Dol Amroth, three months later
Lothíriel dipped her hand in the bucket of cold water from the well, hoping to ease the pain. No matter how many times she got stung by a bee, it still hurt. Fëanor the cat sat and watched her, showing very little sympathy. But then she didn't deserve any. "You're lucky," she said.
The cat flicked his tail, but displayed no other reaction. He had a remarkably self-satisfied expression, perhaps not surprising when one considered the number of little Fëanorians currently cavorting about the castle. Amrothos had long since run out of names for them.
Sighing, Lothíriel rose and flicked off excess water from her fingers. Then she pushed open the door and went inside her tower. The thick walls kept out most of the summer heat and she welcomed the cool shade. Fëanor had followed her inside. He now jumped up onto the comfortable chair by the window and rolled up into a tight ball.
Listlessly, Lothíriel sat down by her table and regarded her swollen hand. Involuntarily her gaze got drawn to the two faded puncture marks on her palm, the only visible reminders of those three fateful days. The snakebite had healed well. She stared down at the two red dots, idly wondering if she should find some plantain to crush and put on her hand, but couldn't really be bothered. Who cared, anyway?
The door creaked open and Fëanor lifted his head, only to drop it again.
"Lothíriel?" her aunt said, peering in.
Ivriniel came over. "What happened?"
"I got stung by a bee."
"Have you seen to it?" her aunt asked.
Lothíriel shrugged. "It doesn't matter. I deserve it, as I wasn't paying attention." Old Hingam had said nothing, but then he hadn't needed to. She knew she'd been distracted the whole summer and not much of a help.
Wordlessly Ivriniel unearthed a pot of honey from amongst the clutter of her desk and dabbed some on. "There, that should help a little," she said.
"Meril's been looking for you," her aunt added.
"Has she?" Elphir's wife had taken it upon herself to help with her clothes.
Ivriniel cast her a sharp glance. "Lothíriel, isn't it time you took an interest in your affairs again instead of letting others decide for you?"
They had covered this ground before. "Why should I?" Lothíriel asked back. "Meril has excellent taste in clothes."
Her aunt set down the pot of honey with a bang. "You know exactly what I mean!"
Lothíriel felt tired. Why couldn't her aunt simply leave her alone? "I'm perfectly happy to put myself in Father's hands," she said.
"Imrahil's hands!" her aunt exclaimed. "As if your father had anything to say in the matter. We both know perfectly well who calls the tune in this dance." When Lothíriel said nothing, Ivriniel began to pace the room. "Has a date been set yet?"
"But every other week another courier arrives from him," Ivriniel pointed out.
Lothíriel shrugged. "Father says the contract takes a lot of negotiation."
Her aunt snorted in disbelief. "If that man really wanted something, I don't think a little thing like a contract would stand in his way."
"Perhaps he doesn't want what he has contracted for anymore?"
"Will you stop talking that way!" Ivriniel snapped. "Honestly Lothíriel, ever since that man left you've done nothing but mope about!"
Too heart sore to protest, Lothíriel just looked down at her hand. "I'm sorry."
Ivriniel took up her pacing again and with a frustrated kick shoved aside a basket left over from Lothíriel's experiment with silkworms. She had moved them to a shed and given over the care of the insects to one of the castle servants as she couldn't bear to see them every day. Not that it helped her any, as everything in her tower still reminded her of him. The books he had touched, her experiments with mead, even Fëanor the cat…
Her aunt stared out the window. "They say the harvest is going to be exceptionally good this year," she suddenly said, "some are already calling it the Year of Plenty."
Lothíriel nodded. Though she had paid little attention, certainly the bees at least prospered as never before in the clement weather.
"I remember a time, when I was but little older than you are now," her aunt continued, still staring out at the meadow. "We'd had a wonderful summer as well and Ecthelion, who was Steward then, invited us all to Minas Tirith for a great harvest festival. Finduilas and I were really excited." Ivriniel snorted softly. "She dreamt of outshining all the other girls at the balls, I just wanted to see the famous archives." Her voice sank. "I spent all my time down there, pestering the librarians. Then one day – I was just reading an account of Ëarnil's conquest of Umbar – the Steward's son came to consult one of the scrolls. We'd met before, of course, but I had not realised his reputation as a scholar."
