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In Aragorn's Safekeeping
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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17
Edoras

Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.

Many thanks to my Beta Readers – J and Marsha.

Author Note: Words in italics are elvish and are translated at the end of the chapter.


~~~

Rebecca sat in Thomas’s arms sobbing out her grief. He rocked her slightly as tears streamed down his cheeks as well. Legolas quietly moved over, placing a hand on her shoulder, murmuring soothingly in elvish, while Gimli stood nearby with his head bowed.

Aragorn pulled Gandalf off to the side. “What is Rebecca doing here, Gandalf? I left her in Lothlórien to keep her safe,” he said angrily. He glanced over at her, his eyes softening in the face of her grief.

“She needs to be with you, Aragorn. Rebecca and Thomas did not come to Middle-earth by accident,” Gandalf answered. “If I had been with you in Lothlórien, I would have insisted she come with us.”

“She would have died at Amon Hen,” Aragorn hissed.

“Or, she could have made a difference that allowed Boromir to live,” the wizard replied. Aragorn paled as Gandalf continued, “Though, I do not believe that would have happened. They have a different purpose. It was probably for the best that she was left behind, it has made her stronger.”

“It has only been two weeks.”

“That is a long time when you are living in a strange place with people you do not know and with very few people who even speak your language. It also gave her extra time to practice archery. I spoke with Haldir and Rebecca is quite good, Aragorn.”

“She told me she was learning right before we left.” Aragorn shook his head in frustration, “How can I take her with us into such danger?”

“You have to trust that Eru has some plan you cannot see. Do not leave her or Thomas behind again.” Aragorn nodded reluctantly. Gandalf suddenly smiled, “You should be proud of her.”

“Why?”

“She refused to come the first time I asked,” Gandalf chuckled.

Aragorn looked at him in disbelief, “She did?”

“She said you had left her there to protect her and she did not want to disappoint you.” Aragorn gave his friend a faint smile. “Though, she also said that she did not agree with you.”

“That is an understatement,” Aragorn said dryly.

“I convinced her to come after promising to explain everything to you first. Will you be able to speak with her without anger?” Gandalf gave him an intent look.

Aragorn ran his fingers through his hair before nodding. “In truth, I am angrier at you than Rebecca,” he admitted quietly. “I am mostly worried for her,” glancing again at her, to see that she had calmed somewhat. “After all, you brought her,” he pointed out. “However,” he sighed deeply, “I will bow to you greater wisdom in this.”

--

Rebecca felt as if her heart was breaking and she clung to Thomas desperately. She had known in her head that one of her friends was dead, but to face the actual reality of it was overwhelming. Great gasping sobs tore from someplace deep inside of her and she pressed her face into Thomas’s chest to stifle her cries.

She was vaguely aware of Thomas’s hands stroking her face and hair comfortingly and the soothing sounds of elvish words being murmured nearby that gave her a sense of peace. But then images of Boromir would flash through her mind and the raw, gut-wrenching grief would well up again. Rebecca squeezed her eyes shut tightly, trying to block out the pictures of Boromir that kept popping into her mind. The ones where he looked so serious, but there was a twinkle in his eyes when he was teasing her; or when she had been injured and he was carefully helping her to climb over a log; or any of the times when he was talking with her in a kind and courtly manner. But keeping her eyes shut did not stop the images from coming and it did nothing to stop the pain.

Rebecca’s loud sobbing had stopped, though tears still flowed heavily down her cheeks as she started to calm down from the first initial pangs of grief. She looked up to see tears on Thomas’s cheeks as he studied her, his eyes matching the sorrow she felt.

“Hello, Rebecca,” Thomas said softly, bending and kissing her tenderly on the forehead.

“I’m glad you’re all right, Thomas,” she whispered hoarsely, reaching up to gently touch his cheek. “We knew something had happened… we-we just didn’t know who it was…he can’t be dead… why is he dead?” she stared past him sightlessly.

“I-I don’t know,” Thomas stammered, struggling to bring his own emotions back under control while he searched for an answer. “Because…well…I just don’t know.”

“It hurts, Thomas,” she looked up at him pleadingly as if he could stop the pain. “I don’t understand why he had to die.”

Thomas thought of all the things people had told him when his father had died, but none of them fit this situation and he knew none of them would bring comfort to Rebecca. “I miss him so much,” he whispered, “but-but I don’t know why he died. Only-only God or-or these Valar know that.” He embraced her tightly as Legolas crouched down beside them.

“You want an answer that will heal the pain in your heart, Rebecca, but there are none,” Legolas said gently. “Only time will heal your heart, young one.”

“It’s not fair, Legolas,” she whispered, not looking at him. “Those filthy orcs should be dead,” she sobbed brokenly, “not a man like Boromir.”

“Yes, the orcs should be dead,” Legolas agreed with a sigh. “In all my long years I have seen many great warriors killed by orcs. It is a risk we all take to defend our land and people. I know that brings you no comfort. Boromir was your friend, but he was also a fierce warrior,” he said softly. “He knew the risks he was taking when he set out on this journey.”

Rebecca turned away from him and looked off into the distance, not saying anything for a long time. Finally, Legolas spoke again.

“Why have you joined us, Lady Rebecca?” he asked gently as he glanced meaningfully at Thomas. Thomas blinked in surprise, trying to understand what the look meant.

Rebecca turned slowly to Legolas, “Gandalf said I need to be with you… that I have a purpose here.”

“I am sure you do, you and Thomas both,” he agreed. “I am glad to have you with us again.”

“I missed you all terribly,” Rebecca said, straightening up in Thomas’s arms. Thomas suddenly realized that Legolas was trying to get Rebecca talking and to stop her from withdrawing from them in her grief. “It was hard being there alone,” she continued.

“How did you get here, lass?” Gimli asked, sitting down beside them.

“Gandalf and I rode a horse for a couple of days,” she replied quietly, “and then we walked through this place for the last few days.” She shivered and Thomas hugged her again.

“I noticed you were carrying a bow. Did you learn how to use it?” Legolas asked.

Pushing herself to her feet, Rebecca looked around wildly, wiping tears away as she did so. “I dropped it, I hope it didn’t break,” she groaned.

Legolas handed it to her with a small smile, “It is not that easy to break a bow of the Galadhrim.”

Hannon le, Legolas,” Rebecca said as she quickly ran her hands over the bow, checking it for cracks, sighing in relief when none were readily apparent.

Thomas watched Rebecca as she unstrung the bow and slung it over shoulder with the ease of long practice. “Who taught you?” he asked.

“Haldir. I started the same time you did, but Lady Galadriel didn’t want anyone to know. She thought Aragorn wouldn’t approve…” Rebecca’s voice dropped to a whisper as she glanced over at him, remembering his anger when he had first seen her. She hoped Gandalf would be able to calm him down, she didn’t think she could take him scolding her. Rebecca wiped away the tears that started falling again.

“Are you any good?” Gimli asked gruffly.

“Yes,” Rebecca nodded, “I am.”

“I would like to see you shoot, Lady…” Legolas was interrupted by the return of Aragorn and Gandalf.

