The brilliance of midday sun flooded inside the hall and absent-mindedly Lothíriel watched the play of light and shadow as people came and went about their chores. Those were many, what with caring for the wounded and the bodies of the dead, and providing food for those who could stomach it.
But the Princess of Dol Amroth and Lady of Aldburg was in a place of calm, even though it wasn't quiet about her. Resting her head against the shoulder of her husband and half-listening to him as he spoke with Lord Aragorn over their meals, she felt peace. It was a feeling which had been absent ever since... she couldn't even remember. It had to be before she had left Aldburg. The only flaw was that Elfhild was not here, with her parents and brother, but the princess told herself they'd see the little one soon. Though her husband's words merged to one another and her mind wandered, the sound of Éomer's voice was all she needed to feel this calm. Sometimes, he'd glance at her and Elric, as if checking they were still there.
The Storm-king from the song had granted her wish and brought him back to her.
Elric sat on the floor beside her, his bowl of hot soup already empty. He was dozing off with his head against her knee, but every now and then he would jerk up and he'd look about as if he thought the battle was still raging and he ought to stay alert. She had thought of telling him to go and catch some sleep, but eventually the princess had decided after enduring last night he needed his family more than bed.
Lord Aragorn sat next to Éomer, looking even more ragged after the night than he usually did. His grimy state was quite in contrast to the Elf Legolas beside him; as far as Lothíriel could see, there was not even one speck of dirt on the Elven Prince's clothes or face, nor did he seem at all tired though he too had taken part in the battle. He conversed with Gimli the Dwarf, who was wolfing down his second or perhaps third bowl.
Hrodgar was close too, enjoying a break and some well-deserved food after long and laborious night. Scýne had disappeared somewhere with Éothain, and Éowyn was helping Léoma with all the running things while Elswite followed them about looking forlorn and quite uneasy. As for the King, he was deep in discussion with Gandalf. Around the hall there were the knights of the King's household and Éomer's men, and rest of the riders and refugees were scattered about the fortress wherever there was space for rest.
She knew there were already men at work to care for the bodies of the fallen. But Gandalf had advised them not to touch any of the uruks that lay outside the walls, and the King trusted his wisdom. The princess suspected it had something to do with the ominous-looking forest which had appeared as if from nowhere to receive what had been left of the army of Isengard. No uruk ever came out of the shade of those trees.
Lothíriel shivered and instead thought of her brother. Amrothos had yet to make an appearance, as the healers had refused to let him leave their vigilant watch. But evidently he was quite all right, judging by the way his voice had risen a few times to argue with the healers. If he was able to have a disagreement, he most certainly was going to be fine.
She sighed to herself and closed eyes, wishing she could have found some empty chamber for herself and Éomer... peel off his armour, and perhaps forget about the world for a while. Well, as soon as he had bathed, that was.
The battle had ended. Though its cost was great, it had secured the safety of the realm... for now, at least. Théoden King was revived, his heir had returned from exile, and Isengard was completely beaten. In this situation it was difficult to believe all would fall into ruin.
She felt his lips on her forehead then and opened her eyes, smiling softly at him. Seeing his face brought her a warm feeling and reassured her. Quietly she thought she'd never take his presence for granted again.
"You look tired, dear one. Should I escort you to bed?" he asked.
"Don't be silly, my love. You're the one who raced Béma knows from how far and hewed your way through an army of uruk-hai. I just sat in a cave, useless and helpless", Lothíriel told him.
"Nonsense. If you were helpless or useless you wouldn't be sitting there now", he argued, wrapping an arm about her shoulders. She harrumphed but could not resist a chance of kissing him, and for a moment she forgot of the noise in the hall and people about them. Oh, how she loved him! And how she wanted to never see him gone again...
"My dear heart", he murmured, resting his forehead against hers, "I do love you so."
"As I love you", she answered, weaving together their fingers. The princess looked up at him and he looked like he'd have said something more, but then noise distracted them and they both turned to see what it was.
"I'm quite fine already! Stop fussing, or are you my mother perhaps?" Amrothos ranted at Birte, who was trying to hold him back. He was limping and looking just as filthy as Lord Aragorn, but it was the same old dauntless Amrothos. Birte threw her arms in the air as a sign of defeat and seemed to be muttering to herself as she turned around to return to the wounded.
Lothíriel snorted at the sight and rolled her eyes, but Éomer seemed to find it amusing.
But then Elswite approached Amrothos and the prince fell quiet. His face became serious and the two spoke in voices so low no one else could hear them. The princess frowned, wondering what it really was between her brother and Erkenbrand's daughter... but she was not left in the shadow for long.
