Storm Front - Chapter 13
The dim outline of trees rushed by as Aragorn rode through the forest. He could hear the others close behind him, but did not bother to glance back. The only thing that had been in his mind since leaving Minas Tirith was Arwen. His messenger had told him everything, having crossed paths with him several days prior. Aragorn did not know how he was going to react when he saw her again. After the joy of seeing her alive had worn off, what was he going to say to her?
Aragorn had already sworn to himself that he would keep his temper in check. He did not know if Arwen had found Faye, and if she had not, she would be in no condition to tolerate any kind of hostility from him. He would do whatever he could to comfort her, to understand why she had taken such a risk.
No, Aragorn thought, sighing. His anger against his wife was gone. It would suffice his weary spirit just to see her alive and well.
"We can only give her our support," Legolas had said when he had voiced this decision a few hours before. "If she hasn't found Faye. . ."
A sharp, rancid scent suddenly reached Aragorn's nostrils. Smelling it as well, his horse balked and slid to a halt, neck arched. The others stopped around him, and Faramir rode to stand beside him.
"What is that?" he asked, gesturing to the source of the smell. "Is that a spider?"
They had stumbled upon the rancid remains of a very large spider. Aragorn turned from the carcass, his sharp eyes scanning the area for evidence of what had caused the massive beast's demise. A large group had once gathered here. The scene was no more than a week old.
"Lórien scouts," Legolas announced, having dismounted and picked up an arrow shaft from the ground. "This must be the spider that attacked Arwen."
"Then they cannot be too far away," Faramir said.
Aragorn turned his horse and started across the clearing, his horse sidestepping the sprawled legs of the creature. The others started following him, but before they had traveled far, a voice rang out from the canopy above.
Aragorn looked around just as a young Elf scout dropped down from the trees. He did not recognize him, but Legolas could.
"Enarion," he said. "This is Maida's son."
Enarion grinned as Gimli gave him a critical look. Aragorn noticed that he appeared to be in a good mood, and accepted that as a fair sign that Arwen was well.
"My Lord," Enarion continued, bowing slightly. "Lord Celeborn has been awaiting your arrival."
"What of Arwen?" Aragorn asked quickly.
"She is well," Enarion replied, his grin growing into a full smile. "I come bearing joyous news."
Aragorn felt his heart quicken. Joyous news could only mean one thing. . .
"The baby?" he asked breathlessly.
"Alive and healthy," he reported. "A beautiful baby girl."
Aragorn laughed in relief. Applause erupted from the others, and amidst that, a distinctive groan from Gimli, followed by laughter.
"That she-Elf witch will never let me forget this," the Dwarf grumbled.
"And Eowyn?" Eomer interjected, looking at Enarion.
Enarion grimaced, and the laughter died away. Aragorn glanced at Faramir and Eomer, seeing concern grow on their faces.
"What of Eowyn?" Faramir asked slowly.
Enarion held the grimace only a moment longer. Chuckling, he shook his head.
"She and Lady Ancalima have been arguing endlessly for days," he said, rolling his eyes. "They are driving my Naneth and Lady Arwen mad."
"What is there to argue about?" Faramir asked.
"The difference between horses and mules," Enarion replied. "Come now, my Lords. They await your arrival."
Although without a mount, Enarion was quick on his feet, leading them swiftly through the forest. A murmur of conversation broke amongst the others, but Aragorn kept his attention on Enarion, drilling him with questions of his newborn daughter.
"Let me guess this," Gimli declared gruffly after Aragorn asked what she looked like for the fourth time. "The babe has the dark tresses and fair skin of Lady Arwen, but the eyes and smile of Lord Aragorn."
Aragorn shared an amused glance with Legolas as Enarion laughed.
"That she does," he said. "Perhaps now you will no longer doubt my mother's predictions."
Gimli only huffed.
