Author's Notes: Sorry for the delay! Life caught up with me. For anyone who's still reading, thank you so much. And thanks for all the feedback from previous chapters. I hope you enjoy this one, too!
The Power of Two
by Kristen Elizabeth
"I see dark clouds."
Eldarion glanced up at the pre-dusk sky before turning a sideways frown on his oldest friend. "There are no clouds to speak of."
Slowing his horse down a bit to keep pace with the Prince's, Elboron shook his head. "Not on the horizon. They shadow your face, my friend. Could it be sorrow at being parted from my sister?"
"We have need to speak of that, but now is not the time." Eldarion looked ahead of them to where their fathers led the long line of soldiers westward towards Rohan. "They shall make camp soon."
Elboron ignored him. "In truth, now that last night's drink has cleared from my head, I must admit I was most surprised to hear of your affection for Edoawen. How long have you cast an interested eye on my sister?"
"Friend." Eldarion pulled at his horse's reigns, bringing him to a stop. Elboron followed suit, and the other warriors began filing past them. "There has been a mistake. I do not…"
He was interrupted by the lone cry of a bone-horn, signaling their stop for the night. "At last," Elboron declared. "Will you share your father's fire, my friend?"
"Yes," the Prince replied. "Join us, for am I sure your own father shall be there."
"I thank you for the invitation." Faramir's son tapped his horse's sides, following the half-Elf further up the line of troops. Neither man realized that they galloped right past Edoawen.
A full day of riding without stop had been exhilarating for the young woman, but also exhausting. As she climbed off her horse, Edoawen winced. Muscles she hadn't even known she possessed ached furiously, and although she'd never been one to linger in a bath, right then she would have liked to submerse herself in hot water for hours.
They had stopped on at the mouth of the River Entwash, so after she tethered her horse to a nearby tree, Edoawen headed for the muddy banks with her half-empty water gourd. Many of the soldiers had the same idea. Keep her eyes lowered, Edoawen wove her way through the men. She had just begun to fill her gourd when she felt a hard tap on her shoulder.
"You there." A few of the men had gathered around her, led by one soldier who smiled at her, baring a mouth that was missing more than a few teeth. "Scrap of lad, isn't he?" he asked the others. "What's your name, boy?"
Edoawen cleared her throat, making her voice as deep as possible. "Baramer," she replied, shooting off the first male name that came to her mind. "Of Gondor," she added for good measure.
"Not much of a title," the toothless man snickered.
"And what might your title be?" she challenged.
The man's smile fell a bit. "Never been taught respect for your elders, have you?"
"Elders, yes." Edoawen tried to stop herself, but her tongue was too far out of control. "Inferiors, no."
"Inferiors!" The men bristled. "We shall see who's inferior, boy." The man drew his sword. It was the first time anyone other than her brother had unsheathed his weapon in front of her. But from the playful sparring matches of her childhood, she knew what to do.
She pulled her own sword from its protective scabbard and pointed it at her adversary. "A wise man does not challenge an unknown opponent."
The man gave no answer. He simply charged full ahead and Edoawen had to think quickly in order to sidestep the blade in time. It had come dangerously close to her ribcage. Her next move would have to be brilliant in order to regain the upper hand.
But she never got to make the next move, because someone grabbed her from behind and wrestled her sword away from her.
"Unhand me!" she ordered her faceless attacker. With her elbow, she jabbed his stomach as hard as possible and waited until his grip let up before spinning around and slamming her fist into his mouth.
She realized, a moment too late, that the man was none other than Aethor of Rohan. Immediately, she dropped her chin to her chest, lowering her face to avoid recognition. Peeking up through her lashes, she watched him rub his jaw.
"I demand to know what started this brawl," he thundered.
"My lord," the toothless man said, dropping to one knee. "Begging your pardon, but the boy were the one to start it."
Almost overcome by righteous fury at this, Edoawen very nearly looked straight up at Aethor, but managed to catch herself in time.
"Is this true, boy?" His eyes were on her and she squirmed ever so slightly. "Answer me."
"Nay…" Lowering her voice, she gritted her teeth to force out, "…my lord."
"But this is your sword." Aethor turned the weapon over in his hands. "Fine quality. Did it belong to your father?" She nodded. "Just how many years are you, lad?"
The toothless man grinned. "Fresh milk that one, my lord. Likely the last woman's legs he been between were his mother's."
All around her, men roared with laughter and Edoawen could feel her cheeks burning.
Aethor raised his hand, silencing the small crowd. Changing his grip on the sword to the blade, rather than the hilt, he handed the weapon back to her. "Come. Prove yourself to these men, else endure their derision for the entirety of our campaign." He took a few steps back and withdrew his own sword. "And this time…guard your back."
Edoawen silently cursed whichever of the fates had it in for her.
As they sparred, Aethor was surprised to find that the scrap of a lad was a hell of a swordsman. Still a bit green around the ears, but with the proper seasoning, he could be a tremendous asset on the battlefield. Whatever move he made, the boy countered with agility and quick wit. Aethor chuckled to himself. He was almost enjoying this.
