Beyond his hope she returned to him where he sat in darkness, and long ago in the Hidden Kingdom she laid her hand in his.
- Of Beren and Lúthien
The air of morning smelled like the spring had come in just one night. In the garden, the flowers would soon be blooming... and back in Dol Amroth, she knew Cuileth was already bringing fresh flowers into the rooms, fussily arranging and rearranging them as she awaited news from the family members in Minas Tirith. No doubt she and Elphir would soon come to the White City too, maybe even bring little Alphros with them. After all, she knew they'd never want to miss all the celebrations that would soon take place... and it wasn't like her attempts to get Lothíriel (and Amrothos, if possible) to the city by the sea had been very successful as of late.
The horses were being readied in the courtyard of Father's house, and now it was only a matter of Amrothos showing up. He wasn't too fond of early mornings and she considered setting for the road without him. But then, he'd never let her hear the end of it.
Smiling to herself, Lothíriel looked towards east. Though it had already been few days and the rejoicing in the city had calmed a bit, she still felt curious warmth in her heart when she looked that way and saw no shadow. And the lack of that ever-present threat meant so many things she could barely comprehend it.
The war is over.
What she did comprehend completely was that not only had her father and Erchirion survived, but so had Éomer as well. And in few short days time she'd see them on the Fields of Cormallen, where Father had asked her and Amrothos to travel.
Sighing in contentment, she lifted up her face and enjoyed the warmth of rising sun on her face. She felt light, hopeful... it was a strange sensation after these past few years. But now with the fall of Sauron, she dared to trust it.
"Good morning, cousin", came a voice, and she turned to see Faramir entering the courtyard.
"Good morning to you as well", she said with a smile and he gave her a tight hug.
"I'm glad to see I got here before you left. Wouldn't want to see you gone without saying goodbye", he said when he pulled back. He cast a glance about, "Where is Amrothos?"
"Still getting ready. You know how he gets on mornings", Lothíriel said, offering her cousin a weak smile. He answered that with one of his own.
"Oh, I do", Faramir affirmed. He continued then, "You're probably interested to hear that I'm on my way to meet with that friend of yours – Ant was her name, wasn't it?"
This made Lothíriel smile. She had approached her cousin a couple of days ago, and asked if there was anything he could do about how things were on the lower levels.
"I'm glad to hear that, Faramir", she said as a feeling of a kind of relief expanded inside her. Ant and her friends would be happy to know that at last their voices would be heard.
"Oh, it's nothing. I do agree something ought to be done about the situation down there. It's not right that we have allowed the city to fall into such ruin", Faramir said solemnly. "It's going to take a while before all the work will be done for good, though. Now that Lord Aragorn is about to restore the heirs of Elendil, the matter belongs to him, and all I can do is just get information and prepare the case for him. But I promise you I will make it clear to him how important it is that we do not let this corruption spread or stay."
"Thank you, cousin", Lothíriel said gravely and hugged him again. It was good to know the state of things, the kind that had fed Ocharnil's power, was about to change... and she very much meant to observe this matter closely and make sure that Lord Aragorn took it to his heart. After all, she owed that much to Ant.
"It's the least I can do", Faramir said gently. He smiled then, "You know, a part of me is quite envious that I can't come along."
"Only a part of you?" Lothíriel asked. "Wouldn't it be refreshing to get away from your many duties for a little bit?"
The smile on his face widened and a warm look was there in his eyes.
"Yes, only a part. I've found here in the city something I wouldn't want to leave behind, and finding it even makes my duties seem light", he said softly.
Her eyes widened in surprise when she realised just what he meant. Somehow, both her cousins had always seemed to have too many concerns to really find time for their hearts.
"Who is it? Do I know her?" she asked curiously.
"I'm not sure if you've met her. But you've certainly met her brother", Faramir said, his voice quieter this time.
It took a moment for the princess to process this information. When she had, she looked at her cousin in complete surprise.
"Lady Éowyn? Really? I wouldn't have thought she was... hmm, I'd have thought maybe you'd find someone here in Minas Tirith, if you wanted marriage", she said carefully when she had recovered from astonishment. Faramir let out a helpless little laugh.
"Oh, I suppose it seems a bit odd. But then, perhaps it runs in our blood, considering the two of us are hoping to marry into the same family", he jested lightly, patting her shoulder, and she had to smile at his observation. When he spoke again, his tone turned more sober, "To be honest, I never wanted marriage. Not before I saw her."
"Does she return your feelings?" she asked gently, and even before he answered she knew the answer. The look on Faramir's face was all the response she needed.
"She does. It's hard to tell with Éowyn sometimes, but we... it's like a dream. She loves me, yes", he replied, his voice resonating such deep happiness she hadn't seen in him before.
"I must say I'm surprised. When I was in the Houses of Healing, she... she confronted me about her brother. She didn't seem to like me too well", Lothíriel said gingerly. If Faramir were so taken with Éowyn, and was convinced she returned his feelings, then to her the matter was quite clear. Having battled this far in the matter of her own beloved she had no desire to make this harder for her cousin.
"I see", he murmured softly. Faramir considered her for a moment before speaking again, "Do you want to tell me what she said to you?"
"To be honest, I'd rather forget that conversation, and I wouldn't want to involve you in it", Lothíriel answered uncomfortably. Her cousin nodded.
