Chapter 1: Prologue
Blond hair blinded her, and Eowyn huffed and quickly brushed it out of her eyes. She ran her fingers through the captured locks, brow furrowed as she stood on the steps of the Meduseld. I have far too much of this, She thought to herself as she untangled her hair, if I could have it my way I'd cut it all off. Live like my brother, with short hair that doesn't tangle so horribly with each gust of the wind.
"Daydreaming of cutting it all off again, my lady?"
Eowyn smiled slightly at the sound of her cousin's voice, Theodrid truly did understand and sympathize with her predicament even if he kept his hair much shorter than hers. They had always been friends, even before Theodin had fallen ill. His illness, she suspected, was not just a symptom of old age.
"Is it truly that obvious what I am thinking?" she asked him lightly, turning to face the fair haired man.
"Only to me, my lady," he said, his eyes scanning Edoras as it sprawled out before him. "A fair trick I have learned over the years that no doubt leads to the jealousy of some," he added, watching the black clad Wormtongue move out of the stables. Grima was a dark stain upon Rohan in Theodrid's eyes. He did not trust the worm, nor did he care to think of where it ran off to every few nights.
"I'm sure he envies you for more than your ability to speak to me with ease," she grimaced a reply. She hated the pale man, he seemed to her a snake that hunted power in the lands. It was no small secret that Grima called Wormtongue favored the King's niece, his eyes revealed more than either of them cared for and the occasions where Eomer or Theodrid had to intervene on Eowyn's behalf were all too common as of late. He was getting bolder, and the three potential heirs grew uneasy at his rise to power.
"I'm sure he envies my station as well," Theodrid admitted, "perhaps that is where his attraction to you comes from; his lust for power."
"Perhaps, for it would surprise me if I was just a way for him to solidify rule over Rohan. That does not make his gaze any less lecherous."
"I never intended to diminish his evil in that regard, I assure you."
They paused as Wormtongue climbed the steps of Meduseld, sliding past them both with eyes fixed on Eowyn as he did so. With the shut of the great doors behind him, the cousins let out sighs of contempt. Eowyn walked to edge of the balcony, surveying the plains beyond Edoras and spotting a small group of people on horseback. The Rohirrim, she thought, until she saw the two large purple covered wagons in the center of the procession. No, not the Rohirrim, she squinted, something else entirely.
"We have guests from the west, cousin."
Theodrid joined her side, both peering out at the group that approached the hilltop they resided on.
"Indeed we do, cousin," he cocked his head to the side, "but who is it? Who would travel so brazenly in dark hours such as these?"
"Travelers, dear cousin," Eowyn whispered with a sudden memory, her eyes lit up with curiosity as they grew ever closer, "we are meeting the Roaming Folk for the first time, just like our parents did in years past. If I remember, they were a pleasant folk who brought joy to our parent's lives when they visited. If they have remained the same, I cannot say they will be unwelcome in our halls. Joy has not been present here for some time, and It would be good to welcome it back again."
"You forget, we have one element that our parents did not have when last they visited," Theodred warned, apprehension tight across his face, "we have the Worm."
Eowyn's smile faltered.
As the group of travelers moved closer, the two cousins could hear singing.
"I do hope they always sing," Eowyn mused, "their music is pleasant to hear."
"Indeed it is," her cousin agreed, "and I imagine the pleasantness will only grow when they move close enough for us to hear the words clearly."
It took nearly two hours for the troupe to move that close, and the twins discovered with delight they sang of nature and not some foul thing or songs of battles they had heard since childhood. No, instead this was a new song, and a captivating one at that.
"Let me bring you songs from the Wood:
to make you feel much better than you could know!
Dust you down, from tip to toe!
Show you how the garden grows!
Hold steady as you go,
Join the chorus if you can:
It'll make of you an honest man!"
They observed the singing troupe as it moved closer, taking in the strange coloring of the tribe. Each of them wore shades of purple and blue, how they managed to get cloth such a vibrant hue was a mystery to Eowyn. The style of clothing interested Theodred most, specifically how the women of the tribe dressed so freely and unrestrained. That is to say, with little more covering than was deemed appropriate for an undergarment. Strangely still, all of them wore various styles of veils that hid their hair. Some had their heads covered as though they were Haradrim, others had their entire faces covered, and the woman in charge of the procession wore a tasseled veil that left a fringe covering her eyes. Her's was a blend of blue and purple, splotched and reminiscent of a clear running stream. It cascaded over her shoulders and down her back, leaving the cousins to guess that the most important part of the body to be covered in their culture was their hair. Upon that supposed revelation, both Eowyn and Theodred felt suddenly very exposed.
"Let me bring you love from the field:
Poppies red and roses filled with summer rain!
To heal the wound and still the pain!
That threatens again and again
as you drag down every Lover's Lane!
Life's long celebration's here,
I'll toast you all in penny cheer!"
Too soon the group was at the gate of Edoras, and the lead woman folded her veil back to reveal her eyes to the two cousins at the helm of the Meduseld. Eowyn was taken aback by the wildness of this woman, whose eyes were covered in the black kohl of the Haradrim. It was menacing to see her at first, with the thick blue line that trailed from the bottom of her nose to the end of her chin and her striking eyes set in black. Yet, once the initial shock of her appearance wore off, they found themselves at peace looking at her. It was the eyes, those windows to the soul, that revealed eyes as blue green and wide as Wormtongue's, yet softer and warm. If this woman were to be found in nature, she would surely be a babbling brook, Eowyn decided. The woman met her eyes and smiled widely, lifting an arm to both nobles as if to let them know she sang directly to them.
"Let me bring you all things refined:
Galliards and lute songs served in chilling ale!
Greetings, well met fellow, hail!
A singer in these ageless times,
With kitchen songs and gutter rhymes!"
"I think she's asking to meet us, cousin," Theodred whispered in his cousins ear, then turned to travel down the steps and to the front gate. Eowyn knew her place was not to greet guests so openly, and so she watched intently as her cousin opened the gate to greet the strange woman. The closer she looked at the troupe, the more she realized there were more women than men, and the more she desperately wished to meet with them.
"Greetings, Roaming folk, what brings you to Edoras?" Theodred welcomed, his hand was absentmindedly placed on the hilt of his sword tied to his belt.
"Fair greetings and many well wishes, Master Theodred," the woman spoke, a low and husky voice, "there is no place for violence here, Horsemaster. We come in search for land to toil and halls to dance in, we come to deal with King Theodin for trade." Theodred was taken aback at her knowledge of him and his father, she had never been here in his memory.
"Do not fret, lord Horsemaster, It has been many years since I last saw you. You were but a child when my people last passed through Rohan."
"Forgive me for my doubt, but you do not look nearly old enough to have known me as a child. You look barely older than my cousin, the woman I stood with."
The woman smiled widely again, with a small laugh that sounded like wind chimes occasionally put out by the stables. "My people are seldom trusted, I take no offense, but it is true. Nearly 15 years have gone by since then, you would hardly remember me as I spent most of my time in the fields."
"You have too fair a voice to be a laborer, my lady."
"How else do you expect plants to grow? Alone and without reason to leave the soil?"
"I yield to your knowledge of the land, my lady. May I ask your name?"
"My name is Aealsifth daughter of Énniené, the former matriarch of the Alderroot tribe. To my left is my right hand, Taurthel Nadhornith, and to my left is my personal guard, Srogag Ya'nyr."
"Srogag?" Theodrid's hand gripped the hilt of his sword again, Srogag's horse moved nervously in response. Aealsifth reach out a calming hand to her guard, as Theodred spoke again. "That sound like an orc name, lady Aealsifth."
"That's because it is, Horsemaster."
Theodred had never seen a river glazed with ice, but he assumed it would look like her eyes in that moment.
"So, the Roaming folk deal in Orc kind? And yet you come to halls of men for trade, why not go to the east, and enter the halls of Mordor instead?"
"There is much you do not know about the roaming kind, Horsemaster. None of us are of full breeding, not even me my lord."
"So the Roaming folk are but a mess of Halfbreeds? Then it is no wonder that I hear soldiers of Gondor speak of you as if you were no better than Easterlings."
"And what is so despicable about Easterlings, Master Theodred? Indeed my best planters are of Easterling descent," she beckoned two riders up towards her. They dismounted and hesitantly moved to either side of their Master. Slowly they lifted their veils from their faces, revealing the tanned skin of an Easterling. Theodred bit his tongue as he looked at them more, neither of them could be older than fifteen winters. They were but children, who by now have heard their race be demeaned by a man of supposedly noble descent. "These are our twins, Horsemaster. Nalkul, the girl child," she said placing her hand on the head of the child to her left, "and Yorthad, the boy child. Tell me Horsemaster, do you see evil in their eyes?"
Theodred obliged her a glance at their faces, and found himself at a loss. Where he was told there would lie evil, reflected back at him images of rich soil and seedlings. Perhaps the Halfbreed tribe was ill spoken of for ill reasons, and he made a decision.
"No my lady, I cannot see evil in their eyes," his hand relaxed again and fell at his sides. He raised a hand in an offer to help Aealsifth off her horse, she paused to let Yorthad move back before accepting his hand.
She was on the ground in a fury of fabric and the rattle of bracelets hitting each other on her wrist. He noted, now, how fine her rings were, and how numerous her bracelets and earrings. Halfbreeds indeed, taking with them the decor of their heritage but hopefully leaving behind any negative qualities of their races, he mused.
"If you will my lady, you may camp inside Edoras."
"Is that not a deal I must make with your father, Horsemaster?"
"My father is unwell, my lady. And I fear his words come from the mouth of a snake that is ever at his side, were he in his right mind he would agree to your deal, however I know not how he will react with the snake on his shoulder."
"This snake, is it venomous? And if so, how potent is the poison that sits behind it's lips?"
The more they walked together, the more Theodred realized just how short Aealsifth truly was. A few heads shorter than certainly, yet she did not have the figure of a woman barely out of girlhood. Rather, the layers of scarves that were tied around her body in a shoddy form of modesty clung to her wide hips and rather large bosom. He was thankful for her questions, that way he would have a reason to look at her without it being obvious he was trying to piece together her ancestry.
"Snake was the wrong choice of words, for his only power comes through his ability to sway my father. He is more of a worm, my lady."
"Then perhaps we have no problems, Horsemaster."
"Farmers love worms," she looked up with a smile.
Despite her odd appearance, Theodred would not deny that she was beautiful. Beneath the Haradrim markings of black and blue that adorned her face was something beautiful, she had a rounded face with high cheekbones and thick lips to even out her features. Her nose was perhaps the oddest feature, it protruded from her face without an elegant slope like other women he had seen. Instead, it was slightly concave, with a bump in the middle as if it had been broken at one time. Perhaps the the black is to hide any sort of outward damage, he thought to himself, but I have no mind to ask.
"My nose was broken at one point," her voice broke his contemplation. Before he could ask her how he knew her curiosity, Eowyn was rushing to greet them both.
"Greetings, my lady," she seemed slightly out of breath. Again, Theodred noted that Aealsifth was quite short, and far more curvaceous than his cousin. Strange, he thought, perhaps this woman is half Dwarf, there could be no other explanation.
"Ah, my lady Aealsifth, this is my cousin; Eowyn, Sheildmaiden of Rohan," Theodred introduced the two women, Eowyn bowing deeply while Aealsifth only nodded her head.
"Fair greetings and many well wishes, my lady."
"Have you come seeking an encampment?"
"Yes, my lady. Your cousin has already granted that request, but I will still speak with King Theodin and his pet snake, the validation of the king would make it more official."
Eowyn's eyes flicked worriedly towards her cousin. This woman is brave to speak of Grima in such a passive manner, she thought, I hope she is not too bold as to incur his wrath.
"Do not worry my lady, I have dealt with things far more menacing that a soothsayer that poisons the ear it rests on."
"You are a poet, my lady."
"Indeed Sheildmaiden, my people are both Bard and Farmer, words and plants are our strengths."
"Bards and farmers, such an odd combination," Eowyn said, taking the other woman's arm as they walked up towards the entrance of the Meduseld.
"We are gifted by both Yavanna and Nessa," she smiled, "it is known by few that the Roamers are favored in the eyes of the Valar, as such we have many gifts."
"How interesting," Eowyn started, before noting the veiled man that followed them from a distance. "My lady, you are being followed by a soldier, I envy the dedication they show you."
Aealsifth paused her steps and turned her head over her shoulder, beckoning the guard up to her.
"Do not trail so far behind, Srogag, you do me no good so far behind."
"Srogag? That name sounds-"
"Orcish," came the gruff reply from behind the veil.
"I meant no disrespect, I was merely taken off guard."
"I take no disrespect my lady, I have come to expect a reaction. At least you did not reach for your sword," Srogag easily forgave, shooting an annoyed look in Theodred's direction. Theodred's cheeks burned under the half-orc's gaze, and he quickly looked away. The moved up the steps of the Meduseld, and Theodred paused with a hand on one of the great doors into the hall.
"Prepare yourself my lady Aealsifth, you are about to meet the worm," he sighed, pushing open the door and leading the way for the two women and guard.
"My lord father, we have guests seeking to trade homestead for land and entertainment," Theodred announced as they walked into the hall.
Aealsifth was initially taken aback by the sight of the withering king. His skin had turned as grey and wrinkled as discarded paper from a torn up book, and he had turned inward to himself. She doubted that he was even in control of Rohan anymore, at least not with the Worm that sat at his side. She watched the aptly named Wormtongue turn to his masters ear, whispering something before turning back to them.
"The Roamers are.....but Halfbreed labor...what goods could they provide us we....cannot find it ourselves.." the raspy and quiet voice slowly tumbled from the king.
"My lord, we cannot leave them alone out the-" Eowyn was cut off by Aealsifth raising her hand, a move that stunned Eowyn into silence.
"My lord Theodin, you remember my people well, and I remember you as well, however I do not recall your right hand man. Surely, he knows nothing about what goods we can supply you, since you mimic his words in your ailment." As she spoke she walked close to the king, standing only a few steps away from the throne and though she addressed the king, her eyes were locked on Wormtongue.
"I have heard all I need to know of the Roamers," Wormtongue hissed, "what makes you think the protests of a Halfbreed would change my mind?"
"So then, you are who is called Wormtongue," Aealsifth pressed, her hands clasped beneath her bosom, holding close to her the veil that was draped around her shoulders.
"Harsh words from," Grima paused to peer over her shoulder at the two cousins who stood by the fire place in the center of the hall, "harsh people."
"Too bad," she said tilting head to look him over, "us farmers like worms."
She smiled slightly to herself as the pale man's eyes widened in shock from her bluntness, and Eowyn quickly reached for her cousin's hand in fear. Grima opened his mouth to speak, but words for his confusion and anger escaped him.
"And the worm becomes a fish!"
"You would dare to speak to me like that," Grima's voice was low and rumbled truly like a snake's hiss, "you roaming Halfbreed?"
"Do not worry, master Wormtongue, we farmers enjoy fish as well, but we do like worms better."
"I am Grima son of Galmod, right hand of the king, and you would call me a worm? Do you have no experience dealing with men of power?"
"To be called a worm is to be called something of use. When the soil is full of worms, you can predict a bountiful harvest. They help till the earth, and nurture our plants. My people do love and value worms, so if you are a worm, you are something of value and use to your community."
Grima paused, to the Rohan he was a worm, a snake; something to be spit on and chided at every opportunity. His eyes flicked to Eowyn in the background, someone to spurn, he thought. His eyes returned back to the short woman in front of him, she was all too scantily clad. Her skirt stopped just below the knee, and was tied to her waist so that if she were to turn too quickly one would see the entire length of her left leg. Yet, she wore a scarf tied to her waist to make it less noticeable, so it is not a method of seduction but rather of few resources, he deduced. Her top was merely the same, perhaps a segment of a scarf that was cut and buttoned to barely conceal her bosom. Her veil, which was perhaps more of a scarf, was the longest piece of fabric that adorned her body. Starting at the top of her head with one point, it trailed down her torso with two points resting at elbow length with the last point ending at her lower back, it's fringe is what caught his eye, as that style was hardly seen in Rohan or Gondor, but rather in Dwarven mines.
One glance at the heavy metal belts at her waist and many rings to solidify his suspicion. Yes, she is of Dwarven descent, her other half must have spared her the beard, he thought.
"What do you have to trade, my lady," his voice shifted, knowing that there was no use in pretending to beg his pardon to the half-Dwarf in front of him. She was too smart for that, he could sense, and he would not risk insulting her further. "Forgive me, my lady, for I did not ask your name."
"I am Aealsifth daughter of Énniené, of the Alderroot tribe," she turned to motion towards the man behind Theodred, "and that is my personal guard, Srogag Ya'nyr."
"I am pleased to meet and deal with you, lady Aealsifth, as is our King."
His mind wandered briefly elsewhere, this half-Dwarf traveled with an Orc, half or not an Orc is an Orc. Perhaps, he thought, the Roamers could be of use to my true master in Orthanc, if they are comfortable with Orcs. Upon taking a more analytical look at her face, he amended his past thought. She would be of use for the White Wizard in Orthanc, she traveled with Orcs and decorated her face with markings of Haradrim and with the makeup of an Easterling, she would serve Saruman well.
Both Aealsifth and Grima looked at king Theodin in shock. Grima stared intently at the withered king, surely he did not just speak of his own accord.
"Énniené.....where...is your mother..."
Aealsifth knelt before the king, gently taking his hand. Grima watched the scene unfolded curiously, the roaming people must have pleased Theodin greatly if he could break Grima's enchantment so easily in her presence.
"Theodred, do you see what I see?" Eowyn whispered to her cousin, squeezing his hand. All he did was glance at her, his eyes expressing what her words had. Neither of them had seen the king speak without Grima's voice in his ear, and both decided separately that the Roamers had to stay, for the good of the king.
"My mother has died, my lord," her voice soothed, her words seemed like cool water moving over smooth stones to Grima. Words whose intentions are to quell any despair, Grima noted. "Do not weep for her though my lord, it was several winters ago and her death was peaceful. She did think of you till the end, my lord, and your friendship was something very dear to her."
The king nodded slowly, it seemed more a tremble, and he turned to the snake on his arm. Once again, he commanded the roamers be allowed inside the walls of Edoras, and to treat them well. Not in that many words, of course. Nevertheless, after an hour of bargaining and trade agreements made between her and Grima, Theodin signed the decree giving them shelter in Edoras. Aealsifth left the kings side, after leaving a kiss on his clammy hand, and moved to Srogag to give him instruction, speaking as well with Theodred and Eowyn. As they spoke, Eowyn saw Grima approach the group and placed her hand on Aealsifth's, a grim look on her face and she looked beyond the other woman's face.
So, Aealsifth thought, if the worm puts that much terror in the Sheildmaiden, then I will have to keep a closer eye on him than anticipated.
"My lady," the deceptively velvety voice sounded behind her.
"Lord Grima, is there something else you need?"
"I was but wondering if you would be willing to introduce me to your people, so that they know they have a friend in the court of the king."
"I would like to meet your people as well," Theodred interjected, Grima quickly glancing angrily in the man's direction.
"I would too, my lady, I feel as though the women of Rohan could benefit from your people," Eowyn added. Eowyn did mean what she said, even if the urgency of her compliment was out of a need to keep the short woman away from Wormtongue's predatory gaze.
"Well, my people are not used to such interest, but I would be happy to introduce the court to my people! Shall we go?"
Oh yes, thought Grima, his eyes roaming over her body as she turned, we should go.
Song quoted is 'Songs from the Wood' by Jethro Tull! I intend the make the Roamers a musical race, and I'll use lyrics from mostly folk and country artists as they would fit the period better.
Chapter 3: The Roaming Folk
The small group walked through Edoras to the other end of the town, where the Roamers were allowed to set up camp. It wasn't meant to keep the Rohan people separate from the Roamers, but rather so that the farmers could be close to the gardens. Already, the Roamers were setting up camp, moving belongings out of the big covered wagons. Eowyn did take note of the glimmer of steel as women covertly moved swords to the side to gain access to tents.
"Do your women fight, my lady?" Eowyn asked Aealsifth, who only smiled and brushed the lengths of scarf from the slit in her skirt, revealing a small knife strapped to her leg. Theodred wondered what Aealsifth could have said that made his cousin smile so widely.
Grima was wondering the same thing, when a small child accidentally smacked into him, a woman shouting followed suit. He had to restrain his anger at the child, most of them stayed out of his way, so to have one carelessly run into him was jarring.
"Brerbi!" the woman shouted, Aealsifth scooped up the child without offering an apology to Grima, who again controlled his anger.
"Brerbi, you know better than to run away from your mother" Aealsifth cooed at the child, a little girl who could be no more than six winters old. The woman, who they all perceived to be the child's mother. They both had the same thick and shaggy light brown hair, and odd eyes. Almost animal like, in Theodred's opinion. "Jordis, how are things at the camp?"
"We are setting up fine, Aealsifth, but Brerbi got a little bored and tried to run off and explore," Jordis sighed taking back the anxious child, who immediate began chewing her abnormally long nails. It was then that Grima noticed that the woman, Jordis, seemed to sport bear claws at the end of her finger tips.
These Halfbreeds, he shook his head, are surely a strange lot.
"Ah, this is Eowyn, Shieldmaiden of Rohan, Prince Theodred the Horsemaster," Aealsifth suddenly remembered her manners, then turned to Grima. "And this is Grima son of Galmod, the Wormtongue. Shieldmaiden, Horsemaster, Wormtongue, this is Jordis Darnrand and her daughter Brerbi" she said moving a bit of hair out of the child's face.
Eowyn stifled a laugh at the sight of Grima's face upon being introduce as 'the Wormtongue", his eyes were wide and she could have sworn a bit of red rushed into his cheeks. Grima himself felt horrified, why would Aealsifth spread such a name already, he was ready for more eyes to look at him with distrust. Instead, Jordis' eyes lit up at the sound of his nickname.
"Wormtongue! How delightful! Are you a farmer as well?" Jordis asked, almost completely ignoring the prince and his cousin, reaching a hand forward to grasp his. All three of the people from Rohan had to hide their shock. Eowyn could not believe that this woman would willingly touch Grima and Theodred couldn't understand the Roamer's obsession with worms. Grima on the other hand was dumbfounded by this woman's openness with him, more so than her question of his farming abilities. People, women specifically, were never....eager to make contact with him. He no doubt blamed it on his appearance. He had always been a pallid, wide eyed, dark haired little thing; something wholly unlike the blond and rough Rohan men around him.
And yet, this strange looking woman meant him no ill will, in fact- her eyes seemed to sparkle at the mention of his nickname. She had even deigned to touch his hand, a kind gesture he was a stranger to.
"Ah, no my lady, I am no farmer. I am aid to king Theodin, and my hands have never worked earth."
"A pity," Jordis said, retracting her hand to change how the fidgeting child sat in her arms, "there is nothing as good for the soul as working the earth, and seeing the seeds you've planted grow. It is much like raising a child, only plants won't fight you" Jordis sighed and pulled Brerbi's hand away from her mouth. As she walked away they could hear her lecture the child: "now, now, Brerbi, you will need your claws for planting work. Do not chew them! Bears do not chew their nails, why should you!"
"Bears, my lady?" Theodred asked Aealsifth, something was strange about that woman.
"Aye, Jordis is of the Beorning tribe. The women do not shape shift, but they still have the characteristics of a bear. Strange eyes, weird claws. She is only part Beorning, her mother was a Wildwoman, and the father of her child was a Beorning. The two species often co-mingle, but she wanted to join us anyway."
"What happened to the father?" Eowyn asked, her brow furrowed with worry as she watched the mother move back towards the camp.
"He died," Aealsifth answered curtly, "he traveled with us for a time, but he was killed one night by the Uruks. He wandered too far, and they were hungry. She keeps his bones in a satchel in her tent, a Beorning tradition. We do not speak of it, he died only a summer ago," she paused, watching her cool toned people move about and set up camp. Then she let out a whistle, slow and strong, that had everyone stop in their tracks. "The court that has accepted the deal wishes to meet you, to avoid repeating myself I'll introduce them to you now," she called out.
"This is Eowyn, the Shieldmaiden of Rohan and niece to king Theodin. With her is Prince Theodred, the Horsemaster, and then the king's aid, Grima son of Galmod, also known as Wormtongue," she said passing by each member of Rohan nobility.
"And what of Eomer Eadig, nephew of Theodin?"
Eowyn and Aealsifth turned to greet the new speaker, while Grima closed his eyes and grit his jaw under Theodred's smirking gaze. On a large horse sat the master of the Rohirrim, Eomer Eadig, Eowyn's brother.
"I did not know you had returned!" Eowyn smiled, her hands outstretched to her sibling.
"I've just arrived dearest sister," he took them and greeted her with a kiss on her knuckles, before nodding towards Theodred and greeting him with a curt, "cousin!"
Aealsifth made note he ignored Wormtongue entirely, moving instead to greet Aealsifth with a kiss on the cheek.
"I see you remember me, Eomer," there was that wide smile again, Eowyn noticed that Grima's eyes were fixed on the Roamer woman rather than her for once. A welcome change, even if she did feel worried about the new woman he was targeting.
"How could I forget the moon witch that stole my heart as a young lad," Eomer laughed, draping an arm over her shoulders with ease.
"Ah, and how could I forget the young Rohan boy I found hiding in my tent, trying to see me change" she laughed, landing a playful smack on his chest.
"I was wild in my youth, but you did teach me a lesson that stuck," he joined her laughter, "I never attempted that again after you came after me with a stick!"
Grima felt slighted by Eomer's familiarity with Aealsifth, it would make it even harder for him to get close enough to ascertain her usefulness.
"Shall we go meet the rest of the tribe?"
Grima, shook his thoughts from his head at the sound of her voice, smiling in response and following her and the tall soldier.
The first people they met where two children, about fifteen winters.
"Nalkul, Yorthad, come here!"
The two blue children ran to her side, each one rushing to give her a hug. They are as tall as her, Eowyn noted, amazing that such a small woman can have such a fiery personality.
"Theodred, you've met my twins before, however they were scared at the time. Now you can see how truly loving they are," she laughed, trying to pry each child off of her sturdy frame. "They were given to us by a Gondorian woman right after we left here," she explained, "the unfortunate thing about the Alderroot tribe is that most of us are conceived in, ah, less than savory ways. Even in those days, the Easterlings were making their move to Mordor."
This could be a problem, Grima frowned, Orcs are Orcs but a half-Orc conceived by a ravaging horde would not be so thrilled to journey into an Orc filled Isenguard.
"Yorthad, go help Jordis with Brerbi, Nalkul, go help Srogag," she brushed each child off onto another adult.
"Srogag, he's still around?"
"Yes, my personal guard. Eomer, we have several other half-Orc's with us, please remember your manners," groaned Aealsifth.
"On my honor, my lady," he laughed, "I have no fear of anyone that travels with you, the Roamers are good people."
"Indeed we are, and here is the best with her wife."
Her wife, Eowyn thought, what a wonderful society, women are clearly of worth.
There stood a clearly partially elvish woman, affixing a turban to a bald Haradrim woman. It was an odd sight, to see an Elvish woman with larger breasts than a Haradrim, but genetics were a tricky thing. And they were a sight, a half-Elf who should have been a fair princess and a strong Haradrim, built for being a warrior. Even Grima could see that they were deeply in love, with no such qualms about what they were doing. A truly free society, he mused. The Elvish woman lavished the other in love, and in response the Haradrim woman held her close with a smile permanently affixed to her face.
"Taurthel Nadhornith, my right hand half-Elf, and her wife; Hasaal Nu'noth, our best fighter," they were introduced, both women nodding their heads in respect.
"Aealsifth, why do you never call me half-Elf?" Hasaal teased.
"Yea, and why not me half Dunlending?" Taurthel responded in kind. Eowyn could see that this was a joke often played, as Aealsifth rolled her eyes and turned back to the court of Rohan.
"My mistake, this is Taurthel Nadhornith, half-Elf and half-Dunlending. And this is her wife, Hasaal Nu'noth, the half-Elf and half-Haradrim," she sighed, both women in the back ground laughing into each others shoulders. "They are the biggest trouble makers here, and my best friends."
"Good harvest and clear stars," Hasaal raised her hand in parting, her wife repeating the words after her, then they were off to the fields to inspect the ground they would be working with.
"Do you have many odd coupling such as that?" Theodred asked, watching the two women curiously as they walked away.
"One other that is a stable coupling, you'll meet them soon enough, but it is not uncommon for us to pursue 'odd couplings' as you put it," Aealsifth smiled as they moved through the camp. She leaned against one of the wagons and knocked her fist against the wood until a surly looking half-Elf emerged.
"By the Valar, Aealsifth, what are you doing, and why?" he groaned, rubbing his eyes before folding his arms over his bare chest.
"Is your wife asleep in there?"
"Do you really want to wake her?"
"We have noble guests, I'm afraid you must," she smiled up at the half-Elf, who sighed and went back in the tent. They could hear a few phrases being exchanged before the wagon shook somewhat violently, giving Eomer reason to step back. The humans peered into the wagon as a woman appeared behind the half-Elf, and made them gasp in surprise. There stood a half-Orc woman, her slim frame and dark skin was odd against the pale and sturdy half-Elf. She was even more unhappy with waking then he was, and seemed unimpressed with the nobility before her.
"This is Gannon Rhossilasdaer, half-Elf and half-Dale, and his wife; Ligzil Ucdosh, half-Orc, half-Gondorian. They both deal with taking care of the plants at night, you would be surprised how much work need be done nocturnally."
They both raised their hands and mumbled greetings, before returning to their slumber. Eowyn's face was lit up with amusement at the sight of the couple, she found it delightful. There were no restraints upon anyone here, no status to be upheld.
"Aealsifth, how blows the wind?" came a woman's voice from their left.
"A little up my skirt and up my ass, if you do your job right!"
Eomer couldn't stifle his laugh, meanwhile Grima was taken aback. Aealsifth had been very proper up till now, and such vulgarity from the mouth of a woman is rarely seen in Rohan.
"Did not mean to offend you, master Wormtongue," the woman laughed as she came closer, "it's but a joke we have."
"This is Whan-Mena-Whan, the half-Druedain and half-Rohan woman. We just call her Mena, she is our Horsemaster," Aealsifth laughed, throwing an arm around the stout woman.
"Aye, known this one since we were both young women, however she ages far better than I! Eomer! By the Valar, you have grown into quite an attractive thing, now haven't you?"
she said playfully looking the soldier up and down.
"And you a delightful maid, aye?" the soldier responded in kind, they embraced briefly before she whispered something to Aealsifth, bade them farewell and was off on her way.
"I missed her," Eomer winked, Aealsifth merely laughed and took his hand.
"Everyone else is this way, at least they should be."
Theodred had been studying Eowyn's face during the past few encounters, and was vaguely troubled. She seemed happier here, more alive with people that reject rank and nobility. He knew she was a rowdy woman, but he hoped she would grow into her role as princess one day. He was also enjoying himself though, he was entertained by these characters and was looking forward to their partnership, even if he had to keep an eye out on his cousin.
They headed behind the two wagons to see a large tent, how they hadn't noticed it before was beyond them.
"It's where we go to gather together throughout the day, it's no great hall but it gets the sun off your back."
She walked ahead, and pushed the heavy blue of the tent flap aside, motioning them inside and out of the sun. As they walked into the tent, they saw it was still filled with light. What looked like strings of fire lined the roof of the tent, yet it did not catch on fire, and only from the inside can one see the golden embroidery on the fabric of the tent. Eowyn made note of the two women stacking swords against on side of the tent and organizing arrows, while Theodred's eyes widened at the sight of several more half-Orcs. Once again, all Aealsifth had to do was whistle sharply and they all paused to look at her.
"Elflings, make yourselves known to our guests," she ordered. Grima was taken aback, just a few moments previously she was making crude jokes, and now she commands her people as Theodin did before Grima got a hold of his mind. An interesting woman, Grima thought, an interesting Halfbreed, he corrected himself. Two women on the far wall near the weapons raised their hands, one had light blond hair peaking out from her veil and the other a rich auburn.
"The blonde is Lassemes Thurinien, the other is Doronith Iallor, both are half human," they were introduced, Eowyn raising her hand in greeting meekly.
"Dunendlings, stand," she commanded, and two dark haired half-Elves stood. Grima understood why they categorized themselves differently, for while the women were still as lovely as any other Elf, the men were more like Dunendlings than Elves. That said, one could still see the Elf in them by how their ears were pointed, and their bodies lithe.
"This is Gath Drarladoc and Saldoth Delt, our farming planners. Orcs next," she said moving quickly, two men with completely veiled faces stood. "There is Mazol Craurdedh in the blue and Aherg Grezurg in the purple. Forgive their coverings, they are shy," she said as the two men nervously raised their hands in greeting.
"What do they do?" came Theodred's voice. He would accept them, yes, but he still felt uneasy around them.
"They are simple farmers, they barely know how to do battle. In fact, Mazol often takes care of Brerbi when Jordis cannot. Mazol, where is Srogag and Agan?"
"They are here, Aealsifth, just give them a second for Agan to wrap Srogag's face again," the half-Orc said lowly. Theodred was noticeably surprised by how soft spoken the Orc was, and once more made a decision.
"There is no need for him to hide his face, nor any of you, we are friends and my kind must learn to love you as you are. Please, do not conceal yourselves for our sake," he spoke, Aealsifth gave him a pleased look before turning back to the standing orcs and nodding. Slowly, very slowly, they undid the veils wrapped around their faces, and looked toward the prince as they freed their faces.
The one called Mazol was terribly pale, his ears large and pointed while his eyes were a sickly yellow. He did his best to hide his misshapen teeth, but gave up quickly. Aherg's skin was mottled, textured, and one eye was blind. His nose was malformed and he had a cleft lip, but still nothing as horrifying as Eomer and Theodred had seen in battle.
"Does this apply to me as well, Horsemaster?" came Srogag's voice as he stood in the back, the entire left of his face was red and shrunken, while the other side pallid and mottled, and his eyes still a shocking shade of yellow. He had perhaps the worst genetics, as Theodred could now see one of his hands was misshapen as an Orc's is prone to be, yet he still remained prideful and strong. A good man, Theodred thought, a brave man.
"Indeed, master Srogag, you are friend as well."
"He may be a friend but he's a poor husband," said a skinny man standing up next to him, "he didn't even try to introduce me" the man laughed. The Haradrim man wrapped his arm around the waist of the half-Orc, smiling at the men in front of him. "I'm Agan Ghuldol, Srogag's husband."
"It is nice to meet you, master Agan," Theodred smiled, he had asked about odd couplings and well, he had certainly received.
"I trust you all know your way back up to the great hall from here?" Aealsifth asked, "if so, I'd like to stay and prepare my people for planting tomorrow."
"We know the way, my lady, I shall see you all later I'm sure," Eomer bid the group goodbye, Theodred turning with him. There was the sound of several people wishing them 'good harvest and clear stars' as they left the tent, and Eowyn strayed near the entrance.
"If you wish to talk to Lassemes and Doronith, you may," Aealsifth encouraged her, "they know little of the beginnings of planting, they work more during harvest. You will not be annoying them."
"Thank you, my lady, I would like to talk with them very much," Eowyn bowed her head in thanks, and Aealsifth placed a hand on her shoulder.
"No sword fighting in this tent, Shieldmaiden," she laughed, pausing before she moved on, "and please, Shieldmaiden, we have no use for formalities and rank. Call me Aealsifth, and I will call you Shieldmaiden," she winked and playfully pushed Eowyn towards the women in the back of the encampment.
"My lady, if you will it, you should spend time in the Meduseld. Your presence seems to ease the king's suffering," Grima whispered once Eowyn was out of earshot, his hand on the woman's shoulder. She turned to look at him, his grey-green eyes seemed wide and pleading. Her own eyes however, had become as murky the river Isen the last time Grima had crossed it.
"My lord, we both know what ailment afflicts the king. If you were truly so worried about his condition, you would heal him yourself," her voice was like cold water, and it splashed his face as if she spit on him physically.
"My lady, I assure you I know nothing of what you speak."
"Your velvet tongue will do you no favors here, master Wormtongue. Lies both spoken and insinuated will do you no good here, we are a truthful people, and we know a lie when we hear it," her voice was more liquid than his, even as is scraped against the back of her throat. It took much willpower not to let his hand wander to her neck, and pull back the veil she wore, to expose her in someway.
"Exposure will do nothing to halt our morals, but it's interesting to see how men of power deal with women of power," the voice dripped in his ears, and his eyes grew wider.
"You see what is in my mind?"
"I see more than that, master Wormtongue, I also see the way you haunt the Shieldmaiden, and I will make a deal with you."
Grima's tongue darted forward to wet his lips, what possible deal could she be offering him? And more importantly, how could she see into his mind?
"I am more than meets the eye, we all are. The specifics of our being are of no business to mortal men, nevertheless, I would make a deal with you."
"What would that be?"
"I will sleep in the Meduseld every night my people are here, and I will converse with you and king Theodin should it be desired-"
"A fine arrangement indeed, my lady," Grima purred, his hand moving down the length of her arm.
"If," Aealsifth pushed his hand away, "you leave the Shieldmaiden be, you forsake her steps, and you abandon her mind."
He pulled his head up higher, raising himself above the small maiden, yet she did not shrink. Rather, she adjusted her view accordingly, and matched his stare. Finally, he smiled and bowed his head, reaching forward for her hand.
"You drive a hard bargain, my lady, but I accept your deal," he said, leaning his head down to leave a kiss on the back of her hand as she did for Theodin, before turning to leave.
"I will hold you to your word, master Wormtongue," she called after him, making him pause as he opened the tent flap. He looked over his shoulder, his pale eyes seeming to reflect light. Like a lily pad on water, Aealsifth thought, the worm is a garden snake after all.
"I would expect nothing less, my lady."
Grima paced in the halls, his left hand twirled a ring on his right nervously. She should be here soon, the sun set fifteen minutes ago, and Grima was not a man of patience. It was then of course, that Eomer happened to stray into the great hall.
"What keeps you so nervous, master Wormtongue. I've never known snakes to be so restless at night," he called after the fretting man.
"Eomer, always the antagonist," Wormtongue hissed, passing the man quickly and bumping shoulders in the process. "Can I at least trust you to be on your best behavior when the Lady Aealsifth arrives? Or will you throw around petty insults then as well?"
"So you have finally abandoned my sister for and even more unattainable woman?"
"I don't know what you mean."
"I'm sure you don't," Eomer said lowly, "and be sure to be a gentleman in her midst, Grima."
Grima paused his steps to look over his shoulder and the brawny man, smiling as he turned to speak his mind fully.
"The Alderroot tribe, my lord, is quite fond of worms."
"Yet I am not," Eomer said advancing on the pale man, "and I am the one who knows where you sleep."
They stood toe to toe, Eomer's face was hard and cold, while Grima's own face was smirking up at him, his eyes laughing. The door creaked open and both heads turned, ditching any obvious malice towards each other as they did so.
Aealsifth stood in the doorway, a large woven basket held against her hip and an instrument thrown over her back, and paused at the sight of the two men in such close quarters.
"Am I....interrupting something, my lords?"
"No, dear moon witch, I was just reminding Grima how to be a gentleman," Eomer smiled towards, moving to help her with the basket. "What is all this, my lady?"
"At master Wormtongue's advice, I am to sleep in the Meduseld, my presence seems to calm king Theodin. As such, I brought my belongings. I would hate to sleep where I cannot be at home."
"A very wise woman you are, my lady," Grima said dipping his head in greeting.
"I will go find you a room to stay in, my lady," Eomer said taking the basket, glaring at Grima the entire time. "If we must double up, you can stay with Eowyn."
"And not you?" her voice flew through the hall like a swift moving stream, Eomer only laughed and shook his head as he moved deeper into the Meduseld.
"My lady Aealsifth, welcome to the Meduseld," Grima said offering his hand to her. She took it, eyeing him coldly as he guided her to the bench by the fire, offering her a seat nearest to the fire.
"Thank you, master Wormtongue," she told him, pulling the instrument off her back and holding it in her lap.
"What a strange instrument, it is played with your hands?" he asked her, eyeing it curiously.
"Indeed, master Wormtongue. One of our archers made it, she liked the sound the bow made at the release of an arrow, so she strung bow strings across what was a cutting board. With a few modifications, it has a pleasing sound to it," she said brushing her fingers across the strings.
"Would you play for me, my lady? I am curious to hear it's sound," he whispered, his eyes never moving off of the instrument in her lap. Aealsifth looked at Grima for a few moments, not enough for him to notice, but enough for her to size him up. He was a curious man, that much she was sure, and she guess he found pride in knowledge. Yes, she thought, his body is not suited for violence, not that it isn't a good body, but it is not one of a soldier. He look so different from his fellow men of Rohan, it was no small wonder to her how easily his mind could be corrupted.
"I really only know one song that can be played solo, and it is not of a tongue you would understand," she warned, but it only served for him to look at her with his wide eyes, and then back at the instrument in her lap. "You are a curious thing," she murmured, and he tried to repress the flush tingling upon his face at the sound of a woman whispering about him. Whispers without malice, he thought. She sized up the strings, and her hands went to work plucking and moving one of her rings across the strings as she did so. It created a smooth, yet warped, melody that was captivating itself with out lyrivs. "Here come the lyrics, do not ask for translation, just feel the flow," she instructed before taking a breath.
"Ilubatai ilubatai Iue iye ilubatai
Ilubatai ilubatai ilue iyansa
Iyansa Iyansa Iyan iyan iyansa
Iyansa iyansa iyan iyansa"
The lyrics only repeated slowly and in different ways, but Grima was transfixed. Her voice was deep and rich, but soft at the same time, and Aealsifth herself could lose herself in song as well as any listener, her eyes appeared to him like a mirror sitting at the edge of a pond: cold and reflective, but hiding a depth all the same. Grima seemed to lose himself in the song as well, his hand straying to brush a strand of hair that had fallen from beneath her veil, moving it behind her ear and tucking it back into her veil. His hand rested on her shoulder with no intention of moving, and his chin rested atop it as closed his eyes and listened to her song, letting it move him like she instructed.
His movement was no movement at all, the song instead seemed to reflect upon his life as if he had been put in a trance. He saw himself there with her, under the light of a full moon, her eyes shining a bright blue. They were alone in the gardens, sitting in the dirt. She lifted her hands to show her handful of soil, and he lifted his to show his dagger; something that felt foreign to him. His eyes looked at the dagger intently, thinking it covered in dirt, but when she leaned forward and ran her tongue against it's length he realized that it was not even a solid substance, rather a liquid. He looked to his other hand and his eyes widened. It was blood, he had blood on his hands while she carried soil. Unblinking she smeared the dark dirt against his shirt, then one hand moved up to grip his jaw as the other shoved it's fingers down his throat.
Choking, he was choking as she forced her fingers down his throat. He tasted dirt as his jaw making a wet popping noise as it dislocated, her hand pushing farther down. Slowly, her hand retracted, taking with it a long, fat, worm. The worm went directly from his mouth to hers, as she threw her head back and lowered it into her mouth, letting its gore gush through her teeth as she chewed and lowered her gaze to look at him directly.
"Nightcrawler," she said, "Worm."
Grima was ripped from his vision and thrown onto the floor, above him stood Eomer and Aealsifth's playing ceased abruptly.
"Eomer, what are you doing? Stop it," she said, tugging on his arm. He shrugged her off and bent down grasp the cowl of Grima's cloak, baring his teeth at the pale man.
"I told you to behave yourself, and yet when I come back I see you all over her," he hissed, pushing Aealsifth away again when she tried to pry him off. "I will not let you try to poison her mind the way you have poisoned my sisters, Wormtongue!"
"Eomer, stop it now!"
It was too late, Grima's eye socket crunched under the soldier's fist, and Eomer was not going to relent his assault anytime soon. Aealsifth stood back briefly, watching the smaller man cover his face from Eomer's hands and was over taken by emotion. She had once cowered as a man dealt blows to her, and she would not wish that upon anyone, not even a snake. She braced herself, then jumped onto Eomer's back, knocking him onto the ground. Eomer's fists flew up in surprise, hitting her once in the face as they wrestled, Aealsifth bleeding from the mouth as she straddled the angry rider.
