|The Lady's War and the Gentleman's Engagement
Author: anolinde PM
In the fallout of her betrothal to Elphir, Gúthwyn must deal with the consequences - including an all-out war with Queen Lothíriel. Meanwhile, she begins to question her aversion to marriage. Rohan Pride Chronicles.Rated: Fiction M - English - Adventure/Romance - Lothíriel & Elfwine - Chapters: 80 - Words: 355,002 - Reviews: 303 - Favs: 72 - Follows: 93 - Updated: 12-14-12 - Published: 04-01-11 - id: 6866582
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: Allow me to apologize in advance for any confusion. The first sixty chapters of "The Lady's War and the Gentleman's Engagement" are originally from Part IV of The Rohan Pride Chronicles, "The Horse and the Swan" (formerly titled "Recovery"). Because Part IV was nearing two hundred chapters with no end in sight, I decided to split it into two stories: "The Horse and the Swan" and "The Lady's War and the Gentleman's Engagement." For those of you who read all 177 chapters of "Recovery," you can skip to Chapter 61 of "The Lady's War and the Gentleman's Engagement." For those of you who started reading "The Horse and the Swan" (or The Rohan Pride Chronicles in general) after all of these shenanigans and have absolutely idea what I'm talking about, just ignore me and keep reading. =)
The Rohan Pride Chronicles
The Lady's War and the Gentleman's Engagement
In the fallout of her betrothal to Elphir, Gúthwyn must deal with the consequences - including an all-out war with Queen Lothíriel. Meanwhile, as she is increasingly forced to confront the reality of what happened to her in Mordor, she begins to question her aversion to marriage.
About Part V:
The upcoming events are based off of what I have learned from the appendices and various sources concerning the aftermath of the War of the Ring. I wish more was known, but unfortunately, it is not—thus, I have had to do much guesswork and fill in my own beliefs about what happened. Please bear with me.
Much to Gúthwyn's surprise and initial disappointment, life in Rohan did not settle down in the least after the departure of the Dol Amroth delegation. Their guests gone, the Eorlingas now had to turn their attentions to the harvest, upon which their hopes of being fed during the winter rested. Éomer and his advisors spent many an hour holed up in the council chamber, fervently discussing methods of adding to the Riddermark's revenues in case the year's crops did not yield as expected.
Gúthwyn, however, took no part in these sessions. Her energies were now almost entirely devoted to working around her broken wrists, which had very quickly proven themselves to be the most inconvenient injuries she had ever received. For three weeks, she had needed Éomer's assistance to get changed; she stopped requesting him not because the bones were healing, but because she was too humiliated to let the practice continue.
Although an arduous, time-consuming process in and of itself, dressing was but one of the daily tasks she could no longer take for granted. Eating was impossible, for she could not manipulate the utensils and she was unable to hold anything other than the lightest morsel of food. As a result, she lost a dangerous amount of weight in the first few weeks after Prince Imrahil's visit, despite her promise to Éomer to maintain a proper diet.
Finally declaring that this could continue no longer, Cobryn labored for several days in an effort to find a solution to her problem. What he at length devised was, without a doubt, one of the oddest contraptions she had ever come across. He presented to her a hollow reed, explaining that if she positioned the straw in her soup and used her mouth to suck at it, she would be able to ingest the liquid with minimal effort. To her astonishment, it worked, even if it did look rather silly.
Were it not for Cobryn, she doubted she would have lasted the first phase of her healing without going mad. Though Éomer was often tied up with appalling amounts of paperwork—only increasing as the winter months drew nearer—Cobryn accompanied her on walks around the city or simply visited her in her chambers, refusing to let her give into apathy even when she despaired of ever being able to use her hands again. He hardly had to make an effort: his mere presence would remind her that while her injuries were temporary, her friend's would be with him for the rest of his life.
During one of their discourses in the privacy of her room, she had at last informed him of what she had overheard between Lady Míriel and Lady Aewen, but much to her astonishment he had been utterly unmoved by Lothíriel's plight. His sympathies lay solely with Tegilbor, who had been murdered from a crime he had never committed, and he was unyielding in the matter of the queen.
"You have suffered far worse than she ever did," he reminded Gúthwyn darkly, "and you never turned to cruelty because of it."
Gúthwyn, on the other hand, while still confused about Lothíriel's reasoning for continuing Lady Míriel's campaign of slander and deceit, thought the queen's behavior towards the court of Dol Amroth perfectly justified—despite her own private misgivings about its nature. Éomund's daughter did not condone blackmail and the spreading of rumors, having grown all too acquainted with them in her years, but she could not truthfully say that the likes of Lady Míriel were undeserving of a such a reversal in fortune.
