22. Interlude - May 3016
Edoras is a busy city, and it is no hard task for Lathwyn to find a man willing to let her buy a seat on his wain. In fact, he tells her that there will be two others traveling along – he keeps a bit of space free for just this purpose. She is a bit suspicious, for it seems so easy. She was expecting questions, or at least the suggestion that she pay her way with something other than coin. But the man merely tells her that she should carry her own food, for the inns along the Great Road may charge more than she can pay, tells her she is welcome to sleep in the wain if she can not pay for a bed at an inn, and gives her his time of departure.
Lathwyn is amazed that her heart is so light. Though the fact that she will not see Théodred again causes her pain, she is relieved to have made her plans with little effort. She has taken a number of items from the laundry's rag bin, all things deemed too threadbare or poor for their previous owners to wear – a faded green gown with a sadly torn sleeve, a pair of hose that only wants mending, a much-patched shift that can be cut into swaddling for a newborn. Lathwyn has a carrysack that is more than large enough for all these things, plus her meager possessions. She hides the roughly-woven bag in Théodred 's room one night, and remembers that he keeps an old shirt stuffed under the mattress, in case he must rise during the night. He will not miss it; it is not good enough to wear for anything but foaling or other such work. It will be the child's first gown, she thinks with a sad smile, and puts it in the sack.
Éowyn is surprised that Eledher is so calm. She expected the other woman to be jumping with nervousness, looking over her shoulder at every step for fear someone would discover that she is planning to flee. Instead, Eledher seems collected and at ease, more like the woman she was before this whole, tangled mess was uncovered. It is as if Eledher no longer has any cares, which Éowyn finds odd, for if anything, her cares have multiplied. With wry amusement, Éowyn thinks that finding Eledher odd is of utmost normality.
What is not normal is that Éomer seems less restless of late. True, he is brash as ever in disagreeing with Grima, but it appears that Éomer's tempers are wearing down even Gríma's patience. Éowyn is suspicious when her brother tells her that, at times, Gríma reluctantly admits that the Third Marshal does indeed know which lands needs to be patrolled. Éomer is gleeful when he tells Éowyn of this, and rolls his eyes when she suggests he be on his guard.
Can you not simply let me enjoy the fact that Gríma is sending me where the eored is most needed? I am not a fool, Éowyn. I know that he is agreeing with me for some purpose of his own – but now I need not always skirt the edge of open insubordination so that I can defend our lands properly. I do not like such scheming, even when it is necessary – do not worry, sister. I have my eye on him yet.
And with that she must be satisfied.
Éowyn is curious when one day she sees that Gríma is in a fine rage. He hides it poorly; he snaps at serving girls and speaks at length to the boy who tends to his office and chamber. The boy is shaken and frightened-looking; throughout the discussion, he shakes his head violently, seeming to defend himself against something. Éowyn is not surprised when she finds that Gríma has discharged the boy, demanding that someone else look after his rooms.
She finds the boy, asks him what happened.
I don't know! The boy is near tears of indignation. He said that someone had been in his room, going through his things. He accused me of letting someone into his rooms! I know nothing of it, my lady, on my word – I know better than that! I would never let anyone in his rooms! He kept going on about spies!
Éowyn reassures the boy that he will not be turned out, and, at his request, reassigns him to the eored's stables. She knows who was going through Gríma 's things; of course it was Eledher, trying to find the letters she was bid to retrieve. Why Gríma is convinced that there are spies involved, she does not know. She keeps it in mind; Gríma may be overly mistrustful, but that does not mean he is not right.
Four days after she spoke with Eledher in the library, the chamberlain comes to Éowyn and tells her that the king's chambermaid has run off. Éowyn manages to act startled, and spends some time discussing suitable replacements with the man. When he leaves, she sits for a long time, staring at nothing, hoping that Eledher will run far enough that Gríma will never find her.
Gríma lashes out at the boy who keeps his rooms.
