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Trust To Hope

Chapter 31: Chapter Thirty

by Novedhelion

Trust To Hope - Chapter Thirty
Author: Novedhelion
Type: FP Het
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Pairing: Éomer/Lothíriel aka Anhuil
Rating: PG13
Warnings: Watch your back.
Beta: Riyallyn
Disclaimer: Characters not mine, except Cam. Dialogue and scenes are mine. Don’t take ‘em. I have a shotgun, a shovel, 20 acres and pms. Do not trifle with me.

*********************
Never, never, never give up.

Winston Churchill
********************

*********
Rohan
18 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
***************************

Éomer reined in Firefoot and gazed out across the vale. His eyes traveled over the rocky landscape below. It was cold, snow covering the mountain peaks in the distance. Looking up at the gray sky, he surmised it would not only be the mountain peaks covered soon. Turning his mount around, he headed back for Meduseld.

Snow had begun to fall hard as he left the stable and walked up the pathway to the castle. The cold wind blew the flakes sideways. Trekking his way up to the door to the golden hall, he stomped the snow off of his boots and stepped inside, heading over to the fireplace to warm up and dry off.

Removing his riding gloves, he peered out the window into the snowstorm with a sigh. With this weather, it might be a while now before he heard from them again.

“My Lord?” the voice from behind him startled him.

“Yes?”

“A messenger brought this for you while you were away.” The servant bowed, handing Éomer a small bundle, wrapped in cloth and tied with string.

“Did he say from whom this came?” the king inquired, inspecting the odd package carefully.

“A missive from Prince Imrahil, sire.”

“Thank you.” Éomer dismissed the man and sat down on his throne, looking at the odd package.

Carefully untying the string, he unfolded the fabric. A small, wooden box, and two parchment scrolls.

Éomer opened the first rolled parchment. A letter from Imrahil containing mostly news and friendly advice. He set it aside and opened the second scroll. The note was short and written in a neat script. He read over it, swallowing hard.

*Meleth nín,

I pray this message will find you safe and well. I do not have much time as the messenger is leaving shortly.

Cam and I have discovered information about Fenwick that may lead not only to the dissolution of my betrothal to him but to more serious consequences for him as well, if we are correct. We have not yet gone to Ada with the information but as soon we have proof we intend to do so. Fenwick has pushed to move up our wedding date in order to take up his position sooner. Ada has agreed to hold the ceremony just after the new year. In the meantime, I am making an effort to be compliant, as abhorrent as that is to me, so as not to alert him to the fact that we know what he is up to, and I hold every confidence that we will succeed in our plan before the wedding takes place.

Please use caution, meleth nín. I am only just beginning to see exactly what Fenwick is capable of, and I could not bear it if anything were to happen to you. After all, you have a promise to keep.*

Éomer chuckled out loud, rubbing his hand across his beard, and continued reading.

**I did not believe it possible to miss you any more than I did when I left Edoras but I was sorely mistaken. Not a moment goes by that I do not think of you. When I heard this rider was headed to Rohan bearing a message from Ada I could not resist adding a small token of my own for you. Since I could not persuade him to carry me in his saddlebag, I hope this will bring you some solace until again you hold me in your arms.

Amin mela lle
Ani**

Éomer laid the small scroll aside and picked up the small box. Opening the hinged lid, he was at first puzzled by the contents, then grinned in recognition.

Sand.

Picking up a small amount between his thumb and forefinger, he rubbed them together, letting the small grains fall back into the box. How in Arda did one make castles of such material?

He closed the box, running his thumb over the carved swan design on the top, then clutched it tightly in his fist. Leaning one elbow on his knee, he rubbed his beard slowly with his other hand. It was going to be a long, cold winter.

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

Cam wound her way through the halls of the palace toward the princess’ chambers. Turning corners without a glance, her mind was racing with possibilities. Her thoughts abruptly stopped as she bounced off of a well-muscled chest. She looked up, shocked to see Amrothos smiling down at her.

“Where did you come from?” she asked, surprised he was still awake. “It is late.”

“Funny, I was about to ask you the same question,” he said, eyeing her dress curiously.

