Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 22. MIRIEL'S VILLAGE

The next morning Miriel stayed in her tower and did not even come down for breakfast. She had not slept all during the night, and was emotionally fragile. Legolas was leaving with King Aragorn, and Miriel was afraid of making a scene. But she knew that this might be the last time she would ever see Legolas, unless she chanced to travel to Minas Tirith, and she could not bear the thought of being separated from him without saying goodbye. She wanted to have one final glimpse of the Elf before he rode away, so she kept vigil from a hidden window as the sun climbed in the sky, watching and waiting for Legolas.

Without warning the Elf appeared, riding out of the stables on Arod with Gimli behind him, as always, and King Aragorn at his side. They made ready to depart with all the company except Faramir, who would remain with Eowyn in Edoras for a while. Miriel did not have the courage to go and face Legolas, even to see him off, so she stayed where she was until Aragorn, heading the great procession, led the way out of the city.

As the company headed away into the hills, Miriel began to tremble. Suddenly she fled from the tower and ran wildly through Meduseld, ignoring the surprised exclamations from lords and guards she passed in her haste. Miriel burst from the palace doors and emerged, blinking rapidly in the blinding yellow sunlight. There she stood, a lone white figure, small and windswept on the stones as she watched Legolas cantering away.

It seemed to Miriel that Legolas felt a sudden prickle at the back of his neck, for he stiffened. He whipped around and looked back at the fortress of Edoras, and at once the light of his gaze fell upon Miriel and pierced her heart.

Miriel's eyes grew large and bright in her pale face, but she bit her lip and fought to hold back the tears. Slowly she raised her hand in a token of farewell. The gesture was returned as Arod cantered onward with a smooth and flowing stride. Miriel held the Elf in her vision as long as she dared, then she turned away and vanished inside the Golden Hall. She could not bear to watch until Legolas was out of sight.

Miriel hid in her chamber for an hour or two until Eowyn came up to fetch her. Miriel was sitting on her bed facing the window with her back to the door.

"Lady Miriel!" cried Eowyn as she entered the room, bursting with excitement. "There you are! I was looking everywhere for you. Eomer is beginning his rule today, and..."

At that moment Eowyn caught sight of the blank expression on Miriel's pale, drawn face, and she broke off. Eowyn sobered immediately and came to stand before Miriel, her brow furrowed with concern.

"Is everything all right?" asked Eowyn tentatively.

Miriel bit her lip and shook her head, but she did not offer an explanation. Eowyn stood by uncertainly. Neither princess moved for a long time. Finally Eowyn went over to Miriel and reached out to comfort her.

"I understand," Eowyn said in a voice barely above a whisper. "Don't worry about anything that is happening in Edoras. Stay here in the tower and rest. You've had a rough time. You need to sleep-"

Suddenly Miriel jumped to her feet, roused to anger by Eowyn's gentleness. Fire blazed in her eyes.

"No," Miriel snapped. "I can't."

"Lady Miriel-" began Eowyn, as Miriel pushed past Eowyn.

"I can't stay here," insisted Miriel, pausing at the door and looking back. Her words were short and clipped. "I have to move on. I can't wait any longer. I have to be strong. I made my decision. He is gone. I will live with the consequences. Just give me something to do so I can work my way out of this mess, alright?"

Eowyn was shocked by Miriel's curt speech, and even more by Miriel's hard, determined face. Miriel's silver eyes seemed more steely gray than ever, and her knuckles whitened to the pale hue of her cheeks as she clung desperately to the doorway. It seemed as if Miriel would collapse when she let go.

But Eowyn understood Miriel's feelings better than anyone else would have. She clamped her mouth shut and made an effort to conceal her surprise.

"Of course, Lady Miriel," returned Eowyn, stepping briskly past Miriel as if nothing were wrong. Eowyn marched down the steps with Miriel right behind her. By the time they arrived at Meduseld and stood before Eomer, even Eowyn was stunned to see that Miriel was coldly in control of herself. Miriel was quiet and withdrawn, but other than that and the lack of light in her gray eyes, there was no sign that anything was wrong.

