The Allure of the Dark Angel
Disclaimer - Except for the OC within this fic., everything belongs to JRR Tolkien, the Tolkien estate and anyone else who can lay legal claim to the Lord of the Rings phenomena. No money has been, is being, or will be made from this story. I write it purely for personal enjoyment.
A/N - This fic. is not an attempt to faithfully adhere to canon, as it is also inspired by the movies and the genius of Peter Jackson. Where possible, I will make every effort to stay within the confines of Tolkien's novels. However, in my personal opinion, PJ gave Grima Wormtongue a depth of character that I did not find within the books. Therefore, this aspect of Grima is more firmly based upon the impressions I came away with of Grima Wormtongue after seeing the Two Towers. And of course, as a Grima fan, I changed his final fate somewhat.
This fic is dedicated to the author, Warlady.
Chapter Twenty-three – From Summer up to Winter
The capacity for cruelty isn't limited to the reprehensible. The most virtuous among us have been known to draw blood with carefully sharpened words, and I am far from virtuous.
I flinched the moment the accusation left my lips. Grima's pinched, sneering features went lax, and his eyes widened. I don't know which of us was more shocked by the venom in my accusation.
I clutched Udela to me, unaware of the ferocity of my grip until she mewled in protest and squirmed in my arms. I loosened my hold and kissed her forehead in apology, but my gaze never left her father as he rose carefully from the chair to make his slow way back to the makeshift bed by the hearth. His gaze avoided mine though I caught glimpses of a darkness there that had nothing to do with Dunlending bloodlines.
The apology I wanted to offer stayed trapped in my throat. The greater part of me shuddered at the harshness of my response. It was vengeance, nothing more. I wanted to strike out at Grima. He'd betrayed Rohan and also me. I and so many others had seen so much death and suffering because of his actions. I was sympathetic to his wounds, hurt with him as he struggled to regain some semblance, not only of health but also humanity after Saruman's abuses. Still, the lesser part of me wasn't satisfied and inwardly howled its approval when I named him halfling eater and watched him recoil.
For the briefest moment I was both triumphant and relieved. It was a way to lance my own wounds and let the resentment—the rage—seep from my soul, but I'd cut us both in the process.
Grima huddled beneath the blankets, his back to me. The blood broth I'd prepared sat forgotten on the table, congealing in its bowl. I swallowed back tears, lifted Udela to my shoulder and tossed the bowl's content out near the back stoop.
It was a winter's night, clear and cold. I was tempted to linger, to watch the stars, forget my troubles and escape the suffocating silence in my small, onion-scented house. Udela rooted at my neck, and I closed the door.
Grima never moved as I walked past him and took the baby to my bedchamber to nurse her. Once I'd attended to her needs and put her down to sleep in her bed, I returned to my place at the table and resumed binding bundles of winter mint to dry. Only the snap of embers in the fireplace interrupted the silence. Were I not watching him closely, I might have thought Grima asleep, but there was no mistaking the quick rise and fall of his back as he breathed or his posture, stiff and brittle as an icicle, beneath the blankets.
Time passed, measured only by the whispered snap and pull of string as I bundled herbs. Udela snuffled in her bed, and Grima breathed in stuttering gasps in his. I gathered my herbs and set them aside, replacing them with those things I needed to tend healing wounds.
"Grima." I approached the bed, new bandages and cloths in my arms. "I need to tend your wounds." I didn't think he could stiffen any further, but his thin form tightened beneath the blankets, the pop of bone joints loud in the quiet air.
Undeterred, I twitched back the concealing bedclothes to expose his back. Grima hissed in protest and flipped onto his stomach. I almost recoiled at the face he turned to me—eyes slitted and mouth turned down in a scowl of waxen malice. Only the shadows in those eyes kept me from turning away. Desolation and the despair of a withering soul. I'd wrought more damage with my words than I could have imagined.
I am where I first started," he spat. "Only now I cower at the foot of a queen who rules a hovel for a kingdom."
