2. Chapter One: The Calm Before the Storm
Despite it being the customary practice for Aragorn’s manservant to lay out his clothes for the day, Arwen preferred to take charge of that responsibility herself. It was one of the few chores she considered her right as his wife to perform, despite her station as Queen of Gondor. To Arwen, the task of readying her husband for his responsibilities beyond the confines of their private chambers was something she felt the need to do because she wanted to show him how much she loved him. Just as much as he enjoyed watching in fascination as she dressed in the morning or undressed in the evening, Arwen took similar pride in laying out his clothes each morning since the beginning of their married life.
She would place his garments across ornate wing chair next to her dressing table, then remove Anduril from its place across the mantle over the fireplace before selecting what boots he would need in accordance with his agenda for the day. To Arwen, it was a pleasure helping the man she loved so dearly, slip into the role of king who was as equally adored by his people as he was by his wife. Arwen knew that Aragorn enjoyed this ritual as much as she because it reminded them both that before they were King and Queen of Gondor, they were first husband and wife.
Today, Arwen saw no joy in the duty she would have normally found so much pleasure in undertaking. How could she when what she was doing was laying out his travelling clothes, painfully aware that when he finally wore them, he would be embarking on a journey that would take him far away from her? She laid out his things and tried not to show the emotion that was clawing its way through the composure she had maintained for most of the morning. Her fingers trembled as she worked, her anguish at his departure for yet another battle tugging at her control with relentless determination.
This was not right, she thought as the tears welled up in her eyes despite all her efforts to contain them.
After everything that they had endured to maintain the peace following the destruction of Sauron and the War of the Ring, they should not be faced with yet another conflict, especially one they had worked so hard to avoid. Arwen could not believe that all their efforts to create a lasting peace with the Easterlings had been destroyed so utterly by the shape shifters who had seized control of Minas Tirith through their agent Ulfrain, only weeks ago. Even though Gondor had managed to drive the usurpers out of the kingdom, it appeared that the shape shifters had won after all. A state of war now existed between the Reunified Kingdom and the confederacy of Easterling nations.
The outbreak of hostilities had yet to occur but Aragorn knew that it was only a matter of time. The Rangers who had not been killed whilst conducting their surveillance of the enemy territory had reported the rise of a new Haradrim leader. The Haradrim possessing much influenced among the Easterlings in the same manner that Gondor influenced the kingdoms around it, had enlisted a formidable list of allies ready to wage war upon the Reunified Kingdom. Among these were the remnants of many armies, such as the Corsairs of Umbar, the Varigs of Khand, what Wainriders that had not perished in the Dead Marshes and even a disturbing report that the Dunlendings interest might have been similarly stirred.
It appeared that the Haradrim was provoking the need to restore injured pride in any race that had met defeat during the War of the Ring and their cause was fast gaining momentum among the dissatisfied Easterlings and Southerns alike. Little was known of the leader who had risen to bring about this impressive solidarity but it was said that he was the son of a chieftain who ascendancy was credited to Ulfrain’s death. Whatever his claims to power, it was evident that he was a formidable and charismatic leader capable of bringing together a formidable force comprising of different armies.
For the past weeks, the Ruling Council of Middle earth, comprising the forces of Gondor, Rohan, Dol Amroth and Ithilien had been engaged in preparations for war. Eomer was fortifying Edoras and the lands of Rohan closest to the Dunlending border, to ensure that should the Dunlendings choose to throw in their lot with the enemy, Rohan would not be caught unawares. The battle at the Ford of Isen and Helms Deep was still fresh in the minds of its people and they had no wish to be trapped in such a manner again, for this time, there would be no last minute reprieve from the Huorns.
Gondor had sent its troops to bolster the strength of Ithilien for it was surmised that when the hostilities began, it would most likely take place there. Legolas had pledged the aid of Eden Ardhon to aid in the war effort when it began although Aragorn had cautioned his involvement, for it was generally understood by both sides that the elves were considered a neutral party. As Eden Ardhon itself sat in a precarious position between Gondor and its enemies, Aragorn would prefer not to make the elven community a target, not that the confederacy would be foolish enough to try. An attack upon an elven colony would bring about the wrath of the elves remaining in Middle earth and not even they were foolish enough to provoke that sleeping dragon.
Today, Aragorn would be leaving Minas Tirith to join Faramir in Ithilien in anticipation of the attack that was all but certain to take place. Despite her profound sadness to see him leave, she knew that he was not a king that was content to remain safely behind the battlelines while his kingdom fought for its existence. The man she had fallen in love with could never be so callous and yet to let him be that man, she could not stop him from going either. It was a painful thing, this business of being queen and for the first time, she wished that both of them could be rid of this weight, no matter how selfish it sounded.
Gazing out the window, she could see the soldiers moving through the ramparts that made up the rings of the Citadel. They were marching with purpose to the outer walls of the Citadel but would not to begin their journey to Ithilien until Aragorn took his place and led them out of Minas Tirith. Arwen turned away from the scene, aware that she was becoming more emotional than she should and it would not do for Estel to see her in such a state. She wiped the tears from her eyes and tried to regain some measure of elven poise as she glided away across the floor to the door of the adjoining room.
