Fairer Sex, The: 7. Chapter Six: Hidden Talents

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7. Chapter Six: Hidden Talents


The library had seen better years.


For a time, it had been the favored refuge of Denethor’s
youngest son, providing him sanctuary when he required solace from the emotional
wounds inflicted upon him by his father. It was in this place, that Faramir,
briefly Steward of Gondor and presently Prince of Ithilien, had discovered the
world was more than the White City and the knowledge of the ages could aid him
in his journey to manhood. It was the place he told Eowyn, where he had come to
dream and to hope that someday he would be a man worthy of Denethor’s
affection.


In his absence, the library had been forgotten by most of the
occupants of the White Tower. Denethor was a learned man but had the books most
valued to him; moved to the treasury for he had his own agenda to fulfil and he
did not wish to share it. Since Faramir’s departure, the library had been mostly
ignored and the new king had greater matters to deal with then the restoration
of one section of his household. Covered with a thick veneer of dust and filled
with the musty smell of old books, the beam of light entering the room through
the window illuminated the fine particles in the air and made it appear as if
fireflies had taken up residence within its confines.


The four women took their rest in silence following their
spectacular arrival into the library, listening to the whistle of wind outside
the window and their own slowing breaths. Each were trying to gain some balance
after being understandably shaken following their encounter with Aragorn and
Legolas, not to mention escaping the relentless pursuit by their enemies. Arwen
found her gazed fixed on Eowyn, who appeared to have endured the worst of this
chase, having found herself pitted against Aragorn in combat. Arwen wondered if
Eowyn knew how fortunate she was to have survived the encounter.


Melia did not speak much about her confrontation with Legolas
but the anguish in her eyes was unmistakable. Arwen suspected that a small part
of Melia had been clinging to the hope that this was all a terrible mistake,
that Legolas was not stolen from her in this terrible manner. Until she faced
the prince herself and saw that he was indeed enchanted, Melia had not truly
believed. Unfortunately, the prince’s actions during that encounter left no
further doubt in Melia’s mind and it told greatly by the sorrow Arwen saw in her
eyes.


"We cannot linger here long," Arwen finally broke the silence
in their darkened surroundings. It was not safe to lit the room for it would be
a clear indicator of their occupancy. "It will not take them long to discern
where we have gone."


"I know," Eowyn nodded as she tried to conceal the pain she
felt, each time she made any movement. The grinding of broken ribs against each
other brought a wave of nausea to the pit of her stomach that was making it
harder and harder to keep from gagging in disgust.


"Let me look," Melia scrambled across the floor they were
seated on, towards her.


"I will be fine," Eowyn returned bravely but all those present
could see that she was not.


"I cannot believe the king did that to you," Lothiriel shook
her head, clearly disturbed by Aragorn’s behavior though it should not have been
a surprise. "He seemed so nice at the feast when my father and I first arrived,"
she added, thinking that night felt as if it were years in the past at the
moment.


"It is not him," Arwen said quickly, bound to defend her king
even though she was wrestling with her own shock at what he had done, "it is the
spell."


"I think we need to leave the palace," Melia remarked as she
examined the bruising on Eowyn’s side. "Eowyn needs to recover. I am certain
that she has broken some ribs."


"I will manage," Eowyn insisted, though she knew her efforts to
be brave were seen through clearly.


"I have no doubt that you will try," Arwen said warmly, "but
you must allow yourself to heal if you are to be of any use to us in freeing the
men from this enchantment."


Eowyn frowned unhappily at Arwen’s words but she could not deny
them. The queen was right, in Eowyn’s present state, she was a liability to
them. Eowyn was too experienced a warrior to be able to fly in the face of this
truth. Unfortunately, the realization did not assuage her guilt at being a
hindrance to her friends in this crucial hour.


"I dislike it immensely when you are right," she frowned.



"Especially when it occurs so often," Melia quipped in an
effort to break the tension at this unhappy understanding of their
situation.


"Quiet you," Arwen threw the former ranger a good-natured
warning.


Her notice however, soon shifted to Lothiriel who appeared more
shaken then the rest of the company in light of what they had just endured.
Arwen found herself remembering that Lothiriel had little experience with her
life being placed in such peril and under the circumstances, the young woman had
held up admirably under the strain. Still, it did appear as if cracks were
beginning to form in her fortitude.


"Lothiriel," Arwen turned to Lothiriel who was wearing a
worried expression of her face as her eyes darted around their surroundings,
reacting to any sound or movement that captured her attention. Arwen’s call
brought her gaze towards the queen and her frightened expression lingered
still.


"Are you alright?" Arwen asked gently.


"Yes," Lothiriel nodded a little too quickly. "This is all very
overwhelming. I have never been in the danger I have seen today and the thought
that my father and the king are now under the spell of some skin changer,
frightens me more than I say."


"You have kept your wits about you nonetheless," Melia said
encouragingly, "that is nothing to be ashamed of."


"Precisely," Arwen added her voice to the show of support to
further empower Lothiriel to believe in herself and her ability to endure. "We
will think of someway to free our loved ones, be assured of that."


"Do you know what sort of spell it is?" Lothiriel asked after a
moment, feeling the boost in her own confidence at the encouraging words of
those around her.