For a time, Gúthwyn tried to treat her brother's wife with more cordiality than before, but found that her overtures were received only with suspicion and, in some cases, outright animosity. Whenever Éomer was not around, Lothíriel made it perfectly clear that she did not believe Gúthwyn's version of Amrothos's assault. She often refused to dignify the other woman's attempts at conversation with more than a contemptuous glare, which grew fouler if Elfwine happened to be present and immediately gravitated towards his aunt.
Éomund's daughter could have born such stoniness without grief if the mantle of Lothíriel's ire had not been taken up by nearly all of the young women in Edoras. No sooner had the Dol Amroth delegation left than there was an explosion of rumors regarding the events in the stables, and it became painfully obvious that the majority of them did not accept Gúthwyn's story in the slightest. She was all but ostracized from the washing circles; Hildeth, Brytta, and Wífled were among the few that made an effort to include her.
Gúthwyn suspected that Nethiel was no longer the only one using their position in the royal household to spread gossip about the king's sister. Shortly after the appointment of Wífwen—Wulfríd's mother, as Hammel had been furious to discover—Éomund's daughter had made the colossal mistake of assuming that the woman would be professional enough to overcome their differences.
She had not thought twice about the maid volunteering to assist her with her hair—the one form of help Éomer had not needed to wear her down into accepting—nor Wífwen's sudden sweetness, when before their interactions had been rather chilly. Cobryn had once mentioned to her that perhaps she should wait to see where Wífwen's allegiances lay before trusting her inside her chambers, but Gúthwyn had brushed him off, not wanting to be suspicious of the servants within her own home.
It was not until highly detailed accounts of her time with Cobryn, including carefully selected snippets of dialogue chosen for the greatest damage to her reputation, began circulating around the streets of Edoras that Gúthwyn realized Wífwen had befriended her solely for the purpose of obtaining such information. Some of the conversations had been altered slightly, as if they had been overheard through a door and the person relaying them was not entirely sure about what had actually been said.
Gúthwyn thereafter unceremoniously kicked Wífwen out of her chambers, after which she noticed a subtle yet alarming increase in the amount of bullying Hammel was being subjected to. She could never prove that there was a link between the two situations, but part of her guessed that Wífwen was almost encouraging her son's behavior—the other half of her, naturally, was horrified that she was coming to such conclusions about one of her own people.
Hammel, mercifully, no longer seemed as affected by Wulfríd's taunting as he once had been. Even after the initial pleasure at having worked up the courage to ask Aldeth to dance faded, his spirits were improved, and he was less distant from Gúthwyn than he had been all year. Éomund's daughter made the most of this boon, and solicited him for walks as often as she could without pushing him away. He rarely revealed his thoughts to her, and indeed grew defensive if she inquired about them, but he did not spurn her company as he had before.
Haiweth, on the other hand, grew increasingly moody in the weeks following Imrahil's departure. She was quiet and reticent at mealtimes, lay on her bed and stared at the ceiling for long spells, and had even stopped drawing.
"I am worried about her," Gúthwyn confessed to Cobryn one afternoon, sitting with him in the great hall. She cast a glance in the direction of Lothíriel, who was on her throne next to Éomer and assisting him in conducting whatever business of the Rohirrim she could understand, but the queen was preoccupied with some papers and too far away to pay attention to Éomund's daughter. "She has never been this unhappy—I have tried to speak to her, but she says only that she is bored and that there is nothing to do in Edoras!"
Cobryn shrugged, yet it was not the gesture of one who could care less. "She reminds me of Onyveth," he remarked quietly, after checking to make sure that they were not in a position to be overheard. "Her last years"—his voice cracked, and he coughed as if he had something in his throat before continuing—"were marked by childish trials and tribulations. I know Feride and Chalibeth"—here Gúthwyn was the affected one, sharply drawing her breath—"were not of similar temperament, but the burdens of slavery did not fall so heavily upon Onyveth. Of the three of them, she alone managed to retain as normal a life as possible."
His voice was hoarse as it trailed off, and for a moment he and Éomund's daughter were silent, remembering the slaves at Isengard. Gúthwyn's eyes soon blurred as she recalled Chalibeth, her best friend for three years, who had been mercilessly torn apart by Wargs and had deserved far better than the death that was her lot. Never could she picture the girl without also thinking of the abuse she had suffered at the Serpent's hands—a crime that she had not fully understood the meaning of until Haldor.
