13. The Departure
8 May 3019
“Is there anything else, my Lord?”
“No, that’s all, I think. You may go. I will see to the rest myself”
The man bowed, “Then I hope you have a good journey, my Lord.”
“I hope so too, Felcon.” Éomer looked around the large room making sure he had not forgotten anything. His eyes rested on the chest where his belongings had been put into neat waterproof packages. He could not help the small grin of amusement when he thought of what the parcels would look like if he had had to do them up himself. “Thank you for looking after me. I appreciate it could not have been easy,” he called to Felcon just before he left the room.
The man stopped and turned around, executing another of his bows, “On the contrary, my Lord, I have enjoyed serving you and have considered it somewhat of a challenge. I look forward to repeating the experience when you return in July.”
Éomer stared at him; and saw the faintest glimmer of a twinkle in his eye. Béma, the man must be human after all. He broke into a grin, “I shall endeavour not to cause you so much trouble…” a knock came at the door before he could finish what he was going to say. Felcon opened it to admit Elfhelm with Haldred right behind him. The Gondorian manservant bowed to the Marshall and exited into the corridor.
“Good morning, my Lord.” Elfhelm made the slightest of bows, “Are you ready?”
“Yes, I am coming.” He indicated the parcels on the chest, “You can take those Haldred. I will bring my saddle bags.”
“Yes, my Lord. The young man loaded himself up and stood waiting.
“Go on down,” Elfhelm said, opening the door wide for him, “there is a pack animal in the stable.” Haldred nodded and, clutching at the armful of parcels, left the chamber.
Éomer picked up his saddle bags, took another look around the room and then remembering, retrieved his knife from under his pillow and shoved it into his boot. Elfhelm said nothing. Why would he, Éomer thought, as he no doubt did the same – and he was married. He slung his saddlebags over his shoulder and the two Rohír followed Haldred into the corridor. Éomer stopped and looked back to his sister’s door, “Have you seen Éowyn, Elfhelm? I thought she might have been round.” Amazing that she hadn’t been fussing; he’d fully expected her to arrive in his chamber – hairbrush in one hand and a pot of salve in the other.
“I met her in the corridor an hour ago.” Éomer raised his eyebrows; knowing Éowyn not to be a particularly early riser. Elfhelm chuckled merrily, “I rather think that she was off to say farewell to the honourable Steward.”
“Ah, I see.” Lucky Éowyn, he sighed inwardly. He would get no chance for a private leave-taking with Lothíriel, although he had managed a goodbye kiss or two after the farewell feast. Not without more strategic planning though.
“Your eye still looks bad, it’s a sort of a sickly yellow colour,” Elfhelm remarked. “I did not notice it last night.”
“Éowyn has been putting some stuff on it,” he laughed, “I rather think she has other things on her mind this morning, and I am certainly not going to do it. It will be fine by the time we get home.”
“Our people would welcome you with any amount of black eyes,” Elfhelm said. “They will welcome what you have arranged to come along behind us as well.”
“I agree that they will welcome the food and the seed beans. But it is going to be so very hard for those who have no loved one to welcome home.”
“At least there will not be many surprises. Hopefully the lists we sent were accurate,” Elfhelm replied.
“I hope so. I know you did your very best, but I imagine there may be a few wives expecting husbands home who will never come. Once again,” my friend, “I must thank you for your tireless work.” Éomer clapped his Marshall on the shoulder and then remembered something else, “Did you sort everything out with Elladan and Ellrohir? I am sorry to have left another thing to you but…”
“I did, and think nothing of it, my King. It gave you much needed time to attend those meetings and sort out the aid.”
“There will be a lot more needed yet, I daresay. The reports we have had are not good. I can only be thankful that Gondor has responded so quickly. If we can get the beans we are taking back planted straightaway then we will be able to harvest something. Grain, dried fish and meat will follow by wain.” He grimaced. “It was one area where I just had to swallow my pride. We have no chance of getting our strength back if the people are starving.”
“It’s not a matter of pride at all, Éomer. We responded to Gondor’s need with no delay. They know what would have happened if we had not.”
