A Daughter of the King - Chapter Forty-Five

Mandy stood by Ilma in the stable. She sighed, brushing his coat. She knew she had to leave the next morn, but she half-wished she could stay the whole fall in Mirkwood.

"Ai," Mandy told Ilma, "no use wishing for things that cannot be."
Ilma nickered softly, butting his head against her. She laughed, shaking her head. He leaned into the brush, the feel of it relaxing to him. Suddenly, she heard someone come in behind her. She did not turn around, brushing at tears that came unbidden from her eyes.

"Lady?" a soft husky voice came from behind her.

Mandy glanced at the person standing in the shadows. Straightening, her eyes narrowed, striving to see through the shadows, but the cape darkened his face and hid it. He leaned against the wall, relaxed or so it seemed. She had the uncanny feeling that he was more than ready and willing for action while looking relaxed.

Mandy turned back to brushing, ignoring him. She felt his eyes on her back, seeming to bore holes into her, but Mandy refused to look at him, hoping someone would come into the stables, either calling her for supper or looking for him. She went about caring for Ilma as if he was not there, but her hands shook for an odd reason. Mandy glanced at him angrily, her eyes flashing. He merely cocked his head, face hidden though she thought she saw a flash of white as if he had smiled. She shook her head and turned away. Finally Mandy could stand it no longer. She turned and faced him.

"Stranger," Mandy snapped, hands on her hips, "what are you doing here? Have you not some other occupation instead of watching a maid?!" her eyes flashed angrily, her feet set.

"Mayhap," the man answered, and Mandy could hear the grin in the voice, "but I have no duties at present, and tis very nice to watch a beautiful maid go about her own duties." His voice shook with unvoiced laughter.

"Very well," Mandy snapped, cheeks aflame with anger. She threw the brush into a basket and started for the door.

"If you do not mind," she growled at the man, "I will go and relieve myself of your presence since you will not do it for me!"

Mandy walked swiftly towards the door when the man grabbed her arm. He whirled her around and pulled her back into the shadows. She struggled against him, trying to get free. He pinned her, his hand clamped against her mouth. Ilma screamed in anger, trying to break the rope that held him to the post.

"Quiet," he said softly. Mandy strove to get loose, kicking and biting. He laughed quietly, "You are so anxious to be rid of my company, Erusenwen?" he said half-mockingly.

She froze at the name, her eyes going wide. The man smiled again, seeing her bewilderment.

"Oh yes," he answered her unspoken question, "I know who you are...and I daresay so do many others." His glance was keen, looking her fully in the face. "But I wish you no harm," he loosened his grip slightly, enough to be comfortable for her but not enough for her to leave, "However, you are to come with me."

Mandy's eyes widened, and she renewed her struggling. She kicked and bit, breaking free from his grasp. She nearly made it to the door when he tripped her. She fell hard, breath knocked out of her.

"Come," he said softly, picking her up and stealing out the back, "and for the love of the Valar, keep silent!"

Mandy started to yell for help when he clamped his hand against her mouth. He set her down and swiftly tied a cloth around her mouth, "I told you to be quiet!" he growled angrily, "By Elbereth! I will not harm you if you will just listen!" He hit her head and caught her as she fell. He picked her up and walked into the midst of Mirkwood forest.

Mandy woke to find herself by a fire. The man was sitting next to it, smoking a pipe. His hood was down, and she saw a care-worn but young face. She sat up, rubbing her head. He turned and smiled.

"You're awake," he said, his eyes a piercing green.

"Yes," Mandy glared at him, "and I'd be safely in bed at Mirkwood if you hadn't kidnapped me."

"Kidnapped you?" the man looked at her quizzically, "Is that what you think?"

"Well, what do you expect me to think after watching me, knocking me out--" Mandy broke off at the honesty of his gaze. She suddenly knew that he was no kidnapper. "If you did not kidnap me," she muttered softly, "why did you take me? And who are you?"

"My name is Sorne," he answered, "and I will answer your questions in a few moments."

"Eagle?" she raised an eyebrow, "Tis a good name."

"Thank you," Sorne stood.

Mandy looked at him through half-closed eyes. He was tall, muscular and strong, his dark brown hair curling about his face. He was a handsome, green-eyed, boy-like man. He had no beard, but he did have the beginnings of one as if he hadn't shaved in a day or so. She couldn't tell how old he was: at one point he looked no more than eighteen or twenty, at others he looked to be as old as Aragorn. Suddenly Mandy saw a flash at his neck. She opened her eyes fully and gazed at the clasp: it was a Star of David.

"You are Erusen!" Mandy gasped out.

"Good observation," Sorne grinned, sitting down next to her, "and so are you."

"How do you know?" Mandy asked, glancing away from him.

"Because of this," Sorne pointed to her clasp, half-hidden under the folds of her cloak, "and also because you have Him in you."

