LINKS TO PAST CHAPTERS – posted at the end of this article!
Miriel emerged at dawn. If she had been crying or had lost any sleep, nobody could tell, not even Rolande. She was regal and straight, and utterly cold. She was polite to everyone, and especially so to him. The only visible difference was in her face. Her eyes were dark and expressionless and she did not smile.
Rolande thought she was painfully kind, and he felt it would have been far better if she had yelled at him outright instead. He wished he knew her mind, but Miriel kept her thoughts carefully hidden and reined herself in check behind her walls of stone… walls that imprisoned her. Rolande was certain that his love would free her from her self-made cage, if she would only listen to reason and accept his love.
As he had promised, Rolande sent a messenger straight to Gondor. Miriel watched as the horseman galloped away and disappeared on the distant horizon. When she turned, her face was like a frozen mask, completely devoid of emotion.
Miriel mechanically went about her duties and said very little. She was quiet and withdrawn. When she was asked a question, she gave short answers in a toneless voice. Rolande shuffled along miserably behind her, resembling a pitifully sad dog that had gotten into trouble and desperately needed reassurance from a master who could offer none.
The villagers could not help but be adversely affected by the tension, and they took to tiptoeing nervously around Miriel and bothering her as little as possible. They perceived that their new princess, whom they had grown to love and trust in so short a time, had a great and terrible burden weighing her down. Slowly the laughter died off and their productivity slipped. The hearty ring of hammers dulled to a weary pounding, and gloomy faces replaced the cheery shouts. The sun shone brightly in the deep sapphire skies, but it might as well have been buried beneath a thick layer of black rainclouds.
For three days things continued in this sad state, and it seemed nothing could mend it. Rolande had tried to talk to Miriel on several occasions and had been lightly but firmly brushed aside. Miriel was distant, and Rolande was disconsolate.
Miriel was upset about more than the war. She was worried about Rolande. They had become close friends. Miriel trusted him and did not hesitate to confide in him. But she was concerned that for Rolande the simple friendship had turned to love. His meaningful glances had given her pause, and now at last his heart was revealed to her.
It seemed like an easy answer. Here was Miriel’s devoted knight. If Miriel stayed behind with Rolande, Legolas could sail into the West. Then she would be happy, and Legolas would not have to leave his people.
But even as she thought this, Miriel knew it was not so simple. The sensible solution was not always the right one. Legolas loved her, and Miriel had given her heart to him; Legolas was the only one who could free her from those walls of stone surrounding her heart. Miriel did not love Rolande in the same way she loved Legolas. Rolande was a good person, and she cared very much for him, but Rolande did not feel like someone she would spend the rest of her life with.
Miriel knew that if she told Rolande any of this, it would hurt Rolande deeply, and she didn’t want that to happen. How could she tell him that he, good and kind and tender as he was, much as she herself longed for him to be the right one; could not fill the void in her aching heart?
And yet how could she avoid it? Rolande had to know the truth at some point.
It came to a head on the evening of the third day. Rolande ambushed her as she sat near the fire after supper, and Miriel herself could stand the tension no longer. They turned to each other at nearly the same moment and spoke both at once.
“Rolande, would you…”
They stopped, uncertain and awkward. Then without a word Miriel stood up and they walked away from the fire, out of earshot of the staring villagers.
Under the dark moonless sky, brushed by a silvery breeze, Miriel and Rolande went out over the wild grasses and stopped upon a gentle rise. There they faced each other.
“I’m sorry, Miriel,” began Rolande in a rush. “I should have been more sensitive. I shouldn’t have mentioned-“
“No, it’s not your fault,” interrupted Miriel quietly, noticing with certain uneasiness that he was not addressing her as “my lady”. “It was a little close to home, that’s all. I wasn’t prepared for it. I bear you no ill feelings in the matter.”
