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Like a Blade Forged in Fire  by Lialathuveril

Epilogue

The Eastemnet, a year later

“You’re not drawing my brother again, are you?”

Lothíriel looked up to meet Éowyn’s amused eyes and felt a flush rise to her cheeks. “Just a sketch for my next painting. It’s important to get the composition exactly right.” It was her newest project, showing the meeting between Éomer and Aragorn on the plains of the Riddermark.

“You’ve already done a dozen drafts for that,” Éowyn pointed out. “You can’t possibly need any more.”

“It’s not so easy, depicting the line of mountains correctly and the different greys for the horses.”

Éowyn peered over her shoulder. “That doesn’t look like mountains to me.”

Lothíriel resisted the urge to snap her sketch book shut. “I’m simply practising to get his hair right, to make it fall naturally.” And the colour would be difficult too, ranging from pale wheat to a deep, rich gold. She loved running her hands through it.

Éowyn chuckled. “Of course, just practising.”

Lothíriel bent over her work again. “Exactly.”

“I bet that book is full of sketches of my brother and nothing else. Admit it, Lothíriel.”

“Not at all. Tarcil’s in there and…and Shirram.”

Éowyn ignored her. “It’s a mystery to me what you see in him. Doesn’t it get boring to draw the same person over and over again? Why not try somebody with dark hair, Faramir for example?”

Lothíriel was in fact working on a portrait of her cousin, meant as a surprise for her sister-in-law, but she wasn’t going to tell her so. “Oh, but I like a subject with some expression on his face. Faramir always looks so reserved.”

“No, he doesn’t,” Éowyn fired up, only to break into laughter. “I suppose I deserved that for teasing you.”

Lothíriel grinned back. “You did.”

She straightened up and stretched, only then realising how much time she had spent bent over her work. It was very easy to get lost in her drawings, especially with such an engrossing subject. Ruefully she smiled to herself. Éomer had indeed taken over her sketch books, but it seemed as if every day she discovered a new facet to him that she wanted to record.

Only that morning he had discussed the finer points of horseback archery with Faramir at the camp fire, waving his spoon of porridge about, eyes alight with enthusiasm, that particular crease of concentration on his brow…

“Oh, Lothíriel, you’re so smitten,” Éowyn interrupted her train of thought in a pitying voice.

Following the other woman’s eyes, Lothíriel found that she had begun to sketch out the scene on the margins of her page. She coloured.

Éowyn shook her head. “But then I knew as much when I saw that very first picture you sent me, of Éomer sleeping in the grass. I said to Faramir at the time that all we had to do was to wait for the invitation to the wedding.”

Sometimes it seemed to Lothíriel that the only person unaware of her feelings had been herself. Well, and Éomer. What a spectacle they had made of themselves – apparently Éowyn had received a running commentary from her correspondents in Edoras.

But who cared. She went back to drawing. “As Éomer has told me, I cannot dissimulate with my pen.”

Éowyn dragged over a chair, sat down and stretched out her legs. Lothíriel had set up her table under the awning of their tent, where she was out of the sun, but could still observe the goings-on of the camp. The others had gone riding that afternoon, but feeling unusually tired, she had excused herself.

“I’m glad you cannot lie with your pictures,” Éowyn said suddenly. “I was so pleased that he had found somebody who saw him for himself, not just as King of the Mark.” She leant back in her chair and grinned. “With his mouth open and probably snoring as well.”

“Éomer does not snore,” Lothíriel shot back. “I should know.” She pointed her pen at Éowyn. “And if you’re not careful, I’m going to draw a picture of you covered in mud, hair lanky and stinking of sweat so much that flies follow you everywhere.” By illustration she sketched a tiny fly, complete to its six legs. “And then I’ll present it to your doting husband.”

The threat left Éowyn unmoved. “Oh, Faramir’s seen me like that after a day’s hunting. As long as he’s the one washing off the mud, he doesn’t mind in the least. You should try it sometime.”

