|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: School has started, and I'm already sick. =( Hope you guys are doing better!
Gúthwyn did her best to avoid King Thranduil for the rest of her visit, but he seemed to show up almost everywhere she went. Part of this, she supposed, was understandable: Legolas frequently kept her company, and it was only natural for Thranduil to seek out his son. Then, of course, there were meals, which she was generally obligated (or felt obligated, since Éowyn and Faramir always went) to attend.
Yet the Elvenking also made an effort to spend time with her alone, for reasons which she did not comprehend in the slightest, and to say their interactions were strained was optimistic at best. She always felt anxious around him, and it did not help that his idea of conversation appeared to be questioning her about every last detail of her life; and she never quite got over the embarrassment that had resulted from their luncheon. He was always courteous, but he must have thought her an idiot or worse. She found herself counting down the days until her departure.
At long last, the final night of her stay arrived; and Gúthwyn, Éowyn, and Faramir were treated to a sumptuous feast hosted by Legolas and his father. Elves and Men dined alongside one another, though there were significantly more of the former than the latter—which made it impossible for Gúthwyn to enjoy herself, even in spite of Thranduil's presence. Many of the Elves sang, their voices filling the hall with strange and unfamiliar melodies, but it was nothing that she could understand.
All in all, it was a relief to retire to her quarters and start packing for the journey back to Emyn Arnen. It did not take long for her to finish the task; indeed, she had hardly unpacked. When she was done, she strolled over to the window and, after carefully checking to make sure that there were no Elves in sight, gazed up at the stars.
She wondered what Hammel and Haiweth were doing right now, at this very moment. She could envision them easily: Hammel with his face pressed against a book, feverishly turning its pages as a candle burned low beside him; Haiweth hunched over her desk, hard at work on one of her innumerable sketches; both of them oblivious to the quiet beauty of the outside night. Cobryn, she imagined, would come around to check on both of them before going to bed himself.
Were either of the children thinking of her, as she was of them? Or had she left their thoughts when she left Emyn Arnen, making room for more important concerns? They must be enjoying their time away from me, she reflected sadly, trying to remember where everything had gone wrong. They used to love her; now, they fought with her and, in Hammel's case, berated her.
There was little that she would not give to go back to the point at which her relationships with them had begun unraveling, yet searching for that point would be like searching for a particular blade of grass amongst the vast plains of Rohan. It seemed as though years had gone by without Hammel saying a pleasant word to her, or even willingly speaking to her. And Haiweth's rebelliousness had crept up so softly, so unexpectedly, that in Gúthwyn's mind it had happened practically overnight.
Why do they hate me so much? she asked herself, swallowing the lump in her throat that always came instead of an answer.
Suddenly, the room felt stifling. She longed to escape its confines, but to do so would mean risking an encounter with an Elf—maybe several. Elves did not seem to keep normal sleeping hours: if by chance Gúthwyn woke up at night, it was often to hear them singing in the trees, or the laughter of an impromptu gathering. She did not want to venture outside of her room and have her goings marked by all of Legolas's friends… or, worse, King Thranduil.
Yet the garden below her window was silent, and the empty paths gleamed silver beneath the full moon. Gúthwyn hesitated, wondering if she dared to climb down from the window. What if I see an Elf? she worried, biting her lip. She could always run back to her room, she supposed, as awkward a solution as that might be. Perhaps she would bid the intruder a good evening before she fled, if she were brave enough to attempt such pleasantries.
Making a decision, she retrieved one of her cloaks and fastened it securely about her shoulders. Then she opened the window and, with one last glance to ensure that no one had entered the garden in her absence, jumped lightly down to the ground. The fresh air that immediately enveloped her was gladly received, and she spent a moment in place, breathing deeply.
Then she set off at a walk, her legs carrying her on a slow circuit around the garden. She tried not to dwell on Hammel and Haiweth, as she would only make herself feel worse. Instead, she let her mind wander from the children to their caretaker.
My betrothed, she thought, smiling. Or my engaged-to-be-betrothed. She could scarcely believe her good fortune. As if overnight, she had gone from fearing that she would never find a husband—let alone bear children—to knowing that, no matter what the future held, she would have at least one child. All because of Cobryn, because of amazing, wonderful Cobryn. What would I do without him? she asked herself, not daring to contemplate the answer.
