Chapter 34

June 5 Fourth Age, Edoras

For the past week, there hadn't really been calm and quiet in the Golden Hall of the King – though in all honesty it had to be said the life in Meduseld never was too quiet. But for the recent uproar there was a very good reason: the King was taking his family to Dol Amroth, and this required a lot of preparations.

Elfhild was quite excited. She didn't really remember the last time they had gone to visit Grandfather, except for the part where she had pushed her cousin Alphros into a tide pool. She was sure it had not really been a serious thing, considering Alphros was an excellent swimmer, but Naneth had still scolded her afterwards and told her that princesses ought to behave better. To Elfhild it had seemed that at least Father had enjoyed the joke, though of course he'd never admit it in the front of Naneth.

"Can we leave today already?" asked Elfwine that day; Nana had told them to pack up their bags and apparently Elfhild's little brother thought it meant not only that he was supposed to take along all his favourite toys but also that they'd leave this very day.

"Of course not. You know we won't leave before tomorrow", she told her younger brother. "And then we'll stay in Dunharrow for the night, because we have to wait for Uncle Amrothos and Aunt Elswite."

"But I want to go today", whined the prince. Then his face lightened and he looked over to their older brother Elric, who sat with little Eadmod in his lap. Nana was busy with all the preparations, and so she had asked him to look after his younger siblings. "Elric, can we go together already? Father and Nana and others could come when they want and we'll get to Dol Amroth sooner!"

Elric gave his little brother half of a smile. He had grown to be so big, almost like Father. Elfhild thought it was no wonder he had recently joined the King's Riders, because of the young men of Edoras he was the best fighter and horseman. And yet he was ever happy to spend time with his brother and sisters.

"You know what Father would say to that, Elfwine. He'd probably forbid all of us three from ever leaving Edoras again", he said good-humouredly. Elfwine's face fell and he brooded to himself, but Elfhild said, "Father wouldn't mind. But Nana would be furious."

"Oh, that she would be", agreed her older brother, settling Eadmod more comfortably on his knee. She was preoccupied by the little wooden horse Father had given to her – it was her favourite toy as of late and apparently it meant she'd be a wonderful rider one day. Elric looked at Elfhild, "You and Elfwine ought to listen to your mother. You know what happens to misbehaving brats."

"Orcs eat them!" Elfwine exclaimed.

"Indeed they do", said their brother with a smile.

"Did you ever misbehave when you were small?" Elfhild asked him. At that Elric laughed.

"Of course not. Though Brego might claim otherwise", he said fondly.

"It's stupid that Uncle Brego won't come to stay in Edoras more often", she commented. She rather liked the noisy young rider, even if Nana always said he was madder than even Father – and had fouler mouth. Somehow it didn't seem to occur to Naneth that she too had a foul mouth sometimes, especially when she was cross with someone.

"Well, Aldburg is where he serves. Elfhelm says he's not going to surrender him to the throne – he thinks Father took quite enough when we left Aldburg and came to live here in Edoras", Elric answered. He looked at Elfhild thoughtfully and asked: "Do you remember when we still lived in Aldburg?"

Elfhild sat silent for a time, trying to reach back in her memories to a time she knew had existed. But try as she might she couldn't recall that far back in time. She knew Father and Naneth had not always been the King and Queen, and that she had been a small girl at the time... but sometimes it was hard to believe. In her opinion it all came so naturally to her parents, how Father would seem so tall and splendid and his face seem stern and formidable. And Nana would be there by his side and look just so regal and graceful and Elfhild was sure that even the farmer from smallest household in the Wold would have known that there went the Queen.

But to her, and to Elfwine and Eadmod they were always just Faeder and Naneth.

"No. I don't remember it", she said at last. She frowned, "But I have this one memory. I can remember this aged face of some man. Was he Grandmother Eadmod's husband?"

Elric remained quiet and looked at her with some uncertainty. Then suddenly a realisation hit him.

"I think you remember Uncle Théoden", he said softly.

Elfhild knew she had seen the man but she had never made the connection between the name and this memory. The late King was sometimes mentioned in the Golden Hall and there was love and longing in voices that spoke of him... he had been a great man and very brave, and he had lead the Rohirrim when they had ridden to Gondor. And she knew that Father at least missed him a lot.

"I wish he could have lived", she said quietly. "And I wish Grandmother Eadmod had lived longer too."

The chief thing she remembered of the old woman was her laughter. She had been so happy here in Edoras, though she had been ancient and frail. She had lived to see Elfwine reach his third summer, but on the winter of that year she had become very sick. One morning, Elfhild had woken up to find her parents very quiet and their eyes red. But as she lay on her bed, Grandmother's face had been very peaceful and Naneth had said she had gone to see Éomund and Théodwyn.

"Aye", agreed Elric, "I miss them too."

He shook himself then and smiled. He said, "I am expecting you will behave yourselves in Dol Amroth. You know your Gondorian cousins aren't quite used to the rough games you and Uncle Amrothos' children usually play."

"Yes!" said the voice of Naneth from the door, "You two should listen to your brother. I swear you were an easier child, Elric!"

But then before either Elfhild or Elric could say anything, Nana had already focused her attention on Elfwine, who had exited the conversation a while ago now with the apparent intention of wrapping himself in Elric's cloak.

"Prince Elfwine! What do you think you're doing?" she demanded as she hurried to catch the precious piece of clothing.

"I just wanted to try on Elric's cloak. I want to be a Rider too!" Elfwine complained as his mother took the cloak from him.

"You're too small to join Father's éored", Elfhild pointed out to her brother and watched Nana carefully put away Elric's cloak; she remembered the day Father had given that garment to him. She had never seen him looking so proud.

But then she looked at her mother. Elfhild held the notion that she was the prettiest woman in all of the Mark. That wasn't only because of Nana's long black hair, the kind one didn't really see among the Rohirrim (the little princess was very envious to Elfwine for inheriting that hair unlike herself). There was light in her glance and joy in her smile, which illuminated her fine features. She also knew how to walk and carry herself – something she occasionally tried to teach Elfhild too. Nana truly had the skill of making herself look like the Queen.

