3. The Evenstar of Rohan
Had I seen her in any other company, I would have said all that you could wish. But now I will put Queen Arwen Evenstar first, and I am ready to do battle on my own part with any who deny me.
Eomer—The Return of the King (The Steward and the King)
Nodding pleasantly to some rather puzzled looking stable hands, Legolas casually led Faensul out of the stalls in Minas Tirith’s sixth circle. He was followed by a towering black stallion and a shorter, restless bay. The servants made no move to stop Legolas or his unusual escort, for the lord of Ithilien was known in Minas Tirith as one of the king’s closest friends. As such, none questioned why he would be leading three horses about as though he went to exercise them—a menial job that the prince of Mirkwood would never undertake himself unless it involved solely his own mount. Deciding at length that this was another peculiarity of the unfathomable elves, the stable hands eventually ceased their stares and resumed their work.
Once safely out of their sight, Legolas pulled Faensul’s head close to his own and whispered quietly. The horse snorted and then nickered, bobbing his head as though agreeing to instructions. Feeling eyes upon him, Legolas glanced back and smiled innocently at the questioning looks given him by the other two horses. "Togo Gaearsul a Mornaecco," Legolas instructed, pitching his voice to include the stallions behind Faensul. "Togor lim."
Faensul tossed his head and neighed, starting down the streets at a slow trot and gesturing for Gaearsul and Mornaecco to follow. Gaearsul, Elrohir’s mount, snorted and hurried to catch up, his fiery eyes flashing at the thought of being left behind. Mornaecco, though, seemed to have the temperament of his rider, Elladan, and favored Legolas with a long, studying look from eyes as black as his coat.
"Aphado, mellon nín," Legolas encouraged, gesturing toward Faensul and Gaearsul, who were turning down an archway and descending into the fifth circle.
Mornaecco sniffed haughtily, clearly distrustful of what was happening, but since no one seemed ready to lead him back to his manger and he did not know his own way through the city, he truly had no choice. Reluctantly, Mornaecco sent Legolas a parting glare filled with deadly promise should this errand come to disaster and trotted after the other two horses.
With a smile, Legolas shook his head and made his way back up to the Citadel. He was now glad of the many times he’d brought Faensul to Minas Tirith, despite the fact that the horse did not seem to enjoy the city. Faensul was an intelligent animal, and he knew how to get from the stables in the sixth circle to the City-gate and the Pelennor Fields beyond. Legolas only hoped that the horses would be able to reach their destination without a certain pair of twins finding out. Still, if he knew Elladan and Elrohir, they were looking for ways to work around the sudden presence of Eldarion and would not be paying attention to the activities of three horses.
But it is so very inadequate, Legolas sighed, wishing he had more freedom of movement. Unfortunately, he was now obligated to assist Gimli in watching the crown-prince of Gondor, and such obligations were not lightly overlooked even on New Year’s Eve. Until he divested himself of his unwanted duty in caring for Eldarion, he was tethered to the seventh circle.
Returning the salutes of the guards as he entered the tunnel that would lead him up into the Citadel, Legolas cast about in his mind for further methods of retaliation. The future actions of Mornaecco and Gaearsul would ensure that Rohan’s wrath fell upon Elladan and Elrohir, but the twins themselves would not be harmed unless Eomer felt it necessary to take personal action against the two. And even in that event, it would be Eomer doling out punishment, not Legolas. But the list of things that could be done while confined to the Citadel was short and dreary. There were not many options.
The sound of laughter reached his ears, and Legolas shook himself free of vengeful thoughts. He could not dwell on such things now. Gimli would need much aid in tending to Eldarion, for although the child was mortal, elven blood ran in his veins. If nothing else, he would be a handful.
Entering the Queen’s Gardens, which was a large, walled enclosure situated just south of the palace, Legolas soon found Gimli and Eldarion hashing out the rules for a game of hide-and-seek. Shaking his head at this, the elf moved behind Gimli and sat down upon a convenient rock. Rules were limitations, and at his age, Eldarion would not be bothered with them, particularly rules that set boundaries on where one could and could not hide. But if Gimli felt the need for rules, so be it. Legolas would be ready to assist him when the time came, provided the dwarf swallowed his pride and did an adequate amount of groveling. The help of an elven prince came with a price, after all.
"Ah, Legolas, you’ve returned," Gimli noted. "Would you care to join our game?"
