Night was just falling as Alys and her escorts reached the first of the sentries. “Lady Alys, you are requested to go directly to the king,” one of the men said once the small party had been positively identified. “And the Lady Legrace as well.”
“She is not with us,” she said to the sentries, then looked worriedly at Dacius and Leofric as they continued on into the camp. “I daresay that the king will be angry that we left her.”
“That will be on my shoulders,” said Dacius with a sigh. “For it certainly fell to my responsibility to see that both you ladies were escorted. But it is the Lord Elrohir whom I think will be most angry.”
The thought made them all uneasy, for the Elf Lord was an intimidating presence even when he remained silently in the background. Soon enough, too soon, they turned their mounts over to the grooms and went, not without trepidation, to the tent where the king waited. Upon admittance, they saw that the Lord Elrohir and General Benoit were sitting with him: the three men were sipping wine and talking together in low voices.
When they entered, it was the Elf Lord who stood up. “Where is the Lady Legrace?” he asked sternly. The three of them were descended from kings and queens and were all stout of heart and strong of nerve; however, each one of them was stunned, for the fierce Noldorin blood within him had been stirred.
“She sent me away,” answered Alys, unable to meet his eyes.
“Why? What happened?”
“Wait a bit, wait a bit.” Now, King Eldarion got up and came over to them. “My dear lady, pray, be seated and take a glass of wine. Gentlemen, I bid you to do the same.” He arched an eyebrow at Elrohir and then moved to see that the lady, still in her riding gear and spurs, was comfortable before resuming his own seat. With immense effort, his uncle did the same.
“Now, tell us what occurred, Lady Alys,” continued Eldarion kindly. “You were observed leaving here with the Lady Legrace after the parley.”
“Yes, my lord. The lady was very distressed, so I accompanied her. She wanted to speak with the woman Tempest. I tried to dissuade her, but she said she would go with or without me, and I thought I should stay with her.” She purposely avoided looking at the Elf Lord, and she instead looked only at the kind but grave face of Eldarion.
“So, you went to find Tempest?”
“Yes, and the three of us rode together to a quiet place where they spoke together in private. I could not hear everything, my lord, but they spoke of strange things. Then they moved away and spoke together in quiet voices.”
“Can you tell us what you heard?” King Eldarion encouraged.
“Very little, and it made not much sense. My Lady Legrace said that Mordor had only bittersweet memories for her and nothing else, whereas Tempest said that all was bitter for her but not at all sweet. The talk continued thus for many a long minute, with my lady speaking of exquisite love and happiness, and that Tempest speaking of hate and vengeance.”
“Had you any sense that they knew each other before?” asked Benoit. Till now he had remained silent; indeed, she had almost forgotten his presence.
“No, sir. It seemed that they were strangers who… knew each other by reputation. That is all.”
“Well, then. What next?” prompted the king.
“Well, my two guards were detected and exposed.” She indicated Dacius and Leofric. “My lady was angry. She told Tempest to – well, I don’t recall. To execute them or imprison them.”
“She told her to do what she would with us,” volunteered Leofric.
“Yes, of course,” said Alys, flushing.
“Well… Tempest said she could do nothing for fear of alienating you, my lord, or her new allies. Then she spoke quiet words with my lady before departing. After that, I spoke a little with the Lady Legrace. She was deeply distressed and sent us away in haste.”
“And you left her there? Alone?” Eldarion turned to frown at Dacius.
“Forgive me, sire, if I did wrong,” said the man with calm resolve. “I was charged with seeing that the Lady Alys was safe, and I have done so. The Elf Queen spoke to us very rough and belittled us as if we were only pups in her eyes, and I truly believe that is all she saw. For my part, I would have sent the Lady Alys with Leofric and attended the other lady, but I don’t think she would have stood it, and in her anger, she was particularly fearsome. Thus, I come here now.”
“So, you left a lady alone and unprotected,” said Eldarion flatly.
“I did, sire.”
“For pity’s sake!” exclaimed Alys. “He had no choice! Lady Legrace would not endure his presence and sent thunder down to hurry us along away from her.”
A little chuckle sounded from Elrohir. “Yes, I think it is safe to say that no fault lies with Captain Dacius tonight,” he remarked. “For that lady has no need of protection of any kind and occasionally chafes at the good will of mortal men.”
