A/N: Well, here it is - the real, true finale. Hope you are satisfied with it. I don't have any more LOTR stories written yet, but I am still working on a sequel to No Mistake and hopefully I will finish it and it will see the light of day. Put me in your author alert list if you want to be notified if/when it posts (though there are still 3 more chapters in my Harry Potter story that will post before then).

My computer and the diskette keep trying to eat the new story, but I think I've finally convinced them not to. Luckily, I keep it printed out so worst case scenario would be that I'd have to retype the whole thing (about 15 pages at present), but cross your fingers!

Enjoy! And have a great weekend.

The Truest Friends

Chapter 10

When she awakened, it was to a heavy downpour. While Meduseld was admittedly a warmer, more comfortable spot to wait out the rain than her usual cave, for some reason it felt more claustrophobic. Even knowing she'd be soaked, she dashed off to the stables for a visit with Leander to escape the oppressive feeling. Her mind replayed her virtually silent breakfast with Eomer. They had dined alone since Eowyn still kept to her bed with nausea, and Faramir chose to remain with her for awhile. Kareswen had been surprised that Eomer had not seized the occasion to again try and convince her to stay. She wasn't entirely certain whether he had given up on her, or whether this was just some new tactic he had devised and would spring it on her unawares.

She whiled away over an hour in the stable, but soon grew restless there as well and made a dash back for the Golden Hall. Eomer and Faramir looked up as she blew in with a gust of wind and rain, followed by the guards wrestling the door closed behind her.

For a moment, everyone remained silent, but finally Kareswen ventured, "How is Eowyn feeling?"

"A little better, I think. She was able to keep some bread down earlier and it seemed to help to eat something," Faramir responded.

She nodded, glanced at Eomer who remained quiet, and then told them, "Excuse me." She exited the Hall in quick strides, feeling uncomfortable under Eomer's soundless study.

Returning to her room, she found Dog curled up comfortably in front of the fire. She almost thought he smirked at her dampness when she made to change into dry clothing. Pulling a bundle of sticks out that she had collected on her various ventures outside Edoras, she set to work making more arrows to replace those lost or damaged in her last few dealings with Orcs.

She remained in her room, sending a servant for bread and cheese to dine on there, and continued with her work into the late afternoon. Restless, again, she walked the halls and ended up back in the Golden Hall, looking out a rain-splattered window with an expression as gloomy as the weather.

Damn this rain! she thought. Even nature conspires to keep me here! Hopefully it would clear in the night so she would be unimpeded in her departure the next day. It made no sense to venture forth in a downpour only to spend the day hunting for shelter in which to dry out. She wasn't as familiar with the area around Edoras as some other areas of Rohan, but she did not know of any suitable caves nearby that would accommodate a horse.

She was so wrapped up in her thoughts she missed the sound of Eomer approaching and only noticed him as he stepped to her side and spoke softly, "I know the rain is important, but it always depresses me. I suppose it is because it makes it undesirable to ride, and I don't much care for anything to interfere with that."

They stood side by side, neither speaking further for quite awhile. Suddenly Eomer turned to her and said, "Kareswen..." His words trailed to a stop. Reaching out, his hand grazed her cheek as his eyes filled with longing. Abruptly, he dropped his hand, turned and strode hastily away.

Slowly her fingers came up to touch the spot where his hand had been; then gritting her teeth, she hurried back to her room. She remained there the rest of the day, not even leaving for supper. To her surprise, Eomer did not come and attempt to persuade her to join them for the meal; he merely sent a plate of food to her room via a servant. She could not imagine why that made her want to cry.

It proved to be a very long night. The storm did subside in the night - she knew it had since she was still awake long into the early hours of morning. What sleep she got was fitful and unwelcome dreams, all of which seemed to have Eomer in them, plagued her.

It was almost a relief to rise early and begin packing her belongings in preparation for her departure. The sooner she put distance between herself and Edoras, the sooner things could get back to normal. She took one final look around the room, feeling a slight twinge at leaving but pushing it aside. With Dog at her heels, she headed for Eowyn's room to check on her one final time.

Faramir answered her knock and let her into the room. Eowyn was sitting up, and though still a bit paler than usual, looked in better spirits. Quickly she gave her some of the herb she had used and directed her on where it could be found and how to prepare it if she needed more in the future.

"You are really leaving then?" Eowyn asked, noticing that Kareswen would not meet her gaze.

"Yes. Right after breakfast. I thank you, and Faramir, for your kindnesses to me and my friends while we have been here."

To her surprise, Eowyn leaned forward and pulled her into a hug. "We will miss you greatly, Kareswen. Please do not hesitate to visit us if ever you are in Ithilien or Minas Tirith. I think of you as the sister I never had, but would have liked to."

Kareswen's jaw clenched but she forced a smile, "I thank you. Perhaps I will visit sometime." She quickly pulled away and stood, but to her astonishment, Faramir stepped forward and hugged her as well.

"Take care, Kareswen. You are welcome here or in Gondor at any time," he told her.

Feeling the need to quickly withdraw, Kareswen collected her belongings and made for the door. Just as she reached for the latch, Eowyn called out, "Dog - take care of her!" Dog let out a bark and waved his tail in acknowledgement, then followed her into the hallway.