“Thank you,” murmured Rolande, but he was frowning. He wanted to say more, but he had never felt more nervous in his life; Miriel was strong and decisive and there was something about her that was… untamable. Her coolness of manner towards him didn’t help either. But he had to say what was on his mind. He had to convince her of his feelings for her. Once he accomplished that, it might be easier to persuade her that she had feelings of her own.
“Miriel, there is something I must tell you.”
As Rolande fixed Miriel with his intense cat’s eyes, Miriel caught her breath and bit her lip. She looked away and her chin was trembling. This was the moment she had been dreading.
“You are the most wonderful person I have ever met,” declared Rolande ardently, and Miriel’s heart sank as he continued. “Happy chance brought me here to you. Miriel, I don’t ever want to leave your side.”
Miriel moved impatiently. “Rolande…”
“Please, Miriel, let me finish before you speak. From the moment I first saw you I felt nothing but great love for you. I have never cared for anyone so deeply, or suffered such bitter agony in the parting of another’s company. These last three days have been dark as death, and the sun ceased to shine upon my face. If it had lasted much longer, I believe I would have died.”
Miriel didn’t even stop to consider that his last statement might have been somewhat far-fetched; the emotion with which he spoke the words was enough. Rolande took Miriel’s hand gently but firmly, and Miriel looked up to find in his eyes an expression she had never seen before. Longing and desperation mingled into an unbearable anguish that Miriel could not stand to see, and yet it was utterly compelling. She found she could not avert her glance. Miriel did not move, but she was trembling.
Rolande gazed at her, his voice was warm and gentle. “Lady Miriel, I love you.”
It was inevitable, but it was still a shock. For a moment Miriel remained where she stood, and her face was like a frozen mask with too-large gray eyes. Then suddenly she gave a sharp intake of breath, and two streams of tears suddenly released from her immeasurably deep reservoir ran down her pale face.
Rolande misread her reaction and a light of hope glimmered in his brown eyes, and he gave a little smile as he drew her close by means of her hand, which he kept in his own.
“Don’t cry, Lady Miriel,” he breathed. “It hurts me to see you cry. I want to spend the rest of my life making you happy. Will you marry me?”
Miriel could not breathe. She felt as if she had been thrown from the wall of Helm’s Deep again and dashed upon the hard stones. Although she had known this moment would come, and had tried to prepare for it, the intensity and eloquence of Rolande’s words moved her. She struggled to remain on her feet, for her knees were too weak to hold her up. Rolande looked upon her with some concern, and hope kindled in his eyes, but Miriel knew he didn’t understand how she was truly feeling. She had to make him understand.
“No, Rolande,” Miriel gasped out finally.
That was the first warning Rolande had that something was terribly wrong.
“My lady?” cried Rolande, his voice almost shrill.
“You cannot love me,” Miriel faltered.
Rolande swallowed hard, and tears sprang to his own eyes.
“What do you mean?” Rolande choked.
Miriel did not answer. She could not speak.
“My lady?” pressed Rolande.
Miriel fought to regain control over her emotions. She turned to Rolande and looked upon him with pity glistening in her eyes alongside the shining tears.
“I love another,” she replied at last.
Rolande was shocked. He stumbled backward as if she had just plunged a knife into his heart, and he fell to his knees.
“You never said anything!” cried Rolande, almost pleadingly, as if he wanted nothing more than to tell her to change her mind, to reconsider. “I didn’t know…”
Miriel’s throat clenched in pain for this gentle man whom she counted as her dearest friend in Rohan. The knowledge that she was responsible for his bleeding pressed in on her and made her feel even worse. Now that the truth was revealed and the wound had been inflicted, Miriel’s words began to flow rapidly. She wanted to get it over with.
“Listen to me, Rolande! I care very much for you and I don’t want to see you get hurt. But I don’t love you the way you love me, and in time you will get over it as well. You will not die, Rolande, but right now I’m worried about losing your friendship above all else.” Miriel broke off, hardly daring to breathe, and she watched him for some reaction while she caught her lip between her teeth and hoped beyond hope that he might snap out of it.