"No," Arwen shook her head. "It is no doubt an ancient one and
powerful for I have seen these skin changers once attempting to bring back
Morgoth from the void."


"Are they the kind of conjurers who are able to simply speak a
spell to make it work as the Maiar are able or are they lesser mages that
require words or hand gestures?"


Arwen looked at the girl, rather surprised by the intelligence
behind the question and considered her answer carefully before she answered.
When she had been at Nargothrond and the shape shifters had attempted to infuse
her unborn babe with Morgoth’s spirit; they had used a chant to make their spell
of darkness come alive.


"Words," Arwen answered looking Lothiriel in the eye, curious
as to what the young woman would do with that information.


"Words," Lothiriel absorbed quietly and then remarked, almost
without being aware of her speaking it. "That is fortunate for that means they
are not as powerful as we think. Were there able to cast spells by thought
alone, there is no way we could defeat them unless one of the Istari was
present. Mages who used word spells are dangerous but not invincible. We must
find the exact spell, for this kind of conjuring usually requires some form of
catalyst. Spells that seek to tamper with the mind such as the one cast over the
king and all the leaders of the Middle earth cannot simply be spoken. It is
extremely difficult to affect the power of will with worlds alone, there must be
some agent in place that allow the spell to reach its end. It must be something
close to the body, something that can be worn against the skin, like a bracelet,
a pendant or even a ring. Isildur’s Bane was said to have such power over
mind."


When Lothiriel did not receive an answer from the others, she
looked up in question and found that the eyes of the queen, the ladies of
Ithilien and Eden Ardhon were fixed upon her in unhidden amazement.


"Lady Lothiriel of Dol Amroth," Melia spoke first, "I believe
there is something you need to tell us about how you know so much about
magic."


Lothiriel swallowed anxiously, afraid of how they would react
if she should reveal the truth but then realized that this was a rather a moot
point after ruminating out loud for all to hear. "You will not tell my father?
He would be most upset if he learns I spoke of this outside the family."


"I think at this point, you have little to worry about," Eowyn
declared with a grunt as she reacted to Melia’s efforts to bind her ribs with
what material they had at hand.


"I want to be a wizard," Lothiriel confessed. "I have studied
magic and sorcery all my life and I think I can be a good one if only I had the
instruction of an Istar. I wanted to go Isengard to learn under the tutelage of
the mages left there by the Grey Pilgrim but my father does not understand. He
says that I do not have the skill but I know I do, it is just that the spells I
perform do not always appear as intended."


"What do you mean do not appear as intended?" Arwen asked
suspiciously.


"Well there was one instance where I attempted to make the
flowers in my mother’s garden grow and that is what happened
except….,"Lothiriel’s voice drifted off in correspondence to rising flush of red
in her cheeks.


"Except?" Eowyn prompted.


"It would not stop," the young woman replied embarrassed. "Half
the garden was overtaken in rose bushes in a matter of seconds. My father was
most displeased."


"Well I think I understand why he is so eager to marry you
off," Melia chuckled.


"I told Lord Eomer," Lothiriel quickly added, not wishing to
have Eowyn in particular believing that she had sought to deceive any one. "The
night before all this happened, I told him why my father was so insistent on
this marriage."


"What did my brother have to say?" Eowyn asked, not believing
that this sweet if somewhat interesting young lady was deceitful, even if her
tastes were unusual. However, considering that Eowyn had once garbed herself as
a member of the Rohirrim and matched to Gondor to fight at Pelennor, she was in
no position to point fingers at what was inappropriate behavior.


"He was very nice about it," Lothiriel found herself saying
with a little smile, remembering how amused Eomer had been and how completely
unexpected his reaction had been. She had thought that he would rebuke her for
her eccentricities but instead he had taken it with a grain of salt and said
nothing that would hurt her feelings.


"He is unfailing sweet when he wants to be," Eowyn replied,
taking careful note of the luster in Lothiriel’s eyes when she spoke of Eomer.
The lady of Ithilien understood at that instance perhaps this union that Imrahil
craved might not be as unaccepted to Lothiriel or Eomer as either would have
previously believed.


"Lothiriel," Arwen interrupted because they had more important
issues to discuss now that Lothiriel had made known her hidden talents. Even if
the girl was inexperienced, she knew more than her companions combined about the
casting of spells and right now, it was knowledge they needed desperately. "You
said that the spell cast over the men required an agent, what did you mean?"


Lothiriel turned to the queen, recognizing the need in Arwen’s
voice and thinking quickly of her answer. "Isildur’s Bane was able to affect the
minds of those who wore it began it was close to the skin, I think what
enchantment has befallen my father and the others is similar. There must be
something that make it possible for the spell to do its work, however, I do not
think it is a ring or something worn on the body in this case."


"I agree," Arwen nodded. "Whatever it was, it would have to be
capable of taking over all of them at once and quickly. Legolas would have
sensed the clouding of his companions’ minds almost instantly, even if he could
not detect the shape shifters themselves. Unfortunately, they know how to hide
from elves, that I can assure you."


"Unless they took him first," Melia pointed out.


