Adventures of an Éored: Sins of the Father


Chapter 16: CLOSURE


FIRIEN VILLAGE

"They're coming! I can already see them, Sir! There, they're just fording the river!"

"I see them, too." Findarras smiled at his apprentice's show of unrestrained joy over the return of his friend, and it seemed to him that Éothain could barely hold back from jumping from the watchtower straight onto his horse's back and ride like hell to Éomer's welcome. Although the horn signal four days ago had told the éored that all missing members had been found, a fact that was confirmed later when seven of the ten riders who had ascended Halifirien in search of their brothers had returned with more detailed news, the red-haired warrior felt the last of his worries lift only now, when he saw the seven riders ford the Mering's waters. His attention, however, returned briefly to the impatient young man by his side: "I assume you want to grab your horse and race over there as if all orcs of the Dark Realm are behind you. Am I correct, son of Ceorl?"

Éothain's grin held more than a hint of abashment as he regarded his amused commander.

"Well, Sir..."

"Then what are you waiting for?"

"Thank you, Sir!" And with a quick beaming smile, Éothain all but leapt down the stairs and vanished from Findarras' site faster than the experienced warrior had ever seen his recruit move before. A moment later, his unsaddled grey gelding raced through the village as if there were a pack of starving wargs on its heels. Satisfied with the developments of the day, the red-haired rider turned back to watch as his brothers-in-arms drew closer.

Even from afar, he could already distinguish their different shapes – first was Elfhelm on his tall bay stallion, and the warrior by his side on the black horse had to be Arnhelm. It seemed to Findarras as he watched their approach, that there was an unevenness to Ravenwing's usual elegant gait, and he remembered what Déor had said upon his return to the éored: that both the scout and his horse had been wounded in a rockslide, but that it was nothing serious. However, since the extreme weather had rendered the Halifirien-path from the Rohan-side impassable for a horse, it had been Elfhelm's decision to further ascend until they reached the beacon-wards, and then make their way down on the Gondorian side of the mountain, where the path was older and more solidly build. Sending back all of his men except for Bard and Tolgor, the Captain had ordered the éored to make for Firien Village near the border to Anorien, and wait for them there. After the last strenuous days, the men had greeted Elfhelm's decision with relief. It was not often they got a chance to laze about in the sun during their patrols.

And yet as he regarded Arnhelm's dark shape for a moment longer, a shadow wandered over Findarras' face at the thought of how the other members of their éored would welcome the man who, in their eyes, had committed an unforgivable cruelty. He sighed, not knowing himself how to feel about the incident. Or what to expect, let alone wish for. Like the scout, he, too, was a survivor of that fateful day when Eomund of Aldburg's error of judgment had resulted in so many horrible deaths, and while he, like everyone else, had lost people he had loved, the horrors of that day had not turned him against his late commander. The trap had been laid with unprecedented cunning by the orcs. None of them had seen it coming, so even when he considered Arnhelm's and Elfhelm's vague unease during the hunt which the two men had been unable to back up with reason, Findarras had arrived at the conclusion that they had failed as a group, their entire éored without exception. All of them had wanted to hunt down those orcs after they had cruelly assaulted the village- it was unfair to solely blame their commander in the aftermath of the catastrophe.

He had been there when Arnhelm had held his dying son in his arms, had seen how the pain of loss and guilt guted his brother-in-arms. He understood that the cruel death of one's child could do things to a man no one ever wanted to imagine. But to unleash his revenge against a boy who was just as innocent as his own son had been...

Findarras shock his head to himself, not wanting to imagine what Elfhelm's rule would be. Éomer seemed well enough as he rode behind his commander, no doubt overjoyed over the reunion with his mare Déor and Tondhére had brought to the lower end of the Gondorian path to Halifirien a few days earlier together with the other horses, but what would his disposition be? If he told the King about this incident, as was his right – his duty, even - Arnhelm would be lucky to keep his head upon his shoulders. And yet somehow, despite the cruelty of the scout's deed, Findarras also felt for the older warrior. What could a man do against grief so deep that it felt like a sword embedded in one's innards even after five years, a festering wound of the soul? Reason dictated punishment, but for the sake of the man who had never fully recovered from his loss, the red-haired warrior also hoped that Elfhelm would remain merciful. It was a fine line that needed to be walked, and Findarras certainly didn't envy his friend his position today.


BEFORE THE GATE

"It would seem to me that you have been missed, Éomer," Tolgor smiled as he watched the solitary rider on the grey horse race toward them. "As it looks, Éothain didn't even take the time to bother with any tack."

