6. 6. I Failed Her
Erkenbrand came out of his musings. He had been in the process of changing for bed when the frantic servant had come for him. In his haste, he wore no shoes and his shirt was unlaced; he thought only to grab both sword and cloak. Approaching Éalwyn, he handed his sword to the healer and carefully laid his cloak over the shivering form.
In the far reaches of her weary mind, Éalwyn was vaguely aware of something warm being placed over her battered body; she could smell cedar and knew she was safe. Gently he lifted her in his protective embrace, biting back the rising bile in his throat. She let out a small moan as he settled her against his strong chest. The tall man followed Lady Cynwen to the Marshal's living quarters. At her request, he carefully laid the woman on a bed in the spare room and stepped out, affording the injured woman privacy as her torn and bloodied clothes were removed and wounds treated.
When the healer left the room, Erkenbrand stood in the now open doorway looking at the pale form in the bed. He was angry and his chest constricted; he wanted to bury his massive fists into the bastard who did this to her. Lady Cynwen, however, had instructed his guards that no harm or 'accident' was to come to Ordwulf; the Marshal, and perhaps even the king, would pass judgment and dole out the punishment, as it was a grievous crime to abuse a woman or child. He looked at the sweet pretty face now marred by bruises and cuts. He could not fathom how a man could do such a thing! His heart ached; he had become quite fond of the woman.
"I failed her," he said sadly from the door. "And I failed you," he added, his head bowed.
Lady Cynwen stopped dabbing at Éalwyn's face and looked at her captain, a sympathetic smile on her lips. "How so?" she asked, questioning eyes searching his.
"I should have known. I spend most of my days with her; I saw bruises. It is my sworn duty to protect the people of the West-mark and I failed. I am sorry."
Laying the cloth in a basin of water and wiping her hands on her skirt, the Lady of the West-mark approached Erkenbrand. She reached up and touched his cheek. "You are not to blame for not knowing what she chose to hide. When you asked her, what did she tell you?"
He looked in her welcoming eyes. "She told me she has always been clumsy. But I should…"
"Should have what? Accused her of lying? She hid this from all of us. I have known her since she was a child and I could not see the truth. This is tragic. However I am grateful that this night happened."
The tall captain stepped back as if he had been hit. She was happy it happened? He made to protest but Cynwen stopped his arguments. "If it had not, she would not now be free. He would still have control over her and the beatings would continue. I do not know why the serving girl was in that hall, but I thank Béma she was."
"Why? Why would she let him do that and not speak up?" Erkenbrand just could not wrap his mind around this whole thing.
Not wishing to disturb the resting woman, Lady Cynwen took the tall Rider by the elbow and led him into the sitting room and indicated he sit. She poured two cups of tea and joining him. She took a sip before speaking. "I believe she stayed quiet out of love and loyalty to her father and fear that, with Advisor Ordwulf's standing within Prince Théodred's council, no one would believe her accusations. King Theoden sent the advisor specifically to help guide the Prince as Marshal here. After the Prince's death and throughout the war, Ordwulf was able to maintain much of his standing as there were none to oppose him. Even my dear husband—who never liked him—has not had grounds to dismiss him…till now. For Ealwyn claim of abuse would be a heavy accusation to make." Erkenbrand made to object but Lady Cynwen continued, "My dear, you must understand something about these situations. Because of the nature under which she came to Ordwulf's care, Ealwyn feels indebted to him. Over the years he has used that against her, keeping her obligated, making her need his support and approval. He has her so fearful that she dare not speak because he has convinced her it is her fault—that she brings it on her self; he does it because he cares so much for her and no one else does. I am sure he convinced her of that and most likely threatened harm to those around her—in the name of protecting her."
"I heard about the young Rider from a few years back."
"That was tragic. After he was reassigned to Eomer's troops, he was killed by orcs. I think they truly cared for each other and she blamed herself for his death. It was then that she began to hide behind the clothing of a man, perhaps to hide the increase in beatings and make her self less attractive, hoping others would stay away."
"Forgive me, Mistress but you mentioned her father. I do not understand how he fits into this."
Cynwen sighed and thought back to when the girl's father died. "After being injured in an orc attack, Élegbryt developed an infection that the healers could not cure. As he had no other family and Éalwyn had not yet reached her majority, he worried for her. I would have taken her in myself, but Grimbold was on patrol and my letter arrived too late. Advisor Ordwulf approached the dying man. I have heard he spoken to Égelbryt a couple of years earlier, asking for a betrothal promise. The Captain turned him down, as Éalwyn was only fourteen at the time. Then, in his hour of need, the advisor promised to care for the Captain's daughter until she reached her majority. As Égelbryt drew his last breaths, he called for a witness and his daughter and gave her to that cretin's keeping, never knowing what the man truly intended." Lady Cynwen's face twisted in disgust.
"How is it then that he has not pressed for marriage? It is my understanding that her father passed years ago."
"At her father's funeral, she announced that she would honor the ancient tradition of mourning for seven years. He could not very well stop her without raising suspicion so I think he agreed but did everything he could to ensure she stayed with him. While she does not have a traditional dowry, she still has her father's land and I think Advisor Ordwulf had designs on it as well as her. I think he used her father's death against her, making her feel like she was betraying him and all he had done to secure her future with the advisor. He also made certain that any other would-be suitors knew to whom she belonged. After a while, she was successfully trapped. He most likely planned to make things appear more normal, have a proper betrothal and such. Something must have happened tonight that pushed him too far and he attempted to take what he believed was rightfully his."
"Then it is my fault." Erkenbrand said sadly. Cynwen looked at her captain doubtfully. The dear man would not let his misplaced guilt go! "My mare had a troubled birth this afternoon. Éalwyn went with me to the stable. Nihthelm was spooked and I had to help restrain her; Éalwyn stayed to soothe her. When it was all done, I was a bit shaken, that mare has saved my life more than a few times; I feared I would lose her. Éalwyn stayed with us; soothing my nerves as much as my mare's. I know she is always expected for dinner and I know he gets cross when she spends time with others. I should have sent her home but I…" he looked up with pleading eyes, "I did not want her to leave. Ordwulf was angry because she was with me."
"He may have felt threatened by you and your close proximity to Éalwyn, but you had no way to know this would happen; she also knew the consequences and chose to stay at your side. I think her feelings for you run deep." She reached over and squeezed his hand. "This is not your fault; you did not fail her. You are here for her now; she will have need of your strength and friendship. Her whole nightmare will come out for all to see and that might make life difficult for her; she may well feel embarrassed."
"I will do whatever it takes to help her heal," he said with renewed conviction. "She has become a part of my everyday life and is dear to me."
The Lady of the West-mark smiled. She could see the truth in his eyes; his feelings for his aide went deeper than just friendship.
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.