Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 23. RETURN TO EDORAS

During the days that followed, Miriel spent much of her time on the same hilltop where she first beheld the blood-red sunset that foreboded her doom while waiting for her father and brothers to come home.

How her life had changed since that terrible twilight! No longer was Miriel the carefree maiden who had once danced with wild abandon upon the golden fields. The wind still called her name, whispering of the joys of freedom; beckoning her to cast her heavy cares upon it and let it blow them away into forever while Miriel leapt over the tall grasses and raced into the wide open lands under endless skies. But this time Miriel did not answer.

Miriel had passed through much death and suffering, and she continued to sail through oceans of longing and sorrow at being parted from her true love. It was slowly breaking down Miriel's spirit and toughening her character. It matured her in many ways, but Miriel wondered at the change. Often, as she stood upon the crest of the hill, Miriel found herself trying to discover who she had been and who she had become. It was difficult process, and it was a little disconcerting to find that her own heart was a stranger.

Two weeks later Rolande and Miriel were once again riding across Rohan with the Rohirrim trailing behind. They were on their way back to Edoras, for their task was complete and the villages restored and healthy once again. Minor repair work remained to be accomplished on the last few huts, but there was nothing further Miriel herself could do to assist the builders. Everything was well in hand, and Miriel felt she was no longer needed.

Miriel's home was never rebuilt. There were none to live in it now, so there was no reason to. It had been completely destroyed in the fire and no part of the original structure could be salvaged. Rolande firmly suggested that Miriel should not be involved in the affairs of her old home, and Miriel meekly agreed. Rolande told her he would take care of it himself.

Rolande then quietly told the new mayor of the town to wait until they left, and then clear away the ruins for good, without Miriel's knowledge. Rolande ordered that the land be given to some other less fortunate family where they could start a new life and build their own cottage and harvest the fields of wheat.

Miriel was silent and sober as they traveled. When she arrived in Edoras, she went straight to the Golden Hall. She ran to King Eomer and knelt before him, and Eomer rose smiling to greet her.

"My sister," said Eomer.

"My lord," returned Miriel demurely. "Where is Eowyn?"

"She has departed for Ithilien with Lord Faramir. In a few short months, she will marry him. We will go to the wedding when that time comes."

Miriel spoke little with Eomer about matters of diplomatic importance and left the court feeling sad and melancholy. She was happy for Eowyn, of course, but Edoras seemed overlarge and empty without her. Miriel had nothing to do, no people to personally oversee, and no important task to accomplish. She suddenly felt as if she were useless, a mere ornament in Meduseld, and an adopted one at that. Her life's worth, in her own eyes, had dwindled to nothing.

Her thoughts strayed unhindered to Legolas. She wondered where he was and what he was doing. He would have traveled with Gimli to Helm's Deep and visited her caves, and from there they would have taken the road to Minas Tirith through Fangorn Forest. By now Legolas must be in the White City, but doing what? Perhaps he too was pacing the stones even as Miriel was, and staring into the West.

Toward the Sea, or toward Edoras? Miriel wondered.

She had to try and forget about him, but aimlessly wandering the deserted roads inside the fortress was not the answer. Reminders of Legolas were everywhere. In the flowers and grasses, in the joyful song of the birds, in the deep blue of the skies, in the starlight on the distant hills, in the mournful cry of the wind on a stormy night - everywhere Miriel could see his face and hear his voice, and she was powerless to escape. She could neither eat nor sleep. Idleness did nothing to mend her sad state of mind.

She had to do something. In desperation, Miriel took Kaspir out every morning and evening for a gallop over the golden fields.

For a brief time, the dark cloud would lift, and Miriel could see the sun shining. There was the feel of a strong horse running effortlessly beneath her, the wind whipping freely through her hair, and her cloak fluttering behind her like black wings. Miriel reveled in it while it lasted, and wished that the cloud would disappear forever. But deep down she knew she wasted her hopes in vain.

