Fairer Sex, The: 6. Chapter Five: The Face of the Enemy

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6. Chapter Five: The Face of the Enemy

The three women stood in stony silence, allowing the words to
sink into their consciousness despite the desperate hope that what Lothiriel
claimed, was untrue. However, now that they were forced to accept what the young
lady of Dol Amroth had revealed to be the truth, none could deny that finally,
the pieces of the puzzle were falling into place. The picture that they were now
presented with at the unmasking of their enemy was one that made perfect sense.
Unfortunately, knowing the identity of their opponent served only to drive home
the magnitude of their predicament.



For an eternity of time, which in true reckoning was but a few
seconds, the thoughts of each woman tumbled backwards into the events of the
recent past. While their perspective may have differed, their memories of what
had transpired before and how it had evolved in their present dilemma was more
or less the same.



It was more than a year since the triumvirate had come together
to battle the enemy at Nargothrond, the great dragon Glaurung. The beast known
as the father of all dragons or Urloki, as they were once known, had been hiding
in what remained of Nargothrond following the sinking of Beleriand following the
War of the Wrath. Somehow, the underground city of Nargothrond, constructed by
the Noldor elves as the central hub for a series of connecting caverns beneath
the earth, had survive the collapse of Beleriand into the sea. Prior to the
catastrophe, Glaurung had breached the walls of Nargothrond and it was from this
ancient fortress, that he conspired to resurrect the evil lord Morgoth.



To this end, he had sought to use Arwen's unborn child to give
his master form in the present world, to infuse Morgoth’s dark spirit into the
infant while it slumbered in the womb. In a race against time to see that this
did not come to pass, Arwen and Eowyn had set out from Minas Tirith determined
to reach Glaurung before the babe born from her became the incarnation of Middle
earth’s greatest foe. It was during this quest that they had encountered Melia,
who was a Ranger of Angmar.



Following the War of the Ring, Aragorn decided that even if
they were not all Dunedain, the Rangers were an important component of
maintaining stability in his kingdom. Warriors who knew how to defend
themselves, with a keen eye for trouble and an inherent desire to fight for the
good of all were inducted into the service of the king and given the appellation
of Ranger in homage to those who had battled Sauron for so long. In much the
same way as the Dunedain before them, the new Rangers traveled the wilds of
Middle earth, keeping their eyes open and ensuring that the king was provided
with accurate intelligence of what was transpiring in his kingdom.



Melia had elected to join them in their quest because as a
Ranger, her duty to the king compelled her to protect the queen as well and it
was during the last leg of this journey, that they first encountered the
shapeshifters. Shape shifters of skin changers as they were sometimes known were
creatures thought to have been the creation of Morgoth during the First Age.
Like the dragons and the Balrogs, the skin changers had emerged from Angband
long before the Maia Arien guided Laurelin’s fruit to the stars to give birth to
the first rays of sunlight upon Middle earth.



The skin changers, posing as Melia during their journey through
the catacomb like tunnels to Nargothrond, were able to overcome the three women
and bring them to their master Glaurung. If it were not for the timely arrival
of the Fellowship led by Aragorn who was determined that Arwen would not face
this peril without his presence, Glaurung’s dark plan would have come to pass.
Following the battle erupted after the Fellowship had arrived, it was believed
that the shape shifters had been destroyed along with Glaurung when Arwen called
upon the powers of the Valar, Lord Ulmo to crumble the walls of Nargothrond.
Barely escaping the destruction of Beleriand’s last stronghold, Arwen had had
correctly assumed that the skin changers were buried under the sea along with
their master.



However, there was never a true accounting of how many of the
shadow things there were to begin with and since it was possible for them to
assume any form, it was equally reasonable to believe that they could have
escaped Nargothrond. Under the guidance of Glaurung and Morgoth, they were
formidable enough enemies but unleashed to their own devices? Arwen did not even
want to think about how much mischief they could cause.



"They were destroyed," Melia broke the silence by stating the
obvious that none of them now believed to be true, "when Nargothrond fell to the
sea, they were destroyed."



"We were never certain of that," Eowyn answered as if all the
breath had left her body. There was no doubt in her mind that what Lothiriel had
seen was indeed skin changers. Everything that was happening in Minas Tirith and
with their husbands could be explained when one knew what they were dealing
with. The skin changer that traveled with them to Nargothrond had roused no
suspicions until it was too late. If the beast could assume Melia’s form so
easily, there was no reason to think that it could not do the same for Aragorn
or worse yet, Faramir. During the battle where Glaurung was defeated, they had
attempted to deceive her by using that very disguise and until he had spoken,
Eowyn had though it was her husband fighting at her side.



"You have encountered these creatures before?" Lothiriel stared
at them with shock realizing that her revelation was not as much as a surprise
as she thought it would be. Lothiriel knew what skin changers were, the hero
Beorn was said to a skin changer but there were also other forms of skin
changers. However, what information existed on these creatures were so steeped
in folklore that there was some doubt to whether or not they truly existed. If
Lothiriel had not seen them for herself, she would have found her story rather
incredulous. Unfortunately, what she had seen was real and what was more, the
queen and her companions knew it.



"Yes," Arwen nodded, trying to compose her thoughts after
Lothiriel’s revelation although the situation was better understood now they
knew their enemy. "During the celebration when news of Eldarion’s impending
birth was announced, I learnt of a plot to bring him harm. Lady Eowyn and I
traveled to the Blue Mountains and encountered an ancient evil to whom these
creatures were in service. We brought an end to their master and we hoped that
it would see their demise as well but it appears we were wrong."



