By Kielle (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Disclaimer: All are Tolkien's. Obviously. Ask to archive, and please don't make me beg for feedback -- it's not pretty.
Author's Note: No, I am not freaking obsessed with Eomer...okay, yes, I am, but this time I swear it's not my fault. It's Eric "Falstaff" Gratton's. He dumped a whole litter of plotbunnies in my lap last night. This vicious little beast fought its way to the top and latched onto my throat and WOULD NOT LET GO. The eventual idea is to form a Fellowship that A) logically replaces Merry and Pippin with...well, not telling yet, and B) to avoid the breaking of the Fellowship at Rauros.
And yes, Boromir did pass through that part of Middle-Earth before he reached Rivendell. I'm merely expounding on the idea, with a little tweak or two. It was a challenge, after all. I can't resist a challenge.
"Are you sure of this?"
"Of course I'm sure. I know what I saw."
Boromir clasped his wrist behind his back and resisted the temptation to assist. There was not much he could do. In a proper library, like the one back in Minas Tirith, scrolls and books were shelved in some semblance of order. This was no library -- this was a forgotten side-room haphazardly stacked shoulder-high with dusty parchments, some of which looked as if they'd been used to line a goat's pen.
Still, from the glimpses he caught over his host's shoulder, some of those worn documents were rare ancient treasures indeed. Maps of places he'd never heard of, endless sagas in a language he could not read...
He briefly pondered taking them back to the White City to be properly preserved, but then he snorted at this fancy. To be thinking of rescuing books when he was on a quest to protect his people's very existence! It was a thought more suited to his brother. Faramir was the more scholarly of Denethor's two sons. He might have been able to read those beautiful flowing poems...
"I believe I have found it." Eomer emerged triumphantly from the stacks, shaking dust from his long blond plaits and brandishing a particularly ill-weathered roll of parchment. He pushed past Boromir and carefully spread his catch out on a small table under the lantern they'd brought -- this room was dim and windowless, near the heart of the Golden Hall. No one ever came here, and right now that was in their favor.
Boromir peered down at the yellowed parchment and whistled between his teeth. The map was strange, but it was marked in his own tongue. He recognized mountains and rivers, and there was Gondor, but there was no Osgiliath and only the most cursory of labels where Minas Tirith should have been...
"Minas Anor," he breathed. "This is a find indeed." He leaned down to trace his finger and his scrutiny to the north. Where modern maps bore a simple faded "Arnor" (or even merely "the Lost Kingdom") across an unmarked wasteland, this one was an intricate quilt of borders, towns, and trade routes. "This is truly ancient. How did it fall into Rohirric hands?"
Eomer shot him an affronted "We're not entirely barbarians" look. "Our forefathers hailed from the northlands," he replied. "You should know this. We traded horses and ironwork and leathercraft to Isildur's kin, long ago."
"Hmm." Boromir rubbed his beard absently, still scanning the map with a hesitant gloved finger. "Yet I do not see..."
"Here." Eomer's hand brushed his aside to tap a barren stretch of land in Rhudaur, near the double birthplace of the Bruinen River. Enthralled, the Steward's son peered closer. There was a rune there, very faint, and not in the same clear script as the rest of the map. As if someone had jotted a note in charcoal many generations before he or even his ancient namesake had been born...
"Is that it? Is it there?" he asked, unable to keep the excitement from his voice. "How do you know...?"
The horseman laughed, not at him but with amusement. "Your people may rely on tomes and ink, but we men of the Mark learn our history in rhyme and saga. There are tales older than this map still sung on long rides! There is knowledge hidden in the depths of our 'simple folktales,' man of Gondor. When you first spoke to me of your quest three days ago, I recalled a fragment that never made sense to me before."
