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54. Truths Revealed
“I’m charmed. A pleasure to meet you. Thank you, yes a very pleasant trip. Thank you, it belonged to my mother-in-law. Indeed, the quality were something else back in the day! Yes indeed. Yes. Yes. And I must compliment Your Grace on your marvellous robe, it goes really well with your fair complexion. Oh, Your Grace is too modest! Quite unpretentious!” Mother’s sharp voice drowned all nearby conversations as she monopolized the Elvenking. “Oh they are, are they not, I’m so glad you were pleased with them! Yes, Sire, we bred them for generations. Outstanding. Finest Meara breed!”
“Meara breed?” interrupted King Éomer. “Who claims to breed Mearas?”
“We do,” said Wynne, surprised the king would not remember, as he had even bought some of them before.
“Mearas cannot be bred like any simple horses. And even if they could, they would only allow a Rohirric king ride them.” Éomer frowned at her. He was quite intimidating when he was annoyed, every inch a warrior, and not at all looking like a king.
Wynne flinched and took a step backwards. “But I thought–”
“Well, I never said they were only Mearas.” Mother’s cheeks were slightly pink.
“Yes, you did. That’s exactly what you said!” Wynne gaped at her, feeling the world as she knew it shatter to pieces. Her Vatna, and Stelpa and the others… not Mearas! She had deluded her friends all this time. How mortifying! Her face burned, and she did not know where to look.
“Well there is a large… well moderately large part of Meara in them. And they are very fine. Even you said so, Your Grace.” She turned back to the Elvenking, all simpers and smiles again. His features were neutral as usual, but there was a certain quirk to his eyebrows that made Wynne certain he did not take such deception lightly.
“Yes, they are very fine,” he acknowledged, and then instantly turned away to speak with Éowyn, leaving Mother to open and close her mouth a few times in surprise.
“Mother, shall we go and explore the city with Father?” Wynne took her arm. “You can show me where you used to live.” She needed to get her mother away from here as soon as possible, before things got even worse, and she wanted herself out as well. She could not endure this embarrassing situation a minute longer.
“Oh. Well I guess…”
Wynne felt Legolas’ eyes on her as they left, and hoped he was not too disappointed. She would speak with him later and explain. Surely he and his father must realize she had not known about it?
Sightseeing in Minas Tirith proved to be a lot nicer than Wynne had anticipated. Mother was in a good mood, and talked incessantly of how agreeable King Thranduil had been, and how handsome he was, and his son too. She also knew a lot about the city and spoke of its history, and how it had looked when she was young. The new gates built by the dwarves were not quite to her liking, however.
“The old ones were more genuine, you know, I don’t hold with these modern designs.”
Mother’s old home was located in a back street in the city’s first level, but she refused to go near, she just pointed it out somewhat vaguely.
“One of those doors, I’m not even sure which anymore. This is no nice part of the city. Let’s go back. I will show you the fountain outside the Old Guesthouse.”
After the tour, Mother was tired and wanted to rest before supper. Meanwhiles, Wynne and her father went to the stables to check on the horses.
“They are in good shape.” Father scratched Vatna between her ears. “You have groomed them well.”
“Father, why didn’t you tell me? I’ve always thought they were real Mearas.”
He did not reply, just silently moved on to the next loose box, where Hlaupari calmly munched on a tuft of hay. Her father often did that; avoided an uncomfortable question or situation by walking away from it. It was rather frustrating. Would her life up till now have been different, if her father had stood up against her mother? Taking her side, supporting her against Mother’s whims? Would she have been spared the mortification of being sent against her will on a mission to seduce an elf king?
Well, now in retrospect, she did not regret that part of Mother’s scheming. Being sent away had been good for her, she had needed leaving home, she had just not been aware of it at the time.
Before supper, Mother again had Wynne change clothes, this time into a blue dress that looked like it came straight from a brothel. What would her friends think of her? But as usual, Mother waved away all complaints.
“Males are weak, showing a little skin will always do the trick”.
As they entered the Great Hall of Feasts, she gave Wynne some last minute instructions. “You must be careful how you look when you eat. Take small, slow bites. Anything you can do to draw attention to your mouth is good.”
