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Theodred's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 12 - Think Well On Your Choices

Theodred stumbled after Eowyn, back to her chambers, suddenly overwhelmingly weary, longing only for sleep. When they reached her rooms, he handed the cloak back to her. “Thank you. That meant more to me than you’ll ever know.”

“I only wish I could have done more for you.”

“I know. But it was enough. Now we both have to get to sleep. Farewell, Eowyn.” They embraced, then she slipped away into her rooms, and he made his way out of the hall, through the city to his house.

Once home, he stripped off his clothes and fell into bed, exhausted in body and soul, though it was not yet midnight. He sank at once into sleep. But no more than half an hour had passed when an urgent knocking sounded at his door. Blearily he roused, pulled on his clothes and opened the door, expecting to see Eowyn’s servant again. But the man waiting there was unfamiliar to him. He eyed the short, wiry man warily. “What do you want?”

The man appeared nervous. His face was thin and his eyes were large and dark. “My lord, I bring you a message. You are Lord Theodred?”

“Yes.”

“My name is Andgit. I was coming into the city this morning, from my village, when a woman stopped me, and asked me to help her. She said her name was Elana.”

Theodred froze, and a rush of fear swept through him. What could Elana be doing here? What could have happened?

“She asked me to find you, and tell her that she needs your help, desperately. She wanted me to bring you to her – she showed me the place where she is staying. She said I should wait until night, that it must be secret. She couldn’t pay me, but she gave me this.” From his bag he drew a swath of airy, delicate fabric. Theodred took it, hands shaking. He recognized it as the work of Elana’s needles, one of her finely knit lace shawls. He bunched it in his hands and buried his face in it. Was it his imagination, or did her scent surround him?

He dropped his hands, and the shawl fell from his numb fingers. “I’ll get my things. Where are we going?”

“Not far, my lord. It’s just outside the city. So you do know her?

Theodred strapped on his sword and slung his bow and quiver over his shoulder. “I do. You have a horse?”

“Yes, he’s tethered over there.”

“Good. I’m going to the stables. I’ll meet you back here in a moment.” Theodred paused for moment. Surely the man would have mentioned it, but he had to ask. “Did she have… a baby with her?”

“No, my lord.” The man looked at him quizzically.

Theodred swallowed. Something has happened to Deore. He set off for the stables at a run.

Moments later he was back upon Silverfoot, gesturing to the man to lead the way. They kept to a moderate trot through the city, not wanting to attract undue attention, but once outside the gates Theodred urged Silverfoot to a canter in the direction the man indicated. The man’s poor horse had to labor at a full gallop to keep up, even though Theodred held Silverfoot back to what seemed to him a snail’s pace. They made their way southwest, until the city was obscured behind them by a rise of land. Then Theodred followed the man’s pointing finger to catch a glimpse of an abandoned farmhouse ahead. Fiercely he urged Silverfoot to full speed, and the mearas blazed across the grass, leaving their guide far behind.

At the door of the farmhouse Silverfoot pulled up to a halt, and Theodred flung himself from the saddle. He thrust open the door, calling, “Elana?” Within, all was dark and quiet, but a faint glimmer of light caught his eye. Following it, he moved through several empty, ramshackle rooms, until he spotted the warm glow of a candle shining under a door. Not noticing that it was much heavier and newer than the rest of the building, he pushed it open, and his heart leapt with joy to see her there, sitting on a straw pallet on the floor, bent over her knitting needles. “Elana!”

She looked up, startled. “Theodred!” She dropped her needles and raised her hands to his, as he pulled her to her feet and swept her into his embrace.

“What happened? What are you doing here? Are you all right? What about Deore?” The words tumbled out of Theodred’s mouth. Then he noticed several things at once. Elana’s voice had been filled, not with joy at the sight of him, but with horror. Deore lay sleeping peacefully on the pallet. And behind him, two figures had stepped into the room.

His joy drained out of him, leaving behind cold, sick fear. He turned, thrusting Elana behind him, placing himself between her and whatever danger threatened. One of the figures was a huge, muscular, heavily armed man, glowering threateningly. The other was almost as tall, but leaner, and handsome in a sinister way, though bearing no visible weapons. Something about him seemed vaguely familiar….

