7. Seizing the Day
Seizing the Day
Summer, Fourth Age 10, Gondor
It was too warm for Nárië; or so the folk of Minas Tirith grumbled, as the City's white stone threw blinding light at them in the afternoons and held the heat long into the night. On the evening when the Steward of Gondor dined privately with the King Elessar and Prince Legolas of Eryn Edhellen, every window in the house was thrown open in the vain hope of catching a breeze; and the cook had sighed with relief on hearing that a cold collation, with plenty of fruit and the best wine, was all that would be required.
"So there you have it." Once the servants had cleared the supper-dishes from his sitting-room, Faramir steepled his fingers and looked from Aragorn, leaning back in a deep armchair with his pipestem in his teeth, to Legolas balancing easily along the narrow back of a wooden settle. "Officially we are neutral towards Rhûn, as we have been since they sued for peace at the end of the Ring War; but if these rumours from our agents east of Mordor are true, the Easterling clans are increasingly divided. Rhûn has had a run of bad harvests; their druids blame the fall of their overlord Sauron, whose bounty it was, they say, that gave them rainfall, and labour – enslaved, presumably – to till the fields. Some of the clan-chiefs, it seems, argue that with the one they worshipped gone, they can expect no better and must shape themselves to a new world; but others protest that their troubles are all due to Gondor, the dread enemy who brought down their Lord, and that only by taking arms once more against us can they end them..."
"Yet we have a peace-treaty signed and sealed," Aragorn observed. "Were they to be the ones to break it, they risk bringing down not only Gondor but all our sworn allies on their heads –"
"And it seems that for the time being, at least, their Great-chief – Balharric – intends to hold by it," Faramir agreed. "But his power's precarious, from what we hear; the murmur is that some of the chieftains talk of bringing men westwards. They've made no move yet; but they may reckon on goading us into an attack, something that would force Balharric's hand against us in response. And then, two days ago, Mablung up at Henneth Annûn mentioned something odd in his dispatch – one or two of the new settlements out in the Nindalf have had trouble at night; heard bands of horsemen passing, lost animals or had crops trampled. And the hoofmarks came from, and led back, out East..."
"Ithilien?" Legolas asked quickly.
"I do not think there is any cause for concern, not yet." The Steward frowned. "Though when Mablung's report was discussed at Council yesterday, my lord Harlang did enquire 'whether I would be permitting my wife to spend the summer outside the City as usual' ...I managed to keep a straight face, I think." He smiled wryly. "Éowyn and I discussed it at length, and there seems nothing to justify distressing and worrying the children by keeping them here, making them think Emyn Arnen less than the haven they've always believed it. I'm increasing Mablung's count of Rangers by half, and the guards at Emyn Arnen have been briefed, but Éowyn and the children will be leaving in a few days as planned." He mopped his brow, casting a wistful glance out towards the summer night. "And I hope to join them as often as possible, I admit! But my lord King and I wanted you to know –" Aragorn nodded agreement, "– since both Eryn Edhellen and Dôr Ararych are well-placed, along with Henneth Annûn, to pick up any hint of unusual movements from the Ered Lithui or the Brown Lands..."
"We'll be watchful," Legolas promised. "And if anything stirs to give us concern, you shall have word."
"And so to more pleasant business," suggested Aragorn, reaching for the decanter of wine at his elbow. "You were down on the Fourth Circle most of the day – how are the herb-gardens there coming along?..."
Rowanna grinned as she crossed the pasture to check on the water-troughs, keeping an eye out for the leather ball flying to and fro; released for the remainder of the afternoon, with their chores and lessons done, the grooms' children and the younger stable-boys were making the most of the fine weather.
"Come on, Carannith!" one of the older boys protested as the eight-year-old fumbled yet another catch.
"You throw too hard!" Carannith's lip trembled. "It's more fun playing with Elboron. When is he coming?" he appealed to Rowanna.
