Chapter 1. Prince Charming

In Arinya’s chambers in Cameth Brin, morning of November 2, 1347
Written by Rian and Gordis

It was a warm, pleasant morning. Caelen hadn’t felt so comfortable in ages. She was sitting in the window seat, alternating between reading a book of Arinya’s, looking out of the window and wondering how Callon her brother was doing on his trip, and listening to Arinya play her harp.

Arinya the Elf let her fingers glide over the harp strings, not playing anything in particular for long – just letting her fingers play snatches of old melodies, bits of newer tunes, and nothing in particular, as her mood changed with her thoughts.

It was a still, quiet morning. Like all good things lately, it wasn’t destined to last, though.

An impatient-sounding knock broke the silence.

“Come in,” called Arinya, as Caelen looked curiously at the door.

The door swung open, smashing loudly against the wall, and Prince Daurendil, Heir to the throne of Rhudaur, strode in. He was an impetuous young man of twenty summers, dark-haired and keen-eyed, clad in a dark-blue riding outfit and high boots; his hands played with a grand hunting horn inlaid in silver. Nonplussed by the commotion he produced, he bowed slightly to the elf.

“I wish you good morn, Lady Arinya,” he said in his young voice that had only recently acquired deeper masculine notes. Then he stopped abruptly, squinting at the light in his face, and feeling his heart starting to race.

There was another lady sitting in the window-seat, outlined against the bright sun, one that he had never met before. The light streaming through the window sent her unruly strawberry blond hair aflame, forming a shining halo around her head. Daurendil loved blond hair – but his friend Odare’s hair, for instance, never had such a glorious luster, never streamed like a shining river to the girl’s knees. The prince stood frozen on the spot, gaping, when a slight cough from Arinya made him remember his manners. Blushing slightly, he bowed deeply to the unknown girl and said, “Hail, fair lady. Forgive my boldness – your beauty made me forget my manners. I am Daurendil, the King’s Heir. May I ask your name, lady?”

The girl sprang to her feet and blushed. Her head modestly bent, she replied, almost inaudibly, “Caelen. My name is Caelen.”

Daurendil raked his brain for a suitable compliment. The name was in Sindarin, but what in Arda did it mean? He wished he had paid more attention to his lessons. “Uhm… beautiful name!” was all he came up with.

There was an awkward silence broken finally by Arinya. “What brought you here, Daurendil? How can I help you?”

Daurendil grinned at the Elf. “If I said I wanted to borrow a book, you wouldn’t believe me, would you? Nay, I am not like Amantir or Tarniel. I love horses, dogs and weapons. In truth, I came looking for Odare: I thought you were having a music lesson. Amantir and I are going for a hunt, and I am sure she will be thrilled to join us.” Anticipating the next question, he hurried on. “Nothing dangerous, no bear, no boar… maybe foxes or hares. And there are also ducks aplenty flying overhead. We won’t venture further than the plateau and we have a huge attendance. Do you know where Odare is?”

Smiling indulgently, the Elf replied, “As far as I know, she is in the garden with Tarniel and their guards.”

Daurendil turned to leave, but then a new idea struck him. He made a few steps toward the window and asked: “Lady Caelen, would you care to join our company for the hunt?” He felt his heart beating wildly as he waited for the girl’s reply.

Caelen’s eyes shone with excitement. At the mention of “horses” she had gone into a happy reverie; at the mention of a ride out in the country, she was in paradise. And this young man was the King’s heir – she’d certainly be safe with him and his entourage!

Daurendil looked into her eager eyes and shining face and started breathing a little faster.

“Ooh, I’d love to go, Your Highness!” she said eagerly, clasping her hands together.

Daurendil’s heart left its accustomed place in his chest and moved up into his throat. He loosened his collar… the room suddenly seemed a bit warm…

Arinya put her harp down and walked quickly over to Caelen, putting her hands on the girl’s shoulders to get her attention and bring her back down to earth.

“But in your condition, Caelen, that would not be wise,” she said urgently, seeing that Caelen had completely forgotten about her feigned pregnancy.

Daurendil’s heart fell back into his chest with a resounding crash. “The good ones are always taken!” thought Daurendil, disappointed. He started to make his farewell bow.

“Wait, wait!” pleaded Caelen, pulling away from Arinya and looking at Daurendil in desperation. “I don’t have a condition!” she said, pulling back and stomping her foot in frustration.

Daurendil did not quite understand what this meant, but nevertheless, a glimmer of hope sparked in his always-optimistic heart.

