62. Here Do I Swear
Éomer put the goblet down in front of him and looked at Lord Grimsir.
The table of the five high lords of Rohan stood on the dais in front of the throne of Rohan. The long tables with the lesser nobility of Rohan and the guests from Gondor, Lórien and Imladris were placed at right angles to the dais, running down the entire length of the Golden Hall. In the great fireplaces to the left and to the right, huge fires were roaring against the nightly chill.
Now the time had come to elect, crown and acclaim the new king of Rohan. It was the right-and the duty-of the oldest lord to preside over the ceremony. Therefore it was Lord Grimsir, who would have the first say in the election of the third line of kings to sit on the throne of Rohan.
But would he choose as the old king had chosen with his dying breath? Or would he challenge Théoden's choice?
Éowyn stepped forwards once more and bade the servants to refill the goblets of the assembled. The servants hurried from table to table, pouring mead and wine and beer, so that every lord would be able to raise his cup when the new king of Rohan was elected by the traditional acclamation of 'Hail, King of the Mark'. When every goblet was filled, Éowyn faded back into the shadows behind the throne. In this matter women had no say, not even the shield-maiden of Rohan.
On the dais Éomer sat still and relaxed. He had shoved his chair back a little, so that he could look Lord Grimsir straight in the eye.
The firelight brought out golden highlights in Éomer's hair. His eyes were almost black in the flickering lights of fire and candles. His face did not betray any hint of nervousness. He appeared to be calm and composed.
The hall was silent.
All faces were turned to observe the young king-to-be and the oldest and most powerful lord of the kingdom.
Grimsir set down his goblet, too. and gazed at Éomer now. In spite of myself, I had to admit that he was a striking man as well. I guessed him to be between fifty and sixty years old and aging well-he was lean and well-muscled. He wore his straight hair cut at shoulder-length. It was what they call 'salt and pepper', but there was more black than silver. His features were aquiline, not at all the weak, slobbering countenance I had expected from someone related to Gríma Wormtongue. But then, I had never seen Gríma in real life, so perhaps he did not look like a slimy git either.
Grimsir's eyes were of a very dark grey colour, intense and piercing. His mouth was wide, but his lips were too thin, as was his nose. There was a general air of sharpness to him, an aura of a keen intellect, and quite likely the instinct for power to go with it.
The oldest and most powerful lord of Rohan was taking his time. Although he knew Éomer from the day he was born, Grimsir now made a show of taking the measure of Éomer in a way he had never done before. Ostensibly, because now he had to look at Éomer as the man who wanted to be his king. He scrutinized Éomer with narrowed eyes. A faint, condescending smile played around his lips.
Éomer returned the look with equanimity-apparently unconcerned by this test of wills.
But he did not smile.
My heart was in my mouth, and under the table my hands were shaking, the palms cold and clammy. Now what?
Ordinarily, succession to the throne of Rohan was a simple thing. The eldest son of the dead king was the new king. Had the king died without an heir, the throne went to the eldest son of his brother. A relatively simple way of individual succession tied to the male line.
But this time there was no brother, no male heir. This time there was only the son of the king's sister.
In this situation of a new line ascending the throne, the king of Rohan was elected by the nobles of Rohan. The last time this had happened was two hundred sixty years ago. There was no established routine for the way the election should go. Although in theory every one of the two hundred something lords of Rohan would cast their vote, the decision hinged actually on the high lords of the five provinces.
To make things even more difficult, two of the high lords had been killed in the war, and according to the laws and customs of Rohan, Erkenbrand and Elfhelm could only succeed their fathers as high lords after the new king had been crowned. Therefore the votes that would sway the decision of the assembled lords tonight lay solely in the hands of the lords Grimsir, Eutharich and Berig.
And Grimsir looked at Éomer and smiled.
He smiled. As if he wanted to say, 'You know that I could question the late king's sanity at the time he made you his heir. You know I could question your fitness for the throne, as one who was imprisoned for treason against the old king. I could ask for trial by ordeal, to ask Béma the Hunter to confirm the old king's choice. I could challenge you, and claim the throne for myself, as my ties to the throne go back to the first line of kings and yours only to the second-and even that only by your mother's blood.'
