Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 7. ON THE CAUSEWAY
A/N: In case you missed it!
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
ON THE CAUSEWAY
In the morning Miriel awoke to glad sunlight streaming into the chamber. She sat up and found only a shadow of pain remaining in her elbow, although she could not yet move the stiff joint. Whatever medicine Aragorn and Gandalf had used on her wounds worked like magic. She turned to greet Legolas, and found the Lady Eowyn sitting by the window instead.
"Where is Legolas?" asked Miriel.
Eowyn of Rohan turned, and a smile lit her cold grim face, but a strange light burned in her eyes.
"He has gone to take council with the King, Gandalf, and- Lord Aragorn," Eowyn replied, speaking the last name softer than the others. Then the Princess stood up, and the sun changed her long golden hair to pure white, nearly as white as Gandalf's garments had been when he appeared on the hill the morning before. She looked as beautiful and commanding as a queen, but as stern and cold as a frozen wintry morning. Miriel felt in awe of her.
"How are you feeling?" inquired Eowyn, and the vision passed as the princess stepped away from the light.
"I'm fine," returned Miriel impatiently. "Tell me, what is happening now?"
Eowyn sighed, and her eyes went dark. "The work of burial is beginning. It will be a long, hard labor, for many men fell in the defense of Rohan. But harder still for our hearts to bear is the great loss of the Elves, for they gave up everything, even the grace of their lives, to save our people." She was silent for a long time, her gaze cast downward.
Miriel didn't answer. She was thinking of Haldir. The melancholy silence lengthened its hold over them.
"How is Legolas?" asked Miriel after a while.
"Legolas is well. He will go with King Theoden, Gandalf and Lord Aragorn. They are traveling to Isengard to speak with that miserable traitor, Saruman," Eowyn finished with a low growl.
"What!" cried Miriel, tearing away the blankets and nearly leaping from the bed in a sudden panic, heedless of her pain. "When do they leave? Or have they left already?"
"No, no, not yet. Take it easy," said Eowyn, coming and catching Miriel as she tried to stand up. "Sit down. They are still here. I don't think they would leave without saying farewell. They are departing later on, and we will both see them ere they go. But first let's get you on your feet, gently this time. I brought a new dress for you also. Then we will go down to breakfast, if you are hungry."
Miriel suddenly realized that she had not eaten much besides a little bread in two days, and she was starving. She allowed Eowyn to help her to her feet. Miriel wobbled painfully, but she fought to maintain her balance and took a few stiff, halting steps toward the window. Her lungs hurt and her ribs were sore from falling on stone when the wall exploded under her the night before. She cautiously stretched her body from side to side, testing her aching muscles and forcing them to unkink. But there were some movements that were as yet impossible for the pain they gave her, and she bit her lip to keep from crying out, but she faced the window so that Eowyn would not see the extent of her suffering. She stopped and regained control of herself, and turning, Miriel smiled wryly at Eowyn.
"I feel like I've been fighting a war," Miriel commented dryly.
Eowyn slowly grinned, but there was no mirth in her eyes. She helped Miriel change into a clean white gown. Miriel marveled at the fine cloth and realized with a start that it must be one of Eowyn's own dresses, but she said nothing. She merely ran a hand full of wonder over the thick, smooth material. She had never touched anything like it in all her life.
"What you did was very brave," remarked Eowyn, seemingly unaware of Miriel's feelings.
"I felt the Orcs coming, and I knew they would slaughter us all in those caves," declared Miriel. "I did not wish to sit and do nothing but wait quietly for the end."
Eowyn stared hard at Miriel.
"Neither did I," the princess replied, as if from far away. "Neither did I." Then in a voice too soft for Miriel to hear, she added sternly, "And I won't. Never again."
Miriel was adjusting her new dress and her back was to Eowyn, so she did not see the fire and fell determination blaze forth in the princess's gray eyes.
"What did you say?" Miriel asked without looking up.
"Nothing," returned Eowyn quickly. "Well!" Her tone was light, as one who has stared down many dark paths and made up her mind at last. "If you are ready, Lady Miriel, let us go down and take our breakfast."
"I'm famished," rejoined Miriel instantly. She followed Eowyn down a winding staircase and left the tower behind.
Breakfast that morning was a lonely affair. Eowyn and Miriel were the only ones who had not yet eaten. It was poor fare, mostly hard bread and cheese, but to Miriel it seemed the most wonderful food she had ever tasted in her life. She did the simple meal such justice that it brought a smile to Eowyn's tired, grim face.
