Eomer could not keep the grin off his face, the stories Aragorn had told him about Naltariel were hilarious. Like when she had dared Aragorn to jump from one of the waterfalls in Imladris. He had refused and she had tried to throw him in as a prank, but he had grabbed hold of her and it had been she that had tumbled over the edge. He had said that she wouldn't even go near him for almost two weeks.
He yawned as he opened the door to his chambers. It was only a few hours until dawn when they would have to ride out to Gondor's aide, but Aragorn's tales had been too fascinating to pass up. He would probably be grumpy to his men in the morning, but he would feel better after riding for a couple hours.
He frowned when he saw a sealed envelope sitting on his pillow face down. It bore his own seal, he turned it over to look at the front and his heart skipped a beat. It was addressed to "My Vala", the name Naltariel had used for him on several occasions.
He unsealed the envelope hurriedly and the Estelara dropped into his hand. He stared at it for long moments, his thoughts swirling in his head. She had given him the Estelara, what could that mean? Did she return his feelings for her? Or was it something else?
He pulled out the letter she'd left for him and felt his heart sinking with each word. She wasn't staying and she didn't return his feelings. He clasped the gold and amber pendant tight in his hand as he stared down at the letter. He had to talk to her, before she was gone, possibly forever.
He stuffed the letter in his pocket and hurried out the door and down the corridor. He pounded on her door but she didn't answer. He felt an increasing feeling of dread growing on him so he forced open the door. If she was hurt, he would kill whoever was responsible.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness of her room, but when they did he felt his heart stop. Any sign that she had once inhabited the room had been removed. She was gone.
He took a deep breath before turning and running down another corridor. He knocked loudly on the Elf Legolas' room, he had seen them together in the stable earlier, perhaps, at least he had gone with her, or he knew where she was. His hopes were dashed when the blonde elf opened the door, fully alert and ready for battle.
"Do you know where Naltariel is?" Eomer demanded.
Legolas frowned. "Is she not in her chambers?" He asked.
"I just checked. It's empty, completely empty, as though she'd never been there. All of her possessions are gone." He replied in a rush.
"Perhaps the Lorien Elves decided to leave tonight. She was going to leave with them and head for my home in Mirkwood with Haldir's brothers." Legolas suggested.
"The Elves have not left. I've been down in the main hall until only a few minutes ago. And . . . she left me a letter." He revealed.
"A letter saying what?" Legolas asked suspiciously.
"Read it yourself, perhaps you can decipher more into it than I." Eomer replied, fishing the letter out of his right pocket. It was then that he noticed the Estelara was still in his left hand. He handed the letter over to the Elf and watched the Elf's eyes scan over the words.
"She gave you the Estelara? That is a mighty gift. Where is it now?" Legolas asked in surprise. Eomer opened his palm, revealing the gold and amber pendant. Legolas looked down at it for a moment in silence. "Do you know what it is?"
"A symbol to her people, she told me." Eomer answered.
"Keep it near your heart at all times, Eomer. You are the Morning Hope now." Legolas said, putting his hand on the Man's shoulder.
"Do you know where she has gone?" Eomer asked wearily.
Legolas sighed. "My dreams were dark this night, of a white mare riding alone into the shadow. Check first with Haldir's brothers, Orophin and Rumil, for she said she was going to speak to them when she left me."
"And if she is gone?" Eomer asked.
Legolas took a deep breath. "If she is gone, then we can do nothing but pray for the grace of the Vala to travel with her."
Eomer growled in frustration, damn Elf, why couldn't she stay put? "I will go find the Lorien Elves, will you take word of this to Aragorn?" He asked. Legolas nodded and hurried down the corridor to find Isildur's heir.
Eomer ran out into the courtyard on the eastern side of the fortress where the Elves had made camp and quickly found Orophin and Rumil. "Is Lady Naltariel with you?" He asked quickly, ignoring all formality.
They narrowed their eyes and shook their heads in unison. "I thought she was in her chambers." Orophin said.
Eomer shook his head. "She told Aragorn and I that she was traveling back to Lorien with your Elves, but she told Legolas that you were taking her to Mirkwood. And now she is gone."
"She did not ask us to escort her anywhere. The last thing she told us was that she would be going back to Edoras with your people." Rumil replied, Eomer could see the concern etched across the Elf's face.
"We are due to return to Lorien, our borders are vulnerable right now and we fear an attack from the Moria Orcs. We cannot go to her; you must send riders after her, Eomer!" Orophin said desperately.
