Miriel: Princess of Rohan - 9. ROLANDE

LINKS TO PAST CHAPTERS - Posted at the end of this story!


In the days that followed, Miriel found herself so busy with the duties of her new office as princess that she hardly had the time to pine after Legolas, and she was glad of it. In the early morning of the second day after Miriel and Legolas parted, Miriel took leave of Lady Eowyn at Helm's Deep and led the people of Rohan back through the land to begin the work of rebuilding the ruined villages, one at a time.

The weather was perfect. The sapphire skies showed no hint of a storm on the horizon. Miriel herself headed the long column of refugees and rode on Kaspir, who was in much fresher spirits after a few days of rest. Miriel was still in pain, but she bore it bravely and tried to ignore it. A small company of soldiers rode with them at the Lady Eowyn's bidding to protect the civilians should the need arise.

The journey was uneventful, to Miriel's great relief, and the addition of the guards proved to be unnecessary. But they were a comfort to have nearby.

Before nightfall they had reached the nearest village and set up camp for the evening. The small town had hardly been touched, and Miriel guessed at the reason. As the Orcs drew nearer to Helm's Deep, their desire to wipe out the people of Rohan took precedence over ruining vacated property and gave speed to their foul iron-shod feet. The most damage had been done on the western end, where a few huts had been burned to the ground, so Miriel set the refugees on the eastern side, getting as many of the elderly and small children into the shelter of houses.

A search was conducted throughout the whole village for food and turned up plenty of supplies to last several weeks. Miriel supervised the cooking of the evening meal. It was a tremendous undertaking, but Miriel assigned a number of women to making each part of the supper in the different kitchens. While it was being prepared, Miriel roved among the people who would be staying outdoors and distributed bedrolls and blankets to those who had none.

People shouted her name and called for her help until her head was spinning with requests. Miriel raced about camp, trying to keep up with an endless flood of needs to be attended. One mother explained that her child was terribly afraid of the dark. Could they possibly sleep nearer to the fire? An old man shivered with cold. Was there one pair of woolen socks somewhere in the village that could be spared? A woman had stumbled and skinned her elbow. Could she get some help dressing and bandaging the wound? There was a cry from one of the kitchens. Was there no more salt? Would she stir this pot or that pot to keep the food from burning? One of the donkeys had a stone tightly wedged in its foot, and it limped pitifully and brayed in pain. Would Miriel assist in dislodging the rock? A soldier had lost his pack on the road somewhere between the village and Helm's Deep, and his only shirt was in tatters. Was there a clean tunic he could borrow? A little girl, recently orphaned after the invasion, tugged on Miriel's skirt and looked up at Miriel with large kitten-like green eyes and tearfully held up a yellow-haired rag doll with its head lolling to one side and a popped seam in its neck. Could the nice lady fix her dolly?

When dinner was served and eaten and everything was done and the refugees began dropping off to sleep at last, Miriel was exhausted. She opted to sleep under the twinkling stars and threw herself wearily upon her bedroll. Kaspir snorted nearby in the darkness, and Miriel could see the silhouette of one of the night watchmen staring intently into the night. She sighed and rolled over uncomfortably on the hard ground. Her last thought was of Legolas as she fell fast asleep.

That night Miriel had a strange dream. She was standing on the long, seemingly endless white shores of a great body of water which she felt must be the Sea, a sight she had never seen before but one that took her breath away. Legolas was beside her, and Gimli the Dwarf was waiting nearby. The sun was sinking behind the Sea like a blazing red fireball plunging into the bright waters. If it weren't for the sunset, Miriel would not have been able to distinguish the Sea from the skyline.

Without warning a dark shadow fell upon her. Miriel felt her hair stand on end with a cold dread. She whirled and beheld a large gray ship gliding silently into the harbor. Its great prow hardly caused a ripple as it cut its way through the shining smooth water. Its huge blackened sails blotted out the sun.

Suddenly Miriel felt herself being pulled towards it against her will. She looked down at her feet and found them dragging two deep lines through the sand. She gasped and clutched wildly at Legolas's arm as the ruts lengthened.

"Help me!" she shrieked. Legolas looked down at her and his eyes widened as he saw what was happening.