"They must have escaped Nargothrond," Melia ventured a guess.
"After we were away, they must have escaped through the tunnels the same way we
did or perhaps even with us. With their ability to mask their true natures, it
would have been easy to do so without our notice."



As much as Arwen could have liked to discuss the situation in
the hopes of formulating a new strategy now that they knew what they were up
against, there was little time to do so for her thoughts immediately sensed
danger. Her eyes shifted swiftly to the corridor from which Lothiriel had
appeared and knew that they would have company even before the sounds of the
first footsteps were heard.



"They’re coming!" The words leaving her felt like a whisper but
to everyone else, it was a shout.



The guards appeared around the corner, a handful of them
pausing in surprise to find not one woman but four. Hands dropped immediately to
their weapons for it was no longer the matter of retrieving a frightened girl
but rather three very adept warriors who had seen almost as much battle as any
soldier present.



"RUN!" Eowyn shouted, her cry of warning corresponding with the
sound of one of the soldiers ordering them to halt.



Arwen wrapped her hand around Lothiriel who was only capable of
gasping in fear and started running, dragging the young woman along the stone
corridor as the Gondorian troops began their pursuit. Lothiriel allowed herself
to be led, too frightened to do anything but adhere to the guidance of those
wiser than her. Eowyn drew her sword but it was Melia who held her ground
because she was in the best position to cover their retreat. The former Ranger
armed her crossbow swiftly and wasted no more than a splinter of time before
releasing the first steel bolt at their pursuers, giving her companions the time
required to gain some distance in their flight.



"Go!" She ordered Eowyn who cast an anxious glance of concern
at the Ranger but knew that this was not the time to linger when the enemy was
approaching so quickly. Without saying anything further, the lady of Ithilien
continued down the narrow passageway.



The first bolt that escaped Melia’s crossbow struck the wall,
narrowly missing the lead guard though intentionally so. Melia had no wish to
kill any one for these soldiers who were only following the orders of their
king, unaware that he had been ensnared by a spell. They were certainly not the
enemy. The sight of steel digging into stone abated their determination to give
chase slightly as they paused briefly to reassess the manner in which they gave
pursuit.



Unfortunately as much as Melia did not want to harm any of
them, she knew that it would require a stronger incentive than a warning shot to
convince them to desist in their chase. Arming the crossbow once more, she
released a second and third bolt, striking flesh instead of stone. The duo
leading the guards crumpled to their feet for she had continued to aim low,
injuring their legs instead of their torsos which could result in fatal wounds.
They toppled to the ground, their bodies offering sufficient obstacle to the
others behind them when they fell.



"Melia! Come on!" Eowyn had paused long enough to call out,
refusing to leave the Easterling behind.



Melia wasted no time heeding that demand and immediately
lowered her weapon to join their friends in their hasty departure. No doubt the
commotion they were causing would bring the rest of the palace guard in good
time and the secrecy that they desired to move about the place was almost
certainly impossible now. As if to confirm her fears, she could hear the
footsteps of another contingent of guards approaching from down the hall even as
she had discouraged one away. Voices began to fill the passageway indicating
that their presence was being announced to those who did not already know they
were there.



Looking over her shoulder as they entered a larger corridor
with smaller passages emptying into it, Melia knew they could not maintain their
freedom in such closed surroundings. There were too many servants in the
hallways acting as obstacles to their flight. Their unpredictable reaction to
the ongoing chase was making it hazardous for all parties concerned and
exhausting Melia in the effort to ensure no innocents came to harm in the
crossfire of their battle.



Appearing on the heels of these frantic thoughts were more
guards who were shouting at her to stop, making claims that neither her nor her
friends would come to harm if they surrendered now. For obvious reasons, Melia
knew that was a promise they could not keep. The guards were merely soldiers and
the safety they promised would last as long as it took for Arwen, Eowyn,
Lothiriel and herself to be delivered to the king.



For the moment, the nature of the long bow and her own crossbow
made it easier for her to shoot at them then it was for them to retaliate.
Unfortunately, what they lacked in their inability to attack, they gained in
their large numbers and in the final analysis, her supply of bolts was finite.
It was entirely possible than in a matter of minutes; they could flood every
hallway in the palace with so many soldiers that it would be impossible for her
or her friends to remain at large.



"We have to get out of sight!" Melia shouted ahead, uncertain
of whether or not Arwen could hear her as they raced up another corridor in the
servant’s quarters.



It did not take long for Melia to realize that Arwen was
leading them towards a stairway at the end of the hall which suited the Ranger
well for they needed to leave this section of the palace before more soldiers
arrived and overwhelmed them by sheer numbers. Arwen was clearing the way before
her with her sword, while somehow ensuring that Lothiriel remained close at
hand. She was determined to see that the young woman from Dol Amroth did not
fall behind or through the chaos of their present circumstances be left behind.
Among them, Lothiriel was the least capable of protecting herself and her older
companions felt a wave of protectiveness towards the girl.



Thankfully, they reached the entrance to the stairway,
illuminated by the window on its ceiling. It was narrow and spiraled in a
corkscrew direction, ensuring that only one person could proceed at a time.
Arwen entered the path of the winding staircase, ensuring that Lothiriel
followed her directly. Eowyn remained behind them both, leaving Melia to guard
their rear for she was best able to do so with her crossbow. For the moment,
they seemed to have lost sight of the guards but the company could hear their
eminent approach clearly.



