25. Interlude - April 3019-July 3019
Eledher tends to her duties as if it is a day like any other, seeking to steady herself with the routine she has created over the past years. She is not entirely successful. When they speak to her, the regular patrons cannot quite hide the curiosity in their voices, Nengel's idle talk of the neighborhood and the city is strained, and, at intervals, Léohtfax runs to the door and peers into the courtyard hopefully, and then returns to his toys with a downcast face.
The numb shock at seeing Théodred alive has yet to vanish entirely, and she cannot keep herself from thinking over the news of Rohan which he relayed. Théoden King wholly restored by the wizard and hale enough to fight in two serious battles. She wishes she could have seen him, for she remembered how proud and noble he was before sickness and treachery struck. She remembered how he had ordered that she and the other children recovered from Dunland be cared for and made useful. A good man and one she had done her best to care for in his ill-health. Eledher's mind shies away from the memory of a small glass vial and its poisonous contents. I did not know, she tells herself sternly. I would never have done so willingly. She has almost begun to believe that she is not to blame in the king's decline. Almost.
Gríma banished, his duplicities uncovered and his master stricken down. "Trapped in the tower of Isen, guarded by the Ents," Théodred had told her, and Eledher marvels at such strange happenings. But she finds herself strangely unable to imagine the Golden Hall without Gríma's malicious presence, even while a great, bone-deep relief fills her at the idea.
She does her best to not think on Théodred, for when she does, her stomach twists into knots and her attention wanders alarmingly. But it is difficult, with the sidelong glances of the men and Léohtfax's repeated question of, "Is it soon now, modor?"
When the evening becomes night, Eledher sees her son to bed, but he is restless, and so she rocks him to sleep. Before he drifts off completely, Léohtfax startles her by touching the token on her wrist and saying dreamily, "Fader has one like that." She had not even noticed.
When she returns to the common room, Eledher is not surprised when Nengel approaches her. "Now don't be taking offense, dear," she says in a voice that is not to be argued with, "but I think now would be the time for you to tell me a bit more about all those things you've been keeping so secret."
So they sit at a table in the corner, and Eledher tells her. Not everything, of course – she does not tell Nengel of how she came to Théodred in the beginning, nor does she tell of what broken their association, or of her one-time fascination with Gríma Wormtongue. She does speak in passing of her time in Dunland, and tries not to see the pity in Nengel's expressive face; she even mentions how she found comfort with strange men – though she does not tell Nengel how many there were - of her position in the Meduseld, and of course, she speaks of Théodred. When she is done, the common room is empty, and Tathar has put out most of the lamps.
"Should you like for Léohtfax to sleep in our room this night?" Nengel asks. "If your Lord Théodred is returning this evening, perhaps it would be better if you did not have to whisper to keep from waking a child?"
"That might be best," Eledher agrees, rubbing her eyes wearily. "I do not know what he will say, and Théodred is not one to speak quietly." She gives a wry smile. "And do not think that I wish for solitude for more than talk," Nengel chuckles, "that is not my intention, not now."
Nengel makes no comment on this, and she leaves to move Léohtfax to the room she and Tathar have, down the hall from Eledher's.
Eledher cleans the common room with a will, focusing only on the task at hand, trying not to wonder how late it is or why Théodred has not yet arrived. He is King, she reminds herself sharply, he will no doubt be much occupied and has many things on his mind.
Théodred has many things on his mind; unfortunately, none of these things are the matter at hand. After being asked to repeat himself several times, Aragorn finally says, "You are distracted this evening, Theodred."
Théodred swears to himself. "I cry you pardon, my lord. Do not worry yourself; it is no matter of country."
Aragorn raises an eyebrow. "Not my Steward and your cousin which troubles you?"
Théodred laughs at that. "Not I," he replies, "Though I cannot speak for Éomer. No, my lord, it is …something else." He does not want to explain his distraction, not now, not even to the newly-returned King.
Aragorn regards him evenly. "And it grows late as well. Go; tend to whatever it is that holds your attention."
When Théodred arrives at the Lion, there is the glow of a lamp in the upper window, and he breathes a sigh of relief. It is indeed late, and he had feared that Eledher would have already retired. He knocks quietly on the door, and she answers readily, standing aside to let him enter.
