The King was walking in the courtyard of Minas Tirith, with his wife, Arwen Evenstar. She was very beautiful with her long, shadow-coloured hair flowing down her back, and her deep, wise grey eyes. A flowing midnight-blue dress with long crimson sleeves fell gracefully about her. She was not usually dressed like this; as Queen, she was mostly swathed in layers upon layers of velvet, silk, and satin, hung with precious gems, and her dark hair would be ornately coiled and braided and pinned to her head, complete with an elaborate silver headdress. Faramir thought she much more lovely when she was not weighed down with heavy robes and jewellery.
Aragorn and Arwen paused at the wall, and looked down upon the city. Faramir decided it might be tactful to slip away, but Arwen noticed him and beckoned to him.
He joined them, bowing low.
`Good morning, your highnesses. It is a beautiful morning.’
`Yes indeed,’ said Aragorn. `The Easterling dignitaries are arriving today. I must admit, I am uneasy about this meeting.’
`They are still very powerful, and their power is growing,’ said Arwen in her soft, musical voice. `I thought that they might subside after the War, but they do not altogether approve of us and Minas Tirith.’
There was silence between the three, in which many unspoken words were heard.
`You think that if they were to lay siege to the city, we might not be victorious?’ asked Faramir cautiously.
Aragorn sighed. `That is my thought. They have many of these great creatures, Oliphaunts. Very huge, and strong. We must hope that this meeting goes well.’
`Might it be a chance to spy out the city?’ said Faramir with concern.
A frown crossed Aragorn’s features. `I thought so, but there is nothing I can do about it, except watch them closely.’ He changed the subject. `Faramir, have you seen Eowyn this morning?’
Arwen stared at the ground. Eowyn had become Aragorn’s personal guard at the White City. Faramir suspected – no, he knew that she had done it to become closer to Aragorn. She loved him still, even though he was married.
If only things had worked out between Faramir and Eowyn. But her heart was given to Aragorn.
Faramir loved her more than any living thing still. He yearned for her, to have her gaze upon him, to touch her soft cheek…
Arwen knew that Eowyn loved Aragorn, but the King had pitied Eowyn’s sorrow and let her become his guard.
Faramir bit his lip. What a way for things to have turned out!
Belatedly, he realized the King and Queen were still waiting for his answer. `She rode out to meet the Easterlings, remember my lord? She will be back soon.’
The Easterling leader held up a hand, and the party halted as a rider approached them at a gallop, the city of Minas Tirith towering behind him. The leader’s eyes were cold above the swathe of material covering the lower half of his face. He rested his hand on the hilt of weapon, and instinctively stiffened his posture as the rider drew closer.
Minas Tirith. City of Kings. The Easterling snorted quietly. Ha! He was bitter still at having lost the war. Here was the chance to spy out the hated city, and on returning home, set out again and launch the Easterling army upon the city.
His lips curled into a cruel smile as he watched the rider coming. Perhaps here was an even better way…
The rider galloped at full speed up to him, drew the horse to an abrupt halt at exactly the right moment, and leaped nimbly off the horse in the same moment. The leader watched with approval. Here was an able horseman, and very skilled.
The rider was shorter and much more slender than one would expect. He was not dressed in the armour of Gondor, but of chain mail and leather. He wore tight breeches and boots, and a helmet of iron, which concealed most of the face. He looked young, very young. Even though he was skilled with horses and bore a sword, he couldn’t be much of a swordsman yet. All the better for the Easterling leader, then.
The soldier bowed low.
`Hail the Lord of the Easterlings!’ he said in a clear, ringing voice. `King Elessar and his wife Queen Evenstar welcome you to the White City of Minas Tirith. We hope to make peace, and avoid further conflict.’
`Really,’ said the leader, who went by the name of Gurth. `I think not.’
The young man was obviously confused. `Why then, your lordship, do you come?’
Gurth smiled, though no one could see it. `I think, under pain of torture, you would care to reveal all you know of the city and its streets. I am glad; this is much more easier than entering the city. Now you will come the journey back with us to our encampment, which is set up not so far from here.’ He motioned to a soldier. `Take him!’
The Easterling soldier immediately moved forward; but no sooner than he had grabbed the rider’s arm, there was a ring of a sword being drawn, a glitter of cold steel, and the Easterling lay dead on the ground.
Gurth was not so surprised. So the young man was an able swordsman, then.
But he didn’t have any time to play about. `Get him, fools!’
The soldiers moved forward, but the rider was suddenly swinging his sword into stomachs and throats, and stabbing chests. Gurth, with a growl of rage, plowed into the young man and knocked him to the ground. His helm came flying off, and clattered away.
Gurth was shocked, for underneath the helmet was a woman.
Her hair was spread all around her like a river of gold, shining brightly in the sun. Her skin was fair and pale, and her eyes were the colour of the far-off stormy sea.
Easterling women were harsh and unattractive. This young woman was not.
Gurth had never seen such beauty in a living thing.
For a moment she stared, transfixed, up at him, but she then, with a cry of rage, stabbed Gurth in the stomach, cried, `Astaldo!’ to her horse, and he came clattering up behind him. The soldiers were standing back, thinking their leader had captured the woman, but as Gurth angrily made his way towards her, she pushed him back with sudden force. He fell back, stunned, still staring at her.
She sprang lightly into the saddle of her magnificent chestnut horse, and tugged at the rein, urging him on. But for an instant, just as she was galloping off, she glanced back at Gurth for a single instant, her golden hair flying behind her, her grey eyes…troubled.
Then she was gone, her horse’s hooves kicking up the dust behind him.
The Easterling soldiers’ eyes were wide.
Gurth gingerly picked himself off the ground, and brushed himself off. Holding one hand to his bleeding stomach, he waved away a soldier coming to his aid. `The wound is not deep,’ he said. He was furious. Shamed in front of his men by a mere woman.
`Sire, we cannot continue to the city now,’ said one soldier. `All hope is – lost.’
Gurth looked thoughtful. `No, it matters not,’ he said. `We may not have learned much from the woman, anyway. We shall return to the encampment, and then lay siege on Minas Tirith. Come, before the alarm is sounded and we are pursued.’
He mounted his horse, as did the other soldiers, and turned it around.
But he could not get the image of the lady out of his head.
She had shamed him.
She would pay.