Author's Note: This is the last major story in Míron-arc. There may be the odd one-shot, but I don't foresee anymore multi-chap stories. (But it's definitely not the last Mirkwood story. There are plenty more of those coming.) I'm going to try my damnedest to post an update at least once in two weeks. I hope I'll manage it.
You'll need to have read my previous LotR stories to understand this, at the very least Hours of Darkness, Tangled Webs, Doubt and Betrayal.
I know I owe a load of review replies, and I'll try to get to them over the next few days. I thought you'd all almost certainly want the next story first.
Eryn Lasgalen, Court of the Elven-King
"Come to order!"
Even through the heavy brocade curtain, Arbellason's voice cutting through the clamour is audible. Saeldur hears other sounds as well, voices and footsteps, but he does not – he cannot – raise his eyes from the floor of the antechamber where he sits waiting.
He fears what he will see if he does, though nothing can be worse than what he has seen already. His mother's horror, his father's fury, the hurt in Legolas' eyes… At least Legolas is still speaking to him. His other friends have stopped acknowledging his existence at all.
He cannot blame any of them for how they have reacted. This is not like the last time, when he could blame Míron's plotting and Melda's treachery. This time it is entirely Saeldur's doing.
Inches away from him sits Arahael. They have not exchanged a word in the hour they have been waiting. Arahael feels as though Saeldur has betrayed him. Saeldur would laugh at the irony if it were not so tragic.
The curtain is drawn aside.
Ellaurë stands in the doorway. Her grey eyes are colder than a winter sky.
Saeldur shivers. Ellaurë is normally one of the friendliest of the King's commanders. On the rare occasions when Saeldur had to take Legolas' place in War Council, Ellaurë always managed to make the situation seem less dire.
If she cannot bring herself even to smile at them…
Saeldur gets to his feet. Arahael is close on his heels as he follows her from the room. Saeldur wants to flinch at the other Elf's proximity, but he cannot feel anything.
In court, Legolas sits at his father's right hand. Ithilien or not, he is and always will be Prince of Eryn Lasgalen. He looks as grave as any Elf-lord of legend, far more serious than he had the previous night, when he had taken Saeldur through all the questions that were likely to be asked of him, cross-examining him until he did not falter no matter what was put to him.
Saeldur wishes he could believe it was out of friendship that Legolas did that, but he knows Legolas was simply carrying out what he regarded as his duty as Saeldur's commanding officer. Once Saeldur might have relied on Legolas' friendship, but now… It is too much to hope. His own actions have seen to that.
Bercalion gave Arahael such assistance, despite the fact that Bercalion has no personal wrongs to resent.
Saeldur's guilt claws at his insides. Legolas has his archers' complete loyalty because he gives them the same thing. Saeldur deserves no forgiveness for what he has done; he certainly deserves no faith.
He does not look towards his other friends – are they even still his friends? Is anyone in all of Middle-earth his friend now, he who has so terribly betrayed the beloved warrior-prince of the woodland realm?
The sons of Elrond, sitting close by Legolas as befits, have certainly shown no inclination to be friendly.
Saeldur raises his eyes to Arbellason's face. There is anger there. Arbellason, childless and unwed, loves his friend's son with a fierceness that is rarely displayed. So soon on the heels of the incident with Melda, Saeldur will have no quarter from him.
"You stand before us accused of high treason. Lady Ellaurë will read the charges."
Ellaurë's voice is clear and carrying. Saeldur bows his head. He cannot look at Legolas while the words are being spoken. Conspiracy. Attempted murder. Sedition. High treason.
Dreadful as they are, he knows Legolas would willingly have forgiven him for all of them, even treason, since the King was never in danger.
"I have done none of these things," Saeldur says, when Ellaurë has finished. As many times as he rehearsed those words last night, they still sound hollow. He is guilty, horribly guilty. And suddenly everything he had planned to say flies out of his mind. The words come unbidden. He is not looking at the ground anymore, either. He is looking at Legolas, speaking to Legolas, because he no longer cares what Thranduil does to him. Legolas must know the truth of what he says.
