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Like a Blade Forged in Fire  by Lialathuveril

Chapter 9

Éomer kept the rider who had pestered Lothíriel locked up for three days before making him apologise. He would have liked for that to have happened in the hall, but Lothíriel insisted she wanted to cause as little talk as possible, so they compromised on the library.

However, he made his feelings known by taking a position behind Lothíriel’s chair and glowering at the man throughout the short interview. With Khuri standing to the other side with her arms crossed on her chest and watching the proceedings through narrowed eyes, the only person who treated the rider with any kindness was Lothíriel herself.

The man knelt to offer his apologies, which were graciously accepted, and then beat a hasty retreat. Éomer hoped he realised how lucky he was to escape with his life and hide intact. Erkenbrand had shown his displeasure by taking the man’s horse back with him, so he would have to walk home to the Hornburg, the ultimate punishment for a rider.

It still rankled him that Lothíriel had been molested in his own hall. But at least the incident meant that no man would ever dare treat Lothíriel with such insolence again, knowing that even if she let him live, he would have to answer to their king afterwards.

Once the man had gone, Éomer went to look out the window. Rain pattered on the glass, brought from the western sea by a steady wind that had been blowing for a couple of days now. It would be a long, damp walk home for the rider. Good.

Khuri had excused herself to go and check on what Tarcil was up to, but Lothíriel lingered, browsing the books on the shelves. “I’ve not been in here before,” she remarked.

“Feel free to use the library whenever you wish,” Éomer said.

She glanced at his desk standing near the window. “But I wouldn’t want to disturb you at your work.”

“You won’t,” he assured her. Strictly speaking not quite true, though not in the way she meant.

“Thank you,” she said, turning back to the shelves. “Is there any particular system you use with your books? They do not seem to be arranged alphabetically, nor by topic.” She sounded puzzled. “Or do you go by acquisition?”

Éomer felt caught. He usually put books back wherever there was an empty space and had a whole pile lying around in his own rooms as well. While there was no dust on the shelves – Weynild would never have countenanced that – nobody looked after the library properly.

“I’m afraid I’ve not had time yet to take care of that,” he said. “It should have been Wormtongue’s task, but he must have neglected it.”

“Would you like me to sort them out for you? I could make a catalogue, if there isn’t one already.”

“But you’re my guest.”

Lothíriel smiled. “Don’t worry, you’re not forcing me to work. I like to be useful.” She traced the leather spine of a book. “Tarcil is so busy with his new friends these days, he doesn’t need me as much as he used to. So I have free time on my hands.”

Despite her deliberately cheerful voice, she sounded adrift. He sometimes thought that she kept her son too close, forcing him to always be within sight of her or Khuri. When he had been a boy, he and his friends used to disappear into the woods above Aldburg for the whole day and not come back until hunger called them home. Though after what she had told him about being attacked, he found her worry much easier to understand.

“If you don’t mind me asking,” he said. “What will you do when he’s a bit older? One day soon he’ll take up weapons training and spend more and more time with boys of his own age.” Unspoken were the words that she would have to let go then.

Lothíriel forced a smile. “I know. But I will just have to cross that bridge when I come to it. It won’t be easy. Tarcil is all I’ve got.”

“Of course.” His heart ached for her. He couldn’t help thinking that what she really needed was a whole brood of children to mother. And personally, he would have been happy to do his part towards such an end.

Lothíriel took out a couple of books and leafed through them. “So you see, I enjoy being of use.”

“In that case I’d be happy to accept your assistance.” He was warming to the idea, taking it as a sign that she planned to stay for a while. “You’ll need a desk of your own, also for your painting.”

She looked up, startled. “Do you think so?”

Reading his endless reports would be so much more pleasant with her for company, he thought. “Absolutely. I’ll ask Weynild to organise one.”

While he sent one of the servants to fetch the housekeeper, Lothíriel started to survey the contents of the library.

“I see you have The Prince by Mardil Voronwë,” she murmured. “That’s one of my father’s favourites. Oh, and Hyarmendacil’s Art of War.” She hefted a heavy volume. “Land of the Horselords: a brief history of Rohan? That’s not one I know. Oh, look, it’s got illustrations, how wonderful.”

Guiltily Éomer thought that he would have to smuggle the books from his room back in unobserved. Otherwise she might notice what topic they all had in common, from a history of Gondor’s kinstrife over an account of the battle at the crossings of the River Poros, where the two eldest sons of King Folcwine had been slain, to Thorongil’s popular Midnight Raid on Umbar – they all told of strife with the Haradrim.

