Part 98 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: More progress, and we're only one story away from number 100. Looks like the next one may be about Theodwyn and Freawine, but real life interferes, so it goes slowly! This story is 2 chapters in length. Thanks to Tracey for her input; the story is all the better for it!
Looks like you lot are as swamped as I am, but since there have been 200 hits on Resolution, despite the low review level, I'll go ahead and post this. You can catch up when you have time!
(Mar, 25 IV)
"You are not nervous, are you?" Eldarion asked, with some surprise. He had never known Luthiel to be anything other than cool and collected in any situation. It was one of the traits he most admired about her.
"A little," she reluctantly confessed, then turned to eye him defensively as she explained, "it is not every day a girl marries the Prince of Gondor, which will one day make her queen."
Her voice faltered and he dropped his gaze, smiling slightly in understanding. He had not expected Luthiel to be intimidated by anything, least of all anything to do with him. This was a new facet to her that he was seeing. Raising his eyes to fix her gaze with his own, he lithely stepped in close, his hands moving to grasp her shoulders.
"You will be a beautiful bride, my love – the perfect bride – setting the standard for all others. And, when the time comes, you will be a wonderful queen. I do not doubt it for a moment." He gave a deprecatory laugh, adding, "I have more concerns about my suitability as king than yours as queen. All of Gondor may come to know me as the king who did only one thing right – married the best woman in the land, so she could rule beside him and save him from himself."
He pulled her into his embrace, feeling the weight and truth of his words, and she held him tightly. His observations had both touched and reassured her, something that she found rather surprising. She knew better than most what a good man Eldarion was, though it was sometimes concealed beneath his bravado, but he still was able to catch her unaware in moments like this. She doubted very much he was this open and sincere with many others. Despite his gregarious personality, in many ways Eldarion was a closed book when it came to himself, and she had the feeling she had only skimmed a few of his many pages.
Winding her arms around his neck, she pulled him to her in a kiss, then whispered, "Thank you, beloved. I will try to be the wife and queen you envision me to be. And I am certain that you will be an excellent king. My father has long spoken well of you, and he does not offer such praise lightly."
Her cheek settled against his chest, and they stood silently in each other's arms, content for this moment. Eldarion was not completely convinced, by her words, of his own capability to be an effective monarch, but he could not imagine he would fail with her at his side. Whatever good there was in him, she brought it out and made it better. Gondor had no idea how fortunate they were that she had accepted him, had loved him – indeed, had put in the effort to mold him into someone she would consider marrying.
The couple was due to wed in less than a fortnight, and Eldarion had spared no effort in planning the perfect wedding. Naturally, as heir to the throne, the occasion would be special and require a high level of pomp and circumstance but, more than that, he wanted Luthiel to have the most magical wedding there had ever been. Gondor would make this whole ceremony all about him, but as far as he was concerned, it was all about her. She was not merely 'the girl who was wedding the Prince of Gondor', but rather she was the one woman who touched his heart and soul, who had seen beyond his bluster and liked the person she found hidden safely away from public view. She had weaned him, for the most part, of his obnoxious behavior and transformed him into a better man and a better future king. She deserved the place of honor at this fete.
It had all been arranged. Invitations were sent far and wide to honored guests, friends and, most importantly, family. The entire royal family of Rohan was expected to be in attendance, both because of their connection to Luthiel, but also to him. Because of the hand his sister, Dariel, and her husband, Elfwine, had had in helping the two of them get together in the first place, Eldarion was especially anticipating their arrival for the festivities. He owed Elfwine a tremendous debt for his friendship and guidance during his rather clumsy attempts at wooing Luthiel. The party from Rohan was due to arrive a couple of days before the wedding, and he welcomed the idea of a brother standing beside him through all this.
Though he got along well with Elboron, Luthiel's brother, perhaps because Elboron would one day be his steward, they did not have quite the closeness he shared with Elfwine. Somehow, he and Elfwine had bonded as brothers almost instantly, and that affection had only deepened over the years, despite how little they saw of one another. Luthiel had always been close to Dariel as well, considering her to be her closest friend, so she was eager to be reunited for this wondrous occasion.
