Many Guises and Many Names
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Protector of Horses: 3. Friend In Battle
"Yes," Thorongil said. Thengel was holding a letter in his hand. "I am, my lord."
Thengel sighed. "I have lost both my eastern commanders," he said, shaking his head. "I know not what I will do."
"I have been diligent in training my junior officers," Thorongil said. "I gave my report to Theoden. I do not leave the east undefended. And I am not deserting you entirely. I am simply moving farther east."
Thengel shook his head again, looking over Thorongil's shoulder at something on the horizon. He had grown old, Thorongil realized with a shock, remembering the man's tanned, middle-aged face when first they had met, noticing that the once-deep-golden hair was now silver. He had been here far too long. "I understand all this, Thorongil. And I am not without captains. I do not begrudge you this move. It is simply a heavy blow to me and to Rohan to lose two such steadfast captains so suddenly. I was half-expecting you to leave, but I had never considered losing Eothain."
Thorongil looked down, feeling a pang. "Neither had I," he said quietly. "It does go hard with me to leave at such a time. But I cannot tarry longer. I must go to Gondor."
Thengel nodded slowly. "How is his family?" he asked quietly. "I know he had young children."
"His wife is in distress but she is a strong woman," Thorongil said. "His youngest is a son, Eomund. Eomund is nearly twelve now. He wants to take arms. I think he is too young. And he is too angry."
Thengel nodded slowly. "Twelve is young," he said. "How tall is the boy?"
A little surprised at the question, Thorongil held his hand to his chest, frowning at it and adjusting it until it was approximately where he remembered Eomund's face to be when he had last embraced him. "Tall," he said.
Thengel nodded. "That is tall," he said. "He is tall enough to take arms. I simply ask because I know Eothain spoke of how close you were to the boy, and it will be very hard for the boy to take arms with his father and the head of his household dead. He has no uncles. With you gone, he will have no older male relatives or equivalents. To have to receive his sword from his mother will be a sorrowful thing. To receive it from his father's replacement would be still worse."
Thorongil regarded Thengel with some surprise. "You think I should present him with the sword?" he asked.
Thengel shrugged, pressing his lips together. "If you say he is too young and is not ready, then he is too young. I was simply musing on the sadness of the situation."
"It is sad," Thorongil said. "It is one of many sad stories in these dark times."
Thengel nodded sadly. "Dark they are," he said, and held out the letter to Thorongil. "Here. This is a letter of introduction. Give it to Ecthelion. I expect he'll make you a captain."
Thorongil bowed. "I thank you, lord."
"No," Thengel said. "I thank you. I wish you success in Gondor. I hope you find whatever it is that you seek." He sighed. "I wish you weren't going, but go with my blessing nonetheless."
Eomund sat miserably in the armory, polishing and oiling swords and armor at the new sword-master's request. He disliked the new sword-master, but had sternly set himself to perform every task he was asked, because he had requested to take arms and it was at the sword-master's discretion to grant his request. Thusfar the 'tests' he had been set had been trivial, pointless, more to try his patience than to prove his worthiness of warrior status. And it burned at the corners of Eomund's eyes to think that his father would never have set such ridiculous tests for him. His father would have made this the happy and exciting process it was supposed to be.
It was a mark of his readiness to become a man, Eomund thought, that none of this had brought him to tears. He inspected himself in the blade he had just finished scouring. He did not have a beard yet, it was true. But he was as tall as his mother already, and his mother was a full-grown woman who had learned to bear a sword herself. He was big enough now to take up his father's sword and fight against the forces that had destroyed him.
He sat silent a moment, seized by a longing to see his father again so sharp it hurt him physically, somewhere between his ribs and his spine. The pain of it made his eyes water, and he clutched the hilt of the sword tightly. He didn't want to be a man. He didn't want to carry a sword and kill other men. He didn't want to fight. He just wanted to see his father again. He gritted his teeth and sheathed the freshly-polished sword, and wiped the water from the corners of his eyes. It was growing late and he had more work to do before he could go in for dinner.
