Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Thirty-three - The Leaving

Novarwen and Pippin were the only people sitting when Gandalf, the remainder of the Fellowship, and Théoden gathered in the hall of Meduseld the next day. She didn't know about Pippin, but she felt very strange sitting when a king and a wizard stood. She knew the reason for it, though - Pippin had looked into the palantír on the same night that her mind had been taken through the Enemy's plans. She knew now what he had meant when he had told her that there was one person in Edoras out of bed. A fine thing, hindsight, she thought bitterly, watching Gandalf and wishing she could have prevented Pippin from looking in the palantír.

"There was no lie in Pippin's eyes," Gandalf was saying, his pacing belying his otherwise calm voice. "A fool - but an honest fool - he remains. He told Sauron nothing of Frodo and the Ring." The relief at Gandalf's words was a living thing that Novarwen could have touched. "Neither did Novarwen betray Frodo." This time she herself added to the relief. So she had not, in the midst of the vision, called out Frodo's quest. But then, what had she in fact said? She looked hard at Gandalf, but could read nothing that might tell her what she had said on his face.

"We've been strangely fortunate. Pippin saw in the palantír a glimpse of the Enemy's plan," Gandalf went on. Novarwen listened with only one ear as he went on. What had she said? Wouldn't he say? "He will raze Minas Tirith to the ground!" Gandalf said sharply. "If the beacons of Gondor are lit, Rohan must be ready to ride to their aid."

"Tell me," Théoden said coldly, "why should we ride to the aid of those who did not come to ours? What do we owe Gondor?"

Novarwen caught her breath in fear. No, she thought frantically. No, you cannot do this now! You cannot step out on the eve of the greatest battle!

Aragorn's quiet voice cut into her thoughts. "I will go."

Gandalf shot him a surprised look. "No," he said quickly.

"They must be warned!" Aragorn protested.

"They will be," Gandalf assured him. He leaned closer to Aragorn and whispered something Novarwen could not hear. Then, turning around, he fixed Pippin and Novarwen with a look that made her shiver. "I ride for Minas Tirith - and I won't be going alone."

Novarwen was in no state of doubt as to what he meant by his words and the measuring glances he gave her and Pippin. She swallowed down the choke in her throat.

***

"What?" Theryn yelled. He reached out as though to grab her shoulders, and then thought better of it, dropping his hands to his sides. "What do you mean?"

Novarwen flinched. She had never seen him this angry - never. "I mean, Mithrandir is taking Pippin and me to Minas Tirith with him." She added quickly, before he could say anything more, "It makes sense! He and I both had visions sent by Sauron last night. They have to get us out of here, so he won't know where to find us!" She caught his hands, which were halfway to his head, and held them tightly between her own. "Please don't be angry. Don't make that the last memory I have of you."

He didn't seem to have heard her. "You don't have to go!" he snapped. "You could stay if you wanted to!"

Novarwen's jaw clenched. "You think I'm going to Minas Tirith because I don't want to be with you?"

"Why are you going?" he challenged, his eyes flashing.

She had never been very patient, and her meager store of the virtue was drained. "Because I have to! Because it's the right thing to do, and because Gandalf may need whatever help I can give him! Would you rather that I stay with you and put us all in peril?"

"It's always that, isn't it?" Theryn snapped. "It's always choosing between your duty and what you want to do. Have you ever just done what you felt like doing? Just once in your entire life, Novarwen? There must have been one time."

"Of course there was, you fool!"

"When? It certainly wasn't when Irithion exiled me!"

She felt as if someone had rammed a blade into her guts. "What did you say?" she gasped, fighting to breathe.

"You could have ridden out to find me! You could have ignored your duty and done what you wanted to do - and don't pretend you didn't, because I know you did, Novarwen. But no, you stayed in your safe home and took over a safe job so you wouldn't have to think about forgetting me. It was so much easier to be who you were supposed to be, not who you wanted to be, wasn't it?"

Novarwen said nothing. She stood there, growing whiter by the moment as Theryn's barbed words embedded themselves into her heart. Finally, she drew a shaky breath and whispered, "Get out of my room."

