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King of the Mark
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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12
Near and on the Great West Road

mearh = horse


~~~

Once clad and with a few extra weapons tucked about his person, Éomer set off to inspect the cavalry and prepare for the morning's muster. He nearly called for a groom to bring Firefoot around when he remembered his horse's fate. Swearing softly, he called to his steward. "Aldor? Where are you?"

As usual, the man appeared silently at his elbow. Éomer wondered where the man hid himself that he could appear so conveniently. "Yes, your majesty?"

"Ah, there you are. Good man. Saddle one of the extra horses with my gear, would you? I care not which one." Truthfully he did care...he wanted his horse back, but that was not to be. One of the extras bound for the Minas Tirith guard would have to do until a more suitable mount could be found. Éomer grimaced, thinking of the hours of loving care that had gone into Firefoot's training. He was mentally strangling his unknown assailant once more when Aldor again appeared at his side.

"Your grace, I can't find your tack. It's all missing." Aldor said worriedly. He reminded Éomer of a rabbit, with his nervous twitching.

"What do you mean, missing? These things don't just get up and walk away," Éomer snapped more sharply than he meant to. "Were you not keeping track of it?"

"He was, your majesty, but I took it when he wasn't paying attention. Here it is...along with your new mount." Éomer turned at the sound of Lothíriel's voice, ready to deliver a stinging reprimand. But it died on his lips as he saw that she was leading Pasha who was caparisoned in the green and white of Rohan and bearing Éomer's own saddle and tack.

"Will that be all then, your majesty?" asked Aldor.

"Yes, yes...that will be all." Éomer dismissed his steward with an impatient wave and took Lothíriel's hands, and Pasha's reins, in his. "Princess, you can't mean this."

"I do," she said firmly, though her voice shook slightly. "If it hadn't been for my insistence on that silly race, you would still have your horse. So you shall now have mine."

"It wasn't your fault, Lothíriel."

"Please, Éomer, let me do this. I want you to have him," she insisted.

"Very well, princess. But when you come home with me to Meduseld and I train up a replacement, you shall have him back." He touched her cheek with a gloved fingertip, but she pulled away. "You will come home with me, will you not?"

"I-I don't know. I need some time to think." She thrust the reins into his hands and slipped away between the tents before he could pursue her. He cursed himself once again for mishandling the situation so badly. She was young and sheltered and he had hurt her badly, if inadvertently. Now she was afraid to trust him.

"I didn't even offer her a proper proposal," he muttered to Pasha, absently stroking the horse's silky nose. "I'm a stupid man." Pasha whickered in agreement and Éomer laughed. "You are her horse, that's for certain. And what kind of name is Pasha for a king's mount? I refuse to call you so." Éomer swung easily into the saddle, noting that Pasha was slightly smaller than Firefoot. He compensated for the difference almost unconsciously. "Come then, mearh, let's be off."

******

Lothíriel was packing the last of her clothing in her saddlebags when she heard the tent flap rustle behind her. "Anna?" she queried. "Can you help me with this confounded thing? I can't get it closed." The sound of a masculine throat being cleared made her turn around. "Who-oh, Aldor. Did you need something?"

The steward shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. "I don't know how to tell you, my lady," he said in his trembling, nervous voice.

"What? Blazes, man, speak up!" Lothíriel was suddenly filled with a nameless dread.

"The king has been injured, princess, riding your horse. I thought I should tell you before word reached you from other means. 'Tis most grievous."

The color drained immediately from Lothíriel's face. "Injured? How? Where?"

"He was riding in the hills, trying out your horse's paces I guess. My lady, will you come? He's asking for you." The words had barely left his lips when she was out of the tent, climbing upon the dainty gray that had been saddled for her.

"Where?" she asked tersely, her head spinning. If anything happened to him she could never forgive herself. She had offered him the gift of her horse in all good faith, and now that gesture had harmed him. Could she do nothing right?

"North into the hills, my lady. Follow the road. I will be right behind you." Aldor watched as Lothíriel kicked her horse into motion, smiling slightly. "Right behind you..." he said again, the high and whining tone gone from his suddenly deep, smooth voice.

******

Lothíriel urged her mare into a flat-out run, wishing for Pasha's superior speed even as she cursed him for whatever harm had come to Éomer. She wished with her whole soul that she had told Éomer what was in her heart that morning, instead of running from him like a frightened little girl. Now she might never have the chance to tell him how much she wanted to be his wife and queen.

She was so lost in her thoughts that she did not notice the approaching riders until they were upon her. Four non-descript brown horses with dark-hooded riders flanked her and forced her to a stop before she could even begin to wonder who they were. "What do you mean by this," she demanded. "Who are you that you keep me from riding to my king and love? Let me pass." The only answer she received was mocking laughter as one of the hooded figures pulled her struggling from the mare onto his horse. She kicked and tried to scream, but he stuffed a dirty rag in her mouth.

"One more move from you princess and I will spit your precious King while you watch," her mysterious captor growled menacingly. Lothíriel ceased struggling immediately and concentrated instead on holding on for dear life as the brown horse sped away. She tried to keep track of direction but, draped as she was upside down across the saddle, she soon lost her way. Her captors were muttering to themselves. She knew not which voice belonged to whom for all were unfamiliar to her.

"Are you sure he'll come after her?"

"I heard him this morning asking her to return to Meduseld with him. He loves her, the stupid bastard. Aye, when my man tells him that she's gone, he'll come for her."

"Then we kill him?"

"Not before we take turns with his precious princess before his eyes. Then perhaps I shall beat him bloody until he begs for mercy. After that, perhaps I'll grant him his death, yes."

Lothíriel felt sick horror course through her with each icy word out of her captor's mouth. She had blundered into a trap set by one who clearly understood her impulsive nature. Why had she not sought Anna or Léo and told them before riding off to who knows where? Every step of the horse's hooves on the rocky ground sent a painful jolt through her body but when she attempted to wiggle into a more comfortable position, her captor struck her viciously across the back with his crop. "You will be still, bitch, if you want to see your king alive again."

"Oh, Éomer," pleaded Lothíriel silently. "Please be safe my love, wherever you are, and don't come after me. Please, don't come after me..."

******

"Is all in readiness, Endros?" Éomer inquired of his youngest rider.

"Y-yes, your majesty." The boy's voice broke nervously and Éomer looked at him curiously. Great beads of sweat stood out upon the boy's brow and his hands trembled as they held Pasha's reins.

"Is there something amiss, boy?"

"I'm sorry, you majesty, but the princess is missing. She rode off a little while ago and hasn't been seen since. I-I thought you would want to know."

Éomer's temper, frayed to the breaking point by hidden assassins, murdered horses and wayward princesses, snapped. "Blast the girl into eternity! I am tired unto death of her nonsense. Endros, tell Léo that I've gone to teach a certain princess a lesson and to ride ahead without me."

"Yes, your majesty." But as the king rode away, the boy did not move.

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