Part 21 of the Elfwine Chronicles. The Elfwine Chronicles are a series of one-shots built around the family group of Eomer, Lothiriel and Elfwine. The total number will depend on how many ideas I get for new vignettes.

A/N: Well, here it isthat long story about Elfwine I mentioned I was writing. I debated whether to include it as part of the Elfwine Chronicles, or make it a stand-alone story, and finally decided to keep all of the stories under the Elfwine Chronicles umbrella. So this is Part 21 of the Elfwine Chronicles. There are 7 chapters in it. I never really say so specifically in the story, but I see Eldarion as being 16, Elfwine is 15 and Dariel is 14. Maybe NOW I can go do Harry Potter for a bit! I find it hard to focus on two different "worlds" at once, but you may still see an Elfwine Chronicle here and there. And who knows, maybe I will finally finish my other HP story.

Second Thoughts

(June, 16 IV)

Chapter 1

"I really cannot imagine anyone wanting to live in Rohan!" she blithely told her friends. "From what I've heard about the place, it is simple and rustic, practically barbaric."

Suddenly she realized her friends had stiffened, and then she sensed that someone was behind her. Warily she turned and found herself face to face with Elfwine, the Prince of Rohan.

He struggled to keep his face impassive as he told her quietly, "Most people prefer to see a place for themselves before they pass judgement on it, my lady." His eyes reflected something and, after a moment, she realized it was hurt. Her words had stung him. He gave a polite bow and moved quickly away. Unexpectedly, she felt like the barbaric one.

The other girls gave nervous titters at what had just occurred, each no doubt glad she had not been the one caught with her foot in her mouth. But Dariel could not find any humor in it. The look on his face had been far greater censure than anything he could have said, and all she felt was shame. She excused herself and hurried from the room, seeking solitude away from the party.

She took refuge in one of the nearby gardens, trying to fight back the tears that were threatening. She had been unforgiveably rude just now, and no doubt her parents would have harsh words for her when they found out. She didn't know why she had even said it, repeating what she had heard someone else say. Truthfully, she had always been curious about Rohan, and hoped that one day she could travel there with her parents and see the place in person. It wasn't likely that Rohan would ever extend her a warm welcome now.

A sound behind her alerted her to another presence, and she rubbed hastily at her face trying to hide the evidence of her tears. A familiar voice said quietly, "So, little sister, I hear you managed to embarrass yourself – royally."

She turned and glared at her brother, Eldarion, though in the dark he probably couldn't see it. "Ha, ha! Very amusing! Can you not just leave me alone in my misery?" She turned away as more tears pricked her eyes.

He moved closer and slipped an arm around her shoulders. "If I did that, whose shoulder would you cry on?" He pulled her to him and she could not hold back any longer.

When her sobs eased, she murmured, "Mother and Father will kill me!"

"Not if you dry your tears and act appropriately – by going to apologize to Elfwine. They will be disappointed that it happened, but at least you will redeem yourself somewhat with your contrition."

She sighed. "How can I face him? It was such a rude thing to say, and he was hurt by it. I could see it in his eyes."

"He will be more hurt if you never acknowledge your error with an apology. I will go with you, if you like."

The thought of facing Elfwine left a sick feeling in her stomach, but it wasn't going to get any better if she just tried to ignore it. At least if she apologized, there was hope he might forgive her. "I would like that," she answered. "Could we go now? Before I lose whatever courage I have?"

He nodded and turned back to the main hall, but kept his arm firmly about her shoulders. Once they reached the doors to the hall, he paused to survey the room from his greater height until he located Elfwine, sitting alone in a secluded corner. Gently he steered her in that direction.

Elfwine did not immediately look up at their approach, seemingly lost in his own thoughts, but then he became aware of them standing in front of him. When he lifted his eyes and saw who was there, a shadow passed over his face and he struggled to present an emotionless countenance to them.

"Elfwine, my sister has something she would like to say to you. Will you hear her?" Eldarion asked.

Elfwine glanced at her, then back at Eldarion. "Has she not said enough already?"

