Based on the narrative concerning Rohan in LotR's appendix A.
(Constructive criticism welcome.)
The "Unwritten Tales" is Wayfarer's attempt at a canon-conscientious series to fill in the gaps of the epic tale of LotR.
RATING: G. (Non-slash, non-language). GENRE: Drama.
24 Sep 2003: Amended the implied age of Éomer. Thanks to rohan-nitpick's review for alerting this muddled-headed writer.
15 Jul 2003: Uploaded.
The Taste of Blood
(closetwayfarer at yahoo dot com)
Théodred shook the lifeless body he pulled out of the stream. Quickly, he reached for the breastplate fastenings. But before he could cut them, Éomer reared up gasping and fell onto his front, coughing and retching.
Théodred pounded on his back. 'Éomer!'
His eyes fluttered open. His lips moved, and it dawned on Théodred that he was hurting him. He sat back, red-faced at his own anxiety.
Éomer struggled and turned on his side.
'Well?' said Théodred.
Turning toward him, Éomer blinked. 'I...,' He began. He flung his arm across his face.
They began too young, Théodred knew. Yet there was no other way, for the defence of Rohan must be looked to. He himself had lived through it well enough ---- but some did not, few though they may be. And so, when Éomer proved himself ready to serve at an age when other boys were growing used to bearing arms in the saddle, Théodred made certain that it was with him that Éomer took his first watch.
'What happened?' he asked, his voice carefully gentle.
Théodred drew a deep breath then, keeping his thoughts away from the smell of drying blood. 'The battlefield, you sickened to see it: screams of the dying, the blood that stained your hands, your armour. You fled, needing to wash the blood away, and the gentle murmur of the stream soothed your mind,' he halted as Éomer began figeting. Then he spoke again, each word coming faster on the heels of the last: 'You sank into the water, wanting to drown the screams. Such a comfort it was that you desired to stay for a moment, then another, and then another----'
'Stop,' Éomer rasped, trying to cover his ears but his awkward arm would not obey. 'Stop!' he shouted. He hated the suddenly shrill tone issuing forth, wishing it would stop sliding back to the childish voice that no longer matched his growing body. 'How? How did you know my thoughts -- why I was in the water?'
Théodred stood up, and walked to the water's edge. Only because I hear the echo in them. Aloud he said: 'It will always be thus, Éomer.'
Éomer stiffened. Then, he propped himself up on his elbow, grimacing at the pain. 'Always? But...' he said, undecided between dismay and embarrassment.
'You wonder,' said Théodred as he turned to face his young kin. 'Where is the glory and the honour, do you not?'
'I am no vain-glorious fool!' It took Éomer a moment to calm down, just a little. 'I wanted justice!' he growled.
Théodred stood before Éomer. 'It seems as if it was only yesterday that your life fell apart, does it not? But you had not thought that your sword-arm would feel heavy, that you would struggle to let fall the stroke again and again.'
Clutching his suddenly heavy head, Éomer whispered 'What can I tell Éowyn? That I pitied the ones who murdered Father, that I found vengence difficult?' He choked. 'That despite my-- pretense, I am weak?' Then in horror, he whispered: 'What will Uncle think?'
Théodred said nothing. Sister-son the King calls you; he looks upon you and Éowyn as his own. He turned away, that Éomer would not read his thoughts. Though his favour thins with the passing years, he will be glad you have come to no harm, if he cared to ask.
A growing rift kept his father distant: perhaps the frequent crossing of words between King and Rider marred their ties as father and son. Béma knows why he has grown mistrustful, he thought, still unable to fathom why the King saw fit to check the Marshals' power. Dwindling supplies troubled the border watch and to Théodred it was a betrayal of the people who lived in the marches. Yet, despite the tightening fist of the King, Théodred found that by sheer force of presence, he could keep the supply lines to the borders open. Perhaps the King does care to keep his line as safe as he may, he mused, and perhaps he sees my worth here in the field, and not in the Hall where aught we do is quarrel. Even then, he knew matters could not, would not, stand as they did for long: even as Heir, there were limits to his power. At the least, the Heir does what the King has grown reluctant to do. He looked across the river, taking in the sight of the horizon that has grown familiar since he began to linger on the borderlands. I but keep a place for the King in the hearts of the people. I can only hope that he will rise to claim it for his own again one day. His self-banishment was to the good of all he had said to himself many times, though truth be told, he could not bear the doubt and decay that seemed to smother Meduseld even as Théoden began to hold his power close. Perhaps it is his age, and loneliness----
'Théodred,' Éomer pleaded.
Hearing his name, Théodred turned to the young man. Here I am, lost in thought over that which I cannot sway, while the poor boy struggles to come to terms with his heritage. His lips began to curl, but before they formed into a scornful grimace, Théodred turned it into what he hoped was a reassuring smile for Éomer.
'I, I -- it was the screams, and, and so much blood-- ' he broke off in confusion when he saw that Théodred smiled.
'You do not relish the taking of life then?'
'No,' Éomer said with care. 'I do not.' He pursed his lips. 'I was reckless to rush into the attack,' he admitted. A raised brow from Théodred expressed his thoughts of that confession. Well will it serve you to have a care hereon, Éomer son of Éomund. Perhaps caution will save you where your sire would have ridden in, to needless loss.
His face reddened, and Éomer offered in quick defiance: 'I was eager to draw first blood. But--' he looked away. 'Killing them gave me no pleasure -- nor comfort,' he finished bitterly.
'Then all is well,' said Théodred. 'The Mark has need of Riders, always. But foremost is the thought that aught we do is to protect our homes. For love of the Mark are our swords and spears raised.' He sat down by Éomer's side. 'Warriors grow used to blood, though some, maybe, submit to the bloodlust... The glory of the Riders is given to song, for there is naught else to keep the proud spirits of our people high. Yet a Rider holds his sorrows close, his grief for the fallen and those who cannot ride again.' He reached forth and brushed aside the strands of hair that had fallen across Éomer's face. 'It is needless to put into song such pain, for all around us, we are reminded of the sacrifices Rohan has paid to keep her borders true-- there is no household in all the land that has not lost a son in battle----' He stopped at the startled look on Éomer's face, and smiled. 'Young Riders go into their first battles with naught but vengence on their minds, though oft it is swiftly quelled.' Then gravely, he said: 'Remember this, Éomer: the taste of blood turns quickly foul.'
Éomer stared at him, his brow furrowed.
Théodred laughed. 'You are young yet, cousin mine, and tired beside. Leave those thoughts for later. Now, let me tend your wound.'
With difficulty, Éomer sat up. At length, his dented armour was removed. Carefully Théodred looked him over. He shook his head at the angry red marks across Éomer's chest. 'This will not do,' he said, ill-pleased.
'It is bad then,' said Éomer, his voice quavering.
'The wound will heal. But why did you not ask for adjustments to your armour? It is a wonder you suff
ered no further damage!'
Embarrassed, the young Rider stuttered: 'There was no time. And I thought it would not matter much -- it was a gift from Father.' He shuddered. 'He would be proud to know I am garbed in it for my first border watch--'
'Indeed,' Théodred said as he cleaned the wound. 'Éomund can only be pleased with his son who is growing to early manhood. Certainly, he could not have foreseen that you would outgrow your armour ere your fourteenth year!' Éomer would make a fine Rider, but he kept to himself the thoughts of the dangers lying in wait as he rushed toward manhood.
'Hark, the Éored regroups. Can you stand? Good.'