To The King

Chapter Forty-Six

Once In a While

That's why we call them heroes
That's why we know their names
And once you heard their stories, you're never quite the same

That's why we call them heroes
The best thing they ever do
Is point to the best in us all, and say if I can you can too

Once In a While – Billy Dean

Once in a while, someone comes along.

That one in a million heart, so pure and so strong.

They can face up to the tears.

And somehow still find a smile, that we only get ev'ry once in a while

"Do not let the boy see me die," Hamm coughed.

"No one is going to die," vowed Faramir. "I have seen enough men die to last me a lifetime. You will live, Hamm. I am not your king, but I give you this order."

A grim smile touched Hamm's lips. "What is it with you Hurins? Boromir would not let me die, either."

"Then listen to us both," whispered Faramir, feeling somewhat gut kicked at the unexpected reminder of his brother. Even after the time that had passed, Boromir's loss was a fresh wound. Faramir looked across the room seeking aid. Where was that healer?

Liam and Raolf knelt beside Faramir, ready to help him move the ferrier over to the plank table, as Hálith raced down the steps with a sheet, blanket, and pillow. "I brought a sheet to use for bandages," he gasped, fear stealing his breath more than his dash upstairs.

"That was good thinking, boy," replied Raolf. "Begin tearing long strips for binding."

Hálith nodded and started to his task, never taking his eyes from Hamm's pale face.

"Let us me lift him, my Lord," said Liam, touching Faramir on the shoulder.

The steward shook his head, loathe to release this good man. "I will take him." Gently, showing strength that belied his slender frame, he lifted Hamm to the table, placing the man down on his stomach.

Raolf placed the pillow under Hamm's head, making sure that his face was turned so that his breathing was unobstructed, and Liam pulled the blanket over his legs and hips to ward off shock.

Faramir's eyed the man who stabbed Hamm, now being held securely by the Rohirric guards. He looked over the sullen lot kneeling on the floor. "Get them out of here," he growled. "I do not care if you have to hog-tie them; make sure they cause no more harm."

Liam motioned for the guards to follow Faramir's orders. "Tie them to that abominable pole out front."

As the guards began herding the prisoners, Dageth returned with Margeth. The scout carried a basket of supplies.

"Get back out of the way," ordered Margeth as she reached the table. "I need room to work here."

Faramir moved to the opposite side of the table, but otherwise remained near. Hálith was at his elbow. The boy had a death grip on Faramir's tunic, a fact the steward figured Hálith was not even aware of.

Quickly Margeth began cutting away Hamm's shirt.

"Raolf, help me up, son," called Barech. "I am used to attending your mother as she works."

Once in a while
Someone has the eyes
That one in a million look
That never tells lies
They can get you on your feet
To walk that extra mile
That we only see
Every once in while

Éomer carried Tredin back to the room he shared with the other boys, not surprised when the lads all roused up as he came in. Bergoff, the oldest and self-styled leader of the four boys, sat up and held back the covers for Tredin to slide in beside him. Felord and Gandafin shared the bed across from them.

After seeing Tredin snugly back into his spot, Éomer sat down on the side of the bed. It was evident to him that the boys had all been awaiting news of Tredin. "I was going to talk to you all in the morning, but since you are awake I will speak with you now."

"Are we in trouble?" asked Gandafin, the youngest and often most insecure. The boy had immediately taken immediately to Faramir and now announced to one and all that he wished to be a ranger.

Éomer cocked his head, as though considering the boy's question, then smiled and shook his head. "I have come with an important request for you."

"For us?" asked Felord, sitting up beside Gandafin.

"Yes," replied Éomer solemnly. "You see, once Éowyn is wed to Faramir, they will make their home in Gondor. I will be very lonely then. I was hoping that all of you children would remain here with me."

"For how long?" asked Bergoff, wanting to know all the details to that he could help the young ones cope with any circumstance.

Éomer smiled at the question, noting Bergoff's protectiveness. "Well done, son of Rohan. You have the character of a good warrior. The answer to your question is for as long as you wish," he replied seriously. "I will never force you to remain with me."

