24. Interlude, April 3019
Though Théodred wishes to find Eledher on his own, Éomer vehemently refuses to allow him to explore Mundberg unescorted. "Would your father wander about a foreign city without a guard even in a time of peace?" he asks. "This is not quite yet a time of peace, cousin, and though I do not fear harm from these Gondorians, you are now King, and you cannot go off on your own."
He does not think of himself as King, not yet, but Théodred admits grudgingly that Éomer is correct. So he takes one of his Riders with him, a man called Orgel who is too young and in awe of Théodred to be a hindrance.
Théodred was told that the tavern is called The Gilded Lion, but it is surprisingly difficult to locate. Finally he stops and asks the way of a man on the street, who is repairing the wall to his home, and is pointed in the correct direction.
He stops cold when he sees a woman and her child half-way down the street; it is Eledher, he is sure of that, he can tell by her walk. He does not want to shout, instead tries to catch up with them, and is shocked when the child – a little boy - points directly at him and exclaims, "Faeder!"
Eledher sighs wearily as she leans down to wipe at the boy's cheek... "Not 'faeder', little one," she corrects gently. " 'Rider'."
Théodred cannot restrain himself. "Am I not his faeder, then?"
Eledher jerks upright so quickly she nearly looses her balance. She stares at him, face gone utterly white and something like fear in her expression. He wonders why – surely she does not think he is going to harm her?
"My lord," Orgel's whisper makes Théodred jump slightly; he had forgotten the young Rider was there. He looks at the other man, who gestures slightly toward Eledher. "Do you not see her wrist?"
Théodred looks, and realizes that Eledher still wears his token, but on her mourning wrist. No wonder she seems frightened, he thinks, and takes a step forward. He is unpleasantly startled when Eledher moves slightly in front of the child – his child—as if to protect him. Before he can say a word, Eledher speaks.
"Are you going to take him?" He has never heard her voice so small and desperate.
Eledher can sense Léohtfax fidgeting impatiently behind her, so excited is he to have two Riders standing right in front of him, but he does not try to dart forward, for which she is grateful. She is still reeling over the fact that Théodred is alive and well, even if he looks much battered, but she will consider that later. Right now, she is only concerned for the welfare of her son. Théodred has every right to take Léohtfax from her, and she does not know how she will carry on if he does.
Théodred seems offended by the question. "No!" he denies fiercely. "No – why would you think such a thing?"
"Why else would you take the time to find us?" she returns, bewildered, dimly aware that Léohtfax is peeking around her skirts at the other Rohirrim.
To her surprised, Théodred laughs softly, and again steps forward, but this time, she does not fall back. "I have known where you are for a year and a half," he reveals, smiling in a way that brings back too many pleasant memories too quickly. "But you did not want to be found – and I did not want you found. You were right to leave," he continues, stopping two arms' length from her. "It would have been too dangerous in Edoras, for you and --- Eledher, what is his name?"
She is so taken aback by his revelation and by the barely-concealed note of pleading in his voice that for a moment she cannot answer the question. "Léohtfax," she manages, catching her son's hand and urging him forward. "For my father."
The little boy moves to stand in front of his mother, curiosity written all over his face, and Théodred goes to one knee so that he is closer to the boy's eye-level. "Léohtfax," he repeats, approving, and his heart stops when his son comes toward him unhesitatingly. Théodred holds perfectly motionless as Léohtfax runs small fingers over the sword-belt, traces the designs on the hilt. He studies the boy carefully; red-gold braids, an open, happy face, and round cheeks sprinkled with freckles. Théodred does not know what is more unsettling; how obvious it is that Léohtfax is his child, or Eledher's dark eyes in that innocent face regarding him in such a frank manner, holding no shadows, only delight.
Léohtfax is wholly absorbed in his examination, and he gives a little gasp of sympathy when he sees the shallow knife-cut on Théodred's temple. "Modor will fix," he says in slightly garbled Westron, touching the injury carefully. "Modor fixes my hurts."
Théodred gives a choked laugh, and glances up at Eledher, who is watching them with both nervousness and tenderness. "I am sure she does, min eafora," he replies, itching to sweep the boy into his arms but uncertain as to what the reaction might be.
Léohtfax frowns. "Only modor says that," he tells Théodred, who has no idea what the boy means, but Eledher chuckles and comes to stand by them.
"He may say 'min eafora' as well," she tells her son, smiling. "He is your faeder."
Léohtfax looks puzzled a moment, then grins widely and pats Théodred's face with his smooth hands. "Not 'Rider'?"