But Mother had not needed bother, the royal elves would not see Wynne take small bites. They were seated according to rank, and her family were placed far down from the head table. It had Mother almost throw a fit.
“Outrageous! Has Aragorn forgotten we are related? And I helped him with horses to his quest and everything.”
Luckily she had said it in an angry hiss, and Wynne did not think anyone else heard. Well, Galion, Nodir and Bronedir might have, their table was nearby, but if so, they politely pretended not to.
After they had eaten, there was music, and the guests began to mingle. Mother took the opportunity to reestablish their House’s importance, and with a reluctant husband and daughter in tow, she approached the Gondor king.
“Dear cousin, we are enchanted to finally meet you in person!” Her curtsey was very elegant. Wynne tried not to wince at the informal approach, but Aragorn inclined his head slightly in reply, wearing his ever-present, polite smile.
“We heard you and king Éomer have been working hard in the former Marshes and Ithilien, doing much good work restoring them. My daughter here described how beautiful Osgiliath has become.”
“You may not know this, but my mother-in-law – that’s your cousin Arbes…”
“Third cousin,” Wynne corrected.
“...used to live in Arnor with the rangers, before she married Lord Örn. She speaks very warmly of her homeland, and laments what has become of it. Our House can help finance the restoration of Fornost.”
Aragorn’s eyebrows rose in surprise. “I have considered rebuilding Fornost,” he admitted.
“Yes I know.” Mother smiled. How did she find out about these things? Had she planted spies in the court? “And if you need more horses, we are always happy to oblige.”
A movement caught Wynne’s attention. Legolas was walking by, seemingly innocently, but when he saw she had noticed him he beckoned his head in a follow-me gesture.
Wynne glanced at her mother, who was still discussing city rebuilding with Aragorn, and silently sneaked after the elf. He led her to a far corner of the Hall, where they were partly hidden by a statue of a swordsman.
“Finally,” he said, and looked around him before planting a small peck on her cheek.
“Aren’t you angry with me for deceiving you?” Wynne could not meet his eyes.
“About the horses!”
“Oh, I knew that. I met a Meara once, Shadowfax, the one Gandalf rode. There is really no comparison.”
“You knew? Why didn’t you say?” Wynne gasped.
“I figured it did not matter. They were good horses, and if my father had thought you were trying to deceive him he would have refused to let you come. And then we would have no rides, and it would take forever to scout the Brown Lands.” He grinned. “At least, that was what I told myself at the time.” He stole another quick kiss. “In retrospect, I think I was quite taken with you already, and just wanted you to join us.”
A pang of guilt hit Wynne. She had deceived them – just not about the horses. In that instant she knew she had to tell him about Mother’s plan. No more secrets, no more lies.
“Legolas, about that… My mother… the reason she sent me along...“ She hesitated, clenching her moist hands, her heartbeat increasing. This was it. The moment of truth. “Mother wished me to… attract…” But she could not continue. It felt even cheaper, more shameful when she said it out loud.
“A husband?” suggested Legolas. Surprisingly, he sounded quite neutral. Wynne met his gaze. He did not look angry, or disappointed.
“Yes… I should have said before. I’m so sorry, I–”
“Nay… Nay, Wynne, no need to be sorry.” He pressed her hand earnestly. “If she wants you to marry one of our company, is that not good news? I had been worried your family might object to the match, even if my father agrees.”
Wynne was speechless. She wished she could fall into his arms, hug him hard and kiss him, really kiss him, but of course that was impossible in a room full of the king’s guests. How could he not be furious with her after learning the truth?
“Was it she who took out your braids?” He touched her pearl hairnet.
“And she selected the dresses you have worn today? Much as I enjoy seeing you in them, the way they make the men here look at you... Hm. I do not like it.”
"It is not your fault. But... if she still wants you to attract that kind of attention, it must mean you have not yet told her of us?"
“No… I couldn’t, she would ruin everything with her meddling. Run to Thranduil and start plan the wedding directly.”
“Father can handle a human woman, I am sure.”
“What if he refuses?”
“I do not think he will, he is beginning to understand my feelings for you. Yesterday night, he told about my mother for the first time. They had a bad relationship in the beginning, because they married hastily, without love. Father did not tell any details, only that they loved each other eventually, but that was why it took so long until I was born.”