What transpired next at the intersection of the corridor was
the one thing Melia prayed would not happen.



"Mia," his silken voice brushed against her ear like a soft
breath, bringing her race to staircase to an utter and complete half, almost
against her will.



Melia froze in her steps and found herself compelled to turn
around slowly. Fighting her instincts for self-preservation, Melia knew that if
it were anyone else, she would not have been caught in this manner but not even
a Ranger as experienced as she could avoid detection by an elf of his skill. But
it was not merely his elven heritage that allowed him to find her, she was his
mate and the bond that had been forged from their first coupling was forever. It
would last beyond her death and follow him for the rest of his life. How could
she think that he would not be able to find her when he would feel her even when
she was dead?



"Prince," she found herself saying the crossbow that had been
raised to shoot began to lower as he stood before her. When they faced each
other like this, it was impossible for Melia to think that a spell could steal
him away from her. She loved him beyond reason, despite all the tragedy that
awaited them in the years ahead. All of it made worthwhile by the knowledge that
he loved her just as dearly and would never hurt her.



Until now.



"What are you doing?" Legolas Greenleaf demanded as he
approached her, his expression filled with concern and worry. Taking a step
towards her, he seemed shocked when he saw her retreating backward with her
crossbow raised once again, this time aimed firmly at him again in a clear
warning to desist.



"What am I doing?" She demanded fighting the doubt that
was filling her thoughts. "What you and the king are doing would be a more
appropriate question. Eowyn and I were to be arrested under his orders!"



"Arrested!" He exclaimed with what seemed to Melia to be
genuine shock. "Aragorn never issued such an order! He merely wanted to speak to
both of you regarding some disturbing news he had received about the queen."



"Such requests would have been better served without the
presence of armed guards," Melia retorted sharply but inwardly she was wrestling
with her conscience. There was so much sincerity in his voice that Melia almost
believed him but she was still unconvinced that this was not some kind of
deception. For all she knew, he could be a skin changer. However, her husband
did not appear as if he were under any enchantment and if he was not, then
perhaps the situation was not as desperate as they believed.



"Mia," he met her gaze in earnest. "I love you and I would
never stand by and allow any harm to come to you, not even if he were the king
of Gondor or the world for that matter. Do you believe that I could allow
you to be harmed when I have so few years with you as it is? We have a finite
time on this earth together; I would squander none of it. Please believe me, I
only want to clarify this entire situation, not make it worse."



Melia knew this was a trap.



She needed desperately to believe that it was but her heart
would not allow it. As he spoke his words of love for her, she felt her good
judgement sway and the weapon in her hand lowered when her legs betrayed her and
moved towards him. Going to him, she saw his handsome face break into a smile,
the same smile that had won her heart when she had been so determined to keep
him at arm’s length. His eyes danced with all the light of the stars as they met
in an embrace and greeted each other with a kiss of heated passion. When he held
her in his arms, the accomplished woman she was disappeared and she was happy to
be the girl in love with her prince.



A part of her issued caution but Melia was never sensible when
it came to Legolas.



"Is this a trap?" she asked softly when their lips pulled
away.



Legolas lifted his chin, meeting her eyes before he spoke, "I
am afraid so."



She nodded slowly, her eyes glistening with tears as she looked
at him, knowing deep down inside that he was not the only one guilty of
deception, that she too, had deceived herself for a brief second into believing
that he was the man she loved, not someone else’s puppet.



"1 hope you forgive me," she spoke with words of anguish, "if I
do what I must."



Legolas opened his mouth to respond when suddenly the twang of
a crossbow replaced his words with a sharp cry of pain. Melia closed her eyes as
she heard him utter it stepping back as the bolt speared him through the thigh
and forced him away from her.



"Whore!" He growled at her as he clutched his bleeding leg
while she began to weep before him. "I gave you every chance to come with me
willingly but no more! GUARDS!"



His voice almost feral and coming form an elf known for his
ability to mask his emotions, the naked rage in his eyes shook Melia to the
core. Drying her eyes, she heard the footsteps of soldiers who had been lying in
wait while the prince attempted to subdue his wife with deception instead of
force. However, his failure changed their surveillance into ambush and Melia
turned on her heels to flee.



"I am sorry. When this is over, you will understand that I was
compelled to this course," she declared once more, anguish in her voice as she
moved past him and tried not to be affected by the sight of her husband
clutching his bleeding thigh.



The bolt that penetrated his skin was embedded in the floor
where he had been standing. The proximity of the target when she released the
bolt had sent it through his leg and out again.



"You are not going anywhere!" He shouted and lunged for her.
Even though he was injured, his reflexes and his strength were still stronger
than hers and he wrapped his fist around her ankle before she could escape his
reach. Pulling back forcefully, he tore Melia off her feet and sent her to the
ground face first.



Her head slammed hard against the ground, causing stars to
appear before her eyes in a wave of dizziness. Warm blood escaped her split lip
and down her nose. Despite the pain, she knew that in seconds she would be
caught unless she got to her feet immediately. Unfortunately, his grip upon her
was viselike and she did not think he would let go. Struggling hard to regain
her balance as she tried to escape, Melia felt as if she were swimming in mud.
She caught a glimpse of his eyes and saw two orbs of black onyx staring back at
him where there should have been the blue of the sea.



