16. Confession Part IV
Confession - Part IV
Lamedon FA 9
The anxious look on Guleth's face the next morning as she helped serve an early meal told Déor that Olthor had informed his sister of the need to talk. However, just as he'd finished eating and was about to suggest they meet in Olthor's back room, as the vintner had suggested, Halmir burst through the door. One look at the lad's eager face and Déor knew the discussion would be postponed again.
'I assume from your excitement, Halmir, that you consider Dreamcatcher to be ready?'
The boy laughed. He had skidded to a halt, but bounced up and down, itching to get back outside. 'No doubt, lord – her tail's right up and she's peeing all over the place. I bet she'll be right up for it!'
Guleth shot her son a look of disapproval, but didn't say anything. Halmir grinned apologetically, and with a resigned shrug, his mother turned her back on them to clear dishes.
'That certainly sounds promising, Halmir.' Déor stood up. 'Let's go and get Wingrider.' Good job the mare had spent the night in the farthest paddock, well away from the stables, or the stallion would be kicking the doors down. But he had been quiet when Déor had visited him first thing.
Not now though – the horse was stamping the ground when he saw his master approach. 'Easy, boy,' Déor soothed him. 'It looks like your luck's in. Put Dreamcatcher in that large paddock, Halmir. If for some reason she objects, I want him to have some space to get away.'
'Object! I bet she won't.'
The boy ran off. Déor fixed a head-collar onto Wingrider and led him out into the yard. As they approached the paddock, the stallion's head went up, his top lip curling when he caught a whiff of the mare's scent on the air. Seeing her chosen mate coming, Dreamcatcher let out an excited squeal. Tossing her head to encourage him to follow, she took off around the paddock. The instinct to draw the stallion to her was an impulse the mares never lost, even when away from the herds. Up for it indeed! Déor shouted to Halmir to open the gate just as Wingrider let out an almighty shriek.
He let the horse go as the gate swung wide; Wingrider thundered through with a flash of hooves that made even Halmir jump aside.
Moments later the two horses were confronting each other in front of an interested audience. Not that either of them noticed. No courtship needed – the mating urge powerful and urgent – Dreamcatcher shoved her backside towards the stallion as soon as he skidded up to her.
'Well, it looked good,' Déor said when all of the stallion's legs were back on the ground. 'And the mares only behave like that when it's totally the right time. But as your uncle has offered us a bed for another night, then it would be best to leave them together for the rest of the day. She'll be receptive for a while yet and Wingrider will be keen to repeat as often as he can. More chance of a successful take that way.'
He watched their belated courtship for a few minutes – the stallion, no novice at mating, had already started the love play, nipping and caressing his new sweetheart, hoping for a second bite of the cherry. Halmir smiled happily, intent on the two horses that were now standing close together, rubbing necks. No doubt the lad would be watching them for the rest of the morning, which would be no bad thing. Better to talk to Guleth undisturbed. Déor caught his father's eye; Eorllic nodded and moved along the rail to Halmir, engaging him in conversation.
Walking towards the house, Déor mulled over the conclusions he'd come to after a rather sleepless night and an early morning talk to his father. He had no expectation of Guleth agreeing for her son to come and live in the Mark, and Éomer would certainly not want him to force her to let Halmir go. But as he saw it, there was more at stake here than a mother's sensitivities.
If Lothíriel had been likely to birth more sons, then he could go back to Edoras and leave Halmir to spend his entire life as a Gondorian, but further legitimate heirs were very uncertain. And after confirming the truth of his queen's latest vision, who would doubt her reading of her fertility. Hopefully Elfwine would grow to manhood, produce many sons, and the succession would be assured. But peace was never guaranteed and who knew what battles lay ahead. As Théodred's untimely demise had shown – princes were not immune from early death. With Théoden only producing one child, and Éomer also, there was not a pool of Sons of Eorl to draw on.
