19. Unity Part III
Unity Part III
Grindberg – in the White Mountains.
Elfwine strode back into the camp and dropped a couple of small rabbits on the ground next to the fire. He unhitched the canvas bag from his shoulder and dug his spear into the soft earth – not a bad haul for just a couple of hours. Eldarion struggled to his feet to greet him, brushing off bits of bracken.
'It looks like you've done well.'
'Only enough until tomorrow, the rabbits aren't big. 'Elfwine wiped his hands on his breeches and pointed his chin towards Eldarion's shoulder. 'What about you? How's it feeling?'
Eldarion moved his arm up and down. 'A bit stiff, and painful, but I would expect that. Though you didn't see any sign of infection last night, did you?'
'No, if I had we would have been out of here.' Elfwine pulled a large handful of leaves from his bag, dividing them into two bunches. 'I've got some more comfrey and I found some yarrow. I had to go a fair way down the mountain, but that's what all the Rohirrim use if there are any injuries when they are out on patrol.'
Eldarion nodded, took the yarrow from him and sniffed it. 'Best to make a poultice with them both, I'll do it.'
'No, the less you do the better, too much movement is likely to start the wounds bleeding again. You will want to be fit enough to get to the meeting place. It's only two days away.'
Eldarion sighed and slanted him a rueful grin. 'I suppose so, but I am finding it hard doing nothing.'
Ignoring the rabbits for the time being, Elfwine concentrated on chopping the herbs into small pieces. After they were all done, he boiled them up with a minimum amount of water, but even then the result was a sloppy mess.
'The herbs are normally mixed with flour,' Eldarion commented. He had sat down on a big log they had dragged near the fire before his injury. A good seat for tending the fire and the cooking.
'I know. I suppose I could use the oats, but there aren't many left.'
'I'd rather eat them,' Eldarion agreed. 'And it's not as if I am moving about much, so the mess doesn't matter.'
The poultice ready Eldarion started to strip off his shirt, wincing as he pulled his arm back.
'Here let me.' Elfwine went behind him and eased the shirt from his shoulder; it was covered in green where the herbs had leaked out from the rough bandaging. 'The weather's going to be warm today, what if I wash your shirt out and hang it to dry in the sun, you won't have to go without it for long.'
'A good idea, but I must do something to help. You're doing it all.'
Elfwine shrugged. 'So would you if our positions were reversed, at least I imagine you would.'
'Of course!' Eldarion glared at him. 'Skin the rabbit and I will tend the stew, that won't overtax me.'
'In that case if you lend me your bow, I will try for one of the wood-fowl. If I get lucky we can put it on the spit after the stew is done. It's surprising how hungry one gets living outdoors, I thought that kid would have lasted longer.'
'Not a lot of meat on it,' Eldarion agreed. 'But you be careful with the bow, it took me ages to make and I want to take it back with me.'
'I think I can be trusted with a bow,' Elfwine muttered as he got hold of the edge of the bandage.
'Ow...!" Eldarion sucked in his breath as the material pulled against the scabs. "You might have to soak it off.'
'I think I will, I'll go and wash your shirt and bring back some water.'
The sun had risen well above them by the time he got back with the water and had soaked off the strips of linen shirt. 'It looks good, not puffy or anything, so I'll just put the fresh poultice on and re-bandage. There's one clean bit left I can use.' Elfwine sighed; he'd have to wash the old bandage, and in fact he'd better boil it before they started to cook the stew. It would have been much better had they been given another stew pot, everything took so long, especially when there was no one to share the chores with. But still better than giving in and going back. He wanted his mother to know he could survive for a week without help and without the comforts he was use to. Even when they camped, the Rohirrim tended to live quite well. What he wouldn't give for a hunk of bread and cheese, or a slice of apple pie laden with cream.
The thought of food made him remember his morning trip. 'I saw some wild strawberries when I picked the yarrow, I just didn't have time to gather them.'
Eldarion's eyes brightened and he almost licked his lips. 'They would be lovely, and we could make a good sweet tea with the leaves and a few of the berries.' He flexed his shoulder gingerly, but the bandaging held well. 'Why don't I walk down there and gather a load, and instead of the stew we could roast the rabbit and use the stew pot for the tea. I can find some green leaves to go with the roast rabbit. You can still go after a wood-fowl.'
