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Theodred's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 10 - Consider Yourself Our Guest

Forstrang peered out through the bushes into the clearing. The young woman sat on a log by the fire, singing softly to the baby in her lap. Would she never put it down? They had been waiting here more than an hour, watching as she went about her tasks, baby carried in her arms or tucked into a carrying cloth. Had it been up to him, Forstrang would long since have simply rushed in and grabbed them both, but Andgit had insisted that they must both be captured unharmed, and laid out his plan. Forstrang shrugged. Andgit knew what he was doing, and Forstrang’s job was simply to follow orders.

Ah, finally! The baby had fallen asleep, and the girl laid it on a blanket spread on the ground. She hesitated as the child stirred, stroking its back gently until it settled again. Then she stood and stretched, looked around, then picked up a pail and walked off toward the stream. Forstrang looked over at Andgit, who nodded sharply. Forstrang heaved himself to his feet and moved as quietly as his bulk would allow out from behind the bushes, over to where the child lay. He scooped it up, tiny in his thick arms. He couldn’t help but look closely at its face. Disgusted, he stared for a moment, then looked away. It was true then, what Andgit had told him. This was no child, but a monster, offspring of the foul orcs. The distorted, inhuman features sickened him. An urge to quickly and mercifully do away with it right then seized him, but he resisted. He had his orders, and his superiors had their uses for this tiny abomination. Andgit came out of hiding also, and looked at the creature with pleasure and greed.

The orc-spawn stirred in his arms and opened its eyes, staring for a moment at his unfamiliar face looming over it. Forstrang was caught by its deep brown gaze, from eyes neither orc nor human. Then the eyes closed and its face screwed up as it began to wail, its cries loud and harsh.

From the direction of the stream, Forstrang heard a clang as the girl dropped the pail. She ran wildly back to the clearing, then halted, eyes big with terror, at the sight of the two strange men. Andgit turned to her with lazy confidence, not even bothering to draw his sword.

“Elana, I believe your name is. If you cooperate, nobody will get hurt. Your presence is required, and I am assigned to bring you to my master, along with your… child. Now it seems you value the creature’s life, so I suggest you come along with us without a fuss. It would be a shame if anything were to happen to it.”

Elana dropped her arms, which had reached out instinctively toward the screaming Deore. She was trapped, she realized despairingly. Somehow they had found her, and with the huge man holding Deore there was no way she could fight without her child being hurt or killed. She could see in the men’s faces that they would not hesitate to harm the baby they considered a monster. Who could have sent them? What use could she, and Deore, be to anyone, that they would want to capture and keep them, and not simply slay them outright? Searching for a reason, a horrifying thought struck her. Theodred had many enemies. What if one of them had found out about her, and Theodred’s love for her, and intended to use her and Deore against him? At the thought of her beloved, her stomach lurched sickeningly. She grew lightheaded, but she could not faint, not when her child needed her. Ruthlessly she suppressed her terror, and forced herself to focus coldly on the small, wiry man’s words.

“Ah, I see you understand me. Now, come here.” Elana complied, stepping toward the man, no closer than she had to. His hand reached out and seized her forearm in a strong, but not cruel, grip. She shoved down memories of her earlier captivity that rose up and threatened to overwhelm her. “You are going to come with us. Our horses are back in the forest. I’m going to let you pack some of your belongings, clothes for you and the child, whatever else you might need. Forstrang here will take good care of the baby, won’t you Forstrang?” Forstrang nodded. “Now just move slowly and don’t try anything rash.” He let go of Elana’s arm and gestured over to her hut.

Elana wondered wildly if there was any way for her to resist. She could stab the man with her belt knife, run off into the forest and lose herself among the trees, flee back to Waymeet and get help. But she was frozen by the sight of Deore’s fragile body trapped in the arms of the big, muscular man, whose beefy hands could crush her delicate skull like an eggshell. She turned numbly to follow her captor’s instructions, stuffing her clothing and Deore’s into her pack along with diapers, cleaning rags, and some food. There was some space left, so she stuffed in the newly purchased fleece, her spindle, and her knitting needles. Her hands were shaking so hard by the time she was finished she could barely close it. Deore’s cries continued, cutting into her heart with longing to hold her and comfort her, and she trembled with helplessness and rage.

