27 February TA 3019
She stood, silent and still, before the doors of the house, watching the Riders as they rapidly faded into the nightshade. Still she stood, listening until the thunder of hooves receded to a distant rumble; even then she did not abandon her self-imposed watch. How many times she had stood thus as he rode forth with the éored of the Third Marshal she could not say, for too oft in these latter days had the Riders hastened away in pursuit of the servants of the Dark One who would harry their herds, burning and pillaging along the way. She did not begrudge him this, for it was to this purpose he had been raised; to defend the Mark and the people of Rohan was the very blood that coursed through his veins. It was the heart and soul of the man she loved, with a fierce pride that he could trace in lines unbroken his descent from Céowulf - he who had ridden with Eorl to the succor of Gondor on the Field of Celebrant.
She had pondered this as she sat cleaning his arms that evening, knowing in her heart that he would once more ride away, away from home, away from hearth, away from her, and all the while knowing that this could be the last time he would do thus.
Ah! that was the irony of it, she thought as she rubbed his helm till it was bright burnished. That he ought to leave her for good had provided ample fodder for the old-wives of Aldburg as they gossiped in the marketplace, and they cared but little that their whisperings should reach her ears. Nor did she wonder at this, not when his own sister gave no heed to his demand that she cease her constant criticism of his wife. She sighed now as she recalled the anger in his voice, knowing that beneath lay much grief and anguish, and that she had been the cause of it.
'Too late for regrets'
she told herself. 'What is past cannot be amended now.'
She sighed as she picked up his sword. She had oiled the leather scabbard, paying careful attention to the tracery done in gold and silver, which depicted the great worm, Scatha, whom Fram had slain in an age long past. Skilled craftsmen had fashioned the sheath for Aldhelm's blade, the sword that had come to him from his father, and which had passed from father to son since the founding of the Riddermark. It was his now, for Aldhelm had given it to him at his coming of age. But there was for him no son to whom the sword would pass. And if their hope failed.…
Hope? Little hope could she find this night. Scouts had brought the report that an orc-host had come down out of the East Wall. Éomer had come, craving his counsel, for the Worm in Edoras had poisoned the king's mind with his whisperings, and Théoden would not give his Third Marshal leave to pursue the enemy. That Théodred might even now be warring in the West March against the army of the White Wizard added a new urgency to Éomer's mission, for the scouts had reported seeing some among the orc-host who bore the white badges of Saruman. Certain it seemed that there was a union between the Dark Tower and Orthanc.
So it was decided. The men of Éomer's household would ride that night, and hope against hope to thwart the evil that was trespassing in the east marches. And she knew, even before the words were spoken, that he would ride forth once more with the éored.
The hour was late, but she had claimed the responsibility of arming him while Acennan fetched Hasufel from the stable. Never before had she usurped his squire's duties, but this was not like other times. There was naught that she could name, yet she was seized with a relentless foreboding that left her chilled to the marrow. Nor would she speak of it to him, lest ill luck come of it. Some things were best left unsaid. And oh! how much she had left unsaid.
Armed at last, every buckle fastened by loving hands, he stood, helm in hand, as she brought the cup.
"Ferthu Gárulf hál!" she said, raising the cup to drink. His eyes met hers as she passed the cup, and her hand trembled slightly, oh, so slightly, as he received it.
"Westu hál" He drained the cup, then drew her close to kiss her once more, his mouth lingering on hers as though loath to be parted. Behind them his horse stamped impatiently, and he released her at last.
"Stille nú, Hasufel." The grey responded to her calming voice. "He will be with you soon enough."
Gárulf laughed. "'Tis thee he loves the best, wife." Ah, that word, spoken thus, was as the sweetest poetry to her ears, and she leaned closer in his embrace, knowing that she must let him go.
And when at last he was gone, and her ears could no longer catch the faint rumour of hooves, she wept.
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