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Another Man's Son: 9. Shock
Eomer sat dazedly on the ashy ground, stripped to the waist. A Gondorian knight was pouring water over his injured side and speaking to him, but he couldn't hear. He stared blankly toward where the gates had been.
So this was victory, ultimate victory. He couldn't breathe without pain, and couldn't tell if his lightheadedness was elation or blood loss. "So," he said in Rohirric. "Our enemy vanquished."
"Lord?" the knight said, not understanding. Eomer glanced up at him and shook his head. "Lord, the injury is not serious, but you are losing blood. Shall I fetch a healer or can you get there on your own?"
"Bandage all I need," Eomer said, mastering his tongue and making himself speak Westron with an effort. He knew he was speaking with an accent but his breath and tongue were disobedient. He wondered if he had injured his head without noticing.
The knight spoke to him again and he didn't hear, and shook his head slightly, breathing with an effort and looking around the field. His eyes were dark and he couldn't tell whether those around him were celebrating. His eyes couldn't follow the motion.
In a moment he was lying on his back staring blankly up at the sky. It was grey, unremittingly grey. A face appeared above him, the face of one of his own knights. "Eomer," Eothain said. "Lord, where else are you hurt?"
"Eothain," Eomer said, wonderingly. "Eothain, I am adrift."
"What do you mean?" Eothain asked, and as Eomer focused his eyes he could see that Eothain's face was smudged with grime and blood, and was twisted with worry. "Adrift?"
Eomer chanced a full breath. "My whole life," he said, "I have fought against the Shadow. And now it is gone. What do I do now?"
Eothain actually laughed. "What do you do? Lord, you do what the rest of us are doing, and celebrate!"
Eomer gazed up at him a moment, before the laughter spread to him. "Celebrate," he said, and held his hand out to Eothain. Eothain pulled him back up to a sitting position and clapped him gently on the shoulder. He laughed a little gingerly, and drew a full breath. "It is a lot to take in."
Bandaged, he made his way to where Aragorn was. He was a little unsteady, and had fastened his breastplate on again, but had left off his mail, as it was too heavy and constricting for him to bear now.
Aragorn was with Imrahil, and they were speaking quickly. Aragorn kept darting glances toward the sky. As Eomer approached they both stopped and turned toward him, and he looked from one to the other. "What must I do now?" he asked. "Where do we go?"
Imrahil's face was a picture of concern. "You are hurt," he said.
Eomer shook his head. "It is not serious," he said. "What happens now?"
Aragorn sighed. "There is much to do. We must get the injured onto horses or wains. We will make for a place in North Ithilien-- Cormallen, it is called. I must go and take counsel with Gandalf, and I must tend to my companions."
"Go," Imrahil said. "I will see to the rest, here."
Eomer nodded. "It is enough," he said. "Cormallen. There we can hold further council."
"Yes," Aragorn said. He turned and strode away at a great pace. Eomer watched him go for a moment until Imrahil took him by the shoulder.
"You are not well," Imrahil said.
Eomer shook his head. "A moderate wound," he said. "It has been seen to. I will survive."
Imrahil took him by the arm. "Come," he said. "Who is your lieutenant?"
Eomer waved a hand. "Seen to," he said. "My people are regrouping. I will ride beside the wains."
"Can you ride?" Imrahil asked with some concern.
"Well enough," Eomer said, giving him a dark look. "I have ridden in a worse state than this."
It took them a day and a half to reach Cormallen. The pain in Eomer's side grew worse by the hour, and by the evening of the first day he had to get off his horse and ride in one of the wains. Imrahil came and sat with him when they stopped for the night, and Eomer spoke to him for a long time and never afterward remembered what he said. He was feverish by the second day, short of breath and light-headed. There were others of his people in the wain with him, and they all spoke to him and he to them, but he was little aware of what he said.
There followed a long stretch, he knew not how long, during which he did not know where he was or what was happening. When he finally returned to himself, he was on a cot under a tent roof, surrounded by a sound that it took him several minutes to recognize as wind soughing through the boughs of trees.
He took a tentative breath, and found the pain not unbearable. He turned his head and looked, first to one side and then to the other. There were others in the tent with him, men on cots, and he realized he was with the wounded.
He could not immediately remember the battle. For some reason his memory transported him to the borders of Fangorn. He sat up tentatively, getting an elbow beneath him on his good side. "Eothain," he said, and found that his voice was terribly hoarse. "Eothain."
The person in the cot beside him turned his head and answered him.
"He isn't here," the man said. "What do you need from him?"
Eomer stared blankly at the man. "What time is it?" he asked.
"It is not yet midmorning," the other answered. "Why, have you somewhere to be?" There was an unaccountable note of mirth in his voice.
Eomer sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the cot and setting his feet on the grassy floor. He was lightheaded. "Theodred cannot hold the Fords," he said. "We have delayed too long." He was terribly weak, and wondered how badly he had been injured. He didn't remember taking any injury. He had been bruised, but not badly.
