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Part 1 - In which Gríma reaches the point of no return, and Théodred's unexpected injury involves Éomer in a dangerous adventure.
The Hall of Theoden King stood high on a hill, for kings like to take the long view. Behind his throne there was a bannered wall. Behind the wall was a hidden closet. From inside it one could see nothing of the hall, but one could hear many interesting things.
Everyone has a special place that makes them feel at ease. Gríma’s was the closet; so close to the throne - within earshot and yet out of sight. He came there even when the king’s hall was quiet, as it was now. He did his best thinking there, and today’s problem demanded his best. In fact Gríma thought that how he dealt with the matter of the parchment would determine his future.
A crack in the wall let sunlight in and Gríma inspected the parchment. It purported to request the king’s son Théodred to visit Dol Amroth's steward at Erech-on-Morthond. The amiable steward would have been surprised, though. Neither he nor anyone else in Gondor had issued the invitation.
The metal seal with its device of Dol Amroth was authentic down to the nicks. The message itself spoke with just the right tone of deference and urgency. No prince of Rohan would be able to resist advising Imrahil’s steward on the bloodlines of the fiefdom’s horses.
And if Théodred does resist, thought Gríma, well ... Théoden becomes more malleable and confused each day. Doesn't he, my dear? And I know the powders to ensure it.
The letter, the seal, the drugs for docility – only one puzzle piece was missing, and that was Gríma himself. The puzzle of whether he would deliver the false message to Théoden and see Théodred go to his death.
Saruman, you led me like a dog, he thought bitterly, those days after Mother died. You pointed out the uses of this powder and that potion. Taught me to find my way in the dark by the stars. To read and write my letters. To serve Théoden’s seneschal and then take his place when he died. To counsel a king. To believe you.
Saruman had indeed told Gríma a great many things both true and false, but the lie that caught him for certain had been this:
“If you do not help, Gríma, the simpletons of Rohan will allow the country to fall piecemeal to Mordor in your lifetime, and the Westfold – home of your only living kin – will be first to burn.” The wizard turned his eyes on Gríma then and added, “Will you rise up, clever Gríma, to act on the stage of noble men, and gain renown in the Westfold and beyond?”
Well, here he was on the stage of his own undeniable choosing, locked in a spy hole with a message that lied, nobly making ready to commit ... what?
He grasped the parchment - Saruman's conspiracies made overt - and felt a fire start to burn in his lonely, divided heart: the anger of the clever who has been cleverly duped.
I curse you for using me, Saruman, to do your lying, murdering will.
“Then turn back,” said a familiar voice.
Suddenly the closet was ten times colder than the winter day outside, and as sorrowful as an early grave. Frozen with fear, he felt a breeze, or a hand, sweep his brow. Only one person had ever done that. His mother.
“Esma? Can it be you?”
The voice said, “Depart now, my son. Find some place far away where you can be a hermit. Use your knowledge to heal. Teach others. Or else, lose your very spirit to an evil you cannot imagine. Please, my son! Flee now.”
“I - Saruman will find me and kill me if I disobey,” Gríma muttered. He thought of the fire pits he had seen in the caves of Isengard, and the shrieking Orcs, and men, who had been dragged to them for punishment - and shuddered.
In haste he turned his thoughts to the sweetness that Saruman had offered and life had withheld: power. Enough to rule a king and put fear in the eyes of others. Enough, maybe, even to rule that one who crossed his path every day and his dreams every night, like a careless temptation, like a reincarnation of Esma herself.
Gríma looked at the parchment and thought, If you can use me like a pawn piece, Milord Wizard, then you will not object if I use another for my wishes in turn. He did not laugh aloud in the closet, but he smiled.
“When Eowyn bids me flee, Mother, then I will consider it,” he whispered.
Gríma left the closet through a trap door in the floor. He descended a ladder, followed a short passageway to another ladder, and climbed up into a woodshed behind the hall. The shed, passageway and closet were all there by the courtesy of Saruman. Back in the days when Thengel came from Gondor with his wife and infant son, Saruman generously offered to engineer some comforts to the hall that Fengel had left in such disorder. “A token of Isengard’s friendship to Rohan’s new king,” he had said. Thus Meduseld boasted a large and efficient central fireplace and three small outbuildings at the back of the hall, suitable for storage, smithying, and even cooking. And unbeknownst to the Rohirrim, there was a secret room behind Rohan’s very throne.
Leaving the shed carefully, Gríma returned to the hall in the usual way. He would see to it that Théodred went to Erech-on-Morthond to answer the note. And if he did not return, who was to say it was murder? Who knew what arrow might be loosed, or whose knife might slit his throat? Not Gríma. Gríma would be at the king’s side, blameless. Safe.
Taking such comfort as he could from cold thoughts, Gríma gave the false message to Théoden. And his recommendation, of course, on how to act on it.
That is when they brought word that Théodred was in the stable yard, injured.
When Éomer was a boy, his parents died and he came to live at Edoras. He remembered the first day well because it had been his eleventh birthday. Théoden had walked with him to the lower stables and shown him a greying five-year-old horse with a black mane and tail and patient, thoughtful eyes. Éomer’s own eyes had been sad but he did not weep. Théoden admired him for that.
“How beautiful he is!” said Éomer.
“His sire is Théodred’s horse Thunder,” said Théoden. “We call this one Cloud. He is a gelding. He likes carrots. Try giving him this one.”
Cloud whinnied, ate the carrot, and looked with appreciation for more.
“Whose horse is he, Milord Uncle?” Éomer asked, unsure whether he wanted to hope.
“Why, yours. You will feed and groom him, and you will get to know each other. Soon you will be handling and riding him.” Théoden reached high up to a shelf and took something from a box. “You will need this helmet. It was Théodred’s when he was your age.”
“I’m to have Théodred’s helmet?”
“It fits you well. See how long the horse tail is, how detailed the carvings? I hope you will wear it when we go riding together, for now I have two sons.”
As Éomer flung himself into Théoden’s sturdy embrace, he heard the words again: “Two sons.”
Éomer loved him for that.
Now it was Éomer's birthday again, his twenty-third, and once more he was in the icy yard of the lower stables where Théodred sat in the cold mud, clutching his ankle.
“I have jobbed this ankle properly,” he said, grimacing. “Thunder shied just as I was dismounting and I went flying. Then I came down on ice and twisted my ankle under me. By tonight it will be black with bruising. I cannot bear any touch of it. Maybe it is broken.”
A serving man approached them. “Milord, Gríma says you are wanted in the hall.”
Neither of them liked Gríma, for all that he had worked so hard for the old seneschal, gruff Éostor, until Éostor died suddenly at autumn’s end, leaving Gríma to take his place.
‘I come at my father's command, not Gríma’s,” said Théodred.
