"Look child! Edoras!" Ailred said. His daughter on her small pony next to him didn't say anything. "Do you like your new home?" he asked, trying in vain to elicit a response from her. For four days they had ridden hard, from their small fortress on the Northern border of Rohan to the capital city in the south. In all that time, she had never said a word.
"We don't know that the King will take me," she said flatly, at last breaking her silence. She nudged her pony's flanks and he trotted forward obediently. Her father sighed and followed her.
At the foot of the steps of Meduseld, they dismounted. Her father was instantly away, leaping up the worn steps with a cry of joy and catching the doorward in a rough bear-hug. His daughter followed at a more sedate pace, a pinched expression on her young face.
"Ailred! What are you doing in this part of the world? We can never tempt you from your Northern Wold!" the doorward was saying.
"I am not here long Háma," her father said. He reached out and she obediently slid into his grasp. "This is the reason why I have journeyed," he said. Háma bent down to examine her face.
"And who is this fair flower of Rohan who graces the court with her presence?" he said kindly. She didn't answer. He straightened up and exchanged a look with Ailred, who shifted uneasily. "She better have some manners, or the King won't see you," the doorward said warily. He nodded and Háma let them pass into the Great Hall.
"Hail Théoden King!" Ailred shouted as he strode down the hall.
"Lord Ailred!" the foreboding man shouted in return. He walked towards Ailred and clapped a hand on his shoulder. "What brings you to Edoras? How fares our Northern border?"
"Well, my lord! I come to you on a family matter," Ailred said. Théoden's brow creased.
"Yes, I heard your wife died. A great pity, she was a fine woman," he said sadly.
"And she gave me a fine daughter," Ailred said, pushing the young girl forward. With another nudge, she swept into a graceful curtsey.
"Hail Théoden King," she said. Théoden looked at her critically. She was about six years old, thin and pinch-faced with grief after the loss of her mother. Her father spoke the truth though, she had beautiful strawberry blonde hair and clear blue eyes, a light smattering of freckles across her slightly upturned nose.
"Welcome to Meduseld," he said to her. "She is indeed a young beauty Ailred, but hardly cause for you to ride so far!"
"Ailith is a joy to me but the North is no place for a young girl. We still have many skirmishes with creatures from the Misty Mountains and she has already run off once."
"I got to Lórien but the Elves sent me home!" she said proudly. There was laughter around the hall.
"That is a feat indeed, little one!" the King laughed. His eyes shifted to her father.
"How did you know they did not send you back an Elven Changeling?"
"Believe me, my lord, a Changeling would be less trouble than Ailith," he said wearily. The King laughed heartily.
"I presume you are wanting me to take her into my care until she is old enough to return home?"
Ailred smiled bashfully.
"You are very intuitive, sir. That is exactly what I wanted to ask you."
"Fortune is with you Ailred. I recently took into my care my niece and nephew. They are very close with Théodred but it would be good for Éowyn to have female company as well. We will be happy to take your daughter."
The men moved away, laughing and joking. Ailith was left standing alone in the hall. She looked around with interest. The Golden Hall was very beautiful compared to the basic hall of her home. She stepped outside and walked over to the brazier. Her eyes scouted the vast plains of Rohan. Although she was Rohirrim born and bred, she was from the Wold to the North. Instead of these flat, rolling plains, her lands were hills of chalk.
"Excuse me?" a timid voice said behind her. She turned to see a pale girl of her own age smiling at her, a pair of boys a few years older standing under the shelter by the door. "I am Éowyn," the girl said. "Are you going to be here for long?"