|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: 305 - Favs: 72 - Follows: 95 - Updated: 12-14-12 - Published: 04-01-11 - id: 6866582
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
A/N: I still haven't finished Chapter 89 (I have that whole ten-chapter gap thing going), but I decided to post this anyway because a) it's been way too long, and b) I have to buckle down and pound out a research paper over the next five days, so I won't have time to work on Chapter 89. Once that's done, though, I think my workload is going to be significantly lower until finals! So, fingers crossed for a better updating schedule. =)
On another note, tickets for The Hobbit are already for sale, and some theaters are doing an "LOTR Trilogy" day on December 8th - that is, a marathon of all three extended editions. I've never attempted to watch all the LOTR movies in a row, so I may very well die, but I did see them individually in theaters last summer (or two summers ago?) and they were amazing on the big screen. So, if anyone else wants to test their endurance, you should check to see whether your local theater is doing something similar!
"Let me make sure that I heard you correctly," Cobryn said, after Gúthwyn had stopped crying long enough to explain to him what was wrong: "You were horrified by the child's birth, and by the pain it inflicted upon your sister… and yet you wish to ignore everything I said about waiting and proceed with our betrothal immediately, so that you can put yourself through what you just witnessed as soon as possible?"
"I know I sound insane," Gúthwyn admitted, wiping her eyes. "I know it does not make any sense. But still… I hated what it was doing to her, and yet at the end… I was—I was so jealous of her, and of what she and Faramir had. Why should we have to wait for that?"
Cobryn shook his head. "Gúthwyn, I would do just about anything for you," he began seriously, placing both of his hands on her shoulders and looking directly at her, "but not what you are asking. You are forgetting yourself, and what would be required for us to have a child."
"Forgetting?" Gúthwyn echoed in disbelief. "You think I am forgetting what would be required?"
"I cannot but wonder, when you speak of becoming pregnant within a year."
"Is it so wrong that I should want a child?"
"I never said that." The frustration in his voice startled her. "I know what it is like to long for a son or a daughter, but I also know that you are terrified of love-making and that the consummation of our marriage would only be marginally better than rape. If not forgetting, you are willfully ignoring the conception so that you can make peace with yourself for fantasizing about the birth."
"Gúthwyn, please do not argue with me about this. Marriage is a binding contract, and I will not enter into it with you until you have no other choice," Cobryn said sternly.
"You speak of my choice, but what if I have already made it?" Gúthwyn demanded, glaring at him. For once, he did not understand her. "I want you to be my husband, I said as much when I agreed to your offer. No man will ever know me half as well as you do. You say I should have time to fall in love, but I shall not. What is the point of waiting?"
"You are settling for me because you are afraid, not because you want me," Cobryn retorted. "What you want is Borogor, but you are afraid to find someone like him. You are afraid not only to open yourself to love, but to tell your husband what you have gone through. You are afraid, and I am safe."
"That is not true," she whispered, fooling neither of them.
"It is nothing to be ashamed of," he told her, his grip on her shoulders tightening. "I know you have reason to be afraid—and I want you to have the chance to overcome your fears. You deserve a marriage of love, not one of convenience."
"With whom?" Gúthwyn asked, her frustration spilling into her words. "Even if I were attracted to someone in the first place, which I am not, no one in their right mind would marry the whore of Rohan."
"Do not say that about yourself," Cobryn ordered, shaking her. "You are not a whore. Although you should be getting paid at this point, for all the trouble those rumors have given you."
She could not help it: she laughed. "I would be richer than all the kings of Middle-earth," she mused, wondering if even that were adequate compensation.
Cobryn smiled, though when he next spoke his tone was serious. "Gúthwyn, I mean it," he began: "I will not ask for your hand in marriage a day earlier than your thirty-second birthday. I know you do not wish to wait, but I must beg for your patience."
Gúthwyn saw that he would not be swayed, and her shoulders slumped. "All right," she murmured.
"Do not despair," he bade her. "Your time will come."
She finished drying her eyes. "I hope you are right," she replied glumly. Her thirty-second birthday seemed decades away, and they had already decided that their betrothal would last for nine months—which meant that it might be another year until she became pregnant.
"Of course I am right," Cobryn said with a smile, releasing her. "Now go to your sister—she will be wondering where you are."
Gúthwyn would not have been surprised if Éowyn had completely forgotten her existence, but she agreed nevertheless. "Hammel and Haiweth—"
"Will be informed of the delivery, and are currently in the garden."
Éomund's daughter had nodded and was about to return inside, but then she paused. "Together?"
"He is reading, she is drawing—but yes, together."
