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Horsemaster
Chapter 4

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The first thing Lothiriel realized was that Meduseld was a man's
castle.  Except for the woman sent up to tend to her bath and bring
her some clothing, Lothiriel had seen only men since she had stepped
within the Great Hall. 

And what a hall it was!  Stretching the entire length of the castle
with an enormous fireplace and almost unbelievably high ceilings. 
The wood of which everything in the castle seemed to be made, was
ornately carved and inlaid with gold.  Long tapestries of intricate
designs hung from the ceilings depicting stories that Lothiriel had
never before heard.  And horses.  Horses seemed to be everywhere, in
the designs on the walls, carved into the high gates that surrounded
the city, on the tapestries.  Lothiriel wondered if they thought
more of horses than they did of people.

After what Lothiriel decided had to rank as one of the best baths of
her life, she slipped on the gown the Rohirrim woman had left behind
on the bed.  It was long and clung to her frame tighter and hung
down lower on her chest than she was used to wearing.  It seemed
extravagant compared to the traveling clothes she'd worn since
leaving home. And from the glimpses of the women she had seen as
they had ridden into Edoras, Lothiriel knew this was not the typical
attire of the Rohirrim women.   

Lothiriel pulled open the doors to the wardrobe.  It was filled with
a handful of other gowns, all at least as revealing if not more so
than the gown she had already put on.  Lothiriel sighed wishing not
for the first time that her sister was with her.  Erchirion knew far
more about clothing and etiquette than she did.

As much as she would have liked she knew she could not hide away in
her guest room all evening.  Taking a deep breath, Lothiriel left
the room and walked purposefully down the hallway.  The Great Hall
was deserted.  She stepped out the heavy front doors of the castle. 
Beside the doors stood two guards. 

Lothiriel smiled at them.  "Where is King Eomer?"

"He has gone to dine, my lady."  One of the guards said. Lothiriel
tried her best not to blush as she felt the guard's gaze sweep down
the length of her body.  

"Could you point me in the right direction?" 

The guard hesitated a moment before pointing out a building a little
ways down the path. 

"Thank you." 

Lothiriel walked down the path that lead to the building and opened
the door.  With one glance, Lothiriel realized this was not a formal
dining area but the mess hall for the troops.  Her father had often
eaten with his men, but it was an unspoken rule that it was no place
for women.  Lothiriel was debating whether or not she should leave
when all talking in the mess hall stopped.

* * *

Eomer had been so preoccupied by worries of his own that he had gone
to eat in the mess hall without giving it a second thought.  In the
past few weeks he had come to rely on the easy camaraderie of his
men to drown out the sound of his own thoughts.  But unexpectedly,
the room fell silent.  That in itself was unusual enough to jar
Eomer out of his daydreams.  He glanced around the room and his eyes
fell on Lothiriel.  For a fleeting second, her long dark hair
flowing loose around her shoulders brought Arwen Evenstar to his
mind. 

However, Lothiriel lacked the almost unnerving grace of Arwen.  She
was standing uncertainly at the edge of the room.  From the
_expression on her face, Eomer expected her to bolt like a frightened
horse at any moment. 

Determined not to let that happen, Eomer quickly crossed the room. 
The sight of her, nearly took his breath away.  This could not be
the same girl he had mistaken for a boy the night before.  There was
nothing at all boyish about her now.  The dress she wore accentuated
every curve. 

"I -- I did not realize that you dined with your men.  I did not
mean to intrude,"  Lothiriel said.

"You aren't intruding."  Eomer sighed, mentally kicking himself for
being such a poor host. Theoden would never had made such a
mistake.  "I am the one who is at fault," Eomer said. "I have grown
accustomed to dining with my men, as there are no ladies in the
house.  I have been inexcusably rude.  We shall retire to the formal
dining room."

"No,"  Lothiriel grabbed his arm.  "No, don't change your habits for
me.  I get all the formal dining I can stand back at home.  This
would be a welcome change."

Eomer smiled.  "We would be honored." 

Eomer escorted her to the buffet style food line.  The men in line
stood back to let her pass.  Eomer waited for her to get her food
but Lothiriel did not move. 

She shook her head.  "I will not cut in line.  They have worked hard
today.  I will not keep them from their meal." 

Eomer was surprised at her request.  He gave the men a small nod and
they resumed moving down the food line, albeit very very quickly. 

After Lothiriel got a plate of food, Eomer lead her to the table.  
Eomer pulled out the bench and she sat down beside him.  They both
ate their food in silence.  Indeed, the entire room was filled with
only the sounds of forks hitting plates. 

"I am ruining everyone's evening,"  Lothiriel whispered. "This was
not my intention."

Eomer's eyes met a few of his men and he silently urged them to
speak.  Slowly the men began talking
amongst themselves though not quite as loud and boisterous as when
Lothiriel first arrived in the dining hall.

"Had I known I would cause such trouble, I would have stayed in my
room,"  Lothiriel said.

"Trouble?  You do not look like trouble," Eomer said, a bit too
quickly.

A smiled spread across Lothiriel's face.

