1. A Lord I Have Lost
A lord of a king's palace was killed by a hand.
A lord, loyal, true-- listen to me!
How loudly I weep, alas the weeping!
A generous lord-- the ground (is) around him.
A bold lord, leonine, controlling the world.
A lord ardent in his destruction.
A lord who prospered before leaving Edoras.
No Dunlending would dare to have struck him.
A lord-- golden roof (was) the leader of Eorlings
from the lineage that by right rules Rohan.
My lord, how grieved am I for him!
My lord, may redemption be with him.
Meduseld's roof gleamed in the early spring sunlight, but to Éomer it looked more forbidding than friendly. He regarded it with trepidation as Edoras came fully into view ahead, and Éothain noticed his expression.
"The Worm's going to eat you alive," Éothain said, his mouth twisting wryly.
"Yes," Éomer said grimly. "Yes, he is." He sighed, and turned his eyes from the approaching city to regard Éothain. "Listen to me. I want you to keep the eored as uninvolved in this as you can. Don't talk to anyone about what happened-- and do not let them talk about it either. I am going to have enough trouble as it is explaining myself to Théoden."
"Théoden?" Éothain said, raising an eyebrow.
"Wormtongue," Éomer admitted. "I suppose it's too much to hope Théodred might be here. He can talk sense the Worm can't ignore."
"I doubt things in the Westfold will have improved," Éothain said.
"No," Éomer sighed. "I'm on my own." He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "Éothain," he said in a moment. "I might not come back out. For a while. I want you to send riders to the families of the slain, and see that the men are comfortable. I don't know what's going to happen."
Éothain thought to laugh, but the laugh died before it reached his lips as he read Éomer's mood. This wasn't the apprehension of a boy about to be scolded. This was a man in deep worry about more than his own fate. "Yes, Marshal," Éothain said quietly.
"Éomer son of Éomund, you seem over-eager to meet your father's fate," Gríma Wormtongue hissed as Éomer came up the steps to Meduseld with an uneven but defiant stride. "Your uncle has been worried sick about you, disappearing at a time like this. Your recklessness has cost us more than sleep, Marshal."
"I did not disappear," Éomer said coldly as he came up the last of the steps, weary but unwinded. "I told you there were Orcs threatening our northeast border. I sent you a message telling you where I was going and when I would return. And I have returned."
Éowyn came out of the hall, and he looked over Wormtongue's shoulder in concern as he noted the tears on her cheeks. But Wormtongue's voice pulled his attention back.
"And what of your men, O rash son of Éomund?" Wormtongue asked. "What of them? Have they all returned?"
"I will give my report to Théoden," Éomer said, making to pass him.
"Théoden is wroth with you," Gríma said, a small smile playing about his thin lips. "And he has more reasons than you yet know. I would not be so confident, Marshal."
Éomer turned back to Gríma with an expression of weary annoyance. "My men slew more than two hundred Orcs. I have proof of an alliance between Isengard and Mordor. And I have tidings of the Heir of Isildur. Your turn, Gríma. What have you that I could not guess myself?"
"News," Gríma said, his eyes flickering as he digested the tidbits Éomer had thrown him. "News of the Second Marshal."
"I know things go ill in the Westfold," Éomer said impatiently. "It gave urgency to my ride to the north, and gives urgency now. As soon as I have settled matters with the king I will set the Eastfold to muster and ride to Théodred's aid."
"I'm afraid you'll be too late," Gríma said, a sneaky look of smug pleasure creeping across his white face.
Éomer's eyes slid again to his sister in the doorway, again to the tears on her cheeks. They were not tears of worry at his impending tongue-lashing. They were grief.
"Théodred," he said, something cold anchoring itself between his heart and his spine. "Where is Théodred?"
"Ah," Gríma said, wringing his hands, "none but the Wise can tell us for sure. But there are those who believe--"
Éomer grasped Gríma's collar in both hands. "Where is Théodred?"
Éowyn's hands were around his arm, pulling him back from the counselor, and he turned to her, his eyes wild. "Where is Théodred?"
"Éomer," she whispered, more tears spilling, "Éomer, Théodred is fallen."
He stared at her, the air between his lips ceasing to move.