"I am both," Théodred says, ignoring for the moment that he is no longer just a Rider. "But I should like faeder better."
Unexpectedly, Léohtfax holds out his arms, and Théodred carefully, so carefully, picks him up. The child is sturdy and warm against him, heavier than he would have thought, and is completely unselfconscious as he toys with Théodred's braids. Théodred buries his face in Léohtfax's hair, suddenly overwhelmed. My son, he thinks, something inside him trembling.
He feels a hand on his arm, and looks up to see Eledher's understanding face, and he begins to hope that this will not be as difficult as he has feared. He smiles at her, and says, "That token should be moved."
Eledher has to struggle to keep the tears from her eyes and voice. "They said you were dead," she replies, voice breaking. "They said you fell at the Fords."
He shifts Léohtfax to the curve of one arm so that he can lay a hand against her cheek. "A blow to the head which rendered me insensible for two days," he answers gently, "and a freely-bleeding cut on my scalp which looked much worse than it was." This close, she now notices a large, faded bruise that starts just behind his ear and disappears into his hair. She does not know what he intends by coming here, but she will find out soon enough and is loathe to disrupt the peaceful moment. She had never thought to feel his touch again, and it is disturbingly calming.
At Théodred's request, they continue on towards the Lion, though Eledher is unaccountably anxious. There is so much that needs to be said between her and Théodred, and she would dearly like a moment to stop and catch her breath. Léohtfax is nearly delirious with glee and chatters away in his strange mixture of Rohirric and Westron. Though he cannot possibly understand half the words being said, Eledher has no doubts that Théodred is as besotted with their son as she is, for he is practically beaming.
But there is no time for gathering composure, for Nengel is sweeping the courtyard, and she gapes at them a moment. "Eledher?" she says, coming toward them, and Eledher sees concern in the other woman's eyes.
"Do not worry," she says, pressing Nengel's hands. "All is well."
"Is that – is that Léohtfax's father?" Nengel asks in an undertone, and at Eledher's nod, chuckles. " 'Tis no wonder Erthor's son did not stand a chance at courting you!"
An oath makes the two women turn, and Tathar is standing in the doorway, frozen with a bucket in his hands. "My lord," he says, seeming very close to stammering, "I apologize – I did not expect – that is to say, you are welcome to the Gilded Lion."
Théodred inclines his head in thanks, and Nengel's eyes suddenly narrow. "Eledher," she demands, and Eledher can see she is working something out in her mind, "is that -- that is not Lord Théodred of Rohan?"
Eledher is thrown off – balance; she did not know that Gondorians would recognize anyone but Théoden King on sight. "Yes," she admits reluctantly, and Nengel's shock is almost comic. "I did say that Léohtfax's father was noble."
"But you did not say he was king," Nengel sputters. "You must certainly sit down this evening and tell me –"
Eledher has stopped listening, for one word distracted her. She turns to Théodred. "You….your father… you are king?"
Théodred nods, sorrow tightening his chest. "My father was killed on the Pelennor," he replies. "You did not know?"
"I heard rumours," she says, and he can see that she is badly shaken by this news. "But I thought them only rumours, for I did not think…how?"
He hears what she does not say. How was he whole enough in body and mind to fight? "Later," he says in Rohirric. "I have much to tell."
There are patrons inside, older men, laughing and playing draughts, but they fall silent at the sight of Théodred and Orgel. The older man who recognized him in the courtyard looks as if he might be preparing to make an announcement, but Théodred does not wish to cause a scene or to have the scrutiny of everyone in the room. "If it please you," he says quickly to the man – Tathar, Eledher said - "there is no need to tend specially to me, though ale and food would be most welcome. I am here simply to speak with Eledher."
Tathar gives him a measuring glance that holds some hostility, and Théodred wonders what, exactly, Eledher has told these people about her son's father. "Aye then," Tathar nods. "But your coin is no good here, my lord –we'd have no City at all left if not for you and your kin."
It is not the first time Théodred has encountered this gratitude in Mundberg, but it still moves him deeply. "I thank you," is all he says in return, and then turns to Orgel. "You are at leisure," he tells the young man. "I would speak without your ears to hear."
Orgel does not look surprised; he makes a bow, then takes a seat at the bar. Within moments, the other patrons have invited themselves to join him.
Léohtfax refuses to be put down, and Théodred is certainly not going to argue with him, though Eledher says, "He does not have to be held, if you are weary of his weight."
He gives a wry smile as he settles the child on his knee. "I am not so weary that I cannot hold my own son," Théodred tells her, and for some reason, this makes her blush prettily.
