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39
We Must Away Ere Break of Day

"I wish Rowanna wasn't going," Pippin grumbled to Legolas as the pair gathered up the dishes and tankards from the Company's evening meal. "She'll be away for weeks, and with hardly any warning – why so suddenly?"

"Because, I imagine, it has not long been decided when the Rohirrim should depart for the Riddermark," Legolas replied as he lifted the laden tray and let Pippin dart ahead to open the door into the courtyard, "and with Lady Míranna's health so much improved, perhaps it seems a chance she should seize, to ride thus accompanied. Would you have her make the journey alone?..."

"Of course not!" Pippin flushed indignantly as he worked the pump-handle, sending water splashing into the great stone trough which stood by the kitchen door. "And I do understand that she has friends there, and her stud farm with – what was the Man's name?"

"Aelstan, I think," Legolas supplied as he began scrubbing a dish with a coarse washcloth and a handful of soaproot.

"- and of course she wants to see how everything and everyone fares, after the War," Pippin admitted, taking the dish from the Elf in his turn to rinse it. "But I shall miss her dreadfully, won't you?" He stacked the dish on the end of the trough to drain. "Hey – come on, Legolas, stop dreaming!"  

"She will barely be gone two moon-rounds," the Elf observed as he hastily resumed his task. "She will be back before you know it..."

"Trust an Elf to think like that," Pippin grumbled. "It may be the blink of an eye to you, but it's weeks to the rest of us! And what makes you so sure she will be back for Mid-year, anyway?"

"Let us just say, Pippin, that Midsummer Day is one I think many in the White City will be glad to see..."  Smiling, Legolas finished scrubbing the final dish.

"You're about as much use as Gandalf when it comes to giving a straight answer," Pippin retorted. "I'm sure you know more than you're telling, after you and Rowanna went out riding yesterday morning and were gone half the day. What was it Bilbo used to say about going not to the Elves for counsel –"

He got no further, for the sound of bare feet on flagstones announced the breathless arrival of Merry.

"Legolas, there's a huge great Man – a Rider of Rohan, not one I know – at the door asking for you. And I don't know what you've been doing to upset the Rohirrim, but his face is like thunder and he looks as though he wants to hit someone!"

"Indeed?"  The Elf was on his feet in one smooth movement. "Then we had better not keep him waiting lest we try his patience further!  Show him out here, would you, Merry? The evening air may cool his head. Pippin, take these within, if you please."  He handed the tray of crockery over; and though his tone was light, there was something in it which sent the Halfling inside without a murmur.

It was indeed a great blond giant of a horse-lord who came into the courtyard after Merry; the Hobbit said simply "Here is Legolas," took one look at the Elf's face, and like Pippin before him vanished into the house without another word. The Rohir strode at once across to Legolas, who stood with his back to one of the colonnade's pillars, apparently watching the stars appearing in the evening sky.

"You are the Elf they call Legolas? The companion of Aragorn King?"

"As Merry told you."  Legolas leant back against the pillar, folding his arms. "What would you with me, friend?"

"I want to know what you have been doing to make Rowanna of the Eastfold's name into a foul tavern jest!" the young man retorted, flushing to the roots of his hair.  "Know you not that if what I heard tonight is true, she is like to become a byword among half an éored?  Or care you not?"

"You speak in riddles. Explain…" Legolas' voice was dangerously soft.

"I wasn't at Cormallen, I was with my lord Elfhelm's troop sent up the West-Road, and I've only tonight found some I know from my lord Éomer's éored, in a tavern down on the Third –" the Rider began, his words tumbling over each other.

Mead-courage! Legolas realised with an inward grimace, catching a whiff of sweetness on the agitated lad's breath.  Just to make this more interesting…

"Everyone's full of cheer about riding out for the Mark tomorrow," the young man went on, "thinking of wives and sweethearts and boasting of the welcomes they'll get… and then one says to me, 'Mind, there's a lass known well to you who's no need to wait for her Rider, she's found comfort enough down here of another kind!'  And half the table roars, and the other half wants to know what he's talking about, and so he tells us what the rumour was that started up among a few of his troop at Cormallen; that the woman who was so close in friendship with this Fellowship of the Ring –" he spat the words out – "was closer yet… with the Elf."  He folded his arms in his turn and stood glaring.  "So, Elf-lord? What say you?"

"I say," Legolas replied evenly, "that I understand little enough of the customs of Men, and still less of their gossip and rumour – but I will tell you this; that Rowanna is neither child nor fool, and knows her own mind and heart. Whatever she has given she has given freely – "

"Given?" The horse-lord exploded.  "Curse you, Elf, what exactly has she –"  He launched himself forward, only to find both wrists caught arrow-swiftly in an unbreakable grip. Scarlet in the face, he discovered that though he was as tall as Legolas and nearly half as broad again, all his weight would not shift his adversary an inch.

