20. The Women
Lathwyn knows what it is like be afraid. When living with the Dunlendings, she lived in fear every moment of every day, until it stopped being fear and simply became normal. But that was not the same as what she experiences now. Then she feared only for herself, for her physical well-being.
Now – now she is terrified for the safety of others. She knows that one small slip could cause ruin for all, including Rohan itself, and there are moments when the weight of this responsibility threatens to suffocate her. Lathwyn faces every morning with the knowledge that if she gives anything away to Grima, death will surely follow, if not for her, then for Théodred or Théoden King, or Lady Éowyn and Lord Éomer. She does not have to pretend that she is afraid of Gríma, simply to lull him into a false sense of security; he does frighten her, more than she is willing to admit. But she wants to see his duplicity uncovered, she wants him to pay for what he has done to king and country.
Of course she can speak of these things to no-one, which makes the pressure she is under than much greater. Lathwyn finds that where once she was stoic and steady to the point of indifference, now her moods seem blown about by the fierce spring winds. One moment she is impassive; the next she is fighting back a flood of tears. Any word can send her into a fit of anger or insult, and these attacks of temper worry her. She is not used to being at the whim of her emotions.
One day, when she is visiting Liðides, she begins sobbing into her tea without warning, and the other woman pats her shoulder sympathetically. It will pass, my dear. It happens to all women, the crying and the anger and the swift changes of mood. You should be happy, Eledher. This child will ensure that you have a comfortable life.
Lathwyn freezes, her first instinct to deny, but she knows that would be futile. Liðides is too knowing believe such a lie. Please, Lathwyn says, clutching at Liðides' hand, please say nothing, not yet.
Liðides looks at her strangely, but does not argue. If you wish me to remain silent, I will. Though in a month or two, everyone in Edoras will be able to see for themselves.
I know, Lathwyn replies, but I need a chance to think how I am going to break the news to him.
Liðides nods. Of course, she promises. I will say nothing until you think the time is right.
Lathwyn trusts that Liðides will keep quiet, but she is still petrified by her uncontrollable reactions. She cannot afford to lose her composure, yet it takes all her strength to present a placid face to the world. Every night she collapses into Théodred's bed, utterly exhausted but too knotted with worry to sleep. She has come to be grateful that Théodred is not often in Edoras, for only when she is alone at the end of the day can she let her guard down completely. When she is alone is the only time she can allow herself to think about the life she now carries; to lay her plans for the future. If he were there, she would not have such solitude. If he were there, she would not be able to keep such a secret from him for long. And he must not know.
Lathwyn is confused by the seeming concern of the Lord Éomer and the Lady Éowyn . On separate occasions, both approach and ask if Gríma is mistreating her in any way. She does not know why they would think otherwise, and does not understand why they act surprised that she has not relayed this information; she sees no point. Of course Gríma mistreats her – that is why she is there, so that he has someone to unleash all his suspicions on. She is bait, a distraction so that Gríma's shrewd gaze will not focus on how his letters are being intercepted, or how Théodred is commanding the armies. She knows this, and accepts it as what she must do to make amends for her part in the king's decline.
She knows now, however, that she cannot – no, will not—continue to risk herself so. It is too much to ask, especially now. Lathwyn had thought that she was incapable of bearing children, for though she has had many swift, impersonal encounters over the years, she never quickened. And though she has been content to let others dictate her actions, now she is not. She will not put her child in jeopardy.
In the dark of the night, however, Lathwyn is stung by the fact that neither Lord nor Lady tried to tell her that all would be well in the end, that Théodred would indeed once again look at her without anger or bitterness in his gaze. She does not think they will ever be as they once were; she only wants Théodred to stop thinking of her as a traitor. It would make things so much easier to bear.
One night Théodred returns unexpectedly, and Lathwyn's immediate reaction is alarm, for she is intruding on his side of the wide bed and she does not wish to antagonize him. To her surprise, he does not seem to be bothered by this. In fact, he speaks to her as he has not done in many a day. He does not vent his frustrations as he once did, but he shows no sign of injured pride, even telling her, Your efforts to help uncover Gríma's scheming have been most helpful.