'I thought we'd agreed it would be best for you to rest. I don't want your wounds breaking open. And you've got no shirt.'
'But you said I am healing well,' Eldarion argued. 'I can't just sit around and I will go carefully. Strawberries won't be heavy to carry. And I'll wear my jerkin, the sun's getting really warm, it will be enough.'
Elfwine knew that Eldarion would be much better at recognising decent stuff to make a salad and herbs to stuff the rabbit. And the wounds had looked good. 'All right, but the strawberries are a fair way down,' he warned. 'We'd best go together for the most part. Just in case you need a hand.'
They returned to their camp late afternoon, the richer for two wood-fowl, a bag full of various herbs and salad leaves and an armful of strawberry plants. Elfwine was starving and quickly set up the spit and got the fire going. Eldarion hadn't complained at all, but the climb back up the mountain had left him drained. However, he insisted on sorting the herbs, taking the fruit from the strawberry plants he had picked and putting the leaves into the pot. He could do that sitting on the log.
Elfwine stuffed the rabbits with some of the herbs and got them cooking. He put the pot of strawberry leaves and water at the edge of the fire and started to pluck the wood-fowl. If he roasted those that evening they could be eaten cold for breakfast. A couple more decent size rabbits and another couple of fowl would see them through until they met the escort. His mouth watered at the thought of getting back to Meduseld in time for the evening meal – maybe there would be a meat cobbler and a cherry pie. Perhaps he should have insisted they went back after Eldarion had been injured, no one would have blamed them.
But later, his stomach full of roast rabbit, he felt good about what he had achieved. The hunting the last three days had been down to him, and they hadn't starved. He got up to share out the strawberries, using a piece of bent bark as a plate. They were a welcome sweetness after all the meat.
'I think the tea is ready.' Elfwine poured some into Eldarion's cup and passed it to him. 'It smells a lot better than the nettle.'
'Tastes better too, worth the effort, since we found no honey,' Eldarion said after he had sipped at the hot liquid. He was sitting with his back to a tree and looked better than he had an hour or so ago. The food had brought the colour back to his face.
Elfwine, having set the birds to roast, sat down near him to enjoy his tea. The sun had disappeared behind the mountain – dusk came early on these northern slopes – but the air still held the day's warmth. A couple of bats hunted around the clearing, enjoying the bounty of a myriad of moths drawn to the light of the fire. From behind him in the woods he heard the churring song of a nightjar, the bird too shy to join in the feast. He sighed. 'I'm glad we didn't give up, but I'm looking forward to a soft bed and newly baked bread.'
'My father lived for months at a time in the wilds, often on his own,' Eldarion mused. 'I have to admire him for that.'
'Doesn't he sometimes go off with Faramir for a night or two, to keep his hand in?'
'When he can,' Eldarion confirmed. 'But he's lucky to get away for very long. That's why he likes to come to Rohan. He can live a bit less formally.'
Elfwine didn't answer. There had been a time when Eldarion had loved to come too, and they'd had great times together. But this visit had gone wrong from the start, well at least from when Éomund had been one of the four Royal Guards escorting them on a camping trip. Up till then Eldarion had not seemed the type to listen to gossip, well not to repeat it anyway.
As if he could read what he was thinking, Eldarion broke into his thoughts. 'Look, I appreciate all you've done the last few days, and I want to apologise for what I said about your father. I was teasing really, you just took it seriously.'
Elfwine looked at him sharply, but he didn't see any mockery in the grey eyes. Only genuine regret. 'Did you think I hadn't heard the rumours? And hadn't questioned whether they were true?'
Eldarion let out a long breath. 'No, I suppose not. But I didn't mean any slur on your father.'
'Then why did you mention it at all? You should have just kept quiet.'
'I know, and I am sorry for that. I was just a bit jealous at the time.'
'Jealous? What did you have to be jealous about?' Elfwine asked, stunned.
