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Trust To Hope

Chapter 11: Chapter Ten

by Novedhelion

Trust to Hope - Chapter Ten
Author: Novedhelion
Type: FP Het
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Pairing: Éomer/Lothíriel aka Anhuil
Rating: PG13
Warnings:
Beta: Riyallyn
Disclaimer: Characters are not mine, no money to be made...you’ve heard it all before. It’s a mixture of movieverse and book canon...bear with me. If PJ can lose the entire Dunedain army, not to mention the Swan Knights of Dol Amroth...



********
Chapter Ten
********

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” Abraham Lincoln


Rohan
2 Gwaeron, 3019 T.A.
*************************

Haleth reined in his mount and turned to look at the woman beside him. They had been riding several hours through the night. She halted her horse beside him, taking as deep a breath as her injury would allow.

“Are you all right, Miss?”

The princess fingered her side, feeling the thick bandages through her tunic. The constant motion of the ride had caused it to begin aching again, but she was not about to tell him that.

“I am fine, thank you. Haleth, is it?”

He nodded. “I think it would be safe to rest a while here, if you like.”

“No, Haleth, if we need to get to Minas Tirith, we should continue.”

The soldier studied her. Whether she admitted to it or not, he could tell she was in pain and exhausted. “No offense, Miss, but the marshal will have my hide if I let anything happen to you. You’re hurt and you’re tired, and we’re going to stop for a bit.” He dismounted, and walked to the side of her steed. “Let me help you down.” Reaching up, he carefully assisted her down to the ground. She winced as he set her down.

“See? I told you. Here.” He handed her a bedroll from his saddle. “By these rocks I should be able to keep watch. You get some rest.” Anhuil opened her mouth to protest but was silenced by his stare. “I’ll not have Lord Éomer coming down on me. Get some rest. I will wake you in a few hours.”

“Thank you, Haleth. To be honest, I believe I am more tired than I thought.” Truly, she was exhausted. Looking around, she whistled shrilly.

“What the--?” Haleth began.

The large wolf came bounding out of the shadows to where they stood. The princess bent down, ruffling his fur and whispering softly to him. She stood and smiled at Haleth.

“He will aid you in the watch,” Anhuil informed him. “He can see and hear them coming long before you will.”

The soldier grinned. “Sorry. He startled me. I forgot he was following us.”

“He will keep you company, and alert you if anything is nearby. And if you happen to have any dried meat on you, he loves it.” She spread the blanket out on the grass nearby, carefully lowering herself on to it and pulling her cloak about her. Sleep overtook her almost immediately.

Eleníon turned his gaze to the young soldier, head cocked expectantly.

Haleth pulled some dried meat from his pack and tossed it to him, shaking his head. “Never thought I’d be sharing a meal with a wolf,” he muttered, staring off into the dark.

********
Rohan
6 Gwaeron, 3019 T.A.
*************************

“Miss?”

The princess woke with a start. Her dreams had not been at all pleasant since the battle.

“My apologies, but I think we should be heading on. It’s getting light, and we need to move out.”

Anhuil sat up slowly. She was still exhausted and saddle-sore, and her side ached. But Haleth was right. The sun was beginning to come up, and they needed to get to Minas Tirith.

“All right, give me just a second to--“ She realized he had at some point made a small fire and was cooking something on a small spit over the fire. Whatever it was, it smelled wonderful.

He grinned, going to the fire and removing the meat. Gingerly touching it, he jerked his hand back. “I think it’s done now, I’m not much of a cook.”

“When did you have time--“

The soldier shrugged. “Wasn’t me. Your friend brought this last night.” He set the meat down on a small wooden plate and started carving it up with a short knife. Handing her a portion of it, he smiled sheepishly. “It’s not much, but at least it’s hot.”

“Haleth, at this point, I would eat it if it were tree bark,” Anhuil commented dryly, taking the meat from him.

After finishing breakfast and extinguishing their fire, they once again headed east. Crossing the Mering Stream, Haleth cut out across the plain instead of heading southeast to the road. “I think it best we avoid the road, my lady,” he informed her. “Less likely to run into trouble here. We are now in Gondor, by the way.”

Anhuil nodded her agreement, spurring the black steed beneath her on.



Edoras
Great Hall of Meduseld
6 Gwaeron 3019 T.A.
**************************

Éomer stood straight and tall behind the throne of King Théoden, his eyes flicking over the guests filling the hall. The king lifted his tankard and proposed a toast to those lost in battle, echoed by all in the hall.

