The Undying Lands - (chapter 53)

The feeling of movement awoke Ariengil and she found herself lying down in a carriage. There were blankets, cloaks and cushions underneath her and she was comfortable, though cold; so cold. Red curtains shut out most of the light in the carriage, so Ariengil slowly pushed herself up and towards the curtains. She lay down with exhaustion as she reached them, though they were not far, and she peered out quietly.
Right behind the carriage was the King Eldarion on his fine, black horse. He was deep in thought and was looking at his hands as his horse guided them. As though he sensed that he was being watched, the King looked up at the carriage and saw Ariengil's face peering at him. He smiled warmly and Ariengil felt herself warm slightly.
A moment later, Ariengil heard the call for halt and the carriage slowed gently. The King and his steed trotted up to the curtains and Ariengil felt her heartbeat slightly quicker. She shook herself mentally and smiled.
`Are you decent?' asked the King. Ariengil suddenly realised that she was wearing her under-dress, but nothing over the top. She was mortally embarrassed and quickly withdrew into the carriage again. Grabbing a cloak, she cast it about her shoulders as she listened to the King addressing another person. That other person entered the carriage an instant later, with a dress. Ariengil smiled gratefully and donned the garment as quickly as possible. She looked around for a brush, only to be handed one by the young girl and she brutally brushed her hair, still blushing furiously.
`Are you ready, Ariengil?' asked the King. Ariengil answered by opening the curtains. The King smiled and offered his arm to Ariengil.
`Oh dear,' she gasped. `I have no shoes, I must stay in the carriage.' The King laughed and stepped closer. He swept Ariengil off her feet and carried her to a chestnut mare. He lifted her onto the saddle and she sat there, not knowing whether to be embarrassed or pleased. The King mounted too and they set off again.
Ariengil looked backwards and saw the remains of the army. Right behind the King and Ariengil were her dear friends- Mereth, Nieninque, Nárfin, Thaliondil and Dînhith, all on horses. But where were Tiuka and Beleg? Dînhith looked terrible- she had obviously been crying as her eyes were red and she looked as though she had not slept for days. She smiled though, as Ariengil turned around. The others smiled and waved in recognition and Ariengil was pleased to see Mereth with his arm around Nieninque.
Behind her friends, Ariengil saw about five thousand men from the previous army, and about the same amount of elves. Her smile faded and she turned to the King. `So few; we lost so many. This is so wrong.'
`We did lose many, but we were victorious. Had we lost, we would have lost the ones we left at home as well. We almost lost you too. Your dear friend, Dînhith, and I thought you would never wake,' replied Eldarion.
`How long was I asleep?' asked Ariengil.
`Three days. We left this morning from the camp. We were forced to bury our lost ones at the battlefield, as there was no way to bring them all home; and we burned the carcasses of the enemy. However, we brought Nimtheryn's body back with us. We thought you would wish for this.' The King spoke in a dismayed and dimmed voice and he looked at Ariengil sympathetically.
`Thank you, I really appreciate you doing this for me,' replied Ariengil. She suddenly saw a flash of light and she saw Nimtheryn again, lying on the ground with no life in him. She sobbed and clutched the saddle of her horse. King Eldarion leant over and put his hand on hers, comforting her but also making her shiver slightly. She was not sure whether she shivered with delight or from upsetting memories of Harma and Nimtheryn.
`Your majesty,' began Ariengil, but she was stopped before she could continue.
`Call me Eldarion, remember?' asked the King.
`Oh, yes Eldarion,' gulped Ariengil. She felt her hand shaking slightly once the King had removed his own, and she grasped it with her other hand to try to steady it. `May I see my friends please?' she asked.
`Of course. Leonora,' called the King to the girl who had been with Ariengil earlier. `Please bring Ariengil something to wear on her feet.' The woman ran away quickly, chasing after the carriage with efficient speed. She jumped onto the steps of the carriage, which was not travelling particularly quickly, and vanished behind the curtains. The King smiled good-humouredly at Ariengil and she smiled back, hoping that she would not blush. When Leonora reappeared from behind the curtains, she held a pair of boots in her hands and she sat on the steps then slid off.
Ariengil and the King stopped their horses and Eldarion got off his mount. He walked around his horse to Ariengil's side and she turned sideways in the saddle. Ariengil slid down the horse and Eldarion put his hands on her hips, helping her to stand on the ground with firm feet. She took a couple of steps and almost fell, but Eldarion was there to help her up. He looked at her with worried eyes and held her arm to steady her. Every time that the two came into contact with each other, Ariengil smiled and felt herself shiver with delight.
The King walked Ariengil over to her friends and Mereth and Thaliondil took her arms and they walked, supporting her. The King returned to his horse and Ariengil's and gave them to Leonora to look after, and then he returned to Ariengil and walked with the group.
Before they all set off again, Dînhith grasped Ariengil in a very strong hug and it seemed forever before she let go. They held each other's hands and Ariengil saw pain and hurt in Dînhith's eyes. Ariengil could not bear such pain to be in her friend and she wished that she could take away all of the pain and let her dearest comrade suffer no longer. Ariengil would have gladly taken Dînhith's entire burden, and more, if it made her friend happy- Ariengil realised she would die for Dînhith if it would let Dînhith live in happiness. Dînhith had no idea that Ariengil was thinking all of this, but she felt exactly the same.
Gradually Ariengil regained her balance and they progressed a little faster. As they walked faster, Ariengil and Dînhith split off from the rest of the group and walked arm-in-arm, as they did in their childhood. Ariengil didn't want to pressure Dînhith into talking, but she spoke of her own accord anyway.
`It happened so quickly,' said Dînhith quietly and in a subdued way. `I wasn't near him, but an orc stepped out in front of him and cut him down. It was terrible, and all I could do was watch from the distance.' Dînhith shook with her ragged breaths, but she did not cry. `Nieninque has lost her powers. She could save Mereth, but from then she could not. That night she had a dream where her father spoke to her. His words were...' Dînhith screwed up her face in concentration as she remembered what Nieninque had told her. `He said "Your powers will be enough until you realise your true love." She had, of course, realised that Mereth was her true love the second he fell. If I had been able to have powers like that-' Dînhith shook her head and stopped her sentence before she blamed herself for something that had not been her fault.
Dînhith took a deep breath and tried to smile at Ariengil again. A frown appeared on Dînhith's face and she spoke again. `They didn't find Tarma's body.'
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