She smiled and grabbed his arm, pulling him toward the princess’ chamber. “Come on, we need to find Ani.”

Amrothos allowed himself to be dragged along, more out of curiosity than anything else.

Knocking quietly on the princess’ door, she jumped when Ani jerked it open quickly. “Where have you been, Camwethrin?” the princess asked, grabbing her by the arm and pulling her into the room. “I have been scared half to death! I was about to come looking for you myself. You said this would not take long, and it has been hours! I swear, I was half a minute from-“

“I found it, Ani,” Cam told her excitedly. “I found the journal. He documents everything! Dates, times, payment amounts...not only that, I found this.” She pulled the gold from her pocket and flipped it to the princess. Anhuil examined the coin in her hand, emblazoned with two crossed curved scimitars.

“Umbarian,” she muttered softly, here dark eyes wide. Cam nodded. “Where did you-“

“I followed Fenwick and his little friend to a tavern. I overheard their conversation with some rather dodgy types. Ani, I am almost positive it is the same men as in Minas Tirith.”

“Minas Tirith? What are you talking about, Cam?” Amrothos chimed in. Both women had forgotten he was there.

The blonde continued, ignoring his question, barely pausing long enough to breathe. “Then, when I went to his quarters in town,” she paused a moment and turned to Amrothos. “Did you know he keeps rather fancy quarters at an inn there?” She shook her head, continuing her story, ignoring Amrothos’ widening stare. “That is where I found the ledger. The old false bottom of the drawer trick.” She rolled her eyes, then continued. “It was all there, Ani. The journal, the gold, maps...all of it.”

Amrothos reached over and plucked the coin from Anhuil’s hand, studying it closely.

“That pompous ass has gone too far!” The princess clenched her fists in anger. “I cannot believe he would deceive Ada that way! Complete disregard for our people! Not to mention putting the entire fleet in jeopardy! The Corsairs are killing my people and he is--”

“This is Corsair gold, Cam,” Amrothos observed, interrupting his sister. She nodded. “Would either of you care to explain what is going on here?”

Exchanging glances, the two women remained silent. Anhuil finally sighed. “You brought him here, you tell him.”

Biting her bottom lip, Cam turned to face Amrothos. “We think Fenwick is in league with the Corsairs that are attacking Dol Amroth’s ships and ports.”

“In league? How do you mean?”

“Ani and I were working late in your father’s office one night, and when we heard someone coming in we hid. Fenwick came in and copied information from your father’s logs into a journal and left.”

“Why is that suspicious? He works for Ada, Cam.”

“My father suspects someone is feeding information to the Corsairs about the fleet’s movements. Ani and I think it might be Fenwick.”

Amrothos chuckled. “You two are determined to hang him, are you not?”

“Amrothos, she is serious!” the princess added. “We will prove it.”

“How?”

Anhuil swallowed, knowing the fallout her answer would bring. “I changed Ada’s books.”

“What?”

“I changed the books. I changed the entries Ada had made concerning the fleet’s positions. If they use the information I left for Fenwick, at least a few Corsair ships will fall right into the Admiral’s lap.”

“You are insane,” her brother said, incredulous, shaking his head. “A genius, but insane.” She smiled. “And you,” he said, turning to Cam, “You followed Fenwick? In a dress? In THAT dress?” He paused a moment, the expression on his face clouding. “Wait a moment. Fenwick keeps quarters in town?”

“Yes…no...and yes… What is the problem?” Cam was completely flustered at his attitude. How could he be concerned with what she was wearing?

“I thought I told you not to do anything foolish? What were you thinking? Do you know what kind of people the Corsairs are? If they had caught you…” his voice rose as he realized just how dangerous a situation she placed herself in.

“Do you honestly believe I am careless enough to let the Corsairs catch me?”

“You take too many chances,” he scolded her firmly. “I do not want to be the one to explain this to the Admiral if something happens to you, Camwethrin.”

The smile she cast in his direction disarmed him. “I am fine, Amrothos. I am a big girl. And if this works, we have something with which to go to your father.”

Amrothos frowned. “Of course,” he agreed, “but we are not finished discussing this.” He looked at her pointedly, making sure she understood he was not going to simply drop it, then nodded. “Tell us what you have found.”

