14. Chapter 14
February 30th 3019
Lothíriel tried to force the food down, but appetite had deserted her. It had come to it at last – the final family meal before her father and brothers went separate ways. But wherever they were heading, each path led to war. A shiver ran through her as she thought about Erchirion. He already faced the enemy, commanding in Osgiliath whilst Faramir and his rangers probed deep into Ithilien to harass the armies that every day marched to answer the call of the Dark Lord. How soon before all Sauron’s might fell upon those defending the river. Would her brother and cousin be safe?
And what about her other cousin? There had been no information on Boromir’s progress since a messenger from Rohan had reported him journeying through that land. But that was back in the autumn, no more since. Many times these last few months she had fervently hoped she had been mistaken in her vision, and Boromir would return safely, but it looked increasingly unlikely. Prayed too that something would happen to turn the tide of rising gloom, but the news from Minas Tirith had got worse and worse. And in the morning Elphir would leave, taking two companies to Linhir, to help defend the crossing from the expected invasion by sea. After Erchi, he would probably be the first to wield steel in Gondor’s defence, if the reports of the fleet of Corsair ships making ready to sail from Umbar were accurate.
One prawn managed to get down, and Lothíriel took a gulp of wine to ease its passage, chiding herself for her increasing panic. However hard it was, she had to keep her fears from showing. Determined to calm herself, she let her eyes wander around the lofty chamber of their private dining hall. How often had the family sat at this huge table, the heavy, studded door closed, shutting out the prying eyes and listening ears of the palace servants. Good news and ill had been discussed here. These stone walls held many secrets; the aged planks of the table top had provided the board for many an offensive against Gondor’s enemies to be played out, in her lifetime and before. The intricately embroidered hangings on the walls, showing graphic scenes of past battles gave inspiration from generations of warrior princes. But not tonight, all had been planned and all had been said.
Lothíriel looked across the table to her father – as always he oozed confidence, refusing to bow to the despair that was said to be haunting Denethor. Gaunt and thin, her father had described the Steward after his last visit to Minas Tirith, and becoming even more volatile than when she had last encountered him. But even if her father had not reported this, the whisperings of her uncle’s strange behaviour would have reached them: lights high in the tower at night; shutting himself away and seeking no counsel; brooding continually on the whereabouts of his firstborn and paying no attention to Gondor’s armies. Which was why her father wanted to get to Minas Tirith very soon; he didn’t trust Denethor with its defence.
Giving up on the next prawn, which had been stuck on her fork an age, Lothíriel sat back, waiting for the others to finish. If she had been able to convince Denethor of the truth of her vision, his son might be with him now. But in Gondor seldom did men listen to women, especially men like Denethor. Her father and brothers were more enlightened, but she had deliberately suppressed any flashes of foresight these last months, afraid of what she might see. Lothíriel pushed her plate away unable to look at the food on it any more. The men’s appetite did not seem to be affected, she noticed, but Meren only toyed with her portion. Even worse for her, Lothíriel decided, but her sister-in-law’s pretty, fragile looks belied the strength underneath. Meren’s bravery never in question since Elphir had rescued her from the corsairs and brought her home. She would hold to the tradition of the Princesses of Dol Amroth — wave the men to war with a smile on your face.
At last Imrahil put down his knife and wiped his mouth. He signalled for the server to leave the fruit and go, before he turned to his eldest son. “You are all ready for the morning, Elphir? I shall only be two days behind you, but I shall go through Ethring and straight to Lossarnach.”
Elphir nodded, taking a swig of wine before he answered. “Yes. The men are packed and I shall leave at first light.” He looked around at his family and friends. “Don’t all feel you have to see me off.”
“Don’t be silly, Elphir,” Lothíriel said. “Of course we will all be up.”
“I am sure father will be,” Elphir grinned. “There are bound to be a few last minute instructions.”
Her father smiled. “You are getting too old for me to tell you what to do, my son. And unfortunately too experienced in war to need my counsel.”
Lothíriel spluttered into her hand, knowing immediately that her father would follow this up with some advice to his eldest, and probably to everyone else as well. Sure enough Imrahil hardly paused for breath.
“Do not march the men too fast, and make sure they feed well. And Elphir, remember to heed Angbor. He is a wily old dog and you will learn much.”
Elphir nodded. “I am glad he will be there. The responsibly of the holding the crossings against the Corsairs is no light task.”
“You will have plenty of support, and I have every confidence in you. But if it were not for the dire situation you would be staying here.”
Nobody said anything to that, the traditions that ruler and heir never rode to war together had no value when they faced such overwhelming odds. But it had been decided that her father and Elphir would fight different battles, just in case there was a chance of victory. Ignoring the awkward silence Imrahil carried on, fixing his eyes on Amrothos.
