wear them instead of torturing her feet further by putting her heels back on.
Opening the wardrobe, she checked her reflection in the mirror, running her hand through her hair several times to neaten it, steadfastly ignoring the twinges of pain as her fingers caught on knots. Feeling moderately presentable, she scooped the coins from the bed and floor into the drawstring bag, which she then tied to her belt and headed out of the room.
But before she went down to the Hall she had to take care of business, so to speak. Ever since she had woken up her bladder had been making itself known. Steeling herself, she hesitantly went to explore the room Eomer had pointed out as the latrine.
The room was about the same size as her bedroom. There was a large, copper bathtub lined with cloth taking up most of the space and at the far end of the room there was a bench with (oh God, she thought) a hole in it. Stepping forward with an unreasonable amount of caution, she looked down and was relieved to find she couldn't see the bottom of the hole – that was something to be thankful for, at least.
Next to the bench was a stack of small, thin squares of material and a brazier holding faintly smouldering coals. She looked from one to the other and deduced that you were meant to burn the cloth once you were done with it. Efficient, she supposed, internally relieved.
It also turned out that there were toothbrushes – of a sort, at least. Rough balls of cotton that were rubbed on the teeth to clean them, followed by chewing sprigs of mint.
Well, her first foray into the hygiene of an archaic society wasn't as horrifying an experience as she thought it would be, she mused to herself as she headed towards the Hall, the money bag jingling happily at her belt.
The Hall was mostly deserted, nothing like the bustle breakfast had been. Eomer stood talking to an older Rider who was holding a blunt sword. Noticing her approach, he nodded to the other man, dismissing with the terse words "I'll join you shortly."
She waited until the man inclined his head and left before closing in on Eomer. His eyes flicked up and down, taking in her clothing. "Better," he said. "Though you are wearing it wrong."
"How so?" she asked, looking down at herself.
"The belt is meant to be higher."
"It won't fit, it's too big," she pointed out, lifting it above her hips to her waist to prove her point. The belt was already buckled on the tightest hole and still felt loose on her hips.
"Here," he said, stepping forward. Nicola suppressed a squeak and froze when his hands reached out and started unbuckling the belt for her. Eomer caught the movement and scowled, though continued his ministrations.
Her eyes were level with his chest, though his head was slightly bent so that he could see what he was doing – he was far too close to comfort and she found herself wondering if they had any concept of personal space in Rohan. She stayed stock still as he unthreaded the buckle and slipped the coin purse from the belt. He then lifted it higher, to her waist, and tightened it once more. He held the belt between his thumb and forefinger when it reached a snug fit, his hands brushing against her skin through the tunic.
He then removed the belt entirely from her and, stepping away, laid it out on a nearby table, keeping his finger on the belt to mark his place. Bracing one foot on the bench, he pulled a small knife from his boot and, using the tip of the blade, gored a new hole in the leather.
"Try that," he said, handing the belt back to her.
"Thank you," she said, her voice breaking slightly. She lowered her gaze as she took the belt back and looped it around herself. With the new hole for the buckle it fit perfectly, subtly cinching her waist.
Eomer didn't seem to realise he had done anything invasive, his expression neutral as he passed the coin purse back to her and she tied it back to her belt. "So, you said you would give me, um, directions?" she said, her voice sounding unnaturally loud to her ears.
She kept nodding as he described how to get to the seamstress's shop within the town, memorising the directions he gave. They walked through the doors of the Hall together, but once they reached the bottom of the steps he bade her goodbye and turned left to the training grounds while she went right towards the town.
Squinting up at the blue sky, she guessed it was mid-afternoon. The sun was bright, though the air was cool. Nicola weaved her way down the road, ignroing the way her slightly-too-large boots rubbed against her heels with each step.
The main road through the town was dusty and full of people. She dodged her way between wagons and horses, gazing at the houses around her. They were charming; wooden awnings were carved with intricate designed and the roofs thatched with gold – an intriguing novelty to a London girl, born and bred. As she moved further from the Hall the houses grew smaller and less ornate, though she couldn't see any signs of disrepair anywhere.
