|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: I saw The Hobbit last night and - no spoilers - it was AMAZING. Words cannot describe how wonderful it is to be back in Middle-earth again.
The last day of May was a fine one indeed. The vale of Emyn Arnen was awash in sunlight, the sky above startlingly azure. There was nary a cloud in sight, and the temperatures were warm—so warm, in fact, that Gúthwyn decided to take her letter-writing outside, rather than remain in her room all day.
She settled herself on the porch that wrapped around the western side of the dwelling, where the light would linger until late in the evening and she could take comfort in the notion that she was facing home. Not half an hour passed before Cobryn joined her, book in hand; and Haiweth arrived shortly after, carrying several sheets of parchment and her collection of drawing utensils (which had grown considerably during their stay in Emyn Arnen).
"Who are you writing to?" Haiweth asked as she sat down, squinting at the letter Gúthwyn was hunched over. Éomund's daughter showed her, suppressing the slight tremor of unease she felt when the girl's forehead creased in a frown. "Legolas?" Haiweth asked, pushing the letter back. "Why?"
Although there was certainly nothing illicit about her correspondence with Legolas, Gúthwyn's cheeks grew hot under her companions' scrutiny. "Because he is a friend of mine," she said simply.
Haiweth wrinkled her nose. "Why?" she asked again.
That was a harder question to answer. "Because… Because he has always been kind to me," she stammered, speaking more to her letter than to Haiweth.
"But—" the girl began, before falling silent rather abruptly. Gúthwyn glanced at her, only to realize that she had exchanged a look of sorts with Cobryn. "What is he even writing to you about?" Haiweth finally asked, a sullen edge to her voice.
"Well…" Gúthwyn cleared her throat. "He just asked me about how Elboron was doing, so I am telling him about how well-behaved he is."
"He is so quiet," Haiweth said, dropping the subject of Legolas. "I remember Elfwine used to cry all the time before Queen Lothíriel started letting you take care of him."
Cobryn snorted at this, his eyes never leaving his book.
"Yes, Elboron is much less of a handful," Gúthwyn agreed with a smile.
There was a lull in the conversation, and Éomund's daughter turned her attention back to her letter. Éowyn and Faramir are absolutely thrilled to be parents, she wrote. Éowyn spends much of her time walking around with him in the gardens, and Faramir often reads to him—usually from horrendously boring history books, the kind that Cobryn loves (the Valar know why).
"Gúthwyn?" Haiweth's hesitant voice broke her concentration.
Haiweth fiddled with the edges of her parchment. "Do you love Elfwine more than Elboron?"
Gúthwyn gaped at her in astonishment. "Haiweth, why on Middle-earth would you ask such a question?"
"Because you were always with Elfwine, and I almost never see you with Elboron," Haiweth pointed out, flushing.
Gúthwyn pursed her lips, knowing that there was some truth in Haiweth's words. She had not been spending as much time with Elboron as she would have liked, but that was only natural when Éowyn did not have the same rigorous duties as Lothíriel. Gúthwyn had, of course, offered to watch Elboron whenever Éowyn desired to relax, but the need had rarely arisen. And even though she was more than welcome to accompany Éowyn on her walks with Elboron, the little prince had soon revealed himself to be quite fussy in the arms of anyone other than his parents. Gúthwyn could scarcely hold him for longer than a few minutes before he began squirming, ready to return to his mother.
"Elfwine and Elboron's situations are quite different," she reminded Haiweth, sighing. "Elfwine always had to be watched because his parents were in meetings, whereas Elboron is fortunate that his parents are not under such constraints."
Haiweth did not seem satisfied with her response. "But you are happier when you talk about Elfwine."
Luckily, Cobryn intervened before Gúthwyn had to figure out a reply. "She has had five years of memories with Elfwine, and only a couple of weeks with Elboron," he pointed out.
Haiweth still appeared rather skeptical, but she shrugged and went back to work on her drawing. Gúthwyn shot Cobryn a grateful look; he smiled gently at her and returned to his book. She watched him for a moment, amused by the way his brow knit ever so slightly as he absorbed the words on the page. This is nice, she thought suddenly: her and Haiweth and Cobryn, all sitting together like a family.
This was what it would be like, if—when—she married Cobryn. Nothing about their relationship would have to change. She already spent most of her days with him; they had practically raised Hammel and Haiweth together for almost a decade; and how many times had he comforted her over the years, murmuring reason and logic into the panicked haze of her mind?