Aragorn saw the flicker of fear that crossed Rebecca’s face as he approached and while it saddened him, he wasn’t surprised. She had heard the anger in his voice earlier and she knew how he felt about her being here in the first place.

“Rebecca,” he said gently as he reached her, his eyes full of compassion as her tears started to fall once again. Without any further words he pulled her into a fatherly embrace while she cried bitterly. “I am sorry about Boromir, Rebecca. It is a grief we all share,” he said quietly before he released her.

“I know, Aragorn,” she said sighing wearily as she wiped away her tears.

Gandalf’s voice made them look up, “We must leave for Edoras as soon as possible.” His kind blue eyes lingered on Rebecca. “I am sorry, Rebecca, that we do not have time now to mourn Boromir properly. However, you know that he would want us to try and protect his city and Middle-earth, do you not?” he asked quietly.

Rebecca nodded, “I know you’re right. His-his home was the most important thing to him.” She choked back a sob as she remembered his promise to show her Minas Tirith and she glanced at Thomas. He gazed at her with total understanding in his eyes before moving to her and taking her hand.

“Now, young lady, go and gather your things so that we may depart,” Gandalf directed.

Rebecca turned and left the clearing, pulling Thomas along with her.

“I suspected she was in love with someone,” Gandalf commented. “I am relieved to discover it is Thomas and not a certain merry elf,” he said with an amused smile.
The others laughed quietly, all of them well aware of Rebecca’s initial reaction to Legolas.

--

Out of sight and earshot of the clearing, Thomas stopped and pulled Rebecca into a fierce embrace. “I missed you so much, Rebecca. I didn’t know I could miss anyone like this.”

“Me, too,” she whispered, leaning against him and laying her head on his shoulder. “I was so lonely without you, I missed our walks and talking with you… just being with you.”

Thomas gently brushed some strands of hair from her face before tracing the curve of her jaw with his thumb. “I love you,” he murmured before softly kissing her, his kisses quickly turning more passionate as she responded to him, their loneliness and their pain fueling their need for each other. Thomas ran his fingers through her hair as she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him closer. He slowly moved his hand down her back… “Ouch,” he yelped as he jerked his hand back.

“What’s the matter?” Rebecca looked at his hand in concern.

“My hand ran into something sharp on your quiver,” he said with a grimace.

“I’m sorry,” Rebecca said, leaning against his chest once again.

“We should probably go, the others are waiting.”

Rebecca nodded and led the way to where her packs were lying.

Aragorn looked at Rebecca and Thomas sharply as they returned, noting their flushed faces. While he was faintly amused, he was concerned about the possible distractions their relationship could cause. He glanced at Gandalf to see the same concerned look in his eye, but he said nothing as they set off.

--

“It’s a long walk to Edoras,” Gimli complained as they neared the edge of the forest.

“I do not intend to walk, master dwarf,” Gandalf replied.

“You may not, but our horses ran off,” Legolas reminded him.

“We shall see.”

“I have discovered that Gandalf loves to be mysterious,” Rebecca said to no one in particular.

“I found that out many years ago,” Aragorn commented dryly.

Gandalf ignored them.

Leaving the darkness of the forest behind and stepping into the late afternoon sun caused all of them, except Legolas, to breathe a sigh of relief. He looked back longingly, “I will return one day to explore this forest,” he vowed.

Gandalf suddenly loosed a long piercing whistle that echoed in the air around them. He waited, leaning on his staff as his eyes scanned the plains to the north. Soon the distant sounds of hoofbeats could be heard.

“Shadowfax,” Rebecca said quietly as the horse galloped into view, followed by the other three horses.

“He’s beautiful,” Thomas said, “is that the one you rode?”

“Uh huh, he’s really fast.”

“Well, Gandalf was right, we will not have to walk to Edoras,” Gimli announced.

“I usually am, Gimli,” the wizard gazed down at the dwarf with a smile.

While Shadowfax, Arod, and Hasufel came quickly to their riders, Thomas had a hard time with Baldor. Thomas would approach slowly, talking softly and soothingly and the horse would dance just out of reach. Growing increasingly frustrated and knowing he could not take that out on the horse, Thomas walked away taking deep breaths to calm down. He was staring into the distance with his hands on his hips when he heard the sound of Baldor approaching behind him. He froze. The horse blew in his hair before nudging him in the back several times. Thomas turned slowly, grabbing the reins while he softly patted the horse. “So this is all a game to you, is it boy?” he asked quietly, reaching up to scratch him between his eyes. Shaking his head in annoyance, Thomas led his now seemingly docile horse back to where the others were waiting with amused looks on their faces.

“You can ride with me, Rebecca,” Thomas said eagerly.

“Not on that horse,” Aragorn said flatly. “You need both of your hands free to control it. She is riding with me; I want to speak with her.” Aragorn did not miss the look of dismay that crossed Rebecca’s face, nor the pleading glance she threw at Gandalf.

Thomas opened his mouth to argue before mumbling under his breath and walking away, jerking on the reins to bring his horse along.

“Rebecca, we need to go,” Aragorn motioned for her to join him at his horse.

Clenching her jaw, Rebecca walked over, reminding herself that Gandalf had insisted she come and that Aragorn should be mad at him, not her.

“Be at peace, Rebecca,” Aragorn said quietly as he took her pack and attached it to the saddle. “I am not angry with you, though my harsh words earlier indicated otherwise.”

“Gandalf said I needed to come,” Rebecca said looking up at him to make sure he understood.

“I know, he told me and I understand, though I am still very concerned for your safety,” he said with a small sigh. “Do you know how to mount a horse?”

Rebecca shook her head, “We rode bareback and Gandalf just pulled me up.”

“You need to learn.” He showed her how to put her foot in the stirrup, grab the pommel and haul herself up. She struggled a bit because Hasufel was such a tall horse, but was quickly seated with Aragorn sitting behind her.

Rebecca watched as Thomas’s horse danced around nervously, though he did bring him quickly under control. “I’m glad I’m riding with you,” she said quietly, glancing over her shoulder at Aragorn.

“Thomas has his hands full,” he agreed as they set off, galloping west towards the setting sun. As they rode late into the night, Aragorn and Rebecca spoke of many things. Rebecca told him of her days in Lothlórien; he was especially interested in her archery skills, asking pointed questions about her accuracy and distance. Aragorn told her of their journey down the river, meeting Éomer, and, only when she insisted, did he give her brief details of how Boromir died. Rebecca said nothing when he finished, just squeezed his arm that was around her waist, sighing deeply as a few tears fell. They fell quiet after that, each lost in their own thoughts until Rebecca fell asleep, leaning back against Aragorn.

Sometime after midnight, Gandalf called a halt. “The horses need to rest for a few hours.”

Rebecca gingerly dismounted from Hasufel amazed that she could feel so stiff even after the time she had spent riding Shadowfax and she wondered how long it took to get used to riding a horse. “Can I help you, Aragorn?”

“Take the packs,” he handed her several bags and her bedroll, “and get some sleep. I will be along shortly.”

“I’m going to walk around for a minute.”

“Do not wander far,” he cautioned as he stripped the saddle off the horse.

