(I mention Queen Eowyn and King Faramir in this chapter, and I know that Eomer was king of Rohan in the book, but I didn’t know when I started writing this, so just let me take creative liberties!)
The Anduin was cold, unlike the pleasant pond water that the girls had just bathed in. Even on horseback the water reached up to their thighs at its highest point. So they stayed on their horses and kept them calm as they ploughed through the icy waters. Nori was desperate to get out, since it was the dead of night, and she had never liked water anyway, and so when they reached the other end of the small ford, she pushed Sunbeam, who went gladly, out of the water and towards the dry earth.
Therefore, it was she who was caught by the ambush.
Nori screamed and tried to find a weakness in the circle of some fifteen riders and their spears. She drew her sword and circled frantically as the riders tightened their circle around her. “Analsiel!” she screamed.
Her friend was already their, her own blade drawn. She wasn’t attacking the riders, just threatening them with the red glow of her sword, so vivid in the moonlight. “Let her go.” Analsiel’s voice was low, and soft, but deadly as a snake’s. “We ride to Gondor and we are only passing through Rohan. We have not endangered you at all. Let her go.” Analsiel fought hard to keep her panic under control, and hoped her voice didn’t shake.
“Who are you?” asked the man against whose throat Analsiel’s blade was. “What are you really doing here?”
Analsiel drew herself up. They had to leave soon; they didn’t have time for this. “I am Analsiel Ethmairn, of this realm, daughter of Feredwyn Isthimian and Tenedril Ethmairn, now lady to Queen Arwen of Gondor.” Analsiel had not run through all her titles in a long time, and it was odd on her tongue. But the soldier froze at the mention of her parents. Feredwyn and Tenedril were highly respected people, and both houses were two of the most respected in all of Rohan. “And who is this?” asked the rider, trying to keep his control.
“Norinel Belecien of Gondor, also a lady to Queen Arwen,” was Analsiel’s short reply.
“Lady,” asked the guard in a choked voice, “If you would release me from your hold, my men will not harm you or Lady Norinel.”
Analsiel removed her sword from under the man’s chin, but waited until Nori was outside of the circle of riders before stepping away from him. “I thank you,” said Analsiel, a forced calm in her voice. “Now we will be on our way-”
“I don’t think so, Lady,” said the captain wearily. “King Faramir will need to question you before they let you go.”
The last thing Nori saw was the guard reach up with the hilt of his sword and strike Analsiel on the head it. Then everything went black.
When Analsiel woke up, it hurt too much to open her eyes. They felt glued shut. But her ears were working, even though they were ringing. She heard soft voices around her bed.
“…Feredwyn, please, she needs her rest. Stop shaking her and let her sleep!”
“Celebra, she is my daughter and I believe I can handle this!” Analsiel recognized her mother’s grouchy voice and would have laughed if it hadn’t been impossible to do that too.
“Yes, Feredwyn, I know she is your daughter, but that also makes her my niece! And I am a healer. That draught you brought has made her immobile, not sleepy. It’s not that she won’t move, it’s that she can’t. I have the antidote here, and you can be sure I will see to Analsiel properly.”
Analsiel really tried to laugh this time. Her aunt and her mother had always bickered over every little thing, and Celebra was usually in the right. But this time Feredwyn had been quite foolish and she had no argument to offer. Analsiel heard her stand, and stalk out of the room. Then she felt Celebra sit beside her and stroke the hair away from her forehead. “Poor thing,” she said. “Here, I am going to open your mouth and pour in this antidote. Keep still.”
Analsiel felt a sweet liquid pour down her throat. Suddenly, her eyes popped open and the room swam into sharp focus with a dizzying whirl. “There, that’s better isn’t it?” inquired Celebra, gently. Analsiel nodded, then said, “What happened?”
At least she tried to say “What happened?” She got as far “What” before she stopped. Her voice was a croak! Celebra laughed. “Yes, you do sound a bit funny don’t you?” She smiled. “I’ll send Feredwyn in now.”
Analsiel tried to protest, but her voice gave out. She collapsed back on her pillows and stayed there.
The door swung open. “Analsiel!” Her mother sounded angry, impatient, not glad to see her only child. “I’m glad you’re better. We have some things to talk about. The first is…well the other maiden with you, she said you fight.” Feredwyn’s voice pronounced fight as if it were a disease. “I hardly think that is appropriate, especially for you. I mean your father and I are important people, and it just isn’t right that our only child should be…so…” Feredwyn trailed off.
“So independent?” Analsiel’s voice was working again. It sounded terrible, but she could talk. “So un-noble? So indecent as to want to use her talents? Yes, mother it is hocking, and you and father should be very ashamed!” Analsiel realized she was sulking and tried to calm down. Her mother sighed.
“There you go again, Analsiel, getting yourself all into a huff just because–“
“Just because what, mother? Just because I’m finally happy and I’m not a perfect married lady? Please, go away! Nori and I have to leave today, so I have to get back on my feet!”
“Oh, no you don’t!” Feredwyn glowered. “I’m having a party tonight, and you can’t escape it that easily!”
“Mother!” Analsiel was growing shrill. Her voice built momentum as she spoke, until at last she was really screaming. “Arwen is dying and I absolutely cannot stay here for one of your stupid parties! Now please go!”
