3. The Speech
“How did you know?” Éowyn, head down, contemplated the pattern on the rug.
Her brother twisted his mouth into a half smile as he became aware that she was nervously screwing up part of her dress and winding it around her fingers in a totally distracted fashion. She was not finding this easy and he could not help chuckling, “Well, Merry mentioned it to Pippin and, in all fairness to the young rascal; he did manage to keep it to himself until last night. Then he suddenly blurted it out around the camp fire.”
Her head shot up, “So everybody knows?”
“Yes, just about everybody.” He studied her for a moment trying to gauge her reaction, “And just about everybody tripped over themselves to assure me that Faramir is a worthy man and will make you a fine husband and that I have nothing to worry about.”
“He is Éomer,” her eyes opened wide and she continued in a rush, “he is gentle but he is a skilled warrior. It is obvious that he is much loved by the people and he is respected by his men and…” Her voice got louder and louder and Éomer stopped her by putting his hand in the air.
“Whoa…, Éowyn. You don’t have to convince me what a fine man he is. Apart from any other recommendation I spent day after day with his Rangers on the way to the Black Gates.” Éomer took a step toward his sister and wrapped his arms around her pulling her hard against him. “You are the most precious thing I have. I only want to know that this is right for you and if you have committed yourself to him then it is what you truly want.”
“I have committed myself and it is what I want,” she mumbled into his chest. “He will speak to you before we return home. I would have told you straightaway but I thought you ought to get know him first.”
He hesitated, but it had to be said. He would not be doing his duty as her brother if he just ignored what had gone on before. However some things were hard to say, even to Éowyn. He ran his hand up and down her arm trying to convey to her the depth and the sincerity of his concern. He felt her trembling, ever so slightly, beneath his fingers, “Éowyn, forgive me, but I have to ask you this. It was not long ago that you were in love with another. How do you know that this is the real thing?”
She slowly raised her head until looked directly into his eyes. “It is because of that experience that I do know. Faramir makes me feel good. All of the time. Even when I am not with him,” she smiled. “I realise now that what I felt for Aragorn was infatuation brought about by the circumstances of our meeting and the situation we were in. It is easy to imagine oneself in love with someone who played such a huge part in saving the Riddermark from disaster.”
Éomer felt the knot in his stomach unravel slightly at the sense of her words. He had not really realised it had been there until then. The thought of his sister being so desperate, that she would marry in haste to escape what she perceived to be a miserable existence, had been haunting him. He hugged her tightly and dropped his lips on top of her head, “Now I just have to get used to the reality that you will not be beside me helping me to sort out all the problems in the Mark.” Pushing her away slightly so he could look into her face he let loose one of his well known grins to lighten the atmosphere.”
Éowyn moved close again and wrapped her arms around his waist and squeezed him hard, “That is the other way I know. I hate the thought of leaving you alone, and of course it will not be immediately, but it makes no difference. However much I love you, Éomer, I know I want to be with him.”
He tried to ignore the empty feeling that had replaced the knot in his stomach. For a moment he wondered what else life intended to hurl at him. “That’s just how it should be,” he whispered in her ear.
Suddenly Éowyn let go of him and hit against his chest with a giggly laugh, “And who’s to say you will be on your own. My handsome brother was always popular with the ladies. They will be falling over themselves now. I bet when we get back to Edoras they will be all lined up at the top of the steps waiting for you to choose.”
The noise that came from his throat could have been mistaken for the groan of a dying man. Almost automatically, he ran his fingers back from his forehead, pushing his long tawny hair away from his face, “Éowyn, I congratulate you. You have made a very important point – I will choose. And you had better have made it clear to anyone who has an interest in this – I will definitely not choose any that are lined up for me!” He touched his finger on the end of her nose and continued more gently, “I am absolutely determined to find my own.”
“Humph…” Éowyn looked very doubtful.
“Humph! What’s that for?” he asked, laughing at his sister’s dubious expression.
“You will not find a wife in a tavern, you know. Not a suitable one anyway,” she grinned.
“I am just relieved that you think I will still be allowed to visit the odd tavern. I was coming to believe that a totally boring existence had been planned out for me.”
Éowyn put her arms around his waist again and leaned her head on his chest, “Éomer, you are now the King of the Riddermark, and life will never be the same again for you. But you must make of it what you will. You must not let them completely run your life. Make it clear from the beginning that although duty and our people come first, you have a life as well. Most will understand.”
She was right, he did not expect to be in this position but now that he was he would do the very best he could for the Mark and its people. They had suffered the last few years and he was determined that everything that could be done would be done to restore prosperity, but the loss of his personal freedom threatened to overwhelm him. He would need his good friends around him. He would need a wife who could see past the crown. Extricating himself from Éowyn he whipped up the dark red tunic from the chest and hurriedly put it on, “I will be fine. Come on, it must be nearly noon. There are many I wish to talk to.” He grabbed his sister’s hand and pulled her towards the door, the last thing he wanted, after all she had been through was to load any of his worries onto her
“Éomer, Éomer!” Éowyn fumbled in the small drawstring bag she wore on her belt, “You cannot go with your hair in that mess. Stop a moment. I have a comb somewhere.”