"Eomer! Calm yourself!"
Both men froze with shock at the wildness displayed in her. Her war paint was gone, as she was planning to sleep, and yet she appeared more dangerous now than before. Perhaps it was that in the fight, her veil had been pulled off her head; leaving hair so dark a brown it was almost black amok in it's wake. Grima noted the sides of her head were shaved, which made sense with how thick her hair seemed to be, and it only added to her scary appearance. However, both men were startled by the boom of her voice when she had yelled. A deep rumble that had seemed to shake the great hall, rousing several of its other occupants.
"Have you no shame?" she whispered to the fair haired man, who seemed taken aback by her actions. "Remember Eomer, my people are not weak. I can handle myself if need be, if Wormtongue overstepped his bounds I would find another stick and beat him with it! I do not need your protection, Little Man," she reprimanded, utilizing a nickname she gave him those many winters ago. She sighed, standing and moving away from the strong man on the ground and instead turned to the worm leaning against the bench.
"Go to bed, Eomer, I will handle this," her voice was so demanding that Eomer did not even try to fight against her will. He slowly rose, straightened out his tunic, and walked out of the great hall; turning to look over his shoulder before he disappeared. A wild woman, Eomer told himself, but she carries power of a noblewoman in her voice, there's certainly more that meets the eye to the little moon witch.
"Human men can be territorial over people they have no right to be territorial of," she whispered, moving to kneel by the wounded man. "I am sorry, Wormtongue," her voice was low as she removed the scarf from her waist, "the brutality of man is cruel to us all." He watched her slowly, and winced when she spit onto the scarf and moved to touch his face with it.
"Is it the pain that makes you recoil, or Halfbreed spittle?"
"I supposed a bit of both, although the Halfbreed part was not a factor, merely the spittle."
The corners of Aealsifth's mouth twitched before she broke into a smile, shaking her head as she regained her composure.
"Merely the spittle," she repeated, smiling to herself.
"You find that amusing?"
"Well, given a man who does the work you do, I would think spittle is just a part of the job," she said patting the blood on around his eye, he grabbed her wrist tightly as he processed her words.
"What do you know of what I do? You are a Roamer, you have been here for but a few hours, you know nothing of what I do," he hissed at her, "you know nothing of who I communicate with, you simply know nothing." And with those words he tried to move away from her, but she caught his hand this time, and would not let him move. She slowly looked at him, her eyes were more like the sky when it rains, Grima thought, and he preferred the cold of earlier to this clarity in her face. Slower still, her free hand moved to the back of his neck as she moved her mouth to his ear, the sides of their faces barely touching.
"As we passed through the forest," she whispered, "a tree and white rider told me of a man in black, that spreads his poison to Rohan from Orthanc. The white wizard called you Wormtongue, and said you work with the wizard of many colors."
Grima's eyes widened and his pulse quickened, how much else did she know?
"I know that you poison the king," she paused, and Grima's heart stopped. How foolish he was to think she couldn't see it, when she could clearly see many things.
"What else do you know, my lady?" his voice was trembling slightly, his free hand coming up to rest on her hand as it gripped his wrist.
"I know that you do so not of your own accord. I would not blame a dog for doing what it's master bid, why should I do the same for a worm that moves at the pace it's master has set?" she said, pulling away from his ear and her hand moving from behind his neck to brush hair out of his face. "Is your master at least kind to you?"
Grima froze, her eyes were searching his for any proof that he was well treated by anyone. He could not stand to see her face fall when she could not find it, he hated the hatred Eomer had for him, but more so he hated the pity this Halfbreed was showing him. He pushed her aside in a brief rage, and forced himself to his feet.
"Why would you care?" he spat, "what is it to you?"
"What is anything to us?" she asked him, remaining on the floor. She was illuminated by background fire, her hair a tangled mess and her nose bloodied, as she lifted her scarf up to her nose he understood. She had been beaten at some point, of that he had no doubt. Her words from earlier in the day suddenly echoed in his head; "the unfortunate thing about the Alderroot tribe is that most of us are conceived in, ah, less than savory ways."
"It is something to me because it is my path to care," she said pulling the scarf from her face, sniffing sharply and shaking her hair out of her face. "I am a Roamer, and I am more capable of mercy than any man could hope to be, and you should not be offended by my hatred for brutality" she stopped suddenly, and Grima looked towards the door. He never understood the evil disposition men could show each other, even as he perpetrated it for his own master. The Roamers would do no work for his master, he concluded, and he would not deliver them to him.
"Master Wormtongue," her voice sounded again after a while, "we can rehabilitate anyone. Mazol left an Orc troupe to be with us, if we can make him a man that children cling to, imagine," she paused to pull herself up and sit on the end of the bench, "the kind of man we could turn you into." She turned to look at him, looking at him with those eyes that always resembled water. He froze, looking at her for a long time. These Roamers were too full of kindness for their own good, and it put knots in his stomach.
"I am going to sleep by the fire, master Wormtongue, I will converse with you more in the morning before work."
He nodded his head and shakily made is way to his own room. He thought of the vision he had while she played, "worm" she had called him in his vision. Surely, she was not wrong to call him that, even as she pulled a worm out from deep inside of him. He thought of her figure, illuminated by the fire and how casually she cleaned blood off of both their faces, and how she claimed to hate brutality despite being able to knock that damned Horsemaster to the ground. How she managed to hold him in place when he tried to move away. He thought of her illuminated body again, then quickly pushed the thought out of his mind. "Less than savory ways", she had said, and he would not have her view what had passed through his mind's eye. What reason would anyone have to beat her, he wondered, then remembered how within but a few moments of meeting him she had called him both a fish and a worm. Insolence could not be an excuse to break her nose, however, and he was amazed at how she kept herself in tact and kind even after a beating.
Then he thought of himself, ordered about and beaten no matter who he chose as master. He tried to recall if he had ever, truly, been kind but his mind came up blank.
There was a question of freedom that lingered in his mind, and it prevented him from sleeping all night long.
The song referenced is Iyansa by Faun, from the album Renaissance.
The voice roused Aealsifth from her sleep, shifting her head to peer up at the king who had spoken. King Theodin sat on the edge of the bench, hunched over and folded in on himself except for the outstretched hand on her shoulder.
"No my lord, I'm Aealsifth. Énniené is not here, my lord."
"Hum......for the best....I'm afraid.." the king grumbled, his eyes seemed far away.
"Why do you say that, my lord?" Aealsifth lifted herself, so that she could better look at the king. He was grey, far too grey for any living man. He resembled a corpse that had gotten off it's death bed, and proceeded to walk around being proclaimed alive. Theodin turned to her slowly, his grey eyes seemed haunted even in his current state.
"The hour.....is dark....I fear....the safety...." he paused, chewing on his own tongue as he looked away. Aealsifth placed a hand on Theodin's, giving him cause to look back at her.
"Aealsifth....." and with that, he went quiet. Aealsifth patted the old man's grey hair, pushing it out of his face, then guided him to his throne.
"Ah, my lady, we did not mean to barge in on you while you were changing, our apologies," came a gruff voice when she turned away from the king. Looking to her side she saw two red haired men, one older than the other, averting their eyes. She looked down at herself, then back up at the men in mild confusion.
"I was not undressing, my lords," she consoled, "do your women always wear clothes as lady Eowyn does? Even in the summer heat?"
"Ah, yes my lady. Not to seem uncouth my lady but, we rarely see women dressed like you outside of bed or brothel," the younger one said, his face turning a new shade of pink with each word.
"Fair enough Horsemasters, though I would advise you keep that sentiment to yourself. Some of our men might take some offense," she laughed, turning to her veil that had been placed on the bench. "Now how did this get here?" she mumbled to herself, before shrugging and pulling it over her head and tying it at the nape of her neck. Less ceremonial, better for working.
"Prince Theodred probably placed it there my lady, he has already gone to the stables," the younger one answered her question, "if you'd like, we could bring you with us and you can see him off."
"Off? Is he going somewhere?"
"Aye, my lady, he is just off on routine rounds."
"Then aye, I'd like to see him off," she said, "can I first have your names, my lords, or will we be stuck on formal titles?"
"Beg your pardon my lady, I am Hama, Captain of the Guard, and this is Gamling," answered the older man, ushering her towards the door.
"Well then, Captain, Gamling, I'm Aealsifth. You'll be seeing more of me here in mornings, I stay here at nights to help aid King Theodin."
"Any aid is much appreciated my lady, Gamling please escort lady Aealsifth to the stables. My lady, I'm to take my post now, pleasure meeting you," Hama bid farewell, bowing lightly.
"Good harvest and clear stars, Captain," she returned the gesture, bowing her head slightly then turning to walk with Gamling.
"That's a nice phrase, my lady," Gamling complimented, "is it traditional?"
"Aye, Gamling. We greet people with 'fair greetings and many well wishes', and we leave people with 'good harvest and clear stars'. My people have blessings for every occasion."
"That's noble of your people," he complimented, "mine have no such traditions."
"Not so noble, Gamling, we have curses for every occasion as well. We are simple a lyrical people, when you have no home you cling to what traditions you have."
"Still, my lady, I think it's a fine tradition," Gamling said, before gesturing off to a figure on a horse near the stables, "there is prince Theodred now, I'll leave you to it, my lady."
"Good harvest and clear stars, Gamling."
Gamling paused, before nodding his head and responding in kind; "good harvest and clear stars, my lady."
"I see you are teaching us all new traditions," said Theodred, leaning his hand down for her to grasp.
"I hear you are to leave us, Horsemaster, take care in the fields," Aealsifth squeezed the man's hand, "you father needs you."
"My father needs much, my lady," he said looking down at her hand, and then seeing the bloody scarf tied around her waist. He quickly looked back up at her face, noting a ring of dried blood on her right nostril. "As do you, my lady," his hand left hers to tilt up her chin, "who did this? I won't have one of our men going around hurting guests."
"My lord, it was an accident, there was no ill will involved," Aealsifth laughed, grasping the hand on her chin with both of his, "I am simply elbow height." That seemed to satisfy the rider, for she was indeed rather short. Theodred pulled her hands up to him and leaned down to kiss them, and she bowed her head at the gesture.
"I will be back in a short time," the blonde man smiled, "keep out of the way of elbows while I'm gone, my lady."
"May the Valar guide you home safely, Horsemaster."
With that the prince bowed his head once more, and rode off with several other riders. Something tugged at Aealsifth, a distinct feeling that she would not be seeing him again, leaving her to mutter a prayer under her breath. It was then that she turned to see Wormtongue exit the Meduseld, his bruised face fixed on the leaving king, he moved to head to the stables only to meet Aealsifth's gaze. He broke it only so that he could look back towards the riding prince, then looking towards the ground and continuing on his path into the stables.
Aealsifth was fast on his trail as he entered the stables, eyes boiling as she lectured after the pale man.
"Master Wormtongue what have you done," her voice steamed after him while he tried to ignore her words, "what have you set in motion, snake?"
"Snake?" he turned, his voice was harsh and his eyes turned to stone. "Just last night you offered your sympathies to me as worm and now I am snake? Because of what, your fears for a human man?" He turned again to grab his horse's bridle and guide it out of the stables.
"Sympathy is there for you still but toleration for treachery is not," Aealsifth accused, her hand grabbing his as he mounted his horse, "what have you done, Grima? Where are you running?"
Grima leaned down to her, teeth bared with only a hiss to escape them.
Then he was gone, leaving Aealsifth to stand in the dust kicked up by the animal. Once more she turned to face the Meduseld, only for Eowyn to be there, her face mimicking the concern on her own. She nodded her head to the side, beckoning Eowyn to join the farmers, before turning to walk to her people. The snake trades places with the worm, perhaps he should be called Wyrmtongue the Shapeshifter, she thought. While she did her best to conceal her thoughts, Srogag could see how tense her face was, the face of one who needs to work earth, he told himself.
He greeted her with a seedling in his hands, and she took it with a smile but a look that warned him to be weary. The only thing to soothe Aealsifth's nerves was little Brerbi, it was her first planting and her mother was there teaching her a song for children. Mazol and Aherg over the existing garden rows, and Gath and Saldoth construct lines for plants to grow upon, and following behind them were the twins and Brebri with her mother, creating holes for seeds and seedlings.
Sragog, the seed distributor, would give them seeds and tell them where to plant, but Aealsifth was given the honor of planting the first seedling. She planted it in the middle of the field, delicately placing it in the earth and covering its roots in soil, leaning down to kiss it's new ground a she did so. Brerbi took note, and started picking up handfuls of dirt and kissing it, leaving Jerbis a perfect example of an exasperated mother.
"No, no, do not kiss dirt," the mother said brushing dirt off her child's face, "here, instead sing the planting song I taught you."
"Will Aealsifth sing with me?"
"We will all sing it," came Srogag, "we haven't sung it in a while, Little Bear."
That seemed to satisfy Brerbi, as she stooped to help her mother plant seeds.
"Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow," her little voice sang, she stopped to wave at Eowyn as the Shieldmaiden stood on the sidelines.
"Oats, peas, beans, and barley grow,
Can you or I or anyone know
How oats, peas, beans, and barley grow!"
The other voices joined in, Sragog's husband appeared from behind a wagon, carrying with him a lute.
"Oh, are we singing, love?"
"When aren't we, darling," the Orc kissed his husband in greeting, and the thin man sat down aside the fields and started to play the tune.
"First the farmer sows his seed,
Stands erect and takes his ease,
He stamps his foot and claps his hands,
and turns around to view his lands!"
The chorus repeated, and soon there were others there with more instruments. The two elvish women, Lassemes and Doronith, came round. One with a flute and the other with panpipes, the only thing left was for Mena to join in with her cymbal, and the band was complete. Eowyn smiled and watched the Roamers do their work, they were efficient enough that they could dance as they worked. No small feat, as farming is a physical exercise in its own right, but with work distributed equally among all of them it seemed easier. When Hasaal approached Eowyn with a bow and an outstretched hand, the Sheildmaiden happily took the other woman's invitation to dance.
"Next the farmer waters the seed,
Stands erect and takes his ease,
He stamps his foot and claps his hands,
and turns around to view his lands!"
Eowyn was swung around by the strong woman, and could easily get into the spirit of the farmers. She traded dance partners, moving to dance with Taurthel as Hasaal took a break, and this time Eowyn rested her hands on the lithe woman's hips. Her heart fluttered, embracing the woman and twirling her around smoothly, the elf maiden laughed in response.
"Next the farmer hoes the weeds,
Stands erect and takes his ease,
He stamps his foot and claps his hands,
and turns around to view his lands!"
Eowyn bowed and gave Taruthel's hand to Hasaal and took a seat next to the resting Mazol and Aherg. She felt alive, yes, and she hoped it would never end, even as she saw something hidden behind Aealsifth's eyes. Something of a worry, and when her eyes met Eowyn's time seemed to slow. Nothing around them could be moving, and only one thought wandered into her head: did you say goodbye to your cousin?
"Last the farmer harvests his seed,
Stands erect and takes his ease,
He stamps his foot and claps his hands,
and turns around to view his lands!"
The moment passed, and Eowyn was drawn back into the dance by both Taurthel and Hasaal; the three of them forming a ring for Nalkul and Yorthad to weave in and out of. The planting was over, with nearly fifteen people working small gardens it did not take long at all. Eowyn would hear from Hasaal that they had worked large fields, but with small gardens they would produce so much food that the people of Edoras would have enough to export even after they got their share.
"How do you get it to grow so fast?" she asked Hasaal, but it was her wife Taurthel who answered her.
"We are Roamers, Shieldmaiden, the Valar love us. I mean, between the gifts Yavanna has given us to plant, the strength Nessa has given us to have the energy to man the fields, and the light of Varda by night to encourage our crops; we will have several harvests within the next season, one later this week I suspect."
"Plants growing in a week? That seems as if it is magic," Eowyn laughed. Taurthel and Hasaal briefly met each other's eyes and smiled, Taurthel nodding to her wife.
"Well my lady Shieldmaiden, perhaps your presence is magical to the plants," Hasaal paused, reaching out her hand to brush hair from the woman's face, "I know it has been for us."
Eowyn's cheeks burned as she looked away with a smile, leaving Taurthel to playfully nudge her wife with a smile.
"Tell me Sheildmaiden," Taurthel leaned over her wife to stroke her blonde hair, "have you ever been with a man?"
"My lady, such a personal question," Eowyn blushed further, her eyes wide and fixed on the ground.
"That's a no," Hasaal smiled, laughing slightly.
"Ah," Taurthel purred, "with a woman?"
Eowyn looked up, and shook her head bashfully. Hasaal reached out to stroke her arm, while her wife smile again.
"Would you like to?"
Oats, Peas, Beans, and Barley Grow is a children's song
Chapter 6: Battle of the Ford of Isen
Theodred's heart raced as he hacked at another Orc, one of many they found the Fords of Isen. He leaned back to kick the dead Orc off his blade, quickly spinning to block the blow of another Orc that had crept up behind him. There was so much chaos, he had underestimated the number of Orcs in the encampment and had hardly prepared himself to be in such an intense fight. He felt the thud of something get lodged in his armor, and moved to quickly kill the enemy in front of him before dealing with whatever was stuck in his shoulder.
He lifted his left arm and let loose one mighty swipe, slitting the throat of the Orc in front of him. As it sputtered and died he thought of the half-Orcs in Edoras, wincing as it's blood hit his face. He saw two of his men falter as he took down yet another Orc, tearing through it's defenses and stabbing upwards to gut the creature. This is harder now, he noted, now that I know the Halfbreeds, this is harder.
"Lord Theodred!" a soldier, Grimbold, called for him, "we almost have them!"
"Keep fighting Grimbold!" Theodred shouted, reaching back and pulling and arrow from his armor "we don't have them till we have them!"
He was knocked over by the blow of an Uruk, catching himself in time to soften the blow from the Uruk's scimitar.
"Grimbold! I need aid!" the prince yelled, using his legs to kick himself backwards while he used both hands to block the Uruk's attacks. The Uruk raised both arms high above it's head to deal a major strike, but Theodred instead drove his sword into the Uruk's gut. "I still need aid!" he cried, dislodging his sword from the enemies gut and grimaced as it's entrails fell onto his torso. Grimbold finished off the Uruk, and helped retrieve Theodred from underneath the pile of guts.
"You stink," Grimbold wrinkled his nose, making Theodred smack his chest before laughing. Within seconds they were back to fighting, hacking off limbs and trying to get Orc's off each other's backs. Finally, victory was almost in sight. Theodred drove his sword into the shoulder of an Uruk; the Uruk looked back up at him and snarled, knocking it's fist into the side of his head. Theodred's helmet was torn off his head, and his vision went red as he fell to his knees. The world started spinning as his head hit the ground, various legs and blades in shades of red clouded his eyesight. The Uruk laughed, driving Theodred's own sword into the man's stomach, only to be beheaded by a wrathful Grimbold.
"Be strong my lord, you cannot die here," Grimbold shouted, standing over Theodred, "your King needs you!"
"Take care in the fields, your father needs you."
Chapter 7: Worm of Orthanc
Grima paced through the halls of his master, Saruman, his stomach a knot that grew tighter with each step. He would have to tell him about the Roamers, yes, but he was not looking forward to being pressed for information regarding them. He wondered, would Saruman take interest in the Roamers at all? Or would he be wholly uninterested?
She was going to skin him alive for his betrayal of lord Theodred, of this he had no doubt. No amount of mercy could cover his sins, especially not colluding with Saruman to arrange the murder of of a prince. She could not turn him into a better man, he thought, no one can turn me into a better man. As he stood wallowing in his self loathing, the doors to Saruman's study were pushed open by two Orcs, one with rings in what should be the bridge of it's nose.
"My lord will see you, Master Wormtongue."
Grima just pushed past the two Orcs with a sneer, he hated the Orthanc Orclings. Pitiful little things, they were, they seemed particularly slimy in comparison to other Orcs he had encountered. Always with the fake groveling, eager to put a knife in your back at the nearest convenience. Grima shuddered at that comparison, one that had recently been made about him by a certain rough Horsemaster.
"Why have you come back so soon," Saruman inquired, not even looking up from his map of Rohan.
"We have guests in Edoras, my lord," Grima said, he fingers fiddling with the sleeves of his robe. Saruman looked up at him, leaning back and staring at the pale man.
"And who are these guests of which you speak, Wormtongue?"
"They are Roamers my lord, the Alderroot tribe, lead by Aealsifth daughter of Énniené, a half-Dwarf I think."
"Roamers?" Saruman's eyes narrowed, "what do you know of the Alderroot tribe, and what do they know of you?"
Grima hesitated, this was what he feared. Telling Saruman that Aealsifth knows about their arrangement could put her in danger, and her and her peoples did not deserve the wrath of the wizard. Saruman stood sharply, shaking Grima from his contemplation in fear of being struck.
"I know that they are mostly women, there are ten women and eight men. Three are children," he started, "most are of Orc or Elvish descent. There is one Beorning woman and her child, and several Haradrim and Easterlings. Three Dunendling Halfbreeds, as well. They are farmers and bards, privy to odd couplings. And they sing, a lot," he trailed off.
"And what do they know about you?" Saruman repeated himself, making the small man shrink again.
"The leader, Aealsifth, knows what I am doing in Edoras and who I am serving, my lord. This morning, she could tell something was wrong with Theodred, and she confronted me about it," he let out slowly, circling the table to distance himself from the wizard of many colors. "She did nothing to stop me, but made it clear she disproves. They are simple folk as long as they can farm, my lord."
"The Roamers are far from simple folk, Wormtongue," the wizard turned and moved towards his book case. "What do you know of faeries, Wormtongue?"
"Faeries, my lord?" Grima's eyes darted from the wizard to the book he pulled from the bookcase. He's gone mad, he thought, "are faeries not just myth, my lord?"
"Myth, they would have you believe they are myth, but no Wormtongue, they are very much real," the wizard said placing the heavy book onto the table, opening it to a certain page and scooting it in Grima's direction. Grima looked at his master suspiciously before pulling the item closer to him, his eyes quickly scanning the pages.
"They are peoples blessed by the Valar, given talents and powers beyond mere Halfbreed status. They will never die of old age, they will never be sick, or starve. Where they go, luck follows; beyond that not enough is known about them. Something, we may be able to remedy," the wizard trailed off, looking at the worm coldly.
"My lord, these people cannot be something of great importance, they welcome Orc-kind, they are nomads, ramblers. Even if Roamers are faeries, surely this tribe is not," Grima objected, hoping to sway his master from asking him to cheat the Alderroot. He had come to think of them as a last resort, should anything in Edoras go wrong he would escape with them. Perhaps, even start over entirely with them.
"Do not argue with me, Worm," Saruman's eyes flared, "bring me their leader so I may speak with her, that I may even convince her to join the dark lord." He saw Grima wince and look away from him, obviously trying to think of a way to get out of his task. "If you don't bring her to me Wormtongue, I'll send a Nazgul rider to retrieve her. Her information is too valuable, and the faeries would help turn the tide of this war with such speed, we would see victory by Winter."
Nazgul, Grima winced, oh yes he remembered the Nazgul. His hand strayed to his side as he remembered the Nazgul that caught him a season or two ago, asking for information, and he remembered how quickly he gave up the information: The Shire, a land of Halflings. The Nazgul would do more than simply pick her up, it may wound her and kill others. Grima thought of little Brerbi caught in the crossfire and shook his head slightly, he would discuss this with her. Take her by force, if he had to, but he would try to bargain with her first.
"And if she is not eager to share her people's secrets, my lord, what then?"
"Then we will make her eager to share," Saruman's long nails scraped across the drawn image of a Faerie on the open pages, "no matter the strengths the fae posses, it is nothing that can't be broken by an Uruk."
Grima clenched his jaw at the insinuation, and bowed to his master.
The worm felt sick.
The worm felt cornered.
Chapter 8: Bean Sidhe
A piercing scream shook the Meduseld, shaking the bench Aealsifth slept on so violently that she fell off the side. She awoke before she hit the ground, bracing her short fall and placing one hand on the knife still tied to her thigh. Looking around, she saw nothing. As she awoke she had surely thought that a Nazgul had cornered Edoras, flying in from above to attack now that Grima Wormtongue had fled, yet there was nothing. She sighed, and picked herself up off the floor, moving to perch on the edge of the bench she had been sleeping on. It was only then that she noticed she was cold, turning her face to the fire pit she saw only embers left in the ash. No matter, they had left firewood for her to utilize should this happen, and she mad good use of it. Tossing a log in and carefully digging up embers with a fire poker, crouched down low to blow on the embers to fuel the flames. Soon, she had a small fire burning. She tossed in two more logs, returned to her perch and discarded the poker to her side.
There was no clatter.
Turning her head to look at where the poker should have landed, instead she saw a sobbing woman. The woman was translucent, yet clearly solid as she held the poker with one outstretched hand, dropping it with a loud clang as she got the Halfbreed's attention. Nienna, the Valar, lady of sorrow, had come to visit Aealsifth in the Meduseld, and Aealsifth's heart sank. The avatar of sorrow does not arrive without mixed news: Mithrandir was approaching, but Nienna only shows herself to foreshadow the death of a close one.
"It is Theodred, isn't it my lady," she asked the apparition, the avatar merely nodded and floated down the hall, leading the Halfbreed deeper into the Meduseld. Nienna let off a soft purple glow as she led Aealsifth through the halls, floating past many doors until she suddenly let out another wail and turned left, passing through the door. Aealsifth leaned against the doorway of the room, she did not know if it was Eowyn or Eomer that waited behind the door. What would Nienna have her tell them? That Wormtongue sold their cousin out, causing his death? Or simply that Theodred was dead- or dying?
Suddenly the door swung open, Nienna floating on the other side. She grabbed Aealsifth's head, and rested her forehead against the Halfbreed's. They looked into each others eyes for seemed to be ages, and then the quiet was shattered. Aealsifth moved without control of her own body, both women's mouths opened wide, the shorter woman's jaw straining under the exertion.
They screamed, and Nienna faded from sight.
They screamed so loud, the door next to them rattled as the sound hit the surface. The figure slumbering in it's bed jumped, hand wrapped around the hilt of a dagger, swinging wildly as he awoke. Eomer looked at his doorway to see the screaming Aealsifth, her hair soaked in sweat and she seemed slightly illuminated as tears rolled down her cheeks. The Horsemaster rushed to her side, grabbing each of her arms and trying to handle the trembling woman.
"My lady, what is wrong? What troubles you?"
"Your cousin is dead."
Eomer paused, taking her face in his hands to make her look up at him.
"How do you know this," his thumbs brushed tears away from her cheeks, "who told you this?"
Aealsifth looked at him, opening her mouth as if to speak. They stood there for a time, Eomer trying to coax words out of her, when her mouth moved again. No words came from her, just another ground shaking scream; knocking Eomer on his back. As she stood there, time seemed to slow for Eomer, as if he was moved into an unreality between moments. Indeed, an unreality, he thought, a dream. Eomer saw what looked like little points of purple light flow from her mouth into the hand of a woman who stood behind her, or what he thought was a woman. He could hardly make her out behind the bright like that shone all around her; and the light from Aealsifth only added to the light's power, nearly blinding him. Aealsifth stopped screaming, and as the world fell still and silent, the bright light from the woman dimmed.
The Weeper, Eomer couldn't believe his eyes. She was beautiful, yes, but sad. More sad than beautiful, he thought, watching as she held the light in her hand to her bosom, letting it dissolve into her own chest, turning to look at him while she did so. She was crying, yet she still appeared so serene in her movements as she held her hand up to Eomer, bidding him stand. Trying to fight the emotion welling up in his own chest, he did as he was commanded, and his breath hitched as she outstretched her hand to touch his face. He knew Theodred was dying. The woman let the scene flash through his mind, Grimbold fighting over Theodred's body as his cousin was bleeding out into the fords. He was apprehensive, beyond his cousins impending death he felt something else on the horizon, a white rider in the distance.
With that, the woman withdrew her hand and time started again. Aealsifth put her arms out, steadying herself as she latched onto the door frame, giving herself time to regain her composure.
"That was Nienna," Eomer asked her, "one of the Valar, here in Edoras. Why?"
"The lady of mercy follows her favorite student in his travels, and speaks to us if we should stumble across her path," came the quiet reply.
"Eomer, this morning I had an uneasy feeling as Theodred left," she started again, Eomer interrupted her before she could finish.
"Stay here tonight, my lady, you do not seem like you can move ten steps let alone back out to the great hall," he told her, moving her to sit on the edge of his bed.
"Eomer, it was Saruman."
"Saruman?" his brow furrowed, holding her hand in his as he sat beside her.
"After Theodred left, Wormtongue did as well. He watched the prince worriedly, like he was some powerful storm on the horizon," she said, her thumb stroking the back of his hand, "like a dog, in fear of the wrath of his master."
"You offer him too much pity, moon witch, he is a dog that foams at the mouth to enact the wrath of his master."
"How long have you been cruel to him?"
"How long had he been called names here? Mistrusted?" she pushed his hand away, "cruelty is the easiest way to open hearts of men to evil."
"He was always a groveling worm," Eomer tried to explain his behaviour away, "I always suspected, his mother had not been faithful to his father, as did many others. He looks nothing like a man of Rohan."
"So then, you dispense dignity to those who look acceptable to you, Horsemaster?"
"Is it wrong of me to do so in the case of Wormtongue? The traitor? The man who haunts my sister's steps?"
"I suppose not, but he was not always a worm was he?"
Eomer bit his tongue.
No, he thought, he was not always a worm.
With that thought, he bid Aealsifth sleep. He stayed a while, watching her breathe as she slumbered, before changing into day clothes and pulling his shoes on. Eomer paused a moment to stroke the hair from her face, feeling a small bump on the side of her head as he did so. Investigating further, he parted her hair and squinted to see better. There were several small, thick scars on the side of her head, as if someone had tried to bash her skull in. He sighed, the stigma against the Roamers was not unknown to him, but men like Wormtongue were treated far better in distant lands than these people were, and that troubled him. With a final pat on her head, he took his leave. He would retrieve his cousin's body today, a task heavy on his heart, but if he got to him in time he may bring him back to Edoras alive.
No man deserved to die alone in the water.
Chapter 9: Wyrmtongue
Aealsifth stood up to give her back a break from the strain of stooping throughout the day and wiped her brow. It was very hot that day, and her tribe's thin clothing clung to their bodies in the heat; even Aqan, known for his boundless stamina when playing his lute, lay defeated in a wagon, languidly plucking a simple melody. Jordis was sitting it out today in shade of the tent with little Brerbi and the twins, young ones could easily gain sun sickness and fatigue in this weather. She hadn't seen the Shieldmaiden today yet either, she noted, coming to the conclusion that it was simply too hot for her to leave the Meduseld.
"Aealsifth, come here a minute," Ligzil called from the wagon she shared with Gannon during the day, holding up a cup of water for her to drink. The half-Dward happily obliged, slowly making her way over to the tent and taking the cup eagerly.
"I've not had a chance to ask yet, but why did our young Horsemaster leave Edoras yesternight with such haste?" Ligzil questioned, making Aealsifth choke on the water she drank.
"Yea, and who was screaming that night?" Gannon's voice sounded from deeper inside the wagon, "my ears still ache from that noise."
Aealsifth wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, nodding thanks to Ligzil and passing the cup back.
"Nienna came to me that night," she paused to let that sink in with the she-Orc in front of her, "Theodred prince of Rohan is dead. Eomer went to retrieve his body that night, so that he may be buried with his family."
"Nienna," Ligzil started, "that means-"
"That Mithrandir is far closer than we originally thought he would be by now," Gannon finished appearing by his wife's side, he wrapped an arm around her waist and gazed down at his leader.
"And I'm afraid there is more on the horizon. The hour is late indeed, and I fear we won't be here for harvest," Aealsifth got lost in thought, her fingers fiddling with the button on her top, "at least not all of us."
"Aealsifth?" Ligzil asked, looking towards her husband. Concern was easily read on both their faces, and it infected the ever observant Srogag as he watched the three converse. Srogag could smell the trouble in the air, and he did not look forward to it's return. He looked out over the plains of Rohan and frowned, if the black rider was any indication, the trouble was going to arrive shortly.
"What do you mean, not all of us? Have you seen something?" came Gannon's distressed voice, bringing her mind back to the conversation at hand.
"Hm? No, I haven't seen anything. It is more a feeling I've had since our encounter with Mithrandir when we entered Fangorn on our journey here, seldom do we meet our friend without it being some kind of Omen. Factor in Nienna's visitation, so much more...intense than it has ever been, and I fear that we cannot outrun the war...." she trailed off, Gannon squeezing his wife tighter as Aealsifth continued to talk. "No," Aealsifth picked up again, "I fear for the first time in an age, our people will take part in the war. All of us; Sparrowwood, Firfern, Poplarclaw, Snowroot, Aldarroot- all tribes will be at war soon. The armies of Mordor are spreading, and not even our people can run far enough to evade it."
"We are not fit for war, we can fight yes, but war?" Ligzil protested, "It's been more than an age, Aealsifth, Gannon first saw battle when we fought for the sake of the Elves, against Gothmog. We both fought in the War of Wrath, before Beleriand sunk below the sea, and all of Firfern was there with us. We are old, Aealsifth, war has changed, it is no place for- for us, not anymore."
"Come now love, we've been around since the first age now haven't we? We aren't going to let some pesky little thing from Mordor stop us, we may be old but we are battle hardened. My only concern is for the young ones," Gannon comforted his wife, then turned to Aealsifth. "You are young, you have seen much but you have not seen war-"
"I have seen brutality, is that not enough to qualify me for battle, Gannon?"
"Do not gain offense, it is a statement of fact. I have lived through every war, I am one of the last Fullbloods left in th- the Roamer tribes. Firfern's size has dwindled to merely twelve, they were the only others. Those of us with experience are few after the passing of your mother, I just hope that the brutality we have seen at the hands of man can prepare you for the evils of war. I love my family, Aealsifth, when any of you die we feel it deeply, and I would have you survive."
Aealsifth conceded, she could not argue with the truth of his words. Many of them had seen treachery that lies with suspicious men, but aside from these skirmishes and occasional Orc raids on the road, none of them have seen battle. She wanted her people prepared, they could not count on the luck of the Valar forever, and soon she would have to gather the other four major tribes and send scouts for the others. Maybe not now, perhaps it would be after the fall of Man and all Elves had gone into the west, but a time was coming for the Roamers to ally themselves with someone, and it would not be the Orcs of Mordor. Nor of Orthanc, she mused, looking out over her people.
"Have the Orclings start to train everyone else," she finally spoke, giving Ligzil a start, "both of you as well. You are the ones that have seen battle, it would do us good be trained instead of relying on skill ill learned in the panic of defense. Start tomorrow," she nodded at the couple, both nodding in acquiescence.
"Aealsifth, do you remember when your mother died, and you asked me if I felt you were ill suited for the job of Chieftain?"
"Yes Gannon, I remember you telling me it was too early to tell."
"You are more than capable of doing this job, little witch," he said calling her the pet name given to her by her mother, "you serve us well."
Aealsifth cocked her head to the side in respect, returning to her work in the fields. The first crop was easily done, tubers and root vegetables, working the second garden with delicate vine plants that require deep holes and precise measurements of water and depth was more exhausting. It was all worth it, in her eyes, for soon the people of Edoras would have a garden that they could tend to themselves; tending to potatoes, carrots, turnips, onions, garlic, beans, gourds, and eggplants. The gardens planted by the Roamers took many, many years to die out, and by the time they had they would return to revitalize the soil and add fresh seeds to the ground. They had one more garden to work, and the Dunendlings had enlisted the Orclings to help get it ready for repair. Gath and Saldoth dug up dying cabbage plants and Aherg fed the soil, healed it. Mazol, however, was left to plow it over, a tiresome job normally but even worse in the heat.
Without thinking, Aealsifth discarded her top most scarf skirt, the one used to stifle her bloody nose a few nights past, using it instead to protect her shoulders from a nasty burn. Again her hands moved to her waist, moving to untie her skirt all together, when a hand on hers stopped her.
"Aealsifth, I'd not do that in the company of men, but especially not the company of the man who returns just now," Srogag warned, his eyes moving to Grima as he rode through Edoras to the stables. She followed her friend's eyes, and nodded, too weary to add to any of the conversation. "Will you tell me of what you spoke with the elders?" the half-Orc looked back at her.
"I told them why Eomer left, to get Theodred's body back. I'm sure he's found it by now, but Nienna did not give many specifics to his death," she said, leaning against her dear friend. "I also told them of my fear of war," Srogag looked at her strangely as she spoke, "you, Mazol, and Aherg will train our people, along with the elders. We have not waged war since the second age, but I have a fear in my bones, Srogag, that the luck of the Valar will soon be depleted. A risk we cannot take," she said straightening out.
"That is not all on your mind is it, Aealsifth?"
"No, Srogag, it is not," she answered him truthfully, her hand coming up to rub one of the little scars on the side of her head, "my scars are starting to ache. All of them. I am not one to take simple memory pains as Omen, but it's instilled a fear in me."
"How long have they burned?"
"Since my offer to Wormtongue in the great hall of the Meduseld. Something set my spirit off, a sort of premonition, maybe. I pity the man but I do not trust him at all."
"Then why offer him a place in Alderroot, if you distrust him as much as I?"
"There is something sad in his spirit," she winced bringing her hand off of her head and onto the forearm of her guard, "he could be a great man. A musician, maybe, he had the soothing voice of a bard. Yet, he is bitter, like I was when mother brought me in. If she could turn me into a bleeding heart after Nienna's teachings, we can do the same for Wormtongue. Beyond that, I sense something about him, I'm drawn to him," she raised a hand to silence Srogag's oncoming warnings, "not in a romantic way, but I believe he is meant for something greater than he knows. A task at the end of a long, torturous road. If we could help lessen the harshness of his steps, it may serve him well and aid him in his task."
"You think you will see a vision of him, don't you?"
"Perhaps, though you know I don't control what Varda deigns to share with me."
"You will tell me if you do, and of what you see, won't you?"
Aealsifth looked to Srogag, smiling beneath the scarf, and brought a hand up to caress his cheek.
"You and Taurthel will always be my closest friends and confidants. I would never hide information from you, my shadow," she soothed. It was good enough for the half-Orc, because he smiled in return to her, but his smile fell quickly at the sound of a hurried voice behind him.
"My lady Aealifth, I must speak with you," Grima huffed, his face had a sheen of sweat and he bore signs of exhaustion and dehydration. He glanced at Srogag, "alone, if you wouldn't mind, my lady."
"Of course not, master Wormtongue, let's get you into the Meduseld and out of the sun,"Aealsifth agreed, taking his left arm with hers and starting towards the great hall.
"There is no time," Grima panted, nearly falling over as he tried to pull his arm away, "it is urgent, my lady." Aealsifth grabbed his face with her hand, holding his chin as she inspected his fact, tilting his chin up slightly before sighing.
"Srogag, please go get water, lots of it. Our master Wormtongue here will collapse shortly if he is not given a drink," she ordered, her eyes meeting Srogag's. He nodded at her orders, turning to go to the tent and get ample enough water to both sate the worm's thirst and survive a trip. He did not know what would happen next, but he knew his queen's- Valar above how she would hate to be called that, but that is how he thought of her- eyes well enough to know she meant to travel.
"Now, master Wormtongue, come rest here on this bench we produced and tell me your news," she commanded, nearly dragging the man to a resting place. Once she had him seated, she removed her scarf to dab the sweat from his face, giving him rest until water came. Srogag handed her a cup of water, placing several water skins beside her on the bench, kissed her on her forehead, and moved to the same wagon Aqan played from. Neither of them were good at goodbyes.
"My lady, I am sorry," he started grabbing her hand and pulling it from his face. She hushed him quickly, pushing the water cup into his hands.
"You have no need to apologize to me, my lord."
"Oh, but I do, and for that I am sorry," he panted between sips of water, before no longer containing himself and drinking deeply.
"What have you done, master Wormtongue," Aealsifth asked, her arms moving to stabilize the shaking man.
"I had no choice, my lady, he knows of you," Grima looked towards her clear eyes, "he thinks you are fae, my lady, and he would converse with you on the topic," he paused to breathe, not noticing how Aealsifth's eyes wandered to the side.
"I tried to tell him he was mad, that you are but farmers and bards, but he would not listen, I-"
"What does he know of us, Wormtongue," he was cut off, her hands tightly gripping his arms, "what did you tell him?"
Grima paused, watching her with wide and curious eyes, not understanding where her sudden urgency came from.
"Very little, my lady, perhaps the number and composition of your tribe, but only that you are simple farmers and bards," he answered, he searched her face as she looked off at her troupe, "my lady, why do you worry about that? And not instead for your own safety? It is you that he wishes to see."
"Oh, you," she breathed, closing her eyes and holding back before giving up, "stupid little man, what have you done?"
Grima was taken aback, disappointed even, as she now turned to insult him. Her eyes became glossy, biting her lip in thought as she stared out at her people.
"I am sorry, master Wormtongue, forgive my harshness," she murmured, her voice was cool and low again instead of the cold he heard moments before. "Your master wants me, did he say what will happen if I do not go," she looked back at him.
"He claims he will send a Nazgul in my stead, but I-"
"I will go."
Grima's breath hitched, she had caved in so easily- even if she had been cruel to him.
"My lady, I do not think he would expend that force," he almost pleaded with her, how he wished she would at least argue with him, berate him more, do anything but go off so easily to Orthanc.
"I would not have Edoras, have both our peoples, risk a Nazgul attack," she met his gaze, "when I can so easily prevent it."
"How are you still so kind?" the words were almost ripped from Grima's throat, "so...selfless in your state?"
"My state, master Wormtongue, is what has impressed upon me the importance of being kind and selfless. For every three brutal men I met, there was one kind man that helped heal all of that. My lord, if we all succumb to cruelty," she paused, shaking her head as he took in the look on her face. She was confused and full of conviction, confused by him perhaps, "there is no reason to continue on in this world."
"We must go as soon as possible, my lady," he tried to move on, moving to stand only to falter back.
"Rest here a while, I must take care of something first," she told him, a hand on his chest. With that she moved on, walking into the large tent beyond the wagons. Grima watched her until she was out of sight, then rested his head back in fatigue. It was then, that he felt cold steel against his throat. Slowly, he opened his eyes to view the angry Elf.
"Give me one reason not to kill you," he said, "one reason not to prevent you from taking her to wherever you are going."
Grima let out a small laugh, leaning into the knife.
"My lord, there is not a single reason you should not end my miserable life right now," he huffed, "nothing except the threat of a Nazgul."
With that, the knife was removed from his throat, and Gannon walked off, looking back to glare at Grima. Grima almost wished that the disgruntled Elf had slit his throat, there was something in him that told him to heed Aealsifth's words, to become the one kind man in comparison to the brutal three. The rest of him, however, knows that he could never be free of Saruman, not until one of them dies.
"My lord," Aealsifth stirred him, "we should be off before it is dark, yes?"
"Yes, my lady," he rose, halting to place a hand on her shoulder, "are you sure you will go?"
She nodded, picking up the water skins Srogag had placed on the bench and handed them to him. "We should go," her voice was low, slow moving and maybe even scared. Grima nodded, and neither of them spoke as they walked to the stables, and Grima preferred the silence to the shame she could instill in him. He fetched his horse while Aealsifth stayed outside, giving her farewell greeting to a passing by Gamling, who stopped at the insinuation of her leaving. The worm cursed and slipped the water skins into his saddle bags, then lead his horse outside. She greeted his horse with some sort of Elvish, then with the help of Grima mounted the horse first with Grima shortly after. The pale man settled in behind her, and she moved the lengths of her head scarf to in front of her shoulders to avoid them getting caught between their bodies, turning to take one last look at the confused Gamling.
The worm grew uneasy in his seat, her back nearly flush against his chest and her sweat soaked headscarf below his chin. He had been with women before, sometimes in exchange for coin, so when the scent of sweat hit him as his hand grazed her thigh to reach the reigns his heart beat fast. "Lean down my lady, that way we may go fast and race against the sun," he asked of her, she did as he asked and he placed his body against hers and bid the horse run.