Someone has been in my private chamber – I would have you tell me how they managed to gain entrance. Have I not told you that the door is to be kept locked, except when you are inside?
The boy is shocked. I have done as you asked, always. There's been no-one in nor out of there but me!
Then why are my belongings in disarray? Why have my possessions been rifled through? There are two possibilities – either you are incompetent, or you are a spy. Which is it?
The boy gapes, clearly flustered, but in his eyes, Gríma fancies that he sees guilt. You have left the door unlocked, haven't you? he demands. You have allowed someone, some enemy of Rohan to enter my room unseen, and go through my papers. Do you know what you have done, you stupid child?
The boy shakes his head, protesting, but Gríma does not give him time to defend himself. Unless you are the one who has done so. Tell me, did you find anything of interest? Could you even read what you found? Have you delivered this information to your master?
I did no such thing! the boy cries. I have touched nothing but what I need to in order to keep your rooms as you require! I would not allow some…some stranger to enter your rooms!
But you have, Gríma says coldly. I have proof that you have, whether it was purposeful or accidental. You will not be tending my rooms any longer, on that you may rely. You are as trustworthy as a Dunlending, and if I find you in even the hallway to my rooms, I will have you thrown out of Edoras, is that clear? Get out of my sight, but be assured – I am not convinced that you are not working in the employ of some enemy. You will not escape my sight.
Gríma does not think that the boy is a spy, but he will not stand for such incompetence. If those letters are found in his possession, it will not matter that everything is couched in the vaguest terms. All that protects him now is the fact that the letters cannot be connected to him. He assumes the spy is from Saruman, but what if this person is serving Lord Théodred , or Lord Éomer? It could be someone from any of Rohan's lords. He must find this spy, and take care of him, quickly.
Gríma is surprised when he hears that Lathwyn has disappeared. No-one seems to know why; no-one remembers seeing her leave – but no-one seems to think it very strange.
She was always an odd one, says the head chambermaid. A good worker, but odd and not at all friendly. No figuring why she did anything, meaning no disrespect.
Gríma goes to the king's rooms, and finds them in perfect order. The fire is lit, the bed is prepared, and a flask of watered wine sits awaiting the king. The king himself sits drowsing in a chair by the fire, a blanket tucked neatly around him. It looks for all the world as if Lathwyn had stepped out and will be back at any moment.
He asks Théoden King where Lathwyn has gone, not expecting any coherent answer. But the king smiles.
She has gone to see Éomund, he says thickly, waving one hand meaninglessly. He begins to say more, but the moment of lucidity has passed.
Gríma is puzzled, but also relieved. He is glad to be rid of her – certainly he can find someone else to retrieve his messages. However, he will advise his agents to contact him if they see Lathwyn. Although he believes she can do him no harm, he is not a man to leave loose ends.
When Éomer returns to the Meduseld, Éowyn immediately approaches him, tells him that Lathwyn has disappeared, and explains how they will now conduct the business of retrieving Gríma 's letters.
What do you mean, she's disappeared? Éomer interrupts.
I do not know how to say it more plainly, Éowyn replies. She is gone, and no-one knows where or why.
Éomer is startled to find that Éowyn's words do not ring quite true. He has no doubts that Lathwyn is gone, but a strange gleam flickers in his sister's eyes when she speaks. I do not believe you, he says flatly. I know you better than anyone, Éowyn , and you are hiding something.
What matter is it to you? Éowyn wants to know. I should think you would be pleased – now Théodred need not keep company with a woman of such low birth.
I have never denied that I do not think her suitable for our cousin, Éomer sighs, but you must admit, Éowyn , that it is strange, if she is as attached to Théodred as you seem to think she …
She is scared, Éomer. She is scared of Gríma, and she has been a wreck of late, though I am sure you have not noticed. I, for one, am not surprised that it became too much for her to bear. There are times when I myself would prefer to flee elsewhere than to spend one more moment under Wormtongue's gaze.
