1. Rohan, The Westfold, Autumn 3019
Ardith stretched, yawning a little as she did. The sleeping man beside her stirred, murmuring seductive obscenities in his dreams. She smiled, tempted to indulge him and continue the celebration they had begun the night before. She could not regret the lost sleep their intimate revels had cost.
Many a good wife would haply change places with me, she mused, but stopped shy of embracing the guilt that ever sought to intrude upon her happiness. If she had rejoiced when Bearn came riding home into their valley, she had also mourned, for he bore not only the wounds that oft-times haunted his dreams; he bore the news that their first-born son had fallen on a far away hill. Her mother’s arms still ached to hold him, but not even the comfort of preparing his body for burial was hers.
Not alone did she bear such grief; she had wept with her sisters and her neighbors when messengers came bearing news of a husband slain, a brother lost, a father and son fallen together on the field of battle. So too had she wept with the relief and joy that followed the safe return of a beloved one, bloodied and too often broken in body, yet gloriously alive.
“Come back to bed.” His voice, rough with sleep, sounded as music to her ears. So close had she come to losing him too that she had vowed never to take for granted the sound of his voice, or the musky scent of horseflesh and leather that hung about him, or the touch of his hand as he teased a response from her all too willing flesh.
Oh, the touch of his hand 'tis the last thing I would take for granted. He reached out for her, even as the thought formed in her mind. And then it was gone, lost amid the tumult of sensations and emotion as they joined once more. The routines of life in the hall could manage without her for just a little while longer....
All about the hall there was activity. Trestle tables were set up along the sides of the great room, with long benches to flank them — all but the one opposite the entrance. Standing there, Ardith ran her hands along the back of the great siege that had belonged to the first master of Ænlicdene, still amazed by the manner in which fate had spared it. Telltale signs of the fire could be seen still if one looked closely. Saruman’s marauding orcs had torched the hall’s thatched roof, intending that the massive structure be consumed by the flames, along with the stables, barns and other dwellings that comprised the familial compound. But providence had intervened in the form of a driving rain. The smaller structures had suffered heavy damage — some beyond repair — but the hall had survived.
A different kind of fire burned there now. A spitted boar, which was slowly being turned by two young boys under the watchful eye of Odelyn, spanned the wide hearth. A quiet word with her sister assured Ardith that the rest of the food preparations were already underway in the cookhouse behind the hall.
Ardith stepped outside, greeting the risen sun with a renewed appreciation. No one who had lived through the days of darkness following the hard-won victory at Helm’s Deep could ever again take that blessed light for granted. But darkness had not deterred the survivors from beginning the work of rebuilding. Even those who had lost everything had pitched in to re-thatch the hall’s roof, knowing shelter would not be denied any who sought it, and that in time they too would have their neighbors’ aid in rebuilding their own homes.
The fields and woods had not escaped unharmed, for the marauders had torched them as well. Had it been later in the season… But again fortune had favored them. Though that first planting was destroyed, they had found sufficient seed to replant the fields. The weather had continued fair, with just the right amounts of rain and sunshine to ensure that the late crops flourished. The orchard too had suffered heavy damage, but many of the rootstocks had survived. With careful grafting from the surviving trees, there was hope that in time they would again bear fruit.
Now Ardith surveyed the results of their labors. New stables housed the horses; a great barn was filled with fresh hay and fodder, enough to see all the good beasts through the winter months to come. Their neighbors had agreed to house all their surviving stock communally this first winter, sharing their resources so that none would suffer further privation. They had additional cause to be thankful for this, for some of the goats and cows would freshen during the winter months, providing another source of nourishment for the many children now housed under Ænlicdene’s roof, more than a few of them newly made orphans with no other place to call home.
The clash of swords drew Ardith's attention to the practice yard. Bearn's brother Æthelwulf was there, coaching his son Cœnred, and his nephew Oswine. A contest of arms was to be held as part of the festivities, and the young men were determined to uphold the honor of the family.
"Cœnred handles himself well," Ardith heard Bearn say as he joined her. "His sword work is better than mine was at his age."
"Perhaps. But you were not a battle hardened warrior at the age of sixteen." Nor at the age of seventeen - nor even twenty. Their eldest son had barely reached his twentieth birthday. Too many who had died would never see that age. Elmund, awaiting his turn, was only fourteen, yet he too had fought along side his father and uncles at Helm's Deep. And Mearwyn....
"Rodor would be proud to see her now." Ardith nodded agreement, watching as her niece crossed swords with her cousin Elmund. Bearn was right; his younger brother had always boasted that his firstborn could outride any of her male cousins. Rodor, determined to preserve some of the old ways, had begun his daughter’s training with the bow and the sword while she was still young.
But Merwyn's training could not save her mother and younger brothers and sister — not against the horde of Uruks that had descended on her grandfather's farm. Had Mearwyn not gone riding that day, she too would have perished. Seeing bands of orcs moving at great speed through the valley, she had hastened to raise the alarm. But hard as she rode, it was too late. Another band of Uruks had already done their worst. Horrified, Mearwyn had barely escaped with her own life, consumed by guilt that she had failed in her appointed task.
Would that she could find some consolation…
The sun was setting low over the western hills as the great hall began to fill. The sound rose to greet each new arrival, till it seemed the walls must burst asunder. Ardith smiled as she surveyed the gathering, yet her thoughts were bittersweet. No matter how closely packed the hall, she was painfully aware of the empty spaces where loved ones should be.
Bearn joined his wife, his sister by his side. “Where is that nephew of mine?” Ardith asked.
“He is in good hands.” Edrys directed Ardith’s gaze to a far corner of the hall. Seated there, Ædre smiled radiantly at the young Rider standing beside her. In her arms she held a babe, sleeping peacefully amidst the revelry. Several of her younger cousins crowded about, hoping for a chance to hold this newest addition to the family. But it was Mearwyn, slipping into the seat beside Ædre, to whom that privilege was granted. Ardith was heartened to see the light that filled the young girl’s eyes as she held her infant cousin.
“Each day I encourage her to look for some small thing to take pleasure in: the song of the lark, the scent of fresh-cut hay — a baby’s smile.” Edrys smiled at Ardith’s words.
“Or the love of a good man.” Edrys still held Bearn’s left hand in hers. Gondor’s healers had managed to save his shattered shield-arm, but even their skill could not knit together the muscle that had been severed, rendering the limb all but useless. Still, he was alive — and for that Ardith was truly grateful. Looking at Bearn’s sister, she could not but marvel at the graceful spirit of this woman who had lost so much, yet rejoiced in the happiness of others.
As though reading her thoughts, Edrys added, “’Tis said that a thankful heart finds many blessings, even as the magnet finds iron.”
So it does, Ardith thought, watching her husband raise his cup to drink the toast to the harvest. So it does.
Note: The title, and the proverbial saying are adaptations of a quote from Henry Ward Beecher: The unthankful heart... discovers no mercies; but let the thankful heart sweep through the day and, as the magnet finds the iron, so it will find, in every hour, some heavenly blessings! *siege - used here in the archaic sense of a seat of distinction [also used in some instances for throne]
(Etymology: Middle English sege, from Old French, seat, blockade, from siegier to seat, settle, from (assumed) Vulgar Latin sedicare, from Latin sedEre to sit)
The characters here are all my OCs, created as part of a Westfold family for my WiP If Ever Two Were One, in which Edrys is one of the protagonists. Ardith has become very dear to me, and this seemed a perfect opportunity to expand her story, independent of the other work.
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.