I wish I could remember that first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me,...
Edrys scarcely slept that night. Late into the night the family group had talked, sitting around the fire as it burned low on the hearth. A pale light was showing in the eastern windows when Ardith finally insisted that Edrys must be allowed to retire.
“You will make her ill, keeping her up all night like this with your questions,” she declared. “’Twill be time enough to talk on the morrow.”
Not even Théodred dared gainsay the mistress of Ænlicdene. Together she and Odelyn escorted an exhausted yet exhilarated Edrys to her chamber.
Gárulf had been reluctant to let Edrys go. “If she should remember aught else in the night…” he had said, clearly concerned lest she wake to find herself alone with other memories. Only Ardith’s promise that she would be nearby secured Edrys’s release.
“Do not forget,” Edrys called back to him as she was being ushered from the hall, “you promised to ride with me in the morn,” and Gárulf’s reaffirmation of that promise followed her down the darkened hallway.
Despite the late hours Edrys woke early the next morning, eager to see what the day would bring. What little sleep she had that night had been untroubled by dreams.
She dressed quickly, though she could not resist the temptation to pay a little more attention that usual to her appearance. The gown she chose was a more recent addition to her riding apparel, this one having been fashioned expressly for that purpose. Edrys noted that her boots had been cleaned; the younger boys in the family were assigned to attend to such things. ’Tis good training for any who will someday be squire to a knight,
Ardith had once commented, if only to a father or an uncle.’
Swinging her loosely braided hair over her shoulder, Edrys took a last look in the mirror. The eyes that looked back at her were bright, and the cheeks flushed. ’Tis warm for an autumn morn,
she lied to herself as she headed for the hall.
Clænnis was there, busy with preparations for the morning meal, and her greeting told Edrys that news of her betrothal had made its way through the family compound. If the rest of her brothers’ wives caught her in the hall and congratulated her as effusively as Clænnis, she feared it would be midday before she was able to escape for her ride.
Edrys was helping herself to a bowl of porridge when Odelyn entered, bearing a basket full of bread, the loaves having been freshly baked that morning in the cookhouse behind the hall.
“Your Gárulf said to tell you he would be waiting for you at the stable,” Odelyn said by way of a greeting.
“He did?” The wooden spoon Edrys held dripped porridge back into the pot, unheeded as Odelyn repeated the message, a knowing smile on her face as she spoke.
The sound of that voice behind her gave Edrys a start. She spun about to face its owner. There stood Théodred, his hair glistening with moisture, and the tunic he wore was damp, as though he had put it on while still wet from his bath. His next words confirmed it.
“That brook is cold.”
Odelyn laughed. “Aye – so you were warned. Mayhap next time you will be more willing to wait till water can be heated for your bath.”
Théodred snorted. “That was no complaint,” he said, then turned his attention to Edrys. “Is that for me?” he asked, eyeing the half-filled bowl she held.
“It is now.” She finished spooning porridge into the bowl and thrust it into his hands even as she excused herself, intent on joining Gárulf.
Edrys barely restrained herself from running down the hall’s steps and across the courtyard, not wanting to pause to greet those who called out to her. A wave as she passed was all she would spare them this morn.
The stables lay on the far side of the family compound, with the barns just beyond. Edrys was drawn to the paddock that adjoined the stable where her mare was housed. Dewdrops clung to the grass, sparkling like precious gems in the early morning light, but it was the stallion, who whinnied a greeting as she approached, that had captured her attention.
“You know me!” Edrys reached out to caress his soft nose. “And I remember you…Canrinth.” She spoke the name softly, wonderingly, still amazed that her dreams were, in truth, reality. The grey was saddled, but his master was nowhere in sight.
The sound of singing came to her through the open stable windows, and Edrys followed the sound to find its source in Nightwing’s box. There was her normally fractious mare – fractious with anyone but Edrys – standing calmly as Gárulf braided her mane.
“How did you manage this feat?”
Gárulf looked up, greeting her with a smile before continuing his task. “You slept well?” he asked.
“Well enough.” Edrys moved to the mare’s head. “Has he ensorcelled you as well?” she whispered. Nightwing’s ears flicked forward to catch the sound, but she gave no other sign that she had heard her mistress. She continued to stand patiently as Gárulf finished the last braid.
Edrys took the bridle from its peg. The mare mouthed the bit, just for a moment, before allowing Edrys to slip it into her mouth. Sliding the headstall over Nightwing’s ears, Edrys reached for the buckles, only to have Gárulf’s fingers brush hers. Their eyes met.
Edrys stood as though spellbound under his regard. What is this power he has over me?
her mind demanded.
Then he smiled, and the spell was broken. “Where will you take me today?” he asked as he buckled the bridle, and finished saddling the mare.
Edrys shook her head. “I had not given the matter much thought.” She was silent for a moment as she considered her options. “There is a place – a secret place – where I had been wont to go when I wished to be alone. But ’tis a goodly distance. We would not be back in time for the midday meal.”
Gárulf smiled broadly as he produced a leathern pack that had gone unnoticed by Edrys as she entered the stall. “Æthelwulf’s wife – Odelyn? – suggested that we might like to have the day to ourselves. There is food enough in here for two days if you like…”
Edrys felt the blush coloring her cheeks at the thought.
