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False Expectations

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6 May 3019 T.A., Minas Tirith

The farewell feast for the men of Rohan was given that night, but Lothíriel’s heart was not quite in it. The few hours she had slept in the afternoon had restored her strength, but not her spirits. She was sat beside Éomer in Merethrond once more, of course—she was not blind to the expectation in her father’s gaze from a nearby table, nor the curiosity. How she wished she had an answer to give! Then at least her agonizing considerations would be over, and neither her father nor Éomer need question her again. It would be done and over with.  

To keep from meeting Éomer’s eyes, which she expected he rather wanted to, she pretended to be engrossed in the meal. Lothíriel had little appetite, but to her surprise, Éomer did to appear to, either. A tense silence formed between them after a bare exchange of pleasantries, and she gathered he was as distracted as herself. During the final sweet course, sure that the feast had lasted an entire year and a day, Lothíriel halfheartedly chased a green grape around her plate with her knife. 

The gritting clatter of metal against metal was harsh in Éomer’s ears; he ignored it as long as he could before he felt his muscles twitching in response. He glanced over at Lothíriel, saw her distant expression, and reached over to tug the knife from her fingers. She blinked at him, utterly confused with her lovely eyes reflecting candlelight. With a tight smile he stabbed the grape, turning the knife in his hand to offer her the handle. 

“Your enemy, madam,” he said. 

“Thank you, sir,” Lothíriel said stiffly, and accepted the knife with a tremble in her fingers. “A rather brutal reaction to something that has never harmed you, I think.”

“You were fighting a losing battle, princess. I merely thought to take your side.” Even as he spoke, Éomer felt the tenseness leave him, and a smile grew on his face. “I apologize for my bad humor—I have been preoccupied.”

“I noticed.”

“And you are the same.”

She lifted her chin, her eyes level. “I am perfectly aware.”

“Come now—let us keep each other’s company instead of sulking. This is the last time we shall see each other for quite some time.” Éomer’s smile faded on his face to think of leaving Lothíriel. Her lips were compressed as she met his eyes, and he did not understand her expression. It was carefully shielded; there was no sign nor indication of the passionate woman from their ride in the forest, nor even their confrontation after the tournament that morning. 

Impulsively he reached out to grasp her hand, which was limp upon the armrest of her chair. It twitched under his, but she did not move away. She managed a smile, and looked away; pretending to find the servants clearing the tables more interesting than it was. Éomer said nothing for some time, and she was grateful for the chance to gather her wits—still it seemed he could discompose her so easily! 

The nights’ entertainment was to be music; several bards and minstrels were ushered into the hall, bearing a variety of instruments. Lothíriel was faintly interested, if only to be distracted. Her eyes were drawn to where her father sat, and with warmth rushing to her face, she saw Imrahil’s keen expression upon her and Éomer—Éomer still held her hand. She winced, unsure what she wished her father to think. 

The music provided cover for her troubled thoughts; she was not required to speak nor even to do anything but sit and look interested. This was done easily, for the first several performances, at least—until a woman with braids of chestnut stepped forward, a strange-looking lyre under her arm. 

“Is she from Rohan?” Lothíriel asked in surprise. 

“Aye,” Éomer replied. “The wife of one of my soldiers.”

“But—she is here?”

“Some women travel with their men to war.”

Lothíriel was distinctly disturbed at this idea. She said no more, though she felt Éomer’s intensely green eyes upon her face for a moment before he turned to watch the singer. The woman had a lovely voice, to be sure, but she sang in Rohirric—the words sounded strange in Lothíriel’s ear, but not unpleasant. As she stared, she suddenly felt Éomer lean nearer to her, and she stiffened at the warmth steeling across her body. 

“May I translate for you?” he whispered into her ear. Shivers broke out across her skin there and spread downwards on her neck. Mutely, her cheeks surely red—Lothíriel nodded. 

“She sings of young girl,” Éomer said softly. “Gone out one day to watch the soldiers parade in the city. She—ahem—thinks they are very handsome.”

Lothíriel refrained from rolling her eyes.

“She wants to marry one, of course—but her parents are against the match. The soldier encourages her to listen to them; he is going to war and believes she should stay home and be safe. She says she would rather leave everything and go with him. He, ah, protests. But the girl is fearless; this is her general speech: I have fifty coins in bright gold, likewise a heart that is bolder. But I’ll leave them all and go with you, my bold undaunted soldier. I will face the daring foe; we’ll march together to and fro…” Éomer paused, listened for a moment, and then continued. “When he sees her loyalty, he replies: My darling, married we’ll be, and nothing but death will part us. And when we’re in a foreign land, I’ll guard you, darling, with my right hand—” 

He broke off abruptly, though the singing continued. He had caught sight of Lothíriel’s expression, which was unguarded in the flickering light. Éomer did not understand her expression, but it made him wish to gather her in his arms and protect her forever. Frustrated, he quenched this desire, and sat back in his chair with a sigh. 