"Your sister is quite right. I'm afraid you will have to wait for several years still", Naneth gently said to Elfwine.

"Nana! Nana!" Eadmod called her then, and with a smile the Queen of Rohan approached her youngest child; little one was but two years old.

"There you are, sweetheart!" she said and Elric lifted the little girl into the arms of her mother. "Have you been a good girl?"

"Oh, she has. These two here would have a lot to learn from her", Elric commented lightly, and Elfhild made a face at her brother.

"Hmm. If she takes after her siblings, I don't think that's going to last for long", said Nana. She looked about the three, "Let us get going, my dears. The dinner is served soon, and your father is waiting."

Dinnertime was one instance of the day all of them were always gathered together around one table. Some days Father was so busy that the dinner was the only time he had with his family, though he usually tried to make room for more. But the duties of a king were many and there were times when Elfhild could very clearly tell that he had put aside Faeder and was fully concentrated on being the King.

He was waiting for them in the royal chambers, which of course belonged to him and Nana. A table was set there already, but Elfwine instantly ran toward Father when they entered.

"Father!" he called happily, and a large smile appeared on the bearded face of their sire. If Nana was the prettiest woman in the Mark, Father surely had to be the tallest man. Elfhild knew he was strong and wonderful swordsman too, and wondered if he always made everyone feel as safe as he did her. With Father, Elfhild knew nothing could ever come to harm her.

He caught the little prince and lifted him in the air, laughing as he did so.

"Lift me too, Father!" Elfhild asked, but he rested a hand on her shoulder.

"You're getting too big and I'm getting too old, dear daughter. You should ask Elric – he's stronger than I am", he answered.

"And yet I still can't beat you in swordsmanship", said Elric.

"I've had time to practice far longer than you have, son", Father said and reached over to kiss Eadmod. The little one laughed and would probably have pulled at her father's long hair, but fortunately Nana was rather good at protecting his poor mane. She shared with Father one of those smiles Elfhild never quite understood.

"When can I start training?" asked Elfwine. Though Father and Elric would occasionally spar with him, this did not satisfy Elfwine's wishes.

"He'd have taken Elric's cloak. You may soon have to give him his own, lest Elric's disappears", Nana said to Father, which seemed to amuse him.

"Our children are wilder than Felaróf, beloved", he said, settling Elfwine to sit down at the table.

"Something they inherited from you, beloved", Nana told him. Elfhild wasn't sure she knew what the joke was, but at least her parents and Elric laughed. But then Naneth ushered them to the table and the attentions were turned towards the dinner for the time being.

That night Father had time to spend with his children, and the four of them (well, three really, because Eadmod was too small to really understand it – she sat on Father's knee) recreated the Battle of Helm's Deep on the chamber floor. Nana apparently was trying to focus on some needlework, but at some point Elfhild looked up at her and saw a strange look on her mother's face, and eventually she understood it was because Nana was remembering the time in the caves of the Deep, where she had stayed with Aunts Éowyn and Elswite during the battle... up until Father and Gandalf the White had arrived. Gently, Elfhild put a hand on her mother's knee, and Naneth smiled.

Eventually she got up and announced it was a high time the children went to bed, as they had long way ahead of them tomorrow.

"But Dunharrow isn't so far!" Elfwine complained when Father picked him up from the floor.

"Son, I know you're not going to have any sleep there, considering we're going to stay in tents", he told the prince. Elfwine did indeed find tents very exciting, but Elfhild knew which sleeping arrangements she preferred. Her brother was still trying to bargain with Father when he carried him to bed, and Elfhild went along to make herself ready for night too.

She was already under the covers when Nana peeked in.

"Everything well, sweetheart? Are you warm enough?" she asked.

"I'm fine", said Elfhild. She thought then of something that had been on her mind before, and she lifted her head from her pillow, "Nana?"

"What is it?" she asked and stepped in, approaching Elfhild's bed.

"Do you think... will Uncle Hrodgar be in Dol Amroth too?" she asked gingerly.

Her mother didn't answer right away. Instead, she came and sat down beside Elfhild, and then absent-mindedly arranged her blankets better.

"I'm not sure. I haven't heard anything at least. You know he's very busy in the Houses of Healing", she said softly.

"I miss him, Nana", Elfhild said. A sad little smile came to Naneth's face and she gently stroked her daughter's cheek.

"So do I, sweetheart", she answered.

The little princess didn't quite understand the reason why the dear old man had to be away from them. For all she knew Uncle Hrodgar had saved her life twice, perhaps Naneth's life too. And whenever they visited him in Minas Tirith, he always seemed so glad to see them. Usually he spoke with Naneth but he'd always listen to Elfhild's stories as well, perhaps not say too much himself, but one could see he paid careful attention to all her words. It was always difficult to leave him behind, and couple of times she had asked Father to let her uncle to come home. But without exception this strange look came to his face and he'd say no.

"Why does he have to stay away from us?" she asked.

Naneth leaned down to kiss her brow.

"I know it's hard to understand, but your father does have his reasons for ordering Uncle Hrodgar to stay in Minas Tirith for now. I'll explain everything to you one day, dear one", she said softly. "Now, go to sleep. We have a long journey ahead of us."

It was already evening when they reached Dunharrow. Such a large retinue didn't move quite so fast, which frustrated the King of Rohan. Used to the speed and efficiency of an éored riding for this or that urgent errand, he always kind of forgot how many little details went into planning and preparing a royal entourage to move. His wife, for one, seemed to have a completely out of proportion idea of how much clothing she and the children required. Well, the children probably did, considering how fast they were able to get themselves dirty. But he had yet to see Lothíriel exercise similar levels of uncleanliness.

He had made the mistake of complaining about it to Scýne, who these days served as Lothíriel's right hand lady and would stay in the charge of Meduseld during the absence of the Queen. It was a wonder the woman hadn't poked him with a needle.

Be it as may, they were now at last in Dunharrow and hopefully the day of travel would also mean that the children would fall asleep without any mischief.

