Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 18. DIFFICULT DECISIONS
The urgent call came from afar, as if from a distant dream. Miriel slowly opened her eyes to find the blue skies shining overhead, and the even brighter blue of Elf eyes looking down upon her. She was confused and disoriented, and she couldn't remember how she got there. She frowned. Her head pulsed with pain.
"Where am I?" Miriel muttered, not recognizing the strangely choked and distorted sound of her own voice.
Legolas breathed a sigh of relief when he heard Miriel speak. He did not answer, but he gently raised Miriel off the ground and pillowed her head in his lap. As he did so, Miriel caught sight of the white flowers waving about them and dancing gaily in the breeze, and at once memory came flooding back to her. Miriel shut her eyes and softly began to cry.
Legolas gazed down at her with pity, and he reached down and cradled her in his arms, trying to comfort her. But Legolas was also himself distressed beyond words.
The Elf and the princess did not move for a long time. The sun blazed its fiery trail into the West and burned the sky orange, and the world turned without them and left them far behind. They said nothing, for there were no words left to speak.
Only when the sunset began to fade to a golden twilight did Legolas stir at last. He lifted Miriel until she was sitting upright on her own. Miriel's sobs were silent, and her eyes were tightly closed, but her tears ever poured down and fell like shining silver upon the green grasses of the hill.
"Don't cry, my lady," whispered Legolas as he sat beside her.
"I can't help it," replied Miriel without opening her eyes. "I love you."
"And I love you," declared Legolas.
"But you're going away," cried Miriel brokenly. "You're going to sail across the Sea. I'm going to die."
"No, my lady, don't say that," comforted Legolas, taking her hand. "You will not die. I'm not leaving you."
Miriel did not look up, but neither did she pull her hand away.
"Why not, Legolas? You have to."
"I made you a promise," Legolas answered.
Miriel was silent for a while. Tears streamed down her pale face.
"I would release you from that promise, if it would give you peace," she said at last, but her lips trembled and her words faltered.
Legolas looked at her in puzzlement. "But I- don't you want me to be here with you?" he asked.
"Of course I do," rejoined Miriel instantly. "But what kind of love keeps one in a cage as a captive?"
"I would hardly call it a cage," said Legolas, taken aback. "Any man lucky enough to be loved by you would be a fool to call himself caged."
Miriel stared blankly into the depths of the darkening wood and did not seem to heed his words.
"I will die," she murmured at last. "It is the path that I must follow. I have cheated it so far, but now it comes for me, and I cannot avoid it any longer. It is my destiny. Death will take me sooner or later, and whether it comes swiftly or late does not matter."
"Say not so!" cried Legolas in alarm. "Stop talking like that!"
Miriel fell silent. She felt suddenly very old and weary with sorrow. She stood up slowly and heaved a great sigh that fell heavy in the gathering darkness. Legolas leapt lightly to his feet with the Elven-grace that came habitually to him and took her hand. His mind was made up, and he spoke with conviction.
"I won't leave Middle-earth, and that's final!" he declared.
Miriel looked at him through bleary eyes.
"But you would remain here only for me," she returned without emotion.
"Of course!" returned Legolas indignantly. "Why else would I stay?"
"You should not," replied Miriel wearily.
"Why not?" snapped Legolas.
"Because sooner or later I will die, and then you will be alone," answered Miriel, and her voice went deadpan.
Legolas gripped her by the shoulders. "Then so be it," he said. "I love you, and if I must endure loneliness and death to be with you, it is but a small price to pay."
Miriel shook her head. "You have to go, Legolas, you must," she insisted, still shaking her head, and a fresh storm of tears dropped from her cheeks.
"No! I won't! Miriel, listen to me!" Legolas gently took her chin in his hand and lifted her face so that her sad gray eyes met his. "Sailing over the Sea will not be the answer, my love. I would suffer eternally from a broken heart, even in the beautiful land of Valinor, even among my kinfolk. The West would become a prison of its own. I see that clearly now. I love you, Lady Miriel, and I will die without you."
Unlike Rolande's impassioned version of the same phrase, Miriel fully believed that Legolas spoke the truth.
"Then we will die together, for that is the only fate that awaits us," answered Miriel darkly.
"There are far worse fates," replied Legolas, and he bent and tenderly kissed her brow. "My fate was sealed the moment I laid eyes on you."
"I wish you never had," whispered Miriel.
"But I don't," Legolas retorted. "My life would be empty without you. I would have never known what I missed. I have no regrets."
"You say that now," said Miriel, her breath coming shorter as tears choked her. "But when I am gone you will regret your words."
"Never," Legolas declared, and his voice was as cold and steely as mithril.
