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Another Man's Son: 6. Comfort In Kin
The door opened and closed behind him, and he turned his head to see the by-now unmistakable figure of Eomer, Rohan's new King. Once he had recognized him the man had rapidly become familiar, and Imrahil's long-standing nascent fondness for the man had blossomed into full-fledged love. During the battle, simply catching a glimpse of Eomer's still-upright figure had been enough to flood Imrahil with relief. Imrahil couldn't catch sight of Eomer now, even though the battle was long over, without feeling some kind of happiness, so habitual had the relief become. Eomer was dearer to him now than many men Imrahil had known for years.
"Eomer," Imrahil said quietly, coming to stand next to the man. Eomer had been staring blankly at the door, and turned and blinked at Imrahil's salutation.
"Prince," he said. His face was drawn with weariness, his clear voice had become hoarse, and he shivered a bit at the cold breeze. Imrahil noticed that he was still clad in his armor, still stained with battle, though his gauntlets hung from his belt and his hands and face had been washed.
"Will you rest now?" Imrahil asked.
Eomer regarded him, his eyes shadowed. Finally he nodded, his exhaustion abject.
"Have you rooms?" Imrahil asked.
Eomer blinked, and drew breath, and paused. He shook his head, and jerked his chin out over the walls, indicating the plain. Imrahil looked out over the walls, seeing the twinkling camp-fires across the Pelennor in orderly clusters. The Rohirrim were encamped on the plain there, amid the wreck of the battle. "It's a long walk," Imrahil said.
Eomer sighed, and nodded wearily. He rubbed the back of one wrist against the patch of beard just below his mouth, grimacing a litle. Imrahil noticed that the knuckles of the hand were skinned and bruised.
"I can give you a softer bed, much closer," Imrahil said, shivering inwardly to think of making such a long walk down in a state of such exhaustion. "If you would do me the honor of staying as my guest, my house is in this circle. It will take but a moment to walk there."
Eomer's eyelids flickered, and he raised his eyebrows a bit, obviously tempted. It was a long walk.
"Come," Imrahil said, putting his hand lightly on Eomer's arm. "It's quite nearby."
Eomer hesitated, visibly deliberating with himself. He was a man of few words indeed, Imrahil reflected, trying to recall if he'd said more than one word during this entire encounter. "I will send one of my pages to your people as a messenger," Imrahil said. "I can see that you are weary. It will take an hour to walk down there tonight. My home is only a few minutes away."
Eomer looked up at the Citadel, and down to the Pelennor, and then looked at Imrahil with a wry smile and a sigh. "Thank you," he said. Imrahil smiled and led him down from the steps of the Houses of Healing.
The lights were still burning in the house when Imrahil arrived. He found one of the household errand boys, pink-cheeked from a nap, and sent him off to the Rohirrim with messages and instructions. Eomer sank down into a chair near the fire in the main sitting-room, leaning back and stretching out his long legs with an air of complete exhaustion. The housekeeper had fetched him a mug of warmed wine and had set bread and cheese on a stool before him, but he touched neither as Imrahil saw to the business of the household.
Imrahil's two younger sons were already in bed, and he went to look in on both of them. The oldest, Elphir, was safely ensconced at the Houses of Healing, his broken arm set in a neat sling and his curious malaise raised by the mysterious power of Aragorn. Imrahil kissed Erchirion and Amrothos on their foreheads, offering a silent prayer of thanks that they were both unscathed, and all three of his sons were alive and reasonably well. Most men had not been so fortunate as he. Elphir's bed was empty, and Imrahil made sure it was made so that Eomer could sleep there.
When Imrahil returned to Eomer, the young man was staring absently into the fire, the food and drink brought for him completely untouched. Imrahil stood beside him for a few moments before touching his shoulder. "Come," he said. "Your room is ready. You should sleep now." He held out his hand, offering to help Eomer up, and Eomer stared blankly at it for a moment before reaching up to clasp it with his own.
Imrahil helped pull him to his feet, and steadied him once he was there. "Thank you," Eomer said. They made their way down the hallway, and Imrahil sent a boy in to help Eomer disarm and to take the armor away to be cleaned and, where possible, repaired. Imrahil left as Eomer was sitting on the edge of the bed, blinking sleepily as the boy unfastened his shin greaves. Imrahil had to repress a desire to kiss the sleepy golden head as he had kissed the dark ones of his sons.