Arwen was right, she thought with anguish, he was no longer her
husband but a shape shifter’s creature.



"You will not escape this time wife," Legolas hissed and the
manner, in which he spoke the word ‘wife’, was like a curse that made her skin
crawl.



"I think she will," Eowyn’s voice interjected suddenly.



She punctuated her statement by bringing down the hilt of her
sword against the back of his skull. Legolas did not have time to utter a sound
as she knocked him unconscious and left him on the floor in a dead heap. Without
pausing to draw breath, Eowyn was soon at her side, helping Melia to her feet
before the guards reached them. Although she was still disorientated, Melia
followed Eowyn’s lead as they ran into the entrance of the stairway. Eowyn
paused long enough to seal the door behind her though the wooden beam across it
would not hold for long. Still it would give them enough time to put more
distance between themselves and the soldiers pursuing them.



"Are you alright? You are bleeding," Eowyn said breathlessly
with concern at the crimson smear across Melia’s lips and running down her nose
as they hurried up the stairs.



Her head was still throbbing from its impact against the stone
floor but Melia’s greatest injuries were emotional, not physical. Wiping away
the blood with her sleeve, she nodded quickly and gave response to Eowyn’s
question, "it is nothing that will not heal. I am well enough to follow
you."



"Good," Eowyn replied with clear relief. "When I saw that you
were not behind us, I thought I had better find you."



"I am grateful that you did," Melia replied softly. She was
more distressed by the whole encounter than she would like to admit but this was
not the time to discuss it in depth. "I was a fool, I knew it was a trap but I
could not help. I wanted desperately to believe that he was still my
prince."



"I would not have behaved any differently if it were Faramir,"
Eowyn said sympathetically and wondered how she would fare when the enemy
decided to use Faramir against her. "Arwen was right, they would not be above
using our feelings for our husbands against us. I do not look forward to facing
Faramir when the time comes."



"I would like to think we might have found a way to break the
spell before that moment came," Melia replied as she continued to follow Eowyn
up the staircase.



Eowyn’s answer was interrupted by the sound of something heavy
smashing hard against the sealed door. The explosion of noise filled the
passageway as both women cast their gaze downwards and saw the door shuddering
against the beam that kept it barricaded. The weight against the door had yet to
buckle the beam keeping it sealed but judging by the force of the pounding, it
would not be long before it yielded completely.



"We had better find a way fast," Eowyn said grimly, "I do not
relish having to face my husband in battle."



Or worse yet, having to defeat him.



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



 


Her purpose in returning to the palace had been simple enough;
to reach one of the men who were enchanted by the skin changer spell in the
hopes of finding some way of breaking the control over their minds.
Unfortunately, that proved impossible now since it appeared that any hope of a
covert entry into the palace ended the moment, Lothiriel joined their company.
Arwen did not blame the girl for their present situation, only regretted that
their plan had gone astray and the situation was gaining such fierce momentum
that it appeared it would be sometime before they could catch their breaths and
formulate a new one.



At the present however, Arwen would be grateful if they could
just make it out of the palace without being captured. After leading her friends
through the winding staircase to the upper levels of the White Tower, Arwen had
hoped to gain a little respite as they decided what they would do with the news
Lothiriel had brought them. Unfortunately, they were intercepted at almost every
point and it became apparent to Arwen that they were being driven to the very
top of the castle. This disturbed her greatly because it seemed the enemy had a
plan and was better able to execute it then the frantic flight she, Eowyn and
Melia had been undertaking until now.



It was rather chilling that she and her friends were fighting
for their lives when outside the window of their present location, people were
celebrating, unaware that their kingdom was in dire peril. Fireworks exploded in
the night sky, fiery blooms bringing the dark canvas to life in vibrant shades
of color. People were celebrating throughout Minas Tirith and in the palace
itself, oblivious to what was happening because they were driven to the highest
tower, out of sight and mind of those demanded secrecy for their covert invasion
of the Citadel.



"Watch out!" Eowyn’s words of caution sliced through her
consciousness as one of the guards they were battling swung a blade in her
direction. It appeared that the determination to capture them alive was no
longer a consideration. Why should it when they were skin changers involved? The
foul creatures could just as easily assume their forms if she or any of her
friends were killed, with no one the wiser until it was too late.



Arwen dodged the swing of the sword easily enough and lashed
out with her own. With elven reflexes, she was able to move faster and her blade
met her opponents with a sharp clang. The soldier she was fighting was
uncertain, she could sense it from him. He was fighting her in earnest but she
could tell that he was confused as to why he was doing it. She was after all
until this morning, his queen and the beloved wife of his king.



"Do you not think it is strange that you find yourself in this
position?" She asked as she held her sword against his and shoved back hard.



He stumbled a little but not enough to be at a disadvantage.
The man did not answer and Arwen suspected it was because he had no response to
give that would make sense to her or to himself. She closed in on him, taking
advantage of his momentary lapse to disarm him. She had no desire to kill him
but she was not about to be captured either. In a swift flick of her wrist and
far more dexterity then he was capable, Arwen’s blade circled his and tore the
weapon from his hand. The blade clattered to the floor noisily.



"Pick it up Lothiriel!" Arwen ordered.



