To The King!
How Did It Come to This?
This is a not for profit work of fan fiction based on the characters of J.R.R. Tolkien. This fiction is AU.
The warrior paused, resting his forehead against the massive oak doors leading into the imposing domed chamber, repository for remains of the Kings and the Stewards of Gondor. The predawn air was still cold enough to transform each exhalation into misty shadows before his face. His heart beat fiercely in his chest, not from fear, but from emotion, and his calloused hands gripped the door handles tightly. Steeling himself, he thrust open the doors and strode purposefully into the darkened room.
No breath of air stirred inside the darkened hall made even mustier by the lingering odor of the recently burned pyre. Denethor II, 26th Steward of Gondor, rendered insane by the overuse of the Palantír, had committed suicide and attempted the murder of his wounded younger son, Faramir. Only the heroic actions of the wizard Gandalf and Pippin, Hobbit of the Shire and Guard of the Citadel, had saved Faramir's life. Though already gravely wounded in the suicidal charge to retake Osgiliath and burned by the fire, the young man had recovered, clutched from death by the healing hands of the king. He now served Gondor as its 27th Steward. More importantly, from the warrior's point of view, he was presently courting the Lady Éowyn, Shield Maiden of Rohan, whom he met in the house of healing while they both healed from their ring war injuries.
Booted footfalls echoed hollowly as he made his way down the rows of carved marble. The coldness in his chest had little to do with the chill of the air and much to do with the numbing knot of grief that even now threatened to overwhelm him. The only illumination came from the faint moonlight cascading peacefully through the open doors in sharp relief to the macabre shadows thrown onto the walls by the flickering torches. He looked neither left nor right, for it was not the marbled tombs of these esteemed men that he sought, but one lone wooden box covered with the green and white banner of Rohan. Inside the box, placed here with great reverence by the warrior himself, lay the remains of Théoden, seventeenth King of Rohan.
Éomer, son of Éomund, knelt beside the box, easily running his hand along the richly colored material. Scorch marks and fire damage still affected parts of the hall, but that did not concern him. His complete attention was on the box in front of him. He had come here, long before the King's Honor Guard would arrive, to spend some time alone with his king for the last time. "I have come to take you home, uncle, to rest with Théodred and our forefathers."
In recognition of Rohan's aid and sacrifices, King Elessar had graciously offered to entomb King Théoden here in all the splendor of these halls, but Éomer knew that his uncle would never rest well here. No, cold marble tombs were not for the men of Rohan, but the soft rolling mounds in view of Edoras, where the scent of Simbelmynë always lingered and the shadow of the mountains fell, was where their spirits longed to rest.
For several months now, the body of Théoden, King of Rohan had reposed here while his successor led the Rohirrim in support of Aragorn, Heir of Isildur. Mordor had been defeated and Aragorn crowned King Elessar in the time that had passed. For these months, Éomer had remained with his men, guarding the city and helping to seek out and destroy the roving bands of Orcs that still plagued parts of the kingdom. Having paid such a dear price in riding to Gondor's aid, Éomer would not see the job undone by any remaining Orcs, Corsairs, Haradrim, or Dunlendings. Gondor and Rohan both would require years to fully rebuild and re-man their armies, but rebuild they would, for Middle Earth still housed enemies, and these enemies would once again grow bold.
Éomer placed his cheek against the soft material of the banner as tears began to fall onto the richly colored cloth. Embarrassed and surprised, Éomer jerked his head up and quickly stanched them. He had vowed long ago never to allow tears to fall from his eyes again…never to show what he felt was a weakness in himself. The last time he had allowed tears to fall was on the day he saw what the Orcs had done to his father.
He wasn't supposed to be in here, but Éomer was a very determined little boy. He would spend a few private moments with his father's body, as befitted a son. When his mother left the room to care for Éowyn, he entered. Squaring his shoulders in an unconscious imitation of Éomund, Éomer gently pulled the blanket from his father's face and upper chest. What he found shocked him to his very core. He staggered back and sank to his knees, fighting back the bile rising to burn his throat. He choked off the scream threatening to tear from his body by biting hard on his hand until the blood flowed down his arm. After a few minutes, he was able to come once again to his feet. Swallowing hard, he managed to pull the blanket once again to cover his father's face, hiding the horror. Shaking, he laid his head on his father's chest and for a moment could pretend that, the truth was not the truth…that his father was only sleeping. But like the restless sea, the truth can not be held back. Doubt such as he had never known in his brief life assailed Éomer. How could his strong father, who always protected him, who was so powerful and brave, and who's booming laugh filled the entire house, be encased in this same cold and torn body? He believed his father to be invincible; he was the Chief Marshal of the entire Riddermark! Tears of fear, grief, and confusion poured from his very soul as he clung to the shell that had filled his life with love and security. He cried until there were no tears left and even then the small body shook with silent sobs. "I will find them, father," the boy promised. "I'll hunt down and kill every orc there is."
