Storm Front - Chapter 18
The setting of the sun had finally brought relief to the White City. Those that had sought refuge against the sweltering, humid heat of late summer now celebrated the coming of a clear, cool evening by filling the air with music and laughter. The call of the impromptu festival proved irresistible to most, and the King and Queen of Gondor were no exception. This night found them in the Citadel courtyard. As the guards watched, and the palace servants' laughter echoed merrily from the open palace windows, the high King dueled with his young son.
"Keep your shoulders back," Aragorn instructed, easily blocking a blow Eldarion had aimed at his torso. The wooden sticks they were using as swords gave a satisfying clack as the two met. "And be quick on your feet. Speed is just as much an ally in a fight as strength."
Eldarion nodded, attempting to follow his father's instructions. Arwen, who sat under the boughs of the white tree, chuckled as she watched. Eldarion was still far too young to possess much prowess, but nevertheless he was displaying a natural talent that defied his years.
"Be careful, Eldarion!" Eowyn, who was sitting by her side, called. "We must not deprive Gondor of its King."
Eldarion did not answer Eowyn, so concentrated was he on his movements, but Aragorn offered a warm laugh. Arwen turned to glance at her friend, who had arrived in Minas Tirith only that morning. Her belly was already starting to show, though she was only five months into her second pregnancy. Eowyn glanced back, smiling. At their feet, Eomala and Tinúviel played with wooden figurines carved in the shape of horses.
"Easy, Tinúviel," Arwen said softly as the baby rapped one of the toys smartly against the ground, giggling as she did so. "You do not want to break that."
"They will not break, Lady Arwen," Eomala said, looking up at her. "Baba made them strong."
She raised the figurine she was holding, and Arwen took it, examining the sturdy, thick legs and stubby ears. Not a pretty replica of a horse, but she could tell it was made for the specific use of young and overeager children.
"I did not know Faramir knew how to carve," Arwen commented, handing the toy back to the children.
Eowyn laughed, and leaned in closer.
"He does not," she whispered. "They were carved by one of the old men we rescued from the traders, and given to us as a gift. Faramir added the little bands of metal on their legs and heads."
Once again, Tinúviel laughed. Arwen looked around to see that her husband and son had abandoned the sticks, and were now wrestling playfully.
"Perhaps we may find our visit to Dol Amroth interesting enough yet," Eowyn commented.
Arwen nodded thoughtfully. The next morning, Eowyn and Eomala were to accompany them on a state visit to Dol Amroth, to overview the progress of the slavery situation and bear witness to the end of the trails. From what reports had stated, there had been several occurrences of smaller plantation owners having tried to destroy evidence of their crimes in methods ranging from forcing their slaves to pose as willing workers to one event of a mass killing. Arwen was well aware that many of the slave owners in custody would have not been caught had Gandin not kept his records, which had tracked the sales and purchases of slaves for almost fifty years.
Suddenly feeling a tiny hand against her leg, Arwen looked down to see Tinúviel grasping her skirt, motioning with her arms that she wanted to be lifted up. Arwen gathered her daughter in her lap, and smiled when she saw Tinúviel's head start to tip sideways.
"I think I better settle her down for the night," she said to Eowyn, cradling her daughter in her arms and standing.
"I'll come with you," Eowyn offered. She turned to Eomala. "Keep an eye on Aragorn and Eldarion for us?"
Eomala giggled and smiled up at her mother. Aragorn and Eldarion were now trying to best the other at a war of words, and it was to Arwen's great surprise that her son seemed to be winning. Together, she and Eowyn made their way into the Citadel. Due to the slightly uncomfortable warmth that still lingered in the outer corridors from the heat of the day, only a scant few of the torches had been lit. However, all the windows were open, tempting in the refreshing night breezes.
Tinúviel was fast asleep by the time Arwen and Eowyn arrived in the nursery, and after the babe had been settled in her crib, they stood together before one of the windows. For a moment, there was silence between them. Eowyn settled her hand on her belly.
"It is a pity Maida is not here," she said. "She would have been able to tell me what my baby will be, as she did for you."
"She and Gimli should be nearing Rivendell by now," Arwen replied, her memory momentarily drifting over the message Maida had sent. "I think it will be a long while before they return."
Eight and a half months had passed since Maida and Gimli's departure. The only word Arwen had yet received from them had been brought by a communication from her grandfather. Lord Celeborn had told her of Faye's decision to journey back to Rivendell, and of Maida's intentions to follow. Arwen did not know what was going through the mind of her friend, or even more, what was going through the mind of Gimli.
