â€œI do like this song,â€ stated LÃ´khÃ® between bites from his peach. He had settled down on a tree-stump and was tapping his walking-stick against his leg, in rhythm with the melody of a rather bawdy song someone in the upper orchards now out of sight had struck up. â€œWonder if our friend the corsair has heard of it. Oi,â€ he then called to Faramir who was busy picking fruit out of the tall grass, â€œyou forgot a big one over there.â€ He pointed with the cane, grinning mischievously, especially when Faramir gave him a glare over the veil.
LÃ´khÃ® laughed, taking another bite from his peach. â€œNever done much manual labour, have you, lordship?â€ he observed good-naturedly.
â€œActually, during our adolescence my elder brother and I were sent to work with the peasants from time to time by our father,â€ Faramir replied, straightening carefully and suppressing a groan. His back and especially his shoulder protested at the movement. â€œHe held that we should have experienced what difficulties they must face day after day and so appreciate our rather exalted position all the more. Even though I cursed him now and again after a hard day on a field or in an orchard, I believe he was right.â€
â€œQuite unusual,â€ commented LÃ´khÃ® thoughtfully. â€œWell, my father also sent me and my brothers and sisters to work in the fields, but not for some extra experience, I can tell you. Without us children working, and working hard, we wouldnâ€™t have had enough food for everybody. But I donâ€™t comâ€”â€
He fell silent when he saw Faramir straighten even more, then begin to climb the lower branches of the tree, so as to be able to peer across the hedge. â€œWhat â€“â€ he asked, but Faramir only shook his head, indicating silence.
â€œHey you, over there,â€ came a call from the direction the guards had last been seen, â€œwhat do you think youâ€™re doing in that tree? Get down at once!â€
Faramir slid down again, casting a glance over his shoulder at the guards. Two had appeared between the trees where the singers were working. Once was beginning to stalk off in their direction but halted again when his companion shook his head and muttered a view words, pointing at LÃ´khÃ®, then tipping his head with a meaningful glance. The other guard grinned and nodded. â€œI donâ€™t want to see you up that tree again, boy,â€ he called to Faramir, â€œotherwise weâ€™ll get you down by force, and you donâ€™t want that. Understood?â€
Faramir nodded, upon which the guards turned and walked away in the direction of the singers who now had started a sad ballad about a girl and her lover who was lost at sea.
â€œWhat is it?â€ asked LÃ´khÃ® hobbling over excitedly when Faramir, after a last reassuring glance at the retreating guards set off towards the hedge. Then he raised his head, listening. â€œHoof-beat? Were you able to see the riders from up there?â€
â€œNay,â€ said Faramir, barely managing to keep the excitement and indeed anxiety out of his voice. â€œBut they seem to be drawing closer. I must get past that hedge. Take care of these guards, should they check on us again. There are none on the other side right now.â€
LÃ´khÃ®â€™s eyes narrowed, and Faramir could tell he did not approve of the change of plan. â€œBe careful. Iâ€™ll try and distract them should there be need, but itâ€™s bloody dangerous business. Donâ€™t engage in any mischief and donâ€™t stray too far.â€
â€œJust beyond the hedge,â€ replied Faramir, cowering down so that the tall grasses in front of the hedge swallowed him. From up close, the dark-green band looked far less solid than from a distance. The boxwood had not been pruned recently and put forth many new bright-green shots. Also, the branches were long enough to yield when he squeezed inside, careful not to catch his ragged garments on twigs. In the midst he paused to peer through the remaining branches.
His heart seemed to miss a beat. Sure enough, two horsemen were approaching, navigating their frisky, restless steeds along a rather muddy path some fifty yards below the hedge. The one riding a chestnut was clearly a guard, clad in the Snakeâ€™s livery and armed with scimitar and a short bow and arrows. The other, atop a smaller, grey horse â€¦
He closed his eyes for a moment, drawing a deep breath, his hand clenching round on of the branches until it pained him. Pain â€“ so surely this was not a dream, despite it seeming so. There she was, his beloved Ã‰owyn, his wild shieldmaiden, her hair gleaming in the sun like on the day he had first seen her. She rode proudly like a true Eorling, governing the uneasy horse with one hand only (while the guard had to use both), her wide trousers rippling and long dress-like over-garment streaming behind her.
For a moment he simply watched, oblivious of the location and the ever-present danger, of Al-JahmÃ®r and his evil plans. For a moment he was simply gazing at his wife enjoying a ride in the sunshine, stricken once again by her grace and beauty, and her courage and strength.
Then the moment passed, and his mind began to take over from his heart again. They were almost level with him now, but ignorant of his presence. He knew he would not be able to simply let them pass, and be content with a brief look upon Ã‰owyn alone. They were so close now, they had to meet. Is this the first time you stage an ambush, captain? Get rid of the guard! Nobody watches you now. Startle his horse â€“ frisky as it is it will not take much to make it bolt and dash off, throwing its rider if you are lucky.
They were passing under some low-hanging branches when Faramir searched the deep pockets of his burnous for something to cast. He found a rather hard peach he had put there to eat later. Weighing it in his hand, he carefully and almost soundlessly wriggled into a position that would enable him to cast without having to leave his hideout and betray his whereabouts. If all went well, the rider would think the fruit had dropped off the tree â€“ if he had an opportunity to think at all.
The guardâ€™s horseâ€™s ears flicked round to him nevertheless and it tossed its head. The man gathered the reins more tightly in one hand, with the other reaching up to brush away a branch that had caught in the quiver of arrows slung across his shoulder.
Faramir aimed carefully. As a boy he had been really good at this.
Faintly, Ã‰owyn heard one of the guards in the other orchards order someone down from a tree. Perhaps some of the children she had heard earlier had decided to find better fruit higher up in the trees. Elboron was getting to the age where he wanted to climb trees on his own, but most of the time he still needed help from his father to reach even the lowest limbs. 'Twould not be long before the twins would want to copy their brother's actions, and that would lead to competitions of who could climb the highest without falling or being scared, which would likely lead to falls anyway and scrapes and bruises. She sighed. How long before she would be back to see such antics? She shook her head, banishing the gloomy thoughts for now. It was too nice a day to have it darkened so soon.
The trees grew denser as they rode on, and from time to time she found herself having to push aside branches or lean over her horse's neck to avoid getting tangled in the leafy traps. The swaying branches and rustling leaves, along with the occasional falling fruit, did nothing to soothe the horses' nerves. Hearing Roshin muttering behind her, she turned to see him tugging at a branch that had gotten caught in his quiver. She reined her horse in, knowing there was no use in getting too far ahead of him. She did not want him to take out his frustration at being snagged by using another of his arrows on her. Her one day of being target practice had been enough.
She relaxed her hold on the reins now that the mare was watching the twisting man curiously. Later, she wished she would not have been as careless. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a peach come sailing out of the nearby boxwood hedge, striking the chestnut colt on the hindquarters. Squealing, the horse reared and bucked. Roshin, who had been more focused on freeing himself than riding properly, swiftly fell from the saddle. Ã‰owyn did not have time to see how he landed as the colt bolted forward as soon as its feet touched down, running directly into her mare's side. The mare neighed and tried to turn in a tight circle to get away from the panicked colt, but the mud underfoot proved quite slippery, and the mare fell to her knees. Too late to get a better grip on the reins or use her legs to hold on, Ã‰owyn lost her seat and pitched over the mare's neck, landing hard on the firmer ground near a tree's roots. She heard something in her ankle pop and felt hot pain in her left wrist in the split second before she blacked out.
