6. Day 6: Between The Lines (Eomer, Lothiriel)
His heart pounded loudly in his ears as he ran, ran, ran into the thicket, all the while wondering whether he was doing the right thing or not. Putting distance between themselves and their pursuers was the first object, but in haste he was sacrificing stealth, for they were leaving a plain trail behind them that even the dullest orc could follow.
Bema, what do I do? Eomer thought, willing himself to stay in the moment, to consider things outside of his own experience of them. The din of voices still reached him, foul cries that he could not understand, and he took on speed, dashing along, making a path through branches and brambles with his bare hands and arms, without paying much attention to where he was or where he was going. There would always be time to correct their course later--should there be a later for them. Bema, all we need is to last 'til evening. They will have to halt pursuit then. Please...
He stumbled on a rock and almost fell, but recovered his balance quickly; Lothiriel was not so fortunate. She fell and must have hurt something because he heard a low moan. No time! No time to see to it.
"Get up, quickly!" he urged, half-dragging her to standing. "There should be a small pond nearby and we need to reach it before they close on us. Quick!"
The coarse voices still reached him, from different directions now. Good, they split! Vaguely aware that their splitting also meant that they could be easily surrounded, his main thought was that he could successfully engage two or three at a time rather than having to face the whole pack, and that finding themselves alone at sundown might discourage them more easily from continuing their pursuit; could even get lost and forget about their quarry.
Eomer kept leading on, thinking--hoping--that they were running in a northerly direction, but unable to stop to make sure. The forest began to thicken around them, slowing their pace, and in so doing he began to be aware of things around him, of willows and cypresses and a smell of wetness and old, rotting wood, the cries of their pursuers still around but not advancing. Could they have lost them? He turned around.
"There is the pond!" Lothiriel cried, bounding ahead. "Should we hide there? Won't water throw them off our trail?"
"What are they saying?" he asked, only barely attending to her in his urgency to ascertain their pursuers' location with regards to themselves.
"They switched to a dialect I do not recognize a while ago. I do not know! It sounds foul to me."
Of course it would, the way they had seized her, the wretches! The same madness he had felt when they had briefly taken her from him overcame him now and, reaching for her arm, ran to the water and threw her in there without thinking it twice, then threw himself behind.
It was a marsh all right, the place where two branches of the river joined and made a pond, and smelled terribly, but he was grateful for the cover the reeds provided and decided to stay there until the voices had died down and they could find better shelter until the evening, or until they were discovered.
"Here," he said, arranging a few river lilies on Lothiriel's head. "This should disguise us for a while. We wait."
Lothiriel's eyes were wide with fright, and he realized that he could not stand the sight of them. Was it not her fault that they were being pursued as they were? He had kept her alive; how dare she question his choices? He turned away, eyes trained on the shore, and waited.
Waited, and with every second new noises reached him, new cries, until he was certain that they would chance upon their hiding place. Strange things stirred the water below them that made Lothiriel stiffen beside him, but she kept quiet. Valar! What would they do to her when they found them? By the way they had been so relentlessly pursued, he had long given up the hope that their foes were market thieves; there had been that deliberate something about the way they had isolated them until all they could do was run neatly into their trap and, fool that he was, he had tried to fight them. If it had not been for Lothiriel's timely intervention, they would have knocked him out of consciousness and she-- Valar, please, do not let it happen! Every time he thought of the way the man with the scar leered at her, clutched her by the waist and close to him--"No!"
A tug at his sleeve made him turn as fast as he could. Lothiriel gestured toward the forest and he listened.
What had happened? He listened on for what seemed an eternity until he could not help himself.
"What happened?" he asked, sputtering water, angry at the momentary distraction in which he had indulged and which he could ill afford.
"They were called back."
"How could you tell?"
"They called in that other language, and then in haradric."
"Which means that there are at least two haradrim involved. Did they say why they were being recalled."
"Not in haradric."
"Just what we needed." Eomer looked around them, trying to come to a decision. "We will wait here until twilight. It will be too late for them to search then."
"Please, not here!" her hands moved to clutch at him--they found his chest. Embarrassed, she let go and looked away, but not before he had seen fear etched in her every feature. "There are creatures in the waters worse than fish, Eomer. We do not know what lurks below the surface; I dare not even look."
"Then do not look. What we do know is what lurks above the surface and, unless you want to meet them, you better stay put." His own irritation surprised him, but she deserved to be reprimanded and he was already under such strain that he could not bother to put a leash on his temper now. His being was torn in two very different directions: one that wanted nothing more than to keep Lothiriel safe, and the other that could not be kept for long from screaming at her. How dare she put herself in such risk by venturing out with so many haradrim nearby? What if he had lost her? He closed his eyes to the awful prospect.
It was beginning to darken considerably in the riverbank where they were and he could not measure how long they waited, but soon enough birds began to chirp their evening song and the shuffle of forest creatures could be heard all around. And no human voices.
It was a blessed moment when he got them out into the riverbed again. His skin was wrinkled from prolonged water exposure, and the breeze gave him a slight chill.
She looked at him, a strange, almost pained expression on her face that cut straight to him, fueling a spark of anger that had threatened to burst since the morning. Without comment, he began walking in the direction he thought was North. And let her follow if she wants. I have taken enough pains on her behalf.
They walked in the forest for hours. In utter silence. Eomer would have been hard-pressed to keep his temper in check if he had been forced to make conversation too, so he just kept silent. To Lothiriel, he had said that they had to be deathly still for he could not risk getting them both caught, though he was certain they were not being followed; at least that kept her quiet. But, they had been going for hours and the only indication he had that Lothiriel was there at all was her tired footfall a pace behind him. Her silence, her uncharacteristic deference suddenly bothered him very much. So, for the first time since they left the river, he turned around to look at her.
Twilight was thickening around them now, but in the orange glow that clung to the ground before sunset, he could still see her face. Her cheeks were rosy from the exertion of the day, and he had to admit that she had done admirably well in the face of their circumstances, which was more than could be said of him. He had been rude and cruel and had blundered in such a way--Nay, not blundered! Trying to engage in a combat against the odds, and with a woman in tow! And not just any woman, at that. She was so beautiful and feisty, even if they had not known who she was, she would have been very tempting loot, indeed. But he was now convinced that they had known, and that certain deliberateness in their pursuit had spoken of premeditation and intent. But to what purpose?
He sighed and halted, briefly, to look about him, to assess his route. The North Star shone dimly above still, but at least he could see it now and so began to follow its light; he felt reluctant to wait anywhere for too long.
