20. Unity Part IV
Unity Part IV
Edoras FA 14
Reluctantly I released my hold on my source of warmth. Not that the morning could be considered cold, but the bliss of two bodies, limbs entwined in love and lust, was a joy to be treasured. And a joy that so often got interrupted. Which explained why I groaned loudly when the knock came on the door, and Éomer sighed in accustomed resignation. But, as always, after a few moments he started to ease himself out of the bed. I clutched at his arm, unwilling to let go, but only lips lingered, brushing softly over my cheek.
'I'll see what it is and come back.'
I nodded, but the clear light that stole between the heavy curtains told me that dawn had come and gone some time ago. We would not be regaining precious intimacy until the sun sank behind the mountains again.
Practice ensured breeches and shirt were pulled on before I'd had chance to feast long on the sight of my husband's splendid body; still muscled and taut, Éomer looked little different than on our wedding night – the discipline of the Rider had not been lost during the years of kingship and only a few extra lines around his eyes betrayed the passing of years.
Once the door had shut behind him, I left my bed and pulled back the curtains to stare out the window. Edoras was awake – voices wafted up from the town, and I could hear horses whinnying in excitement as they were led down to graze. I might as well get dressed, as long experience told me he was unlikely to return anyway.
Besides, with Éomer's departure the heavy weight of desire had lessened and my thoughts turned from husband to son. Sweet Elbereth, had I done the right thing in sending those boys up there? This morning the tops of the mountains were shielded by cloud as though approving the mists in my mind that had veiled their doings from me all week. True, Éomer had soon agreed that I'd made a fair decision, and Aragorn had shown no concern at all that his heir had been sent to live in the wilds with only a boy for a companion. But as a mother I would be glad when this sennight came to its end.
When I entered the hall, Éomer, Aragorn and Déor were sitting together, deep in conversation. As I walked towards them, I could feel Éomer's anger – directed at me – but Aragorn smiled reassuringly and stood up, offering his seat. 'What is it?' I asked my stony- faced husband when Aragorn grabbed himself another chair. 'Is something wrong?'
'We think Eldarion has been injured,' Déor answered for his king, who I had no doubt was trying to regain his temper before he spoke to me.
'Just what I was afraid of, Lothíriel. I knew there would be repercussions. Whatever possessed you...'
'Éomer, Éomer.' Aragorn held up his hand. 'Don't blame your wife. I still think she made a sensible decision. And from what the scouts say Eldarion was walking around yesterday afternoon.' He smiled at me and put his chair close to mine. Aragorn was obviously far less concerned about his son than my husband, but still I felt an icy hand grab my insides. Swallowing hard, I tried to keep my voice level.
'What have the scouts reported?' I could tell that all Éomer's fears had come flooding back, so rather than have him bark at me again, I looked at Déor, knowing I would get the unadorned truth.
'Not much, and no real facts, it's only what we are reading into the circumstances,' Déor answered. 'It seems the scouts missed seeing Eldarion for a couple of days; Elfwine was doing all the hunting. Earlier they'd found signs of lion near the carcass of a goat. The goat was pretty mauled, but it had obviously had its throat slit with a knife. They only connected the two things when Eldarion eventually appeared, heavily bandaged across his back.'
A lion! Surely not. I sank into my chair with the weight of what might have happened, but found it difficult to believe. 'You think a lion attacked him? Surely that's highly unusual.'
Éomer let out a long breath, still glaring at me. 'Not if it was a female with cubs.'
'But I thought the scouts were guarding them.'
'It would be impossible for them to get near enough on an open mountainside if they wanted to remain undetected. They threw a ring of safety around the boys, but they were not told to watch every move. We are only surmising of course, but lion, bear or some other accident, there seems no doubt that Eldarion is injured.' Éomer ran his hand through his uncombed and unruly hair and looked his friend in the eyes. 'I am sorry, Aragorn...'
'Éomer.' Aragorn shook his head, his mouth twisting into a reluctant grin. 'How many scars did you carry by the time you were Eldarion's age? He is on his feet, and if the boys dealt with this without calling for help, then we can only be proud of them. I hope whatever difficulties they have had to face this week will achieve the results Lothíriel intended. I for one have been uneasy about the lengths we go to protect them.'