"I must now leave and look after the women and children," said Eowyn at length, when they had finished. "Would you like to return to the tower and rest?"
Miriel shook her head. "I should rather like some fresh air," she replied. "It has far greater healing powers then cold gray walls of stone."
"Very well," Eowyn consented reluctantly. "You may wander a little on your own, if you have the strength to spare. But do not tire yourself! I was under strict command not to let you move about much so soon after such an injury."
Miriel nodded and smiled wryly. She could guess whom those orders came from. After Eowyn departed, Miriel donned a dark gray cloak and walked out to the broken wall to observe the battlefield in the light of day.
It was a terrible sight. Piles of fallen Orcs blackened the land, and holes were being dug everywhere by weary warriors. Indeed the fallen defenders were many, and Miriel's heart sank as she looked upon the multitude of graves already completed and knew that the work had only just started.
But as Miriel gazed upward, she saw that the rainclouds were gone, and the sun shined upon Rohan gladly. The wind blew gently, lifting Miriel's dark hair softly about her face and whipping freely through her cloak and white dress. Miriel spread her arms and breathed deep, glorying in the bright morning sunlight.
"Lady Miriel!" a musical voice called from below. Miriel's attention was bought abruptly downward and she beheld Legolas, standing tall and fair, with King Theoden, Gandalf, Aragorn and the dwarf Gimli. Legolas had stepped away from the others to call her. Miriel smiled down on him. Legolas beckoned to her, and she went quickly down from the wall and onto the causeway. She shuddered as she walked among the ruined stones, even in the daylight, for it brought back terrible memories from the night before. But she was glad to see Legolas.
"Mae govannen, mellon nin," Miriel greeted him with a smile.
"You learn quickly, my lady," returned the Elf with obvious surprise and pleasure as he bowed. Miriel put her hand on his arm to get his full attention.
"Legolas, I'm really sorry for my behavior last night." Her eyes did not meet his as she spoke, and instead her cheeks burned with shame as she remembered how she had treated him, while he cared for her with the utmost selfless concern. She bit her lip and winced. "You were nothing but kind to me, and I'm afraid I was rather-"
"Upset," Legolas interjected, and when Miriel dared to glance up at him and read his expression, she found indulgent amusement and suddenly felt like a child. He grinned at her. "Completely understandable, under the circumstances. We were all out of sorts after meeting with a host of Orcs. Uruk-hai never put me in a good mood."
Legolas laughed at his own words, and after a hesitation, Miriel joined him. But Miriel looked closer at him, searching beneath the cover of mirth, and she noticed suddenly the faint circles that ringed his cheekbones, under his brilliant blue eyes. He seemed tired and restless, as if something heavy weighed on his mind. An indecision...
"Are you alright?" Miriel questioned him in mild concern.
Legolas smiled, but Miriel noticed it was a trifle forced. "Yes, yes, I am well. A little sore after last night's battle. And you?"
Miriel was amused at that. "About the same as you, but I trust there are no lasting side effects thanks to your care and Aragorn's Athelas," Miriel replied gratefully.
Legolas smiled gently. He seemed relieved that she probed no further into the matter, however, and Miriel wondered both at his reaction and that she had picked up on it. But Legolas was already moving forward in case she might become more inquisitive.
"Come, allow me to introduce you to the King."
With that he took her on his arm and led her to the small company of great men who were deep in conversation. They looked up as Legolas and Miriel approached.
"My lord king," murmured Miriel in awe as she drew near the King with a graceful curtsey. Theoden King, seeming none the less for wear from his injuries the night before which he bravely showed no sign of now that morning was upon them, looked upon the young girl in wonder.
"So you are the maiden who fought to save Helm's Deep," he said. "How is it that you, a woman, went unnoticed among us?"
Miriel blushed nervously and glanced at Legolas. She wondered what the Elf had told the King of her adventures during the battle.
"Well, my lord," replied Miriel hesitantly, turning back to the King, "You were a little busy."
This unexpected answer brought a smile to the White Wizard's face, and Aragorn lowered his head and concealed a grin behind his hand. Only the King nodded seriously, but his keen gaze never left Miriel.
"You are not unlike Eowyn, in many ways," the King commented, and Miriel bowed her head at the compliment. "Tell me, daughter of Rohan, who is your father?"
Miriel looked up sharply. Her cheeks paled and sudden tears sprang to her eyes and sparkled in the sunlight like golden stars, but she raised her chin bravely and forced her choked throat to produce intelligible words.
"He is dead," was her simple reply. She struggled to keep the tremor from her voice. "He was killed by the Orcs, along with the rest of my family. I alone escaped, but now I am the last of my line."