Miriel did not answer. There was nothing she could say in the face of such determination, the same determination that had brought the realm of Mordor to its knees. The golden skies faded to royal blue, and the stars came out to shine on them.
"Come, my lady, we must return to the city," said Legolas, but he stood gazing tenderly at Miriel and did not move. Suddenly he rushed at Miriel and took her face in his hands, and Miriel looked up at him questioningly. Before she rightly knew what was happening Legolas had her ensconsed in his arms and was leaning down and kissing her tenderly, then passionately, his fingers settling deep into her thick hair.
Miriel gave in to the warm embrace. She let go of her resistance. It felt so right to kiss Legolas, and she wanted the moment to last forever. Oh, the tingling that enveloped her from head to foot! The fire that blazed in her heart! The increasing strength of his hold around her! The sheer ecstacy of being close to him! She heard the sound of the Elves singing joyfully in the twilight, and wind swirled around them. Their hair, ebony and golden, streamed upward and mingled together. The voice of her common sense was shoved aside and silenced; she put her arms around his neck and kissed him back with all her might as his hands slipped down her back and pulled her ever closer, ever tighter, into his chest.
But even as Miriel allowed herself to be swept away by a tide of emotion, the thought of the Sea and the terrible decision looming over them yet held her back. As desperately as she wanted to tear down every obstacle between them, as much as she longed to tell herself that nothing should separate them and keep her out of his arms, she could not; her great love for him stopped her short. Already she had blinded herself to the consequences for far too long. Her common sense resurfaced. She reluctantly but firmly shook her head to release the grip of his kiss on her, and after another moment, she pulled away from his arms and stood apart from Legolas.
"We must be getting back," she forced herself to say, but her voice cracked and she did not look at him. She was afraid that if she did, she would betray how much she wanted to be with him, to let him hold her, to love him and receive his love in return, to whisper promises that she would never leave him and listen to her name breathed into her ear on his adoring lips... but no, no, it could not be. It could never be. It was a beautiful fantasy, a delightful illusion; but a mirage that would melt away as she reached out to take hold of it and it would leave her emptier than before she gave in. She set her jaw and refused. It took an act of steeling of herself that was almost impossible. She shut off her feelings and concealed her inner turmoil beneath a coldly indifferent exterior.
Legolas hesitated a moment longer and warred with himself. He sensed that she might yet be persuaded to marry him; he could see that the coldness was feigned and the hardening of her heart nothing more than a facade. The way she kissed him confirmed that. There was no question she loved him, but he wanted her to come to him willingly... and she would, were it not an entire sea that separated them. He studied her thoughtfully while he decided what to do. At last he nodded.
"As you wish, my lady," he murmured quietly, but there was a determined light in his eyes that troubled Miriel to behold. They spoke volumes in a language all their own; they told her in no uncertain terms that this was far from over; this reprieve was merely that: A temporary truce. That frightened her. She was losing her will to stay strong and succombing to a force too great for her to overcome.
She was weak, and how she hated being weak! She scowled at the ground.
Legolas took Miriel by the hand and led her to the edge of the forest, whistling loudly as he did so. Immediately there was an answering neigh and the sound of approaching hooves. Arod appeared shining like silver with Kaspir running right behind him like a shadow. Legolas set Miriel upon Kaspir's back and mounted Arod. They rode without speaking toward Minas Tirith with a cold wind blowing in their faces.
The city was aglow with candles and torches by the time they arrived. They passed silently through the gates, and the hooves of the horses fell heavily upon the stones as they made their way to the stables. Miriel slid down quickly from Kaspir's back before Legolas would have a chance to help her. She slipped the reins over her horse's head, and in an instant Legolas was there and his hand was on hers as he took Kaspir's lead. Miriel trembled at the touch, and for a moment she glanced up at him and found the intensity of his gaze too great to withstand. She hurriedly looked away and found she could not breathe.
"I will not change my mind, Lady Miriel," he said quietly.
"Neither will I," she could barely whisper.
Legolas did not move. "I hold to my word. I will remain in Middle-earth until the end of our days together."
Miriel bit her lip and struggled against the sobs that rushed to her throat.
"I hope you will not," she muttered coldly, and turning she ran blindly in the direction of her tower with her cloak fluttering wildly behind her in her haste.
Legolas stood and watched her go and made no move to stop her, but had she turned and looked back, the terrible and overwhelming longing in his overbright blue eyes would have been more than enough to destroy her resolve and seal both their fates.
