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Trust To Hope

Chapter 30: Chapter Twenty-Nine

by Novedhelion

Trust To Hope - Chapter Twenty-Nine
Author: Novedhelion
Type: FP Het
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Pairing: Éomer/Lothíriel aka Anhuil
Rating: PG13
Warnings: Sneaking...more sneaking...MORE reason to hate Fenwick...
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.

~~~~~~~~~
“Danger can never be overcome without taking risks.”
Latin Proverb

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


Entering the chambers she shared with Cam in the Citadel, the princess pulled off her cloak and tossed it over a chair. Humming to herself, she moved toward the window.

“Where have you been?” Cam demanded, rising from the chair, throwing the cloak the princess had discarded off. “I have looked for you everywhere!”

Anhuil turned to see the blonde, still dressed from today’s shopping expedition, arms folded. “I told you I was meeting Éomer for a walk. It is not even dark out, Cam.”

“You did not mention you would be walking to Edoras and back,” her friend quipped. “I have been waiting for hours.”

The princess frowned. “My apologies, Cam. I thought you were spending the afternoon with Amrothos. What happened?”

Cam sighed forcefully, plopping down on the side of the bed. “Neville happened,” she answered.

“Neville? What are you talking about? Neville and Fenwick are in Lebennin.”

Shaking her head, Cam licked her lips thoughtfully. “No,” she said. “They are here.”

“Here? In the Citadel?” The panic in Anhuil’s voice was apparent.

“No, not in the Citadel, but in the city.”

“Are you certain? Fenwick told Ada he had business to attend to at home.”

Cam raised one eyebrow. “He may have had business to attend to, but unless he has moved his home to a rather seedy tavern called The Belching Balrog, then he lied to your father.”

Anhuil nearly laughed. “The Belching Balrog?” she asked, snickering.

“This is not a joke, Ani. It is a rather dodgy establishment down an alley on the second level. Near Adaneth’s. I was leaving her shop when I spotted Neville on the street. Thinking I had to be wrong, I followed him.” She took a deep breath before continuing. “I followed him inside.” Anhuil’s eyes widened. “Do not worry, I kept my hood up. It was dark and crowded. They never saw me.”

“They?” the princess asked hesitantly.

“Fenwick and Neville. They were both there, along with some others I had never seen before.”

“Fenwick is here? In the city?” Her heart raced, remembering his threat. “Sweet Elbereth,” she muttered. “Éomer....”

“Ani, listen to me. The men he was with...I think they were Corsairs. I am not certain, but my ada has told me tales of them since I was knee-high. Dark-skinned, dark-haired men with black eyes...I think Fenwick knew these men!”

“How is that possible, Cam? How could he-“ she stopped abruptly, staring, mouth open. “You do not think...”

Cam’s blue eyes met hers intently. “I do not know. But it does not bode well for the future husband of the Princess of Dol Amroth to be seen in a low-level tavern with men of that ilk.”

“What do we do? Are you sure he did not see you?”

“No, they did not. I am sure of it,” she answered.

“Well, that is good, at least,” the princess said. “Now what?”

“Right now there is nothing to do, Ani. We will just have to keep following him, and see what happens. I could not get close enough to hear what they were saying, but it looked like a rather heated discussion to me. Neville was pale as a sheet!”

Anhuil walked across the room, her hands pressed flat together, tapping her lips with the sides of her index fingers. The pounding of her heart had not lessened. If Fenwick WAS in Minas Tirith, it would not be long before news reached him of Éowyn’s wedding. If he was indeed involved with Corsairs, then he could very likely carry out his threat against Éomer. She would have to warn him. Grabbing her cloak, she spun for the door.

“Where are you going?” Cam asked her.

“I have to talk to Éomer.” She hurriedly fastened the cloak around her shoulders.

“Ani, we have no proof of anything. If Fenwick gets tipped off, we will never find out. And the men will have our hides if they think-“

“I intend only to tell him that Mardil is in town. He should know, after-“

“After his threat,” Cam murmured.

Anhuil nodded. “I have to tell him.”

“Go ahead then, but be careful! He could be after you as well.”

“Fenwick would never harm me, Cam. He needs me for his plan to work.” She bit her lip. “I have to go find Éomer and warn him.” Without waiting for a response, she bolted out the door.

~~~~~~~~~

Pulling the hood of her cloak up, Anhuil hurried across the grounds to the stables. Catching a stable hand by the arm, the boy startled, then bowed politely. “Good evening, Your Highness,” he greeted her. “Would you like me to-“

“Lord Éomer,” she said, interrupting him. “Where is he?”

“His Majesty is over there, Your Highness,” the young man answered, gesturing over his shoulder. “He’s preparing to-“

“Thank you,” she tossed over her shoulder as she made her way through the crowded stables. Many guests were preparing to leave, and the stable hands bustled about, gathering horses and tack. Éomer stood beside Firefoot, speaking softly to him.

“Éomer,” she said softly.

He turned quickly with grin, which rapidly faded at her expression. “What is it, Ani?”

“I must speak with you.” The urgency in her voice belied her calm demeanor.

Releasing the reins of his horse, he moved toward her. The pleading look in her eyes made him want nothing more than to draw her into his arms, but he held back, aware of the many eyes on them. “Is something wrong?”

“Meet me in the garden at dusk,” she told him quietly. He started to say something but she cut him off. “Please. Do not follow me. Just meet me there.” She glanced around, making sure no one was near. “Be careful, Éomer,” she added softly, quickly turning to walk away.

Éomer stared after her, his brows furrowed. Although her obsession with propriety would easily explain her hesitation to speak here, she was not normally so cryptic.

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

Standing in the gazebo with her cloak hood up against the chill, the princess did not hear the approaching footsteps. She stared out at the grey winter sky as the light began to fade.