"Of course. Cousin, don't take her words too heavily. She's... she has recently been in a very bad place, and she's still healing. And Éomer is the only family she has left. So she may be protective of him, even if there's no reason", he spoke slowly, resting a gentle hand on her shoulder. "I suppose... I think it's also in part because of me. She needs to make sure her brother will be all right."
Considering his words, it made a great deal of sense to her. And anyway, what Faramir said confirmed what she had thought to herself already. The slightly unpleasant encounter with the White Lady mostly stemmed from the woman's love for her brother, and her need to know his chosen bride was worthy of him.
"I'm not angry at her, so you may rest assured", Lothíriel told her cousin, and he smiled. He gave her another hug.
"Take care of yourselves, cousin. I look forward to your return. And bring my greetings to your father, will you?" he asked.
"That I will, if you promise to say hello to Ant for me in turn. You try and keep the city from falling into the ruin", she answered, smiling again widely.
"Wouldn't that be horrendous conduct, now that the King is about to return? But please, try and not wed that king of yours. The two of you owe everyone a proper Rohirric wedding", Faramir said lightly, which made her slap his shoulder.
"Hmph. You'll be seeing many proper Rohirric things before all is said and done, cousin!" she snorted... but evidently for him this was an entirely happy thought.
Amrothos came then, and after they had exchanged goodbyes with the Steward, they began for the road. It would take a few days for them to get there, but what awaited on the Fields of Cormallen was more than worth the wait.
And as they made their way down towards the road east, Lothíriel felt joyous hope growing in her heart.
In the dream, the battle still went on.
There was such chaos and mayhem around Éomer, men dying in multitudes, and somehow everywhere he saw burning houses. He could see her even, hear her crying for his name... but to get to her he'd have to cut his way through half the army of Mordor.
And he knew she'd be long dead before he'd reach her.
The new King of Rohan woke up with a gas, and instinctively he reached for the knife he had kept under his pillow; ever since the threat of Wormtongue had started to grow he had not been able to sleep without a blade hidden somewhere close, from where he could quickly grab it in case an attack came in the middle of night. Now Wormtongue was gone, but the need to protect himself had stayed.
Yet there were no burning houses or battles in the quiet dim of his tent. From outside, he heard the noises of the camp slowly waking up. Almost a week had passed since the fall of Sauron, but somehow Éomer still felt like in the middle of a war. For one, restful sleep continued to escaped him.
It would take a while before he would get used to this new state of the world... but perhaps she would make it easier. And hopefully in time, he could even sleep without hiding weapons in the bed.
As it was morning already he decided to get up and leave behind yet another night of unease. He looked about in slight bemusement, as the grandeur of his environment didn't seem real. As a captain and a Marshal he was used to travelling light, and he had no qualms about camping under the stars... but now there was collapsible furniture and furs on the ground and his armour rested on a stand in the corner; the tent had nearly all the comforts one's house might offer.
Rubbing his forehead, Éomer felt his racing heart calm down at last. This all felt so absurd. What was he doing here even? I never wanted to be the king...
It was simple and beautiful and he could see it all: serving Théodred King, being Marshal like his father before him, and Lothíriel... his wife, the mother of his children.
However, if he had learned something it was that his life had a way of making itself complicated and taking twists and turns he never saw coming. And perhaps it had always been the throne he had needed to get here – to get to a place where he had a chance of marriage with his dear princess.
He sighed and decided that was enough of brooding for the morning, and he got up to find some clothes. As he dressed, he wondered if Aragorn would be up to sharing breakfast with him.
The smell of morning was fresh when he stepped out of the tent. His guards were sitting by the doorway of it, and Éothain was there too chattering away. Sometimes Éomer suspected the man didn't need sleep at all but ran completely on willpower.
"Good morning, Sire", greeted the men. There was that damned word again – would a day ever come when it wouldn't seem out of place?
"Morning, fellows. Anything new?" he asked, though he didn't really expect to hear anything too special. Aside from some marauding survivors from the Morannon, the woods were mostly quiet.
"Nothing really. The night was quiet – just couple of laddies brawling, but that's been taken care of", answered Éothain as he rose up on his feet. As they made their way forward couple of guards followed, which felt silly, even if Éomer understood it was now an inevitable circumstance of his life.
"You had another nightmare", noted the captain in a quiet voice so that only his king heard him.
"How can you tell?" Éomer asked reluctantly. He briefly entertained the idea that not only was Éothain unconcerned by basic needs like sleeping, but he also read minds. Perhaps he was an elf... no, the man was far too bearded for that.
The captain smiled good-humouredly.
"King of mine, I have known you long enough to have learned that your face is an open book", he answered.
The younger man chose but to grunt as an answer. The captain was far too observant for his own good.
"Anything you want me to do?" Éothain asked, his tone more serious now.
"I appreciate the concern, but these demons I need to battle on my own", Éomer answered evenly, not turning to look at his friend. "Maybe all they need is some peace and quiet." And Lothíriel.
"Peace and quiet for you, old warhorse?" said the older man in light tones. As the young king glanced at him he could see a jesting glint in the blue eyes of his friend. He snorted.
"Better start learning sooner than later. I'm not sure Imrahil would appreciate a half-mad husband for his daughter", he said dryly. Éothain chuckled.
"Just half-mad? I could say a thing or two about that", he snickered.
"But because you're my friend, you won't", Éomer shot back. They had arrived to Aragorn's tent, and the man himself stood outside as well, enjoying the growing light of early morning.
"Hello, friends. Care to join for some breakfast?" he asked.