"They sent for you, but you didn't come," Gríma said. "You didn't come, Éomer."
The flagstones of Meduseld's porch met Éomer's shin greaves with a ringing metallic thunk. He dragged a great breath into his lungs and out again before the air stilled once more. Théodred. He raised his gauntleted hands to his head in an instinctive gesture of mourning, and rocked back and forth on his knees as he struggled to breathe.
"I know you think me nothing more than a sniveling worm counseling cowardice," Gríma said, his voice harsh and echoing, "but your cousin needed you, and you weren't here, and now he is dead."
Éomer's spine curved, his head bowing, and he breathed with an effort.
"Get him up," Gríma said to Éowyn. "Get him up. He must come before Théoden and explain himself."
Éomer took another breath. Éowyn was kneeling beside him, her hands cool on his face, pulling at him. "Éomer," she was saying. "Éomer, come. We must go to Uncle." She took him by the arm and pulled. He was too big for her to move, but he felt the pressure and came to her obediently. He struggled to his feet, reeling, unable to feel the ground.
"Éomer has returned, my lord," Gríma called, going before them like a shadow into the hall. Éomer saw his uncle as if in a haze. The old man was sitting on his throne, but his shoulders were bowed, and he had Théodred's helm in his lap, the horsetail crest clotted with bloody mud. Éowyn guided Éomer to Théoden, and he knelt beside the king's throne and looked up into the old man's face. Tears finally came as he put his hands on Théoden's.
"Th-Théodred," Éomer managed, his voice a whisper. Théoden's face was tear-streaked and haggard.
"Théodred is dead because you disobeyed me," Théoden said hoarsely. "You're as reckless as your father was, Éomer. Théodred spent so much time convincing me you were better than that, and what has it gained him? Death, Éomer. That's what. He had faith in you and so he died."
Éomer closed his eyes, his mouth moving mutely in pain. Théodred's name hovered behind his teeth but it would do no good to speak it again. His former defender was now the source of his condemnation.
"As your father killed my sister by his foolishness, so you have killed my son," Théoden said. "His recklessness and pride resurfaces in you, again to the detriment of my family." He jerked his hands away from Éomer's, and Éomer let his hands fall to his sides. His breath was leaving him again. His body ever turned traitor when his will flagged, like a poorly-trained horse.
He heard voices behind him, whispering. One of Gríma's thugs, giving a report of where Éomer's eored had been and who they had met. One of his men was untrue, then; he'd heard Éothain telling them to speak to no-one. He went to file that knowledge away but stopped, knowing it was useless to keep track. He opened his eyes and raised his hands to clear his face. He had no more time to grieve. Oh Théodred.
"What are we to do with you, Éomer?" Gríma said, coming up behind him. "What are we to do? I am told now that while you run off helter-skelter after phantom Orcs, leaving Edoras undefended and ignoring the summons of your cousin, you are not only letting strangers roam through the Eastmark at will but are also loaning them horses."
"What?" Théoden looked up, and then back down at Éomer. "What is this? Giving horses to strangers?" Éomer let his hands fall and looked up, and the old king's rage was such that Éomer wondered for a dull moment whether the man would strike him. It wouldn't be the first time.
He dragged himself to his feet as the moment passed, inwardly cursing his knees for shaking. He knew with a chilling clarity that all the malice Gríma had focused on Théodred for the last five years was now focused relentlessly on him. He knew he had not Théodred's defenses against it. Théodred had clarity and self-possession, and long experience at dealing with political machinations. Éomer had none of these virtues, and knew his weaknesses were many. He was no match for Gríma on this playing field. Not with Théodred dead.
"My lord," he said, addressing himself to Théoden with as much composure as he could muster. His voice faltered, and he cleared his throat. "My lord, after killing the Orcs we rode to hunt, I encountered three wanderers who had been pursing the creatures. They were seeking for two of their companions, taken captive by the Orcs I slew. I spoke to them and satisfied myself as to the urgency and virtue of their mission. And yes, I loaned them two horses. They have promised to come to Edoras and return the horses, and give an account of themselves to you, once they have discovered whether their waylaid companions live."
"You are a fool," Théoden said, in a hiss more becoming of Gríma. "Who were these strangers and what did they give you to make you forget the law of this land?"
