19. 19. The Decision
Arathea avoided the Marshal and Ethelfled at all costs. Gamling kept her up on the man’s recovery. The Captain had tried to get Thea to talk to Elfhelm, to make peace between them, but she refused. The escort had told him what transpired both in East Lórien and on the return trip. Gamling wanted to lock the two in a room until they admitted their attraction---damned fools were just too stubborn and the conniving, gold-digging Ethelfled only complicated matters.
Thea appreciated Gamling’s support and encouragement but if Elfhelm wished to see her, he could ask for her and he did not. Arathea looked at her reflection in the mirror. Her hair had lost its lustre as had her eyes-- now encircled by dark shadows. She looked her age; all now ninety nine years of it. If she thought it at all possible, being half-elf and all, she would think she was fading. She had to escape this torment. She could not stomach seeing Ethelfled and Elfhelm walking in the garden. She could not bear the thought of them together; to hear they were betrothed would kill her. She entered the dining room grateful to see only Éomer present.
“Are you feeling well?” Éomer asked as Thea poked at her food. She had little appetite as of late. Tired green eyes looked at her friend.
“I am well,” she sighed and gave a sheepish smile. “Just a bit worn out.”
“It is a lovely day, why not take a break and enjoy the sun? The weather will turn sour soon. I would accompany you, but my advisors have seen fit to ruin any chance of fun.”
“I may take a walk,” she hesitated, “My lord, I have a favour to ask, I find myself missing Aragorn terribly. With the sailing of Lord Gildor and the others, I feel a bit…well, alone.”
Éomer’s hazel eyes searched the woman’s for the truth. What he saw disturbed him greatly. There was no fire in them, the spark they held in Gondor was all but diminished. It pained her to be here and he knew why. His Marshal had asked about her, but the Lady Ethelfled had fed him some story about Thea’s lack of interest, claiming she had not even bothered to see him when he lay on death’s doorstep. It was a lie, but the woman used the Marshals own wounded pride to poison him against Thea, and no one could get to him. Whenever the king tried to mention the Mistress, Elfhelm‘s mood soured and he changed the subject. Perhaps it would be best if Thea visited Gondor, at least until Elfhelm left Edoras. The marshal would be well enough to travel soon and would return to the East-Mark; Elfhelm had been gone from his home for too long.
“That sound like a good idea. I will arrange an escort. There is still time before the snows make travel difficult. When would you like to depart?”
“As soon as I can.” There was finality to her words, as if she could not stand to be in Rohan. That thought saddened the King for he thought of her as a sister. Since she came to Rohan, they had become close confidants.
The king sat back in his chair. “Will you return to us or has Rohan lost all charm.”
She smiled lovingly at the young king. “I will return though I cannot promise it will be before snowfall.” She quickly looked away, not wanting Éomer to see the truth. She did not need an escort, she could take care of herself and she did not want to deal with good byes. She planned to leave this night; she would keep her promise and return, but not before her heart healed.
They finished their meal in silence. When Arathea stood, she came to her king’s side and kissed his cheek. “You are a fine man and great king; you will find a match for your heart I promise. Until then, guard it well for it is a fragile thing.” Éomer watched her leave.