19. The Heir -V
Théodred is grateful that he is needed at Helm's Deep, for Edoras is not the refuge that it once was. At Helm's Deep, there is no-one questioning his actions, no-one berating him for his conduct; there is only strategy and the duties of his title. He loves his cousins, but of late, he is uncomfortable around them. Éowyn is particularly unsettling; it has been weeks since he has had a civil word from her. She expresses her opinions on his behaviour toward Eledher rather forcefully, and Théodred has begun avoiding her when he is at the Meduseld. Though Éomer is not as strident in his speech, Théodred can see that he, too, is troubled by Eledher's role in the plan to snare Gríma.
Théodred himself is conflicted. Though she has cooperated uncomplainingly with every request they have made of her, and though she has allowed useful information to be found in intercepting Gríma's letters, his resentment toward Eledher lingers. He does not speak to her unless it is unavoidable. Théodred is still hurt by the fact that she came to him at Gríma's instigation, rather than because of his own persistence. He is bewildered, for never has any woman needed encouragement to come to his bed beyond a suggestive smile or a broad wink. He knows it is pride that stings him so, and that to let that pride control his actions is childish, but the possibility that Eledher has no feeling for him when he has so clearly declared himself to her holds him back.
Théodred makes the grave mistake of saying this one day when Éowyn is again rebuking him for his coldness toward Eledher. She came to me at Gríma's behest, Éowyn ! So that Gríma could find a way to exploit me through her! How do you expect me to act toward her after discovering that?
And why did you pursue her, Théodred? Éowyn demands. Did you pursue her because you thought she would lend you advice and support? No, you pursued her because you wanted to know the rumours of her talent in the bedchamber were true. You wanted to satisfy your own curiousity. Stop acting as if your motives were noble, Théodred! You were only interested her as someone who would sate your needs! Why should she believe your feelings are true?
Théodred gapes at his cousin. She wears my token for all of Rohan to see! I gave it to her freely and of my own will! Is that not enough?
And she gave you hers! Éowyn is furious. Is that not enough for you? She should accept that your feelings were true simply because you are Heir, and thus beyond reproach? You are not, you know. Théodred does not know how to respond to this. His head is beginning to ache under Éowyn 's anger, and he is suspicious when her tone becomes persuasive. Théodred, have you ever found evidence that Eledher was using her closeness to you to her advantage? Has she repeated anything you have told her in confidence, or tried to harm you in any way?
Gossip in the Meduseld travels like a fire on the plains -- if Eledher had done any of these things, Théodred would have caught wind of it. No, he admits grudgingly. She has not. But --
But what? Gríma may have wanted her to distract you from his councils with Uncle, but she had no way of knowing why Gríma wished you distracted. She is not perceptive enough to have seen Gríma's scheming until it was right in front of her nose. Théodred, you believe that she was used unknowingly by Gríma in all other matters. Why can you not believe it about this one?
Thinking on this keeps Théodred awake many nights. He is startled by how Éowyn 's words have affected him. He knows that she is right -- in the beginning, he wanted Eledher only because he had heard so much talk of her from other men, and because she would not have him. In the beginning, he did not care for her at all -- he was simply pleased to discover that the rumours had been correct. But that changed, though Théodred still does not understand how or when or why. If it changed for him, why does he have such difficultly believing that it changed for her as well? When Théodred is lying sleepless in his room at Helm's Deep, or staring at the ceiling of his tent on patrol, he can easily believe that Eledher has not been false in her affections toward him. And, he realizes, he wants to believe it. But he does not know how to let himself . When Thedored is in Edoras, and cannot escape Gríma's narrowed eyes, it is harder to convince himself that Eledher was not somehow allied with the King's advisor.
When he is in Edoras, he remains darkly silent. He can see that this silence frustrates and worries his cousins, but Théodred is not the sort of man who can confide such self-doubt to anyone. Oh, he can ask for advice from equals about things military, and he has been known to listen to the suggestions of Riders under his command -- but when Théodred is truly uncertain as to his own character, the only person he has ever disclosed himself to is his father. And that, of course, is now impossible.
His father is another reason that Théodred prefers to stay in Helm's Deep. During the long winter, Théodred saw, with painful clarity, that his father was no longer able to think for himself, much less command the éoreds or rule the land. Often during those months, Théodred wanted to be as far from Edoras as his horse would take it, but it was not possible. Now that spring has come, he takes any opportunity he can to be where his father is not. He cannot bear to witness the King's slow crawl toward death.