“All right.” Rebecca dropped the packs near the others she could see in the dim moonlight before she slowly walked up a small incline stretching her legs as she walked. Halfway up she realized someone was standing there and she paused uncertainly.

“You may join me, Lady Rebecca,” Legolas invited quietly, not turning around.

“I don’t want to disturb you,” she replied as she stepped up beside him.

“You are not disturbing me, I am merely enjoying the view,” Legolas lifted his head to indicate the sky above them.

Rebecca looked up at the vast array of stars shimmering brightly against the velvet blackness of the sky. “It’s beautiful,” she murmured.

“Elves are most at home under the stars.”

“Why?”

“There were only stars when elves first awoke in Middle-earth. The sun and moon did not appear for thousands of years.”

“No sun and no moon,” Rebecca muttered. “It’s hard to imagine, Legolas,” she said shaking her head.

“It is hard for me to imagine and I have known about it all my life,” Legolas said with amusement. “But I know that I prefer the starlight. Should you not be sleeping? It has been a difficult day and we have far to travel tomorrow,” he glanced down at her with concern in his eyes.

Rebecca paused before answering, “It has been a rather difficult day, Legolas,” she sighed as tears filled her eyes. “Tomorrow will be better. Good night,” she whispered.

“Good night, Lady Rebecca.”

Rebecca slowly returned to the camp, blinking back tears before she retrieved her bedroll from the pile and laid it out next to Gimli. “I’m glad we don’t have horses to tend to, Gimli.”

“Bah, I wish we didn’t have to ride horses at all,” he grumbled.

“You’d rather walk?” she asked in surprise.

“Aye, lass, I would, if we had the time. Dwarf legs are meant for walking.”

“Well, I’d rather ride.”

Thomas threw his bedroll down next to Rebecca, dropping onto it with a weary sigh. “That damn horse,” he muttered.

“Gave you a rough time, did he, lad?”

“Yes,” Thomas replied shortly. “I swear Éomer gave me that horse on purpose just to spite me.”

“Possibly,” Gimli laughed, “though he only had three spares.”

“He could have given it to Legolas or Aragorn.”

“Given what to me?” Aragorn asked, crouching down beside Thomas.

“Baldor.”

Aragorn chuckled, “He is a handful,” he admitted “though you handle him well. How is your arm?”

“Sore, now that you ask, but it doesn’t bother me too much.”

“Good. I would like to talk with you for a moment.”
Aragorn grabbed Thomas’s arm and pulled him to his feet as he stood. He led Thomas a short distance away before turning and gazing at him intently. “Thomas, I will be blunt with you. I know not how it is in your world, but here we take a woman’s honor very seriously.”

Thomas looked at him in confusion. “I know, Boromir and I talked about it, Aragorn.”

“You and Rebecca are both wards in my keeping and I expect you to treat her honorably.”

“Of course, I would never hurt her,” Thomas said stiffly, offended by Aragorn’s words.

“Thomas, I saw your faces today as you returned to the clearing.” Thomas blushed with embarrassment and looked down. “You need to be in control of yourself. It is one thing to kiss a maiden, but you can go no further until, and if you get married.”

“I-I wouldn’t Aragorn, you know I wouldn’t.”

Aragorn lifted an eyebrow and smiled slightly, “You forget I was once your age, Thomas,” he said. “I do not want you sleeping next to her either.”

Thomas’s eyes widened in shock, “But-but, we have since we’ve been here.”

“I know, Thomas, but things have changed between the two of you and it is no longer proper.”

“Can I even talk to her anymore?” he mumbled.

“Thomas,” Aragorn growled

“Sorry, Aragorn, but it doesn’t seem fair.”

Aragorn sighed, “It may not, however, that is the way we do things here. Is it really that different in your world?”

“Everything is different in my world, Aragorn, you know that,” Thomas shook his head in frustration. “But most people wait until they are married before…” he stopped, embarrassed.

“Thomas, there will be plenty of time for you to properly court Rebecca later. This is not the best of times for courting a lady,” Aragorn said dryly. “You need to keep your focus on what you need to be doing and not on Rebecca. Your life… all of our lives may depend on that. Do you understand?” he asked gently.

Thomas nodded, “Yes.”

“Go get some rest now,” Aragorn clasped his shoulder briefly.

Thomas slowly returned to where the others were lying, relieved to see that Rebecca and Gimli were already asleep. He quietly picked up his bedroll and moved it to the other side of Gimli, though he lay awake for a long time, thinking.

--

Dawn found them back on their horses heading to Edoras. Baldor was calmer; much to Thomas’s relief who knew Aragorn would never let Rebecca ride with him as long as the horse kept acting up. Though he may never let her ride with me anyway, it’s probably not proper, he thought with an inward scowl. He was looking forward to seeing Edoras, the first city of Men they had visited, though he was well aware of the dangers they were facing in the days ahead. He shuddered slightly at the thought of fighting again. Thomas suddenly realized that his father had done this for years before he was killed and that he hadn’t been much older than he was now. Thomas glanced at Aragorn and wondered how it was possible that he had been fighting and killing orcs for more than sixty years. Though, he knew that things would end soon, one way or the other. He hoped Frodo and Sam were all right. Thomas glanced over at Aragorn as he spoke.

“Here, Rebecca, I want you to take these,” Aragorn said suddenly, indicating the reins.

“Now?” she asked not moving.

“You need to learn sometime.”

“On a galloping horse? Can’t we wait and start on one that’s standing still?”

“No, you do not have the time. You have good balance, you already know how to move with the horse, and I am with you to guide you.”

“All right, what do I do?” she straightened up in the saddle.

“Do not pull back on the reins when I give them to you or Hasufel will slow and then stop.” Rebecca nodded. “See how I have the reins wrapped around my hand?” She nodded again. “You can try it that way for now or find a way that suits you better. Are you ready?”

“Yes,” she reached for the reins and Aragorn slowly gave them to her. Hasufel faltered a bit as they changed hands, but then galloped on. Rebecca held her hands stiffly in front of her trying not to move.

“Relax, Rebecca,” Aragorn chuckled, gently pushing her hands down to rest on the pommel of the saddle. He spent time explaining how to guide the horse and he watched closely as the tension left her body. He let her control the horse for the next several hours, calmly giving her directions when needed.

--

They saw Edoras sitting atop a high, lonely foothill sticking out from the White Mountains an hour before they reached it. Stopping for a moment to rest the horses after they crossed the Snowbourn River, Gandalf looked them over, his eyes lingering on Rebecca and Thomas. “Be careful with your words, strangers are not welcome in King Théoden’s halls.” Thomas snorted and looked away. “Thomas, Rebecca, say nothing of where you are from.” They looked at him in surprise.

“What do we say?” Rebecca asked.

Gandalf glanced at Aragorn who shrugged before he spoke, “I do not know… they are clad in elvish clothing and have elvish weapons,” he said thoughtfully with a slight frown. “They are my wards… they could be from Rivendell.”

“That will work,” Gandalf said with an approving nod.