Brother and sister listened as Cam explained the details of what was contained in the log. “Why did you not bring the journal with you?” he asked her.

“I felt it wise to leave everything as it was, lest he suspect something.”

Nodding his agreement, he sat on the edge of the bed. “We need to tell Ada as soon as possible. We should go to him first thing in the morning.”

“No,” Anhuil raised her hand to stave off his argument. “Fenwick may be a git but he is also clever. I do not want to show our hand too soon. He is far more dangerous than even I realized. Cam, if I had known you were heading there tonight to see him alone I would never have let you go. We must be extremely cautious.”

“What do you mean, Ani?” her brother asked.

The princess took a deep breath, lowering her voice. “When we were in Minas Tirith, he confronted me.” Amrothos started to speak, but she cut him off. “I know he was supposed to be in Lebennin but he was not. He showed in the garden of the Citadel, and threatened Éomer’s life if I had any more to do with him.” She proceeded to tell them about the archers, and Fenwick’s continuing threats. “He is beyond dangerous, Amrothos,” she concluded. “He is evil.”

“He was in the city? Where did he go?” the prince said.

Shaking her head, Anhuil sat beside her brother. “I do not know. One moment he was there, making his threat, and when I turned around he was gone.” She shivered slightly at the memory. “I think it was simply a display for me, to prove he could follow through with what he threatened, and not get caught. He did not want Ada to know he was in the city, and I dared not tell him.”

“You did warn Éomer...” Amrothos began.

“Yes, he knows. He knew that evening in the garden that Fenwick had gotten to me. I told Éomer what Mardil had said to, but it nearly broke my heart to do so. The look in his eyes, Amrothos...at least, until he figured out Fenwick was behind it... Praise the Valar Éomer was clever enough to go along with it. I could not have stood it if....” Her voice trailed off as she regained her composure. “I also I sent him a message, with the rider carrying Ada’s missive,” Anhuil told him. “I am afraid for him, Amrothos. Fenwick will not keep his word not to harm him. He is far too calculating.”

“Ani is right,” Cam agreed.

“How in Middle Earth did you two figure this out?” her brother asked.

“Ani and I suspected something, after finding him in your father’s office. When I saw him and Neville in that tavern in Minas Tirith, we knew something was amiss.” Cam blew a stray strand of blonde hair from her eyes. Amrothos started to ask her what she had been doing in a tavern in Minas Tirith, but decided this was not the time. He filed the question away for later.

The princess stood and walked slowly across the room, hands together in front of her chin, tapping her index fingers against her lips. “I only hope they take the bait.”

“The Corsairs will have him keel-hauled for feeding them false information,” Cam snickered.

Amrothos frowned. “That would be more than he deserves.” His gaze traveled from his sister to Camwethrin.

“And when the time comes, I want to confront him myself,” the princess stated.

Her brother stared at her, rising to his feet. “You will do no such thing, Ani. If he is in the pockets of dangerous people like the Corsairs there is no telling what he will do. No, I cannot allow you to be alone with him at all.”

“Amrothos, do not be silly. If I am suddenly allowed no time alone with the man I am supposed to marry do you not think he will become suspicious? You have trained me well, dear brother, and I can defend myself if need be.”

“But you are not to confront him about this alone, Ani. If he finds out you know, he may become desperate,” her brother argued.

“Amrothos is right, Ani,” Cam agreed. “My father has told me stories of how vile the Corsairs are. Please do not take any risks.”

The princess raised an eyebrow at her friend. “This from the woman who went alone to his apartment?”

“Armed with a very strong potion designed to knock out a grown man,” Cam put in, grinning broadly. She held up her hand, brandishing the poison ring she had bought from Brennil.

“Ah, so it did come to good use after all. Brennil will be proud to know it.” Anhuil smiled back.

“Remind me to watch my drinks from now on,” Amrothos sighed, stroking his beard thoughtfully.

“Ani,” Cam said, the trepidation in her voice clear, “You will have to keep Mardil from knowing we are on to him.”

Anhuil stared at her. “What?”

“I know the last thing you want to do is spend more time with the insufferable bastard,” Cam told her, “but you will have to keep him occupied. Let him think you have resigned yourself to this marriage.”