"Nay, friend, I would rather watch," Legolas answered, allowing a slight smile to curve his lips. "This should prove entertaining."
Gimli scowled, recognizing the slight, but Eldarion was tugging at the dwarf’s sleeve, ready to begin. "Go on then," Gimli commanded. "And hide yourself well, for dwarves are difficult to deceive."
Eldarion giggled and shot away, quickly vanishing into the thick underbrush that covered all ground not marked by stone paths. "Are you certain you are up to this task?" Legolas asked, his sharp eyes following slight movements of plants and marking Eldarion’s path as one that would take him near a gnarled tree next to the high, stone wall on the far side.
"I have chased Uruk-hai across the plains of Rohan and walked the Paths of the Dead," Gimli answered with a slight growl. "Think you that I am not qualified for the task of watching one small boy?"
"How does chasing Orcs and walking among the deceased qualify you for watching Eldarion?" Legolas wondered, his brow furrowing in confusion.
Gimli sighed. "I mean only to say that I have faced far more difficult challenges."
"Ah. Are you certain of that?" Legolas asked, watching as Eldarion suddenly popped into view atop the gnarled tree and from there clambered over the wall and out of the Queen’s Gardens.
"Of course," the dwarf answered, reminding Legolas very much of Gaearsul’s actions when he had followed Faensul unwittingly to his doom only moments before. "How difficult can it be to amuse Eldarion in the gardens?"
Legolas almost lost his composure, for he knew well that Eldarion was now far from the gardens and probably somewhere along the Citadel’s outer wall. But he harnessed his mirth and settled for raising his brows at the dwarf. "You invite trouble with such words, my friend."
Gimli grunted and shook his head. "You are underestimating me again. But now that you have spoken of trouble, tell me what trouble we can cause for Elladan and Elrohir. And where did you go after we left the palace?"
"I left to cause trouble," Legolas answered, choosing the vaguest response he could think of so as to better annoy the dwarf. Smiling at the scowl he received for his words, he laughed softly before shaking his head and releasing a quiet sigh of frustration. "Indeed, I left to cause trouble, but unfortunately, I can only cause trouble in small amounts. I must linger here with you to ensure that you do not find yourself well over your head."
A flash of anger passed across Gimli’s face, but he shook it off, curiosity managing to overcome insulted dwarven pride for the moment. "And what trouble did you cause?"
"I loosed Faensul from the stables in the sixth circle," Legolas answered. "I also released Gaearsul and Mornaecco, the twins’ stallions. Faensul is now leading them down to the Pelennor Fields."
"What good shall that do? The twins can find their horses easily enough," Gimli pointed out with a skeptical frown.
"True enough. However, if I know the twins, they are no longer down on the Pelennor Fields but rather making their way back to the Citadel by secretive routes. Thus, our equine friends shall arrive on the fields without the supervision of the twins and Faensul shall unerringly guide them to a paddock of mares that lies near the northern gate. If I read the signs aright yestereve, most of those mares are ready to breed. I trust that both Gaearsul and Mornaecco shall thoroughly enjoy themselves. Faensul has been instructed to return without taking any action of his own."
Gimli blinked. "These mares you speak of…are these not the mares that Eomer specifically set aside for breeding with horses from Rhûn later this year? He was planning to keep them here in Gondor so that they would not mix with his own stud herds back in Rohan. He spoke of wishing to improve balance and agility in mountainous terrain."
"I fear he must needs find other mares for the task of breeding with studs from Rhûn, for if things go as planned, these mares will soon be heavy with foal." Legolas frowned and leaned back against a tree trunk. "Still, it seem very inadequate. Elladan and Elrohir will be forced to make compensation to Rohan and Rhûn, but such compensation is of no great cost to Rivendell itself, given its resources. Nay, Gimli, we must take more direct action against the twins themselves. However, I do not know how such a thing will be accomplished while we are forced to watch Eldarion."
"Perhaps we could rotate Eldarion between the two of us," Gimli suggested.
Legolas grimaced and shook his head. "I risked venturing forth alone on the chance that Elladan and Elrohir would still be somewhere in the lower parts of the city. I would not trust myself to walk out of the Citadel again without company. Unless they have completely changed their tactics, at least one of them shall soon be watching us—who knows but what we are already watched—expecting us to divide our forces as you have suggested. And they will strike again the moment we do so. To separate successfully and have one of us leave the safety of the Citadel, we would have to do so away from prying eyes and then continue to keep out of sight. Eldarion will not allow for such secrecy. He is too conspicuous."