Théodred has effectively taken control of éoreds, though he does what he can to keep this fact clouded. Orders supposedly issued by the King are "mislaid" or skillfully altered to reflect Théodred's commands instead of Gríma's. As yet, there is no indication that Gríma has any inkling of this subterfuge, and Rohan's people are kept safe. But Théodred hates the neccessity of such an action. There are days and days on end when he feels that he is a traitor, not only to his beloved father, but to all of his ancestry back to Eorl himself. When his mood is blackest, Théodred feels that if he is no better than Gríma.
When Éomer comes to Théodred, and tells him of several conversations, Théodred is stunned. Not by that Éomer wishes to stop questioning Eledher; he agrees to this immediately, for it is pointless to keep asking her about Gríma's words to the King. Nothing has come of it. No, Théodred is stunned by the implication that Eledher seems to believe that they have no concern as to her well-being. That he does not care what happens to her, so long as Gríma is caught. Does she have no faith in him?
Of course we have not abandoned her to Gríma, Théodred says, frowning. Does she think we are so cruel?
Éomer hesitates a moment. We have not told her that we will give her protection, he says carefully. We have told her nothing; we have simply interrogated her and demanded that she do as we say, in order that she may prove herself loyal. It is…it is not entirely fair, cousin.
Éomer's words strike very near the target, and Théodred falls silent, aware that his cousin is watching him with poorly hidden anxiety. Théodred must concede, if only to himself, that they -- that he-- has been using her as carelessly as Gríma has. He has given Eledher no reason to think that she will not be discarded as useless when this is over. He has avoided her. He was the one who suggested that Eledher steal into Gríma's rooms and rifle through his personal belongings in order to find older letters, though he knew that was a dangerous course of action. He has spoken only impersonal words to her in weeks, and has not even looked at her directly in just as long, except for when she is asleep. He has not comforted her when she has disturbing dreams, which he did even before he had any feeling for her. Of course she thinks he has thrown her to the wolves.
Théodred does not know how to correct Eledher's misapprehension, but he knows he must. Knowing that she has no confidence in his protection has shaken him badly, for he would not see harm come to her, no matter what she might think. Yes, when she first told him of her unknowing involvement in Gríma's plots, he was furious beyond reason. But though he is no longer blinded by his anger, Théodred realizes he has been blinded by not only his pride, but by his fierce desire to see Gríma pay for what he has done to Rohan.
And for all that he has fought against it, Théodred misses her. When he is in his own bed in the Meduseld, and Eledher is asleep on the other side, he often comes very close to reaching out and touching her, just her hair or her shoulder. He misses the warmth of her curled trustingly against him, misses that sweet smile on her face when she would see him upon waking and the quiet joy that lit up her eyes when he returned to Edoras after an absence. Of course he also misses the physical pleasure they shared; he would not try to deny it. He has considered finding that elsewhere, but has found himself distracted by the fact that he still wears her token on his wrist. Additionally, he realizes that if Gríma catches wind of the fact that Théodred is passing time with other women, their careful façade of normalcy would be destroyed.
Perhaps most of all, Théodred wishes he could speak to her of all that is on his mind, as he used to -- not that she would give him counsel, for she has never done that, but simply as an unburdening. Though she offers no words of comfort or wisdom, Eledher listens very well, and sometimes that is all he needs. He has no-one to whom he can so speak now; Éomer and Éowyn are already worried enough about him and keeping Gríma from finding out what is going on under his watchful eye. There is no one else whom he trusts to keep his confidences -- certainly not any of Rohan's lords. He must keep his troubles to himself, and he is finding this more and more stressful as the weeks go on.
It is late when Théodred arrives in Edoras, and he goes to straight to his chamber. There is no need to light a candle, for there is enough light to see by…and he does not want to disturb Eledher.
She is asleep on his side of the bed, and this causes him a pang of melancholy. He knows why she sleeps there when she is alone; she told him back when autumn had just begun. I always sleep on this side when you are gone, she had said, trailing kisses down the back of his neck as she kneaded his aching shoulder muscles. It holds the scent of you.