Free from restraint, the colt broke into a run, reins flapping in the wind and occasionally snapping at his shoulders, only driving him into a greater panic. Once the mare regained her footing, she hobbled after him, knees bleeding.
The first bit of the plan had gone very well, but the second had been an utter nightmare. Faramir watched with horror as the guardâ€™s horse collided with Ã‰owynâ€™s, who fell over her stumbling steedâ€™s neck and out of sight, hidden behind low-hanging branches. He tried to calm himself: Of course this was not her first fall off a horse â€“ she had practise and knew how to fall without hurting herself too much. But this had been quite unprepared, and she was with child. This thought struck him painfully like an arrow. What if she had been badly injured â€“ seriously enough to hurt the child, to bring about a miscarriage even â€¦ He knew he would never forgive himself if this should happen because of his fault.
The guard was lying in the high grass in front of the tree Ã‰owyn had fallen under, unstirring and not uttering a sound. Faramir supposed he had either lost consciousness or had broken his neck. And even if he was awake, or other guards looking on â€“ there was no question of him leaving his hiding-place to look after his wife. Swiftly, bending low so as to be covered by the hedge in his back from the guardsâ€™s eyes beyond, he approached the guard. He was lying on his back, his eyes closed. His helmet had slid off, slightly dented. But there was no blood on the cap he wore underneath, and when hurriedly Faramir pressed two fingers to his neck, he could feel a pulse. The man had been knocked out, and underneath the cotton cap a nice bruise was developing, but he would wake eventually.
Despite knowing that he should secure the guard by at least tying his hand and gagging him, in case he woke far sooner than desired, Faramir hastened on, having spotted LÃ´khÃ® peering over the hedge. Apparently the little man had heard the horses running off in terror, and was now realising what had befallen. He gave Faramir a wild, shocked look, but then with a shake of his head began to squeeze through the hedge.
All this Faramir only noted absently, his mind focused on the other figure lying in the grass, near the roots of the tree. As he crept between the branches, his heart began to beat furiously, anxiety, joy and deep worry mingling. There was no sign of an outward injury, no blood which was a comfort. But the way she lay on the ground, it was possible she had hurt her left side, especially her arm which she must have used to break her fall. Kneeling down at her side and feeling for her pulse at her neck with fingers
trembling slightly, Faramir let out a shaky breath of relief. Her heartbeat was strong and regular, as was
her breathing. As he stripped off and folded his burnous to place underneath her head, and carefully moved her into a more comfortable position, he could hardly believe they were so close to each other again, when only an hour again he had not dared dream he would even see her.
When he thought she was as comfortable as possible under the circumstances, he drew back slightly to look at her. There were differences, he noted. She wore her hair far more intricately â€“ no doubt she had a servant to arrange it. Her figure had changed, had become fuller, and like with the former pregnancies he thought it became her very well. By now it was quite plain to see she was with child, and he was tempted to place a hand on her belly to try and feel the baby, but decided to wait until she woke. The rest of the changes was less pleasant. The pierced ears he had seen already in the PalantÃr; they looked artificial and wrong. She did not need this kind of finery to look absolutely beautiful. But what stirred him most where the bruises on her face. There was only one explanation for them. Apparently the rumours had been true. He closed his eyes briefly and took a deep breath to calm himself, his anxiety replaced by anger. Al-JahmÃ®r would answer for this, as for the rest, he vowed darkly â€“ and jumped slightly when she stirred.
Very softly, he reached out to stroke back some hair that had fallen across her face, then leaned to kiss her forehead. She sighed, but did not open her eyes. â€œÃ‰owyn,â€ he called her softly, tenderly caressing her cheek, then repeating her name more loudly. â€œWake up, Ã‰owyn.â€
Now she appeared to be coming round indeed, her eyelids fluttering and her hand twitching. â€œâ€™Tis alright, Melda, I am here now,â€ he told her quietly, amazed how calm his voice sounded whereas inside him things were all but calm. â€œWake up, Melda.â€
Ã‰owyn stirred, flinching at the pain that raced up and down her left side. Her head ached as well and made sorting out her jumbled thoughts all the more difficult. She opened her eyes slowly and caught a glimpse of tree branches before shutting them quickly. Trees. The orchard. Yes, now she remembered that horrid colt going mad and running full-force into her mare. With any luck, the beast would break a leg, running like that through all this mud.
Hearing someone call her name, she turned her head to the sound, then felt a hand running along her cheek. No casual soldier or bystander would dare do such a thing to al-JahmÃ®r's special prize. Without opening her eyes again, she raised her left hand and swatted at where she thought the Snake would be, biting back a cry as a fresh stab of pain radiated from her wrist. â€œLeave me alone, Snake!â€ she muttered. She dropped her hand and turned her face away, not wanting to deal with her captor, certainly not now. A hot bath would be much more appreciated. The child was moving restlessly, kicking against her ribs. Despite the discomfort, Ã‰owyn was glad for the movement, as it likely meant that the child had not been injured in the fall.
The voice called her name again, and though she tried to ignore it, something familiar about its sound got through to her. Wait, what did he call me? No one called her melda except... but it was impossible... Shocked into full consciousness, for a moment she dared not open her eyes and look at who was calling to her more desperately now, stroking her hair gently.
Gathering up her courage against what she feared would be certain disappointment, she opened her eyes and looked up into the face of the man bending over her. Her eyes widened at the sight of his long, tangled hair, grungy rags, and brown skin. This was not the sight she had been hoping to see, and for a moment the disappointment nearly crushed her. Then she saw his eyes, partially shaded by the tree's shadows, and went both hot and cold at the same time. Those eyes. She knew that soft grayness, despite the additional lines that now sprung up at the edges. Those eyes had made her falter the first time she had seen them, at a time when she had forsworn tenderness in search of death and glory, because of their grave tenderness and strength. But they did not fit the face... She looked harder. Yes, yes they did. She felt joy filling her. Of course they did, for they belonged to her Faramir and no other.
â€œFaramir,â€ she whispered, reaching up with her right hand to touch his face. Of course it had taken her a moment to recognize him. He must have been playing in the mud with the boys, as they loved any chance to get dirty. They would all need thorough baths as soon as they got inside, though, and for them that was not always as enjoyable. I must have fallen asleep and dreamed the whole thing about al-JahmÃ®r, she thought suddenly. Surely she had simply fallen asleep in her own orchards like a silly girl. She was about to tell Faramir the dream when her eyes fell on her hand (which Faramir had caught in his own and was now pressing her fingers to his lips) and her sleeve. That was odd; it was tailored differently than what she usually wore. Her eyes followed the sleeve down to the rest of her dress and then out to the orchards themselves. She felt horror creeping up in her. These orchards were not patterned like theirs in Ithilien.
