5. Chapter 5
Eastfeld – The Riddermark.
“We could cope, Éomer. If he would do something we could manage. I’ve worked it all out. But he does nothing. He just lies there. He won’t even watch Éomund while I get on with the chores. I’ve been taking in washing. The herdsmen often look for someone to do it when they stop over in the village and they always bring goods to barter. It’s something I can do with the child around, but it’s getting too heavy for me and with everything else I am so tired.”
Éomer let her talk on for a moment, not saying that he could understand Edwick’s reaction. For such a strong man to face being looked after like a child would come hard. But his life needn’t be that bad, they had warriors at Aldburg with similar injuries and after time most adapted. The thought made him flinch, and he knew that if the same happened to him he would be devastated and would probably react just like Edwick: burying his head and trying to hide. But admitting that would not help Bergit. And she needed help.
“He hates it that I have to see to him, but he doesn’t want anyone else. I’ve told him I still love him and always will, but he doesn’t believe me. I think that if he would accept that I do, he might better come to terms with his misfortune.”
She turned away, put her arms down on the stable door and sobbed into them. Fireball looked up from his manger, wisps of hay protruding from his mouth. But the big horse seeing his master there carried on eating unperturbed. Éomer waited a moment and then gently put his hands on her shoulders. They felt so frail; surely she should not be getting thinner at this time.
Her sobs gradually lessened as he held her and eventually she lifted her head slightly and wiped her sleeve across her eyes.
“Bergit. You said you’ve worked it all out. What exactly do you mean?” Sniffing a bit, she turned back around; tears had made little furrows down her soft cheeks. Her blue eyes were red-rimmed from crying. She looked so woebegone that Éomer’s heart went totally out to her. Great Béma! Why did this have to happen when she had already been through so much?
“Well, I have been cleaning out Edwick’s workshop. I thought I could make pies and sell them from there. There are many that don’t bake as good as me and they would go well on market days when the herdsmen bring their families in.”
In spite of his anxiety for her, Éomer couldn’t help smiling. He could believe that.
She took a deep breath. “I have thought of something Edwick could do, yet he won’t hear of it. But it’s a really good scheme.”
He waited, seeing her eyes light up as she expanded on her ideas.
“Willow Baskets! He’s got such strong fingers and arms and they aren’t affected. He could sit in the kitchen to make them. It would do him good to get out of that bed. And we could sell those on market days, too.”
Baskets? Éomer was not sure about that. “Would you sell enough?”
“I think so. We’ve got the biggest market on the Emnet and there is not a really good basket maker. Sedgwick could drive the cart to collect the willows. We had to let him go, but he would willingly come back if I had work for him.”
“Would that pay enough to keep Sedgwick on?” Éomer asked. Edwick’s young helper was a kinsman and a nice lad, but he could not work for nothing.
She nodded. “He could cut the willows. They grow down by the marshes, half a day away. Rushes, too, not everyone can get their own. It would mean we could keep Flyhte. When we are not using him I could hire him and the cart out with Sedgwick driving. He’s good enough with the woodwork to keep the cart running, and we’ve got wheels a plenty. He doesn’t mind what he does and would dig the ground for me and help me with the lifting. I could grow more vegetables and fruit for the pies and Edwick’s got an uncle who keeps sheep. Everyone likes my mutton pasties,” she finished, sounding brighter. “We’d manage fine. I’m doing the washing so I don’t have to touch the savings. It means we’ve got enough to start us off.” Her face fell again. “But Edwick won’t even discuss it.”
Éomer felt humbled. Bergit had seen her family butchered, been violated by their filthy killers and now with another baby about to arrive, had a crippled husband to look after. But still she came up fighting. The strength and the heart of the Riddermark, indeed.
“I will talk to him. You go and rest.”
She shook her head. “I’ll have to get the washing in. I can’t leave it out much longer. Then I get you some supper. And it will soon be Éomund’s bedtime.”
No wonder she looked totally exhausted. “Where is Éomund, by the way?” He asked looking round, although he would have soon known if the lively toddler was in the vicinity.
“He’s with my grandmother. But she’s getting old and he tires her out. We’ve got to keep going for him, and the new babe.” She put her hand on his arm and looked up, her eyes pleading. “Make him listen, Éomer. He respects you. .He’ll take notice.”