“Yes, that is true but we would not have survived more than a few weeks afterwards…” He waved his hand in a gesture of dismissal to his own thoughts, “anyway enough of that – what have you arranged with our elven twins?
“They will stay for a night or two in Edoras and we will then provide them with an escort to the borders of Lorien to meet up with Master Elrond’s party. They expect to arrive back in Edoras about the middle of June and stay a night or two for the ladies to rest. They intend to arrive in Minas Tirith on Midsummer Eve.” Elfhelm grinned, “Evidently Midsummer’s day is an auspicious date for a wedding.”
Éomer returned his grin, “And you have told nobody about this? Aragorn wants it kept quiet. I think he wants to produce an Elven wife as an actuality in case there are any dissenters.”
Elfhelm shook his head, “I have only spoken to Cælin, as he will be leading the escort. I have sworn him to secrecy. We will pick the men on the journey home when there is no chance of any Gondorian knowing. As you said, we will choose unmarried men as far as possible. We will not be popular if we drag husbands away after only a few days.”
“Popular or not, if necessary, it will have to be done. I suggest about fifty good Riders,” Elfhelm raised his eyebrows at this. “I know it sounds a lot,” Éomer sought to explain his decision, “and I understand that the elvenfolk of Lorien are as fierce as we have seen Elladan and Ellrohir to be, but there is no way I am going to risk anything happening to Aragorn’s bride when she is on our soil. We will escort them safely through the Mark. Gondorian Knights will meet them at the border and our part in this will thankfully be ended.”
“You, hold our new High King, dear, I feel.”
“But you do not want to go to the wedding, Éomer?”
“No. I will be needed at home. I will be away for almost a month with the funeral cortège anyway. That cannot be helped, but I will not leave my responsibilities for a wedding.”
“And the whole lot will be coming back with you.”
“So I understand. We will be entertaining a King, a Queen, numerous Elven Lords and Ladies, a quartet of princes, some mischievous hobbits and a dwarf. Oh yes, and I haven’t told you: I have asked Princess Lothíriel to come as well.”
“Ahhh…”Elfhelm drew the word out. “Is that all you have asked her?”
Éomer was tempted not to reply but he knew he could trust his old friend and mentor. “We have an understanding, but I want her to see Edoras first. If she comes permanently she will be a long way from home.”
Elfhelm mused over this for a few moments, “I imagine the match will suit the Gondorians well, but you may be in for some opposition from some of our die-hards. They will probably want you to wed a Rohirric lass.”
“It is the other reason I want her to come to Edoras: so that my intentions are known and our people get to know her.” He looked his Marshall straight in the eye, “Let me tell you, Elfhelm, I will dedicate the rest of my life to serving the Riddermark, but the woman at my side will be one of my own choosing.”
The Marshall did not contradict him and they walked in companionable silence for a while, their long strides quickly taking them out of the cold stone building and into the fresh morning air.
When they neared the stables Éomer was surprised to see the Royal Guard of Gondor lined up along the road. As usual they looked immaculate and he wondered, not for the first time, how they could stay so un-creased whilst on horseback. But surely Aragorn didn’t need them to ride with him down to the gates. He turned to Elfhelm with the obvious question on his face.
“We, and particularly you, are to be accorded full honours. King Elessar and Prince Imrahil will ride with us down through the city and your own guard will take over outside the gates.” Elfhelm told him.
“I see,” he shrugged, pageantry not really being in his line but if it pleased them to do that then he could go along with it. The two men stopped and surveyed the line of Knights for a moment, one of them was having trouble controlling his horse, which impatient with standing around, had decided to try and get past the others. Perhaps it didn’t like pageantry either or, more likely, the Gondorian knight had a new mount to get used to. It reminded him of something he wanted to ask Elfhelm, “I couldn’t hang around to see, which horse did Aelfhere chose in the end?”
The Marshall raised his prominent eyebrows, “I am surprised you have to ask.”
Éomer laughed out loud, causing a few heads to turn. “No, I don’t suppose I do. It must have been that one I suggested might be too much for him. That roan with liquid fire running in his veins instead of blood.”
“They should suit then,” Elfhelm responded with dry humour.