"I did not know that elves took their holiday foolishness so seriously," Gimli grunted. "It seems to have reached a level where it ceases to be a game and becomes instead a chore and an obligation."
"Among lesser elves, it is still very much a game," Legolas said, thinking back to some of the things his father’s guards had pulled in Mirkwood from time to time. "But among nobles and royalty, it has become a matter of honor. And there is also something of an unspoken war between Mirkwood and Rivendell in these things."
"Elves," the dwarf grumbled with a roll of his eyes. "You are so obsessed with perfection that you cannot even enjoy your fun and games."
"We enjoy winning," Legolas pointed out with a grin. "Those who find themselves on the victorious side at the end of the day are quite pleased with the outcome."
Gimli snorted and shook his head. "I suppose. But be that as it may, I have now exhausted my ideas for working around the problem of Eldarion. It is your turn to ponder. In the meantime, I shall search out the young prince, who is undoubtedly wondering if any are coming to look for him."
"If you need help, I stand ready to assist you," Legolas called after the dwarf as he headed into the parts of the garden that were thick with trees and vines.
"I am quite capable of finding a four-year-old child on my own," Gimli hollered back.
"Perhaps," Legolas mused quietly to himself, looking up into the tree against which he leaned and studying the budding flowers and sprouting leaves. But you have never played this game with a four-year-old child possessed of elven blood. No matter, though. I will be here when you cannot find him, and you may then grovel for my aid. In the meantime, I will think on other things to do to the twins.
* * * *
When the first crack of the pole echoed across the Pelennor, Eowyn was already running. From afar, she had seen Eomer suddenly swing Shade away from the post, and she had immediately guessed his reasons for doing so. The ground was slightly depressed, and it could easily collect water from winter rains. It would be muddy and treacherous. When Imrahil had charged his mare into the place that Eomer had sought to avoid, Eowyn had bitten her lower lip and started moving forward.
She broke into a run when she saw Imrahil’s mare stagger and slip. She heard others gasping behind her and starting to follow, but Eowyn was fast. Hitching up her skirts, she practically flew across the field and watched in horror as Imrahil went down and his horse slammed into the wooden pole.
She was too far away to see Eomer’s face as he knelt next to his father-in-law, but she could sense his surprise and fear when the pole above the two men cracked and began to fall. In horror, she watched as he attempted to move both himself and the prince of Dol Amroth out of harm’s way, and her breath caught in her throat as he stumbled and fell. Imrahil was thrown free, but Eomer was not fast enough. He made a frantic attempt to roll away, and then his head jerked violently to the side as the falling pole clipped him on its way to the ground.
"Eomer!" Eowyn cried, pushing herself to faster speeds. Faramir and Aragorn had now caught up with her, and Aragorn was beginning to move past, his long legs eating up the distance in an effortless, loping run. He was soon before her and moving further away, but Faramir did not leave her side, matching his pace to hers as she fumbled with her dress and tried to coax more speed from her legs. She did not know whether to be grateful for his concern or insulted by it, but in the end, it mattered not as concern for Eomer trumped both feelings.
It seemed to take an eternity to cross the vast Pelennor, and Eowyn was almost certain that several years ticked by before she drew near her brother. Aragorn was nearly there, but he suddenly stopped, frozen. Eowyn blinked, wondering what force could be delaying him, and then the reason for his halt made itself clear as she reached his position. Shade was now standing guard over the fallen king of Rohan, and his challenging neigh warned all within hearing distance that he would tolerate no hurt to his master.
"Eowyn, can you control Shade?" Aragorn hissed, watching the stallion cautiously as the horse neighed again and squared his heels at the king of Gondor.
Her breath coming hard, Eowyn nodded an answer and moved towards the dark, gray horse. "Come, great one," she whispered, holding out her hand. "Come. You know me as a friend. Come to me and let them help."
Making her motions slow and deliberate, she began to hum quietly, hoping to placate the chief of the Mearas. Shade was a temperamental horse, and he could be extremely difficult at times, especially if Eomer was not around to help. Fortunately, he seemed to be listening to Eowyn at the moment. Hesitantly, he nickered and then took a step away from Eomer.
