[personal profile] martasfic
Title: Strange Fates
Words: 2,648 + Notes
Rating: General for themes of homosexuality
Fandom: Lord of the Rings
Characters: Lothiriel, OC Rohirrim (references to Boromir/Theodred)
Betas: annmarwalk
Challenge: fanfic100 #84: he; advent 2010 series

Summary: Marrying off a son should have been the most difficult part of that evening. After the wedding, Lothiriel learns something about her other son.

******************************************

Lothíriel loved the cold. She had marveled at it her first winter in Rohan, and her wonder had not waned over the years. She still would throw her windows wide open and stand before them without shawl or cloak, breathing the frosty air just to see her breath play at cloud-making before her, for just as long as the women of the Hall would let her before they pulled her back toward the fire and tried to shut out the night air again. 'Twas never long enough for her taste.

Tonight, though, Lothíriel felt the luxury of frosty air against her cheeks, inside her chest. She loved that feeling; on most nights it reminded her of fine silk, of a gown too decadent even for an elf-queen. Strangely, though, tonight that sensation was blunted. Across the pavilion, her youngest son Déor stood beside his new bride: Salíma, daughter of the vice-regent of Near Harad. The day’s festivities, while well-orchestrated, had taken their toll. And truthfully, Lothíriel was still not sure how she felt about Salíma. She was a fine lady, as fair as any bred in Rohan and with a heart as fierce as Lothíriel’s. But Harad! To think that Dol Amroth was now joined with that ancient enemy! In the months since Déor’s and Salíma’s handfasting, Lothíriel had made her peace with this marriage, or thought she had. But now that the two were one, well, Lothíriel’s head swam with old doubts.

It swam, too, with wine. She was much nearer to being drunk than she would have normally liked fault. Fréawyn, a nice enough lady whose father owned a great horse-herd in the Eastfold, prattled on about something beside her, but Lothíriel struggled to keep track of what. There had been seven toasts offered by seven of the bride's relatives, as the two had walked seven times around the fire, and each time Lothíriel had been expected to drain her goblet. And she had. She would not risk insulting a vice-regent, nor put her Déor's future happiness at risk, to spare herself an aching head on the morn.

"Greetings, Mother, Lady Fréawyn." Lothíriel, pulled from her private thoughts, saw her son Aldric standing before them. "Mother, would you honor me with a dance?"

Fréawyn stared at Aldric for a moment, a little longer than courtesy allowed, but then she curtsied. "Excuse me, my lord." She nodded at Lothíriel and added, "My queen," before heading over toward the wine bowl. After a few steps Fréawyn stopped and looked over her shoulder at them, but then she shook her head and hurried off. Lothíriel wondered at that reaction until she remembered that half of the Eastfold pined after Aldric. Fréawyn was not yet married, nor was she blind.

Lothíriel looked meaningfully at Fréawyn, and then focused her gaze on Aldric. “I’ve seen you fence with the riders. You have the footing to be a fine dancer. Why don’t you find a partner nearer your own age?” She nudged him toward Fréawyn, but he stood his ground. Strange, that. “Elfwinë has already given our house three fine sons and a daughter besides,” she continued, “and Déor will not be long in catching up if the looks he has been exchanging with Salima all night are any indication. What of you?"

Aldric smiled indulgently and took her hand in his. "Tonight, my deepest desire is to hear my mother's laugh. So I will ask you again: Will you dance with me, dearest lady?"

Just then the musicians struck up a new song, a boisterous jig made for younger bones than hers. Lothíriel found herself too tired for merry-making at the moment. She turned to face Aldric fully and said with feigned propriety that would have seemed excessive even in Minas Tirith, "Thank you, fine lord, but no. My feet are sore enough already, and I fear for my new shoes." She laughed at that and squeezed her son's hands affectionately. "Truly, Aldric, I am too old to romp around the fire with you. But if you prefer my company to all the fine ladies vying for your eye tonight, I will walk with you."

"My lady queen disappoints me," Aldric said with mock-courtesy to match his mother's earlier tone, "but I will take what favors I am judged worthy of." Releasing her hand, Aldric offered his arm, as he had seen the noblemen do at a ball he had once attended. Lothíriel gladly took it, and the two of them walked past the sentry and around Meduseld away from the crowds.

