Swan-song: 4. Prophesy Part IV

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4. Prophesy Part IV

Swan-song

Prophesy Part IV

Bruised clouds brushed the peaks of the Ered Nimrais, rolling down the northern slopes to spill over the grassland of Anórien.  Rain hit like me in sharp spikes, destroying the strength in my body and leaving only the power of my will.

Years of riding had not prepared me for the unremitting pounding of league after league at such a pace, broken only by short rest stops when I swallowed a few mouthfuls of food before clambering back onto the tireless horse. Shadowfax flew over the ground with long, smooth strides, and hardly aware of the passing of time or landscape, I clung desperately to the horse. My only sure reality in a daze of vision and dream.  But I was cold, exhausted, and muscles clenched and cramped. Any faint hope that my child would survive this battering was lost in a misery of endless pain. 'Forgive me,' I cried out as another raincloud dropped its load, chilling me to my very core.

Jolted awake once more as Shadowfax jumped a swollen stream, I realised that the rain had stopped and the moon tracked across a clearing sky. Silver light swept over dark banks of trees that crowded the road – The Drúadan Forest.  Ahead, the trees thinned, the road running past the Grey Wood as it hastened towards Minas Tirith. We were nearly there. A faint blush washed the eastern sky as dawn reached the Mountains of Shadow that bordered Mordor. No more sleeping. My goal near now, I pushed myself upright, mustering my remaining strength.

Long before I'd thought, the high wall of the Rammas Echor loomed across the road, the arched structure of Forannest, the Northern Gate, black against the paling sky. Only the Pelennor needed to be crossed.

'Halt, in the name of the King. Identify yourself!'

Shadowfax eased his speed and now I saw dim figures, spears levied. 'Lothíriel, Queen of Rohan, seeks free passage,' I called back, my voice croaking with relief as I neared my journey's end.

A man stepped forward. 'My lady?'  His look of suppressed horror betrayed what he must have thought of my bedraggled appearance. The devices on my tunic were almost obliterated by mud, and he peered around me before his eyes flicked back to my face. 'My lady, where is your escort?'

'Way behind me, for I have ridden in haste on Shadowfax and no other horse can keep pace with him.'

The man gawped mutely as Shadowfax pawed the ground, eager to be off again.  'But quickly,' I cried, 'let me pass, for Rohan's King lies mortally wounded and I have come to save him.'

The man came out of his stupor, and shouted an order for the gate to be opened. 'We are well aware that King Éomer lies injured in our Healing Houses, my lady, and messengers have been sent to Edoras. But how have you come so quickly, for surely they will only be halfway there?'

'I left before they reached us,' I replied impatiently, 'and now I must not linger if my husband is to live. Let me through.'

His eyes widened. 'I'll do more than that, my lady, I'll ride with you. It will be quicker getting the City gate open if I am with you to sound the alert.' He shouted another order and a man came running forward leading a lanky bay horse.

In spite of wishing to gallop away, I could see the advantage of him accompanying me. And great heart as he was, I could sense Shadowfax's weariness. 'Come then, I will be grateful for your escort.'

'How shall I call you?' I asked as the man swung onto his horse. Young, I could see now as day chased night away.

'Hadron, son of Ingold,' he replied as we swept through the gate onto the Pelennor. 'My family have had charge of this gate for generations and my father still recounts the tale of Mithrandir arriving just before the Dawnless Day on this mighty horse, with a Halfling clutched before him. And some months ago I saluted the King of Rohan as he led his Riders to battle in the south. But I never thought to see his Queen riding through my gate on Shadowfax.'

'Well, Hadron, let us hope both King and Queen pause to greet you on the way home, but every moment counts, so no more talk.' Shadowfax sped away keeping his pace to that of the other horse; even after his great journey Hadron's gelding was no match for him. But there was still the long climb to the Healing Houses and I knew he needed to conserve his strength.

The City gates were still shut, but as we got near, Hadron took an age-battered horn from his saddlebag and blew two long blasts followed by three short ones. A guard appeared on the wall, bow in hand.

'It is I, Hadron,' my escort yelled. 'Open up! Lothíriel, Queen of Rohan, seeks entrance.'

