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Trust To Hope, Book Two

Chapter 6: Of Trials and Troths...

by Novedhelion

Title: Trust to Hope Book Two
Author: Novedhelion
Beta: Riya
Rating: PG 13
Warning: Another villian you’ll love to hate.


“Will you each share the burdens of the other?”
Marriage vows of Éomer and Anhuil

Rohan
24 Gwaeron, 3020 F.A.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Éomer was already in the council chamber when Gamling arrived, alone. “Good morning, Gamling,” he said cheerfully. “Where are the others?”

“I thought it prudent that the matter this morning be discussed in private,” Gamling informed him, standing in the doorway.

The expression that Gamling wore did not bode well for an early morning meeting. “What is it, Gamling? Is something wrong?”

“There is someone here to see you, Éomer.”

The king’s eyebrows went up. “Oh?”

The older man sighed. “I know of no way to make this any easier, except to let you talk to him yourself.”

As Éomer’s expression darkened, he opened the door all the way. Lord Abrecan entered, his mouth set in a thin line, followed by a woman. Éomer knew her immediately.

The lord from Aldburg bowed humbly. “Your Majesty. It has been some time.”

“A few months since you shared your hospitality with me and my bride, for which I am still grateful,” Éomer returned. “What matter brings you all the way from Aldburg?”

“My lord,” he began, hesitatingly. “I am not certain how to approach this, but I thought the matter best dealt with before it became a scandal. I have oft warned her from her behavior, and now it seems--”

“A scandal?”

Taking a deep breath, the older man glanced at the woman behind him, who stepped forward and pushed her hood back. “Your Majesty,” she greeted him quietly with a slight curtsey.

“Lady Willa,” Éomer said, forcibly polite, his stomach tightening slightly at the smug smile she wore.

Willa looked over her shoulder at her uncle. “Willa is with child, Your Majesty,” Abrecan said simply.

Éomer’s puzzled expression only deepened as his eyes fell on the very obvious rounded belly beneath the dress of the woman standing in front of him. He averted them quickly.

“I was not aware you had married, Lady Willa. Congratulations to you and your husband.”

“She has not married,” Abrecan answered. “Not yet. That is part of why I have brought her here to talk with you.”

“I do not understand. What has this to do with me?”

Willa’s blue eyes met his briefly, her gaze dropping to the floor. Lord Abrecan cocked his head, his eyes meeting Éomer’s. Furrowing his brow, the king looked from Abrecan to Gamling, whose expression remained unreadable, and back to Willa, the realization of their accusation becoming suddenly clear.

“You believe this to be MY child?” he asked incredulously.

Willa’s mouth dropped open. “You dare deny it?” she asked indignantly.

“My Lord,” Abrecan said, stepping in.

“No.” Éomer’s tone was adamant. “This is not my child. How dare you even--“

“Were you so sauced that you do not remember? It meant so little to you?” Willa’s blue eyes brimmed with tears. The king wondered what had become of the brazen woman who had flirted with him so shamelessly, making sure her hands brushed his when she handed him a pint of ale, and he was certain the brush of her breast against his arm as she passed was not due to the crowded condition of the feast hall.

He narrowed his eyes at her. “Do not remember what?”

The blue eyes turned to ice. “The night you spent with me, at my uncle’s estate, Your Majesty,” she spat out sarcastically.

“I did no such thing,” Éomer stated. “I awoke in my own bed, alone. I may have had a bit too much to drink but I believe I would remember such an encounter, had I been sober enough to accomplish it!”

“You awoke alone because I dressed and left before sunrise, to avoid the gossips,” she spat back. “I even left a token for you. Did you not find a yellow flower under your pillow when you woke?”

Éomer’s gut suddenly felt as if he had been ripped open. Rent in two and filled with ice. The flower. He had found it crumpled under his pillow that morning. And Willa’s behavior upon his departure...he had thought it simply odd at the time, but now...

“No,” he said softly. “No, this could not have happened.” His eyes met Gamling’s, and Éomer felt yet another twist of pain at the disappointment he saw in them. “This cannot be...I would not...”

“Your Majesty, you are not the first man to fall prey to her charms,” Abrecan admitted, eyeing his niece with a measure of disdain. “Willa is certainly no innocent. It just happens that this time, the consequences were far greater than a sore back or an angry wife.”

Wife. The word hit the king like an Uruk-hai ballista in the gut. His knees threatened to give way.

He stood staring in shock at the woman in front of him, scrambling desperately for an answer that made sense.