"Brother! You finally come. I was starting to think maybe you had changed your mind – or my sister had decided to haul Meduseld along", called the voice of Lord Amrothos as he approached the retinue of the King of Rohan.

No one really called him a prince these days, not in Rohan at least. Six years in the Mark had assimilated him among the Rohirrim remarkably well, though at times his Gondorian origins would emerge once more. That he had not been born a man of the Mark did not seem to bother his new people; Éomer judged it had to do with his cheerful personality and easygoing ways, which were well-fitting among Eorlingas. Amrothos had adjusted just as well as his sister, and Erkenbrand reported he'd make a fine Marshal one day soon. Elswite had already given him four children in six years and the King suspected there were many more to come yet. Altogether one could say the swan prince had become a horselord.

"I suspected that was just what she planned, old fellow", Éomer now told his brother-in-law, and the two exchanged a grin.

"I heard you, scoundrel! You're going to pay for that comment", called Lothíriel from behind. She had dismounted already and was herding the children around herself.

"She'll keep her word", Éothain said under his breath, which appeared to amuse Amrothos.

"Oh, I know", answered Éomer and cast a look of feigned suffering towards heavens, much to the entertainment of his friends. He looked at the dark-haired man then, "Is Elswite here too?"

"Of course. She's presently fighting to get the children to sleep. The twins especially have been out of their mind all day. They are very excited – I suppose they already look forward to all the ways they can drive their cousins insane", Amrothos said and grinned.

"That sounds disturbingly familiar", chuckled the King. "Do you think your father is already regretting his choice to invite us all at the same time?"

"Sooner or later he will do just that", Amrothos answered with a grin. "Now, there's some supper and some nice ale. You two care to come and join me once you've got everything ready?"

"Gladly, brother. And I suppose our poor wives will be in the need of some nourishment as well, if they are able to get their victory over the children", said Éomer.

Some time after they were sat by a camp-fire. The night was exceptionally warm, so sitting outside was a pleasant option. Elswite joined the three men eventually, and together they talked of everyday matters of their families and the realm.

"We didn't bring all four of our offspring this time. Swið has been sick lately, and I don't think my parents would really feel right if we took all our children along", said Elswite when the talks turned to the journey at hand.

"How are Erkenbrand and Léoma?" Éomer asked and took a sip of his ale.

"Not getting younger, but the children keep them on their toes", Amrothos chuckled, though there was a fond tone to his voice. It was not a secret how the old Marshal and his wife doted on the children of their daughter. This did not surprise Éomer in the slightest. The deaths of their son Ethelred and sister-son Dúnhere had been a severe blow, but the new life produced by Elswite and Amrothos had been a great comfort for them. Stándenu had been born two weeks after Elfwine and his birth could not have come on a more convenient time.

"Where is Elric, by the way?" asked the prince then, looking about like hoping to see the young rider.

"He went off to see some friends", Éothain answered and refilled his mug of ale.

"Just friends?" Elswite asked with a lift of her brows, and her meaning was not lost to Éomer.

"Aye. Just friends", he said, lowering his voice. "He has told me he never means to marry or have children, not even illegitimate."

"Why? You and Lothíriel have always treated him well", Amrothos wondered out loud.

"It's not about that", Éomer said and looked away. He sighed, "I believe he has been thinking now that he rides in my guard. He takes it very seriously, but he fears that his descendants might not share the notion. In other words, Elric thinks a child or grandchild sired by him might come to think that the elder line of my sons, however illegitimate, should inherit the throne instead of Elfwine and his heirs."

"That is... well. Grand thinking from a man so young", said Lothíriel's brother and blinked in surprise.

"I've tried to tell him he's too young to make a decision like that, but Elric is very determined about this matter", said the King and shook his head. Elswite seemed to recognise that a change of topic was in order, and she asked about whether Aragorn and Arwen were going to attend as well (they wouldn't – they had said it'd be crowded enough already, and most likely feared for Imrahil's sanity anyway) and they proceeded to talk about Minas Tirith.

Eventually Lothíriel joined them as well, as she had finally managed to get the children to sleep. She sat beside Éomer and gave him an absent-minded kiss before receiving a bowl of hot soup from Elswite.

"I swear, in Dol Amroth I'm going to surrender all duties of getting these little villains to bed in the hands of Fainien", she announced and cast a look at her brother, "Surely we weren't as impossible when we were children?"

"Oh, we were", said Amrothos, smiling brightly, "and some of us never stopped."

The Queen snorted.

"I am just going to assume you mean yourself", she said nonchalantly and concentrated on her soup. The King suppressed a chuckle and fondly thought of how much he loved his wife.

Lothíriel glanced at them after a moment and asked, "Is all ready for travelling through the caves?"

"Aye. We got torches and everything. Lord Sigefolc of Harrowdale and his men along with some folks from Gondor have done good job of clearing the Dimholt Road. He even claims it's hard to believe these days what darkness once rested there", answered Éothain.

"So there's not even a chance of seeing any ghosts? Elfwine will be disappointed", Éomer said lightly.

"It's been quite phantom-free ever since Aragorn passed this way. I wonder if he even realises what favour he made in clearing the road", said Amrothos. He leant forward, "Speaking of the way, I've been thinking lately. You know how the traffic has grown here, and more people are using the road to travel to and from Gondor. Perhaps some kind of a permanent settlement could be established here, to make the travel more comfortable?"

"That's not a bad idea at all. We'll have to discuss it with Sigefolc when we come back", agreed the King.

"And it would make these trips to Dol Amroth much easier", Lothíriel put in.

The conversations turned back to the city by the sea, but eventually the King looked at his Queen, and asked: "Would you like to retire, déore min?"

"Mm. Yes, darling", she answered and they bid good night to the others.

The night was pleasant, however, and so they did not make haste on their way to their tent. Hand in hand they strolled through the camp.

"Do you remember the first time we stayed here together?" Lothíriel asked, looking up at him.

"It was the day before the Muster of Rohan rode for Gondor", Éomer recalled. It felt like a decade had passed since that day.