"You go ahead, Sire", Éothain said with a smile, and the two kings made their way inside the tent. As they sat down, Aragorn looked at his friend quizzically, "Imrahil is going to join us in a moment. I hope you don't mind?"
"Of course not", answered the Rohir and gave his friend what he hoped was a reassuring smile.
Even if he had minded Éomer knew he wouldn't be able to afford that kind of animosity. And anyway, he did not wish to feed any ill feelings between the two of them now. Not only would it be bad concerning Lothíriel... but he had also deemed this was as good time as any to put behind all past disagreements. Not to mention they had been getting along rather well ever since the incident back in Mundburg. That Éomer had himself brought Lothíriel to the safety seemed to have much improved Imrahil's attitude towards him.
The Prince of Dol Amroth did indeed arrive then, and after greeting the two kings he sat down, and for a while they ate in silence.
"Messengers came from Minas Tirith late last night. Imrahil, your son and daughter are on their way as you requested. They'll be joining us here in a couple of days", Aragorn said after a while, and his words instantly brought a bright smile on the Prince's face. The man truly did love his children. And Éomer's heart made a strange little leap at these news, too: it had been a great relief to know Lothíriel had recovered so rapidly. Moreover, he wished to see her now that peace had been won and the world was so full of light again.
"And Éowyn? Will she come too?" asked the young king. He had invited his sister to join the company in Cormallen, as she should be now well enough to travel.
"She said she wouldn't come. I am assuming she's not feeling strong enough", answered Aragorn gently, but his words still made Éomer frown. His friend reached for his arm and gave him a gentle pat. He spoke softly, "I'm sure she's not in any danger. It could be she just needs more rest."
The Rohir nodded, though he didn't still feel quite untroubled. He knew his sister was in good hands, but the despair she had fallen in continued to worry him. Who knew what it might cause her to do?
He couldn't ponder on that longer, for Aragorn spoke again, "I also had word of a man called Lord Galdegir. He is the son to the man who attacked you on the second level, yes?"
"Aye. What of him?" Éomer asked. The mere mention of Ocharnil's son made his hands squeeze into fists.
"It looks like he's going to survive after all. He has lost his leg, but otherwise he's going to be fine", Aragorn said.
"Hmm. I can't decide if that is good or bad news", commented the King of Rohan darkly.
"I agree", Imrahil put in. "But perhaps it is for the better if at least one of them faces justice. Not to mention he might have information on his father's activities – which should help us root out the corruption in the city."
"Yes. Let us hope he'll be so co-operative as to help us out in that. Still, I intend to deal with him myself once we return to the city. Considering what he has done, and all the times he escaped justice, he does need a strong retribution", Aragorn said, stroking his chin thoughtfully. He frowned then, "I understand Lord Ocharnil was a fairly powerful man, even on the light side of the law. It is obvious his son can't succeed him now. Does the man have any other heir?"
"He has a nephew – young Lord Olthor, the son of his sister. I used to know her when we were young... a fine woman, really. I never realised what kind of a man her brother was", Imrahil answered and shook his head.
"Do you think the two knew or participated in Ocharnil's foul schemes?" Aragorn inquired. The Prince thought of the question for a while, staring off to distance. Eventually he shook his head.
"No. Not really. Lord Olthor's father was a good man – great, even. Not perhaps so powerful as some, but I would not mark him down as the kind to take part in what Ocharnil did... and I'd believe he'd have raised his son to uphold same morals as he did. Same goes for Lady Saeriel. I should say we must at least give Olthor a chance of salvaging his house", Imrahil judged.
Éomer had listened to this conversation quietly. The two men seemed to fall into this collaboration most naturally, which promised good things for times to come as far as he could see. He just hoped it would become as easy with him and Imrahil... but then, he wasn't sure which one of them should make the first move of trying to amend what had happened between them during his past visits.
Shaking away these thoughts, he put in, "Perhaps Lord Olthor could also help you to mend the damage done on the lower levels of the city. I believe I owe it to them to speak in their behalf, after the aid they gave not only to me but to Princess Lothíriel as well. If you help the small folk and see them lifted from the ruin they have fallen into... then perhaps that could also help to prevent new Ocharnils from rising."
His fellow king nodded and gave him a smile.
"That is quite correct. I would have my people lead secure and prosperous lives", he agreed. "And considering what aid they gave to you, Éomer, I too would see them rewarded."
Aragorn was silent for a while, and when he continued his voice was grave and determined, "I see there are many things for me to fix and rebuild and heal. It's not just the White City, but the soul of our people as well. This corruption needs to be wiped out... and I would see men judged by their deeds, no matter how high they are. We can't have any more Galdegirs parading around, doing what they will and getting away with it because of their status."
He gave a serious look to the two men then and went on, "In this, I will need the help of you both, for this is not something I can change over night. But if I know I have your support... then, my friends, there is nothing we can't achieve together."
"You can always count on me, Aragorn my brother. You only need to say the word, and Rohan will answer", Éomer replied.
"And Dol Amroth also stands behind you. I knew it when I first saw you, and every word you speak convinces me more. You are Gondor's new hope and future", Imrahil added solemnly. Aragorn smiled and for an instance it seemed like there was something relieved in his eyes; he might be fated for things greater than any of his forefathers since Isildur's time could have dreamt of, but that didn't make it any easier.