“Gríma says the king orders it.”
The men nodded to the page and started up the hill with Éomer supporting Théodred.
“ 'Gríma says,’ ” said Théodred. “I tire of those words. It is not like Father to let others speak for him.”
“Well, we shall see what he wants. Then you must bind that ankle and pack it in snow. And stay off your feet. It will be a while before you can get around, brother.”
Gríma’s summons left neither of them in good temper. By the time they came to the hall Théodred was tight-lipped with pain and Éomer, with anger. Gríma’s news of the invitation to Erech-on Morthond irritated him the more.
“Strange that they should want Théodred to come in winter,” he said, fixing Gríma with an unfriendly stare. ‘Spring starts the breeding season.”
Gríma cursed himself for overlooking this - he would never be much of a horseman - and cursed Théodred too, for marring Gríma’s plan. But he recovered quickly. “Since Théodred is injured Éomer must go in his place.”
Théoden nodded, moving slowly as if unsure of the proper motion. “I agree,” he said.
“No one should go!” Twenty pairs of eyes turned to Éomer at this shocking breach of propriety. No one living had ever heard anyone say “no” to the king.
Red-faced with dismay and embarrassment, Éomer continued in a lower voice. ‘Traveling to Erech now is unwise. You said yourself yesterday, Milord, that the mountains are awash with snowmelt, nearly impassable.”
If the court folk were startled at Éomer's shout, they were astonished at what happened next. Théoden, never known for his reticence, looked down as if confused. And then he turned to Gríma.
“You changed your mind, Milord,” said Gríma. “The summons from Gondor will not wait.”
Thinking, Has he always looked so old? Éomer tried again. “It is not fitting for me to go in Théodred's place. The matter is horses! Imrahil's steward will expect to speak to the king's son. If we wait until Théodred's injury is healed, the passes will be mostly free of winter and he can travel safely.”
Gríma said, “Indeed it is not fitting.” Éomer turned redder. “But it cannot be helped.” He added, “Théodred must take more care in dismounting, or he will break two legs next time.”
“Théodred needs no instruction from you, Gríma,” Éomer said. “That is your way, to use part of the truth to suit your designs, and use it ill. Your words are as sly as a snake, Wormtongue.”
Gríma never forgot that it was Éomer who gave him that name.
“Peace in the hall, sister-son,” Théoden said. “Go now.”
Éomer bowed, turned away, and stamped out of the hall, soon followed by a limping Théodred.
“It is ill to leave with hard words between you and Father,” he advised his young cousin.
“He said, 'Go now.’ I have been disrespectful once today, and that is enough. I will depart before I say something else I will regret. A curse on my rudeness!” He picked up a piece of broken wheel rim from the ground, looked at it, and then threw it hard against a wall. “After shouting at the king, how could I press my point?”
”At least take your squire. Where is he? You cannot pass through the mountains alone at the end of winter. All it needs is for you to break your leg, and then you are a dead man.”
“He is somewhere in the city, ailing, and I am in no mood to wait. I will take care in the mountains, brother. Once through them and down into Gondor the weather will be fine.”
A groom led Cloud to Éomer and Théodred watch him mount in an easy motion. As always, on horseback Éomer looked as if he might be part horse himself, so much was he at one with the beast.
“Get provisions at Dunharrow, will you,” he said, handing up Eomer's cloak. “Erech-on-Morthond is some miles south of the Erech Stone. Say to Imrahil's steward that Théoden and Théodred send their best wishes and their best horseman.”
“And you, my brother, must see to the king. He looks unwell.”
The cousins parted with affection. The year was 3014 of the Third Age.
1. See "Everyday Life in the Viking Age," Jacqueline Simpson, "Life on the Land," pages 52 and 53, for illustrations of small buildings built around a Viking longhouse, such as Saruman might have built for Thengel. Also there are illustrations of a hall that must have been P. Jackson's model for Meduseld.
2. Gríma began to exert influence over Théoden in 3014. JRRT, Unfinished Tales, The Battles of the Fords of Isen. That Gríma was once Théoden's seneschal and used Saruman’s potions on him is my invention.
Part 2 - In which Éomer is not mistaken for Théodred and goes from the frying pan to the fire.
Note. In “HoME, The Peoples of Middle Earth,” JRRT wrote that Lothíriel was the youngest child of Imrahil, with three older brothers. I made her the firstborn. My apologies to the Guardians. The Hobbit, LotR, and the Silmarillion are silent on this matter.
The cousins Éomer and Théodred parted with affection. The year was 3014 of the Third Age.
Now the oldest child of the Prince of Dol Amroth was fifteen in that year, and the Prince sent her to fostering in the north of his fiefdom.
“You have said I am both dutiful and willful, Father,” Lothíriel told him.
“Both are necessary if you are to help rule an estate - or a realm. But in this matter of fostering your willfulness achieves nothing but an angry parting. Come,” he said, softening his looks, “You love riding, and you know your education requires this.”
“Fostering, yes. But I would learn more in the Steward's house in Minas Tirith than our steward's house in the country.”
“Different but not more,” he answered, thinking, The East grows darker and Minas Tirith is far to the East.
“It is not like you to hold back the truth from me,” she said and then put her hand over her lips in surprise. But Imrahil laughed at her pertness.
“It is like you to read my thoughts. The Elvish blood is strong in you.” It was an old family joke.
He continued, “The truth is, war is gathering. If the Enemy moves, neither Minas Tirith nor Dol Amroth will be safe. So your brothers are going to fostering with Lord Angbor in Lamedon, and you to my steward at Erech.”
Lothíriel gave her father a most dutiful curtsey and then an entrancing smile. “For such a long journey I should have the pick of the stables, don't you think?”
That is how she found herself in the stables the next day with Rianné her lady in waiting and companion, making ready to ride two hundred miles to the north. They took a serving man and a baggage pony. They managed twenty miles a day or more, picnicked every midday under blue spring skies, rested at inns or households at night, and so came to the settlement of Erech-on-Morthond where the steward and his wife gave them a warm welcome to their country estate.
The only part of Éomer's journey that went well was the road from Edoras to Dunharrow. The next sixty miles paid him back with the hardest traveling he had ever experienced. The White Mountains closed in quickly past Dunharrow, and not for nothing did folk call them white. The snowmelt washed down the forested slopes and turned the one trail into a sticky avenue of mud and flowing water. Often Éomer had to walk the horse instead of riding. He was lucky to make ten miles a day.
Worse, winter had not yet left the mountains. Two days past Dunharrow, rain began to fall, drenching Éomer before turning to sleet at sundown. Now he had no fire, for nothing would burn in the soaked and frozen woods. In the black nights, all Éomer could do was huddle in the cold hollow of a tree and think black thoughts about untimely journeys.