“Hello, Lothíriel.” Spinning quickly around, Anhuil stared wide-eyed at the dark-haired man before her. Fenwick smiled graciously, holding his hands out, palms up. “Not even a greeting for the man you intend to marry?”

“What are you doing here, Mardil?”

He smiled, shaking his head slowly. “That is not very polite, Princess,” he said condescendingly, “Can a man not want to surprise his betrothed?”

“You are supposed to be in Lebennin.”

“And so I was. But I thought it would be a nice surprise to join you here, rather than in Dol Amroth.” He walked slowly toward her. Anhuil’s heart pounded in her chest, her deep green eyes locked on Mardil’s pale grey. “I would ask if you have enjoyed your stay, but I have already heard exactly how much you have enjoyed it.”

“You were spying on me?” she asked, incredulous.

“Of course not. I pay others to do things like that, Lothíriel. I am no fool.” The princess whirled around to leave, her blue velvet cloak billowing out behind her. Fenwick grabbed her arm, so tightly she winced. “You did not tell him, did you, Princess? Did you think I meant not to make good on my threat?”

“Let me show you something, my dear.” Stepping behind her, he turned her to face the line of dense evergreen trees down the path. “Do you see anything?” She shook her head. His grip on her arm tightened as he leaned close to her ear. “There are four men in those trees, expert archers, all of them.”

“What does this have to do with me, Fenwick?” she spat back at him. “Are you planning on having them kill me?”

“And your father and brothers boast about how smart you are, my dear,” he shook his head slowly. “You see, I know who is supposed to meet you here.” She turned to him, her green eyes widened in shock. “Do not look so surprised, my dear. Do you think peasant stable hands cannot be bought?” The wicked smile returned.

She glanced toward the wooded area he had indicated. The evergreens and shrubbery were more than adequate coverage for one who knew how to conceal oneself. And Mardil had said four.

Frantically grasping for composure, she squared her shoulders. “You are bluffing,” she said hesitantly.

Mardil smiled patiently. “Am I?” He produced a small dagger from beneath his cloak, offering it to her. “Take this.” At her puzzled expression, he pressed the hilt of the dagger into her hand. “Throw it.”

“What?”

“Throw the dagger, Princess. Any target you choose.”

Anhuil briefly considered using him for such a target, but if he was not bluffing... She hesitated.

“Throw the dagger, Princess. That tree there will do.” He indicated a wide oak about seven paces away. With a deep breath, Ani flipped the dagger so that the blade rested in her palm, and flung it end over end, burying it accurately in the center of the trunk.

Almost immediately, four thick-shafted arrows formed a tight circle around the shiny hilt still vibrating from her throw. They had come from nowhere.

Anhuil stared, stunned. Her mouth tried to form words that would not come.

“Impressive, are they not?” Mardil asked, as blithely as if discussing the weather.

“You would not dare,” she stammered. “Not here, in the Citadel Gardens.”

“Would I not?” he queried, then sighed exaggeratedly. “In either case, it is an awful long road from here to Edoras. These men will go wherever I tell them. And they will do whatever I tell them.” Anhuil attempted to swallow the lump in her throat, squaring her shoulders.

“What do you want from me, Fenwick?”

“I want you to tell him it is over. I want you to tell him you are marrying me, and that he is not to contact you again. And when we return to Dol Amroth I want you to marry me as soon as possible. I have had enough of the games. I will be watching and listening, Lothíriel, and if you do not obey, your peasant friends will be burying their new king. You cross me, and I may just let him die here, in front of you.” He smiled wryly as she stiffened. Fear was not something she let show often. “And if I find you have had any further contact with him before leaving tomorrow for Dol Amroth, I will order my men to follow him.”

“You cannot...he is a king, Fenwick...” Her voice shook despite her efforts to still it.

“It is not uncommon for brigands to attempt assassinations on kings, now, is it? Any one of these men will deny they had anything to do with me, and would gladly hang in my place. They are fiercely loyal, Princess. Do not risk it.”

Anhuil drew in a ragged breath, blowing it out slowly, not daring to call his bluff. “You must let me tell him my own way. Let me at least say good bye to him.” Tears stung her eyes, but she was determined that he would not see her cry.

The smirk on Fenwick’s face made her palms itch to slap him. “Very well,” he said. “But tell him, unless you would prefer to attend another funeral in that Valar-forsaken country. It is your choice.” Releasing her arm, he strode quickly down the steps. Anhuil stole another glance in the direction of the dense shrubbery. When she looked back, Mardil was nowhere to be seen, and the arrows and dagger had disappeared from the tree.

Her heart leapt into her throat as she saw Éomer crossing the greensward. She half expected to hear the soft whizzing of arrows as he approached, his long strides covering the ground quickly. Taking the steps two at a time, he was suddenly beside her in the gazebo, reaching to pull her into his arms. She pushed away, her gaze falling to the stone below her feet.

“Please, Éomer...” She stepped back.

His brows furrowed as he reached for her again. “What is it, Ani?”

Again she stepped from his reach. “Éomer, you must listen to me,” she told him. “We cannot continue doing this. It is not right. It is unfair to you.”

The king’s expression was incredulous. “What in the name of Béma are you talking about, Ani?”

She closed her eyes, drawing in a deep breath. “I am marrying Mardil, Éomer. It is what I must do. Surely you can understand it is a matter of duty.”

The king blinked, completely blindsided by the sudden change in her demeanor. “Woman, we have been over this.” He reached for her again, but this time did not allow her to pull away. His grip on her arm was gentle but firm.

“I am sorry, Éomer. I cannot-“

Before she could finish, he pulled her to him, his attempt to kiss her thwarted as she turned her head and backed away. “Listen to me, Éomer!”

“Not if you are telling me you are marrying Fenwick. I will not hear it,” he countered firmly.

“You must hear me,” she insisted.

His dark eyes took in the fear in hers, wondering what had her so frightened. “Ani...what happened?”