"I am thankful, to the both of you. I must say knowing you stand with me I feel relieved", he said softly, looking at the two men around the table. But then the look in his eyes became more stark, and he asked: "I know the two of you don't have the most pleasant history, and perhaps it is wrong of me to bring up those matters again. However, I would like to know if your disagreements are past and you can work together. For if we are to rebuild our kingdoms, then I must rest assured that no animosity remains between you."
The King of Rohan turned his eyes towards the Prince of Dol Amroth, wondering if he should speak first or give turn to Imrahil. The older man made the decision for the both of them and spoke up in careful tones.
"For my part, I can promise that past is and will remain past. I admit that I made some wrong and unjust judgements, foolishly deeming Lord Éomer a lesser man than he is in truth, and for all this I am sorry. For Rohan and her King I have now but respect and friendship, if the Lord of the Mark will accept it along with my sincere apology", said the Prince, searching the face of the young king. Éomer could not see any lingering hostility there, and what remained of his doubts disappeared.
"And I do accept it. I wish no more trouble between myself and the Prince", he said. His words brought a smile on the face of Aragorn, and he reached over the table to squeeze both their hands.
"I'm glad to hear that, my friends. With this new day old grudges should be left in the past... and together we will build a new and better world for our peoples."
The night had already fallen when at last the escort reached the camp on the Fields of Cormallen. Though it was late they had decided to ride to the end; it wouldn't have made much sense to settle down for night when the destination was so near. And anyway it was much safer in the camp of the Host of the West, considering there were reports of occasional orcish bands surviving the battle before the gates of Mordor.
"And I know at least three men there dying to see you. We shouldn't keep them waiting", Amrothos had told his sister with a grin. Lothíriel had very much agreed with her brother, and so they had went on.
The camp was already settling down for the night, though here and there men sat by fires, laughing and jesting, and a light mood reigned over them.
But Lothíriel's eyes sought only for three things: her father, Erchirion, and Éomer. She knew their tents were deeper into the camp and probably they were sitting the evening together with their friends, but still she couldn't help but reach her neck and try to see those familiar faces she had so missed.
"Calm down, sister. We're going to see them soon", Amrothos promised.
"Shut up, brother. I panic if I want to", she answered, fidgeting the reins of her steed in her hands. They had sent a rider before them, to inform their father that his children had arrived. But there was no sight of Father yet, and one frantic moment Lothíriel even wondered if something had happened to him.
But then she saw him: he was half-running towards them and Erchirion came just after, and with a delighted cry she dismounted. She flew towards their father and he grabbed her into a tight hug. Only his trembling revealed the tears he would not let fall.
"Oh, my dear daughter! How good it is to see you!" Father exclaimed. "And you, Amrothos! I hope you left the city in one piece when you left!"
"What do you think, Father? Faramir is probably still trying to put down all the fires these two have ignited in our absence", grinned Erchirion.
"You know us well, brother", Amrothos answered as he dismounted. He too was wearing a huge grin on his face.
Father grumbled but hugged his youngest son nevertheless, and there was a beaming smile on his face. He looked at his daughter again, "I'm happy to see you have recovered and are looking so well, dear child. I was very concerned about you."
"I'm sorry about everything that happened. I didn't mean to cause such grief and worry", Lothíriel said, but he just embraced her again.
"Oh, I know that. And the important thing is you have survived and the one responsible for it has been dealt with. Tell me, have you healed well? Should I ask for Aragorn to take a look at you?" Father asked, but she gave him a gentle smile.
"Stop fussing, Father. I'm completely fine", she told him firmly. She looked about, "Is everything well here? I was... is he..."
She couldn't continue that sentence, though. Knowing of the troubled feelings her father had for the man she was hoping to see Lothíriel suddenly regretted bringing him up so soon after her arrival.
However, there was not the slightest annoyance on the face of the Prince. Instead, a weak smile touched his features.
"Don't worry about him. He is hale as ever. His captain just seemed to think the man was in the need of some proper rest, and the healer fixed him something to help him sleep", Father said softly.
"What? You had him drugged?!" Lothíriel exclaimed.
"It's not like that, sister. Please, don't murder anyone – the war is over, and we don't need you starting another one", Erchirion put in.
"Oh, I will definitely start a war if he is harmed!" she snapped and glared at her father and brother.
"Calm down, dear daughter", Father said, his tone turning gentler. "He's fine – just catching some rest he hasn't been able to have since the war ended. I think he has been waiting for you."
"Hmph. He better be all right or I'm going to be very unpleasant company for a long time", she said, but still gave another hug to her brother Erchirion and then Father. Looking up at his face, she spoke more gently, "Do you think... would it be all right if I went to see him? I've missed him a lot."
Father's expression turned softer as well, and in the depths of his eyes there was something resigned. Tenderly he kissed her forehead and she knew it was fine.
"Go ahead, daughter", he said, his voice quiet and gentle.
Lothíriel gave him a brilliant smile and held him tight. She whispered, "Thank you, Father."
"You're welcome", he murmured. She gave a kiss to his cheek and saw the glistening of tears in Father's eyes, though his smile was encouraging. Then Erchirion placed a hand on his shoulder, and Lothíriel pulled back.
"We'll talk later, yes?" she asked, at which Father nodded.
"That we'll do. I'd still like to hear the full story of what happened to you in captivity. Now, go on. I know you're anxious to see your horselord", he said gently. The princess couldn't but flash a smile at her father, and then she hurried along. Now, when she was so close to seeing Éomer again, it felt like years had gone by since she had last seen him. After their reunion had been so crudely interrupted by Ocharnil, there remained quite a few things she wanted to tell Éomer.