But if I get us too far from the right path, if there is such a thing, we will be in just as much danger. The less time we spend in this forest, the better.
Something tugged at his arm and he turned around.
"What?" he snapped, unable to hide his annoyance.
All the reply he received was a glare, at which he snorted. They would walk, then, if that was going to be the way of it. He was not tired yet.
And walk they did, for a while, until a low whimper made him stop again.
"Be quiet," he hissed. "I think we lost the thieves but, in case you have not noticed, we are in a strange forest and there is no telling whether those at the market were acting on their own, or if they were moving from a base elsewhere, in concert with others." He tried to make his tone meaningful. "The way they followed us so far into the forest... They wanted us, clearly, but which one of us? I cannot think that they would have bothered quite so much for a purse, full though it may have been. Was it me, or you, that they were after?"
The implications were too terrible to contemplate, not the least of which would be the end of the negotiations that would, inevitably, come once it was known that the Princess of Dol Amroth and the King of Rohan had been surprised at the market. And they could not afford to let these negotiations drop, yet he could not see how being attacked by ten men could be put to thievery, and even a sheltered girl as Lothiriel had to have thought about that.
"We should never have gone to the market!" he cried, finally giving voice to the reproach that had plagued him all day. "The chance to finally open channels of communication with our ancient enemies is quite neatly presented before us, only to be lost on a woman's wish for baubles?"
She made no answer to his provocation and that completely undid his hard-fought for restraint.
"What?" he asked, pouring all of his frustration into his tone. "You may think yourself above me in matters of decorum and propriety, Princess, for all that you may be fuming behind my back while making a show of meekness, but I know that you cannot possibly be enjoying yourself today. Now tell me, why so silent?"
"You told me to be quiet and that is what I have been doing," she said in a cool tone, chin lifted, a slight, contemptuous frown in place. "If I had known that you wanted a racket, I could have obliged you hours ago."
"Have you much to complain about, Princess? I may have saved your life, but had I known that was inconsequential to you--"
He let the words trail, not because he meant them, but precisely because he did not. This characterized his dealings with the Princess of Dol Amroth perfectly. Lothiriel had that something about her that managed to make him feel ridiculous and out-of-place, and whatever it was, he had responded as he always did: he had said things he did not mean, nor felt, nor wanted to say. It had not been the first time.
"I do thank you for the inconvenience of it," she replied in a low voice just as they were resuming their walking.
"You know I did not mean it quite that way. Must you always misunderstand everything I say or do? Allow me to do something you will not judge, for once."
"I never judge you, Eomer! I never judge you. But you provoked me with your condescension, bidding me to be silent when you yourself exercised your right to put me in my place, and I naturally retaliated."
"There is nothing natural about mocking a man who has just risked his life for yours."
If there were any traces of pride or defiance in her demeanor, that effectively erased them. He had turned to her and could see her struggle to keep her jaw from quivering, and a quick dab at her eyes that she tried to cover by tucking waves of hair that had come undone behind her ear. He resumed their walking, sparing her the need to find something to say; but, after a while, his guilt at his cruelty began to gnaw at him.
"Be it as it may," he said, casting for something to distract him from it, "what did you want to say, anyway?"
"You were clasping too hard," she said. "My wrist. You are holding too tightly."
"Oh." In truth, he had not even realized that he was holding her. He remembered stalking away from her at the river bank, but could not remember reaching for her hand afterwards. He let go at once.
"Thank you," she said, as she surreptitiously rubbed at her wrist.
"You should have said something sooner." It vexed him, never being able to do something right by this woman. "I know my strength; I did not realize... I am sorry if I have left a bruise."
Lothiriel gave a weak, tired sigh. "I meant for telling me what to do. I have never been pursued like that. I would have made different decisions... Who knows how they would have turned out? Even should there be a bruise, you kept me going. I do feel grateful for your saving me; more than I can, perhaps, convey to you."
He thought that he grunted, but could not be entirely sure; he did, however, look away. The pleading note in her voice was threatening to undo him.
"We make North, to take a less direct route, and then a little ways South-west. Are you tired?"
"South-west? Where are we going?"
Condescension. She had called it for what it was. Bema, he had dragged her along for half the day and had not even thought to enlighten her as to whither. That she had not once thought to question him could only mean that she trusted him that much. Suddenly, he felt like a fool.
"Are you tired?" He repeated, slowing once more to a halt. "It might be a long night for us and I would that we rest. I will explain, but I would rather find us some shelter first."
"I can still go on."
"Really? All night?"
"I am afraid that if I stop my legs will not go on again."
That had not entered his thoughts even once. Of course she could not be used to exerting herself like they had today, keeping the pace they had for so many hours. No, she was right; they could not stop. "We will go more slowly. And quietly. But we will keep going. I do believe that we are safe and alone in this part of the forest, but it would be a mistake to trust in such a judgment. I am too unfamiliar with this place to hazard such a guess."
"So am I," she said. "I have been to Pelargir more times than I can count with my fingers, but this particular thicket is a far remove from my usual experience." Behind her words, he thought that she smiled.
"Let us go then," he said, surprised at the sudden urge to take her hand, and striving more than he had thought necessary to resist it. He would have to be more careful, in the future.
The forest slept by the time they finally began going South. Gone was all bird song that had accompanied their march during the early evening, replaced by the occasional hooting of an owl, or the eerie flapping of wings, and the constant tread of their steps over the blanket of leaves below.
A faint mist had been steadily gathering close to the ground for a while now, so that they could not see the way they stepped; and that, combined with tiredness, had begun to slow their progress, to make their march wearisome and gloomy.
In part, Eomer felt grateful for the silence. It magnified their own noises, but would also alert them to any irregularities should they be pursued again. Unfortunately, it also made the growing tension between them more apparent.
He was angry; of that, there was no doubt. It had been hard for him to bottle up his fury, and he had barely managed it, but every time he looked at Lothiriel it surged keenly to the surface. So he had not looked again.
They trod on in silence but, alas, her proximity and so much time spent in her company, her hand in his, her hands clutching at him with such need, her eyes trained on him for so long, it had all made him painfully aware of her every move so that he needed not look to know that she shivered, or sighed, or cried... And it was all his doing. Curse me, but I have seldom felt so wretched... The part of his awareness that was the soldier, the practical man, was soon being swallowed by the soul that felt and ached and was being consumed by worry and fear.