"I would not do that," the Elf suggested coolly.  His eyes glittered in the lantern-light spilling from the house. Suddenly the Rohir's shoulders sagged.

"But that's just it!" he cried despairingly. "Elves!  You're more powerful, you're wiser, you – you're immortal!  What do you want with a mortal woman?  She needs a hearth and a home and a Man to settle down with, not starlight and – and forests and Elvish enchantments!"

Ah.  Legolas slowly released his grip on the young man's wrists.  "Would your name by any chance, Rider, be Béodred?" The Rohir flushed again.

"Yes it would!  What of it?"

"Oh, no matter. Rowanna spoke of you as a good friend, that is all. And Béodred – as her friend, you can in truth tell any Rider you choose that Rowanna has done nothing, by the customs of Elves but I believe of Men also, for which she need feel any shame."  He spread his hands out low, palms upward.  

"I do not believe there is any more I can say to you than that.  Goodnight, my friend, and a fair road home on the morrow."

"A good night to you," the Rohir flashed back.  "But use it, Elf, to think on what I said!"

He stood for a moment, breathing hard, then turned on his heel and marched back through the house.  Legolas heard a door slam.  Letting out a long, slow breath he turned to lean his forehead against the cool of the pillar, barely noticing that he was grinding one clenched fist slowly into its rough stone, gazing at nothing.

He had no idea how long he stood there, but eventually he heard his name called softly.  Merry poked his head cautiously from the kitchen doorway.

"Are you all right, Legolas?  Are you coming in?"  Then, as the Elf crossed the courtyard and stepped into the lamplight, the Hobbit gasped.

"Legolas!  You didn't hit him, did you?"

"Hit him?  Of course not, Merry!  Why in Arda's name – "

"Well, if you didn't – " Merry swallowed – "then what on earth have you done to your hand?..."

Legolas turned his fist over and stared, blankly, at the blood which ran down his shredded knuckles and dripped in steady red tears onto the cobbles of the yard.

***

"All right, Gelion."  Rowanna spoke a little sharply as the frisky gelding nearly trod on her boot while she tightened his girth.  "I know you want to get going, but we'll never start if I can't get you saddled! Stand still – Legolas may be here any minute..."

But even when she had loaded up her saddle-bags and checked them for even weighting, there was no sign of the Elf. We can't drop by the Fellowship's lodging on our way down to the Pelennor, either, she mused as she mounted up and clicked to Gelion, raising a hand to the stable-boy as they passed under the arch; that little lane leading down to their house may be quiet as Frodo wished, but it's steep and winding and the cobbles are too uneven to risk Gelion just before we start a month's journey! Never mind, we'll find them on the Field...

The lowest Circles, despite the early hour, were thronging with folk, for it seemed that half of the White City intended to go out onto the Pelennor to see the Rohirrim depart and wish their friends and allies good speed. Rowanna inwardly thanked Elrond's stablemaster yet again for her mount's temperament and training, as Gelion moved daintily through the jostling crowd with no more than an occasional disconcerted snort.  Passing through the cleared space around the Gate with a sigh of relief, she cast her eye about the field and quickly caught sight, some way off, of the banner of the white horse on green; since she had no éored to join up with, she reasoned, she would do best in the first instance to ask a Marshal where the King wished her to ride. Besides, the Fellowship would surely be found with Aragorn, which almost certainly meant close by Éomer...

All over the field horses whinnied and stamped, Riders called, the folk of Minas Tirith chattered and shouted to one another. It's worse than the Edoras Midsummer-fair! Rowanna thought. I'm glad we persuaded Mother not to come down after we said goodbye at breakfast this morning; I don't think she's strong enough yet, whatever she might think, to withstand this crush for long!

Weaving her way between the gathering groups of Riders, she could see the distinctive shape of Firefoot, Éomer's great chestnut stallion, and glimpsed Éowyn – riding, to Rowanna's amazement, side-saddle – atop her impeturbable Windfola: but before she reached them, suddenly a pair of mirror-image greys slid up on either side of Gelion; flanking her she glimpsed their slender black-clad riders, and in unison two voices chimed in:

"Mae govannen, rohiril!"

"Aur maer, mellyn," she responded evenly. I'll need to remember everything I learnt in Rivendell about not letting Elladan and Elrohir put me off my stride, she reflected, if I'm to make it to Lothlórien and back with my sanity, let alone my dignity, intact!

