Part 43 of the Elfwine Chronicles. The Elfwine Chronicles are a series of one-shots built around the family group of Eomer, Lothiriel and Elfwine. The total number will depend on how many ideas I get for new vignettes.
A/N: The idea for this has been rumbling around in my head for awhile, but I was having trouble deciding what would be a viable scenario. Hopefully, the circumstances are believable – if not, sorry! I don't specify too much here, but this story comes after Alliances. Elfwine is between 8-9, Theodwyn is between 1-2, and Lothiriel is just a few months pregnant with #3 but not really showing much yet.
(Mar, 10 IV)
Eomer rode with a slight smile creasing his face. Lothiriel and Elfwine had been gone nearly a fortnight, visiting Dol Amroth, and he had determined to ride out and surprise them on their return. Theodwyn had cried mightily for him to bring her along, anxious to see her mother again after such a long time, but she was still too young for the trip, and so Eomer continued to leave her in Miren's care.
He was a little surprised that they had not yet met up with her party, coming from the other direction. Perhaps they had gotten a late start this morning and he would see them soon.
Suddenly his attention was drawn by the scout that had been riding ahead, who was now hastening to his side. Immediately, he went on the alert. The man's manner suggested that something was amiss.
"My lord," the rider exclaimed breathlessly, "we must hurry! Bandits have fallen upon their camp and seem to have killed all the guards! I do not know if the Queen and your son are safe. I did not see them."
The Rohirrim came quickly to battle readiness, having overheard the man's words and Eomer signaled them onward, a grim expression settling on his countenance. If his family had been harmed in any way, the bandits would die a most painful death…
Bandits had attacked just before dawn, while most were still asleep. Outnumbering the queen's escort by three to one, they were able to swiftly dispatch their prey. Laughing and congratulating themselves, they ransacked the camp for anything of value and then settled down to a leisurely breakfast of the food obtained.
After nearly two hours, the leader finally rose and signalled to his second-in-command to follow. "Time to deal with our two captives! See what value they may prove." They had been aware of the woman and child cowering in the main tent, and a guard had been set around it while they ate and enjoyed themselves, certain that they had removed all danger to themselves and in no hurry to be about their business.
The two men entered Lothiriel's tent, leering at the sight of her. "Well, now! Looks like we've profited more than we expected on this raid!" one commented. He eyed her up and down, appraisingly, as Elfwine suddenly stepped toward him, declaring, "You will not lay a hand on my mother! I will kill you if you try!"
With a laugh, the man backhanded the boy, who fell at his mother's feet, a slight trickle of blood from his mouth. She quickly stooped to catch him, and prevent his launching himself at the man. She held him in front of her, confined within her arms, while Elfwine glared at their captors.
"You keep quiet, boy, and maybe I won't kill you," snarled the man. Turning to the other man with him, he ordered, "Take him!"
His companion had just grabbed Elfwine's arm when a panicked shout outside the tent drew their attention. The two turned and quickly exited, and Lothiriel hurried to the tent flap to see what was happening.
The two dozen bandits were nervously standing in a loose formation, waiting for the leader to instruct them, as they faced a small party of Rohirrim stopped a short distance from them. The bandit leader recognized the emblem of the king and knew the man facing them at the front of the column must be him. He also had realized that the clothing the woman and boy wore were of a finer cut and they were likely of noble birth. The king's presence here now led him to think they must be part of the royal family. Apparently, their little raid last night had netted a far bigger fish than expected, but if he played this right the rewards could be magnificent.
His second-in-command, however, was not feeling very elated by this revelation. The consequences of capturing royalty would be far worse than merely robbing a few nobles alongside the road. "Perhaps we should let them go and beg mercy," he whispered.
"Don't be an idiot! This is the most valuable prize we'll ever get. And if we hand them over, we're dead where we stand."
The leader stepped forward and called out, "What brings you here, King of Rohan?"
Eomer's jaw clenched at the man's arrogance and he replied curtly, "You have something of mine. I want it back. Safe and sound." Eomer's tone had a steely quality, that made the second-in-command even more nervous, and the other bandits shifted uneasily.
Meanwhile, upon seeing Eomer and his men, Lothiriel quickly surveyed the campsite. Their horses had been tethered in the trees, mostly back of where the two groups were ranged gearing up for battle. Pulling Elfwine to the rear of the tent, she caught him by both shoulders and urgently told him, "Listen to me carefully, Elfwine. You must sneak out the back of the tent, get on one of the horses and get to your father. You must not let them recapture you and you must not look back."
Elfwine nodded, but then the words seemed to sink in. "But what about you? You will come with me?"
"No," she shook her head. "I am not quick enough, and cannot mount and ride bareback so easily as you can. Do not worry. Once you have escaped, it will make it easier for me to get free. You must trust me, dearest, and you must do exactly as I tell you."
