Many Guises and Many Names
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House Divided, A: 4. Divergence
Passion has brought me
to this clearing of the ground,
an ancient passion singing
in my veins, beneath speech,
unheard many years, yet
leading me through cities,
streets, and roads,
gatherings, voices, speech,
and again beyond speech,
to stand in this hillside field
in October wind, critical
and solitary, like a horse dumbly
approving of the grass,
the world as clear as light,
as dark as dark.
~ from “Passion,” Work Song, Wendell Berry
The inextricable hold that one’s childhood home has on a man should never be underestimated. It was not so much the sight of things that peeled away nearly thirty years of disavowal; neither the vision of the massive stone walls around Edoras, nor the banner of white horse on its green field, flapping vigorously in the chill wind of mid-October. Seeing did not stir my challenged mind – it was all else. The scent of peat-fires, mingling heavily with that of horse’s stalls; the residual tangy smell of ale in the mead-hall.
And touch. Once alone, I closed my eyes as my fingertips traced a black smear on cold stone, my old room mostly left unchanged from when I had left as a young man. Somehow I had thought I could forget the paradox of rock’s strength I had always felt when roaming the halls of Meduseld, but also its inherent chill, even in summer. And the feel of fur on the neck, as a royal pelt had been lain on my shoulders during my crowning.
I had thought I had successfully locked away all of those sensory memories, and now, when confronted with them, I discovered how very wrong I was.
Such were my dark musings one evening while gazing from a hill behind the Golden Hall. It was not long after my return, my father now resting in his generations-ago appointed barrow, and the gold circlet of Rohan freezing into my forehead.
‘The King thinks deeply,’ I heard in Rohirric behind me, and I jolted from my reverie, spinning around to face the speaker.
I found myself looking into the keen, but heavily creased eyes of Gléauling, a cousin and one-time advisor to my father.
‘I have been away a long time,’ I replied in Westron, shrugging as I pulled my cape around me to block the wind whistling down from the snow-covered mountains.
‘Do you have news?’ I asked, ‘or are you out for the brisk air of dusk?’
He looked sternly at me. I winced, realising that I had spoken without due respect to this man who had faithfully served so many years under my late father. I missed the well-earned camaraderie of my own troop, a casual understanding only possible among men after years of spending time in marches, fighting, and tending to the quotidian necessities of horse, armour and provisions.
I bowed my head in acquiescence, then raised my gaze again. ‘My apologies, Gléauling. I have been unsettled of late, as you well know, and my tongue can be unintentionally barbed.’
He guffawed, then clapped a sturdy arm around my shoulder. ‘You sound as though you are still in Mundburg, my liege!’ he exclaimed, again in Rohirric. ‘No need for apologies.’ More seriously, he continued, ‘I will say nothing of your late father’s rule, as I am sure that your years in Gondor did not leave you ignorant of our affairs here. But I will say that we all are expecting a return to greater glory than we have had of late.’
I smiled ruefully. ‘The marshals are not in a complete shambles, are they?’
‘No - far from it. They were only impeded by contradictory and purposefully confusing orders.’ Gléauling stopped, looking worried. ‘Have I said something wrong, King?’
‘Why?’ I asked in genuine confusion.
‘Why do you insist on not speaking your mother-tongue even when outside of your hall?’
I straightened my back a bit before answering. ‘It is my wish that all speak the clear speech of Gondor, at least around me and my family. Morwen and the children shall learn Rohirric eventually, of course, but the language of Gondor is what they know, and I would not have my family listen without comprehension to what is being said around them.’ I paused for a moment, then continued, ‘Gondor has been my home for all of my adult years. After the example set by my father, I hope that you can appreciate why I would wish to extend some of the traditions of our comrades to the south.’
My father’s ex-advisor’s face was disturbed, but he nodded. ‘As you wish, sire,’ he said haltingly in Westron. ‘But surely at home, on patrol, in private councils…’ the words rushed forth in Rohirric.