Her attention arrested, Lothíriel looked up. Her aunt never spoke of those times – what had made her mention them? "And then?" she asked.
"We started talking; he'd read my scroll and many others besides. The next day he came back and brought me a book from his father's personal library…" Her hands gripped the windowsill. "…and that moment, like a complete fool, I fell for him head over heels."
"Denethor!" Lothíriel couldn't help it, the name came out in a squeak.
Ivriniel turned around. "Yes, Denethor." She made a helpless gesture. "He was different then, not as…hard…as in his later years. Finduilas's death changed him, as if something inside him had turned to stone. With her he was always tender. He loved her very much." She twisted her mouth as if the words tasted bitter.
Her poor aunt! Impulsively Lothíriel rushed over to hug her. "I'm so sorry!"
Ivriniel stroked her head. "I was very sorry for myself, too," she said. "For when I emerged from my self-imposed isolation in the archives, I found that he had no eyes for any woman except Finduilas. They'd gone riding together, dancing, picnicking while I buried myself in books." She gave a dry laugh. "Not that I would have stood a chance beside my sister anyway – beautiful, refined Finduilas, so docile and meek. Denethor liked that about her. I was always the wild one. Clever, yes, but that was not what he sought in a bride…" Her voice petered out.
Lothíriel hugged her harder, though it hurt her hand. "I love you," she whispered.
"I love you too, Child," Ivriniel said. "That is why I am telling you my story." She took Lothíriel by the shoulders. "My clever, wild one. Only your Éomer seems to love the headstrong sister better than the dutiful princess."
Love her! Tears sprang to her eyes as all her unhappiness welled up within Lothíriel. "Oh, Aunt, he hates me!" She started crying.
"There, there!" Ivriniel stroked her back. "Surely it's not as bad as all that. I know you never got a chance to explain yourself to him before he left, but he must have forgiven you, else he–"
"I don't know!" Lothíriel exclaimed. And in her heart she doubted it. Not the way he had reacted to her revelation. "He was so furious," she whispered. Instinctively her hand went to her throat. Not that she could blame him – she deserved everything he had said and done.
Her aunt frowned. "Lothíriel, have you tried writing to him?"
Fresh tears pricked her eyes. "Of course! Straight after he left – but he never replied to me." It had taken her three days to compose that letter and she had even included a diagram to explain her reasoning. Only to wait and wait and never receive an answer. "He sends his dutiful greetings to me in every letter to Father," she added with sniff.
"What a pig!" Ivriniel exclaimed.
"He is not!" Lothíriel fired up in Éomer's defence.
"So why does he want to marry you?" her aunt asked back.
Which was of course the question that Lothíriel had asked herself over and over. Out of a sense of obligation because he had asked for her hand? Because in a small corner of his heart he still loved her? Or to get his proper revenge?
She gave a helpless gesture. "I don't know." But she would find out…
"You said nothing to Imrahil," her aunt pointed out.
"How could I!" Lothíriel vividly remembered being called to see her father the evening after the Rohirrim had left. She had readied herself to receive a severe tongue-lashing, but instead her father had greeted her wreathed in smiles. And then he had informed her that Éomer had instructed Lord Ealdred to negotiate a marriage between him and the Princess of Dol Amroth! She had been left speechless.
"Imrahil told me he agreed because he thought it a love match, what with you disappearing in the gardens together. However, now he's worried about you..." Ivriniel hesitated. "You know, Lothíriel, it wouldn't be easy, but if you really wanted out of this engagement…"
Ivriniel stared at her and shook her head. "What a mess you've landed yourself in! Well, if it's any consolation, at least you do not seem to be the only unhappy one."
Lothíriel straightened up. "What do you mean?"
Her aunt hesitated. "I got a letter from Lord Ealdred today. You see, he's translating an account of the Long Winter for me," she added hastily, "so we're corresponding quite regularly."
For all Lothíriel cared, Lord Ealdred could write her aunt fiery love letters, she was only interested in one thing. "Did he mention Éomer?" she asked, holding her breath.
