13. Confession Part 1
Confession - Part I
Edoras FA 53
'I've brought you a hot drink. Are you sure you will not get too cold out here, Lothíriel?'
Byrde's voice jerked me from my reverie. 'I am sorry, Lothíriel. Were you dozing?' She handed me a steaming mug, and fussed with the shawl, pulling it closer around my shoulders. I sniffed. Honey and milk, they must think I needed building up.
'I wasn't asleep, just thinking.' I smiled, still immersed in my memories. 'In fact I was remembering my father's wedding.' I took a cautious sip from the mug – so sweet.
Byrde sighed and sat down on the stone bench nearest to me. 'That was a long time ago, but I still remember what a lovely day we had. Calaerdis looked wonderful. Her dress was so tasteful, but rich and luxurious: the pearl encrusted collar, cuffs and belt just enough with the silver-grey silk.'
A few sips of the milk and I gave up, cradling the warm mug in my hands. 'She certainly looked stunning, and my father visibly blanched with awe when the door opened and she came towards him. I am glad they had many happy years together.'
'Yes.' Byrde smiled. 'Strangely the details of the wedding are so clear after all this time. My other memory is of Inayah. She looked striking too, and definitely turned many heads. I know you had a hand in that.'
I laughed, remembering my feeble efforts. One would think a queen would be more of a diplomat, but I had always been impulsive. 'I tried, but I cannot claim all the credit, Inayah was halfway there herself. Do you remember the next evening when she could hardly stop from smiling?'
Byrde nodded. 'She had finally realised she was carrying Erchirion's child and the barrenness had not been her fault at all.'
'No, her joy overflowed. Everyone in the palace was affected by it. But I think the most surprised was Erchirion. I have never seen my tough brother so stunned.'
'It was definitely an unforgettable visit.' Byrde grinned. 'There must have been something in the Dol Amroth air that summer. I conceived Caedda, after all that time. Perhaps I have the power of the waves and the wind to thank for it. At least that is what I have always thought.'
I could understand that. Her only child had been conceived within sight and sound of the sea. My heart lurched, so glad for her happiness, but I dismissed with a shake of my head the surfacing of remembered anguish – all my hopes that the Valar would listen to my pleas and I might bear another child were dashed over and over during the long years. But that did not temper my joy for Byrde as she relished her motherhood. Though the sea had drawn Caedda back, as it often does. He had asked to be fostered in Dol Amroth as soon as he was old enough, our many visits through his growing up fuelling his love for the coastal lands. In spite of her misgivings Byrde had let him go. Caedda had become a Swan-knight and married Amroth's youngest daughter.
'You have been amply repaid for letting him follow his heart,' I said, guessing what was going through her mind by the wistful look on her face. Byrde smiled, deep in her own thoughts. 'Yes, it's funny, isn't it? Caedda wanted nothing more than to live by the sea and yet Osmund couldn't wait to come here and work with the horses.'
Osmund was Caedda's second son; he'd come to Edoras and now Byrde had a grandson settled close by, with the hope of great-grandchildren to come.
So many children had run in and out of Meduseld over the long years. My brothers' offspring visited regularly – Elphir's boys to improve their skills with horses, Erchirion's beautiful dark-skinned daughters to spend time with me, his warrior son to learn all he could of mounted battle. And Carafin, Amroth's eldest boy, who had inherited his grandfather's love of the mountains and had gladly taken up his place as Lord of Morthond when he came of age.
Lurking deep within me might be the longing for more of them to have been mine, but Elfwine had married young and produced five, so in the end there was no fear that the House of Eorl would wane. And of course, unexpected and unforeseen by those who had tried to shape the destiny of this land, fate contrived to make certain Éomer's line would not falter.
I leant back in my chair and closed my eyes. Byrde took the mug from my hand and slipped quietly away and I let myself return to the incredible day when Éomer had discovered something that rocked him to his very core.