Because of Luthiel's love for her home in Emyn Arnen, Eldarion had arranged for much evergreen to adorn the feast hall, as well as huge bouquets of flowers to be set everywhere. Indeed, he thought he must have bought out nearly every flower seller in the area, and he could not wait to see the hall once they brought their bounty to the city, and began to set it up the day before the wedding.
Luthiel had also developed quite a taste for seafood, having spent considerable time visiting the relatives in Dol Amroth, so a boat was to bring the freshest catch they could, up the Anduin the morning of the event. Certainly, they would supplement that with other meats, such as beef, chicken and pork, while the seafood would mostly be reserved for the immediate family, since it would be too difficult to prepare a large quantity at the last minute. Eldarion had been carefully keeping this detail secret from his betrothed. Much of the preparations she unavoidably knew about, but he wanted there to be at least a few surprises.
Unfortunately, there were a few surprises for Eldarion as well. The week of the wedding, reports began to arrive warning of unrest among several Haradrim factions. More and more soldiers were being deployed to patrol the border lands, and supplement the work of the Ithilien Rangers.
Elessar and Faramir became wrapped up in the tense situation, and though they tried to leave Eldarion free to focus on his upcoming wedding, he needed to stay apprised of the situation. It was more than a little aggravating to have to deal with this right now, and Eldarion was beginning to feel the stress of it, but tried to keep his perspective and good humor.
The Haradrim state of affairs proved to be the tip of the iceberg, however, as Eldarion's carefully laid plans slowly began to unravel, one by one. Heavy spring storms moved into the area, stronger than any they had felt in more than twenty years. Wind and rain continued unabated for most of the week, and reports sent from Rohan indicated they were feeling the effects in that land also. Already they had departed Edoras earlier than expected, but the muddy roads made slow going of it, and it was now somewhat in question if they would be able to reach Minas Tirith in time for the wedding itself.
The storms were having other unpleasant effects; rivers and streams were flooded, and there was so much debris in the water from fallen trees that the shipping lanes were being clogged. It was now in question whether the relatives from Dol Amroth could make the journey, and the possibility of seafood for the wedding supper was also looking remote.
The wedding was only three days away and it was all falling apart. Eldarion should have expected more bad news at that point, but he kept thinking there was nothing else to go wrong. He was mistaken. The flower merchants began to turn up, wearing mournful expressions and apologizing profusely that their crops of flowers had largely been wiped out or damaged by the storm, and it was now doubtful there would be much to salvage for bouquets.
As the third such merchant left him, Eldarion raked his fingers through his hair in frustration. How could this be happening? He had always seemed to live almost a charmed life. Was this the natural offset to so much fortune prior to this?
Feeling the need to release his growing aggravation, he headed for the indoor sparring arena that was used during inclement weather. Perhaps a little physical exercise would help. Once there, he found several young soldiers practicing with their swords, most of them newly admitted to the ranks of Gondor's army.
He easily found a sparring partner, and they stepped into position with sword and shield after Eldarion had taken a few moments to warm up. While the physical effort required helped bleed off some of his tension, his opponent was not sufficiently challenging to fully engage his mind, and his thoughts kept drifting back to his difficulties. Normally not one to lose focus during battle, this time he did so, with regrettable consequences.
The other soldier had lunged, and Eldarion sidestepped an instant too late, so the two crashed into one another. The other young man stumbled and, while struggling to keep his feet, threw up his shield arm, smacking Eldarion a glancing blow on the left side of his face, as his sword clipped Eldarion's hand. The prince fell back, dropping his weapons and clutching at his eye where the edge of the shield had impacted. He had been very fortunate that it hit him flat and the bone around his eye protected his sight from damage, but he had no doubt he was going to have a black eye.