Lothíriel barely noticed. Her ears were ringing, the entirety of hall seeming to disappear around her as her heart began to race. Well! Did she trust Éomer’s translation, or was he mocking her? No…she did not believe him to be capable of mocking. What a song to be sung that night! That she be so troubled in her heart, to be torn between accepting Éomer and refusing him, if she could bear the difficulties of wedding a soldier…

Surely—surely she would not be expected to march to war, when Éomer was required to. 

When the singing ended some time later, she was jolted away from her thoughts. She had not realized it was so late, and when Éomer drew her to her feet she did not resist. 

“May I escort you home?” he asked after an awkward moment. Lothíriel glanced around, but her father was already leaving the hall—she saw the back of his silver and blue doublet disappear out of the doors. Nor were her brothers visible, and she was not surprised. What a trick! 

“It seems you are supposed to,” she said, but wondered that she was not more upset. Such a maneuver to keep her in Éomer’s company might have bothered her a few days earlier, but now…

The night air was cool, and the streets silent after the feast in Merethrond, full of soldiers and music and life. Only a few people were wandering about in the torchlight, hastily making for their own homes before the gates were closed at midnight. They meandered on at a leisurely pace, Lothíriel biting her lip with nerves and Éomer meditative. They paused at the gate to her father’s house, and a pair of guards opened the gate and stepped back discreetly. 

Éomer, believing he could make no further argument that might convince this woman to wed him, which he so desperately wanted, picked up her hands and brought them to his lips. Her grey eyes swam with emotion. 

“Lothíriel,” he said at last. “I love you.” She blinked up at him for a moment, and the silence around them was deafening. 

“What?” Lothíriel said hoarsely. “I think I misheard you.”

“I love you.”

“Wh—no, surely not! I—my hearing quite bad tonight, I suppose, I—”

“I love you, Lothíriel.” Éomer would not be deterred, and his eyes fastened on hers with fiery intensity. “You need not speak your skepticism, for I see it in your face—but I do not lie. I cannot quite fathom how I’ve come to love you so deeply in a matter of days, but it does not matter. I…am not in the habit of questioning my emotions.”

“Of course not,” she said dryly, trying to disguise that her limbs were quivering with nerves and heart liable to burst. 

“If you will not be my wife, so be it. But it will not change that I love you with all my heart.”

Lothíriel let out an even breath, and broke away from his gaze. “That may provide some difficulties, I think,” she murmured, and took her hands away. “Good night, my lord.”

She did not see his shattered expression as she turned away, but his strident bootsteps seemed to echo in the street as she escaped into the safety of her father’s house. 

There was no sleep to be had that night—she tossed and turned, rose to pace in front of the hearth, finally threw open the window to breathe in the night air—witchy air, her aunt Ivriniel always called it. But Lothíriel felt no more disturbed with the night air than without it, for her troubles were in her heart. 

Could she marry Éomer? A soldier? Her father believed she should, and he had proven himself quite wise in this matter in recent days. He had spoken of the influence she might have, of the work she might do…neither of those disturbed her quite as much as the idea of Éomer dying somehow and her floundering alone in Rohan. 

But…he loved her. Did that not change things? 

Lothíriel could refuse to marry him on account of avoiding warfare in favor of a more peaceful life—but for love? Could she turn her back on peace in Dol Amroth for love, for the unknown of Rohan and its people, for the passion Éomer offered her? There would be less peace, perhaps, as she knew Rohan would struggle to rebuild, but…there would be love. And if she understood the glint in his eyes when he looked at her, there would be a great deal of that love. 

Her cheeks warmed to even think about him. To be wed to him…Lothíriel returned to her bed, embarrassed to be out in only her nightgown, but she left the window open. It was easy to give into lazy dreaming about being Éomer’s wife, and she did so with a smile forming on her face. To have his handsome smile in her life, and the way he had kissed her…to have fulfilled by him those shivery yearnings which hummed her veins whenever they touched. 

Well, perhaps it would not be so bad. At least, perhaps the wonderful love Éomer was offering would be worth it. It would be worth everything.

Lothíriel was awake to greet the dawn, her heart pounding fast as she rose and dressed quickly. A cloak to ward off the morning’s dew, and she did not bother combing her hair—it hardly mattered! She rushed from her chambers with nary a thought for breakfast, instead slipping out through the gate after a guard informed her that her father and brothers were already gone to farewell the armies. 

The path to her father’s stables was lively enough, for the morning, but servants and soldiers parted easily for her to hurry by—down the marble steps and into the courtyard to see hundreds of soldiers, mounted upon their steeds or leading them by the reins. Anxiously she glanced around—Éomer should be easy to see, as he was the tallest of the men of Rohan. She even caught a glimpse of her father’s back, speaking to a captain, but she hurried on. She had nothing to tell her father—not yet, anyway. 

Where was Éomer, if not with his men? Lothíriel bit her lip in thought, pausing as a sense of hopelessness began to beat in her chest. He had to be there! Her eyes drifted towards the stables…and hope returned. 

