A Rohirric plot bunny came along to give me a break from the tween-angst of the 'Roots of the Ivy' sequel. Instead, here's some teen Eowyn angst. ;-) This could be considered a prequel to 'Roots of the Ivy', but you don't need to have read that story to understand this one.

"Sorgbyrðen is an Anglo-Saxon (Rohirric) word that means "burden of sorrow". As I speak Anglo-Saxon about as well as I speak Sindarin, I hope I'm using it correctly. :-)

I am going by the character's ages in the books, so Theodred is thirteen years older than Eomer.

Rated PG-13, for some slightly graphic mentions of the results of warfare.

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Sorgbyrðen

by Aranel Took

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Edoras, 3008

"So, how do I look?"

Eowyn glanced up at her brother, parading around in his new armor, and felt a twist in her gut. He looks so much like...but she pushed that thought away, because it wasn't a thought she wanted to have. Tomorrow, Eomer would be riding out on his first patrol. Theodred would be with him, of course, but it didn't make it any easier.

"Well?" he asked again, a bit haughtily, standing straight with hands on hips.

"You are vain," she said and turned back to the breeches she was mending. She didn't want him to see the worry and fear in her eyes. A woman of Rohan--even one who was only thirteen--had to be brave, after all.

Eomer just laughed and came over to kiss her cheek. Then he stepped back and drew his sword.

"I wonder how many orcs Guthwine has met," he said, awe and excitement in his voice as he examined the blade. Theoden King had presented him with their father's sword just last month, when Eomer turned seventeen. Her brother was very proud of that sword. Eowyn shut her eyes, squeezing them against the tears. That blade was very familiar to her. She'd always loved the horses on the hilt. They looked like they were chasing each other around the blade. Her father had made up a story for her about those horses, and she had sat in his lap and brushed her fingers over their finely wrought faces while he told it to her. But she hadn't heard the story since she was seven, because the teller was buried in a mound far away in the Eastfold.

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The Eastfold, 3002

"...and the gods lifted them up and they became the Sun and the Moon, always chasing each other around the sky."

Eowyn touched the hilt of her father's sword, tracing the horse's head. "You'd think they'd get awfully tired," she said.

"You always say that, little one," her father said, laughter in his voice. "But they are blessed by the gods and never tire."

"Like the mearas?" she asked, looking up into his face.

Her father smiled down at her and tugged her braid. "Yes, dearest, a bit like the mearas, although mearas are still mortal." He lifted her off his lap. "And now, my love, you must be off to bed, and me as well because I have a long journey tomorrow."

Eowyn heard her mother give a strangled cough but she was turned away, busily stoking the fire, and Eowyn could not see her face. But she knew her mother was frightened. Her mother was frightened every time her father went out on a patrol.

"Do you think there will be many orcs?" Eomer asked, looking up from the blade he was polishing, a practice sword he'd received for his eleventh birthday.

"If the rumors are true, it will be only a small band. A quick job. It will take more time to ride to Emyn Muil than to be rid of the orcs!" He kissed the top of Eowyn's head. "I'll be gone before you wake. I want you to promise to be good for your mother while I'm gone."

"Yes, father," said Eowyn. She glanced at her mother. Theodwyn was watching them, grim-faced.

"And I'll protect them," said Eomer, jumping up and waving his sword.

"Not in the house!" his father said, scowling.

Eomer lowered the sword. "Sorry," he mumbled.

Their father went over and clasped Eomer's shoulder. "It's good to be enthusiastic, son, but save it for the orcs."

"Yes, sir."

"Now, off to bed with the both of you. I need to speak with your mother."

Eowyn gave her father a hug. "I'll miss you."

Her father stroked her hair. "Don't worry, little one, I'll be back as soon as I can."

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Edoras, 3008

Eowyn picked at her dinner and tried to ignore the conversation at the table.

"Do you think there will be many orcs?" asked Eomer, getting the same fire in his eyes that his father had when talking about orcs.

"Not this time of year," Theodred said and took a swig of ale. "But there have been some reports of animals being stolen from herds near the border. There's still a chance we may come across a few."

"A quick job," said Grimbold, Theodred's under-Marshal. Eowyn blushed a bit as she looked at him. She'd had an infatuation with Grimbold and had been a bit heartsore since he married in the spring.

