After the memorable two days of such unexpected encounters, the remainder of their journey was uneventful. Déoric filled another dozen sheets or so with new tales, but the closer they drew to home, the more familiar were the stories of the villagers. Not that this was any worry, for the overall yield of the expedition satisfied him. Moreover, he felt sure it would satisfy the king, too, and perhaps make him look favourably on Déoric again. The only thing he had found that could possibly annoy Éomer was the discovery that even orcs can raise feelings of pity in a man, but since there was no need to mention it, he wouldn't.
Nightfall prevented them from reaching Edoras after a bright and breezy day, the first in April. When forced to decide whether to ride on for a couple of hours in the dark or to seek the hospitality of a near farmstead, they had chosen the latter. The farmers were an elderly couple who could have passed for brother and sister had it not been for their talk of "our sons," so similar in posture and expression had their shared life rendered them. They treated the young men to carrot stew and apple crumble and the latest news from Edoras.
"Just think, the Lady Éowyn is back! She arrived two days ago with her husband and her little boy."
"Ah." Déoric looked up from his plate. "For the wedding, of course. Is she well?"
"How would we know, young man? We only heard that her party was riding past. It's not for the likes of us to step forward and greet her."
"She has been kind to me," said Déoric. "She encouraged me at a time when my courage was in short supply. I would dearly like to see her and see her happy."
"She's spoken to you, face to face?" The tone of awe in the farmer's voice was unmistakable.
"Well, yes. I wrote her inventory when she prepared to leave for Gondor. I felt miserable then about my leg, and she told me I would know joy again. She was right, of course. Life doesn't end because of one misfortune."
"Words of wisdom," said the farmer. "We've faced some tough times in our lives, but we've always pulled through." He put his arm around his wife's shoulders and she leaned her head against his. "And it's good to see you young people so full of vigour and hope."
Déoric, however, didn't feel very vigorous after the day's ride and soon they sought the beds hastily prepared for them in the hay loft. They closed the shutters on the window to shut out the moonlight and snuggled down with their blankets.
"I could have travelled on for a bit longer," he said. "It seems to have gone by awfully fast."
"Don't you miss Aedre?"
"Well, yes, but Aedre would still be there, whether we returned tomorrow or next week."
Déoric shook his head, however pointless this gesture was in the dark. "I'm sure to her it makes a difference. I does to me. I've missed Fana and I've missed my little one. I'm not keen to ride out and leave them again any time soon."
"Well, let's hope then that the king will be pleased enough with your crop of stories to let you back into that cosy scribe's room of yours."
Now it was Déoric who sighed.
"You know what? I missed Éomer King, too."
On the bench in front of the house sat Dirlayn with Léofred by her side, talking quietly. Blythe slept on Dirlayn's lap. They looked up when they heard the sound of Déoric's crutches on the paving slabs.
"Déoric!" Dirlayn smiled; it was clear that she would have liked to get up and embrace him, but was prevented by the sleeping babe. "I'm glad you're here. Why, I would have never expected you to arrive so early in the day."
"We almost made it yesterday, but decided to stay the night at a farm. Where is Fana?"
"She was very tired. I told her to go and lie down. Mothering is a strenuous business. She's fine otherwise, though, so don't worry. Come and sit with us."
Déoric moved towards the bench, where the other two shuffled apart to make space for him. He settled down, bent over and breathed a kiss on his daughter's cheek. Léofred put a hand on the young man's shoulder.
"Welcome back, Déoric. You've been missed in more than one quarter. But more of that later. I'll have to leave now." He leaned forward and said to Dirlayn: "You tell him. He needs to hear it from you. Until tomorrow."
With this he swiftly rose, walked out through the gate and up the street. Déoric looked at his mother with an anxious expression.
"What are you to tell me? Is anything the matter with Fana?"
"No, Déoric, don't fret, all is well. It is a very different matter of which I need to speak to you. It is about Léofred."
"Léofred? What about him?"
Dirlayn stroked one of her braids with her fingers.
"Can you not guess?"
Déoric frowned. The king's advisor had seemed both healthy and happy. To be sure, he might have news from Éomer, but he would hardly leave those for Dirlayn to tell.
"No, I can't," he said. "What is it?"
To his surprise, his mother blushed and turned her head aside with a smile.
"He has asked me to marry him," she said.
Déoric would have jumped up, even on his one leg, had his mother's hand not suddenly rested firmly on his arm.
"Mother! How presumptuous of him! I cannot believe it! I hope you told him to – "
"Hush, Déoric! There is not presumption in the matter, other than yours in taking offence on my behalf. I told him that I would be very happy to become his wife. Don't you look at me like that! You must know better than anybody else what a good man he is."
"Yes, but Mother – "
"And he is very fond of you, as I am sure you well know."
Déoric was struggling for words. He bit his knuckle, reverting to that old habit that he had hoped to have overcome.
"What about Father?" he said at last.
His mother looked down at the ground, where a line of ants scurried between two cracks in the slabs. For years they had tried to get rid of them, but no amount of boiling water had purged them for good. Eventually, Dirlayn had resigned herself to sharing her garden with these little creatures.
"Déoric, nobody will ever take your father's place. Can you not understand? Your father and I, we shared everything you share with Fana now, that thrill of first love, of having a child, all the vigour of youth. All that will always remain precious to me. My affection for Léofred is quite different. It is based on friendship and respect rather than passion. What we seek in each other is comfort and companionship. Will you deny that to me – or to him?"
These words could not be without effect on Déoric, and he lowered his head in painful embarrassment.
