1. Through the Shadows
The first thing she noticed when she woke was the stench. There were many smells, and she tried not to sort one from the other, afraid of what it might mean.
Rank sweat;meat left in the sun.
Smoke and fire; burning thatch and burnt hair.
Scorched earth; coagulating blood and bright, sharp fear.
She tried to struggle upright, but something was holding her down, pressing on her back, making it nearly impossible to breath, and panic rose within her.
Half-sobbing, she tried to squirm from under the weight which held her motionless, to no avail. Have to run have to run have to run…
It was too heavy for a terrified ten-year-old girl to move, and she pressed her face to the ground, weeping helplessly.
Not an arm's length away, she saw the broken body of her mother, and she began to scream.
They found her, trapped under the body of an Orc, screaming her throat raw as she tried to reach for her mother.
She didn't realize she was wounded until one of the men picked her up and searing pain shot through every part of her body. She heard them talking, but she could not understand their speech - the words didn't sound right.
She awoke, crying, "Modor, modor", and a cool hand on her forehead shushed her. One of those strange voices said something, and forced her to drink a foul-tasting liquid.
She did not want to sleep, for when she closed her eyes the raid brutally played itself out in her dreams, again and again and again. But she could not stay awake.
When she was able to stay awake for more than a few minutes at a time, she saw she was in a small, dark hut. Something about it did not seem right to her, although she did not know what.
The woman who tended to her did not look right either, not her clothes nor hair nor eyes, and the man who came by once a day had the same look about him.
She was slowly drinking broth when it came to her. She was no longer in Rohan - she was in Dunland. The Dunlendings had pulled her from the wreckage of her tiny village; now they had her, and no-one knew where she was.
The woman tending her prattled nonstop, and she was a long time healing, so Eledher learned many of their words very quickly. She wanted to know what was being said, for if she did not understand their language, she was at a disadvantage. But she did not let the Dunlendings know how much she understood.
"You've got some ugly scars there," the woman told her, "but you're lucky they didn't hit anythin important."
No-one asked her name, and sometimes she would whisper it over and over to herself, so she would not forget. Eledher is my name. My father is Léohtfax, and my mother is Redher. My grandmother teaches me herbs and plants. I have a little brother called Argod, and he likes it when I sing him to sleep.
Once deemed fully recovered, she was presented to the head of the village. He looked her over as if she was a horse for sale, then gave her to a husband and wife who had lost their young daughter to the winter sickness the year before. The wife, Arthes, was tearful, and hugged her tightly. "Oh, such joy, to have a child again!"
The husband, Cynat, made no such welcome, saying, "That Strawhead will bring you only ill joy, my wife. But I shall let you keep her for a while, since you seem so pleased."
They did not tell her their names, of course. She learned them over time, though she never addressed them so familiarly; indeed, she was rarely allowed to address them at all.
Eledher discovered the Dunlendings had four other Rohirrim children in the village; a boy a year or two within her age, his five-year-old sister and two girls older than she was. They were all simply called "Forgoil", as was she, for none of the Dunlendings ever asked her name. She was not allowed to talk with the other Rohirrim, and so whole days would pass without Eledher uttering a single word, for she had no-one with whom she could speak.
If she spoke without being first being spoken to, or did not move quickly enough when told to do something, he struck her without blinking an eye. There was no warning - if she displeased him in any way, the result was the same.
If she slipped and spoke her native tongue, he hit her hard enough to make her ears ring for the rest of the day. She once heard Arthes say, "She's just a child, Cynat. She will forget."
"Then she must been made to remember," he replied, unmoved. "There's enough Strawhead filth in my house as it is."
Cynat knew a bit of Rohirric, however, for he began to call her Lathwyn, and by his viciously mocking tone, it was clear that he knew what it meant. She answered to the name with secret relief, for she did not want these Dunlendings to know her true name. It was all she had left.
Eledher learned how to tell Cynat's tempers and how to avoid them. Sometimes, of course, she could not avoid them, and bore the bruises to prove it. He loathed all people of Rohan with a frightening intensity, and some days, all Eledher could do was stay out of his sight, or, if that was impossible, protect her face as best she could.
