A/N: Well I started writing this at 9:40 PM. It's now 3:02 AM. Wow. Hope you enjoy it. This is dedicated to Miriel Amarian, dear friend, who got me through this. I didn't want to write it at first, but she got me hooked!
Miriel: This chapter is dedicated to you, mellon nin! Review again and I shall be happy! And how was the interaction between Theodred and Eomer familiar? Am I forgetting something?
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Thanks to all who read!
Chapter 49: The Road Back
Halas sat wearily upon his horse. It had only been a few hours, and as a Rider of Rohan he should be ashamed of himself. Yet the odor of pestilent lethargy hung heavy in the air; it was unavoidable, ever falling, seeping through the skin of the men. The wind itself ran with the stench of death.
For the third time in three years, Halas found himself riding for Gondor. He knew not why, only that the Lord Theodred had emerged from Meduseld before dawn with the appearance of extreme composure. So calm that Halas had been disturbed. Yet the façade of calm had been violently betrayed when Theodred had ordered the ride to Gondor. Halas swore he saw tears reflecting in those crystal eyes, and the tremor in that voice could not be mistaken.
He wasn't exactly sure why they were going. He actually opposed it. The Lady was definitely too ill to travel, but it seemed to be her request. What other reason had they to go to Gondor? There was no urgent political need. Ever since their departure, and the beautifully tearful farewells, Theodred had unwaveringly ridden beside the litter in which his wife lay, never speaking a word.
Inside, Elentari lay just as silent, though not as somber as her husband.
I'm going home. I'm going to see the seven levels of white stone. The Tower Guard shall take up the call; the Tree shall glimmer in the morning sun. I'm going to enter the great Gate I spent my youth wishing myself out of, but have done nothing but long for since.
I'm going to see him.
Has he changed? How tall is he now? Do his eyes still hold the light of the sun and moon as one, reflected upon the tranquil sea? Does he remember me? Does he love me?
Have I any right to ask for his love?
Tears filled her eyes as she thought of the man that rode beside her now. Shame at herself for her treachery, yet relief at her painful honesty.
"To give someone your heart, you have to have it. I don't have it. I gave it away long ago. And he will never return it."
The room had been deadly silent for what seemed an eternity, as Theodred tried and failed to absorb and understand the meaning of her words.
Finally, he spoke, "There's someone else." It was half of a statement; more of a question; and all disbelief. He was begging her to take it back.
She nodded slowly, "Long ago. When I was a girl that knew nothing of the world."
"But that was long ago," the protest died on his lips, remembering her words.
His eyes grew cold, though his voice still quiet, "If you do not love me, why did you marry me?"
She sighed heavily, "This is what I was afraid of. I wanted you to remember that no matter what I tell you now, I love you."
"Is not loving me giving me your heart? And if you never could give me your heart, you never loved me," his voice never grew above a whisper, and his words were more of trying to understand than accusation. "Why didn't you marry him instead?"
She had not wanted to tell him everything. She had not the courage for it. She cared about him too much to tell him that her father had forced her into marriage.
"It could never have been, my love and I, no matter what we did. We could go beyond the circles of the world and return and it still would have been forbidden."
This confused Theodred even further. Had a stable boy stolen her heart? She was the daughter of the Steward. Who could forbid her union unless it was unacceptable to the Steward himself? He was an eccentric man; that Theodred knew, but he did not think he would deny his daughter happiness, unless it was absolutely flagrant. Who would Denethor deem unacceptable? Someone so far below her in station that it was absolutely ridiculous? In his confusion, he recalled not the swirling rumors he had heard years ago in Gondor.
"When I married you," she continued, "I knew I would grow to love you. You were a good man, and it did not occur to me then how unfair it would be to you. And as I thought, you won me bit by bit, and though I adore you, you could never surpass him in my heart."
He had stood up then. "I understand." And he turned away.
He had come back that night, after going riding for the entire afternoon, as she had discovered from a serving maid, when he thought she was sleeping. Kneeling beside her bed, he stroked her pale face and wove his fingers through the outspread hair. He seemed to be grasping with the reality of her words, unwilling to accept it. What was he thinking?
"My love," he whispered as he traced her eyebrow lightly with a finger. No matter how he wounded he was, how disbelieving, how much he didn't want to see her, his feelings could not be erased. "Do you lie to me? Please tell me you are lying to me. I will not condemn you for a lie this time. Please Elentari."
She lay there, not knowing whether to speak, to tell him she was awake, or to listen. She wanted to know his thoughts, and she could only do that by feigning slumber, but to deceive him further tormented her.
"Who is it that stole your heart before I had a chance? Who are you forbidden to love? Who is this man who knows not how fortunate he is? He does not know that I would give my crown and everything in my life to be in his place."
She smiled ruefully, her back towards him. And you do not know that he would give everything in Gondor, even his beloved Ithilien to be in your place. She longed to kiss away the tears she knew were streaming down his cheeks. How could he be so adorable? So naïve?
"Who is it Elentari? Who is it? I must know. What sort of man is he? Does he deserve your love?"
The best, she thought. He must be the best, if he can outplace even you, dear Theodred.
"A forbidden love. Things forbidden have a secret charm, they say. Who would your father forbid? A stable lad? Did he ride with you every day? Did he groom your horse to perfection? If he is a stable lad, I would like to see him against any horseman of Rohan."