Following Eomer's directions, she took a turning and found herself on what was clearly a market street. Small stalls were erected along the road, selling things like herbs, vegetables and furs. She meandered slowly through the market, looking at the wares and politely shaking her head whenever a stall owner heralded her to come over.
She peered behind the stalls to the buildings behind them until she eventually saw the shop Eomer had described to her.
She knocked on the door and, hearing no reply, slowly pushed it open. The shop was bright and airy, the afternoon light streaming through the front window. Stacked against the far wall were rolls upon rolls on material, mostly earthy tones of brown, green and yellow.
"Hello?" she called out, stepping further into the empty shop.
"One moment!" a cheerful voice answered from a back room, quickly followed by a bustling woman who seemed full of energy, despite her wrinkled face and iron grey hair. She was wearing a plain dress with an apron and held a pin cushion.
"Gód ofernón," she said in Rohirric, though seeing Nicola's confused expression she smiled and switched to Westron. "Good afternoon, child – I assume you are not from these parts."
"Uh, no, I'm not," Nicola said awkwardly, shifting her weight from one foot to another.
"And judging by your ill-fitting, male clothing, you have come to me for new garb?"
"Yes, I – erm – lost my luggage on my journey here," she said, pulling a self-deprecating face, whist inwardly amused at her lie.
"How unfortunate," the seamstress said with genuine sympathy. She gestured to a small stool. "Well, up you get, and we'll get you measured. If you could please remove your belt, that will make things easier."
Nicola did as she asked and clambered up onto the stool. The seamstress pulled a long tightly coiled strip of leather from her apron pocket. As she unravelled it, Nicola noticed the tiny grooves every inch and realised it was a simple tape measure.
The seamstress started by measuring her height, making note of the numbers on a small, slate board. "You're a petite one, aren't you?" she clucked, moving around to measure her hips. "Most of the girls I get in here are tall and thin as a willow wand. You are slim, so you will carry one of my dresses well, but it is nice to see a girl with good, childbearing hips for a change."
"Um, thank you?" she said in a bewildered tone, trying to figure out how she felt about that statement – had someone said it too her back at home, where Western society fixated on airbrushed models, she would have probably taken it as an insult. Here, however, curves were considered a good thing.
"Now then, child," she said, now measuring her hip to ankle. "How many dresses did you want?"
"Actually I don't want dresses, I'd rather have leggings. Though I will need several pairs, and tunics as well."
She paused in her work, gazing up at her in surprise. "No dresses? Why ever not?"
"Leggings are more practical, I will be more comfortable in them."
The seamstress hummed disapprovingly, but dropped the issue for the time being. "You said you lost your belongings, so will you be needing underclothes also?"
"Uh, yes please – and nightclothes too, if you have them," Nicola said, not wanting to sleep in those scratchy sheets in just her bra and pants again.
"What about boots? I don't do shoes, but my brother lives across the street and is a shoe-maker. I can take your foot measurements now and drop them over to him, if you need them," she offered as she measured down the length of her arm.
"That would be great, thank you," Nicola said gratefully.
The seamstress finished up with her measurements, which included measuring around her arms, shins and thighs. She instructed her too take off her boots and stand on a fresh slate board while she drew around their outline in chalk. Then, having got all the measurements she needed, Nicola was ushered over to the side of the shop to examine potential fabrics, the older woman happily talking away about potential styles.
Eomer braced his hands on his knees and tried to catch his breath. He had just spent a gruelling twenty minutes sparing with one of his Captains, before finally slipping under his guard to give the man what would have been a death blow with the blunt sword.
Fengel ambled over, also panting. He leant on his sword and grinned good naturedly at the Marshal who had just soundly beaten him. "You were holding back," he commented. "You could have won several times, but you chose not to take advantage of the openings."
"I wanted the distraction." He straightened and clapped the man on the shoulder. "Besides, you needed someone to test your stamina, you win to easily and quickly when you spar with your trainees."
"Ah, but it is a guaranteed way of gaining their respect."
