Untold Tales of the Mark: The Banishment of Éomer

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Disclaimer: All characters and settings belong to the Tolkien estate. I've only borrowed them for a

little entertainment.

Rating: T for some fighting and violence, and overall dark incidents…

Author's Notes:

This is the start of a probably again quite epic, very AU-story dealing with the banishment (I am meddling book-verse and movie-verse a bit and make something COMPLETELY different from either) of our favourite horse-lord (hence the title ;- ). As you probably expect of me, it will presumably be veeeery dark… (yes, I hear you groan). Huge thanks go to NeumeIndil for betaing and inspiration!

Feedback: Make my day! Please let me know what you think! I'll love you forever!

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Chapter 1: The Hearing

EDORAS

"It was not your fault, Éomer. That snake wants you to believe it was, but you know better. You must stop feeling guilty and start thinking about more urgent things… we must not let him get away with this!" Théodred looked remarkably healthy despite the fact that he had been slain at the Fords of the Isen four days ago, and his intense gaze tolerated no objection. Still Éomer felt unconvinced, and at the same time, he wondered that he felt not disoriented although he suddenly found himself standing at said riverbank beside his cousin, and the fast-flowing waters flooded around their feet. The sky was of a stormy grey, befitting the terrible scenery with the dozens of slaughtered men and horses of Théodred's éored strewn on the ground around them. A slight drizzle had set in, and the cries of the crows and buzzards above their heads accumulated to a deafening din.

It was not the first time that he found himself standing here, but still his heart cried out at the sight of so much death. It took Éomer great effort just to lift his head, and when he spoke, his voice sounded dispirited. He could not remember when the last time was that a day had brought something good for him and his kinsmen, and slowly he began to suspect that there would never again be joyful days for the Mark. Slowly but surely, their days seemed to draw toward the end.

"I only wish that I could have been at your side! Together we would have made that foul brood run. Not a single one of them would have returned to its master."

Théodred nodded wistfully while he followed the younger man's gaze.

"Aye, Cousin, no army could ever defeat us together, but the worm knew that too, and his plan, I must admit, was faultless. Only now that it is too late can we comprehend its cunning. He and his master ordered their orcs to cross the plains exactly when they did because he knew they would draw you away from Edoras against Uncle's orders, which, of course, Gríma had suggested to him in the first place He knew that you would disregard them once you learned of the threat. At the same time, the traitor Saruman summoned part of his forces to ambush me." His tone became urgent. "It was an ambush, Éomer, do not let yourself be fooled into thinking that it was just another one of their random attacks; they were sent to kill me. No matter what my men did, they charged right through them for me, accepting much higher losses than necessary because of that strategy. There was nothing anyone could have done to prevent it. Do not torment yourself over it, because you will need all your wit to exact our revenge on that filth. Tell me, Cousin, can I count on you ? Will you avenge me?"

"You know that there is nothing I would like to do more." Despair tasted bitter in Éomer's mouth. In the battle against treason within their own halls, he stood alone now. "But the tables have turned, and Gríma has seized the upper hand. If he succeeds in convincing Uncle to execute me…" He shrugged and shook his head, not knowing how to continue. It was strange how at the same time both the river's surroundings and the presence of his cousin and the 'other' reality were completely plausible to him. Some strange dreams he was having these days. He shook his head in frustration. "None dare to speak against him, not even Háma or Gamling. What shall I do, Théodred? What am I supposed to do without you now? How can it be that I am the only one left who dares to challenge that gravedigger's words? We used to be a brave people; a people unafraid of consequences whenever we witnessed an injustice. Whenever something was wrong, we would set it right, no matter how high the price for ourselves. When did that change, and how did Gríma accomplish that? How has he turned us into a cowardly people?"

In spite of his frustrated outburst, the man he regarded as his brother smiled at him, and reassurance lit up Théodred's blue eyes as he laid a hand on his cousin's shoulder in comfort.

