Chapter 3: The King and the Rider
When Éomer retired to his chambers later that afternoon he was surprised to see the silver-furred cat waiting for him outside the room by the door. She meowed happily as she saw him approach.
"Béma's bow, you are still here!" he exclaimed and chuckled. "Are you fond of my company so much, then?" He smiled to himself as he unlocked the door and entered. The cat jumped inside the room behind him. "Ah, I will not complain, my furry friend. Loneliness is becoming a habit of late, and I confess I do not really like it".
He proceeded to rid himself of his garments and slipped in a light robe. Then he walked close to his bed, where a bell string hung, and he pulled it twice. The cat was watching him with seemingly great interest.
"I bet you wonder what this is. Well, it is a means to call the servants", he explained with a pleasant smile.
Éomer was in a good mood. The council meeting had gone well, and the nobles did not object to dispatching a body of Rohirrim to the western borders of Rohan, where it would create an encampment in order to protect the villages from the assault of the Dunlendings. The King hoped that the presence of the Riders would intimidate the hillmen and that they would not attempt another raid. With enough luck, even skirmishes would be avoided. The small army was to remain at their appointed post for as long as Erkenbrand, Marshal of the West-Mark, considered it necessary. Above all, Éomer wished for the people to feel safe.
A knock on the door interrupted the silence of the room. "Enter", Éomer ordered and a servant maid appeared as the door opened.
"My Lord, you called? How can I be of service to you?" the maid said and bowed before her King.
"Please, prepare water for a bath, Béornwyn. Not too hot, mind you", he asked of her softly.
"As you wish, my Lord", the woman said and left.
About half an hour later she returned, having brought warm water, fresh towels, soap and oils for the King's bath. She poured the water in the wooden tub, which awaited in the sidechamber of Éomer's bedroom, and placed the rest of the stuff nearby. Then quietly she left, leaving the King to enjoy his bath in peace.
And so he did. Éomer sank in the bathtub and rubbed the soap on his chest and shoulders, washing away the sweat, the dust and the heat of the day. He poured some water on his head, damping his hair. Then he used some of the scented oils on it, making it glisten like gold again. While he was bathing, the cat was watching him apprehensively from the doorstep, not producing the slightest sound.
Once he was finished, he wrapped a towel around his waist and walked back to his bedroom. It was dusk, and a light breeze was blowing in from the open window. Éomer walked close to it and stood. His damp hair adorned his shoulders with droplets of water. He cast his gaze to the White Mountains in the distance. Their highest peaks, protruding from amongst the clouds, where glazed in ice, but for it being late summer. A sigh fell upon Éomer's heart. Soon the days of sun and warmth would be gone and they would give their place to gloomy, rainy days, as autumn would cast its veil upon the lands of the Horse Lords. Éomer hoped that by the arrival of winter, the latest, the issue with the Dunlendings would have been sorted, and if no other pressing matter arose, he could perhaps pay his beloved sister, Éowyn, a visit.
They had not seen each other for a year now. She had married Faramir, Steward to King Elessar and Prince of Ithilien, last summer, and she moved with her husband to dwell in Ithilien. Soon she was with child, and a few months ago she had given birth to a boy. Elboron his parents named him. Éomer wished dearly to visit his sister and meet his nephew for the first time, but urgent matters in the Mark and his royal responsibilities would still keep him from that.
The cat's meowing interrupted his thoughts. She came and jumped upon the window sill, turning her eyes to the young man. Éomer smiled softly and patted the cat's small head. "It impresses me that you still refuse to leave. If I were you, I would run free. Now, my only freedom is when I'm on Firefoot's back, and ride across the fields… Being a King is a difficult thing, and I am not sure it is to my liking". He cast his eyes downwards, wearing a sad smile on his face, and then took a deep breath.
"The world has changed, kitten". He lightly squeezed the cat's ear absent-mindedly. "The shadow has passed, but not without leaving its marks and scars behind. Théodred and my uncle died in defense of the free peoples. Many others we lost. Grimbold, Éogar, Cuthstan… The list of casualties will only go on. Friends and brothers-at-arms, brave men, now rest below the ground". Éomer sighed at the remembrance of beloved faces he would never cast his eyes upon again. "Glad is my heart that the Shadow of the Lidless Eye has been vanquished, and yet with grief it is filled for every friend lost. But this is the way of war, kitten. And war is the province of Man".
Then the King of the Mark turned his eyes to the sky, above the mountains high. Night had fallen and the cloudless, bejeweled sky sparkled. A bright moon shone, casting its silver light on Éomer's figure. He leaned forward, propping himself on his hands on the window sill, as his eyes searched the firmament. "Look at all these stars, kitten. Silver they sparkle, more wondrous than the most precious dwarven ore, finer than any elven ornament. And yet they are so out of our reach. Does it not make you feel small, this vastness of the night sky? Are the stars our forefathers' dwellings, where they sit and gaze upon us from high above?" Éomer stood like that for a while, contemplating his own words. "Oh, eam! How can I ever hope to reach your greatness? It is a difficult task set upon my shoulders, to rule the land of Eorl with wisdom and justice. A soldier I have ever been, not a King, nor did I ever wish that. This is a life meant not for me, but for Théodred, your son. His untimely end I mourned, for a warrior more valiant and fearless I have not known". Éomer sighed again and took a step back. Then in a low voice he said, "Bless me, eam, not to falter in my path."
