Author's Note: This is the first in (hopefully) a series of short-stories depicting important moments in the life of Éomer, Marshal and later King of Rohan. As this is by no means a closed story, I eagerly await your input, and maybe you have ideas yourself about what other defining moments there could be. As I am only just beginning with this, I'd be most interested to hear your ideas!
Disclaimer: Éomer and everyone else belong to the Tolkien heirs (hard but true). Yet as little has been said about the people of Rohan before the time of the Ring-War, I am taking the freedom to fill a few gaps with my ideas purely for entertainment's sake.
Warnings: None. No violence, no swearing. A thoroughly harmless piece, I'd say. J Lots of pathos, probably.
Rating: Due to the adult nature of the subject, I'd say a "T" should do it.
DAY OF REGOGNITION
„I understand this is difficult for you, father, but it is time. If you do not give him permission today, Éomer will be sourly disappointed. He trained obsessively for years. He had improved every time I tested him, and we all know that he is already an outstanding rider. He is ready, my lord."
The newly appointed Marshal of Westfold, Théodred, who had been summoned to the king's study, cast a brief glance at the other present man and saw appreciation in the solemn expression of the older warrior before he turned back to his father. Both men knew how hard it had to be for Théoden-King to send yet another member of his family out into the brutal, unsure world outside the gates of Edoras, where anything could happen to a man, and much sooner to an inexperienced lad of sixteen summers. The King did not have much family left, and giving his nephew over to the armed forces after he had already allowed his son and heir into the armed forces had to twist his insides. Yet the lad had made it abundantly clear for as long as Théodred had known him that he would not accept to be spared the fate that called the lesser born boys of the Mark to arms at that age, just because he was considered nobility. The boy had a score to settle with the orcs, and ever since that dreadful day when they took his father when he was just aged eleven years, he had been counting the days until he would be able to bring his vengeance upon them.
Nodding upon hearing his son's statement, Théoden-King nevertheless looked grey at the prospects of sending Éomer into the fray that cost the lives of so many valiant warriors every day.
"I know he has advanced with the sword and bow. The weapons master told me of his improvements. But the lad is still too impulsive. He hates the orcs with a vengeance, and I am afraid that his rashness will cause problems on the battlefield."
"We all hate them from the bottom of our hearts, Sire," Elfhelm, one of the valiant captains of the Eastfold responded, his gaze firm and reassuring. "We all had to learn the necessary restraint to battle them without putting ourselves in danger any more than necessary. Éomer, I am certain, will learn it, too. It is true that he is impulsive and does not think through his actions yet, but that cannot be expected of him at this age. He is a smart lad though, and I know that he wants to do his father honour. When Éomund was killed, I vowed to take the lad under my wings once he would be old enough to join the Rohirrim. I stand by that vow now, Théoden-King. I will teach your nephew what he needs to know, and I will protect him with my life. The entire éored has sworn to watch out for him. He will be as safe as he can possibly be out there, but you have to let him earn his honour. Let him walk his own way, my lord. I know that in your heart, you have already decided upon it, even if it is the most difficult decision any parent has to face, to send their children into battle. I know he is like a son to you, my lord." Elfhelm's gaze briefly wandered over to the bench where the newly made armour was lying, ready to be put on its new owner in an ancient ritual. He noticed that while it was as well-crafted as could be expected for a boy of noble decent, it did not stand out from what the rest of his men were wearing.
His king followed his gaze, and said, apparently having read his mind:
"I told the smith to make it strong, but inconspicuous. I do not want to make Éomer a preferred target for our enemies by giving him armour that would betray his standing. He will be disappointed when he sees it, but it will protect him in more ways than the ordinary."
"It will not matter to him what armour you will clad him in, father," Théodred said, squaring his shoulders. "He is yearning to prove himself, and what he is wearing while he is doing it will be of little importance to him." His eyes on the armour for a moment longer and feeling the importance of the moment, the prince raised his chin. "All are ready for the procedure. Shall I summon Éomer now?"
For a moment, the silence between the three men thickened, then the king nodded his head.
"Yes, it is time. Bring him to the armoury, Théodred."
