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Stardust - Book I: 6. The Truth Will Out, Part 3
The dawn of the next day brought her no respite from her grim mood, for it found her sitting in the covered chair as if she had never moved from it. It was not far from the truth. She had stirred enough to cleanse her face and change from her court dress to a house dress, but sleep eluded her and she spent the night sitting upright, not plotting for once, but not doing anything else to ease her own misery.
Hardly had the light of the rising sun crept through the silent streets of the second circle to touch the lowest windows of the houses of the Lords of Minas Tirith than a pounding came upon her door. She thought to ignore it, telling herself dryly that unless it was a contingent of Hurin's officers begging her to return to her old quarters she had no interest in whomever was on the other side. But the pounding continued, so it was obviously someone who knew she was here. She sighed, and bestirred herself to answer the summons. She was not too surprised to find her brother-in-law on the other side, but what accompanied him irritated her to the edge of her tolerance. She set her hands against her waist and glared at the half-dozen women gathered around him.
"Hiranion, you didn't."
There was a hint of humor about his face, and he held his hands up as if to shield himself from a blow. "Peace, Sister, peace! Whether you like it or not, the King is aware of you now, which means the other nobles have recalled you as well. You cannot stay alone here another moment." She scowled at him, almost in defense, because he was charming in this mood and it was hard to remember that she disliked and distrusted him when he reminded her of Hirgon. She stood aside and let the new servants into the premises will an ill grace.
The women spent the better part of the morning putting the house to rights, beating covers and rugs until Terisda was sure her lungs would be permanently lined with dust. Hiranion oversaw all, despite her strong hints that he must have better things to do. "My lady will have my head if I don't make certain your housing is to her standards," he told her cheerfully. The idea that the silent demure mouse would do anything of the sort was utterly alien to Terisda, and she spent no little time running the off-hand comment through her mind to see if she missed some element of irony or scorn in it. It was not a very fruitful exercise, but it kept her from considering other problems she didn't wish to think about, and for that she was grateful.
In the early afternoon, right as she was beginning to think about food and wonder if there were any in the house, another knock came upon the door. She went into the hallway to answer it, but one of her new maids brushed by her, giving her a faintly disapproving look as she did so. Terisda halted and rubbed at her temples, wryly noting that even the hired help thought she did not know her proper place. She would have to send for her own servants. She had put it off, hoping she could tell them to meet her in Ithilien, but she was having more and more doubt as to her ability to convince the King to let her go.
The maid walked back to her. "A messenger asks to speak to you, my lady."
"He would have already spoken to me if I answered the door," Terisda said crossly.
There was a chuckle behind her. Hiranion said, "At least wait until my wife arrives before you frighten off the help, Terisda." He took her by the elbow as he passed, and she was towed along in his wake as he went to the door to see who was there. The livery the man wore was that of the Tower Guard. She held out her hand, but Hiranion also held out his, and without hesitation the messenger handed what he carried to her brother-in-law. Hiranion turned it over in his hands and paused when he saw the seal. He showed it to her. "Do you recognize this?"
Terisda looked at the impression of seven stars set in the wax and shook her head. "It's the seal of King Elessar," said the messenger.
"Very Elvish," remarked Hiranion, noncommittal. He slid his forefinger under the flap's edge, lifting the seal without breaking it to open the letter. The contents needed but a glance. He raised his head, and his eyes were blanked. "The King sends urgently for both of us."
They gazed at each other in silence, for both understood well what this message portended. "I can't," Terisda finally stated, her voice trembling from repressed fear. "My paints are not here, and the only court dress I have is the one I wore yesterday."
She thought that would deter Hiranion, who cared so much about appearances, but instead he smiled grimly. "One thing I learned about the King during the march to the Black Gate, Sister, is that he is a Man who means it when he says 'now'. We will be there as soon as our horses are saddled," he instructed the messenger, who inclined his head and spun about, running lightly down the road.
"It will be faster to walk," said Terisda.
"Yes. But I am no more anxious than you are for this meeting, and it is the only thing that will buy us any time at all." His grey eyes were hard as he looked at her. "Terisda -- you know what this must mean, do you not?"
