8. 8. A Private Conference
Arathea ate in relative silence, speaking only when spoken to and then only as much as needed. The rest of the time, she listened to the men. She was very perceptive and could read body language very well. She took this opportunity to observe those around her. Éomer had been correct when he said the older advisors thought the king ignorant of diplomatic matters and the proper running of the court. “In the past…” and “When your uncle was king…” were phrases she heard excessively and it caused her to glower at the older men. At the same time, a younger advisor was quick with, “If you take my advice…” and “Trust me, Sire…” When someone has to use the words ‘trust me’ that often, it is best to be wary. The only ones at the table who offered truly honest council and support where the Marshals Grimbold and Elfhelm and Captain Gamling. Thea liked them and if Éomer was smart, he would keep them very close at hand. She was brought up short when she felt a gentle kick under the table. She looked up from her food at Elfhelm seated across the table; then she saw all eyes on her. A blush blossomed on her cheeks.
Marshal Elfhelm, who was responsible for the nudge, quickly spoke up, hoping to spare the lady any further embarrassment. “The King is right. Our history should be kept in the safest place. The question is where that may be. Mistress, as you have experience in such matters, what are your thoughts?”
“It is true,” she began, choosing her word carefully, “that the histories must be kept somewhere safe; not just from potential violence, but from the ravages of time. Minas Tirith houses the library of Gondor and Arnor. If Minas Tirith suffers some great calamity, a fire or earthquake that destroys the library, information will be lost forever. Imladris houses the histories of nearly all the realms; however, copies of the most valuable items are also kept at the Gray Havens; in this way, should one be destroyed, the other would survive. It has been this way for generations.” When she finished, her eyes lingered on Elfhelm, sending a silent message of thanks. He responded with a wink.
“Forgive me *Mistress*,” the word was said without respect, “how is it an uprooted scribe with no home,” the young advisor quickly tempered his words when Éomer shot him a warning glance, “no matter how talented, is familiar with the dealings and rational behind the library of fabled Rivendell?”
Éomer watched Arathea carefully; he would not intervene this time.
Thea pinned the young man beneath her stare, green eyes dangerously dark, “because I have had the honor of visiting it.” All eyes were now on her in disbelief. “Before the war began, I spent time in the tutelage of Master Erestor.” There was a collective gasp from the older advisors. The Chief Councilor of Rivendell was legend. Silence followed as Thea lowered her hackles. Gradually, everyone returned to his or her meal, though conversation was limited. Éomer finally put an end to the unease.
“Well, we can discuss this later, for now, I bid you good afternoon.” Éomer stood, signaling the end of the meal. The advisors took their leave, though the young one seemed to be stalling. “Mistress Thea, a moment, please.” Éomer called to Arathea as the group broke up. He gestured to a small door and she followed him. Gamling followed, stopping just outside, closing the door to a small office. When they were alone Éomer flopped most un-kingly into a chair and indicated the woman should sit as well.
“I apologize for catching you off guard at lunch,” he began.
“It is I who should apologize for my lack of attention.”
“What had you distracted? Or should I say who?” he added with a cheeky grin.
“You know everyone will think we are having a mid day tryst?” she said, deflecting his question.
“Then maybe we should make some noise, really start the gossip.” The king replied, throwing in a loud growl. Thea grabbed a small pillow and threw it at him. They laughed when a knock on the door brought them around. Still chortling, Éomer bid enter. The Marshal of the East-Mark entered with a knowing smirk on his face.
“I hope I am not interrupting,” he said suggestively.
“You know you are not. Come join us. Thea was just about to tell me what caused her lapse in attention at lunch.”
“Ah, yes, please excuse the kick. I did not know how else to get your attention subtly.”
“No apology is necessary, my lord; thank you for your kind consideration.” She said with a smile.
Éomer waited for her to continue and when she hesitated, he added, “You may speak freely. I trust Elfhelm more than any other save Gamling.”
“I was studying your advisors, Sire.”
“And what do you make of them?”
“You are wise to put your trust in your Marshals and Captain Gamling. The elder men will not be receptive to changes; they are stuck in the olden days. The young one…what is his name?”
“Eadwald,” Elfhelm supplied with a frown.
“Yes, Eadwald. He, I fear, I do not trust. He has his own agenda and hopes that your lack of experience will propel his desires forward. I do not sense malice towards you or Rohan,” adding quickly, “but he looks out for himself.”
“He came from the East-Mark after the war. His aunt resides in Elfhelm’s court.”
Elfhelm had stopped listening. Instead he was studying Arathea as intently as she had studied them at lunch. Éomer had made it clear to them that she was not a potential queen; she was however to be member of his court. Either way, the Marshal wanted to be certain she did not have her own agenda. He was relieved for more than one reason to see that she spoke with honesty and openness. While she was critical, she was not condescending. She was wise beyond her years and he could see the affection she had for his King. That pleased him for Éomer needed companions, friends in whom he could confide. This time he was caught unawares.
“Marshal?” He heard her call him.
“Forgive me; I was thinking about what you said.”
Now it was Thea’s turn to give knowing smile. She knew he had been studying her; she hoped she met with his approval. “Eadwald’s aunt?” she repeated, “You know her?”
“She resides in Aldburg, sent her nephew here to serve and make something of himself.”
“I meant no disrespect,” Thea said gently. She feared her comments about the young man might have offended the Marshal since Eadwald hailed from his region.
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