Rolande did not answer. He was staring at the ground, stricken and pale. Miriel was crushed. They were silent for a while, and Miriel groped in her mind for comforting words. Suddenly Miriel had an idea which she desperately hoped would help Rolande, and she bent over him and placed both hands upon his shoulders.
“Rolande, it would please me very much if you would grant me one favor.”
Rolande looked up, and a little interest kindled amid the anguish in his brown eyes.
“Anything, my lady,” he replied.
Miriel sighed and gazed toward the western horizon. Her fair features were troubled and sad. That part, at least, she did not have to feign.
“I lost my brothers, Rolande, and I miss them more than anyone will ever know. Nothing will ever replace Alastar and Elidor. But I value you almost as if you were one of them. I’m asking you now to become more than my friend, bodyguard and advisor. Rolande, will you also be to me as my brother?”
Rolande looked at her, and his face was so hollow that Miriel could not tell what he was thinking. Miriel clutched at his shoulders.
“Please?” she pleaded. “I- I need you, Rolande.”
Rolande’s gaze remained blank, and Miriel was beginning to wonder if he could understand her. At last Rolande dumbly nodded his consent.
“Good, good,” said Miriel. “Thank you.”
Rolande nodded again, and Miriel gave his shoulder a final squeeze before she turned and walked swiftly back to the village, leaving Rolande where he knelt. Rolande stared after her retreating figure as she vanished into one of the houses.
“Farewell, Lady Miriel,” he whispered into the night. He bowed his head in sorrow.
A/N: In case you missed it!
Chapter One: A QUIET EVENING
Chapter Two: RED SUNSET
Chapter Three: THE GLITTERING CAVES OF AGLAROND
Chapter Four: THE BATTLE OF HELM’S DEEP
Chapter Five: FATE’S ARROW
Chapter Six: LEGOLAS
Chapter Seven: ON THE CAUSEWAY
Chapter Eight: A RING AND A PROMISE
Chapter Nine: ROLANDE
If you’re in a blazing hurry to find out what happens between Miriel, Rolande and Legolas, go to www.talesofmiddleearth.com and download the full ebook.
ANSWERS TO REVIEWERS: GeekChick:
GeekChick:Miriel is stubborn. Good call there. I think this chapter’s title, Troubled Hearts, confirms your suspicion about the love triangle – a suspicion that everybody shares. You’re right about Miriel being unusual in staying behind instead of becoming a Tenth Walker; it never occurred to me to do that because I was thinking inside the canon box when I wrote this. So I find it interesting how they manage to put a girl into the fellowship and make the story balance out in the end. That takes some serious mastery!
Nawyn: What’s awful is, I like Rolande too. Don’t tell Legolas I said that. Miriel lives her life and takes what comes, and love follows her around of its own accord – like a cat. You ever try chasing a cat down to pet it? Cats have this funny habit of getting in your way when you 1. Least expect it and 2. Whenever it’s least convenient. Mine jumps up on my lap when I’m trying to write some intensely emotional scene. But if you seek out the cat, it turns into a snoot and toots off with its nose in the air (generally speaking; mine happens to be a love bug). Love is like that. At least, love has been like that for me, and thusly Miriel! As for who gets whose heart(s) broken… there are twenty more chapters in this story, if that tells you anything!
Lalaith Elerrina: I loved writing the dream sequence. Maybe it will come to something, maybe it won’t. I’m going to be cryptic! I’ve noticed you LOVE putting meaningful dreams in your stories as well, and they keep me on my toes. I can’t WAIT for Chapter 59 now. At least I think I figured out that Ithilwen is going to be okay! *whew* I hope…
AryaIlwen41: Miriel hates crying as much as I do, but you’re right: She needs to cry. She’s been through an absolute emotional Mordor, thanks to her mean author. Most people would have suffered a nervous breakdown by now. That’s why Rolande is, at this juncture, such a godsend. He’s the duct tape in her world right now, and she needs all the help she can get to hold it all together.