‘I did not return to force a second language on all of the farmers and shepherd-boys of the Mark,’ I replied, in words tentatively unearthed from memory. ‘But you must understand, I returned out of sense of duty, and I brought a family with me. My own honour dictates that I provide as much comfort to them in this new land as possible.’
He smiled at the reply, though he shook his head. ‘From what little I have seen, between you and the affections of your sisters, those three children will be as spoiled as the feet of a smith’s stallion!’
I found the comparison distasteful, but it was true that my elder sisters and their children had embraced Morwen and our flock as soon as they were able to throw arms around them. I returned his smile, and decided to share with him another bit of news which had probably influenced my more sombre mood; not that I was unhappy about it, but I was more than a bit afraid of how it would affect my wife’s adjustment to Rohan.
‘By early spring, there shall be four children.’
He beamed, and for a few moments, I felt much more at ease.
‘We should have a toast!’ he said, disengaging me from his one-armed embrace and turning to plunder my father’s well-stocked ale cellar.
‘Gléauling!’ I called to him as he strode away, returning to the language of my recently abandoned home, ‘The Queen and I have not told anyone else. Feel free to toast, if you will, but do not tell others. Yet.’
I could tell that he was disappointed, but he made a quick half-bow, then continued back toward the main sanctuary of the Hall. I had not intended to tell him such information, but Morwen would soon be far enough along that I would not need to say anything. On a more personal level, however, I did not wish to partake of my father’s ale, not even to celebrate such happy news as this, and with someone I had known to be trustworthy since my childhood.
It was cold, and I was alone again, the newly-crowned King of Rohan exposed under the bright sparkling night sky. I missed the warm skin of my wife. Smiling, I drew my cloak around me once more, and followed Gléauling’s path indoors. I could easily remedy my solitude.
With almost buoyant steps, I walked to our room, where Morwen was likely to be lying down before the fire, as she was always cold, enjoying the feel of soft fur under her back. I entered quietly, and saw that she was there, lying near the fire, her slightly swollen belly betraying her state under her heavy nightclothes.
She raised herself up to her elbows, and while not unhappy, she did look disappointed. ‘You were gone all that time, and you did not bring my cordial?’
I had forgotten, of course. ‘I am sorry, Morwen. I will return as quickly as possible.’
Smiling, she stretched out languorously by the fire, running her fingers through her hair. ‘Thank you, Thengel.’ Suddenly rising up from the floor and looking attentively at me, she asked, ‘Is all well? Have you heard from Gondor since you were crowned?’
I nodded, then shook my head. ‘It has not been very long. I am sure that I will hear from the Steward soon, though he was the person with whom I spoke last before our departure.’ For a few moments I watched the flickering light play on her many rounded curves, and felt a mirrored heat smoulder in my groin. I looked at her longingly. ‘Is cordial the only thing you desire?’
‘Yes, thank you.’ She lay back down to curl up before the warm fire.
Hiding my disappointment, I left the room, in search of the pear liqueur that was a craving of hers each time she was pregnant. We had not brought vast amounts, but surely someone in the kitchen would know where it had been housed. I did not feel that it was appropriate for her to have so much of it, but I suspected that my aversion to the substance had much to do with my father’s former behaviour, and Morwen was not like him.
Once in the kitchen, I wanted to swear at myself. I knew exactly where everything was in our home in Lossarnach, and now that we were in the cavernous estate where I had grown up, I could find nothing. My pride was saved by a young cook’s assistant, but as I walked back through the stone corridors, I knew that it would take me a long time, if ever, before I felt at home again.
‘Nicely cantered, Gwineth! You shall rival our Riders at this rate!’
Fréathain’s voice carried down the hill as I approached. She is a good rider, I thought, watching my eldest in the warm glow of beginning sunset. So many aspects hidden in her have come to light since we left Lossarnach. Or perhaps I simply did not see them before.
