Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 21. A BETROTHAL AND A FUNERAL
It was precisely one week later when Miriel found herself mounted on Kaspir one bright morning at the gate of Minas Tirith, preparing to depart with Eomer, Eowyn, Rolande, and the Rohirrim riding beside her. Gandalf and his horse Shadowfax waited, patient and regal, gleaming too brightly to look upon for long without sunspots affecting the vision of the beholder. King Aragorn was on a white horse, and Queen Arwen was at his side on a gray palfrey, for they would go to the funeral of King Theoden. Faramir, Steward of Gondor, was also among the sortie.
Rolande was with the Riders of Rohan. He did not even look at her, and Miriel fancied he felt a distain for her that bordered on disgust. That hurt, too; he had been her friend and brother and now, when she needed him, he coldly turned his back on her.
At the last moment the four Hobbits came out riding on ponies, each arrayed like Halfling lords, Miriel thought. One was clad in the green colors of Rohan, and another wore the White Tree of Gondor on his armor. The others were Frodo, who was the Ringbearer himself, and his loyal servant Sam who accompanied him.
A great crowd had come out to say their goodbyes. In all the noise and confusion, Miriel sat silent and alone upon Kaspir. She felt grateful for her cloak, for she felt it hid her and her feelings to some extent, and she had drawn the hood low over her face. The people around her seemed to have forgotten that she existed. Once in a while Miriel raised her eyes and looked for Legolas among the throngs, but he did not come.
At last everyone was ready. The horses stomped and chaffed impatiently at their bits, eager to get underway. Then the gates swung open, and there was a tremendous shout as they set off. Beyond the great silver doors the far horizon unfolded, full of distant gold hills and deep green valleys. Miriel could not bear to behold such beauty in her terrible sadness, and she lowered her eyes.
Suddenly Miriel heard the sound of clattering hooves behind her and heard a wild whinny. Turning, Miriel saw another white horse come galloping after them, rearing in the gateway in his haste and excitement. It was Arod, gleaming snow-white in the afternoon sun, and he bore Legolas and Gimli together as ever. A great host of fair Elves came behind them, ageless and beautiful with a soft sparkling light surrounding them. They were magical.
But Miriel hardly noticed the other Elves. She had eyes for only one Elf. Miriel felt a smile of joy creep unbidden over her face, and when the expression was returned by Legolas, Miriel immediately became self-conscious. She quickly turned away and sent Kaspir surging ahead. But Miriel looked back at Legolas despite herself, and her silver-gray eyes were shining like stars from within the darkness of her hood.
The company passed beyond the gate of the White City, and although the horses wanted to run, they waited patiently for a word from their masters. The Kings of Gondor and Rohan, Aragorn and Eomer, led the procession with Frodo and Sam, and then came Gandalf. Pippin rode in the company of the knights of Gondor. Faramir and Eowyn rode and spoke together in quiet whispers. Miriel and Rolande rode directly behind them, and then came Legolas and Gimli on one horse. The Rohirrim followed, lifting high a great banner and bearing the golden bier of King Theoden. Merry, the last Hobbit, was also among them and remained near King Theoden's side, for Merry had been Theoden's esquire.
Miriel turned and looked back at Minas Tirith one last time as it disappeared in the distance. She would never see the great White City again.
During the whole trip, Miriel found herself constantly glancing back at Legolas and had to work hard to restrain herself. Once in a while she relented and allowed Kaspir to walk beside Arod, but Miriel and Legolas spoke little. Just being together was enough for the time being. If they had searched deep enough, they would have found they were afraid to talk because of what they might say to one another. Thus they were content with meaningless nonsense or complete silence.
On the evening of the third day, when they stopped to make camp, Miriel had barely dismounted and settled her pack on the ground when Legolas came up to her bearing something in his hand. Miriel raised her eyebrows in surprise. It was the first time since their last talk on the wall of Minas Tirith that Legolas had approached her.
The Elf smiled and handed her a small package with a leaf-wrapping.
"What's this?" asked Miriel.
"Try it and see," answered Legolas, opening the leaf for her.