Would he? Éomer was not sure he would. But he had to try for Edwick’s sake as well as Bergit. He couldn’t let such a fine man sink into total despair. She looked so desperate and so troubled that Éomer raised his hands to her face. Putting his thumbs against the corner of each eye, he gently wiped away the glistening tears. “Don’t worry, it’s early days. He’ll sort himself out.”
Éomer caught her gaze and for a long moment he held it, seeing reflected in her eyes the horror of what had happened. But then she nodded and as he dropped his hands she turned away. Shoulders sagging she walked towards the washing lines. Éomer watched her for a moment. From behind she still looked slim and girl-like, but her feet dragged with every weary footstep. Suddenly an idea flashed into his mind. “Bergit,” he called, “leave that. Don’t get the washing in yet. I will give you a hand in a moment.”
Half turning back to face him, she smiled. “You Éomer? You will help me bring the washing in?”
“Yes, I just want a quick word with Edwick first. Don’t touch it until I come back out.” He left her openmouthed and marched into the house.
Éomer rapped on the door once and then pushed it open. “Can I come in?” He didn’t wait but stepped into the room. A pair of dull blue eyes greeted him, Edwick’s normally tanned healthy face grey and lifeless. But he still took up an enormous amount of the large bed. A quick look around the room showed that Bergit had not let her housekeeping slacken. The simple furniture shone and on the window ledge a bunch of mixed flowers had been put in a pottery jar. His legs covered by a blanket, Edwick lay half propped, half slumped, but Éomer could see he looked well groomed. A clean woolen shirt, not night attire covered his top half and his hair, as normal, had been combed into a tidy ponytail. Making sure he kept a distance away so as not to tower over the prone man, he held out his hand. “I always thought you would be a brave man when it came to it, Edwick.”
Edwick took it but could hardly meet his eyes. “A fool, you mean,” he said turning his head away.
“I understand you saved a young boy’s life. You can hardly be called a fool for that.”
“No? Then what do you call it? A fool’s no use to anyone and neither am I”.
“I will come back and argue that one later, Edwick. I just came in to say hello. Bergit needs a hand getting the washing in, so if you could just undo my cuirass, I will go and help her.”
Eyes flew to his face, shocked. “Get the washing in? You can’t do that.”
“Why not?” Before Edwick could answer he took a step closer and sat down on the edge of the bed, removing his pauldrons and then lifting his arm to expose the straps on his cuirass. “It’s really difficult to reach them myself.”
Strong fingers tugged at the leather straps. “You are a lord and a warrior. Washing is women’s work.”
“Normally, maybe. But Bergit’s having to take in extra. And it’s too heavy for her in the condition she’s in. I imagine you would give her a hand if you could. But since you can’t, I will. I certainly don’t consider it beneath me.” He stood up; removing the hard leather breastplate before picking up his pauldrons from the floor. Silence from the bed. Had he got through at all? If he could just put the idea in Edwick’s head that the things Bergit wanted him to do would not demean him further.
“I’ll be back to keep you company soon.” Just as he put his hand on the door, Éomer heard a growling noise from behind him.
Edwick had pushed himself up from the bed a bit, but dropped back, defeated. “It’s because of me she has to do it.”
Thunderous eyes met his, but placidly, Éomer nodded. “Yes, there must be better ways for the two of you to make a living. It just needs thinking about.” With that he quickly exited the door.
Letting out a long sigh of relief he put his armor down in a corner of the kitchen. When he got back in the yard, he saw Éomund had returned. Bergit had him on her hip and they were looking into Fireball’s stall. Her grandmother, Dáwyn caught sight of him, immediately dropping her head in a gesture of respect. It had been four years since he’d brought Bergit back to the village, but the old woman had never lost her awe of him. Éomund, realizing entertainment had arrived, stretched out his arms to be transferred.
“I’ve got to help your mummy a moment,” Éomer said, catching his little nose between two fingers and wiggling it. Éomund immediately dissolved into giggles but amongst them Éomer could make out the word ‘horse’.
“You can have a ride in the morning,” he said. “Right now you can come and help us with the washing.” He heard a shocked gasp from Dáwyn. “Bergit needs help. Isn’t there anyone who could come in?”
“Byrde has offered, but she wouldn’t take anything.” Bergit answered him. “She’s the mother of the lad Edwick saved. But he won’t hear of it. Says he doesn’t want any charity.”