Feredwyn was stunned. What had they done to her? Her little Analsiel had left as a frightened, docile, 16-year-old, who was clumsy and careless and returned as a vibrant, beautiful, no-nonsense woman. Where had her little girl gone? Was it too late to mould her into a proper lady and wife? Well, at least she had Meranyn. Feredwyn wondered what the two would make of each other. They were as different as day and night.
Analsiel eventually staggered out of bed and searched for her clothes. Only then did she realize she was in her own room, and all her old clothes were still there. Everything fit, which proved very savagely how thin Analsiel had grown during her illness. With a shock, Analsiel realized it had only been a week and a half ago since the ambush in Mirkwood.
But even though everything fit, she didn’t like any of it. Slowly, Analsiel came to the same revelation her mother had made only minutes before. She was a very different person now than the one who had always worn the simple dresses of Queen Eowyn’s court and had never cared how she looked. All the clothes made her look sallow and sharp. Finally she found a grey one with a matching hair net and a white belt. It was dull, and shapeless, with a grey-green over dress. But she did find the pleasant surprise of all her old shoes. Eowyn had always favored the soft, small boots that made walking and riding much easier. Feredwyn and her daughter had always had the finest of everything, including the boots, so she had the softest, most comfortable, most useful boots of anyone else. She wondered how Nori was doing. Assuming she still knew her way around, she put on the boots and searched.
She found Nori in the dining hall of her parent’s house, sitting next to another girl. Nori was wolfing down soup and bread as fast as she could without spilling and the girl next to her looked slightly disgusted. Well, thought Analsiel defensive of her friend, She’d be hungry too, if she had just went for three days hard riding without any food but water.
She went over to the table. Nori smiled, but didn’t stop eating. Analsiel smiled back. Then she turned to the other girl. “Is there any way I could get some of the fine food my friend is so ungraciously devouring?” she asked, with a playful glare at Nori, who only smiled.
The girl’s eyebrows rose just a tad. “Yes, of course. I’ll get it for you.’ Her voice was filled with disdain, but Analsiel hardly cared. This girl was probably above her in title, but Analsiel had never played that game, and she did not intend to start now. “Thank you,” she said, her voice dry.
She sat down next to Nori as the girl rose. Her blue gown accentuated her fine figure and made her white-blond hair seem brighter than it was. She was very graceful and was delicate from top to toe. But she seemed dangerous too. “What’s your name?” asked Analsiel as the girl sat down.
“Meranyn,” she replied calmly. “Your mother adopted me when an epidemic in Gondor killed my parents. We lived there till I was 15, and then they sent me here. You must be her daughter, Analsiel.”
Analsiel chewed this information much quicker than she chewed her food. It was much more interesting. Her mother had taken this girl in and raised her as her own, since Analsiel had been away. So in a way, Meranyn was her replacement. “Do you like it here Meranyn?” she asked absently.
“Yes, it’s well enough, but I was hoping to return to Gondor with you when you leave.”
Nori nearly choked on a chink of bread. Even Analsiel swallowed hard. They were not going on a pleasure ride, and after exchanging a quick glance, knew that they shared the opinion that this delicate girl would be a hindrance not help. “Meranyn, I don’t think you would really want to come with us,” said Nori dubiously. You wouldn’t-“
“But I would,” interrupted Meranyn. “Besides, I know a secret way out, and I can show you if you’ll take me with you.”
“Why would we need a secret way out?” asked Nori.
“Because my mother is going to keep us here for a ball,” groaned Analsiel. “We need to get out before she notices we’re late.”
“Correct,” said Meranyn. “And I know the way.”
“Yes, mother, I won’t be late for your precious party. Now, please let Celebra in, she wants to see me.”
Analsiel’s patience was stretched almost to the limit, and her aunt had hinted about something important.
“Oh alright,” said her mother as she stalked out of the room. “Hurry up, Celebra, she needs to get ready,” she said as she passed the woman in the hall.
“I know you’re leaving tonight,” said Celebra as she walked into the room. “And I wanted to give you something to help Arwen.”
“How did you find out?” asked Analsiel, terrified that her mother must know too.
“I told Meranyn about the way out,” was her aunt’s calm reply.
“You what?” screeched Analsiel. “Why didn’t you just tell me?”
“Because that girl needs to get away from here. She’s dangerous here, and in Gondor she’ll be better watched. Feredwyn won’t believe me because she’s sure the girl is perfect, but I know she isn’t. Please take her with you.”
Analsiel was dumbstruck. Could her aunt really be so foolish?
“Now about those gifts…” She reached for the bag she carried on her shoulder and pulled out a thin package and a thick one.
Then thin one proved to be a package of strong healing herbs that her aunt said could all but bring a person back from the dead. The thick one held riding boots, three for her and three for Nori. They were practical and serviceable. She said Meranyn already had hers. “It will be best not attend the party at all, just go straight from here in half an hour to the third door on this hallway. Meranyn will be there.”
In one hour, the three girls were cantering softly away from the city, muffled and hidden by a convenient mist. Meranyn was a terrible rider, and had picked out the most docile of horses from the stable so she wouldn’t have to steer. He just followed Carandae and Sunbeam. Still, she had managed to almost fall off twice, and to actually accomplish it once. So they had slowed from the gallop to a canter and were trying to remain unnoticed. The distant peaks of the Hithaeglir could be seen even in the mist, and Analsiel followed the without doubt, knowing they would lead her home