Drenched, chilled, without hot food or sound rest, he began to sicken. It began like a sack of rusty nails scratching his throat raw. His head became stopped. Every touch of the cold air was a misery. The next day the top of his chest started to hurt inside. He hated to cough for the pain it caused him. But he thought, I am almost through the mountains. Gondor is enjoying full spring, and I can get warm there. One more day and night.
He kept going. He led Cloud and put one foot in front of the other. But fever took him, and he burned and shivered. Then he became dangerously hot. By the time Éomer staggered out of the hills and down the trail that had become a real road, he was out of his head.
It was in this condition that he passed beneath the ledge that concealed the Onion Man.
Some persons, and Éomer was one of them, are fated to be at the right place in the right time, regardless of the knocks that ordinary living can deliver. The Onion Man had to search for his niche. It was surely not in the military structure of Minas Tirith. That whole business horrified him to the point that, his first year, he knocked out his commanding officer – with a blow from behind – and deserted, efficiently burning his bridges. His parents were mortified.
But in the Onion Man’s view, he had just been saving his own life. He did not favor ambushes as a standard practice. He even appreciated the combat knowledge he had gotten in the Guards, as long as he did not have to practice it in the army. So he fled across Gondor by begging a ride with a troop of traveling performers and added stagecraft to his set of skills in the process. It served him well when he finally came to rest in the vales around Erech, which was about as far from Minas Tirith as you could get and still be in Gondor.
At Erech he took the name “Onion Man” when he found a tiny, deserted farm with a field of onions growing nicely. Through discreet inquiries he learned that the farmer had been an old man with no known kin. He had been a good farmer, planting the bulbs near a shallow creek that overflowed sometimes, and also planting many clumps of smelly, colorful flybane to keep away insects. So the onions practically grew themselves. Local people used quantities of them in their cooking and were very healthy as a result, because they bathed a lot and because of the tonic properties of the onions.
The Onion Man called himself the farmer’s cousin and began to peddle onions, taking them in a cart right to the kitchen doors. The cooks loved the convenience and gave him bartered goods and even enough coins to keep him in ale at the tavern.
By nights the Onion Man dressed in other disguises and fell to living exactly as he pleased. He became a man of all work, and then a sometime rogue. He was no outlaw, but he knew several. It was one of these ruffians that paid him to keep a watch on the road from Rohan.
“Look for a gentleman's party,” the ruffian said. “All these strawheads look alike to me, but the one I'm interested in may be taller than most, maybe thirty-five in years, and may be carrying some royal emblem from the court of Edoras.” The ruffian had no idea what such a symbol looked like and hoped the Onion Man would know. The Onion Man did not know either, but he would not admit it to the unlettered bully, who lacked good sense in the Onion Man’s opinion.
“When you see him, tell me his rate of travel and the number of his party. He will head for the steward’s house. I will be in the hills.”
“You are planning a royal welcome, no doubt?”
The ruffian grinned and jingled coins in a handsome leather pouch. On it there was stitched in white the emblem of a small hand. “His welcome is bought and paid for. Now look sharp. If he reaches the steward's house before I know of it, I will bury you among your onions.”
At least the smell will be better, the Onion Man thought, but he said nothing, being wise in the ways of silence. Then he picked his favorite overlook on the Rohan road and settled in to wait.
He saw no sign of a royal party. Only a single soaked, besmirched, stumbling, shivering tramp of a young man who was a strawhead to be sure, and tall, but not a day over twenty-five if that.
The Onion Man watched with interest. Here is an opportunity, he thought. Perhaps he is a drunk. Or a scout for the gentlemen’s party. His gear is well made.
The young man started to sing in a language the Onion Man did not understand. It sounded like a barracks drinking song, which did not endear itself to the Onion Man. But the singer by his voice was very sick. He seemed to lack the energy to mount his horse. Then, as the Onion Man watched the young man collapsed.
If he speaks Westron I will question him, thought the Onion Man. And perhaps I will try healing him. He may have loving, rich kin who like to reward their boy's helper.
So the Onion Man scrambled down the bank, loaded Éomer over his horse, and led them both to his farmhouse as the evening deepened into dark night.
The next two days and nights were mostly lost to Éomer. He lay on a straw pallet, throwing off heat like a cookstove. The Onion Man bathed him with cool water. He kept a cool cloth on his forehead, as best he could, for the young man tossed about with the fever. Sometimes he would approach consciousness and the Onion Man would question him.
“What do you know about a royal visitor?” he tried. “A visitor to the steward?”
The young man’s eyes cleared for a moment and he muttered some words hoarsely.
“Who are your kin? Tell me!”
♪ ”Þæt mon eaÞe tosliteþ þætte næfre gesomnad wæs, uncer gied --- ”♪
“Useless!” The Onion Man stood up. He said to the room at large, “Why is a third-rate ruffian laying for the steward’s visitors? Oh, well. I suppose I must report this one’s arrival, unless he dies first.” It was deep in the middle of the second night and Éomer shook so hard with chills that he rattled the bed. The Onion Man saw the patient was conscious, but hardly sane.
“My boy, I think you are dying,” he said. He tossed some kindling onto the embers of the fire and fetched another blanket.
In the dark farmhouse the young man croaked, “Who are you? Where am I?” To the Onion Man's delight, he spoke in Westron this time.
“You can call me the Onion Man. Now I have something that will cure the chills and save your life, I think. But when you come to your senses, you will owe me. Do you promise?”
♪ “Trip no further, pretty sweeting! Journeys end in lovers --- ”♪
“Quiet! I heard enough bawdy songs in the army.” The Onion Man went to a cupboard and took out a clay cup and a stout clay jug with a stopper. On the jug was emblazed the likeness of an onion, and the word “Reserved” although Éomer was in no condition to notice this.
The Onion Man unstoppered the jug and carefully poured a clear liquid into the cup. He took the cup to Éomer, set it down on the keg that served as a bedside table, and then picked up a knife with a very long blade. “Observe!” he said.
Éomer obligingly tried to focus.
The Onion Man reached over and plucked a hair from Éomer's head, ignoring the yelp. He raised the long knife so that its blade shone in the firelight. “See this?” he said, and split the golden hair easily in one swipe. “Now, my boy, you are going to take your medicine, or this knife will put you out of both our miseries. Drink!”
Éomer raised the cup with shaking hands. “I never said I wouldn't,” he said plaintively. Then he opened his mouth, poured the liquid down his throat, and drank without stopping.
Many people can tell a tale of a life-changing physical shock. Perhaps the ordeal of birth, or the grievous wound on a battle field. This was like that for Éomer, except the insult was in his head, close to all his senses, and it had a dimension that was something other than pain.
