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11
Cousins

The background information about various Rohirric Clans and Houses is from an online RPG that is, sadly, gone now. And yes, Madenn is a canon character – sort of. “Kinswoman” could have such a wide interpretation. You are free to guess her true identity. :o))


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CHAPTER 11 – COUSINS

Herumor found his cousin high up in the keep, on one of the galleries that belonged to the ladies’ wing. Madenn had her own chambers there, next to the ones of Achren and those of her father’s wife – whoever that might be at any given time – and in safe distance from the chambers of her resolute grandmother. ‘Twas a wing where men were usually not allowed, but Herumor was family, and this no-one tried to keep him away from his kin.

Madenn was leaning on the railing, still clad in her best garment – the one she had put on for Théodred’s sake – and was staring at something well beyond the eyesight of Men. Herumor doubted that she actually was seeing anything; ‘twas simply a means to distract herself from the here and now.

She was still aware enough of her surroundings to notice Herumor’s tentative approach, though, for she turned to him at the very moment he stepped out onto the gallery – and smiled. ‘Twas a pale smile but a honest one; although they had not met too often in their childhood, there had always been great love between the two of them, like between brother and sister. ‘Twas thanks to Madenn and Achren that Herumor had not suffered too much from being an only child.

“Cousin,” she greeted him in that low, lovely voice of hers; and Herumor hugged her instinctively.

“How do you feel?” he asked gently. Madenn shrugged.

“I am well enough,” she answered simply. “We knew this day will come; I just did not expect it to come this soon. The King of Rohan must be desperate to see his only son wedded and bedded at the earliest possible time. Or else Lord Erkenbrand is desperate to become kin to the royal House. Perchance the Westfold is being bothered by the Dunlendings again and he needs support from Edoras.”

“One would think Erkenbrand’s House must have some Dunlending blood, too,” said Herumor thoughtfully. “There are not many Rohirrim with dark hair and dark eyes.”

“That might be so,” agreed Madenn. “There have been times when the two people mingled with each other, or so I am told. And the traits are well visible in Clan Ethias.”

“’Tis strange that Théoden-king would choose a wife for his son from a House that has intermingled with Dunlendings,” said Herumor, a little surprised.

Madenn shrugged again, apparently not bothered by that, and why should she?

“Not all people are as obsessed with bloodlines as the Dúnedain are,” she answered primly; in any other realm, her illegitimate origins would have been of little importance, and she was very aware of that. “Lord Erkenbrand controls the Hornburg, which is the most formidable fortress not in Rohan only but in all the southern lands. His House is as ancient as the Men of the Mark reckon it, reaching far back to Frumgar, father of Fram the Dragon-slayer, at a time when the Rohirrim still dwelt in the far North. For he is a descendant of Holdred Anlaf, one of the greatest heroes of Rohirric legends. And the Lady Aud is certainly noble, brave and beautiful. She would be a worthy Queen of the Mark.”

Herumor nodded, for all this was certainly true, and his respect for Madenn, who had discussed the advantages of Théodred’s upcoming marriage in such a calm, even manner as if she had no interest in the whole affair at all, went up several notches. If not for her origins, Madenn would have made a worthy wife for the Prince as well. She might not be a shieldmaiden, yet she was every bit as noble and brave as the Lady Aud; in Herumor’s eyes even more so. One needed to be a brave soul to give up on a beloved one with such dignity.

“No regrets?” he asked. Madenn shook her golden head.

“None,” she replied. “Save perhaps that I was not allowed to give him a child. We discussed it… but he was right. It would have caused trouble in time – the succession on the throne must not become a struggle for power between his sons. And had his firstborn be born by me, it could have led to such struggle. I accepted that… and the fact that I shall have no children.”

“Why not?” asked Herumor, understandably confused. “Surely, you can marry in time, if you go away from Carvossonn far enough, where people know not about your… acquaintance with the Prince of Rohan. You are still young enough to have a family on your own – and beautiful enough to find a decent husband.”

But Madenn shook her head again.

“Nay,” she said. “I do not wish to have any other man, no matter what a decent husband he might make. My mother could never take any other husband, either, although she was sent away from here barely a year after my birth. It seems I take after her.”

“I wonder how old Lady Achren endured her presence even that long,” Herumor admitted. “She is not a woman who would understand – or forgive – such indiscretions from her son. Even if her son is the Lord of Lossarnach… or perchance even for that reason.”

“She had to,” said Madenn, “for the Lady Riwanon, Father’s first wife, was barren, and I was his only child at that time. And a sickly child I was who needed her mother’s care. I would not have survived with just a wet nurse.”

“You never spoke of your mother before,” said Herumor. “Who was she? Is she still alive? Have you met her again, in all these years?”

“She was a young healer who worked in the Infirmary when Father met her,” answered Madenn. “He was already married to the Lady Riwanon – a bitter, unpleasant, unkind woman as I heard, who hated music and merriness and the hunt and would never sing or dance. Grandmother’s choice, ‘tis said, for she was of Dúnadan blood, and Grandmother always wanted to secure the blood of Westernesse, thin and weak in her own veins, for her grandchildren. Father was unhappy with that wretch, and when he fell in love with Mother, he gave her a little house next to the Infirmary, and that was where they met, hidden from Grandmother’s eyes – or so they thought.”

“But why did she have to leave town?” Herumor wondered. “She could have stayed there, in that house, could she not?”

