Just after sunrise Lothíriel bid farewell to her husband. A word had come from Prince Théodred, asking for Lord Éomer's aid with some Dunlendings that had been causing trouble in the western lands. She could tell Éomer wasn't too happy to leave now, what with her family visiting at the moment, but she had told him he had to go.
"We'll be fine. And it's not like they're going to just leave on the morrow", she had said, and he had kissed her for a long time.
"I'll leave you with half an éored. Captain Éothain will take care of everything while I'm gone. Try and not exhaust yourself, wife. Remember to eat and rest properly", said her husband gently; with Scýne's childbirth so close, he couldn't possibly ask for his trusted friend to come along.
"Just stay safe", she told him, which made him smile. He kissed her again and briefly rested a hand on her belly.
"I have every intention, déor min. And every motivation", he said, embraced her for one last time, and then he was gone.
It took a moment for her to compose herself, but eventually she felt calm again. Éomer could handle himself in a battle, and anyway it wasn't like he was riding to meet all the armies of the enemy. Few Dunlendings could be easily taken care of.
When she turned, her eyes fell on Dreda, who had been watching the men leave as well. The fair-haired woman stared back, her eyes cold and hostile. Lothíriel lifted her chin and met the gaze confidently. You don't intimidate me.
But then Erchirion came from inside, scratching at the back of his head and yawning profusely.
"Morning, sister. Never knew you to be one to get up so early", he commented.
"Prince Théodred called my husband for help, so I got up to send him on his way", Lothíriel answered, wrapping her shawl tighter about her shoulders. She knew she ought not to think of Éomer and the dangers he'd face too much at the moment. Too much worrying would not be good for the baby either.
"Goodness me. I didn't expect that", said her brother with lifted eyebrows.
"You didn't expect what?" she asked.
"That you'd get along with him so well", Erchirion said.
"Well, I do. Is there something wrong with that?" Lothíriel asked, her voice turning defensive now.
"Of course not. I'm happy that you're doing so fine", he answered soothingly. "Let's get inside. I'd love to have some breakfast, and we still haven't had a proper talk between the two of us."
That made her shiver just slightly.
"To be honest, I'd rather have only one proper talk a day", said the princess. Her brother frowned.
"Is something wrong, sister?" he asked.
"Of course not. I'll tell everything once we've eaten... and Fainien and Amrothos have joined us. It's something all of you ought to know", Lothíriel said carefully. Erchirion snorted.
"That might take a while, then. Our brother enjoyed a bit too much of that Rohirric ale last night. I don't think he has the stomach for it, the poor bugger", he commented. She harrumphed.
"I should have known", she grumbled, half to herself. The princess looked at her brother, "Come along, Erchirion. Let us go and see if we can rouse him from his drunken slumber."
"Gladly, sister", he said with a grin. Linking their arms, the two made their way back inside.
After breakfast and persuading Amrothos to leave his bed, the four Amrothians gathered in a cosy sitting room that was a part of the Marshal's chambers. As he was something of an outdoor person Éomer himself spent very little time there, so it was more or less Lothíriel's kingdom. When she had first come to Aldburg, the bare room had been easily recognisable as a room belonging to a bachelor, but ever since Lothíriel had brought there hangings and other such things to make it more homely.
One day she had been in the middle of a redecorative fit with Scýne and Bierwén and her husband had wandered in: as soon as he had entered, this look had come to his face like he thought he had accidentally come to someone else's room. Eventually after gazing about for a while he had told her he liked it.
"It reminds me of how it was when my parents still lived. Well, not in the looks. But the way it feels like home", he had said quietly. That had made her kiss him in a way that soon had Scýne coughing and Bierwén grinning madly.
Now, however, she was sitting with her brothers and sister-in-law, and she was about to tell them of Elric.
"Please, tell us what is bothering you. I thought everything here was all right?" Fainien said at last when they were comfortably seated.
"Nothing is wrong, Fainien. You needn't worry. I suppose it's not even that serious, not in the Rohirric standards anyway, but you should hear this from myself", Lothíriel started, but then fell silent and hesitated.
"Hear what?" asked Erchirion.
"That this little one", said the princess and rested a hand on her stomach, "is not my husband's first child."
All three of her guests looked at her with surprise. They remained silent for moment, until Amrothos frowned and spoke: "What an insult! No one ever said anything about him already having children running about in Rohan!"
"It's not like that!" Lothíriel said quickly before Erchirion and Fainien could join the fit. "There's only one – his name is Elric. He was born ten years ago, when my lord husband was barely a man himself. The boy is... his mother and the Marshal were never married."