She is struck dumb for a moment, for they have not spoken this much in two months, and she had not realized how much she had missed his calming voice.
Thank you, she replies softly, then changes the subject. You should rest. It is late, and you look tense.
He nods. I am, he admits with a sigh, laying down, pulling the bedclothes around himself. It sometimes feels as if I will never be fully relaxed again.
Lathwyn knows what that is like. She studies Théodred a moment, allowing herself the luxury of admiring him. He looks so weary, so weighed down by his duties – she wishes she could do something to ease his worries. She thinks that she did not imagine a flash of desire in his eyes. Shall I calm you?
Théodred sits up, startled. Lathwyn does not move nor speak; she does not trust herself to do either. His thoughts are clearly written on his face – he is both eager to accept her offer, and afraid that she will take it as something more than just comfort. But she has wanted such consolation as well; has wanted it to the point where she had considered finding it elsewhere, from some anonymous stable hand. Liðides has told her that this is normal as well, but that does not make such urges any easier to bear. She has not sought out another man, of course – it would be unwise in many ways. Besides, she does not want any other man.
Eledher – he says at length, obviously conflicted. I do not know that it is a good --
You are not the only person in Rohan who is tense, is all she says. His eyes narrow, as if he is seeing her for the first time in months, and whatever he sees brings him to a decision. He reaches for her; she goes to him readily, and cannot hold back a soft sigh at the feel of his mouth on hers.
Lathwyn knows this will be the last time, so she does all she can to draw it out. She wants to remember this, so that she will have the memories to warm her on the cold, empty nights that are to come. The heat of his lips against her throat; the roughness of his beard against her belly; the way his voice catches when he whispers her name; his breathless, ragged gasps; the scent and taste and feel of him. The surprising way every inch of her skin seems more sensitive than it has ever been.
Once they are both sated, Lathwyn lies with Théodred's arms around her, lightly tracing her token on his wrist. She wonders if he will continue to wear it after she is gone.
As she tends to her duties the next day, she cannot help but wonder if Théodred will come to her again, and she finds herself smiling at the idea. Even if it is just comfort, it is what she needs right now.
The Lady Éowyn tells Lathwyn that Théodred has been called away to Helm's Deep, though he much wishes to speak with her on his return. For an instant, Lathwyn is filled with happiness at this news, for Lady Éowyn seems pleased to deliver it. Then reality asserts itself, and Lathwyn knows that she will never discover what it was Théodred wished to say to her.
Éowyn is relieved that Théodred is not often in Edoras, for she still simmers with irritation toward her cousin. Éomer has spoken with him, as has she, and yet there is no outward sign that Théodred is willing to consider that his treatment of Eledher is unworthy. She is aware that Théodred has begun avoiding her, when he is in the Meduseld, but this only makes her more determined to make him see the error of his ways.
She finds him in the stables one day, and again reproaches him for his coldness toward Eledher. Surprisingly, he strikes back at her accusations -- in the past, Théodred has simply ignored Éowyn when she speaks to him so. Every word he says only convinces Éowyn further that he is hiding behind his pride.
.She came to me at Gríma's behest, Éowyn ! So that Gríma could find a way to exploit me through her! How do you expect me to act toward her after discovering that?
And why did you pursue her, Théodred? Éowyn demands, exasperated. Did you pursue her because you thought she would lend you advice and support? No, you pursued her because you wanted to know the rumours of her talent in the bedchamber were true. You wanted to satisfy your own curiosity. Stop acting as if your motives were noble, Théodred! You were only interested her as someone who would sate your needs! Why should she believe your feelings are true?
She wears my token for all of Rohan to see! her cousin exclaims fiercely. I gave it to her freely and of my own will! Is that not enough?
And she gave you hers! Éowyn has lost her patience with his stubbornness. Is that not enough for you? She should accept that your feelings were true simply because you are Heir, and thus beyond reproach? You are not, you know. He looks shocked that she would say such a thing, and Éowyn makes an effort to rein her temper in. Théodred, have you ever found evidence that Eledher was using her closeness to you to her advantage? Has she repeated anything you have told her in confidence, or tried to harm you in any way?