“My other granddaughter will help when the babe comes,” Dáwyn proffered. “He’ll have to accept that. Also there’s a cousin of Edwick’s who wouldn’t mind learning the wheelwright’s skills from him. He’d be happy to pay and give Edwick a percentage, but we daren’t mention it yet. ”
Bergit shook her head. “I’m not sure if he will ever do that. Although the village needs a wheelwright as the nearest one is at Aldburg now.”
Éomer walked over to the chair in front of the window, sat down the wrong way wrapping his long legs around it and resting arms and chin on the high back. He fixed his gaze on the man in the bed, making it clear he wanted to talk. This time Edwick had obviously pulled himself up in the bed a bit, but apprehension clearly showed in the tightness of his lips.
“Can you sit in a chair?” Éomer asked. “If you can, I’ll carry you through when the meal is ready and you can eat with us.”
“You carry me! I’d like to see that.” Edwick spluttered. The reaction Éomer had intended.
“Well, I suppose you are a bit bigger than the orcs, but I’ll manage.”
“You don’t have to. I could drag myself if I wanted, but I’d rather eat off a tray.” Edwick’s look challenged any opposition.
But ignoring the scowl he had already provoked, Éomer carried on. “So, with all Bergit has got to do, you’ll let her wait on you.”
Anger now, but also a conflict of emotions as Edwick sought what to say. “I don’t want her seeing me crawling around. It’s bad enough she has to see me at all.”
“Ah…so that’s it, Edwick, you think it would be better if you weren’t here?”
“It would have been better if the cart had crushed my head rather than just my back, if that’s what you mean. What use is half a man to a woman, tell me that!” he snarled, turning his head away again.
“And you think Bergit would have wanted that?” Éomer raised his voice slightly to get some reaction, knowing that although he was trying to bolster his friend up, most men would feel the same. Possibly the worse thing the crippled had to come to terms with. But none of that would help Edwick or Bergit. “All she wants is for you to survive as a family. And what about Éomund? You can still play with him. Tell him stories. Do you think he would rather have no father?”
Edwick looked lost for a moment not knowing how to reply. Éomer drove in again, “Well?”
“I’ve had her love. I don’t want anything less. I can’t live with just her sympathy.”
“Is that what you had for Bergit, sympathy?
“What do you mean?” Edwick replied, dropping his eyes.
Éomer was sure he knew very well and was just stalling for time. But he expounded so that there was no mistake. “When I brought her back to you, was it only sympathy you felt?”
Edwick shook his head, swallowing before he answered. “I loved her, I’ll always love her.”
“I know that. She doubted it, though. Did she tell you she wanted to kill herself?”
Well, that got a reaction. “After the attack she wanted to die. When Guflaf wouldn’t do it she tried to take his knife.”
Edwick opened his mouth, shaking his head in denial. “No…”
“He’s at the Inn; I can get him here if you don’t believe me.”
But Edwick’s face showed he did, even if he was not yet admitting it. “Why should she do that?”
“Have you ever seen an orc, Edwick, or smelt one?”
Edwick opened his mouth again but nothing came out, his already pale face graying even further. Having got him where he wanted, Éomer thrust home. “She thought you wouldn’t want her any more. That you’d not love her because of what happened to her.”
“But it wasn’t her fault…..” He broke off when he realized what he was saying, dropping his head in his hands.
Éomer waited for the similarities between the two situations to sink in a bit more before he said, “What did you do after I handed her over to you?”
“What do you mean?” Edwick looked back up, eyes hardly meeting his antagonist.
“How did you show her you still loved her?”
His brow furrowed as he decided what to say. “I wed her a few days later. I didn’t want anyone looking at her and speculating. “But….” he paused, reddening slightly, “I knew she wouldn’t be ready to be a wife, so I just kept telling her how much I loved her. Every night I would hold her in my arms until the shaking stopped and she fell asleep.” He shook his head, staring vacantly across the room remembering, “Sometimes she’d wake up screaming and she didn’t want even me near her. It took a few months before she settled properly….but it was worth it.”
Éomer nodded. “I told Bergit she had no right to leave you alone. That she owed you the chance to prove your love for her.”
“I appreciate whatever you said to her. She always said you helped her but what’s that got to do with this?”
