Fairer Sex, The: 5. Chapter Four: Fight and Flight

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5. Chapter Four: Fight and Flight

Everything had been transpiring as she had envisioned.



Ever since her father had told her of his intention to wed her
off to the King of the Mark, Lothiriel of Dol Amroth had constructed with
surprising precision the form and course of her escape. She had bided her time
and given no inkling to anyone of what she had planned, determined that nothing
would stand in her way when the time came for her scheme to move forward.



For days since her arrival in Minas Tirith, Lothiriel had
played the part of the frightened and timid daughter of Prince Imrahil in order
to disarm those around her from what she intended to do. Her performance had
been most convincing and now she was making her way across the Citadel away from
the palace. In a short time, she would pass beyond the gates into the city. She
would be free at last. Lothiriel should have been thrilled by this
accomplishment.



She should have been but she was not.



Even as she widened the distance between herself and the
palace, Lothiriel was not as pleased as she should have been. Dressed in the
garb of a servant boy, her hair tucked neatly under a cap while all traces of
her gender were concealed beneath plain, course material, she felt confused by
what she had done. In one instance, she was grateful to escape her father’s
tyranny in deciding whom she would marry but in another, she felt ashamed that
she had broken faith with him by her flight. Defiantly, Lothiriel reminded
herself that her father had broken faith with her first by forcing her to marry
but the argument did not have its earlier potency.



This should not be hard, she told herself as she hastened
her pace. The enclosure of stone surrounding the first level of hill upon which
the Citadel was built was coming swiftly coming into sight. Once through its
gates, she would be beyond her father’s reach. On this day, the gates that were
normally sealed to all save invited guests were flung open for the celebration
of the treaty. Revelers were already gathering in numbers in anticipations and
Lothiriel would be able to lose herself within the crowds as she slipped through
the gates.



Once into Minas Tirith, she could take advantage of the fanfare
and slip out of the city to make her way westward to Isengard. It was within
reach now and she should have been pleased by this fact but she was strangely
subdued about her success. Unwillingly, her thoughts kept returning her to the
King of the Mark as she considered with far more frequency then she liked, their
encounter in the hall the night before. Lothiriel’s life had ensured that she
did not have any suitors. In the beginning, there had been a few but she had
little interest in them and when rumors of her past time has filtered through
the nobility of Dol Amroth, they dwindled into nothingness. It was a situation
that suited her well for she had never found any of the suitors to her
liking.



And because none of them could meet her gaze and pierce her
thoughts with a deep penetrating stare.



The amount of time she was devoting to that particular feature
of the King of the Mark bothered Lothiriel more than she liked. She found
herself thinking less of Isengard and more of the smile that assured her he
would not force himself upon or the jest that tried to draw out her voice. He
was nothing like what she had expected and what he was, she took in with some
measure of pleasant surprise. She had expected a warmonger on horseback and
received in turn, an almost shy and unassuming young man who was not quite as
certain about the whole idea of marriage as she. It was nice to know that he
looked upon their desired betrothal with as much trepidation.



Oh No.



Lothiriel came to a startling realization when she looked up
and saw the gates splayed wide open before her like the invitation of a lover.
Was it possible she was falling for him? It cannot be! She cried out silently as
she made her escape from the Citadel, hardly capable of exulting her freedom
with such thoughts in her head. Yet with each step she took, she knew that she
was not certain of anything. Perhaps she did not love him for though her heart
was kindled with fire, it was still too new and uncertain to be interpreted as
being something that permanent. Still there was the possibility it could be
nurtured into something passionate.



I will not be drawn into this, Lothiriel told herself
defiantly. She had made plans! Plans that she had harbored all her life when
other maidens around her were making insipid wishes about being little more than
breeding mares and a beautiful playthings for some lord who would only display
them at important occasions. She had wanted to be more then that! Lothiriel
stormed past the gates, crushing mercilessly the treasonous thoughts in her mind
as she continued forward into the city. She had almost succeeded in this
ruthless purging when a stray thought crossed her mind and made her groan in
disgust with herself.



The road to Isengard passes through Rohan.



Lothiriel was so furious for even thinking such a thing that
she continued walking ahead, brushing past bodies without even noticing them,
all the while rebuking herself for falling prey to a smile and a penetrating
gaze. She did so until the bodies thinned and the light form the streets dimmed.
When she finally paid notice as to where she was, Lothiriel found herself coming
to a halt immediately. For a moment, a sliver of fear ran through her as she saw
the lack of people about and the fact that she had taken a path that had led her
away from the main body of revelers.



Where she had found herself was strangely quiet. Even the
buildings were dark with only a faint light here and there to give any
indication that there was life at all. She heard the snort of horses in the
distance and something that sounded like voices. Anxious because she was lost
and seeking out someone to help her find her way from this collection of
seemingly empty buildings would mean exposing herself, Lothiriel debated what to
do. The celebration was not long from beginning and if her father did not know
she was missing yet, he would soon enough when she failed to appear as his
escort for the night.



Unfortunately, she had to leave the city as soon as possible
and that meant having to find her way out of this maze of buildings. They seemed
very unfamiliar to her and had the smell of freshly cut wood. As she skimmed the
walls of one of the buildings, she could feel the splinters against the newly
shaved surface. Whatever this construct was, it had been made only recently.
Lothiriel stilled her fear and decided to find the voices if she could without
revealing herself.



Like a moth drawn to the flame, she was similarly attracted to
the light emanating from one of the buildings. It was one of the few that bore
such illumination and it was close enough for her to discern that the voices she
was hearing came from the open window that allowed the light to escape into the
darkness. Crouching low, she moved as softly as she could manage and soon
reached the base of the wall. She hoped to listen to the speakers enough to
learn where she was. As she drew nearer, she could hear the voices sharpen in
clarity and strained to listen closer.