The hand pressed against his face felt damp and he pulled it down to look, finding blood as he had feared. As if the eye weren't enough, there was a gash on the back of his hand that was also bleeding freely. Several others had rushed to assist the prince, and his opponent was begging Eldarion's forgiveness for his clumsiness. Eldarion waved off his words of contrition, assuring him it was an accident. Someone had provided a cloth, which he pressed to his bleeding hand, and hastily made his exit to the Houses of Healing.
Two hours later, he was back in his room and staring morosely into a looking glass, while Elboron sat sprawled in a nearby chair, eyeing him with barely disguised amusement.
"We could always tell my sister you made an untoward remark about her and I punched you," he offered, less than helpfully, a thoroughly innocent expression gracing his countenance.
Eldarion turned to glare at him. "I certainly hope that by the time you replace your father as steward you have learned to be of more help and support to your king!"
Elboron shrugged. "I will do my best. In the meantime, though, I am not steward and you are not king – and there is still the matter of a groom-to-be with a very blackened eye!"
"Thank you so very much for stating the obvious!" Eldarion spat at him, in very ill humor.
Elboron rose in an easy, cat-like movement and came to stand beside Eldarion, resting a hand on his shoulder. "It is not the end of the world, my friend. Luthiel will understand and, with her fondness for healing, she will likely be more concerned that it is properly treated than by how it mars your appearance."
Eldarion slumped visibly and leaned on his dressing table with his good hand. "It is not just the injuries; it is everything. Nothing is going right with this wedding. It is as if the Valar are against us uniting, and seek to prevent our alliance…"
"Eldarion, I do not believe that, and neither do you. You have suffered some setbacks due to circumstances beyond your control. They are inconsequential to the most important thing – that the two of you love each other and wish to be married. Even without all your fine details, it will be a joyous occasion. Do not fret so. All will be well." He turned toward the door. "I must go get ready for supper. Do not stand scowling at your face any longer. Get dressed and come eat. All will be well; I am certain of it."
Elboron reached the dining chamber before Eldarion, and since no one seemed to have yet heard of the prince's mishap earlier, he chose not to enlighten them. They would discover it soon enough. A few moments later, Eldarion appeared in the doorway, and most everyone glanced in his direction to welcome him, but came to a stunned silence as they took in his face.
Luthiel was one of the last to turn and, as she did, their eyes seemed to automatically meet. Her smile froze and he winced in anticipation of her further reaction. Slowly she moved toward him, coming to a stop in front of him and reaching a cool hand up to lightly touch near the bruised eye. He flinched slightly, even at the gentleness of her contact, and she let her hand slide lower to his cheek. "Are you well?" she questioned with concern. "What happened?"
He let out a relieved breath, and dropped his gaze. "A sparring accident. It is not so bad as it looks." His eyes came up to hers again, and he said fervently, "I am sorry, my love. I should not have—"
She interrupted him by reaching up to press a soft kiss to his lips. "I am glad it is not something worse. Have the healers treated you?"
He nodded sheepishly as she took his arm to guide him toward the table. Only then did she notice the bandage on his hand, and raised a questioning eyebrow at him. "A slight gash – nothing serious," he quickly assured her, blushing. They settled in chairs, and the rest of the family joined them in being seated. Supper soon drew their attention, but there continued to be glances at Eldarion.
Throughout the meal, Eldarion remained emotionally distant from the proceedings, and did little more than pick at his food. Though it was awkward, he had stubbornly refused any assistance in cutting his meat or eating, but that difficulty was not what was affecting his appetite. Despite Luthiel's reaction and Elboron's assurances earlier, all of this still troubled him. Not long after the meal ended, he politely withdrew, claiming fatigue, and the gathering watched him depart.
The steward's family only stayed a short while longer before excusing themselves also. Before she could leave, however, the queen asked Luthiel to remain for a moment and speak with her in private. Goodnights were said to the others, and then Arwen led the way to the library for their conversation.
The queen serenely stood by the fireplace, gazing into the flames for a moment, then said quietly, "There are those who put much stock in 'luck', but I am not among them. I am a great believer in making one's own luck. Therefore, it will not surprise you much, I think, that I do not hold with the notion that it is 'bad luck' for a bride and groom to see one another before their wedding." She turned to eye Luthiel pointedly. "In fact, I believe there are instances when such a meeting might be essential to future 'luck'."
