A/N: Sorry – here's the end of it. But maybe after I 'Harry Potter' for awhile, I will wander back to Middle-earth again. I really like this place! And there may still be more Elfwine Chronicles while I am over in the wizarding world, but I doubt I will undertake a lengthy story. I'm still kind of trying to get worked up to finish my HP story, though once the new book comes out it may end up way AU since this story picks up with the beginning of Harry's sixth year.
For those of you who aren't HP fans, it has been lovely spending time with you. Thanks again for all your reviews. If you don't have me there yet, put me on your Author Alert list, and the theory is that you will be notified if/when I write something new (it doesn't always seem to work). And if you have any ideas for Elfwine Chronicles, be sure to e-mail them to me. I'm keeping a list to glance over periodically and seek inspiration.
Julia – "Elfwine looks like Imrahil? All this time I had been picturing him as a younger version of Eomer, but Tolkien did say in Unfinished Tales that Elfwine had a striking likeness to his grandpa on his mother's side." – I just found that out recently, and decided to include it. In my other stories, where he is younger (like under 10), I have him with blond hair and looking kind of like Eomer. So I guess I'm presuming his hair darkens and the resemblance to Imrahil becomes more pronounced as he gets older.
Frigg – "I have an Elfwine-story brewing, too - as a follow-up to "Like Fathers ..." where I have also hinted at a Gondor-Rohan alliance" – somehow I overlooked 'Like Fathers…', but I downloaded it and will read it over the weekend. Will look for your new Elfwine story too.
While the circumstances were not exactly pleasant, both Elfwine and Dariel determined that his illness had some positives to it, including the chance to spend time together. Though they both could think of more agreeable ways to enjoy each other's company, this interlude seemed to break down a barrier they had been unable to entirely cross prior to this.
By the next day, Elfwine was improved, though he had little appetite and still had bouts of queasiness. He got up for a few hours at a time, but had to lie down often during the course of the day. When he was up, he would spend time with Dariel, working on her drawing, since that was the least strenuous thing he could find to do, and afforded time with her now that she no longer needed to sit with him.
Elfwine was pleased the following day to discover that the queasiness had also subsided, the sun had been shining the past two days and dried things out somewhat, and he was more than ready to get outside. Remembering his intention to find a better horse for Dariel, he invited her to accompany him to the stables. She had already agreed to watch the younger children while her mother and his went shopping in town, so he kept her company until they returned.
Finally, they were ready to set out, and Elfwine was feeling so carefree that he almost forgot himself and took her hand. At the last moment, he remembered what he was about and hastily caught her elbow as if to guide her direction.
Dariel had noticed the movement of his hand, and thought for a moment he was going to clasp hers, so she was disappointed when he took her arm instead. He had been much in her thoughts these past few days, and she wondered why he was taking her to the stables. He had not explained his reason, saying only that it was a surprise.
He showed her around and 'introduced' her to several horses, watching for her reaction to them. One gray gelding seemed to win her affection almost immediately, and she delighted in feeding him the apple Elfwine had brought along.
"You like him," Elfwine commented, stating the obvious.
She nodded at him, laughing at the horse licking the juice from her fingers. "I do, very much! What is his name?"
Elfwine restrained a grin, wondering how she would react. "Er...his name is...Hobbit."
"What! Why?" she exclaimed, laughing more.
"My father says his manners remind him of the Hobbits he met during the War," Elfwine admitted.
"Well, I think he is wonderful – and, actually, the name does rather suit him! I met a Hobbit once when they came to visit my parents."
"Then he is yours," Elfwine told her.
She blinked in surprise. "What do you mean? You cannot give me a horse!"
"Why not? I have asked permission of my father and yours, and they are agreed. You need a steadier mount than the one you presently have."
Her face fell, and she blushed in embarrassment; so that was it, he was giving a tamer horse to the poor rider...
Elfwine couldn't help noticing that her good humor seemed to have fled, but was not sure why. "Dariel? Have I said something wrong? Do you not want him?"
She turned away so he wouldn't see the tears pricking her eyes. "No, I thank you for the gift. I know I am a poor rider and a safer mount is a good idea."
As Elfwine began to realize the offense he had given, he hastened to make amends. "No! That is not it at all! You are a fine rider, but I would not see you hurt. Some horses are just naturally flighty and they can be dangerous for anyone to ride. It is to your credit that you were even able to stay on him when he bolted, but you should not have had to know that terror in addition to the orc attack."
The concern was evident in his eyes, and when she turned toward him at his surprising words, she could not miss the honesty there.
"How is it that you are so different than other boys? None of the ones I know in Gondor treat me so well as you do."
Elfwine blushed, and shrugged, saying softly, "I do not know. I just treat you the way I see my father treat my mother."
She gave him a bemused smile and murmured, "Lucky woman, your mother!"
Elfwine blushed again, and then slowly stammered, "Would it be all right…would you mind if I—"
Before he could finish trying to get out his awkward question, she seemed to guess his purpose and her eyes shone warmly up at him. Her hand came up to his cheek and she leaned toward him expectantly.