When she emerged into the main chamber of their suite, she saw Aragorn at the head of the dinner table, supporting Eldarion on his lap. The king was presently amusing his son by making the child’s puppy to stand on its rear legs to reach the piece of food dangling inches beyond its reach. Eldarion was giggling happily, unaware that his father would not be entertaining him in this fashion for quite some time, before Aragorn finally took pity upon the poor dog and rewarded its efforts with the morsel in his hand.
"I have laid out your clothes," Arwen remarked neutrally as she approached father and son. "I have also ensured that your servant has stored away everything you would need for your journey to Ithilien."
Aragorn raised his eyes to his wife and was able to see through her seemingly composed manner despite her best efforts to hide it from him. He knew that she ached at his departure and wished there was something he could do to soothe her worries beyond his words of assurance. Unfortunately, he could not bring himself to lie to the mother of his child that what he was embarking upon was less than what it was. They were in a state of war and inevitably in such conflicts, there was always the danger of never returning, even when one was king.
"Thank you Undomiel," he said gently, trying to make this easy for her even though he knew it was impossible. "I suppose I should make a start soon. The sun is climbing and I should not keep my army awaiting."
"Yes," Arwen nodded, trying to sound brave but feeling anything but that. "How many days do you think it will take you to arrive at Ithilien?"
"Not long," he answered, rising from his chair. He placed Eldarion on the floor with the infant’s toys and left the child to his canine playmate as he went to her. "Much of our supplies and troops are already in Ithilien, those accompanying me on this occasion are more for my protection than any other reason. They forget that I know how to look after myself."
"They wish your safety," Arwen returned softly, "I see no harm in that."
"Undomiel," he lowered himself onto one knee before her and took her hand in his, "it will be alright."
"How can it be?" she cried out, unable to keep her emotions reined when he spoke to her in such a manner. "You should not be going! We have fought enough battles! We were so close to achieving peace, to never have to fight another war again! I hate those damn shape shifters for what they have done! Death was too good for them!"
"You do not mean that," Aragorn answered with gentle understanding of her anxieties. "The Easterlings are not evil Undomiel, merely wounded and afraid that their way of life is under threat. That does not excuse their actions now but if I am blinded by my hatred for them, then battle is the least I have to worry about when facing them."
"I know," she broke down, tears running down her cheeks as she gazed upon him with eyes glistening. "I do not wish you to go but I know that you must. It is this that I hate so much, that I must give you up for the sake of the kingdom."
Aragorn stood up and took his wife into his arms because she needed to feel his embrace. All the frustration she felt at this moment was feelings he could understand very well because he shared them in no small part. He did not wish to leave his wife or his son to embark upon another campaign but he was king and with that title came responsibilities. Arwen knew this as well as he, though at this moment she was having difficulty coping its demands. She would not be the woman he loved otherwise.
"I will be fine my love," Aragorn promised her as he caressed his cheek against the soft strands of her hair, taking a deep breath of the scent as he did so. "I promise you that I will allow no harm to befall me."
"I will miss you so much," Arwen said softly. "When you leave here, you take a part of me that nothing can fill."
"Just as I leave a part of myself here with you," he replied, meeting her gaze. "I need you to be strong Undomiel. Whatever happens out there, you need to be strong here, for Gondor and for our son."
Arwen nodded as Aragorn lifted her chin with his finger and lowered his lips to hers in a tender kiss. When their lips brushed against each other, it had the power to drive away the despair in her heart, even for a fleeting moment. She felt her soul sigh in happiness at his touch and ignored the realisation that when he pulled away, she would be left with an emptiness that would not be satiated until she felt this intimacy with him again.
"You are the bravest woman that I know," Aragorn spoke when they had parted. "You will manage without me, you always could and while this conflict may separate us, it can never break us apart. I carry you in my heart wherever I go Undomiel, you are my banner and the reason that I would fight every evil in Middle earth."
"I wish I could be the reason you stayed," Arwen replied, "but I am my father’s daughter and I know that sometimes responsibility must come ahead of love."
"Nothing comes ahead of love," he corrected her. "I fight not only to protect my kingdom and my family but to ensure that our son will not have to fight battles, that his future will be one of peace, not of bloodshed."
"I want his future to be one where he knows his father," Arwen countered. "Can you me promise that?"
Aragon fell silent for a moment and answered, "my father made that promise to my mother and we both know that he was unable to keep it. I will not make oaths I cannot keep Undomiel, but I can promise you I will do everything in my power to return to you and our son."
Arwen pulled him to her again in another tight embrace and decided that would simply have to do for now.
"No, Faramir!" Eowyn declared sharply over the table.
"Eowyn," the lord of Ithilien sucked in his breath and controlled his annoyance at his wife’s stubbornness. "Is it possible for you to obey me once?"
"I would do anything for you Faramir," Eowyn met her husband’s eyes and wished he would relent in this tiresome argument. For days now, she had heard the same request and each time her answer to him was the same. Her patience was wearing thin and his had almost run out, however, Eowyn was not going to submit. "However, I will not run to Minas Tirith and leave you here."
"An attack could come at any time," Faramir retorted. "I do not want you on the front lines if that happens."
