The Rohan Pride Trilogy

Epilogue: Recovery

Book One

By: anolinde

Summary:

The War of the Ring is over, and it is time for Gúthwyn to return home with the children. Yet things are not as they used to be, and many changes are in store for her, whether she would welcome them or not.

About the Epilogue:
I have decided to do what Tolkien did with his books. The Fellowship of the Ring had two books within the text, as did The Two Towers and The Return of the King. The only change I have made is the first part in my Trilogy: Alone. That was divided into three books, the first book explaining how Gúthwyn got to where The Fellowship of the Ring started. Recovery will be divided into two books.

About Chapter One Hundred and Seventeen:
The upcoming events are based off of what I have learned from the appendices and various sources concerning the aftermath of the War of the Ring. I wish more was known, but unfortunately, it is not—thus, I have had to do much guesswork and fill in my own beliefs about what happened. Please bear with me.

Chapter One Hundred and Seventeen

Having Éomer undress her was an uncomfortable experience, to say the least. Despite the fact that Gúthwyn was more at ease with him than she would have been with the maids, she was not spared utter mortification when he at last divested her of her gown, and she came close to tears several times. Though he directed his gaze only where he needed to undo knots and ties, and indeed was hindered from seeing her more intimate places because of her shift, she felt as if he were examining her entire body whenever she closed her eyes in fright. She hated the sensation.

He tried to work swiftly, but he could not make any sudden motions around her arms, and fitting them into the sleeves of her new dress was a lengthy process. By the time he was done, Gúthwyn was a nervous wreck; she could only imagine what she would have been like in the hands of women who did not understand why she was trembling so much.

"My poor sister," Éomer murmured when he saw her shell-shocked expression and the way she was shivering. It had nothing to do with the cold. "I wish you were agreeable to the other option…"

Gúthwyn swallowed her hurt, claimed that she was fine, and allowed him to lead her out into the throne room. There, she was forced to endure one final meal with Prince Imrahil, though mercifully of his sons only Erchirion was present. Imrahil's gaze darkened when he saw her wrists, and continued to do so as the meal went on and she was unable to consume food because of them, but he was polite as usual and tactfully avoided all mention of the previous night's events.

Elfwine, meanwhile, was in a state of bewildered panic. Éomer would not let him go to Gúthwyn, her hands looked different, and she did not eat the bread when he told her to. He spent the lunch alternating between fussing and crying, and slapped Lothíriel's hand when she tried to feed him some potatoes. Eventually Imrahil came to the rescue and diverted his attention with a small game, which Gúthwyn watched enviously from a distance. Was it her imagination, or did Lothíriel seem to take amusement from her predicament?

At last, at long last, the plates were cleared, and a servant arrived to announce that the delegation's tents had been packed and the nobility were ready to depart. Gúthwyn felt a surge of relief when this was made known to her; she met Cobryn's eyes across the table and knew that he was equally pleased. Haiweth sighed in disappointment, but Gúthwyn was glad to note that Hammel's countenance appeared to have lightened. Even when they went outside and met up with Legolas, who had chosen to eat with his friends and allow the royal families some time to themselves, the Elf's presence did not dampen her mood in the slightest.

Elfwine did not react well to his grandfather's departure. When told to say goodbye to Prince Imrahil, he bawled in misery, grabbing at the man's tunic in a futile attempt to make him stay. Deciding that he would not be able to handle this procedure another time, Lothíriel handed him off to a waiting Bregwyn. Gúthwyn saw Éomer begin to protest as the nurse left with his son, but he clearly did not want to upset the child further.

Éomund's daughter had to turn her attentions from her nephew at that moment, however, for Legolas had approached her just then. "I hope we shall see each other soon," the prince said, bowing. "Thank you for your generous hospitality."

"Thank you," Gúthwyn replied, "for proving so apt a listener."

Legolas smiled. "It was my pleasure."

"Farewell, my lord."

It was Hammel who had spoken. Unbeknownst to Gúthwyn, he had come up behind her while she was talking to Legolas. His hand was on the shoulder of Haiweth, who was watching the Elf nervously.