The guard disappeared, and moments later the huge gates swung silently open, a testimony to the skill of the Dwarves. But I did not stop to admire the craftsmanship that kept the White City safe; instead, l leant over Shadowfax's neck to ease my weight from his back. Anything to assist a quick assent up the winding way.

As we climbed the City shook itself awake, the inhabitants we passed staring incredulously at the huge, glistening horse with its dishevelled rider. But all my focus was now on Éomer and I hardly heard Hadron clearing a path for us with a string of curt words.

At last Shadowfax wearily turned onto the sixth level. Here the morning had started in earnest, and the neighing of horses as grooms brought them breakfast came loud over the stable walls. The main entrance to the Healing Houses was not far, there was no point in riding further. Shadowfax hung his proud head as I slipped off his back, willing my legs to hold. Ignoring my stiffness and pain, I wrapped my arms around the horse's neck whispering my thanks, and looked up at Hadron. 'You will see that he is well cared for, but not put behind any locked doors. He must leave as he wills.' 

'Aye, I'll do that, my lady.' Hadron dismounted, eying Shadowfax warily.

'Don't worry, he'll follow you. And thank you,' I called back, already making my way painfully along the road.

But my fears that more time would be wasted gaining entrance to the Houses were put at rest by the sight of a maid scrubbing the steps. I raced up, ignoring her protests, into the familiar entrance hall. The smell of camphor greeted me as it always had. I knew where Éomer would be, in the rooms that looked over the garden, the ones kept for those of high birth. But before I could take one step towards them, a screech halted me.

'You! Stop there. How dare you come in here carrying the filth of Mordor with you!'

I knew that voice. Age had not lessened Ioreth's right to be heard. I turned. 'It's me, Ioreth.'

Rheumy eyes squinted. 'My lady?  Realising it was indeed me, her whole body sagged. 'Oh, my lady, you come in time to say goodbye, but only just. I fear Rohan will lose its king very soon now. We were expecting King Elessar to arrive, but a messenger came to say he had been delayed. He was our last hope...'

 'I am the last hope, Ioreth,' I shut her up quickly. 'Take me to my husband.'

 'I will of course, my lady', she tutted, with a reproving frown, 'but not like that. You must wash and change first.'

I looked down: mud caked my boots and splattered my skirt. 'Quickly then, find me a healer's gown.'

'They are in the same place as they always were,' she muttered as I followed her along the passage.

A maid filled a bowl from the copper as I stripped off my sodden clothes. I retied my hair, splashed water over my face and scrubbed my hands. Cleaner, but shivering, I pulled a gown over my head and thrust my feet into a pair of leather slippers Ioreth pushed near me. I'd changed in this room countless times during the years I worked in the Houses before the war. But never so hastily.

'Now take me,' I ordered, my heart thumping with anxiety that it would be too late.

Reaching the right corridor Ioreth indicated which room, but instead of coming in bustled off to find Master Raglan. Then who was sitting with Éomer, I wondered.

'Lothíriel?' Éowyn rose from a chair as I entered, her tearstained face grey with fatigue.

My eyes flew from her to Éomer and without a word I went over to him.  He lay motionless on the bed. A partially healed wound showed high on his left shoulder, but there was no visible rise and fall of that muscled chest. Only faint breath emitted from those familiar lips, shallow and ragged.  I felt the heartbeat at his wrist – it raced away heedlessly – and when I ran my hand up his arm, his skin was hot and clammy. He made no response.

 'What do they say?' I looked up from my quick examination, meeting Éowyn's fear-filled eyes.

'They think a piece of arrow was left in the wound,' she answered tonelessly. 'And it has worked towards the heart, the infection pressing on it. They are afraid to delve so close to his heart as there is no certainty of finding the spot and they may nick one of the big vessels.' A tear ran down her cheek and she wrung her hands in desperation. 'If Aragorn were here, maybe he could do something, but it might be days before he arrives.'

'I can show them where to cut,' I said. 'That is why I am here.'

Éowyn gasped, but at that moment the door opened and Master Raglan entered. Warden now, he was an old friend of mine, and his eyes lit to see me.