Miriel stumbled into her room. Wearily she lifted her hand and unclasped the silver brooch at her throat, letting the cloak drop freely from her shoulders. It puddled around her ankles. Miriel impatiently stepped out of the tangled ring of gray cloth and went out to the balcony, leaving the cloak on the floor where it had fallen.
Miriel allowed the tears to flow unchecked. She hated Love, Miriel thought, clenching her fists. It was unbearably cruel to her, but infinitely more so to Legolas. What had started out as a wartime attraction had hardened into permanent and undying love. Miriel struggled to still her sobs and stared up at the gleaming stars shining like diamonds in the endless skies, her mind full of unanswerable questions.
Miriel had always believed that there was one right person for everyone. She had been a strong believer in Destiny and Fate since she had dwelt in Rohan, living a sheltered life with her family. Ever since she had grown old enough to care, Miriel had known that she did not love anyone in her little village. There had been times when she despaired of ever finding her own Prince Charming.
But from the moment Miriel met Legolas in the midst of the battle at Helm's Deep, she felt her soul stir. She knew immediately that Legolas was the one she had been searching for. There was no denying that they belonged to each other. Miriel knew it like she knew the sun would rise in the morning, or that there would always be a spring after a long winter. It simply was.
But now Miriel questioned herself. She wondered if she was wrong about Fate and Destiny. Or was she desperately hoping she was wrong?
She refused to ponder that in case she discovered an answer she didn't want to find.
Everything Miriel had once believed in was being shaken to the core. She didn't know what to think.
"True love is the most precious thing anyone can hope to obtain in this life," came the sweet, musical voice of her mother, Rowen, borne to Miriel's ears on a silvery breeze from the deep mists of time. In an instant, Miriel was transformed into the young girl she had once been, which now seemed so very long ago. She was taken back to that last precious moment she had shared with her mother, kneeling by the glowing hearth, surrounded by the rich, hearty aroma of a beef stew. Rowen's face flickered with orange light from the fire as she smiled at Miriel and imparted her wisdom and experience to her daughter.
"True love is worth far more than prosperity or riches or gold or silver, or even life itself."
"But it is not love to doom another to a life of loneliness, and an unnatural death!" Miriel argued aloud.
Miriel could almost see Rowen raising her eyebrows at Miriel in mild reproach.
"Love does not always make sense, Miriel, and do remember that."
"Sometimes sense can save you from making grave mistakes!" Miriel shouted with unbridled fury at the vision from the past.
"When you find it, give up everything to obtain it!"
"Easy for you to say!" Miriel cried to the empty skies. "Yours was the choice between a peasant life and a palace life. Mine is the choice of life or death, and not for myself, but for another!"
"..Even life itself," Rowen echoed. "Even life itself..."
Miriel turned away seething and shut the images out of her mind, dashing away the hot tears with the back of her hand. She sought another string of thoughts to drive out the painful picture of her mother's face.
Legolas's earlier words about Elves began to come back to her, and without quite knowing why Miriel found herself reflecting on them. Elves were very emotional and could make mistakes, Legolas had said. Miriel frowned up at the glittering star host. Perhaps Legolas would make a mistake by allowing his heart to rule over his head. But Miriel would not, for both their sakes.
She thought: He is doing this for me. He is afraid that if he leaves, I will be unhappy. He is so good and caring and thoughtful, and he really does love me so much that he doesn't want to see that happen.
I was strong enough to be alone once, Miriel told herself sternly, clenching her fists. I got along fine without anyone else. I can do it again. I must.
But what could Miriel do with Legolas now? He had promised to stay in Middle-earth, and it seemed that nothing would change his mind. What was it that he told her? She tried to recall, and at last it came back to her.
"Any man lucky enough to be loved by you would be a fool to call himself caged." The words resonated in her thoughts. Miriel repeated them slowly to herself.
Suddenly she caught her breath, and her gray eyes flew wide open. Therein was the answer to all their problems!
Miriel's mind raced. It was a drastic measure, to be sure, but Legolas's life and happiness depended upon it, and Miriel herself would become accustomed to the arrangement in time. If she were settled and happy here in Middle-earth, Legolas could sail away without feeling guilty about leaving her behind. Legolas's ardent speech had provided the only way out of the tangled mess of heartstrings and emotions called Love, and Miriel was determined to take it and make the most of it.
Her plan had to work. She would not fail.
Miriel rushed away from the balcony and back to her room. She washed her face. She changed into a fresh white dress and left her dark cloak behind. She carefully arranged her thick black hair in lush curls about her shoulders, and at last she was ready.