Eomer began his rule at once, and together with Eowyn and Miriel, he set Meduseld in order that very day. Faramir helped Eomer strengthen the fortress at Edoras and set guards along the restored wall. Edoras had been slowly crumbling into ruin while Theoden King was under the spell of the evil wizard Grima Wormtongue, and Miriel appointed overseers to begin work on it right away.

A week of ceaseless activity passed. Miriel threw herself into it with all her might, but it did not help her forget about Legolas. It did not help her to see Eowyn and Faramir constantly together and fairly glowing, even when they were apart. Miriel had little appetite for food, and at the end of the day she was so exhausted that she collapsed on her bed and fell into a dreamless sleep until the dawn. She dragged her weary limbs from the bed each morning and struggled onward through her days.

Miriel did not want to spend any more time in Edoras than she had to, for reminders of Legolas were everywhere, and watching Faramir and Eowyn agitated her to no end. Soon Miriel turned her attention to the rest of Rohan. Miriel remembered the burned villages, and she wanted to know if they had made progress rebuilding the ruined homes in her absence.

Edoras was well under control, and Eowyn and Faramir were there to assist Eomer, so Miriel and Rolande, together with a small company of the Rohirrim, rode out to see how the villagers were getting along.

Rolande spurred his horse up to Miriel's and they trotted side by side.

"How are you doing, my lady?" he asked.

"Oh, I'm holding up," Miriel answered with a grim smile. "I'm just grateful for how busy we are. I don't have time to think, and it's been a wonderful thing."

"Good," said Rolande, and then he shot her a wry glance. "How do you feel towards me for refusing your offer?"

Miriel sighed.

"I'm fine about it now," she replied quietly. "You were right, of course, but I didn't want to admit it. Forgive me for my rash words. It seemed like the easy way out of my problems, and for a moment I abandoned my courage and tried to take it."

"Everyone does at one time or another, for different reasons," Rolande answered. "The smooth sunlit path is always preferable to the hard and bumpy one. I was a fool, though, for not accepting your proposal."

Miriel looked up at him sharply, but she saw that he was smiling. Soon they were both laughing merrily and chatting away like old friends, and Miriel felt like she could breathe for the first time in many long weeks.

In the afternoon of the second day, they saw one of the villages in the distance. As they got closer, Miriel gasped and rubbed her eyes in disbelief.

The village was complete and beautiful. Happy people worked within it, and they looked up when they saw the riders. A great shout went up.

"It's Princess Miriel! It's Princess Miriel!" they cried.

Throngs of people burst from their houses, singing and dancing in the bright sunlight as they filled the streets around her. Miriel stared at them and a little smile of bewilderment was on her face. One older man pushed forward and bowed low before Miriel.

"Who are you?" asked Miriel when the man rose up again.

"I am called Tirion, my lady," the man answered. "I have been elected as mayor."

"Good!" said Miriel, glancing around at the small crowd. "But there are so few here. Where is everyone else?"

"They moved on some time ago," Tirion replied. "They rebuilt this village swiftly and I'm certain they will have finished several by now. Your leadership was excellent, my lady, and we found it easy to continue when you were gone."

Miriel's eyebrows jumped in surprise. "Why... thank you," she murmured. She glanced at Rolande and found him grinning at her.

Miriel and Rolande rode onward. They came to several villages that had been fully restored to their former glory and in some cases much improved. In each town, there was an elected mayor overseeing the people, and happy crowds flooded the lanes to greet them. Miriel was overwhelmed.

When twilight fell, they arrived at yet another thriving little village and stayed the night at a newly-constructed inn called THE WHITE HART. Miriel and Rolande found it quite comfortable and quietly took their supper in a cozy sitting room warmed by a small fire.

"You're not saying much tonight, my lady," commented Rolande at length. "Are you all right?"

Miriel looked up out of her deep thoughts in surprise and smiled.