"I wish I could advise you, Éomer. But be assured that you are not the only one who feels this way, and Béma knows you are not the only one determined to fight against the traitor. There are others who will remain at your side until the end, whatever end it may be. You must seek them out now, and gather them. Rouse our people and lead them against Saruman and his minions. You will know what to do once the situation arises. Your best decisions were always made on the spur of the moment, Éomer. Trust your instincts, that is the best advice I can give you. Believe in yourself, Cousin. In your hands, you hold nothing less than the fate of our people. You cannot afford to doubt now." Théodred paused and, drawing his eyebrows together, seemed to listen intently to something Éomer could not yet hear. But the son of Éomund felt something else - a soft, but persistent pull. He knew the meaning of it already, and when his cousin's attention returned to him, he saw the same knowledge in the blue eyes. "Our time is up for now, Éomer. But I will be back, if you let me in again. Whatever help I can grant you, I am more than willing to give. Do not lose hope, and do not forget: I trust in you!"

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The soothing rushing of the water faded away and was replaced by the echo of distant steps. Hanging on to the sound of Théodred's voice until even the last vestige of it had vanished, Éomer opened his eyes, but it remained dark. Sighing as the grimness of reality seeped back into his mind, he settled against the cold wall and listened to his body. The throbbing from the beating he had received when they had brought him here had dulled, and to distract his mind from it and the bleakness of his thoughts, he had spent the last days honing his sense of hearing. In the darkness of the dungeon, even the moving rats populating the moist caverns and corridors were audible to the imprisoned warrior. The persistent falling of water drops that made their way through fissures in the rock, the distant rustle of clothes of other prisoners in another corridor and their sometimes hushed, sometimes loud conversations, everything carried endlessly in these bare corridors of granite. In this perpetual darkness where he was trapped, it had been his only means of entertainment. Éomer believed now what the people said of the dungeon: that even a short time down here, in hopeless blackness, made people lose their minds. Béma, he himself was leading conversations with his deceased cousin, so presumably he was already in the middle of it.

Shifting his weight, Éomer made a face when his body reminded him insistently of the beating and the days and nights he had spent on the bare floor. However, he had the unmistakable feeling that he would soon leave this cell, but remained sceptical whether his situation would improve once he was brought up into the hall. Several voices could be heard now, and the barest hint of flickering light came from the direction of the stairs. The other prisoners were calling out to their unexpected visitors, but Éomer knew that it was he they were seeking. Against better knowledge, a flicker of hope lit up in his mind for a brief second.

Could it be that the three strangers they had met on the plains and lent their horses to had arrived and finally convinced Théoden-King of his error of judgment? Éomer could not tell why, but he knew that he could rely on his knowledge of people most of the time, and there was no denying that there had been something special about the leader of the three, something that had prompted him to help them on their quest even though it had meant that he would be laying his own life on the line for someone he barely knew. Something that told him that Aragorn, or Elessar, how he had called himself, would keep his promise and come to Edoras, at least to give back their horses. And perhaps he would – perceptive as the man had deemed him – notice that the state of Rohan was under siege not only by an outside enemy, but by a foe within their own halls. The next moment, Éomer snorted, and shook his head to himself in frustration. Who was he to fool himself by laying his hope down in waiting for help from outside? If any change was to happen, the people at the Royal Court would have to bring it about themselves, and he could not lie to himself any longer: those chances were slim.

The steps were close now. Involuntarily tensing, the disgraced warrior straightened but still remained seated. He knew not for how long he had been incarcerated, but to someone used to the wide open skies above his head, it felt like an eternity. His time of punishment was about to find an end, and yet what kind of end, Éomer could not guess. Would Gríma dare to have him executed underneath their people's eyes? No matter what lies the counsellor had been telling the Royal Guard and the ordinary folk about the crimes of which he had been judged guilty, Éomer was certain that an open execution of a member of the Royal Household would finally result in long-overdue rebellion. The snake would not risk that. Yet the question remained of what Gríma would risk. His men were not coming to simply release him, this much was certain.

Bracing himself for the confrontation as the flickering glow finally reached his corridor and pushed back the eternal darkness, Éomer warily rose to his feet. Off-balance because his hand had been bound to his back and the long time he had been deprived of food had made him light-headed, the former marshal awaited his captors. And even though his eyes watered from the painfully bright firelight as they halted in front of his cell, he could see that he had assumed rightly that Gríma would not risk using Théoden-King's guards for the task of retrieving him. The six henchmen on the other side of the bars were Gríma's own, part of an ever-increasing group of crooked men that had been invading the Royal Court over the course of the last three months.

"Come on out, rat," their leader, a square-shouldered man with a swarthy, scarred face sneered at him with obvious glee, and a wide grin revealed several missing teeth. Éomer remembered him as the man who had taken the main part in the beating "It is time for you to meet the cat."

Éomer forced himself to remain calm.