King Theoden nodded sympathetically. "I thought I perceived some deep sorrow in you, Lady Miriel." He paused uncertainly and narrowed his eyes at Miriel, studying her. "You seem familiar to me. I know your face."
"Perhaps it is not my face that you know," answered Miriel steadily. "In me, you see the distant shadow of another. My mother's name was Rowen."
The King's eyes widened.
"Rowen? Rowen, who was a handmaid to my wife, the Queen Elfhild?"
Miriel nodded. "The very same."
"That is evil news indeed," said Theoden. He turning away and sighed, looking bent and old with weary cares and sorrows. He stared unseeing over the land and murmured as if he were far away. "Rowen raised my son, Theodred, while he lived. Now, alas, all the fair flowers of Rohan are passing away into shadow."
Silence fell. No one moved. Gandalf watched Theoden with some concern, his wizened face deep in thought. Gimli leaned on his axe and ran a roughened thumb absently over the sharp blade. Legolas stood at Miriel's side and put a comforting hand on her arm. Only Aragorn noticed this along with the expression of deep sympathy the fair Elf wore, and he raised an eyebrow but said nothing.
The King looked up again and stared hard at Miriel.
"We are more alike than you know, Lady Miriel. You are the last of your house, and I am the last of mine. You have lost your parents, and I have lost my child. If you are willing, Lady Miriel, I would have you dwell in my house, and be a sister to Eowyn, and thus you would be as my own daughter all the days of your life."
Miriel gasped and glanced at Legolas, and then Aragorn and Gandalf, who were all beaming back at her. Even Gimli's fierce black eyes twinkled merrily. A sudden smile lit Miriel's face, and then she sobered as she realized this would mean she was now a princess in the land of Rohan. She knelt, humbled and grateful, before King Theoden.
"You have given me far more than I could have ever wished for," she whispered, not knowing what else to say.
The King took her hand and raised her to her feet. He looked into her shining eyes, which were both sad and full of joy at once.
"By accepting my offer, you give me hope," replied the King.
"And you restore a measure of mine," Miriel answered.
King Theoden smiled and made a proclamation, addressing his words to Miriel but speaking loud enough that all could hear.
"Legolas told us part of your tale from the battle, but I'm quite sure there is far more to learn than any of us know. When I return, I would hear the full account and cast it into verse, and it shall not be forgotten until the last days of Rohan have passed away."
He paused, and then added, "But as for today, Rohan lives on, because of the great deeds of a few brave men, a host of Elves, and one fearless maiden."
Miriel blushed. She felt the urgent need to escape, but her knees were too weak to allow for such drastic action. Words failed her, so she merely bowed her head and curtseyed. But then the King himself bowed to her, and Aragorn and Gandalf also, to Miriel's shock and dismay, before they turned and walked back to the stables. Gimli bowed lastly in dwarf fashion and followed the great lords with a grin on his face. Miriel and Legolas were left alone.
"I can't believe it," murmured Miriel breathlessly.
"What can't you believe?" asked Legolas, standing at her side as they looked out upon the golden windswept lands of Rohan.
"Everything," answered Miriel in a voice full of awe. "It's all so... so unreal. If it weren't for these wounds, I would say all that has happened was nothing more than an evil dream."
"Not entirely evil, Lady Miriel," put in Legolas, taking her hand in his. "A brighter day always follows a dark night's end."
Miriel nodded, and they were silent. But then Miriel frowned and shook her head.
"Yet this is not the end, Legolas. War has only begun. Saruman remains, and Sauron's reign is yet unhindered. The roots of evil run deep, and Sauron is a formidable foe. I fear for the survival of Middle-earth, Legolas. The sun shines on our hour of victory, but dark clouds loom in the eastern skies. Middle-earth is fast becoming a land of Shadow, and only... and only..."
Miriel broke off and turned to face Legolas. "Only the Elves have a way of escape, Legolas. You could sail into the West, across the Sea, where the black hand of Sauron holds no dominion."
"All it takes for evil to triumph is enough good Elves to do nothing," stated Legolas. "I will not be one of those who simply sit by and watch while Sauron has his way."
"But evil is so deeply entrenched that we may never be free of its grasp!" Miriel cried.
Legolas smiled gently as he looked upon the fair maiden.
"Nay, my lady, do not despair. There is yet hope! Rohan is not alone. All the free peoples of Middle-earth will unite, for Sauron is their common enemy. There will be a great battle, but I cannot foresee the end.