"Yes. It feels unreal sometimes, doesn't it?" she asked in a soft, thoughtful voice. When she spoke again, he could hear her teasing smile, "And ever since I've learnt that you, my dear man, have a thing for tents."

"How so?" he asked.

"You never seem to be able to keep your hands off me when we're on the road", she said smugly.

"As if you had anything against that", he chortled. "What can I say? Fresh air has a strange effect on a man."

"Oh, I have nothing against you and your unhinged ways – except on the morning. It's not so pleasant to ride when one is sore in certain parts of one's body", she pointed out, trying for a disapproving tone but not quite succeeding. He bit back a snigger, knowing it would not be appreciated.

"You remember our first real time? I don't mean that awful wedding night back in Minas Tirith", she said then.

"It was on the plains, when we were returning from Gondor", he said. That seemed even more unreal, though the memory was a fond one.

"Yes. I never told you how sore I was after that time", she grumbled.

"Hmph. You were much more proper back then, dearest", he pointed out.

"I was", Lothíriel agreed. She looked up at him again, a pensive look in her grey eyes. "The other thing I never told you was that no one had ever kissed me before you."

That surprised him and he stopped to look at his wife.

"Really? I was your first kiss?" asked the King of Rohan.

"You were, beloved", answered his Queen.

A slow smile spread on his face and pulled her in his arms. Still after all these years and three children, the feel of her body against his stirred something very profound in him.

"You know what that means, my lady?" Éomer asked.

"I don't know, but I'm sure you'll enlighten me", Lothíriel answered. There was a light in her eyes, the kind that warmed the depths of his heart and soul.

"Your lips are completely mine", he told her, and then he kissed her.

The road to Dol Amroth had been eventful, but Lothíriel had not really expected anything less. Elfhild and Elfwine were always a force to be reckoned with, but when they joined forces with their cousins, things were bound to go down. Eventually Éomer had lost his patience and informed the little ruffians that if they did not behave they would be sent back to Rohan. He was a rather good disciplinarian, which probably had something to do with his long experience as the one in charge. Nonetheless, the rest of the way was made in moderate peace, until the day came they arrived in that city by the sea.

The rest of Lothíriel's Gondorian family was there to receive them. Of the children she saw only Alphros there: the rest were probably with their nurses. As the royal family of Rohan flooded into the courtyard and filled it with noise, Lothíriel spotted her father. He was smiling brilliantly at the sight of his two youngest children.

"Father!" she called, and as soon as she had her own offspring around her they hurried to meet Prince Imrahil.

"There you are at last! Welcome to Dol Amroth!" he said and pulled so many of them into his arms as he was able. Elfwine was happily chattering away and Elfhild practically hang on his waist, and Eadmod giggled when her grandfather gave her a large kiss.

"Oh, how much have you grown since the last time! Elfwine, if you keep stretching like that, it's not long before you're taller than your father even! And Elfhild, you are growing into a beautiful young lady!" he said happily. Éomer arrived to the scene too, smiling as he strode closer.

"Imrahil", he greeted his father-in-law, and the older man answered his smile.

"Éomer. Good to see you here", he said and cast a glance from the King to Lothíriel, "I trust the journey went well?"

"It was fine. These little rascals were the most trouble we had on the way", said the Queen fondly.

Then came the family of Amrothos and Elswite: their moving together could only be called swarming.

"Grandpa! Grandpa!" cried the twins Elred and Hilda in unison.

"What are these little trolls here? Have you come here so that I can catch you?" said the Prince as he moved forward to welcome the children of his youngest son. He caught the twins in his arms and the courtyard was full of laughter, and then Elfwine decided he'd join this game too. Seeing they were happily preoccupied by each other, Lothíriel moved over to greet her brothers and sisters-in-law.

"You can probably tell I'm really happy we're finally here", she said and leaned over to kiss the cheek of Aredhel.

"It is quite obvious, yes", said the older woman with a smile. "Do you think we'll be able to reclaim their attention any time soon? I'm sure you'd be glad to settle down."

Lothíriel glanced over to where her father was practically buried under his Rohirric grandchildren. She let out a weak laugh, "It looks like it's going to take a while."

Eventually they did get the children leave their poor grandfather alone, and the afternoon was mostly spent in settling down in their chambers, trying to locate all the saddlebags and trunks, and finding them in places they were not supposed to be. Fortunately all the excitement of the day had the younger generation exhausted by the nightfall, and both Elfwine and the twins had to be carried into the bed from the dinner table.

When the children were sleeping, there was some much awaited time for calm and quiet and exchanging tidings with the Gondorian relatives. To Lothíriel's disappointment Hrodgar was not in the city, and no one seemed to know if he'd come at all.

In Dol Amroth life went on as usual. Father was energetic as ever, showing no signs at all of slowing down. Elphir was very busy these days as his duties often took him to Minas Tirith, where he served under Aragorn's command, and at some point Lothíriel overheard Erchirion explaining to Éomer his sea campaigns against pirates of Umbar. Aredhel, now a mother of four, managed the household with same efficiency as ever, and Fainien was expecting the second child of her and Erchirion. As the rebuilding of the kingdom was still in progress, there was much work in the land and Aragorn was not certainly keeping himself or his lieutenants idle.

Altogether it was good to see this part of the family, and know that they were doing well... that they were happy. It was a comforting thought on those times they were far away and Lothíriel herself was caught in the middle of her many duties as the Queen. But though she may miss her relatives sometimes, it didn't mean that she was unhappy.

This was, after all, what she had spoken of with Éomer on that golden day back in Minas Tirith after the Great War had ended.

This was their years in sun.

From the shadow of the pillars, Lothíriel watched Aredhel and Elphir's daughter Aewen teaching Elfhild and Hilda to play hopscotch. The stone pavement that travelled through the garden was quite ideal for drawing the squares with a piece of chalk, though others taking a stroll would find themselves having to step aside, unless they wanted to have three girls jumping at them. Sometimes it seemed to Lothíriel that the children of her brothers' were slightly intimidated of their Rohirric cousins, except for Aewen who had always got along very well with Elfhild. It was no wonder, perhaps: her and Éomer's children were always singing and laughing, and when they wanted to annoy their Gondorian kin, all they had to do was talk in Rohirric.

