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Trust To Hope

Chapter 29: Chapter Twenty-Eight

by Novedhelion

Trust To Hope - Chapter Twenty-Eight
Author: Novedhelion
Type: FP Het
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Pairing: Éomer/Lothíriel aka Anhuil
Rating: PG13
Warnings: moral dilemma, a bit of sap, potential foreshadowing?
Beta: Riyallyn
Disclaimer: The characters belong to Tolkien. The names of the places belong to Tolkien. Any similarities to other stories are purely coincidental. But the DIALOGUE and the SCENES are the intellectual property of this author, and I do not release them to the Public Domain.

Trying to sneak past Cam is like trying to sneak the dawn past a rooster.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Defeat may test you; it need not stop you. If at first you don’t succeed, try another way. For every obstacle there is a solution. Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. The greatest mistake is giving up.

Anonymous.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Aldburg
Rohan
9 Hithui, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Éomer stood in the courtyard of Lord Abrecan’s estate, saying his goodbyes to his host. He squinted against the brightness of the sun, his head still pounding. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the blonde standing off to one side. His chest tightening, he turned to meet her gaze. “It was a pleasure to make your acquaintance, my Lady,” he said politely, bowing slightly.

A knowing smile crept across her pink lips as she offered him her hand. “Acquaintances? Is that what you call it, Your Majesty?”

“I do not even know your name, my Lady,” he explained quietly.

She raised her eyebrows at him. “That did not seem to bother you last night,” she answered softly.

“I am afraid I must admit I do not remember much of last night,” he told her, releasing her hand.

“Pity, that.” she responded flippantly. “The name is Willa. Lord Abrecan is my uncle.”

“It was a pleasure to meet you then, Lady Willa,” Éomer said, standing straight once again.

The tall blonde stepped closer to him, her mouth almost to his ear. “Far more of a pleasure than you remember, apparently,” she said softly. “I seem to have misplaced some of my flowers. Did you happen to find them?”

“Willa!” Her uncle’s sharp voice startled her so much she jumped back. “His Majesty’s company is ready to depart. Do not delay them any further with your...prattling.”

“Yes, Uncle,” she said obediently. With a wicked smile to Éomer, she turned and slipped inside.

“My apologies, Your Majesty. That girl...well, let us say that she can be very...friendly, if a man catches her eye.” He shook his head. “I have had more than enough wives at my throat for her antics toward their husbands. I have tried to no avail to rein her in. I hope she has not been a bother to you.” He bowed graciously.

Éomer frowned. It was something he was still getting used to, this bowing. “No,” he answered softly.

“No harm done, then,” Abrecan said with a smile as they walked back toward the waiting party.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Rohan
The Great East/West Road
9 Hithui, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~

As they rode on toward Minas Tirith, Éowyn noticed that her brother seemed sullen, riding in silence most of the day. He spoke when necessary, giving orders to the men, but other than that seemed lost in thought. She mentioned to Faramir, who offered that he might be simply apprehensive about seeing the princess again, as he had not had word from her since she had left Edoras, but the White Lady of Rohan knew her brother too well.

And she had seen the exchange that had taken place in the courtyard of Lord Abrecan’s estate.

They camped for the evening under a copse of trees along the Entwash. Éomer had disappeared just after their meal, citing his need for some time alone. His sister excused herself from her betrothed to search him out.

She found him alone, sitting on a stone near the river, staring at the rippling water.

“Éomer?”

He didn’t look up. “I knew you would come,” he said quietly, leaning down to pick up a small stone.

“What is wrong?” she asked, approaching him slowly, her arms folded across her chest.

The king threw the rock into the river, watching the small splash rise in the moonlight. “Do you recognize this place?” he asked her.

“I know we camped somewhere near here when we were returning to Edoras to bury Théoden,” she remarked, looking around the area.

He nodded. “The last time I was here, I caught Ani bathing in that pool,” he said, indicating the shallow water nearby with a wry smile.

Éowyn raised an eyebrow. “And?”

A faint smile crossed his lips at the memory. He sighed heavily, his gaze dropping to the ground in front of him.

His sister sat down beside him. “Éomer, you are going to see her again. What is-“

“I do not deserve her,” he said quietly.

Éowyn was aghast. “What? Éomer, all you have talked about is marrying her. What do you mean you do not deserve her? You would rather see her married to Mardil Fenwick?”

