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Chapter 3 – What Kind of Man Am I?
Theodred stood on the stone terrace before the doors of the hall. He gazed out northward toward the White Mountains, breathing deeply of the cool fresh air, shaking a little in reaction to the intensity of the encounter. He had recovered his composure, and was about to turn and depart, when a clear voice called to him. “Cousin! Welcome home! I heard you had returned.”
He turned and smiled at Eowyn coming out of the doors of the hall, and embraced her warmly. “Ah, cousin, it’s good to see you.”
“Come, it’s nearly time for the midday meal. I’ve had the servants set up a table in my quarters, and Eomer will join us there.”
Gladly Theodred followed her to her apartment within the king’s hall. His young cousin had always been a favorite of his, and she in turn idolized him. He found that he was ravenous, and gratefully fell to the meal that had been prepared. Soon Eomer appeared and the three of them relaxed in each other’s presence, talking and laughing, happy to be with people they loved and trusted. Growing up set apart from others as the royal family, the three had formed a bond that was only strengthened by their shared grief and concern over Theoden.
Eomer and Eowyn filled Theodred in on news of the happenings while he was away. “…so then Theoden told him to take any horse he wanted, and get out. And Gandalf left, and you’ll never believe which horse he chose.”
“Which?” Theodred asked, running over in his mind the tally of the king’s horses.
“Shadowfax!” Eowyn grinned at Theodred’s gasp of disbelief. “I don’t know what magic he worked, but Shadowfax consented to bear him. The king was furious when he found out.”
Theodred shook his head in wonder. The ways of the mearas were strange and unpredictable. Traditionally, only those of royal blood might ride one, and only the king himself might ride their chief. But the mighty animals chose their own riders, and once horse and rider were united, the bond would often last a lifetime. Theodred thought of his own beloved Silverfoot, who even as a foal had looked at the young Theodred with eyes that could see into his soul. The pairing was obvious to all, and Theodred had been given the training of the young horse. None other had ever ridden him, save at Theodred’s bidding.
But even among the lords of horses, Shadowfax was unique. He had refused any rider, and roamed free, his concern always with the herds of horses that wandered the plain, guiding and protecting them. Now though, it seemed he had finally found his partner, and who could gainsay his choice?
The conversation continued. The other two questioned Theodred about his errand, and Theodred told them all he was willing to say. “I searched for a few days, and found her safe. She had had a disagreement with her family, and left without telling them. She didn’t wish to return, for she had made a place for herself elsewhere. But she did let me send word she was safe and well. I stopped along the way back and sent a messenger to her family with the news.” Theodred stopped, and his eyes were distant for a moment as he thought of Elana.
The talk turned to inconsequential things, and they enjoyed each other’s company as they finished the meal. Then Eomer excused himself to attend to his duties, but Theodred and Eowyn lingered for a while, sipping steaming cups of tea and nibbling at sweets.
As soon as her brother had vanished, Eowyn leaned forward with a conspiratorial grin. “Well, tell me about her. What’s she like? She must be something special, to have captured your heart after all these years.”
Theodred stared at her, confounded. Eowyn laughed. “The look on your face! Oh, cousin, it’s obvious to anyone who knows you. You can’t even talk about her without getting all quiet and your eyes going unfocused. Tell me everything!”
Theodred looked down, but couldn’t help smiling, and found himself pouring out his heart. “Her name is Elana. She comes from a village called Grassymede. Her family are farmers and herders. She was one of the women I rescued from the orcs last summer. She’d been held captive a year and a half. We were riding by at night, and I heard her singing, like a spirit from another world. All I could see were her eyes, through the bars on the window of her cell, but I think even then I was drawn to her, so valiant…”
He drifted off, gazing out into the distance. Eowyn giggled. She’d known someday her older cousin must find his heart’s love. The years had passed, and he’d shown no interest in any particular woman, though as heir he was a highly sought prize among the ladies of Edoras. But Eowyn had sensed he was waiting, watching, biding his time until the right moment arrived. Now it was here, and she laughed with delight at the change in him.
“So, when are we going to meet her? It will be a terrible scandal, and all the old ladies will mutter and grumble. Though to hear all their talk about ‘securing the succession,’ you’d think the fact she breathes and goes on two legs should be enough for them. All the young women will think it’s terribly romantic, except for the ones who shut themselves into their bedrooms to weep for you….” She trailed off, as Theodred shook his head, an anguished look on his face.
“I can’t bring her here. Not as long as this war goes on, as long as I have to lead the people. If they were to find out, they’d turn against me.” Eowyn started to shake her head, but he put out his hand on top of hers. “It’s more than just that she’s a peasant. She…. When I rescued her from the orcs, she was pregnant.”
“Oh.” Eowyn became very still.
“That’s what drove her away from her family. She wanted the babe, and loved it, half-orc though it was. Her family couldn’t accept that she could want to keep it, to raise it. Her own mother asked me to kill the child, when I found her. Elana left, with nothing but her clothes and a little food. A friend, one of her fellow captives, helped her, but even she couldn’t accept an orc-child. So Elana made a camp for herself, in the woods, and decided to live there alone with her child.” Theodred rose and paced angrily around the room. Eowyn watched him with silent sympathy. “When I found her, she was in labor. I watched her child be born. And I decided to let it live.” His eyes challenged Eowyn, as if he expected her to object to his decision. Eowyn returned his gaze with compassion, and continued to listen. “She loves the child, and believes she can raise her as a human, that her orc heritage will not doom her to evil. And I believe it, too.
“We stayed for a week, Elana’s friend and I, and helped her while she recovered from the birth. And on the last day I could be silent no longer, and declared my love for her, and offered to take the child as my own, and bring them here. And I even told her, if the people would not accept the child, I would leave, and go into exile with her. Although Elana did not believe I would abandon my duty, and I thought she was right. But we had decided to try, to fight for her acceptance, though it would be a struggle and possibly turn the people against me.
“Then Grimbold arrived, with news of Saruman’s betrayal. And everything was changed, and no longer could I risk the disruption her presence would bring, now that I need more than ever the people’s support. So I rode away, leaving her there.”
He turned to Eowyn, and unshed tears sparkled in his eyes. “And every minute since, I’ve fought the temptation to turn around, leave, go back to her, and take her far away from Rohan, somewhere they’ve never heard of orcs, where we can be wed and just be a family like any other. What kind of man am I, to leave my beloved defenseless, alone in the forest with a newborn baby? But how can I be fit to be heir, and someday king, if I would even consider putting my land in danger, or abandoning it entirely, for my own personal desires?” He collapsed back into his chair and propped his elbows on the table, burying his head in his hands.
Eowyn rose and drew close to him, putting her arm around his shoulders. When they had stopped shaking, she lifted his head to face her. He regarded her with anguish. She returned his gaze with eyes that were steady and clear. “You are a great man, and a worthy leader. You will lead us through this conflict, and we will be victorious. And when it is over, you will go and bring her here, and you will be wed upon the steps of Meduseld, in view of all the people. And I will hold the child, and kiss her, and declare her my niece. And the people will be won over by your great love for her, and for her child.”
Theodred closed his eyes, wanting desperately to believe that what she said could come true. After a while he looked again at Eowyn, and smiled, though not without effort. “Dearest cousin, you always know what to say to me. May it be as you have said!”
Across the room, a servant slipped unnoticed out the door. She had opened it several minutes earlier, coming to clear the table, and had paused when she heard impassioned voices. She had listened to Theodred’s entire story. Now she hurried down the corridors with eager steps. Grima would pay well for the knowledge she brought him.
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