If Ever Two Were One...
4. A Family Gathering
And what I dream include thee, as the wine
Must taste of its own grapes..."
October TA 3007
A month and more had passed, and Edrys found her thoughts continued to stray toward the marshal – a most unsettling occurrence, which she had vowed would never happen to her. Yet she could not forget the conversation with Ardith; her words echoed still in Edrys’s memory.
She had been bemused by Ardith’s account of what she had observed the night of her brother’s wedding feast; Edrys had been so absorbed in Gárulf's company that she had been unaware of the baleful looks he had turned on those who chanced to approach in hopes to claim her from him. So fierce was his expression, so Ardith told her, that none had dared broach the subject further whilst the marshal remained at Edrys’s side. But Ardith had heard much whispered speculation that night – and later.
Love – can it be? It was certain that no man had ever made her feel the way she felt in Gárulf’s company. And with six older brothers, she reflected wryly, she had known more than a few men. All he had needed to do was look at her. And that kiss…!
Even if what Ardith said is true, none will find me behaving like many a lovesick maid I have seen, mooning over the object of her affections.
Thus it was to Edrys’ great annoyance that she once again caught herself musing about the way the corners of his eyes had crinkled when he smiled. Eyes that were as blue as a clear summer sky...
Edrys shook herself forcefully, causing Nightwing to shy. With an effort she forced herself to focus on the task at hand as she continued putting the mare through her exercises. She had from the beginning been adamant in her determination to train Nightwing herself, and her persistence had been rewarded. The bond of love that had been forged between Edrys and the spirited mare was a reflection of the relationship Edrys had shared with her father, and she treasured this, his last gift to her, all the more because of it.
That the hours spent working with Nightwing had kept her from the hall where she felt such constraint had been remarked upon by her brothers, but they had not interfered, knowing that their sister had been given ample reason to keep her distance from the late mistress of Ænlicdene.
Edrys sighed as she reflected that the one place where she should have found peace and refuge had been the one place wherein she had known no peace, and never more so than after her beloved father's death. Every waking hour thereafter had been spent with her mare, her only joy found in the open meads.
And so it had remained until this past autumn. Strange to think that one death could cause so much grief, while another.…
Edrys would not allow herself to finish the thought. It was true that she did not mourn the death of the woman who had given birth to her. The strongest emotion she could summon now was one of profound relief.
Satisfied at last with the mare's performance Edrys rode back to the hall. The autumn sun was settling low in the western hills, bathing them in shades of lavender and rose as shafts of golden light pierced the lengthening shadows in the valley. Now Ænlicdene stood as a peaceful haven in the gathering twilight, and not for the first time did Edrys give thanks to whatever powers had brought Ardith into their lives. Bearn's wife had always given what refuge she was able to this younger sister when times were troubled.
Edrys knew she was not alone in her gratitude, for all in the valley spoke of Ardith's wisdom and compassion for others, as well as for the hospitality that she never failed to extend to weary travelers. Thus it was no surprise for Edrys to discover that there were visitors to the hall.
The stableboys were busy tending the newcomers' horses as she led Nightwing into the stable. Knowing that Ardith would be occupied with the guests Edrys took her time unsaddling the mare, rubbing her down and brushing her coat till it glistened like jet. That task completed, she made certain that there was fresh water in the trough and hay in the manger before deciding it was time to see to her own needs.
Edrys wrinkled her nose as she left the stable; the scent of horse sweat mingled with her own bespoke her need for a bath. Slipping quietly through the door to the hall, she hoped to make her way to the passage that led to her chamber without attracting the notice of the group that was gathered at the far end of the hall.
"There you are!" Bearn's voice trumpeted her failure. With a grimace Edrys made her way past the great hearth toward her brother.
"We have been waiting for you," Bearn announced.
"Pray excuse my attire…" she began, then stopped short as she recognized the visitors. Théodred and Gárulf had risen as Edrys approached, and now both men wore broad grins as they stood there appraising her appearance.
Edrys knew what she must look like. The old gown she wore for riding bore the signs of the exertions she had undergone, as well as a large grass stain across one breast where Nightwing had tried mouthing the fabric. Her tall boots were covered with dust, and her hair – Edrys reached to smooth her hair, almost without thinking, only to discover grass sticking out of it. Too late she recalled how she had lain in the tall grass of the meadow for a time, watching the clouds drift by and dreaming.
With a cry of dismay she turned and ran from the hall to seek her own chamber. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment. 'How could Bearn be so...so...boorish!' Torn betwixt wanting to vent her anger at her brother for his insensitivity and the desire to hide her chagrin at being caught in such disreputable attire by the one man she might wish to impress, Edrys chose the latter. The door slammed closed behind her, its frame absorbing but a small portion of the ire she felt.
"At last!" Ardith straightened up from where she had been laying out fresh garments on the bed, then stopped short as the ill-used door shuddered within its frame. Edrys's expression told all she needed to discern the reason for this display of temper. "Bearn did not send you to me first, did he?"
"He did not!" Edrys flounced down on the bed, nearly crushing the clean gown Ardith had laid there. "He called me into the hall, knowing full well that I had been out with Nightwing and would stink of the stables!"
'That would be just like my darling husband,' Ardith mused audibly. "I will speak with him later," she told Edrys. "For now we must get you bathed and," she added as she pulled a blade of grass from Edrys's braids, "do something with your hair."
It was well past the hour of sunset when Edrys reappeared in the hall. The lavender scented bath had refreshed her in more than body, and Ardith's skillful ministrations had removed the last traces of meadow grass from her tresses. Ardith had commented that she looked as a proper young lady should, eliciting a most unladylike snort from Edrys.