Leaning forward, he propped his elbows on his knees and dropped his head into his hands, pinching the bridge of his nose. His head still pounded from the night before. “I betrayed her, Éowyn.”

“What are you talking about, Éomer? How could you-“ she cut herself off short, remembering the blonde at the dinner the previous night and how interested she had seemed in the king, and then the scene she had observed as they prepared to leave. Drawing a slow, deep breath, Éowyn leveled her gaze at him. “Éomer...the blonde woman at dinner, what was her name?”

Éomer practically spit the name out as if it were distasteful. “Willa.”

“Yes,” his sister nodded. “You did not...” His expression told her that she need not finish the question. She smacked him hard in the back of the head, making him wince.

“Please do not do that. My head is already pounding,” he said, rubbing his temples.

“What in the name of the Great Rider were you thinking? Bloody hell, brother! You should be more careful. You know Théoden always told you AND Théodred that there are women out there who would bed you for no other reason save a chance to birth an heir to the throne!” She stared at him. “How could you do this?”

“I had no intention of bedding that woman. I have no idea how it happened. Or if it happened, for that matter.”

“It probably started with you going to her chambers and undressing,” she said with a smirk.

He cast her a sardonic look. “I swear, Éowyn, I have no memory of it whatsoever. I remember being introduced to the lady, but I certainly had no untoward thoughts about her. All I could think of was that in a few days time I would see Ani again. The next thing I recall is waking up in my own bed this morning. Alone.” She looked at him quizzically. “Lacking my clothing,” he finished.

Éowyn paled. “Oh, gods, Éomer.”

“How will I face Ani?” His voice choked slightly. “How can I look her in the eye, if there is a possibility that-”

“Are you certain, Éomer? You say you have no memory...”

“Willa seems to remember it quite well. She was in the process of reminding me when her uncle sent her inside.”

“Quite the stallion, are you not?”

“This is not a time for jesting, Éowyn.”

“Sorry,” she said, stifling a giggle. “I know this is not funny. I do not know what to tell you. Are you absolutely certain it happened as she said?”

“You have another theory for how I ended up naked in my bed with a pounding headache?”

“It just is not like you, that is all. You do not normally drink that much, and you are not a man to get caught up by a pretty smile and a hitched skirt, particularly that of a woman who is barely more than an acquaintance.” She sighed. “If that were the case, you would have bedded half the women in the Mark by now!”

“According to Willa, we are far more than acquaintances.” Éowyn shot him a look. “She seemed to think-“

“I do not need details, Éomer,” his sister quipped, cutting him off.

“I have none to provide.” He dropped his head again, rubbing his throbbing forehead. “What am I going to tell Ani?”

His sister leaned her crossed arms on her knees, contemplating her answer. “You will tell Ani nothing,” she said after a few moments.

He turned to her, surprised by her response. “What do you mean, I will tell her nothing? I cannot just-“

“You can, and you will.”

“Éowyn...”

“Listen to me. You could tell her that you let yourself get completely intoxicated and you made love to another woman, but to what end, Éomer? You are not even certain anything happened with this woman.” He opened his mouth to protest and she silenced him with a hand up. “I know what she says, Éomer, stallion of the Rohirrim,” he narrowed his eyes and she stifled a giggle. “I know what the woman told you, but you say you have no memory of it. Do you remember the first time Théodred took you to--oh, do not look at me like *that*, do you think I do not know these things? Tell me, the first time he took you out and got you drunk and introduced you to a woman...do you remember it?”

He cleared his throat, a bit uncomfortable discussing what his cousin had called his induction to manhood. “Yes, I remember it,” he said resignedly. “As drunk as I was, I definitely remember it.”

“Then do you not find it odd that you cannot remember last night?”

“I have no explanation,” he answered.

“What do you think happened?” she asked.

Éomer considered the question carefully. “I would think I would remember, if I had shared my bed with a woman. I would like to think I would remember that. Éowyn...I have been drunk before, and I certainly cannot claim I have never taken a willing wench up on an offer while in such a state. And there have been times when my memory was not the clearest come the next morning. But I have never been completely unable to remember anything before.”

“Fine. So the truth is you are not certain. Why break her heart over something like this when you have no idea if it happened or not?”

He picked up another small stone and threw it. “Perhaps you are right,” he agreed.

“If you love her, forget it happened, if it happened, and do not mention it again.”

He sighed. “Why does that feel like I am lying to her?”