Gúthwyn was pleasantly surprised. At least they could get along with each other, if not with her. "I will see you later, then?"
When Cobryn nodded, she walked back into the dwelling and retraced her path to Éowyn's chambers. It took but a moment to reach her destination; yet she lingered in the hall for some time, a burning ache pulsing through her soul and intensifying when she heard the baby's cry. Only when the sharpest edges of her grief were dulled could she muster her strength to open the door.
"Gúthwyn," Éowyn said in puzzlement when she entered the room. "Where were you?"
"I thought I would give the two of you some time alone," Gúthwyn explained, looking at the bundle in her sister's arms. "How is he?"
Éowyn sighed contentedly. "Elboron is wonderful," she murmured, exchanging a grin with Faramir.
"Elboron?" Gúthwyn echoed, turning the name over in her mind. It was not Rohirric, she noted sadly.
"Enduring star," Faramir translated. "A name we hope he will live up to."
Elfwine and Elboron, Gúthwyn thought. It had a certain ring to it, she supposed. Elboron and Elfwine.
"Would you like to hold him?" Éowyn asked softly.
Gúthwyn started, then looked wide-eyed at her sister. "A-Are you sure?" she stammered, bewildered. All she could think of was how, if she were in Éowyn's position, she would never want to let her child go.
Éowyn laughed at the expression on her face. "Of course! Come here, sit on the bed."
Gúthwyn tentatively lowered herself onto the mattress, then held out her hands for her nephew. Éowyn carefully placed Elboron in her arms, then smiled and drew back.
"He is adorable," Gúthwyn marveled, instinctively adjusting her grip so that she could better support the infant's neck. Fast asleep, Elboron did not stir. The tiny wisps of dark hair on his head fluttered in time with her breathing.
She barely heard Éowyn's response; all her attention was absorbed by her nephew, by the tiny fingers poking out from beneath his blanket. She stroked them, as gently as possible, and felt her breath stop when they flexed beneath her touch.
He was so small, so fragile—and he was perfect.
The confused note in her sister's voice might have prompted Gúthwyn to glance up, had she been able to lift her eyes from her nephew. "Yes?" she asked, carefully rocking him.
Only in the silence that followed did she realize that she was crying.
Amrothos's penmanship has deteriorated remarkably since his last letter, and he hardly seemed himself in the one I just received from him. He was half-rambling during most of it, though he was clearest when he was saying that Elphir hates him and will no longer speak civilly to him. I know Elphir is rightfully angry, but Amrothos appears to be taking their falling-out quite badly. I am starting to fear for his health.
I have not returned home since my marriage, but I believe that time has come. I will have to speak to Éomer first, and I will have to make arrangements for my duties to be taken care of while I am away, but by the grace of the Valar I will be able to leave no later than two weeks hence…
Alas, I fear the only one I am fooling is myself. Éomer has made no secret that he wishes I were far, far away from Rohan, but he trusts me no further than he can throw me and would never permit me to be out of his sight for so long. No doubt he believes that I would resume my scheming ways, especially with Amrothos involved. Then there is the fact that returning to Dol Amroth would make me happy, which he certainly could not countenance. He hardly speaks to me anymore, except to utter civilities in Elfwine's presence—and even those are forced, as if they cost him every last ounce of self-control. I cannot remember the last time we had a conversation.
Lothíriel realized what she was writing and, with a sigh, crumpled up the parchment. She tossed it aside, watching bleakly as it fell upon the others and scattered them. It was not the first time, or even the fifth, that this letter had turned on her and tried to make her reveal that which she was carefully concealing from her father. She knew something was wrong with Amrothos; that was what she had meant to write about. Yet it was proving difficult to concentrate on his condition when her own was so miserable.
There was a knock on the door. It was not the soft, timid knock of the maids who barely looked at her anymore—it was the harsh, impatient knock of Éomer, his fist against the door a measure of his feelings for her.
"Come in," she called, using her foot to sweep the ruined letters under her desk.
Éomer opened the door, but he seemed to grudge even the smallest of steps he took into the room that had once been his. "I have had a letter from Éowyn," he announced without preamble, his voice cutting sharply through the air. By this point, Lothíriel knew better than to attempt small talk. "She has given birth to a boy named Elboron. Both she and the baby are doing well."
"That is wonderful." Though Faramir was no longer as friendly with her as he had once been, he was still her cousin and she was happy for his sake. "When are we going to visit them?"
The look Éomer gave her sent chills down her spine. "Elfwine and I will leave next week. You will rule the kingdom in my stead."
His words were like a slap in the face, and for a moment she wished that he had actually hit her: it would have hurt less. "Éomer—" she began, stunned.