Éomer looked between me and Aragorn, the blaze leaving his eyes. 'I suppose, as long as he is not badly injured. And if they have learnt lessons then no one will be more glad than me. ' He got up and put his hand on my shoulder, squeezing it reassuringly. 'Sorry, my love, but it's funny, I wasn't worried about Elfwine, it's just the thought of anything untoward happening to Eldarion whilst on our soil is the stuff of nightmares.'
I reached up, my fingers entwining with his, understanding how the notion of any harm coming to Aragorn's son would affect him. 'I did think it through, Éomer. It seemed, still seems, so important for them to get on. And beneath their posturing and bravado they are sensible boys. They have both received excellent training and in their fathers have the best examples to follow. Whatever happened up there I am sure they would have been able to call on all the knowledge they have gained over the years.'
Vindicated! Watching the two young princes ascending the steps to Meduseld the next evening, it was obvious that the previous ill feeling between them had been blown away by the week spent in the mountains. Yes, one could see Eldarion was injured by the way he held himself, it slowed him down a little, but instead of bounding up ahead, Elfwine matched his pace to the older boy.
'It's only a flesh wound,' Eldarion brushed off solicitous enquiries from us all. 'I will tell you all about it...'
'After supper...'Elfwine chimed in.
'Bath before supper, you can't sit down in the hall in that smelly state.' Elfwine's face fell, but I whispered into a very grubby ear. 'I'll send along some new-baked bread and butter to keep you going.' I knew what my son liked.
After they were clean, and Eldarion's wound had been dressed by his father, we spent a wonderful evening listening to their tales. It was so rewarding to see the two boys – no they were young men now – talking and laughing together as they shared their experiences.
'I wonder what the problem was,' I murmured to Éomer when Elfwine was busy wolfing down his second helping of meat cobbler, rivalling the two hobbits in his appetite.
Éomer shrugged. 'I doubt it was of any importance. Boys bicker and fight, it's a normal part of growing up.'
I still had no inkling, so following my husband's lead I dismissed it from my mind. It was a few years later that we discovered what the rancour had all been about.
Another disturbed morning, but this time we stayed in bed as Éomer perused the letter that had arrived from Minas Tirith. Rain pattered against the windows which made me snuggle closer against him, dozing contently. He would let me know if the missive contained anything of interest, but hopefully it was just a friendly communication from Aragorn and not any call to arms.
'Do you fancy a trip to Minas Tirith?' Éomer broke the silence at last. 'Aragorn has invited us for an extended visit. It's twenty years since the end of the Ring-war this Súlimë and there's going to be a big celebration. Including a tournament and horse racing, Elfwine will enjoy that.'
That made me wake up – twenty years, where had it all gone. Pleased, I struggled from under the covers, pushing my hair aside. 'We'll be able to meet up with my family, they will all go, I imagine. But there might not be a lot of room in the house.'
'No matter, Aragorn is expecting us to stay with him, Eldarion has especially requested it.' He laughed. 'So that he and Elfwine can get up to mischief, I imagine.'
'And...', I hesitated, throwing him a sideways look. 'If we want Elfwine and Menelwë to become better acquainted it would be a good opportunity.'
'Why do we want Elfwine to become better acquainted with Menelwë? They always seem to get on well.'
'Surely it would please you and Aragorn.'
For a moment he didn't follow, but then light dawned. 'He's only seventeen, Lothíriel. That's ridiculous.'
'I am only suggesting they get to know one another. I agree it will be years before he's ready to take a wife, but it would be good if he's thinking along the lines of one of Aragorn's daughters and Menelwë seems the most suitable. She's very sensible and has a sweet nature.'
He chuckled, looking at me indulgently. 'In that case he's likely to go for someone else entirely.'
'You mean someone not at all sensible. Like you did at that age...' I shut up, his condescension had made me snap, but that was not fair, as I remembered the grief and the guilt that had been unleashed by him falling in love with Bergit. But he only sighed.