At length, she swallowed, asking Cobryn, "You believe that Haiweth's situation is not unusual?"
Looking relieved that she had brought an end to their mutual brooding, Cobryn nodded. "Triggered, perhaps, by Alphros's departure, yet nothing out of the ordinary."
"But it has been a month since he left!" Gúthwyn exclaimed. "She has other friends to play with."
"Some of them have been sick lately," Cobryn reminded her.
Gúthwyn nodded thoughtfully. This was true—a cold was going around Edoras, one that she had felt the beginnings of earlier that day. "I wonder if Haiweth was not so enamored by the Dol Amroth nobility that she finds the Rohirrim dull in comparison."
While it pained Éomund's daughter that this might be so, the doings of high society had awed Haiweth from the moment she had seen her first dress. Gúthwyn herself did not care for gowns, jewelry, and dancing, but they delighted Haiweth and provided her with subjects for the majority of her drawings. Now that they were out of sight, and the shortcomings of the Eorlingas seemed especially heightened in their wake, it was altogether possible for Haiweth to feel as if she had no further sources of entertainment.
"Have you ever considered sending her to Gondor?" Cobryn asked then, startling her. "Queen Arwen has begun inducting daughters of the more respected families into her service. They act as her maids, but have higher status than servants—ladies-in-waiting, if you will."
Gúthwyn was appalled by such a suggestion. "I could never do that," she said immediately. "And Haiweth would never consent. She needs me."
Cobryn raised an eyebrow. "Or is it that you need her?"
"She has barely seen ten years!" Gúthwyn cried, ignoring the question.
"And in ten more she will be married," Cobryn said bluntly, "or of the age where she shall want to be."
Gúthwyn recoiled. "Haiweth has given no thought to finding a husband," she insisted. "A decade will not change that—Éowyn did not take a spouse until she was my age!" The very idea of Haiweth submitting herself to another man in that way was sickening.
"The War of the Ring took precedence over wedding plans," Cobryn said, "and Haiweth does not have to worry about that, nor does she have your reasons to avoid marriage. I would wager that by her twentieth birthday, a substantial amount of her thoughts shall be devoted to love, and before she finds it it would be wise for her to enter someone's patronage."
"No," Gúthwyn said shortly, refusing to contemplate Haiweth doing such a thing. "Do not try me, Cobryn," she added as her friend made to reply. "I cannot… she is too young." Her voice trailed off into a whisper, and she shivered as she recalled Haldor's chilling threat to rape Haiweth.
Cobryn shrugged, a gesture that indicated they would be returning to this conversation in the future. Gúthwyn glared at him, suddenly furious. How dare he be so presumptuous as to speak about Haiweth in that manner? How dare he even broach the subject of marriage with her? He did not appear abashed in the slightest, which outraged her. Why did men only see a bed when they looked at her child?
She would have left the table, but at that moment the doors opened, revealing a messenger who had been let in by one of the guards. His clothes were plain save for the tunic they could just see under his cloak—it was a deep blue, indicating that he had come from Dol Amroth. Because Imrahil's realm was so prosperous, solitary Dol Amroth travelers took care to conceal their origins, wary of robbers who might make the connection.
Glancing at Éomer, Gúthwyn was not surprised to see that her brother's face had tightened considerably, though he made an effort to conceal his displeasure as the messenger approached. There was no topic sorer with Éomer than that of Dol Amroth; his anger had only increased as the weeks went on and his sister's wrists showed no signs of healing.
Obviously aware of the less than warm perception from the Rohirric king—and more than a little anxious about the cold looks he was receiving from several of the soldiers who happened to be inside—the messenger cleared his throat and, his eyes darting briefly towards the various swords that were worn openly in the hall, announced, "A letter from Prince Imrahil of Dol Amroth to King Éomer of Rohan, with the hope that it will be responded to."
Communications between the two realms had all but stopped after the disastrous visit. Even Lothíriel, given to write almost daily to her family, had stilled her usual torrent of letters. Gúthwyn suspected that it was a bitter sacrifice for the queen, but one that went wholly unacknowledged by Éomer. She could not imagine what it would be like to no longer be able to write as freely to Éowyn as she was accustomed.