The days passed slowly. Miriel grew more somber and distant. King Eomer was full of brotherly concern for her well being and tried to get her to talk, but Miriel did not yield to the soft brown eyes or the gentle manner of Eomer King and would not tell him what her trouble was. Eomer finally summoned Rolande and asked him what troubled the Princess, but Rolande politely refused to speak of it.

"Forgive me, my lord," said Rolande with a bow. "But I cannot betray Miriel's confidence in me."

"Will she be all right, do you think?" asked Eomer.

"Alas! I do not know," answered Rolande with a sigh. "The wound runs deep, like that wound that formerly belonged to your sister, Lady Eowyn. It is possible that if the cure is not found soon, she will suffer forever."

"Your words trouble me greatly, for Miriel is also my sister," declared the King, frowning. "Is there anything we can do to ease her pain?"

Rolande sadly shook his head.

One day, when Miriel was riding under a particularly brilliant golden sunset, Kaspir stopped abruptly at no signal from Miriel. Miriel was jolted sharply out of her reverie. She looked away from the fantastic skies and glanced anxiously at her horse. Kaspir stood rigidly, a black silhouette in the fading orange light, staring intently at the eastern horizon. His nostrils flared wide and he uttered a shrill whinny that shattered the stillness of the evening and jarred Miriel's fragile nerves.

"What is it, Kaspir?" whispered Miriel, trying to follow the line of Kaspir's sight. She peered into the gathering twilight, and at first she could see nothing. She felt a twinge of fear. She thought she heard an echo of Kaspir's challenge, and she stared expectantly into the distance.

Suddenly she detected movement on one of the far hills. A horse bearing two riders appeared, shining white as snow, and he reared and struck at the sky with his flinty hooves. Then he dropped back to earth and in one smooth leap he was in full gallop, hurtling straight toward Miriel with the unchecked speed of a flying arrow, his mane whipping in the wind like red flames in the dying sunlight.

All at once Miriel shrieked, and Kaspir, sensing the peril of facing unknown strangers alone and unprotected, turned of his own accord and began to run away toward Edoras. But Miriel fought his head and brought him about in a wide circle.

"No, no, Kaspir!" Miriel told her horse. "Those are not our enemies, but our long-lost friends!"

Miriel leaned forward in excitement and sent Kaspir racing towards the oncoming white horse. There was only one pair in Middle-earth that she knew of who always rode together on the same horse in that fashion.

"Miriel! Miriel!" came a familiar shout borne to her ears on the blessed golden breeze.

"Legolas!" Miriel cried, and she leaned low over Kaspir's neck, moving with her horse as one, willing him to move faster and bear her ever swifter to her love.

But the horse could not gallop quickly enough for Miriel. When they were still a fair distance from one another, Miriel pulled Kaspir to a skidding halt and leapt from the saddle, running wildly through the tall grasses, her hair streaming out behind her. Legolas jumped lightly to the ground Elven-style and skipped swiftly over the hills.

In a single joyous moment they were together, crushing one another in their arms.

"I'm so happy you came," said Miriel, clinging to Legolas as if she would never let go.

"Of course I did! Are you surprised? Did you think I could stay away for long?"

"I don't know. You're here, and I don't care," Miriel answered, and she laughed as Legolas held her. Nothing else mattered to her, and Legolas hugged her and carried her around in a little circle.

Suddenly they were interrupted.

"Couldja give me a hand here?" came a gruff voice from behind them.

Slowly Miriel and Legolas released each other and looked back. They beheld poor Gimli clinging grimly to the side of Arod's saddle, struggling to hold on and save himself from a most undignified fall. Arod himself craned around to look at the discomfited Dwarf, and he let out a high, shrill whinny that sounded like a laugh.

Legolas burst out chuckling, but whatever Arod had said Legolas kept to himself. He ran to Gimli and boosted him back into the saddle.

"You `bout knocked me out, Laddie, jumping off like that," reprimanded the Dwarf, shooting a dark glance at Legolas as he settled himself uncomfortably on Arod's back. "I've naught to hold onto up here but you."

