3. The Clasp Undone
From the death of my lord, man's mind forsakes me.
Chill the heart under the breast with terror.
Willpower withers like dry wood.
Éowyn stood grimly before the cell as the night guard unlocked the door. Her brother was motionless on the floor, and blood had seeped from a cut on his forehead to drip across his face and into his hair. As she knelt beside him she could see that his cheeks were streaked with tears. At her request the guard brought a clean rag and a bowl of warm water, and she took Éomer's head into her lap and cleaned the cut. It was high, near the hairline, and most of the damage was hidden in his hair. If she cleaned it well, it would hardly show.
She had assumed it was from the blow that had subdued him in the hall, but the guard told her Gríma had inflicted it. It struck her as odd that Gríma would feel the need to hit him, but the guard insisted he'd come in himself to see Gríma standing over him and Éomer crying out as the blood started to flow.
Éomer's face twisted as she worked, and he opened his eyes. He started to say something but stopped and closed his eyes again. Finally he whispered, "I am sorry."
Éowyn shook her head. "Éomer," she said, "you couldn't have done anything else."
"No," he said. "No, it was futile. I did precisely what he wanted me to do. And I threw away our last scrap of hope in all this."
"No," she said. "There is still hope. They haven't killed you."
"They will," he answered. "Soon. Tomorrow? The day after? Next week? It doesn't matter when they finally kill me, Éowyn. I'm already nothing. You know now that Mordor owns Isengard. Saruman bought Gríma long ago, and Gríma conquered Théoden not long after. With Théodred dead I'm nothing to what little is left of the king. And without either of the two of us, there's only Elfhelm left to command Rohan. No man can stand alone against Mordor like this. Not on two frontiers. Rohan will fall, Éowyn. Rohan is already falling."
"No," she said insistently, pressing the rag against his cleaned cut as blood began to well out of it again.
"Yes," he said, his voice steady but grim. "Our field marshals and captains and Riders are brave, and loyal to Rohan, but they cannot stand without a king behind them, with only Elfhelm in front of them. Not against Saruman. Not against the Dark Lord. Rohan will fall, Éowyn. But you have to survive."
"I will fight in your place," she said. "Elfhelm is not alone. Rohan will not fall."
"No," he said sharply. "No, Éowyn. Don't fight. You must not fight. Please. Don't suffer Haleth's fate. Do not give your life to defend the doors. Do not stand to be slain." He closed his eyes and tears leaked out from the corners as he grimaced. "Give yourself up, Éowyn. Give yourself up and let them do what they will, so long as you survive."
"You don't know what you ask of me," she said, her voice low and shaking with horror.
"Yes I do," he said, and opened his eyes. "Yes, I do, Éowyn. And there is no other way. I can do no more for you. I'm sorry, Éowyn. I don't think I can tell you how sorry I am. I know what I ask of you. But you must. You must survive, through whatever debasement and ignominy. Unless you want our people to disappear entirely. If our people are to survive they must do without pride."
"It's better to disappear than to live on in shame," she said vehemently.
Éomer caught her wrist with his hand. "Rohan has fallen before," he said harshly. "Barbarians sat in Meduseld and called one of themselves king, while the people huddled in the caves. But as long as some remained of the House of Eorl there was hope, Éowyn. Even in shame, as long as there were Eorlings, glory could be restored. If you die, Éowyn, our people will be scattered and will become barbarians themselves. If you think that is better for our people you are a selfish fool."
She jerked her wrist from his grasp. "Théodred was lucky," she hissed. "His pain was brief."
"You think I don't envy Théodred his death in battle?" Éomer asked, his face twisting in pain. "You think I wouldn't trade places with him in a heartbeat, even if his pain had been bitter? I have made a costly mistake, Éowyn. If you too throw your life away in a futile last stand-- that may seem like heroism, Éowyn, but it will not be. It will doom our people, so that you might enjoy an easy death."
Éowyn shook her head, defiance writ cold across her face. He stared up at her, his lips thin. "Why did Wormtongue hit you?" she asked in a moment, knowing further argument was pointless.
To her surprise Éomer laughed coldly. "He didn't," he said. "I hit myself."
"Why?" she asked, astonished. "Why would you do that?"