Those unspoken words echoed through the hall. But Grimsir stayed silent, locking his gaze with Éomer, waiting.
Waiting for what? Waiting for Éomer to flinch? To break eye-contact? To turn away blushing, like a boy? Or to order him to go on, to give him an excuse to voice any of the questions he could ask, to utter any of the challenges that were his right to make?
But Éomer only gazed back at Grimsir with his dark eyes calm, his features composed, even though he did not smile.
The silence lengthened.
I tore my eyes away from the test of strength taking place upon the dais and cast a quick glance at the lords assembled around the table where I was sitting with Míri and Imrahil. Aragorn was pointedly not looking at either Grimsir or Éomer. His hands rested on the table, folded, relaxed. Gandalf, seated next to Aragorn, was frowning; his blue eyes blazed with a fierce fire. If Grimsir had anything to do with Wormtongue's conspiracy, Gandalf would find out-and things would get really ugly for Grimsir. The faces of the Elves appeared as if carved from stone, white marble, untouched and unmoved by the petty power plays of mortals.
I turned my attention back to Éomer.
Although he still seemed completely at ease, I detected a faint tightness to the skin around his eyes and the muscles of his jaws.
If this staring contest went on for much longer, I would simply start screaming.
Couldn't Lord Grimsir simply say, 'No, I don't want you as a king'? Did he absolutely have to turn this into an agonizing ordeal of staring and waiting?
When I thought I could bear the silence not another second, Grimsir's smirk suddenly deepened and turned into a semblance of an honest smile.
He rose from his seat and turned to the hall without sparing a glance for Éomer.
"My lords of Rohan, my ladies of Rohan, your royal highnesses, my lords and ladies of Gondor, my lords of Imladris, my lady and my lord of Lothlórien, my lord Mithrandir, my lords Periannath. King Théoden is dead. He died with no son to take the throne after him. But he did not die without an heir. On the Field of the Pelennor, he lifted his dying eyes to Éomer, son of Eomund, third marshal of the Mark, hailed him as King of the Mark and bade him ride to victory. And Éomer, son of Eomund, did as he was bid. Therefore I ask you, my lords of Rohan, to do now as Théoden, son of Thengel, bid us do: Lift your eyes to Éomer, son of Eomund, and bid him hail."
Grimsir raised his goblet. Only now he turned to Éomer. He held the goblet high. His posture proud, his voice clear and cool, he cried as he lifted his goblet to Éomer:
"Hail, Éomer, King of the Mark!"
A sigh swept through the hall like a storm wind rushing across the plains.
I gasped, twining my fingers together to keep my hands from shaking.
There would be no challenge.
There would be no trial by ordeal.
Even Éomer rose from his seat, the lords and nobles of Rohan jumped to their feet and lifted their goblets to Éomer, son of Eomund. Their voices echoed through the Hall of Meduseld like thunder as they cried, one and all, "Hail, Éomer, King of the Mark!"
Then the guests from near and far and the ladies of Rohan joined in, raising their cups, and calling to Éomer, "Hail, Éomer, King of the Mark!"
Éowyn stepped out of the shadows and directed the servants to bear away the table on the dais. This was swiftly accomplished.
Now Éomer would swear the blood-oath to the people and the kingdom of Rohan and receive the crown at the hands of the King of Gondor, just like Eorl the Young centuries ago.
Merry, as Éomer's squire, brought Éomer his sword, Asgar. Although Merry had grown taller than Éomer's elbows by the virtue of the ent-draught, he still had to lift his arms high to offer the sword to the new king. Éomer took the sword from the Hobbit's hands and gave him a small nod of thanks.
In one fluid movement Éomer unsheathed his sword. Silver sparkled. The blade gleamed sharp and deadly in the firelight. Éomer lifted the sword to salute the lords of Rohan.
Then he changed the sword from his right to his left hand, and drew the palm of his swear hand down the length of the blade in one firm stroke.
Crimson his blood swelled in his palm, running down the centre of his sword and dripping to the floor in front of the throne.