From time to time Éomer would direct these words to the spirit of his deceased uncle. It was something like a prayer for the young King, and it helped alleviate the accumulated stress and pressure he felt since he had been crowned King of the Mark and received the royal duties.
Feeling a bit more relieved, he walked to his bed, discarded the towel and lied down on the soft mattress. The cat jumped on the bed as well, and she came and settled beside Éomer's knee. The soft humming of the breeze against the curtain came as a lullaby to his ears, and he soon fell asleep.
Several days went by in that fashion, until autumn finally arrived, bringing with it the first rains and a slight chill in the wind. The summer-scorched land drank the precious water greedily. The air was filled with the new aromas of damp soil and grass and of fallen leaves, and the folk of Rohan gradually abandoned their summer reverie of strolling outdoors, and chose to remain in their homes more often now.
Erkenbrand left for the Westfold with a force of around seven hundred men. The local people were very pleased to see the Rohirrim arrive, and the hope in their hearts was renewed, especially when they realized that the Second Marshal of the Mark himself was leading this small campaign. Of course, the scarce Dunlending activity was not a matter as huge as to demand the presence of an officer of highest rank. But Éomer deliberately assigned this mission to Erkenbrand, wishing to show the people of the remote villages of the Westfold that their welfare mattered no less than that of the people in Edoras. And he was not one to underestimate any enemy anyway. Therefore, Erkenbrand's presence would serve every aspect of the cause effectively.
The Marshal would often write and send reports to Éomer. Generally, since the arrival of the Rohirrim force in the Westfold, things were going smoothly. Only a couple of skirmishes had arisen among the Riders and the men of Dunland, which the first ones repelled easily enough. In the latter days, the Dunlendings seemed to have fallen silent and inactive, and Erkenbrand estimated that they had finally decided to retreat well behind the Fords of Isen. Given their weakened state, it was unlikely that they were plotting an organized assault of greater scale. However, the Marshal did not wish to take any chances, and reckoned the Rohirrim force should remain encamped in the western frontier for a couple of months more; Éomer knew Erkenbrand as a bold and wise man, who did not like taking risks lightly. After the borders would have been secured, the main force would return to Hornburg, where the Second Marshal's headquarters were, and only the outposts would remain.
One rainy day in early October, together with another of Erkenbrand's reports, the King received another letter as well. To the King's pleasant surprise, it was from his sister, Éowyn. Éomer's excitement was so great that he did not wait to reach his chamber to read the letter, but he unfolded it as soon as the council had finished its work for the day, while he was still sitting on his throne in the main hall of Meduseld.
These were the words that Éowyn had written to her brother:
My Dearest Brother,
How do you fare? Greatly I have missed you and our land, the duties of us both and my pregnancy keeping us apart all this time.
I, for my part, am fine and in good health, and with great gladness I write to you on this day, for my husband and I wish to invite you to visit us in our Home in Ithilien! Elboron, your nephew, is eager to meet you. You will adore him, my dear Éomer. Blonde is his hair, like that of our kin, and he has his father's keen, grey eyes.
Forgive me for having to keep this letter short, but we Rohirrim have never been a people of many words… And it is time to feed your hungry nephew!
Eagerly I shall expect your answer, although I must admit I have already started the preparations for your visit!
Your loving sister,
Éomer's heart sang in joy at the news. Long had he wished to visit his sister, but he was worried whether their duties would allow it to happen any time soon. Now Éowyn had just extended an invitation to him, which meant that he need not worry for her part. Hoping that he would be able to leave Edoras as soon as the Dunlending issue concluded, he grabbed a parchment, pen and ink to write a letter to his sister and explain the current situation to her, along with expressing his hope to be able to visit her by the coming of the winter. Perhaps they could spend Yule together; that was something Éomer would much like.
With dreams and hopes in his mind, he jumped off his throne and, tucking the letter carefully in a pocket of his tunic, he quickly strode to the stables. The rain had stopped and he would take advantage of that to take Firefoot for a ride across the plains. His spirit was lifted, his heart was light; and he wished to feel free again, to be simply a rider, like he once was.
Béma: the Vala Oromë the Hunter, whom the Rohirrim highly valued and called Béma.
Eam: maternal uncle (Old English).
Dunlendings: the men of Dunland (meaning Hill Land in Rohirric), a land neighboring Rohan. They were wild men, used to living in harsh conditions and were hostile to the Rohirrim.
Erkenbrand: Marshal of the West-Mark (Second Marshal). Erkenbrand is a name that comes from two Old English words: Eorcan (meaning "precious") and Brand (meaning "sword").
Next Chapter: A mysterious woman appears, upsetting the heroes; and we also get a peek at the home of the Gods!