Disclaimer: I don't own anything from J.R.R. Tolkien's works. I'd be happy to own them if they would be given to me for free...only possible in my dreams, but by Eru I have my right to dream whatever my subconscious would throw at me!

A/N: Inspired by Massacre at the Fords of Isen scene from the Special Extended Edition of The Two Towers (scenes from the movie are not verbatim on purpose). This is PG-13 because there will be certain descriptions of sicknesses and other things. I might be overdoing it, but I'm just being safe.

-- Italicized words are flashbacks. --

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Gazing at Théodred's pale face, Éomer tried to forget the image of Diorel's face hovering over Théodred. Her pleasant face was askew with torment and misery. He could see the eerie resemblance between Théodred and his wife's faces. He shuddered at an old thought as it emerged within his disturbed mind. He tried to push it away, but it only became more potent as it fed on Éomer's resistance.

Éomer knew the truth, and it haunted him.

He should have known long ago when he first saw Gríma eyeing Diorel with a certain peculiarity. So many things factored into that tragedy. King Théoden had fallen weak and senile. Gríma had been the king's advisor for some years, and he had gained almost complete control following the king's supposed illness. Théodred's marriage to Diorel was quite quick and unexpected for everyone, including Éomer and Éowyn. The new princess's pregnancy came soon after. It was since then that Gríma began to take notice of Diorel. The marriage and pregnancy had struck a chord within him.

It was not long after Diorel had passed away when Éomer discovered a frightening truth. At first it was a mere thought, then it grew into a possible conspiracy within his head. When he had gone over all of the details, it came so clearly to his mind like the blue sky after rain. The rainstorm of turmoil passed away and senses returned to him.

He had guessed long time ago of Gríma's connection with some sort of evil, but it had never been connected to anything until Diorel had died. It was that Wormtongue's fault. All of the blame belonged to him. That villain had something he wished to gain so desperately that he committed this heinous crime. He had watched Diorel daintily eat her dinner during the last ten days before her death. It was so obvious.

Diorel's marriage had posed a problem to Gríma's control over the feeble Théoden. When Théodred had been alone, there was not much threat to worry him. If Théoden should die, or be abdicated by the people for his seemingly irreversible senility, Théodred still remained to be controlled through leech craft. If Théodred were to die also, by then there would not be a need for another royalty. By then, his master would have taken complete control of Rohan. When Éomer saw the Orcs' helms, he realized the identity of the Orcs and Gríma's master - Saruman of Isengard.

Saruman became concerned with the news of Diorel's pregnancy. It posed no immediate threat to his domination of Rohan. However, if the baby was to be born, it might be whisked away to safety while his legion of Orcs would invade the land of the horse-lords. He knew of the disgusting perseverance of Men, too unyielding to his taste. If the child were to survive somehow, even through the shadows of Sauron's grasp, it would help muster an alliance against the league of the Two Towers. It would be the repetition of the Last Alliance that trounced Sauron to his humiliating shadow-form. He could not let it happen, even if the Rohirrim were weaker and lesser in number than the Gondorians. The pesky humans always seemed to survive in some remote corners of Middle-earth to drive back evil in the last minute.

The only choice left to the wizard then was simple. Kill Diorel, and kill the baby.

He formulated a poison that would be undetectable by taste and smell. The genius of this formula was its variable potency. In small quantities, it would only give the feeling of a slight stomachache. The pain could be subdued with warm water and clothes temporarily. If it were consumed continuously, even without increasing the dosage, the potency of the poison would suddenly proliferate in an unthinkable rate. Limbs would become cold and stiff, lungs become weak and hardened, and vision would be severely diminished. The abrupt growth of danger would continue to develop until it wholly devastated the internal organs. If the poison could kill Diorel, the unborn child would die along with her.

Giving careful instructions, Saruman sent off Gríma as his courage returned. He knew it would work, and any threat would be eliminated. Éomer posed no problem as the king's nephew, as well as Éowyn as the niece. He also would not have to worry about Théodred remarrying, for he knew he loved Diorel too much to take interest in any other woman. Anyhow, he would not even think of marriage and children again when the poison had done its work.

Éomer had discovered the details of this scheme on his own, but for a while he wondered why Gríma would be so subservient to Saruman. There was something in Rohan, in Edoras, in Meduseld, that he desired secretly above all other things. It could have been power, greedy to have a dominion for himself should his master reward him for his deeds. It could have been wealth, to be rich beyond his wildest dreams after all others had perished in their obstinate resistance. Or was it love? Love of someone that he longed for?

The Third Marshal could not shake off these thoughts as he looked at poor Théodred. He was finally going to reunite with his wife, but the manner of his deliverance must have been vexing. Éomer thought pessimistically, ' perhaps he does not mind leaving the world as his beloved wife had.' He tried to reproach himself for that cynicism.

Everything suddenly came to Éomer all at once as he brooded silently.

