A Morning Star ~ Chapter 16 of 18 - Love Lost
Chapter 2: The Road West
Chapter 3: Questions and Answers
Chapter 4: The End of a Quest
Chapter 5: A New Home
Chapter 6: Decisions
Chapter 7: The Battle of Ridden
Chapter 8: A War Ends and a Journey Begins
Chapter 9: Rohan
Chapter 10: Captivity
Chapter 11: Return to Gondor
Chapter 12: Tearful Partings
Chapter 13: A Meeting with a Ranger
Chapter 14: In the Wilderness
Chapter 15: Love Found
Chapter 16: Love Lost
Recap: Ariya learned that King Denya is dead and that Duran is now king. She has returned to Ridden and found that Duran does indeed still love her. They are now betrothed and are to marry on the first of October.
The next two months flew by for Ariya. She spent much of her time with some of the ladies of the city planning her wedding. Two women were making her a beautiful wedding gown and she was often required to be present for fittings. Another woman was helping her with many of the other aspects of the wedding, such as how to fix her hair and what foods to serve at the banquet. Ariya had wanted the wedding to be rather simple, but she soon realized that a short, plain ceremony was impossible when one was marrying a king. Meanwhile, Duran was often busy with the affairs of the city. He had not yet taken an advisor, and thus handled many of the disputes and affairs himself.
When Ariya and Duran were together, they often took long walks through the forest, away from the people of the village. She gradually told him about her life in Rohan and in the wilderness. She had hoped to withhold the story of her capture by the Uruk-hai, but one day when Duran asked about the scars on her back visible above her low-cut dress she was forced to tell the tale. He was shocked that she had experienced such evil and vowed that such a thing would never happen to her again. She simply smiled at his protectiveness.
One day, in late September, Ariya and Duran decided to rise before the sun and spend the day hunting. She yearned to ride Styrra across the plains and through the trees, and it had been a long while since Duran had last enjoyed a hunt. Since they were hunting alone, she donned her tunic and pants and they left the city just before the sun rose. They had both agreed earlier that it was rather unbefitting for the future queen to be seen wearing men's trousers, but since they planned to spend the entire day alone neither minded her desire for comfort this one day.
By midday, they had caught nothing, for they often scared away any game with their near-constant talk. But they did not mind-- they were together, riding their horses across the land and enjoying the unseasonably warm weather of the day. As the sun reached the middle of the sky, they decided to break for lunch in a small grassy meadow.
"Tell me," Duran said as they ate their lunch, "how are the preparations for the wedding?"
"Oh, Duran!" Ariya replied with mocked annoyance, "Can not one day pass without us discussing the ceremony?"
Duran smiled, for he knew that while his betrothed did occasionally tire from arguing with the women who were assisting her, she still enjoyed the planning process and was eagerly looking forward to the day of the wedding. "Could you at least tell me if the dress is finished?"
"It should be done in another day or two," she replied. Duran nodded and returned to his meal, and the two fell silent. After a moment, Duran looked up to see Ariya staring at the ground, having forsaken her food and clearly deep in thought.
"Ariya, is something wrong?" he asked, placing his hand on her arm. "You seem rather preoccupied."
"I have felt a sense of foreboding for a short while now," she said. She knew that she did not have to explain her abilities of foresight to him. During the time of silence, she had sensed the same evil she had encountered as a ranger, yet could not explain why she would feel such a presence so far to the north. "There is some danger nearby, but I cannot place it."
"Should we leave this place?" Duran asked.
Ariya did not reply immediately. Her heart had abruptly begun to race and she looked around, trying to pinpoint the source of her fear. Suddenly she heard a sound that she had not heard since her imprisonment in Minas Morgul: the cry of the Nazgûl. Her blood ran cold.
"Yes!" she cried. "Ride back to the city! Go!"
Abandoning their lunch, they both grabbed their weapons and jumped onto their horses to begin the long ride back to Ridden. "What was that?" Duran yelled over the sound of the horses' hooves, terror filling his own heart. Their mounts were running as fast as they could.