"What is taking them so long?" Éomer fumed, impatience creeping through his veins like an army of ants. For the umpteenth time, he turned on his heels and walked back towards the window of his room, from where he could overview the dusty path leading to the stables. "The marshal arrived hours ago! They should have long called us!"
"Who knows why the marshal is here? Perhaps he has more important things to discuss with uncle than you joining his éored. Perhaps he hasn't come for you at all!" The girl did not flinch as a piercing glance was shot at her from dark eyes. Éomer had to know that she did not mean it, even if he had hardly slept the nights before out of excitement that the time had finally arrived. At her young age of twelve summers, Éowyn knew for how long her brother had been anticipating this day, and the glint of hurt and insecurity she saw in his eyes now due to her remark told her that now was the wrong time for her banter. "I apologise, Éomer. I did not mean it," she added quickly, negating her words. "I do not know what is causing the delay, but I am sure they will come for you soon."
She swallowed, feeling a strange mixture of pride and jealousy as she watched her brother's impatient pacing. The honour Éomer would be granted today was something she could never hope to achieve, and the thought stung, as much as she felt joy for her older sibling. Today, he would leave her to ride with the Mark's most esteemed warriors, to become part of their force and protect their land from the evil that seemed to multiply from month to month, no matter how many of the foul creatures their warriors were slaying on their endless patrols. Strangely, she felt no fear for him. Even though she had seen her share of death in her young life – not least of all their parents – the thought that the Ghost Horse could come to take a soul with him as young as her brother's was something she could not grasp yet, and she felt confident that Éomer was destined to become a great leader of their people; a captain, or possibly even a marshal. He had that determination. As had she. But she had been born in the wrong body.
"I assume we will not see each other for a while, Wyn," Éomer said at length, slowly coming to realise the full consequences of this day. He turned away from the window to face his sister, knowing how she had to feel about their farewell. "The captain will take me back to the Eastfold with his éored. I do not know when I will be back at Edoras."
She felt sad at the thought. Who would be there for her to secretly train with her? To conspire with? To share her thoughts and concerns? Ever since she could remember, Éomer had been there for her, and she for him, both of them fiercely protective about the other and determined never to let any harm come upon them. Théodred, he also belonged to their little circle, even if he was a lot older than they; but he, too, was gone most of the time, protecting the Westfold. And uncle… he cared for them, and Éowyn knew he would do anything for them, but it was different with him. He was an adult. Strangely, she did not consider her cousin that. And then there was also Éothain, Éomer's best friend. He, too, would be gone after today, like a number of other young men whose time had come, and – behaving like a boy most of the time herself she never had had many friends among the girls. From today on, she would be utterly alone.
"Will you live in Aldburg? Will you live in our old home?"
"I do not know, Wyn," Éomer said truthfully, silently asking himself the same question. It would be strange to return to the place where he had spent his youth. To the house that held so many nice memories, as well as some extremely bitter ones, which were the ones which usually came to his mind first whenever he thought back to these days. He had not been back since the dreadful day of his mother's burial, except for the annual day of their parents' death, when their uncle had taken them along to honour their memory by spending some time at the green hills that marked their graves. "I do not presume I will. The marshal lives there now, like we before him. I will probably stay with the other soldiers who have no family there. They used to have a place for themselves when father was marshal, do you remember?"
"Of course! We used to go there to ask for sweets!"
"You may have asked for sweets, but I always went there to hear them talking and telling the adventures they had experienced. Sometimes, they would even let me handle a blade or another token they had taken from the enemy." Again excitement rose in him at the thought that he would be one of the Rohirrim after the ceremony today. Children would come to him and regard him with wide eyes and ask about the battles he had experienced, just as Éowyn and he had done. It was a thought he could hardly grasp yet, even if he had lived for this day ever since he could think. To become one of the Riddermark's heroes, maybe even still be remembered in song long after he was gone…it felt unreal.
The knock on the door interrupted his train of thought like a blow. All of a sudden, the young boy felt the heavy beating of his heart all the way up to his throat, and his mouth went dry. The door opened, and it was his cousin whose head appeared in the opening, a slight smile around his mouth, but otherwise his bearing was awfully official as he eyed them.
