17. The Advisor - VI
The woman of whom I have spoken is cooperating upon threat of removal to herself and others. She is easily managed, and may provide other useful information as well, given her proximity to certain parties of interest. All is well in hand.
Gríma reads these lines again, as always looking for any word, any fragment that might positively identify himself as the writer, or those of whom he writes. Satisfied that his wording is vague enough to prevent such identification, he seals the letter with plain red wax.
He has begun lingering about the King's chambers in the evening, keeping a close eye on Lathwyn. He is not concerned that she will go against him; she fears both Dunland and harm to Lord Théodred too much. And it is clear that she is frightened of Gríma himself. This pleases him, for Gríma knows what a potent weapon fear is, and he takes satisfaction in seeing how she bends to his will. Before, Lathwyn was as obedient as any proper servant; now, she shrinks on herself when he is near. Before, she was impassive, never letting her feelings be known; now, her emotions range from utterly submissive to barely-repressed anger. It is most amusing to watch.
The King is still vague and often hallucinatory, but he is occasionally lucid, though these incidents are rare and far between. One night, when Lathwyn brings Théoden King his wine, the bracelet on her wrist catches his attention.
Is that from Éomund? he asks. His smile is reminiscent of months past, and Gríma is stricken with the unreasonable worry that perhaps the King is overcoming the poison. Then reality asserts itself -- there is no cure for nightshade poisoning.
Something leaps in Lathwyn's eyes -- sorrow or pain -- but she only nods, wordless.
He is a fine man, the King nods, reaching for the goblet. You would do well to accept him.
He is a fine man, Lathwyn agrees quietly, for if she does not respond as if she is Théodwyn, Théoden King will grow quite upset. But I cannot accept what he has not offered.
The King smiles again, and absently pats Lathwyn's hand. His next words are wholly unintelligible as his mind slides back into the fog.
Gríma continues to press Lathwyn for information. He knows that men can be careless in their speech, when they are sated and in the arms of a willing woman. Lathwyn insists, without fail, that the Lord Théodred does no such thing. He does not believe her, until one night she lashes out. He tells me no more than you do! Why would he, when I am nothing more than a glorified kitchen whore?
He considers this for a moment, letting his anger at her disrespect simmer. Then what is this? he asks, running a fingertip over the bracelet on her wrist. He has had kitchen whores before, and never has he given one such a token.
The piteous expression on her face gives him the answer before she speaks. He…he does not trust me. He speaks of nothing but petty matters. This is…this is simply to mark me, so no other man will approach me.
Gríma studies her, takes in her appearance -- eyes cast down, shoulders hunched forward in exhaustion, dark circles under her eyes-- and reluctantly decides that she is being truthful. Her explanation makes sense. Lord Théodred has been quite possessive of his other temporary partners; it is logical that he would mark her so. It is also logical that he, of all men, would not speak of important matters to a chamber wench..
It appears that she cannot provide information, Gríma writes. However, she is still of value, for the party seems honestly attached, and can be coerced by threat of danger to her.
Gríma hopes this is true, for he has sensed discord between Lord Théodred and Lathwyn. Perhaps it is just a quarrel between lovers, for he has not cast her off, nor barred her from his chamber for even a night. But there is tension, that Gríma knows. He wonders if this has something to do with the fact that he has seen the Lady Éowyn speaking to Lathwyn more frequently. Even over the long, tedious winter, Gríma had not seen the two women speaking more than a handful of times, usually in the King's chamber, and assumed that this was because Lady Éowyn though it unseemly to converse with a common woman who was sharing the Heir's bed.
But now he sees Lady Éowyn and Lathwyn together almost daily, and one night, he asks Lathwyn, What business have you with Lady Éowyn?
She is worried that I am not tending her lord uncle properly, Lathwyn replies, nervous and tense. She also wishes for me to give her lord cousin reason to put me aside, for she is…disdainful of me.
That is likely; Lady Éowyn is very proud of the House of Eorl, as she should be. It is the things that draws Gríma to her -- her unfaltering loyalty to her line, for it will serve him well, when the time comes. Gríma is surprised that Lady Éowyn's disapproval has not come to the fore sooner; however, Lady Éowyn is still young, and perhaps has only just realized the depth of her cousin's foolish attachment.