Some time later well-meaning adults found him there and ushered back to his bedroom with the admonition that he must not cry…that he must be brave. He lay for a long time in the darkness thinking about his father and the lessons Éomund had always taught him. Next door he could hear the wails of his little sister, Éowyn, who had finally been told of her father's death. Sliding off the bed, Éomer quietly went to his sister's room. Sitting on the bed beside her, he allowed the little one to sit up into his arms and cry on his shoulder. He almost smiled to think of it, for more often than not, they were playfully tormenting each other with him acting extremely irritated that so small a child would want to tag along in his shadow. Wrapping his arms around her he said the only thing he could think of. "Do not cry, Éowyn, I will take care of you."
And to this vow of his heart he remained true. From that day forward, and especially after the quick death of their mother, Éomer took on the protector role for his sister, even going so far as to teach her riding and sword play for protection. He vowed that she would be able to defend herself should anything ever happen to him like it had his father. He never forgot the promise he made to his father either. He'd spent his entire adult life hunting down Orcs and any enemy of his beloved Mark. Éomer shook his head, bringing himself back to the present; to this place he had hoped not to be for many long years. For these few moments, before the honor guard arrived, he could just be Éomer saying goodbye to his uncle, the man who had raised him and Éowyn after the deaths of their parents…the man who had taught him what it was to be a warrior. He wanted to say something…to thank him for all he had done and been, but words failed him. Éomer was a man of actions, not words.
When he walked out of this room he would have to be Éomer King and once again the strong presence his people expected. But the truth was, he did not feel like a king…did not want to be king. It was his cousin Théodred that should be here, Théodred that was schooled and tempered to inherit the throne, before he had been fatally wounded at the Fords of Isen. Éomer was comfortable in his role as Third Marshal of the Mark. He was a good warrior, a man brave and honorable. What did he know of politics, of crop yields, or of settling disputes? "How did it come to this, uncle?" The words sounded as hollow coming from his throat as they did in the echo of the empty hall. The fatigue of his body, soul, and spirit, drew him once again to the past as the words brought a brief smile to his face. He recalled so often hearing those words from his uncle's lips, usually in connection to Éomer being brought before him for discipline. He allowed his mind to drift backwards again…to happier days long before the horror of the Pelennor Fields.
The doors to the Golden Hall of the Meduseld crashed open with a vengeance causing Théoden to glance up in irritation from the map table where he had been working. All activity in the great hall ceased and voices fell silent as all eyes turned as one to the entrance. What the King saw as the disturbance caused him to frown even deeper. Erkenbrand, Marshal of the Westfold, marched down the center of the hall in a near rage. Large and imposing even when in good temper, the Marshal seemed to have grown even stronger in his anger. Erkenbrand's arms were the thickness of tree limbs, and dangling from one hand, his feet barely scraping the floor, was Éomer. Théoden straightened from the table and turned to face the pair as Erkenbrand stormed down the central walkway, skirting the fire pit in the center to halt before his sovereign.
"My King, it has happened again," boomed the irate Marshal. "You know that I love the boy, but he is not proven; he is too young to ride with my éored." With that Erkenbrand dropped Éomer who quickly made his feet and stood resolutely before his king. He schooled his young face into a look a determination, but not before Théoden had seen the nervousness he masked.
Théoden sighed and brought his eyes back to the Marshal. "How far did you make it this time, old friend?" He bit the inside of his lip to keep back the smile that threatened to show. He could not, however, keep the twinkle from his eyes. Thankfully, he realized, Éomer was too young to notice the nuances of his uncle's face like his long time Marshal did, and in that moment all the ire left Erkenbrand.
"Many leagues, my lord," he sighed. "The rascal managed to wheedle two of my men into allowing him to join at the back of the éored, where I would not be likely to notice him. They even lent him a cloak to wear!"
Erkenbrand's face colored when the King raised an eyebrow in response. "They are young themselves, my lord, and were swayed by his enthusiasm," he added quickly before clearing his throat gruffly. "Rest assured that I shall give them the proper motivation so that they will not be taken in again."
"Éomer, apologize to Marshal Erkenbrand."
Éomer started at the tone of his uncle's voice. If anything he stood even straighter to face Marshal Erkenbrand. "I apologize, Marshal, for the delay I have caused you." He clamped his teeth together to keep from having to say anymore.