Lothíriel grinned. “I’ll take it into consideration.” Not the flies though.

“You should,” Éowyn agreed. They settled into a companionable silence.

Idly Lothíriel sneaked a peak at her sister-in-law’s profile. There were in fact quite a few drawings of Éowyn in her sketch book as well, and she meant to make fair copies of some of them for both Éomer and Faramir. One in particular she was proud of, depicting Éowyn and Khuri leaning on the fence of the practice ring, one fair and slender, the other dark and wiry, but both with an identical expression of fierce concentration.

Upon meeting, the two women had taken a measuring look at each other, like a pair of strange cats sizing each other up, but then established an unlikely friendship. Some of Éomer’s riders had conceived the bright idea of setting them up in a fight, one shieldmaiden against another. But instead the two had joined forces and offered to take on all comers.

Remembering the bout, Lothíriel had to hide a smile. Éomer had taken the two women aside and asked them not to damage his men too badly, but they had interpreted his instructions liberally. Healer Brictwen had been busy with strains, lots of bruises and even one broken arm. And poor Unferth had limped about Meduseld for several days afterwards, having been struck in a very sensitive spot.

The sound of deep voices caught her attention. Éomer and Faramir were walking up, Tarcil between them, back from their evening wash in the river. In the light of the setting sun, droplets of water in their hair sparkled like diamonds. The two men were laughing at something the boy had said, making Tarcil grin up at Éomer.

Lothíriel’s heart contracted, reminding her how much her happiness depended on these two. Loving Éomer and being loved by him was exhilarating and frightening at the same time. Sometimes she wondered where she had found the courage to lay herself open to hurt and loss again. Yet how could she not do so?

Then Éomer, spotting her sitting under the awning, smiled at her, and all her misgiving fled like the night’s shadows before the rising sun.

“Mummy,” Tarcil exclaimed, “Father is going to show me how to catch fish with my bare hands.”

“It will take patience though, and the water is cold,” Éomer warned him.

Tarcil’s eyes shone with excitement. “I don’t mind.”

Large, shaggy and inseparable from his master, his dog Rakash trotted at his side, tongue lolling. He had started out called Déorling, but after Khuri had found him chewing her boots, he had acquired his new name of ‘hell-hound’, which had stuck.

Reaching them, Éomer pulled her into his arms for a brief but not at all perfunctory kiss. As always Lothíriel marvelled how her senses came alive in his presence: the firm muscles of his chest under her fingers, the clean green smell of river water mixed with a hint of horse and leather, the heat in her belly.

Separating again, Éomer looked down at her. There was a satisfied smile in his eyes at what he saw in her face. The man enjoyed the effect he had on her.

Lothíriel lifted her chin and if by chance ran her fingers up his back in a light touch. His smile turned rueful. They both knew she had ways to get her own back.

“Mummy, Father.” Impatient, Tarcil tugged at her sleeve. “Can we go fishing tomorrow?”

“Yes, why not,” Éomer agreed good-naturedly. He tousled the boy’s hair. “We’ll take some food along and build a fire, so we can grill our catch on the spot.”

It warmed Lothíriel’s heart to see how well the two got along and the genuine liking between them. Very carefully she had never pressed Tarcil to call Éomer his father, but the boy had started to do so of his own accord. Sometimes she wondered if Arantar would have minded her marrying again; he had been fiercely possessive in his love for them. Yet surely he would not have wanted her to spend the rest of her life unloved and unloving.

“You seem very confident of your success, brother,” Éowyn put in from the circle of her own husband’s arms.

“As boys, Éothain and I spent days freezing our…fingers off crouching in cold water until we had mastered the technique of tickling trouts, so I’m sure it will come back to me.”

Faramir cleared his throat. “As a ranger I too know a trick or two of how to catch fish.”

That earned him a fond look from his wife. “We won’t starve then. Excellent, Lothíriel and I can watch from the bank and admire your skill.” She chuckled. “Lothíriel can draw the scene and I will supervise.”