"Even the Elves have joined in the alliance, for they know that Sauron will not stop with the conquest of Middle-earth," continued Legolas. "Sauron was the downfall of the land of Númenor. Now he desires kingship of Middle-earth, and if he attains it, what then? Is there anything beyond his grasp? He will not be satisfied, and his arm will reach out and clutch at all it can. Perhaps even the Undying Lands will not remain a safe haven for all time. And so we battle him, here and now."
Miriel smiled at the Elf, comforted, and lowered her eyes. Legolas pressed her hand gently and continued.
"As for myself, I shall not abandon this cause, but I will fight to whatever end, for good or ill. But when this is over, Miriel, I shall return to you. Then we shall never be parted again from the circles of this world."
Miriel's eyes grew large and round. She looked up at him searchingly. He looked less tired. The indecision she had seen in his eyes earlier was gone and replaced by a look of overwhelming emotion that frightened and fascinated Miriel at once, and a jolt of lightning shot down her spine and rendered her inert. She stood there, rooted to the spot, and she could form no words. She cast about wildly for some response; something, anything coherent with which to break the silence which hung between them. A nervous laugh escaped her, but she found that she could hardly breathe.
"Are you telling me... what I think you're telling me?" she asked hesitantly.
Legolas smiled brightly with deep meaning in his brilliant blue eyes, and he gently kissed her hand. Miriel trembled at the touch. She sobered and bit her lip, but her flushed cheeks betrayed her. Her heart was pounding wildly like a battering ram against her chest. The sound alone was deafening.
"Oh, no," she said in a voice barely above a whisper, but her objection was halfhearted. She strove to deepen her voice and breathe more fervency into her words. "No, Legolas, that could never be. I wish, but... we can't. I... I mean, us. We can never be together. I am a mortal. You are Elf-kind. I can't follow you beyond the Sea." The last sentence was spoken with dispair.
"I know that," answered Legolas steadily, looking into her eyes.
Miriel frowned in puzzlement. "Then what are you saying?"
"That I will not leave for Valinor when my time comes," Legolas replied, smiling gently. "I will stay here in Middle-earth... with you."
Miriel looked up sharply, horrified at the full meaning of Legolas's words.
"What? You can't!" she cried, tearing her hands from Legolas's grasp. "You can't do that. You don't know what you're saying. You're talking about choosing the path of Luthien Tinuviel! You would be lost to the Elves forever, and you could never see the Undying Lands! Never to sail the Sea... into the West..."
Miriel broke off, overcome with emotion and trembling all over. Rivulets of tears were running down her face. She slowly backed away from the Elf. "I won't let you do this, Legolas. It would be too terrible a thing. If you remain here, you will die!"
Miriel was fighting panic and trembling violently. Legolas gazed sadly at Miriel and stepped closer to her, longing to take her in his arms and hold her and dry her tears with a gentle forefinger, but he held himself back and spoke to her instead, hoping to draw her to him with the power of his words.
"There are some fates worse than death," he said quietly.
"Not this, not this," insisted Miriel, weeping miserably. She swayed on her feet as if she found the forces of gravity too great to withstand. She was in a terrible agony of the mind, and she spoke in broken sentences, half to herself. "Oh, why did I ever venture forth from the Glittering Caves of Aglarond? All that I have gained does not begin to compare to what I have lost. And now this! Oh, would that we had never met!" And Miriel turned away, sobbing bitterly.
The urge to comfort her became overwhelming. Legolas took another step toward her until he was standing beside her.
"My lady-" began Legolas, reaching for Miriel.
"No!" Miriel cried, rushing past the Elf. "Don't call me that!" And then she was running blindly back to the tower, stumbling on the steps, her vision so blurred by tears that she had to feel her way along the wall as one stricken blind. Legolas called to her, but she did not heed him. An impenetrable blackness descended upon her spirit.
She reached the tower at last and threw herself across the bed, weeping as though her heart would break, until her pillow was soaked through with an endless river of tears. The pain in her chest hurt far deeper than any wound she had received in battle. For indeed she loved Legolas, and she knew it; denying him was a horrible, terrible thing, and she reckoned it worse than death.
Legolas remained, still and silent on the broken causeway, as the sun climbed in the sky from morning toward noon. He glanced up at the tower from time to time, but there was no movement, and the window was dark and empty.
He sighed heavily and walked into the stables at last, for he knew Gandalf and King Theoden were anxious to depart for Isengard. But his heart felt like a great stone within him, and he dragged his habitually light feet as he went to saddle his horse Arod.