"And," prompted Théoden when he saw the muscle working in the Éomer's jaw.
Éomer swallowed hard and expelled his breath in defeat. "And it will not happen again." Glancing at his uncle, he added softly, "You have my word on it."
"And mine as well," confirmed the king.
Erkenbrand signaled his acceptance of the apology with a nod of his head to Éomer and a slight bow to Théoden. Turning back to Éomer, he placed his hand on the boy's shoulder and met his eyes. "Éomer, son of Éomund, one day we will ride together as brothers and I will be proud to have you by my side."
The beam that lit Éomer's face lightened the mood considerably.
"But," the Marshal continued quickly, "it is not yet that day."
"Marshal, you and your men are welcome to the hospitality of the Meduseld tonight if you wish to leave tomorrow."
"Thank you, my king, but no." With a slight frown and a glance at Éomer, he continued, "We have lost too much time as it is. The Westfold needs us. We will continue our journey immediately, by your leave."
"Of course, Marshal. Safe journey."
Théoden and a suddenly very unsure Éomer watched the man take his leave. Neither spoke for many long moments after the great doors had closed. Glancing around the hall, Théoden's attention prodded the curious to return to their duties after the brief interruption. No doubt they had all been privy to the scene, for the Marshal had fairly bellowed his initial outrage. Sighing again, the king looked at his nephew. 'Walk with me Éomer."
Neither spoke as they left through a side entryway of the golden hall and made their way along the dark passages. The pair passed the buttery and exited through the armory before walking around the building to the very back of the Meduseld. Théoden knew that, outside of the magnificent stables, this was Éomer's favorite place to be, where the view of the White Mountains spoke of timeless serenity while the inevitable winds pummeled the body with the taunt of violence and the reminder of the frailty of life. Éomer loved the place with all his heart for the vista mirrored his own his own soul's serenity and torment.
Théoden stopped slightly ahead of Éomer and stood silent for some moments before turning back to face the lad. "How did it come to this, Éomer?"
Instead of the anger that Éomer expected, it was sadness that he heard in his uncle's voice, and it confused him.
"Éomer, what great value does the Westfold hold to the Mark?"
Éomer mulled over the question. "Since the rising threat from the east," he began thoughtfully, "our Mearas herds are raised and protected there, my lord."
Théoden nodded. "And why are they valuable to us."
"Our horses are the finest in the world," Éomer answered with pride. "They provide swift vengeance to our foes, steadfast loyalty to our éoreds, and a means by which we trade for the goods that we must have to provide for our people."
"That they do," agreed Théoden. "And are there enemies near the Westfold that would harm our horses?"
"Yes, my lord. The Dunlendings are ever jealous, seeking to destroy the grazing lands and burn the villages while Orcs wish to steal our horses," Éomer spat with all the righteous indignation that he could muster. In a land that revered horses, no one loved them more than Éomer, and the thought that even one could purposefully be harmed or stolen for dark purposes only the Orcs knew was almost more than he could stand.
"You speak well, Éomer," the King continued calmly, "now just one last question."
Éomer nodded solemnly, curious as to what his uncle was trying to tell him.
"Who's responsibility is it to protect the Westfold?"
"Marshal Erkenbrand," Éomer immediately answered, his eyes widening as realization began to slowly dawn. "And while I delayed him…." The boy could not finish the sentence. Éomer bowed his head, deeply ashamed of his actions. "Forgive, my lord," he began, his voice thick with emotion, "I did not think… I only wanted to hunt Orcs."
Éomer did not see the small smile that graced Théoden's lips. "Look at me, Éomer," he said fondly. Placing his hands on his nephew's shoulders and gripping them gently, Théoden leaned down to the boy's eye level. "We learn by the mistakes we make, and if Bema smiles on us, no one else suffers from that learning but us. The day will come soon enough when you will hunt Orcs, but as the Marshal said, 'today is not that day'."
Théoden pulled the boy into a bear hug and chuckled to himself as he placed a kiss on the blonde head. "You remind me so much of your father. Come; let us speak no more of this. Our word has been given."
A softly cleared throat interrupted Éomer's thoughts. Standing up, he gave a bow to the box before turning to meet the newcomer. His lieutenant stood discreetly waiting a few steps away. "The Royal Guard has arrived, my lord."
Éomer was surprised to see the sunshine streaming through the open doors, bringing its welcome warming to the chilled air. He nodded. "Has all been prepared as I asked, Gamling?"
"Yes, my lord, all is ready."
"Then let us be done with this wretched place."