Grotesque, horrible, indescribable! The clear liquid in his mouth was the most awful taste he had ever experienced. He thought of liqueur gone bad, of rotten vegetables steeped in vinegar. He swallowed involuntarily and his arms and the back of his neck broke out in goose bumps. For the rest of his days all he had to do was recall the taste and he could conjure up gooseflesh instantly.
The clear liquid was volatile. Its vapor clung to his throat, rose to his nose, and filled the cavities behind his eyes. Éomer began to weep without volition. The odor of a privy would have been wholesome compared to this; so would boiled knuckle bones. Dead animals smelled better.
Éomer began to feel warmth spreading out from his belly. His chills stopped. He gave a great sneeze, almost rocking his head off his shoulders, and was able to take a deep, unpolluted breath. The fresh air cleared his fogged head, and then, Éomer was a mad man.
With a mighty shout he leaped up, knocked the knife away, picked up the Onion Man, and threw him bodily across the room. He went over, found the knife, and stood astride him, raging.
“In the name of all the powers that be - what was that drink?”
“Fermented onion juice. And a secret – “
“I’ll kill you!” Éomer roared. “Your sniveling spirit will be my slave in the afterworld!” He pulled up the Onion Man by his tunic, but the Onion Man seemed not disconcerted at all. In fact, Éomer saw he was laughing. “What is funny, you lout? Do you see this knife at your throat?”
“Yes, very good!” said the Onion Man, chortling. “Now – make me drink it!”
Éomer gave him one unbelieving look, and then the powerful liquor hit his brain and felled him like a poleax. The Onion Man smiled.“ Rest easy, Fair Hair, while I make us ready to depart. You cannot stay here when I go to find the ruffian.” And he went to saddle the fine grey horse.
1. Fostering. It had little to do with whether you had your own family. Well-born children were sent to fostering for their education, or to get them away from the flatteries of court, or to keep them safe during times of war or civil unrest.
2. Éomer’s Rohirric (Old English) song says “What never was united is easily torn asunder -- our song…” from “Wulf and Eadwacer,” translated by W.S.Mackie (The Exeter Book. London 1934)
3. Éomer’s Westron song, “Trip no further” is from “Carpe Diem” by William Shakespeare.
Part 3 - In which Éomer meets Lothíriel and rises to the occasion.
Note: ErinRua’s lyrical love poem “The Lion and the Swan” inspired much of the imagery below. Mentioned and used with permission. Responsibility for the story-writing is mine.
Lothíriel awoke early at the steward’s house. A deep longing for home had taken her by the heart and was constricting her throat. But she did not wish to begin the day with tears and anyway, great ladies did not weep for themselves, so she had been taught. Settling back against the pillows she tried to reach a place in her mind that she thought of as the path of dreams. If she could achieve this state she would be able to slip back into… Mortal sleep, she thought uncertainly. And so rise refreshed.
She always began by casting her thoughts west across the sea. By closing her eyes she could call up images of ships’ prows on the breast of the ocean. She saw the sails whipping in the wind. The sea reflected the blue sky, and sunlight glinted on the waves. She was a child, back in Dol Amroth where she could see the water from the stone wall of her chamber’s balcony.
Now came the high crying of sea birds. And though they sounded lonelier than the horns of ships on rainy nights, Lothíriel longed to soar with them on their silvered wings, questing beyond imagination toward distant westward shores. . . .
She was there; the gulls flying west were the sign. She was on the path of dreams. Now the vision would come.
As dream-Lothíriel watched, the waves turned all to rolling hills of grass. The cry of gulls faded. The air smelled dry as parchment, and when the sea-tang vanished, she knew she was as far from home as she would ever, living, be. She felt small, lost, unsure how she would accomplish this journey, whatever it might be.
She looked beyond the hills, and far to the east a cloud and a darkness loomed, more frightening than the unknown journey. But from the darkness came pacing a great golden wonder: a lion. The Elvish name came to her: Raw, like his roar. Majestic in size and lordly as any king, he was the most beautiful creature Lothíriel had ever beheld in waking life or dream. And she loved him.
He came right to her. He was so large that his face was level with hers. Enchanted, she stared into hot, pale, eyes, and he began to rumble deep in his throat.Then he reared up. She felt his paws on her chest, felt the rough caress of his tongue on her face, felt his strength as he pushed her down. Alas my homeward shores are lost, she thought. Then she fell …
… and awoke with her heart thudding, as always. The vision of the darkened east came frequently; that of the lion, only when her monthly courses would soon begin. She thought, I can sleep no more. She dressed quickly in an old frock, split for riding front and back, and her boots, and the knife she always wore on a belt. Then she slipped out to the stables, waking Rianné as she closed the door.
Over the fields, away from the manor house Lothíriel rode through the morning light. She tried to dismiss the vision, but all that she saw seemed distanced and hesitant, as if the day had not happened yet and was waiting to begin. At length she came to a cluster of trees. She decided to rest there, for Rianné was no doubt behind her, and no doubt, vexed. Dismounting, she led Nightfall toward the trees. Then she heard a male voice, and it was so dry and jocular, so much in the world, that Lothíriel regained herself at once. Creeping nearer, she spied a man who dressed like a farmer, stood like a soldier, and talked like a gentleman. He was standing over the naked body of a fair-haired young man who was bound, masked, and apparently asleep.
"I will cut your bonds but must keep your weapons, clothes and horse," the soldier-farmer was saying. "Otherwise you will follow me and do who knows what damage." The man cut the ropes about the sleeper's hands. Then he mounted a fine-looking grey horse. The sleeper began to stir.
The soldier-farmer said, "Farewell, Handsome.. Master Ruffian paid me for news of a strawhead and you are the only one about." He chucked side-mouth to the horse and sped away toward some low hills where, people said, outlaws lived.
Éomer lay dreaming, luxurious in his nest of grass. He dreamt of health and well-being and next of lazing before a hot fireplace. The sun beat upon his pale body and he stirred. Words began to work their way into his mind.
"That man took your horse," a woman's voice said. For a moment Éomer lay disoriented, as well he might, for the Onion Man had left him blindfolded. Then his wits awoke. He pulled off the blindfold, sprang to his feet, and looked upon Lothíriel.
All his life at Edoras, Éomer had thought himself a lucky man. Hunting, training, fighting unscathed, riding under the wide unfettered sky – these had filled his days and made him glad. Now all was changed in a moment, and his carefree state now seemed selfishly untutored; his heart as hollow and dry as an old earthenware pot. The disorientation he had suffered from his recent illness and the blindfold was nothing compared to this. His whole world slipped sideways, and changed, and in an instant he became a different man: a man who loved this woman.
He said, “You …by all the powers that be, you are beautiful. You are like some exotic bird, loved by the Father of Airs.”
Lothíriel was nonplussed. She knew she was fair, but no one had ever told her in so many words. True, Imrahil called her “swan” and “princess” but this was only something any father might say.
