My lord Théodred?
Gríma does not need to look up to know the owner of that low, questioning voice, but he does so, ever mindful of appearances. There can be no hint that he is aware of Lathwyn, other than in her role of kitchen maid. Not yet.
The King and Lord Théodred look as well, and Gríma sees a spark flare in Lord Théodred’s eyes as he realizes who stands patiently awaiting his acknowledgement.
She bobs a curtsey to all three men. Shall you need anything else?
She has not altered her appearance, nor her posture. Her gaze is as unreadable as always. But she has spoken to Lord Théodred, which she has never done before, and this is unusual enough to catch his notice. There is also an almost imperceptible stressing of the word “need” - and, by quirking of Lord Théodred’s mouth, Gríma sees that Théoden’s son has not missed this.
Théoden King is watching his son with amusement, as well as taking in Lathwyn with something like appreciation. Gríma curses himself for not remembering that the King, also, is a man, with all the appetites and interests of any man.
It is of no matter, for the Lord Théodred is studying Lathwyn’s expressionless face with avid curiosity. I am quite finished,
he tells her, leaning back in his chair. You make take these things away.
Lathwyn leans in front of Lord Théodred to gather the plates, and Gríma admires her subtlety. She does not lean toward Lord Théodred, she does not accidentally brush her hand against his, which he is resting quite close to his plate. She does not meet his gaze, then turn away, blushing prettily. She merely bends forward exactly the distance needed to retrieve the dishware, which is still but half an arm’s length from the son of the King.
He makes no move to catch her, for he is not the sort of man to take what is not clearly offered, but Gríma sees that Lord Théodred’s eyes never leave Lathwyn as she tends to her duties. And Lathwyn pays him no mind.
She gathers the plates quickly, and again curtsies. This time, however, she does so to all three: first to Gríma and the King, never looking at them directly, as is correct.
When she bows to Lord Théodred, however, Gríma sees that she catches his gaze ever so swiftly. He cannot see what Lord Théodred does in her eyes, but whatever it is, it causes a smile to steal across his face -- the smile of a man accepting a challenge.
She departs, and Théoden King turns to his son, grinning widely.
Unless I am no judge of women, Théodred, that one has just issued you an invitation.
The Lord Théodred strokes his chin thoughtfully, looking down the hallway where Lathwyn has disappeared. So she has,
he muses. But unless I am no judge of women, that one wishes to be pursued.
It will certainly be more pleasant than hunting Orc,
the King points out with a chuckle.
Lord Théodred nods his agreement, joining in his father’s laughter.
Gríma is pleased, and a little amazed, at how swiftly Lathwyn draws Lord Théodred in. But, Gríma thinks, Lord Théodred has always been ready to chase a pretty face or teasing smile.
Gríma begins to think of other ways he could use her, other tasks she could perform for him. He has long wished for a woman as an agent, for women can be invisible where men cannot. Men will tell women things they would never speak to another man.
Oh, she will be useful.
Gríma’s admiration of Lathwyn’s skills grows over the winter, for she is as adept at manipulating the Lord Théodred’s attentions as she is at eluding him.
He sees her give him warm, inviting smiles, only to pretend he has misunderstood her intentions when he makes an overture. He sees her glance at Lord Théodred with dark eyes full of promise; notices that her movements become more studied and langorous when she knows he is watching her; watches as she allows Lord Théodred to steal a quick caress here, a swift kiss there in empty hallways.
Lord Théodred still sits with his father and Gríma after the evening meal, but now he rarely takes part in the discussion. He watches Lathwyn at his leisure, looking for a way through her defenses, a man willingly under siege. Grima knows that Lord Théodred finds things he cannot readily have to be more appealing than things offered in a straightforward manner, and Lathwyn is anything but straightforward.
Théoden King notices that his son’s interest in things political has waned, but he seems pleased by his only child’s distraction. He has not had a woman to keep him occupied for too long,
he says to Gríma one night, and a dull winter is a better time than any for indulging in such pursuits.
The King’s longtime chambermaid is growing too old for the late hours the King keeps, though he does not wish to displace her entirely. A casual word dropped by Gríma , and Lathwyn is installed as the King’s night maid.
Gríma explains Lathwyn’s duties to her: build the fire, make certain the bed is in order, prepare the King’s nightly draught of medicine to ease the aches in his joints. He gives her a small vial, warning, One drop only, for dwail is very potent.
She does not question this; she only flushes a deep pink when Gríma’s fingertips touch hers, and again he sees that momentary fire leap in her eyes.
Good, he thinks, self-satisfied. She is still mine.
Winter is drawing to a close. Spring is in the air, and Grima sees Lord Théodred follow Lathwyn in the hallway leading to the King’s chambers. He hears her coy, laughing protest-- I must tend to your father the King, my Lord
-- cannot hear Lord Theodred’s reply, if he makes one.
Gríma calls Lathwyn’s name, and she appears quickly, eyes dancing as she gives her skirts a shake.
Lord Théodred emerges, face dark with frustration, and speaks to neither as he passes, though he favours the king’s advisor with a narrow glare.
Is it wise, to lead him such a merry chase?
Gríma makes certain the Lord Théodred is gone before he questions her.
He is a man who prefers a hunt to a surrender,
she tells him with a sly smile, as if explaining something that should be obvious, and for an instant, Grima is filled with fury that such a lowly, ignorant woman should speak to him in such a manner.
Then he sees the shadow of longing in Lathwyn’s expression as she regards him, and is reassured that she is not overstepping her bounds. She is trying to earn his favour.
He smiles approvingly, for she has indeed earned his favour. I have a task for you,
he says, and the eager light that breaks across her face swiftly changes his mood of approval to one of utter contempt.
She is led as easily as the Lord Théodred, he thinks. And it will be her downfall.
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.