She refused to acknowledge it, and found refuge in flippancy. "That our new King has far too much time on his hands, if he requires us to amuse him."
Hiranion sighed, and shook his head, and went to get the horses. Alone in the hall, Terisda twisted her fingers together and wrung her hands, staring unseeing at the wall until he called to her.
Hiranion tried to talk to her on the way to the King's dwelling, but Terisda refused to respond seriously to anything he said and he finally retreated into a sullen silence. This did not truly suit her, for when he spoke she could mock him, and when she mocked him she was able to talk over the insistent murmuring of her own thoughts. With nothing to distract her they were as shouts in her ears, and she did not care for what they were telling her.
She clambered down from the horse when they reached their destination, and was suddenly very aware of loose tendrils of hair about her face and the dusty condition of her dress. Sighing, she tried to shake her skirt out as Hiranion was greeted by Tower Guardsmen who were obviously expecting them. He stepped back to let her go ahead. She followed the Guardsmen, smoothing back her hair and scowling as she saw more dust on her sleeves. Overseeing the opening of the house was dirtier work than she realized when she was in the midst of it.
There was an odd sound in front of her, very like a sniff. Terisda glanced ahead, to see a well-appointed Lady in the hall, staring at her with disdain on her aristocratic features. Probably one of Eowyn's swooners, she thought, and had to strongly resist the urge to stick out her tongue. But the Lady's gaze swept past her, and widened, and she suddenly cast her eyes down, and she and her attendants walked by with faces averted.
Terisda turned her head and was surprised to see a scowling Hiranion just lifting his hand from his sword hilt, something Hirgon used to do to warn off those who might disparage her, although her husband's half-smile was far more dangerous than Hiranion's glower. "What?" her brother-in-law demanded crossly as she stared at him, unmoving even though the doors to the King's throne-room were being opened for them.
Terisda answered him honestly for once. "There are moments you are very like Hirgon."
Hiranion blinked, and turned his head away, but not before she saw faint, pleased color run across his face. He offered her his arm, and she placed her fingers lightly over his wrist. They both took in deep breaths at the same moment, then glanced at each other in surprise. He smiled slightly, and she smiled back, and for that one instant they were in accord.
There were very few people in the room, and that alone frightened her, because a King in the middle of the day should be fully attended by courtiers and petitioners. Her gaze was immediately drawn to a man standing near the King's empty throne. He was fair of hair and skin, and his clothes were after the manner of the Rohirrim, if somewhat richer than those she had cut away from wounded Riders during the battle. His expression was solemn, and when she met his grim blue eyes she suddenly did not want to be in the same room. But the King came forward then, greeting both of them by name, and her gaze was forced to him. She started to go into her curtsy, but Elessar took her by the hand and stopped her. He brought her to the fair, fell young man. "This is Eomer, King of the Riders of the Mark with the fall of Theoden in battle. He has news of your husband."
Terisda looked at him, and she took a step back, because she knew that she did not want to hear anything he had to tell her. Her movement brought her against Hiranion, but rather than move aside his hands came up to cup her shoulders. So between Hiranion's hard grip and Eomer's hard gaze, she found herself imprisoned, unable to do anything to escape the situation.
"Tell her," Elessar ordered when Eomer did not speak.
The King of the Mark scowled, but obeyed the High King, speaking with a directness that was very like that of his sister. "You know that Hirgon came before Theoden-King with the Red Arrow, and departed immediately to bring word of our coming to Gondor."
"He did not arrive. We heard naught from him. He must have gone on to Ithilien--"
"No, Lady," he said, and while his tone was not unkind, there was a sternness there that indicated little patience with her desperate babbling. Terisda bit her lower lip to forestall more off-putting words. "We heeded the urgency of the message, and we rode through gloom and little-used paths for five days. On the night of the fifth day the Marshal, Elf-helm, came to me to report that the scouts had found the bodies of errand-riders of Gondor ahead." His scowl deepened, and he crossed his arms, and she perceived that he did not appreciate the task Elessar had set to him. "One of them we deemed was Hirgon, for when he fell he still held the Red Arrow." She did not respond, just stared at him, not even feeling the press of Hiranion's fingers into her flesh as his hands clenched. "You may be proud of him," the King of the Horseriders told her, "for great deeds were done through his death. He brought us to the Fields in time to turn the battle and hold the lines until the King came with his own forces."