He didn't move. "Are you ordering me?"

Her eyes, blazing with anger, flew up to his. "I am the Princess of Mirkwood and you are the former Captain of an unauthorized military squad."

"You've never been good at pulling rank."

She struck him across the face.

He stared at her, his eyes wide with shock and pain. "Now do as I command, soldier," she hissed. "Leave. Now. And do not think you will be welcome near me again!"

His hand covering the mark on his face that her blow had left, Theryn slowly withdrew from the room. When he closed the door behind him, Novarwen let out her breath in a rush of air.

Why didn't she feel satisfied? She had asserted her right to do what she had to, and she had faced down her opponent. And yet there was a hollow ache inside her, an ache that she feared would never heal.

I told him I wouldn't welcome him again. The thought coursed through her mind, and an unshed sob racked her body. I told him not to come near me. Her legs gave way, and she fell across the pile of blankets that served as a bed, crying in bitter, heaving sobs that shook her body and wounded her soul.

***

"Of all the inquisitive hobbits, Peregrin Took," Gandalf announced as he, Pippin, Merry, and Novarwen made their way to the Edoras stables, "you are the worst." Pippin flushed - Merry was unsympathetic. As Novarwen walked past them to catch up with Gandalf, she heard him ask Pippin in a very annoyed tone, "Why did you have to look? Why do you always have to look?" She didn't hear Pippin's response as she drew level with Gandalf.

"Shall I take Brethil," she asked, "or should I make three on Shadowfax?"

"Brethil can be ridden by none but you, so I would think it would be a distinct disadvantage to the Rohirrim if you did not ride him," Gandalf answered. "Can he keep up with Shadowfax?"

"He will if I ask him to," Novarwen answered, more confidently than she felt. In fact, she did not like the idea of asking her beloved horse to keep pace with the fastest of the mearas, but Gandalf was right. And riding third on Shadowfax would be uncomfortable to say the least.

That settled, she addressed the matter that had been weighing on her all day. "Gandalf, what did I tell the Enemy? What did I say?" She measured her strides to his so he couldn't get ahead of her and avoid her question. "Please tell me!"

He looked back over his shoulder - Merry and Pippin had halted outside for a moment. Turning back to Novarwen, not slowing his speed an iota, Gandalf nodded. "Your words were `Have a care to the one of twice-noble parentage, whose eyes are always open and see what they choose to see. That one can hinder your path as she chooses.' Of their meaning I have little doubt as to whom you spoke of." They were in the stables now, and Gandalf pulled Shadowfax's blanket off its hook. Novarwen moved into Brethil's adjacent stall, draping his blanket over his withers to ease the weight of carrying her on his back.

"Who was it, Gandalf?" she asked, rubbing her horse's nose. "Galadriel?" Gandalf did not answer, and the hobbits came into the stables. Novarwen led Brethil out of his stall, holding his face with both hands to calm him - he sensed the rising tension coming from her and her companions. "It's all right, beautiful boy," she said soothingly, forcing herself to be calm and speak calmly. "No worries."

"How far is it to Minas Tirith?" Pippin asked Gandalf as the wizard hoisted him up onto Shadowfax's back.

"Three days, as the Nazgul flies," Gandalf replied, "and you'd better hope we don't have one of those on our tail!" Novarwen shuddered at the thought, and was forced to assure Brethil again that there was nothing wrong. When he was sufficiently calm, she mounted, wrapping her hands through his mane.

"We'll see each other soon, won't we, Merry?" Pippin asked his cousin, the worry in his eyes growing more pronounced by the moment.

"I don't know," Merry answered. His voice was choked. "I don't know what's going to happen." Novarwen longed to be able to comfort them both, but there was no time. Pippin said Merry's name, his voice as shaky as Merry's.

"Run, Shadowfax," Gandalf murmured, mounting. "Show us the meaning of haste."

Pippin's panicked cry of "Merry!" echoed painfully in Novarwen's ears as she kicked Brethil into a gallop and followed Shadowfax out of Edoras, but her aching heart twisted the name and turned the hobbit's name into Theryn's.

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