He looks around the room, curious to see how she and his son have been living. It is of a modest size, neat as a pin. There is a curtained-off area which he assumes holds a bed, a worktable against the wall, shelves that hold a few dishes and items of cookware, a lopsided table with mismatched chairs, and rugs on the wooden floor. On the table stand a teapot and two mugs, and draperies of some delicate fabric drift in the breeze which comes from the open window. Under that window, he sees a chest holding many toys. He frowns, looks around the room again. "Where is Léohtfax?"
Eledher is taking a kettle off of the hook over the fire. "You did not think I would keep him awake so late?" she asks, and though her smile would say that she is teasing, it is a forced smile, and her words cannot conceal her tension. "He is sleeping in Nengel and Tathar's room. I thought it would be best if he were not awakened by our talk."
"Are you planning on shouting?" Théodred says lightly, and immediately wishes he had not been so blithe when Eledher sets the kettle on the table with slightly more force than necessary.
"I do not know," she says, voice edgy as she pours hot water into the waiting teapot. "I have no idea what you wish to say to me."
Her hostility takes Théodred aback, and before he can think better of it, he has said, "I would say that I would like you and Léohtfax to return with me to Edoras."
Eledher freezes in the action of putting the lid on the teapot, and stares at Théodred. In her dark eyes, he sees disbelief, confusion, fear, and anger, as well as the faintest spark of something that might be hope or regret. "Your pardon?"
"Do not tell me you are surprised," he says quietly, seating himself at the table. "You did not think that I would want to leave you and my son in Gondor?"
Eledher gives herself a moment to think by returning the kettle to its hook. "I – I did not know what to think," she replies, turning back to face him. She tries to keep her voice steady, but is not sure she succeeds. "When last we met before this day, you were not pleased to be in my presence." Second to last time we met, her traitorous mind insists. The last time we met, we took great satisfaction in each other's bodies.
She goes to sit at the table, pushing aside that vivid memory, and sees deep self-reproach written all over Théodred's face. He seems to be struggling for something to say, and she pours herself a cup of tea, trying to keep her hands from shaking in anticipation of his answer.
"It was wrong of me," he finally says, and she catches her breath in shock. "I should not have acted so coldly toward you. I know ….I know that you would not have brought harm to my father on purpose. And it was not proper to ask you to risk yourself against one as ruthless as Gríma."
He reaches forward slightly, as if he is going to take her hand, and then only clasps his own hands together. "I regret that you suffered so because of me," he continues, "and I am sorry that I treated you so harshly."
Eledher is stunned. She does not know how to reply to this; she had never expected to hear such speech from Théodred if she lived to be a hundred years old. She struggles to form a reply, but can find no words.
Théodred would give anything to know what she is thinking, but he can only see that Eledher is utterly bewildered. She has not moved since he began speaking, and even now, she sits motionless. He says no more for several moments, not wanting to goad her into saying something, but finally he cannot bear the silence any longer. "Eledher."
She blinks as if startled, and Théodred supposes that she is. He can name any number of relations or acquaintances who would be dumbstruck to hear such words from him, and many more who would have the same reaction at knowing he was apologizing so to this particular woman. He wishes he were not so anxious to hear her reply.
She studies him closely for a moment, then her gaze flits downward, and something she sees –on the table? – relaxes her face the smallest fraction. "Thank you," she says simply, but her voice has eased, and no longer holds that defense, anxious edge to it.
Théodred lets out a slow breath, for he had not been certain that she would not berate him and show him the door. She has changed, this is clear to him, and he knows that he cannot expect her to act as she once did.
Now that is said, however, he is at a loss. What is said next is entirely up to Eledher
Eledher takes a long drink of her tea, trying to gather her scattered thoughts. She is more affected by Théodred's apology than she is willing to admit, for even if he were not now King of Rohan, he would be under no obligation to do so. And yet he has.
At length, she plucks up her courage. "Théodred," she says cautiously, "What if..what if I do not wish to return to Rohan?"
Now it is Théodred who looks stunned, though he gains his voice more quickly than she did. "Not wish to retur – have you grown so attached to Mundberg, then?" He is not accusing, only puzzled, then she sees something spark briefly in his eyes. "Or someone, perhaps?"