Arthes was not so unkind, although neither was she foolish enough to let her husband see. When they were alone in the hut, which was often, Arthes would say, "I am so glad that I have you here, Lathwyn. I've been so lonely without my daughter."
Eledher's days were filled with hard, menial work, but she did not mind the tasks, for they were not much different from those she had performed for her mother. She was never to work outside of the village; they wisely did not trust their slaves with tending the small herds.
But she hated the Dunlendings. It was not a burning, consuming hate like the one that shone so clearly from the Rohirrim boy; Eledher's was a quiet, almost peaceful hate that lurked just below the surface. She hated Arthes, and the way Arthes doted on her when Cynat could not witness it. She hated how Arthes would slip her bits of food when Cynat had punished her by withholding it, hated having any confidence between them. Her parents had never withheld food as punishment, nor struck her in anger, and every time Cynat did one of these things, Eledher would repeat to herself, You are not my parents. You are nothing to me. And no matter how you act, I know I am nothing to you but a Strawhead and you would kill me soon as look at me if I give you reason.
And she simply hated everything about Cynat, for he was everything her own beloved father had not been.
Sometimes she saw the older Rohirrim girls, walking as if they were drunk, or blind; saw the dead, flat look in their eyes, and wondered uneasily what had caused that emptiness. She thought she knew, but she did not let herself think on it.
The youngest girl lived with an older man and woman, and she was quieter than any child of five should have been. Though her eyes lit up when she saw her brother, she knew better than to talk to him.
Eledher saw the boy daily, for he lived in the next hut. She learned to tell the boy's mood by the tilt of his head, the set of his shoulders, the way he would surreptitiously twitch a finger toward her in what had come to pass as a wave of greeting. She was glad he lived next door, so that every day she could see someone with hair the colour of dark honey and strong features, so different from the dark-headed, blunt-faced Dunlendings, and know that her memories of her life in Rohan were not merely fragments of some lovely dream.
At night, she would sometimes hear him crying out in pain, and she tried to block out the sound. The next day he would move slowly, like an old man, and his face would show clear signs of a heavy fist.. Those days she did not look toward him, just as he did not look toward Eledher when she was the one who bore new bruises.
Though words never passed between them, she considered him her only friend.
As years passed, Eledher grew used to her situation. She grew used to the constant hunger, to being filthy; to aching from sleeping on the hard ground or from Cynat's rages; to being so cold that she could not feel her fingers during the winters. She accepted it without question when she fell ill and was still expected to carry out her everyday work though she swayed on her feet with every step.
Her calm hatred of the Dunlendings did not lessen. She did not rebel openly, as the boy next door did -- and oh, how he suffered for it -- but she found ways to irritate her captors. She used green wood to build the fire; caught a family of rats and let them loose in the hut. She went into the goat pen until she was covered in fleas - for they never bit her- then brought the pests back to infest the hut.
There was not much she could do, if she wanted to avoid severe harm at Cynat's hands, but these small acts of defiance gave Eledher something to hold to.
At night, she would silently chant her family's history, trying to remind herself that she had not always lived like this. My parents named me Eledher. I have my mother's hair and my father's eyes. My father was a blacksmith, and the men in the village often asked him for advice. My mother planted small yellow flowers in front of our home.
Eledher's body did not bloom until she was nearly 15 years old, but when she did start to mature, she began to draw glances from the men, and she saw, with a hard fierce glee, how this infuriated the Dunlending women. You have taken my life from me - you deserve every unhappiness. If you will call me "ill joy", then I shall live up to that name.
Some nights, she forgot to tell herself of her family, for their faces were growing dim in her memory. She could not remember whether she had had a sister or a brother.
Lathwyn did not like the way the Dunlending men looked at her - their bold eyes raked over her like the Orc's claws had, and she could read on their faces that they wished to harm her. But it gave her a thrill of malicious pleasure to know she was disrupting their lives, making them miserable as they had made her for the past five years. So she began toying with the men, though not in any way that could be obviously noted: a minute change of stance or movement; a shift in her bearing when a man would look her way; meeting the eyes of one for a bare instant, when all knew she was not allowed to do so.