Eowyn knew that her agreement was not required if he was determined to see her go. The only reason he was asking at all was because he loved her and had never presumed to lord over her as if she were his chattel instead of his wife. However, she knew that he was afraid for her life and though she loved him for his affection, Eowyn was not about to run to the safety of the White City and leave him alone during this crisis.
"Faramir," she reached across the table and took her hand in his. "I remain because I cannot bear the thought of leaving you and also because it would not do to have the lady of Ithilien to depart when we are trying to convince our people that we are able to protect them."
Faramir cursed under his breath because she was right. While he had been preparing for battle these past weeks, he had also been attempting to promote a feeling of confidence to Ithilien’s people that they was capable of defending against any menace the enemy chose to assail them with. If Eowyn were to leave, it would be a severe blow to the morale of those who chose to remain and fight because it would appear that the Prince himself had no confidence in their ability to defend Ithilien if he was sending his lady elsewhere for safety. Faramir wished Eowyn were not such a wise tactician but underestimating Eowyn was a mistake made by most people, not just he.
"I wish you were not so damned perceptive, woman," Faramir grumbled, his annoyance showing his admission of defeat. "I only wish you to leave because I cannot bear to lose you though I am certain my life would not be as vexed if you were not in it."
Eowyn smiled warmly, knowing his harsh words were only meant to mask his worry for her. She loved him for it but she was not about to leave him when their kingdom was in such danger. It was not in her nature to run from anything and certainly, not from her husband’s side. "You would be bored out of your mind if it were not for me," she gave him a playful wink. "Admit it, I may vex you, but your life is full of surprises."
Faramir rolled his eyes and muttered, "I suppose that is one way in which one might look upon it."
However, his fingers had become entwined between her own and that was more telling than the words he was speaking. For all her stubbornness, Faramir adored his wife nonetheless because she filled his life with surprise and passion the likes of which he had never known. His desire for her to leave for Minas Tirith was born out of his fears of losing her but in truth, he was also proud by the fortitude she displayed in wishing to remain at his side. How could he not be hopelessly in love with such a glorious creature as this?
"You are not eating," he noted, as his gaze shifted briefly to her plate where the meal prepared was barely touched.
"I do not feel well," Eowyn answered with a little frown.
"Again?" Faramir’s brow arched. "That is the third time this week your appetite has been waning so. Are you certain you are alright?"
"I am not eating because I am worried sick about what has happened," Eowyn said dismissively. "I can’t help thinking about poor Castigliari."
"Yes," Faramir nodded, feeling a pang of grief form the Haradrim general who had tried to do the right thing at the treaty and paid for it with his life. "He was a good man, far too good to deserve the fate that awaited him upon his return home."
Glad that he was focussing on another subject, Eowyn was more than happy to add her own commend to the discussion. "Do you think he knew that this could happen to him, Faramir?"
Faramir considered her question and remembered how sombre the Easterling delegation had been when they were leaving Minas Tirith. Castigliari in particular had been sombre but at the time the Ruling Council believed it was because he was taking the body of his king back to his people. Now Faramir wondered if his melancholy was not attributed instead to knowing what would be the consequences for what he had done. Reports from the Rangers in that region revealed that Castigliari’s trial had been a speedy affair, more for the purpose of inciting public outrage at his actions and provoking even more hostility towards the Reunified Kingdom who was painted as the chief architect of the murder.
"It is possible," Faramir answered after a moment, "he was concerned about returning home but Aragorn and I believed it was largely due to how news of Ulfrain’s alliance with the skin changers would be received, not because he would be held culpable for the king’s death."
"This world is far too ugly and brutal," Eowyn shook her head in disgust. "When Sauron was destroyed, the madness should have ended but it lives like a living, breathing creature that cannot die. As soon as we vanquish one foe, we are faced with another. When does it end?"
Faramir kept to himself his observations that his wife was in a particular dark mood of late. Considering the current situation, he could not blame her of course but her temperament had been laced with an impatience for things that should have been a way of life for them by now. Besides, he had never known Eowyn with a preference for things to be dull. His wife loved adventure and was rather made for it he thought. While she attended her duties as his wife within the court of Ithilien, she craved the extraordinary now and then. Fortunately, the trials their life seemed to face often satiated this need but Faramir was having difficulty believing that she wanted a quieter existence, even if he was somewhat pleased she wished to put herself out of harm’s way for a change.
"Darkness lies everywhere," he answered, still a little mystified by her behaviour. "Sauron may have caused much of it but not all. There are some threats that have little to do with magic or prophecy and simply are because of greed and ambition."
"I am sick of war," Eowyn said unhappily. "I am sick of it living with it all my life, first from the Dunlendings, then Isengard, Sauron and now this too. It is no wonder that I cannot eat. How can I think of food when you are going to face who knows what?"
"So that is what this is about?" Faramir stared at her. "You are worried because I will be soon leaving to join the king?"
"Yes, too many times I have lost the ones I loved in battle. First my father, followed by my mother who grew sick from grief and then my uncle. I have no idea how Eomer will fare when the battle reaches Edoras and now you are joining the king, awaiting an attack. I will not lose you too."