Her husband continued as if she had not spoken. "My advisors will be on hand to assist you if you cannot read your reports. I expect to return within the month, whereupon you will be relieved of your duties."
"A month?" Lothíriel echoed, doing some quick calculations in her head. It was the middle of May; a month would bring them well into June, which meant… "You intend to celebrate Elfwine's birthday in Ithilien?"
"Not only Elfwine's," Éomer replied coolly, "but Elboron's and Gúthwyn's."
She rose to her feet, almost without realizing it. "You cannot do this."
"I cannot?" Éomer asked, his voice deadly quiet.
"Elfwine is my son as well as yours," she insisted. "You have no right to withhold him from me like this."
"As a king, I have every right to take my heir where I please," Éomer retorted. "Bringing Elfwine to visit his cousin can hardly be considered withholding him—even by you, who takes such delight in twisting others' actions."
She had thought herself inured to his barbs; but she had not anticipated that Éomer, angry as he was, would prevent her from celebrating her own son's birthday. "And what of Elboron?" she asked, clutching the edge of her desk so tightly that, were its craftsmanship any lesser, she would have gotten splinters. "Am I to be denied the sight of my nephew?"
"Your cousin is in agreement with his wife that, while Gúthwyn resides in Emyn Arnen, you are not welcome in their household," Éomer informed her. "You have done enough harm to my baby sister without inflicting your presence on her."
She should have expected that: Éowyn despised her, no doubt. Yet it was another blow all the same. "So you have come to tell me"—she almost accused him of gloating, but one look at his face convinced her otherwise—"that I cannot be with my son on my birthday, and that I shall never see my nephew?"
"He is only your nephew by a marriage you spat upon," Éomer growled. "And you are perfectly welcome to visit him—once my sister has returned to Rohan, that is, and you have begged her forgiveness for your deeds."
Which was precisely the last thing Lothíriel would ever do. Defiantly jutting her chin, she refused to dignify Éomer's challenge with a response. "Does this mean that I am allowed to attend councils again?" she asked, as icily as she dared. She had not gone to once since the day after Gúthwyn's departure, when Éomer had detained her before she entered the room and warned her not to test his limits.
"I have no doubt that you will be able to re-acclimate yourself," Éomer said, his words dripping with anger. "In fact, if you put half as much effort into the task as you did into ruining Gúthwyn's life, I daresay I will come home to find all the realm's problems resolved." With that, he left her and slammed the door behind him.
A burning lump formed in her throat, but she would not allow herself to cry. Weeping is for the weak, she told herself, blinking rapidly. Not for the princess of Dol Amroth.
"The queen of Rohan," she reminded herself dully, though nothing had ever felt further from the truth. More like the burden of Rohan. And of late, she had been joining the ranks of the weak.
Yet no longer. If she was to govern Rohan successfully in Éomer's absence, she needed to prepare herself accordingly. There was no time to mourn her circumstances, nor to feel anything more than a pang of regret for the trip to Dol Amroth she would not be taking. She did not want Éomer's advisors—her advisors, now—to think that she was a simpleton, so she would have to carefully review every report, account, and ledger from the past year. It was her duty, after all.
She would also have to summon her tutor and instruct him to double their lessons in Rohirric, for all the good that would do. The day she mastered her husband's tongue might never arrive, but it would not be for lack of trying on her part. Resignedly, she abandoned the letter to her father and pulled a small grammar book from the top drawer in her desk.
Half an hour later, she sighed in frustration and tossed the book down. Conjugating Rohirric verbs was useless—she had already mastered most of them, and indeed could write and read the language fairly well, though it took her a frustratingly long time to get through even the smallest of paragraphs. Where she truly faltered was when it came to conversing. Her accent was abysmal, and the right words always danced maddeningly beyond her tongue's reach. If only she had someone to converse with, who would not laugh at or become irritated with her when she made a mistake… but the Valar knew where she would find someone like that, now that Éomer could barely look at her.
With a sudden cry, she seized the grammar book and flung it as far away from her as she could. Before it had time to hit the wall she had swept her papers off the desk, all the conjugations she had worked so carefully and stupidly on, deriving a bitter pleasure from watching them scatter in every direction. This was her life now.
Lothíriel's head snapped up, startled. Her gaze fell upon the door, which Elfwine had somehow managed to open without her realizing it. He was peering into the room, looking uneasily at the mess on the floor.
She mustered a smile, as if to say that all of this were normal. "Hello, Elfwine. What are you doing here?" She grimaced at how stilted she sounded.