"Miriel!" Legolas shouted and instantly clasped her wrist. Miriel was drawn off the ground and swept into the air as she was drawn powerfully toward the dark ship. Her hair was pulled back in the wind until it was nearly being torn from her head. She swayed weightlessly and fought to cling to Legolas, feeling like she was being ripped apart between the ship and the Elf.

"Don't let me go!" screamed Miriel in wide-eyed terror.

"Give me your other hand!" yelled Legolas above the roar of the wind.

Miriel struggled, but the ship was too powerful. "I can't!" she shouted back.

Legolas set his feet firmly and strained backward with all his might. His fair face twisted and grimaced with effort. His hold tightened painfully on Miriel's hand, which he gripped with both of his own.

"Miriel! Hold on!" he cried, but even as he spoke Miriel's hand was ripped from his grasp and she flew screaming through the air toward the menacing ship. She looked backward as she rushed over the still waters and saw that she was soaring straight into a giant black sail. But the sail was not made of any material; it was an empty black abyss that yawned open over the Sea like a great hole of nothingness. Deadly bolts of lightning flashed across the opening of the void. She turned back to the shore.

"Legolas!" she wailed. Legolas looked ready to plunge into the sea and swim after her, but he was powerless to save her; he and Miriel both knew it.

Suddenly there was a blaze of red fire over the black hole, and Miriel felt a cold menace creep up behind her. She turned and saw a giant and terrifying lidless Eye where the crow's nest of the ship would have been. It was made all of fire, and the heat eminating from it burned against her cheeks and singed her hair. The pupil was a narrow slit, like a cat's, and it was staring straight at her with a hungry, evil look that made Miriel's blood run cold. Immediately she knew it was Sauron.

"I see you," a voice from the flaming Eye hissed. "The Elf is gone. He is doomed. He will never return. You will die."

"No!" Miriel screamed.

But the Eye gave a hideous laugh as Miriel fought for her life. She struggled desperately against the pull of the dark ship, but she had nothing to hold on to and was powerless to resist. Legolas stood helplessly on the shore, shouting her name, but growing smaller and smaller as Miriel drifted away. Just before Miriel was swallowed by the sail she woke up in a dreadful panic.

She shot bolt upright out of her bedroll.

"Legolas!" Miriel shrieked into the empty night, gasping for breath.

Several guards came running at her cry. Miriel was in a cold sweat. She glanced wide-eyed at the glittering stars overhead and at the sleeping forms of the soldiers scattered randomly around the dying orange embers of the campfire, some of whom were now sitting up and staring at her, rudely awakened by her screams.

Slowly Miriel got her bearings and returned to reality. She calmed herself with an effort as the guards arrived, and Miriel managed to explain in an even tone to the concerned soldiers that it was just a nightmare, and that she was fine. She smiled grimly, thanked them for coming and bid them to leave her to continue their watch.

But Miriel was not fine. She was trembling all over as she lay back on her bedroll. Sleep would not come to her again that night. Instead she found herself praying for Legolas and softly singing her song, the one that came to her on that dark night in Helm's Deep, to the great Elven queen, Elbereth. She found that the strange words calmed and comforted her. Someday she would ask Legolas to translate it for her, if she ever saw him again.

In the morning, the shadows of fear were swept away by the overwhelming tide of duties and responsibilities that inevitably presented themselves. Breakfast was as much of a coordinating chore as supper had been the night before. Miriel rushed back and forth, tending a woman who had fallen sick during the night, feeding and watering the horses, answering shouts and hasty requests, and soothing crying infants. Miriel also searched through houses for any good clothing she could find and looked for fresh cloth to replace old garments that had been reduced to rags. Within a short time Miriel was quite worn out, her elbow was fiercely bothering her and the lack of sleep was beginning to tell on her strength and her nerves.

By afternoon the princess of Rohan was feeling downright cranky.

At that moment a knight dressed in shining silver armor and the green cloak of Rohan approached her.

"My lady," he murmured respectfully with a bow. Miriel whirled upon him, her purple-rimmed eyes flashing.

"Yes?" snapped Miriel, glancing at him rather sharply. She half expected another unwanted duty to be laid upon her.

The knight seemed taken aback. He had arrived at a bad time and he knew it at once.