* * * * * *
Arwen rested back against the cushions of her low couch, gently caressing her daughter's forehead as she slept. The atmosphere around them was quiet and peaceful. Through the trees, only the soft sounds of the forest filtered. She glanced up, meeting her guardian's eyes as Faye settled next to her.
"Have you chosen a name?" she asked softly.
"I have thought of many," Arwen replied. "But I wish to wait until my husband arrives."
Faye smiled, and Arwen returned it, though her heart fluttered painfully as the scars marring her beloved guardian's jaw became more visible at the action. She had not pressed Faye for details of her horrific experience. All that had been spoken of was the Warg that took her foot, and the Orcs that mutilated her hands.
Arwen could tell now just how much about Faye had changed in five centuries of captivity. She was more quiet, and slept restlessly, awaking every few minutes tensed, as if expecting Arwen to disappear. She walked with great difficulty. Not even Lord Celeborn's healers could offer much help. She had been forced to claw her way up to where they sat now.
"Faye?" Arwen asked, shifting the babe in her arms. "How are you feeling?"
Faye did not shift her gaze from the baby, and it was several minutes before she spoke.
"The pain lessens with each day," she finally said, her smile fading. "I cannot believe I allowed myself to forget. . ."
Arwen shifted the baby in her arms and gripped Faye's hand, feeling the remaining fingers close around hers. Faye looked up, and finally sighed, leaning over and resting her head on Arwen's shoulder. Arwen smiled despite herself, remembering all the times she had done the same.
"I have dreamed of your return," she said. "Though I never thought it would come with you saving my life."
Faye did not speak, but her grip tightened a little more. The baby hiccupped slightly. Arwen felt Faye turn her head to the babe, and suddenly chuckled.
"What?" Faye asked.
"I was just thinking about her," she replied, smiling down at her baby. "She is going to have two mothers. . ." Arwen glanced at Faye. ". . .just like I did."
Faye sat up, gazing at the baby. Arwen shifted, releasing her hand and turning to her.
"Hold her," she said.
Faye extended her arms, and Arwen handed her the sleeping baby. A light seemed to appear in Faye's eyes, and her smile grew as she carefully positioned the baby.
"She will be beautiful," she whispered.
Arwen studied Faye and the baby for a long while, considering the scene before her. Hands that had savaged terrible monsters were protectively embracing a tiny infant. A voice that had sounded like thunder across mountaintops was humming soothingly. The same creature that had almost killed her son was holding her daughter tenderly.
"Now this is a wonderful sight."
Arwen turned to see that Maida had appeared. Her childhood friend was smiling, and gave an elegant curtsey before approaching.
"She will be a princess worthy of the Reunited Kingdom," she said proudly, reminding Arwen with those words that her prediction had been completely accurate. "And she will be well protected throughout her life."
Arwen saw Faye glance up, but she did not speak. It seemed that Maida's words were reminding Faye about how long she had been apart from them. Maida clearly noticed this, for her smile faltered. For a long moment, there was silence among them.
"I am sorry," Faye said finally.
"For what?" Arwen asked.
"Everything." Faye looked up again. "I am sorry I was gone for so long. I am sorry I was not there for you when you needed me." She hesitated. "And I am sorry. . .for what I did to your son."
Arwen frowned, sharing a concerned glance with Maida before turning back to Faye. Before she could decide on a reply, however, a horn sounded through the trees. The baby was startled awake, and immediately began to cry. Arwen turned to help comfort her child, trusting Maida to discover the reason for the horn. Faye was focused completely on the baby, and seemed not to care. After a moment, the baby calmed, and Maida returned.
"They have come," she said. "The menfolk have caught up with us at last."
"Then let us go meet them," Arwen replied, standing.
Eowyn joined them as they reached the forest floor. She still had the shadow of a scowl on her face, and that made Arwen smile. Since the day of her arrival, Eowyn had been debating with the forest woman Ancalima on the advantages of horses over mules. Clearly, a decision had not yet been made. Eowyn returned the smile when she saw Arwen, the shadow fading from her face.
