10. Epilogue: Guilt
When Lothiriel regained consciousness, she did so possessing the worst headache imaginable.
Through the pounding in her head, she could hear the distant voice of Melia asking somewhat anxiously if she was all well. It took a few moments before she recovered her senses enough to answer the woman. Dazed, Lothiriel opened her eyes and lifted her gaze to see the former ranger kneeling at her side with an expression of concern on her face. She did not realise that Melia had repeated herself several times already and was growing more apprehensive by her continued lack of response.
“Lothiriel!” Melia took a more direct approach this time, since nothing else was rousing the girl out of her unconscious state, and took to shaking her slightly. “Please speak!”
“I am unhurt,” the young woman finally muttered, acknowledging the ranger’s question finally and drawing an corresponding sigh of relief from Melia as she added further, “my head feels as if it is ready to fall away my neck but I suffer nothing that will not heal in time.”
“That is good to know,” Melia sighed, clearly relieved by Lothiriel’s ability to speak for herself. There was a streak of blood running down Lothiriel’s nose, which had heightened Melia’s fears for her safety after the conjuring of such a complex spell. She had put herself at considerable risk to accomplish her role in their plan and Melia did not wish to see her hurt after such a feat of courage.
“Did it work?” Lothiriel asked abruptly suddenly remembering that they had been in the midst of a battle when she had fallen unconscious. The fog over her brain had lifted over her mind and Lothiriel was quick to realise that she was uncertain at whether or not her spell was successful.
Melia’s gaze shifted away from the young lady of Dol Amroth and came to rest upon Arwen and Aragorn locked in a tight embrace where it appeared as if they might never let go. The king and queen seemed to be in a world of their own as they held each other close with Arwen burying her face in the crook of Aragorn’s shoulder. Melia had no doubt that at this moment, the events of the past few hours were overcoming the queen and she was drawing what comfort she could from her husband’s arms.
Melia herself felt the urge to find Legolas who was directing the Gondorian soldiers to remove the dead skin changers from the hall. She would do so once she was certain that Lothiriel was all right. After all, none of this would be possible if it had not been for the young woman’s ability to weave magic.
“Yes, it worked,” she smiled turning back to Lothiriel. “It worked wonderfully.”
Lothiriel stared at Melia and saw the ranger’s admiration for her and felt a surge of emotion coursing through her. Finally, she had conjured a spell that had worked! What was more had helped them all in a time of crisis. Even if nothing she ever conjured after this day went as it was meant to, Lothiriel was happy that for a brief moment of time, she had been a true mistress of magic.
“I am so glad,” she replied, blinking back the tears of happiness. “I was so afraid I would fail you all.”
“You are remarkable Lothiriel,” Melia smiled touching her cheek, “and if I have to beg Pallando myself, I will do everything I can to see that you have your lessons in magic.”
“Thank you,” Lothiriel swallowed and then remembered something else, “my father!”
The young woman immediately scrambled to her feet with far more speed then Melia thought her capable of in her condition. She hurried to Imrahil who was being helped to his feet by Captain Darond. He was still unconscious from her attack and Lothiriel prayed that she had not injured her in her efforts to escape him earlier.
“Why does my father not awaken?” she demanded frantically.
“My lady, he is but merely concussed I suspect,” Darond explained as another soldier held the girl back so that they could take the Prince of Dol Amroth to the house of healing to be treated for his injuries. “Let us take him to the house of healing and see to it that he is tended. I promise you, he will be fine.”
“Are you sure?” She stared at the captain of the guard, almost imploringly. “I could not bear it if I was responsible for harming him.”
”My lady you freed him,” Darond answered, aware now that it was Lothiriel who had broken the terrible enchantment over the king and the ruling council of Middle earth. “I think that even if you were responsible for his being in this state, he would be proud and grateful nonetheless.”
Lothiriel smiled gratefully at the soldier but chose to withdraw so that he and the others could take her father to be treated for his wounds. Besides, there was one other person here that worried her almost as much as her father, though her feelings for him were of an entirely different nature. She searched the banquet, moving past the destruction of the battle and the carnage of those left behind in its wake to see Eomer sitting up shakily. He appeared rather dazed, although the grimace he produced a short time later indicated that he was suffering exhaustion and lingering pain from his violent ejection of Akallabeth’s poison from inside him.