She turned her attention away from the handsome Rider, to the other side of Theodred where Theoden King was seated. Her uncle was usually quiet at the table, letting Theodred run the conversation. As usual, he was in whispered discussion with his advisor, Grima. Eowyn shuddered and turned away. Grima made her nervous and lately he seemed to always be watching her. Grima looked up, catching her eye, and Eowyn quickly looked down at her still full plate.

She glanced to the person seated next to her. Saewynn, Theodred's wife, didn't seem to have much appetite either. Eowyn felt bad for Saewynn. Just last month, she'd suffered another miscarriage, the latest of many. The midwives could do nothing for her. Eowyn knew that after one miscarriage, Saewynn had tearfully begged Theodred to divorce her so that he could marry a woman able to give him an heir. But he refused. Eowyn had heard her aunts talking about it and learned Saewynn carried the guilt that Theodred might die without an heir.

The stirring of the other guests drew Eowyn from her thoughts. Theoden King was standing, raising his cup.

"A toast," he said, smiling, "to our brave Eorlingas. May their horses be swift and their swords swifter!"

The men cheered at the toast and Eowyn lifted her cup of mead, forcing herself to smile.

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The Eastfold, 3002

Eowyn crept down the hall towards her parent's room. She could hear the wails of grief coming from within. She steeled herself and pushed on towards the doorway. She had to see for herself.

Inside, there were women gathered around the bed--her father's sisters and a few of their neighbors. Her mother knelt at the head of the bed, weeping. On the bed lay her father's battered body, brought home just an hour ago by the survivors of his eored. She could not see her father's face, the view blocked by an aunt, but she could see his hand, the flesh a mottled purple and stained with dried blood. He was still in his armor--the women had not yet begun to prepare his body--and the armor was slashed and bloodstained. Eowyn gave a slight gasp. In a gap torn right through both leather and chain, she could see bone and... The room was spinning and going gray and she was dimly aware that she was sliding down the rough wall. The smell of blood and death was making her stomach turn and she was afraid she'd throw up right there, but then hands were on her, pulling her up and away and down the hall to her room.

As she vomited into the basin, she realized it was Eomer holding her hair back and whispering soothing words in her ear. She felt limp, like one of her rag dolls, when he settled her on the bed, tucking her in and smoothing the hair from her face. He left and she huddled under the covers, listening to the wails of the women down the hall. She wondered why Eomer had left her all alone. She didn't want to be alone. But her mother was grieving and the household was in chaos and where did she fit in all this? This was her father, after all.

She whimpered, realizing that her father wasn't ever going to be here again, she'd never hear his stories or get hugs and kisses from him and she felt sick again. But then Eomer was back, raising her up to sit and putting a cup of peppermint tea to her lips.

"This will make your stomach better," he said. His voice was weary and sad. Eowyn looked at him and saw that his jaw was clenched, his face pale, his eyes red.

"Father's dead," she said dully, still not wanting to believe it.

Eomer nodded. "The men are talking in the kitchen. There were more orcs than they expected. They didn't have a chance." He squeezed his eyes shut and took a deep breath, trying to be brave, Eowyn knew.

Eowyn lay back down, covering her face, wishing this was all just a bad dream. She felt Eomer lay down next to her, pulling her close, and together they wept for their father.

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Edoras, 3008

The men gathered in the yard below Edoras. Eowyn went out with the other women to say farewell. She saw Saewynn embracing her husband tightly and weeping. Eowyn turned away, not wanting to watch the sad scene. Eomer saw her and came to her, leading his horse.

Eomer looked so very much like their father. Eowyn trembled, imagining it was her brother's hand that lay limp, smeared with drying blood while around him the women of the household wailed and wept. Her father's death had killed her mother. Theodwyn had wasted away in grief. Would she do the same, if they brought Eomer back battered and broken?

"Eowyn." Eomer stopped in front of her and reached out to tilt her chin up to look at him. His brown eyes narrowed with concern. "What's wrong?"

"You remind me of father," she said, and clenched her jaw to stave off the urge to cry.

He touched her cheek, but then Theodred was calling the eored together to depart. Eomer kissed her forehead and quickly mounted her horse. He gave her a sympathetic smile, then turned his horse to join the others.