Amrothos took off a ring on his finger, picked up Elswite's hand, and slipped the piece of jewellery on one of her fingers. Then he reached for the brooch of his cloak and the dirty garment fell down his arm. As Lothíriel's sat frozen and gaping at him, her brother wrapped his cloak about Elswite's shoulders. The damned villain! Oh, she was so going to murder him!
The Rohirrim had quickly picked up what was happening and as soon as Elswite draped in the prince's cloak, a loud applause rose. Some lifted their mugs of ale and others just burst out laughing. One man bellowed: "Oi, Erkenbrand! Looks like you've got a princess in your family!"
But Lothíriel was not quite so impressed.
"You bloody moron!"
"Well, I promised I'd marry her", said Amrothos for what had to be fifth or fourth time.
Like each time he had said this before, Lothíriel let out a groan of frustration. Of course she agreed with the principle of keeping your word, and she'd probably been even angrier with her brother if he just had his way with an unsuspecting young woman and then broke promises he had given her. But that still didn't change what he had done.
Amrothos had gone and wedded a woman of Rohan, someone he couldn't even claim he knew, against all wishes of Lord Denethor and their father the Prince. As Erkenbrand's daughter she was high nobility of the realm, but Lothíriel knew very well what Gondorian courts would think. To them, it would seem that he had married below his station.
"I know! You told me that already!" she wailed and rubbed her temples. "But what reason could you possibly have to make such promises in the first place?"
"Um, I was just kind of distraught before the battle, and she happened to be there, and we... hmm, I don't think I have to tell you what happened then. But in the middle of it I did promise her I'd marry her if I'd get through the night alive, and I'm a man of my word", Amrothos explained sheepishly. She nearly shrieked at his words. Oh, now she certainly did understand Éowyn! He was a reckless, impulsive git.
"And you couldn't possibly keep your breeches on, brother? She's Lord Erkenbrand's daughter, you idiot!" she yelled.
"The man seemed to take it rather well", argued her brother. "And what was I supposed to do? I thought I was going to die!"
"So you forced yourself on a sheltered young woman who happened to have an eye for you?" Lothíriel snapped. She wanted to throttle him and then perhaps throw him out of window.
"I didn't force myself on her! She contributed most eagerly", Amrothos defended himself.
"Of all the scatterbrained men you are the worst, Amrothos! Oh sweet Elbereth, Father is going to murder me for not keeping you out of trouble!" Lothíriel wailed in despair and finally fell down to sit.
"But maybe he won't, sister", he tried. "After all, he already has Elphir as his heir, and Alphros is a strong little lad, and Aredhel is one of the highest-born ladies in the land if you're not counted. And even if something happened to them, there's still Erchirion and Fainien. But me? I can't be Father's heir, and Erchirion was always the best sailor. I'm the landlubber of the family – except for you of course, O Lady of the horselords. Anyway, I'm just the third son and it's not like I'm as important as our brothers or you."
She considered this for a moment and reluctantly Lothíriel had to agree perhaps he wasn't so wrong about that aspect. Perhaps Father would not be angry for Amrothos choosing Elswite as a companion for life when the continuation of their line was already secured. But even if Prince Imrahil would not be angry, the matter might not be that simple.
"But even if Father gives his blessing, our uncle is not going to be quite so understanding", she pointed out, "and the fact remains you don't even know Elswite."
"You didn't know your husband either when you first came here, but look at yourself now – you're completely in love with the man", Amrothos reminded her.
"It is true", she allowed, "but that doesn't mean the same will happen to you two. And how do you think she'll be received in the southern courts? Elswite has no idea of what to expect. She's never even travelled beyond Edoras! Those Gondorian vultures will attack her the moment they lay eyes on her and pick her bones clean!"
"Then maybe we'll never go to Gondor again", Amrothos said unaffectedly. "And if we do, Aredhel and Fainien will be there. They'll help her through it."
"So you'll settle here? I can't even promise you livelihood, not without the leave of the King. It's one thing for you to stay in our household as a guest, but with a family of your own... and if you return south, you'll be taking Elswite away from everything she's known. She'll be completely alone. And don't you dare say it turned out fine for me. Just because I was able to adjust doesn't mean it's easy, or that someone else has the luck I have had", Lothíriel said, her anger threatening to rise again. But it did not catch fire anymore, and began to turn into frustrated weariness.
"Don't you like her, then? Is that what this is about?" he asked, narrowing his eyes.
"Amrothos, don't be absurd. She's a nice young woman – far nicer than you deserve, you troll – but there just are so many things about this that could go wrong. Do you even realise that you have made a very permanent choice, and you'll have to live the rest of your life with her? You can't just discard her if you feel bored!" sighed the princess tiredly.
"Of course I know that. And I know this decision was made in haste and that there's much that I need to learn about her, but I don't regret what I did. I'm going to prove your concerns vain", Amrothos reassured her, and she hoped he really meant it this time.