Theodred drew his sword and launched himself at the huge man. Ready for the attack, the man’s own sword leapt out and parried Theodred’s blow, then swept around to strike. From the corner of his eye Theodred saw a blur of movement as the other man swooped down, but could not pause from his battle to see what he was doing or prevent it.

The man straightened with Deore in his arms. She shrieked piercingly as she was rudely roused from sleep, and thrashed her arms and legs. Elana screamed and flew at the man, tearing at his face with her nails. Momentarily he staggered under her attack. Running feet pounded outside the room, then Andgit burst through the door. Sizing up the situation quickly, he grabbed Elana from behind and crushed her to him, pinning her flailing arms. The man stepped back. Seeing that Elana was dealt with, he turned his attention back to the dueling swordsmen. Theodred had just parried one of Forstrang’s blows, and all was quiet for a moment as they strove together, sword hilts locked, Theodred gradually giving way under Forstrang’s great strength. The man tightened his grip on Deore, who renewed her frantic screams, and called, “Stop!’

Theodred and Forstrang both turned to him. “Drop your sword, Theodred, unless you wish me to break this creature’s neck.” His black eyes locked with Theodred’s, and Theodred knew without a doubt that he would do it. Theodred stepped back, spread his hands, and released his sword, which clattered on the floor. “Forstrang, disarm him.” The huge man stepped forward, retrieved the fallen sword, and removed Theodred’s bow, arrows, and belt knife. Theodred was careful to make no move of resistance, agonizingly aware of the vulnerable child clutched in the man’s grasp. At sword point, Forstrang backed him up against the far wall. The man jerked his head, and Andgit shoved Elana alongside Theodred, where Forstrang’s sword could cover them both.

Elana’s hand groped for Theodred’s, and he clasped it, almost crushing it with the intensity of his grip. The man smiled at the two of them. “Well, Lord Theodred, I see you have taken my bait and walked into my trap.” He had to raise his voice almost to a shout to be heard above Deore’s cries. The girl’s face was red, her eyes screwed closed, and her mouth opened in a wail that paused only briefly to allow her to draw breath before it began again, its grating tones increasingly irritating to her captor. He shook her roughly, but the crying continued.

“Give her to her mother,” Forstrang volunteered. “It’s the only way to shut her up.”

Donaldo was reluctant to give up his immediate power over the orcling, but it would be impossible to conduct this affair properly shouting over her. Elana and Theodred were well enough controlled by Forstrang’s sword, now backed up by Andgit’s. He passed the baby back to Elana. Deore buried her face in her mother’s shoulder, and her sobs died away.

When quiet was restored, Donaldo began again, in the calm, modulated tones that served him so well. No match, perhaps, for Saruman’s silken persuasiveness, but Donaldo liked to think that he had picked up a trick or two in his time in the wizard’s service. “It seems, my lord Theodred, that I have you at a disadvantage.”

“Who are you? What do you want?” Theodred stared with growing desperation at his captors. He had indeed, he could see now, fallen neatly into their trap. He usually took little thought to his own safety, well able as he was to take care of himself, and had never felt the need for a bodyguard, confident that as long as he was reasonably cautious he would be safe from any assassins or kidnappers that might target him as Rohan’s heir. But tonight he had allowed his frantic concern for Elana to drive him to reckless action, and now was caught, far from his men who might help him, not likely to be missed and sought for many hours.

“My name, Lord Theodred, is Donaldo. Lady Elana there has already made my acquaintance. As for what I want… well, that is what we are here to discuss, is it not?”

Studying the man, Theodred grew cold. Donaldo’s dark eyes gleamed with pleasure, savoring Theodred’s distress. Deep in those eyes lurked a hint of wildness, perhaps even madness. For the moment it was contained, but Theodred was left with the uneasy feeling that it might at any moment break free of control. Theodred swallowed. “If you plan to murder me, have done with it. Just let Elana and Deore go. They mean nothing to you.”

