"Arwen - do you think I might get up today? I can see the sun streaming through the trees, and the air smells so good! I would love to be outside!"
The Evenstar turned from the door which she had been holding for the elleth with the breakfast trays, and smiled at Rowanna. It was two days now since her patient had first awoken, and it was true, it was a beautiful morning.
"If you feel ready, I am sure fresh air would do you good." Seeing the other's suddenly doubtful expression, she added, "Why - what is wrong?..."
"I don't think I have anything to wear!" Rowanna exclaimed, ruefully. "From what you told me, the shirt and breeches Béodred brought me here in were almost worn through, and I can hardly go out in my shift!"
Arwen looked rather pleased with herself. "Ah - well, as it happens I did think of that!" She went to a heavy wooden chest in the corner of the room and lifted the lid. "While you've been asleep these past few days, I've been going through my gowns and having a few made over to fit you." She knitted her brows for an instant. "At least, I hope they will fit. You're a little broader in the shoulder than I, and that I judged right; but I thought at first you would be shorter than I am, and yet now I've seen you sitting up, I think we're much of a height. You are tall for a mortal, my dear - it must be your Dúnadan blood! Your mother is Dúnadan, isn't she? - Béodred said so?"
"Of Dúnadan descent, yes," Rowanna confirmed. "But several generations back; her own mother was born in Minas Tirith, and that was where she met my father, for he was a nobleman of Gondor."
"I still do not understand how you come to have grown up in Rohan," Arwen commented.
Rowanna laughed. "Oh, I have a tangled lineage, Arwen! I shall tell you the whole of it one hot afternoon when you are in the mood for a long tale, and see if I can put you to sleep! But come, let me try one of these gowns. If it is a little short, well, I dare say Rivendell will survive the sight of my ankles! Your gowns are beautiful, and I so rarely wear dresses. I spend most of my life in breeches out with the horses..."
As she spoke, she was throwing off the bedclothes, and swinging her legs from the bed. Ignoring Arwen's suddenly anxious "No, wait! " she went to stand up - and with a gasp crumpled up on the floor, as her legs gave way beneath her. Arwen rushed to her side.
"Oh Rowanna, are you hurt? I should have warned you! Father will think I take no care of you at all!" She lifted her back on to the bed as easily as if she held a child. Rowanna had turned milk-white, and looked somewhat stunned.
"Arwen - my legs!..."
"Don't be afraid." Arwen sat down and put an arm around her. "Nothing ails your body that time will not cure. But you forget, you were out of your senses for many weeks. The muscles of your limbs are wasted from disuse. It will take some time to get your strength back."
To her own dismay, Rowanna found herself shaking and near tears. I cannot walk! I knew I was tired, and I have slept much, but I did not know... I never spent a day sick in my life, before this! There was that broken arm, once, but I could still be up and about. And - if I cannot walk, what of riding?...
"How - how long, Arwen?..."
"To walk again?" The Evenstar looked uncertain. "If you were an Elf, I would say a few days, perhaps a week or two. But mortals lack our recuperative powers. We will do all we can to work your muscles, and let you walk a little at a time. But I think it will take you some weeks at least to regain all your strength, perhaps longer." Seeing Rowanna's dismay, she felt a surge of sympathy and suddenly hugged her tightly. "Do not worry! You will get well, I promise you. You were brought here so that in Imladris you might be healed, and healed you will be. And it is not such a terrible place in which to recover, is it?"
Rowanna managed a shaky smile. "N-no... but how am I to get outside today, if I cannot go on my own legs?"
"Oh, I am sure we can find a way." Arwen returned to the corner chest, delved for a moment, and held up a leaf-green gown, with deep pointed sleeves and a delicately embroidered neckline. "Would this suit milady for her first morning abroad?"
She was rewarded with a faint chuckle. "It would suit me very well! Will you help me put it on?"
A few minutes later, Rowanna was dressed, and Arwen was completing the braiding of her hair, when a knock came at the door. At Rowanna's prompting, a raven-black head appeared and a drawling voice enquired whether the owner might be of service. Elrohir, then! Rowanna thought as he spoke. She still struggled to tell the twins apart on appearance alone.
"Elrohir - your timing is perfect!" Arwen exclaimed. "Rowanna would like to be outside on this beautiful morning, but she is not strong enough yet to walk out to the garden. Would you-"
"If the lady will allow me to assist her, it would be my pleasure," her brother responded. "May I bear you to the garden, rohíril?" He noticed Rowanna's uncertain look. "Oh, fear not, you may be almost of a height with me, but I will not drop you! Elves look slightly built, but we can match with mortal Men of twice our bulk..."
"No, it isn't that - " Rowanna began, but she got no further before Elrohir dropped on one knee beside the bed, swept her up in his arms in a surprisingly firm hold and strode towards the door. A few minutes later, he lowered her carefully into a stone seat set into a sunny corner of the garden wall.