“You have a choice. You could tell her what you believe happened, tear her heart in two, and have her always wonder if it would happen again. Or you could forget it, put it in the past, and make sure it never happens again. Which do you think is a better option? If I thought for one moment that there was a single benefit to Ani knowing this, I would say tell her. But there is not, Éomer.”

He nodded slowly. “You are right.”

“Of course I am,” she said bluntly, leaning her head on his shoulder. “Éomer?”

“Yes?”

“May I ask a favor?”

“Anything, Éowyn.”

“Hurry up and get married. Your love life is beginning to cause me severe distress.”

He chuckled, draping his arm around her shoulders. “My head hurts.”

“It should, if you had that much to drink. You deserve it.”

“I love you too, sister of mine,” he answered, hugging her closer.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Citadel Library
Minas Tirith
14 Hithui, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Late evening was her favorite time to be in the library. Usually she was alone, the room illuminated only by the small lamp she kept near her. Sitting at a corner table, the princess looked up from the book she was reading, leaning her head to one side and then the other stretching her stiff neck. Glancing down at her journal, she read over the notes she had taken and blew her hair out of her face.

Closing the book in front of her, she picked up the heavy volume and carried to a nearby bookcase. She kicked the small wooden stool over to where she could step up on it, and replaced the book.

The strong hands on her waist startled her nearly as much as the deep voice that followed as he turned her around. “Were you this tall without the stool, I would not have to bend to kiss you.”

Anhuil grinned. The king stood beside her stool, dressed simply in a tunic and breeches, his hair loose on his shoulders, smiling up at her. Leaning into his embrace, her palms against his chest. “Are you implying that it is inconvenient for you to kiss me, Your Majesty? Perhaps I should just carry the stool with me wherever I go so that should you wish to kiss me, you would not be required to put forth more effort than necessary.”

Éomer swept her off the stool and into his arms. “I would gladly go to any lengths necessary to kiss you, even if I had to stand on my head to do so.” Before she could answer, his mouth covered hers in a kiss that left her grateful he was holding her, knowing her own knees would not. Finally releasing her lips, he smiled down at her. “Your brothers said I would find you here,” he told her as her arms went around his neck, hugging him tightly.

She leaned back and looked up at him. “Am I so predictable?”

“It is usually a safe wager that where there are books, there you will be also.” He grinned at her. “And here you are.”

“Yes, well...someone has to do this research and figure out a way to get rid of Fenwick,” she quipped, her fingers tracing the embroidery on his collar. “Are you going to hold me all night?”

“Do I have the option of holding you all night? Because if so, that is what I would choose.”

Anhuil placed her hand on his cheek. “The sooner you put me down and let me find a way out of this betrothal, the sooner I can marry you and you can hold me all night every night for the rest of your life,” she told him.

Lowering her feet slowly to the ground, he kept his arms around her waist. “How can I refuse an offer like that?” he asked.

“You could save us both the trouble and just run him through,” she suggested.

Éomer leaned down, his forehead against hers. “Do not tempt me, woman. It has been all I could do not to do so already.”

The princess laughed softly, sliding her arms around his neck and leaning into his chest. “Never has a few months seemed so long,” she whispered as his arms wrapped around her, pulling her close.

“As much as I will miss Éowyn, I have to say I have been very much looking forward to her wedding,” he admitted. “I have thought of little else but having you in my arms again.”

Anhuil smiled up at him. “From the gossip I hear it does not seem it would take you too long to fill your arms, should you decide to do so,” she teased. “You are quite the topic of conversation among the eligible women, and many of the married ones!”

Éomer rolled his eyes. “Do not remind me,” he said sarcastically.

“Well, then perhaps it is a good thing my brothers trained me so well. I will need to brush up on my skills if I am to protect you from the claws of the others.”

“You need not worry about that, Princess,” he told her. “There is no woman alive who could draw me from you.” He placed another kiss on her lips, trying to ignore the slight twinge of guilt. His sister’s words echoed in his mind. *‘You could tell her...but to what end?’* He turned to look at the piles of books on the table where she had been working. “What exactly are you doing?”

She sighed heavily, walking toward the table. “Beating my head against a stone wall, or so it would seem,” she commented, slamming shut yet another heavy volume and hefting it, moving toward the bookcase again. “I cannot find anything. And my conversation with Lord Sídheru was equally disappointing.”

Éomer went to her, taking the book from her hands. “Enough for tonight.” He dropped the book on the table.