"Yes. Apparently half the time he's running his men ragged on the practice grounds and the other half he's busy getting soused."
"On mead?" Lothíriel asked. "Is he offering any mead around?"
Her aunt gave her a funny look. "No, on ale as far as I understand – not that I see what difference that makes. And he's driving his council crazy by refusing to settle on a wedding date one day and urging them to make haste the next."
Lothíriel thought of the mix of dread and anticipation that filled her regarding her nuptials. So Éomer felt the same! And he was as unhappy as herself. Suddenly her path came clear to her.
Impulsively she kissed her aunt. "Thank you! Now I know what to do."
Ivriniel smiled with relief. "Good! You will write to him again?"
"Better!" Lothíriel replied. "I will talk to him."
Lothíriel grinned. "Although Amrothos will probably throw a fit when he hears about it."
Outside Edoras, Midsummer Day
Stopping to water her horse in a stream that crossed the road, Lothíriel looked up at the three mountaintops framing the view. Exactly as in Land of the Horselords! She still found it difficult to accept that she had actually passed underneath them.
Amrothos stopped beside her. "I can't believe I agreed to this," he muttered.
She disregarded her brother's words, for he had said little else ever since stealing out of Dol Amroth early in the morning nine days ago. Instead she steeled herself to face what she had carefully ignored so far: ahead of them rose a hill, standing solitary and aloof from the mountains that had spawned it. Houses covered its flanks, surrounded by a high wall, and on the top…
She swallowed hard. Gold glinted in the sun, announcing afar that this was the ancient seat of the Kings of Rohan – no, of the Riddermark she corrected herself. An old woman at the hamlet where they had stayed the previous night had taught her a few Rohirric phrases, amongst them the proper name of the land.
The great hall crouched on top of the hill, proud and brooding, like some beast surveying its domain, making her feel small and insignificant. Had it really been the right thing to come? At the time it had seemed such a brilliant notion, but ever since they had emerged into the grassy bowl of Dunharrow, doubt had begun to grow inside her. Her ideas often turned out that way, starting out shiny and new like a freshly minted coin, only to tarnish with time.
"It's not too late yet to turn back," Amrothos said, guessing her thoughts. "Father would never even know we'd been gone."
"No." She urged her horse forward, wincing as it stumbled and bounced her painfully on the saddle. At the very least they should be able to obtain a bath to ease her aches. Another oversight in her plan: she had never considered what it would mean to spend nine continuous days on horseback to somebody who at most rode out for an hour or so. Or that the only accommodation available to a merchant couple wanting to stay unrecognised would be small hamlets and solitary farmhouses. She probably still reeked of woodsmoke from last night!
Barrows lined the road on either side as they approached the gates of Edoras, and at another time Lothíriel might have stopped to consult one of the books in her saddlebags for the exact history of each of the former kings of the Riddermark. However, at the moment only the current King of Rohan occupied her mind. What would he say upon seeing her? Was he still furious with her?
Involuntarily she slowed down her horse. Now that the moment of truth was upon her she suddenly realised what it would mean. She pictured herself walking into the famous Golden Hall – if the guards even let a grubby thing like her past them – and facing Éomer in front of everybody. Did he have some kind of throne like that oppressive marble thing in Minas Tirith? Although King Elessar didn't much use it, it was said. Somehow she couldn't imagine Éomer sitting round with a crown on his head, holding court. But he might not be best pleased to be confronted with her without warning.
She came to a halt under the curious gaze of the guards at the gate. They would expect her to state her business in Edoras and somehow it didn't seem right to enter Éomer's seat under false pretences. No, the time had come for the truth.
She leant forward to talk to one of the guards. "Westu hál," she enounced carefully. "Do you speak Westron?"
The man looked her up and down, focusing most of his attention on her horse. "I do, my lady."
She briefly wondered what she owed the 'lady' to, just politeness or the quality of her father's horseflesh? Then a sudden horrible thought occurred to her, driving all others from her mind. "Is King Éomer in residence?"
