*Disclaimer: These characters are, of course, not mine, but I will put them back where I found them at the end of the story…maybe.
*PG-13 rating may change for later chapters; dark themes and some graphic, but never gratuitous, violence. I will warn you if it does. Beware.
*My many, many thanks to Nilmandra. What you like about this is undoubtedly due to her suggestions. What you don't like is probably due to the ones I didn't heed carefully enough!
*Finally, I consider both the books and films in my fiction, and I write a combination of book canon and movie-verse. There is one slightly AU bend in this story, which will become apparent soon, but that I do not wish to give away just yet.
Chapter One: Ill Winds
Often now, Legolas walked his garden at night, pacing end to end, measuring the dragging time in footfalls until at last the day began anew and he was able to fill his mind with other things. But always, the stillness after sunset gave way to another voice that rang across the land and echoed in his heart with increasing veracity and persuasion.
It had always been hard for him in this season of earth. When the trees gave over to fiery red and gold, and the fading sun burned away the very life in his beloved plants, lulling them into winter sleep.
In the spring and the summer, it was not so hard. The trees he loved, the trees he tended, gave him their attention, their muted whisperings, the gentle sighs and comforting murmuring of wind through branches heavy-laden with green leaves. He was of the earth then, could will himself to believe that he still belonged in this place.
It was when the song of the trees was hushed in brown winter that he could not feign deafness to the call of the sea. And so in the waning months, he stayed among his trees at night and he tried to hold their message in his memory, so that in the long season ahead he might have some defense against the sea longing.
Tonight though, he heard neither the call of the sea, nor the failing voices of the trees and he did not move beneath them. Tonight, he stood rooted in the center of his garden and listened as the wind shrieked of foul things through the branches above. Great clouds boiled at the horizon, rolling over one another and rising ever higher until it seemed they might topple the world.
What comes upon this ill wind?
There was a warning in this night. He could feel it in the too warm air shimmering about him, could feel the danger of the storm stalking his thoughts.
He looked towards Minas Tirith, wondering if perhaps he was not alone in his vigil tonight.
And overhead, lightning crashed to Middle Earth in white flame, and the clouds opened at last and bled from the fractured sky.
She came awake slowly to the fluttering in her womb and smiled in sleepy contentment as she eased a hand across the slight swell that was the child growing within her. Wondering if perhaps Aragorn would be able to feel the babe move at last, she stretched a leg lazily toward him.
She had many creative ways of bringing him from sleep; most of them were likely to blame for her currently swollen state, but this one in particular was perhaps her favorite. To feel him bolt upright from dead sleep and curse as she pressed icy feet to his legs never failed to give her great amusement.
However, her foot stretched and searched and she did not find him there, and at last, she opened her eyes and discovered that he had left her side. She turned over slowly and found him brooding at the window, the tapestries pulled open as he watched over the land below.
In the cool flicker of lightning she saw that his profile was troubled, his eyebrows lowered over his high brow and his mouth pressed thin and grim in worry.
She pulled the blanket around her shoulders and moved from the bed. She walked behind him silently, wrapped her arms about him and laid her cheek against the rigid line of his shoulder blade. He did not start or seem surprised to feel her touch, but he remained silent for a moment, lost in his own thoughts.
"I did not mean to wake you," Aragorn said at last, bringing his hands to cover hers where they rested against his abdomen.
"The babe woke me. Like his father, he is restless this night. What troubles you, Estel?"
"It is nothing, meleth nín. You need your rest."
"I rest better with you by my side. If it is nothing, why have you let your bed and your wife grow cold?" she asked teasingly, but there was concern in her voice as she placed a warm kiss on his shoulder, felt some of the tension there ease away. "Give me the truth."
"I fear there is something happening. This storm brings with it more than rain, yet I do not know what this threat is, nor what it means."
She looked out the window at the clouds surging over the mountains and felt her own skin draw too tight and confining in the charged atmosphere.
"I do not like it that Faramir and Éowyn ride in such a storm," Aragorn said at last and revealed to her the source of his fretting.
