1. Part One
Rain fell hard but the squall did not last, and despite his drowned appearance he was heartily greeted as he neared Edoras. Boromir, Captain of the White City, was known and loved by the sons of Eorl, the farmers and craftsmen and herders. He replied to each hail with a wave, a half-bow from his saddle, and once he performed a sketchy obedience when he passed a lady in her coach, one of the elderly royal cousins whose name escaped him. When she perused him frankly the dignity of her slow nod, grave face, and perfectly straight back made him love her like he loved her countrymen: passionate people wearing their honest hearts uncovered for all to see.
The sun returned in earnest making his cloak steam and the golden roof of Meduseld blaze bright enough to bring tears, and out of the painful light Éomer came down the hill to meet him as he rode up to the hall, his back as straight as his old aunt and his face most particularly loved.
"Hail, son of Gondor," said Éomer as they drew close. Boromir replied, "Westu Éomer hál." Delight in the meeting shone from them both as they clasped arms, their manner joyful even as they made their greetings.
"Who is your fine companion?" asked Éomer. "I confess I expected Mablung at your side."
Boromir made formal introductions. Vorondil was a young clerk from a long line of clerks, but one who had strange romantic notions of a warrior's life. He had prevailed upon his influential relations to urge Boromir's acceptance of him as esquire that he might learn firsthand all he wished of the warrior's life. It was a change of vocation Boromir could appreciate, but he was unhappy with the young man: even after three months Vorondil showed no skill with weapons, horses, or the rigors of life in the field and was, in fact, inept in everything but cooking. Boromir mentioned none of this to Éomer, however. "Faramir stole Mablung away for the patrols in Ithilien," he told Éomer. "Though Mablung wanted to go. His family lived there, before."
"Welcome to the Riddermark, Vorondil," said Éomer, and Vorondil bowed gravely. "No word came of your visit," continued Éomer as their horses walked side by side and Vorondil fell in behind. "If not for the swift ride of the border patrol messenger, no one would have welcomed you properly."
"Must all my visits be official? I came as a friend."
"Would that I could spare time for pleasure," he said, "but I ride out tomorrow for the Westfold." He lowered his voice and continued, "Raiders have grown bold; they now come from the west and steal our black horses since there are so few left to take from the east. On the recommendation of the king's counselors Théodred left three days ago for the far side of the Eastfold, bringing fresh troops, and so I am taking my éored west."
"That is grievous news, though it does not surprise me. The Enemy has grown bolder in all his dealings of late," said Boromir. "My father has foreseen this."
"Perhaps this visit is official after all?" Éomer cast a side-glance at Boromir.
"Is anything we do pure?" Boromir smiled at him. "No. I am here unofficially, yet before I even step into the Hall I learn something valuable to bring back to my Lord about Mordor's raids on your horses." He looked ahead. "I for one never believed the rumors."
"Which rumors? That we sell horses to Mordor?" Éomer's mouth thinned, and then he turned aside and spat. "I have heard them, and I correct those who labor on under the misconception. No matter who he might be."
"I doubt it not," said Boromir, "and it grieves me to give voice to such a vile falsehood. Rohan would never pay tribute to the Enemy: not horses, not a single blade of grass."
Though he seemed mollified by Boromir's reply the perfect delight of their meeting did not return. "Perhaps you should ride with me tomorrow and see for yourself how our nomads fare. There are strange doings in the Westfold, and none of them rumor."
"I would desire nothing better."
"We will speak of it with my éored at the feast tonight," and he spurred his horse to a pace too quick to continue the conversation.
Meduseld was built of wood that creaked and groaned with the falling damp, its walls draped with tapestries that stirred in the breeze of any who passed them; it was a hall that warmly lived and breathed in a way stone could not. The grandeur of his own marble halls in Minas Tirith roused love high and keen in Boromir's breast, but here the delight was closer to his heart; and though the courtesy was no less than what he knew in Gondor the toasts were robust, the appreciation more vocal. Boromir rued the slight constraint between him and Éomer caused by his unthinking mention of that base rumor; still he enjoyed himself with an ease he rarely experienced in his father's court.