“Oh, by the Valar, Cam,” the princess sighed.

“I know, Ani, but it is the only way. He cannot know we are watching him. If he sees me lurking about without you he will get suspicious, and maybe too cautious. Fenwick may be an ass, but he is not stupid.”

The princess heaved a sigh. “If it means getting rid of him, then so be it,” she answered. “If I can pretend to be interested in all those boring stories that the Viscount from Lossarnach tells whenever he is around, I can certainly play up to Mardil.”

Cam smiled. “Do it for Éomer,” she joked.

“Ha!” Anhuil’s laugh was mirthless. “I hardly think he would consider it a favor,” she teased. “I will do what I can.”

Amrothos blew out his breath. “So now we sit and wait to see if they fall into your trap. Get some rest, Ani. This is not going to be easy.”

“Agreed.” The princess smiled weakly as her brother and Camwethrin slipped out the door.

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

Anhuil stood on the balcony of the dining hall, watching the ships cruise idly into the harbor. The slowly sinking sun cast an orange glow to the water below. The princess crossed her arms over her chest against the slight chill. Dol Amroth was warmer in climate than Minas Tirith had been, but the evenings were chilly in the winter.

The sudden weight of her cloak on her shoulders startled her. She turned quickly to see Fenwick, smiling down at her. “I would not want you to take a chill, Princess,” he said softly.

“Thank you,” she muttered quietly, a bit annoyed at his intrusion on her thoughts.

“What are you doing out here? Dinner is being served.”

“Sometimes I just like to come out here and watch the ships, Mardil. Is there something wrong with that?” Anhuil gave him a quick, innocent smile.

Fenwick studied her for a moment, watching her as she stared across the water. “Nothing at all,” he answered. *Unless you are out here thinking of that damned Rohirrim king,* he thought to himself. He forced a smile in return and walked closer to her. “I must admit I am pleasantly surprised at your change of attitude, Princess,” he confessed. He stood beside her, watching her profile in the fading light. A small sigh escaped his lips. If he had to be married, at least he had picked a pretty one. She would definitely do, at least for a while. He reached out and brushed the hair back from her shoulder.

Anhuil shuddered involuntarily at his touch, more from surprise than anything else. Schooling her features to neutral, she clenched her teeth as he toyed with the loose curls resting on her shoulder. His fingers strayed to the soft skin of her neck, and she shivered again, moving slightly away from him.

“Please stop, Mardil,” she requested quietly.

Mardil smiled to himself at her reaction. “Princess, at some point you are going to have to allow me to touch you. We are to be married in less than a fortnight, you know. I would not have you afraid of me on our wedding night.”

Smiling shyly to hide her disgust, she sidled away from him. “I know, Mardil. I am sorry. I just do not want to rush things.”

Fenwick drew in his breath, eyes narrowing. “What about your Rohirrim king, Princess? Did you let him touch you?” He moved closer to her, stepping in front of her. “Did you like it when he kissed you?”

“I do not think what happened between the King of Rohan and myself has anything to do with this,” she retorted defensively.

“It has everything to do with this,” he said calmly. “I will not have my wife pining away for another man.” Fenwick caught her by her shoulders, but his grip was gentle. Her hands went to his chest, trying to push him back. “I can make you forget him, Princess, if you will but trust me.” Lowering his lips to hers, he kissed her gently but insistently. Anhuil tried to pull away but he held her to him, her cloak falling from her shoulders to the stone floor of the balcony.

She thought about kicking him, knowing she could get away if she needed to, but thought better of it. *I cannot let him suspect anything*, she told herself. Using every ounce of will she had, she suppressed the urge to flatten him and allowed him to kiss her.

His kiss deepened, changing from a gentle exploration to demanding, pulling her against his body. He smiled against her mouth as he heard her gasp and felt her struggle to pull free.

“Mardil, please...” She was shaking, more from anger and frustration than anything else. Fenwick smirked to himself, enjoying her reaction. Allowing her to pull back slightly, he still held her in his arms, his mouth now trailing softly down her neck. He had wondered if she was still a virgin, but her shocked reaction just now left him little doubt. There was more than one reason to look forward to his wedding.