"Forgive me, Gimli," said Legolas humbly while fighting back a grin. "I got distracted, and I was in a hurry."

Gimli grunted in reply, but Miriel could see the twinkle in the Dwarf's eyes. Miriel and Legolas walked hand in hand into the blazing sunset that set the Golden Hall on fire, and Legolas led Arod with Gimli sitting in the saddle and complaining.

"Now there wasn't a greeting like that waiting for me here," groused the Dwarf, but his mustache was curled upward on one side with a concealed smile. "No beautiful women galloping out on horses to meet me with a shriek and a hug and a `Where have you been all my life!' "

"If you just want a hug, I can give you one when we come to Edoras," teased Miriel.

And so laughing, they caught up Kaspir and went gladly into the city together.

Eomer warmly welcomed Legolas and Gimli as he would brothers in arms. He set a feast before them and while they ate Eomer asked them why they had come.

"We have journeyed through the Glittering Caves of Aglarond and Fangorn Forest together, and we wanted to rest here a short while before returning to Minas Tirith," answered Legolas, but his gaze strayed to Miriel. Miriel did not look away, but rather boldly returned the glance. Eomer perceived that there was more to Legolas's words than he openly revealed, but Eomer said nothing. He was glad to see a light in Miriel's cold gray eyes for the first time in too long.

That night, Miriel and Legolas stood together on the wall overlooking the silvery lands of the Riddermark, as they had done so many times before. Legolas took Miriel's hand and looked deep into her gray eyes.

"Lady Miriel, give me leave to speak once more," he began. "You know I love you. I know how strong the love is that you bear for me because you would deny yourself happiness to see that I don't get hurt. I am greatly touched that you would do this for me."

"Legolas, I-" Miriel started.

"No, please, let me finish," begged Legolas.

Miriel nodded, and her eyes glistened like living stars in the moonlight.

"But my lady," Legolas continued. "What you don't know is that I am already in great pain. Each day that I'm not with you is a death in and of itself. My longing for you far surpasses the call of the West.

"I love you. It is my own choice, whether I stay or go. Will you not let me make it? Will you marry me?"

Miriel stared for the last time into the West. But Legolas was determined, and Miriel no longer had the will to resist. She looked back at Legolas and smiled.

"Yes, Legolas Greenleaf. I will marry you."

Surprise and delight filled the Elf's face. "Wha- really? You will?" he cried in disbelief.

"Yes," answered Miriel, laughing merrily at his astonished reaction.

"But... why?"

"Because I love you," replied Miriel, mildly puzzled. "Why else would I marry you?"

Legolas smiled. "That's not what I meant," he explained. "Why have you suddenly changed your mind?"

"My mind was made up the moment I saw you appear on that eastern horizon," Miriel replied. "All my doubts vanished in that hour. And it was not sudden. What you said at Edoras was right. There is only one place for my heart, and I have long known it, but now I can no longer deny it."

Legolas raised his eyebrows. "I'm glad," he said with a relieved smile.

Miriel wept for joy as Legolas took the silver star ring of Westernesse from his finger and slipped it onto Miriel's left hand. She bit her lip and looked down at it, shining brightly under the dull film of her tears. And then she felt Legolas move close against her, and she responded by pressing into him in return. His arm slipped around her back as he gently brushed away her tears. She gave a little laugh that fully betrayed her joy. She bit her lip and gazed up at him, and the look in his blue eyes that told of love and tenderness and passion overwhelmed her. Legolas gathered Miriel lovingly in his arms and kissed her as they stood on the wall under the light of the stars while the wind rushed over them.

The next morning Miriel went before Eomer and told him what happened. Eomer was delighted and wished her every happiness. Miriel thanked him and begged for leave to return with Legolas to Minas Tirith.

"Your work here is finished," Eomer answered, and he kissed her hand and smiled at her. "Rohan has been restored, thanks in large part to you. Of course you have my blessing, although it greatly grieves my heart to see you go. I have lost both my sisters, but both to worthy men."