He believed in knowing his enemy. Even if the man was dead.

A knock on the door heralded the arrival of the housekeeper. “Ah, Weynild,” he said. “Lady Lothíriel will do some work in the library and needs a desk. Do we have anything?”

Weynild pursed her lips. “We have one in storage that was used by your grandmother Queen Morwen, I believe.” As always, Éomer was amazed how she knew every last detail of the household, from the contents of the larder and wine cellar to the disposition of linens. She had a bard’s memory.

“It’s a very nice piece of furniture,” Weynild added, “originally from Gondor.”

“Please,” Lothíriel protested, “that won’t be necessary. Any old trestle table will do for me.”

Weynild huffed with outrage. “I will not have the Mark’s future–” She broke off. “That is, no honoured guest of Éomer King will sit at ‘any old trestle table’ while I am housekeeper of Meduseld.”

Éomer held his breath, but Lothíriel had noticed nothing. “You are most kind,” she said. “I hope it’s not too much trouble for you.”

“None at all. I’ll get two of the menservants to carry it over.”

“See to it,” Éomer ordered. “Thank you, Weynild.”

Once the housekeeper had withdrawn, Lothíriel grinned. “I think I had better not tell her that I need an old sheet to cover the desk for when I’m mixing my paints. I’ll ask Alfwen, the girl who changes our linens, to get me one, so as not to offend Weynild’s sensibilities.”

“She takes her responsibilities very seriously,” Éomer agreed. He was glad to see the two got along though, for the rest of the household would follow Weynild’s lead.

“Is it all right that I’ll do my painting in here? I was thinking just now that I would rather keep my pigments in a place where Tarcil cannot help himself unsupervised.” She sent him an anxious look. “That is, if you still want a picture for your sister?”

“Yes, of course.” He crossed over to look out the window. “However, with this wet weather it’s useless, you wouldn’t be able to see the mountains at all. And I wanted to show you the view.”

She sighed. “You’re right. But I’d love to take Shirram for a ride.”

“It will pass.” For some reason he felt personally responsible for the weather in the Mark. “It’s good for the crops,” he pointed out.

Lothíriel seemed to read his mind, for the corners of her eyes crinkled. “Remember what I said, that you’re not to blame for everything that happens in Rohan? I won’t ask weregild for the rain.”

Éomer snorted. “A good thing too, or I’d never be able to clear my debt.” He pondered the matter for a moment. “Except the traditional way, of course.”

“How is that done?”

He leant back against the window behind him. “By binding the debtor over to make good his obligation, in any way you please.”

She chuckled. “I would have the King of Rohan at my mercy? Don’t tempt me.”

He lowered his voice. “Would it be a great temptation?”

Her smile grew uncertain. “Why, yes, of course,” she answered lightly. “What woman wouldn’t want to have a king at her beck and call?”

She wouldn’t, it appeared.

Not wanting to make her feel uncomfortable, he smiled and led the conversation back to the ordering of the library. It did not surprise him though when soon afterwards she excused herself to have her midday meal with Tarcil and Khuri.

Éomer cursed himself for a fool. He should know by now that every time he as much as hinted at his interest she grew all wary, like a filly spooked by cruel handling. And yet she trusted him and enjoyed his company, as long as he did not cross that invisible line, of that he was sure.

Looking out the window, he watched curtains of rain sweeping across the entrance to Harrowdale Vale, concealing and revealing the mist-wreathed heights in turn. Deep rooted and ancient, the mountains changed only slowly, the snow melting as the seasons advanced. Nothing could speed that process.

He hoped Lothíriel just needed more time. The alternative was too bleak to consider. 


A couple of days later the weather did clear up, a warm southerly wind drying out the grass, and Éomer took the first opportunity to suggest going for a ride. Lothíriel accepted the offer eagerly. When he heard they just wanted to look at the view of the mountains, Tarcil however chose not to come along, opting instead to accompany Khuri down to the training grounds.

Éomer’s riders had set up a small practise course there for him and the other children, which involved jumping over low obstacles, weaving between sticks driven into the ground and collecting rings hanging from poles. By far the most popular obstacle though was a moat to splash through.

He wondered whether Lothíriel minded that Tarcil did not want to come along, but she made no effort to persuade the boy. Once they were past the gates and had waved good-bye to the children’s party, she leant over.