He risked a glance behind him, where he knew her to be, and that cold agony gripped his heart again. She was huddled unto herself, cold and forlorn, and he was seized by a sudden impulse to fold her to him. Valar, Lothiriel! Why did she make him rage and fear and sing all in the same breath?
The feelings within his breast were threatening to crush him under their weight. Why had they had to go to the market that morning? Why had he not brought more men with him? Why had he not dissuaded Imrahil from bringing his daughter to the negotiations? Why had he left Guthwine with Eothain, by Bema? What if he had failed, if his strength had given way, if he had let them take her? Where would she be now?
A groan escaped him unbidden. Lothiriel! He wanted to let her have his fury, to punish her for making him suffer so... To hold her close and make sure she was well, to soothe the bramble scars that he had caused... How could he do what he must, lead her to safety, if the fear that gripped him on her account was so paralyzing?
A disturbance in the pattern of their silence intruded on his awareness. Her voice, low and hesitant, cut him to the very core.
"If you think me in anyway ungrateful, Eomer, I beg you, please...do not entertain those thoughts anymore..." Her eyes sought him, held him for a painful moment of supplication, and just as fleetingly were gone. "I feel keenly what the outcome would have been had you not been there to see me through this, and I thank you. From my heart. Much as I like to imagine myself capable and self-sufficient, I know I am no soldier. I could not have possibly escaped alone."
"Do not thank me yet," he said without thinking. "I have not brought you back home to your father."
Eomer felt grateful that she did not profess assurances of her utter confidence in him; that would have only added to the strain under which he was, for he knew--and she must have known this also--that their flight back to the city was as fraught with peril as their flight from it had been, and who was to say how it all would end?
"I know that you think it is my fault that we find ourselves in this situation," she continued, moving to walk a little closer to him, "but I cannot bring myself to apologize for it. As far as we knew, it was not unsafe to venture out, and we had an escort. We did nothing wrong."
"Clearly we should have been more vigilant, less trusting. This should have never happened, Lothiriel. Never! You should never have come. Let Elphir come next time, this is no place for you."
"But that is the whole point of it," she said, more forcefully, perhaps encouraged by his slowing down to even his pace with hers, "that is the main reason why we come along. Holiday, education, it is true we can pursue both ends when we come to watch these trade agreements take place, but the main reason Father brings us is to show our partners that we trust them. Haradrim value deeds more than they value words, and by bringing his most treasured possessions with him, Father is showing them that he will be as truthful as he expects others to be with his family around."
Eomer had to blink twice before this information could be digested.
"Do you mean to tell me that your father would risk your life only to show the haradrim a sign of goodwill?"
"Would you not, if you had to?" she asked, unable to disguise her surprise. "Bring your family along, that is. Not risk our lives; it has never come to that."
"No, I would not bring you, definitely not, especially after today."
"But if it was essential to the success of the negotiations, would you not bring me along?"
"These negotiations are on trade agreements, not on the willingness of one's wife to be useful."
"You are entirely missing the point!" she said, and had to jump at the echo her cry had created. Then, lowering her voice, moving closer to him so that he could hear her, "These political maneuvers are about more than what they appear to be on the surface. One has to read between the lines! They watch our every move to discover what lies behind the words we say to them, what we really feel that we would never dream of expressing, certainly not to them."
"And for the sake of their satisfying their curiosity on our account, I would have to offer you up to them an attractive prize? I do not think so!" he cried, only half-aware that they were arguing about a hypothetical situation where she was his wife and he was called upon to do his duty, much too caught up in his own argument to care. "I will have to have words with Imrahil if that be the case; there is no situation where that should be acceptable."
"Not for their sake, but for our own, Eomer," she cried, adding his name to emphasize her urgency in his need to understand. "If Father thought the danger too great he would have certainly kept me away, would probably not have come himself; but, in having me--us--here, he furthers their disposition to deal truthfully with him thus securing more profitable agreements for our people. It is all part of the way politics and business are done. It can, it often does become disgusting, but it is extremely necessary if we are to deal with people who have the potential to cause so much trouble for us. Like they say," she went on, attempting a neutral tone, "it is all part of the job."
"Part of the job," he repeated, trying to keep a note of disbelief at bay, and not succeeding. "Do you mean to imply that you make these sorts of sacrifices on a daily basis? Valar, Lothiriel!"
He thought he heard a low, rueful chuckle.
"Do not regret it, Eomer. That is how it has always been, for everyone in this position. Surely it is no different for you."
"I make sacrifices all the time, but I had never expected that those I care about would have to be dragged along with me to a life of duty and self-denial. It is unfair, and cruel. I could not do it." A sigh escaped him. "Not willingly. Not forever."
"That is why I never understood people who say they envy us our position. The privileges we enjoy are bought for by the people's trust in us. In turn, we need to ensure that we repay by fulfilling our duty. Always duty forefront. It is not just a life of enjoyment, though there is that."
He watched her shiver, and had to look away. Quite enjoyable, he thought, bitterly, but considered Lothiriel with a new regard. This was a different woman, a woman he did not know, had never bothered to know. Suddenly, he felt very foolish.
"That is not to say that I do not enjoy a trip or two," she spoke again. Eomer could tell that she was trying to sound mirthful. "But you can only buy so much before you realize that you do not need things so much as you need people. It is the people you want to see, the people you care about."
And this was the woman famed in the court at Minas Tirith for her expensive wardrobe and tastes. Envied, rather. I can think of many a girl who could do with some of her mettle.
After that they both became thoughtful and the easy--easier, at any rate--companionship they had enjoyed threatened to dissolve. Eomer realized with surprise, and considerable vexation, that he did not want that to happen. Why? But it was late, and they were cold, hungry, and tired. It was time to drag his thoughts from where they had strayed to train them back to his task.
The moon was high above them now and he could see the Bowman clearly. Bema grant that I am right about this, he thought as he bent to address her, a last attempt to hold on to whatever shred of their previous mood he could.
"Do you see the Bowman?" he asked, pointing upwards to the familiar cluster of stars.
"The Archer. Yes. Is that how we will travel now?"
"Before we set out South, I studied some of Aragorn's maps of the city and I noticed that one of them showed a secret entrance from a western forest that leads to just inside of the southern wall." The starlight mirrored itself in her eyes and he could see them widen slightly; perhaps her confidence was fading upon a plan fraught with so many uncertainties, but it was all he had. "It is a tunnel," he continued, and watched her eyes widen even more, and that characteristic bite to her lower lip made its appearance. "Aragorn could not declare with certainty what was its intended use; apparently, the earlier merchants had built it to smuggle goods from the harbor and avoid paying the tax, but they were quickly discovered and the tunnel fell quickly into disuse..." he let that trail. It had seemed like such a sensible plan before he had communicated it, but now he clearly saw all that was wrong with it. Why, it would be a miracle if trees had not overgrown the entrance; more importantly, once they were within, where would they surface and, would they be able to get out? He began to feel the stirrings of panic tug at him; what would he do if he could not get her safely back?