Andgit watched her closely, alert for any move of rebellion. When she stood with her pack, he gestured her to walk ahead of him, back into the woods. Forstrang with Deore fell in behind them. The little camp lay abandoned, the fire slowly burning out and dying.

They made their way through the forest to the place where Andgit and Forstrang had concealed the horses. Last night, when their search had finally borne fruit, it had been too late to depart. The man had been vivid in his description of the orc-child, telling how he’d caught a glimpse of its deformed features as the girl had sought to comfort it. They thanked him for his aid with another round of ale, after getting a good description of the girl. That had allowed them to ask more specific questions, and they soon located several people who had seen her leaving town south along the stream. With the first light they had easily picked up her trail and tracked her here. Now it was only a little past noon, and they could be well on their way by nightfall.

Deore continued to cry, her sobs taking on a hopeless, exhausted quality, broken by shuddering gasps for breath. Tears streamed down Elana’s face at the sound, but she didn’t dare stop or even look back. After a while, Andgit’s composure broke, and he turned and snapped at Forstrang, “Can’t you shut the thing up?”

“What am I supposed to do?” Forstrang asked, frustrated. The cries were wearing on him, too. “It has to breathe, so I can’t just cover up its face. Are you sure we can’t just kill it?”

“No, I told you, they’re both wanted alive. Here, give it to me.” He took the baby and bounced it awkwardly a few times, which only increased the volume of the cries. He passed it back to Forstrang and looked appraisingly at Elana.

“We want you both alive, but one would suffice.” They had arrived at the horses. “Here, mount,” he said, jerking his head toward the third horse that they had brought for her. Elana swung herself up onto the horse. It had no bit, only a halter and lead rein. “Now understand,” Andgit said, “Forstrang and I are both excellent archers. If you should for any reason try to ride away from us, we could easily shoot you down long before you could get out of range.” Elana nodded mutely. Andgit drew his sword and gestured for Forstrang to hand the baby up to Elana.

Reaching down, Elana took Deore into her arms with relief. She clutched her child close, burying her head in Deore’s hair and breathing her precious baby smell. Deore gave a few more shuddering cries, then subsided into ragged, hiccupping breathing. The forest seemed unnaturally silent in the sudden quiet. For a moment all Elana could feel was joy that her baby was back in her arms where she belonged, and that nothing else could possibly matter. She fumbled her clothing aside and latched Deore on to her breast, where she nursed desperately, the tenseness of her body only gradually easing. Calm flooded Elana. She took a deep breath, and from deep within her heart called up a firm resolve. She would protect Deore, no matter what it took. Though their situation was grim, they were alive, and together, and somehow they would make it through.

Forstrang and Andgit mounted their horses and set out. Andgit rode in front, leading Elana’s horse, while Forstrang rode behind, keeping careful watch, bow strung and ready. They rode partway back toward Waymeet, but turned east before they reached the town and the road, cutting across the open plain to avoid meeting anyone who might ask awkward questions.

After a while, Forstrang relaxed his guard. It was clear the girl knew she had no chance of escape. He used the opportunity to observe her. She was pretty enough, though no beauty, clearly one of the peasant folk of Rohan. He wondered how she had come to have an orc-child. It was disgusting how she doted on the nasty thing, cuddling it, kissing it, even nursing it. He felt queasy watching her; she was like a madwoman who had dressed a piglet or puppy in baby clothes and put it to her breast. Obviously her feelings for it were genuine, though Forstrang couldn’t understand how. But he accepted it as one of the inexplicable mysteries of life, as were so many other things. Forstrang didn’t waste much time pondering things he didn’t understand. He knew what his duty was, and that was enough. Let his superiors make the plans and give the orders; he could be depended upon to carry them out.

