Into the East
A Lord of the Rings fanfic by Sisiutil
Epilogue: Revelations and Partings
Once they had bathed--giving themselves a good, thorough scrubbing to get rid of the stench of the orc latrine--and changed into fresh clothes, Merry and Pippin went down the four flights of stone stairs to the tower's kitchen.
"That was very clever, what you did with the stone, by the way," Merry said to his friend as they carefully descended several flights of stone steps designed for creatures much larger than themselves.
"Why thank you," Pippin said with a proud grin. Then his eyes lit up as an idea occurred to him. "You know, I think you could make a sport out of that!"
"What, rolling round rocks along a floor?" Merry said doubtfully.
"Don't be so dismissive!" Pippin said. "When we get back to the Shire, I'm going to give it some serious thought."
"R-i-i-i-ight," Merry said dubiously. "Perhaps you could roll the rocks at little effigies of orcs, eh? And you could keep score of how many you knock over, like Legolas and Gimli do," he added with a derisive chuckle.
Pippin's mouth dropped open and his eyes widened with delight at the idea. "Brilliant!" he exclaimed, turning and pointing at Merry. "Brilliant!" he repeated, making Merry stare at him incredulously, then roll his eyes and shake his head at his friend's latest folly.
The two hobbits entered the kitchen and found their companions seated around a rough, rectangular wooden table. The aroma of fresh bread filled the kitchen; several of the oblong loaves sat upon the table in front of their friends, along with a cooked ham, fresh butter, preserves, hard-boiled eggs still in the shell, apples, plums, and a large dish of assorted nuts. At the sight of the food, the hobbits' stomachs growled and their mouths watered; it had been a long, hard night, and they had not eaten for several hours.
They scrambled onto a bench on one side of the table where two wooden blocks had been placed to provide the diminutive hobbits with seats of the proper height. They started to reach for the food, but Valimavi insisted upon serving them.
"It is the least I can do for my rescuers," the lovely young woman said as she sliced fresh bread for them. "Though I had guessed what you had to do to enter the fortress, my father has informed me of all the details of your long quest. I had heard that hobbits possess courage and hardiness that far exceeds their stature, but you both must be among the bravest of a very valiant race!"
Her words made the two hobbits beam, and their cheer was further heightened by the large plates of food she placed in front of them.
"You're a very perceptive young lady," Pippin remarked in a pleased and proud voice. He slapped butter and jam onto a large slice of bread and stuffed it into his mouth. "And very charming, too, I might add," he said once he'd swallowed most of it.
"That must come from the mother's side of the family," Merry said pointedly, with a sidelong glance at Evandor. But rather than seeing the stern expression on the Ranger's face that he had grown used to, Merry instead noticed that Evandor looked stricken. He turned to glance at Valimavi, who wore a similar, pained expression on her lovely face, and realized his mistake. "Oh, blast," he muttered quietly, quite ashamed of his tactlessness. "I am so sorry. That was thoughtless of me. Please forgive me."
Valimavi forced her mouth to form a slight smile and nodded, but said nothing more. She quickly finished serving the two hobbits and then sat down next to her father, who placed his strong arm about her slender shoulders and pressed the girl to him in order to comfort her--and, it was obvious, to comfort himself as well. The others ate in silence out of respect for the father's and daughter's grief.
Shortly thereafter, the ever-gregarious Gimli grew uncomfortable with the silence. "Well, I can't say much for this Prince Dredmor," he remarked, "but he had good taste in his choice of victuals. No disgusting orc-grub here!" The dwarf delightedly shoved a large chunk of ham into his mouth and chewed it enthusiastically. He was glad to see Valimavi's slender face smiling once again as she watched his display of culinary gusto.
"I am curious on one point," Legolas ventured cautiously, looking at Evandor and his daughter. "If you will forgive my saying so, Valimavi, though you are, as my friends have said, a lovely, intelligent, and charming young woman, that in itself does not strike me as enough to warrant the interest of an ambitious, would-be prince like this Dredmor."
"And he wanted to force you into marriage," Anoline said, her distaste at the idea obvious in her expression and her voice. "What could he hope to gain, especially since you so vehemently rejected him?"
Valimavi hesitated as a shadow of grief stole across her lovely features one again. Her father answered for her. "My daughter... and my late wife..." he said, his voice shaking for the briefest of moments, "...are direct descendants of Vidugavia, the ancient king of Rhovanion."
Again, the party grew silent, not just from respect and consideration this time, but out of surprise. They all glanced at Valimavi as though seeing her for the first time. Silently, each one of them acknowledged that the girl did indeed possess a bearing that was most noble--even regal, despite the fact that her family had not sat upon the throne of Rhovanion in the memory of any living thing save for ents, elves, and wizards.
"So by forcing Valimavi into marriage with him," Anoline said, her green eyes alight with sudden realization, "the Prince hoped to lay claim to the ancient throne?"