It worked better than she could have hoped, for soon, women could be heard berating their men daily for leering at the Strawhead whore. The boy -- now a young man -- knew immediately what she was doing, for one day he gave her a smile like a cold flash of vindictive lightning, a smile that was to warm her for many days to follow.
On occasion, she saw the young man next door watching her as well, when he was sure no-one would mark it. But he did not smirk suggestively or gape. If he realized she had seen him looking, he glanced away quickly, colour rising into his thin cheeks.
Cynat also followed Lathwyn with his eyes, once her body began to develop its generous curves, but his glances were not lustful. There was something calculating in his gaze. He did not try to catch her alone or in dark corners; in fact, more than once he drove away men who attempted to trap her, shouting at them angrily. This uncharacteristic action made Lathwyn wary, suspicious of what he might be scheming.
She was not foolish enough to think that Arthes would offer her any protection. Arthes had begun slapping her and treating her poorly, accusing her of trying to lure Cynat into her bed. "After we took you in," Arthes snapped, "after I treated you like my own lost child, you try to steal my man from me?!"
Lathwyn made no response. It would do no good.
"Some men do not care where they take their pleasure, as long as their needs are met," she heard Cynat saying to Arthes one evening as she was sweeping. "We could turn a tidy profit, if we put her to such work or sold her to a willing man. I have made sure that no man has yet taken her virtue - that will certainly raise her value. You have seen how they look at her - like dogs after a bitch in heat."
An involuntary cry of choked horror escaped Lathwyn, and the next moment she was lying on the packed dirt of the floor, blood streaming down her face, nose nothing but a throbbing mass of pain. Arthes knelt next to Lathwyn, tilting her head back and holding a wet cloth to the girl's face. "Look what you've done!" Arthes scolded her husband. "What kind of price do you think she will fetch with a broken head? Now we'll have to let that nose heal first!"
Two days later, while Lathwyn was gathering eggs, the young man next door walked by, carrying wood, and muttered low under his breath. She was so shocked at hearing his voice that it took her a moment to understand what he had said. "Stay awake."
That night, she lay on her thin blanket on the ground, fighting to keep her eyes open, waiting to hear his voice again. She started every time Cynat or Arthes shifted in their sleep, afraid one of them would rise and find him creeping around their hut. Finally a soft scratching came from the other side of the wall, and she got up, heart pounding in her ears. She knew if she were caught sneaking out, and with him as well, she was as good as dead. But curiosity overwhelmed her, and it was long since she had been curious about anything.
He caught her hand, making her heart skip a beat, and led her behind the poorly-built shelter where the pigs were kept. "You must run," he whispered in the language of the Dunlendings, "and you must go now."
She gaped, stunned at the suggestion. She had never seriously considered running, although of course she had dreamed of escaping this village one day.
"I - I cannot," she stammered, utterly taken aback. "They would only catch me and drag me back here. And they will take it out on you, if I disappear."
"I am used to having things taken out on me," he answered with a resigned shrug, "and you must go. He will sell you to as many men as can pay, and he will not care how roughly you are treated."
Lathwyn simply stared at him, disbelieving that he would so endanger himself for her.
"Here," he handed her a frayed cloth pouch which she had not noticed, "there is bread, and you can find water. We are not far from the border," he pointed, although she knew very well which way Rohan was, looked toward it every day, "and then you will be in the Westfold."
Even as she longed to take the opportunity and flee, all Lathwyn could imagine was what Cynat would do to her if she were re-captured by the Dunlendings.
"I will not be able to make it," she argued, setting the pouch down before she crushed the bread with her shaking hands. "What if there are Orcs? What if ---"
Her next words were lost, for he kissed her then, being very careful of her broken nose, and for a moment, all terror fled. Though she had never kissed a man before, she knew what the flat, acrid taste on his tongue was - desperation.
