If Ever Two Were One...
7. The Ties That Bind
‘Begin at the beginning,’ Gárulf had said. And if Ansithe had told her true, the beginning of the tale lay years in the past, before Edrys’s birth.
How much has he learned from my brothers? Edrys wondered. Or from Théodred? It had been common enough knowledge that she and her mother were not close, though most folk seemed to accept the tale that Ealhere had spun concerning his wife’s delicate health. That Edrys had as an infant had a wet-nurse – Ardith and Odelyn’s mother, who had lost an infant son only days before Edrys’s birth – only served to bolster Ealhere’s story.
And so Edrys had believed, for a time. But as she grew she began to suspect that the truth was less kind, for on those rare occasions when she found herself alone with her mother it had been painfully evident that Ansithe had no wish to be a mother to anyone, least of all to Edrys.
Edrys drew in a deep breath, willing herself to speak as dispassionately as she could about the woman she could not haply own as a mother.
“That morning I had words with Ansithe – with my mother,” she corrected herself, the very word a rebuke. Edrys could hear the bitterness in her voice, try though she might to keep the emotion at bay. “She said things, cruel, hurtful things about my father.” She closed her eyes, as though doing so could ever blot out the memory of that morning. So many things she wished to recall and could not, while this hateful remembrance lingered still.
“I ran from her,” Edrys continued. “Ran from her spiteful words. I ran to the one place where I knew none would find me.”
Edrys nodded. “There was no one to whom I could turn. How could I? How could I ask my brothers – Bearn, Æthelwulf, any of them – if there was truth in her words?”
She knew she had to tell Gárulf, true or not. It was only right that he should know. And should his love prove less than he has declared…? At almost the same instant that the thought formed she dismissed it as unworthy.
Gárulf still held her hand, and now he squeezed it gently. “Edrys, I believe I can guess what it was she told you. She told you that Ealhere was not your father.”
Edrys gasped. “How did you know?”
“You told me, though you would not remember it. You were feverish at the time, and as I came to understand only later, not fully aware of where you were, nor who you were with.”
“Oh.” Edrys wondered uneasily what else she might have said.
Gárulf leaned toward her to place a gentle kiss on her lips. “There is naught you have said, naught you can say, that can change what I feel for you. I love you. If you remember nothing else, remember that.”
Edrys leaned her head against his shoulder, drawing comfort and strength from his words. Taking a shaky breath, she continued.
“I was hurt, confused. And as time passed, I became angry. Angry with Ansithe, even angry with my father. If only he had told me the truth…”
“It is possible he kept the truth from you because he thought to protect you. Because he loved you.” Gárulf stroked her hair soothingly as he spoke. “Do not forget, I saw you together that day in the Eastfold, as did my own father. One cannot mistake that kind of love. Whether he begat you or no, Ealhere loved you with a father’s love.”
Edrys was still for a time, soaking in his words. It was true. Ealhere had loved her as a father would. And while he yet lived, he had been a strong shield, protecting her from Ansithe’s cruel indifference.
“Wait – you said you saw us together? Why can I not recall seeing you? Surely I would remember it, had I seen you that day.”
Gárulf smiled, seeming pleased by her insistence. “You could not remember seeing me, because I did not show myself that day. But I did chance to observe you with your father, and with your brothers, and my father and I have often spoken together of you since that day. I should tell you that he is most eager to see you again. As is my mother to meet you.”
The warmth in her cheeks told Edrys that she must be blushing profusely at this revelation. His father – and his mother. What is she like? Edrys wondered. She hoped that Gárulf’s mother might be more like Ardith and Odelyn’s dear mother than her own.
“My mother loves you already.” Again he seemed to read her thoughts, and she smiled in response, willing for now to accept what he told her as true. But he had not told her all.
“Why would you not wish to show yourself that day?” Edrys said.
“My reasons will become clear when I tell my own tale. You have yet to finish telling what you remember. Did Ansithe make any claims about who sired you?”
Edrys shook her head. “I left her before she could say more.” Edrys knew that if she had stayed longer, Ansithe would have been all too pleased to tell her that which she had no desire to hear. “Is it important?”
“It may be,” Gárulf said. “But if you do not know, we must leave it for now. After you left her, what then? Did the outlaws follow you here?”
“No. It was as I was making my way home that they took me.” If she had not lingered in the valley so long, trying in vain to cool her anger toward Ansithe, Edrys might have been home safe before dark. But it was only when she had realized how low the sun lay in the west that she had reluctantly started for home.
She had been but a league from Ænlicdene when the plaintive bleating of a ewe had stopped her. Darkness had descended, and though the sky was clear, the waxing moon shed too little light to penetrate the copse from which the sound came.
Dismounting from Nightwing, who had balked repeatedly when urged forward, Edrys had entered the copse on foot. Only after the outlaws broke cover to seize her had she realized the reason for her mare’s skittishness. Cursing her foolhardy behavior, Edrys had fought back with the only weapon she had, the small dagger that she always wore at her side when out riding. She had succeeding in wounding one of the outlaws before another had struck her from behind, knocking her unconscious.