She made a useless effort to swallow the lump in her throat as she stepped further back from him. “I cannot see you again. You must understand. As it is Mardil will know about the time we have spent together here.”

“How will-“

“Gossip travels fast, Éomer, and I have been far too lax in decorum with you. Tongues are already wagging all over Minas Tirith about us.” She bit her bottom lip thoughtfully, turning away from him. “I know you do not think such things matter, but they do. I am betrothed to another man. We both must accept that.”

He gently turned her to face him. “What in Middle Earth has gotten into you? What could possibly-“ he stopped abruptly, his gaze locked on hers, dark green eyes silently pleading with him to acquiesce. “What has you so frightened, Ani?”

“I am not frightened,” she lied.

Éomer knew she was lying. He stared at her, shaking his head slightly, grasping for comprehension. What could make her so frightened that she would--

“Fenwick,” he muttered softly, the light suddenly dawning.

“Yes,” she answered, even more softly, hoping he understood. “I am going to marry Fenwick. Please do not make this any harder than it must be. I signed a binding contract, and I must fulfill it.”

“He does not love you.”

“This is not a matter of love, Éomer. It is a matter of doing what I promised I would do.” Tears spilled down her cheeks as she walked across the gazebo, holding her cloak tight around her.

“What about what I need? What you need?”

“Sacrifices must be made,” she told him, turning to face him. “If you are to rule successfully, you will have to understand that.”

Éomer stepped back, dark brown eyes meeting hers. He glanced over her shoulder toward the trees, but saw nothing, and turned his gaze back to hers.

“Go back to Rohan. Please do not come after me. It will only make things more difficult.”

“Ani...”

“Go, Éomer. Please.” She wiped at her tears, her dark green eyes pleading with him to understand. Fenwick had to have gotten to her. It was the only explanation. His nod was nearly imperceptible, but she saw it. He would do as she asked, but one way or another, he would get an explanation soon.

“If that is truly what you wish, Princess,” he said, almost bitterly. Knowing he did not mean it did little to ease the sharp pain in her heart upon hearing those words from his lips. Her breath caught in her throat as he reached out. With one finger he traced the line of her jaw, the look in her eyes ripping his heart in two.

If he ever got the chance to face Mardil Fenwick again, he feared he would strangle the man with his bare hands before he would again allow him to hurt her this way. “I love you. I will always love you, Ani.”

She raised her hand to cover his. “And I, you, Éomer. But it cannot be.”

He nodded. “Then kiss me, one last time,” he whispered. The princess started to respond, but was cut off by his lips on hers. Anhuil could feel the trembling of his fingers as he entwined them into her hair, deepening his kiss. “He is here?” he asked simply, his voice all but inaudible to any but her.

“Yes,” she answered against his lips.

Fenwick watched the exchange from his well-concealed spot. He had been pleased with her obedience up to this point, but at the sight of Éomer kissing her, his eyes narrowed. “Damned peasant,” he muttered under his breath.

The archer near Mardil turned his head, peering at the dark-haired man questioningly. Fenwick shook his head slightly, making a palm-down gesture. The man shrugged, lowering his bow, but maintaining his position. She had fulfilled her end of the bargain. He would not fault her that the rube was so persistent. For now.

The princess placed her hands on the king’s chest, drawing on every last ounce of reserve she had to push him away. “Please go, Éomer,” she pled, her voice barely a whisper, fighting every instinct she had to grab hold of him and never let go.

The king turned on his booted heel, and strode quickly away from the gazebo. It was the hardest thing he had ever done, walking away from her. He had never seen her so terrified, but what he had seen in her eyes gave him enough reason to go along with what she had asked of him.

Mardil Fenwick had to have gotten to her somehow, but what could he have said to frighten her so? The question turned over and over in his mind as he forced himself to walk toward the Citadel. He dared not look back, although he could feel her gaze on him as he disappeared up the path.

Anhuil stared after him, silent tears threading their way down her cheeks. The sky had darkened, the first droplets of a cold rain beginning to fall, splattering on the stone walkway. A chill wind blew her cloak behind her, but she did not move, not even when she heard the footsteps behind her on the smooth stone floor of the gazebo.

“Very good, Lothíriel. See? We both kept our ends of the bargain. You do as I ask, and your hayseed king lives. It is a very simple agreement. Even you should be able to understand it.” He moved to stand in front of her, but she did not look at him. Reaching out, he wiped a tear from her cheek with one finger. “How revoltingly romantic,” Fenwick mused. “Tears for a lost love.” He glanced toward the path down which the king had disappeared, then back at her. “I am pleased to see you can be reasoned with.”

“If any harm comes to him, Fenwick, I will slit your throat myself.” It was not a threat, but a fact.

He laughed out loud. “You must learn to rein in these emotions.”

“You need not worry about that, Mardil,” she answered, her tone completely flat, her gaze still unmoving. “My emotions will never be your concern.” She turned slowly and walked toward the path. The rain had begun falling heavily, but she seemed not to notice, not even bothering to pull up the hood of her cloak.

Mardil watched her, the corner of his mouth turning up slightly.

He loved winning.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Minas Tirith
22 HIthui, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Anhuil held to her word, steering clear of Éomer over the next several days. As much as she detested giving in to Mardil Fenwick, she would not dare risk any harm coming to Éomer. She believed the king had understood her unspoken pleas that evening in the gazebo, but she longed for a chance to explain to him, and to warn him.

Late one night, the princess lay curled on her side in her bed, staring at the moonlit window. A sudden thought occurred to her, and she sat straight up, nearly smacking herself for not having thought of it before. She leapt from the bed, walking quietly to the door that separated her room from Cam’s. Peeking in, she could see her friend sleeping soundly, blonde hair spread across the pillows.

She moved to her wardrobe, choosing a pair of leggings and a long tunic for ease of movement, and her soft-soled boots. She dressed hurriedly. Moving back to the bed, she shoved the pillows under the quilt and pulled it up to look as if she was sleeping, then peeked in on Cam once more.