She approached him cautiously; uncertain at how she was to approach him. Her first impulse was to be at his side as Eowyn was with Faramir, coaxing her husband from his unconscious state, however their relationship was too new for such a forward display of affection. She lowered herself to her knees in front of him, wishing to do something to help because he appeared so very exhausted. His face was covered in a fine sheet of sweat and his hands were still shaking from the pain he had been forced to endure in the wake of the spell.
“Lord Eomer,” Lothiriel announced herself before him, “you should come with me to the house of healing. You have suffered a terrible ordeal.”
“What has happened here?” Eomer asked, his eyes searching the banquet hall and finding no answers, only mystifying scenes of a battle on a day that was supposed to be a celebration of peace.
“It will take too long to explain,” she dared coming closer to him. “I would see you to the house of healing before I attempt to explain it to you.”
“I have no doubt,” he replied softly, seeing Melia and Legolas helping Gimli to his feet. The dwarf was bleeding and appeared to be rather disgruntled by the fact that he was injured but having no memory of the fight that caused it. “I had a terrible dream I cannot remember but its memory fills me with unease. I feel as if I have disappointed you though I don’t understand how.”
“It is a dream ended,” Lothiriel smiled as she basked in his gaze upon her. If anything told her that all was well, it was the effect of that penetrating gaze upon her. “You are here with me now and what is done was not your fault. You could not disappoint me if you tried, my king. You have not disappointed me since you entered my life.”
“I think I am rather confused by this show of affection but I am not complaining,” he stared at her with a brow raised. He was not so fatigued that he could not react in surprise to the emotion he saw in her eyes, emotion that was real and for him. The realisation of it made his breath catch in his throat though his heart was suddenly beating a good deal faster.
“We have plenty of time to talk about what has transpired and perhaps we will talk about our future together as well. I think if you are agreeable, I should like to know you further, my king.” Lothiriel replied with a little smile and was impulsively emboldened enough to brush her lips gently against his.
He was so surprised that at first he did not register the kiss but when the silken lips touched his, Eomer’s senses awakened enough to return the gesture and his head spun at how wonderful she tasted. Their kiss was only for a fraction of time but it was enough for Eomer to know that the elusive feeling he had sought, the one so envied when seen between his sister and her husband, was filling his veins with its tonic.
“I think I should like that very much, lady of Dol Amroth,” Eomer smiled and allowed her to help him to his feet, having this strange feeling that she was going to be at his side a great deal more in the future.
Eowyn saw Eomer and Lothiriel engaging in their moment together and felt a warm feeling suffuse her being knowing that her brother was at last finding the happiness he deserved. She regarded Faramir, whose head was cradled in her lap as she dabbed gently the wound she had inflicted upon him during the battle. He was not quite conscious yet but the gentle feel of cool water upon his injury was rapidly bringing him out of his slumber. She was grateful that he would be robbed of the memory of what had happened because his behaviour was borne out of Akallabeth’s evil spell. She knew her husband well and it would prey on him deeply what he had done. She knew that it would almost certainly be the case for Aragorn.
Eowyn bore no malice for the king even though her broken ribs still ached and the bruises he had inflicted on him would be difficult to hide. She knew the kind of man Aragorn was and even if he was not himself when he hurt her, he would no doubt feel responsible. Fortunately, Eowyn’s confrontation with Faramir was nowhere that brutal although she had a new found respect for both her husband and her king after facing them in battle. She had always known that Faramir was a great warrior but until she fought him herself, had not realised just how formidable he was.
She felt him shift in her lap and paused her gentle dabbing immediately. His head had been tilted to the side allowing her access but soon he faced forward and met her gaze. His eyes showed his disorientation was rapidly passing as his brows furrowed in concern.
”What has happened to your face?” He asked as his focus allowed him to see the bruises on his wife’s lovely skin.
“It is a long story,” she smiled, brushing a strand of hair from his face in affection, not realising until this moment how good it was to have him look at her with love.
“Give me the abridged version,” he said firmly, not about to be deterred when he was faced with such injuries to the woman he loved.
Eowyn sighed, “Faramir, this is not the time.”
Faramir forced himself to sit up and noted for the first time that he was extremely weak and that his head was throbbing in pain. An exploratory feel behind the back of his skull proved that he had been involved in some kind of incident and when he looked around the banquet hall, noting the bodies that were being cleared away and the wreckage within the room, he guessed that it might well be a long story.
“Are those skin changers they are taking away?” He stared at her in question as he saw the guards removing corpses.
“Yes,” she nodded, smiling at him as he bombarded her with questions. Her heart was warm with delight because this was her husband, a warrior with the heart of a scholar who was always filled with questions.
