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King of the Mark
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Near the Great West Road

Lothíriel stirred sleepily and opened her eyes, slitting them against the sun that shone brightly through the tent flap. She felt oddly disoriented and shook her head to clear the morning cobwebs but something still felt amiss. She dug an elbow into the bedding to lever herself to a sitting position.

"Ouch!" the bedclothes mumbled. Lothíriel shrieked and shot from the bed, backing across the soft flowered carpet that covered the ground beneath the tent. Slowly the mound of blankets resolved themselves into the shape of the king. Naturally, he was laughing at her. "Now that's a romantic way to be awakened, for certain. An elbow in the guts and a scream in the ear. Is that what I have to look forward to, my princess?"

"Look forward to?" Lothíriel answered, still quite sleepy and feeling as though she had missed something of great importance. She nervously smoothed the wrinkled folds of her slept-in tunic and trousers.

"When we're wed, of course." Éomer sat up and stretched and Lothíriel blushed, remembering suddenly that she'd had Léo undress him before putting him to bed the night before. Noting her blush, Éomer looked down and quickly snatched the green woolen blanket across his lap, pinkening slightly himself.

"When we're what?!" Lothíriel's dark eyebrows drew together ominously in a frown that cleared as soon as she remembered what had passed the day before. "Oh! Clearly that knock on the head was worse than I first thought. Don't worry, Éomer, I shall have Anna mix up something right away that will restore you to your right mind in no time."

But rather than looking grateful, the young king actually laughed harder and, wrapping the blanket about his waist, crossed the tent towards her. "Léo was right," he said cryptically. He cupped her chin in his large hand, tipping her head back so that she could do nothing but look him in the eyes. "My life will certainly never be dull."

"You have taken leave of your senses," she said, enunciating each word clearly as if speaking to a small child or perhaps, to an idiot.

"Nay," he said softly. "I have finally come to them, Lothíriel." He put an arm about her waist and drew her to him, kissing her gently on the forehead.

Lothíriel simply stared at him in drop-jawed surprise for a long moment before finally speaking. "Forgive me if I don't instantly melt into your arms," she said sarcastically, wrenching herself from his arms. "I am weary of these advances, Éomer, for they seem always to be followed by you walking away. Of course, if that is what you're considering, I'd put some clothes on first." She was trembling from sheer fury. "So far I've been dumped in a pile of dead leaves and half-drowned in a freezing stream. What had you in mind for me this time, your majesty?"

Éomer wondered wryly why she always seemed to have the advantage when it came to being clothed. Clutching at the wayward blanket, which threatened to slide down his hips at a moment's notice, he tried to explain to her what he had just discovered himself. "Lothíriel, I am beyond sorry for the way I've behaved. It's just that I did not think there was a woman anywhere in this world who could be all I wanted, or needed. Please forgive me that I did not realize right away that you were she."

"I swear I will never walk away from you again, princess." He drew close to her once more, stretching out a hand for her to take if she wished. "I would make you my queen, Lothíriel, and my beloved wife. Will you have me?" His blue eyes caught and held her gray ones which were wide with apprehension and mistrust. Ever so slowly, she reached out a trembling hand to lay in his.

"Your majesty?" Léo's voice rang from outside the tent. Lothíriel snatched her hand back as if burned and fled the tent, ducking under Léo's arm as he entered. He regarded both Éomer and the departing princess with some confusion.

"Blast it all, Léo!" Éomer swore. "You'd better have a good reason for this."

"The best, my king." The First Marshal answered solemnly, arching a brow at his king's state of dishabille. Éomer gathered the blanket, and his dignity, about him and gestured for his Marshal to continue. Léo laid three black-fletched arrows on the low table that Éomer used for writing orders. "These were found at the site where you fell. They're painted to look like orc arrows, but the fletching is to fine for that. They match the ones that were fired at you in the woods four days ago."

Éomer picked up an arrow, turning it over and over in his hands. His memory of Lothíriel flinching as if stung by an insect suddenly made sense, as did Firefoot's startlement and subsequent refusal of the jump. "What are you saying, Léo?" he asked, very afraid he already knew the answer.

"These arrows were fired by someone who knew exactly how to startle one of our horses. Someone who wanted to make it look like an orc attack." Léo continued grimly, " of our own people...who wanted you dead, my king."

Éomer continued to turn the arrow round and about in his hands. "Twice this person has attempted my life. He has killed my horse and endangered my princess...who will be my queen." He snapped the arrow in half, casting the shards upon the carpet. "This will not stand! Assemble the men, Léo. I will question them and, by the Valar, I will find who did this. And when I do, I will spit his head upon my pike as a warning to any fool who would ever dare try such a thing again."

"I would counsel you to patience, my King," replied Léo formally. He was counselor now, above and beside friend. He had rarely seen Éomer in such a rage and knew that his king needed to hear his cool advice. "This person does not know that he has been found out. If we raise the alarm, he could disappear and you would still be in grave danger. Let us be doubly on our guard and we will catch him more easily."

Éomer paced the tent, muttering furiously under his breath. "I see the sense in what you suggest, Léo, but it galls me to hide behind my guards like a boy behind his mother's skirts. And how do I know they are loyal?"

"You and I picked your personal guard ourselves, Éomer, from men who went to the wars with us. Remember? I do not think you need to mistrust them. But there are others among the company who bear watching, not the least of them that young upstart Endros whose father hates you so." Léo laid a comforting hand on Éomer's shoulder. "Please, my king, let me deal with this. I swear the fiend shall not escape."

"Very well, my friend, do as you will. Only be sure Lothíriel is guarded as well. I could not bear for anything to happen to her."

If Léo was surprised by his friend's change of heart regarding the princess, he didn't show it. "Judging by the look on her face when she ran out of here, you might need protection from her as well, Éomer," he teased lightly, lifting the tent flap. "Oh, and Éomer?"

"What else is there, Léo?"

"If you've a mind to question anyone, I'd put some clothes on first. You parted company with that blanket about five minutes ago." He exited the tent laughing and ducking the boot that flew at his blond head.


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