Meduseld – FA9
Smooth flesh slid under my fingers as I massaged the unguent deep into Éomer's shoulder. As much as I nagged my husband about overdoing the bouts at the training fields, I enjoyed easing his sore muscles and tight tendons. He lay on the bed naked to the waist, which was a joy in itself as the sight of his sculpted, powerful back and mane of thick tawny hair never ceased to thrill me. Kneeling astride his buttocks could easily make me forget the primary reason we were on our bed in the late afternoon, but giggling inwardly, I pushed aside temptation and worked my knuckles along the edge of the big flat bone that supported his shoulder, applying enough pressure to release the tension without causing any more pain. Once the flesh had softened there, I concentrated on the point where the shoulder met the arm. Here I used small circular movements intended to ease the stiffened joint beneath.
After a while my fingers started to ache. As I brought the treatment to a close, I heard the first rumble of thunder. It had been threatening all day, the air hot and humid, sucking energy. But still the warriors of Edoras had battled each other. Leaning forward, I kissed Éomer on the back of his neck, letting my lips linger on his firm flesh. 'That's enough, I think. How does it feel?' I sat up straight, looking towards the window, eager to welcome the relief of the coming storm; the room had darkened whilst I had been concentrating.
A murmur of pleasure came from underneath the mass of hair that had been pushed aside to allow me access. 'Wonderful as always.'
I laughed. 'I meant the pain, not the treatment.'
Éomer waggled his shoulder experimentally. 'Well, that's much better too.'
'For how long, Éomer? I have told you to be careful, that shoulder is always going to give you trouble.'
'But worth it, don't you think? I can always be sure of your undivided attention when I am in pain.'
Chuckling, I leant forward again, this time covering his body with mine, relishing the feel of his hard flesh through my thin dress. 'I must get up and light a candle,' I murmured without any real intention of moving, 'it's getting quite dark.'
'Not yet.' Éomer heaved up, and I toppled over, sprawling inelegantly onto the bed. A moment later he had pinned me down, his lips inches from mine. 'Now what shall we do? It's ages before supper will be ready.'
I giggled, half-heartily struggling to push him off. It was like trying to shift a Mûmak. 'You will undo all the good I have done if you carry on like this.'
His lips brushed mine, their warmth sending a tingle down my spine.
'As I said, well worth it. And anyway, it will be a good excuse for you to work on my shoulder again.'
At that moment lightning flickered across the room, and with it came a flash of awareness that made me gasp aloud. The words were out before I could stop them. 'Éomer, who was the woman who used to massage your shoulder?'
Éomer froze, looking down at me with guilt all over his face. I thought I had really upset him, but then he laughed.
'Talk about spoiling a mood. Whoever she was, I knew her way before I met you.'
'I don't doubt that,' I said, looking deep into his guileless eyes. 'And I am not bothered by your past relationships at all. Just interested. I know about Bergit, and I'm sure that whoever I sensed, it wasn't her.' Éomer had told me all about Bergit and Edwick and the guilt he still carried deep within himself. But he had done all he could for their children over the years, even when his favouritism had caused talk. Talk I cut dead whenever I caught furtive whisperings muttered behind mischievous hands.
'Go on,' I prompted. 'Who was she? I get the impression she might have been skilled.'
Éomer sighed and rolled off me. He smiled indulgently, and reached out to gently push a lock of my dishevelled hair back behind my ears. 'There are no secrets from you, are there?'
'Not many,' I agreed. I fixed him with my eyes, my lips twitching at the uncomfortable look on his face.
'Do you really want to know?' he asked when I continued to stare at him. The uncomfortable look changed to one of patient resignation when I nodded. 'I suppose I will have to tell you, as you will keep on until you wear me down.'
How true: he knew me well. 'I am intrigued, because I somehow I feel an empathy with her. Although I have no idea why.'
'Probably because she was a healer.' He cast me a sideways look. 'But it beats me how you can so easily pick up on her at all.'