"Yes, that’s right," Eowyn coaxed, drawing close enough to take his reins. Gently and quietly, she began guiding him further away. She spied Imrahil’s mare attempting to regain her feet and decided to lead Shade in that direction. "Allow them to help. Easy, my friend." She was now quite close to the mare—Eowyn thought her name might be Moralph, but she was not certain—and reaching out she managed to catch her reins. Carefully pulling both horses after her, she continued to encourage them to follow. "Gently, now," she coaxed, watching as Shade seemed to calm in the presence of the mare. "Good, great one. All is well. Simply follow me and I shall see that all turns out for the better."
Sensing that the horses were calm for the moment, Eowyn risked glancing away from her charges to look back at her brother, and she saw that Aragorn had already moved in and was even now examining Eomer. Lothíriel and Arwen were also on the scene, and Faramir had been directed to see to Imrahil, who seemed to be groggy and disoriented but otherwise unharmed. Others on the fields were now gathering, and Shade was beginning to sidestep and toss his head again, his nervousness returning. Moralph was faring no better, and she was favoring her left foreleg. If she wished to keep the horses calm, then Eowyn would have to lead them away from the growing crowd of guards and onlookers. But she was reluctant to leave her brother until she knew how he fared.
A sudden shout from those gathered arrested her attention, and she watched as Eomer’s son pushed through the people to stare in horror. "Elfwine!" Eowyn called, putting force and authority into her voice but keeping it calm so as not to upset Shade and Moralph. "Elfwine, I require your assistance!"
Frightened, blue eyes turned her direction, and then the boy took hesitant steps toward his aunt. "Lady Eowyn, what—"
"Elfwine, you are your father’s heir. Shade trusts you. Lead him and the mare away from these people. They are only upsetting them," Eowyn said firmly, allowing no room for refusal. "The mare is limping, so take care."
"But my father—"
"I will find you shortly," Eowyn promised, reaching out and physically pulling Elfwine toward her. "But at the moment, we need to give King Elessar space in which to work. Take Shade. Take him to the stables here on the Pelennor, see that he is cared for, and then you may return."
Elfwine’s eyes widened slightly as the reins were thrust into his hands, but he eventually nodded and started walking Shade and Moralph away. Satisfied that the horses were in good hands and that her attention could turn elsewhere, Eowyn ignored her own words about giving Aragorn space and rushed to her brother’s side.
"Peace," Aragorn soothed, looking up at Eowyn’s approach. "Peace, he lives." Glancing around, the king of Gondor frowned and then turned to Arwen. "Would you see what you can do about dispersing this crowd? The fewer spectators, the better."
Arwen nodded quickly. "Lothíriel, come. I could use your aid. Come," she repeated when Rohan’s queen seemed to hesitate.
"Eowyn, would you assist Faramir in seeing to Imrahil?" Aragorn asked as Arwen took Lothíriel away.
"And by that, my liege, you mean to say I am a hindrance," Eowyn returned sharply, indignant at the dismissal.
Aragorn smiled slightly and once again looked up from his ministrations. "I should know better than to brandy words with you, Lady Eowyn. Very well, I will be blunt. You are a hindrance, and I wish you to find another place to stand while I try to rouse your brother."
"Then by your leave, my liege, I will see to Imrahil," Eowyn answered, not able to keep from smiling at this strange game they played from time to time.
"An excellent idea," Aragorn retorted wryly. "Would that my own thoughts were so clear."
With a shake of her head, Eowyn grudgingly left Eomer’s side and moved toward Faramir and Imrahil. Out of the corner of her eye, she noted that Arwen and Lothíriel were organizing guards and directing the gathered crowd to various parts of the Pelennor, giving them tasks to do that would keep them occupied. Much as Aragorn did with us, Eowyn thought with a hint of mirth.
"Ah, Eowyn, your presence is welcome here," Faramir called out as he helped Imrahil to a sitting position. "I am attempting to help this aging prince to his feet, but I fear that such a task is beyond me."
Catching the forced levity in her husband’s voice and knowing it was directed toward Imrahil, Eowyn tried to match the smile and moved to assist them. "You grow weak, Faramir," she chided, a teasing gleam in her eye. "Governing Ithilien has dulled your senses and wasted your body."
"Peace, both of you," Imrahil interrupted sharply, a touch of impatience coloring his voice. "Lady Eowyn, perhaps you would be willing to speak of how King Eomer fares. Faramir seems to have no knowledge."
Eowyn hesitated a moment, and then shook her head slightly. "I fear I know little. He has not yet regained consciousness."
