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Stardust - Book I: 11. The Weight of Choice, Part 4
Although Terisda allowed she experienced a few anxious moments, "hefting" her back to her rooms did not appear to be such a great feat for Legolas. Once they reached the narrow street under her window, the Elf lifted her by the hips as if she weighed nothing and folded her over one shoulder. Before she could voice a surprised reproach at this treatment of her, Legolas had left his feet, leaping (it seemed from her vantage point) halfway up the wall before his nimble fingers and feet found purchases any mortal would have overlooked even in bright daylight. Once again Terisda closed her eyes against her certain doom, should he slip. But she felt his hand grasp the back of her dress, then she was across both of his elbows, being cradled most carefully as he stood on the edge of her window with her in his arms. He lightly jumped to the floor, but didn't set her down once in, continuing with her into her bedroom as she complained about being treated like a sack of ground wheat. Laughing, he tossed her onto the bed, then dove in after her, twining his fingers through her hair and silencing her complaints with his mouth. It was as if he were memorizing her, although from what he said before she thought Elves had near perfect memories. Perhaps he was giving her the chance to imprint the smell, the taste of him on her less-perfect mortal senses. Whatever his reasoning for tarrying, she did not question his continued presence. It was during the deepest darkness before dawn when he kissed her nose and her half-closed eyes, whispering soft farewells in her ears that they both knew were likely to be their last.
All in all, after such an eventful night, it was well nigh miraculous that Terisda was awake at all, let alone abroad early enough to consider breakfast. Indeed, even after Legolas left she had hardly slept, but whereas before it was sorrow and uncertainty that kept her from rest, now unrestrained joy refused to let her sleep. Even mundane considerations couldn't dampen her joy. In the night Terisda had suddenly wondered if Elves carried similar to mortals, or if it might be a year or longer before she would be delivered of her child. Legolas had cocked his head as if the question greatly intrigued him, but he either did not know or did not chose to tell her. She sighed. Fretting over things which she could not control was fruitless. She would deal with the complications, both social and physical, of an over-long bearing if and when it happened.
Barreling out of her suite, she nearly collided with a packing crate. Her new mourning wardrobe had arrived, it seemed, but so cowed were all the servants none dared intrude upon her solitude to put it away. She laughed, and pranced down the old stairs so fast the creaking could hardly keep up with her movements. A maid nearly dropped the carafe of water she carried through the antechamber as Terisda wished her an airy 'good day' on her way to the morning room, where breakfast was laid out in warmed metal pans on sideboards. Andina was the only person present. Hiranion and the little orcs, Terisda noted gleefully, were no where to be seen.
Her sister-in-law appeared as startled as the maid when Terisda breezed in. "You are in high spirits this morning."
Andina's gentle voice was slightly disapproving, and her gaze lingered upon the dark ribbons encircling the sleeves of Terisda's day dress, hastily applied while the family awaited the delivery of full mourning gear. Knowing that she carried a child, and that the chances of her protecting North Ithilien were far greater than they had been even a day earlier, Terisda was in no mood to act the grieving widow. She could hardly say, thanks to my Elvish lover, I've just thumbed my nose in Hiranion's face and will shortly be skipping out the front door on my way to Ithilien, although the thought of saying it out loud made her even more giddy. So she said what she could. "Oh, Andina! I know it's too soon, but it's almost as if I can feel the child moving this morning!"
Andina started, then cast her eyes down. "I'm happy for you," she said quietly, but Terisda didn't notice her tone contained more sorrow than joy. She was busy flitting from tray to tray, hungry but too excited to eat. Andina finally remarked on her inability to settle down in one place. "You'll make yourself ill if you don't stop moving around so much, Terisda."
Terisda stopped in mid-spin, crossing her hands over her stomach protectively, then put her head to one side as she considered her new status. Apart from her emotional euphoria, she didn't feel any different than she had the previous day, or week, or month. She did not recall her mother staying very still when carrying her younger brother, but she had been very young herself then, and possibly just didn't notice. For a moment she felt the loss of her kin deeply, for she suddenly found she had hundreds of questions about babies she never thought to ask before, and there was no one to ask.