“Why can’t we tell them?” Thomas looked from Aragorn to Gandalf in confusion. “We told the Elves.”

“The people of Rohan are very suspicious of everyone… as you well know, Thomas,” Aragorn explained, “even if they were not at war. And, in truth, I am not sure I would believe your story if we had not found you ourselves.”

“I know I wouldn’t,” Gimli grunted.

“Elves are more accepting, Thomas” Legolas said. “We live so long that we are open to things that mortal men are not.”

“I guess I’m so used to all of you knowing and understanding that it is hard for me to think that other people won’t,” Thomas shook his head and looked away. “Will we never be able to tell anyone else who we really are?”

“I know not, Thomas,” Gandalf answered quietly, “but for now you are from Rivendell.”

“Well, as long as no one asks me to describe Rivendell to them, I guess that will be all right,” he gave Aragorn a faint smile.

“It is beautiful and it has lots of waterfalls,” Aragorn said helpfully.

“Well, what about me? Won’t they think it’s strange that I’m with you?” Rebecca asked. “I mean, from the way you act,” she looked over her shoulder at Aragorn who smiled, “it isn’t usual for girls to do this kind of stuff.”

“I believe you will be fine, Rebecca,” Aragorn replied. “Rohan has a history of shield-maidens and if anyone asks, we will tell them of your skill with a bow.” He shrugged and glanced at Gandalf who nodded.

--

The gates of Edoras were closed when they arrived shortly before noon. Many guards stood waiting with swords drawn as they dismounted. Thomas kept a tight hold on Baldor as the horse seemed to recognize its home and kept trying to pull away.

Rebecca stood with Gimli and Legolas watching as Aragorn and Gandalf spoke with the guards in some other language. “Do you understand what they are saying, Legolas?” she whispered. He shook his head with a slight frown and she decided it would be best to keep quiet.

Aragorn was surprised at the hostile reception they were receiving. He knew the Rohirrim would be somewhat suspicious, but Éomer had almost begged him to come to Edoras just two days before. It took a lot of persuasion from both Gandalf and himself before the gates were opened and they were allowed to enter the city.

As he walked alongside Rebecca, Thomas was stunned as he looked around this ‘city’. He glanced at Rebecca to see the same wide-eyed stare on her face. “This is a city?” he leaned over and whispered into her ear. She shrugged and continued looking around.

The buildings were all wooden, of course, but he’d expected that. But the roofs were thatched and it appeared many of the floors were dirt. There was evidently no indoor plumbing as a clear sparkling stream was running down the hill alongside the road and women were dipping out buckets of water from it. It was a large city with hundreds of buildings, but Thomas had a hard time telling which were houses and which might be a shop of some kind. This is nothing like Caras Galadhon, he thought with dismay.

They passed an open air market on their way up the winding hill to the large building that Thomas could see sitting proudly against the skyline. Rebecca grabbed Thomas’s arm, pulling him to a stop and pointed at the stall in the market that sold what looked to be pastries and sweets of some kind. “Those look good,” she whispered. Thomas smiled, “Maybe we can come back later.” Aragorn turned and frowned at them and they hurried to catch up.

Aragorn paused when he reached the broad steps that led up to the great golden hall of Meduseld. It had been many long years since he had been here, serving Rohan with a different name and under a different king. He shook his head slightly as he followed Gandalf up the steps. Reaching the top, they were stopped at the door by more guards, one of whom stepped forward.

“I am Háma, doorward of Théoden King. You must leave your weapons here,” he said firmly.

Rebecca and Thomas exchanged glances, but started to remove their swords and bows. Rebecca realized that she had grown so comfortable wearing the weapons that it felt strange to have them removed. “Please be careful with these, like Legolas’s mine were also gifts,” she said quietly to the guard who had just taken Legolas’s bow. The man nodded before quickly placing her weapons against the wall.

“I am uneasy about leaving my sword here,” Aragorn said, staring at Háma with narrowed eyes.

“Nonetheless, it’s the will of my king that you do so.”

“This is Anduril, the blade that cut the Ring from Sauron’s hand,” Aragorn hesitated before slowly unbuckling his belt. He set the sword against the wall himself and pierced Háma with a stern glare. “I charge you to see that no one touches my sword, for anyone who does so will surely die. Only Elendil’s heir may touch this blade.” Thomas’s eyes widened as he remembered all the times he had used Aragorn’s sword.

“I need to take your staff as well,” Háma said hesitantly as he looked at Gandalf.

Gandalf leaned heavily on his staff and peered at Háma with his piercing blue eyes, “Would you really deprive an old man of his walking stick?” he asked quietly.

Háma sighed and shook his head, “No, for I believe that you are not here for evil purposes as some have said.” He turned and gestured for the doors to be opened and the six of them entered Meduseld.

The great hall seemed dark and gloomy, but as Rebecca’s eyes adjusted she could see the true beauty of the place. Intricate carvings of horses covered the wooden pillars that lined both sides of the hall. Colorful, woven tapestries that depicted a single horseman or battles hung from the walls, the floor was made of some type of red stone that had been smoothly fitted together. A huge fire pit was in the middle of the room and they walked past it, stopping just on the far side.

At the end of the room on a raised dais sat a man, whom Rebecca assumed was King Théoden. He’s really old, she thought with surprise as she glanced at Thomas. He nodded slightly as she flicked her eyes to the king and back to Thomas with a look of surprise. The king had long white hair and wore a thin gold circlet with a single white diamond on his forehead. A young woman in a white dress and long golden hair stood next to Théoden and a man with pale skin and evil-looking eyes leaned on the steps at the king’s feet. Rebecca stopped, standing between Legolas and Thomas, listening as Gandalf spoke to Théoden.

“Hail, Théoden! I have returned, a storm is coming and we must face it together.”

Théoden slowly and carefully arose, keeping himself steady with the use of a small black cane. “While I greet you, Gandalf Stormcrow, I do not welcome you into my halls. Ever you have only brought ill news with you. I was not grieved when I heard of your passing and look here you have come again to darken my halls with evil tidings. Why should I welcome you?” He sat down heavily.

“A fair question, my lord,” the man on the steps asked as he sat up, staring at Gandalf and his companions with his strange eyes. Rebecca shivered at the look. “Your son Théodred is dead and in Éomer we cannot trust. Now this wanderer appears with news that will undoubtedly cause you to worry needlessly. His ill news makes him an ill guest.”

“I am sure that you are a great help to your master, Gríma Wormtongue,” Gandalf replied mildly. “But one who brings news of evil may not be a worker of evil but simply one who comes to bring aid in a time of need.”

Gríma’s laugh was mocking and his voice was full of scorn. “And what aid do you bring? I see a rag-tag collection of wanderers clad in grey and you the most beggarly looking of all!”

Gandalf turned back to Théoden, “Did your guards not tell you the names of my companions? Never have such warriors graced your halls, Théoden. They are clad in grey for they have passed through the woods of Lothlórien…”

Thomas’s attention wandered for a moment as he wondered where Éomer was and why he had not appeared, since he had seemed to be an important man. Not that I want to see him again, he thought darkly. Yet, he knew Éomer had wanted Aragorn to come and he didn’t seem like the kind of man to change his mind so quickly. Maybe he had to ride out again, Thomas thought before his eyes started blinking furiously as a brilliant flash of light filled the hall and a crash of thunder sounded. Gandalf threw off his grey robes to reveal the shining white ones he wore underneath.