"How is the baby?" she asked. Maida was now holding her, having taken her from Faye so she could use both hands to climb down.
"The horn disturbed her," Arwen replied. "But she is well now."
Faye limped over just as a group of riders appeared from the trees. Aragorn rode at the lead, and his eyes immediately locked upon hers. The expression on his face was one of relief, love, and overwhelming joy. Faster than Arwen would have believed possible, he was off his horse and gathering her in his arms. There was laughter and sounds of joyous reunion all around her, but Arwen kept her gaze on her husband.
"How are you?" Aragorn asked breathlessly once they had parted from a kiss. "How is. . ."
He stopped. Maida had made her way around Eowyn, who was standing with Faramir and Eomer, and was approaching. She smiled at Aragorn before handing him the infant. Aragorn's eyes glowed with unshed tears of delight.
"She is beautiful," he finally managed to croak, gazing down at the child with love and admiration on his face. He shifted his arm and embraced Arwen. "Have you chosen a name?"
Arwen rested against Aragorn's shoulder, looking down at their daughter. After a moment, she smiled.
"We choose the name together, my love, though I do have an idea." Arwen smiled. "Remember that day in Imladris when we first met?"
"One of the happiest days of my life," Aragorn replied.
"And do you remember how you hailed me?" Arwen continued.
The light of realization appeared on Aragorn's face, and he turned to gaze at her.
"Tinúviel?" he said, as if testing it. He smiled. "Our Tinúviel."
"Tinúviel would be a perfect name," Faye said suddenly, her voice ghostly soft. "Ideal for the child of the Evenstar."
All eyes turned to Faye, and Arwen felt her husband stiffen. It seemed he had not noticed Faye's presence before. Arwen felt his grip tighten around her, holding her protectively.
"And what have you to say?" he asked coldly. "All I know of you is the creature that attacked our son."
"If I had known better, I would not have raised my hands at all," Faye replied, her golden eyes fixed unblinkingly upon Aragorn. It was the same gaze Arwen remembered from her father's interrogation so long ago, when she had been but an Elfling, and fearing for the life of her newfound friend. "I regret what I did to your son, and I hope I did not injure him badly."
Silence followed these words. Arwen glanced around at the others to gauge their reactions. Both Faramir and Eomer were standing with similar protective stances on either side of Eowyn, their faces as stern and cold as that of Aragorn. Legolas was studying Faye closely, taking in her multiple scars and deformations. Gimli stood stiffly next to Maida and Enarion, his hand on his axe. Lord Celeborn and Ancalima had appeared as well, but neither seemed to have anything to say. Faye stood alone in the middle, the effort to remain standing unsupported clear upon her face. Arwen felt Aragorn's grip loosen, and she quietly took Tinúviel from him. She knew she could not interfere in this confrontation.
Aragorn stepped forward, meeting Faye's eyes fearlessly.
"Are you aware of the crimes you have committed?" he asked.
"Yes," Faye replied.
"And are you aware of how many lives you disrupted while you fled?"
Arwen blinked nervously, rocking Tinúviel as she started fussing. She did not know what her husband intended to do.
"What is your relationship to my wife?" he continued, his tone unchanged.
"I am her friend and guardian," Faye replied. "I have been with her since she was an Elfling."
"And how did you end up in chains?"
There was silence at this question. Arwen glanced worriedly from her to Aragorn. The details Faye had given her in the past few days explained very little of the total span of time. What she knew would not be near enough to satisfy Aragorn. She turned back to Faye, casting a significant glance that tried to warn her of this fact. Faye closed her eyes, and for a moment appeared unsteady.
"A quest," she finally said. "I was sent by the Valar on a quest. I succeeded, but was not to be rewarded." She swayed ominously, as if she could no longer stand. "They found me while I was trying to rest."
"They?" Aragorn pressed.