“Some, some call me Swan,” she stammered.
“Well, are you real, or am I still feverish?”
"She is real enough," said a third voice. Its owner emerged from the trees, her horse's reins hooked around her arm that was bending a bow. A strung arrow pointed directly at Éomer.
He hardly noticed. “Shoot if you will, lady, but I am harmless.”
"Well certainly you are ... unarmed," she observed.
Éomer noticed that he was unclothed as well. He looked down at himself. The sun had reddened his skin over the entire front of his body, except for one place where his arm had lain across his belly as he slept. The result was, his skin bore the pale shape of his hand, and the hand seemed to be reaching for his crotch.
"This is not good," he said, and then, predictably as the women gazed at him, matters grew worse: doubly, or more. Éomer sighed , thinking, Well, what of it, I am a man, and then found he did not mind. He liked his man’s body. He was as clean as a wash-day, thanks to the Onion Man’s ministrations, and by the feel of his head, he had been inexplicably barbered and shaved as well.
Lothíriel regained her composure. "You may as well drop that - mask - you hold in your hand," she advised. "It will not make a sufficient breechcloth."
"Not at present," Éomer agreed.
The other lady said, "It is not wise for masked strangers to trespass on the lands of the steward of Dol Amroth. This lady is Lothíriel, daughter of Imrahil, and I am Rianné, her companion. Who are you, Outlaw?"
Daughter of the prince! Now it was Éomer who was at a loss. He imagined saying “I am the foster-son of Théoden King of Rohan.” They would peal with laughter. Or, if they believed him, his naked, robbed, sorry plight would soon be the talk of both realms.
They shall not know, he resolved. Not unless I desire the amusement of the lords of Gondor for the rest of my life. But what to tell them?
Now here it must be said that Éomer was a poor liar, and he knew it. The one untruth he could remember uttering deliberately concerned some boyish nonsense about riding one of the young stallions without his trainer present. The elders forbade the inexperienced youngsters from risking their necks unsupervised. "Green on green means black and blue," they said, yet almost everyone tried it at least once. Éomer was nearly twelve when he tried it, and when they asked him about it, Éomer mumbled he had not done it.
In Éomer's defense he was still new to Edoras and worried about the trouble this might cause the trainer, whom he admired. But he got no chance to explain this. All he got were looks of complete disbelief from his elders, a few well-chosen words from Théoden in front of everyone, and a trip to the stables with Algar the weapons master.
Algar took him there by the ear, edifying the journey with many persuasive arguments in favor of truth-telling and against the ignoble practice of lying. At each pause Éomer said "Yes, sir," guessing that the time for any other remark was past. When they came to the stables Algar bent him over the hay manger and went to look among the tack for a suitable strap.
"There is another reason you should not lie, Éomer," he said. "You are not very good at it. You have too honest a face. Your eyes are as clear as spring water. The whole point of lying is to deceive, you know."
"When have I ever tried before?" said Éomer around a face full of hay. "I was worried my actions might bring trouble to the trainer."
"You are more in trouble than the trainer. Is anyone beating the trainer? This happens to the trainer all the time. But I believe you did not know that." In truth Algar felt kindly toward the orphan lad. "You are a good-hearted boy, Éomer, and no deceiver. You made a mistake, that is all. Please do not repeat it." Algar considered a moment. "I shall not beat you much. Just you yell loudly anyway."
Éomer looked up with wide-eyed surprise. "Is that not deceitful?" he asked.
Algar heaved a sigh.
That was Éomer; honest to a fault. So even though the occasion begged for invention, though he stood bare as a bone in a field with a beautiful woman and was robbed of weapons, clothes, identity, and worst of all his horse, Éomer could not lie.
But he could act.
In one reach he had Lothíriel by the waist. His very daring thrilled him, or perhaps it was the feel of her slender body. "My name is a secret. My business is to find a horse thief. For that I need your help. I'll take that knife, lady. If you struggle I shall be forced to, ah, - forced to what? – ah, bind you! Rianné, drop the bow and quiver."
She put the weapons on the grass. Her look might have withered a field of it.
"Now the lady has noticed I lack clothes, and I do not wish to ride naked. So one of you must tear off a strip of your dress and make me a breechcloth."
"Certainly," replied Rianné. "When the sun sets east of Rhûn -"
"Oh, peace, Rianné," said Lothíriel unexpectedly. "Use your undershift, for I have none, and rip away a goodly strip."
Grumbling, Rianné lifted her skirt and began to tear at the undershift’s seam. Soon a piece came away. "Now what? You'll need your hands to dress yourself, and I will put an arrow through –“
"I will dress him," said Lothíriel.
"My Lady!" said Rianné and Éomer.
"I have three brothers, you know. Here, Outlaw. It should be a treat for you to have a serving woman." Next thing Éomer knew, her cool hands were about his bare waist, pulling the cloth between his legs, cupping, wrapping, touching, tying. Éomer thought he might die of it.
When Lothíriel was done, and Éomer was breathing deeply, she removed the saddle and blanket from Rianné's horse. She folded the blanket in two. "Cut a hole in the middle for your head," she instructed. Éomer took her knife and cut the hole.
"Your blade is sharp," he observed.
"It would draw blood from the wind," Lothíriel replied. She slipped the blanket over his head for a tunic and placed her belt around his middle. At the last notch, it just fit. Then she observed her handiwork.
Clad in rags and barefoot, he was the finest figure of a man she had ever seen. Tall, broad of shoulder, layered with muscle, and as purposeful as a hunting cat. The men at her father's court played as pleasant foils for her girlish diversion, responding indulgently to the Prince's daughter. This blunt outlaw, she realized, did not play courtly games. He expected none from her. Precocious Lothíriel, who was smarter than most of the court folks put together, found in the outlaw's eyes a prize never offered by anyone else. She was no girl to him, but a woman, and like a woman , her heart began to warm to him.
"I would clad you like a knight if I could, Master Outlaw," she said, smiling, "for you have that bearing and look."
"I am an honest traveler," he said. Rianné made an unladylike sound.
“The man who took your horse said he was paid for news of strawheads,” said Lothíriel. “I guess you are of Rohan?”
“I am. But he cannot have been paid for news of me. No one knew I was coming. I did not know myself until the last minute.” For a moment Éomer stood musing over his capture by the Onion Man on the Rohan road. He felt near to touching some truth that would be critical to his house, if only he knew the right question to ask. Then Lothíriel interrupted his thoughts.
“He said he was going to find a ruffian,” she said, “and ruffians live in the hills yonder."
"Then I will go there, but I must take the loan of your good horse."
Lothíriel grew willful in an instant. "That horse is the pick of my father's stables, and my friend! You shall not take her - unless you take me too. Rianné, I asked you to be at peace. Outlaw, I can show you the way."
