16. The Housemaid - V
He rarely speaks to her these days, when he is in Edoras.
The evening after Lathwyn reveals her unintentional participation in Gríma's plans, Théodred comes to her while she is going about her duties. She is startled that he has even approached her, for he is clearly still very angry. I would apologize to you. I …I lost my temper, and I did not mean to frighten or threaten you.
She stares at him, perplexed. No one has ever apologized to her for losing their temper, especially when it was warranted. It is of no matter. There is no need for –
He cuts her off, a bit brusquely, as if he wishes to have this over and done with. There is need. It was very ill-done, and I apologize.
Lathwyn does not know what else to say; she does not think she deserves an apology. But she sees that Théodred is deeply troubled by his loss of control, so she merely nods and says, Thank you.
Two evenings after, he says, There is no need for you to sleep on the couch. It is still too cold at night. He says this indifferently, as if it is no concern of his. It is a large bed – we will not disturb one another.
That same evening, when she has undressed down to her shift, he asks, What is that on your arm?
Lathwyn looks, and again sees a hand-shaped bruise that she had not even known was there. It is nothing.
Did Gríma do that?
She hesitates, then nods.
Théodred's eyes sharpen. The other bruises – those were his doing as well?
She nods again, laying down on the bed with her back to him, carefully staying close to the edge of the mattress.
Silence for a moment. Why did you not tell me? Did you think I would not offer you protection?
There is something odd about his voice – Lathwyn cannot tell if Théodred is angry or offended or hurt by her failure to confide in him. You are not always here. He is.
He makes no reply, though Lathwyn senses his displeasure in her answer.
That is the last time he speaks to her of anything beyond Gríma's interactions with the King for weeks, and usually, he lets Lord Éomer or Lady Éowyn question her.
Lathwyn is not foolish or fanciful enough to think that she cannot live without Théodred, but she is lonelier than she can ever recall being. She misses him, even when he is right there on the other side of the bed. In truth, that is when she misses him the most, for in the past, when they retired for the night, he would tell her of his day, and talk easily with her, whether she responded in kind or no. Now there is only empty silence between them, and she knows that it is her own doing. She cries herself soundlessly to sleep some nights, hearing Théodred's relaxed, rhythmic breathing, knowing that he has cast her off in spirit, if not in appearance, and she finds that harder to bear.
Fortunately, Théodred begins to spend time at Helm's Deep and Harrowdale. Part of Lathwyn wishes he would return to Edoras more regularly, but part of her is glad that she does not have to face his expressionless gaze more often. This way, she can pretend, at least for a little while, that he is just gone on patrol, and that nothing has changed. Lathwyn knows this is not true. She knows that he is needed in the Westfold - now that spring has come, Orcs and Dunlendings alike have renewed their raiding. But she also thinks that he is staying away in order to avoid her.
She cannot reveal what has happened to anyone, of course. Liðides has noted that something is not right; Lathwyn can see it in her eyes, though Liðides does not press Lathwyn for details. Of those who know, only the Lady Éowyn talks to her, and even if Lathwyn were the type of woman to confide her heart's troubles to another, it would be most improper for her to do so to Lady Éowyn. And something about the Lady Éowyn makes Lathwyn uncomfortable. She is not sure why - the Lady Éowyn is not accusatory, nor short-tempered when she speaks to Lathwyn. In fact, Lady Éowyn often seems to be sympathetic, even understanding, though Lathwyn cannot imagine this perception is correct. Why would Lady Éowyn be kind when her brother and cousin are so openly hostile?
Gríma has begun pressing Lathwyn for information that she does not have and never did. He questions her as to what Théodred tells her about the state of the country when they are alone, and every time, when Lathwyn says she knows nothing, Gríma's eyes grow black with suspicion and displeasure. She is terrified that she will give something away, but realizes that Gríma assumes her fear is entirely due to his own presence.
One day, while he is berating her, Lathwyn can not stand it any longer. He tells me no more than you do! she snaps, though her heart is in her throat at defying Gríma so. Why would he, when I am nothing more than a glorified kitchen whore?
Gríma goes completely still, and Lathwyn knows she has pushed him too far. When he speaks, his voice is dangerously quiet. Then what is this? he asks, running a fingertip over the bracelet on her wrist, and revulsion tingles down her spine. He has had kitchen whores before, and never has he given one such a token.
He…he does not trust me, she says, the truth of it twisting her stomach. He speaks of nothing but petty matters. This is…this is simply to mark me, so no other man will approach me. Lathwyn's eyes burn with angry tears wanting to be shed, but she clenches her jaw against them. She will say nothing that would give Gríma an advantage against Théodred, no matter what might happen to her.
Gríma regards her carefully, and seems to come to a decision. Of course he does not trust you, he says, almost fondly. Why would he?
As she always does when Théodred is away, Lathwyn sleeps on his side of the bed. The faint smell of him on the linens is still comforting, though now it pains her, as well. But it is the only way she can fall asleep, so she buries her face in his pillow, and hopes she does not dream.
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.