"I doubt it," Eowyn shook her head. "They would have taken
Aragorn first. He is the most important and the most useful to them. Legolas may
be the Prince of Mirkwood and Eden Ardhon but he is an elf and the power of the
Eldar in this time is waning. It is advantageous both politically and
strategically to gain control of the king."


"Then what could have taken them all at once?" Arwen asked. "I
knew the exact moment when he was taken from me and that was while they were
signing the treaty. How could it have happened when they were all present in
each other’s company?"


"At the treaty?" Lothiriel’s awakened with possibilities. "You
are certain of this?"


"Yes," Arwen stared at the young woman, seeing the glimmer in
her eyes. "Why?"


"What if they had already signed the treaty?" She asked.


"I do not understand," Melia remarked, uncertain what Lothiriel
was alluding to. "What difference does it make if the treaty was signed? Ulfrain
had no intention of honoring."


"Honor is precisely what happened," Lothiriel declared, "what
would have happened immediately after they signed the treaty, how could they
have shared the importance of such a momentous occasion?


"Elbereth!" Eowyn exclaimed, "they would have toasted the
treaty."


"With a drink," the lady of Dol Amroth concluded with some
measure of satisfaction. "It was in the wine or whatever it was they were
drinking. A skin changer would have little difficult tainting the flask or each
goblet before the serving. It is fast and would take them all at once."


"They were poisoned!" Arwen hissed, feeling her stomach
knotting in disgust. "A toast to celebrate the occasion indeed! It was nothing
but a ruse to enslave their minds. We must do something! Lothiriel, what can we
do?"


Lothiriel drew in her breath, "I am not certain. Remember that
I have only read of such things. Circumventing such spells is another thing
entirely and I was never very good at spell casting."


"You are all that we have," Arwen said reaching for her arm.
"We have no other alternative. Pallando is many days away at the earliest and we
cannot let our loved ones leave Gondor the way they are, we cannot let them
return home as the creatures of skin changers."


"You wished to know if you can be a wizard Lothiriel," Eowyn
added, able to see how anxious Lothiriel was about being in such a position. She
was scared and Eowyn could not blame her but like Arwen, Eowyn knew they had no
choice. She was all that they had. "This is your chance to prove not only to
your father but to yourself whether you can be all that you wish."


Lothiriel did not wish to deny their cry of health because she
did not want her father to be under the spell of skin changers any more than
they but she was afraid. She was afraid because this time, the stakes were
simply to high to suffer failure.


"I will do what I can," Lothiriel finally relented. "If it all
possible for me to break this spell I will do my best to see it done."


"I know you will," Arwen smiled. "Let us leave here and find
some place safer where we can discuss what you are going to need."


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


Fortunately, while Arwen had seldom visited this part of the
castle, Eowyn knew it well. Whenever she and Faramir came to stay in the White
City, the former prince of Gondor would give her a tour of all his favorite
places in the palace when he had lived here under Denethor’s rule. One of his
favorite places was the library and Eowyn surmised that he was grateful that
Aragorn had done nothing to alter it in any way. It was the wish of anyone who
wanted to maintain the illusion of their childhood sanctuary, even if remaining
as it were meant allowing it to deteriorate considerably.


Eowyn remember how much delight he had taken in showing her the
library, even in its dilapidated state. He had explained with great fondness how
he would sit at the windowsill, staring out into the vastness of the world
beyond Minas Tirith, dreaming of things that only little boys with lofty
ambitions could imagine. It was the place that gave comfort following the death
of his mother when his father’s arms had grown cold, save for Boromir. During
its years as his refuge, Faramir had learned everything about the library. His
knowledge extended beyond the books on the shelf and extended to every nook and
cranny in the place, including some lesser-known features that had become
forgotten over the years.


"Keep trying," Eowyn insisted as she sat on the floor, facing a
world at the far end of the library.


Before her, Arwen, Melia and Lothiriel were systematically
pulling every book out of the shelves, not an easy task when the length of the
shelf took up almost the entire wall. It was the only shelf built in this manner
for a very specific reason, though Eowyn was certain that reason would drive her
companions to revolt before they discovered it.


"Are you certain of this?" Arwen looked over her shoulder,
wrinkling her nose in disgust as the dust that was covering her from this
labor.


"He showed it to me," Eowyn insisted. "I saw it open."


"Pity you could not remember which one it was," Melia grumbled,
wiping the sweat from her face.


"It was almost two years ago and what need did I have to
remember it?" Eowyn retorted. "Besides, be grateful that I remember it at all.
Faramir discovered it himself by accident, it was apparently installed during
the time of the Steward Cirion. Cirion had been plagued by wars and before he
beseeched Eorl to aid him where he gifted him with Calenardhon, there was real
fear that the White City could fall. I would not be surprised if there are many
such passages installed during that time, to guard against the eventuality of
the White Tower coming under siege."


"It would be much simpler if we could simply pull out all the
books at once," Lothiriel commented.


"You could," Eowyn added. "However, when the guards arrive here
and their search will inevitably bring them here, we do not wish for them to
know how we escaped and even if they do notice our tracks in the dust, they will
have a difficult time trying to discern which book it was."


"Do you not hate it when she is terribly reasonable?" Melia
replied and continued to pull the books out of the shelves and upon discovering
nothing, replaced it.