"You must go," he said when they finally drew apart, "else you will become like those other two girls. And so will my sister. I would go myself, but for her. I must try to protect her."
It was the broken hopelessness of his statement that decided her. Lathwyn knew that if she did not take this chance, she would become an empty shell, just as the other girls had. She would rather die on the plains or at Cynat's hands than to suffer that fate. She also did not want the little girl to come to such an end, and she had no doubt that this young man would die fighting the Dunlendings to prevent it happening.
She quickly kissed him again, amazed at the warmth it sent through her, hissing as she bumped her nose against his. "I will tell them you are here," she promised.
"Do not swear it," he said bitterly, pressing her hand. "I do not want to hope."
Then she turned and ran, and did not look back.
It was nearing sunrise before Lathwyn realized she had not asked his name.
Lathwyn did not know how long she had been traveling. She fell down asleep when she had walked herself to exhaustion, and started walking as soon as she awoke. She remembered enough of her grandmother's teachings to know which plants along the way were edible, but it was never enough to calm the gnawing in her stomach. Fortunately, she was used to being hungry, and water was not difficult to find.
She was stumbling along in a daze, uncertain she was heading in the right direction, when a low rumbling jolted her from her dream-like state. Thunder, she thought blearily. Looking around, she saw, quite clearly, many men on horseback.
For a long moment, all she could do was stare stupidly at them. Then her paralysis broke. She opened her mouth and screamed and screamed, running toward them as if pursued by a pack of wild animals.
More quickly than she could have imagined, she was surrounded by tall armored men, and fear stabbed at her until one of them knelt in front of her and pulled off his helm to reveal golden braids.
"What has happened?" he asked, gently but urgently. His shocked blue eyes took in her bruised face and swollen nose. "Who has done this to you?"
Lathwyn stared at him uncomprehendingly for a moment, for she had not heard the language of the Rohirrim spoken since her father told her to hide in the root cellar from the Orcs.
She started to answer, but abruptly her legs refused to hold her, and she sank to the ground, crying weakly, shaking all over.
Once she had calmed enough to talk, she refused to answer their questions until they swore they would investigate her story. "There are more," she sobbed, abruptly on the verge of hysteria again. She clutched at the arm of the Rider who was holding her up. "There are four others --please -- you must get them. I told him I would send you for him -- you must go for them, I cannot leave them there!"
They gave her food, then she was taken back to Helm's Deep, and there given to the healer, who made much of Lathwyn's battered state. For the first time in five years, she fell asleep in a soft bed, clean, well-tended, with a full belly, and with little fear of what awaited her on the morrow.
"That cannot be the name your parents gave you," the healer said skeptically.
"No," she said quietly, staring at the ground, marveling at the feel of shoes on her feet.
After a silence, the healer spoke, so gently that tears sprang to Lathwyn's eyes. "It is all right if you do not remember, or if you simply do not wish to tell." A hand stroked her hair, and Lathwyn could not help recoiling. "I will tell the others not to bother you about it."
The healer went away, and then she did begin to softly weep. Just for a moment, she had forgotten her given name.
She looked impatiently every day for the éored to return, and one day, they did.
Lathwyn wanted to run out to meet them, but did not know if such a thing was allowed, so she waited on her bed, knowing that if the Riders had brought back the others, they would surely be brought to the healer.
She was correct, for soon there was the hushed murmur of many voices, and, when she hesitantly left her room, she saw all four of the other captives, seemingly whole, awaiting the healer's attentions. The older girls were clinging to each other and weeping brokenly; the smallest girl had wrapped her arms around her brother's leg and would not be removed. The young man was being examined by the healer, and even from across the room, Lathwyn could see that the Dunlendings had, indeed, taken out her disappearance on him, for his face had been badly beaten, and he held one arm at an unnatural angle.
She looked away, as she always did when he was hurt.
The main room also held several Riders and two well-dressed women who were helping tend to the others, and Lathwyn watched, unseen, until a loud voice made her shrink back against the doorframe. "Where is the girl we found wandering?"