For a moment, the language did not register immediately.



It was neither elvish, Westron nor even the language of the
dwarfs. The only reason she knew it at all was because she studied the book of
magic and had taught herself to understand the language of its authors and some
of it was written in speech that was not all proper for her to know. It was
Black Speech and it was not even the dialect spoken by the orcs of this day and
age, no it had far more ancient tone to it. Her heart froze in her chest as well
as the rest of her body and for a second, she dared not even breathe.



Who was it that resided in this dwelling that knew Black
Speech, Lothiriel thought frantically.



She wanted to run away immediately. If she had any sense about
her, she would have. However, her imperatives had altered significantly with the
results of her eavesdropping. Knowing that it was folly but unable to stop
herself, she raised herself just enough to peer over the edge of the
windowsill.



Within the room before her was at least a dozen Easterlings.
Though they were not dressed as fanciful as she had observed of Lord Ulfrain the
night before, Lothiriel recognized them instantly by their appearance and by
their clothes. Puzzlement immediately filled her mind. Why were they speaking
Black Speech? She had not made much comment during the discussions the night
before but she was certain the Easterling general had stated that the people of
Far Harad and the Easterlings had their own language.



"All is in readiness," one of them spoke. He seemed to be the
leader and was addressing the others like he was deploying troops for attack. It
would take Lothiriel a little longer than the immediate time to learn that he
was in a way. "The spell has been cast," he continued to say.



Spell?



Lothiriel’s thoughts flared immediately with interest. What
spell? She was certain that it was not appropriate for the Easterlings to be
spell casting within the city of King Elessar.



"Then we should go," another declared. "I tire of this
guise."



"As do we all," the leader retorted with understanding, "but it
is almost over. We will have no need of any mask once we are done tonight."



"That pleases me," a third voice entered the discussion. "I do
not like these Easterlings or these Haradrim. They are barbarians. It is no
wonder that Morgoth’s underling was defeated with these primitives fighting his
battles. They act without thought and their passion is misdirected and
ultimately detrimental instead of an asset."



Morgoth’s underling? Lothiriel’s mind whirled at the
description. Did he mean Sauron? Who were these men that they could call Sauron
an underling of Morgoth? And as far as her eyes could tell, each man in the room
having this dark discussion was Haradrim. Yet they spoke as if they were
something else. But what?



"When we are done with our task tonight, we will deal with them
as we will deal with the others," the leader declared firmly. "However, we need
to go now. It is time to shed ourselves of this mask and don another."



In the amber light that filled the space of the room, Lothiriel
saw the shadows shift and as her eyes widened in realization of what she was
seeing, all thoughts of escape fled her mind. Like a stag caught in a hunter’s
sights, she could do nothing for an instant as she was mesmerized with shock at
what she had seen. Slowly, with more stealth then she knew herself capable of
managing, she made a retreat from the building and hurried back the way she
came, leaving it far behind her.


There was no reason for her to find out which way to go in
order to leave Minas Tirith because there was only one place she wanted to go at
this moment and that was back to the Citadel and the White Tower. She had to
tell her father what she had seen in that room. What the shadows and the soft
light had revealed to her, what she to tell King Elessar and the rest of the
Middle earth’s leaders.



She had to warn them all before it was too late.



**************



She did not think it would be so hard to let him go but it
was.



Despite the event being more than an hour behind her, the time
did not lessen the sting of their parting and she could not ignore the ache in
the very pit of her that came from his loss. Yet there was nothing else for
Arwen, Queen of Gondor to do but to let him go, to let her sweet babe escape the
Citadel while it was still possible for him to do so. By now, Arwen was content
with the knowledge that Nunaur was beyond the reach of Aragorn and the menace
that had snared the mind of her beloved king. If he who was once march warden of
Mirkwood and now of Eden Ardhon chose to move unseen through the Citadel, not
even the burden of an infant and a human female would alter that fact. He was an
elf after all and stealth was more than just ability but away of life for her
people.



When it came to the life of her son however, Arwen was not
prepared to rely simply upon Nunaur’s skills of evasion. With her companions at
her side, the queen had ensured that the soldiers searching the grounds of the
Citadel had more than just her son to occupy their attention. Remaining in the
open, when she, Eowyn and Melia should be seeking concealment, the three women
maintained the guise that they were attempting to escape the Citadel as the
soldiers kept in close pursuit. So intent was the enemy on their capture, that
attention seemed to have faded from the whereabouts of the crown prince. Arwen
hoped that their subterfuge was enough to give Nunaur the advantage he needed to
smuggle Eldarion and Ioreth out of Citadel.



Even though their immediate course was obvious, Arwen had
not considered what they would do beyond eluding capture and ensuring Eldarion
was taken safely from the Citadel. While it was also obvious that they needed to
save Aragorn and the rest of their loved ones from this dark enchantment, how
this was to be achieved was not so easy to discern. With the king under their
sway, the enemy had a great deal of power at their disposal and it was fast
becoming clear to Arwen that she could not hope to reach Aragorn on either an
emotional or a physical level. If Aragorn willed it, all of Gondor’s warriors
would place themselves between himself and his queen, ensuring that Arwen would
never reach him to break the spell that had taken his mind.



However, if she could not reach Aragorn what other course was
left to them?



