15. The Heir -IV
The harsh weather has broken, and the tension of winter has lifted. After a short foray into the plains surrounding Edoras, the Riders are much more cheerful, knowing that their confinement has come to an end, and they celebrate all through the evening.
Théodred and Éomer are talking in a side corridor, the sounds of merriment in the hall providing cover for their speech.
Théodred is speaking quietly. He said that they had uncovered a spy in their hall. But he thought it best to leave the man in place.
Éomer nods. Better to know who is against you, than rid yourself of such a man and have to worry about a replacement.
Exactly. Though I am surprised that the news came so quickly. The weather has been bearable for only a few days.
Likely he thought it important enough to ----
My Lord Théodred ?
The cousins turn, and Eledher is standing there. Théodred is startled, for she rarely approaches him in public. Not only that, but she is pale, agitated, and her red eyes betray the fact that she has recently been weeping.
Eledher? What is the matter? He is concerned, for he has never seen her in such a state.
I would speak with you privately, my lord. Her voice is tight.
Éomer looks at Eledher, reproachful. We are in the midst of a discussion --
Eledher interrupts Éomer, though Théodred can see it goes against her nature to do so to a man of Éomer's standing. This will not wait.
Éomer gapes at her, and for an instant, Théodred is sure that Eledher's news is that she is with child. But then she adds, Perhaps it would be best if you heard this as well, my Lord Éomer, and Théodred knows that he is mistaken, for she would have no reason to include Éomer in such a conversation. He does not know if he is relieved or disappointed.
Éomer looks as if he is going to say something unkind, but Théodred stills him with a glance. What reason is there to wait? Come.
Though it is a short distance to Théodred's room, he notes that Eledher repeatedly scans the hallways, as if afraid she is being watched. Dread stirs within him, and he cannot say why. Once inside, he starts to go to Eledher, to comfort her if he can, but she makes the smallest movement away from him, and he stops, puzzled. What is this all about? Why are you so distressed, leofost?
Eledher does not meet his gaze, nor does she look toward Éomer, who seems both curious and annoyed. She sits carefully in one of the side chairs and folds her hands together in her lap. She begins to talk, staring at her feet, not once looking up.
Théodred finds that he must sit to keep from falling down. His mind reels. This cannot be true. She cannot have been a part of this, of his father's decline and the passing of information to enemies. She must be mistaken in what she thinks she has been doing -- Théodred readily believes that Gríma would do such things, but he cannot believe that Eledher would be involved in Gríma's schemes in any way. Not this woman who has spent so much time caring for the King and worrying about his health; not this woman who has spent so much time in Théodred's bed, and who wears the token of his affection.
Then she produces a small glass vial and a handful of letters from her pocket, extends them to him, and he is so taken aback that he cannot move to take them. Éomer takes the letters, opens the first one, scans its contents, and Théodred knows from his cousin's expression of horror that every word Eledher has said is true. He looks at Eledher as if he has never seen her before. She is white and trembling, so clearly frightened that despite himself, he feels a stab of protective sympathy for her. Then Éomer wordlessly shows him what is in the letter, points to the small white hand at the bottom of the page, and rage takes over. Théodred leaps to his feet, stalking toward Eledher, who shrinks into the chair but makes no attempt to elude him. Now she is looking at him, eyes filled with self-loathing and terror, but Théodred does not care.
You have been poisoning my father. His voice is shaking, and he is dimly aware that Éomer has come to stand beside him.
I know. She is not defensive, only resigned and scared.
You have been passing important information to enemies who would use it to destroy Rohan.
That is treason.
I KNOW, THÉODRED! I KNOW! Eledher screams, screams at him, coming out of the chair, and Théodred is momentarily shocked from his anger by this. He can see that Eledher is shaken by the violence of her emotions, and she slumps back into the chair, voice strained, but now at a normal level. Do you think I do not know that? Do you think I do not understand how serious this is? Do you think that I do not know that you could have me imprisoned, or exiled, or executed for this?