Before she could think further, Faramir leaned down and kissed her fully. She slipped her hand around the back of his neck and up through his hair, finding his own soft locks among the rougher strands. Somewhere in her mind she realized that it was much longer than he usually wore it, though it was absurd to be noticing such things, she told herself. Suddenly, she found herself in tears, overwhelmed. Faramir, her beloved, was alive! Really and truly alive, not something she had read in a note or hoped for in a dream. Her hands and eyes and lips would not lie to her.
â€œI'm sorry,â€ she blurted as they finished their kiss and drew apart slightly. â€œI'm, I'm sorry for what I said before we set out for home. I knew you were just concerned about me and did not want to rush into anything, but I didn't want to listen and I said things I should not have, and I'm sorry,â€ she babbled. He reached up to brush the tears from her cheeks with one hand. â€œThen when I saw you in the village I only wanted to be able to tell you that I love you and that I'm sorry.â€ She drew a shaky breath and plunged on, unintentionally giving him no chance to get a word in edgewise. â€œI knew you would come for me, I hoped you would. I knew you would.â€ She saw a sudden pain in his eyes and suddenly felt doubt. â€œYou did come for me...â€
She froze, seeing someone appear over his shoulder. Then she saw that the figure was dressed in rags like Faramir was and carrying a cane. â€œI'm starting to think you really did fall off the cart,â€ she heard the peasant mutter, drawing closer.
Faramir stirred at the sound of LÃ´khÃ®â€™s voice, but did not shift his eyes from Ã‰owynâ€™s face. Too little he had seen her features of late, so that every moment he did not look at her seemed wasted. He, too, was almost overwhelmed by emotion. Her swat at him as she regained consciousness, and her words had touched him. So she had thought him to be the Snake, and struck out at him? How, how indeed could he have ever allowed thoughts of her surrendering to Al-JahmÃ®r to even enter his mind? Was this not proof enough of what she truly thought of her captor?
Then their kiss, and her tears, which had torn at his heart even though they were tears of joy. She should not have to shed any because of him. And her many apologies, for something she had no fault. They showed how much she must have been troubled by what had befallen before and at Kadall. Every time she drew a quick breath he had tried to interrupt her, but there had been no opportunity.
Now she was watching LÃ´khÃ® with a mixture of alarm and curiosity, since obviously he did not appear an enemy. Since she had ceased speaking, he took the chance. â€œThis is LÃ´khÃ®,â€ he explained quickly, â€œone of KhorazÃ®râ€™s guards. He is the one responsible for my disguise.â€
â€œWhich you almost blew with this, this â€¦ â€“ oh, I donâ€™t have words for it,â€ complained the little man, yet without sounding truly angry. â€œWhat did you think by attacking the guardâ€™s horse like that? The ladâ€™s out cold and wonâ€™t be troubling us for a while, but the horses ran off â€“ back to their stables, Iâ€™d reckon. Not long, and weâ€™ll have Marekâ€™s entire cavalry here for company. We mustnâ€™t linger. Weâ€™ve still got to get past the gate. We â€“,â€ apparently remembering his manners, LÃ´khÃ® interrupted himself, having drawn close enough to catch a glimpse of Ã‰owyn over Faramirâ€™s shoulder.
He studied her for a moment, then bowed slightly. â€œMâ€™lady, Iâ€™m very pleased to meet you.â€ Then to Faramir he said. â€œYou have about a quarter of an hour before theyâ€™re here, Iâ€™d reckon,â€ he said, in a milder tone. â€œGuess Iâ€™ll have another look at friend guard, to make sure heâ€™s comfortable. You are out of your mind, DÃºnadan, but I daresay the reason is â€¦ well â€¦ understandable.â€ With a wink and a broad grin, he hobbled off.
Faramir gave Ã‰owyn a faint smile. â€œI think this was a compliment,â€ he said, before his face turned grave. â€œYou heard what he said. We do not have much time. I do not know where to begin. So much has happened since Kadall.â€
â€œWhat happened to Iorlas?â€œ she asked, interrupting him. â€œI remember he was right beside me when I was captured...â€œ
Faramir sighed softly, casting down his eyes at the memory of the events. â€œHe was slain. Stabbed from behind by your captors. We lost some more men, but all in all the fight went well for us. The villagers fought bravely â€“ or so I was told later. I passed out immediately after the arrows struck me. Ah Ã‰owyn, you have no idea how much I have wanted to apologise since that night. When I woke some time later, and heard you had been taken, by the Snake himself by all accounts â€¦â€ He shook his head.
â€œI was convinced it had been my fault,â€ he said softly. â€œI almost surrendered to the shadow, thinking my ill-chosen words and foolish attitude towards you, and worse, my stubborn pride that prevented me from apologising ere disaster struck had led you into mortal peril. I was such an idiot that day, giving you the impression I did not want another child. I did, and I do. I love you, never doubt that. As you said, I was simply concerned about you. The twinsâ€™ birth had been so difficult and â€¦ â€“ it does not matter now. Back then I did not know what being concerned truly means. These past weeks have taught me, though. They have been a nightmare.â€
She nodded, and he saw her eyes fill with tears again. Thinking she was referring to her imprisonment, his hand still holding her tightened slightly. But her next words shook him
â€œI did not think you had survived,â€ she said quietly. â€œWhen I woke here, all I could see was you falling, bleeding. I mourned you as one lost.â€ She paused to wipe her eyes. â€œDo not give me reason to do so again,â€ she said firmly.
He lifted her hand to his lips again and kissed it gently. â€œI will not, I promise. You see, I have people looking after me now. But Ã‰owyn, what about you? I am afraid we will not manage to get you out of here today, as much as I yearn to. We will make a more organised attempt soon, you have my word. The garden is too well guarded, today in particular because of Widowâ€™s Harvest. And we did not know for certain you would be riding today. We came to gather information â€“ although I admit I hoped for you being there. And when I saw you â€¦ I knew I could not leave without having spoken with you. I know â€˜tis risky, but these moments with you are worth every risk.â€
His words seemed not to be going down too well with her, because her eyes narrowed. â€œYou fool! Were you not content at dying at the Snake's hand once already?â€
â€œHe has tried to kill me more than once, and always failed,â€ he replied confidently. â€œIf he tries again, again he will fail. I will not let myself get caught by him. Not again. But I had to see you, and see you are well.â€ A troubling thought struck him and his eyes narrowed.
â€œYou are well, are you not? You did not injure yourself in the fall, did you?â€ he asked quickly, suddenly worried. â€œI was horrified when I saw what havoc my assault upon your guardâ€™s horse caused. I cannot use my right arm properly yet, so throwing that peach was a bit tricky. Your left wrist seems to pain you. Let me see. I hope â€˜tis not broken. What about the rest? Does anything hurt you? I would never forgive myself if I had injured you because of some rashness.â€ He raised his eyes from his examination of her hand, glancing at her concernedly. â€œAnd what about the baby?â€ he asked quietly. â€œIs it well?â€
The new of Iorlas' death hit her hard. He had only being doing the task Faramir had set for him. And you were not kind to him when he tried to get you to safety,[i] she reminded herself. [i]You told him you would make sure he would never know a day of rest once he returned to Ithilien, but now he never will return. Faramir's questions about the baby broke into her thoughts.
Ã‰owyn's eyes widened. â€œYou know?â€ she whispered. Of course he knows. 'Tis not like you are a slender maid right now. Her flowing garments only partly hid her rounding figure, and he knew her well enough to notice when even when something small was different.