Satisfied, she moved to the wooden paneled wall beside the fireplace. Running her fingers along the edge, she found the latch just as Boromir had shown her when they were kids. A small smile crossed her face at his memory. Boromir would have approved, she decided. She lit a small tallow candle with the flint box on the mantle, and slipped into the passage, pulling the door shut behind her.

Anhuil moved silently through the stone passage, counting the rooms as she passed. Quietly pushing open the last door, she silently prayed that she had found the right room. Firelight flickered in the hearth, casting a warm glow across the ornate rug on the floor. She emerged from the small opening, setting the candle down gently on a table near the fireplace. Her soft boots made no sound as she made her way across the rug to the bed.

A pace from the bed she stopped, staring at the man in front of her. Éomer lay face down in the center of the big bed, his head resting on his arms, his blonde hair spread across the pillow and his shoulders. Anhuil’s gaze swept over his muscled back, to where the coverlet lay across his narrow waist. Desperately trying not to wonder if there was anything between him and the covers, she stepped closer.

She stood beside the bed, watching him sleep, startled slightly by the feelings it stirred in her. That she loved him, even wanted him, was not a surprise to her. His kiss and his touch inflamed things in her she never knew existed. But this time, it was not his hands or lips that caused the wave of desire that washed over her, nearly buckling her knees, but the mere sight of him. She could smell the clean scent of his soap as she approached, and her hands itched to move over the taut muscles of his back, to feel his skin under her fingertips...she closed her eyes in an effort to rein in her ragged breathing, but that only resulted in vivid mental images of her brushing his hair from his shoulders and pressing her lips to the back of his neck.

Drawing in a deep breath, she slowly opened them, and crawled up on to the bed, sitting beside him. He still had not moved, his breathing slow and even. Full lips slightly parted, his hair still looked slightly damp from the bath. Tentatively, she reached out a hand, lightly touching his shoulder, brushing his hair aside. The sensation of his warm skin under her fingers sent a jolt through her that she felt to her toes. “Éomer,” she whispered softly.

Before she could think, she found herself flat on her back, pinned beneath him on the bed. A sharp dagger pressed against her throat as she looked up into his blazing eyes. The fury in them quickly dissipated with recognition, replaced swiftly by shock. He withdrew the dagger and dropped it to the floor beside the bed with a thunk.

“Ani,” he said, more of a breath than a spoken word. “Gods, I am sorry. You startled me. Béma forbeodan...I nearly killed you, woman!” He slid his arms under her, pulling her against him, then raised himself to look down at her. “What are you doing here? How did you get in here?”

Still trying to catch her breath, she half-smiled at him and swallowed, suddenly realizing how dry her mouth was. He still lay on top of her, his weight holding her in place on the bed. Anhuil’s eyes raked over his bare chest above her, and the words she had been about to say left her again. She was acutely aware of his solid, muscular form pressing into her as reminded herself to breathe. And she no longer had any questions about what lay between him and the sheets.

“I was...I came to...”

Éomer arched one eyebrow in question, apparently unconcerned by his lack of raiment. Her gaze dropped again briefly, then raised back to his. Elbereth, she thought to herself. Please not that smile. Not now.

The king’s lips curved into a devilish grin as he realized her discomfort. Anhuil closed her eyes. The erotic combination of watching him sleep, and now being pressed to the mattress by his powerful body was overwhelming.

His arms still around her, Éomer could feel the tension in her body beneath his. He vaguely remembered he was waiting for the answer to a question, but suddenly forgot the question, as his mouth claimed hers. It didn’t matter why she was here; all that mattered was she was here. In his bed, in his arms.

Threading her hands into his damp hair, she matched his passion, all thoughts of Mardil Fenwick disappearing completely as she surrendered to his kiss. Finally pulling back, Éomer rolled on to his back, pulling her on top of him and smiling breathlessly at her. “I am not sure if this is a dream or not. If it is, I pray I never wake.”

“It is no dream,” she finally managed to say.

“No, I suppose not,” he agreed, sliding a hand down her back. “If it were, you would not be so overdressed.”

She smacked his chest playfully as she sat up, throwing the covers back over him. “You are incorrigible.”

“Me?” he asked, incredulous, sitting up himself, the covers falling to his waist again. “You come barging into my chambers in the middle of the night, crawling in bed with me as I lay sleeping, kissing me like a little trollop and then have the nerve to call ME incorrigible?”

“Did you just call me a trollop?” She backed up slightly, indignant.

“No, I said you kiss like a trollop,” he stated matter-of-factly.

The princess flipped her hair, feigning haughtiness. “How would you know? Have you kissed many trollops?”

Éomer grinned again. “Many, many trollops,” he answered. “And a few strumpets while I was at it. And a couple of tarts for good measure. You kiss like a trollop. Most definitely.”

Anhuil smiled sweetly. “And do you like being kissed by a trollop?”

“Only this one,” he said, pulling her down to him again and kissing her soundly. She laughed, propping herself on her elbow and toying with the blonde waves that spilled across the pillow beneath him.

“I did have a purpose in coming here, you know,” she told him. “I wanted to explain what happened the other day, in the garden. I was so frightened...”

He gently coiled the ends of her curls around his fingertips. “What happened? What did he say to you?”

“I am sorry I could not tell you then. I was waiting for you to arrive and suddenly he was there, as if he appeared out of nowhere.” She paused, licking her bottom lip. “Éomer...he threatened to kill you.”

The king chuckled. “That spineless weasel does not have it in him to kill anyone.”

“No, he does not,” she acceded. “But Mardil is a wealthy man. He would not have to do it himself.” She drew in a deep breath, blowing it out slowly. “I meant to warn you that he was in town, but he got there before you, and....Éomer, he had archers with him.”

“Ani...he would not--“

“There were four archers in the trees, the evergreens along the path.”