The sensible thing to do would be to leave, to put as much
distance between herself and Aragorn as possible. While she remained in the
vicinity of the palace, she was in danger and Arwen no longer knew her husband
to be able to judge what he would do to her, Eowyn or Melia if they were
captured. Additionally, escaping the palace on this night would be a relatively
easy matter. If this had transpired on any other night except this one, Arwen
would not have held out hope that any of them could leave the city without
considerable difficulty.



Fortunately, the shadow that had fallen over Aragorn and the
other lords of Middle earth, appeared restrained momentarily by the celebration
of the treaty. The people of Minas Tirith were being allowed through the eight
of the gates that protected the White Tower within the Citadel. Celebration or
not, the home of Aragorn Elessar would not tolerate intruders and because of
this, Arwen knew that the orders to arrest her and her companions would not
extend beyond the walls protected the palace.



However, despite the logic that forced her to use this
advantage, Arwen could not leave and she doubted she could convince Eowyn and
Melia of the same even if she were so inclined, which she was not. The shadow
that had fallen over the palace was an exercise in subterfuge that the enemy was
careful not to squander. Whatever it was they desired to do, secrecy was their
greatest desire. They could not seen to show their hand too soon by allowing
Gondor to see how much the king’s character had altered by letting it known that
Aragorn had ordered the arrest of his wife. It was this need that compelled her
to stay.



"Arwen watch out!" Arwen’s thought snapped back to the present
when she heard Eowyn’s voice slice through her thoughts. The queen looked up to
see an arrow surging towards her through the fading light of the sun.



Dropping swiftly to her knees, the projectile sailed over her
head and struck the stable wall. The arrowhead dug deep into the stone but not
enough to remain there. Melia was at her side in seconds. The Easterling raised
her crossbow and was sending forth a deadly barrage of iron bolts through the
air towards the guards that were firing at them from the wall surrounding the
palace, dead ahead. Melia’s aim seemed much lower than it ought to be and when
the bolt struck, Arwen saw the soldier buckle to his knees in pain. The three
women had tried their hardest not to kill any of the soldiers who pursued them
though it was becoming increasingly harder to maintain that desire when their
enemy did not seem as concerned.



"Come on," Eowyn declared as she wrapped her fist around
Arwen’s arms and prompted her into a run. They had returned to the stable at
Melia’s insistence. The Ranger had desired to retrieve her crossbow and since
the stables were in the absolute opposite direction of the route Nunuar had
taken to leave the palace, it seemed like a good idea. However, the stable were
proving to have too many shadows and corners that was ripe for ambush for them
to remain in its vicinity any longer.



"We need to get into the palace," Arwen declared as they ran
along the wall of the structure, barely escaping more archers as a barrage of
arrows followed the path behind them. "It is too dangerous for us to remain out
here in the open much longer."



"Into the palace?" Eowyn asked with some measure of urgency as
well as puzzlement, "are you certain Arwen?"



"Yes," Arwen nodded. "They expect us to leave the Citadel and
they commit themselves to prevent us from reaching that end."



"She is correct," Melia managed to say though she was panting
slightly from all their exertions. "The enemy would expect Arwen to seek help
beyond the gates of the Citadel. If it is Ulfrain who is responsible for all
this, I do not think he would see us as much of a threat. We are after all
women," she retorted with unconcealed disgust. He would think us capable of
nothing beyond escaping and finding help."



"He does not think us strong enough to pose any threat to him,
is that it?" Eowyn grasped what Melia was saying and felt a knot of disgust in
her stomach at the presumption of the Easterling lord.



"More or less," Melia shrugged, knowing her race far too
well.



"I do not think he will expect us to confront him," Arwen
added, glancing over her shoulder and ensuring that they were following her
closely and tracing her steps. As an elf, Arwen knew how to move about quietly
then any human alive, save perhaps Estel. "If we take refuge inside the palace,
it will give us a moment to think of a plan."



"I think a plan would be in very good order now," Eowyn
retorted, disliking the pitch black darkness that Arwen had led them into. The
barrage of bolts from Melia’s crossbow had bought them some time and Arwen had
taken advantage of that, leading them behind the royal stables which was bathed
in darkness for it was situated far away from the palace to avoid the stink of
manure.



"All I have in mind is to learn what they are up to," Arwen
replied as they paused a moment, catching their breath even though the odor left
something to be desired. Her elven sense recoiled at the stench and she knew
that they were near the immense tunnel system that ran throughout the Citadel
for the purpose of sewerage, leading to its outlet in the Anduin.



"Beyond that," she met the gaze of her two companions, "I am at
a loss."



"We need to break this spell they have over the king and
Faramir," Eowyn declared hotly, hating it immensely when she was so helpless. It
often took its toll upon her temper.



"We would all like nothing better," Melia declared.
"Unfortunately, none of us know anything about spells or magic, so even if we
could reach one of them, there is little we could do to free them and the
king in his present state of mind could have us executed. We could never get
close enough to Aragorn in any case."



"We have to try something!" Eowyn hissed with exasperation,
aiming a little hint of accusation at Melia. "We cannot simply remain here with
our hands tied, scurrying about in the dark like frightened children."



"Until we have a plan that is precisely what we must do,"
Melia’s own ire at the situation bubbled to the surface. "We must watch and
wait," she replied, her Ranger instincts speaking in her stead now.



Arwen could sense Eowyn’s distress and knew that the Lady of
Ithilien’s anxiety was mostly for her husband. All of this had transpired so
quickly and while Arwen’s elven senses had given her some forewarning to prepare
her for the danger, it was not so for either Eowyn or Melia. They had been
plunged into this without warning, with little time to comprehend that suddenly
their husbands had become strangers with no feeling for them at all. Arwen could
appreciate their anguish. She had never thought she could see anything as
terrible as the indifferent look in Estel’s eyes when he ordered her out of the
great hall as if she were nothing to him. It had cut wounds in her heart that
Arwen knew she would not forget easily.