"What did you think of that oliphaunt?" Aldric asked, grinning widely. "I have never seen anything so ridiculous!"

Lothíriel swatted at his arm playfully. "It is their custom," she said. "If they want to bring a mûmak all the way from Harad, I will not stop them." Lothíriel chuckled to herself, and Aldric looked at her quizzically. "Honestly, the sight of Déor trying not to fall off and nearly failing – that is a memory I will not soon forget."

Aldric laughed as well. "He loves her, though, and I suppose that's what matters. I don't think the priest needed to tie their hands together. Déor would not have let go all evening."

Looking over at Aldric, Lothíriel noticed a strange expression on his face. He smiled at her, as he had throughout the evening, but somehow his smile did not seem to reach his eyes. She knew that he was genuinely happy for his younger brother, but he seemed… sad. That was it. She wondered why.

Lothíriel thought back to how he had not asked Fréawyn for the dance earlier, despite her obvious infatuation with him. Come to think of it, she was hard-pressed to remember any lord's daughter that Aldric had danced with these last few years. He had been married in his youth, to Hild – Dúnhere's only daughter, and heiress to all Harrowdale. It had been a smart match for a younger son, even for the son of a king, and Aldric had seemed happy at their wedding. Looking back, though, Lothíriel remembered none of the joy she had seen today on Déor's face.

He had cried, too, when Hild had died of a fever two years later. Since then, he had clung to the beer-barrels whenever he came to the feasts and the dances. At first Lothíriel attributed his churlish ways to grief, but Hild had died four years ago, and Aldric had shown no interest in or even awareness of the ladies who had tried to flirt with him since. "You could have all this, you know," Lothíriel said after a moment. "Not the mûmak, of course, but the bride and the feast. Hild was a fine woman, and deserves remembrance. But do you truly think she would want you to waste your life mourning for her?"

Aldric's face grew serious. "I know," he said. "Mother, do you truly not – " He shook his head to himself, as if thinking better of what he had almost said.

"What is it?" Lothíriel asked. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she almost forgot to breathe. What could be bothering him so, when all Edoras seemed set on merrymaking? She curled her fingers around his forearm, careful not to betray her anxiety by grasping too hard, and rubbed her thumb along the underside of Aldric's wrist.

Aldric sighed softly. "This is heavy talk for a wedding night. But perhaps it is time." He walked over with her to a nearby bench, and they both sat down. "Mother, do you truly not know why I did not ask Fréawyn to dance? Why I have become so expert at avoiding dance partners and romantic rides along the Snowbourn?"

Lothíriel thought back to that evening's festivities. While she had seen Aldric shy away from many a dance partner, he had seemed comfortable enough with the Riders of the Eastmark. She saw, as flashes, what her mind had never put together until just now: hands that lingered on each other a little too long, a blush she could not attribute solely to the ale, and, above all, eyes that shone more in the company of handsome men than in that of even the most sought-after women. She remembered how her cousin Boromir had once looked that way at another prince of Rohan, and she remembered, too, the rumors Éowyn had shared with her at Elessar's wedding so long ago. They had loved each other, Boromir and Théodred, but such a love as theirs could not be openly acknowledged.

She looked at her son, then. She was too drunk to hide behind the stoic mask she often wore, but for the moment she was glad of that. Now was not the time to hide herself away. Aldric's eyes were wet with unshed tears, and when he saw that she understood, he pulled her into a tighter embrace than he had in years. She felt him shake against her as he once had, long ago when the healers had set his leg after a bad fall, and she held the man as closely as she had once held that child.

After a moment Aldric let her go and they both sat in silence, looking at each other. Lothíriel was glad for the bench's back as she leaned against it, allowing the last few minutes' revelations to sink in. So her son was a lover of men. That would have been a minor scandal in Gondor, but in Rohan it was not so bad as he seemed to think. Or was that it? She was no ogre, and the stories about Théodred were no great secret; she could hardly imagine that Aldric would not have heard them at some point. Such love was tolerated in Rohan, if not celebrated; that alone was not enough to reduce her war-hardened son to tears.

“Aldric…” She hesitated for a moment. She was not sure that she wanted yet another shock tonight. But no. This was her son. “Aldric, what else is there? You are not telling me something.”