“Come now, Princess. You know that--“

“Éomer, listen to me! I am trying to tell you that he demonstrated for me exactly how deadly accurate these men are. Four expert bowmen had arrows trained on your back, and if I did not say exactly what Mardil wanted...” she shivered slightly. “Please be careful, meleth nín. He is dangerous. If he were to find out about me being here now...” She let her words trail off, unable to speak it.

“I did not survive Pelennor and the Black Gates to be taken out by the likes of Mardil Fenwick.” He sighed deeply, wrapping his arms around her.

She laid her head on his sculpted chest, listening to his heart, delicate fingers tracing through the crisp hair. “I could not bear it if anything happened to you, Éomer. We are leaving tomorrow...please promise me you will be careful.”

“Nothing will happen to me, Ani,” he told her, kissing the top of her head as she snuggled under his chin. "Gamling will hardly leave my side for a moment. I have to run both he and Éothain off to get a bath in peace."

“I know, melethnín,” she told him, “but that does not make me worry less.”

Éomer closed his eyes as her fingers continued to trace absently across his chest. Grasping her hand with his, he cleared his throat and smiled down at her. “If you wish to remain properly clothed, Princess, that is probably not a good idea.”

“Speaking of which...” she said, raising herself up and looking down at him. “Here you are in naught but what the Valar gave you at birth, comparing ME to a trollop!”

“I was not exactly expecting company,” he explained.

One elegant eyebrow arched. “You often sleep in only your skin?”

“You should try it, Princess.”

“Perhaps I shall,” she agreed.

Éomer groaned, throwing his head back into the pillow and pulling the other one over his face. That was a mental picture he definitely did not need right now. “Thank you, Ani,” he said, his voice muffled by the pillow. “I am sure with that image burned in my mind I shall sleep quite well now.”

The princess giggled, pulling the pillow from his face. “You deserve it.”

He sat up and grabbed her playfully, pulling her into his embrace and kissing her deeply. “I will miss you, Ani,” he whispered. “Gods, but I am tired of being parted from you.”

“I know, meleth nín. I will find a way to be rid of Fenwick or die trying. I will send word as soon as I have something.”

He lifted her chin to look into her eyes. “Listen to me. This is the last time, Ani. If I do not hear from you before the first of the new year, I will be coming for you. Do you understand? The next time I see you, I will make you my wife.”

She raised herself up, looking down into his dark eyes. “Do not make promises you cannot keep,” she chided gently.

“I do not,” he reminded her.

~~~~~~~~~~
Dol Amroth
10 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Sitting in the window of her chamber, the princess drew her knees up and leaned forward, resting her folded arms on them. Her gaze traveled out across the sea without really seeing it. She closed her eyes, remembering the way the wind had moved across the grass in the fields of Rohan, looking so much like the waves of her beloved ocean. She half-hoped that when she opened her eyes, those fields would be outside her window instead of the wide expanse of water she was so used to.

Anhuil had never thought she would feel so at home anywhere other than near the shore, but now she felt oddly out of place.

Opening her eyes, she let her eyes wander across the harbor. Ships moved lazily across the early evening horizon. One small tear ran down her cheek, and she wiped at it impatiently with the back of her hand, remembering Éomer’s words to her before she had left Minas Tirith.

* “The next time I see you, I will make you my wife.”*

Upon returning to Dol Amroth, Fenwick also had made good on his intention to move up their wedding. After lengthy discussions with Imrahil, they had settled on a date not long after the Winter Solstice, which now was less than a fortnight away. She had put up no argument for fear of his retaliating against Éomer, relying on the king’s promise to come for her. In fact, she had been downright compliant when it came to Fenwick.

A week after their return, Cam burst into her room without knocking. Thrusting a piece of parchment and a quill at her, the blonde crossed her arms impatiently, staring.

“What?” the princess asked.

“Write him a letter,” the blonde ordered.

Looking down at the blank parchment and the quill, Anhuil raised her gaze to meet Cam’s insistent azure eyes.

Blowing out her breath impatiently, the blonde walked to her friend. Picking up the quill, she placed it in Ani’s hand. “Write,” she said, moving the parchment closer to where the princess sat in the window seat. “You do remember how, do you not?” At the princess’ blank stare, she grew exasperated. “Your father is sending a missive to Éomer by courier this morning. If you hurry, you can send him a message of your own and no one will be the wiser. I persuaded the rider to wait for a few moments. But you better make haste with it. He will not wait all day.”

“Cam...I-“

Picking up a small glass ink pot from the dresser, she plunked it down beside the princess. “Write, Ani,” the blonde chided. With a nod, Anhuil grabbed the parchment. After staring at it a few minutes, she began to write in her small, flowing script, remembering to use the common tongue instead of her usual Tengwar.

With a smile, the blonde nodded. “Keep writing. I will go and tell the rider to wait a bit longer.”

Anhuil didn’t even notice as the door clicked behind her friend as she carefully dipped the tip of the quill into the ink and continued writing.

~~~~~~~~
Dol Amroth
12 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Fenwick leaned back in the chair, watching the barmaid saunter past, tray balanced on her fingertips at shoulder level. He paid careful attention to the sway of her hips beneath the tight fitting waistline of her corset.

“I still cannot believe you had him cornered like that and just let him go, Mardil.” Neville said, shaking his head.

“I promised the princess that if she did as I asked I would let him live,” Fenwick explained, for what seemed like the thousandth time. “Why is this so hard for you to grasp? If he is dead, then I no longer hold sway over her, you dolt. The minute he dies, she loses all motivation to obey.” He did not mention to Neville the threat Ani had made to him.