Tears threatened his eyes, but Elfwine nodded slowly. Lothiriel kissed his forehead. "Do not look back and do not let them catch you. Keep out of sight as much as possible until you reach the horses."
Quickly she knelt by the back of the tent and they poked their heads out enough to look around. Then wriggling hurriedly under to the other side, Elfwine was immediately on his feet and running silently toward the horses. Not bothering with saddlery, he pulled the tie rope free from the tether line, swung himself up and kicked the horse to a gallop, blowing past the bandits before they could even quite grasp what was happening.
As Elfwine pulled to a halt behind his father, next to Elfhelm, the bandits hastily regrouped and one quickly went to the tent for Lothiriel. He dragged her into the open and caught her around the waist, holding a knife threateningly near her throat.
The leader nervously spat, "So you have the brat back. We still have your woman. Do not think we won't enjoy sampling her delights while she is visiting with us!" He gave a leering laugh, watching for Eomer's reaction.
But the king's face might have been carved from stone. Looking to Elfhelm, he gave an almost imperceptible nod. Turning back to the bandits, he called out, "Keep her! The boy was the only thing of value to me. The woman is easily replaced in my bed with another who will give me sons. Death to you all!" And having said that, he drew his sword, let out a bellow and charged.
His guard quickly followed suit, except for Elfhelm who grabbed the halter on Elfwine's horse, just as the boy let out an anguished yell, "Nooooo! Mother!"
He struggled to free his horse from Elfhelm's control, but the man shoved his horse in close and snapped, "Quiet, boy! Do you want to get her killed?"
Elfwine was too startled to respond, both that Elfhelm had spoken to him in such a manner and at the words. His eyes were drawn back to the campsite where the Rohirrim had begun engaging the bandits in battle. There was pandemonium as the bandits attempted to flee in every direction.
As he watched, his mother slumped suddenly toward the ground, and the man holding her seemed torn between keeping his grip on her, and running from the horses and swords charging at him. Finally, he chose the latter course, just moments before Firefoot skidded to a stop nearby. In a flash, Lothiriel was on her feet and Eomer was pulling her on behind him. Pivoting the great war horse, he urged him back to where Elfhelm and his son waited. Quickly Lothiriel transferred over to sit behind her son while Eomer returned to take command of the fighting.
Already it was winding down, the surprise and skill of the Rohirrim completely overwhelming the bandits. In short order, they had herded the survivors into a group with guards watching over them. And, finally, Eomer could return to his little family, grateful they were safe.
He met his wife's eyes, his emotions shining in his. He knew she understood what he could not find words to speak. As his gaze moved to his son, he was unprepared for the cold, hostile look of rage on the boy's face.
"I hate you! How could you leave her to them!" Elfwine spat. "You are supposed to take care of her!"
"Elfwine, hush!" Lothiriel admonished, squeezing him tightly.
The boy angrily looked away from his father, and Lothiriel saw the deep hurt Elfwine's words had caused him.
She leaned close to her son's ear and said firmly, "Papa did not leave me to them. He would never do that. You do not understand what he did or why he did it, but it is not what you think. He loves me – as much, or more, than you do. Of that I am certain, and you can be too."
Elfwine was still rigid in her arms, and she told him quietly, "We will discuss this more when we get home."
If any of the men heard, which surely they had, they gave no sign other than to stay a bit farther from the king and his family than usual. Eomer sat in brooding silence on Firefoot, not looking at the pair beside him. The accusations would have hurt him no matter who said them, but coming from Elfwine the pain was infinitely increased. Home could not come soon enough, for Lothiriel longed to take him in her arms and reassure him that she knew it wasn't true.
As there was no way to get the dead men home, the Rohirrim set about burying them and tending to the wounded. They had not come prepared to dig graves, and it took a long time to finish the task. Eomer worked alongside his men, grateful for the physical exertion to distract his troubled spirit and mind. It was well into the afternoon when the camp was struck and they wearily made their way homeward, moving more slowly than they would have otherwise to accommodate the wounded.
As dusk came, they stopped only for a quick meal along the road, then pressed on even though they knew they would arrive later in the evening. As they rode up the main thoroughfare, the men began splitting off to quarter their horses and head home. At last, the royal family and a handful of men stopped at the foot of Meduseld. A guard hurried forward to take the family's horses as they made their way inside, and to their rooms. Eomer led the way, with Lothiriel trailing behind, her arm around Elfwine.
The boy was exhausted, but still glared resentfully at his father's back. Elfwine entered Lothiriel's bedchamber with her, where she kissed his head and bid him goodnight, sending him off through the adjoining door to his room.