Amrothos sat blinking at the little table in the sitting room, his wet hair tousled and his face puffy with sleep. He was dressed in a shabby castoff tunic of Erchirion's that was far too large for him, and was having apparent difficulty negotiating with the bowl of porridge in front of him. Imrahil laughed, coming up behind him to ruffle his hair, and putting his arm around the boy's neck to drop a kiss on his head.
"Morning, cygnet," he said.
"Morning, old man," Amrothos answered hoarsely.
"Did you sleep well?"
"Like a rock," Amrothos said, a little bleary-eyed. "How's Elphir?"
"He was sleeping when I left," Imrahil said, sitting down across the table from his youngest son. "They said he will recover fully, and soon."
"Who was in his bed? I opened the door this morning to peek in and see if you'd brought him home, but there was someone else in there. Someone big."
"I hope you didn't wake him early," Imrahil said.
"No," Amrothos said. "He didn't so much as turn over. All I could see was blond hair and a foot."
"It's a guest," Imrahil said. "A distinguished guest." He thought for a moment, recollecting the train of theought that had been going through his mind as he had fallen asleep the night before. "And a kinsman, I believe."
"Who?" Amrothos asked, awake enough to be curious.
"King Eomer of Rohan," Imrahil said. "I know he is a nephew of the old King, and Theoden was a kinsman of ours through his mother."
Amrothos yawned. "A king," he said. "I did not know he was a kinsman. Well, I am honored to be related to a warrior of such repute."
Imrahil smiled. "Could you do me a favor, then, and go and wake him when you finish with that porridge?"
Amrothos stuck the spoon into the bowl and pushed himself stiffly to his feet. "I give up," he said. "The spoon is too heavy and the task of eating too complex for me at this hour."
"Let me see that hand," Imrahil said, frowning as he got to his feet. He took Amrothos's sword (and spoon) hand and felt at the wrist. He was worried that it was sprained, but it had not been serious enough to take to the Houses of Healing. He held the wrist between his hands. It was warm beneath the binding, but did not feel swollen.
"It is sore, and stiff," Amrothos said, "but so is the rest of me. I can move the fingers if I must, though I prefer not to. I think it will recover."
"Well," Imrahil said, "let me see it when you are dressed, and I will bind it again."
Amrothos nodded, and moved toward the door, running his other hand through his hair and scratching absently at his neck as he yawned. Imrahil couldn't resist, but caught him and pulled him close for an embrace.
"Papa," Amrothos said in half-hearted protest, but put his arm around his father's waist.
"I have three sons," Imrahil said, and kissed Amrothos's forehead. Amrothos laughed quietly.
"Yes, Papa, you do." He laughed again, and freed himself to go out through the door.
Amrothos knocked on the door of Elphir's bedchamber, but there was no answer. He opened the door quietly and put his head in. The bedclothes were pulled up over the head of the bed's occupant, but a large bare foot stuck out of the bottom of the blankets toward the door, and a large, muscular, badly-bruised arm hung off the side of the bed, fingers curled limply upward.
Amrothos slipped into the room. "Eomer," he said. There was a small movement under the blankets, and the toes curled. "Lord," he added belatedly, conscious of rank even in the befuddled state of early morning. In a moment the foot was withdrawn, the blankets moved again and a bleary blue eye regarded him through a mass of tangled gold hair.
"Lord Eomer, my father sent me to wake you," Amrothos said.
Eomer blinked, and raised his head, pulling his arm back under the blankets to push himself up enough to look at Amrothos with both eyes. His face was pale and there were deep creases in his cheek from the sheets. His eyebrows drew together and he frowned.
"Amrothos," he said finally, his voice hoarse and cracked. He looked dazedly around the room.
"My father brought you back with him from the Houses of Healing," Amrothos said. "Last night. It was late."
Eomer nodded, and pushed himself laboriously upright. Amrothos winced in sympathy at the sound of stiff joints cracking. Eomer grimaced. "Ugh," he grunted, with a certain taciturn eloquence. Amrothos laughed dryly.
"I felt much the same when I awoke," he said. "Hot water helps. I will send some in for you to wash yourself."
Eomer nodded again, pulling the sheet around his waist and rubbing at his face. "What is the hour?" he asked, his words somewhat slurred.
Amrothos shrugged the shoulder that hurt less. "Just after sunrise, I think," he answered. "Father sent me to wake you."