Her brother gave a long suffering sigh at that, but Lothíriel knew how pleased he was to have Éowyn and Faramir staying with them. They had come for the wedding last summer of course, along with Lothíriel’s family and Arwen and Aragorn. However, due to the short notice that had only been a brief visit.

As for herself, she had found that by marrying Éomer she had also acquired a sister, an unlooked-for gift and pure delight. Éomer on his part seemed pleased with his three new brothers, even with Amrothos.

“Speaking of starving,” he now said, “I believe that Sunnild mentioned there will be meat skewers for the evening meal.”

Shashrani,” Tarcil exclaimed. “Let’s hurry.” The boy had long ago wrapped the headwoman around his little finger and got her to cook all his favourite foods.

He led the way down to the river bank where there were several campfires. What with Éomer’s éored, her own Queen’s Guard and Faramir’s rangers, there were a lot of mouths to feed  – at times it felt as if they were living in an army camp. Sunnild was pleased to host her king’s family, but Lothíriel had organised a steady flow of supplies from Edoras to ease the burden.

Tarcil ran off to confer with Hildwyn, returning to beg for the girl to be included in their expedition the next day, which was readily granted.

“Those two are born leaders,” Faramir observed, watching the pair commandeer a campfire for themselves and the rest of the children.

Éomer snorted. “Yes, I think I’ll have to watch out not to be deposed in another twenty years’ time or so.”

His sister laughed. “You’ll always have a place with us in Ithilien, if ever you have to go into exile.”

“Thank you. That’s a great comfort to know.” He settled Lothíriel on a log by one of the fires and sat down cross-legged at her feet. “That way I won’t have to see the blue horse upon green fly above Meduseld.”

They all chuckled. The children had their own makeshift camp downriver, where they spent their days playing and plotting mischief, and Tarcil had got Leofrun to sew them their own banner, depicting the infamous blue horse, to mark the commanders’ tent.

By and by more people joined them. Khuri appeared out of the shadows in her usual stealthy way – Lothíriel suspected she did it mostly to keep Éomer’s riders on their toes. His master-at-arms, Tunfrith, had taken her on as an assistant and possible successor, her teaching methods, though unorthodox, having proved highly successful. She positioned herself where she could keep an eye on Tarcil. They had agreed to give the boy some space away from adult supervision, but old habits were hard to break.

Lothíriel too was only slowly learning to relax and let go of the wariness and reserve acquired over long years in Harad. It was easier in Éomer’s presence. He had a gift for making you feel safe. As if he had sensed her thoughts, that moment he paused in his conversation with Faramir, turned his head to look up at her and gave her the smile that he kept for her alone. She hadn’t managed to capture it on paper yet, though not for lack of trying.

Smiling back at him, she squeezed his shoulder. Satisfied, he continued his discussion of different ways of combining cavalry with troops on foot. Lothíriel was content for the moment to just listen to the low timbre of his voice, not even taking in the words properly.

In the sky above them, the first stars blossomed, all the familiar constellations her father had taught her as a child. Over in the west Eärendil sailed his ship after the sun, while overhead Valacirca glimmered like a set of diamonds spread on velvet so dark and blue that not even her most precious ultramarine could do the colour justice. She loved the vastness of the plains of the Mark, that feeling of being close to the heavens only experienced out on the ocean or in the desert.

Leofrun and Eanswith had helped Sunnild with cooking and brought over plates of food. At the smell of roasted mutton a wave of nausea swept through her, confirming what she had suspected for a few days. She declined the meat skewers, opting for bread and some fresh greens instead.

Leofrun shot her a sharp glance, but said nothing. Yet a little later she brought a large mug of peppermint and lemon balm tea and handed it over with a conspiratorial smile. Had she guessed? Yet Lothíriel did not worry that Leofrun might gossip, spreading the news before she was ready.

That was another new experience: having women friends. In Harad, the other wives had been rivals, advancing their own husbands’ interests and spying on her, while the servants were so totally dependant on her goodwill that no true intimacy could form.