Then why tell us? Éomer speaks for the first time, and he is oddly composed. Why put yourself so at risk?
Eledher gives a hysterical sob that is almost a laugh. Because I did not know what I was doing. I do not expect you to believe me, but it is true. I did not know. Do you think I would have done it, if I knew? And I cannot make amends for this situation on my own.
Théodred breaks in, takes a step toward Eledher. She recoils. How long? How long has this been happening?
She swallows visibly, and her voice breaks when she answers. Since -- since I first began to tend to the King.
Almost a year. Something inside Théodred snaps, and he springs at her, swift as a snake striking, but Éomer is quicker yet to put himself between them.
Theodred, no! No -- Éomer pushes Théodred away from Eledher, who is covering her face with her hands. No, you cannot --
Why do you stand there and tell me 'no, you cannot'? Théodred snarls, trying throw off his cousin's hands, but Éomer's greater weight makes it difficult. You heard what she has said! She has freely admitted that she has been poisoning my father -- the King -- and -
Theodred, come with me. Éomer's seeming calm gives Théodred pause. Come -- I wish to speak to you alone. Come, leave her for now.
Théodred allows Éomer to steer him toward the corridor. You. Stay here, he orders. If you leave -
Eledher gives that strange laugh again. Where would I go?
The moment the door to Éomer's room is closed, Théodred rounds on his cousin. Why did you stop me? Do you not think that she deserves whatever happens to her?
Theodred. Éomer's voice is steady, and he does not flinch in the face of Théodred's anger. Do you honestly think that she did know what she was doing?
Are you defending her? he takes a menacing step toward Éomer, who does not move. What happened to your certainty that she is a common slattern? Théodred is viciously mocking.
Éomer takes no offense. I do not approve of your association with her, he admits, but that does not mean I think she is capable of assassination. The Worm has fooled people far wiser that your lufestre, Théodred, including your father the King.
Do not call her that, Théodred snaps as he paces the room. She is no longer anything to me --
I do not think that prudent.
Éomer, I very much wish to strike someone right now, and if you do not stop talking as if this of no matter, it may well be you.
Éomer does not seem in the least cowed. You have not answered my question. Do you think she knew what she was doing?
Théodred stops in his tracks, glaring at his cousin, but Éomer only stares back placidly. Then Théodred understands something. Earlier, when he leapt at Eledher, she had not been covering her face to hide tears -- she was protecting her face from whatever damage he might be preparing to do to her. She had made no effort to evade him. She was perfectly willing to let him strike her; in fact, from her posture, she expected him to do great harm. With a glimmer of shame, he realizes that he cannot honestly say that the impulse was not there. If Éomer had not stopped him, Théodred does not know what he would have done.
But even knowing this, as Théodred is convinced Eledher did, still she came to him; still she had the courage to lay the entire matter at his feet, and was prepared to withstand whatever his reaction might be. He does not think this the action of someone who had intentionally contributed to the downfall of both king and country. It seems more the action of a woman who knew that she had made a terrible error, and knew she must set things to rights, no matter what the cost might be to her. Furthermore, if he sets his fury aside for a moment, Théodred knows that Eledher is strangely innocent in some things. She understands being the brunt of hostility, and knows that men can be physically cruel, but she would not neccesarily sense if she were being used in a more subtle way.
Théodred runs a hand over his face. No, he admits, shoulders sagging. I do not believe that she knew what she was doing. You are right; many wise men have been taken in by Gríma's ploys. And -- she is many things, but Eledher is not wise in the ways of manipulation.
Are you certain of that? Éomer's words are carefully expressionless, and Theodred throws his cousin a puzzled glance.
Say what you mean, Éomer.
Is it not possible that she is confessing because she has realized how dangerous Gríma is, and wishes to have your protection from him? Because she knows there is a greater chance of receiving mercy from you?