Miriel went down from the tower and walked alone on the empty streets of Minas Tirith, moving quickly like a gleam of white fire in the night. She went straight to the Housing of the Guards and knocked softly on the door of one of the rooms. She waited impatiently and knocked again. At last, after an eternity, Rolande opened the door and Miriel found herself looking searchingly into his brown cat's eyes, which lit up in great delight to see her.
"Lady Miriel!" he exclaimed in surprise, and then he remembered his manners and bowed. "What a pleasant surprise! Please, come in!"
"Thank you," Miriel returned with a quiet smile that was almost shy.
Miriel was heartened by this warm reception. It filled her with new courage... enough to do what she had come to do, and she stepped inside and surveyed the bare room to distract herself from her mission. It was plain, all wood and stone and shades of tan and brown and gray without so much as a cheery sprig of greenery or red berries to brighten the simple room, but it was well furnished and comfortable. Fire shadows danced on the walls where they were not lit by the warm golden-orange glow of the fire. Rolande shut the door behind her and moved to a table.
"Would you like anything to drink, my lady?" he asked, picking up a silver pitcher.
Miriel gracefully declined and sat down near the fire; she was far too nervous to consider putting anything in her uneasy stomach. Rolande filled his own cup and sat down in a wooden chair across from her. Miriel asked polite questions about how things were going with him and the Guards of the City, and Rolande answered that they were quite well. They made small talk for a while. But at length, and too soon, they ran out of things to say to one another and sat silently while the flames crackled and snapped loudly like Miriel's nerves in the sudden quiet.
"I have not seen you for a while, Lady Miriel," said Rolande at length, looking at her searchingly. "Are you doing well?"
"Yes, thank you," replied Miriel rather stiffly, but she tried to smile.
"Good, good," Rolande muttered, but his brown cat's eyes remained fixed upon hers.
He suspects something, Miriel thought with trepidation. He would. He knew her too well.
"So to what or whom do I owe this unexpected visit?" Rolande prodded.
Miriel caught her breath sharply. The moment had arrived, but the words would not come. Her throat was too tight to speak. The ever-perceptive Rolande watched her closely while she tried to remove the constriction from her breathing.
"I just wanted to see how you were getting on," Miriel blurted out lamely. Immediately she bit her lip. Why was she so hesitant to tell Rolande what she had come to tell him?
"How are things between you and the Elf?" Rolande asked pointedly.
Miriel knew he could see the dark circles under her red-rimmed eyes and was not fooled by smiles or light words. The sooner she got this overwith, the better. Miriel steeled herself and pictured the face of Legolas, the one she loved and whom she was doing this for, and she bravely launched headfirst into a speech.
"Rolande, Legolas and I cannot remain together. It would never have worked out between us, for simple reasons. I am mortal. He is of Elf-kind. He belongs over the Sea with his people. But my place is here in Middle-earth, among my own kindred."
Rolande turned away and gazed into the fire. Miriel's mind raced and she could not tell what he was thinking, but she guessed he was shocked. Miriel wondered hopefully that he would consider this as good news for himself and a happy turn of events. Miriel gathered her courage and continued. She spoke haltingly, and her words tumbled over one another with forced emotion and terrific haste.
"Rolande, you remember that talk we had that night under the stars of Rohan? When you told me you loved me and would never leave my side? I refused you then and sent you away brokenhearted. Of course I was waiting for Him then, you know," she finished awkwardly.
Rolande's expression did not change. Miriel hesitated, her mouth open and the words on the tip of her tongue, but for a moment she could not make a sound. Then she closed her eyes.
"For you, Legolas."
Miriel took a deep breath and spoke in a sudden rush.
"I have repented of my words. I am ready to go with you. I- I love you, Rolande."
If you're in a great hurry to know what happens next, you don't have to wait. The entire 30-chapter ebook entitled Miriel: Princess of Rohan can be downloaded at www(dot)talesofmiddleearth(dot)com.
Chapter One: A QUIET EVENING
Chapter Two: RED SUNSET
Chapter Three: THE GLITTERING CAVES OF AGLAROND
Chapter Four: THE BATTLE OF HELM'S DEEP
Chapter Five: FATE'S ARROW
Chapter Six: LEGOLAS
Chapter Seven: ON THE CAUSEWAY
Chapter Eight: A RING AND A PROMISE
Chapter Nine: ROLANDE
Chapter Ten: TROUBLED HEARTS
Chapter Eleven: THE PELENNOR FIELDS
Chapter Twelve: THREE DAYS OF DARKNESS
Chapter Thirteen: THE ROAD TO MINAS TIRITH
Chapter Fourteen: TALES IN THE CITADEL
Chapter Fifteen: EOWYN
Chapter Sixteen: THE CORONATION
Chapter Seventeen: DOOM OF THE ELVES