If Ever Two Were One...
3. Go from me...
Henceforward in thy shadow...
28 February TA 3019
Ædre was already about her work when Edrys entered the hall. Dark circles beneath the younger woman’s eyes betrayed her, and Edrys knew without asking that she too had slept but little the past night.
Three years now Ædre had spent in the household of her father's sister. Edrys had welcomed her young kinswoman, and if the shadows had weighed less heavily on her of late, it was due in no small measure to Ædre’s presence.
Edrys had also reveled in a renewed intimacy with Gárulf, for he was more often at home since the king's sister-son had taken on the command of the East-mark. In the warmth of his love Edrys had blossomed anew.
But duty and honor still called him, and once again she was left to watch and wait, in hope and in fear.
Edrys left the food that had been laid for her untouched on the table, and Ædre, seeming to sense her mood, cleared her place silently.
She too must feel the absence of the éored, Edrys thought, and of one young Rider most of all. Though Ædre was younger than she had been, Edrys knew well that she too had given her heart. She smiled wistfully, recalling how Ædre had wanted to hear yet again how the warrior from the Eastfold had won her aunt’s heart, and her hand.
mid-August TA 3007
It had surprised Edrys that he had asked her to dance. In truth she had begun to wonder that Gárulf had not danced before on that night, with her or with any other lady. She had remarked on it to Bearn as he shared a dance with her. Éomer had chosen another partner, Halwende's pretty little sister, and Théodred had not lacked for company. Yet his friend had remained as he was, quietly watching the revelry of others.
It was not for want of willing partners that he spurned the dance floor, of that she was certain, for many a young maiden had found reason to pass his way in hopes of catching his eye. Nor was he lacking in skill, for she could attest to the grace and ease with which he moved as they traversed the floor together in that first dance
They danced the next after that, and though she had no expectations that he would wish for another, she felt an inexplicable rush of delight when, without a word, he retained her hand for the next. The music played on till the early morning hours, the dancing succeeded by more singing, and the marshal kept her ever close beside him.
The hour was late when her brother Éadwine took up his harp to give them a tale of the Long Winter and of Helm Hammerhand.
Alas, the bright cup!"The gift runs true in your family it seems," Gárulf commented, and smiled at seeing the color brighten her cheeks.
Alas, the hall of feasting!
Alas the sword that kept
The sheep-fold and the apple-orchard
Safe from the claw of the wolf!
The wolf-slayer is dead.
The law-giver, the law-upholder is dead,
While the sad wolf's self, with the eagle, and the raven,
Come as kings, instead.
Edrys thanked him for the compliment. "But I cannot claim to be the equal of Éadwine. His is the gift of creation, while I but give voice to songs others have made before me."
This he would not allow. "When you sang the words took shape. It was as though you were one with the music — it came alive, something one could touch and feel.” He was looking at her intently. “Almost it made me believe that you had lived that tale. How could you sing thus unless you had known such a love?"
"Nay, my lord, ’tis not so. It is not for me to say how the music spoke to you, but believe me when I tell you that it came not from mine own experience."
"Then you have never been in love?"
Unexpectedly ill at ease in the face of that question she, turned away, and moved as if to rise, but he seized her hand, holding her there. "Forgive me. I should not have spoken thus."
"There is naught to forgive." Looking at him Edrys found herself held fast by the intensity of his gaze. She could not name a reason, yet somehow she found herself wanting to trust this man, wanting to tell him of her hopes – and her fears. She opened her mouth to speak, but he stopped her, placing a finger to her lips. He remained as he was for a moment, his finger gently tracing the lines of her mouth, then he leaned closer till his mouth covered hers. No demand was there in that kiss, only a gentle questing, and when at last they parted he wore the look of one well satisfied with the answer he had found.
Not so for Edrys, for in that kiss she experienced a desire unlike anything she had ever known or imagined, and she could not withhold the cry of bewilderment that escaped her as their lips parted.
The musicians were beginning another dance tune, and Gárulf stood, his hand extended in invitation. "Will you give me one last dance before I go?"
Caught off guard by this request, Edrys managed a breathy, "Must you go?" Many of the guests, especially those who had traveled any distance, would remain at the hall — at least until the morrow — and she had expected that he would do likewise.
"There are duties to which I must attend," he answered, looking toward the entrance of the hall as he spoke. Edrys followed the direction of his gaze and saw the Rider who stood just inside the great doors. It did not escape her notice that he was in full armor.
He must have sensed her concern, for his smile was reassuring as he added, "’Tis but a routine inspection of the defenses along the western marches. I ride with Théodred at first light, and Éomer is to accompany us." As he spoke she noted that the Second Marshal and his young cousin had joined the Rider near the doors.
"Come," Gárulf insisted, taking her by the hand. "There is time enough."
So they danced once more, while the others waited. And when the dance was over he kissed her hand and bade her farewell. She watched him depart as he had come, in company with Théodred and Éomer, and she wondered at the words he had spoken softly to her before going:
"Wait for me."
The morning came fair and clear, and with it came a warm summer breeze; doors were flung wide and windows opened to admit the cleansing air. Those guests who had remained soon departed, no few nursing aching heads from their indulgences of the night past.
Ardith was hard at work seeing that the hall was set to rights once more. Servants were set to sweeping the floors while others moved the tables back to their accustomed places. What food was left had already been distributed among the needy, for Ardith would not see any go without when there was such bounty to be had.
Edrys went about the tasks assigned her absently, her mind thoroughly occupied in an often-frustrated attempt to make some sense of the past evening's events. Her hard won equanimity had vanished like the morning dews in the warmth of the summer sun.