Éomer grinned, and they walked on into the stable yard. Aragorn’s mount, Roheryn, stood quietly waiting for his master. The animal probably wondered what had happened to him, being decked out in ceremonial dress for the second time in eight days. Éomer wondered how long it would be before Aragorn gave into pressure and chose a more handsome looking horse. He glanced around: his own standard bearer also waited patiently; Windfola came out through the stable door, led by a groom, but there was no sign of Éowyn. Tied to a rail, a packhorse looked resigned as its load was secured and draped in a green cloth. It couldn’t be all his stuff and he guessed that his sister would be taking back far more than she had brought. Éomer entered into the stable, chuckling to himself, many things had changed in the last few months. One of them became apparent when he reached Firefoot’s stall - the horse already saddled and bridled and all left for him to do was to give him the carrot that he had requested from Felcon that morning. It made a mess of his bit but the big horse crunched happily as his master fastened on his saddlebags. At least he had seen to his old friend himself on the early morning rides he had been taking and he intended to keep that going when he got home, knowing it would probably be his only prospect of escaping and spending time with his much loved friend. Not leaving anything to chance however, he could not be happy until he had run his hands down all four of Firefoot’s legs, looked in his mouth and ensured that his badly behaved partner had not fooled Haldred. He did not want his saddle slipping when he mounted him.
“Is every thing alright, Lord?”
Éomer looked around from checking over his horse. Haldred stood holding his own mount and watching his King somewhat nervously. He also looked incredibly smart, much more so than when he had collected the parcels.
“Yes, everything is fine, Haldred. You are doing well. What happened to you?”
“Happened to me, my Lord?”
Éomer ran his eyes up and down the boy, taking in the shiny boots, clean breeches and a green tunic over his mail.
“Oh, Lord Elfhelm arranged it. I have to ride behind you, my Lord, and lead that packhorse. He said we both, that’s me and the horse, I mean, have to look the part because the Gondorians always look so smart. But I imagine I will look a mess after a few days on the road,” the boy said candidly.
“Go on, Haldred, sort out that animal.” Elfhelm had come up and he jerked his head in the direction of the stable door.
“Is there anything you have not thought of?” Éomer laughed. “We came with our weapons, some oats and a bit of dried tack. We are taking back a fully provisioned army, emergency aid for our people and a trainee squire with new clothes.”
“I think, Éomer, that in the years to come we shall be having much closer ties with Gondor, I would not have it that they continue to think of us as barbarians…”
“Good morning, Éomer King. Are you ready to leave us?” Imrahil smiled benevolently at him. In fact he had noticed a kindly twinkle in the Prince’s eye ever since he had suggested that Lothíriel be allowed to make the journey to Edoras. The suggestion, he thought, had been agreed to with considerable satisfaction.
Éomer returned his smile. They had become good friends, despite of the age difference, and he respected the Prince of Dol Amroth exceedingly. Aragorn would be in good hands during his first difficult months of kingship. He hoped he would be as lucky. “We are ready. Is Aragorn here? ”
“He’s outside. And your sister has just arrived. Faramir has gone down to the gates with my sons and my daughter.”
Éomer nodded, disappointed. A very public farewell then. “Come on Firefoot, let’s go,” he said aloud.
The first person Éomer noticed when he led Firefoot out into the stable yard was Éowyn, resplendent in what he guessed to be one of those riding dresses. Made of a shiny green material it had some sort of pleating all across the front of the bodice. The sleeves were full but caught tight around her wrists. Her long blonde hair had been braided and wrapped around her head. She looked magnificent, but she did not look like Éowyn. At least she did not look like Éowyn would be expected to look at the start of a four hundred mile ride.
“Would you like some help mounting, little sister?” Éomer kissed her good morning.
Éomer dropped Firefoot’s reins, and took hold of her leg. His mind immediately leapt back to the time he had done the same for Lothíriel. He mentally shook himself. With so much to do and think about, once they left Minas Tirith behind them he would have to forget her until he returned in July. He could not afford to be distracted. “You look wonderful but do you think that outfit will survive the rigors of the journey?”
“Oh, I will change tonight when we camp. I won’t wear this again until we enter Edoras.”
“No wonder we have our own packhorse,” he teased, as she lifted elegantly into the saddle.