'My lady, your presence gives me hope. I hesitate to open King Éomer's chest, such invasion so close to his heart is on the edge of our skills and we will not know if we are probing in the right place. But as a last resort, if you give me permission...'

I almost smiled, no preamble, the little man as always focused on his work. 'I am here to help, Master Raglan. The gift I have will show you where you need to make the incision, and I can guide your blade.'

No argument from him, only relief and wonder passed across his face. 'Of course, I had forgotten your special powers for a moment.' Resolution firmed his voice. 'However, with your agreement I will detail my assistant to make the actual incision. Angol has the steady hand of youth.'

He disappeared out of the door as hastily as always. Such a difference from the previous Warden.

'Lothíriel, can you do this?' Éowyn's expression was a mix of doubt and hope. I put my hand over hers, squeezing her fingers.

'That is why I have ridden league after league on Shadowfax, so that I could save Éomer.' Quickly I told her of my vision and my wild ride, hardly finishing the tale before the door opened again.

Angol was a tall young man, thin faced with a soft and gentle voice. Immediately I recognised the purity within him. Together we could do this.

Master Raglan had wasted no time. Éowyn retreated into a corner as grey-clad figures glided in, carrying trays of instruments and bowls of steaming water, steeped in cleansing herbs. The smell of myrrh filled the room. I washed my hands again, and knelt down by the bed willing the Valar not to fail me. As I concentrated I heard a roaring in my ears like the coming of a giant wave and the rest of the room receded into a grey mist, until only Éomer and I remained. Desperately I sought to peer through flesh and bone to the damaged tissues below, but all I saw was a red mass of hurt and pain. And then, as I struggled to see clearer, I remembered Galadriel, something she had said to me when my spirit was at its lowest – open your mind and your heart, Lothíriel, and let the light take you where it will. With a shudder I grasped Éomer's hand, sending out all the love I had for him – all that I was or wanted to be was bound to him. Without him I was nothing, he was my life and my light. Slowly the red cleared and I could see his heart, pumping still, but under pressure from the gathering of fluid and matter that pressed on it. And in the middle of that angry pustule a tiny shard of metal...

I stood up, feeling the first twinges of growing ache deep within me. Angol waited for my instruction, his instruments ready. I dipped my finger into the potent tincture that had been swabbed over Éomer's chest and drew a line close to his heart, indicating the exact place to cut. 'You need to slice between his ribs... here.'

The young healer did not hesitate, his scalpel split apart thick muscles. Raglan held the two ribs apart as Angol cut deeper.

'Slant the blade upward now,' I told him, gasping for breath. Angol nodded, and suddenly the red blood that ran from the incision turned a putrid yellow.

'Make sure we have the shard,' I heard Raglan say through my increasing agony. Doubling over, I clasped my belly as wave after wave of pain clenched my insides.

ooo

'She still sleeps?'

'Yes, Master Raglan gave her more medicine to keep her so. It is rest she needs now.'

I heard the words through a cloying fog. But feeling the touch of a cool hand on my brow, I struggled to open my eyes.

'Lothíriel...'

The face above me came into focus. 'Arwen?'

'Yes, it is me.'

Another face loomed over mine... immediately recognisable... Éowyn. I reached for her hand. 'I lost my baby?'

She nodded. 'Three days ago. I'm sorry.'

Tears filled my eyes as the emptiness of my dreams grew into reality. 'Éomer...?'

'He is weak, but recovering,' Arwen answered. 'You came just in time as Aragorn has still not arrived in the City.'

 I turned my face away, whispering into the pillow. 'The child... do you know...?

'A girl.' Éowyn confirmed what I already felt. 'We have buried her in the garden of the Houses, under that lovely Ash in the corner.'

Ash, the symbol of sacrifice, did she know? However tightly I squeezed my eyes the tears leached out.

'Lothíriel, look at me,' Éowyn turned my face gently. 'Grieve for this child, as we will all grieve. But you have saved Éomer, and that is a mighty gift to the Riddermark that no one else could have made. None will replace the child you have lost, but there will be others to claim your love.'

I looked up, into Arwen's ageless eyes, catching the shadow in them before she veiled it. No! Desolation swept through me – had I forfeited the chance of other children? I had known it happen to others who lost a babe in such a way as I.  My voice trembled, 'Éomer, I want to see Éomer.' I tried to raise myself, but my arms and legs wouldn't obey me.