"I definitely need to get you away from here," she glared at him. "You've become impossible lately!" Dog just poked his head into her hand briefly before leading the way down the hall to breakfast.

Kareswen took a deep breath before stepping into the room where Eomer stood, awaiting her arrival. Idly, she wondered how long he would have waited if she hadn't come. Before she could consider turning away and not going in, Dog made their presence known by assaulting Eomer with a friendly lick on the hand. He looked down laughing, "Good morning to you, too!"

When he looked up and saw her standing in the door, dressed to travel and her gear in her arms, his expression sobered. "Shall we eat?" was all he said.

She nodded and took a seat across from him, avoiding his gaze throughout the meal even though she often felt his eyes on her. When they finished their meal, she took a deep breath and told him, "I thank you for your hospitality - especially for your seeing to Leander's needs. May I beg provisions from your kitchen before I leave?"

Eomer struggled with a response, but finally only said, "Of course. Anything you wish."

Still avoiding his eyes, she hastily left the room. Dog hesitated, looking curiously at Eomer, then trailed out behind her.

She didn't see Eomer again as she left Meduseld for the stables, and she thought perhaps she would be able to slip away without having to face him anymore. She was mistaken. As she bridled Leander, he appeared at the stall door.

"Kareswen, don't do this. Please don't go!" Eomer implored her.

She didn't look at him as she resolutely continued to pack her belongings on Leander. "I must. It will be for the best," she answered firmly.

He caught her arm and turned her around, "How can you say that after what we've shared? Knowing how I feel, how can you leave?"

She kept her eyes averted, and would not look at him directly, "I know what I must do. You'll just have to accept that."

In frustration, he slammed the palm of his hand against the stall wall, making both her and Leander jump, and attracting the gaze of nearby stable hands. Without comment, she led her horse out and swung up on him. He reached out and laid his hand on her leg, "Kareswen, please..." But she nudged the horse with her heels and moved away, without response.

Morosely he left the stable and watched her ride down the hill toward the gate. He knew it might hurt less if he turned away and went inside, not watching her departure any further, but he couldn't make himself stop looking. Some part of him seemed to almost believe he could will her to return. In something of a daze, he dashed up the stairs of the nearby guard tower to continue keeping her in sight. The lone sentry stayed away and left him undisturbed in his vigil.

Kareswen was out the main gate before she felt the first tear fall, and in defiance she urged Leander to pick up the pace and he moved into a gallop. They had covered a couple of miles when she pulled him to a halt, and sat with her back to Edoras, trying to stem the flow of tears that continued unabated. She was more than a little angry with herself - the decision had been made. There was no reason to second guess it; but still she sat, unable to go further. Suddenly she swung her horse around and stared at the city on the hill in the distance.

Dog had been sitting watching her, but now appeared to think his input was required. He jumped up and bounded a few strides back in the direction they had come, then stopped to watch for her to follow. She glared at the animal, "I know you like him, but don't you start with me! I know what I'm doing!" Dog ignored her chastisement and repeated his actions, giving a bark as he sat waiting for her to give in.

Leander apparently decided his opinion would also be useful, for he began moving slowly after Dog, tugging at the reins in her hand to encourage her agreement. That was the last straw; the tears flowed unchecked and she slid to the ground, taking a seat on a large flat rock nearby and wrapping her arms around her legs while she wept. Leander lowered his muzzle to rest on her shoulder and Dog came to lay his head in her lap, both offering what comfort they could.

After several minutes, she slowly began drying her eyes and looked at her two companions. "You're right," she told them, drawing a ragged breath, "I can't do this." Abruptly she stood and swung back onto her horse, urging him quickly into a gallop back toward Edoras.

From the watchtower, Eomer could see them come to a stop in the distance but did not know the reason. When it appeared that Kareswen dismounted, he was a little concerned that something was wrong with Leander. And then, to his amazement, she was riding back in his direction. It took a moment to register, but then he raced down the stairs and stopped a soldier passing with a horse, "Lend me your horse, quickly!" The startled man shoved the reins at him without argument, and he was up and hurrying down the hill without bothering to explain.

He reached the gate and the guards were a bit alarmed at seeing the King intending to ride out alone. "My Lord, we will get you an escort!" they called to him, but his response stopped them. "No! I am going alone. I will be fine. Do not follow me!"

Leander had covered much of the distance back to the city by the time Eomer exited the gate. They met on the road less than a mile out and stopped some distance apart staring at each other. Eomer wasn't sure he dared allow himself to believe this could mean what he hoped it meant, and she just sat looking at him with a strange expression on her face.

Finally, she slid down from Leander and walked hesitantly toward him and he dismounted to meet her, letting her approach at her own speed and choice. When she was an arm's length away, she peered into his eyes and confessed, "I don't know if I can do this, Eomer." He wasn't sure exactly what she was referring to until she continued, "But I do know I can't leave you or it will break my heart. So I have to stay, and try to be what you want me to be." A tear trickled down her face and she dropped her gaze, nervously twining her fingers together while awaiting his response.

He took a step to close the distance between them and pulled her into his arms, wrapping them tightly around her and resting his cheek on the top of her head. "We'll find a way to make it work, I promise. As long as you are with me, we'll find a way," he whispered. And then he tilted her head back and found her lips, to seal his promise with a kiss.

THE END