"Farewell, Hammel," Legolas replied genially. "Please, call me Legolas."

Hammel nodded, though Gúthwyn knew that he would never adopt this informality, in the same way he insisted on calling Éowyn "my lady."

Realizing that it was her turn to say goodbye, and prompted by a subtle nudge from Hammel, Haiweth quickly echoed, "Farewell."

"Farewell, Haiweth," Legolas responded quietly, mindful of the girl's anxiety. Haiweth paled and inched closer to Hammel; Gúthwyn noticed that the fingers clutching at her skirts were white. Oh, little one, she thought sadly. I wish you never had cause to fear him.

Legolas's voice suddenly drew her out of her musings. "Will you send Elfwine my regards?" he asked. "It may be that he shall forget my name as soon as I am gone, but I did not get a chance to see him this morning."

Gúthwyn agreed: much to her consternation, Elfwine had grown exceedingly attached to the fair race during their visit. He had befriended Legolas and Trelan, even going so far as to attempt the same with the aloof Raniean. She wondered where the foul-tempered Elf was now.

The mystery did not remain unsolved for long, however. When Legolas took his leave of her and the children, she saw him join his friends and inquire something of Raniean, who had apparently charged himself with the care of the horses. In response to the prince's question, the other Elf laughed harshly, his features glinting in the sunlight.

"May I go now?" Haiweth whined, a pained expression on her face. She kept glancing in the direction of the Dol Amroth delegation, which had congregated before the steps of the Golden Hall to pay their final—and first, Gúthwyn privately maintained—respects to their hosts.

Éomund's daughter opened her mouth to suggest that the child wait until they had spoken to Imrahil, for the man was still bidding farewell to his daughter, but Hammel beat her to it.

"You may," he replied, nodding towards the nobility.

It was all the encouragement Haiweth needed. Like a lightning bolt she darted away from them, threading herself into the crowd and disappearing before they could even blink. Gúthwyn narrowed her eyes in puzzlement, glancing at Hammel.

"She wanted to say goodbye to Alphros," the boy explained shortly.

"Ah." Gúthwyn could have kicked herself for not realizing it sooner. No wonder Haiweth was so jittery, when she had to approach her friend without being detected by Elphir, or indeed anyone who would tell him!

Hammel was silent, and as Gúthwyn observed him, a small smile tugged at his lips and a faraway look came into his eyes, as though he were recalling a pleasant memory. Having a guess as to what he was thinking of, Gúthwyn put an arm around his shoulders. Startled, he shrunk from it, but mindful of her wrists he did not try to move it. She supposed Éomer had told the children of Amrothos's attack, for neither of them had asked questions about the bandages during lunch.

"So," Gúthwyn began when Hammel did not offer any conversation, "how was your evening?"

"It was fine," Hammel said, clearly restraining himself from any show of pleasure. Why? she wondered. Why are you so reluctant to display emotion? I will not punish you for it.

Hoping to get a reaction out of him, Gúthwyn smiled and murmured in his ear, "I saw you dancing with Aldeth."

A flush spread across Hammel's cheeks. "Y-You did?" he asked, meeting her eyes. Gúthwyn saw within his penetrating look a surprising amount of defiance, as if he were daring her to laugh at him.

"I did," Gúthwyn confirmed, inwardly lamenting the child's defensiveness. "How was it that you learned to waltz so well? The boy I watched was not the same who refused to dance with me when he was younger."

Hammel shrugged. "I read a book," he admitted. "I practiced whenever I had the chance."

"Did this book, by any chance," Gúthwyn began, realization dawning on her, "happen to arrive last week?"

"Yes." Hammel shot her a quick glance. "How did you know?"

"I saw the courier give it to you," Gúthwyn answered. "Who let you borrow the money to pay for it? I asked Cobryn, but he says he never lent you any and he was unaware that you were ordering something in the first place."

"I bought it myself."

Gúthwyn raised an eyebrow. "Where did you get the money?" she repeated.

"It does not matter." Hammel attempted to slip from her grasp.