“I’m really looking forward to racing Shirram and seeing how fast he is. But don’t tell Tarcil. I’m always admonishing him to be sensible.”

He grinned down at her. “Still thinking you’ll make me eat your dust?” They had regained their easy companionship, and he did not intend to endanger it again by pushing too hard.

“Absolutely. Although it’s been so wet, I’ll settle for splattering clods of mud all over you.”

Éomer laughed. However, he had no illusions about winning a race between them. Quite apart from carrying more weight, Firefoot was built for endurance. He could go all day and fight in a battle at the end of it, as he had proved during the war, besides being agile and quick to learn, qualities that mattered much more in a war horse than mere speed.

Sensing his rider’s excitement, Shirram threw up his head and pranced. But Lothíriel checked him easily, sitting deep in the saddle and demanding his attention, which made the stallion swivel back his ears, eager to please her. She had dispensed with her riding skirts and wore trousers like the women of the Rohirrim, displaying her long legs to advantage, Éomer could not help noticing. The finely built horse and elegant woman matched each other well.

Heading west, they crossed the Snowbourne at the ford outside Edoras. With the stream swollen from rain and snow melt, the water frothed around their horses’ legs up to the hocks. From there they followed the Great West Road, which crossed the plains, leading to the Gap of Rohan.

Lothíriel kept sending him sideways glances, and finally he laughed. “Very well. Go ahead and show us how fast the pair of you are.”

“What about a race?” She sent him a cheeky smile. “I’d even give you a head start.”

Éomer chuckled. “No thanks. Unless we make it a longer distance of course.”

“Then you would run us into the ground,” she conceded.

He lifted Firefoot into a canter; the others followed suit, his riders fanning out either side behind them. Their horses’ hooves pounded on the turf and the wind tugged at his hair, making him laugh with exhilaration.

“Go,” he shouted, leaning low over the stallion’s withers.

At first they galloped head to head, then Lothíriel gave an ululating cry and Shirram took off like an arrow from a bow. The horse was incredibly fast. With every stride he opened up the gap further, literally leaving them standing. Lothíriel’s laughter floated back to him on the wind.

They flew along like that for perhaps a mile or two, before she straightened up and drew Shirram in, allowing them to catch up. As they slowed to a walk, she bent forward and hugged the stallion’s foam-flecked neck.

“Oh, Éomer, isn’t he wonderful?” she asked, eyes sparkling, cheeks flushed from exertion.

“That was impressive.”

She grinned. “Do you regret giving him away?”

“I didn’t give him away,” he retorted. “He was stolen from under my nose.”

Lothíriel broke into laughter. “I plead guilty…” She shot him a look brimful of mischief. “… Éomer Sláwyrm.”

“Now that, my lady princess, is adding insult to injury,” he said in a stern tone that fooled nobody, least of all his riders, who were listening with identical grins on their faces.

Secretly he was delighted to see her in such high spirits. This was the highly desirable woman he wanted for his wife  – but how to persuade her to want him too? However, he decided to put that thorny problem aside for the moment and to just enjoy her company.

Up ahead, the knoll that marked Éowyn’s favourite vantage point came into sight, so they left the road. The last of a number of small hillocks that ran out from the foothills of the White Mountains, it afforded a sweeping view of the whole mountain chain from distant Thrihyrne to mighty Irensaga rising behind Edoras.

A small stream skirted the foot of the knoll, bordered by willows and alder trees, and they stopped to water the horses and rub them down with bundles of grass. Lothíriel pitched in as a matter of course, though Éomer’s squire Beortulf would have been happy to do it for her. And all the while she showered Shirram with endearments, telling him how marvellous he was, making Éomer wish she would lavish the same love on him. He would not be jealous of a horse, he told himself.

Their mounts provided for, Éomer and Lothíriel climbed the hillock. His men meanwhile settled down in the shade of a tree. More from a sense of duty than real necessity, Éothain also posted a couple of guards. Since the end of the war, no enemies had been seen this close to Edoras, but he took his position as captain of the king’s guard very seriously. Éomer fully approved. Having Lothíriel along, he was determined not to run any risks.

She had brought her collapsible desk with her and settled down in the grass at the top of the knoll. “I can understand why your sister loves the view.”

He nodded. It was one of those days when the air was clear as crystal, making the snowy tops of the mountains seem close enough to touch. A flash of gold marked Meduseld standing on its lonely height, with tall Starkhorn further back from it.

