A/N: I'm working on a much longer adult-Eomer story (not yet posted) and at one point in it, Eomer is describing an event from his childhood, when he'd been sent to the stables to work (not long after arriving at Meduseld.) My friend sg1scribe asked for the details, and I provided this. This bit then led her to write a sequel to this piece that takes place a few years after this. She'll be posting it sometime soon.
This is more or less movie-verse, with one change: in the films, Theodred looked very young, possibly younger than Eomer. But in the books he was thirteen years older than Eomer, and that's the chronology I've adopted here. Thus, Theodred is 24, Eomer is 11, and Eowyn is 7 in this story.
Swords and Saddles
Eomer, son of Eomund, scooted tighter into the corner of his room. He would no doubt be more comfortable in his bed, on his stomach, but he wasn't interested in comfort. Pain went hand in hand with his anger. And there was a lot of anger.
He looked down at his hands, clenched the right one into a fist. Refused to allow himself a grimace as the scraped skin on his knuckles pulled tight. He'd got those after being banished to his room, when he'd taken his fist to the wall. The wall had won, but there had been something so satisfying in how it felt to plunge his hand into the hard wood. Maybe he'd do it again. Later.
He couldn't make a fist with his left hand, the bandage across the palm prevented it. He stared at the cloth, sneered. It wasn't a deep cut, but it did bother him that he could not quite remember exactly when he'd gotten it. He actually didn't remember much beyond taking the sword – his father's sword, and therefore his, and one he had every right to, he reminded himself – and then the satisfaction of finding something to use it on.
Did he understand the saddle's value? Of course. Did they think him an imbecile? That had been the idea. His uncle wouldn't listen to him concerning his training, so he'd had to make the point in some other way. Grimly, he reflected that now they'd have to let him train if they didn't want all their prized leather destroyed. He sneered again at the thought of all the hysterics over an old saddle. You'd think he'd just managed to single-handedly start a war with Gondor, so great had been the frenzy over one ceremonial saddle.
But the cut on his hand was going to be a problem. His uncle was going to make a big deal out of it, insist it was proof that Eomer wasn't ready to train. But you didn't handle a sword without getting a few nicks. They were sharp. That was their function.
He glowered at the injury again, shifted, could not prevent a wince. The tack master, a large muscular man, had found him, still holding the sword, after he'd pretty much destroyed the saddle, and had flown into a complete rage. His sons were terrified of him, and now Eomer knew why. The man had knocked the sword out of his hand, and before Eomer knew what was happening, had taken a leather strap to him.
He'd only landed one blow before Breghelm, the stable master, and Theodred had come in and stopped him, but it had been a hard one, and had been sufficient. There was a welt running across the back of his upper thigh and onto his buttock that made sitting uncomfortable. Which was why he was sitting. He wanted to be uncomfortable.
That, at least, seemed to be something he and his uncle agreed on. The King had not been happy. By the time he'd arrived at the stable, Theodred had Eomer's cut palm bandaged. The King had looked at it, looked at him, and ordered him to be locked in his room until an appropriate punishment could be determined.
So he was locked in his room. He, Eomer, son of a marshal of the Riddermark, was locked up like a common thief. It had been his sword. Did they not understand that?
They'd even given him bread and water for a meal, which still sat on the table, untouched. Of course, they'd also given him a hunk of cheese, which the prisoners in Meduseld's dungeons never saw, but that was beside the point. He was locked up, with bread and water.
He snorted, flung himself against the wall, refused to wince as the welt burned and throbbed. Who knew a single stripe of stiff leather could sting so much?
If they were going to treat him this way, he'd just leave. He didn't have to stay here. He'd take his father's sword – his sword – and go find someone else who would train him to use it. And then he'd find the orcs who'd killed his father and make them pay.
Except…Eowyn. He slumped again. He couldn't leave her. She still woke at night crying for their mother…who would she come to in the darkness if he was gone?
There was a noise at the door, and he swallowed, would not call it fear. Had they already decided on his punishment?
The noise came again, and then the door quietly slid open. A small figure slipped around it, then closed it.
"Eowyn…what are you doing here?" He leaned back, closed his eyes against the relief.
"I came to check on you."
"I'm fine." Give or take. "How did you get in?"
She held up the key. "I stole it."
"You should not have done that. Now they'll be angry with you, as well."
She shrugged, then settled down next to him. "I thought you might want to sneak out and hear what they're saying."
He frowned in confusion. "What who is saying?"
