Aragorn led them into the city. He was relieved to be home, and he wanted more than anything to see his wife and daughters. The years he had spent as Ranger had been dark, he decided, and he couldn’t recall how he had made it sometimes.
Malla. She had helped, her company had been welcome and she was like a sister to him. It had been so long since last he had seen her and he was sure she had faded. The news of her life in captivity hurt his heart more than the sword could. She hadn’t deserved suh treatment, not with the kind soul she had and how she loved all living things good. He could remember long days spent searching for things now long forgotten with her, some things that now seemed so trivial, but he would have any day with her again. She had been a true friend, a sister in many ways, no matter that she was many years younger than he was. Her life had not been led in safe guard, it had often been on the line when he knew her. Facing something she didn’t understand was often just a new game for her, and he was sure it would be the death of her. It seemed she had finally met her match.
Aragorn shook the thought away. People followed them up the tiered city to the seventh level. When they reached the seventh tier he swiftly dismounted and ran into Arwen’s out-stretched arms. Elenloth wrapped her hands around his arm in a small gesture while he engulfed his wife in a hug. A maiden approached with little Elanna in her arms. The babe was softly gurgling and Aragorn took her into his arms and kissed her little face. "My loves…" he whispered.
Elfwine burst from the doors of the guest houses and he sprinted through the crowds of people, shoving his way to Eldarion and Katrina. "My friends!" he called as he waved an arm to them.
Eldarion smiled as he helped Katrina from his mount. When she was on the ground his hands stayed on her waist and hers remained on his shoulders. Her smile was the most beautiful thing and her eyes looked shy as they glanced down, half closed. "Thank you…" she muttered. She was thankful when Elfwine threw his arms over their shoulders and pulled them each under one of his arms.
"Oh, it is so good to have you back!" The Rohan prince squeezed their shoulders. He seemed like one of the best freinds she had and she was so grateful for him as he began to ramble about everything that had happened since Eldarion left to find her.
Oh, my God… What have I done? I’ve fallen in love with a non believer. You said to stay evenly yolked, and I understand why, but I love him. He’s been so good to me and he cares. He cares so much and I feel so safe when I’m with him. What kind of love is this? That I would fall for someone who’s faith is not in You, but his own strength? Help me to understand this… She wanted to cry. So much had happened, she wasn’t really home, and her heart was being stolen by someone who didn’t share her faith.
The pain she felt was deep in her chest, her soul, her heart, her very being. Everything she knew was falling apart.
"Katrina?" Elfwine shook her shoulders. "Did you hear me?" He was smiling at her so enchantingly. She didn’t know what the question was and she didn’t know the answer, it was embarassing.
"No, I’m sorry, I didn’t hear you. Could you repeat?" Her cheeks went on fire. There was a lot of noise, with all the people gathered and the shouts of joy being made at the return of the king.
"I was just wondering if you two would like to join me for a private meal? They’ll be serving something here, most likely a feast, and I thought that, maybe, we could find a quieter setting. Eldarion already agreed. What about you?"
"I…Sure. Why not? It’ll be fun. Where were you planning?" She laughed as Elfwine kissed her cheek in thanks.
"Great! Well, I was thinking the gardens, and you two can even sit next to each other. I promise I won’t notice." The sly eye he threw Eldarion made her laugh even harder. He led them to a quiet area in the garden. The basket of food was still in his room so Elfwine left to get it.
Katrina was nervous, now that it was just the two of them, and they were sitting next to each other. Eldarion looked the same as she felt, and she knew he was wondering about her captivity. To be honest, she wasn’t ready to talk. It was too soon. In that instant she realized she hadn’t told Aragorn yet about the future siege on Minas Tirith.-
"Katrina? I was wondering, what happened to you?" He finally asked and somehow she would have to find the courage to answer. Her heart was pounding and dread filled her. She didn’t want to talk about it, even though she knew she should.
"I don’t know…" Not wanting to look into his lovely gray eyes, she looked out at the sunset. It was gorgeous, like his stunning features that were so handsome in the colorful lighting.
Katrina tried so hard to push her feelings for him away. They weren’t right. He wasn’t a Christian, and she was, they weren’t meant to be together.
Then, he was so close it was breath stifling. "It’s okay, we don’t have to talk about it." His eyes flicked over her face and slowly they began to close.
Horror rose in her the same moment warmth did. How could she deny him her love that was so abundant?
Eldarion’s mouth was but a breath away, his eyes closing as they narrowed in on her subtle lips. His hands cupped her scared cheeks.
"Eldarion," she whispered. As she spoke his lips brushed hers and his eyes closed completely. A sweetness passed between them that she lost herself in. He was all she had ever wanted, except, the one thing that mattered most…he didn’t trust God as his Savior.
His breath ran out so he pulled back a moment, his lips hovering over hers. He sucked in a ragged breath and then pressed her mouth with a firmness she answered with eagerness.
Katrina choked when she realized what she was doing. She broke the contact and heaved a thick breath into her lungs. "No." Her face buried itself in her hands.
Eldarion coughed on his startled gasp. "What?"