“But Éomer, I only have a few days in Minas Tirith, and this library is the best chance that-“

He pulled her against him, capturing her mouth again with his to cut her off. “I must say I am most flattered that such a beautiful woman would go to such lengths on my account. However, I would like her to spend at least some of the few days she has here with me.” He picked up her cloak and drew it over her shoulders. “You can tell me what you have learned while we walk.”

Knowing he would brook no argument, the princess slipped her hand around his arm and allowed him to lead her from the library.

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

“...Cam and I were in tears laughing, and Amrothos did not find it the least bit funny!” She looked up at him as he chuckled. “I am sorry, I am just prattling on. I am not even giving you a chance to speak.”

“Ani, I am so pleased to hear your voice you could talk all night if you wish,” he responded, placing his hand over hers on his arm.

“I do ramble,” she admitted. “Tell me about Rohan. How is Éowyn? I miss her so. And Éothain. And Haleth. I would love to see them again. And Elfhelm? I am sure his wife is pleased to have him back home...”

Éomer stopped walking and looked at her. “Which question would you like answered first?” She grinned sheepishly. “All right,” he said, continuing down the path, “I shall try to answer them all. Éowyn is wonderful. She misses you, and is looking forward to her wedding. She hopes to spend some time with you while you are here. Éothain is doing quite well. He is married now. Haleth is still single, poor boy, but I think he has his heart set on a certain maiden who pays him no more mind than if he were a stump beside the road. Elfhelm is the Third Marshal now, and he is living with his wife and their new little one at Aldburg. Have I left anyone out?”

Anhuil giggled. “Déor. How is he, the little scoundrel?”

“Ah, Déor...” Éomer said with a shake of his head. “That one is going to end up in a fight over a woman yet. The consummate charmer. He is quite well. A bit distraught over the fact that your friend Lady Valesa left before he could get to know her better, but he will survive.”

“And you?” she asked pointedly.

The king contemplated her question as he led her toward the white stone gazebo in the center of the garden.

“Éomer?”

He shrugged. “Do you want me to tell you I am fine?” he asked.

“I want you to tell me the truth,” the princess said, walking slowly to the other side of the gazebo. Her arms were folded across her chest, pulling her cloak around her. She turned to face him.

“The truth,” he repeated with a resigned sigh. “The truth is that I get up every morning and I get through every day as best I can, trying to focus on anything other than the emptiness that I feel when you are not there.” He stepped toward her. “The truth is that I go to bed at night and lay there staring at the ceiling, my arms aching to hold you, and a pillow is a very poor substitute.” She almost chuckled, feeling much the same way herself. He sighed again, closing the distance between them. “The truth is that I should have never let you go. I should have done whatever I had to do to keep you by my side. The truth, Ani, is that I love you, and I cannot imagine my life without you. I will not.”

The sincerity of his words nearly brought tears to her eyes. “I suppose there is no need for me to tell you I feel the same,” she answered softly. “Like a part of me is missing.” She leaned on the rail behind her, arms crossed. “We will find a way, Éomer.”

Moving in front of her, he took her hands in his. “Do you remember the evening after the battle, when we sat by the river?”

“The night Mithrandir came?” He nodded. “How could I forget that, Éomer?”

His thumb gently stroked the back of her hand. “If I had asked you then to marry me, what would you have said?”

Deep green eyes locked on dark brown. “I would have said yes,” she stated softly.

He shook his head slowly. "I almost did. I should have. I should have married you then, before I even knew you were a princess.”

“Mmm-hmm. But you are forgetting one very important detail,” Anhuil said, drawing her hands from his and placing them on his broad shoulders. Her fingers toyed with the blonde hair that rested there.

“What is that?” he asked, placing his own hands on either side of her on the top of the rail.

“You chastised me for not telling you I was a princess, yet you somehow neglected to tell me you were a prince.” She smiled sweetly.

Éomer nodded in acquiescence. “I never thought of myself as a prince. It was thrust upon me, like those awful sessions of dance instruction or the endless hours spent with tutors. I would rather have been riding.”

The princess looked down, licking her lips contemplatively, then back up at him. “Do you remember the night you came into that tent, the night your men captured me?”

“How could I forget that night?” he asked her with a bemused look. “That was the night you completely took over my life.”

She laughed softly before her expression once again became serious. “You had such an air about you it was almost overwhelming,” she admitted, remembering how intimidating his presence had been.

The king smiled at her. “I have been accused before of arrogance,” he joked.