No, he admits through clenched teeth. She has not. But --
But what? Gríma may have wanted her to distract you from his councils with Uncle, but she had no way of knowing why Gríma wished you distracted. She is not perceptive enough to have seen Gríma's scheming until it was right in front of her nose. Théodred, you believe that she was used unknowingly by Gríma in all other matters. Why can you not believe it about this one?
Théodred stares at her for a long moment, then without another word, turns and leaves the stables, leaving Éowyn to fume.
However, while Théodred's mood still seems darker than is normal, Éowyn thinks she sees that her words have had an effect. She is not sure if she is imagining this or not until Éomer relays a conversation he had with their cousin. Éomer believes that Théodred's heart is softening towards Eledher, which Éowyn finds amusing, as Éomer himself seems to be having a similar change in attitude. Now all she can do is be patient, and hope her brother's perceptions are correct – rebuking Théodred further will only turn her cousin's temper toward her.
Théodred comes to Éowyn and asks let Eledher know that he wishes to speak her on his return to Edoras. Éowyn is pleased; though Théodred refuses to say more, she hopes that his intention is to mend the breach that is between him and Eledher.
She delivers this news to Eledher one day as she is finishing a copy of the latest letter. Eledher brightens for an instant, and then something shifts in her eyes. Her gaze flickers downward briefly, and abruptly, it all becomes clear. Eledher's unusual shows of emotion in these last weeks, her visible exhaustion, the layers upon layers of worry that never leave her face.
Does Théodred know? Éowyn 's voice echoes in the stillness of the library.
Eledher's face pales, and Éowyn thinks she is going to bolt. Then Eledher gives a small, wistful smile, laying one hand on her belly. No, she says softly, no. And he will not know, unless you tell him.
For a moment, Éowyn gapes at the other woman, then manages to find her voice. What do you mean by that? You cannot mean to keep this from him! Or… Éowyn falters, then continues ruthlessly, or is it not his?
Of course it is his, Eledher answers, her even tone belied by the spark of resentment in her eyes. But there would be no point in telling him, my lady, as I am leaving Edoras.
What -- leaving Edoras? Éowyn demands. You cannot think that I – that Théodred – will allow you to do so!
You cannot stop me, Eledher replies flatly. Unless you are planning to keep me under lock and key. Which would, of course, alert Gríma to the fact that all is not as it should be.
Éowyn is growing angrier by the moment. Never would she have thought that Eledher, seemingly the quietest and most obliging of servants, would have the spirit to defy her, the Lady of Rohan. She opens her mouth to berate the other woman, but Eledher speaks first.
My lady – what do you think would happen if Gríma were to discover this?
If Gríma were to discover that a woman he thought under his control was carrying Théodred's child? He would seize both mother and child, and use them mercilessly against her cousin. Even if Théodred rejected the child – though Éowyn does not think he would – Gríma would use it hold Eledher hostage. She would never be free of him. Or he would kill her outright, with nary a twinge of conscience. The very thought makes Éowyn 's stomach heave, and she tries to find words to reason.
Do you not think that we could make you safe? she asks. I do not think that Théodred would ignore his responsibilities, Eledher. He would protect you, as would my brother and all the men at their command, if needs be.
Eledher looks Éowyn directly in the face. The same way they have protected you and the King?
Her words knock Éowyn as breathless as any blow, and she finds herself actually raising her hand to slap Eledher for daring to breathe such an insult. Then her fury toward Eledher fades, and she is deeply, painfully ashamed that she cannot disagree. Her cousin and brother have left her to Gríma's mercies, trusting that she could find ways to defend herself. They were unable to keep Gríma from undermining her uncle's rule and mind; even now, they cannot undo all the harm Gríma has done. Éowyn finds tears of frustration stinging her eyelids, and she drops her gaze to the ground, unwilling to let a servant see her in such a state.