“You will be with me anyway, Amroth, and I know that you will give a good account of yourself. I only ask that you curb that reckless streak you sometimes show. Normally you use your head, but just occasionally sense deserts you. Remember you are not only responsible for yourself, but the men you lead.”
“Yes, Father.” Lothíriel coughed to hide her giggle when Amroth nudged her under the table, but luckily Imrahil turned his eyes to Sergion. However serious the situation it helped to laugh.
“There is nothing I can say to you, my friend. I know you will do all you can to defend Dol Amroth and our people. Hopefully the enemy will not come near, but I like to know that we are as prepared as we can be.” He swivelled his eyes to Oríon. “You have done everything you need to, young man?”
“Yes, lord.” Oríon answered swiftly. “The chains have been checked and the winches greased. We will be towing the fireboats into place tomorrow. They will light with one torch, so much tar have I used. Nothing will get into the harbour.” Oríon might be no warrior, but he had other valuable skills.
Amrothos looked up thoughtfully. “But you do not expect a sea born attack here, though, do you Father? All the signs show they will make for Linhir and Pelargir.”
Imrahil stood up, indicating the meal was over. “Yes, I am sure that’s true. They will try to get up the Anduin. There is no reason for them to come here unless Minas Tirith falls.”
February 30th 3019
As soon as Éomer slowed the éored to a walk, Éothain brought his horse close alongside Firefoot, but his normally talkative friend stayed silent. Éomer could feel the censure wafting over, it came seeping out of Éothain’s rigid back, and trickling down his stiff arms. Not wanting to account for his actions, and anyway grateful for the chance to continue with his thoughts, he made no effort to converse with his captain: Éothain would voice his displeasure soon enough. The peace lasted barely a quarter of a league.
“How are you going to explain it?”
“Explain what?” Éomer replied, although he knew precisely and was just trying to avoid the inevitable argument.
Éothain spluttered his derision. “You might have got away with disobeying a direct order from Théoden King, if it had only meant you pursued a troop of orcs across the Emnet instead of going directly to Edoras, but you gave our horses to a bunch of strangers. And you let those strangers go free, in spite of the law that says all travellers have to be given leave by the king to cross our land. It wouldn’t have mattered at one time, Éomer, but things are different. That worm, Gríma, rules at Edoras now, not your uncle.”
“Laws were not made for such an occasion as we have witnessed, Éothain. Do you not realise the significance of the heir of Elendil proclaiming himself. Long have free men sought for a leader to take on the fight against Sauron, long has Gondor talked about the return of the King. Did you not see the look on the faces of the elf and the dwarf when he drew that mighty sword? They were as surprised as us: it is the first time he has shown himself openly. He did it on the green grass of the Mark, Éothain – a powerful sign indeed. Maybe he has come in our darkest hours, to lend us aid in our strife against the White Wizard.”
“Now you’re grasping at straws: what can one man do? Even if he is the lost king, which I doubt. If he had an army behind him, I could understand your quickness to help him. But if all he can bring us is a short, hairy troll with a belligerent manner and a fresh faced youth with an itchy finger, we can do without him. I’ll wager we will never see that trio again, or our horses.”
Éomer stared at the robust warrior beside him; sometimes his friend’s obtuseness surprised even him. No man better in a fight, but Éothain only ever saw what was about to hit him in the face. “He gave his word he would come, and he is a man who does not lie. And your fresh-faced youth is probably older than the House of Eorl!”
Éothain’s mouth fell open, but Éomer gave him no chance to reply, raising his hand to signal the éored back to a fast canter. They would need sleep, but the sooner he got to Edoras the better. So he headed them straight across the plain, and for league upon league the horses swished through the spring grass, pounding out the ceaseless rhythm of the Eorlingas.
March 1st 3019
Shivering in the chill of dawn, Lothíriel huddled in her cloak. She felt so sorry for Meren: face pinched with the cold her sister-in law stood resolutely silent, Alphros cradled asleep in her arms.
Elphir was in deep conversation with his father, whatever advice was being given he listened to it seriously. Nearby, at the head of a long line of fidgeting men, Amrothos held his brother’s horse. Unusually quiet, he ignored the cold and the salt laden wind that streamed his black hair out behind him. It would be his turn tomorrow and Lothíriel knew she would have to deal with the pain of leave-taking all over again.
Finally, when there was no more to be said, Imrahil clapped his hand on his son’s shoulder, changed his mind and pulled him into a quick embrace. Lothíriel was glad: who knew when or if they would all meet again. Dignity could be too highly valued. A quick look to the crowd of onlookers told her that most thought the same. Many women were openly crying, and the normally talkative old men of the city stood quiet and sombre.
