Mirkwood's Blade - Chapter Twenty-six - The Preparations

"At last!" Novarwen cried, practically throwing herself in through the door of the fortress. Éowyn bit back a smile and glanced around. Her face fell as she saw the present garrison of Helm's Deep - some soldiers, but mostly refugees. Women, children, old people, all crowded together in one keep. Novarwen noticed her friend's worried look. "Don't feel so bad," she whispered. "You did get all of us here in one piece." Éowyn half-smiled and dropped her sack on an already-growing pile of bags. Novarwen did the same, wondering to herself how anyone would tell their sack from the myriad others just like it in the pile, but she kept the thought to herself. She did remove her extra clothes from her sack, not relishing the prospect of who knew how many days in the same clothes.

"If all went well in the fight," Éowyn was saying, her face still worried, "they should be back soon." She looked at Novarwen. "I - I hope that Theryn will make it back," she said.

Novarwen swallowed down a sudden tightness in her throat. "Thank you," she whispered. I hope he does, too.

***

A sudden clamor at the gate alerted Novarwen to the arrival of something important. She dropped the lembas she had removed from her sack and ran toward the gate, hoping that it would be King Théoden and the riders returning.

She pressed through the crowd of people in time to see Théoden's horse ride through the gate. Novarwen's eyes searched the riders behind him, looking for a familiar face, a well-known gray horse. Then she heard Theryn's voice yell, "Novarwen!" and she ran toward the sound, found him easily, and practically pulled him off Brethil by leaping up and throwing her arms around him. He quickly got off the horse so as not to fall and break his neck, and so as to make kissing her much easier. When they finally broke apart, it was only because both had to breathe.

Novarwen took Theryn's hand and was about to bring him over to Éowyn, when she saw her friend looking, almost frightened, at Gimli. They were close enough for Novarwen to hear Éowyn ask, "Lord Aragorn - where is he?" Her voice trembled. Novarwen suddenly realized that she hadn't seen Aragorn with the riders who had come to Helm's Deep. She looked up at Theryn, frightened herself. "Theryn, where's Aragorn?" she asked.

He froze, and his eyes told her what she feared to learn at the same time she heard Gimli say, his voice choked, "He fell."

Novarwen gasped, and her eyes filled with tears. She tightened her grip on Theryn's hand, her heart sore. Theryn said nothing, but wrapped his arms around her and held her gently, letting her cry into his shirt. At least you didn't fall, she thought, her own arms tightening around Theryn. At least I still have you. She cried herself out of tears, holding tightly to Theryn, and then she fell asleep, sleeping with the dreamless oblivion of those who mourn.

***

When she woke, Novarwen was lying on the floor, on top of three cloaks, and Theryn and Legolas were both sitting next to her. She rolled over, wondering how long she'd slept, and heard both Elves heave a simultaneous sigh of relief. "What?" she asked.

"You've been asleep for a whole day," Legolas told her. "And you had all of us worried half to death."

She bit her lip. "I'm sorry."

"Nothing you could have done about it," Legolas said, "so don't apologize." His face darkened. "I felt like crying myself to sleep when...when he fell."

"Lady Éowyn came to see you often," Theryn added. That tore at Novarwen's heart even more, that Éowyn could find time from her own mourning to come to see her.

As if to prove Theryn's words, Éowyn opened the door and walked quickly into the room. She looked at Novarwen, then gasped in relief when she saw the Elf sit up. "You're awake," she whispered, more to herself than to Novarwen.

"And I intend to remain awake," Novarwen replied, reaching out and hugging Éowyn. "Thank you for coming to see me," she added quietly, so Legolas and Theryn couldn't hear her. Then she released Éowyn gently and stood up, rubbing her forehead as she wobbled, a little unsteady on her feet. "Does anyone have anything for me to do?" she asked. She grinned at Legolas and added, "You know I hate to have nothing to do."

He grinned back. "I remember that time when you were learning to forge a sword. You broke mine just so you could practice on a proper blade!" The four of them shared a laugh.

"You could help me sort out some things," Éowyn suggested. "We're sadly short of blankets, and some of the women and I are going through whatever we can to try and find things to keep people warm."

Novarwen felt suddenly guilty about the three cloaks she had slept on. She gathered them up. "Whose are these?" she asked.

"Mine, yours, and Theryn's," Legolas told her. "So, although I believe in giving, please don't give my cloak to a hale young Rohirric man! It's the only one I have with me."

Novarwen blushed, embarrassed, and put the cloaks down again. "Sorry."

"Go on," Legolas said, smiling at her. "You do need to be doing something."