Her brothers and sister-in-law exchanged some very doubtful looks. Suddenly, the absurdity of the situation dawned to the princess: her, defending the very child she herself had wanted gone!
"That is still quite a lot to keep from the other party when a marriage is planned!" Erchirion said. His face had turned into a frown too.
"It's different here in Rohan. They don't see it the way we do. From what I gather, it probably didn't even occur to anyone that it could be a problem", Lothíriel pointed out.
"How do you feel about it?" asked Fainien. Her expression was softer than that of her brothers, but the look in her eyes was just as keen.
"It would be a lie to say I was fine with it when I first heard", Lothíriel allowed at length. "But there is nothing to be done about it, and... Elric is just a boy. He has little other family besides his father and grandmother, who live here in Aldburg. And being a child born out of wedlock, it's not like he shares the status of what children I may bear to my lord husband."
"I don't think you should be fine with it", said Amrothos hotly. "You know what Father will say once he hears. And in Gondor, people won't be so understanding if they hear of this boy."
"Oh, I know what Father will say", Lothíriel answered, grimacing as she spoke. "But what can he do about it now? The marriage contracts were signed and I wedded Lord Éomer. Now I bear his child. As for the society in Gondor... well, maybe I will never visit there again."
"Don't be silly. That's not an option and we both know it", said Erchirion. The princess gave him a weak smile, and she shrugged.
"Then I'll just set my husband loose on anyone who tries to share their opinions about Elric", she said, trying for a light tone. "You have no idea how intimidating he can be when he wants."
"You know how the Gondorian society works, sister. It's not to your face that they'll comment on it, but they'll still make their opinion known", Fainien said gently.
"Don't I know that", Lothíriel said. She shrugged and continued, "They'll comment about something anyway. If not about Elric, then just act all horrified that a well-bred little princess like me would go and marry a horselord, and sweet Elbereth, what horrors must he put me through? To be completely honest, I don't care. And it's not likely that I'll be spending much time in Gondor now, so it doesn't even matter. My life is here now and if you asked any man or woman of Rohan about it, I doubt they would even think of it twice."
"You never change, do you?" Erchirion asked warmly, smiling at his little sister. But then his face became serious once more. "Nonetheless, Father is not going to be happy about this when I tell him. And whenever he sees your lord husband again... well, I don't think it will be too pleasant a meeting."
"He might even say that he was tricked", Fainien put in.
"Which is why I ask you to explain the situation to him. Especially that part about tricking him. Claiming something like that only shows that one doesn't know Rohirrim at all – they're an honest people, and I don't really think they'd take it well if a man like my husband was accused of cheating our father", Lothíriel said, looking at her brothers and sister-in-law gravely. "What is done is done, and I don't think it's such a good idea to start making noise and quarrel about it just because my husband happened to conceive a child ten years ago. Not to mention it would only cause harm to the one I'm carrying now."
"That is true", agreed her sister-in-law. She leaned forward and took Lothíriel's hand in her own. "And the most important thing is that you're fine with things as they are. Your father will understand that."
"I hope he does", said the princess softly.
Dreda had wished she wouldn't have to see this place again but here she was once more, on the doorstep of Hrodgar, and she was feeling just as desperate as before.
The night had already fallen, just like the last time, and the soothsayer's hut was as dark as she remembered. Hrodgar was sat by a fireplace and smoking a pipe as he stared into dying flames. When she entered, he lifted his face and looked at her from under his bushy eyebrows.
"You again", he remarked, tapping his lower lip with the mouthpiece of his pipe. "What do you want this time?"
"The same as before. That potion you gave me last time – I need more of it", she said, already digging through her purse for silver. Oh, this was costly.
However, Hrodgar scoffed.
"More? The contents of that vial should not have run short so soon. Why would you need more?" he asked, staring at her sharply.
"I... I lost it", Dreda muttered. Truthfully, she had no idea of what had come out of the vial she had given to Elric, but one thing she did know: if the boy had figured out it was something bad, he'd have destroyed it. And even if he hadn't, she couldn't risk asking it back. Should she go and ask for it Elric's doubts would rise and he'd go running to his father.
"How careless. I suppose you didn't need it that desperately, then", said Hrodgar nonchalantly and turned to look at the embers again.
"Well, now I need more of it", she said briskly, which had the soothsayer scoffing again.
"Come again next year", he told her. "I gave you the last of that batch."