"He doesn't need it." Moved by the sight of his approaching best friend, Éomer slightly shifted his weight to steer Stormwing away from their little group. "Captain, may I...?"

"Go and greet your friend as he deserves, young man," Elfhelm answered with a quick glance back over his shoulder. "You are lucky to have him. He was very insistent on joining us in the search, and if I had not decided otherwise, he would even have been on the mountain with us." He paused, his eyes briefly wandering over the approaching rider and the silent scout by his side who seemed more tense with every step they advanced, and then added: "Just remember, once we're in the village, you will need to be with us. We cannot delay this thing."

Feeling Arnhelm's nervous gaze upon himself, Éomer nodded.

"Aye, Captain. I will be there. I will not forget."

"Good. Then off you go!" A little smiled played around the corners of Elfhelm's mouth as he watched Èomer spur his mare, but it did not reach his eyes.

"You still think the men will be satisfied with your solution?" Arnhelm spoke into his thoughts, his voice low, so that Bard and Tolgor, who rode behind them, could not overhear him.

"I dare not say. But we will know soon enough. Come on, let's not delay it. The sooner we get it over with, the sooner we will be able to put this entire business to rest." Elfhelm regarded his old friend for a moment as he urged his horse into a trot. Never before had he seen the experienced warrior so tense. Come to think of it, he felt tense, himself. On the way back from Halifirien, he had used the time to consider all possible decisions, and, when he had found the one he had felt comfortable with, had spoken with Arnhelm, Éomer, Bard and Tolgor. It had been an intense evening, but none of the men had questioned his intended course of action, not even Bard.

On the contrary, all the way down the mountain, the big warrior had been uncharacteristically quiet, and it could not have been the prospect of having to spend the next weeks at Firien Village to coordinate the people's efforts in the rebuilding of the mountain path. Hard work would be needed, but Bard had never been a man who shied away from physical effort; in fact, he had accepted his Captain's rule willingly enough. So it had to be something else that was plaguing him.

Having known the warrior well ever from when he had joined their éored ten years ago, Elfhelm believed that his rider was at strife with himself, angered by his slip of temper after all these years he had worked on keeping it under control. A wry smirk crinkled the older man's lips at the thought. Although they caused occasional problems, he firmly believed in the typical Rohirric characteristics – forthrightness to the point of bluntness, stubbornness combined with adamant loyalty to those who deserved it, passion and a strong sense of moral and justice. There was no question that there had to be consequences to the events of the last days, but Elfhelm knew that his punishment would have to be handed out with careful measure in order to not destroy his men's spirit. He was certain to have found the right way to handle the situation, now they would soon see how the rest of their éored thought about it.


"Éomer! Praised be the gods, I cannot tell you how good it is to see you!" Rivalling even the sun with his beaming smile, Éothain thrust his weight to the other side to bring his gelding to a sudden halt beside his friend's mare. With an indignant whinny, Stormwing laid back her ears to keep the big grey from bumping into her side, but her rider only laughed as he steered her out of the way. As they shook hands in the warrior's grip they had seen from the other riders, the son of Céorl used the opportunity to give his friend a good, long, measuring glance, surprised to find something different in Éomer's features than he had expected.

After what he had been through, most recruits would have returned thoroughly rattled, even shaken, to their éored, yet Eomund's son looked strangely settled. Certainly, there were several fading bruises on his face, and surely more on his body that Éothain could not see and which told of his ordeal, but the expression in Éomer's dark, often stormy eyes was calm and at ease. And there was something else about him, something Éothain felt impossible to put into words. A changed aura, perhaps, as if part of his friend had been left on the mountain side, while another, older and knowing part had replaced it.

"Aye, may I give that back, Éothain? My conscience kept plaguing me with the thought that, with my foolishness, I had endangered the entire éored...including you! I would have never forgiven myself if you or anyone had come to harm because of my idiocy." The smile was still on his face, but from one heartbeat to the next, the expression in Éomer's eyes turned serious. "They are all well, aren't they?"

Éothain paused, but then decided to tell the truth, as Éomer would hear about the incident anyway.

"Anlaf broke a couple of ribs during the search. But I suppose we could call this a 'riding accident', as it could have happened any time. You know his stallion; he's still very young and inexperienced." He saw Éomer blanch in reaction to his words.

"What happened?"

"They ran into a bear, and Hammerhand bolted. Anlaf was not prepared and fell, but caught his foot in the stirrup. Before he could free himself, he was thrown against a tree."