Lothiriel who had spent much of the battle in a corner,
remaining out of the way of those capable of fighting it, emerged quickly from
her hiding place, determined not to fail the queen who had protected her so far.
She grasped the weapon in her hand as Arwen closed in on the soldier she had
been fighting, making Lothiriel wish that she had spent some time learning the
sword. It never seemed like a necessary skill to learn, not when she was a lady
of Dol Amroth and her father had at his disposal an army with which he protected
his realm and his family.



"Withdraw," Arwen ordered as she held the point of her sword
against the man’s throat. He had been forced against the wall now that he was
unarmed and stared at her with the same uncertainty, that he was at a loss to
understand why she was his enemy.



"I cannot," he stammered.



"Are you in a hurry to die?" she hissed with uncharacteristic
venom.



"No," he swallowed, "I have orders to remain here."



Arwen did not like the sound of this at all.



"Why?" She demanded suspiciously.



"Arwen," Eowyn who had been battling her own opponent’s
suddenly spoke.



Arwen shifted her gaze momentarily from the soldier to the lady
of Ithilien. She and Melia had been fighting the rest of the soldiers sent after
them and the floor was littered with their successes, some either on the floor
unconscious or wounded. However, Arwen began to understand what her own opponent
had meant when he was told to remain here in this juncture at the top of the
tower. How had she not felt him?



"Undomiel," Aragorn replied and this time he was carrying
Anduril in his hand as he approach. She could not bring herself to wield his
weapon against it and left the blade when she had taken flight from their
apartments. The king was dressed as if he were prepared to entertain guests but
the look in his eyes was anything but cordial.



"You do not have the right to call me that name," Arwen hissed,
noting that there was no one with him but she did not think they were very far
behind. No doubt they were waiting for their king to give the order to proceed.
"You are not my Estel."



"I am your husband," he repeated himself. "And you have stolen
my son. I will know where he is."



"You are not my husband," she returned sharply, hating to
say these words but love for him did not alter the truth. "You are a shape
shifter’s creature and you will never get your hands upon our son while their
stink is upon you!"



"I am no one’s creature!" He snapped sharply but his rage did
not hide his own confusion. Whatever the enchantment was upon him, it did not
appear to make him aware that he was under someone else’ sway. It was an
insidious spell, Arwen decided and when she freed him of it, she would make her
displeasure known to those who had cast it upon him.



"Aragorn," Arwen looked at him dead in the eye, "you are not
yourself and until you are yourself, this will not end. I will do what I can to
help you but I will not allow your master to destroy everything that we have
fought so hard to build."



"You do not have the strength to stand against me wife," he
raised his blade and Arwen felt her heart sink because even with her skill, she
could not match him in swordplay. There was not a person in the entire kingdom
that could.



"She does not have to," Melia replied aiming her crossbow at
the base of his skull.



"Will you shoot me Ranger?" He asked coldly, his gaze still
fixed on Arwen, tearing layers of skin off her flesh with the distance in eyes.
"Will you do the same to me as you did to your prince?"



"I will do what I must to protect the queen," Melia answered
firmly.



"As will I," Eowyn raised her sword to his neck. "I do not wish
to fight you Aragorn, but we will if we must."



"You have nowhere else to go," Aragorn answered unperturbed by
the momentary stalemate. "My warriors are waiting for my signal to proceed. They
will become impatient in time if I do not speak and will surely come to their
king’s aid. Do you intend to fight them all? You have been admirably attempting
to keep from harming any of their number but what if they do not have the same
consideration for you? You have stolen the crown prince from his bed and
threatened your king, that is a treasonable offence. Men are put to death for
less."



Arwen swallowed and stared at her husband, feeling her
heart break inside her chest as she told herself that this was not his fault or
him for that matter. However, the piercing gaze that stared back at her made it
hard to be so objective.



"Arwen, take Lothiriel and go!" Eowyn ordered, painfully aware
of what her friend must be enduring at this instant but unable to afford her the
time to adjust. Melia had almost been captured for the same weakness and Eowyn
was not about to let Arwen fall into the same trap.



Arwen nodded wildly, tearing her eyes away from her husband
because being in Estel’s presence would only make it more difficult to think
clearly and they needed her to be focussed if any of them were to survive their
present dilemma. Her eyes moved across the hallway and saw that there was only
one way to go. The end of the corridor from which Estel had emerged were no
doubt filled with waiting guards while the door she was had selected as her
escape route had no alternate means of entry save one and she was still
uncertain how they were going to manage that little miracle. Unfortunately, it
was the only route that offered the slightest chance of escape.



"This is not over," Arwen said finally as she retreated, "I
will have my husband back."



"That," he stared at her sharply, "I can guarantee you will
have though not in the way you envision madam."



"Come on," Lothiriel said taking the initiative by pulling
Arwen forward, seeing the anguish in the eyes of her queen and knowing that
nothing would be served with the continuation of this debate.



As Arwen and Lothiriel drew away, Aragorn suddenly lashed
out at Melia, knowing that of the two women holding their weapons at him, the
lady Ranger would have the most difficulty reacting to anything unexpected. When
Melia had taken positioned behind him, she had aimed her crossbow at his neck
and unless she intended to kill him, Aragorn doubted she would shoot without
first readjusting her aim to ensure that he was not harmed grievously. The ball
of his foot struck the side of her foot, immediately driving her to the ground
on her knees. He retreated from Eowyn long enough to escape the edge of her
blade and when she came after him, Anduril was already raised and waiting.