Faramir’s brow knotted once more at another realisation, “We were drinking a toast to the treaty.”
“It was a very a bad toast,” Eowyn replied sweeping her eyes around the floor, “this is the result.”
“Legolas did not get drunk and recite his poetry again, did he?” Faramir asked. “That alone could put us at war with the Easterlings.”
Eowyn laughed slightly, aware that her husband often used humour to hide his anxiety at situations where he was uncertain or fearful. It was a dry sardonic wit that Eowyn herself shared which was why they loved each other so much.
“I love you, you know,” she said after giving him a long and thoughtful look.
“I love you too but I would like to know what has happened here,” Faramir stared back at her. “I did not do that to you did I?” He asked hesitantly, fearful of her answer.
“No,” she shook her head in answer.
“Then why do I feel like I almost lost you?” He replied, clearly troubled by the feelings that were emerging inside him despite his lack of memory. “I feel my heart beating as if you and I were in some great peril that has now passed.”
“We were,” she could not lie to him about that. “But it has passed and you are mine again.”
For the first time since this all began, she allowed the tough mask to slip from her face and the full torrent of emotion at having her love returned to her, the way she always knew him, made her eyes glisten with tears.
“There was never really any doubt of that my lady,” Faramir answered, sweeping her body into an embrace because she suddenly seemed to need one.
“I know,” Eowyn whispered as she allowed herself to be taken into his arms. “It is just nice to know.”
After Legolas had allowed Melia and a guard to see Gimli to the house of healing, the Prince of Mirkwood sought out the Easterling general. During the course of the battle, he had lost sight of Castigliari whose main concern at the time was the arrest of his king Ulfrain. When the skin changers had exposed themselves and the room had descended into the pandemonium of battle, Castigliari had vanished from sight and Legolas hoped that he had survived the conflict unharmed. Dealing with Castigliari as the leader of the Haradirim would be less arduous then dealing with Ulfrain’s whose deception would make the continued alliance difficult to maintain.
He found Castigliari near the door to the banquet hall, standing around a body with the remains of the guards. Before Legolas reached him, the elf had some idea of what had transpired if the looks of grim disquiet on their faces were any indication. His suspicion was confirmed when he saw Ulfrain’s body lying on the floor, his life’s blood pooled under him. The Easterling king was staring into nothingness as the gaping wound in his chest revealed the reason for his demise.
Castigliari looked up at Legolas’ approach and the prince could see the general sincere anguish that circumstances had brought them to this point in time.
”He refused to yield his sword,” Castigliari said quietly, “he gave no other choice.”
“I am sorry,” Legolas placed a hand on the man’s shoulder in some effort to comfort him. However, Castigliari was a soldier who had served a king for most of his life. Being forced to turn against that conditioning was not easy to do and even worse when forced into a situation such as the one that faced him when Ulfrain threw in his lot with the skin changers.
“I served his father for most of his life and I prayed that the son would be equal to him but I was so terribly wrong. When he chose to bring Akallabeth with him to Minas Tirith, I knew something was wrong because it was not usually done. We leave our women at home, especially the queen, when we are venturing into lands that were once enemy territory. He was so insistent and I thought foolishly, that it was because she was so beautiful that he could not bear to be without her. I was so wrong.”
“It is not your fault General,” Ramariz spoke up, “you did what had to be done. You saved our people from another dark menace.”
“What will you do now?” Legolas asked, not referring simply to the king’s body.
Castigliari let out a deep sigh, thinking of the long journey home and the consequences of all this that awaited them there, “we will return home with our king.”
This declaration was met with approval from the rest of the Easterlings who nodded in agreement or murmured their support of the general’s plan. Legolas hoped the treaty was not in tatters after all the work they had expended making it become a reality. Despite Ulfrain’s dark intentions, the notion of a treaty had been a good one and Legolas hoped that Aragorn’s hard work was not left in ruins in the wake of this deception.
“I know these are shallow words in the wake of this tragedy but the treaty between the Easterlings the Westernese was a good one that should continue despite Ulfrain’s ulterior motives. It is time that the race of men come together for mutual benefit. Too long, have your peoples existed apart and has led to war and destruction for both sides. Please do not let the dream of peace die because of Ulfrain’s deception.”
Castigliari nodded and met Legolas’ gaze following that impassioned plea from what he had considered a rather mercurial elf, “if it is all possible that some good comes of this, I will see it done by my life and my honour.”
“I am glad to hear that,” Legolas replied with a smile and hope that things did indeed come to pass as they hoped.