"Forgive me,"  Eomer said.  "I have not been King for long.  And
there are certain things that will not occur to me.  Is there
anything else I have overlooked?"

Instantly Lothiriel replied.  "Clothes."

Eomer frowned.  "Clothes?  I was told that clothes were brought to
you?"

"Yes, they were.  Very nice clothes,"  Lothiriel said.  "The women
of Rohan do not dress like this every day do they?"

Eomer smiled, taking the opportunity to glance down at her
dress.  "No, it's a pity they do not."

"If I had to dress in such a fashion every day, I would have left
home many years before now,"  Lothiriel said.

Eomer leaned back and laughed.  "You sound like my sister!  Since
you insist, I will see that more clothes are brought to you."

"Thank you,"  Lothiriel said.

Eomer could hear the relief in her voice and he wondered what other
manner of gowns were left in her room. And regretted that he would
not see them on her.

"You said you had not been king for long?  I hope it was not tragedy
that brought you the crown,"  Lothiriel said.

"I'm afraid it was,"  Eomer said.  "Theoden was our last King.  His
son Theodred died in battle.  And Theoden fell not long after."

"You must miss them."  

Eomer nodded.  "They were the only family besides my sister that I
had left."

"No doubt you would rather have them back than be King."

Eomer's eyes rose to meet hers.  Since he had become King, a lot of
people had made a lot of comments about his rise to the throne. 
Most were well-wishes from his own people and how they knew he would
do his uncle proud.  The rest were pats on the back as if he did
something grand to become King.  All he had done was live. 

Lothiriel was the first to mention his position for what it was.  A
loss.  He had lost much to be King.  And he would give it back
without hesitation to see them both alive again.

"You are right about that."  Eomer sighed. 

"Do they lay within the mounds we passed before we entered the
gates?" 

Eomer nodded.  "All the Kings of Rohan lay within those mounds.  One
day I shall lay there as well, I suppose."  The thought was a
novelty to him.  And he shook his head in sad amazement.

Lothiriel eyed him up and down.  "You have at least a few more years
yet before you should be thinking about that."

"Maybe.  As long as I don't run into anymore Princesses like you." 
Eomer winked at her.

"You should have named yourself right away,"  Lothiriel said with a
shrug.

"But I had no weapon in my hand,"  Eomer said.

"I couldn't tell.  All I saw was someone moving towards me."

"And one look at me sent you running?"  Eomer teased.  "Thanks a
lot." 

"It was dark."  Lothiriel smiled, clearly enjoying their banter.

"And now that you've seen me in daylight?" Eomer asked with a smirk.

"I thought about running but I didn't think it would be polite," 
Lothiriel said, very seriously. 

She pushed the bench away from the table and stood.  Eomer laughed
and followed her out of the mess hall.

* * *

The wind was blowing hard as they walked up the road back to
Meduseld.  Lothiriel had not felt in such high spirits in weeks. 
She could hardly keep a smile from her lips.  Her father was alive. 
Just knowing he was all right, lifted a great weight from her
shoulders.  And after the somewhat shaky beginning to the evening,
she had enjoyed dining in the mess hall.  It was relaxed in a way
that Dol Amroth had never been.  They had made it to the steps of
Meduseld when a guard approached Eomer.   

Lothiriel listened to their short exchange in Rohirric not
understanding a word of it.  But from Eomer's tone, she could gather
that it was something unusual.

Eomer turned back to her and ran an impatient hand through his
hair.  "Two children have arrived at the gates, but are reluctant to
come in,"  Eomer explained.

"Children?  What are they doing out alone?"  she asked.

"I don't know,"  Eomer said. "Excuse me, Princess." He started off
down the path at a quick rate. 

"My I join you?"  Lothiriel asked, rushing to keep up.  She did not
especially look forward to spending the rest of the evening alone in
her guest room and seeing more of Edoras even under cover of
darkness sounded appealing.  

"If you wish."  Eomer waited for her to catch up.

They walked down the steep path that lead through the city.  It
wound passed wooden buildings of varying sizes.  Obviously related
to the upkeep of Meduseld.  Further down the path, were the houses. 
They were small and quaint.  It was dark enough that Lothiriel could
easily see through the windows of the homes.  Families sitting
around dinner tables, or gathered around fires.  It looked cozy. 
Comfortable. 

As they approached the front gates, a guard met them.  "What's the
trouble?"  Eomer asked in common tongue.  Lothiriel knew this was on
her behalf and she smiled at him gratefully.

"Two children.  They knocked at the gates but whenever we opened
them to let them in they backed off.  Whenever we get too close they
dash a few steps away."  The guard threw his hands up in the air,
frustrated.  "I have tried everything."

"Let me see them,"  Eomer said.

"Go right ahead," the guard said. 

Eomer walked out the gates and called to them.  "I am King Eomer,
you are welcome here."

Hiding in the shadows, Lothiriel could just make out the two small
children.  At the sound of his voice they disappeared into the
darkness.

"No, wait.  Don't run off!"  Eomer yelled.  He turned back to the
guard and sighed.  "Why do they do that?  Didn't you tell them we
just want to help them?" 

"I did my Lord, several times,"  the guard said.