That is faintly accusatory, and she cannot keep from saying, "If I have, what matter is that to you?" He flinches almost imperceptibly, and she cannot feel much sympathy for him, as she is certain he has passed few nights alone since she left Edoras. But then she softens. "I am not overly attached to Mundberg itself, but I have made friends here," she tries to explain. "And people here…people here do not speak of me so disapprovingly as some in Edoras." Understanding as well as a flash of anger comes across his face, anger not directed at her, but at those who would say such things.
"Think you they would still speak so if you were attached to the King?" he asks, and it seems to be an honest question. "More to the point, the mother of the Heir to Rohan?"
Again he has shocked her to silence for a moment. "I do not think I take your meaning," she says, feeling a little light-headed.
"Eledher," Théodred says in an even, matter-of-fact tone, "I have every intention of formally acknowledging Léohtfax and designating him my heir. It is not as if I have another, and as far as I am aware, there is no possible wife in the near future." He makes his voice softer, seeing that she is, for some reason, alarmed. "I do not intend to force you into any arrangement which you do not want, but I would not make Eomer's children my heirs when I have a fine son of my own." Now he does reach out and take her hand in a very loose hold, so that she may draw away if she desires, and brushes his thumb over the token on her wrist. "And as you still wear this, I have some hope that you might be willing to consider me."
All at once she is overwhelmed and Eledher pulls away from him, standing abruptly. "I must ask you to go," she says, crossing her arms over her chest. "I cannot…not right now.. please go…"
Théodred does not seem confused or hurt by her reaction, only nods and stands. "You have time to decide," he says gently. "I must go to Rohan after the coronation, but then I will return to convey my father home. I would have your answer on that occasion."
She nods, a bit of the panic receding, and is further calmed by the wistfulness in his voice when he adds, "But I should like to see Léohtfax ere I depart."
Eledher almost smiles. "I do not want to keep him from you," she replies, "and he is certainly eager to see you again."
Théodred does smile, wide and pleased and warm as she remembers. " 'Til then," he says, and leaves.
Eledher does not sleep for a long time. Instead, she sits by the window, mind reeling, wondering what, exactly, he has just offered her.
When Théodred tells Éomer of his meeting with Eledher, his cousin, not surprisingly, is displeased. "Make him your heir," he says flatly. "Are you quite mad? What do you propose to do when you marry, and your wife bears you sons?"
Théodred gives a bitter laugh, and Éomer stops in his pacing to glare. "Éomer, how long has it been since any man, lord or merchant, presented his daughter as a possible bride?" He takes a gulp of the ale in front of him. It is a weak Gondorian variety, but not without taste. "You know why that is as well as I do."
Éomer stares into his own mug so he will not have to meet Théodred's gaze. "I do not think I understand –"
"Do not insult me," Théodred cuts him off sharply, then continues in a kinder voice. "I have dallied with women since I was old enough to do so, and in all that time, only five women have brought their bellies to me. And not once – not once – have any of those women been proved honest in the end." He is aware that Éomer is regarding him expressionlessly. "I am well aware that all of Rohan doubts my ability to produce an heir, cousin. And no lord wants to wed his daughter to a man who cannot do so unless it is unavoidable, not even if that man is king." The bitterness has returned; he had thought that he had come to terms with this particular assumption, but apparently, that is not so.
"As that is the case," Éomer says, hesitantly enough to make Théodred suspicious, "then can you be so certain that this boy is yours?"
Théodred does not grow angry, but only chuckles wryly. "A fair point. But if he is not mine, then he is my father's," Éomer chokes on his ale, and Théodred lets him catch his breath before adding, "or yours."
Éomer glares at his cousin again once he has stopped coughing, and drops heavily into the chair across from Théodred. "As I said, a fair point," Théodred goes on, "but when you see him you shall have no doubt as to his father." His voice grows hard. "And now that I have answered that point, I do not expect to hear it voiced ever again. You may disagree with me all you like when we are alone about many things, but I will not hear my son's blood disparaged."
