Yours to command | Lord of the Rings

Éomer of Rohan has come to Gondor to find a suitable queen: beautiful, elegant, regal and always courteous and polite... Instead he encounters an unusual young princess and a danger that threatens his very life.


28. A Fight in the Dark

You ask what is courage? I say: true courage is to face your worst fears and to go on regardless, not giving up even when confronted with hopeless odds.

(Mardil Voronwe: The Prince)


Lothíriel could hear the man's steps crossing the room to the small table standing against one wall. He hadn't even bothered to lock the door behind him. A faint scrape reached her ears, as if he had placed something on the table. A lamp perhaps, to light the room? Lothíriel tried to still the trembling in her fingers, to keep her head high and her back straight. She would not let him see her fear, for he thrived on it, of that she was certain.

"Your little scheme worked," he said, the tightly reined in anger in his tone chilling her. A voice the colour of freshly spilled blood, brightest scarlet.

Nevertheless she could not suppress a brief flare of hope. "Is that so," she replied, trying to keep her expression tightly guarded.

"Yes, it looks like the King of Rohan is delayed somewhat. But don't flatter yourself, all you have done is bought him a little time."

Lothíriel clutched the bedstead behind her in relief. So Éomer had recognised her warning and avoided the trap. Surely he was already searching for her and would find her soon, putting an end to this nightmare.

The man gave a humourless laugh. "You will discover before long that you're nothing but a powerless pawn in the game I'm playing."

"If properly placed, even a pawn can take the king," she retorted.

Now he laughed in earnest. "Not when playing against a master like me. Yours, my Lady Princess, is not a case of taking, but rather of being taken."

Lothíriel shivered, fear running through her, but she tried desperately not to show it. "Your plan will fail."

"King Éomer will still do exactly as he is told." The man sounded amused. "I don't think he'll be able to resist my bait, will he."

"He will not walk into your trap now," she said, trying to infuse her voice with confidence.

"We will see. But there is no rush. Let the King of Rohan worry for a few more hours, he will be all the more eager to fall into my trap." He lowered his voice. "Which means that we have to find a pleasurable way to while away the time until he does come…"

She swallowed, but did not break down and beg for mercy, as he had no doubt expected her to do. As if that would make any difference. Instead she lifted her head defiantly. "Éomer will find you soon enough and end your miserable life."

"You show a touching confidence in his ability to find you. Misplaced, but touching."

A tiny flicker of rage stirred in her heart. "Don't you dare mock him!"

With a few strides he crossed the room to stand before her. "Princess, I can do whatever I want to," he whispered into her ear.

It took all her self-control not to cringe back from him, and he gave a low chuckle. "I can also take whatever I want to." Not touching her. Not yet.

She tried to hold on to her anger. "Some things cannot be taken, they can only be given."

His hot breath brushed against her cheek. "Ah, but I am only taking back what should have been mine anyway."

"What do you mean?"

"Forgive me for not properly introducing myself earlier on," he said in a mocking tone. "My full name is Prince Muzgâsh, son of Uldor, late King of Harad."

What business did a prince of Harad have in Gondor? Yet for some reason the name had a familiar ring. Where had she heard it before? "King Uldor?" she asked. "Who died in the battle of the Pelennor Fields?"

"Slain by Théoden of Rohan," he confirmed.

Comprehension dawned. "So that is why you want to kill Éomer!"

"Yes indeed. From him I seek revenge, from you I just seek reparation."

Not understanding him, she furrowed her brows in confusion. "Reparation? What for?"

"For the loss of a wife." He picked up her right hand and lifted it to his lips. "A princess of Gondor, promised to us by Steward Denethor, but never delivered."

That prince of Harad! She tried to snatch her hand away, but he held it in an iron grip, turning it over and planting a kiss on the wrist, where her pulse was beating wildly. "I've come to get you, my little pearl. Aren't you pleased?"

"If you think I will marry you, you are out of your mind!" she exclaimed, finally managing to free her hand and taking a step back.

"In Harad, the only requirement for a marriage is for the bridegroom to say his vows in front of three male witnesses. Your consent is not needed." By the sound of his voice, the man was enjoying himself!

"We are not in Harad," she snapped back. "In this country both her father's blessing and the bride's agreement are necessary."

"As for the first, it can be asked for after the deed. The second…" He let one finger trail across her cheek as if he had every right to do so. "Possession is more important than the law."