Some things would be different, however. Gúthwyn imagined a small child sitting at the table with them, pestering Haiweth with questions about her drawing and then peering over Cobryn's shoulder in an attempt to make sense of what he was reading. A boy, perhaps? Or a girl? Or even—her insides fluttered at the thought—both? You would be lucky to have just one, she reminded herself sternly. And you will likely not have time for more than that.
"What are you thinking about?"
Gúthwyn was startled (and embarrassed) to realize that she had been gazing at Cobryn the entire time she was contemplating their betrothal. "Oh, nothing," she quickly told him, relieved when Haiweth did not glance up from her drawing. "Just… nothing." She picked up her quill and stared down at the letter, though in truth everything she had written was a blur.
She felt the weight of Cobryn's gaze upon her, but she refused to look up and eventually he started reading again. Even when she was no longer under his scrutiny, however, his words came back to haunt her. You are afraid, and I am safe.
He was right, of course: she was afraid. She was afraid of trusting a man with her body, and with her secrets. Yet why should that matter? She did not have to be in love with Cobryn to be happy with him. He would treat her well, and he would be a wonderful father. Yes, she would have to lie beneath him on occasion, and she would despise it; but he would be gentle, and once she conceived it would all be over. Besides, if truth be told… she sometimes longed to share her bed with someone, someone who would keep the nightmares at bay. Cobryn could do that.
But did he want to? She surreptitiously glanced at him, wondering if he were looking forward to their union as much as she was. She knew she could never replace Feride in his heart, nor did she intend to try. She also knew that he had advised caution, and that he was determined to delay their betrothal—yet he was also being perfectly reasonable. Or was he perhaps being too reasonable?
Doubt gnawed at her insides. Surely the fact that he had volunteered to wed her not once, but twice, was enough to prove his sincerity. And he wanted children just as much as she did, which counted for something. But what else did he stand to gain from their marriage? Would it not be easier for him to remain single, so that he would not have to feel guilty whenever he thought of Feride?
Not to mention, you are hardly the ideal bride, she thought, sighing. It was inconsiderate of her to think only of herself, of the comfort he would bring her in the nights when the awful dreams took hold—especially when he was the one who would awaken and have to calm her down. Then there were all the times she sickened during the year, times when he would have to take care of her. Her face burned with shame: she was a burden, really, nothing more than damaged goods. Did Cobryn realize what he was shackling himself to?
She heard a chair scraping across the floor; she felt his presence grow stronger. "How is your letter going?" he inquired. The arm closest to her rested gently on the surface of the table, mere inches away from her own.
She knew that his real question was not the one he was asking. "Fine," she whispered, trying not to draw Haiweth's notice. "It is… I am… I am having second thoughts about what to write, that is all."
Their eyes met. "Can I help?"
She did not have the chance to answer. Hammel appeared in the doorway, looking considerably harried. "Haiweth, did you…"—his voice briefly died down when he noticed Gúthwyn—"…borrow my quill?"
Haiweth glanced up at him, startled. "Oh, sorry," she finally said, comprehension dawning, "I forgot to return it. I left it on my desk, near the candle."
Gúthwyn cleared her throat and smiled at Hammel, remembering how happy she had felt with Haiweth and Cobryn before her gloomy thoughts took over. "Would you like to join us?" she asked, gesturing at the table. "It is wonderful out here, and we have plenty of space."
Yet Hammel was already retreating into the dwelling. "I am busy," he muttered before disappearing.
"Busy?" Gúthwyn echoed, frowning after him.
"I bet he is writing to Aldeth," Haiweth said, with an air of confidentiality. "He sent her a letter last month."
Cobryn raised an eyebrow. "He told you that?"
"Well, no," Haiweth admitted. A guilty flush stole over her features. "I found the letter in his room."
Gúthwyn gave her a sharp look. "Did you read it?"
"I just wanted to know if they had kissed or not," Haiweth said, her expression pained. "But the letter did not say."
"Do not snoop through your brother's belongings," Gúthwyn reprimanded her. "You would not like it if he did the same to you."
Haiweth had the good grace to look embarrassed. "I am sorry," she muttered. "I just thought… well… he never tells me anything about her, even though I know he is in love with her."
"I would not take it personally," Gúthwyn suggested wryly.
"Being in love is, for many, a private experience," Cobryn reminded Haiweth. "I would not expect Hammel to open up to you, even if he were not so reclusive to begin with."
Haiweth sighed. "I suppose you are right," she grumbled.
Not long after, Haiweth gathered up her drawing supplies—"I lost all my inspiration," she sighed—and left the porch. Scarcely had the door closed behind her when Cobryn turned to Gúthwyn and asked, "What was troubling you earlier?"
"Do you really want to marry me?" Gúthwyn blurted out.