"Fine", she groaned at last, realising this conversation was not really going anywhere. "But just so you know, I'm not going to explain this to Father or Uncle – you can do that yourself. And I'm not going to lend you a hiding place if Lord Erkenbrand comes after you anyway."
"Relax, sister. It's a marriage, not the end of the world", he said cheerfully and patted her shoulder. "Who says only you get to find your spouse from Rohan? I'm sure it'll turn out just fine."
"You're hopeless", she told him, and no more words wore exchanged about the matter that time.
Lying there on the ground in the middle of two men who had also fallen on the wall, Dreda seemed so peaceful it was almost as if she were just asleep. Though the wound and stain of blood on her front testified of her fate, it was still somehow hard to believe she truly was dead.
Elric had brought them the news after the most urgent emotions of relief and joy for their reunion had passed. He had told how she had dashed to the wall and thrown herself in between Elric and the uruk who would have taken his life. The men gathering the bodies of the fallen had already salvaged her body from the ruin of war, and there she now lay... Dreda daughter of Deorwine had passed away, and though Lothíriel would have expected to feel relief of knowing this woman would never harm her family again, the only emotion that came to her was just a kind of cold regret.
As she looked down on that face, so fair in life and even in death, she could not feel any more hate for this woman. No matter what she had done and what her actions had caused, somehow the night of war and blood and death had washed away anger.
Elric might not live now if not for her.
Éomer appeared to have similar thoughts. His face had become dark when his son had brought news of Dreda's death. In his eyes, there had been deep melancholy.
"Once she was my friend. Once I thought she might even be my wife one day", he said at length and then sighed heavily, "and now I find I only feel pity and regret for her."
But then he looked at his son and rested a hand on Elric's shoulder. He continued, quieter this time: "But I'm also grateful. What she did may have robbed us of one child, but this one lives because of her."
"She said she didn't dare face you again, Father. So she chose another way for herself", Elric mumbled. He looked to be on the verge of tears, and Lothíriel knew how confusing and difficult it must have been for him. Indeed, how should a young boy know what to think when even the adult mind could not choose between forgetting Dreda's crimes and condemning her despite her last desperate attempt to redeem herself?
"It's not perhaps the right way, eluding the King's justice. Then again, it was like her to choose to go down in such a way. And you are alive and unhurt because of what she did... don't be troubled, son. You're not wrong to feel thankful. I am glad that she did save you", Éomer told his son, and the boy hugged his father. Both of them seemed somehow diminished then, and Lothíriel closed her arms about the two, wishing to bring them at least some comfort. She had not known Dreda like they had, and she was not in this hard place where they knew not what they should feel.
After a while, Lothíriel took them both by hand, leading them away from this place of regret, and they returned to the fortress. She cast one more look at the face of the woman she had loathed and found the forgiveness she had thought impossible.
And with that, she let go of Dreda, daughter of Deorwine.
It was late when Éomer returned, and his movements about the small chamber granted for the two of them brought Lothíriel back from half-awakeness she had been drifting in ever since getting to bed. Earlier that day, after couple hours of rest, he had ridden to Isengard along with his King and the company of Gandalf the White. The princess had not been happy to see him go so soon, but the promise of his return later that day had made it bearable.
Still, even as Lady Léoma had suggested some sleep would serve them all well, Lothíriel had not really been able to rest.
At last Éomer was done undressing and came to bed. When he settled there beside her, she turned towards him and he pulled her against himself. Lothíriel let out a sigh of contentment as she relaxed in the warm safety that was her husband's embrace.
"I thought you'd be asleep already", he murmured into her hair.
"I was waiting for you, my love", she answered softly. Now that he was there, she'd no doubt be out in a moment. But before slipping into dreams she lifted her face to kiss him; her lips soon found his in the dark and she relished the familiar feeling. The kiss was long and tender and filled the very bottom of her heart.
"I don't even remember when I've last felt so warm. Must have been before we left Aldburg... when you were home last time", she said softly. She felt sleepy but this moment was worth staying awake for a bit longer.
"Aye", he agreed. "And I dreamt of you every night, my dear heart..."
"I wish you never had to leave again", Lothíriel whispered and a shiver passed through her body as she thought of it, her side and her heart empty.
"I wish that too", sighed her husband and he held her a bit tighter then. But such was the life of a warrior, and there would always be days she'd have to see him gone.
"But you're here now... how long, I wonder?" she whispered, unable to hide sadness from her voice. Gently he lifted her chin and kissed her again.
"Don't think of it now. Just rest, déor min", he prompted and she decided he had the right of it. No, she couldn't grieve when he was there, like she had yearned him to be on so many a night.
"Hold me tight until I fall asleep", she asked.
"I'll hold you until you wake up", he murmured. That made Lothíriel smile and she sighed softly. Her mind cleared of worries and sorrow and she drifted into a deep dreamless sleep.