“I mean… I mean…” Caelen started, and then turned to Arinya. “Oh, it’s no good, Arinya, I never could lie – I’ve already slipped up with you, and I know I’ll just slip up again anyway! It might as well come out now!”

Daurendil took a step back, alarmed by these complicated females. He took a quick look to make sure nothing was between him and the door, in case a hasty retreat started to become an attractive option.

“You know your brother wanted you to…” admonished Arinya in a stern voice, then stopped abruptly as she realized that she had just slipped up herself.

“Yes, I know my brother wanted only to protect me,” said Caelen firmly, putting an emphasis on the word “brother”. “But I feel so trapped…” She put a trembling hand to her face and turned her head to glance out of the window, her hair sliding across her shoulder and falling in a silky mass across her bosom, heaving with the strength of her emotion.

Daurendil took a step forward, heartened by the mention of a brother. “The lady is clearly in trouble – perhaps I could help her!” he thought, his manly emotions strengthened by his discovery earlier that morning of a few more hairs on his chin.

Caelen turned her head back to look at Daurendil. Tears were shimmering in her grey eyes, wetting her dark lashes… Impulsively, she moved quickly towards him, took his hands in hers, and knelt before him. He could feel her warm tears on his hands as she held them against her cheek. Her hair felt like silk… soft, caressing… He swallowed hard.

Cameth Brin, the palace garden. Morning of November 2, 1347
Written by Serenoli, Gordis and Rian

It was a tense pair of best friends sitting in the garden with the guards. That is to say, Tarniel was thoughtful and Odare was tense. She knew it was only a matter of time before that whole business of the lost emeralds would come out. In fact, if everyone hadn’t been so preoccupied, what with the Hillmen and Nauremir, and now Tarniel’s worries about this marriage Gimilbeth was arranging for her, it would have been out in the open long ago. Not that Tarniel would demand it outright, she was too good for that, but she might mention it casually, and then Odare would have to let the cat out. Tarniel wouldn’t be angry – but Odare would feel honor-bound to repay her somehow, and that would mean giving up something out of her own cache of jewels. She did not think she had strength enough to do that.

Tarniel opened her mouth to speak, and Odare got up at once. “I need to see Arinya about something. I’ll see you around!” she said quickly, and she sped off. It was ridiculous to be afraid every time Tarniel tried to say something. She scolded herself, but she wasn’t ready to own up yet… Maybe she could ask Arinya what to do. After swearing her to secrecy, of course.

So, off she headed to Arinya’s room, and opened the door to get a shock. Daurendil was standing there, looking hot under the collar and very amorous, gazing mesmerized at a woman kneeling before him, her huge stack of reddish blond hair falling all over his hand. Her first impulse was to laugh. Her second thought was, now that is what blonde hair was supposed to look like! And before she had time to register any more emotion, she opened her mouth, and let out what can only be termed as a gargle.

The magic of the scene was broken. Daurendil removed his hand, and the strange woman got to her feet gracefully, though her cheeks were tinged with red. With a tinge of annoyance, Odare saw that the woman was at least a foot taller than herself. Arinya, whom Odare had not noticed before, sat down.

“Oh, it’s you!” Daurendil was the first to speak. He was talking in an unnatural hearty voice. “I was just looking for you. Amantir and I were going off to a hunt, and thought you’d like to come. I was trying to convince the Lady Caelen here to join us as well.” He motioned vaguely towards Caelen.

“Oh.” Odare replied. “I suppose that’s why she was kissing your hand? Should Amantir and I line up to kiss you too before we can join the hunt?” – she stopped that line of thought ferociously, and said, “Pleased to meet you, Caelen. I’m Odaragariel, Princess of Mitheithel.” She wished she had some more titles. She had made a long list of official titles to add to her name once, but King Tarnendur had advised her not to. She wished she hadn’t listened to him. A few “Mistress of Fates” and “Lady of the Shining Waters” would have made her far more confident in the face of this big-haired, tall Dunedain.

“I’ll come to the hunt, sure, I haven’t seen Amantir for some time anyway.” Yes, so if I kiss anyone’s hand, it’ll be Amantir’s, not yours! – where were these weird thoughts coming from? “I’ll go and see if Tarniel wants to come too.”

“Oh, I don’t know, she’s never been interested in such things, you know.” Daurendil said half-heartedly. The truth was, he had quite decided that the main object of the hunt was now Caelen, but if his sister was going to be there, he would feel awkward, that was for sure.

Looking straight at Caelen, Odare replied, “She’ll be interested. Trust me.” With that, Odaragariel spun around and ran out of the room.