“Clever, Mardil. Most clever. I am duly impressed.” He tipped up the pewter goblet in his hand. “But what do you plan to do? You cannot allow him to interfere, and you know that as soon as-“

“Neville, I will thank you to keep your voice down,” Fenwick whispered harshly, interrupting before the portly valet could continue. Standing, he drained his tankard and set it down on the table. Without a word, Neville followed silently.

~~~~~~~~~~
Dol Amroth
18 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Cam sighed silently to herself. A few weeks spent watching Mardil Fenwick had produced nothing but aggravation. He had copied the information from the logs in Imrahil’s office for a reason, but what? He and Neville spent an inordinate amount of time locked away in his chambers, but she had not yet been able to listen to the whispered conversations. She was certain that if she could only find out where it was he disappeared to for hours at a time, she would learn something.

An alcove designed to display marble statuary in the hallway outside Fenwick’s room had provided the perfect place from which to watch his movements. He had returned earlier, but she had seen Neville go scurrying off, and had waited around to see what mischief he might be up to when he returned. The blonde was patient, but nearly two hours later she had decided he wasn’t coming back anytime soon.

Ready to call it a night, Cam uncurled herself from the alcove and froze at the sound of shuffling footsteps on the stone floor. Neville came rushing around the corner to Fenwick’s room, a terrified look upon his face. He never noticed her in the shadows.

The door opened and Fenwick emerged, looking highly annoyed. The valet spoke in hushed whispers, hands gesturing wildly. After several heated moments, he turned back into his room then reappeared with his cloak. Cam hugged the wall as Fenwick checked the halls, and hurriedly followed his valet down the hall.

She slipped from her hiding space and quietly followed them as they made their way out of the palace and into town. They wound through the city streets until they reached a small, seedy tavern near the docks. Two questionable men emerged from the shadows and stepped to either side of Fenwick, and after a few exchanged words, escorting him inside.

Peeking in the door, Cam saw the men disappear into a hallway in the back of the tavern. Taking a deep breath, she pulled up her hood and slipped inside. Following them down the darkened hall, she stopped outside a closed door when she heard voices from within.

"You've been avoiding us, Lord Fenwick," a gruff voice started in. She leaned on the wall outside the door, straining to hear what was said.

"I have told you, it will be another several weeks until I gain control of the ports," came Fenwick’s haughty reply. "Why do you risk contacting me?"

"The shipping lanes have yet to be established," the other spoke, his voice deep, but smoother than the other mans. "We intend to commence as soon as your nuptials are concluded, but we need to know where the fleet will be if we are to avoid detection. If you expect success, we cannot afford to lose any more ships. The fleet is too close to us as it is.”

The exasperated sigh could only be that of Mardil Fenwick. "I have only just received the Admiral’s itinerary myself, in order to prepare for my start as Harbormaster. I am sure I can come up with the information you seek in short order." His voice hardened, "But Neville will deliver them. I have managed to convince the prince to move the date of my wedding up. You are to have no contact with me until after my marriage to the lovely princess is finalized. We are too close to risk exposure now. Besides, you have yet to fulfill your end of the bargain. You owe me."

"Very well," the smooth voiced man responded. "But we need the information soon." There was a pause and the muffled sound of coins in a bag hitting the table before he continued. "The same arrangement as in Lebennin, correct?"

"Of course," Fenwick replied.

"Congratulations on your pending nuptials, Fenwick," the gruff voice chimed in, chairs scraping across the wooden floor. Cam casually stepped from the hallway into the tavern, moving to a table near the back. She would wait for Fenwick and Neville to leave, and then slip out behind them.

Fenwick’s hushed voice startled her, it was so near. He and Neville had exited the back room, and rather than leaving, they had taken a table beside her with a wide view of the entire tavern. "I do not wish to be seen anywhere near them," Fenwick was telling Neville, a hand on the older man’s arm. "Besides, I believe a drink or two is in order, in celebration." He waved a barmaid over to take their order.

Cam muttered a curse to herself. She could leave her hood up and hope they would not notice her as she left, but the way Fenwick leered at anything female she knew he would notice her. What she truly wanted was a look at the journal he kept so close to him, usually in a pocket of his waistcoat. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Perhaps another tactic was in order. Slightly loosening the lacing on her tunic, the blonde flipped her hood back. Steeling herself, she took one last, desperate look around and strode toward to Fenwick’s table.

She slammed her hands on the table in front of Fenwick, and turned to look at his companion. “Leave,” she demanded, and returned her gaze to the dark-haired man in front of her.

Neville scooted his chair back quickly and made to leave when Fenwick grabbed his arm, giving him a cross look. “What the hell do you want, Valesa?”

“I wish to speak with you,” she smiled sweetly at him. “Privately.”

“Concerning?” his cold eyes raked over her, lips twitching appreciatively at the loose lacings.

She leaned in close, making sure he had a nice view. “Need I explain every detail?”

Fenwick couldn’t refrain from his self-satisfied smirk. “Have you already found your precious prince lacking, Valesa?”

Cam suppressed the desire to throttle him. Casting a questioning look at Neville, she shrugged.

“You can talk in front of him, he is known for his… discretion.” He kicked a chair out from under the table beside him, indicating for her to sit. She did so, leaning her elbows on the table.

She eyed Neville warily, then turned her attention to Mardil. “You are quite a topic of gossip among the women of the court, you know,” she told him, smiling innocently.

“Oh?”

“Yes,” she admitted trying to sound sincere. “The women constantly talk about how lucky the princess is to be marrying you.”

Fenwick’s lips curled slightly. “And what does this have to do with you, Valesa?”

“I just thought that perhaps since you are marrying my best friend, we should get to know each other. Spend some time together. You know,” she added, as if trying to convince him, “Ani listens to me. I could be a most valuable ally.”

Fenwick couldn’t stop his eyes from roaming her lithe body. He noticed the curve of her hips, the rise and fall of her chest beneath the loose lacings. The sultry pout of her full lips. He shifted in his chair, grateful he was sitting, and motioned for her to lean closer. She did so, offering him a much better view. He reached up and toyed with the dangling lacings as he spoke softly, pulling her closer with them. “Very well, although this is not the best place to take advantage of such an opportunity. Meet me at my apartment in one hour.”

“Your apartment?” she asked, quirking an eyebrow.

“Of course,” he laughed. “You do not think I would risk entertaining my ‘special’ friends at the palace, do you?” Cam nodded in agreement as he gave the directions. “One hour, Valesa.” He released the lacings and leaned back in his chair. “And wear a dress.”

Smiling seductively, she stood and strode out the door, well aware of his eyes on her swaying hips. Fenwick watched her go, wearing a smug grin. The barmaid returned to the table with their drinks, and he quickly drained his mug, flipping her a coin to bring another.

“How do you do that, Mardil?” Neville stared at him in amazement. “I thought for sure that one would rather kill you than look at you.”

“Women are funny creatures, Neville. Some of them just take longer to realize what they want than others. Take Lothíriel for instance,” he nodded appreciatively as another pint was placed on the table. “Her problem with our marriage is not that she does not want me, it is that it was not her idea. She is a stubborn one. She thinks she does this only out of duty to her people, but she will come to realize how fortunate she is.” He paused, taking a long drink.

“Why marry a girl who hates you, Mardil? If there are so many who would want you?”

“It is not a matter of whether she wants me but rather what I want, Neville. And believe me, when I get through with her, she will want me. She may still hate me, but she will want me.” He grinned wickedly.

“But what about the Rohirrim King?” Neville asked, not quite believing his liege.

“I will deal with that should it arise again. But for the princess, her duty lies with the people of Dol Amroth… and to me,” his smug grin returned. “And should I tire of her attitude, the Corsairs have ways of making people disappear, never to be found again. It can be quite useful.”

“And Valesa?”

Fenwick laughed, “That one has no options. She pines for a man whom she can never have. She is beneath his station. Of course he cares for her, but he knows his father will never allow it. But he is so noble; he would never take advantage of her. So, she comes to me, to get what is missing in her life. I, for one, shall not complain.”

Finishing his drink, Fenwick rose from the table. “Return to the palace and make sure all of the Admiral’s paperwork is in order. Tomorrow I will work on the plans for our friends. But tonight, I have a certain blonde to entertain me.” He strode out the door, already making mental plans for the remainder of the evening.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Cam rushed back to the palace, careful to slip past the guards. Entering her room, she threw open the wardrobe, muttering the entire time. "Wear a dress. What were you thinking, Cam?" She pulled a light-blue, straight lined dress with a scooped neckline and quickly changed. "He is never going to fall for…" Stopping suddenly, she reached to the top shelf of the wardrobe, bringing down a plain wooden box.

Grinning, she lifted the lid and pulled out a small pouch. Next to the pouch was the ring she purchased their last trip to Minas Tirith. Working diligently, she prepared the herbs as Adaneth had shown her.

*Perfect*, she thought to herself, slipping the ring on her finger.

Moving to the mirror, she brushed out her long tresses, and worked them back into a single braid. She chose a matching ribbon to tie it off, and dabbed a touch of jasmine oil along her neck. Satisfied, she put on her slippers and slipped on the ring. This was going to be a good night.

