(Sorry this took so long. Been on vacation and have been sick and lots of other things going on)
The next few weeks were spent in loneliness for Araiel. Hamir had become continually occupied with affairs of state, but she did not grumble. She knew he was preparing the city incase of an invasion as well as keeping trade with Gondor open. For the most part, Araiel remained out of his business. The most she had learned was that the Prince’s couriers and spies had received no information of an attack from Tairan or any other tribe. All seemed to be at peace.
It was nearly the beginning of fall and though she was happy with her new life in the Harad, she also longed to see her family. Araiel missed her sister’s fluttering grins, her father’s hearty laugh, and her mother’s welcoming arms. The most time she spent with Hamir was at night. During the day, she learned to read the Easterling language and explore the city, and at night she learned to love.
It was on such a night when Hamir released a surprise. She lay happily content within his arms, his strong but gentle hands caressing her hair when he finally spoke.
“Araiel, I know I have not been an appropriate husband to you recently, and I apologize.”
“No, Hamir, you are Prince of this country with many duties.”
Hamir sighed. “But my love, my heartfelt duty is to you and more importantly my heart belongs to you. My love for you is unconditional, and no state affair should keep us severed. You are new to this land learning many new things, but you should be learning them with me. However,” he followed with a shrug, “there are some state affairs in which I will be grossly consumed in. The council has set many meetings to discuss occurings within the city. You could join me if you desire but I believe a visit to your kin would be more enjoyable.”
“Hamir!” she instantly sat upright.
“I understand this meets with your approval.”
“More than anything!” She threw her arms about his neck, and he held her tightly and affectionately stroked her hair.
“You have been here nearly a year, and yet you have not seen your family in all that time. Oh, my beautiful Araiel, what will I do without you? I shall miss you every day, and all night I will dream of you.”
“My heart will always be here.”
“Somtime soon, I will accompany you to Minas Tirith. I have long wished to see the White City.”
“Perhaps one day, our paths will take us there. The silver trumpets will clearly ring out, and the tower guard will take up the call, ‘The Princess of Gondor has returned with her liege lord.’
Araiel smiled at the thought and surrendered into Hamir’s welcoming kiss unaware that it would be the last kiss they would share for a long time.
Araiel did not wait long to leave for Minas Tirith. Winter was coming, and she would need to arrive in Gondor before the frost set in. However, she knew Hamir would not see her until the frost was over. It would be weeks perhaps months before they saw each other once again, and their farewell was not brief. Before Araiel mounted her steed for the journey, Hamir gathered her in his arms once again and brushed a hand across her cheek. She could see the tears within his eyes, and she knew he did not weep often. Hamir kissed her one last time and finally released her.
“My escort will accompany you until you are within the plains of Gondor,” the Prince began. “From there you will be safe until Minas Tirith. When you are ready to come home, I will watch for the white doves to bear your message.”
“The time will pass quickly, Hamir. Do not worry. I shall always be with you.” She squeezed his hand softly, smiled, mounted her horse.
Hamir stood for several moments watching the company fade away. He kept his eyes upon his wife. Her white garments seemed to shine out within the midst of the royal green ones his soldiers wore. He bowed his head when her figure disappeared beyond the horizon. Finally, he turned to his chief advisor, Suhar.
“Come, we have business to attend to.”
Araiel was glad they met with no trouble on the road from Harad. As they came to the outskirts of Gondor, she became aware of the increasing bitterness of the weather. There was no frost yet upon the ground, but the air was chilled, and she wrapped her cloak around her tighter. On the second day of traveling by the Harad Road, the company stopped to make camp at the Poros River. They were upon the outskirts of Ithilien, and the Princess smiled upon the familiar sight. The gray woods stretched out their branches to meet her, and she longed to see her good friends descendents of Faramir and Eowyn.
It was here that Hamir’s escort parted with Araiel’s followers. She bid them a peaceful farewell and watched them ride again toward Elendriel. Now she was left alone with Lendia and two young guards she had become friends with while staying in Elendriel. Lendia was eager to travel once again into Ithilien, but as they camped that night upon the soft running current of the Poros, a feeling of discomfort overwhelmed the Princess. Even as they lit a fire, and the two guards urged Araiel to sleep, she found she could not and wandered to the river’s side.
Araiel bent to look at her reflection in the river. How much she had grown since going to Elendriel. She was nearly eighteen for when she left her homeland for Elendriel to marry Hamir she was turning seventeen. What would her family think of her now that she was a wife and her primary duty to her husband? Even more, what would her father think when she had not yet produced an heir? She could not explain why she had not born children yet. For many nights, she and Hamir had lain together, but it was the will of the Valar to keep her from becoming pregnant. She was glad, however. She was not yet ready for children. Someday perhaps, but not yet.
Araiel came back to her tent. Lendia was fast asleep, but Araiel was still restless. As she attempted to make herself comfortable, a gleam in the dark caught her eye. She instantly tensed. Before Araiel could move, a knife was pressed against her neck, and the figure’s hand gripped her hair.
“Make one move or sound, and I’ll slit your throat, and it would be a pity. Your throat is quite lovely.”
Ariael tried to remain calm but her breathing continued to come in gasps. A strong hand was placed upon her shoulder.
“Remain calm. You will be well taken care of.”
A strong smelling cloth was placed over Araiel’s face, and a feeling of drowsiness enveloped her. Within moments, she fell to the ground lost within a deep dreamless slumber.
Araiel awoke hours later and found herself laying within a warm bed. The room about her was dark with no windows, but it was lit with sweet smelling candles. As Araiel arose, she discovered she was not alone. She noticed the cloaked figure sitting beside the bed, and though he looked ominous, Araiel felt no fear toward him.
“Princess Araiel of Gondor,” he spoke with a deep disguised voice. “I assure you this is indeed an honor. For near two years have I awaited this day.”
Araiel peered through the cloak attempting to discover who this man was but failed. “Will you not show yourself?”
“You shall only see my mask for now. It is for both our protection. Soon, when you are well rested, I will tell you what will happen to you.”
“Tell me now, sir. I am perfectly well rested and have the strength to listen.”
The stranger chuckled as he stood to his feet and began to pace the room. She could see the outline of his sword clicking back and forth against his leg.
“You are changed, Araiel. Stronger, yes more determined. Very well. Your capture was not planned nor instigated by myself. The men I travel with are thieves and slavers. With much persuasion, I have convinced them not to sell you, though they could be settled for years if you were. I am not the captain of this ship merely second in command. You have not been released yet so you are still a prisoner. But it is my duty to see no harm come to you, and it will be my pleasure to teach you certain things that you cannot learn in Gondor nor even in Harad. You must learn to be on guard, Araiel. You may freely move about the ship, but I cannot always protect you. That is one reason why I shall teach you to protect yourself for there are many unscrupulous men aboard.”
“You will teach me to…fight?”
“To attack with honor, to move, to think quickly, and to defend yourself.”
“Hamir’s brother perhaps or men who care to try and steal a kiss from you?” She noticed his mouth curl into a crooked grin, but his eyes could not be seen. “Get some rest, Araiel. Your lessons begin in the morning. I will give you something to help you sleep. Sometimes the motion of ships causes people a sickness.”
The stranger approached and took a small phial placing it upon her lips. “Drink.”
The Princess slowly let the warm liquid slide down her throat. It calmed her entire body, warmed her being, and she soon felt drowsy. Araiel slowly closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep. As she did the stranger softly brushed his hand across her cheek in a loving manner. Araiel felt the soft gesture and then surrendered to the dreaming world.