What if she'd come all this way, only to find him gone! The only thing they knew for certain was the fact that he had chosen not to attend King Elessar's wedding anniversary in Minas Tirith, to which all the nobility of Gondor, including their father, had been invited.
The guard inclined his head. "Éomer King returned yesterday after a fortnight's absence hunting wargs in the Westfold."
So he was here – and she had no excuse not to see him. Lothíriel stared up at the hall again, where a green and white banner flew in the wind, looking proud and brave. "Would one of you carry a message up to the king for me?" she asked.
The guard motioned at a lad sitting on the steps of one of the houses, playing at dice with a friend. "Odda can go, he runs our errands."
"Thank you." Lothíriel hesitated. She didn't really want to announce her identity when she felt so uncertain of her welcome, yet the King of Rohan would hardly come and meet just any traveller. She needed some kind of token. Then she had an idea. A quick rummage through her saddlebags yielded the item she searched for.
She handed the hip belt that Éomer had bought her to the guard. "Please instruct the boy to tell King Éomer the following: the one to whom you gifted this is here and wishes to speak to you." Perhaps there was some kind of back entrance that he could smuggle her through unnoticed?
The man looked at the belt and his eyes popped. "I will take it myself, my lady," he said. "Wait here." And before she could add anything else, he hurried off up the hill. Another man took his place, regarding her curiously.
Amrothos, who had observed the whole scene, shook his head. "What have you done now?"
"I'm not sure," she admitted. What was so special about a belt that the guard should have reacted in that way?
"Too late now to make tracks," her brother muttered gloomily. "He'd catch us up before we would have gone a league. The Valar alone know what he'll say when he finds out that I've let his future wife traipse all over Rohan."
"I will tell him you had nothing to do with it," Lothíriel promised, "that it was all my idea."
"Yes, and being his usual sweet, reasonable self, that will soothe him," Amrothos groaned. He shook his head. "Garrison duty on Tolfalas is starting to look more and more attractive."
Feeling the need to stretch her legs, Lothíriel ignored her brother's doleful mutterings and slid from the saddle to wander over to one of the barrows. The mound was covered in small white flowers and felt peaceful somehow. How long would it take the guard to deliver her message? She studied the hall again. How strange to think it might be her home soon. Would she really spend the rest of her life here, getting to know the people who were nothing but blond strangers to her at the moment, speaking a language she did not understand? Have Éomer's children, rule as his queen, be buried with him in one of these mounds one day? It seemed like something happening to somebody in a story, not to her standing there with an aching bum from riding and dirty, itching hair. The longing to be back safe in her tower with all her familiar books swept through her. Oh why hadn't she stayed at home!
Suddenly hooves clattered on cobbles. Éomer? Her heart sped up and she took a step forward, but then the rider trotted through the gate and she recognised Éothain. A wave of disappointment swept through her.
He threw himself from the saddle beside her. "Lady Lothíriel, what are you doing here!"
Her disappointment still fresh in her mind, she blurted out the truth. "I need to speak to Éomer. Isn't he here? The guards said he returned yesterday."
Éothain threw a harried look over his shoulder up at the Great Hall. "Oh yes, we had to return for the Midsummer Celebration. He's here all right, but he's not best pleased with your presence." He leant closer. "My lady, did you mention your name to the guards?"
"No, I wasn't sure–"
"Good!" Éothain exclaimed with obvious relief. "We might yet be able to keep this quiet." He nodded a greeting to Amrothos. "Is it just the two of you? I have orders to find you a guesthouse where you can stay the night." He hesitated, obviously ill-at-ease. "And tomorrow I will escort you back to Dunharrow."
"What!" Lothíriel exclaimed. "But I want to see Éomer!"
"That won't be possible, I'm afraid."
Lothíriel had to restrain herself from stamping her feet. "And did your king give any reason for his discourteous behaviour?" she asked.
"Yes, that is no way to treat a Princess of Dol Amroth!" Amrothos threw in, offended.
"I'm so sorry, Lady Lothíriel." Éothain shifted from one foot to the other. "But you know Éomer King and his temper…"
She did indeed. First hand.
Éothain gave a helpless shrug. "You should perhaps not have sent him that belt. He got rather annoyed about it."