"Uncle and his advisors. They're talking about what to do to you." She snorted. "I don't understand why they're all so upset over a silly old saddle. There are lots more in the tack room."
He considered her offer. Part of him wanted to say it didn't matter what they did to him, that he didn't care. The problem was, it wasn't true.
"Very well." He pushed himself up, stifled a grimace of pain as his hose rubbed against the welt. "I might as well hear what they're planning." After all, if it were bad enough, he could still leave. Eowyn might even be better off if he did. His heart twinged at that, and he stifled it as well.
They slipped out into the main room. It was dark, the evening meal long past, and there was no one around to note their presence. Eowyn put her finger to her lips to warn him to silence – as if he were going to try to draw attention to themselves! – and they slipped through the dark shadows.
His uncle was not in the main room, and that surprised him. Usually that was where any consultation took place. Puzzled, he followed Eowyn, watched her slip behind the throne, and then he understood. His uncle's study was off to the side of the throne, and behind it was a small storage area. They crept into it, and she pulled the door closed behind them.
Enough light came from around the door for him to see her point, and when he peered through the darkness, he finally understood. There was a small hole in the wall, perhaps where some shelving had once been secured. He looked into it, and realized he could see most of his uncle's study.
He didn't bother being surprised that Eowyn had found the spy hole. She seemed to spend a great deal of her time exploring Meduseld, and had been scolded more than once for being somewhere where she wasn't supposed to be. At the moment, he could only be grateful for her inquisitiveness.
In addition to his uncle, he saw Theodred, Grimbold, Breghelm, the stable master, Cadda, the tack master, and Grima. Cadda was still livid with rage, while Grima looked as pompous as always.
"My lord, Cadda is right. You must not allow Eomer to run wild. You do him no favors with leniency." Grima spoke, and Eomer grimaced. No surprise there.
"Sire, he must be punished!" It sounded as if Cadda was managing not to shout by only a thin margin, and Eomer held his breath, waiting for his uncle to put the other man in his place. It didn't come, and his heart sank. Cadda continued, his voice climbing. "He cannot be allowed to wantonly destroy Rohirrim treasures in such a manner. Allow me to take the leather to him, and after he stands for a week, I can guarantee you he'll think twice before destroying anything else."
Cold fear settled in the pit of Eomer's stomach and his legs went weak, as the line across his buttocks throbbed in response to the threat. The big man was continuing, "One good strapping and a lad learns what's what."
Eomer grimaced, felt his heart pounding. One of Cadda's sons was a bully, the other wouldn't argue with a duck. And they both bore scars from their father's thrashings.
"He has a point, sire. I know you want to coddle him because of the loss of his parents, but one strapping wouldn't kill him, and it might prevent any more destruction. Allow Cadda to discipline him."
Eomer closed his eyes, leaned his head on the wall. Theodred, Grimbold and Breghelm weren't speaking. Did they too think he should be whipped? Particularly Theodred? Eomer much admired his cousin, and his stomach twisted at the knowledge that Theodred thought he should be punished in such a way.
"No." His uncle finally spoke, and it took a moment for Eomer to process it. "Let's be very clear on something." The king's voice was very quiet, which nearly everyone knew wasn't a good thing. "If anyone is ever to raise a hand to the boy, it will be myself."
Eomer peered through the hole again, saw his uncle move to stand face to face with Cadda. "If you ever," the words were still quiet, and very precisely spoken, "ever, raise a piece of leather – or anything else – against him again, you will receive twice what you have given him." Sick relief slid through Eomer, and he slumped against the wall. Heard his uncle finish with, "Do you understand?"
"Yes, sire." Cadda might have understood, but he wasn't happy.
"You are right, of course, sire. He is of the royal family." Grima resumed the argument. "It is appropriate that only you punish him. But it must be done. Cadda is right about a strapping being a most effective punishment."
Eomer tried to imagine his uncle thrashing him. Beyond refusing to let Eomer train, the man had really only ever been kind to him, and the image wouldn't form. But Theoden was also a capable warrior, and Eomer suspected that a strapping from him wouldn't be pleasant. He ignored the quiet voice in his head that pointed out that his uncle's usual kindness to him might make such punishment somehow hurt worse.
Grima was still nattering. "Surely you can see that such behavior cannot continue. The saddle he destroyed --"
"I don't care about the saddle!" His uncle roared the words, and the room went silent.
"Sire?" Grima sounded confused.