This sounds a likely story, for no matter what his sister thinks, Éomer has noticed Lathwyn's nervous, anxious state. But something tells Éomer that it is simply a story. He begins to question Éowyn further, but is stopped when he hears Théodred's voice echoing through the hallway.
Brother and sister exchange an uneasy look of resignation, and go to speak with their cousin privately.
Théodred stares at his cousins, shocked. But why? he wonders aloud, not expecting an answer. What happened while I was gone? What – Gríma must have threatened her beyond bearing, else he is trying to injure me. I do not think she would simply vanish of her own accord, not without telling someone. Have you spoken with all the maids, that woman who was her friend? Surely someone knows something.
Éomer speaks quietly. I believe that one person knows why, if not where.
Théodred glances at him sharply, and sees that Éomer is looking at his own sister. Éowyn ?
She hesitates for a long moment, as if struggling with some decision. Finally she says, Aye, I knew she planned to leave. But I did not know when she would, nor where she is going.
Théodred hears her omission, and bites back his slowly rising anger. And do you know why,Éowyn ?
Her jaw tightens stubbornly, never a good sign. She was afraid of Gríma. You both know as well as I do that he has always treated her poorly, threatened her with harm to you, cousin. She left so that Gríma would not be able to so use her any longer.
Théodred considers this explanation a moment, and is about to question Éowyn further when Éomer speaks again, clearly exasperated.
That is not all, is it? Éowyn, why must we drag this out of you? If she is gone, what harm can it do to tell us the entire truth?
Now Éowyn's eyes are snapping. Because she does not want Théodred coming after her.
She does not want me comin – Théodred stops mid-sentence, as a terrible suspicion strikes him. Éowyn – please tell me that she did not leave because she was carrying my child.
Éomer's jaw drops, but Théodred barely notices – his eyes are fixed on Éowyn, who will not meet his gaze, and that is all the answer he needs.
They argue, long and fierce. Éowyn does not know where Eledher has gone, and there is no feasible way to find out. There are countless wains entering and leaving Edoras every day, bound for many different cities – Eledher could easily have left with any of them.
Finally, late into the night, they all seek their beds, though but nothing has been accomplished and there is great resentment on all sides. Théodred lies in his bed, staring at the ceiling, unable to sleep, pride still stinging from Éowyn's harsh words. She was afraid for her life, and the life of your child, Théodred! I know that you would wish to protect her, but you are not always here! You could take her to Helm's Deep, but you know as well as I that Gríma has agents there as well! Would you rather she stayed, and had harm befall her that you could not prevent?
He does not want to admit it, but Éowyn is right. He could not always be near enough to keep Eledher safe from Gríma, and Wormtongue would indeed be more than happy to make an innocent child one of his pawns. He also realizes that, if he had known, he would have sent Eledher away to a little village or town in order to protect her and his child. Though it pains him deeply, Théodred understands the impulse which made Eledher flee. He has not given her assurances of his protection or attachment of late; in fact, he has held her at arm's length for many weeks. She has no reason to think that he would even acknowledge the child as his, though he is sure it is.
Théodred does not know what to do. He considers sending men to search Edoras, but it would be a waste of time and energy, for Éowyn is positive that Eledher has left Rohan completely. He could send men to other cities – but again, there is no way of knowing where she has gone, nor even which direction she has gone. Théodred does not believe Eledher is foolish enough to take refuge in a small community, where she would be noticed – no, she will go to a large town or city, where unwed, pregnant women are not so unusual. She is just one woman, who will easily disappear into such a large population. What is more, she is a woman who knows how to make herself almost invisible, if she wishes. Théodred thinks that finding Eledher would be close to impossible.
But he cannot do nothing at all. Théodred knows there are settlements of Rohirrim in all the large towns of Gondor – he will write to someone who lives there, and have them keep watch for Eledher. If he remembers correctly, one of the older men in his eored has kin in the port at Pelargir and Minas Tirith. He will prevail upon that man's relations – not directly, of course, for it would not do make this situation common knowledge. But he will find a way.