Éomer took no notice and exited the door into the corridor, still holding Éowyn’s hand, and forcing his sister to make an effort to comb his hair whilst being dragged along.
“You will have to let me, you do not know the way,” she said with triumph as she stopped suddenly and shot out her arm to hang on to a pillar.
Éomer came to a halt and eyed her indulgently, “Go on then. I shall not get any peace until you do.”
“You will have to find a wife before I leave you,” it came out rather strangely as her lips were pressed together with the effort of trying to remove some of the tangles.
“Ouch! That hurts.” Éowyn tugged unmercifully at his, admittedly, rather unruly mass. “Let me tell you that I do not need a wife for this. I am quite capable of presenting myself clean and tidy and with well brushed hair. When I want to, that is,” he grinned somewhat boyishly.
“Yes, prove it tonight. Come to the festivities with washed hair, scrubbed hands and shiny boots.”
He looked down at his riding boots, which were definitely not shiny and said dryly, “I should have no trouble with the third request. I shall just change these for the pair in my chamber.”
“Then you just need to make sure you are back in time to take a proper bath, wash your hair and trim your beard.”
“What is this, Éowyn? Are you afraid I may give a bad impression to your future countryman, or is there something else?” He couldn’t see her face, because she was behind him, but he felt her body tense, “There is, isn’t there? Damn it, Éowyn, I do not expect to be hassled by you of all people.”
“I only think you should give a good account of yourself. It will be the first time you have appeared as our new king.”
He did not believe her but he was fed up with the subject. “Have you finished, because I think we had better get on?”
“It will do for now. I will trust you to make yourself presentable tonight,” she told him magnanimously.
“Thank you,” he veiled his sarcasm so thinly his sister could not fail to miss it although she showed no reaction. He sighed, obviously there was somebody she wanted him to impress, and since he would have no choice but to meet whoever she had lined up, it would be best to ignore the whole thing for now, “Alright, Éowyn, where are we going?” He favoured her with a smile to show he forgave her.
“Elfhelm has organised a light meal in the second hall. He has asked your friends, the senior riders from every Éored and chosen many others who he thinks deserve to be there for whatever reason. There is not room for everybody, but all the rest will see you on the ride home.”
“That’s not going to be totally straightforward.” It was something he had not yet addressed and had to talk to Elfhelm about. “We do not have enough horses to get everyone mounted.”
“Erkenbrand is sending as many as he can round up. Hopefully they will arrive tomorrow which will give them a few days rest. They are not all fully trained, of course, but they will get our kinsmen home. I think Elfhelm has calculated everything. He is making arrangements for the wounded.”
At the thought of the wounded Éomer put his hand on his sister’s arm and stopped her a moment, “Éowyn, how is Aelfhere?” He knew his friend had survived and he had been told he had recovered, but even so he hesitated to ask. The last time he had seen him he had been laying in the Healing Houses with the lower part of one leg missing. Instantly his mind went back to the Pelennor. His own éored had left the others behind and were in danger of advancing too far into the enemy lines. He had looked around to regroup his men and at once had spotted Aelfhere. It was obvious he was in trouble. Totally ignoring any danger to himself the idiot had stormed forward without any heed, as always, his only objective being to carve through the Southrons, despatching as many as possible. Aelfhere’s personal skill had left him isolated and surrounded. Éothain had got there first. The three of them had done their growing up together at Aldburg and Éomer could suddenly see, as clear as if he was there now, three young lads with flying blond hair racing bareback through the tall swaying grasses; their ponies catching the excitement of the moment, as intent as their riders on winning. He sighed; the ponies had long given way to warhorses but Shield lay dead by the time he himself had reached his friend. After he had been given the standard by Théoden, he was the natural target for all and it had taken him time to beat his way through the melee. When he got there he had found that the big roan, true to his name, had protected his master from the worst of the onslaught, but in his dying throes had crushed the bones in his lower leg beyond even the skill of Gondor’s healers to mend. His attention had then been taken then by the imminent arrival of the Black Ships and the next time he had seen Aelfhere it had been on a cot along the passage from his sister.
“Éomer,” Éowyn broke into his reverie, “Aelfhere has been riding. He has been out a few times.”
“Riding?” His first reaction was one of astonishment but then if his other wounds had healed there would be no reason why not. A skilled rider could manage well on a good horse without the bottom of one leg. “But how is he, Éowyn?” Éomer did not wish to imagine the mental anguish he was sure would grasp him in the same situation.
“Talk to him yourself. I think you may be surprised.”
