A/N: I realize some of you who've enjoyed my Lothiriel stories won't care for this one, given its OC/AU nature. My apologies for that. I decided my writing skills could benefit from writing a long story with as many original characters as possible, and this is the result. Take heart: I still have plans for a sequel to Awakenings, the second in the Eomer/Lothiriel series I've done. See below for an additional A/N.
This is mostly movieverse, with some details added from the books. Also, don't despair – more canon characters do show up, but they're not very present in the beginning of the story.
Timeline Notes: According to Tolkien's timeline, the ring was destroyed on March 25, 3019 TA (Third Age); Aragorn was crowned on May 1st; Eomer and Eowyn left May 8 for Rohan; Eomer then returned to Gondor in July to escort Theoden's body back to Edoras.
Thus the first part of the prologue occurs shortly after Eomer is banished from Edoras, but before the attack on Helm's Deep.
Late February, 3019 TA
"Are we going to die?" Her sister's voice was very small, very frightened.
"No." Yes. Probably. The west end of the village was already burning, and she could hear women screaming. Not good. There were so few men left, and those that were had gone off that afternoon after word of an a marauding band of orcs had come in. These were no orcs attacking them, but wild Dunlendings from the west. She looked around, tried to avoid the frightened eyes of her sister. There was no where for them to go, but to stay meant death.
She made a decision. "Brynwyn, get your cloak. Quickly!" Turning, she grabbed her own wrap, went to the door of the small cottage. Noting her sister was now in her cloak, trying to fasten it, she looked outside.
The west was lit by the burning homes, the east was dark from the moonless night. But it was to the east they would go. Lisswyn slipped out, turned to motion Brynwyn out behind her…and heard a scream that told her they were too late.
She turned, saw two dark Dunlendings bearing down on her, torches made from burning pieces of her neighbors' homes in their hands and leers on their faces. Knowing what the leers meant, and knowing they wouldn't limit their perversions to just her, her fear intensified. Down the lane, she saw others of their kind coming. Was there no way she could at least save her sister? Shoving Brynwyn behind her, she started backing up, desperately trying to think of something, anything, that could yet give them a chance.
The wildmen stopped. Grinned at her. Then the biggest one tossed his torch onto the roof of their home. It was dry, for it had been a dry winter, and in seconds, the structure joined the others that were burning. The men laughed with glee, and moved closer, trying to trap them against the burning cottage. She motioned behind her with her hand, trying to tell Brynwyn to back up, to move toward the corner. If they could reach the open field...
The heat from the fire was growing. Any moment, the roof would cave in and the walls would follow. Perhaps that would distract the men stalking toward her.
Too late. The nearest one jumped toward her, dropping his torch as he tried to grab her.
"Run!" she shouted to her sister before ducking beneath her attacker's arm. Knowing she risked a bad burn, if nothing else, she hit the ground, rolled until she was able to grab the branch, still burning brightly. She leapt back to her feet and desperately stabbed out with it, managing to catch her enemy with a swipe across the chest. He stumbled backward, looked down to see if he was burning.
She darted closer, swiped again, this time higher up. And found fortune, as his beard caught fire. He howled, and began beating his face in attempt to put it out. If she survived this, perhaps she would someday find the memory of the man hitting himself amusing.
But his companion, no longer smiling, moved in closer, and she saw now that in addition to a torch, he carried a sword. He sliced out at her with it, and she ducked, tried to reach him with her torch. He darted back, then came toward her again, only to feint right at the last moment. With terror, she realized he was not aiming for her, but for the little girl behind her.
"No! You will not harm her!" It was suicide, she knew that. But perhaps she could give Brynwyn a chance. She charged him, torch held in front of her. It would be an easy thing for him to strike her down. "Run!" she cried again to her sister, knowing it was hopeless, knowing the little girl wouldn't know where to run even if her fear wasn't holding her motionless.
…and the whole world was suddenly filled with shouts and thundering hooves. It was uncertain as to who was more startled – Lisswyn or her assailant. But she recovered first, recognizing the horsemen as Eorlingas. Still holding her brand, now burning dangerously low, she darted back toward the dubious shelter of the burning cottage, and Brynwyn, cowering near it.
The Dunlendings were no match for the riders, particularly one who was obviously the leader. His helmet had a long tail, a mark of leadership, but she couldn't tell its color.
It mattered not as she watched him hew down the men who'd been threatening her.
Dropping the torch, she ran forward and pried the sword from the second man's hand. A weapon was a weapon.
Lisswyn looked back up, found the rider looking at her.
For a moment, his face shone clear in the firelight. He nodded to her, to the sword she now clutched. "Keep that. There may be others we've missed. We'll be back."
Then he spun his horse and galloped toward the retreating wildmen.