Four days. Had it truly been only four days? Four days since she had ridden away into the night with Haleth at her side, the wolf on her heels. Haleth had not yet returned. For all he knew they had not reached Minas Tirith yet.

Helm’s Deep had been a sound victory for the Rohirrim. His men, along with those of Erkenbrand, had arrived in time, turning the tide of the battle in their favor. The mysterious trees had done the rest. A strange occurrence indeed. One that, had he not seen it with his own eyes, he would have been tempted to call it fairy tale.

Trees had obliterated the armies of Saruman. Trees. The forest sprang up overnight in an open field, where before had been nothing. The bands of Uruk-hai had run blindly into that forest, seeking cover, only to meet their doom.

It seemed fitting, somehow, Éomer thought, that the destroyers of so much of creation’s beauty should be themselves destroyed by it.

Only four days. So much had happened. Battle, vengeful forests, evil wizards locked in towers, and now Meduseld packed to the banners with victorious soldiers, friends, and two halflings dancing on tables, singing. The marshal moved to a corner of the room, observing the revelry. Pleased as he was at their success, he did not feel much like joining in the celebration. He had a niggling feeling that the other shoe had not yet dropped.

“What’s the matter, laddie? You should be celebrating, like the rest!” Gimli nudged him. “That Elf princeling thinks he is gonna outdrink a dwarf.” He indicated Legolas, standing near the cask of ale beside the wall. “Ha! We dwarves are weaned from our mother’s milk on ale!”

Éomer smiled down at him. He had been surprised to find a dwarf at Helm’s Deep, but had developed a deep camaraderie with the dwarf and his Elven companion. Gimli had saved his life at the Keep, and they had become fast friends. “Why does this not surprise me, dwarf?” Gimli chuckled in response.

Legolas approached, shaking his head at the dwarf. “Giving up already?”

“I was just taking a breather to speak to the marshal, Elf.”

The tall Elf nodded to Eomer. “I am humbled by the hospitality of your people, Lord Éomer.”

“We are honored by your presence, Legolas. And I have told you it is unnecessary to call me Lord, unless you wish to be addressed as His Royal Highness, Prince Legolas of the Woodland Realm of Greenwood,” Éomer reminded him.

“Nay,” Gimli argued. “Don’t start callin’ him that or he won’t be fit to be around, pointy-eared little...” he teased, holding up his tankard and turning quickly around as Merry and Pippin began yet another song, dancing on the table. They all listened to the song, laughing at the antics of the little imps on the table. Applause broke out at the end of their song, both Hobbits bowing low.

Excusing himself, Éomer made his way to the side door of the hall and slipped outside, breathing in the chilly evening air. Staring out over the darkened plain, he wondered where she could be, and if she was safe. His hand went instinctively to the small handkerchief in his pocket. Somehow it was reassuring just knowing it was there.

“This celebration is as much for you as the rest.”

Éomer turned quickly, surprised to see the king standing behind him. He bowed politely. “My lord,” he acknowledged him.

“Éomer, you are as a son to me, this you know. Such formality is not necessary when we are alone.” The marshal nodded. “What are you doing out here? You should be in there rejoicing with your men. It was a hard fought, well earned victory.”

“Indeed,” Éomer agreed. “But I fear I am not of a mood to celebrate.”

Théoden inclined his head in agreement. “Éomer, your sister tells me that while I was under the spell of Saruman you were banished, by my signature.” He hesitated a moment before continuing. “You know, do you not, that I would never have done that by my own will. I would ask that you forgive me.”

“There is no need,” the marshal replied. “I knew then it was not by your will. Please do not feel it necessary to speak of it. I prefer not to mention that worm. The ruination he left behind will take long to repair.”

“It will, but we will recover. The Éotheod are proud and strong, and we will do what is necessary to rebuild. I want you by my side, Éomer. You have more than proven not only your loyalty to the Mark but your valor as well. I will need your counsel in the coming days.”

“I pledged my life to your service long ago, and I mean to honor that pledge, as long as I may live to do so.”

“I am the honored one. You make me as proud as any father could be. You are my heir, now, Éomer. Should something happen to me, my seat in the Golden Hall will become yours.” Théoden smiled. “And perhaps one day, sister-son, you will give me grandchildren.”

Éomer turned to him, one eyebrow raised. His hand in his pocket closed over the handkerchief. “Perhaps one day,” he agreed with a slight smile.

Théoden smiled broadly, turning away to return to his guests in the hall.

King of the Golden Hall. Éomer did not even want to begin to contemplate it. He was content being a soldier of the Mark, serving the king he loved as a father. The throne was to have been Théodred’s destiny, not his own. No matter. Théoden had many good years left to rule the Riddermark.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Great East-West Road
Gondor
9 Gwaeron 3019 T.A
**************************.