“My apologies, Princess,” he whispered. “My desire for you seems to be getting the best of me.” She cringed inwardly at his words. “But we will wait. It is now only a matter of a few weeks.” He kissed her cheek and backed away. Bending to the floor, he picked up her cloak and placed it over her shoulders again. As he left the balcony he smiled back over his shoulder at her, his leer reminding her of the Orcs she had slain in the battle.

Willing her stomach not to empty itself on her father’s balcony, she regained her shaky footing and stumbled to Camwethrin’s chambers, forgetting completely any thought of dinner.

~~~~~~~~
East Emnet
Rohan
19 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Éomer rode at the front of the column of royal guardsmen, flanked on either side by Éothain and Elfhelm. Haleth bore the standard of the king, riding slightly in front. The company of two hundred and forty men, two full éoreds, rode behind the two marshals. Snow still covered the ground in many places, and on the road had melted to a muddy slush.

Firefoot suddenly reared at the sound of arrows whizzing through the air, nearly unseating Éomer. Grasping the reins tightly, he gained control of his mount, quickly donning his helm and barking orders to the men. His sword was in his hand before he even realized he had drawn it.

“To the king!” Elfhelm yelled, riding in front of him, as several of the men bolted into the trees, hooves thundering as they crashed through the underbrush in the direction the arrows had come from.

The hail of arrows stopped as quickly as it had started. Glancing around furtively, the marshals and their captains had immediately surrounded the king. As the dust settled, the soldiers emerged from the wood, a lieutenant approaching Éothain.

He shook his head. “Nothing, sir. Must have been bandits, not realizing whom they were attacking. They are long gone, now.”

Elfhelm frowned. “Brigands do not attack a king with a full company behind,” he muttered.

“Any casualties?” Éomer asked.

The young man shook his head. “We found tracks in the snow. Human. Two sets. My men are looking, to be sure.” His horse stomped nervously, snorting, its breath visible as a mist in the cold air.

Slowly re-sheathing his sword, he looked around cautiously, the words of Ani’s letter coming back to him. * I am only just beginning to see exactly what Fenwick is capable of. Please use caution, meleth nín.*

Not wishing to alarm the men, he nodded. “You are probably right lieutenant,” he said. “Merely a bunch of thieves who ran once they realized the folly of their attack. Thank you.” The young soldier bowed, re-sheathing his own sword.

“Do you believe that, Éomer?” Éothain asked him, riding up alongside him.

“What else would it be, Marshal?” the king asked. Éothain held his gaze a moment longer before riding off.

The king looked cautiously around. He moved back to his place behind Haleth, but did not remove his helm, unable to shake the feeling that somewhere, an arrow was still trained on his back.

~~~~~~~~
The Palace of the Prince
Dol Amroth
20 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Outside the dining room, the princess squared her shoulders, preparing herself mentally for what had to be done. Brushing her hands over the light blue velvet gown she wore, she plastered a smile on her face and strode purposefully toward the table.

“Good morning, Mardil,” she said politely. Fenwick looked up from the papers he was reading, the cup in his hand halting halfway to his lips. Erchirion and Elphir, who were seated at the table, arose at their sister’s entrance. Mardil quickly set his cup down and joined them.

“Good morning, Princess,” he responded politely, with a slight bow. Stepping around the table, he pulled out her chair, and as she sat, the gentlemen returned to their chairs.

“To what do we owe this honor, Ani?” Elphir teased. “You usually have breakfast with Cam, in your rooms or out on the terrace.”

“I am flattered you consider it an honor, Elphir,” she quipped, “but I thought if I am to marry Mardil perhaps it is time I start spending a bit more time with him.”

Both brothers froze, the bite of bread Erchirion was about to take halfway to his mouth. Anhuil picked up the teapot and poured some into her cup without comment. Mardil stared at her, his eyes narrowing suspiciously. She looked up at her betrothed with a pleasant smile. “What are your plans today, Mardil?” she asked.

Fenwick still stared, his shocked expression almost making her laugh. She bit her tongue hard and waited for his response. “I...I have some duties to attend to for your father down on the docks,” he answered. “But I should return before lunch.”