The healer, preoccupied, waved her hand toward the back rooms. Lathwyn was seized with the urge to flee, but the Rider had already seen her, and she could not escape. He strode across the room toward her, and she had to force herself to hold her ground, even though she recognized him as one of the Riders who had found her, and knew he meant her no harm.
He gestured for her to sit, and she saw a darkness come across his face when she flinched at the motion of his hand. "You will not be hurt here, cild," he assured her, lowering his voice. "You do not need to fear."
She swallowed and sat where he bade, hands in tight, nervous fists.
"I am Éorcan," he said, sitting opposite her, "and I have come say that the Lord Erkenbrand of Helm's Deep offers his thanks. Had you not the bravery to flee, we would not have known that band of Dunlendings has been profiting from our people's tragedy for years. You are not the first children they have stolen in the aftermath of an Orc raid, but you are the last, that I swear to you."
Lathwyn merely nodded her understanding, for the Dunlendings had meant nothing to her, and she did not care if they lived or died, as long as they did not have her.
She was uneasy when Éorcan gave her a long, searching look before continuing.
"You shall stay here until the healer deems you well enough to travel, then we must remove you to Edoras. My lord Erkenbrand thinks that the King will want to see you, before returning you to your families."
Lathwyn looked at a spot just below Éorcan's ear.. "I -- have no family," she said softly, stumbling over a language she had not used since she was 10 years old. "The Orcs killed them."
Éorcan was silent a moment. "Then we shall find a place for you," he said, sounding troubled, "if I must find a place for you myself."
Lathwyn wondered why he would care about her well-being, and why he was looking at her with such sadness.
Lathwyn heard that both of the older girls were with child, and was horrified for them. She knew that she had escaped the same fate only by chance. At night, she could hear them weeping as they slept; during the day, they would begin crying for no reason, and could not be comforted. Lathwyn understood this, for she often awoke sobbing from nightmares, and sometimes memory would ambush her, leaving her in helpless tears at the vividness of it. And she knew she had been treated far more gently than they.
She approached the young man tentatively, not wanting to interrupt his reunion with his sister, but when he saw her, a smile broke across his face, though he gasped at the pain it cost him.
"I have never seen you smile before," she said, accepting his extended hand as she smiled back.
"Before, I never had a reason," he answered, and she could not deny the truth of it.
The warmth of his palm against hers made her skin tingle.
His name was Gelendan, and his sister's name was Maðum, but it had been so long since any called her so that she would not answer to it. Though Lathwyn understood this well, she did tell Gelendan her birth-name, when he asked. But to all others, she gave the name Lathwyn, and ignored their startled looks.
They had grown so used to communicating without speech that Lathwyn and Gelendan exchanged words only infrequently. Maðum followed them any time they walked the grounds, clinging to her brother's hand as if afraid she would be carried off if she was not tethered to him. She would not talk to anyone but Gelendan; she would suffer Lathwyn to bathe her and dress her, although Lathwyn was bitten more than once.
After Maðum was asleep, Lathwyn would come into the room where Gelendan slept, and they would give each other what comfort they could. She always left before either of them fell asleep, and either the healer did not know, or did not care, for they were never interrupted, nor were they reprimanded for their activities. They were necessarily careful, for neither was fully healed, but though Gelendan's shoulder had been dislocated, and his ribs caused him great pain, they both felt a deep need to be as near to each other as possible, as if to prove to themselves they were indeed safe, if not whole.
Though subsequent encounters were often pleasing, the first time was awkward, and more painful than Lathwyn had expected, for she was too nervous to relax and a little frightened as well, but she always took comfort in Gelendan's touch. For many years, the only physical contact she had had was when Cynat struck her, or when Arthes doled out feigned motherly affection, and Lathwyn was soothed by the honesty of Gelendan's need, as well by the simple warmth of his body against hers.
She needed him in turn, for he was the one truly familiar face in all of Helm's Deep, the one person she knew understood why she sometimes cried for no reason she could put into words, why she cringed when talk became animated and hands began waving enthusiastically, just as she understood why his temper often flared unreasonably when any woman so much as placed a hand on his shoulder, or why he snarled at strangers who spoke to his silent sister.