It was only as I approached Morwen, holding our youngest daughter, Fréawyn, in her arms, that I realized that the Horsemaster had spoken in Rohirric. I shook my head, refusing to feel discouraged at the slow speed of change. After dismounting, I patted Windmane on the flank, freeing him to graze nearby.
It had been months now since our arrival in Edoras, and yet my dreams were still a confusing cacophony of images, sounds, and words. Morwen had shaken me awake more than once, a look of worry on her face. Just three nights ago, I had found myself suddenly roused and looking at Morwen’s tired face, her hand pushing on my shoulder.
‘I did not want to wake you, Thengel, but you were crying out. I cannot sleep while you stir so, and I could not understand what you were saying.’ After a brief yawn, she had continued, ‘Your voice sounds different when you are dreaming. I almost would not recognise it.’
Then she had surrendered easily back to slumber, curled up in a ball next to my side. I could not return to sleep with such ease, and I wondered what I had said, evidently in the language of my childhood.
Morwen, for all of her understandable unwillingness to leave her home, had turned out to be rather adaptable when faced with the realities of my new position and our new land. In fact, though we had not discussed it in words, I believed that she rather enjoyed her new title. Her affable personality had made her an instant friend to my sisters and all those of rank in Meduseld, and our well-behaved children also smoothed the way through what could have been a much more challenging time.
‘Papa!’ Gwineth’s youthful timbre sounded across the grounds. ‘Did you see?’ Pride glowed in her face. ‘Fréathain says that I am a natural rider.’
I nodded, smiling. ‘From what I have seen, the Horsemaster is correct in his proclamations.’
Gwineth dismounted, shaking shaggy flaxen hair out of her eyes as she approached the fence. Morwen turned and gently handed Fréawyn to me, and I clutched our infant close, resting her heavy head full of red-gold curls on my shoulder. I watched as my wife ducked through the fence-posts to join Gwineth in the paddock, treating the already-spoiled filly to an apple she had hidden in a dress pocket.
I breathed in the heady scent of our fourth child, remembering how it had felt to hold Gwineth, afraid at the time that any of my awkward jostling would break the seemingly fragile creature. Now, thankfully, I knew better.
The sound of rapidly approaching hooves made me turn around and I was surprised to see Waldgrim, my Doorward, riding quickly toward us. Within moments, he neared, and dismounted from his horse, Réodfel, aptly named for his striking russet coat.
Nodding brusquely, he said, ‘King Thengel. News from Ecthelion, Steward of Gondor, has come in person. Is the name of Dallben one that you know to be true?’
My pulse quickened. ‘Yes, verily.’ I could not begin to fathom why Dallben had ridden here from Minas Tirith, and I doubted it was to bring good portends.
Waldgrim looked relieved. ‘He awaits your council.’
Before I could ask further questions, he continued, ‘The Soldier of Mundburg has been treated with respect, though as is our custom, his arms are now in our care. His steed has been tended to and is now housed in the Royal Stables.’ Almost as an afterthought, the Doorward added, ‘He now sits in the forechamber to your office with a flagon of ale, and did not appear to look slighted. He did say that his visit was urgent, and he needed to travel further early in the morn.’
‘I shall be there momentarily.’
Waldgrim nodded again. Though I had refocused my attentions on Fréawyn, from out of the corner of my eye I saw Gwineth wave to the Doorwarden, and I could have sworn that I saw him wink in return. By the time that he had resituated himself in the saddle, however, his face was again impassive.
Quickly I walked the few steps to the paddock fence as Waldgrim rode back to Meduseld.
‘What brought the Warden?’ Gwineth asked, happily scratching under her horse’s chin.
‘A message from Gondor,’ I replied.
Morwen arched an eyebrow as she took Fréawyn back into her arms, her eyes questioning.
‘Dallben is here,’ I said quietly. ‘Waldgrim did not bear his message, only that it was pressing.’
