Grief and celebration are sometimes intertwined.
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Théoden could think of no fairer sight than the one he beheld at that moment – Elfhilde lying beside him, her body flushed and glistening with sweat, bosom heaving as she got her breath back.
“ I have solved a mystery,” she declared teasingly, running her eyes over his naked form. “ It seems it was not your sword that was poking me as we danced.”
He chuckled and rolled onto his side so that he had a better view of his new wife. It had been far sweeter than he ever imagined to finally be intimate with her, to have her as his own, now and for the rest of their lives. He greatly desired to take her again, but his eyes were growing heavy; sleep was slowly overpowering him. He reached out and put his arm around her waist.
“ I love you, ’Hilde.”
Théoden slowly opened his eyes. He heaved a sigh when he found himself caressing the vacant mattress. Just another dream.
He gazed out the window, watching the sky change colour as dawn approached. He missed Elfhilde terribly, and it was always worse at this time of year. He missed her smile; her laugh; her ready wit and the way she teased him; the softness of her bosom and the way her body felt against his when they made love. He’d been overjoyed when Elfhilde told him she was with child.
It had never occurred to him that she might die.
On the day she should have been nursing their son, she was cold on the bed in her birthing chamber. Instead of lying beside him, she lay in her tomb. And when he should have been dreaming about the future, he dreamed about Elfhilde calling for him in her death throes, when the pain grew unbearable; the dreams soured his stomach and made him vomit. Théoden brushed his fingers against Elfhilde’s pillow and fought back a sudden surge of tears. He felt lost in their bed; it was too big for him on his own. He had tried so hard to come to terms with his loss, but the grief had a way of catching him off-guard, late at night or early in the morning. And each evening when he retired, the empty bed reminded him afresh…
Théoden wiped his eyes on the corner of his pillow, abandoning his train of thought, and listened closely. Had the door creaked? He strained his ears – was that someone breathing?
Théoden grunted as his son leapt on top of him.
“ Get up, Father, get up!” Théodred shouted. He sat astride Théoden and bounced up and down. “ I’m seven, I’m seven!”
Théoden rolled onto his back and gave a yawn. “ What?”
“ It’s my birthday today!” Théodred exclaimed excitedly. “ I’m seven, I’m seven and I’m a big boy!” He poked his thumb proudly into his chest. “ Look, I even dressed myself.”
“ So I see,” Théoden replied, lacing the boy’s shirt up properly. “But what has that to do with me?”
“ You said I could have a pony for my birthday,” Théodred explained patiently.
Théoden rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
“ No,” he answered, “ I said you could have a donkey.”
Théodred looked horrified. “ A donkey?!”
As Théoden began to laugh, Théodred folded his arms and glowered at him. “ You always tease me.”
“ Little boys need to be teased,” Théoden replied. He sat up, grabbed Théodred round the waist and rolled him over. “ And they need to be tickled!”
“ No, Father, no…” Théodred’s protests quickly turned into giggles as Théoden searched out every spot that made him laugh. He stopped when Théodred was quite breathless. Théoden took his son in his arms and cuddled him.
“ Of course you shall have a pony,” he assured the boy. “ We shall go to the stables after breakfast and you can pick one out.”
“ Yes!” Théodred punched the air.
“ So,” Théoden asked, “ have you washed your face and hands?”
“ Yes.” Théodred held out his hands for inspection.
“ What about your neck?”
Théodred proudly held his yellow hair out of the way and pulled down the collar of his shirt. “ Yes.”
“ Good. And did you brush your hair?”
Théodred groaned. “ But I hate that!”
Théoden turned away and picked up his brush from the small table beside the bed. He gestured for Théodred to sit between his legs. “ Come here.”
Grumbling, Théodred did as he was told.
“ You must brush your hair at least twice a day,” Théoden told him, undoing the boy’s ponytail. “ Brushing keeps it clean.”
Théodred pulled at the bearskin that lay on top of the blankets, dragging it up the bed. He stared into its glass eyes and growled.
“ Father, did you kill this bear?”
“ Yes,” Théoden answered, carefully untangling an especially sticky knot in Théodred’s hair.
“ I bit him on the head.”
Théodred gave an exasperated sigh. “ You’re silly.”
Théoden brushed out his son’s shoulder-length, blonde hair. “There. Now your hair is shining.”
Théodred twisted around and looked up at him. “ Shining?”
“ Like gold,” Théoden replied. He tied Théodred’s hair up again, and narrowed his eyes at a bit in front that refused to lie down. He licked the palm of his hand and flattened the offending lock of hair. “Right, be off with you. I have to wash and dress.”
Théodred knelt up and turned to face him.
“ Don’t fall back asleep,” he warned. He kissed Théoden on the cheek. “ I love you.” He sprang off the bed, taking the bearskin with him. “ Rraaarrr! Rraaarrr, I’m a bear…”
It could have been worse, Théoden reflected as he washed himself. He might have lost both his wife and child on that fateful night. And he knew Elfhilde would not want him to be sad today. They would visit her burial mound later, just the two of them.
For now, he had a little boy’s birthday to celebrate.
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.