"I haven't heard from Emyn Arnen yet," Rowanna soothed him. "Lady Éowyn and the children were due from the City a day or two ago, though, and you know Elboron – I'm sure he will be up here as soon as his mother will let him!"
As predicted, two days later the Steward's eldest, accompanied by his mother and a discreetly armed escort, rode into the Dôr Ararych stable-yard eager to show Rowanna his new pony, to climb trees with the other children, and to follow at the heels of the head stable-lad, seventeen-year-old Bron, as often as the patient older boy would let him.
"You're sure he'll not be a nuisance?" Éowyn asked. "I've told him, he's not to presume on his position to think he can come and plague you whenever he likes..."
"He's never any trouble," Rowanna assured her, "at least no more than any of the other imps, and less than most! Bron only has to look his way and he falls into line."
"Boys are often like that with their elders – Éomer was with Théodred, for years, and Elboron's the same," Éowyn agreed. "Ever since Elboron was little and called himself 'Bron too – your Bron was the only person he'd ever met who he thought shared his name!"
"And the lads here still call them 'big Bron and little 'Bron," Rowanna laughed. "Though that might not hold true for more than another year or two – Elboron is shooting up, isn't he? Are all ten-year-olds in Gondor that tall?"
"He's taking after his father. And your Bron – well..."
"Is a slip of a thing," Rowanna agreed ruefully. "When you think how he was when we first took him in – half-starved by that enslaving so-called 'uncle' of his – it's no surprise, really; we did our best to feed him up, but he'll always be more Halfling than Man-sized. Still – as he says himself, he'll never be too heavy to mount anything in the stables! Which reminds me, Elboron wanted to see yesterday's foal; come over with us..."
The long summer days wore contentedly away; the sun blazed down, occasional dramatic night-time thunderstorms provided enough rain to keep the meadows green, and the children were outside from dawn till dusk, their faces deep brown and their breeches perpetually grass-stained. Elboron eventually went reluctantly back to Emyn Arnen, promising Carannith that he'd be back at least once more before summer's end. The horses drowsed in the shade, flicking their ears at the flies, and all Ithilien seemed half-asleep.
Legolas, though, was uneasy. Nothing definite enough to draw bow at: so far, at least, his folk had found no trace of strangers' passage as they roamed the woods; but every so often, high in the woodland canopy, his scalp prickled. He increased the patrols around Eryn Edhellen; and took, himself, to spending more time in and around Dôr Ararych. He and Falastir were up in a cedar one warm day, discussing the latest dispatch sent south by Celeborn from East Lórien, when
Legolas' head suddenly went up and he sniffed the wind.
"What?" Falastir was alert at once.
"Over that way, north-eastward..." Legolas strung his bow, swung his quiver on to his back and began to slide noiselessly down the trunk. Falastir followed, giving the high clear bird-call that would draw all the other Elves within earshot to them; and then, as the distant laughter and calls of the stable-boys from the fields down by the river became yells and screams, they began to run.
Rowanna was on her way down to the meadow, with Malgalad the head groom; the younger boys were again playing ball, protesting "Bron! Bron..." when the older lad warned them away from the pregnant mares. Then, over the boys' shouts, they heard the drumming of galloping hooves and the screams. They, too, broke into a run; Rowanna pulled her sling and stones from her pocket and got off several shots at the approaching horsemen. One hit home, earning her an incomprehensible curse in return; she was dimly aware of one rider raising something in front of him, and of a sharp sting a moment later across her cheek. The leader reached down from the saddle, swept a struggling figure up in front of him...
Just too late, the Elves sprinted out of the trees; arrows flew after the riders, but they were already vanishing into the woods below the meadow. Some of the stable-boys were running in pursuit, till Malgalad's bellow called them back; the youngest were shaking in shock, one or two in tears. Rowanna slowly put one hand up to her stinging cheek, and brought it away bloody.