They left the Hornburg behind at sunrise. Many that had come there to seek shelter did not return with the King's Company, and Birte the healer woman was one of them. When Elric asked her to come along to Edoras, she had smiled and shook her head.
"Lady Léoma has asked me to stay here and help out with the wounded. I have agreed, for I am far more useful here than elsewhere. And to be honest I would like to make amends for what Áed and his men did, and for the part my people have played in these events", she had told the boy gently. Then she had hugged him and promised she'd come to visit him in Edoras some time.
The Marshal too had taken his time to thank her for what she had done for his family, and after they had said goodbye the company was ready to leave for Edoras.
Somehow this time, the way felt longer. Reason for that was not unclear to Lothíriel at least: the King had sent word to Aldburg and by the time they'd get to the capital, Elfhild should be there waiting for them. The prospect of seeing her daughter had her on the edge from the moment she heard the news, as it felt like years since she had last seen their child.
The other thing that made the travel somewhat awkward was the matter of Elswite. Though Lothíriel had told her she did not harbour ill feelings towards her new sister-in-law, the young woman still appeared uncomfortable around the princess. The reason for it was not lost to Lothíriel. Her initial reaction upon their hasty marriage had unsettled Elswite and the princess guessed she was now thinking that would also be how the rest of the family would receive the news. Her own parents had seemed mostly bewildered but accepting – their daughter had married higher than either them had ever expected – but Lothíriel had a feeling it was because they had not yet had any time to let it sink in... she feared Erkenbrand would indeed come after Amrothos once the full realisation did hit them. But that might not come any time soon, considering Amrothos would stay for now in Rohan... at least until his wounded leg was healed. What would happen then, she had no idea.
She sighed to herself then and fixed her gaze ahead. Refreshingly enough, she was riding Ǽfnung now, and her brother had taken her place in the wagon. Obviously he couldn't ride with is injury. Judging by the sounds of giggling coming from the wagon not too far behind, the newly married couple were not at all dismayed by it.
"That damned oaf", Lothíriel muttered to herself and shook her head.
"My lady looks quite sour", commented Hrodgar as he rode closer to her. Lady Léoma would have had him stay too in the Hornburg, but the man had said he had his duty to the princess.
"Your lady is quite sour", she answered, glancing back over her shoulder at the wagon.
"I would not be too worried, Lady Princess. You first came to the Mark to strengthen the ties between our two peoples, correct? Perhaps their marriage will work towards this purpose as well", Hrodgar suggested.
"I dare not be so hopeful", Lothíriel sighed. "It was reckless and wilful and our uncle the Steward will not like it."
"He may as well accept it. Your brother wrapped his cloak about Lady Elswite under the very eyes of the King of Rohan. Eorlingas consider it a lawful and abiding marriage, and would be offended if anyone should deny it", said the old man.
"I know. But my uncle is a proud man, and he will not take it lightly that he was not consulted. Princes of Dol Amroth are the highest-born nobility in the land after the Steward's own House, and it has been our way for a long time that we do not take vows of marriage without the consent of Steward", said the princess. Her grip tightened about the reins as she thought about her uncle. No doubt he'd have a word or two for her too when they next met.
Hrodgar grunted non-committally, and they rode on for a while in silence. After some time, Lothíriel turned to look at the soothsayer again.
"Hrodgar, I have not really thanked you properly for all that you have done for me and my family. You have put down in line your own life, and... I wish I knew there was some way I could show how much I appreciate your aid", she said softly.
An awkward look came to the man's face. Obviously he wasn't quite used to talk like this.
"You took me under your protection when the others would have driven me away as a witch. I deem it merely right that I pay back to my benefactor", he muttered, turning to gaze at horizon.
"But you have already paid all that one could possibly hope for, and more. My daughter is safe because of you. It doesn't seem to me you should still stay with us, if you don't want to. You have proven yourself to me", she told him in gentle tones. He harrumphed.
"The agreement was that I remain for a year and a day, no?" Hrodgar said.
"It was", she allowed. The princess gave him a small smile, but could not hide a hint of sadness from it, "but there are moments I wish I had ordered you to stay for a hundred years."
He seemed taken aback by her words. For all his dry humour and wit, the soothsayer did not seem to be able to come up with any answer. He mumbled something nonsensical and looked away in embarrassment.
"I'm sorry", Lothíriel said quickly after noticing his discomfort. "Was I too straightforward? I didn't mean to cause you unease."
"It is all right, my lady", he grumbled at last. "As far as I know, there is no such thing as 'too straightforward' in the Mark."
She laughed at his words, hoping they were a sign she had not offended him somehow. They rode forth in silence that felt companionable to her; perhaps her words had not damaged anything.