"However much I wish to, I cannot. We do not have the men to spare." Eomer sighed in defeat. "Every man counts at this point."
Orophin put a hand on his shoulder. "She has taken her fate into her own hands." He said forlornly. "There is nothing we can do now besides pray for a safe crossing to wherever it is she's going. Forgive us, Eomer, for our harsh treatment to you in the past. I rename you Elf-friend, Eomer son of Eomund, Third Marshal of the Rohirrim. Now get some sleep, my friend."
Eomer nodded and returned to his chambers slowly. Someone had come back in and rebuilt the fire. He pulled off his armor and clothes until he was left with only his trousers, then he dropped down onto the bed. He stared at the pendant in his hand, his finger tracing its intricate design.
Keep it near your heart at all times, Eomer. You are the Morning Hope now. He remembered Legolas' words and slowly clasped the chain around his throat. Be a light to your people.
He sighed and dropped his head down onto his pillow, trying desperately for sleep, but it wouldn't come to him. Instead he kept seeing her, it didn't matter if his eyes were opened or closed. A short while later he heard a loud knock on his door.
"Who is it?" Eomer called.
Eomer sighed and got out of bed to open the door. Aragorn stood before him with a worried expression etched into his face. "This isn't you're fault, Eom -" He stopped when his eyes landed on the Estelara hanging around his throat.
"Have you found her?" Eomer asked hopefully.
Aragorn shook his head sadly. "Legolas told me she left you a letter, I hope it contained more words than my own."
"She left you a letter? What did it say?" Eomer asked.
"Until we meet again. That's all, did yours have more of a message to it?" Aragorn asked.
"Yes, two whole passages. Don't I feel lucky." Eomer muttered sarcastically as he picked up the letter from the table.
"And you should, that is not a mere trinket she's given you." Aragorn replied, stepping into the room and taking the letter from his friend.
"And yet no one can tell me exactly what it is." Eomer replied as he crossed her arms over his chest.
Aragorn looked up from reading the letter. "It is a blessing, Eomer. She has given you a part of herself, a part of the blessing the Elves received from the Valar." Aragorn said firmly. "Did you not know?"
"It did not save her lover." Eomer reminded him.
"That was Haldir's fate, Eomer. Something that was meant to be, although I do not know why. Get some rest; we leave in three hours time." Aragorn said sharply, handing the letter back to Eomer.
Naltariel frowned as she slowed Laurea's pace, something was amiss. She looked around suspiciously, her eyes and ears alert for any danger. Laurea twitched nervously beneath her and then she caught sight of the source of her nervousness.
All around her were the arrows of Men. Not the men of Rohan, nor did she believe of Gondor, but of a primitive tribe. Wild Men. She did not meet their gaze so as not to cause a panic and urged Laurea into a slow pace.
She had been traveling five days now without incident, she had forded the Mering Stream earlier that day and pass into Anorien, the first province of Gondor. The Wild Men did not fire on her however, but keep a wary vigilance over her passing.
Eventually she grew not to fear their presence and pulled her hood from her head. She turned to one of them and gave a cautious nod in greeting. He nodded back but didn't put down his bow. Instead he turned and said something in a language she didn't understand to someone behind him.
An hour later she stopped Laurea again, she could hear the sound of hoof beats coming towards her. She looked around anxiously; Orcs did not ride horses, which meant that whoever was approaching her was either a Man or an Elf.
She looked back to the Wild Men in the surrounding forest, keeping her to her path. If she tried to flee, they would fire on her. She had no choice but to continue on her present path. She took a deep breath and loosened her sword in its sheath; she might as well look like she knew how to use it.
She continued on her path, Laurea walking slowly as Naltariel warily eyed the trees. She knew that if she was to be ambushed she would have no chance or survival or escape. A short while later she saw a score of horses coming towards her in a loose formation.
She stopped and sat taller on Laurea's back, looking prouder as she waited for the oncoming horses. They came to her, swathed in the furs of animals with long unkempt hair and the bones of birds braided into their hair like beads. The one at the head of the formation, she assumed to be the chief, carried a mace of carved stone.
He stopped twenty feet away from her and put a hand over his chest, bowing his head slightly. She imitated the same gesture, giving the man her respect. If she was in his realm, he could have killed her without notice.
"Ghan-buri-Ghan." He said gruffly. "What Elf's name?"