"Eowyn," Arwen placed a gentle hand on her best friend’s
shoulder, " I feel as you do. I hate how they have been taken away from us but
we must be patient. We must move cautiously. We have no idea what we are facing.
I am not even certain that Ulfrain is the enemy."



"Who else can it be?" Eowyn asked, unable to believe that it
was mere coincidence that the spell cast over Faramir and the rest of their
friend would occur when the Easterlings were at court.



"I do not know," Arwen shook her head, her senses paying
careful attention to everything transpiring around her while they had this
conversation. "I do not think that Ulfrain is capable of embarking on this
deception alone. He did not give me the impression of having any particular
skill of cunning."



"The only skill he did have is arrogance," Eowyn
snorted in clear agreement with the queen. "However, you are correct. An attack
upon Gondor in this fashion is extremely dangerous, far too dangerous for
Ulfrain to gamble the well being of his entire kingdom."



"Unless he was extremely certain that he was going to win,"
Melia nodded in agreement. "Far Harad’s army despite the impressive display when
marching into Gondor for the treaty, is in tatters. The Wainriders are destroyed
and the rest of the Easterling races are in similar disarray. Those of the
Sunlands have returned to their borders and the Corsairs do not even have a
fleet after Pelargir. If Ulfrain has an ally in this, I would like to know
who."



"Someone who is unknown to us," Arwen mused. "Someone new."



"I hate this," Eowyn sighed, still feeling the sting of the
guard’s words when he had told her that it was Faramir who had issued the order
for her arrest. In her mind, she knew that her husband and her love was not
responsible, that he was made someone else’s puppet but it still hurt. "Give me
an enemy I can fight, not this! I fear how far this has poisoned Faramir. If he
was capable of issuing the order for my arrest, is he capable of bearing arms
against me?"



"I do not think I want that question answered," Melia said
softly as corresponding emotions regarding Legolas sprang forth inside of her.
She could not imagine staring into her prince’s eyes and have him look at her
with indifference. It stabbed too closely to her own fears about her mortality
someday eroding away his love into obligation and weariness.



"Be assured that it is a weapon they will use," Arwen retorted,
sparing them nothing because she could ill afford to. Melia and Eowyn had to
face the possibility just as she was forced to send their son away from his
father because she could no longer be certain that Aragorn would not hurt the
child.



No one spoke for a moment but Arwen’s eyes were better in the
dark than either Eowyn’s or Melia’s and she could see they were wrestling with
difficult realizations in the anonymity of the shadows. It was hardest on Melia
because she had already so many insecurities about her life with Legolas. At the
core of the former Ranger, no matter how much she tried to ignore it was the
fear that one day her elven husband would tire of the old woman she was destined
to be and leave. Instances like this only serve to make Melia more conscious of
the fragility of her life with him.



"We should not linger here too long," Eowyn broke the silence
after a time. "It will not take them long to discover where we have gone. We
should depart before they seek us out again."



"Yes," Melia nodded. "However, I do believe they will assume we
are heading away from the palace not towards it."



"We should to maintain that guise for as long as it is
possible," Eowyn agreed. "However that means remaining unseen when we enter the
palace."



"With the celebrations about to begin, the palace is full of
people," Melia reminded them, "getting past the guests and the servants will not
be easy."



Arwen had a solution but it was not one she liked very much.
"There is an alternate route into the palace, one were it is very unlikely we
will encounter anyone."



Eowyn noted the reluctance in the voice of the queen, despite
the fact her revelation was to their advantage. "Then why do you sound so
disagreeable about it?" She asked suspiciously.



Arwen let out a deep breath and told them. As anticipated, her
answer did little to impress them but unfortunately, it was the only course left
to them.



"Why is it every time I come to Gondor, I always end up going
on some terrible escapade with you?" Eowyn complained at Arwen with accusation
as they follow the disgusting odor to its source.



"Because you are a glutton for adventure," Arwen managed a
little smile. "Think of all the things you have seen since being in my
company."



"You elves have an odd concept of humor," Eowyn retorted. "One
would think that beings that long lived would have got it right by now."



"We have sophisticated humor," Arwen declared, enjoying the
banter a little because it took away from their present crises a little. "It is
not our fault that you children are not grown up enough to understand
it."



"Says the elf who married a man who wanted to name their child
after a hobbit’s pony, " Eowyn bit back.



Melia rolled her eyes and muttered, "oh just get in the
accursed sewer the both of you."



************



So urgent was Lothiriel’s desire to return to the palace and
warn her father and the king of what she had seen, she had barely thought to
change out of her clothes when she hurried through the gates of the Citadel. The
celebration had begun by the time she reached the gates that led to the inner
sanctum of the Citadel where the White Tower resided. Her guise as a servant boy
had proved to serve her well during her return journey for she was hardly
accosted by anyone as she made her way through the body of revelers enjoying the
sights and sounds in the street.



The people of Minas Tirith had turned out in all their numbers
to enjoy the entertainment planned for the celebration. High above the sky,
fireworks displays filled the canvas of night with luminous colors, drawing
cries of astonishment and wonder from those who were watching avidly. Flowers of
flame blossomed across the sky. They were followed by streaks of light that
appeared like a rain of starlight falling to earth and great beasts soared
briefly across the clouds before disappearing into nothingness of legend once
again.