But frustrating as it was to travel, at last before sunset she could see Edoras, standing golden and proud on the hill. The sight and the knowledge that Elfhild should already be waiting for them made Lothíriel want to urge Ǽfnung forward, to race past even the King and her husband, who travelled by Théoden's side. Hrodgar noticed her uneasiness and tried to mutter some words of comfort, but she barely heard him.
The ride up to Meduseld had never been quite as long and excruciating as it was that day, but at last they reached the courtyard, and there she spotted Ceola; in the young woman's arms was Elfhild. Though the child's hair was dyed dark, the princess knew her right away, for she was her child.
Lothíriel practically flew from the saddle. With speed she hadn't known she possessed she dashed towards her daughter, and Elfhild's eyes lit up at the sight of her.
"Nana! Nana!" exclaimed the little girl as she extended arms towards her mother.
And then she was there at last, and she held Elfhild tight to herself, never wanting to let go of her. She murmured half-coherent words of love and joy as covered the child's face in kisses. Oh, how she had grown!
Then Éomer came and he closed the both of them in his embrace and Elfhild laughed in delight. What wonder it must be for her, having both of her parents returned to her all of a sudden. Having the little one in her arms, Lothíriel felt the same as she had felt back in the caves of the Hornburg when Éomer had returned and found her and Elric there, and she thought she might start to cry or laugh any moment now.
The boy came to them as well, smiling at his little sister, and Elfhild's eyes sparkled with happiness as she saw him. Finally, after the nightmare that had begun to unfold since Lothíriel and Elric had left Aldburg, they were again together. And her heart was so full of joy and light that she wanted to sing or perhaps just burst into tears.
She was awakened from this bliss by the approach of Théoden King. The look on his face was bittersweet as he gazed at the four of them. His eyes lingered on Elfhild for a moment and the girl answered the look solemnly. Then the King turned towards his sister-son and it seemed to Lothíriel some silent conversation took place there... the two did not say anything out loud, but their eyes spoke in volumes. A smile came to the King's face and he nodded at them, and as he began to make way for the steps to Meduseld, Éomer trailed him. Resting hand on Lothíriel's back, three of them followed the Lord of the Mark... but Elric fell behind, sensing this was something he could not participate in.
As soon as they were up on the stone terrace, Lothíriel looked behind and was slightly surprised to see the crowd that had gathered there. Where had all these people come from? But then, she had been very occupied by the reunion with her daughter. Most of Edoras had been emptied when the King had ridden for Helm's Deep, but most refugees had come back as soon as yesterday, and others had arrived too from other parts of the Mark – both to seek shelter and to hear just what was afoot in the kingdom.
"Good people of Edoras", called Théoden in strong voice and the soft murmur of crowd died, "you already know of the victory in Helm's Deep. The armies of Isengard have been destroyed and the wizard Saruman is no longer a threat to our land and people. This we do not only owe to my sister-son Marshal Éomer, but also to Gandalf the White, whose name shall always be blessed in this realm!"
Cheer rose in the crowd, but Théoden lifted his hand. He continued: "In madness I sent away the beloved son of my sister, but as you can see he has come back and stands here today beside me. Wrongly he was accused of treachery, as was his wife Princess Lothíriel. These accusations are not true, for never was there a truer heart than that of my sister-son. Hereby I return him all the honour and rights that belong to him by birth. Moreover, from this day forward, let it be known that Éomer son of Éomund is my successor and the heir of the line of Eorl!"
"Hail Théoden King! Hail the Lords of Eorlingas!" cheered the crowd, and Théoden lay a hand on the shoulder of his nephew. Quietly they spoke, their voices drowned by the shouts of the people of Edoras.
The King and his heir...
That moment, as she watched Théoden and Éomer, Lothíriel felt the touch of hands of fate.
After their arrival Théoden King gathered his counsel behind closed doors, consisting of men like his sister-son and Marshals, Gandalf, Lord Aragorn, Master Métodlac and so on. As for the princess, she spent most of the evening with her daughter and Elric, with Hrodgar at the corner darning some shirt of his. Elfhild was apparently reluctant to be put down from her lap and Lothíriel was equally unwilling to let go of the child.
There had not really been a proper time to talk in detail with Hrodgar of happenings of late, so they exchanged stories of what had happened since Lothíriel and Elrich had left Aldburg. Though she already knew of what Hrodgar had done for Elfhild, his story still brought Lothíriel a great feeling of thankfulness along with something fond. It was a bit intimidating to understand just how much he had helped them... and how the little girl in her arms owed her life to his loyalty.
When Elric went off to find some food, she finally asked the question that had been in her mind for some time now.
"Hrodgar, why do you do any of this? Why did you endanger your life just for the sake of my child? Why do you help me so unselfishly?" she asked, searching the old man's face. Though she knew he did not like speaking of himself, she needed an answer to this question.