They rode through the rest of the day, pausing a few times when Elana indicated that the creature’s diaper must be changed. Andgit and Forstrang were glad enough to leave that duty up to her. Soldiers as they were, this business of traveling with a woman and child was strange and complicated, and they’d be glad when this duty was accomplished. They camped for the night far from any settlement, the two men taking turns keeping watch to prevent any attempt at escape. Elana and Deore slept wrapped in Elana’s cloak next to the fire, but still the chill of the night made them shiver.

In the morning they rose early and rode on. Near nightfall they drew close to Edoras. When they could just glimpse the golden glimmer of Meduseld atop its peak, they turned aside from their path that had paralleled the main road, and rode south through the gently rolling hills. Well to the southwest of the city they came to an abandoned farmstead, tucked into a small valley, isolated from any other human habitation. Ramshackle and decrepit, its thatched roof half fallen in, it clearly had been deserted for many years. Elana, exhausted from the long ride, was glad of any shelter at all as the two men escorted her into the tumbledown building. One room had been prepared as a makeshift cell, the ceiling reinforced, the one window boarded over, and a new, strong door hung in the doorframe, with a heavy bar on the outside. There was a pallet on the floor and a basin, and Elana was reminded forcefully of her cell in the orc caves. Here, though, at least she doubted she would again face rape, though she feared that the trials to come might be worse even, in their own way, than what she had gone through before. Now she was vulnerable not only in her own body, but in a new and horrible way through her child, and Elana knew it was only too sure that Deore would continue to be threatened to force Elana’s cooperation with whatever plot had been concocted. She knew, with sinking certainty, that they could force her to do almost anything with that weapon. She would rather be raped a thousand times than see her daughter harmed.

Mother and child were barred inside the room. Forstrang stayed, the other room having been much more comfortably furnished as a guardroom, while Andgit rode away. Elana slept deeply that night, exhaustion overcoming fear.

The next morning she woke as usual to Deore’s hungry rooting, and it was a moment before the memory of all that had happened flooded back into her mind. She buried her head in her covers and wept for a long time. She finally stopped, drained and empty. Slowly resolve crept in to fill the emptiness, and she rose grimly and set about taking care of her needs and her daughter’s. Forstrang brought a cold breakfast of bread and dried fruit. He watched mother and child with wary eyes, but spoke as little as possible, and left quickly. After eating, Elana arranged her meager belongings, setting up a corner to hold their neatly folded clothes, and another as a changing area, with a pile of the clean diapers she had left. The bundle of dirty diapers from the day before was beginning to stink, and she eyed it speculatively. When Forstrang returned with her midday meal she presented the problem to him. Faced with the prospect of having to deal with the soiled cloths himself, Forstrang was quickly persuaded to allow her access to the tiny stream that ran past the farmstead. Under his watchful gaze, Deore bound to her chest, Elana spent a few precious hours out in the free air. Never had she so painstakingly cleansed every tiny stain from each diaper, rinsing again and again. But eventually she could draw the task out no longer, and was ushered back inside.

Lulled by the activity, Deore slept, and Elana, desperate for activity to occupy her hands and distract her mind, pulled out her fleece and spindle and began spinning the yarn for a new shawl, drawing out he spiderweb-fine strands between her fingers and winding them around the spindle. She kept at her task until the light dimmed and long golden rays of the sinking sun slanted through the barred window. Then Forstrang brought supper, dried meat, cheese and bread. Deore was fretful that evening, and Elana paced around the little room for hours, bouncing and patting her, frequently stopping to offer the breast, but nothing could console Deore. She would nurse for a moment, then pull her head away, crying, and Elana would resume trudging circles around her cage. By the time Deore finally dropped into exhausted slumber, Elana was so worn out that sleep came easily and welcome.