"I wonder what Gimli was thinking," Eowyn suddenly commented. "I could have sworn he could not stand Maida."
Arwen laughed softly, resting a hand on Eowyn's shoulder.
"Are you sure you need Maida? For you seem to have the gift of foresight as well." Arwen smiled. "You echo precisely what I was thinking."
"Then it is a lucky night," Eowyn replied. "And a just thought."
Arwen nodded in agreement. Eowyn moved away from the window and approached the door. Arwen glanced over at her sleeping daughter, then moved to follow. Once they were out in the corridor, Eowyn chuckled.
"Imagine it," she began, pulling the door closed gently. "Those two are either going to return having maimed the other, or they're going to come back married."
Arwen almost choked, pressing a hand to her mouth to muffle a snort of mirth.
"Married?" Arwen shook her head. "My friend, you and I both listened to Maida's jibes at Gimli all the way to Mirkwood. What in Arda makes you think they will be married?"
"I can think of no other reason why Gimli would choose to remain with her," Eowyn replied.
Arwen and Eowyn shared laughs of mirth all the way back into the Citadel's courtyard, where they found Aragorn sitting where they had once been, Eomala having taken his place in dueling with Eldarion. One glance at the two told Arwen that Faramir had also taken time in teaching his child the arts of the sword.
"What is so funny?" Aragorn asked as Arwen sat down beside him.
Arwen told him of the comments that had passed between her and Eowyn, smiling when Aragorn reacted in much the same way as she had done.
"Remember to tell that to Legolas when he joins us in Dol Amroth," he said. "I am sure he would be most interested in that theory."
Eowyn rolled her eyes, raising her hands in mock defeat.
"I know, I know," she said, sitting down next to Arwen. "Bregan will sprout wings and fly before Gimli professes love to Maida."
* * * * * *
"Faye! Faye, where are you?"
Maida ducked underneath the branches of a prickly pine tree, scanning the shadows around her in annoyance. Once again, Faye had slipped out of her sight, and Maida knew full well that Faye was most at home in the trees. If Faye wanted it, she could sneak up on Maida without her ever seeing her coming. And Maida had been snuck upon too often these past few days to tolerate it.
"Faye, come out!" Maida called, huffing in frustration. "Legolas does this to me all the time. I do not want it from you, too!"
A sudden snap caused her to twirl around. Something was moving just behind some nearby shrubs. Grinning mischievously, Maida began to sneak forward, intending to deal her own form of surprise attack. The shrubs moved again, a shadowy figure stepping around them. Maida let out a yell of victory and flung herself forward.
And gave a cry of surprise when she bowled over her aunt Amalindë.
"Maida!" Amalindë cried, her face a mask of shock. "What in Arda was that for?"
"I thought you were Faye," Maida protested, helping her aunt to sit up and rapidly starting to brush bits of leaves and dirt off her back. "She disappeared, and I thought she was going to sneak up on me."
Amalindë frowned at her. Maida dropped her gaze to the ground, shuffling her feet nervously.
"Maida, could you not have looked a little harder before pouncing on me?" her aunt asked sternly.
Maida blinked. Slowly, she turned around, and sighed deeply when she saw Faye standing right behind her. The Elfling realized now that the two of them had been walking together before she had interrupted.
"But you were right behind me!" Maida protested.
"I heard Amalindë coming," Faye replied, a slight grin on her face. "And I thought you had as well. But there has been no harm here. Only an innocent mistake." She glanced at Amalindë, who shook her head and smiled. "Now come. What was all that shouting about?"
Glad that her aunt appeared to be just fine, Maida began telling of the tricks being played on her by Legolas. Both Faye and Amalindë were patient listeners. When she had finally finished, Amalindë smiled and rested a hand on her shoulder.
"Legolas does not play these tricks just to be cruel, my little Elfling," she said kindly. "You are his only cousin. He does care about you."
Maida huffed, not believing her. Faye suddenly chuckled, and crouched down before her.
"Remember what happened the day I arrived here?" she asked. "You were coming to greet me and you tripped and skinned your knee? Who was the first person to come to your aid?"
Maida sighed, shuffling her feet again.
"Legolas," she muttered.
"And who protects you from those little beasts that live in the shadows of your bedchamber at night?"
"There are beasts in the shadows!" Maida protested, but sighed again. "Legolas."
Faye stood and offered an arm to Amalindë, which she took. There was a humored smile on her face.
"Would he do such things if he did not care for you?" she asked.
"No." Maida rolled her eyes, defeated. They were right. "I guess I could. . ."