The Haradirim and the rest of the Easterling people were mysteries that were suddenly becoming familiar to them and one thing was clear after this affair with the skin changers, was that they were not all that different from the race of men that Legolas was familiar with. Given time and empathy that Aragorn had tried so hard to show, it might be possible to one day consider them friends, not merely uneasy allies.
In the wake of the celebration, only the palace knew of the affair that had almost broken the kingdoms of Middle earth. Following the battle, the skin changers were removed from the presence of the court, taken outside the walls of Citadel and burned. It was possible that some escaped but it was impossible to tell for certain since there was so much pandemonium during the course of the fighting and it was easy enough for one or two to slip away unseen. That was after all, their specific talent, to blend into the background and disappear.
The Easterlings chose not to remain long in the palace of the Gondorian king and took little more than a day to organise themselves before they were ready for departure. Despite his treachery, the body of Ulfrain was treated for the journey back to Harad where he would be the afforded the ceremonial funeral for a head of state. Castigliari had felt that that it was the least he could do to honour the memory of the father by giving the son a proper burial. However, he could not promise how the news of what transpired in Minas Tirith would be received in Harad. What made things even more uncertain was the fact that Ulfrain had left no heir and Castigliari suspected that his people were due for some difficult times while a clear line of succession could be established.
The general himself had no wish for power for he was still in essence, a soldier.
Within a few days of their departure, the king’s men accompanied by Legolas was able to find Nunaur and Ioreth on their way to East Lorien and inform them that the danger to the throne was no more. With steadfast assurances that his mind was his own and with Nunaur still vary until the march warden was standing face to face with the Evenstar, the group returned to Minas Tirith with Eldarion. The two travellers had done well in keeping the little prince safe, having left the White City by way of the Anduin and remaining on its waters to avoid detection from agents of Akallabeth.
Arwen was delighted to have her child back in her arms and her son seemed equally pleased to return to his mother. His safe return brought a smile from his father’s face though it did not remain for long. Unfortunately, it would take more than Eldarion’s safety to assuage Aragorn’s guilt over what had happened.
Since he had regained his senses, Aragorn had descended into a pit of melancholy that was very unlike him and of a kind that Arwen had never seen before. Arwen had known Aragorn for almost sixty years when he had first cast his eyes upon her and thought that she was a dream of Luthien. She knew all his moods and it pained her to see him this way. What had taken place was not his fault and though she tried hard to convince him of this fact, the king would not absolve himself of his culpability.
He had taken to locking himself in his study, seeing no one as he came to terms with his guilt but after two weeks of such behaviour, Arwen had reached the end of her patience. She knew that Imrahil was feeling similar feelings towards his daughter but was consoled by the fact that she did not blame him and had skill enough to save not only her father but all the leaders of Gondor. Faramir had spent every moment at Eowyn’s side, revelling in each other’s company as if they were newlyweds again in an effort to make it up to his wife for his behaviour. The same could be said for Legolas and Melia. The lord and lady of Eden Ardhon were also busy playing chaperone to Lothrieil and Eomer whose affection for each other was growing intensely, when they were not checking to see Gimli’s progress in the house of healing that is.
Arwen entered the study and found her king exactly where she had left him, in his chair staring out the window but seeing nothing but his own guilt at his conduct. She let out a heavy sigh and knew that she had to do something even if it would most likely end with them screaming at each other. She supposed screaming was a better alternative then watching him eat himself away with guilt.
“This sulking does not become you Estel,” she remarked as she stood before him.
“I do not sulk,” he muttered, unable to meet her gaze when she made the accusation.
“Then what would you call it?” She demanded.
”I am reflecting on things,” he answered her feebly. “I need to evaluate my conduct in this business.”
“Your conduct was not at fault,” she pointed out. “You were under a spell, a spell I might add affected everyone else in the room with you.”
“I am king,” he stared at her sharply, some measure of fire returning to his voice at that statement. “I could have destroyed the whole of Middle earth because I could not fight that terrible spell.”
“Yes you are king,” she changed her position so that he would have to look directly at her because Arwen intended to have this out once and for all. “However, the last time I looked upon you, I was fairly certain that you were a man as well and if I am not mistaken, men are not invincible.”
“That is not an excuse Undomiel!” He stood abruptly and brushed past her and went to the window, “I almost had you killed!”
“Yes you did,” Arwen could not deny that. “But it was not you who gave that order, it was a skin changer who bore me a great deal of malice after what transpired at Nargothrond, a skin changer who used a spell to bend your will to hers. I do not blame you for that Estel. If I did, I would not have gone through what I did to see you returned to me.”
