Chapter XIX: COMING HOME
Two of the sentinels lead Gimli, Legolas and Cyrene to the camp of the Amazons' army.
They were riding in silence, Cyrene behind the sentinels her head up high, her features set in a serene but taut expression, as if bracing herself for facing something.
Legolas looked from Cyrene's pale and sad face to the Amazons that surrounded her in respectful demeanor. He had always wondered why the proud woman had come to be that far away from her people, because it was widely known that the Amazons were fiercely loyal to their customs and traditions and lived for themselves, away from all other races. But he had also seen the pain and longing in her eyes and therefore had never burdened her with questions about her exile.
Now that her royal station was revealed to Gimli and him, he was even more intrigued to know the reasons she had to leave her home.
Cyrene was not the kind of woman who would run away from her duties towards her people, and as a princess her duty towards the Amazons was a life guiding principle.
But Legolas would not ask; he would wait for the truth to reveal itself. Nevertheless he was saddened by the revelation of her lineage. It was another obstacle they would have to overcome, if they were ever to have a future together. And then, he felt the gap between them widening, as he thought of her returning to her people, leaving Middle Earth and him behind. He had been foolish, giving his heart away to the Amazon. But his heart had been hers from the first night on, when they had sat together under the stars, upon the walls of Helm's Deep. There was no turning back now.
Cyrene felt Legolasī eyes set on her, and a new pang of pain shot through her heart. She had to be strong. She had a duty towards Rohan now, and she would stand to it, no matter the cost. And she had to keep the thoughts of Legolas at bay, while she was preparing herself to face her past, her family, her people and the choices she had made, for good or for bad.
As the little company rode over a couple of hills, they saw the camp. Two dozens of tents were set close to the seashore; there was activity wherever they set their eyes. Women fencing, preparing food, tending horses.
The sentinels rode towards the middle of the camp, where the biggest tent stood, guards set around it.
As they rode past the tents Amazons gathered, and most of them recognized Cyrene kneeled on one leg saluting her. She smiled and acknowledged the tribute nodding her head. As they reached the biggest tent, all dismounted, and while the sentinels went inside, Cyrene, Legolas and Gimli stood outside, waiting. The elf and the dwarf took care of staying a couple of paces behind the Amazon as a sign of respect. From where he stood, Legolas could see Cyrene's face, and saw her straighten her stance even more. All Amazons from the camp were gathering around them slowly, keeping a respectful distance.
Two tall women, clad in warrior attire, walked out of the tent, both about the same build than Cyrene. The first one, that had her head uncovered, was a woman in the autumn of her life, regal and serene. The Queen.
The second one was a woman wearing a helmet that covered her face, one step behind the Queen.
As the Queen stepped out, Cyrene had fallen on her knee to the ground, her fist closed over her heart, her head bowed.
Legolas and Gimli bent their heads in respect towards the ruler of the warrior women. She acknowledged the greeting of the foreigners, but her eyes were set on the young woman kneeling in front of her. She walked the few paces that separated her from Cyrene, and took the younger woman's chin in her hand lifting her face to meet her eyes.
"Many seasons ago, one of my flesh and blood left her kin behind and sought a new life beyond the horizon. I feared my eyes would never see you again. My heart is full of joy. Rise, Cyrene, you have bowed to the queen, now embrace your mother," she said.
Cyrene stood up, and enveloped her mother in a tight embrace. "Oh Mother, the Goddess has been kind to us, for I have also longed with every breath to be able to see you again!" she said softly, Queen Myrine being the only one able to hear her.
"So the lost sheep has found its way back to the flock?" said a bitter voice from behind Myrine.
"Alkaia ... ", started to say Myrine. Cyrene, gently released her mother saying,
"She is right, my Queen, I have not properly saluted the princess, heir to the throne. Forgive me, Mistress", she said, and bent again down on her knee.
Alkaia stepped in front of Cyrene, and nodded to her. "That is what you owe me, at least, Cyrene. I suppose I have to welcome you too?"
Cyrene did not look up, but the knuckles of the closed fist over her heart went white. "Rise, Cyrene, I have been told you have come as an envoy from Rohan. And as such, you deserve my respect," said the princess bitterly.
Cyrene rose, keeping her eyes downcast.
The Queen looked from one of her daughters to the other, and sighed. "You are welcome, Cyrene, we have been expecting the envoys of Theoden. Introduce your companions, if you will."
Cyrene nodded and began. "King Theoden of Rohan, my liege, has sent me to you, Queen Myrine, in the terms of the ancient pact of Eorl and our people. But the Rohirrim are only a part of the great force gathering to fight the dark forces of Mordor," she paused, rising her voice to reach the warriors surrounding them. "My sisters, meet two brave and noble warriors of Middle Earth: these are Legolas from Mirkwood and Gimli of the Dwarves. Their adventures and feats are legend. They are here representing two races of the new alliance of the free people of Middle Earth".