The floor of the Hall of Meduseld is made of stone, coloured in many hues and painted with runes and designs of ancient times. Just in front of the throne is one flagstone that is crimson in colour and ringed in black runes. At its centre the rune for 'sword' is placed. This is the stone on which the blood of every king of Rohan has dripped, binding them forever to their people and their land.
On this stone fell Éomer's blood in a soft crimson rain.
Again he changed hands. He held his sword aloft. Bright red shimmered the fresh blood on the silver blade. From Éomer's firm grasp around the sword's hilt, his blood was still flowing and dripping gently down onto the blood stone. His eyes shone fiercely, and his face glowed with the deep love he had for his people and his land. His voice was clear and warm with feeling as he made his oath.
"Here do I swear by mouth and hands
fealty and protection
to the Kingdom and populace of Rohan
to uphold the Laws of the Kingdom of Rohan
to speak and to be silent
to do and to let be
to strike and to spare
to punish and to reward
in such matters as concern the Kingdom of Rohan
in need or in plenty
in peace or in war
in living or in dying
until I depart from my Throne
or death take me
or the world end.
So say I, Éomer, son of Eomund."
For a moment longer, he presented his sword to the lords of Rohan. Then he resheathed it in one fluid motion.
The foundations of the Hall of Meduseld shook with the roar of cheers that went up. The servants hurried forwards once more to refill all cups and glasses and golden goblets.
Then everyone was on their feet again, raising their cups, and crying as loudly as possible, "Hail, hail, Éomer King! Hail, Éomer, King of the Mark!"
When the voices died down, Lord Grimsir approached Éomer and bowed to him. Then he offered Éomer his arm to lead him to his throne.
The throne of Rohan is carved from black wood, gilded with gold and covered with an intricate design of runes and ornaments of a vaguely Celtic style.
Only when Éomer stepped foot on the dais of the throne, Grimsir stepped back. After he had thus placed Éomer on his throne, Grimsir bowed deeply to his king once more, and then walked backwards to the other four high lords of Rohan.
Now Aragorn would carry the crown of Rohan to Éomer.
Aragorn rose from his seat and walked with measured strides up to the dais. He was clothed as befit the occasion of the funeral earlier that day, wearing sombre silks of dark grey. But on his head the silver crown of Númenor glittered. Tall, dark and noble was he, and an air of power surrounded his every step; there could not be any doubt at all that this was the king of Gondor, and that he indeed was fit to place the crown of Rohan on Éomer's head.
Again it was Merry who acted as the squire to his king, bearing a crimson cushion embroidered in gold with the crown of Rohan resting on top of it to Aragorn.
Aragorn took the crown from the Hobbit and lifted it high, showing it to the gathered lords and ladies.
"Behold the crown of Eorl the Young!" he announced in his clear, northern accent.
The crown of Eorl was a simple ring, perhaps three fingers high, a heavy, golden circle carved with runes and Celtic ribbons and ornaments. At the front of this circlet a single white diamond was set.
A sigh of appreciation of the crown's beauty went up from the crowd, and Aragorn repeated, "Behold the crown of Eorl the Young!"
Then he turned to Éomer, who sat tall and straight on the throne of Rohan.
Éomer's golden and dun hair curled just a bit longer than his shoulder, his soft, well trimmed beard and his eyebrows a shade darker than his hair. His dark eyes still gleamed fiercely, but now his wide, full lips relaxed into a hint of a smile. He had the look of a king. Young he might be, but his figure was powerful, and his demeanour spoke of a deep and patient mind. Even at only twenty-eight years, he was formidable in appearance and bearing.
My heart was beating like a drum, and I thought I should melt just from looking at him, so kingly and noble and beautiful was he.
Aragorn knelt down before the throne and held out the crown to Éomer with the confirmation of the oath of Eorl, much as it had been spoken centuries ago by Cirion of Gondor.
"Rië sina ar vandarya termaruva Elenna-nóreo alcar enyalien ar Elendil Vorondo voronwë. Nai tiruvantes I hárar mahalmassen mi Númen ar i Eru or ilyë mahalmar eä tennoio.
"This crown and its oath stand in the memory of the glory of the Land of the Star, and of the faith of Elendil the Faithful, in the keeping of those who sit upon the thrones of the West and of the One who is above all thrones for ever."