“What are your intentions, Your Majesty?” Abrecan asked pointedly.

“My intentions?” Éomer looked at him blankly.

“This child is an heir to the throne of the Mark. Surely you do not intend to put Willa aside.”

Éomer sank into a chair, leaning his elbow on his knee and dropping his head into his hand as Abrecan continued. “I am sorry, Your Majesty, but this matter needs to be addressed.”

The king looked up. “Lord Abrecan, I have spoken vows to another. Surely you do not expect me to put HER aside? You admit yourself she is no innocent, and from her behavior that evening, I would venture I am not the first man to--“

“What exactly are you accusing me of, Your Majesty? I am no common tavern whore!”

Shock had turned to anger now, and Éomer lowered his voice deliberately. “No, but your uncle himself has admitted to me that you have a tendency to collect lovers like some collect stones. How am I to be sure this is not the child of another man?”

Willa bristled at the insinuation. “Do you not think I know with whom I have been?”

“I am merely suggesting that if what your uncle says is true, perhaps it is a possibility that another man sired this child.”

The ice blue eyes blazed back at him. “Men and your double standards. It is perfectly acceptable for you to have more than one lover before you marry, but we women are supposed to keep our virtue intact until the day one of you graces us with a marriage proposal. Just because I chose not to deny myself what men clearly do not does not make me a harlot, Your Majesty. I pick and choose my lovers carefully, though I suppose all of us are entitled to an occasional error in judgment.” Éomer let the insult slide, clenching his jaw tightly. Willa ran a hand slowly over the swell of her belly. “This is YOUR child, Éomer. YOUR heir.”

Éomer’s mind reeled. He had been over that night in Aldburg so many times in his head he had convinced himself it had not happened as he had feared, and yet here she stood, swelling with evidence that it had. Errors in judgment indeed.

He drew in a deep breath, expelling it slowly as he turned away from Willa. “Lord Abrecan, surely you can understand my need for some time to decide the best course of action.”

The old man nodded, and Éomer turned to Willa. “Lady Willa, we will talk more at a later time about the events of that evening. The two of you will stay as my guest until this matter is sorted. Do you require a maid to assist you?”

Willa smiled the charming smile he remembered from the night at the feast hall. “No, my lord. I have brought my own loyal maid with me, if you will but provide a place for her.”

“Consider it done.” He turned to Gamling. “Gamling, will you please see these guests to comfortable quarters?”

Gamling nodded his agreement, opening the door to usher them out. Willa turned to look back at Éomer over her shoulder, casting him a smug grin which the king could not help but construe as self-satisfied. He did not return the smile.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Returning a short time later, Gamling pushed open the heavy door with Éothain close behind. Éomer sat in the chair, leaning his elbows on the rectangular wooden table, face buried in his hands. The two older men walked quietly into the room, moving toward their king.

“Éomer?” Éothain spoke first. “The queen is looking for you.”

The king did not look up, but swallowed hard. “She will be looking for a way back to Dol Amroth shortly,” he answered sarcastically.

Éothain took a seat next to Éomer at the table. “Is what Lady Willa says true?”

Leaning back in his chair, the king sighed heavily. “I do not know, Éothain. That is the problem. You were there. Tell me, was I so deep in the cup that I cannot recall bedding her?” He shook his head. “I have been drunk many times, but never so much that I have forgotten the favors of a woman.”

“I do not recall you being in such a state,” Éothain agreed.

“Nor do I,” Gamling agreed. “But you did not deny finding the token she claimed to have left.”

Closing his eyes, Éomer shook his head. “That is because I cannot. It was there, under the pillow, as she claims.” The other two men sat silently, exchanging glances. “I swear, I recall none of it. I only awoke to find myself alone, unclothed, and my head feeling as if it had been split in two.”

“That does not bode well, Éomer,” Gamling noted.

The king breathed out a sigh, pinching the bridge of his nose. His chest clenched so tightly he could barely breathe.

