A/N: I originally had this story up here as "Unexpected." Special thanks to Lady Scribe of Avandell for the new title suggestion--it fits much better. :)
The Last Traces
Éomer tossed down his pen triumphantly, shoving the pile of paperwork he was looking at to one side of the small table as he looked out of the window of the small room he used as a study. Several days of winter storms had kept the residents of Edoras confined indoors, and he had used the time to sort through the documents he needed to look over. Although he had scribes who could do the work for him, he had insisted from the beginning of his reign on having a final say on important matters himself before the documents became official; if there was one thing he had learned from Gríma, it was to never entrust everything to an advisor. But that did not make the paperwork any less tedious, and the sun finally shining outside was too inviting to ignore. He was just wondering if anyone would notice if he snuck out for awhile when he heard a knock at the door. "Come in," he called, grateful for any interruption.
"Good afternoon, brother," Éowyn cheerfully called out, her skirt swishing as she entered the room. "How is it going?"
"Just finished. But if I had known there was so much paperwork involved in being king, I would have begged our uncle to adopt someone else as his heir," Éomer replied with a grimace.
"Then I apologize," Éowyn answered with a mischievous smile on her face, smoothly tossing him two thick leather satchels. "The weather is finally clear enough for a messenger to get through, and so these just arrived. One is from Gondor, the other is collected from many of the nearby settlements." Éomer groaned, then opened the first satchel and began sorting through the contents after one last wistful look out of the window. Éowyn smiled fondly at him, shaking her head. "I suppose that I could help you for awhile," she said.
"Could you?" Éomer asked hopefully; he really had no wish to spend the rest of the day trapped inside. Éowyn nodded assent as she took the other satchel, and Éomer went back to work. Several reports from the surrounding villages on their food supplies for the winter and an update on the progress in repairing the wall at Helm's Deep later, Éomer pulled out a small, sealed letter, turning it over curiously. "This one is for you, Éowyn," he said. "It could not be from Faramir though, unless it ended up in the wrong bag."
Éowyn reached over and took the letter. "It is not," she said, turning it over and running a finger over the unfamiliar seal before opening it. As she scanned the first few lines, her face lit up in delight. "It is from Merry!" she exclaimed.
Éomer smiled, leaning back in the chair. "And how is our hobbit friend faring?" he asked.
"Well, he sends you his greetings, and apologizes for not writing sooner," she said. "He says they only arrived back in the Shire a few months ago, and that they had some problems with invaders, but they managed to push them out." She paused, then grinned as she read aloud, "Sam is to be married to Rosie Cotton in the spring, and all of us agree that it's about time he finally found the courage to ask her. And Pippin is standing over my shoulder insisting that I tell you that I might not be far behind him, but I assure you this is most certainly not the case. Estella is simply a good friend of mine; if you ask me, I think that Pippin will be the next to get married. He is quite taken with Dia…" she paused, then added, "It looks like they got into a fight over the pen here. The next bit is rather hard to read."
Éomer stood up and glanced over her shoulder, noting the scribbled ink lines she pointed out. "I would not put that past either one of them," he agreed with a smirk.
"All right, this is where it starts again," she said, beginning to pace the floors as she continued reading. "By the way, Pippin sends his greetings to you and King Éomer as well, and wishes that you pass his greetings along to Lord Faramir." Éowyn smiled softly, as she always did whenever her betrothed was mentioned.
"Anything else?" Éomer said in mock impatience. Éowyn shot him a mock glare, then glanced down at the parchment again. As her eyes traveled down the page, Éomer could see her hand begin to tremble slightly and her face turn pale. "Éowyn?" he asked, suddenly concerned. His sister didn't respond, except to walk over to his chair and sit down heavily. "Éowyn, what is wrong?" he asked again, walking over to her. She silently handed him the letter, an unreadable expression on her face. He scanned the page until he found where she had left off and began to read:
And now I must turn to more serious matters. I do not wish to cause you any pain, Éowyn, but I feel it is my duty to inform you that Gríma is dead. I failed to tell you earlier that Saruman was the one who caused the trouble in the Shire. He destroyed much, and the rebuilding is why I was not able to write to you earlier. He brought Wormtongue with him, though he was in a wretched state when I saw him. In the end, it was Wormtongue who slew Saruman, and he in turn was killed by some of our archers. I myself stood by as his body was burned, as did Pippin, and I can assure you that he will not return to trouble you again.
Éomer furrowed his brow thoughtfully. He had taken every precaution to assure that Wormtongue would not return to Edoras; one of his first acts as king had been to issue an edict that if he was found anywhere within Rohan's borders, he was to be immediately brought to Edoras and executed for treason. And it seemed that Éowyn had told Faramir about him, at least in part; shortly before his uncle's burial, he had quietly approached Éomer and asked him how he might know the man if he saw him. At one time, Éomer would have laughed aloud at the thought of the usually mild-tempered Steward of Gondor attacking anyone, but he had since learned not to underestimate his soon-to-be brother. And the cold anger in Faramir's eyes had assured Éomer that he would do all in his power to protect Éowyn if Gríma ever dared to show his face in Gondor. But though Éowyn never spoke of it, he knew that his uncle's former advisor still haunted her steps at times, even if only in her thoughts. And the Shire was the last place he would have expected him to turn up.
He silently thanked the hobbit for thinking to tell them as he glanced up from the letter. Éowyn's eyes were closed, and Éomer walked over and laid a hand on her shoulder. When she opened her eyes and looked up at him, he could see the tears shining in her eyes, but they were mingled with a look of relief as she whispered, "It is over. It is finally over."
Éomer smiled grimly as he handed the letter back to his sister. "I should write to Aragorn later and tell him of Saruman's demise," he said thoughtfully. "And I am certain that Faramir will wish to hear this news as well." Éowyn looked up at him gratefully, moving towards the table and reaching for a piece of parchment. Éomer put a hand out to stop her. "The letter can wait, little sister. If I do not get out of this hall soon, I will surely go mad! And I am certain that your horse probably feels very much the same, after this storm."
Éowyn smiled as she quickly scrubbed the last traces of tears away with the back of her hand. "I will go change into something more suitable then," she said, glancing down at the letter in her hand one last time before leaving the room. Éomer also could not help smiling as he walked towards his own quarters, feeling as if a huge weight had been lifted off him with the knowledge that Wormtongue was gone for good. Now perhaps, he hoped, the last traces of the shadow his words had cast over his sister's spirit would finally vanish at last.