“I know you wish to fight, my love, but you must protect the child,” the king had told her, kissing her forehead gently. “Take him away, for they will seek for our heir.”
And her brother had embraced her, whispered instructions: “Take your son to Fornost, for he will be safest there. But if you are ever in need, go to Tyrn Gorthard. The people of Cardolan will help you.”
So she had fled, taking her son with her, but the army of Rhudaur had blocked the path to the Norbury, and she had instructed the best man of her guard to lead Araphor to Fornost Erain.
“I do not want to go,” Araphor had cried, man’s heart flaming within the boy. “I will stay and fight.” But Idhril had kissed him and sent him off.
And then they had come.
White light. Bright, blinding light. That was the first thing she saw when she opened her eyes slowly, her eyelids heavy and dull.
A few seconds, and the light settled into the shape of a woman. A tall woman, with yellow hair, in a dress the color of dancing leaves upon a stream.
Idhril’s lips were cracked and sore, but she croaked, “Who…who are you?”
The woman laughed, and her laugh was like the rush of a waterfall. “I am Goldberry, princess, queen, lady.”
Idhril sat up abruptly, the sheets falling around her. “I am no princess, nor am I a queen.” The truth, now, she thought, though not long ago it would have been a falsehood.
Goldberry only smiled. “As you wish, lady. But do not fear, for no harm will come to you in this house, as long as Tom is master.”
“Then I thank you for your kind assistance. But who is Tom? And where am I?”
“We are in the Forest, beyond Tyrn Gothard,” Goldberry said, gesturing to the window behind her. “And Tom is the master.”
“He owns these lands?” Idhril played with her sheets, racking her brains for any mention of a ‘Tom’.
Goldberry shook her head. “No, the lands are their own. Tom is simply Iarwain, and I am the River-daughter.”
Iarwain. Iarwain Ben-adar. She had heard the name, but could not recall the connection. “I do not—”
“You do not have to.” The other woman smiled at her. “Do not worry, Idhril. You are safe, and dinner is ready. There are clothes on the rack.” And she swept out of the room, leaving Idhril behind.
The clothes she wore were not her own—her blood-stained tunic and worn leggings were gone. She was clothed in a soft white nightgown, and another dress the deep blue of a night sky, scattered with bright silver jewels, waited for her. Her hair had been smoothed free of tangles, and all that was left was to do it up.
When she peered into the mirror, a thin, worn face looked back at her. The clothes hugged her wiry frame, though, and they, together with her finally-clean hair, conspired to make her appearance passable. The only thing lacking was—
All the drawers of the bureau were opened, all the corners of the room searched, but it was not there. The men must have taken it.
“Damn them,” she growled, kicking at the bed, but there was nothing to be done, so she left the room.
The sound of voices led her to a room awash with the light of the setting sun. A table was in the center of the room, and a merry fire crackled in the hearth. A short man in a blue coat stood with Goldberry, both looking up when she entered.
“This is Tom Bombadil, Lady Idhril,” Goldberry came forward and nodded at the man. “He is my husband.”
Idhril smiled. “I thank you for having me here,” she said.
“And you are merry welcome,” Tom replied. “Now we shall eat.”
For the table was laden with food; fresh bread, yellow butter, thick slabs of cheese, a salad of vegetables, potatoes baked and buttered in their jackets, peaches, berries, fresh milk, spread out invitingly. Hearty food, and for a long time Idhril was silent as she tucked into her meal.
At long last, all three finished, and they went to sit by the fire on chairs woven with rushes. The sun had set, and now the firelight illuminated the room.
It was Idhril who first spoke. “How did you find me?”
“Goldberry came upon you as you lay half-dead on your horse. You were mighty lucky in that. But these are ill times, and I wonder to see the queen so far from her seat.”
Idhril sighed. “Then I am in your debt. But you are mistaken. I am not the queen.”
Goldberry looked at her sympathetically. “These are hard times, but do not lose hope. Your husband and son may yet be alive.”
“I—” Idhril stopped. These people had given her shelter and kindness. If they intended to harm her, they could have done so before. “I do not think they are.”
A silence fell on the room. It was not stifling, but suddenly, Idhril felt she could not stand any kind of silence. The words burst out of her, and they would not stop. “They took the Tower, I think. My husband was part of its defense, and so was my brother.” She paused, taking in a rattling breath. “My son…my son is gone. I do not know what happened to him, for the hosts of Rhudaur came between us, and I fled South, to the Downs. But there were highwaymen, people of Cardolan, my own people. They took everything I had, but I managed to flee to the forest. I heard there were Dúnedain still here, but…it seems there are not.” To her horror, Idhril realized that she was near tears, her voice trembling with the effort of holding herself in check.
Goldberry glanced at her. “Tom, could you see to the bees?”
