Disclaimer: See prologue for full disclaimer. Gwen is mine.

I want to apologize for the incredibly long hiatus I took without notice over the summer. Without going into too much detail, my relationship of three years was breaking down for good, and I was forced to move in July. My new job started in August, and here we are now in September, with things just starting to relax a little. It was hard enough keeping my head on straight for those months, much less try to find it in me to write this beautiful love story I have in my head. I just didn't have it in me, folks, not with my own heart and emotions spinning so crazily in different directions. With that said, I am trying to write again.

Please bear with me, and know that I will not abandon this story. Ever. Updates will come, but please be aware that my work is still incredibly busy right to you all for sticking with me and this humble story of mine.

The Light Within,

Chapter Seventy-Three: Winning Her Hand

By: Sherrywine

Éomer found himself up before dawn the next day, unable to sleep. His thoughts spun as rapidly as his emotions changed: from confusion, to anger, to sadness, and back again. He had replayed Gwendolyn's words from the night previous back over in his mind so many times, he could all but hear her very voice in his thoughts. "This changes nothing for me, damn you.." Éomer was left all the more confused the longer he turned the words over. He couldn't understand why she had so furiously denied his attempt to court her openly, and honorably. Hadn't she already given herself to him? Hadn't she desired more from him?

He certainly believed she had. She had even been an innocent before she came to him.

The thought reminded him to be angry, righteously so. Was she not already his in body? A fierce tide of possessiveness washed over him, and he couldn't deny that it was true; since even before he had taken her body. Gwendolyn Carrick had been his from the moment he had looked upon her with desire, he knew that now. Still, had he been wrong about her wanting him?

Éomer blinked to clear his suddenly blurred vision, ignoring the way the early morning light played and danced along the beams of his chamber ceiling. He would never understand women, but by Béma, Gwendolyn truly confounded him. It was clear that she still desired him, even now. He had seen the moment's happiness flicker in her eyes brightly, before giving way to a strange hardness.

There were other signs, too, that she wanted him still. The way her eyes moved over his body as he approached her, and the way the heat rose in her cheeks whenever he touched her spoke volumes to him. A muscle ticked in his cheek, responding to his rising ire. Why would she deny them a rightful courtship?

He tossed himself amongst the sheets, and brooded. Did she want to hear words of love? Éomer grimaced, pained by the very idea. Such things were beyond him. He wanted Gwendolyn in his bed and at his side always, yes, it was true. He cared for her. But love? No, he had never felt love for a woman, save his sister, and that was entirely different. Love with a wife was for those without a duty to lord or land, and for those to weak to die for them. He would never have the luxury of love, because he could not afford to be weak.

Éomer's mind turned away from love, and a darker thought claimed him. Could it be that she preferred another man for her marriage bed?

The very idea infuriated him, and, unbidden, an image of her with Grim stole his very breath. Perhaps it was he she desired for a marriage. A low sound lingered in the room, and he realized it was his vocal protest. Nay, she would not marry that man. How far would he have to go to convince Gwendolyn she belonged at his side? With a moment's despair, he recalled his cold words to her at Helm's Deep, and her wounded eyes, swimming with tears. Understanding clicked in his mind, then. He had hurt her, with his words, and in his heart, Éomer knew she had not forgotten. And now she could be pregnant, with your child, you idiot!

And so she had denied herself, and he, as well as their unborn child, an honorable union. If there was a child, it would be a disaster for them all, and there was no question it would be Gwendolyn herself who would suffer the greatest. All because he had rushed to follow his lord's command.

His hands clenched into fists involuntarily. Had he not been such a fool, Gwendolyn may not have spurned him so fiercely. By the gods, he had listened too well to his uncle's words on the wall. She was to forever be untouchable to him, or so Théoden King had indicated. How was he to know that his uncle would make her Éorlingas in name just days later? From this angle, Éomer could see all too clearly what Gwendolyn must have thought of his proposal. She believed him to be callous.

He had to find a way to show her she was wrong, somehow, if he hoped to have her for his own.

Éomer rubbed his face, feeling the scratch of whiskers over his hands. Gods, but he was weary.

"Stop ignoring me, damn you. I've seen you woo women from five paces, Grim, so I know you know how. So tell me, please. What should I do?"

Grim tossed a black look over his shoulder at the man standing stubbornly behind him, knowing he would be hounded until the world burned if he did not answer the question he had been asked. Scowling, he turned away from his work on the new pair of brass doorhandles that had been ordered from the south, pushing the red hot bar of brass into a casket of cold water at his side with a sigh. The movement was filled with temper, and his eyes reflected his displeasure as he stared into his Lord's face.