He nodded. â€œElessar bade me look in the PalantÃr, and I saw how your figure had changed, though I could not be sure if what the Stone showed was true. Then when we arrived here and talked to Narejde, she confirmed my suspicions. And now that I am with you...â€
Ã‰owyn nodded. Taking one of his hands from where he had been examining her wrist, she pressed it against where she had felt the child moving earlier. The child kicked in response to the pressure, and she saw the familiar look of wonder pass over Faramir's face. â€œI believe the child is well,â€ she said gently, â€œthough a little shaken up and upset. I should have recognized the signs at the wedding. I did wonder, which is why I brought up the subject that morning, but I did not think I was so far along already, nearly five months now.â€ She drew a shaky breath as he shifted his hand to follow the child's movements. â€œI am afraid, Faramir. Al-JahmÃ®r knows what he has, and every day that I remain here is one closer to the birth, and I am terrified of what will happen if I have the child here, while still his prisoner. Will he take it from me? Or kill it? Or, or... I don't know. He has hinted at things already, but even he does not seem sure of what he will do yet.â€
Gazing into her eyes, Faramir was striken to see true fear in them. He could not recall having ever encountered her so afraid. Of course, she did not fear for her own life only now, but for that of the child as well. And his, most likely. The sight dealt him a deep stab of guilt, but also of anger. She should not have any reason to be so afraid. She should be at home with him in Ithilien, and the only slight fears and worries she should have were if the boys or their father would return from their latest expedition into the gardens unscathed, without any greater scratches or bruises from crawling through hedges or climbing trees, and clothes only slightly damp instead of soaking wet from the inspection of the frog-ponds.
Reaching up to stroke her cheek soothingly, he said, â€œI very much doubt he would kill the child which good fortune, in his opinion, has brought into reach of his grasp. If he wanted to get rid of it, why wait until it was born? He knows â€˜tis going to be a powerful hostage, and even with his overblown confidence he must be aware of how slight his chances are at resisting the combined forces of Gondor and Rohan unless he has got something we would not wish to lose. There is you, of course, his shield, but a child might strengthen his defence.â€
He drew a deep breath, gazing at her. â€œStill, I think I do you no favour by raising your hopes too high that everything is going to be alright. When we arrived two days ago, Narejde told us about how she fared at Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s court, years ago, and how her child was taken from her. It is likely the Snake is planning to deal with ours likewise. But we will try and prevent it ever coming to that. You will not give birth to our baby where the Snake can harm it. Whatever we can do against that happening, we shall. We â€“ that is me and our friends here, as well as Elessar and your brother in Gondor (already on their way hither) â€“ are working feverishly on getting you â€“ both of you â€“ out of here as soon as possible. I did not know you were so far along already. It makes things more difficult for us, but we shall find a solution. We must. Under no circumstances can we risk delaying until the birth is due. But we are going to need your help. Can you think of any secure way of communication? Are there people you can truly trust inside the castle, who might get in contact with us to bear messages to and fro? We need to know more about what goes on in there, about the Snakeâ€™s plans. But we also have to be very careful lest we be discovered, and you made to suffer for it.â€
He frowned, his expression darkening as carefully he touched the bruises on her face. â€œI daresay you suffer already,â€ he observed softly, forcing his voice to sound calm so as not to betray the anger he felt at seeing his beloved so hurt. â€œIs this his doing? Rumour has it you quarrelled. Is it true? Did he dare to beat you? Is this how he treats you, after going these lengths to abduct you?â€
â€œYes, the rumor is true,â€ Ã‰owyn replied. â€œHe took me out into the gardens one evening after supper a few days ago, and soon we were quarreling. He frequently chides me for not acting the way he thinks a lady should act and for not minding my manners, but he has not shown many manners of his own.â€ She reached for his hand and clasped it. â€œBut that is the worst things have become so far. Usually he will simply invite me to lunch or supper â€“ though it is hardly an initiation I can refuse â€“ and we will talk. Sometimes he will take my hand or stroke my hand, but he does not go farther than that.â€ So far, she added silently. She had not forgotten about the day he had visited her while she was in her bath, but she saw no reason to anger Faramir further or give him a new worry. He already had reason enough to loathe al-JahmÃ®r.
She knew Faramir well enough to know when he was angry, and she could tell that he was working hard to hold back his anger. How much would this ordeal change him? He tended to be slow to anger, but she could sense the tension in him now, and it made her sad. But perhaps she need not fear too much. His gentleness was still quick to show, especially in how he had tried to comfort her about the child. Of course the Snake wanted the child alive, if not, he had had many opportunities to rid her of it by now. He also had healers looking after her, so maybe for awhile the child was still safe from him. But that safety would not last forever, not as long as she remained in al-JahmÃ®r's care.
Recalling his questions about finding someone to communicate with inside the castle, she shook her head slightly. â€œAs for finding someone to help, I cannot think of anyone in the castle who would make a good spy. I am not allowed beyond the women's quarters except under guard and with good reason. I do not trust any of the consorts with such a task. Some of them can be amiable on a good day, but give them a chance to impress or perform for the Snake and they turn on each other like dogs. I had to trust my maidservant, Miliani, with the note and necklace you sent, and so far I believe she has not betrayed me, but I do not know if she is allowed to leave the castle or if she is watched when away from me. I remember the laundress who delivered your message said that not everyone in the castle is honest.â€ She paused. â€œI do not remember her name, but Narejde and Azrahil probably do since they sent her. She seemed so afraid, though. I do not know if she would have the courage to continue relaying messages.â€
Ã‰owyn sighed and clasped his hand tighter, her frustration growing. â€œI feel like such a fool,â€ she said bitterly. â€œI have been here nearly a month and yet I can offer so very little to help. I do not know how the guards are positioned or even how they are divided up throughout most of the castle. I know the entrances to the women's quarters are guarded but within our quarters we are free to roam. The Snake allows me to go down to the stables, but as you can see I have a guard with me at all times then.â€ She stopped suddenly. â€œI wonder if Hazadai could be persuaded to help,â€ she said absently, considering this possibility for the first time. At Faramir's questioning look, she explained Hazadai's position as stablemaster and some of the things he had said about why he remained in al-JahmÃ®r's service.