Eomer was saved the agony that pursuing that thought brought him by her reassuring hand on his forearm. Their eyes met, infusing him with a rush of warmth and tenderness, and she gave him a smile that began strained and hesitant, but quickly turned into one of those smiles that could make of a cave a palace.
"Lead on, my lord," she said. Did she know that smiles like that one could make a man make the impossible happen?
They made their way South again in silence and haste. Eomer was convinced that they were alone now--he had neither seen nor heard sign of assailants and was willing to read that in a good light, but their exchange had made him restless and eager to reach the tunnel at once. Even if the tunnel proved indeed to be what it was, there was still the matter of getting her to their lodgings without incident, a fight out of the question now, not without more men. Reaching for her hand, he started running.
They had been moving for maybe a good half hour when the darkness deepened ahead.
"Yes!" he heard himself cry. "That must be it. Do you see how the darkness swallows up all starlight ahead? That must be the entrance to our tunnel. I wish we had thought of a torch--"
He had begun to ramble on when the hand he held in his turned inexplicably cold and stiff, and he watched as Lothiriel retreated a step or two.
"What--" Surely the woman who faced the foul men who were trying to bind her, the girl who had risked her own self to prevent his receiving a fatal wound, would not quail before the prospect of a cave, dark though it--
"Oh." Fool, Eomer! That strain in her smile, he knew what that had meant now! And, even so, she had followed him! Her trust in him was completely undeserved. Shame filled him, utterly. Proud, conceited, stubborn that he was, it was his sole doing that they were in this pass! How could he have forgotten? He, who should have been the first to consider her needs, blinded by his own selfishness had put her through so much today, always, had made her suffer alone--had made her inflict hurts upon others, run to the point of weariness, hide in the muddy water when the prospect had been so terrifying to her. He had berated her, mocked her, made her follow him along without disclosing ought but his own anger, without any regard for her thoughts and feelings, without even so much as hinting at a plan to get them out of trouble. Insensitiveness, indelicacy, imperiousness on his part had all played a part, but it was his stubborn pride that never let him think of the needs of others first. How could he have forgotten?
Imrahil's face came clearly to his mind now, as he had seen it all those months ago while he prepared to leave Rohan. When he had suggested that they leave together to explore the Dimholt route for trade, Imrahil had said that he would come back for that purpose but without Lothiriel: she was utterly terrified of dark, enclosed spaces.
Curse you, Eomer, he thought as he tore his gaze from the darkness ahead to fix it on Lothiriel's trembling form. Would she ever forgive him? But
Lothiriel was not looking at him; her face, her whole body was bent to the gaping hole. From long experience, he knew that conquering such fears was never easy in the best of circumstances, regardless of their cause, and they had already been under such strain all day.
They could always try to go back the way they had come, but it was dark and they were tired and hungry and cold. By the way she had been shivering, he could guess that her clothes had not fully dried. Neither had his, and he had lost his knife and dagger at the market. Should they be surrounded, he was not certain that a group of well-armed men would not manage to wrest her from him and he could not allow that to happen. So much time, wasted!
Eomer looked around him. On the one hand there was the tunnel, its gaping black hole looming like a snake's mouth, ready to swallow them whole; on the other there was Lothiriel, breathing so hard that he could hear her even where he stood. He had to come to a decision, quickly.
Bringing himself to stand between her and the entrance, he sought for her hands; they were wet with sweat and cold as snow.
"Listen," he said, rubbing her hands forcefully to warm them, slowly running his hands along her arms. "I know what it is to fear, and I know how hard it is to go on when things seem hopeless, but that tunnel is our only choice now. You may blame me all you wish after we are home, and I promise you I will be silent and let you have your way of it, but we have to go on ahead now. Please..."
A low whimper was all the answer he received.
"You have been so very brave, Thiri," he said, lapsing into her family's name for her, surprised to hear himself saying it and at how sweet it sounded in his voice, impressed at the tender feelings it evoked within him. "You hit two of them square in the face and incapacitated one of them with that accurately-delivered kick... You saved me from certain hurt, kept up with the pace of a trained soldier all day without complaint. You surprised even me, but now we have to go on. I do not think that we were followed, but this is a strange forest and I could not hold my ground unarmed very long. I cannot let any hurt come to you. I need to get you to safety. Please..."
He was now begging and could not care about it, seized, as he was, by the urgency of getting her away from danger. The very existence of such pressing feelings within himself frightened him. He was impressed at his own recollections of what the woman beside him had endured, was enduring, because of his weakness and selfishness. He would make things right. He had to.
She was positively shivering beneath his arms now; he could tell that all her physical effort was going into steadying the quiver of her jaw and keeping tears at bay. A smile... She fought for a smile, but a strangled sob escaped her instead, and she looked away in embarrassment.
"Lothiriel." A husky whisper had replaced his normally confident voice. His hand trailed down along her cheek until he tipped her chin, willing her to look at him. Tears. She was crying.
"You have been so brave..." he said, letting tenderness surge through him, while dabbing at her tears with his thumbs. "You are allowed to cry all you want."
"It... Emb-arrass -ing... Sorr-"
"I could never be embarrassed of you, Lothiriel." He found that he meant it, with all his heart.
Pulling her closer to him, he fixed his eyes on hers, brought her hands to rest upon his chest, on top of his heart. "I know you can do it. I will never let go until I give you to your father, I promise." A faint smile drew itself on her face, which he promptly answered. "Is it all right to go now?"
She nodded, and that meant--
They were to go! Sweet relief coursed through him, even as he turned to face the darkness of the tunnel. Eomer did not know what awaited him inside; but, as his fingers laced with Lothiriel's, he was sure of only one thing: he would die to keep her safe, and he would not count it a sacrifice.