"Know this, Éowyn," he said, and his face bore a look of grim satisfaction. "The people love the House of Eorl and have no loyalty to that worm. The look on Gríma's face when the guard came in ready to kill him for hurting me-- that was worth any pain this may cause me." He shook his head slightly. "That is why you must survive this, Éowyn. Gríma knows the danger to him in our blood. I used mine to illustrate it for him. He knows the loyalty the people bear to Théoden, and to me, and to you. But he won't kill you Éowyn. He can't kill you, even though it leaves his victory incomplete."
Her hand trembled against his forehead. "But," she said quietly, "I know what he wants of me."
"Yes," Éomer said, and closed his eyes. "But if it keeps you alive, Éowyn, there is hope. You must let him keep you alive."
"I cannot," she whispered. "I cannot."
"Please, Éowyn," Éomer said. "You must." He opened his eyes and stared up at her. "This," he said, and his face tightened with pain. "This is the price of pointless defiance. That I must leave you with only this. Can you forgive me? At the least I could have taken Gríma down with me, if I had done that better."
"Shh," Éowyn said, stroking his hair gently.
"You must," he repeated. "You must stay alive. I am so sorry."
"Not unless there is no other hope. Only then will I do this." He nodded slightly. "I will do what I must," she finished.
He turned his body to press his face against her. She moved, pulling him tighter to her, and he buried his face against her belly, curling his body around hers as she sat on her knees. It had been a long time since he had so abjectly needed to draw comfort from her warmth and she felt tears come to her eyes finally to think that she would lose him.
"Éowyn," he said quietly, his voice muffled by her body. "Éowyn, how did Théodred die?" He shivered.
"Oh Éomer," she said softly, knowing he could feel in her body that she was crying. She put her fingers in his hair, combing gently through the tangles. "The messenger said it was a hard battle but they seemed most eager to attack Théodred, above all else-- they could have caused much more damage to our armies, but they seemed to have been instructed to attack Théodred."
Éomer sighed. "What can we do, Éowyn?" He shivered. "Such dedicated hate."
She worked a tangle from his hair gently. "Grimbold cut his way through to try to relieve Théodred, but by the time he got there Théodred had been cut down. He killed the Orc that had struck him, and stayed to defend his body. Elfhelm came and they broke the attack, and then the enemy withdrew. They lifted Théodred up and he lived long enough to say--" She stopped, and put her hand to her mouth to regain her composure.
"What did he say?" Éomer asked, and she could hear that he was on the verge of weeping.
"'Let me lie here, to keep the Fords 'til Éomer comes,'" Éowyn answered, choking on a sob. Éomer muffled a sob against her body, a shudder going through his broad frame. She sniffled, her tears dropping onto his shoulder. "They buried him there, and raised a mound. To--" she choked again, "to defend the Ford."
"Théodred," Éomer groaned. She'd never heard him make a sound of such pain. Not in fever or wound or grief had she ever heard him in such pain. She held him tightly, the tears flowing freely down her face. Even here, she couldn't give voice to her grief, but had to keep silent, her teeth shut tightly behind her closed lips.
She wouldn't be able to mourn either her cousin or her brother publicly, while the Wormtongue remained in power. They deserved laments, poems, tributes. They deserved to be mourned loudly and fully, to be keened. Their loss was not something to endure in silence, and to be forced to burned her.
But here at least there was no one to see her tears, to cast doubt on her loyalty to this dubious regime. She could cry later, but she couldn't sob or wail or mourn. Not even to contemplate the horror of the task that lay before her. Silence had never been her strength, but she was learning it.
After a long time Éomer composed himself and sat up, pushing away from her with the crackle of joints long-abused and poorly rested. He leaned his back against the wall and rubbed his face with his hands. His face was puffy, his eyes swollen, and the front of her overdress was cold with his sudden absence, and damp with his tears. He looked at her and put out his right hand to take one of hers. "Éowyn," he whispered, and had no more words. She held his hand between both of hers and they sat in silence until the guard came in.
"It's nearly sunrise," the guard said apologetically. "You told me to come get you then."
"Yes," she said. She stood up, reluctantly letting go of Éomer's hand. He looked down at the floor and didn't watch her go.
"Goodbye, sister," he said.
She picked up the bowl and the rag and the lantern, and looked back over her shoulder at him as the guard locked the door again. He wasn't looking at her, and had drawn his legs up and clasped his arms around them. He had never looked so small to her.
"Goodbye," she whispered. The door closed behind her and it was dark.
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.