"I…Eldarion, you’re not – we’re not…Our worlds are different, in many ways. You’re from Middle Eath, I’m from the real world. My heart belongs to God, yours to this land. We don’t match up." The words burned in her throat and on her lips, just as the emotion did in her eyes. She tucked her knees up to her chest and rested her forehead on them. Sobs wracked her body as tears began to fall. "I loved you, though."
"Katrina…" Heartache caught him off guard, he hadn’t been expecting that. Eldarion ran a hand through his dark hair, trying to act like he would be okay. Deep down, though, he wondered if he really would be. He loved her so much, and that had just been ripped away and torn to shreds by the one he loved. If she loved him, how could she say such things? Did it not pain her?
His eyes turned to gaze at her lithe body, so long and delicate. Her frame was shivering in-between convulsive quakes that shook her entire body. He wanted to hold her, to ease her suffering…No. She wouldn’t want him to touch her, to be looking at her. He forcefully looked away, at the gardens. Why could his love not be like this? So full and blooming, beautiful – Wait. His was. It was her love that was wilting into a dead plant, never to awaken unless the sun graced it with some light and some gardener fed it water and cut away the old…It would never happen. Eru didn’t care. If He did, He would have prevented this, would have saved their hearts from this suffereing, this pain.
"I’m so sorry, Eldarion…" Her voice shook and trembled. "I…I have to go…Good bye…Thank you…for…for…saving my life." She forced herself up and began to run away. He watched her slam into a tall man, who dropped what he was carrying and wrapped his arms around her.
"Katrina? What’s wrong?" Elfwine tucked her head into his shoulder and cast a look at Eldarion, who only looked away, uncomfortable.
"Nothing…" She shoved him away and took off down the path, her sobs echoing inside both their heads.
"Eldarion? What happened?" Elfwine picked up the basket of food he was carrying and moved the rest of the distance to the prince of Gondor. He sat down in front of his friend and stared into the cold eyes, not understanding any of the hostility.
"She broke both our hearts." Eldarion looked at the prince of Rohan levelly. "I wont make the same mistake again." He bit into a piece of bread and looked away.
Elladan saw the river maiden running from the gardens, heading to the King’s House. Her arms were tightly wrapped around herself and her head was bowed and it looked like she was crying. Her shoulders were shaking and her footsteps were stumbling as she ran. "Excuse me," he told the young woman he was talking to, he touched her shoulder as he began to follow Katrina from a distance.
"What?" The confusion in the woman’s eyes made him feel guilty, but this was important. Her hands took his. "What’s wrong?" She was just a woman who had taken to talking to him. Katrina was far more, there was something about her that made him reach out to her.
"I have a friend who needs help." he didn’t throw her a second glance, he would apologize later, now was the time for action.
The return feast was getting underway, and those gathered were only a hinderance to him now. Another young woman got in his way. "Would you eat with me, kind lord?" Her gentle smile was endearing and it ate away at his heart to offend another innocent…
"My apologies, I was actually just leaving to find a friend. Perhaps some other time?" He flashed her a matching smile of endearment.
The hurt he saw in her eyes slapped him across the face. "Of course, sir, I understand…" She turned to find another meal partner.
Elladan shook his head and decided he would not be distracted again. He moved his way out of the banquet and lightly ran to the King’s House. He pushed the door open, by now Katrina had vanished into her bed chambers and he had no idea where that was.
A young woman approached him, her grin genuine. "What are you doing in here, Uncle Elladan?" Elenloth looked lovely, strands of her dark hair twisted into delicate decor, gentle gray eyes lit with joy. Just like her mother…
"I was looking for Katrina, I saw her come in here. What room is hers?" He hadn’t wanted to be so brisk with her, but he knew something was wrong and he was determined to find out what.
"Oh." Her suprise was very clear on her delicate face. "She’s just down the hall, her room is five doors from mine in this direction. Do you know where that is?"
"Yes, thank you. " He bent to kiss her cheek then moved down the hall. His steps carried him swiftly towards her room, urgency pushing him forward. He hesitated before he knocked on the heavy wooden door.
No answer came for a time. And he began to wonder if she would reply when a hoarse question came, "Whose there?"
"Katrina? This is Elladan. May I come in?" Elladan held his breath, hoping she would say yes.
"Sure." Her reply was far more carefree than he had ever anticipated. But the tone of voice was heavy and strained, just as he thought it would be.
He pushed the door open slowly, wishing that another had seen what he had…
Seated on the soft bed was a woman he hardly recognized. Her face was ashen with even whiter hand prints marring her face. Tears streamed down delicate features from lovely sapphire eyes. A thin body, not jsut the beautiful lithe one he had seen before, not it was thin, and was shaking as hiccuping sobs passed her lips. It was clothed in pure white, the material of the gown heavy but revealing the back and arms. The golden hair was dirty, not the full vibrance he knew, but not disgusting. But the eyes, he noticed, were dull and not as bright as before even though a depth was still there that echoed a deep faith. She slightly turned and the slashing scabs drew the most attention… Pale red stretching across her back.
"Katrina! What happened!?" Elladan was by her side as she began to weep even harder. "Don’t worry, you can tell me everything…"