The Queen remembered she too had once observed it was an ideal place for hopscotch... but when she watched the girls and tried to remember when she had stopped playing that game, she couldn't remember. The years of her childhood seemed so far away, and she was living the 27th year of her life.

It was the third day of their stay in Dol Amroth. So far most of the time had been spent comfortably in the middle of family: picnics on the beach, exploring the city, long dinners... last night, there had been even a ball in the honour of the Rohirric royal family. It had been Elfhild's first appearance in a Gondorian court gathering and the girl had been very excited. Though Lothíriel had worried how she'd do in the middle of all those high and fashionable ladies, in the end her concern had been in vain, for Elfhild had been very charming and graceful. To Éomer Lothíriel had said that once their daughter came of age, they'd have to keep a very close eye on her. The way he had frowned then seemed to imply that Elfhild's suitors would not have easy time courting her... but then, it was hard to imagine anyone mad enough to treat badly the daughter of the King of Rohan.

Now the three girls were enjoying a simple game of hopscotch, and Elric was sat nearby on a bench honing his sword, from where he observed the cousins amidst their play. Why he hadn't gone with the boys to watch the Swan Knights train was evidenced by his paleness: apparently in the barracks there had been something of a celebration as well.

Then arms snaked their way around her from behind and a bearded face nuzzled at the side of her head.

"Mmm. Hello, my Queen", murmured the soft, deep voice of her husband as she melted into his embrace. Though it had been years since they had married, he still knew how to turn her knees into water.

"Hello, my King", she answered and turned her face so that she could kiss him.

When she pulled back, she smiled at him, "Did you already finish your negotiations with Father?"

"Not really finished. He had to attend to some running matters and I was thinking of catching some fresh air, but instead I appear to have caught a beautiful Queen..." Éomer said and rested his hands around her waist.

"You flirt", she chortled, though she couldn't mask her amusement. He smiled as well and turned to look at the children too.

"What are you thinking of?" she asked, leaning her head against his shoulder.

"Just how nice it is to have this leisure. Life is so hectic back in Edoras sometimes", he answered softly.

"Admit it. You'd never be happy if you didn't have things to put your mind into or battles to plan", Lothíriel said gently with a half-smile.

"That is true", he agreed. He looked like he'd have said something more but the conversation came to an end, for two members of nobility had arrived to the scene. The one of them was Lady Ningloreth – a rather accomplished and lovely noblewoman, with whom Lothíriel hadn't particularly got along during her younger years, but now that they were both married they were friendly enough. The man accompanying the lady she didn't know, but that was no wonder. Though the status of the queen demanded she make appearances when she was visiting Gondor, the fact that she didn't live in south anymore meant she didn't recognise half of the nobility.

The two nobles had come from the other side of the garden and had spotted Elric. It had been inevitable that the knowledge of his identity had spread, especially since he often accompanied the rest of the family on their travels, and these days he rode with the King himself. As far as Lothíriel knew there had been some mutterings about the young man, but no one ever dared to say anything on the front of Éomer, and she didn't know if it was his reputation or the general agreement of how much Gondor owed to Rohan, but no one had made comments to her either. That had rather surprised her, considering Lothíriel would have thought she'd be the first one to be reminded of her husband's misgivings – especially when there was an illegitimate child involved. In the end, she wondered if it had something to do how they never hid their affection, not even in public... or if people just deemed her years in Rohan had turned her into a Shieldmaiden as well.

But now for the first time she saw it happening: the two were rather obviously trying to hide their smiles behind their fans (which were apparently the latest fashion, even for some men) and giggling to themselves as they cast some very pointed looks at Elric. The young rider sat silent and stared at them and there in his eyes was something deeply hurt.

Éomer had seen it as well and she heard a low growl rise from his chest. He was about to step forward... but Lothíriel held him back, for she had seen Elfhild sharply turning towards the nobles, and her instinct said that her daughter could handle this.

"No! Stand back. Watch Elfhild", she hissed to Éomer. He shot a furious glance at her, but then he looked at the little princess too. Elfhild had left the game of hopscotch and strode towards the two nobles looking much taller and stronger than she actually was.

"You!" she shouted out, "Why are you laughing at my brother?"

"Your brother", said the noble lord, "Oh my. I didn't realise it was this bad. Poor girl. Poor Queen Lothíriel!"

"My mother is not poor and nor am I! You are talking to a princess, and you have worse manners than even Uncle Amrothos does when he has drunk too much mead in the Yule feast!" Elfhild announced, standing with her feet apart and resting her hands on her hips. That did take the two by surprise and they blinked in confusion.

"You have no business to be here laughing at my brother! He is my father's rider and if he wanted he could go and tell the King of Rohan about your sniggering behind his back! Do you know what then would happen? Unless Elric here decides to kill you himself", stated the girl. That earned an excited "aye!" from her cousin Hilda. At this point, Éomer seemed too bewildered to be counted angry anymore, and he observed the scene silently as his wife. As for Lothíriel, she was trying not to burst out laughing.

"Don't you have somewhere to be, you wild little child?" asked Lady Ningloreth.

"Princess of Rohan has nowhere to be unless she decides so. You two twerps should know that Elric my brother is the bravest man you'll ever meet, and he saved my life and Mother's life too, and he was fighting orcs in Helm's Deep when you, sir, were fanning yourself in panic! And if you don't get gone out of my sight, I'm going to ask Uncle Aragorn to use you as a warg bait!" said the Princess, oddly reminiscent of Éowyn herself.

The two seemed absolutely scandalised, and the news would soon spread that the royal family of Rohan remained as insane as always, but the important thing was that the lady and lord did hurry along and leave the scene quite hastily.

"You have quite a wondrous daughter", Éomer said after a moment of speechlessness.

"She's yours too", Lothíriel said, wiping tears of silent laughter from her eyes. "For all their wild ways, I think we did well with this one."

"That we did", he agreed and at last he grinned too. Then the two of them stepped out into the open, and when Lothíriel pulled her daughter into a hug, she held her little princess tight and long.