The belt? "But why?" Lothíriel asked. "I just wanted to send proof of my identity without mentioning my name."
"Oh, what?" she snapped. Curse these Rohirrim with their dratted unwritten customs! She had read all the books on Rohan she had been able to lay her hands on and in none of them was any mention of belts.
"Well, it's such an obvious courting gift," Éothain answered. "And King Éomer gave it to…well…to your other self."
Amrothos pressed out a groan. "Always one thing or the other!" He stomped away.
So Éothain knew about her deception. "Éomer told you about Gliwen?" she asked him.
"Yes, we got drunk together one night," Éothain answered. "I thought it would be good for him."
That moment she felt like it would be good for her! "I haven't come all this way just to be sent back again," she said, trying hard for a reasonable tone. "Please tell your king so."
He spread his hands. "Lady Lothíriel, he gave me most specific orders concerning you. Perhaps when you come again in a more…official role? He'll have to talk to you then, won't he?"
"Well, at least to say his wedding vows!" she snapped. Even if he never uttered another word to her.
"I'm sorry. I asked him to reconsider, but he would have none of it. You know how he sometimes says things without thinking…"
Her heart sank. "What exactly did Éomer say?"
"Please, Lady Lothíriel!"
"His exact words," she insisted.
Poor Éothain swallowed. "Éomer King said that the woman he gave the belt to is dead, that you killed her. And his orders for the woman outside his gates are to return to her father until the proper time comes, when he'll summon her to the Mark."
To deal with her at his leisure? Suddenly her own temper ignited. Why should he be the only one with a right to be angry! "Very well, you can take a message back to your king," she said in measured tones. "If he is too much of a coward to talk to me, I will just sit here and wait until he gets his courage together." Crossing her arms on her chest, she sat down on the grass.
"Princess Lothíriel!" Éothain exclaimed. "What are you doing!"
"Go and tell him!"
Amrothos came rushing over. "What's the matter now?"
"My lord," Éothain addressed him. "Can't you reason with your sister? She insists on waiting here until King Éomer talks to her."
Amrothos threw up his hands. "Elbereth save me. One as stubborn as the other!"
Ignoring them, Lothíriel stared straight ahead. Her behaviour might be childish, but no more so than Éomer's! She would stay in this spot until he came to talk to her even if she had to grow roots.
After a while, when he got no reply, Éothain gave up his remonstrations and returned the way he had come. Meanwhile the crowd of spectators that had accumulated by the gates slowly dispersed. Then a man stepped forward to approach her. Lord Ealdred?
The councillor greeted her respectfully. "I'm sorry for the poor welcome the Riddermark has granted you, my lady," he said, an unhappy frown on his face.
Lothíriel smiled crookedly. "Not the Riddermark, just its king."
"Yes, Éomer King has been a bit volatile these last few months…" He sighed. "Not surprising perhaps, but rather unfortunate."
She coloured. "You know as well?" Was there anybody who didn't?
He nodded. "Your aunt took me into her confidence. I hope you don't mind."
"No, of course not. I'd trust her with my life."
"A remarkable woman," Lord Ealdred agreed. He cleared his throat. "How is Lady Ivriniel, by the way?"
"Fine, never better." She suddenly remembered a charge her aunt had laid on her. "In fact she told me to thank you for your letters, that she very much enjoyed your passionate recount of the battles of the Long Winter."
"She does?" A wave of colour suffused him and another time she might have been amused by his reaction. "Would you be so kind as to convey my greetings back to her when you return?" He coughed delicately. "Whenever that is."
"Whenever that is," she agreed.
He took his leave, but paused a moment before going. "My lady, let me just say that I wish you the best of luck getting King Éomer to talk to you."
She grimaced. "Thank you."
Suddenly he flashed her a smile. "You know, if you managed to put him in a better mood, you would make a lot of friends here."
Feeling slightly ridiculous sitting there waiting for their king, Lothíriel was aware of the intensely curious looks of the guards and passers-by, but occupied herself by watching the shadows of the clouds race across the grass. The wind had picked up, tugging at her skirts and teasing forth strands of hair.