"As you apparently saw the need to bring five men with you to get me, it would seem to me that it remains still open for discussion who of us the cat is... and who is the rat." He raised an eyebrow. "Unlock the door and find out."

The ruffian narrowed his eyes at his rebuke, and the fingers of his free hand worked at his side as if he could barely wait to wring his prisoner's neck.

"My orders say to bring you to the counsellor in unspoiled condition, because he does not want people to get angry over seeing you wounded. But if we break your ribs, they will never know it. Keep that in mind when I open the door now, arrogant forgoil bastard." From a ring of many keys, he fingered for the right one and found it after two vain attempts. His gaze fixed on his prisoner, he ordered his men in. "Féldroff, Dorlâk… go and take him by the arms. If he makes one move…" His bushy eyebrows twitched meaningfully. The rusty door screamed in its hinges as it gave way, and for moment, the men stared expectantly at each other, before the two guards entered the cell.

For a brief second, Éomer thought about resistance. How wonderful it would be to unleash his accumulated frustration and rage against these men, even if they were not his true adversaries. He denied himself the pleasure. It would be short-lived, and not yet knowing what Gríma had planned for him, it would be best to conserve his strength for the time being. If they brought him up into the hall and the worm then announced his execution, he could put it to better use by snapping the filth's neck before they killed him.

One of the ruffians poked him between the shoulder blades with a club he had no doubt brought along for a different purpose, and Éomer moved. The henchmens' leader gave him a derogatory grin as he passed.

"Now will you look at this? Not only is the noble son of the great Marshal Éomund not a cat, he is not even a rat! Indeed I think that our once proud warrior here is nothing but a little scared mouse!" He spat. "Disappointing. I was hoping I'd get the chance to sweep the floor with your ugly face!"

"Don't worry. You will have the chance to see the ground up close soon enough," Éomer rebuked, his tongue for once faster than his mind. "From beneath it!"

A kick into the pit of his knee forced him to the ground, and he bit his tongue, angry with himself for letting himself be provoked so easily. Thick fingers buried themselves in his hair, and then his head was pulled back with a sharp tug.

"Say, filth, you do want the rough treatment, eh? My pleasure!"

A boot was planted against Éomer's shoulder blades, and he was pushed forward, while the guard held onto his hair. The thick strand was ripped from his scalp, and as his face hit the ground, Éomer could not suppress a grunt. Blood trickled hotly down the back of his head, and he heard one of his tormentors curse.

"Gods, Felrod, what have you done? The counsellor said specifically not to hurt him in the face!"

"'Tis but a scratch", their leader spat, but Éomer could hear the fear in his voice as he was pulled to his feet again. "It will not bleed for long. We will clean him up before we bring him out." Again he poked his stick against Éomer's back, and forced him up the winding stairs. Despite the hot throbbing at the back of his head, the fallen marshal found himself chuckling in amusement.

"Terribly afraid the worm will squash you, aren't you, Felrod? You remind me of a dog that mindlessly follows its master just to get a pat on the head while it stands with its tongue lolling and wags its tail. Only I fear that you will get the boot this time. You've been a bad dog, and you know it."

"Shut your filthy mouth!" Felrod growled and pressed his big hand against Éomer's back, pushing him forward. "Or I might just forget myself. If I am going to get into trouble anyway, I might as well make it worth it. – Open up!"

Before them, the heavy oaken door to the dungeon was opened from the other side, and Éomer squinted as daylight assaulted his deprived eyes. It was only the filtered light of the hall, but after days in impenetrable darkness, even the twilight hurt. Still he recognised one of the Royal Guards. The man's eyes widened slightly at the unruly sight of his disgraced marshal, yet dared not to speak out. Béma, how far had it come that a crooked liar and net-weaver like Gríma could do as he wished within their ancient Hall of Kings, and not even the king's valiant guards would raise their voices in protest! These truly seemed to be the Mark's last days.

"In here, filth," Felrod's gruff voice rang out to him from behind, and Éomer was unceremoniously shoved into one of the empty guest chambers. "Dorlâk, get a piece of cloth." The brute grinned as he eyed Éomer. "I fear we must first clean up our noble rider, before we can lead him before the King. He is filthy." He sniffed the air. "And he stinks!" He waited for a reaction, but Éomer remained silent, instead of rising to the provocation choosing to look out of the window. It had been a clumsy attempt, and he knew better than to listen to it. Behind him, the door opened and closed as the other guard left, and heavy silence filled the room.