“Be silent, Gríma, your words are a poison to all who hear them,” Gandalf said in a stern and commanding voice as he pointed his staff at the man. Gríma cowered in the face of the power of the revealed white wizard. Théoden seemed to be suddenly strengthened and rose to his feet dropping his cane and slowly walked towards Gandalf, who led him outside. The king was helped by the woman, while Gríma was left lying on the floor, evidently stunned by the light and in fear of Gandalf. Aragorn and the others followed them outside.

“Look upon your lands, Théoden son of Thengel. It is not as dark as Gríma Wormtongue has told you,” Gandalf gestured to the greening fields and plains surrounding the city. The fields full of horses, the sun shining in the blue sky. “Éowyn,” he said to the young woman helping the king, “leave Théoden in my care for a time.”

Rebecca studied Éowyn; she was young, though older than her by several years. She is beautiful, though she seems… distant and her eyes are full of pain, Rebecca realized and wondered what caused such sadness. As Éowyn left the king, Rebecca noticed how she looked at Aragorn with widened, interested eyes, while he just nodded once politely. Her eyes swept over the rest of the group dispassionately, pausing when she saw Rebecca standing next to Thomas. She smiled and nodded, and Éowyn nodded back before hurrying inside.

“Where is Éomer?” Aragorn asked suddenly. “I would return the horses to him as I promised.”

“Éomer threatened to spill blood in my Hall. He’s not your concern,” Théoden said sharply, staring up at him.

“Release him from your prison, Théoden,” Gandalf urged. “He loves and honors you and your people even though he has no love for Gríma.”

Théoden nodded slowly before calling to Háma, “Bring Éomer here swiftly.”

“Where is your sword, Théoden?” Gandalf asked. “It will lend strength to your hands and body.”

“It was put away for ‘safekeeping’ some time ago at Gríma’s suggestion,” he said bitterly. “I know not where my sword lies now.”

“Take mine, Théoden King,” Éomer said boldly as he was suddenly on his knees before his king with his head bowed, his sword on his outstretched hands before him.

At least he bows to someone, Thomas thought with an inward sigh not at all happy to see Éomer again. If he calls me boy again I’ll… What? What can I do? He’s at least ten years older than me and weighs thirty pounds more – all of it muscle. Still, I have to find some way to prove to him that I’m not a boy. Thomas sighed. He turned when he felt a hand on his shoulder to find Legolas regarding him with amusement in his eyes. Thomas gave him a faint smile.

Gríma was suddenly dragged out of the hall and thrown onto the ground in front of Théoden. He was followed by a guard who had found the king’s sword, Éomer’s was returned to him and Théoden buckled on his own.

“Gríma,” Théoden said sternly, “I lay a choice before you. I’ll be leaving tomorrow to ride to war. You may go with us and prove your worth in battle or go your way as you will.”

“My King, always have I served you. Do not listen to the lies of a wandering fool,” he hissed before his voice turned smooth and beguiling. “If you have to leave, I’ll stay and run things in your stead. Someone must see to the needs of your people. They must have someone they trust to look to.”

Théoden nodded slowly, “That is true and I’ll give it some thought. However,” his voice turned to steel, “that person will not be you. You have weaved your spells about me for the last time, Gríma. Now, what is your choice?”

Gríma licked his lips and looked around nervously.

“How long has it been since Saruman bought you?” Gandalf asked suddenly. “What was the promised price? The usual spoils of war? Perhaps a fair maiden?”

Éomer sprang forward with a cry, his sword drawn and ready to strike.

“Hold, Éomer, sister-son,” Théoden commanded sharply. “Do not spill his blood on the steps of the Hall.” Éomer bowed and sheathed his sword though he did not return to his former place.

“Choose now, Gríma,” Théoden said impatiently.

Gríma suddenly spat on the ground at his king’s feet before turning and running down the steps, followed by Éomer and some of the guards.

“Let him go,” Théoden commanded, “he has chosen his path.” He now turned his eyes on the four other members of the party traveling with Aragorn and Gandalf. “Who are these that travel with you, Gandalf?”

“Legolas, Prince of Mirkwood, Gimli son of Gloin, Thomas son of Morgan, Lady Rebecca of Rivendell,” Gandalf replied as they bowed, except for Legolas who nodded his head once in greeting, as befitted his station.

“Welcome to Edoras and to Meduseld,” he motioned them back inside the building. “Come and find food and rest.”

As Gandalf moved off talking quietly with Théoden, Éomer returned from seeing Gríma off. “Aragorn!” he cried, “you have come as you promised.”

“Of course, Éomer,” he replied, glancing up as he belted his sword back on, “I told you I would.”

“I see no halflings with you,” Éomer frowned. “Are your friends dead, then?” he asked in concern.

“No,” Aragorn shook his head, “Gandalf assures as they are safe and in the keeping of the ents.”

“The ents! You again bring strange tales!” Éomer’s face suddenly brightened as he gazed at Rebecca. “But you’ve added a beautiful maiden to your company, Aragorn. Who is this?” he asked eagerly.

Rebecca’s cheeks turned red at Éomer’s words and the way he looked her up and down slowly with an approving grin.

“This is Lady Rebecca of Rivendell, my ward,” Aragorn’s voice held a hint of warning as he held Éomer’s gaze for a moment.

With a slight nod to Aragorn, Éomer stepped forward, “Welcome, Lady Rebecca,” he took her hand and kissed it lightly in greeting.

“Lord Éomer,” Rebecca bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement.

“Just Éomer, my lady,” he replied with a grin.

“Éomer,” she nodded, wondering again why they always insisted on calling her lady, but not allowing her to call them lord.

Éomer nodded a greeting to Legolas, Gimli and after what seemed like a hesitation to Rebecca, to Thomas as well. She heard Thomas draw in a sharp breath and she grabbed his hand, squeezing it gently. He glanced down at her with a small smile.

“You must meet my sister. Éowyn!” Éomer called over to where she stood overseeing servants who were setting out tables.

Aragorn watched her approach with troubled eyes. He had seen the look she had given him earlier and it concerned him. He knew he must be very careful around her.

“Éowyn, this is Aragorn son of Arathorn, heir to the throne of Gondor,” Éomer declared.

Éowyn curtsied, “My lord,” she said as her eyes searched his face.

“Lady Éowyn,” Aragorn bowed slightly before turning back to Éomer.

“Sister, this is Lady Rebecca, Legolas, Gimli, … and, I’m sorry what was your name again, boy?”

Thomas could see the laughter in Éomer’s eyes as he looked at him. He shrugged, “I’m not sure I should bother telling you again, you obviously have a poor memory.” He stared at Éomer unblinkingly.

Aragorn looked at Thomas in shock, not believing what he has just heard. He glanced at Legolas to see a glint of amusement in his blue eyes as he waited for Éomer to respond.