Gelion, though, was simply pleased to encounter the familar scents of Nimloss and Nimfaun, and was gently touching noses when something about one of the many tall fair-headed figures moving through the crowd caught Rowanna's eye.  Yes – there he was, shepherding the Hobbits deftly through the throng of Men and horses, Gimli at his side.  She was about to jump down from Gelion's back and run to him when she remembered the ironical gaze of the Peredhil at her side; she dismounted more sedately, and it was Pippin who ran to hug her, pouring out indignation at her deserting them all for weeks on end.

"Of course I'll miss you, Pippin, all of you!" Rowanna protested when she could get a word in. "But it truly won't be for so long - you will still all be here at Midsummer, surely?"

But Merry and Pippin had now spotted Éowyn, and dragged Frodo and Sam forward to greet her. Elrohir sidestepped Nimloss to make some remark to Éomer, and at last Rowanna could get to Legolas' side.

"Have you all that you need?" he enquired. "Pippin was all for gifting you extra provisions of every kind for the journey; but I think we convinced him not only that Éomer King's train would be more than well enough provisioned, but that Gelion would not thank him for the extra weight!"

"I've all I need," she assured him. "Though I had thought you might come up to the stables this morning to make sure of that yourself?"

Legolas was glancing this way and that over his shoulder at the massing Rohirrim, and seemed barely to hear her. "Forgive me that... see, Aragorn comes!" A distant trumpet blew, and far off Rowanna glimpsed movement from around the City's gate.

"I'd best be ready, then!" She made to embrace Legolas, but found he had forestalled her by stepping up to hold Gelion's head. Admitting with an inward sigh that the Elf's discretion was probably well-judged, under Elladan and Elrohir's interested gaze, she was about to swing into the saddle when the knuckles gripping Gelion's bridle caught her eye. They looked faintly grazed, the skin a little too smooth and new. "Legolas? Have you done something to your hand? It was all right when we rode out two days ago..."

"'Tis nothing," the Elf said shortly, looking over his shoulder again. Frowning, Rowanna was about to press him further when a clear, belling sound brought her up short. It was Éomer's great horn, the Kingshorn of the Riddermark; and at its blowing instant silence fell. Suddenly, not a Rider shouted or spoke, and every mount stood motionless: even the gossiping Gondorrim were impressed into quiet; and into that stillness Aragorn spoke.

"People of Gondor! You gather this morn to honour and farewell our friends and allies of Rohan. So also do I; and thus you will forgive me, I hope, if in courtesy I do so in their own speech..." Over a murmuring of surprise he switched smoothly into Rohirric, and Rowanna felt a delighted shiver of recognition run down her spine at the glorious sound of it rolling off the Chieftain's tongue:

"Riders of Rohan! In Gondor's great need rode you to the Red Arrow; risking ruin for ancient friendship. Defeat of dark powers with your King's blood was bought. Renowned now he rests in our Silent Street, guest of our gratitude while the Riddermark readies."  He drew breath, and Rowanna felt the wave of appreciation run through the Riders' ranks: here is a King who can make a song!

"Hie you homeward safe and swiftly," Aragorn went on, "rise the road smooth to meet you. Forget not friendship; in Mundburg's memory you rest remembered, courage commemorated, in song and story."  He turned to Éomer and Éowyn, and with great ceremony bowed low to them both in the saddle. "Ferthu Eorlingas hal!"

The Rohirrim roared their approval and the horses began to stamp and toss heads, catching the mood.  "I must mount," Rowanna said hastily.  "Legolas –"

He nodded.  "Elbereth guide you, rohiril; guard and protect you, to the end of the world."  For a moment she thought his caution would extend even to the Elven blessing; but as he ended he kissed her correctly, left cheek, right cheek and brow.

"To - " Rowanna went to echo him; but he was already cupping his hands to lift her into the stirrup.

"Swiftly now. I must get Merry and Pippin out of this crush before they are trampled! Go safely..."

In the saddle before she had time to think about it, Rowanna could do little more than nod. "Keep - "  She swallowed down the sudden lump in her throat.  "Keep them out of mischief for me!"  

"I will do my best!"  For a moment the familiar smile danced across his face; then Legolas turned away, seeking the Hobbits and Gimli, and Rowanna bit down hard on her lip and stepped Gelion carefully across towards the Marshal's banner, to ask what she should do.

~~~

Author's Notes:

Mae govannen, rohiril! - Well met, horse-lady!

Aur maer, mellyn - Good morning, friends.

I've stolen Nimfaun from Isabeau of Greenlea's wonderful Captain my Captain, because the name seemed to match Nimloss (my invention) so nicely.


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