She seized Andina's thin hands, earning a startled, wide-eyed look from her sister-in-law. "You must tell me everything! How it feels when the baby kicks, what it's like to get so ... " she threw her arms out expansively, "... so big, what it's like when the baby comes!"
But Andina demurred that it was indelicate to discuss such things, especially before breakfast. Considering some of the very indelicate things she had been doing before breakfast sent Terisda off into more giggles. To provide cover for her laughter, she demanded, "What, you would rather have me ask at dinner, when Hiranion can hear everything?"
Glancing over Terisda's shoulder, Andina went cherry red at that suggestion. A voice came from the doorway. "Ask me what?" Hiranion stood there, a tentative smile on his face, as if willing to be amused, even if the joke were at his own expense.
Her mood sobered immediately, for despite the early hour Hiranion was encased from head to toe in his somber new court finery. "The King wishes to see us? Why was I not informed?"
"The King has sent only for me."
Terisda went very still. There was no way she could construe this news as favorable to her plea to return home. But the blind anger that so often sustained her in the last weeks would not come, and she knew why. Crossing her hands over her belly, she thought to herself, At least I will have you now. And, despite the denial of her claim before the King, she was comforted.
Andina followed the movement of her hands, and her eyes brimmed, and suddenly she rose up and announced she had to see to the children right away. She rushed around Terisda, who was much surprised at this show of emotion, but Hiranion caught her when she would have run past him. He frowned at Terisda as he pulled his wife out of sight, and she did not need to be an Elf to read the message he was sending her: Do not move. She was going to have to get used to obedience, it seemed, so she remained seated where she was, and did not even rise to help herself to any of the cooling food.
It was but a few minutes before Hiranion returned, and his jaw was set. He closed the door after himself, and folded his arms and regarded her steadily. "I am really going to have to decide what to do about you," he finally said.
Terisda held his gaze, but he did not say anything more right away, and so she lifted her shoulders in a brief shrug. "I am at your disposal."
The irony of the statement was lost on him, as she knew it would be, but when he spoke, what he said was not anything she had prepared herself to hear. "You will have to have a care around Andina. It is always difficult for her when you are present. You are a bit over-bearing at times," here his words held a fine touch of understatement, and Terisda thought perhaps he understood how to apply irony, if not recognize it when directed at himself. "She is much in awe of you. She always has been. It's worse now, of course."
Given her efforts to be kind to Andina, Terisda was affronted. "Worse, why? If she is not comfortable in Minas Tirith, then mayhap you should both return to Anfalas."
"Terisda, do not take this the wrong way," he spoke slowly, and she got the sense that he was being more careful than ever in what was said, "for it is not your fault; but you are with child, and Andina finds that very difficult."
"I was always happy for her children," (ill-mannered little beasts that they are, Terisda added mentally). "Why should she not rejoice in my child? Or does she find it too irksome to wait some few months before finding out if 'Lord' Hiranion becomes more than just an honorary title for a second son?"
He started, and the frown he bent on her was mighty. "That was uncalled for. Andina has been nothing but kind to you, in spite of your hoyden mannerisms."
"Perhaps that query would better be directed elsewhere, then," snapped Terisda.
His formidable self-control nearly broke, and Terisda waited, with a combination of dread and satisfaction, for him to start shouting at her. But he took in a great breath and his countenance smoothed, although his voice was cold. "Abuse me as you like, but do not take your irritation out on Andina. She does not deserve it."
She could not let it drop. "You were the one who put Andina and my child together, not I. I await an explanation. Why does she resent my son before he's even here?"
"Because," he gritted through his teeth, "after she nearly died bearing our last child, I decided there would be no more. I couldn't risk her health again. She had reconciled herself to my decision, or so I thought. This has brought up the old pain again."
Suddenly Andina's paleness and lack of energy took on new meaning, and Terisda felt very small and petty indeed. "I am sorry. I had no idea." At a loss, she spread her hands in an uncertain gesture and offered, "Two are enough, surely."