Her mood was lifted slightly as she thought of her older sister, who had sent word not long after the departure of Imrahil's people and inquired about the visit. Gúthwyn had dictated to Cobryn a brief account of how she had broken her wrists, barely mentioning Amrothos and making it seem as if both injuries had occurred when she clumsily tripped. Cobryn had frowned at this, but she checked the letter afterwards and he had dutifully copied down all of her lies.
Éomer she had pressed to use similar discretion, reminding him that Faramir was Amrothos's cousin and that Éowyn would most certainly inform him if the younger prince had earned ill repute in Rohan. So it was that a highly edited version of events had passed to the White Lady, explaining only that Gúthwyn had been in an accident and that the rest of the visit had gone smoothly, save for the tournament.
"I wonder who the second letter is for," Cobryn muttered then, causing her to look up in confusion. That was when she realized that Éomer held not one, but two envelopes in his hand; the second had evidently been placed in the original. Lothíriel discreetly looked over her husband's shoulder to see to whom it was addressed.
"I think it is mine," Gúthwyn said slowly when the queen's shrewd gaze fixed on her. It was a look of both anger and wariness—Éomund's daughter was curious as to what Imrahil could possibly have to say to her, but she was willing to bet that Lothíriel was doubly so, and perhaps even stung that her own father had not bothered to write to her.
A month ago, Gúthwyn would have derived some satisfaction from the queen's discomfort, but knowing what she did about the woman's past she could no longer feel the same way. Now she merely waited for Éomer to finish reading his letter, watching idly as the messenger left the hall without so much as a bite to eat. Food had been offered half-heartedly to him; he had mumbled something about reservations at a tavern. No one cared enough to press him for further information.
"Sister," Éomer called a few moments later, waving the envelope at her. "For you," he explained. When she had stood up and walked over to him, he asked, "Would you like me to open it?"
Gúthwyn shook her head. Whatever Imrahil had written to her, she did not want Lothíriel to catch a glimpse of it.
"Are you sure?" Éomer questioned worriedly. "You should not strain your wrists."
"I will be fine, brother," Gúthwyn said, mildly exasperated. She had not even been able to pick up the last letter she had received—the one from Éowyn—but enough time had passed since then that she was confident she could at least manage to slit the parchment open.
However, after Éomer reluctantly acquiesced and she returned to her seat, she found that she could not so much as make a single tear in the envelope. Frustrated, she seized a small carving knife that had been lying on the table, yet all her endeavors with the blade were similarly fruitless.
Cobryn watched her for perhaps thirty seconds before silently holding out his hand. Gúthwyn ignored him as long as she could until she had no choice but to relent, having come no closer to her goal than she was five minutes ago. "Knowing when to accept help is a virtue you lack," he muttered, giving the now opened letter back to her.
"Speak for yourself," Gúthwyn retorted. Though his leg pained him on many an occasion, and made it difficult for him to do simple things such as mounting a horse, Cobryn was notorious in his refusal to seek assistance. He did not even use the herbal remedies many a healer had sworn by, preferring to lie through his teeth and say that the pain was hardly noticeable.
Sighing, Éomund's daughter used the tips of her fingers to extract the letter, trying to put as little strain on her wrists as possible. To her astonishment, yet another envelope had been concealed in the parchment. She was barely recovering from this surprise when she saw that it was addressed to Haiweth, in a clumsy script that looked nothing like Imrahil's.
What is going on? she wondered, bewildered.
Smoothing out her letter—she needed her arms to do this, an awkward practice that was only mildly helpful—Gúthwyn knitted her brow and read:
Enclosed you will find a note from my grandson to Haiweth. Alphros has repeatedly expressed a desire to maintain his friendship with her—it seems he has developed the family taste for written communication—yet his father would not allow it and so we have had to resort to this secrecy. If Haiweth has your permission to reply, I will continue to send Alphros's letters hidden inside my own. It is regrettable that these precautions are necessary, but I would rather be inconvenienced than deny my grandson a companion.
If you are agreeable to these discretions, I would advise not informing my daughter of them, for she may feel honor-bound to send notice to Elphir. Should she see you with this envelope and make an inquiry, simply say that I have decided to expand my circle of correspondents to include you. I hid this letter with Éomer's in the hopes that she would not become aware of it, but depending on when it was delivered this may not have come to pass the way I planned.
Kindly send me a response indicating whether you feel it appropriate for Haiweth to be exchanging tidings with Alphros, preferably along with Éomer's next letter. I shall support your decision, regardless of my own thoughts on the matter.
Gúthwyn blinked. What an odd request, she thought. I have no qualms with such a proposal.
