24. Revelation Part IV
Revelation Part IV
By the time Elfwine reached his grandfather's house, his anger had been replaced by numbing coldness. He hesitated outside, wondering if he would be likely to be able to speak to his mother alone. Maybe it would be better to wait for her to return to the King's House, but after a moment's consideration he realised that he couldn't – there were things he wanted to know right now. He would just have to make some excuse to have a private conversation with her. Decision made, he headed for the door. The steward let him in with no comment other than to tell him his mother was sitting with just Prince Imrahil in his study. Elfwine bounded up the stairs, thankful that she had no other company than his grandfather and that is seemed everyone else was getting changed for supper. From one of the rooms he could hear Alphros' strident voice, but his cousin was behind a closed door and Elfwine hurried past.
His mother and grandfather were companionably sipping wine when he entered the room. His grandfather looked up smiling, but his mother frowned.
'Elfwine, what's the matter. You look as if you've seen a ghost.'
'I...I need to talk to you.' Elfwine gave his grandfather a quick bob of his head. 'But... I'll wait...' However did he get his grandfather to leave without being rude? But he didn't have to think of some lame excuse as Prince Imrahil stood up.
'If it's that important to bring you here, Elfwine, I will leave you alone...'
Elfwine raked a hand through his hair. Suddenly he didn't want his grandfather to go. 'No, you will have to know sometime. Everyone will.'
'Elfwine!' His mother jumped to her feet. 'What have you done?'
'Me? I have done nothing.' His mother's immediate finger pointing made his words come out in a rush. 'It's Father. He says you knew he had fathered a bastard, but nobody thought to tell me...and I'd still be in the dark if I hadn't met Halmir at the fair.'
'Halmir?' She looked puzzled for a moment and then a jolt of realisation shot through her. His mother's eyes locked with her father's for only a brief second, but it was enough. Bitterness soured Elfwine's mouth.
'It seems I'm the only one who hasn't been told.'
His mother quickly grabbed him by the shoulders. 'I'm sorry. We should have told you before. But not many know, Elfwine, your grandfather is one of very few.'
'But why was I kept in the dark?' he objected. 'Father said you wanted him to tell me, why didn't he?'
'Elfwine, before I answer that sit down and tell me what has happened. You said you met Halmir at the fair?'
Elfwine shook his head, still reeling from the easy acceptance of something he thought to be so distasteful.
'Your mother is right, Elfwine. Sit down. Take some deep breaths, a swig of wine and explain. You are naturally shocked, but all can be sorted out.' His grandfather handed him a goblet.
He didn't want a drink, but ingrained respect for his grandfather made him take it and sink into a chair. Haltingly he started on relating the events of the afternoon, dropping his head into his hands when he recounted the conversation in the lock-up. 'I didn't believe Halmir when he said Déor was his father, but the truth is even worse.'
His mother sighed. 'Elfwine, let's get one thing straight. The only thing your father has done wrong is not telling you ages ago and letting you find out in this way. He behaved as honourably as he could to Mistress Guleth. It was her choice to return home without enlightening him of her condition, and when he did find out years later he went against his own inclinations and refused to part Halmir from his mother. Something he was quite entitled to do by law.'
'I suppose that is something.' Elfwine took a gulp of wine. True, his father had not abandoned Halmir's mother, or ridden roughshod over her feelings, but he still found the whole situation hard to bear. 'But doesn't it bother you that Father has sired a bastard?'
'I would be dishonest if I did not say that I would perhaps wish it had not happened, but it has and there is nothing we can do about that. Your father's relationship with Mistress Guleth took place long before we met. I cannot censure him for that.'
'Elfwine.' Prince Imrahil gave him a sympathetic smile. 'I like to think that I know your father quite well, and he was a friend before he became my son-in-law. He was, when I first met him, and is now, an honourable man. You have to remember that we lived through dark-times. I was close to him during those days. In a short time he lost his cousin, his foster-father and then thought his sister dead as well. After the most terrible of battles, with little hope left to us, the ride to the Black Gates took all our resolve and strength. But besides the horror of it all your father also had to deal with his losses and the difficulties of having kingship thrust upon him. Do you really blame him for taking love and comfort when it was offered?'
All the revelations of the day raged through his mind, and his mother and grandfather said nothing, letting him think it out. From somewhere outside the door he heard the sound of voices as the family made their way to supper, but inside the room all was quiet. Finally Elfwine let out a long, resigned sigh. 'No, I do not really blame him. I just wish he had told me himself.' But even as he said it, his father's words came into his head and he sighed again, annoyed with himself this time. 'I suppose I can understand though, Father guessed I would react like this. I didn't realise I was such a prig.'