"Saddles, even old ceremonial ones, can be replaced. My nephew's life cannot be." Eomer watched as the King paced around the area in front of his desk. "He cut himself, could have done much worse damage. As valuable as the saddle was, that is not the primary concern here."
"He wants to train to fight, he wants to feel he's preparing to avenge his father." Theodred's voice was quiet.
"I know. And I would let him begin training, but for his anger. Until he learns to control it, he is a danger to himself and others."
"Sire, how do you know the next time he goes after a saddle, it won't be while it's on one of your prize mares, instead of one of Rohan's leather treasures?" Cadda snarled.
Eomer nearly sputtered out loud, fury dancing through him, and almost missed Breghelm's response.
"The boy would just as soon take the sword to his sister as to one of the horses."
"He does need to be punished, my lord, but perhaps there's another way of approaching it." Grimbold spoke, and Eomer grimaced. He'd always liked the man, until now.
He saw Theoden look at the other man, then motion for him to continue. But it was Breghelm that spoke.
"There is more to being a rider than handling weapons, sire. He must also gain more skill in the saddle. Give him to me, allow me to put him to work in the stables. It will keep him busy and out of trouble. And as he learns to control himself, to become a better rider, it will be easier to evaluate when he's ready to begin work with the sword master."
Eomer grimaced. He knew what work Breghelm had in mind, and mucking stalls was not how he wanted to spend his days. But if they weren't going to let him train with a sword, cleaning up after the horses would be better than being thrashed.
His uncle was staring at the stable master, then nodded thoughtfully. "You might have an idea, Breghelm." He sighed. "I really do not wish to be too hard on him. Not when I mourn for his parents as well." His voice was soft. "Let me consider what you've said, and let me see what mood the boy is in tomorrow."
Eowyn pulled on his sleeve, and Eomer shook himself. He'd nearly forgotten she was there. She pulled again, and he understood what she was trying to communicate – they needed to return to his room before the men left the study.
They did so in silence, and once they were safely back, he sent Eowyn back to her own room, bidding her lock the door as she had found it. He wanted to be alone, and did not want his uncle to suspect they'd been eavesdropping.
Disturbed, he stripped, and pulled on a nightshirt as bits of the conversation ran through his mind.
"Rohirrim treasures…" Had the saddle really been that valuable? Shame prickled through him. "Saddles, even old ceremonial ones, can be replaced. My nephew's life cannot be." For some reason, the memory of his uncle's voice when he'd said that made Eomer's throat want to close. "And I would let him begin training, but for his anger. Until he learns to control it, he is a danger to himself and others." His uncle had that to him earlier, and it had just made him angry. Now, with the cut on his palm throbbing, he was forced to admit the King might have a point.
Blind anger could be very dangerous when fighting. His father had once told him that. Eomer flexed his hand. Today, he'd proven it.
Uneasy with his thoughts, he climbed into bed, and settled onto to his stomach, the welt throbbing again.
"I really do not wish to be too hard on him. Not when I mourn for his parents as well." For the first time, it occurred to him what it meant that his mother had been Theoden's sister. He tried to imagine Eowyn dying, and fear choked him. Was that what the King was feeling?
Hot tears left his eyes, and he buried his face in the pillow. He had behaved terribly. Without honor. Had worried and upset a man who'd been only kind to him, a man who was grieving the same loss Eomer was, if in a different way.
Shame and grief pressed down on him, and he wept silently, for his parents, for his uncle, for Eowyn.
As the tears finally dried, he decided that if his uncle did decide to thrash him – a thought that still caused his stomach to twist – he would try to bear it bravely, as just punishment.
As he made the decision, exhaustion took him, and he was nearly asleep when he heard the key in the door again. He tensed, tried to imagine who it might be. Half asleep and confused, he peered through slitted eyes.
His uncle, looking tired and sad, entered the room. He sat a candle on the table before turning to look at Eomer. Shame kept Eomer's eyes closed but for the slit. Morning would be soon enough to face his uncle.
Theoden shook his head ruefully, then came to the bed. "Made a mess of things, haven't you, boy." It took a moment to realize he meant the bed covers. The king pulled them away and straightened them before covering Eomer again. Then he rested a hand gently on Eomer's hair, smoothed it away from his face.
His uncle spoke softly, as if to himself. "We'll survive, you and me. One way or the other. And one day, you will avenge your parents. I promise you that. We just have to keep you alive long enough for you to do so."
He sighed, then quietly exited the room.
Eomer recalled times when one or the other of his parents had come into his room to check on him, and felt his chest tighten with more tears. It was almost like they were still there. Nearly.