"Yes, it does," Gúthwyn said, holding onto him tighter. "It is outside of my means to give you any, and you are not yet old enough to be earning a living with a trade—nor do I think myself so ignorant that you could do this without my knowledge. Where did you get the money?"

"I did not steal it," Hammel retorted, "and I did not come across it by another dishonorable method. That is all you need to know." He was cringing at her touch.

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, mindful of the people around them who were exchanging their goodbyes, Gúthwyn weighed her options. She could press the issue, and risk alienating the boy even more than she already had; or, she could let the matter go and add it to the increasingly long list of things he was hiding from her.

"Do you swear that this is true?" she asked at length, holding his gaze determinedly.

Hammel gave a curt grunt that she knew to take for a yes. Sighing, Gúthwyn said only, "You must have natural talent, then, to have learned so quickly."

"Hardly," Hammel scoffed. "I made Haiweth practice with me."

There was a soft click as another piece of the puzzle fell into place. "And she promised not to tell anyone?" Gúthwyn guessed, remembering an afternoon a few days ago when she had encountered Haiweth as the girl was exiting Hammel's room. Éomund's daughter had been puzzled by her flustered manner, but had thought nothing further of it, and had even forgotten it until today.

"In return for my helping her meet Alphros, yes."

Gúthwyn gaped at him. "Helping her meet Alphros?"

"He was tired of having only his father for company," Hammel said, "especially when all Elphir ever did, according to him, was sit around and look angry. I arranged for them to see each other, and kept Elphir from realizing what they were doing."

Gúthwyn was astounded. Not only had the children voluntarily cooperated with each other, when normally they had separate interests and did not often seek their sibling's company, but they had concealed their work so well that she had never suspected that anything was amiss. Her brow furrowed. How had she not noticed?

More importantly… "You managed to hide your doings from even Cobryn?"

Hammel shook his head. "He discovered that I was helping Haiweth easily enough. Haiweth did not want him to tell you, for she was afraid that you would be upset. He agreed to keep his silence, but only because he did not think the matter important and Haiweth would have started crying if he did not."

"She was afraid that I would be upset?" Gúthwyn echoed. "Whatever for? I have no qualms with Alphros."

"And his father?" Hammel asked, arching an eyebrow. "Haiweth said that the two of you argued when he saw you with Alphros."

Gúthwyn felt a surge of anger at the mention of Elphir, whose behavior that day had been utterly appalling, but she bit her tongue for Hammel's sake. "Elphir and I may no longer be speaking," she informed the boy, "yet Alphros is certainly well-mannered and it does not bother me that Haiweth wishes to play with him more often. The poor boy could use—"

"Sister!" Éomer called then, having to shout in order to be heard above the crowd. Gúthwyn turned to see him waving her over, Imrahil and Erchirion at his side. Lothíriel was no longer with them.

Though she had no desire to engage in a direct conversation with any prince of Dol Amroth, Gúthwyn gave Hammel a parting kiss on the brow—she was shocked when he flinched, and actually took a step back—and obediently went to join her brother. Much like she had just done with Hammel, Éomer put an arm around her shoulder, but his was a gesture of protectiveness.

"Lady Gúthwyn," Imrahil acknowledged her, inclining his head.

"My lord," Gúthwyn murmured, dropping into the best curtsy she could muster without her hands.

"Please," Imrahil said, "do not trouble yourself. I have done little to deserve such formalities."

Gúthwyn flushed. "I-It was not…"

At that moment, Erchirion, who had been looking distinctly ill at ease ever since Éomund's daughter arrived, cleared his throat and said, "Father, forgive me, but I should go and check on…" He trailed off, yet Imrahil seemed to understand him and nodded, though not without a pointed glance in Gúthwyn's direction. "My lady," Erchirion offered, giving a small bow. His eyes never went to the ground.

"My lord," Gúthwyn replied quietly. As far as she could tell, he was not angry at her, but she did not expect him to be terribly pleased with her either: one of his brothers had been accused of molestation by the king of Rohan on her behalf, and the other had broken off marriage negotiations with her.

Erchirion departed as swiftly as he could without seeming rude, and as Gúthwyn watched his back grow smaller and smaller her mind drifted to those who were also absent.