Flinching at the image Éothain's report evoked in his mind, Éomer turned his mare toward the village gates. Suddenly, he felt sick to his stomach. So his foolishness had indeed resulted in consequences for his fellow riders.

"Aye, it may have been a riding accident, but Anlaf was there, in the path of that bear, because of me," he said gloomily. "If I had not run away, there would have been no reason for him to—"

"Ah, but you were provoked beyond measure!" Éothain cast a dark glance over to where Elfhelm and the others were making their way to the village, and even as he looked, it seemed to him that Arnhelm was aware of his attention. "Get this out of your head, Éomer! No one blames you, and certainly not Anlaf!" When his friend gave no answer, he narrowed his eyes and gave him another, even more thorough look. Changed aura or not, there was enough of the 'old Éomer' left to tell Éothain what Eomund's son needed to hear right now. So when he spoke again, it was low and with worry in his tone: "Apart from what one can see by looking at you... are you all right, Éomer?"

His friend shrugged, as if his personal health was the least of his worries at the moment, and urged Stormwing toward the village which the others had almost reached by now.

"Aye. What are a couple of bruises compared to broken ribs?"

Following him, Éothain resolutely shook his head:

"Do you really want to know what our brothers-in-arms think, Éomer? They think it was incredibly brave of you to warn them of those orcs that night. That signal could have led the enemy directly to you."

"And it did."

Éothain's eyes widened, and for a moment, his breath was caught in his chest.

"You were attacked by those orcs we found by the river, weren't you? Without your sword and..." He inhaled. "When we found your tracks leading to the cliff, we feared the worst!" The memories of that horrible night deepened the shadow on Éomer's face, and his reluctance to speak about the incident told Éothain that it was not the right time to ask for details, no matter how much he was burning to learn more.

"And you fought goblins, too. Or so Déor told us. Scores of goblins!" Éothain shook his head in amazement. "Béma, once you have recovered, you must tell me everything, Éomer! It seems I had no idea when I feared you would get yourself into trouble that night..." With another dark glance at Arnhelm's silhouette before them, he corrected: "Or rather, it was that sorry excuse for a scout who was responsible for that!"

Éomer's head snapped around, a sudden hard sparkle in his eyes that took the son of Céorl entirely by surprise.

"Arnhelm regrets what he did, and that is good enough for me. And when I say that our business has been resolved, that should be good enough for you, as well, Éothain! Especially being my friend." He saw his friend's perplexed expression and for a moment, contemplated telling him all that had happened on the mountain, and of their talks after that dreadful night, and of the resolution he had made during his visit of the old site where his ancestor had sworn his oath... but by now, the gate loomed before them and he sighed, remembering he was needed somewhere else. "I am sorry, Éothain. I know you only mean well, and I am aware that you did a lot for me. I should not bark at you like this, but I'm tired, and my head is not in the right place, I'm afraid. You will hear what you need to know in a moment."

He had barely ended when the village's bell rang out, calling all who heard it to the marketplace, and with a shrug, Éothain urged his mount through the gate.

"Well then, let's not keep our fellow riders waiting."


FIRIEN VILLAGE

Firien Village was only a small place, with no more than twenty families living behind its wooden walls in their simple houses. There was a tavern and a barn and a couple of paddocks for the stock, and two intersecting roads that met at the marketplace in the centre, and that was it. It was in no way equipped to handle a crowd of all its inhabitants and over a hundred riders with their mounts, but today, it would have to do.

Cheers rang out as Eflhelm led his little group up to the centre of the place, but they were tainted by more than the occasional defamation for the rider behind him, and despite the pleasant temperatures, the atmosphere felt heated and tense and likely to turn ugly without warning.

Elfhelm withstood the temptation to turn around to see how his scout was taking this massive hostility directed at him, and instead let his gaze wander from face to face as their riders stepped aside to let them through. What he found was always the same: first the joy in the warriors' faces over seeing their captain's and their recruit's healthy return after days of doubt, followed by the sudden sparkle of rage in their blue and grey eyes as they beheld Arnhelm. It was clear to Elfhelm that this was easily the hardest test of his authority he had ever encountered, and what would happen if his men were not satisfied with the measures their captain intended to take was utterly beyond him. Shutting himself to further contemplating that possible outcome, the warrior felt vague relief as he spied his long-time friend in the crowd, headed toward him.

"Findarras! Never happier to see you!"