"Then make more!" she demanded.
"I can't. This summer has been so hot and dry that I haven't been able to find some of the essential ingredients. You'll have to wait until next year... and hope for more favourable weathers", Hrodgar answered coolly. Dreda bit her lip and tried to think of something quickly, all the while damning herself for ever trusting Elric with it. She had hoped to bind him to herself, and believed the boy would think nothing of it. But of course this was something she'd have to deal with by herself.
"You have to give me something else in that case", she eventually said, which had him turning his sharp gaze at her again.
"Something else for what?" he inquired, which stunned her.
"I... I don't-" Dreda stammered. Hrodgar harrumphed and put down his pipe.
"Something for killing the Marshal's wife, correct?" he said coldly. She gasped and her blood turned into ice. He knew! What if he'd go and tell Éomer?
"How did you..." she asked, her voice barely audible.
"I know. That is my job, Dreda. Do you think I'd ever do business if I didn't know what my customers wanted?" asked the soothsayer.
"I beg of you, don't tell him – I'll do anything!" she pleaded. Elric had been right: Éomer would be furious if he knew. Not only was he a man of honour but also fiercely protective of those he considered his own.
"Calm down, girl. The Marshal won't hear anything from me", Hrodgar answered. He started to fill his pipe again, and he continued, "That is not my way. I keep the secrets."
"Please. You're the only one who can help me", Dreda tried one last time. "You helped me once, even if you knew what I meant to do."
"That was when I thought you could handle yourself and your little scheme. But if this is how you deal with things, losing precious potions like that, then I wish no part in it. I'm not going to get myself driven out of this town with torches and pitchforks just because of you. If you wish to kill the princess, then that is your business. I will not bear the blame for the murder of the Marshal's wife", said the soothsayer mercilessly. He cast another sharp look at her, and muttered, "His stars are powerful. Maybe they even shine for her too. I won't go against them, not for you."
"Then what am I supposed to do?" she asked in resignation.
"I don't know. If help is what you need, this is where you are not going to find it", Hrodgar said with a sense of finality. "Now go away. I have work to do."
Fighting back her tears, Dreda left Hrodgar's hut.
Like always, it was amusing to watch Lothíriel and Amrothos together. As there were not many years between them they had always been close to each other... and when they had been children, they had often got themselves into all kinds of trouble.
At the moment, two of them were sat on the bench beside the doors leading into the Hall. They were deep in an animated conversation, which often had them grinning and laughing. It was a good thing to see them both in such high spirits, as Erchirion could tell she had missed Amrothos just as much as he had missed Lothíriel.
Fainien came to his side then, and quietly the two of them watched the two siblings before she spoke: "I think she'll be all right."
"Yes. She does seem to be faring far better than before. I didn't think she could get so comfortable with living in this place... but maybe it will turn out everything that was hoped, and more", he commented.
"I was worried for how we'd find her here... but I suppose we can leave with a light heart now", said Fainien quietly. She glanced at her husband, "What do you think your father will say of the news?"
"To speak truthfully, I'm not so sure. On one hand, I'd think he'll be angry. But on the other hand perhaps he'll try and understand it? It's not like this can be changed now. I don't think Uncle Denethor would allow it either even if there was some way. And the baby..." Erchirion said at length, "A baby does complicate things."
"It makes the Marshal one of us, more than any ceremony", Fainien mused.
"Indeed. And the thing is... I believe our Lothíriel might be falling in love with a horselord", Erchirion said.
"You think so?" asked his wife, lifting her eyebrows.
"There has not been a chance to watch them together properly, but it was very convincing on the day we arrived. I believe he likes her as well", he answered.
"Who would have thought? Perhaps this thing is not so bad after all", she mused. "I just hope it can last."
"I suppose that is a reasonable concern, seeing what kind of times we are now living... then again, perhaps strife can bind people to each other in a way times of peace don't", Erchirion said. They continued their stroll, silent for a while. Then he took note of the expression on his wife's face, and he followed her eyes. Fainien was looking at the young golden-haired boy who was in the middle of helping a blacksmith to shoe a horse.
The Marshal's son had returned to Aldburg yesterday, and the Amrothians had happened to be outside when the boy had arrived along with other young riders in training. The moment he had seen the boy Erchirion had known he was the child Lothíriel had spoken of. The resemblance between this Elric and the Marshal was indeed striking. He wondered how his sister handled it, for he was not completely convinced she was quite so fine with the existence of this boy as she had said.
