1. The Blood of Kings
Théoden worried that Éomer had yet to show grief over his father’s death. Granted, there was a new quietness and a more protective attitude toward his sister, but the release required to purge the boy of the anger and loss had yet to happen.
Théoden was forced to watch as his sister wasted away. He prayed that she would find the strength to choose to stay, even though, as a widower, he understood her desire to be with Éomund. Yet if she could but see how much her children, how much he needed her… The brother in him recognized the futility of this even as he continued to rail against it. The King simply raged at his impotence. It made him more determined to find a way to help his young nephew.
But, right now, he had a specific duty; one owed his brother-in-law. He strode over to the bed and gently shook Éomer’s shoulder. The boy’s eyes opened quickly and focused on his uncle, searching... asking, "Is my mother...?"
The man shook his head and smiled sadly, "She is sleeping. I need your assistance in the stables."
Éomer looked confused but bounded out of bed and grabbed his leggings. He almost tripped trying to get his boots on at the same time he was pulling his pants up. Any chance to go to the stables was not to be missed. He almost believed that his uncle had made a mistake, had come into the wrong room, awakened the wrong person. Still, he was not about to give him a chance to recognize the error. A strong hand on his arm steadied him as he heard his uncle chuckle. "Make haste a bit more slowly, lad. We have a few moments."
As Théoden strode through the corridors, wishing to get to the stables, he realized that Éomer was having difficulty keeping up without actually running. Pride washed through him as he shortened his stride to make it easier for his nephew, yet not enough for the boy to take notice and consequently offense.
"Éomer, your mother was born when I was nearing manhood. She was my sun. I adored her, still do. She was a hellion as a girl, fierce, outspoken, glorious. There was nothing I would not do for her. As she got older, I appointed myself her protector," Théoden paused, shook his head and chuckled self-depreciatingly... "as if she needed one."
Éomer was uncertain why his uncle was speaking to him about this… perhaps because she was so sick... He jumped when he felt Théoden’s hand take his shoulder as they walked.
"When your father decided to court her, I would have none of it. It was certain he was not good enough for her." The king felt the boy stiffen and again pride filled his heart. "In my arrogance, out of my adoration of her, no man was good enough for your mother, lad. She saw it differently. As did your father. Théodwyn actually grabbed a sword and challenged me one night after yet another battle of words between your father and I. I remember standing and asking him if he would hide behind the skirt of a woman."
Théoden stopped and turned Éomer toward him, making certain he had the child’s undivided attention. "Éomund stood tall, his face alight with pride and joy and answered ‘If the skirt be hers, then yes! For where would be the shame?’ In his booming voice, loud enough for all in the hall to hear, he declared, ‘I chose her for her steel, her arrogance and my heart was captured by her fire. I shall do nothing to extinguish it.’ Then he looked me straight in the eye and had the gall to smirk at me before whispering, ‘It scarcely matters... she could take you without breaking a sweat.’ Éomer, it was at that moment, with that admittance and that audacity, your father proved his worth to me; by recognizing so clearly who Théodwyn was and delighting in it so thoroughly. He was an amazing man… one I am honored to call kith. A friend, a brother whose loss has left me bereft."
Éomer stood straighter and nodded, grateful for the story. For each new bit of knowledge brought his father back to life, if only for a moment. He understood and accepted that his uncle, his King, was treating him as an equal with this confidence. Later he would need to think about the tears in his uncle’s eyes.
There was a sharp bite in the air. A strong breeze caused the banners to snap in the night’s silence. The hind end of winter hung on, not yet prepared to acquiesce to the coming spring. The last of the moon’s light reflected off the frost on the early grass.
They were almost to the stable when Théoden spoke again. "Your father came to me last spring. He intended to be here with you now. It saddens me that he is not, but I want you to know that his heart was proud of you, of who you are becoming, as am I."
Snippets of conversation came back to Éomer. He remembered his father commenting on how soon he would outgrow his pony. He recalled his mother’s smile as she resolutely refused to answer when asked why his father had gone to Edoras without them. Quickly counting the months… finally understanding why they were here. He could barely contain himself, "Is it just born? Is it a colt or a filly?"
Théoden laughed softly in response to the boy’s excitement. "Ah, not so easily will you come by your gift. A man is only worthy of the horse that he catches. You will need to help with its birthing and be accepted."