"Éomer? Will you follow me? You are wanted in the armoury." His gaze briefly shifted to the other occupant of the room. "You know where you are wanted, Wyn. Léara will bring you there, wait for her here. She should be here any moment." The girl nodded, suddenly looking equally excited as her brother, and only a brief smile flashed across her face in response to Éomer's words as he left their chambers.
"I will see you there, Wyn."
"Well, cousin, how do you feel now that the day has come? Are you ready to become one of the feared Rohirrim?" Théodred's words resounded in the empty corridor they were crossing on the way to the armoury, overlapping the firm sound of their steps. Despite it being his brother-like relative who was accompanying him, Éomer found it difficult to answer. There suddenly seemed to be an enormous lump in his throat.
"Did uncle really agree?"
"Of course he did, Éomer. Why shouldn't he have? You are of age, and you possess the necessary skills. You are an outstanding rider, and you show promise with the sword and spear, even if you still have to work on your aim with the bow. What you are still lacking is strength, which will come with adulthood and practise, and experience. You will get both in Elfhelm's éored. Listen well to what he has to say, for he is one of the most renowned warriors of the Mark. He will teach you what you need to know to survive out there."
"I do not only want to survive. I want the orcs to fear my name. I want them to run from me."
Inwardly smiling over the young man's wilful statement, Théodred nodded.
"Aye, I know. And if you follow the captain's instructions, they will. Together, we will make this foul brood run back all the way to Mordor! – Ah, here we are finally!" He opened the heavy oaken door and indicated Éomer to proceed inside. "I bring you a new man of the sword, Bergfinn! A young warrior who will tear himself in two to protect the Mark and our people. Clad him in the way that is fitting for a man of such purpose!"
The old smith Éomer had known ever since he had arrived at Edoras to live with his uncle straightened as he eyed him with a strange expression on his face.
"A new protector of the Mark, you say, my prince." He nodded. "And I am certain he will be a fine protector, and that no enemy will ever be able to do her harm for as long as he is out there. Yet in order to fulfil his task, every protector needs protection himself. Will you please step over here, young lord, and receive your armour? I made it myself with the greatest care, and hope it will protect you from each arrow, bolt, sword or spear you will ever encounter!" His gaze fixed on Éomer, Bergfinn lifted up an apparently heavy bundle from the bench he was standing at, and the low shingle of metal caused the boy's heart to accelerate even more. Finally, his own shirt of mail! And a cuirass, too! Excited, he stepped forth, and as he turned around on the smith's indication, he became aware of his cousin's proud smile.
"Let me assist you with that, my brother-in-arms!"
The commanding sound of the ancient horn called out to the citizens of Edoras, who had assembled on the great round marketplace, the place of recognition for the young men who would begin their warrior-lives today. The ceremony was ancient, and the time for it always the same: twice a year, ten days after Midsummer and ten days after Yule, the cities' and villages young men who had turned sixteen in the course of the last six months would be called to arms and dispersed into the local éoreds to learn the art of war. Most of them would return to their home after a year of duty to help on the fields of their home villages and pick up arms only in the case of an attack, but some of them would become part of the constant forces that were patrolling the lands, warriors for life. The legendary Rohirrim, who were feared by their foes. The call to duty was one of the most important events in every man's life, and thus the citizens of Edoras had assembled on the place in full and excitedly waited for their king to address this year's recruits.
Already, the sound of the horns emitting from outside the Golden Hall announced the arrival of the royal procession from the top of the hill, and heads turned. Preceding the line of mounted warriors was their king on his intimidating mount Snowmane, and he was clad in full armour, as befitting the occasion. Théoden-King was flanked by his son and heir on his young bay stallion, likewise adorned in mail, and a young girl with a serious expression the people knew as the king's niece. Heralds with banners rode on their left and right, and on them the White Horse Félarof danced proudly on the wind. Following them was the fully assembled Royal Guard on their horses, their shiny armours and helmets sparkling in the sun as they descended the slope toward the great place. At last, a small group of eleven riders followed the procession, all of them young lads whose expressions were a mixture of excitement and pride. Two of them were clad in armour that indicated their noble descent, among them the wilful young man the people recognised as King Théoden's nephew Éomer and their beloved captain Ceorl's son Éothain, and their hearts went out to them, silently murmured prayers for their well-being wandering through the rows. Those two, the people knew, would remain among the warriors after their first year of duty… if they survived. They would rise in the hierarchy from simple riders to captains or maybe even marshals, endlessly roaming the Mark in search of their enemies, long after the other nine lads, who would only join the riders to learn the skills to defend themselves and their people would be back on the fields.