Terisda did not hear his closing words. For the second time in two days her knees gave out, but this time she was not already kneeling on the ground and her body sagged. Hiranion braced to take her weight, but Elessar unceremoniously scooped her up and placed her into the closest seat, his own throne. Kneeling next to her, Hiranion patted at her arm and shoulder ineffectively, distress on his face, although she was sure it owed as much to the public scene she was making as anything else. "Terisda, this is not news," he told her in a low voice. "You knew, we both knew--"
"Oh, I knew," she spat. "How could I not know, once the Riders came?" and the look she turned on Eomer was venomous. "But there was some part of my heart that held onto hope. I did not even know how much hope until it had been ripped away."
And she covered her face with her hands and wept bitterly, not caring where she was or who saw her.
After a time cool fingers touched hers, and something soft was pressed into them. "Here, take this," said a voice that sent a thrill of terror through her. She peeked through her fingers, but it was not Legolas although the tone and touch was similar. It was one of the Elf lords bending over her, concern in his clear eyes. She made no effort to take the cloth he offered her, so instead he pulled her unresisting hands away from her face and blotted her tears. He then murmured quiet words to her that she did not understand, but which somehow soothed her so that she was able to breath without hiccuping, although the tears still dripped silently from the corners of her eyes. "There, that's better," he said, and this time when he gave her the cloth she accepted it.
"You have to be calm, Terisda," said Hiranion, although he sounded shaken himself. "It's not good for the child for you to be so upset."
She twisted the cloth through her fingers and stared down at them. "Hiranion, I'm not--" she started, but the Elf lord glanced quickly to one side before he covered her hands and spoke over her. "Say nothing, my lady. Lord Hiranion is right, you should save your strength." He stood, drawing her up after him, and she was surprised to find that her legs worked and she could navigate the several steps from the throne to the floor without difficulty. "There, you see? You're stronger already." The Elf lord smiled at her, and despite her grief and anger she found she did feel strong enough to stand on her own without support from him or Hiranion.
She felt she should say something, to the King who was studying her with deep concern and sympathy, and to Eomer who continued to glower as if he greatly resented being forced to speak to her. She looked at them both as she searched for words, but Elessar spoke first. "Lady, Gondor owes you much, both for the sacrifice Lord Hirgon made and for your own work during the siege, by which many were saved who may have otherwise shared his fate. I will do what I can to make this time pass easier for you."
"Then let me go to Ithilien, Sire," she pleaded. "I do not like the City. I feel as if the walls close in on me here."
The King looked behind her to Hiranion, and Terisda was bitterly reminded that she did not control her own destiny. So she was surprised at Elessar's words when his gaze returned to her. "I will consider it."
It was no promise, but it was better than she dared hoped. She bowed her head, and turned toward Eomer, but found she could not speak thanks to him. Instead she fixed him with a hard stare and demanded clarification. "You say 'deemed'. You 'deemed' one of the message-riders was Hirgon. What does that mean, 'deemed'? How did you find Hirgon, how did he die?"
"I have said all I have to say." And no matter how she pressed him, the King of the Riders spoke no more.
"Let it rest, Lady," Elessar finally counseled. "Hiranion and Elladan are right, you must not over-tax yourself. Do not add unjust anger to your burden of grief." He took one of her clenched hands, and gently uncurled her fingers. "Let Hiranion take you home, where you may spend the night in peace."
There is no peace for me in that place, Terisda thought, but she did not struggle when the King held out her hand to Hiranion. Her brother-in-law took it, and set his other hand on her shoulder, and promised her again what he had said to her the night before, that there would always be succor for her at his hearth. Saying it in front of the King made it a formal vow. Although the words seemed fair and were meant to comfort her, she could not repress the shudder that ran through her.
Most would not have noticed the tremor, but the archer standing in the shadows noted it well, as he had noted everything that had happened since she entered the throne-room, and the faint frown on his fair features deepened.
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