"Yes, thank you. I was just thinking about all those villagers. They acted like they would have never gotten on without me. But I should never have been their leader without all those terrible tragedies, and the war, and the Orcs invading, and the assault on Helm's Deep, and losing my family, and everything."

"Oft evil brings out good in the end," quoted Rolande solemnly. "The sun shines out the brighter when the shadows have passed."

Miriel nodded, and they ate the rest of their meal in silence.

Miriel and Rolande rode through several more villages, all of which were under construction but near completion. The people were happy, self-sufficient and well on their way to becoming as prosperous as they had been before the War.

The biggest shock to Miriel came when they reached her own village. As they rode up the familiar lane, Miriel fancied that she could see a shadow of herself dancing in the wind on the hilltop under the blood-red sunset on that fateful day that changed her life forever. She could hear echoes of happy laughter, and she saw the ghosts of her father and brothers as they came in from the fields. She heard warm greetings and light teasing, and herself lovingly chiding her father for being late. And then there was the ringing clash of swords as she and Alastar fought in the fading twilight for the last time.

Suddenly Miriel felt a hand upon her shoulder. She whipped around with a startled cry. Rolande had ridden up beside her and shaken her out of her reverie. Miriel was unaware that Kaspir had stopped until that moment.

"My lady?" said Rolande, his face full of concern.

Miriel turned and looked at the hilltop once more, but the vision vanished. Her old life was gone forever and was well on its way to being buried in the past where it would be lost in the swirling gray mists of time. There was none to remember these things anymore. None but her.

"I'm fine, Rolande," Miriel answered shakily, but it was obvious that she wasn't.

She turned away determinedly and spurred Kaspir onward, and as they entered the village, Miriel saw the cottages with her waking eyes in the process of being rebuilt and restored in the clear daylight. But in her mind it was a dark and frightening night, painted over by a swirl of orange and black. She was surrounded by the shadowy forms of men, women and children fleeing madly in the dim light of the red flames. She could hear the evil Orcs grunting and snarling fiercely behind them like rabid beasts. She remembered clutching a warm bundle tightly as if for dear life; a small baby handed into her care by a desperate mother. There were arrows flying around them, and Kaspir dancing in terror beneath her as Alastar gripped the reins and shouted in Miriel's ear.

"Don't look back! Don't look back!" And then he was gone. There was nothing behind her but an empty saddle and a chilling wind.

"Alastar!" screamed Miriel into the bright blue skies.

"Lady Miriel?" cried Rolande, at her side in an instant.

Suddenly Miriel slumped over her saddle, and Rolande, vaguely frightened, gently lifted her up. Miriel fell against him, sobbing.

"My family..." she gasped.

Rolande immediately realized what was wrong.

"Hush now, my lady," whispered Rolande soothingly. He turned and ordered the Rohirrim to dismount and eat something, and then he helped Miriel down from Kaspir and bid one of the men to take care of the horses. Rolande led Miriel down the sloping lane, and Miriel stumbled beside him as one who was stricken blind.

"Where is your place, my lady?" he asked gently. Miriel did not open her eyes, but she lifted a trembling hand and pointed in the direction she knew it would be.

Rolande looked up and saw it was nothing but a burned-out shell, and he dared not take her there. Instead he gently guided her into a nearby abandoned cottage and settled her in a chair. He closed the door, covered her with a blanket, and poured a mug of some warm liquid for her to drink. Then he himself sat down and waited quietly for her tears to subside.

*********
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.
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Chapter Fifteen: EOWYN
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19509.html
Chapter Sixteen: THE CORONATION
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19527.html
Chapter Seventeen: DOOM OF THE ELVES
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19535.html
Chapter Eighteen: DIFFICULT DECISIONS
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19552.html
Chapter Nineteen: ROLANDE'S CHOICE
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19596.html
Chapter Twenty: A LONG-AWAITED WEDDING
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19641.html
Chapter Twenty-One: A BETROTHAL AND A FUNERAL
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19691.html
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