But she had no chance to finish, for she was suddenly grabbed from behind. Maida shrieked in fright and surprise, then let out a cry of fury when she heard Legolas's laughter echo into the air. She shoved her offending cousin away.
"That is it, Legolas!" she cried, shaking her fists as Legolas quickly moved to put his mother and Faye between them. "I'll kiss a Dwarf before I ever forgive you!!"
Faye pressed her hand to her mouth, trying her best to muffle her laughter as Maida rounded off the tale with a dignified shake of her head. Night had finally fallen on what had been a very warm, uncomfortable day. She was sitting with her back against a tree, watching as Gimli worked to light a fire. Maida was crouching beside him, watching him work while she told her story. Ancalima was sitting on a bedroll next to Faye, tossing bits of an old biscuit towards her mule.
"Do you still think that way?" Ancalima asked, casting Maida a humored glance. "And will we have a fire tonight, Master Dwarf?"
"This wood is too damp," Gimli said gruffly. "Too much moisture in the air this time of year. Nothing is being allowed to dry off." He gave one more effort with the flint, then sighed in defeat and sat back. "I'm surprised we had a fire going last night. The firewood was far worse than it is now."
Faye grinned privately. There had been several occasions in the past months where she had secretly aided the Dwarf in lighting a fire. The unique power had been out of her stamina range ever since she had used it on herself, but now some semblance of it had returned, and she enjoyed every opportunity she was given to wield it. Tonight, she could tell, would be her second happy chance in as many days. Slowly, she began concentrating on the pile of firewood at the Dwarf's feet, ignoring Maida's reply to Ancalima's first inquiry. Faye had never tried to breach the subject in any depth, simply because she could think of nothing proper to say.
After all, what could she possibly say to the newly formed, if incredibly odd, couple that was Maida and Gimli? This was an entirely new situation, far different in Faye's eyes than Arwen and Aragorn had been. Nevertheless, she had kept her mouth firmly shut when the topic was brought up. It was just one more thing on her list of happenstances that she could not even begin to comprehend.
In an instant, fire bloomed within the heart of the wood pile, and Gimli released a snort of surprise. Both Maida and Ancalima were laughing merrily now.
"Well done!" Ancalima said, though Faye knew the wandering woman was just as surprised as Gimli. Only Maida knew of her talents with fire. "I wish I possessed your skill, Gimli."
"No more than luck," Gimli replied, staring at the fire as if waiting for it to rear up and explain exactly how it had come to be.
Maida winked at Faye, who returned it with one of her own. Ancalima, who had seemingly not noticed the private exchange, tossed the rest of the biscuit to her eager mule and turned in the direction they were to be heading tomorrow.
"Faye, how much further to Rivendell?" she asked.
"If we continue at a brisk pace, we should be there by sundown tomorrow," Faye replied.
Faye studied Ancalima. Her decision to come with them to Rivendell had caught her at almost as great a surprise as Maida and Gimli's newfound love.
"I will never go to Minas Tirith because I have no place in a city," Ancalima had explained on the day of their departure. "But I have known the Elves most of my life. I have no qualms with journeying between their lands. Besides, they do not call me the old wandering woman for nothing. In my younger years I saw many parts of the northern reaches of this world."
So Ancalima had arranged to have her goats sent to King Thranduil, boarded up her small cottage, and set out with them on the journey. Now, it was almost complete. Faye glanced over at Bill, who was quietly stripping a low-hanging tree branch of its leaves. On the branch just above it, Faye could make out the eagle looking back at her. The noble creature had rarely strayed far, circling high above them in the day and settling nearby at night. It remained, throughout everything, an ever vigilant shadow.
Sleep slowly came over all of them, but Faye was roused in the dead hours of the night by pains in her right leg. Growling softly in irritation, Faye sat up and began massaging the offending leg, trying to coax the stiff and cramping muscles into submission. Time had not eased the damage dealt by the spider.
Once the pain had finally eased, Faye turned her gaze to Maida, who lay sleeping next to her. After a moment, she raised her hand and brushed a few stray locks from the she-Elf's face. Maida sighed and shifted position slightly, but remained asleep.
"We shall rest in Rivendell," Faye whispered softly. "Perhaps, when I walk in the Valley again, I will start to feel at peace."
Faye sighed, resting back on her own bedroll. As Maida had so eloquently said that day in the clearing, Rivendell was her last chance to find answers, and peace, and relief. What she sought, though they weren't yet completely clear even to herself, had to be in Rivendell.
They just had to be.