"Where… where are Elphir and Amrothos, my lord?" she asked Imrahil hesitantly, wincing when his jaw tightened.

"Elphir has chosen to find the least incongruous task he could feasibly perform in an effort to avoid this moment, a slip which needless to say I am not proud of," Imrahil answered. "As for my other son, he is currently indisposed."

His tone was neutral, but Gúthwyn thought his voice might have wavered as he spoke. She hoped she was wrong.

"I-I—"

"I am sorry," Imrahil said, "that our visit had to end like this. I do not foresee our meeting again soon, but if we do I pray you will forgive an old fool for doing an evidently poor job of raising his offspring."

Offspring, Gúthwyn mused, and not sons? Had the gender omission been intentional?

Nevertheless—"My lord," she spoke, "I beg you not to accept responsibility for what has happened. I do not blame you for what… what Amrothos has done, and neither should you."

Imrahil smiled sadly at her. "Perhaps you are too lenient."

Growing increasingly uncomfortable with the topic, for it was bringing back a rush of memories she desired only to forget, Gúthwyn inched towards Éomer and was glad when he held her closer. "My friend," her brother said, "I hope that your journey is safe."

"I do not doubt it shall be," Imrahil replied smoothly. Then, turning to Éomund's daughter, he asked, "Lady Gúthwyn, know you the whereabouts of your companion Cobryn? He is well-versed, and promised to recommend me a number of authors who discuss the art of diplomacy—I am in search of new books, and would not like to leave without his suggestions."

Gúthwyn stifled a grin at this. Cobryn greatly revered Prince Imrahil, and likely had spent hours working on such a list. She did not want his devotion to be wasted! "I believe I saw him near the steps," she said. "He does not have many farewells to make."

Too late, she realized that this might be a poor reflection on Imrahil's people, but the prince did not seem to notice as he thanked her. "It is my hope that we meet each other again," he declared, "although preferably under better circumstances."

"Aye, my lord," Gúthwyn agreed whole-heartedly. Preferably when none of your subjects or offspring are anywhere within a hundred-league vicinity, she thought to herself.

"Send my regards to Hammel and Haiweth," Imrahil bade her, "if I do not see them before I go."

Gúthwyn promised that she would. "It is possible that you will find Haiweth with Alphros," she said, guessing that Imrahil would not have reason to alert Elphir as to whom the boy was associating with, "should you seek your grandson out soon."

Imrahil's eyes twinkled. "They are well-suited for each other," he replied. "I am glad that Alphros has discovered someone of his own age to socialize with—Haiweth must be a remarkable lady, indeed, from the way he constantly speaks of her."

Éomund's daughter beamed at this, delighted that Haiweth had won such approval from the Prince of Dol Amroth. "She is, my lord, I am lucky to have her."

Imrahil made a noise of agreement. "Well, Lady Gúthwyn, I pray that your wrists heal quickly. Rest assured that Amrothos will soon rue the injuries he inflicted on you."

Gúthwyn flushed, but while the proper thing to do would have been to protest Imrahil's vow, she could not bring herself to advocate for a lessening of Amrothos's punishment. Instead she stammered something in response and then retreated into silence as the prince and her brother said a few parting words.

When Imrahil left, she looked up at Éomer. "I pity such a magnificent ruler of such petty people," she murmured, taking care to keep her voice down.

"Unfortunately, in that regard he is not as blessed as we are," Éomer conceded with a grin. "But he is a good man, and not lacking in any other respect."

"Éomer, in the same place I left you?"

Gúthwyn had not seen Lothíriel approaching them; now, she appeared as if she had been pulled out of thin air.

"My lady wife!" Éomer exclaimed jovially. Observing the way Lothíriel was glancing back and forth between her husband and his sister, Gúthwyn started to distance herself from Éomer, but he merely adjusted and put his hand on her shoulder. Then, to the mortification of Gúthwyn and the barely-veiled disgust of Lothíriel, he slipped an arm around his wife's waist so that he was holding both of them. "Excepting Éowyn," he said jovially, oblivious to their mutual tautness and displeasure, "the two women I love most."