Cobryn looked at her in astonishment. "Why are you asking me this?"
"You did not answer the question." Gúthwyn stared at the table, willing herself not to cry.
"Gúthwyn—" He sighed, and her heart dropped. "You know we are not in love with each other."
"That is not what I meant," she whispered, trembling.
His brow knit in confusion. "Then what did you mean?"
"I meant… I meant…" Gúthwyn struggled for words until, finally, she burst out in frustration, "I meant that you probably have better things to do with your life than to take care of me, because I have nightmares and panic attacks and I always get sick or injure myself and I know I am an inconvenience and—and—even though you want children you would probably be better off having them with someone other than me—"
"Gúthwyn, you are not an inconvenience," Cobryn swore, gripping her arm the way he could not have while Haiweth was in the room. "You could never be. Do you think I would have offered to marry you if I were not willing to do so?"
Tears began spilling over onto Gúthwyn's cheeks. "Maybe you just do not realize how much is wrong with me," she choked out, wiping uselessly at her face.
"You are recovering from years of traumatic experiences," Cobryn retorted. "There is nothing wrong with that. I have always done what I can to help you, and my only regret is that I have not been able to do more."
"No, no, you have done too much—" Gúthwyn could barely speak through her tears.
"Listen to me," he said, taking her by the shoulders and gently pressing his forehead against hers. "You and I have this in common: we both desire children, but we are too stubborn and foolish and afraid to let go of the ghosts in our pasts. The ones we really want are dead and gone, yet still we cannot bring ourselves to try again. I may not be in love with you, but I love you; and if that is the best that either of us can manage, then for both of our sakes I think we should give each other what comfort we can. I know what I am doing, and I am not frightened by your panic attacks or your illnesses or anything that you say is wrong with you."
Gúthwyn sniffled and took his hand, interlocking their fingers. "D-Do you promise that you are not doing this out of pity?"
"A-And do you promise that you will benefit from this, too?"
Cobryn chuckled. "You cannot bear the thought of me wasting away in our marriage, never mind the fact that I was the one who suggested it."
"I promise," he said firmly.
She smiled, her eyes watery. "All right," she whispered, squeezing his hand. "All right."
On the day Éomer and Elfwine were scheduled to arrive in Emyn Arnen, Cobryn, knowing full well that Gúthwyn would not be able to sit still for excitement, engaged her on a long hike to one of the spots they had found in their quest to plan the perfect day for Éowyn and Faramir. It took them a while to find it, mostly due to the many wrong turns they took upon Gúthwyn's insistence that she remembered where they were going—but at last, once Cobryn assumed the lead, they had reached the meadow. It was high up in the hills, mostly enclosed by towering trees, but with a stunning view of the forests to the north. They had previously rejected it for Éowyn and Faramir because, on a clear day, it was possible to see the mountains of Mordor: a thin dark line along the right side of the horizon, hardly remarkable unless you knew what it was. Today, however, the day was hot and hazy enough that—as Cobryn had predicted—they were completely obscured.
The climb had made both of them eager for lunch, and they wasted no time in spreading out their picnic. After they ate, they lay down to facilitate their digestion, and passed the time in pleasant conversation.
"I cannot wait until Éomer and Elfwine get here," Gúthwyn murmured at length, more to herself than to Cobryn.
Cobryn responded anyway. "I heard you the first ten times," he teased her. She might have said it ten more times, though, and he would not have been annoyed—he knew how important today was to her.
"Can you believe it has been almost a year since I left Rohan?" she asked after a moment, sighing.
She could tell what Cobryn was going to say the second he opened his mouth, and she regretted having spoken before he so much as uttered a syllable. "Éomer would take you back with him," he told her seriously. "You would only have to say the word, and you would be home in time for a long summer."
"You know I cannot do that." Gúthwyn grimaced, taking fistfuls of her dress and squeezing. She saw Cobryn watching her, but he was tactful enough not to mention what she must have looked like. "No matter how much I want to. What time do you think it is?"
"Probably time to head back," Cobryn said, letting the change of subject slide.
"Éowyn said he would be here in the late afternoon," Gúthwyn pointed out. "It cannot be more than two hours past noon."
"Three hours past noon," Cobryn corrected her, propping himself up on his elbows, "and we have an hour's hike back to the house."
"I suppose you are right, then," she agreed, sitting up. As much as she had enjoyed lying beside Cobryn, basking in the sun's rays while they conversed, she was not about to miss a single second of her brother's visit.
Beside her, Cobryn sniggered.
"What?" Gúthwyn asked suspiciously. "Do I have something in my teeth?"