As for Elfhild and Elric, after that afternoon their already warm relationship was even more so, ever remaining slightly different from Elric's love for his other siblings... and Lothíriel knew that as long as Éomer's children lived, they would look after each other.

The summer evenings and nights by the sea were always surprisingly warm. One would have thought that the breath from the sea kept the air cooler than it actually was. Standing on a terrace of the private parlour of the family of the Prince and gazing towards the sea, Lothíriel realised she had missed these moments. The scents of summer came from the garden below and golden light flooded from inside, where the rest of her family was chattering away. The children were already in bed and there was peace in her heart.

When her husband came to stand beside her, she absent-mindedly linked her hand with his; touching him could come so instinctively sometimes.

"I take it Elswite already relented and forgave Amrothos?" she asked. The married life of the two was just as noisy as were their children, and this time Elswite had lashed out when hearing that Amrothos had not prevented Stándenu fighting with Alphros and then pushing the poor boy into a tide pool (it seemed to be the young prince's fate to always suffer such treatment from his Rohirric cousins). But for all their arguments, eye-witness reports had it that usually much kissing followed... and Lothíriel had wondered out loud to Éomer if that was the reason they already had so many children. The comment had nearly made her husband choke with laughter.

"Considering neither of them are present, I assume he's presently making up to her", said Éomer with a tone of amusement. She chortled and moved closer to him, and he wrapped an arm about her.

"You know", he said then, "I'm wondering if your brothers will ever get tired of making comments about mine and Éowyn's preferences when it comes to our spouses. Surely it can't be so endlessly amusing that we both found companions for life from Gondor?"

"Hmph. They are conveniently forgetting that the affinity goes the other way around too. Or didn't we – myself, Amrothos and Faramir – find our lives from Rohan, in one way or another?" she pointed out.

"That is quite true", he said and kissed the top of her head. "I for one always had a thing for dark hair."

"My dear King. I know all about you and your things", Lothíriel said teasingly, at which he snorted.

"You should stop that, dearest – for now at least. I was supposed to speak actual business with you", Éomer said then. She looked up at him and frowned.

"Is something amiss, beloved?" asked the Queen, but he smiled.

"Not at all. I just came to tell you that someone you've been waiting for is here", he said softly and turned his head towards the doors leading inside. Lothíriel looked there too, and when she saw a familiar face a small exclamation of joy escaped her lips.

Hrodgar stood there, wearing an awkward little smile. She had last seen him in Minas Tirith when they had visited there a month after Yuletide. Since his effective exile, he had got older: his hair was greying fast and there were new lines on his face. But the same keen look was in his eyes, even if years had turned it a bit softer. These days Hrodgar was known as a great healer, for he had learnt much in the Houses of Healing and also given much of his wisdom in turn.

"Hrodgar!" called Lothíriel happily and rushed to embrace the old man. When she pulled back, she beamed at him, "It is so good to see you."

"Likewise, my Queen. You're lovely as ever", said the old man softly.

"You flatter me, old bear", she said, smiling as she spoke. "I thought you weren't going to come at all."

"To be honest, I must reveal that we've been keeping something from you, my dear", said Éomer then as he came to stand beside her. In confusion, she looked from him to the healer.

"What is that?" she asked curiously. The smile on Hrodgar's face widened slightly.

"The King here has been in correspondence with me as of late. I should tell you not to be too angry with him – he wanted it to be a surprise", he said, nodding his head in respect towards the Lord of the Mark. Now the Queen was even more confused.

"What have you two been plotting?" she asked. This was surprising to say the very least, as the matter of Hrodgar had been a delicate one ever since the war had ended and he had revealed the truth about what he had almost helped to achieve.

But now a true smile, not the faint awkward kind, was there on his lined face, and his eyes shone.

"Éomer King has called me home, my lady", he said softly. "If you would have me back, that is."

The sob that she let out sounded quite crazed and strange, and Lothíriel first grabbed the old healer into her embrace, and then jumped to hug her husband. Then she turned again towards Hrodgar, and it was a long while before she had her emotions under control and could speak.

"Thank you, my love", she told Éomer with a beaming smile. "This means a lot to me."

"I know, dearest", he answered gently, but then he gave the two of them a grin, "Just so you know, I'm fully expecting Hrodgar to teach some manners to those little ruffians that are our children."

"Hmph! I knew this would come with strings attached", Hrodgar snorted, but the glint in his eyes proved he did understand the jest. It was encouraging, that he dared to participate the joke with the King.

"Elfhild will be so happy to hear. I believe she's going to be all over you for at least months", Lothíriel said, wiping tears from her eyes... but for Hrodgar, that appeared to be an entirely happy idea.

"It is good to come back. For all that I've learned in Mundburg the Mark is still my true home. I am very thankful, my King, and I promise you will never find fault in my service again", he said solemnly.

"I am glad to hear that", Éomer said, and when he looked at his wife he was smiling.

They returned to the parlour then, and Lothíriel sat beside Hrodgar; he told her tidings of the White City and the details of his correspondence with the King of Rohan. Thinking back the years that had gone by, all the way to the day she had taken Hrodgar under her protection, she couldn't tell if she had ever seen him quite so happy as he was that night... but next day, when the news were brought to Elfhild, she'd witness bliss even greater.

And she looked around herself on this evening, seeing all the familiar faces of loved ones, and the face of Hrodgar beside her. Something bittersweet suddenly came to her, for soon they'd have to return to Rohan again, and though there was love in their families, it wasn't a guarantee life would always be without challenges, or that there would not be wars to be fought.

But this... this was worth everything – worth the fight they had endured during those last years before the war. It was worth going through the time when she had been a young and scared bride who had barely known the man she had married. Yet a part of her would have liked to reach back in time, to give a hug to that woman she had been, tell her it would be all right, and she'd love and be loved in turn.

Perhaps Hrodgar knew what moved in her mind then, for he gently placed a hand on hers and he gave her a reassuring kind of smile. She answered it silently, and again tears found their way into her eyes. She hadn't been this emotional since she had been expecting little Eadmod...