She bit her lip. â€œBut, if the healers forbid me from riding again â€“ which they surely will now that I have had a spill â€“ I doubt I will see him as frequently as I have, especially if the healers put me on bedrest. It would look strange if he came up to the castle asking to see me, and anyway, men are not allowed in the women's quarters except for a guard or servant on orders.â€ She went quiet again, thinking. â€œI wonder if InzilbÃªth could help,â€ she said after a moment. â€œShe is al-JahmÃ®r's daughter-in-law, married to his second son, AdÃ»nakhÃ´r. She is a sweet girl, and she gave birth to a daughter not two weeks ago. Such a pretty little baby,â€ she said softly, releasing Faramir's hand to run hers over her rounding figure. Breaking out of her musings, she continued. â€œWe have spent the afternoon together several times, and I think she seems somewhat sympathetic, but I do not know if that sympathy extends to helping undermine her father-in-law. Her husband refuses to go against his father, even though he has shown that he realizes standing by him will surely end in disaster.â€
She drew a breath and shifted, trying to find a comfortable position on the damp ground. The mud had soaked into the back of her dress and chilled her skin. Maybe the coolness would help keep the bruising down. Her small movements suggested otherwise. She frowned suddenly as something he had said in passing came to the forefront of her thoughts. â€œWait. Elessar, the PalantÃr, did you return to Gondor? How do you know Ã‰omer is on his way? There has hardly been enough time to get a message to Rohan and muster and ride hither.â€
Noticing her discomfort on the wet ground, Faramir moved to her side so that she could sit more upright and lean against him. The burnous which he had put underneath her head and upper back was soaked and wet now as well, and he put it aside. He slipped his arm round her shoulders and held her close to him, for a moment simply relishing her nearness. He noted that her hair smelled different, more strongly of some flowery perfume than he was used to, but apart from this, for a brief while he could pretend that they were back home in their gardens in Ithilien, unbothered by the Snake, simply enjoying a quiet moment together, sitting underneath a tree with sunlight and leafy shadows playing about them on the ground.
Then he drew a breath, remembering that the time they were allowed together was too short , and the moment would not last. The danger of getting caught was growing with each minute. He wondered slightly that LÃ´khÃ® had not sounded the alarm yet.
â€œThere was no need send word to Rohan,â€ he replied, gazing at her and reaching up to pick a blade of grass out of her hair. â€œÃ‰omer stayed in Minas Tirith. I went there as soon as I was fit to travel. KhorazÃ®r had organised a passage on the ship of a corsair.â€ At her look of slight alarm he smiled faintly. â€œCaptain
AzrubÃ¢r, as he calls himself, is a sworn enemy of the Snake, and he has safely delivered us to Gondor and back â€“ safely, and more swiftly than I had dared hope for. I felt guilty about journeying thither instead of coming to Ihimbra right away, but I daresay the journey was worth the effort.â€
Very briefly, he told her of the plans he had made with the King and the other members of the council. â€œSoon, Elessar will arrive here with Imrahil and your brother. TÃºrin wanted to come as well, naturally, but he has other duties back home now. He and Falastur are taking over my office while Elessar and I are away â€“ yes, I know,â€ he added upon her scandalised look, â€œthis is what I thought as well. Anyway, together with Queen Arwen they are going to look after the realm. But this is not the only thing which binds TÃºrin to Minas Tirith right now. Vorondil is going to receive a sibling soon.â€
Seeing her smile knowingly, he nodded. â€œI reckon Visilya has been suspecting something for quite some time without telling her husband, very much like another lady I know.â€
He tensed and looked up in alarm when he heard a brief whistle like the warning call of a blackbird, followed by the sound of footsteps through high grass. LÃ´khÃ® appeared between the trees. â€œWe must be off,â€ said the small man anxiously. â€œIt canâ€™t be long now until we get unpleasant company here. I wonder the guards havenâ€™t checked on us yet, too.â€
â€œGive us a few minutes longer, LÃ´khÃ®,â€ pleaded Faramir. â€œThere are some matters we need to discuss still.â€
LÃ´khÃ® gave him a rather exasperated glance. â€œHurry,â€ he said curtly, before with a sigh and slight shake of his head he withdrew beyond the low-hanging branches again, muttering something about love addling peopleâ€™s brains and annihilating their proper sense of danger.
â€œWe must find another opportunity to meet, and talk longer,â€ Faramir said hurriedly. â€œI shall forward to Narejde and Azrahil what you have mentioned about the laundress â€“ I think she goes by the name of Izren â€“ and Hazadai the stablemaster. They are likely to know him â€“ especially Azrahil. Speaking of him, I knew about InzilbÃªth and her baby. I saw you assisting her at the birth when I looked into the Stone. Also, Azrahil bade me to try and convey a message to her through you, should I get the opportunity to speak with you. He still loves her dearly, and desperately wishes to meet her and talk, although how this could be managed I do not know. If you can and deem it appropriate, tell her of him. Maybe, if she wants to meet him as well, she can think of a way of doing so which we could profit from also, if only to forward information to each other.
â€œAlso, at the moment we have a prisoner, formerly the captain of Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s personal guard. His name is SakalthÃ´r. He was at Tolfalas as well, and already back then had doubts about Marekâ€™s plans concerning me. We caught him during a sea-battle on our way to Ihimbra. He seems willing to work against his former master out of fear for his family, which is threatened by the Snake. So far he has proven trustworthy, although I have not quite made up my mind about him yet. His wife â€“ I think her name is HanÃ®je â€“ works for the tailor. She might be able to help us as well. I daresay nobody would look askance at you visiting the tailor rather frequently now to have new garments made for you and our child. And speaking of children â€“ when I mentioned I had met your brother I think I could read the question in you eyes.â€
He reached for her hand again and clasped it. â€œOur boys where in the City, too, and I spent some days with them.â€ He felt her hold his hand more tightly and draw a shaky breath. He, too, felt a lump in his throat which made speaking difficult. He drew her closer to himself, holding her gently. Suddenly he felt guilty that he had been able to visit their children, while she had been forced to stay away from them. â€œYou would have been so proud of them, melda,â€ he told her softly, stroking her hair with his other hand. â€œThe twins have grown so much and are much more active now. You remember the green tunics you embroidered last winter? They do not fit anymore. Meriadoc surprised me by talking like a waterfall one day, and quite eloquently, too. And Elboron is all the big brother, looking after the little ones. He even looked after me, sensing how deeply upset I was, and tried his best to cheer me up again. But all three miss you greatly. Peregrin did not want to let me go again, pleading with me under tears.â€ He shook his head sadly, swallowing hard. â€œIt so tore at my heart having to leave them again. They all expect our speedy return, though. I promised them to bring you back and would not want to disappoint them. They send their love to you, and even made you some drawings about their adventures in Rohan â€“ well, Peregrin and Elboron did. Meriadoc ate most of the paint. I have them here with me, but perhaps it would not be wise if you kept them on your person in case you are searched or examined.â€
â€œShow me them!â€ Ã‰owyn demanded, her voice cracking. So, he had been in Gondor! And he had been with their children! Jealously weighed on her heart. He had been lucky enough to return to their little ones, if only for a short time, while she had had no other choice but to stay here with the Snake. You would have done the same if you had been in his place, part of her reasoned, while at the same time another part argued that she would have done differently. As he took a flat parcel from under his shirt, her mind went back over what he had said. No surprise that the boys were growing quickly, but that Meriadoc was speaking more, oh, that was good. She had begun to worry some at his rather quiet manner, but perhaps he thought that Peregrin chattered enough for the both of them. Peregrin, her sweet little one, in tears? That was a deep hurt. And Elboron was indeed acting like his father more and more each day, though he had known far too much sadness for one so young still, and most of it the work of al-JahmÃ®r.
Her thoughts broke as Faramir unwrapped the oilskin and took out the drawings, handing them to her. She smiled a wobbly smile as she looked at the various pictures. Perhaps that brown circle with legs was a horse, or maybe a dog, or a deer. There were other pictures of what looked like people, tall people, with smaller people around them. And then there were more obscure drawings, crooked green lines, yellow dots, red squiggles. Here and there an occasional smudged fingerprint could be seen. Ã‰owyn could imagine her boys sitting around the papers, getting as much paint on their fingers and clothes â€“ and faces, from what Faramir had said of Meriadoc â€“ as they were on the papers.