Éomer’s eyes sparkled with unshed tears, unable to believe that he was to be trusted with so important a task, "Truly, uncle?" The man knelt before his charge, "Truly. I know that you have watched birthings before, so you know the time and work that is necessary. Shall we do this together?” At the boy’s vigorous nodding, Théoden slapped him on the back, “Then let’s introduce you to the mare."
The birthing barn was smaller than the other barns, the stalls much larger and well padded. There were a few lanterns lit down the center corridor and he could see, at the far end, a lit stall with two grooms standing nearby.
Éomer was enveloped in warmth as soon as the door closed behind him. The building smelled of sweet grass and wood shavings with the faint tang of fresh dung and horse sweat. It was a heady scent, potent, familiar and comforting, one that spoke to his soul. It filled him with a sense of home, of belonging, and yet somehow still yearning. Oh… oh, how he missed his father. He should be here. Be with him now. This was wrong- they should be sharing this.
Théoden felt the boy tremble and hoped that a brief tightening of his grip on the lad’s shoulder would help calm him. "Your father came to me and asked if Snowmane would act as stud. Éomer, that man’s temeritous nature was unbridled. He talked me into asking though. The mare was part Mearas as well and had chosen to attach herself to Éomund." The man threw his arm across the boy’s shoulders and drew him briefly against his side in a gesture of camaraderie. "He wanted the best for his son... for you… He never doubted that you would rise to the challenge of that responsibility. Shall we go prove him right,lad?"
“Yes.” Éomer’s response was firm, yet in the darkest places in his heart, he worried. Was he up to this challenge? He was failing his mother; he could not control his sister. And at night he still woke, unable to breathe for the constriction in his throat, his father’s loss a lead weight in his belly that held him, sweating, pinned to the bed. How could he take this step when he is still such a baby, a coward.
They were at the stall now and Théoden spoke briefly to one of the grooms. The boy noticed that the mare’s tail had already been wrapped and she was rolling around in the bedding, breathing heavily, letting out a snort every so often.
She was beautiful, an even cloudy grey with a darker mane. Every muscle was distended and after one more roll, she struggled back to her feet. She pawed at the ground briefly, then came over and rested her head against Théoden’s chest. His hand came up to caress her cheek and he whispered comforts for her ears alone.
Éomer was standing just outside the stall with the grooms, watching. He recognized the horse that his father had ridden for pleasure. Once the horse had been calmed, she raised her head and turned her attention to the boy. “Ah, Dancer, you remember young Éomer?” The boy stepped forward and lifted his hand. The mare took a step toward him and sniffed at his hair and face before leaning into his outstretched hand. Again the King spoke. “Éomer is going to help you raise your new foal, if you both agree.”
She accepted another caress from Éomer before she began pacing again. As she turned back around her water broke, soaking the bedding in the middle of the stall. Théoden asked her to take a brief walk with him as the groom handed Éomer a fork and the two of them quickly changed the bedding there so that it would be dry for the delivery. It only took a couple of minutes and both the mare and King were back. The other groom had brought warm water and Théoden washed Dancer’s hind end and then carefully cleaned the swollen vulva. Éomer was given the task of placing clean wrap on her tail. They worked quickly and silently, constantly soothing the mother to be.
Soon, the sac containing the foal appeared. “It won’t be long now. Look Éomer, you can see one of the hooves already!” Dancer lay down and rolled just a bit, grunting and whinnying. Éomer was speechless. He was excited and… terrified. He nearly whimpered when two hands came to rest on his arms and turned him toward his uncle. The kind smile that met him helped to calm the boy. “Go sit by her head and talk to her, she could use some comforting now.” Éomer folded his legs as he sat in the straw next to Dancer. He stroked her neck but had no idea what to say to her. Panic began to take hold; this was so important…
His uncle noticed his distress, thought to call to the pride he knew ran deep within the boy. “Éomer.” When the boy’s eyes focused on him, he said, "The blood of Kings runs through you..."
The voice dissolved into that of another. It was summer, the sun bright and warm. Éomer’s small hand was engulfed within the callused hand of the man at his side. He was running to keep up with the adult’s steps, even though they were purposely slower and shorter than usual to accommodate the young boy at his side. It was one of his first clear memories of time spent alone with his father. He remembered the sound of the horse snuffling at grass behind them and the sound of bees bobbing about the clover. He remembered looking up at the man he worshiped. The sun had been behind the giant and made a halo of light around his head and shoulders, burnishing his hair gold, casting the beloved face into shadow.
