Part Thirty One
Firnciliath watched from a tent as her brother and her best friend embraced and walked into the woods holding hands. She wiped away a tear with an impatient gesture. If her brother was in love with Analsiel, she might gain a sister from her best friend. She should be pleased. So why did she feel as if she had been betrayed by those she loved most?
A hand rested on her shoulder. Nori.
Firnciliath turned around and hugged her, not caring that her tears fell freely now. She wanted sympathy.
Then with a start, she realized Nori was crying too. Then she spoke. “I don’t know how she did it. Being in love with an Elf…she made it seem so easy, but it’s not…” Her voice trailed off.
Firnciliath looked her friend in the eyes. “It’s Legolas, isn’t it?” she said gently. “Meranyn and Lhunidil are here, and he doesn’t notice you, right?”
Nori nodded miserably.
Firnciliath hugged her again. “Well, we can keep each other company in misery. Only, I should be happy. But if they marry, Analsiel will suffer as she ages and he doesn’t, and when she dies he’ll suffer. And I will have to watch it all and comfort them both while dealing with my own misery and…oh, how will I go on?”
Nori stared at her. “Is that what you fear, Firnciliath? That they will leave you out of their lives if they have one together? How could they? Analsiel is your friend, and Firndil your brother. They would never hurt you like that. They both love you.”
Firnciliath closed her eyes and bit back fresh tears.
“And are you afraid of dying? It comes to all of us, even Elves. Would you have them not marry, and force Firndil to watch Analsiel die?”
“No!” cried Firnciliath vehemently. “No, not at all.”
“Then let them love and be happy,” said Nori softly. “Not everyone has the chance.”
Firnciliath hugged her friend again. “Legolas doesn’t know what he’s missing.”
The party lasted for days after Midwinter, but soon everyone was ready to return to the indoor comforts of a castle. So all was packed, and the people left on a contented, and uneventful, ride back to Lómaelin.
Analsiel was difficult for the entire journey home. Even, in her sick condition for the first few hours, she insisted on riding Carandae, and only Firnciliath’s reply that he would before they got home even if she wouldn’t, was the only thing that got her into the coach. She had a maid to see that she had everything she needed, but the girl left the carriage after only a half hour, shock written all over her face. Nori asked her what had happened.
“The lady, she threatened to challenge me to a duel when we got back, and when that didn’t work, she said she’d tell Crip that I thought he was sweet, and when that didn’t work she threw me out of the carriage. Literally.”
Nori made a face, and Astianen snorted.
“Very well then,” said Nori resignedly. “Go about your business.”
The return was uneventful, and everyone was glad to be back in the castle. But when Analsiel went up to her room, she found a letter with the Queen’s seal stamped across it.
“Crip,” she called absentmindedly. The boy appeared at her door.
“Yes, m’lady?” he asked.
“When did this come?”
Crip blushed. “Before we left, milady. I forgot to give it to you, what with everything happening `round `ere.”
Analsiel nodded, too tired to really care. “Thank you, Crip. Go now.”
Then she sat on the bed and opened the letter. She immediately recognized the script of the Queen and read on, happily.
When she was done, she sank back onto the pillows of her bed. The Queen’s news brought her a certain amount of relief, but also a vast degree of fear and doubt, and exhaustion. She would have to read the letter to all the Queen’s ladies, and she did not look forward to their reactions.
Tomorrow, she thought. I’ll deal with it…tomorrow.
And then she was asleep.
Analsiel called them all together in the morning. Most were tired from the previous day’s travel, but Nori looked perky, and Firnciliath calm.
“Well?” asked Lhunidil, sulkily. “What was so important that we had to get up at the crack of dawn for it?”
Analsiel grimaced at her. “The Queen calls us home.”
The results were as she had expected.
“What is she thinking? There’s still so much to be done here!”
“I don’t believe you!”
“When do we leave?”
“Well, it’s been fun!”
“Are you going, too?”
Analsiel let them speak, but eventually she raised her hands for quiet. The women all obeyed immediately.
“I have the letter that the Queen sent me, requesting our return,” she said calmly. “Shall I read it?”
Heads nodded, and everyone spoke in favor.
“Here it is,” said Analsiel, and she began to read the letter.