He remained silent for a while, eyes fixed on the shirt he was working on. When he spoke at all, his voice was very quiet.
"I never had much family to speak of. My mother died when I was very young, and my father fell in a battle when I was still a boy. I was practically raised by unwilling relatives who couldn't stand having a useless cripple as a ward. Yes, it was just as horrible as you think", he said slowly, still not lifting his eyes. "But you do have a family, Princess. I'd like you to keep it."
"Why?" she asked as gently as she was able.
"Because of the kindness you show me and trust you place in me. It is not something a man like myself often encounters. You have been well-loved and cared for all your life, so you do not understand how a simple gentle word can mean the world", Hrodgar said. His voice was even more quiet now, as if it was difficult for him to speak these words. Probably it was so.
Nevertheless it brought tears into her eyes, and she almost went to hug him then had she not known how he disliked to touch people.
"I'm glad that you tell me this", she said, fighting to keep her voice steady. "And I promise you will always have a place in my household, if you want it. As far as I'm concerned, you're one of us. And my children will know what you have done for me and for them."
Hrodgar looked at her and at first she thought it was a trick of light... but then she looked again, and she knew for sure that the glistening in his eyes were tears he would not let fall.
Meduseld was full of light and laughter.
A strange contrast it was, remembering all the times she had spent here before. The gloom and the darkness were gone... instead, there was brief abandon. It was needed, she thought. After all happenings of late it felt good to laugh a little.
Théoden King had known that as well, and even before riding to Edoras he had sent orders to prepare a feast to honour those who had fallen in Helm's Deep. Such was the way of the Rohirrim: they remembered their dead with love and laughter. Two fiddlers were playing a lively tune, so different from the colourless songs Lothíriel remembered from the official court gatherings in Dol Amroth. Two young women of the household had even become inspired enough to dance to the music, leaping in complex patterns as their audience clapped a rhythm to go along the music. And drinking horns and tankards were lifted to honour fallen comrades, their names and deeds repeated as in poems.
Originally, Lothíriel had meant to stay with Elfhild, but Scýne and Hrodgar had insisted she came to the feast at least for a little while, and she was certainly now happy that she had come. Seeing this feast and being a part of it made her feel more like one of these people than many things had before.
Before taking Elfhild to bed – the little one would sleep in Éowyn's chamber for the night – she sat for a while with the King. Théoden seemed more than glad to have his grandniece sit on his knee, and though the little one couldn't really remember much of this man, she seemed to instantly take liking to him. Indeed, the man and the child were quite entertained by each other, which left Lothíriel time to observe them and the feast around them. There was light in Théoden's eyes as he played with Elfhild and tickled her and the girl's laughter brought a look of happiness to his face. Eventually she fell asleep there, head against Théoden's chest, and the princess went to pick her up. Carefully the King lifted Elfhild into her arms. He gave her a solemn look.
"She is truly a charming child, my lady", he said softly. "And only now do I really understand what blessing it was that you came to Rohan. You have brought a great happiness to this House."
"I have tried to do my part, my King", she said, smiling as she spoke, "but I'm not the only one to be thanked for this. It is your nephew's doing as well, for being a man that I can love, and being a good father to his children."
Théoden wiped a hand across his eyes and gave her brilliant smile. She bowed her head at him, and how she wished... this man deserved to see more of their children. He should see them crowding about him, and loving him like they would love a grandfather. Perhaps such thing could yet come to pass.
After putting Elfhild to bed and leaving Hrodgar to keep an eye on her – he wasn't one for large feasts – she returned to the hall. One of the more amusing instances was observing her husband hosting a drinking game to none other than Legolas and Gimli, but whereas the Dwarf gradually fell into drunkenness, the ale barely had an effect on the Elf. When the Prince of the Woodland Realm worriedly reported he was feeling curious tingling in his fingers, she had to hide her face in Éomer's shoulder in order not to burst out laughing.
Scýne came then and they went to see the singing of Halflings; the red-haired woman offered her a mug of ale, which she accepted though she still wasn't quite used to the Rohirric brew. She also spotted a mug of ale in Elric's hand, but before she could get to the boy he had already downed it in one mighty gulp. He had the grace to look embarrassed though, and it wasn't long after the princess had to escort the stumbling boy into bed. Upon her return she took note someone would probably have to escort Amrothos too, considering the pace he was downing drinks.
When Scýne went along to find her husband, Lothíriel sat down for a while at one table, just to watch the feasting and rest her legs for a moment. A sense of bittersweetness came to her as she studied her surroundings... as if this was something she might never see again. This was something she might have known before if Gríma Wormtongue had not spun his web of lies in this place. But then, sorrowing for things past was not going to change anything, and she was happy to see at least this one night, even if the world was bound to end tomorrow.