She watched him nervously. "I am Naltariel, of the Golden Wood."
The man grunted and nodded his head. "Darkness is ahead." He said.
"I am an Elven Healer heading to the stone city of Osgiliath to aid the wounded." She answered. "I am aware there is danger ahead."
"Orc-folk are not at Osgiliath. Orc-folk and gorgun are at White City." Ghan-buri-Ghan replied, nudging his horse ahead.
Naltariel's brow furrowed as she wondered what a gorgun was, but she dismissed it, thinking it only to be another type of Orc, perhaps their name for the Uruk-Hai. "I have been told that Osgiliath has been under siege for many weeks. There are people there I could heal."
The Wild Man watched her intensely for a few minutes and an unnatural silence fell in the woods around them. Naltariel swallowed nervously, aware that her fate was about to be decided. Finally the Man grunted, signaling that he's made his decision.
"We take Elf of Golden Wood to the stone city on the river for a price." He finally said.
Naltariel's heart sank, she had brought no gold or silver and the one thing she could have bargained with, she had given to Eomer. "I have nothing with which to pay you." She said quietly.
"My son hurt by Orc-folk. Dying." Ghan-buri-Ghan said. "Heal him, we take you to city."
Naltariel sighed in relief. "Of course. Lead the way." She said. Things had gone much better than she'd hoped. Not only were they going to leave her alive, but they were going to escort her too. All she had to do was heal the chief's son.
They led her through the wilderness to a primitive village; ramshackle huts with wood smoke trailing out of a hole in the roofs surrounded her. She kept her eyes plastered to the ground in front of Laurea as immodestly dressed women and barbaric men watched her ride by. She found herself wondering if she had just wandered willingly to her demise when one man from the street walked bravely towards her, lust evident in his eyes.
He reached out to pull her from her horse when he was suddenly beat away with the chief's stone mace. "Not yours, Arog-una-Arog." The chief said firmly as the lustful man held his temple to try to stem the blood of the blow he had received. "Come, Naltariel of the Golden Wood."
She obediently followed, thankful that Ghan-buri-Ghan had protected her from the other man. He led her to a larger hut that had been put together with more care and had animal furs hanging around the outside of it.
They dismounted and she followed the chief inside, the rest of the party waiting outside the door. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the dimness of the hut, but when they did she saw an overweight, middle-aged woman kneeling next to a young boy of perhaps fifteen, as she could tell from her time spent in Edoras.
Naltariel frowned as the woman took a salve from a pot and began to smear it onto the boy's wounds. She stepped closer, looking at the injuries closely before shaking her head.
"Athelas will not save him; he has not been poisoned by the dark touch of the Nazgul. He has been poisoned by the Orcs, whose poison is nothing less than an infection left by the wastes of vermin." She said, lowering herself slowly to kneel next to the other woman.
"Healers gave him medicine." She said despairingly as she nodded to the sweet smelling green salve smeared across the boys chest. "Please, save my son." She pleaded.
Naltariel looked back to the boy, he had been stabbed in the left side of his chest and it looked to go deep. It must have just missed his heart, for if it had pierced it, the boy would have been dead already.
She took a cloth and wet in it a bowl of cool water then washed off the newly applied Athelas salve. She looked close at the wound, it was nasty, the edges had all gone red and puss seeped from the festering wound.
She spoke softly to the boy in old elvish, telling him not to despair as she hesitantly put her hand over the gaping wound. She had seen worse injuries in the infirmary at Helm's Deep, but these people were wary of her already, and if he cried out in pain she did not know how they would take it.
The chief stepped up beside her and put his hand over his chest. "He is man now. He knows pain." Ghan-buri-Ghan said proudly.
She sighed and closed her eyes, letting the healing words flow from her lips as easily as the song of the Nimrodel then she pressed down her hand on the ghastly wound. The boy moaned in pain but didn't move, he was too far gone for more of a response.
Then everything else disappeared and there was only the wounded boy. She concentrated on his heart first, willing the tissues to mend themselves and to beat strongly again. It obeyed her gentle command and she heard the boy gasp as his heartbeat grew strong again. Next, she willed the infection to leave him, to flee from the blessed light within the Elves. And it fled from her touch, leaving only the skin to be mended.
She concentrated on healing the membrane, of bringing the separated parts together. She could feel it coming together underneath her finger, feel the skin moving itself, reaching for its partner on the other side of the wound. And then there was no more she could do.