Lothíriel got out her book and started to sketch the line of peaks marking the horizon. “I’ll do the proper painting back in Meduseld, but I want to get it exactly right for Lady Éowyn.” Pausing a moment, she tapped the quill on the paper. “It needs something more though, just the view on its own is a bit boring.”

“No, it’s not,” he protested, stung by this criticism of his homeland.

She chuckled. “I meant no offence. Just that the composition needs something in the foreground, to add interest and lead the eye along.” She put her desk aside and jumped up. “I know: you stand there and look out over the view.” She pointed to a place in front and to the right of her, near the edge of the hilltop.

Feeling slightly foolish, he did as told. “But what’s the point? You can only see my back.”

“Trust me, it will make the picture more interesting.” She studied the effect for a moment. “Have you got your helmet along?”

“Yes, down below with Firefoot. Why?” he asked, bewildered.

“I don’t suppose you could put it on? A cloak would look good too, if you have one.”

Anything to please his lady. He whistled, and at the call Firefoot threw up his head. When his men let him loose, he scrambled up the slope in big bounds.

“Oh, you have to teach me how to do that,” Lothíriel exclaimed.

Éomer put on the helmet hanging from the saddle horn and unrolled his cloak, which he’d fastened behind the saddle.

“Let me do that,” she said and draped it round his shoulders. Standing on tiptoe, she brushed out the white horsetail on his helmet. “Oh yes, this is just the thing.”

Very much aware of her closeness and his men observing the goings-on with great interest, he tried to ignore her soft touch and the hint of flowery perfume that clung to her. As she studied him critically, she provided him with a perfect view of flawless skin and soft red lips. All he’d have to do for a kiss would be to extend an arm and pull her to him. Éomer squashed the impulse. But one day soon…

Curious as to his master’s doing, Firefoot ambled over and gave a loud snort. Lothíriel grabbed his reins and handed them to Éomer. “That’s even better. See if he’ll hold still.”

The stallion got placed by Éomer’s side and had his mane combed out. Then she took a step back and examined them. “Perfect: The Lord of the Mark surveys his domain,” she declared. “I like to title my pictures, you see.”

Not waiting for an answer, she picked up her desk and sat down again. Feeling self-conscious Éomer stared out over the view. At least he had Firefoot’s company.

It took a while for her to fill several pages of her book with sketches, before he was allowed to move once more. As a reward she granted him a quick peek at the rough outline of her composition. There was the familiar silhouette of the mountains, with Edoras like a lonely sentinel standing guard. In the foreground to one side she had drawn him standing with Firefoot next to him. Finally he saw what she had meant: his figure added scale to the whole design.

The other pages held more sketches of various details, his helmet on its own, Firefoot’s head, the line of mountains half a dozen times. Since the drawings were all in ink, she had added notes on the colours in tiny script next to them.

“I need to do a few more,” she said, regarding her work critically, “but it’s a start.”

“Haven’t we earned a break yet?” Éomer asked. “Posing for paintings is hungry work.”

Lothíriel laughed at his plaintive tone, but agreed to put aside her desk to have a meal. He spread his cloak for her to sit on and fetched the saddle bags. These disgorged a surprising variety of food: freshly baked buns, ham sausages, three different kinds of cheese, nuts and dried fruit, vegetable pastries and Lothíriel’s favourite glazed cinnamon cakes carefully wrapped in waxed paper. Freawaru, Meduseld’s cook, had even included a wine skin and two cups to drink from.

Éomer frowned down at the unexpected bounty. The kitchen had been most generous with them; bread, cheese and small-beer was the standard fare for a day’s excursion, all he had asked for. Also though the hilltop would have been the best place for a lookout, Éothain had placed them further down, so he and Lothíriel were actually out of sight of his men.

He got a sinking feeling in his stomach. Were they trying to assist him in wooing Lothíriel? Come to think of it, at the last council meeting he had not once been pestered about finding a wife, a most ominous development. Why did he get the feeling everybody but the woman he wanted for his bride knew about his intentions?

“Is something the matter with the food?” Lothíriel interrupted his brooding. “It didn’t get squashed, did it?”

“What? Eh, no, everything is fine.” He started to cut the cheese.

She poured the wine and handed him one of the cups. Her eyebrows rose when she took the first sip. “That’s a good vintage. A bit of a waste to transport it in a wineskin.”