Rowanna's eyes widened with delight. The warm spot her escort had chosen for her nestled at the lower end of a gently sloping sweep of lawn, bordered on either side by rosebeds which overflowed with abundant colour and scent, sheltered by low walls of golden stone where honeysuckle and clematis climbed. Here at the end of the slope the wall curved around in a half-circle, sheltering a small stone fountain in the shape of two intertwining trees, water gently trickling down from their canopies of carved foliage in a constant, soothing murmur. To her left and right, stone paths broke away through openings in the wall to wind between dark evergreen hedges. She could hear more fountains trickling, and here and there at the corner of a hedge could glimpse a flash of white marble where a statue stood. Clearly the gardens of Rivendell held further delights around every corner, and Rowanna could only hope that it would not be long before she was fit enough to explore them.
Arwen, following, passed Elrohir a heavy silk shawl, which he arranged solicitously over Rowanna's shoulders. "I know it is summer, but it is early yet, and you must not catch cold in the breeze! There, rohíril, are you comfortable?"
"Very!" Rowanna drew a deep breath. The rich perfume of roses filled her head. "Oh, the air almost tastes good! Thank you, Elrohir."
"The pleasure is all mine!" To her surprise, he caught up the hand she held out to him and pressed it briefly to his lips, earning him a stern frown from Arwen. The gaze he turned briefly on his sister in response was all wounded innocence. "I am delighted to be of service to our guest. Until later, then..."
"My apologies, Rowanna," Arwen rolled her eyes. "Imladris is hot, he is bored –"
"And I am an amusing novelty?" The mortal woman laughed. "I am glad to hear it! Until later, Elrohir, and my thanks…"
The Peredhel strode off, whistling merrily. The two women did not notice, as the son of Elrond had, a tall, fair-haired figure under the stable-arch, who had stopped dead on his way around the corner of the house as he saw them descend into the garden, and now turned away with a face as glowering as a distant thundercloud.
Rowanna leant her head back against the stone wall, tilted her face up to the warmth of the early morning sun and closed her eyes. Slowly, she felt the heat from the stones spreading throughout her body, and began to relax. Birdsong filled the air all around her, and somewhere off to one side a bee was buzzing happily. She sighed with contentment.
"Do not feel you must wait on me all morning, Arwen, I beg you! I am sure you have other things you would rather be doing..."
"Rather than sitting in the sun in the garden?" Rowanna heard Arwen's silver laugh. "I can think of none! I have a letter I need to write, for Father is sending a courier out this afternoon, but I can very well do that here."
"Where is the courier going?"
"Westwards, to the borders of a land called the Shire, between Rivendell and the sea. A land guarded by the Dúnedain, your kinsmen. There is... one among them to whom I would send a message." Even with her eyes closed, Rowanna felt sure the Evenstar was smiling.
"Mother used to tell me stories of the Dúnedain," she murmured. "I remember she said once that Rivendell was the place where the Dúnadan chieftains were always brought up, under Master Elrond's tutelage. Was that right?"
Silence greeted her question, and Rowanna opened her eyes - to find Arwen gazing at her with a startled expression.
"Your mother did not forget her inheritance, did she?" she said softly. "Indeed, my dear, it is true that the Heir is by tradition fostered by my father here in Imladris. The Chieftain now is named Aragorn, though all in the valley call him Estel, and he grew up here..."
Rowanna's dark eyes had grown wide again. The very day I awoke here I felt as though I had woken into one of my mother's stories. The legends grow and multiply as though they bred in the grass! The Chieftain of the Dúnedain... She noticed a far-away expression drifting across Arwen's features.
"Is your letter to the Chieftain?"
"It is. He likes to hear news of... Rivendell."
Arwen said no more, and Rowanna closed her eyes again. I will not ask for now about the other tale of the Dúnedain that Mother used to tell me, she mused, the one she said Father never approved of. The legend that said one day the King of Gondor would return again from the North... She sat back, soaking up the sun, and Arwen turned her attention back to her letter, and smiled as she wrote.
For the next few days, Rowanna laboured hard at stretching and working the muscles of her wasted legs. She could walk a few steps now, and Arwen or the twins would always find her dressed when they came to breakfast with her. She spent as many hours in Rivendell's gardens as she could, though she still had to be carried outside. Béodred had developed an uncanny habit of divining just when she might be ready to go out or to return, and appearing just in time to ensure there was no need for Elladan or, particularly, Elrohir to assist her. Despite Rowanna's protests, he treated her as though she were made of eggshell, and would not suffer her to stretch out a hand for herself if he could do anything for her. After a week of this, Rowanna spent an evening in long discussion with Elrond, and at the end of their conference, Béodred was summoned to join them.
He came in a little warily, nodding his respects to Elrond - "My lord - " and then dropping on one knee beside Rowanna's chair to take her hand. "Rowanna! Are you all right?"
"I am quite all right, my friend, have no fear," she said firmly, motioning him into a chair. "Please, Béodred, sit. There is something I want to discuss with you."
He sat, but looked no less wary, eyes flicking from Rowanna to Elrond and back again. Rowanna began.
"Béodred, you know that thanks to you and to Master Elrond, I have been healed of my sickness, and Elrond says I shall in time recover to full health." He nodded, not taking his clear blue eyes from her face. "But it is going to take me longer than I first realised to regain my full strength, to walk without tiring, and certainly to ride. Many weeks, in all likelihood."