"No, but there are several somethings in your hair," Cobryn replied, smirking.
Gúthwyn quickly tousled her locks and groaned when practically the entire meadow fell out of it. Grass, leaves, even a flower or two—she was hardly in any shape to go indoors, let alone welcome guests. "Now we really have to leave," she said, sighing. "I will have to give myself a bath before I am presentable!"
"Not to mention change your dress," Cobryn remarked, "unless you care to start a new trend of grass-stained clothing."
Gúthwyn's head twisted around so quickly that she was lucky it did not snap in half, and she gave a cry of dismay when she saw green smears all up and down the blue dress she had donned specifically because it was a gift from Éomer. "You have got to be kidding me," she grumbled.
"Come on," Cobryn said, chuckling at her misfortune. "If we hurry, you will have time to clean yourself up."
They packed up the remains of their picnic and left the meadow, though not without Gúthwyn taking one last look. It really was a beautiful place, she thought; almost enough to dull the edges of her constant homesickness. She was glad that she and Cobryn had found it, for it was worth returning to.
"So," Cobryn began after they had walked in silence for a time, "are you still planning on confronting Éomer about Lothíriel?"
Gúthwyn shot him a quick look, but decided to humor him: he was clearly doing his best to refrain from expressing disapproval. "Yes," she said. "Of course."
"Do you think you will get any information from him?"
"He has to at least explain why Lothíriel did not join him for the trip," Gúthwyn replied, frowning.
"I would think the answer is fairly obvious," Cobryn was unable to resist pointing out. "Besides, I doubt Éowyn would have let her come. Even if Éomer were in a conciliatory mood, he would not have brought her."
"But to not even mention her!" Gúthwyn exclaimed. "She is only his wife and the mother of his son, yet to read his letters since I left Rohan you would never guess that she existed!"
"Perhaps you should wait to see how Elfwine is handling the situation," Cobryn suggested. "It may be that he is not aware of anything amiss."
"You overestimate my brother's capacity for restraint," Gúthwyn said darkly, "and you underestimate my nephew's perceptiveness."
"All I am suggesting is that it might be wise to learn more about the situation at home before you act," Cobryn responded, using his cane to nudge aside a shrub that had been encroaching upon the path. "Éomer is here to meet Elboron—at least let him do that before you subject him to an interrogation."
"I am hardly going to jump on him the second he dismounts from his horse," Gúthwyn replied, rolling her eyes. "Give me some credit, at least."
After nearly an hour, the trees began to thin and look more familiar: they had reached their destination. No sooner had they broken free of the woods, however, than they were accosted by Haiweth.
"Where have you been?" she asked them impatiently, her gaze roaming over the slight sheen of sweat on Cobryn's forehead and the mess that was Gúthwyn's hair. "They are already here! Éowyn sent me to look for you."
She had missed Éomer and Elfwine's arrival! Berating herself for tarrying so long in the meadow, Gúthwyn demanded, "When did they get here?"
"Ten minutes ago," Haiweth reported. "They are all waiting for you in the hall. What happened to your dress?"
Cobryn smirked, and Gúthwyn made a face at him before answering, "I will have to change before I can see everyone. Please, tell Éowyn that I will not be long."
Haiweth nodded and took off at a rapid pace, obviously taking her role as a messenger very seriously. Gúthwyn and Cobryn continued on to a different entrance, where they could enter without having to pass through the main hall. They parted ways once they were inside, with Gúthwyn returning to her bedroom and quickly discarding her dress. Leaving it in a heap on the floor, she rooted around in her wardrobe for a suitable alternative and pulled out the first gown her hand fell upon. She smiled when she saw it: a hand-me-down from Éowyn, a soft brown dress that reminded her of home.
She donned the outfit and brushed out her locks, taking care to remove the last few pieces of grass. All the while, her insides were humming with excitement. In just a few minutes, she would be reunited with her brother and her nephew, ending their months-long separation. She could not wait to walk around Emyn Arnen with Elfwine at her side, babbling happily along as he was wont to do. And to see his interactions with Elboron... she impatiently tossed aside her brush and all but ran from her chambers.
By the time she reached the main hall, she could hear a low murmur of conversation emanating from its confines. Gúthwyn's heart leaped when she recognized her brother's deep voice, punctured intermittently by Elfwine's high-pitched chatter.
For the briefest of moments, Cobryn's words echoed hauntingly in her mind: You could tell Éomer that you want to go back with him to Rohan. You could be home in as little as a month.
It was tempting... so tempting...
She had crossed the threshold without realizing it, and she barely had the chance to look up and see the group of visitors before a small figure, no more than a blur, darted out of their midst. Gúthwyn knelt down and opened her arms just in time, reeling backward from the contact as her nephew launched into her embrace.