Eomer grunted, pushing at his tangled hair. Amrothos grimaced at the unpleasant-looking scabs on the other's knuckles. "Tell him thank you," Eomer said, and yawned, his jaw cracking.
"I will," Amrothos said, and left Eomer to perform his morning ablutions.
Imrahil was just finishing his breakfast when Eomer came out. His people had sent him a change of clothes along with the morning messages, and he had managed to untangle the worst of his hair. He looked respectable, but sleepy, and the sleepiness gave his face a round and childlike look. He stifled a yawn and sat across from Imrahil a trifle unsteadily. Imrahil stifled the urge to ruffle Eomer's hair as he had Amrothos's. The young man was a kinsman, but not a son, although Imrahil found he loved him enough to consider him one. Still, he was a king, and might be offended by too much familiarity.
"I must thank you again, for your hospitality," Eomer said, stifling a yawn.
"It is nothing, between kinsmen," Imrahil said. Eomer raised his eyebrows.
"Kinsmen?" he asked. "Are we?"
"Theoden's grandfather was a kinsman of my grandfather," Imrahil said.
"Ah," Eomer said. "I am pleased to learn it."
Imrahil stood. "Would you care for something to eat?" he asked. "There is porridge, or bread and cheese. I am afraid there is no fruit, and little fresh."
Eomer's eyes brightened at the mention of food. "I could probably eat your entire larder," he said with a small laugh. "But I would content myself with whatever is closest to hand."
Imrahil went into the kitchen, and returned with a bowl of porridge and a spoon. "The house staff is not at its usual strength," he said. "And the bread's not at its usual freshness."
Eomer smiled. "Hunger is the best sauce," he said, taking the bowl and holding it between his hands to warm them.
Imrahil had to stifle another urge to tousle his hair, his fatherly spirit moved by the boyish smile. "Did you sleep well?" he asked.
"Deeply, for certain," Eomer said, managing to speak clearly and politely while his mouth was full. "I must say it was nice to have a real bed and take my boots off. I haven't slept with my boots off..." He sighed, and counted on his fingers. "Is today the sixteenth?"
Imrahil leaned forward. "I had heard there was some trouble in Rohan," he said. "Is it true?"
Eomer regarded him darkly over the edge of the bowl, and his face was suddenly no longer boyish. "Yes," he said.
Imrahil wondered whether to continue, but his curiosity won out. "How came you to be Theoden's heir?" he asked. "I had heard Theoden had a son."
"Killed," Eomer said. "About three weeks ago." He looked down into the bowl, and in a moment resumed eating with something like fierceness in his motions. "They burned half the Westfold. I do not know what is left. But I do know that I have more hope now than when I left it."
"I know what you mean," Imrahil said softly. "But I had not known things were so dire in your land."
"Dire," Eomer said, and laughed bleakly, scraping the last of the porridge out of the bowl. "Well, this Council will tell me just how dire things are. I will not reflect on them now."
"No," Imrahil agreed. "Will you have more to eat?"
Eomer shook his head, a trifle wistfully. "No, thank you," he said. "I have much to do." He looked at Imrahil keenly. "Is there news, from the Houses of Healing?"
"I was there before sunrise," Imrahil said. "My son is healing and your sister slept peacefully through the night. They are recovering, they say, as is Faramir my nephew. Good news all around."
Eomer nodded slowly, and his face was drawn and sad. "Recovering," he said. "And more worry on my part will not speed it."
"No," Imrahil said. "There is nothing you can do now. Be at ease."
"Nothing I can do," Eomer said. "Whatever I could have done, needed done long ago, and I did it not. I knew not that there was even need, and what I could have done had I realized, I do not know. I was closest to her, and saw nothing, and it took a stranger to notice her disorder at all."
Imrahil shook his head with sympathy. "Such is the way of these things," he said.
Eomer laughed with a bit of bitterness. "I had no idea," he said. "Have I thanked you? I was so sure she was dead, I would have had her buried."
"I am glad I could help," Imrahil said.
"I am deeply in your debt," Eomer said. He stood. "I thank you again for your hospitality and kindness to me. I know not whether I would have reached my tent before I fell and slept where I lay."
"I thought as much, looking at you," Imrahil said, standing. "Well, I must go and see what is afoot. There will surely be a council today, though I do not know where it will be."
Eomer nodded. "I must go to my people," he said, "but first..."
"Your sister," Imrahil said. "I know."
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