Miriel was puzzled, but she obeyed and found a golden loaf of hard bread nestled inside the leaf. She carefully broke off a corner and nibbled on it cautiously. At once her eyes widened, shining with wonder, and she stared up at Legolas.
"Mmm! Mmm!" Miriel cried in delight with her mouth full, and she ate another piece. "Oh my goodness! This is delicious! What is this stuff? Where did it come from?"
"It's called Lembas," Legolas replied, laughing with pleasure as he watched her. "It's the waybread of the Elves. It has been with our people a long time, and it sustained Frodo, the Ringbearer, on his quest to Mount Doom."
Miriel swallowed hard and looked down on the little golden loaf she was holding with a new sense of awe. She felt strangely honored to have tasted the food that kept the Hobbits alive on the road through Mordor.
"Wow," she murmured at last. "Thank you," she added as she gazed at Legolas.
"You're welcome, my lady," answered Legolas, and he began to walk away.
"Wait! Don't you want to keep some of this?" Miriel cried after him, suddenly not wanting him to leave.
"No, there's plenty more where that came from," replied Legolas, laughing as he vanished in the twilight.
The rest of the journey was long and slow, and it was tiresome although uneventful. But when they arrived in Edoras, Miriel became emotional and looked around, wondering where the marketplace her parents had met in stood. Miriel was overcome by the awe of Meduseld as she entered the Golden Hall for the first time; she fancied that she could sense her mother's presence in the stone walls. Edoras was more rugged and earthy than the white polished towers of Minas Tirith, but Miriel found she liked it. The more natural setting suited her, since she had grown up in a peasant setting.
Miriel immediately found herself plunged into the midst of a wild swirl of activity. For three days Miriel worked beside Rolande and Eowyn as they directed people to decorate the city with fair hangings and fluttering banners. They helped place numerous torches along the walls. In a surprisingly short time they had Edoras so gaily bedecked in colored ribbons and flowers that it looked like another city altogether, and its beauty was second only to the matchless glory of Minas Tirith.
But before the celebrations began, they first held a funeral for Theoden King. They laid him lovingly to rest beside his fathers and the other great Kings of the Mark. They covered his mound with green grass and snowed thick drifts of pale white flowers called Simbelmyne, or Evermind, upon it. Miriel felt her heart stir deep inside of her as Riders of the King's house rode solemnly around the barrow and sang:
Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day's rising
he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled, and in hope ended,
over death, over dread, over doom lifted
out of loss, out of life, unto long glory.
Miriel lowered her eyes and wept silently for one who would have been a father to her and never was. Legolas stood at her side, and Miriel leaned against him as Legolas looped a comforting arm around her waist.
There was a great feast immediately following in the Golden Hall. Sorrow quickly turned to joy as they prepared to name the new King of Rohan. Then the Lady Eowyn took a cup filled with wine and gave it to Eomer. A minstrel stood up and ceremoniously named all the past Kings of the Mark in order, seventeen in all, ending with Theoden the latest. At the mention of Theoden, Eomer drained his cup. At once all the assembly rose and lifted their cups into the air.
"Hail, Eomer, King of the Mark!" they cried as one, and they drank to the new King.
When the feast ended, Eomer stood up smiling and addressed everyone.
"Now this is the funeral feast of Theoden the King," he announced. "But I will speak ere we go of tidings of joy, for he would not grudge that I should do so, since he was ever a father to Eowyn my sister.
"Hear then all my guests, fair folk of many realms, such as have never been gathered in this hall! Faramir, Steward of Gondor and Prince of Ithilien, asks that Eowyn Lady of Rohan should be his wife, and she grants it full willing. Therefore they shall be trothplighted before you all."
Faramir and Eowyn stepped forward, hand in hand. Faramir was tall and handsome, and the torchlight gleamed on his silver armor. Eowyn stood beside him, glowing like gold, radiant as the sun, and white as a lily. Their eyes were shining as they looked lovingly at one another. Again the assembly lifted their goblets.
As they paused, Miriel glanced over the rim of her cup, and her eyes met Legolas's steady gaze. Swiftly she turned away.
"Long life and happiness!" the people shouted until the rafters rang and echoed endlessly as they drank to the couple before them.