Melia cursed under her breath as she saw Aragorn and Eowyn
facing each other in battle. It did not take long for the commotion to attract
the guards that had been lying in wait for the king’s signal. The ranger wasted
no time contending with this new threat and was grateful that Legolas was not
leading them. She supposed that after the injury she had given him, it was
likely that he was in the House of Healing being tended to. She immediately laid
down a relentless barrage of bolts, ensuring that the warriors attempting to
apprehend did not progress far enough along the corridor to reach them.



"Melia run!" Eowyn ordered as she faced Aragorn.



"What about you?" The ranger demanded, not at all happy to
be leaving the lady of Ithilien who had come to her rescue earlier.



"GO!" Eowyn’s curt response answered her question and Melia
struggled briefly before she realized that she did not have enough for bolts for
a renewed assault upon the guards when they finally recovered enough to give
pursuit or if more followed. Cursing the logic of the situation, Melia had no
choice but to do as Eowyn asked and ran for the doorway in which Arwen and
Lothiriel had gone.



In the meantime, Eowyn was having difficulties of her own,
finding herself face to face with Aragorn with swords drawn. As confident as she
was in her ability to handle a weapon, Eowyn could not deny the sliver of doubt
that was driving its way into her mind that perhaps she could not win against
the man she had once loved and still felt more than she should, even now.



"Aragorn," Eowyn looked at him desperately, "do not bring us to
this."



"It is not I that brings us to this predicament my lady,"
Aragorn said aloofly, sounding far too menacing for her liking. "You need only
lay down your sword and end this without bloodshed."



"I seriously doubt that," Eowyn answered, realizing that they
were going to do battle. There was no avoiding it. "You are not yourself my king
and I cannot allow your masters to gain a foothold of Middle earth."



"I am no one’s creature!" Aragorn snapped and stabbed his blade
in her direction. Eowyn barely had time to side step it and swing her own weapon
to deflect it from her. Slamming her sword against the steel of his, she rotated
her wrist in a tight circle and attempted to disarm him. Unfortunately, Aragorn
was too good a swordsman to fall for that and he returned her strike with one of
his own. There was so much power beneath his blade that Eowyn was driven
backward and his speed in retracting Anduril gave her little time to recover.
She ducked to avoid being stuck when he parried hard, forcing an equally
practiced riposte from her.



"You are skilled with a sword Lady of Ithilien," Aragorn
remarked as they pulled back from one another. "However, there is more to battle
then just sword play."



He came at her again and Eowyn moved to block the strike,
however, the instant her blade connected with Anduril, Aragorn’s free hand
clamped around the wrist holding her sword. He pulled her forward in one swift
movement and slammed his forehead against hers. As Eowyn doubled back in pain
and disorientation, she felt the back of his knuckle striking the side of her
face. The blow was powerful enough to send her sprawling. She would have fallen
to the floor if not for the fact that she hit the wall first. Her head smacked
painfully against the brick and Eowyn had barely sense to see that he was coming
at her again.



She dodged the punch that would have rendered her unconscious
if it were allowed to connect to her face. Slipping out of his reach, Eowyn
collected herself enough to kick hard after he had swung, landing her foot
firmly against his ribs. Aragorn uttered a little grunt of pain but it effected
him no more then that because he lunged towards her in a full body tackle. Both
of them landed on the ground, Eowyn bearing the brunt of their unceremonious
landing since his weight was on top of her. Eowyn struggled to escape him but
his grip around her body was strong and she found herself kicking him to get
free.



Breathing hard, Eowyn crawled away on all fours when she felt
his hands on her ankle. Before she could pull away, he had dragged her back to
him, despite her frantic efforts to escape. He moved far swifter then she could
possibly imagine and wondered that if all those years living in Rivendell had
perhaps given him a little elvish speed because before she could even think to
react, he had both her hands pinned to the ground.



"Give in Madam," Aragorn hissed as he kept firm grip upon
her hands. "Give in and you may survive this."



"NO!" Eowyn shouted and brought her knee up as high as it would
go, slamming it into Aragorn’s spine, unseating him just enough for her to twist
hard and throw him off her body. Bleeding from where she had fallen and from
where he had hit her, Eowyn saw him regaining his balance and turning a menacing
gaze at her. For the first time since this all began, she felt herself gripped
with fear. The emotion made her run even though she should have considered her
action first.



Aragorn intercepted her easily, throwing a fist into her side
and filling the room with the satisfied crack of ribs. Eowyn cried out in pain
and doubled over, halted in mid step by the brutal attack and looked up in time
to catch a fist square in the face. All the strength left her then as she
collapsed to the floor, blood spurting out of her nose, her ribs stabbing at her
in white-hot agony. She landed on her side and saw him standing over her but the
desire to fight back was gone, there was only one thought in her mind and that
was to run.



Struggling to her feet, Eowyn made a dash to get past but
Aragorn was not fast enough to by him. Fortunately, she did not need to.



"Aragorn!" Melia called out and caught the attention of the
Gondorian king.



Aragorn turned and around and smashed in the face with Melia’s
crossbow. He staggered backwards but in no way did Melia believe the threat of
him was ended. Dropping low, she threw out her leg in a wide arch and swept him
off his feet. The former Ranger collapsed unto the floor hard and Melia wasted
no time hurrying to Eowyn.