Finding his tent wasn't too difficult. It was towards the centre of the camp and had an abundance of fair-haired Rohirrim about it. Some of their faces she recognised from the encounter in Minas Tirith, when she had found Éomer at the burned ruins of Galdegir's house.
As she approached, few of them turned to look at her quizzically. Lothíriel gave them a bright smile.
"I'm here to see the King. Will you let me through this time, or do I have to scream my head off again for him?" she asked, which brought out some chuckles from the men.
One fellow however, a bit shorter and stouter than the rest, didn't seem too impressed. He said, "Who are you, and what business do you have with the Lord of the Mark?"
But then his peer reached for the man's arm.
"It's fine, Fyren. She's his lady. The Princess Lothíriel", said the Rider. Instantly more eyes turned towards her, and she could very well see curiosity grow in those gazes. Some mutterings in Rohirric rose, and she couldn't but wonder the meaning behind those looks and the words she didn't understand. These were Éomer's own men, but she could only wonder how far and widely Rohirrim already knew about their new king's liaisons.
"Go ahead, Lady", said the guard who had spoken up for her and she smiled at him. Lothíriel decided it was for the better not to mull too much over what these men were thinking, and so she stepped in.
The tent was illuminated by the soft, gentle light of some candles, and she walked through towards the back, where the sleeping area was divided from the rest of the tent by a curtain hanging from the ceiling structure. And there, behind it, she found him again.
He was fast asleep on the bed, so deep in dreams that he never even moved when Lothíriel approached him. Remembering how tired he had seemed back in Minas Tirith she thought if it would be better to let him to have this rest... even if she ached to wake him up and hear his voice.
Quietly, she sat down beside him on the bed. It felt slightly odd, to sit there like Éomer must have sat beside her when she had been injured. But perhaps he too needed healing, the kind was that which only sleep could bring... and relaxed in dreams, he seemed unburdened in a way she had never seen him.
"Oh, my dear horselord..." she said softly as she gently ran her fingers over his cheek. Then tears came to her eyes, for now she realised it the way she had not before: It is over.
The war was finished, and Éomer had made it through, and Father... he'd have to reconsider. There was now such hope for them, the way she had not dared to imagine during past few years of struggle. And they, she and this golden-haired man, could have all that they had dreamt of in the dimness of the stables of the Citadel.
Perhaps... perhaps the next time she'd send him on his way would be with more than just uncertainty and a vague wish that he might one day return.
The next time, it would be with a promise.
His sleep was blissfully dreamless that night, and when the new day dawned Éomer felt rested and also somehow more peaceful. His mood had remained troubled during the past few days, even if there were no real reason to be troubled now that war was ended. But perhaps in the end it was just all the exhaustion and weariness at last unravelling.
Upon drifting towards awakeness he came aware of soft voices in the other part of the tent. One of those voices he recognised as Éothain's, but what drew his attention was the female one... and he knew only of two women who had any business being in his tent.
"... I'll just check on him. Maybe he'll wake up soon?" said that dear, sweet voice, and then as he shot up from the bed she was there at the curtain serving as a door. For a second, he was certain he was still asleep or his groggy eyes were making him see things. She had come.
Seeing him awake and on his feet, Lothíriel let out a delighted squeal, and then she jumped on him – which deed quickly reassured him she really was there. And he caught her and was distantly aware of tears on his cheeks: Lothíriel was here, she was all right, and the way she was kissing his face seemed to imply it had been years since their last meeting. Now his victory was complete, his war finally over.
His legs gave in under him and he fell on the edge of bed, but she didn't stop with the kisses. Somewhere at the background Éothain was chuckling: "I take it he's awake. Let us give them a moment."
But Éomer was thinking of needing more than just a moment – no amount of time would ever be enough – and it demanded a some serious effort of willpower to not just ravish her senseless right there.
"You're all right? Tell me you're all right", he rasped.
"I am. I'm fine", she reassured him, breathing heavily. Her eyes looked feverish and very bright, and that was exactly how he felt too. Holding on tight to her, he groaned. Who had known the relief he had felt before Galdegir's ruined house could still wash as waves over him?
"You gave me quite a scare. Don't you ever do anything like that again", he uttered. I thought I'd lost you.
"I've got you now, don't I?" Lothíriel murmured.
"Aye", he agreed and kissed her. A long moment went by like that and almost turned into something more, but eventually he was able to remind himself of reality. For one, he didn't even want to think of what Prince Imrahil might have done and said had the man walked in on them right now.
So he pulled back and looked at her: flushed and her lips swollen, and her hair and gown a mess from the treatment of his hands... but she was there, and she was alive.
"I love you", he whispered. His voice almost broke down and she let out a noise like a sob.
"I love you too", she answered. For a moment, they remained like that, each catching their breath and trying to get their emotions under control again.
Eventually a slightly hysterical grin came to Lothíriel's face as she pulled back a bit. She said, "You know, I did stab him like I promised to you."
Éomer could but let out a laugh that mixed with a snort.
"You are completely nonsensical, woman", he informed her.
"And that's why you love me, isn't it?" she asked as a calmer expression settled on her face.
"It is one of the reasons, aye", he agreed and gave her one more little kiss. Then he forced away thoughts that included her and the bed and tried to grasp on some steadiness of mind. "We should probably get out of here – I'd like to talk to your father. Or I'm not going to be responsible for what happens."