Just as well, he thought, grimly, as he prepared himself the way he had been taught to do before going into battle--a few calming breaths to empty the mind of everything but the moment, the awareness of the warrior and his surroundings. He did not try to disregard the pressure of Lothiriel's hands as they gripped his, nor the sweet closeness they shared yet again, for he knew that he would had been unable to do so, try as he might; he would make them the center of his focus instead, for the first time in his life a focus removed from himself. To that he added a silent plea to whoever of the Valar would listen. Death may well await him and if such fate became certain, he would be selfish in the end for, should he die, death would be welcome as he would not be there to see Lothiriel's fate should he fail her.
That moment, he vowed that he would not fail.
Hand in hand, they plunged into the darkness of the tunnel and, step by small step, they began to make their slow way, his free hand stretched before him, leaning against the wall as he went. If the account was right, then the tunnel should be wide and smooth all the way through, and they should be coming upon a high window sooner or later. He had not told Lothiriel how long he expected the march to be, but he knew it to be some miles. He hoped that the rush of emotions of the day would be enough to keep her up and going, for it would not be until the morning that they would see real light again.
Lothiriel's grip on his hand and left arm was strong and claw-like; with every step she drew closer to him, huddling to his side until her breaths were tickling his arm, the tresses that had escaped their knot soft against his skin.
"Close your eyes," he commanded, as gently as he could. "I have seen foul darkness before, and this does not feel like that. Do you feel how drafty it is?"
He felt her nod as she nuzzled her head against his arm.
"Soon, we will be coming upon those openings that keep us permanently connected to the outside, and I will let you know when that happens so you can open your eyes to catch the light."
And he fervently hoped it would be soon, for she was shivering uncontrollably now and her hold on him kept tightening until he was dragging her weight along. A wet warmth trailed down his left arm.
Was she crying?
"Lothiriel." He turned to her and folded her tightly against himself, stroking her hair and her back through her sobs, the overwhelming urge to comfort her dictating his every action and thought. A knot in his throat made it difficult to say anything, and he doubted that he had the right words in him to calm such fear as made it impossible for her to move of her own volition and succumb, instead, to her body's involuntary trembling. What could possibly have happened that did this to her? How could he make it better? It was clear that they could not go on like this for however long it would take them to traverse the length of the tunnel--on her part, because she could barely command herself to move, and on his, because he knew that his will might break before such painful fear and then he would be of no help to her. He had to make things work, but how? Having never had to contend with such fear himself, not knowing what it felt like, he was rather ill-equipped to soothe it.
Stop the crying would be a good start...
Holding onto that thought, he willed himself to breathe slowly and deeply, placing her head against his heart to help her breathe to his rhythm.
"Breathe with me," he whispered into her ear. "Take a deep breath and let it out slowly, there's a good girl. Again. Again."
She responded. Slowly, her sobs began to subside, replaced by the ebb and flow of the pattern they were breathing together.
"Are we not in our own private corner of the world?" he asked, trying to sound cheerful. "Do you not think this is what those things you like, what is it they are called--clams? Is this not what it must be like to live inside the shell? Or to be inside a mother's womb? We all came from this darkness."
Her response to that was to clutch tightly against his shirt.
"Thiri..." he began as he embraced her tightly back, certain that at least one of the emotions warring within him would find expression in words that would give her comfort, but wholly unable to say more.
What could I say, anyway? Is it not all hollow? I cannot begin to comprehend what she is feeling. Nor could he comprehend what he was feeling, for amidst the pain of being unable to reach her was a stinging, growing certainty that he had never been whole until she stepped into his arms. It was a horrible thought--horribly beautiful and frightening for someone who relished his independence and control of his life as he did, to know that what he ached for was surrender.
Surrender of all thought and strain... Emptiness. Oneness. That had only existed for him in the sword fighting forms, never in a woman's embrace. There would never be words to express what he was feeling--the light, the lightness. If he could only find a way to give her that... If he could ever tell her how sorry--how selfish and wrong--how marvelous--
There had to be a way...
But he found it hard to think clearly while so many other thoughts pulled him in a myriad directions and with Lothiriel's heart now keeping mad rhythm with his. He would never be able to help her that way. Searching deep inside for that place where there was nothing but light, himself and his sword, and the world transparent sky, where he could detach from his feelings and remain reason and awareness--it was a painful place; he was a being of impulses and strong feelings, detachment hurt, but sword forms demanded it. One could deal no justice in death when blow and blade were ruled by passion, and he was still struggling to learn that, even through bitter experience. Concentration. Focus. Single-mindedness. Right now, he needed to think. Could he think without exploding into fitfuls of tingling? Surely not with her so near, so helpless. And he, helpless along with her. Quite the sorry pair.
Like the arrow speeds to its target, the thought suddenly hit him that he could not help her through her fears when he was so afraid himself. He had to let go, to trust. To surrender.
"What--What do you fear, Lothiriel?" he asked, uncertainly, in a low, almost shy whisper. "I fear many things. Loneliness, failure, loss..." and a host of new things that he could not quite say. "Darkness does not frighten me for its uncertainties, but for the isolation of it. I cannot... I cannot fear it... now."
Her hold on his shirt became less frantic, less desperate. Encouraged, Eomer resolved to continue as he had begun. He could not expect her to surrender her fears to him if he was not willing to do likewise.
"The worst darkness I have ever known was rage," he confessed, hoping that she would understand how difficult it was for him to go on. "Is always rage... when I am afraid... When Father died, and Mother. I could hardly restrain it. It always leads me wrong. In battle. With Eowyn... With you... today..." He stopped to swallow, to moisten lips suddenly very dry, finding it extremely difficult to go on. Not with words. "Rage. Battle rage. Did you know it affects horses too?"
A minute shake of her head told him that she was listening.
"Oh, yes. Singing. Singing calms even the wildest of horses."
A cold, soft, trembling hand, reached upward to cradle his cheek, and he found himself leaning into its touch. "I am afraid... I will hurt... hurt people... by my mistakes." He felt hot, and her hand was so very cold against his skin. "There is nothing... Nothing quite like singing. For battle-fury. Horses understand what you cannot speak when you sing to them. It is all a matter of rhythm, you see. There are battle songs, evening songs, birthing songs, soothing songs. My grandfather knew them all. He showed me. How."
Lothiriel took in a deep breath, straightened, withdrew herself slightly from him.
"It is the best you can do for a horse, to help," he said, suddenly reluctant to part with her, and aware that he was speaking nonsense. "Singing during battle. Calms the horse and keeps the rider from getting too battle-lusty."
"Eomer," she said, a whisper so low that he had to strain to hear it. "Now, you will have to show me."
A smile tugged at the corners of his lips. "I will. Just you be very still and listen to me. Forget about everything else, that's how it works."