"Afraid, traitor? You should be. Your oh-so-noble blood will protect you no longer. My guess is that you will hang in the marketplace today before the sun sets. And what a nice sight that will be!"

A reply was on Éomer's tongue, an acid rebuke that desperately wanted to be said out loud, but again he forbade himself to do what the ruffian wanted. The stick was poked against his back again.

"Cat got your tongue, strawhead? Or are you afraid of me?"

"Afraid?" He did not have to swallow everything, did he? As they were expected in the throne room, Felrod could hardly beat him again. Éomer gave the guard a deliberately disinterested glance back over his shoulder. "You are not worth wasting my breath. I will speak with my King, and with my King only, for he is the only man left I can still respect in these halls. Spare the effort, filth, for your words are of the same import to me as the sparrows' chatter outside." He turned back to the window, and heard the door open behind him again.

"Here is the cloth, Felrod."

"Then let's teach our pig-lord about cleanliness, shall we? Hold him!"

Again, Éomer's arms were violently seized. He offered no resistance when the wet cloth was first wiped over his face and then pressed against the wound on the back of his head, followed by a dry cloth. When this was done, Felrod's broad, ugly face appeared in front of Éomer's, grinning as if this was the best day he had ever experienced. It probably was.

"Ah, isn't he pretty again? How the maids will swoon over this handsome face when we lead him out! Perhaps we should gift them with his head once we cut him down from the gallows. They would surely appreciate it."

"You like to hear yourself talk, don't you, Felrod?" Éomer stared at the intricate pattern of tiles on the floor. "Or is it because you do not dare to talk once your master is around? A man of little wit like you is usually better served by remaining silent."

"Oh, so you want to hear someone else talk, mighty one-time marshal? Very well! I forgot, you are a noble and you only answer to your King. Well, let's see what the King has to say to you! I doubt that it is what you want to hear!" The guard rammed a big hand against his prisoner's back and shoved him out of the room.

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On the short walk to the throne room, Éomer did his best to keep his emotions locked inside an inner vault and his features bland, although the glances their little procession were gathering were excruciating. Wherever they passed, the folk stopped and followed their small procession with expressions that were a mixture of dismay, hopelessness - and, hardest to bear – disappointment. Did they truly believe the lies that were told? Did they believe that he was actually responsible for Théodred's death? It got to the point where Éomer kept his gaze on the tiles although he knew that doing so would make him look guilty, and he only dared to look up again when the voice of the Captain of the Royal Guard announced him to the waiting people in the great hall.

"Théoden-King, here comes Éomer son of Éomund, to be judged for his deeds. Will you see him, my Lord?"

"The King will see him, Háma son Hárlond," an oily, well-known voice answered, and Éomer felt the short hairs on his neck rise in reaction to its sound. "Bring forth the prisoner!"

Although many people had gathered in the throne room, the only audible sound were the hollow echoes of their footsteps as they approached the dais. The silence felt almost solid, a weight on his shoulders that threatened to force him down. His blood a river of ice, his breath caught in his throat, Éomer looked at the men who formed the corridor through which he was led. Most of them belonged to the Royal Guard, and they were clad in their whole attire and armed with spears and swords, thus underlining the official nature of this hearing. He looked them in the eye as he passed them, and one after another, they averted his gaze, and their expressions became distant and went right through him as he searched for a sign in their features that they were still on his side. His heart sank.

The last man before the dais was Gamling, and he at last had the courage to face him. A silent exchange took place between the two warriors, a wordless admitance that the old man knew of the wrongness of these proceedings, but was unable to speak up in protest. Whatever held him back, Éomer could not guess, but all of a sudden he understood that he was being led like a lamb to the slaughter. The people he had grown up amongst, the people he had always thought to remain loyally on his side in good times and in evil times, they had decided to sacrifice him, but it remained a mystery to the son of Éomund of Aldburg for the sake of what. Did they not know that once he was gone, there would be no one left in Meduseld whom Gríma feared? That once he was gone, the worm could act as he pleased?