"Oh, yes", Lothíriel said. But then, as she tried to rise up from his lap, she found herself still imprisoned there. With a faint smile, she asked: "Mind letting go of me?"
"I do mind, but as I'd rather not be flogged by your father, I will do that", he said. She chortled and got up at last.
It took a while for them to get themselves presentable again, though Lothíriel looked a bit like she might burst into giggles any moment. And there wasn't really much to be done about that reddish kind of rash about her mouth, caused by his beard. Well, if her father had allowed her here, then perhaps he'd be also willing to look past the signs of an enthusiastic reunion.
But before they exited the tent, Éomer stopped her and gave her a solemn look.
"I'd still like to hear of what happened to you when you were captured. Mistress Ant told us what you had explained to her, but I wish to hear your own version", he said, resting a hand on her shoulder. A sudden, wild fear came to him and he wondered if she had only given Ant a clean version... if there were some horrible things he'd yet to hear about.
However, Lothíriel's gentle smile consoled him a little bit.
"Of course I'll tell you everything. Don't look so grim, dear one... I'm fine. They didn't really have time to do anything too awful to me", she reassured him.
"Still. I regret not making that accursed man suffer more. He'd have deserved a fate far worse than death for laying a hand on you", he grumbled, but Lothíriel interrupted his dark thoughts with a kiss.
"He is past. And he's not worth our while. I made it through it... the important thing is that we're here now", she said gently and he had to agree.
"I still wonder that you did. It was a trial that could have claimed your life", he said. Unpleasant shiver ran through him, but her touch chased it away.
"Well, I promised to you that I would endure", Lothíriel simply said.
"And I'm glad that you did", Éomer murmured softly and placed a kiss on her forehead. He should have known to trust her... she was so much stronger than one might have thought.
Offering her his hand, he smiled, "Ready to face your father?"
"Yes, dear one", she said and answered his smile brightly. "Don't worry. I'll protect you from him."
"You'd better", he told her, and they ventured out.
After a short rest in her father's tent Lothíriel had gone again to see her dear King around sunrise. With Éothain and Amrothos they had awaited for Éomer to wake up: the Captain had insisted they let him sleep as long as he liked. It was quite obvious Éothain had great affection and concern for his king, which she could very much appreciate.
But at last her beloved had come around and the reunion had been just as blissful as she had expected. While it lasted, the day had grown into a full morning.
Outside the camp had already awakened and sun had risen. Morning's light painted the Field of Cormallen in gold, and the glory of spring was about them. Somehow only now did she take note of beauty around her... all was light and her heart was hopeful. It was a strange sensation after these years of uncertainty and doubt. She turned to look at the man by her side, and he smiled at her; she could see similar thoughts moved in his mind.
They never made it as far as her father's tent. He was outside, talking with her brothers... and the sight of the King of Rohan approaching with Lothíriel by his side instantly distracted him from the conversation. When Father looked at the pair of them his expression became sober, and for a while he stood there with Erchirion and Amrothos, both of whom had fallen silent too.
A quick look about confirmed that they were not the only witnesses to this scene. Those up and about had stopped their chores as well, to observe what was about to take place here. Suddenly, Lothíriel felt fear clutching at her heart. What if Father would say no? Surely he wouldn't do that after all this time?
But then the hand holding her own gave her a gentle squeeze, and she looked up to see a reassuring smile on the face of her dear horselord. It encouraged her and she was able to answer him with a smile as well. They had not made it here to face another rejection.
And Father came quietly, his eyes betraying how difficult this was for him. Yet in his movements there was no sign of hesitation.
He stopped before the two of them at last but said nothing at first; instead, he searched the eyes of his daughter like he was looking for some answer in there. He gave a glance to the King of Rohan as well, and the two lovers stood silent waiting for him to speak. Imrahil turned again towards his daughter and let out a soft sight.
"Daughter", he said at last, picking up her hands in his. He considered them momentarily before continuing, "These past few years, I've watched you keep up an odd battle: I've seen you wasting away, yet you have refused to give up your fight, and... it is time for me to acknowledge that no one does so unless a great love drives them. I admit that I have judged you wrongly – both of you."
The Prince then turned his eyes towards the young king.
"Words can't really hold my embarrassment and disappointment in myself, my lord. Usually I take myself for a man of clear sight, but I suppose Lothíriel has always been my blind spot... I did not give you all the courtesy and respect you deserved not only as a comrade in arms but also a kinsman of the late King Théoden and a lord in your own right. I fully acknowledge my discourteous words sprung from fear and prejudice, for which I am repenting and will do so as long as I live. For the offences and humiliation I have given you, I am truly sorry. I hope you may one day forgive me", he spoke softly, his voice resonating with regret. Quickly, Lothíriel glanced at the tall Rohir beside herself, and she saw a friendly look on his features.
"It is forgotten, Prince Imrahil", he simply spoke, and his words brought relief to the face of her father.
"Thank you. It is good to hear that you bear no ill will, even if you would be entitled to it, my lord..." said Father. He sighed and shook his head, and for an instance he looked down.
But then he looked up again and fixed his eyes on Lothíriel's face.
"This truly is what you want, daughter?" he asked in a quiet voice. She met his gaze steadily.
"With all my heart, Father", she answered, her voice gentle but firm.
Father let out a breath that could not quite hide its heaviness. He turned his eyes towards the King of Rohan. A moment of silence passed between them, and to Lothíriel it seemed like more took place there than she could understand. Eventually, Father spoke again.