For those whose tastes for amusements exclude fireworks, there
were other distractions. Jugglers performed in the street, keeping a loft in
perpetual motion items such as balls, pins, small batons breathed in flame and
even knives. There were fire-eaters swallowing their meals before amazed
audiences and magicians who were devoid of any real power but delved in parlor
tricks to add an air of wonder to the evening. There were tents scattered
throughout the Citadel with more elaborate displays and though Lothiriel did not
see these herself, she had heard talk of acrobats and performing animals.



The air was moist with the scent of food from vendors parading
through the streets, carrying their wares while the riotous banter of men on the
mead was never distant from her ears. Lothiriel wished she did not have to bring
the news of what she had discovered to the king because she did not desire to
see this atmosphere of merriment brought to an end. Unfortunately, what she knew
was too urgent for her to delay her passage to the palace even for a second.



When she arrived at the gates that to the White Tower, she met
immediate resistant from the guards who were stationed there regarding the
notion of allowing her into its confines. However, she made her case earnestly
and removing enough of her disguise for them to see her features and at the
heart of them, they suspected that she was telling them the truth for she did
appear to be of noble birth. It also helped that the gossip about the palace had
inferred that the Lady Lothiriel of Dol Amroth was the beauty and not even the
clothes of a servant boy could hide that fact from the guards when Lothiriel
explained herself. After a reasonably lengthy plea for her case, they allowed
her past them.



She was escorted immediately through the grounds into the
palace where the celebration for the nobles was taking place. As she was led
through across the High Court towards the White Tower, she noted that there were
many guards about the place and the mood of celebration that had been so thick
beyond the gates surrounding the palace was suddenly absent. If she did not know
better, she would think that the atmosphere was somewhat somber and Lothiriel
wondered if perhaps her news would not be such a surprise, that perhaps they
already knew that there was danger.



Once into the palace, the atmosphere of tension dissipated
slightly with the halls filled with household staff and servants, scurrying
about like frantic ants for the preparation of the banquet that would be
attended by the king’s guest. As she watched them going about their business,
completely oblivious to all else around them, Lothiriel came to the conclusion
that maybe what she knew was a secret after all. It was likely that the tension
outside was merely that belonging to guards who were poised for trouble in the
instance the celebration got out of hand with so many revelers beyond the
gates.



She was led into the Great Hall where the king was seated on
his throne. Her father was present, having been summoned once her whereabouts
were reported to him by the guards. Also present were the other lords of Middle
earth, including her cousin Faramir, who she knew very little since she had
seldom visited the White City in the past. What did surprise was her was the
presence of the Easterling lord, Ulfrain. What concern of it was his that she
had fled from the palace?



"Lothiriel," Imrahil spoke first when she was presented to
them, "where have you been?"



"I took a walk," she stammered, afraid to tell him that she was
running away. It would only make him angry and at the moment, the news she had
to tell him was far too crucial for it to be mired by the circumstances of how
she had happened upon it. "I wanted to see the rest of the celebration so I left
the palace for awhile." Her excuse was weak and she knew it but Lothiriel did
not care, she had to tell him what she had discovered.



"Dressed as a servant boy?" Aragorn remarked, the king’s gaze
fixed upon her.



"I thought it would be simpler to enjoy the walk if I was
dressed as one of the common folk," Lothiriel explained. "Please listen to me,
it does not matter why I left. I discovered something when I left the
Citadel."



"I am afraid it does matter a great deal," Imrahil said
sternly. "You are my daughter and I do not excuse your behavior. I do not
believe for an instant that you departed for a mere ‘walk’. When I could not
find you, I had your room searched. You took things with you that could only be
justified if you did not intend to return."



"Father no," Lothiriel tried desperately to explain even though
she knew that she was well and truly caught in the lie. She turned her gaze upon
Eomer, hoping that he would aid her in some way. He had seemed so kind the night
before, as if he truly cared. However, the King of the Mark stared back at her
with puzzlement at what she would have him do. His lack of feeling for her
plight shook her and it was at this point, she really began to notice them.



The benefit of being a stranger to Minas Tirith was being able
to view these lords objectively and though she did not know them well enough to
be any judge of their character, she knew that they were men of warmth and
camaraderie. During the two encounters where she had been present at the table
with them, she noted the depth of feeling they had for their wives and for each
other. It radiated from their eyes like beacons.



She remembered Aragorn’s good humored personality, so far
removed from the cold ruthlessness of Denethor, to the dwarf lord’s crusty words
that were always laced with affection to those around him. The elven lord
Legolas, like all elves, appeared aloof at times but there was nothing distanced
about the way he spoke to his friends and his wife. Her cousin Faramir whom she
met only a number of times in her life was more reserved, he liked to listen and
possessed a wry sort of wit that spoke of mischief particularly when directed at
the lady Eowyn. As for Eomer, she was not so clear but she did know that when
she stared into his eyes, she felt herself being cut to the bone by the power of
his gaze.



Not any more.



She saw nothing in his eyes but the black of oblivion and it
was not just him, it was all of them., her father, the king and her
cousin. All of them.



"Tell me Elessar," Ulfrain spoke up with a smile, "are all
women here such a handful?"



"Our discipline it appears is severely lacking," Aragorn
drawled smoothly, his gazed fixed upon Lothiriel as if she were a badly behaved
pet.



"Father, please," Lothiriel ignored them and pleaded with her
father to listen to what she had to say, "I saw something. I have to tell
you!"



"I did not give you leave to speak," Imrahil said
viciously. "You have embarrassed me before my king and the lords of Middle
earth! You would do well to remain silent or I might just forget that you are my
child."



The words stunned her into silence and she swept her gaze
across the room and saw that Imrahil’s words was met with approval by the rest
of the gallery. Her mind whirled in confusion, unable to understand how this
could be. She had been present when Legolas had staunchly defended the lady
Melia to Ulfrain the night before. He had called the behavior of the Easterlings
towards their women, cruel. Such a radical shift of character was not possible
over night, not unless something else inspired.