Released from his father Elphir came over to her. He pulled her against his chest and squeezed, the hard breastplate expelling the breath from her lungs. “You will look after them, won’t you?”
“Of course,” she managed, not needing to ask who. His family meant all to her brother. She turned away when Elphir hugged his wife. Saying farewell in public was bad enough without her gawping as well. But they broke off after a moment, goodbyes having already been said, parting an agony not to be prolonged.
Within a moment Elphir had swung onto his horse, checked with his captain and the whole column started to move. Lothíriel gulped, willing back the tears as a strong arm slid around her. “Chin up, little sister. We are not beaten yet.”
March 1st 3019
Edoras - The Riddermark.
Horns sounding as they crossed the Snowbourn, by the time they emerged from between the barrows the gates had been swung open. All looked normal — sentries patrolled the top of the wall, the King’s standard flew over Meduseld, but as they trotted the last stretch of road something in the bearing of the gatekeepers caused Éomer a shiver of unease. Shoulders drooped, the men moved listlessly, but only when he got nearer did he notice the scraps of white linen tied around their arms.”
Cold fear clutched at him. “Who?” Éomer demanded of the nearest, shoving Firefoot’s huffing nostrils in the poor man’s face.
The stallion’s teeth inches from his nose, the guard recoiled. “Prince Théodred has been killed, lord. The message came but four days ago, just after Marshal Elfhelm rode at all speed with reinforcements, taking four éoreds. He must have got there too late.”
Éomer opened his mouth but nothing came out. Théodred dead! No! His great hulking cousin whom even he could not best in a fight! Éothain gasped, and behind him came mutterings of anguish and disbelief. But Éomer only felt anger! Anger pulsed through him, pushing the initial shock away. Damn Wormtongue and his machinations! Why had he held Elfhelm back? Senses numbed, Éomer knew the grief would come later — Théodred had influenced his life even more than Théoden – he kicked Firefoot up the hill. All their strength now had to go to meet Saruman, that was where their greatest danger lay. This time he would make Théoden realise it.
The citizens must have responded to the first sound of his horns, because all the way up the people had come out of their houses. Deep in sorrow, some just stood with bowed heads, but others murmured subdued greetings. And he caught a whisper here and there – ‘the Marshal’s here, now we don’t have to worry.’ Not worry! Their king failing fast, their crown prince dead, and the Mark being ruled by proxy of a traitor. He was sure about that now – the only explanation for Gríma’s cowardly guidance to Théoden. Not often did Éomer hand his horse straight to his squire, but this time he threw the reins to Garrick without a word.
“No, Éothain!” he barked as his captain made to follow him. “Make sure the men are housed properly, would you. I will see the king alone.”
“Éomer… Lord…”Éothain started to protest.
“No! That’s an order.” He shook off Éothain’s restraining hand and took the steps at a run; no way did he want anyone else implicated if there was any talk of disobeying the King’s command. But halfway up he stopped, reeling clumsily as the awful jolt of full comprehension hit him: he would never see Théodred again.
Háma came down the steps to meet him. No welcoming smile, his face taut and grim as he grasped Éomer’s arm in support. “You’ve heard?”
Éomer nodded, his breath coming fast. “They told me on the gate. I hold Gríma responsible for this. Elfhelm and I told the king weeks ago to send all our forces west, and he would have done it but for that slithering worm. Théodred sent word then that the signs clearly showed Saruman to be preparing for a big push. As a result of craven counsel I have lost my cousin, Théoden his son, and our people their prince.”
“It’s a bad call, Éomer. Especially now with Théoden not himself and Gríma lording it in the Hall.”
“Something I intend to rectify, if I can.” Éomer replied clenching his teeth.
“It will be difficult, for the king will hear no word against his counsellor. And be careful in there.” Háma warned. “You’d better have a good story. Wormtongue is whispering treason in Théoden King’s ear.”
“I have no story, Háma. I only have the truth.”
“It may not be enough. Since you were here a month ago things have got worse. Sometimes your uncle is barely coherent, and Wormtongue rules in all but name.”
“Don’t worry, Háma, come and listen. You will hear something that will give you hope.”
Footsteps ringing on the tiles, Éomer marched down the centre of the hall Háma, matching him stride for stride. A few servers, laying for the evening meal, glanced up, but at a sign from him they scurried away. No witnesses wanted for what he intended to say to Wormtongue.