Everything to do with it and Éomer was sure that deep down Edwick knew that. “She’s alone now. You’ve shut her out. She still loves you Edwick, but you’re not giving her the chance to show it. Things will be different but you will still have each other, and the children.” A whole load of emotions passed across the big man’s face. Éomer waited, knowing he could say no more. If he hadn’t got through now then he never would.But just as he was about to give up, Edwick let out a deep sigh and then, looking slightly embarrassed, threw him a rueful smile.
“She wants me to chop vegetables. She wants me to make baskets.”
Éomer swallowed with relief. “Edwick, there’s a man at Aldburg who was one of our best warriors. He got set upon by three of the brutes and before we got to him they had cleaved him almost in two. Now he sits propped in a chair and makes arrows. But everyone wants them. They are the best arrows in the East-mark.” He grinned, pushing himself up from the chair. “Bergit will make the best pies; you just make sure you make the best baskets.”
Tarnost Hills – Gondor
No stargazing tonight. The unseasonable weather had returned and Lothíriel wrapped her thin cloak around herself tightly as the wind tore up the valley, bending the trees and swirling a few dried leaves and sticks into a boisterous heap. An owl hooted mournfully, doubtless bemoaning the prospect of a poor night’s hunting. She probably wouldn’t see or hear the nightjars either. Alerted by their churring song the evening before, she had spent a fascinating hour watching the pair of slim-winged birds hawking for moths at the edge of the trees, while a blood-red sun slowly slipped down behind her.
Another gust of wind, and it looked as if the fire would at last go out. Lothíriel gazed dubiously at it, half wishing a pot of stew bubbled contentedly on the stones. Not that she was really hungry, but after the bacon and one meal of bread and cheese, they had been eating a special kind of journey-bread. If fact, she had her suspicions that the bacon had only been provided to lure her to his camp, Seron seemed much more attuned to the elvish waybread he had been feeding her. And although tasty enough, she admitted, it didn’t fill one’s stomach or keep you warm. In fact, it made her feel amazingly light. Almost as if she could stretch her arms up and let the wind take her sailing over the treetops and up towards the stars. She shivered; what a foolish thought.
“Are you cold?”
Lothíriel nodded. “A bit.”
Stretching out a long, grey-garbed arm, Seron stirred up the fire with a stick. It blazed into life. She gasped as flames shot upwards, almost singeing his bushy eyebrows, jerking back in amazement when suddenly he seemed to grow in stature. For a moment it was as if some mighty lord had joined her to warm himself by the crackling logs. As she stared mesmerized, from one hand she saw a flash of brilliant red. But then the vision, if that what it was, receded, shrinking him back to being just an old man; her companion of the last few days. She blinked and looked again, expecting to see a vivid gemstone on his finger, but nothing. As she thought, his hands were bare of ornament, the only red now coming from the dancing flames reflected in his eyes. How strange, but no stranger than the extraordinary way she had been brought to this place.
Who was he? Where did he come from? That he could keep the fire going with hardly any fuel, only one odd thing about her friend. Lothíriel knew she was not going to get answers, as so far he had neatly turned every question. But then he tended to talk in riddles anyway. Except when he told her stories.
Seron sat back from the fire, his eyes twinkling with merriment. “One never sees the whole of everything, and sometimes it is the parts we don’t see that are the most interesting.”
Lothíriel burst out laughing; just as she had been thinking – riddles! She stopped laughing as intense eyes fixed on her. Suddenly she felt as if he could see right inside her, discern her every thought and secret longing. But as she lifted her eyes to meet his, she realised she had nothing to fear. “What story are you going to tell me tonight?”
She had heard tales of the Sea-kings of old; of Eärendil sailing across the sky, determined to go West; of the love between Beren and Lúthien; the sadness of Amroth and Nimrodel. He brought the stories to life far better than the old books in the library at Dol Amroth.
But most interesting to her: the story of her supposed ancestor, the Elven lady Mithrellas, companion to Nimrodel. She had born two children to Imrazór the Númenórean, their son Galador being the First Lord of Dol Amroth.
“Ah,” he smiled and the twinkle returned to his eyes. “What did I tell you last night?”
“That I truly have an Elven ancestor.” The legend was steeped in the lore of her land, but he had confirmed it and somehow she totally believed him.