The wounds on his back were healing nicely. It was those on his spirit and heart I had to contend with now, and I wondered if those were well beyond my abilities to mend. He sucked in a breath when my fingers threaded through his hair. "And still, you seek to rule, even to your own detriment," I said gently.
His lips parted, whether to counter my remark or simply in bewilderment of my actions, I couldn't say, but he held his peace after that and let me tend him. Those wounds not cauterized had closed cleanly, needing only my carefully sewn stitches removed. The others were healing more slowly, as I expected from their original grave condition. I worked swiftly, cleaning the edges of scarring flesh, repacking the poultices and bandaging his back. He accommodated my unspoken command to sit up as I rewrapped his torso to hold the bandages in place. I felt his gaze on me and paused to meet it with my own.
"Do you believe what you said?" The dread in his eyes belied the cool tones of his question.
I nearly closed my eyes, relieved. I didn't ask absolution of him. I felt just in striking out at his accusation but wretched at the depth of my own malice in the manner of my defense. He'd opened a dialogue between us once more.
He scowled at my short laugh. "Grima, had you been able to stand when I found you on that road, I'd have seen sunlight through you, and that's without the benefit of the holes the hobbits put in your back." His lids fluttered down when I reached out and ran a finger across one closed eye. His lashes were soft against my skin. "I'd have trouble believing you ate a halfling's chicken, much less an entire halfling."
"Saruman almost brought me that low."
"That I can believe."
My turn to question him had come, and I repeated the one he leveled at me. "Do you believe what you said?"
That pale gaze darted to Udela's bed then back to me. He answered with a question of his own. "Was it Swidhelm, son of Hunwald who offered you marriage?"
I reared back in surprise. "You remember him?"
"Oh, I remember him."
My heartbeat jumped at the faint jealousy in Grima's voice. "Aye, it was him."
"Would you have accepted were you not carrying a child?"
My jaw tightened at "a child," instead of "my child." I strove for patience and reminded myself the news of sudden fatherhood would overwhelm any man and especially this man.
"I don't know that he would have offered were I not."
"You haven't answered my question."
"Nor you mine."
He glanced at the baby's bed once more. "Do not think me unaware of your devotion, Maeve, though I will never understand why."
"Because I love you," I replied silently.
His brow stitched together in a frown. "This though…a daughter. It's difficult…"
He halted his search for an explanation when I placed my fingertips on his mouth. He kissed them softly.
"When you're ready, I'll introduce her again. She has your hair and the shape of your eyes."
Grima nodded. We'd reached a truce. He did not reject Udela outright, nor did he press me for an answer regarding Swidhelm. In all honesty, were I not carrying Grima's child and all other circumstances were the same, my answer to the horselord's proposal might well have been yes.
As I prepared my small household for bed, Grima called to me from his pallet.
"Is this not your bed, Maeve Reod?"
Puzzled, I crouched down beside him. "It was. I'll take it back once you're healed."
"I'm healed enough now to share it."
A coaxing gleam entered his eyes, and he pulled back the blankets to tempt me. His sly chuckle elicited one from me as I stood abruptly, kicked off my shoes and shrugged out of my cyrtel and leine in less than two breaths.
I dove beneath the covers and curled against his slender body. He sucked in a breath at the touch of my cold skin against his much warmer flesh. He rolled atop me, and I immediately spread my thighs to nestle him closer.
His sharp cheekbones dusted with color at my moan.
"This is good," I whispered. "I've missed your weight upon me."
His mouth found mine in kisses both deep and sweet. I drank him in, as if he were water and I a parched traveler. I'd had the taste of him for days now, but not his mouth on mine and reveled in such intimacy, often greater than a coupling itself.
Pale hands rediscovered me, touching, exploring, making me squirm until I begged Grima to ease the ache between my thighs.
That vulpine smile lingered when he grasped my hips and pulled me closer, sinking into me with a satisfied groan, one I matched with fervor. I'd longed for this, ever since those early days at the Meduseld when the king's counselor first took me to his bed.