The stables were nearly empty with the horses of Rohan mostly readied and waiting outside. She was breathing heavily in her haste, glancing quickly into each stall. How was Éomer always there when she did not wish him, and when she was actively seeking him he seemed to disappear? 

“Lothíriel?”

She jumped back from an empty stall, turning around to see—Éomer! At last!—standing by the stable door with his stallion’s reins in hand and a saddle flung across his shoulder. His face was tight with confusion, and for a moment she could not speak. She did not much like the sight of him in his armor. 

“Hello,” she said lamely. 

He gave a curt nod. Éomer truthfully did not understand why she was there, nor looking so flustered. But it was none of his concern; he gave a flitting smile and turned to lead Firefoot outside. 

To his surprise, she followed. 

“Éomer,” she started to say. He swung the saddle over the blanket on Firefoot’s back, unwilling to meet her eyes. Had she come to cause more pain? 

“Are you here to say farewell?” Éomer asked blandly. “I do not doubt you are pleased to see me depart.”

“Oh! Not at all!” Her words were twisted with emotion, and briefly he did look up, and he saw that her face was pinched with concern. He shrugged, despite the flurry of emotion in his chest. Lothíriel had come—he did not know why. For him? He would not have thought so, not after last night. But throwing his last shreds of dignity to the wind, Éomer decided to ask her, one last time, however little his hope. 

“I do not suppose you would care to marry me,” he said gruffly, his eyes on the saddle as he wrenched it tightly.

Relief flooded Lothíriel, and she cried aloud, “Oh, yes, I would!”

But he did not look up, continuing dully, “I am sorry I could not satisfy you, princess. I had hoped you might reconsider—” Then he paused, his eyes flickering upwards in unmistakable surprise. And hope. 

“Lothíriel…?” Éomer’s voice was hesitant.

“I would very much like to marry you,” she told him, unable to keep a smile from beaming on her face. “You see, I could only marry a man who goes beyond common sense to have me as his wife.”

The belt of the saddle was dropped as he strode around Firefoot, his eyes blazing and holding her captive. Then he was pulling her close, his strong arms around her waist and her heart hammering—his lips descended on hers with all the yearning and passion she felt heating her veins. Lothíriel clung to him, hating the feel of his vambraces but able to feel the strength of the arms which wore them. Her warrior, her king—so he would always be, but for her…he was more.  

“Lothíriel…” Éomer said hoarsely, pulling away. He lifted his hands to touch her face, and kissed her again, and he kissed her nose, her cheeks, her forehead, and she began to giggle. 

“Oh, Éomer! Your men shall tease you for this your entire journey back to Edoras.”

“Let them. For I am the happiest man in Arda, I am sure of it.”

Her knees went weak, and he claimed her lips once more. 

There were distant calls and whistles—well, there probably better places to do this than a public courtyard with all his men in plain view, and her family as well. With difficulty Éomer pulled away, cradling her face in his hands as she tried to steady her breath. 

“Tell me,” he said roughly. “Why now?”

Lothíriel gazed up at him, brimming with happiness. “It was some time coming,” she admitted in a low voice. “I apologize for the difficulties I have caused both of us—but there were some…things I needed to understand.”

“Such as?”

“Well—I am not the first woman to fear her husband—or would-be husband—dying. Whether you will or not is uncertain, but what is certain is that you are offering me love now. I could lose you, but I would first be happier than I could ever be otherwise.”

His lips curled into a smile. 

“And…” Lothíriel swallowed. “You are willing to change for me. You wish to make me happy…and I think a man that will do such a thing is one to be treasured. You will likely make a better husband than a man who would do no such thing, even if he is not a soldier.”

His brow quirked upwards. “I am flattered, to be sure,” Éomer said dryly. 

“As you should be!” she cried, her brows pinching now. “If you dare take back anything you have said—”

But he laughed, and kissed her quickly on the lips, effectively silencing her. “I do not,” he assured her. 

“Good,” Lothíriel said, her expression relaxing. “For I have determined to give you the same courtesy you have me. I can…forgive your tendencies.” I hope, she added to herself, unwilling to damper her declaration. But it did not matter; Éomer was beaming at her with the full force of his handsome smile. 

“I love you, Lothíriel of Dol Amroth,” he said. 

She returned his smile, feeling warmth rush to her face. “And I you, Éomer of Rohan.”

His attention was drawn away then by an approaching figure, which even from this distance was looking equal parts relieved and satisfied. Éomer grinned and said softly into Lothíriel’s ear,

“Your father is coming.”

“Oh—oh, dear,” she bit her bottom lip as she shifted in his embrace. “I suppose he is going to be terribly smug about all this.”

“No doubt.”

“Though in my father’s defense—he was perfectly correct about you in every way.”

Éomer paused, blinking down at her. “In every way? In what way, madam? What did your father tell you about me?”

But Lothíriel only smiled benignly up at him, before turning to greet her father with flushed cheeks.