And it ran, so very fast, taking off in a rush of dirt and tearing out of the gates of Edoras and into the open wild of Rohan in a flash. She closed her eyes and her hands found Grima's, tightly holding the reigns, and wrapped her small hands around his. His cheeks burned again at this gesture, and he raised his head to escape the her scent once more. He was so conflicted inside, he barely even thought of Eowyn since his discussion with Aealsifth in the great hall after she saved him from Eomer's wrath. Only now did he think of Eowyn, she was beautiful yes, doe eyed and blonde- with a strong will and clear conscious; and his only way to solidify power in Rohan if his master were to win the war. He felt shameful, to think of how he had treated her over a pursuit for power. Suddenly he remembered the times where Aealsifth seemed to read his mind, and quickly dismissed thoughts of the Shieldmaiden, glancing down at Aealsifth nervously.
The Halfbreed didn't even stir, and Grima was thankful that even if she had heard his thoughts she did not let him know. Ever so kind, Grima thought, even when she shouldn't be. They rode hard and fast for what seemed like hours, as the sun began to set however so did Grima's energy. His horse began to slow under his growing fatigue, and he let it slow to a trot as he reached back into his saddle packs for a water skin. Aealsifth's now empty hand found its way into her lap while he rummaged through the saddle packs, sighing contentedly as he found a water skin. He pulled the stopper off with his teeth, then nearly emptied it before he remembered that Aealsifth had been working in the fields all day, forcing himself to cease his drinking.
"My lady," he prodded, Aealsifth merely responded with a grunt, not opening her eyes at his voice. "You must drink, my lady, keep your energy up."
"For what purpose?" came her drowsy reply, her voice was projected from her throat, and her lips barely moved as the words passed her teeth. "So that your master can torture me longer?"
Grima pulled on the reigns, bringing his steed to a halt. Quickly, he dismounted and moved to the head of his beast so that Aealsifth could not ignore him and grabbed her hand.
"Look at me, my lady," he commanded, when she did not he shook her violently and bade him look at him. She turned her face to him, but it was stony. Cold.
"My lady," Grima's jaw clenched as he thought of what to say next, "I do not relish the thought of your torture. You have been kind to me, even knowing my wrong doings. You give kindness where it is not earned," he trailed off and closed his eyes, willing himself to finish his thought. "I will do all in my power to keep you from harm, but I cannot do much, thought I will try."
Aealsifth's face softened, and she leaned down to better inspect his face.
"If you are looking for signs of lies, my lady, I assure you that they will not be found," he stammered, trying to shake the feeling of her eyes on him. Grima felt exposed, naked almost, under her intense gaze, and he could not withstand such scrutiny.
"I am not looking at your face, boy," she seemed to hum these words, and Grima's eyes opened at being called a boy. He saw her face, not as cold but rather inquiring with furrowed brow.
"Then what do you stare at, my lady?"
"I'm looking at your mind," there was the hum again, as though she was not wholly in her body as her head weaved like a snake as she investigated him. "I'm looking at your soul."
Grima closed his eyes and trembled as he pushed her hand away as he released it, he turned to walk a few paces away from his horse.
"Can I trust you, Grima?"
He turned his head to peer over his shoulder at her, she had a tremble to her voice like he'd never heard. More importantly, she had said his name.
"If there is anyone who can place trust in me, it is you, my lady."
"Then you must this on you," Aealsifth instructed as she removed her headscarf, shaking her head before holding it out to him. "Do not let your master find this, keep it on you at all times. You will know when to return it, and I feel it may save your life in the coming days," she elaborated, grabbing his hand as he grasped the scarf. "Do not lose it, sleep with it inside you shirt, keep it with you always, promise me that."
Grima put a hand over hers, looking up at her slowly. He could not ruin this moment with his satin words, they were all too accustomed to harshness, lies, and meaningless flattery. Instead, he nodded, the simplest form of communication. His nod agreed with her he assumed, as she raised their hands to her mouth to leave a small kiss on the back of his hand.
"I am sorry, my lady."
"I know, Grima, but you have no need," she sighed releasing his hand and her scarf, looking towards the tower Orthanc in the distance, "not yet anyway."
"My lady, I cannot make the ride to Orthanc in one night," Grima confessed, "the idea of getting back up on that horse wears me thin. I cannot deliver you in one day."
Aealsifth looked forward again, seeing a familiar forest.
"Fangorn is but a short distance away. We can make a small camp there, rest for the night. I need sleep as well before I am delivered into your master's tower."
Master, he grimaced, only in theory he thought. He carefully folded her headscarf and slipped it down the front of his shirt. He could smell her more clearly now.
Soil, flowers, and sweat.
Chapter 10: Wormwood
After what seemed like ages, they had found a vaguely comfortable place to sleep in Fangorn. Aealsifth had taken the reigns from him and took to tying the horse to a sturdy tree branch.
"I will fetch some wood for a fire, although I cannot cut wood, I will find some small branches," Grima said, turning to wander.
Grima stopped in his tracks, turning to look at the woman behind him.
"Do not cut or burn wood in this forest," she warned, her eyes flicking to the trees that surrounded them, "you will anger them."
He quickly moved back towards Aealsifth as the trees around him let out a groan, a deep and noble rumble that send a tremor through his spine. They shifted slightly until she placed her hand on a nearby trunk, sighing in relief as they calmed down around her. Grima looked around for room to sleep, only just noticing that there was very little space not covered in roots; just big enough for two people to sleep in close quarters. Maybe she could sleep there and I against a tree, he thought, pulling his cloak closer to him to evade the chill. The chill.
It did not seem to effect her much, but her lips started to tinge blue in the growing cold. No matter how hot it was during the day, she could not survive the night in her day dress, he was sure of it. He would have to give her his cloak, he decided, and sleep against the tree.
"Does the thought of being in such close quarters repel you, master Wormtongue?"
Master Wormtongue, he thought bitterly, she has put her guard up again.
"No, my lady, I think only of your need for privacy," Grima explained, trying to maneuver back into her good graces. It did not repel him, in fact quite the opposite. Her hair smelled like jasmine flowers and sweat, something like the houses of whores. Not that he thought of her as a whore, but nonetheless he felt his heart race when she got close; especially now that it was cold.
"Then come here, warm me," she beckoned him as she outstretched her arms. He hesitated, his hands reaching out for hers. He trembled as his hands traced up her arms, brushing hair from her shoulder, and her arms slid around his waist beneath his cloak. She hummed contentedly as she slowly warmed up, Grima stroked her hair and held her closely as she did so.
"My lady, we should rest," he finally broke the silence, she merely yawned and agreed. Grima's face flushed slightly as he saw her face scrunch up then relax, she nodded then pushed him away. She did let him lead her to the spoke where they would sleep, a smooth patch nestled between two large roots, and took off his cloak so that they could both rest underneath it. "Are you sure you do not want privacy, my lady," he questioned again, "I would give you the cloak so that you could be warm." Aealsifth simply shook her head and made a barely audible moan, lying down and motioning him to her.
Grima hesitated again, he found it hard to believe she was not repulsed by him. It's just for warmth, he chided, she has no real interest in you. When her hand tugged at his pant leg, he joined her on the ground covering the both of them as he did so. He tried to keep a respectful distance, only to have her curl up against him anyway. He let her move him into a position she was comfortable in; his arm under her head and the other one over her, her head just beneath his chin and her hands clutching his tunic. Grima let himself enjoy the proximity, stroking her hair as they dozed under the trees, taking in the sent of her hair again. His fingers found several small scars on the side of her head, his fingers passing over them again to make out their shape in the dark. They were as thick as his small finger and about the size of small basil leaves, Grima found them littered about the side of her head. The scars were the last thing to fill his mind before he fell asleep.
The worm shifted in his sleep, his hand moving to stroke her hair only to close around air. Grima sat up with a start, how could he have been so foolish he berated himself. Of course, she would not surrender herself so easily to Orthanc, it was all a trick. He drove his fist into a nearby root, cursing with immediate regret, then scrambling to his feet as the root moved.
"Where are you? Witch, answer me!"
Grima was furious, he span around desperately trying to get an indicate for where she might be; but every place he looked seemed as empty and untouched as the last place. He was not a man of the outdoors, he could tell the trees apart but had no way to spot indications of disturbed earth in the day, let alone in the early and dark hours of morning. He was worked in a fury when his hand pulsed, blaming his brash actions on the woman. After all, he seethed, if he hadn't allowed himself to accept and reciprocate her kindness he wouldn't feel so betrayed.
"Witch!" he roared, his eyes were wide with anger and fear. What would his maser do to him if he found out she tricked him so easily, how easily he had given into the temptation of kindness, a soft caress from a woman. He spun around, head cocked to the side as he picked up the sound of her hum. Grima smiled wickedly to himself, her nature had betrayed her for now he could track her using her song against her. Quietly he moved through the woods towards the sound of her voice, picking his pace the louder Aealsifth's voice became. It wasn't really a song as much as a melody, vocalization in place of instrumentation, something as haunting and moving as their music normally appeared to be.
He stopped in his tracks when his foot landed in water, Grima looked forward down the stream he had stumbled into to see a very dim light and a pale figure. I found you, bitch, he mused to himself with a cruel smile. He thought to himself what he would do when he got to her, smiling as he slowly advanced on her. I'll teach her a lesson, he thought, give her a good reason to want to run away. Thoughts flashed through his mind, what would he decide to do? He could smack her around, scream at her, hold her up at the end of his dagger and give her a good scare. His mind was red hot as he thought of all the times she would let him touch her, that she reached out for him on the road and before they slept. She played me with her body, Grima fumed, when I find her I'll teach her the dangers of toying with a man, I'll grab her by the hair and smash her head into a branch, see if she stops me from reaching out-
His breath hitched, shaking the thought from his head. He was not that evil, and he had an uneasy feeling that the voice that spoke those words inside of him was not his own. He had spent too much time in Orthanc, he guessed, letting the savagery of Orcs infect him. He allowed himself to be angry with her still, though he made sure even his thoughts practiced restraint. He was no beast, even if he could not fight back his urges to be cruel in response to his betrayal. Grima kept moving forward slowly, making out her shape the closer he got to her; she sat in the middle of the stream, submerged to just below her shoulders. The worm sneered, did she think that he wouldn't find her in water? Sure it was high on her short form, but if he were to sit it would on come up to his diaphragm, he could easily reach her. Grima waded into the water, moving smoothly like a snake on water towards her, relishing the surprise she would feel when he captured her. Maybe he would be rewarded for capturing her again, he mused, careful not to alert her to his presence.
Aealsifth splashed water on her face and rose to her knees, only to have a hand wrap around her neck and hold her in place. Her instincts kicked in as she screamed, kicking her legs wildly as another arm wrapped around her waist and she was hauled out of the water. She hit the ground with a dull thud, turning to curl up into a ball and raise an arm to protect her face as Grima raised his hand.
"You vile little witch! Luring me into being kind only to turn and run at the nearest sign of my weakness," Grima roared, bringing his hand down to smack her repeatedly. She retaliated a bit, but eventually gave up to protect her face instead. "Why not just stay in Rohan if you were going to flee?" his hand came down sharply on the side of her hip as Aealsifth tried to wriggle away, "why did you just fool me, then run?"
"I wasn't running away, master Wormtongue!"
He grabbed her wrists and pulled her close to him, so close that he could bite off her nose without much movement.
"Then why did you go?" the words hissed and felt like filth against her skin.
"I was bathing," she scowled.
"Oh, you were bathing? At this hour, in the dark? Do you take me for a fool?"
"I awoke and smelled like dirt and sweat, I felt disgusting, I was going to return, you-," she grit her jaw and stumbled for the correct words, "you complete fool!"
Grima's nostrils flared, he pushed her back into the dirt and stood to lord above her, immediately averting his gaze.
"Where are your clothes," it was less of a question and more of an angry statement.
"Why," Aealsifth leaned forward and trailed her hand up his leg, "have you never seen a naked woman?"
He shoved her back with his leg, gritting his jaw at her insinuation.
"I have seen my share of women, witch, do not favor yourself as some kind of first."
"So I am a witch, now?" Aealsifth gripped his thighs as she leaned against him, looking up at her captor, "tell me, Wormtongue, is it my body that put you under enchantment or my words?"
"If I am some kind of great seductress," she hissed and tugged on his belt, "how did I put you under enchantment?"
Grima's hands flew to prevent hers from undoing the belt of his buckle and expose him.
"Wh-what are you d-doing," he struggled with her for control, "my lady, s-stop this, it's madness!"
Aealsifth immediately pushed him back, glaring at him as he readjusted his belt and looked at her with wide eyes.
"If I am some sort of magical whore, then shouldn't I be doing what you dream?" she snarled, appearing truly feral in this moment. Her hair was frizzy and stuck out in many directions, and light bruises formed on the side of her face and forearms as she knelt naked in the mud. She was wild with rage in that moment at his insinuations, that she was being manipulative and cruel. If he wanted to see her be manipulative and cruel, she could easily oblige.
"After all," Aealsifth shouted at the confused and embarrassed man, "isn't this what you want?" she crawled forward, running her tongue across the top of his shoes. Looking back up at the flustered man she continued. "Someone to worship at your feet," her hands moved up his legs to his hips as she lightly bit the inside of one of Grima's thighs. His brow furrowed at the movement, placing his hands on hers as if to signal protest. "A woman to think of you as God," she hissed she stood, bringing one of his hands up to her mouth, "a woman to beg for your affections?"
Grima let out an involuntary groan as Aealsifth trailed her tongue across two of his fingers, never taking her eyes of his face. She moved his other hand to one of her breasts, making him try to break away in shock. They both fell into the river, Aealsifth deftly moving to straddle the shy man in the water. Grima was frozen under her touch, bold women were nothing he was accustomed to dealing with, and he couldn't deny that Aealsifth was an attractive woman. Her hips were perfectly rounded underneath his hands as he tried to move her away, she only caught his face with her hands.
"Isn't this what you want? Grima?" She asked as he shook beneath her, moving her lips to his jawline, "for me to want you? To beg for you?" her voice seemed to ache as much as he did underneath her words. "Oh, please, Grima" her hands moved his up her body again while her voice stung his ears, "won't you take me, Grima?" her hands moved to his hair, moving her face above his. Grima's eyes were wide and watching her, so cruel, he thought of her, so cruel to manipulate him like this. "Isn't this what you wanted when you said I lured you in, is this what you wanted my end game to be, Wormtongue?"
Her lips ghosted over his, her tongue lightly grazing his bottom lip. Grima closed his eyes and let him lose himself in her manipulation, his hands moving up to grab her hair and bring her lips back to his. Aealsifth's hands moved down his neck to journey under his tunic, and his traced her body before gripping her hips tightly. Her hands trailed farther down to undo his belt and Grima remembered himself. Quickly he pushed her off of him and into the stream, standing and trying to ignore his soaking wet clothing and hot body.
They stared at each other, both faces contorted with emotion. Him with his shame and anger, her with her rage and pride; what a strange pair they made. Suddenly, Aealsifth's hard exterior broke and gave way to a chuckle. Grima's brow furrowed in bewilderment at her sudden outburst, before giving into laughter himself as her chuckle became a cackle. They shook their heads, and Aealsifth stood to extend her hand in peace to Grima who took it eagerly. He wrapped her hand with his and brought it up to his lips for a brief moment as their laughter subsided.
"This forest," she shook her head, "it enjoys messing with people's heads."
"I'd say it messed with ours good and well, my lady."
"I'd say we are beyond formality, Grima, I did just try to fuck you."
His breath caught in her throat at her vulgarity again. Fuck, he thought, not seduce or make love, just a simple fuck. He did feel slighted at her relaxed outlook on her seduction, but he did bruise her face so he supposed that it was just fair.
"Still surprised at my vulgarity?" she asked, turning to the shore to fetch her clothing. Grima let his head tilt and watch her bare backside sway as she walked to shore, almost regretting his decision to halt their kiss.
"Only slightly, my-" he stopped after a single look Aealsifth threw at him over her shoulder, "Only slightly, Aealsifth."
"I hope you quickly get over it, I'm not sure that Saruman allows clothing during his torture sessions."
"It was just a joke," she laughed looking over at him while she buttoned her top, "partially."
"You should run," he said lowly, nodding slightly as he looked down at his feet, "don't come with me to Orthanc."
"What would he do to you? If you came back empty handed."
"He would skin me alive," he chuckled, looking up to her with a slight smile. "I don't know Aealsifth, I tend to keep his orders well."
Aealsifth turned back to the pale man, getting uncomfortable close and placing herself in his arms. She thought for a second, and Grima watched her bite her lip as she contemplated his advice. Finally she let out a loud sigh, smiled lightly and shrugged as she looked up at him.
"Well," the woman breathed, "if you think he would dispense such hard punishment on you, I cannot run away."
"He would do the same to you, Aealsifth, I am far more deserving of it than you."
"Oh, my dear boy," there came that smile and sigh again, "you have no idea what I've done, or what I'm capable of."
She reached up and moved a strand of hair from his face, letting her thumb stroke his cheek.
"I didn't even cry when you were striking me, I've had much worse. My pain tolerance is very high."
Grima let a hand play with her hair and stroke her scars as he did so, Aealsifth closed her eyes and leaned into his touch as he did so.
"I turned down a man, once," she whispered, "his response was to bash my head in with a rock and try to take me anyway."
"Did he fail in his endeavors, my lady?"
"Falling into old habits already, Grima?" Aealsifth laughed, "to answer your question; no, he didn't. Well, he failed to bash my head in, but yes he did get what he wanted."
"What happened to him?" Grima held her close, a soft anger rising in the pit of his stomach.
"I killed him," Grima's hands stopped their ministrations, "I leaned up, like I was going to kiss his neck, and I ripped his throat from his body."
Aealsifth pulled away to look up at him, "I'm a killer just like you, Grima. I deserve the wizard's wrath as much as you do."
"He won't just top at physical torture," his voice was strained as he pleaded with her, "he will give you to his Uruks should he deem it necessary. My lady, please don't make me take you to him."
"Then I will go alone, and you go back to Edoras."
"I won't just abandon you to him-"
"Come see me in a few days," she brought his hand up to her lips, kissing it gently, "keep the scarf with you at all times, but do not forget it when you visit me."
"Grima, why do you care?"
"I don't have a good reason for you, Aealsifth. Believe me, I wish I did."
"I have to do this, you understand that, yes?"
"Yes, my lady, although I wish you didn't."
"Come for me when the white rider comes to Edoras. You will know him when he appears."
"Aealsifth, you could die."
"Death? Now that its an idea," she smiled, "no, Grima, he will not kill me when I have information he wants." She cocked her head at the look on his face, a nervous look. "Speak your mind, master Wormtongue, what is on your heart?"
"I cannot ask more from you than you already do for me, my lady."
"Just ask," her hand caressed his face again, "so I don't have to."
Once again Grima found himself hesitant, his thumb trailing down her bottom lip to tilt her chin up. It could be the forest, or it could be that both of them were heading off to a dangerous place and were in need of one last bit of humanity, he didn't know. He also didn't care. Grima leaned down and gently brushed his lips against her, to make sure she was comfortable with his actions, and Aealsifth leaned into him. The kiss was light, sincere. She pulled away with a contented moan and a small laugh, then looking up towards a very satisfied Grima.
"Can I trust you to take my jewelry to Taurthel? I don't want the Uruks to get them," she asked of him, starting to remove her jewelry. "They were gifts from family, they mean a lot to me and would make a good token for my people."
"I will give them to someone," he said taking her hands for the last time, "so that they may be returned to you upon your return to Edoras."
Return, she smiled, there is wishful thinking. Aealsifth patted Grima's arm before moving through the stream and into the forest.
"How will you find your way?"
"The trees will show me the way, Grima, they talk to me!"
Grima smiled slightly as she twirled to tell him that, he started to turn when she spun around again.
"Oh! and Grima!"
"Good harvest and clear stars!"
He let out a small chuckle, lifting his hand to wave.
"Good harvest and clear stars!"
His smile faded as he watched her walk away, only turning to leave once she was out of sight. Grima slipped one of her rings on his own hand as he mounted his steed, he had many things to think about on the road back to Edoras.
Chapter 11: Orthanc
Two Uruks sat bored at their posts around the gates of Orthanc, nothing ever came this close to the gates anymore, no game to kill and no human to hunt. The biggest one, Gurbul, sighed and shifted his scimitar from one hand to the next. Everything was so fucking boring.
"Aye, Gurbul," the other Uruk, Ruzzi, got his friend's attention, "you smell that?"
Gurbul lifted his head, sniffing deeply before smiling and turning to his friend.
"Woman," they smiled wildly. Oh the things they can do with women, take them, kill them, eat them- every need they had was complete in women. Soon after, Aealsifth strutted out of the woods, and the Uruk's smiles faltered when she barely looked at them until they were directly in her path. The woman looked at the two guards in front of the gates, a hand on her hip and hair swinging.
"Hey there big boys," the woman purred, Ruzzi's smile returning at the sound. He moved to touch her, only for her hand to stop his advancement, "don't get too excited, darling. I'm here to see Curunir, he asked for me and I have come."
Ruzzi's face fell, he imagined what it would be like in the barracks. Oh, the teasing he and Gurbul would endure when the others saw them trailing behind a woman- a small one at that, with no weapon. The woman seemed to note his despair, because her next words made him smile widely.
"My feet are so tired," she said looking up at him, "would you mind throwing me over your shoulder so I don't have to walk into Orthanc?" her fingernails lightly scraping his torso as she said so.
Ruzzi and Gurbul looked at each other, smiles on their faces.
The world looked odd upside down, and it didn't help that her skirt was over head. She saw, for the most part, that the Orcs of Orthanc were very industrious. So much so in fact, that they were hacking away at Fangorn forest; something she knew would bring them ill will. Ruzzi's hand moved further up her thigh and she gave his ass a good whack, making the large beast laugh. He did obligingly move his hand back down, but he decided he liked the fire in this woman for sure.
"How much further, Ruzzi?" Aealsifth asked after several minutes walking up what seemed to be never ending stairs.
"Huh, I dunno, a good amoun'a time f'r sure," came his gruff reply.
"Then put me down, I think my ass has been aired out enough."
"Aye, but i's such ah nice view, if'n ya ask me," Gurbul laughed, grabbing a handful of her ass in response.
"If you want to keep your hand, Gurbul, remove it. Ruzzi, put me down."
Both Uruks agreed with a laugh, and she turned to them as soon as her feet hit the ground. Hands on her hips again she looked them over, biting her lip lightly and making Ruzzi's heart stop.
"What would you even do with me if you had me, boys?"
"Wanna fin' out?"
Aealsifth merely laughed and turned to walk up the stairs.
"Wha' is it, Ruzzi?"
"Ay thin' I'm in love."
Gurbul turned to his friend and his face showed exactly what he thought of that statement: Stupid.
"M'Lord Saruman," Gurbul's voice boomed into the great library. The white haired man at the other end looked up from his book with great annoyance, face changing as he saw Aealsifth step out from in between the two Uruks. "We 'ave this, uh, woman thin' 'ere f'r ya."
"I see that, wait outside the door. Your services may be required," the wizard dismissed with a wave of his hand. He made a disgusted face as the woman smack the ass of one of the Uruks as he left, smiling until they walked out. Then, her face changed completely, and she sighed deeply while her hand folded behind her back. Saruman watched as she took in each of the books with a disinterested face.
"So where is the one that you showed the master Wormtongue, the one that got him in such a concern?" the woman asked him, looking at the wizard coldly.
"You were not brought here to ask the questions, my lady."
"I was not brought here at all, Curunir, I came here alone. Master Wormtongue will not be joining us for a few days," Aealsifth turned and walked towards him. "Besides, you could ask nothing that wouldn't be found in your book or answered in a few words. I'm afraid you would get bored quickly, I'm here to see what you know. Not the other way around," she looked out at the books.
"That involves whoring around with Uruks, does it my lady?"
The woman looked back at him with eyes like icicles.
"I am fae, Curunir," the wizard was taken aback by her curtness on the subject, "I will do what I please, and take pleasure with whoever I please."
"Then you admit it, you are a faerie?"
"One of few, yes."
"How old are you?"
"Younger than most, older than some."
"Ah, you could be a wizard with the riddles you speak."
"Hm," she let out an amused breath and licked her lips, "I am...younger than the third age. Older than most in it. I've lost count of the years in total but I'd wager about, ah, one hundred and twelve, if you need an exact age."
"Then you can teach me much, my lady."
"About what?" Aealsifth scoffed, "there is nothing I could tell you that would mean a thing. You cannot practice magic like me and mine, to do that you would have to gain the favor of the Valar." She began to laugh heartily, motioning her arms around his library. "And you have not had the favor of the Valar for some time now, Curunir."
"If I cannot use the magic of the faeries," Curunir said standing, "then I will bend the faeries to my will."
Aealsifth smiled briefly before her face morphed to a sneer. Soon the wizard stood toe to to with the small woman, who looked him up and down before spitting in his face.
"The will of the fae is something that cannot be broken," her words warped around his mind, "we will all die before we serve you."
The wizard did not move the spittle from his face, but grabbed hers with his clawed hand. To his surprise, the woman did not even wince when his fingernails broke her skin.
"Then you will die."
Chapter 12: I Wear Your Ring
Grima dismounted his horse, handing it to the nearest stable hand and headed first thing to the Roamer camp. Aealsifth's rings heavy in his pocket, her bracelets and earrings jangled in his other. The man felt haggard, worn down and thin; but he had promised her he would give her jewelry back to her people and he fully intended to. All except for the ring he now slipped off his finger and into his sleeve, that one would be his. He had no reason for being drawn to that particular ring, a large round moonstone surrounded by pearls of rose quartz set in a gold band, yet it called to him and he would keep it till she returned.
"Wormtongue, you have slithered back to our camp yet again," the large Elf from last time called as the pallid man entered the proximity. Grima glared at him as he approached, noticing that everyone stopped moving in the gardens and watched him with distrust. "What's the matter, son of man? Snake stuck in your throat?" Gannon antagonized him again, blocking Grima's way to the main tent. The worm grit his jaw and looked up at the elf, whose face went from a smirk to hard rage as he smelled the man before him. Gannon grabbed the cowl of Grima's cloak and swung him around to slam him up against the nearest wagon. The Elf's teeth bared as he brushed off his wife's arm as she tried to pull him away from the human.
"You smell like her," he grunted and shook Grima, "why do you smell like her?"
Grima's tongue darted forward to lick his lips, setting his jaw with a smirk as he leaned forward.
"If you kiss me, I'm sure you can taste her, too."
Gannon's fist quickly wiped the smirk off of the human man, his wife and one of the half-Orcs rushed to contain the raging Elf. He was torn away from Grima as he screamed at the human in Elvish, some common tongue slipping going "what have you done to her". Taurthel and Hasaal picked Grima up off the ground, his lip stung and he tasted blood while he reoriented himself.
"Why have you come back here snake?"
"And where is Aealsifth?"
"Taurthel," Grima nodded his head before looking at the butch Haradrim, "Hasaal."
"Answer us," Taurthel pressed, "she came into the tent and bid Brerbi and the twins goodbye, then she told me I was to look after the clan with Srogag but offered no explanation."
"You will give us the answers," Hasaal warned, "or I will slit your throat."
"Ladies, I cannot tell you what I do not know. Last I saw her she was headed to Orthanc but she bid me return to Edoras and to give you," he nodded to Taurthel, "her jewelry, so that you can keep it safe until her return."
Taurthel held out her hands, and Grima first retrieved the bracelets and earrings, placing them in Taurthel's palms. Taurthel quickly gave them to her wife, before turning to back to the human for the rings. When he returned them, she immediately counted them all then looked up at him.
"Where is the moonstone ring, it's not here."
"What moonstone ring?" Grima feigned surprise, "I immediately put them in my pocket when she gave them to me, she must have kept it for herself."
"No," Hasaal murmured counting the rings for herself, "she would never have risked that ring."
"Why, what's it's significance?"
"It was her wedding band," Hasaal answered despite her wife's glare.
Grima choked, her wedding band. She was married.
"Who is her....partner?"
"He is not here."
"Is he dead?"
"He," Taurthel glared at her wife, "resides in Lothlorien. We've only met him once, seven years ago but it was by accident, they haven't been truly married for many years. Why do you care?"
Grima absentmindedly licked his lip, wincing at the pain, and shrugged off her question. The Haradrim's nose wrinkled, leading her to get all too close to Grima for a better smell.
"Gannon is right, you do smell like her. Why?"
"What is it with you people and your sense of smell?" Grima's voice was irritated, and it showed on his face.
"You fucked her, didn't you?"
"Taurthel, with each passing day the Roaming women amaze me with their vulgarity," he smiled sarcastically.
"He did," Hasaal sniffed him again, "he smells like her sweat. Is that why you took her away?"
"I did not fuck her, or take her away, Hasaal," he snapped, "she came of her own free will. As for the smell," he reached into his tunic and exposed part of Aealsifth's headscarf. The women gasped and looked at each other briefly, before turning back to him.
"Why did she give you that?"
"More importantly, what did she tell you to do with it?"
"I'm supposed to return to Orthanc when a white rider appears in Edoras. When I do, I'm to give her this scarf back. Can one of you stop interrogating me and tell me the fucking importance of her scarf?"
"It's not just a scarf-"
"It's a great source of power for our people-"
"Which is why she gave it to you-"
"Because if Curunir got his hands on it-"
"he could manipulate our magic."
"Yes, but her giving it to you-"
"And not leaving it with us-"
"Means that she trusts you-"
Grima's eyes flicked between the women, if love meant speaking in turn like this he would rather die. Love, the thought flashed through his mind briefly before he pushed it away.
"So it's a garment of power," Grima said, "but how is it going to help her escape Orthanc? Does it have powers of invisibility?"
"No," Taurthel said sharply, "it's our wings."
"Yes, we are not born with them," Hasaal elaborated, "we are given our wings when we pass our Tsette Ceremony-"
"The fabric molds to our skin-"
"And creates a sort of wing for us to use-"
"We use enchantment to make us fly-"
"But the cloth makes us powerful and fast in flight."
"That's why I'm to return with the scarf," Grima mused, "so she can fly to safety?"
"Yes," Hasaal started.
"Take my earring, Wormtongue," Taurthel added, removing it as she spoke, "it will make it easy for Aealsifth to find us, even if we flee Edoras."
"Why would you flee, my lady?"
"Aealsifth sensed something on the horizon, and we don't trust you-"
"Now go, before Gannon returns with Srogag."
Grima did not have to be told more than once, he took the she Elf's earring and quickly moved to the Meduseld. Unfortunately for him, the moment he entered the great hall, Gamling and Eomer were upon him like vultures. Once more he was slammed into a hard surface, his head begging for release from constant assault.
"Can I help you, my lords?" the worm hissed, eager to return to his bed.
"What have you done with Aealsifth?"
"My lord Eomer, she had a task in the woods. I merely accompanied her there," the worm lied, sighing as he did so.
"She seemed far too sad when she bid me farewell for it to be just a task," Gamling sneered.
"I don't know the nature of the task," Grima sneered back, "just that she asked me for transport."
"Give me a reason not to kill you now, Worm" Eomer shook the pallid man. Grima now had a reason, he had to live to help save Aealsifth, and that was a strong compulsion enough for him.
"I am to return to her, and bring her back to Edoras in a few days, my lord, is that not reason enough?"
Eomer glared and released the worm, placing a hand on Gamling's shoulder to lead him away from the tired man.
When Grima finally made it to his room he placed Taurthel's earring on the counter along with Aealsifth's ring and eagerly stripped out of his still drying clothing. Gazing in the small mirror he had in his quarters he examined his bruising, and predicted that it would be horrendous. He picked back up the Elvish earring, sucking in a breath as he drove the post through his left ear; pleasantly surprised that it did not hurt very much, if at all. He took a look in the mirror and decided that it was not an entirely bad look, then let his eyes fall to Aealsifth's ring. Grima picked it up carefully and gazed at it for a while, it was a wedding band that he was drawn to. Her wedding band.
He pressed the stone to his lips softly, closing his eyes and thinking of the kiss they shared in the stream. He laughed at the thought of the delirium fueled fight they had moments prior, mostly at himself for his reaction to her advances. His smile slowly faded when he remembered she now resided in Orthanc, and he let the joy leave his mind while he slipped the ring back onto the ring finger of his left hand. A bit tight, but it felt right.
Grima collected his clothing off the ground to put in a hamper, he did value cleanliness after all, the scarf falling from his arms as he did so. Quickly discarding the clothing he picked the scarf up and smothered himself with it, taking in the sent of her sweat as though it were a comfort to him. It was then that he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, and he frowned while he saw his imperfections.
He wasn't too thin, he had broad shoulders and strong bones, no fat but hardly much muscle either. In fact, he thought, I'm probably rather weak in comparison to most of the men in Edoras. To add to his lean body he was covered in healing bruises and bumps from ill set broken bones, some small burns and cuts littered his torso and thighs as well. His hands danced across them all, before moving up to head to feel the large knot that was forming on his skull after his encounters of today. He was an ugly man, he decided, too ugly for a woman such as Aealsifth to find him attractive. The kiss was simply because she was marching to her doom, Grima mused, and her seduction a craze brought on by the forest. Nonetheless, Grima took the scarf with him to his bed, wrapping it round his fists so that her scent would be near him as he slept.
Grima was awoken by a hand on his shoulder, jolting him awake as he reached for a blanket for modesty. Hasaal stood there in all her glory, new bright blue paint elaborately decorated her figure. It was drawn in sharp blocks highlighting her strong bone structure, turning to dots and lines that trailing down her body. She looked like she was made of stars. Grima quickly averted his gaze, the woman was covered in paint and jewelry, nothing else.
"Hasaal, what do you want?"
"We need you for the fire."
"We are going to cast, to see Aealsifth."
"What does that have to do with me?"
"You saw her last."
Grima nervously looked at the object in her hand, before looking back up to the woman.
"This isn't going to kill me, is it?"
"No harm will come to you, not physically anyway," Hasaal enjoyed the sudden tilt of the pale man's head as he went to ask another question, "however you can't wear clothing, master Wormtongue." She lifted the jar of blue paint, deftly dipping her finger in the liquid before quickly leaving a swipe of it down his nose.
Grima made a pained expression thinking of his image in the small mirror, but sighed in agreement as the Haradrim woman began to paint his body.
"What exactly will happen?"
Hasaal briefly paused before trailing her fingers down his chest, "we're going to send your mind to Orthanc, and through your mind's eye we will be able to see what is going on."
"Astral projection," the worm whispered to himself, "I didn't think that it was possible, but your telling me that it is?"
"Yes, but it is not a very pleasant experience, it can be painful both to endure and observe."
"What can I expect?"
"First you will feel dizzy, like you are being spun and thrown into the air," her fingers dotted down his sternum, "I need to do your leg, please stand up."
"I would really prefer not to be exposed, my lady."
"My lord me and my people often bathe together, nudity is not sexual for us," Hasaal rolled her eyes.
"It is not a matter of sex, rather my...." Grima trailed off, his hand straying to a particularly nasty scar on his left side, "unfortunate physical condition, my lady."
"Here, stand," Hasaal pulled him up, her eyes trailed down him analytically. She took in every bruise, cut, burn, scar, and still scabbing wound, and Grima seemed to shrink under the strong woman's gaze. "There is nothing here we have not had intimate knowledge of," she said, grabbing his hand and pulling it to the side of her hip. "I fell and my hip was partially crushed by a horse, my side is still concave. We all have had some sort of accident on the road, it's just a part of life."
Grima winced and nodded for her to continue painting, his face heating as she dotted along his thighs.
"Next you will shake, your eyes will roll into the back of your head. You may have a stroke, but we are prepared for that."
He was not looking forward to this at all, he didn't relish being naked and shaking in front of many people.
"Also, my lord," the woman said turning him to do his back, "we travel with Orcs. Physical abnormalities are hardly noticed let alone considered something shameful within our tribe."
"Can I at least wear a robe to your encampment?"
"That you can, my lord."
Grima stood nervously with arms crossed in front of his chest, regretting giving up his cloak in the cold winter night. He only grew more anxious as the group circled him and laid out firewood, all except the two who stood just outside the circle with large drums. He was never one to be the center of attention, especially not while naked.
"Varda, lady of stars, grant us your sight," Gannon's voice was gruff from behind him. Grima did his best to look straight ahead as he felt heat against his back.
"Nessa, the dancer, grant us your power to see through time," the grey haired Mena called from his side, and again he felt flame near him.
"Este, the gentle, grant us a peaceful projection," this time it was Taurthel who spoke, adding more heat.
"Nienna," Grima saw Srogag walk in front of him, holding a torch in his left hand, "the weeper, grant the projector your mercy in his journey."
With that, Srogag nodded and all four threw their torches onto the wood around him. Grima's skin was covered in a thin veil of sweat, the world spinning as those unburdened with drums moved around him. As they passed, he saw several with bones- the bones of Jordis' husband- using them to add to the tune of the drums, a sharp clack that echoed throughout Edoras. With the sound of Mena's ram horn, the drummers took position and the group began their chant:
"Ravnen flyg i himmelhjul,
i skogen gjestar gamal tul."
His vision span more, feeling as though he was sent floating out of body and sent out over the plains to Fangorn. Lassemes' high pitched trill pierced the air, and thunder cracked in the distance.
Truly he was, as he saw the forest pass beneath him with a flash until he saw Orthanc. His body was in limbo as the mixture of rain and fire formed a kind of mist around him, an almost suffocating limbo.
He passed through walls, feeling as though he might. He started to shake, his eyes rolling up into the back of his head as thought he was having a stroke. Ligzil's own wild voice sounded, wild and loud as though it were a war cry, and Eomer stepped onto the balcony of the Meduseld.
Grima wanted to scream, instead he convulsed as the song repeated, foaming blue at the mouth while finally projected onto the flames around him was Aealsifth's figure, slowly forming coherent shape. The song repeated and intensified until the vocals stopped, leaving Lassemes and Ligzil as the last noises heard until Aealsifth's scream pierced the air. Everything stopped suddenly, a sharp wind blowing out from the fire and hitting Eomer with a hot blast of air. The worm did not need to see the images of fire to see the horrors the Roamers balked at, it was fresh in his mind and he could not look away.
Aealsifth was indeed in Orthanc, but she was strapped to an iron chair. Grima could see the spikes that lined the chair dig into her thighs, and her left leg was crooked and limp- it had already been broken. The scream elicited from her was due to the cat-o-nine tails that smacked into her lap and chest under the direction of a large Uruk, missing the mark just slightly and leaving two thick lines of blood from her face as it cut into her skull. He could hear Ligzil wail at the sight of Aealsifth's condition; bloody and shaking, already horribly wounded.
"Enough," they could hear the wizard, "do you concede power over your people to me, or do you need more persuasion?"
Grima wanted to beg her to take the way out, to tell her to give up her people to stop the mad wizard's rage, but he couldn't reach her. Couldn't help her. He could hear her people telling her to give the command, to give in, yelling at the fire even though they knew she couldn't hear them. Aealsifth slowly tilted her head to the side, breathing heavily with a deep rasp before her response to the corrupted man. She raised her head, her left eye bruised and her right bloody and swollen, and smiled.
"I'm not dead yet," she said before cackling, the Uruk discarding the whip for a cloth bag instead. She laughed as he put it over her head and tightened a cord around it, only for her laughter to be turned into a sputtering gurgle when water was poured over her head. Aealsifth shook her head, only to hit her head on the metal points of the iron chair, causing her to go limp for a second, then giving up and leaning into the torture chair. The Uruk laughed, pouring more water over her face and placing a lecherous hand on her chest as she hyperventilated.
"M'Lord, wa' if she don't give in to th' tort're?" he asked, looking over the woman.
"Try fire next, if a few prods of a hot poker do not motivate her, you can have her," the wizard said curtly before turning to leave the torture room.
The pale man could hear the hate of Aealsifth's people, he could also hear the shock and horror beneath that anger.
"Gurbul, get the poker," the Uruk smiled to his friend in the corner, who responded in kind. Grima collapsed, his knees bending without his permission and back bending so that his head hit the ground first. Rage clouded his sight as the Uruk slowly pulled the wet sackcloth away from her face, tongue sliding against Aealsifth's face; a poker slowly coming into view as the blue spittle the worm had produced slid down his face into his nose. The fire flashed blue, then collapsed in on itself and Grima's spirit returned back to his body violently, the shock wave again moving throughout Edoras. Suffocation was setting in slowly, and the human did little to help himself as he babbled on senselessly in delirium.
The Elves rushed forward to aid him, Gannon propping Grima up and trying to make him cough up the bile he swallowed in his convulsions. Doronith grabbed the man's moving face to wipe his face clean, turning to Lassemes to retrieve the potion needed to ease the realignment of spirit and body. Grima heard his caretakers converse between themselves as Hasaal covered him with his discarded cloak, placing a warm hand on his forehead. He also heard the calls for war from beyond the circle of elves and in between anguished noises.
"Quiet!" Srogag yelled, silencing the warmongering Roamers, "Aealsifth has a plan. We will get her back and the Valar will avenge her, but do not forsake your deal here." The Orc walked among his people, "we have fields to tend and mouths to feed. Jordis, you have a daughter to rear," he blamed, "we cannot forsake our duties and lead ourselves to our deaths because of anger. The Valar will avenge her when the time is right, do not rush the Gods."
The Gods should rush, thought Grima, his head still spinning as Doronith forced the liquid down his throat.
Grima's hand shot forth and grabbed Taurthel's shirt with a fist, pulling her closer to him so that she may understand what he said.
"It should be me," she heard the man say, eyes wide and crazed, "it should be me. I let her go to him, it should be me."
Taurthel placed a hand on his, the other Elves quickly moving to restrain Grima as he started to lash out. His hand loosened it's grip and the she Elf moved to remove it from her shirt, freezing at the sight of a small moonstone ring on his finger.
He wears your ring Aealsifth, she thought, as if her dear friend could hear her, he wears your ring and laments his own survival.
Humans can be so strange.
The song quoted here is Algir-Tognatale by Wardruna
Chapter 14: Waiting Game
Grima spent much of his time today locked away in his room, periodically drinking the potion given to him to avoid falling back into delirium. He had spent a full day in the Roamer camp, sweating out the side effects of astral projection. When he was asleep, he was back in Orthanc, or at least he felt he was, watching Uruks torture Aealsifth. When he was awake; he felt as though his eyes would burn out of his skull, as if his body would turn to liquid at any moment and his mind wasn't all there.
He had apparently tried to fight Gannon three times, and had accidentally called Doronith by Aealsifth's name.
After that first day, he returned to the Meduseld briefly but quickly returned when he heard the half-Dwarf's voice in his head. He spent half of the day in the main tent, letting Brerbi sit in his lap, under Jordis' watchful eye, while the child made up stories to fit illustrations in a picture book. Her babbling was calming to him, while the pictures were indeed pleasing to the eye, and didn't move when she fell asleep curled against his chest.
"She likes you, master Wormtongue," her mother noted, sharpening a sword from the rack near them.
"Most children find me frightening," Grima nodded, patting the sleeping child's hair, "this is a first for me."
"Then why let her attach to you so passively?"
"She calms me, my lady. I can't explain it."
"Try, my lord. If just for my entertainment."
Grima looked back down at the slumbering child, nibbling her thumb as she slept, then back to her mother. War torn, holding her husband's bag of bones and preparing weaponry for battle.
"She's innocent," he voice was quiet and far off. Jordis stopped what she was doing, startled by the declaration from the worm. "She's new. She's still learning the ways of the world, learning the ways of plants and man. She's never had to lie or fight. Never killed a man," his eyes flicked towards the Meduseld, "she's innocent, and it is a comfort to me. To see that it still exists, that is."
"You can stop what you are doing to the king, Wormtongue," the mother told him, placing the now sharp sword back in it's sheath and selecting another.