“What am I going to tell Ani?”

~~~~~~~~~~

Anhuil stood by the window of their shared chamber, her gaze falling across the fields beyond the walls of the city. As beautiful as the view was, the new growth of spring just barely beginning to come alive in the grasses and trees, she didn’t see it. Tears still blurred her vision. The pain in her chest had not subsided, piercing the soft flesh as surely as a dagger.

Éomer’s words still rang in her head.

“...a woman who claims to be with child...my child...”

Another woman. It was not impossible, surely not unheard of. He had been, after all, an unattached man, and she had to admit a very handsome one. She knew that women found him appealing, and that she was not the first woman he’d taken to bed.

Anhuil was also realistic enough to understand that he had been lonely. Her betrothal to Fenwick had still been between them at that time. Who could blame him for taking a little solace in the arms of a warm, willing woman, particularly one as beautiful as Willa?

The thought brought a fresh onslaught of tears. Rational or not, it ripped her to shreds. Knowing he’d had other lovers before her was pain enough, but the thought of another woman bearing Éomer’s child tore at her gut. She wanted to share the joys of bringing a child into the world, the thrill of watching a toddler take his first steps, of watching their child grow into a strong, beautiful person who would be the product of the love they shared. Watch as their son became a man, their daughter a woman.

Now she was relegated to sitting on the sidelines as another woman raised his first born, the heir to Rohan’s throne.

She had asked him to leave her alone, and he had simply nodded and acquiesced to her request. Anhuil needed time to think. To grieve. Wiping at her eyes with the back of her hand, she suddenly, desperately missed Cam. There were no women she could talk to, or lean on, here in Edoras. The courtiers were polite, but the proper distance maintained. She was, after all, queen.

And right now, she’d have given anything for a female shoulder to cry on.

Shoving herself away from the window, she sat down at her desk and picked up her quill. She’d send a missive to Dol Amroth.

~~~~~~~~~~~~

Éomer sat in his study. A fading fire was dying in the hearth, but he hadn’t the strength or inclination to get up and tend it. He stared at the amber liquid in the cup he held, debating. Éowyn was right about one thing. It didn’t help. It may dull the pain for a while, even make him forget temporarily, but it didn’t help.

Frustrated, he flung the glass into the hearth. Even the shattering of glass and the sudden burst of flame against stone did nothing to ease the guilt or the gut-wrenching fear. Even now, he thought, she was probably packing her things.

Closing his eyes, he leaned his elbows on the desk and rubbed his fingers across his forehead, the visions of Ani’s face, her expression, playing over and over in his mind. The shock, the sheer hurt that had registered, those beautiful green eyes welling up with tears...he’d sooner have walked through the fires of Mordor barefoot than caused her that kind of pain.

If only she had screamed at him. Thrown things. He would have dealt much better if she had just shown some of that temper he knew was there. Instead, she’d simply stared blankly, then calmly asked him to leave her alone. The ache clawed at his insides like a rabid animal.

He’d betrayed her. He’d betrayed the promise he’d made to her.

He’d deserve every minute of misery if she left.

But gods, he couldn’t stand the thought of it. He would rather die than consider life without her again.

The bottle containing the rest of the whiskey caught his eye. He narrowed his eyes at it, then dropped his head to the desk without touching it. After the pain he’d caused Ani, he was not about to give himself an escape.

The knock on the door made him jump. “Yes?” he called, surprised at the huskiness of his own voice.

“Her Majesty wishes to see you,” the voice replied.

Éomer’s heart slammed to a stop.

“Tell her I am coming,” he answered when he finally found his voice.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Willing his jellied knees to stand firm, he stared out the window and braced himself for whatever decision she had made. Terror didn’t begin to describe the emotions rioting inside. “I can have a party ready to escort you back to Dol Amroth by morning, if you wish.” Éomer’s deep voice was barely audible. He could not bring himself to look into her eyes, those beautiful, swollen, red-rimmed eyes, and see the disgust he knew would be there.

Anhuil stood by the hearth, staring into the fire. Her voice was soft, quiet. “You expect me to leave you? After all we have been through? Do you think me so shallow?”

Éomer gripped the windowsill. “I am only saying I would not blame you if you did.”

Taking a steadying breath, Anhuil stepped toward him. “Éomer.” He turned to face her but did not meet her gaze. “Look at me, Éomer.” He did so, his dark eyes locking on her emerald green. His insides twisted into a painful knot, his arms aching to wrap around her and comfort her. But he didn’t dare touch her. He hadn’t the right.

“I want to ask you something, and I want you to answer me honestly.”

“I have never lied to you, Ani. I do not intend to start now.”

With a nod, she took a deep breath and released it slowly, determined to hold back the tears that stung her eyes. “When you met this woman, did you desire her?”

Taken slightly aback by the question, he shook his head. “No,” he answered honestly. “I told her quite plainly that my heart belonged to another. Since I laid eyes on you, Ani, you are the only woman I have desired.”

