Title: Over Fen and Field
Author: Rhien Elleth
Disclaimer: Tolkien's, obviously.
Summary: A brief glimpse into the lives of Éomer, Éowyn, and Théodred before we see them in The Two Towers for the first time.
Blood. It was the first awareness he had, after the world went black. Metallic and heavy, the taste of it filled his mouth, its reek overpowering in the chill night air.
When last he'd looked, the sun had shone brightly in the sky, glinting off armored breastplates and chain barding. Now, the air was cool against his skin. He could feel no remnant of warmth from the day. He had reason to be glad of that, of the cover darkness provided.
When he finally pried open his eyes, the moonless night sky dulled everything around him in a blanket of shadows, and almost masked the truth of where he was. Corpses -- men, orc, and horse alike -- took on vague and indefinable shapes. And the blood now coating the grasslands of his home looked black instead of red.
If not for the smell, and the taste, he could have missed its presence all together. But Éomer, Third Marshal of the Mark, was all too familiar with the stench of spilled blood. He coughed, and spat some of his own onto the ground.
Experimentally, he tried to move. His head throbbed as if he'd spent the night before imbibing dwarven spirits. Pain shot up his left leg and fanned over his midsection, where a dent in his breastplate pinched his ribs. A dent, he recalled with sudden, perfect clarity, made by an orcish polearm. Deflected by his armor, the blow had merely dislodged him from his horse, rather than killing him outright.
His horse. Where was Baravorn?
Jaw clenched, he forced himself into a sitting position, trying to ignore the thousand or so knives stabbing into his skull. Apparently, he'd hit the ground headfirst, thereby missing the rest of the battle.
"Baravorn," he called, his voice rasping over the familiar name. He cleared his throat, spat more blood onto the ground, and tried again. "Baravorn!"
This time the word rang clear, but still garnered no response. No movement, no answering whinny. Éomer cursed. He'd had the stud since his first skirmish. Well trained, the horse would never have strayed far from his master.
That left but one possibility. Even if he'd wanted to, Éomer knew he lacked the strength to search among the bodies littering the plains for his mount. Just as he lacked the strength to search for the men who'd ridden with him into battle.
But then, he didn't need to. If any had lived, he'd have woken on the back of a horse, riding for Edoras. No, his men, like Baravorn, were dead.
The realization sapped him of what little strength he still possessed, and Éomer crumpled back to the earth. It was difficult to keep breathing past the pain in his ribs. Indeed, there seemed little point in doing so. He couldn't possibly make it back to Edoras without a horse to carry him. Outnumbered three to one, every man with him had died.
I might as well have, too.
It was the last conscious thought he had.
Exhausted, every muscle aching from the three day patrol he'd only just returned from, Théodred was striding from the stables when Éowyn flew into him, almost literally. He stumbled back a step, catching his cousin by the arms to steady her. Only then did he remember that his hands were covered in three days worth of mud, dirt, and orc blood. The cloth beneath his fingers was the finest silk. He grimaced and let go at once.
"Théodred," she cut him off, her blue eyes wild with an urgency he could not remember seeing in them before. Her hands grasped his arm hard enough to leave bruises behind. "Éomer is missing, and your father refuses to send riders to look for him. The snake, Wormtongue, has spoken against taking any such action, and --"
"Wait, slow down Éowyn. Éomer is missing? But his patrol was due back more than a night past. Are all those who rode with him missing, too?"
"Yes, yes! You must go and find him, Théodred. I would go myself, but the King--"
"No," he said swiftly, already turning back toward the stables to order a fresh horse made ready.
In this instance, he agreed with his father, a rarity of late. But as much as Éowyn might wish herself as free as a man, to ride the plains of Rohan with her brother and cousin, Théodred felt glad she was not. Orc activity was on the rise, and riding patrol grew ever more dangerous for every man of Rohan. Especially while his father refused to take any decisive action against them.
As he entered the stables, he caught the eyes of three of the men who had just finished riding with him, all looking exhausted and ready for their beds. He glanced down at Éowyn, then nodded toward the men.