Eomer snorted. "That's what Eowyn said last time she visited. She insisted on knocking the stuffing out of half my Riders."
"Did you mind?"
He swiped his forearm across his still sweating brow. "Not at all, it's a lesson in humility – and it teaches them not to underestimate an opponent. I know the ones who can hold their own against her have the potential to be promoted."
"I'm glad that particular test wasn't in place when I was being considered for promotion," the older man said with a grin.
The two men shed their practice armour and stood observing the training ground for several long minutes. The half mile expanse of ground was meticulously divided into sections, with different areas for each activity. There were several large, sandy sparring circles interspersed in the middle of the field, with various strength building exercises between them. On either side of the field were the two archery ranges, the left hand side simply shooting at stuffed targets (some of them wearing the helmets of orcs they had killed) whereas the other side of the field was dominated by a large stretch of grass, where riders were constantly cantering up and down, shooting at another set of targets from a moving horse. At the very far end of the field a large area was reserved for men practicing fighting on horseback, training with both swords and spears.
The training grounds were a public area on the outskirts of the town, used by all. Those who weren't Riders by profession were encouraged to come and practice here with a bow or sword, knowing that every able bodied man would be called to fight in times of war. Even some of the women came to practice their archery.
"Do you want to talk about it?" Fengel asked, still squinting out over the field.
"Talk about what?" Eomer replied, putting up his guard once more.
"What ever it is you need distracting from."
Fengel was one of his oldest friends and could read him well. He had been in his early thirties and near promotion to Captain when Eomer had joined his first patrol as a teenager. Fengel had no compunctions in ordering the young Lord about, correcting his mistakes and giving him sound reprimands that were often warranted due to his hot-headed nature. The man had taken him under his wing, calming the rashness and temper of the teenaged boy, eager to prove himself and desperate to revenge his father by slaughtering as many orcs as possible. Fengel was partially responsible for making him into the stalwart (though often still brash and overly hasty when leading an attack) Marshal he was today.
"We've dealt with the raids of horses from Mordor for months, but now Saruman has openly declared himself an enemy as well everything seems so much more real." He rubbed his hand over his beard, his eyes hooded. "We are well prepared with provisions and defence arrangements are ready to be put in place, but it is only a matter of time before we are at open war."
Fengel gave him a stern, yet knowing look. "And …?"
Eomer scowled at his perception, but refused to rise to the bait.
"Come on, my old friend," Fengel continued. "We all saw your conversation at breakfast."
He sighed and examined his practise sword for notches to avoid the other mans knowing gaze. "I realise this must be difficult for her, Bema knows how I would react if I were suddenly thrown from this world." He paused, considering Nicola's behaviour and the expression on her face when Gandalf had told her she couldn't leave. "She's scared, I can see it in her eyes, even though she tries her hardest to hide it, putting on a brave front." He dug the point of his blunt sword into the ground pensively. "She reminds me of a filly that's just been separated from its dam."
"But?" Fengel asked, knowing there would be more to Eomer's opinion.
"But she is simply infuriating! Brash and disrespectful one moment, polite and sincere the next. She cheerfully argued right back when I lost my temper with her, then she flinches at the smallest of things." He paused, surprised by his outburst. "She is very … unusual."
"Undoubtedly," he agreed. "Though surely she is also useful."
"Useful, how?" Eomer asked sharply. The only use he could think of her was her knowledge of the future, which Fengel didn't know about. He had been considering the implications of her fore-knowledge all afternoon. Gandalf had told her not to reveal what she knew, but if she were to tell him what she knew of Saruman's intentions it would go a long way in aiding his plans for Rohan's defences.
"Well, she's from another world, isn't she?" he said practically. "She might have knowledge of medicine or warfare that is different to us."
Eomer tilted his head thoughtfully. "I hadn't considered that."
"You should try to get to know her."
He frowned deeply at the implication.
Fengel laughed at his disapproval. "Not like that, though it's what several of the men are speculating since she is in your rooms. You said yourself that she is going to be with us for some time, so just … don't loose your temper with her."