Éomer took the crown from Aragorn and placed it carefully on his head. The firelight reflected in the white diamond at Éomer's brow and made it shine like a star fallen down to the earth.
"I thank thee, my brother, and my friend."
Then Éomer rose to his feet and drew Aragorn up from where he knelt and embraced him and kissed him on the mouth to seal the friendship between Rohan and Gondor forever.
I only realized that I had been crying when Míri thrust a white kerchief into my hands.
I dried my silly tears and smiled at her. "It's only that I am so horribly relieved."
"I know, my dear, I know. As are we all," she replied warmly.
Now everything would be alright. Everything. Really, truly everything. Eru and all the Valar be praised. Praised with great praise!
Now one after the other, the lords of Rohan came forth to do homage unto the new king and plead their fealty to him.
The first to do so was Lord Grimsir, of course; the second Lord Berig, followed by Lord Eutharich. After them followed the Lords Erkenbrand and Elfhelm, who were first acclaimed as the successors of their fathers by the new king. Then followed every lord and noble sir of Rohan, more than two hundred all told.
The procedure was the same as the one I had witnessed in Minas Tirith when Éomer had renewed the Oath of Eorl. The lord placed his hands in Éomer's hands, hailed him, they kissed. Then the lord laid down his sword at Éomer's feet and swore fealty to his king, and Éomer accepted the oath with the traditional reply of 'I thank thee...'.
I did not mind that the procedure took such a long time, with the considerable number of lesser lords pledging themselves to Éomer. I needed that time to calm down! After I had dried my tears with Míri's handkerchief, I remained where I was for quite some time, clutching my empty goblet and drawing shaky breaths, willing my frantic heartbeat to slow down.
Finally Éowyn came over and placed a beaker with mulled cider in front of me. "Drink, silly girl. Everything's alright now. But Béma, am I grateful that you were right, my lord," she added to Prince Imrahil.
The Prince smiled at her. "I think we are all glad that the ceremony went smoothly tonight. Though I was certain it would. Grimsir is no fool. Eutharich, maybe; but not Grimsir. Now, my lady, how long until your own part in tonight's ceremonies?"
Éowyn blushed and glanced at the row of lords still waiting for their turn in front of the throne. A small, nervous smile flickered across her face. "A while yet, my lord, but hopefully will be tonight, and not tomorrow."
To me she whispered, "It better be tonight. Or I will throttle my brother, king or no king."
I gulped down a swallow of the hot cider and found that I could smile again. I grinned at my friend. "Don't worry. I don't think your brother will forget about your betrothal. Not with the longing looks you keep exchanging with Faramir."
Éowyn blushed even harder. Faramir, who was sitting with the sons of Elrond a few seats down the table, suddenly turned his head, and his eyes lit up, gleaming almost blue as he noticed his beloved's proximity. Éowyn inhaled sharply. "He'd better not forget my betrothal. Or I'll do more than just look..."
Then she was gone, to deal with yet another matter concerning the organization of the feast.
Next to me, Míri shook her head. "I do hope Éomer won't forget that he promised to announce her betrothal tonight. If ever I saw a girl wanting to be properly wedded and bedded, it's Éowyn. She might just dare and truly do more than look if he did forget his promise."
I grinned and nodded at Faramir, who was still looking into our direction, his expression soft and dreamy. "But Faramir wouldn't-he's an honourable man. You needn't worry."
Then I took a second look at Faramir's face and noticed that-while his face seemed soft and peaceful-his eyes were blazing. Míri followed my gaze and raised her eyebrows.
"Uhmm... Probably anyway," I amended wryly before I turned back to watch my Éomer on his throne, clasping hands with, and kissing one of his lords after the other.
I felt Míri shake her head beside me and mutter something under her breath that sounded suspiciously like "If he 'forgets', it won't be Éowyn throttling him, not if I can get to my hands on him first..."
At long last homage unto the new king and the pledging of fealty was duly completed.
Éomer looked a little tired, his lips slightly red from kissing so many bristly faces. I promised myself that I would only kiss Éomer again after he had brushed his teeth and gargled with some high-proof liquor.
When everyone had settled down again at the long tables, and the servants had refilled the cups and goblets once more all around, Éomer rose from his throne.