Faramir was rather surprised by the emotion she was displaying for his wife was no usually so sentimental. Eowyn was a daughter of a royal house and knew what it was to face this kind of duty. He supposed that she had a right to feel differently when it was a husband that was leaving her to go to war but seeing this display was rather unnerving and Faramir began to suspect that there might be more to it than what lay on the surface.
"Eowyn," he said seriously, "what troubles you so? It is more than the coming battle for I have not seen you in this state before. Please," he clutched her hand tightly, "tell me."
"I am not going with you and that I cannot go with you," she answered after a moment. Staring into his eyes, she wanted badly to tell him what worried her so but she dared not. He should not be burdened with such knowledge before he went off to do battle. She knew better than anyone how great a killer distraction could be on the battlefield. She did not wish to inflict that upon her husband when it was so necessary for him to come home to her.
"It is necessary for you to remain here in Ithilien," Faramir explained, sensing if there was not more than this but could not say for certain that she was deceiving him when he saw so much anguish in her eyes. "Our people need your strength and the days coming will be dark ones. They need someone to direct them when their fear becomes too much. You are the only one I feel capable of leaving such a duty. You are not only the Lady of Ithilien but you are the shield maiden of Rohan, the slayer of the Witch King. Your voice carries significant weight not only with our people but with the soldiers I leave here to protect the city."
"Then I should be with you on the battlefield," Eowyn met his eyes, "for it is there I will be of most to you."
Faramir opened his mouth to answer but Eowyn interrupted.
"But I know that I cannot come with you and that my place is here, so you need not worry I will do anything foolish as I did when I joined Theoden in the march to Pelennor," Eowyn replied with a little smile.
"Actually I thought that you are probably right," Faramir added with a slight chuckle, "you are formidable with a blade but I am glad to know that I will not have to keep watch for you."
"You should go make ready to leave," Eowyn replied. "I believe Beregond is waiting for you."
Faramir had forgotten, having been so rapt in the discussion with his wife that the meeting with the Captain of his guard had slipped his mind. However, he had a sense that she wished to be alone, perhaps to process what was said though there was still this nagging sensation that she had not been truthful about what troubled her. Unfortunately, Faramir had learnt from experience that Eowyn would tell him nothing until she was ready and lest he wanted to drive himself into further vexation trying to discern what was on her mind, Faramir decided that it was best to simply let the matter be.
"We will talk again," he said giving him a little kiss before walking out of the room.
Eowyn watched him go and did not break her gaze at the path he had taken out of her presence until many minutes had passed. Once she returned her attention back to the table and its contents, her first action was to slide the plate away. The smell of it did little to settle her queasy stomach and knowing the cause of it did not make her troubles any less. If anything it complicated things considerably. Lately, her mind kept returning to her parents. Orcs in Emyn Muil had killed her father Eomund, when she was a child. Her mother had never really recovered from the experience of birthing Eowyn and had remained sickly for years after. However, upon learning of her husband’s death, what strength she had was sapped away in grief and drove her inevitably to her grave.
She and Eomer were then raised in the house of Theoden who treated them like his own children but Eowyn never forgot the parents that sired her, nor did she cease to miss them. Eomer in particular, missed their mother though he never said it out loud. How could he, when he was the Marshall of the Mark by the time he reached his early twenties? With Faramir now riding to face a new war after the alarming reports of the Haradrim amassing a considerable army, Eowyn was terrified that she would lose her husband the way Theodwyn had lost Eomund.
Even more frightening was the thought that the child slumbering in her womb would know nothing of its father.
She should have told him. She wanted so much to tell him but she could not bear to burden him with such news when he was about to ride off into battle. Eowyn knew that if she told him that she was carrying his child, Faramir would never leave her side and it was imperative that he did for the sake of their kingdom and their future. For the last week, she had kept this secret inside her, trying desperately to hide the signs not only from her husband but also from the household staff who might inadvertently reveal it to Faramir if they started their gossiping.
She knew there would come a time when she could no longer hide the truth and Eowyn prayed that this conflict would be over before she had to bring news to Faramir on the battlefield that he was a father.
Eomer was furious with himself.
He should have sent her home long before this but had succumbed to the desires of his heart by allowing her to remain. She should be safely at home in Dol Amroth under her father’s roof, not trapped here in Edoras with him. In truth, he could still send her home if he so wished it, escorted by a dozen Rohirrim to ensure that she arrived there safely, however, Eomer could not bring himself to have her leave Meduseld. He was not long past his thirtieth year and certainly passed the time when, as king, he should have taken a wife. While he endured the insistent suggestions by his counsellors that he should make the effort, Eomer had never gave those requests much credence until he met Lothiriel of Dol Amroth.
From the instant she graced Meduseld with her presence, it felt to Eomer and to the rest of the Golden Hall’s inhabitants that the void left by Eowyn was finally filled. Meduseld had been without a lady of the house since Eowyn had ridden away to Pelennor Fields. Since then, Eowyn’s return had only been visits since her place was now in Ithilien at the right hand of her husband, the Steward. Eowyn would have returned with him and Lothiriel if it had not been for the declaration of war made by the Haradrim and the Easterling Confederacy. Indeed, Eomer had been ready to send Lothiriel home to Dol Amroth but the young woman had used her considerable effect on him to good advantage. Even her father, Imrahil seemed to encourage her decision to come with him, hoping that the time together would hasten their union.