"They – they took him!" Carannith sobbed out. "I don't understand – why him? Why just him? They took Bron!"
"Bron..." For a moment Rowanna stood baffled; then in one cold moment of certainty, it dropped into place. Faramir's concern – the rumours of renegade Rhûn horsemen raiding the Nindalf to the north, trying to provoke retaliation; Mablung's warning – She turned in horror to Legolas.
"Bron.... Elboron. He was here till yesterday, they must have been watching, or spied on Emyn Arnen. Both of them are dark-haired, and these days they almost match in height, and those riders must have heard the lads shouting Bron's name... They think they have Elboron."
Legolas' jaw set. "Malgalad, arm everyone you can; get the children inside. That may not be the only band of them around. We're going after them – in the forest they can't make great speed; among the trees Elves can track as fast as they can move." He turned to Rowanna. She was trembling, and wanted, at that moment, nothing more than to be folded in his arms; but then she saw his eyes glitter, cold and hard, and realised This is the warrior, not the lover. Now he had only one thought; to pursue those who had done this either to capture, or to death... His practised gaze flickered for a moment over her face.
"Get that arrow-graze cleaned – it might be poisoned; but it isn't deep. Send the swiftest rider you have down to Emyn Arnen to warn them. But tell whoever goes to be watchful, it may be dangerous –"
"Bron will tell them he isn't Elboron!" one of the boys burst out. "Won't he?"
"Not if he has any sense," Legolas said grimly, and Rowanna caught her breath; if they want a hostage, they'll guard a boy they think is the Steward's son well; but an Ithilien stable-lad they'll kill out of hand and cast aside before he slows them down...
"And if they find out... and come back?"
"Then they'll find us in their way," the Elven-prince responded with a glance at Falastir. "And they will not get past us – that I promise you." Without another word, the little group of Elves turned and ran for the trees.
Rowanna took one deep, shuddering breath.
"All right. Is anyone else hurt? Good. Rostavron –" she turned to the oldest remaining lad, "– take the others back to the house, please; Malgalad needs to rout out Angbrannon and get everyone armed who can wield bow or blade. On your way, get someone to saddle Talagor for me, while I find Faeldis and get her to see to my cheek..."
"You're going?" Malgalad raised an eyebrow as they hurried back towards the low cluster of buildings.
"You're the one who knows how to order a defence, not I," Rowanna reminded him in tones that brooked no argument, "and you heard Legolas. 'The swiftest rider you have'."
Back at the house she submitted as patiently as she could manage to Faeldis's quick but careful cleaning of her graze with witch-hazel, while one of the boys ran for her pack, her grey Elven cloak, and a knife to wear at her belt. Back in the yard, she mounted up and looked down at the huddled stable-lads.
"Do exactly as Malgalad tells you. He fought the Easterlings back in the Ring War, defended Osgiliath; he knows what he's doing. Those riders won't come back – Legolas and the Elves will make sure of that – but be ready, anyway. I'll be back tomorrow, or else I'll send word. And don't worry – Bron will soon be home, safe and sound."
Powers, she thought as she spurred Talagor away from the yard and turned his head southward, let it be true!
Bron fought to keep his breathing steady, bumping up and down uncomfortably on an unfamiliar saddle, as the raiders rode through the woodland as swiftly as they dared. In the confusion before he was snatched he had noted the short bows they all carried, and the wicked blades at their belts; even had he not been blindfolded and his hands tied in front of him, so that his captor had to hold him in the saddle, he would have had little appetite for taking them on. He was trying to subdue his panic, thinking furiously. Though these strange bearded Men's Westron was heavily accented, he had caught words here and there, and had swiftly come to the same conclusion as Rowanna had. They think they've kidnapped Elboron!