"Alphros wants to write to Haiweth," she explained to Cobryn, who had been watching her expectantly upon seeing that she was done perusing the letter's contents. "Imrahil has asked that I give my permission first." Although she often conversed with Cobryn in the Common Tongue, his native language, now she switched to Rohirric, hoping that it would deter Lothíriel from attempting to overhear them.
"I take it Elphir does not approve," Cobryn said unnecessarily.
"No," Gúthwyn answered bitingly, a rush of anger temporarily overwhelming her. "He feels that the children of Edoras are unsuitable playmates for his son."
Inwardly seething at such a caustic remark, Gúthwyn could not help but also marvel at her own stupidity for failing to have perceived this arrogance in Elphir from the moment they met. How had she been so blinded by his charms?
"When would you like to dictate a response?" Cobryn questioned, drawing her out of her thoughts.
"Perhaps after dinner tonight?" Gúthwyn suggested. "I am watching Elfwine later this afternoon while you, Éomer, and Lothíriel are in council."
Although initially irate that his aunt could no longer lift him, Elfwine had adjusted astoundingly well to her injuries. Whenever they walked together, he now latched onto her arms instead of her hands; during meals, he had learned to crawl onto her lap from the next person over without any assistance. Had the Dol Amroth delegation been present, this would have been cause for Lothíriel to adjust the seating arrangements, but now she had no excuse and could only watch her son in barely-veiled disapproval.
Sighing, Éomund's daughter glanced towards the corridor leading to Éomer's rooms, where her nephew was currently being fed by Bregwyn. She had not seen Elfwine for the entire day, and already missed hearing his enthusiastic babbling. Words could not describe how envious she was of those able to hold him properly.
For the second time in the past three minutes, Cobryn's voice shook her out of her thoughts. "Forgive me," Gúthwyn apologized. "What were you saying?"
"After dinner?" he repeated, confirming.
Éomund's daughter nodded. The timing of the appointment meant that they would have to wait until Éomer and Lothíriel retired before they could begin composing; it was better for the queen to be occupied with her family while they were doing so. Risking a glance towards the thrones, Gúthwyn saw that the other woman was still watching her, icy grey eyes narrowed in the direction of the king's sister and his advisor.
More to put an end to the uncomfortable prickling sensation at the back of her neck than anything, Gúthwyn rose to her feet and announced that she was going to find Haiweth and deliver the letter. Marching out of the hall, she approached Haiweth's door and knocked on it with her foot.
"Who is it?" a dull, listless voice asked.
"It is I, little one," Gúthwyn replied. "May I come in?"
After a pause, the bed creaked and the sound of Haiweth's footsteps met her ears. "I am bored," the girl complained when she had let Gúthwyn in. "There is nothing to do anymore."
Gúthwyn held the letter out, grinning as if she had just found a solution to all of Rohan's food problems. Realizing that it was for her, Haiweth rescued it from its precarious balance on Gúthwyn's arm and wrinkled her nose.
"Who is it from?" she wanted to know.
"Read it and see," Éomund's daughter encouraged her, praying that this would at least temporarily banish the child's bad mood.
Haiweth dubiously tore the envelope open, her suspicious expression changing instantly when she saw the name laboriously signed at the bottom. "It is Alphros!" she cried, her face lighting up.
"Imrahil told me that Alphros wanted to correspond with you," Gúthwyn explained, delighted to see the girl so happy. "He wrote to me first in hopes that I would consent."
Haiweth's eyes widened anxiously. "Did you?" she swiftly interrogated Éomund's daughter.
"Of course I did!" Gúthwyn assured her, astonished that there had been any shred of doubt. "Or rather, I will, as soon as Cobryn puts my response to the parchment."
"Thank you!" Haiweth exclaimed. Her curls flew in all directions as she eagerly bounced up and down, still clutching the letter in her hand.
Gúthwyn laughed. "Is life looking better now, little one?" she queried. "Will the old Haiweth return?"
Haiweth nodded vigorously. "And Alwyn does not have the fever anymore!" she announced. "His mother said that he and Eafwen can play with me tomorrow!" Alwyn and Eafwen were two of her cohorts—as Éomer affectionately referred to them—always ready to start a rambunctious game of tag or partake in various kinds of mischief. They had been bedridden for the past week, sick with a particularly vicious strain of the cold that Gúthwyn was just waiting to contract.