"Then let us go and see him," Imrahil said, surging to his feet and immediately staggering. Faramir and Eowyn both hurried to support him, and the proud prince of Dol Amroth was forced to accept their aid.
"Softly now, uncle," Faramir whispered quietly. "Let us return to Minas Tirith and—"
"I will not return to the city until I first learn of how Eomer fares," Imrahil interrupted sternly. The look on his face was one that had occasionally caused even Denethor to back down, and Eowyn shivered slightly. Sensing that he now had their full and undivided attention, Imrahil grunted and nodded. "Better. Now, let us see inquire of King Elessar as to King Eomer’s condition."
Shooting Faramir a questioning glance, Eowyn was met by a shrug and a resigned look. Imrahil could be extremely stubborn at times. Realizing she could not win this argument—and wanting to see to Eomer herself—Eowyn nodded and turned, lending her shoulder to the prince of Dol Amroth as he struggled to regain his balance. Their progress was slow, but they had not far to go and were soon peering over Aragorn’s shoulder. This caused him to look up at them with an expression of both bemusement and annoyance, but a groan from Eomer stopped short any complaints he might have had.
"Eomer?" A new voice entered the scene, and Eowyn looked over as Lothíriel hurried into view and knelt by her husband’s head, ignoring the mud and water that soaked her dress. "Eomer!" Lothíriel cried, her hand caressing his brow and smoothing away tendrils of hair.
"Call him again," Aragorn encouraged, a hand upon Eomer’s throat as he monitored his pulse. Arwen joined them, then, standing at Eomer’s feet and looking as though she was prepared to assist. "I believe he may be waking."
"Eomer!" Lothíriel said, her voice rising. "My king, come back to us!"
A second groan echoed up from the depths of Eomer’s chest, and he turned his head slightly, wincing almost immediately. Eowyn grimaced in sympathy, for her brother had taken a hard blow to the head and she could well imagine what horrific pounding now echoed through his skull.
"Again," Aragorn commanded, watching Eomer’s progress closely. "He is almost awake."
"Eomer?" Lothíriel whispered, her voice gentle this time as she ran her hands down the side of his face.
The king of Rohan sighed and his eyes fluttered open. A dazed look came over him, and he flinched back from the brightness of the sun. Arwen moved to shade him, and Eomer blinked, glancing about with a look of complete and utter confusion.
"Eomer?" Imrahil questioned, moving forward against the holds of Faramir and Eowyn. "Eomer, how do you fare?"
Eomer shook his head and hissed, immediately stopping the movement. With an expression of increasing concern, Aragorn waved Lothíriel back slightly, and ran his hands gently over the back of Eomer’s head. "My friend, can you speak?" Aragorn asked quietly.
Turning toward the voice, Eomer looked at Aragorn and frowned, his brow creasing with what could only be interpreted as bewilderment. "Where am I?"
Aragorn froze and then leaned forward, his eyes flashing with alarm. "You do not remember? Know you who I am?" When Eomer shook his head slightly, Aragorn’s face became even graver. "Know you your own name?"
Eomer closed his eyes and groaned. "Nay," he whispered, his voice wracked with torment. "Nay, I do not."
"Sweet Varda," Faramir swore quietly, and Eowyn could only nod in agreement, her eyes fixed upon her brother’s face as she tried to think of words to say that might stir him to remembrance.
"Eomer, do you recall anything?" Arwen asked, sharing a worried look with her husband.
Opening his eyes, Eomer turned her direction and something in his expression abruptly changed. The confusion lessened, some of the anguish drifted away, and a light appeared in his eyes that had both Lothíriel and Aragorn immediately stiffening. "I have but vague images that mean nothing," Eomer said quietly, never taking his eyes from Arwen. "But I believe I may say this: though I have no memory, I do not think I have seen a woman more beautiful or more perfect in the course of all my days than she who stands before me now. And if you would but give me your name, I would keep it safe within my heart until the last breath of my body is spent and all that remains is the memory of your face."
The ensuing silence was deafening.
Eowyn had heard Arwen’s beauty praised many times, and often had such compliments been given in Aragorn’s presence. Until now, Aragorn had never reacted to any of them save to add his own agreement. He seemed to understand that such praise was unavoidable with a queen as beautiful as Arwen by his side. Beyond that, the praise was always harmless enough as it was said with the knowledge that Arwen was beyond the reach of any man save the king of Gondor. But Eomer’s words had been spoken from the heart, and he had made no effort to hide the desire burning in his eyes. And in the face of such unabashed affection, Aragorn’s eyes were becoming dark and stony.