Lothiriel did not answer, choosing to resume her efforts when
suddenly a loud creaking sound was heard and the three women stepped away from
the wall instinctively. Arwen held the book in her hand as the shelf suddenly
came away from the wall, moving on a pivot that was activated by the mechanism
attached to the book. A doorway awaited them behind the wood and the musty smell
that emanated from it indicated that it was probably the first breath of fresh
air it had received in quite some time.


"I do not believe it," Melia said impressed. "There is a secret
passage after all."


"Let us not waste any time then," Arwen prompted them into
moving. "Melia bring that torch with you, we can use it to light our way through
the darkness. Once inside the passage, we have no fear that anyone will see the
light. Lothiriel, help me with Eowyn."


"I am no invalid," Eowyn retorted but winced in pain when she
attempted to stand.


"I am sure," Arwen rolled her eyes as she replaced the book in
the shelf once again.


The company entered the passageway that stank of stagnant air
and dust. Melia waited until the shelf had closed behind them before she lit the
torch with the meager supplies she had managed to acquire shortly after their
flight had begun. Once the torch was burning, they were better able to see the
passage into which they had entered. The stairs were made from brick and rather
crude in its construction. It was also winding and narrow but it served its
purpose well enough and none of them were about to complain if it afforded them
a way through the palace that did not require being hunted by every guard in the
Citadel.


"Where does this lead?" Arwen asked as they began descending
the dimly lit passageway.


"Beyond the ramparts surrounding the White Tower, Faramir
claims," Eowyn replied, thinking it ironic that despite his enchantment, he was
still capable of coming to her aid in time of need. "Most likely to ensure that
those using this route to flee would be able to leave the White Tower beyond the
enemy lines."


"That would make sense and it aids us considerably, for we can
use it again when we need to re-enter the palace." Melia added.


"So we are not completely abandoning our plan of capturing one
of the men?" Eowyn asked, looking in Arwen’s direction.


"No we are not," the queen replied firmly. "We are merely
delayed for the moment while we regroup and dress our wounds from this latest
encounter. Lothiriel, can you break the enchantment that binds them?"


Lothiriel had been considering the question deeply ever since
Arwen had asked her help in these matters.


Despite her anxiety at failing her queen, she knew she had no
choice but to try. She was the only one at hand who understood the magic
required to free her father and the rest of Middle earth’s leaders.


"The difficulty lies in discerning which spell has been used
upon them," Lothiriel explained cautiously. It was not easy to speak about
things she had spent her whole life hiding from everyone and the exposure was
rather uncomfortable, even in the company of friends. "If the agent were
something worn, it would be a simple matter of removing it but since it has been
ingested, that is a different matter entirely."


"But it can be broken? Melia asked hopefully, unable to stomach
the fact that her Prince could be a servant of a shape shifter for all time.


"There are two ways in which it could be," Lothiriel replied
after a pause where she thought quickly about the question. "We must remove the
poison inside their bodies or find some way to circumvent its effects. Failing
that, there is another alternative," she faltered, finding it distasteful to
even speak of such things but supposed that this was hardly the time to be
squeamish.


"What alternative?" Eowyn inquired.


"We find the shape shifter casting the spell and kill it."


The statement should not have surprised them because in the
minds of all but the speaker, killing was always going to be something they
would have to do. However, hearing Lothiriel say it was a little
disconcerting.


"It could be any one of them," Arwen sighed after a moment. "At
this time, we do not even know Ulfrain, Castigliari and Akallabeth are skin
changers or humans. We would have to confront each of them to find out and even
then we could be wrong."


"Still, strategically I would say it would be one of these
three," Eowyn reminded. "It places them closest to their intended targets."


"True," Melia agreed with her assertion but also had one of her
own, "however, they entered the palace with a large entourage. It could be said
that strategically, the spell caster might have taken a more background role in
order to protect their identity when the nature of the spell was uncovered."


"It does not matter," Arwen interrupted the debate, "we will
focus our efforts on restoring the men by finding a cure to the poison inside
them. Attempting to find out who cast the spell when our prey are skin changers
will be next to impossible and we do not have that much time. We must endeavor
to free them soon before the celebrations are ended and the leaders of Middle
earth are required to return home to their lands."


"For that, we will need one of them," Lothiriel offered
reluctantly.


"That much fortunately," Melia replied as she brushed a strand
of cobweb out of her way, "we discerned ourselves already."


"That is why we were in the palace when we encountered you,"
Eowyn explained, starting to feel a little stronger, though not much and did not
require as much aid to walk down the treacherous looking stairs. "We were
intending to reach Eomer."


"Eomer?" Lothiriel exclaimed with a little more interest then
she would have preferred to show.


The three women smiled to themselves, having no wish to
embarrass the girl with what was obviously growing affection for the King of the
Mark, and chose to refrain from making comment to her reaction.


"We believe he would be the one easiest to reach," Arwen
responded. "Aragorn would be carefully watched and protected, not merely by the
shape shifters but also by the royal guards. He is the king after all. Faramir
and Imrahil would be equally difficult to reach as they are Gondorians with
legitimate claim to the rule of the kingdom. Legolas and Gimli do not have the
influence had the Prince cannot be approached in the usual manner, not without
him sensing our approach."