'Don't be hard on yourself, Elfwine,' his grandfather said, getting up to drop a hand on his shoulder. 'There is nothing wrong with high ideals and trying to live an honourable existence. But how many of us are going to get to the end of our lives having made no mistakes? We have to remember that when we choose to judge others.'
That said it all, but he had thought his father the most honourable man he knew, and it had come as a shock to find out his life had not been free of fault. 'I totally accept that Father never knew he had sired a child, but I find it hard to understand why Halmir's mother never told him. Why would she not, did she think he would not support her?'
His grandfather shook his head. 'The opposite, I imagine. She must be a very noble lady, for I have no doubt that Éomer would have wanted to marry her had he known, in spite of what his advisors might have argued.'
'That's true, Elfwine,' his mother agreed. 'Your father said as much to me. We can only be grateful to Mistress Guleth that she was gracious enough to forestall that. But now we know Halmir exists, things have changed. Because I love your father, I would not deny him his other son. I will welcome Halmir if he comes to Edoras, but it will be strange for him and I hope you can find it in you to help a confused young man, your half-brother, in what will be a difficult situation.'
A half-brother! That would take some getting used to. 'I liked Halmir from the first. But I don't know what he will think – he was pretty angry when he thought it was Déor who fathered him, now he's going to find out he might have been heir to the Riddermark but for his mother's evasion of the truth.'
Éomer's usual purposeful stride lessened to a slow hesitant walk as he neared the room where he had left Halmir. He had never felt so unsure of what to say and of his reception when he said it. For the first time he could understand Guleth's failure to tell her son of his ancestry and forgave her for putting off the disclosure until the last possible moment.
But what must the boy be thinking? Surely his suspicions would have been aroused by the shock on Elfwine's face and his own erratic behaviour. It had pained him to leave Halmir like that, but explanations to Elfwine had to come first. He could only hope that Éomund had managed to make some innocuous conversation which would keep Halmir from thinking too much and jumping to the obvious conclusion. Unfortunately, even racking his brain, he failed to remember what Déor had actually said after his visit to the vineyard – had Halmir known that it was the King of Rohan himself who had given his mother the mare? If he had, then there might not be any revelations to make, only explanations to give.
The guard stood to attention as he approached the door. Éomer stopped, putting off the confrontation with his first-born for another moment. 'Is Éomund in there?'
'Yes, lord. He came straightaway, and so did the ale you ordered.'
Éomer nodded and put his hand on the door. A deep, calming breath and he pushed it open.
Éomund immediately got to his feet, Halmir more hesitantly, a wary expression on his face. He didn't bow but stared at the King of Rohan as if he was seeing him for the first time.
Éomund nodded a gesture of respect and smiled. 'I've had difficulty keeping him here, lord; he wants to check on his horse. I've told him she's settled and you said he had to wait for you to return so...'
'That's fine, Éomund, thank you.' Éomer had no doubt Halmir would have been kept here by force if necessary. Éomund, given an order, always carried it out to the letter. 'You can go now, but could you seek out the housekeeper and see if she can rustle up another room for Halmir, he'll be staying with us for a while.'
The look of surprise on Éomund's face came at the same time as a slight gasp from Halmir. But Éomund merely bowed and went to exit the room. Halmir though drew his eyebrows together and before the door had closed questioned the command.
'Why are you finding me a room..., lord?'
Éomer jumped straight in. 'Because you came here to find your father, that's what you want, isn't it?'
'I came to find Déor, but you tell me, lord, that I was looking in the wrong direction...'He stopped, faltering in confusion and uncertainty... 'I saw the shock and dismay on Prince Elfwine's face. But what my eyes and ears are telling me, my mind is refusing to believe.'
'Sit down, Halmir. As I said explanations are due to you and you might find they come as a bit of a shock to you as well.'
Halmir's face drained of colour, but he met Éomer's gaze boldly, his eyes boring into him as if trying to seek out the truth. A shaft of regret stabbed Éomer right in his heart – a fine young man who would make any father proud. What had he missed all these years? 'Sit down and we can talk.' Éomer pulled up a chair for himself as Halmir slowly sank into his, dropping his head into his hands.
After a moment he looked up, shaking his head. 'What I am thinking cannot be true, lord? Surely there is some other explanation I...'
Éomer interrupted him, not wanting speculation to go any farther. 'Halmir, Déor visited you on my behalf... I am your father, but I swear I only found out days before I sent him.'