The cook had probably considered such a sacrifice worth it, Éomer thought, but did not enlighten her. “My household seems to mean us well. Perhaps they’re relieved to have us out from underfoot.”

Lothíriel chuckled. “True. The hall has been rather full of damp, bored men lately.”

“They haven’t dared to–”

“No, no,” she interrupted. “Everybody’s been scrupulously polite. But Freawaru has been complaining about the amount of ale consumed and threatened to make them carry up the barrels themselves.”

He stared at her. “You know the cook?”

“Oh yes.” She popped some raisins in her mouth. “Weynild gave me a tour of Meduseld and introduced me to all the staff. I often sit in the kitchen; they always have a treat for Tarcil.”

Éomer could not help feeling alarmed. Yet Lothíriel seemed to be completely unaware of the reason why Weynild wanted to show her round. She grinned at him. “And Freawaru has the most fascinating stories about you.”

He groaned. The old cook had known him since he had come to live at Edoras at the age of eleven. She still treated him like a little boy. “Don’t believe everything she tells you.”

“Oh, if you were anything like Amrothos and me, she probably doesn’t know half of what you were up to.”

That made him chuckle. “True. In fact Éothain and I often played truant. And Éowyn used to tag along, grimly determined not to be left behind.” He could still remember his sister with her hair in pigtails, riding her favourite pony, that dark grey one with the snappy temper, her clothes stained with grass and mud. Not the White Lady then.

“Don’t tell Tarcil,” Lothíriel said, “but we sometimes skipped lessons to go sailing.” She smiled reminiscently. “Elphir used to be livid whenever we stole his skiff, but it was the fastest one.”

Éomer lifted his cup of wine. “To absconding,” he proposed a toast.

She followed suit. “May we never get caught.”

They grinned at each other, then started on the food. She had a healthy appetite, he was pleased to see, and the fresh air brought colour to her cheeks. It seemed to him that since coming to Rohan she had opened up and was more at ease than before, though still at times a hint of sadness passed across her face. If only she would let him kiss that away.

Unaware of his thoughts, she gave a happy sigh. “I love these wide open spaces, it makes you feel free. I just hope I’ll manage to capture that in my painting for Lady Éowyn.”

“I’m sure she’ll be thrilled.” In his opinion Lothíriel thought too little of her talents.

“You and your sister are very close, I believe?”

He cut himself a slice of ham sausage. “We are. Though once I joined Elfhelm’s éored, I lived in Aldburg and only saw her infrequently. And of course after I was made marshal myself, I had my home there permanently, while Éowyn chose to look after our uncle.”

Later he had blamed himself for being too caught up in the warrior’s world, yet his sister would have been the first to tell him he had to keep their people safe from orc raids.

“The shadow fell on Meduseld so gradually, I took a long time to notice how withdrawn she had become,” he added. “Later I realised that she did not want to tell me about Wormtongue hounding her because she worried what I would do. I have a bit of a temper, you see.”

At his rueful tone, she smiled. “I’ve heard it mentioned, yes. Do you miss her very much?”

“I do, but I want what is best for her.” He stared out over the view, not seeing it. “Though I never imagined she would leave the Mark. I always assumed that when Éowyn married she would settle down somewhere close by.” He forced a smile. “But I will not complain, for she is happy with Faramir. And she likes being lady of her own hall.”

Lothíriel nodded, pensively nibbling a cinnamon cake. “After living in my aunt’s household, I can sympathise. Don’t misunderstand me, Aunt Ivriniel has always been very kind to me. I am grateful to her, but it must be nice to be your own mistress.”

Well, he could offer her that, but doubted the prospect would sway her. His lady-love, completely oblivious of his thoughts, expounded the topic. “Weynild mentioned how important the lady of the hall is here in Rohan. She said your grandmother, Morwen of Lossarnach, had quite a reputation.”

And just happened to be a Gondorian too. “Yes, she was a power to be reckoned with,” Éomer agreed. “A true Queen of the Eorlingas.”

Lothíriel sighed. “How different it was in Harad. A royal lady there hardly ever leaves the palace and does no useful work. If I hadn’t had my painting, I think I would have gone crazy.” She sounded bitter. “But what can you expect when you put all those women together with nothing to do, no purpose in their life except to make themselves beautiful to please their husband? Of course they gossip and intrigue against each other and lord it over the secondary wives.”