Anhuil shook her head. “Not arrogance.” She thought for a moment, searching for the right words. “Confidence. Authority. As if you had merely to look at one of the men and they would know exactly what you wished them to do, and they would do it without hesitation.”

“Of course they would,” he told her. “I was their commanding officer.”

“No,” she argued, “this was something more. Something...innate about you. It is in the way you walk, the way you speak...” she shook her head again. “I have seen men in positions of power and authority who could no more rule than a jellyfish lying on the sand. You command respect, Éomer. Not with words or actions, but with your presence. Whether you are wearing armor and road dust or the silks of a king,” her fingers traced up the soft fabric of the deep green tunic he wore, “it is there. You may not be aware of it, but it is there.”

“Unfortunately it commanded neither respect nor obedience from a certain feisty little princess,” he teased.

“More of my own defiance, I am afraid, than a measure of your worthiness of respect.” The princess sighed deeply.

“I never felt like a prince.” He laughed softly. “I still do not feel like a king, for that matter.”

“Your mother was a princess, Éomer,” Anhuil said, reaching up to run her fingers across the embroidery at the collar of his tunic.

“True,” he answered, “but we are not so formal with titles in Rohan.” He sighed. “I was perfectly content being Third Marshal.”

“I was content being Anhuil,” she said. “I would have been perfectly happy being the wife of the Third Marshal.”

A wry smile crossed his lips. “So much for what we should have done.” He leaned forward, pinning her to the rail behind her. “Now what are we going to do?”

“Would you like a suggestion?” she asked, the fingers on his shoulders sliding further up to entwine in his hair.

“I do like it when you are suggestive,” he answered as she pulled him down to her. Their lips met, softly at first, but it took no encouragement from him for her to part her own invitingly. His hands slid from the rail to her back, beneath her cloak, pressing her against him as his mouth trailed down the side of her neck. “I have missed you,” he whispered, pulling her to him tightly. One hand strayed up to the back of her neck, fingers digging into the mass of dark curls.

Anhuil sighed, leaning into his embrace, her own arms tight around his neck. “I do not want to go home, Éomer. I cannot bear the thought of leaving you again.” She buried her face in his neck.

“It will be a long, cold winter indeed,” he answered softly, showing no sign of releasing her.

“The one year betrothal ends in less than four months,” she said quietly. “Fenwick will want to be married as quickly as possible after that.”

Éomer looked down at her. “What did your magistrate say?”

“He said the contract is binding,” she stated flatly. “But I will not marry him. I will leap off the tallest tower of the palace and into the sea before I marry Mardil Fenwick.”

“It will not come to that.” He stated confidently.

“I hope not.” The princess leaned her cheek against his chest, closing her eyes, considering whether to tell him of the suspicions she and Cam had. The women had agreed to keep it to themselves until they had further proof. The men would only disapprove of their methods of investigation. The fewer people who knew, the less chance there was of Mardil suspecting they knew anything. Fenwick might be underhanded but he was not stupid.

“We had better get back. What if Mardil comes looking for you?”

“Mardil did not come with us,” she told him. “He said he had business to attend to in Lebennin.”

A wide smile crept across Éomer’s face. “Good. At least I can enjoy your company for a few days without worrying about that insufferable git.”

The princess grinned up at him. “Git? That was rather mild. Softening a little toward him for some reason?”

“I am in the presence of a lady,” he reminded her, sliding his arm around her and guiding her back toward the path to the Citadel.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Citadel Gardens
Minas Tirith
15 Hithui, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Under her favorite tree in the garden, the princess was so absorbed in her book that she did not hear the approaching footsteps.

“May I join you?”

The sweet voice startled her. Turning, she nodded as Éowyn sat down beside her on the grass.

“I was truly hoping to get some time to speak to you before the wedding, but my cousin seems to always be whisking you away somewhere.” Anhuil smiled, flipping the book shut.

“Ah, well, my beloved Faramir seems to be rather single minded these days…” She laughed softly. “But I did wish to have some time with you, Anhuil. Would you like to walk?”

“Yes,” the princess answered, closing the book and rising to her feet. “I could stand to move a bit.”

The ladies strolled down across the garden, chatting amiably. Beside a white stone bench, the Lady of Rohan stopped, turning to look at Anhuil.

“Anhuil,” she began, “Please forgive my brusqueness, but I feel the need to tell you something.”

The princess nodded, listening attentively. Éowyn continued. “Before this war started, my brother was a dedicated soldier. He held nothing in higher regard than his service to his king. Protecting the people of Rohan, ridding our land of our enemies was his only focus.”