Boromir blinked when the Rider blithely lifted his voice in song as if they were both far away under bright endless skies. His sure tenor filled the small stone chamber with words obviously translated in haste but still weighed with meaning:
Ealdhelm, lost in an old man's last dream of beauty
Sought the undimmed light of elvensong in the lap of the murmuring mountains
But found only empty silence before the moon-chased gates
Where once gold and gems had gleamed amid hearths and holly
And smiths' hammers rang out to defy the darkness.
The warrior rode homeward, towards the snows of his father's land,
And abandoned all hope of beholding the children of starlight
In a land where only the gods' secondborn now held sway.
Once his heart dreamed of unearthly music, laughter like golden bells
Deep in the dell of two waters' laughter, deep in the heart of the earth
But there was no path to be found among the rocks
And a voice in the rushing river promised only death.
Eomer took a deep breath and resumed his normal speaking voice. "While you supped and rested, I sought among the elders of Edoras until I found a woman who recalled the age of this saga. All that remained for you and I was to locate a map of that time, marked in an area that roughly matched the landmarks and directions described in this edda. And so..." The Rider turned a questioning gaze on his guest.
"North from old Eregion, in the cleft between two rivers' roots...your words bear the ring of truth." Boromir nodded slowly, grey eyes alight. "If this so, Gondor is in your debt. As am I."
These northerners are a strange and surprising folk, he thought, and not for the first time since he'd fallen into their company three days ago on the southern border. Their taste for epic poetry, for example, was at startling odds with their general inability to read or write! However, in difference there was sometimes wisdom and strength. Though he'd known Eomer son of Eomund for only three days, this was a man he would gladly trust to guard his back in battle or his mug in a tavern.
Eomer was refolding the map, his hands surprisingly deft with the fragile parchment. He hunted until he found a hard leather travelling roll, and slipped the map inside. "I must ask that you return this, though I admit my demand is more in hopes of a leisurely visit when your quest is complete than from any fear that an old scrap of paper shall be missed."
He tilted his head curiously as he offered the map-case to his guest. "Are you certain you do not wish to tell me more of your plans? We have scarce met before, you and I, but surely you know that you can trust a son of the house of Eorl to keep your counsel close..."
"I will do my best to return your family's rightful property, but if my quest goes awry then my word is for naught." Boromir accepted the map, his eyes shuttered and hard. "As for my quest itself...I would not burden you with what may only amount to dreams and wishful thinking. You have welcomed me with open arms and met my strange request with open hands, and I cannot ask more of you."
"Oh, but you shall have more," Eomer said cheerfully as he caught up the lantern and strode out into the corridor. Boromir tightened his grip on the precious map and followed. He had to lengthen his stride to keep up with the tall Rider, another strangeness -- in Gondor, men usually hastened to match his stride. "For one, you shall have a horse. That poor beast you rode onto our green plains shall remain here to regain his strength. You may reclaim him when your task is complete."
Boromir sighed softly. "And still you persist in anticipating my return from this fool's errand, here at the end of days. Are all men of Rohan so light-hearted to laugh in the face of doom? Or are your plains yet miraculously untouched by the taint of Mordor?"
Eomer cast a hard glance back over his shoulder, not breaking stride as he led the way down through the back passages of Meduseld. "Perhaps Gondor no longer cares to notice her allies' troubles, but we of the Mark are besieged from both east and west. We hold firm. We trust in hope. And we shall continue to do so. One may laugh in the dark just as well as in the light...and be all the more welcome for it."
"An...admirable philosophy," Boromir said gravely, avoiding the prickly subject of Rohan/Gondor relations. "I wish I could say that same for my people, but the darkness has lain coiled too close about our throats for too long. We cannot wait for hope. We must find it for ourselves. I must find it."
"Which is why you ride to Imladris, seeking the elves' counsel...and word of Isildur's Bane."
Boromir stopped dead, boots crunching in strewn straw. They'd arrived at the stables -- Eomer kept walking as if his comment been of little import, ducking into a stall to affectionately pat a well-groomed bay mare.