“’Tis doubtful he will have forgotten how un-ladylike I can be, nor do I think my brother will be able to refrain from reminding him." Ardith’s expression told her that she knew full well to which 'he' Edrys was referring.
"Leave Bearn to me," Ardith told her. She gave the younger woman a reassuring hug before they entered the hall, "As for the other,” she added, “I do believe you underestimate yourself."
Any reply Edrys might have made was swept away in the noise of the crowded hall. Though most of her brothers and their wives had quarters separate from the main structure, by custom they were all gathered in the hall, together with their growing families, for the evening meal. Edrys had almost lost count of the nieces and nephews whose young voices filled the air like so many hungry nestlings with their demands to be fed.
Edrys made her way past the crowded tables, pausing to greet those whom she had not seen earlier that day. Mearwyn broke away from her cousin Ædre to throw herself into her aunt's arms.
"Mear ride horse!" Memories of a sunny afternoon not long past had prompted this greeting, and Edrys smiled as she cuddled her niece. Mearwyn was not yet two, and on that day Elswyth had been horrified to discover that her daughter had wandered into the paddock with Nightwing. Edrys had come on the scene just in time to witness her notoriously skittish mare standing perfectly quiet and still while Mearwyn sat playing in the grass between the mare's feet. Thankfully Elswyth had the presence of mind to stay outside the paddock, though her composure was strained to its limits until Edrys had safely removed the child from her dangerous playground. Edrys still could not explain why Nightwing had reacted so calmly to the child’s intrusion, but she had fulfilled the promise made to Mearwyn, who had waited, quiet and obedient, till her aunt had lifted her out of harm's way.
"She still talks about riding with you," Rodor said as he joined his wife at the long table. That had been the promised reward, and Mearwyn had crowed with delight as she rode upon the black mare, Edrys's presence in the saddle with the child easing the anxious mother's fears.
"She has the makings of a great horsewoman," Edrys replied, kissing her niece fondly before returning her to Elswyth's arms and continuing her progress toward the place to which Ardith was beckoning her. It came as no surprise to see that she was to be seated between Gárulf and Théodred, and she greeted the two with a calm that belied the awkward fluttering she felt inside.
"Welcome, my lords!" She favored them both with her most brilliant smile. Théodred returned her greeting with the same easy familiarity he had ever shown toward her, but Edrys still eyed him warily. She knew him well enough to sense that he was up to something.
Gárulf's greeting, while less familiar, caused her heart to race as her eyes met his. Any lingering doubts she may have had about her feelings towards him melted like the mountain mists in the warmth of the midday sun. She hastened to be seated, fearful that her legs would betray her with their trembling, and the others resumed their own seats.
Ardith, true to her word, kept her husband occupied so that he had no further opportunity to embarrass Edrys as the evening meal progressed. Théodred, to her relief, made no comment on her earlier appearance — he was in fact uncharacteristically silent.
It was left to Gárulf to engage her in conversation. He began impersonally enough by commenting on the fine weather, adding that it must have been a welcome relief to the farmers, after the heat of the past summer, to have such pleasant weather during the harvest season.
"Yes, indeed," Edrys replied, grateful for the distraction granted by so innocuous a topic. "There was much concern that the weather would not hold — all have labored long hours to ensure that the crops were safely gathered in. The fields have yielded the best harvest in many years." Genuine enthusiasm mingled with nervous anticipation as she chatted on about the plans for the upcoming celebration. "The harvest feast will be an especially joyous one this year," she added.
"’Tis not the fields alone that have produced an ample crop," Gárulf commented with a broad grin. He indicated Éadwine, who cradled his new son in his arms, allowing Willa a chance to see to her own hunger.
Edrys could not help but smile as she watched her brother. That he had produced a son before Rodor had caused no end of banter between the twin brothers, with Rodor boasting that Mearwyn would become the best Rider of them all, male or female.
"There will be two more come spring," she remarked, for Elswyth was with child once more and Rheda had informed her that very morning of her suspicion that she too would have a babe by late spring. She had blushed shyly as she shared the news with Edrys, and she was blushing even now as she glanced up from her place beside her husband, almost as if she was aware that the news of her condition was the subject of their discourse.
"Drefan wasted no time getting her with child." This dry comment came from her right, and Edrys turned to Théodred, only to see him looking pointedly at his friend who was seated to her left. She turned back to see his reaction, but Gárulf merely smiled and changed the subject.
"Bearn tells me that you have trained the mare yourself."
Edrys nodded. This was one subject she could warm to, yet she still felt wary. She had an uneasy feeling that Bearn was not the only one who might cause her embarrassment. But when she chanced to look his way Théodred wore an expression of amused complaisance, which Edrys was at a loss to understand.
Gárulf's voice reclaimed her attention. "Will you permit me to accompany you tomorrow?"
Edrys looked at him in bewilderment for a moment before she realized what he was asking of her. "Yes – if it would please you." Théodred's expression remained unchanged. "Are you to stay long in the valley then?" The question was directed at Gárulf, but it was his friend who answered.
"The length of our stay depends on how long my friend requires to complete his business."
Gárulf raised one brow as he met the princely gaze. Around them the smaller family groups were beginning to depart, for the hour was growing late and the young ones, having eaten their fill at last, were nodding sleepily. But Edrys was scarcely aware of anyone except the two men who sparred wordlessly across her.
Abruptly Gárulf rose to his feet. "Lady, will you walk with me?" He held out his hand, and mutely Edrys placed her much smaller one in his, allowing him to lead her where he would. Behind her she could have sworn she heard a low chuckle.
to be continued
The opening lines are taken from Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese.
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.