As he got near the dais Éomer let his eyes search for the hated counsellor. As ever the cur sat huddled at the king’s feet, watching his approach from under those heavy lids. Éomer could feel the shafts of malevolence aimed at him, and met his stare with a challenge of his own. Gríma turned his head towards Théoden and spoke; Éomer could not hear his words but guessed his uncle was being told of his presence. Drawing his eyes from Gríma he fixed his gaze on Théoden, willing his king to respond to him, but pale, unfocused eyes watched his approach. No help there: Théoden’s mouth was down turned, and white, shaking hands gripped the carved arms of his seat. His uncle looked to have all the woes of Middle-earth on his shoulders; he would have to tackle master Wormtongue on his own. At that moment the curtain at the back of the dais twitched aside and Éowyn appeared. Briefly her face lit as she saw him, but the sadness showed in the slouch of her shoulders and the lethargic way she walked to her place behind the throne. A few more steps and Éomer could see the red rimmed eyes: Théodred’s death would have torn her apart. He wanted to comfort her but there was more at stake here than the loss of their cousin, however much loved he might be.
Reaching the bottom step of the dais, Éomer fixed his eyes on his king and bowed low. Defiantly he waited for Gríma to tell him to kneel. One sign of acknowledgement from Théoden and he would have done so, but never when only Gríma’s words came out of the king’s mouth. Grief for the loss of his son must have worsened Théoden’s mental state as his uncle seemed to be looking straight through him.
“Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of the Riddermark has come to report, my Lord King.” Háma’s voice got through and Théoden noticeably jumped, some spark of life returning to his vacant eyes. But as so often it was Gríma who spoke.
“We expected you two days ago, Marshal. If you had been here you could have supported your uncle in his grief. But as ever you think only of yourself. The king sent orders for you to bring your éoreds to defend Edoras, taking Marshal Elfhelm’s place. However, you chose to send but one éored to protect your king, whilst you took the elite of your force and rode north instead. A direct violation of your king’s command.” Gríma looked around at Théoden when he said this, prompting him to speak.
“You will explain yourself, Éomer.”
“Lord, even had I known of Théodred’s death I would still have ridden north before coming here. I had received reports of a group of orcs crossing our land from the Falls of Rauros towards Fangorn and Isengard. Those orcs bore the device of the White Hand – Saruman’s mark. Joined with them were those marked with the sign of the Red Eye. This corroborates what I had started to suspect: that a liaison exists between Orthanc and the Dark Tower. Your messenger came as I was readying my Riders to pursue the orcs. I diverted a number to Edoras but decided that I could not ignore the opportunity to prove this theory: our very survival may depend on such intelligence.”
“You decided! You thought to chase a bunch of orcs and leave Edoras and your king poorly defended!” Gríma’s sharp voice cut in.
Éomer ignored him and spoke directly to Théoden. “I reasoned that Edoras was safe for the present, lord. Gondor still stands between us and Mordor. So I went after the one group of orcs that were crossing our land from the south, rather than from the north as we are used to seeing. We slaughtered the orcs on the borders of Fangorn, and some were huge Uruk-hai such as Théodred had reported attacking the crossings. Others definitely bore the device of Sauron the Deceiver.”
Gríma’s thin lips twisted into a sneer. “So you killed a few orcs, Marshal. And you think because of that you have done the Riddermark a great service.”
Éomer threw him a contemptuous look. “Who knows what will come of my decision. Not you, Gríma.” He put one foot on the bottom step, and leant closer to the king. “My lord, I have news both good and ill. On the way back we met three travellers. Strangely garbed they were, in cloaks that can fool even a keen sighted man, and we nearly missed them, although we passed in the full light of day. But they called out, and when we turned a man, an elf and a dwarf rose out of the grass before me. They had been travelling south with others, one of whom was a man well known to us: Boromir son of Denethor. But alas that worthy man is no more. He died fighting those same orcs I had chosen to pursue.” A gasp came from Éowyn, and then a sound like a small sob, but Théoden never moved and some unfathomable spark glowed in Gríma’s eyes. “Also they witnessed the ruin of Gandalf the Grey, he fell into the abyss in Moira and was lost.”
“Sad tidings you say. I would say that although we shall rue Boromir’s passing, Master Gandalf will not be missed. He was no favourite here.”
“Maybe because he saw more than you wished, Gríma,” Éomer snapped. Forestalling a rejoinder, he turned again to Théoden.
“Lord, these strangers had passed thorough Lothlórien and spoke of the Lady of the Golden Wood with reverence. It was from her they had gained their elven raiment and much help. At first I mistrusted them, thinking they might also be sorcerers and net-weavers, but then the man revealed himself to me. Lord, a legend sprang to life out of the grass, for he held his sword aloft and lo it was the very sword of which Boromir spoke. The sword that was broken has been re-forged. There, on the plains of the Mark, the Heir of Elendil proclaimed his rightful title, and asked for aid.”