Théodred glowers. A moment ago, you said you did not think her capable of assasination. Now you are suggesting that she is working with the Worm? Which is it?
Éomer sighs, crossing his arms over his chest. I do not think her concern for the King's health is feigned. The fact that the King yet lives seems to support her claim that she did not know she was poisoning him. She cannot read, so she had no way of knowing what was in those letters. But that does not mean she has not been working with Gríma in other areas.
Éomer shifts uncomfortably. Such as you, Théodred.
Théodred stares at his cousin, aghast. Are you…you are suggesting that she relented on Gríma's orders? For what purpose? It is not as if she has ever tried to harm me -- or could.
All I know is that she refused you for months, only to begin chasing you all over the Hall. And shortly after that, she began tending your father.
Théodred sits heavily on the edge of Éomer's bed, a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. There would be no point, he says with such force that Éomer actually takes a step back. It is not as if I have ever spoken to her of matters of the realm. You have made it very clear that you think she is unworthy of my attentions, Éomer, but I can see no point in Gríma's ordering her to -- seduce me.
Éomer says nothing for a moment, then plows ahead. This is the point, he says, motioning to the two of them. How many times have you and I had words about your connection with her? Has it not affected the way we speak to one another? Do you think that Gríma would balk at using a woman to create conflict between us? It is working even now, cousin.
Théodred is silent. He cannot reject this idea out of hand, as much as he might wish to. You…are right, Theodred admits reluctantly. Gríma would certainly take any chance to create strife between you and I. But I -- I do not want to think on that right now. Right now, it is more than enough to know that she has caused my father to become a ruined old man before his time. That in itself -- I do not know that I can forgive that, no matter how unknowingly she acted.
It is only when Éomer relaxes that Théodred sees that his cousin had been very, very tense. That is understandable, Éomer says quietly, going to lay a hand on Théodred's shoulder, for he is your father, and you love him dearly, as do I. But I do not think you should break with her, at least not in appearance.
Theodred narrows his eyes at Éomer, still too much in turmoil to follow what his cousin is saying. Were we not just speaking of how it is better to know your spies? If she is willing, she would be a great asset to us in gathering evidence against Gríma. But you must act as if nothing has changed, for that to be a successful plan.
Théodred regards his cousin for a moment. When did you become so level-headed?
When you became so hot-headed. Éomer's grin is wry, and fades quickly. You are not as easy to rouse as I, cousin, but you are much longer in calming your temper. And we cannot afford to have you in such a state. If Gríma suspects that we know what he has been up to, then you, and I, and your woman, will all be at risk.
I told you not to call her that. Théodred heaves a weary sigh, every muscle suddenly aching. But you are right. She could be of help to us -- and in this way, we will be able to keep a watch on her actions as well. We can make certain she is not simply play-acting in order to save her own skin. And if she is not willing to help , then I will persuade her to be willing.
Éomer winces at Théodred's hard voice, but says nothing.
Eledher starts from the chair when they return to the room, watching them as warily as a rabbit might watch a wolf, but she does not speak. Éomer remains silent also.
We believe that you were not aware of what you were doing. This is the first thing that Théodred says, and Eledher looks as if she might weep with relief. But that does not earn you forgiveness, nor trust.
I have no right to either, or to your belief, she says softly, and Théodred ignores the way her raw vulnerability tears at him.
My cousin has a way that you may help to repair some of the damage you have done.
Eledher glances at Éomer, and from her obvious surprise, Théodred guesses that Eledher has been fully aware of Éomer's disapproval.
Éomer explains what he and Théodred have in mind. She will continue to seem as if she is giving the potion to the King, while giving him something else entirely; she will continue to carry Gríma's letters. But now she will tell the two men when such letters are departing, and when they arrive, so that they may read them before they are delivered. And she will report everything she hears pass between Gríma and the King.
Eledher listens, then speaks timidly. But soon you will be both be gone, patrolling. Who then shall I speak with?