And so he began. It was a song of rolling meadows and grass and starlight on the plain, his earliest memory of his father as he sang to bring the horses home. And then the song turned into a misty night, far from home, and lonely. And then it was a lilting stream, skipping over pebbles, turning into a mighty, stubborn river on its way to be tamed, embraced by the sea. Sea-gray eyes that pierce one with icy fire and a woman's sweet scent clinging to one's skin, swaying hips that dance on May-day, hands that toil and tease and love. Moonlit love, husky whispers, and endless days of laughter--things he never thought of saying to her, not aloud; things he dared not admit to himself; things he did not even know were in his heart.
At some point during his singing they had started to walk again. He could not be sure how much they had walked, lost as he was in the world enclosed immediately about him, but
a faint twilight ahead told him that they must be nearing the high windows he had thought they would find along the way.
The return squeeze of his hand sent a jolt up his arm.
With the moonlight that filtered down to them, he could see her well enough, eyelashes fluttering as she dared open her eyes again, then that gleam of relief as she found that she could see and that the world went on in its usual way above them.
Blessed light! Lothiriel stepped under its circle and so did he, for their hands were firmly linked together. Eomer had not seen anyone drink in light before, but he did then, and he drank in the sight of her delight.
"We will have to step into the darkness again, won't we?"
"There will be light at the end."
"I have learned that there always is," he said.
"What will we find there?"
"Home, I hope. Sunshine, and the ships you love so much." And politics, tribal chiefs, and the grim prospect of physical, even military confrontation once their little adventure became known. The slight tension that ran through her hand to his told him that their thoughts were running together. He clasped tighter. "Whatever we find, we will find together."
The corners of her mouth curled in a soft smile, but her eyes looked away ahead, toward the darkness, when she asked him, "Will you sing to me, Eomer?"
"Even when the light comes."
"You say that you came through a tunnel?"
"Yes, Chiron, we did," said Lothiriel, amid mouthfuls of cold ham and cheese.
"Valar!" he cried, raking hands through his hair, as he looked at his sister and then a question at Eomer. "How is it possible?"
Eomer met Lothiriel's eyes from across the table; she smiled, and took a long swig of her milk.
"What did that mean?" Erchirion asked, looking from Lothiriel to Eomer and back.
"Do not be obtuse, Chiron," chimed in Amrothos, who had been watching the exchange from a nearby chair that afforded him a prodigious vantage point. Eomer thought he had not felt himself so keenly observed since the days of the Wormtongue in Edoras. "It is obvious that that was a by-play for something they want to remain confidential. There are ways of discovering those secrets that do not even involve your revealing them, you know." That was said with a wag of his finger at his sister and a glare especially for Eomer.
Lothiriel snorted. "You may deduce to your heart's content after I have eaten, Rothos, but I am very hungry now."
"You may snort all you want, but it will not divert me from my purpose. You were gone for a full day, and I intend to find out what you did every minute of it."
Lothiriel's eyes searched Eomer's again, an amused, slightly mischievous expression in them that made Erchirion groan.
"Do something, Father!" he demanded.
"Of course I will," said Imrahil, a wicked smile in place that could almost belie the sad, troubled expression of his eyes. "Anything that Eomer wants he shall have, for he has brought my daughter back to me." He stretched his hand to clasp Lothiriel's, briefly.
"Not necessary," Eomer replied on cue. "She did save my life."
"Chiron," Lothiriel said as she replaced a napkin on her lap. "You are getting on my nerves. Please."
"I am sorry, Thiri," Erchirion said, kneeling next to her, looking up an imploring glance. "You just do not know, cannot imagine, how worried, how desperate we were!"
Lothiriel put her hand on his, and smiled that lovely, tender, fond smile that only those closest to her were privileged to see.
Aragorn moved closer to him then, refilled his glass, and took up a chair beside him.
"They were desperate," he said, directing his glance at Lothiriel and her family gathered around her.
"I have never seen a grown woman so fawned upon by so many men. If I had not been there myself, I would probably tease them for it."
Aragorn raised a brow at that, but said nothing.
"I do appreciate your thoughtfulness, friend, but you do not need to wait to ask all the questions that I know you have. I am quite composed."
"Are you?" Aragorn asked, an amused expression playing across his features. "Because, when you came in--"
"It shall be as you wish," Aragorn said. "But if, as your friend, I may give you some advice, I will say this: things are not always what they seem. All that is gold does not glitter."
"They were obviously not market thieves, but what then? Should I now think that they were not after Lothiriel and I because it did seem like it?"
Aragorn said nothing, but Eomer's mention of her name brought Lothiriel's attention to them.
"I rather think," Lothiriel said, inserting herself in their conversation, "that the king means to point out that there are hidden purposes for things that are not plain at first sight."
"Forgive me," said Amrothos, "but the King clearly means that, conversely, all that seems foul need not be foul. There are many ways to read a situation."
"And purposes," added Lothiriel."
"If you are all done interpreting the King's words for him," Imrahil said, casting a quick glance around at the young people, "I would ask him what he thinks of all this."
Aragorn looked at them all in turn. Eomer always got the impression that he was being laid bare every time he was the recipient of that particular glance.
"The encounter with the thieves ended at the pond in the thicket. You did not see anyone bearing suspicion after you got out of the tunnel?"
They both shook their heads, but Eomer spoke, "Our secret tunnel led to the courtyard of a fish market. It was too early for customers to be about, but some of the merchants were there. You should have seen their faces when we emerged--'pale as sheets' is how I have heard it described."
"I doubt that any of them knew about the passage, sir," Lothiriel said. "Whoever built it made it lock from within and, rusty though the locks were, they took little prodding to open. The merchants seemed sincerely frightened. I doubt that any of them had heard, let alone use the passage in their life-time."
"We do not have to worry about them being punished, Lothiriel," Eomer said. "But, hopefully, investigated."
"They did help us, Eomer."
"I know, but if any of them be found guilty--"
"Surely their help to us should count for something? Besides, what would they know? Fishermen and sellers..."
"To investigate accurately you must broaden your range before you narrow it. We just agreed All that is good does not glitter, did we not?"
"That can be read both ways."
"If we may go over that again?" Aragorn interrupted. Eomer thought that his gaze lingered on him in a rather admonishing manner. "How, exactly, did the merchants help you?"
"Costumes, my lord," Lothiriel cried. "We traded my earrings and a few things we had for their clothes, and that is how we arrived unremarked."