In which case, let 'em go on thinking so, he'd quickly realised. If they snatched you instead of slitting your throat, that means Elboron's worth something to them alive. Soon as they find out their mistake, you're so much dead baggage – and what if they go back for the real thing? He gritted his teeth. Elboron's only a kid. Keep them fooled, as long as you can... His heart sank. All the way to... wherever this lot came from? They don't look like Southrons, and unless we've turned since they made a run for it out of the clearing – under his blindfold, it was hard to tell – we're heading northwards. Into Mordor? His heart hammered in his chest; dead land it might be, the Dark Lord long gone, but it was still a place of nightmare...
What would Elboron do? he wondered. Or more to the point, what would this bunch expect a ten-year-old boy to do? In reality, he thought, he would not put it past the Steward's son to try some hopelessly heroic stunt like throwing himself from the horse; but sitting tight, and emitting an occasional scared sniffle, seemed more convincing as well as, frankly, more manageable. Maybe, if I stay on the alert, there'll be a chance later; if we stop – they don't know these woods... He tried to slow his breathing down, and to listen for every small sound over the impossibly loud pounding of his heart.
Rowanna urged Talagor as swiftly as she dared through the woodland, glad that this was familiar ground for her sure-footed mount. Even so, with time of the essence, it was impossible to keep silent; leaves rustled and twigs snapped beneath Talagor's hooves, and they startled one bird after another from the bushes around. Which is more important – to be quick or to stay out of sight? she wondered. Legolas had urged speed; but if they had a second band planning to attack Emyn Arnen as well, to seize Éowyn or another of the children, wouldn't they have done that at the same time – in which case I'm already too late? She swallowed hard on the thought. Whereas if they just want to stop news reaching Emyn Arnen or the White City, to delay pursuit as long as they can, they'll be waiting on the way...
There was a well-ridden path between Emyn Arnen and Dôr Ararych, worn smooth and broad by frequent use, and that was without question the swiftest way – but also the obvious one. Taking a deep breath and hoping she made the right choice, Rowanna nudged Talagor off the wide greenway and into the deeper woodland to their right, ducking and weaving between the overhanging branches.
A league or so later, with the sun beginning to sink through the trees, her decision was suddenly justified – a sharp whistling noise, a rush of air and the thwack of an arrow into the nearest tree-trunk. Throwing caution to the winds, she spurred Talagor forwards – and several burly, bearded Easterlings galloped out of the trees to her left, watching the main path, where we would have been! Their short bows got off more shots, but they had the low sun in their eyes, her fractured silhouette was mingled with tree-shadow, and perhaps the grey cloak of Galadriel was still able to work a little magic; their arrows went wide and the leader's horse stumbled. Cursing, he threw himself from the saddle and dived into her path, reaching for her stirrup; without time to think she dug in her heels, Talagor gathered himself and jumped –
They were clear, and she pulled her mount back to the broad greenway and threw caution to the winds; they know where we are now! Come on, Talagor!
He was the fastest horse Dôr Ararych had, and he did her proud; easily outstripping the Rhûn-folk's smaller, stockier beasts, remembering exactly where there was a stream to be jumped or a boulder to swerve around. More arrows came after them, but all fell short; risking a glance back over her shoulder a little later, Rowanna could neither see nor hear any trace of pursuit. They must have scouted the land out beforehand; they know we're close to Faramir's guards...
For now the ground was beginning to rise to the familiar, comforting shape of Emyn Arnen's gently rounded hills, the woods thinning out a little. At last, with a great gasp of relief, Rowanna reined in as one of the estate's sentries stepped on to the path twenty yards ahead and signalled for her to halt.