All is well with you and my other ladies I trust. I am pleased and proud of what you did in Mirkwood, all of you, and I am even prouder to hear of my ladies to hear of what you have done in Ithilien. The castle you found, Lómaelin, has in truth never been mapped, and the Royal cartographers are most grateful for the information.
I am sure you are all flourishing where you are, but there is need of you elsewhere. The Mador-hai, the half-Uruk-hai you discovered, have been seen in the far mountains of the Ered Lithui, the Ash Mountains that border Mordor to the north. They have terrorized those people that live there, and some of Gondorian descent, so my Lord King thinks it important to offer them the help of some of our greatest fighters.
No one missed the sarcasm, even thought it was only written. Arwen often disagreed with Aragorn’s plans to send their armies to help others and leave themselves virtually unprotected. But they had always worked in the past, so no one in the castle took sides.
You, Analsiel, are being asked to lead the troops we send, with any you choose as your commanders.
“Why isn’t Aragorn going?” Vanadar cried.
“I’m getting to that,” Analsiel replied grimly.
I have begged my lord the King to in the city for this action, as the Mador-hai are not fools, and I believe that they may be showing themselves so obviously to draw Aragorn there and kill him. He sees some wisdom and will stay in Minas Tirith, but he appointed you leader. Serve us well.
You are to set out soon after Midsummer. So I have asked my lord if you might be able to return to Minas Tirith before you begin adventuring again. I know you will have to journey back, while you are very close to the Ered Lithui in Ithilien, but all of you have been sorely missed since your departure so long ago. Also, Analsiel, the King has promised to formally appoint you the Lady of Lómaelin. Therefore, we would like your presence at the ceremony. Please come home, all of you, if only for a little.
The end of the letter was greeted with silence.
“Commander?” Lhunidil croaked. “Why did you get to be commander? And Lady of Lómaelin?”
“Because she’s the most capable of us all, you half-wit!” said Quelleanon. “None of us, most especially you, could lead better than she could!”
Lhunidil glared fiercely at her, but bit her tongue.
“Shall we go, then?” Analsiel asked causally.
“I’m going,” said Lhunidil haughtily.
“As am I,” answered Luinduriel.
“I think I will too,” said Nori cautiously.
Every lady said she would go. Except Quelleanon.
“I’ll be no use in the Ered Lithui,” she protested. “I can’t stand the cold, and I have no genius for battle. But I’m happy here, in Lómaelin, and someone needs to stay anyway to make sure things are run properly. And
Analsiel broke her off with a hug. Her friend had put all her doubts and fears about her castle to rest in only a few sentences.
“Thank you,” she said softly. “I appoint you seneschal of Lómaelin, in charge of this castle until my return.” She pitched her voice so that they all could hear when she said the last words. Everyone smiled approvingly. Quelleanon was happier in Lómaelin than she’d ever been the palace, and everyone knew it.
“So,” said Analsiel firmly. “We will begin preparations.”
It transpired that Firndil, Legolas, and Meranyn would travel back to Minas Tirith with them. Everyone was pleased by this news, but it did make the packing take longer, with three extra people. Still, it was only one month after Midwinter when all set out on the only slightly snowy roads to return home.
Firndil rode beside Analsiel for the first few days, and Firnciliath kept her distance. But Analsiel noticed her friend’s behavior and drew her into the conversation, and soon all three rode together, laughing and joking, and Firnciliath made her peace with the two people dearest to her in the world.
All the servants and soldiers who had come along gossiped about Analsiel and Firndil, but Analsiel took the most notice of Nori. Her friend was happier than she’d been in months, and she laughed and smiled easily, and rode her horse like the mare was no more than a wisp of cloud. And Legolas noticed her. Not obviously, and he hardly spoke to her, but Analsiel saw the sidelong glances as they rode, and the small favors he did for her when they made camp. But Nori hardly seemed to notice, so Analsiel assumed that her friend wasn’t doing it for the Elf’s attention, but just because she was happy. And she was glad to see it.
In only a fortnight, the party had reached Minas Tirith. It was not a hard ride or a long one from Southern Ithilien, but it seemed both since everyone was so excited to be going home. And for some of the soldiers who had been posted with Mena and Reliand, it had been years since they had seen wives and children in the city. And so it came that when trumpets sounded from the White Tower, there was not a dry eye and not a sad face in all of the homecoming party.