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Chapter 2 – Let Me Act
Theodred worked far into the night, finalizing his plans and drafting orders to be sent to the leaders of each of the companies of Riders. Finally he set down his pen, rubbing his eyes. He must get at least a few hours of sleep.
He gazed around his quarters. Since he had reached the age of manhood and established his own household, these rooms had been his, but there was little of himself to be seen in them. They were the rooms of a general, not a prince. The furnishings were spare, the decorations few. Theodred had been content here, his time and heart occupied with the ordering of Rohan’s military, but now he looked at the bare rooms and wondered. Could he bring Elana here? How would this house change with the presence of a woman, and a child? He pictured Elana by the hearth, spinning, Deore cradled in her lap, and the image sang to him. He had never desired such domesticity, but now he found he craved it. And it was lost to him. As long as this war lasted he must put her out of his mind. The room seemed yawningly empty, his bed, when at last he sank into it, cold and hard.
In the morning, Theodred rose, ate, and finished up the tasks he had started the night before. Then, dreading what he must do, but knowing he could delay no longer, he summoned a messenger and sent word to the king requesting an audience. At midmorning the messenger returned, bearing tidings that he was bidden to come to the Golden Hall.
Entering Meduseld, Theodred was moved as always by the beauty of the place. Since childhood he had loved the carved horses on the golden pillars, the patterns of stone inlaid in the floor, the shining tapestry of Eorl the Young upon Felarof. But his steps slowed as he reached the far end of the hall, loath to face the man seated there.
“Come forward,” commanded Theoden, voice thin and ancient far beyond his actual years. “So you have returned. What do you request?”
Theodred bowed low to his father. He longed to go to him, embrace him, speak words of closeness and companionship. When he was young, he and his father had been close. The shared grief of his mother’s death had drawn them to each other, and their kindred personalities had strengthened the bond. Theoden himself had trained Theodred in the arts of sword, spear, and bow, and had tutored him in statecraft and strategy. As he became a man, father and son had worked together as a team, Theoden trusting more and more in his son’s skills to aid in the ruling of the country. But all that had changed the day Theoden first turned his ear to the counsels of Grima Wormtongue.
Now Theodred was permitted only to stand before the throne, a vassal before his lord. He glared at the pale skinned, dark eyed man crouched at his father’s feet. How he despised the miserable wretch. Yet for some inexplicable reason the king chose to trust him, and had come to the point where he would listen to no other, not even his son.
“My lord,” Theodred addressed his father. “I have been informed of the new threat on our western border. I regret that my absence has delayed our response to this threat. But now, as commander of your armies and Marshal of the Westfold, I beg your leave to begin ordering our forces to defend against it.”
“If you speak of Saruman, I am not yet persuaded that he in truth poses a threat to us,” the king replied. “So far I have only heard rumors and hearsay. Saruman has long been a friend to Rohan, and I am reluctant to believe ill of him.”
“You are wise, my lord, not to rush to judgment,” murmured Wormtongue to the king.
Theodred was taken aback. Could his father truly deny all that had happened? “But I have been told that Gandalf…”
“Gandalf!” Theoden spit out the name. “Why should I believe anything that charlatan says? Undoubtedly this is some feud between wizards, and he seeks to slander Saruman to gain ascendancy over him.”
Theodred bit back his anger. “I’m afraid you have not been informed of the most recent news, my lord. Our scouts have reported back. They have seen with their own eyes orcs coming and going from Isengard. They have ransacked and plundered the northwestern villages. There can be no doubt that Saruman has become our enemy.”
“Even if what he says is true,” Wormtongue said, “we must not rush into battle. First we must send envoys to parley. For our people’s sake, we must avoid war if we can.”
Theoden nodded. “I would not see the country at war, if it can be prevented.”
“I agree, my lord, that war should be a last resort, but I fear Saruman will leave us no choice.” Theodred countered. He went on to detail what Saruman’s forces had already done, and what he feared was to come. But for every argument Wormtongue had a quick reply, always minimizing the danger and stressing the evils of war, and his desire for peace. The king assented to each of Wormtongue’s points, eventually lapsing into nothing but nods and sounds of agreement. Theodred grew more and more frustrated. The air in the hall seemed thick and cloying, the course of action which had seemed so clear and necessary now distorting in his mind to appear aggressive and reckless. He fought against the confusion, but his strength was not in battles of words.
“Then our path is clear,” Wormtongue declared. “My lord, I would advise that you appoint an ambassador, someone who can be trusted,” and he shot a look of malice at Theodred, “to seek an audience with Saruman, to negotiate and see if some accommodation can be reached.”
“What accommodation can we reach with a servant of Mordor?” Theodred voice rose. “For that is what he has become!”
“Foul lies! Even if the wizard has chosen to increase his power and influence, that is no proof that he has allied himself with Mordor.” Theoden seemed spellbound by Grima’s words.
Theodred was aghast at the power Wormtongue had gained over the king. Unless he could force Theoden to see the truth, Rohan would sit defenseless as Saruman’s forces overran the country.
“Do you know what he has done?” Theodred stepped forward angrily, and then stopped as the guards at his father’s sides tensed. “He has seized women of Rohan, kidnapped them, kept them prisoner. He has caused orcs to rape them!” Theodred spoke with intentional crudity, hoping to shock his father into listening to him. “He has caused them to be forcibly impregnated with half-orc, half-human hybrids, then raised up the offspring as warriors, more fell than any orc. I myself have rescued a group of women who were used thus. And now our scouts report these half-orcs in his service. Can you say that this evil does not answer the will of Sauron?”
Horror and outrage filled Theoden’s face. Even Wormtongue seemed taken aback with revulsion. Theodred fell to his knees, seizing the king’s hands, gazing imploringly up into his eyes. He searched those eyes, looking for traces of the man he had known and loved, the man he knew still lived somewhere within, buried under layers of deception and pride.
“Father, listen to me! Give me leave, I beg you, to defend Rohan. Please, for the love you bear me as your son, for the sake of our people, let me act!”
Eyes locked, the two men strove in a battle of wills. Theoden was the first to turn away.
“Do as you will.” At Theodred’s sigh of relief, the king spat angrily, “You will anyway, whatever I say.” Theodred could only watch in horror as his father turned again to Wormtongue, who was quick to murmur in his ear what Theodred knew must be commiseration over his ambitious, power-hungry son.
Theodred slipped quickly out of the hall, before the king could rescind his permission. He was relieved that now he would legitimately be able to act. But his heart burned with anger at Wormtongue, and he dashed away a tear of grief for the father who now seemed irretrievably lost to him.
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