Éomer nodded curtly, and concentrated for a moment on where he was going. The corridor seemed endless, but then Éowyn indicated a left turn and he soon found himself in parts of the building that he recognised from his previous stay. There were people about now, nobles mostly, although none he knew. But there were also plenty of soldiers and even some ladies. Most of the women had dark hair but he did not find any sparkling grey eyes. Damn, where did that thought come from? He was so disgusted with himself when he realised that he had been unconsciously looking, that he must have let out some sound from deep within because Éowyn looked up with a question in her eyes.
“Something in my throat,” he mumbled
Everyone they passed stopped and bowed and he heard mummers that included his name and the words: Rohan and king. “How do they know who I am?” he whispered to his sister.
“I would say you are pretty distinctive,” she enlightened him with more than a smile in her voice. “Also, many will be able to identify you after witnessing the coronation this morning. And you are with me. I am quite a familiar figure around here now.”
They crossed an inner courtyard; all hard stone with just the relief of a small fountain, toward some large doors that Éomer knew to be one of the entrances to what was known as the Second Hall. Two men, whom he recognised as members of Elfhelm’s éored, were guarding the door. As they saw him approaching one turned and called to someone in the hall.
He felt a little apprehensive. It had been different at Cormallen; there they had been relaxing and recuperating after two bloody battles. Although the men were calling him Éomer King, the matter of an official crowning of no significance to the Éorlingas who would follow the last of the male bloodline of Eorl the Young without question, it was a camp and, as such, informal and close knit. Here, he would face his kinsmen for the first time as their future ruler. Here would be friends, but also, Lords of the Riddermark of much greater age and experience than himself.
A warm soft hand crept into his and long slim fingers entwined with his own rough ones. He looked down into the trusting eyes of his sister. She smiled softly, “Are you ready?”
He nodded. Suddenly he was ready. The two guards bowed their heads and the Lord of the Mark stepped confidently through the wide doors.
The hall was cram full of Rohirrim and all rose as one and spoke with one voice, “Éomer King!”
His kinsmen had spoken and, if he had ever wanted to, there was no going back. Elfhelm stepped towards him with his hand outstretched and behind him were others he trusted and respected and with that he knew he would not be totally alone.
“I thought there are probably some you may wish to talk informally with and then you could speak to everybody just before we eat,” Elfhelm suggested after all the official greetings were over.
“Make a speech, you mean?” his king grinned.
“Well, they are only used to hearing you shouting encouragement and orders on the battlefield. It might surprise them.”
“It will probably surprise me,” Éomer said, raising his brows. Another thing he was going to have to become familiar with but before that there was something else he must do and he leaned towards Elfhelm and asked quietly, “Where is Aelfhere?”
“Over there, on that table in the corner with Éothain.”
“Excuse me then.” Éomer walked toward the table Elfhelm had indicated and no-one waylaid him, probably realising his destination. As he got closer a tall broad shouldered man rose. Éomer could see he held onto the table edge with one hand for support and that a wooden crutch rested against the chair. His friend looked a little gaunt, but the open grin and the honest eyes were just the same. Éomer held out his hand, which the Rohír took and clasped heartily, “Aelfhere, its good to see you.”
“And you, Éomer King.”
“Éowyn told me you had been riding. How did it go?” Éomer had decided that it was no point in being anything other than straightforward. If their roles had been reversed then he would hate others to have to tread delicately around the subject.
“To be truthful, I don’t see any real problem. Riding itself will not be much different. It is, of course, not so easy to sword fight or throw a spear without being able to stand up in the stirrups, but once they fix me up with my false foot, then I do not foresee any great difficulty. I will limp a bit when walking but I am confident riding and fighting from horseback will be almost as before.”
“False foot?” Éomer could not help his astonishment showing.
Aelfhere laughed, “Yes, they are fixing me up with a wooden leg. Well, part of a leg,” he grinned. “Actually, it is already made, that’s how I know I will manage well. With boots on you would not really know. I cannot wear it yet as the new skin is too fragile but I am hoping you will allow me to come back with you when you collect Théoden King’s coffin. They say it should have had long enough to heal by then and be ready for a final fitting.”
Éomer looked him squarely in the eye, “You can certainly come back with me. You can come back as a member of my Guard. Éothain is getting one together and I need men I can trust.”
Aelfhere’s eyes drew together, “You do not have to do that, my Lord.”
“Oh, yes I do. You are one of the Riddermark’s most formidable warriors. You will be doing me a great favour.”
Aelfhere bowed, “Then I am honoured, my Lord.”
“We won’t be going home for another week. I imagine that crutch of yours will get you to one of the City’s many taverns?”
The courageous warrior chuckled loudly, “It certainly will, my Lord.”
“Good. I just hope we can persuade Éothain to come with us.”
“I can hardly leave my king to tread the sordid alleys of Minas Tirith without me,” Éothain had not missed the word Tavern.
“My Lord, the meal is ready.”
Éomer turned to find Elfhelm at his elbow.
“You mean I have to make my speech?”
To be continued.
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.