"I can find the way, lady.” Boasting a little: “They say I can track a shadow on a cloudy day."
"If you do not take me with you, I shall return at once to the manor and raise the alarm. I pity you if you come alive to my father after menacing me."
Éomer believed her. His lack of credentials had two sides, he saw. He could find himself in prison until Théoden got him out. Then with a sinking feeling, he remembered the confusion of Théoden and the ill will of Gríma. He thought, what am I doing here? and felt again an urgent need to ask the right question, if only he knew what it was.
"I do not wish to meet the lords of Dol Amroth in such a manner," he said aloud. “For now, I wish only to retrieve my horse and gear, and question the Onion Man.” And to remain with you, he added in thought. Do you ride well, I wonder? Do you like my yellow hair?
"If Lothíriel goes I shall raise the alarm myself," Rianné said. "It is my duty to the girl."
"I respect your duty, Rianné. I would say the same in your place. But while we debate the Onion Man is getting away!" Éomer thought a moment. "What about this? Give me a head start, until the sun is three fists higher in the sky than now. If I have not brought her back by then, raise the alarm. But lady, I promise I will bring her back unharmed."
"The right answer is 'no,'" she said, thinking, He seems as much a gentleman as any of the steward's men.
Then Lothíriel spoke. "Please!"
"You must be mad, Lothíriel," Rianné said finally. "And so am I. But I will give him the head start." She turned to Éomer. "Bring this headstrong girl back unharmed, sirrah. And I shall keep the bow."
Éomer bowed. He assisted Lothíriel to her horse and got behind her. The Onion Man’s trail across the fields was clear; he had not expected pursuit.
They rode, with Éomer's arms about Lothíriel’s waist and she leaning against him. He pressed his bristly cheek against her soft one. “You ride well,” he said.
“Today I feel as if I could fall, so hold me close,” she replied.
Once, showing off, Éomer leaned down while at full gallop and plucked a handful of wildflowers. He gave them to Lothíriel. She turned her head and put a kiss on the corner of his mouth. And then another.
The sun rose higher. They neared the outlaw hills, and were watched by outlaw eyes.
Part 4 - In which Éomer and Lothíriel are both united and divided
The ruffian and his lookout man perched on a rock in the Outlaw Hills, sharing a flask of home-made spirits. Their eyes were on a moving grey dot that approached across the greening fields of Erich. They waited, and soon the dot became a horse and rider. When the ruffian saw who it was, he laughed for joy. Not only was it the Onion Man, but he was riding a greyed-out horse that could only be of Rohan.
"The Onion Man killed the strawhead for me!" he said, unable to imagine parting a living Rider from his horse. "Now I'll just bring some token of his death to Gríma Whey-face, and trade it for more money.” He foresaw a long and profitable relationship with the pale man from over the mountains. "I could ride that horse to Edoras ...but, no. They would take me for a thief."
"Or a murderer," added the lookout helpfully.
The ruffian sighed. Perhaps the Onion Man's appearance was not so lucky after all. "He should have stuck to the plan. All I wanted from him was news. I could have done the slaying and gotten the horse and whatever swag there is. Now I'll have to get it from the Onion Man and he's too clever by half."
So saying, the ruffian went to meet his accomplice, calling "Keep watch!" over his shoulder. He could think of only one way to get the swag, and it was not negotiation.
The sun had dried the dew off the grasses by the time Éomer and Lothíriel came to the slopes. They saw the Onion Man's trail vanish into the beech trees around the base of the hill, but saw no other sign of him or anyone else.
"We don’t have much time," Éomer said, looking up at the sun climbing in the sky. "Will Rianné raise the alarm?"
"Yes, if we are late. Then the steward will come with all his knights. Unless you escaped pursuit he would put you in prison. You would need a powerful family or friends, at least, to help you.” She changed the subject, thinking he was unlikely to know such people. "Are you planning to kill this man?"
He was delighted that she thought him fierce and wondered if she found him attractive as well. "The men of Rohan do not kill other men readily, only Orcs. But we shall see. I intend to have my horse when I leave."
" ‘When you leave,’ ” she repeated quietly. They both looked somber.
"Now I will dismount and go on foot for silence' sake," Éomer continued, his voice rougher. "When I find Cloud I will try to stay hidden until I can loose his reins. Then I shall mount and flee. With no weapon but a knife, I dare not fight unless I have to. Cloud is well trained and I will have the advantage of surprise. You stay here, mounted and ready to ride when I come flying past. Give me your knife again. "
"I want to help," she said.
"I know, but have you ever drawn a weapon to fight? Then - hold!"
They heard voices coming from around the base of the hill: someone's deep growl, and the refined drawl of the Onion Man. Éomer led Nightfall to a nearby tree. He gestured to Lothíriel - Stay here! - and disappeared between a double line of spring-gold bushes, those that always are first to blossom in spring. They led up the hill, flanking a faint path. Maybe a farming couple had lived up there once. Maybe the husband had planted these bushes to please his wife, back when both were young. If so they were long gone now, but the bushes remained in golden, riotous, perennial life. The thick branches and yellow foliage gave good cover for a tall strawhead clad in a green horse blanket.
When Éomer came to the top, he could see, down the hill's other side, a half-circle of a clearing ringed by budding beeches. At its edge stood Cloud! The reins were thrown carelessly across a branch and were not looped, Éomer noted. At Cloud's feet lay a bag from which his green cloak spilled, and his sword was nearby. All was perfectly positioned for his stealthy plan.
Except, of course, for the occupants of the clearing's center who rendered his plan useless.
Saruman snared Gríma through his love of power, and Gríma got the ruffian through his greed for gold. In turn, the ruffian should have found accomplices of weaker character and slower mind than his own, but that would have been hard to do. Nevertheless he achieved it in the person of the lookout. When that fellow saw the tall blond man and the pretty wench, he had just enough sense to get out of sight and ponder what to do. He found pondering hard work, and while he debated whether to shout or charge, the man started up the hill between the hedges. The lookout's decision was made. The wench would be an easier foe than the ragged youth, and likely, more useful. As a shield. A weapon against the youth. Ransom. Or maybe she is in a mood to dally. This brightening thought chased most others from his head. When the young man was gone, the lookout made ready to grapple with Lothíriel and bring her off the horse.
Lothíriel quickly lost sight of her "Outlaw" as she thought of him. The hill, though small, was steep and mostly shielded by the spring-gold bushes. She heard no more voices from the other side of the hill. In fact, to her town-bred ears the country silence around her was ominous. She was alone. Except for a horse-thief, his ruffian master, and a comely outlaw, she thought. Now she doubted her insistence in accompanying the outlaw. Perhaps I should have listened to my head, not my heart. Looking about, she spied a long tree limb overhead, hanging by a strip of bark. A rare ice storm last winter had weighed it down and broken it nearly away.