"We can stay here forever!" squealed Tredin, unable to keep the good news to himself any longer.

The boys broke out into loud cheers, jumping into Éomer's arms, knocking him onto his back, with little boys swarming all over him.

The celebration, not unexpectedly, soon brought Márta, Meela, and Thela from next door to see what was going on. The little girls were as excited about the news as the boys, though understandably not as rowdy.

Three year old Thela nudged her way through the excited children to where she could get Éomer's attention.

"What is it, little one?" he asked, when she kept patting his knee impatiently.

"Elena, too?" asked Thela, for she had come to dearly love the old woman.

Éomer smiled and kissed the little girl on the forehead. "Elena, too," he confirmed. "She has a home with us as long as she wants."

"Will you tell us a story?" asked Márta.

"Please?" echoed her sister, Meela.

The plea was soon taken up by all the children.

"Very well," laughed Éomer. "Come girls, climb up onto the bed with us for the floor is cold and you are all bare of foot. After the story, though, you must all get to sleep. Hildegard is fixing hotcakes for break-fast."

"Yum!" smiled Thela. "I love Hildegard's hotcakes!"

Éomer settled the children and made sure they were all covered. The king glanced around the room, his eyes coming to rest on a familiar object. "Do you know whose room this is?"

"It is our room," answered Gandafin, and to a four year old, that was quite a logical and correct answer.

Éomer smiled and ruffled the boy's hair. "True enough, little ranger, but what I meant was whose room it was before it belonged to the four of you."

The children all looked around seeking clues. The room was much like all the others they had seen. Beds graced with oak headboards carved with images of their beloved horses, chest holding four drawers with a wash basin and ewer on top, chair, and pelts covering the floor. The most interesting thing of note was a lance mounted on the wall. The green standard of Rohan was attached just above end.

Éomer watched as, one by one, their eyes came back to the lance. "I made that."

"Was this your room?" asked Thela.

"No, this room belonged to Prince Théodred," replied Éomer. "I made the lance for him.

"It is pretty," said Meela.

The little boys groaned. Only a girl would call a warrior's weapon…pretty.

Éomer's eyes twinkled in mirth, but he would not crush the little girl's feelings for anything. "Thank you, Meela."

"Why did you make it for him?" asked Felord. "Was it for his birthday?"

"Is that the story you are going to tell us?" questioned Thela before Éomer could answer, "about the prince's birthday?"

"Perhaps another time," said Éomer. "Tonight I am going to tell you one of my favorite memories of Théodred, for I loved him very much. I called him Theo…"

That's why we call them heroes
That's why we know their names
And once you heard their stories, you're never quite the same

"Theo!" called Éomer, walking across the yard from the stable to join his cousin. "That brute is a beauty."

"You think so, squirt?" Théodred grinned. "I think he has the look of one that needs a strong hand. Have a care, Éomer; this one likes to reward inattention with a good kick."

Taking care to avoid the roan's hind quarters, Éomer fell into step beside Théodred as they walked the stallion to the corral where the breaking in of the horses was done. "What is his name?"

"Fedranth," answered Theo, grunting as the stallion jerked his head and attempted to reverse direction, forcing Théodred to bring him back to task.

At seventeen hands tall, this strawberry roan would be a handful for anyone, but this beauty seemed to have a mind of his own, for every few steps he would buck and cow kick. A lesser horseman could easily be intimidated by such a handful, but Théodred was the most accomplished horseman Éomer had ever seen.

The corral where they headed was outside the city gates, where there was room a plenty for the breaking process. The proud and stubborn Horse Lords of Rohan were equally matched in those attributes by their horses.

"Are you changing horses?" asked Éomer, for Théodred's responsibilities did not normally allow him the luxury - and fun – of breaking horses. There was a regular set of warriors who covered those responsibilities.

"No, he is a gift for Ori, so I wish to see to him myself."