“’Twas Grandmother’s doing again, I deem,” replied Madenn grimly. “She went out of her way to get Father wedded again, after the Lady Riwanon died from the dry fever. She saw Mother as an obstacle, thus she nagged Father as long as he agreed to send Mother away and wed the Lady Gildis, Achren’s mother.”

“Where did your mother go?” asked Herumor.

“Back to her people In Imloth Melui,” said Madenn. “Close enough to me so that I could go and see her a few times. After Achren’s birth, I was of no importance any longer, and Grandmother ceased to care about what I was doing.”

“How fortunate for you,” commented Herumor dryly. “I still do think that Uncle Forlong loves you very much, though.”

“He does,” Madenn agreed with a fond smile; apparently, the feeling between father and daughter was mutual. “But he cannot bear the nagging of his mother for too long. Do you truly believe he wanted to wed the Lady Almaren? He was happy and content with his new mistress – and even careful enough not to sire another bastard – but Grandmother just could not leave him alone.”

“Uncle has a mistress?” Herumor was just a bit shocked. He knew the old Folk saw such things… differently, but he had been raised in the stern traditions of an ancient Númenórean family and could not always accept the customs of his mother’s people.

Madenn laughed. “Not now; the Lady Almaren would never bear that. But he had one, between his second and third wife, and I daresay she made him a lot happier than Almaren ever could, despite having born him the long-awaited son. At least Tynellas loved and respected him, which Almaren does not. For her, we are all unhewn barbarians, and I think she misses her own people – and all that Southron prunk the folk of Pelargir is so fond of – very much. This is not the kind of life she was used to – and she never fails to make it abundantly clear.”

“But this is the kind of life you are used to,” said Herumor. “What will you do, now that Théodred will have to leave you?”

“Going on with my life; what else?” answered Madenn simply. “He was never truly mine – this match has been bargained over by the King and Lord Erkenbrand for years. We had two years full of love and bliss – ‘tis more than many people can ever hope to get.”

“You can always move to Halabor if life gets too hard for you here,” offered Herumor. “Father would take you in like his own daughter, you know that. You are family – and Halabor is far enough from here for people not to know about you anything.”

“I know,” Madenn nodded,” and I thank you – and your father – for the generous offer from the bottom of my heart. But you need not to worry about me. I am not some fragile flower of Westernesse. I am that daughter of a hard-working common woman and quite capable of working hard myself, if I have to. And I am a trained healer – I can earn my own living if need must be.”

“Is that what you have in mind?” asked Herumor. “To take up your mother’s trade and work in the Infirmary?”

“Not yet,” Madenn shook her head. “I am not good enough for that right now. Nor do I wish to stay here, in Father’s town, where everyone knows me. I shall go to Imloth Melui, to learn some more herb lore and leech-craft – and to be with Mother, at last.”

“Are you planning to go very soon?” asked Herumor, saddened by the thought that they might never see each other again. Halabor was a long way from Carvossonn indeed, and the lovely vale of Imloth Melui was even further away. “You will still be here when I get knighted, will you not?”

“Of course I will,” Madenn smiled at him in a sisterly manner. “I cannot leave right now in any case; not ere Achren has found a way out of this house… safely and in a way that matches her rank and status.”

Herumor’s ears perked up at that, his thick brows drawing together in a heavy frown.

“What do you mean safely?” he asked in concern. “I cannot believe that Uncle would ever allow anything to happen to any one of his children.”

“He certainly would not,” Madenn agreed, “nor do I want to assume that his newest wife would dare to do us – any of us – bodily harm, even though you can hear strange things about the noblewomen of Pelargir who are way too familiar with Southron poisons. But she will do anything in her power to have us out of her way – or the way of her son. I have no love for Grandmother, for she is a hard and difficult woman, but right now, she is the one holding a hand over Achren and me.”

“I cannot believe it,” Herumor shook his head fervently. “Uncle would always protect you, always!”

“He would protect us from any peril he can see,” said Madenn gravely. “But he is an honest, straightforward man. He could never imagine the intrigues plotted in the women’s wing. ‘Tis hard to fight an opponent you cannot see… whom you not even know to exist. So nay, I cannot leave just yet; not as long as Achren is still here. We depend on each other; we need each other.”

“I understand that,” said Herumor after a lengthy pause. “I still do believe, though, that you should come to Halabor, once you have finished your training as a healer. Our Infirmary has been without a healer for many years. ‘Tis small and not as fancy as yours, but it is full of sick and ailing people who are in need. You could live on your own among us, if that is what you truly want.”

“Nay, cousin,” Madenn smiled at him gently and kissed him on the cheek. “I still would be a kinswoman of your father. Not that that would not be an honour… it is, and your father is the most honourable man I have ever known aside from mine. But I have finally understood that my place is not with the nobles, the ones like Father, no matter how dearly I do love him. I need to stand on my own two feet as mother does; to leave the riches that never truly belonged to me behind.”

“That will be a long and arduous journey,” Herumor warned her.

“I know,” she replied with a faint smile, “but I have all the time in the world. I need not to hurry anywhere – as I have nothing left to wait for.”

Herumor gave her a somewhat alarmed look.

“You truly love him so much?” he asked. “Even now, after he has to leave you for the good of his own people?”

Madenn nodded soberly, her face peaceful and solemn.

“He is – he was – everything I could hope for. No-one else would do. As I said, you need not to worry about me, cousin. I am a woman of the Old Folk and we are strong. I shall have a full life, whatever may come, for I shall always have my memories.”

“But nothing else,” reminded her Herumor sadly.

She laughed, though there was suppressed pain in her deep, bright blue eyes.

“’Tis more than many women have,” she replied simply.

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