My thanks to the members of the Livejournal community 'bilbo's study' for advice and support.
DISCLAIMER: Professor Tolkien's wonderful characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.
A ROHAN TAPESTRY
Chapter One: Written in the Heart
"They are proud and wilful, but they are true-hearted, generous in thought and deed; bold but not cruel; wise but unlearned, writing no books but singing many songs, after the manner of the children of Men before the Dark Years." Aragorn, 'The Riders of Rohan', The Two Towers
"No books!" Frodo cried out in amazement. He wondered if he had heard Éomer correctly. "None at all? How… that is, why…"
"I have not seen you speechless before, Frodo!" Éomer chuckled. On this last night of travel through Anórien, he sat in the grass with the hobbits, telling them more about his homeland. "We do not write our tales, but sing or recite them. You will find our scrolls few, but our memories long and practiced. Even the youngest among us learn to recite the lists of the kings and the history of our land. Our hearts and minds are as keen as our swords, as true as our horses. Such is Rohan, my friends." His eyes shone with pride and love. "The grasses whisper our names, and the hills know us. The stars shine there as upon no other land, and our deeds are written in the wind. Can you not hear it? We need no scribes to record what we can never forget."
Frodo stared up at Éomer in wonder. He had never known or imagined a people without books. Even the Dwarves had left a written record of their brave but doomed attempt to reopen the mines of Moria; Gimli carried the ruined book with him in a special pouch, even now.
"No cookbooks?" Pippin asked, as surprised as Frodo.
"What about ledgers, sir?" Sam asked. "Accounts, trade, business records?"
"For what purpose?" Éomer asked, his voice kind. "Once sworn, a Man's word is his bond. Anyone who cheats another in trade, or does not repay a debt owed, is not long welcome among my people." He grew solemn. "My people," he whispered.
"They are your people now," Merry said.
"I know," Éomer sighed. "However, I would that Théoden rode still among us. It is a triumphant, but final, return home for my uncle."
Frodo saw Merry's eyes well with tears, reflecting the starlight.
"There is no shame in weeping, Merry," Éomer said quietly. "And do you see, Frodo? Merry needs no book to remember my uncle. The words and deeds of Théoden King are enscribed in your cousin's heart as surely as a pen might mark a page. He will tell his children, and the tale will live on." He got to his feet. "Rest well, my friends. Tomorrow we reach Edoras."
The hobbits watched him walk away, a Man tall and proud. They all liked the young king who, they had discovered with amazement, was a year younger even than Pippin. They sat beneath the stars for awhile, talking quietly and listening to the sounds of the camp and the murmurs of the host who accompanied Théoden King to his final rest: Galadriel, Celeborn, and their folk; Elrond, his sons, and many from Rivendell; Gandalf; Legolas and Gimli; Princes Faramir and Imrahil; soldiers and knights; and the once grim and secretive Dúnedain, riding proudly in escort to King Elessar and his new queen.
"They're like Elves, sir," Sam said unexpectedly. "King Éomer's folk remember everything, and talk just like poetry."
"I think you're right, Sam," Frodo agreed.
"Let's check the ponies before turning in," Merry suggested.
"You know that the Rohirrim are taking good care of them!" Pippin laughed. "But I'll come with you."
"So will I," Sam said, scrambling to his feet.
All four were very fond of the ponies Éomer had given them. Frodo had named his Strider, to the great amusement of Aragorn and the Dúnedain. Pippin, for the most part, rode amongst the soldiers of Gondor on his pony, Toby; but Aragorn had given him leave to ride alongside the other hobbits when he wished, sharing stories and song. He was also occasionally able to wheedle Gandalf into lifting him up onto Shadowfax, at which times the wizard's rich chuckles could be heard mingling with the hobbit's tinkling laughter. When Merry was not on the wain that bore Théoden's bier, he rode Stybba, brought to Minas Tirith by the Riders. And Sam had a sturdy pony as well, a gentle brown one he called Ivy.
Frodo stretched, then stood up, gazing at the brilliant stars. "It's so peaceful out here," he murmured. The summer days were warm, but the grasses rustled in the evening breeze, cool and fresh under his still-tender feet.
Pippin, Merry, and Sam smiled at one another. As wearying as it was, riding through the seemingly neverending sea of grass, the two weeks of travel from Minas Tirith had worked wonders for Frodo. He slept better out here than he ever had on the heights of the city, ate with greater appetite, and was more lighthearted than he had been for a long time.
It was good to see.
Late the next day, they reached at last the eastern border of Rohan. The River Snowbourne, beside which they had been riding for days, now bent to the south and sparkled merrily before them. The path leading up to Edoras was lined with men, women, and children, who cheered and threw flowers.
When the wain passed between the barrows of the kings, the singing voices of the Rohirrim surrounding him, Merry was suddenly overcome with grief.
"Do not be downhearted, my friend," a nearby Rider said to him. "Théoden King lived nobly and died with honor, and will never be forgotten. Soon will come the proper time to mourn, but this day we rejoice. Look up! Do you not see the Golden Hall gleaming in the sun?"
"I do," Merry replied. He lay a hand upon the bier and bowed his head.
"You're home, sir," he whispered. "We've brought you home."
Outside the gates, at the foot of the summit upon which Edoras rested, Éomer unexpectedly called the procession to a halt. Aragorn and Arwen rode forward and turned to face the Company. One by one, Aragorn motioned to Faramir, Imrahil, Gandalf, Galadriel and Celeborn, Elrond, Frodo and Sam, Legolas, and Gimli to join them. The crowd quieted, gazing in awe at Galadriel and Queen Arwen, and at the holbytla who must be none other than the Ringbearers of whom they had heard so much. And they marvelled at the change in the lord Aragorn, looking now every inch the ruler of Gondor and the Reunited Kingdoms.
"Éomer King," Aragorn called out in a strong voice, "the Free Peoples of Middle-earth request permission to enter your realm. We come in peace and in friendship. Will you receive us?"
Éomer slowly rode forward, every eye upon him. He and Aragorn had decided to take Gandalf's advice that something ceremonial would be appropriate. The common folk needed to see Éomer take his place as Théoden's successor, and also recognize that the High King esteemed and respected him.
"I welcome you to Rohan, in peace and in friendship," Éomer said gravely, nodding in turn to Aragorn and Arwen, then to the representatives at their side. He turned to face the crowd. "My people, will you receive them?"
A mighty roar of approval was heard, and Éomer smiled. As trumpets sounded from the heights of Edoras, the young king urged his horse forward and led the way up to the city.