I felt a smile creep up on my face. He had not forgotten. His gaze roamed the hall, searching for Éowyn and Faramir. Éowyn was hesitating in the shadows to the side of the hall, waiting beside a great pillar carved with spiralling lines and gilded in gold. She had removed the demure scarf from her head. Even in the shadows her hair gleamed brighter than the gold spread on the wood of the pillars and the throne. Faramir had moved his chair back from the table, his hands placed palm downwards on his knees. His lips were pressed into a thin, nervous line.
A broad smile appeared on Éomer's face. "Now, albeit this is the funeral feast of Théoden king ere we take our leave tonight, I shall speak of tidings of joy, for I am certain he would not grudge that I should do so, since he was ever a father to Éowyn, my sister. Hear then, all my guests, fair folk of many realms, such as have never before been gathered in this hall! Faramir, Steward of Gondor, and Prince of Ithilien, asks that Éowyn, Lady of Rohan, should be his wife, and she grants this full willing. Therefore they shall be trothplighted before you all."
At his words Éowyn came forth from the shadows and Faramir walked up the aisle in long strides. Together they came before Éomer King and took each other's hand. Éomer placed his hand on their hands and spoke low words of blessing. Then he took his golden goblet from Merry and raised it to Faramir and Éowyn.
"Here are Éowyn, the Lady of Rohan, and Faramir, Steward of Gondor, and Prince of Ithilien, and ere a year is out they shall be married. So say I, Éomer King. Now, join me and praise them. Praise them with great praise. Hail, Éowyn and Faramir!"
Once again everyone rose to their feet and lifted cups and glasses in a toast. A many voiced cheer echoed through the hall. "Praise them! Hail, Éowyn and Faramir!"
And of course I was in tears again.
With Éowyn's and Faramir's betrothal, the feast had come to an end. Slowly the great Golden Hall emptied until only Éomer King, his closest friends and the guests of honour remained.
"Thus," Éomer told Aragorn, coming to stand with the King of Gondor at the fireside, "is the friendship of the Mark and of Gondor bound with yet another bond, and the more I do rejoice."
He smiled at Éowyn and Faramir who walked towards them, still holding each other's hands, their cheeks flushed and their eyes bright with happiness.
Aragorn smiled, too, but his smile was slower and almost solemn. "No niggard are you, Éomer," he said, "to give thus to Gondor the fairest thing in your realm."
"Not quite, my friend, not quite," Éomer retorted, beckoning to me to join them at the fire. My stomach did a serious somersault, but I went over to Éomer, and he took my hand and held me tightly. "You will also have to part with a fair thing-and one only just come to your realm- if I have my way. And I mean to have her."
He drew my hand to his lips. I barely could suppress a gasp. His lips were hot and silky on my cold hand.
"Then both of us have twice the reason to rejoice," Aragorn replied, and his smile grew warm and easy as he looked first at me, and then at Éowyn and Faramir.
Éowyn let go of Faramir's hand and curtsied before Aragorn. "Wish me joy, my liege-lord and healer!" she asked, her voice unusually soft.
Aragorn drew her from her curtsy, embraced her and kissed her. Then he turned to Faramir and embraced his steward and kissed him also. "I have wished thee joy ever since first I saw thee. It heals my heart to see thee now in bliss."
Arwen, Aragorn, Éomer, Faramir, Éowyn and I spent another few hours in comfortable easy chairs in front of the fireplace in Éomer's study, talking about the events of the day, and the many partings which the next days would bring.
But although many of these partings would be sad and some would last forever, that evening there was no sorrow in our hearts, but only contentment at the way events had ended in harmony and bliss today.
A/N: The oath is taken from the heralds of the "Kingdom of the West", I think it belongs to the Society of Creative Anachronism, but I'm not sure. Oh, and in "Unfinished Tales" (birthday present from my husband) I discovered the real words to the Oath of Eorl as the good Professor wrote them down. But I like my efforts from chapter 48, so I won't go back and change my oath to the one Tolkien wrote... the meaning is the same anyway.
For the coronation I read up on the writings of Widukind of Corvey who in the year 968 described the coronation of Otto I. in Aachen (936). It's really interesting.