"Indeed," Evandor responded. "Though few if any of the kings of men would have recognized his claim, he would have used her to draw others to his cause, just as he used the false palantir."
Valimavi shook her head. "My family gave up all claim and rights to the crown long ago. But there are still those who claim loyalty to the line of Vidugavia." She glanced at her father. "Though I suspect they think more of their own benefit than of my family's when they speak of such nonsense." She smiled sadly. "Truth to tell, I was perfectly happy being the daughter of an honest farmer and horse-breeder." Evandor looked at her with great affection and patted her hand lovingly.
"Not as honest as you claim, if you'll excuse my saying so," Merry interjected, drawing the attention of everyone at the table. "All right, look, Evandor. I understand your urgency now. I also understand how your agitation and... your grief... made you brusque, even rude, and I can forgive it. But what possible reason could you have had to deceive us about your daughter? Valimavi," he said, addressing the pretty young woman they had rescued, "none of us knew you even existed until we burst into that room where the Prince was holding you prisoner!"
All eyes turned to Evandor, for this was indeed the one question that had been burning, unasked and unanswered, in all their minds since they had rescued Valimavi barely more than an hour earlier. The Ranger shifted uncomfortably beneath their scrutiny, even though as he looked into the eyes of his companions, he no longer saw any suspicion or anger there. In light of the tragic loss of his wife and son, they were willing to allow him a great deal. But this simple deception on his part perplexed them all. Even his daughter looked at him questioningly.
"You... were the companions of the Ring-Bearer," he said with a furtive glance at Merry and Pippin, his tone implying this simple fact held the answer, though it only puzzled them more.
"Yes," Merry, frowning, prompted him. "What of it?"
"Both of you were instrumental in saving Middle-Earth from the evil of Sauron," Evandor added reverently. "And you as well," he added, nodding towards Legolas and Gimli. "Thanks in great part to you, the one ring was destroyed; the Witch-King was slain; Rohan rode to the white city's aid; Prince Faramir was saved from certain death; Elessar returned to the throne of Gondor..."
It was the hobbits' turn to feel discomfited, their humility making this effusive and uncharacteristic praise uncomfortable to hear. Merry and Pippin shifted uncomfortably on their elevated seats.
"Well, that's... all true, in a way," Merry said abashedly. "But what does it have to do with not telling us the real purpose of our mission?"
"I was afraid," Evandor admitted, his voice barely more than a whisper, "that people capable of such great, important deeds would regard my quest as... little more than a personal errand." He sighed heavily, his pale blue eyes staring at the table top before him, unable to meet the gaze of his companions. "I scouted the castle. I found the one chink in its armour. I knew that I needed hobbits, and the very best and bravest of their kind, in order to rescue my daughter. I didn't... I could not take the chance that you would say no."
The Ranger lifted his gaze from the table top to stare evenly at Merry. All at once, the fair-haired hobbit saw in the man's eyes the heavy burden of sorrow and desperation that he had borne since the deaths of his wife and son and the abduction of his only surviving family member, his daughter. But Merry also saw something new in Evandor's expression, something that the man's desperation and urgency had not allowed to be revealed prior to this moment: he saw the reverence with which he regarded he and Pippin, and Legolas and Gimli as well. It shocked the humble hobbit, and stunned him into silence.
Pippin, however, did not remain silent. "And by doing so, you betrayed how little you understand us," he said gently, admonishing the man in so kind a tone that he could not possibly take offense. "Perhaps what you say is true. Perhaps we were present at the great events of our day, and yes, we played a part, maybe a very significant one. But why do you think we did so?" he asked. "That day, when we stood before the black gate and thought we were charging into certain death, what do you think motivated us?" Pippin paused, and everyone hung upon his words. "Our friends, and our love for them. Frodo, the Ring-Bearer of whom you speak, was making his way through Mordor towards Mount Doom to destroy the ring at that very moment, and Sam with him. Yes, we wanted to save Middle-Earth and the Shire and everyone in it. But it was Frodo and Sam who were in our thoughts... and in our hearts." The hobbit paused, taking a drink from a mug of cool water. He glanced affectionately at Valimavi, then turned again to look at Evandor. "Had you told us of your family... of your daughter's plight... well. Nothing else could have ensured a greater guarantee of our enthusiastic participation."
The companions were quiet for some time once Pippin finished speaking. Merry watched Evandor closely and was surprised to see the dour Ranger's eyes shimmer with tears, which he blinked away. Then Merry looked at Valimavi, who sat so close beside her father, and whose hand she was holding. And for the first time, Merry realized that the desperate, anxious man they had known on the ride to Dol Guldur did not, in fact, represent Evandor's true personality; no, this man--a husband and father, a man of deep feelings, a humble and loving man deserving of his daughter's affection--this was the real Evandor. If only the man had allowed his true self to shine through before this, Merry would never have regarded him with such suspicion. But his emotional turmoil had concealed his true nature.
