Steward and the King, The
9. Rohan Wakes
Less than a day after Waema found Aragorn on the plains, the two approached the small village of Bryholt, which was the headquarters for this section of the Eastfold. Waema's horse was cross for having had to bear the burden of two men and they dismounted a distance from the walls. The scout had been courteous but closed-mouthed during the ride, and Aragorn had kept his silence.
Waema went immediately to report, apologizing for his delay and the stranger's presence. But Gede stared intently at Aragorn when he was introduced as "Thorongil, returned," for Gede was old enough to have seen Thorongil in his youth, and he took this unexpected happening as a long-awaited sign. After a few curt questions, Gede thanked Waema and sent him away and then brought Aragorn to the healer to have his forearm cleaned and stitched.
Gede soon promised Aragorn a horse and an escort to Edoras: Gede himself would ride with him, for Gede's opinion of the state of the court at Edoras was the same as Faramir's, and he approved of the counsel Aragorn would give. "Too long has Grima's way prevailed there, and none may speak against him. I took the post here at Bryholt to get myself away from the stench of it. I pray Theoden King will pay heed to your words."
Before they left, Aragorn asked if there was another scout going toward the forest, for he had been forced to leave a companion unburied. Gede gave the order to have it done, and Aragorn told the landmarks and the signs he had made to lead back where he had left Legolas' body. The broken bow he gave to Gede's wife for safe-keeping.
As Aragorn and Gede rode west, they received news from a messenger riding east of the battle at the Fords of Isen and the death of Prince Theodred. "I am too late," Aragorn said, and they urged their horses to a faster pace. Gede cursed and wept. Later they heard rumor that Gede believed, that Grima had connived to have Eomer imprisoned. "That snake would call himself 'King' if he dared."
On the morning of their third day they arrived at Edoras and brazened their way toward the Golden Hall. The king was with a wizard, the guards told Gede, to Aragorn's great worry. He went with all speed, he said, to the King's defense, and would not be restrained. His words about danger to Theoden made them fear as well, so it was Aragorn and Gede at the head and being flanked by a growing crowd of guards.
But they stopped cold at the base of the steps. At the top of those wide stone steps a powerful figure, robes and long beard white in the bright sunlight, had been speaking to Theoden, before the sight of the crowd had interrupted them.
Gede and the guards were surprised to see the King outdoors, looking no longer as bent and ill as they had last seen him, and they stared amongst themselves in confusion.
Aragorn saw only the white-robed wizard, white with a light that was more than sunlight, which obscured his face. Aragorn's fury was great. Anduril sang as he drew it from his scabbard. "Murderer!" he screamed. He stopped on the third step, unsure of what to do. He could feel no spell, but he wanted to give himself room to maneuver if an attack came.
The wizard moved to the edge of the top step and, behind him, King Theoden stood. On either side were a young man and women, both had long blond hair, that must be Eowyn and Eomer. He could see no one fitting the description of Grima. "Theoden King, hear me. I am Thorongil, you know me." After a pause, the king nodded. "I once headed your father's guard," Aragorn continued. "I come here, too late I fear, to warn you of great peril." Aragorn gazed again at the wizard, but he did not advance. "You order the Prince's death, and then come here yourself! Have you no shame?" Eomer made an angry motion, but was held back by Theoden. "Saruman!"
The wizard only laughed, a puzzling, comforting sound, and Aragorn was beside himself, wondering what he could do. Gede had his sword drawn and was standing beside him, but all else was not as it should be, and stopped. The wizard stood between them and the king, and he laughed.
"Is that who you think I am? Then I will forgive your attempt to kill me, Aragorn son of Arathorn, Isildur's heir." He smiled broadly and began to descend the steps, coming closer. "I am glad to find you here. You make my job easier."
Thinking attack was imminent, Aragorn ran up the stairs, closing the distance between them, meaning to strike the white-robed wizard down, but when there was only two broad steps between then and he could see the face clear, he halted and lowered his sword.
"Thorongil!" Gede said in alarm, holding his weapon still at guard.
"It cannot be," Aragorn whispered. "Gandalf?"
Blinking in shock, Aragorn turned to Gede, motioning calm. "When your guards said 'wizard,' I assumed it to be Saruman. This is Gandalf, who I thought dead. He is friend to us."
"He called you another name."
"Aragorn. My true name. I have many names."
"Come up, my two friends," Gandalf said cheerfully. "Let us untie this confusion in better comfort." He looked at Gede, who was still unconvinced. "What is your name?"
Gede only stared back.
" 'Gede'," Aragorn supplied, also staring. "You're dead," he said quietly. "I saw you die."
"You saw me fall. That is not the same thing. Forgive me, now is not the time. We have much to do."
Having found Theoden safe and apparently cured, Aragorn's earlier fear returned full force. "Faramir went east with Frodo, Sam and Gimli," he told Gandalf, but Eowyn heard. "Legolas is killed. We were attacked by orcs." His voice became urgent. "They took Merry and Pippin! For questioning. They know all, near enough! When Saruman questions them -- "
"Peace, Aragorn. They escaped, they are safe, and their secret." Gandalf raised his hand. "I know not how. The report was second hand."
Aragorn could scarce put words together. To hear the small ones were safe was almost more of a surprise than finding Gandalf alive. He was a wizard, after all. But hobbits escaping orcs! "The report can be trusted?"
"Reliable, yes." Gandalf's eyes twinkled, despite the grief for Legolas. When he had seen Aragorn on the steps with no others from the Fellowship, he had feared many more had been lost. "And the news was of hobbits, plural, so unless there was somehow a search party out from the Shire and Bilbo led them down from Rivendell, all our hobbits are accounted for. Hopefully we can collect them soon. They have done good work."