How, Gúthwyn wondered, could such a smart man—for intelligent he clearly was, if he maintained his realm so efficiently each year—have so little common sense?

"Cobryn!"

At the sound of his name being called, Cobryn glanced up, bewildered as to who could possibly want anything from him at the moment. Though a prominent figure amidst the king's advisors, more for his odd manner of dress than anything else, his only status as far as the Dol Amroth delegation was concerned was that of Gúthwyn's lover. He highly doubted that any of them had come to bid farewell.

He was shocked to see Prince Imrahil himself approaching, his head inclined in greeting. Cobryn sank into a brief bow, wondering what the Prince had come for. Though he had spoken to the man on a number of occasions, and seemed to have made a good impression, it was unusual that instead of spending his last minutes in Rohan with his family, Imrahil had elected to use them on him.

"My lord," he said, gathering his bearings.

"There is something I need to discuss with you," Imrahil told him quietly, his eyes darting amongst their surroundings. Evidently finding them suitable—Cobryn had situated himself on the stairs, where he would be out of the general crowd's way—the Prince added in a low voice, "I regret not being able to do this at a more convenient time, but the events of yesterday have forced me to seek you out."

"For what, my lord?" Cobryn inquired, his mind briefly flashing back to the previous afternoon and evening. Though he was not one to show his emotions, he felt terrible for Gúthwyn and even empathized with her: he had never been assaulted, but he knew what it was like to be crippled and he did not envy her particular handicap.

Imrahil surveyed him for a moment. "I have observed your interactions with Gúthwyn for the better part of this month," he said bluntly, neither apologizing nor acknowledging pride for his actions. "It is clear to me that you are not romantically involved with her"—that was a polite term—"as my son claims, but rather it seems to me that Gúthwyn is very fortunate to have a friend such as yourself.

"If I am to speak further, you will use this information with only the utmost discretion."

Wary of this request, Cobryn hesitated for a few seconds. He was inclined to trust Imrahil; however, more experience with the Dol Amroth nobility than he had ever wished to have had taught him that none of them were as vapid as their conversations and mannerisms suggested. They all had hidden agendas, they all schemed for power, they all were willing to do whatever it took to achieve their goals.

"As you wish," he finally said, hoping that he would not regret this.

"I believe that Lothíriel may have arranged Gúthwyn's… encounter with Amrothos."

Cobryn thought he had concealed his expression well, but Imrahil nodded at him in recognition. "I am not alone in this, I see. There are several ways in which I have detected her involvement, yet if you are half as intelligent as I believe you are, you will have discerned them already. What I wish to impart upon you is this: as much as I love my daughter, exposure to the appalling behavior in my court has corrupted her. In a sense, I cannot blame her, for she did what she had to to survive. Now, however, she does not realize that such manipulation has no place in Rohan, and ever she seeks to damage Gúthwyn's reputation."

"And Amrothos is helping her," Cobryn said grimly, thinking he was stating the obvious.

To his surprise, Imrahil did not look as convinced. "Perhaps," he replied. "Amrothos used to take part in courtly intrigues, and it was he who taught Lothíriel to do the same. But he has since tired of them, declaring them a waste of his time, and growing so surly around the likes of Lady Míriel and Lord Tulkadan"—a muscle in his face twitched—"that I am shocked to learn that he would so willingly return to these immature plots."

Surely now was the time to relate the conversation he had overheard between Lothíriel and Amrothos. Cobryn opened his mouth, but Imrahil was in the midst of ruminating something and held up a hand. "It strikes me that Amrothos may have also found himself caught in Lothíriel's net. Lothíriel, I think, might have convinced him that Gúthwyn was a danger to their brother and that any attachment on Elphir's part needed to be destroyed. It would have been easy to do so, especially if the role she proposed included seducing Gúthwyn, for not only does Amrothos owe Elphir a number of favors—justifying his involvement in Lothíriel's plans—but, as you may have noticed, it does not take much for Amrothos to pursue a woman."