"No, my lady, I cannot. If I tried to reverse the damage I've done, Saruman would know."
"Is that so bad? Then you could break free from him."
"Ah," Grima chuckled, moving slightly as Brerbi repositioned herself, "then how would I free Aealsifth?"
"Mm," the woman nodded, her wild hair falling into her face briefly, "I pray that rider comes soon."
"Me as well, my lady. The sooner I get her out of there the better."
"It's more than that, my lord," her hand flew to the head scarf that was loosely tied as though she were a pirate in one of Brerbi's pictures.
"What is on your mind, matron mother?"
"Oh, I like that nickname," Jordis smiled at him, before stroking the lengths of the scarf. "Our scarves are very integral to our lives. You know they are our wings, but for some reason when we are separated from our wings for long, our minds deteriorate," her fingers tapped her temples.
"Makes sense for creatures of flight to be distressed when that ability is taken from them."
"Mm, makes us more susceptible to temptation. Ages ago, it happened to a few of us."
"Tell me the story of it matron mother, if you will."
"Aye, I will then Wormtongue. Mm, it was a select few, only four in total. Two women, Helixis and Kylaris, and two men, Iarrahn and Yhirirad, from the north. During the Battle for the sake of the Elves, their wings were injured horribly; and their doctors were forced to amputate them. Soon after, the four were seduced by the dark lord. Mm, the women went throughout the then known world; seducing husbands and eating babies, even killing women in childbirth. The men went around and hunted maidens, creating widows and barren women in their shadows."
"What happened to them?" Grima cocked his head to the side, curious to hear the end of the story.
"The Gods struck them down for their destruction. And since, all of us will choose to sooner die than be apart from our wings for too long, mm, so I worry for Aealsifth."
"Why doesn't Brerbi have wings yet?"
"She is too young," Jordis laughed, "she won't get her wings for some time."
"A flightless faerie," Grima laughed, "almost a contradiction."
Grima rubbed his temples, exiting his reverie. He wanted to go back to the tent and let Brerbi tell him silly stories only a child could tell, but he had to stay away from them. He couldn't get too close, he couldn't risk them getting in crossfire's of his sure to come falling out with Saruman.
"You have been missing for some time," came a woman's voice from his door. The worm couldn't even look at Eowyn, too ashamed of his past actions to face her currently.
"I've been busy, my lady," he said, turning to his books with a swig of the potion.
"Doing what, exactly?" Eowyn folded her arms, glaring at the man that poisoned her uncle.
"Getting friendly with the Roamers, my lady, nothing more."
"Is that why Aealsifth disappeared? Why you wear one of her rings?"
"Aealsifth will return, my lady, hopefully soon," Grima gazed at the ring on his finger, running a finger over the stone.
"Where did she go, Wormtongue."
"Somewhere dark, my lady," the worm raised his head, turning to look at her, "is that what you want to hear? That she has passed into shadows, at my will?"
"I only want the truth. Taurthel and Hasaal-"
"Yes, and what is your connection to the wives? Don't think it went unnoticed that you did not return to the Meduseld one night," he interrupted, tight lipped and angry.
The shieldmaiden blushed, averting her gaze.
"The truth," Grima scoffed, "you don't know what the truth is." His hands pulled Aealsifth's scarf from his pockets, bringing it up to his face. "You wouldn't know what to do with the truth, my lady. Hell, I don't even know what to do with it." The worm sighed, taking a deep breath of the scent in the scarf. "How is your cousin?"
"He's died, Wormtongue. Don't forget your part in this."
"My lady, I could not forget my part even if I wanted to."
"Eomer has left Edoras with the Rohirrim in Theodred's death," Eowyn told him, ignoring his remorse. Grima's eyes widened in surprise, turning to the Shieldmaiden in shock.
"He says there is no king of Rohan as long as this land is under your thumb."
"Then your brother is smarter than I give him credit," Grima let the scarf fall from his hands onto the table in front of him, "Rohan has no king."
"You have changed, Wormtongue."
"How so, my lady."
"Two weeks ago you would have taken this as an opportunity to pursue me, at the very least to lie. You've stopped scheming, Wormtongue."
"Oh, no, my lady" the pale man chuckled, he stood and pushed Aealsifth's scarf into his tunic. Eowyn stood there, suspiciously eyeing the man as he approached her, waiting for him to reach out and touch her hands. Grima merely pushed past her, not even pausing as he spoke; "I've only begun to scheme."
She turned to follow him, yelling to catch his attention.
"My lord, what do you mean?"
"I mean," he hissed, not even turning his head to look at her, "that I am still scheming. I've just lost interest in Rohan, and if I could my lady I would release your uncle from the enchantments placed on him but that would interfere with my current scheme."
"You have not changed at all!" the shieldmaiden reached out to smack the man in front of her, missing by a few centimeters.
Grima slowly turned to her, an unamused look in his eyes as she pulled her hand back to aim again. She was caught off guard by the look in his eyes, do it, his pale eyes seemed to say, it won't change anything. Go ahead, hit me. Slowly she lowered her hand, studying the strange look on his face.
"No my lady, I have changed," the snakes voice was loaded with venom, "the only difference is that I scheme for my own ends, not the ends of any master."
And with that, Grima moved to take his place by the throne's side. Eowyn was frozen in place, what could his ends be? And why did he have Aealsifth's scarf? The wives would know, she thought, I must go see them and get answers and.....other things. The blonde woman quickly walked through the great hall, pushing aside the doors quickly and slowing only as she stepped out onto the balcony of the Meduseld. The air here was sweet, not a single note of death and rot in it like in her cousin's room. Eowyn breathed deeply, taken off guard as one of the flags were ripped from it's pole by the wind. She watched it float down over Edoras, her eyes being drawn to the three riders in the distance.
Eowyn made haste to the roamers camp, yelling for Hasaal the entire way there and with such urgency that the Haradrim woman met her nearly halfway to the camp.
"Shieldmaiden are you alright?" Hasaal caught the woman in her arms, holding her tight with a hand on Eowyn's head, "my dear Eowyn, why are you yelling."
The blonde ripped herself from the strong woman's arms, pointing towards the gates as she caught her breath.
"Riders, three riders, one on a white horse. I heard you and Taurthel mention the coming of a white rider, so I came to warn you-"
"It's not me you should warn princess but rather the worm that sits in your halls," Hasaal corrected, grabbing Eowyn's hands and starting towards the Meduseld, "hurry my dear, quickly." The two women ran as fast as they could into the Meduseld, seeing the riders grow ever closer to the gates. Hasaal sprinted past Hama, throwing open the door and almost skipping into the hall. Grima snapped to attention as she did so, standing to greet her as the tanned woman nodded while catching her breathe.
Grima turned to the king for a moment, then quickly approached Hasaal; ignoring that Eowyn was walking in after her and out of breath.
"You understand what I have to do in order to keep Saruman's favor, yes?"
"You are going to get your ass beat aren't you?"
"I"m going to have to pretend my allegiances still lie with the lord of Orthanc," the pale man winced, then nodded in Eowyn's direction. "What does she know?"
"Nothing of importance, I'll have Taurthel stock your saddle bags with water," Grima caught the woman's arm as she turned to exit the Meduseld.
"No, that would betray the urgency in my departure," his eyes calculated risks and plans as they spoke, "tell Hama to disarm the travelers, and then remain in the hall. If there is anyone that can explain our situation to the white rider, whoever he is, it will be you."
Hasaal and Grima shared a look, seeing through each other's eyes. Hasaal was frightened, desperately hoping that Mithrandir would not kill Wormtongue so that he could still flee to rescue Aealsifth, and there was the matter of his changed allegiances that worried her. Grima, however, looked exhausted, stretched incredibly thin by the stress placed on him by both the Roamers and himself, even he did not know who he would follow anymore. Hasaal nodded slowly, grabbing Grima's arm in turn- a kind of sign of respect- then moved past Eowyn to instruct Hama.
"What is happening, Wormtongue?"
"It is far better that you do not know, my lady," his eyes flicked to the wrinkled king behind him, "we are not alone," he murmured.
Eowyn watched in confusion as Grima moved back to the king's side, sitting in apprehension that someone would soon come. Then she felt Hasaal's strong hand on her arm.
"Be brave my lady, the issue at hand does not involve your people."
"It's Aealsifth, isn't it?"
"Yes," the taller woman's voice cracked, "our worm is becoming a snake on our behalf. Do not worry about that though, my lady, we will fix things."
"And if you do not?" Eowyn eyed the bald woman with wide eyes, lovingly taking in the Haradrim's sharp features. Hasaal's deep brown eyes met Eowyn's and the Rohan woman's breath blocked her throat.
"Then we will have a very big problem on our hands," she whispered as Eowyn took her hand, leading her up the side of the great hall.
"You will be able to hear better here," Eowyn whispered, bringing the other woman's hand up to her mouth.
"My dear Eowyn, careful, someone may see you," came Hasaal's purr, the same purr that seduced Eowyn that night.
"Then should I return to your camp tonight?"
Hasaal looked at Eowyn with a smile, making the blonde blush the color of ripe tomatoes.
"My lady, me and my wife will always welcome your company," the Haradrim purred brushing hair from Eowyn's face.
"Then tonight," Eowyn nodded, her heart beating hard at the woman's eagerness at her proposal.
It was then that the doors of the Meduseld opened, and in came the visitors. Hasaal deftly moved behind a pillar to watch them walk forward; a dwarf, a man, and an elf leading a grey old man to the front of the hall.
"What an odd combina-"
"What is it Hasaal?"
"The man, he looks familiar, but I cannot place him," the Haradrim stammered, tilting her head as if to shake her memory.
"Perhaps you can be introduced later," Eowyn placed a comforting hand on the woman's hip, who in turn entwined their fingers together.
They watched as Grima bade the king insult the man introduced as Gandalf, and then it became clear who Gandalf really was.
"Mithrandir," Hasaal whispered, Eowyn worriedly looked at her married lover
"His staff!" Grima shouted, "I told you to take the wizard's staff!"
Hasaal winced as Grima was thrown aside, nervously gripping the pillar before her as a fight unfolded. Eowyn's attention turned to the wizard who advanced upon her uncle, his staff raised high and mumbling until her uncle began to cackle.
"If I go," the king rasped, in a voice that was not his own, "Theodin dies!"
Eowyn ran forward, the Haradrim woman fast on her heels as they ran out from their hiding behind the pillars. The familiar man grabbed Eowyn first, leaving Hasaal to grab her out of his arms and hold her tight to ensure the woman did not see her uncle in such a state. The strange man and Hasaal shared a look before turning back to the wizard's work, she looking off to her side to peek a glance at Grima. The worm laid under the foot of a dwarf, looking at the king with wide eyes full of fake shock and awe. Grima felt someone staring at him, and turned ever so slightly to see Hasaal checking up on him. Hasaal stifled a laugh as the worm winked at her, and looked back at the king's release.
They watched the king collapse, and Hasaal released Eowyn from her grasp.
I hope you have strong fortitude, Grima.
Grima blinked rapidly, shooting the Haradrim a look of surprise. Her voice echoed in his mind, her mouth never moved.
I do not think I have any other choice but to have a strong fortitude, Hasaal.
Then the king grabbed his sword for the first time in ages, his gaze turning to Grima like stone. The human by Hasaal put a hand on her shoulder, sensing her muscles tense as the king advanced on the groveling worm. Theodin roared, grabbing Grima by the cowl of his cloak and hauling him towards the door; as soon as he had moved past her Hasaal wrenched her arm from the man's grip, turning to him quickly.
"I do not know who you are, but you would do well not to lay another hand on me. There is more at stake here than you could possibly imagine," her voice was low and rough, and the man quickly obliged. The dwarf ribbed the human as Hasaal quickly followed Eowyn out the door, laughing heartily.
"The woman might kill ya, laddie!"
"And she may, master dwarf," the human said moving to the door close after her.
Grima's head hit the ground harshly as he was thrown down the steps to the Meduseld, he tasted blood on his lips as he bit his tongue on his last roll down the steps.
"I have only ever served you, my lord!" he called out to Theodin, who swept his robe behind him and approached with sword drawn.
"Your leechcraft would have had be crawling on all fours like a beast!" Theodin's voice was hard as stone, and this time Eowyn grabbed Hasaal before she could interfere with anything.
"Be strong, my lady," Eowyn whispered into the woman's shoulder, "have faith."
Grima crawled backwards from his angered king, heart beating fast. It couldn't end here, Aealsifth needed him, he couldn't let himself die so easily.
"Send me not from your side!" Grima yelled, raising an arm in defense as Theodin lifted his sword to deal a killing blow.
The man grabbed the king's arms, and Grima almost sighed in relief.
"No my lord!" he pleaded as Theodin looking at him, "no my lord. Let him go. Enough blood has been spilt on his account." Theodin looked at the man for a moment, before nodding in agreement and stepping away. The man outstretched his hand to Grima, and the worm had half a mind to take it, but he had a role to play. Grima spat at him, then rose to his feet and tore through the crowds to the stables. The dark haired man wiped his hand on his pants, turning to see Hasaal relax enough to be let go even though she still watched the worm worriedly.
"Where is Theodred? Where is my son?"
Chapter 15: The Roaming Folk, II
The funeral had passed slowly for the Roamers, and thus work had passed slowly as well. Hasaal had instructed everyone to work in silence to respect the fallen prince and not anger the grieving king, and so Aqan sulked by his lute most of the day while everyone else tried to work in silence. They had heard Eowyn singing, so Hasaal assumed the funeral was nearing it's end, she was not however expecting the king and Mithrandir to be approaching their camp.
"Is there no music left in the caravans of the Roamers?" called Theodin.
"Only when I'm not allowed to produce it," Aqan glared at Hasaal, who gave him a light smack on the back of the head.
"We did not want to disturb the funeral, my lord," the Haradrim woman explained, bidding the King welcome to their camp.
"I understand that Énniené has left us."
"Yes, my lord, she died a few winters ago."
"Then where is her daughter, where is Aealsifth?"
Hasaal looked beyond the king to Mithrandir, sighing and cocking her head back.
"This way, there is more to the answer to your question than I care for the children to know."
Mithrandir and Theodin shared a look now, following the tall woman to the large tent in the back.
"Where is Aealsifth, Hasaal?" Mithrandir asked, watching the woman move to the back of the tent and fetch a small coin purse. Hasaal did not answer, merely stood and turned towards them, throwing the purse onto the nearby table where it's contents spilled out. Theodin approached it, fingering through rings and earrings until he found a small ruby ring, the king brought the ring up to his lips and closed his eyes.
"Where is she?"
"She's in Orthanc," the Haradrim woman stated, her voice was hard to the wizard's ears, "she went there nearly...six days ago."
"She went into Orthanc of her own volition?" Mithrandir looked up from her rings startled, "why would she do that, she is not a stupid girl."
"It was that or risk a Nazgul bearing down on Edoras for her, at least that's what Gannon heard the worm say."
"Gannon?" Theodin opened his eyes, "Gannon is still alive?"
"Most of us are my lord. Gannon, Ligzil, Taurthel, Lassemes, Srogag, Doronith, Mazol, Aherg, Aqan, Mena, Saldoth, Gath, and Jordis. We added three more members since we last met, Nalkul and Yorthad and then Jordis had a daughter, Brerbi."
"So then Jordis' husband has passed?"
"Yes, a few seasons ago."
"A pity, he was a good man."
"Aye, he was."
"I hate to interrupt your reunion, but what else do you know about Aealsifth?" Mithrandir asked, shifting his staff between hands.
"She's being tortured if that's what your asking, Mithrandir," the Haradrim took a swig from a nearby cup.
"How do you know?"
"Because we saw it!" she chuckled, throwing her head back to finish off the drink before placing it on the table upside down. "We cast, Mithrandir, we cast a projection yesternight."
"How? Who was sent?"
"The worm! We sent Grima named Wormtongue to Orthanc in spirit," the woman's words slurred. Mithrandir reached forward and picked up the cup, sniffing the rim before rolling his eyes and returning it back to it's original place.
"So you drink during the day shift now," he murmured, turning to Theodin, "then our situation is truly grave."
"When your best friend walks into a den of torture and rape for your sake, you will drink too."
"Let the woman drink away her sorrows, Gandalf, you do not know what she saw during the projection that haunts her so," the king spoke to his old friend.
"Would you like to know, Mithrandir?" Hasaal's fingers sifted through Aealsifth's jewelry, "what I saw in Orthanc?"
"Nothing that hasn't already happened to your people, I'm sure. The Roamers live a life against brutality, one would think you could find better ways to face that reality.
"Brutality, aye. Aealsifth has had her head bashed in by a man once before, and she killed him for it. I have killed men for less, but Mithrandir it is you who should understand that the tortures of Orthanc are far greater than any common malice we come across," the Haradrim moved close to him, then turned to fill her cup with more wine.
"They had her in an iron chair, you could see the spikes sticking into her flesh from nearly every angle. Of course, that wasn't enough for them, they had an Uruk beating her with a whip. Her chest was dripping blood," Hasaal drifted off in thought as she recounted the projection, "then they covered her face, with some kind of cloth, and poured water over her. Have you ever heard the sound of someone drowning, Mithrandir?"
"No, Hasaal, I have not," the wizard's eyes softened, watching her take another drink.
"When the projection was severed, they were going to burn her wounds and give her to the Uruks for....well, who really knows in the end. The point is Mithrandir, I'm drinking because I need to act like everything is fine for the twins and Brerbi, when nothing is fine. Torture aside, she could lose herself any day now."
"Why do you say that? Énniené's daughter cannot be corrupted by pain," Theodin defended causing the wizard to look at him, "why do you have such little faith in your chieftain?"
Hasaal looked from the king, then to the wizard, she grit her teeth and finished the second cup.
"Grima has her wings."
Mithrandir turned to her quickly, eyes wide and stress deeply ingrained in the lines on his face.
"How did he get them? Answer me quickly," the wizard placed a hand on her shoulder.
"Oh relax, he didn't steal them," she shrugged him off, "she gave them to him for safekeeping. I'm hoping she'll be back soon, after all with Grima having to return to Orthanc he can now give them back, as was agreed."
"How do you know he can be trusted," Theodin interjected, "when he has so recently committed treason against his king?"
"He spit on Aragorn's hand, I'd hardly call that changed."
"Mithrandir, he has. Trust me, he was very eager to return to save her. He went mad for two days after the projection, and my wife says he thinks he should take her place under torture. He's a different man, though I can't really tell you how or why, all I know is that he wears her ring and wants to save her."
"Aye, y'know the one from when she was married to, you know, the Elf we don't talk about," Hasaal said taking a seat, bidding the standing men to do the same.
"He wears her ring," Theodin said laughing lightly and opening his fist to look at the ruby ring, "if he wears her jewelry, he cares for her Gandalf. I do not trust the Wormtongue, but I would say that this is an instance where he will do what is right, like he used to."
"In the meantime, my king, you and your people have a choice to make regarding Orthanc," Mithrandir told him, turning away from the tipsy woman.
"We cannot fight in Edoras-"
"We will fight with you."
The men turned to face Hasaal, eyes wide with shock.
"Hasaal, it has been over an a-"
"Over an age since we last fought," she raised her hand to silence the wizard, "but Aealsifth saw war on the horizon. We've all be training, honing skills we already had, and you remember how quickly we learn to fight don't you, Mithrandir?"
"I cannot bring your people into the battles of Men, Hasaal."
"My king the battle will come to us soon enough. Aealsifth looked ahead and saw it, I see it clearly before my feet. The time has come for us to rejoin society. In one age we fought with the Elves, in another we healed both Men and Elves. In this age, we will heal and fight with Men." She looked to Mithrandir, "although the king is right, we cannot defend Edoras. It could be surrounded by only a few hundred Uruks, and if the forces of Orthanc are released in full there is no chance for us here."
"There are two thousand good men riding north as we speak, Eomer is loyal to you. He will fight for you if you call him back."
"They will be three hundred leagues from here by now, Eomer cannot help us. Hasaal, Gandalf, come and join me in the great hall. I would speak more of it in my own halls."
"Aye, go fetch my wife. I am too drunk to converse further," the Haradrim stood and stretched, "good harvest and clear stars."
They watched her lie down on a cot in the large tent, curling in on herself as she went to sleep.
"I will fetch Taurthel, and meet you in the hall. Do not speak of Aealsifth to Aragorn, I will bring that news to him," the wizard placed a hand on the king's shoulder.
"Gandalf, why would Aragorn, a stranger to these lands, care for a Roamer woman?"
"They are cousins, my lord," Mithrandir called walking out into the fields, "and they were close in their youth."
"Cousins?" The king repeated to himself, shaking his head and pocketing the ruby ring.
The Roaming Folk are full of surprises.
Chapter 16: Change in the House of Orcs
Grima brushed hair from Aealsifth's face, the unconscious woman did not so much as shift in her sleep. The worm inspected the damage done; all too many lacerations and wounds, several burns, and then masses of bruises on her wrists, ankles, and thighs. Too much for me to heal quickly, he thought, too much for any magic to heal quickly. He continued his ministrations, using wet cloth to carefully wash away dried blood and clean the wounds he had access to.
"Why do you care to heal the woman," came Curunir's voice from behind him, the worm did not even look up from his work, "what could you possibly see in her that's worth the effort?"
"The answer is simple, my lord, I want her for my own."
"And what of the Shieldmaiden?"
"Eowyn? Eowyn be damned, she is pathetic in her attempts to be a man, to be like her brother. Aealsifth, though, can do what she puts her mind to, can fight and work without complaint."
"Fighting and work? Are those your requirements for a mate?"
"No," the worm answered, moving from her face to her chest, "but they mean that she will bend to my will without much hard work."
"You believe that after her refusal to join me, even after all this torture?"
"I believe," Grima laughed, turning to face the wizard, "that after being the plaything of Uruks and all this torture, that a familiar face and cock will be something she quickly grows accustomed to. Eagerly."
The wizard merely lifted his head, gave a small smirk, and walked out of the room. Grima sighed and turned back to the woman, trading a wet cloth for a salve to put in her wounds.
"I don't mean what I said to the wizard, you know," he whispered, "I don't know if you can hear me, but if you can I want you to know I didn't mean it."
Again, she did not stir, and the worm sighed and continued his work. It had taken some convincing to get the Uruks to leave her in his room after he had spoken to Curunir, but the closer her got to her the more his heart beat and the scarf in his tunic grew hotter. It's true, he found her attractive- especially after their event in the forest- but he was no fool, she would never allow him into her bed and nor did he hope she ever would. He would hide his attraction for her down deep, and instead seek to serve her.
It was hours until she woke up, shaking awake in a panic. Her arms reached out to strike whoever was near her, only for Grima to capture her wrists in his hands and soothe her.
"Aealsifth, my lady, you are safe here, I'm here, you are safe," he whispered to her, no keeping her contained until she peered out from underneath her mass of hair, fingers twisting oddly as she did so.
"Where are the Uruks?"
"My lady, don't worry, they won't come back-"
"Why not? Who said you could dismiss them?"
Grima let go of her wrists, trying to study her as she pushed past him to try and stand.
"Why do you want the Uruks?"
"Why do you think?" she snapped at him, "the Uruks know what I need."
"My lady, are you saying you want the Uruks to return and....take you, again? Even in your current state?"
She turned to him with a wicked smile, her teeth stained with blood, and she stalked- with a mild limp, he noticed- towards the seated man.
"If you think I look bad, you should see the Uruk I tore apart with my teeth!"
Her laugh was dark, cruel even, but then she turned her attention to him fully. Her tongue darted forward to wet her lips, and her eyes narrowed in on the worm.
"Why, are you jealous?"
"I am not jealous, my lady, just concerned for your health."
"You should not worry, what better a way to die than in the throes of passion!"
"Perhaps surrounded by those that care about you, rather than those who would devour your corpse shortly after you are declared dead."
"You are no fun, worm," Aealsifth's smile died, turning to pout and stare out the window at the passing Uruks below.
Grima remembered Jordis' story; "You know they are our wings, but for some reason when we are separated from our wings for long, our minds deteriorate."
"My lady, I have brought you a gift, although it is not an Uruk horde to ravage you, I hope you like it."
The worm stood and walked to her position, pulling the scarf from his tunic. She turned with the same wide smile, looking for the gift only to find a scarf in his hands.
"You said you had a gift," she pouted, turning back around.
"Indeed, my lady," Grima unfolded the scarf, draping it over the woman's head, "I have brought you wings."
He stepped back as Aealsifth froze, her back going rigid as the scarf trailed down her body. A smile of relief crossed his face as she clutched it tighter to her, before slouching against the wall. One of her hands reached out behind her, as if to find him.
"I'm here," he took her hand, hearing the sigh of relief from her.
"Thank the Gods. I almost lost myself," she said, leaning back against him, "hold me, Grima. Please."
The pale man did, pulling her against him and resting his head on the top of hers, feeling her arms clutch his.
"I can't stand any longer, my leg hurts," she broke their silence, "I'll put my hair up and you can get to my back."
He didn't verbally respond, rather he gave her space and watched her twist her hair and the scarf into a tight turban. If she wasn't covered in bloody pock marks, it would have been the most beautiful sight he had ever seen. Instead, it was one of the saddest. Grima couldn't help himself from taking a look at her as she turned to him, a brief once over before he averted his eyes.
"Where do you need me to be?"
"You can rest in my bed," he motioned behind him, "I will treat you there."
She nodded, lying down and closing her eyes as she placed her hands on her headscarf. The worm's hands deftly moved across her torso, filling gashes with salves and bandaging as he went, although his hands faltered as he neared a large bite on the inside of her thigh.
"I'm sorry to ask you this, my lady, but I need you to spread your legs," Grima murmured, sure that his face was bright red at his request. She obliged quietly, letting him position her however he needed had to in order to treat her wounds. He worked his way down, and grimacing as he placed a hand on her leg that had been broken. It was never set, which explained why she moved a bit weird earlier, yet it was healing in that state anyway. Rapidly, at that. Despite her rapid healing, he would have to break her leg again and reset it properly. Aealsifth noticed his sudden change in mood, she quickly sat up and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"Your leg, it's, ah," he tried to find the strength to say it out loud, "I will need to break it again, it's healed wrong and will cause you pain if I don't."
She gripped his shoulder tightly, but nodded.
"Then do it, break it. Do it."
"Do you know how they did it?"
"They bent it to the side till it snapped."
"Alright, then that's what we'll have to do," he told her, turning he stroked her face. "Here, put this in your mouth," he said pulling one of his riding gloves from a pocket, "I don't want to pique Saruman's interests until you can get out of here."
"Wait, wait, Grima," she said grabbing the glove from him, "what will you do?"
Grima stopped, looking from her leg back up to her.
"I'm, I'm going to break your leg again, like we just agreed?"
"No, I mean when I leave, when I can fly away, where will you go?"
"I don't know, that's not what I'm worried about right now."
"He's going to hurt yo-"
"We will talk about this later, now I have to break your leg, and I'm very sorry, my lady, but I have to do it," he interrupted her, moving down to her leg as Aealsifth quickly crammed the glove into her mouth. He place a hand on her knee and another on her ankle, and quickly pushed forward. The glove only helped so much, her scream still echoing in his ears as he rushed to rest her leg and realign her shin. "Here, hand me those rods," he nodded to the decorative rods behind her, she rushed to do so with her teeth still lodged in the glove. She admired his long, agile fingers as he quickly wrapped her leg against the rods to keep it straight. Slim digits with thick knuckles, deftly moving along the length of her calf, she found herself thinking about the moving farther up.
"My lady, can you please lie on your stomach so I can reach your back," Grima's request shook her from her daydream, and she nodded. Rolling onto her stomach she felt him take in the damage with his eyes, sighing as he spoke again, "I will have to, uh, work on your uh-"
"My ass, Grima?" she asked turning her head to look up at him, smiling lightly as he flushed.
"Yes, Aealsifth, your ass," he shook his head, rolling his eyes as he did so. He knew she would find this amusing. He lightly ran his fingers across her back, knowing full well that there would be perfect circles of scars down her backside for the rest of her life. They were about half an inch deep, and he found himself wondering how she did not bleed out. He began rubbing salve on the pock marks, pushing down into each one to ensure the salve would prevent infections and help with healing. He moved rhythmically, pushing the tip of his finger into each hole with a rolling motion to quicken his process. Aealsifth would hiss each time a wound was touched, putting his glove back between her teeth as the pain seemed to get worse.
Soon enough the worm was almost done, working his way across one of her buttocks and down her thigh before moving to the other side to do the same. The woman almost nodded off as the man worked, the repetitive touch lulling her to sleep, only to be jolted awake as he brush stray hair away from the back of her neck.
"What are you doing?"
"I'm looking for more damage is all, go back to sleep."
Aealsifth sighed in response, closing her eyes again. Grima inspected her neck until he was satisfied there was nothing broken or pulled, then took to trying to bandage the woman's back, deciding instead to leave it and keep her sleeping on her stomach. Finally he stood, stretching his tired muscles, and going to fetch food from the cook. He locked the door behind him, only to turn and face Curunir who eyed him curiously.
"You treat her kindly, Wormtongue, just how badly do you want the woman?"
"I burn, my lord," Grima answered, his eyes on the ground while the wizard watched him.
"Indeed you do, Wormtongue. Pray tell, do you burn despite knowing her whorish tendencies?"
Grima's head shot up, making the cruel wizard smile as he hit a nerve.
"Ah, so you do not know her ways. Tell me, has she led you on? Teased you with flesh only to pull away last minute?"
Images of Aealsifth's wet body against his in the stream flashed through Grima's mind, but he said nothing.
"Ah, you should have heard her after an hour with the Uruks, such a lustful creature," Curunir circled Grima, trying to get under his skin yet again, "I watched for a while, she seemed to bask in the savageness of the Uruks, you will get nowhere with kindness."
"Perhaps not, but it is what I will do."
"Ah, be careful then Wormtongue. I watched her turn on the Uruk that favored her, Ruzzi I think his name was, she enticed him closer and ripped his throat from his body. As she devoured the flesh she had torn from him, she rode his friend before dismembering him as well. What was torture turned into me feeding her more Uruks, that is why they refused to bring her to your room, Wormtongue."
"She met brutality with brutality, I would expect nothing less from her."
"Nevertheless, you should be careful."
"I will take your advice, my lord, but forgive me if I do not kick her out based on what she did while under torture."
"Very well, Wormtongue, see me later tonight, we have more to discuss."
Grima bowed as his master walked away, quickly returning back to his room. He turned to look at his bed only to find it empty, turning as the door shut to face her.
"Aealsifth, you owe me answers."
"I owe you nothing, you are nothing."
"Aealsifth, what did you do?"
"I don't have to tell you anything, but you should have listened to the wizard and been far more careful than you were," suddenly she was on him, nails trying to tear through his clothing as he kept her teeth at bay. They struggled until they fell to the ground, scratching and biting as she seethed some sort of curse as he kept pushing her away, trying to be careful not to hit her or cause further damage. Finally the worm couldn't hold himself back, his knee making contact with her stomach as he smacked her hard enough to stun her. Aealsifth held her stomach, frozen before she gagged, one of her hands moving to cover her mouth.
"One second, don't throw up on the floor," Grima said quickly reaching around for a large bucket full of water he had used to clean her up, he paused thinking before he threw the water out of the window and rushed to her aid. She immediately vomited into the bucket, a rotting stench followed as she seemingly threw up all of the contents in her body. The man slowly placed a hand on her back, patting her in sympathy while she dry heaved. The poor woman looked up to him, tears welling in her eyes as she stared at the bucket.
"What did I do, Grima, what happened, what did I do?"
Grima looked into the bucket and felt green as he did; it was all barely digested meat. The Uruks. He saw eyes, intestines, and a number of digits amidst the gore she had thrown up.
"You'll be okay, don't worry," he tried to soothe her, only for her to stick her fingers down her throat in retaliation. "What are you doing? Stop it, you'll make yourself even more sick."
"I have to get it out of me, I have to get it out! It's the only way I can heal, that I can stop blacking out," Aealsifth heaved, throwing her head over the bucket again.
"I ke-I keep blacking out, a-and when I wake up I've done something awful but I can never remember what."
"What is the last thing you remember, tell me."
"I was," she paused to throw up more, "I was with the Uruks, and they were....next thing I remember I was here in your room, staring out the window. Then you- you healed me and I, I fell asleep and then I was throwing up," she said as best she could.
"That explains your erratic behavior, I thought the wings would return your sanity but it seems it will take time as well," he told her, stroking her back while she suffered more.
Grima would empty the bucket several times in the next hour and half, throwing the viscera down the side of Orthanc until she could only produce bile.
He helped her clean herself up and then carried her to his bed, covering her and planting a small kiss on her forehead. Aealsifth grabbed his hand as he turned to walk away, her thumb stroking the moonstone ring on his finger.
"I'm not sure it would be wise, my lady, given your outbursts."
"You can handle me though-"
"I don't want to fight you again."
"You won't," she promised, pulling him closer, "please, just stay with me."
Grima sighed, then kicked off his shoes before climbing into bed beside her. He wrapped his arms around her and held her close like he did when she gazed out the window, his heart beating fast.
"You don't have to wear so much clothing, you wouldn't offend me if you got comfortable."
"I would be more comfortable if I stayed this way, my lady."
"Oh," her voice sounded sad, "as long as you are comfortable that is all that matters."
"You sound disappointed, my lady."
"I guess it's just true what they say, familiarity kills attraction, and you've become very familiar with me."
Grima pulled away from her, looking down at her curiously. As always, she was hard to read unless she looked at him and now she laid there with her eyes closed.
"Why," he whispered to her, "why would you say that?"
"I guess I thought you used to be attracted to me, at least after the river, but I could have been wrong."
"Look at me," Aealsifth rolled onto her back to gaze up at him, eyes like glass, "why would you care if I wasn't?"
"I-I don't, ah, I wouldn't say that, um, necessarily," the woman stuttered, even in the dark Grima could see her cheeks tinge pink.
"Then what would you say?" Grima couldn't help but purr at the sound of her frustration, eager to draw out whatever emotion she was hiding. Aealsifth took his hand in hers, once again fiddling with her moonstone ring, smiling softly.
"I don't know what I would say, because I haven't said it for 40 years," she tapped the ring, "not since I met the Elf who gave me this."
"What of those gutter rhymes you sang of when you first came to Edoras?" Grima traced a finger down her lips.
"I've never been much of a poet myself, I just sing what Aqan writes."
"Me neither, my lady, although I'm not married."
"I'm not married anymore, I left twenty years ago. He was an Elf of Lothlorien, a beautiful man among a sea of beautiful women. He stole me away from the woman I was courting, somehow," she laughed lightly, a small smile decorating her face, "we were married for twenty years but, he would see me die before him, and I couldn't put him through that. So I left, and I haven't seen him for twenty years. He's moved on I'm sure, but there will always be a piece of me that misses him."
"So you still love your husband?"
"Of course I do, but that doesn't mean I can't take interest in another."
"That depends on the type of interest, my lady."
"Do you really burn for me?"
Grima's breath caught in his throat as Aealsifth looked up at him, her eyes were so big and blue- like his own- and he was taken off guard by she was searching his own for an answer. He reached forward to cup her chin with his hand, pressing his lips against hers. He smiled when she leaned into him, a hand coming up to touch the side of his face. He continued his kiss for a moment before pulling away and planting a kiss on her collar bone then moved his face closer to hers again.
"Does that answer your question?"
Aealsifth merely nodded, a small smile on her face.
"Do you burn for me?"
"I don't know what I feel," she admitted, leaning into his hand as it stroked her face, "it's been an age since I've felt anything for anyone."
"So once again I burn unrequited," he sighed, pulling his hand away only for her to catch it.
"I am confused, Grima, I haven't.....tried since I left my husband. I'm confused."
Aealsifth nodded, place his hand back on the side of her face.
"So you do burn for me, in some way?"
"Yes, I suppose I do, even if I can't explain how."
"I understand," he said kissing her lightly, "you don't have to explain how you feel."
Aealsifth rolled over to kiss him better, only to yelp as his hand mindlessly moved to rest on her hip. They both separated, laughing lightly at their predicament. Here they were, finally speaking to each other as equals, and Aealsifth was in too poor condition to be touched.
"If you don't mind, Aealsifth, I'd be more comfortable without my tunic."
"Then take it off," the woman bit her lip and watched as the worm removed the articles of clothing. Again, Grima felt uncomfortable under her gaze, remembering his reflection in the mirror. She ran a hand across his chest, feeling every scar and burn as she went until her lips found the major burn scar on his abdomen. Grima's hands found their way to her headscarf when she did so, holding her close to his skin.
"We will match, Grima," she cooed as he melted under her comfortable touch, "scarred and beautiful."
Beautiful, he thought to himself as she pulled him down beside her to sleep, scarred and beautiful.
Chapter 17: Bound by Blood
Grima woke up to the feeling of Aealsifth's fingers playing with his hair, he turned his head to lean into her touch.
"Does your flame still burn in the morning?"
"Mm," Grima moaned in response, still not opening his eyes, "not even the river Isen could put it out."
"Mm, perhaps you deserve to be flattered every now and again."
Aealsifth leaned forward and planted a small kiss on lips, making Grima smile and open his eyes.
"What lies in your morning, Grima?"
"What lies in my morning?"
"What is fresh on your mind?"
"Ah, an odd way to ask a good question," he laughed, pulling her closer so that her head rested on his chest, "what lies in my morning, let me think-"
"If you have to think it does not lie in your morning!"
"Alright, what lies in my morning is that I never wish for this morning to end, but I know that it must. And deeper still I know that you must leave soon."
"What will you do when I'm gone?"
"Why do you ask that so often?"
"Because I care, and you know that."
"I supposed I'll stay here, take whatever beating Saruman gives out for letting you escape."
"You should run to Fangorn, find my friends the trees there. Hide."
"No," he said, turning and kissing her forehead, "I've run for too long, it's time I face the consequences of my actions. No matter how horrible they are."
"I will come back for you," she murmured into his chest, "I'm not going to leave you here to suffer and die."
"Please, Aealsifth, don't worry about me; just run as far away from this place as you can."
Aealsifth took in his words slowly, before sitting up in bed and reaching for the dagger above them. Slower still she straddled Grima, taking his hand in hers and drawing a thin red line across his palm before doing the same to her own. She then took his hand so both palms faced each other and let their blood drip onto his chest, leaving Grima to watch her with an air of confusion.
"Now I can't abandon you, our fates will forever be intertwined," she told him, "we're blood bound now, Grima, and that means that I will come back for you."
Grima rested his free hand on her thigh, sighing and nodding in agreement.
"How do I get you out of here, now that you've seemed to heal."
"Take me to the roof of Orthanc, I can take it from there."
"It's too risky, what if Saruman sees you?"
"Tell him that I asked you to fuck me under the sun," she leaned over him, "lie to him."
"Alright, get dressed-"
"There's no time for that, put your tunic on and we have to go. I have to warn people about the Uruks here, tell them to flee."
"They've already gone to Helm's Deep, but that reminds me," Grima said, removing the earring from his ear. "Taurthel gave me this, told me it would lead you to your people."
Aealsifth took it, admiring it a second before putting it on and looking off into the distance, nodding in confirmation.
"They are on their way to Helm's Deep, not quite there yet."
"Good, then they might be safe," he murmured, holding onto her hand.
"Can I have a token from you, Grima?"
The worm looked up at the woman, a bit in shock.
"You wear my ring, but I want something to remind me of you."
Grima looked around, then gently tossed her onto her back and rolled out of bed. She watched him move to his counter top, picking up his heavy pendant and turning back to her.
"I have nothing worth giving you but this, my lady," he said, placing it around her neck, "it is the only token I have to offer."
"I will cherish it until our reunion, my lord."
They held each other for a moment, Aealsifth's head resting against Grima's abdomen while he stroked her head.
"Now, let me fetch you a cloak to wear while I walk you through Orthanc, I'm not going to parade you around naked."
She obliged him and wrapped herself in his cloak, breathing in his scent deeply. Rosewood, blood, and iron; and she took his hand and let him lead her through his door. They held each others hands as they climbed the stairs, only for Grima's breath to stop as he heard a familiar voice on the roof of Orthanc.
"Fuck," the man hissed, leaning his head back on the stairwell wall.
"What is it?"
"Saruman, he beat us to the roof."
"What will we do?"
Grima thought, calculations running through his head a million miles an hour.
"Grima, what will we do?"
"Follow my lead and forsake your dignity, in fact start acting now and giggle as I pull you onto the roof, then keep your eyes down."
With that he pulled her through the door onto the top of Orthanc, laughing as if he had just told her a grand joke. Grima pulled her to face him and kissed her deeply, placing both hands on her face, then quickly broke the kiss as if surprised and looked up sobered.
"My lord, forgive me, I did not hear you."
"Having some fun, Wormtongue?"
"Ah, yes, my lord," the worm smiled lightly, "she, ah, likes it outdoors, if you get my understanding, my lord."
"I see that your approach with kindness has paid off in your favour," the wizard commented, moving close to run a clawed finger along her jawline.
"Indeed, my lord, but we shall leave you to your business-"
"No, do not let me stop you from enjoying the spoils of war," the wizard interrupted him, using the end of his staff to lift the edges of Aealsifth's cloak. "I will go soon enough, anyway."
"Very well, my lord, as you command," Grima nodded before turning to his woman, grabbing her face and kissing Aealsifth deeply again. She now understood what he meant by 'follow my lead' and she followed it well, her hands roaming down his body making him gasp as he tore the cloak from her frame. Both of them could feel Curunir's eyes on them, analyzing each movement for the slightest indication that they were lying. The worm sighed and traced his tongue up Aealsifth's neck, moaning still in response to her hand that was stroking him through his clothing. It was more difficult to fake it than he anticipated, he kept trying to think of movements that would not be too intrusive upon her yet his mind was left blank under her ministrations, following only her whispers in his ear. To his surprise, it was Aealsifth that kept them safe in this situation, maintaining a sort of submissive dedication to him under the wizard's watchful eye. Finally Grima's mind could make out the whispers in his ear, his tongue running against his teeth at the sound of her permission. His hand trailed down her body, groping her briefly before moving between her legs. It was then, when he coaxed a moan from the woman's throat, that Curunir laughed in amusement and took his leave.
"She sounds different under your touch Wormtongue, perhaps you do know how to coax a woman out of her shell," he laughed descending the stairway. Grima looked over his shoulder at the disappearing wizard, watching till he was out of sight to push Aealsifth away.
"You need to go, now, before he comes back," he told her, holding her at arms length. She nodded, looking up at him with flushed cheeks as she undid her turban, throwing the scarf around her shoulders before threading her fingers through it's fringe. She reached out for his hand only for him to back away, trying to hide the flush in his own face.
"Are you also bad at saying goodbye?"
"I am embarrassed is all, my lady, I haven't been close to a woman for some time let alone under the watch of my master."
"He is gone now, and there is still time-"
"No, you must go, be free of this place," he told her, reaching forward and holding her hands one last time.
"Then next time we meet, Grima," Aealsifth whispered, leaning forward and brushing her lips against his, "I will make you feel as though your soul has left your body."
"I've already felt that, my lady Aealsifth, and with respect I would prefer to never feel that again," he smiled against her lips, making her laugh grasp his face in her hands.
"Then think of a better metaphor for while I am away, because when I see you next it's going to be me who rips clothing from you."
"I can think of no better way to be greeted, my lady," he kissed her again, then pulled away with finality, "now you must go. Go, fly."
She gripped his hand one more time, then turned to the edge of Orthanc's rooftop. Aealsifth gave Grima a final look over her shoulder, extending her arms and stepping off the ledge. Grima held his breath, walking to peer over the edge to search for her; only to be blown back as she shot up through the air in front of him. The scarf indeed became wings, molding beneath her arms to create a webbing. The purple color had spread across her arms and down her shoulders and up her neck, aye, Grima thought, that is a Faerie without a single doubt.
For the first time in his life, as he watched her soar across the skies, Grima prayed to the Valar.