'You...the King of Rohan.' The poor boy looked as if he had just been told he was related to an orc. Éomer waited as a range of emotions crossed Halmir's face while he came to terms with the stark truth. Eventually he stammered '... I thought... but I didn't really believe it. You and my ... my mother...?'
'Yes, Halmir. I met her at Cormallen when she treated me for a shoulder injury. She had just lost her husband. I became very fond of her, but in the end she decided to return home.'
A scant few seconds later, eyes blazing, Halmir jumped to his feet as the reality really sunk in. 'You mean you paid her off. With a horse! That was all she was worth, was it? All I was worth!'
'Halmir.' Éomer stood up and reached out a calming hand but the boy twisted away. 'It wasn't like that at all. It was your mother's wish to return to her family and I swear she never told me she was carrying my child...believe me if she had...'
'Why wouldn't she? Didn't she trust you to stand by her? What woman would not tell a king she was carrying his bastard...?'
'That's why, Halmir. Your mother wanted you to grow up with everyone thinking you were born in wedlock. She didn't want you to...'
'To be born a bastard,' Halmir sneered. 'Why not? That's what whores have, isn't it? Bastards!'
Éomer held down his anger – just. 'Call me for anything you like, but never let me hear you being disrespectful about your mother again.'
Halmir's eyes narrowed, and he took a step forward. 'I'll say what I like. And that's what she is, all these years she lied to me when she's nothing but a dirty whore.'
He wasn't having that! With no more thought Éomer slapped him hard across his left cheek.
Halmir staggered from the blow. When he regained his balance, his hands were bunched into fists. Éomer waited, watching his son's chest heave as he tried to control the urge to punch a king on the nose. Finally his hands unclenched, but he glared angrily from under thunder brows.
'You won't hear me say anything else, because I am leaving right now.'
'Halmir, you are going nowhere. You will stay here and when you are calmer we will talk again...'
'You can't keep me...'
Éomer stared straight into defiant eyes. 'Oh, but I can. Besides the fact that I have guards at my disposal, you are not yet come of age. And whether you like it or not I have control over you.' Having regained his temper, Éomer regretted slapping him. This had gone all wrong; somehow he had to try and explain his actions. But the boy was still raging, spitting fire at him.
'You say you found out when I was ten, but you obviously didn't want me then.' Halmir tossed the accusation at him scornfully. 'Why do you want me now? What does it matter to you where I go?'
'Halmir, sit back down and hear what I have to say!' Éomer snapped back, deciding he had to be fierce to get the boy to listen. 'I do not lie, so take notice of the truth.'
Halmir continued to glare at him for a long moment then, with a dismissive shrug, he sat down. Éomer just managed not to let out a sigh of relief. Now he had to find the right words and not spark off another fight.
The mulish expression on Halmir's face gradually eased, to be replaced by astonishment as Éomer explained how he had found out about his existence and the reason he had sent Déor to confirm Lothíriel's vision. 'I sent Déor with specific instructions that even if he found beyond any doubt that you were my son, he was not to take you away from your mother. Not because I did not want you, but because I had no wish to upset your mother. She did not want you told of your real paternity at all, but Déor decided that even born out of wedlock you were important to the Riddermark and insisted that you must be told before you came of age. Your uncle agreed to that, your mother much more reluctantly. In spite of what you might believe it was very hard for me to learn I had another son and not be able to get to know you. I devoured your letters, and many times I thought of invoking my rights and claiming you. But I stuck with what we had agreed and hoped that when you were eventually told the truth you would want to come to Edoras and seek me out, get to know me. But that is your decision, it still is.'
'I don't know what I want.' Halmir murmured, his eyes desolate rather than angry now. 'Except to see my horse. When I thought Déor was my father and had abandoned me, I wanted to punch him on the nose. But now... now you say that it was my mother that kept me from knowing you. I can't understand why she did that. And why did she keep the truth from me all these years?'
'Because she didn't want to lose you, I imagine.' Éomer opened his hands in a gesture of uncertainty, not quite really knowing himself. 'Perhaps she thought that with your love of horses, once you came to the Riddermark you would not return. But you must talk to her, Halmir. Make your peace with her.'
Halmir frowned, his blue eyes icy. 'I have no wish to see her. I don't think I can forgive her.'
Now what did he say. Hopefully this was just a passing phase and when Halmir had had time to think he would feel differently. 'Halmir, this has been a shock for you and you must take time to sort out your thoughts. I would like you to come and live or at least spend a considerable amount of time in the Riddermark. I want to get to know you and make up for the missing years, but you have to return home first and let your mother and uncle know you are safe and what you intend to do. You owe them that.'