Dariel winced; she deserved that. With a gulp, she plunged in. "My lord, I am so very sorry for my cruel words. You are right – I know nothing about Rohan and have no reason to judge her harshly. Please forgive me my folly." Her nerve failed her then and she looked down at her feet, unable to meet his eyes.

Elfwine shifted uneasily in his chair. He had not expected an apology, at least not unless her parents forced her into one. But she did seem truly sorry about it so, with a sigh, he yielded, "You are forgiven. Perhaps one day you will have an opportunity to see Rohan firsthand and can judge for yourself." He stood up nervously, bowed and excused himself.

Dariel watched him leave the party and sighed. "He said I am forgiven, but in his heart I do not think I truly am."

Eldarion kissed her head and replied, "Then I suppose you will have to make it up to him on our trip to Rohan."

"What? What trip to Rohan?" she exclaimed.

"It was just decided today. We are traveling there for a fortnight. We will make the journey when Elfwine's family departs."

She groaned. "Perfect. Why did you not mention this before? I have to spend a month in his company with him hating me!"

Eldarion chuckled. "Or you can spend a month getting back in his good graces by convincing him you are not so hopeless as you sometimes seem!"

She swatted at him, but he easily dodged it. Laughing, he told her, "Sleep well, little sister. We leave in three days."

With that, he moved back to rejoin the party, and Dariel was left standing alone and discouraged. This was going to be a very long month, but perhaps Eldarion was right. If she acted better from here on out, maybe Elfwine would eventually forgive her completely.

xxxxx

Dariel was relieved that her parents never mentioned the incident, but she couldn't help dreading it would still come up at some point. There wasn't much that they didn't know about, especially her mother. She had seen little of Elfwine and, when she had, he was polite but distant. Her father had often warned her about controlling her tongue; this wasn't the first time she had spoken in haste and then regretted it. Now she was learning the bitter lesson better than she ever wanted to.

As Eldarion had said, they departed Minas Tirith three days later on the trek westward. With no other girls her age on the trip, she felt somewhat out of place. Eldarion and Elfwine had long been good friends and enjoyed each other's company, and the younger children all played well together. Elfwine's oldest sister was staying with her aunt and uncle in Ithilien for the summer, so Dariel was left to herself. With nothing better to do, she spent most of her time helping her mother and Lady Lothiriel keep an eye on the younger children.

As they crossed the border into Rohan, the scenery changed somewhat, and the landscape became more wild and untamed. But she could see a rugged beauty in it that she had not imagined. She had done little traveling in her life, other than within Gondor, mainly to Ithilien or Dol Amroth. It was rather exciting to realize she was in an entirely different country now. She tried to spend at least a few hours a day in the saddle so she could get a good view of things, but she was not enough of a rider to be able to tolerate more than that. Even that little tended to leave her rather sore at day's end, but traveling in the carriages caused her to miss too much.

They were half way through their journey on a pleasant, sunny day. Most of the children had fallen asleep after the midday meal break, and Dariel was using their slumber time to get in a little more riding and sightseeing.

All at once she became aware of much shouting and alarm arising around her. It took a few moments to make sense of the yells, but finally she realized that they were under attack. Not sure what to do, she sat there terrified waiting for someone to instruct her.

Then she saw them – ugly, scabby creatures bellowing and running at their group. The men were endeavoring to encircle the camp and drive them away from the women, children and carriages. She could see her father and King Eomer leading the return attack on the creatures, and still no one seemed aware of her or inclined to come to her aid.

One of the creatures broke past a Rider of Rohan and charged screeching toward her. Her horse reared in alarm, then bolted off in the opposite direction. Dariel stayed in the saddle, but was unable to hold back a scream of horror as she realized she had no control over the panicked beast. Sawing at the reins accomplished nothing and finally, in terror, she gave up the attempt and clung to the horse's mane, concentrating on staying seated on the animal.

She did not know how long her horse ran. Her fear was so great it seemed an eternity, though probably was only a few minutes. Suddenly she was aware of something racing up alongside her. She let out another scream before she realized it was a horse from their party; then it registered that it was Elfwine. He urged his horse faster until he was alongside her. She glanced at him with frightened eyes, wondering what he was going to do. A moment later, his right arm snaked over around her waist and pulled her from the saddle. With a gasp of terror, she screamed and grabbed frantically for his neck. Was he completely mad?