Aragorn turned to her and she saw the depth of his remorse by the pained expression on his face, “I hurt you Undomiel, I hurt you and I almost allowed our son to be used as a hostage to creature of darkness and evil. I saw what I did to Eowyn; I could have killed her with my bare hands! If Melia had not interrupted me, I might have!”
“Aragorn!” Arwen took his face in her hands when he started to rant. “It is not your fault. Eowyn holds you no more responsible than I do. It was a spell! Do you think we know it in our hearts that you are capable of acting in such a manner? Please,” she begged, her eyes filling with tears because it tore at her heart to see him in such anguish. “Do not let Akallabeth win this way.”
“I feel it inside me,” he said softly, his voice beginning to crack. “The terrible things that I did though I can’t remember. It is not a pleasant thing to know that if you do not have control of yourself, you can unleash a monster.”
“You could never be that,” she replied. “You are the noblest man I have ever known, who is a king not only by title or bloodline but by heart. Can you not see it in the eyes of those who follow you? When you speak to them of freedom, they knew that it is not merely words to you but truth and that is what inspires all our faith in you. This is hard for you my love because of the man you are, it would not be so if you were anything else. Yours is the heart of a healer and I think it is that part of you that cannot bear knowing that you would willingly hurt someone in cold malice.”
He blinked hard and when he did, she saw the tears in his eyes and knew that something she said penetrated the wall of grief he had surrounded himself. She went to her husband and took him in her arms as he begun to release the pent up grief he had held inside him for the past weeks. Arwen felt Aragorn’s body heaving against hers as he let go of his guilt and thought that she could not love him more then when he was willing to open himself up to her in such a manner.
She did not know how long she held him in her embrace as he purged himself of the hurt he had felt the last fortnight over things he had little control over but when he was done, Arwen looked into Aragorn’s eyes and knew that he would begin to heal now.
“You are too good to me,” he said composing himself.
”Only because you deserve the best,” she teased and was pleasured by the smile that crossed his lips.
“I suppose everything will turn out all right in the end,” he sighed, deciding that she was right. He could wallow in self-pity for only so long. His kingdom needed their king and it was time he remembered that.
“It has already,” she answered. “Eomer is returning to Rohan and it appears that Eowyn will accompany him.”
”Oh?” He stared at her in question. “Why?”
“I think Eomer would like Eowyn to be a chaperone because Lothiriel will be journeying with him,” Arwen said with a little smile of pleasure.
“Imrahil must be extremely pleased with himself,” Aragorn commented.
“You have no idea how much,” Arwen chuckled. “And I think they really feel something for each other.”
“I am glad,” Aragorn said feeling genuinely happy for Eomer. The king of the Mark deserved to find someone exceptional to share his kingdom and his heart, just as Aragorn had done when Arwen agreed to be his wife.
Suddenly the door knocked and after Aragorn had bid the caller to enter, saw Faramir walking toward them with a grim expression on his face.
“What is it?” Aragorn tensed, all traces of his earlier vulnerabilities discarded as the persona of Aragorn Elessar, King of the Reunified Kingdom returned in full force.
“We just received a message from Harad,” Faramir replied, appearing a little pale and the sight of him made Arwen’s breath shorten.
Aragorn stared briefly at Faramir before he took the parchment from the Steward’s hand and unrolled it so that he could peruse its contents. Within seconds of doing so, his jaw tightened and Arwen was assaulted by a terrible sense of dread. When Aragorn looked up at her, she was certain she saw the blood had drained from his face.
“Castigliari is dead,” he stated stonily.
“What?” Arwen exclaimed in shock. “How?”
“He was executed for high treason for the murder of Ulfrain. Apparently, the Easterling leaders did not think the general had the right to kill him before bringing proof of his treachery home.”
Arwen thought of the good man who had helped them free Gondor and felt her heart ache with sorrow at his end. He deserved better. “That poor man,” she whispered softly.
”That is not all that,” Aragorn replied and met Faramir’s eyes with the same grim expression. “The people of Harad consider Castigliari’s actions as being influenced by Gondor and thus have rallied the rest of the Easterling nations.”
“For what purpose?” Arwen was almost afraid to ask.
“To launch a campaign against the Reunified Kingdom and all its allies,” Faramir spoke before Aragorn could, unable to believe that things had deteriorated so badly.
“It appears Undomiel,” Aragorn met her eyes and said with unnerving finality, “that we are at war.”
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.