“I will look for you then,” she told him, selecting a slice of bread from the basket on the table.

“Of course,” he said, still eyeing her warily.

Favoring him with a sweet smile, she turned her attention to her breakfast, selecting some sliced fruit to add to her plate. Fenwick watched her, his features etched with confusion.

Elphir and Erchirion exchanged glances and shrugs, looking from their sister to her fiancé and back. Mardil took another bite of his breakfast, then addressed the princess.

“Anhuil,” he said, surprising them all by using her nickname, something he rarely did, “would you be interested in a walk this afternoon? We have not had much time to talk.”

Cringing inwardly, she kept the smile pasted to her lips. “Of course. That would be lovely.”

“Then I will see you after lunch.” Fenwick nodded, turning back to the papers he had been studying when she arrived. He gathered them up and slipped them into a leather binder, and rose from the table. “Have a lovely morning, Princess.”

“Thank you, Mardil.”

With a slight bow, he left the room. Anhuil turned back to her meal, then looked up to see her elder brothers staring at her in disbelief.

“What in the name of the Valar was that, Ani?” Elphir asked.

“He is my betrothed, Elphir. What is wrong with me taking a walk with him?”

“I thought you despised him,” Erchirion observed.

“If father intends to make me marry the man I suppose I should find something to like about him,” she responded blithely. “Perhaps if I get to know him better I will not despise him so.”

“Perhaps,” Elphir commented, lifting his cup to his mouth. His grey eyes studied her over the rim. She ate placidly, as if accepting a date with Mardil was something she did every day.

************

The princess strolled down the path through the palace gardens, her dark blue velvet cloak pulled around her shoulders. The hood was down, her dark curls braided back on the sides. Mardil walked beside her, stealing sideways glances at his fiancé. “You know, you are quite beautiful when you dress like a woman,” he commented off-handedly.

“Thank you, I think,” she chuckled. They walked in silence for a few moments. Finally Fenwick’s suspicion got the better of him.

“Why the sudden change of heart, Princess?” he asked. “You have regarded me with nothing but disgust since we met, yet suddenly here you are accepting your fate as if it were the weather.”

“It may as well be the weather, Mardil, for all the power I have to change it,” she answered honestly. “What does one do when the weather is unfavorable? Rail against it? Scream and gnash your teeth and exclaim its injustice?” She laughed softly. “I have but two choices. I can make both of us miserable, or I can do what I can to make the situation tolerable, possibly even pleasant.” She turned to face him. “Would you rather I had continued in the destructive vein I was in?”

Fenwick took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No, I would not,” he admitted. “You will have to forgive my hesitation, Princess. For these many months you have despised me. It is a bit hard to accept that you suddenly are willing to grace me with your company.”


“I understand,” she said, continuing down the path. “I assure you the realization comes as much a shock to me as to you. But I do not wish either of us to live out our years in hatred. If we do not come to love one another, at least we could be amicable.”

Mardil nodded his agreement, offering her his arm. A brief flinch, unnoticed by him, and then she took it gracefully, like the princess she was. “Anhuil,” he said, “You do not mind if I use that name, do you?”

“Not at all. You are to be my husband. Those closest to me use that name.”

He nodded. “May I ask you a question?” She looked at him askance, halting her steps. “What about that Rohirrim king?”

“What about him?” she asked, returning the question sarcastically. “Obviously regardless of how I may have felt about him, I cannot marry him, so to continue any kind of relationship with him would be futile. Being away from him these last weeks has given me much to think about. Perhaps you are right, Mardil. Love definitely does cloud the judgment. I have a duty to my people and to my father, and I will not shirk that responsibility.” She focused her emerald gaze on him. “Understand this, Mardil. This is not an unconditional acceptance of your affection, such as it is. I do not love you, nor do I think I ever will. But nothing will change the fact that I was born into a life of political onus, and I will do what I must in that regard.”