'Lay still, Lothíriel, you are not strong enough.' Éowyn eased me back onto the pillows.

'No...' my voice cracked, 'I must. I have to see he is well...otherwise it has all been in vain...'

'I think she's right,' Arwen intervened. 'It will help. We can find someone to carry her.'

Éowyn nodded. 'I'll call Hulde first.'

Poor Hulde, she could hardly hold back the tears as she gently sponged me down, arranged my hair and then wrapped me in a warm robe.

'There, my lady. I'll tell them you are ready.'

Only moments after she had pulled the door shut, it opened again. Éowyn came back in with Déor, his bright eyes soft with concern.

I blinked back more tears. 'I am sorry I caused you so much worry.' Did it bother him that his wife yearned for a child and I had killed mine? His face never betrayed it.

'Don't apologise, my Queen.  When Éomer trusted me to protect you, he never said it would be easy. I am only glad to have you within my safe keeping again.'

I tried to smile. 'And now I am to be another burden to you.'

'Never a burden.'  Strong arms lifted me, and I inhaled the familiar smell of the Horse-lords. He carried me as if I weighed no more than thistledown, but it was a short journey. They had put me in a room next to Éomer. Éowyn opened the door and stood back as Déor carried me through.

'I bring someone you will be glad to see, Sire.'

'Lothíriel...?' Éomer lay in the middle of the big bed, a swathe of bandages around his chest, but his eyes were alert when they fixed on me.

Déor put me down on the bed, on Éomer's right, and in no more than a heartbeat I was snuggled against my husband's warm body. I heard the door close as I buried my face in his hair, soaking it with my tears. All the time I wept, his hand caressed me, soothing my anguish until I gulped out my first words.

'I'm sorry.'

'Lothíriel, what are you sorry for?' he whispered close to my ear.

I couldn't tell him all my fears. Not yet. 'I wanted to give you a daughter.'

'You gave me life.'

But I took a life to achieve it and perhaps denied myself the joy of other children.  Others might say I did it for the Riddermark, for the good of Middle-earth. But I knew it was because I did not want to live without this man, and on that I would be judged. I stayed, secure and loved in my husband's arms as the afternoon grew old. My strength slowly returning. 

The next day I was able to hobble to the room next door on Éowyn's arm. Arwen stood by the bed talking to Éomer and I caught a look of sorrow fly between them when they saw me.

'What is it?' I asked as Éowyn led me over. Éomer held out his hand and I sat down on the bed, his fingers twining with mine.

'Nothing,' he answered, 'the only important thing is for you to get well.'

But there was something: all my senses were tingling and a great dread stole over me. 'Éomer what are you hiding from me?'

He let out a deep sigh and directed a questioning look at Arwen, who gave a resigned nod.  'We didn't want to worry you yet, as it might be nothing,' Éomer said softly, 'but I might have guessed there would be no concealing it from you.'

'Concealing what ...' I held his eyes when he hesitated, my heartbeat hammering in my ears.

'Amroth is missing,' he said at last.

A cold shiver iced my body. 'Missing, do you mean dead?'

Arwen shook her head. 'We don't know, Lothíriel. The messenger says missing in the desert. That is why Aragorn has not returned'.

Éomer gathered up my shaking body.  'We have very little detail. Don't lose hope, Lothíriel, not yet.

'Not Amroth,' I whispered, 'the Valar couldn't be so cruel. Not after Devoran has lost so much.'

 

To be continued.

List of Original Characters

 

Hulde                          Lothíriel's maid. Originally from the Eastfold.

Déor                            Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. Appointed Captain of the  

                                    Queen's Guard after Éomer and Lothíriel's marriage.

Devoran                               Daughter of Duinhir of Morthond. Married to Prince Amrothos.

Master Raglan.                Warden of the Healing Houses in Minas Tirith.


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

Story Information

Author: Lady Bluejay

Status: General

Completion: Complete

Era: 4th Age

Genre: General

Rating: General

Last Updated: 06/24/12

Original Post: 01/05/11

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