They left for Edoras sooner than Lathwyn would have expected, but the Lord Erkenbrand wanted the two older girls to be cared for by the healers there. Rumour had it that he was concerned if other Dunlendings heard of the pregnancies, they would come looking for the girls, either to kill them, or to reclaim them and take the children. So far there had been no trouble from Dunland as a result of the raid on the village, and he wanted to keep it that way.
The trip was peaceful, during the day, but at night Lathwyn was beset with terror of sleeping on the plains. They all shared a cramped tent, although it had taken a terrified screaming fit from Maðum, a shouting match with Gelendan, and, most strangely, hysterical crying from the older girls to convince the captain it would be best not to separate the former captives from each other, even if one was a young man nearly 18 years old.
Lathwyn did not want to be separated from the others, not even from the older girls, who never failed to make her ill at ease. Somehow she felt safer with all of them nearby. But she did not speak during the whole incident. Experience had taught her it was best to keep quiet when tempers were high.
All five slept like puppies in a pile, as if they were holding disaster at bay just by touching one another. One morning Lathwyn awoke with one of the older girls nestled against her chest, and another, with Maðum sprawled across her belly. She and Gelendan were careful not to sleep next to each other, for they both knew how that would upset the others.
Even with the tent, and the guard she knew was present, Lathwyn still felt exposed, and desperately wanted to reach Edoras so she could sleep inside again.
Éorcan was as good as his word, for he had a brother in Edoras, whose wife was a cook's assistant in the Meduseld.
"It will be drudge work, to begin," Éorcan said apologetically, "but it is work, and you will have a warm bed in which to sleep, clothes on your back, and enough to eat. No man nor woman will lay a hand on you, for I have charged my brother Éofor with keeping you safe. Do not hesitate to go to him if you are in need."
Lathwyn regarded him, puzzled as to why he would go to such lengths for her.
A shadow came across his face. "You are among your own now, Lathwyn," he told her quietly. "Here you will not be beaten, nor treated like a cull. Your past cannot be changed, but you are still young enough to heal from this."
She nodded once, for she did understand him, even if she did not believe him.
His expression lightened. "I will ask for news of you from my brother," he said, "for I would be certain that you are well."
"Why?" The question was out before Lathwyn could stop it.
Éorcan looked almost angry at her confusion, and Lathwyn had to restrain herself from cowering away from him.
He ran a hand through his hair, and now Lathwyn thought he looked merely shaken.
"Perhaps because I have a daughter your age," he said, "perhaps because I feel badly for you and all you have been through. Perhaps only because I am Rider of the Mark, and you are a child of Rohan."
She studied him silently a moment longer; not entirely convinced of his explanation.
Éorcan sighed, and why, Lathwyn was not certain. Then he bid her farewell, and as he turned to go, Lathwyn remembered what she was supposed to say. "Thank you," she said, the words strange in her mouth.
But a pleased smile broke across Éorcan's face, and he nodded to her in acknowledgment. "You are most welcome," he replied, and he sounded sincere.
Gelendan and Maðum had a distant aunt in Aldburg, who had swiftly agreed to take them in. Lathwyn did not want him to go, for she did not want to be alone again. Even if she had wanted to speak with the older girls, which she very much did not, they were confined at present, until the healers could decide if the pregnancies could be safely terminated.
"They will never be whole," Gelendan said to Lathwyn, as they sat outside the stables one evening. "They were treated too roughly. Maðum has already started speaking to others a little, so I have no fear that she will be broken the rest of her days."
"And you?" Lathwyn asked. "Will you be whole again?"
Gelendan met her gaze squarely. "Will you?"
She did not answer, for she could not. Instead, she only leaned up and kissed him.
Lathwyn did not go to bid Gelendan and Maðum farewell, for she was not certain her heart could stand it.
She stood on the wall and watched them leave, returning Maðum's wave.
"If you had not run," Gelendan had said the night before, "we would have died there."