As she kissed the top of Fréawyn’s rose-gold head, I strode to Windmane and mounted him, then hurried him back to the city. I had been surprised beyond measure at how comfortable the feeling was, to spend so much time riding. Only my wife knew of the soreness I had suffered as I had made my initial rounds of the Folds, but now the sensation of thighs and calves held close to warm flesh had become, as long before, second nature to me.
I swiftly rode the short distance back to my home, passed off Windmane to one of the ever-ready stableboys, then hastily climbed the imposing stone steps that led to the main hall. Moments later, I was facing Dallben, his face stern, but his eyes welcoming. I dispensed with all formality, continuing on to him, embracing him warmly before standing back, my hands on his shoulders.
‘Gondor must face much grief if you are here to see me,’ I said, forgoing small talk.
He nodded as he placed a hand on mine. ‘You should sit,’ he said authoritatively. Suddenly censored from somewhere within himself, he lowered his head. ‘My apologies, your liege. I meant no disrespect.’
It was as though I had been doused with cold water. Of course. Captain no longer, I was King of Rohan.
I stepped back, attempting an appropriate distance between us, then waved to a nearby chair. ‘Dallben, please. I am Thengel, as I always was. What has happened? Where are you racing in the morning?’
He sighed as he sank into the chair. I looked quickly around me. There was a platter with crumbs of wheat-bread on it, and an empty chalice. There was also a merrily crackling fire, and so I bought myself a bit of time.
‘Before you answer, may I get you something a bit more fortifying? I have not eaten either.’
He nodded gratefully as I noticed him scraping his left foot with the right heel of his boot.
He looked blearily at me through reddened eyes. His news must be bad.
‘You are in my home. Feel free to relieve yourself of your shoes. I shall have a proper hot bath drawn for you this evening, but we should speak first, over some stew, and some wine. You may be in Rohan, but I will have no guest feel ill-tended.’
He summoned a smile, and relaxed more into the high-backed chair.
‘The news I bring will not change if it waits for another short while.’
This sounded more ominous than I was sure he meant, but with his words, I excused myself.
Back in the forechamber, even as the sun fully set and we finished our supper, I reconciled myself to the news of Gondor as expressed by Dallben. Sauron had reclaimed Barad-dûr even before I left, and then Orodruin had suddenly burst into angry flame. Smoke and ash had covered the White City, making a mockery of her name and causing a great shadow to fall upon the hearts of all of her citizens. The few brave souls that had remained south of the Anduin were no longer; they had made new homes in the Ringló Vale, or were under the protection of Imrahil, or were dead. Per Dallben's descriptions, the Grey City was a much more apt description of Minas Tirith, both of the stone and the souls of its people. All forces in Gondor were now making strategies to deal with this additional and much more terrifying threat. Ecthelion wished that I were still there with him, but knew that he might well be asking for aid from Rohan before the end, so it was all the more important that I strengthen my own marshals.
‘News has also reached us that Saruman has taken our ancient refuge of Orthanc as his own. Have you heard aught of this?’
I shook my head. I had not even thought of the White Wizard and his residency in the westfold, so caught up in the daily affairs of Gondor as I had been, and now concerned with those of Rohan. Ridiculous discrepancy on my part, as King.
‘No,’ I admitted. ‘But between Morwen having another child, and our resettling here, my personal knowledge of his whereabouts were perhaps not as pressing as they should have been.’ I shifted in my seat, stretching out my legs. ‘But Saruman has always been an ally to Rohan and Gondor. Why bring him up now?’ I took a small sip of wine. ‘What has he to do with the sullying of Minas Tirith?’
My fellow soldier looked wearily at me. ‘I know not, except that a message came from him to the Steward. He has proclaimed himself Lord of Isengard.’ He downed his cup. ‘Ecthelion, as you can imagine, demands an explanation. I am to see Saruman as soon as I can arrive there. I should be able to present you with a full report within a week's time.’