Cobryn agreed to this, yet: "I pray you are not attempting to excuse his behavior, my lord."

"By all means, no," Imrahil quickly assured him. "I am merely trying to determine for myself how tangled is the web my daughter has weaved. I, unlike Elphir, know that Gúthwyn is terrified of Amrothos and would never willingly seek him out. Also unlike Elphir, I find it odd that Lothíriel would go with her brother to the stables, when she is not an avid rider and her horse is exercised more by the stableboys than herself, at just the right time to catch Amrothos and Gúthwyn in such an inconvenient position.

"Unfortunately, I have no proof of my suspicions. I attempted to question Gúthwyn yesterday, and she only strengthened them by claiming that she did not see Lothíriel enough to comment on their relationship. However, I think that while she has recognized Lothíriel's dislike for her—which is embarrassingly obvious to everyone but Éomer—she does not yet realize that Lothíriel has other designs on her. If Lothíriel is bent on tarnishing her reputation, Gúthwyn will not be able to withstand her. I am sure she is a smart, capable lady, but my daughter has grown up amongst sharks and indeed was the leader of the pack during her last few years at Dol Amroth. She has tactics of deceit that Gúthwyn could never dream of, methods of manipulation that Gúthwyn would be horrified to learn of. Should Lothíriel choose to employ the less obvious ones against her, I fear that Gúthwyn will never see them coming in time."

"And this is where you need me," Cobryn said, at last realizing Imrahil's purpose in approaching him.

"Yes," Imrahil confirmed. "I have heard from Lothíriel that you are canny; when my daughter acknowledges this quality in another, I know that their cleverness is a match even for her. Judging from your withdrawal around Lothíriel, which I have noticed despite its subtleness, you do not trust her; judging also from your position in Elphir's marriage negotiations, you care greatly for Gúthwyn and have done more to protect her than she is aware of."

Cobryn nodded. Although the bulk of the diplomacy concerning Gúthwyn and Elphir's betrothal had been conducted by Éomer and Imrahil themselves, Cobryn had taken care to ensure that all of the conditions would have been agreeable to Gúthwyn. He had not been able to change some things, such as the inevitable wedding night, but he had done his best to provide a comfortable life for her.

"Therefore," Imrahil said, "I wish you to continue the admirable job you have been doing in looking out for her welfare, and what is more to be doubly on your guard. I cannot do anything to help her, and nor is it my place. Yet I am equally unable to stand aside and let her fend for herself, when I am willing to bet that she has endured more than her fair share of hardships."

You do not know the half of it, Cobryn thought grimly. And neither do I.

"I can assure you, my lord, that I had every intention of tightening my watch around her once your people had left," was what he instead told Imrahil. "If only I had done so earlier."

"If only I had not introduced my daughter to the court," Imrahil replied bitterly. "Then I would not have had to watch her sink to the level where this conversation with you is necessary." The Prince sighed; he clearly was remembering the person Lothíriel had been before her immersion in the politics of Dol Amroth. Cobryn had no sympathy for the queen, but he hardly thought it wise to inform Imrahil that he loathed the despicable woman, so he held his tongue.

His discourse with the Prince did not last much longer. Having accomplished what he set out to do, Imrahil bid him farewell and walked to where a squire was waiting with his horse. None of his sons were at his side. Elphir, to nobody's surprise, had chosen to busy himself with some menial task in order to avoid talking to Gúthwyn or Éomer. Erchirion had also disappeared, his absence merely the latest in a string of attempts to keep out of his brothers' problems. Amrothos, however…

None of the Rohirrim had seen the youngest prince of Dol Amroth since the feast, but Cobryn had heard from one of the watchmen that an unfamiliar litter was stationed outside of the city's gates. Elphir had been seen parting its curtains and speaking to the person inside; Cobryn had a suspicion that it was Amrothos, still inebriated from his mead consumption the night before. Clearly, the man had a drinking problem—rumor had it that he had been much worse in Dol Amroth.

"What interest could my father possibly have in you?" a quiet, cold voice only a couple of feet behind him asked.