Donaldo paced before them, hands clasped behind his back. “Ah, but it seems they mean quite a lot to you, do they not? Which makes them quite interesting to me, as well. I am a reasonable man, and I have no wish to harm any of you, if it can be avoided. I think it is possible for us to reach an accommodation, if you will simply consider what I have to say.”

Theodred closed his eyes briefly. Whoever this Donaldo was, his intentions now were clear. Blackmail was the card he would play. He looked again with loathing at Donaldo, and his voice was firm. “I will make no bargains with you. Who do you speak for? Has Grima hired you? Or do you come from Saruman?”

Donaldo smiled mockingly. “Now, Theodred, everyone knows you despise your father’s counselor, but to suspect him of complicity in this? No, Saruman is my master, and it is his words I bring you.”

In his previous dealings with Saruman, Theodred had thought the wizard incompetent, even a bit of a fool. Certainly he had never been any help when Theodred had sought his advice to deal with the incursions of orcs into Rohan. But in the months since news had come of his betrayal, as Theodred’s scouts reported his swift and efficient preparations for war, and after Theodred had learned from Elana and her fellow captives of his long and brutal scheming, Theodred had come to realize that Saruman’s incompetence was merely a mask donned to fool the unwary, and that in truth the wizard was skilled and cunning, a formidable foe. Now he had ensnared Theodred. “Saruman must know that I will never give into his demands.”

“Perhaps not. The fact remains, however, that you are in my power at the moment, and you would be wise to listen to what I have to offer. It’s very simple, really. My master and I wish to avoid ruinous war and bloodshed, which I’m sure you will agree is a worthy goal. In a few days my master will be sending his troops down from Isengard, across the Fords of the Isen, and on to Edoras. I believe you currently plan to station your army at the Fords, and oppose our progress. All we ask is that you command your forces to stand aside, and let us pass unhindered.”

Theodred was speechless for a moment at the audacity of it. Finally he found his voice. “What you ask is blackest treachery.”

“Even so. But let me tell you what I offer in return. Your own life, which I assure you will otherwise be forfeit. The life of this woman and child. Free passage for you all out of Rohan, if that is what you prefer, or alternately, a position of power in our new government. Saruman can be generous to those who serve him well. And ruthless to those who oppose him. Consider carefully which side you will give your allegiance.” He raised his hand to silence Theodred, who had opened his mouth to speak. “No, do not answer yet. First I will allow you a little time alone with your lady friend. The two of you must have much to say to each other.” He cupped Elana’s chin in his hand, turning her face up to his. She stared at him in loathing, biting her tongue to keep from spitting curses at him. “I expect you to plead my case most eloquently, my dear. Consider this. I might not choose to do you the mercy of letting you die. To my master, you were once very valuable property. He lost most of his stock in your little raid, Theodred, and he is eager to rebuild his program. You are a proven breeder, and could provide many more offspring, if I were to return you to him.” He smiled down at the horrified shock dawning in her eyes. “And your daughter – what a excellent specimen she is! Strong, healthy… why, in a few years she will reach maturity and will be able to produce many sons to be soldiers for our cause.” Elana gaped at him a moment, then as the import of his words penetrated a wild look came to her eyes and she moved to throw herself bodily at him, ignoring in her desperation the swords protecting him and the encumbering weight of Deore in her arms. Theodred’s strong arms encircled her and held her back, as Forstrang and Andgit moved to block her path. Theodred swallowed against the sickness in his throat.

Donaldo turned and made his way to the door, gesturing for Andgit and Forstrang to follow. Before he left, he looked back at them, smug triumph showing through the calm smoothness of his features. Then the door slammed shut, and the bar grated as it was dropped into place.

Elana turned in Theodred’s arms, crumpling against his strong, warm chest. Her courage had held through all the months of captivity. Knowing she must be strong to protect her daughter, she had shut her mind to the terrifying prospects of the future, holding firm to the faith that somehow, she and Theodred together would find a way out of their predicament. Now he was here at last, and the threat against them even more horrible than she had imagined. The relief of being able to at last put aside her brave façade and pour out her fear and grief overwhelmed her, and his solid strength supporting her as she sobbed was unbearably sweet. She shifted Deore to her hip and leaned her full weight on Theodred, registering even in her distraction how oddly content her child seemed.