Éomer says, My sister. She will help us with this; she has more reason be rid of Grima gone than any of us.
Are you willing to do this? Théodred cannot help but ask. Can you act as if nothing has changed? If you cannot --
Of course I am willing, she says with odd dignity. I will do what I can, if it will help untangle this web. If I cannot act as if nothing has changed, then Gríma will find a way to send me back to Dunland. Eledher's voice wavers in fear. I would rather be dead than return there. And I - I do not wish you to come to harm. She speaks this last so quietly that Théodred can act as if he has not heard.
Very well. Then we will act as if none of this has happened. Only my cousins will know. To everyone else, we are still -- Théodred searches for words --as we were.
Eledher's hand steals to the bracelet on her wrist, and she bites her lip as she nods her comprehension. The expression on her face is familiar, and, after a moment's thought, Théodred places it. He had seen that look more than once on a very young Éowyn, when she was doing her best not to cry, for fear that someone might think poorly of her.
If that is settled, then I believe I shall return to the hall. Éomer turns to go, but comes to a halt when his cousin suddenly speaks.
Did Gríma tell you to lure me to you? Théodred had not planned to ask her that question, for he does not truly want to know the answer. But he cannot restrain himself, and so awaits her reply.
Eledher will not look at him. Does it matter now?
Yes. Her avoidance is answer enough, but Theodred will hear it spoken.
Her voice is lifeless, subservient. Not…not so directly. He…he merely suggested that you might appreciate a…distraction.
Théodred expects to be infuriated by the admission, but instead, he has gone cold. He can think of nothing to say to her, nothing at all.
A distraction from what? Éomer demands, and Eledher starts at his voice, as if she had forgotten he was there.
From…from his nightly councils with the King. Her voice is so low that the men must strain to hear it.
Theodred stares at her blankly, unwilling to accept what she has said. Her eyes are fixed on the floor, and he cannot catch her gaze to see what he might be able to read there. But he does believe her. He is numb in both mind and body, and he can find no words, adequate or otherwise. There is just -- emptiness.
Let us go, cousin, Theodred says at length, and his voice is harsh and unfamiliar to his own ears. He does not want to be near her any longer, and Éomer obligingly opens the door to the corridor. As they exit the room, Eledher begins sobbing, so quietly that both men can ignore the sound, and leave her alone with her remorse, if remorse it is.
Éomer goes to tell Éowyn all that has happened, and Théodred proceeds to get very drunk. He was not lying; he believes that Eledher had no idea what she was doing, knows, in his heart, that she would not willingly put the King in such danger. But he cannot help feeling angered. He cannot help wanting to blame her for everything that has gone wrong in the past year. And even if she is guiltless in the matter of poisoning the King, she is not innocent of playing him for a fool. In this, if nothing else, she is deceitful, and he must question everything she has said to him over the past year. He wonders if all her soft words murmured in the dark were given to her by Grima to speak, if all the endearments she has spoken to him were simply hollow mockings, if she has been laughing at him behind his back for months. He is stunned by how deeply she has wounded him in this alone.
Théodred does not know what he will do, when he must retire for the night. Eledher will be here -- she must be, to keep up the facade -- and he does not want to be alone with her. He is no longer afraid that he might physically hurt her, but he does not know what he might say, without Éomer's presence to inhibit him.
Éomer finally pulls Théodred away from the ale, and escorts his cousin back to his room. Théodred is unspeakably grateful that he says nothing about Eledher.
He finds her asleep on one of the low-backed couches. He studies her for a long time, taking in her tear-stained face, making no move to comfort her when she murmurs uneasily in her sleep. He knows from experience that Eledher will be sore when she awakes - the couch is not comfortable. But at that moment, Théodred cannot care enough to wake her, or move her to the bed, though it is certainly wide enough for two people to sleep in without touching. At this moment, he would be happy if he never laid eyes on her again.
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.