At last the Steward's son found his voice. He discarded the obvious "How did you know" and, after a moment's thought, rumbled, "Another poem, horselord?"
"Aye. Do you think my people are ignorant of your ancestors' great deeds before the Black Gate?" Eomer cinched a saddle into place then regarded him mildly across the horse's back. "Sauron is the foe of all Middle-Earth, not just of the heirs of Elendil. Your kin died defending our homes and children as well as their own.
"So. You say that you must find Imladris, mythical refuge of the elvenfolk, clinging to this one last desperate chance to wrest your city from Sauron's grasp. Any child knows that Sauron's power was stricken from his grasp by Isildur's sword two thousand years ago. Whatever this power was, it is lost and gone. Mere legend, perhaps. Yet you speak of chasing dreams...and if Isildur's Bane is real, perhaps the elves would know, for certainly no mortal being does.
"I will not lie to you, Boromir: I do not hold with seeking the elves' advice. They are not in league with the Enemy, this much all men know...yet they are a bitter cruel folk, beautiful yet deadly, dark and devious in their own way. And they care less than nothing for humanfolk. You may indeed be riding to a lonely end, riddled with arrows before you can draw breath to speak your plea.
"There may be no Imladris. There may be no Isildur's Bane. But if this is a fool's errand, it is a noble one, and I will not stay you."
He tossed a bridle to Boromir, light-bitted and intricately tooled with brass adornments in the plainsriders' fashion. Too conflicted to reply, Boromir welcomed the distraction. He focused upon acquainting himself with his new mount, conscious that she was a gift of high esteem. He did not usually prefer mares, but she was tall and sturdy and had an uncannily intelligent light in her gaze. She snuffled his offered hands thoughtfully for a long moment, then lipped a mouthful of his hair and patiently allowed him to finish strapping tack and travel gear into place.
Eomer, it seemed, was not blessed with such an easy task. This became a source of great hilarity once Boromir realized what was happening in the stall opposite. Something large squealed and hooves drummed against wood -- Eomer shouted something sternly in his own tongue -- then a great iron-grey stallion plunged out into the corridor, puffing and prancing and hauling the big Rider bodily by the reins.
Grimly, Eomer shortened his grip and hauled the animal's head down to growl directly into its ear. Boromir couldn't understand a word, but the stallion obviously did. He tossed his mane in proud defiance and pawed the air, almost jerking the reins from Eomer's fist, but then settled back onto all four hooves and posed as primly as a well-bred filly.
"Soh, Firefoot. Behave yourself, you great stupid stack of orc-chops." Eomer rolled his eyes at Boromir, whose mouth was contorting with the struggle to remain straight-faced. "Ah...he's a true friend and a terror on the battlefield, but he does not take kindly to being mewed up in a stall while there are goblins on the borders and mares on the near plains."
"So I see. Shall you require any assistance? Or should we switch steeds?"
Eomer glared good-humoredly. "Smokechaser is gentle enough for a child to ride, which is why I chose her for you. I would hate to have to explain to your father how his cherished heir met a messy end beneath steel-shod hooves in a lowly stable. But...here. Hold."
Boromir gingerly accepted the stallion's reins. However, whether it was his master's word (most likely involving threats of belated castration) or the pretty bay mare arching her neck at him over the Gondorian's shoulder, Firefoot suffered himself to be padded, cinched, and packed with--
Boromir's eyes narrowed. "Eomer."
"Yesh?" The Rider's reply was muffled because he was tightening a bedroll strap with his teeth.
"You have been away from your own duties for far too long already. I can find the Gap of Rohan on my own -- I have been there before, and it is visible from the very gates of Edoras. You need not escort me."
"I know this."
A frown clouded Boromir's brow as his host continued to load the stallion with enough gear to last a fortnight, rather than an easy two-days' ride to the western border. "Eomer..." he said again, his voice laden with warning.