Bron had only a hazy idea how long they had been riding; under his blindfold it was perpetually dark, but he could hear the calling and clatter of birds going to roost, and thought night might be close to falling. From the sound of the hoof-beats, the horses had slowed and strung out in single file; they must have reached one of the narrow stretches where the northbound road passed through a defile. Up towards Henneth Annûn; maybe the Rangers will –
He felt, rather than heard, a thud; suddenly his captor's grip went slack, and there was a slithering sound as the heavy physical presence behind him vanished. Bron gripped frantically with his knees as their mount sidestepped and huffed violently; he threw himself forward and managed to grab the horse's mane with his bound hands, then slid inelegantly out of the saddle into a heap on the ground. Struggling to shift his tight blindfold, he huddled into the grassy bank as more thumps and whinnies came from all around him; then a lilting voice said softly "Na maer, Bron?" and deft hands swiftly worked the bandage loose from his eyes and helped him to his feet.
He blinked for a moment, disorientated. Several Wood-elves were moving to catch and quiet the frightened horses; the Easterlings, or whatever they were, lay sprawled along the path, each neatly pierced by one arrow – except the one at the head of the line, who was breathing hard with an Elven blade pressed to his throat. And in front of Bron, smiling, stood Legolas.
"Who goes there?"
Though the words were Westron, Rowanna caught the rolling burr of a Rohan accent; realising this must be one of Éowyn's own housecarls, she lapsed with relief into Rohirric, the tongue of her childhood which still came readily at times of stress, forcing her panic down so that she could get out the essentials. The sentry drew in a breath; but nodded, signalled for her to follow him and raced for the house, calling for reinforcements as he went.
Éowyn came out into the house's broad entrance-hall, careful to pull the door to behind her as soon as she caught the expression on her housecarl's face and saw Rowanna gasping for breath.
"Lady Éowyn – the children? Are they all here, all safe? Elboron?" Rowanna remembered just in time to lower her voice.
"All within with Frideswide, eating supper. What is it? What's amiss?"
Rowanna told her as swiftly as she might. Éowyn's eyes widened in shock for just a moment; but at once she took command. "Find me Cadman," she ordered, and the man nodded and vanished. Minutes later, her guard-captain joined them.
"Guard doubled all around the house, my lady; I've riders saddling up to go to the Steward and the King." He turned to Rowanna, who repeated once again what she knew.
"Do we try to get Elboron and Léof and Morwen out?" Éowyn asked tensely. "To Osgiliath?" Cadman shook his head.
"If you're asking me, my lady, I'd sit tight; moving's too risky. Till we and the Wood-elves and the Rangers can quarter every league between here and the Nindalf properly, we don't know for sure whether we've just got a few renegade Easterlings on our hands, or a whole troop spread out across half Ithilien. With the extra men my lord Faramir gave us, we can hold this place against anything but an army if we have to – and we need only get one errand-rider through to Osgiliath to bring the Steward, the King and half the Citadel Guard to us before tomorrow's out." He drummed his fingers on the doorframe, thinking. "And the house is all stone..."
"So they can't fire it," Éowyn nodded. "But the stables – we must get water-buckets everywhere, and make sure all the troughs are full." Her eyes flickered to the pair of swords in brackets over the hall-door. "Once the children are in bed I can join the watch..."
"If you'll forgive me, milady," Cadman warned, "we would, of course, be glad of your blade – but if Mistress Rowanna and Prince Legolas have guessed aright, these scum are out to make trouble for Gondor by striking at what the Steward holds most dear. If they went after Elboron and find they don't have him, how much better for them to seize the Princess of Ithilien? No sense in making their lives easier!"
Éowyn grimaced. "I grant you that. All right, Cadman, go to it. I'll get Frideswide to put up water-flasks and rations in the kitchens for each watch as they're relieved. Have your messengers tell Faramir –" she swallowed, "– that we are all well, and will keep the house safe and look to see him tomorrow as soon as may be. I must go and talk to the children – Rowanna, will you come with me?"
She gathered them around her as they finished supper, still licking traces of jam from around their mouths.
"Some bad men attacked Dôr Ararych," she told them gently. "No-one was badly hurt," Treading carefully between truths! thought Rowanna, "and Legolas and the Elves will catch them; but in the meantime we need to be careful just in case. None of you is to go outside the house tonight, nor in the morning – not even to the stables – until we tell you it is safe. Elboron, I rely on you to watch over Morwen and Léof and help me – you can do that, can't you?"
