Gríma had come to terms with being alone years before. Or at least he thought he had. But that was before he had been required to watch the woman he loved marry a man he despised.
His hatred of Éomund had begun when they were barely more than boys, not long after they had met on the first day of training to become Riders. Éomund had thrived with such menial, physical training, of course, while Gríma had been removed from the training early and sent to serve as an apprentice to the Thengel King's scribe. A small, dark haired boy who had no experience with even wooden practice swords was an easy target the ridicule of a young man raised to be a warrior, and his friends. Though Éomund had since been named Third Marshal of the Mark, and had earned the respect and praise of all, Gríma knew the man was completely unworthy of a princess. He was likely to care more about his horse than his wife, but Théoden was blind to his flaws, and had not headed any of Gríma 's attempts to present himself as a more worthy husband.
So Gríma had sat beside the king during the wedding, smiling, while his heart burned with fury in his chest.
As soon as he was able to make his excuses, he had found some minor issue in the Westfold that required attention and used it to make his escape from the festivities and celebrations. In truth it could easily have been handled by a lower member of the council, or even a captain from Théoden's éored, but Gríma made it seem more pressing than it was, and Théoden let him go with words of praise for showing such concern for the people of the Mark.
He had returned a month later, and to all appearances was his normal self. He still listened attentively at council meetings, and offered his thoughts as before. Still shared meals with the few men whose conversation he found tolerable. He even still smiled when speaking to Théoden, hiding how he now loathed the man that he had once admired, and had considered his closest friend.
It was only when he was in his private chamber, with the door securely barred, that he allowed himself to feel the pain and anger that raged in him. His pillows and mattress could not speak of the abuse they suffered. And if the servants who tended to his quarters ever wondered at the number of times his water pitcher or washing basin had to be replaced after being broken, no one ever dared to question him about it.
In time Théodwyn had born children, of course. The first was born too early, but scarcely a year later she had a healthy son, then a daughter some four years after that. Théoden visited Aldburg whenever he could, but Gríma never even considered accompanying him, using his status of chief adviser to remain in Edoras in the king's absence. To see her would be torment, even if she was happy and content. She was meant to be his, would have been his if Théoden had given him his due, and he could not bring himself to face the evidence of how another man had defiled her.
As the years passed, the mask of normalcy became easier to wear, more natural, until there were days when even he forgot that he was putting on an act of living.
On the day that word came that Éomund was dead, the display of grief from the king and the rest of the council sickened him. Fortunately, Théoden and Théodred immediately rode to Aldburg to be with Théodwyn and her children. Gríma , of course, was asked to see to the running of Edoras for the time that the king was away, and he used the counselors' emotional state as an excuse to cancel their meeting for the afternoon, and took to his chambers before any saw that he alone rejoiced at the news.
His rival, his tormentor, was gone! There was hope again that she might someday be his. He could endure the children if only he had her.
It was less than two months later that word came of how she had fallen to the coughing fever that had run rampant through the population of Aldburg.
Whatever light was left in his soul was extinguished, and his heart became a dark, dead thing in his chest. There was no joy left for him in the world, though he made a point of always attending all the expected feasts and celebrations. Food no longer had any flavor in his mouth, and no amount of drink could make him forget. At night, she haunted his dreams, and each morning he tucked the pain of his memories away, and covered them with the mask of normalcy he had worn for long.
Théoden seemed to believe that by having her children near he had a part of her as well, but Gríma knew this was false. She was lost. Lost forever. And she would never be his.
Years passed, and he saw her son often enough as he grew and started to train with the Riders, which included participating in the rituals and ceremonies that entailed. He was the very image of his father. Darker of hair, perhaps, but with the same eyes. Once the coltishness and awkwardness of puberty had passed, it was clear he would have the same build, too, and the same skill with both weapons and horses.
The girl he saw more rarely, except for feasts and ceremonies. Gangly, her hair wild and uncombed, sporting cuts and bruises as often as not, he saw little resemblance to her mother. Once her brother was sent to the Westfold to serve in his cousin's eored, she was seen even more rarely.
Four years passed, and when Théoden announced that his niece was going to start attending to the council as part of her training Gríma thought little of it.
Then the king had beckoned Éowyn forward, and she had stepped into the light.
For a moment time stopped. He forgot to breathe. He forgot that she had died years before, taking his heart to the grave with her. Théodwyn stood before him again, smiling her endearingly uneven smile, her eyes shining and bright with innocence and youth.
A spark of life flared in his heart, and the shock of it, the pain of feeling emotion again, made him gasp aloud.
The spark ignited a blaze of desire, and it burned through his veins like a wild fire across a dry field, and he was unable to do anything but stare at her.
It took some time for the differences to become apparent; Éowyn's hair was much lighter in color than Théodwyn's had been, her sparkling eyes were grey instead of blue, her womanly curves were more subtle, her shoulders broader. She was nearly the image of her mother, but her father had left his mark as well, damn him.
Gradually, Gríma became aware that there were others around him; his fellow counselors, the king... Glancing about him quickly, he saw that they were all still busy applauding their welcome to the king's niece. Only one man was looking at him instead of Éowyn. Théodred's piercing gaze and hard expression made it all to clear that the younger man had seen. And knew.
Well, he was only one man, even if he was the crown prince. Easy enough to deal with him, should he dare to say anything to his father.
This time… this time she would be his!