Luthiel's brow furrowed at her comments; it was evident the queen thought she needed to see Eldarion. "Is there…something I should know?" she asked, a bit fearfully.
"Nothing dreadful," Arwen gently assured her, "only that my brash son is feeling a bit beleaguered of late, and is perhaps in need of a special someone's tender touch." With an enigmatic smile for the girl standing before her, the Elf-woman glided toward the door, adding over her shoulder, "I have found he often retreats upon the Tower when he is troubled."
Luthiel remained pondering her words for several moments after she was gone. For the past week, she and Eldarion had not been allowed to spend time alone together. Only group gatherings, such as tonight's supper, permitted them any time in one another's company. Taking a deep breath, she turned toward the door. She had never much held with the notion of luck either and, if Eldarion needed her, she did not intend to let superstitions interfere.
She had only been up on the Tower two or three times in her life, but it was not difficult to find her way. There were strategically placed lamps, that were kept lit from dusk until midnight, though admittedly the great Tower had a rather eerie feeling to it in the darkness of night when she was alone.
"Eldarion?" she called, her eyes probing the blackness in an attempt to locate him, as she stepped through the stone doorway from the stairs. The torches here flickered in the wind, and the moon, though nearly full, was largely hidden behind the storm clouds. There was no response to her call, but a movement to her right drew her focus there, and at last her eyes adjusted enough to make out Eldarion's form, slumped dejectedly against the chest-high wall around the perimeter of the tower.
Quietly, she moved over to join him, leaning on the wall next to him. Though he did not speak, she could feel the tension in him, even without their touching; his mother was right – something was definitely wrong.
With a soft sigh, she turned to face him, and reached a hand over to his cheek bringing his face around toward her, though he kept his eyes lowered and did not meet her gaze. "What troubles you?" she asked gently.
After several moments, he pulled away from her to stare back out over the Pelennor below them. Letting out a ragged breath, he murmured mournfully, "I wanted everything to be perfect for you, but it has all gone amiss. The harder I try to make it special, the more it all falls apart. I am sorry, my love. I have failed you."
Luthiel's thoughts raced as she tried to discern what he was talking about, in order to form a response. Then a flash of insight struck her, and she asked, "Do you mean the wedding plans?"
He nodded disconsolately, then railed, "The weather keeps our guests away and has ruined the flowers, after nearly thirty years of relative peace the Haradrim choose now to stir up trouble, and your betrothed looks as though he has been in a tavern brawl! What more can go wrong? We do still have a few hours yet for further mayhem to manifest itself!"
Ah, so that was it! Eldarion, who always did everything perfectly, was frustrated by his failure to accomplish perfection now. She could not help finding it all slightly amusing, but clearly he had taken the situation to heart and was quite tormented by all that had gone wrong.
"Eldarion," she told him tenderly, "look at me." She waited, and finally he did as she bid, turning to face her though he didn't meet her gaze. Reaching out a hand, she lifted his chin, forcing his eyes to follow, until they were looking into one another's eyes. "I do not need guests or flowers to make my wedding day perfect, and the Haradrim would do well not to try and come between me and my betrothed! I am the daughter of a shieldmaiden; I will take them on personally if they attempt to deprive me of you!" Her words elicited a laugh that he could not quite stifle. "And, as to your appearance, my love, I have seen you bruised and bloody before, though usually it was my doing that caused it. I doubt this will be the last time I will see you thus." She leaned closer and brought her lips within a hair's breadth of his to whisper, "Just think of all the pleasure that can be had as I nurse you back to health!"
With a groan, he pulled her against him and hungrily kissed her. When they paused to catch their breath, Eldarion could only hold her in silence. No words would ever express what he was feeling. He could only hope she understood without his speaking of it. As if in confirmation, she tilted her head to look up at him in the brief shaft of moonlight that had revealed itself. Her eyes spoke volumes to him, and he reclaimed her lips in appreciation of what he read there.