As for the friendships of her youth in Dol Amroth, none had survived her long absence and very different experience. It was her own fault too, of course, for how could you get close to somebody who kept all her true feelings walled off? At least she had mended relations with her family when they had come for the wedding. Ironically enough, they had accepted Éomer’s word that Arantar hadn’t been a bad man. Luckily for them she had been too happy at the time to give them a piece of her mind. Men!

As the evening advanced, their bard entertained the company with a ballad, stories were told – Faramir had a knack for keeping his audience spellbound – and Éomer’s riders sang some of their favourite songs. When a lively riddle game got going at a nearby campfire, she decided it was time to put Tarcil and the other children to bed.

It needed a common effort by all the mothers, but they herded them into their tents. Since Tarcil’s protests were punctuated by heavy yawns, she did not think they would lie awake for hours as predicted by her son. She was touched to receive a tight hug when she put him to bed.

“Today was a wonderful day,” he murmured, half asleep already. “And tomorrow will be even better with you along.”

She kissed him on the brow. “Yes, it will be.”

The summer before, she had been too torn and confused to really enjoy her time on the Emnet, but now the days stretched ahead of her like a string of perfect pearls. While she loved Edoras and its view of the mountains, ever changing with the weather, both she and Éomer had many duties there. Conferring with Weynild and Freawaru, running Meduseld to the high standard she set herself and hosting their many guests kept her busy. Here they had more time for each other.

Their own tent stood nearby, guarded by two riders, who lit a lantern for her. Éomer wasn’t there yet, but she did not think she would have to wait long for him. Ever since their marriage, late night conferences with his friends or councillors had become rare.

The tent was divided into separate parts by a canvas wall, with their two desks taking up most of the space in the main room. Out of habit, she quickly checked that all her pigments were tidied away safely. The ornamental box took pride of place on the collapsible table she used for drawing.

She smiled to herself. Éomer had suggested bringing Queen Morwen’s desk with them from the library at home, but she had declined the offer, much to Weynild’s relief. He really did his utmost to spoil her. Just witness the reams of different kinds of paper imported from Pelargir and how he made sure she never ran out of paints. Her smile deepened. A man who knew the way to his wife’s heart.

Setting down the lantern, she examined her newest wool samples, dyed a delicate pink from the bulb of a plant that Sunnild had pointed out to her. It was just one of many projects, for she was thinking of encouraging the selling of finished goods like cloth or carpets, rather than just raw wool, as a way to bring more prosperity to their people.

Éomer’s desk by contrast was covered in maps, with notes on his scouts’ findings stacked neatly by one side. Every day several of them rode in to report, for he was determined to get ample warning of any enemies. Not that he thought that there was much danger of a fresh orc incursion after the utter annihilation the last one had suffered. That did not mean he would lower his guard though.

She let her fingers linger on a second map, which had been brought by Faramir from Minas Tirith. Though it wasn’t widely known yet, Aragorn and Éomer had plans to take back Harondor, the disputed area lying to the south of Ithilien. She, Tarcil and Khuri had crossed it during their escape from Harad, so Faramir had asked them to fill in all the details they remembered.

One day the King of Harad would discover what a formidable foe he had made. The campaign would not take place for several months, but one thing was certain: whenever Aragorn went to war, Éomer would fulfil the oath of Eorl and go with him. Sometimes her heart quailed at the thought. But she had known she married a warrior. And in truth Éomer’s zest for life, born from the knowledge that it could be cut short at any moment, was part of what attracted her to him.

Pushing the thought aside, she went into their bedroom. Most of the space was taken up by their bed, but she had brought carpets along to make it more cosy. There was also a small dressing table, so after changing into a nightgown, she sat down to brush out her hair, finishing by braiding it loosely, so it would be easy to undo.