"I can come again later, if it would suit you better," he stammered courteously.

Miriel immediately felt horrible and dropped the bundle of rough brown cloth she had been holding. She went to the knight and laid a gentle hand on his shoulder.

"No, please don't go. I apologize. It's been a trying morning." Miriel endeavored to smile and drew herself up. "What is your request, good sir? I will do what I can to grant it."

The knight returned her smile.

"I have no request, my lady," he answered, and Miriel became more attentive at once. "My name is Rolande from Edoras. I was sent here to be both a messenger and a personal advisor to you by the Lady Eowyn. I am also to serve as your bodyguard and loyal servant."

Miriel raised her eyebrows in surprise.

"Why, thank you!" she replied pleasantly. "That is most kind."

The knight bowed again, and Miriel glanced over him. Rolande was dark of hair and fair of face, with defined, deliberate features and keen, piercing brown eyes that somehow reminded Miriel of a great cat. He was handsome in a rugged sort of way. He seemed as sure of himself as the Lord Aragorn, and Miriel didn't doubt for an instant that he possessed the honor and leadership skills to match.

"I can begin advising you on matters immediately," Rolande offered.

Miriel nodded wearily, but she resisted the impulse to hang her head. "Please do. I'm new at this," she admitted.

Rolande bowed and led her to the horses. His own horse was already saddled, so Rolande readied Kaspir for Miriel and talked while he worked.

"First, you'll want to delegate more duties to others so that you don't overburden yourself. There is plenty for you to do without giving so much attention to matters that others could easily handle."

"What do you mean?" snapped Miriel, feeling indignant with Rolande for suggesting that someone else could do a better job than she herself would.

"For instance," Rolande continued boldly, ducking his head respectfully, "You could get one of the women to oversee the preparation and distribution of the meals. Some of the young girls could be put in charge of the small children and infants. Even the elderly can sew new garments to replace the clothes which were worn out from the journey."

"I would rather do it myself," answered Miriel rather stubbornly. "I want to make sure everything is done right."

"If you do everything yourself, you will wear yourself out," insisted Rolande. "Besides, you won't be here to babysit them for long. Don't hesitate to let the villagers handle some things for themselves. They are excellent and resourceful people. They just might surprise you."

Doubt shone in Miriel's eyes. Rolande saw this and left Kaspir's side. He stood before Miriel and stared hard at her.

"You seem to forget that these people got along just fine without you once," he remarked.

This earned him from a reproachful look from the princess.

Rolande sighed. "Trust me on this, my lady," he pleaded. "Your people are readier to work than you know, and eager to please you. They will do whatever you tell them, and they will be the happier for it. The busier they are, the less they will reflect on the war at hand, and Mordor will seem farther away, as it should. They need to get on with their lives and this is an excellent first step."

Miriel gave in to Rolande's gentle manner and nodded reluctantly.

"I will try it," she promised.

Rolande smiled and bowed as he handed her the reins to her horse.

"Good. Climb up and issue those new orders, and then we'll ride through this village to assess the damage."

Miriel felt more confident with an advisor straight from the court of Edoras at her side, and she did everything Rolande suggested. She felt a new sense of purpose and confidence, and the townsfolk picked up on it at once.

Miriel put two women in charge of meals and assigned two others to take care of the sick and wounded. She found a group of elderly women who were skilled with needlework and set them making new clothes and blankets. A small company of teenage boys were responsible for fetching wood and tending the fires, and Miriel told the men to begin repairing and rebuilding the huts that were damaged or destroyed. A few idle gentlemen were soon sharpening tools and weapons and even making new tables and chairs.

In a surprisingly short time the whole village was working in a happy bustle. Miriel glowed with pleasure, and she felt her weariness falling away as she surveyed the results from Kaspir's back. She looked back at Rolande with a broad grin.

"You were right!" she exclaimed joyfully over the ring of hammers.

"You're a natural leader," declared Rolande, staring at Miriel with obvious admiration as he watched her delegate.

Miriel gave him a sidelong glance.

"I don't know about that," she admitted. "I sure didn't know what I was doing."

"No one does at first," returned Rolande with a little bow. "But you were already doing better than most before I got here. With a little more guidance, you'll have things running as smoothly as they do at Edoras."