Slow thrusts and long, drugging kisses, thin fingers laced in my hair—I'd dreamed of such things many times and embraced an even better reality. There'd be bruises on my thighs in the morning, marks from the sharp angles made by his hips. I'd wear more on my neck and breasts, even my hips from the grip of his fingers and scrape of his teeth—and I'd wear them with a gloating, triumphant pride, for I'd found my lover again and welcomed him home.
I don't know where he found the stamina for it, but he loved me through the night, finally falling into an exhausted sleep just after dawn. I'd interrupted his attentions twice in the night so Udela could nurse and felt his eyes on us as I stayed in the main room to feed her.
When Ailne came to visit later that morning, her eyebrows rose and her mouth stretched into a knowing grin. "By the look of you, he's obviously feeling better."
I grinned in return and set a kettle of tea to boil. "He's sleeping at the moment."
"Wore him down, did you?"
"I hope so."
We laughed together and enjoyed each other's company until the kettle was emptied and I set another one to heat. When Grima woke, Ailne took Udela outside for a few months, returning to find him dressed and seated at the table. They introduced themselves to each other, and Grima surprised us both with his command.
"Give me the baby."
Ailne hesitated and glanced at me. I nodded my consent, and she gingerly handed Udela to him. He took her deftly, unafraid of the fragile being now in his arms. Father and daughter stared at each other for long, silent moments. Grima touched the spiky ends of her black hair and stroked her chin, a softer, rounder version of his. When she smiled and cooed, revealing the dimple in her cheek, his mouth curved faintly, and he gave me a sidelong glance.
"I've seen that mark before."
He passed her back to Ailne. "I can only hope she didn't inherit my poor judgment."
I hid my triumphant grin behind my cup and sipped my tea. He'd accepted her. It was a start.
Grima healed steadily in my care, and I blossomed in his company. He was still the sly, waspish creature I'd always known. His introduction to the villagers was met with caution. Some of the older men would join him on the bench outside my door as he sat wrapped in blankets, soaking up the winter sunlight. He was civil and never turned away their company but was quick to verbally slice them to silence if they asked too many personal questions.
He'd introduced himself as Grima, son of Valandir of Gondor. The villagers took him at his word, and I didn't gainsay him or reveal that Valandir had been my father, not his. They found him a curiosity at first, the invalid husband of the village's new healer. That image changed as he grew stronger.
While Grima was not the horseman his eorlinga kin were, his skills in the saddle were superior to any of the men in Chetshire and likely the entire area. They'd been witness to his prowess when he exercised Cynwise for me and took her for runs in the nearby meadows.
I loved my agreeable mare and trusted Grima's handling of her. That, and I pitied his restlessness at times. I never forgot his remark when once we sat together outside, he to breathe the fresh air and keep me company while I mended clothing.
"The trees—they are suffocating sometimes."
For a man born and raised on the wide grasslands of the Mark, such a feeling was imprisoning.
"Take Cynwise," I said, my needle flying through the hem of one of my leines. "There's a meadow less than an hour's ride from here. While not the Mark, it's open to the sky. You can both stretch your legs there."
He needed no further coaxing, and I didn't see him until evening, when he entered the house, wind-flushed and bright eyed, looking far more Rohirrim than he ever had at Edoras.
There were times when he'd look east with a melancholic gaze. Rohan was closed to him forever. She'd never fully accepted him as a true son, and he'd betrayed her to Saruman and the menace of Sauron. Generations of eorlingas would live and die before any said the name Grima Wormtongue without a curse attached to it. Still, I knew he missed the lands of his birth and surely regretted the failure of all his aspirations.
I missed the Mark as well. It had been my home for almost a decade. I'd buried a husband and a child there, loved another man and conceived his child beneath her windy skies. Chetshire was a good place, cloaked in its own beauty, but Grima and I longed to hear the sound of horse herds running on the plains, and I missed the women who'd seen me through my darkest hours there.
The man who'd been nearly broken by Saruman's corrupt hand, rose up again and began to thrive. He found his place in the village, first as a trainer of horses. When it became known he was uncommonly well-read, many sought his advice or his knowledge of documents and matters of legal import. It wasn't long before he became a member of the village council and then its chief councilor. Ambition does not abandon a man like Grima until death.