Aealsifth was falling, and falling fast. Her wings had given up on her as she reached Helm's Deep, too tired to continue. She flew up to the highest layer of the Hornberg and gave up, letting herself fall as she wrapped her arms around herself to brace for impact. The next thing she heard were voices screaming as she opened her eyes, coughing as she breathed in debris filled air. Aealsifth was rolled over to see Hasaal, the Haradrim's face contorted and crying as she tried to call Aealsifth up to full consciousness, her hand pushing hair from the woman's face.
"Meleth," Aealsifth breathed with a laugh, coughing more as she stroked the Haradrim's face.
"Meleth," Hasaal cried as she leaned forward and kissed Aealsifth's forehead, leaning up and screaming for her wife. It took four people to lift her out of the crater her body had made, Srogag and Taurthel rushing to help Hasaal and the Dwarf Gimli pull Aealsifth up from the ground.
"Legolas!" Gimli roared holding the woman's feet, "open the damned door, we've got to get her into the hall!"
The blond figure rushed to do so, Aealsifth's world still a blur as her head spun in circles from impact. Her hand reached forward and gripped Taurthel's shirt collar, stuttering and attempting to form a sentence that came out as broken consonants. Taurthel placed a hand on her friends chest, both women nodding before Aealsifth hissed at the rough handling of her leg. Soon she was laid out on a table, Taurthel's hands quickly moving to change the bandages that adorned her friend, soon joined by Lassemes and Doronith.
"Hest," Doronith whispered in Aealsifth's ear, "Hest, we're going to tie you together, bite down on this," the woman placed a root in Aealsifth's mouth as the groggy woman saw the shine of needle in the light.
"She must have hit her head hard on impact, she probably has a concussion."
"Someone hold her still, hold her down by her shoulders, she is moving too much."
"I cannot do it, I have to reset her leg and you and Doronith are suturing."
Suddenly two very large hands rested on her shoulders, the woman's head falling back to gaze into the face of an Orc. Terror, Srogag saw on her face, a brief flash of it before her face scrunched up in pain again as Lassemes began sewing up another wound.
"Aye, she has a concussion, she does not recognize me."
"Then make sure she does not hit her head anymore, when this is done we can deal with her head."
"Eowyn! Fetch water," Hasaal yelled at the blonde woman who stumbled into the hall after such great commotion.
"Why, what is going on?"
"Aealsifth is back, and she is damaged- please, quickly, get water!"
The blonde froze looking over at the woman on the table, her face turning pale as she turned to do as the Haradrim said.
Aealsifth's hands moved up to rip the root from her mouth, gagging as she did so.
"The taste is fucking horrible."
Srogag sighed, laughing as he patted her head, "yes, it is fucking horrible. Good to hear your voice, Rodel, I feared you would not remember me."
"How could I," Aealsifth paused to let out a scream, holding her head up as Lassemes tied deep stitches into her side, she let her head fall back breathing heavily. "How could I forget you, Meldir." The woman grunted in pain again, her hand shooting forward to grip Lassemes', "what in the name of the Valar are you doing to me and why?"
"Srogag restrain her, Aealsifth your wounds are deep and I have to stitch the twice at two different layers, now please either hold still or I will put the root back in your mouth."
The half Orc leaned over the woman, preventing her from reaching her arms over him to stop any of the Elflings from their work. Eowyn returned, handing the water to Hasaal and rushing to Aealsifth's side. She held the woman's hand, brushing hair from her sweat covered face.
"My lady, it is good to see you again," Eowyn told her, trying to ignore Aealsifth's grip on her hand tighten as the halfblood roared, knocking into Srogag.
"Shieldmaiden, I will be mo-more talkative when these bitches," she spat, trying to reach over the half Orc, "stop torturing me!" she broke off into another scream. This time it was Theodin, backed by Gamling, who walked into the great hall to investigate the screaming. Walking into see the short woman trying to claw her way through the Orc that held her down as the three half Elves worked on her. The king put out his arm to prevent Gamling from advancing, leaving his soldier to glance at him with confusion.
"She cannot be clothed while they mend her wounds, respect her privacy Gamling."
"My lord, that was not my intention, I-"
"I know that Gamling, as would she, but still it is best we keep a respectful distance, ready to offer help but distant all the same."
"Yes my lord, as you say."
The king and Gamling walked to the table farthest from the one Aealsifth was seated on, sitting next to Gimli and Legolas who watched the procedure curiously.
"Who is she, my lord?"
"That is Aealsifth, daughter of Énniené, the chieftain of the Alderroot tribe. Aragorn's cousin, and master Gimli's as well."
"My cousin? I've nev'r seen her before, she cannot be mine."
"Indeed, yet very distant. Her true mother was a daughter of Nain, her father one of the Dunedain, she is a distant cousin of your's master Dwarf, and a closer one still of our fallen Aragorn."
"She speaks Sindarin, did she live in Rivendale as Aragorn did?"
"I do not know the answer to that master Elf, but I will ask you what she is saying."
Legolas' lips twitched up into a smile, looking back up towards the king.
"Nothing that needs to be repeated."
Theodin laughed in that response, bidding his daughter over to their table.
"How is she?"
"In great pain, her wounds were deep and even though she heals quickly it is requiring two layers of stitches. One deep inside and another on the outer layer of her skin, and they haven't even taken a look at her back yet."
"She seems to be very, very angry," Theodin added as Aealsifth once again tried to swing at the women healing her, "not very well mannered towards her healers now is she."
"She will be fine, once they heal her. They use Elvish magic, all will be well once they finish their work. Some stitches, sleep, and food will serve her well."
"That doesn't mean she is not over reacting!" Taurthel yelled across the room.
"Overreacting? Overreacting! Doronith is knuckle deep in my side and you say I am the one overreacting?" Aealsifth yelled, soon falling back into Sindarin curses.
"Aye, that's Dwarf blood if I ever heard it, altho' the Elvish is new," Gimli nodded watching her again try and fight Doronith.
Eventually the woman calmed down, growing drowsy as they finished up her last major gash, starting to work on the small ones.
"There, that was not so bad now was it, Hest?"
"I know a worm with a far gentler touch, Meleth."
Theodin shifted at those words, clenching his jaw at the sound of the traitor's moniker. Just as the great hall had grown quiet, she screamed again as Lassemes rubbed a disinfecting liquid on the bite that laid on her inner thighs. The half Elf woman smirking at the woman who writhed under her touch.
"And what is the lesson you are learning here, Aealsifth" Lassemes called to her, poking the bruises that matched the bite.
"That I'm never having sex again," the woman hissed, causing Gamling to nearly choke on his drink giving Theodin a good laugh.
"The lesson," Doronith corrected, "is never follow a man into a den of snakes," she said leaving a kiss on Aealsifth's forehead, bidding Srogag to help turn her over.
"I see no difference in our statements. Sex with men, a den of snakes, what difference is there?"
"I would hope it would be that sex with men isn't an entirely unpleasant business!" Theodin laughed, turning to the woman who now faced him. Aealsifth laid on her stomach, resting her head on her folded arms while the women rubbed the same liquid along the deep pocks in her back, although she was now used to the painful sting.
"Clearly you have not been having sex with men," she looked up wearily, Gimli laughing as Gamling turn a shade of pink.
"Can't argue with that," Theodin laughed, raising his cup to her.
"I can," Srogag laughed, ruffling Aealsifth's hair, "I love Aqan and he loves me, although I'm not entirely sure how the dynamic works between men and women."
"Well, first of all men and women are rarely equal in bed like it is between women, and I'm assuming between men," Aealsifth said pointing her finger at him.
"Then pardon my forwardness but you have been sleeping with the wrong men!"
"Well pardon my forwardness, Theodin, but I try my hardest to avoid sleeping with men," she laughed, "most men I sleep with offer me something. Safe passage for my people, food and shelter, the stay of their sword. It's a transaction, and to each man I've had such a transaction with, I was not his equal."
"Perhaps then you should change how you view sex," Theodin stood, pouring another cup of wine and walking toward her, "as something more for fun than business."
"I do view sex as fun," she said taking the cup of wine from him, taking a sip then speaking once more, "that's why I sleep with women."
"As do I," the king laughed, sitting beside her and looking at the gouges in her back.
"You endured much in Isenguard," he said placing a hand on her shoulder, "your mother would be proud of you."
"I know, I did what she would have done in my place."
"Is it true that the worm threatened to send Nazgul to Edoras if you did not go with him?"
"No," she looked at him with frozen eyes, "he did not say that." The woman leaned in close to him, her eyes as wide as the worm's could be, "Curunir, threatened that."
Theodin eyed her curiously, watching as she threw her head back to finish off the wine given to her. His eyes widened at the sight of the large pendant around her neck, the pendant that Grima wore daily. His hand reached out, tapping it's stone and then meeting her gaze.
"Why do you care so much for the worm?"
"Because I see good in him, I see me in him," she whispered again, "and because I know him. Better than you ever have, I know him."
Theodin only nodded, setting his jaw in thought. "You are your people will always have a place in my lands, and you in my halls. In thanks for your sacrifice."
"I have sacrificed nothing, my lord, but I accept your offer. And pray that you will fill this glass with more wine," she laughed, hissing as the women began to treat her wounds with another substance.
"Srogag," Aealsifth called, "Gwenynen, how are they?"
"You do not look old enough to be a mother, let alone the mother of twins," Legolas interrupted, coming to stand by her.
"You smell like Lothlorien," the woman said, her face scrunching up, "step back a bit for my sake."
"And aye suppose you are n't fond of the Lothlorien, did they deny you access to their wond'rs?" Gimli asked, leaning back eager to brag about being the first Dwarf in the Elvish kingdom.
"Not at all master Dwarf, I lived there for a time," Gimli's grin faltered.
"Then why do you respond so harshly to a reminder of it?"
"Because, master Elf, it reminds me of my ex husband."
"You w're married to an Elfling?"
"Calm down, please, but yes I was. His name is Haldir, I left him twenty years ago and have not seen him since so forgive me but the smell of Lothlorien can bring back memories I do not want."
"Haldir is a friend of mine," Legolas answered, "I did not know he was married, nor has he taken a wife since you have left him."
"Mm," Aealsifth hummed, drinking more wine, "then he is still as foolish as when I left him."
There was a silence, the women shooting dirty looks the direction of the Elf prince before Aealsifth sighed and looked back up at Legolas.
"But to answer your statement, they are not my children by blood but rather by choice," she whispered, taking a bigger drink of wine. "I found them in Osgiliath, a slave market they were in as children. Their mother auctioning them off for Valar knows what."
"So you bought them?"
"No, master Elf," Doronith interrupted, all three half Elves ceasing their work, "we killed their mother and everyone at the auction."
Aealsifth eyed him as the women continued their work, Theodin doing the same to see how the Elf would react.
"They also freed all the slaves," Hasaal said from the side, "they freed a young Haradrim named Hishal. They took him and with a gift of the Valar crafted him into Hasaal, the woman you see before you."
"The Valar gave me a wife that day," Taurthel said reaching out her hand, the Haradrim taking it softly.
"You see master Elf, the Valar bless everything we do, because we do it for a reason," Aealsifth said the too quiet Elf, "I gained children, and Hasaal became what she was always supposed to be. We do not kill innocents, only those who deserve it."
"And everyone there deserved it?"
"They were dealing in souls, Elfling, slave owners betray decency for their own needs, none of them will be missed."
"Yes, but now we cannot go back to Osgiliath without facing the law," Taurthel laughed.
"You have sex as though it were business and you kill without remorse, I can see why Haldir does not speak of you."
"And you have no clue what me and Haldir did together, but I'll tell you this; he is a man of the blade and of bed," she laughed, along with her nurses.
"You Mirkwood elves, you have no idea what everyone else does in the real world," Lassemes chuckled, "you think that the old ways of honor are still in existence, but we fuck and we kill as men do. Elves are only separated by who they fuck and who they kill."
"Perhaps, master Elf, you should be mindful of what you say. Where you live in a guarded place the Roamers travel from one place to the next, often facing discrimination for being half-breeds. They hide their magic until they find those who accept them, and bless those that allow them enter," Theodin interjected, "however it does us no good to fight among ourselves, we have bigger enemies to fight."
"And I have clothing to find and children to greet-"
"Stay lying down, Aealsifth, we will bring everyone to you. Instead, you should greet your cousin, Gimli," Taurthel gestured to the sitting dwarf, the women packing away their healing supplies.
"Is my leg good?"
"Good enough for you to walk around, with the blessing of the Valar you will be healed by tonight."
"Here's to the Valar," the woman laughed, downing another glass of wine.
"Your scarf, Rodel," Srogag handed her the headscarf to cover herself as she waited, and the woman was thankful for it. She sat up, swinging her legs around to dangle off the edge of the table, her scarf thrown over one shoulder and pooling in her lap.
"Here, let me brush your hair," Eowyn moved closer, making Aealsifth laugh.
"I need a bath more than anything, can you help me there?"
Eowyn blushed and nodded, holding out a hand for the woman to take. Aealsifth looked over the blonde as she took her hand, moving from the table to the floor holding her scarf to her chest. She looked behind her only to wink at Hasaal, making the Haradrim and Theodin chuckle slowly.
"Remember your lesson, Aealsifth, no more sex!" Hasaal shouted, making her chieftain laugh as she followed Eowyn through the halls.
"Say what you will about the woman, master Elf," Theodin stood, moving to touch shoulder's with Legolas, "but if I was Haldir, I would not let people know that such a woman slipped through my grasp."
"Especially not with an ass like hers," Hasaal added, appearing from the other side of the Mirkwood Elf.
"Would you advertise that a woman like Aealsifth left you, Gamling?" Theodin called to his still seated friend.
"I would not have let a woman like Aealsifth find reason to leave me, my lord," he said drinking deeply.
"You seem to be forgetting that it is your niece she is seducing, Lord Theodin."
"What of it," the king shrugged, "my niece could do far worse than the daughter of Énniené."
"Is everyone infatuated with her?"
"Not me," Srogag assured him, clapping a hand down on his shoulder, "but I'm gay, so her charms are rendered useless on me."
The princeling sighed, he never understood humans but now he guess he never understood his kin in Lothlorien. He did not hate them, rather it would just take him time to think, and to adapt. Always adapt.
Adapting was easier when Aragorn was by his side.
Emig- Sindarin, 'mom'
Meleth - Sindarin, "love" (as friend)
Hest - Sindarin, 'captain'
Meldir - Sindarin, 'friend' (m)
Rodel - Sindarin, 'lady, high lady'
Gwenynen - Sindarin, 'my twins'
"I bet you ten drinks that they think we're fucking," Aealsifth laughed before submerging her head in water. Eowyn knelt by the bath's side, laughing with the woman.
"Undoubtedly, although maybe Hasaal knows better."
"Ahh, Hasaal, you like your women tall and beautiful then?"
"I think you to be lovely as well, why wouldn't I?"
"Mm, because I am short!" Aealsifth laughed, submerging again and rising to playfully spit water as though she were a fountain at the shieldmaiden, "and because I am going to be scarred, horribly so. Already I can feel my strength returning and my wounds healing, but I will never be beautiful again."
"Does Grima think that you won't be beautiful anymore?"
"That's a good question, mm."
"Well surely he must favor you if you wear his pendant," Eowyn reached forward to stroke it's stone, "I've never seen him without it."
"He wears my wedding ring, so it's not as though I am the only one with a token."
Eowyn thought for a second, then spoke.
"You are not the only person I've met lately with a token from someone far away, we had a ranger from the north join us with the wizard Gandalf, he carried a beautiful pendant from an Elvish woman."
"Aragorn?" Aealsifth stopped her movements in the water, "Aragorn, the Strider, he is here?"
"No, he is not, but, how do you know him?"
"He's my cousin, we grew up together!"
Eowyn's heart sank, avoiding the other woman's eyes.
"Then I am sorry to tell you that he died on the journey to the Hornberg, a Warg attack from Isenguard."
"Oh, Rags," Aealsifth sank, her eyes reflecting the waters back up to Eowyn, "what have you gotten yourself into now?"
The two women were silent, sorrowful until Eowyn broke the tension.
"What happened between you and Grima up there?"
Aealsifth sat in the water, life returning to her eyes, biting her bottom lip as she smiled lightly.
"Can you keep it a secret?"
"Of course," Eowyn said leaning forward eagerly, a curious smile on her face.
"He told me," she started, "he told me that he burned for me."
Eowyn's smile grew large, holding her friend's hand.
"He said that not even the River Isen could put out his flame, and I think he meant it. The things he put up with when he first retrieved me, I was violent. Unchained. A beast, if anything. He helped me through it, helping me recover, purge the beast from within. And then that night he did not even try to lie with me," Aealsifth stopped with a laugh.
"He didn't touch you at all?"
"Well, to be fair, I was covered in gross gashes."
"Still, I wouldn't think that would deter him."
"He lied to Curunir's face, to save me."
"To his master's face?" Eowyn's jaw dropped, "never thought he had such courage!"
"Oh he has a lot of....courage...." Aealsifth smiled impishly, both women laughing heartily.
"Did you see...you know...it?"
"No! No, I didn't but I uh," the halfbreed bit her bottom lip and laughed again, "I did....mm....touch him..."
"What happened to women being for fun?"
"Oh, it wasn't like that," she shushed, "he took me to the roof of Orthanc so that I could fly away, but Curunir is there. So he made the plan, that we would pretend we walked up for a....under the sun dalliance...."
"So it wasn't any actual....seduction?"
"Well, I was naked," both women laughed, Aealsifth looking off to think, "although, he was only at half mast and rather large so who knows what will happen the next time I see him," she winked.
"Did he touch you any?" Eowyn asked, the man disgusted her but she enjoyed hearing Aealsifth talk about him, he seemed different than the man Eowyn knew.
"He is very good with his hands!"
"Aealsifth, you naughty thing!" Eowyn flicked water at her friend.
"And! And!" her friend interjected, "he is a very good kisser!"
"How so? You cannot only give me bits of gossip!"
"He is wild beneath his exterior," Aealsifth murmured, licking her lips, "when he kissed me he kissed me deep, and wanting, and when he held me, he held me so close that one might think he meant to strangle me. I can't help but think what he's like in bed...."
"Maybe you will get to find out, I for one don't get how he can be such a different man around you."
"It's just what I do, I bring out things in people they might otherwise keep hidden."
"Well, I can see that Hasaal has just placed clothing in my room, so perhaps we can get you dried off and clothed."
Aealsifth stood, taking the towel from her friends hand and immediately ruffling her hair to dry it.
"Can you hand me my scarf?"
Eowyn did as requested, holding it out to her and then watching as she tied her scarf in a relaxed fashion, almost like a pirate from Brerbi's books. Only once she had made sure her head scarf was secure did she dry the rest of her body off, hissing as she patted her scarring belly.
"I think I'd like to wear some actually clothing now, I've been naked for too long."
The great hall was full of the Roamers, king Theodin bouncing Brerbi on his lap while Jordis watched smiling. Everyone was laughing, drinking, waiting to see Aealsifth again, Mena telling the twins to behave themselves almost constantly.
"Peditham hi sui vellyn?"
All heads turned as Aealsifth walked into the room, dropping to her knees at the sight of her children with her arms outstretched. Legolas eyed her curiously, the woman was different now that she was not being worked on, now that she was seeing her children.
"Gwenynen," Aealsifth's voice broke, crying already as she motioned her children closer, "Tolo, govano ven."
The two children raced to their mother and dropped to their knees before her, she grabbed them in her arms and held them closely, Legolas could hear her consoling her children as they cried.
"Goheno nin," she said kissing both of their faces, "Gi melin, Gwenynen, goheno nin."
"What is she sayin' to 'em" Gimli nudged the Elf, "it's a touchin' sight but I cannot und'rstand what she's sayin'!"
"When she entered, she asked 'can we speak as friends', and then she called her children to her, and tells them she is sorry and that she loves them," the Elf said looking down at his friend.
"Our lady is back! That is a good enough reason for music if I ever heard it!" Aqan yelled, standing on one of the tables with his lute, quickly beginning to play a lighthearted melody with a language no one else understood.
Aealsifth stood finally, holding her children's hands as she moved through the people who sat in the hall. Theodin watched her, embracing every one she met, kissing the cheeks of half Orcs all while still saying "gi melin, goheno nin." She sat at the feet of Aqan, leaning her head against his leg listening to him play while she held her twins close. Hasaal approached her with a basket, and Aealsifth seemed glad to see it's contents, placing it in her lap as she sifted through it with her children.
Gimli hummed in approval as he watched the twins pull earrings from the basket, placing them in their mother's ears, and his approval only grew as he watched her decorate her fingers.
"Where is my ruby ring? My mother's ring?" she asked, sifting through the basket.
"Oh, that is not good Princeling, never take the jewelry of a Dwarf," Gimli whispered to Legolas, who rolled his eyes.
"I am afraid, that I took it when I learned of your capture in Orthanc," Theodin stood, Aealsifth's head rising quickly along with her outstretched hand. Theodin obliged, walking forward with Brerbi on his hip and ring in his hand. He placed it gently in her hand, bowing his head as he did so. She sighed in relief, slipping it on her right hand, then stood and placed the basket on the table behind her, spreading her arms out and twirling.
"Although kind of Gath to lend me his spare tunic and pants, they are shapeless on me, no? Make me truly look Dwarven!" she laughed, her daughter reaching out to pull at the length of her tunic. "Maybe my belts will help make me look more," she twirled again winking at Eowyn, "make me look more beautiful."
Gimli quickly rose, steadily walking to the woman and bowing deeply.
"M'lady, I am Gimli son of Gloin, cousin of Nain, and I off'r you my hand in friendship," the dwarf said, "and also to tell you, Dwarvish women are the most beautif'l women around, and that you are a pict're of that beauty."
"Well then Gimli, son of Gloin," the woman said, placing her hands on his shoulders and placing a kiss on his forehead, "welcome to the family!"
She turned back to the table and brought her children to her side again, "these are my children, Nalkul and Yorthad. Children, this is your cousin Gimli, a new friend."
"And I assume you have come to gaze at whatever else is in the basket?"
"Well, I suppose it couldn't hurt me to look while I'm over here," he eagerly hobbled over.
"Well then, Gimli, what do you think of this one?" she asked pulling out a dark leather belt, with silver crests beaten into it's length.
"Aye, it is a mighty beautif'l piece, where did it come from?"
"A leather worker in Gondor gave it to me, as thanks for helping with his small gardens, he was kind," she told him, fastening it around her waist, "and this one?"
She lifted a wide metal belt from the basket, it was several plates connected by thin chains. Upon each plate was a large blue stone, pale and smooth. Gimli inspected it carefully, moving his hands across it and holding it up to shine it in the light, sighing satisfied.
"Nothing can beat Dwarven craft!" he laughed, handing it back to the smiling woman, who hung it low on her hips.
"And of Elvish craft?" she said, pulling forth a thin chain belt, with a clasp of pearls.
"Mithril...." Gimli said running his fingers over it gently, "aye, it is of fine craftsmanship."
"It was a gift from my husband on our fifth anniversary, he would spoil me in all honesty," she said motioning to Doronith, showing Gimli in secret what the Elf possessed, "and these?"
"These are....magnificent, m'lady, worthy of any noble," he said, nodding happily. Legolas made note of how much gems and fine metal craft made the Dwarf happy, if even just to look.
"Good! Then they are worthy of my children," she said turning.
"Nalkul, Yorthad," she bid both her children stand, the two looking nervous as they did. "Avaro naeth, agóreg vae," she assured them, "neither of you are in trouble, but come."
Lassemes appeared by Legolas, ushering him forward to join the circle forming around Aealsifth and her children.
"Gîl síla erin lû e-govaded vín, the stars shine upon the hour of our meeting," she called loudly, "and the Avale Valar have chosen their children, and in the tradition of our people I will give them their pendants, to help aid them in the paths the Valar have set for them." The mother turned to Doronith as the two fidgeted silently, excited for their pendants.
"To Nalkul, iell nín, gerich ‘ûn sui raw, you have the heart of a lion. As such, you are given the Sapphire, lúlë, so that you can clearly hear the words of your patron, and be guided by her. Neth, the wife of Enner has chosen you to serve under her guide. May you always hold the blessing of Nessa, and the protection of her husband Tulkas Astaldo on your journeys through time," she told her daughter, placing the pendant around her neck, then turned to her son.
"To Yorthad, Meleth thilia min hin lín, ion. My son, love sparkles in your eyes and that is why you are given the gift of Amethyst, to help you bring peace and healing wherever you walk. Îdh, wife of Olfannor, has chosen you to be her healer and dream reader. May you always hold the blessing of Este and Irmo on your journeys through time," Aealsifth smiled, placing the pendant around the neck of her son.
"Harthon gerithach raid gelin a melthin, pelo nalú i laiss en-Galadh Guil lín," she cupped the faces of her children, "Mell nín gwenynen, le melithon anuir."
With her closing words, the Roamers clapped and cheered as she hugged her children, Aqan plucking the strings of his lute again.
"You can learn from her, princeling," Lassemes told Legolas, "she was trained to be a priestess and warrior for Olfannor, not only Este."
"Olfannor? The dreamer?"
"Yes, she has the gift of foresight," Lassemes smiled, "and even though you do not understand our ways, she is worthy of your respect."
Legolas nodded to the half Elf, and walked towards Aealsifth.
"I would like to apologize if I appeared rude earlier, I was taken off guard by your presence. Goheno nin, saelil," Legolas bowed his head, making Gimli laugh at the sight.
"Saelil? Someone has been talking,' Aealsifth eyed Lassemes, "Ú-moe edaved, there is nothing to forgive."
"Why did you call Naneth a wise one?" Yorthad asked the Elf, who the elf noted was almost taller than his mother.
"Lassemes told me that she was guided by Olfannor, because of her gift of foresight."
"Is that true? A God as a patron?" Yorthad asked his mother, who only gave Legolas an annoyed look before nodding.
"How did that happen? Please Naneth, tell us about your pendant ceremony," he said pulling her to a table, quickly followed by his sister, Legolas, and Gimli.
"Very well, be iest lín, I will do it," Aealsifth nodded, pulling an earring from her left ear. "My pendant was not shimmery, shining, nor made of a precious stone. This was my pendant, blue lace agate," she held it out to her son, "it aides me with my gift of foresight. My mother told me, that when she prayed to the Valar to learn of their decision in regards to me, Este spoke to her husband Irmo about my dreams. I would see things, images, at night; and they would come true within the week. With Este's permission, Olfannor became my patron, and I a seer."
"Did you foresee the man taking you to Orthanc?" Nalkul asked her mother as Aealsifth returned her earring to it's original place.
"Baw! No, I was not shown that, wise one or not I am still flesh and flesh is weak," she scoffed, "I don't know if I would have gone if I had known."
"What can you do as a seer, Naneth?"
"I can sometimes see the future, but I mostly get premonitions- a feeling, rather than a clear image, that something will happen or that someone is important. The Valar speak in riddles, they are not always easy to understand."
"Can you give someone a vision? Like Lady Galadriel?" Legolas asked, obviously interested in the woman now.
"I suppose so, but it is never of my own volition. Rather I am used as a," she thought for the right word, "tunnel, for the Valar's will. If the Valar send someone a vision while I speak to them, so be it, but I cannot send them on my own like Vanimelda can."
Aealsifth looked to the door of the hall, her head turning like a snake, a clicking noise sounding from the back of her throat.
"Man cenich, Saelil," Legolas asked her, the joy around them coming to a silence as the half-Dwarf stood, still staring. Everything was a deadly silence, Aealsifth holding her children behind her back as Theodin joined her side, Gimli gripped his axe nervously.
"I do not trust it when Dwarvish women go silent," he whispered to the king, "tha' means there is somethin' eerie afoot."
"Believe me, master Dwarf, I am as uneasy as you are," Theodin put his hand on the hilt of his sword, both of them shushed by Taurthel who approached their side.
The clicking noise stopped, and Aealsifth's head straightened up.
"Death is coming."
The sound of weapons unsheathing sounded in the room, Aealsifth's head returning to it's snake-like tilting while she took a blade from Yorthad, keeping her son behind her back. A few more moments passed before the doors were pushed open by a man, soaked from head to toe as he walked into the hall- pausing when seeing the weapons drawn.
"Rags?" Aealsifth asked, handing the blade back to her son. The man's head tilted as hers did moments before, hand on his sword's hilt.
"Rags!" the woman laughed, running and leaping into the man's arms, embracing him as he spun her around and laughed.
"They said you fell-"
"And that you were in Orthanc-"
"Both of you have returned, alive," Eowyn interrupted as Aealsifth was placed on the ground again, "and we should celebrate!"
"At the very least, you should meet my twins."
"Gwenyn?" Aragorn grabbed the woman's shoulders, "you have twins?"
Aealsifth nodded, gesturing her twins over to her, putting her arms around both.
"Nalkul, iell nín, Yorthad, ion."
"Nalkul, Yorthad, glassen na chen govaded," Aragorn bowed, smiling as Yorthad put him under scrutiny.
"And who are you to know Naneth in such a familiar way?"
"We are family, your mother and I grew up together-"
"He is your uncle, Yorthad, be pleasant," Aealsifth chided, sending the twins off again and facing her cousin, putting a hand on his shoulder so he would not leave so quickly.
"Aníron peded, Aragorn," her eyes met his.
I wish to speak.
Naneth - Sindarin, 'mother'
Harthon gerithach raid gelin a melthin - Sindarin, I hope you will have green and golden paths
Pelo nalú i laiss en-Galadh Guil lín - Sindarin, May the leaves of your life tree never wither
Mell nín gwenynen - Sindarin, my beloved twins
Le melithon anuir - Sindarin, I will love you forever
Goheno nin - Sindarin, forgive me
saelil - Sindarin, wise one (f)
Be iest lín - Sindarin, as you wish
Glassen na chen govaded - Sindarin, my pleasure to meet you
Man cenich - Sindarin, what do you see
The two cousins sat in a room adjacent to the great hall, shoulder to shoulder as if they were children again.
"Manen le, Curuni?"
"Im penorven, Rags."
"Henion," Aragorn told her sympathetically, placing an arm around her shoulder, "I feared for you when I heard you went to Orthanc."
"I can imagine it took both your companions to keep you from parading off to Orthanc on my behalf."
"Just like when we were children, I would always rush to save you from Elrond's wrath."
"Mm, Elrond," Aealsifth grimaced, "now there is a childhood terror."
"He was not so bad, he took care of us."
"He took care of you, he terrorized me. Always hounding after me to be more lady-like, 'man agorech? Heniach nin? Tolo sí! Dôl gín cofn', he was a menace."
"I don't think the blame was just on him, you were a wild child, Curuni."
"And he hated me for it, but that is neither here nor there. No, I'm tired but the torture of Orthanc is hardly why."
"Ú-chenion," Aragorn looked toward her, his finger tracing the scar on her face, "it's certainly left it's mark, what else could be troubling you? You have two amazing children, you have returned to your people, you have a husband-"
"Baw, I have no husband, I left Haldir nearly twenty years ago," she pushed his hand away, rubbing the only finger without a ring as she spoke.
Aragorn grit his jaw, standing up and running his fingers through his hair. He threw his blade on a nearby table, turning to her quickly.
"Do you know he still thinks of you as his wife? That he thinks you're coming back? He asked me to tell you that he still hasn't taken a new wife if I were to see you on the road!"
"If he really thinks that, then he is a fool," Aealsifth yelled in return, standing quickly and staring up at her cousin.
"And why did you leave? Was he not a good husband? Did he not fight to make sure you could even live with him in Lothlorien?"
"Nan Belain, I was unhappy there!" she screamed at him, "Haldir, was a good husband, and a great man, but I was still a half Dwarf living in a city of Elves. I was unhappy, so I escaped. So I left. And now," she laughed at him, calmer now that his own face softened, "now I have two amazing children that I adopted, I am a Chieftain! Why is it not enough," she trailed off, her hand landing on the token around her neck.
"Did you at least tell him you were leaving?"
"I told him a week before, he just did not believe me."
"It's good you told him," Aragorn told her, placing a hand on the side of her face, "even if your head is empty."
Aealsifth pushed him away, turning and flopping down on whoever's bed lied in that room.
"You can't understand anything, you're just a man."
"Then explain to me what lies on your heart," he told her, dropping beside her, "why are you still in pain? Is it because of your husband? Is that why Legolas told me you hated the smell of him?"
His cousin rolled onto her back, sighing deeply with pain clearly on her face.
"Have you ever been in love, or something like love, with two different people?"
"Something like that, explain it to me. Talk to me like when we were children, Curuni."
"There is a man, and he has begun to take up a large place in my heart, but I feel guilty for there is still a small part of me that wants to return to Haldir, even though I could not bring my children."
"Tell me about the man that has won you from the great warrior Haldir," Aragorn prodded, poking her cheek lightly. Aealsifth brushed his hand away, looking away from her cousin.
"He is a smart man, not a man of strength like Haldir was. He is more confined, he hold his passion deep within him. And that passion is like a deep ocean, that seems to have no bounds. He is proficient in anything he sets his mind to, easily overcoming kings and princes without even spilling blood," she chewed on her thumb, "and yet he is capable of great evil if led down the wrong path, for his mind leads him susceptible to corruption from all sides. He just needs the right push," she spread her palms to face the ceiling.
"I see you think of this man a lot," Aragorn laughed, "tell me of his appearance? is he more handsome than Haldir?"
"He is different," Aealsifth turned to him, rolling onto her side, "he is not like any man I've seen, and I've seen many."
Aragorn raised his eyebrows, looking to his cousin in surprise.
"I travel, you bastard," she smacked his shoulder, "I've never been with a man since Haldir in any way that was what we could call "knowing" or "seeing". I rarely see much of them, nan Belain, and it's never initiated by me."
"I do not like the life you've chosen for yourself," her cousin mumbled, brushing hair from her face, "but what makes this man different from all the others."
"He has seen me, and he has not touched me or known me, and I offered it to him."
"I mean as in his appearance, but that is good information."
"He is...taller than me, but shorter than you. He is lean, not as muscular as Haldir, but not as toned as Legolas," she thought carefully about her descriptions, Aragorn always thought it was the Dwarf in her, "and he's covered in scars like I will be. Gashes, slashes, burns and stabs; it's no small wonder that he can be corrupted when he's been through so much. So much..."
"Any other descriptors you left out?"
"He is very pale," she shook herself out of her thoughts, "he has very dark hair unlike any man of Rohan that I have ever seen, and his eyes are large and incredibly pale as well. Like frost on the sky-"
"Wormtongue? This is who you speak of?" Aragorn questioned her as he rose from his spot beside her, pulling her up with him, "you talk of the worm that poisoned the king?"
"I talk of the man who saved my from Orthanc, Rags."
"Saved you? He took you there!" Aragorn shoved his cousin back, getting up and walking back to the table where is sword lay.
"He took me from the Urukhai, he started to heal me as best he could, and then he did not force himself on me or even accept my offer," she stood on the bed, her voice rising again, "after all of that, he lied to his master's face to save me! He told the wizard Curunir, lies, so that I could get away. He won't even leave Orthanc, instead he is staying there and facing the wrath of his master because of what I asked him to do."
"And does he not deserve it? Does he not deserve every ounce of Curunir's wrath-"
Aealsifth smacked her cousin before he could finish his sentence, fumbling with her belts as he watched her angrily. She cast the leather belt at him, but he caught it before it struck him, his anger rising as she yanked her tunic off. Aragorn froze, his anger dying in an instant, looking at the puckering scars on his friend's stomach and chest, still scabbing.
"This? He deserves this? Does any person deserve this?" she grabbed his hand, pulling it to the scarring flesh of her stomach. "In case you forgot, cousin, I am a Faerie. I serve all of the Valar, including Nienna the lady of mercy. I cannot wish this upon him, even if I hated him," she told her cousin. Aragorn's jaw clenched as he took in her damage, his face unreadable to all but his cousin.
"But you do not hate him," Aragorn's hand felt the healing bumps on her back, "and that is why you are going back for him if we survive this."
Aealsifth took her cousin's face in hers, leaning down to meet his eye level. Her eyes stared into his, and he felt the sensation of floating on water, like when Galadriel looked at him. Truly, he thought, she has become more than mother, Chieftain, and divorcee.
"Man cenich," he asked her, trying to stare as deeply into her large eyes as she stared into his.
"Ortheritham hain, estelio enni."
"Estelion allen, le maethor veleg a gornui" he placed his hands over hers.
They both smiled at each other, before her nose wrinkled and she looked him over.
"Nostad lín sui orch," Aealsifth looked him over, and he rolled his eyes before pushing her over.
"Put on your shirt and bid your children in the hall goodnight, we both need rest if we're going to fight."
"Ah, tell my children to join me in here. If I must rest, let it be with my son and daughter in my arms," she laughed. Aragorn did not have to wander far to find them, opening the door of the room to see the twins standing there nervously. Yorthad quickly moved past the tall ranger, moving to his mother's side, while Nalkul stood staring at him, whispering as she past him.
"If you ever yell at my mother again, I will kill you."
Aragorn bowed obediently as Nalkul looked over her shoulder at him, turning to smile in amusement at Aealsifth before he left the room. The mother fell asleep on her back, holding each child happily.
She dreamed of worms.
Manen le - sindarin, how are you
Im penorven - sindarin, I'm tired
Henion - sindarin, I understand
Man agorech? - sindarin, what did you do?
Heniach nin? - sindarin, can you understand me?
Tolo sí! - sindarin, come here
Dôl gín cofn - sindarin, your head is empty
Ú-chenion - sindarin, I don't understand
Ortheritham hain, estelio enni - sindarin, we will win, trust in me
Estelion allen - sindarin, I believe/trust you
Le maethor veleg a gornui - sindarin, you are a skilled warrior
"But I don't want to go into the caves with women and children, Naneth, I can fight!"
"I know, iell nín, but your brother cannot. And with all of our soldiers on the outer wall, should any emergency happen and the caves be breached, the women and children will need you," Aealsifth consoled her daughter, planting a kiss on her forehead, "I need you to protect your brother, he isn't like us. He's gentle. Keep an eye on him."
"I will take care of muindor, Naneth, for you," Nalkul conceded, looking towards her brother as he babbled at Brerbi, "sometimes I'm scared that he will be too gentle."
"Me too, but if you and Jordis are there with Aqan, then we can protect them if need be," she told her daughter, "now go, take your brother into the caves."
Nalkul jogged to her brother, tapping him on the shoulder and motioning him to follow her.
"Le melithon anuir, Hini!" she shouted to her children, who smiled and waved at her in response as she whispered her goodbye, "guren nallatha nalú achenin le."
Gamling came and stood by her, placing a hand on her shoulder, watching her eyes.
"Your children will be safe, my lady, they are in good hands."
"As are you, Gamling, for I promise you that you will not die tonight," Aealsifth turned the the ginger with a smile, "Hama is still on your side."
Gamling looked to the ground to hide his sadness at the mention of Hama's name, but looked up again when she squeezed the hand on her shoulder.
"Do you have children, Gamling?"
"No, my lady, I do not."
"I cannot have children of my own, Gamling," she said looking ahead, "these children are all I have, and I count them as a blessing from Nessa, but Gamling I swear, blood or not I will slaughter anyone who threatens them." Aealsifth turned to face Gamling, "the greatest gift of being a mother, is the anger and rage you feel towards anyone who would do them harm. Dark masses are coming to get to them, and I will kill them before they reach the caves, that is a promise."
The Rohan man could only stare at the Dwarf woman, yelling as she walked away, "I believe you when you say I will not die, for your cousin says you are a woman of great power."
"My cousin is right!" She yelled back, her eyes freezing as she approached the great hall again, "I am a woman of great power."
"Legolas, is that all the armor you will wear? It's so....flimsy," Doronith scoffed at the leather clad man.
"And I suppose you will wear a suit of armor the soldiers of Gondor?"
"No, I will wear what we all wear," the woman laughed, "mithril!"
"Mithril?" Gimli shouted from another room, running in quickly as Legolas sighed and rolled his eyes.
"What is it with Dwarfs and metalwork?" Legolas murmured, crossing his arms as Gimli roared with laughter, running his hands over the mithril vest that Gath had just put on.
"Aealsifth is the same way, but I will say we have never been scammed since she's started inspecting things," Lassemes answered him.
"How do you have mithril armor for all of you?" Gimli asked, watching the people cover the metal with leather arm guards.
"It is passed down from generation to generation," Saldoth said, "we all get it from those who come before us."
"And it's so very fashionable," Aealsifth laughed from the doorway, "Saldoth, can you find my chest of armor? I've forgotten which one it is."
Saldoth nodded, moving about the chests strewn open quickly, Gath moving in the other direction.
"So you will fight with us, m'lady Aealsifth?"
"Of course master Gimli, I will not forsake anyone, nor will my people."
"Why do you cover your armor again with your tunics?" Legolas asked, watched the Roamers undress and dress again.
"We have Orckind in our company, this way they won't be killed on accident," she motioned to Mazol, who nervously sharpened an axe in the corner.
"Aealsifth, your armor, and Gath has your weapons."
"Thank you, sincerely."
The woman immediately threw off her belts, threw her scarf up into a tight turban, and donned a mithril jacket. It was loose on her, but it would do well, and just before she was able to put her leather breastplate on over it she heard a horn sound from below. Aragorn moved into the great hall, a tense look on his face as he looked at his cousin.
"That is no Orc horn!"
Aealsifth closed her eyes as her cousin and his companions ran off, biting her lip.
"My lady, what troubles you? Who is here?" Saldoth asked, his hand on Gath's shoulder.
"If my fears are correct, my husband is here," she quickly pulled the mithril jacket off, throwing it back in the chest. "Please take this and my weapons to my room, I have to go see...even if I'm wrong."
She ran through the Hornberg, pushing soldiers and peasants out of the way and skidding to a halt when Gamling caught her to prevent her knocking over the king. She would thank him later, because her knees almost gave out at the sight of a legion of Elves that had come to Rohan's aid. Then she heard his voice.
"We are proud to fight along side men once more!"
Aealsifth pushed herself from Gamling, and as if she was in a trance like state she walked into view. The Elf at the bottom of the steps choked on his words, breath hitching as she came into view. Aragorn turned to see his cousin stumble forward and placed an arm out to stop her advancement; but she gripped his arm, and moved it out of her way. Time seemed slow, like after she crashed into the ground, her breathing loud in her own ears as she stopped just a few steps from the ground. The two stared at each other, confusing every one around them. Aragorn leaned back to whisper to confused Theodin what was going on, the king placed a hand on Aragorn's shoulder in return. Aealsifth opened her mouth to speak, only for Haldir to interrupt her by closing the gap between them, his hand reaching out to stroke her face.
"Meleth e-guilen, ‘Law lîn síla sui Ithil."
"Aphado nin," Aealsifth whispered, taking his hand in hers to lead him up the steps, "Aphado nin, Haldir."
She looked at Aragorn as she passed him, but took care not to look back at her husband.
Aealsifth locked the door to her room, turning to her husband with her face still to the ground as he ran his hands over her armor.
"Mithril," she heard him whisper, impressed, before turning to his wife, "mas bennich, Aealsifth?"
"Am man?" Haldir asked, advancing towards her, grabbing her wrist, "For what purpose? You left me, I think I should be able to know why."
"Nae, gerich naergon nín," Aealsifth felt tears sting her face, still refusing to look at him, "Goheno nin."
"I cannot forgive you when you don't even wear my ring," he inspected her hand, "I hoped that you would return to me, but now I find you here, with no wedding ring, and I understand that you never meant to return. No matter what I did."
With that he turned away from her, throwing her weapons onto the floor in anger.
"And what did I do? Was I a bad husband? Did I hurt you?"
"Baw! I was unhappy-"
"Unhappy? For what reason?" He got close to her face, holding it in his hands to try and make her look at him.
"I was trapped in a city of Elves, besides, the Valar guided my fate elsewhere."
"So you left me?"
"I told yo-"
"Avo bedo, don't speak," he pressed his forehead to hers, "just please look at me again."
"I can't," she broke down, "I can't ever go back with you, Haldir."
Haldir let go of her, pushing her away.
"Why can't you come home?"