"One thing, Rolande," said Miriel. "Please stop bowing to me. I'm not used to it, and it makes me feel uncomfortable and sort of self-conscious. I would rather you treat me more like an equal than royalty, alright?"

"What? Are you serious?" exclaimed Rolande, gazing at her in astonishment.

Miriel nodded.

"Er, yes of course!" replied Rolande, hastily recovering his surprise. "As you wish, my lady."

Soon Miriel and Rolande were free of their immediate responsibilities to the people and in no time they were riding on the ruined side of the village. They made plans for new houses were the old ones were burned to the ground and discussed repairs for the huts that were only minorly damaged. The construction proceeded rapidly under the eager and restless hands of the village menfolk, and by nightfall several families were able to move back into their own homes.

Miriel sat by the fire, calmly eating her supper across from Rolande. It had been a long day, and she was tired, but she felt keen satisfaction at all they had accomplished in just one day. At that rate, Rohan would be restored to its former glory in a very short amount of time.

"I'm sure glad to have Rolande here with me," thought Miriel to herself as she settled in for the night. "I couldn't get through this without him." Then her thoughts turned to Legolas, and she fell into a long deep sleep untroubled by nightmares.

The week flew by, and the village was nearly completed by the end of it. As the little town became self-dependant, Miriel moved the rest of the refugees to the next village, and then the next, until most of the people were settled into their own homes. Each town needed more work to make it livable than the last as they drew nearer to Isengard; each village carried more of the remarkably evil odor she began to associate with the Uruk-hai and hate with a vengeance. The Orcs had ruined with greater vigor in the beginning of their dreadful march until they neared Helm's Deep, and their insatiable thirst for blood surpassed their desire for vandalism.

Rolande never left her side and his service proved to be invaluable. Miriel could always count on his advice, and his constant presence made her feel safe. He was a steady rock in a sea of uncertainty and Miriel knew she could trust him.

Something Rolande insisted upon was that once in a while Miriel was to take a break from her responsibilities. He watched Miriel closely and saw to it that she did not overburden herself, which she would surely have done had he not been there to guide her. Rolande would pull her away and they would take their horses for a gallop across the wild golden hills until they were breathless and laughing.

They chattered easily as they rode together, and soon Miriel counted him as her closest friend. Rolande could make her laugh, and the melancholy shroud would be lifted from her shoulders as she momentarily forgot about Sauron and the looming darkness that threatened Middle-earth with destruction.

"How are the repairs going on the east side?" asked Miriel lightly during one of their rides, when the horses had their run and were slowly meandering through the sun-sweet grasses.

"Great," returned Rolande, looking into the brilliant blue skies that showed no sign of a cloud. "There was this one home that we thought we'd have to tear down because it was so badly burned in the front, but we discovered that the back wall was still intact and the foundation was barely touched. I think the rain arrived just in time to save it. So we're in the process of rebuilding it and should be finished very soon. A large family lives there, and they were thrilled with the news."

"I'm sure they were!" declared Miriel with a sigh. "That's wonderful. You know, the way these workers wield their hammers, we should be able to move on to the next village in short order."

Suddenly Rolande laughed; a warm, musical sound that gladdened Miriel's heart to hear. She looked back at him and quirked a quizzical eyebrow.

"Speaking of hammers!" Rolande exclaimed, getting the better of his mirth with an effort.

"What is it?" Miriel inquired.

"Did you hear what happened this afternoon?" asked Rolande.

Miriel smiled expectantly. "No, what?"

"Early in the day a shout went up from one of the builders, and I rushed over to see what was going on. The man had set his hammer down for only a moment and it had vanished without a trace. In its place was a single shoe. As we stood there puzzling over the mystery, another cry came from not far off, and I ran down to discover a person missing a shoe, which had been replaced by a feathered hat. Not long after, someone found that they had lost their hat to a metal bucket."

"There was definitely some mischief afoot!" Miriel interjected, her eyes dancing.

"Indeed," said Rolande. "That was my conclusion also. After the first few incidents, reports started coming in all over the place. Blankets were being changed to cloaks, large water jars turned into small cups, and swords magically transformed into kitchen knives at an alarming rate."