Not having expected Lothíriel to approach him so quickly, Cobryn tensed slightly before turning around. "Believe it or not, there are some who find my services worthwhile," he replied, meeting the queen's stare evenly. From the way her eyes were narrowed, he could tell that she was worried, something that she was desperately trying to conceal and perhaps would have succeeded in had he not known why she was posing the inquiry.

"Services?" Lothíriel now echoed, knitting her brow. "Why would the Prince of Dol Amroth require the services of a slave?"

Ignoring the stab at his past, though he would have liked nothing more than to sew her arrogant mouth shut—preferably with a rusty needle—Cobryn said bluntly, "It seems you were not as crafty in slandering Gúthwyn as you thought. Your father has caught onto your discretions and, while lacking proof of them, requested that I guard her from any other designs you might have on her."

Lothíriel paled in shock; Cobryn smiled. He knew she would never confront her father about this, for Imrahil was one of the few ties she still had to Dol Amroth. "You of all people, your highness," he said, "should know: someone is always watching. What I find even odder than your sudden lapse of memory, however, is that your father saw the battle that was raging at Meduseld—and chose a side that was not his daughter's."

He had struck a nerve. Lothíriel's eyes turned black with both anger and a hurt that she was struggling to hide, and her fingers flexed as if she were tempted to curl them into a fist and strike him. She could not, however, on account of those around them, out of earshot but close enough to see that they were together. Yet even if they were alone, his quick reflexes meant that he was in no danger of being hit by her, and the knowledge forced her to restrain herself.

"Perhaps," Cobryn said, "when your own father denounces your cause you should reconsider if it is truly worth fighting."

"Imrahil insists on seeing the good in others," Lothíriel snapped, her lips white from where she had pressed them together until her retort, "regardless of whether it is there or not."

With that, she strode away, her rigid back cutting a wide path through the crowd. None of the Rohirrim seemed to want to be close enough to touch her; they murmured their apologies and stepped respectfully back, whereas with Gúthwyn they would have accosted her and clamored for her attention. The difference struck Cobryn keenly in that moment, and it was then that he fully appreciated his friend's lifestyle. To win over a city to the point where its inhabitants were willing to die for her without a second thought… it was a gift, an extraordinary gift that Gúthwyn possessed.

And one that Lothíriel underestimates, he thought to himself. There would come a time when Lothíriel would wish that she had striven to attain what was Gúthwyn's naturally, but it was not now and he doubted that she would soon realize what she had passed over. Instead, she would continue to weave her schemes as though she were still in Dol Amroth, ignorant to the fact that they were no longer needed nor welcomed in Rohan.

Cobryn sighed. He had a feeling that he and Gúthwyn were too thoroughly ensnared by Lothíriel's web to escape until it had spun itself out. As he watched the nobility approach Éomer, one by one thanking the king for his hospitality, he realized that there was no sense of relief at their imminent departure, that only the smallest of Gúthwyn's problems would disappear with their entourage.

Slowly but surely, the lords and ladies mounted their horses—the latter grumbling all the way, he could see—and gradually began making their way down the street. "Good riddance," he heard one of the older serving women mutter.

Just then, Haiweth appeared at the bottom of the stairs and walked up to join him, presumably so she could watch the procession from the height of the steps. "I wonder what will happen to Alphros," she muttered forlornly.

Cobryn chuckled. "Elphir does not abuse him," he pointed out. "Alphros is well-provided for, even more than you are."

Haiweth shook her head. "Gúthwyn loves me," she stated firmly, her gaze momentarily wavering and flickering over to where Éomund's daughter was standing next to Éomer and Lothíriel. "Elphir does not love Alphros."

Arching an eyebrow at this declaration, Cobryn asked, "What makes you say that?"

"If Elphir loved him," Haiweth replied staunchly, "he would let him have friends. I do not like Elphir. He is mean. I am glad Gúthwyn is not marrying him."

Cobryn had to work to conceal his surprise at such vehemence coming from the normally placid child. "So am I," he finally said.

As they stood there, the line of horses and baggage carts slowly dwindled, until the Dol Amroth delegation was nothing but a tiny speck on the horizon.