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An icy wind hit them as they mounted. It would get colder the further up the mountain they went, but Indis knew it could not be helped. She was grateful the boys were not mounted separately; the body warmth from their companions, their protectors, would help mitigate the frigid temperatures. She had forgotten how bitter it was on the heights. Shivering, she pulled her cloak closer about her.
"'Twill become colder the higher up we travel," Éomund stated dryly.
She knew he was still dismayed by her decision. She could hear it in his voice, the condescension as he spoke the obvious. Though he had been civil since their debate, the warm camaraderie that she had begun to cherish had vanished. In the light of day, with the fire cheering the hut, her decision had seemed so right; now, it seemed wrong. She shook her head. 'How I wish I had Denethor's quick wit,' she rued. She once again held the debate in her head, studying it from all sides, hoping to see that she was right, but ready to admit if she was wrong. 'How I wish for the simple things I used to do when a child. The times, sitting with my sister, creating bobbins for lace stitching, reading…' She stifled a sigh; she did not want to appear weak to the Rohir.
"How long do you think it will be till we stand in Rath Dínen?" Éomund asked.
"Forgive me. I did not hear you." She blinked, pulling herself out of her thoughts. She had been distracted again. Boromir was telling Théodred about Vëantur. Her tears fell. Would Denethor now have met the great captain, his hero? Would he be on some noble vessel exploring the seas as he had dreamt as a child? Sobs shook her. How he had suffered his whole life. Suffered at the hands of his own father. Ecthelion had been a loving father, but harsh and strict, giving Denethor no chance for a childhood. Always, their father had looked towards the weal of Gondor and not the weal of his children. And for too many years she had watched and not spoken a word in reproach. Until their grandfather had died; then she resolved to stop the madness that was the father and son relationship. And she had, for a time, but always, strife would come and their bond would be severed. She could not understand it, had no explanation for it. Even on his deathbed, Ecthelion had scorned his son openly.
The tears fell harder. She would not see him again, this dear brother. Sniffling, trying to compose herself, trying to find some inner strength, she pulled her horse up, and hurriedly wiped her eyes as Éomund rode back to her.
Éomund stopped. "Is something amiss?"
"We must stop for now. The day is almost upon us. Has not Grimbold returned with news of a suitable resting place?"
"Nay. But if you wish, we will stop and wait for him. He should be along presently. The light grows, as you noted, in the eastern sky."
She sat silent as her mind raced towards Minas Tirith. 'I will fight for Boromir. I have learned my lesson too well. Nothing must come in the way of his happiness. Nor of Faramir's. Gondor will not be lost to petty squabbles, pride, nor the need for power. If I am not strong, if I do not hold the throne for Boromir, Kin-strife will once again descend upon Gondor. I cannot let that happen.' She clenched her teeth. 'No matter if I die, I will fight for Denethor's sons.' She slid off her horse and knelt in the snow, overcome by emotion, tears again streaking her face. 'Upon my father's grave, I vow to protect Boromir and Faramir, to hold Gondor safe and prosperous until Boromir comes of age, to pass the Rod to him, and to stand behind his Chair.'
Éomund immediately joined her on the ground, trying to help her to her feet. "Lady Indis! What ails you? Is there aught I can do?" The fell look in her eyes alarmed him.
She saw Boromir looking back, and stood. He could not see her distress, her anguish nor her resolve. She knew she must not frighten him.
Grimbold had returned by this time. He motioned them forward but held a finger to his lips, signaling for silence. The rest of the company dismounted and followed him. A short way along, they espied a cave and Grimbold led them inside. Aldor and he then pulled the horses in after them. The cave was small; the horses whinnied in fright. Baldor wrapped cloth around their muzzles to keep them quiet, making sure their nostrils were free so they could breathe. Aldor used more cloth as binders to cover their eyes, hoping this would lessen their fright.
"Forgive me for this inconvenience," Grimbold whispered into Indis' ear. "Orc are about. We could not leave the horses outside. The sun will rise soon, though, and the enemy will hide."
"Are you certain this is not one of their caves?" Théodred asked in fear, looking about for any sign of habitation.
"Shh!" Grimbold murmured, sword drawn as he stood at the cave's entrance. Aldor stood behind him. Éomund and Baldor drew their swords, also.
Théodred hung his head, embarrassed. Boromir stepped over and placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. He did not speak, but Théodred knew his friend understood his shame at having spoken aloud when the need for silence was so great. Théodred had made a mistake that could cost them their very lives.
Indis moved the boys to the back of the cave, looking about, herself, for any sign of Orc. Faramir scrunched down as far as he could, pulling on Boromir's hand, trying to make him hide from view, too. Indis motioned for them to cover themselves under the fur blankets and such that they had brought with them. She then took her sword from the back of her own horse, moved to stand behind Éomund, and waited.
The Rohir looked at her, astonished. She put her finger upon Éomund's lips and smiled. "My sword has not sung in many a year," she whispered directly into his ear. "It hungers." She felt as if she had come out of some daydream. Her vow encompassed her heart and gave her strength. And a sense of freedom. She was no longer assailed by doubts.
They heard the dreaded speech of their enemy and smelt the Orc before they drew close to the cave. Éomund sighed. 'Of all the luck,' he thought, 'they are headed this way.' He motioned for Indis to move back, but she only smiled, and moved forward. 'Women!' he thought, remembering the times that Morwen had gone out on patrol against the King's own wishes. Lady Morwen had been a force to reckon with though; he hoped Indis was made of the same steel.
"It is useless to stay here, bunched together and waiting for them," Éomund whispered. "Let us leave the Lady Indis and the leech to guard the cave. You and Aldor skirt to the west, Grimbold, while Baldor and I take to the east. As the Orc near the cave, we will attack."
The healer, forgotten until this moment, squealed in fear. Baldor took him by the throat, covering his mouth with his hand, and dragged the man towards the front of the cave. "Stay here and guard the children, you coward!" he spat.
They left their shelter in silence, slithering on their stomachs through the snow. Indis held her breath. The Orc were still talking loudly. They were, as yet, undiscovered. Perhaps the Orc knew not of the cave. She could only hope. Another moment, and she heard a shout. She recognized Éomund's voice. She held her sword before her, waiting patiently. The fray had begun.
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