Miriel's eyes widened as Rolande continued.

"We returned the lost items to their rightful owners as fast as we could, and almost everyone was pacified except for the superstitious folk, who believed some spirits were playing tricks on them. I didn't consider that possibility for the slightest moment. But the odd switchings continued, and spirits or no, I was determined to get to the bottom of it. I stood lookout upon a hilltop and watched for a long time before at last I spied a teenage boy sneak up on one of the workers and take a coil of rope, leaving a little ball of string in its place."

Miriel laughed aloud. "Leave it to the boys," she chuckled. "They get all the good ideas!"

"I knew he was only one of the culprits, though," said Rolande. "There were too many missing objects in such a short space of time to be accomplished by only one or two boys. This may have been nothing more than a game to them, but they were delaying progress on the village, and causing some people to feel rather insecure and even frightened, so I decided to find out who they were and round them up."

"You were right to do so," agreed Miriel, but her gray eyes were sparkling. "Thank heaven for a little harmless fun! Everybody needs rascals like these to play a few practical jokes on them once in a while. It takes the dull seriousness out of life to have them about! Tell me, Rolande, what happened next?"

"I gathered a couple of men and after a while we had apprehended all of the troublemakers," answered Rolande. "The leader of this group was a boy named Robin, and he called the boys under his command his "Merry Men". It was a very brilliant and elaborately laid plot, really."

"Did you punish them?" asked Miriel in eager excitement.

"Well, yes and no. It was obvious that these young men had too little to do, and they had good heads on their shoulders, so I set them to work for a far worthier cause. Besides helping with the actual building process, they are running errands for the workers, gathering materials and doing all manner of odd jobs. Some of the boys are natural leaders, and I put them in charge of greater things. Robin in particular is making an excellent overseer."

"A fine way to solve the dilemma!" declared Miriel, laughing. "Those boys will be so proud to have that kind of grown-up responsibility that they'll be even better at it than some of the men."

"And there'll be a lot less hammers replaced by shoes," added Rolande.

Miriel laughed gaily. A gust of wind blew loose strands of dark hair into her face, and she brushed back the thick mass with her hand, seeming in manner and demeanor more like a girl than a princess. It gladdened Rolande's heart to see her thus.

"What's to keep them from continuing their mischief?" asked Miriel merrily. "If I were them, I wouldn't let a little work stand in my way. Someone may need to keep an eye on them."

"I would do it myself," said Rolande, "But it would be a full-time job to watch those boys, and I'm supposed to be protecting you. I'm spending too much time away from your side as it is."

"Nonsense," declared Miriel with a good-natured frown. "I can handle myself. I'm quite capable of wielding a sword as well as yourself. You must not have heard any of the tales from Helm's Deep," she added teasingly.

Rolande grinned. "No, I heard. But that doesn't change my mind."

"All right, suit yourself," answered Miriel with a smile. Then she sobered and sighed as they topped a sunlit ridge overlooking Rohan. They could see the village from there. Rolande glanced at Miriel and was startled at the change that came over her.

As Miriel gazed upon the village, she straightened in the saddle. It seemed as if the carefree girl who had ridden by Rolande's side only a moment ago had slipped behind a dignified mask. With every sign of reluctance, Miriel turned Kaspir.

"We'd better be heading back," she declared sternly as Kaspir cantered off.

Rolande contemplated the princess as she galloped ahead of him and he trailed after. She was the sort of girl who liked to take care of everyone and everything herself, and Rolande suspected her brothers had been well off. She hated it if she could not help others. It was good, then, that he was here; she would have otherwise worn herself to a frazzle within the first week. But Rolande smiled indulgently. Those were the right sort of faults that made a good princess.

When they rode into the village, Rolande saw the heavy cloak of responsibility settle upon Miriel's shoulders once more. Miriel bore her leadership with quiet courage, amazing inner strength, and the acceptance of a queen, and Rolande could not help marveling at her. But Rolande knew it was a great burden nonetheless.