Miriel smiled at him and squeezed his hand, honored to have been addressed as his sister.

Miriel left Meduseld and hurried down the street. She had one other person to see before she prepared to depart.

"Rolande!" she cried, bursting into the stable and searching in the gloom where she knew he would be at that hour, feeding the horses breakfast. Rolande threw down the bundle of hay he was carrying and turned to Miriel as she rushed toward him.

"What is it?" he questioned her with a grin and a little bow. "You look as bright as spring sunshine and very excited about something."

"I am!" Miriel burst out. "Rolande, I'm getting married!"

Rolande's eyes widened in surprise. "About time," he muttered. Then he laughed merrily. He caught Miriel's hands and swung her in a little circle around the stable.

"That's wonderful news!" he said, releasing her again.

Miriel's joy dampened momentarily as she remembered Rolande's feelings, which she had quite forgotten in her exuberance.

"You're happy then?" asked Miriel with a note of caution creeping into her voice.

"Deliriously so," replied Rolande, smiling. "I could wish you no greater joy than this. You'll be leaving for Minas Tirith soon, I imagine."

"Yes," returned Miriel, and her eyes were sparkling. "We'll be riding in three days."

"You'll be taking a company of the Rohirrim with you, right?"

Miriel frowned. "I wasn't planning on it. I don't see why we need to."

"You should," advised Rolande seriously.

"Why?" asked Miriel. "The War is over."

"The downfall of Sauron does not mean the immediate end of all evils," Rolande answered. "Small groups of Orcs still roam here and there, and there are bandits lurking in the dark places of the forests. Take an escort with you, just to be safe."

"How could you be better protected than with one of the best Elven archers in Middle-earth riding beside you, and a brave and noble Dwarf with a sharp axe close at hand who has proved his valiance on the battlefield a hundred times over?" declared Miriel with a lighthearted chuckle.

"I'm serious," said Rolande quietly, and his brown cat's eyes were deep and somber as he spoke. His expression stole some of Miriel's mirth away. "I want you to take some guards on the journey, if for no other reason, then as a favor to me."

Miriel sighed and gave in. "All right. If it will ease your mind, then I will do it."

"It would," Rolande answered grimly. Then suddenly he smiled. "I'm sure the trip will be uneventful, but it's been such a struggle getting this perfect wedding together that I wouldn't want any little thing to disrupt it."

"Neither would I," Miriel replied, laughing as she headed for the door. She lifted the latch, and then she paused and turned back to Rolande, her expression earnest.

"Thank you, Rolande. Thanks for everything."

"It was my pleasure," said Rolande. He grinned at her, and Miriel flashed a brilliant smile before she disappeared.

Miriel ran through the streets, eager to get back to her room and begin packing. Her mind was elsewhere, wrapped deep in fair thoughts and recent memories, and she wasn't paying attention where she was going. Miriel rushed around a corner and landed right in the arms of Legolas.

"Oh!" she cried in surprise.

"Hello, meleth nin!" Legolas greeted her. "We can't stay away from each other for very long, can we?"

"I guess not," laughed Miriel breathlessly. "You'll need to teach me your language next, especially if I'm going to be a Princess of Mirkwood. I don't have a clue what you just told me."

Legolas's blue eyes sparkled with a sudden idea.

"It means `my love'," answered Legolas. "I'll give you lessons in Sindarin on the way to Minas Tirith. You'll pick it up right away, and I bet you'll be nearly fluent by the time we reach the White City."

Miriel glowed as Legolas held her. She did not care that they were in plain sight, and indeed many villagers had stopped to stare at them.

"I can't wait," she said. "Your language - Sindarin - is absolutely beautiful. It's so light and musical, it's almost like speaking in song. I love to hear your Elvish, and I want to learn it very badly."

"In no time, even the Elves will mistake you for one of their own," declared Legolas with a smile and a light kiss.

*********
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 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
Chapter Twenty-Two: MIRIEL'S VILLAGE
http://www.theonering.com/docs/19724.html
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