Theodred held her, eyes closed, face pressed against her hair, refusing for the moment to consider any of what they soon must face, or the terror that threatened to rise up and consume him, clinging desperately to this one moment, savoring only the feel of her in his arms, and her rich womanly scent.

They stood thus, until Elana’s sobs died away. Theodred stroked her hair, and then eased her to the floor, seating himself beside her. Gently he took Deore from her, lifting the baby’s surprisingly heavy bulk into his own lap. While Elana scrubbed at her face with the sleeve of her dress, Theodred peered at Deore, glad to seize on any distraction. “She’s grown so much.” Deore’s lopsided mouth opened in a grin, revealing four tiny pointed teeth peeking through her gums, two on top and two on bottom. “She’s got teeth.”

Elana smiled wanly. “Yes, the first one broke through about a month ago. They’re so much sharper than normal, it was terrible for a few days until I taught her not to bite while she nursed. She drew blood a couple times, but they do learn quickly, you know, if you stop nursing every time they bite, they can’t really bite and nurse at the same time anyway, their tongue covers their teeth, so you have to watch for when they finish and pop them off before they can clamp down….” She realized she was babbling, and stopped and drew a deep breath. They both gazed for a moment at the baby, who laughed back at them, cheerfully unaware of the disaster surrounding her. Her deep, golden brown eyes gazed on them with confident trust.

Elana leaned her head on Theodred’s shoulder. “What are we going to do?”

His hand stroked her hair, then her cheek, and turned her face up toward his. “We will find a way. I don’t know how, but I will find a way to rescue you, to foil Saruman’s plan. Donaldo will have to let me out, if they want me at the head of the army, and when he does I’ll bring my men, and we’ll surround this place… but that’s no good, is it, he will have you to use against us. Then I’ll come alone, in secret, and find a way to sneak you out.”

“Surely he will have thought of that and planned against it.”

“Perhaps. He’s probably planning to take you somewhere else as soon as I leave. What if… no.” With an oath, he slammed his fist into the floor. Passing Deore back to Elana, he rose and began pacing the room. “There must be a way. I know I can find some way out of this trap!”

Elana watched as Theodred roamed the small room, entertaining and discarding ideas and plans. Her own mind sought a way out as frantically as his, but fell always into the same worn patterns it had trod over and over in her months of captivity. She could see no stratagem that Saruman and Donaldo had not already foreseen and defended against. And she feared their devious minds had long since imagined, and then blocked, myriad paths of escape that would never even occur to either of them. Theodred continued to move restlessly, talking to himself occasionally. Deore grabbed at a lock of Elana’s hair, and Elana quickly untangled her fingers before they could pull it painfully. She picked up the little rag doll she had made from where it had been discarded forgotten on the floor. It was a simple hank of yarn, tied at one end to form a head, with the trailing strands braided to form arms and legs. Elana dangled it in front of Deore, who grabbed it and stuffed one leg into her mouth. Elana laid the happily gnawing baby on the pallet, then rose and went to Theodred, where he had stopped and leaned heavily against the wall, staring vacantly into the distance.

She took his hands in hers, and looked up into his eyes. “I believe you will find a way out for us.” He returned her gaze, hungry for the hope and trust he read there. Elana quailed before what she must say next, but gathered the tattered shards of her courage around her and spoke. She tried to keep her voice steady and clear, but despite her best efforts it quavered a bit. “But if you should not…”

“No! I refuse to consider it!” He pulled his hands away and turned from her.

“But we must consider it!” She recaptured his hands, and gripped them, afraid to say what she knew she must. “If it comes to the day of battle, and Deore and I are still in their power… you cannot do what they ask.”