"Easier said than done," he muttered, keeping his eyes out over the field.
"I'm sure you'll manage just fine," Fengel said jovially. "After all, if you can polish up your manners and keep a civil tongue in your head when you are at Edoras, I'm certain you can handle one girl."
Eomer gave a noncommittal grunt at his words and then narrowed his eyes at one of the trainees. "I'm going back down, Guthmer is making a mess of his footwork." He nodded dismissively to his companion. "I'll see you at dinner."
"Eomer," Fengel called after him, making him turn back. He was surprised by the seriousness of the other mans expression. "I have been your friend long enough to know that you won't have any intentions towards this girl – dishonourable or otherwise, despite what gossip the men come out with. But you know as well as I do that a horse separated from its dam will form a strong bond towards its human trainer – so I advise you to tread carefully there, my friend."
After much debate and examination of fabrics, Nicola decided on three pairs of leggings, all in the soft brown material similar to the ones she already wore, and six tunics. She had a great time picking out the materials, never having experienced this level of involvement in the making of her clothes. The two women cheerfully debated the pros and cons of each option as they chose colours, eventually settling on greens for two of the tunics, one a deep emerald of forest trees, the other a verdant spring colour. The next two would be different styles, but made from the same rich, dark brown fabric – fairly basic, but they would suffice for her work around Aldburg. The last two materials were her favourites; one was the golden-yellow colour of wheat, the other a pale blue, like the dawn sky – a rare colour, the seamstress told her, since most of the affordable dyes were earthy colours.
"There now, these will be very lovely," the seamstress said, holding the gold material up to Nicola's face. "Though are you sure I cannot interest you in a dress?"
"I'm sure," Nicola smiled, sitting on the floor to pull her too-big boots back on.
The older woman fussed with the fabric, putting away the ones they had discarded. "If you are completely replacing your wardrobe you will need at least one dress, despite matters of practicality – why, whatever were you going to wear to the harvest celebrations next month?"
"What celebr- ?" she gasped. "Bema, you really aren't from around here, are you, girl. The harvest festival, hollantide, where we celebrate the harvest and honour the dead."
"Oh," she frowned. "Will it be inappropriate if I don't wear a dress?"
"Not inappropriate, no – but every young girl wants to look their best on hollantide. They say it's the night you will dream of your future husband." The lady winked at her.
Nicola laughed, and relented. "Alright, though how much will it be? I don't know what I can afford."
"How much money do you have with you?"
Nicola picked up the small money bag from the floor, where she had left it with her belt, and tipped it into her hand.
The seamstresses' eyes widened. "That's nearly a years worth of wages," she breathed. "You could buy a horse and a half with that."
"Really?" Nicola said, looking dubiously down at the handful of metal in her hand. "Well, how much are the clothes?"
"With the boots and a dress as well …" she paused, eyeing the materials they had piled for her tunics and counting on her fingers. "… five silvers."
That was scarcely a quarter of the coins Eomer had given her, so she handed them over without question, wondering why he had given her so much as she tied the purse back to her belt.
"Do you have any preferences for the fabric of the dress?" she asked, looking down at the five coins in her hand.
"No, you can choose," Nicola replied easily. "I don't know much about the styles of dresses, so I will leave it in your capable hands."
"Bless you child," the woman smiled. "I rarely get a free reign with clothes, the girls are always so insistent that they want this or that – but I'll make you the prettiest girl at hollantide. There is a lovely material I have been saving for such an occasion – but I won't show you, that way it will be a surprise."
"I'm sure it will be lovely," Nicola said flatteringly.
"I should be done with the first of your tunics tomorrow afternoon, so I'll send my lad to deliver it for you – can't have you walking around in men's clothes now, can we. Where is it you're staying?"
"Up in the Hall."
She raised her eyebrows, but didn't comment. "Very well. I'll also take your foot measurements to my brother, and he should have a nice pair of boots for you by tomorrow as well."