'Lothíriel, all I mean is that boys do not normally marry the girl they fall in love with at an early age.'
'Well, I still think it's a good idea for them to get to know one another better, and don't tell me you have never given the matter thought. Remember we talked about it when Menelwë was born.'
'That was merely a reaction to Aragorn having a daughter after we had a son. It was not meant to be serious.' He put down the letter, staring into space for a moment. 'Your brothers have followed their hearts, and so did we. I would have thought that you of all people would want our son to marry for love, as we did.'
'I do, of course, I just hoped he might fall in love with Menelwë, and he won't do that if he hardly sees her. Besides, I know it seems we had free choice, Éomer, but had you discovered I was a servant and not Imrahil's daughter after you saw me at the Harlond, would you have married me?'
He leant over and pecked my cheek, lips quivering. 'Luckily I did not have to make that decision. And, yes, I agree Elfwine will have to remember his responsibilities when the time comes. But if you are thinking of a match between our son and one of Aragorn's daughters, I think you are likely to be disappointed.'
'Oh, why do you say that? He will know he's expected to make a good marriage.'
Éomer shrugged. 'He passed a comment some time ago that he thought it was time for the House of Eorl to be strengthened by strong Rohirric blood. He has a point; there have been lots of Gondorians in the mix these past years.' He laughed, ruffling my hair with a big hand. 'Not that I would change anything.' Then he pulled a long suffering face. 'Well, most days I wouldn't.'
Normally I would bat back at him, but my mind was still on Elfwine. 'When did he say that? He's never mentioned it to me.'
'Oh, we were talking about breeding from the Mearas stallions, he thought...'
'Horse breeding!' I exclaimed, tossing my head angrily. 'I might have guessed.' That outburst only caused him to chuckle louder, and I grinned in spite of myself. 'Did he say any more?'
Éomer fell back onto the pillows, pulling me down with him. 'No, but I didn't think to query it, he was only about fifteen at the time. Who knows who he'll choose, and as long as it's somebody suitable she doesn't have to be one of Aragorn's daughters, even though, as you say, it would please us both.'
I let the subject drop, knowing I would get no help from Éomer at the moment. But I had every intention of guiding Elfwine in the direction of Menelwë if I could. We lived closely in Meduseld and realising there would come a time, albeit in the future, when I would be sharing Meduseld with my son's wife, I preferred to have someone I thought I could get along with. If I were totally honest I thought her a biddable but intelligent young woman who would not try and disturb my way of running things.
As predicted, Elfwine relished the thought of a prolonged stay in Minas Tirith and for weeks talked incessantly about what he and Eldarion would do, whether he could race his horse, and if he had any chance of beating Elboron in one of the archery competitions. Walking back with him from the butts one morning – he could certainly beat me, but then he practised a lot more – I linked my arm in his and made another foray towards my goal. All the small comments I had made the past month about the friendship between our families had gone unheeded. 'It will be good for you to spend some time with Eldarion, he has been here much more than you have stayed in Minas Tirith. Perhaps a bit of city polish will be good for you.'
Elfwine wrinkled his nose. 'I hope you are not thinking of the dancing, Mother. I intend to keep that to a minimum. Eldarion has written with all sorts of plans, he is hoping we can go to Cair Andros and take a raft down the river to the Harlond, camping on the way. What with the tournament, there won't be much time for balls and the suchlike.'
'I think you'll find he has to attend a couple. The welcome feast and the one to celebrate the storming of Mordor, will be obligatory.'
'Oh, I know that, but don't expect us to squire his sisters around the dance floor every evening.' Elfwine gave me one of his engaging grins.' He has a new guard, younger men he likes, and they are happy to accompany him to the odd disreputable tavern. We intend to avoid Merethrond except when we have to be there.'
'Well, I hope you will be polite and spend some time with his sisters. The last time I visited I thought how quickly they were growing up; Menelwë is a particularly agreeable young lady, pretty too.'
Immediately the pliant body next to me stiffened, and he pulled away. I jerked my head round to look into dark eyes, flashing with anger. One thing he had inherited from his father was his quick temper. 'Elfwine?'