She was not ready to imagine what it would be like to make love to him—she could not, she would not—but for now it was enough to know that, once she conceived, they would stop. And then she would have a son or a daughter. She did not care which, as long as they were healthy. They will be smart, too, like Cobryn, she decided, trying to envision their future. He will teach them how to read and write, and I will teach them how to wield a sword.
Gúthwyn bit her lip, knowing that she was getting ahead of herself. It was easy to dream of having children, when in her mind she could conveniently gloss over the fact that she would have to become pregnant first. Here, now, she did not have to think about what it actually meant to be Cobryn's wife; but on their wedding night, she would be confronted by the inescapable truth.
Yet she had to do it, if she ever wanted children.
Cobryn would never hurt me, she reminded herself. He would be gentle. He would be kind. She knew that he would not enjoy the consummation, either: his heart still belonged to Feride, and Gúthwyn could never replace her. Nor did she want to. Yes, it would be uncomfortable; yes, it would bring back too many memories. But surely, if she gritted her teeth and closed her eyes, she would be able to endure it?
She was thinking too much. Cobryn had told her that he would not propose to her until her thirty-second birthday; she therefore had just over two years to prepare herself for their marriage. Three, really, if she counted the betrothal period. Why ruin this beautiful night with doubts and fears? She would be content with her life, with her future. She and Cobryn were a good match, many had said so. More importantly, he made her feel safe. He will be a wonderful father, she thought happily to herself. In truth, she could not have found a better husband, not if she had searched for years.
She reached the outer edges of the garden, and, not being inclined to venture out further onto the grounds, she turned back towards the dwelling. A number of windows were still lit, hers and Éowyn's excluded. Gúthwyn squinted and tried to see if anyone was moving around. Here, she reasoned, she was at a safe distance.
She glimpsed one Elf, their features indistinguishable, as they paced in front of the window and finally vanished from sight. Gúthwyn wondered if they were an advisor or a scholar of some sort. She imagined that this was how Aldor, one of Éomer's most dedicated councilors, spent many of his nights. Her contemplations were interrupted, however, by the sight of King Thranduil, whose appearance in the next window alarmed her so much that she ducked behind a tree and did not emerge—indeed, scarcely breathed—until he blew out a nearby candle and the room plunged into darkness.
Still trembling from their near-encounter, Gúthwyn exhaled slowly and then continued on her walk. As she drew closer, she saw another figure in the room above her own, sitting at his desk: Legolas. He was writing a letter, his brow furrowed in concentration as he dipped his quill into the inkwell and scratched another word out on the parchment.
She observed him for perhaps longer than she should have, pleasantly enjoying the fact that she could now look upon him without fear. She felt quite calm now, watching him, knowing that he had had thousands of opportunities to hurt her and had done nothing—in fact, had not even recognized them. He would not harm her; she knew that now. He was a gentleman in every sense of the word.
I wish I had realized that sooner, she thought ruefully. She would have saved herself years of anxiety and discomfort if she had just accepted the truth: that Legolas was not Haldor, that he was not going to turn on her when she least expected it. Had he been any less patient, he would have abandoned her as a lost cause long ago—but he had persevered, with no expectation of reward.
Legolas looked up from his letter and glanced at the window, making her heart stop; yet he did not see her, and a moment later he resumed writing. His hair shone in the candlelight, glimmering with every slight movement; she tried to recall if Éowyn's hair did that, too, or if it was some unnatural luminescence that Elves possessed.
He is very handsome.
The thought came to her, unbidden and wholly unexpected, and she caught herself in surprise. How could I ever even think something like that? she berated herself, aghast. After all that Haldor did to me…
You were attracted to Haldor before he showed his true colors, another voice reminded her. If Legolas has proven that he is nothing like Haldor, why should you not acknowledge that he is handsome? There is nothing wrong with making a simple observation.
But what happens when the object of my observations is identical to the Elf who raped and tortured me for three years? Gúthwyn wondered miserably, feeling sick. Is it still acceptable then?
She turned away from Legolas's window, ashamed of herself. Either she was completely overreacting, in which case she was a fool; or she was forgetting the lessons she had learned in Haldor's tent, in which case she was an even bigger fool.
How much longer will his memory hold my thoughts hostage? she asked herself, sighing. If only her mind could go back to the way it was before Haldor, maybe then she would not have to feel so guilty over what should have been a fleeting, harmless thought.
Startled, Éomund's daughter jumped and whirled around—only to see Legolas, leaning out of his window and gazing down at her. "Are you having trouble sleeping?" he inquired, frowning.
"No, not at all," Gúthwyn assured him, craning her neck up to see him better. "I have not even gone to bed yet, I was just taking a walk."