“And he was so when I met him,” Anhuil remembered.

“He pursued some of the things other young men do, although not nearly with the same fervor. Women have always noticed him. How could you not?”

Anhuil grinned, nodding in agreement.

Éowyn sighed. “Do not misunderstand. It was not because of any lack of opportunity or because of his military career.” Her pale blue eyes met Anhuil’s green ones. “It was because Éomer is a different type of man, Princess. I always knew then that it would take a special woman to win his heart. Some high-mannered, courtly priss would never do, though many have tried. I began to think that there may not be a woman out there who could rein in my brother.” She laughed softly. “I was beginning to believe that he would go through life as free and unbound as one of his stallions. But when my brother returned from the Battle at Pelennor, he was a changed man.”

“War changes many men,” Anhuil mused quietly.

Éowyn raised an eyebrow. “It was not the war that changed my brother, Princess. It was the deadly aim of a certain raven-haired Gondorian princess.”

Anhuil chuckled softly. Éowyn smiled at her. “I do not think you realize to what extent you have affected him, Anhuil. He carries that handkerchief you gave him as if it were a lifeline.”

“Éowyn, you know that I would never want to hurt him. I love him more than my own life.”

The White Lady nodded. “I know.”

“And Fenwick--“

“Is a pompous, self-absorbed ass. I believe that is a milder form of my brother’s description.”

”Your brother gave him quite a mark at Aragorn’s wedding, you know,” Anhuil smiled.

“He deserved it.” Éowyn grinned back at her. “My brother is not a violent man, but he will defend what is right without a second thought. He told me what happened on that terrace.”

“Does he tell you everything?” Anhuil laughed nervously.

The Lady of Rohan smiled surreptitiously. “Only when I add enough whiskey to his tea.”

Anhuil laughed out loud. Her expression quickly darkened, her brow furrowing. “I do not know what to do, Éowyn.” She turned away, studying the grass under her feet. “I want nothing more than to be with him. I do not wish to return home and I certainly do not wish to marry Fenwick. I just do not see how it can be otherwise. Fenwick is stubborn.”

“And so is my brother. And if there is a way, he will find it. He will not give up.”

“Neither will I,” Anhuil answered quietly.

“Something else troubles you,” the Lady observed. “Tell me.”

The princess continued staring straight ahead. Taking a deep breath, she turned to Éowyn.

“I have never mentioned this to him, but...are you certain this is right for him? I…” she hesitated, almost afraid to ask the question. “I have wondered how his people would feel about him marrying a foreigner. Perhaps they would prefer a queen of their own people. I would sooner die than do anything to disparage him among his own people.”

The White Lady put a hand on her shoulder. “Our people will love you, Princess. They will love you because he loves you. They will love you because you love him.”

Anhuil’s gaze met Éowyn’s. “I do love him.”

Éowyn took Anhuil’s hand in her own. “Do not give up. If there is anything in this world worth fighting for, it is love.”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
The Citadel
Minas Tirith
18 Hithui, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Rolling over to her side in her bed, Anhuil opened her eyes. The princess smiled broadly at the memory of the previous evening, running her hand over the soft coverlet. The wedding had been a beautiful affair. Éowyn had been radiant, her cousin Faramir more handsome than she had ever seen him.

The evening had been simply lovely. Without Fenwick present, she had been able to truly enjoy herself, dancing with brothers, her father, her cousin, even King Elessar himself. But most of all, she had enjoyed being able to spend time with Éomer. She had spent most of her evening in his arms, much to the chagrin of the other ladies present, and could not think of a single place she would rather be.

With a deep sigh, she rolled to her back, hugging a pillow to her chest, chuckling out loud as she remembered the efforts of one nobleman from Ethring to introduce his daughter to Éomer. Rather than embarrass the young woman, whom Anhuil thought to be quite beautiful, Éomer had graciously introduced her to Elphir. Her brother and the woman, Celeria, had spent the rest of the evening dancing or in quiet whispers at a table, at least until they disappeared for a walk sometime later.

She had hardly spoken to Cam, to whom her brother Amrothos had firmly attached himself. They made a lovely pair, gliding across the dance floor. She had always thought Amrothos harbored feelings for their friend, something she could not have gotten him to admit before the war. Coming face to face with the fragility of life changed one’s view on many things, she knew.

“Ani? Are you awake?” Cam called from outside the door.