At the sight of him he and Amrothos had instantly shared a doubtful glance as if hoping that the other would know how to react, and Fainien had seemed similarly unsure. Lothíriel herself had been glancing from her brothers to Fainien; she had not been able to hide her worry. The boy had noticed them as well and Erchirion had seen the curiosity on his forthcoming face. But he had not dared to approach them – he had just watched from afar.
But it was as Lothíriel had said: the Rohirrim did not seem to pay much attention to the conditions if this boy's origins. He participated the daily comings and goings of Aldburg just like anyone else, and it even seemed he was moderately well-liked by others. Erchirion couldn't really see something like that happening in Gondor... but perhaps it was wrong to try and think of this the Gondorian way.
His thoughts were disrupted then as Amrothos and Lothíriel approached him and Fainien.
"We were thinking that maybe we could go and take a look at the markets. Would you like to come along?" asked the princess, smiling at her brother and sister-in-law.
"That sounds good. Of course we'd like to come with you", said Fainien. Indeed, it sounded like a good idea, to go and see a bit of the ordinary Rohirric life. To himself, Erchirion thought perhaps they could find some gifts for the family members who remained in Dol Amroth. Elphir and Father at least might appreciate being provided with Rohirric saddles and reins, as those were said to be the best ones you could find in the kingdoms of Men.
It was quite lively at the markets. The atmosphere wasn't too different from the Gondorian sort, and really if you've seen one market, you've more or less seen them all. It was entertaining enough, however. Observing people as they went about their business, argued and bargained and bought goods, was something he enjoyed anyway. Especially fun was watching his siblings and his wife as they explored the stands and chatted with each other. When they were together like that, it made Erchirion almost feel like they were still the carefree children back in the city of Dol Amroth.
Lothíriel bought some sweet berry cakes for them, and they were in the middle of eating those when the man suddenly appeared as if he were a silent ghost. Given his appearance it was startling that Erchirion never saw him coming. Dressed all in furs he did stand out, and his sharp features had this specific look that one did not easily forget.
Before her brothers could react the strange man had already stopped on the front of Lothíriel. Erchirion could see her eyes widening with surprise and uncertainty, and hear her gasp when the stranger touched her belly.
He said only one word: "Beware."
Apparently the princess or her brothers were not the only ones who were stunned by this sudden approach, but then the two Rohirric guards who had come along as escorts to the wife of the Marshal pushed forward. One of them pulled Lothíriel from the strange man while the other stepped in between and grasped his sword. He spoke in quick, sharp Rohirric and the fur-clad man took a step back. He raised his hands to console the guards. It looked a bit like there was a smile on his face, and then he turned around and ventured back into the crowd from where he had come.
"What was that? Who was that man?" Amrothos asked, staring after the stranger. His brow was knitted and Erchirion noticed that he too was grasping the hilt of his own sword. Lothíriel looked quizzically at one of her guards.
"That was just Hrodgar, my lords. He was warning the Lady", said the taller of the two, the one who had threatened the man.
"Warning her about what?" Fainien asked.
"I don't know. He is a strange man, but essentially harmless", answered the guard.
"It was probably nothing. Maybe he has been too deep into his cups", Lothíriel said, casting a look at her brothers and sister-in-law. "I suggest we get back to the Hall. I promised to sit with Lady Eadmod this afternoon. And perhaps Captain Éothain would now have some time for that sparring session you were hoping for, Amrothos."
The other three agreed to get back to the Hall, and though she was trying to keep up a brave face, Erchirion did see the way his sister frowned and rested a hand on the bump of her belly.
After four days of riding back and forth in the western lands, the riders of Prince Théodred and Marshal Éomer finally found the Dunlendings who had been raiding the farms. As it was time of harvest and the autumn was coming, it was crucial to take down the raiders before they could cause more havoc than they already had.
Théodred and Éomer had ridden together in many battles, and their alliance had always proved to be a fruitful one. It was like this time too. The band of Dunlendings was killed and many of them were captured, and their leader brought to be questioned by the Marshal.
The sight Éomer observed from his seat on a rock was something to disconcert tender hearts, but was all too familiar to him: corpses of fallen riders and Dunlendings scattered on the hillside where the battle had taken place, and his men in the middle of trying to find survivors or overseeing the task of disarming the Dunlending warriors. Théodred and his men were chasing the scattered remnants of the band, but Éomer expected that would not take his cousin too long. He had yet to meet the man who could outrun a Rohirric horse.