The next morning Andgit returned. Outside her room Elana could hear his voice and Forstrang’s, accompanied by a third she did not recognize. She was sitting cross-legged on her pallet, finishing the breakfast Forstrang had brought in to her earlier, when she heard the beam being slid back from her door. Deore, full and content from her morning nursing, completely recovered from whatever upset had tormented her the night before, snuggled happy and alert in her lap. Elana set the bowl aside, picked up Deore, and got to her feet. She set her back to the far wall, facing the door, and waited to see who would emerge.

The door opened, and a tall, handsome man with short, wavy black hair came in. He approached Elana, smiling pleasantly, but Elana instinctively recoiled before him. He looked closely into her face, then examined Deore where she squirmed in Elana’s arms. A complex series of expressions passed over his face. Elana could read revulsion, fascination, and satisfaction, along with other emotions she could not name but which filled her with apprehension. Finally the man stepped back and composed his features into an attitude of pleasant hospitality.

“So you are Elana, my dear. It is my great pleasure to meet you. I apologize if the circumstances of your coming here were a bit unpleasant; I’m afraid it was unavoidable. You will understand that it is necessary that you stay here a while, but I hope you will consider yourself our guest. We will strive to make your visit with us as comfortable as possible, given the situation.”

Elana blinked. It was obvious that the man’s words were simply false pleasantries, in no way changing the fact that she was a prisoner and this man was her jailer. But such was the conviction with which he spoke that almost for a moment she believed that he was sincere. She shifted Deore’s weight in her arms and cleared her throat. “Who are you?” Her voice sounded harsh in her own ears.

“Ah, my dear, my name is Donaldo. Now we needs must speak of why I have brought you here. You are acquainted, I believe, with the King Theoden’s son, Theodred.” Elana tried to make no reaction, but she could not prevent her face from paling. “Yes, well acquainted. In fact, I have been told that he fancies himself in love with you.” Elana could no longer meet his gaze, but dropped her eyes, shaking her head in a denial she knew would not be believed. “Hardly wise, of him, don’t you agree, in these troubled times, to let his heart be ensnared by one with the, ah… complications that you possess.” He smiled down at Deore, who was beginning to respond to her mother’s distress with fretful fussing.

Donaldo paused a moment while Elana regained her composure and soothed Deore. “You will be pleased to know,” he continued, “that I have no plans to publish your existence or your relationship with Theodred. The two of you seem to have agreed it should remain secret, and who am I to dispute that?” His voice lost some of its smooth flattering tone, and gained instead a harder edge. “But you must understand that Theodred is currently set on certain courses of action that my master and I profoundly disagree with and must oppose. I believe that you and your child will be able to… persuade him… to listen to my counsel and choose to take the actions that I deem appropriate. In due time, I will bring him here, and allow you to speak with him. When that time comes, I hope you realize that it would be greatly in your best interest, and that of your daughter, if you expend all your effort to convince him to cooperate with me. If you are not able to persuade him, the consequences, I fear, could be most unfortunate.” Elana, pinned beneath the gaze of those dark eyes, could not speak. The threat hung in the air a moment, then Donaldo again smiled and broke the silence. “Until then, I must insist that you remain here with us. We will see that all your needs are provided for; you have only to ask Forstrang or Andgit, who will stay here as your guards. I look forward to the time when we shall meet again. Until then, farewell.” He departed, and Elana could hear the heavy beam sliding once again across the door.

Elana sank to the floor and shook, clinging to Deore for comfort. For all his elegant words, Donaldo’s menace was overwhelming. Clearly, he was the agent of Rohan’s enemies. Her life, and Deore’s, were hostage to this man, and unless she agreed to persuade Theodred to… do what? some treachery, no doubt… they would surely die. Her own life she would give, willingly, if it would save her land from destruction, no less than Theodred himself. But her child…. If the only way to save Deore was to beg Theodred to betray their beloved Rohan…. Elana buried her head in Deore’s hair and wept, terribly afraid that she was faced with a choice she could not make.

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