'Because I have been using my skills a lot during the recent outbreak of summer fever.' Luckily, after months of argument and conflict when I first came to this land, Master Éofor had reluctantly conceded that my skills should not go to waste. In the end a clash with remnants of scavenging orcs, who came down from their hideaways in the Misty Mountains to raid the herds, had been responsible for him coming to see that a woman and a queen did not necessarily flinch from hideous injuries and bloody gore. Now uneasy mutual admiration existed between us. But using my gifts had repercussions. 'Always I am shown more when I work with the sick and needy, or when life is quiet with time for reflection. If I spend my days dancing and having fun I see little.'
Éomer laughed. 'I'll remember that. It will pay me to make sure that Meduseld is always filled with noise, I might keep my past to myself that way.'
Did I spot a little wariness in his eyes? I wound a length of his hair around my fingers, snuggling closer. 'If you really don't want to tell me, I will understand.'
His arm went around me, strong and secure. We often talked like this, lying next to each other on the bed, stealing a few moments of peace in a hectic life. 'No, I have nothing to hide. Guleth was a healer I met at Cormallen. She treated my shoulder in the same way as you have done. Which is maybe why you were able to sense her.'
'A healer? How extraordinary. I can't envisage any I worked with in Minas Tirith climbing into your bed.'
Éomer laughed again. 'No, most were ancient, and if they weren't, wearing those grey smocks made one forget they were women.'
'That's the idea, I imagine, with hundreds of battle-weary men to deal with. But Guleth was young?'
'Yes, and she wasn't a fully trained healer. She came from the mountains with her husband to the City; he wanted to be a soldier. Guleth assisted in the Healing Houses. But her husband was killed on the Pelennor and since she had skills with herbs and potions, she worked throughout the war. All help was needed.'
'Understandable that anyone with ability would be welcome. So who taught her the skills?'
'Her mother. I remember Guleth saying that she was one of the gifted ones. If I am being honest, Lothíriel, it was because of my previous relationship with Guleth that I accepted your gifts so easily. At one time I would have been uncertain of marrying a healer. And in fact when I heard that Imrahil's daughter worked with the sick, I thought that she...you...must be odd.'
'Hmmm...interesting.' I smiled; it must have been a bit of a shock for him. 'I remember asking you once if my being a healer bothered you. But you were very sure that it would cause no problems.'
'Yes.' His brow creased in thought. 'I recalled that Guleth once told me that her father had totally accepted her mother's way of life. She said that to stop her mother using her gift would be like cutting off her arm. Her father understood that. I knew that I would need to be as understanding if I wanted you. And once I had seen you deal with your guardsman's broken leg it became obvious that you should not give up your calling completely.'
'So I have Guleth to thank you were not shocked by my unusual traits.'
He chuckled, and turned his head to kiss my cheek. 'I suppose you have.'
I found myself becoming more and more curious about this woman who'd had such an effect on my husband. 'What happened to your Guleth?'
'She went home to Lamedon. Not at my suggestion, I might add. In fact, I admit that at the time I was sorry to see her go, although I respected her decision. I was torn between wanting to carry on our relationship and knowing that I could not really take her to Edoras and make her my queen. She knew that, and made the decision for me.'
'That was noble of her.'
Éomer sighed. 'Yes, more noble than I deserved. Although I will say that I did not set out to seduce her, she made the first approach, although I gratefully accepted. After the horror of the Pelennor and the terror of the march to the Black Gates, she healed more than my shoulder.'
I squeezed his arm. 'Then I am even more grateful to her – the men that came home to Dol Amroth were battle-scarred in mind and body. If she eased your nightmares then she has my thanks.' I wondered for a moment exactly how much of Éomer's heart she had held, albeit briefly. But maybe it was best not to know. 'You say she went back to Lamedon, and that was that the last you heard of her.'
'Yes, I gave her a horse as she intended to take on her mother's role, travelling through the mountains dispensing herbs and medicines to the villagers.'
'A horse? That was kind of you to let one of Rohan's horses go to Lamedon, but I am surprised she could ride.'
'She had ridden a pony and evidently her brother had horses. She said he owned a vineyard and the horses pulled the carts to deliver the casks of wine. She was sure he would be happy to look after the mare I gave her.'
'But you never checked up.'
'I thought it better to lose all contact. She seemed to want that.'