The Dunlending warrior they brought to the front of him could not be too much older than the Marshal himself. He probably had some Rohirric blood, given his height, but he had the dark looks of his people. His expression was cold, even hateful. But Éomer could also see this was a proud man... and probably well-respected among his folk, if anything could be judged by the way he had lead his men and fought against the Marshal's riders. They had said his name was Áed and he was considered a great chieftain among his people.
After regarding the man for a moment, Éomer spoke: "I suppose it is needless to ask why you were raiding our farms and fields."
Áed spat to the ground, and hatred sparkled in his dark eyes.
"Why have our people ever raided these lands that are rightfully ours?" he asked. That made Éomer want to grimace, as he very well knew how that argument could ever end. For the thing was, it didn't.
"If that was so, you would be sitting on the throne in Edoras, not Théoden King", said the Marshal calmly. "You know the repercussions for attacking innocent farmers. If there is anything you wish to say, you should say it now."
"We were hungry", said the Dunlending man, his bearded face twisting with frustrated anger. "And my wife was dying."
At that, Éomer could not help but feel a pang of sympathy. Instantly he thought of his own wife... he imagined her heavily pregnant and on the verge of starving, and it was something to make his heart tremble. On some level, he could understand this man's desperation. But could he murder innocents to feed his own family?
"Then you should have asked for our help – send a word for Théoden King", he answered nonetheless. Áed spat again at his words.
"What help has ever come from the straw-heads? Cold steel and spears you have given us. And I hear Théoden King grows ever sparser in sharing his aid", he growled and anger blazed in his eyes.
"If we have given you steel, it is because of the murder and fire you gave us first", Éomer answered calmly, though he couldn't really deny that of late his uncle had not been any great helper of the people in need. But that's not him. It's because of Wormtongue.
He pushed those thoughts out of his mind and continued: "And in any case nothing justifies attacking and viciously slaughtering those who can't defend themselves. You know the consequences for that."
Éomer gestured at the Dunlending warrior and couple of his men came to take him away. When they escorted him away, Áed throw a cold, hateful look over his shoulder at the Marshal.
"I hope that one day you'll feel just as desperate as I did. Then you'll see, horselord", he said loudly, and then he was taken away.
When his wife had inisisted they organise a feast for her brothers and sister-in-law on the last night of their stay, Éomer had readily agreed. He could very well see how happy it had made her to have her family visiting them and he was once again reminded what a painful thing she had done in leaving behind her life in Dol Amroth. Sometimes he wondered if he could ever have managed a similar sacrifice, to abandon all he had known... his wife was braver than himself in some things but he wasn't sure she even realised it.
The night of feast was an occasion of pleasant abandon at any rate, and no one knew how to make merry like Eorlingas did. He thought Lothíriel might have gone a bit overboard when she had purchased foodstuff for the feast, but he reminded himself her family did not often visit Aldburg. Perhaps it was partly about guilt for him as well, because wish as he might Éomer did not know how to comfort his wife when she missed her home and kin.
When the tables were at last cleared of food and a band of musicians, consisting of townsfolk who knew their way around instruments, had started to play some northern tunes, Éomer went to pour himself some ale from a barrel at the side of the hall. When his mug was full he stopped to regard the scene. Faces of his household members, all of which he had known for years... and those of his wife and her family. Lothíriel was talking with Fainien and Amrothos, and he was slightly surprised to understand how well he already knew to read her face. For though she was smiling he saw through it and glimpsed the sadness of knowing her loved ones were leaving tomorrow.
He sighed and took a mouthful of ale, hoping no summons would come any time soon. He should be here with his wife when she said goodbye to her Gondorian family members... and see that she'd be all right afterwards. It was crucial she was not too badly upset right now, what with the babe growing in her belly.
"My lord", spoke the voice of Erchirion and effectively interrupted his musigs.
"Prince Erchirion", Éomer greeted and lifted his mug towards his brother-in-law. "I hope you are enjoying yourself?"
"Oh, I very much am. I always wanted to participate in a Rohirric feast", said Imrahil's son with a smile.
They both sipped their drinks then and regarded the three dark-haired heads leaning towards each other.
"I wish you safe travels. The escort of riders should be enough, but one can never be sure in these times", Éomer said then at length. He glanced at Erchirion, "And I must ask you to bring my regards to your father. Once he is calmed down at least."
The prince gave him a smile, "Don't worry about him. Perhaps he'll be angry at first, but I assure you he'll be completely calm by the time he visits you."