What was life? It was a painful existence doomed to end as it first began. The evil aspects negated all positive aspects of living. Nothing good ever lasted in life, at least for mortals. What could Men do to make most of the depressing reality? They could try to make the world repent for giving him an ill-fated mortality through evil deeds. Otherwise, they could try to make the world a better place for later generations by fighting the former type of Men. There was no middle ground in life. One had to choose a side and fight for his belief, or perish by the swords of those who distrusted neutrals. Neutrality was nothing more than cowardice and an object of distrust in the bitter world of mortal Men doomed to die.

What was death? It was the inevitable end to all things, ever burdening all things. It was the fate of the braves, evils, cowards, innocents, and everything in between. Ever intertwining with life, it shadowed a being when life became dissatisfactory. Nothing could be done to reverse it, yet so many attempted to avoid it instead of embracing it with dignity. Cowards tried so hard and pathetically to ward the blackness away, but that act only made it a thing of fear. The braves would accept it without regret, not fearing it as an end but a rest to the tired soul. It all depended on the attitude of the individual - it was not set as a bad or good thing, but the individual's mind made it one sort or another.

What was fate? It was the beginning and the ending of all being. Many would think that fate already laid out a comprehensive path for them in life, thus making them not responsible for the evil they committed - yet they claim the good for their own. Fate had only set birth and death as the people's destiny. The living person would choose everything else in between. Every decision aids in choosing of the future course. People do not do things because destiny ordered them to do so. They do things because they wish to do it. From this perspective, living beings chose their own manner of death. They could make it full of dignity, or full of humiliation.

What was love? It was the unexplainable thing that existed between living things. No one has absolute control over it, but they want it nevertheless. It comes in the most unexpected method, time, and place. It infects people like contagious diseases, taking over the mind and body despite the will of the person to resist it. Love makes people laugh and cry. Some people can guide this wild emotion towards either startling obsession or delightful admiration. Love can crumble everything someone built all his or her life in a second, yet it can create a replacement just as fast. If a person has the right mindset and self-control, love can only help them. Nobody can live without love.

Éomer realized that he had learned so much during his twenty-seven years of life in Rohan. Everything came to him one after another as his cherished ones vanished one by one. Just by looking at Théodred he learned even more, and confirmed the old lessons. His enduring dilemma surfaced above the faces of the deceased. Will he cower and avoid all dangers even as Théoden sat ill, and Théodred lay dying? Or will he rise to do whatever he could to save the good left in this world, though he may perish with his contributions pass by unrecognized?

As he thought of everyone he knew that had died, he feared death. They all died terrible deaths, dying too early to have experienced anything pleasant. Then he remembered the expressions on Théodred and Diorel's faces as she swayed on the verge of death. Although Diorel was about to die at such a young age, an expectant mother, and a happy wife, she had looked at her husband with such blissful happiness - she was glad to have known his love than never having tasted it. Théodred had the same gaze, happy to have known Diorel than to have missed out on love - even though she was about to die. He may have had a difficult time in accepting her death at first, but the prince had her undying love to depend on throughout times of despair and chaos.

So, would he take the life-pending risk? Was he prepared to sacrifice his life for the cause of good, without ever having experienced love of his own?

Éomer instinctively knew the answer. He could not ever live with himself if he ever committed an act of cowardice. That left the hard road before him, covered with danger, betrayal, loneliness, and other dreadful things. He would become a martyr to aid mankind in whichever way he could.

His train of thoughts became halted when Éowyn placed a hand upon his tense shoulders.

" We must have slept a while in the night. The sun is about to rise. Let us inform uncle of Théodred's conditions," she said softly. Éomer felt as if that was final farewell to Théodred, still clutching his icy hand. He rose from his seat beside the bed, bent over to place his free hand upon Théodred's shoulder. For a few seconds he kept that way, his eyes closed. Éomer thanked his dying cousin for the things he had taught him and the aid he had given him through all of the years. Without him, the proud Third Marshal of Riddermark would have been lost long ago. Whispering softly, Éomer bid his cousin Théodred farewell.

" Théodred, my cousin, my friend, my brother-by-oath, I thank you for everything you have done for my sister and me. May you have a peaceful rest from your painful life, and finally have eternity to spend with Diorel wherever you may go. Farewell, I hope to find you again someday."

Éowyn found his attitude strange as she watched him. Her brother gently placed Théodred's hand upon his chest with the other hand then took a step back to bow to his prince. Taking a good long look at his dying cousin, Éomer prepared to live on without someone to firmly support him. He walked away, and then Éowyn followed as they made their way to the hall where King Théoden sat feeble-minded without a clue in the world.

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A/N: And then Éowyn tells him that his son's is badly injured...you know how the rest goes. I don't know whether to apologize for going all philosophic on you on this chapter, or to accept a Pulitzer (general disclaimer on my profile applies here - I own nothing that already has a copyright/patent/trademark/etc.). Just joking! Like I'd ever get something that prestigious in my life! I'm just your humble fanfic writer... I'll give you a moment to let all that stuff from this fic sink into your head (especially this chapter). Now...ready? Get set...review!