"Thank you very much, you have been very helpful," Nicola said genuinely, feeling that the seamstress was one of the nicest people she had met since entering Rohan. The woman gave her a cheery goodbye and request that she come back again over her shoulder as she carried the chosen materials through to the back room. Nicola left the shop with light spirits and a lighter purse.
"You look dead on your feet," a familiar, lilting voice said, startling him out of his thoughts.
Nicola was standing beside the table with a smile. She was expertly balancing several laden boards on one arm and passing them out to the seated Riders with the other hand. Eomer was relieved to note that they didn't pay her as much attention now that she was decently clothed.
"Not all of us had the luxury of sleeping the day away," he commented, accepting his own board from her with a grateful nod. Dinner was just being served as he had arrived back from the training grounds with a gaggle of dusty, exhausted trainees in tow. Hungry from the vigorous afternoon of training, they had thrown themselves into seats before even wiping the dust from their faces.
"At least I feel better for having had a nap, you look like you were about to fall asleep on the table," she said with good natured amusement. She certainly was in higher spirits than she had been that morning. She had finished dispensing her load and was now lingering by the table.
"I did not," he grumbled, knowing it was a possibility.
"You did," Nicola said, smiling indulgently. She then wrinkled her nose. "Um, I hate to be rude – but you could really use a bath."
"I am fully aware of the fact," he said, irked at her for pointing it out. He knew that after a two week patrol on horseback and several hours sparring in the training grounds he smelt more than a little ripe. "Did you have any trouble finding your way in town?"
"Nope," she said, popping the p in a perplexing way. "My dad always used to say I am like a human GPS system."
He stared at her blankly.
"I don't get lost easily," she translated, with the barest hint of condescension on her face.
Eomer picked at his food. "Don't you have work to be getting on with?"
"Yes, I just wanted to thank you for giving me my wages in advance, I really appreciate it," she said, smiling once more – he could tell that she had figured out how much money he had given her.
"That money is for the duration of your stay, you should save it for necessities," he said sternly, hoping she hadn't been frivolous while she was in town.
"Understood," she said with mock seriousness.
Eomer waved her away. "Back to the kitchens with you, and ask Dernhild to send hot water to my quarters."
Nicola smirked and sauntered away with a swish of her hips.
She didn't approach him again all through dinner, though his eyes kept flicking over to her every time she appeared through the kitchen door with more boards or jugs of ale in hand. He noticed that a few of the Riders still seemed wary of her, though most had accepted the new server in their midst without question.
Eomer was among the first to finish his food, having left his breakfast unfinished that morning and working on the ledgers through lunch. Washing down his meal with a tankard of ale, he bade his Riders goodnight and left the table.
He headed straight to his quarters, looking forward to the relief a bath would give to his tired muscles. Inside the room he found two domestics filling the tub with the last few buckets of hot water. Thanking them, he stripped the moment they had left and submerged himself in the tub.
He relaxed in the water, letting it sooth his aching limbs. He was careful not to fall asleep, knowing it would likely be Nicola who would find him in such a state. Before long, the water had started to cool. Leaning out of the tub to grab a washcloth and soap, he settled back in the water to work on scrubbing the dust from his skin. He then dunked his head under water, rubbing at his scalp and feeling the knots that had accumulated in his hair.
By now the water had passed tepid and was rapidly approaching cold. Wringing his hair, Eomer stepped out of the tub and grabbed the nearest towel. He rubbed it furiously over his hair to stop it dripping and then slung it around his hips.
Re-entering the main room, he quickly donned the pair of trousers he usually slept in. The room was warm from the merrily crackling fire, so he didn't bother with a shirt or tunic. Grabbing a comb from the top of his draws, he steadily worked the knots from his damp hair, knowing it would be impossibly matted when it dried if he didn't.
By the time Nicola arrived back in the room Eomer was seated at the table, feeling noticeably more refreshed after having bathed. He was carefully cleaning and oiling each piece of his armour with meticulous precision. There was a faint knock on the door and she cautiously pushed her head in, before coming all the way into the room. Her eyes took in his naked chest before skittering away.