Her firstborn nodded solemnly, wide-eyed. Morwen's lower lip wobbled. "I want Ada..."
"Ada will be here tomorrow," her mother said firmly. "So you must be a good girl now and go to bed, so that you're not tired and grumpy when he gets here, mustn't you? Come, I'll carry you up..."
Rowanna, suddenly realising she was ravenously hungry, went to beg her own supper from Frideswide; Éowyn put the children to bed herself and, along with the nursemaid, went from bedside to bedside till each was finally asleep. Only then did she slip softly back downstairs and take down her gleaming, well-honed blade from its place. She and Rowanna curled up in the Steward's sitting-room, with the lantern low and the shutters ajar so they could hear the slightest night-sounds from outside, and waited.
As Bron and his Elven escort rode into the yard on the captured horses, with the Easterling captain bound and blindfolded in his turn, initially all was silent – then Malgalad and half a dozen of the men rose from behind stable-doors and walls, bows and blades in hand, and there were cries of relief and light spilled from the house; Faeldis came running out to fuss over Bron and urge him to come to the kitchen for a bite to eat.
"All well?" Legolas enquired tersely of Malgalad. "No more trouble? No-one hurt?" He paused, then stiffened. "Where's Rowanna?"
Bron didn't hear Malgalad's reply; but he saw the colour drain from Legolas' face. "She did what?" The prince called something urgent in the Wood-elves' own lilting tongue and sprinted across the yard to lead out Ithalion, one of his favourite mounts, vaulting straight to the horse's back without saddle or bridle over Malgalad's protests. "Bron, go you and rest; Malgalad, keep the watch, I'll leave all my folk but Falastir here with you... noro lim, Ithalion!"
And with that, as Falastir nudged the Easterling horse in pursuit, he was gone.
Slowly the hours wore away in the long, white house sheltered by Emyn Arnen's hills. Rowanna and Éowyn murmured to one another now and again, going over everything Faramir had known or speculated about possible incursions from the East; Rowanna cudgelled her confused memories for every detail she could recall of the raid and the later attempt to ambush her. At every creak of a floorboard or whimper from the sleeping children, they sat bolt upright, straining to listen; and both leapt to their feet when, at last, through the open window they heard the clatter of hooves in the yard.
"Ai pada?" The challenge came soft, but earnest, out of the dark.
"Mellyn," Legolas called, dismounting to clasp arms with the Ranger as they were recognised. "Ladros – are all safe within? Any sight or sound –?"
"Nothing. Word's gone to the Steward and the King, and the garrison at Osgiliath's putting out patrols."
"We sent riders up to Henneth Annûn –" Legolas put in quickly.
Ladros nodded in satisfaction. "Then not a gnat's moving in Ithilien tonight that we won't know about."
"Rowanna?" Legolas asked urgently. The Ranger clapped his hand to his forehead.
"Forgive me, I'm a fool – yes, she's here, inside with my lady Éowyn. Came flying down from Dôr Ararych with the news just before sundown as though Morgoth himself was on her heels. She says more tried to ambush her on her way south; no sign of those yet, but we'll find them –"
But Legolas was past him and calling for entrance at the great oak door, begging the guards within to hurry as they identified him and drew the heavy bolts: racing into the hallway, forgetting even courtesy to the White Lady as Éowyn ran out to greet him; for in her wake, white-faced but hale and whole, came Rowanna.
She threw herself into his arms; her relief flooded over him as his flowed out to her, mingled with concern –
"What were you doing? I never meant for you to come! When Malgalad told me – all the way from Dôr Ararych I thought, I feared –"
She stopped his protests with a swift, intense kiss. He drew back to look at her, tucking an escaping tendril of hair back behind her ear and running a finger gently under the graze he had so swiftly dismissed earlier; they hurt you. For a moment rage almost consumed him. They tried to kill you, and then more of them tried again...
