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4
IV.

The day of Eomer's return comes at last.

A knot of tension, speculation, tangled and tightened over these last weeks, sits waiting inside her. Who is this man, after all? Would her memory even match the reality now fast approaching? Was the prison she knew simply to be exchanged for another? What right did she have to leave?

There is, of course, the matter of the rest of the host, composed of such exalted personages as have never been seen in Meduseld before.

A messenger comes and she goes out to wait on the terrace with the rest of the household. For a moment she feels as a child again, naught but an orphan washed up by chance on the steps of the great Hall. She wishes her brother were standing beside her.

The travellers come into view. There is a light about this company that shines apart from the Sun glinting on the surface of their raiment. They make a long, shimmering, multicoloured thread stretching up from the valley floor. As they come closer she sees that her brother is at the head, smiling.

Yet without willing she looks past her brother, down the line, searching for one face, his face. And there it is, upturned towards her, also seeking. Their eyes meet for a moment that seems to stretch on and pierce the weight of the occasion. He smiles at her, and she feels herself smiling in return, infused with sudden confidence.

She greets her brother first with a quick, fierce embrace, and is surprised to find her vision blurred yet again with tears. She blinks quickly.

There is Aragorn, now King Elessar, looking no longer stern but joyful. Then she sees the Queen beside him. Her breath stops in her chest. What an utter fool I was! Upon greeting this otherworldly presence, she fights to keep her tongue from asking forgiveness. The Queen's still, luminous face reveals nothing, but she feels laid bare in her piercing eyes. Those eyes seem not to hold condemnation or contempt, but mere gentle amusement, all the more disconcerting.

Another otherworldly figure comes into view. Instantly she knows it is the Lady of the Golden Wood, at once more powerful and more lovely than anyone she has ever seen. The sight of her brings a strange longing; for what, she knows not.

It is a relief to greet the Holbytla. Master Holdwine and his cousin are hale and hearty, merry even in their politely formal salutations; their companions less so, but she is glad to see that they are of much better complexion than before.

The wizard Gandalf beams down at her with barely contained mirth. She is not sure from whence it comes, but she lets her tongue have its way this time, and says simply, "I give my thanks to you as well as greeting."

At last, he stands before her, taller than in her memory, his gaze more intense. Yet it takes no more than a moment for the knot to unravel.

"My lord."

"My lady."

"So you have come to fetch me?"

At this, his eyes dance in merriment. "I have."

"Did you fear I would forget you, or my promise to return?"

"I feared to waste the chance to spend time in your company."

He takes her hand and kisses it. For a moment, her senses narrow to that point, oblivious to all else.

The rest of the business of receiving the travellers passes by at a snail's pace.

Finally she finds herself seated next to him in a corner, and their conversation continues as though there has been but a day's pause. She marvels again at what words he can bring to life, words she has only read with effort from dusty pages, as easily as some in her household give breath to curses.

He tells her the tale of their journey, and when he comes to the drums in the hills of the Forest of Druadan, she asks him about the Wild Men who dwell there.

"Not much is now known of their origins, but some have said that they are unchanged from the earliest days of Men." He begins to recount these origins, seemingly from the beginning. He sees her smiling, unbefitting the story, and ceases speaking.

"What is it that amuses you? Have I said something amiss?"

She laughs. "Nay! It is only that you seem to hold much more history in your head than anyone I have met. Tell me, are there very many books in the archives of your city?"

"A great many, and other forms of writing besides."

"Have you read them all?"

At this he laughs in turn. "I would like someday to say that I have, but alas, their number may be too great, and some are beyond my skill to interpret."

She leans back for a moment in thought. "I wonder... were all these writings meant to make a record of songs and verses once familiar to your people?"

"An interesting question. Some of them were, without a doubt, although most were solitary accounts written without thought of putting to music."

"It seems strange to me...perhaps your people have set their learning down in books so that they can be free to forget it."

He looks at her with slight surprise. "Hm. Perhaps they have."

"It is well, then, that they have you to remind them."

This time his laugh is less mirthful. "That task is far too great for one man. But I hope to do what I can, now that we are done with war, at least for the moment. It is a thing to occupy times of peace."

"So it is. Please continue your tale, or should I say your teaching, for I would not be among the unlearned."

Mirth turns into something softer, and instead he takes her hand. "I will gladly teach you all that you wish to know."

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