Once arriving in Edoras, they had spent most days together. He taught her how to ride, a thing she had been unable to do well but was determined to learn since much of the Rohirrim’s world revolved around horses. They rode everyday together, often accompanied by others in order to ensure the lady’s reputation was not compromised in anyway. She learnt quickly and Eomer felt his heart fall prey to her just a little more every day. Eomer could tell that she loved being with him, especially because he accepted her for what she was, a fledgling sorceress whose powers had saved Middle-Earth from utter ruin during the terrible business with the skin changers.
At the time, he had been little concerned over the welfare of Rohan despite the declaration of war. Rohan was far from the borders of Gondor to be in any danger although Eomer had fully intended to support Aragorn in his campaign against any Easterling aggression. However, that had all changed when he received word that agents of the confederacy had approached a number of Dunlending tribes and might have possibly enlisted their aid in launching an attack upon Rohan.
After the battle of the Hornburg, the Dunlending forces had been thoroughly defeated by the Rohirrim, Ents and Huorns. Without the leadership of Saruman to unite them, the remaining Dunlending forces splintered, with individual tribes suing for their own peace. There were some who had begrudgingly accepted defeat but refuse to ally themselves with the Rohirrim as the other tribes had done. It was these few that gave Eomer his greatest concern because they would be able to facilitate an enemy force if it chose to attack Rohan. The tribes found their refuge in the Misty Mountains since the terrain was well known to them and were capable of remaining hidden indefinitely. They knew parts of the mountain range where horses could not travel and so they were relatively free to plot all manner of mischief.
As it was, Eomer had stationed his men along the River Isen, certain that if the rebel tribes were to gain help from their Easterling allies, there would be no other way for it to reach them other than through the river. The Rohirrim were also keeping watch upon the Gap of Rohan but the truth was, the Dunlendings were adept at not only fighting through means of open warfare but also by more insidious methods, employing covert tactics that were difficult to defend against. It was partially this reason that Eomer was reluctant to send Lothiriel beyond the safety of Edoras. However, as an excuse it was weak and it only served to convince him that he had to do what was sensible, not what was in his heart.
Eomer supposed it would make things considerably simpler if he simply married Lothiriel immediately and provide her with a legitimate reason to remain. However, his whole intention of bringing her to Edoras was so that he could get to know her and the business of spending an entire lifetime was nothing to take lightly. He did not want either of them to be rushed into such a choice because the times were perilous. He knew that she held some apprehension about being queen since her entire life had been devoted to a dream of becoming a true wizard. He did not doubt that she cared for him deeply but it was another thing entirely to become a queen, to be able to share the responsibility of a kingdom.
He had finally reached a decision and knew that she would not like it when he presented it to her. Following the latest discussion with his councillors, Eomer sought out Lothiriel, determined to do what was best for her, despite the feelings inside of him. It was late in the afternoon when he found her in one of the terraced gardens of Meduseld. It was not possible to have expansive gardens like those in Gondor when Edoras was built upon a hill. Many years ago, one of Rohan’s kings had carved out a section of it and set his engineers the task of building his lady, a native of Gondor, a small garden to remind her home. In subsequent years, it had been maintained by those who followed and was a favourite place for many who resided in the Golden Hall.
Since her arrival in Meduseld, Eomer knew that Lothiriel liked to sit upon the marble benches and read her books surrounded by the trees and flowering shrubs to be found within its confines. As a visitor without any defined role in the Golden Hall, Lothiriel found this place a suitable distraction for the times when Eomer had matters of state to attend. He supposed that within the garden, she felt less likely to be in anyone’s way.
"My lord," she said with a happy smile when he stepped into the garden. "How does this evening find you?"
Her smile immediately engendered one of his own and Eomer felt that same lift in his heart at the sight of her. She would be in his opinion, the most beautiful women he had ever seen. With glorious jets of dark hair and almost porcelain like beauty, he was sometimes almost afraid to touch her for fear that she would break. When she moved, it was like a dance of light, not like the clumsy movement of a warrior whose only grace seemed to come when he was astride a horse.
"I am well," he answered warmly as he sat beside her on the bench of polished marble. "I am sorry that I have been indisposed for most of the day. There are times when my responsibilities as king cannot be avoided."
"I understand," she replied meeting his gaze with sincere understanding. "I remember what it was like during our war with Sauron. I hardly saw my father during those days while you have made every effort to spend time with me despite the circumstances. I am grateful for that but you are king, and I understand that I must sometimes give you up to that title."
Eomer let out a heavy sigh and declared, "You do not make what I have to say any easier, my lady."
Lothiriel’s expression became dark with suspicion, "what is it you plan to say?"
Eomer took another deep breath and found that this was harder to do than fighting orcs and Uruk Hai. "I am sending some of my Rohirrim to Ithilien to bolster its defences. They will leave at dawn tomorrow. I have requested that they take you with them. They will be able to escort you to Minas Tirith and from there you should be afforded safe conduct to Dol Amroth."