She had replied, "But it was you who made me run."
When he suggested that she discard the name given to her by their captors, Lathwyn had hesitated, then answered, "I will consider it."
But she knew even if she did change her name, it would not be soon. She was reluctant to let strangers know her birth- name; it was the only thing she had that her parents had given her, and she did not want to share that indiscriminately, for it had kept her sane on many endless, bleak nights in the Dunlending village.
She stood, staring after the wain, feeling utterly abandoned and fighting panic at being left alone with so many strangers.
A hand on her shoulder made her start violently. Whirling, she saw an older woman with one long braid standing there, sympathy written all over her face. It took a moment for Lathwyn to place her as Éofor's wife, Liðides.
"Come away," she said, and her voice was kind. "It will only make it more difficult, the longer you remain here."
Lathwyn hesitated, and then began to weep quietly. Wordlessly, Liðides put her arms around Lathwyn's shoulders, and she did not flinch nor pull away, but simply let the other woman soothe her.
Of course Éorcan was correct, for Lathwyn did heal, though so slowly she was not even aware that it was happening.
The first months were nerve-wracking, for every time she made a mistake - broke a dish, spilled the ash-bucket on the floor - Lathwyn tensed in anticipation of a blow that never came. She listened to the friendly chatter and gossip of the other women, but, wordless from long habit, she rarely joined in, and they, whether out of instinct or orders, did not push her.
At night she slept in a room with other women, on a narrow cot that was as good a featherbed to her, after years of sleeping on hard ground. She dreamed of her family - sometimes nightmares, sometimes not. She dreamed of her life in Dunland, and more than once awoke trembling in fear, silent tears streaming down her face.
Lathwyn frequently noticed a small blonde girl wandering in and out of the kitchen, and wondered whose child she was. The girl watched Lathwyn with the frank curiosity only children possess, and Lathwyn could see that the younger girl wanted to ask what had happened to her face. But the child never asked.
Lathwyn had been in Edoras several weeks before realizing that the girl was the King's sister-daughter, the Lady Éowyn.
Eventually, Lathwyn did begin to take part in the idle conversations, though she never became as talkative as the others. She made the acquaintance with many of the other kitchen and house maids; however, she held no woman as dear friend of her heart. Lathwyn could not share her inner thoughts or fears with anyone, not even Liðides, who knew all the details of how she had come to Edoras.
Her memories because less frequent and less intense, as time offered distance, but still
there were days when a sight or smell or a raised voice would freeze Lathwyn with terror, until someone spoke her name or otherwise caught her attention. When these incidents occurred, she would lapse back into her old silence, struggling inwardly to rid herself of the lingering unease.
Some days, when isolation and loneliness would well up unexpectedly and threaten to overwhelm her, Lathwyn would quietly seek out a willing man, and, for a brief while, feel comforted and safe.
She heard from Liðides that Maðum was thriving in the care of her aunt, but that Gelendan had fled Aldburg for parts unknown - Minas Tirith, or perhaps Pelargir-- and a part of her wished she had be able to go with him. She understood the desire to run from the past.
If asked, she would give her name, but it rarely happened. To nearly all the inhabitants of Edoras, she was Lathwyn, and as time passed, she all but forgot what an odd name it was. Only years later did she remember that the healer in Helm's Deep had promised to keep people from inquiring.
One day Lathwyn realized that it had been nearly two years since she arrived in Edoras. She sat outside the kitchen, looking over the plains and musing on how her life had changed in that time. Once she had never thought to have any reason to be pleased, nor have anything to look forward to. Even in her wildest plannings, she had never believed that she would ever escape the Dunlendings, and yet here she was, whole, well-fed, clean, and unmarked by fist or boot.
She laughed aloud, caring not who might hear, and wished she could see Gelendan, to thank him for forcing her to flee. She wished he might see her, and hoped that he, too, was flourishing. She knew it foolish to think that she would ever be completely rid of the shadows which hovered in the back of her mind, but on such warm spring days in Edoras, those shadows did not haunt her.
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