22. Ch 22. Like Father
The Summer Solstice feast could not arrive fast enough for Erkenbrand. He was finding their little charade difficult—amusing, but difficult. Now he stood before Marshal Grimbold's desk, feeling more than a bit nervous. The Marshal sat in his chair, fingers steepled, eyeing the tall young man critically. Grimbold knew something like this was coming yet it did not make it any easier. The marshal kept his face unreadable. When he finally spoke, it was with a quiet firmness.
"She has been through much in the past few years. What you ask is no little matter. Since coming into my home she has become as a daughter to me and my wife. No man shall ever hurt her again lest I remove his head with my sword; that includes you." The marshal let his honest threat hang in the air. This was a very serious matter.
Erkenbrand stood tall and proud. "That is why I came to you. I wish to do right by her. I want everything to be proper."
"There is no dowry save her father's land."
"I do not need a dowry; I only seek your blessing."
The older man stood with a smile, setting his Captain at ease. "That you have, my boy. I can think of no finer man for her than you. You have my blessing."
"Thank you my lord," Erkenbrand almost sagged with relief.
Erkenbrand dismounted and helped Éalwyn from her mount, careful not to crush the flowers in her arms. The two walked through the burial mounds until the young woman stopped, a melancholy smile on her face. "Hello, Da," she said softly. "It is time for the summer festival so I brought fresh flowers. I know you always loved this festival; I remember you telling me the story of how you asked for Ma's hand on the Solstice and how Granda made you so nervous." She carefully arranged the blooms on the mound.
Erkenbrand stared in shock. Her father had become betrothed on the Summer Solstice? He fingered the cool metal in his pocket.
"I brought a friend…well more than a friend, Da. The Captain I told you about." She reached behind her and clasped the strong hand of her lover. Turning to him she blushed as she spoke. "He would have liked you, a lot. You are very much like him; both honorable and strong and loving." Her blush deepened.
"We are more alike than you know," Erkenbrand whispered. Éalwyn looked at him curiously. The large man seemed a bit unnerved.
Taking a deep breath, Erkenbrand dropped to his knee before the woman who stole his heart. Keeping her hand in his, he reached into his pocket and retrieved a beautifully hammered copper pin, two horse heads entwined. Éalwyn gasped as she laid eyes on the betrothal brooch.
"Éalwyn, daughter of Égelbryt, you have captured my heart and soul. I kneel here before you and your father to pledge love. Will you accept this token and grant me the honor of your hand?" He held up the brooch.
Tears blurred her vision as she looked into the warm hazel eyes that had made all her hurt go away. Dropping to her knees, Éalwyn nodded, wrapping her arms tight around her beloved Captain. He enveloped the sight body in his protective embrace. "My Colmáse," he breathed.
The two arrived at the Summer Festival, arm in arm. It did not take long for the excited shriek from Ceothryth to call everyone's attention to the newly betrothed couple. "I knew it!" she said gleefully. "I told Fréarid something happened on the trip but he would not believe me! And you…" she continued, advancing on Éalwyn, "How could you keep this a secret?" She hugged the younger woman tightly.
By this time, a small crowd had gathered around the couple. Fréarid congratulated his captain. "I guess Hesgar and I won't be needen' to lock the two of you in the storage room after all; probably a good thing, too."
The tall Captain of Rohan gave a hearty laugh and winked at his second, "Oh I do not know; that might be fun." Those close enough to hear erupted in laughter as Éalwyn tuned a deep shade of crimson. Throughout the festival there was much hugging and backslapping and gaiety in the West-mark.
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