"Ware...!" The warning cry snapped her back to reality and she looked up just in time to see the hogshead as it came rumbling down the steps of the hall toward her. Strong arms seized her from behind, pulling her from the path of the runaway cask; the basket she carried flew from her grasp as she fell hard against her rescuer. It was only by dint of his strength and agility that they avoid a tumble in the dirt. The hogshead landed with a thud mere inches from Edrys, then bounded along the track for some distance before coming to rest with a dull thud against the trunk of the old chestnut tree near the hill's foot.
Edrys turned to thank her savior, only to be met with the concerned visage of her brother Rodor. His stallion, Cénewind, stood nearby, his gleaming coat evidence of a morning's ride just returned from.
The commotion had brought Ardith to the open doorway just as a young man came racing down the stairs in a valiant effort to recapture the runaway cask. But he had only managed to land face down in the dirt, tripping over the basket that Edrys had dropped.
In response to Ardith’s anxious questions Edrys could only nod, too shaken to speak, but Rodor calmly assured her that Edrys was unharmed. Thus reassured, Ardith turned her attention to the young man, who had staggered to his feet. Dust filled the air as he brushed at his tunic in a vain effort to rid himself of this proof of his encounter with the hard earth
"How fare you, Ceorl?" Ardith asked. Stooping to retrieve the offending basket, Ardith sighed when she realized what it contained. "Better, I trust, than these eggs." The young man uttered a hasty apology, and hurried off to reclaim the hogshead and load it onto the waiting cart.
"I am sorry about the eggs." Edrys apologized, stepping closer to look mournfully at the broken, sticky mass that remained in the basket.
Ardith made light of it. "Better broken eggs than what might have happened."
Rodor rejoined them, his horse’s reins draped casually over his arm. "’Tis fortunate that I chanced to be here. But in truth Edrys, if you must walk about woolgathering as you go, perhaps we need to set a guard on you." He was grinning at her, but there was a serious edge to his words.
"Because of an accident?" Grateful as she was that he had saved her from harm, she was annoyed by the tenor of his remark.
"This is not the first mishap you have narrowly avoided. And Éadwine said that you walked right past him this morning as though you neither saw nor heard him."
"You have been somewhat pensive," Ardith remarked. "Is aught amiss?"
Edrys shook her head, prompting a snort from her brother. "Then a certain marshal from the Eastmark has nothing to do with you being so distracted that you walked right in front of Cénewind just now?" The stallion, hearing his name, nudged his master with his great head, but Rodor's focus was on his sister. "You cannot deny that you are smitten with him – anyone who saw you with him last night knows it. As is he with you."
Edrys blushed as Ardith hushed her brother – it was clear that she had no wish for those nearby to hear. Idle gossip needed little encouragement. Rodor just shook his head. "Talk with her, Ardith. Mayhap she'll listen to you. Meantime there is still work to which I must attend." With that he led his horse off in the direction of the stables.
"Come," Ardith was saying as she guided Edrys away from the wide lawn that surrounded the hall, “I need a rest from all this noise and bustle,” Edrys started to protest that there was still work to be done, but the reply, "The work is well in hand…" was followed by, "You and I must talk," and she knew she would have no peace until they did.
The orchard was deserted at that hour, as Ardith must have known it would be. She led the younger woman through its shaded aisles to where a bower of sorts had been made, a rough-hewn bench overhung by leafy branches inviting the passerby to sit and drink in the fragrance of the trees. Young fruit grew among the leaves, not yet so heavy that the branches would brush the heads of those who would linger there.
Ardith seated herself on the bench, signaling that Edrys should join her.
"Rodor speaks truly. You have been distracted this morning. Will you not tell me why?"
Edrys did not answer at first; though she had been somewhat dismayed by her brother's perception, Edrys was grateful for the chance to talk with Ardith, for Bearn's wife was the one woman with whom she had ever felt truly at ease, and now she longed to open her heart – if only she could find the words.
"In truth, I am unsure. Not why – only that I am not sure of what it is that I am feeling!" Edrys began hesitantly, yet soon it all came spilling out in a great torrent of words; she had always held to the belief that love, and all the emotions that accompanied it, would blossom from friendship long known, only now to have that belief shaken by this inexplicable attraction for a relative stranger. "How can it be that I have these feelings for one whom I have known scarce one day?"
"And what is it you feel?" Ardith asked, her soothing voice a calm contrast to the confusion so plainly to be heard in her younger sister's.
Edrys moaned in reply. "If I could tell you so much I should not be so out of sorts! How shall I describe what I feel? That I found pleasure in his company – disappointment knowing he had to go.... I know not what to say!" She was silent for a time. Ardith did not speak, sensing there was more to come if she but waited.
"He was in my dreams last night." The words were spoken so softly Ardith might have thought she had imagined them but for the expression on Edrys's face as she went on, "and when I woke my first thought was to wonder where he was, and if the end of this day would see him safe." She turned to Ardith. "Why? My head is filled with thoughts of naught but him. Why is he so different from any other man?"
Ardith laughed, the bright sound startling the pair of doves in the branches above them. "Forgive me," she said as the whirring flutter of the doves' wings bespoke their flight. "I thought for a moment to be hearing myself ten years past, trying to explain to my mother how Bearn made me feel." She paused, certain she had Edrys's attention now. "I believe it is called love."
to be continued
Note: As Edrys says, "...I but give voice to songs others have made before me." Therefore the song Éadwine plays is borrowed with my apologies from Mary Stewart's Merlin in 'The Last Enchantment' - song based on the Anglo-Saxon poem 'The Wanderer'.
The opening lines are from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.