Éomer's eyes flashed and his jaw tightened. "Give me?" he repeated. Anger wouldn't serve him, but he couldn't control it. "Give me, Uncle? Think you I would sell my men's horses? They gave me nothing but their names and an account of themselves, and that was enough. You will see when they come before you, King. One of them was Isildur's Heir, and he bore the Blade that was Broken."
Gríma laughed unexpectedly, and Théoden turned to look at him, shaking his head slightly in disbelief. "Isildur's Heir," Gríma said. "I suppose he had a very convincing story. Éomer, you are not a man of great wit. There was a reason this law was instituted, requiring you to bring strangers before the king. Your judgment is not your best feature."
"I wasn't talking to you," Éomer said curtly to Gríma. "Théoden King, the man of whom I speak was named Aragorn son of Arathorn, and he bore tidings from Imladris. Do you not remember Boromir and his puzzle? This man was a companion of Boromir, and the Orcs my eored slew had taken the Halflings of the riddle into captivity. They would have delivered them to Saruman. I tell you, there is some league between Isengard and Mordor, and these Orcs proved it. Some wore the Red Eye, and some wore a white hand and an S-rune, and they were going to Isengard. Together."
"Was Boromir there?" Théoden asked, and there was a flicker of his old self in his eyes.
Éomer's breath caught again and he looked down, his grief threatening to choke him. So many good men dead, so suddenly. He blinked a tear from his lashes for Boromir, whose bravery he had known. "No," he managed to say.
"How convenient," Gríma said.
Éomer raised his head and his anger was smoldering in his eyes again. "Boromir is dead," he said sharply. He let that ring into silence, and took another breath. "He was killed some days ago by the very Orcs I slew."
Théoden stared up at him, and Éomer closed his eyes, rubbing his hand over his face to clear it again. "These are heavy tidings," Théoden said at last. "That Denethor and I should both lose our sons."
"Ill news, my lord," Gríma agreed. "But of these strangers-- are you sure that they told the truth? Who were they? I had heard that there were three of them, but you have spoken only of their leader and his outrageous claims."
"Three," Éomer said, recollecting himself. "Yes, three. Aragorn for one, and an Elf of Mirkwood, and a Dwarf, of the Lonely Mountain. They set out together from Imladris some weeks ago together with several others. One of which was Boromir."
"And another of which was Gandalf Greyhame," Gríma said with smug satisfaction. Éomer realized he should have said so himself. Every tidbit Gríma revealed first looked to Théoden's addled mind like something else Éomer was hiding. If Théoden had been able to suspect Théodred capable of harboring plots against him, it was a foregone conclusion that he already fully believed Éomer was.
"Yes," Éomer said. He swallowed, and forced his breath to cooperate. "Gandalf also... is fallen."
Gríma actually exclaimed in astonishment, and then cackled with laughter. "Gandalf fallen!" Gríma composed himself, still chuckling. "Gandalf fallen! Well, that is something. If it is true. But these are ridiculous tales, Éomer. I think you will wait long for these strangers to come to you. Now, after they told you this, did they sprout feathers and sing like birds? Are you sure they were not phantoms conjured by Gandalf himself?"
Éomer regarded him, his jaw tight, and Gríma faded into silence. "Are you finished?" Éomer asked. Gríma looked away. Éomer had never succeeded in staring him down before.
"Éomer," Théoden said, suddenly businesslike. "How many men and horses did you lose?"
"Fifteen men, lord," Éomer said tightly. "And twelve horses. Two riderless horses I loaned to the travelers, and they have promised to return them."
"Fifteen!" Théoden's voice cracked. "Fifteen dead!"
"Yes, lord," Éomer said. "The Orcs were numerous, and there was a second band of them hiding in the forest. All together we counted over two hundred of them slain when the battle was over, and we left none alive."
Théoden shook his head angrily. "You rode away against my orders, like a thief in the night. You got fifteen of your men killed and twelve horses, and gave two more of your horses away to strangers, disobeying my law. And you did not come to the relief of the Fords when we sent for you. What am I supposed to do with you? It was only at Théodred's insistence I made you a Marshal at all, and it seems his own choice doomed him. You are too rash, you are not wise enough, you risk not only your life but the lives of others, and if you have your way you will leave Meduseld a smoking ruin and your men strewn in slaughter all across the country."