"Elfwine," she murmured, regaining her balance and drawing him in as close as she could without crushing him.
"You're back!" Elfwine shrieked. Gúthwyn's eardrums nearly shattered, but she held him even tighter and bent down to plant a soft kiss on his head.
"I have missed you so much, little one," she whispered. "You have gotten so big!" He was certainly taller than she remembered, and her arms were not overlapping around his shoulders as much as they used to. I will not be able to pick him up anymore, she thought sadly.
"That's because I am big!" Elfwine exclaimed, indignant. "You forgot, silly!"
"Of course I did," Gúthwyn replied indulgently, kissing his brow.
"Now, now, son, let someone else have a chance," a deep voice boomed above them.
As Elfwine scowled and stepped away, Gúthwyn glanced up at her brother. For a moment, they merely gazed at each other; then, Gúthwyn almost tripped over her dress in her haste to fling herself into his arms. "Thank the Valar you are here!" she choked out.
Éomer's embrace was so strong that he lifted her off of her feet, nearly breaking her ribs in the process. "Baby sister, it has been too long," he said, exhaling. "You look good."
When they separated, Gúthwyn realized that she could not say the same for her brother. He looked—there was no other word for it—haggard, as if he had not had a good night's sleep in months. He had even lost some weight, and there were lines on his face that had not been there when she left Rohan. Yet though her instinct was to exclaim over his appearance, she bit her tongue and reminded herself that she was waiting to confront him in private. "I am so glad to see you," she murmured instead, hugging him again.
"Papa, you're taking too long!" Elfwine complained, nudging his way in between them and wrapping his arms around Gúthwyn's leg.
Éomer laughed and obligingly released Gúthwyn. "I doubt he will want to leave your side anytime soon," he warned her, as she reached down and ruffled Elfwine's hair. "He has been talking about you non-stop ever since the trip was arranged."
Gúthwyn beamed. "I do not mind," she assured her brother—a vast understatement. "Has he met Elboron yet?" She glanced over to where Éowyn and Faramir were watching them, all smiles, with Elboron nestled securely in Éowyn's arms.
When she looked back at Elfwine, however, she was surprised to see him frowning.
"He is not used to sharing attention," Éomer quietly explained, rolling his eyes.
"All he does is sleep," Elfwine huffed.
Gúthwyn could not help but laugh at that—Elboron was a sleepy infant. "Little one, you did an awful lot of sleeping when you were his age."
"No, I did not!" Elfwine insisted, scandalized.
"I hate to say it, baby sister, but he is right," Éomer said with a chuckle. "He did not sleep nearly enough."
Elfwine narrowed his eyes, certain that his father was making fun of him but unable to determine how. Gúthwyn stifled a giggle and, as consolation, interlaced her fingers with his smaller ones. The wrinkles on his forehead smoothed out immediately, and he beamed up at her. "Guess what!" he exclaimed.
"What?" Gúthwyn obliged him as they started to walk back towards Éowyn and Faramir.
"Papa says that we're going to see the Elves!" Elfwine cried, jumping up and down in delight. "We're going to see where Leggy lives!" The prospect was so exciting to him that he let go of Gúthwyn's hand and raced around her in circles, only to come back and announce, "He's the best Elf."
Gúthwyn could not help but smile. "Yes, he is. And I am sure he will be very glad to see you."
"Will Ran-in, Trelan, and Faelon be there, too?"
"Trelan and Faelon will."
Elfwine frowned. "What about Ran-in?"
"He might have business to attend to," Gúthwyn said gently, not wanting her nephew to be disappointed when Raniean inevitably avoided their party. "But you will be able to see everyone else."
As she spoke, they reached Éowyn and Faramir. The former gently handed Elboron to her husband and said, "Come, brother, I will show you and Elfwine to your quarters."
Éomer grinned. "A thousand thanks. It has been a long journey, not least because of this one." He affectionately mussed up Elfwine's hair.
"Papa!" Elfwine complained.
Éowyn laughed merrily. "Well, both of you will have time to rest before dinner," she promised. "Please, follow me."
"Auntie Gúthwyn, are you coming?" Elfwine asked anxiously.
"Of course, little one," Gúthwyn promised.
"Good." Elfwine scowled. "I hate it when you're not here."
Éowyn and Éomer, already conversing about the activities Éowyn had planned for the visit, did not hear Elfwine's remark; but a sense of uneasiness washed through Gúthwyn as her nephew tightened his grip on her hand, and she wondered at the anger radiating through his voice.