Lothiriel’s eyes showed her hurt and it was like a knife in Eomer’s heart.
"You are sending me away?" She asked softly, her lips quivering with disappointment as she spoke.
"Only for a time," Eomer replied quickly. "There is a possibility rebel tribes from Dunland may aid an enemy incursion into Rohan. As unlikely as it may be, I would rather you away from Edoras should the violence penetrate this deep into our territory."
"I do not wish to go," Lothiriel stated at him, unable to believe that he would simply send her away like this. "I wish to remain here," she added further though she did not say that it was for him that she wanted to stay in the Golden Hall.
"Believe me, I wish nothing more than you to stay at my side," Eomer aimed his penetrating gaze at her, "but I would not risk you life by allowing you to remain in Edoras."
Lothiriel turned away from him, trying to compose herself. She was hurt by his intention to send her home. After the last few weeks, she had thought that he understood how she felt for him. Ever since they had met, the King of the Mark had touched her heart deeply, in a manner she would have never believed possibly particularly since the idea of their union was initially forced upon Lothiriel by her father. The weeks they had spent together since her arrival in Edoras convincing Lothiriel that her heart had not led her astray in her regard for him.
"You take the choice away from me," she replied, unable to look at him because he would only see her tears if she did.
"Not because I wish to," Eomer declared, hearing the tremor in her voice. "Your family will need you at home at this time. It is not right that I should keep you here."
"My father has my brothers," Lothiriel faced him again. "He has little need of me except to keep me trapped at home. Here I can be of comfort to you and perhaps help in learning the ways of your house. You need me here Eomer, I know you do."
"I do need you and if we had the time to know each other more, you would see just how much but it is not proper that you remain under my roof. You are daughter of Dol Amroth and there has been no understanding between your father and I about your hand other than my awareness of his desire for a union between us."
Lothiriel stood up and glared at him in anger, "so like him, you would simply decide for me and have me sent away at your convenience?"
For weeks now, they have danced around each other, unable to deny this powerful attraction they had felt for each other. Following the events at the failed treaty in Minas Tirith, Lothiriel had confessed to Eomer that she was terrified for his life during those dark hours when he and the rest of the ruling council were lost to themselves. In that dire hour, she realised how she felt and it was that understanding of her emotions that saw her return with him to Edoras. However, the intensity of their growing affection for one another was a thing unspoken at this time. Why could he simply not admit how he felt? If he wanted to marry her, all he had to do was say. She had long since overcome the hurdle that their relationship was forced because her father had placed them together to begin with.
"You know that is not how it is," Eomer defended himself against the accusation. However, he could not deny that she had good reason to be upset. "As remote as the possibility is that the Dunlendings may attack Edoras, I cannot risk your life. You should return to your father’s house. I thought you would like to go home."
"Oh you fool!" She snapped in exasperation. "Do you not understand any single thing? I love you, you simpleton! Do you think that my desire to remain here is because I have an overt liking to the smell of horses?"
Eomer stared at her, rather astonished that she had said it out loud. "One gets accustomed to the smell of horses after a time," he muttered foolishly, mostly because he could think of nothing else to say even though the most obvious statement was the furthest thing from his mind at that moment.
"Did you hear me?" Lothiriel demanded, wondering if she had made a dreadful mistake in revealing her heart to soon.
"You really wish to remain?" He asked somewhat dazed.
"I wish to remain at your side," Lothiriel, starting to understand his hesitation more than he possibly knew. He was afraid. He was afraid of admitting how he felt. Knowing that, made Lothiriel’s course clearer.
Eomer wished Eowyn were here. If his sister were here, she would tell him what he should say instead of his standing here like a tongue tied boy after Lothiriel had made such a personal declaration. His experience with women of her pedigree was limited even though he was not unknown to women. The business of courtship was something he had never learnt because his youth was spent fighting Orcs and preparing to ride in the company of the Rohirrim. At twenty-two he had become the ThirdMarshal of Riddermark and any dalliance with the opposite sex following that was fleeting. He know how he felt about her but he could not bring himself to say it because it would mean exposing too much of his heart. Eomer, who had spent too much time alone in his life, was not ready for such a thing.
Still, in the light of her revelation, he knew he could not send her back to her father.
"It could be dangerous," he replied.
"I know," she nodded and kissed him gently, an action that only made him even more unbalanced. Whether or not he knew it, Lothiriel somewhat enjoyed seeing him that way.
"I will send word to your father," Eomer responded.
"That I am staying here?" She asked.
"Yes," he nodded, uncertain at how he had been manoeuvred into this position when he had intended to send her away.
"Are you alright?" Lothiriel stared at him.
"Yes," he swallowed thickly and then blinked to clear his thoughts. He needed to tell her how he felt, he could not simply let her say what she had and not answer in return. Eomer was not so callous to do that and in truth, it needed to be said.
"You know that I feel the same as you, that I, well you know, I feel as much…" he started to ramble.