'I wonder why?' A noble woman indeed to give up a king so easily, but perhaps she knew there was no hope. 'Maybe she found it difficult to walk away from you and thought the only way to cope was to cut you out of her life.'
'That might be true. But whatever, I was grateful in the end. Eóthain persuaded me that it was better for us all.'
At that moment there was a great flash across the window, followed seconds later by a loud roll of thunder. Éomer turned his head, as we heard shouting outside. 'They are going to douse the stable roof; someone must think it's going to be a bad storm.'
He started to shift from the bed, but I grabbed his arm. 'You don't need to go. Your shoulder needs rest for a few days; there are plenty of others to supervise. Stay there, I will look and see if the storm is likely to pass over.' I knew that if he left the bed he would be gone and, king or not, would most likely end up carrying buckets of water.
Thankfully he sank back down onto the coverlet. 'You're right. I have to learn to hand over responsibility a bit more, I know. Firebrand is an old hand now, and Firebolt is not bothered by thunder, even though he's young. He's been out with me in quite a few storms.'
'I am sure they will all be fine,' I said as I swung off the bed. Not many Rohirric horses were worried by the violence of nature, living out their youth as they did on the vast open plains. I padded to the window, the floor cool to my bare feet. The temperature had dropped and it had darkened even more in the time we had been talking. I pushed the open window wider and looked up at the sky: the thunderclouds had piled together right above Edoras and I knew that the stable-master was right to take no chances and order the roof to be wetted. The storm looked like being ferocious and I doubted I would be able to hold Éomer here much longer. He would want to be with his horses. Suddenly there was a great bolt of forked lightning that tore through the black clouds, quickly followed by an almighty crack of thunder which seemed to shake Meduseld to its foundations. I heard running feet and much shouting, but I could see no fire.
As it often did, the thunder opened doors in my mind and I grabbed the window ledge as a vision so vivid played out its staggering message. Reeling from the shock of what my vision showed me, I could not move for a moment. Dimly, as if far away, I heard Éomer's concerned voice.
'Lothíriel, what is it. What's the matter?' I slowly turned to face him, wrapping my arms around myself to stop the shaking.
He was off the bed like he was fleeing from fire himself, bounding across the floor to grab me. 'You've gone white.' He peered over my shoulder to look out of the window. 'What did you see?'
For a brief instant I considered not telling him – the knowledge I now held might well change our lives. But to keep it to myself would be dishonest, and trust had always existed between us. I shook my head. 'Nothing out there, Éomer. All is well in Edoras. I had a vision; they tend to come when the air is full of fire and storm.'
'Oh.' He looked relieved. 'I thought for a moment we'd had a strike. What was your vision?'
I hesitated; aware that once I said the words there was no going back. Éomer pulled me against him, smoothing his hand over my hair. 'You seem to be shocked by it. Are you going to tell me?'
I looked up into his face, wondering quite how he would react to what I was about to tell him. I took a breath. 'Éomer, you have another son.'
To be continued.
List of original characters appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Byrde Hama's youngest daughter, married to Déor.
Bergit- Daughter of the horse-breeder, Egbert. Raped by orcs when her family's camp was attacked. Later married Edwick a wheelwright. Mother to Éomund. Became Éomer's mistress when her husband was crippled.
Elphir and Meren:
Alphros m – born 3017; Elphin m – born 3020 ; Eldir m – born FA4; plus one girl
Amrothos and Devoran:
Elenna f – born FA2; Rosriel f – born FA5; Carafin m – born FA7 (became Lord of Morthond when Devoran was given her inheritance); Baranir m – born FA8; Lindis f born FA11 (married Déor and Byrde's son, Caedda)
Eóthain and Welwyn:
Leofcwen f – born Yule 3020 ; Eadrid m – born FA5; plus three more.
Déor and Byrde:
Caedda m – born FA6 (married Lindis; four children including Osmund)
Ealgyþe f born FA 27; Éadwig m born FA29; plus two more sons and one daughter.
Erchirion and Inayah:
Two daughters and one son.