Legolas and Gimli heard an approving murmur from the ranks of the Amazons. Cyrene had made an impressive introduction. And now it was their turn to speak.
Gimli stepped forward. "Your Majesty, I am Gimli, son of Gloin, from Erebor in the heart of the Lonely Mountain. Cyrene speaks the truth, for a mighty force is gathering at the walls of Minas Tirith to fight the minions of Sauron and stop the evil Lord of taking over Middle Earth. The courage and shrewdness of the Amazons are as legendary as their might in the battle. I am honored to have been chosen to meet you, Mistress", and after saying this he bowed again in front of Myrine and Alkaia.
Legolas took one step and spoke as well, "Queen Myrine, I come from the depths of the Black Forest. I am Legolas Greenleaf, son of King Thranduil of Mirkwood. Master Gimli and I were sent to you by Elessar, Heir of Isildur, who rode through the Paths of the Dead and has raised a mighty army to defend Middle Earth against the Dark Lord of Mordor. The Elves have joined the fight, and we have heard as well of the bravery and glory of the Amazon warriors. More glory and fame will be yours after this battle, Mistress, for you and the legendary Amazons."
"You are welcome, envoys. We are honored to be visited by famous warriors. The Amazons are ready to ride into battle. You might depart tomorrow at dawn, but for today rest and let us show you our hospitality," said Myrine, who then turned to Cyrene, "I wish a word with you, Cyrene, as soon as you have left your gear and our guests are settled. I will be expecting you." She nodded to Legolas and Gimli, who bent her heads again and walked into the tent.
Alkaia stepped forward and took off her helmet, bringing her face close to Cyrene's, and snarled, "Do not delude yourself, sister, you are not welcome and you are not one of us anymore."
Cyrene replied calmly, "I did not expect your welcome, Alkaia. I am responsible for my actions and my choices, as I always have been. I will be gone soon".
Legolas and Gimli were mesmerized watching the exchange of words, but not because of what was said. But because of the sight, for it was like looking in a two-winged mirror. Cyrene and Alkaia were identical twins.
Once Alkaia had gone into the queen's tent as well, many amazons approached Cyrene. They were respectful and distant towards the foreigners, and loving to the Amazon. Among those who approached her was a small built woman with a fiery red mane, who barely reached Cyrene's shoulder, and who threw herself at the taller woman's neck, eliciting a pleased laugh from her.
"You know I would have gone with you to the end of the world, Cyrene!" the redhead said.
"I know Aella, and I missed you every day I was away," replied Cyrene, giving her friend a fierce embrace and lifting her off the ground.
"Now, you will not escape me, sister, for I will stick to you like your shadow!" said Aella, while Cyrene set her down. "I hope you will, Aella. I missed you, little one."
"Little one? Well, let it be known to you, Mistress, that I grew in the last seasons ... not a single inch!!!" said Aella laughing.
Aella looked at Legolas and Gimli, who were still standing a couple of paces away from Cyrene.
"These are interesting companions you brought along, Cyrene. They are different of the males we've met before,", she said approaching them.
Aella was small built, but her body was well proportioned, trained in the arts of war. She hardly reached Legolas chest, but she looked proudly into the elf's eyes, and stretched out her hand.
"I am Aella, daughter of Myrto. I am honored to meet you, Elf Warrior."
Legolas gripped her forearm in greeting. "I am the honored one, Aella. My name is Legolas."
Aella acknowledged the greeting and smiled. Then she turned and walked around Gimli. "I have never met anybody of your kind, Dwarf Warrior. You are very impressive ... forgive me. I am also honored to meet you, Master Dwarf."
Gimli frowned. He was annoyed by the behavior of the Amazon. He did not enjoy being observed in any circumstance and much less by a female. Since Aella was still gawking at him, and forgot to stretch her arm towards him, he did not salute her in the warrior-like fashion, but only nodded to her. Impertinent woman!He was slightly curious about the petite redhead, but he was enraged about the strange way she was staring at him. He did not enjoy drawing much attention to himself. He was aware that he was very different to humans, hobbits and elves ... but the way this Amazon was observing him was beyond exasperating.
She made him feel awkward . The light of interest in her sky-blue-eyes was clear to see. Damned woman.
Cyrene had approached them, since all the Amazons that had come to greet her were now pursuing their chores.
"Aella? This is my dear friend and mighty warrior Gimli. He is a great companion and I am honored to be called his friend," she said. Gimli's eyes lit up when he looked at Cyrene. After the Paths of the Dead they shared a bond for as long as they both lived, and he cherished the thought.