“Sir?” asked Leofric. “I wanted to know how that Elf Queen got such a horse. For her mount is Stigontral gone gray, is he not? I should know that colt anywhere! He was black when he was sent to Gondor, and now he is curiously gray, yet he is the same colt.”
A deep, malignant silence settled over the group: Eldarion was staring at his uncle without speaking. The horrible truth had at last come together in his mind and there was no denying it now. Nothing seemed to come between them, and the silence stretched, reaching a horrible length in a minute, and then two, and finally three. “I must speak with Lord Elrohir now,” Eldarion said in a coldly formal voice. “Please leave us for now.”
At first there were a few seconds of hesitation. Dacius was the first to bow; he took Alys by the arm to escort her and glanced at Leofric who bowed as well, looking confused, and went with them. Benoit hesitated longer, wishing to stay and needing to know what Eldarion knew, what was said between the two.
“You too, Ben,” said the king, and there was no option. The old spymaster made his bow and departed after the others. Alone, then, Eldarion still stared at Elrohir. “You think I am some kind of fool, it seems.”
“By no means,” sighed Elrohir. “You suffered much when the Lady Fala left, and I sought to protect you from more.”
The young king swore blackly and shook his head. “You have lied to me.”
“I have spoke no untruth and have deceived you only by omission and only to protect you.”
“Protect me??” Eldarion snapped, then laughed: a sharp, unpleasant sound. “By the Valar, Elrohir, you are a vile creature. She loved me – do you understand? She lived with me, shared my bed, almost might have been my Queen. And you took her from me.”
“It is not so. I did not meet her until after she had left you. I knew it would divide us; thus I hid the truth from you.”
With a snort of disgust, the king went to take up his wine glass and swallowed the contents in one quick gulp, then poured another glass and tossed that back as well. “What sort of woman would do such a thing? Why did she come to me in disguise? For certain, she could have seduced me as easily – far more easily, to be sure – as she is now. Is she some sorceress? Is that how she changed her appearance and the color of the horse? I have never heard of elves leaving one man and taking another, I though you mated for life. By elven custom, she is mine, you know, until my death.”
“It would be true if either of you was an elf,” began the Elf Lord slowly. “That lady is no elf. She is of the immortal race of the Blessed Ones from across the sea. I cannot say she is not wicked according to the judgment of men and elves; however, she did love you very sincerely and still does. It was she who gave us the warning of the armies of the enemy. It was she who told us of this evil creature who raised the dead. And it was she who told that the Army of Dead would not long trouble our brethren in the North. She fretted for your sisters because you did. Do you not see that she holds you in dear affection?”
All that he said was true and made sense. It gave Eldarion pause, and he turned it over in his mind. Then, he shook his head. “She shared my bed those months, and now she shares yours. It is too much.” He turned and fixed Elrohir with a look of cold hatred. “You will go from here, back to Imladris. You are no longer welcome in Minas Anor and will have no contact with Ancalimë and Gilraen.”
Elrohir paled and his eyes grew wide. “Eldarion… with this dark threat that we are facing, this is too drastic. Let me go away for a week and then we shall speak again.”
“No, you are to go now and never to return. You have made your choice and so now have I. Go with your faithless and cruel lady, and I wish you joy of her.”
Still stunned by the starkness of this pronouncement, Elrohir blinked. He had known Eldarion all his life as well as Elessar his father, and Arathorn his father, and many others before: this was no idle threat but a punishment and a ruling that he meant to keep. “My dear nephew, you seek to punish me, which I understand, but in doing so, it is really yourself and your sisters whom you are harming, as well as your people. If I leave this place now, I will not return. You must realize that you have not the ability to defeat this powerful evil without me. Thus, I shall depart at dawn, and you will have the chance to change your mind before then.”
“I will not change my mind.”
“Very well.” Elrohir came to stand before him, and the two men looked into each other’s eyes: Eldarion’s full of anger and hurt, Elrohir’s full of sorrow and regret. “Unlike your mother, I have chosen the fate of the elves, so I shall not see her again. It well may be that you and I shall never look upon one another again in this world or any other. I say now, as my last words to you, that nothing – no woman, no army, no evil – can ever come between us. For ever and beyond the Timeless Halls, you will be my beloved nephew and I shall recall you always with love in my heart.”
The king did not waver. “Farewell, uncle. I wish you no ill.”
“Farewell, Eldarion. May the Valar keep you safe.” With these words, Elrohir departed.