If Ever Two Were One...
2. The Familiar Stranger
Morning light crept pale and cold through the window of her chamber. The bed lay empty, for there had been no sleeping for her that night – not after he had ridden away with the éored. The tears had dried now, the bitter taste of salt lingering on her lips.
Rising from her seat by the cold hearth she went to pour fresh water into the basin. Almost she thought to hear his voice as she laved her face and neck, remembering how he would come to wrap himself around her, tempting her to return to their warm bed for just awhile longer...
There was only silence. Water splashed unheeded onto the stone floor as she fought back the fresh wave of tears. She would not give way. Day had come and, with hope or no, she would go on.
That this day might ever come was a thing she could not have conceived on that moonlit evening, twelve summers past. It was at the wedding feast of the youngest of her brothers that she had first gazed upon him...
mid-August TA 3007
The hall at Ænlicdene was alive that night with revelry, for the youngest son of the house had taken a bride, and guests had come from near and far to join in the celebration. He had arrived in company with Théodred, the King's heir, and with them came a tall youth.
"Brother," she called to Drefan, who stood nearby, "by what name goes the Rider who stands next to Théodred?"
"That would be Éomer, Théoden's sister-son," came the reply. Edrys’s brother cocked one eyebrow as he shifted his gaze back to her. "The lad shows promise, sister, but he's young yet. What you need is a man. Halwende has had his eye on you..."
He was cut short by the impact of her small fist striking his muscular arm.
"You great dolt! I meant the other."
"Gárulf? Why did you not say so?"
"I did. You were too busy ogling Rheda to give heed to what I was saying." She knew by his grinning countenance that he would not deny it. His young bride was the focus of all eyes as she danced with their eldest brother, Bearn, her lithe figure complimented by his brawn.
"Come, little sister," Drefan said, seizing her hand. "We must give a proper welcome to our noble guests." Before she could protest he had led her across the hall.
"Hail, and well met! my Lord Théodred. And to you, Gárulf and to Éomer — welcome!"
"Well met, indeed, my friend!." No surprise was it to hear Théodred address her brother so familiarly; Drefan was well known to Rohan’s Second Marshal, for he had ofttimes ridden with Théodred, as had most of her brothers. Nor was Edrys a stranger to him, for he came often to their Westfold vale, though it had been some months since last they had met.
"My lord, my sister desires to meet your companions."
The quick retort died on her lips as Théodred, taking her by the hand, presented her to the others.
"Your brother has no doubt told you that this stripling is Éomer – Father’s sister-son." Éomer bowed formally in acknowledgement of the introduction.
"And this," Théodred continued, " is Gárulf, Marshal of the East Mark."
"Only against the day when young Éomer stands ready to take up the command."
Edrys liked the manner in which he spoke, quietly confident but without any hint of self-regard. Yet there was something else in his expression as he stood there smiling down at her that puzzled her.
"My lord, have we met?"
"No, my lady, we have not been introduced before, though I must own that I have seen you elsewhere."
Drefan, who had been exchanging pleasantries with Éomer, of a sudden became more attentive to the conversation between his sister and Gárulf, who hastened to explain.
"’Twas four years past when I saw you first. You were with your father and two of your brothers... Bearn and Éadwine I think it was. They had come to the Folde in search of fresh breeding stock for your herd."
"That would be the time Father bought your filly." Drefan had decided to join in. "Bearn told me what a fuss you made to convince Father to buy her."
"But.…" Try though she might, Edrys still could not recall why he seemed so familiar; certain it was that she would have remembered Gárulf had she encountered him during her visit to the Eastfold.
Gárulf only smiled. "Yes, my own father remarked on how determined the young lady was."
"Then...it was your father whom I met?" She supposed it was reasonable to imagine that he resembled his father. Hilderinc was the very image of their father, so when Gárulf confirmed that it had been his father from whom they had acquired the filly, Edrys decided that his seeming familiarity must be attributable to a strong family resemblance.
The sounds of the fiddler tuning his instrument for the next dance caught their attention. As eager couples began to make their way onto the dance floor, Drefan hastily excused himself, hurrying off to claim at least one dance with his bride. Edrys watched with amusement the manoeuvers employed by each of the young maids to entice the young man of her choice, and the sulky reaction if another was chosen in her stead.
"May I have this dance?" Edrys turned to find Éomer at her side. Surprised that he should ask her when not a few of the ladies had made clear their wishes to be partnered by him, she was pleased nonetheless and readily accepted the hand he offered. His manner was open and engaging, and Edrys found herself quite prepared to enjoy his company in spite of Drefan's teasing. That he proved to be a lively dancer only served to increase her pleasure, and when after two dances he relinquished her hand to another partner she experienced a moment of regret at the loss of his company. She thought him very like his cousin.
More dancing followed as partners were exchanged, and for those who did not wish to dance there was food and drink in ample measure. Bearn, as head of the house, had spared no expense to celebrate his youngest brother's wedding, and Ardith had seen to it that all was well ordered. Privately Edrys doubted that she would ever be able to manage half so well.
Ardith stopped next to her just then, her face flushed from the dance. Bearn's great arms encircled the shapely waist of his wife as he joined them.
"What say you, sister — shall I keep the wench?" Edrys saw the glint in his eyes that bespoke mischief, and she was hard pressed to keep a straight face. For all that he was the eldest of her six brothers she oft times thought him still a little boy, constantly wreaking havoc with his pranks. But his wife knew him too well.
"Keep me?" Turning around within the circle of his arms Ardith gave him a playful shove. "Four healthy sons have I given the man and he dares ask such a thing! ’Tis I should be asking should I keep you!" Still laughing at her feigned anger Bearn pulled her close and kissed her, a long, hard kiss that, had she not been flushed already, would have made her cheeks burn bright.