Gárulf had listened in silence as Edrys related the events of that evening, but his eyes narrowed as she described the skirmish in the copse.
“They laid an ambush for you?”
Ambush? That thought had not occurred to her. “My only thought was that they were stealing sheep. What reason would they have to ambush me?”
Gárulf shrugged off the question. “Perhaps none. You saw or heard nothing that might reveal the reason for their presence near Ænlicdene?”
“Nothing – at least, nothing that I can recall.” The question disturbed her more than she wanted to admit, teasing as it did at a vague something that she was loathe to name a memory. “After they took me I remember nothing until sometime later. It was full dark, and as best I could tell we were somewhere out on the open meads. They must have thought they were safe from any pursuit, because they had built a fire, and seemed prepared to camp there for the remainder of the night.
“I remember looking for Nightwing, and feeling some relief, seeing that she was not picketed with their horses. I knew that if she was free she would return home, and that my brothers would soon be out searching for me.”
What she had not known till much later was that Ansithe had been killed, and that for a time Nightwing was thought to have caused her death. Deliberately Edrys pushed that memory aside, focusing on retelling what she could recall of her time with the outlaws.
“They had bound my hands, though for some reason my feet were free. I tried to remain quiet, hoping they would think I was unconscious still.” Edrys had not wanted to consider what might have happened otherwise. Even now, if she closed her eyes she could see the outlaw leader. She could see his sneering expression, hear his uncouth speech, and she thought she would never be rid of the vile odours of unwashed flesh and stale beer.
As she lay there she could hear the outlaws talking among themselves, their language harsh and unlovely to her ears. They were also drinking a great deal. Occasionally she had caught a word that sounded familiar. The king’s name had been spoken, along with other words that she thought sounded like cursing.
“And then one of them saw that I had awoken. The one whom I took for their leader left his fellows to drag me to my feet, laughing when I stumbled and fell against him.”
He had not long to laugh. Even with her hands bound, Edrys had managed to seize the knife from the outlaw’s belt and stab him with it. The others had watched, stunned momentarily by the sight of their leader as he staggered backward, blood pouring from the wound.
“I know not what I should have done next. I had but seized the chance that presented itself. But there were too many of them, and though I had managed to cut through my bonds, the ruffians stood between me and the horses.”
Attempting to escape afoot, in the dark, and not knowing how far they had come, would have been futile, but that had seemed to be her only option.
“And then you appeared.”
A great grey horse - Canrinth – had come thundering into the circle of firelight just as the outlaws would have rushed Edrys, and they had scattered before the dual onslaught of the stallion’s hooves and his rider’s blade. Edrys too was taken by surprise, yet recovered quickly to made a break for the picket line, hoping to effect her escape. Not bothering with a saddle, she untied one of the horses.
She might have succeeded, but for one outlaw who had evaded the stallion’s rider, whom Edrys now knew had been Gárulf. The outlaw had caught Edrys just as she was mounting, grabbing her by the hair to yank her from the horse.
“I remember crying out as I fell. I had the knife still, and I tried to strike at him, but he caught my arm and twisted it till I dropped the knife. Then he struck me, hard. I know I tried to twist away from him, to avoid the blow. After that I remember nothing. Not until I woke in Théodred’s tent. And all he would tell me was that one of his scouts had found me.”
Gárulf was silent for a time before he spoke, and even then it was as though he was speaking to himself. “Much of this we knew already. All but Ansithe’s role. And her reasons for making such a revelation are unclear. I wonder at the timing….”
He broke off his musings suddenly. “Forgive me,” he said. “An old habit, born of the need to work through a problem when there was no other with whom to confer.”
Edrys nodded her understanding. Had she not also become accustomed to talking to herself when faced with a difficulty?
“I know now that it was you who rescued me and brought me to Théodred’s camp. But why did Théodred not tell me in the beginning ’twas you?”
Her mind was filled with images, conjured up by the retelling of events. One image especially persisted in pushing its way to the forefront of her memory, and suddenly she realized why her memories of Gárulf had been so confused.
“The rider – you – had dark hair. I remember.” Her tone was almost accusatory, and she watched him closely, unsure of what this remembrance might mean.
Even after all the revelations of the past two days, Gárulf’s response came as a surprise.
“Your memories are becoming clearer. ’Tis a good sign.” He was smiling as he spoke, but the expression in his eyes was grave as he continued. “My hair was dyed. And it was shorn about my shoulders, though that may not have been so noticeable in the darkness.”
His hair, flaxen-pale in the autumn sunshine, showed no signs that it had ever been otherwise. But now Edrys noted that, while his hair hung below his shoulders, it was not so long as the men of Rohan were wont to wear their braids.
“Why?” Her thoughts flew to a number of possible answers, none of them wholly satisfying, and some less than honorable. But that he could be anything other than honorable she refused to believe.
“Théodred spoke truly when he said one of his scouts found you – though some would call my role by another name.”
Gárulf had been a spy?
*to be continued...
*Opening line from Shakespeare’s King Lear: Act I – Scene I.
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.