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The Eastfold, 3002

The house was empty and cold after her father's death. Eowyn's mother rarely left her bed, spending most of her time sleeping or weeping for her husband. Aunts and neighbors took turns staying with them, as a seven-year-old girl would not be expected to run a house. Eowyn threw herself into household chores, anything to distract her from the grief hanging over the house. Her mother's condition frightened her. Theodwyn was pale, her eyes red-rimmed and staring, her hair stringy and dull. Eowyn thought she looked like a ghost.

Eomer tried his best to be brave, to be the man of the house that his father would want him to be. But he was still only eleven and Eowyn found him out in the stable one day, curled up in the corner of the empty stall that had once held their father's horse. Eomer had looked up at her with sad eyes. "The orcs probably ate him," he said, his voice a mixture of sadness and anger. She sat next to him, pulling him into an embrace, and they remained there until it was nearly dark and they were called in to dinner.

The weeks crept by. Instead of recovering from her husband's death, Theodwyn only got worse. She was slowly wasting away, refusing to eat or move or live. Not even the presence of her children could bring her back, and it upset Eowyn so much that her aunts no longer made her go sit with her mother. A message was sent to Theoden King that his sister was dying.

The King arrived with his son and daughter-in-law. Eowyn had seen them infrequently while growing up, Theodred more than his father. The last time had been at Theodred and Saewynn's wedding the previous year. Eomer perked up at the arrival of his cousin. He fairly worshipped Theodred. Saewynn took it upon herself to look after Eowyn, and Eowyn found a friend in her cousin's wife. Saewynn didn't treat her like a baby and told her the truth, that her mother was very sick and could die.

"Sometimes, you can love someone so much that you cannot live without them," Saewynn told her.

Eowyn understood that. Her parents had loved each other very much. It had always warmed her to see them smiling and laughing together. But now it frightened her, that loving that much could kill someone.

Theodwyn died just seven weeks after her husband. Her mother was buried next to her father and Eowyn clung to Eomer during the funeral, grief-stricken and scared. They were orphans now. Their belongings were packed up, the house given over to a relative, and Eowyn and Eomer were taken to Edoras by the King.

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Edoras, 3008

The waiting was the worst. Eowyn could now understand the fear that Saewynn--and her own mother--went through. Waiting, waiting and not knowing whether Eomer was still alive.

She passed the weeks alone, usually in her room, going through the sword exercises Theodred had taught her. Her father had always refused to teach her the sword. He didn't want his daughter to have to fight and Eomund had been driven to make the world safe so she would never have to. But that drive had only led to his own death.

Theodred, however, had readily agreed to her request for sword practice. It had always been tradition for a noblewoman of Rohan to learn to defend herself and these were dangerous times. Her cousin found a light sword for her that had belonged to the wife of Folcwine, the fourteenth king of Rohan, and whenever he had spare time he'd given her lessons.

She had studied the sword since she was eight and now the moves were second nature to her. She lost herself in the exercises, concentrating on parries and jabs and footwork to keep her mind off her brother.

Other patrols returned, some bringing back dead Riders and reports of growing numbers of Orcs. The wives huddled together in the evenings, talking about children and sewing and gossip--anything to keep their minds from their husbands. Their eyes betrayed their fears, though, as they each secretly hoped that they would not be the one to don a widow's cloak next time.

Then word came that Theodred's eored was returning. Eowyn went out to the outer wall to wait for them, bringing a book from her uncle's library to pass the wait. She nestled into the ivy that grew along the stone and opened her book, but she couldn't concentrate on the words. Her mind was elsewhere, wondering how many horses carried dead Riders that day and if her brother was one of them.

She resolved then and there that she wouldn't be one of those women huddled in the hall. She had enough to worry about with just her brother. She didn't want to be a grieving widow with fatherless children. Even if she had to be alone the rest of her life, she thought it better than risking her heart.

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Author's Notes:

Information on Rohan--names, dates, etc.--comes from Appendix A and from Unfinished Tales. If you like Rohan, I recommend Unfinished Tales. It explains the bond between Rohan and Gondor ("Cirion and Eorl") and also give an account of Theodred's death at the Fords of Isen ("Battle of the Fords of Isen") and both have appendices and notes.

Saewynn is my own creation, the poor dear. I feel awful for her, but I needed to explain why Theodred died at age forty-one without an heir.