Laying his disappointment into his gaze, Éomer slowly took his eyes from the older warrior… and rested them on the only person he still trusted, even if the pain in her eyes was hard to bear as their gaze met. Usually of an already pale complexion, Éowyn's face looked ghostly white as she stood beside their uncle, her fingers unconsciously digging into the fabric of her garments and her eyes unusually red. There were dark circles underneath them telling of sleepless nights and nightmares, and for the sight of her distress alone Éomer felt tempted to jump forth and strangle the darkly-clad figure at his uncle's other side. His eyes narrowing in disgust and resentment as he slowly dropped to his knees before his king, the warrior finally faced his true adversary.

Seemingly ignorant of the prisoner's hate-filled gaze, but secretly casting him a smirk that lay only within his eyes, Gríma raised his voice.

"Honourable members of the Council of Edoras and of the Royal Guard, we have assembled here today to sit in judgement over this man who has been brought before you. The reasons for a Marshal of the Mark to stand accused of treason before us today are known to you, but for the sake of protocol, I shall repeat them now." The focus of the pale blue eyes came to rest on Éomer. "Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of Riddermark, you have been brought before your King to hear your ruler's verdict to the following accusations: disobedience against your direct orders by riding into battle when you were specifically told to stay and guard Edoras, a deed resulting in the death of Prince Théodred, Second Marshal of Riddermark and heir to its throne. Again against your King's orders, you did not bring the strangers you encountered on the plains before this court, but granted them free leave instead. And worse yet, you lent them two of our valuable horses, which we will most likely never see again. What else you agreed upon with them we cannot know, but calling your actions unwise would be too mild a verdict. For all we know, and specifically in the light of your other decisions, there can hardly be a different conclusion than to see your deliberate acts of disobedience as a conspiracy against the Throne of Rohan. Lastly, upon your return, you sought to withhold valuable information from your King and threatened a member of his household with death within these halls. What have you to say for yourself, Marshal?"

Rising from his knees, Éomer's gaze came to rest on his uncle, who had so far remained silent, in a desperate attempt to bring out the man he had known and loved like a father. But Théoden seemed to look right through him, his eyes veiled by a mist and his gaze turned inward. Éomer could not even tell whether the King heard him, but it was the sick man he addressed nonetheless, exclusively, it seemed, as if they were alone. This was the last opportunity to force a reaction from Théoden, the last attempt to reach his King, and, as it seemed, his very life depended on it. He bowed his head.

"My Lord… I already pleaded my case, so I will spare you from hearing my words repeated. But I beg you to consider this: better than any other man in all of Edoras, you, Sire… Uncle… know that I loved Théodred like a brother, and I would gladly exchange my life for his were it possible. I grieve for him no less than you, but the truth is that we are in the midst of a war, and a war feeds on blood. Whether it is our éoreds or the common people, all of us are in constant danger in these dark times, and a life is claimed fast. It is not always in our power to prevent the death of a loved one. It is true that I disobeyed your orders and was not here when Théodred's call for aid came. I felt that it was important to intercept those orcs who raided our land before they brought further death to our people. Our kinsmen depend on our protection, and I felt it was my duty to honour this ancient treaty between our farmers and the armed forces." He turned his head to look at Gríma, and his tone hardened. "It is also true that – even had I been here when the call came – I could never have reached Théodred in time to prevent his death. In fact, one other consideration that led me to ride out against your orders was that I knew that Marshal Elfhelm and his éored were already on the way into the Westfold. He had an advantage of a full day on me, and even he came too late." Feeling his blood beginning to boil in his veins at the sight of his adversary, Éomer paused, deliberately trying to calm down. He needed to remain calm.

"As for the strangers I encountered: I have no doubt that once they fulfil their own quest, they will keep their promise and come to draw their swords together with us against the plague that has befallen the Mark. I am not known to be in the habit of trusting people lightly, and whenever I chose to do so, that person always justified my trust. We need allies in this war, my Lord, however unlikely they may be, or we will not prevail." He fell silent, waiting for a reaction. A wink, a glance, anything that told him that the man he had once known and loved was still living within the hollow shell seated on the throne in front of him. But nothing came, and so Éomer braced himself and shifted his attention to the man next to his uncle, and his voice hardened.

"But while we are speaking of trust, my lord, I cannot let it go unsaid that your own has been betrayed in the most serious manner, by someone other than me. The man at your side-"

With astonishing speed, Gríma stood up, and the pale blue of his eyes changed into ice.

"The King knows very well what he has in me, young serpent! It is not I who stand accused before this court!"