And then the drum of many hoof beats announced the arrival of a company of riders. At the gate, the guards straightened up and Lothíriel knew who had come. Her breath hitched in her breast as Éomer emerged into the sunlight. She rose to her feet.
Motioning for the others to stay behind, he approached her, but did not dismount. Firefoot chewed on his bit and pranced nervously as he brought the stallion to a halt in front of her. Staring up into hard eyes regarding her through the narrow slits of a visor, Lothíriel felt her courage falter. He didn't even bother to remove his helmet!
"My lady," he said, enunciating each word carefully, "apparently you require me to give you my orders in person."
"Éomer, please no," she exclaimed. "I just want to talk to you."
He bent forward. "You've had your chance of leading me about by the nose, my lady, and took full advantage of it. But I know you for what you are now and will not fall for any further manipulations." Firefoot threw up his head nervously and a bit of spittle landed by her foot.
She swallowed. "No manipulations, just the truth."
"The truth!" he hissed. "What would you know about that? Tell me, is your father aware of your whereabouts?"
He had her there. "No," she answered, colouring. "My aunt is supposed to look after me while he's in Minas Tirith."
"I thought as much. The same old bunch of conspirators." His gaze swept contemptuously over Amrothos who was hovering nearby, unsure what to do. "Well, you've wasted your time coming here to try and trap me in your nets again. This is what you will do: first thing tomorrow morning Éothain will escort you to the border, from whence you will return straight to Dol Amroth. I do not want to see you again until the proper time."
"And when is that?"
The eyes behind the visor narrowed even further. "I told you the King of the Mark keeps his word. And I will – but when is my decision. Mine alone! I am going for a ride now to inspect the yearlings. When I return, I expect you to be gone." He gathered Firefoot's reins.
Lothíriel sat down in the grass again. "No."
"No," she repeated, staring straight ahead at Firefoot's legs. The stallion began to prance, a hoof landing inches away from her foot. She hoped Éomer was still a competent horseman, even when annoyed – actually especially when annoyed.
"Haven't I made myself clear–" he began.
"You have," she interrupted him. "But I've come here to talk to the man who bought sweetmeats for me in the market, who told me he did not fancy riding an ant into battle, who defended me against Lord Dorgam…" Defiantly she stared straight up at him. "…who kissed me by that pond!"
"You dare!" Barely contained fury radiated from him.
"Yes, I do!" She bit her lip. "And I'm not going anywhere until I have talked to him."
"But he doesn't want to talk to you," Éomer snapped.
"Then I'll sit here and wait for him – until I'm old and wrinkled if I have to!"
"Very well, suit yourself!" he snarled.
Without another word he turned Firefoot round and rejoined his company. Clods of earth landed beside her, torn up by the stallion's hooves. "We ride!" he shouted and urged Firefoot forward. Taken by surprise, his riders milled around uncertainly, only to hurry their horses after him. Lothíriel watched them go, steeling herself to show no emotion, even though all she wanted to do was to crawl away somewhere and curl up into a tight ball. She felt as if he had buffeted her physically with his anger.
The riders traversed the Snowbourne at speed, splashing water everywhere, and then turned west, still galloping hard, the white horsetail on the leader's helmet streaming out behind him. She followed him with her eyes until they passed out of sight.
Had she done the right thing, Lothíriel wondered, or just angered him further? But he had no right to treat her like the lowest worm when she had only tried to make things right. Rebelliously she brushed a tear from her cheek – a bit of dirt must have flown in her eyes she told herself.
Amrothos sat down beside her with a sigh, but did not say anything. The silence suited Lothíriel as it allowed her to order her thoughts. She went over her encounter with Éomer again, but did not really see what else she could have done, apart from following his orders meekly. Yet that would only have postponed the problem. Perhaps when he returned from viewing the yearlings he might be in a better frame of mind? Somehow she doubted it.
A bee landed on one of the white flowers by her foot, then buzzed away busily. It was a comforting reminder that these lands were not so different from those she knew. Watching the traffic going in and out of Edoras, she also encountered many familiar sights. Carts rumbled by laden with bales of wool or baskets of chickens and piglets, presumably destined for Meduseld. A peddler selling brass pots went by with his wares swinging from his backpack and clanking loudly, followed by a travelling farrier. And down by the stream men were busy setting up a huge stack of wood for a bonfire. What all the passers-by had in common though were the curious looks they sent her.