Lothíriel was no better. Eomer’s eyes were still fastened upon Arwen’s ageless face that put to shame the best features of any mortal woman, and the queen of Rohan was flushing with anger. Concern was also present, but it was dwindling quickly in the heat of a fiery rage that was causing Lothíriel’s fists to clench and unclench at her sides.
Arwen, on the other hand, was a perfect contrast for both Aragorn and Lothíriel. She was making a valiant attempt at keeping her face blank, but her features were beginning to twist with what seemed to be vast amusement. It was Eowyn’s considered opinion that, had the queen of Gondor been alone, her laughter would have taken her to the ground. She could clearly see Arwen’s shaking sides, and the hitches in her breathing indicated that she was having great trouble controlling her reaction to the situation.
"Perhaps we should move Eomer inside," Imrahil suddenly said, his voice calm but hard as steel.
"Your counsel is good," Faramir immediately seconded. Eowyn stole a quick glance at her husband and noted that he also seemed to be enjoying the situation immensely. But he was doing a better job at hiding his amusement than was Arwen. "Guards!" Acting quickly and without waiting for Aragorn’s approval, Faramir waved some of the soldiers over and directed them toward Eomer, who had made no effort to rise on his own but seemed content to stare longingly at Arwen. "Take the king of Rohan to the Houses of Healing. Send word ahead to the healers so that they might be prepared. We shall join you shortly."
Reacting to the sudden assumption of authority on the part of Faramir in prematurely taking his patient away, Aragorn sent the steward a dangerous glare that would have put Wormtongue to shame, and Eowyn knew exactly how dangerous those looks had been. But fortunately, a measure of common sense remained in Aragorn. If the king of Rohan insisted on proclaiming his love to the queen of Gondor, it would probably be best if they moved all concerned away from the public eye. Rising to his feet and stepping back as the guards moved in to carry Eomer off the field, Aragorn sighed and shook his head. "Valar. We did not need additional problems this day."
"You view this as a problem?" Arwen asked, her voice shaking slightly with ill-concealed mirth.
"I certainly do not view it as humorous," Aragorn said rather archly with a dark look at his wife.
"My apologies, love," Arwen said, her tone consoling. "Of course this is a very grave matter. But I have great faith in your abilities as a healer. I doubt not that Eomer shall soon come to his senses and see the folly of his ways."
Aragorn grunted, apparently somewhat mollified by this response, but Eowyn wondered if this reaction might not be premature. While Arwen’s words might offer comfort to her indignant husband, her expression told an entirely different story. Eowyn could not be certain if she read Arwen aright, but the look on the face of Gondor’s queen seemed to indicate that she was ready to milk this latest development for all it was worth.
* * * *
Safely removed from the drama now playing itself out upon the Pelennor Fields, Merry and Pippin conversed cheerfully about topics of little importance as they walked the streets of Minas Tirith, holding in their minds the image of the large kitchens that awaited them in the palace. Their trip was largely uneventful—a rather pleasant surprise on this day—with but one exception.
In the fifth circle, a sudden whinny had startled both hobbits and prompted them to quickly sidestep. Their timing was impeccable as a large white horse and a smaller bay stallion cantered by. They were followed at length by a tall black horse who gave the appearance of being very miffed. Conversation in the streets halted as the steeds flew swiftly by, their hooves sounding loud upon the stone paths. Many stopped to stare, a few moved as though to go after the animals, and then they vanished, turning a corner and descending into the fourth circle.
"Now there’s something you don’t see every day," Pippin commented at length. "What did you make of that?"
Merry narrowed his eyes and stared after the horses, though they could no longer be seen. "I can’t be certain, but I think that two of those horses were Elladan’s and Elrohir’s. And I’m fairly sure that all three were elven horses."
"Ah." Pippin was silent for a moment, his face suspiciously blank. "I suppose that leaves Legolas with the white one."
"It would make sense," Merry reluctantly conceded, trying not to speculate as to what the horses might be doing.
"Right, then," Pippin said with a brisk nod. "Kitchens?"
"Kitchens," Merry confirmed, hoping that such an innocuous place in the lower portions of the palace would be safe from any of the more frivolous activities planned for this day.