Halmir still glowered. 'And what do I owe you?'
'Nothing. You owe me nothing. But I hope you would gain a lot. The Mark is not like Gondor, it does not have the same prejudices. You would be treated as my son, with all the respect that commands. Elfwine is my heir and your existence will not affect that, but...'
'I doubt he's happy about this,' Halmir interrupted. 'Or your wife.'
'Elfwine has had almost as big a shock as you. As your mother was remiss with the truth, so was I. He should have been told years ago. But my wife will welcome you, because she is open-hearted and secure in her position. I truly hope you and Elfwine will become friends, but I cannot make that happen.'
'I don't know.' Halmir shook his head despondently. 'At this moment I want to get on my horse, ride far away and forget all this. But I suppose you won't let me.'
'No, I am sorry. I think you need a few days to consider all you have learned. Hopefully things will become clearer. When you wish to return home, I will send an escort with you to make sure you get there safely. You will soon be of age and I cannot then force you to come to the Riddermark, I can only hope that you decide that you wish to see the land of your ancestors and learn their ways.'
Halmir stood up, his face giving nothing away. 'Can I see my horse now?'
Realising that was all he was going to get for the moment, Éomer nodded. 'I'll call Éomund to go with you.' Halmir's eyes hardened and he quickly added, 'Not because I wouldn't trust your word to return if you gave it, but because you would not be able to get back in here without someone to vouch for you.'
Deep in his thoughts, Éomer didn't look up immediately the door opened, but when he did, he smiled his relief, getting up to greet his wife thankfully. Lothíriel accepted his hug with unrestrained pleasure as she always did. 'Elfwine came to see me, my father talked to him and he is much happier. I think everything will be fine once he gets used to the idea he has a half-brother.' But then her eyes caught sight of the almost empty wine jug. She peered into it and then looked pointedly at the empty goblet. 'I have a feeling your talk with Halmir didn't go as well.'
'No. Although I am very glad Elfwine is coming to accept the situation.' Éomer ran a hand through his hair, still angry with himself. 'But I lost my temper with Halmir. In fact I slapped him.'
'You what!' Lothíriel was astounded, he couldn't blame her. She stared reproachfully at him. 'Éomer, whatever brought that on.'
'I think he was even more angry with his mother than with me. Called her a whore; I couldn't have that.'
'No, of course not.' Lothíriel took hold of his hand and went up on tip-toe to kiss him on the lips. 'Come and sit down. Tell me all that has happened; you look so troubled.' She led him to the couch, pulling him down beside her.
The warmth of her body next to him, and the sweet scent of her perfume, calmed him. She would understand, she always did. 'I played it all wrong; I should have been softer, more sympathetic. But he was angry from the start.' Éomer laughed ruefully. 'Halmir seems to have inherited my temper. And my pride, I suppose,' he said after a moment's thought. 'I expected him to jump at the chance of coming to Edoras, but I am not at all sure he ever will.'
Lothíriel squeezed his hand. 'Tell me what happened. What did you say to him?'
Éomer went through his disastrous conversation with Halmir as accurately as he could; Lothíriel listened without interruption, her face grave. 'It does seem that he is most angry with his mother,' she said when he had finished. 'But imagine what Elfwine would think if he discovered that I'd had a relationship out of wedlock.'
'Elfwine can be a bit of a prig sometimes.'
'It's his age,' Lothíriel said with a laugh. 'And boys do tend to place their mothers on pedestals.'
Éomer sighed. 'I understand that, but I just feel that until Halmir accepts what his mother has done and forgives her, he will never be able to see his way to coming to Edoras. And I so want him to.'
Lothíriel thought for a moment, and then stood up purposefully. 'Where is he? I will go and talk to him, a woman's view on this might help.'
To be concluded.
List of original characters appearing or mentioned in this chapter.
Halmir Son of Guleth and Éomer.
Ceolwen Elfhelm's youngest daughter.
Éomund Son of Bergit, brought up by Éomer's cousin
Bergit Daughter of the horse-breeder, Egbert. Had an affair with Éomer before the
Déor Captain of Lothiriel's guard
Byrde Déor's wife, daughter of Hama.
Caedda Son on Déor and Byrde.
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.
Erchirion and Inayah:
Two daughters and one son.
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)
Elfhelm and Wilflede
Bronwyn – f born 3019
Caedmon – m born 3021
Ceolwen – f born FA 3
Hrodgar – m born FA 5
Æbbe and Godric