All the King's Men

Chapter 1

He was 28 years of age and had been the third marshal of the Mark for 4 years, riding patrols, trying to rid the lands of the foul, stinking creatures that seemed to spawn out of the earth whenever they had eradicated an area of them. None would have taken Éomer to be a passionate and impulsive person, no for that, he was much too controlled.

He had learned from an early age, that temper tantrums and hysterics did not get him what he wanted. It didn't bring his father home after he was killed in an orc raid. It didn't bring his mother out of her melancholy nor persuade her to eat or sleep. It also didn't bring him any favours with his trainers. And in his training he had found his salvation from the pain and the rebellion he had been going through since he was left in charge of what what left of his family, Éowyn.

She was only 8 and he was 13 when their mother succumbed to her grief. Their uncle took them both in and treated them as he did his own son, Théodred. But he was king and therefore had many duties, often taking him away from the golden hall of Meduseld for weeks at the time.

Théodred's mother had died in child birth, and he was raised mostly by nannies when his father was away. So the two new additions to the household got the same treatment, and although it was much better than to be left in the streets on their own, it was not conducive for a healthy, nurturing environment for two grieving children.

So Éomer took the role of protector, counsellor and parent, really, for his younger sister, his own grief being pushed in the background and only manifesting as youthful rebellion, impossible manners and sometimes downright cruel behaviour towards those who wished to get close to him and help him, among others, Théoden.

The child didn't want a new father figure, who would abandon him like his own father had, for weeks at a time. He didn't want to trust another adult with his fears and longings, only to be pushed away like his mother had. So he pushed first. And he pushed hard.

He emerged himself so deeply in training, riding, archery, spear mastering, sword fighting, command training and politics that he tuned out the pains of his losses during the day. In the evenings he devoted himself to Éowyn and to the task of making her happy again. He grew serious and he grew up, too fast for his age.

People forgot the lively boy who played tricks on his elders and lead the juvenile gangs in their pranks throughout Edoras and Meduseld - The benefit of being the king's nephew was unlimited access, among other things, at least until they grew wiser and changed that.

What was left was a skilled and disciplined warrior, a great tactician and a man who knew well how to hide his searing feelings of hate for the enemy and fierce love for land and family behind a facáde of professionalism. A man who none really knew, except for maybe his sister, though the roles they had developed early on made it much easier for him to be there for her than it was to unload his burdens on her.

000000000

He had been out on patrol for the last 9 days at the end of october. He and his riders were exhausted, cold, soaked to the skin, and even the ever cheerful Eothain had fallen silent. It was time to find a warm, dry place and let the men have a few days leave.

"Éothain!", he shouted, waiting for his first in command to come trotting up to him.

"Yes, my lord?"

"We need to find a place to dry out and stable the horses for a few days. How far are we from the nearest village?", he asked.

Éothain pulled out his leather map of the west fold and studied it for a brief moment. "We are just about one hours fast paced ride from Gulfar, a small township east of here, my lord."

"Good. That's where we're headed then". To the men, he shouted; "One hours ride to a warm bed and three days leave!". Needless to say the mood of the riders improved massively with that message, and they arrived at Gulfar after only 45 minutes.

000000000

After Éomer had convinced the local inn owner to put his 30 riders and their horses up for the duration of the leave, the group took to tending to their horses.A rohirrim may not be on duty, but his horse still needed caring for before he himself got to eat and rest.

Not all of the riders of Rohan had the best reputation while on leave, but Éomers éored were, if not as disciplined as their leader, then at least enough so to not put him to shame in front of the townsfolk.

"Hásthu faegin mor, Firefoot" he spoke soothingly to his great black steed as he gently rubbed him down with dry straw. Firefoot turned his head and glanced at Éomer before giving him a nudge in the shoulder.

"Not until we're done, boy. You know the rules. First we clean you, then you get your carrot". The horse stomped his right hind leg in annoyance, but otherwise held his peace and hung his head, relaxing and waiting for his treat.

Suddenly, he raised his head and perked his ears. "What is it, boy?" Éomer asked and stopped to listen himself. He heard quiet footsteps and out of habit found the handle of his sword.

"My lord Éomer?" he heard a voice as clear as a crystal bell ask.

"Yes?"

"I was told I might find you out here by your men. The stew is getting cold, and i thought i'd bring you a bowl before that rowdy bunch in there take it all" there was a smile on the voice, and he was compelled to get out of Firefoot's stall to meet the stranger. When he did, he felt as if the air had been removed from his lounges by force and a summer sun had risen to hit him with warmth.

The voice belonged to a young woman with a perfect heart shaped face, full red lips and long dark lashes. Her long hair was the typical golden wheet color of his people, but what stood out was her eyes. They were bright and green as spring grass on the plain. The usual colours being blue, grey and varying shades of murky brown, Éomer was lost in them until her expression changed and she became guarded.

"My lord? Aren't you hungry?" she asked him.

Gods yes! he thought. Snapping back to form fast; "yes, thank you... What may I call you?"

"I'm Néela", she smiled.

"I'm Éomer" he said.

Holding back a giggle she replied "yes, I know", the mischief in her eyes making them dance. "The pot and the bowl are on the table out here when you're done". And with a last dazzling smile, she turned and walked away.

"Thank you" he told the now empty hallway of the stable. In his stall Firefoot shook his mane and whinnied, sounding very much like a high pitched laugh.

000000000