They had ridden as long and hard as possible, Haleth insisting on frequent stops for her to rest. As they passed around the edge of the Dunedan wood and turned south, Minas Tirith could be seen in the distance. A gleam of white, the tower of Ecthelion stood out against the dull grey clouds. It was a familiar site to the princess, and she smiled in spite of herself. She was almost as at home in the Citadel of Minas Tirith as in her own palace. The memory of summers spent playing in the courtyard with her brothers and cousins came flooding back to her. Hide and seek, wooden swords, annoying the guards around the fountain of the White Tree.

She sighed, leaning her head back, taking in the scenery, and suddenly drew in a sharp breath. She jerked her mount to a halt. “Haleth!”

He wheeled his horse around and came alongside her, following her gaze. Upon the mountaintop of Amon Dîn, a huge pyre blazed.

“The beacons,” he said quietly. “It has been many years since they were lit.”

The princess stared, her heart racing. Gondor must be in dire straits for her uncle to have called for aid.

“I must get to Dol Amroth,” she told him. “I must warn my fa-“ she stopped herself, then continued. “My family.”

“Come,” the soldier called to her. “We still must go first to Minas Tirith, then I can escort you south through Lossanarch,” the young man told her.

They both kicked their horses into a gallop, heading toward the White City.

They rounded a bend in the road. Without warning their horses suddenly reared and stopped. Men clad in green hooded cloaks surrounded them almost immediately, their longbows drawn.

Haleth calmed his horse and raised his hands. Anhuil sat straight in her saddle, clenching the reins, her heart racing.

One of the men stepped forward. “State your business in the realm of the Steward,” he said brusquely.

“I am Haleth, son of Folcréd,” he told them. “A soldier of the Riddermark, on errand for the Third Marshal.”

The man eyed the princess suspiciously. “And your companion?”

“I am escorting the lady to the city of Minas Tirith upon the marshal’s request. We have word for the Steward. The lady wishes to continue downriver to her home in the city of Dol Amroth. We have word for the Steward from Mithrandir, concerning the White Wizard,” Haleth continued.

The man made a motion to the archers, who withdrew their weapons, but stood ready. She held her breath, praying it was not one of her cousins. He pushed back his hood. A sigh of relief escaped her lips. She did not know him.

“Mithrandir?” the ranger asked.

“He is riding with Lord Éomer to the aid of Théoden King at Helm’s Deep. We have been sent to alert the Steward to the White Wizard’s recreancy.”

“I am Mallor of Gondor.” He extended a hand up to the young soldier, a slight bow to the lady. “The Steward has long suspected treachery from Saruman the White, although that is not his main concern. The Enemy in Mordor has assailed our borders. Lord Denethor has called upon Rohan for aid. The beacons are lit, and he has also sent forth riders bearing the Red Arrow.”

“King Théoden was at the keep of Helm’s Deep when we left Rohan,” Haleth informed him. “Our own borders have been invaded from the West. The forces of Isengard are attacking our villages; they were marching on the Keep even as we left. Word may take longer to reach him, until he returns to Edoras. But he will come, if Gondor calls.”

“You understand our caution, then.”

Haleth inclined his head in acknowledgement.

“Riders of Rohan and those in their company are most welcome. Proceed, but be wary. Not all along this road are my men.” He stepped back. “I will warn you, however, you cannot get to Dol Amroth down the river. The bridge and the river are taken at Osgiliath. There is no safe passage south from here. If you wish to go south you must double back and go through the mountains.”

“But that will take days! My family...I must get through somehow!” the princess protested. “They must be warned of-“

“Word has been sent to the prince, my lady,” Mallor assured her. “Lord Faramir has sent riders to Dor-en Ernil. Prince Imrahil will see that his people are protected.”

Anhuil clenched her teeth and inhaled deeply. There was no heading home. She would have to face her uncle, the Steward.

“Thank you for the warning.” She raised her gaze to the Gondorian Ranger. “I will be certain to inform the Steward of the capability of his men.”

Mallor smiled at her. “An honor, coming from you, my Lady.” His eyes met hers. Anhuil could not be sure if he recognized her or if it was just innocent flirting. She returned the smile with a slight nod and said nothing.

Haleth watched the exchange silently. “Miss, we must be going,” he broke in.

“Yes, of course, Haleth.” She turned her mount to follow him.

As they galloped away, one of the rangers approached Mallor. “Did you know that young woman?”