They had ridden to this hill together; Éomer seated in front of his father. They had been silent during the journey, simply enjoying the fine day, the feel of the horse beneath them and the comfort of beloved bodies in contact with each other. Éomund slowed his steps and came to a stop, letting go of his son’s hand. He stood looking out over the grasslands stretching before them, legs apart, hands now clasped behind his back.
After a moment he glanced down at his son. Éomer had imitated his father’s stance, earning a smile from him. "Son, the blood of Kings runs strong in you. Your heritage lies before you, as it stretches behind. Shall I tell you a story?" Éomer could feel that deep rich voice resonate in his breast. Remembered nodding, wanting to simply hear his father’s voice, not really caring what the story would be.
“There was a man… his name was Léod. He was a horse tamer, one of the greatest horse tamers of all time. He lived in a time when horses ran wild in countless numbers. And in that time a foal was born, a horse with a stunning white coat and fathomless eyes who would become the greatest stallion ever to race across Middle Earth.
It was Léod’s grace that he found this colt and his bane that the colt became his obsession. He raised the colt, cared for it, loved it and perhaps even feared it. Beyond all else, Léod wanted to conquer this horse. Yet despite all of his effort and longing, the horse refused to accept a rider. Léod knew that there were horses that simply needed to run free, knew that this was such a horse. But he had lost all judgment, his very will, concerning the stallion.
The man recognized the valor and intelligence this horse possessed, he understood its pride and anger at being held captive, he admired the strength of character that made him this horse’s enemy… and he fell prey to his own arrogance. Léod determined to ride this horse, he would ride him if only once and he would do so if it were the last thing he ever did.”
Éomer could still remember the awe he felt, could still hear the gasp that escaped his throat in his fear for this man and this horse. Lost in the memory, the boy was no longer conscious of the mare in his arms. His hands caressed her face and neck of their own accord, his soft murmurs had taken on the cadence of his father’s story.
“A day came when Léod called the horse. ‘Come, let us end this,’ the tamer said. The stallion threw his head back snorting his agreement. For long minutes they stared at each other, neither bending to the other, both knowing that the time had arrived for each to fight for his freedom. Without further care, Léod leaped onto the white’s back.
The stallion ran, he flew, with the man atop him. The white taught him speed, taught him power, joy… and for a glorious moment they were one. However, the battle for freedom had been waged and the stakes accepted by both rider and steed. Léod stayed astride longer than any other could have, but the stallion was persistent and with a final furious buck, sent the man flying. In the instant before he landed, Léod accepted that this had always been the only possible end to his obsession and the price was gladly paid… for with it, he regained his freedom. As he lay on the ground, he felt the beat of his heart match the pounding of the stallion’s hooves. Léod closed his eyes for the last time as they faded into the distance.”
The mare lifted her head and nuzzled the boy’s face before standing again to pace for a few moments. Théoden heard pieces of the story the boy had been telling Dancer and wondered at the choice. But, it was obviously creating a bond between the two.
The delivery was advancing, the sac was still intact. Two legs, one hoof a few inches behind the other, and the muzzle, a few more inches up, were apparent. Dancer turned once more catching the foal’s foot on the side of the stall, tearing the sac, as she repositioned herself and again lay down.
His uncle called Éomer to his side while a groom took the boy’s former spot. Dancer pushed until the head and shoulders were out before taking a rest. The foal looked like it was diving out into the world. Suddenly, Dancer pushed one more time and Théoden helped Éomer support the foal’s head, instructing him on how to lift the sac away from the legs and mouth and clear the nasal passages. Éomer gently held the head away from the bedding, “Uncle, is the foal breathing? Its mouth is moving oddly.” Théoden reassured his nephew, “The foal is trying to suckle. It’s breathing fine, see the rib cage fluttering. Look, its moving on its own now, let both of them rest for a bit and then Dancer will help with cleaning and feeding."
The groom came over and handed Éomer a cloth; he began to dry the foal’s dark head. Théoden encouraged the boy to breathe on the face of the foal to get it used to him and to stroke one ear until the foal relaxed, then do the same to the other. Dancer was exhausted and while she rested for a few moments, Éomer and the foal continued their bonding.
Dancer snaked her head around and whinnied until the foal answered her, then started licking her young one. Théoden showed his nephew how to splay his fingers around the umbilical to support the foal’s stomach and explained that even now, after birth, the foal was still getting blood from its mother.