The two continued their journey, eventually picking up the conversation from the point at which it had been interrupted. It was actually turning into an interesting debate—interesting by hobbit standards, at least—about the origins of pipe-weed. Pippin was insisting—and rather erroneously so, in Merry’s opinion—that Tobold Hornblower had come by pipe-weed because of inspiration from the Tooks. Having just compiled quite a bit of history on the subject and written much of it in a book that was now fairly well known in the Shire, Merry sternly disputed this claim. Old Toby had clearly come by pipe-weed thanks to his visits with hobbits in Bree—some of whom might have been distantly related to the Brandybucks.
"It doesn’t make any sense if you think about it," Pippin reasoned in a tone that was painfully close to patronizing. "Old Toby lived just south of the Great Smials. He was leagues away from Buckland and Bree. Maybe you’re right and they had an influence, but the greater influence surely came from his neighbors to the north."
"You have absolutely nothing to back that idea," Merry returned, nodding politely at the guards as they turned into the tunnel that would take them up to the Citadel. "You’re well out of your depth, Pippin, and until you can dig up one shred of evidence, none of your words will hold any weight."
"Why bother with evidence when common sense and logic can make everything clear?"
"I challenge you to name any period of your life during which you understood the meaning of either common sense or logic."
Pippin scowled, his eyes flashing slightly as they emerged from the tunnel and started walking toward the palace. "Clearly you do not know me well, Cousin Brandybuck. Nor do you know my family. We Tooks are renowned for common sense and logic. My entire life has seen a steady stream of these qualities."
Merry rolled his eyes and shook his head, wondering if this latest statement was even worthy of a reply. The two were now skirting the edge of the walled gardens, and snatches could be heard of a rather strange conversation from within. The conversation’s participants were clearly Legolas and Gimli, but as for the subject of their conversation… Did Gimli just say something about Rhûn and Eomer’s mares?
"I suppose that answers the question of what the horses were doing in the streets," Pippin said quietly, apparently also listening to the conversation.
"Let’s hurry," Merry suggested, throwing a cautious look over his shoulder. "I’m not sure I want to know any more of what they’re talking about."
Pippin nodded his agreement and the two hastened their pace slightly, eventually reaching one of the palace’s side entrances, which also happened to be the entrance closest to the kitchens. Silent as only hobbits can be, the two slipped inside and down the hallways, nodding respectfully at any they happened to meet but doing their best to keep out of sight and avoid notice. Pippin clearly didn’t trust the fact that Arwen was allowing this, and Merry shared his feelings to an extent. He wanted to believe that the offer of free access to the palace kitchens was a sincere one, but it was an unusual gift from the queen of Gondor and unusual gifts were to be accepted but scrutinized.
The hobbits eventually reached a narrow corridor that would take them directly into the middle of the usually bustling kitchens. It was their normal mode of entrance as it was a rather obscure passage, allowing them to walk in and out quickly and quietly. The familiarity of the surroundings now afforded them a moment of relief, but the relief did not last long. No sooner had they begun their trip down the narrow hallway than they both stopped.
"It’s too quiet," Pippin whispered, wincing slightly at the sound of his own voice. "Why? Why is it so quiet?"
"I wish I knew," Merry answered, his eyes narrowing. "Let’s keep going and see if we can’t find some answers."
"Slowly, then," the other hobbit cautioned. "I don’t like this."
With a caution that would be completely alien to most inhabitants of the Shire—particularly when an accessible and well-stocked kitchen lay less than a stone’s throw away—Merry and Pippin crept forward. Tentatively pulling open the door, two sets of wary eyes peered around the frame and examined the large kitchens that served food for the king and his household. It did not take them long to realize why it was so quiet. The area was completely deserted.
An empty kitchen is a very foreign concept to most hobbits. Merry and Pippin were fortunate enough to know that empty kitchens did exist outside of the Shire, but they also knew that kitchens such as these were rarely vacant. With the occasional exception of the dead of night, something was always baking or rising or boiling or sizzling within the palace’s kitchens. Different members of the household ate at different times, which required that these kitchens be constantly staffed. Yet now…
"Merry, you’d best have a look at this."
Merry shook his head, his thoughts broken by Pippin’s interruption. Managing to overcome his shock and confusion, he made his way toward a ground-level cupboard that Pippin had opened and was investigating. "Did you find something?" he asked, still glancing about warily and half expecting the entire kitchen staff to descend upon them at any moment.