"Come on," Éowyn added, taking her hand and leading her into the courtyard that the Edoras refugees had come into when they arrived in Helm's Deep. "We're over here, and your friend Théodel is helping, too." Novarwen let Éowyn lead her to where about ten women stood over a huge pile of pieces of fabric, sorting them out carefully.

"Let me show you," Éowyn said, slipping in among them and drawing Novarwen after her. She picked up a piece of fabric and shook it out. "See this? Too small for an adult, but it can be used for a child." She folded it and put it in a pile that seemed mainly to consist of small pieces. "Now this one -" Éowyn pulled out a thick wool cloak. "This one is almost new." She folded it and put it in another pile, one with large pieces of fabric and cloaks. Then she picked up a large piece with many little holes dotting the cloth. "This one can't be used, not even for a child," she said. "Too many holes." She balled it up and dropped it into a heap of rolled-up fabric. "Can you do it from here?"

"I think so," Novarwen answered, stepping in closer to the pile. She pulled a long cloak from the pile and folded it carefully, putting it in the cloaks pile. Éowyn smiled, nodded, and went back to her own work.

Over the next few days, Novarwen sorted so many cloaks, scraps, and pieces of fabric that she could barely believe that there wasn't enough to keep twice the people at Helm's Deep warm. But no sooner did they sort a huge pile of cloaks than people flocked to it and took the cloaks away in threes, fours, and sevens, and there were always people left standing dismayed, staring in vain hope at the bare stone where only a few minutes before so many cloaks had been piled. The look in their eyes - the look that was desperately hopeful against all the formidable odds - was what kept Novarwen at the mindless, tiring work of sorting cloaks, that and the obsessive hope of her own that they might have enough cloaks for every person in Helm's Deep to have one. The women she worked with were quite fond of her, calling her their Elf-lady, to distinguish her from Éowyn, who was always "Lady" to the women of Rohan.

"Novarwen, you're tired," Éowyn told her after a long day's work. "Why don't you go rest?"

"I'll stay," she muttered, rubbing her eyes and reaching for another cloak. It was speckled with holes, but she folded it and put it in the pile of usable cloaks.

"Elf-lady!" cried one of the women, snatching the cloak up and lobbing it into the messy heap of fabric. "Listen to Lady Éowyn, why don't you?" She smiled quickly at Novarwen to show she held no hard feelings, but her words were serious.

"Oh, all right," Novarwen agreed. "In my state, I'll probably be more use to you resting."

Théodel patted her on the back as Novarwen set down a last cloak in the pile next to her and walked slowly away. She had made it to the door of the room she shared with all ten of the sorting women and Éowyn when she heard a commotion at the gate. She turned around, and instantly forgot her weariness, exchanging it for wildly hopeful disbelief. Could that be...but there was no way...yes, it was! Novarwen ran forward exuberantly to stand beside Legolas as Aragorn walked into the courtyard. He looked weary - no, exhausted - but he was alive!

"Le ab-dollen," Legolas said, a faint smile on his face, as Aragorn approached them. Novarwen raised her eyebrows - she would have thought that her brother could come up with something better than "You're late" to greet a presumed-dead companion with. Aragorn seemed similarly surprised, but then Legolas added, a frown of concern furrowing his forehead, "You look terrible."

Aragorn's face slowly curved into a smile. He caught sight of Novarwen behind Legolas and gave her his hand. She gripped it tightly, grinning in sheer relief that he was still alive.

Once she let Aragorn have his hand back, Legolas held his own out and opened it. Novarwen gasped at the sight of the Evenstar, Arwen's necklace, shining on his open palm. How did it get here? she wondered wildly, and then she chanced to look at Aragorn's face, his eyes wide with relief and gratitude, and she understood. Arwen had given it to him before the Fellowship left Rivendell, and he must have lost it when he fell.

"Hannon le," he whispered, taking the Evenstar into his own hand. His face gave thanks to Legolas as well as his voice. Legolas gave him a full smile now, clasping his hand tightly.

There was a small noise behind Novarwen, a barely audible choked sound. She turned around and saw Éowyn, her face shocked and sad, turn quickly away from Aragorn and Legolas and walk the few steps back to where she sorted cloaks with the other women. Oh, Éowyn, mellonamin, why did you have to love him, of all men? Novarwen thought despairingly. All it can bring you is sorrow. She wanted to run after Éowyn and hug her, to make Aragorn fall in love with Éowyn, to wish that he had never met Éowyn, to do a thousand things that might make life easier for her friend, and none of them were in her power to do. Her feelings confused and hurting, Novarwen walked into her own room, shut the door, and cried.

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