"I can imagine," his friend said dryly, with only a quick glance at the riders behind his captain, and then added, under his breath: "I hope you know what you're doing, calling them together like this. The men are wrought-up by this whole business with Arnhelm, they want to see the man punished hard for what he did to Éomer."

"They will have to take what I give them," Elfhelm grumbled, and furrows appeared on his brow as he glanced at the agitated warriors around them. "If they have no faith in my judgement, I will step down from responsibility myself and ask for a transfer. I will not command an éored of riders who do not trust me." He found himself looking into stunned eyes.

"You are not –" Findarras began, but then interrupted himself. "What then should become of me if you leave?"

"The men's captain, the way I see it."

"Those men know that I am your friend!" The red-haired warrior snorted. "So if they don't trust your judgement, they can chase me away just as well, because we've never been of a different mind... at least not on the important decisions."

"Well..." Elfhelm turned his horse around and brought him to a stand. "Then pray that things go well, or we both might be left wanting for men to lead once this is over." He held up his hand, and as the little group of riders assembled around their captain, silence spread over the marketplace.

"My fellow friends and brothers... I realise that our éored has been through a lot over the last few days, and I appreciate your concern and your efforts to bring everything to a good end. As you can see with your own eyes, our recruit and our scout have been found, and aside from some minor bruises and scratches, hurt pride and a couple of broken ribs, everyone is well, and we should thank the gods for that."

A quick side-glance at Arnhelm's stone-set expression. Adamant not to reveal his true disposition, the scout stared at a point somewhere above their enraged riders as if he had not heard the hostile shouts upon their arrival. Elfhelm did not envy the man. He inhaled.

"Of course I realise that, in the wake of all that happened, you must ask yourselves where things might go from here, as they obviously cannot continue the way they were. There have to be consequences to everyone's actions, and while those consequences are being revealed, I ask you to remain quiet and give your brother-in-arms the chance to speak now." He turned his head and gave Arnhelm the little nod, but as soon as the scout opened his mouth, his voice was drowned out by an uproar of rage.

"He has no right to speak here!"

"Let's get him off his horse!"

"What is he even doing here?"

"Let him speak!" Elfhelm boomed, and a dangerous sparkle danced in his eyes. "Every man has the right to a fair trial, and this man before you has ridden with you and saved your lives for many years! He is not an orc! No matter how angered you were by his deed, you owe him at least the opportunity to explain himself! Anyone who thinks he can ignore my words now, shall find me much harder to ignore once I get out of this saddle, I promise!"

Once again, the noise died down as the warriors reluctantly took heed of their captain's threat, and at length, Arnhelm began.

"I am keenly aware how much my very presence in your midst agitates you, so I will keep this brief." He looked into Findarras' sceptical face. "What I did was unforgivable, and I regret it very much. I was not myself that night when I turned against our recruit; I allowed grief to get the better of me, and while I wish that I could go back and undo that injustice... that course of action unfortunately remains impossible." He inhaled and exchanged a quick glance with Éomer, who very obviously felt extremely uncomfortable in the centre of attention. "What I can do, hopefully, if you will allow it, is to make amends."

"What amends?"

"What if the boy had been killed?"

After a tentative beginning, Arnhelm's voice grew stronger with conviction as he found now their riders listening to him: "On that mountain, I finally realised the full extent of my error of judgement." "I will spare you the details of that night; just know that I would not be here today, speaking to you, my fellow riders, if it were not for the bravery and courage of Eomund's son!"

All heads turned to Éomer to look for confirmation of their scout's claim, but the young man continued to stare at the pommel of his saddle as if he were inwardly praying for the gathering to end. Murmurs and whispers passed through the rows, words of surprise and doubt, but Arnhelm was not finished.

"Aye, you heard right! I owe my life to that boy. I did not deserve such a gesture, and I am not ashamed to admit that. He stayed with me when he could have left, and instead proved to me the wrongness of my accusations." More eyes turned to Éomer. "Aye, he has a temper, but so do most of us. Given the right direction, it might even become an asset. Combined with his passion and dedication to serve the Mark in the best way he can, this young man is looking at a bright future among our Armed Forces... and I would very much appreciate to be allowed to be one of those shaping and preparing him for it."

Arnhelm lifted his chin, only now daring to look his comrades in their eyes. What he found, mainly, was confusion. With a quick glance into Elfhelm's encouraging face, he continued.

"I learned my lesson these past two days; of that you can be sure. However, I also understand that it would be difficult, if not impossible, for you to follow a man who committed a crime such as mine. For that reason, I have decided to step back from captaincy and instead address myself to the task of scouting, only... that, and the training of our recruits... if you will allow it."

