22. 22. Confrontations
Arathea and Elfhelm parted ways at the main stair, each retreating to his or her own quarters. As earlier in the night, they spoke not a word. Both were lost in thoughts of their own.
The Marshal smiled as he entered his room. It smelled of vanilla and spice and…spent passion. As the early morning breeze rustled the curtains it carried the scent of rain and thunder rumbled in the distance. Elfhelm sank into a chair near the window and watched the storm move across the plains. He thought on all that had transpired--their silent yet frantic lovemaking, her attempted flight. Had he not awoken, she would now be leagues away, most likely never to return. Elfhelm had been a fool all these months. He was so focused on what he believed could never be that he did not see the growing attraction between them. He pinched the bridge of his nose.
He was afraid of his feelings and he hid behind Ethelfled. She had been underfoot for so long that there was a normality to his relationship with her. Of course, he knew there was no real love or even affection. She was in it for the gain; he was a Marshal and she would have a comfortable life as his wife. She was power-hungry and, if she had been a ten years younger, Elfhelm was certain she would have turned her sights on Éomer. The unfortunate thing was that Elfhelm had never discouraged Ethelfled. He let her oversee things at Aldburg that required a woman’s touch; he dined with her, listened to her constant babble and now, now, he did not know how to end it. Lightning flashed and a clap of thunder shook the world around him. In his fear of dying alone, he had created a mess!
Thea entered her darkened rooms. She turned up a lamp on the side table. A gust of wind caused the flame to sputter. The woman sighed. A large part of her still wished to flee for now she was more uncertain than ever. Why could she not have just snuck away? She had everything ready to go, no one would have noticed until she it was too late! Ahh! With all the upheaval at the stable, she had left her packs there and her poor horse saddled! Once the stable master arrived, her secret would be out. He would certainly tell Éomer and he would be more than a little cross. Things just became more mixed up. She felt tears prick her eyes; she was emotionally drained.
A rustling outside her door caught her attention. It was still too early for the servants to be about the halls. Cautiously she opened the door. A flash of lightning and loud thunder caused her to jump. Looking down, she saw her packs. She quickly stepped into the hall, looking left and right. Thea sniffed the air expecting the smell of sandalwood; nothing. She picked up her things. If it had not been Elfhelm, then who?
Dropping the sacks, she entered her bathing chamber. She hurt and as she cleaned her self with a towel, she spotted the traces of blood. ‘Serves you right,’ she thought, ’foolish woman.’ It had been years since she had been intimate and that had not been a pleasurable relationship. She placed the cool towel between her legs and let it sooth the fire. She did not wish to go to breakfast, but as Éomer would most likely already be angry with her, she had best not make it worse.
The Marshal readied himself for his day and the inevitable confrontation. Leaving his chambers, he headed to those of the Lady Ethelfled. He hoped to catch her before she left for breakfast. Cold dread flooded him as he knocked on her door. A handmaiden answered.
“I would have a word with your mistress, alone,” his baritone quivered ever so slightly.
A surprised Ethelfled approached the door, her face beaming. This was it, the moment she had been working towards since Elfhelm became a marshal. She shooed the girl from her rooms. “My lord,” she said sweetly, a false innocence in her voice, “pray tell, what is it that brings you here at so early an hour?”
“There is a matter I need to discuss and it will not wait.” Elfhelm said calmly, remaining near the door.
“Oh, well come, sit with me on the settee. I will not bite.” She batted her eyes at him and patted the cushioned seat. Elfhelm hesitated. She may very well bite by the time he was done.
Gamling sat in his usual spot for breakfast. He sipped his spiced tea as Rohan’s new Mistress of Lore entered. Thea hesitated briefly; Gamling noticed her discomfort and gave her a small lopsided grin.
“Where is everyone?” she said as she approached the table
He shrugged and munched on a biscuit. “I have not seen the Marshal since last night and the king had wished to check on one of the mares about to give birth.”
Thea paled; he would find her horse saddled or learn of it from the stable master. She slowly took a seat next to the tall man, suddenly having no appetite. He poured her a cup of tea. “I found myself unable to sleep this morn so I check on the mare before dawn.” He hoped to put her at easy.
Thea finally looked up into his grey-green eyes. He only smiled, a knowing look in his eyes.
“It was you,” she said softly. Before she could say more, Eomer entered, a scowl on his face as Eadwald vehemently pleaded some case.
“I have yet to break my fast and already you badger me with foolish notions; if you will not leave, sit and be quiet till I have eaten!” Éomer snapped. The young advisor drove him mad. The counsellor looked down his nose at Thea, suspicion in his eyes. She shifted uncomfortably. No sooner had the King sat than the doors to the small dining hall slammed open and an irate Lady Etheldfled stormed in, pointing her slightly chubby finger at the group.
“You,” she screeched, “You little harlot! How dare you! Tramp! I know what it is you try to do and I will not allow it!”
Those gathered looked up in stunned silence, the king’s face taking on a dangerous look.
“You seduced him!” Thea’s eyes went wide, “That is right, I know you forced your way into his bed; he did not say so, but I know. I saw it in his eyes. He is a man of Rohan and MY lord. You will not get your filthy claws into him!”
Éomer had reached his limit. “Enough!” he bellowed, causing Thea to jump and Ethelfled to stop her rants for a moment.
Just then, Elfhelm entered, coming to a dead stop in the doorway, and had he been a coward, he would have silently turned and fled the mounting confrontation.
The king stood and glared at those present. “My throne room…NOW! All of you!” He strode from the chamber.
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.