"And...and how do you know that, Good Stranger?" Mandy asked, her voice stuttering a bit. Then Mandy saw one of the most beautiful smiles light up his face.

"Because I have Him in me as well," Sorne answered softly.

Mandy gazed at him, unable to speak. Then she smiled back, her eyes lighting with happiness and joy.

"I know," she whispered, seeing the One inside of him, "I know."

Three hours later, after talking and discussing, Mandy suddenly realized that the Elves at Mirkwood would be looking for her.

"I must go," she said, leaping up.

"Wait," Sorne pulled her back down, "there is something I must tell you..." Mandy looked at him questioningly, waiting for him to continue. "You are going to go back home soon," he said, "Not to Gondor but to another place...I do not know where. But I was to remind you that He will never leave you nor forsake you."

Mandy looked at him, her eyes full of sorrow. "Thank you, Sorne," she whispered, a few tears falling down her cheeks, "I will remember." She stood, "And now I really must go."

Sorne stood as well. "I will guide you back," he told her, "it is not so far away."

Sorne led her easily along the path, and Mandy found that he had not taken her that far from Mirkwood. At the edge of the fortress, he stopped. He motioned for her to go on alone.

"Will you not come in and rest for the night?" she asked, catching his arm.

"No," Sorne turned and looked at her, "I have other things to do." he suddenly laughed, "Besides, you will be leaving soon." his face sobered as he kissed her hand, "May Illuvitar guide you in all that you do, Erusenwen."

"Thank you," Mandy told him and again stopped him, "How..." she swallowed, "how many are left?"

"More than some realize, less than before," Sorne grinned from the shadows, "there will always be a Remnant, Aarien." So saying, he disappeared into the forest shadows.

Mandy glanced thoughtfully at the path and then turned. She stole silently into the fortress and to her room. Mandy slipped into a soft blue night-shift and went to bed. She murmured a prayer of thanks and protection for her companions that were not with her at that time. Then Mandy fell into deep and restful sleep. In the morning, she was confronted as to what had happened. Mandy merely told them that she gone off with a friend and had lost track of time. Thranduil smiled, not pressing the matter, but his eyes were keen: as if he knew what had happened.

The journey to Lorien went swiftly, no more than three days. She had bidden farewell to Thranduil and Elwen, for Elwen had decided to stay in Mirkwood until after the winter had passed. She had hugged her goodbye and invited her to come to Gondor during the spring. Elwen had promised that she just might. Tethcelebel had ridden silently by her for most of the journey, and Mandy did not press her to talk, for she too was lost in her own thoughts. As they approached Lorien, Mandy breathed deeply. Tethcelebel glanced back and smiled at her, her eyes shining brightly.

After two days of resting in Lorien, Mandy felt the need to return to Minas Tirith. She had found that Elrohir and Elladan had been visiting in Lorien for a while, and they agreed to escort her. The journey went by with no real adventures or dangerous things happening. The three elves passed unnoticed by any mortal, traveling in the shadows. Sometimes they rode during the darkest part of the night, filling the air with their strange and haunting songs. Many who heard them thought them to be tales carried on the wind.

After five days of riding, they saw Minas Tirith gleaming in the distance. Mandy urged her horse into a run and was soon at the gates. They swung open, and Mandy tossed the reins to a stable-hand. She ran (very un-princesslike) up the many levels, wishing to get to her parents and baby brother. She ignored many of the greetings. Finally, Mandy reached the top and raced into the palace. She slowed to a walk, smoothing her riding outfit, and then walked gracefully into the throne-room.

"Aarien!" Aragorn said happily, racing to her and sweeping her off her feet.

"Ada," Mandy returned the embrace, smiling happily, "where are Ima and Eldarion?"

"They are in the gardens," Aragorn answered, "come." He led her to the gardens where Arwen sat on a blanket watching Eldarion totter around. His curly black-brown hair was to his shoulders, and his blue eyes were merry. Mandy watched him for a moment, scarcely believing that this was the little babe she had left seven months before. Suddenly, Arwen caught sight of her. She gasped and jumped up. Mandy smiled and ran to her. Arwen embraced her tightly, thanking the Valar that she was back.

Mandy turned to Eldarion, who had sat watching this with eyes wide. She sank to her knees.

"Mae govennin," she whispered, holding out her arms, "do you remember me, Little One?"

Eldarion cocked his head, gazing at her with a thoughtful look in his eye. Suddenly he tottered over to her, his arms lifted up. She scooped him up, hugging him.

"'En!" Eldarion gurgled happily, "'En, `En."

"Oh, Eldarion," she murmured, her eyes shining. She was home and at peace.

**Author's Note**
sorry to cut the time in Mirkwood short....but it was only for a week or so. besides, she's back home again and to answer your question: YES! legolas will be making a cameo appearance shortly
anywhoo....thanks for reading everyone! (to you who can comment and you who can't) you guys are awesome!!

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