Shoving the covers back and rising to her feet, the princess crossed the floor and flipped open the lock. “I am. Come in,” she answered, reaching for a robe.

The blonde shoved the heavy door open and stepped in, fully dressed. Her gaze raking over the princess, she frowned. “Why are you not dressed? Did you forget we are going shopping today?”

“Is it that late already?” Anhuil asked, pushing open the shutters of her window. Bright sunlight streamed in, causing her to blink.

“It is nearly noon, Ani. For the love of the Valar, get dressed!” She turned to leave, then looked back. “I plan to walk, so dress accordingly,” Cam informed her with a grin, before slipping out of the room.

~~~~~~~~~~

Cam and Anhuil stepped out into the bright sun, pulling their cloaks a bit tighter against the chill of early winter. Cam had opted for leggings and a tunic, but the princess had chosen a simple wool smock, hoping to blend more into the crowd. “Where do you want to go first?” the princess asked her friend.

“I want to go by the Apothecary before we leave,” Cam answered.

Anhuil nodded. “And I want to go by Brennil’s shop before we leave. I need to...take care of something.”

Cam pulled her hood up and joined her friend, strolling through the streets. They made their way down to the levels where most of the merchants had their shops and homes. Passing the Apothecary, Ani stopped, her hand on Cam’s arm. “I thought you needed to go there,” she said, pointing across the flagstone street.

The blonde shook her head. “Not that one. There is another one on the second level.”
Anhuil’s eyes widened. “Cam, you do not mean to go...that is not a safe district, you know...”

“I know, and if you do not wish to accompany me, Princess, I will understand. But Adaneth has what I need. This one,” she indicated the shop across the street, “only has the basics.”

“You know more about that than I do,” the princess admitted. “Oh, there is Brennil’s shop!” Excitedly pulling on her friends arm, she quickly crossed the street, ducking into the small doorway.

“Well, a fine day this is, when two of my favorite customers visit my shop!” The lady behind the counter grinned at the two girls. “What are you looking for today, my Ladies? I have some fine new items, purest mithril. A lovely bracelet. And this necklace here, with the blue stone. Tobor just finished it yesterday. Now this would just match your eyes, my Lady,” she said to Cam, holding up the beautiful chain.

“Actually,” Cam said thoughtfully, “tell me about this ring.” She held up a small silver ring with a lovely silvery white stone. A slow smile spread across Brennil’s face.

“That is a very special ring,” she said conspiratorially. “Here, let me show you.” She took the ring from the blonde’s hand, slipping it on her own short finger. “See? From the outside, it just looks like a normal ring. This is a moonstone. But watch this,” she swiftly moved her thumb, and the surface of the ring popped open, revealing a hidden compartment underneath. “You can use it to hide certain things, if you get my meaning. Years ago this kind of ring was called a poison ring.”

“A poison ring?” Anhuil looked at her, astonished. “Whatever would you make something like that for, Brennil?”

The woman laughed. “Mostly just for fun, Your Highness. Time was when folks used rings like this to poison their enemies. Hide the poison in here,” she indicated the empty chamber in the ring and clicked it shut, “and when the time was right, pop! Dump the poison into a drink or food, and there you have it.” Her self-satisfied grin made the girls laugh. “This one is particularly good, too, because the hinges are hidden. See?” She showed Cam the side of the ring.

“Oh, Brennil,” the princess laughed. “You never cease to amaze me. Who in the world would need that these days?”

Cam and Anhuil exchanged looks. The princess cocked her head at the blonde. “Nevermind my asking. I do not want to know what you have planned, Camwethrin.”

“I happen to think it is a lovely piece of jewelry. Whether I ever need it or not, I like its novelty. I shall take it,” she announced, shelling out coins into the shopkeeper’s hand. She slipped the ring on her finger, admiring it.

“What about you, Princess? Anything in particular you are looking for, my dear?”

A long pause ensued, the princess weighing her answer carefully. “I need a ring,”

“Ah, yes, I heard you were betrothed. Congratulations, my dear. I suppose you’ll be wanting a nice band, then...let me see...” She pulled out a velvet-lined box, sorting through its contents.

“Actually, Brennil,” the princess said, “I want to find something different. Something...symbolic. I do not want just a plain band.”

Slowly nodding, the woman winked. “I think I have just the thing for you.” She pulled out a little wooden box, flipping open the top. Inside was a silver ring. Lifting it out, she handed it carefully to the princess.

“Take care now, Princess. It comes apart.”

“What?” Anhuil studied the ring in her palm. It did indeed appear to be four separate bands, woven together to form a braided design. Brennil reached out and plucked the ring from her hand. With a deft twist, she had the ring in four separate pieces, spreading them out on the table in front of her.

“See?” she queried with a grin.

“And it goes back together, like a puzzle,” the princess commented, watching the shopkeeper put the pieces together swiftly.

Brennil handed her the completed ring. “Tradition says that is how you can tell if your husband’s been running around on ya, sweetie,” she whispered in a secretive tone. “Men can never put it back together.”

Anhuil laughed. “I do not think that will be a problem,” she answered with a broad smile, “but I do love it.”

“And it has four bands, too,” Brennil pointed out.

“One for each ribbon of the handfasting,” Cam observed.

“Very clever you are, Miss, very clever. Yes, that is what I had in mind, knowing Gondor’s traditions. This is the first one I ever made.”

The princess exchanged glances with her friend. “I shall take it,” she announced. “Show me once again how to put it together, please.”

The grey-haired woman laughed, picking up the ring and explaining it to her once again.

Their purchases paid for, the two young women strolled out into the streets once again, heading for the lower levels of the city.

“I cannot believe you bought a ring, Ani. Why on earth-“ She stopped suddenly. “You did not buy that for Fenwick, did you?”

The princess’s mouth curved into a smile.

“I knew it!” Cam grinned. “Come on, it is not fair to withhold information!”

“Information, or gossip, Camwethrin?”

“Ani, you are not amusing me.”

“I beg your forgiveness, Camwethrin. I did not realize that you wished to know my every coming and going,” the princess answered flippantly, starting off down the street.

Cam caught up with her in two long strides. “So you bought the ring for Éomer?”

“Shh,” the princess hushed her. “There will be enough gossip about us dancing as we were last evening. Let us not make it worse, shall we?”

“Since when are you so concerned about gossip, Princess?” Cam snickered.

“You know I truly do not care what they think of me, Cam, but I do have to be concerned
for Ada’s sake.”

The blonde nodded her agreement. “What are you going to do, Ani?” Cam asked, her voice lowered

Anhuil smiled at her silently, one eyebrow raised. “I do not know yet, Cam, but one way or another, I will marry Éomer,” she stated, the determination in her voice evident. She drew in a deep breath, exhaling slowly. “I need to get back. We only have another day and I need to look through those old scrolls one more time.”

“Do you ever get tired of that library, Ani?”

“This is important, Camwethrin,” she responded. “Besides, I promised Éomer I would meet him for a walk later.” Anhuil smiled at her friend.

Cam shook her head slowly. “Go ahead, then,” she said, gesturing toward the upper levels. “I will make my run to Adaneth’s and I will catch up with you for dinner.”

Inclining her head in agreement, the princess turned to head back toward the Citadel, her cloak held tight around her. The heels of her boots clicked on the flagstone paving as she hurried toward the Citadel library.

