Once she was dressed, Aliana found Eowyn waiting for her in the dining hall.
“We have our work cut out for us, my friend. The kitchen is in disarray and the cooks have just arrived. I sent the cook’s apprentice to find what rations we have to work with. I fear time is running short.”
Placing her hand on her friend’s shoulder, Aliana replied, “Do not worry. We will gather the staff and delegate what needs to be done. I am sure they will all be more than happy to pull it together. We all have much to celebrate tonight.”
As hard as she tried to conceal it, Eowyn could clearly see the worry written on Aliana’s face. “Do not worry. The worst is behind us all, now. They will be back safe and sound soon enough.”
“I know they will. I think I am not quite back to myself. Forgive me, my lady.”
“There is nothing to forgive, especially from you. Aliana, you have brought me hope. You have done things that I have only dreamt about. I hope to one day be able to find the courage to do what needs to be done.” Aliana could see nothing but admiration in Eowyn’s eyes.
“Thank you, my friend. But do not underestimate yourself. There is a greatness about you that is apparent to all that come in contact with you. Your time is coming…..sooner than you think.”
A small blonde haired boy who looked about 10 years old ran into the room. “My lady, I have found everything you asked for. The bread is being put into the oven as we speak and the butcher is on his way with everything on your list. We truly will have a feast tonight!”
“We had better get to work. I will gather the rest of the staff and meet you in the hall,” Eowyn commanded to Aliana.
Within a few minutes, the hall was filled with people and each one of them had a job to do. Aliana helped in the kitchen and did not see Eowyn for the rest of the afternoon. Time slipped by quickly and before she knew it, everything was ready. She took advantage of the spare moments she had and took her leave to ready herself.
As Aliana walked down the hall to the rooms Eowyn had given her during her stay, she looked out the window. The sun was just touching the top of the mountains, casting a pink hue on the valley. She stopped long enough to scan the countryside, hoping to see riders in the distance. Disappointed, she moved along and reached her door halfway down the long hall. Upon entering she found a white gown with royal blue trimmings laying on her bed. She held it up and admired the intricate beading around the neckline and approved of the flowing royal blue sleeves. It was almost as beautiful as the gowns Galadriel had given her when she was younger. Quickly she dressed and moved in front of the mirror. The dress fit a little loose so she looked around the room for something to fix it with. She walked into the bathroom and found a light blue ribbon laying next to the basin. Aliana fashioned it around her waist, carefully gathering the extra material behind her. Once she was satisfied with her dress she found the brush and took her time brushing out her hair that seemed longer than she remembered. It seemed to have grown about four inches in the past week. She decided that it had been awhile since she had the luxury of doting over her hair. It felt good to be a woman for a change. She wanted to look her best. She wanted everyone to remember her this way, not the way she had been at Helm’s Deep.
There was a light rap on her door. Her heart skipped a beat and she ran for the door. As she pulled it quickly open she found Eowyn standing in front of her. Hiding her disappointment, Aliana bade her to enter.
“There’s no time! It is almost time to eat. My uncle is not back yet so I must make my appearance now before the people grow restless and worried. Are you ready?”
Aliana ran to the mirror to take one more look. Deciding she was as ready as she was going to be, she joined Eowyn in the hallway.
“You look beautiful! I know someone who will be nicely surprised,” Eowyn teased.
“And I’m sure my brother will be pleased with you also, my lady.”
“Aragorn is not who I am speaking of.” At this Aliana felt her face flush a bright red.
The two women quickly made their way to the dinner hall. The huge room was already filled with people. Aliana followed Eowyn through the room to the long table at the other end. There were two huge chairs in the middle for King Theoden and Aragorn. To the right of the king would sit Eomer, then Eowyn. To the left of Aragorn would sit Legolas, Gimli then Aliana. As the women found their seats, the people sat down and quietly waited for Eowyn to speak.
“The king will be along shortly. He would not want this meal to grow cold.” Holding up the goblet before her she finished, “Let the feast begin!”
