Lady Love an Outlaw Part 3 of 4 - Journeys End in Lovers Meeting
- In which Éomer meets Lothíriel and rises to the occasion.
"The Onion Man dosed Éomer with a powerful drink ..." - from Lady Love an Outlaw Part 2
Lothíriel lay dreaming in the dawn. She was in some starlit meadow where the plashing of nearby waters soothed like a lullaby. A pearly path lay before her, and above, Menelvagor the Valorous raised his starry sword. To her wonder Lothíriel saw him descend from the sky. Each heroic stride brought him closer to mortal form, until he stood embodied before her on the gleaming way.
"Show me your face," she said. She ran toward him; he turned to her slowly -
- Lothíriel awoke from the dream, which was not a dream at all but a vision that had recurred all her life.
I can sleep no more, she thought. 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. She slipped out the door, heading for the stables. Rianné awoke as she closed the door.
Over the fields, away from the manor house Lothíriel rode through the early light. At length she saw a cluster of trees. She thought to go there and wait, for Rianné was no doubt behind her, vexed. Dismounting, she led Goldie toward the trees. Beyond them she heard a jocular male voice. She crept nearer and spied a man with military bearing but dressed like a farmer. He was standing over the naked body of a fair-haired young man who was bound, blindfolded, and apparently asleep.
"I will cut your bonds but must keep your weapons, clothes and horse," the soldier-farmer was saying. "Otherwise you will soon follow me and do who knows what damage." The man cut the ropes about the sleeper's hands. Then he mounted a fine-looking horse. The sleeper began to stir.
"Farewell, handsome strawhead," said the soldier-farmer. "I go to find Milord Ruffian, for I would be paid for news of you." He chucked side-mouth to the horse and they sped away toward some rolling hills where, people said, outlaws lived.
Éomer lay dreaming in the dawn, luxurious in his nest of grass. He dreamt of well-being and then of lazing before a hot fireplace. The rising sun beat down on his pale, bare body. Then 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 Éomer's wits awoke. He pulled off the blindfold, sprang to his feet, and looked upon Lothíriel.
Throughout the many shattering events that would soon intervene in his life Éomer always remembered that moment, for her beauty was ethereal, and he was lost and gone. "Are you real, lady," he said, "or am still I 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.
"Not another capture," Éomer groaned. "Lady, please lower that bow. I am harmless."
"Well certainly you are ... unarmed," the woman observed.
Éomer noticed then 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 and hand 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," Éomer said, and then, predictably as the women gazed at him, matters grew doubly worse, or more. He sighed with resignation.
"You may as well stop looking at that - mask - you hold in your hand," the younger woman advised him. "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! For a dismayed moment Éomer was at a loss. Then, with the greatest relief he had ever known, he realized they could not know who he was.
And they never will, he resolved. Not unless I desire the amusement of the lords of Gondor for the rest of my life. I will return to Edoras as soon as I find my horse. But what to tell her?
Now here it must be said that Éomer was a poor liar, and he knew it. The one untruth he could remember uttering on purpose concerned some boyish nonsense about riding one of the young stallions without his trainer present. The elders forbade the inexperienced youngsters from doing this. "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 never got a 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 Athol the weapons master.
Athol 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 in the speech Éomer said "Yes, sir," guessing that the time for any other remark was past. When they came to the stables Athol 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 Athol had a soft heart concerning 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." Athol 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 said. The weapons master heaved a sigh.
That was Éomer; honest to a fault. So even though the occasion begged for invention, though he stood naked in a field in front of two beautiful woman, the sunburned outline of his hand pointing to his private parts, and worst of all, no horse, Éomer would not lie.
In one reach he had Lothíriel by the waist. "My name is not for you to know. My business is to find the man who took my gear and horse." And throttle him "For that I need your help. I'll take that knife, lady. If you struggle I shall be forced to 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 I have no 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 behind the Eastern Sea of Rhûn I will -"
"Oh, peace, Rianné," said Lothíriel unexpectedly. "Use your undershift, for I have none, and rip away a goodly strip."
Rianné lifted her skirt and began to tear the seam. Soon the piece came away. "Now what?" she said, grinning. "You'll need your hands to dress yourself, and I promise to put an arrow -"
"I will dress him," said Lothíriel.
"Milady!" said Rianné and Éomer.
"I have three brothers, you know. Here, Outlaw. It will be a treat for you to have a serving woman, no doubt," she said. 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, and Éomer took her knife and cut the hole. Lothíriel slipped the blanked over his head for a tunic. She placed her belt around his middle and at the last notch, it just fit.
Lothíriel observed her handiwork for a moment, taking in Éomer's square jaw; remembering the hard muscles that covered his body; considering his frank manners. The men at her father's court played as pleasant foils for her girlish diversion. They responded indulgently to the Prince's daughter.
This strange and courteous outlaw, she realized, would say what he meant. He expected no less from her. Precocious Lothíriel, who was smarter than most of the court folks put together, found in the outlaw's eyes a prize she had wanted for a long time. She was no girl to him, but a woman.
"I would clad you and girt you like a knight if I could, Master Outlaw," she said, smiling, "for you have that bearing and look."
"Thank you for your generosity, lovely Lothíriel," Éomer replied, still short of breath. "I am no outlaw however, but an honest traveler." Rianné made an unladylike sound. "Strange things have happened to me since I came to Erech. I was helpless and I was robbed, but the robber saved my life. He questioned me, I think, while I was under the fever. I remember a few words." And Éomer spoke the words to Lothíriel.
" 'Steward' and 'waylay' and 'royal,' she repeated slowly.
Rianné drew in a sharp breath. "Everyone knows that the Prince's daughter has come to the Steward's house! You may be in danger, Lothíriel."
Éomer said, "You must return to your manor, lady, and I will seek the Onion Man."
"He said he was going to find a ruffian," she replied. "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." To Éomer: "I can show you the way."
"I can find the way, lady. 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."
The last thing Éomer wanted was to meet the lords of Gondor, apart from the awkwardness of his situation. His intuition told him there was danger. Maybe to his house; maybe to this beautiful woman. He urgently wanted to retrieve his gear, question the Onion Man, and ride with all speed to Edoras. And also to remain with Lothíriel.
"If Lothíriel goes I shall raise the alarm myself," Rianné said. "It is my duty to the girl."
"We cannot debate! The Onion Man is getting away! Yet I respect your duty, Rianné. I would say the same." 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. But her judgment told her she could trust him. He could have bound me, or worse, she thought. If he finds the man who robbed him, maybe he will bring back important information. Then Lothíriel spoke.
"You must be mad, Lothíriel," Rianné said finally. "And so am I. But I will give him the head start." She turned to Éomer. "Do not fail to 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 had left a clear trail across the fields for he had left Éomer in no position to pursue.
They rode, with Éomer's strong arms about her waist and Lothíriel settling back against him. He wished he could ride that way forever, smelling her hair, looking over her shoulder, his bristly cheek against her soft one.
Once, showing off, Éomer leaned down while at full gallop and plucked a handful of wildflowers. He gave them to Lothíriel. "I like headstrong women," he said. She turned her head and put a kiss on the corner of his mouth. And then another.
The sun rose higher, and they neared the outlaw hills