Before she could answer, two figures hidden under black cloaks emerged from the nearby woods, riding horses dark as midnight. "Just ride!" she cried.
Ariya did not even consider why the Nazgûl were here in the northern lands; her full concentration was on urging Styrra to run faster. Styrra slowly inched ahead of Duran's mount, but glancing behind her she saw that the Nazgûl were quickly gaining. The mortals' horses were tired from the day of hunting, but the Nazgûls' steeds seemed to tire not.
"Ariya!" she heard Duran cry. She turned in the saddle to see that one of the Nazgûl was riding beside him, the other just behind them. Ariya reached for her bow and an arrow while the Nazgûl both drew their blades. She knew that the Nazgûl were of the Shadow World, but their horses appeared to be mortal and Ariya hoped to shoot their mounts. Duran already had his sword drawn but he seemed unable to strike the Nazgûl, having little experience with mounted sword fighting.
Before Ariya could release her arrow, she watched with horror as the Nazgûl beside Duran swung his sword, knocking the king off his horse. "Duran!" she cried, watching him roll to the ground. She knew that she could not turn back with the Nazgûl so close behind her, and she watched Duran's horse run away while Styrra ran steadily ahead. Ariya suddenly remembered the bow in her hand and released the arrow. The arrow struck one of the Nazgûl's horses and it stumbled with the arrow in its shoulder. She fired another arrow at the same horse, but this time her aim was off and it struck the horse's leg. However, the wounds were enough to slow the horse, and the Nazgûl was forced to abandon the chase.
Ariya was now out of arrows, having spent several during the hunt. She wished that they had only taken the time to retrieve the arrows they had fired. The remaining Nazgûl was slowly gaining on her, and she drew her sword and faced forward in the saddle, urging Styrra to an even greater speed. But she could not outrun the Nazgûl, and soon it was riding beside her. A small river was ahead and Styrra raced toward it. Ariya knew that the mare was unafraid of the water and hoped that the Nazgûl's steed was less courageous. Just before they reached the river bank the black rider swung his sword at her, but at that moment Styrra hesitated and the sword struck the horse's neck. The mare fell to the ground and Ariya tumbled off her mount into the river, somehow managing to keep hold of her drawn sword. She stumbled a few steps into the water and then turned to face the rider.
The Nazgûl's horse had paused at the edge of the water. Ariya stared into the darkness under the black hood and time seemed to stand still. The Nazgûl stood motionless, and she could not tear her eyes away from the shadow where the creature's face should have been. Her heart filled with a fear such that she had not felt even in Minas Morgul, and for a long moment she did not even breathe. Suddenly, the silence was broken with a cry from a distant Nazgûl, to the west it seemed. The rider on the bank turned his head to the west, then giving Ariya one last glance, spurred his mount and left.
Ariya stood in the knee-deep water for a moment in shock. Suddenly remembering Duran, she sheathed her sword and ran to the spot where he had fallen. The other Nazgûl was no where to be seen; she presumed that it had followed the cry to the west as well for she no longer felt its evil presence. As she drew near to Duran, she could see by the blood and by the position in which he lay that he was seriously injured. She raced to his side and kneeled in the grass next to him.
"Duran, Duran! Can you hear me?" she cried, tears running down her face. She touched her hand to his face and before her fingers even reached his skin she knew that he was dead. "No! Oh Duran, no!" She kneeled over his body, and eventually collapsed onto the grass, crying.
Ariya knew not how long she lied in the grass face down, memories flooding her mind like the tears that flooded her eyes. She remembered the day they had met so many years ago, and how she had hesitated to invite the handsome young man into the house. She would never forget the surprise in his dark eyes when he saw that she had the likeness of an elf, nor would she forget the kind words he had spoken when he learned the reason she had first come to Ridden. She recalled the many meals that she had eaten with Lein and Duran during those first five years of peace. Then the invasion... she could see the concern in Duran's eyes while she mourned her brother, and again while they prepared for battle. As the hot tears continued to flow down her face and into the grass, she remembered the night she had fallen asleep crying in his arms. Then came the day that Renya died, the day she fled from Ridden, from her home and her love. She had waited nine long years to return to the man who held her heart, and the last two months had been the most blissful days of her life. But now, less than two weeks from their wedding day, he was gone, the joy never to return.