Anhuil lifted her chin slightly. “Yet she pursued you.”

He nodded. “She brought me a drink.”

“How much did you drink?”

“I honestly do not remember. Even Éothain said he could not recall me finishing more than a tankard or two.” He shrugged. “The next thing I knew I awoke in my bed, alone.” He held her gaze, the pain in her eyes belying her calm demeanor.

“Did you bed her, Éomer?”

The blunt question jolted him, but he answered honestly. “She was very...attentive,” he explained. “I did not want her, Ani. I told her so, as politely as a man can say these things. All I could think about was seeing you again in Minas Tirith. Having you back in my arms.” He paused, gathering his thoughts. “But the honest truth is I cannot remember what happened that night. I cannot say I did not, Ani. I wish I could, but I will not lie to you.”

“Why have you never spoken of this before?”

He’d been dreading that question. “Éowyn said--“

“Éowyn knew of this?”

“Yes,” he admitted. “I talked to her the following day. She told me if I did not know what had happened, I should not assume the worst. It was her thinking that if I had done such a thing I would remember it.”

Anhuil regarded him silently for what seemed to him like an eternity. “I believe you,” she stated simply.

Éomer slowly let out a breath he hadn’t realized he was holding, but did not move a muscle.

“But that does not change the fact that there is a woman who claims you to be the father of the child she is carrying. A child who as your first born, will be heir to the throne of the Mark. A child whose life is now intricately tied with yours, regardless of how you feel about its mother.”

Éomer looked away. Anhuil moved toward him, but stopped a pace away. “If indeed this child is yours, you cannot turn her out.”

“Ani, I married you. Even if you were to leave me, I would not marry Willa. I do not love her. If her child is mine, then I will give the child his due, but I will not marry her. I spoke vows to you, and I intend to keep them.”

“I am not leaving you. You are not the only one who spoke vows, Éomer. I did not marry you only to run at the first sign of discord. If this child is yours, then we will see to it being properly raised as heir to the throne of the Mark.”

“There will be gossip.”

One dark eyebrow quirked up a bit. “I would be surprised if there was not. You were not married to me when this happened. Our people are perceptive, and they will form their own opinions.”

He looked down at the woman beside him. Our people, she had said. Resplendent in her deep green velvet gown trimmed in gold, her dark hair falling over her squared shoulders, she stood straight, meeting his look steadily. “Our people love you,” he assured her.

“I do not care, so long as you do.” One small tear managed to escape, and he wiped it away with his thumb.

“Most women would have already packed their trunk.”

“I am not most women,” she remarked, “but that does not mean I am not upset. I am angry, I am hurt, and I am confused. I am not, however, unreasonable.”

“I do not deserve you.”

She smiled weakly. “No, you do not. But you are stuck with me nonetheless.”

“I love you, Ani.” His voice shook, but it seemed appropriate, considering his hands were shaking as well.

Anhuil slipped her small hand into his. “We have a feast to attend.”

“Are you sure? No one would blame you if you--“

“Perhaps not,” she interrupted, “but I believe it is in the best interest of our people to see us as a united front. I do not wish to give the gossip mongers any more fodder. I am not unaccustomed to handing whispers and slanted looks, Éomer. And I am far from fragile.”

“I have noticed this,” he said, squeezing her hand lightly. “But I do not want to put you through any more than I already have.”