But then she realized he was holding her securely beside him and slowing his horse to a stop. As the horse halted, he lowered her to the ground, and she dropped to her knees, her legs too shaky to hold her. He quickly jumped off and came around to her side. "Are you all right? Are you hurt?"

Unable to form a sentence, she shook her head at the latter question and tried to slow her breathing. He knelt beside her, one hand gently rubbing her back in a way that she found surprisingly soothing. Slowly the fear dissipated sufficiently for her to regain her voice. "Thank you!"

He just smiled, and stood. "Do you think you are up to going back? I do not think it safe for us to linger out here alone. There may be more orcs around."

Quickly she bolted to her feet. "Let us go!"

He restrained a grin at her panic, and helped her onto his horse then climbed up behind her. She wasn't sure why, but when he slipped his arms around her waist to reach for the reins, she got a nervous twinge in her stomach. Too much excitement for one day, no doubt.

He turned back toward the company and nudged his horse into a gallop. She had never ridden with a boy before, and she found it surprisingly intimate having him pressed close to her. She could not restrain a blush, and was glad he was behind her and couldn't see it.

They soon neared their party, and her father rode toward them, relief etched on his face. "My deepest thanks, Elfwine. Dariel, are you well?"

"I am unharmed, Father. Just frightened." A thought suddenly came to her. "What about my horse?"

King Eomer rode up just then, flanked by two Riders. He nodded to them and they took off in the direction her horse had gone. "Do not worry. My men will bring him back. I think it likely you will want to ride in the carriage for now, anyway. Until your nerves settle."

She nodded, blushing slightly again. Elfwine dismounted and helped her down, then walked her to the carriage. Before he could turn to go, she caught his arm. "Elfwine…thank you."

He nodded and gave her a half smile. She had a feeling he still did not trust her, but his manner seemed slightly less guarded than it had been. Perhaps she could redeem herself eventually.

xxxxx

The remainder of the journey passed peacefully, for which Dariel was very grateful. She had no desire to ever see an orc again.

The evening before they were due to reach Edoras, she caught a glimpse of Elfwine, off by himself on a small hill. He was staring into the distance, and her curiosity got the better of her. She climbed slowly up to join him. As she drew nearer, she could see off in the distance a city on a hill. The setting sun was still lighting it and it glimmered in the sun's rays.

"Is that Edoras?" she asked.

Elfwine jumped slightly, startled at her presence, then nodded. "My home," he said softly. All growing up he had known how much this city and this country meant to his father, and that as heir to the throne he was expected to feel the same way. He had never given the matter much thought before now, but at this moment his heart was full and he knew his parents had managed to instill their love of Rohan in him.

"We will arrive tomorrow, will we not?" Dariel questioned. She already knew the answer, but felt she needed to make some conversation and it was all she could think of.

He had almost forgotten she was there, so lost was he in his own reverie. He nodded again. "Yes. We should reach the city gates by late afternoon, if all goes well." Finally, he lowered his gaze from the distant hill and turned back toward the campsite.

Impulsively, Dariel reached out and caught his arm. When his eyes met hers, she said quietly, "I truly am sorry about what I said of Rohan, Elfwine. It was stupid of me. Rohan is a beautiful country with wonderful, brave people."

He sighed, realizing her ill-advised comment was still as fresh in her mind as in his. He gave her a half smile and held out his arm. "We should be getting back for supper." Her lips hesitantly curled upward as well, not sure what to make of his expression.

End note: It is not essential that you read the Elfwine Chronicles in the order they were written, but there is an advantage to doing so. The more of them that I wrote, the more likely I was to make reference to one of the previous ones and something that happened there. If you want to read them in order, go to the top of this page and click on my name (Deandra). That will take you to my profile page. Scroll down and you will find all the stories I have written. The Elfwine Chronicles are in order from bottom to top since ffn shows them in the order they were posted. A few were posted out of number order (#15 came after #17, I think), but you can read them in posting order or number order since those few won't be affected in the story content.