It did not matter whom they chose as long as she could remove
the spell.


"Can we reach him?" Lothiriel inquired, not at all relishing
the possibility of roaming through the palace again, not after the pursuit that
had seen them driven into this darkness.


"I do not know,’ Arwen confessed, wishing she had something
more definitive than that to offer the girl.


"If we can remain out of sight long enough," Eowyn mused,
"perhaps they will cease looking for us tonight. After all, the king has guests
to contend with and the added challenge of maintaining his hunt of us without
the rest of Gondor knowing why."


"I would not be surprised if they returned to the festivities
actually," Melia shrugged. "Aragorn at least would know that he caused Eowyn
enough hurt for her to require tending. We have shown no visible means of
strategy for him to believe we are a threat to him. It is only our continued
freedom that is a danger, not anything we have been doing."


Arwen considered Melia’s words and realized that the lady of
Eden Ardhon was right. They were hardly a threat to the enemy or to Aragorn at
this point, merely a nuisance, even with what they knew. "The banquet will well
and truly be underway by this time of night," Arwen remarked as she thought what
was to be done.



"I wonder how they explained our absence," Eowyn wondered
out loud.


"With shape shifters, they may not need to," Arwen pointed out.


"Wonderful," Melia groaned. "We cannot even sneak into the
banquet as ourselves and somehow, I do not think that any of us will pass for
serving girls."


Something shifted into being within Arwen’s mind and an idea
began to take shape in a flash of inspiration. It was insane and dangerous but
it could work and what was more, it was the only chance they had of acquiring
the subject Lothiriel needed to perform her spell of unmaking.


"I have an idea," she announced looking at Melia.


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


Once they had emerged past the ramparts surrounding the White
Tower, it was an easy matter to find themselves a temporary refuge where Eowyn’s
wounds could be tended to without fear of discovery by guards or shape shifters
for that matter. Ironically enough, they had chosen an empty guard house for
this purpose since most of the soldiers were either enjoying the festivities or
stationed around the White Tower in an effort to capture them as well as
protecting the king while the Easterling forces were in Minas Tirith. There was
little that could be done for Eowyn other than to reinforced the bindings on her
cracked ribs and treat the bruises she had incurred from Aragorn during their
battle. Fortunately, they could afford to rest for a few hours because Arwen’s
plans would achieve their fullest effect when the banquet was drawing to a
close.


Lothiriel and Melia had left the company for a time, needing to
acquire a few ingredients if Lothiriel was going to attempt to counter the spell
that had so many of their loved ones in its power. With the celebrating being
heard from every corner of the city and so many people out in force, it was an
easy matter for the two women to leave the Citadel and enter the rest of Minas
Tirith to acquire what they needed. Arwen remained with Eowyn, despite the
lady’s declarations she needed no one to watch her. Arwen had no doubt that when
it was time to put their plan into action, Eowyn would be on her feet to take
her place at their side or die trying.


In the meantime, Arwen took some rest of her own, trying not
think about the desperate circumstances that she and her companions were
embroiled. Inevitably however, her mind would return to the fate of Eldarion and
her hopes that Nunaur had managed to spirit him safely out of his father’s
reach. It was almost obscene to Arwen that she would have to hide her son from
Estel when he had proven himself time and time again, what an adoring father he
was. She knew that it was only a spell that would have allow him to hurt
Eldarion and she had no wish for him to wake up to that hell when this sad
affair was behind them. It was bad enough that he would be mortified by what he
had done to Eowyn, let alone how he would suffer if he discovered he had brought
harm to his own son.


"I do not want to see Faramir until this is all over," Eowyn
suddenly spoke.


Arwen looked across the floor at Eowyn was stretched out on the
empty cot adjacent to her own. The shield maiden of Rohan had spoken very little
in the last hour as both of them took comfort with their thoughts and allowed
the events of the day to catch up with them. Eowyn’s eyes met hers and Arwen saw
the fear she had so far managed to conceal from her companions, surfacing in all
its ferocity.


"I cannot make you that promise," Arwen said softly, wishing
she could.


"I know," Eowyn conceded her queen that much for not a great
deal was within Arwen’s power to grant at this time, though she knew if it were
possible that the elf would try to see it done. "I fear seeing him and how it
would effect. I saw Melia was when she was forced to face Legolas. She was able
to remain strong despite her feelings for him."


"And you fear that if you see Faramir, you will not?" Arwen
ventured a guess.


"I do not know that I can fight if we are placed in such a
position," Eowyn answered honestly. "How do you prevail after facing
Aragorn?"


Arwen drew in a breath and steadied herself because there was a
tidal wave of emotion inside her that craved expression and had been building
since she first saw Estel and realized that he was no longer her king. There was
a part of her that was almost as afraid as Eowyn, that perhaps Lothiriel may not
be able to break the spell over him and that the stranger in his place would be
all there was left of Aragorn Elessar. If he was dead, she could at least mourn
him but taking him away from her in this manner would leave a wound that would
bleed until the day she died.