For a moment, silence was his only answer. The men regarded him strangely, as if they were seeing him for the very first time, and Arnhelm understood that his unexpected resignation - and perhaps even more the unconditional confession of his mistake - had turned the image their riders had had of their scout upside down. Perhaps, it was a good sign.

Then murmur rose again as the warriors began to discuss among themselves what they had just heard, and many hesitant glances found their captain, their scout and their recruit. It was Findarras who finally ended it by asking the question that was burning on everyone's tongue, and he addressed the calmly waiting Efhelm.

"A full éored needs two commanders to perform its duties. If Arnhelm steps down, who should replace him?"

A slight smile played around Elfhelm's mouth as he regarded his friend from his elevated position.

"I believe no rider of this éored would have objections against a 'Captain Findarras'. Would he?" He looked around and found nothing but dawning approval in his comrades' eyes, before turned his attention back to his stunned brother-in-arms. "So then I will ask you, Findarras of Aldburg: do you accept the honour of captaincy over these men?"

"Fin-dar-ras! Fin-dar-ras!" a chorus of voices around them chanted, until the whole marketplace vibrated with the power of the éored's approval. The man whose name they sang stared in wonder at his comrades a while longer, barely able to believe what was happening. A decidedly strange day this was! He looked at Arnhelm and was unable to find even a trace of bitterness over the loss of his title in the older warrior's features, and at last, with a deep breath, he turned back to his waiting commander. Silencing the crowd with one hand, Elfhelm lifted a brow.

"Well? What say you, son of Herulf?"

The dry smirk that belonged as much to Findarras as his sword or his horse, crept onto his face as he nodded his head. "As I feel that I might be torn limb from limb if I decline, I accept, Captain." The shouts turned into cheers, and he turned around and yelled in mock-threat, although his voice was drowned out: "You will hate me soon enough, I promise!" Laughter roared up. "As for Arnhelm's continuance in this éored: I realize that others might see this differently, but I for one am willing to grant him this chance. I do, in fact, believe that we owe it to a long-time, much respected rider who risked his life for every single one of us more times than anyone can count, all the more as he freely admits – and regrets - his mistake. No one knows what any of us would have done in the same position. If anything, his honesty deepens my respect for him even further."

Heads nodded in reply to his statement, and yet the murmur among the men would not subside.

"What does the boy say?"

"Yes, let's hear what Éomer says!"

Again, all eyes turned to Eomund's son, who had been relieved to be out of the focus of attention while the men had celebrated their new captain. And yet if he was indeed to be the one to have the last words about the scout's fate, he would utter them with all the sincerity he had been taught in the now sixteen years of his life. Meeting Arnhelm's gaze evenly as he lifted his head and holding eye-contact until the ruckus died down, Éomer inhaled deeply, and his voice carried over the marketplace when he said: "I want to learn what Arnhelm has to teach." It was answer enough.


BEFORE THE GATE

The sun had long disappeared beneath the horizon and twilight was about to turn to darkness when Éomer returned to the place where he had prepared his cot. From the fireplaces further back, a warm orange glow lit the thickening night, and the faces of the surrounding warriors were relaxed and satisfied as they quietly discussed the events of the past day. Their horses, enjoying their freedom without saddle or tack, grazed all around them, an occasional ear flickering or a head being lifted to drink the warm air for signs of a threat, a potent warning system more effective than human guards could ever be. And yet the stench of orcs seemed mercifully absent on this wonderful summer night, as Stormwing confirmed with a snort after she had identified her master, and the big white head resumed its hunt for the tastiest grass stalk. It was a peaceful atmosphere, and as he stood and watched and listened to the song of the cicadas, Éomer felt a leaden tiredness, but even more content with the way this first great challenge in his life had turned out.

Aye, he had committed a mistake by letting himself be provoked to lose his temper and run away, but it seemed that none of the men, not even Elfhelm, held him responsible, although his actions had endangered their entire éored. The Captain had punished him, though, for disobedience, and heat still crept into Éomer's face when he remembered how both he and Arnhelm had ignored their commander during their quarrel. One month of continuous watch duty it had bought him, and he had accepted the punishment willingly when Elfhelm assigned it to him on the way back from Halifirien. Tonight it would be third watch, so if he wanted to catch at least a few, much-needed hours of sleep, it was time to go to bed now.

