13. 13. The Coming Winter
Two weeks passed since the trip to the glade. The Captain's relationship with his adjutant remained as it had been. Erkenbrand tried not to let his feelings for Éalwyn interfere with his work, but it was difficult. He thought about her constantly and she filled his nightly dreams, making for restless nights. He needed to get her out of his thoughts—if only she were not always right there in the office! He needed to step back so she could grow and examine her own feelings about life and love. The Captain knew many young Riders had begun to take notice of her; she had a right to examine her feelings about younger men's interest.
Marshal Grimbold entered his captain's anti-chamber one afternoon. After a quick greeting, he asked Éalwyn to be certain they were not disturbed as he closed the Captain's door. She nodded and continued working on the new recruit roster. Sometime later, the door opened. Grimbold gave her a curt nod as he left.
"Colmáse" the captain called from his office, "would you come here a moment." Éalwyn quickly entered his office, her heart pounding in her chest. Had she done something? Was she to be dismissed? "Close the door, please." She did and then sat as he indicated to a chair across from him.
"Have I done something wrong, Captain?" the woman asked shakily.
Erkenbrand suddenly realized how this must appear to his aide and quickly tried to set her at ease. "No, no, as always you are at your best," he said, giving her a reassuring smile. "When Marshal Elfhelm returned from East Lórien, he brought news of a warrior trade. It seems that the elves will send a number of warriors to Rohan for a year and then Rohan will send our soldiers for a year. It is a wonderful idea. They even plan on having the soldiers' the families go along." Éalwyn sat quietly and listened. This still did not explain the odd look Marshal Grimbold gave her. Erkenbrand continued, "It seems a small group is to travel to East Lórien before the snow fall to work out the details, a delegate from each region; they will then return in the spring with thirty elvin warriors and their families. Marshal Elfhelm is sending his Captain and the King is sending Gamling's second since the captain is to be married in the Spring."
"And you are to go for the West-mark of course," Éalwyn said, hiding her disappointment. Erkenbrand nodded. "Very well, sir. If you tell me who is to join you, I will make the necessary adjustments to the schedule." She stood, suddenly needing to be out of the room.
"I will have to let you know. I will depart as soon as the others arrive; within the week I should think." He watched as the lovely woman all but fled his office. He did not like the idea of leaving; his little mouse was still getting used to her newfound freedom. He wanted to be there to watch out for her, protect her. He sighed. Perhaps this was for the best; his feelings would settle down and she could explore her options without a watchdog.
The clouds hung low in the sky as the small group of rides assembled in the courtyard. They would stay in East Lórien until the spring thaw and then return. The group numbered about a dozen soldiers and a messenger who would relay messages to Rohan as needed.
"Do not let Fréarid get too comfortable behind my desk," Erkenbrand said jokingly.
"Shan't let him set foot in you office, sir," the woman replied good-naturedly.
"Take care of yourself, you hear," Erkenbrand gave Éalwyn a quick hug, she fit so well in his arms!
"You take care. I am not the one galloping off to some far distant land." She lingered in his embrace before pulling away, embarrassed by her wave of feelings.
"You will look after Steorra? Take her an apple sometimes and make sure the grooms are working with her. Little thing will not understand where her mother has gone for so long."
"I will take good care of her, I promise. I…I will miss you." A sweet blush stained her cheeks.
This trip could not come at worse time. He knew this destroyed any chance he had for a relationship with Éalwyn. Several young men were attracted to her, some more obvious than others…including Hesgar who was a fine young man only a year or two older than Éalwyn. The Captain sighed. Such was the way of a Rider. He quickly mounted his horse and whistled to the group. As they rode out of the courtyard, Erkenbrand looked back and watched as Hesgar approach Éalwyn and whisper in her ear; jealousy swelled inside him.
Hesgar saw the sadness in the captain's eyes as he said goodbye to Colmáse. The soldier knew what was going through Erkenbrand's mind. Although the younger man was interested in Éalwyn, it would not be fair to tempt her away while Erkenbrand was gone.
"Winter will pass quickly," he whispered as the group rode away, "do not fret."
Éalwyn looked at the man next to her and wondered at his comment.
'It is appropriate that the first snow of the season should fall on this day,' Éalwyn though as she walked through the courtyard. A cold wind whipped through her cloak and dark clouds filled the sky. A winter storm was coming. She climbed the small hill to the burial mounds. Seven years had now past and in those seven years she had only come a handful of times, Advisor Ordwulf always with her, making it hard for her to speak her inner thoughts. But not to day, today she could finally speak freely.
"I miss you so, father," she said dropping to her knees before the small mound. "Life did not go for me as you had hoped but you could not know the truth. I know you only did what you thought was best and I have always loved you for it. But I am now free and life is good, father. Marshal Grimbold and his wife have been most kind and supportive; I have friends again—and not just the soldiers! I still work at the armory for the new captain. You would like him; he is strong and honorable and noble—like you. And handsome! Oh father, how I feel when he is near; I wonder if this is how you felt when you were with mother. He has become my protector and I feel safe when he is close. But he had to go away for the winter and I miss him terribly. I care for him beyond friendship. He is everything I could hope for in a man. But many beautiful women desire his company and they know how to entice a man. I know nothing of relationships and love. I cannot compare to them; I am just little Colmáse. I fear I have set my sights too high," her head dropped a bit and tears stung her eyes.
"I do not think so and neither would the Captain." Éalwyn stood and spun to face the unexpected voice. Hesgar stood not five feet from her, a knowing look on his face.
"What are you doing here?" she eyed the dark haired man.
"You should not be out here alone, especially today." A tear slipped from Éalwyn's eye as Hesgar stepped forward. "He would be here for you but duty…"
"…must come first," Éalwyn finished.
The Rider stepped closer, pulling Éalwyn's cloak tighter about her shivering form before pulling her into an embrace, rather surprised she allowed it. The man could not deny his attraction, but after hearing her graveside confession, he knew only his Captain could make her happy; Hesgar would have settle for friendship.
"Come on," he coaxed, "the weather turns worse and the hour is late. Join me for supper in the Warrior's Den and we will drink a toast to your father and our dear captain."
"I do not think…"
The man cut her off, "Just friends, no expectations. Some think the absence of the mighty Erkenbrand gives them an advantage in gaining your favor, but I know better. You are not so fickle and I respect that. So come, before we both catch cold." He pulled her along.
Éalwyn could not help smiling. She had known Hesgar for years and admittedly he was an attractive man with a rascally personality but she never saw him as more. However, he was right. Tonight was not a night for her to be alone. It had been a difficult seven years and, although she had used the mourning period to keep the cursed advisor at bay, she was now free to accept a suitor…of course, the one she wanted was well beyond her reach. Linking her arm in Hesgar's, they walked back to the citadel.
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.