"You were supposed to go.." Eowyn said weakly as Melia began to
drag her away from the momentarily stunned king.



"Fortunately I listen about as well as you do," Melia quipped
as she shut the door behind them and barricaded it with a chair though she did
not think that it would hold for very long.



"Where are we going?" Eowyn asked grimacing in pain whilst
still clutching what she was certain to be broken ribs.



"There is only one way out of this tower," Melia answered
grimly, "other than surrendering."



Eowyn did not like the sound of this.



"How?"


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



Lothiriel looked down and flinched when she could not see the
ground. They were that far away from it. She gave Arwen a frightened look
as the wind whipped in her hair and chilled her skin, hoping that the queen was
making a jest. Surely, she could not be serious about taking this course. Within
reach, the standard of the city fluttered in majestic glory as it had done since
the construction of the White Tower or the more appropriately the Tower of
Ecthelion. The ropes that kept it secured were long enough for the purpose that
Arwen desired.



"We will be killed!" She exclaimed as she saw Arwen stealing
the ropes that kept the banner in place.



"We will be killed if we remain here and allow ourselves to be
captured," Arwen said paying little attention to the girl because she was
focussed too much on getting them off this tower. The rope was long enough to
suit their purposes though the descent would be by no means easy. It was
certainly not enough to reach the ground but it would take them to a lower level
in the tower, possibly avoiding the guards for a time.



"Perhaps they will not harm us," Lothiriel offered
desperately, looking over the edge of the tower roof and finding her head
spinning at just the notion of descending its length. She knew she was making
excuses and was ashamed of it but she had never been in such a situation of
peril in her entire life.



"I seriously doubt that," Melia retorted as she and Eowyn
stepped onto the roof with them.



"Eowyn!" Arwen let out a gasp when she saw Melia’s arms
securely around Eowyn’s body, helping her to stand. "What happened?"



"I am afraid I found out first hand why your husband strikes
fear into his enemies," Eowyn muttered as she took a moment to rest after Melia
had set her down and was finding some way to barricade the entrance behind them.



"Estel did this to you?" Arwen asked in dismay. "Oh Eowyn I am
so sorry!"



"It is not your fault or his," Eowyn replied quickly, "he is
under the spell of the enemy and he has always been a formidable warrior in
battle."



Arwen did not what else to say. She was horrified at Eowyn’s
state and uncertain that with the lady’s injuries, she could manage the feat
that Arwen was about to ask her. Climbing down a length of rope was a physically
exhausting exercise as it was. "Melia, can you climb rope?"



Melia nodded quickly, aware of Arwen’s plan and understanding
that some modification was going to be needed to compensate for Eowyn’s injuries
and Lothiriel’s lack of physical strength. "I can manage. What about you?"



"In three thousand years of life, I have been called on to
undertake that particular skill," Arwen replied. "Eowyn, you and Lothiriel will
have to be lowered. I can see no other way that you can descend this tower."



"Lowered?" Eowyn’s eyes widened and then realized where they
were. "You must be joking!"



"This is hardly the time for that," Arwen retorted resuming her
preparations for the undertaking. Even as she answered, she heard the distant
sound of door being pounded into opening. It would not take them long to breach
their refuge. "We do not have the luxury of time and this is the only way. The
library is within reach of the rope and it is a seldom traversed part of the
palace. From there I believe we can make our way down the tower and leave the
way we came."



"Leave?" Eowyn looked at her. "I thought you wanted to capture
one of them."



"At this stage, I would be happy if we left the White Tower in
one piece," Arwen replied. "We must think of another plan."



"Yes," Lothriel declared. "You must go and stop those skin
changers from entering the palace. They were disguised as Gondorian soldiers
meaning they could already be inside the Citadel.



"One thing at a time," Melia retorted, gazing over the edge of
the roof at the colorful celebrations below and wondered how they had come to
this. She did not relish the idea of climbing down the tower, even if it was to
a window on the lower level but at this moment, they had little choice but to
act. Their pursuers would soon discern that there were not many places they
could hide.



Arwen tied the end of the rope around a stone gargoyle perched
at the edge of the tower and tested the strength of the knot. It appeared as if
it would hold although she wished she could be more certain of that fact when it
she was gambling with her friends lives on its strength. Once secured, she
turned to her companions again.



"Eowyn, you will go first," Arwen spoke into tones that did not
sound like a request but rather an order. "Secure this around your waist. The
rest of us will lower you down."



Eowyn gave her a dubious glance as she took the rope and tied
it around herself, appearing less than confidence that this entire enterprise
would not see her dashed to the ground in a gruesome end. "I hope you are
certain about this."



"Think of it this way," Melia joked. "If she is mistaken, you
will be the first among us to find out."



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



Eowyn had gone first, protesting most of the way over the edge
though none that were holding the rope could blame her for her trepidation. Even
though the rope was tied securely around the gargoyle, the others held the rope
and allowed her to be lowered off the roof for as far as it would take. Time
crawled with the pacing of eternity as the weight tugged at the end of the rope,
the further they allowed it to descent. Arwen was unaware that she was holding
her breath until she felt two sharp tugs, which indicated that Eowyn had reached
the ledge of the library window safely.