Brynwyn crept up to her. "Are the wildmen gone?"
"They will be."
"Who were the riders?"
"I don't know. We may yet find out, but it is enough that the eored was near, and came to our aid."
The horsemen were now out of her sight, and she looked down at Brynwyn. The little girl was trembling, and Lisswyn doubted it was from the cold. She dropped the sword, wrapped her arms around her sister and held her tight. They were alive. For the moment, it was enough.
Then she looked back toward the cottage, now consumed. The new question was how they were going to stay alive with no home.
Wanting to tremble and weep herself, she instead turned back to Brynwyn, brushed the little girl's hair out of her eyes. "We will be fine. The riders saved us…won't that be a tale to tell?"
Her sister nodded, her own attempt at bravery. Then she too looked over at the wreckage of their home, looked back at Lisswyn, her eyes full of questions.
"We'll go see how others in the village fared, see if we can find shelter."
In the distance, shouts were dying down. She wondered if the riders would return. In her mind's eye she could still see the leader, and the look he'd given her. A strong face, a good man. She hoped she learned his name.
She picked up the sword, took her sister's hand, and started cautiously down the lane. They had not gone far when she began to wish they hadn't, that she'd at least been able to spare her sister the sight of so many of their neighbors, dead in front of them. Where was Maegwen and her family? And Hilde?
She turned at the sound of her name, relieved to see their uncle coming toward them. The husband of her father's sister, he wasn't a favorite of hers as he'd ever been critical of her father. But a known face was a welcome sight.
"We saw the cottage go, and feared for you. Did you see the eored come through?" He sounded awed, something she would have been hard pressed to imagine.
"They saved us." She had to ask, had to know. "Does anyone know who they were?"
The old man looked at her, then glanced down at Brynwyn, an absent frown on his face. He started to answer, but was prevented by the sound of the horsemen returning. They looked up, and Lisswyn was glad to see the leader riding toward them, his helmet distinct even in the dim firelight.
He rode up beside them, pulled his horse to a stop. He looked as if he would address Lisswyn, but her uncle stepped in front of her. Brynwyn, on the other hand, hid behind her, and Lisswyn wondered if they appeared as silly as she suspected.
"I owe you gratitude for saving the lives of my nieces, Lord."
Lord? Who was this man?
The rider nodded at her uncle, dismounted, and stepped sideways enough to see her.
"Where will you go now?" He seemed to be appraising her age. "Does your husband live?"
Lisswyn opened her mouth to answer, but her uncle's braying laughter stopped her. "Her? She has no husband. None were good enough for her."
Lisswyn's face burned with anger and shame. He was being so unfair, and to mock her in such a manner in front of the rider was unenduable. The truth was, there were so few men of her age left in the village – most wiped out by orc-raids – that there'd been none to really choose from. So he, her fifty-five year old uncle-by-marriage, had announced he would marry her after her aunt had died of a sickness the year before. And was yet angry that she had turned him down, that her father had supported her in that choice.
The rider completely ignored the comment, and repeated his question. "Where then, will you go?"
"They will go home with me." Her uncle again answered before she could speak. The rider was going to think her mute. Not that it mattered. "Those who still have standing homes will provide for those who do not. It's the way of our village."
In this, at least, he was correct, and Lisswyn spared a moment to wonder who else in the village still had a cottage left. Then she was distracted again by the rider. He moved a little to her left again, looking down, and she realized he was watching Brynwyn.
Baffled, she watched as he kneeled in front of her, but looked behind her, at her sister.
"And who are you?" His voice was soft. Her uncle opened his mouth again to speak, but the rider silenced him, finally, with nothing more than a glance, before looking again at her sister.
Lisswyn, standing between him and Brynwyn, felt a little ridiculous. But her sister's quiet crying seemed to be slowing. It took a long moment before the little girl answered, and even Lisswyn had to strain to hear her. "Brynwyn."
But the rider seemed to have no trouble making out the quiet answer. "Brynwyn... you were very brave today." He stood, looked at Lisswyn. "Both of you were."
Lisswyn felt heat crawl up her cheeks again. He was wrong, of course. She hadn't been brave. Just desperate and stupid. "Thank you, Lord." She looked at him again, wanting to remember everything about his face, his eyes. "And thank you for saving us."
He mounted his horse, glanced again at her uncle. "I'll try to send some men back to check on how your village fares."
Her uncle nodded, would have spoken, but the rider was once more looking at Lisswyn. He said nothing though, only nodded to her and Brynwyn before turning his horse and galloping off, calling for his men as he went.
Lisswyn turned to her uncle. "You called him Lord. Do you know who he was, then?"
"It was Eomer. Third Marshal of the Mark, and nephew of the king."