Éomer seems frustrated, but he nods his understanding. "And what of his mother?" Théodred finds it irritating that Éomer rarely refers to her by name, but for now, he holds his tongue. "Are you simply going to keep her? It is not as if you can marry her."
Théodred takes a deep breath, and makes his voice as bland as possible. "I can if I marry her on the left."
Éomer's mouth drops open. "Surely you are jesting?" he demands. "No king – nor lord, either – has done so in years beyond counting!"
"It is not frequent, that is certain," Théodred agrees, "but it has happened, and the house of Eorl has not been utterly destroyed." He raises a hand to forestall Eomer's next outburst. "She is the mother of my child, cousin, and I am bound to protect her and keep her in good health, and, if she will accept it, give her the protection of my house."
"If she accepts it?" Éomer exclaims. "Is she mad as well?"
Théodred is almost amused at Éomer's indignation. "I do not know that she even wishes to return to Rohan."
Éomer is suddenly serious again. "Théodred, if you do intend to make the child your heir, she has no choice."
Théodred is well aware of this. He knows that he could have Eledher and Léohtfax both, or only Léohtfax, forcibly moved to Edoras, and no-one would disagree with his right to do so. But he does not want it to come to that; he wants Eledher to decide to come with him on her own. He does not know what he will do if she refuses.
Nengel is unnaturally quiet when Eledher tells her of Théodred's visit. "I cannot say that I would not miss you," Nengel says at last, "for you and your little one have become like family. But Eledher, you would be a fool to stay here as a serving woman. And --" she hesitates, "—my dear, I am sorry if I offend, but you do not truly have a choice. He is King of Rohan, and if he chooses to take Léohtfax, none will oppose him."
Eledher gives a wan smile. The panic has faded, and has been replaced by resignation or perhaps resentment. Or perhaps neither; she is still so confused that she cannot tell. "I know," she says softly, "but it is kind of him to pretend that the choice is mine."
Nengel lays her hand on Eledher's shoulder. "It will not be so bad, will it?" she comforts. "It will not be like starting over in a strange City all on your own, and you will have position, as the mother to Rohan's heir. What will do you do with all the time you will have on your hands? You certainly cannot find a tavern to work in."
"I like working in your tavern," Eledher admits, and smiles more fully at Nengel's pleased face. "And I do not know what I will do. You are right; I do not think I would be allowed to work so, but I do not know how to do anything else." Her voice trembles a bit, though she tries to steady it; the idea of sitting idle is somehow frightening.
Nengel looks thoughtful. "You have shown interest in the apothecary," she points out. "Would not herb lore or midwifery make a suitable occupation?"
Eledher considers this. She has not had much time for herb lore, with a tavern and a small child to look after, but she already has the basic knowledge – and it would make her grandmother proud. "Perhaps," she says at length. "It would suit, I think."
Though Nengel takes the decision as made, Eledher does not inform Théodred of her mind in the matter, and she is not sure why. When he visits Léohtfax – and he does so far more often than she would have predicted – Théodred is friendly, acting almost as if the decision does not matter to him. This would cause her to feel slighted, except for the moments when she sees him watching her from the corner of his eye, face conflicted and serious. But he does not push her, nor does he make any advances toward her person, though occasionally he seems on the verge of doing so. Instead, he talks to her casually, discussing mostly Léohtfax, but sometimes bits of news of the City and various Riders. It is very odd, to speak with him so openly and easily, and Eledher finds that she quite likes it.
And there is no doubt to any on the circle that Léohtfax adores his father. He runs to meet Théodred when he sees him approaching, and Théodred swings his son into the air, making Léohtfax shriek with delighted laughter. Many have commented on what a handsome pair father and son make, and Eledher cannot help but feel proud. Uneasily, she wonders how quickly this gossip will spread, and what the reactions of the people of Minas Tirith will be.
It spreads very quickly, of course; she discovers this one day when she and Léohtfax are in the market and she overhears whisperings about her son's parentage, sees a person or two staring. No one says anything hostile, but she can feel curious eyes upon her, and this makes her so uncomfortable that she does not linger among the stalls.
This happens time and again; sometimes, a man or woman will feel free to question her, or touch Léohtfax's hair, often enough that Eledher begins to dread leaving the neighborhood and she does not take Léohtfax with her unless she has to.