Now, now… that sounded almost ominous… Daurendil stood gaping at the door till Odare’s running footfalls died away. Why did she behave so strangely? Sure, girls always reacted oddly, but up to this moment he thought Odare to be an exception. Was he wrong? Daurendil suppressed the urge to scratch his head. He had gotten used to consider Odare one of his closest friends, always eager to share a hazardous adventure or some fun. What was wrong with her now? Could she be… what a crazy thought… jealous?

Oh, how he wished to have Ol’ Naure back! Nauremir, ten years’ Daurendil’s senior, always had answers to difficult questions, especially those concerning women. Were he here, he could have told him how to placate Odare and what to do with this wondrous creature with the hair the color of sunrise! Daurendil craved to hold her in his arms and to wipe away the tears from her rosy cheeks, to feel again the silkiness of her tresses… But how to approach her now? And why had she been crying anyway? What was all that about “not being good at lying”?

Utterly at a loss, he turned to the Elf. “I… I am sorry, Arinya, could you please tell me what this all was about?”

“I’m not quite sure what’s going on myself,” answered Arinya with a rueful little smile at Daurendil, followed by a warning look at Caelen.

But Caelen had the bit firmly between her teeth and was not about to lose the chance at horses and freedom to ride. Everyone would understand, anyway…

“No, Arinya, Prince Daurendil has the right to know the truth,” she said firmly. Arinya, who was unsure of the right course to take, anyway, let Caelen go ahead – it was her life, after all.

Caelen looked up at Daurendil and put on the expression that she had discovered usually worked wonders with her father and brother and other men.

“My lord, my family has lived for many years in the green valleys of Sir Methed in the west of your kingdom. We loved the land and our horses,” – she likes horses! thought Daurendil happily – “and lived in harmony together under the blue skies of our creator. But the times changed in this last year, and evil has grown and has not been checked, and our ancestral home was burned to the ground in what we think was an intentional attack on us. Of our family, only my brother and myself escaped from the ruins.” Caelen had begun her story with a bit of artifice to win her point, but her grief at this point was sincere.

“Go on,” encouraged Daurendil, with visions of himself and Caelen riding off into the sunset in the back of his head.

“There was a man who wanted to marry me – a terrible, uncouth, unlearned brute of a man! – and we found out just in time that he was planning to take me by force, and we fled.”

Daurendil shook his head sympathetically, visions of Broggha in his head.

“On the road, we were attacked by some vagabond ruffians, and they… they… we were vastly outnumbered, and they shot my brother’s horse out from under him. My brother valiantly tried to hold them off and give me a chance to ride away, but they were hurting him, and I just couldn’t leave…”

She bit her lip and blinked back some tears that had sprung into her eyes. Daurendil watched her, fascinated.

“I tried to ride them down, but they caught me, and… and mistreated me,” she said quietly, blushing, unsure of how to describe what had happened to her to this prince, and now not so sure that telling him her story was the best move, horses or not!

“The villains!” exclaimed Daurendil, taking her hands and leading her over to the window seat and making her sit down, retaining her hands in his. “Come, take some fresh air for a moment – this must be very distressing for you!” he said. It seemed so easy and natural to help her.

Caelen took a deep breath and continued – too late to turn back now. She finished with a description of how Eryndil and his men had saved them, and how they had decided to come to Cameth Brin, and her brother’s last-second decision to pass her off as his expectant wife in order to protect her. Daurendil listened in amazement – here he came to Arinya’s chambers for a simple ride, and now he was landed in yet another complicated situation! But this one was so different…

Caelen finished up with how she had met Arinya and had accidentally betrayed her secret. “And that’s what Arinya meant when she told me not to ride because of my “condition” – she was just trying to keep up the secret. But I thought you should know, my lord,” she finished artlessly, looking at him with trustful eyes. This man seemed nice, like her brother, and she was used to men looking after her.

The room grew silent as Caelen and Arinya waited for his response.

Ahh those eyes… Daurendil felt like he was drowning in their clear, gray depths… So innocent, so trusting. Well, he was not a man to betray such trust! He mastered the deepest masculine voice he was capable of and said, “Oh, fair lady, your secret is safe with me! I swear by Eru – I will not reveal it to anyone that lives.” With that he brought Caelen’s fingers to his mouth and kissed them – with much more fervor than custom permitted. But Caelen was likely unfamiliar with courtly manners, as she did not seem offended.

Emboldened by her compliance, he looked into her face and grinned. “And now, Caelen (for may I call you Caelen?), let us be off for this hunt. Do you have suitable clothes?”

At her enthusiastic nod he sprang to his feet and pulled her to the door. “Then go and put them on. We shall be waiting for you in the court.” He bowed to Arinya and made his way out of the Palace whistling in excitement.