It's nothing. He knew she could feel his fury and his fear; she held him tighter again, reassuring him, I'm all right, everything here is well. She had only one question:
"We got him, unhurt, not a scratch on him. We shot the Easterlings, but we took their captain; I thought Faramir might want... some explanations. Taurlaegel and the others will keep him under guard tonight, and take him down to Osgiliath in the morning."
He felt the tension go out of her in a rush, and then he found he was holding her upright; suddenly overwhelmed with tenderness for her, he realised there were tears starting to her eyes.
"Melethen, you're exhausted. My lady, your pardon –" at last he turned to acknowledge Éowyn, "– I blunder into your house like a lout, and now I must beg another boon of you. Rowanna needs to rest –"
"There's a room ready for you." Éowyn smiled, weary, understanding. "The usual one, at the eastern end of the hallway upstairs. And if Ladros will pass the word to Cadman that Legolas is here –" Ladros inclined his head, "– I think I may retire too. The children did drop off eventually, but I promised to sleep in Morwen's room..."
She turned to see Ladros out and the great front door barred once again behind him; without another word Legolas scooped Rowanna up into his arms and carried her, too weary to protest, up the stairs to their familiar guestroom. He seated her on the edge of the wide, canopied four-poster bed, pulled her boots off for her, and gently undressed her as though she were an overtired child. She sat passive under his hands, completely spent, and as soon as she was stripped to her shift she toppled sideways onto the pillows with her eyes already closing. He brushed the tumbled mass of dark hair back from her cheek and reached for her hand, twining his fingers with hers.
"Are you all right, melethen?"
"'M fine..." She was almost asleep, but he could not rest; his every nerve-ending still tingled.
"You risked your life. I never meant for you to come yourself –"
"Our swiftest rider, you said," Rowanna murmured. "Lady Éowyn, and Elboron, and the rest of the children were in grave danger if they weren't warned. And our swiftest rider... is me."
"I feared..." The words stuck in his throat.
"And so did I, beloved. Just as I did when you rode to war with Aragorn, when you went to the Black Gate... as I do every time the wind blows from the Sea." Her fingers tightened on his. "We know our days together are numbered, my love; we've always known."
It was true, and he had no answer for her other than to kick off his boots, pull his heavy leather jerkin over his head and lie down beside her as she sank into exhausted sleep, curling himself around every inch of her that he could. I never want to leave you again, not for an instant... Yet that, he knew, would not answer. She makes her own life and her own choices, and always has; and that was what I loved in her long before I even knew it. And she came to love me precisely because every Man she had ever known wanted to tell her what to do, to protect her, in the end to smother her, and I did not. He felt as though he were walking along the thinnest, most fragile of branches, knife-edged between safety and disaster, making him dizzy with terror and exhilaration at once. The love of a Mortal. I chose it, after all... and were the choice to have again, I would make no other. He took a long, steadying breath, reached to snuff the candle, and let himself be lulled in the darkness by the steady beat of Rowanna's heart.
Rowanna slept soundly long into the morning; through the dawn arrival of a troop of Rangers, through the message from Taurlaegel that all was well at the stud-farm, through the hasty later appearance of a grey-faced Faramir who looked, Legolas thought, as though he had been up half the night.
"I'm come from Osgiliath," he told Éowyn and Legolas over the heads of Morwen and Léof, who had clambered immediately into his lap, "and I can't stay long – I told Lorend I want to question the Rhûn captain myself, since you so thoughtfully provided him unscathed." He and Legolas exchanged looks of grim satisfaction. Clearly, the Elf realised, despite the urgency to interrogate him, the Easterling had to wait until the Steward had seen his family safe and sound for himself. Faramir gratefully drained the cup of Haradri coffee Frideswide set before him, and slipped an arm around Éowyn as she leant in to his shoulder. "But as soon as I'm done there, and our prisoner's been sent on to Aragorn, I shall be back. In time for supper, children, I hope –" he ruffled Léof's hair, "so if you are very good for your mother today, perhaps she will allow you to stay up..."