With a quick glance around before he lowered himself onto his blanket, Éomer detected nearby Éothain's still empty cot. As his friend had no guard duties for the night, he still sat with the other warriors by the fire, and Éomer wondered briefly what their conversations would revolve around. The change in command, no doubt. Likewise Arnhelm's confession and unexpected lack of false explanation attempts. His own, obvious change, perhaps, as well?

With a little far-away smile, Éomer remembered Éothain's astonished look when they had met before the gate, and as he laid back and rested his head upon the bundle of his cloak serving as pillow, he wondered whether the other men had noticed it, as well. Something had happened to him on that mountain, and not only in the night of the attack. He had learned something about responsibility, knowledge that could not be taught by words alone. To commit a mistake, and then being given the opportunity to make up for the wrong he had done… it had done something to him, something he could not express. Was that what 'growing up' meant? To become aware of one's responsibilities and to act accordingly? Had Halifirien brought him one step closer to adulthood?

He had felt something when he had stood on the mountain's summit the day after the attack, at the exact place where his ancestor Eorl the Young had sworn his oath to Círion. That oath to which the people of the Mark owed their home. Sensing how urgently his recruit needed to visit their holiest site, especially since Eomund had been killed before he could ever have taken his son on this journey, Elfhelm had seen to it that they had taken their midday rest together with the beacon guards, who were always thankful for company. He had barely said a word when they had halted in the middle of the ring of white birches at the foot of the stairs, except that in three hours, they would move on, and Éomer had understood.

The guards had regarded him curiously when he approached them, but after a thorough look, one of them had cast back his head and laughed.

"No word is needed, Captain Elfhelm, to tell me that I am looking at Marshal Eomund's son!" And, with a wink at him, the man had added: "It is about time, young man. I know that your father meant for you to see this much sooner, but of course, fate was of a different mind. Now go, and see what you will find up there."

His words had seemed cryptical to Éomer at first, but then he had indeed found something unexpected upon the holy peak; something he had hoped for in the deepest corners of his mind, while rationality dismissed it as nonsense. But it had been there, when he reached the end of the stairs and the world opened up before and below him, a view that took his breath away. It had filled him up whole, that presence, as his eyes glided over the Mark from the near border of Anorien all the way to the gap between the mountains in the west. Then a golden gleam had claimed his attention, and with astonishment, Éomer had seen that its origin was the roof of the Golden Hall in the midday sun, a beacon calling out to him from across the distant plains, and the view touched his heart and filled him with purpose.

This was his home, that beautiful realm below him, a band of rich green stretching from the rugged peaks of the Ered Nimrais all the way to the Misty Mountains, the mighty Entwash delta a graceful silver pattern on its eastern border. Nahar's children lived here, the best race of horses known to man. The plains were dotted with settlements small and large, from only a few people to great cities like Aldburg and Edoras. Its people were hardy and watchful, and always ready to defend what was theirs. But they were also giving and passionate and great-hearted, and devoted to their friends and loved-ones. They were good people, deserving of every single drop of blood that was shed in their protection. Whatever he, the descendent of their greatest king, could do to ensure their survival, he would do.

Someone laughed over by the campfire, and the sound woke Éomer from his reverie. The hours on the summit had been magical and would stay with him for as long as he lived, and when he had finally rejoined Elfhelm and the others, he had not been the same boy who had gone up. At one point, it had even seemed to Éomer that he had felt his father's spirit, and his approval of his son's changed ways. Never again would he run from a challenge.

With a deep, soundless sigh, he turned on his side, his body already slack and heavy with sleep, and for a moment, his fingers brushed over the medallion he now wore on a leather strap around his neck. Arnhelm had given it to him in a quiet moment on the mountain: an orcish arrowhead, its usually razor-sharp edges blunted so that it would not hurt its wearer. Upon his uncomprehending look, the scout had explained:

"It is from an arrow that should have killed me, but fate turned aside. I meant to pass it on to my son when he joined our éored, a good luck charm to ensure that disaster would never find him… but for a variety of reasons, I never got around to giving it to him. When I finally had it in my pocket, it was too late…" Then, with a heavy breath and conviction in his voice, he had added: "May it protect you now, son of Eomund. You saved my life on this mountain, and if its charm is still alive today and able to deflect a deadly arrow, I would be glad to know that my debt has been paid. Please, accept it."

Once again Éomer's fingertips traced the amulets' delicate shape. Somehow, it barely felt like iron at all. It felt warm to his touch, almost alive. Aye, it would protect him. An unconscious smile spread over his lips as he slowly sank deeper into sleep's embrace…