“Good-bye, Arinya, I’ll see you later,” said Caelen too politely and too hastily, quickly bowing her head in a respectful farewell gesture and moving towards the door. But Caelen’s golden tresses and soulful eyes, however well they worked on men, were wasted on the current inhabitant of the room.

“Caelen,” said Arinya, softly but firmly. Caelen stopped and bit her lip, reminded suddenly of her mother.

Arinya waited in silence until Caelen turned her head and looked at her, her eyes large and pleading. Arinya tried to remain straight-faced but couldn’t; Caelen reminded her of a young pup who has stolen a goodie off of the table and was trying to escape with it.

Arinya sighed. “Come, Caelen, you know I’m your friend,” she began. Caelen nodded her head hesitantly, tracing a line on the floor with her toe. “I just want you to slow down a bit and see more than your side of this,” Arinya said persuasively, crossing over to Caelen and brushing back a stray strand of hair from her friend’s face in an affectionate gesture.

Caelen looked out of the window with a little sigh, then looked back at Arinya, this time with a more reasonable expression on her face. She waited for Arinya to continue.

“I didn’t stop you from telling Daurendil, because he is the prince, and I know it will get out eventually, and he’ll be a good person to have on your side,” said Arinya slowly. “Yet I don’t think you should just tell everyone now. As I said, you should think about more than just yourself – and your brother has sacrificed a lot for you, Caelen. I don’t think you should so thoughtlessly abandon what he did for your protection without his knowledge and consent.”

Caelen’s face assumed a puzzled look; these were new thoughts for her. She was used to people taking care of her, and as the much loved and petted youngest child of the family, she hadn’t been taught to consider others as much as perhaps she should have been. She looked back on the last month with new eyes and suddenly saw the things that she had taken for granted as they truly were – sacrifices on Callon’s part out of love for her. She remembered him putting his body between her and the robbers on the road; him telling her to flee as that terrible man held a knife to his throat; him looking with longing eyes at the circle of Eryndil’s men talking and laughing quietly around the fire as he settled down next to her with an extra cloak in case she got cold.

“You’re right, Arinya,” she whispered, her head lowered. “I’m just terribly selfish, I know…”

“And this last thing he did – it may not have been the wisest thing, but it was done out of love and concern for you. And he is of the age where he might want to start looking for a wife for himself – or at least enjoy the company of young women – and what he did for you kills all possibility of that.”

Arinya was right. Caelen remembered that new expression she had seen on her brother’s face just a few months ago, when his best friend’s sister passed by… how he had stopped in mid-sentence, his eyes lingering on her, his mouth softening… and yet he chose to leave their home to protect Caelen.

“You’re right, Arinya – I’ll go tell the prince that I cannot go riding with him,” said Caelen sadly.

“I don’t think you need to do that – I think you can go, and I think you should have fun – I know you love to ride, and I think it will be good for you! All I was trying to do was to get you back, because the person pushing their way past me out of the door was not the person I knew and liked.”

Caelen smiled sweetly at Arinya, and then wrapped her arms around her in a warm embrace, ending in a friendly kiss.

“If you can take more advice…” began Arinya.

“Yes, please!” answered Caelen humbly.

“I think perhaps you might want to casually mention that you were mistaken about the pregnancy, as opposed to feigning a miscarriage, because otherwise people will say that your riding caused the miscarriage, and that might be unpleasant for you.”

“My mother rode all the time when she was pregnant with us, but I see what you mean,” said Caelen thoughtfully. “Thank you – I’ll mention that. It’s been hard enough pretending to be married when I’m not, but the pregnant thing… ugh!” she shuddered. “I just… that was just too strange!”

Arinya smiled. “Well, you had to get “unpregnant” very soon, anyway, or people would be wondering why you’re keeping your nice figure for so long, so I think it might as well be now. But please, keep up the “marriage”, at least until your brother gets back and you two can discuss it.”

“I will,” said Caelen seriously. “And thank you, Arinya!”

“And remember, too, that means acting as if you are “unavailable”. I must say that the prince looked at you rather favorably, but you must respond to him – and the other men – as a happily married woman would respond, not as an unmarried young girl would. You don’t want to bring censure on your brother for his immodest wife!”

Caelen smiled and put her hands on either side of Arinya’s face, looking straight into her eyes. “I will be prim and proper and respectful, I promise,” she said firmly. “And I will make my brother proud of me!”

And I will RIDE again!!!! she thought joyfully to herself as she ran lightly down the hall to her quarters to change.

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