Lothíriel most definitely did not like the way he lingered on the word possession. She could tell he was playing with her, savouring the feeling of having her at his mercy. A spark of anger arose within her. "If you force me into marriage that just means that I will be a widow soon."

He exhaled his breath sharply. "I can see why my father wanted me to get hold of you at a young age. However, before long you will learn the properly submissive way for one of my wives to address to me."

Wives? How many did he have? But that moment he grabbed one of her arms and twisted it behind her back. "I have had enough of your insolent tongue," he said into her ear when she gasped with pain. "Come over here so I can have a proper look at you."

She tried to claw at his face with her free hand, but he caught it quite effortlessly, forcing it behind her back as well. Her cloak slipped off her shoulders and she could not help giving a little moan of dismay. A quick twist, and he held both of her wrists in the unyielding clasp of one hand, leaving the other one free. Had he done this kind of thing before? Pushing her before him, he crossed the room to where the small table stood against the wall.

Muzgâsh laughed when she fought against his grip, a sound that sent an icy wave of fear down her spine. The exhilaration she heard in it made her still her struggles. She realized abruptly that he wanted her to try and resist him, so he could bring his superior physical strength into play. Well, she wouldn't do him that favour.

"My pretty little princess," he whispered into her ear, standing behind her and starting to undo her braid with his free hand. "Such exquisite white skin, such lovely soft hair…"

Distraction! She needed to distract him somehow. "Won't your people mind that I'm blind?" Her voice sounded hoarse and strained, and she could almost sense his smile.

"It is not for lesser men to concern themselves with the affairs of their betters. Anyway, they will not know, for you will never leave the palace." Her hair fell loose past her shoulders now and he sniffed appreciatively at its perfume. "I can choose whoever pleases me to be my wife. And make no mistake, by the time we reach the City of Serpents you will be most eager to please me."


"It's a long journey on the boat down the Anduin and along the coast. You will learn, or else–" His hand slipped round her throat to squeeze gently. "Maybe I should take your maid with us, to keep you obedient."

Sudden rage kindled in her soul, burning the fog of fear away and warming her with its fire. She turned round in his grasp. "What kind of man are you that you pick on a defenceless old woman? I despise you!"

"How dare you!" he hissed. "I will be king one day. Any woman in Harad would be more than pleased to become the first amongst my wives, my queen."

"You're nothing but a lowly prince at the moment," Lothíriel snapped.

His hand clamped on her shoulder. "Once I have exacted the proper blood price for my father and with a Gondorian princess for a bride, it will be clear that the gods favour me. Then I will be able to gather enough support to deal with my older brother and challenge him for the crown."

"In that case come back and ask again when you're king!"

He actually laughed, but the sound held no amusement. "Do you know, I begin to have an inkling of what the King of Rohan sees in you. It will be amusing to tame you." His voice went low and dangerous. "Soon I will be King of Harad and then one day the Black Serpent on Scarlet will fly on the White Tower as it should have done a long time ago." She pressed her lips together in denial and he pulled her closer against him, crushing her against his chest. The hard and cold feel of it through her thin clothes told her he was wearing chain mail. "One day our son will rule both Harad and Gondor!"

"My son will sweep the Haradrim off the battlefield and trample them into the ground," she threw back in his face.

He went still, but his hand tightened on her shoulder until she could not suppress a whimper of pain. "Woman, I will make you regret those words." The cold deliberation in his tone frightened Lothíriel more than hot anger would have done.

Suddenly, Muzgâsh gave her a shove, making her stumble a few steps backwards until her back hit the wall. Quick as a snake he followed her and when Lothíriel held out her hands in front of her to ward him off, he grabbed her wrists in one of his powerful hands and pinioned them above her head. Panicking, she tried to kick him, but he just slammed his full weight into her, pinning her against the wall. Then he slipped his other hand round the back of her head and twisted it in her hair, forcing her to raise her face to him. With a breathless laugh he started to kiss her.

Feeling utterly helpless, Lothíriel closed her eyes and tried to cast her mind far away from the present. Why couldn't she just faint? She attempted to call up her memory place, to walk through it completely disassociated from what was happening to her body. The menu from the last banquet, what had it been? Fluff pastries filled with asparagus accompanied by sweet white wine from Lebennin. His breath tasted of spices and the feeling of his wet lips pressing with bruising force against hers nearly made her gag. Stewed rabbit on a bed of spring greens with a side dish of broiled potatoes. Muzgâsh's free hand wandered downwards and started to tug at the laces of her tunic. Stripes of duck in a fig sauce, then suckling pig stuffed with fresh herbs. The first pair of laces torn, he slipped his hand inside her blouse and laughed when she recoiled.