Éomer's shoulders remained squared under his battered armor, but his eyes closed. It was too much for Éowyn, and she started forward. "Whether he had been here or not Théodred would still be dead," she said, her voice shaking in anger and grief. "Elfhelm was already on his way with reinforcements. There is nothing Éomer could have done, even if he had received the summons."
Gríma caught at her arm and pushed her backward. "You stay out of this," he hissed. Éomer turned sharply at his hiss, and the hand he laid on Gríma's shoulder was crushingly powerful. He hauled Gríma back away from Éowyn and held him by the front of the shirt with his feet barely touching the ground.
"You," he growled, "stay out of this." He dropped Gríma in a heap on the ground at the foot of Théoden's dais.
Gríma leapt to his feet, his pale face alive with rage and disbelief and a tiny flicker of triumph. Éomer turned to Théoden and in the open-mouthed shock on the king's face he knew he had reached his own point of no return. He couldn't go back to curtly ignoring Gríma now. He knew he couldn't win but he had to continue now. He could see in Éowyn's face that she knew it too, and behind the hands she clasped to her mouth her face was white. He fixed his eyes on the king and gritted his teeth, girding himself for the hopeless, pointless charge. He couldn't defeat Gríma but he was bound to fall in the attempt.
"You would strike my counselor?" Théoden asked, astonished.
Éomer's shoulders were tense with his anger. "I would," he said. "I would do more. Théoden, this man does not serve you."
"You lie," Gríma hissed, furious. "You lie, Éomer. I see your ambition. Now that your cousin is dead you are next in line for the kingship, are you not? I can see your ambition, whelp. Will you now ease Théoden's passing that you might assume the kingship the sooner?"
"That is enough," Éomer said, his voice clear but shaking with fury. He knew what Gríma was doing but could not help but throw himself into it. "Worm, that is enough. I will stand obediently and listen to you insult my intelligence and judgment, but you will not dare to doubt my loyalty. You will not doubt my loyalty to my lord."
"I do doubt," Gríma hissed. "Are you traitor, Éomund's son? You've had a Marshalship scarce three years and you already disobey the king's orders, and fail in your support of your cousin. Whose side are you on?"
In the end, Éomer was a warrior, not a politician. He was no fool, but in his distress and grief and exhaustion he could not summon the command of logic and rhetoric he needed to defeat Gríma with words. Words had never served him. The tide of blind rage that served him in battle's heaviest press swept over him. "I said enough," he roared in a battlefield voice, grabbing Gríma by the collar again. Éowyn shrieked as Éomer threw Gríma to the floor and drew his sword. The guards swept by her as she stood paralyzed, and they seized Éomer and pulled him away from the unscathed counsellor.
Gríma was wide-eyed and mute, motionless where Éomer had put him, and Théoden rose unsteadily to his feet in horror. Éomer struggled against the guards, but subsided abruptly when one of them hit him a rather hard blow to the back of the head. Éowyn shrieked again at her brother's sudden limp submission and started forward, and one of the guards turned to catch her, to keep her out of the scuffle.
"He would have killed me," Gríma gasped. Éomer's eyes rolled as he tried to raise his head, his body held firm by two guards and his legs unresponsive beneath him. "He would have killed me, lord. And doubtless he'd have killed you next."
Théoden regarded Éomer, whose head lolled. "He is dangerous," Théoden agreed. "And disobedient."
"Yes," Gríma said. "Take his weapons and put him in one of the cells in the guard house until we can decide his fate. He cannot threaten like that."
Éowyn held both her hands tightly over her mouth as she watched them dragging her brother's mostly-limp body from the hall. The guard released her with an apology and she waved him away. Gríma's eyes were suddenly keen on her, and she knew he was wondering what she would do now. Would she support her brother, and become Gríma's next target? She stared back at him for a moment, bringing her hands calmly down to her sides and controlling their trembling. She clamped her lips tightly shut, her teeth locked closed behind them, and walked coolly and with composure to take her place behind Théoden's chair.
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.