Aella's eyes widened as she heard Cyrene's words and saw Gimli's reaction to them. So it was true. Women in the outside world were not always submissive to man. Cyrene was regarded as an equal, and by this interesting dwarfish male nonetheless. By the Goddess, Aella was not going to let Cyrene go away without her this time!
Aella led Legolas and Gimli towards a tent that stood several feet away from the Queen's tent. Gimli walked inside as did Legolas and Cyrene. There were fur-pallets on the ground, a chest, some stools and a low table with water and wine, as well as fruit.
"The Queen wants the envoys to rest and feel comfortable during your stay among us", Aella told then, then turned to Cyrene, "The Queen wants her youngest daughter to share her quarters She is expecting you, my friend".
Legolas saw a shadow cross Cyrene's face. "I will go to the Queen now. But I am staying with the envoys as well, Aella. Arrange it, I beg you," and saying this she turned to leave. As she reached the entrance of the tent, she looked back to Legolas. She was hoping to find his eyes and she did. A bright smile lit her face and she left. The elf needed no more reassurance. Even if Cyrene was not aware of it, he was holding her heart.
Cyrene was not aware of anything else but the conflicting emotions raging in her. She had the chance of leading the Amazons into battle, earn fame and glory for them and return to her people as a heroine.
THIS was her People, her place in the world, her family. But she had turned her back on them and gone away. For good. And she was still convinced that what she had done was the best for all parties involved. However, Fate had decided to confront her with the choice of returning to the Amazons or leaving again.
And in her heart, instantly, she knew that she would choose exile again. After Legolas, after Rohan, she would never fit among her warrior sisters again. She just hoped she could endure leaving her mother again. Preparing herself to face the mother she loved above everything else on earth, she paused for a moment at the entrance of the Queen's tent.
She would stand up for her actions, and prayed to the Goddess for wisdom and strength. Sighing loudly, Cyrene squared her shoulders and entered the tent of Myrine, daughter of Hyppolite and 34th Queen of the Amazons.
Myrine was as tall as Cyrene, had already seen over forty summers cross the land but still was a fearsome warrior. Her long black hair showed many silvery strands but there were almost no lines on her face that might betray her age. Age and experience had given her face both decision and leniency. And to her people, she was the kindest and most fair ruler in history. She was respected and loved, and any of the warriors would have died gladly for her. Cyrene felt this for Myrine and more. Her mother was love and life to her.
Myrine embraced her daughter again and showed her to the chairs that were set next to a low table. Cyrene sat next to her mother and waited for the queen to speak.
"I thought I would never see you again, Cyrene. But then, our friends in Dol Amroth reported that you had reached Rohan and that you were fighting along the Rohirrim. We also heard of a great battle some days ago, and that you brought glory to the name of the Amazons on the battlefield, as did your companions to their people. I am proud of you, my daughter," began Myrine.
She put her hand over her daughter's as she added softly, "I know why you left, child. You shouldn't have. But it only shows how honorable and brave you are. I miss you, Cyrene."
Cyrene felt her heart skip a beat. 'I miss you too mother, more than you will ever know', she thought, but she said, "Mother, it was my choice and I did what I deemed right to do. I am sure that Alkaia has now all the support she needs and she will be a great ruler to our people. The survival and union of the Amazons should never be put at risk. It is our duty to ensure that, my queen," Cyrene said.
"I know Cyrene, I know. Though I would have never asked this from you. The outside world can be cold and lonely for a stranger. And we are doomed to be strangers to them, forever. Alkaia does not understand that you left to ensure her leadership and feels betrayed. She still thinks she has to prove that she deserves the crown. Beware of your sister, Cyrene. She is a fine woman, but she still has to learn many things about life. As you did. I see the shadows in your eyes my daughter, you have learned about the dark side of life. I regret that I was not by your side to help you face them. But, as I said, I am proud to be your mother, and you have all my blessings upon you."
Cyrene looked into her mother's eyes. Myrine knew that Cyrene was not returning to the Amazons and she had accepted it. Her love and admiration for the older Amazon grew even more, as she reached out and held her mother close to her heart.
"My queen, I will lead our warriors to battle and bring once again glory upon our race. But I will not return with them. My path lays now far away from the daughters of Artemis. May the Goddess shed all her blessings upon you and my sisters in arms. As well as upon the next queen, Alkaia," and saying this, Cyrene turned away from her mother and left the tent.
She was walking away again, but this time she felt no fear or despair, not even knowing she was going to engage in the greatest battle on Middle Earth since the Battle of the Last Alliance. She would fight and emerge victorious or die in the effort. As an Amazon.