“No…” It was unthinkable. He pictured himself, mounted at the head of his eored, watching as troops of orcs approached, splashing through the shallow water of the fords. Would his men even obey, if he commanded them to move back, allow the enemy to pass? He knew, sickeningly, that they would. Not for long, but long enough. He had earned their trust, had built it up over years of faithful service together, and it would hold for a while. Not understanding, they would still have faith in their commander, that he planned some strategy that would bring them the victory. Not for many long moments would they suspect, as Saruman’s army passed by unopposed. Then, inevitably, the doubts would be born; the unbelieving whispers of treachery would begin, and then grow to a rumble. He could hear their voices, questioning. My lord, when may we attack? What do you plan? What answer could he make? My lord, they are passing, they will be unstoppable soon. My lord, do you betray us? He knew, with a grim pride in his men, that they would break, and throw themselves into the battle. Which of them would put the sword or arrow into Theodred’s own heart, just payment for his crime? But by then it would be too late; the Fords would be crossed, Saruman’s forces deep within their territory. His riders would be confused and leaderless, easy prey for the ravening orcs. He shook his head, violently, trying to block out the images. But Elana, and Deore, would go free. Otherwise… and even more horrible images rose up before him, their bodies broken and discarded, a bloody heap lying on the ground… or worse yet, taken by the orcs, living bodies ravaged by cruel lust… “But how can I not?”

Elana could follow his thoughts as the emotions played across his face. The same images, near enough, tormented her own mind. She tried for tones of ringing courage, but feared her voice was nearer to leaden despair. “What matters our fate, if all of Rohan falls beneath the shadow? All of Middle-Earth? Once Rohan falls, how long before Sauron reaches out from Mordor and claims all the free lands? You lay down your life every time you go into battle; how should I do less?” She pressed his hands to her heart, but her eyes faltered beneath his anguished gaze, and she squeezed them closed, bending her head. “You must stand against them, and fight. Even if it means they kill me. Or even… send me back to the orcs. Even if.…” But her tongue choked on the words, and her heart hammered. “Even if… Deore.…” She stopped, unable to say it, paralyzed by the conflict between the necessity of the sacrifice, and the power of her motherhood, the need to protect her child at all costs. In the silence she heard a cheerful gurgle, and automatically glanced over to where Deore had rolled over onto her stomach and was shakily attempting to push herself up onto hands and knees. Her arms strained, and her body wobbled up off the ground, but then her balance failed and she flopped back down. Crowing with happy laughter, she struggled up again, undaunted. All Elana’s resolve fled, her brave words dry as ashes in her throat. She shut her eyes, dizzy and nauseous. As she swayed, Theodred’s arms wrapped around her and pressed her close to his body. She clung to him, and turned upward eyes naked with grief and terror. “Please, save Deore. Somehow, I don’t care, just please… please….”

As she trailed off into silence and buried her face in his chest, Theodred heard the scrape of the bar being removed, and the door creaked opened. Donaldo entered, closely flanked by Forstrang and Andgit. Theodred faced them, arms wrapped around Elana, heart cold and dead.

Donaldo was smiling again. Anger kindled in Theodred, and he tensed with the desire to erase that smile with a fist to Donaldo’s face. But he controlled himself, and merely glared as Forstrang, sword drawn, gestured for him to follow. Tenderly, he raised Elana’s face to his and kissed her gently. “Courage, dear heart,” he whispered. Then he released her and moved ahead of Forstrang out the door, Andgit and Donaldo following behind. He glimpsed her walking stiffly over to sink down beside Deore, gathering the child in her arms, and bowing her head. Then the door swung shut behind the four of them, cutting off his view.

All were silent as his captors escorted Theodred out of the building. It was still full night, though dawn could not be many hours away. The stars glittered in the cloudless sky, and the gibbous moon gave radiance enough to see by. Theodred could see Silverfoot, who had wandered away across the plain, though not far. He grazed, waiting for his master’s summons. As Theodred watched, Silverfoot raised his head and pricked his ears toward the cluster of men.

“Call him,” Donaldo commanded. Theodred hated being so compelled to cooperate in his own captivity, but the glinting swords left him little choice. He whistled, and the mearas cantered toward him, mane and tail streaming. He took the reins, and contemplated leaping on and racing away. But an arrow could fly faster even than a mearas, and Andgit had already placed a hand on his bow. Donaldo sent Forstrang off to fetch his horse, a heavy-boned, placid beast. When Forstrang returned, Donaldo ordered Theodred to mount, then seized Silverfoot’s reins and addressed Theodred.