He stretched his shoulders wearily and stood in the door of the armory, surveying his work. He had done what was asked of him, as he had always done. He had spent two weeks now, fourteen full days, doing everything that was asked of him. He was exhausted. His stomach rumbled and he turned away.
The swordmaster was standing there. "Let's see what you've done," he said. Eomund stifled a sigh and nodded, trying to look agreeable and patient. He was so tired and sick of the smell of metal polish and oil. But he went back in and stood patiently for a quarter of an hour as the swordmaster inspected every blade.
Finally the sword master turned and frowned at him. Despair flickered through Eomund's chest. What now? "You are a mess," the sword master said. Eomund struggled to hide his exasperation. "You had better clean yourself up well before you go inside."
"Yes, sir," Eomund said. He began to turn away but stopped. "May I go?" He had been caught out by that before, leaving before he was dismissed, and he wasn't going to let it happen again.
"Yes, Eomund," the swordmaster said. "You may go. But make sure you clean yourself thoroughly. There are visitors at the Hall and your mother would be ashamed if you looked a ragamuffin."
"Yes, sir," Eomund said, and left.
He walked slowly up the steps into the hall. He was so tired he wasn't sure he had the strength left to eat supper. The well-worn blisters on his hands, earned during a session of hard labor earlier in the week, were stinging from the thoroughness of the washing, and he rubbed his hands uncomfortably together as the doorwarden opened the door.
"Visitors tonight," the guard said, with a toothless grin.
"So I hear," Eomund said wearily as he passed through the door. He rubbed at his eyes with the back of his wrist as he went into the smoky hall.
"Eomund," Elfhild said, catching at his arm. He blinked at her, surprised. "Come with me." Her eyes were sparkling and she was smiling brighter than he had seen her in a long time.
"What is it?" Eomund asked, curiosity brightening his tired eyes.
"You will never guess who has come," she said, and she was pulling him at a pace slightly faster than a walk toward the back of the hall.
Eomund tried gamely, since she obviously wanted him to guess. He went through all the aunts and uncles and cousins who did not live nearby, and she laughed merrily as she denied each one. "The King," he guessed. She laughed and denied that as well. "I give up," he said. "Who?"
She laughed again, and led him through the more-than-usual crowd of people into the biggest part of the hall, where the dinner had been laid out. "I said you'd never guess," she said, and pulled him forward as she danced aside so that he was beside of the main table.
Magge was sitting there, and she caught sight of him and smiled broadly. He smiled back, and turned to see who was sitting beside her.
It was Thorongil.
His mouth fell open and Thorongil stood up, his face alight with joy. "Eomund," Thorongil said, coming forward to embrace him. Eomund wrapped his arms around Thorongil, too overcome to speak. "Eomund, you're huge," Thorongil said.
"I missed you," Eomund whispered in Sindarin, pressing his face against Thorongil's shoulder.
"I miss you as well," Thorongil said softly, in the same language. "Oh Eomund, I am sorry to have left you thus."
At length Eomund pulled back to look at Thorongil. The captain was dressed as a Gondorian, his hair and beard trimmed, his garments foreign. His tunic was embroidered with a white tree. "You aren't staying," Eomund said sadly, taking him in at a glance.
"No," Thorongil said. "I have just come back for a short visit. In truth I wanted to see you, and that is why I have come."
Eomund smiled shyly with real pleasure. "Just to see me?" he asked.
"Well," Thorongil said, and gave an odd little half-smile. "Not just to see you." He stepped back, and Eomund noticed that the Third Marshal was present, along with all of his captains. He looked at the table and a sheathed sword lay there. He caught his breath, and looked up at Thorongil, and then to his mother. Magge had tears in her eyes.
"Eomund son of Eothain," Thorongil said in Rohirric, his voice solemn but his eyes twinkling with pride. "You have asked to take arms, and the sword-masters say you are ready. You are tall enough and strong enough, and the men of your household deem you brave enough. In the absence of your father, I have come to present you with this." Thorongil turned and picked up the sword from where it lay on the table.