"What has happened here?" She found herself asking out loud
before wisdom allowed her to think better of it.



"What has happened is that I have willful child who cannot obey
her father!" Imrahil barked back.



"You are not my father," Lothriel stared at him. "My father
would be angry but he would not simply silence me when I attempt to speak of
something important."



"Not your father?" Imrahil laughed but Lothiriel caught sight
of the glimmer of uncertainty in his eyes. "You only wish that because you have
provoked my severest displeasure."



"If you were my father," Lothriel challenged with more courage
than she thought herself capable of possessing, "or if you were my king," she
turned her eye upon Aragorn, "you would be more concerned with hearing my news
then silencing me."


"What news do you have child?" Aragorn asked, picking up the
verbal gauntlet the child had cast down before him



Lothiriel told him and expected to see fear in his eyes but
once again there was nothing. He did not even blink at the news.



"You are certain of this?" Aragorn looked at her hard.



"Yes," she nodded. "I saw them. They will be able to breach the
White Tower with very little resistance unless you do something now."



"Do not presume to tell the King of Gondor what he ought to do
daughter," Imrahil snapped, wrapping his hand around her arm.



"But he must!" She cried out desperately, "they are coming!
Are you not concerned?" Lothriel demanded of Aragorn before realizing something
else.



"You are not concerned are you?" The words escaped her in a
whisper as understanding finally dawned upon her. "You know. You know all about
them."



Aragorn did not answer her but spoke directly to Imrahil, "I
think your daughter needs discipline for her behavior. It would be best if she
did not attend the festivities tonight. I will not her embarrass you or the
court of Gondor any further."



"Father!" Lothiriel stared at Imrahil in desperation as
Aragorn’s words sealed her fate.



"As you wish Sire," Imrahil nodded. "I will have her confined
to her room."



"I think that would be an ill advised idea," Ulfrain added his
voice, a little smile of pleasure crossing his face as he spoke, "she has
already proved capable of breaking confinement at will. I think something a
little more drastic is required."



"I agree," Aragorn nodded and Lothiriel could not believe the
unreality of the situation as they spoke about her as if she was not even in the
room. "Imrahil, I think we should place your daughter in the dungeon until
tomorrow."



"No!" Lothiriel exclaimed horrified by the mere suggestion. "I
have done nothing that warrants such action! What is the matter with all of
you!"



"You will not speak to the king in that manner!" Imrahil hissed
and lashing out with a balled fist.



The blow struck her on the cheek and was more shocking then it
was painful. Her eyes became wide with astonishment as she clutched her cheek
flaring with pain. In her entire life, Lothiriel had never seen her father raise
his hand to her or her brothers. Tears pooled in her eyes despite herself
because she had no wish for any of them to see her weep. Even in these terrible
circumstances, she had too much pride for that.



"Father, do not do this," she begged as he began to pull her
out of the room. "I know you are not yourself! None of you are! Something has
done this to all of you!"



However, no one was listening, Imrahil most of all.


Lothiriel broke away from his grip and ran to Eomer, clinging
desperately to the hope that he might still remember something of the feeling he
had shown to her the night before.



"Lord Eomer," she pleaded coming to him, "you promised me
you would never see anything done to me against my will. Please help me now."



Lothiriel placed her hand against his cheek, hoping that he
would react to her touch because last night, despite how much she may loathed to
admit it, she had felt something for him, something that was so unexpected she
had scarcely believe the emotion could come from inside her. Lothiriel also knew
that she was not alone, that in those few moments she had seen his heart and
knew that he cared.



For a brief second, she saw something surface, a flicker of
familiarity that sparked hope inside her. However, its existence was brief and
it was soon crushed under the weight of all that blackness again. Still staring
at her as if she was nothing to him, Eomer removed her hand from his face and
spoke, not to her but to her father.



"Your daughter needs help Imrahil," he said tonelessly. "I
think you should give her all the help she needs."



Lothiriel dropped her gaze to the floor in disappointment,
feeling the anguish bubble inside her heart as she felt Imrahil’s grip upon her
once more, dragging her away from Eomer and being unable to believe how much it
hurt thinking that he did not care.



************



 


"I shall never forgive you for this," Eowyn grumbled as they
walked along the edge of a slimy walkway within the dark tunnels beneath the
Citadel.



When they had lowered themselves into the cavernous passage,
they had produced a makeshift torch to light their way forward. The flame
allowed them to see ahead although none of the company were at all grateful for
this fact. The walls glistened with slime, dirt and filth that none of the women
were eager to identify too closely. The walkway was slippery with similar grime
and it took required some skill to travel across it without slipping into the
murky canal running next to it. The dark water bubbled on occasion and none of
them wanted to think what kind of life would inhabit such a disgusting bog.



The stench alone was overpowering and because the floors were
so dangerous to traverse, their journey was painfully slow. On occasion they
would hear the screech of rats or see something crawling across the wall that
made them flinch. Dragons and drakes were one thing but tiny, crawling insects
had the power to make even the bravest of them shriek in revulsion.



"Do you think this is my first choice?" Arwen retorted just as
tersely. "You are not the one with elvish senses, I can smell everything in this
place far better then you can."



The queen was leading the way because she had better eye sight
then all of them. However, she was uneasy about being enclosed all around for
she was an elf and her race was not partial to any place that would keep the
stars from their sight for lengths of time. The passageway seemed endless and
were broken intermittently by the grates on the ceiling. During these occasions,
they remained very silent, listening carefully for movement above for it was
imperative that they remained unseen.