~~~~~~~~~

Cam slipped out of the tiny shop, tucking a small package into her belt pouch. There were plenty of shops in the upper levels of Minas Tirith, but she preferred this one on the second level. Adaneth had rather creative mixtures of herbs. Today was no exception. Glancing down at the new ring on her finger, a small smile crept across her face. This shopping expedition could definitely pay off.

As she stepped onto the street, a familiar portly man huffing his way along the path drew her attention. Shaking her head, she looked again. It couldn’t be. “What is that little fusby doing here?” she muttered to herself. Pulling the hood of her cloak up, she followed him, ducking through the crowded streets, staying far enough behind that he would not notice her among the throngs in the market. She needn’t have bothered; for Neville was in such a hurry he never once looked back.

At the end of a side street near the gate of the second level, the chubby valet stopped. Looking up at the weathered sign swinging on the hooks above the door, he frowned. With a last glance around the sidewalk, he slunk into the tavern reluctantly.

The sign creaked, and Cam looked up. At one time, the sign might have said *The Belching Balrog,* but she wasn’t sure, because most of the letters were worn off, as was the painting that had once been bright and gaudy. She thought it might have been a large creature with a whip of fire, flames shooting from its wide-open mouth. Gripping the clasp of her cloak to keep her hood close over her face, she followed Neville inside.

~~~~~~~~~~~

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Chapter name
Chapter Twenty-Eight
Created
09 May 2004
Last Edited
09 May 2004
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