“I’m sorry, my King. There has still been no word.”
Aragorn sighed and leaned forward, resting his head in his hands. Another long, painful week had passed, and still there had been no word of Arwen. Every eye in the Reunited Kingdom had been searching. He just could not see how three women, one heavily pregnant, could evade being found for so long. He looked up at those gathered in the room with him. Eomer, the ruling King of Rohan, had arrived several days before, having heard the news of his sister’s disappearance. He stood by his side, and offered a comforting gesture.
“Eowyn is capable of defending herself and Lady Arwen and Maida,” he said. “They will make themselves known soon enough.”
Aragorn stood, looking around at those gathered. Legolas and Gimli appeared grim, uncomforted by Eomer’s words. Eomala was standing next to Faramir, gripping his tunic and trembling in silent tears. Eldarion stood with Legolas, clearly trying to appear brave, but it was plainly clear that he was as deeply upset as Eomala. Aragorn met his son’s eyes, offering him a comforting look that he did not feel within himself.
“I will widen the search,” Eomer continued. “Further north, further west. . .whatever it takes.”
Aragorn nodded, but before he could speak, he heard a cough. The messenger was stepping forward again.
“My King,” he began. “May I ask what Queen Arwen is searching for?”
Aragorn gazed at the messenger curiously. The look on the man’s face was one of curiosity and concern. He turned to the others, who were also gazing at the messenger, and nodded at Legolas.
“They are pursuing a woman who recently escaped from a plantation in the south,” he said. “We fear for them because the woman is. . .” He hesitated, clearly unsure of how to describe Faye.
“She’s a vampire,” Gimli said suddenly. “A blood-drinker. Very strong, and very dangerous.”
The messenger stared at Gimli. Aragorn saw the look on his face, but before he could say anything, the messenger had turned to him.
“I remember. . .” he began, hesitating for a moment. “It was something I overheard from men in a tavern. They were talking about a horseman who was attacked.”
“Attacked?” Gimli declared. “By what?”
“They said it was a woman,” the messenger replied, sounding much more confident. “A woman wearing rags and possessing eye-teeth as long as snake fangs. I didn’t hear the entire story, for I was on my way here, and could not delay long.”
There was silence for a long moment. Aragorn exchanged a glance with the others, a firm hope burning in his eyes.
“Did you overhear where the attack happened?” he asked.
“The floodplains,” the messenger replied quickly. “About a half-day distant from Rauros on horseback.”
“Did you hear about anyone following the woman?” Faramir demanded.
“I think one of the men mentioned a pony,” was the reply. “But nothing about Queen Arwen or the others.”
At Aragorn’s sudden gesture, a map of Middle-earth was immediately brought to him. Nodding gratefully to the messenger, he opened the map. Eomer and Faramir moved to help him hold it open, and Legolas and Gimli stepped forward to observe. Eldarion and Eomala were not far behind.
“The floodplains are here,” Eomer said, pointing. “How long ago did you say you heard the rumor?” His eyes had returned to the messenger.
“Five days, I believe,” he replied.
“So we can guess that about a week has passed since the attack,” Eomer continued. “A week on horseback. . .” He concentrated on the map, running his finger from Rohan across the Anduin to the Brown Lands.
“The Brown Lands?” Legolas murmured.
Aragorn kept his gaze on the map, calculating distance and the amount of time that had passed. Nothing about the way they had gone made sense. To get as far as the Anduin in under a few weeks, they would have had to turn north very early in the journey. He had found evidence that Arwen, Maida, and Eowyn and started out going westward, presumably to the plantation where Faye had been held in slavery. But that meant they had crossed the White Mountains, and there were no paths fit for a pregnant woman to travel.
So engrossed was he in his increasingly worried thoughts, Aragorn almost did not hear Legolas’ next few words.
“Faye must be trying to find her way back to Elf territory,” the Elf-prince was saying. “But I do not think she remembers enough to know what she is doing. It is instinct that is guiding her more than anything else.”
“So you think they are heading towards Mirkwood?” Faramir asked, sounding astonished.
Legolas nodded. Eomer, turning away from the map, looked up.
“But that still does not explain why they haven’t been seen,” he protested, clearly frustrated. “Most especially Eowyn. Every inhabitant of Rohan would be able to recognize her.”
“Because they are following an animal.”
Aragorn turned, quickly followed by the others. It was Eldarion who had spoken. He was holding the Evenstar in his hands.
“That’s what Legolas said,” Eldarion explained. “He said that Faye was little more than an animal. Wild animals instinctively stay away from civilization. You taught me that, Father. They know it means danger. And if Faye is traveling by instinct, and staying away from civilization. . .”