Mallor watched them disappear down the road, kicking up dust behind them. “No,” he told the archer, “I do not think so. But from my recollection, she bore a strong resemblance to Lord Denethor’s niece, the Princess Lothíriel.”

“The princess would not be out here in the middle of nowhere,” the soldier mused.

“Of course not,” Mallor replied. “What would a Gondorian princess be doing out here with a Rohirrim soldier?” He chuckled, slapping his friend on the shoulder.

~~~~~~~~
Rohan
Meduseld
9 Gwaeron 3019 T.A.
*************************

The Golden Hall was quiet, the stillness amplified in contrast to the raucous noise that had filled it only a few short days ago. Éomer sat alone, staring into the fire pit in the center of the hall.

The beacons had been lit. Denethor of Gondor had called for aid. At first light, the Rohirrim would gather at the encampment at Dunharrow, and ride for Minas Tirith.

His hand closed over the small piece of cloth. He still had no word from Haleth. Eight days since they had ridden for the White City. They must have arrived there by now, he thought. The Steward calls for aid. The city known as Mundberg to the Eorlingas was under attack. And he had sent her directly into the middle of it. He rubbed his throbbing forehead with his fingertips.

“What keeps you up at this hour, brother? You should be resting.”

Éomer turned to see his sister, pale arms folded across her chest, watching him from the doorway. “As should you,” he responded.

She walked closer to where he sat, her slippers making soft sounds on the intricate stone floor. “I cannot sleep.”

“Neither can I,” he answered.

“I will make us some tea,” she offered.

“No,” Éomer shook his head. “Just...just sit and talk to me, if you will,” he requested, gesturing to the bench beside him. Éowyn smiled as he moved over to make room for her. He sat leaning forward, his forearms resting on his thighs. Realizing he still held the handkerchief, clenched his fist, hiding it. He was not yet ready to discuss Ani with Éowyn. Or anyone else for that matter.

“You ride with us tomorrow?” he asked her.

“Of course. At least, to Dunharrow. I would not let you the two of you ride off without a proper farewell.”

The marshal nodded. “Éowyn, Théoden has named me his heir. He has asked that if anything happen to him I assume the throne. When he made this request I thought little of it, as our victory at Helm’s Deep was fresh and the threat seemed so far away. Now we ride once again into even greater danger.”

Éowyn studied her brother in the flickering light of the fire. He stared straight ahead, into the flames, his dark eyes thoughtful. “Éomer, Théoden asked this of you because he knows you love the Mark above all else. You even dared defy his orders for the good of the country when he was bewitched. And you are a prince of the Riddermark. Our mother was sister to the king. Royal blood flows through your veins, brother. What more could our people ask for in a king?”

He turned to face her. “I have no desire to be king, Éowyn.”

Her blue-grey eyes met his. “It is not about what you desire, Éomer. You know that.”

He sighed heavily. “I do.”

“Béma forbid it, Éomer, but should the worst happen, I cannot think of anyone I would rather see on the throne of the Golden Hall than you.”

“I can think of one other,” he said, meeting her gaze steadily. “The House of Eorl has yet another heir.”

She shook her head. “No, brother. Only in the direst of circumstances would I accept that.”

He sat up straight, his eyes locked on hers, her meaning understood. “That may yet happen, Éowyn.”

The White Lady smiled at her brother. “Then we will pray it does not come to that,” she said, linking her arm through his and leaning her head on his shoulder.

~~~~~~~~~~
Gondor
10 Gwaeron 3019 T.A.
**************************

Anhuil and Haleth made for the gates of the White City. Upon being granted entrance, they stopped inside the courtyard.

“I wonder which way we go?” Haleth mused.

The princess sighed. He was going to find out sooner or later. She was fortunate not to have been recognized thus far, but she assumed her manner of dress had much to do with that. She pulled the hood up a little closer around her face, chuckling at what she must look like.

“Come with me,” she called, turning her mount down the main street of the city. Haleth followed, wondering how she knew the way. Threading her way up through the levels of the city, the hooves of their horses clopped on the cobblestone. She at last led him to the gates of the Citadel and reined in her horse. A guard appeared at the gate, glaring at them as they dismounted.

Haleth was taken aback by the sudden change in her demeanor. She stood straight, shoulders back and faced down the guard. “I wish to speak with the Steward,” she informed him regally.

“The Steward is unavailable,” she was informed.

“I have news which will concern him,” she continued, “please tell him I am here.”

The guard eyed the Rohirrim soldier suspiciously. “And who, exactly, shall I tell him requests an audience?” The sarcasm in his voice was apparent.