â€œThey're wonderful,â€ she said after several moments. â€œI wish I could keep them, but you are right. 'Tis likely the healers will want to see me immediately, and I doubt I would have any time alone to hide them.â€
Reluctantly, she handed the drawings back to him, looking away as he wrapped them in the oilskin. â€œI will do what I can here,â€ she said. â€œI have seen the tailor already for clothes of my own, but not for the baby. I did not want to give credit to any thought of remaining here until the birth.â€ After a pause she continued, â€œAs for Azrahil and InzilbÃªth, that is a delicate matter. She and I have spoken of him before, and she has said that she must think of him as one dead. She seems content with AdÃ»nakhÃ´r, especially now that their child is born, but she has admitted that she still has feelings for Azrahil, though not as she once did, and I doubt in the way he still wants her to feel for him.â€ She sighed. â€œI do not think it is wise to raise his hopes too much concerning her. If I have the chance, I will speak with her again concerning him and see what she thinks of a possible meeting, but I do not think it will go as he wants.â€
She flinched as the blackbird call came again ahead of the distant but growing sound of hurried hoofbeats.
â€œWe must be off, now!â€ LÃ´khÃ® urged, coming to stand beside Faramir. â€œThree riders are in sight.â€
Ã‰owyn gripped Faramir's hand tightly and kissed him swiftly. â€œGo,â€ she pleaded. â€œGo now, or they will capture you, and then all will be lost. Do not make me mourn you again.â€
Before Faramir had a chance to reply to her, he felt a brisk tug on his tunic. â€œSheâ€™s right,â€ hissed LÃ´khÃ®, not caring to keep anxiety as well as deep disapproval about Faramirâ€™s behaviour out of his voice. â€œDon your burnous again so that they donâ€™t see your scimitar, and get out, back to the hedge. Iâ€™ll try and cover you. We can still make it, if we hurry.â€
The hoofbeat was louder now as Faramir stood and struggled into the wide, ragged garment. It was partly soaked with mud. Leaning down again, he kissed Ã‰owyn once more, passionately, almost desperately. He knew he should have been leaving minutes ago, should not tarry to add to her worries, and yet, now that the parting was so imminent he could not bring it over himself to turn his back on her and disappear. Part of him was surprised at the power of this unreasonable self which so easily defeated all the warnings he was keenly aware of. He could not leave, not without knowing for sure she was being looked after well. Also, there was a small but potent voice reminding him that this meeting with her, this kiss might be the very last. So easily some evil could befall her while the Snakeâ€™s prisoner. Like with his sons, he suddenly was painfully aware that this forceful, hasty parting might be a final one.
Another pull on his garments, followed by a slight whack of the cane. â€œBloody idiot, youâ€™ll get all of us
killed. Oh bugger!â€
Tearing himself away from Ã‰owyn with great effort, he finally stood and turned to follow LÃ´khÃ®â€™s shocked gaze. â€œToo late,â€ the small man muttered as he peered through the low branches. â€œTheyâ€™ve spotted us, and thereâ€™s also guards peering over the hedge now. Bloody fool, this is going to be really dangerous.â€ Drawing himself up before Faramir which looked impressive despite his low height, his dark eyes burning with anger but also fear, he snarled. â€œListen now, tark. Perhaps you donâ€™t care if you get out of here alive or not, but I do. And so does your lady. Therefore, youâ€™ll pull yourself together now, and do what I say. We wonâ€™t get out of here by running â€“ would look too suspicious anyway â€“, so we must continue to play our parts. Youâ€™ll keep your mouth shut and your eyes down, and youâ€™ll stay away from her and leave the talking to me. And youâ€™ll pray they buy our story. Understood? Good. Off you go.â€
With that, he gave Faramir a push to force him through the branches. Hunching his back again and leaning heavily onto his stick, he followed behind, and they made their way, as inconspicuously as possible, away from the tree. Faramir tried to catch a last brief glimpse of Ã‰owyn, but now the leaves hid her features from view. Instead, he could see three horsemen approach at a swift canter. Two wore the livery of Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s household guard, the other was clad in plainer attire, which nevertheless bore the insignia of the Snake. He was an excellent horseman, Faramir noted, and appeared to be occupying an office of some import, although judging from his garments he looked like he was working outside instead of in the castle. Faramir wondered if perhaps he was a gamekeeper or the master of the orchards â€“ or maybe even the stable-master Ã‰owyn had mentioned, because he fitted her description fairly well.
The two guards were armed with spears and scimitars, and were eyeing the two peasants suspiciously as they drew near. One called to them to halt. They continued for a few paces, and when the command was issued again they stopped. LÃ´khÃ® stood tensely, gripping the handle of his cane with both hands and leaning upon the stick. Faramir bowed his head and hung his shoulders, suddenly and keenly aware of their danger which before he had tried to ignore. With a shock he realised that he had forgotten to veil his face. His heart was pounding forcefully now. What if they were questioned â€“ unlikely, in fact, if not? What if he was recognised? During the sea-battle, LÃ´khÃ® had proven a deadly fighter, and Faramir was certain they would manage to take on the two guards and their companion. But with the other watchmen milling about beyond the hedge, their chances of getting out of the orchard without the alarm being raised were slight. And once the alarm was up, and half Ihimbra hunting them â€¦ They would be caught. And brought before the Snake. And â€¦ He did not want to think further. He remembered only too well how he had suffered under the Snakeâ€™s malice while his prisoner on the island. And what evil he could wreak having both his and Ã‰owynâ€™s life in his hands, and that of their child, he did not want to imagine.
LÃ´khÃ® was right. He was an idiot. Ã‰owyn was worried sick now because of his folly. And so, if he was honest with himself, was he. Never before had he been so afraid for his own life. What if they killed him before her eyes, for real this time? The little ones back home, he would have broken his promise to them. What â€¦?
Another whack of the cane. â€œMind your manners now, lad,â€ came LÃ´khÃ®â€™s warning voice, in his old crone cackle. â€œThe masters guards are going to ask us a few questions.â€
Leaning on one elbow, Ã‰owyn saw the riders approaching and recognized Hazadai and two other guards. They had spotted her and the others as well, and angled in their direction. Go, you fool man! What good did Faramir think dying would do here? She felt the panic rising in her. The guards would detain the two â€œpeasantsâ€ and question them, perhaps even take them up into the castle itself, and if the Snake took an interest in them and came to ask questions of his own... She felt light-headed suddenly, dizzy.
And then the riders were upon them, Hazadai already off his horse before the animal came to a halt. â€œAre you hurt?â€ he asked, kneeling beside her. The two guards busied themselves with the peasants, shouting at them to get back and show their hands. Seeing her glances in that direction, he added, â€œDo not worry. The guards will take care of them.â€
And that is what worries me, Ã‰owyn thought. Forcing herself to look away, she raised a trembling left arm. â€œMy wrist and ankle hurt,â€ she said. â€œI fell on my left side and knocked myself out for a few minutes, I think. Nothing feels broken.â€
Hazadai took her wrist and felt it carefully, his brow furrowed in concentration. â€œSprained,â€ he declared. He moved to feel her ankle through her boot and said the same for it. â€œThough I think the healers will want a more thorough examination, especially concerning the child. They have already been sent for and will be waiting for you in your chambers.â€
Ã‰owyn nodded, and at the unspoken question said quietly, â€œI think the child is a little shaken, but otherwise unharmed.â€ She sneaked a look at where one of the guards was crouching next to where his unconscious fellow lay; the other stood listening to LÃ´khÃ®, who was hunched over again and gesturing with his cane.