"For once I am grateful to be mortal," Melia commented with
similar distaste. While she was not an elf, she was a Ranger and like all her
kind, she preferred the outdoors herself to the gritty substance of urban
living. "As much as I dislike our present location, this is the safest and most
covert way to enter the palace. Your choice was wise Arwen."



"Yes it was," Eowyn admitted begrudgingly. "I do not fault your
choice, just the situation."



"The situation is indeed dire," Melia had to agree, shunting
aside thoughts of Legolas as someone else’ creature for it would only hinder her
spirit. "I wish Pallando were here. The Istar would have this spell broken in a
minute."



"Unfortunately, Pallando is many days if not weeks away," Arwen
replied. "We cannot wait for him to help us."



"Do you know anything about spells?" Eowyn asked. She found
that elves had amazing skills in their possession. She supposed that one had to
fill one’s time with all manner of things when one lived that long.



"Not really," Arwen confessed, wishing she did. "I know how to
call upon the power of my people to aid me in times of crisis but spell lore was
not something I sought to learn. My father had skill in such matters but I think
what he learnt, he did so mostly to protect our people from Sauron. If we had
need for such craft, we would simply turn to Mithrandir for assistance."



"The Grey Pilgrim," Eowyn nodded. "My brother liked him a great
deal."



"There was no greater Istar than Mithrandir," Arwen said sadly,
suddenly missing the old man a great deal. Mithrandir had been a great friend to
her father and to both herself and Estel through the darkest of times and the
best of them. "I miss him terribly."



"So we are alone in finding out how to deal with this," Melia
commented, returning their thoughts to their present predicament.



"It would appear so," Arwen nodded. "The difficulty with
breaking spells is that more often than not, you need to know the exact one to
be able to counteract it."



"I do not think Ulfrain will be forthcoming with that
information," Eowyn retorted.



"Maybe it is not Ulfrain we should ask," Melia suggested as
they came to the fork in the tunnel and followed Arwen as she chose which one
they should take.



"You mean Akallabeth?" Eowyn looked over her shoulder at
her.



"Why not?" Melia replied. "She may not be as cowered by her
husband as we think."



"No," Arwen said firmly. "We will not ask her. I do not quite
know what to make of her yet and until we do, I would not look to her for
help."



"What do you not think she will aid us?" Melia asked
puzzled.



"It is simply best that we do not," Arwen replied, recalling
the uneasy sensation she experienced being around the Haradrim queen. "I sense
something odd from her, something I cannot define clearly and it is unwise to
approach her when we are so uncertain of her."



"So what do we do once we enter the palace?" Eowyn inquired,
frowning at the carcass of a dead rodent floating past her.



"I am not sure," Arwen admitted, wishing she had more answers
for her friends. "We need to find one of the men, to see if anything can be done
about breaking the enchantment."



"That will not be easy to do," Melia replied. "I do not think
we will be able to remove them against their will and enchantment or not,
catching Legolas unawares will be next to impossible."



"We will never get close enough to either Aragorn or Faramir,
Arwen," Eowyn offered grimly. "The king and the ruling steward are too valuable
to the enemy, they would hurl everything at us to prevent us from reaching
either."



Eowyn was still awaiting an answer from Arwen when she was
suddenly overcome with inspiration. "Eomer," she exclaimed with excitement. "If
we cannot reach the king or Faramir and if Legolas is too difficult to catch
unawares, then it is Eomer we must attempt to approach."



"Eomer," Melia mused, considering the suggestion and found that
if they were going to embark on such a dangerous course then it was Eomer that
they offered them the best chance of success. "I think you are right. They may
not expect us to reach him. After all, the logical course would be for us to
make an attempt for our husbands not a brother, especially in the mind of
Ulfrain who believes women are beholding to their men."



"If there is any way to reach them emotionally then Eomer would
be our best alternative because he is my brother. Our affection for one another
is far older and deeper than any other here. He was my brother before he was
King of the Mark, before my love for Faramir even."



"You have convinced me," Arwen declared, grateful to have some
way to strike even though she was uncertain how successful they were going to be
in attempting to break this spell. Still, this course was better than lingering
in helplessness. "We must wait until the banquet begins, when all the guests
have arrived."



"I wonder how they intend to explain our disappearance," Melia
remarked as they neared a junction in the tunnels. "The absence of the queen
would go unnoticed surely."



"I wondered about that myself," Arwen replied taking the
correct fork in the tunnel. Ahead, they could see a beam of light filtering
through the roof. The stench of refuse had begun to wane a little and tinged
with the aroma of food cooking. "This whole thing puzzles me."



Arwen did not answer for they were soon at their destination.
Beneath the beam of light was a ladder leading through a narrow tunnel through
the roof. At the end of it was an iron grate that would no doubt lead to a floor
somewhere in the palace. Neither Eowyn or Melia questioned how Arwen knew this
intricate network of tunnels beneath the palace but supposed after all the
dangers the queen had endured since taking up residence, it was probably
sensible that she knew alternate means of escape in case of danger.



"Where does this go?" Melia asked as Arwen slung her sword
over her back and began to climb up the ladder.



"With any luck, into the kitchen," Arwen answered with a grunt
as she placed her hands on the filthy rungs and pulled herself up.



"We will be seen!" Eowyn returned but followed the queen
nonetheless.



"I am hoping that they will be too busy with the preparations
for the banquet to notice," Arwen replied as she ascended into the tunnel within
the ceiling.



"You hope," Melia grumbled disliking the tenuous nature of
their plan. Unfortunately, they had no other alternative.."



"Hope has nothing to do with this," Arwen said softly,
"only luck."