“But I vowed to have you back by this even,” Gárulf continued. “And it would be wise to do so lest I fall from your brothers’ good graces.”
Though spoken in jest, Edrys knew there was truth in what he said. Bearn was the head of the house, and though she had always known she could wed where she desired, it was best that they have his blessing – and that of all her brothers. She dared not contemplate how they might react to another incident. There had been questions enough when Théodred had brought her home. That had been almost a year ago….
“Deep thoughts?” Gárulf’s question banished the memory. She shook her head, answering his smile with her own as she took Nightwing’s reins, and led her from the stable.
Gárulf followed. His stallion, grazing unconcernedly while he waited, came trotting across the paddock in answer to Gárulf’s whistle, and soon they were cantering across fields where the sheep and kine were busy grazing. The northern foothills of the White Mountains rose before them, while to their right Thrihyrne’s snow-capped peaks were bathed in shades of lavender and blue.
They spoke but little as they rode, content for the moment to be together, with no other thought but the joy of riding free on a clear autumn morning. They passed many fields that were well shorn, and some where a second crop yet awaited the reapers.
As they neared the foothills Edrys took the lead, choosing a path that wove its way through wooded terrain that rose gradually toward the mountainous regions to their south. The colors of autumn belied the summery warmth of the day, one of those pleasant interludes before the winter winds descended upon the hills and vales of Rohan.
The path Edrys followed narrowed, till Gárulf voiced the thought that surely they could go no farther. Even so, Edrys paused but briefly, and then, with a softly uttered exclamation of relief, she urged her mount forward, holding aside the low-hanging branches that had obscured the path.
Gárulf followed. Beyond the trees the path opened up once more, and began a steady descent into a small vale. There a meadow spread across the valley floor, late-blooming wildflowers vying with the autumn leaves in their brilliant display. A brook meandered across the meadow, disappearing into a cleft in the southeastern wall of the valley.
Edrys watched Gárulf’s face as he took in the vista that lay before them.
“’Tis easy to see why you love this place,” he said at last.
Edrys’s smile mirrored his as she turned to lead the way down into the vale. A brief canter brought them to the banks of the brook, and there they dismounted. Gárulf relieved the horses of their saddles, allowing them to roam freely as he and Edrys spread their picnic there on the bank.
Their conversation was light at first: the beauty of the vale, the warmth of the sun, good food. Anything but their newly acknowledged love, or the revelations of the past night.
“I begin to wonder at your brothers,” Gárulf remarked casually. “Théodred gave me to believe that your brothers have guarded you closely. How comes it that this place is secret still?”
Edrys’s smiled, a bit wryly. “I discovered easily enough that my brothers have been following me, but it would matter little had I not. It has been some time since last I came here – not since last autumn.” The day her mother was killed. “I have not ventured so far from home since.” Her voice trailed off. She had no real wish to think about that day, nor the days that had followed.
Yet think about them she must, if ever she was to know the truth. And the man with her, the man who held so much promise for the future, likewise held some of the answers that she sought. She knew she had no choice but to ask the one question that had troubled her since the revelations of last night.
“Why did you not tell me, that night at Drefan’s wedding feast, how you and I came to meet?”
Gárulf did not answer her immediately. He took another drink, then turned to consider her question.
“I would have done so, but we – Théodred, your brothers and I – we needed first to know if you might regain your memory, if only in part. As you have.”
“I do not understand. Would it truly matter whether you told me or I remembered on my own?”
“Perhaps not. We simply lack sufficient knowledge about loss of memory, whether its cause might lie with injuries such as you suffered, or if it lies with some other cause. Not even the healers in Mundburg could enlighten us further.”
He nodded. “After Théodred told me that you could not remember all that had happened to you, I sent word to Mundburg, to friends there, seeking whatever advice their healers could offer.”
Edrys poked at the food before her absently as she considered this new information.
“How much do you know of what happened before?”
“Before I found you and brought you to Théodred’s camp?” Edrys nodded. “I know what Théodred and your brothers have told me. Enough to know that they believe you may still be in danger.”
Of a certainty there was danger – not the least the danger that her heart would be broken again, in ways that she dreaded to contemplate.
“I know enough to understand that you are still afraid of something.” Gárulf’s statement caught her off-guard. “And not, I think, of those who took you captive.”
Oh! but he was too near the mark. Her heart still told her to trust him. But there were others involved – and her trust in them had been shaken.
“Shall we strike a bargain, you and I? Tell me whatever you can recall, everything that happened leading up to the time they took you, and after. And I will tell you all that I know.”
Gárulf moved closer to take Edrys’s hands in his. “If I am to protect you, I need to know what it is that threatens you. Or is that what you fear?” His voice was gentle, but insistent.
“No!” Edrys cried out in response. “’Tis not your knowing that I fear. I cannot explain it – indeed, I know not if I believe what I was told, or if it was said only to wound…”
He stopped her, gently. “Edrys, whatever it is, we will find the truth of it, together. It is possible that I know more than you imagine…” Edrys’s looked up sharply at this. Gárulf’s eyes pleaded with her to trust him. “Please. Just begin at the beginning.”
Edrys could not even guess where, nor why, it had all begun. All she could do was relate what she did know, and hope – a hope mingled with fear – that it would be enough.
~to be continued…
*Opening lines by Christina Rossetti
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.