"What kept you?" he asked, momentarily looking up from his work. "Dinner finished hours ago."
"Washing up, cleaning the kitchen, sweeping the Hall," she replied easily, the very faintest of blushes on her cheeks. "Do you have any idea how much work goes into the upkeep of this place?"
"Yes, but usually it's the cleaners who sweep the Hall, not the serving girls," he pointed out.
"I volunteered, seemed only fair since I didn't work over lunchtime."
Surprised by her consideration, he looked up at her properly. Her hair was still knotted and the tunic crumpled from work. She had already removed her boots and was standing barefoot on the wolf-skin rug, holding her shoes in one hand. She seemed tired, but content.
"So, you survived your first day in Rohan then," he commented wryly, tossing the rag he had been using to polish his armour onto the table.
"Against all odds," she replied sombrely. "I think I'm just going to go to bed."
Eomer nodded again and watched her cross the room. She paused when she reached her door. "Can I sleep in one of your shirts?" she asked, turning back to face him.
"I ordered nightclothes from the seamstress, but they won't be here for a few days. Can I use something of yours in the meantime?"
"Help yourself," he said, gesturing to the draws over his shoulder. He heard her moving around behind him and pulling something from his draws. There was then the sound of her door opening. The time before he went to bed was usually solitary; having someone in the room with him felt very strange.
"Good night, then," she said, almost hesitantly.
"Good night, Nicola," he replied, waiting for her door to close before he continued his work.
Nicola woke to pitch blackness. She sat up, looking blindly around her – she didn't know where she was. She swung her legs quickly out of the unfamiliar bed, but the sheets were tangled together – unbalanced, she fell to the cold floor with a cry of pain, knocking over something with a clatter as she landed.
Barely a second had passed when the door swung open. The silhouette of a man was in the threshold. He was lit dimly from behind and holding a sword –
Middle Earth – Rohan – Eomer, she remembered abruptly.
"What's wrong?" he asked, stepping into the room with his sword at the ready, his eyes sweeping over every corner before settling on her, sprawled on the floor in one of his tunics.
"I'm sorry, I just – I woke up and it was dark -"
He looked down at her, clearly surprised by her actions. "And you didn't think to simply light a candle?"
There had been a lit candle on her bedside table when she had gone to bed. She had blown it out to sleep – but how was one meant to light a candle without matches or a lighter? "I don't know how," she said meekly, feeling stupid.
He exhaled heavily and walked back into his room. She heard the sound of his sword being sheathed and him rummaging around for something. In the light from his room she saw that it was her bedside table she had knocked over. She untangled her legs from the blanket, put the table back in its original place, picked up the candle which had rolled across the room and then sat sheepishly down on the bed.
Then Eomer was back, holding a lit candle of his own and a small cylindrical box. He was still dressed only in a pair of trousers, the candlelight playing over a vast expanse of golden muscle and a network of scars. Once again, Nicola found herself looking away and desperately trying to cool her burning cheeks by willpower alone.
He placed his candle on her bedside table, took the extinguished one from her hand and squatted down.
"Watch," he said. He uncapped the box, pulling out a small cloth, a piece of flint and some metal. Laying the material on the surface of her bedside table, he took the flint and metal in hand.
"You strike the iron with the flint like this -" he said, demonstrating the quick motion "-to form sparks, which catch light when they fall on the charred linen." Sure enough, the cloth was burning with a tiny flame where the sparks had landed. He held the burning cloth up to the candle wick and it quickly flared, further illuminating the room.
Eomer extinguished the cloth by folding it back over itself and placed everything back into the box, which he then shoved into her hand. He picked up his candle and walked back towards the door.
"Thank you," she said after him, realising that she had just woken him from his first sleep in what was most likely days.
He paused in the doorway and then glanced briefly over his shoulder. "You're welcome," he said, his voice suprisingly soft.
So, 25,000 words later and we have only just finished Nicola's first day in Rohan! Hope you enjoyed this chapter :)
End of chapter question … if you could visit one place in Middle Earth, where would it be and why?
Don't forget to review!