Frowning, Eldarion considered that for a moment. 'Not jealous exactly, more envious, I suppose. You have such an easy relationship with your father's knights. They treat you like the youngster you are, but manage to show respect at the same time. It's so much more formal in Gondor. If I told one of our lot to jump in a dung heap, he would doubtless do just that. If you'd tried the same you'd likely get thrown in yourself.'
'Probably head first,' Elfwine agreed with a laugh. No chance of growing up high and mighty in the Riddermark. He sighed. 'I can understand a bit of that, but it doesn't explain why you repeated gossip.'
Eldarion shrugged. 'It was just that the two of you were laughing together and I thought that Éomund did bear a likeness to your father. I mulled on it a bit – especially that he was named after your grandfather - and then after that ale they gave us, I rather blurted it out. Siring a bastard is quite a common occurrence, and was not meant as an insult to your father, the opposite in fact.'
'Were it true that Éomund was my half-brother, I don't think it would be anything for my father to boast about,' Elfwine retorted, getting nettled again. 'But anyway, I know for certain he isn't. So there is no need for any more discussion on it.'
'If you know for definite, then I really am sorry I ever mentioned it. I realise now that you must have talked to your father about it.'
'No, I didn't,' Elfwine admitted, knowing he'd been a bit reluctant to discuss it with his father. 'I talked to Éothain, he knows everything.'
'Why not? He rode with my father before the war. Éothain told me that Éomund's parents were killed in an orc raid on Eastfeld and my father always felt guilty that he never got there in time to save them. He took Éomund and his sister to be fostered by his cousin, Edyth, realizing there would be rumours because of his friendship with their parents, and the fact that Éomund's father had had an accident. But he swore to Éothain that the children were conceived in wedlock, and my father does not lie.'
'Of course not, I would never suggest otherwise. I won't mention it again.'
Elfwine thought through what had happened that night – they had had a few pints of ale, the guards indulging them somewhat, and he knew full well how ale loosened tongues. 'Let's just forget it. I'll accept your apology and trust you to frap down anyone else you hear voicing suspicions like that.'
'I can promise I will.' Eldarion got up and fetched the pot of tea, coming over to top up Elfwine's mug. 'I used to really enjoy my visits, it's a shame we ended up fighting with each other this time.'
Elfwine felt the same and now it was up to him clear up another misunderstanding, one not easy to explain. 'Look, last time I tried to put right our differences, you socked me in the eye before I could say anything. Will you listen now?'
Eldarion stiffened. 'I can't quite see what there is to explain, your words seemed pretty clear to me. My sister...'
'Will you listen!' Elfwine interrupted angrily. 'I meant no insult to your sister!'
Eldarion stared at him with hard eyes, but suddenly he relaxed. 'All right, I will listen. Anyway, I am in no condition to thump you.'
Eldarion was waiting for him to start – not so simple to do, even though he now had the opportunity, and Elfwine stalled by drinking some more of his tea. But he got it out at last. 'Obviously I agree with you when you said that we have to accept a different life to other boys, and that duty must come first. And yes, I do see why you would think we would end up as brothers, but however pretty and suitable your sister is, I don't think the Riddermark would be best served by her becoming its future Queen.'
Eldarion's eyes had narrowed dangerously, but he calmly took a sip of his tea. 'You are going to have to explain that.'
'It's quite simple really.' Elfwine slanted him a wry smile. 'I have a Gondorian great-grandmother and a Gondorian mother. That's enough! Heck, I even look like a Gondorian.'
'But you don't talk or ride like one,' Eldarion cut in sharply.
'I know.' And he also knew that most considered his dark looks of no importance. But he still thought his reasoning correct. 'But there are other things to take into account,' Elfwine went on. 'Consider this: the foundation of the breeding of our horses comes from the original Mearas herd, brought from the north by Eorl the Young. Over the years we have mixed the pure bloodlines with horses from Gondor and Dol Amroth, to give us the numbers we need. But if one line got so diluted by having no Mearas blood, the progeny would be like any other horse in Middle-earth. At least every other generation needs seed from our pure bred Mearas, or the magnificent steeds of the Riddermark will have lost their potency and their identity. And that is the important bit, for it is no different for the sons of Eorl...'