She thought, It would be good to have that limb in my hands..
"Easy, lady," she said and with her knees signaled Nightfall to hold. She reached the limb by standing in the stirrups. But it did not come free when she tugged.
"Oh..." she said, and thought of a word the stable master had taught her. "Go forward, Nightfall," she urged, and this time Nightfall's great strength pulled the tree limb free. Quickly Lothíriel broke off the springy tip and stripped the stringy parts away. What was left was a fair cudgel some five feet long, as thick around as her forearm and made of still-green wood. Lothíriel did not know what she might do with it, but it felt good to hold, just the same.
Just then a mouse-grey bundle of fur streaked along the ground by Nightfall, who whirled, nearly leaving Lothíriel sitting in mid-air. Next thing she knew, another streak, red this time, rushed by.
"Oh!" she gasped as Nightfall reared and neighed. If anyone was listening, they were found out. I do not like this, she thought, and then there came the highest-pitched scream she had ever heard, the scream of an animal. It was the hare dying in the jaws of the pursuing fox.
"Easy, lady," Lothíriel said, trembling. "There, beauty. Be still." She took a deep breath, hoping it would calm both Nightfall and herself. "I cannot abide any more scares."
The lookout, who had watched all this from behind a boulder, chose this moment to launch himself toward her.
Lothíriel's mouth opened in surprise and she froze, unable even to breathe. This is a bad dream, she thought as the man sprang into view from nowhere and ran toward her, seeming to take all the time in the world. A purely detached corner of her mind inquired, Does he really mean to tackle a nervous horse?
Apparently he did. At the last moment he leaped from an outcropping of stone, and his momentum carried him almost far enough. But Nightfall had had enough. She neighed again and raced up the hill, with Lothíriel barely managing to stay on. The lookout scrambled after them, and it was a short hill.
When Éomer saw the ruffian and the Onion Man in the center of the clearing, he forgot that the Onion Man had waylaid and robbed him and left him in a perilous predicament. You sheltered me and cured me, he thought, and I owe you, as you said.
The Onion Man lay belly down on the grass with his ankles tied to his wrists. The burly ruffian stood over him, as tall as Éomer and bigger in girth. Unlike Éomer, he had a sword, clothes, and boots. He was putting the boots to use: punishing the Onion Man with kicks to the ribs. "Who told you to kill the strawhead?" he roared.
"I killed no one, dunce! Who are you talking about? Huhh!"
Éomer assessed his chances. A frontal assault was risky, but hurling the knife at the ruffian would be disastrous. His skill was not so great as with a spear, and he dared not lose his only weapon. So down the hillside he sprang, landing beside the astonished ruffian.
"I am alive. If you wish to remain so, loose your sword belt at once."
The ruffian did not budge, frozen as he was in surprise at the sudden appearance of the shouting young giant. "But you are not the one," said the ruffian finally. "Gríma said the man was thirty-..."
"Grima said!" repeated Éomer with dawning realization, and in that second they all heard the neighing of a frightened horse, a high-pitched shriek, and the approach of a rider. Before anyone could move, Lothíriel came charging over the hilltop, clearly struggling to control her horse. Close behind, and without much care to avoid either Lothíriel’s cudgel or the horse's hind quarters, came the lookout, who, as Lothíriel later told Éomer, put the 'rough' in 'ruffian.'
"Outlaw! Help!" she shouted, and this finished Nightfall's nerves nicely. She reared and this time Lothiriel slid off her back, landing right in the arms of the pursuing lookout. Her skirt rode up and displayed her bare legs, which sight transfixed the lookout and his master.
Meanwhile Éomer remembered Gríma’s words at Meduseld: "You must go in Théodred's place" and suddenly he knew the right question to ask, and its answer.
"Lady! Was your steward making ready for the king's son of Rohan?"
Lothíriel paused her struggle with the lookout and gave him a blank look. In a flash Éomer recognized the deceptions of Gríma Wormtongue and knew the peril of his house and kin.
And his own peril. The ruffian had shaken off his surprise and drawn his sword. "You're a fool to fight me, boy," he said. "My reach is longer; my arm is stronger."
"Ah, but I am more handsome and my wits are keener," replied Éomer, guarding with the knife.
"Keen enough to protect you from me, and her from him?" said the ruffian, nodding at the lookout and the struggling Lothíriel. "You cannot help, as you will be dead in a minute, and the wench has no chance against him on her own...."
Then to Éomer’s delight they saw Lothíriel snatch the lookout's dirty hand, pull it to her mouth, and bite down hard. The lookout screamed like a hare in the fox's jaws, snatched his hand away, and for a moment turned his back to the clearing. He never saw it again. Éomer took his chance, let loose a prayer, and the knife, and watched it fly straight and true. It would draw blood from the wind. The lookout fell, trying with his last strength to remove the blade from the left side of his meaty back. Then he lay still at the feet of a horrified Lothíriel.
Still, she had enough presence of mind to pick up her dropped cudgel. "Catch!" she shouted, and threw the stick to Éomer.
He grabbed it from mid-air and swung it at the ruffian, who swung his sword in response. Crack! went the cudgel and a slice flew off. Now the cudgel was short, and sharp on one end.
Éomer began to see a plan.
He feigned a dash past the ruffian, reaching for his own sword that lay on the pile of goods next to Cloud. But the ruffian moved with him, circling so as to stay between Éomer and his gear.
A few more steps would put the ruffian just where Éomer wanted him. Take the steps, he begged silently. He moved closer to the ruffian, brandishing the cudgel with the pointed end forward. Then he lunged forward. His outstretched arms were in great danger of being cut off. The ruffian made a mock retreat, grinning, and raised his sword.
"Any last words?" he taunted. Then he took the steps.
"Only my thanks to the powers," Éomer replied, "and this."
He put his fingers to his mouth and let out a piercing whistle that started high and rose higher. And patient Cloud, trained with love for twelve years, lifted his hindquarters and kicked like a mule. His hooves cracked the ruffian's back. The ruffian screamed and plunged forward. Éomer's makeshift lance was there to meet him and pierce his heart till the stake came out his back.
"My reach was longer after all," Éomer observed, hardly believing his luck. Then Lothíriel ran to him and threw herself into his arms. He held her tight. They both turned away from the two bodies on the grass.
"My hero, my love!" she said, trembling.
Éomer trembled also; his heart was racing. "My blood froze when I saw that villain clutch you," he said. "Are you hurt?"
"Yes, I am," said a voice below. "Make love later, Strawhead. My arms are in agony."
"Poor fellow! We forgot the Onion Man," said Lothíriel.