These incidents make her so skittish that she finally speaks of it to Théodred, who immediately orders a Rider stationed to the Gilded Lion. "I do not know why I did not think of it," he says, looking exasperated with himself. "Because Mordor is brought down does not mean there are not brigands who would wish harm upon you or him."
This is what eventually eases Eledher's mind about leaving Mundberg. She does not think it will be any different in Edoras, but at least she will be in a place which is not so foreign – even after nearly three years, the White City makes her nervous. With the Shadow defeated and Grima gone, she wishes to be in Rohan. It is her home, and always has been.
Théodred leaves a week after the coronation of King Elessar. He goes to bid Eledher and Léohtfax farewell, telling her, "I cannot say precisely when I will return, but it will be within three months. My father has waited long enough to join his kin." Then he kisses his son's cheek, holds him close, and regrets having to leave for so long before he is half-way down the street.
The trip to Edoras is not pleasant, for Éomer will not cease trying to talk Théodred out of the idea of a left-marriage. It is even more trying when Éowyn agrees with her brother, and they have many a heated debate, far from their traveling companions.
Finally Théodred has reached the end of his tether. "Éomer, I am quite aware you do not approve. You have never approved of Eledher, and if you began to do so now, then I would be certain I was wrong. But hear this – I do not need your approval, and I grow weary of constantly being told that this will be the ruin of Rohan and our line. It is not as if I am trying to make her queen! And I do not yet know if she will even want to hold to me, so this argument is a waste of time and breath!"
Éomer looks rather startled by Théodred's vehemence, and Éowyn is glaring. " I do not insist that you approve of Eledher or even like her," Théodred continues. "What I do insist is that you treat her with the respect that is due to the mother of my son, whether she agrees to my proposal or not. And I promise you, cousin, that if Léohtfax is given less respect than is his due, you will answer to me." He is doing his best to keep from hitting Éomer right then out of nothing more than frustration.
To his credit, Éomer seems to realize this, and only says, "I would not act unseemly toward your son, cousin!" a bit heatedly.
Éowyn, however, will have her say. "I do not intend to treat her badly, Théodred, but she is a serving woman in a tavern!" she argues. "Will you introduce her to the King and his wife, have her preside over formal dinners? How can you expect her to be a part of court?"
Théodred rounds on Éowyn, who holds her ground admirably. "Rohan has been without a queen for as long as I have been alive, has it not?" he says through clenched teeth. "And did you not defend her, to both me and your brother, as violently as you are opposing her now? What happened to your great sympathy for her?"
"I am capable of being sympathetic while thinking that this idea is most improper, and will likely cause a great scandal!" Éowyn snaps. "Have you not thought of how this will look? Not just to Rohan, but to Gondor and Dol Amroth and every other country?"
"I should think that if King Elessar does not object overly, then you should not be worried!" Théodred retorts, and takes great pleasure at his cousins' faces at this.
He has overstated the simplicity of the issue, of course – he spent many hours with Aragorn and the new Steward arguing this very point, assuring them both that he was not going to try and involve Eledher in matters political, explaining why he thought it the proper course of actions, promising to consider a dissolution if a politically advantageous marriage became pressing. But in the end, Aragorn had said resignedly, "We are allies, Théodred, but I have no dominion over you. I will not say against you."
"I do not require Eledher to be a part of court unless she so wishes," Théodred goes on, "and I suspect that she would be horrified at the idea herself. But I do require, Éowyn, that you help her in whatever ways you can. I will not abide her, or my son, being the target of malicious gossip or action. If you will treat her kindly, then others will follow your lead."
The matter is not spoken of again, and though Éomer and Éowyn scarcely speak to him for the rest of the journey, Théodred is grateful for the silence. Given that marriage on the left is always touchy, and that he wishes to designate Léohtfax his heir whether she agrees to such an arrangement or not, he has more than enough to occupy his thoughts without being shouted at constantly.
Upon reaching the Meduseld, he asks Éowyn to find suitable rooms for Eledher and Léohtfax. He cannot, of course, install them in the queen's chambers, and will not put them in rooms too close to his - he does not want Eledher to assume she has no choice in furthering an association.