"I apologize," Evandor said quietly, as if to confirm Merry's epiphany regarding him. "It seems that in over-estimating you, I under-estimated you. I beg your forgiveness."
"Oh, there's no need for forgiveness, lad!" Gimli exclaimed. The gregarious dwarf was quite eager to change the sombre mood permeating the room. "All's well that end's well, eh?" he said, looking about the table, a broad smile on his face that his heavy beard and moustaches could not conceal. "We vanquished the villain, rescued the damsel in distress, and saved Middle-Earth from the forces of evil. Again. I say we deserve a drink!" He rose from the table; his eyes narrowed and he looked about the kitchen like a fox searching for prey. "There has to be some ale around here somewhere..." he muttered.
"Ale?" Legolas asked him, his brows rising. "With breakfast?"
"Bah!" Gimli responded. "As far as I'm concerned, this is a late dinner. We had nothing last night but a few mouthfuls of rain-soaked bread and cheese and we haven't slept since. It's a miracle I had the strength for that fight. Ah!" he cried with delight when he spotted a barrel with a spigot off in a corner and made a bee-line for it.
"You know, he has a point," Pippin said, and shuffled off his seat to follow Gimli.
Merry remained at the table, shaking his head as he watched his two friends starting their celebrations very early indeed. But after such a long and dangerous night, he could hardly begrudge them. He turned to Evandor and Valimavi. "So what will you do now?" he asked them.
Evandor's heavy brows rose in surprise. "I must confess, I had not given it any thought. I've been so focused upon rescuing my dear Val," he said, giving his daughter's slender shoulders an affectionate squeeze. His own shoulders rose briefly in a shrug. "I suppose we could go back to what remains of our home, start to rebuild..."
"Oh father, no, I can't!" Valimavi said, her lovely face suddenly stricken with grief. "I can't go back there, not yet. Not where mother and little Elandor..." Unable to say any more, the young woman pressed her lips together and laid her head upon her father's broad shoulder. "I had a fight to distract me before, but now..."
"No, of course not," Evandor assured her, his voice quiet and shaking with emotion. "I could barely stand the sight of it myself. I just don't know where else to go, what else to do..."
"Perhaps," Anoline said suddenly, and paused as everyone turned to her and she grew worried, for a moment, that she sounded too enthused about the idea, but she pressed on. "Perhaps... you could return to Rohan. With me. Perhaps with a change of scenery, your wounded hearts could find the solace they need to heal. I know King Éomer would welcome you both most warmly to the golden hall at Edoras..."
As a sign of her youth, and her resiliency, Valimavi sat up and cast off her sorrow in response to Anoline's offer. Her dark brown eyes widened and blazed with enthusiasm. "We could come to Rohan? Really? Oh, I have always wanted to see it! I have heard of the broad, beautiful plains of the Riddermark..."
"In my opinion, no more beautiful place exists in all of Middle-Earth," Anoline said proudly. "I suppose I am biased, but I assert it nonetheless."
"Could I learn to ride?" Valimavi asked, her enthusiasm growing.
Anoline looked at her with bemused surprise. "Hasn't your father taught you how?"
"Oh, yes, just as he taught me how to wield a sword!" Valimavi said, casting an admiring glance at her father before returning her gaze to Anoline. "But to be taught to ride by the Rohirrim... that's almost like getting a chance to study with a wizard!"
Anoline laughed in delight at the girl's enthusiasm and high regard for her people. "I shall teach you myself, if you like," she offered.
"Oh, that would be wonderful!" Valimavi exclaimed, suddenly seeming much younger than her sixteen years. She turned to Evandor. "Oh, father, can we? Please?"
Evandor smiled at his daughter, the only family he had left, and knew he could refuse her nothing. "Of course, my beloved Val," he said laughing softly. "To Rohan we shall go."
His daughter gave a cry of delight and threw her arms around him, then kissed her father on the cheek. Evandor embraced the girl in return, then looked over her shoulder at Anoline, to whom he mouthed the words, "Thank you". In response, the red-headed horsewoman nodded, glad that by bowing her head she hid the tears that had formed in her eyes.
Gimli had returned from the barrel of ale with a mug filled to the brim, and had watched this scene unfold with interest, but said nothing. The companions returned to their meal and their idle chatter, all of them glad to partake of something so normal as breakfast after such a long and dangerous night. They soon felt the urge to get away, however, as none of them wanted to linger in a place such as Dol Guldur any longer than they had to.