“A likely story,” Wormtongue sneered. “Made up to excuse your conduct, I deem. No doubt you were prepared to give aid to three travellers, Marshal. Always you are ready to play the noble lord, one who perhaps puts the worth of strangers before their own.”
“Careful what you say, Worm, or you may find you can speak no more.”
“Éomer, do not loose your temper. He is trying to goad you.” Háma whispered a warning in his ear.
Éomer attempted to relax his clenched hands – the worm was succeeding. With an effort he managed to ignore Gríma and continued with his report. “Aid I gave, lord. Two horses I loaned, for the orcs that we pursued had carried off two of the travellers’ friends. Halflings, also, if you remember, mentioned in the riddle that Boromir repeated to us.”
“Finally you show your colours, Marshal.” A triumphant light sparkled in Gríma’s guarded eyes. “Do you think yourself so puffed up that you can give permission for strangers to cross our land? That is the king’s prerogative; you take too much on yourself. But ever you are proud, coveting a higher position now that your cousin lies dead, perhaps.”
That was too much. Éomer launched himself forward and grabbed Gríma by the throat. “Take that back, you slime.”
“Stop that. I will not have you brawling here.” Théoden rose in his seat, pushing down on the arms to support himself.
Éomer loosened his grip and Gríma collapsed onto the step at his feet, rubbing his throat. Silent for once, but a smile lurked around his thin lips.
“I apologise, lord,” Éomer said. “But I gave aid because I trusted the truth in the man’s eyes. As ever, but especially in these evil times, a true man has to stand or fall on his own judgement. Aragorn son of Arathorn will repay my trust. And, fail or prosper, when his mission is over he will come to Edoras bringing the horses I loaned him. Of this I have no doubt. Then we must take every man and ride west. We must destroy the threat of Saruman.”
Hoarseness added to the usual whining note, but Gríma had recovered his voice. “I’d say it is your judgment that has failed, Marshal. You give aid to a stranger, yet in spite of a direct command, decide to leave your king unprotected. You counsel to send all our forces west, when all know that Edoras is vulnerable to the East. Those are the actions of a traitor, Marshal.”
Struggling to keep his temper in check, Éomer slowly moved his eyes upon Gríma, drawing himself to his full height. “You dare to call me a traitor? I am a son of Eorl, descended through both my mother and my father. From where do you hail, Worm? Maybe your forked tongue comes from the serpents that slither their bellies through the mire. Speak one more word of treason to me and I will cut it out along with your heart and feed both to the swine.”
Gríma blanched, but he had not finished, moving closer to Théoden and pawing at the back of the chair. “Lord, hear me. He seeks to silence me, but hark how his schemes leave you vulnerable to our foes. Now your son lies dead, remove you my lord, and who would claim the throne…”
He never got any further because Éomer’s anger exploded like a firestorm. He threw himself at Gríma, knocking him away from Théoden and sending him sprawling. The man ended up spread-eagled over the centre sun design on the floor of the dais. Éomer stepped over him and yanked him to his feet. Hands gripping the material covering his bony shoulders, he pulled Gríma’s face close to his. “If we are talking of treason, Worm, then what lies are you feeding Théoden King?” Watching with disgust the spittle forming on trembling lips, Éomer shook him hard. “What words of poison do you drip into his veins? Because of your counsels no help was sent to Théodred, and for that alone I will bleed the life out of you until your dried husk crumbles into dust on the floor.” Swift as lightening he transferred one hand to put a death clasp around Gríma’s throat, the other reached for his knife, but almost instantly his sister’s slim fingers circled his wrist.
“Éomer! Cease this! You have played into his hands.”
“Éowyn, stand back,” he hissed, too furious to listen
“No! I forbid this.” Théoden managed to stand, quivering on his stick.
“Éomer don’t!” Éowyn added her voice, but in the grip of the red mist he hardly heeded her. Then suddenly Théoden’s voice cut through his fury like a knife.
“Háma! Arrest the Marshal.”
“My lord!” Éomer dropped Wormtongue as a hot ember from his hands, staring at the king. Théoden’s eyes had lost their vagueness and now, even set deep in his lined face, they glittered bright.
Gríma coughed and spluttered, and almost sobbing, entreated Théoden. “He tried to strangle me, lord. See how he wants to silence me.” Rubbing his hand on his throat he stretched his neck to show Théoden the red finger marks.