"The crime of which I am guilty," Saeldur says, "and which I regret far more than I can describe to you, is that I failed to trust in the good judgement of my commanding officer and in the goodwill of my friend. But this I swear: never, not once in my life, have I intended harm to Legolas."
Does anyone believe him?
Does Legolas believe him?
Saeldur has no answer.
Eryn Lasgalen, Court of the Elven-King
"Our first witness," says Arbellason, speaking in Westron out of deference to her, "is Éowyn, Princess of Ithilien, Shieldmaiden of Rohan and slayer of the Lord of the Nazgul. As you all know, Lady Éowyn has been a friend to our kin in Ithilien."
Poor Éowyn. She suffered the attentions of the one they called Gríma Wormtongue and thought she knew the machinations of court. She has learnt now just how dark the mind of an Elf can be, brooding for centuries over its wrongs… Saeldur would be sorry if he had energy to spare from worrying about the fact that Legolas has not once looked directly at him since he entered the room.
Arbellason glances at Ellaurë, who steps forward.
Of course, Saeldur thinks silently. Arbellason is close to Legolas, as is Thorontur. Ellaurë is fond of him as well, but she is at least capable of questioning Éowyn without biasing her answers.
Éowyn is led out. Her cheeks are flushed, but she holds her head high as Istuion guides her to a chair.
Ithilien, near the Elven Settlement
Éowyn let out a soft sigh of contentment as the horse, emerging from the forest, found its stride. The tall black destrier was not the usual mount for a noblewoman in Gondor, but a daughter of Rohan could manage him easily. The Mearas that had been her brother's wedding gift to her was in the paddock, enjoying the attentions of the Elven groom, so Éowyn had taken Faramir's horse for this ride.
Faramir, after all, was unlikely to return for another week at least.
Her sigh turned into a whoop as the destrier broke into a gallop. The wind whipped her hair from its demure braids and made it stream out behind her in a golden banner.
Éowyn had never felt so free. Everywhere she looked, there were signs of spring. The ground was carpeted with green, the air was thick with the scent of clover, and the trees she was leaving behind her seemed almost to be dancing. Perhaps it was the Elven presence that made this forest so alive.
Whatever it was, she revelled in it.
She had been out for some time – perhaps half an hour – and the destrier had slowed to a leisurely trot, when she saw a rider approaching. She reined in and watched him with frank curiosity. She knew nobody was expected, and, as the rider neared, she could tell from his slender form that he was an Elf. His horse was a pale, pearly grey, tall and wiry, and he rode without a saddle or any tack.
His face was unfamiliar. By know she knew most of Legolas' companions in Ithilien, so he must have been a messenger – from Imladris, as she had now learnt to call Rivendell, or, far more likely, from Eryn Lasgalen. She knew couriers went back and forth between Ithilien and Eryn Lasgalen every two or three days.
"Mae govannen," she said, when the Elf was within earshot. She spoke Westron with the Elves of Ithilien, who were all more or less fluent, but she had been coaxing lessons in Sindarin from Aeroniel and she was happy to have a chance to practice with a stranger. "Im Éowyn. Im –"
The Elf cut her off with an impatient wave of his hands. He was near enough now that she was quite certain she did not know him, though there was something oddly familiar about his flashing dark eyes.
"The Elven settlement," he said, "where is it? Do you know?"
The Westron came slowly, obviously as unfamiliar to him as Sindarin was to Éowyn. His voice was rougher than any Éowyn had ever heard from an Elf. When Éowyn turned to point out the way, he cut her off again.
"Who are you? You said your name was Éowyn."
Éowyn floundered. Many people, and nearly all the Elves remaining in Middle-earth, knew her name. She had not had to explain herself since –
She shut the memory of the Pelennor Fields from her mind.
"I am visiting my friends among the Elves," she said. Somehow, she did not want to explain Faramir and his position to this strange Elf. "May I help you?"
"Will you take a message for me?" Without waiting for an answer, he thrust a letter into her hands. "Give this to Rochendilwen. I do not have time to tarry."
He turned his horse and galloped off, leaving Éowyn staring after him.