"We will find your brother. Stay, and take care of the King." He gave her hand a squeeze. "He listens now to none of us, save you. Yours is the only voice that may sometimes reach him. You must stay here and care for our people as best you can. I'll bring him back."
He turned and swung up into the saddle, feeling his abused body protest this renewed battering of painful bruises. The horse was not Brego, who needed rest and feeding, but it was a fresh mount, and Rohan bred. It would do well enough.
The hot bath he'd been dreaming about just moments ago would have to wait.
"Let us ride," he said, casting his eyes over the three men he'd drafted into accompanying him. He'd have gone alone if the times weren't so dangerous. But to ride anywhere in Rohan alone, now, would be foolhardy in the extreme.
He didn't need to turn and look back, to know that Éowyn stood in the courtyard, watching until she could no longer see them. He loved Éomer like a brother, but he knew what dangers stalked the fighting men of the Riddermark. He did not seriously expect both himself and his cousin would survive to ripe old age.
He hoped, for Éowyn's sake, that Éomer's time had not come yet.
Éowyn waited restlessly for that night and almost all the next day, constantly sweeping her eyes over the horizon, in hopes of seeing horses there. Dusk was settling again before her patience was finally rewarded. She stood with the wind moving against her, whipping her hair into a tangle around her face, her hand shading her eyes against the setting sun. And she saw them.
Four horses riding for Edoras. She gave a cry, caught somewhere between gladness for their return, and agony that only four horses were riding in. She had watched four leave, just the day before, which meant either they'd found nothing, or there were no horses left alive among her brother's patrol to bear his body, be it dead or alive.
Oh, please, let him live! Without Éomer and Théodred, her life would truly be unbearable.
She raced down the steps into the stableyard, anxious to meet them. Please, please, please, please…It was a constant internal mantra, until they rode close enough for her to see her brother supported on Théodred's horse, sitting astride in front of their cousin. She stopped, her legs unsteady and trembling in sudden, intense relief. If he'd been dead, they'd have slung his body across the back of the horse, rather than sitting him astride it. She closed her eyes briefly, allowing herself a single moment to regain control of her emotions.
She was ready and waiting when Théodred reined in his mount, helping to pull her brother from the back of the horse. His face was ashen, blood encrusting one side of his head, and his skin hot to the touch.
If the fever is in the wound, he may yet die. The thought terrified her.
His eyes fluttered open briefly when he hit the ground, his armor weighing him down so he nearly fell, but Théodred was suddenly there to support him. His eyes fell shut again without ever focusing on anyone or anything.
"What of the others," she asked, struggling to navigate her brother's bulk up the stairs and into the keep. Théodred's lips thinned, and he shook his head. Éowyn bit her lip, tears filling her eyes. More sons of Rohan dead, and she'd known nearly all of them. Will nothing lift this fog of evil from our lands and people? Are we doomed to be crushed beneath Sauron's heel?
Together, the two of them maneuvered Éomer to his room, and out of his armor. No easy task, given her brother's build and weight, but they managed. Éowyn cast her eyes quickly over his body, noting the dark purple bruising across his ribs, hip, and leg. Her hands trembling only a little, she felt up the leg until she found the break, and then moved her fingers on to his ribs, keeping the touch light but sure.
"He has at least three ribs broken, but I don't think they pierced his lungs. His leg is fractured, and…" She moved up to his head, gently grasping his jaw and turning it to one side. "It looks as though the head wound is the most serious of the three. I need to wash away this blood to see if he cracked his skull, or merely bruised it."
Her voice shook slightly as she said that last, and Théodred touched her arm in sympathy. They had both seen men die of such wounds, or wake only to be dumb and incoherent, unable even to recognize the people they'd once loved.
"I'll get Fédra," he said, and left quickly to find the healer woman.
Éowyn busied herself with heating water and finding clean cloth and bandages. By the time Théodred returned with Fédra, she was carefully washing away blood that had dried and crusted to the head wound.