Her thoughts were interrupted then, for Father came to sit with them, and the look in his eyes implied he too shared similar kind of ideas.

"Dearest Lothíriel", he greeted her fondly and pressed a kiss on her forehead.

"Father", she answered and tried to blink away tears.

"Is all well?" he asked softly.

"Oh, yes. I suppose it just hit me... I mean, it is too rarely that one really understands to just stop and look around like this. Everyday life is so busy sometimes, and there are so many things to engage your attention, that you kind of forget about the good things... and how beautiful they really are – how much they mean to you", she said slowly. She looked up at her father then and it seemed that her mood had affected him too.

"That is right", he agreed softly. Gently he picked up her hand in his and considered it. Then he met her gaze again and though he too had to hold back his tears, he was smiling. "Daughter, you truly have become a queen and a wonderful one at that. I am proud."

That touched her and she leaned over to hug him. He held her tight for a while.

"And as I am proud I am also at peace for knowing that you and Amrothos are happy", he murmured into her hair.

"We are", she told him, "We are happy."

The moon was riding high when the King and Queen of Rohan slowly made their way into their bedchamber. The day had been long and full of excitement, and the return of Hrodgar had added another level of emotion to it all. But even so Éomer didn't feel yet tired. Instead when they entered his wife turned towards him and gave him a long tender kiss.

"Is all quite well, beloved?" he asked when she pulled back. He had not missed the teary look on her face back in the parlour.

"Oh, I'm fine. I'm just being sentimental, I suppose", she told him and smiled now.

"Hmm. It must have brought back memories, that Hrodgar is going to return to Rohan with us", he commented and followed her to the dressing table, where he helped her to undo the braids in her hair.

"It did. You could say it also made me look back and around in a way. One doesn't really stop and think often enough about things that really matter", she said, watching him through the mirror.

He made a vague sound in agreement as he gently ran his fingers through her hair to clear the tangles of her braid. She had, as always, lovely hair... and he never really got enough of touching it. Lothíriel had developed something similar when it came to his rough mane, though Éomer wasn't so sure why. She seemed to be quite fond of making braids in his hair and she was very good at it, too.

"There was something I wanted to tell you", she said after a while, when her hair fell on her shoulders like rivers of dark silk.

"What is it?" he asked. Perhaps he should have guessed right away what was on her mind, because in the tone of her voice there was something very special. Yet her words still took him by surprise.

Lothíriel stood up and stepped close to him. As she gathered his hands in her own she smiled.

"It seems that our band of rascals is going to have yet another member. I am pregnant again", she told him.

With a laugh, he took her in his arms and he twirled them around, as if in a dance. She giggled as she held on to his shoulders, and her feet didn't even touch the ground... in her gaze, light was shining. Even after three children, he was glad to hear this news, and at last Éomer felt tears in his own eyes too. Another child! Oh, how blessed they were!

He kissed his beloved wife then and she wrapped arms about his neck. Blinking those tears away from his eyes, he smiled, "But please tell me this one will not be quite so mad."

Lothíriel laughed again.

"I make no such promises, my dear. They are, after all, your children", she told him. He snorted but kissed her nevertheless. She held on tight to him, and her breath was sweet and hot against his face... but then he saw that expression on her face.

"My dear... what would you say about a midnight swim in the sea?" asked Lothíriel. As if she had to ask such a thing! The grin he gave her was all the answer she needed.

"Dear Queen of mine, have I told you lately that I quite adore you?" he asked back.

"Not really. But I'd be content if you started now."

And that he could live with.

It was night already when Elfwine woke up in his bed. Elfhild was fast asleep in the bed next to his, and it was really quiet. Eadmod didn't share the room with them – she was in the nursery with Aunt Ceola.

The little prince sat up on his bed and rubbed his eyes; a cold shiver ran down his spine as he remembered his nightmare and he got up from the bed. He wasn't sure he really liked this room, because it smelled and looked so different than home, and his parents' chamber was so far away.

Though Elfwine was already six years old, there were still times when he'd sneak into the room of his parents and try to find some nice warm nook there where he could sleep for the rest of the night, though usually he'd find that Naneth was already occupying the place in Father's arms and she might just about relinquish it if she woke up. But better was if she wrapped her own arm about him and sleepily muttered he should be in his own bed.

The stone floor was cold under his bare feet and he shivered again as he opened the door and stepped out of the room. It was very quiet and he couldn't even see any guards around. Some lamps were lit but there was still something a bit spooky about the place, and Elfwine missed his own home even more. He knew Naneth had grown up here and wondered how that could be. Well, it was a good thing she had married Father.

He was making his way towards where he knew his parents' chamber was when suddenly he heard heavy steps, and his brother Elric appeared out of shadows. He looked a lot like Father, though he didn't really know how to be as scary. But Elric was really brave and he was a rider already, and Elfwine looked forward to the day all three of them could ride together into battle.

"What are you doing out of bed, Elfwine?" asked Elric when he saw the boy.

"I want Father and Naneth", said the young prince. Suddenly, that felt a bit silly. As far as he knew, Elric had never done the same... but then, Elric also had different mother than Elfwine and others, though sometimes the prince forgot about that. After all, he had always called their mother Naneth too. Elric was Father's son too, but Elfwine was already starting to understand there was something different about him.

Elric lifted up his little brother and gave him a smile.

"They're out catching moonbeams and hunting pirates, brother", he said, and his words made Elfwine forget about his nightmare. The boy's eyes widened.

"I want to go too!" he announced. Surely if Naneth and Father had gone together they'd take down all the pirates in the world... if they didn't get scared of Father, then surely Nana's shrieking would terrify them.

"I think we are both too small for that", Elric told him seriously. "Even I wouldn't get to go, if I asked."

"But you're not small at all", Elfwine pointed out.

"Maybe not, but I'm not big enough for catching moonbeams either", said his brother with a half-smile. To Elfwine it didn't make much sense, and he decided it was some strange adult thing.

"And anyway you wouldn't want to go. I think there should be kissing involved. Pirates fear nothing as much", Elric told him confidentially, and his words made the boy cringe.

