14. Confession Part II
Confession - Part II
Edoras FA 9
All thought of storms, horses or in fact anything else except his wife's astounding pronouncement left Éomer's mind. He let go of her arm, and stumbled back to the bed. Sitting down on the edge with a thump, he sunk his head into his hands.
'You give me incredible tidings, wife.' But however astonishing the news she had imparted to him, he was inclined to believe the truth of it. If one had a fey wife like Lothíriel, who had an elf for a distant ancestor on her father's side, and a long line of seers on her mother's, then one would be a fool not to take notice. Anyway, she had proved herself when she brooked no counsel and relying only on the strength of one of her visions had ridden frantically to Minas Tirith to save his life. No, he had to consider that she had read this portent correctly.
'But you are not denying that it's true?'
Éomer looked up; suspicion had clouded Lothíriel's eyes. 'I admit it is possible, but I swear I had no idea. I never considered that Guleth might be carrying my child.'
'It does happen, Éomer!'
'She was a healer! Skilled with herb and potion. Couldn't she have...'
'Dosed herself to get rid of it?' Lothíriel tossed her head angrily, her eyes flashing a warning.
'No! That's not what I meant! I would never expect any woman to take that course. You must know that. But surely she could have prevented it; I know some of our women take things to try and stop more children coming when they already have many.'
'Maybe after years of marriage, but I would have thought it was up to a man to be careful in other relationships. To my knowledge even Amroth never...'
'I was careful,' Éomer retorted, glaring at her. 'At least, as careful as I could be.'
Suddenly the belligerence left her face. Lothíriel dropped her shoulders and sighed; she came over and put her hands on his shoulder laying her head against his. 'Bickering will get us nowhere, what's done is done, even though I might wish it otherwise. I do not doubt what I saw, but are you sure Guleth never gave you a hint, never said anything before she left?'
Éomer gathered her close to him, aware that she would be feeling vulnerable. 'Surely Guleth would not have gone had she known...'He stopped as he thought back to that parting. She'd decided so suddenly, in fact changed her mind about following her mother's path. Why was that?
'You've thought of something,' Lothíriel prompted.
'Well, I remember thinking she had decided to go in a hurry. It certainly surprised me at the time that she was so eager to leave, and I now recall she said something strange.'
His wife moved back from him, lifting her head quickly in anticipation. 'What was that?'
'If I remember correctly she said that she was grateful for the precious gift I had given her. I suppose at the time I thought she meant the mare. But on reflection...would she have meant a child?'
Lothíriel looked to be thinking, and he waited. Eventually she gave him a wry smile. 'I can only surmise that she wanted a child, and with her husband dead took the opportunity. Whether by design or accident. Surely most women, if they knew they were carrying a king's progeny, would seek support and recompense. But perhaps with her husband newly dead, she wished to pass the child off as his.'
Éomer sighed. 'It could be, I suppose, but we are surmising. If you say there is a child, then I am more than inclined to believe you, but I think we need to find out for sure. Maybe she has passed him off as her husband's, but I would like to be prepared for any unheralded disclosures in the future.' Did he really have another son? Deep down he knew the thought thrilled him. But if he did, he could hardly go riding to Lamedon to claim him without proof. And anyway he didn't think Lothíriel would be happy for him to do that even with irrevocable evidence. He couldn't disregard her feelings in this. However understanding she might be, the news wouldn't please her and he had no wish to jeopardise the solid bond they shared. And what about Guleth? If she had wanted to keep her son hidden from him, shouldn't he respect that? Possibly, but he needed to know for sure.
'Someone is going to have to go to Lamedon and find out. Without causing any suspicion. We might have this all wrong.' Éomer stood up, drawing his wife hard against his chest. 'I need to know for certain, my love.'
The storm blew itself out in the night, causing nothing worse than damage to a few roofs and some toppled fences. But even once the wind had dropped and the night became quiet, Éomer tossed and turned, unable to sleep. At one time, sensing that his wife also lay awake, he drew her to him, whispering of his overwhelming love for her and assurances that nothing would affect Elfwine's position as heir to the throne of the Riddermark. She murmured her love and trust into his chest, but still he could not sleep. Éomer pondered long on the implications of what had been revealed to him, and by the time the first glimmer of dawn could be seen through the curtains, had decided to discuss his next course of action with his two great friends. He called them together the next day, Lothíriel too, not wanting her to think that he would hide anything from her.
Déor and Eóthain listened in silence while he explained that Lothíriel had seen his son in a vision. Both men glanced towards Lothíriel, probably wondering about her reaction to the probability of an illegitimate royal offspring. So far she had shown remarkable restraint. Éomer wasn't expecting censure from his friends – these things happened and men tended to admire virility. Not that he was proud of himself, but he had not been the only Rohir to have left his seed growing in Gondor after the war. Once he had finished his explanation, Eóthain spoke first, always quicker to voice his opinions than Déor, who tended to use more thought before he offered his judgement.
'I think you are right to want to find out for sure, Éomer.' He looked towards Lothíriel again. 'But don't worry, my queen, we Eorlingas are a loyal lot. Elfwine was declared heir at his birth and should a score of Éomer's bastards appear at the gates of Edoras, nothing will change that.'