After food is brought, he and Eledher talk warily, idly about these past weeks in Mundberg, Théoden's healing and Gríma's banishment. Someone listening might think the conversation mundane, but Théodred can feel the tension between them drawing tight as a bowstring. They both very deliberately avoid saying of anything concerning their past, or future, association – he does not wish to talk of that matter in a public setting, even though they speak in their native language and cannot be understood by any but Orgel.
For now, he is content to hear all Eledher can tell about their son, though he cannot help but be wistful at having missed two years of the boy's life. Her face lights up in a way he has never seen as she talks, and she often casts fond glances at Léohtfax. He has finally grown tired of sitting still, and is now on the floor, playing with carved horses, darting around the room or demanding Théodred's attention to show him a particular toy. Nengel and Tathar do not approach, but Théodred is aware that they are watching from behind the long bar, and occasionally they whisper between themselves.
Something has changed about Eledher, Théodred thinks as she is telling him of Léohtfax's first words. She holds herself straighter, seems less hesitant and smiles more readily. She even talks more – he has never heard her speak so many words in such a short period of time. With somewhat sheepish amusement, he realizes that these changes have only strengthened her appeal.
Eledher feels like she is babbling, but Théodred seems enthralled with her talk of Léohtfax, which is of course as it should be, to her mind. And Léohtfax is fascinated by his father – it is as if her son realizes his connection to this stranger, and is trying to make up for lost time. He pulls on Théodred's sleeve for attention, proudly displays his wooden horses, and from time to time, just sits on the floor watching Théodred avidly.
She does not want to ask why Théodred is here; she does not know what he will say, and she does not know how she will respond. Eledher has many times imagined what she would do if she saw Théodred again, but now that this dreaming is fact, she finds herself at a loss. So she follows his lead, and avoids the subject altogether, though her stomach is in knots and her pulse beats a bit more quickly when he smiles at her.
Eledher does not know how much time has passed when the young Rider, Orgel, approaches. "My lord, you shall be late."
Théodred looks irritated. "Late for what?"
"You are to dine with the King?"
Théodred swears under his breath, and Eledher hopes that Léohtfax did not hear the words clearly. "I had forgotten," he mutters, scratching absently at the wound on his scalp. "I suppose it matters not that I am King as well?" Orgel wisely says nothing in response to that, but Eledher feels an unexpected thrill of fear at hearing Théodred so name himself.
Then he sighs, resigned. "I much wish to speak with you further," he says to her, expression serious and eyes hesitant. "Shall I return this evening?"
"If not too late," Eledher replies, suddenly unable to hold his gaze. "I must tend to my duties in the morning."
He looks satisfied at that answer, and she tells him where the outside door is to her room, so that he will not need disturb Nengel or Tathar to gain entrance. With obvious reluctance, Théodred rises, and Eledher does so as well.
She is uncertain when Théodred comes to stand directly in front of her. He takes her left wrist, and without asking her leave, unfastens the token there, and moves it to her right. His rough fingers are warm against her skin, and Eledher is left slightly breathless at the gentleness of his touch.
Théodred does not wish to leave, but knows that it will be commented upon if he is late to his appointment with Aragorn because he was occupied with a woman – and a third circle serving woman, at that – and he does not wish to cause gossip until it can no longer be avoided. "Til this evening, then," he says, and is startled when Léohtfax suddenly wraps himself around his leg.
"No, stay," he orders, face stormy. "No, you stay, faeder."
He picks the boy up, kisses his cheek. "I cannot stay now," he says with great remorse. "But I shall come back soon."
Léohtfax begins to cry, and Théodred does not quite know what to do. He looks to Eledher for assistance, but she seems amused.
"He is your son," she says simply, and all it once the full importance of that phrase strikes him. He is indeed Léohtfax's father, and as such, he must learn to deal with any mood his son might be in. That knowledge is daunting, but Théodred pushes it aside to think about at a later time. Now he holds Léohtfax to his shoulder, murmuring in the boy's ear to soothe him. "I will come back," he promises again, and Léohtfax turns a tear-streaked, trusting face to Théodred.
"Soon?" he asks, still sniffling.
"Soon," Theodred agrees.
Only now does Eledher step forward, and he places their son in her arms. The boy immediately begins sobbing again, hiding his face in his mother's shoulder, and Eledher bids, "Go, Théodred. He will not cease while you are here."
He nods in understanding, and makes for the door where Orgel is waiting patiently. Théodred glances back before he steps into the courtyard, taking Eledher comforting his distraught son, and he cannot remember when he has seen anything that roused such an ache within him.
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.