“I have no doubt you are full of plans to defy us, to save both the girl and your own honor. So let me tell you a few things. As soon as you and Forstrang leave, Andgit and I will remove the girl and the child to another hiding place. I have my spies, and they will keep me informed of your actions. If any alarm is raised, or any rumor begins that you seek her, Elana will suffer for it. I will not kill her, as long as you go along with our plan, but there are many other things I might do to her that would cause you… distress. Even if you were eventually to find her, there will be time for me to inflict all manner of pain. And the orc-child… think what Elana might willingly do to spare her daughter.” The prospect was so enticing that Donaldo almost hoped Theodred would defy him, and give him the excuse to lay his hands on that sweet young body. Grima had been annoyingly stubborn in his insistence that the captives be well-treated, and had not allowed Donaldo to indulge any of his whims, but should Theodred’s actions call for retaliation against the hostages, Donaldo would be more than ready to carry it out.

Theodred’s expression remained stony, but Donaldo knew his words had hit home. “Now, ride back to Edoras, get what sleep you can for the rest of the night, and in the morning ride out with your troops to the Fords. And think well on your choices.”

He released Silverfoot’s reins, and gave him a slap on the rump, stepping back adroitly to avoid the hooves that lashed out at him. The mearas would have charged breakneck across the plain, but Theodred held him back, knowing that if he pulled too far away Forstrang’s arrows would seek not his own heart, but his mount’s. Anger and fear seethed inside him, but Saruman’s plans were too well laid, and he found himself helpless to do anything but follow the prescribed course.

Donaldo watched him ride away across the plain. When he was well out of sight, he stepped back into the farmhouse and called, “He’s gone.”

From the dark room where he had waited concealed, listening to everything that was said, Grima Wormtongue came forth. He favored Donaldo with a brief smile and a nod. “Well done. I could not have asked for a more effective performance. Now we must wait and see what Theodred will do.”

Donaldo grinned, basking in the praise and gloating over the memory of Theodred’s helpless anguish. “Indeed, I must thank you for the opportunity to convey your message. The experience has been quite satisfactory.” Let that teach the arrogant lordling to tangle with Donaldo! “Surely you don’t think there’s any way the plan could fail? The wench has got a hold on him so tight, there’s no way he’ll give her up to our tender mercies.”

Grima gazed with cold disgust at the leer on Donaldo’s face. “That remains to be seen. In any case, though Theodred’s aid would help our cause greatly, we can prevail even without him. Saruman’s forces should be strong enough to overwhelm Rohan’s defenses, even with Theodred at their head. But free passage of the Fords, with no or minimal losses, would indeed please Saruman, so your night’s work is well done. Now see to moving the prisoners. It must be done by dawn.”

Grima mounted his horse, which Andgit had brought from the stables, and rode back toward Edoras. Donaldo supervised Andgit as he went about getting Elana and Deore mounted and moved to their second prepared refuge, which was simply a camp next to a stream, only a short ride away, where Grima’s men had constructed a shack sufficient to contain the prisoners. They took extra time on their journey to conceal their tracks, and arrived just as faint grey dawn light began to illuminate the mist rising from the grass. By the time Elana and Deore were secured, and had sunk into an exhausted sleep, Forstrang had returned. He, Andgit, and Donaldo settled in to guard the camp, trading watches through the day.

Grima turned over his horse at the royal stables, then returned to his quarters, and pondered for a while, pacing the little room. Eventually, he settled down at the table with pen and paper. When the full golden light of sunrise had roused the rest of the palace’s inhabitants to breakfast and their morning activities, Grima had almost finished his message. He’d given an account of all that had transpired that night. So you may expect to find your passage across the Fords unopposed. Grima stopped and tapped his quill against his cheek, thoughtfully, then set it again to the page. But if Theodred does choose to stand against you, you must spare no effort to eliminate him, for he will have proved himself incorruptible.

Grima sealed the letter and entrusted it to one of his men, to be borne with all speed to his master.





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