They are not here all the time, Eledher continues, voice now quiet and matter-of-fact, and he is. I would not live to see this child born, my Lady. The Meduseld is full of dark corners and empty rooms, and you know that he would not balk at doing away with me. I will not give Gríma that opportunity. And if you do not speak, then Théodred never need know. You may tell everyone what you like - put out that I ran off with a musician or tinker or that I simply went mad…there are many who will believe that without blinking. Her smile is tight. But I will not stay here and risk my life and the life of my child.
But… what of the letters? Éowyn gathers enough of her wits to ask. You retrieve them from the couriers, Eledher. Any information we've gathered has come from those letters.
Eledher shrugs as if it is of little importance to her. I have identified all the messengers for you. Gríma will find someone else to accept his letters. And he will continue to use the library as a hiding-spot, for it has served him well thus far. He will not change his routine if he does not think he has been compromised. I am just a chambermaid; he does not think I have the neither wit nor courage to betray him.
This is certainly true, Éowyn admits to herself. If Gríma had thought Eledher was in any way clever, he would not have drawn her into his schemes to begin with. He thinks that she is wholly under his influence, and if she disappears without a trace – if she can – he will assume that she became too frightened of him. And even if Gríma moves his customary hiding place, it will not be overly difficult to discover. After all, Éowyn had been aware that Eledher was entering the library on a frequent basis; she had simply assumed that the other woman wished for a few moments of peace, for Éowyn has never been blind to the fact that Eledher is not entirely comfortable around other people.
You know as well as I that Gríma has spies throughout Rohan, Éowyn points out, head spinning. You will not be completely safe, wherever you go.
Eledher smiles, a tired smile that is less than reassuring. I will be fine, my lady.
Éowyn understands. She has no intention of staying in Rohan – she speaks Westron, and there are many places where one woman will not draw notice. Minas Tirith, Dol Amroth, Pelargir Port, and other cities past the Gap – Gríma cannot search them all. You would go alone, friendless and without family to help you find your way?
Eledher nods. I have no other choice…unless you should come with me.
Not in a thousand years would Éowyn have expected those words to come from Eledher's mouth. For the briefest of moments, Éowyn considers the possibility. A life far from Gríma Wormtongue, where she could be baker or tailor or grocer or nursemaid. Where no-one expected anything of her; where she would not be so caged as she is now. It is a heady, dizzying thought.
She takes a deep, shuddering breath. She could never abandon the land of her birth, never steal away and throw her duty and honour to the winds. I cannot, Éowyn replies, though not unkindly, and Eledher does not look surprised. Have you – have you plans? How will you live? You do not have coin or rank to help you.
I have plans, Eledher reveals, a vindictive light to her eyes. And I have coin enough to live for some time, if I am careful.
You have? Éowyn is confused. But where – she trails off. Gríma is not a man who would balk at stealing from the coffers or accepting bribes. She marvels at the nerve it must have taken for Eledher to take such coin from Gríma's own rooms, and wonders how she knew where to find his hiding place. If Eledher was willing to endanger herself so, then she is truly determined to leave, and Éowyn cannot help but admire that bravery.
She also knows that Eledher is right – Gríma has tried for so long to rid himself of King and Marshals that he would certainly not permit Théodred's child to be born, on the slim chance that that child might be allowed into the line of succession. Éowyn realizes that she has made her decision: she will not try to stop Eledher from fleeing Edoras. When will you leave?
Soon. Eledher's mood has changed, and now her eyes are resigned. I must go before Théodred returns, else I may lose my courage, and that would be a fatal mistake.
Éowyn hesitates, then cautiously reaches out and places her hand on Eledher's shoulder. I will have to tell him sometime, she says, and Eledher looks as if she may burst into tears, I cannot keep such a thing from him forever. But I will not do so until you are away.
Eledher heaves a sigh of relief. Thank you, Lady Éowyn , she says, voice weak with gratitude. Now it is best if I return to my work, before I am missed.
They go their separate ways, and Éowyn begins to construct a believable story she can tell Théodred when Eledher is discovered to be missing.
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.