13. 13. To East Lorien
“…You seem like a decent enough girl,” Ethelfled
said coolly, “So I decided to speak with you woman to woman. Now Marshal
Elfhelm is a wonderful man; kind, generous, fun loving and extremely handsome,
as you are well aware. Oh do not try to deny it; I see how you look at him...”
Thea turned away from the campfire, sleep eluding her.
“…This war kept us apart for too long, but now he will complete his king’s bidding and return to the East-mark and me. We can renew our relationship and build a life together. Now I am a lady, however, if you try to draw him away from me, tempt him with your foreign charms, I will forget my proper upbringing; the East-mark and its Lord are mine!” The last words were delivered inches from her face; it was no idle threat.
She flopped to her back and stared at the stars. While she knew a man like the Marshal would most likely have a companion, she had let her heart hope for the impossible--although, she did not expect him to favor a woman so brash. Furthermore, she could not believe that Elfhelm would behave so careless a manner towards her if he were in fact devoted to Ethelfled.
‘He treats you-- jests with you-- as Gamling does,’ a little voice whispered, ‘you are lonely and he is charming and handsome, strong and very different from the men to which you are accustomed.’ Thea lay there, doing little more than dozing fitfully through the night.
From his place across the encampment, Elfhelm watched and wondered what troubled the woman. While she had been pleasant during their journey, he noticed that she distanced herself from him. Had he perhaps overstepped his bounds at some point? Did he cause offense? He thought to their interactions as of late and anything that might have caused a change. Ethelfled! He bet it had something to do with that damnable woman! She was a thorn in his side. ‘Of course, you have yet to tell the Lady flat out that you are not interested,’ his inner voice chided, ‘now why is that?’
‘Because’ his mind answered, ‘he fears there was nothing else.’
They broke camp at sunrise hoping to make it to the border before mid-day. Thea looked tired and was withdrawn. She did not join in the banter and rode in silence. Although they thought it odd, the Rohirrim left her to her thoughts.
As the forest border drew close, she maneuvered her horse to the front of the column, riding next to the Marshal.
“When we reach the trees” she began, “have your men dismount. We will walk the horses. You will not see them, but the Guardians will be there; actually, I am guessing we are already in their sights and within bow range.” Her words were delivered concisely and lacked warmth.
Elfhelm pulled up, stopping the entire procession. Thea looked at him. “Mistress is something amiss or have I offended you in some way?”
Thea looked away and answered. “My lord, you have been nothing but kind, I fear…”she did not know what to say and faltered.
“I know you have slept poorly and even the guards have noticed your lack of mirth. If something troubles you, you need not bear it alone.” He reached a gloved hand across and squeezed her knee. Her eyes stung at the sympathetic gesture. Yet how could she tell him of her feelings when she knew there was a woman waiting for him at home—a Rohirrim woman?
“I am just a bit unsettled about this trip; I cannot imagine why I was invited. It has caused a shadow to fall over me.”
“Then come, let us find out together. Know that I-- we,” he amended, “will be with you.” Elfhelm urged his horse forward and when they came to the tree line, he bade his men dismount. “My lady, I will follow your lead as I believe you have had more experience with elves.”
Thea smiled weakly and advanced into the wood. The party had gone about a hundred paces when they found themselves surrounded by gray-clad elves, longbows at the ready. Thea pushed back her riding cloak as a tall, silver haired elf approached. He bowed low, hand to his heart.
“Mae Govannen, Arathea in Dúnedain, you and your kin are forever welcome in the land of the Elves.”
Thea returned the gesture, “Mae govannen.”
Elfhelm stood by in stunned silence. While he did not speak the elvish tongue, he knew enough to understand the greeting and respect delivered to Arathea. She was a Lady of the West, a Dunadan’s daughter! Few of her line still lived. In his shock, he almost missed her introductions.
“May I present Lord Elfhelm, Marshal of the East-Mark and emissary for his king, Éomer of Rohan.” Elfhelm bowed. “My lord, this is Orophin, Marchwarden to Celeborn and brother of Haldir who fell at Helms Deep.”
The man looked up in surprise. “We are honored to be welcomed in your lands. We are indebted to you and your kin for your unwavering support at the Hornburg, Marchwarden. Though I knew your brother only briefly, he was a valiant elf; I am sorry for your loss.”
“Many have suffered losses during that time, but the Darkness has been vanquished and their death not in vain.” Orophin then gave a little nod. All but four guards left the area. “If you will follow me, we will arrive at the city just before dark. A place has been made ready and a meal will be waiting. You will meet with Lord Celeborn in the morning.”
The group moved into the woods, still walking their mounts. Elfhelm watched the woman in front of him and saw her in a new light; things began to make sense. She was not just some scholar from Gondor. Master Erestor of Rivendell would have taught no mere scribe. No average scholar would have the knowledge she possessed and no average scholar would be personally invited by an Elvin Lord to attend a celebration. Now he knew why she kept her distance. She must have realized his attraction and was trying to discourage him. She was above his station, even as marshal. Elfhelm’s heart lurched; he suddenly realized he had wanted more than friendship.
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