"How fitting that you should wear Rohirric dress," he breathed. "Now I can take my revenge on Rohan and Gondor both." He bore down on her mouth once more.

It wasn't working. She couldn't just withdraw her mind from what was happening to her. Again, she tried to pull out of his grasp, but his strength defeated her. Éomer, she thought in despair. Help me! Her hip hit the edge of the table and there came a slight metallic clink. A desperate plan formed in her mind.

She forced herself to relax, to open her mouth to his questing tongue, even though it sickened her. Muzgâsh chuckled in his throat when she started to respond to him, but his iron grip did not slacken. Instead he started to pull up her tunic, causing a fresh wave of panic to rush through her. Lothíriel suppressed it and arched her back against him, giving an entirely false moan of pleasure. At last his mouth moved down to the hollow of her throat and he relaxed his grip on her wrists. Careful, so as not to startle him, she lowered one arm and buried her hand in his hair, stroking it.

"You like to be mastered by a real man, don't you," he whispered, breathing hard and so excited she could smell his sweat.

Like it? She loathed it! But he was so full of his own self-importance that he probably believed it to be true. Lothíriel did not trust her voice, so she just pressed her body against him and offered up her lips to him, all the while shifting very slightly, so the table was behind him. When he began to kiss her again roughly, she slid her right hand round his back, caressing him. Her fingers brushed against the pommel of a sword hanging at his side and she hesitated briefly. But he held her so close, she would not be able to draw it. Instead she leaned into him and let her hand sweep the surface of the table behind him. Cold metal met her searching fingers. Success! A candlestick by the feel of it and a heavy one at that. Excruciatingly slowly she pulled it towards her and then gripped it tightly. He was still busy mauling her.

With a quick heave she brought up the candlestick to hit Muzgâsh on the back of his head. But at the last moment he twisted with his uncanny warrior's instinct, the blow glancing off the side of his head instead of knocking him out.

"You witch!" he exclaimed when she struggled to hit him again.

Suddenly the smell of scorched hair filled the room. Muzgâsh yelped in pain and dealt her a blow across the face that sent her staggering backwards, the candlestick flying from her grasp as she slipped and fell to the floor. Stunned, she just lay there for a moment, her ears ringing with pain, the stone cold against her cheek. Dimly, she could hear him jumping around and cursing, then a hissing sound like water being poured on a fire.

"Where are you?" he roared.

With a loud clatter the chair toppled over and he yelped again. It sounded as if he had stumbled and fallen, too. Lothíriel suddenly realized that he couldn't see anything. The candle must have gone out when it dropped from her hand! Galvanized into action, she threw back her hair and scrambled to her knees. If she could reach the door before him, she might be able to slip out and lock it behind her! A round shape met her fingers and she recognized the chamber pot. That moment Muzgâsh's hand closed on one of her ankles, yanking her towards him. Without a second's thought she twisted round and brought down the chamber pot on his fingers. With a most satisfactory cry of pain he let go of her and she quickly crawled away.

All of a sudden, a loud pounding sounded on the door. Lothíriel froze.

"Prince Muzgâsh!" came a muffled shout.

"What is it?" he sounded thoroughly enraged by now.

The door opened with a slow creak. "My lord, please forgive me for disturbing you, but–" The man stopped abruptly. "What are you doing in the dark? Your hair!"

"Never mind my hair!" Muzgâsh snarled. "Shagnar, you had better have a very good reason for interrupting me."

"They have started to search the houses," the man stammered.


"I wasn't sure what to do, my lord," Shagnar said, the words tumbling over each other, "but our scouts just brought word that the Great Gates have been closed to all traffic and the Swan Knights and Tower Guard have started to search the lower levels. On top of that rumour has it that King Éomer has sent for reinforcements from the Rohirric camp."

Silence, except for Muzgâsh's heavy breathing. "I'm busy! I do not have the time to deal with this complication."

"My lord, they will be here soon! We have to do something." the man exclaimed.

Lothíriel kept completely still when she heard Muzgâsh get up and cross the room towards her. He grabbed her by the arms and pulled her up. Limp and exhausted from the brief fight, she did not resist.

