Steward and the King, The
Merry muttered and counted on his fingers. It was March 12th. It was a starless, moonless night, the black pierced only by small campfires. If he squinted he could just barely see the fire that Dernhelm said was in front of the king's tent. Three days ago the king had said farewell to him ... and for all he knew, Merry was back in Dunharrow, left like so much baggage. Eighty leagues parted, or eight tents and fifteen trees, it's all the same. I can't stroll up, shake his tent wall, and ask if he'd like a bit of talk. I gave him my oath, and I've disobeyed his command.
Maybe if he hadn't felt so alone, he wouldn't have taken the strange soldier's offer. But Pippin wasn't there to ask what he was doing, Strider wasn't there to look after him, the man said "I am Dernhelm," and said he would take him to follow his king into battle, and Merry had agreed.
They rode with Elfhelm's eored. The others saw but took no official notice. And Dernhelm spoke so infrequently it seemed to Merry he had only his guilty thoughts for company.
Merry had swore himself to the king's service, and King Theoden had called that service worthy. On the edge of war, it gave him comfort to speak. His son was killed. A hard battle fought and another to come ... I could talk to him of a place far away from that. Does he need me tonight? I wish I could go to him.
Derhelm looked also toward the King's tent, but it seemed his thoughts were back in Dunharrow. He spoke of Strider and the rangers that had ridden into the mountain. "Why would he throw his life away?" he asked as they huddled over their food.
"I don't believe Aragorn is dead," Merry answered. "Despair didn't take him to that path; he was sent. There are forces more than you know battling with us."
"And what of Faramir?" The voice was strained, and Merry could see that Dernhelm would have unsaid the words if he could.
Merry gazed at her silently until his conscience made him look away. "Eowyn, we shouldn't be here."
Shame and fear slowed her words. "I would be no place other. This darkness cannot be bested. We are all for death."
"There is still hope. Gandalf believes that. But we all must do our parts and we are not where we should be." And he worried, for there was no way to return; and he knew he would not return, even if there were a way.
"My place, as your place, is here with our King."
"You were left to lead your people."
She shrugged. "Elfhelm knows me, and allows this. By the time the muster was achieved I had put all in order and others can handle the rest. Lord Igil thought little of my help, but he would have stopped me if he knew. I am sure he sent someone to try to fetch me back once he discovered I was gone."
"But -- "
"No queen has ever ruled the Eorlingas."
"You could be first."
"No," Her denial was more than not wanting her kin to die before her. "No Ruling Queen." She fell back into Derhelm's voice, soft and disparing. "Should Eomer die, it will be my part to be wife -- " she shuddered, " -- to whatever man of the Mark comes forward to lead the remnants of our people in our fleeing." She would not speak the rest, what would happen -- what she would be asked to do -- if the shadow let them live long enough. Her breath drew in, shuddering. "That is no small matter and I know I have left fear behind me. How could I do other? I have stood so long at his side. How could he leave me so, taking all my family with him?"
The next night when the Pukel-men led the Rohirrim army through the secret path that would avoid the orcs blocking the usual road to the city, Eowyn repeated Merry's words to him, " 'more than we know'," and he could see some part of hope return in her eyes.
"There is hope," Merry agreed, "and the path Aragorn took, like this path, is to surprise and best our enemies, and there is more I cannot tell you."
=== end chapter ===
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.