Amrothos regarded the sky dubiously, which had clouded over. "I think I'll ask Lord Ealdred to find me that guesthouse so I can stable the horses," he said.
Lothíriel shrugged. "As you please. I'm not going anywhere."
Only when he had left, did she remember that she should have asked for her saddlebags. With the sun gone, the wind had freshened up and she could have done with a cloak. Also she didn't really like the look of those dark clouds over the mountains to the south. But there was nothing to be done, so she just drew up her knees and hugged herself.
For a while she amused herself by watching a group of children playing knights and pirates – or whatever they called it here. The blond haired boys and girls squealed and shouted as they ran after each other, good-naturedly tolerated by the guards. She envied them their exuberance – to be so carefree!
Involuntarily her gaze was drawn the way Éomer had ridden away and she wondered when he would return. How long did it take to look at yearlings? Probably quite a while if you were the king of a people of horselords…
As the afternoon drew on, the children's mothers came to collect them and later the guards offered her some nut cakes and a jug of ale, which she accepted gratefully. After all she had not threatened to starve herself, just to wait there until she was old and decrepit. She grinned self-deprecatingly at the image of a grey-bearded Éomer riding by ignoring the doddering woman still sitting outside his doorstep.
Then the wind eased suddenly and a heavy raindrop landed on her skirts. She stared at it in disbelief. What had happened to the nice, sunny day? Did even the weather conspire against her? Another raindrop stained her skirts a dark red. Lothíriel hugged her knees closer to her chest.
The guard she had talked to earlier on hurried over. "My lady, it's going to pour down any minute. Do please come into shelter!"
"No." She had said she would wait here until Éomer talked to her and that was exactly what she would do!
"My lady, the king will have my hide!"
"No, he won't," Lothíriel reassured him. "I will tell him you did your best, don't worry."
The poor man did not look at all convinced of his king's leniency, but really Éomer would have to accept that it was really his fault that she had ended up in the rain. Although lately he did not seem very amenable to logic.
The guard took off his cloak. "My lady, won't you at least take this?"
Lothíriel decided that her pride could stand compromising on such a small matter and wrapped the heavy green fabric round her. "What is your name?" she asked.
"Godwine, my lady, son of Háma."
She smiled up at him. "My thanks, Godwine, son of Háma. You are most courteous."
After hovering about uncertainly for a moment longer, the guard returned to his post and true to his word, an instant later the heavens opened up. Lothíriel huddled under the outsized cloak and drew the hood over her head, cursing her own stubbornness and that of a certain horselord. But she would talk to him even if it meant dying of a cold after. That would serve him right!
Soon the rain came down so hard it bounced off the ground and spread in a fine mist until she could no longer see the city wall. The smell of wet wool surrounded her as she burrowed deeper under the fabric. Then the first chilly drops ran down her neck, quickly turning into a trickle, making her shiver with cold. She would not give up! As the ground beneath her began to saturate with water running off the barrow, she curled in on herself, shutting out everything but the will to persevere. She would talk to Éomer. She would!
Suddenly somebody knelt beside her, cursing loudly in a foreign language. Moments later strong arms picked her up.
"No!" she cried and began to struggle. More curses. She got a confused impression of men and horses surrounding her and struck out wildly. "Let go of me!"
"Gliwen, you little fool, it's me!" the man snapped. She stared up at him in confusion. Blond hair plastered to his skull, eyes blazing with anger. "Éomer?"
"Yes, of course! Now hold still." With a grunt he lifted her onto a saddle where she perched disoriented for a moment. She got a quick glimpse of her brother hurrying towards them with a worried frown, then Éomer swung up behind her and quite simply bundled the cloak around her to pull her against his chest. She clutched at his shirt and lifted her face up to him. "You will talk to me?"
With a sigh of contentment Lothíriel sagged against him. "Don't blame Godwine, son of Háma," she muttered before closing her eyes in exhaustion. "He tried his best."