She felt a presence behind herself then and she looked around; Éomer stood there and seeing she had noticed her he came to stand behind her. He was looking quite dashing if she might say so.
"Hello, handsome man", she said and smiled up at her husband. He answered the smile and lay a hand on her shoulder. She reached for it with her own and intertwined her fingers with his.
"Fair lady", Éomer greeted and leant down to kiss the top of her head.
"Enjoying yourself, beloved?" she asked.
"Actually I am. It's been a long time Meduseld has seen something like this", he said. "And yourself?"
"It's more like I envisioned this place when I first came to Rohan", she answered. "And I must say I like it, though it is very different from the gatherings in my father's court."
He smiled at that and looked happy, more so than he had in a while. Lothíriel decided she'd rather see that expression on his face more often.
"I'm glad to hear that, beloved. This is the Rohan I always wanted to show you... not the gloom and scheming snakes", he said softly.
"I see it now", she said gently caressing the back of his hand, "and perhaps we will see it more often in the future."
The unspoken was there on his face. The battle for Middle-earth had not yet ended and the future of Men still hung on a balance. But on a night like this one ought to hope.
She smiled at him then, "I was thinking of going to bed. And... I was wondering whether you'd like to come too."
Éomer looked sharply at her and she ran her hand up his forearm, giving him a slow smile. It seemed to have an instant effect on him, for his eyes assumed an intense look that sent butterflies fluttering madly in her belly.
"Of course", he managed and without further word they sneaked out of the hall.
As soon as the bedchamber door was closed behind them he pulled her to himself and his kiss was impatient as it was eager. It seemed like such a long time had passed since they had last lain together, and now Lothíriel found she quite needed him. She needed him and the closeness and feeling like instead of two there was just one. But though it was kind of chaotic and wild up until the point he lowered her on the bed, there suddenly care appeared in his touches. Quickly she understood why that was: he feared she was still not completely recovered from the nightmare of her captivity among the Dunlendings.
But she smiled to him and pulled him into her embrace, urging him to go on... and he kissed her like it was the last night of their lives. She knew that she loved him, this man with warrior's hands and a king's heart, but now she felt it so powerfully it nearly made her cry. And no matter what tomorrow would bring and what hardships there were ahead, they were together now, there was this, and even if all would go crashing down this was a moment no one could ever take away from them.
Afterwards, when she was safely nestled against him and the most urgent passions had been satisfied, he spoke again.
"Lothíriel?" he asked softly.
"Yes, dearest?" she asked back, running her fingers over his chest absent-mindedly.
"How are you feeling as of late? Are you... is there anything you'd want me to do?" he asked. She knew what he meant. It was just another way he worried for her recovery. It touched her, knowing he cared so deeply.
"I'm... I wish I could say I'm getting better. The battle and everything that happened in Helm's Deep have kind of distracted me, but there are moments when I just..." she murmured, unable to finish the sentence. Lothíriel closed her eyes and a shiver went through her.
"I know", he sighed. It was his grief as well, after all. "I keep wondering whether it would have been a boy or a girl, what he would have been like, and if... if there was some way I could have prevented it."
"You told me not to blame myself, my dear", she told him, firmly though not ungently. "I'm now telling the same to you. It was beyond your power. And the guilty have already had their punishments."
He made a soft sound, as in a reluctant agreement. She snuggled closer to him, if that was possible, and placed her head against his shoulder.
"I did not have yet an opportunity to ask what you thought of our arrival here in Edoras", Éomer said after a while, his voice slightly doubtful.
She thought of his question for a moment, worrying her lip as she recalled what had taken place on the stone terrace of Meduseld.
"It was... well, I knew something like that would probably happen if things were put right and you'd return. You're the King's nephew, after all. It terrifies me, to be honest. If you're one day to be the King..." she answered at length, but towards the end of her sentence her voice trailed off.
"You'll be the Queen", he finished her thought. "Don't worry, beloved. You've managed just fine as the Lady of Aldburg. I do not doubt you will do just as well as the Queen of the Mark."
"Hmm. Let us hope so", Lothíriel murmured. She looked up at him thoughtfully. "Éomer, the future King of the Mark. I didn't expect that."
"Neither did I. Théodred had an inkling, though. After Elfhild was born and I was here in Edoras, he came to talk with me. He insisted I'd take up his place if he died", he said quietly and held her a bit tighter. "Turns out Ethelgifu was right, after all."
"But that is only if we survive beyond this war", she pointed out.
"Aye", Éomer agreed, and she could hear the doubt in his voice. But a kiss smoothed away any uneasiness, and when she settled back beside him, his form was relaxed again.
After a moment of silence, he spoke again: "Uncle wants me to stay here in Edoras for good."
"And leave Aldburg?" she asked, trembling despite herself.