"The Orcs called them Black Riders," Faye replied flatly. "The strongest of them kept me in chains." She paused. "He commanded the Orcs in the ways of torture, acting in the Dark Lord's place."
"The Witch-king?" Eowyn said suddenly.
Faye nodded wordlessly. Arwen was abruptly reminded that Eowyn had been the Witch-king's bane. She suddenly wanted to ask Faye if she knew of this, but Aragorn did so instead.
"Do you know of the Witch-king's destruction?"
Faye opened her eyes, staring at Aragorn with a look that clearly expressed her incredulity. He appeared taken aback by this, for he did not continue speaking.
"The Witch-king was destroyed?" Faye asked, her gaze whirling about to the others. "How?"
"The Witch-king was destroyed before the gates of Minas Tirith," Eowyn replied quietly.
Arwen waited for Eowyn to continue, but it soon became clear that she was not going to voice herself as the cause for the event. However, Faye had proven long ago that she could be hauntingly perceptive of unspoken truths, and this time was no exception. She turned to Eowyn and gazed at her for several silent moments, awe clear on her face. Arwen looked at her husband, and was relieved to see that his expression had finally softened.
"Your trials are over, Faye," Legolas said suddenly, producing a leather bag from underneath the folds of his cloak. He stepped forward and handed the bag to her. "Gandin gave this to me. It belongs to you now."
Faye stared at the bag, slowly opening it and pulling the tattered black cloak into view. Arwen felt a shiver run down her back, trying not to think of the horrid creature that had once worn it. It held dark power, shown most vividly by the deadly silver blade that could appear and disappear into its folds. Faye gripped it in her hands, eyes growing wide.
"Faye. . .?" Maida whispered worriedly.
Tinúviel was starting to fuss, and Arwen's attention was averted. By the time she glanced up again, Faye had the silver blade in her hand. Her guardian's expression was transforming. As Arwen watched, Faye pulled back her lips, revealing tapered fangs, and unleashed a deep, terrible growl. Gimli immediately pulled out his axe, but Maida gripped his shoulder, stopping him from moving forward.
"Curse you," Faye snarled, still staring at the sword. "Curse you! Damn you!! You destroyed everything!!"
Aragorn's arms were around her again. Arwen barely noticed his presence. Faye seemed to be trying to break the sword in half, but even under the stress of her great strength, the blade was unbendable. Blood from her cut hands coated its metallic surface. Ancalima, Celeborn, and Legolas moved to stop her, but before they could reach her she had dropped the sword and turned her fury upon the cloak. The fabric shredded as easily as old parchment in her hands. Those gathered watched in stunned silence as the cloak was reduced to bloody pieces. A soft sound, like a sigh, echoed through the trees, and the bloody sword faded and disappeared.
"It is finished," Legolas said softly.
Faye had fallen to the ground, choking in silent sobs. Arwen tried to approach her, but Aragorn gripped her shoulder, silently asking her to remain. To her surprise, he stepped forward and knelt before Faye, resting a hand on her shoulder.
"Be at peace, my friend," he said gently, his eyes filled with the gentle warmth that Arwen adored. "You need not speak of your trials. Enough has been shown today."
Faye did not respond to him. Aragorn sighed and stood, Ancalima and Maida quickly taking his place. He returned to Arwen's side.
"We will take her to Minas Tirith," he said softly, "and teach her as much recent history as she is willing to accept." He paused. "I still do not think she is entirely safe. There will be a guard watching her at all times. But. . ." He smiled. "I can see why you love her."
Arwen smiled at her husband, barely able to keep tears from falling. Tinúviel was fussing again, and she gently rocked the baby, whispering softly to her. Aragorn embraced them, and she rested her head against his shoulder. Maida and Ancalima were trying to comfort Faye, but Arwen knew this was a release she desperately needed, and was no longer worried about her. For the first time in months, everything seemed to be back in order again. No more pain or fear. With a little more time, Arwen's world would be perfect once more.
Faye's troubles were over, and now, so were hers.