Although Haiweth's renewed interactions with the siblings would likely hasten that process, Gúthwyn was glad that the girl had at last found something to cheer her up. "Shall I leave you to write a letter to Alphros?" she inquired, beaming.
Haiweth nodded. "I am going to draw him a picture," she decided. "He likes horses. May I draw Sceoh?"
Gúthwyn informed her that she could, though not without feeling a small pang of regret. Elfhelm, Sceoh's previous owner, had agreed to exercise her horse while she was unable to, and already Gúthwyn could sense that her progress with the animal had receded drastically. Sceoh now stamped his feet in fear when she stepped inside his stall; despite the fact that she could do nothing but talk to him, he was perpetually anxious, and calmed down only when she had put a safe distance between them.
Well, what did you expect? she asked herself a moment later, having taken her leave of Haiweth. She stared at the ground as she walked, silently focusing all of her frustration on the stone paneling. You know he had only just gotten accustomed to your touch. Being returned to Elfhelm certainly did not help matters.
The way the words were spat out, a foul-tasting disease upon the mouth of the speaker, told Gúthwyn that it was not Éomer who had hailed her. Repressing the urge to groan, Éomund's daughter came to a halt and glanced up, meeting Lothíriel's eyes.
"What?" she snapped, barely restraining herself from sounding as irritated as she felt.
"Why is my father writing to you?" the queen demanded, her voice low so as not to attract the attention of anyone in the throne room—which, Gúthwyn noticed wistfully, was only ten feet away.
The sooner she ended this conversation, the better. "The same reason he writes to you," Gúthwyn said tersely, jutting out her chin in defiance. "He likes to remain in touch."
"Your reputation cannot withstand another blow," Lothíriel warned her, dangerously quiet. "If I were you, I would not add being dishonest to your list of unfortunate character traits."
Struggling to reign in her temper, reminding herself that Lothíriel had a reason to be as unpleasant as she was, Gúthwyn said only, "I have told you the truth."
"I was not born yesterday," Lothíriel snapped, "but you clearly were if you think I will swallow that lie. Why would Imrahil, Prince of Dol Amroth, wish to correspond with Gúthwyn, a whore who added his youngest son to her list of conquests?"
"There you two are!"
Both women jumped, Lothíriel recovering the quickest and turning to her husband with a perfect smile on her face. "Éomer, forgive me, am I late to the council?"
"We are about to start," Éomer said. "Sister, are you all right?"
For Gúthwyn's face was pale, her fists clenched.
"Give me Gúthy," Elfwine ordered, ignorant of his aunt's demeanor. He pushed at his father's chest and pointed at the object of his attentions. "Gúthy now!"
"Gúthwyn?" Éomer pressed, hushing his son when she did not answer. Lothíriel's face was exquisitely mask-like as he drew closer.
"I am fine," Gúthwyn said, exhaling deeply to expel the rush of memories that had temporarily overcome her. She could not, would not think of what Amrothos had done to her. "Shall I take Elfwine?"
Éomer nodded. "A thousand thanks, baby sister," he murmured, lowering the child to the ground. "Can you walk to your aunt, Elfwine?"
"Gúthy!" Elfwine shrieked, toddling towards Éomund's daughter with his arms outstretched. He did not even look at his mother, whose face was carved of trembling stone. Despite briefly wondering what it was like to be ignored by one's own son, Gúthwyn could not dwell long on the matter when faced with an adorable baby who was clamoring for her attention. Crouching down, she swept Elfwine into as tight a hug as she was able to without the use of her hands.
"Hello, little one," she murmured into a mass of soft, dark locks. "What do you want to do today?"
Elfwine grinned. As Éomer bade them farewell and departed with Lothíriel for the council meeting, he pulled back from Gúthwyn slightly so that he could look directly into her eyes. "I love you," he said proudly, evidently pleased with himself for remembering the right words.
Gúthwyn's breath caught in her throat, and she felt the beginnings of a melting heart. Why was it getting so difficult to see her nephew?
"Effine love Gúthy." The adamant declaration was accompanied by him sticking out his tongue.
Éomer was too far away to have heard, but Lothíriel had not yet entered the great hall. In that moment she halted, turning around slowly to behold Éomund's daughter embracing her firstborn child. Neither her rival nor her son noticed that they were being observed; their attentions were devoted solely to the other, to the exclusion of everyone else.
"I love Gúthy," Elfwine repeated then, confirming what the queen had dreaded.
"I love you, too, little one," Gúthwyn whispered as Lothíriel swept out of the corridor.