"Mother," he began, "I could not...I would not...I'm sorry. I had not thought of the needs of your heart, or of his. He is, as you say, a most excellent man. You have to excuse the folly of youth to think that love is our privilege alone."
"Oh, Déoric!" She put her free arm around him and held him tight. And even though he was taller these days than she was, he felt as comforted by her touch as he had been when he was a little boy and his head had fitted neatly under her chin.
It seemed an awkward moment for it, but since the subject of his father had already been brought up, Déoric couldn't stop himself from sharing his news. He rummaged in his bag. Dirlayn took the parchment that he held out to her.
"What is – oh."
She sat very still and stared at the sheet.
"Is this where...?" she asked at last.
"I think so," said Déoric. "I have no proof, but I...felt him there. As if I could hear his voice in my head."
Dirlayn said nothing. He guessed that she summoned the memory of his father's voice in her mind, just like he had done while he drew the picture. Féadred had always been a fair-spoken man. Suddenly, something occurred to Déoric that he had hitherto failed to understand.
"Mama," he said. "You know how I always wanted to be like him. And I thought I couldn't be, but now I see that he was not just a warrior. He was a story teller, and I – I think he would be proud of me."
"Oh, Déoric!" Dirlayn hugged him again. "Of course he would be. How could you ever have thought otherwise!"
It was with an anxious heart that Déoric approached his king the following afternoon. Éomer had left him in peace during the morning, while Déoric sorted through the parchments from his saddlebags. By the time he was summoned into the Great Hall, he had compiled a neat bundle of the most interesting stories and few select sketches.
"I want a word with you, Chronicler of the Mark," said Éomer by way of a greeting. "You will remember that we did not part on the friendliest of terms."
"Forgive me, my lord," said Déoric. "I hope you will be better pleased with the results of my latest journey. I have brought you a sample of – "
"That has time till later," said the king and waved his hand impatiently. "It is of our original quarrel that I want to speak to you at this moment."
Déoric cringed. He had hoped to soothe the king's anger with his new achievements and steer clear of the contentious subject.
"Do no fret, Déoric. I have no intention to bite off your head. For a start, I have already had a rather filling midday meal. And please do take a seat. I do not want to be responsible if you fall over with exhaustion."
He nodded at one of the guards, who brought a small, leather-upholstered chair and placed it next to Déoric.
"I have given this a lot of thought while you were away, Déoric," said the king. "The Dunlendings are our enemies. Were our enemies during the war, anyway. However, I think some of us, and I am guilty of this myself, have made them worse in our minds than they really are. You were right to point out that, first and foremost, they are just people. I think sometimes we like to think of others as being very bad, maybe to distract ourselves from seeing the badness in our own hearts."
"That is true," said Déoric. "I think we even do that with animals. People like to think that wolves are evil, and they use that as an excuse to go and kill them."
"Yes, perhaps. I am not concerned with wolves, though, I am concerned with the Dunlendings. I have convinced myself now that they are people and that they may even have grievances against us."
"That does you credit, my lord."
"Ha, I dare say it does. But Déoric, thoughts alone are of little value. What matters is deeds. My deeds matter more than other people's deeds. I am a king, and what I do sets the law. Therefore, I must act in such a way as to set a good law for the Mark. At least that is what I first thought. But why stop there? I have come to the conclusion that everybody should act in such a way that they would approve of it if everybody else would act in the same manner. So I had to ask myself, if the Rohirrim were starving, what deeds would I approve of in other people?"
"Léofred told me that you sent supplies to Dunland."
"Yes, but they will only go so far. They do not need charity; they need farmland. We cannot give them ours. What is to be done then?"
Déoric frowned, as if he had been given a tricky sum to do. "I don't know, my lord."
"Good," he said, "then you will be impressed with my proposals. Lord Faramir has promised to send me plans for a new kind of plough that has been devised in Ithilien. Ploughshares wrought from steel, imagine that, Déoric! The dwarves of Aglarond will help us there. If we share this knowledge with the Dunlendings, they will be able to get better harvests from what little farmland they have. And then, then, Déoric - "
He paused and grinned.
"Then we help them to drain their bogs."
He leaned back and folded his arms, apparently expecting exclamations of wonder or at least applause.
"How can you drain a bog?" asked Déoric.
"I do not know," replied Éomer, "but there are people in Gondor who do. King Elessar has promised to send me up a couple of men to show us how it is done."
"My lord," said Déoric. "I hardly know what to say. This is truly wonderful."
"Isn't it just? I thought you might approve. Furthermore, I have sent word to Dunland and asked some of their chieftains to come to Edoras so we can negotiate the terms of peace. I confess I am rather pleased with myself, Déoric. I hope you are pleased with me, too."
"Of course, my lord. This is more than I had hoped for."
"It gives me satisfaction to exceed your expectations."
For the first time during this conversation, Déoric fully met the king's eyes, and he was not as surprised as he might have been when he saw Éomer's barely suppressed mirth. He allowed himself to smile. The king smiled back and gestured at him to come closer. Déoric leaned forward.
"There is another thing, Déoric," the king said and rose from his seat. "Another thing I have thought. It is not right to treat people as if they were things. Every Man carries his own value within himself. I am your king, but that should not mean that you exist only to do what suits me or to think only what furthers my aims. I was wrong to expect you to tell me only what I would be delighted to hear. You were right to speak your mind to me on a matter of great importance. I am sorry I did not take it more gracefully."
And there he stood, Éomer son of Éomund, thirty years old, taller than most, wiser than many, well and truly a king.
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.