Stopping a moment for a last look at the courting pair, Déor went through the list of those next in line, if somehow Elfwine failed to take his rightful place. Elboron would have the strongest claim, but he was destined to be a future Steward of Gondor, and Éowyn had birthed no more sons as yet. The other option were those soft-living spawn of Théoden's older sisters whom he'd met after the war – well, if the Rohirrim would have them – which he doubted and would personally fight against. Anyway, he thought it unlikely they would trade their easy, luxurious life in Gondor for the barbaric Riddermark. Even for a kingship.
But, unlooked for, another heir had been discovered, one who would undoubtedly make a fine young horse-lord. And if, against all hope, the need ever arose, who would doubt he was Éomer's first-born son? Especially if Éomer recognised and loved him, as he undoubtedly would, given the chance. The tradition of the king naming his successor was likely to hold; therefore could he in all conscience walk away, leaving the boy never knowing of his father, or his heritage? He didn't think so, and given free choice would have taken Halmir back to grow up in Edoras, but Éomer had expressly forbidden him to cause Guleth undue stress. So a compromise was needed, and if Guleth could not be persuaded to let go a bit, then he had decided what to do.
When Déor opened the door of the back room, Guleth and Olthor were already waiting. Olthor sat behind his desk, but Guleth paced the floor. She stopped abruptly at the sight of him, one hand clutching at the desk. Déor almost took a step back: the atmosphere in the small room was cloying. Bright sunshine shafted through the window – the light showed up the dust-motes suspended in the air, the warmth allowed the smell of old leather to mingle with the overwhelming scent of yeast and fruit that pervaded the whole place. Added to that, Guleth's fear was palatable.
His heart went out to her as he remembered the anguish Byrde had gone through when it looked as if she would never conceive a child. His wife would probably have gone out of her mind had someone threatened to take their precious son away. That thought made him want to reassure Guleth straight away.
'Mistress Guleth, let me promise you that I have no intention of wrenching Halmir from you and hauling him off to Rohan when I leave tomorrow.'
That statement caused Guleth to expel a relieved breath, but her eyes narrowed when Déor followed it up with – 'However, I would like us to come to an agreement that your son comes to Edoras in the future.'
'There is no proof, lord, that Halmir is not my husband's child,' she responded immediately, her chin raised in challenge.
Déor let out a stifled laugh. 'Éomer King and I have been friends since we were young children. I well remember him at Halmir's age when we spent all our free time racing our horses in the meadows around Aldburg. Looking at your son, Mistress Guleth, takes me back to those carefree days. So shall we agree that there is no argument to be entered into and get on with finding a solution?'
She remained silent, her bosom rising and falling rapidly as she fought for something to counter his claim, but Olthor stepped in. 'Guleth, Lord Déor is right. We cannot deny Halmir's paternity. It is better to admit the truth.'
'Why don't you sit down?' Déor pulled up a chair and held the back until she reluctantly nodded and sat down in it. He grabbed one for himself so that he was on the same level as her.
'Firstly, tell me why you left Minas Tirith without telling Éomer you were carrying his child?'
She immediately bridled, tossing her head scornfully. 'And what would you have thought of a woman who did that? I can well imagine all the comments there would be about trapping him.'
Déor was just going to retort that no-one would have expected Éomer to marry her when he stopped, closing his mouth abruptly. He knew Éomer well – no man more honest and true existed. What would he have done? He thought he knew.
Her shoulders dropped and she gave him a wan smile, as if she had picked up his thoughts. 'Exactly, Lord Déor. Would you really have wanted me as your queen?'
No, and he would have advised Éomer against it, as would have many others. 'Arrangements could have been made. It's usual for kings to recognise their children born out of wedlock even if…'
'I did not want my child to grow up as a bastard!' Guleth interrupted angrily. 'That is why I chose to pass him off as Faeldor's. And that is why I do not want him to go to Edoras now. I want that stigma neither for my son nor myself.'