“You have gone too far, Éomer, I cannot allow you to threaten death to my counsellor. You have broken the peace of my Hall. Háma! Take away the Marshal’s sword and lock him up!” Théoden left the chair and stick tapping, went over to Gríma, who still squirmed on the floor. He put out a hand to help him up.
Éomer, the fury drained from him, could not move. What had he done! Éowyn was right: he had acted exactly as Gríma had intended. Looking up, he met his sister’s eyes; she shook her head helplessly, tears running down her cheeks.
“Éomer come.” Háma took his arm. “Come on, give me your sword. Don’t let me have to call the guard.”
Wordlessly, as if in some dream, Éomer unbuckled his sword belt, his eyes on the nightmarish tableau of his uncle tending to Wormtongue. He passed the belt to Háma and abruptly turned. Not giving the man time to stop him, he marched down the hall and out onto the terrace. Once outside he took great gulps of cool air. He could smell rain; they were probably in for a downpour in the night. The grass needed it, lush growth this time of the year would provide them with plenty of hay…
“Éomer, I warned you.” Háma broke in on his illogical musings.
“My temper will always let me down. But I never thought it would see me in a dungeon.”
“Nor will it this time.” Háma snorted distain. “Théoden said nothing about a dungeon. Although friend Gríma may not be pleased, if you give me your word not to escape, I will confine you in the guard’s quarters.”
“Escape! Háma there is no way I am going anywhere. For very soon Elendil’s heir will come to Edoras, and when that happens, I have every intention of being here.”
“A right pickle we are in now.”
Éomer looked up, startled. He must have been asleep. The last thing he remembered was Háma arriving with supper and lighting the candle, now it flickered in the draft from the open door. Éothain stood there, head ducked under the low frame, the lantern in his hand lighting up his face. The half smile and easy words could not hide the concern etched across it.
“Not we, Éothain, me! You are not implicated in any of this.” Stretching, he grinned at his friend. “I lost my temper.”
Éothain’s face relaxed a bit. “Threatened to slice him in two, from what I heard.”
No point in correcting him, the story would grow with the telling. “How did you get in, anyway? The door is supposed to be locked.”
“It was, but Háma said the key was hanging on a hook outside. Mind you, if you put your shoulder against the door you could have been out of here hours ago.”
Éomer shrugged. “I know, but I gave my word. Anyway, I don’t want to get out, that really would be seditious. But besides that, I need to be here when Aragorn arrives.”
“Still on that, are you?” Éothain tossed his head dismissively. “Although, you did manage to convince Háma. He has put out the word for any strangers arriving to be reported directly to him.”
“Yes,” Éomer agreed, grateful he had convinced someone. “We had a long talk earlier. What time is it, by the way? And where have you been?”
“It’s near midnight. And I have been talking to Éowyn. She is really worried for you. Also she says that since Elfhelm and Déor left, Gríma has …”
Éomer flew off the bed, grabbing Éothain’s collar. “What had that scum been up to? If he has been near Éowyn I will peel his skin piece by piece.”
“Éomer, Éomer, calm down! It is nothing Éowyn cannot handle.” Éothain put up his hand and Éomer sheepishly let him go.
“Sorry, my nerves are wound tight. And I am feeling guilty for leaving Éowyn alone here to deal with Gríma. I didn’t realise until today just how strong a hold he has over Théoden. Then when I should have used diplomacy, I used force instead.”
“I am the last one to blame you for that. I probably wouldn’t have lasted half as long as you. The man’s slimier than a slug.”
Éomer could not get to sleep after Éothain had left. Images of his cousin’s face floated in front of him every time he tried to close his eyes. He could have done with some light, but Éothain had taken the lamp with him and the one candle had already guttered. In the end he lay on his back in the darkness staring out the high window of the small room watching the few stars that glinted between the black shadows of fast moving clouds. The promised rain had passed them by, probably drawn up the mountains as so often happened. Now, in the quiet of the night the harsh reality of his situation could not be ignored. He knew that somehow Gríma controlled Théoden’s mind. The orders coming from Théoden were still obeyed and would continue to be so, as long as Théoden lived – the Rohirrim were fiercely loyal to their king and he would not wish to challenge that – but the words were not Théoden’s. His uncle had always been an intelligent, shrewd man, well able to make sound judgements and push aside the curtains of the obvious to see that which was obscured behind. But Théoden no longer recognised truth, loyalty or the kith and kin who sought to save the Riddermark from those who intended to crush it with a heavy iron fist.
But trying to convince Théoden had got him into this position, and Éomer knew he had to accept the possibility that being the king’s nephew would not save him. If the three travellers did not turn up in the next couple of days he faced the likelihood of spending time in the real dungeon, or worse. Unless he openly rebelled against Théoden’s rule, and that he did not want to do.