Everything was happening so fast. After another lazy lick, the foal kicked out and stirred Dancer from her lethargy. As she stood the rear legs of the foal slid free. Éomer positioned his hand as he had been taught and the cord popped as Dancer took a step away. One of the grooms tied the loose end of the dangling cord to Dancers tail to keep it out of the way until the birth sac was delivered.
The boy continued to dry the foal, its coat becoming a deep smokey grey. He finally saw that it was a colt! His eyes blazed and he lifted his head searching for Théoden. The man knelt down and the two smiled at each other, a sharing of joy that transcended the need for mere words.
Éomer returned to rubbing the sides of the colt, Théoden showing him how to bend his legs to check them and telling him to tap on the bottom of each hoof to help ready him for handling later. Dancer joined them and licked the boy every now and then as she cleaned her new son. “Let him hear your voice, lad. Talk to him.” And Éomer fell back into the story his father told him that day on the hillside.
“Léod had a son, Eorl. Now, Eorl loved his father deeply. He had watched his father’s obsession grow over the years and his heart had grown heavy because of it. The lad was but sixteen when he witnessed his father’s final battle with the horse. Over the next days, an emptiness filled Eorl for the death of his father was a bitter blow. So, even knowing that it had been a bargain fair struck, a need for vengeance took hold of the young man. He vowed to hunt the white and demand payment… A life for a life.
When Eorl decided to ride out to find the rogue beast, many men chose to ride with him… for Léod had also been their Lord and his loss keenly felt. After many days the white was spotted. He led the men on a wild chase, toying with them before he finally permitted Eorl to approach. The men had thought the young man would simply dispatch the horse, but rather than drawing his bow he dismounted and stood before the stallion.
'Mansbane you have been called. You owe me wergild for my father. I demand a life in exchange for his.' The stallion took the man’s measure and found him courageous and honorable. He acknowledged the debt with a bowing of his head and then made a demand for respect in return by rearing up on his hind legs. The man took the stallion’s measure and found him valiant and noble. Eorl bowed his acquiescence. Eorl named the stallion Felarôf for his strength and a partnership was forged that day, an alliance of Kings.
Over the years, Eorl the Young and Felarôf became more than companions- they became friends and rode together when ever there was need for valor on the field. They rode together for the thrill of feeling muscles working together as they sped across the land they had been gifted. This land, Éomer. Their unselfish courage earned them Rohan. They took it into their hearts and founded their Houses here. They made a place for both the Rohirrim and Mearas to be free. And eventually, both fell protecting their heritage, their Houses and their people. Son, they were Kings…”
The King had moved to the side of the stall, watching his nephew bond with the new colt. He saw him win over the mare, realizing she too recognized the father in the boy. Théoden lost his heart to the boy completely; he knew he would ask his sister to be permitted to foster him. In the past half hour, a calmness and strength had returned to the boy. He no longer seemed quite so lost. He had also finally begun to grieve.
“Son, what shall you call your new friend?”
So lost in the memory, Éomer was startled to hear his father’s voice dissolve into that of another. “Son? I asked if you had thought of a name.”
The boy shook his head and looked down at the colt who was even now struggling to stand on his own for the very first time. As he sat back and watched, he answered, “Look how strong he is! His legs are so long; they will eat the land as we gallop over it… lighting sparks on the stones in our wake. I shall call him Firefoot, if he agrees.” Just then the colt managed to stand and take his first tremulous step. He whinnied and was answered by the other horses in the barn. Dancer tossed back her head before resuming attendance on her son.
Théoden could see Éomund’s audacious nature in the boy, and his strong sense of honor. The blood ran true in this one; he could not be more pleased.
Éomer heard again his father’s voice and he sank down to the floor, eager to go back to the hillside, to stand next to that golden man, to hear the words that followed the story. He needed to remember them, to live them and teach them, for he was his father’s son.
“They were Kings and their blood runs strong in this place, strong in the riders and the mounts. The blood of Kings runs strong in you, son. Be proud of that blood, Éomer. Be worthy of it, as I know you shall.”
The boy came back to himself and this place realizing that his father had shared this night with him. Éomer carried his father in his heart and as long as he did, they would always be together. He brushed the tears from his cheeks with the sleeve of his shirt and felt the constriction in his throat lessen.
When the foal had finished suckling, he walked over to the boy sitting in the straw and their foreheads rested against each other. “This land is your heritage, Firefoot. It is your home, as it is mine. You will come to love it, as I do, as it deserves to be loved. Together we shall cherish it and protect it as we shall cherish and protect each other. The blood of Kings runs strong in you…”
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.