"Can I try?"  Lothiriel asked.

"Why should you be able to do any better?"  Eomer asked. 

Lothiriel grinned.  "It is dark.  You are scary."

Eomer rolled his eyes and smiled.  "Thank you for reminding me."

Lothiriel took the lantern from the guard and stepped outside the
gate.  Just a few yards beyond the gate stood two young girls no
older than 5 or 6.  They were wide-eyed and trembling. 

Lothiriel smiled and took a step towards them, but they dashed a few
steps further away.  Setting the lantern down, Lothiriel knelt down
to their level. 

"You look like you have come a very long way,"  Lothiriel
said.  "Did you walk all this way on  your own?  If you did you are
the two bravest girls I have ever met."

One of the girls shook her head.  "We came on horses.  But people
came and they ran away.  Everyone ran away."

"See those lights upon the hill?  That is a beautiful castle and
there is a warm bed and food waiting for you."  Lothiriel said.  "If
you come inside, we will try to find out where your family ran away
to."

The girls stared at her for a long moment but did not run
away.  "You have black hair."  One of them finally said. 

Lothiriel nodded.  "It is not near as pretty as your blonde hair.  I
am from Dol Amroth it's a very long way from here."

Lothiriel stood and walked over to the girls.  Neither made any move
to run.  She knelt in front of them and checked the over.  "Are
either of you hurt?"

The girls shook their heads.  One of the girls reached out and
touched the lace upon the sleeves of her dress. 

"Will you stay with me in my room tonight?"  Lothiriel asked.  "I
have an entire closet full of dresses we can dress you up in."

The girls giggled and nodded.  Lothiriel took their hands and lead
them through the gates.  As she passed Eomer, Lothiriel smirked at
him triumphantly. 

* * *

When the children were asleep within the covers of Lothiriel's bed,
she left the guest room to find Eomer.  He was pacing the floors of
the Great Hall.  Lothiriel sat down in front of the fire.   

"I wasn't aware that you have had troubles of your own,"  Lothiriel
said. 

Eomer sat down beside her.  "A week before you arrived some of our
horses were murdered.  The eye of Sauron had been etched upon their
skins."

"That is why you were at Dunharrow?"  Lothiriel asked.

Eomer nodded.  "We followed the tracks to the gate of the Paths of
the Dead."

"And I came out instead."

"I prefer you over them any day,"  Eomer said with a grin.

Lothiriel smiled, but it was fleeting.  "You think those same men
attacked my guards?"

"I don't know.  But if the families of those children were attacked
out on the open plains there must be more of them camped out
somewhere else. They could not have made it back through Dunharrow
without encountering Elfhelm,"  Eomer said.  "Plus it would scarcely
be enough time for them to travel that distance, especially if they
are only moving under cover of darkness."  Eomer sighed and turned
to her.  "I am sorry.  I shouldn't trouble you with this."

"If it is the same men that attacked my guards then it is already my
trouble,"  Lothiriel said.

"I wish your trip to Rohan had been under happier circumstances," 
Eomer said.

"As do I,"  Lothiriel said.  "Though I am still pleased to be here. 
Until now, I have never seen anything but Dol Amroth and even that
was restricted only to those places less than half a days ride away."

The astonished look on Eomer's face almost made Lothiriel laugh. 

"This is your first time away from home?"

Lothiriel nodded.  "My father is a bit on the over-protective side. 
Before I left, my sister and I were taking bets as to how long after
he hugged me, would the yelling begin,"  Lothiriel said with a grin.

"No one would dare to raise their voice to a lady in my presence," 
Eomer said. 

Lothiriel smiled.  "Do not worry.  I yell back."

"Why doesn't that surprise me."  Eomer said through a yawn. 

Seeing him yawn, caused Lothiriel to yawn.  They both smiled.  "It
has been a long day."  Eomer said. 

Lothiriel nodded.  They both rose from their seats and walked down
the hall to the sleeping quarters.  They stopped in front of the
door to her room. 

"If you get any word on the attackers, please let me know.  You do
not need to censor information from me,"  Lothiriel said.  "No
matter how grim, I wish to hear it."

Eomer bowed.  "You will be the first to know.  Good night, my
lady." 

"Goodnight,"  Lothiriel closed the door to the room behind her. 

After pulling off her gown, she squirmed into bed between the two
girls.  Despite the long ride from Dunharrow or maybe because of it,
Lothiriel's mind was racing.  She replayed the events of the day in
her head.  When she'd left Dol Amroth she was certain that all the
answers would be found in Rohan.  But so far all she'd found were
questions.  Nothing had happened like she had expected.  Eomer was
certainly not the King of Rohan she had envisioned.  Though he was
fun to tease, Lothiriel thought with a grin that pushed away all her
worries.  There was much to be grateful for, her father was still
alive, there was still hope yet for her guards, and she was in a
warm bed with an ceiling above her.  And for tonight that was
enough. 

Disclaimer: Recognizable characters, etc, belong to JRR Tolkien. This is a non profit story, no copyright infringement intended.
 
Extra note: The author (Jen) was playing around with the genders of  Erchirion here and with other matters.