To Haleth’s shock, she squared her shoulders, glaring at the upstart, flipping back her hood. “Please tell him Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amroth has arrived, with an escort, and see to these horses. I wish to clean up and dress appropriately. Please have someone escort us to the Citadel.”

The guard bowed quickly. “My apologies, Your Highness, I did not recognize you. Please, step inside. I will alert the Steward to your presence. He has had many strange visitors of late. I am sure he will be pleased to see family.” Rising from his bow, he humbly opened the gate and allowed them inside. He whispered quietly to the guard inside, whose eyes went wide with surprise as he nodded. “I will see to your horses. They will show you to your chambers.”

“Thank you,” she responded airily, turning on her heel dismissively. The gate clanged shut behind him.

Haleth stared at her, open mouthed. “Princess? You are a princess?”

She met his gaze with a smile. “Yes, Haleth. I am.”

“Does the marshal-“

“No, he does not. Not yet, anyway,” she answered. “And you will not tell him, do you hear me, Haleth?”

“But Miss, I mean, Your Royal... I mean…”

She shook her head. “That is exactly why he does not know, Haleth. My name is Anhuil. You may call me that.”

“But you are -“

She laid a hand on his arm. “I am Anhuil, and you are my friend and escort. Stop with the formalities, please.”

Still reeling from shock, he jumped as the interior doors opened. The princess and Haleth followed a servant down the corridor.

“Pardon,” she said to the servant in front of her, “but are Lord Denethor’s sons away?”

“Lord Boromir is dead, Your Highness,” he informed her. “We do not know how or why.”

The princess halted her steps. A look of shock crossed her face, her hand covering her mouth. “Boromir…dead...Uncle must be devastated,” she said softly. “What of his brother?”

“Captain Faramir prepares to ride out as we speak. Osgiliath has been invaded, and he goes to retake the bridge.”

“No! That is insane. The ranger we met said the river was taken...there were thousands of --“

“Captain Faramir is following orders.”

She looked at Haleth. “My uncle has lost his mind.” She turned back to the servant. “Where is Lord Faramir now?”

“In the stables, Your Highness, preparing to ride.”

“Thank you,” she said, darting down another hallway.

“Princess Lothíriel, your chambers are-“

“I will find them later,” she called back.

The soldier trotted after her. “Where are you going?”

“To the stables. I must speak with my cousin!” She was almost running now, the heels of her boots clicking on the polished marble floors of the corridors as she weaved her way through the maze of halls. Haleth was glad she seemed to know where she was going, and kept pace.

Bursting through a smaller door to the outside, she threaded her way through the street and down to the stables on the sixth level. Outside, the Captain’s guard was mounting up. She grabbed a nearby soldier. “Captain Faramir, where is he?”

The soldier inclined his head to one side. “Over there.”

Anhuil spotted her cousin standing beside his chestnut mount, his armor shining in the sun.

“Faramir!” she called out.

At the sound of a woman’s voice calling his name, he turned. His puzzled look was replaced by shock as he recognized her.

“Ani, for the love of the Valar, what are you doing he--“ He stopped, staring at her blankly. “You cut your hair…”

“Never mind my hair, Faramir! You cannot do this. It is insane.”

“How did you get here, Anhuil? Where are your brothers?”

She ignored the question. “Your rangers told us Osgiliath is under siege. You will never hold them at the river with such a small force.”

“Perhaps not, but it is our order, and we will fulfill it.”

“Cousin, have you taken leave of your senses?” She held his arm. Faramir’s grey eyes met his cousins pleading green.

“It is my father’s wish,” he answered quietly.

She held his gaze. “This is lunacy, Faramir, and you know it.”

He pulled away from her and mounted up, pulling on his helm. “If I am to die, at least I will die doing my father’s will.” He motioned to the men behind him as he dug his heels into the flanks of his horse. The men began to move out. With a quick backward glance at her, he turned and moved to the head of the column.

Anhuil stood, staring after him. Haleth moved beside her, not saying a word. “Perhaps they will succeed,” he offered.

“My uncle has completely lost his mind,” she muttered under her breath. She turned to the young soldier beside her. “We must go and see him.”

****

The young soldier followed the princess down the cavernous hallway. She had cleaned up and changed, and Haleth had almost failed to recognize her when she knocked at the door of his room. Now dressed appropriately in a pale blue gown and matching slippers, she looked much more like a princess.

She smiled at the young man. He had also cleaned up some, still wearing his armor, but with a clean tunic. His reddish blonde hair had been brushed and was pulled back, his short beard trimmed.