"I expect you to take good care of my daughter, and love her like the treasure that she is", he said, breaking the silence.
"Prince Imrahil, you can trust that I will cherish Lothíriel for all the days of our life", Éomer answered solemnly. Blinking tears from his eyes, Father smiled.
So he held her hand for one instance more, and then placed it in Éomer's, at last giving his blessing. And she looked at the man beside her and saw her bliss mirrored on his face, saw the tears of happiness glistening in his eyes... and at last she threw herself in his arms and he received her like a man who has awaited to hold his beloved for a hundred years.
Then she couldn't hold herself back anymore, and though they were under the eyes of all these men great and mighty, Lothíriel did not hesitate when she kissed her dear king. There was a kind of exhilaration to this show of love between the two of them, for she remembered the time this was but a secret in their hearts, and then a forbidden passion that would have earned them the fury of their families... but they had endured, they had faced the pain of unwilling partings and the distance between them and the opposition of others, and now that endurance was at last rewarded.
That night there was a great celebration in the Fields of Cormallen. In many ways these lands had been hallowed, and much laughter had been heard here... but now at last another kind of blessing was laid there, and that was the happiness of lovers united. Music was in the air, as was the fragrance of spring and new life, and the faces held abandon and joy that had been gone for what seemed like an Age.
And Lothíriel, daughter of Imrahil, sat beside King Éomer of Rohan, and in her hair she had flowers. It was agreed nothing held such radiance as her that night, and the man beside her was one that bore happiness on his brow; and those who remembered him from earlier years wondered, for Éomund's son was not known as someone whose eyes held much light.
As he sat there beside her and looked at her, he felt he could do anything. All the world seemed full of promise now and nothing scared Éomer: he'd figure out how to be a good king, he'd rebuild his realm... he'd see Éowyn smile again, and he'd witness a new day dawn in this world.
Most importantly, he'd have the woman he had called Nightingale by his side... his queen.
This knowledge, so sweet and unbelievable, had him then falling silent and just looking at her. She was laughing at something her brother Amrothos had said, and she was... she was so beautiful. There was no other word for it. He remembered the sadness of her eyes he had seen when he had first visited Mundburg - now it had been replaced, and instead her eyes glimmered with joy and life.
Then he felt a gaze on himself and looked about, and saw Imrahil watching them. The Prince sat some seats away and regarded the two in silence. The look on his face was thoughtful and bittersweet; Éomer understood what it meant. Imrahil was letting go.
He gave a smile then to the young king and lifted his cup of wine. Éomer answered the gesture and let out a small breath he hadn't noticed he was holding. Having Imrahil's consent was probably something that would take a while to truly sink in.
Then Lothíriel turned towards him and all other thoughts left his mind. So he picked up her hand and gave a kiss to the back of it, and she smiled. It was good to see her so happy.
"Would you like to sneak out for a bit?" she asked quietly, and her words instantly brought a grin on his face.
"That would be a pleasure, dear one", he told her. She answered his grin and looked much like she'd like to kiss him – perhaps that was just what she intended once they were alone.
"See you out in a moment?" she asked, at which he could but nod. Lothíriel grinned at him, kissed his temple, and then fluttered away like a slightly insane butterfly. He stared after her in a manner not any more clear-headed, until the sniggering of Éothain and Amrothos distracted him. He passed their amusement with a snort and a roll of his eyes. Then he too made way towards the doorway.
He found Lothíriel outside the pavilion, and smiling she took his hand in her own. There was great laughter and merriment in the camp, and all were occupied in the celebration... so, sneaking away wasn't too difficult for them.
Just outside the camp it was quiet and calm, though the noises and the light carried even here; they did not venture far, because even after the war the security of these woods was not yet a matter of fact. Even then, it was pleasant, and they slowly walked hand in hand.
"Do you think we can marry soon?" she asked softly when they were at last in their own peace and privacy. This they had been waiting for a while now... it was overwhelming to realise they now had an entire life ahead of them.
"It may take a while", he said after considering her question silently. "I still have to negotiate the details with your father, and I'd have the rebuilding of Rohan started before our wedding. When you come to the Mark to be my queen, I'd rather give you more than just a war-ravaged land."
"You know it never was for me about what you can give", she told him firmly. "Throne or no throne, I want you. And I'd be of more help if I were there with you. It's not going to be easy, mending all the wounds this war has left... I should be there to support you."
The thought was attractive one, he had to agree to that. But Éomer had a feeling Imrahil would probably be of like mind with him, and he had no wish at all to put off the man now that he had finally given his consent.
"I always wish for your presence, but... Lothíriel, I will have to be a king for a while. Get everything on the mend, and accustom my people to the idea of you as their Queen. They're probably hoping I'd choose my bride from among the Rohirrim, and it is possible that this engagement doesn't come as such a pleasant surprise – even if it means that there will be an heir in the kingdom some time soon", he spoke slowly, watching her face closely. A frown came to her face and she looked more troubled than he'd have expected. Éomer's brow furrowed too, "Is something wrong?"
"It's just... when I was still in the Houses of Healing, I met your sister. She didn't seem to like me too much. She was very protective of you. And she also said that she'd rather see you picking your wife from among their own", Lothíriel mumbled awkwardly. This seemed to cause her genuine distress. Quietly she continued, "She said I'd made you miserable."
That brought him a sting of annoyance, and had Éowyn been here now he might have expressed his opinion very sharply. But then he reminded himself of what his sister had gone through... and thinking of it, he knew she'd not do such a thing without a good reason.