'Rohan is not like Gondor, Mistress Guleth; the boy would be valued for who he is and how he behaves. His legitimacy would not matter to the common folk and others would follow their king and queen's lead…'
'Yes, the queen!' Guleth broke in. 'She would not want her husband's by-blow under her nose. Halmir is loved by all here. I do not want him to have to live where he could be the cause of strife and argument.'
'Lothíriel Queen is fair and high-minded,' he countered. 'She would be kind to Halmir because he is Éomer's son and his begetting took place long before they had met each other. She had the choice to tell Éomer about Halmir, or to keep quiet. She chose to tell him because she knew he would relish having another blood-child. After her generosity of spirit, have you the right to decide that Éomer should never know his son, and Halmir his true father?'
She did not give at all, clenching her hands on the arms of the chair. 'Halmir belongs with me – his mother. He accepts that his father is dead and that is enough.'
'I do not think so. The blood of generations of horse-lords flows in his veins. Do you think you are doing the best for your son if you deny him his heritage?'
'That is not fair!' Guleth flew out of her seat, spitting fire. 'I have never stopped Halmir working with the horses and encourage him all I can. I do not think he is missing out on anything.'
Déor didn't react to her anger, speaking calmly. 'You might find that Halmir decides to travel to Rohan himself when he is older. He has already mentioned it.'
The gentlest lady would fight for her child. She glared fiercely, damming him with her eyes. 'He had not thought of it until you came here! But do not doubt that I will encourage him to go elsewhere to work with horses. I know the law says I cannot keep him from his father, but I do not want Halmir to go to Edoras and you will have to force him from me. That will destroy me, and maybe damage Halmir for good. Do you want that on your conscience?'
Déor stood up and took her arm. 'That was never my intention, Mistress Guleth. Please sit down again, this will do us no good.' Shrugging off his hand she sat down, and he took his seat again, speaking gently but firmly. 'If you remember, I said I wanted us to agree that Halmir could come to Edoras in the future. But I think it better if he is the one to make that decision, not you or me. I will leave here without him tomorrow, but I wish for you and your brother to give me your word that when you think the time right, you will make Halmir aware of his true parentage. If you cannot find it within you to do this before, which I hope you do when you reflect on my words, then he must be told as soon as he comes of age. If you do not confirm that he has been told, then I will return and enlighten him myself. No one will think ill of Halmir leaving home when he is older, and if we are circumspect your reputation will remain intact. But it is right and just that his father has the chance to know him.' He waited for her response, hoping he had offered her a reasonable compromise.
She dropped her head and shook it slowly, not wanting to agree. Olthor, with a sigh, left his seat and went to his sister, putting his arm around her. He looked up at Déor. 'Your words are fair, Lord Déor. And my sister will agree to them.' Squeezing Guleth's shoulders, he encouraged her kindly. 'Come, Guleth, give your promise; you will get no better settlement than this.' When she did not respond he spoke more sternly. 'Guleth, Halmir is a king's son; you have to agree.'
Reluctantly she nodded, although as she looked up, Déor could see that her eyes glistened with unshed tears.
He smiled, hoping she would come to see that he'd had to consider Halmir and Éomer as well as herself. 'Thank you. And I would like to arrange that the order for wine is repeated yearly and with the barrels comes a letter telling me of Halmir's health and progress towards manhood, which I will pass on to his father.'
'I agree,' Olthor said. 'It shall be done as you say. I will make sure of it.'
Guleth pulled away from her brother irritably, flashed Déor an angry look and flung open the door. But she came face to face with her son who was just about to knock. She swept past him without a word. Halmir looked surprised at his mother's swift departure, but his thoughts were on horses.
'Lord, I am sure the mating is going well and I shall have a first class foal next year. Can you tell me of Wingrider's ancestry so that I will be able to choose a suitable name?'
First class indeed! Déor nearly laughed out loud. 'Well, his sire was the king's favourite battle-horse, Firefoot, his grandsire the Mearas stallion Wingfoot. His dam, Windcharm, sibling to the Lady Eowyn's Windfola, the horse she rode to battle against the Witch King.'
