17. 17. Homecoming
Over next few days, Thea spent much time at the Rohirrim encampment, rekindling her friendships. A few of the younger guards even attempted to earn her favor and, though she was always gracious, she turned them away with a smile. While she knew nothing could come of her and the Marshal, her heart was not so easy to convince and she did not want to lead some poor fellow along just to ease her loneliness.
On the morning they were to leave, Gildor approached, also dressed for travel.
“Lord Marshal,” he said with a bow, “I wish you safe journey and a long prosperous life.” Elfhelm returned the gesture with a smile. “As I am preparing to sail, I no longer have need of some items…may I trouble you to see them to Rohan?” Elfhelm looked at the tall elf with questing eyes. “I would like Thea to have them, but she has felt the pain of loss enough these past few days; she need not know I leave for the West.” The man made to protest but Gildor raised his hand. “Please, it is for the ache in my heart as much as hers. I have packed things so she will be unawares. Give them to her when you arrive home.”
“You would have me suffer her anger when she learns of this deceit, my lord? I care for her greatly yet our relationship hangs on the edge of the knife. She has lived with secrets for long enough; I regret I cannot abide by your wishes. Her safety and wellbeing are my primary concern.” Elfhelm knew the challenge in his words, but he would not, could not, cause Thea this harm!
Gildor stood tall, blue eyes flashing, his golden wheat blond hair blowing in the breeze, as he looked down at the robust man. Elfhelm made no move, never averting his eyes. Gildor suddenly clapped him on the shoulder with a laugh. “You are a brave man, Marshal. And a worthy champion for our Thea. Very well, I will tell her myself.”
“Tell me what?” Thea approached, a look of skepticism on her face.
Gildor explained and, though she understood and hugged him close, her heart broke a little for the loss of a dear friend. She reached into her pocket and retrieved a letter. “Will you please,” she said, fighting back the tears. “I just want him to know I understand and he will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Gildor took the letter. “I will see it to his hands the hour I set foot in my homelands. And for what it is worth, he did love you.”
Thea stretched on her toes and kissed the elf lord’s soft cheek. “I know. Namárië Hîr nín.” Gildor bowed to the gathering company of riders and left the clearing.
Elfhelm came to stand before the woman. Clasping her shoulders, he managed eye contact. “Are you all right?” he asked, his concern evident.
“I want to go home,” she replied tiredly. Elfhelm nodded and signaled the party to mount. They made good time though the woods and entered the lands of Rohan. Yet as the forest melted onto the horizon, a tension grew. Both Mistress and Marshal knew that the magic of the elvin realm was gone and they began to crash into the real world. Marshal Elfhelm began to withdraw and his mood sour. Thea drifted further back the column, a melancholy hanging over her again. The guards did their best to keep her spirits up, but they often received a glare from their commander if they got too close to her.
A day’s ride from Edoras brought concern. The group came across a kill site; it seemed a large warg pack had taken down several deer. The Marshal was concerned about the pack’s close proximity to the surrounding villages and Edoras itself. There were still bands of renegade orcs stirring trouble and many utilized the services of wargs. Elfhelm decided that eight guards would accompany Arathea to Edoras, having been instructed to ride straight through. The Marshal and the other five would scout for the warg pack and if possible destroy it. Thea protested that it was too dangerous, but her words fell on deaf ears. Marshal Elfhelm made clear he was in command and that she should stick with her books. That started the argument. In the end, Thea rode off with her escort swearing about the stubbornness of Rohirrim men.
Thea arrived safely at Meduseld and stormed up the steps. The Lady Ethelfled approached the small group.
“Where is he? Where is my Marshal?” she demanded.
Not in the mood for pleasantries, Thea glowered at the obnoxious woman and spat out, “Trying to be a hero by hunting a pack of wargs with a handful of men—the damn fool!” Thea stormed off to inform Éomer of this development before finding solace in her quarters.
Éomer quickly dispatched twenty riders to follow Elfhelm’s trail. At sundown, they had yet to return and as Edoras broke its fast, there was still no sign of them. Arathea returned to her tasks in the library saying little of her trip. Just before the dinner hour, the warning bell sounded, calling the healers to the ready. Wounded were on their way. Fear gripped at Arathea’s soul as she looked out the window and saw the riders approach.
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