"Oh," replied Éomer, a little surprised. He knew of his cousin's friendship with the heir to the Steward of Gondor, for Boromir was often allowed to visit Rohan. Éomer liked the lad. He was never short tempered with Éomer for wanting to tag along with the older pair, and he had also helped Éomer with his sword work. But a horse of this stature was extremely valuable, and Uncle Théoden had impressed upon him the importance of wise trading to keep Rohan well supplied.

Theo hiked an eyebrow at Éomer's surprise. "You wonder why I would gift such a costly animal."

Éomer colored. "It is not for me to question…"

"How will you learn if you do not question, Éomer?" smiled Théodred. "There must never be fear to question between us." The pair walked quietly for a bit as Théodred let his young cousin think on his words. Sighing, he stopped walking, forcing Éomer to stop as well. "Boromir is more than my friend, Éomer, he is my shield brother. Fedi's value is but a poor shadow when compared to Ori's. Do you understand?" Théodred grunted again as Fedi gave a great buck and then attempted to eat one of the wild flowers lining the pathway.

Éomer grinned. "How will your shield brother feel when this brute breaks his leg with one of those kicks?"

Théodred sighed. "That is what we are here to deal with now."

The pair had reached the corral, so Éomer pulled open the gate, latching it after horse and horse lord had entered.

"Come on, you great streak of aggravation," remarked Theo, leading Fedranth into the corral. For the next two hours, the premier horseman in a nation of horsemen, did battle royale with the great strawberry streak of aggravation - as he would come to be known - as Éomer watched in nearly stunned silence. Such was the battle of wills that Éomer found himself alternately filled with wonder and respect…for both combatants.

Théodred was bleeding freely from a cut to his head, suffered when he was thrown into one of the corral posts. Éomer was about to call a truce when Fedranth gave a great huff and surrendered. Proudly, the roan pranced around the paddock for several circles, and then, as though adding a crescendo to the overture, pitched Théodred head over heels into the water trough on the outside of the corral.

Éomer burst out laughing, and walked over to offer his cousin a hand.

With a flick of his tail and a roll of his eyes, Fedranth huffed again for effect and calmly pranced around the corral. Théodred was scowling at first, but then joined in the laughter, for what could such a superb horseman appreciate more than Fedi getting the last word!

"What is a shield brother?" asked Bergoff.

Éomer pondered how best to explain. "There are brothers of blood, and then there are brothers of the heart. That is what Theo and Boromir were. Do you understand?"

Éomer could see that the children still struggled with the concept. "You all had fathers and mothers of the blood. Fate has taken those parents from you, but in return, has made us a family of the heart. The love and loyalty we bear each other is from choice and not from what runs in our veins."

"Does this make you our shield father?" asked Thela, blinking sleepy eyes and snuggling in the king's arms.

Once in a while
I still hear his voice
That one in a million sound
Like two laughing boys
He would hated if we cried
That never was his style

Oh we still miss him
Every once in a while

Faramir watched as Margeth finished stitching the wound to Hamm's back. The healer felt certain that his lungs were intact and that, Bema willing, he would recover. Liam had quietly ushered out all save Margeth, Faramir, Barech, Raolf, Hálith, and himself. Hálith was exhausted, and sat slumped against the table, dozing.

Margeth finished tying off the bandages, and gently pulled the blanket up to cover Hamm's shoulders. "He will heal better if he can rest on something more comfortable than this table," she said tiredly. "Carry him upstairs, and I will wait with him through the night."

"No mother," said Raolf. "You are exhausted. I will sit with Hamm. I can call you if you are needed."

Margeth started to object, but Faramir stepped around the table to place a hand on her arm. "Your son is correct, Margeth. You have done all you can do this night. You need rest, and Barech needs his wife to be with him. I thank you for the service you have given."

Margeth looked into the kind face of the steward and smiled. "You are a good man, Faramir of Gondor." Her eyes looked down at her patient and then at Raolf. "Call me if I am needed."

Raolf kissed his parents and wished them a good night. As they left, he turned to Faramir. "Hamm said that your brother refused to let him die as well. That is a story I would like to hear."

Faramir nodded, a far away look in his eyes. "As would I…as would I."

Ooh how I miss him
Every once in a while