"I prevail the best I can," she whispered softly. "I felt him
slip away you know. The moment the spell tore Estel away from me, I felt it. I
felt the threads between us sever, one by one. It was a terrible feeling and now
there is nothing but an emptiness where he used to be."


"I do not think I could endure such a void in my heart," Eowyn
answered after a moment, shaken by the intense grief she detected in Arwen’s
voice and understood how fragile was the veneer between control and collapse for
the queen. "I never thought I could love after Pelennor but he was such a
surprise and he still continues to be, this warrior with the heart of
scholar."


Arwen knew about Eowyn’s love for Aragorn though they never
spoke of it. In the beginning of their relationship, it had proved to be a
formidable obstacle to their friendship. If Eowyn had asked, she would have been
surprised to know that Arwen was more sympathetic of her feelings than she would
have given the queen credit. After all, Arwen herself adored Aragorn, why should
not another woman feel the same? However, Aragorn was too trustworthy for Arwen
to doubt his feelings for her and he had tried not to hurt Eowyn’s feelings as
best he could although in such affairs, there was always bound to be one party
whose heart would be broken.


Fortunately, the outcome at Pelennor Fields had seen to it that
Eowyn and Faramir were brought together and for the two, it was a fortunate
meeting for they were very much suited for another. Both were so wounded by loss
that they were able to find healing and love in each other’s company. At
present, one could never think that Eowyn had loved anyone else by the sparkle
in her eyes whenever she looked upon Faramir.


"Eowyn," Arwen found herself compelled to speak. "We must face
the possibility that the enemy will use our love for our husbands against us.
Even Lothiriel is no longer invulnerable to this."


"Yes," Eowyn nodded in agreement on that point. "I saw how she
looked when Eomer’s name was mentioned."


"Do you think that she is in love with him?" Arwen inquired
because she, herself was uncertain, though she did not the affection emerging in
the young woman’s heart for the King of the Mark.


"If this had not happened, I would say that it was most likely
that she could have loved him, if she did not already. I know he was very taken
with her but he was afraid."


"Because of this business of arranged marriages?" The queen
asked.


"My brother did not want this girl to feel that she was
obligated to wed him because of her father’s desires," Eowyn explained. "He had
rather hoped that she would like him for himself, not out of duty."


"This entire affair came at very unfortunate time," Arwen
frowned, not merely because of the overall plan of subterfuge over the leaders
of Gondor but at the interference of the budding relationship between Eomer and
Lothiriel.


"To say the least," Eowyn shook her head. "I do not like this
business of her being forced to marry him any more than you, even if is the
nature of the things among noble families. When I was at Theoden’s court, I was
almost in danger of being wedded to Saruman’s lackey. Certainly, he desired me
enough to force the issue if he had been allowed the time to poison the king’s
mind further. Fortunately for me, the Grey Pilgrim ended his reign at Meduseld
and I saw spared that horror. Until this day, I do not know what I would have
done if Theoden had given me to him."


"Knowing you, the Wormtongue would have reason to regret it,"
Arwen replied.


Eowyn did not appear as certain and took a few seconds before
she responded, "I do not know. I am what I am but I was also a loyal sister
daughter of Theoden and I cannot say that I would have defied him. In any case,
Eomer would have ensured I never had to make that choice, even at the risk to
himself. That is why it is so hard for him to accept Lothiriel under such
circumstances."


"He does not want to be like Wormtongue," the queen guessed
accurately.


"No he does not," Eowyn replied with a little smile. "And I
love all the more for it."


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


Lothiriel and Melia returned not long after this, having
acquired the items the young lady of Dol Amroth needed for their spell. It was
decided that they would enter the palace once more through the library, since it
appeared the most expedient way into the White Tower and Arwen had to assume
that their pursuers would not imagine they would take the same route to make
another into the court of Telecontari. Despite this seemingly easy entry into
the palace, none of them were mistaken about the danger involved in this plan.
Eowyn had insisted to accompany them even though she was far from mended but the
lady of Ithilien was far too stubborn to wait in safety while others risked
themselves for her.



Thus at the height of the evening, shortly before midnight,
the women set out from their refuge once again, prepared to pit themselves
against the darkness that encompassed the White Tower. The celebration as
anticipated, was still going strong, with no signs of abating. Arwen who was
becoming accustomed to such occasions since she had taken her place as Queen of
Gondor, knew that the revelry could continue well until dawn and was grateful
this in the event they needed to make a swift escape. The stables were
relatively silent at this time of night and Arwen decided that would be the best
place for Lothriel to conduct her spell to break the enchantment.


Arwen’s elven senses were capable of telling her that no one
was lying in wait to ambush them, when the four women returned to the library.
As an added measure, they had stolen some of the clothes they had found in the
guardhouse and disguised themselves as best they could. Fortunately, no one
would be paying too close attention when they finally emerged from the library.
The only one who could not be disguised in this manner was Melia. Due to her
obviously different racial background, she could not pass for a Gondorian and
chose to forego the effort of a disguise.



Taking the passages frequented by servants, they made their
way into the guest wing where the Easterling entourage was in residence.
Wandering into the heart of what was enemy territory was dangerous to say the
least but they had little choice in the matter. For the subject to be delivered
into their hands, they needed a suitable disguise that would allow them to get
close enough to him to manage this minor miracle and unfortunately, it was not a
disguise that would be served by a guard’s uniform.