'Thank you, Eóthain.' Éomer threw him a wry look. 'But I am not expecting any more to turn up.'
Déor smiled, he had been deep in thought. 'I don't think anyone expects that. However, Eóthain is right in one thing – although I do not doubt Lothíriel's reading of this, we need to find out for certain. Someone will have to go to Lamedon. And quietly, too. We do not want the whole of Edoras picking up on this before it is confirmed.' He pursed his lips, considering. 'You say, Éomer, that Guleth's family own a vineyard. Do you know any more than that?'
Éomer thought, trying to recall everything that Guleth had said about her family home. 'She lived somewhere between the Rivers Ciril and Ringló. But apart from that I only remember that the wine they produced was called Two Rivers...'
'Two Rivers!' Lothíriel broke in. 'I know that wine. Arwen is fond of it, and I have drunk it many times in the Courts of Gondor. It is potent, but light and fruity, a favourite with her ladies.'
'The vineyard should not be too difficult to find if we have that information,' Déor said. 'But we need an excuse to go there.'
'That's no problem,' Éomer said with a laugh. 'The Queen of the Mark, having sampled the wine in Gondor, wishes it supplied to Meduseld. That's a totally believable story. Someone trustworthy can go to the vineyard to negotiate a contract and discover the truth of the other matter.'
'Do we know any trustworthy traders?' Eóthain threw in, with a scornful toss of his head.
'I am not sure it needs to be a trader,' Déor mused. 'Surely the queen could send a personal representative on such a mission. I suggest that we want to keep this thing between us. Since Éomer has no plans to leave Edoras for a while, I could go. Moreover, I have met Mistress Guleth, which might make conversation on a difficult subject easier.'
Éomer nodded his head. 'I agree, but not on your own. Although I would be loath to let both you and Eóthain be away at the same time.'
'Then if you don't mind another knowing, my father would go with me,' Déor replied. 'He's not so ancient that a ride to Lamedon would overtax him. And he's tight-lipped and loyal, Éomer. Loyal to you – as his king and also because of his long friendship with your father. You could find no better.'
'I agree,' Éomer answered, not really needing to think more. 'If Eorllic will go then I can only be grateful.'
'So you will send for your father to come here and then take the Dimholt road?' Lothíriel asked. 'That would be the quickest way to Lamedon.'
'Not necessarily,' Déor answered. 'I could go to Aldburg taking Byrde and Caedda – Caedda doesn't see enough of his grandparents or his cousin. Father and I can go on to Lamedon for the entirely plausible reason to buy wine for our queen. There is a narrow path that winds over the shoulder of the mountain behind the fortress and meets the uprising of the Ciril that flows down into Lamedon. It's rough, only passable in summer, but men and horses can travel in file. The way is not used much, but those that have dwelt in Aldburg know of it.'
'It would be much better to go that way,' Éomer said. 'And incorporating a family visit will help explain why you have gone on this mission to buy wine and not some lesser member of our household.'
Eóthain nodded. 'Sounds good to me, just make sure you don't pay too much for the wine. And you'll have to order a fair bit to make it worthwhile transporting casks of wine through the Dimholt.'
'Let's hope you like the stuff, Eóthain,' Éomer quipped. 'I doubt Lothíriel will be able to drink all of it on her own.'
Laughing, Déor slapped Eóthain on the arm. 'If it's wet and potent, he'll drink the lot.'
Sensing how impatient Éomer was to find out the truth, Déor persuaded Byrde that they could leave three days later. She didn't see the need to hurry just to order wine, but Déor told her that he was afraid all the barrels would be allotted to various customers unless they got there before the grape harvest. He didn't like concealing things from her, but agreed with Éomer that until there was proof, then the fewer people who knew, the better. However, just before he left, Éomer handed him a letter.
'This is for Elfhelm; I would not want you to have to struggle to avoid telling a lie to such a noble man. Anyway, Lothíriel is seldom wrong in these matters, so if the results of your visit are as I suspect, then he would have to know.'
Déor tucked the letter under his tunic. 'And have you any instructions if it is proved that Guleth has birthed your son?'
'I have given that a lot of thought these past few days, and discussed it with Lothíriel. If Guleth wants to keep the secret and pass him off as her own, then I shall have to respect that. But if she wished me to acknowledge him, then I would do so.'
'You would have the right to claim him regardless of her feelings.' Déor hesitated to say that whatever the boy's ancestry on his mother's side, he would be a Son of Eorl and there were few enough of them in existence.
Éomer shook his head. 'Maybe, but I would not do that to her. I could not bring Guleth here, so would not rob her of her child. Still,' Éomer slapped his friend on the shoulder, 'we are counting the score before the arrow has left the bow – there might be no son, or if there is, he may have black hair, Gondorian features and obviously be her late husband's. I trust you to make the necessary decisions either way.'