"Considering that we both had siblings once upon a time, and parents and, in my case, a couple of uncles and a few more cousins, that is a naive statement." It was close to a snap, and she winced at the cutting tone, but felt she deserved the rebuke. "And there are still dangers in the world. I have been making inquiries, Terisda, and it seems we may be the very last of all the Houses of Ithilien, not just the North. It was always but sparsely populated; still, I expected there would be more of us."
"I never thought you were particularly attached to Ithilien."
"I am not. It was always a dangerous place, full of orcs and smoke and blood. Yet I hope I know my duty, to my family and to the land."
Much of what she had done since Hirgon's disappearance had been for kin and country. That thought brought to mind some of her 'duties' with Legolas, and she repressed a smile, and spoke quickly to cover her lightening of mood. "I suppose, because I do not expect to have more than this child, that two seem to me a luxury."
The sternness about his face lessened. Although he was still cross with her, his words were not as edged. "You are young and fair, Terisda. You will find another husband."
She could not imagine marrying again, for she was very conscious of her good fortune with Hirgon and thought it asked too much of fate to provide her with another husband as lenient. "It is hard to find something when one has no intention of looking. Or did you have someone in mind?" A startled expression crossed his face, and he looked at her without comprehension. Terisda kept her tone light, for she did not want to give him any ideas. "Some merchant in Laketown, perhaps, who might be more willing to barter if a noble bride were part of the deal?"
His jaw dropped. She had discomforted him many times during her marriage to his brother, but she had never before seen such an expression of complete shock take over his features. "Is that why you've been... ? I would never force you to marry someone."
"No, I suppose not. Not if you had use for me yourself."
He stared at her, and his face completely shut down. He stalked over to the window, his back to her, his shoulders held stiffly. From her vantage point in the chair she could see one hand thrust against the window sill, so tightly clenched the tendons stood out white against his skin.
The quiet stretched until her ears hurt from trying to catch a sound from him, and still he did not speak. Finally she could take the silence no more. "Hiranion, I spoke in haste. I'm sorry that I misjudged you."
"You were not mistaken." He did not turn around, and his voice was flat.
Terisda studied his rigid back, and found she was not upset or angry as she expected to be. "Such things are not so uncommon," she said, neutrally.
"No," he agreed, dryly, "but nor are such things honorable." He turned, and folded his arms, and she could not read his mood for his face was set into hard lines she had never seen upon him before. "Terisda , I would never do anything to disgrace a woman under my care. I cannot imagine how you came to think such a thing of me."
"I suppose because such things are common. And, perhaps, because I occasionally surprised a look from you that did not seem very brotherly."
He flushed, and looked away. "I may have looked, and perhaps even thought once or twice, for I am but a Man, but I hope I have more restraint than to act on every stray notion that passes through my mind. In any case, I have Andina, and I am content with her." His mouth quirked, and he turned his eyes to her again, and Terisda was surprised to see a faint gleam of amusement there. "A good thing, too. I have not had a moment's rest since we moved in here! She is constantly upbraiding me for letting you have such unsuitable rooms. On the face of it, she is correct; but I have reminded her, repeatedly, that you are not one for protocol and it is better for all of us that you have rooms of your own choice. Still, she is worried for you, and if nagging me provides her with an outlet for her cares, it is little enough a price to pay."
"You love her," Terisda said in stark astonishment, for in truth it was not an emotion she considered consistent with his character. "I always assumed you married her for her dowry."
Hiranion muttered harshly under his breath (and she pretended not to hear what he said) and responded stiffly. "We suit well enough, Terisda. You have always judged too much on appearances." She stared at him, amazed that he thought such, and uncomfortably aware of how much it echoed her own long-standing opinion about him. But Hiranion sighed, and pushed away from the window. "We will talk on this more, if you like, or never mention it again if that's what you prefer. I am bound to the King for the rest of this morning, and he is not one to be kept waiting."