"There is no need of haste!" Béodred broke in. "You must not over-tax your strength –"
"Small chance of that, with you watching over me!" Rowanna retorted, and the blond Rider was quelled. "But Béodred, consider. Summer is passing, and it is already, what? two months since we left Edoras? Aelstan has been without us both on the farmstead all that time, and must already be sorely feeling the lack. If you wait until I am well enough to ride long distances, it will be months before you return. Worse - Lord Elrond tells me that if you wait into the autumn, and early snows close the mountain passes, you might be here all winter. So, I have been thinking hard and long upon this, and I think that you should go back."
"Back to the Riddermark without you?" the horse-lord burst out. "And leave you here alone?"
Elrond arched an eyebrow very slightly at that, though the Rider failed to notice, caught up in indignant bewilderment. Rowanna saw it, and restrained the impulse to roll her eyes in frustration. I knew it would be like this! I knew it...
"Oh Béodred, I would hardly be alone! Nowhere could I be better cared for than here in Rivendell!" He flushed, not liking that at all, but Rowanna ploughed on, determined.
"I would ask you as a service to me, too, my friend, to bear word back to Edoras, to my mother, that I am healed and my life is in no danger. Only think, it is already weeks since we set out, and she has no news at all of her only child. I would do anything to allay her fears and let her know that all is well!"
"But how will you return to the Mark, then, when you are well?" the Rider challenged. "You could not ride alone from Rivendell for hundreds of leagues! There are too many dangers! Trolls and orcs and probably wolves, to say nothing of men of ill will, and the rivers to ford..."
And I might let my horse shy at a falling leaf and break my neck, I suppose, Rowanna thought with exasperation. He truly thinks I will break at the least touch...
"I would not propose riding alone, of course not," she responded, more gently than she felt. "When the time is right for me to return, I am sure Master Elrond will provide me with an escort. Or I had thought that perhaps, as befits him as one of my mother's household, Dirgon might consent to stay until I was fit to ride South. Elrond tells me that in a few days' time some of his folk here intend to set out over the Misty Mountains for Lothlórien, the Golden Wood, and that is halfway to Edoras from Rivendell. Were you to ride with them, I would have no fears for you." She smiled sweetly at him. Oh, I should not tease him, but he is impossible at times!
"My people would indeed be happy if you would agree to ride with them as far as Lórien, my friend," Elrond put in. "The ways south of Rivendell are never certain now that much of Mirkwood grows dark once more, and my folk would be glad to add your strength to their escort. Shall I tell Erestor that your mount and gear should be prepared?"
Béodred stared at the floor for a moment. When he looked up again his voice was hoarse, but steady. "It seems that is to be my course, Master Elrond. I thank you."
"Then I shall see to it at once, and ask you both to excuse me." Elrond rose, bowed to them both, and made his exit.
Leaving me to face Béodred! Rowanna thought, groaning inwardly. But no, he is right, I should not shirk this, nor will I. Béodred is a good and loyal friend, and deserves answers from me if he would have them...
The horse-lord had not moved as Elrond left the room; but as the door closed softly, he got up and paced across to the window, leaning against its frame and gazing out into the darkness. Finally, he spoke; not in the Westron they had used in Elrond's presence, but in the Rohirric tongue the two of them shared.
"For all the reasons I gave you. Because I know how sorely your uncle will be struggling without us both, and I would return at least you to him as soon as may be. And because I do desperately want my mother to have news of me."
"But that is not all." He spoke without turning, still gazing out towards the Falls.
Oh Béodred, you do not make this easy! But I cannot lie, least of all to you.
"No, that is not all. Béodred, you know well that I have never liked to be treated as a weakling, or incapable, because of my sex. And Aelstan has always respected my skill, and treated me as his equal in that, and I asked nothing else. You used to behave in kind."
Rowanna got up slowly in her turn, and carefully moved the few paces to stand across from him. "But... a few months ago, I began to notice a change. You started urging me to stand aside when there was any risk from a beast, or when something strenuous was in hand. You began to behave as though you thought I was less able than the menfolk, and would break at the least knock! And since I awoke here in Rivendell... you have barely let me stir, or do the least thing for myself. I have been ill, but I am not helpless! And yet you act as though I were some precious, fragile thing..."
"You know why that is." Béodred's voice was muffled. He still would not look at her. Rowanna sighed, reached for his shoulder and gently turned him to face her. His face was aflame, and his eyes were suspiciously bright.
"Yes, I think I do, Béodred. And that is the final reason why I ask you to go."
For a long moment, their eyes held, and Rowanna read in his open face hurt, and anger, and wounded pride. Then the horse-lord spun on his heel and strode to the door. He paused for a moment as he reached for the handle.
"So be it. Farewell."
With that he was gone, the door slamming behind him. Rowanna heaved another great sigh. Then she drew the drapes across the window, dimmed the lantern and made ready for bed. Béodred was injured and indignant, and she was sorry for it, but she was sure she had hurt his pride as much as his heart, and although she went to her bed worrying over him, it was not long before she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.