Before he shut the door, he glanced back and saw his parents wrapped in a tight embrace, and his father weeping. His anger faltered as he watched through a slit in the door while his mother soothed his father. He had to strain to catch a few of their words. His mother was telling Papa, "He did not mean it, beloved. He does not understand what he saw. Once it is explained, he will regret his words. Do not let it trouble you. Be assured that I know the truth."
With a groan, Eomer kissed her repeatedly and then told her pleadingly, "I could not live if anything happened to you! I truly thought it was the only way to save you!"
"I know, I know," she soothed, stroking his head comfortingly, and pulling him closer into her embrace.
Elfwine quietly shut the door the remainder of the way, and slowly undressed, pondering what he had witnessed. Could he have been mistaken? He lay awake quite a while considering the matter, but weariness finally overtook him and he slept.
The next morning, breakfast was a somber affair as the family ate in silence. The events of the previous day were still fresh in everyone's minds, and no one knew how to broach the hurtful subject.
At length, Lothiriel took a deep breath and plunged in. This had to be put to rest. "Elfwine, in a battle situation, it is sometimes necessary to do things in what may appear to be a heartless manner. But warriors must make decisions, based on their skill and experience, about how best to accomplish their goal. Newer soldiers do not always understand the wisdom of their more seasoned leaders, but they have to trust them to know what they are doing. And you must trust your father to know what he was doing when he acted yesterday."
Elfwine had thought much about what he had seen and heard yesterday and last night. He found it difficult to believe that his mother was deceived, but still…
Struggling to come to grips with this, he asked, "But why?"
He didn't elaborate, but Eomer seemed to understand the question and spoke for the first time. "Once you were free, the only pawn they had was your mother. If they believed we cared about her, they would use her to keep us at bay and control the situation. They could have prolonged it for days, with us not daring to act for fear of her being harmed. And in the meantime, they could have…hurt her…without killing her."
His eyes flicked to Lothiriel, and she reached a hand over to grasp his. Swallowing hard he continued, "But if they believed we did not care about her, they would have no reason to keep her as a shield or a weapon against us. My words were intended to convince them we cared not, so they would cast her aside and fight or run, particularly once we attacked them. And that is what they did. Your mother knew I did not mean my words, and so did all she could to watch and help us in our efforts. She slumped to the ground as added encouragement for the one holding her to give her up and flee. Once she was free, she looked for me to come to her aid, as she knew I would."
Elfwine pondered this explanation. It did seem to make a certain sense, but how could his father say those things if he didn't mean them.
As if reading his thoughts, Eomer told him, "I said it because I had to, son. I would do whatever is necessary to protect your mother, even if it means saying things I do not truly mean…or dying."
A wave of shame swept through Elfwine and tears sprang to his eyes. He wrestled with his emotions for a moment, his head bowed, and then sprang up from his seat and rushed to his father. Flinging his arms around Eomer's neck, he sobbed, "I am sorry, Papa! I do not hate you! I did not mean it either!"
The iron fist gripping his heart in an icy stranglehold finally eased, and relief flooded through Eomer. Clutching the boy to him, Eomer wept also. Lothiriel, too, wiped at her eyes, pleased the matter was resolved in a positive manner.
As their emotion subsided, Eomer pulled back to look in his son's eyes, one hand on the side of the boy's head. "Know this, Elfwine, I love your mother and you and Theodwyn more than anything else in this world. You may be certain of that, no matter what anyone says to the contrary, including me. I will take that love with me to my grave."
Elfwine nodded convulsively, and hugged his father again, before finally returning to his seat. After staring at his food a moment, he glanced up and announced, "And I will never doubt you again, Papa! Someday, hopefully, I will be as wise a soldier as you are."
Eomer smiled sadly, and answered, "I hope you learn from my knowledge, but I hope you never have to gain it from personal experience. My wisdom came at a very high price."
His words were sobering, but Lothiriel saw no reason to linger on this subject longer. Turning their attention to other things, she inquired about what had been happening in Edoras during their absence, and after a time, her husband began to tell them the news. Elfwine joined in with tales of their travels and visit with the relatives in Dol Amroth, and gradually the family wandered back to a happier atmosphere. But in her heart, Lothiriel knew Eomer would never forget these two days, and likely neither would Elfwine.
End note: It is not essential that you read the Elfwine Chronicles in the order they were written, but there is an advantage to doing so. The more of them that I wrote, the more likely I was to make reference to one of the previous ones and something that happened there. If you want to read them in order, go to the top of this page and click on my name (Deandra). That will take you to my profile page. Scroll down and you will find all the stories I have written. The Elfwine Chronicles are in order from bottom to top since ffn shows them in the order they were posted. A few were posted out of number order (#15 came after #17, I think), but you can read them in posting order or number order since those few won't be affected in the story content.