"Thus is the friendship of the Mark and of Gondor bound with a new bond, and the more do I rejoice," declared Eomer, setting his goblet down on the table.
Aragorn smiled and bowed his head to Eomer.
"No niggard are you, Eomer, to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm!" said Aragorn.
At this Miriel saw Eowyn blush. Eowyn turned and looked shyly into Aragorn's eyes.
"Wish me joy, my liege-lord and healer!" Eowyn murmured quietly.
"I have wished thee joy ever since I first saw thee," Aragorn answered her with a gentle smile. "It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss."
It's like watching a similar triangle to Rolande, Legolas and me, thought Miriel. Only Eowyn's triangle had turned out far better than Miriel's. Eowyn's story had not one, but two happy endings. Miriel's tale had none in sight.
These same thoughts filled Miriel's mind when she stood outside the Golden Hall after the feast, looking upon the lands of Rohan. It was late in the evening, but there was a full moon that enchanted the hills of the Riddermark and made them shimmer with silver blue light. A soft breeze whipped through her hair and rippled her white dress.
"It is beautiful, isn't it?" came a voice from her side.
Miriel spun around, startled. She had not heard Legolas come up behind her.
"It is," Miriel answered, and she was trembling.
Legolas reached for her hand, but Miriel pulled it quickly away. It hurt her heart to do so, and she could tell the gesture pained Legolas as well. They were silent for a while.
"Manen anann?" asked Legolas softly, lapsing into his own tongue. "How long will you run away, Miriel?"
"As long as I have to."
"Will you not change your mind?" Legolas implored.
Miriel shut her eyes determinedly. She shook her head once and did not look at him.
"Why not, my lady?"
"You know why, Legolas."
Legolas sighed. "You are the strongest woman I have ever known, Lady Miriel. But right now I wish you would give in. My heart is in agony."
"As is mine," muttered Miriel. "But I will not. You said yourself, Legolas, that emotions can cause the Elves to make mistakes. You are doing that even now. You are making a grave mistake in pursuing that which you cannot have. But I won't let you do this."
Miriel looked at Legolas for as long as she dared. "Let go of this obsession, Legolas," Miriel urged. "Forget that I ever existed. Take the ship into the West. Spend eternity with your kindred. It is your fate and your destiny." Having said those painful words, Miriel turned away.
"I can do none of those things, Lady Miriel," Legolas answered evenly in his turn. "Why will you not look and see that the path to Valinor is not mine to take?"
"Why will you not listen to me when I say that a lonely life and a death here in Middle-earth will be far worse?" Miriel shot back, her eyes snapping with sudden fire.
"What makes you think that an eternity in Valinor without your love will be any better?" returned Legolas.
"Because I know!" shouted Miriel, bursting into tears. "I know what it is like to be left behind-"
Miriel broke off and bit her lip when she realized what she had just said. Legolas stood speechlessly. Suddenly light dawned in his eyes.
"Now I understand," he declared slowly. He laughed aloud, and his voice rang warm with triumph. "At last, we come to the truth! So this, then, is why you will not listen to any reason in the matter."
Miriel turned away angrily. Her dark eyebrows drew tight, and she clenched her fists until her knuckles were chalk white.
"You are wrong," said Miriel, but her voice quavered. "You don't understand. You don't have the faintest idea what..." She drew a tremulous breath heavy with anguish before continuing. "...What this is really like."
"Miriel," said Legolas softly, but new purpose infused his words. "Listen to me, I beg you. You feel abandoned by your family. They were killed, and you were allowed to linger here without them, left to wander the dark paths of Middle-earth alone. It was cruel, terribly cruel, and a bitter weight to carry."
Miriel said nothing, but Legolas could see her chin trembling and the tears pouring down her cheeks. Her shoulders shook as if she were silently sobbing.
"You understand the unfairness of life and death too well," continued Legolas sympathetically. "You have been there. You have quailed in its shadow, and it has broken your heart and dried you up inside with grief, like a tiny stream in the desert. The last thing you would want is to doom another to the same fate, and especially one whom you love."