She was inclined to agree with him, but still she tried to relieve him with lightness. "I know, Aragorn. You always sleep better when those you love are within your protection. But everyone must once or twice in life venture from your reach. Do you not think Éomer capable of hosting his own sister and her husband safely?"
"They have been gone for three days. They will be in the deserted lands now, with no one near to give them shelter. They are not yet in Éomer's protection."
"Faramir and the Rangers are not unaccustomed to hard conditions. They will pass the storm safely," Arwen assured him.
"Perhaps I should have gone with them."
"The messenger said that Éomer's fall was no danger to his life and that he needed only a little help for a few weeks as he recovered. He is Éowyn's brother; she wishes to spend time with him, and Faramir will see to the business of Rohan well enough. There was no need for you to go as well. Gondor is yours to care for."
"I do not forget that. Still, I wish they had waited to begin their journey," Aragorn continued. "The sky has been threatening all week. They will not get far in weather such as this."
"Will you now take responsibility for the weather, in addition to everything else, Estel?" There was just a note of annoyance in her tone, as his helplessness began to seep into her through their gentle contact.
"I wish they had waited," he simply repeated.
"All the better that they did not wait, for they will be home sooner. Éowyn was anxious to reach her brother, to assure herself he is well. A guard of Gondorians surrounds them. Most of them are Rangers who love Faramir as much as they love you. They will return soon to your keeping, where no harm may befall them."
She was jesting again now, but her arms tightened about him, and he turned slightly to return the favor, putting her into his keeping, which was indeed, where he desired to have those whom he loved. She stood quietly in his embrace, as the child moved between them. King and Queen looked past the city to the open lands beyond.
They stood there together, sleepless now, and they waited within their safe stone walls for the storm to show them its fury, and worried for those that were abroad.
In a flash of lightning, Faramir caught his wife's expression and saw that she had fallen deep into grim thoughts. Though the messenger from Rohan had assured her that Éomer would recover fully from the fall from his new stallion, and that it was only a broken leg and a few broken ribs, Faramir understood that Éowyn would not believe it true until she laid eyes upon her brother. They had rested little in the two nights since they had set out from their home; and for her sake, he did not wish to let this storm stop them on the third.
He could understand more than most what the news had cost her. So many she loved had been lost to her in such a short period of time during the war, and that was a grief he'd been forced to endure as well. The fear that she could suffer more loss was almost more than she could bear, she who had stood firm under the sword of the Nazgul when all others had fled, save one brave hobbit.
He could offer her no comfort with his own knowledge of loss, and that troubled him. He could only take her to Edoras with due speed, even if doing so meant pushing through this dangerous darkness.
The horses skittered and bucked and tried to fling their riders from them. He kept an eye on Éowyn, saw that she sat the horse more easily than the rest of them. Of course, he thought. She was the Lady of the Mark.
In any other circumstances, he had little doubt she'd be enjoying this wild ride, and very much looking forward to the trip to Rohan.
Faramir did not like the ride through the unprotected borderlands between Gondor and Rohan. If he were being truthful, he would have admitted that after spending all the years of his life defending his people from Mordor, he was uncomfortable, even in peacetime, with riding too far beyond the borders of Gondor. He worried for his homeland even now, was afraid some trouble would arise and he would not be there to protect the people he was sworn to protect. He was bound to his realm, and not even his fascination with other peoples and races of the world could tempt him from it willingly.
He never felt quite settled on foreign soil, for too long had he lived in the fear and danger of Gondor being overthrown by darkness. The responsibility of caring for the nation of free men, though rightfully restored to another, still weighed heavily on him. He did not think he would ever be free of it. He was unsure he wanted to be.
He knew Éowyn was always glad for the chance to return to her windswept city on the hill. And while he loved and appreciated the people of Rohan for their spirit and their fierce pride and hospitality, Edoras felt vulnerable to him, he who had always dwelled in the valley, with the stout mountains at his back. In the high city of Rohan, danger could come from all directions. He never rested well there.
