Arnuríel is back! For the final installment of Lord of the Rings, The Royalmaiden's War! Enjoy and review ^_^

Neia xxx

I am north, I am north

Read the report

Once again I am yours

More than i can afford

Alchemy works its way

Begging, begging for mercy

Working magic,

Pretend to bring in the end with disappointment

So steal me from regular arms and

Steal me into the dark

- 'Alchemy', KT Tunstall

5 March 3019

Alrohar picked his way carefully through the woods, delicately choosing where to place each hoof. We were trekking through Fangorn, taking a detour from the rest of Théoden's army. They were taking a straighter route, led by Éowyn, from Helm's Deep back to Edoras. But we were cutting back to Isenguard. A short column of riders picking our way under the strangely silent trees to the black tower.

Alrohar trotted neatly behind Brego, Arod following us with Legolas and Gimli. There was a strange chill in the air as I gazed around warily. Something felt uneasy here. "Tulunka, Alrohar..." Steady, Alrohar...

We began to come to a break in the trees, as they opened out and I caught sight of rubble ahead, fallen walls. And a familiar sound. The laughing of a peredhil... A hobbit.

"Ahaha!" Pippin cried out in delight, saluting our approach with a mug in his hand. He was perched happily upon the rubble, a pipe in his other hand, while Merry lounged beside him, also smoking and drinking.

I half laughed in disbelieving relief. They were safe... So safe they were smoking and drinking.

"Welcome, my lords, to Isengard!" Merry greeted proudly, standing up, somewhat swaying a little. "And ladies of course, Lady Riel, always a pleasure!"

This time I laughed out loud, and shook my head. "Meriadoc Brandybuck... The pleasure is mine."

"You young rascals!" Gimli piped up in indignation from behind Legolas. "A merry hunt you've led us on and now we find you feasting and... and smoking!"

Pippin's reply was slightly slurred with drink, as he chewed on a meaty sandwich. "We are sitting, on a field of victory enjoying a few well earned comforts." Merry agreed with a puff of his pipe. "The salted pork is particularly good!"

"Salted pork?" Gimli grunted.

"Hobbits..." Gandalf muttered, but I smiled. There was a tone of fondness in his voice, I knew as well as any how he really felt about the peredhil no matter how he may pretend.

"We're under orders from Treebeard who's taken over management of Isengard," Merry explained.

"Where is he, Meriadoc?" Gandalf asked.

"Um... somewhere... over there, I believe," Pippin replied, waving vaguely behind him.

I shook my head in fond disbelief again, and exchanged a glance with Legolas. He grinned back at me.

"Well come on down from there, the pair of you," Aragorn cut in. Pippin jumped down from the wall and then stood, frowning from horse to horse in front of him. As though deciding who to choose to ride upon. I'd have offered myself but I knew how picky Alrohar was about those who mounted him.

"Come on Pippin," Aragorn offered eventually, and hauled Pippin easily onto Brego's back behind him. Merry followed, and Éomer instantly moved his mount forward. "Ride with me, little master."

"Why thankee my lord," Merry grinned up, and was easily lifted up behind him.

"Hobbits..." Gandalf repeated and nudged Shadowfax forward. Alrohar knew to follow him and did so, trotting lightly forward. Then he suddenly stopped, and snorted. I frowned at him, then rolled my eyes.

The ground fell away a good foot into a trench stretching away in front of his. The trench was filled with water, which would reach up to Alrohar's knees. Alrohar was incredibly proud and he did not appreciate trekking through dirty water if he could help it.

"Alrohar..." I murmured softly, attempting to encourage him forward. "Tula..." Come...

"Ah, for goodness' sake, Riel, move your stupid horse's ass!" Gimli grunted. I glanced around at him and Alrohar spun his head around with another snort.

"Come on now Alrohar, it's nothing you haven't done before," I went on, turning back to the ditch and nudging him with my heels. Alrohar snorted a third time, his head raised high in the air with his ears laid pack... but he stepped delicately forward with a distasteful shake of his mane and followed Brego and Shadowax forward towards the black tower. Where I could already see a great tree ent standing in front of the main steps that led inside the tower. Treebeard. I had never, in all my long years and his, met the shepherd of the trees but I knew of his reputation. Incredibly old, wise and tall.

"Hoooom," he moaned in that tree-like way the ents had. "Young master Gandalf, I'm glad you've come. Wood and water, stock and stone I can master but there is a Wizard to manage here locked in his tower."

"Show yourself..." Aragorn murmured softly. I gazed upward at the tip of the tower, my piercing elven eyes not even able to find Saruman. He was hiding.

"Be careful," Gandalf warned. "Even in defeat, Saruman is dangerous."

"Well then, let's just have his head and be done with it," Gimli grunted easily.

"No, we need him alive!" Gandalf cut across. "We need him to talk."

I suddenly noted a movement atop the tower. "Look..."

"You have fought many wars and slain many men, Théoden king, and made peace afterwards," Saruman announced in his strange, deep bass voice. "Can we not take counsel together as we once did, my old friend? Can we not have peace, you and I?"

My eyes narrowed, as Théoden's voice rose to a shouting reply. "We shall have peace…. We shall have peace when you answer for the burning of the Westfold and the children that lie dead there! We shall have peace when the lives of the soldiers whose bodies were hewn even as they lay dead against the gates of the Hornburg… are avenged! When you hang from a gibbet for the sport of your own crows… we shall have peace!"