"Because I have children, Haldir, two Easterlings that I saved from a slave market as children. They would never be welcomed in Lothlorien, and I will die before I leave them again," she spoke, thinking of her children gave her strength to look at him, strength to care.
"Children?" Haldir nodded, swallowing his pride, "then that is that, that is all we have to say to each other, that's all there is."
"I guess so."
Haldir turned to the door, and placed his hand on the knob although he couldn't bring himself to turn it. He stared at his hand, thinking about the horde of Uruks on their way, his passage to the west, his marriage with Aealsifth, her children, his brothers, his possible death, and a final flash of Rivendell. He moved quickly, wrapping his arm around her neck and lifting her face with his empty hand, his lips finding hers. He pressed himself close to her, his movements a reaction to her stiffness, to how she still remained distant. Doubt wracked his mind as she remained stiff, could they have grown so distant that his wife no longer had any feelings for him except guilt?
Still he tried to defrost his frozen woman, pushing her against the table and moving his hands to her hips when she finally created a barrier between them.
"Haldir, stop, it's not appropriate-"
"Appropriate? I'm your husband, I am the only one who can touch you and it be appropriate," Haldir's hand moved between her legs, "even if that has literally never stopped you."
"Things are different now," she gripped his forearm to prevent him from getting to familiar with her, "I'm different now."
"You're different? Entertain me and tell me how, hervess nín."
"Don't be crude, Haldir."
"No, really, if you can't even bring yourself to look at me," he hissed, gritting his jaw as she slipped away from him, moving to the other side of the room, "you can at least entertain me by telling me about all the men that have 'changed' you!"
"I have not been unfaithful in any meaningful way!"
"But you have been unfaithful!"
"Only when I had to be," she turned and yelled at him.
"Oh, because you had no other choice than to invite men into your bed?"
"It was better than the alternative-"
"Oh! And pray tell, what the hell that could have been!"
"Men taking it upon themselves to force their way into my bed!"
Aealsifth's voice shook the room and her husband to his core, though she hated his shocked silence. She sighed and pulled her turban loose, tossing the scarf onto her bed and moving her hair to one side. Thick, fat scars like maggots where hair didn't grow littered the side of her head.
"I learned my lesson quickly, when a man tried to kill me when I refused him. You have no idea what it's like to be a Roamer, to be a woman on the road. You don't get to judge me, you still live in your fucking safeguarded city. You don't know what is going on out here, so you don't get to judge me."
Haldir's anger again subsided, stepping forward to reach out his hand and touch the scars on her head gently. Funny, how his pity could enrage her so much. She didn't want his sympathy, she didn't desire it or need it so how dare he judge her and then revoke his anger because of her scars. She hated him in that moment, and she couldn't help herself from lashing out. She smacked him, hard. He paused before turning his face to look at her again, only for her to repeat her attack. Soon she was a flurry of slaps and smacks, the sides of fists landing against his armored chest as she cursed Sindarin at him. He let her continue her episode for a few more moments, deciding enough was enough and capturing her wrists in his hands. He pulled her close, nudging her nose with his own.
"So we hate each other now?"
She didn't respond, just looked up at him before yanking her arms out of his grasp. Aealsifth pulled his head down and kissed him roughly, pulling away and eyeing him before placing her hand on his member and kissing him roughly again. Haldir made quick work getting out of his armor, which was easy enough since the Elves perfected quick to put on armor in the second age when they were under constant attack, pushing her away briefly to pull his tunic off. He traced his thumb down her lips, looking at her expectantly as his other hand tugged on her own tunic. He wanted to scream as she went rigid again, it seemed to him like every time he made progress he moved three steps backwards.
"What is it now?"
"In what way that could possibly matter to me?"
"I wa-I recently came back from some place."
"Orthanc," Aealsifth said lowly, looking up at him to be annoyed again by the sadness on his face.
"Show me," he told her, "let me see you."
His wife grit her jaw and slowly lifted her tunic off her, throwing it to the ground and trying to avoid how naked she felt beneath his scrutiny. He looked her over, hands reaching out and fingers trailing along still healing scars. Haldir wrapped his hands around her waist, pulling her close to him again and kissing her deeply. One of his fingers toyed with the waist of her pants as he pressed his erection against her hip.
"Funny," he whispered in her ear, "how you thought scars would prevent me from still finding you as beautiful as the day we met."
The day we met, Aealsifth thought as she looked up at him. His blue eyes were dark as he watched her movements, just like the first day they met. The party in Rivendell where they drunkenly slipped away to an unused patio; she could still hear the words he whispered in her ear as she rode him, hear him whispering that she had to be Vána herself, since she was so radiant in her beauty.
"Mm, you were drunk the first day we met."
"And I still maintain that you must be Vána the Everyoung, because to this day you are the most beautiful creature I've ever seen."
"Be gentle at first," she whispered to him, letting him pull her pants off her as he dropped to his knees, "there are some scars you cannot see."
She felt him hum into her skin as he kissed her abdomen, next pushing her back onto the bed, crawling between her legs eagerly. He kissed up her thighs, pausing to look at the large bite mark scar on her inner thigh, gently placing a kiss in the center of teeth. Aealsifth was busy telling herself to calm down, to remind herself that he wouldn't hurt her or cause her pain. Her husband could sense her apprehension, and took her hand after he had pushed her legs over his shoulders.
"Should you want me to stop, for any reason," he murmured into her skin, kissing farther down yet, "just say the word and I'll stop."
She nodded, feeling his breath hot against her sex. Aealsifth shuddered as he carefully moved his tongue along her, both of them moaning in familiarity. He couldn't forget how to work her body, and why should he? He took great pride in knowing just where to lick and when to suck, when to be gentle and when to be unrelenting in his ministrations. He loved making her legs shake against him, he loved how she tasted after all these years. Haldir smiled as Aealsifth's breaths turned into moans, rolling his tongue softly over her again. Aealsifth shook lightly, her head rising from the pillows to look at him. He swore her face flushed two shades brighter as he made eye contact and winked at her, his wife moaning and throwing her head back as her spine arched and her body shook. Her free hand moved from her own hair to his, holding him in the place she needed to reach her peak. He obliged, his hand trailing up her body to grope her breast. It only took a few more moments before her back arched harshly and her hips bucked under Haldir's tongue. Her hands gripped the sheets and her head raised of it's own accord, eyes fluttering as she held her breathe. She let out a loud curse, falling back completely and moaning for what seemed like ages as Haldir prevented her from wriggling out of his grip.
"The beautiful Vána, pink cheeked and already worn down under my touch," he laughed, leaving one last kiss on her sex before standing and pulling off his own pants.
His ego bolstered as Aealsifth opened her eyes and bit her lip at the sight of his member, the same look the day they first met. He remembered pulling her out onto the patio, drunkenly proclaiming his love as he crawled beneath her skirts. He smiled to himself at the memory, remembering her laugh as she told him to shut up unless he wanted Elrond to find them, and his own response that not even Elrond's evil glare could prevent him from making love to her there and then. Haldir was shaken from his memory as his wife trailed her tongue along the length of his shaft, coming up to leave a wet kiss on the tip of his cock. He smiled breathlessly as she took him into her mouth briefly, he leaned over to place one hand on her head and slide two of his fingers into her.
"Did any of the men ever compare to me?" he asked, looking for an answer that would feed his ego further.
"None," she whispered against his cock, moving away to place her hands on his thighs, "none could compare to you."
Her husband let out an unexpectedly loud moan as she took him back into her mouth, taking him deeper than he could remember. It was then that he pulled her off his cock, pushing her onto her back, puling his fingers from her and holding them up for her to see how slick they were. Aealsifth grabbed his hand, making eye contact as she placed her mouth around them, sucking them clean. Without a word Haldir grabbed her legs, pushing them apart and up against her chest. He lined up with her entrance, looking to her as she nodded for him to continue. The couple moaned loudly as he pushed forward, not stopping until she took him to the hilt. Haldir leaned down and kissed his wife, wrapping both of his hands in her hair as he started to rotate his hips.
Aealsifth broke their kiss with a gasp, and Haldir pushed himself back up to better see her reactions to his movements. He grabbed one of her ankles, holding it out as he angled his thrusts upwards to hit the spot that made her eyes flutter. It was his time to release all his pent up anger towards his wife, his grip tightened on her ankle as he decided a course of action. He could make her beg for her release, or make her ride him to achieve it, but he decided on a different route: he would prove to her that he was all that she needed to be satisfied. And so he only quickened his pace, moaning wildly as she ripped the sheet she gripped in frustration.
"Who do you need?" Haldir asked, his hips roughly hitting hers as her eyes fluttered, "who makes you feel good?"
"Hervendh," Aealsifth's hands moved to her own hair, her body stretching out in pleasure.
"Man caro iestdh?" he asked again, moving to grip her hips as he continued to piston his hips.
Haldir smiled as she let out a nonsensical string of consonant sounds instead of an answer, her hands gripping his wrists as she climaxed.
"Maedh," his left hand moved to thumb at her bundle of nerves, laughing at the shriek that escaped her throat in response.
Aealsifth's eyes rolled back into her head, the world spinning again as came back to her senses. Her husband's mouth was on her throat, holding her hands above her head as he continued to roll his hips against hers. She let herself roll against him in response, enjoying the pink flush across her face. Too often did she go without pleasure in her experiences with men, they were selfish creatures she thought, so this was a pleasant change of pace for her. Haldir raised his head and moaned, kissing her forehead. Aealsifth leaned up and tugged on his earlobe with her teeth, her husband thrusting harder in response. She took advantage of his pleasured state, rolling them over so that she straddled him. Haldir looked up with a smile, letting go of her hands to put his hands on her hips to help pace her rhythm.
"Do you remember the first time I rode you?"
"Sui ed naiaur," he gasped, his hips bucking up as she leaned forward to grant him better access.
"Elrond almost caught us," she laughed, breaking off into a moan, "if it wasn't for yo-your quick thinking he would have killed me!"
"I just threw your extra skirts over my cock and started talking about the sunset, there was no quick thinking."
"Well, it charmed me," she sighed, throwing her head back as she shook in pleasure again. "By the Valar you're good, Haldir."
Her husband laughed, pushing up into her again. He changed their position quickly, pushing her over and against the wall, lifting her up and kissing her while she wrapped her legs around his waist. The two of them made the walls shake, both of them moaning loudly as Haldir pulled her close to him.
"Darthaan im," he whispered in her ear as both of their breaths grew ragged, "darthaan im."
She held off on giving into another orgasm, her nails leaving bright red scratches across his broad shoulders. Haldir buried his head in her shoulder, an arm wrapped around her waist and another holding the back of her neck, grunting loudly as they both finally came. He lifted her up to thrust a few more times, emptying himself entirely into her as she pushed the hair from his face and kissed him softly. They stayed there for a moment, both catching their breath and enjoying the feeling of skin on skin.
"Be my wife again, Aealsifth, orthach 'uren ir tirach enni," Haldir broke the silence, speaking into her neck.
"I can't leave my children, meleth nín."
"Then I will come to you," he told her, sighing as he flipped her onto her back and pulled out. He stayed between her legs, looking down and spreading her sex apart to see his seed still inside her. "Hell, that could be a child right there."
"We tried, remember," she dismissed the idea, sitting up and holding his hand, "with not fault to you. That's part of why I left. You were going to see me die, I couldn't give you children, and then I was unhappy. I wanted you to have a family," she told him, running her hands through his hair.
"And now I can have a family, if we survive tonight I'm leaving Lothlorien for good."
"Haldir I can't let you do that-"
"You won't be letting me do anything, I will be joining my wife again," he interrupted, kissing her fingers lightly. He saw the doubt in her eyes, how could she believe that he would give up safety and immortality for a harsh life on the road. "Guren min gaim lín, estelio enni."
"Estelion allen, hervenn," she caved after a moment.
He smiled and held her close again briefly, before they both rose from the bed to dress and prepare for battle. Aealsifth tied her hair back, enjoying the sound of her earrings clattering against each other and enjoying her husband's gaze upon her. She helped him tie back his hair again before turning to her armor, slipping on her mithril coat. The loose coat went from wrist to ankle, although the buckles ended just above her hips as to not hinder her mobility.
"Mithril and leather? Your people come prepared for battle!"
"We do what we can," she smiled, securing the purple dyed breast plate.
Aealsifth reluctantly removed her bracelets, replacing them with spiked bracers. To Haldir she was still an image of beauty, running her fingers through blue paint before trailing them down her face. He looked her over, her numerous leather belts each holding a weapon or two and her eyes standing out against the blue smeared across her eyes. She reached over, drawing a thin blue line down his lips, Haldir in turn taking the paint from her to recreate her battle markings.
"Watch this," she whispered, retrieving the headscarf from the bed and threading her fingers through the fringe again. He watched as the blue and purple colors seeped into her armor, spreading down her breasts and up her neck to frame her face. The fabric itself hardened, leather and translucent like dragons wings and just as sturdy. Haldir noted it was smooth as silk still as he ran his fingers across it.
"I thought you'd like it," she smiled, picking up her last weapon from it's place on the table. She raised her battle axe over her head and slid it into the strap slung across her back. "Do you remember what you said to me, that evening on the patio?"
Haldir's eyes flicked up searching the memory, he smiled amused and looked back to her.
"I told you that we were clearly meant to be together, because the Valar could not create a better fit for my cock."
"Yea," she laughed, walking by him and playfully smacking his chest, "you weren't a very eloquent drunk."
Haldir sighed and followed her to the door, his hand reaching out to hold hers as he slung his bow and arrows over one shoulder.
"You are never going to let me live that down are you?"
They shared a brief kiss, before turning the handle and stepping out into the rush of warriors.
Le melithon anuir, hervenn - I love you always, husband
muindor - my brother
Le melithon anuir, Hini - I love you always, children
Guren nallatha nalú achenin le - my heart will weep until I see you again.
Meleth e-guilen - love of my life
‘Law lîn síla sui Ithil - your radiance shines like the moon
Aphado nin - follow me
Mas bennich - where did you go
Am man? - for what purpose
Mas? - where?
Hervendh - you do husband
Man caro iestdh - what do you want?
Maedh - you (feel) soft
Sui ed naiaur - like it was yesterday
darthaan im - wait for me
orthach 'uren ir tirach enni - you lift up my heart when you look at me.
Guren min gaim lín, estelio enni - my heart is in your hands, trust in me.
"So we line the Elves along the walls, keep the men of Rohan at the center just above the causeway, that way the archers will easily be able to attack the Uruk horde," Aragorn advised.
"My people will be spread throughout. Our Elves and Hasaal will stand with the men, and the others with the Lothlorien Elves, that way we can better communicate without a language barrier," Aealsifth added in, pointing at several points on the wall, "I will stay with Haldir."
"It is noble for man and wife to fight in battle, but what if you are needed elsewhere," Theodin asked her, turning to the war committee.
"Then I will fly, you seem to forget that I have wings, my lord."
The generals gathered around the map, Haldir translating to his brothers the battle plans before them. Theodin sighed as he looked over the map, shaking his head thinking about the battle ahead.
"Do you have war songs, Aealsifth?"
"Do you speak of blessings or taunts? We have both."
"Blessings are good, but anything that could intimidate the horde would be a blessing."
"I have but one request in turn, my lord."
"What is it? Aealsifth merely ask and it will be given."
"Turn your child soldiers back into the caves. We have an Elvish legion, you have Faeries, we do not need the sacrifice of boys younger than my son. Besides, should the caves be breached, they would be needed there."
Theodin looked at her for a moment, before nodding and motioning to another soldier in the room.
"It will be done, and I count on you to be as scary as the myths of the Fae."
"I can promise you my lord, that perhaps even you will not want to honor your word to keep us at your side," the woman looked around at the generals. "Some of my people can indeed breathe fire, or turn into a dangerous beast. Some of us that can cast magic so bright, the stars will blind you. We can be....worrying to other people around us once we reveal ourselves, but I promise that anyone who stands against Mordor and Orthanc will be under our protection."
"We will not kick you out of Edoras for defending the Hornberg, Aealsifth."
"Perhaps not, but regardless I thought it fair to warn you about what you might see. Now if you will excuse me, I have to speak to my people. The battle plans of your kind aren't of our concern, we have blessings to make and then the Hakkerskaldyr to coordinate. I take my leave. Anno ammen Enner dûr, tego ven i Melain am mand."
The woman bowed her head and turned away from the table, Haldir watched her walk away before motioning to Legolas to translate in his stead.
"Haldir, what did Aealsifth say?" Theodin asked as the man walked away.
"She said may Tulkas give us victory and the Valar guide us to safety, King Theodin. It's traditional."
Theodin nodded his head, motioning everyone closer to the table again.
"Let's hope tradition can save us this night."
"Aealsifth," Haldir shouted, reaching out for her hand as he followed her.
"You are coming with me?"
"I am an Elf until the end of the battle, but that doesn't mean that I will not fight with you as one of your people."
"You are not one of my people, not yet anyway," the woman laughed at him, kissing his hand, "but I welcome you as a fighter nonetheless."
"I am nervous to meet your people," he laughed, "I don't know what to expect."
"Well, we have some half Elves, some half Orcs, a Haradrim, a wild woman, two Dunendlings and then a very old and very grumpy Elf."
"How old is he?"
"Mm, first age."
"First age? By the Valar he is old."
"Old, cranky, and definitely going to try and start something when I introduce you."
"Well then, leave it to the elderly to be a thorn in your side, just like Elrond" Haldir told her as he spotted a circle of purple clad fighters, "is that them?"
"It is," the woman waved to the circle, "behave yourself to the best of your ability, and ignore their vulgarity."
"Hest!" Hasaal shouted, leaning over the short Mena.
"Ah, Aealsifth! Whose the hot piece of Elvish ass you brought with you?"
Aealsifth covered her eyes, shaking her head and bringing her hand up to brush stray hairs from her face. She looked to her husband, only to find him stifling laughter and trying to keep his hard Elvish exterior intact.
"Hello Mena, Hasaal; the 'hot piece of Elvish ass' is my husband, Haldir. He's going to come with us after the battle."
The circle whispered between each other, eyeing the new man curiously. Only Hasaal rolled her eyes and reached over Mena to shake the Elf's hand.
"I'm Hasaal, that's my wife Taurthel," she nodded to the Elvish woman by her side.
"I'm Mena, if you ever want to spice things up in the bedroom hot stuff, you just let me know," the middle aged woman winked.
"Aealsifth, I cannot tell if you are blushing out of embarrassment or if your still flushed from riding your husband like a wild horse!"
"Hasaal," the woman hissed, covering her eyes once more.
"Well, which do you think it is Haldir, is she embarrassed or are you just that good in bed?" Taurthel asked, wrapping her arms around her wife's waist.
"Well, it's not a question of if I am that good seeing as how it was equal parts her riding me like a wild horse and me leaving the imprint of her back in the bed," he laughed throwing an arm around his wife.
"And the wall," Aealsifth added quietly as the circle laughed again.
"So, you and the Elf are taking romps before battles," Gannon interrupted the laughter, "where does leave our friend the worm?"
"I will not leave anyone at the mercy of the crazed Maiar, Gannon."
"Mm, a little flower told me that you and him are blood bound," he looked at Doronith briefly, "so forgive me if I am skeptical of your announcement that you and your husband have suddenly made up."
"I am blood bound to Grima as we both suffered in Orthanc, where he still suffers, and as a promise that I would not abandon him there. Do not read into things you know nothing about."
"Ah, but I am old and I know of many things," Gannon responded, tensions rising quickly in the circle, "and I know how easily persuaded you can be when it comes to a quick fuck."
"Farn iaur ellon, shut your mouth before I send you into the caves with women and children," Aealsifth's voice boomed, "do not forget your place, Gannon."
"Me and my wife knew each other for five years before our twenty year marriage. The issues that caused our brief annulment have been resolved, fixed now with time. I do not mean to be disrespectful as I hear you are indeed older than this age, but I wouldn't question my wife's personal decisions. She knows herself far better than any of us can," Haldir interrupted the fight, a hand on his wife's chest to keep her in check.
"Mae govannen, mellon o mellonen, I meant you no disrespect. I just wanted to test the resolve of our beloved Hest."
"You can test me in private or not at all, iaron. Do not think me a bitch to disgrace in front of her people," Aealsifth shrugged her husband's hand off, turning away from the circle to calm herself.
"Forgive my husband, he gets bitchy when he's nervous," the woman next to him said, pushing her metal visor over her head. "I'm his wife, Ligzil Ucdosh, my husband is Gannon Rhossilasdaer, and it's been a long time since he's seen battle, so he's being extra bitchy," the woman laughed. Haldir nodded, preventing his wife from facing the couple to say something rash.
"And both of them are women of few words," the gruff Orc stepped forward, hand outstretched in friendship, "I'm Srogag. It's nice to finally meet you, she talks about you a lot. Especially when she's drunk or half asleep," he added as Haldir took his hand.
"I'm, uh, well I'm Mazol-"
"And I'm Aherg Grezurg."
"Shit, yea, uh, Craurdedh, Mazol Craurdedh, nice to m-meet you," the Orc trailed off.
"Aye, don't pay it any mind Mazol, the Elf won't bite," Saldoth playfully nudged him, "I'm Saldoth Delt, that's my blood brother Gath Drarladoc. Nice to meet the husband of our Chieftain."
"Does the king want our blessings, Hest?" Gath asked her, Haldir finally letting her turn around.
"Indeed he does, Gath, he also wishes for the Hakkerskaldyr. We have our hands full in blessing, planning, screaming, and fighting. So no more fighting among ourselves, it's ultimately useless," she stared daggers at Gannon, who nodded and looked away.
"So, what do we do in the battle?" Hasaal asked her.
"Mazol and Aherg, I want you to use your fire breath. You are the strongest fire eaters here, drink flame and burn them, you will be with Elves lined along the walls. When they send in ladders, which they will, it will be your jobs to burn them back to the ground. Doronith, Lassemes, Gannon, you will be with the men. Help them work with the Elves, and fight hard, use the blessings of Varda to help the men see in the night. Saldoth, Gath, turn into your mighty warrior creatures, strike fear into the hearts of all that see you and devour your enemies."
"And me, Hest?"
"You, Hasaal, you will be the winged terror of the night that I know you can be, you are the Wyvern are you not?"
"So much talk of beasts, what is there to expect?"
"Saldoth and Gath turn into great ground beasts, armored and fanged, while Hasaal turns into a winged beast like a small dragon," Gannon answered, "and we can call the stars to such levels of brightness one might think it is day."
"As for me," Mena laughed, "I'm a beserker!" the woman shook her battle axe eagerly in front of her, "I pray to Yavanna, yes, send her rain! I will call up lightning and thunder to strike down foes with my axe!"
"I see you already know your job, Mena. Ligzil, I would have you fight with your husband, as I will fight with mine."
"And what will you do? What power will you create?" Haldir asked her, his wife looking up at him with a coy smile.
"I will make sure we win."
"She can bolster all armies!" Hasaal leaned forward, "she guides them with her blessings and sight, she works unseen in the minds around her, a figure head of victory!"
"It is not without cost, people will die," Aealsifth interrupted, "but people who know of my gifts feel bolder when I fight with them. That is my duty."
"Then you had better say your blessings," her husband said in her ear, the woman shrugging in agreement.
"Alright everyone, circle and hold hands, Haldir please hold fire in the center of us," she motioned, her husband moving quickly to do as she said.
Haldir watched everyone's blue smeared faces, yellow eyes and large teeth and wild hair, wings spread as they held their hands outstretched to each other. It was a surreal experience for him, starting with the Orc's deep hum and the clicking noise the Elves made with their mouths. He watched as his wife closed her eyes, head rolling back and across her shoulders and then pointing to the ground. When she lifted her head and opened her eyes her eyes shined like Galadriel's Star Glass jewel, Haldir's brow furrowed as he watched the light spread from her to the other's in the circle. She lifted her head to the sky and began her blessing, in an ancient language that Haldir could not understand.
"Min Warb Naseu
Wilr Made Thaim,
I Bormotha Hauni.
Haldir was startled as the rest of the circle joined in for the chorus, straining his head he watched them all sing in unison.
"Hu War Opkum Har a Hit Lot."
The next line, Gannon joined her in singing, while the other's quieted and the group swayed beneath the stars.
"Got Nafiskr Orf
Foki Afa Galande.
Once again, the group joined in, Haldir whispering the words lowly to himself,
"Hu War Opkum Har a Hit Lot."
The song repeated once more, but as they finished the last sentence the flame in Haldir's hands was snuffed out by a dark hand. The Elf raised his head to stare into the pale grey eyes of another woman. In a flash it seemed as thought she stroked his hair and whispered in his ear, but it was like a bit of memory to him because by the time the flames had truly died she was gone. Haldir's mind couldn't register the circle disbanding, or the torch being taken from his hands, his ears instead rung with what Este had told him. The Elf closed his eyes with finality, finally translating her words in his mind.
"You will not survive this war."
The song is Krigsgaldr by Heilung.
Farn iaur ellon - enough, old (elf) man
Mae govannen, mellon o mellonen - well met, friend of a friend
Iaron - ancient one
They watched as the horde advanced on the Hornberg, some of the men of Rohan growing unsteady as they approached. Aealsifth nodded to her cousin, who was helping to command the Elvish legion, each of them bowing their heads with their hands over their chests; a potential farewell. The woman then turned to her husband, kissing him quickly before they both looked out over army.
"When do you and yours use your taunt?" her husband murmured, looking around to spot the Roamers littered around the wall.
"As soon as the hoard stops," the woman pulled her axe off her back, leaning forward to tap it against the stone, "when it stops and they can hear us."
The armies drew their bows, stringing up arrows in apprehension as they came to a stop. Haldir raised his hand, staying the soldiers. Theodin watched the Roamers near him put their shields in front of them, holding their weapons aloft waiting for the inciting battle yell. Aealsifth lifted her axe, then smacked it back into the rock with a shriek. The Faeries began to beat their shields in unison, bolstering their own energy before shouting together:
"Y! Ylir men,
Ae! Aero Their,
Era Mela os.
Min Warb Naseau,
Wilr Made Thaim
I Bormotha Hauni!
Got Nafisker Orf
Foki Afa Galande,
Hu War Opkum Har a Hit Lot!"
Their noise bounced off the rock, assaulting the Uruk horde with noise as they repeated their song once more. Haldir never took his eyes off his wife, watching her beat the walls with a ferocity he hadn't seen in a lifetime. What a fool, he thought to himself, what a fool am I to only find my wife before I die. The song ended, and the banging died out as the Uruks roared in response, and a trembling Rohan man accidentally let his arrow loose and thunder cracked in the distance.
"Aealsifth, look at me quickly," the Elf grabbed his wife, holding her face in his hands, "I love you. I have always loved you, and I will never love anyone else, but if anything happens to m-"
"Haldir, what are you saying? You won't get hu-"
"If, If anything happens, I want you to find love again. Because nothing would give my soul better rest than to know that you are happy and in love. Promise me that you will move on if anything happens."
His wife nodded slowly, and he kissed her once more before they heard the battle cry of an Uruk. He pulled away from her, and Aealsifth felt the hand of Nienna grip her heart. She shook herself out of her reverie, raising her axe to the soldiers she was in command of.
"Tangado i chui! Berio i vinas!" she yelled to her troops, moving behind the line of archers, "Gurth enin goth! Gurth a chyth-in-edhil! Sí na i veth, i veth naid bain, maetho ‘nin gurth! Gurth a chyth vín!"
She turned to her husband, then looked beyond to her cousin, and they all nodded as the Uruks began to rush the wall.
"Hado i philinn!"
The Elves fired their arrows, reloading and firing again of their own accord. Aealsifth ran through the walkway, shouting for Mazol and Aherg.
"Mazol! Aherg! Ladders!"
She skidded to a halt and dropped to her knees as Mazol took in a deep breathe and roared, large flames shooting from his mouth and frying the first Uruk ladder.
"Go! Fly and Burn!" she yelled at him as more Uruks climbed after the dead Uruk, taking to the skies herself to move back to her husband's side. The words he told her before scared her, and she couldn't see what was coming ahead. She was worried. She dropped down beside him, immediately swinging her axe forward to kill an incoming Uruk.
"You've returned to my side, meleth!"
"I'll fight and die by it, Herven!"
They moved in unison, choosing their movements carefully and never straying far from each other. He with his blade and her with her axe, they made an odd team. Aealsifth was a vocal fighter, roaring with every hit and screaming to intimidate while Haldir was mostly silent, only making noises when exerting an especially large amount of energy.
"We're being overrun! Call your shapeshifters!" he yelled at her, grabbing her by the belts and pushing her up into the air.
"Saldoth! Gath! Rinc!" she screamed as she plummeted back into the ground, landing square on an Uruk. She stood, driving her axe into the beast's back and turned to her husband.
"Do you think they heard you?"
"We'll find out soon!"
They continued to fight, narrowly missing too many blows for comfort. It was then that she noticed Aragorn screaming at Legolas to shoot someone, she reached out to put a hand on Haldir's back as the wall exploded. There was so much dust and debris thrown into the air, and Haldir turned to wrap and arm around his wife as they heard the roar of Uruks pouring into the Helm. Everything seemed to stop before Aealsifth opened her mouth to yell.
It was then that they saw a large crash of lightning land in the center of the Uruk army, illuminating the shape of a small dragon. Aealsifth's smiled grew crazed as she heard the faint roar of beasts in the helm, her husband suddenly whisked her to the side to slash at an incoming enemy. The woman swung her axe, cutting the head clean off her foe's body with a wet sound. Too many were dying, even with the Faerie's help, and she could feel it. She could feel the bravery of those around her weaken with every Elf's scream and every man's death, and Aealsifth feared not even her people's presence would help them now. She made her decision quickly.
"Haldir get down!" she yelled, swinging her axe before she raised her weapon and screamed, blue light shooting from it like tendrils.
Once she raised her axe the Elf felt as though time was no longer the same, like when Este visited him. Haldir watched as long thin fingers stretched forth from the light, working their way down and into Aealsifth's mouth. A large, weird creature of light moved from that rift that seared the flesh of all Uruks that came near it, with large eyes and no mouth. The creature looked at him, it's head tilting as it chirped and then went on it's way. It worked it's way down her throat, it's long slinking body a mix of snake and worm, as if it were trying on her skin. Once it had climbed into her, the light seemed to burst, killing all Uruks close to her as it died. Her husband looked at her in shock, watching as her skin seemed to shine flow and her eyes shine like molten silver.
"What have you done?" Haldir shouted, getting to his feet and killing an Uruk as it approached.
"I took in a Nameless Thing. I told you, it's my job to make sure we win," she grunted, sweeping her weapon in front of her and sending out a line of white fire. "Don't worry, it doesn't hate Elves," she told him, her axe blade finding it's way into an Uruk's skull after melting the beasts helmet.
"You never cease to amaze me, Meleth," he grunted, skewering an Uruk before disemboweling another, "I didn't know you could merge with them."
"Most people can't," Aealsifth was knocked back onto the wall, spitting white liquid on it's face. The Uruk let her go immediately, clutching his face as it melted, "but I am no ordinary person."
It seemed for a moment that they were winning. The wyvern Hasaal snatching up several Uruks at a time and dropping them to their deaths, the Dunendling beasts tearing through Uruks as they encountered them, and Mena with her lightning axe. The fires had died, and Aealsifth imagined that Mazol and Aherg were fighting as hard as she. Only she had the power of Starfire to aide her, and her lover by her side.
It wasn't enough.
They heard a faint roar as the Uruks turned to shooting lit flame at the wyvern, damaging her wings as the field started to smell like burnt flesh. They watched as the wyvern flew to hold and disappeared, the lightning a following shortly.
"Nan barad! Haldir! Nan barad!" Aragorn yelled, Haldir nodded to him and called to his soldiers to fall back.
Aealsifth turned to shout for her own to fall back, panicking when she could no longer see Mazol. She pushed Aherg toward the keep, moving forward to find her friend when she felt a sharp pain in her back. The woman turned in pain to see her husband stumble forward in disbelief, a large Uruk behind him with his scimitar raised. Her and Aragorn both screamed and headed for the wounded Elf, Aealsifth turning to slash at another Uruk. Haldir's vision blurred as he fell to his knees, seeing the dark skinned woman appear in the distance, unscathed by all the war around her. Aealsifth stumbled over her husband's body, slamming her fist into the Uruk's chest. The Uruk roared in pain as she melted his flesh, and the woman ripped away from him and turned to capture her lover.
Haldir collapsed against her, his world spinning as he heard her voice. She loves me, he smiled up at his wife before images of dead Elves swarmed his mind, she loves me. His head rolled back to see the black hand of Este reach for his face, and Haldir saw stars reflecting back at him as the Valar beckoned him. A flash and her hands were on his face, her lips on his, and then they were both gone. His wife shook him once, bowing her head and resting it against her husband's with a sob. Aealsifth's scream pierced the air as Aragorn fell to his knees beside her, his hand landing on the dead Elf's chest when he saw the empty look in his eyes.
"Aealsifth, we must go-"
"I'm going to kill all of them," the woman whispered, turning to him with some kind of melted metal dripping down her face. There was an uneasy calm in her face, a calm that Aragorn did not trust.
"Then let us fight together," the man pulled her to her feet, and threw her over the side of the Hornberg before he jumped down a ladder.
She flew around and caught him, letting him instruct her on where to go. They hit the ground lightly, skidding to a halt before king Theodin. Theodin moved to help Aealsifth up, but stopped at the sight of her silver colored face. The woman did not speak to him, instead immediately pushed her weight against the door.
"How long do you need?" Aragorn called to the king.
"As long as you can give me!"
"Gimli! Aealsifth! Follow me," he pulled the dwarf away.
Aealsifth looked at the king as he moved to place a hand on her shoulder, the king swearing he could see the face of an unknown monster reflecting her eyes as she moved quickly behind the dwarf. She did not pay much mind to what they were doing or where she was going, only knowing that she would have her revenge. She must have her revenge. Such a fool, she thought to herself, I was such a fool to leave him. There was a comforting touch on her mind, the nameless thing in her body reminding her that she was chosen to be here. To have left her husband was to submit completely to the Valar, to Eru. It never would have made a difference, this was always going to happen.
"We can take em!" Gimli laughed, gesturing to the Uruks breaking down the door on the causeway.
"I could take them all," Aealsifth said discarding her axe, pulling a sword from the sheath on one of her belts, "let me fly to them."
"No, we will take them all together. I'll just have to toss Gimli."
The two cousins looked towards the Dwarf, who just grunted.
"I cannot make the distance so you must toss me!"
Aragorn raised his eyebrow and tilted his head, reaching to the Dwarf who stopped him abruptly.
"Don't tell the Elf."
"Not a word."
And with that, the Dwarf was tossed to the causeway, followed by Aragorn and Aealsifth. The woman knocked into the Uruks feet first, knocking several them off the causeway and to their deaths. She slashed at several, screaming like a feral cat that was angered and cornered. She continued to fight even as Aragorn pressed against the wall, speaking to Theodin while Gimli tried to keep up with the woman.
"Aealsifth, fall back!"
She didn't listen, instead hacking away at the horde as it kept coming. She got hit on the thigh and her knee buckled, she leaned back and slashed at the offender. She quickly stood, placing her fist on another one's chest and slamming the hilt of her blade into it's face.
"Fall back!" her cousin demanded, placing a hand on her shoulder.
"No!" she screamed, "I'll fight to the death, here at the end, the end of everything!"
"It is not the end! You still have children to live for, so fall back, little witch!"
She let Gimli grab her by the waist as Legolas started to lift the trio, dropping when she was far enough from the ground to fly up to the hold. She saw Aherg slumped against the pillars, bolstering her resolve to make it into the hold. Aealsifth grabbed him by the arm, lifting him and dragging him into the hold, returning again to motion her people inside. She counted them as they moved inside; tired and blood splattered Doronith, Lassemes, Gannon, and Ligzil. Exhausted and ravaged Saldoth and Gath still toothed as they were forced to revert back to human form, a singed Mena followed by a limping Srogag.
"Taurthel? Hasaal?" she yelled, rushing to help Taurthel drag the Haradrim into the hold, the woman covered in wounds from arrows and blades no doubt.
She counted roughly, then froze when Mazol was missed in the count. She rushed back outside, screaming for her friend as Elves and men ran into the hold with Uruks hot on their heels. Gamling swept her up quickly, pulling the protesting woman inside as she still searched for him. She wormed out of his arms and ran to the door, only to be held back by Aragorn so that others could push tables against them.
"He's gone, Aealsifth. He's gone."
"They are all gone, dying, will die," the woman babbled, leaning over to spit out more white liquid, "everything is gone!"
"What is wrong with her?" Theodin asked, watching as she fell to her knees coughing and choking on the molten liquid, bringing Gannon's attention to it.
"Valar be damned, Aealsifth are you a fool?" Gannon yelled, moving behind her to try and do the Heimlich maneuver. "Dealing with Nameless Things is dangerous, they can be fickle creatures!" he chastised as she vomited the gangly creature's hands. "Just because you can merge with them does not mean you should, because look at you now, you've lost hope and it's leaving you!"
Gannon stayed by her side, continuously berating her as the woman choked violently. As a hand made it's way from her mouth, Gannon grabbed it and started pulling, the human men watching recoiled instantly. Theodin took a step back as the creature was pulled from her throat, and it looked up at him briefly in return. It quickly turned back to Aealsifth and placed a hand on hers, making a chirping sound as the same metallic looking substance poured from her eyes and nose. It then turned and made a deep scratch in the floor, white hot light shining from the cracked stone, it looked up at the king, then Aragorn, and slipped away.
"Does it matter?," the woman coughed, "it's gone, and Haldir is gone, and so is Mazol, and I don't know what to do!"
"You pull yourself together, for your people," Gannon told her, pulling her to her feet. She eyed him for a moment, her eyes wild, then nodded, composing herself quickly and turned to Theodin and her cousin. She meant to join in the conversation but something on the horizon caught her attention, head turning as she tried to see what was clawing at the back of her mind.
"The sun is rising!" Gimli shouted, shaking Aealsifth from her concentration.
"And with it comes hope," she whispered, looking at the men and nodding, "there is hope."
"Yes. Yes! The horn of Helm Hammerhand shall sound in the deep, one last time," Theodin's hope bolstered.
"Prepare yourself, Fae Folk, for we ride out for hope," Aealsifth called to her people, taking the reigns of a horse given to her and drawing her blade.
"Let this be the hour when we draw swords together," Theodin said looking between Aragorn and Aealsifth as Gimli made his way to blow the horn. "Fell deeds awake. Now for wrath. Now for ruin. And the red dawn!"
Aragorn looked beyond the king to his cousin. She seemed haggard, gripping the reigns of her horse as still tried to peer into the future clearly. She still had flecks of what looked like white gold littering her face from where the creature choked her, but even through all that she seemed strong. She reminded him the paintings of warrior women they had grown up seeing, she was exhausted but determined to survive, to kill, and while she was in questionable shape the blood spatters on her face and matted hair proved that she wasn't going down without taking twenty Uruks with her. Aragorn caught her attention, and she turned to look at him. All he could see was rage, written on her face and deep in her eyes. She nodded towards him, holding her blade aloft like she was questioning him, 'are you going to stop me?'
He conceded, bowing his head and looking forward.
"Aealsifth, what do you see?"
"It is too bright for me to explain, King Theodin, but it is hope, I just cannot perceive what it is."
They heard the horn blow and rattle the helm as the Uruks broke down the gate, charging at the surviving military.
"Forð Eorlingas!" Theodin yelled raising his sword and beginning the charge.
They all moved towards the causeway, striking anything that dared to come too close. Aealsifth was pulled from her horse, she blocked he blow with her arm as the Uruk brought down it's scimitar. The woman plunged her sword into it's belly, and struggled to her feet.
"Aragorn!" she shouted at her cousin as he approached on his horse, the man reaching his arm out to pull her onto the back of his horse.
"I've got you," he told her as she wrapped her arm around her waist, both of them attacking together.
"Rags, how long have those trees been there?"
Aragorn turned to see the forest beyond the plains, both of them pausing as Aragorn looked to the rising sun.
"There, with the sun, just as he promised," Aragorn pointed.
Aealsifth followed his blade, smiling thankfully as the white rider appeared over the mountain side.
"Mithrandir is here, that is the hope I saw-"
"He's not alone, look past him."
They watched as the Rohirrim poured down the mountain side to meet the Uruk's head on, three thousand strong soldiers coming to the Hornberg's aid.
"The trees are moving," she whispered to Aragorn, "don't let the men go in the woods, those are trees of Fangorn!"
"Stay out of the woods!" Aragorn yelled to the troops, all of them who had been fighting throughout the night watching the Rohirrim slaughter Uruks as they backed them into the trees. The Uruks had all but disappeared into the woods, before the trees rustled and the sounds of screams could be heard, the limbs swaying with cracking noises louder than thunder.
"It's over, Curuni," Aragorn patted his cousin's hand that was wrapped around his waist, she slumped against him in response.
"This is far from over."
He felt her full weight lean against him, he looked over his shoulder to see if she was okay only to find her passed out from exhaustion. The man sighed and turned back to the hold, moving slowly so that she wouldn't fall off his horse but. He did worry though that she had been injured and was bleeding out, but he couldn't move much faster given the dead bodies that littered the ground. Another rider came up beside him, a hand reaching out to touch his shoulder to gain his attention.
"Yes," the wizard mumbled, his eyes moving to look at the unconscious woman. The man reached for a hand to stroke her head, "she's getting a much deserved sleep, Elrond would be proud of her. Coming from Orthanc to immediately fight an Uruk horde, she's as brave as her cousin."
"She's lost much tonight," Aragorn looked towards his friend, "a husband and a tribe member."
Mithrandir looked to Aragorn again with his eyebrows raised, patting the woman's head before removing his hand.
"She's been through much, but I fear it is far from over for her."
"I think she knows that."
"What makes you say that?"
"She said that herself, that it's 'far from over', right before she fell asleep."
"Do you think she knows what it is?"
"At this point, Gandalf, I just hope she doesn't start ignoring her destiny."
Mithrandir paused as Aragorn kept riding on, looking up at the few stars that still shined in the blue sky.
"Mhm," the wizard leaned his staff against his shoulder, "don't worry, I'll keep her on the path."
The stars slowly died out, blinking one by one as the man nodded and moved on.
song mentioned is Hakkerskaldyr by Heilung
Tangado i chui! Berio i vinas! - Prepare your arrows, protect the city
Gurth enin goth! Gurth a chyth-in-edhil! Sí na i veth, i veth naid bain, maetho ‘nin gurth! Gurth a chyth vín!" - Death to the enemy, death to the foes of elves! here at the end, the end of all things fight to the death! death to the foe!
Hado i philinn - fire your arrows
rinc - move
Nan barad! Haldir! Nan barad! - to the keep, haldir, to the keep
Grima was standing in the middle of a battlefield, a bloody sword held in his hand. He recognized the place as he looked around, Helm's Deep. He turned, looking at the bodies of dead Elves and men that lay littered around him, stopping as he came to face them. Aealsifth was there beneath a banner of Rohan that had been tied to a spear, dressed in black mourning robes that draped her like a waterfall cascading from a tall cliff. Her face was visible, silver tears streaming down her face as she looked at the man in her arms.
The worm looked closer at the man she held, taken aback by the sight of his pointed ears. Blood trickled from his nose, ears, mouth, and eyes; and his white robes slowly turned red as the large blood stain on his back spread. The dead man's hand fell from his chest, hand uncurling to reveal a ring almost identical to the one Aealsifth let him keep as a token. Wormtongue grit his jaw and recoiled as he realized what was going on, realized who the man was.
The dark grey sky above them was suddenly illuminated by lightning that struck all sides of the couple, though Aealsifth never looked up from her husband. The banner of Rohan sizzled as it caught on fire, the woman's face now looking to the heavens.
"Why am I here?" Grima asked her, "what is it that you have to show me?"
She slowly lowered her gaze as the lightning began to strike frequently all around them, her eyes meeting his. Cold, reflective, like a shield.
The scenery had changed.