As though for the first time, I noticed how grey his beard had become and the silvery strands in his cropped dark hair. We were growing older, and I felt heavily the gold band of my ancestors laying on my brow.
‘You shall not travel alone,’ I stated. ‘Two of my Riders will accompany you- as will I.’
He nodded, then said approvingly, ‘Ecthelion had hoped that you would say that very thing.’ Despite his fatigue, he sat up straighter in his chair. ‘I will admit that I had hoped so as well.’
I smiled and leaned in, resting my elbows on my knees. ‘I have missed you too, my friend.’ I drank some more wine. ‘Things here are different, at almost every level, and I know that I have injured the pride of some, as unintentional as it may have been.’ I reclined back into the chair. ‘At times I wonder if they rue bringing back Thengel, Fengel’s son!’
He snorted. ‘You are a born leader. Quit trying to humble yourself.’
I looked down at my cup and swirled the remaining contents. Unsure how to reply, I changed the subject. ‘Before we leave in the morning, I will introduce you to all of the children that you so warned me of back at the barrows. It appears that your prediction was most astute.’
‘I would indeed be most pleased to see them after a sound sleep.’ He smiled in affirmation.
Pressing my hands down into the armrests, I pushed myself up, then extended an arm to Dallben. He took it gratefully, then stood, taller even than I was. He swayed for a moment, both with exhaustion and wine, then straightened his mailcoat and overtunic.
‘Morwen!’ he said, abashed at his oversight. ‘Where is your lovely wife?’
‘She rests,’ I replied. ‘Fréawyn, our fourth child, was born only a few months ago, in April. While my wife has adapted incredibly well to this land less sophisticated than her home, she finds frequent resting a boon to her situation.’
Dallben nodded with understanding.
‘I shall show you to the bathing-room, though I believe a quick tour via the kitchen will allow us to find something sweet. The dishes here are more hearty than what I had become accustomed to, but are quite satisfying.’
He praised the meal, and then I took him briefly by the kitchen to settle him into just a bit more food. I conferred with one of the house-servants and established that a hot bath could be drawn within moments, and made sure that I would be contacted once the water was heated.
After a bit more talk about those in his troop, I escorted Dallben to his bath, but did not linger. He would be well taken care of, and I wished to be in my own bedroom. Morwen was not there, as she was resting in the nursery with Fréawyn. I did not mean to be so affected by the news I had heard, but I was exhausted. Using what strength I had left, I shucked off my boots, stretched out, then fell into a restless sleep.
There were two small hands grasping at my right fingers, my left arm shielding my eyes from the dim light of morning.
‘Papa!’ The voice was urgent. ‘Get up!’
I grunted, only to be assaulted by my son, who had now clambered onto me, his active horsey ride motions making me feel rather uncomfortable as they were taking place right above my bladder.
‘I am awake, Théoden, gracious! Leave the poor horse alone.’
He flung himself down on my chest, burrowing his face into my nightshirt. ‘Where is the guest, papa? I want to meet the man from the White City. Win told me.’
I ruffled his hair while I stretched out my legs. ‘He is in the room I had as a boy, and is someone who used to soldier with me in Gondor. You may join me when I go to make sure that he has had a good night’s rest. We are to leave soon.’
Théoden's bright blue eyes stared down out at me from under his almost-white hair, half of which was sticking straight up. ‘Where are you going?’ he asked, confused. ‘Are you going back home? Without us?’
The simplicity of the question wrenched my heart. ‘No, Théoden. Papa is going to the tall tower where a very learned man, a wizard, lives. He is someone who cared for Rohan since the time of Fréaláf, six kings and two hundred years ago now.’
He moved forward a little to play with my beard, tugging lightly on it. ‘Two hundred years? He must be really old.’
I chuckled. ‘Yes, he is old, and yet, he is different from people like you and me.’