“I can accept that, Princess,” he said. Turning around on the path, he walked her back to the palace, his grin widening as he glanced at her. Yes, things were definitely going according to plan, he thought, and this time he would not allow anyone to change his path.

~~~~~~~~~
Eastfold
Rohan
20 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The tent was dark. Armor lay in one corner, near a pair of boots. The small throne sat beneath the large banner hung on the back wall of the tent, dark green with the white horse emblazoned on it, an orange and yellow sunburst in the corner. On a cot in the corner, a figure laid, the even rising and falling of the covers indicating deep sleep. Creeping across the furs that covered the floor on soft boots, the shadow moved toward the sleeping man, who lay on his side, his back toward the approaching footsteps.

Pausing at the side of the cot, the standing figure slowly withdrew a short dagger, and leaned forward over the sleeping man, cautiously moving the blade toward his throat. “Die, peasant!” came the harsh whisper, as he lunged forward.

No sooner had the words left his lips than he found himself staring up into the dark, blazing eyes of the Rohirrim king. The king had rolled over, leaping from the cot, burying his own dagger into the abdomen of the assassin. The blade intended for the king’s throat fell to the furs almost soundlessly. Staggering backwards with a surprised bellow, the assassin stumbled over his own feet and collapsed into the floor, both hands over the wound in his belly. Éomer grabbed his sword and stood over him, the blade at his throat.

“Who are you?” he demanded. The man coughed and sputtered in response, but said nothing. The king did not look up as Éothain and several others entered the tent. The marshal approached the wounded man and jerked the hood of his cloak back. Another soldier lit a lantern, casting a soft glow around the room. The assassin curled on his side, holding his wound, gasping.

“Who are you?” Éomer repeated, his sword in one hand, the bloodied dagger in the other. “Who sent you?” The man did not respond. “Speak, and I will finish you off quickly rather than leave you for the wolves. They are rather hungry this time of year.” Two soldiers hauled him upright, yanking the quiver of short, thick-shafted arrows from his back. Another retrieved the short dagger the man had dropped. The king stepped forward to get a better look at his would-be killer. Dark-haired and skinned, his nearly black eyes studied the king.

“You or the wolves, what does it matter?” the man asked weakly. “You may kill me, peasant,” he finally croaked, “but there are others. You may not be so lucky next time.”

“Then it is fortunate that I do not rely on luck,” the king answered sternly. “Who sent you?”

“If you are too stupid to know who your enemies are, peasant-“

Éothian shoved the man to his knees, although he was still being held up by the two soldiers at either side of him. His strong hand went around the assassin’s neck as he raised the dark eyes to his own. “You will address the king with respect!” he commanded. “Or I will finish the job here and now.”

The man laughed, a weak, shallow laugh.

“Peace, Éothain,” Éomer said, placing a hand on his marshal’s shoulder, handing him his sword and dagger. He turned his attention to the dark man. Before he could speak, the assassin looked up at him with a wide smile. The man’s eyes were wild, his breathing shallow.

“I am supposed to give you a message,” the man rasped. “Lord Fenwick wants you to know how much he’s going to enjoy your little princess. He said to tell you...” He paused, coughing, then looked up at the king. “Fenwick said to tell you he will be thinking of you when she is screaming his name on their wedding night. I’ve seen her, you know. She is a pretty little piece. He promised whichever one of us kills you will get a turn at her when he-“

Éomer did not let him finish, the hand that had curled into a tight fist knocking the man so hard backwards the soldiers nearly dropped him. The assassin coughed hard again, then looked up at the king.

“You will never touch her,” the king said menacingly. “And neither will Mardil Fenwick.”

Blood trickled from the assassin’s nose and split lip. He smiled wickedly at the king, and his head dropped to his chest.

The two soldiers supporting him held him as Éothian lifted his head, letting it drop flop forward again as soon as he released it. “He is dead,” he announced. With a jerk of his head, he indicated for the two soldiers to drag the assassin out, then turned to Éomer. “If you had not done it, I would have,” he told him.

Éomer nodded silently, chest still heaving, staring at the blood stained furs at his feet.

“My Lord?” Éomer did not respond. “Éomer?” At the sound of his name, he looked up at Éothain.

“I need a few moments alone, Éothain,” the king said softly, not looking up.

The marshal nodded, leaning Éomer’s sword against the tent post, but taking the bloody dagger with him. “I will take care of this, and send someone to remove those furs. I am posting extra men on watch,” he said, as he ducked out of the tent.

Éomer stood a moment longer before walking to his cot and slowly sitting down on the edge, his heart still racing. Resting his elbows on his knees, he pressed the heels of his hands against his closed eyes. Ani had been right. And if Fenwick was capable of reaching him this far away, there was no guessing what he could do in Dol Amroth.