The Marshal had to snort at that and Erchirion chuckled softly and spoke again, "As soon as I tell him he'll be grandfather again he'll forget about everything else."
"The idea of Rohirric grandchildren is a lot to take, I imagine", Éomer commented, at which the prince hemmed softly. Then his brother-in-law gave him a searching look.
"It was indeed a difficult thing to comprehend when Lothíriel told us about your son. But having spent time here I understand now this is simply a matter of differing cultures, and I'm not the best man to judge it... I only hope there are not other surprises like the boy", he said carefully, but the Rohir lifted up his hand in a calming gesture.
"As far as I can see there are no other surprises of that sort in store for her. I learned my lesson with Elric, my lord. The last thing I want to do is hurt your sister's feelings... I want her to feel at home here", he said steadily, which brought a satisfied look to Erchirion's face.
"I admit I had my doubts before and I grieved for my sister having to go and live so far away from us. But I see now I judged you wrongly, my lord. You're a good man... and I deem you ar worthy of her. Not many men in this world would be", Erchirion said seriously.
"I appreciate your opinion", Éomer said simply, and he felt like there was an understanding between them. In quiet agreement they toasted their mugs, and then he poured some more ale for the prince. They went their separate ways and he joined Éothain his friend, and to himself he thought the matter of his illegitimate son might not earn him the hate of Imrahil after all.
On an afternoon of mid-September Erchirion, Amrothos and Fainien finally saw the city of Dol Amroth by the sea.
They had left Aldburg after two weeks on a bright fall morning. It would have been nice to stay longer, but none of them had wanted to travel in the autumn storms that would start in few weeks. So they had bid farewell to the Lord and Lady of Aldburg and started the long journey back to Dol Amroth.
It had not been easy to say goodbye to their sister, but Erchirion had still done that with a lighter heart than the last time. When she had left Minas Tirith after the wedding, he had seen the deeply upset look in her eyes, though she had tried to mask it. But when her brothers and sister-in-law departed for home after their visit in her new home town, she had been standing side by side her husband, and he had rested an arm on her waist in a way that could only be called tender. Looking at them, Erchirion had known she'd be all right. Whatever happened, the Marshal would look after her. More than that, he would be a good husband.
And so the prince, his wife, and his brother had left the town behind, and finally after a long journey they had come back to the city of the Princes.
They had taken the usual route by Anduin and landed in the harbour, and so a messenger was sent up to the palace before them. So, by the time the three travellers got to the fortress that belonged to the Princes of Dol Amroth, the rest of the family was already waiting for them. Father was there of course, as were Elphir and Aredhel. At the sight of Erchirion and others Father smiled.
"Welcome home. It is good to have you back!" he said as he hugged his secondborn son, and then Amrothos and Fainien. Though Father never said anything, Erchirion could very well see how hard it still was that Lothíriel was gone now and living in another realm. And it made him ever more desperate to have the rest of his family around him, as if they might otherwise leave too.
It was no wonder to Erchirion why that was. Lothíriel had been Imrahil's only daughter and an image of his beloved wife.
"And we're glad to be home. It's been quite a journey", Erchirion said, resting a hand on the shoulder of his father.
"Oh, no doubt of it. You must tell us all!" Aredhel said, smiling wide at her brother-in-law. "How fares our sister? Has she adjusted well in Rohan?"
Erchirion shared a glance with Fainien and Amrothos, and then looked at Aredhel again. "I'm sure my wife and my brother will tell you all about it. I think I should speak with Father first."
Father lifted his eyebrows and a look of concern came to his eyes. They made their way back inside, and Erchirion lowered his voice for privacy.
"It's all right, Father. There's nothing wrong with Lothíriel. There's just some things we ought to discuss, and I think perhaps you would like to hear everything right away."
"Of course", said the Prince. On the way up to his study, Erchirion told him about the journey to Aldburg, trying to decide how to best explain the circumstances in the Marshal's town.
Once they were comfortably seated in Prince Imrahil's study, he looked at his son inquisitively.
"Now, tell me: how is Lothíriel faring in Aldburg? Is she well?" Imrahil asked. "Is she... is she happy?"
Erchirion gave his father a consoling smile.
"I think she is. Happier than I expected she would be. It seems to me the Marshal likes her very much. At any rate he is being very considerate of her", he said. That brought a look of relief to his father's face.
"Son, I can't tell how happy I am to hear that. I've spent so much time worrying and wondering about what fate I sent her into when I agreed to give her hand in marriage to Lord Éomer", Imrahil said softly. "How does he treat her? And does she like him as well?"