Legolas smiled. "It is a beautiful night, is it not?"
Due to the nature of her thoughts, Gúthwyn had not been paying much attention to her surroundings; but, when she took a moment to look at the stars, she saw that Legolas was right. "What are you doing inside, then?" she asked, grinning.
"Finishing a letter to Gimli," Legolas explained. "He has invited me to the Lonely Mountain for Durin's Day."
"Durin's Day?" Gúthwyn repeated, wrinkling her brow. "What is that?"
Immediately she feared that Durin's Day was common knowledge, and that she had just shown an appalling display of ignorance; but Legolas did not seem to think the question was ridiculous, and he answered, "It is the start of the Dwarven new year, when the sun and the last moon of autumn are in the sky together. Gimli and his kin will be observing it with a great feast."
"Are you going?" Gúthwyn asked, trying to imagine Legolas at a dwarf lord's table. He would tower over everyone, certainly.
Legolas nodded. "It has been almost a year since I last saw Gimli," he replied, "and I would not miss it."
Something occurred to Gúthwyn then, and she smirked. "I suppose a certain friend of yours will be thrilled that you have accepted," she teased, winking.
Chuckling, Legolas said, "I doubt he will go. There is no love between him and Gimli, especially after Gimli called him a 'cantankerous snob of an Elf.'"
Gúthwyn made a note to herself to write Gimli in the near future and congratulate him on his bravery. "How did Raniean take that?" she queried.
"Not very well," Legolas answered, sighing.
Why are you friends with Raniean in the first place? she longed to ask, but she held her tongue. She supposed that, at one point or another within the past couple of thousand years, Raniean had proven himself to be capable of decent behavior.
Legolas seemed rather morose, so Gúthwyn cast around for something else to say. "Would you like to join me?" she finally inquired, gazing hesitantly up at him. "For a walk, I mean," she clarified when his eyes widened.
"You would not mind?" he asked, looking closely at her.
"Not at all," Gúthwyn assured him.
"I will be down in a moment," he replied, smiling.
Gúthwyn waited as he disappeared from view; a few seconds later, the room plunged into darkness. Then he returned to the window and, as if it were no more remarkable than taking the stairs, swung himself over the ledge and leaped towards the nearest tree.
She was unable to stop herself from gasping as he soared over the ground, for it seemed impossibly far to the oak… but Legolas easily caught one of the branches and swung down, landing with nary a sound. "How on Middle-earth do you do that?" Gúthwyn asked, envying his agility.
Legolas chuckled. "Unfortunately, I do not think I can teach you," he said. "It is significantly more difficult than climbing a tree."
Making a face, Gúthwyn replied, "I did well enough on the oak."
Legolas generously attempted to conceal his smirk. "For your first time. Have you tried on another tree?"
"Only once," Gúthwyn admitted, blushing at the memory. "One of Faramir's men saw me when I was climbing back down and thought I had gone mad, though he was kind enough not to say anything." She had been picking flecks of bark out of her hair for a week. "Besides, there is not much to do in a tree."
"Of course there is," Legolas responded, bewildered. "You could read a book, take a nap—"
Gúthwyn burst into laughter, then realized that he was being completely serious. "How could you possibly sleep in a tree?" she demanded incredulously. "No blankets, no pillow, insects crawling over you left and right—it would hardly be comfortable, never mind the fact that you would be worrying about falling to your death!"
"I had forgotten that balance was not a human's strong suit," Legolas confessed. "It has been a long time since I saw Aragorn try and fail spectacularly."
If Aragorn could not do it, then Gúthwyn doubted that any mortal could. "Are you sure you forgot?" she asked him jestingly. "Or were you just saying that to taunt me?"
"Well, now that you mention it…" Legolas grinned rather wickedly.
She was tempted to elbow him, even though she did not believe that he was being serious, but she reminded herself that such an action would not be proper. I am nowhere near as close to him as I am with Cobryn, after all.
They walked in silence for a time, each content to remain in their own thoughts. At length, however, Legolas sighed and said, "Gúthwyn, there is something I have been meaning to apologize to you for."
Gúthwyn looked at him in bewilderment. "Apologize?" she echoed. "For what?"
When Legolas next spoke, his voice was gentle. "I am truly sorry for how uncomfortable you were this visit."
"W-What do you mean?" Gúthwyn stammered, praying that he had not noticed her fear of his father. It would have been a poor way for her to repay his hospitality.