"Yes and no," came the answer as Pippin straightened and turned toward Merry. "I think I found the reason why the kitchens are deserted. And I found this reason because of things I didn’t find."
"Pardon?" Merry asked with a blink, hoping that he could catch up to Pippin’s reasoning quickly enough to have a partially lucid conversation.
"The older cooking ware."
Merry frowned and wondered if he had swooned sometime during the last hour, subsequently missing vital parts of this dialogue. "What about the older cooking ware?"
"I didn’t find it. But the newer cooking ware and some of the nicer pots are still here."
"All right," Merry said slowly. "You didn’t find the old but you did find the new." He stopped and cocked his head to the side, attempting to see the significance of this development but failing miserably. "Pippin, this might sound like a foolish question to you, but why should I care that the nicer pots are still in the cupboards?"
"Think about it," Pippin answered, his tone taking on a note of condescension that thoroughly irritated his companion. "What comes to mind?"
"Someone decided to do a bit of cleaning?"
"No! You don’t see it?" Pippin scowled and folded his arms across his chest. "It’s obvious, Merry. And now I remember a conversation I overheard just before breakfast. It all makes perfect sense, but it didn’t mean anything to me then."
"Well, it seems to mean something to you now, so why not share this something with me?" Merry said, struggling to control his rising feelings of anger and frustration. The fact that his stomach was starting to growl certainly didn’t help matters.
"They’re on the Pelennor Fields!" Pippin exclaimed. "I know you were there at breakfast when Arwen told us that the entire palace was having lunch on the fields and possibly dinner, too. They must have taken the food they needed with them. And we saw them setting up when we were down there earlier. That big tent along the northern wall is where they had everything. That’s why Arwen told us we could wander in and out of the kitchen all day. She knew there would be nothing here for us!"
"But what about those of the household that are staying up here during the day?" Merry protested, unwilling to believe what Pippin was trying to say. "The guard and such. Surely they will need the kitchen for meals. There must be food here somewhere."
"Actually, that was also part of the conversation I heard," Pippin answered. "I didn’t understand what they were saying at the time, but now I think I do. Some of the guards were talking about showing up early for lunch because some of the attendants were going to be joining them at the butteries in the Tower. It makes sense now. The kitchens are abandoned here so everyone in the Citadel is stuck with the food in the Tower."
It was not possible. It could not be possible. And yet… Merry shook his head. No, he refused to believe that Arwen could be so cruel. She would not grant them access to the palace kitchens knowing there would be no food for them. This was obviously a misunderstanding. Like the misunderstanding that Gimli had with his door this morning? a cynical little voice asked.
"It’s like Frodo used to say," Pippin continued, his voice dropping and a note of despair creeping in. "Elves will tell you both yes and no. And that’s just what Arwen did. She said yes to the palace kitchens and no to the food, only she didn’t say that last part aloud. She let us figure it out the hard way."
"It was a dirty trick," Merry murmured. "You’d think that a queen would know better than to toy with a person’s hopes like that."
"Yes, but I don’t see that we can do anything about it. I suppose we’ll just have to wait for the noon meal like everyone else," Pippin sighed dejectedly.
"Perhaps not," Merry murmured, a sudden idea coming to him. "The kitchen is just a place where the food is prepared, correct?"
"Correct," Pippin said hesitantly, one eyebrow arching.
"That means there should be a large store of food here in Minas Tirith."
"There is, but it won’t be very large right now. We’re just coming out of winter. No one has had a chance to restock the supplies. Merry, what are you thinking?"
"It makes sense that these kitchens, which are huge and feed everyone in the palace, connect to a storeroom of some kind. It would be easier to transport things.
"The only storerooms I know of are those in the Tower next to the butteries," Pippin said, his voice somewhat skeptical. "I’ve never seen a storeroom here."
"Of course you haven’t. For some reason, they’re not particularly fond of us in this kitchen. They won’t let us explore. But why would they waste time dragging supplies over from the Tower when there’s room enough in the palace for them? There must be a storeroom here somewhere, and since no one is currently in the kitchens…" Merry trailed off and looked expectantly at Pippin.
Pippin caught on quickly and grinned. "Where do we begin looking?"
Togo Gaearsul a Mornaecco. Togor lim—Lead Gaearsul and Mornaecco. Lead them on.
Aphado, mellon nín—Follow, my friend.
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.