"It seems to me that he is an adequate husband. He does respect her at least. And Lothíriel... I think she likes him too", Erchirion answered. However, as he continued speaking, he couldn't help but frown, "and it surprises me, to be honest. I wouldn't have expected that, given the situation..."
"What situation?" Father asked. He was frowning now too.
"That Lord Éomer already has a son. An illegitimate child, born out of wedlock ten years ago", said Erchirion quietly.
The Prince looked just as angry as he had expected. He practically leapt up from his chair, pacing about the study and squeezing his hands into fists.
"How dare they! How dare they treat my daughter like this!" he exclaimed furiously. "I knew this was wrong! I knew I shouldn't have let that marriage happen!"
"Father-" Erchirion tried to put in, but the Prince was too busy ranting to stop and listen.
"I must travel to Minas Tirith at once, and talk with Lord Denethor. We'll get her back, even if we have to do it by arms!" he raved and stormed over to his desk, apparently to write something.
"Please Father, listen-" tried his son again, but still to no avail.
"I can't believe that they'd insult us like this! And I took that Marshal for a man of honour!" Imrahil continued his angry tirade.
"Father, Lothíriel is with child", Erchirion said loudly, which finally made his father fall silent. The Prince straightened, staring at him with wide, surprised eyes.
"What did you say, son?" Imrahil asked in a weak voice.
"You heard me. She is carrying the Marshal's child", said the prince softly. His father fell back on his seat, looking like he had no idea of what to say or think.
"Already?" he finally asked.
"Yes", Erchirion confirmed. "I... it seems to me that we have to let this thing go as it will. There is no future here for Lothíriel now... not when she's bearing a child with royal blood of Rohan. She belongs with them now, and even if we asked they would never give her back. The folk of Aldburg at least love her well... they already consider her one of their own."
Father's eyes fell on his hands and for a long while he sat silent. Then he sighed and looked at Erchirion again.
"I see", he said quietly. "Tell me, what does she think of it?"
"I'm not sure Lothíriel is completely fine with it. But she didn't seem angry either. She told me that it's their land, and it's their way of life. I suppose she's trying to adjust... become one of them. It would be ill of us to try and interfere with that."
"Hmm. This is... you're probably right, though I am not happy to admit that", said Imrahil at length. "And I am not glad to hear the news of this Marshal's son. Did you see the boy during your visit?"
"We did. He is a member of his father's household. I did not speak to him but he appears to be as any other youth of Rohan, and the people hardly even pay attention to him or his parentage. Lothíriel said Rohirrim do not regard that matter the same way we do", Erchirion explained.
His father rubbed his forehead wearily, thinking about the prince's words in silence. Finally, he leaned back in his chair and gave Erchirion a tired look.
"I suppose I still haven't let go of her, like I should. It's just such a hard thing", he said quietly. "And still, even if she's pregnant with the Marshal's child, I must say I'm not happy with this situation. I'd love to speak of it with the man himself!"
"Well, they did ask me to deliver the invitation. Lothíriel and her husband would like you to visit Aldburg, perhaps some time next spring after the baby has been born. There would be your chance to speak with the Marshal... and to see your grandchild", Erchirion said. His father frowned.
"If only travelling there was so easy, especially in times like these. But I must consider it", he said thoughtfully. Then he shook his head. "Lothíriel, already about to become a mother. I didn't think it would happen so soon."
"Neither did I. It was quite a surprise to us too", Erchirion agreed. "But she's not a child anymore. I'm not sure any of us has really accepted that yet."
"Yes", Imrahil said quietly and sighed to himself. "And maybe... if her husband can actually make her happy, then perhaps..."
"Then perhaps it is worth it", Erchirion concluded.
"I hope so at least", said his father, and only then did he see the tears in Imrahil's eyes.
September 3017, Aldburg
"Is something wrong, wife?"
The question came one rainy evening when her husband was in the middle of giving her feet a massage. And it was a good thing that he did, given how swollen and tired her poor feet were these days. Although Lothíriel did try to take time and rest, these aches still came and made her weary and grumpy. At least Éomer was trying to be considerate of her, and it was really nice when he did things like massage her feet. He was rather good at it too.
"How come?" she asked, waving her toes in his hands. He continued massaging them, though he kept his eyes on her.
"You just looked so faraway. I was wondering what you were thinking", he answered.