Théodred does not sleep well that night, racked with guilt and sick at heart. She is gone, and his child with her.
After the first two or three days, Lathwyn's stomach settles and she is no longer made queasy by the way the wain jolts her about, but she still does not like it. It is only the second time she has traveled in this way – the first time was years ago, when she was only fifteen, being brought from Helm's Deep to Edoras, shortly after escaping Dunland, and she will always associate riding in a wain with that terrible part of her life.
The wain driver and the other two passengers, a Rohirric man about Lathwyn's age and an older Gondorian woman, talk back and forth like old friends. Occasionally the woman, Pador, tries to include Lathwyn, but she is not skilled at idle conversation and does not say much. So Lathwyn watches the countryside go by, listening to their chatter. Sometimes she tries to do a little mending, but the bouncing of the wain makes this difficult.
The further from Edoras they travel, the more relaxed she becomes. No one has stopped them, and demanded to know what she is doing, fleeing like a thief in the night. There is no indication that anyone is following her, which has been her greatest fear. She does not think she is so important, but she knows her child is.
After a week's travel, the young man reaches his destination, and departs. The driver and Pador wave good-bye to him, and the trip is much quieter for a time.
So you are for Gondor? Pador asks, and it takes Lathwyn a moment to realize the question is directed at her. She merely nods in reply; she answered this several days ago.
And how far along are you?
Lathwyn starts to stammer a denial, but Pador smiles at her. It is not that obvious yet by your shape, but I know a woman who is carrying when I see one. Why are you traveling so far from your home in this state?
The concern in Pador's voice is true, and there is something about her which reminds Lathwyn of Liðides, so she gives an answer of sorts. His family did not approve. This is true enough, she thinks with rare amusement.
Pador looks only faintly startled. Noble, then? Poor girl – did no-one warn you about the ways of young lordlings?
He wished me to stay, Lathwyn replies defensively, toying the bracelet on her wrist. But his family was not...understanding.
I meant no offense, Pador says mildly, and her eyes are full of sympathy. But why Minas Tirith? Tell me if I am mistaken, but you've no friends or family there, have you?
Lathwyn looks down. No, she admits softly, laying a hand on her belly which is only just beginning to curve. But I will find work, and a small place to live…
She glances up at Pador's hand on her shoulder. Minas Tirith is a large City, and can be very confusing if you do not know its ways, Pador says. You do not have time to spend trying to find a suitable place for you and your little one – soon you will be big as a house, and no-one will hire you.
Lathwyn had not considered this, and for the first time in many days, feels a prickle of panic at the back of her neck. How will she live if she cannot work? She has never had to worry about purchasing such things as food and shelter, and has no idea how long her store of coins will last. How will she keep her baby fed and clothed and warm?
Pador continues, unaware of Lathwyn's turmoil. If you will allow me – my cousin's husband owns a small tavern on the third circle. I will speak to her for you, see if they are in need of a serving girl, or if she knows of anyone who needs help?
As always, Lathwyn is wary of anyone who offers her such assistance; she never understands why strangers would be helpful. But she also knows that she cannot afford to turn Pador down. She needs a place to live, and a way to support herself and her child.
I would – that would be very nice, she says, nodding. I would be grateful for the help.
And do not be worry, Pador grins, it is a respectable house, not a brothel in disguise. Nengel – that is my cousin – would never stand for such a thing.
Thank you, Lathwyn repeats, with a shy smile of her own. I – I did not think it would be hard to find work in such a large city.
You are welcome, Pador assures her. You seem a good woman, and we all have our misfortunes. I am happy to help you if I can. Although – Pador looks thoughtful, and Lathwyn is afraid that she is going to withdraw her offer. Have you told me your name, dear? I do not remember it if you have.
Lathwyn had been expecting this question much earlier in the journey. She gives another hesitant smile and says, "You are right, I had not told you. I am Eledher."
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.