I never asked him to stay with me and never told him to leave. I felt my actions would give him the answers he sought. Only once did he express any lingering doubt as to my willingness to have him with me beyond his convalescence.
One day, in the summer following my discovery of him on the road to Bree, I'd ridden with Grima to the nearby meadow. We'd lazed in the sun, eaten lunch and splashed naked in the small hidden spring wedged against an outcropping of rock. It flowed into a shallow stream that meandered along the southern side of the tree line and was sometimes visited by the villagers during high holy days.
I was in the midst of running soapy hands over Grima's shoulders and thoroughly enjoying myself when he grasped my wrists. Sunlight brightened blue highlights in the darkness of his hair and gleamed in the equally white locks gracing his temples and the midline of his scalp. I lost my smile at his somber expression.
"You cannot bathe away all my transgressions, Maeve Reod."
I stared at him, at the hair made white by those transgressions, and the eyes made weary. "I'd never attempt such a thing, Grima Wormtongue." I kept my words measured, firm. This was no time for pity. "You've earned the burden of your ambitions. Neither of us has the right to wash them away."
Shadows shifted in his eyes. "You were never one to pity me, Maeve."
"Had I pitied you, I would have cut your throat to end your suffering at Bree." I curved my palm against his jaw. "You don't have to bear your burden alone, Grima."
He kissed me then and took me on the spring's grassy banks. While I cannot be sure—I shared Grima's body and his bed quite often—I'd like to believe our son was conceived there.
From that day onward, not only did he refer to Udela as his daughter but me as his wife. He stayed with me through the hours I labored to birth his second child, though I wondered if Ailne might have to pick him up from the floor from a faint.
When she placed the baby, cleaned and swaddled in his arms, Grima stared at him, his waxen features thin with a cautious awe. Exhausted from my labor, I struggled to stay awake so I could watch this first greeting between father and son.
Grima glanced at me, a bitter half-smile curving his lips. "I know of no men who'd approve my naming this child after them. You choose." He paused, and the half smile changed to a mock frown. "Only not Swidhelm."
I laughed softly, careful not to disturb already battered insides. "What of the name Ælle? For my friend Wulfrune and the husband she loved."
He nodded. "A good name. It means 'Name of kings.' There are worse things to aspire to in life."
I could reminisce for ten lifetimes over the span of mine and Grima's, for it is a comfort to the old like me. I bore two more children who didn't live beyond their first breaths. I think that more than arrow wounds and a fall from grace aged Grima. By contrast, Udela and Ælle grew up hale and strong, each with gifts of their own and those inherited from their parents.
Unlike her namesake, Udela was content to remain in Chetshire and train with me. It was Ælle who carried a wanderer's blood in his veins, and he who traveled to Rohan, returning a soldier with older, wiser eyes, to tell us of those things both changed and unchanged in that far country.
I never saw Elswide or Wulfrune again, though my son made inquiries and learned they'd lived long and died within a year of each other. He met Sunniva, a respected healer who served the family of King Eomer.
Grima lived to see his son and daughter married and the birth of four of six grandchildren. I sometimes laughed to myself at his incredulous expression when the entire brood descended on our house, bringing with them chaos and noise. Though he never commented, I knew he wondered how he'd found himself in such a predicament—this outcast and exile who'd failed at some many things, yet triumphed in so many others.
As with any couple, we two loved and clashed, sometimes sleeping with our backs to the other, more often wrapped in each other's arms. He slipped away from me one night, cradled against my breast, his death far more peaceful than his life. Four years have passed, and I haven't stopped my grieving, though now it is deep within me and as much a part of me as the beat of my heart.
"Mother, why are you standing there?"
Udela's voice draws me out of my pool of memories. I don't know how long I've stood in my doorway, admiring the night sky. The moon still hangs like a bone medallion secured on an invisible cord, and the air has grown colder.