~~~~~~~~
Palace of the Prince
Dol Amroth
20 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“I fear I have shocked him,” the princess told her friend, tossing the cloak on her bed. “But he seems to accept my reasoning.”

“What did you tell him, Ani?”

Anhuil shrugged. “Simply that I had no other choice. I could either ruin both our lives or make the best of the situation as it is. I chose the latter. He seemed not to question it.”

Cam cocked her head. “Sounds logical,” she agreed.

The princess sighed resignedly, flopping on to the bed. “How am I going to do this, Cam?”

“You will do it because you must, Ani,” she told her.

“I know, but honestly...” She sat up to face her friend, uttering a sound of disgust. “I would rather face another contingent of marauding Orcs than pretend to even like Mardil Fenwick. It was far easier. I have bitten my tongue so many times today it will likely not survive the week before I bite it in half!” Cam laughed. Anhuil sat up, deep green eyes connecting with darkest blue. “Thank you, Camwethrin,” she told her. “I could not bear this without you.”

“You could not survive without me, Princess,” the blonde joked.

“You do not realize how true that is,” Anhuil smiled.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
East Emnet
Rohan
21 Girithron, 3019 T.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following evening, Éomer sat on a bench near the fire, staring into the dying embers. In one hand he held the small wooden box the princess had sent, his thumb raking over the carved swan absently, the other contained a parchment delivered by a courier earlier that day.

The messenger had been headed for Edoras, traveling fast, but had encountered them along the road. Initially suspicious, even of one carrying the banner of Dol Amroth, Éothain had ordered the poor man detained and questioned at length before it was determined he was simply a messenger, ordered to deliver the missive personally to the king. He had given Éomer a rolled scroll bearing the blue wax seal of Prince Imrahil.

An official invitation to the wedding of the Princess of Dol Amroth.

“Still no more word from the princess herself?”

Éomer jumped at the sudden intrusion on his thoughts. Éothain plopped down beside him on the small wooden bench.

“None,” the king answered quietly. They sat in silence a moment longer, studying the waning fire.

“You do not think he would harm her, do you?” Éothain asked.

The king shook his head. “He needs her for whatever scheme he has planned to work.” He thought back to the letter she had sent, about the suspicions she and Cam shared. A knot formed in his stomach.

The words she had penned came back to him. "I am only just beginning to see exactly what Fenwick is capable of."

The marshal plucked the paper out of his hand, reading over it. “This wedding is in less than a fortnight, Éomer,” Éothain observed.

“I am aware of that, Éothain,” he answered quietly.

“What are you going to do?” His friend regarded him expectantly. The king sat a moment longer, his forearms propped on his knees, staring down at the little box in his hand. He opened the lid, stirring the contents thoughtfully with his index finger. Picking up a pinch of the sand between his thumb and finger, he let the grains fall back into the box and snapped the lid shut with one hand.

He raised his gaze to Éothain’s. “Please call the council together. I would like to meet with them in my tent immediately.”

Trying to keep his grin in check, the soldier nodded. “As you wish, sire.” He stood and turned to look down at his king. “Éomer, my company and I would be honored to ride with you, if we may.”

“I would be honored to have you at my side, Éothain,” the king replied.

The men exchanged smiles as Éothain bowed respectfully, laying the invitation on the log beside the king. Éomer wondered if he would ever get used to people bowing before him.

“See you within the hour,” Éothain said, turning on his heel to stride quickly through the camp.

Éomer replaced the small box in his pocket and withdrew the small, white square of fabric, his fingertips running across the small flowers along the edges. Picking up the parchment, he tossed it into the embers, watching it flame up suddenly and then die away just as quickly.

~~~~~~~~~
“Act. Don’t react.”
Xena
~~~~~~~~~~

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Chapter name
Chapter Thirty
Created
20 May 2004
Last Edited
20 May 2004
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