Many Guises and Many Names
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Courtly Love: 7. Galmod and the Queen
He sought solace in the hangings on his wall that depicted the famous victories of the sons of Eorl. From his boyhood he had always been able to let his mind slip easily into the tales and songs of old, so that his mother had despaired of him ever learning a trade, since the more sought after occupations of the Mark seemed quite out of his reach. Little had she known, he reflected with amusement.
Presently he stirred at the sound of the queen singing softly in the great hall. She rejoices at the king’s impending return, he thought. For himself, he had taken more pleasure in Thengel’s absence than was wise, and regret toyed with his resolve as he felt the familiar pangs of envy and shame. Does she see how I fawn on her like one of her dogs when the king is abroad? Of course she does; for how could she not? The whole court must surely see it. It is a dangerous path that I tread and yet I cannot find the strength to step aside. If Thengel were my own brother I could not love him better, but Morwen! Why did you come into my life to torment me so?
‘My lord Gálmód, you will join us tonight?’ The queen was standing in the doorway.
Gálmód started. ‘If I must, my lady,’ he replied, turning with alacrity.
‘And how did you fare with the foreigner? Have you learnt his name?’ There was a twinkle in her eyes.
‘I have not, my queen. But I think you already know that.’
‘Would it disturb you to hear that I have not yet learned it myself?’
This took Gálmód by surprise. ‘Eothain told me that you were already acquainted before you met at the fords.’
Morwen coloured a little. When Gálmód lit upon a riddle he generally pursued it as a dog gnaws a bone.
‘In a manner of speaking, yes,’ she demurred softly. ‘I had seen him before.’
Gálmód gave her a look that she knew well. It said plainly that evasion was not going to succeed.
‘I watched him from the river bank, not half an hour earlier.’
He arched an eyebrow.
Morwen paused. Her reticence was only half pretended. ‘He was bathing,’ she ended lamely.
The look that returned her confession bore the severity of a father‘s reprimand. ‘If I did not know you better, my lady, I should say that you were ashamed.’
‘He did not see me,’ she added hastily. ‘I was hidden behind the willows.’
Gálmód folded his arms and a wide smile crept slowly across his narrow face as he enjoyed the image.
The queen laughed, awkwardly at first and then more loudly as she aimed a playful cuff at Gálmód’s ear. But he caught her hand before it reached its mark and swiftly put it to his cheek, brushing it with a kiss that would have caressed her face a moment later. Morwen’s laughter died on her lips and she gently unfolded his grasp with her other hand, her eyes full of sorrow. Gálmód stepped back, averting his gaze, eyes half closed and face twisted in silent shame.
‘Forgive me, Gálmód,’ the queen said gently.
‘The fault is mine.’ His voice was barely above a whisper. He turned to leave, but this time it was she who caught his hand.
‘Is there no other lady in Edoras that pleases you, my lord?’ Her voice was so tender that Gálmód feared he might weep.
‘You know there is not,’ he replied once he had mastered himself. ‘How could there be?’
‘Yet all of Rohan knows the name of Gálmód son of Gramlic. Any woman would be glad to wed the king’s man.’
‘Please, do not condescend to me, my lady, I beg you.’
‘I do you no such disservice, sir.’ Morwen’s face grew grave. ’You have high honour in this land. You have the king’s trust and you are loved by all who know you, for your courage and your wit. Do not lower yourself by speaking so.’
Slowly he met her gaze. ‘I have insulted you and betrayed the king’s trust.’
‘You have done neither. But I shall be offended if you refuse to accept my words, Gálmód.’
He recovered himself a little. ’I fear I cannot believe them, my queen. For surely the plainest women in Edoras would sooner wed the king‘s horse than Gálmód, court jester and chief sewer rat.’ He managed a smile and the queen returned it warmly.
‘No doubt Thengel will order you to marry, lest you pickle your manhood before you get a son worthy of his father. Then you shall see that I am right.’
‘Thank-you my lady,’ answered Gálmód wryly and fled from the hall for the second time that day.
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