Well aware of the importance of that day, the citizens fell silent as their king approached the centre of the square, where he turned his horse and waited until the rest of the procession had fallen into place at his side or, in the case of the young riders who were to be distributed to the éoreds, opposite him. Briefly he met his nephew's eyes, and the contradiction of emotions that flooded him – pride, fear and sadness – threatened to overwhelm him for a moment before he raised his voice above the now silent crowd.
"Citizens of Edoras! The day has once again arrived. For some of our sons, childhood ends today, and they will commit their lives to the greater good: the protection of our people and our values, and the pursuit of the Mark's enemies wherever they may find them. For some of you, it may be hard to say farewell. The plains are dangerous grounds, and all of us are aware that when destiny calls us, not even the bravest and most valiant warrior can hide from it. Yet the thought may comfort you of what those young men who have reached adulthood will find out there: each of them will make his way. They will not only be taught the way of the sword, but also be shown the path to wisdom and humility. They will learn to weigh decisions against each other and find the right one, they will learn about battle rage and also about mercy. They will find their courage in the face of fear, and strength and companionship, and grow into respectable men of the Mark you, their parents and relatives, can be proud of. Now let us commit the sons of Éorl to the ways of the warriors with this oath!"
He turned from the crowd to the eleven impatiently waiting men, indicating with a short nod for them to urge their horses forward until they stood in the middle of the circle. For a brief moment, his eyes lingered on Éomer's face, and the expression of dedication in his nephew's gaze moved him. 'May Eru himself hold his protective hands over you, sister-son,' he prayed silently, hardly able to keep the flood of emotions from his voice as he began to call the young men forth to individually speak their oath. Last of them, it was Éomer's turn, and the sparkle in the dark eyes that reminded Théoden so much of his sister told him how much this ceremony meant to him as his sincere voice rang out into the silence.
"My name is Éomer, son of Éomund and Théodwyn. Let the gods hear my words now and punish me if I ever stray from them: From this day henceforth to the end of my days, I swear my allegiance and fealty to the Lord of Riddermark and its people. I shall strive to uphold the values and laws of our land, and I shall defend them against all attacks foreign and domestic. With the wisdom and skill I will be taught, I shall protect our people, and pursue and destroy our enemies wherever I may find them. My life for the Mark and its king. Hail Théoden!"
Holding his uncle's gaze, he raised the arm with his sword, and the passion and sincerity of his oath was obvious to all who listened, and heads turned to wait for their king's response, even though they knew that the words would not differ from the ones he had given the other young men.
"Then, Éomer, son of Éomund and Théodwyn, know that Rohan accepts you in her service. Your vow has been heard, and the way you see to its fulfilment shall determine how you will be remembered." The king nodded, and even though he fought, the surrounding people could here the emotion in his voice. "You will join Captain Elfhelm's éored, and the Eastmark will be your realm to protect. Hail, young rider of Rohan!"
He watched as Éomer directed his steed over to what was now the éored he was part of with an expression of glowing pride, and a bitter feeling of loss overwhelmed him. After the festivities of tonight, it would be a while before he would see his nephew again, and even with Elfhelm's vow to protect the young man echoing in his mind, Théoden could not help feeling dread over having committed yet another member of his dwindling family to the horrors of war. It was not right to send their children into battle, and possibly see them die before their parents. The gods could be cruel indeed, and Théoden asked himself not for the first time whether he would live to see the end of their struggle.
As the formal barriers of riders and citizens dissolved and people moved toward the built-up stands with food and ale and music began to rise for the informal part of the celebration, the king's gaze went up to the sky above them, and the dark clouds gathering in the distance…