Her mouth pressed into a line again, with the sides curving up, ever so slightly. A rider he is. Not as great as you, Prince of the Horsemen. I did ride with him every day, and he did groom my horse to perfection, but he is not a stable boy.
Not wanting to deceive him any longer, she turned, yawning sleepily, "Theodred?"
Immediately, he rose and turned away. "Did I wake you?"
"I heard something about stables and horses. I thought maybe something had happened."
"No. Nothing." He turned to leave.
"Please Theodred, don't go," she beckoned him to sit beside her, "This is what I feared when I resolved to confess to you. I can only hope that one day you will come to forgive me, but I had to tell you. I couldn't bear it if you didn't know the truth when I'm gone."
His eyes jerked up to meet hers for the first time since her confession. "You will not leave. You cannot die."
"He will take me Theodred, whether you will it or not," she said without a trace of fear, "You said once you only wanted for me to be happy, no matter what it cost. I do not know if you still think that now, but believe me, I will be happier in death than I ever was in this life. I've had my joyful moments. Every moment with you, moments in my childhood, with Faramir, Boromir, Araniel, all of them, but I was born in mourning, my life has been marked with sorrow, and what joy I found was always shadowed. When I am gone Theodred, tell them not to weep. I do not wish my life to end in tears. I have had enough of them.
He did not answer, for he heard truth in her words. Her mother had died because of her birth. She had never known her father. Her youth was marked by a forbidden love, this he now knew, and then carried off to a foreign land in which she suffered loneliness and a miscarriage. Still, he could not part with her.
"You long to know who was this mysterious love of mine."
The answer was in his eyes.
"You might be surprised to know that you've met him before," she smiled curiously, a child's smile that sickened him, as it did not fit with the wasted face before him. It reminded him too painfully of the woman he had first met. A beautiful, noble woman with a trace of mysterious melancholy that he longed to understand. Now that he did, it revolted him. Some things are better left undiscovered, he realized, though he did not love her less. Yet his love was different. The ardent flame let part of itself transform into a pitying love, a more brotherly love, though she was still first and foremost his wife.
"Theodred," she whispered, her eyes closed, "Can you see it? The White Tower of Ecthelion? It's banner caught in the summer breeze. Can you hear the great gates, with the horse and the rider, opening wide, as the Tower Guard takes up the call, welcoming weary riders home?"
He bit his lip to keep the tears back.
"Theodred," she spoke his name as if she wouldn't be able to for much longer, "If you could have anything in the world at this moment, what would it be?"
He tasted the blood on his lip as he struggled against the flood. "You."
"Me? Why do you waste your wishes for something useless?"
He swallowed hard, "The most precious jewel anyone could offer. I would ask for your life and your heart."
"And if you had to choose between the two?"
Without hesitating, "Your life. My feelings mean nothing beside that."
Again, there was that selflessness she adored in him.
Trying to regain himself, he asked, "And you? What do you want more than anything at this moment?"
"To go home. To see the White City," she murmured as she dreamt of the seven levels.
He nodded. "Though I cannot grant my own wish, yours will be done."
Before dawn had even broken, Theodred had ordered all to be made ready for a ride to Gondor. He ignored the protests of the counselors and healers. He heard only her wish. Her only wish, as she said.
There had been tearful farewells, especially when Eowyn had been called out of bed with the news. She flew into the Great Hall, where Elentari had been paying her respects to Theoden King.
"You cannot leave!"
"And when did you decide to leave? Just yesterday we were talking about the History of Middle-Earth. Where are you going? Gondor? Why?"
"How did Theodred agree? I thought he was finally staying home for an extended period of time! And you're too sick to travel! And to Gondor! That's three days ride, as the Nazgul flies. It'll take you at least two weeks! And what if you're attacked?"
"Eowyn!" The girl stopped temporarily. "I'm going home, because it's what I've longed to do for months. I wish I could take you with me, to let Boromir and Faramir see my sister, as opposed to them, my two brothers. I wish I could take you to Dol Amroth and show you the Sea, let you hear the harmony, see the beauty, but I can't."
"But why are you going in such short notice?"
"Because I must, love. Remember when you said you wouldn't want to live anywhere but Edoras? That it was your one and only true home? Well that is what Minas Tirith is to me. I spent my entire childhood dreaming I was somewhere else, dreaming of adventure and valor, just as you do now Eowyn, but now I would give anything to return to it. Remember, do not be too eager to throw away what you have for the beautiful unknown."
"I shall truly miss you, mellon nin. You have been true and dear, Eowyn. Don't grow up too fast, my love." She kissed the girl's forehead, below the golden hair. "Namarië."
"You speak as if you will not return," Eowyn cried. Elentari smiled a knowing smile, "Keep me in your heart Eowyn. Keep me there forever."
She let the girl kiss her cheeks, embraced her one last time, and let Theodred carry her to the litter.
As they rode away, she turned one last time to look behind her, at one small figure, clad in white, golden hair flying with the wind, dwindling in the distance. She surveyed the fading golden eaves of Meduseld; the engraved horses nobly guarding. It had been her home for almost three years now. It was no longer the strange place she had never seen before that she encountered when she was a bride. It had been her home. It had been a home of happy times, but she was happier to be on this road. The road back to Minas Tirith; the road back to the home of her childhood; the road, back to Faramir.
A/N: Ze button is below. You know you want to push it.