"Yes. If I'm to be the King after him... well, I ought to be here and learn from him. I was not born for it, like Théodred", he said quietly.
"In that case, we'll come to stay here too", said the princess, though not without sadness.
"I agree. I would not want our children grow without their father, and it would be quite lonely without you, déor min", he said slowly. "You don't want to leave Aldburg?"
"No. It's our home, after all. Everyone we know is there, Scýne and Bierwén and Eadmod and Oferlof and others... I suppose I've grown attached to your house", she admitted. "And Edoras is... well, Meduseld is a beautiful place, but there's some really heavy memories here, whereas Aldburg has all the light ones. We lived there together, after all, and our daughter was born there. And that's where I grew to love you."
"I know", Éomer said gently. "But I promise we'll have new memories here. And Grandmother and Scýne should be willing to come here too. I don't think Éothain's wife would want to be parted from him, considering he's going to stay here as my captain."
"Hmm. And the most important thing anyway is that we're together", Lothíriel said softly.
"Aye", he murmured and gently lifted her face so that he could look at her. The expression in his eyes was tender and warm, and the deep affection in them made her believe, if only for a moment, that all things would turn out fine. He murmured, "I love you, my dear Princess. And I consider myself a very lucky man to have you beside me."
His words made her smile and she leant closer to give him a kiss.
"I love you too. As angry as I was with my uncle when he promised my hand in marriage to you, now I am thankful. I see I needed you to enter my life", she told him, her voice soft and gentle.
He smiled too and kissed her, tender and long. When it ended, he pulled covers over them and she settled down in the crook of his arm. It must have been late already and even the sounds of celebration in the Hall had almost died. Resting her head on his chest, she listened to the steady beat of his heart, and there in the warm security of his embrace she drifted off to sleep.
A/N: Here's a new chapter! After events of late it seemed to me like a bit of sweet things were in order. I continue with the movie canon, as there was no feast in the book.
So, that's what was up with Amrothos and Elswite! I've been sniggering here into my beard ever since Elswite first entered the stage. I know this is quite unexpected, but I wanted it to be as much a surprise for the reader as it is for Lothíriel. Considering how long Amrothos has been in Rohan at this point it's a wonder he hasn't done anything like this before! And anyway, I've always kind of wanted to see one of Lothíriel's brothers finding a companion for life from Rohan. Members of their line certainly seem to have a thing for the Rohirrim! Anyway, what this will mean should be revealed some time soon, and perhaps we'll see more of interaction between Lothíriel and Elswite.
Also we see a bit of bonding, between not only Théoden and Elfhild (who is again safely with her parents), but also Hrodgar and Lothíriel. Hopefully the conversations between them gives a bit more insight to his character and what kind of road he has travelled since we first saw him. I don't think he has really understood before now what kind of place he has come to, and how he has grown attached to the family of the Third Marshal.
Thank you very much for reading and reviewing!
distaff . exile - Yes, I thought so too. There was no real happy ending for her, which she knew too, and so she chose to finish it on her own terms. I'm glad to hear you liked both the conclusion of her story and the structure of the chapter!
Kiiimberly - Well, Éowyn thinks Amrothos is irresponsible and reckless. I suppose this chapter proves she's not entirely wrong, though her emotions are intensified by her feelings of envy and being trapped.
A Light in the Night - It was really the only way she could have anything resembling redemption. It's important to note that she didn't do it all for Elric, though. It was also partly a selfish choice because she didn't want to face the consequences of her actions. But on the other hand she couldn't have done it for anyone else than Elric.
GabrielaTJ - Thanks! Your compliments warm my heart. :)
Lady Bluejay- Thank you! I'm glad you think so.
Sandy-wmd - It did seem necessary to end the chapter on a more positive note and with a reunion, especially after all the time they had been apart.
1607hannah - Happy to hear that! I'm always overjoyed when people tell me I've made them emotional with my writing. :) And yes, all the smoochy times!
Talia119 - Here's a little bit more of Hrodgar in this chapter, hope you like it! The reason we didn't see much of him in the last chapter was because there wasn't really that much going on with him. He did his job of looking after the injured and that was about it. As for the other healers, I don't think they really had time to wonder if he was deserving of acceptance or not. They don't know him too well anyway, so the only thing mattered was that he could dress a wound.
I admit I was actually thinking of killing Amrothos. I even tried to write it but the stubborn bugger pretty much wrote himself back into the story, and not only because of Elswite. I really have to practice killing off characters!
Borys68 - Good to hear that!
Shango Sanguine - Thanks for the compliment! I too rather like this chapter, more than some others.
Also it's nice to know others think so too about Éowyn and Amrothos. I've been thinking of their relationship and to me it made most sense that she'd not be his biggest fan, not at least at this point of her life.