She let out a deep breath and sagged down, her head falling forward as she fought to keep herself from toppling over. She was exhausted; she had traveled for nearly three days now without rest and now her energy was all but spent.
She felt herself being pulled into the firm embrace of the boy's mother as she babbled on through her tears of how grateful she was. "He is not well yet. He has a fever, but I can do nothing to help him with that." Naltariel murmured, and then she fell into unconsciousness.
Eomer walked restlessly around the camp, his thoughts swirling in confusion and helplessness. Why had she gone by herself into a land that she knew was dangerous? He couldn't even think straight. He needed to know she was safe, because if he didn't find out soon his chances of surviving in the upcoming battle were slim to none. She was all he could think about.
"Eomer, my friend." He heard the familiarly accented voice of Legolas call from behind him. He turned to face the Elf. "Rest. She is safe." He said confidently.
"And what if she's not?" Eomer asked.
"I would know. Trust me, Eomer, she is like a sister to me and I would know if harm has befallen her." Legolas said quietly, coming up to stand in front of him.
"Yet I do not know, and that is what worries me. I would like to know for certain that she was alright, not just an assumption based on intuition. I would like to have her safely back in Edoras with my sister, Eowyn." Eomer said dejectedly.
"As would we all, but fate has not placed it that way." Legolas replied.
"If she gets hurt, I swear I will hunt down every Orc in Middle-Earth before I rest." Eomer vowed, turning to look over the fire lit camp.
"You would have much help, my friend." Legolas said grimly.
"Why did she give me the Estelara?" He asked, hoping the Elf knew what the meaning behind the gift was.
Legolas shook his head. "That I cannot tell you. She tends to keep her reasoning to herself until she feels the need to reveal it. When you meet again, perhaps you will receive your answer." Eomer sighed in frustration, that hadn't been the answer he'd wanted to hear. "Get some rest, my friend. She is safe for the moment, we should be thankful for that."
Eomer nodded and returned to his bedroll, spreading out over the thin mat. He closed his eyes and tried desperately for sleep and eventually it came to him, slow and elusive like mist in the early morning.
He opened his eyes to see Naltariel standing next to her white mare looking travel worn but unhurt. "Rest easily, my lord. Do not be troubled by my disappearance." She said quietly as she studied him intently.
"I will not rest easy until I know you are safe." He replied. "Where are you?"
"I am in the wilds and I'm quite safe, I assure you." She answered stepping closer to him, her eyes resting on the Estelara hanging visibly over his armor. She smiled sadly. "You wear it."
He glanced down at the jewel for a moment. "Of course." He answered his hand reaching out to caress her cheek. He was surprised when she felt solid, not a mere illusion of his sleep deprived mind. "Where are you traveling to?"
"I dare not tell you, lest you send riders to fetch me back. I am following my fate, the path that was chosen for me." She answered.
"What is my fate?" He asked hesitantly.
"I cannot tell you" She answered.
"You are the daughter of wise Elves." He argued.
She sighed. "Your fate is set before you like path with a fork in it. I do not know where the fork lies nor will you until the chance to go back has long since past."
"Will I die?" He asked.
"You are mortal, it is inevitable. But pertaining to the upcoming battle, I cannot tell. Perhaps, perhaps not, it is not for me to decide. If you turn left down the path you will be given life, but the right path will bring you death." She said sadly, pressing a soft kiss to his cheek. His arms wrapped around her, holding her against his armored chest.
"Will I see you again?" He asked desperately.
"I do not know, that will depend upon your choices."
He sighed and held her tight, his cheek resting on the top of her head while she rested her head on his shoulder and traced the image of the horse of Rohan on his chest. They stayed like that for a long time, being comforted by each others presence until eventually Naltariel pulled out of his embrace.
"I must go now; I still have a long road ahead of me." She whispered.
"Stay safe, Naltariel. I will not rest easy until I know that for sure." He said gravely.
"I am safe, dear Eomer. Take heed of your own warning and you watch out for danger. Your path is much more hazardous than my own." She replied, smiling playfully.
He cupped her chin in his hand and brought his lips gently down onto hers. She tasted like the morning dew; he thought hazily, his hand moving to caress her cheek. Their moment was over far too soon, and he reluctantly let her go, knowing in his heart that it was no more than a dream.
She jumped up onto the mare's back and looked back at him over her shoulder before urging Laurea into a gallop and disappearing from his sight. He sighed sadly, missing her already.