Just then, the broad side of the boy's sword connected with his side and he doubled over from the force of it. The boy took the opportunity to charge him, but Aethor reacted just in time to regain the upper hand by flipping the boy underneath him and pinning him to the ground.
Panting for breath, Aethor looked down at the figure beneath him. Although half-hidden by a Gondorian helmet, he could see wisps of blonde hair framing pink cheeks. But it was the eyes…the eyes that had stared at him with such contempt on the only two occasions that they'd spoken…that gave away the boy's identity.
It was Princess Edoawen lying beneath him. And that single thought was enough to prompt him into instant arousal.
He pushed himself up and away from her slender, but soft body, grateful for the fact that his tunic covered him to his thighs. Clearing his throat, Aethor addressed the men. "The boy is a worthy opponent. Leave him in peace lest you wish to face my blade."
Shoving his sword back into its sheath, Aethor stalked away from the river as fast as possible. A million thoughts plagued him, half of which were angry tirades against foolish, impulsive women. His first instinct was to locate the girl's father and let him deal with the situation, but something told him to keep her secret to himself for the time being. Whatever her reasons for being there, she was skilled with a sword, and she might even prove herself a good warrior.
That is, if she ever saw true battle. It was his solemn pledge that she never would.
"Have you sent a rider to Emyn Arnen?" The Queen held Éowyn's hand between her cool palms. "Perhaps she set off for home."
The distraught woman nodded. "I have. He has not returned as of yet. But in my heart…I fear something is the matter. My daughter did not return home."
"We don't know that yet, Mother." Elioclya knelt next to her mother's chair. "Awen so loves to worry us all. I can picture her in front of the hearth at this moment, anticipating our panicked arrival." She tried to smile. "We should let her wait, and serve her right."
Éowyn stood abruptly. "I cannot bear this waiting. My husband and son off to battle and my daughter…disappeared." She pressed a pale hand to her mouth. "Oh, what if she lies injured somewhere? What if she…"
Arwen stopped her. "You must rest. Though you think you cannot, you must." She reached for a goblet from a tray a servant had brought in at her request. "Here. Drink."
"I will not be put down by your herbs," Éowyn snapped.
The Queen arched a perfect eyebrow. "And what would your lord and husband say were he here?"
"He would wish that you would rest, Mother," Elioclya reminded her. "Father would not allow you to weaken yourself."
Something in her daughter's voice touched the rational thoughts that she had pushed away in favor of blind terror upon a fruitless search of the entire city for any trace of Edoawen. After what seemed a lifetime, Éowyn gave in and took the goblet from Arwen. "You must wake me if there is any news…any news at all. Swear to me."
"I swear it," the Elven woman replied.
The draught took effect within moments and soon Éowyn slept deeply. Arwen used the opportunity and addressed Elioclya as she settled the woven sheets around her mother's body.
"Dear child," the Queen began. "Might I have a word with you?"
"Of course, your majesty." She curtsied briefly. "Speak of whatever you wish."
"You are worried for your sister, but there is more to your melancholy. I can feel it."
Elioclya froze halfway across the room to fetch another cover for her mother's bed. "I am sorry, my Queen. 'Tis true my mind is occupied, but with thoughts of sister's whereabouts and well-being. Nothing more."
The lie rolled off her tongue, but Arwen wasn't falling for it. "You have spoken to my son, have you not?"
"Many times, majesty. We have grown up together and are friends."
Eldarion's mother sighed and folded her hands patiently in front of her. "Think you that I do not know my son's heart? I have seen him look at you with love from the moment he blossomed into manhood. And I have watched your thoughts of him turn from brotherly to amorous. And believe me, child, I could not be happier for it."
The young girl's lower lip trembled. "Truly, my lady?"
"Truly." The beautiful Elf smiled. "There are qualities within you that my people possessed. I see them in my son as well, which is perhaps why I favor you so as a match for him."
"But my sister…"
"Your sister, and I say this with affection only, favors Rohan. Her spirit would ne'er be happy were it tied to Eldarion's. One or both of them would suffer for the union. She will find her perfect match, as you have found yours. Do not deny her that…or deny yourself what your heart so plainly desires."
For a moment, Elioclya allowed the Queen's words to absolve her of all guilt. In that moment, she realized that her happiness could only ever come from love for and a life with Eldarion. But almost as soon as the warm feeling swept through her, it passed, and all she was left with was an image of her twin's distraught face upon finding her in an embrace with the Prince.
"Thank you, your majesty," she murmured, curtsying again. "To be in favor with the Queen is the highest of all honors. Yet I am sorry to say…I feel not for your son what you would imagine for us." She gathered up her skirts. "I shall return to sit at my mother's side."
Arwen called out to her, but Elioclya was too far gone to respond, even to a royal decree. As she ran for her chamber, fresh tears spilled down her cheeks. It was her fault that Edoawen had run away. And if anything were to happen to her twin, she would carry the burden of it for the rest of her days. To be happy with Eldarion would be the worst of all betrayals.
So, it would never be, she told herself. Never.