Gradually he relaxed and a ghost of a smile bent his lips. 'Mother, we'd better get one thing clear: I am not going to marry one of Aragorn's daughters, or in fact any Gondorian...'
'I didn't mean...'
'Yes, you did. And it's not the first time you've hinted. Don't think I haven't noticed.'
And I thought I'd been so subtle. 'You have to be circumspect about who you marry, Elfwine. There will be many who target you because they have much to gain from marrying a Prince of the Riddermark. That is why it's sometimes easier to make a match with someone of equal rank. Menelwë...'
He held up his hand for peace. 'It will do no good whatever you say. I know it has been expected that I would link our families, Eldarion certainly thought so. In fact it's one of the reasons we fell out that time. He thought I'd insulted his sister by not being interested, but I was able to explain properly during that week you banished us.'
'I didn't banish you...'
He laughed. 'Perhaps not. But your scheme worked, didn't it? We are best of friends again.'
I sighed. Another trait of his father's – Elfwine would always go his own way. 'All right, you explained to Eldarion, explain to me. Preferably with no mention of horse breeding.'
He chuckled. 'That will be difficult.'
But when he had finished, I found I couldn't disagree with him. Naturally I immediately started to run names through my mind, there were only so many Rohirrim maidens I thought would be able to fulfil the role of a king's wife. I had a feeling Elfwine was keeping something back – like who he considered suitable, but I decided to keep quiet, sure I would get some hint of where his interest might lay.
'I will say no more. And I am glad you and Eldarion sorted out your misunderstanding.' I took his arm again. 'But you said that was one reason for your quarrel, was the other anything I should know about?'
For a moment I thought he wasn't going to answer, then he sighed. 'Nothing much, he just repeated that old gossip about Éomund being Father's bastard. I didn't like it.'
'But you know it's not true.'
'I do, but sometimes I wonder if there was not more to the story than Éomund's parents being friends with Father and him feeling guilty about their death.'
'If there was, then it is your father's business, Elfwine.'
He stared at me hard. 'I would hate to think of Father doing anything unworthy.'
'If you have any doubts then you must speak to him, not harbour suspicions.'
'You have never been bothered by the rumours?'
'Elfwine, there are no secrets between your father and me. I suggest that you forget it, but if you cannot, then speak to him.'
I could tell he was mulling it over: as a young child endearing little frown lines had appeared between his eyes whenever he concentrated on some problem. He might be grown now, but they still showed up whenever something difficult presented itself. I waited.
'No, I will not bring it up. I am sure that Father would always tell me anything of importance I needed to know.'
I nodded, my mind racing – very soon now Éomer was going to have to tell Elfwine about Halmir. How would he react to finding out he was not his father's firstborn? I didn't think Éomer could put it off much longer as Halmir must be nearing his coming of age.
When I mentioned it to Éomer he agreed Elfwine would soon have to know, but decided to talk to him when we came back from Gondor. He was sure Halmir wouldn't be told until the last moment, so thought it unlikely he would turn up in Edoras, more expecting Déor to have to make another visit.
We set off for Gondor at the beginning of the month of Súlimë, the weather kind to us as it had been unusually mild since the turn of the year. Consequently early spring flowers lined the road and everywhere trees were bursting into bud. Snowy clouds of blossom covered the blackthorn bushes and the pungent smell of ransoms filled the air. The Riddermark at its best.
We intended to arrive in Minas Tirith a full two sennights before the twenty-fifth to enjoy some private time with Aragorn and Arwen, and also Éowyn and Faramir. Most of my family would be arriving around that time as well, so it promised to be a pleasing interlude before the more formal celebrations.
But the journey started slowly, the packing not completed until the morning had waned. We were in no hurry as arrangements had been made to lodge at Aldburg that first night. Elfhelm and his family were also invited to stay in the Citadel, and others from the Eastmark would be camping on the Pelennor, so we would all travel together. I laughed to myself as I thought how long the line of horses would be – a real Rohan invasion of Gondor.