Behind him, he heard Olthor gasp. Halmir eyes and mouth opened wide with awe. But he managed to get a few words out. 'The fee, it must be enormous.'
Déor dropped his hand onto the lad's shoulder. 'The fee is threefold. First you will polish and shine my tack and my father's this afternoon until it gleams. Secondly you will promise not to sell your foal, but keep it for yourself whatever you are offered, and thirdly, each year when the wine is carted to Edoras you will write to me and tell me of your progress with its training.' Halmir nodded, a great grin on his face.
'Oh, and that reminds me,' Déor carried on. 'Halmir, you must also promise me that if Dreamcatcher drops a colt, you will geld him.'
Disappointment replaced Halmir's grin, but Déor held his gaze. 'You would find it difficult to manage a stallion, and you have two mares of close kin.'
'Then I hope it's a mare,' Halmir said, brightening again. 'Dreamcatcher's foaled one of each, so there's a good chance.'
With a laugh, Déor tousled his hair. 'I hope so, too.'
The boy, after stammering his thanks, ran back outside. Déor stopped only for a word with Olthor, telling him that if Halmir wished to come to Edoras in the future, he would return and escort him. He and his father would be leaving in the morning and he fervently hoped Guleth would come to see that he had done his best. He couldn't believe that when Halmir knew the truth, he would not be drawn to the land of the horse-lords.
'It must have been difficult for you.' Éomer placed his hand on his friend's shoulder. 'But as much as I would like to see my son, to watch him grow and to have influence over him, I would not have wished you to tear him from his mother.'
'I wanted to, Éomer,' Déor admitted. 'From the first moment I saw him and he looked so much like you, I wanted to bring him here. If you had not been so adamant about not upsetting his mother, I would have. Halmir is lively and well-mannered, you would be so proud of him.'
'Which means that Guleth and her brother are doing a good job of bringing him up. I must be thankful for that.' Éomer picked up his goblet and walked to the window looking up to the slopes of the White Mountains. Part of him wished Déor had ignored his orders and brought the lad back, but he knew that was not fair. No woman deserved to have her child taken away to live in another land. If only she had told him at the time…but then who knew what would have happened and he might not have married Lothíriel… Shaking his head at the thoughts whirling around, he turned back to face his friend. 'My son's a natural with horses, you say?'
'As good as I've seen since the only one to learn from was an old stableman. That's why I had to have Mistress Guleth's assurance that she would tell him the truth when he's older. She did not even want to do that, but I judged it wrong to keep his heritage from him, just as I judged it wrong for you never to know him.'
'But he might not ask to come,' Éomer pointed out. Then what would he do? Already he was aware of a heavy a tug in his heart and felt tempted not to leave the matter to chance. Perhaps if he offered Guleth a home as well? But no, he didn't think Lothíriel would be keen on that. She had been so open-hearted about the whole thing; he wouldn't want to push it.
'I am sure that he will.' Déor mused. ' Surely a child nearing manhood would wish to know his own father? Halmir might spend his early years in Gondor, but the blood of the Riddermark flows thick in his veins. Yes, I am sure he will want to seek you out.'
Then he had to be patient. 'It was a good idea to arrange that a report comes yearly with the wine, I thank you for that.'
'Better still.' Déor gave him a rather triumphant smile. 'Halmir's mare should be carrying Wingrider's foal. He has promised to keep me informed of his progress with its training. You will get news from your son's own hand.'
The lump of lead weighing down Éomer's heart shifted a little. 'I thank you again. With that I will have to be content.'
To be continued
List of original characters appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Guleth Had a relationship with Éomer after the Ring-war.
Faeldor Guleth's husband, killed on the Pelennor.
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
Olthor Guleth's brother – a vintner.
Halmir Illegitimate son of Guleth and Éomer.
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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