None of them could disagree.



**********



 


Lothiriel had pleaded her case with her father until her throat
was dry. She had continued to do so even after she had been seen out of the
king’s presence by her father and given to guards to be escorted to the
dungeons. She did not even know that the palace had dungeons to begin with
although she was in no hurry to have this particular mystery satisfied.
Lothiriel had tried earnestly to convince the guards leading her through the
White Tower that the king and all the lords of Middle earth had been subjugated
by some strange power but none would believe her. If anything, they seemed to
regard her pleas as some fanciful tale conjured by a bored aristocrat.



She hated being so helpless and incapable of being of any help
to those she loved. She thought of her father and remembered the stinging pain
of her cheek thanks to the blow he had delivered to her. In his right mind, he
would be horrified by his behavior because he was not a man who was
intentionally unkind. Like all rulers, he had to be hard at times. One could not
sit in authority and preside over the lives of so many by being weak and for so
many years, Dol Amroth faced the same threats as Gondor from the evil of Mordor
and its Easterling allies. Somehow, she could not be allowed to languish in a
dungeon when the threat of what she knew still remained.



As Lothiriel was marched down the corridor with guards flanking
her on either side, she considered what to do. She had to find the queen!
Lothiriel remembered Arwen’s kindness and knew that an elf of her age would know
what to do. There was the possibility that Arwen’s mind could have been
similarly tainted as her king’s but it was the only plan that Lothriel had in
mind. Unfortunately, while she remained in the custody of these men, she was no
good to anyone.



There was only one thing to do. She had to escape.



She thought furiously the spells that she had conjured up in
the past and was filled with a sense of chagrin at the memory of how none of
them had worked. When she asked for snow, it rained. When she asked for a flower
to blossom, the entire household staff fell asleep. She knew she had power to
conjure and though it was nothing of the kind practiced by the Istari, it was
also unfocussed and notoriously unreliable. Lothriel shook these thoughts out of
her mind and forced herself to focus because she had to succeed in freeing
herself.



She opted for the simplest spell possible. It was one that
would allow the men marching her to the dungeon to fall asleep. She did not want
to hurt anyone and she did not trust herself to attempt anything more complex.
Lothriel was not blind to her lack of skill. Closing her eyes, she chanted the
words softly, hoping for the best or in this case, for sleep.



For a few seconds, nothing happened. She knew that something
was happening because she could feel the flutter through her that signaled her
invocation was taking some measure of shape. However, there was no sign of
drowsiness in any of the men surrounding her. Her lack of success suffused her
being with anger and she hissed the words with more venom then intended.



Suddenly, the soldiers beside her doubled over in what appeared
to be pain. Lothiriel felt her heart sink, realizing that she had done something
terrible to them that would require her discovering how to undo it. However,
when they dropped to their knees, clutching their stomachs and coughing loudly,
it was soon clear that they were not in pain at all, rather in a state of
extreme nausea. She could only stare wide eyed as they began retching at her
feet, prompting the young woman to break away from them. For a brief instant,
Lothriel did nothing but stare in dazed astonishment at what she had done as the
men began emptying the contents of their stomach in rather disgusting fashion.



Well it was not sleep but it would do, she supposed.



Once she regained her sense, Lothiriel chose to take advantage
of the spell she had cast and hurried down the hall, leaving behind her the
soldiers who had larger concerns then her departure at the moment. She did not
know where she was going as she put greater distance between herself and her
captors, turning corners and running down darkened hallways away from the
corridors that were filled with servants and other occupants of the palace. She
was near the kitchen when she turned a corner and ran straight into someone
else. The young woman fell promptly unto her rear.



"Lothiriel!" Lothiriel looked up at the voice uttering her name
and saw the queen of Gondor staring at her.



"Your highness!" Lothiriel was just as amazed as she saw the
queen standing before her, dressed in breeches and bearing a sword at her hip.
Next to her, the lady Eowyn and Melia were in similar state of dress.



"What are you doing dressed like that?" Eowyn asked staring
at Lothiriel’s own garments.



"I can guess," Melia retorted before she was able to answer.



"Let her speak," Arwen gave them both a look and helped the
girl to her feet. "What are you doing Lothiriel? It is not safe to wander about
the palace at this time. Something terrible is happening."



"I know!" Lothiriel exclaimed, feeling her entire soul
filled with a sense of relief because it appeared that the queen was perfectly
aware of what was happening with the king and the rest of the men. "You know
about the king? He is under some kind of enchantment I am certain, they are
nothing like themselves."



"Yes," Arwen nodded, trying to calm the girl down as she
ranted her story. "We know. The king ordered us to be taken under custody."



"He told my father to put me in a dungeon!" Lothriel declared,
grateful that she was not alone in this nightmare. "He would not even listen to
what I had to say and when I finally convinced him to listen, he did not even
care!"



"What you had to say?" Arwen’s brow arched in confusion. "What
do you mean?"



Lothiriel took a deep breath and knew she had to reveal what
she had been doing when she stumbled upon the Easterlings. Fortunately, it did
not appear as if they were very surprised when she told them her story, at least
until she had wandered unwittingly into the Easterling barracks that is. In
anything, the lady Melia seemed to expect it.



"I saw them," she said breathlessly, "they did not know I was
there but I saw them."



"What did you see?" Eowyn asked feeling this dreadful sense of
foreboding knotting up her insides with each word Lothiriel spoke.



"The Easterlings," Lothiriel replied. "They are not Easterlings
at all. They are shape shifters."



This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.

Story Information

Author: Scribe

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/07/03

Original Post: 04/03/03

Go to Fairer Sex, The overview

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