"Why does it have to be me?" Melia grumbled once they had
slipped into rooms inhabited by the Easterling dancers during their stay in the
White Tower. Fortunately, the dancers were out entertaining the guests at the
banquet and would not interrupt them while they did what was necessary.


"Because you are an Easterling," Arwen said impatiently as she
helped Melia into the brightly colored though somewhat revealing costume.


"Behind a veil who could tell?" The ranger snorted in dislike
as she pinned the dreaded garment in place across her face. The gossamer like
fabric fluttered slightly when she spoke and only offered a faint outline of her
jaw and little else.


"The rest of you is not behind a veil," the queen added.
"Unfortunately, the two of us do not have the coloring required to maintain such
a deception and Lothiriel is needed to prepare her spell."


"Besides you are a Ranger, blending in should be easy, even in
that costume," Eowyn declared from where she was at the door, keeping watch that
they were not discovered. "My bruises will raise questions and Arwen has a face
any man would be able to tell from a thousand leagues away."


"Thank you," Arwen cast the shield maiden a look as Melia
continued to dress making certain that they knew her displeasure. "I think."


"Oh wonderful," Melia complained further as she examined
herself in the mirror and felt like she was transported back in time to the days
when she was required to dress like this. She had gratefully left this aspect of
her life behind in the Sunlands, with no regrets at all. The fact that she was
forced to dress like this again raised her ire to no end. "It is indecent to be
this exposed! I did not like dressing this way when I was growing up and I like
it even less here. Why cannot we just hit him over the head and drag him
away?"


"Because," Eowyn said sweetly, "that would be difficult to go
unnoticed in a room full of guests, including the king, my husband and no doubt
a large number of shape shifters who are no doubt in the palace by now."


"I do this under strong protest," Melia frowned supposing that
there was no other alternative. This was the best way to catch their prey.
Alone, he was vulnerable.


"I do not know why," Eowyn returned. "You did not have this
much difficulty when you were attempting to seduce that Uruk Hai in Nargothrond,
I assumed distracting him would be simpler."


"I am a Ranger, ask me to shoot a boar or die in the service of
my queen and I would be happy to do so, flirting with a Rohirrim lord is above
and beyond the call of duty."


"Varda give me strength!" Arwen hissed. "Melia you know what is
at stake here…."


"I know, I know," the ranger threw her hands up in a gesture of
defeat on this subject. "It has to be this way but if he is ever freed from this
spell, I honestly do not know which of us will be more embarrassed."


"Over the spell or what you are wearing?" Eowyn teased.


Arwen rolled her eyes and saw Lothiriel who did not feel quite
brave enough to become caught in the banter between the two, giving her a rather
sympathetic look. At the moment, Arwen could certainly use it.


***********


When Melia emerged into the banquet hall, she had never thought
she could feel so alone in a room full of people. Her presence hardly raised a
brow for her costume was very effective and she was one of many dancers that
were scattered around the room, following the conclusion of the entertainment
for the evening. As customary for this part of the evening, the guests had
abandoned the formal seating around the tables and were mingling amongst
themselves throughout the room. There was enough mead and strong spirits served
to ensure that everyone was on their way to becoming extremely inebriated. She
could see Gimli the dwarf engaging in this whole heatedly.


Musicians were playing cheerful tunes and inspiring some of the
guests were dancing, while others were laughing in conversation and the mood of
the evening was certainly descending into a debauchery. Others were watching the
fireworks from the balcony and to the casual observer, it appeared nothing was
amiss in White Tower. Melia wondered how many of the faces before her were truly
guests of Gondor and not skin changers attempting to destroy Middle earth from
within.



It did not take long for Melia to sight the king, for he
was remained seated at the banquet table with his queen at his side. Melia was
forced to hide how shaken she was at the sight of the skin changer that had
assumed Arwen’s form. The king was reacting to the imposter in the same manner
that Aragorn treated Arwen when his mind was still his own. The adoration in his
eyes almost appeared real and affected Melia more deeply then anything she had
seen since this whole situation had began. Beside the king and queen, the
Easterling rulers kept a vigil on the floor and incited Melia to discontinue her
staring.


She turned away after a moment, unable to stomach it when she
saw that Arwen was not the only form the shape shifters had stolen. Next to
Faramir, she saw the facsimile of Eowyn seated beside the Prince of Ithilien and
was grateful that Legolas was absent. She did not think he could stomach it if
she saw him with a copy of herself. Fortunately, the Prince was nowhere to be
seen although she saw Imrahil in the gathering and Eomer was holding court with
a number of minor nobles from the outer Gondorian lands.


Drawing in a deep breath for she did not wish to be here any
longer than she should, Melia sauntered across the room, reminding herself how
the women of her culture were meant to behave. No one paid her any heed since
she did not appear to be all that different from the other dancers who were
presently entertaining of the men in the banquet hall like courtesans instead of
dancers. Melia frowned inwardly, supposing that it would serve her purpose in
this instance to be counted as such.


