A/N: I'm back! THis story has been sitting, unfinished on my harddrive and I had the sudden impulse to finish it. His chapter is shorter than most, but I felt I ended it in the right place.
I wasn't sure why I'd written the letter. I might have done better to let some more time pass before trying to communicate with Celeste again. I had written the letter with as much restraint as I could muster. I'd had hope that if I apologized and showed a small degree of sanity that she might reconsider or, at the very least, might not remember me as an enraged brute.
I tried to distract myself by joining some of my men in the armoury, but it did little to calm my nerves. My belly ached with a nagging guilt even as I joined the men in stacking spears and putting away swords and armour. While the Battle for Minas Tirith was over, Sauron was still strong and could still wreak havoc on Middle Earth. We needed to be prepared for many more battles to come.
After an hour of heavy lifting and stacking, I was called away by a messenger from Aragorn. As the uncrowned King of Rohan, I was being called to attend an emergency council meeting of the free leaders of Middle Earth.
As I followed the messenger to the Great Hall, he attempted to warn me of the topic of conversation, "The White Wizard will lead the discussion. I hear he has a plan to rid Middle Earth of Sauron's evil."
"I hope it's a well-thought plan," I answered. "The men we have are tired and weary of battle and Sauron himself is undefeatable."
"They say there is a way to kill him," the messenger said. "Lord Elrond devised of a way many months ago."
Yes. While I had not attended the Council of Elrond, I had heard that Elrond and Gandalf had sent the Ring of Power to Mordor in the hands of a Hobbit. While the Hobbit, Frodo, had been accompanied by a fellowship of eight others – including two men, an elf, and a dwarf – the group had sundered and no one had heard from the brave Hobbit.
I reached the Great Hall and paused a moment at the doorway. The messenger bowed respectfully and left my side. I walked into the Hall, taking note of ts occupants. Gandalf stood near the throne, with Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas standing in a loose circle around him.
I approached Aragorn and clasped my hand to his shoulder. "Thank you again, my friend. Éowyn is much improved and walks freely through the Houses of Healing. If you hadn't been quick to attend to her, I might have lost her."
I didn't mention his treatment of Celeste. Legolas seemed to notice the omission and gave me a contemplative look. Think of her was painful; just having her name in my mind made my mouth dry and my throat tight. I couldn't bear to mention her name aloud. Even in the company of my closest friends, I feared the reaction her name would inspire in me.
"It was no trouble, friend," Aragorn answered. The heir to Gondor had the gripped jaw of a soldier and the grey eyes of a philosopher. "She is a blessing to your land, Losing her would have been a sorrow too great to bear."
I nodded, but felt the need to move discussion away from the women in my life. Thinking of Éowyn led me to thinking of Celeste. And of the letter I'd left for her the night before. Surely she would have read it by now.
"Can we begin?" I implored f the wizard.
"We are waiting for the last of our company -" Gandalf began, but was interrupted by the opening of the east door. "- to arrive." Celeste entered the room, the last to join our council. By looking at her, it was impossible to tell that she'd been through a battle just days before. She had bathed and was wearing a silver dress in the Gondorian style. I doubt she noticed my stare – she was well occupied with looking away from me.
"Well then, we can begin," Gandalf began gruffly. "Frodo has passed beyond my sight. The darkness is deepening."
"If Sauron had the Ring we would know it!" protested Aragorn.
"It's only a matter of time. He has suffered a defeat, yes, but behind the walls of Mordor our enemy is regrouping."
"Let him stay there! Let him rot!" Gimli cried out. "Why should we care?"
"Because 10,000 Orcs now stand between Frodo and Mount Doom," Gandalf answered.
Celeste understood and wrinkled her forehead in frustration. We all knew that, if left alone, Sauron's army would regroup and multiply. We could postpone the fighting, but more battles were surely inevitable.
"I've sent him to his death," the wizard whispered, leaning heavily on his staff.
"No," Aragorn said, walking into the centre of the circle. "There is still hope for Frodo. He needs time and safe passage across the plains of Gorgoroth. We can give him that."
"How?" asked Gimli.
"Draw out Sauron's armies. Empty his lands. Then we gather our full strength and march on the Black Gate."
Gimli choked on his pipe, coughing and sputtering smoke. I chanced a look at Celeste to gauge her reaction to Aragorn's idea. Her face looked neutral, but her eyes sparked with understanding.
"We cannot achieve victory through strength of arms," I noted aloud.
"Not for ourselves. But we can give Frodo his chance if we keep Sauron's eye fixed upon us. Keep him blind to all else that moves," he explained.
"A diversion," Celeste added, a small smile forming on her lips. Legolas caught her eye and nodded, a smile on his face as well. I felt the sting of jealousy – the elf could look her in the eye and smile a her, but I could not.
The dwarf, as always, was oblivious to the emotional intricacies of the conversation. "Certainty of death, small chance of success, what are we waiting for?" he bellowed.
Certainty of death indeed, I thought. Aragorn's plan was a dangerous one. Mordor would be heavily guarded, no doubt. And success relied on the assumption that the Hobbit was alive and close to Mount Doom. Last anyone knew, Frodo had been in Ithilien.
Gandalf seemed to share my worry, adding, "Sauron will suspect a trap. He will not take the bait."
Bait? Were we to be the bait?
"Oh, I think he will," Aragorn answered, looking to Celeste.
"He's right," she added. "All of the people Sauron fears the most are gathered in this room. He will stop at nothing to have us killed. It's this fear and this loathing we must count on to exact our plan."
I blanched. Of course, Sauron's orcs had already made an attempt to capture Celeste and the Dark Lord's fear of the Heir of Elendil was well known. But, while I could see the wisdom in the ploy, the thought of using Celeste as bait for Sauron made my stomach lurch. If she was at the front lines, visible to the enemy, I would not be able to protect her. If she even wanted my protection.
It was settled then. The remainder of the Rohirric and Gondorian armies would leave Minas Tirith tomorrow morning for the Black Gates. If we won, the war would be over. People would be able to rebuild their homes and their lives. And, perhaps, I would be able o go back to Toronto.
Yet, as soon as the thought came into my head, I pushed it away. I couldn't go back there. What had my life been there? A gym teacher, living alone and paying too much in rent for a tiny apartment. My life in the city had no real direction. I recalled countless Saturday afternoons wasted in my apartment. Evenings spent missing Jeff, wishing he hadn't died. In Middle Earth, I'd seen far greater horrors than I'd seen in my quiet Toronto life; but I'd also experienced far deeper joys. I'd seen people living – really living – and fighting for their freedom. There was no apathy in Middle Earth. I'd made real connections with the people I'd met. Forged friendships, fallen in love.
I was momentarily startled. Love? Had I really fallen in love with Éomer? I thought back to the conversations we'd had and the kisses we'd shared. I felt a warmth creep through my stomach and into my heart. He'd sworn to protect me, asked me to marry him. A part of me wanted to run back into the Great Hall, throw myself into his arms and plead for him to have me back. Love? I tested the word, letting it soak on my tongue. Yes, I loved him.
But loving a man like Éomer came with risks. Not only was there the prophecy – which clearly foretold the doom of the man I loved – but it was wartime. There were no guarantees that we would both survive tomorrow's march on the Black Gates. What point would there be in letting myself love him only to watch him die? I couldn't. Perhaps, if we both survived the battle and Sauron was vanquished and... and there was some semblance of stability in this land. Then, only then, could I risk revisiting the possibility of love between Éomer and myself.
For now, all I could do was wait. And fight like hell when tomorrow came.
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