Anhuil squared her shoulders, lifted her chin. “Our guests are waiting.”

~~~~~~~~~~

The feast was a lively event, as celebrations of the Éotheod were wont to be. Anhuil was touched by their warm welcome as well as their greetings in the tongue of Gondor, their laughing with her as she stumbled over the words of greeting in the language of the Mark. Overall she was beginning to feel very much at home in her husband’s hall, despite the tension that hung between them over the still unresolved issue with Willa.

Late into the evening, Anhuil spotted her. Her flaxen hair spilled straight over her shoulders like silk, her blue eyes watching the revelry of the crowd with a certain introspective interest, as if filing the information away for later use. Beside her was an older man whom Anhuil recognized as her uncle.

Willa looked up, her gaze meeting dark emerald eyes of the queen. A hint of a smile crossed Willa’s lips as the queen turned away, not wishing to draw attention to the situation. Casting her gaze downward momentarily to regain her composure, she jumped when Éomer laid a hand on her arm.

“Ani?” She raised her face and smiled placidly. “What is it, love? You look pale.”

“I just need a bit of air. Excuse me,” she said, rising from her seat.

He stood beside her. “Let me walk with you,” he offered.

“No...no...please...you have guests. Please, Éomer. I will only be a moment.” Their eyes met, his brow furrowing. “I promise I will be right back.”

Without waiting for an answer, she smiled weakly at him and quickly exited the hall through the door to one side of the dais.

Coming around a corner she heard voices and stopped suddenly, leaning against the wall.

“I cannot believe that,” one was saying. “I mean, I’m sure the lad has had his share of the wenches but...”

“Tis true,” the other voice said conspiratorially. “But some will say tis all the better that an heir to the throne come through a line from the Mark and not of Gondor.”

“That is absurd,” the first voice argued. “I do not care if she is the niece of a lord, she is not his wife and that bastard child should not sit on the throne!”

“That child is the firstborn, the rightful heir. Ye can’t be blaming the child for the fact that its father was a rake.”

“And none of you should be gabbing about any of it, if you ask me,” another voice piped in.

Anhuil’s breath caught in her throat as she choked back a sob. The sound made the women turn, the two gossipers blushing furiously at the sight of their queen standing in the hallway, hand over her mouth, her eyes wide.

“See now, what you’ve done?” the third woman said knowingly. “You ladies need to mind your own!”

She continued her rant, but Anhuil didn’t hear it. Turning on her heel, bolted for the nearest escape, and found herself outside Meduseld, on a side terrace. Not knowing where else to go, she plopped down on the top step and dropped her head into her lap.

Her own sobs covered the sound of the door opening behind her, of the footsteps on stone. When the soft arms wrapped around her, Anhuil allowed herself to be held, and cried against the breast of a woman whose name she didn’t know.

Warm hands soothed her, stroking her hair. When she had cried herself out, the woman offered her a handkerchief.

“I am so sorry,” Anhuil said, sniffling. “I --“

“No apologies, Your Majesty,” the woman interrupted, squeezing the hand she still held. “I should say you deserve a good cry.”

“I thought I was finished crying,” Anhuil told her, forcing a mirthless laugh.

The woman lifted her Anhuil’s chin with her fingers. “When you love a man, you are never done crying. Trust me.”

“Elbereth,” the queen muttered, blowing out a long breath. “I am sorry. I do not even know your name, and here I am drenching your gown with my tears.”

The other woman smiled. “The men of the house of Éorl sometimes have that effect on a girl,” she said knowingly, still holding the queen’s hand. “I am Isolde.”

Anhuil studied the other woman. Dark, straight hair that fell like black silk down her back, a broad, beautiful smile. Pale eyes, blue, perhaps, she thought. Honest eyes. She returned the smile as best she could. “Isolde...that is beautiful.”

The woman smiled. “It means beautiful.”

“You were aptly named.” They exchanged smiles again.

“I like you, Your Majesty. I admit there was a time I was just a bit jealous of you, but I like you.”

“Jealous of me?” Anhuil couldn’t grasp someone as beautiful as the woman beside her ever being jealous. “And please, call me Anhuil.”

“Your husband loves you,” Isolde told her. “I have never seen a man so taken with a woman before in my life. He told me--“

“Told you?”

Isolde chuckled. “It is a long story. Éomer and I are friends, nothing more,” she assured her. “For what it is worth, I do not believe for one minute that your husband fathered that child.”

Anhuil’s brows furrowed. “I do not understand. How can you be so certain?”

“I attended the dinners at Edoras. I saw women throw themselves at him, and he never wavered. He made it quite clear that his heart belonged to only one.” Isolde’s blue eyes captured Anhuil’s. “I do not believe Éomer bedded that woman. What do you feel, in your heart, Anhuil?”

The slow, deep breath helped her sort the thoughts. She had been over and over her answer to that question a hundred times, and always came up with the same one. “I do not believe it, either.”

Isolde’s wide grin spread again. “Then you hold to that, Ani. He calls you Ani?” Anhuil nodded as Isolde closed her eyes briefly, remembering the smoldering kiss Éomer had given her in his sleep, calling her Ani. “Trust me. He loves you more than life itself. He did not betray you then, and he never will. The truth will come out.”