She placed her finger upon his lips and silenced him. "You do not have to say anything," she stared into his eyes. "I love you King of the Mark with all my heart. I do not wish to marry you tomorrow for there is too much happening at the moment for that. However, I would like to remain here and be what help to you I can. If by my presence alone, I can soothe your worries, please allow me the chance to do so. At home, I will be able to contribute nothing to the danger that is around us, but if I can help the people of Edoras by being at your side, then I beseech you to let me stay."
"You presence helps me and perhaps it is best that you remain here now that we have spoken our minds," Eomer answered; unable to believe how differently this encounter had turned out from how he originally thought.
"If we are to have any future together," Lothiriel said firmly, "I must remain at your side to aid in our present."
"You father will be thrilled," Eomer retorted.
It was already afternoon and Legolas Greenleaf knew that he was being rather decadent since he and his lady had yet to emerge from their bed chamber. Gazing out the window, the Lord of Eden Ardhon saw that morning was almost over as Laurelin’s fruit reached the climax of its journey across the sky. Beyond the walls of their chambers, he could hear the sound of elves going about their business as they continued the business of establishing the colony in South Ithilien. The place where Legolas had built their home stood upon a gentle hill that gave them a scenic view of the River Poros as well as the well as the forest that surrounded Eden Ardhon.
While it appeared that Middle-Earth was poised upon the knife’s edge of war, for the moment the conflict seemed very far away as Legolas and Melia enjoyed a lazy morning together. These days there was so much work to be done, what with the great hall that Legolas had commissioned Gimli to build as gathering place for the community and the continued work on the colony itself. There seemed hardly any time left over for them. However, Legolas who was always burdened with the knowledge that his life with Melia was finite, ensured that there were occasions when they simply had to make the time for each other even if it was meant taking a morning for themselves.
Legolas watched Melia sleep, basking in the loveliness of her as she dreamed about wonderful things, he hoped. If circumstance allowed it, he would spend every waking moment with her and forget the world outside completely because someday she would be gone and he would be alone. Legolas had accepted the tragedy of this when he gave his heart to Melia. Yet when he watched her like this and remembered that someday, the space she filled so warmly beside him would be empty, he could not help wanting to cherish every second with her.
In the end, the memories would be all he had left of her.
Melia was lying in the sheets next to him; oblivious to his ruminations. Legolas felt the familiar tingle of arousal as he took in the sight of her body, separated from his touch by a thin layer of silk. She was lying on her stomach, dark hair covering most of her face when Legolas nuzzled closer to her as another wave of desire took control of his baser desires. Legolas brushed aside her tousled dark hair, seeking through the strands of jet for the soft skin of her neck.
She pushed up against him in her sleep, not at all minding his weight on top of her as she slumbered. Letting out a pleasured sigh when Legolas found her neck, the elf smiled as he lowered his mouth and started teasing her skin her by tracing circles against it. She was still asleep but he could feel her body responding immediately to the gentle nips along the length of her neck before he sucked insistently in the curve where it met her shoulder.
She opened her eyes and met his with a gleam of mischief, sensing his intent and more than willing to submit to his tender caresses. Legolas raised his head and they smiled at each other like playful children before he lowered his lips to hers and captured her mouth in a kiss that was not at all innocent. As the intensity of it grew into fiery passion, they made love like lovers who had found each other after a long fast. Their passion was a tender thing of taste and touch, of scent and soft cries of pleasure. They knew each other well and they knew what each other liked. Their bodies moved together in perfect unison, much like their souls and when they could pleasure each other no more, both descended the cloud of sensation together.
When their physical thirst for one another was quenched, they lay in each other’s arm, savouring the pleasure of feeling each other’s heart beating against them. It was a moment of perfection, one Legolas would carry with him for the rest of his days and Melia, until the day she left him forever.
"We are being terribly decadent," Melia smiled, still glowing from their earlier passion.
"I know," Legolas answered, not at all repentant as he idled with a strand of her dark hair. "However, there is some advantage to being Lord of Eden Ardhon."
"I thought that meant you should lead by example," Melia stared at him with an arched brow.
"That would be true except that I am burdened with a wife who has an insatiable appetite for me," Legolas grinned.
"Insatiable?" Melia exclaimed at him in mock outrage. "I think you flatter yourself Prince."
"I do not need to flatter myself," he replied enjoying her reaction immensely. "It is clear to everyone that you hunger for me constantly. If only you knew how pitied I am among elves."
"Pitied!" Melia snatched her pillow from under her and swatted him with it. Legolas wrapped his arms around her waist before they wrestled briefly in a moment of complete foolishness that ended them with each of them laughing like children.
However, the moment was indeed brief for a sharp knock to the door of their chambers interrupted their play abruptly.
"Who is it?" Legolas asked, rather annoyed that they were being interrupted but realising a second later that no one would intrude upon them in this manner without good reason.
"It is Miriel my Lord," the familiar voice of the elven woman who had left Lorien to join the colony. "Forgive me for intruding upon you but Nunaur has returned and he brings grave news."
Legolas and Melia met each other’s gaze briefly and realised that their afternoon together was over. It was time to return to the world and all its troubles.