"But it should be you!" Éomer shouted, his grasp on his temper slipping as he took an angry step forth, enough for the guards to seize and pull him back. "You are the traitor in this hall! You have been poisoning our King's mind and body for years, and your secret nets and intrigues have held the Mark hostage for far too long! But your time is coming, scarecrow, remember my words! All it takes to take you down is a man unafraid to do what is right, a man who sees through your lies and realises the blackness of your heart!" Against the men holding him, Éomer turned around, and his urgent gaze found Gamling.

"Gamling, we fought together in uncountable battles! You saw me grow up underneath your eyes; you taught me yourself! How can you doubt me now? All you need to do is draw your sword and cut off this snake's head, and the Mark will be free of him!" He looked at the other men, then at Háma further back, desperate and angry at the same time. "What is it that you fear? I am telling you, the plague that haunts Rohan has two names, and one of them is his! The other one being that of his master, the traitor Saruman! Among them, they-"

"Enough, Éomer son of Éomund!" Gríma raised his voice, and his eyes were narrowed to a malicious slit now, sparkling with fury. "I understand that it is only natural for you to lay the blame for your failure on others, but if you abuse your right to speak to insult the present men and issue death threats and a call for rebellion, I will order you to remain silent! You will hold your tongue, or it will be cut from your mouth right here!"

"I take no orders from a treacherous worm, scarecrow! You are but a servant, and not even a servant of this house! The authority to command me belongs solely to the King, and him alone I will obey!" Another quick look at Théoden revealed that his uncle's gaze had become clearer, but still Éomer could not say whether the sick man had heard all he had said. Nodding curtly, Gríma bent to the bowed man at his side, his furious sparkling eyes still on his adversary.

"Very well, young man. If you insist, we shall hear what the King himself has to say to you! It is of course consistent with your character that you would force a weakened and grief-stricken man to such a painful statement!" He whispered into Théoden's ear, and while Éomer still waited with baited breath for the sign of recognition, his uncle's gaze became clear… and hardened. Finally, Théoden-King returned his nephew's gaze, awakened from his stupor, but when his milky eyes came to rest upon the young man before him, their bitterness froze Éomer's blood.

"You killed my son, sister-son, and you expect mercy? You killed a man who loved you like a brother, and you expect to be spared? And instead of admitting your wrong-doing, you accuse others of treason and call for rebellion underneath my very eyes?" With considerable effort, the King rose to his feet. "I welcomed you in my house when you were little and orphaned, but it seems that unwittingly, I invited a serpent into my home. I raised you as my own son, and this is how you repay me. Cursed be the day when our bloodlines were united: first your father killed my sister, and now his son has killed my own flesh." He stumbled, grief-stricken, and only the strong hands of Éowyn and Gríma prevented him from falling and helped him back onto his throne. Hiding his face in his hand, so that he would no longer have to look at the aghast expression of his nephew, Théoden mumbled: "Be gone, ungrateful curse to my house! You are no longer welcome in this hall, nor in this realm. You are herewith banished from the Kingdom of Rohan, under pain of death should you ever return." With a last feeble gesture, he motioned the guards. "Take him away. I can no longer bear to see his face." Wearied from effort and grief, the King hid his face behind his hands, and only the silent shaking of his body told the assembled men that the sick man was weeping.

For an endless moment, the silence in the room was deafening as none of the present dared to breathe. For the eternity of a dozen heartbeats, Éomer continued to stare at his uncle, unable to move, to breathe, even to think as he felt coldness creep into his body. A part of him had just died upon these stairs. And as he shifted his view just the slightest bit, he could see that it was the same for Éowyn. The stunned silence was finally ended by Gríma, who patted the King's arm reassuringly.

"You spoke well and true, my Lord. It was about time this wolfling heard the truth, although I wished you had been in better health for this most unfortunate business." Gríma looked at the guards. "You heard the King: Take the traitor outside and relieve us of his unbearable presence! I will meet you outside in a moment, but first I need to tend to our King. I fear the strain of these last few days has been too much for him. He needs to rest."

They pulled him to his feet and shoved him in the direction of the door, and yet Éomer hardly felt their hands on his arms or heard their voices around him. He neither saw his sister's dismayed expression, nor the stunned-looking faces of the Royal guards who led him outside. There was only numbness, the feeling that he had been cast into a nightmare from which there was no waking. Had he been offered a reversal of his verdict, he would gladly have chosen the gallows over this. What point was there left in living on when your own kin thought you a curse? What reasons were there left to fight?