“Forgive me, My Lady, but I have never…well, I’m not used to such fancy halls.” He looked around the marble corridor.

“You look fine, Haleth. A perfect gentleman.”

He smiled, following her out into the hall. She chattered as she led the way through the Citadel. “My uncle is a bit…quirky. Please do not take anything he says to heart.”

Haleth nodded, taking a deep breath as they came to the doors of the huge hall. The doors opened, but Haleth saw no one there to open them. He pondered this only briefly, turning his attention to the huge room before him.

They stepped inside. The Steward was sitting in his seat at the base of the throne. Walking tall, the princess entered the hall and approached him.

He looked up. Haleth took a small step back as Denethor regarded him.

“Princess Lothíriel. I am surprised your father allowed you to travel in these times.”

She ignored the remark, noticing the small figure standing at his side, his head hung, facing the floor. Why was a child here? Perhaps a son of one of the guards, she thought.

“Uncle, I spoke to Faramir. Why are you sending them back to Osgiliath? They say the bridge is taken.”

“These are troubled times, my dear,” he responded. “In such times one must be willing hazard certain contingencies. We must retake the bridge at Osgiliath and prevent the enemy from reaching the eastern shores. Boromir long held the enemy at bay there, and it will not be yielded with no effort made to defend it.”

“But Faramir - “

“Is doing as his lord commands. I do not wish to discuss this further with you, girl,” he said dismissively, as if weary of explaining something to an inquisitive child. He regarded the man with her. “And who is this?”

“This is Haleth, son of Folcréd, of the Rohirrim, Uncle. He has been my escort.”
Haleth bowed politely.

The Steward cracked a sardonic smile. “Rohirrim? And do your people ride close behind, Horseman?”

“I do not know, my Lord,” Haleth answered softly. “News of your need had not yet reached us when we departed Rohan. If you sent word to Théoden King, he will come.”

Denethor nodded. “I should so hope.”

“He will honor the oath taken by his forefathers, I assure you, My Lord. Our borders are currently under attack as we speak. Our king was leading our people to Helm’s Deep as we left. I was sent to warn you of the impending attack from Isengard, but we were unaware the armies of Mordor had begun moving as well. I am certain that as soon as they attain victory at Helm’s Deep, the Rohirrim will receive your call for aid.”

“Let us hope, then, that they will not tarry their arrival. Théoden has an oath to fulfill.” He held the man’s gaze a moment longer, then turned back to his niece. “The enemy is moving west. Faramir is planning to retake Osgiliath but I hold little hope of his success.”

The small person beside Denethor raised his head at the mention of Faramir’s name. Anhuil saw that it was not a child, but a man.

“I heard of Boromir’s death, Uncle. I am deeply sorry,” she said haltingly.

His gaze turned dark. “Do not speak of Boromir. My grief is still too fresh.” Denethor dropped his head for a moment, then looked up at her again. “I wish to be alone, with my despair. We will speak another time.”

Anhuil nodded, not wishing to argue. In truth, she was grateful to be dismissed.

“Peregrin Took,” he called. The small man beside him stepped forward, bowing.

“Yes, my Lord?”

“Escort our guests back to their chambers. I wish to be alone and await word from Osgiliath.”

“Yes, my Lord,” the man answered, turning to the Princess. “If you will follow me, my Lady,” he said politely, heading for the door.

As they exited the hall, Pippin stopped short, turning to look at her. “I apologize, my Lady, but I am not sure which way your chambers lie.”

Anhuil laughed. “I know the way, Master Took,” she informed him. “Do not worry. It takes a long time to become familiar with this place.”

Pippin smiled shyly.

“You are a halfling,” she said quietly, hoping the observation would not offend him.

“Yes,” he answered. “You call us Halflings. We call ourselves hobbits.”

“Periannath,” Anhuil said, remembering the Elvish word from her reading. “Forgive my curiosity, I did not know your people truly existed.”

“Treebeard said the same,” he laughed. “I think no one knew of us, until we left the Shire!”

“Treebeard?” she looked at Haleth, who was still wide eyed, as if he had suddenly been dropped into an alternate universe. He shrugged.

“Oh, yes,” the hobbit smiled. “Treebeard is an Ent, a shepherd of the trees. He helped us, that is my cousin Merry and me, in the forest of Fangorn. A nice old chap, for a tree, but he’s a bit on the long-winded side. That was before we went to Isengard, where the Wizard was. And then…” Pippin chattered on, following her as they would through the corridors. “Oh, pardon my lack of manners. I didn’t introduce myself. Peregrin Took is my name, but my friends call me Pippin.”