Suddenly, the moon came out from behind a cloud, sending a shaft of bright light into his makeshift prison which clipped the edge of the bed and spilled across the floor. He smiled to himself; light would always manage to creep into a dark place. Soon his judgment and decision would be vindicated, and as sleep started to claim him, he wondered why he had such faith in a tall dark stranger with steel in his hand and wisdom in his deep grey eyes.
March 2nd 3019
The column had merged into a grey haze. The bright colours of proud uniforms lost by distance and time. No point in staring after them really, but she couldn’t help herself. Her father, Amrothos, a company of Swan-knights and seven hundred men-at-arms, all gone to fight a war they had little hope of winning. But at least the sun had come out to wish them well, not like the previous day when she had waved goodbye to Elphir. Lothíriel put her hand on the stone parapet, still cold and dank. More than the pale orb above her would be needed to warm these thick walls. How many to storm them, she wondered, and when would that happen? Nobody had said openly, at least not to her, but she would be a fool if she believed Dol Amroth to be invincible if the White City fell. Determined to put away her melancholy mood, Lothíriel pulled her gaze from what was now a dust cloud in the distance and turned to go down, but coming haltingly up the steps towards her she saw Sergion, a sheaf of parchments in his hand.
“Still here,” he said smiling. “You need something to occupy yourself.”
No one knew that more than her. If she hadn’t angered her Uncle Denethor so much, she would be in the Healing Houses in Minas Tirith. Galling to know that everyone else in her family were contributing to the war effort, whist she languished idly on the edge of the battle. She still reported for duty in their own infirmary, but with all the warriors away, only patients with winter agues and the odd birthing filled the beds. However, Sergion looked so apologetic that Lothíriel couldn’t help but laugh. “And you are going to suggest something.”
“The accommodation lists. If we have to move everyone up from the port, we need to know many each family can take. We will have to use the hall and tents if necessary, but at least we should be able to find beds for the old and the very young. The clerks are dealing with the storing of linen and food, but the bed list is not complete. You have a way with the common people, some of those old women can be quite cantankerous.”
“I will,” she said, taking the lists from him, “but surely we are not expecting to be attacked. And anyway, if the worst happened how long could we hold out. Wouldn’t it be better to run? I don’t think I could stand a siege.”
“Lothíriel, none of us know what will happen. We have barely enough soldiers to man the walls, but we will make preparations to withstand any assault for as long as possible. If everything looks hopeless then we have to decide if it is worth trying to escape through the caves. Personally I doubt it. Where would we go?”
March 2nd 3019
Edoras – the Riddermark
How slowly the morning aged. Éomer had discovered all he could about the small room to which Háma had confined him. Four paces one way, five the other. The ochre washed walls were bare, the only furniture a bed, a chair and a small table on which stood a jug of ale – half drunk – an empty plate and a new candle in the pewter holder. Although grateful he was not languishing in a stinking hole deep below Meduseld, still the restrictions of so small a place chaffed at him. Hopefully the candle would not be used, and he would be out of here long before dark.
Éomer pulled the chair under the window and stood on it, looking out. How many times had he done that since dawn, but still he could see nothing but the roofs of cottages running down the hill. He could hear though: women’s voices, likely washing clothes at the communal area where the stream had been diverted to form a wide basin. And he could hear children laughing and shouting, their early chores over, glad to escape into the free air. Escape! Very tempting. Éomer knew whatever happened he would not stay locked up much longer, not with their land in so much danger. What was Elfhelm doing? Had he beaten back the attack? Maybe even now Saruman’s armies marched on Edoras…
The door banging open made him swing around, he went to grab the back of the chair just as it tipped, but his quick reactions let him jump clear.
“You all right? Éothain picked up the chair, looking anxiously as Éomer tested his foot, he’d twisted it slightly.
“Yes!” he retorted. “What do you mean by coming in like that?”
“They’re here. I thought you’d want to know soonest.”
Éothain nodded. “Yes, on their way up to Meduseld, as we speak.”
“Blessed Eru!” Éomer punched one fist into the other hand in a euphoria of excitement. “I knew they’d come.”
Éothain chuckled at his elation. “I suppose I should have known. You always were the clever one. Perhaps that’s why they made you a Marshal.”
“Let’s hope I am still a Marshal after they have spoken to Théoden,” he answered with a sideways grin. “Get up there, will you, Éothain. Find out what’s going on.”
“Right!” Éothain turned to go but then stopped. “Oh, I nearly forgot. You’ll be pleased.”
Pleased! Of course he was pleased. But Éothain’s next words astounded him. “Gandalf Greyhame is with them.”
“Gandalf! He’s alive?”