Eryn Lasgalen, Court of the Elven-King
Éowyn pauses and looks around, hesitating, cheeks flushed, as though she thinks she will be blamed for not having recognized the danger sooner, for not having ridden all-out back to Ithilien and warned the Elves, for not having gone after Legolas herself –
"You had no idea who he was?" Ellaurë prompts.
"No, none at all. He looked familiar but I could not place him. I thought perhaps I had seen him, in passing, visiting his kin in Ithilien."
"You need not blame yourself," Ellaurë says. "You had no way of knowing. What did you do then?"
"I returned… it was time to go back in any case. But I did not hurry. I know it sounds odd, when the rider was in such haste, but… I cannot explain it. I still felt there was no need for haste. All the same, the horse was swift, and I made good time."
Ithilien, the Elven Settlement
"I have something for you," Éowyn said, holding up the letter.
Rochendilwen stared at it, uncomprehending. "For me? But the courier is not due today."
"It was somebody else… an Elf I have never met. Although…" Éowyn studied Rochendilwen thoughtfully. "Now that I think about it, he looked a little like you. Do you have any kin in Eryn Lasgalen?"
Rochendilwen stiffened, snatching the letter from Éowyn with unwonted violence. Éowyn looked doubtfully at Aeroniel.
"Did I… is something wrong?"
"Are you sure it was a male Elf?" Aeroniel asked.
Éowyn considered. It was true that female Elves could be as tall and broad-shouldered as the males, and also true that male Elves could be beautiful as no mortal man was, but all the same…
"Yes, I am. Why?" She glanced at Rochendilwen. "I know you have no brothers or sisters, but perhaps a cousin?"
"I have no cousins."
Aeroniel pursed her lips, though her eyes betrayed an anxiety Éowyn did not understand. "Rochendilwen, we must know. If it is him –"
"My brother," snarled Rochendilwen, "is dead."
Éowyn flushed, understanding the pain of that. "I… I am so sorry. Forgive me, I had no idea."
"He is not dead," interrupted Aeroniel, glaring at Rochendilwen.
"He is dead to me!"
"This is not helping," Aeroniel said. "You are wasting time, and you are frightening Lady Éowyn."
Rochendilwen started at that. "I… Yes, of course. Forgive me, Éowyn, I… I was not expecting to hear…" She looked down at the letter. "I suppose I should… What did he look like? The Elf who gave you this?"
"A… a little like you. Dark hair and dark eyes."
Rochendilwen glanced at Aeroniel. "It might have been him. Elbereth. It is… I… his handwriting…"
"Read the letter," Aeroniel urged.
"I am going to burn the letter. He can have nothing to say that I want to hear."
"Rochendilwen." Aeroniel caught her arm. "Be sensible. We should know what he says, however abhorrent."
"That can wait." Rochendilwen's voice was rising. "We have to warn Legolas. Where is Legolas? He went riding this morning! And alone! Elbereth Gilthoniel! This could not be worse… We have to –"
"Rochendilwen! Panicking will not help!" Aeroniel tightened her grip so her friend could not pull away, and then glanced at the trees. "See if you can get word to Legolas to return at once. Send a bird – anything."
"But what is it?" Éowyn asked desperately. "What have I done? Should I not have taken the letter?"
"Did the Elf say anything else?"
"He said he could not tarry –"
"He could not risk one of us seeing him. We would have shot him on sight."
"What happened? What has he done?"
"Bregolien," Rochendilwen said in a hoarse whisper that barely covered the tremor in her voice. "His name is Bregolien. He was born my brother. He killed our mother."
"No," Éowyn gasped. That would be horrifying enough in a human, but in an Elf, to whom Kinslaying was the most abominable of crimes…
Rochendilwen nodded. "He did, but that… That was not all. He hates the King and he has done everything in his power to drive him to grief enough to make him leave Middle-earth before his time. He… he was the one who murdered the Queen. Before Legolas' eyes. He forced him to watch. He tortured Legolas almost to the point of death – it was only by the grace of Elbereth and the skill of Master Elrond that he survived. If… If it truly was Bregolien, and Legolas is alone…"
"Read the letter," insisted Aeroniel.
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