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Chapter 15 – You Must Kill It
Silverfoot cantered, his tireless stride devouring the miles between Edoras and Grassymede. Theodred still wasn’t sure why he was making this ride. He should have sent one of his men; he was far too busy to take the time to ride halfway across the country to aid in the search for a simple peasant girl. But ever since he’d returned from the successful battle with the orcs, the image of that peasant girl had stolen into his thoughts with surprising frequency. He played everything over in his mind. Her voice floating on the moonlight. The pale circle of her face behind the bars. Her heady joy at victory. The protective way her hands encircled the life within her womb. Her steadfast courage. Her gallantry in battle. The feel of her body pressed against his on their long day’s ride…. He firmly put aside such thoughts. As son and heir to the king, his duty overshadowed any fancy of his heart. The difference in their stations precluded any formal alliance between them, and he would not dishonor her with anything less. And he had absolutely no indication that the lady felt anything toward him other than gratitude for her rescue. Yet still he remembered her delight at riding Silverfoot, and her golden hair whipping in the wind…
And truly, a union between royalty and commoner was not entirely without precedent in Rohan’s history. The Rohirrim were a romantic folk at heart, and might come to accept, and even delight in, such a match. For a few brief moments he allowed himself the fantasy – the two of them, side by side, declaring their love to the world. But – there was the babe. A half-orc creature, testimony for all to see of her brutal violation. That, he feared, his people could never accept. So she was truly lost to him, no matter what her feelings or his might be. So his mind decided. But his heart knew no logic, and continued to trouble him with memories and dreams.
So when the messenger arrived from Charamer, begging his help in finding Elana, who had disappeared a scarce week after her return, Theodred himself rode out to investigate. He couldn’t help but be gripped by fear she’d been taken again into that foul captivity he’d freed her from. Though that seemed unlikely. Surely only some misunderstanding had caused her to flee her family, whose joy at her return couldn’t possibly have been anything but genuine.
A warm welcome greeted him when he arrived at the village. The common people of Rohan were an independent and self-sufficient folk, giving little thought in their daily lives to the royalty far away in the capital. But still the presence of the king’s son was an impressive event, let alone twice in so short a time. Charamer and Marbrona were acutely aware of the honor of hosting him in their home, and served him the evening meal with mingled delight and nervousness.
“She’s been gone nearly three months now,” Charamer told him. “We’ve searched everywhere we can think of. There was no indication that she was taken by force. We just woke up one morning and she had vanished. A few of her things were missing – clothes, some food. So we think she left on her own. But why?” Charamer’s frustration and grief drove him to his feet, and he paced the length of the room. “She’d only just come home, and she seemed happy to be here. We did everything we could to make her welcome.”
“Was there any quarrel, any disagreement between you?” Theodred asked.
“No!” Charamer insisted. “Nothing like that. I know what you think!” His anger flared. “True, there are some who would have rejected her for what was done to her. But that is not our way! She is my daughter and always will be. Nothing can change that. And I would have sworn she knew it.”
Theodred shook his head in puzzlement. His eyes happened to fall on Marbrona, and he glimpsed in her face a shadow of knowledge and guilt. He looked sharply at her, but she pressed a finger to her lips, with her eyes indicating her husband, who was oblivious to the exchange.
Later sleeping arrangements were made, Charamer and Marbrona insisting he take their bed, the rest of the family hastily redistributed. Charamer bid good night and retired. Marbrona lingered, ostensibly to see Theodred settled.
“You know why Elana left,” Theodred stated.
“Yes,” she admitted, staring into the fire. “I haven’t told anyone. But now – her time is near. I fear for her, alone. You must find her.”
“I only did what any mother should. I told her I would dispose of the creature, when it was born, that she wouldn’t even have to look at it. She should have been grateful. But somehow she’d come to believe that it would be just a child, as if she could deny what had happened. I couldn’t let her go through that – raising it, loving it, only to have it turn on her in the end. I thought she’d accepted what had to be done. But I was wrong.” Marbrona turned to him, her eyes pleading. “Now she’s out there somewhere, alone, and she’ll give birth any time now. And that monster will devour her, as soon as it has the strength. Please, find her! Bring her back to me. Save her from her own folly!”
Theodred understood, now. Could Elana truly love the misbegotten creature, enough to abandon family and safety for its sake? He thought of the way her hand had caressed her belly, and he knew it was so.
Marbrona seized his hands, careless of any impropriety. “You are sworn to protect this land. For all our sakes, if it’s been born, you must kill it.”
Theodred was assailed by conflicting emotions. Could he kill a defenseless baby, even an orc-child? What if Elana were right, what if love and nurture could triumph over blood? Could he rip Elana’s child away from her, tearing her heart in two? (Destroying, a secret part of him whispered, any feelings she might have for him.) But could he leave her in danger, that the child she cherished might prove bound to its corrupt heritage? Even if the child itself were harmless, its presence would exile her from human contact. The fear and loathing most people would feel toward the child would surely also encompass the mother. (Cutting him off from her completely, his treacherous heart reminded him.)
But what if the child were dead? He pulled away from Marbrona, turning to stare out the window at the starlit night. If Elana never knew it was his hand that killed it? Would she turn to him for solace in her grief? They could conceal her past, and he could present her openly to all the people as his beloved. He could bring her to Edoras and make her his wife, and someday queen. She could be his.
He gripped the windowsill with sweating hands. How could he even think such a thing? He loved her; he knew it now. And she loved the babe. To kill it would wound her grievously. But here was her own mother begging him to do it. And truly it might be the best thing for her sake. How was he to decide rightly when he couldn’t trust his own heart, which urged him so seductively to take the action that would place her by his side? Yet, was his resistance to that temptation, and his love for Elana, blinding him to the very real potential for evil if the child should live?
He closed his eyes, his hands trembling. He, who had so often faced battle bravely, was deeply afraid. He feared he would not be equal to this challenge. That the tangles of conflicting emotions would wind around and ensnare him. That no matter what he chose, it would be wrong.
He turned back to Marbrona, gripping her hands and looking deep into her eyes. “I will find her,” he promised. “And… I will do what I must.”
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