"This is Guthwine," Thorongil said. "It was carried by your father in many battles, and belonged to his grandfather before that, and has been an heirloom of your house for more than five generations. It was damaged when your father fell, and I brought it with me to Gondor, by your mother's leave, and had it repaired there."
Eomer recognized the hilt suddenly, and realized that it had been restored. It looked new, with none of the dents and marks upon it that had been there when he had polished it for his father. The scars of its battles were gone.
Thorongil drew the sword from its sheath, which was also new. The sword rang faintly, and light ran down its sharp heavy blade. There was a pattern there, an etched pattern that had not been there before. "Are you ready, Eomund son of Eothain? Will you take arms to serve your lord?"
"I will," Eomund said.
"Then lay your hands upon the hilt," Thorongil said, "and swear allegiance to your lord and to your king."
Eomund grasped the hilt of the sword. "Hear my oath, lords of Eastemnet and people of Aldburg, and any others within," he said. "I hereby swear to serve my lord the king Thengel, and whoever shall come after him. I will serve his captains and whomever he deems worthy. His oaths are my oaths and his commands are my deeds. I will serve until he release me, or death release me, and never shall my heart stray. I swear this by the blood within me and the breath that animates me."
"Then kneel, and receive your binding," Thorongil said, taking Guthwine back into his hand and turning it so he held the hilt. Eomund knelt, and pulled back his sleeves to bare his arms. Thorongil carefully drew Guthwine's tip down a diagonal line across the backs of both Eomund's forearms, deep enough to draw blood. "By your oath and by your blood you are bound to your sword and to your lord," Thorongil said. "Arise, Eomund son of Eothain. Take this sword that was your father's and now is yours. Long may you serve your lord in the protection of your people."
Eomund rose and took Guthwine in his hands. The cuts across the back of his arms burned, but the tears in his eyes were not from the pain. To his astonishment Thorongil also had tears in his eyes, and stepped forward and embraced him. The hall erupted in cheers and roars of approval and applause, seeing that the solemn ceremony was ended. Over it Eomund scarcely heard Thorongil's voice.
"Eomund," Thorongil said softly, and when he continued he spoke in Sindarin. "I would not have you meet your father's fate but I fear you cannot avoid it."
Eomund was still holding the sword in both hands, point downward, and the pommel dug into his ribs. "I am not afraid to die," he said stoutly. Thorongil's arms were tight around him.
"But promise me you will live first," Thorongil said. "Do not devote your life to war."
Eomund had nothing to say to that, and Thorongil released him, stepping back and wiping his face on his sleeve. A little of Eomund's blood had smeared across the white tree on Thorongil's tunic.
"Well," Thorongil said, returning to Rohirric. "You are a warrior now, and a man. Let your mother bandage your arms."
Eomund smiled up at him, a little dazed. "Thorongil," he said. He reached out with one hand and put it on Thorongil's arm. "Thank you for coming back."
Thorongil put his hand on Eomund's head. He was still several inches taller than Eomund. "Of course," he said. He handed Eomund the scabbard. "Here. You should clean that up as well."
Eomund looked down at the blade, which bore a faint trace of blood at the tip. "Yes," he said. He took the scabbard and turned to his mother.
"Eomund," she said, and embraced him. This time he was holding the sword to one side, and it didn't dig into his ribs. She was weeping quietly. "Eomund." In a moment she released him, and wiped her eyes. "Here," she said, and held out a sword belt for him. He recognized it. It had been his father's as well, and was likewise cleaned and repaired.
"Mother," he said, and she wiped her eyes again and fastened it around his body, adjusting it. She'd had to make it smaller, because Eomund was still so slender. She fastened the scabbard to it, and he wiped the sword clean on his handkerchief and put it into the scabbard as if he'd borne a sword all his life.
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