"I will be back, never doubt it," he hissed. "And in the meantime you can think on how I will punish you."

He let go of her and she swayed on her feet. Then he was gone, the door closing behind him, the key turning in the lock.

"Don't go away," she heard him call mockingly, followed by laughter.

Alone again. The chamber pot fell from her nerveless fingers and she started shaking.


Helpless. Éomer hated being helpless more than anything else. He stared out the window at Imrahil's courtyard. Alphros and his friend stood around Galador, petting the pony, but Éomer did not see them. Instead he saw Éowyn lying broken on the battlefield of the Pelennor. Théoden old and feeble on the throne in Meduseld while Théodred rode away to his doom, little hope in his eyes. And his mother Théodwyn, ill and feverish, turning her face to the wall, the will to live gone with his father's death.

Éomer gripped the windowsill. He would not lose Lothíriel as well. They would find her and rescue her. And then he would marry her, no matter what Imrahil said, even if he had to abduct her himself.

A hand descended on his shoulder, giving it a quick squeeze. He recognized Aragorn's solid presence. The King of Gondor had come to offer his help the moment he had heard about Lothíriel's abduction.

"Any news yet?" Éomer asked without turning round.

"Elphir just sent word that the guards have finished searching the first level and have started on the second. Amrothos is with them as well."

Éomer nodded in acknowledgement. Only one level out of seven! For a moment he hated the city of stone that had swallowed Lothíriel without a trace. If only they were in Edoras where he knew every corner and every possible hiding place. He had wanted to lead the search himself, but Éothain and Elfhelm had persuaded him to stay behind at the townhouse in safety. So now he was safe while Lothíriel…

"Don't torture yourself with imagining what could happen to her," Aragorn said softly. "I promise you, we will find your lady."

Éomer balled his hands into fists. "Easily said," he snapped. "What would you do if it were Arwen being held captive?"

A brief silence ensued. "My friend, in that case it would be you telling me to stay calm."

Éomer sighed and let go of some of some of the accumulated tension. "If only I could do something!"

"I know."

The two men stared out the window. In the courtyard Alphros and his friend Minardil had started to groom the pony. The two boys had been playing in the stables when Éomer had shown up and looked like a pair of street urchins, dusty and covered in bits of straw.

Aragorn gave his shoulder another squeeze. "Once Éothain arrives back with your men from the camp we can step up the search. And don't forget, Lothíriel is quite resourceful. Just look at the way she slipped you a warning."

Éomer nodded with little conviction. What could a blind woman hope to accomplish when faced with what surely had to be a whole band of abductors? But he turned his back on the window. They would learn soon enough if there was any news. His glance fell on Imrahil. The Prince of Dol Amroth sat in a chair, staring into space. For the first time that Éomer could remember he looked old, seeming to have aged years since this morning. In his lap he held the broken cane and single shoe that his men had found in a side street off the road leading to the Houses of Healing.

Feeling unaccountably sorry for the other man, Éomer crossed the room and knelt by the chair. "Don't worry, Imrahil, we will find your daughter." He put all the conviction he could muster into the words.

Imrahil lifted dull eyes. "It's all my fault. I should never have let her go with those men."

Éomer hesitated, for he had blamed Imrahil himself for not sending a guard with Lothíriel. "What is done is done," he finally said.

Imrahil slowly turned the shoe round in his hands. "I was eager to see her go, because I wanted to talk to you on your own when you arrived. So eager that I did not stop to think. I have failed her."

Éomer's hand tightened on the arm of the chair. "I failed her, too," he said roughly, "for I acted too slowly on the warning she sent me."

Their eyes met, in perfect accord for the first time since that evening down at the Anduin.

That moment they could hear running steps and the door to the library burst open. One of the men guarding the gates of the house stood there, a piece of parchment in his hand.

"My lord," he said, crossing the room and bowing to Imrahil, who had jumped up. "We've had a message delivered."

Imrahil snatched up the parchment, while Éomer and Aragorn crowded round. The message was short and to the point. We will kill the princess unless you call off the search and reopen the Great Gates. Once you have done so, we will send further instructions.

"Who delivered this?" asked Aragorn.

The man shrugged. "A street boy. He said a man gave him a coin to carry the message to us."

Éomer stared down at the parchment. The very brevity of the message made the threat all the more real. He got the feeling that they faced an opponent who would not stop at anything. And such a man had Lothíriel in his power? The thought made him sick.

"Call off the search at once," he said.

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