For Miriel, Rolande was a soothing balm to her aching heart. She threw herself into her work to cover over the pain of losing her family, but Rolande always pulled her back before she could do herself an injury in her overenthusiasm. She missed her family and the companionship of her brothers, but Rolande's presence made her feel less alone. He was becoming to her much more than a friend, and she spoke openly with him about everything... except Legolas. That was something she could share with no one and had to bear alone, to cry into her pillow at night and wonder if this blessed and cursed love caused her more agony than joy.

Sometimes when Miriel was speaking with a person, perhaps issuing an order or caught up in a deep discussion with someone about how to proceed with repairs, she would abruptly catch a glimpse of those strangely intense brown cat's eyes upon her. A little chill raced down her spine when she saw the look Rolande gave her.

But Miriel did not give much thought to Rolande, for prevalent on her mind was the fate of Legolas and all those who traveled with him. She glanced often to the East, and wondered how events transpired near Mordor. Had they reached the Black Land yet? Were they in the midst of planning a battle? Or were they fighting one even now? What if the War had already ended, and she didn't even know it?

The one question that she never voiced even in the silence of her own head but one that continually haunted her thoughts was whether or not Legolas still lived. She couldn't help imagining all sorts of horrible wounds and deaths, and she had to force away the evil flood of worse-case scenarios with an effort. She was terribly concerned for the rest of the company, of course, especially her knew adopted father, King Theoden. But all of her greatest worries were reserved for the Elf.

As Miriel silently stared toward the East one night, with the soft orange glow of the fire reflecting off the back of her white dress and throwing shining red sparkles into her billowing dark hair, Rolande came and stood beside her. The crickets were singing softly and millions of stars shimmered down on them. Rolande covered Miriel's shoulders with his green riding cloak, and his gentle hand lingered on her arm.

"Thank you, Rolande," Miriel murmured, shivering and clutching the cloak around her. She had not even been aware that she was cold until that moment.

"What is troubling you tonight, my lady?" Rolande asked quietly.

Miriel bowed her head.

"I'm concerned about the War," she replied, hoping her voice didn't shake. "I have heard no news, for good or ill, in ten days. But even that short time seems like an eternity, for all those whom I love dearest in this world are marching into a doomed battle."

She turned and regarded Rolande, who was staring at her with pity. Rolande saw Miriel's gray eyes sparkling silver and perceived that she was dangerously near to tears, and that grieved him deeply.

"I lost my family, Rolande," Miriel continued, and Rolande nodded, for he had heard the story from Eowyn. "My father, my mother, my brothers- they are all gone. I feel in my heart that I am still to know greater sorrow ere the end. If I were to lose everyone else, darkness would take me and I would die. I cannot bear to be alone."

Miriel choked and stopped, unable to speak. Her chin trembled visibly. Rolande's brow furrowed with a multitude of deep lines of concern as he watched the terrible emotions, barely perceptible, that she so jealously guarded and tried to keep carefully hidden, warring beneath her iron facial expression softened by grief and fear for those in harm's way.

"Not everyone who holds you dear is going to war, my lady," Rolande declared with feeling, moving closer to her. "You should not worry so much about events that take place beyond your control. It can't help your friends, and it will serve no purpose but to destroy you."

"I know," said Miriel. "But still..." She let her sentence trail off into the wind.

"It's a war, my lady, and news will not be forthcoming," returned Rolande practically. "But even if you knew what took place in the East, it would do no good for them or for you. You are helpless and far away. You can do nothing for them."

Something broke inside Miriel at his words. Tears welled up in her eyes.

"I cannot help them," she repeated slowly. "I can do nothing."

Suddenly she covered her face with her hands, and Rolande's eyes widened in horror as he realized he had just made a terrible mistake. Only that very afternoon, he had determined that the one thing she hated most was not being able to help someone in their time of great need.

"Oh! Oh!" he groaned. "Forgive me, my lady, I didn't mean..." Rolande faltered, but the words stuck in his throat and failed him.

Miriel did not answer. Her fingers were pressed to her forehead so hard that it turned her fingertips ashen white. Rolande saw her not as a great leader or a powerful princess of Rohan, but as a small, frightened child, and he was pierced with the knowledge that he had shattered her. In trying to comfort her, he had driven the stake right through her heart. He desperately groped for the right thing to say, but nothing came to him. He had to do something to make things right.