It was the graveyard of kings near Edoras, Grima knew it immediately. It was far more silent than normal, no birds or insects to create noises that would make the place seem less empty. He turned to look around to once again see Aealsifth, this time splayed out on top of a fresh grave with a drink in her hand. Grima squinted at the name plate, reading it aloud as he did so.
"Haldir of Lothlorien, husband of Aealsifth of the Alderroot," he looked around once more, finding no one else there. "Why am I here? Why show me these things?"
Aealsifth's head rolled and fell off the raised ledge of the tomb, Grima could smell the wine on her breath from where he stood. She didn't flinch or open her eyes, merely laid there as the tomb beneath her began to rumble. The ground shook violently and cracked, the crevice widening and swallowing the worm up. Grima caught himself on the ledge, yelling for the woman to help him as the earth continued to shake. As his grip slipped she rolled onto her stomach, and watched him fall with a swig from the wine bottle.
He landed on his feet inside the Meduseld, in the middle of a great party. He saw Aealsifth slip off to the halls with a man. Whatever was going on, Grima guessed that she was the reason he was dreaming in such a way, that she was trying to tell him something. Or someone was trying to tell him something about her. He moved through the crowd into the dark hall, following the sounds of whispers and gasps until he was standing in a doorway.
His was vaguely illuminated by the dull light inside the room, which was bright enough for him to see the figures inside. Aealsifth was there with a man, on all fours as he took her from behind. Grima recognized the man with great annoyance when Aealsifth moved and pushed him onto his back, the horsemaster huffing as she climbed on top of him. The worm could tell from her eyes that she was running from something, using the general for her own means as she brought his hands up to grope her before she took control. The woman threw her head back and moaned, letting her head roll along her shoulders before holding it high with her eyes closed. They opened and met Grima's own, never once taking her eyes off of him as she gripped Eomer's throat. Wormtongue shut his eyes and heard the man choke to death, the gurgling noise melding with the sound of running water as he felt the liquid pooling around him. Steadily rising.
The worm opened his eyes one more time, standing elbow deep in water in some kind of cave. It took him a moment to realize he was naked except for the ring on his finger, looking at his hands before looking again at Aealsifth as she stood before him. She wore his pendant, and nothing else, and held her hand up above the water. It was the one she cut to create a blood bond, and that wound was open and bleeding into the water. Slowly looking down again at his own hand he saw that he was bleeding too. The cave they stood in was pitch black, illuminated by the aqua water they stood in, making his paranoia twitch as small sparks of silver light started slowly falling into the water.
"Why am I here?" the worm pleaded again, "why are you showing me these things, why make me see this?"
"Because you must understand the nature of woman," a voice sounded behind him.
The speaker walked around to face him, translucent as and ethereal as she glided through the water. The lilac eyed woman glowed purple, her hair constantly moving as though she were underwater.
"Who are you?"
"Nienna, the Weeper," the woman told him, placing a hand on Aealsifth's shoulder, "I'm the reason that she gave you any chance."
"If you are the weeper, how are you controlling my dreams?"
"Because she is not alone," another woman said as she stepped out of the darkness.
This woman was different, solid with eyes that shone like stars. Her skin was pitch black, outlined only by her braided white hair.
"I'm Este, the gentle, and I am the wife of Aealsifth's patron," she told him, circling the two mortals.
"Are there any more of you?"
"Varda is here, listening and watching..." Este pointed beyond Aealsifth, two golden almond shaped eyes opening in the darkness behind the woman.
"Why am I here?"
"To be warned," Este told him, trading places with Nienna.
"And to be instructed," Nienna finished, reaching out and stroking his hair.
"And what do I need to be warned about?" Grima sighed, rolling his eyes. If the Valar always spoke so cryptically it's no wonder Aealsifth was so odd.
"Her husband is dead," Este told him, placing a hand on Aealsifth's shoulder, "I took him to the hall of Mandos myself. So while she is now free to love you-"
"Her own guilt and regrets prevent it," Nienna interrupted.
"She is changing even as we speak, and it will be her ruin."
"What do you mean? Can't you just instruct her in what to do?"
"She won't listen to us anymore," Nienna answered, her lavender eyes watering as she spoke, "she blames us for the estrangement and death of her husband."
"Is she wrong?" Grima laughed, "if the Valar are who blesses and controls us, then is she wrong to blame you for her separation? For her husband's death?"
"No," Este told him, "but without our guidance you've seen what she becomes. A drunkard, neglecting her duties and children to pursue anything that chases away her emotions. If she follows that path, she will have to be cut down before she wreaks havoc on all those around her."
"What could I possibly do to help her? I'm barely better than what you just described."
"Someone has to be her watcher and her friend," Nienna pulled away from him, "but it will cost you."
"That is why we have intervened, so that you won't give up on her."
"And just what would that cost be? Have I not already lost everything?"
Este and Nienna looked at each other before the dark skinned woman met Grima's eyes.
"You have no idea just how much you can still lose."
Grima's head jerked to the side, alarmed by the Goddess' words.
"Tell me plainly what to expect," he looked at her again, "no more empty words and vague promises, tell me plainly what will happen."
Instead of either of the Goddesses speaking, it was Aealsifth. Her eyes glazed over and as dead as her monotone voice, as if she was a puppet.
"I will abandon you for a time, during which you will suffer. When I finally come for you I will reject your affection, instead trying to push you away. I will not hide my trysts with the Rohan men you hate so much, nor will I be kind in response to your concerns. When you feel you can handle me no more, you will be faced with two options: run from me or break me."
"Whatever 'breaking' her means, I'm not going to be up to that task. I won't hurt her-"
"You will be the drop of water that breaks the damn, forcing her to deal with the things she will be running from. Although it may be painful it is the help that she will need."
"And how long is this all going to take? Years?"
"You don't have that luxury," Este answered before Nienna could. "Your time in Orthanc will measure to one month and a week, and your time spent controlling Aealsifth will measure to five months and three days afterwards. She must be ready by then, or else there is no point."
"Why such limited time? What rush could there be?"
"The Elves are under attack," Varda spoke finally, the blue light growing to illuminate the woman's face. She was pale with long black hair done up ornately, and her thin monolid eyes gleamed with light. Grima had never seen a person like her, nor ever thought that the star maiden would even speak to him. "In Gwaeron of next year, from the eleventh day to the twenty-second day there will be battles beneath the leaves of Lorien. From the twenty-third to the twenty-fifth the battle of Mirkwood will take place. This will all coincide with the battle in Pelennor fields on the fifteenth of the same month of Gwaeron. All this will take place a year from now to allow Sauron to gather his power and replace the wizard Curunir, who is heading to the west to the Shire."
"What does this have to do with Aealsifth? With me?"
"In the end of the five months and three days there will be need for a summit of the Faeries, and in Narbeleth all tribes both great and small will travel to Rohan. If Aealsifth cannot be prepared to organize and disperse the tribes, hope will be lost. By Girithron several tribes should already have made their way to the outskirts of Gondor, preparing for the evacuation of Minas Tirith and the Soldiers of Rohan. By Narwain, the first age Fae should already be joining forces with the Gondorian guard to prevent Haradrim and Easterling forces from moving to Mordor. And by the next Gwaeron, they should be integrated and able to fight, numbering three hundred and fifty magic casters and shapeshifters. All of them led under Aealsifth's command, or no command at all."
"Why would they fight, when people have mistreated them so horribly," Grima asked as he soaked in the information, "why should they die for these people? All for the concept of mercy?"
"They will gain Arnor, a home land."
"The northern kingdom? Why not just let them sail into the west?"
"They cannot access the west, for that is where your former master has made his keep," Este snapped, "you ask many questions but none of them the correct ones."
Grima bit his tongue, eyeing the women that watched him as he thought carefully.
"And what role do I play in this grand tale and plan?"
"Finally, a good question," Nienna smiled at him, moving once more to Aealsifth's side.
"You will become many things. A fighter, a historian, a healer, a king," Varda's head shifted as her eyes seemed to mesmerize him, "a husband. A father. You will be known throughout middle earth until the world is mended, yes, and my plan for you is one of great import."
"I will do it, if I can, my lady."
"Just a few minutes ago you were hesitant and defiant," Este eyed him, "did the promise of power sway you?"
"No, Este, the promise of family swayed him," Nienna answered her friend, "he understands what we are giving him."
"Then let him say it, so that I know his intentions to be good."
"Life," the worm answered quietly, still transfixed by Varda's golden gaze, "you're offering me life."
"That is not all," Varda spoke again, "I want you to be the one who watches over the slumber of Elves, keeping their holds and kingdoms from destruction as they pass into sleep until Dagor Dagorath. I want you to be the scribe of the our prophet," she placed her pale hands on Aealsifth's shoulders, "when she speaks you must help her write and decipher it, and you will be there to see it all come to pass."
Everything was quiet for a moment, Grima pondering what the Godess said. The stars still fell as everyone's eyes were fixed on him, time not seeming to pass in the cave. Finally, Grima spoke his mind.
"Although I do not know if I have the strength to do what you have asked of me, I will try to accomplish every task. I just want to know why you chose me instead of someone braver, someone better."
"There is no man braver or better to do this task," Este answered, "you risked your life lying to Curunir several times to help her escape. That is a rare courage, Grima son of Galmod, you have a great man hiding beneath your facade of evil. Let him out, and become the man that you are meant to be."
"You will not be alone, Jordis will help you on your journey," Nienna added, "she is my charge, and as such she is aware of Aealsifth's condition. She will help you not only manage our seer but manage your jealousy and anger that you may feel. We are not giving you this burden to carry alone."
Grima felt the water start to rapidly rise as Varda's face again faded from his view, it gave way to alarm when Nienna left as the water reached his shoulders. As it began to reach his head Este's voice sounded in his ear.
"Take care of her, the charge of my husband, and in turn I will take care of you."
With that he felt her presence disappear, turning to see Aealsifth's head already underwater. He took a deep breath before it engulfed him, his hands struggling to pull himself to the surface although he did not know how to swim. He felt his lungs burn as the bloody water turned black, his legs kicking desperately for him to reach any place with air. He felt his heart beat fast in his ears, very fast, until it was all he could hear.
Grima woke up in his bed with a shout, sitting up and sighing in disgust at his sweat soaked sheets. He moved from his bed to peer out the window, unblinking as he saw trees moving among the yards of Orthanc. The worm moved to stroke a chest scar for comfort, looking down at his hand in alarm when he felt it's wetness. He let out a shaky breath as he saw he blood dripping from his scar, hearing Varda's dictations in the back of his mind.
He took one last look at the river that began flooding around the tower, and turned to the blank journal on his desk. Grima sat down with a furrowed brow as he remembered her words, dipping a quill in ink as he mumbled dates to himself.
"From the eleventh day of Gwaeron to the twenty-second in the year of 3019....."
Yea I pushed the timeline back a little bit to accommodate the arc I wanted to add nobody tell me that it's supposed to be 3019 already please
Aealsifth opened her eyes, quickly shutting them in response to the bright light that trickled through the fabric above her. She stretched her limbs out before curling up on her side, breathing deeply for a few moments then opening her eyes. She squinted as she adjusted to the morning light, looking up at the white clad figure that sat near her bed.
"You've been asleep for a few days, Aealsifth," the old man hummed.
"Yes," he told her, reaching out a hand to stroke her hair, "you're in Edoras. You feel asleep during the end of the battle, and did not wake up on the three day journey back, nor during the funerals that have taken place the past two days."
"Funerals," she whispered, thinking slowly until it processed, she sat up quickly with a start, "Haldir!"
"Lay back down, I can take you to his grave later. You need rest."
"What I need is to see my husband," she snapped, using one of the tent poles to pull herself up. She quickly wrapped her scarf around her head, then bent down to pull a blanket around her, shivering even in the spring heat.
"You aren't feeling well," Mithrandir placed his hands on her shoulders, "you need rest. You need to adjust to life without his connection."
Aealsifth's eyes were frozen, unreceptive to his advice as she shrugged his hands off.
"Take me to my husband."
Mithrandir searched her face, sighing as he lent her his arm and gestured out of the tent. Mithrandir grew worried as they walked out of the Roamer camp and towards the graveyard; Aealsifth did not speak to anyone or even look towards anyone that tried to get her attention. Perhaps the situation was as grim as her cousin made it out to be, the wizard pondered, eyes looking up to the few stars that twinkled in the day. It was when the two Elves, Rumil and Orophin, came into view as they entered the graveyard that she acted like herself.
She shrugged off Mithrandir, leaving the blanket behind in his arms as she made way to the Elves. Rumil had to restrain her when she landed a blow to Orophin, cursing in Sindarin as Haldir's younger brother fought to keep her from striking the older one again. Mithrandir moved quickly, helping to calm the hysterical woman down as her knees buckled.
"Where were you? Where were you when your brother died?" she screamed at him, moving to strike him again only to have her wrist caught by Rumil. She was slowly let down, falling on her knees as she stared at the stone covering Haldir's crypt opening. The woman froze, murmuring the inscription on his tomb with shaky words.
"Move the stone," her voice was commanding, but the brothers hesitated, making her repeat herself with a yell.
They looked to Mithrandir, who nodded to them, and worked at rolling the stone away. Aealsifth's facade broke, and the woman began to sob when she saw the body of her husband. The wizard nodded again the brothers, gesturing for them to pull his body out of the crypt one last time. She watched them from her place on her knees, screaming again when she was face to face with her husband. The brothers whispered to Mithrandir as she cradled his head in her lap, hands shakily framing his face. Mithrandir calmed them down and told them not to be concerned, only for all three of them to turn in shock at her next outburst.
"Vala! Aníron gen haded min noer Orodruin, Gen fuion!" Aealsifth screamed at the sky, Mithrandir holding out an arm to prevent Rumil from going to her, "Gen ú-velin! Gen ú-velin!"
Her words died and gave way to a loud sob, Mithrandir letting Rumil attend to her. Orophin led Mithrandir a few paces away, leaving the youngest to comfort the widow.
"She is volatile, Mithrandir," Orophin warned, "she curses the Valar over a death."
"Mm, the death of her husband."
"Who she left, twenty years ago. There is no excuse."
"Orophin, you are not yet married so you cannot understand what it is like to be connected in spirit to someone for forty years, then to have that presence be ripped out of you without warning," Mithrandir stopped to look at the brother, "besides, from what her cousin tells me they rekindled their marriage before the fight. He was going to leave Lothlorien to join her, do not underestimate how much guilt and regret she feels now."
"Nonetheless," Orophin conceded with a nod, "it cannot be good for her to be cursing the Gods so openly. Especially not when she lives in a camp of what is basically priests."
"It is not, she won't be allowed to sleep in the camp after that, I saw one of her generals just over the ridge. The Valar have a plan, do not trouble yourself with it."
The Elf nodded begrudgingly, watching his youngest brother comfort his sister in law for some time. The wizard watched his eyes move across her, studying the change in her movements and the scars across her figure.
"I wanted to hate her, for what she put my brother through," the Elf confessed, shaking his head and turning to the wizard, "but now I look at her and feel pity."
"Pity? I would not let her see that in your eyes. She hates nothing more than pity."
"I can't help it, between the loss of her husband and the scars down her back she's bound to be an object of sympathy for the rest of her life."
"I would not be so sure of her fate, young one," Mithrandir raised his eyebrows at the man, "the Valar have more in store for her than you think."
"What could they possibly have planned for her that she has not already accomplished?"
"You will know in time," the wizard patted his shoulder, "and you will be grateful for it."
"Maybe so, but until that time, my opinion of her will not change."
"Enough talk of our Gilith," the wizard brushed him off, the Elf raising an eyebrow as Mithrandir lowered his voice again, "I have information for you to tell your queen."
"What news could be so urgent?"
"The Palantir from Orthanc. I have it."
"What?" Orophin placed a hand on the wizard's shoulder, "how did you get a hold of that?"
"We have an ally in Orthanc, Valar knows the suffering he endured in retaliation for throwing it out of the tower."
"By the Valar, I cannot even imagine," Orophin turned back to the view of his brother cradling his sister in law, "I'll leave tomorrow to get the message to her."
"Mm, I suspect she'll be pleased."
"And our friend in Orthanc, when will you get him out?"
"When she's ready for it," Mithrandir pointed his staff in Aealsifth's direction.
Orophin looked over the wizard, then back to the scene before them.
"For a woman who cries so much over her dead husband I would have expected her to have been faithful."
"Watch your tongue, Orophin," the wizard knocked his staff lightly against the Elf's head, "she was faithful, but the future holds something else for her."
"Who am I to judge the will of the Valar," the Elf folded his arms, the two standing in silence for a few moments. "I'm going to speak to Legolas, I trust you can handle that," he nodded towards Aealsifth and Rumil, before patting Mithrandir's shoulder.
The wizard nodded, watching the Elf walk away to the Meduseld, and turned his sights grimly on Aealsifth. Rumil caught the wizards gaze, motioning him over. He quickly moved closer to them, leaning lightly on his staff until he was close enough to hear Rumil comforting the widow.
"Aealsifth, he wouldn't have wanted you to do this, you need to let him go-"
"I was there, I could have killed the Uruk if I was just paying attention-"
"We were all there, it was a hard battle look at how little of us survived the attack."
"I was his wife, I should have saved him."
"There was nothing you could do, just thank the Valar you made it out aliv-"
"The Valar? What have they done for me, except tear me away from my husband and then kill him in front of me? I can't thank them for killing him."
"Aealsifth, that's blasphemy-"
"Then let it be blasphemy, I don't care."
"Those are words you will regret, Aealsifth."
The woman looked over her shoulder, still cradling Haldir's head in her lap, stroking the dead Elf's hair.
"I am angry at them, I don't care what the future holds all I know is that I am angry at them."
"I know, Gilith, but it does you no good to curse them."
Rumil removed his dagger, handing to the widow.
"Take your token, and then we can lay him to rest, for the last time."
Aealsifth nodded, taking it from her brother in law silently. Rumil could see her fight back tears as she portioned off a piece of his hair, biting her tongue as she cut off the locks. She sat there for a moment, hand shaking as she held the dagger in her hand. Rumil placed a hand on the blade, pushing it away from her till she dropped it. Her friend placed a hand on the back of her neck and pressed his forehead against hers.
"Henion, gwathel nín," he consoled her, pulling something from his pocket. Aealsifth pulled away from him to take Haldir's wedding ring from his hand, holding it up to the sunlight before turning back to him.
"Le hannon, gwador nín."
"Avaro naeth, Gilith, I knew that you would want it."
Rumil held the ring as she looped the lock of Haldir's hair through it, tying it tightly before beginning to braid the hair. She hummed to herself as she worked, fingers moving slowly as she made the tight braid, looping the braid around the band of the ring when she was finished. Rumil offered up the chain to his own pendant, threading it through the band of the ring. Aealsifth let him take it from her and place the chain around her neck, patting the side of her face when he finished. He nodded to her, and looked back down at his brother.
"It's time to put him to rest, Aealsifth," Mithrandir told her, "he is not here, let his body lie until Dagor Dagorath, when the Elves will wake up and join us again."
Aealsifth stroked Haldir's hair, nodding and closing her eyes. The woman took a deep breath and leaned forward to plant a kiss on his lips one last time. Rumil moved quickly, pushing his brother's body back into it's crypt. Aealsifth rose to help him push back the stone, catching one last fleeting glimpse of him before he was sealed away forever. The siblings hugged, Aealsifth breaking it and motioning around her.
"When will you leave Rohan, gwador?"
"Soon, but we still have many others to bury before we can leave. A few days at most."
"The king has extended the invitation to you to stay for the commemoration celebration," Mithrandir told Rumil, "just as he gave Haldir a king's burial."
"He deserved that," the widow interjected, "and I must thank him for that. And Rumil, I understand if you cannot stay for the celebration."
They stayed there silent for a moment, Aealsifth gazing out over the tombs before shifting posture. She tilted her head quickly, shaking it lightly as she if she remembered something she tried to block out.
"Mazol, Mithrandir did they find Mazol?"
Mithrandir put a hand on her shoulder and avoided her eyes, Aealsifth searching his face before looking away and fighting back tears. She nodded her head and grit her jaw, looking at the fresh graves.
"Where is he buried?"
"There was no body, not enough of a body, to be buried."
"What?" the woman's words came out as a gasp, looking back at her friend, "how? How did he die?"
"We think he was wounded, and then when the horde advanced on the hold-"
Aealsifth moved away from them, covering her face with her hands and squatting. It seemed to the two men that she was trying to curl up, ignore the problems that were facing her as she tried to process it.
"They gave him the traditional ceremony, burning his headscarf with the prayers."
"And what good did the prayers do him? All we do is pray and die, Mithrandir."
"What else can we do? We are all at the mercy of the Valar," Rumil tried to reason with her. She only laughed as she stood up straight, wiping the tears from her eyes.
"We can just die," she turned to them, "because clearly prayers mean nothing."
"Give her time Rumil, the wounds are fresh," Mithrandir chided her brother in law, before turning to the woman, "Aealsifth, do not speak so rashly, you know you can't sleep back with your camp after what you already yelled. Don't push your own children away with harsh words."
"And I will drink my troubles away in the halls of men, and maybe my days as priestess will be over. I don't care right now, my children are better off not being near a bitter hag of a witch anyway," she spat the words at herself as much as she did at him, "although I will bite my tongue in the presence of the tribe, do not worry about that my wise old friend."
"And your plan is just to drink, gwathel?"
"Gwador," she turned to him, her finger tips brushing against his chin, "you have no idea what I have been through these past weeks. What I endured in Orthanc? What happened there? Nobody knows what turmoil I am in," her eyes were strained as she lectured him, recoiling her hands. "I must drink, to forget things that haunt me. Things that hurt me, do not judge me for this."
Rumil flinched at her words, gritting his jaw and pulling her into a hug. Aealsifth sighed and welcomed his embrace. When she lived in Lothlorien, Orophin never approved of her marriage. Her only friend had been Haldir's little brother, Rumil, and they had been close those twenty years. Rumil looked beyond Aealsifth's head to meet Mithrandir's eyes, the wizard dropping his gaze and looking to the Meduseld. Two figures were fast approaching, one much faster than the other.
"I see that Orophin has told your cousin that you are awake, Aealsifth," Mithrandir took note as he made out the figures as Aragorn and Eomer, "and he has brought a friend with him."
The widow pulled away from her sworn brother, squinting against the light to see a figure running at her. She stumbled back the closer he came, although that didn't matter much because when Aragorn reached her he swept her off her feet in a hug. The man spun her around, laughing at their second reunion.
"Just like when they were children," Mithrandir murmured to Rumil, who merely shook his head with a small smile.
"Maybe he can lift her spirits then."
"I doubt it, but anything helps."
"Curuni! You are awake at last!" the man laughed heartily shaking the fragile woman.
"I won't be for long if you don't stop shaking me," she told him, steadying herself as he put her down carefully. The man cupped her face with his hands, placing a kiss on her forehead before catching sight of the ring around her neck. Her cousin placed a hand over the momento around her neck, his other hand brushing stray hairs behind her ears.
"He would not want you to cry, curuni, do not spend much time mourning him."
"He may not have wanted me to cry but I am going to be reckless in my grief and not even Elrond himself can stop me," she looked up to her friend, eyes tired.
"Moonwitch, it is good to see you awake again," Eomer called to her as he approached.
"It's good to see you again, Horsemaster."
"You look pale, curuni, we should get you out of the sun," Aragorn noticed, putting a hand on her forehead, "and I know the others would enjoy seeing you as well."
"I won't speak to anyone from the camp, not now. I can say nothing good, nothing they need to hear right now. I've already gotten myself into enough trouble."
Aragorn and Eomer looked towards Mithrandir, who only shook his head in response. Aealsifth took in a sharp breath, looking around with a confused expression on her face.
"Who is screaming?"
"What are you talking about?"
"I hear nothing, gwathel," Rumil told her listening intently for any noise, looking to Aragorn, "we should get her out of the sun."
"No, seriously, I am not crazy, there is someone screaming, in this direction" she told him, pushing away from everyone and looking off into the distance. Mithrandir's expression hardened as she walked towards Orthanc, swiveling her head as she did so. Aealsifth's vision blurred as the words got louder, two distinct voices that she couldn't place.
"You fool of a worm, do you know what you have done! You stupid bastard! You worm!"
"What are the voices saying, Gilith, who is it?"
"Please, master, forgive me, I didn't know-"
"I can hear the words but I can't comprehend them...."
"Be silent and hold still! I will show you a punishment worthy of a worm!"
Aealsifth suddenly clutched her head and shrieked, falling to her knees as she continued screaming in pain. When she pulled a hand away, all she saw was blood, her vision blurring as images of the inside of Orthanc flooded her mind. The three men rushed to her aid as Mithrandir looked off to the distance wearily, looking to the Meduseld to see people gather as the woman continued to scream.
"Get her inside, now," he instructed, pushing Aragorn and Eomer towards the great hall, gripping Rumil's arm before the Elf could pass. "Our friend in Orthanc, I fear we are seeing the repercussions of his disloyalty to Curunir."
"They were blood bound?" Rumil pushed him for answers, the wizard shook his head curtly. The Elf sighed, shaking the wizard's hand off him and following the two men to the great hall.
"Here, let me carry her," Eomer motioned to his friend. Aragorn stood back and let Eomer pick Aealsifth up, the two of them running to the great hall with Aragorn in the lead. The woman never stopped screaming the entire time, pulling out pieces of her hair as she gripped it in pain.
"Gamling! Open the doors!" Aragorn yelled to the man, who rushed to complete the task.
Eomer tore past the redhead, whose eyes worriedly followed the prince before moving back to look at Aragorn. The two men shared a look for a moment, before Aragorn moved into the hall. Eomer yelled for servants to clear the table, and quickly, struggling to keep Aealsifth in his grasp. She began to kick and shake from the pain, leaving Eomer no choice but to place her on the ground where she doubled over. Mithrandir entered the great hall, Hasaal quick on his tail, both of them stopping to see the scene before them.
Aealsifth had calmed down, screaming turning to sobs as she began murmuring some sort of gibberish. The figure before them seemed too familiar, especially to the startled Theodin who had been conversing with Gimli on his throne. Images of a pale black clad man begging for his life flashed in his mind, even more so as she pushed herself up. The woman was delirious, arms outstretched as she leaned back on her knees with her eyes towards the sky.
"Why must you torture me!" she pleaded with the sky, bloody hands coming up to wipe tears from her own eyes. She did not seem herself, as if the worm has possessed her.
Mithrandir was soon at her side, kneeling to speak with her.
Her head turned to look at him, face scrunching up just as the worm's did. She did not speak, merely looked at him in confusion.
"Grima can you understand me?"
Aealsifth nodded, looking at the king out of the corner of her eyes. It was then that the person spoke, throwing herself back onto her hands and knees.
"Theodin! King!" she cried, looking back up at him, "have mercy! Please, grant me forgiveness before I die!"
Theodin looked to Mithrandir, rising from his throne.
"You aren't going to die, Grima," Mithrandir got the person's attention again, pulling them upright. "Now tell me, what is going on? What is going on in Orthanc?"
"Oh, let me alone! You did this, you caused this!"
"Caused what? What do you see, what has he done to you?"
"I cannot see through the blood, Gandalf," Aealsifth's tongue ran across her teeth, "he scalped me, Gandalf, because I threw that orb out of the tower."
"Listen to me, Grima, you will survive this, I swear it."
"I cannot handle another twenty-three days of this, Gandalf!"
"Twenty-three?" Theodin took note, moving to the possessed woman's side, "what makes you think it will all end in twenty-three days?"
The woman looked to the king, then the wizard. Her teeth bared as she shook, eyes fluttering and readjusting in pain.
"Grima, answer me-"
Her hand shot out and gripped the king's collar, moving her head close to his.
"Este told me," she whispered before laughed and falling back.
"Este?" Mithrandir shook the woman, "Este told you that you will die in twenty-three days?"
"I will not die here, not unless I give up," the woman sighed, breath rattling as she smacked his hand away, "no, in twenty-three days Aealsifth will come for me."
"Why would she do that?"
"Because, Gandalf," she held up her hand with the puckered scar, "she promised me."
"Aealsifth will not honor that agreement with her husband dead," Aragorn forced himself into the conversation.
"That is why it will take so long, keep up ranger," she spat, coughing at the exertion, "Gandalf, let her mourn the first nineteen days, then on the twentieth you must leave for Isenguard. I don't know what the future holds if you don't hold up your end of this, but I tell you now that I know the day that the final battles shall be fought."
"Who told you the days? Este?"
"No," she laughed lowly, shaking her head, "Varda did."
Mithrandir looked behind him to meet Aragorn's gaze, the ranger's face confused as the woman spoke.
"Oh, Gods, everything is fading again," Aealsifth groaned, "I don't have much time left here."
"I forgive you, Grima," Theodin told the worm, grasping their hand, "you have paid the price of vengeance three times over."
Aealsifth only laughed lightly and squeezed his hand in response, twisting her head to see Hasaal standing above her.
"She's going to need plenty of whatever medicine your people have," Aealsifth spoke, "the pain subsided for me when I took her over, so I can only imagine that she's going to be in excruciating pain when she gets back."
Hasaal only nodded, raising her hand up to her chest and nodding to them.
"Gandalf, twenty days, make sure she is headed to Isenguard in twenty days," her voice was frantic as her muscles began to twitch again. Aealsifth let out a scream as her face contorted back to her own mannerisms.
Mithrandir moved to let Eomer pick her up and place her on the table so that Hasaal could investigate the cause of pain. Theodin stayed with her, holding her hand as Rumil joined the Haradrim's side.
"Gandalf, why do you think Varda gave that information to the worm?" Aragorn asked, moving to stand next to the wizard.
"I have long since given up trying to figure out the will of the Valar."
Aealsifth's screaming subsided as Hasaal had her drink a sleeping aid, slowly drifting off and going quiet. Orophin and Legolas entered the Meduseld again, the former quickly moving to his brother's side.
"Is this who was screaming?" Orophin asked, "was it her?"
"Yes," Aragorn leaned against the table behind him, "and no. We had a guest."
"A blood bond," Rumil whispered to his brother, making Orophin laugh.
"And you said she was faithful! I wonder how many other men she's connected to," he moved from Aealsifth's side to face the wizard.
"I would be very careful what you say about her, Elf of the golden leaves," came Gannon's booming voice.
Orophin turned to the newest visitor, bowing angrily in response to his reprimand.
"Forgive me for not think of the emotions of a Roamer-"
"I am Gannon Rhossilasdaer, I fought in the Dagor-nuin-Giliath and saw Maedhros strung up on Thangorodrim. I have fought against Sauron in the second age, and I will not be spoken down to by a Lothlorien bitch," the older Elf shouted, "if you know what is well for you, you would be careful how you speak about the woman whose command I serve under, and who happens to be your own dead brother's wife."
Orophin nodded his head and looked to the ground, glaring at Gannon's feet as the elder moved to look at his friend.
"You young Elves have no respect," Gannon snipped, "she was faithful to your brother. Aealsifth's problem was that she was too empathetic for her own good, and now she is bound to a man that is only causing her more pain. Ironic, isn't it."
"That is fair enough."
"You never liked her much, did you? A half-Dwarf, half-Dunedain woman marrying your fullblooded brother. Didn't help when she left him to join us Roamers, did it?"
"That is a family matter."
Gannon laughed and moved past Orophin to speak to Mithrandir, barely paying attention to the angry Elf.
"Mithrandir, Yavanna has a message for you."
Orophin's ears burned, how he hated these priests and the favor the Valar showed them. There were others far more worthy of their attention in his opinion, and while it's true he never really approved of Haldir's marriage, Aealsifth's mixed heritage was only part of it. The other part was that even the Lady Galadriel seemed to favor her.
"Yes, Gannon, what is it?"
"In twenty days time, we will need worms," the Elf smiled at the wizard, looking back at the table. "Do you think you can handle that task, wizard?"
"Hm," Gandalf shifted his staff between hands, "I think I know where we can conjure some up."
"We only need the one."
"And you shall receive it, on my word."
"Mithrandir," Gannon bowed slightly, turning to pat Aragorn on the shoulder. He moved back to the table, leaving a snide "bitch" as he passed Orophin.
"Orophin, you should leave for Lothlorien today. Relay my message to Galadriel."
"But Mithrandir, there is more important information coming-"
"We can send that information back with your brother. Go."
Orophin fumed as he conceded, staring at his brother before leaving the great hall. He was always overlooked, always passed over in favor of another.
But that was a family matter.
Vala! Aníron gen haded min noer Orodruin, Gen fuion! Gen ú-velin! - Valar! I want to throw you into the fires of Mt. Doom, you disgust me! I hate you!
Gilith - Starlight
Henion, gwathel nín - I understand, my sworn sister
Le hannon, gwador nín - thank you, my sworn brother
Avaro naeth, Gilith - do not worry, Starlight
Chapter 26: Nineteen Days in One
Aealsifth sat with her back to the sun, reclining on a chair on the porch of the Meduseld and watched over the town. She spent the past few days like this, only a few days before coming out of a catatonic depression brought on from a rush of traumatic memories. Now she sat there, feeling as though she was actually working towards being healed. Her wounds had scarred a week ago, but now her fatigue was shrinking day by day and her head no longer swam with violent images. Perhaps the pipeweed was working.
Apparently when Mithrandir received the Palantir, he also brought with him two Halflings: Pippin and Merry. They worked to get her off the drink, alcoholics mending alcoholics, and entertained her with stories of the shire. They told her of Bilbo Baggins, of Barrow-Wraiths, of their encounter with Tom Bombadil and the Elves, and much to her delight of their meeting with Treebeard. She quickly swapped ale for pipeweed, and had become fast friends with the two Halfling men, over the course of a few days.
So now here she was, seeing her children every day ("Naneth just needs a lot of time to rest, ask Mithrandir, he will tell you!"), and spending her days trying to find new ways to fill the emptiness that filled her frame.
"It's as if I'm skin stretched over a great nothingness, like if you cut me I won't bleed but rather black mud will seep through the skin," she had told Gannon yesterday when he visited her, as he had done often. He was old enough to find no offense in her lapse of faith in the Valar, and bitter enough to relate to her.
"Still, no excuse to be doing stupid things," he lectured her, "you aren't a stupid creature, Aealsifth. And believe it or not, no matter how much of a bitch you may be lately, I'll still follow you to the ends of the earth."
"That sounds stupid."
"Never said that I was smart."
And so their conversation circled, Gannon telling her that no matter what she felt rash decisions was not the way to fix it. She agreed, and never acted upon any of her impulses or intrusive thoughts; swallowing her anger most days. Today was a day where it was easier to hide the wrath that hid behind her eyes, she had no problems to worry about and nothing to do but smoke pipeweed and sit with her sworn brothers. A good day, she had decided.
Rumil and Aragorn sat on either side of her, all three of them smoking from curved pipes. Aealsifth handed hers to her brother in law as he blew smoke rings, yawning and stretching her limbs out with a content sound. Rumil looked to his right, blowing smoke as he did so, and snorted upon seeing the prince of Edoras watching the woman next to him. He passed Aealsifth her pipe once she stopped moving again, leaning over to look at the ranger.
"Your friend knows what he likes, Aragorn," Rumil told him, gesturing his head towards Eomer.
The cousins squinted and looked at Eomer in unison, the Rohan man having turned away some time ago.
"Whatever the princeling's name is, he does enjoy looking at you, gwathel."
"Pfft," the woman waved his accusations away, "maybe once he did, but I doubt he would take much pleasure in the sight of me now."
"You take scars too seriously," Aragorn nudged her, "go easy on yourself, curuni."
"Rags, his last thought of me when he was about twelve winters, hiding in my tent to watch me undress. I have changed far too much to hold up to his memory of me."
"Well, perhaps he wants to make new memories," Rumil suggested, observing the horsemaster as he finished his conversation with soldiers by the stables.
"I'm your brother's widow in case you forgot, Rumil," Aealsifth rebuked with pipe between her teeth, looking to the Elf. Her brows both furrowed and raised as she spread her palms incredulously, "I mean he has been in the ground for only ten days and you are encouraging Eomer's attraction, what the hell is that about?"
"Look, my brother would have wanted you to move on, and you know that," the Elf blew smoke in her face, "besides, nothing wrong with a harmless romp in the barn."
Aealsifth lightly smacked his arm in response, the two men laughing as Aragorn leaned over to speak to Rumil.
"Aealsifth has never been one to turn down a quick romp from what I remember of her before she married."
The woman threw her hands up in surrender, rolling her eyes before blowing smoke rings.
"Both of you are so fucking annoying," she smacked her cousin, "so what if I was promiscuous in my youth? I was faithful to my husband and that is what matters, I don't intend to start sleeping around again as soon as he died, show me and Haldir some respect."
"Aealsifth, you hadn't seen each other for twenty years," Rumil placed his hand on hers, head nodding towards the ever closer horsemaster, "so there would be no disrespect in riding him like a wild stallion."
She pushed his head away with an annoyed look, smacking both of them as Eomer neared the steps.
"Shut up! He's coming closer, don't embarrass me," she pleaded, the three of them settling in with low laughter and smoke.
Eomer barely noticed the change in their demeanor as he walked up the steps to the Meduseld, moving towards the trio on his way into the hall.
"Aragorn, Rumil," the man nodded, coming to stand in front of them, "Aealsifth."
The woman nodded to him from her chair, not able to help her amused smile. She held out her pipe to the horsemaster, who shrugged and took it as Aragorn started talking.
"So the celebration is to take place tonight?"
Eomer nodded, passing the pipe back as a stream of smoke moved past his lips.
"Aye, we're going to eat, drink, and be merry!"
"And the women of Rohan, do they partake in the celebration?" Rumil asked.
"Why, see any that you fancy master Elf?"
The trio laughed, cousins turning to stare at the Elf.
"Not at all, I just don't see much of human customs or traditions. Gender segregation seems to be a big deal for the people of Edoras, men and women do drastically different jobs, so I wondered if the celebration was just for men as well."
Eomer smiled and leaned against the column behind him.
"Women are present at the celebration," he laughed, "they are a part of being merry."
The horsemaster's eyes landed on the ground in front of Aealsifth, briefly looking up at the woman before looking to Aragorn.
"My sister would like to know if you will be there, Aragorn."
"Has she moved on from Hasaal and Taurthel?"
"Is that a requirement of your presence?"
"Not at all, I just thought she was taken."
"She may be, there is little that I know anymore," Eomer laughed again, eyes again stealing a look in Aealsifth's direction, "now if you'll excuse me, I have to go help prepare the celebration. Part of my so called "princely duties" my Uncle calls it."
"Theodred would be proud of you," Aealsifth nodded her head to the side, "you're filling his shoes well, Horsemaster."
Eomer met her gaze openly, smiling lightly and nodding before heading into the Meduseld.
Rumil and Aragorn slowly sputtered into laughter, Aragorn clapping a hand on her shoulder and shaking her lightly.
"Doesn't fancy you anymore my ass," Rumil laughed, placing his pipe back between his teeth.
"And you, with the flirting, I thought you weren't going to move on so quick," Aragorn teased.
"What flirting, all I did was compare him to his dead cousin."
"And said that he was filling the Prince's shoes well, and the gazing by the Valar, no wonder Haldir dropped everything for you when he met you."
Rumil regretted his statement, the three of them falling silent and gazing out over Edoras.
"I think the Alderroot tribe can survive without me," Aealsifth said after some time, "they move as if I am there, or maybe they moved as though I was never there."
Aragorn looked to the currently dancing people, then back to his cousin.
"Do you miss them?"
"Of course I do, but I can't go back to them yet."
"I still hate the Valar."
"That isn't a reason for them to basically cut you off," Rumil added, "it's callous, they should be able to give you a grace period. Like me and Aragorn, we can do it."
"My duties as Chieftain double as high priestess, the Valar are the only ones who look after us. They feel betrayed by me, which is their right I suppose, but I do miss them."
"Do you feel betrayed by them?"
Aealsifth sat quietly, taking a long drag from her pipe.
"I can't blame you for that," Aragorn nodded in agreement, "You have been through a lot, and their abandonment can't help ease your feelings for the Valar."
"You have no idea what I've done for them, or what I've even experienced lately. It's not all of them though, my children love me still, they see me every morning, and Gannon will converse with me."
"And what does Gannon tell you?"
"That riding Eomer like a stallion will not ease the pain," she looked to her cousin.
"What does Gannon know of it?"
"He knows plenty, he is old and as bitchy as I am now," she laughed, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.
"What do you see when you close your eyes?" her cousin asked her, Rumil watching the conversation carefully.
"Nothing. And everything."
"What do you feel at night?"
"Same as when I close my eyes. Nothing and everything."
"What have you tried to chase that feeling away?"
"Wine, ale, stories and songs, and now pipeweed."
"So, you haven't....been with anyone?"
Aealsifth rolled her head to face her cousin, eyes opening to see him looking at her expectantly.
"Not since Haldir, no."
"Then how do you know it won't help?"
"It can't hurt to try, gwathel," Rumil butted in, "besides, I remember how awful you got after whenever Haldir would be gone for a few days on patrol. It'll probably make you easier to deal with."
The trio laughed again at his comment, falling into a comfortable silence again before Rumil asked finally spoke his mind.
"Gwathel, what happened to you in Orthanc?"
"Can't you tell? I was tortured," she brushed him off.
"No, what happened that you aren't telling people. You know that me and Aragorn won't show you pity, so there is no threat of wounded pride but you still haven't spoken to either of us about it. What is haunting you so horribly?"
Aealsifth fell silent, holding her pipe in her lap as she stared out blankly.
"You know how I can be a big flirt to manipulate my way in and out of a situation, right?" she started, folding her legs to the side and curling up in her chair. "Well, that's how I got into Orthanc, I flirted with the two Uruks by the gate. The same Uruks that tortured me. One of them was named Ruzzi, and he, uh, he liked me a lot I think. His friend was Gurbul, who didn't really feel the same."
"Hasaal told me that Curunir gave you to them," Aragorn said as she paused, "I won't have you tell me what they did, but I would know what about it haunts you so horribly."
"Uruks smell so bad, did you know that? Even when they are alive, they smell like they are rotting. Everything smelled like death, and because there was two of them it was magnified even more. Anyways, at that point I had been separated from my wigs for over a week. I was going mad with bloodlust, y'know? And then the smell of death all around...."
Rumil reached out and grabbed her hand, not looking at her as he held it to give her comfort.
"Rumil would whisper things in my ear the whole time, weird shit about how he loved me or something. I don't know, I guess he thought he did, Uruks seem like odd creatures. Gurbul would just handle me wordlessly and scare the life out of me when he did. After about two days of that, I gave into that little voice in the back of my mind. The one that told me that since I was here, I might as well take advantage of it since I hadn't really been with anyone in a while. The longer I listened to that voice, the more violent in became. And so, Ruzzi was there professing his love for me, and I just leaned up and ripped out his throat."
"I can't blame you for that, you were under attack-"
"No, no, Aragorn you don't understand. It was how I, ah....reached the full potential of that encounter. I ripped his throat out and swallowed it, and I didn't stop there. I ripped Gurbul apart with my bare hands, the sensation of his entrails was so......erotic, yes, it was pleasurable for me to kill. Just like Helixis and Kylaris, I was falling into temptations that no person should satisfy. And I did, I really did," she snorted ruefully, taking a drag from her pipe.
"Curunir fed me new Uruks every few hours. I'd have my way with them, kill them, and eat them. All to hide my vulnerability."
"You've been fighting to recover for a long time haven't you?" Rumil asked her, still avoiding eye contact.
"By the Valar, it seems as though I've been fighting for months. When Grima rescued me, I was so emotionally volatile. I tried to kill him, I demanded more Uruks, I even threw up the creatures I ate to try and exorcise them. And I feel as though my mind has finally recovered from the separation from my wings, but still I want to give into that little voice even now to try and hide from the pain I still feel; and that is the worst part of it all. Because I know what I'm capable of, what level of cruelty I'm capable of, and that's why I hate the Valar and why I can't go back to my people. I don't know if I'll ever be as kind as I once was, but to be tortured and break, then see your husband die.....it changes a person, you know?"