Dabbing on her favourite orange blossom scent, she smiled at her reflection in the mirror. She too knew what her husband liked. The nightgown, a present from Elphir’s wife Aerin, flowed around her like a blue-green wave, edged by a froth of lace. She smoothed out the shimmering silk. It was almost a shame that she never got to wear it for very long. Almost.

Lightly she rested a hand on her stomach. Nothing showed yet, but she had begun to feel her body changing in familiar ways. A brief stab of grief struck her when she remembered the last time. Her little one, lost to its enemies before it even had a chance at life. But though she would never forget, neither would she let those sorrows mar her joy. Or that of Éomer. What would he say?

She slipped between the sheets just as there came a sound from the main room, then heard him dismiss the guards after exchanging a few words with them. Unlike her, Éomer did not linger at the desks, but came straight through.

“So did you manage to put that little scamp of ours to bed?” he asked, ducking under the flap that led into their bedroom. “I swear I don’t know how you do it.”

Lothíriel grinned. The last time Éomer had tried, the children had got him to tell them stories until she had been forced to intervene. By himself, he would probably have sat up until the early hours of the morning. “Tarcil got distracted by the treat promised for tomorrow.”

“I hope I’ll remember how to tickle trout,” he said, starting to divest himself of his clothes. “Otherwise we’ll have to sacrifice Faramir and make him step into the breach.”

“Into the cold water, you mean.”

“Exactly. You wouldn’t want your husband to freeze off any valuable body parts, would you?”

“Probably not,” she conceded, watching with appreciation as he took off his shirt. Purely from an artist’s perspective of course, as an exercise how to depict muscles on a well-built male subject. There were some pictures in her book that she definitely would not copy out for Éowyn.

“That’s kind of you.”

He placed his sword by the side of the bed within easy reach and slipped a knife underneath the pillow to match the one she still carried concealed up the sleeves of her clothes. Old habits were difficult to change indeed. But while between them Éomer joked about his well-armed wife, she knew he had sworn that she would never again need to use it. And this was a man who could be very determined indeed. As she had found to her good fortune.

He sat down on the side of the bed and picked up her hand, slowly stroking her palm. A thrill of pure pleasure ran through her. She couldn’t believe it had taken her all those months to realise how attractive she found him. That first time she had stumbled into his arms by mistake had come as a complete shock. And yet at the same time, deep down a part of her had not been surprised at all.

Now she did not want to take her eyes off him. Or her hands. Her whole being seemed to concentrate on the spot where he touched her, his fingers strong and calloused, but infinitely gentle. Such a simple thing really: skin against skin. But she had denied herself its pleasure, as she had denied herself so much. Only now did she truly see how in her grief over Arantar’s death she had cut herself off from all human contact except for Tarcil.

She looked up to find Éomer watching her with a slight frown. “Lothíriel,” he said hesitantly, “you hardly ever miss the opportunity for a ride on Shirram.” He leant forward to feel her forehead. “And you didn’t have much of an appetite at the evening meal. Are you feeling all right?”

It was just like him to notice that kind of thing. With a smile she reached up to caress his cheek. “I’m fine. Very much so. There’s a perfectly natural reason why I’m tired. And soon I will eat a lot more, I assure you.”

He caught his breath. “Lothíriel, are you saying…”

“Yes. I’m with child.”

For a long moment Éomer looked as stunned as if she had hit him over the head, then he caught her up in his arms and pulled her to him. “Lothíriel!” But he let go again at once. “I’m sorry,” he stammered, “I didn’t mean to crush you.”

Breathless, she smiled up at him. “You’re pleased?”

“Pleased? That’s much too mild an expression. I’m thrilled, elated, amazed…” He gazed at her as if he still couldn’t quite believe it. “A child.” Suddenly he frowned again. “Lothíriel, should we move back to Edoras? Surely living in a tent is not at all the thing for you.”

She laughed at that. “Éomer, there are probably a dozen women in this camp who are further along with their pregnancies and are managing just fine.”

He had the grace to look sheepish. “Yes, but it’s different when it’s my wife. Are you sure?”