"I did not want to risk being discovered again should their lookout be on us but, in doing so, I risked immediate discovery should someone question the merchants regarding their penchant for sapphires and pearls," said Eomer, unable to keep his frustration from making itself plain in his tone. He looked at Imrahil, "I thought we had no choice, but there are always choices. I judged wrongly in most of this affair and you may place blame on me as you see fit."
"Choices often times come to rest on settling for the lesser of two evils, friend, rather than between good and bad. I cannot blame you for anything," Imrahil said, but Eomer could still see that sternness around his mouth, that tired, pained expression in his eyes
Aragorn stood and paced to the window, next to where Imrahil had now positioned himself. He looked grim and troubled, and stood silent for a long time. The quiet his silence created was full of expectation, and even Lothiriel stopped eating while she awaited for him to speak again.
"Lady Lothiriel," he said, finally turning from his gaze of the courtyard to fix keen eyes on her. Lothiriel did not even flinch under his regard. "What do you think? Was there anything remarkable, anything that arrested your attention from the way they looked or spoke?"
"It was all so fast, my lord, I saw and thought much, but is any of it important? It seemed to me that they went for Eomer first, but why? My coin purse would have been easier to reach; but, after they had engaged him, they came after me. Much of what Eomer calls his misjudgment surely came from my screaming. It was a natural reaction, but I was not hurt, I should not have..."
Lothiriel's voice fell to a mere whisper. The memory of the hungry way that man with the scar had seized her, of how close he had come to losing her to them... it was all Eomer could do to let this examination proceed
"Please, Aragorn, it is hardly appropriate--" Eomer began, but Aragorn forestalled him.
"She has the right to express her opinion on a matter that concerns her so personally."
"But, my lord," Erchirion said, rising to face him, surprisingly joining his plea to Eomer's, "she has gone through so much already."
"The King is right," said Imrahil. "Everything needs to come out now while it is fresh in their minds. Any seemingly inconsequential fact could be important."
"You were not there, Imrahil!" he cried, rising to his feet to face the man who had become so important to him over the course of their acquaintance, over a matter that was so dear to them both.
"Precisely! That is why I will pain Thiri a little more so this does not happen again."
Eomer could not contain a snort, which made Imrahil's frown reach unimaginable sternness. Eomer turned around from it, grabbed an apple from the fruit basket and, deciding that to sit again was completely out of his current capacity, he walked to the other end of the room and leaned against a bookshelf.
When he turned again, he could see Lothiriel watching him, full of anxiety. He could not make himself reassure her--lie to her-- and soon she was called upon by another question from Aragorn.
"Is there aught of interest that you can recall about their person?"
She thought for a while. "The one closest to me had a purple tattoo of a strange lizard on the inside of his upper arm."
"Upper arm?" Erchirion asked. "How did you manage to see that if it was so very fast?"
"She had a good vantage point," Eomer said before he could check himself, belatedly realizing that in saying that he was hurting Lothiriel more than any of them. He resolved to keep silent from then on.
"My lord Elessar," she said, when she finally decided to speak, "I think that they came for me and I think that they were not haradric. What would it profit haradrim to carry me off if we are here to negotiate with them already? It seems like too much trouble."
"Exactly my thoughts," Amrothos said.
"It would give them the advantage, surely!" Eomer cried, advancing a few steps, unable to understand why none of them could see what was so obvious.
"But it is not like haradrim to be so underhanded," Erchirion said, thoughtfully.
"What about their speech?"
"There are a good many dialects in Harad; I cannot claim to know them all. But, surely, could their changing languages not have been part of their subterfuge? My lord, I wish I had more than a mere hunch to go by, but it all happened so fast I was not thinking of what I should be thinking, really."
"I think you may be excused in choosing to save your life before becoming a political analyst," Eomer said, feeling his frustration rise, but Imrahil's stern look silenced him. His friend had been too much subdued since they had returned, and the look he directed toward himself seemed to say that he would not be adverse to his son's scheme of finding out what he had done with his daughter every minute that they were gone.
"I doubt that they were there for Eomer. Admittedly, I was the weaker target, but how could they have known that Eomer would be at the market then? Whereas it is fairly easy to suppose that a woman will do her best to contrive a visit, even should she be forbidden to do so. Should they have wanted to take Eomer, they would have waited for him elsewhere and tried another strategy."
"Why are you so bent on defending them?"
"Not defending them, Eomer, but doing my best to divine their purpose! An error of judgment now would be devastating."
"Silence, please!" Imrahil cried, stepping forward, holding his arms high, quickly clasping them behind his back when his outburst registered in his mind. It seemed to Eomer that Imrahil had reached the limit of his patience, but he could not be prevented from saying what he ought to say, what was right.
"What are you going to do?" Eomer asked, determined not to be deterred.
"There is only one thing for me to do," Imrahil said, finally slumping onto a chair. "I will demand the exchange of water."
"No!" Lothiriel jumped.
"I must, dear. Those men tried to hurt you, and my friend. It puts me in a quandary. I cannot negotiate."
"You know well that the Chief will never be able to treat with you if you ask him to exchange, you might as well go into war with him."
"But was it not an act of war to try to hurt us like they did, Lothiriel?" Eomer asked.
"If it was them, but how can we be sure? Father, tell him."
"Tell him what? In essence you are both right, and wrong. If we accuse them we risk another war and more if we be wrong. If we do nothing, they will think me weak and try to cheat me at every turn for dishonor."
"Not to mention that we would be entering into a deal with a faithless man and could not even claim blindness for our folly," said Eomer, making a last push for his position.
"Surely there must be some other way!" Lothiriel cried.
Imrahil's eyes suddenly became intent on his daughter, a knowing glance Eomer did not like in them. "What would you have me do?"
She thought for a long moment, carefully avoiding to look at him. "I just got lost. We became distracted and ended up in the forest. It was a long way back."
"What?" Eomer cried. In two long strides he was at the table, looming over the woman for whom he had feared so much, angry, completely astonished. "How can you say that, Lothiriel? They could have hurt us, killed us!"
"Sometimes it is wisest to wait, Eomer. Only until we know more."
"We might never know more, Thiri, and they will go unpunished. Will you allow them to roam free and hurt people?" What if they hurt you and I am not there?
She must have understood him, for her decided expression altered into one of concern, into a plea.
"It is the right thing to do, I can feel it, Eomer. Please." She reached for his hand on the table, to squeeze it, eyes fixed on his. Trust me, she seemed to be saying. Now, it is your turn.
Their gazes held across the table, but a cough from Erchirion's direction made him look away.