He closed his eyes as if steeling himself for some great battle. “It is Hild,” he said at least. “Was Hild. I loved her as a friend, respected her wit and courage, and was ready enough to make a life with her. But I failed her in the worst way.” He swallowed nervously but pressed on as quickly as he could. “I have been drawn to other men in a way I was never drawn to women, since first I thought about such things. But I had never tried to bed a woman before Hild. Of course not. I am no rogue, and I would not steal a woman’s virginity if I had no intention of making a life with her.”

Lothíriel ran her fingers tenderly along his ear. “There were other ways to test how deep your preference ran. Easier ways than marriage. I know many a widow who would – “

“No,” Aldric reminded her. “You misunderstand me. I did not marry Hild for my sake, to prove myself or change something. I married her for you, and for Father, and for Rohan, and – “

“We never asked – “ Lothíriel said.

“There was no need. I have heard often enough what the women of Meduseld said, when I as a boy. They expected a fine crop of sons from you, and then the same from each of us. The House of Eorl is worn thin, and Aunt Éowyn’s children will be counted as sons of Gondor. I had to at least try, and while I did not love Hild as a husband ought to, I liked her as a friend. And Dunharrow is a beautiful place, and so near to Aldburg – ‘twas a fine land to make a life in. I thought I could do my duty. I thought – “ He blushed beet red and turned away, unable to meet his mother’s eyes. “On that first night I could not bed her, nor after, no matter how hard I tried. My wife died childless, a virgin even. And her death, even that is at my feet. When the fever came she did not cling to me as she should have been able to. She died because I had given her no reason to live.”

“Ai, Aldric!” Lothíriel pulled him toward her, and then she grasped his chin, forcing him to face her. “Listen to me. I have some training in medicine. Fevers come from tiny animals – more like dust, viruses we called them in Gondor. They are carried on the backs of bugs and rats, or blown about by the wind like pollen. You die because you breathe them in, or drink foul water, or something of that sort.” She tilted his head until their eyes met, so there was no doubting her sincerity. “They do not know courage or worth, or anything like that.” She reached down and took his hand in hers, before finishing, “You did not do this.”

Aldric nodded weakly. Lothíriel pulled him closer still, and he collapsed against her, laying his head against her breast. For a long time Lothíriel patted his head in silence. At last she spoke again. “I am sorry for Hild, and sorrier still for you, Aldric. I wish you would have told me all this four years ago. Why didn’t you? Did you speak of this to anyone until now?”

Aldric nodded his head against her chest. “I did. Father.” Lothíriel felt her eyes grow wide at that. She would have a word with Éomer later – keeping such a secret from her! “But don’t be mad at him, Mother,” Aldric added quickly. “I made him promise not to tell, or I wouldn’t have spoken with him.” He sat up a little, though he still half leaned against her. “I was… I could not lose you. Uncle Boromir could never tell his father, and you were born into that same world. I could not risk losing you then, and later, well, my heart was only just healing. I could not bring myself to seek out more heartache.”

Lothíriel kissed the crown of his head, as she had when her children were still young enough to allow her that affection. She was glad that Aldric had found someone to confide in, at least, even if it had not been her. And she would be scared of the old stories of Denethor, if she had not known him. She was not Denethor, but grief could blunt the wisest man’s judgment. There would be time enough to talk of all this later. Now she guessed Aldric did not need her words, nor her judgment.

Wrapping her arms around him, she pulled him close against her, until his ear was almost against her lips. “Eorl has enough heirs,” she said gently. “Elfwinë and Déor will see to that. But I have only one you, and I could not bear it if any secrets drove us apart.”

Lothíriel kept the questions out of her voice, though she longed to ask them. Secretly she did not understand how a man could love another man that way, and she knew that Rohan had need of all the sons she could get. She knew the joys of childbearing, the power in that creation – more intimate than any other craft or conquest she knew. And it pained her a little that Aldric would never know that joy, that he had been doomed for this strange fate. Was he sure, was there any way, had he thought of…?

He squeezed her hand, and nuzzled his head under her chin. Lothíriel, for her part, set those thoughts aside, for tonight at least. Perhaps he was not the man she had thought, but what did that matter, truly? He was her son, her only Aldric, and that bond was dear indeed.
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