"Ariya!" She startled and sat up when she heard a voice nearby. "Ariya, what happened?" She looked up to see Deilen jump off his horse and run toward her. She had been so immersed in her grief that she had not heard him coming.
Deilen knew immediately that his brother had to be dead. He sat in the grass next to Ariya, and with tears running down his face he asked again, "Ariya, please, what happened here?"
"We--we were attacked," she said, choking on her sobs. Her thoughts and words were still jumbled and fragmented as she tried to sort through her memories and recall the events of the previous hour. "The Nazgûl--they killed Styrra and--and Duran..."
"Nazgûl? Ariya, what are you talking about?" Deilen fought against hysteria, knowing that he had to be strong for Ariya so that she could tell him how his brother had died. He violently wiped the tears from his eyes and then forced himself to look into Ariya's face.
"Servants of the Enemy, black riders from Mordor--I don't know why they were here in the north..."
Deilen did understand what she was talking about, for few people in the north had heard of Sauron or Mordor, and most who had dismissed it as legend. He put both hands on her shoulders and looked her in the eye. "Ariya, it's all right," he said, trying desperately to sound calm. "Now tell me, what do you know of these riders?"
Ariya took a deep breath and slowly began to collect her thoughts. "They are servants of the Dark Lord Sauron, from the land of Mordor far to the south. I... I was imprisoned in their tower when I was in Rohan..." She let her words trail off as the depth of the situation sank in. Why had the Nazgûl come so far to the north? And why had they attacked her and Duran?
"The cry I heard..." said Deilen, letting his hands fall from her shoulders and recalling the horrible screech he had heard not long before discovering Ariya and Duran. He had been riding nearby, and at that sound his heart was filled with a terror that he could not describe. It had taken him a while to find his brother, but finally he had reached the top of a hill and saw them lying in the grass below.
But Ariya did not hear him, so deep was she in her thoughts. She realized that Sauron's power must be growing if his Nazgûl had traveled so far from Mordor. She thought of the rangers in the wilderness and wondered if they knew of this new danger. Her thoughts suddenly much clearer, she stood up.
"I--I have to leave," she said, wiping the last tear from her face. "I don't know why the Nazgûl attacked us but I fear they may return. I cannot stay here and endanger Ridden. I'm sorry Deilen." She took a few steps as if to leave.
"Wait!" Deilen said, jumping to his feet as well. He grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. "What are you talking about? You surely do not plan to leave right now, do you?" As soon as he spoke the words he saw that she did intend to leave.
"I have to, Deilen," she said with a sudden determination. She laid her hand on his and he reluctantly released her arm. "These riders are of the Shadow World; they are not mortal and probably cannot be killed. I cannot stay and risk them returning for me here in Ridden. I do not know if the rangers have heard that the Nazgûl have come north, and I must warn them."
Deilen still did not understand all that she had said, but he knew she had seen things in her life that he never would. He saw she was already more composed and he trusted that she knew what she was talking about. It pained him to let her leave when she was in such a vulnerable state, but he knew that he could not stop her. He nodded, indicating his understanding.
"Take these with you," he said, reaching down and extracting the remaining arrows from Duran's quiver. "You will need them."
Ariya cringed inwardly, feeling as if she were robbing the dead but knowing that he was right. She reluctantly took the arrows and placed them in her own quiver.
"One more thing," Deilen added, kneeling next to Duran's body. Ariya knelt beside him and watched him take the signet ring off of Duran's finger, placing the golden ring in her hand.
"But Deilen, this is the sign of his house, and you are his brother..."
"It's all right. I know he would want you to have it."
Duran's fingers were slender for a man of his height, and the ring fit perfectly on Ariya's first finger. She wiped away the tears that had returned to her eyes and threw her arms around Deilen. "Thank you so much," she whispered. After a brief pause, she released him. They both stood and then without a word, she turned and ran away toward the southwest, to the wilderness of the rangers.