â€œWhat happened?â€ Hazadai asked, leaning back on his heels.
Ã‰owyn blinked, trying to remember the moments before the fall. â€œWe were simply riding along,â€ she said after a moment, â€œand the colt had been spooky nearly the whole time at the sound of the wind and the fruit falling. One moment everything was fine, and the next the colt was charging into my horse and panicking.â€
The stablemaster sighed. â€œI knew he wasn't to be trusted yet. He ran back to his stall, all lathered and wild-eyed. Your mare returned much slower. Her knees are torn up, but I think with rest and care she'll heal well.â€
Ã‰owyn nodded. â€œI doubt I would come riding anyway. The healers will surely ban me from riding after this,â€ she said sadly.
â€œI'm sorry it had to come to it like this, though,â€ Hazadai replied. â€œBut, perhaps it's for the best,â€ he added softly. He looked up as more hoofbeats drew closer. â€œWell, looks like he did decide to show up,â€ he muttered.
â€œWho?â€ Ã‰owyn asked, unable to turn to see the approaching riders. One of the riders hailed them, and his voice chilled her. That voice she had dreaded hearing since she woke. She looked at where Faramir stood and saw that the guard had turned and appeared to be waiting for the newcomers. She could not see Faramir's expression at this distance, did not want to see the look on his face. She knew he was quite capable of keeping himself under control, even when angry, but then again, this was the first time he had been in the Snake's presence since she had been made prisoner.
Suddenly, the orchard was gone and all she saw before her eyes was a village burning in the night, the flames again hot on her face. She saw Faramir running toward her, and then he was falling, bleeding, dying, and this time her heart told her he would not return. No, no... Her heart was pounding now, and the light-headedness was overwhelming. She heard the horses stop a few feet from her, and then the thud of boots as the men dismounted. The Snake called to them again, and she let out a long breath and fell into blackness.
â€œSo, you tell me you just came over to help?â€ asked the guard once more, eyeing the two â€œpeasantsâ€ keenly. Faramir kept his head down, his gaze on the grass, nevertheless aware of every small movement of the mail-clad man and his companion.
â€œYou know you are forbidden to enter this part of the orchard, and for good reason,â€ the guard went on angrily. â€œWe donâ€™t want you to go about molesting the Masterâ€™s guests. Howâ€™s Roshin?â€ he then inquired of his companion.
â€œKnocked himself out on the ground,â€ came the reply, â€œbut I donâ€™t think heâ€™s injured badly. Looks like those two did look after him, like the woman claimed, because heâ€™s got a cool wet cloth on his brow and a bundle of rags under his head. And heâ€™s got his stuff on him still, so I donâ€™t think those were after emptying his pockets.â€
â€œI hope they didnâ€™t molest the lady, either. If anything befell her, the Master is going to be furious. Wouldnâ€™t want to be in Roshinâ€™s shoes if it turns out the accident was his fault.â€
â€œAye, heâ€™d wish heâ€™d hit his head somewhat harder and not woken up again. Anyway, Hazadai is looking after her now. Heâ€™ll make sure she is comfortable, at least, if those two did not help her.â€
â€œI told you, masters,â€ fell in LÃ´khÃ®, wringing his hands and taking a tentative step towards the guard, to draw his attention from Faramir who he was watching with a slight frown. Faramir gave him a brief appreciative glance for his thoughtfulness concerning the tending of Ã‰owynâ€™s guard. So the man who had approached Ã‰owyn with a look of genuine concern on his features was indeed the stable-master? He looked a decent, thoughtful fellow. Recalling what she had said about him, he marked him as one to approach again concerning her rescue. Should he himself survive the hours to come â€¦
â€œWe only came to help,â€ LÃ´khÃ® went on, in almost a whine. â€œMy lad here, he heard them horses, and then came crying there had been a terrible accident, with the lady falling and the young man here, too. Heâ€™s a good lad, even if heâ€™s a bit slow. But there werenâ€™t no others to help, and so we had to go. You understand this, good sirs, donâ€™t you? You wouldnâ€™t have left them lying on the cold wet ground like this, either, would you, masters? Not with the mud everywhere and especially not the fine lady with hair like gold. Itâ€™s not good lying on the cold wet ground after them rains. I tell you, my back, it hurt me somewhat badly this morning because of all this cold and wet and â€¦â€
â€œHush, woman,â€ interrupted the guard, holding up a gloved hand. â€œHold your tongue until the Master arrives.â€
â€œThe master, lords?â€ asked LÃ´khÃ®, with another swift but now decidedly angry glance at Faramir. â€œYou mean Lord Al-JahmÃ®r himself.â€
â€œThe very,â€ replied the guard with a grin, obviously mistaking the otherâ€™s expression for awe and fear. â€œAnd there he comes.â€ He pointed to where another small group of horsemen was approaching through the trees. The foremost rider raised a hand and hailed them. Faramirâ€™s heart missed a beat at the sound of that hated voice. He had tensed already with apprehension when Al-JahmÃ®r had been mentioned, but the sensation rushing through him now was unlike anything he had felt before: cold anger and hot fury, pure hatred, fear, the desire to strike at the other, to hurt him, and the urge to run to get out of his reach and out of danger rising up in him, battling each other, until hate prevailed. Instinctively, his hand wandered to the hilt of his scimitar hidden underneath the burnous. The guards had turned in the direction of the newcomers, and so he dared to risk a brief glance at the riders.
There he was, the Snake himself. He looked different from when he had last seen him, on the deck of a ship heading to the south with the Gondorian navy chasing him; just after a fierce, desperate duel with Faramir the latter would never have survived but for the timely intervening of the King. Al-JahmÃ®r had been a hunted man then, and the stress and privations of the previous months had shown on his features and his attire. Now he looked different: he was richly clad and well-groomed, and rode with a confidence and swagger he had no longer displayed in the last days of Faramirâ€™s captivity. He gave the impression of a man who knew were he belonged, who feared nothing, and who was wont to command and be obeyed. Faramir felt the hatred increase, if that was possible. He had never thought he would be able to loathe another human being to vehemently and passionately. Even though he had considered what he might do when he met the man who had stolen what was dearest to him, all these thoughts had been purely hypothetical. But this was real. Al-JahmÃ®r was coming towards him right now, reining his horse to dismount. This was real, and he felt utterly unprepared for the encounter, overwhelmed by emotions alien to him in their alarming intensity.
Unprepared, yet determined at the same time. His fear was gone. A reckless, dangerous desire to strike at the man now tossing the reins of his horse to one of his companions with a haughty gesture had taken hold of him. He almost wanted to be recognised now, to see the shock on the Snakeâ€™s hated features when he revealed his identity and reclaimed what was rightfully his. He drew himself up, his left hand gripping the sheath of his scimitar and his right reaching for the hilt.