He bowed low, politely taking her hand and kissing her fingers lightly.

“I am Princess Lothíriel of Dol Amroth, but my friends call me Anhuil.” Gesturing toward the young soldier, she introduced him as well. “This is Haleth, son of Folcréd, of Rohan.”

“Rohan?” Haleth nodded at the Hobbit, who continued. “I have been there. We enjoyed the hospitality of your Golden Hall. Lovely ale, they have. Anyway, we were at Isengard, with Treebeard, like I was saying, and then the king-“

“You have seen Théoden King?” Haleth asked quickly.

“Oh, yes. He rode with Strider and Gimli and Legolas and Lord Éomer to Isengard. That is where we met up with them again.”

At the mention of Éomer’s name, Anhuil turned abruptly, halting her steps. “Lord Éomer rode with him to Isengard? Then the battle at Helm’s Deep is over?”

“Yes, my lady. A sound victory for Rohan, too, from what I understand.”

“And Lord Éomer, he was with them? He was all right?”

Haleth’s mouth turned up slightly at her concern for the marshal.

“Yes, my Lady,” the hobbit said again, sounding a little annoyed that she kept interrupting his story. “Anyway, Gandalf, the wizard-“

“Wizard? You mean Mithrandir?”

“I suppose,” Pippin responded, wanting to get on with his story. “I never knew he had so many names. Anyway, Gandalf brought me here for safety after I looked in the seeing stone and then I offered my service to Denethor, in payment of my debt to his house, since his son died defending me.”

“Boromir?” she asked quietly.

“Yes,” he answered, lowering his gaze.

“You will tell me another time,” the princess stated softly. “You may tell me the whole story, another time.”

The hobbit nodded. “Another time,” he agreed.

She turned down yet another hallway in the seemingly endless maze. “Here is my chamber, gentlemen.”

“My-“ at her narrowed eyes, Haleth smiled and corrected himself. “Anhuil.” She smiled at his use of her name. “I have done my duty here. I have escorted you safely and delivered the message to the Steward. I beg you leave of your service, I would like to return to the Mark as soon as possible.”

Reluctant as she was to be left alone, she understood his eagerness to return to his own people. With a nod, she gave her permission.

Relieved, the young man smiled. “I will let the marshal know you are safe here,” he told her.

“Haleth.” She locked eyes with him. “Please do not tell him.”

“What? That you are safe?”

“You know what I mean, Haleth,” she said pointedly.

The young man nodded.

“Promise me,” she implored. “Promise me you will not tell him.”

The Halfling watched the exchange with curiosity. “Tell him what?”

Ignoring the question, Haleth paused, then nodded. “I promise. It is your tale to tell.”

The princess grinned. “Thank you. For everything.”

“It was an honor, Your Highness,” he said teasingly.

“The marshal is quite fortunate to have young men such as you in his service.”

“The marshal is quite fortunate in many things,” the soldier replied with a smile. He took her hand and kissed it lightly, bowing politely. “Until next we meet, Princess Lothíriel.”

“Until then,” she responded. He turned to leave. “Haleth,” she called after him. He turned back. “May the Valar protect you.”

The young soldier smiled. Turning to Pippin, who still stared at the two of them, confused, Haleth placed a hand on his shoulder. “Master Took, would you be so kind as to direct me to the stables so that I may be on my way?”

Pippin looked up at the tall soldier. “Oh, yes. Certainly. Follow me.” He took a few steps in one direction, then, with a thoughtful look, turned on his heel and started in the other. “No, wait,” he muttered, turning with a desperate look back to the princess.

Anhuil chuckled. “That way,” she said, pointing down the hall to the left. “Take a right at the end.”

“Thank you,” the hobbit replied, striding off down the hall, the Rohirrim soldier behind.

~~~~~~~
Rohan
Meduseld
10 Gwaenar, 30198 T.A.
*****************************

Théoden climbed astride his mount, the white stallion known as Snowmane. He glanced around at the men gathering in the courtyard. Several hundred, at least, he thought to himself, wondering how many would come from the other regions. He had sent others throughout the land to muster as many as could come. His eyes flicked over his army. Most were already mounted, a few still gathering the necessary provisions.

Banners flapped in the wind. Women stood aside, some with their arms protectively around their children, watching as their men rode off once again into battle. His eye caught that of a woman standing proudly alongside the other women, many of whom were weeping openly. Yet she stood, her back straight, reddish blonde hair tinged only slightly with silver blowing in the breeze, a slight smile on her lips. He acknowledged her with a nod, and she him, before he turned and rode toward the gate.

With one last look back at the Golden Hall upon the hill, Théoden gave the signal to Éomer.

“Riders of Rohan!” Éomer’s deep voice echoed in the courtyard. “Oaths you have taken! Ride now and fulfill them all! To Lord! To Land!” He turned and spurred Firefoot toward the gate beside his king, followed by the thundering hooves of hundreds of horsemen.