“Thank you, Isolde. You do not know how lonely I have been, not having another woman to speak to. I hope we can be friends.”

“We are friends, Ani.”

Anhuil fell into the older woman’s arms again, hugging her tightly. Isolde drew her back and looked into her eyes. “You are exhausted, Anhuil. Go to bed.”

“But Éomer--“

“I will tell him. You need rest.” She stood and helped the queen to her feet.

Anhuil squeezed the hand holding hers tightly. “Thank you, Isolde. For your shoulder and your candor.”

“Both are at your disposal, Your Majesty,” she answered with a wide smile and an exaggerated curtsey. “I will speak with you more tomorrow. Right now, rest, and know that your husband loves you.”

Anhuil nodded. Reluctantly releasing the woman’s comforting hand, she made her way back to her own bedchamber.

Isolde watched the door fall shut behind the young queen. Slowly descending the steps to the lower level of the terrace, she turned to look out over the fields beyond the city wall. It could have been hers, she knew, the throne of the Mark. And knowing it made it that much clearer to her that she had made the right decision in her refusal to marry Théodred.

But knowing she had been right didn’t stop her from missing the man she had loved so deeply. A single tear slipped down her cheek as she wrapped her arms around herself against the chill of the early spring evening.

She was still staring into the distance when the sudden warmth of a cloak being draped over her shoulders startled her. “You should not be out here without a cloak, Isolde.”

Her head jerked up, around, to see Éomer standing beside her. “Your Majesty...”

Éomer rolled his eyes. “Éomer, Isolde. Please. What are you doing out here?”

Isolde looked up at him. He’d understand, she knew. “Missing Théodred,” she said honestly, wiping the tear from her cheek.

“I miss him too,” Éomer said softly. “I will never forget how he took me under his wing when I came here. I was only eleven, and he was a grown man, already twenty-four. No one would have blamed him if he had been too busy to spend time with a scrawny, eleven year old orphaned boy with a foul attitude, but he did. Théoden was a father to me. Patient and understanding, but Théodred was the brother I needed.”

Éomer chuckled at the memory. “There were times I was so angry with him. Théodred channeled that fury into a warrior’s skills. Now I see that his ruthless training was his way of making a miserable young boy who could have brooded his life away into a man.”

“He loved you, and Éowyn, very much. He was so proud of you.”

Éomer swallowed hard, realizing he’d never really taken the time to grieve his cousin’s death. “I wanted so much to be like him.”

“You are,” Isolde told him. “You are very much like him, and your uncle. You are all strong, honorable men. Brave men, but with tender hearts.” She smiled up at him. “Speaking of which, you should go to your wife. She was rather distraught earlier. We had a lovely talk, and she is in your chambers now, I imagine.”

Éomer’s chest clenched tightly again. ”Ani talked to you?”

Isolde chuckled. “Éomer, you can rest assured I did not tell her of the circumstances of our meeting. I simply told her I was a friend. She cried on my shoulder a while, we talked about men, and gossip. I told her I was jealous of her. I am not sure she believed me. Regardless, I find her completely adorable, endearing, and so sweetly unaware of herself it makes me want to cry.” Those pale, water-blue eyes looked up, rimmed slightly with tears. “The two of you have something very rare, Éomer. Go to her. She needs you now.”

He hesitated. “I do not know if I should. I feel...unworthy, I suppose. I feel as if I have no right to touch her now.”

Isolde rolled her eyes heavenward. “For the love of Béma, Éomer. Men are such dolts. What do you think she will feel if you refuse to touch her now? Do you think she is going to see that as you not feeling worthy? I will tell you what she will think. She will think that perhaps this other woman was, and still is, somehow more desirable than she is. Do not let her think you no longer want her. If you avoid her now you are only adding insult to injury.”

“What if she does not want me? What if she refuses to share her bed with me now?”

“Ah,” Isolde said, nodding. “That is a chance you will have to take, Éomer. Go to her. Make love to your wife. She needs you right now.”

He felt himself relax slightly for the first time in days. “Thank you, Isolde. For your friendship. To Ani and to me.”

Isolde shook back her long, silky hair in a dismissive gesture. “It is what I have to give. Now, take your cloak and go to your wife, Your Majesty. There are times when a woman needs to cry in the arms of another woman, but there are also times she needs a man’s arms around her. I’ve done my part.” She took off the cloak and handed it to him. “The rest is up to you.”

Éomer bent, kissing her lightly on the cheek. “Théodred was a fortunate man.”

“So are you,” she grinned. “Go.”

“Going.” He turned quickly and took the steps two at a time.

Isolde smiled to herself, wandering down the path toward the gates of the city. She often did, at night, to slip out in the dark and sit beside the barrows. Her beloved Théodred would have been very proud of the man that his cousin had become.

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Of Trials and Troths...
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