10. The Advisor - IV
Gríma does not know what to think, for he has received a most curious letter from Saruman. I see that you have things well in hand in Rohan, the letter reads, my man reports that he could not walk the city without being followed by one of the King's guards.
Gríma cannot decide if this is a subtle rebuke, or a sincere compliment; either way, it pleases him. If Saruman is disapproving with his actions, then Gríma has shown Saruman that he is not to be trifled with. If Saruman is approving, then he is that much higher in the wizard's good graces. But he knows that he must be cautious; Saruman will only tolerate so much boldness or independence of action. Gríma does not wish to do anything that would prevent him from having the Lady Éowyn as his own, once Saruman's plans have come to fruition.
Gríma hears the Lord Théodred's reports on the difficulties the éoreds have had in locating Orcs. He feels a flash of triumph at the Second Marshal's obvious frustration and aggravation, for Gríma knows, as of course Lord Théodred does not, that this is largely due to information Gríma has passed onto Saruman. Lathwyn is not Gríma's only agent; he has men scattered about Rohan who gather such intelligence and relay it. Additionally, Gríma takes all reports of the Riders' movements, and sends them on to Saruman. In this manner, Saruman finds the patterns in such forays, allowing his Orcs often avoid the Riders entirely. It amuses Gríma that, in a sense, Lord Théodred is helping to bring about the downfall of his beloved country.
And the King is becoming easier to control by the day, as his health slides ever downward. Finally Théoden King is beginning to show signs of being affected by the dwail. The King is much weaker than he has ever been, in both mind and body; he complains of nausea and often will not take food at all; his skin often appears flushed, and he is often not entirely aware of his surroundings. He so frequently addresses Lathwyn as Théodwyn that she now answers to this name as if it were her own. And in recent days, the King rarely argues with any advice that Gríma offers.
I agree, my Lord, that your sister-son is a great asset to Rohan. Would you not prefer to keep him near? With your son so often far afield, would it not be wise to keep the Third Marshal in Edoras? In that manner, he will serve his King and country, and it will also allow you to keep watch on him, and make certain that he does not give in to the rash behaviour he has exhibited in the past.
Having the Lord Éomer near does make it more difficult for Gríma to observe the Lady Éowyn at his leisure - but it also ensures that Théoden King sees the discontent brewing in the young Marshal. And Gríma is delighted to discover that the King is not always aware of Lord Éomer as blood-kin. He takes full advantage of these confused moments.
I do not like to speak so, but at times it seems as if he is defying your orders, and those of your son. I know he does not seem a scheming man, my Lord, but a clever man would not let such schemes be readily evident. I have heard the grooms whisper of an argument between Lord Éomer and Lord Théodred , in which Lord Éomer questioned the need to obey any orders which I presented on your behalf. It pains me to say , but I would keep careful watch on your Third Marshal.
Gríma is in the royal apartments, speaking to Théoden King of the borders. Lathwyn is silently finishing up her tasks - she has recently taken over all such duties, as the King's long-time chambermaid finally grew too old to tend him properly.
They have not bothered us overly in recent times, my Lord. In truth, I cannot remember the last time I received word of any hostile movement from the Dunlendings. Perhaps now is the time to send an emissary to them? If Rohan can gain Dunland as an ally, then there would be no need to have Riders guarding the Fords. The Dunlendings themselves could be charged with that responsibility.
There is a gasp from Lathwyn, and Gríma turns, ready to lash out at her for daring to interrupt his conversation with the King. But she is merely holding her hand and grimacing - she has spilled candle wax on her skin. Pale-faced, she murmurs an apology as she carefully sets the candle on the King's side-table. She departs the room after making certain that the King needs nothing else, and, most curiously, she does not look toward Gríma at any time.
Ever since the Midsummer Festival, Gríma has been keeping a close eye on Lathwyn and Lord Théodred. He does not know what he thinks he senses, but his unerring nose for weakness tells him that there is something to be exploited.
Autumn is beginning, and the nights grow cooler. Gríma is approaching the King's chambers, to make certain that Lathwyn does not need more of the dwail potion. He hears quiet voices within the room, and stops, curious. The door is slightly ajar, and he sees Lathwyn in the Lord Théodred's arms. She is looking up at him with a warm smile on her face, and her eyes, reflecting the firelight, seem to glow. As Gríma watches, Lord Théodred traces the line of Lathwyn's cheek with light fingers, and she closes her eyes, leans into his touch, covers his hand with hers as he continues to caress her.
I am almost finished here.
He leans down, kisses her gently. I will be waiting.
Gríma is impressed with Lathwyn's soft, mild demeanor. In front of other eyes, she still appears indifferent to the King's son, does not even appear to know that he exists. But from what he has just witnessed, when they are alone, it is another story entirely. So this is how she has kept his attention, he thinks with some satisfaction. Playing hot and cold by turns, thereby making him uncertain as to her interest.
It never crosses his mind that perhaps she is not feigning.
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