“You seem to answer to ‘boy’ well enough, so it will suffice,” Éomer said with a small smirk before turning to Aragorn with a grin. “Éowyn has arranged for rooms for all of you. Lady Rebecca, Éowyn will take you to yours, the rest of you may follow Ceorl,” Éomer beckoned to one of the servants. “We shall eat when you return.”

Rebecca followed Éowyn down a hallway after giving Thomas a quick sympathetic look. Now she understood his comments of the night before about Éomer and the horse. She wondered why he treated Thomas as he did when he obviously liked Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas. It was obviously some game that only men played.

“Would you like a bath, Lady Rebecca?” Éowyn asked as they stepped into a room.

“Is there time? I thought we were going to eat,” Rebecca looked at Éowyn in surprise. She found blue eyes regarding her closely and she stared right back. Éowyn was looking at her clothes, her sword and especially her bow. “Is there something the matter, Lady Éowyn?” she finally asked.

“What? Oh, forgive me for staring, Lady Rebecca. I’m unused to seeing a woman with weapons, especially a bow. I, too, am a shield-maiden and can wield a sword, of course, but have never used a bow.”

“Please call me, Rebecca,” she said as she removed her quiver and cloak, laying them on a small chest at the end of the bed. The room was smaller than her talan, containing just the bed, the chest, a chair, and a small table that held a bowl and pitcher. Still, the bed looked inviting and the stone floor was covered with fur rugs. “I am better with a bow than with a sword,” Rebecca confessed. “Though I keep practicing,” she frowned sadly as she thought of the times Boromir had trained her.

Éowyn nodded, “Do you want to bathe now?” she asked again.

Rebecca shrugged, “I can wait until after we eat. I’ve been dirty this long a couple of more hours aren’t going to matter. I’ll just wash my face and hands,” she said moving to the small table.

Éowyn poured water into the bowl for her. “What’s the name of the other man in your party,” she asked with a sidelong glance at Rebecca.

“Thomas,” she replied before dipping her hands into the cool water and starting to wash. “Thanks,” she said as Éowyn handed her a towel when she finished.

“You are Lord Aragorn’s ward?” Éowyn asked hesitantly.

“Yes,” Rebecca nodded with a slight frown, not really wanting to answer questions about her relationship with Aragorn. Especially, since it might lead to questions about where she lived, since she wouldn’t be able to tell her about a place she had never seen.

“Is he a good man?” Éowyn asked, again with that same hesitation.

Rebecca smiled, “Yes, he is, one of the best men I’ve ever known.”

“Is he… married or betrothed to anyone?” Éowyn’s eyes sparkled hopefully as the aura of sadness that normally surrounded her faded briefly.

Sighing, Rebecca shook her head, “Éowyn, these are questions you should speak to Aragorn about. I don’t like to talk about him behind his back like this.” Especially, she thought to herself, since it was something that she didn’t know anything about.

“You’re right,” Éowyn said with a tone of regret. “We should return to the Hall.”

--

Thomas leaned moodily against a pillar with his arms crossed as he waited for Rebecca to return. He had just decided that he would have to ignore Éomer and so now he let his eyes wander around the hall, watching the servants. He glanced briefly at Aragorn as the Ranger stopped beside him before he returned to his survey of the room.

“What do you think of Edoras?” Aragorn asked quietly.

Thomas shrugged, “It’s all right, I guess. Though, it’s not what I expected,” he admitted, still looking out at the hall.

“In what way?” Aragorn prodded him, wanting him to talk.

Furrowing his brow in thought, Thomas responded slowly, “It’s more… rustic than I thought it would be. Not like a city where I come from.”

“Rustic?”

Thomas turned to face Aragorn, “Well, dirt floors, grass roofs, no water inside the houses… rustic.”

Aragorn nodded in understanding, “You are disappointed.” It was not a question.

“Yes…” he swallowed hard as he looked at Aragorn. “My life seems to be here in Middle-earth now and for me… and, hopefully, Rebecca,” he shot Aragorn a sly grin before turning serious again, “to have to live in a place like this…” his voice trailed off as he looked away.

“Look at me, Thomas,” Aragorn commanded softly as he laid a hand on the young man’s shoulder. Thomas looked up into the steady gaze of the taller man. “If we make it alive through the battles we have ahead of us, then where you live will be of little concern, so great will be your joy.” Aragorn smiled, “Edoras is not the only city. Minas Tirith is a city of white stone and very different than here. Dol Amroth by the sea is a beautiful city and there are others.” He saw relief flood Thomas’s eyes. “Now, I actually came to check on your arm now that we are in a place where I can tend it properly.”

Thomas grimaced, but followed Aragorn to a nearby table and sat on the bench while the bandages were unwrapped. “Does it hurt?” Aragorn glanced up at him questioningly.

“It’s still sore, but nothing like it did and nothing I can’t handle.”

Aragorn carefully probed around the wound, causing Thomas to hiss in pain. “Now that hurts,” he complained through gritted teeth.

“I am sure it does, I need some hot water,” Aragorn rose to find some. Thomas looked down, absently drumming his fingers on his leg as he thought about what Aragorn had said. He supposed it was a little early to worry about where Rebecca and he might live when he didn’t even know if they would live. He jumped when a loud voice sounded above him.

“What happened to you, boy?” Éomer looked down at him with a frown on his face.

Hesitating briefly, Thomas knew he really couldn’t ignore the king’s nephew. “Orcs,” he said shortly, meeting Éomer’s gaze steadily.

Éomer dropped down beside him on the bench examining the wound closely. “It happened quite recently,” he observed.

Thomas sighed; it was obvious Éomer was not going away. “Yes, five days ago, the same day Boromir died,” he looked away, not wanting this man to see his grief.

“How did you find Baldor, boy?” Thomas looked back to find Éomer leaning back with his elbows on the table, a knowing smile on his lips.

“He’s a fine horse,” he replied, “though I found him poorly trained for a people who consider themselves ‘horse-masters’.”

Éomer stared hard at Thomas for a long moment and then threw back his head and laughed loudly. “Well said, boy. Éothain never did train that horse well.” He was still chuckling as Aragorn returned with the water.

Aragorn glanced swiftly between the two, noting Thomas’s clenched jaw and wondered what had happened this time. He set the water down and started to clean the area around the stitches without comment.

“Aragorn, you and your companions wear no armor, you may look through our armory and take what you need,” Éomer offered.

“It would be a good idea, this will be a different type of battle than what some of us have faced,” Aragorn said. He finished cleaning the wound and swiftly re-bandaged it. “It is healing well; I will take out the stitches in a few days.”

Thomas nodded and then stood as Rebecca entered the hall, smiling as she saw him. He crossed to meet her, taking her hand and pulling her a short distance away.
Aragorn followed them with his eyes before turning back to Éomer who was also watching Rebecca and Thomas with narrowed eyes.

“How many men will ride with us tomorrow, Éomer?”

“No more than a thousand. Some must accompany Éowyn as she leads the women and children to Dunharrow.” Éomer looked down with a slight frown. “There may be men at the Fords of Isen who yet live.” He lifted worried eyes to Aragorn, “It won’t be enough to defeat Saruman’s armies.”