~~~~~~~~
Minas Tirith
Gondor
10 Gwaenar, 3019 T A
***************************

The princess shut the door to her room and looked around. She had visited the Citadel many times in her childhood. Fond memories flooded her mind, games with her brothers and her cousins. Even though she was a girl, she had been as much a part of their mischief as any boy, much to the chagrin of the adults, who often said they “expected better of her”. Climbing the walls in the garden, sneaking through secret passages to steal apple tarts from the kitchen, picking apples from the orchard for the horses.

And now, her cousin Boromir was dead. She sat on the edge of the bed, shaking her head in disbelief. Boromir had always been the strong one, the fighter. He was never a bully, and had always been the first to draw his sword in justice. Faramir was an accomplished fighter in his own right, but a different spirit drove him. He would fight out of duty or necessity. His sense of justice was no less strong, he simply saw battle for what it was, and the havoc it wreaked.

Death.

And now he was riding to his.

She lay back on the bed, staring up at the intricate design in the marble ceiling, wondering how in the world her uncle could have so completely and utterly lost his sanity. He had always been strange, a gruff man, but underneath that exterior used to lie a man with at least some compassion.

He had always favored Boromir, all who knew them were aware of that. His firstborn, Boromir had a warrior nature. Even Boromir’s tall, broad stature had always been a source of great pride to Denethor.

It did not, however, in any way dim the love between the brothers. Regardless of their differences, the two had always been close. Denethor’s efforts to drive a wedge between them only served to strengthen their bond, particularly after the death of their beloved mother.

Anhuil thought of her own brothers, of their deep love and camaraderie. Boromir’s loss must have been devastating to Faramir. And now his father had ordered him on a suicide mission.

She sat up abruptly, trying to remember what the halfling had said. Gandalf brought him here.

Mithrandir. He must be here, in the city.

She looked down at her clothing. A dress would not do. Quickly shedding it, she dug through her bag, yanking on the black leggings and boots, and shrugging into the wrinkled tunic. As she tucked it into the waistband of her trousers, she caught her reflection in the mirror.

She almost didn’t recognize herself. Her shorn hair fell just to her shoulders in loose waves. Although she had been able to wash and brush it, there had been no taming it into any sort of braid. The weeks of riding and walking had thinned her some, her normally rounded curves more solid and muscular. The sun had darkened her skin more than she preferred, and unfortunately, that also brought the freckles that dotted her nose and cheeks.

Running her fingers through the tousled curls, she frowned. She was a sight.

And still, somehow, Éomer found her attractive?

A passing fancy, that was all. It wasn’t like out there in the middle of nowhere he had a lot of women to choose from. Looking like she did now, she decided it was no wonder they thought her a boy. She sighed.

The marshal had said he would find her. If he survived. And what exactly would she do if he did? She was betrothed to another.

Well, no time to contemplate that now. She needed to find the wizard.

Anhuil picked up her bow, then tossed it and the quiver on the bed. She wouldn’t need those, not just to walk through the city. Donning her cloak, she grabbed the dagger almost as an afterthought and buckled it around her waist, then took off out down the hall.

The princess slowed her steps as she approached the great hall where Denethor had sat. Voices from within drifted into the corridor, familiar voices. Her father. Her brothers.

“Your son has returned, Lord, after great deeds,” she heard her father say to Denethor. “He stayed behind with his rear guard, lest the retreat become a rout. He held as long as he could. We found him stricken on the field.”

“He is not dead, my Lord,” Pippin’s voice. “He is sick with a fever.” Anhuil breathed a sigh of relief. “Should we find Gandalf?”

Denethor’s voice came back, almost snarling at the hobbit. “I sent forth my son, unthanked, unblessed, into needless peril, and here he lies with poison in his veins. Comfort me not with wizards! I must stay beside my son. Follow the Grey Fool if you wish. Here I stay.”

She ducked back, not wishing to incur her father’s wrath just yet. Denethor said nothing of her, so absorbed in his grief was he. She wondered if he even remembered she had been there.

Creeping past the doors, she bolted outside and into the darkened streets.

~~~~~~~~~

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Chapter Ten
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28 Jan 2004
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28 Jan 2004
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