Having had first-hand evidence of Lothíriel's foresight, Déor had little doubt what they would find. And when he reached Aldburg and discussed it with his father and Elfhelm, he found that they were also inclined to see their queen's avowal as the truth. Elfhelm because he was well acquainted with Lothíriel, and his father because anyone remotely connected to an elf was bound to be fey.
Luckily Byrde asked no awkward questions when he and his father made to leave, happy to be left with Elwyth, his mother, and his sister Æbbe. Déor was relieved to see Æbbe so happy. Her surprising marriage to one of the Riddermark's top scouts, a dour man ten years older than herself, had shocked him. His vivacious sister had flirted her way through her growing years and could have probably chosen from a good number of handsome Riders. He couldn't understand why she had accepted such a man as Godric, who might be loyal and skilled, but was only passably good looking. But as Déor watched them with their young son, and saw the pride and love in Godric's face, and the fulfilment in his sister's, then he realised that not all relationships were easily explained.
'Æbbe looks happy,' he said to his father as soon as they had left the gates of Aldburg behind.
'She is. I know you were surprised by her choice, Déor, but some women need a strong hand. She would have led a wet-eared youngster an almighty dance. Godric indulges her, but stands no nonsense. It has worked out well, and they both dote on little Wilmund.'
They discussed the other news from Aldburg until the path started to climb steeply up the mountain and they had to ride one behind the other. A few times his father stopped to search out the way. The path was not always obvious— beaten out by the travels of long-dead men, discovered when Eorl the Young had made his home in Aldburg, it was kept open by the wild goats who recognised no boundary between Gondor and the Riddermark. But as the sun climbed high in its arc, they reached the ridge that ran down from the summit – the border with Lamedon. Below, the land of Gondor stretched to a purple horizon, the River Ciril a silver thread, disappearing into the afternoon haze. A hunting eagle circled high above them, but otherwise they were the only beings that moved in a hard, stony landscape.
Déor had reckoned three whole days to make the journey from Aldburg to Calembel, and so it proved. The first night they spent bivouacking under an overhang of rock, the second on the banks of the Ciril, and the third more comfortably in a well-appointed inn in the middle of the town. Here they hoped to find directions to the Two Rivers vineyard, so rather than asking for a private parlour, they ate their supper in the big common room. As expected, questions were soon asked as to why two Rohirrim were travelling in Lamedon, but the explanation of buying wine for the courts of Edoras was accepted with no more than a nod and a shrug. Soon they had the directions they needed – the vineyard nestled in a sheltered valley halfway between Calembel and Ethring. The track to it could not be missed as it went off to the right, just after a bridge, made from granite slabs, crossed a wide stream.
Rising early the next morning, they reached the bridge way before noon and found the track that descended gently between two hillsides. Rows of vines marched up and down the slopes for as far as they could see. Many people were working on them, but were too far away for it to be discerned what they were doing. Otherwise they met no one on the track, eventually coming to some stone arched gates, which had the words Two Rivers in an ironwork scroll across the top. All looked neat and prosperous and they glimpsed the rooftop of a substantial looking house farther on around a bend.
As they went on, they heard a loud whinny and the sound of galloping hooves. Déor's stallion answered, letting out an excited shriek. The horse started to prance about, tossing its head and generally giving its rider a hard time.
'Must be a mare,' his father snorted when Déor had got his wayward beast under control. 'Not what we were expecting to find here.'
Déor laughed. 'Probably a carthorse. He's not fussy, any mare will do.'
But as they rounded the bend, they saw that it wasn't a carthorse – a fine grey mare skittered the length of a paddock, came up to the nearest fence and welcomed them by blowing down her nostrils.
Déor let out a whistle of appreciation. 'There's no doubt where she comes from; my boy can't take his eyes from her.'
'I don't think there's much doubt where he comes from either.' His father jerked his head towards the far side of the paddock.
A boy had jumped down from his perch on the rails and was making his way towards them. About ten or eleven, Déor judged, tall with dark-gold hair. The boy called something to the mare, clicked his fingers and waited. She gave the admiring stallion once last huff of greeting before trotting over to nuzzle into her young master.
To be continued
List of original characters appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Guleth Had a relationship with Éomer after the Ring-war.
Byrde Hama's youngest daughter, married to Déor.
Déor. Childhood friend of Éomer, now the captain of Lothíriel's guard.
Eorllic Déor's father. Elwyth – his mother. Æbbe – his sister
Elphir and Meren:
Alphros m – born 3017; Elphin m – born 3020 ; Eldir m – born FA4; plus one girl
Amrothos and Devoran:
Elenna f – born FA2; Rosriel f – born FA5; Carafin m – born FA7 (became Lord of Morthond when Devoran was given her inheritance); Baranir m – born FA8; Lindis f born FA11 (married Déor and Byrde's son, Caedda)
Eóthain and Welwyn:
Leofcwen f – born Yule 3020 ; Eadrid m – born FA5; plus three more.
Déor and Byrde:
Caedda m – born FA6 (married Lindis; four children including Osmund)
Ealgyþe f born FA 27; Éadwig m born FA29; plus two more sons and one daughter.
Erchirion and Inayah:
Two daughters and one son.
Æbbe and Godric
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