When Legolas and Melia arrived in the middle of the square that passed for the centre of Eden Ardhon, Gimli was already present. The dwarf had sent the elves to the town of Lebethron to collect the lumber needed for the great hall he was building. Nunaur and a handful of elves had set out a number of days ago and were not expected back so quickly since they would be making the return journey with wagons of lumber. That Nunuar and the others had returned home so swiftly engendered feelings of dread within the elven lord of Eden Ardhon.
"Nunaur, what has happened?" Legolas asked sternly, impatient to hear this grave news he had brought with their return.
The march warden whose attention was divided between his lord and one of the other elves who was cradling something wrapped in his cloak, did not answer immediately. Only when the elf Aloin stepped forward, carrying his precious cargo did Legolas understand the reason for Nunaur’s distraction.
"Sweet Eru," Legolas whispered as Aloin revealed the young girl wrapped in his cloak.
She was but seven years old if that, with a face smudged with dirt and with what every elf present was certain was blood. The child was trembling hard but it had nothing to do with cold. Her eyes were glazed and though she appeared to be staring, it was clear that she saw nothing.
"What happened to her?" Melia stepped forward immediately and bid Aloin to hand her the child. Sensing a feminine presence despite her catatonia, the child wrapped her arms around Melia and held fast, inspired by vague memories of the mother she had watched die not long ago.
"We found her," Nunaur turned his attention to Legolas finally, swallowing hard the bile that was rising from the pit of his stomach as he remembered what he had seen in that village, "in what remains of Lebethron."
"What remains?" Gimli exclaimed having travelled there for lumber when he was in the midst of constructing the gates for Aragorn’s city. It was a pleasant place he had always intended to visit again. "It is destroyed?"
"It is more than destroyed," Nunaur answered bitterly. "Someone had murdered every living thing in that village. We found the bodies of men, women and children, slaughtered. It was butchery! This child is all that is left of Lebethron. We searched everywhere and not one was left alive save this child. There were children run through my lord, children! The women were violated before their deaths and the men were strung up like carcasses!"
"Did she see all of this?" Melia asked in horror as she looked at the poor waif in her embrace. The child had curled her arms around the former Ranger’s neck, resting her head against Melia’s breast as if needing to feel the warm that only a woman could provide.
"I believe so," Alion nodded. "However, we cannot be certain."
"Why not?" Legolas looked at the child and felt his heartache for the horror she must have bore witness to. For a child that young, such trauma could cause permanent injury to her mind.
"She has not spoken a word since we found her," Nunaur explained. "She had climbed into the hollow of a tree and hidden there for most of the attack. She was still there when we arrived. If it were not for our elven hearing, it is likely we would not have found her at all."
"You’re safe now little one," Melia cooed softly in the girl’s ear, though she doubted the child could register a great deal in light of her ordeal. "We will let nothing harm you."
"My lord, there were mumakil tracks all around the village," Nunaur explained. "It was an Easterling attack."
"Why Lebethron of all places?" Gimli asked, still unable to believe that an entire town could be wiped away so callously. "They were fisherman and tree farmers! It held nothing of value except lumber and the Easterlings could not be so hungry for that it was necessary to murder so many innocents?"
"Are you certain that it was the Easterlings?" Legolas asked once more. "Perhaps it was Orcs or Uruk Hai. Easterlings do attack with such brutality but they seldom take the lives of women and children. Women are valuable to them as commodities and children are incapable of offering any sort of threat."
"It was the Easterlings," Nunaur stated with more certainty that Legolas liked. "Every building was trampled into the dirt by mumakils. The beasts charged the village and ran down anyone in their path. Spears and arrows impaled those villagers who were not killed in the stampede. The design of the weapons we recovered are clearly of Easterling origin. There can be no doubt of it. They did not even remain long enough to take anything of value."
Legolas had a good idea what the destruction of Lebethron was meant to signify though it disgusted him to admit it.
"We must get word to Gondor that they have finally begun their campaign," Legolas said grimly, dreading to think how Aragorn would take the news of the slaughter. "Clearly this was a message of some sort since I can see no other reason why they would launch an attack on a village with so little importance strategically."
Nunaur and Alion exchanged a look which Legolas caught almost immediately. "What is it?"
Nunaur’s gaze dropped and Legolas saw the rush of blood to the elf’s face that indicated the extent of his outrage. From within his cloak, he produced a rolled parchment and handed it to Legolas who took it gingerly.
"You are correct of it being a message but it is not a message to Gondor," Nunaur answered after a moment. "We found this pinned to one of the bodies that were strung up."
Legolas unrolled the parchment and read the words scrawled in blood across the paper. His jaw tensed and Melia saw the heat of a thousand suns burning in his eyes as he read its contents. His knuckles became white as he clutched the paper and she knew that it was quite possible that she had never seen him so angry before. When he lowered the parchment a moment later, Melia saw his hands were shaking with fury.
"What does it say?" She was almost afraid to ask.
"Nunaur speaks the truth, it is not a message for Gondor," Legolas met her gaze and that of Gimli’s in quick succession. "It is a message for us, specifically for me."
"And?" Gimli demanded, unable to stand the suspense when his friend appeared ready to scream in rage.
"It says," Legolas spoke with a voice of stone, "do not meddle in the affairs of men lest the we wish the fate of Lebethron to be the fate of Eden Ardhon."
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.