Hunger gnawed at Edoawen's stomach. Of all the foolish things she'd done in the past day, forgetting to bring her own food stocks had to be the most unwise one. All she had was her water gourd, which she'd long since emptied. It would be an easy task to refill it at the river, but the possibility of another encounter with Aethor kept her in her tent, determined to starve to death before she would allow him to best her again.
At least he hadn't discovered her identity. She comforted herself with that thought. He had treated her as he would any other soldier. Edoawen smiled in spite of herself; surely it wasn't hard to trick such a bull-headed man. Intelligence did not exactly run deep in his blood. He had too much muscle for that.
Muscles. Yes, he did have those. They'd covered every inch of her body as he'd held her down to the ground. A tiny shiver ran down her spine at the memory. She'd never been surrounded by so much man, nor come so close to such power. Even the scent of him had been purely masculine. And, much to her self-disgust, she had not hated it.
"Stop," she ordered herself. "Had he half the sense of a normal man, he might be worth a second glance. As he does not, he is not." Edoawen paused. "He is not Eldarion."
Even just thinking his name, much less saying it out loud, caused her instantaneous pain. How could her life have seemed so perfect at one moment, yet completely shattered the next? And how could she have been so foolish to believe that Eldarion, the most beautiful man in the world, could possibly care about a wild woman such as she? Especially when compared to her twin.
Edoawen beat the ground with one fist. She could censure Aethor, lord of fools, as much as she liked, but she was the one who had been tricked. And she was the one who had been made the true fool.
The flap of her tent rustled and her hand flew to her sword's hilt. When it lifted and opened, Edoawen withdrew half the blade.
"Who goes there?" she demanded, barely remembering to drop her voice as she pulled on her helmet. "State your name and purpose."
"Aethor of Rohan," the man who had been plaguing her thoughts announced as he ducked to enter the tent. "Here to speak to Princess Edoawen of Ithilien."
Her faced paled as her stomach flipped. "I am sorry, but you seem to be lost, my lord. There is no princess here."
Aethor squatted in front of her and shook his head. "Let us not play games, princess." Before she could stop him, he reached out and tugged at her helmet. Her long blonde braid fell out over her shoulder. "Did you think I was fool enough to not notice it was a woman I felled earlier?"
"Honestly." She lifted her chin. "Aye."
He stared at her for a moment before he started to laugh. "By Valar, I have been cursed. You are the most incorrigible woman ever to walk this world!"
Edoawen scooted back a bit towards the far end of the tent to escape his presence. "Have you told my father?"
"I have not," he replied. "Should I?"
"No!" She shot out an arm and grabbed his. "Please, no. It would bring him shame."
Aethor let her hand linger there. "It should not. You are excellent with a sword; surely that would make a father proud."
"Of his son, perhaps, but not, I think, of his daughter."
"Perhaps," he mused. Staring her in the eye, he covered her hand with his. "As for myself, princess, I care not. You fight better than most of the men gathered here. It matters not that you possess woman's parts." His lips curled up in a mischievous grin. "Although they are very well-formed woman's parts."
Edoawen's eyes narrowed and she threw off his hand. "How dare you! Only a vulgar, boorish heathen of a man would have the audacity to…"
"To what? Enjoy a woman's parts?" Aethor laughed as her eyes flew open, engarged.. "Then I am all and more, princess."
"I despise you!" she hissed.
"I cannot say I find you pleasant either."
"Leave my tent at once!" Edoawen ordered. When he remained squatted in front of her, smirking, her temper flared and she pushed at him. "Leave!"
As he fell backwards, Aethor grabbed her hand and pulled her with him. She landed on top of his hard body, knocking the wind out of them both for a brief moment. When she recovered, she looked down at the man beneath her.
She could call him a fool, but she could not find fault with his looks.
"Princess," he murmured. He ran one hand down her spine, and cupped the small of her back, pressing them even closer.
When she looked back at the event, she could not recall who kissed whom first. As it turned out, it didn't matter. The kiss burned so hot that neither one of them were blameless in it. Every inch of her skin felt set to flame by his tongue seeking out hers, say nothing for the heat at the center of her body. His hands slid back up her body and tangled in her loose braid, but his mouth never left hers. Not even when he rolled them over and came to rest over her.
It was wanton and wonderful and she was so entirely caught up in the passion of the moment that she let a single word slip out on a moan of pleasure when his lips began trailing down the length of her throat.
Aethor froze. As soon as his mouth stopped its delicious movements, Edoawen clapped a hand to her mouth. Even though an apology and explanation was due, she could not say the words. Not even when he sat up and moved away from her.
She lifted herself up on her elbows. "Please, my lord," she said, running her tongue over her swollen lips. "Do not reveal me to my father."
Aethor shook his head and cursed under his breath, muttering words Edoawen had never even imagined. He glanced back at her, as if unable to reconcile what had just happened between them. Then, without a word in reply or acknowledgment, he stood and disappeared through the tent's flap, leaving no sign behind that he had even been there.
Except for the memory of his kiss. It was something that, no matter how hard she tried as she fell into a fitful, hungry sleep, Edoawen could not forget.
To Be Continued