The healer looked over Éomer much as Éowyn had, a slight frown turning down the corners of her mouth. She was young for her position, but Hélegra, the old healer, had died of a cough the previous winter. Her apprentice had little choice but to take over her duties, for healing was something in growing demand for the men of Rohan. Years ago, midwife had been the primary purpose of the keep's healer woman. Not so, now.
Fédra was a pretty girl, tall and strong, with a long mane of dark curls she wore braided down her back. Still, the curls fought against being tamed so easily, and often escaped to frame her face. She and Éowyn had grown up friends, and their appearance was such that people often commented on it. One girl fair and the other dark, with personalities to match; Éowyn of the cool, icy demeanor, and Fédra, warm and fiery.
Just now that fierce temperament was muted, her brow furrowed in concentration as she peered at the gash Éowyn had only just finished cleaning.
"This will need stitching," she said after a moment. Her voice was quiet but firm, her green eyes steady as she looked into Éowyn's. "I don't think his skull cracked, but the size of the bump is worrisome." She reached out, touched her friend's arm. "I won't lie to you. I've seen men slip into a coma and die with wounds like this. Has he woken since you found him? Spoken at all?"
Éowyn shook her head, glanced to Théodred, at whom Fédra was also looking.
"No." He rubbed a hand over his face, swayed on his feet. "His eyes have opened once or twice, but for no more than a moment either time, and I don't think he was aware."
Fédra's eyes narrowed. "And how long has it been since you slept, my lord? How many days?" She didn't wait for a response. "Too many, I would wager."
Théodred started to wave a hand in dismissal, but the healer cut him off.
"I've enough to deal with, without you falling over and cracking your head on the stones. Go. Seek your bed. There's naught more you can do for him now." She paused, gentled her expression and voice as she took him by the arm and pulled him inexorably to the door. "You've done your job by finding him and bringing him back when no one else would. I'll do my best by him, Théodred. In a few hours, after you've rested," she wrinkled her nose, "and bathed, I'll know more."
She gave his shoulder a friendly pat as she pushed him out the door, ignoring his half-hearted protests.
"There," she said, once he was gone. "That's one problem solved. Now let's get this wound stitched and his ribs wrapped tight. Then we'll see about setting that leg."
Éowyn stayed, doing everything Fédra asked, glad of her friend's calm demeanor. She, too, had grown up with Éomer and Théodred, and must be as anxious as the rest of them, but she masked it well. Her business like manner eased Éowyn's worry somewhat.
By the time they were done, both women were sweaty and tired from muscling around Éomer's inert frame. They stood back together to look over their work, the bandages around head and ribs, and the splint on his leg. Even when they'd set the bone, Éomer had not stirred.
"What else can we do?" asked Éowyn quietly. His continued sleep, she knew, was not a good sign.
Fédra put an arm around her shoulders, resting her head against Éowyn's as she stared at her patient. Her hair had come free of its braid during their labors, and dark curls tangled with fair. She shrugged, a barely perceptible movement of her shoulders that gave her answer away before she spoke.
The night passed, and another day, before Éomer woke.
It came as a shock to him, for he'd not expected ever to open his eyes again. This time, it was not the scent of blood that filled his awareness, but the light floral perfume his sister used in her bath. Her hair always smelled of it.
He opened his mouth, his tongue thick and heavy, prepared to say her name. Instead someone else spoke, and he remained silent, listening.
"What do you want, Wormtongue?"
It was his sister's voice, her tone as chill as ever he'd heard it. Experimentally, he turned his head. It still throbbed painfully, but no longer felt as if a thousand knives were stabbing him from the inside. His sister stood with her back to him, blocking Grima from his view. Of course, she was standing there to block him from Grima's view. Protecting him. He would have smiled, but Wormtongue's presence infuriated him.
"The King is concerned for his nephew, and so I come to check his condition," Grima explained, his tone sly. Éomer's jaw clenched. More likely he was here to stalk Éowyn, the bastard son of snake.
"More likely you come for yourself," his sister said harshly, "to see if my brother is dead yet! Well he is not, and nor will he be, as I'm sure Fédra has told you. Good day."