Once they were all mounted the two kings and the Prince of Dol Amroth led the procession and headed it down towards the next level, with Éowyn and Elfhelm behind them. Éomer could hear the clamour of a great many people. The noise got louder and louder as they progressed downwards. When they reached the sixth level he could see that a huge number of folk were lining the streets. As soon as the crowd saw them coming, the cheering started. Many were waving flags or holding up coloured paper streamers which curled and danced in the breeze. They called his and Éowyn’s name as they passed and shouted greetings or tossed their hats. Éomer caught the eyes of one little girl whose mass of dark curls framed a sweet, shy little face. She enthusiastically waved a homemade green flag decorated by a crude drawing of a horse, but giggled and buried herself in her mother’s skirts when he smiled at her, peeking back out when she thought he was not looking. He glanced across at Aragorn expressing his surprise at the strength of the salutations. Aragorn shrugged, and gave his Rohirric counterpart an amused smile, “They are just saying thank you. I don’t think you realise what goodwill there is towards you, Eowyn and all your riders.”
It was brought home to him even more when the passed a place that gave a view of the road that let towards the Rammas Echor and the start of the North-way. As far as he could tell, people lined the road all the way to the outer wall. He turned once again to Aragorn, this time totally amazed, “They must have risen early to have walked so far out.”
“If you, Théoden and the Rohírrim had not come, Éomer, they would be walking to Mordor in chains,” Imrahil said with a raise of his brow.
Éomer shook his head, stunned to silence. He had not been expecting anything like this.
They emerged through the gateway and a lump came to his throat. His eyes flicked over his guard, lined up and looking as smart as they were able, but what moved him were the ranks and ranks of his kinsman. They were also lined up, waiting to go home. They had come at the call of one king, and were going home in the company of another. Those they were leaving behind were the ones that really caused the knife to twist violently in his stomach. Virtually the whole of the previous Royal Guard were buried in the mounds he could see out of the corner of his eye, along with farmers, herdsmen and riders, some of whom were no more than boys.
“Their lives were not wasted, Éomer.” He felt a hand on his shoulder. He had been so engrossed in his thoughts that he had not been aware that Aragorn had moved Roheryn right next to him. His friend and brother always seemed to be able to read his thoughts.
“I know, but it will be hard to meet the eyes of the mothers and widows.”
“It will always be so. If it were not, and you did not feel it, then that is the time you would have to worry. Come on,” Aragorn said, much more cheerfully, “you have some goodbyes to say.”
Éomer looked around, Faramir had lifted Éowyn down and she was walking over to Gandalf and the four Hobbits. He cast his eyes along the line and saw Lothíriel standing with her brothers. Steeling himself to not give away any of his feelings, he swung himself off Firefoot and passed the reins to Aragorn who had also jumped down. Thinking it was the best way round he deliberately followed Éowyn and said goodbye to Gandalf, Gimli and Legolas and then the Hobbits before moving over to the threesome from Dol Amroth. Amrothos and Erchirion immediately came forward to clasp him in a warriors embrace and then, as if by some prearranged signal, both moved aside and a little apart and there she was – standing before him.
Their eyes met and suddenly it didn’t matter that many thousands of people were watching them. They were alone. She had let her hair stay loose, it blew around her shoulders, a smile hovered on her lips and a sparkle lit her eyes and, to him, she was the most beautiful woman he had ever beheld. She was his future.
He lifted her hand to his lips rubbing his thumb back and forth over her knuckles, holding on to it with more pressure and for far longer than he should. Lothíriel returned the pressure and whispered, her eyes holding his fierce gaze, “I keep my promises.”
He carefully returned her hand to her side. “I know.”
Turning away quickly in case he should be tempted to pull her into his arms he returned to his horse and to Aragorn. The two men embraced, silently – all that they needed to say had already been said. Imrahil dismounted and put his arms around his new young friend. “Take care, Éomer, but do not worry over overmuch. The future will be good for you.
Éomer smiled, he knew with some new certainty that it would.
To be concluded.
This was only ever meant to cover Éomer’s eight days in Minas Tirith, but for those who like the ends tied up – a very short epilogue will follow.
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.