"We have said all that needs to be said, I think. I'm sorry--" and she paused, because she wasn't sure if she was sorry, or what it was she might be sorry about. "I'm sorry we didn't have this conversation a long time ago," she eventually said. "I've thought hard things of you without cause."
He chuckled a bit, and the heaviness in the room lightened appreciably. "Well, I am very glad we did not. Hirgon would have killed me as much for the thought as for the deed." He smiled at her, but left without kissing her hand as he usually did, and Terisda thought that was all for the better.
She remained quietly in the room for a while longer as the new knowledge of both Hiranion and Andina played through her mind, and she held her hands folded over her child as she sat.
An hour after Hiranion's departure another messenger showed up on the doorstep, and this time the summons was for Terisda. Wondering if the King had meant to talk to both of them at once and was even now making Hiranion kick his heels in some dusty hallway, Terisda struggled into her new court dress. But the summons was for an hour that gave her ample time to prepare, and Hiranion had sounded sorely pressed to make his appointment with the King when he finally left. So she layered on her paints and carefully adjusted the dark lace of her new gown about her hands and neck, and was very polite to Hurin when he showed up with the same fat, docile horse to take her to her meeting with the King.
Once there she was admitted promptly into the throne-room, the very place where the King of Rohan spoke to her about her husband's death. And this time she looked about carefully, especially in the dark places of the room since she now knew Legolas was capable of melting into the shadows, but either he was concealed so well she could not discern him, or he was not present. Otherwise, the room was filled with the living paraphernalia that usually cluttered such a place, courtiers and petitioners and some officials she vaguely recognized and thought might have to do with the City's reconstruction efforts. She glimpsed both the Elf lords in their same corner, but no longer wondered at their presence, for she knew now, as all in the city knew, that the King had been fostered by their father, and despite the millennia between them they were brothers of a sort.
The King was just finishing with one person, who was clutching an official-looking scroll that he appeared very pleased with, when Terisda's presence was announced. He held up a hand for her to approach, and she cast an apologetic look at the officials whose turn she usurped, and came forward, and bowed before him. The King gazed down at her, and there was a spark of humor in his gray eyes, and he made no attempt to lower his voice when he spoke to her.
"I have come to a decision, which I have already discussed with Lord Hiranion, and although he had some concerns," the King smiled, and Terisda was brought sharply to mind that he was a warrior, with a warrior's cruel edge to his words at times, "when need be I can be very -- persuasive.
"This is my judgment, and whether it be gift or doom for you, only time will tell. Your father's house, Culumaldas, is now your house, and your father's lands are now your lands, and they are to remain your lands, whether or not you bear a son, whether or not you remarry. If you have a daughter rather than a son, then they will be her lands, and the same conditions will apply to her. If you are blessed with a son, then Hirgon's lands will fall to him upon his majority, but you will have the management of them until then. This is what Lord Hiranion most argued against, for he thought these duties would overtax you;" (here Terisda barely restrained a snort); "but the new Prince of Ithilien spoke most elegantly on your behalf in this, and my foster brothers were able to add many historical instances where women of Numenor managed large estates quite well, and so swayed me."
She stared up at him in amazement, and when he held out a rolled parchment to her she was motionless for a brief moment before snatching it and holding it clenched to her breast. The King motioned to her to rise, and was turning from her, when she finally found her voice. He turned back politely at her first stammer, but there was a touch of impatience about him, and she cut short her thanks and impulsively asked for a boon. "Sire, I believe Lord Hiranion may be much assuaged if my husband's house in the second circle is sundered from the first-born's inheritance and deeded to him and his heirs. I assure you, Hirgon would not mind."
The King looked at her with amusement, and nodded, and someone nearby scribbled furiously on a parchment. Then he turned from her again, and she was left with her child's future tightly clutched in her hands.
She glanced surreptitiously about the room one last time as she departed, but still did not espy Legolas, and for that she was as much relieved as disappointed.
Whether he was present that day or not, she never did discover.
It would be thirty years before she saw him again.
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