"I was thinking about Scýne and Éothain's little one. I wonder if ours will be a boy too", she said thoughtfully. She had been there when Scýne had given birth, though in all honesty it had seemed kind of terrifying, and she was certainly not too happy to know that the same thing was in her own future.
"It would be nice – the two of them would get to grow up together. Be the kind of friends myself and Éothain have been", said the Marshal. He gave a kiss to one of her toes. "But all I really care about is that the child is strong and healthy."
"Mm. Yes", Lothíriel agreed softly. She watched her husband with half-open eyes. Most of the time, he'd wear this stern look on his face, the one that had made her feel so uncomfortable in his presence when they had first been married. But now, as he massaged her feet, he did not look stern. He looked... what was the right word for it? Yes, content. Sitting cross-legged and concentrated on caring for her poor feet, it was even kind of hard to remember how scary he could be when he wanted.
"I was thinking... if the baby is girl, perhaps we could call her Elfhild", he said after a moment of silence. "That was the name of my uncle's wife. I think he'd like that. And perhaps..."
"Perhaps what?" Lothíriel asked.
"I was hoping it might bring back the man he used to be", said her husband quietly.
"You love him very much, don't you?" she said. It wasn't really a question, but a statement. He nodded.
"Aye. He was like a father to me and my sister. And he helped to make us feel like we were still wanted and loved", he said, his voice just barely audible. He was staring down at Lothíriel's feet, so that she couldn't see his eyes.
"What do you mean?" she asked carefully, wondering if this was a subject too painful to speak of. He hesitated then and she thought he wasn't going to answer, and she was about to tell him he didn't have to say anything if he didn't want... but then, he started to talk again.
"It is just that we had to watch our mother die. After our father was slain, she... she was never the same after that. She became very sick and before the year ended she joined him in the grave. It is horrible, to watch your parent wither away like that... and keep asking yourself what deed of yours was so evil that she'd rather die than fight and live for you and your little sister", Éomer said heavily, and his hands became fists. Though fifteen years had passed ever since the death of Marshal Éomund and his wife Théodwyn, Lothíriel could see that some of the pain of their loss still lingered. Éomer continued, "And even if I could deal with it on some level, Éowyn couldn't. She was just seven summers old. How do you explain something like that to your little sister when you can barely comprehend it yourself?"
"I am so sorry", Lothíriel said, her voice coming out choked. She had known that her husband's parents had died within a year from each other, but never had she understood it was something so painful. Clumsily she sat up and moved over so that she could hug her husband, and with a sigh he lay his head against hers.
"Wife, it is all right", he murmured at last. "There is no changing what happened. It was a tragedy and it has shaped us, yes... but we have moved on. It's the kind of thing you have to make your peace with eventually, lest it destroy you."
"Still. I at least don't know how I'd have dealt with something like that", Lothíriel said softly, running her fingers through Éomer's hair. She had found she rather liked the feel of it against her skin.
"One deals with it... when there's no other choice", he answered and pulled her closer to himself.
She was about to say something to that, but a curious sensation robbed the princess of her voice. There was a fluttering feeling inside her, the kind she had been feeling every now and then lately. A gentle kind of swishing... and finally, she understood what it was.
Apparently her expression had become strange, for her husband pulled back and looked at her in concern.
"What is it, wife?" he asked.
"It's no matter. I'm fine. I think the baby just moved", Lothíriel answered, her voice coming out as a weak little breath. His eyes widened at that, and ever so gently, he placed a hand on her belly. The fluttering feeling came again and she hiccupped at the strange sensation.
"Are you all right?" Éomer asked softly.
"I... I don't know", she answered, hating how helpless she sounded. "I'm scared."
Carefully, he gathered her in his arms and held her there, as if he could somehow shelter her from all the feelings of uncertainty and fear.
"You're not alone in this", he whispered into her hair. "If there is anything that I can do..."
"Yes", she mumbled quietly, closing her eyes.
"We'll be fine. I promise. I'll take care of you... both of you", said her husband, and the comforting tones of his quiet voice finally helped her to relax.
Maybe, if he kept his promise, she could do this.
A/N: Here's an update! I know the pace is not the fastest one right now, but I can assure you, I'm just getting warmed up. These relationships need development for later events anyway.
I must say, writing this chapter was really weird, because now I don't have Heart's Desire work in progress at the side. I know I really shouldn't do that, considering my timetables, but I'm really tempted to start working on this idea that has been developing in my mind lately. Honestly, I don't even know where all this stuff comes from. I don't think I've ever experienced such a creative spree as this spring has been!
As usual, thanks for reading and reviewing!