"Gibbets and crows! Dotard!" Saruman retorted. "What do you want Gandalf Grahame? Let me guess… the key of Orthanc? Or perhaps the keys of Barad Dûr itself? Along with the crowns of the seven Kings and the rods of the Five Wizards!"

"Your treachery has already cost many lives," Gandalf replied. "Thousands more are now at risk. But you could save them Saruman. You were deep in the enemy's counsel."

"So you have come here for information," Saruman said, and my eyes narrowed further at the strange glint in his eye. I wanted to call it madness... "I have some for you." He suddenly held forward a strange ball, black, swirling golden mists within it. A palantir... a seeing stone! I had only heard tales of such things.

"Something festers in the heart of Middle Earth," Saruman went on. "Something that you have failed to see. But the great eye has seen it! Even now he presses his advantage. His attack will come soon." Gandalf pressed Shadowfax forwards a few paces. "You are all going to die! But you know this don't you Gandalf? You cannot think that this Ranger will ever sit upon the throne of Gondor. This exile, crept from the shadows will never be crowned King."

I glanced at Aragorn with a frown. Saruman was wrong... Aragorn seemed unphased by his words, but I knew Aragorn well enough to know how well he could hide his feelings.

"Gandalf does not hesitate to sacrifice those who are closest to him… those he professes to love!" Saruman's monologue was no yet finished, and I could see it having its effect, particularly upon the haflings. "Tell me, what words of comfort did you give the Halfling before you sent him to his doom? The path that you have set him on can only lead to death."

"I've heard enough!" Gimli suddenly grunted. "Shoot him! Stick an arrow in his gob!"

"Gimli-" I murmured, as Legolas reached to his back for an arrow. "Legolas, n'uma..." Legolas, no...

"No!" Gandalf stopped. "Come down Saruman, and your life will be spared."

"Save your pity and your mercy!" Saruman roared back. "I have no use for it!"

Before I could say anything, Saruman had aimed the foot end of his staff at Gandalf and fired a streaming bolt of fire toward us. "Gan-!"

But the fire consumed Gandalf, swirling about him before fading away, leaving Shadowfax and his rider unharmed.

Saruman did not seemed to understand, as Gandalf called up. "Saruman! Your staff is broken!"

The staff in Saruman's hands suddenly shook before exploding away into nothing. I allowed myself a small harsh smile. Saruman no longer had power. He could do nought to stop us now... And then my smile faded. As a small hunched man in black approached from behind Saruman. I did not know who he was...

"Grima!" Théoden called up. Grima? Grima Wormtongue... "You need not follow him! You were not always as you are now. You were once a man on Rohan. Come down."

Grima seemed to hesitate then bow as though he were going to comply, but Saruman cut across. "A man of Rohan? What is the house of Rohan but a thatched barn where brigands drink in the reek and their brats roll on the floor with the dogs? The victory at Helms Deep does not belong to you Théoden Horse Master. You are a lesser son of greater sires!"

"Grima, come down!" Théoden ignored Saruman. "Be free of him!"

"Free?" Saruman roared. "He will never be free!"

"No-" Grima began but Saruman turned to him.

"Get down... cur!" and he slapped his servant to the ground. I winced at the blow as though it had been upon me.

"Saruman!" Gandalf tried again. "You were deep in the enemy's counsel! Tell us what you know!"

"Gandalf, he is beyond reason," I murmured to the wizard.

"You withdraw your guard and I will tell you where your doom will be decided," Saruman shouted back, and I cocked my head in surprise. It was not submission, he was still convinced we would lose but it was information... "I will not be held prisoner here!"

But suddenly everything changed as a figure in black flung himself at Saruman's back, and in that split second I saw the flash of the raised knife. "No!" I called out, but it was too late.

Grima stabbed the knife down into his back. And again. This time, I did not try to stop Legolas as he notched and arrow, aimed and let fly. The arrow hit right on target and Grima cried out in pain. He fell back, but Saruman... he fell forward. His fall took no time at all, despite the tower's great height... until there was a sickening thud. Saruman was arched over backwards, impaled upon the spoke of a great wheel in front of our eyes. My eyelids flickered a little, but I was used to seeing death and the death of an enemy I was not going to weep over. But I saw Merry cringe out the corner of my eye... the haflings were not adjusted to such scenes.

Gandalf turned to us. "Send word to all our allies and to every corner of Middle Earth that still stands free. The enemy moves against us. We need to know where he will strike."

The wheel began to turn, and Saruman was hidden under the depths of the water...

"The filth of Saruman is washing away," Treebeard said gravely. "Trees will come back to live here. Young trees. Wild trees."

I suddenly noticed Pippin dismount from Brego and wade a little way off towards the wheel.

"Pippin!" Aragorn called.

But Pippin ignored him and reached down into the water, lifting something up.

"Bless my bark..." Treebeard murmured. The palantir!

Shadowfax suddenly approached. "Peregrin Took! I'll take that my lad! Quickly now!"

Pippin looked somewhat dejected at handing it over but did as he was told.

I gazed back up at the black tower of Orthanc. One down. Now for Sauron. Our task in Rohan was done. Sauron now would take the war to Gondor. The great fight was still to come. But we had time to prepare for that. Precious time...