9. 9. Breakfast
Another week had passed since Éomer had set the rules regarding Arathea and her workload. It was with much trepidation that she first joined the King’s table for breakfast. However, she soon discovered that she enjoyed mealtime and joined more often. While Éomer was not a morning person and often missed breakfast, she found pleasant conversation with Gamling and Marshals Elfhelm and Grimbold and even young Erkenbrand. They had a wit about them that made meals most entertaining—though usually at Éomer expense. Yet, it was more than wit that captured Arathea’s attention when Elfhelm was about. She found she desired his company most. This morn was no exception. Gamling and the Marshal were the only two present when Arathea arrived; she hesitated, as they seemed deep in conversation. Seeing the woman enter the captain greeted her and indicate she join them. Thea smiled and sat as a serving girl placed a cup of tea before her.
“I know the King is not much for mornings, but where is Marshal Grimbold and Erkenbrand? I did not think the four of you were ever parted for long.”
Gamling smiled, please she was becoming so comfortable with them. He liked the woman; she reminded him of his Aglaril. When Lar returned from her trip to the West-Mark he would have to introduce them. “He is preparing for the return home. He will leave for the Hornburg with Erkenbrand in two days time.”
Thea reached for a slice of warm bread, followed by some cheese and grapes. She ate quietly as the men finished their discussion. She did not mind as it gave her time to watch the Marshal. He was an educated man and despite his sometimes-gruff exterior, very gentle and kind. His eyes were an inky brown but held such warmth and she could only imagine the strength of body that lay under his jerkin and coat. She caught herself staring...again.
“So, Mistress,” the Marshal began, “what have you planned for this day?”
“I am not sure, my lord. These ‘rest’ days the king demands are troublesome for me as I do not know what to do with myself.”
“I am certain more than a few young men around here would be more than happy to occupy your time,” Gamling said with a wink. Elfhelm scowled at him.
“I have little patience for young men, Captain,” She countered.
Elfhelm took the bait. “And for what kind of men do you have patience?” His eye glittered as he watched her cheeks take on a lovely rose color. She was beautiful when she blushed! Thea nearly choked on the tea she drank as she found herself in the midst of an awkward conversation. Both men watched her intently before giving in to laughter.
Deep green eyes glared at them--the Marshal noted much like a cat’s--then she smiled a devilish smile. As she stood to leave she bent close to the Marshal’s ear saying, “Would you not like to know?” The man could not stop the shiver that her breath on his ear caused. With that, she left them, a smug grin on her face. The lady missed the look in the marshal’s eyes, but the Captain did not.
“I see the look in your eyes,” Gamling said quietly. “Have you finally admitted your own loneliness?”
“Perhaps,” Elfhelm responded. “There is something about her that calls to me. It has been a long time since a woman caught my attention and I do not understand why it is she.” He sighed. “Women have caused me nothing but trouble.”
“Lady Ethelfled still badgering you to make her the Lady of the East-mark?”
“Aye, I keep putting her off yet fear she may actually leave. I know what she desires and that she has no real love for me, but at my age I have few options if I do not wish to die alone.”
Gamling understood his friend’s worries all too well. Until recently he thought the same, then he made his feelings for Aglaril known and the two began a happy courtship. Perhaps Arathea was the one for Elfhelm. He just did not want to see the woman get hurt; he guessed there had been enough of that already. Gamling looked at his longtime friend. “I heard her speak to Éomer of wanting to give her horse a good run. The king plans to send a guard with her; perhaps you should offer your services.”
Elfhelm looked at his companion. For all the success he had in battle, he had little when it came to women. His wife left him five years into their marriage when she fell in love with another—a scholarly man from Gondor who did not leave for months at a time on patrol. Then there was Lady Ethelfled who cared about position and not affection. He sighed. There was no doubt he was attracted to Arathea, however he could not be certain it was mutual. Yes, they teased back and forth, but it meant nothing. She teased Gamling and Éomer the same. He gnawed on a strip of bacon. They were, in his mind at least, friends and a ride would give them some time to get to know one another. What did he have to lose?
“I might just do that.” Elfhelm said with determination. The dark haired man stood with a nod and left the dining hall. Gamling hoped his friend would in fact seek out the woman; Elfhelm needed someone whether he admitted it or not.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.