"Eomer?" Imrahil asked, a clipped tone that demanded an answer.
Eomer turned to look at him. It was hard not to glare, but he thought he mastered himself before he turned to Aragorn and saw the worry there; then Lothiriel, torn between worry, anxiety and something else he could not read--something soft and wistful.
He gave in, stung by the realization that after what they had been through together, he would be hard-pressed to deny her anything. "I cannot gainsay the word of a lady."
The silence that followed was not filled with victorious triumph, nor even subdued satisfaction for having prevailed upon him. Rather, it was pregnant with anxiety and the nervous resignation of someone who has decided upon a course against his better judgment.
He looked across at Lothiriel feeling sad, afraid, disappointed. Almost ill-used. She knew it; he knew that she knew it, because she looked down to escape his judgment.
"Let us hope," he said in a low whisper meant only for her, "that your faith does not prove to be misplaced."
Eomer looked up from the letter that had been pushed across his desk to him, and met Eothain's face, an odd neutral expression on its lines that spoke of strain rather than indifference. Another hasty glance at the seal.
Yes! From Dol Amroth! The Prince's personal--personal, not official--seal!
Forcing his own face to assume a neutral mask of his own, he leaned back on his chair, crossed arms over his chest, and glared at his cousin.
"May I ask why you chose to bring me this particular letter? I know that this is not the wealth of papers I am supposed to peruse today."
"No, indeed, but we have been home for months and you had not received a personal communication. I thought it would help."
"Why, to restore your good humor," Eothain said. "You have been impossible since we came back from the negotiations."
"You would be too if you had had to pledge your goodwill on an ill-conceived treaty you loath. I should never have signed it," Eomer said, rising from his desk and pacing his way to the fireplace. "I am--should be--steward of my people's interests first. To have let myself be so influenced, so played upon by a pair--" but Eothain did not need to hear the rest.
"I dare say this will not be the last time."
Surprised, Eomer turned to meet his cousin's gaze, but Eothain met him squarely, shielded under a show of meekness. He then glanced at the letter, quickly, so Eothain would not notice, but few things escaped that penetrating, if slightly clownish, mind.
"Are you not going to read it?" Eothain asked.
"I do not know," he replied with the absolute truth. Since their private conversation after everyone had retired that day that he and Lothiriel had returned from their adventure, his relations with Imrahil had been a little strained. He had accused him of giving in to the demands of his position rather than seeing to his daughter's safety, of caring more for his political ability than for whom he could hurt in its display, and many other things that he was pained to remember. Even though they had not parted enemies, their friendship had suffered a heavy battering. He loved Imrahil, he knew that well, and he knew that he had acted selfishly and in anger, but how to begin to heal the wound when the balm would be used at the expense of his other great concern: Lothiriel?
He felt that Lothiriel had been mistreated, used as a tool, forced to make decisions to please the economic concerns of a people who would not, in the end, risk everything for her as she had for them. As he would. And though Imrahil had said that it had been--it always had been--Lothiriel's decision, the sore was already raw and he could not pretend that he was pleased at the turn of events.
This letter put an end to months of painful silence and he was utterly terrified to open it.
Eothain's glance pierced him. His cousin walked to the desk, retrieved the letter, and brought it to him. He even went as far as breaking the seal.
"You will never know," he said, "if you do not read it."
A hesitant hand reached for the soft parchment of the Prince's personal stationary, unfolded it--
23 Yavannie, 3019, Dol Amroth
My dear Eomer,
The most unexpected breakthrough in the case that has kept us occupied these many months has just been made known to me. Khandians! Khandians and a couple of Eastern Harad mercenaries hired to this plot, though they worked for someone else they refused to name before they died. One of them escaped. He was a rather handsome fellow whose cheek was marred by a scar. He had a purple tattoo of a salamander on his left arm.
"They let him go!" Eomer cried.
"The fellow with the scar!" he said, aware that no further explanation was necessary, so much had he talked with Eothain talked about those events over the past few weeks since their return to Rohan. "They caught him and he escaped."
"That does not speak well of the Prince's military."
"I do not think it was Imrahil who caught him," he said as he cursorily perused the rest of the letter, hungry for more information. His heart made an awful flip mid-page.
I enclose Lothiriel's letter
Quickly, he turned to the second page. His hands began to sweat when faced by Lothiriel's hasty, careless script--most uncharacteristic for a lady, but perfectly in accord with the workings of such a vibrant mind full of things to say.
His heart lurched. At least, she was well.
Unpleasant as it was, I wanted to see the man with the scar before they took him away for trial, but he escaped ere we reached Poros and had to divert route to Minas Tirith instead, to meet the last one alive.
Please, do not be angry. I know perfectly well what you think of the whole affair and I cannot blame you. Of course you were right, but I was right too, and I was not brave enough to argue with you about it again. My silence was not due to anger, but to fear. Please, forgive me, if you ever can.
Hopefully only the best will come out and, should there be a real--a more dangerous plot than merely hurting me or you, may it be speedily discovered before innocent lives are harmed.
I know you will want to come, but I beg you, do not! That man must have found out who you are, if he did not know it, and who knows what dark things a black heart may plan! I know I do not deserve to ask for anything of you, and I know how disinclined you will be to grant anything I ask, but
"For all of her political sharpness, she is rather dense in social matters."
"Eothain, how soon can we be ready to leave for Minas Tirith."
"I have no time to waste, Eothain."
"Well, depending on how many people you intend to mobilize, anywhere between two hours to two days."
"Make it a small escort in an hour. We are going to teach a princess some sense."
"What? What are you going to do?"
"Apologize," he said, eyes riveted anew on her lines. If she expects me to stay away after this, she is much less wise than she thinks herself to be and cannot be left alone with a madman on the lose.
He could not tell how many times he read the letter, nor how many possible scenarios he imagined for the conversation they would have when they met again. No matter what prospects his mind conjured, he always went back to her letter.
How to bid farewell when there is so much to say? But to stubborn people, silence is often a better course. I hope that, some day, we will have put some distance from this and be able to talk of it without so many negative emotions on the fore to make us angry with each other, for there is much to say.
Indebted, grateful to you as I am, as I will always be, I sign myself,
Lothiriel of Dol Amroth
"Indebted." Never a word had pained him more. "She either does a terrible job of following her own advice, or she fails miserably at reading people."
He could write her a reply, but he was in such earnestness to be gone that he was persuaded he would reach her first and, when he did, he would give her plenty of lines between which to read.
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.