Impulsively Rolande gathered Miriel in his arms and held her gently. Miriel did not move, and it seemed to Rolande that she remained hard and unyielding, her body rigid and unrelenting to his embrace. They stood silently for some time, and Rolande couldn't tell if she was crying or not, or if she was angry with him, or if she was trying with all her might to be brave. Her head remained firmly buried in her palms.

At last Rolande plucked up the courage to speak.

"I will send a messenger first thing in the morning to gather what tidings he can if it will ease your mind, my lady," he said hurriedly, as if the very words evaporated the air in his chest.

Slowly Miriel's hands dropped from her pale face. A single tear escaped from her closed eyelids and slid silently down her white cheek. Rolande could not see her expression, but he could feel her nodding against his shoulder.

"First thing in the morning, my lady," Rolande repeated. Miriel pulled away and drew herself up. Her head was bowed, but Rolande saw that she was once again firmly in control of herself. She did not meet his eyes. Rolande feared that he had been too bold, for he remembered, too late, that it was not the place of a common soldier to get so near to a princess, however much he wanted to comfort her.

"Thank you, Rolande," Miriel whispered, but there was a quaver in her voice.

"You should sleep now, my lady," suggested Rolande quietly, and Miriel nodded. Without a word she swept the cloak from her shoulders and handed it back to him, and then she moved past him and disappeared into one of the houses.

Rolande remained where he was, crushing the still-warm cloak in his hands in bitter agony of the heart. He felt as cruel as an Orc. He chastised himself for his clumsy words and rash actions and wondered how Miriel would behave toward him come morning.


A/N: In case you missed it!
Chapter Two: RED SUNSET
Chapter Five: FATE'S ARROW
Chapter Six: LEGOLAS
Chapter Seven: ON THE CAUSEWAY


Hi guys! Thanks for all your kind reviews.

MRC: Amen! :-D I'll tell Miriel you said so. The next chapter will be on the queue shortly.

geek-chick: That's probably my favorite part too. Rohan was so wide open that any sojourner to that great land would indeed feel small, and Miriel and Legolas both feel at the moment that they have no control over their destiny. They're right; they're caught in a great war between superpowers and they have little impact on the final outcome, really, if you look at the grand scheme of things. Time will tell if this changes.

Nawyn: Your comments are, as always, so priceless. Sometimes I can't define what I like about a certain chapter, a certain scene or a certain mood; you always capture the it without fail. I really don't know how you do it. Thank you very much, again.

Miriel is a lot like me in the sense that she tries to solve and reconcile everything in her life with logic. But she is discovering that logic does not have all the answers; she is finding out that love DEFIES logic, and yet... she's right. She's very confused and she doesn't know what to think. I warn you now that it's about to get even worse.

Your comments on originality are also very special, because I love to be original when I can. This time, I must blame originality on ignorance. I did not know that fanfiction existed at the time I wrote this story. I was hoping that there would be a kind of LOTR continuing series, like Star Wars and Star Trek. I contacted the Tolkien lawyers and everything and was very unhappy to discover that this could never be published. But I'm glad that it's still out here for someone's enjoyment, anyway!

Lalaith-Elerrina: Thank you. As always, your comments are special because of the quality of your own work. I am greatly looking forward to the next chapter in Child of the Stars. I did a search for articles written by you, and I was like YIKES!!! 213?!? Wow. That's amazing. But it ensures that I will never, ever, ever be short of good fanfiction to read when I get bored! :-)

I don't remember if I cried when I wrote this or not. I may have, as I've been known to do that on occasion. I do recall being very ripped up when I had them part, because I knew the separation would be very long and painful and full of... lack of certainty. Miriel had no idea whether he was still alive, most of the time. I'm sure that maidens in medieval times suffered the same agonies - months upon endless months, sometimes years, of waiting with no words or messages from husbands, brothers, betrothed ones, etc. The knowledge that she would not see him again for at least a very long time, if not ever, and the very real possibility that he might die pushed her over the edge. Miriel knew she might not get another chance to tell him that she loved him, and she wanted him to know the truth - that she wasn't unhappy with his declaration at all and that his feelings were wholeheartedly returned.

If you're Legolas, that's a nice comfort to take with you to the fires of Mordor.


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