And, he admitted, his reluctance to visit the city did not end with concern for her defenses. Faramir was sometimes envious that Éowyn's love for his homeland did not match her love for her own, though he knew well enough what it was to long for the sight of one's own hills and plains and mountains.
He already wished for the plains or the forests of Gondor, instead of this wide road through an unfamiliar and dense wood. He could hear nothing above the rushing wind and thunder, not even the hoof falls of his own mount. He was uncomfortable traveling with so many men and horses; he'd spent too many years as a Ranger.
In a forest, alone and on foot, he could have hidden himself and Éowyn from any enemy, seen or unseen. But royal guards did not travel so lightly, nor so covertly, and in fact their safety depended upon the clear and bold announcement of their strength and force.
That a Prince and his bride might go forth on foot, alone, was not something one even considered…at least not openly. A wry smile played momentarily at the corner of his mouth as he contemplated what Elessar would have said to such a suggestion.
Still, as he led his wife and his men on the open road, he felt as if a thousand unfriendly eyes watched from the cover the darkness and the wood beyond his path. And though there had been no sign of danger in the precautions he'd taken, he was still unsettled.
His hand strayed to the hilt of his sword, and remained there.
Éowyn's thoughts drove themselves into increasingly maddening circles as she wondered without satisfaction of answer how her brother had fallen from his mount. Éomer was far too good a horseman to suffer a simple fall, and yet the messenger had assured her that it was merely an accident and that no grand event had sent her brother from his saddle.
The rider of Rohan had delivered his message and promptly disappeared after Faramir had looked at her stricken face and quickly announced they would depart the following morning. The messenger refused all refreshment or rest, as well as declining to escort them back to Edoras, as would have been the proper custom.
She wondered if perhaps Éomer was injured more seriously than the messenger had disclosed, wondered if the rider was anxious to return to his King's side.
The war was over, she thought angrily. It was time for the men of her family to desist with leaving her to mourn them.
She lowered her brow, unsure of why her thoughts were so dark. Éomer would be fine, she told herself, looked hard for hope, and could not understand why it felt so far from her. She stared hard at the path ahead, as if straining to see Rohan and her brother from afar.
And so it was that directly in her line of vision, in a wash of white lightning, Éowyn saw a lone figure, standing at the edge of the wood, robed in black but for his pale, pale face. In the space of a suspended breath of air, her world tilted, and confusion, shock, and fear rocked her heart madly against her ribs.
He was just as quickly gone as the sky gave back over to darkness, as if he'd never been there.
She reeled backwards in surprise with a cry that was stolen by the wind, and her mount felt her lose her seat and nearly topple from the saddle. The horse stopped uncertainly in the path as Faramir rode on, unaware.
A ghost of her past returned, though it was impossible. She had heard he was dead, had been assured by young Merry and Pippin that it was so.
Only in her mind, she tried to assure herself as she frantically searched the darkness ahead. Her mind and nothing more, bringing her painful memories of death and war, as she contemplated Éomer's injury.
She could have perhaps dismissed it simply by her desire to believe it untrue, but in the next flash of harsh light, he was still there, unmoving, and her eyes met his cruel ones, and acceptance shot through her like arrows. The knowledge pierced and ripped at the denial she would have held to, tearing away the sense of relief she'd felt at tidings of his death.
Her eyes shifted when, behind him, many figures came forth from the mists of the wood, as if conjured by him, and then were lost as blackness gave them back their cover.
Éowyn screamed a warning, but she was frightened--so much more afraid of him now than she'd ever been of him before, though she did not know why--and the sound, high and shrill and full of air, barely registered above the howling of the wind.
But all the warnings in the world could have sounded, and it would have still been far too late to stop the storm that broke upon them now.
To be continued…
Here's the catch…to be continued after May 24th, for I am going on vacation, and this is a little preview/prologue of what is shaping to be a monstrously long story in my mind. There's a possibility I might revise in the week and half I'll have to consider the story, but this is the gist of it.
If you're interested in seeing it continue, would you mind writing me a little note? In addition, all suggestions/issues/comments/questions are most welcome.