“Yep. Rode in on Shadowfax as if he had every right to do so. But I doubt that will please Théoden King, or Master Wormtongue.”
“Dreams and legends indeed,” Éomer muttered. “And what of the Halflings,” he said aloud. “Did you see anything of them?”
“No, I saw none. Unless they are so small they have been hidden under those cloaks. So maybe their mission has failed.”
Left alone not knowing what was happening was almost a trial too difficult to stomach. Three times Éomer went to the door knowing he could easily break it down, and three times he willed himself to lie back down on the bed. Just when he had almost decided he could not stay in that room a moment longer he heard footsteps outside. Impatiently he waited for whoever scrabbled with the key, only just stepping back to allow the door to open.
“Háma, what’s happening?” He almost knocked the older man over in his haste.
Háma’s face split from ear to ear, Éomer had seldom witnessed a bigger grin. “Théoden King demands your presence,” Háma answered, trying to sound stately through his glee.
“And Gandalf the White has healed our king. Théoden stands tall again. But not only that, Gandalf has seen off our friend Gríma. The last I saw, the snivelling worm was grovelling on the floor.”
“On the floor again? Just where he belongs!” Éomer grinned, unable to stop the joyous laughter bubbling in him. He grasped Háma’s arm. “Fetch my sword would you.”
“Your sword? I don’t know…”
“Háma, I am commanding you to fetch my sword. If Théoden King is standing tall, then I wish to lay it at his feet.”
March 2nd 3019
Lothíriel crossed the courtyard heading for the main doors of the palace. Having not eaten anything since the night before – breakfast wouldn’t go down with her father leaving – she definitely needed some food. Not a drink though, so much had been pressed on her the last couple of hours from tea to lemonade to raw spirit, which she had refused. But the old man offering it to her had shrugged and swigged it himself.
Just about to run up the steps, she heard the clatter of hooves behind her. Swinging around quickly, she saw Adian, an elderly knight. One armed, and deemed too old to go to war, he remained as one of Dol Amroth’s defenders. His horse was sweating, specks of foam flew from his mouth, but not heeding its plight he slid off leaving the animal to find its own way to the stables. With a quick nod, he ran past her up the steps. Lothíriel looked around: the horse was heaving, but one of the door guards was already on his way.
“I’ll see to him, Princess. It looks as if Lord Adian has some news.”
News? What news? Where had he been? Lothíriel picked up her skirt and followed him, all wish to eat forgotten. She ran down the corridor towards her father’s study, Sergion would be there. But she met them outside the hall; Sergion must have seen Adian’s arrival from the window and come to meet him.
“Two ships?” She heard Sergion say. “Only two?”
“What is it?” she demanded. “What’s going on?”
Adian glanced at Sergion, who nodded. “It’s all right, start from the beginning. There is no hiding anything here.”
Adian moved slightly to include Lothíriel in the conversation. “I have been patrolling down the coast. I was not really expecting to see anything, but there are a couple of three-masters waiting out the tide.” He grimaced. “Or maybe waiting until our forces are long gone. No doubt that they are from Umbar, but I’d take a guess they’re free traders, available for hire to all, for as well as their own colours they are flying the Black Serpent.”
Lothíriel gasped, the rolls of lists falling from her hands and scattering over the floor. “But they are going to the fords, aren’t they? That’s what my father said they would do. They will try to get up the Anduin.”
Adian shook his head. “No, Princess, they are anchored in the inner channel, this side of the islands. If they were heading for the Anduin they’d be much further out. I could see the decks were crammed with men, many scarlet clad. My guess is that they want to land them the other side of the point. They must be coming here.”
Sergion frowned. “But why come here? We might not have many men to defend the city but it would take more than two ship’s worth to storm the walls. What is it they want?”
To be continued.
List of Original Characters appearing in this chapter:
Princess Meren - Elphir’s wife. Rescued by him from Corsairs to whom she refused to give away the hiding place of her brother’s children in spite of being assaulted.
Sergion - Friend of Prince Imrahil’s. Was a Commander of Swan Knights but now the Captain of Lothíriel’s Guard. Injured when an attempt was made to kidnap Lothíriel. Charged with the defence of Dol Amroth during the Ring-war.
Oríon- Friend to Prince Amrothos. Son to Sergion. Expert on ships and shipping.
Adian - retired Swan- knight. Second in command to Sergion.
Black Serpent- the Black Serpent on Scarlet . Device of Umar, Prince of Harad.–. Obsessed with Lothíriel.
Déor- Friend of Éomer, brought up in Aldburg. Now a Rider in Elfhelm’s éored.
Garrick - Éomer’s squire.
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.