“Then Mama and Queen Arwen and Lady Maida are staying away too, because they are following Faye,” Eomala added, a surprised smile on her face, as if she was astonished that she had figured out Eldarion’s line of thinking.
Aragorn beamed at the children, amazed at their brilliant words.
“I think you figured it out,” he said, and this time his smile was genuine. He turned to the messenger, who snapped to attention. “Relay a message to Lord Celeborn. Tell him what is going on, and that we think Arwen may be heading his way.”
“Immediately, my King,” the messenger replied, exiting the chamber in a haste.
Aragorn turned back to the others, a fierce hope radiating in his eyes.
“This is the best option we have,” he said firmly. “I am heading to Mirkwood, and I will not return until I find my wife.”
“We are coming as well,” Gimli said gruffly, and Aragorn saw the rest nod in agreement.
Aragorn settled a hand on his son’s shoulder, and Eldarion looked up at him.
“I will find her this time,” he said, determined. “I promise.”
* * * * * *
Faye was dreaming, a sweet, pleasant scene of life and love. A young child was running around her, laughing as Faye tried to reach for her. She was sitting in a sunlight field blooming with yellow and white flowers, her body whole and painless. Another sat by her, a silver-haired maiden who smiled sweetly when Faye turned. Faye smiled back, her heart filled with love for the maiden and the child. She didn’t know why, but she felt she had known these two for years. She studied the maiden, trying to remember her name.
The shock of uttering a name startled Faye out of her slumber. With a snarl, she jumped to her feet, stumbling before remembering to compensate for her crippled left leg. The world around her was dark, heavy clouds shadowing the moon and stars. No evidence of the maiden, child, or the sunlit field existed. A low grunt caused her to turn around sharply, but the source was only the pony. The beast lay asleep nearby.
Faye crouched and gazed wearily around her. She and the pony had been wandering through these desolate lands for days, seeing no other living creature save a horde of locusts and a few lizards. Up until the dream, Faye had experienced no other stir in memory. This had distressed her, for each day had brought only a deeper, more tortuous turmoil. She wanted to know what the years of captivity had stolen from her.
Somehow, Faye knew that the name `Celebrían’ was significant. Desperately, she tried to remember the dream, tried to capture the image of the silver-haired maiden. In the dream, her face had been so clear, but the details had melted away. Even as she concentrated, the scene was fading into darkness. Faye gripped her head, forcing herself to remember the name, to concentrate on that one word.
Celebrían. . .The word meant something. Faye moaned, looking up at the dark, silent sky. The clouds were starting to break. She stared at the brightest, watching it glimmer gently. Celebrían, Endis, star. . .star?
Abruptly, Faye recalled the little boy she had struck back at the plantation, and the glowing silver amulet he had possessed. She remembered that amulet. She had seen it before. But where? Was it called the Evenstar?
That is Arwen’s son! Arwen! You must remember her!
That blonde-haired warrior had cried that. Faye remembered him saying it, but that name meant no more to her than Celebrían, though she knew it should. But Arwen. . .and Evenstar. . .
Faye unleashed a high-pitched scream that echoed noisily into the darkness. Behind her, the pony gave a wild start, scrambling to its feet. She ignored it, her body trembling. Frustration was overpowering her, and she desperately clawed the ground, shrieking again. Throwing back her head, she looked wildly around, her eyes finally focusing on the black outline of a forest far ahead. No matter how hard she tried, Faye could make no sense out of these words and memories. The darkness was no comfort, the pony no help. She had to escape it. She had to find a place, anyplace, where she could curl up and think.
The forest. . .yes, the forest. She knew trees. The trees would hide her, offer her peace. Digging her fingers into the soil, Faye bolted, leaving the very confused pony wailing in her wake.
* * * * * *
Bill had awoken with terror in his heart, for the predator had uttered a terrible scream. Dazed, he scrambled to his feet, looking around for the danger. Nothing moved. There was no danger.
“What was that for?” he wondered, turning towards the predator. “What. . .hey!!”
The predator had started running, moving faster than Bill had ever seen her move before. Before he could kick himself into a gallop, she was already far ahead. Bill followed, whinnying loudly.
“Stop!” he cried, though he knew full well that she couldn’t understand him.
Bill was still tired from the long journey, and only fell further behind the closer they came to the forest. Finally, he could just make out the form of the predator as it dove into the trees, promptly vanishing from sight. In the several minutes it took him to reach the same spot, Bill had realized that she had disappeared. He reared up, pawing the air in frustration. He had come so far for nothing. The predator was gone.
He had lost her.