"Wait a moment, lord," the man said, a note of alarm in his voice. "I cannot guess where you think we are, but I think you must be mistaken."
Eomer turned his head and looked at the man. "No," he said softly, and blinked, and in a moment the memories came to him. Of course. He took a breath carefully and let it out. Saruman was defeated, Sauron was defeated, Theoden was dead, Theodred was dead, and he was king now. He put his face in his hands, rubbing at his eyes and scratching at his hair. His hair was tangled and unwashed, gritty with ash and filth. And he remembered-- his sister was far away, herself injured perhaps to death, and there were none here to braid his hair so it didn't get tangled as he lay in his fever.
Someone touched his shoulder and he looked up. It was Imrahil. He smiled, and to his surprise Imrahil bent to embrace him, and to kiss his forehead. "How do you feel?" Imrahil asked gently, and Eomer regarded him with astonishment. Imrahil looked careworn and weary.
"I am well," he said, taking Imrahil's hand. "What is wrong?"
"I was worried about you," Imrahil said, squeezing his hand. "You said the strangest things, and then the fever took you. I did not know what to expect."
Eomer was abashed. "Did I," he said. "Prince, you must never listen to anything I say when I am hurt. I have a tendency to rave a great deal when I am feverish, and most of what I say is utter nonsense. I am embarrassed that you heard it, and more so that it gave you worry."
Imrahil shook his head, and sat down beside Eomer on the cot. "Do not be," he said, and put his arm around Eomer's shoulders. Eomer rubbed at his face again, and yawned. It hurt his side, and he grimaced. "Are you in much pain?" Imrahil asked solicitously.
Eomer shook his head. "No," he said. "No, I am not. What is today?"
"The twenty-eighth," Imrahil said. "And it is yet early in the morning."
Eomer nodded, and counted something on his fingers. In a moment he laughed. "I have lost track of days," he said. "Long ago. What day was the battle on the Pelennor?"
"The fifteenth," Imrahil said. "The battle at the Morannon was on the twenty-fifth."
"Ah," Eomer said. He looked down at his hands again. They were cut and scraped, fresher injuries healing over older half-healed ones. He considered a moment, and the thought came to him that he had resolved to bandage his knuckles before he put his gauntlets on the next time, to try to spare them being skinned yet again, but he had once again forgotten. He laughed again.
"There are many adjustments to make," Imrahil said, shaking his head slightly.
"So much has happened," Eomer said. "I woke up and thought it was the twenty-eighth of February, and I was in the north of my country, and a battle was happening in the west that I had to go to relieve." He laughed. "But that battle is done, and the one after it, and the one after that." He shook his head, and his laugh this time was shakier. "I have survived them and we have triumphed over evil. But almost everyone I loved is dead."
Imrahil embraced him again. "I know," he said quietly. "Erchirion is behind you. They cannot tell me yet whether he will recover."
Eomer sat back and looked at him with worry. "I am sorry," he said.
Imrahil shook his head. "Do not trouble," he said. "I have sat with both of you, and can rejoice that at least you have recovered."
Eomer managed a small half-smile. "Yes," he said. "I have." He looked around. "What has happened? Where are my clothes? Where can I bathe? Where are my people?"
Imrahil laughed softly. "Which to answer first? As far as what has happened, we are regrouping and recovering here, and will travel back to Minas Tirith once we are rested. The city is already beginning the work of repairs. The last remnants of the Dark Lord's army are being mopped up throughout the realms of the West. And Aragorn is hard at work in the healing of many hurts among those here, including his companions the Ring-bearers."
Eomer nodded, absorbing. "The Ring-Bearers," he said. "They were holbytlan, were they not?"
"I do not know," Imrahil said.
"Halflings," Eomer said, remembering the word. "Hobbits."
"Yes," Imrahil said. "They seem to have many names."
"Yes," Eomer said. Hobbits, was the name given by the one who had saved his sister.
"Your people here are being rested and healed with my people," Imrahil said. "I believe that your marshal Elfhelm has cleared the north roads, and some of the companies have been sent home to keep the country safe in this time of chaos. Not all enemies have been destroyed yet."
Eomer nodded. "Good," he said. "That is well."
"As far as your clothes and bathing, I will tell the healers you have risen and would like to make yourself presentable." Imrahil stood. "I am glad to see you well, Eomer of Rohan."
"I am glad to be well," Eomer said. He stretched his arms and shoulders carefully as Imrahil walked away, and turned to see Erchirion. He was the man on the other side; the one who had awoken and spoken to him was asleep again. Erchirion was lying insensible, his breathing hoarse and harsh, his eyes not quite closed, and Eomer could see that he was weak and pale with loss of blood.
Eomer was saddened; Erchirion was the middle son, a sturdy and steadfast man perhaps a year older than Eomer himself. He had spoken little in Eomer's presence, but seemed to be the one who gave his father the least trouble in return for the love he received.
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