He had listened attentively, for she hardly ever spoke of her life in Harad, but now he choked on his wine. “The what?”

“Oh, secondary wives are perfectly respectable there. A man can keep as many as he wants – or as he can afford rather.”

Anger ignited inside Éomer. “Did your husband have many?” What fool wanted other women when he had her?

“He used to have some, but it’s customary to pension them off upon marrying your proper wife, and he never got new ones. So it was just him and me. I never had to worry about falling out of favour.” She frowned, absentmindedly running her finger over the golden torc at her throat. “You know, sometimes I wondered whether they might have been company or even allies, but I don’t think I would have liked it.”

Slowly he released his breath. It seemed the man might have had a dim sense of what priceless jewel fate had handed him. Even if he did not deserve the gift.

Lothíriel shrugged and finished her cake. “So that was my life: supremely boring most of the time, interspersed with a few moments of sheer terror.”

When she had been attacked? “I’m sorry,” he said.

She raised an eyebrow. “What for? Remember what I said, you are not responsible for all the world’s ills.”

He knew that and yet he had the irrational feeling that he had failed her somehow by not being there.

Setting down her cup of wine, she smiled at him. “Indeed, I’m grateful to you for giving me meaningful work. Speaking of which, I need to do a few more sketches. But don’t worry about having to pose again, I just want to get the mountains right, so we won’t have to return. I know how many demands on your time you have.”

“I would not mind coming again.”

“Am I doing you a favour by helping you escape from your council meetings?” she teased him.

His council probably thought he was working on his most pressing task. “Oh yes,” he said, falling in with her lighter tone. “Words cannot express my gratitude.”

They began to pack away the remains of their meal; Freawaru would be pleased to see that most of it had gone. There was one cinnamon cake left and they both reached for it at the same time, then laughed.

“You have it,” Éomer said.

Lothíriel shook her head. “No, please, you do. I’ve had more than my fair share.”

He broke it in half and offered her a piece. She accepted and briefly their fingers touched. It would have been so easy, so natural, to reach out and caress her face, to pull her into a kiss. But he knew that was not the way. The last thing he wanted to be was another man who touched her against her wishes. She had to come to him. And she wasn’t ready. Not yet.

And so the moment was lost. While he packed away the saddle bags, she shook out his cloak. But when she wanted to roll it up, he took it away from her and spread it on the ground for her to sit on while drawing.

Lothíriel settled down with her desk on her lap and he lay down in the grass nearby, content to just enjoy her company. After so many years of constant fighting, he sometimes found it hard to believe that they were finally at peace. Yet though there were still foes out there and plenty of old griefs, he held hope for the future.

He took a deep breath of the air that smelled of growing things, of flowers, moist soil and fresh leaves. The ground lay firm beneath him, this land that he had sworn to protect. No orc feet trampled its green grass, no blood stained its clear streams, no fires from burning homes blackened the sky.

Éomer relaxed. Through half-closed eyes he watched Lothíriel dip her quill in the ink and draw, looking up every now and again to check the view. She was completely focused on her work, lost in a world of colours and lines, and not aware of him at all.

Perhaps in another month or two he could take her along to see the horse herds in the Eastemnet. She would like that, he thought, the wide open plains framed by mountains and the gently rippling downs.

He yawned. By then it would be hot, but at the moment it was still pleasant to lie in the sun, his belly full of good food and wine. While imperceptibly his eyes dropped shut, he idly pondered the question of how to woo a woman without her noticing…

Warm breath chased across his temples.

Hair tickled his nose, then velvety lips brushed against his.

“Mmh?” he murmured sleepily.

A loud snort sounded in his ears.

Éomer surged up. “What?”

Startled, Firefoot threw up his head and stepped back.

Éomer realised he must have fallen asleep. A quick glance at the sky revealed the sun having advanced considerably. When he looked over towards Lothíriel, he found her grinning at him, her desk set at her side.

“Have I been asleep long?” he asked.

“Quite a while, but I didn’t have the heart to wake you.” She chuckled. “Firefoot was less considerate, I’m afraid.”

He could not help feeling embarrassed. “I hope I didn’t snore.”

“Oh no, don’t worry. And you didn’t talk in your sleep either.”

Horrified by the idea, he could only stare at her.

Lothíriel laughed. “Are you afraid you might give away state secrets?”

“Worse,” he said reflexively, making her laugh again.

Little did she know.

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