Two more seats were brought up, and Gandalf continued his council, now (and with great relief) letting Aragorn put forth his thoughts. Gede was soon echoing Eomer's opinions. Theoden found it well to have Gandalf's words supported by an old and trusted source. Gandalf was relieved to have Aragorn's help in the coming battles. It had been much for him, alone, to gain entrance to the hall, break Grima's power and cure the King, all the while not knowing how the quest had faired.
As the council progressed Aragorn looked at Eowyn, and saw the reasons why Faramir was drawn to her, and she stared often at him, for he had spoken Faramir's name. Being a woman she sat slightly apart and spoke only when directly addressed, but he could see how both Theoden and her brother relied on her. Eomer, especially, would look to Eowyn for verification of his stronger statements, his anger long held back and now said plainly. He was sure of his conclusions ... but he did not yet know whether he would go too far and lose their uncle's trust, so newly rewon. Her breath caught sharply when Faramir was again mentioned.
Once the battle plans were finished, Aragorn and Gandalf spoke privately a while longer of all else that had happened since the flight from Moria, of Faramir's group heading east and what little further help they could give, drawing Sauron's eyes outward.
Before they left Edoras to ride to the relief of the Fords of Isen, Aragorn gave Eowyn Faramir's greeting, and said, "I hope you will pray for him, lady, as I know my lady prays for me."
That time Eowyn stayed silent, but six days later when they met in Dunharrow and he spoke that he would enter the Paths of the Dead she held to him and begged him not to go, for it was to her that if Aragorn would throw away his life then Faramir must be dead also. "We do not fight for ourselves, Eowyn," he said in a voice that could give no comfort. "We fight for our homes, our loved ones and the dreams of others." He put her hand on her sword hilt. "You are warrior enough to know that peace cannot be won without death."
"Will you not let me ride with you?"
"You know I can not. Your place is here."
He left her weeping bitter tears as he rode with his countrymen into shadow. Eowyn, leader of her people in refuge, was past despair. Where once she had lived day to day in hope of Faramir's returning, now she could see only death. How petty her fears of Grima's hands on her now seemed. Dear Theodred was dead. The Prince who had been as if older brother to her and Eomer all the days she could remember was ambushed and killed, targeted because he hampered Grima and Saruman's designs. He was buried in the blood-soaked ground of his dying. Eomer had been imprisoned, Grima's doing, his very life in doubt. Gandalf had broken the evil counselor's spell, but now all she loved would be lost to war. The king and her brother had survived battle in Helm's deep, but they would ride again to certain death in Gondor. And she must stay in prison, here, with the cripples, old and infants, portioning out the grain and tending to petty squabbles, sentenced to listen with stone face at the news of each disaster as death came ever closer.
Those that gathered in front of the door were all from the north. Aragorn was with his kinsmen from the north. Although Gede had survived the battle at Helm's Deep and had ridden with Aragorn from there to Isengard and then to Dunharrow he remained below, and with the other Rohirrim he prepared to ride to the rescue of Minas Tirith. Although he spoke no word, he seemed to share Eowyn's horror and dismay at their intended road. "I have been honored, Thorongil, to have been your guide at your return to our lands. Now you will leave us, and I will return to my own eored to do battle."
They rode to the door. Halbarad was beside him, holding not a spear, but the furled banner that Arwen's hand had made. Aragorn looked at the black cloth, remembered the hordes of Darkness the Palantir had shown him, remembered the struggle of his mind against Sauron's - after so many years and generations of struggle, I have met the Dark Lord, claimed power I do not posses, challenged him, and will spend all my strength to race to a battle I cannot win. She made that banner in hope. My lady, what have I done to you, if I go to my death? Why did I believe it could be otherwise? Why did I ask you to think I might be King? The tree is dead, the line is ended. Isildur died for his wrong; now I must die to right it.
In his mind came her answer, what she had said in Imladris the day the company left Rivendell and in his dreams thereafter. You are my life. If you die, so shall I die, as did Luthien. If father sends me West, I would die before the ship landed and join you, for I have chosen. But she had said further: Hear me: You shall have victory, and me, on this earth. I have seen it.
They reached the door. Is there hope at the end of this path? Aragorn asked himself. Hope for the world, there must be.
Now that the Grey Company was gone and the day growing older, the people stirred from their tents and booths, attending to what little they could find to distract themselves from their coming fate. Dully, Eowyn prepared for her tasks, meaningless though they seemed. After all the families had been settled and the food organized, only trifles remained. Igil met her outside her door, took her wrist with his good hand and marched her back inside with the faintest limp. "What are you at?" he demanded hotly.
"Lord Igil?" He was her chief aid here in Dunharrow. He was not one of the men who would ride away to battle. He had been a warrior once, proud and fearless. It was not an enemy who had crippled him. Rather he had been felled by a seizure ten years before and had struggled long to incomplete healing, bitter at his own body's treason.
"Your face, Lady," he spat the word. "You may not show that face to the children. There will be panic!"
Eowyn blinked at him, shaking free her hand. No one should speak to the grandfathers, she thought, who can not pretend there is a reason to keep order. No one should speak to the mothers who believes there will be no tomorrow. No one may say to the children they will soon join their fathers and brothers in death.
Igil stared long at her, not liking what he saw. "Stay then," he said. "I'll handle the rounds this day." He slammed the door behind him.
The door had no lock: still she was imprisoned. Her duty now was to lie and pretend, and she had failed. What was asked of her was beyond her strength; sword she could wield, but the men did not want her.
=== end chapter ===
Author's note: The names Waema, Gede, Igil, and Bryholt are non-canonical.
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.