'So I was right when I accused you of being no more than a horse-breeder,' Eldarion interrupted.
Elfwine immediately bristled, but then saw the laughter in the other boy's eyes, genuine laughter unsullied by any ridicule, and he laughed himself. 'You were right: I should not have reacted so angrily.'
'Yes, you should, I meant to be rude. But I take it back. I do see your point and forgive you for rebuffing the idea that you might marry my sister.'
'As I said, it was not meant as any insult and I like both your sisters very much. But I will marry one of my own people. And Eorl's line will be strengthened because of that.'
Eldarion shook his head in amazement. 'You have certainly given it thought, considering that you don't have to marry for years and years. Just think what we have ahead of us, all those women stalking us.'
'Well, you will no doubt marry one of my cousins, so don't get too carried away chasing others.' Elfwine warned with a tilt of his brows.
'One of your cousins?' More astonishment crossed the heir of Gondor's face.
Elfwine laughed. 'Of course, Amroth has two suitable girls and Éowyn one. Think of the goodwill marrying one of them will buy you.'
'I'd rather not, if you don't mind! At least yet awhile,' he said quickly before Elfwine could take offence. 'But it certainly won't be Elenna, she's a total handful. And last time I went to Dol Amroth she challenged me to a sword-fight. No disrespect to your cousin, and I admit she's very pretty, but I prefer them rather gentler. Don't you?'
'No, actually,' Elfwine confessed. 'The one I am going to marry reminds me of my aunt Éowyn. She is fiercely loyal to the Riddermark, rides as well as any boy and already fights better than any woman...' he stopped suddenly realising he had probably said too much. His fear was confirmed when he saw the slow smile spread across Eldarion's face.
'Are you telling me you have already chosen her, and you not fourteen? I don't believe it!'
Elfwine felt himself flushing. 'Why not? There are only so many who would make a good queen.'
'Then I know who it is.' Eldarion's grin spread from ear to ear.
'Don't say it!' Elfwine stood up pointing a finger at the other boy. 'If you value our friendship, then I am asking you to keep your thoughts to yourself. It will do nobody any good if rumours like that get around.'
'My word on it.' Eldarion was still smiling. 'But tell me, what makes you think she will cooperate. She strikes me as a girl of independent spirit, and I doubt the lure of a crown will make her do something against her inclination.'
Elfwine said nothing, concentrating on turning the birds roasting on the spit. They smelt wonderful –maybe they should have a bite of supper.
'Well, are you going to answer?' Eldarion pushed, still highly amused.
'Don't tell me you've talked about it... You have, haven't you,' he went on when Elfwine still didn't answer. 'Now you really have astonished me.'
'I don't see why,' Elfwine retorted. 'As I said, she is loyal to the Mark and sees the sense of it. Oh, I know it won't be for years, but I didn't want her getting involved with anyone else later on.'
'Pity we've no wine here,' Eldarion raised his mug of tea, 'or we could drink to your future nuptials.'
'Oh, go fall in a bog!' Elfwine grinned at him. Just like old times, teasing without rancour. 'I'll wager that you marry one of my cousins.'
'No, I'll not take you up on that,' Eldarion said after a moment's thought. 'But I'll wager five crowns it won't be Elenna.'
For some reason Elfwine wasn't so sure Eldarion would win that bet, and he gladly took the wager, pleased with the return to their old ways. Night had fallen whilst they had been talking, and the only light they had came from the glow of the fire. The trees seemed to have closed in on them, the paths out of the clearing leading only to impenetrable blackness. But above he could see stars twinkling in a velvet-dark sky. The moon would rise soon, giving them enough light to finish their chores. He heard a fox bark in the distance, an eerie sound that cut through the still, pine-scented air.
'These birds are done; do you want to taste a bit?' He looked around at Eldarion who still had a grin on his face. But he didn't care – the fact that he was still young made no difference to his feelings. He loved this land and would do whatever was best for it.
Eldarion nodded, and got up. 'It does seem a long time since we ate those rabbits.'
To be continued.
Elfwine – born FA1
Eldarion – born TA 3020
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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