“And you doubt it no longer?”
She shook her head. Now why did he look like that, sort of satisfied. “Is it important that I do not doubt it?”
“Only in that you need to recognise that you have a choice as to whether you deny your gift or use it.”
Her mouth went dry. “I don’t get a choice. I see things and I cannot stop them. And I don’t always like what I see.” Sometimes she saw disturbing things like a few years ago when she had seen an image of one of their ships floundering and then bumped into the master’s wife in the courtyard, all bright and cheerful. She had woken that night to the sound of the great bell tolling and buried her head under the pillow.
“Ah…of course. But I didn’t actually mean that particular gift. If gift it is. You will learn to manage that. It is something I can help you with.” He smiled; the warmth in his eyes clothing her in reassurance. “No, I meant the other thing, the connection you have with animals,” he paused … “and people. When are you going to accept that?”
He could read her secret thoughts. She squirmed, shifting on her log. “I want to, but…. My family, they already think it odd. I am not sure they will understand.”
“No they probably won’t. But that should not stop you. They may feel uncomfortable, but you, my child will feel considerably more comfortable. Refuting a truth can make one greatly troubled. Besides that, withholding a skill that could be used to help others could be counted as dishonest.”
“Do you really think I could help people? I have only tried it on animals and once on Oríon. But whatever it is only calms them. It does not actually heal them.”
“No, because you have had no tuition. But combine your gift with proper instruction and you will be of real use in the times to come. The healers of Dol Amroth are without equal, their knowledge and your natural ability…”
“You are saying that I should use the gift I have been given to help others. To work with the healers?” She couldn’t imagine what her father would say. A princess of Gondor working with blooded bandages and dealing with sickness and fevers. Help, yes she could imagine that. Cutting and rolling clean bandages perhaps, but tending wounded men…? Times to come, what did he mean by that?
“I am not saying you should, Lothíriel. It is not easy to put aside the privileges of your birth and walk a different path. But I am saying you have the choice. Give freely now, build on the capability you have been given and you will gain strength and skill. If you do this, then one day in your utmost need you will be given the power to save the one you love above all others.” He looked skywards, his brows creasing and his gaze somewhere far away. “But even then you will have to decide, and it will not be an easy choice.”
None of this was easy. Somewhere deep inside her Lothíriel knew she could not spend her life as an idle noblewoman. She had always fought against it, but she had never thought that she would be expected to be a healer. Or had she? But calming animals had to be different from setting bones and stitching torn flesh. Save the one she loved? What did he mean by that? “You really think I will be able to do this?”
“I think you need to. Sometimes in life we know not what we seek, but when we find it we wonder how we missed it.”
She wished he would talk more plainly. He had said such strange things over the previous days. “You think that this is something I can choose to do or not. That once I start to use the gift I have it will grow and develop and if I follow this path I will have earned the right to heal someone I love.”
He shrugged. “It may not happen. Nothing is certain. But I have to make provision in case all we hope comes to pass. I can’t take care of the big things at the moment, it is far too soon. So I am taking care of the little things. If one does that, then the bigger things tend to take care of themselves.”
So her affairs were a little thing. She could believe that. She yawned. It must be very late the sun had gone down ages ago. A thought struck her: If her affairs were so little, why had he come from wherever to talk to her, trying to persuade her to train as a healer to save someone she loved. “Why is it important for me to save this person? It must be or you would not have gone to all this trouble to find me.”
“Ah, but I didn’t.”
“You didn’t? I thought you said you arranged for me to arrive here.”
“Exactly,” he said, beaming, “you found me.”
Lothíriel shook her head with exasperation. She had never met anyone like him. She grinned. “You still haven’t told me why this person is important. The one I am supposed to heal.
“Oh, didn’t I? Well, kings are important. Middle-earth does not have many. I’m hoping we will have another, but of course we may not end up with any at all. But if we do, I want to make sure we don’t lose another one.”
Lothíriel opened her mouth. Closed it again and then opened it slowly. “You said I would marry a warrior.”
“Yes, I remember that.”
“But now you are saying that the person I love will be a king and I will need to save his life.”
“Am I? Yes, I suppose I am. Don’t look so surprised, princesses and kings go well together.”
He laughed, probably at her gaping at him again. “Well, now we have got that straight I suggest that it’s time for bed.”
To be continued
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.