“This explains a lot, actually.”
“Aye. But I am not him, I know my heart, and it definitely belongs to you.”
“And mine to you.”
They probably looked very silly, just gazing into one another’s eyes for quite some time.
“You think I should tell Mother then?” Wynne said at last.
“Aye. I long to be allowed to court you officially.”
Mother was overjoyed when her daughter told of her attachment to the prince. Wynne firmly pressed the fact that Thranduil was yet to agree to it, and that Mother must not do anything hasty.
“Of course not, I will act quite according to protocol in this matter. Your father and I shall approach the king with a formal request, and offer a suitable dowry, naturally.” She was almost dancing around the room with excitement. “Oh, this will be wonderful, Wynne, you shall have such beautiful children. I shall be forever coming over to your palace and see the little darlings, and of course they shall spend every summer with their Grandmama – that will be me, you know – and I shall often have my daughter and her new family over for visits as well. How charming it shall be, elves in my house, oh the parties we shall have! Our neighbours will be green of jealousy when they are introduced to the elf king himself! My relative!”
“Mother! He will never agree to that. It’s bad enough that I’m neither royalty, nor an elf, and he would certainly not want his subjects to know about my family.”
“Unheard of! He can’t deny his son’s mother-in-law to see her daughter and grandchildren, or have them come visit her.”
“But he will. You should be happy if he accepts me coming there!” Wynne’s stomach churned. This was exactly what she had been afraid of, that Mother would let her plans run away with her too far, too soon.
“Well, if he refuses, I shall bring it up with my king. You know how influential our House is, he will listen to our complaints. I’m sure King Thranduil would not want bad relations with Rohan. It could even cause a war, if worse came to worse.”
A war? No, that could not be possible… King Éomer would surely never go to war over a noblewoman’s claim to her grandchildren. Or would he? Was Wynne’s family really that powerful? Either way, it must not happen. If Thranduil felt forced to comply, he would hate it, and that would be a horrible way to start a life as his daughter-in-law.
Again it struck Wynne how cheap and ugly all this scheming was. Mother only wished to take advantage of the situation, she did not care if her daughter was happy or not, and as for wishing to see her future grandchildren, Wynne knew that was an excuse as well. For the first time, Mother’s behavior angered her. It was not right to use the elves like this. They were her friends!
“If King Thranduil agrees to the marriage, Legolas and I shall live with him. We will not visit you often, and you will not visit us often. This is my life, my marriage – not yours.” Wynne tried to speak calmly, resolutely, and control her upwelling annoyance.
Mother stared at her daughter in surprise, and two telltale crimson spots appeared on her cheeks. Her hand darted out to strike, hard. Wynne could not hold back a cry when the side of her head exploded in pain.
“How dare you! I willed this, I made this journey possible. You will not oppose me!” She talked between clenched teeth, her voice distorted with rage.
Wynne straightened her back and looked Mother squarely in the eyes, conveying all her resentment and indignation into that stare. For the first time, her mother’s white-hot fury did not make her knees weak and her fingers tremble. For the first time, the pain did not intimidate her. Instead she felt her own anger grow.
Without a word, Wynne turned on the spot and stormed out, almost colliding with someone in the corridor.
“You come back here right now, or–” Mother abruptly broke off, and changed to a completely different voice. “Why, good evening, Your Grace! And goodnight Wynne, dear, sleep well and we shall talk more about this tomorrow.” She quickly shut the door.
Thranduil looked baffled, but then his eyes filled with concern. He reached out to touch Wynne’s throbbing cheek. “What happened?”
“I accidentally walked into the door. It’s nothing.” Wynne tried to smile, and calm the raging storm inside her.
“I see.” It was clear he did not believe that, and she felt him looking after her when she hurried back to her room. How much of her argument with Mother had he heard?
Oh, what a disaster! Mother would ruin it all. And if Thranduil against all odds agreed to the courtship, she would keep meddling, corrupt Wynne’s marriage and use her future grandchildren as hostages. It would never work.
Wynne could not hold back her tears as she flopped down on her bed.
Things never go quite as planned, do they...
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