Now that the Marshals are more often away from the Meduseld, Gríma can once again observe Lady Éowyn at his leisure, and this, to him, is the true dawning of spring. Now he may sit by the side of the feeble King, acting as dutiful advisor, and let his gaze roam over Lady Éowyn as he pleases. Her beauty warms him, gives him strength and confidence, keeps him company on those long, dark nights when he cannot sleep for seeing her face in his mind. He longs to see her smile turned on him, radiant and welcoming; dreams of having her fair white hand touch his cheek. Of course this is just fantasy now; she is no less contemptuous of his attention than she has ever been. This does not daunt him. The Lady Éowyn is meant to be his; Gríma's faith in this fact is unshakable. She will be his, and he will treat her as the queen she will be, once he prevails. Gríma knows that obtaining Lady Éowyn's regard will not be an easy battle, but he will obtain it. She will see that he is no-one to be trifled with, and then she will give him the respect he so richly deserves. She will relent to his advances, one way or another.
A letter from Saruman sends Gríma into a fit of anger-laced panic.
I have seen no western progress beyond correspondence; I am informed that certain parties are in secret communication with others further away. You insist that she will be useful, yet I have had no report that she is being used to her full potential. Is this what you call having things "well in hand"? I have made allowances, due to the severity of winter, but that season is past. Do what you must, but I am losing faith in your self-vaunted power. If you can not rectify these situations, then we shall need to revisit our agreement.
.Surely Saruman must know that Dunland is a delicate situation; Gríma cannot simply demand their alliance, for the Dunlendings still doubt that Gríma is scheming against the King. If he is too harsh, they will simply attack Rohan, foolish as that course of action would be. The Dunlendings are not known for their subtlety. He knows that Lord Théodred is corresponding privately with Dúnhere and Erkenbrand, but the Second Marshal has proved very clever in his concealment of this. This, too, is a situation that must be handled with utmost care. One wrong move, and the Lords Théodred and Éomer will joyfully separate his head from his shoulders.
More worrying is the notion that someone is informing Saruman of all of these actions. There is only one conclusion Gríma can draw -- Saruman has his own spies in the Meduseld, watching, relaying everything that happens. Gríma is not foolish enough to believe that Saruman trusts him fully, for Saruman trusts no living soul. But it infuriates Gríma to be treated as any other minion, for he has been faithful to Saruman, ever working for the wizard's triumph. It infuriates him to be spied upon as if he were a wayward child in need of guidance.
Of course Gríma can do nothing about this anger. Even if he uncovers Saruman's spies, he cannot remove them, for that would certainly bring swift retaliation from the wizard. All he can do is obey, and to that end, sends a terse letter to Dunland.
I have been advised that if you do not ally willingly, there will be consequences. Do not think your actions are unknown - my master's vision stretches far, and if he is displeased, he will not hesitate to act.
Gríma has never fully understood why Saruman does not deal with the Dunlendings himself, as Isengard is much closer to Dunland than is Edoras. He supposes that Saruman wishes to keep his intents hidden as long as possible; there is always the possibility that Gandalf Greyhame can be persuaded to ally with Saruman.
He comes upon the Lady Éowyn in the King's chambers. Lathwyn is nowhere in sight.
You are lovely, as always, my lady.
Éowyn favours him with a cool glare that would fell most men in their tracks. Such words from you are naught but lies. I have made it very clear that you are not to speak to me, and yet you persist. Are you so eager to find yourself at the point of a sword?
Gríma moves a step closer to her. Éowyn's nostrils flare in distaste, but she does not fall back. And whose sword would that be? Your brother, who rides in the East? Your cousin, who is occupied with the middle lands? Certainly not your uncle. Why must you reject the protection I would offer you?
Lady Éowyn's eyes fairly blaze. Your protection, as you call it, would see my kin drowning in their own blood. You are the only person in Edoras from whom we need protection. And do not forget, Wormtongue, that I have a sword of my own, and the keys to every room in the Meduseld. Do not think yourself safe behind a locked door .
Her defiance only heats Gríma's blood. It will be a pleasure to bring her to heel, once she is his. He does not take her threat seriously -- she is strong, and capable, but she is but a woman nonetheless, and will not act without the permission of her male kin. He reaches for her hand, and she pulls it away, though she still holds her ground.
My lady..he begins in his most persuasive tones, but then the door bangs open, and Lathwyn enters, arms full of clean linens.
My lady, these are far more suita --- Lathwyn breaks off, eyes wide at the scene in front of her. I…I am sorry -- I did not mean to intrude.
You are not intruding, Lady Éowyn snaps, Gríma was just leaving, for my uncle has been left alone for far too long.
Gríma knows he has pushed her temper as far as he can, and he departs with a deep bow. The image of Lady Éowyn's face, cheeks flushed with anger, stays with him throughout the rest of the day, and when finally he seeks his bed, it is long before his tension eases enough for him to sleep.
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