49. The Oath of Eorl
It was late in the morning, the fifth of May in the year 3019 of the Third Age.
I was walking with Éowyn, the Lady Míriël and the Prince Imrahil towards the Hall of Thrones in the White Tower to be present for the ceremony of the Oath of Eorl. Afterwards there would be another celebration in the Hall of Merethrond.
The Royal Palaces of Minas Tirith are built behind the White Tower of Ecthelion at the western side of the Seventh Circle of the city. They are huge, almost like a separate city in themselves, but there is no wall to surround them, only seven circles of white marble moats filled with clear water and white and pink water lilies. The Hall of Merethrond is the largest building of the Royal Palaces, placed to the north of the White Tower.
White marble steps lead up to the Hall of Thrones at the bottom of the White Tower. It is an austere hall when it is not decked out with garlands of flowers and thousands of candles for a celebration. The famous white stone of Minas Tirith is set off by smooth black stone carved from the Ephel Dúath ages ago. The style of the hall was faintly Romanesque. High barrel vaults and immense Doric pillars. The black and white of the pillars and walls reminded me of an Italian church I had visited once, long ago, a world away. The cathedral of Orvieto in Tuscany, to be exact. Not that this memory had any relevance here and now. The hall was filled with a clear, white light streaming through windows set high in the walls. In alcoves below the windows were white marble statues of long ago kings and queens, proof of Gondor's long and noble history, going back to the realm over the sea.
The end of the hall was built like the choir of a great Romanesque cathedral, but it was looking to the west, to drowned Númenor, where the ancient kings had come from. In the choir-like round a dais of white marble was placed with seven broad steps leading up to a great, white throne. Behind the throne the banner of the King that had been made in a labour of love by Arwen in long nights of patient weaving and stitching in Rivendell was elaborately displayed. The third step up from the floor was broader than the others, and to the right hand side was a smaller throne. This seat was carved from black marble, and behind it the white banner of the Stewards was hung from a silver tipped spear.
When I entered the hall with Éowyn, the Lady Míriël and Prince Imrahil, the curving side aisles of the hall were already filled with dignitaries of Rohan and Gondor and a good many other countries besides. To the left of the nave I saw the sons of Elrond stand with Haldir, the march warden of Lothlórien. Behind them the Dúnedain of the North stood like grey shadows. Prince Imrahil led us right to the front but to the right side of the nave. The Prince and his lady would stand next to the throne of the Steward, the Lady Éowyn and I would be allowed to stand next to them. Faramir was sitting already on the black throne of the Steward. He was still pale and looked sombre. Somehow I had the feeling that he did not like to be here, or to sit on this throne. But when he noticed Éowyn a glorious smile shone on his face, lighting his eyes up in a warm, blue-grey colour.
The high white throne of the King was still empty, but Gandalf stood at its left side, motionless and white, appearing almost like one of the white statues displayed in the hall.
But when we had taken our places, two heralds in the traditional colours of Minas Tirith, black tunics with the white tree stitched on front and back, and white shirts with wide sleeves, walked up to the dais and took up their position to the right and the left side. The hall was alive with the whispering and murmuring sound of many voices, like the trees of a great forest in a storm. Somewhere down the hall deep drums rolled a traditional tattoo. The heralds lifted their golden clarions to their lips. The clarions even sounded golden. Bright and clear and kingly.
When their fanfare had died down, the hall was completely silent. Then the great ebony doors of the hall opened. Aragorn, no, King Elessar Telcontar, King of Arnor and Gondor, Lord of the Western Realms entered the Hall of Thrones.
He wore silver mail and a cloak of black sable adorned with shining diamonds and a collar made of ermine. His dark hair fell in soft waves down to his shoulders, his beard was neatly trimmed, his grey eyes shone even brighter than the diamonds on his cloak. I watched him walk through the hall in even, powerful strides. A king of kings, returned from the depths of time and legend. I shivered faced with such majesty. Where was the ranger, where was the friend in that king on the white throne?