"On the contrary," Éomer could almost hear the man's oily smile in his words, "the healer has said nothing of the kind. According to her, each day that passes without your brother waking is one day closer to death. Truly, I came out of concern for you, Éowyn. What will you do when your dear brother is gone? To whom will you turn for comfort?"
Éomer could stay silent no longer. "Never to you, Grima!" His voice was hoarse, his words not as loud as he had intended, but they carried well enough. "As you can see, I am not dead. Go, and carry these glad tidings to the King."
"Éomer!" Grima's presence forgotten, his sister turned and flung herself down at his bedside. Tears of joy glimmered in her eyes, but Éomer did not move his gaze from his Uncle's advisor. The man's face twisted into a grimace just before he turned away, his eyes shining with an unhealthy avarice. It was not the first time he had caught Grima staring at his sister so.
"Éomer! Oh, you are alive!" She pressed a kiss to his cheek. "I must go and get Fédra, and Théodred. We have all been so worried for you."
"Éowyn…" He caught her hand as she turned to rush from the room. "My men, did any of them…?"
She turned back, and he knew by her downcast expression what her answer would be.
"No, Éomer. I am sorry."
He was silent for a moment. He'd known the chances slim, but there might have been one or two injured as he had been. He cleared his throat. "Baravorn?"
She shook her head. "No. He is dead as well. An orc spear, Théodred said."
He let his hand fall back to his side. In the grand scheme of what he'd survived, the death of a horse was a small thing. But Baravorn had been his partner in too many battles to count, and innumerable small skirmishes. He had, as much as any soldier, saved Éomer's life on several occasions. He would miss the stud, when next he rode the Riddermark.
He heard the rustle of silks on stone as his sister hurried away, and lay staring up at the ceiling. Alone, he let a tear leak out of the corner of his eye.
"I know nothing can replace Baravorn," Théodred was saying as he walked Éomer to the stables. The going was slow, as Éomer's left leg was still stiff, and his ribs not entirely healed. "I would be lost, myself, if anything happened to Brego."
That was an understatement. Brego would let no one but Théodred handle him, and the bond between rider and mount was stronger than any Éomer had ever seen.
"A Rider must have a horse to ride," Éomer murmured, to show he understood what his cousin was trying to convey.
Pleased, Théodred flung open the stable door with a flourish. Clearly, thought Éomer as he stepped inside, this had all been planned in advance. The doors were usually open.
A horse was standing in the center aisle, tied to a beam and obviously awaiting someone. Awaiting him, Éomer surmised, shooting his cousin an amused glance. Even as children, Théodred had always had a flare for the dramatic. Then he looked back at the horse, his smile fading. Choosing a mount was a serious task, a decision that could mean life or death in a critical moment.
A gray of good, strong lines, it stood watching them with ears pricked forward. As if the horse, too, were judging the men. Éomer slowly walked around the mare – for mare she was – noting how her ears flicked back to track his movement. She lifted her head, pulling a bit at the lead she was tied with. He didn't have to check her teeth to know she was young – her coat was sleek and shiny, the muscle beneath strong.
"She's what…three, four?" he asked Théodred, confident his cousin already knew everything there was to know about the mare.
"Three. Trained by Háladen himself."
Éomer's eyebrows rose. It was a sterling recommendation. Hála was the best trainer in all of Rohan, the man who had trained horses for the last three Kings of the Mark. He handpicked which horses he would train, and usually whom he would train them for.
"And she is of Shadowfax's line."
Éomer felt his mouth drop open. Only the King and the Heir rode Shadowfax's get. Reverently, he reached out to stroke the mare's neck.
"How did you…?"
Théodred came to stand beside him. "I am the King's son, after all," he said. "Besides, I think it only appropriate." He, too, reached out to stroke the mare's neck. "At the time, I was too preoccupied to pay attention to what piece of horseflesh I rode, so long as it was strong and capable."
He turned and smiled at his cousin. "Her name is Hálatte, and she carried you home."
Less than three months later, she carried Théodred home, too.