The sun was nearing the tops of the mountains as we approached the fortress of Aldburg; well capable of holding back unwanted hordes, the gates stood open in welcome. Not the only welcome though as a small knot of horsemen came galloping towards us.
It didn't surprise me to see Ceolwen in the lead. Her blonde hair streaming out, Elfhelm's second daughter rode like the wind. Leaving the road she jumped a wide ditch to take a short cut across the meadow in her effort to get to us before her brother. She arrived moments before her sibling, laughing in triumph as she reined in her spirited black mare. Ceolwen paused long enough to greet Éomer and me respectfully before her sparkling eyes fixed on Elfwine. No one could miss the challenge in them.
He burst into laughter, expertly reading her thoughts. 'If you are thinking of racing me now, Ceolwen, forget it. You will have to wait until my horse is fresh to get your revenge for last time.'
'Poof!' She tossed her head disparagingly. 'A poor specimen he must be if a little journey from Edoras will tire him. Raven and I have been out for hours, and she is still eager.'
Elfwine just grinned and kicked his horse forward. With no more words she pivoted hers so that they could ride side by side. 'Tomorrow,' I heard him say, 'there is the whole journey before us.'
Startled by the intimacy I sensed between them, I swivelled round to catch Éomer's eye. 'Something your sight didn't show you,' he murmured.
It certainly hadn't! And my thoughts centred on the two young people riding ahead as we progressed towards the gate at a leisurely pace. I had always liked Ceolwen, I liked all Elfhelm's children, and Ceolwen especially because of her wild ways, I supposed. But when had she grown into such a lovely looking girl? Time and age would calm her, of course, as it did us all. So maybe by the time Elfwine was ready for marriage, she would be able to step confidently into the role of wife and future queen. And who could think that a daughter of Elfhelm, and grandchild of Hama, would not be totally acceptable to the Rohirrim. I knew they would welcome one of their own.
Edoras FA 53
'Mother, should you be out here?'
I jumped, landing back in the present with a thump. Elfwine must have finished in the stables and deep in my reverie I had not noticed.
'They said you had improved or I would not have gone for a ride, but I didn't expect to find you sitting outside on my return.'
'I am enjoying the air,' I countered. 'It's very mild... and the peace gives me time to think.'
Elfwine smiled, but I could see the relief in his eyes. My illness had worried him. Love contracted my chest and I reached for his hand – calloused and strong like his father's – as he bent to kiss my cheek.
'And where were you, Mother? Far away I imagine?'
'No, not really, I was thinking of the time we rode to Minas Tirith and I belatedly realised you had given your heart to Ceolwen.'
He chuckled, squeezing my shoulder lovingly. 'I did think you were unusually slow to work it out, but there never was anyone else, you know. However much you tried to push me towards one of Aragorn's daughters.'
And how wonderfully it had turned out: Ceolwen had made a loyal, loving wife and would no doubt make an excellent queen when the time came. Besides that, she had presented me with a clutch of grandchildren to spoil. 'It was a very enlightening time, for Elfhelm and Wilflede as well. If you were not with Eldarion and Elboron that spring, you were racing with Ceolwen.'
'It was a very enlightening time in other ways.' An eyebrow cocked in amusement. 'In fact,' that visit to Minas Tirith was one of the most memorable times in our lives, don't you think?'
To be continued.
List of original characters appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Déor. Childhood friend of Éomer, now the captain of Lothíriel's guard.
Halmir Illegitimate son of Guleth and Éomer.
Menelwë Aragorn's eldest daughter.
Wilflede Hama's middle daughter married to Elfhelm.
Ceolwen Elfhelm's youngest daughter.
Elfwine – born FA1
Eldarion – born TA 3020
Elphir and Meren:
Alphros m – born 3017; Elphin m – born 3020 ; Eldir m – born FA4; plus one girl.
Erchirion and Inayah:
Two daughters and one son.
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.
Elfhelm and Wilflede
Bronwyn – f born 3019
Caedmon – m born 3021
Ceolwen – f born FA 3
Hrodgar – m born FA 5
Æbbe and Godric