I look to my daughter. She's ventured down the road from her house, and I can see the worry in her face. "Why are you roaming the streets of Chetshire at this hour?" I counter.
"I don't know." She shrugs, and I am reminded strongly of her father and the way he did the same thing when he sought to hide his true intent. "I just thought I'd check on you."
I take her hand. "Since you're here, come help me to bed. My bones hurt."
"I'm not surprised. You should be in front of the fire, not catching your death in the doorway."
She helps me dress in my nightclothes, ignoring my frustrated muttering at the uselessness of my gnarled hands. I shuffle to my bed and slide under the blankets.
"Your fire's gone out. Give me a moment, and I'll rebuild it."
Listening to Udela bustle around the house in which she was born is a comfort. "Don't forget to give Ailne those juniper berries I dried."
Her voice is patience itself. "I did, Mother. Yesterday. You were with me."
I frown. For all that I can recall a lifetime of events, I have trouble remembering the details of yesterday.
With the fire stoked and my blankets tucked in, Udela straightens my already uncluttered room and bends to kiss my forehead.
I grasp one of her hands. "These are fine hands," I say. "Healer's hands."
"My mother's hands," she replies and squeezes my bent fingers gently. "I'll be by in the morning."
My eyelids are heavy. I don't hear the door close when she leaves.
Dreams have been a source of sadness and comfort these four years, and tonight they are particularly vivid. I stand on a sloping hill. Before me stretches not a green country, but one golden, with tides of grass undulating beneath a summer sun. I can hear the thunder of hooves in the distance.
From the rise of tall grass, I see a horseman leading a horse behind him. He is a sloe shadow reflected on a burnished sea.
"Maeve Reod," he calls, and his voice is a sibilant caress. "Have you finally come to meet me, leech?"
"Yes," I say. "Oh yes." I laugh and hold out my hand.
Chapter title is taken from the song Na Laethe Bhi (The Days That Were) by Clannad - "Bí liom a storing, Samhradh go geimhreadh, Rún mó mhíle stór. – I had a sweetheart, From summer up to winter, My dearest love."
This is a beautiful song, and I highly recommend it to anyone to listen to it. You can hear Na Laethe Bhi on youtube. Just type in Clannad Na Laethe Bhi in the Search window. It will bring it up for you. The rest of the CD (Banba) is just as good.
My sincerest thanks to all who have read and reviewed this tale. It's been several years in the writing and a joy to write.
Except for Maeve and the Tolkien characters, other character names are taken from the following sources:
1) Anglo Saxon Names - www. 2) Female Anglo-Saxon Names - www.
Other resources: 1) Encyclopedia of Arda - .com 2) Terms used in Traditional Chinese Medicine - .com 3) Medicinal and Magical Herbs of Medieval Europe - ..uk 4) The Thain's Book – .net 5) Lord of the Rings Fanatics – .com, 6)The Reading Room – .com, 7) The Haradrim – .net/umbar_, 8) The Swan – .net/~theswan, 9) Eowyn of Middle Earth – ., 10) Suite 101 – , 11) Questia – .com, 12) The Grima Dictionary – .com, 13) The Undefinable Shadowland – .com, 14) The Lexicon of Rohan – .com/edhellond/research/rohan_, 15) TolkienWiki Community – .org, 16) Languages of Middle Earth/Lesson Two – .com, 17) BBC – h2g2 – Anglo-Saxon (Old English) – ./dna/h2g2/A695478, 18) Map of Middle Earth – ., 19) Tolkien Maps – .com
20) The Undefinable Shadowland – .com/f-chat/827154/posts 21) A Short History of the term "Farrier" – .com 22) Journal of Ancient and Medieval History at Dickson College – Significance of the Stirrup – ..au 23) The Legacy of the Horse – .org 24) The Rider: Technique and Tack – .com 25) History of Rohan – www. 26) The Battles of the Fords of Isen – /~ 27) Herd Behavior – .com 27) Documentation of the Dress – An Anglo-Saxon Cyrtel – . 28) Clothing and Appearance of the Pagan Anglo-Saxons – .