What had Dallben said was the title he had taken? I thought quickly. Lord of Isengard...
‘Because he is old and wise, I am to visit him. Do you remember our home in Lossarnach, the visits to the marketplace in the shining city of Minas Tirith?’
Théoden nodded eagerly. ‘I do, Papa. There weren’t as many horses there, but there were trained birds.’ He scowled. ‘I wish I could see them again. When will we go back?’
I laid his head down upon my chest, running my fingers through his shocking mess of hair. ‘I do not know. And those were particular birds, falcons or kestrels. You did not see any trained seagulls, now did you?’
He shook his head.
‘I am king of this land now, and bad things have happened to the land where you were born. That is why I will join my comrade from Gondor to go and speak with the wise man in his tower.’
Théoden seemed to mull over what I had said, then nodded his head. ‘Does he have birds?’
I continued to stoke his head. ‘I do not know, son. I have never met him.’
‘Are you frightened?’
Keen eyes stared at mine.
‘Well, no, I have no reason to be. And he does live in what is now my kingdom, and so I intend-'
I stopped when familiar footsteps approached the bed.
‘Théoden! Who got you up? And who told you to bother your father after what I am sure was a late evening?’ Morwen tried to scold him, but her affections carried the heavier weight.
‘No one! Papa is telling me about the wizard he will see today.’
Morwen raised an eyebrow.‘Wizard?' she asked. 'The one in the black tower?'
‘Yes. I will join Dallben, Hildeláf and Gramstred. We will leave as soon as we take in our morning meal.’
By this point Théoden had squirmed backward off of me to go and run to his mother, who enfolded him in her woolen robe.
I sat up in bed. ‘There are tidings in Gondor that I need to speak to you of, but alone. My trip to Saruman at Orthanc will be but a quick journey. It is one that I should have made months ago.’
Morwen tousled our son’s head. ‘Théoden, go and rouse Gwineth.’
As he sped out of the room, pleased with his new task, she called out, ‘Wake her gently! No jumping on her bed. Her yelling would wake all of Edoras!’
She shook her head and took a seat near the window. ‘So. You are leaving to go on an adventure.’
I had no wish to bask in her displeasure. ‘It is not an adventure, Morwen. Dallben was sent by Ecthelion to meet with this wise one in the Westmarch, and I feel that I should accompany him. Terrible things have happened in Gondor. Orodruin has erupted, covering the city in ash, all south of Anduin have fled, the Southrons…’
I trailed off. My wife’s face was pale, but with a fire behind it. She pursed her lips together, mashing them so that they were drained of colour.
‘I will take my toilet, and fill you in on the rest, but then I must go to Orthanc and ensure that the Wizard’s loyalty is true.’
Somewhat reluctant to get out of the warm bed, I forced myself to rise and move to a more private room where I could rinse off, trim my beard, and tend to other matters. I was almost finished, my mind focused on what to have prepared for our fast-breaking and what I would pack for the short trip when she at last spoke.
‘When were you going to tell me?’
In surprise at hearing her voice, since I had been sure that she had left the room ages ago to check up on the children, I cut myself. I swore as I daubed at the blood with my hand. Quickly I peered at myself in the looking-glass and saw that the blade-mark was a mess, and would take days to heal.
‘Tell you what?’
Her voice was icy. ‘Tell me that my family could be dead. You knew a whole night and you did not come to me. How could you?’
Anger built in me as it had not since I had been far younger. ‘Dear wife, if anything had happened to your family, you know that Ecthelion would have sent-’
‘Ecthelion. Always Ecthelion,’ she interrupted, now standing in the doorframe, hands clenched on her gown. ‘How can you possibly believe that he cares so much for you, you who were nothing but one of his Rangers, even though you were heir to the throne of Rohan?’