"Can I come with you to Osgiliath, Father?" Elboron begged.
"Not this time," Faramir said firmly. "Your mother and I rely on you, you know, to help keep your brother and sister safe here until we are entirely sure there's not an Easterling left in Ithilien." Éowyn and Legolas nodded solemn agreement.
"And I want to see Rowanna," Faramir said privately to Legolas as he mounted up once again in the yard, the Elf leaning in close by his stirrup. "Éowyn and I owe her – and you – more than I have words for, mellon nin. From what Cadman tells me, she put herself at great risk –"
"Well do I know it," Legolas agreed ruefully. "And you and I both know that either of us urging her never to act so again would be entirely fruitless!"
"True enough," the Steward chuckled. "So my heartfelt thanks will have to suffice. Keep her here safe and sound, Legolas, at least until I can get back to deliver them to her in person!"
Once Faramir was out of sight, Legolas turned back into the house and strode down the hallway to the kitchens to exercise his most princely charm on Éowyn's cook. By the time he returned to their guestroom with a laden breakfast-tray, Rowanna was stirring.
"Awake, rohiril?" he said softly, leaning over to kiss her. "The morning is half gone!" He set the tray down on a side-table as Rowanna pushed herself blearily upright. "We're not yet certain that Ithilien is clear of Easterlings, though the Rangers have brought down that band who tried to ambush you last night, and Faramir and Aragorn have a set of... interesting political problems to contend with, I fear; but Emyn Arnen is safe, word's come down from Malgalad that all's quiet at Dôr Ararych, and I have freshly-brewed coffee and hot rolls for you. And by the Steward's express instruction –" he quirked an eyebrow at her, "– you are not to stir from Emyn Arnen till he returns. In fact," he settled himself on the bed beside her, lifted the tangled dark hair from the nape of her neck and nuzzled his lips there, "if I have my way, milady, you will not be stirring from this room."
Rowanna settled back alongside him on the pillows. Sunlight and birdsong together poured in at the wide-open windows as they passed the mug of hot, sweet coffee and the sweet warm rolls between them. In his relief at having her safe beside him every scent, every sound, felt as heightened as if he walked in waking dream; Legolas wondered, yet again, at the unimagined intensity of experience, of sheer living, that Rowanna and her love had brought to him. We have always known we will not have forever, he reflected as she let out a sigh of contentment beside him; all the more reason, then, never to waste a day.
Easterlings/Men of Rhûn; "Rhûn was the Elvish word for 'east', and so the wide region known as 'Rhûn' covered a great range of eastern lands. Out of those lands came Easterlings, broadly known as Men of Rhûn, who belonged to many different cultures. All of those cultures, so far as is known, lived under the shadow of the Dark Lord." (Encyclopedia of Arda)
Eryn Edhellen – Elfswood, "the wood of the elves" (My imagined name for the Wood-elves' settlement in Ithilien; probably one given to it by the Men of Gondor rather than the Elves themselves, who might have been more likely to call it something like Eryn Ithil.)
Léof and Morwen are borrowed from Altariel's lovely Fourth Age Ithilien stories such as the Garden of Gondor sequence.
Nárië – late May to late June, Steward's Reckoning.
Na maer, Bron? - All right, Bron? (literally, "is it good?")
Ada - Daddy
noro lim – run fast
Ai pada? - Who goes there? (literally, "Who goes?")
mellyn – friends
mellonen/mellon nin – my friend
melethen – my love
rohiril – horse-lady (Legolas' nickname for Rowanna)
With thanks to Curiouswombat for helpful beta.
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.