Éomer took the ruffian’s sword, knelt and cut the captive’s bonds, "I ask pardon for your distress. You did more than save my life. Thanks to you I discovered a great peril to my family, and" - looking at Lothíriel - "to my heart. I am glad you are spared."
"Just when my sniveling spirit had gotten used to serving you in the afterworld," grumbled the Onion Man, standing up and rubbing his arms.
"Only do not steal my horse again. Can you take the ruffians' … bodies away from here? If you search them you may find a money pouch stitched with a small white hand. You may as well keep the contents, but if I were you I would destroy the pouch. And in future stay on the good side of the law. You are as poor an outlaw as I am a liar and I will not always be here to save your ..." and he smote the Onion Man on the backside with the flat of the ruffian’s sword.
"Thank you," said the Onion Man, wincing, "for your counsel. I know of a cave on the other side of these hills and I will take them there at once."
Quickly he put the bodies across the ruffian's mule, which was tied up nearby. Éomer and Lothíriel stood watching, side by side with their arms around each other's waists.
"Farewell, gentles," said the Onion Man. He looked long at Éomer and then plodded away, taking the dead and leaving the lovers behind him. He stopped once.
"Kiss his red lips for me, Lady," he said and then he was gone.
They smiled. "Why, I think he is sweet on me," said Éomer.
"I am sweet on you," she said and kissed his red lips indeed. Sooner than she wished, he stepped away. He removed his makeshift tunic and picked up his own clothes. High above, the sun moved with her usual disregard for those who wish to stop time. They embraced again, and each felt the other's heartbeat, dizzying and wild.
After a moment she whispered, "Do not mind the sun. Stay with me a while."
"I would stay forever, love, but we must return."
"We must do something else first. I would not tumble you -"
"Nor I you, I would bring you to my family with ceremony. I -"
"But now is all the time we have, I know it."
"My heart tells me to stay, but I have duties as well as desires. A man I thought harmless is plotting murder and more against my kin. And, and, you, lady, should not conceive a child."
"I have taken thought for it. I am only two or three days from my monthly courses and so the time is wrong. Besides Elvish women never conceive unless both desire it. Have you not heard I have Elvish blood?" She smiled bitterly at the old family joke. "We will not meet again. So if I am your true love, love me now."
“You are my own true love,” he said. Now Éomer could not claim a drop of Elvish blood, but sometimes Mortals glimpse the future too, and he did so now. The Seen World faded. He saw all of Rohan as from a great height. A shadow swept over it. He heard a thunder of horses and the crash of a mighty battle. Out of the shadow came a crown with wings, and behind it, another: the crown of Rohan.
"We will meet again," he said, "and when we do you shall wed a king."
"I would rather wed you," she said. "I shall prove it."
"There is no need, lady," he began, but he could not lie, and there was need.
She spread his makeshift tunic on the green grass and it was a blanket again. "Come." She loosened the ribbons of her bodice and showed him breasts no lips had ever touched. Éomer drew a deep breath. Nothing ever again moved him so much as when Lothíriel, languorous on the blanket, raised her skirt to her waist. Éomer came to her then. She parted her thighs wide for him.
At first he was content to admire her beauty with his eyes, but soon he must use his hands and mouth. He hungered for the taste of her skin. He found it salty as blood and headier than the honey wine of Meduseld. Her breasts were a feast of kisses.
He lifted her legs and looked between them for a while. She was already wet as a fountain. He touched her with a finger and traced the crease of her buttocks with the moisture, exploring the short distance to that other place. He rubbed there and she shuddered.
She thought she would die as he trailed his fingers over her nether lips, as he rubbed his stubbly face against her thighs and soothed the abrasions with his tongue. He spent a long time there. She had not known such pleasure existed. Well are you avenged for my play with the breechcloth, she thought madly. She grasped his flesh, the only man she would ever touch so, and urged him with her hand to be her lover.
When they were both ready and more than ready, they joined their bodies beneath the trees in spring. They cried aloud together. Lothíriel felt her spirit became one with his when his body became one with hers. It was the Elven blood and the indissoluble bond. "More," she begged and Éomer gave her more.
Afterwards, they slept awhile as lovers do when done: he between her wide-spread legs and she with her arms around his neck. Sated. It was the sweetest song their bodies ever sang.
The sun had risen three fists and more when Éomer and Lothíriel galloped back across the meadows.
Lothíriel said, "Always before I gained everything in life that I wished. But I see no way to keep you with me. Oh, will you not stay?"
Éomer shut his eyes tight. For some reason, the day his mother died came into his mind. "Lady, I must," he began, but his suddenly his breath hitched in his throat as if caught in a noose.
Before he could continue, they saw the gates of the manor-keep open. The steward's guards poured out, led by three figures: the steward himself, his wife who once had been a shield maiden, and Rianné. She had waited three fists of the sun to the moment. Then she had ridden bareback to the manor house and raised the alarm.
One guard loosed an arrow and it whistled horribly close to Lothíriel. They saw Rianné charge toward that guard, swing her bow, and hit the surprised guard's helmet so hard that they heard the crack. The guard swayed. After that there were no more arrows. Instead, Rianné came riding hard toward the lovers. She found them at the grove of trees where they had first met. The outlaw was helping Lothíriel to dismount. He was whispering something that Rianné did not hear, and Lothíriel clasped his hand and kissed it.
Now he was mounted again while the sound of the steward's soldiers pounded closer. Rianné saw tears on his cheek. He turned his grey horse and rode like mad toward the north and the Rohan road. The steward's soldiers wheeled about and followed, but it was clear they would not catch him.
The strip of black cloth he had worn around his eyes was still lying where he dropped it. Rianné picked it up and pressed the ends to Lothíriel's eyes. "How can you love such a ... brigand as that?" she asked but her tone was gentle.
" 'Lady love an outlaw like a little boy love a stray dog,' " Lothíriel answered, quoting a proverb of the farm folk. She stopped her tears; great ladies did not weep for themselves. "Is he not splendid! I shall wave to him." And she did, just as Éomer looked back.
Later, Éomer told Théodred, "She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw, clinging to that rearing horse, waving goodbye. I swear I saw stardust - don't smile! - stardust sparkle from her hand. Powers help me, I’ve fallen in love with a fairy woman, brother."
So thought Éomer as he headed back to his troubled hall. He returned to find Edoras in an uproar and Théoden lying deep in a senseless sleep. When the king awoke at last, his mind was much altered for the worse, and all Éomer's insight came to nothing because of Gríma’s doings. Then war overtook Rohan, and Éomer did not see Lothíriel for many years.
Everyone knows how the war made Éomer a king, and how Lothíriel wedded him, and they loved each other well and were loved by all the Rohirrim and the folk of Gondor. For that tale has been told, and told well, by a mighty bard.
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