**********


Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood and the lord of Eden Ardhon could
sense his wife. Their souls were linked from the moment they had given
themselves to each other in the physical expression of their love. He had
remained in the suite of rooms, having no desire for celebration after she had
wounded him during their encounter. A well of anger rose within him as he
thought of her betrayal of his good friend Aragorn and wondered how he could
have been so foolish to trust her. The Easterlings were right, he thought as he
rose from his bed and limped to the door, to issue warning to the guards that
his traitorous wife had returned to the palace.


Strange, he never used to think well of the Easterlings. He
supposed meeting them face to face had changed his mind somewhat about their
customs. When Melia had first told him about the peculiar habits of Easterling
culture, he had found them reprehensible but he no longer felt that way. When
Legolas attempted to pierce the reasoning that made him change his mind so
drastically, he was confronted with a thick cloud of confusion that was
difficult to penetrate. Suddenly, he felt as if he needed guidance, though he
could not imagine why he would need such a thing to make up his mind on
anything.


Shaking the puzzled emotions running through his brain, the
prince focussed his thoughts on the fact that his wife was close by and this
time he did not intend to let her slip away. She needed to be reminded that he
was her lord and master and that her allegiance should be to him first, not the
Evenstar. The Evenstar was not worthy of such loyalty, not after stealing
Aragorn’s son with the intention of spiriting Gondor’s heir behind the walls of
Imladris where the king would never again lay eyes upon his own child. Legolas
felt ashamed that a member of his own race could be party to such treachery
though he never thought the Evenstar was capable of such deceit prior to
this.


It appeared he was deceived about a great number of things of
late.


He pulled open the door, preparing to sound the alarm when
suddenly, standing before him was none other than the Evenstar and the lady of
Ithilien.


"Evenstar…," he started to say.


"Not a word old friend," Arwen’s blade was against his throat
in a matter of seconds.


"You will not kill me," Legolas said defiantly, challenging her
to make her move.


"I do not have to kill you to make you obey," she hissed and
grabbed his injured leg before squeezing mercilessly.


Legolas cried out as the arrow wound inflicted by Melia made
itself felt most fully. The injury was still fresh and the only reason that he
was not in the House of Healing was because he did not think it serious enough
to warrant a stay there when his own bed in the palace would suffice.
Unfortunately, the pain coursing through his leg made him wish otherwise as he
staggered backwards into the room with his unwanted guests slipping inside
quickly before they were discovered.


"Arwen you are amazing," Eowyn replied with no small hint of
admiration in her voice as she saw Arwen advancing upon the elven prince who was
bracing himself against a chair from the queen’s ministrations. "I did not think
it was possible to trick him."


"Trick me?" Legolas stared at her in question, his face
contorted in pain as he made his demand.


"By sending Melia into the banquet hall, I ensured that you
would sense her and not us," Arwen replied as Eowyn slipped past her and
approached Legolas cautiously. Arwen kept her sword against his throat, ensuring
that he did not attempt anything foolish as Eowyn prepared to gag him. "We
needed a subject and since you were injured, I guessed that you would be here
recuperating since your skin changer masters would undoubtedly prefer that you
remain close by."


"Skin changers?" Legolas managed to say before a cloth was tied
around his mouth, muffling anything else he might have said in reaction. The gag
made him struggle but Arwen’s blade cutting into skin, made certain that
whatever resistance he made was brief. It was not long before he was bound as
well as gagged though neither woman could believe that he would make their
escape form the palace any easier.


"He will not go quietly and we must move quickly if we are to
get him out of here," Eowyn replied.


"I know," Arwen nodded and looked around. She saw a ewer and a
goblet on a table and crossed the floor quickly to obtain the former. The ewer
was heavy but not so solid that it could cause irreparable damage, though her
estimation of this was uncertain at best. Without giving Legolas any warning,
she smashed the ceramic object against the back of his neck and dropped him to
the floor without further protest. The prince lay on the carpeted floor very
much unconscious but infinitely more manageable than before.


"Let us go while we can," Arwen declared as she brushed her
hands of the remaining fragments and leaned over to pick up the prince.


"I hope Melia’s part in all this is as smooth as this one,"
Eowyn remarked.


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


 


Melia did not know how much time had passed but she prayed that
it was enough for Arwen’s gambit to succeed. The need to depart the banquet hall
was overwhelming and after fending off the intentions of a drunken Eomer and
fighting her way through more than a dozen amorous suitors, Melia decided that
enough time had lapsed and it was time for her to be going. Personally, it could
not be soon enough for she detested this whole charade she was playing. However,
if was the only way of reaching her Prince, Melia was compelled to try, no
matter how much she loathed dressing up in this manner.


As anonymously as she swept through the banquet hall, Melia
made her exit just as covertly. No one was looking closely at the dancers and
the nature of the costume ensured that no one would be looking at her face
either. It appeared as if she had successfully survived her part in the plan
when she found herself leaving the door to the banquet hall behind her.


Suddenly out of nowhere, a hand clenched around her arm and
halted Melia in her steps. Her breath caught and she looked up to find herself
staring into the face of the Easterling general Castigliari.


"Lady Melia," he said quietly even though they were alone in
the corridor, "I think it is time you and I had a talk."



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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