"I know my father can be intimidating," Legolas said, dashing her hopes, "and I know that he made you nervous, though you did your best to conceal it."
"Legolas—" Gúthwyn began, mortified.
"You need not explain yourself, or apologize," Legolas replied softly, sensing what she had been about to do. "It is certainly not your fault. My father…" He sighed again. "My father has good intentions," he finally said. "It was never his desire to frighten you or upset you. He is not aware about… about what happened on Amon Hen."
The mention of the place where Haldor had died sent a shiver up and down Gúthwyn's spine, but she tried to ignore it. "Legolas, you do not have to do this," she murmured, embarrassed that he was trying to apologize for her weakness.
"I do," Legolas insisted, coming to a halt on the path. Gúthwyn stopped as well, less than a foot away from him, suddenly aware of how much taller he was than her. "I never wanted you to be unhappy in my home," he continued earnestly, gazing down at her, "and you have been—every moment of your stay."
"That is not true," Gúthwyn interjected suddenly, torn by the pain she saw in his features. She realized that she was loth to witness his suffering, especially when it was on her account. "I am not unhappy now," she added truthfully.
She had surprised him. "You are not?" he asked, his eyes widening.
Gúthwyn shook her head. "No," she said quietly. "I am not."
They stood there for a moment, Legolas gazing at her as if he were uncertain whether or not she was telling the truth, until Gúthwyn shifted and felt a dull pain engulf her ankle. Not having expected the sensation, she lost her balance for an instant and wobbled.
"Are you all right?" Legolas asked immediately, his brow furrowing.
"My ankle," Gúthwyn murmured, much to her own astonishment—she had intended to reply, Yes, of course, I am fine. Quickly, so that he would not be alarmed, she added, "It must have just fallen asleep."
Legolas was not convinced. "Is this the same ankle you have broken before?" he asked, the expression in his eyes telling her that he already knew the answer.
Gúthwyn reluctantly nodded. "But it is fine, really. I must have been putting more weight on it than usual," she hastened to say.
"Let us sit down, then," Legolas suggested, gesturing towards a nearby bench.
"Oh, no, that is not necessary—"
"Please, I insist," Legolas replied, politely yet firmly.
Gúthwyn debated arguing, but in the end she had to accept that being stubborn was not going to help her case. "As you wish," she agreed, resolving to better conceal her emotions next time.
They settled down on the bench, Gúthwyn surreptitiously rolling her ankle to test its limits. She found that it was twinging with each movement, though she could not understand why. I guess it never really healed, she thought morosely.
"You must be looking forward to seeing Hammel and Haiweth again," Legolas remarked. "Hopefully, Haiweth's health will have improved by your return."
Gúthwyn fidgeted, remembering the lie she had told Thranduil to explain the children's absence.
"Is something wrong?" Legolas inquired, noticing her uneasiness. "Is she more seriously ill than you have let on?"
"No," Gúthwyn said quickly, "it is not that… but—" She broke off, embarrassed.
"What is it?" Legolas asked, his voice gentle.
"Legolas, I was not being truthful when I told your father that Haiweth had a cold," Gúthwyn admitted, swallowing. Her face was burning with guilt, and became positively aflame when Legolas looked at her quizzically. "Haiweth… Haiweth is in perfectly fine health. Yet she and Hammel… They did not wish to come, and I did not wish to make them."
"I see," Legolas responded quietly.
"I-I am sorry," Gúthwyn stammered, regretting her confession.
He shook his head sadly, grief etched into his features. "It is not your fault," he answered. "Nor is it theirs."
"They are still afraid of you," Gúthwyn said, feeling as though she had to explain. "They still remember…"
"And what about you?" Legolas asked seriously, looking as if he dreaded hearing the truth. "Are you still afraid of me?"
The question caught Gúthwyn by surprise, and for a moment she could only stare at him, her lips slightly parted. "No," she finally said, the answer welling up from somewhere deep within her, from a place she had barely known or recognized before. "Not anymore."
Words could not have described the expression that passed across Legolas's face in that moment, an expression so full of wonder and relief that she blushed at the intimacy of it all. "I am glad to hear it," Legolas murmured; and she had the distinct impression that the small smile he allowed himself was only a shadow of what might have broken through, had he less restraint.
If he had been Cobryn, she would have taken his hand. "So am I," she replied instead, feeling as light as if she had just grown wings and were soaring through the air.
The two of them sat there, the warm night humming around them, and Thranduil turned away from his window.