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Unto the ending of the world: 41. News
October 7, 3019
"You should come inside, my lady," Merry, who had been sitting outside, breathing smoke through that odd pipe of his, said as Éowyn returned from her walk.
"Are the petitioners there already?" Éowyn asked. They were a bit early by her reckoning, but that meant she would be done sooner as well. The ride with Elfhelm towards Mering had only whetted her need to be outdoors, away from stuffy, sombre halls and the demands of her role.
"Yes," Merry replied, "Only five or so, though. You should be done quickly."
Smiling at Merry's answer, Éowyn went indoors, wondering what the day's petitions would bring. The custom of allowing people to come directly to their lord with disputes had lapsed during the latter years of Théoden's reign, but she had reinstated it. Of course, most of these cases should have been settled long before being brought to her, but the hearings were popular with the people. And it distracts me from other things, she thought.
It was nearly a week now since the news of the attack on Éothain's éored and Elfhelm's injuries had first arrived at Edoras. It could have been much worse, though the latest messenger had brought word that Elfhelm had still not woken up. It was already cursed bad luck that Blackfoot threw him, but then to strike a tree with his head… At least most of the Orcs who had not yet been slain had been chased back across the Great River.
As difficult as it was for them to get along when Elfhelm was here in Edoras, Éowyn missed him. She had done well to see him out on his patrol; it had given her an opportunity to escape Edoras for a while, but more importantly it had reminded them both that they still were friends underneath their marriage of necessity. She wished she could see Elfhelm's face when he heard she was with child – he has to live!
Éowyn both dreaded and needed the next messenger from the Anduin garrison; … I will be glad to hear all the Orcs have been dealt with, but there may be other news too. And what to make of yesterday's message from Tharbad, about the Corsairs attacking the Elvish havens in the North?
Elfhelm is unable to lead the éoreds, Erkenbrand is still in the North – even if he will be back within a few weeks – and Herulf is not experienced enough in the eyes of the Council. Should I call the Council together? I only have Herulf and perhaps Sighere as allies if I do. No, unless there is dire news, it will be best to wait until Erkenbrand is back.
As Merry had said, the petitioners were already waiting in the hall, and there were some few onlookers as well. Éowyn returned their greetings as she walked over to the dais. As she sat down , Éowyn wondered how they, and everybody else, would react once she announced that she was with child and that there would be another heir for the House of Eorl.
For now, only she and Emma, the midwife, knew, and all midwives knew how to keep that kind of secret. Still, it would not be that long until her belly would announce itself, so she should give some thought to the best way to make the announcement before that time. Probably she was giving it too much thought – there would be joy among the people, and well-hidden disappointment among some at least of the lords, no matter how she announced it.
It flashed through her mind that now that she was with child, she had fulfilled the Council's demand for an heir, and they had no hold over her even if Elfhelm died. She quickly banished the though again. No matter that they had not wedded for love, Elfhelm was a friend, a loyal ally, and a good man.
A side door opened. Probably more petitioners, Éowyn thought.
Only one man entered. As he emerged from the dark of the hall, Éowyn saw that it was a Rider. News, then, and urgent by the look of him. She nodded at him to speak and sat up straighter to brace herself.
The Rider stopped several paces away and drew breath to speak.
No. Éowyn already knew what the Rider was going to say. Elfhelm is dead. She clenched her fists until she could feel every fingernail imprinting itself on the palms of her hands. Not now. He does not even know about the child. No, no, no.
"My Queen, a host of the Enemy's troops has crossed the Great River near Cair Andros."
The hall went silent, as both onlookers and petitioners turned to her.
"A host." She barely found the words to reply, so unforeseen was this message.
Éowyn had retreated to her audience chamber; here, she had room to roll out maps, and here she could consider her moves in peace, without interruptions. Merry had insisted on joining her. And how can I do without my esquire? she thought.
"You did not need to give up the last of your furlough," she said to Merry. "We are not yet under siege."
"I could not sit around as if nothing had happened," the hobbit replied. "Besides, Hild agreed."
"Did she, now?" Éowyn replied, forcing herself to levity. "Oh, how long until Herulf is here!" she exclaimed in frustration. She had sent for her Third Marshall as soon as the morning's messenger had given the whole of his news. Close to a thousand of the Enemy's troops, both Orcs and Men, in Anórien… And how many more to follow? I need Elfhelm, or Erkenbrand. Herulf is the next best, but he has not yet the experience to lead a campaign.
"What can we do here?" Merry asked.
"Right now? Not much," Éowyn replied. "You saw the orders I gave to check our supplies, both here in Edoras, and what we need for a Muster."
"Are we going to retreat to Helm's Deep again?" the Hobbit asked next.
"Not yet." That I am certain of. To retreat now is to give up the entire Eastfold.
The door of the audience chamber opened, and Éowyn turned about, hoping to see Herulf.
Instead, there was a grim-faced and road-dusty Rider.
"Éowyn Queen. Lord Elfhelm has died."
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