~~~~~~~~~

Mardil Fenwick opened the door with a charming smile and motioned for Cam to enter. Bringing her hand to his lips, he lightly kissed the back. "Valesa, I am most pleased you decided to come."

She smiled in response and looked him over. He had changed into a dark grey pair of snug-fitting trousers and a white, open shirt, belted at the waist. She had to admit, he was very handsome. "I would like to get to know you better, Mardil," she said appreciatively.

Placing his hand on her back, he guided her into the apartment. “Would you like a glass of wine?”

At her nod, he poured two goblets, presenting one to her. Leading her to a couch, he motioned her to sit. She was his for the entire evening, and he planned to enjoy every minute of it. Let her relax. But he would not wait forever.

She sat down on the end of the sofa, a slight smile on her lips. He patted the cushion next to him. "You can sit closer. I promise not to bite. Unless you want me to." Mardil cast her a charming smile that made her skin crawl. She bit back the sharp comment that immediately tried to surface.

"But I can see you much better from here,” she responded sweetly. “Besides, I would like to talk a while. Get to know you better. You know, we never have that opportunity when everyone else is around..." She smiled seductively.

*Figures*, Mardil thought. *She wants to talk. Women. All right, we shall talk first*. He took another sip from his cup. "What do you wish to talk about, my dear?"

Cam's blue eyes widened. "Why, you of course, Mardil. I really know nothing at all about you." She tried desperately to keep a straight face. "Except, of course, that all the other women of the court think that you are the most handsome man they have ever seen."

Fenwick chuckled softly, amused by her flattery. "Is that so?"

"Oh, yes. That is what they all say, anyway. Even more so than the princes.”

"And what do you think, Valesa?" Fenwick took another sip, leaning back into the corner of the sofa. He faced her, his grey eyes fixed on the front of her low cut dress.

Cam noticed his stare. Men like him were so easy to predict. She licked her lips. What to say that would not be an outright lie? "Why else would I be here, Mardil?"

With an arrogant smirk he downed the remainder of his cup. Cam smiled and reached for it, “Would you like another?”

“It would not be amiss,” he answered, flashing her a charming smile.

She rose from the couch and slowly walked to the table, her back to him. She watched him surreptitiously over her shoulder as she prepared his drink, quickly flipping the latch of her ring and pouring the contents into his glass.

He turned to face her, his eyes trailed up and down her body, obvious in their desire. She cringed inwardly at his stare. Returning with his drink, she leaned over as she presented it to him with a sweet smile.

Before he could reach out to her, she returned to the opposite end of the couch. “So tell me, Mardil. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”

“I have two older sisters, both of whom are now married,” he answered, sipping his wine.

“They live in Lebennin?” Cam asked.

“One does. The other moved to Lossarnach with her husband’s family.”

