Ale. Ale is good. If I drink enough, perhaps I will forget.
I had my first taste of ale when I was twelve. It was at the harvest festival. My father set his pint aside and I drank the dregs of it. So he fetched me a half, and warned me not to guzzle, or I would be sick.
I miss him so.
Éomer and I quarrelled again today. Éomer believes we should disobey our orders and wage war as we see fit, because Father is not himself. I am no fool - I know that Gríma Wormtongue takes advantage of my father's failing health to nudge him this way and that. But he would not bring Rohan to ruin, for then he would suffer too. No... here Éomer is mistaken.
Rise, Éomer says, the men will follow you. Rule until the king is well again. But such a coup would not be as bloodless as my cousin supposes. We are already under threat from without; we cannot afford internal strife, also. We must do what we can to defend our people. We must trust and obey our king.
At least, what is left of him.
All things that live must die - such is the rule of nature. But this - there is nothing natural about what is happening to him. He was strong, so strong - even when his hair first began to change from yellow to grey. He did not slow down. He was so rarely ill. How is it that he is falling to pieces in front of my eyes?
Away with these womanly tears! I need another ale. How many is it now? Too many - walking is growing difficult. Irresponsible? Yes. But for a short while, I should like very much not to have to care about anything, or anyone. Home was once a haven, a place where the cares that write their names across my brow could not intrude. Now I have no safe place, save in drunken oblivion.
Oh - there, the chair is on the floor...and there is Éowyn, looking at me with a face like thunder.
She drains my drink and pours another, gags upon it almost as she swallows it quickly. She goes back for yet another. This is dangerous - I have seen how Wormtongue looks at her, and he will not hesitate if he finds her senses are dulled.
" 'Wyn, you will be drunk."
She pushes me away; she is stronger than she looks. I take hold of the table, which does not move so much as its treacherous friend the floor.
" I want to be drunk!" Éowyn shouts. The intensity of her fury surprises me. " Is that not what you want? To run away? To hide?"
She is right, and I am ashamed.
" I have greater cause to drown my sorrows than you. I see him every day! Limping...mumbling...dribbling his food..." Her voice hitches. "You - both of you - take every chance you can to escape from here, and then you are gone for weeks!" It is true, it is true; I can scarcely bear to come home, I can scarcely bear to look upon the shadow that was once my hero. " Do you care nothing for him?"
How dare she!
" He is my father!"
" And he is mine also!"
Oh, 'Wyn - do not cry! I have not seen her weep since she was a child. My tears fall on her as she clings to me tightly. I would offer her comfort and hope, but I cannot. I have but the primacy of this embrace, and it will have to do.
Now Éomer stands in the doorway, gazing at us. Perhaps it is the ale, but to me he looks like the lost, sad little boy he was when first he came to dwell with us. I did not mean to fight with him earlier. Come here, little brother. It will make no difference, but it is all we have left.
At last we can cry no more. Éomer and Éowyn linger in my arms. Shame on me for being so selfish! In these dark days we ought to draw strength from each other. A house divided cannot stand.
" Éowyn, put Théodred to bed," Éomer mumbles.
" No." It is bad enough that she must take care of one old man. She does not need to look after another. " No, that will not be necessary..." I will not fall down, no matter how much this cursed floor moves beneath my feet. " I can make my own way..."
I lose my balance, but she has me.
" Come, 'Dred."
I take hold of her, my arm yet another weight on her already burdened shoulders. Shame, shame.
" I am sorry, 'Wyn."
" Think no more on it."
I am grateful for her aid; I feel as though the passage is spinning. My bed, at least, stays in its proper place while I sit down. Éowyn looks pale, pinched, fussed. There are dark circles beneath her eyes. Does she sleep at all, any more?
" I am sorry, Éowyn." This is no life for her; it is wrong, all wrong. I would have her wed to some young man, with a family of her own, away from this place. " I am sorry for all this. I should be here..." Blast these wretched tears! I had thought them all spent. " You should not have to bear this burden alone."
" If Rohan did not need you, then you would be here." Oh, 'Wyn, it is kind of you to say so, to forgive me; for I could do more. I should do more. I am his son; the burden of his care should fall on me, not on you.
She has hold of my hand. Hers was once only the size of my palm, but it has grown, and so has she. Yet in my mind she will always be my little sister, to be protected and defended.
Am I still Father's little boy?
Does he know me any more?
“ Promise you will not worry about me,” Éowyn implores.
I want to laugh. Can the sun promise it will not rise in the morning?
“ You know I cannot.”
My eyes are growing heavy; the slumber I sought earlier is threatening to overtake me. My fingers, working at my laces, have grown clumsy.
“ Can I help?”
“ No.” I will not have her undress me. I have caused her too much trouble already.
Her goodnight kiss is soft against my cheek.
Ah, in this battle my clothes are winning. I have got my boots off; that is enough. Even the stars cannot penetrate the thick cloud hanging in the sky tonight, and when I snuff the candle my chamber is pitch dark. But perhaps...perhaps in the morning things will seem better.
No, they will not.
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.