A sharp pain shot through his legs when LÃ´khÃ®â€™s walking-stick collided with his shins. This time, the small man had used full force. â€œDonâ€™t stand there gawping, boy, bow before the lord,â€ he hissed, adding a cuff with his hand to the back of Faramirs head.
He gave LÃ´khÃ® a furious glance. He would do anything but not bow before the Snake. â€œI said, bow!â€ the small man repeated forcefully, dealing out another blow with the cane. He himself was bent almost to the ground, one hand holding his back as if it pained him.
Al-JahmÃ®r only gave them a brief glance. â€œI will deal with them later,â€ he told the guard watching them and disappeared between the branches. Faramir had noted his look of concern, and felt hot jealousy strive for mastery with his hate and anger. Some of his agitation must have been showing in his face, because their guard suddenly remarked, â€œHey, whatâ€™s wrong with you, boy? Youâ€™re all pale. I hope you havenâ€™t been doing any mischief to the lady. If you have, youâ€™ve got all reason to be afraid. But otherwise I donâ€™t think you need fear the master. Heâ€™ll be relieved if his lady is unhurt, and wonâ€™t deal with you too harshly.â€
Faramir gave him a burning glance. His lady indeed! â€œHeâ€™s eaten too many peaches, the foolish lad,â€ said LÃ´khÃ®. â€œI told him not to, but heâ€™s a bit slow, you see, from falling off the cart when he was little. So he stuffed himself with fruit. Maybe even ate a rotten one. They make you sick, you know. My sister, she ate one once and nearly died of it. Are you feeling sick, lad?â€ he inquired of Faramir, who nodded â€“ quite truthfully. â€œSee, thatâ€™s what comes from not listening to your granny.â€
Faramir was hardly listening to him indeed, but instead straining his ears to what was spoken underneath the tree. He wished LÃ´khÃ® would cease his chattering, but knew he was doing it to keep the guards distracted. Through the fluttering leaves, Faramir could descry Hazadai pointing to Ã‰owynâ€™s left wrist and ankle. He could not catch what was being said, but surmised he was explaining what he had found out about her injuries. Ã‰owyn did not seem to move. He recalled her initial reaction to waking from unconsciousness and thinking him Al-JahmÃ®r bending over her. Did she now feign unconsciousness for not having to deal with her captor? Or was she truly senseless, due to anxiety and fear for his life? She must have heard about the Snakeâ€™s arrival. His heart beat faster, worry now more prominent than hatred for the Umbarian.
After another brief exchange, he saw Al-JahmÃ®r straighten again. â€œStay with her. I need to talk to these peasants before we return,â€ he told the stable-master briskly and brushing aside the branches, approached the small group. Two of his men had lifted the still unconscious Roshin onto a horse in front of another man. Al-JahmÃ®r gave him a dark glance, then turned to the soldier standing to attention next to the â€œpeasantsâ€. Faramir lowered his gaze, aware of LÃ´khÃ®â€™s tense stance. Like him, the small man was ready to sell their lives dearly should they be discovered. But unlike LÃ´khÃ®, Faramir felt sorely tempted to peck a fight with the Snake on his own accord.
Curtly questioning the guardsman, Al-JahmÃ®r listened to the story LÃ´khÃ® had told the other, of how they had heard the horses scream and seen the guard and the lady fall, and how â€œthe ladâ€ had dashed off to look after the people, regardless of the warning not to stray beyond the hedge. â€œThey did do some good for Roshin, it seems,â€ the guard ended, â€œand without pinching anything, too. Donâ€™t know about the lady, though.â€
â€œShe is fairly well, but unconscious,â€ said Al-JahmÃ®r, studying LÃ´khÃ® and Faramir who still kept his gaze down and his shoulders hunched. â€œHazadai said it must have been the stress. She passed out while he was already with her. Her injuries are not life-threatening, and she has not been robbed, either.â€ He turned to LÃ´khÃ®. â€œSo, woman, you say you witnessed the accident and set yourself above my expressed restrictions concerning your allowed movements in these grounds to look after the injured?â€
LÃ´khÃ® gave a shrug, and without meeting the otherâ€™s eyes replied, â€œWell, lord, seeing that she was a lady so fine, my boy here, he was frightfully afraid sheâ€™d done herself some harm. Heâ€™s done a bad fall hisself when he was little, you see, and thus heâ€™s very emotional when others hurt themselves so. Very sensitive, he is, but not as sensible, Iâ€™m afraid. I did scold him after heâ€™d run off, but seeing those poor folks on the ground, I did pity him, and so we helped them as best we could.â€
During LÃ´khÃ®â€™s speech, Al-JahmÃ®râ€™s gaze had several times flicked over Faramirâ€™s features. Each moment the DÃºnadan had reckoned with a glint of recognition, had tensed, but there had been no sign of the Snake realising who was standing in front of him.
â€œYou should be punished for breaking my laws,â€ the Umbarian declared, watching their tense expressions with obvious enjoyment. â€œBut since it appears that your timely arrival provided some comfort for the injured, I will forgo punishment. You will leave the orchards and not return again for Widowâ€™s Harvest, however.â€
LÃ´khÃ® bowed deeply again, indicating to Faramir to do likewise, which again he refused. â€œThank you, thank you, my lord. You are very merciful.â€
Al-JahmÃ®r gave an airy wave of his hand Faramir felt the acute urge to hit him for â€“ to then having to reign this desire and struggle to keep his face impassive when the Snake turned to him. He saw the dark eyes narrow slightly as the Umbarian looked at him. But still no flicker of recognition. He was so close now. A swift stab of his dagger, and the Snake would be gone. And the guards will kill you, and Ã‰owyn. And the baby. You must control yourself, as difficult as it is now. Your time will come. Wait. Calm down. Wait.
He gave a slight jerk when he felt LÃ´khÃ® grip his right arm and hold it tightly, to prevent him from reacting upon his impulse, apparently. Al-JahmÃ®r turned away from him to where Hazadai was stepping through the branches accompanied by a guard, carrying Ã‰owyn in his arms. She was indeed unconscious, and the sight tore painfully at Faramirâ€™s heart. So close she was, and yet entirely out of his reach.
â€œI will take her before me on my horse, Hazadai,â€ said Al-JahmÃ®r.
The stable-master gave a nod and approached the steed, but then halted when Al-JahmÃ®r held up a hand. He stepped to Ã‰owyn and drawing a small knife from his the silver-studded belt he wore over the sash round his waist, he reached for a strand of her hair and cut it. Faramir felt LÃ´khÃ®â€™s grip on his arm tighten painfully, while he himself stood frozen. How did he dare to touch her like this! Her hair was not the Snakeâ€™s to trim as he pleased.
Replacing the knife, Al-JahmÃ®r turned back to Faramir, holding up the lock so that the sunlight fell fully on the golden strands. â€œSince you were so moved by this ladyâ€™s beauty to disregard my laws in order to look after her, take this as a reward
_________________Ithilien, the garden of Gondor now desolate kept still a dishevelled dryad loveliness.
Sweet home Indiana
Last edited by Lady_of_Rohan on Sun 04 Nov , 2007 1:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.