But I knew who would enter the Hall of Thrones next and that knowledge alone made my heart beat like a drum and my pulse sing in my ears. Then the deep voices of the drums rose again, but above them soared the sonorous sound of bagpipes and the bright song of silver harps. Again the heavy doors of the hall were opened.
Walking to the solemn rhythm of the music Éomer King, King of Rohan and the Riddermark, stepped into the Hall of Thrones. He was clad in the red leather armour he had worn in the war. The bulk of the armour made him even more impressive than his muscular build normally did. Already a tall, strong man he seemed like a giant of the old tales as he slowly proceeded down the hall. His hair only just touched his shoulders in a flood of gold and dun and darkness, like the fur of a lion, or the dried grass on the plains. My breath caught in my throat. I gasped lightly. Another shiver ran down my body. There was no doubt that here, too, was a king worthy the hymns of the bards. For a moment Éomer halted in his stride, and his dark eyes sought mine. It was only a second. Perhaps not even that. But his gaze reached my very soul, even from the distance.
Another roll of drums sounded and Éomer approached the throne.
To my surprise it was Faramir, who spoke first.
"Who is it who approaches the King of Arnor and Gondor, the Lord of the Western Lands, and what is thy desire?"
Éomer halted three paces in front of the dais. In his deep, clear voice he replied. "Éomer, son of Éomund am I. King of Rohan and the Riddermark I will be. I have come to do homage unto Elessar Telcontar, King of Arnor and Gondor and Lord of the Western Lands. I have come to renew the oath that bound my fathers and my fore-fathers of old. I have come to swear fealty to Gondor. Verily I have come to freshen the blood that sealed the Oath of Eorl the Young as it was sworn on the Fields of the Celebrant."
"If that is thy desire, then step forth and do homage unto the King, Éomer, son of Éomund,"
Éomer then climbed up to the third broad step leading up to the white throne. There he halted again and knelt down in front of Aragorn. "I have come hither today to do homage unto thee, your majesty."
Aragorn rose from his throne and walked down to where Éomer was kneeling. He looked down at Éomer, and his keen grey eyes were warm with friendship. "Art thou then willing to become completely my man?"
Éomer inclined his head and held both his hands out to Aragorn. Aragorn took Éomer's clasped hands in his, holding them tightly. "Verily," Éomer said in a ringing voice. "I am willing."
Aragorn then drew Éomer to his feet and kissed him on the mouth. "As my brother I greet thee. As my brother I honour thee."
Then Aragorn sat back down on the throne while Éomer remained standing on the dais before him. Cheers reverberated through the Hall of Merethrond. The first part of the ceremony, the homage to the King, was concluded.
Now followed the second part, the renewing of the Oath of Eorl, an oath of fealty, and an oath of blood, Éowyn had explained to me. Faramir rose now from the black throne of the Stewards and walked down the steps to Éomer. There he knelt down and drew a dagger from his belt. He offered it hilt first to Éomer.
"If that is thy desire, then take this blade and swear thy oath of fealty to the King," Faramir declared.
Éomer took the dagger from Faramir and raised it before him. "Verily I have come hither today to renew in my blood the Oath of Eorl."
Without a moment's hesitation Éomer cut the dagger across the palm of his swear-hand.
In a rush of crimson his blood dropped down to the white marble floor in front of the throne.
I had shuddered involuntarily at the soft sound of steel against flesh and closed my eyes against the view of the first fresh welling of blood. But now I opened my eyes again, and all that I could think of was how they would ever manage to get the white marble floor clean again. Or would they allow the stains to set? To turn them into an icky brown memorial for this most solemn oath?
But then all thoughts were driven from my mind when Éomer spoke again, renewing the Oath of Eorl as it had been sworn when Rohan had first become a kingdom many hundreds of years ago. His voice was dark and mellow and beautiful and firm.