I tried to control my temper, but something within me snapped. ‘I seem to remember a young woman who clasped the hand of her betrothed after hearing that he had revoked his kingship, and was most gratified. Perhaps she would have preferred to remain in Gondor and be the Mistress of Lossarnach rather than Queen of Rohan?’
Morwen’s mouth fell open. I turned to face her, knowing full well that a thin trail of blood was now trickling down my chin, but I was beyond caring.
‘The Steward Turgon, and his son after him, treated me as though I were an honourable son, or nephew, and my actions were valued. Here I was maligned and mistreated by my father, and I never regretted leaving this land. Once Ecthelion knew of my affections for you, I assure you that he did indeed care for your father, the high merchant, and his almost unnumbered brood of inheritors. If distress had befallen them, he would have sent one of his own personal couriers here with all haste to bring such a message. Should you not believe me, perhaps you should take the children and go and see them yourself while I am off having adventures, as you have suggested.’
My voice was calm, but my left hand which held my scissors was shaking with barely controlled anger. How can you be so ungrateful, like a spoiled child, after all that has been given to you? The question raged in me, but I willed myself to be still. I was a king now, after all, and under no circumstance would I act in such an undignified manner as my own father had.
Morwen stared at me, her brown eyes blazing. When she spoke, words more cold and distant than I had ever heard passed her lips.
‘Please give my kindest regards to whatever form of man lives in that tower. And to Dallben. I shall be indisposed when you depart, I do believe, and will be unable to stand on the frozen steps of this soulless building you call home and wave a fond farewell to you into the wind.’
She waited for a moment, as though I would try to outmatch her in spiteful words, but I could not do so. Sensing her victory, she jutted out her chin, drew herself up to full height, and knowing that my eyes were on her, she ran her fingers through her long hair, making sure that it would then lie to its full length down her slender back as I watched.
Then she stormed out.
It was an uneventful journey to Orthanc and back. Saruman was an intriguing complexity of obvious and subtle, but I felt as my forebears must have; for whatever reason, he held Rohan and Gondor in highest respect, and he was full of reassuring words. Though the building was made of an uncanny onyx colour which seemed to absorb light, the inside was most hospitable. The three of us dined well, and the Wizard answered all of our questions beyond satisfaction. His conversation was as scintillating as his wine, and though we preferred to camp on his lush grounds surrounding the ancient building, we all slept well.
Once back in Edoras, I found that I deeply grieved bidding my friend farewell. We did as we always had, and I sent him on his way with hearty food and another night of rest in my old room. My four children came out to say goodbye, and while he was thankful to meet all of them, he seemed to take a particular shine to Brianna.
‘You are like my own Iolande when she was so young,’ he grinned as he swung her in the air, holding on to her rugged four-year-old hands. He nuzzled her nose. ‘Keep an eye on these others, will you? Your father’s blood runs thick, and someone needs to ensure that you are all not as perfect as he is.’
At this, Gwineth rolled her eyes, Théoden turned glowingly to me as though I were beyond all reproach, and Fréawyn simply dozed in my arms.
‘Dallben, you are going to curse this house.’ I smiled as he walked a few steps toward me after depositing Brianna near Théoden.
He shook his head. ‘That I shall never do. But I do solemnly swear that I will have correspondence coming to you regularly with the couriers. Rolindis would not forgive me otherwise. She misses you terribly.’
I nodded, then took his hand.
‘Gondor is not so far away, you know,’ he murmured, and I sighed.
‘I brought Gondor here.’
He looked askance at me, then took his leave, his horse looking rather remorseful, if the beasts did indeed portray such emotions.
Morwen and I were cautious around each other for a few weeks following our bitter exchange of words. Time moved on, and I had many affairs which needed my attentions, and Morwen attended to the children. Though Gondor was less safe than it had been, Morwen and I both decided it would be for the best if she made the journey to see her parents and her siblings’ families at least once a year. We segued into a familiarity, which if not as close as it had been before, was sufficiently bearable.
Such was marriage.
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