Miriel bowed her head and covered her face with her hands, cringing in agony as she wept. Legolas gently took her in his arms, and Miriel clung to him. She buried her head in his strong shoulder and cried.
"No more, Miriel," whispered Legolas in her ear, rubbing her back soothingly with one hand and stroking her wavy brown hair with the other. "No longer will you have to be alone. I'm here. I love you. I would die for you, and you know this. I would endure any hardship for you, Miriel, even loneliness, even being trapped here in Middle-earth forever. I would do anything for you. And I release you from all the guilt you feel from accepting our love, however ill-fated it may seem. You are not the one responsible for my doom, because the decision is mine to make, not yours."
Miriel suddenly pushed Legolas away with a roar and stood back while her tears rained unceasingly upon the cold stones.
"No!" she cried. "I won't let you do this! You don't know what you are saying! I have been there, Legolas. I know what it's like! Whether it is to your mind or not, by accepting your offer, I am participating in your doom. I won't do it, Legolas! I can't!"
"I do not say that I would do anything for you lightly," answered Legolas, nonplussed by her violent reaction.
"You don't know," insisted Miriel. "You couldn't possibly know unless you've been there, and you haven't! And I'm trying to see to it that you never will be!"
"Stop asking me!"
Miriel cried harder.
"Please, Legolas!" she begged. "You're hurting me!"
Legolas looked at her sorrowfully. He longed to comfort her, but Miriel kept her distance, and when Legolas took a step toward her, she moved swiftly away and held up a stiff hand that trembled between them like a harpstring tightened to the breaking point.
"Don't," she warned. Her tears continued to flow unchecked, but she forced herself upright and stared at him through swollen eyes. "No more. Not another word."
Legolas pursed his lips and nodded. He watched while Miriel slowly regained control of herself, and after a few deep breaths, her wracking sobs subsided to mere sniffles and her hand slowly returned to her side. The full moon rose higher in the dark sky, and the light of the great star, Earendil, vanished behind the distant horizon as it set in the west.
Still Legolas waited until Miriel had recovered entirely before he spoke.
"I will always love you, Miriel," he declared.
Miriel was coldly silent.
"I am leaving with the company in the morning, Miriel," announced Legolas quietly. "I will travel with Gimli to the Glittering Caves of Aglarond and Fangorn Forest. I made him a promise, and I do not break my promises." He was looking at her sternly as he spoke, and Miriel knew he was referring to another promise, the one Legolas made to her before the War of the Ring had ended, when he left Miriel at Helm's Deep.
"Then I will return with King Aragorn to Minas Tirith, for he will have need of me there," Legolas added.
"I wish you luck," choked Miriel, and she could say no more. She clenched her jaws tightly as if that one action alone kept in check the flood of emotion that threatened to rush out of her. Legolas seemed as if he could not speak either, but he reached for her hand and caught it before she had a chance to pull away. Miriel was forced to look into his bright blue eyes.
"Come with me?" he pleaded.
Miriel winced and trembled. She found she could hardly stand. She wanted to give in more than anything in the world, and as Miriel looked into his eyes, her will completely dissolved. There was nothing left of her former resistance, and she opened her mouth to say yes.
But at the last moment she stopped herself from speaking the fateful word. Suddenly she tore her hand out of Legolas's grasp and ran to the door of the Golden Hall. Miriel worked frantically at the latch in a wild panic, as if she had forgotten how to open a door.
"You know where your heart truly lies," said Legolas quietly, standing like stone as he watched her. "You cannot run from it forever."
Miriel glanced at him with overbright tear-filled silvery eyes that threatened to spill over again. She gave a little gasp and with a final effort she threw open the door and disappeared inside Meduseld. Legolas was left alone with a shaft of yellow torchlight burning across the place where Miriel had stood and the distant sounds of faded laughter and merriment floating out from the palace.
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 Fifteen: EOWYN
Chapter Sixteen: THE CORONATION
Chapter Seventeen: DOOM OF THE ELVES
Chapter Eighteen: DIFFICULT DECISIONS
Chapter Nineteen: ROLANDE'S CHOICE
Chapter Twenty: A LONG-AWAITED WEDDING