"By the One and the Valar and my own life's blood this oath shall bind me, Éomer, son of Éomund, who will be King of Rohan and the Riddermark. I will to King Elessar Telcontar, King of Arnor and Gondor, Lord of the Western Lands, and to his heirs, be true and faithful, and love all which he loves and shun all which he shuns, according to the laws of the One and the Valar and the order of the world. Nor will I ever with will or action, through word or deed, do anything which is unpleasing to him, but I shall stand with him in matters of life and limb and earthly honour against all foes; and never will I bear arms for anyone against him or his heirs. On condition that he will hold to me as I shall deserve it and stand with me in faith and loyalty in matters of life and limb and of earthly honour against all foes. So may the One help me and all the Valar."
The Hall of Thrones was utterly silent as Éomer ended his oath and returned the dagger to Faramir. Faramir accepted the dagger but then turned it over to a servant in the livery of the citadel who had been waiting unobtrusively behind the throne of the steward.
Now Aragorn spoke again, "I thank thee for thy oath and I joyfully accept thy fealty, Éomer, son of Éomund, who will be King of Rohan and the Riddermark. But I tell thee now that there can never be a word of giving or taking between us, nor of reward, for we are brethren. In happy hour did Eorl ride from the North, and never has any league of people been more blessed, so that neither has ever failed the other nor ever shall fail."
Éomer replied, his eyes and his voice warm with returned friendship, "Since the day when you rose before me out of the green grass of the downs, I have loved you and that love shall never fail."
Then the music went up again, and with the music rose a great cheering that seemed to shake the very pillars of the Hall of Thrones.
Afterwards the doors of the Hall were opened and the various dignitaries and ambassadors and heroes of the war filed out and went about their business.
Aragorn rose from the throne and embraced Éomer. Then he motioned to a servant to bind Éomer's hand. Cutting your palm hurts like a bitch. I know that from failed attempts at cooking. I felt my stomach lurch when I saw how Éomer bit down on his lip as the cut was cleaned and bound. Silly girl, I told myself. He's a warrior. That's only a tiny nick. That's nothing to him.
I watched how Faramir walked over to Éomer and embraced him, too. They stood on the dais talking softly, two kings and a lord, heroes and friends. For once I wished that I had a camera, or at least the ability to paint. But I didn't and I can't. So I had to settle for trying to fix this scene as firmly as possible in my memory. Three tall men of charisma and dignity as they stood between the white throne and the black throne in a golden beam of sunlight.
They would shape the future of Gondor and Ithilien and Rohan, and this future would be a good one for all the peoples of those realms.
When I made to leave, Míriël stopped me. "Aragorn wants you to stay. There will be some refreshments." Indeed, servants appeared with silver trays, offering goblets of red wine to everyone who had remained in the hall. Everyone was: Gandalf, the sons of Elrond, Éomer, Faramir, Haldir, Imrahil, Míri, Éowyn, I and Aragorn, of course.
Aragorn put his arms around the shoulders of Faramir and Éomer and led them down the dais. He was taller than the other two men, but Éomer was more powerfully built. In another life, in another world, Éomer would probably have to watch his diet, I thought irrelevantly and had to suppress a grin.
"Why don't we take the wine outside?" Aragorn asked.
I bet he knew just how much Faramir hated the Hall of Thrones and that black throne. Servants opened the doors for us, and the ones with the silver trays trailed out after us as we left the hall for the sunlight and the blue sky of the Place of the Fountain. It was a beautiful day. A kingly day. Actually, ever since the war the weather of this year had been wonderful as if the One, or the Vala responsible for the weather in Middle-earth, was in the mood for celebrations, too.
The Place of the Fountain was a place of classical beauty. Squares of lawn surrounded a fountain of white marble that had been built to resemble the seven circles of Minas Tirith. The outer edges of the squares of lawn were decorated with white marble sculptures. But these sculptures were not kings or warriors, but famous poets or singers or actors – in other words, at that time I had no notion at all who was represented by the beautifully sculpted figures. Around the murmuring waters of the fountain, white marble benches were placed in front of each square of lawn and at the sides of the benches large pots with small orange and lemon trees had been arranged. The only thing that marred the beauty of the Place of the Fountain was the great white tree in the north-western square of lawn.