Taking that as an indication of approval, Elfwine shyly lowered his lips to hers and pressed them gently into a kiss. He realized he didn't know what to do with his hands, but his father always put them around his mother when he kissed her, so he timidly raised them to her waist.
A short time later, he became aware that he was running out of breath, and reluctantly broke apart from her, eyeing her for signs of distaste. Instead, she stepped closer and laid her head on his chest. With a surprised grin, he lifted an arm to her back and held her. This was going much better than he had dared to hope!
A few more stolen kisses later, the couple finally returned to the Golden Hall, each quite pleased with the outcome of their jaunt to the stable.
Once inside, however, Dariel was again ensnared to help with the younger children and they were forced to part. Elfwine took the opportunity to go and tell his father which horse he had chosen for Dariel.
He found both King Elessar and Eldarion with his father, and he passed along his message. As they were laughing over the particular choice, and explaining to the Gondorians the reason for the horse's name, Elfwine's younger brother dashed into the room to tell them the midday meal was ready.
As they rose, the boy looked tauntingly up at his brother and announced, "I saw you and Dariel in the stable – kissing!" He made a face and ran back out of the room.
Elfwine's heart stopped and he looked up at the other men in the room to see their reaction. A moment later, Eldarion was advancing on him, demanding, "You were kissing my sister in the stables!" Elfwine had stood, but now backstepped into his chair so quickly that both tumbled over, and he lay sprawled on the floor as Eldarion stood over him with hands on hip and glaring. The room seemed frozen in time for several minutes, and then Eldarion burst out laughing, offering him a hand up. "It is about time! I thought you would never get the nerve!"
Elfwine stared at him in disbelief, making no effort to reach for the extended hand. To his utter amazement, his father and King Elessar broke inti laughter as well, particularly after seeing the expression on his face. Finally, Eomer gained enough control and came over to reach down and pull him to his feet. "Do not be alarmed, son. No one is going to pummel you. We have just been wondering how long it would take you to realize your feelings and act on them."
The boy's face was bright red, but he swallowed hard and tried to good-naturedly accept their ribbing. Did everyone know about his feelings for Dariel?
Hesitantly, he asked, "Did Mother tell you?" He couldn't imagine his mother had broken his confidence.
"Does she know, also?" Eomer asked. "I should have known she would, but no, she did not tell us. The look on your face and your actions were more than enough." He put his arm around his son and pulled him into a hug. "Do not be too mortified, Elfwine. It was clear that both of you liked each other, but both of you were too shy to do anything about it. We have been hoping you would finally get past that before her time here is ended, so you could enjoy each other's company. Now, come. Let us go eat! We will speak no more of this and cause you further embarrassment." As an afterthought, he added, "However, your brother, I cannot vouch for..."
His father was right. His brother seemed bent on teasing him, but his mother soon put a stop to it. "Theomund, that is enough. Shall I punish you for spying on your brother?" Hastily shaking his head, Theomund lapsed immediately into silence and made sure not to remind his mother of the matter again. Elfwine gave her a grateful look, and Dariel looked equally relieved.
After eating, the pair decided to visit Lothiriel's garden. This time Elfwine did work up the courage to take her hand, and was pleased when she gave his a squeeze. Out of sight and hearing of their families, he told her, "I am sorry about my little brother. He saw us in the stable and announced it to our fathers and Eldarion."
Her hand flew to her mouth. "What did they say?" she asked timidly.
He smiled and turned to look in her lovely eyes. "They did not mind – though for a moment I thought Eldarion was going to kill me! He pretended to be outraged."
She laughed easily. "He would! I hope he did not alarm you too much." She tentatively raised her hand and rested it on his arm.
"Not too much. And you are worth it," he murmured. Some hair blew in his face and she reached to brush it back, and then their lips met again. It seemed to get easier every time they kissed, though neither was entirely comfortable yet with the process. But it helped knowing the other person wanted to kiss as much as they did.
They spent the afternoon just strolling or sitting, but mostly talking. Elfwine didn't think he had ever done that much talking with a girl, not even his sisters or mother, but once they got started, the words just seemed to flow out of him.
It came as no surprise to their parents and Eldarion that the two spent most of the remainder of the time in Rohan being together. Eldarion was a little sorry to lose his companion, but there were several young soldiers that he had become friends with and they included him when he wasn't involved in meetings with the two kings.
But too soon the fortnight was ended. Elfwine hated that they had wasted so much time before they were able to share their feelings, but he was glad that at least they had managed to have some time together. Dariel had promised to write to him, and though he wasn't much for letter writing, he fully intended to keep in touch with her. Hopefully there could be more frequent visits to Minas Tirith, or for her to return to Edoras.
As they stood in his mother's garden, saying their farewells away from prying eyes, Dariel considered carefully, then looked up into Elfwine's eyes. "When I return home, I will have a message for anyone who will listen. I have seen Rohan, and met its people. I think it is the most wonderful place on earth, especially since you are here!" she told him earnestly.
He smiled gently at her, and leaned down. Just before their lips met he whispered, "I thought we could win you over!"