"Kissing is yucky", he huffed. "And pirates are odd."

"That they are. All southerners are odd", Elric agreed, his smile widening. "Except for Naneth and Uncle Amrothos of course, but they are a different matter. I think they never even were real Gondorians to begin with."

Elfwine nodded emphatically. He was starting to feel a bit tired again and he leant his head against his brother's shoulder.

"Would you like to hear the story about the Battle of Helm's Deep again, little brother?" Elric asked then. Though the prince had listened to his brother tell this story many times, it was still his favourite. No one could really tell it like Elric did, not even Uncle Amrothos.

"I would", he said, blinking his eyes to stay awake. Elric cleared his throat and took a firmer hold of Elfwine.

"Six years ago during the Great War of the Ring, Théoden King was roused from darkness, and in turn he roused his people to stand against a mighty foe..."

The summer night of Dol Amroth was long and warm, and in the kingdoms of West there was peace. But on the beach below the castle of the Princes of Belfalas there was little quiet, for the voices of laughter carried over the waves and into the depths of the night. Should anyone have arrived there then, they would have found scattered clothes on the sand, green and gold in the manner of Rohan, and spotted two figures bathing in the sea like they were the only people alive, carefree and unburdened as in the youth of the world when there was a song under the stars and the night was without fear.

And the beholder would have recognised the tall man for the King of Rohan, and the woman he kissed in the sea was his wife the Queen. Some of those who had witnessed their wedding and seen their awkward beginnings would at times wonder how such a love could have grown between two people so different.

But the two would have smiled and said they weren't so different in the end, and love has a way of making home even where it is least expected. Sometimes, the odd thing happens and the heart finds its rest in a place unforeseen... and Lothíriel, Princess of Dol Amroth and later the Queen of Rohan, had found hers with Éomer son of Éomund in the House of Sun.


We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.

- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A/N: And here we are at the story's end. I know the time leap from the last chapter may seem surprising, but when I started to think of how it should continue I realised I really didn't have that much left to say. I mean, all threads were more or less resolved - as far as I could see - and I decided a time had come to end this story. I didn't really have a story for the years after the War, except for this one last chapter where we see that Éomer and Lothíriel are doing well, they have a bunch of insane kids whom they love very much, and have yet another one on the way. Moreover, I also decided to reunite Hrodgar with the family that he loves. It would have been wrong to end the story with the last chapter, so here's this one more glimpse into their life.

Also I decided to set in the years of Fourth Age, so that their children have grown enough to have interaction with Éomer and Lothíriel, but are still young kids. I do know this chapter is quite long even on the scale of the long chapters of this story, but there was really nothing I could cut out and a split would have totally ruined it in my opinion.

As to the fates of my cast of characters...

Éomer and Lothíriel have at this point three children, who are of course Elfhild, Elfwine and Eadmod. One more has made his presence known. They are quite happy together, though their life is sometimes noisy and boisterous. Same could be said of Amrothos and Elswite, who too have four children so far - two of them are twins.

Like Lothíriel once understood, Elric will never choose anything over his family. He is entirely devoted not only to his father the King, but also to his half-siblings. When he's not on duty he spends time with them and appears quite content. Yet on the battlefield he earns his own part of glory, and the fact that he's friends with so many important in Rohan and Gondor eventually silences mutterings about his birth. Still, he keeps what he told his father: he nevers marries or has children. Éomer and Lothíriel both worry if this will make him unhappy, but as far as they can tell Elric is always happy doting on his siblings and their children - all of whom love and respect him as a kind of guardian. To Elfwine, he will one day be the most loyal and trusted adviser.

Lothíriel's Gondorian family are doing very well. Imrahil misses his daughter and youngest son of course, but is comforted by five grandchildren (and the sixth is on way). Faramir and Éowyn are needless to say quite happy as well.

Master Oferlof is getting old these days, but I think he and Bierwén (who has been widow for many years) have kind of a thing going on. They are considering moving to Edoras, because Bierwén would like to be closer to the family of her daughter Scýne. Speaking of Scýne and Éothain, they have three kids who are the good friends of the royal children.

Lady Eadmod's tale has already ended, but she got to have some very happy and light-filled years in Edoras, surrounded by the family of her grandson. She died peacefully with Éomer, Lothíriel and Elric around her, with the knowledge that the line of Éomund was secured.

Erkenbrand and Léoma never really forget their grief over the death of their son and sister-son, but as it was said they have their hands full with their grandchildren, and Erkenbrand gets along with Amrothos very well. They joke sometimes it is a good thing the Hornburg is built of stone, as the twins might otherwise cause it to fall apart. Perhaps surprisingly it is Birte daughter of Barra whom they obey the most, as she eventually decided to stay in Helm's Deep - she married a man serving there, too. She and Elswite became good friends, and Birte often looks after the children of the future Marshal and his wife. Indeed, Amrothos eventually does inherit the title of the Marshal, and he serves Éomer until they both grow old.

At last after his exile Hrodgar gets to return home. For him this is a great happiness, and he will serve under the royal family for many years to come. Elfwine isn't perhaps so close to him, but for Elfhild at least he'll always be like a grandfather of sorts. And for Hrodgar, Lothíriel and Elfhild - and Eadmod, in time - will always remain the daughters he never had in life.

So, this is it. This is now the end of House of Sun. At one point I thought - even if my updating pace was sometimes insane - I'd never be done with it and that the story would just keep going on. I'm actually quite proud of myself not only writing a story so long, but also finishing it. This is probably thanks to many sleepless nights when I had nothing better to do than to write. Some have said this is the best story I've ever written, and I kind of agree actually. I hope you all have enjoyed the ride like I have.

Also I would like to thank everyone who took time to review the story. Special thanks go to Talia119, Borys68, Kiiimberly, Sandy-wmd, 1607hannah and A Light in the Night for your diligent reviewing of my story!

For now I will take my leave, but hopefully I will be able to finish Wild Hearts soon too... and then usher in the next thing, which I for the time being call A Light that Endures.

Thank you all once more!