“I am. Though the night is growing chilly...” She lifted the edge of the coverlet in invitation.

Her husband was quick to understand. And deliciously warm. He gathered her to him and put his hand on her belly, as gently as if he feared to squash the new life awakening there. “I wonder if it’s a boy or a girl?” he mused. “Oh, and did you know that the line Tarcil’s Lýtling comes from also has some smaller ponies? They have an excellent reputation.”

“Éomer, you can’t possibly think about mounting our child before it’s even born,” Lothíriel protested with a laugh.

He grinned at her. “Remember, I’m a horse lord. Our children learn to ride before they can walk. Besides, it takes time to train a pony properly.”

Lothíriel shook her head at him. “You’re impossible.” She got the feeling their child would get thoroughly spoilt.

However, his thoughts had already run on. “I have to tell Éowyn.”

She grabbed him as he made a move to get up. “Not now.” From the way her sister-in-law had eyed Faramir over dinner, she did not think the moment would be propitious. “Tomorrow is soon enough.”

Éomer subsisted. Yet suddenly he gave her a sharp glance. “Lothíriel, you’re pleased too, aren’t you?”

“Of course.” She hesitated, for she did not want to spoil his joy. Yet she owed him the truth. “I’m deliriously happy. But at the same time I’m terrified.”

Being her wonderful, thoughtful husband, who often knew her better than she knew herself, he understood at once. “Oh Lothíriel, this time it will be different,” he said, drawing her closer. “You’re safe here with me. I promise.”

“I know.” She rested her hand against his chest, where his heart beat strong and true. “It’s just that I’m so happy that sometimes I’m convinced that it can’t possibly last, that something bad will happen.” It wasn’t rational, but she had been scarred by her time in Harad, though not in the way people thought. Éomer was the only one she had fully confided in.

He did not reply at once. Hesitantly he cupped her face. “Dear heart, to love means to risk loss. Yet not to love…”

“…means not to live at all,” she sighed. “I know. But it takes such courage.”

In answer he placed a light kiss on her forehead. “Lothíriel, I still think you’re one of the bravest women I know.”

She shook her head in denial. “You’ve told me so before, and it’s flattering, but truly I think you’re exaggerating.”

“Let me be the judge of that.” Suddenly the corners of his eyes crinkled in a smile. “After all you agreed to marry me. If that’s not courage, what is? No wonder it took me so long to persuade you.”

She was surprised into a chuckle. Yet in a way it was true. It had taken as much courage to marry him as to marry Arantar, just a very different kind. “I’m glad you persevered,” she murmured, tracing a slow spiral on his chest with her fingers.

Éomer had somehow slid his hands inside her nightgown. When had that happened? “I can tell you, it wasn’t easy. Courting you often felt like handling a naked blade. A very sharp one.”

Lothíriel grinned at him. “Really, my warrior king? Is that what you wanted in your bed, a blade?”

His eyes lit up with amusement. “Not exactly, though I wouldn’t have minded the naked part.”

She laughed. And then he captured her mouth in a kiss and all thoughts of the future fled from her mind. Her husband with his great heart. When she was in Éomer’s arms, the world was a wonderful place, full of warmth and joy. With a happy sigh, she let him sweep her away with him.

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A/N: A big thank-you, as always, goes to my wonderful beta Lady Bluejay and the ladies at the Garden for their encouragement throughout the years. Many thanks also to you, my readers, for coming on this journey with me, for your comments and the discussions we had along the way. I hope you enjoyed this tale!

If you want to read more of my writing, there are other Éomer & Lothíriel stories of mine on this site, or you can find my original stories on Amazon, iBooks, Kobo, Scribd, etc. by searching for ‘Lia Patterson’.

And for those of you who asked what would be next: I’ll add a oneshot to my ‘The Lion and his Lady’ series soon and hopefully by the end of the year will have another original story published.

As the Rohirrim would say: Wesath ye hál!





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