The Rider did not reply; he merely finished with a playful slap on Firefoot's dappled haunch and reclaimed his reins, leading the way toward the open stable doors. Outside the sun was clear and hot in an vast blue sky; winter was coming, and the banner-whipping wind from the mountains was chill with the promise of snow, but the plains were still beautiful with the last fading greens of summer.
Boromir's suspicion was confirmed when Eomer swung into the saddle, settled himself amidst weaponry and roadgear, and announced with merriment dancing in his hazel eyes, "If we leave now, we can pass the southmost spur of the Gap in broad daylight tomorrow. Saruman is not to be trusted, but he is not yet so bold. The foul things that fester in the shadows of Orthanc do not molest travellers under the sun."
"You cannot be serious." The Gondorian stood his ground, his borrowed mare nuzzling curiously at his shoulder. "You cannot abandon your post--"
"What post? The borders are hard and war is lowering, true, but it is not upon us yet...and even the most dedicated soldier may request a furlough when a lull presents itself. I have already spoken my case to my cousin and placed my second in command and kissed my sister farewell. I shall return soon -- my ancestral home will still stand one month hence, I daresay."
"Your cousin...you spoke to Theodred? Your uncle does not know...?!" Boromir was aghast. "Eomer, in my city we call this desertion!"
"Desertion? Hardly. My uncle is ill...he does not have the strength nor the clarity to decide the individual lives of his soldiers. Sister-son or no, I am a fighting man of the Mark, and thus it is Theodred's decision as Second Marshal to grant my request. Which he did gladly. My cousin has been hounding me to take leave of my duties while I still can. An oft-used sword loses its edge, as they say.
"Now! No more argument. As a mark of my house's bond to yours, I shall accompany you to the vale of the Half-Elven, should it exist. And if it does not, which I am inclined to believe, I shall escort you safely home again." Eomer's eyes darkened as he gazed down at Boromir's stubborn expression. "Never let it be said that this son of the house of Eorl has forgotten our first lord's oath to Cirion. You have my sword, Steward-to-be."
Boromir groaned, but he set his foot into the near stirrup and heaved himself aloft. Smokechaser whickered and shook her thick black mane, eager to fly across the plains of her birth once more. "So you have foolishly set your mind upon this, and perhaps staked your honor herein as well? I do not have to accept your fealty."
"Do you think to leave me behind? I would very much enjoy your attempt to outride me." Eomer chuckled. "You fret too much! I say there is little the two of us cannot outride or outfight, and it has been long since I rode out without a captain's responsibilities weighing my shoulders."
Boromir instantly bridled with outrage. "You would use my quest as a, a camping trip?! This is no holiday, no boys' outing! I ride to find salvation for my people!"
Unruffled, his blond comrade leaned forward with a creak of tooled leather and clapped him on the arm. "Aye. I have not forgotten that. But remember: laughter in dark places, my friend. If there be death at the end of the road, let us enjoy the sunlight along the way.
"And the sunlight is fleeting. If we are to pass Dunharrow by nightfall, let us ride! Forth!"
With that, Eomer clapped his heels to Firefoot's sides and pealed a crowing war-whoop. The stallion shot forward like a bolt from a crossbow, grey tail bannering on the mountain wind as he galloped for the gates.
For a moment Boromir sat frozen, reins forgotten in his hand, exasperation warring with astonishment in his heart. Has the boy no sense? Are these northmen all addled by the summer heat?!
...and why am I finding myself so entertained by this madness...?
A sudden twitch at the corner of his mouth spilled into an uncontrollable smile. Then, for the first time in many weeks, Denethor's grim heir broke into a great riotous roar of laughter.
And the bay mare went whirling after the grey stallion, to fly mountainward across the great plains in search of hope.
I ride singing in the sun, unafraid of darkness falling.
In hope's hands we seek a legend's unmaking:
For tower and for golden hall, with song and dream and steel!