Aragorn noticed his companion's bowed head right away and perceived the cloud that hung over the Elf's head. Aragorn left his own stallion, Brego, fully tacked in his stall. Legolas was moodily brushing out his horse's thick white mane when Aragorn approached.
"What is it, Legolas?" Aragorn asked.
"Nothing," replied the Elf shortly.
Aragorn entered the stall and gave Legolas a wry look. Aragorn was very perceptive, and he had known Legolas far too long to be fooled by light words.
"You Elves are lousy liars," said Aragorn with a grim smile, but he sobered as he entered the stall.
Legolas glanced up at Aragorn, but quickly looked away again when he saw the expression of quiet knowing on Aragorn's face. Aragorn sat down uninvited on a bale of hay and absentmindedly fingered the white jewel at his throat.
"The sundering of our races is a hard thing, sometimes," muttered Aragorn, thinking of another Elf from another time and another place. "Gifts were bestowed on Men, one of which is death, to pass from this world to a place far greater, a land beyond even the sight of the Valar. Likewise gifts came to the Elves, such as beauty and immortality, and the timeless land of Valinor. But these gifts become as dark as an eternal doom when one tastes the bitterness of a parting beyond all the world."
Legolas turned and beheld Aragorn's face full of sadness and understanding, and he did not begrudge the presence of the Ranger. Aragorn was there to help him. Legolas abandoned his unnecessary task and sat down heavily next to his friend, setting the brush absently on his knee. Aragorn would know about this same dilemma better than anyone, for Aragorn's own situation mirrored that of Legolas's.
Aragorn had fallen in love with Arwen Undomiel, daughter of Elrond Halfelven, Evenstar of her people and fairest of the Elves. Arwen had chosen to give up her immortality and follow Aragorn to death. But Arwen was far, far away, and Legolas knew that she could have changed her mind and already taken the ship into the West. Her father, Lord Elrond, would have pleaded with her to reconsider her rash feelings, and perhaps Arwen would have more fully realized that to love Aragorn was to forsake her people and the grace of her life and allowed her father to persuade her in Aragorn's absence, then quietly sailed away without even saying goodbye. Legolas knew Aragorn was having these same thoughts; he knew those images of her sad and softly smiling face adorned with tears like tiny gems fading into the West haunted the mortal's dreams. Legolas had heard Aragorn awake in the middle of the night on many occasions, breathing her name longingly and anguished into the empty wind, his hand raised as if to draw her back to him before he returned to cold reality and dropped on his bedroll with a despondant sigh. He would spend the rest of the night sleepless, and Legolas, pretending to be lost in some fair Elvish dream, would watch him through half-cracked eyelids and consider the fates of Elves and Men, and the love of Arwen and Aragorn. Legolas would have agreed outright with Elrond if it had not been for the close friendship the prince from Mirkwood shared with Aragorn.
Elrond was right. Whatever crazy notion that had come into Aragorn's head that he could capture the heart of an Elven maiden seemed just that: Crazy. But it was a notion that did not pass with time or distance. Elrond was at a loss to sensibly explain his daughter`s decision. In the past, Legolas too had wondered why an Elf would wish to give up the Undying Lands for Middle-earth. He had long pondered and was puzzled why any Elf would leave her people for a human. Now, at last, he understood, because he was ready to do the same for Miriel... after knowing her for only two days.
Legolas bowed his head and sadly picked a ball of white horsehair from the bristles of his brush. He stared at the bit of white fluff in his fingers for a moment, and then he wearily cast it away and watched the breeze roll it across the barn floor and carry it out the door into the blazing yellow sunshine, to freedom. Aragorn placed a heavy hand on his friend's shoulder.
"I can speak no word of comfort to you, Legolas, except to say that I share your pain. We must bear it together as best we can."
Legolas looked into Aragorn's sympathetic eyes.
"No thalion, a no gand, mellon nin," murmured Aragorn quietly as he arose and walked away. Legolas swallowed hard as he stared after his companion, but the Elf remained sitting, thoughtful and silent.
At last he stood up and turned once more to brushing Arod's mane. Legolas quietly sang a song to Elbereth as he worked, a song with words that cried out for hope in a dark hour.
******************************** There are some cliffhanger chapters coming up, and if you don't want to wait for me to get around to posting it all, then go to www.talesofmiddleearth.com and download the free ebook: Miriel: Princess of Rohan. ********************************
There are some cliffhanger chapters coming up, and if you don't want to wait for me to get around to posting it all, then go to www.talesofmiddleearth.com and download the free ebook: Miriel: Princess of Rohan.
A/N: In case you missed it!
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