Ariya ran through the trees near Bree, exhausted but determined not to stop. She had run nearly the entire way from Ridden, a journey that had taken several days, and she knew that if she could find her way to Bree then she could find a ranger either in the village or in the woods nearby. The sun had already set by the time she emerged from the forest to see the city wall before her.
She walked quickly through the village streets, her eyes and ears alert, making her way toward the Inn of the Prancing Pony. When she entered the doors of the inn, she scanned the room looking for a recognizable face.
Strider! she thought, seeing a familiar cloaked figure in the back of the room. She hastily walked to his table and sat across from him.
Strider was surprised to suddenly find the half-elf seated at his table. She was still breathing heavily from her days of running, and he knew immediately that she had not come to bring good news. "Ariya, what is wrong?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
"The Nazgûl have left their tower in the south and come to the north!" she answered hurriedly.
"What?" Strider asked in alarm. "How do you know this?"
"Two of them attacked me just a few days ago. They... they killed Duran," she replied, fighting back tears.
"I'm sorry," Strider replied sincerely. Suddenly the ranger turned his head and she followed his gaze.
Four hobbits had just entered the inn.
List of Names and Places through Chapter 16
- Ambilë: Ariya's mortal father. Chapter 1.
- Arelen: "Morning Star"; Ariya's Elvish name. Chapter 1.
- Ariya Alayah: Translated as "Morning Star" in an ancient tongue of men; the heroine of our story. Chapter 1.
- Aron: Ranger of the North; second cousin to Aragorn. Chapter 13.
- Beredhel: "Bold Elf"; Ariya's maternal grandfather. Chapter 1.
- Beros: Lamir's older brother. Chapter 9.
- Cul-Rômen: "Golden-Red Sunrise"; the name of Ariya's sword. Chapter 5.
- Deilen: Duran's brother. Chapter 5.
- Denya: Renya's only son; succeeded his father as King of Ridden. Chapter 6.
- Dunneth: The city-kingdom to which the refugees of Ridden fled. Chapter 6.
- Duran: Advisor to the king of Ridden; succeeded Denya as king; killed by the Nazgûl. Chapter 3.
- Durlow: A small village in eastern Rohan. Chapter 8.
- Édren: Lamir's father; farmer and soldier of Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Eomas: The first city to be attacked by the Northern Tribes. Chapter 5.
- Halamir: Lamir's younger brother. Chapter 9.
- Isilmë: "Moonlight"; Ariya's maternal grandmother. Chapter 1.
- Kalen: A man from Dunneth; leader of a group of archers in the resistance against the Northern Tribes. Chapter 6.
- Lamir: Son of Édren; Ariya's apprentice in Rohan. Chapter 9.
- Land of the City-Kingdoms: A land northwest of Rivendell, consisting of several small cities of men, each ruled by their own king. Chapter 2.
- Lein: Ariya's half-brother, son of Ambilë; a smith in Ridden; killed in the Northern Tribe's invasion. Chapter 2.
- Lindë: Lamir's love interest. Chapter 9.
- Lómion: "Descendant of Dark"; maker of Ambilë's ring. Chapter 4.
- Melwen: "Kind Maiden"; Ariya's elven mother. Chapter 1.
- Nía: Lamir's sister. Chapter 9.
- Peramac "Perry" Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Tanagrim. Chapter 2.
- Renna: Beros's wife. Chapter 9.
- Renya: King of Ridden. Chapter 5.
- Ridden: A city in the land of the city-kingdoms. Chapter 2.
- Selleth: Lamir's mother. Chapter 9.
- Serië: "Peace"; the name Ariya used while in the wilderness of the rangers. Chapter 14.
- Styrra: Ariya's horse, a mare from Rohan. Chapter 12.
- Tanagrim Brandybuck: One of the hobbits who helped Ariya on the East Road; twin brother of Peramac. Chapter 2.
All right everyone, before you try to stone me for killing Duran, please stick around for the final two chapters! Not only have I saved some of my best surprises for these last three chapters (at least I think they're my best surprises), some of the seemingly random plot twists in my story will all come together and make sense! So please save your stones for the end of the tale. Thank you so much for staying with me for this long!