Tom nodded, and there was no laughter as he walked out of the room. Goldberry turned to Idhril. “He has work to do. But tell me, queen of the North, do you know your husband has passed?”
Idhril shook her head. “My brother, he was my twin, and I can sense that he is gone. But the king…that I do not know. So I must assume the worst.” The ache of grief for her brother dwarfed everything else, clouding her vision, and she could not sense her son, but this she did not say. It was too painful to admit to.
“I am sorry for your loss,” Goldberry says quietly. “But take heart. Your husband and son may yet be alive.”
“Tell me something of yourself.”
“I…” Idhril pauses to think, and one particular memory floats into her mind. “I had a friend when I was younger, Aiwen. She was the brightest, most joyful creature that ever lived, carefree and happy. I was constantly getting into trouble, and she would rescue me. I snuck away from my nurses once, and we were exploring a mill. I upset an entire sack of flour, and the miller heard me. We ran, but I got caught, and he was getting ready to thrash me with a massive bullwhip. I was trembling and scared, and Aiwen just walked in. She said, ‘I beg your pardon, but my mistress the princess has asked me to bring her highness home’. The miller’s face went purple.” Idhril smiled at the memory. “Another time, when we were much older, verging on young women, I went climbing for birds’ nests, though it was forbidden. Aiwen refused to help me, and she said she would wait for me at the bottom of the tree. I slipped, fell down, and landed on Aiwen. I sprained my wrist. She was bedridden for six weeks with a broken leg, but she refused to tell anyone how it came about.”
Goldberry laughed. “She sounds wonderful.”
“She was,” Idhril said, her voice low. “But some time after she broke her leg, she was betrothed to man. He did not treat her well after they married. She died in childbirth.” That story Idhril did not tell; the shared kisses in the moonlight and Aiwen’s apparent shyness afterwards, her refusal to see Idhril, the shock of the hasty betrothal was announced. This much, at least, she could say for Aiwen; she kept Idhril’s secret to the last.
Goldberry held her peace, and the silence stretched between them for a long moment. Then she reached into the folds of her dress. “I found this on you, but it slipped my mind until this moment.”
“Oh.” Idhril bit back a gasp, for lying on Goldberry’s palm was the brooch she thought she would never see again, many-shaded like the wings of a blue butterfly, and set with blue stones. “I…I thank you. Aiwen gave it to me before my wedding, as a blessing. It is very precious to me, and I thought I lost it.” Aiwen had slipped into her room the night before the wedding as she lay in seclusion, supposedly readying herself for marriage. Keep this, Idhril. It was my only bride-present from Galathor. He has not honored his bride-promise, I think you know that, but your husband will. You would not have agreed to Arveleg’s suit otherwise, and neither would your brother, politics be damned. And she had pressed the brooch into Idhril’s hand. Go to your marriage with my blessings. I am sorry, Idhril, that I could not love you. Before Idhril could reply, she had vanished into the night. The next day, the butterfly gleamed blue next to the diamond-and-mithril star that was part of Arveleg’s bride-present to her, but Aiwen was not there as she fed Arveleg the milk of life, as they lifted their veils together.
“Idhril?” Goldberry’s voice shook her out of her reverie. “What were you thinking?”
“That I must go to my people on the downs and bury whatever remains of my brother there are,” Idhril said. She spoke thoughtlessly, but as she heard the words, she realized that her path was now clear. “I thank you for your hospitality, but I have a duty that must be fulfilled.”
“I understand, Idhril,” Goldberry nodded. She looked down at the brooch on her hand. “Here, let me pin this for you.”
Idhril watched with baited breath as the brooch was lifted up and pinned gently onto the dress, fingers barely brushing her breast as they closed the clasp. “There.” Goldberry dropped her hand. “Now you have both your friend’s blessing, and mine. It has safeguarded you this long, and so I hope it will in the future.”
After the Tower was overrun, the prince’s people fled with his body to Tyrn Gorthard. They anointed him with oils and laid him in his bed of flowers in the fashion of the Dúnedain of Cardolan, but they could not bury him, for there was no close relation left living except his nephew in Fornost.
But after three days, his sister, Queen Idhril of Arthedain and Arnor, who was presumed dead, appeared unlooked-for. She took up the rule of the people of Cardolan, and declared that they were to unite with Arthedain to fight Rhudaur under her son’s banner. A fire had been lit within her by the carnage at the Tower, for later, she became a great war-leader and her son’s second general, an honor which had never been before given to woman.
Meanwhile, however, she conducted the rites for her brother. The last prince of Cardolan was laid to rest in his barrow by Queen Idhril. In his barrow, too, were laid many of the bride-presents given by her husband. For King Arveleg’s body was missing, and he could only be buried in thought.