He goes around to the other side of the bed, and sits to take off his boots. When he glances over at Eledher, he sees that she is looking back at him. For a briefest moment, Théodred sees the beginnings of that warm smile creep into her eyes; then as she wakes fully, her expression becomes alarmed. She sits straight up, covering herself with the sheet. I -- I am sorry, my lord. I did not know you would return this evening.
He winces as if she has slapped him, for she has not named him so in many months. He cannot keep himself from saying, Since when do you call me 'my lord'?
Eledher looks away from him. I --I did not think you would wish me to address you so familiarly. Her voice holds a quiver of pain that is quickly repressed, and abruptly, Théodred is wearier than he can remember ever being.
He turns his back to her. You may call me what you like, he tells her, shrugging.
There is a long moment of silence, then: Is all well? She is hesitant, but Théodred has no doubt that her concern is genuine.
I cannot tell, he replied honestly as he pulls his shirt over his head. I do not think the situation is worsening, but it does not seem to be improving, either.
I meant…is all well with you?
Théodred turns at the worry in her voice, and sees it reflected on her face. He gives a ghost of a smile. I cannot tell that, either. Rohan is safe, for the moment, and that gives me some strength. And your efforts to help uncover Gríma's scheming have been most helpful.
He had not planned to say this, but he is glad he did, for something like gratitude or relief shines briefly in Eledher's gaze, warming him. It warms him too much, in fact, as does the curve of her neck, the line of her bare shoulder. In recent days, when they are sharing a bed, she has taken to sleeping in a shift, but apparently when he is gone, she does no such thing. Théodred's reaction to this knowledge is predictable, and he tries to think of something less affecting.
Thank you, Eledher replies softly with an almost-smile, then she changes the subject. You should rest. It is late, and you look tense.
Théodred's chest tightens at her concern, but he merely nods. I am, he admits with a sigh, laying down, pulling the bedclothes around himself. It sometimes feels as if I will never be fully relaxed again.
The silence which follows is oddly charged, and when Eledher speaks, her tone is almost expressionless. Shall I calm you?
Théodred sits up, startled, wondering if he has misinterpreted her words. Eledher has not moved; her face is blank -- purposefully, Théodred thinks -- and she waits patiently for his answer. But he can see the faintest hint of colour in her cheeks, as if she is shocked at her own forwardness, and he knows her well enough to know that she is very nervous.
Trying to calm the sudden uproar in his blood, he studies her carefully. He wants her -- there is no arguing that fact -- but he is not sure that he should accept her offer. She is powerfully, almost irresistably tempting, and it takes an effort to speak evenly. Eledher -- I do not know that it is a good --
You are not the only person in Rohan who is tense, is all she says, and those words cause Théodred to consciously take note of the faint shadows under Eledher's eyes, the slightly haggard look to her face. She is right, of course -- she has been under great pressure as well, perhaps more than he has, for Gríma does not physically dog his steps nor verbally threaten him. He reaches for her, and her smile makes his breath catch.
He expects it to be quick, as it always is when they have been apart, but it is not. Eledher draws it out. She is intense, focused, exploring him as if she has never been with him before until they are both shaking. It is as if she is trying to memorize every inch of him. Something about her body seems fuller, lusher -- even her breasts seem larger, more responsive to his touch. He will think later that this perception is simply the result of having been deprived for so long, but now, he is thinking only of how to use this new sensitivity to please them both, delighting in her low moans of encouragement. When need can no longer be resisted, she holds to him fiercely, marking his back with her fingernails, shuddering as she cries out breathlessly. Théodred. Théodred, Théodred.
He is nearly asleep, arms wrapped tightly around Eledher, when a thought occurs to him. She was trying to memorize him, for she thinks that this was the last time that they would be together. He tries to rouse himself enough to tell her that this is not so, that he has no desire to keep from her any longer, that he has been a stubborn fool and to ask forgiveness, but he is too tired, and for once, too relaxed. He will wake when she does in the morning, and tell her all those things then.
In the morning, she is already gone, and there is word that he needs to return to Helm's Deep immediately. He tells Éowyn to let Eledher know that he wishes to speak with her, and that he will return as soon as he can. Éowyn looks surprised and pleased, but Théodred refuses to tell his cousin more. It is not her business.
And after a fortnight, when he is able to return to Edoras, Théodred finds that he is too late.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.