The crowd let out a cheer that Aliana was sure would be heard across the valley. The servers came through the kitchen door holding massive plates of food. They served Aliana and Eowyn first, then made their way through the hall. In moments everyone in the room were eating and drinking merrily. Aliana felt so small at the great empty table. Eowyn seemed so far away. She nibbled at her food, waiting for word of the group’s arrival. Before she knew it dinner was done and the musicians made their way to the corner by the doors while the servers gathered the now empty plates. Aliana was starting to agonize with every moment that slipped by with no word. Her and Eowyn did their best to keep a smile for the sake of everyone in the room, but every time their eyes met they could not hide their worry from each other.
“Lady Eowyn.” The guard who had kept a close eye on Aliana during the journey back bowed in front of the table. “Will you honor us with a song?”
Eowyn smiled and scanned the room. The weight on her heart was growing heavier but she could not let her people down. She rose from her chair and made her way to the center of the hall. The guard helped her up on the table and the room went quiet. Eowyn closed her eyes and sang a song about home and freedom. Aliana was sure it was one of the most beautiful songs she had ever heard. As Eowyn was singing the last line a guard burst through the door. “The king has reached the gates! The king has returned!”
As the crowd burst into cheers, Eowyn turned to stare at the door, paralyzed in her spot on the table. Aliana quickly stood and started making her way across the hall. She found it hard to squeeze through the people as the crowd was turned with goblets in hand to toast the king’s arrival. Before she made it half way across the room the doors burst open and King Theoden stepped through. With a great roar, the crowd pressed around Aliana trying to see the group as they entered. Aliana was quickly pressed into the middle and she fought hard to push her way through. She heard Aragorn’s voice as he entered behind the king. She pushed harder to get through. She was desperate to reach them.
“Aliana! Where is my sister?” Aragorn cried out.
“Here! I am here!” she cried. The crowd parted and an aisle was formed between her and her brother. As she stood there, Legolas appeared next to Aragorn. At the sight of him the dam she had worked so hard to hold back broke. As the tears fell, she ran forward, finding the arms of her brother waiting for her. He held her strongly until her sobs subsided. Once she had her emotions under control he let her pull away.
“What took you so long? Do you know how worried I have been?” Aliana could not stop herself from scorning him like a child. Aragorn brought his hand to her mouth and she fell silent.
“I thought I was the oldest,” he said to her with a wink. He kissed her forehead then looked up to scan the room. “Is there any food left? We are starving!” With that, the crowd cheered once again. Aliana stepped aside and Aragorn made his way to follow the king to the great table.
“Lady Aliana!” cried a small voice in the back of the group making it’s way through the doors. She stretched her neck to find the familiar voice and saw Merry and Pippin running at her.
“You are safe!” she cried as they both tackled her at once, almost knocking her off her feet. “I had hoped I would see you both again safe and sound!”
“Aragorn, Legolas, Gimli and Gandalf told us how brave you were at Helm’s Deep, my lady. You must tell us the story yourself later,” Pippin replied. Sniffing the air, he started forward, grabbing Merry’s arm. “I smell the most wonderful food, Merry! We must find the origin!” And with that, they moved through the room.
“My dear, I trust your journey back today was not too taxing?” Gandalf now stood before her with a knowing look in his eye.
“Thank you Mithrandir. Yes, we made it back safe enough. I trust yours went the same?” Why did he look at her like that, Aliana wondered.
“My dear, we should talk later. Once these old bones have rested a bit. For now, I believe there is someone else waiting for your attention.” Gandalf gave her a wink and stepped out of the way.
“I told you the laddie would come back to you as soon as he was able,” Gimli said to her with a smile as he walked past her. She quickly patted his arm but didn’t stop him as she knew food was on his mind, also. Aliana turned back to see Legolas still standing in the same place. As their eyes locked, Aliana was flooded with emotion. She wanted to run into his arms and tell him how she felt. She wanted to tell him how deeply she loved him. But it would only make it impossible for her to leave. She knew she could not tell him…..for both their sakes. She dropped her eyes to the floor feeling guilty over her feelings. Legolas walked up to her and placed his hand on her cheek.
“My lady, is something wrong? Did something happen?”
“No, my lord. I am a little overwhelmed at the moment.” Looking up at him she whispered, “I am so happy to have you all back safe.” Gathering a little strength she finished, “You must also be starving. May I escort you to the table?”
With a smile from ear to ear, Legolas held out his arm and she accepted it. They made their way through the hall to their places. Looking at the food and her friends and family seated around her, she realized she was also starving.