Edrys was smiling as she turned again to survey the gathering. It seemed fully half the inhabitants of the Westfold were there, and in truth she could claim a fair number as kin, for the sons of the Westfold looked most often to the daughters of their neighbors when the time came that they would wed. Her own brothers bore witness to this; Rheda's family farmed the lands next to their own. Bearn had known Ardith from the time they were children, and he had oftimes hunted in company with her brother Ealdian. Æthelwulf had wed Odelyn, Ardith's younger sister, scarce one year after Bearn had taken Ardith to wife. Clænnis had been Hilderinc's choice; Éadwine, the gentle poet of the family, had found his match in Willa, while his twin brother Rodor's heart had been claimed by the ethereal beauty of Elswyth. On this night they were all here, gathered to celebrate once again.
There was no envy in Edrys' heart as she watched them, dancing, laughing, full of hope and joy. Love had found each of her brothers in its own time, and in its own fashion, and for all her tender years she was aware that it was not a thing to be grasped at. Passion was fleeting, like a snowfall in spring, but love, real love...Ah! now that would endure when the White Mountains that guarded the southern borders of the Riddermark were but an ancient memory. She believed this with all her heart, and if she ever doubted the truth of it she had only to look at Bearn and Ardith. That love would find her in its proper season she did not doubt; therefore she was content to wait.
"Give us a song, Edrys." Drefan's voice broke into her reverie. Rheda added her voice to his.
"Please, do. I should love to hear Moire's Lament"
More voices from the crowd around them called for her to sing, but she hesitated. The song spoke of the woman who was left behind as her lover rode out hunting orcs on the marches of the Riddermark. Too near it was to the tale of Théodwyn and her beloved Éomund that Edrys was loath to give in to the request. She glanced at Éomer, standing quietly by his tall cousin, but she could not read what lay behind his silence.
Ardith followed the direction of Edrys’ gaze and saw the youth standing at Théodred's side. She spoke quietly into her husband's ear, but Bearn shook his head and looked at his sister expectantly.
"It seems a sad tale for a night such as this," Edrys protested. "Would you not hear a tune more cheerful - The Enchanted Vale perhaps?"
To her surprise it was Théodred whose voice answered. "We would hear the Lament, lady, if you will grant us the favor of singing it." Edrys glanced at his young cousin, who nodded his agreement.
Edrys would not refuse a request from Théodred. Obediently she took her place at the center of the hall. Eyes closed, she listened to the silence that had descended on the hall, waiting to hear the music inside her head. No instrument played at first; there was only the sound of her voice, soft and low at first, as she sang of love and of loss, the words well matched by the haunting melody. Softly the pipes joined in, their mournful tones punctuating the tale as it unfolded.
The last notes drifted into the night, lost in the shadows like the tragic lovers of the song. The tears that lay glistening on Edrys’s lashes spilled down her cheeks, unheeded by the singer. She was in another place, transported by the music that had risen from the very depths of her soul.
The touch of warm fingers gently brushing the tears from her face brought her back to the present. Only then did she realize that Théodred stood before her, and in his other hand he held a cup, which he now offered to her.
Accepting the proffered cup she drank deeply of the wine before handing it back to him. Raising the cup in silent salute he drained it, then threw it to Gárulf, who stood nearby, before turning to the musicians.
"Play us a tune!" he commanded, and the fiddler took up his bow.
"The Dwimmer's Dance?" A nod from Théodred approved the choice, and the fiddler began a lively tune. The prince swept Edrys onto the dance floor as the assemblage roared its approval. More couples joined them as the tambour added its rhythm, then the flute's clear voice joined in along with the pipes. Faster the dancers whirled; breathless and flushed, it seemed they could dance no more. Still they danced on, until at last the music reached an end.
Théodred escorted Edrys to the side of the hall where Éomer and Gárulf had stood watching the pair as they danced, the younger man's face glowing with pleasure.
"That was well done!" he exclaimed.
Théodred laughed, a deep pleasant laugh. "She does dance rather well. Would you not agree, Gárulf?"
The other man did not respond immediately, though his silence went un-noticed as the newly wedded couple joined them. Rheda threw her arms around Edrys.
"Would that I could sing like that!" She pouted slightly as she added, "’Tis certain Drefan did not choose me for my voice."
Her husband chuckled. "Indeed I did not. I had more earthy matters in mind. Which," he added with a wicked grin, "I mean to attend to – very soon." Rheda blushed crimson as she grasped his full meaning. "If you will excuse us, my lord." Drefan's hand had strayed from his wife's trim waist, his eagerness quite evident.
"Be off with you then." Théodred was clearly amused as he turned his attention back to Edrys, only to find that his friend had at last broken his silence and was escorting that lady onto the dance floor. The music was slower this time, and the couples on the floor swayed to its enchanting melody.
Her back was to him, so Edrys could not see Théodred’s face, but she could hear his voice clearly above the lyrical notes of the tune, one that she recognized as The Maiden's Tears.
"Come, cousin," she heard him say to Éomer. "Let us find drink. This is a night to celebrate!"
A brief note on the format: the story initially moves between the present - i.e. the time of the Ring War - back through the twelve years leading up to this time. I have tried a variety of ways to show this before and am trying out the suggestion that I simply date the time changes. I'd appreciate knowing if this is of any help in following the story.
Spoken dialog is indicated in the usual fashion; internal dialog I have indicated by the use of italics within single quotation marks. Titles of songs or poems are in italics.
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.