Aragorn shrugged, “There is always hope while we are alive, Éomer. I will not give into despair. You well know a battle may turn at any moment on the smallest of things.”

“You’re right. Perhaps the bow of an elf, the axe of a dwarf, the sword of a man…and a boy,” he grinned, “will turn the tide in our favor.”

“You forgot about the wisdom of Gandalf,” Aragorn nodded to where the wizard was speaking with Théoden, “and the bow of a girl,” indicating Rebecca.

“You mean to take her with us?” Éomer exclaimed. “Why? She should go to Dunharrow with the women and children.”

“Rebecca rides with me,” Aragorn said firmly, looking at Éomer with stern grey eyes. “She is an elven trained archer and we have not so many men that we cannot use her.”

Éomer shook his head in disbelief, “Éowyn is also trained as a shield-maiden, but I wouldn’t have her go to war,” he said quietly.

Aragorn looked down, “Éowyn has a responsibility to lead your people, Éomer. Rebecca has a different path that she must follow,” he said with a hint of sorrow in his voice.

Éomer stared at Aragorn for a moment than nodded as he stood, “Let’s get some food.”

--

Rebecca poked at the food on her plate trying to decide whether to eat any more of it. It didn’t taste bad, just different. She finally just ate more of the bread as she listened to the discussion between Aragorn, Éomer, Gandalf, and Théoden. She was riding to battle orcs and Uruk-hai and she was wondering if she would really be able to do such a thing. Rebecca knew she could shoot… Haldir had taught her well. All she could do was control what she could control, she repeated to herself. Rebecca looked up to see Éowyn gazing at Aragorn again and she wondered if she would speak with him and ask him the questions she had asked her. She shifted slightly on the hard wooden bench as an idea came to mind. “Legolas,” she whispered, pulling carefully on his sleeve. “Do you think there is someplace I could go and practice? It’s been several days now and I’m not so good that I can afford to miss practice.”

“It is well thought of, Lady Rebecca,” Legolas replied quietly, “I would like to see you shoot.”

“You don’t have to watch,” Rebecca said hastily.

Legolas smiled, “Thomas and I will practice as well,” he glanced at Thomas over the top of Rebecca’s head and the young man nodded in reply. Legolas stood gracefully, “Excuse us, my lord,” he nodded towards the king, “we shall take our leave of you now.” Thomas and Rebecca bowed slightly as they followed Legolas and, after a moment, Gimli tagged along.

Retrieving their cloaks and bows from their rooms, they strolled down through the gate to the practice field Legolas had seen earlier. Though it appeared the field was mostly used for sword work, Thomas found some archery targets off to the side and set them up about halfway down the field.

“Isn’t anyone else going to shoot?” Rebecca asked as she removed her cloak and strung her bow.

“Yes, we will,” Legolas looked pointedly over at Thomas where he was sitting next to Gimli.

“The target’s kind of close,” Rebecca said quietly to Legolas.

Legolas looked down at her in surprise and then gazed down the field at the target, “How far do you normally shoot?”

“Sixty yards, I lose too much accuracy after that.”

“That’s forty-five,” he said quietly, “would you like to leave it at that distance since others are watching?”

“Good idea,” she whispered nervously.

Legolas smiled and winked at her as he turned to join the others.

Rebecca laughed as she faced the target. She took several deep breaths to focus on the target and to block out the audience. Control the things I can – stance, grip, draw, aim, release, she ran those through her mind as she pulled the first arrow from her quiver and set it to the string. As the arrow was released, Rebecca was back in the rhythm that she was accustomed to with Haldir and the quiver was soon emptied. Every arrow was embedded deeply in the target and close around the center. Rebecca smiled as she lowered her bow.

“Well shot, Lady Rebecca!” Gimli boomed.

She turned with a small satisfied smile to meet the approving eyes of Legolas, a grin from Gimli and a slightly stunned expression on Thomas’s face.

“Well done, Lady Rebecca. You have a good eye and excellent form,” Legolas said with a smile.

“Thanks.”

“That was…ummm…you’re really good, Rebecca,” Thomas stared at her. “I wish I were that good.” Rebecca’s face lit up with a brilliant smile.

“You could be, if you worked at it,” Legolas said mildly.
Thomas blushed slightly, “I’m good with a sword,” he pointed out, staring at Legolas.

“I did not say otherwise,” Legolas responded as he got to his feet. “Lady Rebecca, shall we move the target further back?”

--

Aragorn listened closely as Théoden discussed his plans with Gandalf. It was not much different than what he and Éomer had discussed earlier. A small force would go with Éowyn while the rest would ride hard to the Isen River to confront Saruman’s forces. There were really no other options available. He glanced at Gandalf, wondering what he was thinking.

“Aragorn, will your men fight under my direction?” Théoden asked suddenly.

“We shall fight alongside you, Théoden King. Our hearts are here with Rohan.”

Théoden frowned, but he nodded. “Lady Rebecca will go with the women.”

“No,” Aragorn shook his head, “she rides with me,” he glanced sidelong at Gandalf.

“Battle is no place for a girl!” Théoden said sharply.

“Rebecca and Thomas are my wards. They ride with me,” Aragorn repeated firmly. “Rebecca is a skilled archer and healer, we have need of both.”

“Are Rebecca and Thomas brother and sister, then?” Éomer broke in, an interested gleam in his eyes.

“No.” Aragorn fixed him with a hard stare, “They are in my keeping because their parents died, and they have no kin.”

Éomer’s eyes softened, “It is hard to lose one’s parents,” he said quietly.

Aragorn nodded in agreement.

“Come, come,” Gandalf said impatiently, “enough about our young ones, we have other things to discuss.”

Théoden frowned briefly at Aragorn before turning his attention back to their planning.

--

“Come Aragorn, stop brooding and let’s find the others.”

Aragorn looked up at Gandalf from the step he was sitting on in front of Meduseld, glancing around before he responded. “Brooding? Who says I am brooding?” he asked as he got to his feet and followed the wizard down the steps.

“I do, I can see it in your eyes.”

“I suppose I am,” Aragorn admitted. “I am concerned about the number of men we have. We have too few, Gandalf. Saruman’s Uruk-hai are fierce fighters and I fear for the people of Rohan.”

“I know,” Gandalf said as they passed through the gate, “it will not be an easy task. We must find a way, Aragorn. Saruman must be stopped here so that Gondor is not attacked on two fronts.” He glanced back up the hill, “I fear that Théoden may overestimate the strength of his men and does not take the threat of Saruman as seriously as he should. Grima’s influence is not easily put aside.”

Aragorn nodded grimly as they approached the practice field. They leaned on the fence watching as Rebecca and Thomas practiced. Legolas stood to one side quietly instructing Thomas, while Rebecca was shooting on the other side of the field.

“She is good,” Aragorn said quietly after Rebecca had shot a quiver of arrows.

“Haldir told me she was.”

“I know, but considering the short amount of time she has been training… I am impressed.”

“She spent hours practicing when you were gone,” Gandalf commented,” and Haldir is an excellent teacher.”