The sharp-angled features and blonde perfection women loved so dearly stared back at him, a touch defiant, and very aggressive. Classic Éomer. Grim swallowed an automatic retort, and wiped his hands on a greasy rag hanging from his belt. Hard eyes met cool blue, and clashed. "And here I am wondering what it is a man such as you would need this sort of information for," Grim's voice was hard and flinty. "To woo a certain, new Sheildmaiden back into his bed?" He felt a measure of satisfaction when Éomer's eyes widened in surprise.

He turned back to the furnace, smug, and pumped air onto the hot coals. "Never took you for a double dipper, old friend." He turned back to face Éomer, whose face had turned red with rising fury. As angry as he was at his childhood playmate for his treatment innocents, Grim couldn't pretend he had never done the same. All the better to tweak with the hot-headed man's emotions a bit. It was no less than Éomer had done to Gwendolyn. But it was a forgotten impulse as a more serious thought rose up in his mind, ready to be voiced.

"Why should I help you this time, Éomer?" His gaze drilled into that of the other man's; he was deadly serious. "I've watched you toy with this girl, and I've seen how it affects her." He turned away when the coals hissed and popped, signaling a need for his attention again. "So tell me, why should I?" After a moment, he returned his attention to the brawny man taking up what little space he had in the back of the armory for his work. "I could have her in my bed within a fortnight without you playing with her mind and body."

That bit pissed off his friend, Grim could see. A muscle tightened and jumped within his face, and tension coiled around him like a snake ready to attack. He hadn't been on the receiving end of one of Éomer's blows in a long while, and he had little desire to now. Still, disgust curdled in his stomach at the sight of the other man's clear reaction. For all his great leadership and battle prowess, his old friend still sometimes missed the nose on his face when he was forced to look for it.

"You won't, or I'll smash your face in, brother," Éomer growled, making Grim flash a quicksilver smile. With a derisive laugh, he turned back to his furnace, plunging the now-cold bar of brass alloy back into the hot coals to reheat.

"Gods, but you're thick as horseshit sometimes, Éomer," Grim ground out, exasperated and caught between twin desires - to see his friends happy and content, and to enjoy the pleasure that Gwen could most certainly provide him in time. He ran a big hand through his bound locks, brushing back stray, sweaty tendrils from his forehead, scowling again. He leaned against the low stone tabletop beside the furnace, peering up at the other man, who seemed content to wait for him to finish. Pick a side, Grim. Yours, or Gwen's.

With a shake of his head, he continued, "You don't have to do a thrice-damned thing to woo a woman like Gwendolyn, you idiot. She's already half-yours as it is. Yet for all your kingly-wisdom, you've mucked it up worse than a green squire in a shitty stable. You want to know how to win her hand, Lord Éomer?" From the way his lord's eyebrows rose higher and higher with every word, Grim surmised he better finish quickly if he didn't want a cold beating for his cheek. Friends or no, Éomer would always be his lord, and respect was demanded always.

Picking up the newly soft bar of brass carefully, Grim turned to face the broad, low-lying anvil in front of the sweltering heat of the furnace, meeting the fierce green gaze no man among the ranks could withstand for long. "Tis simple," he murmured, eyes flashing. "You earn her heart." He turned his attention to the anvil and began to hammer the softened metal. After a moment, he stopped, daring to flash a cheeky smile.

"And if you are going to ask me how to do that, Lord Éomer, I suggest you start by smiling at her." Glancing up at Éomer through sly eyes, Grim's mouth softened as he saw his jab sink home. Éomer rolled his eyes, obviously not taking him seriously. A moment later, he straightened as more serious thoughts came into his consciousness. Éomer had already turned and had begun to walk back through the King's armory. "Éomer!" Grim waited until the man had turned again. "To woo any woman, you must make her believe that, to you, she is the only thing that exists when you are with her. That nothing else matters in those times. If you cannot set aside that glorious sense of duty you posses when you are with Gwendolyn, she will never be yours. Nor will any woman."

Éomer seemed to consider his words deeply for a moment before he inclined his head in acknowledgement and turned again to leave. Grim stared at the now-blank space he had occupied a moment before bending lowly over his work once more. Though there was a part of him that wanted Éomer to fail, it would be interesting to see what would happen between his old friend and the girl. As much as he might want Gwennie for himself, her heart was turning to the King's heir already. It was only a matter of time, and Grim had never been the type to chase those already lost. A pity though. She was truly a gem.

His advice to Éomer had been sound. Now to see what he would do with it. A new thought crossed Grim's mind, then, making him smile. It would be interesting, too, to see how long it took for Éomer to realize that, despite his duty and the wars left to be fought, all that would come to matter would be his woman. He was a stubborn man, really. A more troubling thought followed. Perhaps Éomer would really have to lose her to discover it for himself at last, and the idea did not please Grim at all. There were too many ways Gwendolyn could be lost in these lands, and he wanted none of them for her.

Grim returned to the cooling metal, and began to bend and shape it to his will. Ahh, well. Only time will tell.

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