Her heart gave a hard rap against her ribs. Nephew of the king. He was said to be one of the greatest warriors seen in the Riddermark in many a year. And he had saved her life.
Late May, 3019 TA
Eomer, King of Rohan, pulled his horse to a halt, looked over the plains. There, in the far distance, was their destination. Edoras, home of Meduseld, shining golden in the afternoon sun.
His riders were quiet, sensitive to his mood.
He looked over his shoulder as his sister rode up to pause next to him.
"He died well." Her eyes reflected lingering grief at the death of the man they'd both called father.
As ever, she understood. Or nearly.
"It should be Theodred." Coming back to rule in his father's place.
She looked back toward their home, then back to him. Nodded, her eyes full of compassion. "But it is not. He, too, rests well. And yours is the task we always thought would be his." Eowyn paused. "Do you doubt yourself, your strength for this task?"
He looked at her, vaguely startled. Slowly shook his head. "Though I doubt it will be as easy for me as it would have been for him." There were no words to explain the grief, the renewed sense of loss. He'd been banished by Wormtongue shortly before his cousin's death; had been hundreds of miles away when they buried him. And there had been no time since then to mourn the man he'd loved as a brother. "He asked me once, when we were young, if it bothered me that he would be king."
"And what did you tell him?"
His voice soft, Eomer paused before answering. "I laughed, and told him it suited me quite well for him to have the kingdom. All I wanted was an eored, and to be Marshal as our father before me." He sighed.
"You have been Marshal; now you must rule for him, in his stead."
"Yes." He looked at her for a long moment, allowed her to see his grief. Then spurred his horse forward with a shout.
His riders followed, and Eowyn watched them go. They were good men, and she was grateful for their loyalty to her brother. He was going to need it.
Four days after their return, Eomer stood outside Edoras, staring at the burial mounds where the former kings of the Riddermark were laid to rest. They stretched out in two directions, one for each of the lines of kings. The first line had ended some 260 years earlier, when both of Helm Hammerhand's sons had perished alongside him in battle and the reign had passed to Helm's sister-son, Frealaf. And now Frealaf's line would end similarly, with Theoden buried together with his only son and the reign passing to Eomer.
He walked slowly past the mounds of the earlier kings until he at last stood before the newest one. Soberly, he stared past the tomb where his cousin slept, where his uncle would soon be laid.
"I don't know what manner of king I will be," he finally murmured. "But I'm a better man because of the time you were willing to spend with a young boy." Feeling as if he were making a solemn oath, he turned, looked at the other mounds, then beyond them, to the plains of the Mark, to Edoras rising up behind him, before once more staring at his cousin's grave. "I'm not you, will not be the king you would have been. But I will do my best."
He fell silent, aware that he was listening for something. Hoping for something. Some sign, perhaps, though he wasn't much given to belief in such things. All that came was an awareness of how much there was much to do to set the Mark right.
Against all odds, Sauron had been defeated, but their victory had not been without great cost. The Riddermark had lost far more than just her king and his heir. Herds and villages from one end of the Mark to the other had suffered, and the loss of men, both young and old, seemed nearly incalculable.
As it frequently had, his mind turned to the village he and his men had helped in battle with the Dunlendings back in the early spring. He'd promised to send men back to assist them, and not done so, due to the war calling him south. That broken promise still troubled him. Were they safe? Had there been enough shelter for all the survivors? Enough food?
He wanted to go himself, wanted his people to know their welfare mattered to him, but it would be several months before he was free to do so. But perhaps there were others he could send, and once some of the more immediately pressing matters in Edoras were addressed, he would go himself. Would make a survey of the Riddermark before autumn, make sure that people got the assistance they needed.
Needs were great, losses were many. But Sauron was defeated, hope had survived, and the Riddermark would survive as well.
Not everyone had perished.
Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned, watched Eowyn come toward him. Bending down, he picked one of the little white flowers that grew on the graves, and waited for her to reach him.
When she did, she cocked her head, stared at him for a long moment. "You do not seem so full of grief today."
He paused, twirled the flower in his fingers thoughtfully before responding. "No." He tucked the flower in her hair. "Because I was remembering that we could have been burying my sister as well."
"It was not my time."
"No." He leaned forward, kissed her forehead. "And both I and the Prince of Ithilien rejoice in that." As long as he lived, he would remember the terror of finding her on the fields of the Pelennor, of believing she had gone to her death even as Theoden had died beside her.
Together, they turned, walked back toward the city gates. There was much to do.
A/N 2: This is finished, but I'm revising some of it while also working on other things. I hope to post a chapter a week or so. Also – I started writing this well over a year ago, and all the essential plot points have been in place (in my mind, at least) since March '04. Occasionally, I see other stories that have similar twists, and all I can say is that it's a very easy thing to come up with similar ideas when playing in Middle Earth. :)