“What about your parents?”

“They are dead,” he stated bluntly, then smiled at her shocked expression. “They died many years ago. My sisters and I were raised by an uncle.”

“The one who is the harbormaster?”

He nodded, downing another long draught from his cup. “He taught me everything I know,” Mardil admitted with a smirk. Cam wondered what he meant, but did not press it.

“Do you love Ani, Mardil?”

His brows drew down. “What kind of question is that?” he asked her.

Camwethrin shrugged. “Just a question. I suppose the fact that you invited me here is answer enough.”

“I could not begin to imagine my life without the princess,” he responded honestly, bringing the goblet to his lips.

The blonde nodded knowingly. “But you do not love her.”

“As I have told her many times, Valesa, love is a useless emotion. It does nothing but weaken one’s resolve and impair one’s better judgment. The princess is a perfect example of this.” He smiled at her over the top of his goblet. A slight buzzing in his ear annoyed him. This wine was stronger than he remembered. “One only need look at how her affection for that peasant king has caused her so much pain.” He shook his head. “No, Valesa. I do not love her. I do not believe in love.” Another sip, and he smiled up at her. “There are plenty of other things to keep one’s mind and body occupied, do you not think?”

“To what are you referring, Mardil?” Cam inquired naively.

Leaning toward her, Fenwick smiled wickedly. “Pleasure, of course, Valesa. Do not play so innocent with me. I know why you are here.”

Cam was certain the butterflies in her stomach had tripled in number. Why weren’t the herbs working? “Why?” she asked, buying time.

He scooted closer to her. “Because, my dear,” he crooned, reaching out to run a finger down the side of her neck and across her shoulder, bared by the scooping neckline of the dress. “You want to know if the rumors you hear about me among the courtiers are true.” His finger started to trace the edge of the neckline across the front of the dress. “Let me assure you, rumors do not do justice to what I am capable of. I can show you things...” He leaned closer.

The touch of his finger made her skin crawl. Fighting her desire to knock him to the ground, Cam closed her eyes tightly, praying for the herbs to take effect soon.

Fenwick tired of the discussion. She was here for his amusement, and the time had come. Rising to his feet, he was surprised at how unsteady he felt. He normally could handle far more than two glasses of wine. No matter, the effects would be worked off soon enough.

Cam noticed the slight waver as he stood, and hid a smirk of her own, relieved the herbs were finally working. He took another long drink and set the goblet down, reaching for her hand. Taking it, she allowed him to guide her toward the bedroom.

“I think I…” Fenwick began, and then stopped and shook his head. “I believe you were here for…” He leaned heavily against the wall. Cam took his arm and quietly supported him the rest of the way to his bed. Taking the initiative, she pushed his open shirt from his shoulders. “That is much better,” he managed as he fell back to the soft mattress.

She leaned over him, her braid falling and tickling his chest. He reached for it and pulled out the ribbon, dropping it next to him. “I love a womannn wi.. with long hair…” he stammered, having trouble forming the words as he tried to undo her braid.

Schooling her features to hide her pleasure at his condition, she stood again. “Close your eyes, Mardil. I have a surprise for you.”

“I love sup.. spru… those.” He closed his eyes, unable to remember where he was. Cam waited for a few minutes, until she was sure he was asleep. Shaking her head, she removed his trousers and threw them across the room. Tossing the coverlet over him she paused. He had already turned the covers down, candles lit beside the bed. The desire to strangle him just for that was nearly overwhelming. She suppressed the urge and moved to the other side of the bed, roughing up the pillow and covers, to make it appear she had been there.

She took a few minutes and surveyed the room. Very neat, very opulent. Very Fenwick. Rich draperies covered the window, thick rugs on the wooden floor. Everything in the room screamed well-bred arrogance. Putting the thoughts out of her mind, she began to search through his dresser, being very careful not to leave anything out of place. Finding nothing, she moved to the outer room. An ornately carved desk stood in the corner. Pulling the drawers out, one by one, she found what she expected. The middle drawer was shallower than the others.

Cam removed the drawer and set it on the floor. She jumped at a loud sound coming from the bedroom, and then laughed quietly. He was snoring. Focus, she admonished herself. She lifted the papers from the drawer, paying careful attention to the direction they originally faced. Feeling with her fingers, she found the latch that opened the false bottom. A broad smile crossed her lips. Hidden within was a small, worn leather journal and a drawstring pouch. Pulling open the pouch she reached in, not surprised at the feel of coin. Withdrawing one piece, she inspected it carefully, her thumb running lightly over the crossed swords emblazoned on one side. Pocketing a single coin as evidence, she closed the pouch and returned it to the drawer. The leather journal was bound with a thin cord, which she untied quickly. Flipping through the pages, she blew out her breath.

“The idiot documents everything,” she whispered to herself in amazement. On the pages were lists of contacts and transactions. Payment amounts. Lists of dates. The names of Dol Amroth’s ports and coastal villages. Other names she recognized as names of merchant ships. She stared at the text, unable to grasp the sheer audacity of his deception.

Closing the journal, she carefully placed it back in the drawer with the coins on top. As desperately as she wished to rush the evidence to Prince Imrahil, she knew better than to be careless now. If the documents were missing in the morning, Fenwick would have time to come up with an explanation. Best to wait.

Camwethrin replaced the false bottom, and made sure the papers were in order. Sliding the drawer back in the desk, she double-checked that everything was in its place. Creeping into the bedroom, she had to stifle a laugh at Fenwick’s continued snoring. She briefly considered retrieving her hair ribbon, then decided against it, better to leave it to maintain the illusion. Quietly slipping out, she threw her cloak over her shoulders as she walked. Mounting Niniel, she muttered a few colorful curses about dresses as she arranged her skirts, then rode quickly back to the palace.

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

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Chapter Twenty-Nine
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15 May 2004
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15 May 2004
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