By the time they are ready to return to Mundberg, the rooms are ready, and Théodred is impressed by Éowyn's thoughtfulness, for she has carefully made certain that the furnishings and draperies are not so rich as to be intimidating. Perhaps Éowyn's disapproval is lessening, or perhaps it is just her innate sense of compassion. Either way, Théodred is pleased, and makes certain to tell her so. He begins to have hope that Eledher will, in some small way, eventually be accepted by his kin.
When Eledher hears the news that the King of Rohan is approaching Mundberg, she is seized with joy and panic, but she forces herself to be calm. It will not do to greet Theodred in such a state.
Nengel helps her pack her meager belongings with many tears and assurances that they will, in fact, manage without her. She gifts Eledher with two quilts made by all of the women in the circle, as well as the cradle which held Léohtfax. "You will need it before I will," Nengel says, and chuckles when Eledher blushes.
She does not have much else to take with them – some clothing, Léohtfax's toys, the rocking chair Tathar made for her – and the preparations do not take long. Restless and nervous, Eledher continues her duties in the tavern; there is no point in watching for Theodred by the courtyard gate. He will come when he comes.
The sun is beginning to set when she hears Léohtfax's delighted shout of, "Fader!" and her stomach twists. She lets them have this brief time alone, for over the past months, Léohtfax has either been dejected at not seeing Théodred, pestering her endlessly about when he will return, or seemingly uncaring at all about his presence. The last worried Eledher greatly, but apparently this worry was needless.
Léohtfax comes barreling down the street toward him, and Théodred sweeps the boy into his arms, laughing and holding him tightly. "I have missed you, min eafora," he says, only understanding how true his words are now that he has his son in his arms. "Have you been good to your mother?"
"You were gone too long!" Léohtfax informs him, and Théodred realizes that his speech has become clearer, and that he has also grown an inch or two.
"I will try not to be gone so long again," Théodred says, amused at the stern expression on his son's little face.
They make their way towards the courtyard, followed by Orgel, and Theodred is glad to have Léohtfax to distract him from worrying about what Eledher is going to say. He hopes fervently that he will not be obliged to take her to Rohan under armed guard, for the sake of both of them. And that is not something Léohtfax should have to witness.
"….said that I will get a pony!"
Théodred realizes he was not paying attention to whatever Léohtfax was saying. "Who said you will get a pony?" It occurs to him that his son has a Gondorian accent, and this irks him.
"Modor," the boy chirps. "When we go live with you."
Théodred stops in his tracks. "When you come live with me?"
Léohtfax nods happily and tugs at Théodred's braids. "Modor says we are going to live with you soon. Is it soon now?"
A grin breaks across Théodred's face. "It is almost soon," he says, unutterably relieved and for the first time in months, strangely peaceful.
When they turn into the courtyard, Eledher has just emerged from the tavern. She looks on edge and hesitant, though her back is straight and she is trying to keep her face blank.
Théodred approaches her, smiling broadly. "I am reasonably informed by this young man that he is to have a pony, when he comes to live with me?"
Her eyes light up, a warm, pleased smile curving her mouth and Théodred is caught off-guard by how fiercely he has missed that smile upon waking. It seems singularly inappropriate to see it now, in the fading light of day, with his son in his arms, but it only reinforces his surety that he has made the right decision.
Eledher is so tense that she finds it hard to breathe, but when Théodred smiles and speaks, with his gaze fixed only on her, she cannot help but smile back. "That is what I told him," she agrees, almost afraid to look away from him. "I was not mistaken?"
Théodred chuckles. "He shall have one pony of every colour," he says, and Eledher more than half-suspects he is complete earnest.
She cannot quite rid herself of the notion that Théodred is only come to bid them farewell, and is startled when he moves closer, and takes her hand. "Have no fear," he says in a low voice, his clear eyes understanding. "It will be well, Eledher."
Eledher takes a deep, steadying breath, and wills herself to believe him.
A/N: Left-handed or morganatic marriage. For purposes of this story, I have decided that "is not entitled to" does not mean, "can not in any way inherit", for that could likely be amended as needed. Also see the Wikipedia entry
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.