The White Tree of Minas Tirith was dry and dead, an ugly, withered skeleton of a tree.
Nevertheless we went to the fountain to drink to the renewed alliance between Rohan and Gondor. When everyone had their goblets and we were looking expectantly at the King of Gondor, Aragorn gave us an impish grin. I guess somewhere beneath the shimmering mail, the cloak of his office and the crown of his grace, there was still at least a little bit of the ranger left.
Aragorn lifted his goblet for the toast. "Brothers!" He said simply.
"Brothers!" The men called back and lifted their goblets in return, whereas we ladies raised our goblets in silence but with smiles that were just as bright as the smiles of the men.
We drank a ceremonial mouthful each and then returned the goblets to the servants who offered water and fruit juices in exchange for the wine. Apparently you don't really drink a huge goblet of wine so early in the morning, not even in Minas Tirith at the court of the king.
Aragorn turned to Éomer. "Now, as you know, we have laid Théoden the Renowned in a tomb in the Hallows, and there he shall lie forever among the Kings of Gondor, if you will. Or if you desire it, we will come to Rohan and bring him back to rest with his own people."
Éomer sighed deeply. "That is a most gracious offer. But Théoden shall at last come to rest among his own people. However, until then much has to be prepared. When all is made ready, we will return for him; until then let him sleep here for a while longer."
Silence fell for a moment. Only the sound of the water falling down from basin to basin of the white fountain was heard, and high up in the sky there trilled the song of a mountain lark. Although I think everyone of us thought of fallen heroes and loved ones forever dead and gone just then, the grief was not dark and choking anymore. It was turning gradually into a bittersweet ache deep in our hearts that did not diminish the sunshine surrounding us anymore. Slowly, we were beginning to heal.
Then Éomer spoke again, "Although I would like to remain in your company and I am loath to leave because you are my brother and my friend, I now must depart for a while to my own realm. As in Gondor, there is much to heal and set in order in Rohan. But I promise, I will return soon."
Aragorn clasped Éomer's arms in a friendly gesture. "That is what I would indeed ask of you, my friend. Soon the day shall come that all my endeavours shall be crowned with happiness, and I would that all my friends and brethren share this day with me."
"Then so it shall be, Aragorn. I will return to Minas Tirith in time."
Behind me Faramir was standing close to Éowyn, their gaze locked in sweet longing.
I heard Éowyn's voice drift towards me, and I was surprised how tender and soft her voice could be. "Now I must go back to my own country, too, for a little while," she told the Steward. "I have to look on my land once again before I turn my back on it forever. I have to help my brother in his labour for a time. But when one whom I long loved as a father is laid at last to rest, I will return."
"And never be parted from me again?" Faramir asked in a low, gentle voice.
"And never be parted from thee again," Éowyn replied.
Three days later the companies of the Riders of Rohan were ready to leave Minas Tirith.
I was back on Mithril, next to me rode Éowyn on her grey stallion. Behind us the sons of Elrond came on their great white destriers, and with them was Merry on his smaller white pony. Éomer was at the front of the host, his green cloak billowing in the strong southern breeze, Hiswa dancing with eagerness to be off and running.
At last Frohwein sounded the great horn of Rohan and we moved off, riding towards the Forannest, the northern gate of the Rammas Echor.
Although it was impossible to tell from way down here, I am sure that on the seventh circle of Minas Tirith someone was standing at the embrasure and watched us leave, with love and longing in his heart.
As I don't think that the exact wording of the Oath of Eorl would have been repeated for this ceremony, I made up an oath of my own, combining an early Anglo-Saxon Oath of Fealty with an Oath that Robert the Bruce swore to King Edward of England and some of my own ideas.
The ceremony as I describe it is based on the ceremonies of homage and the swearing of fealty during the middle ages, i.e. the hand holding and mouth kissing is historically accurate.
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.