"I understand it, Aealsifth, and you are of course welcome to travel with us should you feel the need," Aragorn spoke after a while, "but I think that you can find a new way to be kind. You've always been kind and generous, I don't think that a month of hell could stop you from being true to yourself."
"That's how I see it too, gwathel. Don't fear too long, you will be made whole again, no matter how long that takes," Rumil nodded in agreement.
"How do you feel after saying it out loud?"
"In truth? I feel better, Rags, I can't explain how but I do."
The trio looked to the right in unison, seeing Pippin run out of the Meduseld with Merry quick on his tail.
"Nice try Pippin! You can't get Strider to say you're the tall one!"
"Master Hobbits," Aealsifth laughed leaning back, "what the hell are you arguing about now?"
The two Hobbits came to a stop in front of the trio, Pippin folding his arms across his chest.
"Merry is insisting that he is the taller one, when everyone knows that he's the short one!"
"Am not! Your the short one, I'm the tall one!"
"So, I've come to ask for the opinion of smarter people," Pippin glared at Merry out of the corner of his eye.
"And all you will hear is that I am the tall one, Pip."
Rumil squinted and tried to calculate the height differences as Aragorn and Aealsifth glanced at each other. The cousins held out their pipes, and the subject thankfully changed. And so, the two hobbits joined the trio in enjoying the lazy day. No more funerals, no more bad confessions, nothing but jokes and considering who was the more attractive people of Edoras.
"Are you wearing anything different to the party, Aealsifth?" Pippin looked up at the woman as she passed him the pipe.
"I didn't know I was invited till Eomer spoke to us, I didn't really plan on wearing anything different."
"Why, Rumil, should I change it?"
"Well, a tunic and men's pants aren't exactly clothing to be worn to a party," Merry quipped.
"What's wrong with it? Why not?"
"It's just not fun, it looks like your work clothes."
"What if I wear my belts-"
"The belts won't change the fact that you've worn the same thing for days, Aealsifth. We haven't seen you in any other sort of dress," her cousin admitted.
"I don't have anything else, my other clothes are winter clothing."
"Maybe Eowyn can help you," the strider told her, taking his pipe from Merry.
"Oh, yea, the tall, thin, human woman is going to have anything in my size," she scoffed, "besides, hiatus as priestess or not, blue and purple are my colors."
"Well, maybe you can ask Theodin."
"How in the world could he help me?"
"He did love your mother, perhaps he's got something of hers left."
"My mother was a petite woman as well. Hardy, but petite, it wouldn't fit me anyway."
"I have a spare tunic," Rumil spoke up, looking towards her, "It would be like a dress on you. A short and loose dress, but it would be different."
"Which one is it, the one you wore yesterday?"
"I haven't worn it."
"Well, it's not mine," he said looking away, "it was Haldir's."
The woman got quiet, but nodded her head.
"Fine, I'll wear it."
"We could do something about your hair too," Pippin nodded, oblivious to the strained look he was given in response.
"What could be wrong with my hair?"
"Well I don't know, we never see it!"
"Fine! I'll do something different with my hair then," she sassed, taking the pipe from him before he could take a puff.
Chapter 27: It's Party Time!
"I am so uncomfortable you have no idea," Aealsifth said stepping out of her room to show her cousin what she had done to the tunic. It was rather large on her, Haldir's shoulder's were much broader than hers and his torso much longer. With the help of the Halflings; she had managed to fix the collar to be cut to expose both shoulders, and the two cousins had managed to cut the neckline even farther down without her notice.
"Well, you look good at least," Aragorn motioned, "although your skirt will be far too short to be appropriate for the hall of a King."
"Bite me, Rags."
"Here, belt the dress and it should look better," he said as he tossed her the mithril belt.
The woman sighed, and put it on without question. She looked down to her knees, the split hem of the tunic parting down the middle of her legs and ended truly towards her mid thigh.
"I look cheap, at least in my normal clothing it was just....explained away by who I was. But this? This makes me look like the tavern slut," she sighed, sitting down and folding her hands in her lap. "That's it, I'm not going."
"Of course you are! I need someone to dance with," Pippin scolded her, his hands moving to mess with her head scarf.
"Let me alone, would you? I can't go looking like this, no matter how good I supposedly look, I'll stick out like a sore thumb."
"That's not a bad thing," Merry told her, "besides, you're a beautiful woman, people would look at you anyway."
"And, after I just fixed your hair, it would be a shame for you not to go," Pippin smiled, happy with his work. He had managed to tie up her long hair into a ponytail with her head scarf, out of the way and still kind of messy. Aealsifth sighed again, glaring at the three men who looked at her eagerly.
"Get me my token, and I will try to go to the party. I make no promises that I won't leave shortly after."
Merry ran to get the necklace she had gotten in Orthanc, and Aragorn stretched out a hand to be her escort into the great hall. The Hobbits had, of course, ran ahead at the promise of drinking and dancing, so there were a few moments where Aealsifth could be coaxed into a somewhat pleasant mood. She paused at the entrance into the great hall, watching all the people file in and find a place to stand in respect before the throne, but her cousin quickly pulled her into the room.
Aealsifth kept her eyes low, taking the cup her cousin gave to her and standing at attention towards the front of the room.
"See, this isn't so bad."
"I will kill you when this is over."
Theodin stood from his throne, holding the cup Eowyn had given him out to toast the crowd.
"Tonight we remember those who gave their blood to defend this country. Hail the victorious dead!"
"Hail!" the room responded, Aealsifth noticed her cousin hesitate before drinking with the rest of them.
The room almost exploded with noise, barrels being tapped and men starting to laugh and chase women about. Aealsifth found herself watching Legolas and Gimli engage in a drinking game.
"No pauses, no spills," Eomer instructed, setting two mugs down between the companions. Doing a double take as he saw Aealisfth watching from the side. "My lady, would you like to join?"
"It's a drinking game then?" Legolas asked, interrupting Eomer's invitation.
"Aye, last one standing wins!" Gimli laughed, prompting to Rohan men to cheer in honor of victory.
Aealsifth approached, and Eomer placed a mug on the table for her. She let her fingers trail along the table, dragging them up the side of the cup and along it's rim, looking up at Eomer from under her thick lashes. She lifted the mug, not breaking eye contact until the cup was empty, and then slammed it rim down on the table.
"I'm afraid horsemaster, that if I joined it, no one here would stand a chance."
With that she walked away, throwing a look over her shoulder before disappearing from sight. Eomer shook his head with a crooked smile, moving to fill the Dwarf and Elf's drinks with her on his mind. She wandered through the crowd a little, enjoying the feeling of her long hair tickling her back as it swayed with each step. She could see Eowyn talk to Aragorn, a curious event since he still wore Arwen's necklace. She leaned against the nearby pillar and watched the scene, startled as a hand touched her back.
"The lady is found of your cousin," Gamling told her quietly, watching the event as well.
"Many women are, Gamling."
"Still, I just hope she doesn't have her heart broken by him."
"That is her own risk, and it's best to leave women to their own devices," she looked to him.
He met her gaze, nodding slightly.
"How have you been, Gamling?"
"Tired, my lady, I've buried many friends."
"I'm sorry I couldn't be there to help."
"Don't worry about it, you've needed your rest."
"That's kind of you to say, but the truth is I don't handle loss well."
"You've dealt with more than just loss," Gamling's thumb traced one of the scars on her back, "you've needed every moment of the few weeks to make up for what happened."
"I've become an alcoholic, recovered from it, and now I'm smoking. Hopefully, I'll be good as new soon, but I still feel awful."
"Maybe you feel guilty."
"Why would I feel guilty, Gamling?" The woman turned to him, brow furrowed.
"You still wear his necklace, but he hasn't come back from Orthanc," Gamling's face was soft as he brushed a stray strand of hair from her face.
"Perhaps I am," she looked forward, "you should go find a woman and drink, Gamling."
Gamling nodded and reached for her hand, kissing it before he took his leave. Aealsifth felt confronted by her emotions, and she did not like that at all. The woman pushed through the crowd, taking nearly every cup handed to her and downing it as she moved until she had a nice buzz. Until she wasn't guilty anymore. She quickly found the table where Merry and Pippin were dancing, singing some sort of beer song.
"Pippin! I thought you needed me to dance with you?" she called out playfully, clapping in time with the tune.
The two Hobbits broke off their song with a laugh, pulling her onto the table and into the dance. She could easily move with it, twirling her feet and moving with her small friends. She had plenty experience dancing with people the size of children, after all she had two of her own. The two Hobbits began singing another tavern song, skipping around the spinning woman. She felt at home dancing, kicking her legs up and dropping to her knees to get on her friends level. She rose slowly as she turned to see Mithrandir staring at her, sensing Pippin freeze behind her too.
"Pippin!" Merry yelled, shaking the two from their thoughts.
"The only brew for the brave and true!"
Aealsifth twirled again and misjudged the step, her foot coming down to miss the end of the table.
"Comes form the Green Dragon!"
She felt herself fall briefly before hitting strong arms, looking up to see Eomer's amused face as he set her on the ground.
"You must have had a bit too much to drink, moon witch."
"I just span around one too many times," she smiled, tucking her hands into the loose sleeves timidly.
"Would you do me the honor of having a drink with me?"
"I'm just a Roamer, who am I to turn down the invitation of a prince?"
"You are much more than a Roamer," he told her as they turned to find a table to sit at, him reaching for her hand.
"A faerie, you mean?"
"You are more than the sum of your parts, Aealsifth," the tall man turned to her.
"If not the sum of titles, what am I?"
"You've been around humans too much if you forget that you are like your people, rank and title means nothing. What matters is that you are a kind woman."
Aealsifth turned away from him, walking towards a table.
"Maybe once, I was. I feel angry more than anything now, so if you are hoping to have a chat with your moon witch," she turned to him, holding out a mug of ale she took from a table, "then it would be best for us to separate now."
Eomer studied her face, taking the drink from her hand and quickly emptying it. He repeated her actions, placing the rim on the nearest table, before reaching out a hand to cup her face.
"I want to talk to the woman who willingly ventured into Isenguard and lived to tell," his voice was smooth and soft, like velvet she thought, "I want to talk to whoever is before me."
"And what do you want to know?"
"What have you done since last we met? Aside from adopt," the man smiled, gesturing for her to sit.
"Well, I've been around Gondor, but you could have guess that. We did some work in Lond Daer, in Eriador, uh, some farming for a year or two. From there we moved back up, passing through Tharbad and skirting the edges of the Shire, I got a job as a bar maid during the winters and we camped there to avoid freezing elsewhere. We passed through the ruins of Ost-in-Edhil, and started for Moria, looking to trade, but we were turned away by Mithrandir. That was the first time I met him after I left Haldir, actually."
"So you've known the wizard long?"
"Since I was a child, yes."
"Tell me about that, about growing up."
"Ah, not much to tell. My father was Dunedain and my mother a Dwarf, when the northern kingdom fell my father died and my mother left me with the elves in Rivendell. I don't know what happened to her, I was probably twenty five, but Dwarves age really weird. I didn't look twenty five until I was nearly forty."
"And how old are you now?"
"Hm, a rude question," she teased, taking a sip of ale from a nearby cup, "I forget it easily, but it's something like ah, one hundred and twelve? Although one hundred and five sounds right too."
"So you grew up with Aragorn then?"
"Not until we were young children, I guess we met when he was six? He was my first friend in Rivendell."
"So this dwarven aging thing, explain it to me."
"Okay, well uh, I guess we reach puberty at thirty, which is equivalent to fourteen human years. We finally appear to be adult when we hit forty, which is our final coming of age, but that's not even really adulthood for us."
"What is adulthood for your kind then?"
"Between sixty-five and seventy-five, it depends on the person."
"I can't imagine what old age looks like for a Dwarf," Eomer raised his mug.
"Typically? Two hundred and forty years of age. That only lasts about another decade though, most of us die around two hundred and fifty. Some of those in my family line can live until three hundred years, but that is rare."
"Damn, three hundred? That seems like a very long time."
"Nothing compared to Elves. Haldir was already three hundred years old by the time I met him."
"And how old were you?"
"forty-three, we were both young."
"Does not sound like it, I'm only twenty-seven."
"Mm, age is odd when it comes to inter species relationships. My one hundred and something is the equivalent to your twenty-seven, and Haldir's three hundred was the same as my forty-three."
"So it's not like your an ancient old hag then, you're still young?"
"Oh no, horsemaster," she smiled, "make no mistake- I am an ancient old hag, but compared to other ancient old hags I am rather young and stupid."
"Fair enough," he raised his mug, "now, back to what you've been doing the past fifteen years."
"Oh! Right, um, when we couldn't go to Moria we moved up and skirted around Rivendell- I didn't want to see anyone there at that point. We moved along the Misty Mountains, then along the East road until we hit Weathertop, camped there for a while. From there I think we moved along the Hoarwell, northeast to old Framsburg. All that took a few years, stopping to trade or work with small settlements along the way."
"What was Framsburg like?"
"Abandoned, but safe."
"Mm, where did you go from there?"
"From Framsburg we went....along the forest river, we spent sometime in Mirkwood but not much. The Mirkwood Elves tend to be a bit xenophobic, they don't like outsiders. So we then moved from Esgaroth to Ale then to Erebor. We stayed within that region for most of that time, plenty of work between the three places. At one point, I traveled down the River Running to the Sea of Rhun, with my mother. She taught me much, and it was there that we decided we would migrate to the Grey Havens."
"Where are the Grey Havens? I can only vaguely remember it's place on the maps of middle earth."
"It is farther west than the Shire, we passed through Bree and moved down along the Green Way. We never reached Michel Delwing, instead leaving the path and moving through the White Downs, Far Downs, and Tower Hills until we reached the Grey Havens. There she moved on, sailing into the west."
"That must have been hard for you, to send your mother off."
"I supposed, but it was for the best. She was tired of this life, and I took over from there."
"How long did all that take?"
"Oh, about, ah, twelve years? We spent a long the Erebor region, and it took a year and a half to make it to the Grey Havens. Then we circled back along the Green Way and into the North South road, moving beyond the Fords of Isen and into Fangorn. We, ah, my people and I like the trees and the tree herders that live there.....why are you looking at me like that?"
The woman flushed lightly under the man's gaze. The horserider had leaned forward, listening to her intently with a slight smile on his face. There was something about his eyes that made her stop, her own eyes avoiding them.
"Like what?" he asked her, smiling more as she furrowed his brow.
"I'm talking about routes and trees and cities and your looking at me.....well, I don't even know, but it's not how someone whose hearing about travel should be looking at me."
"You look less unhappy when you talk about travel, it's nice to see a spark in your eyes again."
Aealsifth looked down at her hands, blushing even more a his comments.
"So, how did you end up at Edoras?"
"Oh, we, um, we followed the Entwash. When it forked into the Right Snowbourne we banked off with it, and then slowly but surely ended up here."
"Where do you think you will go when you are done here?"
Aealsifth let out a fast breath, looking down before looking out over the people.
"I don't know if we will leave here, because I don't know if we will live long enough to do so."
"What was your plan before all of this happened," he asked her, "I mean surely you had a plan."
"I wanted to go back to Erebor. There was plenty of work, the people were kind, and it's beautiful up there. Cold, but beautiful."
"Cold and beautiful, it reminds me of something else."
The woman tilted her head, not asking for elaboration with words.
"It reminds me of you, my lady."
"Beautiful," she snorted, "you are drunk."
"Why can't you see how beautiful you are? Ever since I first saw yo-"
"I was beautiful, but now I'm something else. I'm covered in horrible, ugly scars, and I don't have the confidence to be beautiful anymore."
"I think you are still as lovely as spring, moon witch. And because I am drunk, I won't mind admitting that I'd love to warm you up."
Aealsifth looked at him in surprise, averting her gaze quickly as her cheeks burned at the offer.
"And here you look away and blush, like some young maiden. I know you better than that, I've seen you better than that."
"Things change, Eomer. I told you that already."
"Some things don't, Aealsifth. You are still a strong, beautiful woman. Don't let the medals that come with surviving torture prevent you from knowing that."
Eomer stood and walked behind her, moving her long hair from her shoulder to whisper in her ear.
"Let me remind you of your worth," his breath was hot on her ear and the ale had finally hit her mind. Her own thoughts seemed to slur as she looked up to him slowly, taking the hand he held out for her.
Eomer escorted her out of the great hall, slipping away unnoticed by everyone around him. Almost everyone, anyways.
From the corner of the room stood an observant Gannon, his arms folded across his chest as he watched the two with annoyance.
"Let them be, master Gannon. They are young and weary, in need of touch."
The Elf turned to see the red haired Gamling, watching the couple as well.
"You are young too, Gamling, I would be cautious to give me advice."
"I know more than you think I do."
"No offense, Gamling, but I'll believe that when I hear proof."
"Gil-Galad was an Elven king, of him the harper's sadly sing," Gannon slowly looked towards the red headed man who payed him no mind, "the last whose realm was fair and free-"
"Between the mountains and the sea," Gannon finished with him.
"See master Gannon, I told you, I know more than you think."
"How did a Man of Westron tongue learn the Fall of Gil-Galad?"
"Who says I am a Man?" Gamling looked to him briefly.
"Who are you? Another of the Maiar?"
"All in time, Gannon. Do not rush to know me."
Gannon turned away from the man, uncomfortable with their conversation.
"I will leave you with a hint of the future, though," the man continued speaking.
"Tall ships and tall kings
Three times three,
What brought they from the foundered land
Over the flowing sea?
Seven stars and seven stones
And one white tree"
Chapter 28: Day 20
The woman woke up reluctantly, opening her eyes slightly to see the speaker.
"Aealsifth, wake up."
"Mithrandir?" she rubbed her eyes, pressing Eomer's blankets to her chest as she propped herself up, "what the hell are you doing?"
"We have to leave, now."
"Leave? What are you talking about?"
The wizard grabbed her hand, pulling her fingers from her palm to expose her scar. She looked to him and jerked her hand away, looking over her shoulder to the sleeping horsemaster.
"Meet me in the great hall in a few minutes, Shadowfax will take us."
She watched the wizard leave the room, hanging her head and pressing her hand against her mouth as she thought for a moment. In truth, she was scared to go back to Orthanc. She also felt guilty, horribly guilty. She had started to move on from her husband, and she felt guilty that she wanted to be unfaithful. Aealsifth had wanted to love the worm, and be loved back, and it haunted her now that her husband was dead. She was startled from thought as her bed mate stroked her arm.
"What did the wizard want?"
"I have to go."
"You can spend the night here," the man started, sitting up.
"No, I mean I have to go. I have to leave Edoras."
"Where are you going?"
Aealsifth looked over her shoulder, glancing over the man.
"Isenguard," he sighed, lying back down, "do you have to rescue to worm?"
"I'm supposed to be kind, aren't I?"
"Still, he deserves it."
Aealsifth stood, moving to Eomer's closet and stealing a tunic.
"Aealsifth, c'mon, don't be upset-"
"You don't know what happened to him or me in that tower, nobody deserves that and shame on you for thinking that anyone could."
"I'm sorry, Aealsifth, I should have thought better of my words."
"Your right," she said, looking to him as she stood in the doorway of his room, "You should have thought better."
The woman quickly moved to her own room, pulling on trousers and belting the tunic, hanging her sword from it before pausing in the mirror. She sighed, taking down her now loose and nearly destroyed ponytail. She tied her scarf around like she always did, feeling more satisfied with her appearance. With that she left her room, moving quietly to the great hall.
"Where are you going?"
"I have to rescue a friend, shieldmaiden."
"So you are going to Isenguard? Alone?"
"When will you return?"
"My lady, go back to sleep."
"I feel bad for ignoring you, since your husband died."
Aealsifth turned to the blonde woman, shrugging and shaking her head.
"What's done is done, there is no use in regret."
"I do still love you, I just didn't know how to help you."
"Go back to sleep, Eowyn, I will see you again soon."
The blonde hesitated, but nodded and watched the other woman disappear into the great hall.
Aealsifth met Mithrandir in the empty hall, the two silently regarding each other.
"Does Eomer know you've left?"
"Yes, you aren't very quiet."
"Probably for the best," the old man stood, leading the woman out of the Meduseld.
"Why now, Mithrandir? And why you."
"Do you remember a few weeks ago when you collapsed in the graveyard?"
"Yes, but what does that have to do with anything."
"You were not hallucinating, Grima switched places with you. He has information for us, and he said that we must come for him twenty three days after that point. Today is the twentieth day."
"Why are we not taking two horses if we will bring back a third person?"
"He will have his own horse to use, and we should move quickly."
"Do not be scared," Mithrandir turned to her suddenly, a hand grabbing her arm, "Curunir is nearly powerless, the only power he can have over you is what you give him. Don't give into your fear."
She nodded, moving quickly as the wizard dragged her into the stables.
"Shadowfax," Aealsifth murmured, acquainting herself with the horse briefly while Mithrandir was occupied. It didn't last long before she was grabbed, pushed onto the horse with Mithrandir following suit. "You didn't have to man handle me," she snapped at him.
"We have no time to waste," the wizard answered, "now Shadowfax, to Fangorn, swift as the wind."
The horse quickly burst from the stables, tearing out of Edoras. Aealsifth shrieked, her hands knotting in Shadowfax's mane while she tried to keep her balance. Aragorn had run out of the Meduseld only to see the white rider off in the distance, Gannon looked up from his own duties in the gardens and sighed at the sight of the confused cousin. He wiped his hands on his pants and started for the steps of the Meduseld, Aragorn not even seeing the Elf approach.
"Do not worry, Aragorn called Strider, they are only off to retrieve a worm."
Aragorn looked to Gannon briefly, eyes quickly moving back to the pale horse as it moved out of sight. The two stood there watching, illuminated by the torches lit along the Meduseld to keep the dark of night at bay.
"He rides with such haste that I worry, coupled with the fact the sun has not even begun to rise yet."
"Well, it took us three days to return from Helm's Deep on foot, it would surely take six days to reach Orthanc."
"They should have left earlier then, rather than exhaust her and miss the window provided."
"She wasn't ready, besides, they can do it in no time."
Aragorn looked at the Elf with a raised eyebrow.
"How do you figure?"
"Well," Gannon scrunched his face up, making calculations, "it's what, sixty miles from here to Helm's Deep? About another seventy-five from Helm's Deep to Orthanc? All in all I estimate that's about one hundred and thirty-five miles. The typical horse moves at what twenty-five miles a day, and Shadowfax is supposed to be exceptionally fast, let's say five times faster......"
Aragorn tilted his head as he watched the Elf do the calculations, more than happy to wait patiently.
"Shadowfax could then do around one hundred and twenty nine miles a night. They'll likely stop in Fangorn, rest there tomorrow, and then continue into Orthanc the next day."
"And you figure all that in your head?"
"You can fight me if I'm not accurate," Gannon shrugged, "that's just my reasoning."
The strider looked away, crossing his arms in front of his chest and Gannon eyed him for a moment.
"Say, your Elessar, right?"
Strider just turned to Gannon, an eyebrow raised at the timing of this question.
"So I'm told."
"I had a, ah, dream the other night, a message really, one that I think was meant for you."
Aragorn moved to fully look at the man, who merely stared up at the stars.
"I was standing on the fields of Pelennor, watching as a river of blood flowed from Minas Tirith. Things, shifted, and there was the lady Galadriel, beside a white tree with a single flower blooming on it. In her hands, the crown of Gondor."
The man looked up to the stars as well, waiting for the Elf queen's message.
"From there, she looked at me, in her strange way as she does, and told me that she had a message that should be departed to a certain 'Elessar'. Are you ready to hear it?"
Aragorn met Gannon's eyes, nodding. Gannon placed a hand on the other man's shoulder, looking out over Edoras.
"She looked at me and spoke, she told me:
Where now are the Dúnedain, Elessar, Elessar?
Why do thy kinsfolk wander afar?
Near is the hour when the Lost should come forth,
And the Grey Company ride from the North.
But dark is the path appointed for thee:
The Dead watch the road that leads to the Sea.
She then showed me another glimpse into the future, one she undoubtedly got from Elrond, one that even I did not expect. You and Aealsifth sat in Minas Tirith, crowns on each of your heads, Aealsifth for the northern Kingdom and you for Gondor, joint rulers and cousins of the two. By your side, was the lady Arwen, she had a son in her arms. At Aealsifth's side stood...."
"Who was it? Haldir? Rumil?"
"No," Gannon looked back to Aragorn, a strange look on his face, "it was Wormtongue, standing with Nalkul and Yorthad. There is much going on, Strider, and I think it best for us to concern ourselves with our own parts of prophecy than someone else's. That way we don't interfere or fuck up our own jobs worrying about something out of our hands."
"Wise words, master Elf."
"They should be," Gannon turned to walk down the Meduseld, "I'm too old to be saying dumb things."
Chapter 29: Day 21
They had ridden all through the past day, barely stopping near Helm's Deep to drink water and rest Shadowfax for a moment. Aealsifth was so tired, having gone a full day without sleep was taking it's toll, and she couldn't sleep on the back of the rare steed. Shadowfax moved far too quickly, and she found she had to be alert at all times to avoid being jostled off the horse's back.
By the time they reached Fangorn, Aealsifth could have cried in relief. Shadowfax came to an abrupt halt at the edge of the woods, and the woman jumped down without hesitation. She wobbled when her feet hit the ground, straightening herself out and eventually opting to sit instead. Mithrandir laughed at the sight, still seated on the horse.
"Why are you laughing?"
"Never thought I'd see the day where a Dwarf has to find her 'land legs' again!"
"Well maybe if your horse wasn't so damned fast, I would never have lost them!"
Mithrandir joined her on the ground, pulling her to her feet.
"Come, we will find rest in the forest, but not out here in the open," he looked around, "it is still too risky."
Aealsifth groaned as she moved on, tripping over her feet as the wizard guided her into the forest. They walked for some time, moving beyond the various gnarled roots that lay all around them, the wizard humming as they did so.
"Do you ever think I'll find favor in the Valar's eyes again, Mithrandir?"
"What makes you think you ever lost it?" the wizard eyed her curiously.
"Everything that's happened."
"You will have to be a lot more specific, Gilith, a lot has happened."
"It's just. They had me leave my husband, so I did. And then- then they bring a new man into my life, only for him to lead me to torture. Despite that though, I still wanted him. And i-it makes me feel guilty."
"Why should love make you guilty?"
"Because here I was, willing to give my heart away, while my husband never even entertained that thought. And you know, when I was dealing with Haldir's death, do you know why I was drinking? Because I felt guilty, like I could easily move on because deep down I had already moved on. I was faithful in body but not heart, and that makes me guilty."
"Mhm, you are guilty of nothing, Gilith, except love. The Valar work in strange ways, you know this, and if they slated you for love, how could you say that you have lost their favor?"
"Their favor feels like a curse."
"It does not always feel good," he admitted, gesturing to a clearing ahead, "we'll stop here and rest."
The woman eagerly found a place to lie down, feeling comfortable in the roominess of Eomer's tunic.
"You have never lose the favor of the Valar, Gilith, it is they who have lost favor with you."
"Maybe it is true, but perhaps they should be subjected to that feeling of abandonment every once in a while," the woman sighed, adjusting her scarf.
"Aealsifth, do not be so arrogant as to cast off the Gods."
"Why not, they eagerly cast us off."
"Yet we need them-"
"As if they don't need us?" she turned to him with a sneer, "they use us to fight their wars and battles, not the other way around. They need us, Mithrandir, but I do not think that we need them."
"You will regret your choice of words, Aealsifth, for deep down you don't truly hate them. You are angry, but don't let that stop you from forgiving them."
The woman rolled over in response, wishing she could turn away from his words. The wizard was not tired, but he sat adjacent the woman, watching the trees breathe along with her. She fell asleep quickly, thankful for the respite before returning to Orthanc, the place she knew to truly be hell. Mithrandir's eyes moved to his left, attracted by the soft glow that seemed to appear from nowhere. He turned his head, face softening at the sight of the woman he knew as both Queen and lover; Galadriel.
He rose, moving to the smiling Elf who appeared by chance, knowing she wasn't really here. Astral projection was a gift from the Valar, one he was consistently grateful for.
"Mell nín," she smiled in response, a fair hand reaching out to stroke his cheek.
"Why have you come here, now at this hour?"
"Orophin has brought me news of the Palantir, and of his brother's death, and he alluded to a presence in Orthanc that only she could uncover."
"You've come to ask me about it, then."
"And to see you, as me and Celeborn feared you were dead."
"I was dead, but I was brought back. Dead no more, as you can see," he hummed to himself, turning back to the slumbering woman. "She is reluctant to listen to the Valar, or to me."
"Losing a loved one is a great catalyst for despair, Mithrandir, you should know this."
"Yes, but we need her, I'm sure of it."
"As am I, but we cannot rush what takes time, no matter how limited it is for us."
Mithrandir moved his eyes back to her, and she met them in turn.
"There is something moving in Dol Guldur."
The wizard turned to her fully, his eyes wide as he listened to her.
"But Sauron is in Mordor, the eye of the tower, who could it be in his stead?"
"It is Khamûl, the right hand of the Witch King of Angmar," her eyes skittered across the forest, "he has been amassing his forces, and we fear that soon he will attack the strong holds of the Elves."
"Does Thranduil know?"
"Yes, he's joined meetings of what is left of the White Council, as has Celeborn. We cannot spare anymore warriors, Mithrandir, although I may be able to fend them off with the help of Nenya," she paused as Mithrandir looked across the forest worriedly. "Mithrandir, we must bring the Faeries into the war, or else all may be lost."
"I know, but there are many tribes that must rally under one leader, and the time it would take to make that decision," he shook his head in thought.
"The Valar have already picked a leader."
"Who? Zunaen? Domdora?"
She only smiled in response, and Mithrandir closed his eyes with understanding.
"Who else could they have chosen? She is the only one who could lead them, it's in Isildur's blood."
"She is only half Dunedain."
"It is all that is needed, Mithrandir," she moved beyond her loved and knelt beside the sleeping woman, stroking her hair. "I must depart, Celeborn calls to me, but first I must leave her with a gift."
"What will you give her?"
Galadriel leaned down and kissed the woman's forehead.
The first thing she saw was his golden hair sparkling in the sun.
Images of the moon eclipsing the sun, his voice whispering in her ear. It smelled like him all around; leather and jasmine and wine. It smelled like him. Her world was flipped, like looking through the veil of life into death, her hand moving out to touch the blue barrier between her and Haldir. It sounded like chimes when she touched it. It also burned. She watched Haldir's hair move as though he was under water, moving and glittering slowly.
The moon eclipsed the sun.
The light was gone.
His voice still sounded in her ear, smooth as silk and rich as soil. His mouth didn't move, only his eyes as he watched her movements. His hand reached out, pointing behind her. Aealsifth slowly turned, seeing the status from Rauros there in the dark. Not the dark, no, it was a mass of tree roots, wriggling as the statues cried blood. The roots wrapped around the arms of the statues, the statues crumbling slightly as they tightened their grip. Plants grew along the roots; ferns, Aldar and Poplar leaves, red Holly berries flecked the bushes. A sparrow descended from the dark mass of trees, landing and picking berries as it did so, whistling. Aealsifth could almost swear it was chirping Sindarin.
The moon eclipsed the sun.
Wind blew across the woman, who cleared her throat in response to the dirt being flung in her face. Her light wheezing turned to retching, coughing violently into her hand. She pulled away and immediately dropped the squirming creatures in her hands- worms. She had coughed up worms. She looked back to her husband, who only looked her over once then looked beyond her again.
Aealsifth turned again, this time she saw stars falling from the sky. The image burned in her mind. The statues, the trees and birds, the falling stars, and her husband's voice in her mind. Like a snake coiled around her ankles, there was a feeling of apprehension thick in the air. She couldn't look away as a star collided with the statues, knocking their heads off the shoulders of the rock men.
The stone heads fell and eclipsed the sun.
Aealsifth turned back around, looking to Haldir for some hint or idea as to what was going on. He merely continued gazing at her with empty eyes. His smell was all around even though it had been tainted- jasmine, leather, wine, fire, and death.
The moon eclipsed the sun, it's ring of fire burning into her eyes when she glanced back.
She couldn't understand his rhymes, the words seeming to mesh with the images but what they truly meant she had no idea. His hand pushed through the blue barrier, and pulled her head to touch the burning partition. His eyes met hers and he repeated his words again:
"As the moon rises high above the sun,
and shadows crawl across the world,
Sparrow, Fern, Poplar, and Aldar shall be one.
The snowy roots again shall curl,
and death will join the King.
The northern city again shall rise,
one leader standing tall.
But if she does not listen to the worm that's wise,
Varda sent, the sky shall fall,
heralding the last victim of the Ring."
All the poem's I've included thus far were taken directly from Tolkein's other works, to tie in more with the books, this is the only one that I have written so far. I just wanted to make sure I mentioned that to avoid copyright issues.
Chapter 31: Day 22
Aealsifth had been told to enter the tower alone, and so there she was climbing up it one floor at a time. She had started out just fine, feeling comforted by the Ents around the tower, but she had grown more and more uneasy as she moved along. The silence was almost as awful as the emptiness of the rooms, it took her some time to realize she should know better, that he would be towards the top. Near the stars.
She had moved moved quickly despite the burn in her legs. It seemed like eternity, moving in that repetitive motion. One leg up, one leg up, one leg up. Walking uphill, on stairs, it's enough to make anyone break into a sweat. She decided to rest, or at least her body did, falling down into the nearest doorway. One of the wall fixtures seemed familiar to her, although she couldn't place it. Nevertheless she used the wall to pull herself back to her feet.
Aealsifth looked down the hall, but could see nothing. She could hear some distant sound, some sort of sound like rain hitting stone.
"Grima?" the woman shouted down the hall.
There was no response.
She slowly moved along the wall, looking around for the man while she repeated her call. She grew closer to the only illuminated room on the floor, incidentally where the rain seemed to come from. She snaked towards the lit room, peering around the door jam into the humid room. She still couldn't see the noise source, which frustrated her. Aealsifth put her head against the wall behind her, looking down at the scar on her hand.
"Grima, are you in there?"
She sighed, uncomfortable now that she was in the tower. Too many unpleasant memories here, the negativity started to be claustrophobic. She was being suffocated. She peered back into the well lit room, making sure there would be no surprises before she ventured in. The woman looked around her nervously, hearing Uruk voices in her head. She knew they weren't real. She knew she was alone, but that made it worse.
"Grima?" her voice was shaky, so were her hands.
She heard a door open farther down in the room, but she also heard the main door shut. She looked to the door in front of her, blinking several times to make sure it was still open despite the noise.
The woman let out a sigh of relief. With just one word, the walls were pushed away from her and she could breathe again. It brought comfort to not be alone in the tower. She turned with a smile, only for it to be quickly distinguished upon seeing the worm.
He stood there, water droplets still dripping off him as he watched her, holding a towel around his waist as he scrunched up his face. She would never admit it, but she loved how his face looked when it scrunched up like that. His brow heavy over his eyes, teeth exposed lightly as his upper lip pulled back into what was almost a sneer. It showed his curious nature. However now, it was marred by the damage done to his head.
"Don't- don't," he raised a hand to her, biting his lip as he looked her over, "you came."
"My husband died."
"I should have come sooner."
"I knew that you wouldn't."
"How could you know that?"
"Some important women told me."
"Yea, I thought you'd react that way."
Grima looked up to her eyes again, walking forward with arm outstretched to wrap her against him. He held the back of her neck, rest his cheek against the top of her head as he held her. Aealsifth eagerly wrapped her arms around him, almost enjoying the feeling of his wet skin against her. She pulled away, raising a hand to touch along the edges of the scabbing wound on the top of his head.
"I should have come sooner."
"There was nothing you could do," the man took her hand, kissing her knuckles. The comforting movement revolted her to a degree, making her pull her hand away.
She felt even worse when she saw that he didn't even seem surprised by her actions. She turned away from him, looking around the room.
"You should get dressed, Grima."
"Very well," she could hear him move around behind her.
There was the voice in the back of her mind, a hand that pulled her head to the side to peak over her shoulder. He was not an unattractive man, even with his.....wound. His shoulders were broad and his hips were just a bit slimmer, her eyes trailed further down the man before she made herself look away.
"Mithrandir is waiting for us outside the tower, just a warning."
"I appreciate your warning, I haven't seen him since I threw the Palantir out the window."
"Well, he's thankful for that too."
"I'd hope so, it cost an awful lot," the worm raised a hand to his scalped head, looking down, seemingly lost in thought.
"What are you thinking about?"
He looked to Aealsifth, watched her lean again the wall with her back to him. The tunic she wore looked so familiar to him, though he could hardly place it.
"You can read minds, you tell me."
"I can't read minds."
"Of course you can, you did the first da-"
"I was told your thoughts, I didn't read them. And I can't be told anything if I'm not speaking with her."
"Well, I am speaking to Este, and she won't tell me what lies in your mind."
Aealsifth laughed and looked over her shoulder, shaking her head.
"I want to get out of this tower."
"Just give me a minute to....pack some things. Nothing much, but things that I want to keep."
"Can I sit on your bed?"
"You are always welcome to sit on my bed," he watched her eagerly lie down and stretch out.
Grima stole a glance over her, eyes lingering over the way the over sized tunic draped over her body. He quickly turned away, reaching for his large knapsack.
"What are you taking with you?"
He turned to her again, seeing her lying on her side. Watching him.
"Just a few things."
"Tell me as you pack, I think I need a distraction."
Grima paused, placing his knapsack on his side table. He moved to her side, crouching on the bed with his hands folded in front of him.
"You feel the tower," he raised his hands to mimic walls, "you feel it crushing you, you hear it's voice, too, don't you?"
She only nodded, and Grima let out a sigh of relief.
"I thought I was going crazy."
"Mm, well, maybe we both are."
"Maybe so," Grima turned away from again, picking up his bag, "but it's better than going crazy alone."
"Tell me what you're packing."
"Well, let's see here, a few quills, three jars of ink," his hands danced around his room. "An extra shirt, it was my father's, a picture of my mother."
"Can I see it?"
"Perhaps.....perhaps at a later date, wouldn't seem right in this tower."
"A few books-"
"What are they?"
"An atlas of the creatures in the world, there are blank pages regarding your kind. I hoped I could fill them in, complete them....the others are...less important. A book on magic, the other is the story of Beren and Luthien. A history of the world."
"Beren and Luthien? That is an important story. It shaped many things."
"Perhaps," Grima smiled at her, "I always found it to be....bittersweet."
He looked away from her, pushing the books into his bag roughly.
"All the coin I have, not for me, don't worry, but I think it might be useful in the future. I'm taking some bones, good for craft. Some maps, some crystals. Lastly, my winter cloak. I don't like to be cold, and it's very precious to me, it was my father's as well."
"You pack like a Roamer- only things of use and sentiment."
"Thank you, my lady, but I'd give all of that up to make sure that this," he turned to her with a journal, "to make sure that this is brought to Gandalf, and your people."
"What is it?"
"Whispers....dates and times....the future."
"Varda is speaking to you then?"
"If she is?"
"Then you are very lucky. And very important."
"Ah, importance," he looked away, moving to rest an arm on a nearby windowsill, his face illuminated by the sun. "The Ents, are important. Gandalf, yes. Me? No. I am here for one reason; I'm supposed to rely this information on to you. So that you can be important, not the other way around."
"I wish they would leave me alone."
"Oh, Aealsifth, they will never let you go," he turned to her, moving to brush hair from her face, "you are far too important to give up on now."
Grima pulled his hand away, searching for a nearby tunic to layer over his shirt. Grima always felt cold. He always felt especially cold in Orthanc, though. It didn't take him long to finish getting dressed and turn back to Aealsifth. She stood and held out her hand to him, and Grima took it with a smile.
Chapter 32: Echinococcosis
Aealsifth watched Grima from atop his horse. He seemed horrified, standing some ways from her and Mithrandir and seeing Helm's Deep for the first time since the great battle. When they had finally reached the halfway point between Orthanc and Edoras, he had demanded they stop so he could see the damage himself. It didn't take telepathic powers to understand his immediate remorse.
It felt like ages to her, watching him furrow his brow and shake his head as he looked at the still decomposing bodies on the field. The massive hole in the wall of the Helm. The smell of death. Aealsifth turned away from him and kept her head low.
"How many died?"
"Too many to count," the wizard answered, looking over the worm, "between the three groups fighting behind the Helm, we don't know for sure."
"It was enough."
"I did this. I caused this."
"Yes, you did."
Mithrandir turned to Aealsifth quickly, a shocked look on his face while she turned back to Grima.
"You did this. And now, you have to atone for it, make up for it."
"I can do that."
"Then get back on the horse, and let's go."
Grima looked up at her. The man searched her eyes, not sure what he was looking for. A spark of Este, maybe, something less harsh within her. There was nothing. Grima felt as though he should have known better, he was warned about it anyway. He grabbed her hand and got back on the horse. He reached around her to grasp the reigns, and they continued their journey to Edoras.
"There will be no stopping for rest! So keep your heads up!"
The worm grimaced at the wizard's words, he wasn't very eager to get back to Edoras. In fact, he was rather scared. Scared of the wrath of Theodin and Eomer, of the townspeople. They would surely hate me, he thought, and they would have every right to do so. He deserved it. He briefly looked down at the woman in front of him, sighing as he pushed that thought from his mind. Who cares if they hate me, he thought to himself, I have a very important job to do.
The rode fast, trying to keep pace with Shadowfax (who Aealsifth suspected was moving intentionally slower than he could go). For some time it stayed like that, their horse moving just behind Shadowfax, yet when the sun set Shadowfax was nowhere to be seen as their horse slowed to an exhausted trot. Aealsifth shifted in front of him, making a noise that Grima knew to be annoyance.
"I thought you used to ride this horse to and from Orthanc without stopping."
"It normally wasn't trying to keep up with a Mearas," the man huffed, dismounting the horse and taking the reigns from his companion.
Grima led the horse in silence for a while, slowly humming a song for a while until the words slipped from his throat without him thinking.
"Nine for mortal men doomed to die,
One for the dark lord on his dark throne,
in the Land of Mordor where Shadows lie."
Aealsifth looked to him abruptly as he sang, his song of the One Ring. The ring that caused all the calamity, all the pain. The nasty words mixed with his strangely pleasant voice, a vaguely raspy and warm baritone, startled her in the dead of night. He must of felt her eyes on him because he turned back to look at her, falling into silence upon seeing her concerned face.
"You should not whisper such evil things in the dark."
"I did not mean to cause you any discomfort, my lady, but I would not fear the dark."
"And why not? Do you still carry with you friends in the dark?"
"Vague insults are very immature, Aealsifth, come out and ask me what you are insinuating."
"As you wish," the woman scoffed, "do you still convene with things in the dark, outside of the behest of your former master?"
"No, I do not. I have, however, met a woman who is one with the night. If she walks beside us we could not see her, and she would keep us safe. So I do not fear that which I used to convene with."
"I guess everyone is a faerie now, the Gods seem to talk to everyone anymore."
"And why is that?"
"I was not persecuted only for you to reap the benefits."
Grima laughed and rolled his eyes, continuing forward. Aealsifth made no move to disembark the horse, although Grima assumed that was because she was used to making long trips on horseback.
He however was content to walk, moving at his own pace until the sun rose again. He enjoyed the sight, the feeling of sun on his skin. It felt rejuvenating to him, relaxing in contrast to his tense traveling companion. His happiness stalled as he laid eyes upon Edoras.
"Why do you now pause, Grima?"
"To be frank, my lady, I'm terrified."
"You have every reason to be," Aealsifth extended her hand to him. "Come one, get on the horse. We will met them together."
Grima nodded and accepted her invitation, brow furrowed nervously as he kept his eyes locked on the city. He finally closed his eyes and let his head find its way into the crook of Aealsifth's shoulder. The woman's face softened at the physical contact, closing her eyes briefly before opening them to look at the man waiting for them at the gate. There, sitting with his back to Edoras, sat an irritated horsemaster.
The two met eyes.
Water poured into overgrown fields, and Eomer looked away.