Lothiriel was unafraid to voice her concerns as she secured the
rope around her waist but she was conditioned to obey her superiors and the
queen certainly fell under that category. Trembling like a leaf in the wind as
she was released into windy void beyond the edge of the roof, she clutched the
rope so tightly in her hands that Arwen could see her knuckles turning white.
Her outright terror did not escape either the queen or the lady of Eden Ardhon
and while they felt for her plight, they could not allow her to avoid it. Once
she was however lowered, she bore it silently and inspired the admiration of her
companions by keeping calm during the nerve wracking ordeal.



"You should go first," Melia instructed Arwen.


"This was my idea," Arwen declared firmly. "You have risked
yourselves enough for me on this occasion and more often then I can count. Do
not argue with me on this matter Melia, I wish you to go first."



"They are close Arwen," Melia protested, aware that the
shuddering sound of wood breaking a short time ago was their pursuers breaking
through one of the barricades Melia had put in their way during the journey
here.



"I know," Arwen nodded. "That is why you must go now."



Melia could offer no other argument and there was not enough
time for a protracted debate. Thus she did the only thing she could, she obeyed.



Arwen lowered Melia in the same way that she had done to
Lothiriel and Eowyn, ignoring the pain of the rope as it burned into her skin
from the weight she was required to carry alone. For what seemed longer than
ever before, she carefully lowered the ranger down the length of the tower, her
heart pounding in anticipation of the signal that would tell her that Melia had
crossed the distance safely. The sounds of breaking wood and excited voices were
becoming louder in the background and Arwen realized that she would be very
lucky indeed if she could make the same journey before the soldiers reached the
roof.



As if in answer to her quandary, she felt the weight at the end
of the rope slackened, followed by two sharp pulls. Arwen let out a sigh of
relief and pulled the rope up towards her again. As soon as she had its end in
her hands, she tied it around herself securely and went to the ledge. Until she
found herself at the edge of the periphery, did she realize what a long way it
was to the ground. She chided herself for doing so because it served no purpose
other than to make her more nervous then she already was. Pulling the rope
tight, she stepped over the edge and descended.



The wind whipped at her mercilessly but even as she began the
downward climb, she heard the shattering of wood that was the door to the roof.
She moved faster than she thought possibly, hoping to make good distance before
they discovered her. Her arms ached from the exertion, gravity pulling against
muscle and grip to drag her into oblivion. She did not remember this task being
so arduous and supposed that several centuries could temper the experience
somewhat.



"Arwen!" She looked up and heard Aragorn’s voice.



She was almost to the window where the others were waiting for
her anxiously. They were nearly close enough to touch but when she heard
Aragorn’s voice, she knew that they might as well have been ten thousand leagues
away. She saw Aragorn barking orders at his men and that they were pulling the
rope upwards, dragging her to him. If she fell into his hands, she would lose
him forever and Middle earth would fall under the shadow of new Dark Age, almost
as terrible as the one might have ensued if Sauron had taken back the Master
Ring.



She could not allow that to happen.



"Melia!" Arwen looked down at the ranger.



Their eyes met and in that split second of time, Melia
understood what it was her queen was asking of her. Her first thought was to
refuse, her second to gaze down at the height they would be risking with the
gamble Arwen would have her make.



"Lothiriel, Eowyn," Melia swallowed thickly, "hold onto my
legs."



It took Eowyn a second to realize what she intended. "ARE YOU
INSANE?"



"Yes," Melia nodded, too numb to offer any other response. She
pushed herself out as far over the ledge of the window as she could, with Eowyn
and Lothiriel maintaining a secure grip on her.



"Arwen! Now!" She cried out, allowing herself no time to
prepare mainly because there was no preparing for something like this and if she
failed, it would most likely kill them both.



Arwen sucked in her breath and whispered to herself, "what I am
enduring for this man!"



Then she let go.



There was a rush of air and her own screams filled her ears as
she plunged downward, stark horror coursing through her. Panic rushed up from
inside her being and consumed her whole in the terrifying seconds that followed
her release of the rope. She did not know how long she fell but when she felt
arms making a powerful grab for her body, it felt like it was forever. The
velocity of her drop tore her out of Melia’s reach and there was a moment of
blind terror when she thought that their gambit had failed, that she was going
to fall and die without saving her husband or her son. However, that moment
passed swiftly when hand clenched around her wrist with stubborn refusal to let
her go.



Arwen stared upwards and saw Melia almost hanging out of the
window, her face strained with effort as she maintained her hold of Arwen’s
wrist.



"Hold on!" she cried out and tried to extend her other hand
towards Arwen.



Using all the strength that she possessed, the queen of Gondor
forced herself to reach the outstretched hand, fighting the weight of her own
body as her muscles screamed for relief at the torturous burden. Their fingers
met readily enough and Melia closed her hand around Arwen’s getting a firmer
grip as Lothiriel and Eowyn dragged them both to safety. It was difficult to say
who was more ravaged by the experience, Arwen for dangling off the edge of
disaster like a meat on a hook or Melia at the unimaginable possibility of
allowing her to fall by failing her queen.



For a few seconds after the ordeal had passed, the four women
could only lay there, breathing hard and thanking whatever deities were
appropriate for the occasion at their continued survival.



Eowyn spoke first, allowing her gaze to sweep over her
companions before stating, "Arwen, the next time you invite Faramir and I to a
celebration at the palace, you will forgive me if I decline."



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

Story Information

Author: Scribe

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 3rd Age - Post-Ring War

Genre: Action

Rating: Adult

Last Updated: 04/07/03

Original Post: 04/03/03

Go to Fairer Sex, The overview

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