Then he understood. Just as Imrahil and Denethor had been measuring him, so had Éowyn measured Lothíriel. She had simply been testing the character of the one he meant to make his wife, and something told him Éowyn had found her worthy.
"You shouldn't let her words get to you, dear one", he said gently and stopped to look at his princess. She seemed still uncertain and he leant down to give her a calming kiss. "Lothíriel, she was probably just trying to see what kind of a woman is going to be the Queen of Rohan. If I should guess, she wanted to see if you could handle a bit of heat."
He gave her another kiss and rested his hands on her neck, "Don't worry about what my people will think of you. Perhaps they will be bewildered at first, but when they see how very dear you are to me... they will love you, Lothíriel. I promise."
Then he pulled her close and breathed in the scent of her hair, loving the way she melted against him. Softly, he went on, "And don't you ever blame yourself for whatever misery there has been. For the love of you I'd endure anything. What has happened is past and now we have a future."
Pulling back so that he could see her face, he saw the softening in her eyes and what doubt and troubled feelings she had seemed to disappear.
"It is strange, isn't it?" she asked in quiet voice. She reached up and brushed a lock of hair from his face, and her fingertips caressed his cheek. "We are going to be together. I can hardly believe it. After all the times we have had to say goodbye without knowing if there is a reunion waiting for us..."
"Aye", he agreed. He kissed her gently, slowly, and then spoke: "And when I first lay eyes on you in the stables I dared not believe your father would one day place your hand in mine."
She wound her arms about his waist, holding on tight to him. In her eyes, there was great light. How happy she looked, and free and unburdened... had he ever seen her that way before? This was how she ought to be. And he'd do everything in his power to see her so every day for the rest of their lives.
"And now I will hold on forever", she told him softly.
"Forever is a long time", Éomer said, resting his forehead against hers.
"But perhaps not long enough", she murmured, and then kissed her beloved King.
Perhaps not... but for now, it would do.
So fell night in the Field of Cormallen, and the Moon's silver light blessed the union of the Horselord and his Nightingale. Soon would come a day of return to the White City, and from there matters would proceed in their own weight. Future would come, and many things with it: rebuilding, mending wounds in the land and the people, new wars.
But for this night the King of Rohan and the Princess of Dol Amroth wandered in the forest sorrowless... and there, in the love of each other, their wild hearts knew at last peace.
A/N: And so comes to an end this story. I did consider writing at least two chapters more, but eventually I decided against it. For one, I want this piece wrapped up so that I can concentrate on A Light that Endures... though if I know myself at all, something will soon be distracting me again.
Here I hopefully tied up what threads there remained. If all was not answered then please inform me: sometimes I get blind to my text so I might not remember explain everything adequately.
Anyway, I wanted to see the hostilities between Éomer and Imrahil buried for good. Both of them know it would only cause bad things, and with the war ended this is a chance as good as any to just start over and forget the past differeces. Also I hope the scene between them and Aragorn satisfies your curiosity as far as Galdegir goes. I decided to spare him, but only so that he could face the justice he deserves. I can tell you that Imrahil will make very sure Galdegir willnever again be able to exercise such unlawfulness, though sometimes he probably regrets not getting to handle the villain himself.
As for Éowyn, she was indeed slightly hostile towards Lothíriel in the last chapter, but most of it stemmed - like Éomer believes - from wanting to test the character of one woman who is going to be the Queen of Rohan. Lothíriel understands this too, and I believe their next meeting is more friendly. Well, they have to get along, considering they're going to be sisters-in-law. And ultimately, I don't think either of them could hate anyone who loves Éomer like they do.
Also Aragorn will indeed get to the business of restoring Minas Tirith, which means better livelihood and prospects for Ant and her folk. The life on the streets has forged bonds between them that last even over the more peaceful years, and Lothíriel probably remains friends with Ant for the rest of their lives. I have a feeling every time she visits Minas Tirith she always makes time for seeing Ant... and Éomer too would begin to consider her a friend. I even have this image in my head that he has somehow upset Lothíriel, and so goes to Ant for advice as to how to appease to his wife. That could make for a hilarious oneshot!
I hope you, my dear readers, have enjoyed this piece. I thank you all for reading and reviewing, and see you in the next chapter of A Light that Endures!
Borys68 - Oh, I didn't think it was stupid! It's completely okay to speculate and have different ideas than myself. :)
Mellon - Hopefully this chapter clears out her attitude at least.
Talia119 - Sadly, no such thing here. And anyway, Éowyn had her own reason to say those things. She was just looking out for her brother.
Sandy-wmd - Yes, for her it never was a problem if he was a king or a rider.
Kiiimberly - Indeed, she does have a point for why she speaks so - it's not just her being nasty for the sake of it.
Wondereye - Éothain, I think, just wants what's best for Éomer. And I think he rather likes Lothíriel.
annafan - He has to, sooner or later. And it's not like he can really ignore Éomer's proposal now that the man is king.
La Pleiade - Hopefully the conversation between Imrahil, Aragorn and Éomer answers to that question! He's going to be face the justice properly, and I wouldn't say that promises anything good for him. And yes, the improvement of the city is close not only to Lothíriel's heart, but Aragorn and Faramir are invested in it too. Plus the matter has Éomer's full support as well - he's probably going to find out if there's anything similar going on in Rohan once he gets home. Altogether things are on the mend!