As they made their preparations to leave, Gimli saw that no one else was going to say anything, and realized that as the eldest of their party, the duty fell to him. Not for the first time, he wished that Gandalf were still around. Imparting words of wisdom was the wizard's stock-in-trade; though proud of his people, their many skills, and his own prowess in battle, Gimli was aware of his own strengths and also his limitations, and he hardly felt up to the task. But for the sake of his new friends, he knew he had to make an effort. Indeed, he had even restrained himself to only half the mug of ale, so as to keep his head clear for this one, very uncomfortable duty he had to perform.
"A word, lass, if you please," he said to Anoline, and drew the lovely young warrior away from the rest of their group for a moment. As Anoline watched him expectantly, Gimli shifted his weight and carefully weighed his words for the umpteenth time. "You'll forgive me for being so bold, lass, but... I could not help but notice... where your heart is leading you." Anoline stared at him innocently, so Gimli cast a meaningful glance at Evandor. Anoline followed his gaze, and quickly turned away. The merest hint of a blush appeared on the young woman's cheeks, and it only confirmed what Gimli had surmised, and what he had to say. "He needs... time, lass," he said gently. "Be patient with him. For both your sakes."
Anoline stared at Gimli in silence. Then, gradually, her lips curled into an appreciative smile. "I shall," she promised quietly. "Thank you, Master Dwarf," she added, and bent down to bestow a kiss upon Gimli's bristly brow. The Dwarf grunted in agitation, rocked from side to side on his feet, then turned and walked away from the comely young woman, for his cheeks had turned crimson, and he knew his formidable beard would not hide the fact.
It took the seven companions the better part of the day to travel back to the stable where they had left their horses, time they passed exchanging stories and songs. They slept in the stable again that night, just as they had only a couple of nights before. Their sleep was long and deep and well-deserved, for they'd barely slept at all in two days and had journeyed long and fought ferociously in that time.
It was with heavy hearts the next day that they separated into two groups to go their separate ways. Legolas and Gimli had offered to travel with Merry and Pippin back over the Misty Mountains, even as far as Bree, and the two hobbits were delighted at the prospect of their old friends' companionship, and comforted by the protection they would offer, for far too many orcs still roamed the land. Evandor, Valimavi, and Anoline, of course, intended to make their way to Rohan. Indeed, the Éowiim reunited with them that morning, informing their leader and her companions of the many escaping orcs and evil men they had slain, and of the regrettable few who had escaped. With the Éowiim riding with them, though, the Ranger and his daughter would be well and properly escorted and protected on their journey to the lands of the horse masters.
Just before they parted, Valimavi drew aside the two hobbits to thank them yet again.
"I wish I could be in two places at once," she told them, kneeling upon the grass before them. "For though I am excited to be visiting the Riddermark, I would also love to see this Shire of which you speak so highly."
"You shall have to visit it one day," Pippin said enthusiastically.
"Rohan has its charms, to be sure," Merry added, "but there's nowhere else in Middle-Earth like the Shire." As he spoke the words, a pang of home-sickness struck him, and he suddenly longed to be on his way. He remembered Estella, whom he had been courting, and he greatly desired to see her pretty, smiling face once again.
"Indeed, it must be a great land, if it produces stout-hearted heroes such as you!" the lovely young girl exclaimed. She clasped Pippin's hands, leaned forward, and kissed him lightly on the lips, leaving the curly-haired hobbit smiling and speechless. Then she turned and repeated the action with Merry, who was delighted with the gesture, though perhaps less awestruck than his companion. Valimavi then rose to her feet and ran back to her father, her new friend Anoline, and the waiting Éowiim. She turned once as she ran and waved back at the hobbits.
For some time after they had parted from their new friends, Pippin remained rapturously silent. A pleased grin was on his face as though it had become a permanent fixture. Every now and then he drew a deep breath and exhaled a sad yet strangely contented sigh. Merry turned in the saddle to look at his old friend and chuckled.
"What's so funny?" Pippin asked.
"You," Merry replied. "You're quite smitten."
"Me? What, with that... that... gigantic girl?" Pippin responded. "Please. Oh, she's pretty," he said, forcing himself to make it sound grudgingly, "...for one of her kind, I suppose."
"Mm-hmm," Merry replied knowingly.
A moment later, Pippin said, "You know, maybe there's something to this whole... courtship and marriage thing you've become so stuck on lately." Merry couldn't help himself; he turned suddenly and stared at his friend in shocked amazement. Pippin ignored his reaction. "Estella wouldn't happen to have... you know... a friend, would she?"
I wish to take this opportunity to thank all of you who have read this story and especially those who offered feedback as I posted each chapter. Your interest and enthusiasm inspired me to keep going, and reminded me of what a wonderful and precious thing this community is. Thank you once again.
I have some ideas for a sequel--just bare bones at this point, so it will likely take quite some time to develop into anything I would consider suitable for publication here. So please be patient; for if you can but wait, I assure you, the "Fellowship of the Palantir" will one day ride again...