Rebecca finished pulling the arrows from the target and started back. She paused briefly when she saw Aragorn and Gandalf at the fence, but then shrugged and went to speak with them.

“Have you been watching long?” she asked with a smile.

“No, young lady,” Gandalf replied with an answering smile, “just long enough to see you shoot the last quiver.”

“Oh.”

“You shoot well, Rebecca,” Aragorn said, “you have worked hard.”

Rebecca ducked her head for a moment and then looked at him with shining eyes. “I have, Aragorn, thank you.”

“Are you finished?”

Shrugging, Rebecca squinted at the sun, “I’ve only practiced an hour or so. I could use another hour.”

Aragorn glanced at Gandalf before speaking. “It might be wise to save your strength. We will ride long and hard tomorrow and face a determined foe at the end of it. I want you rested.”

“I will fight then?” Rebecca asked with a curious mixture of excitement and fear on her face.

Sighing, Aragorn looked away before fixing his gaze on her. “I will let you shoot your arrows… and any other arrows we might find for you. But then I will have you retreat to a place of safety… if it is possible.” He glanced back at Gandalf, who nodded slightly. “Your sword work is just not good enough to stand up against the Uruk-hai.”

Rebecca nodded with relief, “That makes sense to me, I don’t want to see any orcs up close like we did in Moria.”

“Good. Thomas, Gimli, Legolas,” Aragorn raised his voice slightly to call them over. “Éomer has said we may take whatever armor we need from their armory.”

“I don’t need anymore,” Gimli said.

“Will I be able to shoot with it on?” Rebecca asked doubtfully.

“We will find something for you,” Aragorn looked her over appraisingly. “Legolas knows what works best for an archer.”

Rebecca still looked concerned.

“After you have it on, we will return and practice again,” Legolas told her. Rebecca gave him a grateful smile.

Gandalf and Gimli left the four of them as they entered the armory. Legolas and the men quickly found knee length hauberks, helms, and vambraces to protect their forearms.

“Thomas, you need to take off your tunic, put the hauberk on over your shirt… then but your tunic back on,” Aragorn said with just a hint of amusement in his voice.

“Oh, no wonder it wasn’t working very well,” Thomas mumbled as he quickly followed Aragorn’s directions. “That’s much better, but it’s heavy,” he commented. Aragorn nodded. “Aragorn, I think this helm makes me look too much like Éomer… except without the horse tail.”

Aragorn laughed, “Maybe a little,” he agreed. “Can you see all right?”

Thomas nodded, “Yes, it seems to fit pretty well.”

“Good, now we just need to find things for Rebecca.”

They finally found a waist-length, short-sleeved hauberk for Rebecca to go along with her vambraces and a small helm that covered the sides of her face, but was open in the front. “This will not block your vision,” Legolas said as he handed it to her.

“It’s too heavy, Aragorn,” she complained, as she carefully slipped the hauberk on.

“You are wearing it anyway,” he said firmly.

“I won’t be able to move!” she protested in frustration.

“You will get used to it.”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Rebecca!” Aragorn said sharply, gazing at her sternly.

“Sorry, Aragorn,” she mumbled, grabbing the vambraces and helm. “I’ll wait outside, Legolas,” she hurried out the door.

Aragorn gazed after her with a look of regret, but he knew she had to wear the armor. It was the only measure of protection he could give her. Once the battle started, she would be on her own. There was no way he or any of the others could ensure her safety. He met Legolas’s understanding eyes for a moment before he resumed adjusting his weapons.

“I will speak with her, mellon nín, while we practice,” Legolas said.

“Thank you. Hopefully, you can make her see what I could not.”

Legolas gave a graceful shrug, “I will make the attempt.”

“Can I come?” Thomas asked.

Aragorn and Legolas exchanged glanced before Aragorn shook his head. “No, I think it would be best if Legolas spoke with her alone. You can speak with her later. However, I need to speak with Éomer, you may come with me,” he said with a straight face.

“No, that’s all right. I’ll find something else to do,” Thomas said quickly.

“As you wish,” Aragorn said with a faint smile as they left the armory.

They found Rebecca leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, staring into the distance.

“Are you ready, Lady Rebecca?” Legolas asked.

She nodded at Legolas and gave Thomas a quick glance before turning to Aragorn with a sigh. “I truly am sorry, Aragorn. I-I know I need to wear this stuff,” she gestured to the helm and hauberk.

“Yes, you do,” he said with a firm nod.

“It’s just…” she bit her lip nervously. “I’m afraid that I-I won’t shoot straight and I really won’t be a help to you and what if I shoot somebody on our side by accident and…”

“Shhh, Rebecca,” Aragorn laid a hand on her shoulder, leaning over and gazing directly into her brown eyes. “What you feel is perfectly normal for someone facing their first real battle. You are well trained and will not shoot someone on our side. I have complete faith in your ability to do this,” Aragorn said intently.

Rebecca searched his face closely, seeing nothing but calm reassurance in his steady gaze. She let out a deep sigh of relief. “Thank you, Aragorn.”

He nodded, “Go practice with Legolas, but do not overtire yourself,” he reminded her as she followed Legolas down the hill. A look of sorrow crossed Aragorn’s face as he watched her leave, but then his eyes hardened as he went in search of Éomer.

--

Supper was over and Rebecca had finally bathed when she went looking for Thomas. She found him on one of the side porches of Meduseld sitting on a bench as he stared vacantly out over the plains of Rohan in the deepening twilight. She slipped quietly onto the bench beside him, taking his hand and caressing it softly.

Thomas smiled slightly in acknowledgement, but his eyes never left the horizon as he spoke quietly. “Sometimes at night when I close my eyes, all I see is orcs, blood, and death and I wonder if this is all some horrible nightmare and if I’ll wake up soon. Then I do wake up and I discover it’s all a wonderful dream because there is a beautiful girl,” he finally turned and looked at Rebecca with a smile that made his eyes sparkle, “that I love deeply. And no matter how bad things get, I hang on to that love like a lifeline.” Rebecca’s eyes glistened with unshed tears as she listened. “Rebecca, I don’t know what will happen in the next few days,” he gazed at her longingly as he tenderly brushed strands of hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear. “But, whatever happens, I want you to know that I love you now and I will always love you.”

Rebecca barely had time to whisper, “I know, Thomas, I love you, too,” before Thomas pulled her into his arms. He kissed her softly on the lips as he embraced her. His lips moved beyond her mouth as he slowly worked his way up her jaw towards her ear. As he paused briefly, Rebecca eagerly kissed him back until finally Thomas pulled away slightly and clasped her hands.

“We need to stop, Rebecca,” he said quietly.

Rebecca nodded reluctantly, “I suppose so. It’s getting late anyway; we should probably go to bed.”

“You go,” Thomas said with a small smile, “I’m going to stay up for awhile.”

Rebecca arose, giving him a quick kiss before hurrying inside.

Thomas watched her leave with a look of love and concern before turning his gaze back to the now dark plains of Rohan.

~~~

Elvish Translations:

Hannon le - I thank thee
Mellon nín – my friend


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