"Did you drop everything?" Elfwine asked instead of answering her question, slipping in through the door and approaching the ruins of her latest attempt to master Rohirric. He squinted at one of the pages, trying to make sense of the words. Then, to Lothíriel's surprise, he picked it up and gave it to her. "Here, Mama." He bent down to retrieve the others.
"Elfwine, you do not have to clean up my mess," Lothíriel reprimanded him, embarrassed. She hastily knelt on the floor and gathered what she could, not wanting her son to think he was responsible for her mistakes.
Elfwine's head drooped. "Sorry, Mama," he replied, backing away.
"What is wrong?" Lothíriel asked him, surprised by his behavior. "Elfwine?"
"Papa said—" Elfwine hesitated, looking as if he wished he had not spoken. "Papa said you can't go with us to see Auntie Éowyn and Uncle Faramir."
"Well, someone has to take care of the kingdom while your father is away," Lothíriel pointed out, reminding herself that criticizing Éomer would not be fair to Elfwine. It was not his fault that his parents were no longer on speaking terms with each other. She hated the fact that he was caught in the middle of their marital problems, especially since she had a sinking feeling that he was far more perceptive than either she or Éomer wanted to admit.
"We'll be gone a month," Elfwine said, his eyes wide. To a boy his age, a month was slightly shorter than eternity. "You'll be alone the whole time."
Lothíriel's face tightened, but she did not allow her voice to betray her. It was perfectly steady as she replied, "I will have plenty of tasks to keep me occupied. You do not have to worry about me."
Elfwine nodded glumly, yet it was obvious that her response had been inadequate. Lothíriel grimaced, at a loss for what else to tell him.
What would Gúthwyn say? she caught herself wondering.
Immediately, she bristled at her mind's insubordination. Auntie Gúthwyn may have been Elfwine's favorite, Éomer's favorite, everyone's favorite; but Lothíriel was not about to look to a harlot for parenting advice.
"I'll miss you, Mama."
She almost did not hear Elfwine's gesture of remorse, so timidly was it offered. He had drawn closer to her, his arms hanging loosely at his sides. Her heart dropped when she realized what he was afraid to ask.
"Do you want a hug, Elfwine?" she queried softly, wondering how it had come to this. How her son, once vivacious and carefree, had grown so frightened of his own parents that he believed he could no longer count on their love.
Her son's lower lip trembled as he nodded. "Yes, please," he whispered, an instant before flinging himself into her barely ready arms. Lothíriel held him close, bending down to kiss the top of his dark locks. "Will you miss us, Mama?" he mumbled into her shoulder.
"Of course I will miss you," Lothíriel swiftly replied, though she was only partially telling the truth. A week from now, she would not be sorry to see her husband leave—that man was a stranger, not the Éomer whom she loved. "I will miss you every day. You shall have to tell me all about your new cousin when you return."
"I don't want to see my new cousin," Elfwine insisted. "I want—I want—" He pulled away from her, biting his lip.
It used to hurt more, knowing that he wanted Gúthwyn, but Lothíriel could not bring herself to feel anything other than a dull ache. It was obvious now that her husband's sister had won the war long before it had even begun—she had been a fool to think that the outcome would be different. Everyone loved Gúthwyn; Lothíriel had only ever been in the way.
When Elfwine started to speak again, she braced herself. He surprised her, however, by saying, "I want everything to stop."
"Everything?" Lothíriel echoed. "What do you mean by that?"
"I mean everything," Elfwine said angrily, stomping his foot on the ground. "I want Auntie Gúthwyn to stop being away and I want Papa to stop being mean and I want you to stop being so sad and I hate everything!" He burst into tears.
"Oh, Elfwine," Lothíriel whispered, drawing him back into her arms as he sobbed and sobbed. "Elfwine, honey—" She realized that she did not know how to comfort him. What could she say, when there was nothing she could do? Éomer's hatred of her would have to run its course, and Gúthwyn was not like to return to Edoras for quite some time; nor could she swallow her pride enough to apologize, even insincerely, to the other woman.
"It will all work out for the best, you shall see," she finally settled on murmuring, though she did not believe her words in the slightest. Nor, it seemed, did Elfwine. He continued crying, his tiny shoulders shaking with each fresh round of tears. Lothíriel's self-loathing reached dizzying heights.
"I hope," Éomer snarled, "that driving my baby sister from her home was worth breaking your son's heart."
No matter how many times she tried to ignore the memory, it kept coming back. No matter how many times she tried to tell herself that Éomer had been over-exaggerating, her doubts continued to resurface. And regardless of whether she was right, regardless of whether Elfwine was better off away from his aunt's influence, even Lothíriel could not pretend that he was happy.
No child should have to tiptoe over such eggshells, she thought sadly.