Éomer's riders spoke eagerly of a ride to the west, and the spirited talk blunted the edge of Éomer's spoiled mood so he was nearly the usual affectionate companion to Boromir. Orcs had been seen hewing trees or taking horses: vile orcs larger than any encountered before; uruks they were called, and disturbingly indifferent to the sun. "They are orcs, yes, but they are like evil men, too: bold and strong. They hewed Éam when he was down, and bit his throat. We had to strike off their limbs or heads before they would stop their attack," said a young rider. A wide red scar crossed his face that described the slash of a sword neatly healed but obviously recent.
Éomer leaned close and spoke so only Boromir could hear, "Gríma says they are from Mordor, but I think they are from the Misty Mountains, or even closer; they seem to be spawn from an evil union between men and orcs, surely a feat of magic worthy of a wizard."
"You suspect the wizard at Isengard?"
Éomer nodded. "I do, though there is no evidence, and the king will not act without it."
"It seems unlikely," replied Boromir. "Saruman is a wizard, indeed, from a high order that has always been dedicated to fighting the Enemy. He has been a warden of Isengard for many years in that very cause."
"Warden? More like master," Éomer said with less care to surrounding listeners. "Have you seen Isengard? No? It is a fortress ready for war, but war when, and with whom? The enemy? Mordor must come through Gondor and the Mark first. And the white wizard is no friend to the Mark, no matter what the counselors might tell Théoden King."
Boromir began to ask how Saruman had been unfriendly to the Mark, but the heralds trumpeted, and those in the Hall stood to acknowledge Théoden, King of the Mark. Boromir raised his cup to drink the king's health, as did everyone present, and it seemed to him Théoden needed his kingdom entire to drink his health. "Seek out Théoden King," his father had commanded him, "and judge him eye-to-eye. Read him, and report to me if it is true that he has dwindled into dotage so soon." Dotage, perhaps, though Boromir suspected some wasting illness bowed the tall king and whitened his hair. He leaned heavily on a cane with one hand; the other gripped the obliging shoulder of a pale, crooked man as he lowered himself painfully into his chair.
All sat; the conversations built once more, but subdued, sedate. Leaning close Boromir asked, "Who is that helping the king?" Éomer muttered, "His favorite counselor, Gríma: Gríma Wormtongue we call him." He drained his cup and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand, disinclined to speak further, while others at the table resumed their discussion about encounters with orcs, the ways of orcs, and the best methods for killing orcs; the subject enticed Éomer from his gloom and kindled Boromir's interest as well -- he was well-versed in the ways killing orcs, and he valued the insights of mounted warriors and the strategies of a large cavalry. The topic engaged them throughout the feast until Théoden King addressed the hall, a brief speech of welcome for the son of Denethor that scarcely carried beyond the head table.
Boromir stood and bowed. "I thank you, my lord, for your courteous welcome and unequaled hospitality. With your blessing I look forward with joy to patrolling your western lands with Éomer and his éored tomorrow."
Théoden frowned; his blue eyes vacant he turned to Gríma standing at his right hand. "A patrol in the Westfold?"
Gríma uttered soft words close to the king's ear. Théoden nodded, his hands clenched bone-white on the top of his cane.
"My lord does not give permission for such a patrol," said Gríma. "There is no need to waste time and men on the protected west when the enemy harries our eastern borders."
Éomer stood next to Boromir and, ignoring Gríma, addressed his words to Théoden. "The days are darkening, and danger comes from all sides now. We must know what we face, my lord. Let me take my éored and scout the western vales."
"And leave Edoras less than perfectly defended?" asked Gríma. "You would disrespect your king so? No. There will be no patrol."
Boromir saw Éomer's face darken. "I have nothing to say to you, Gríma Wormtongue." Silence struck the hall for a long moment, and Boromir could hear Gríma breathe wetly, his mouth working. "My oath of service is to the king, not his counselors. I take commands only from Théoden King."
A low susurration dashed round the room. Théoden aimed a confused frown at Gríma, and anger sparked a gleam in his eyes. "The king orders deployment of the éoreds," he said. "Not the counselors."
"I beg your pardon, my lord," said Gríma, bowing low. "I speak with too much care for your people, and enthusiasm in your service." He stooped close to Théoden's ear once more, his reptilian gaze on Éomer even as he spoke; and the king listened and nodded his head. Théoden struggled to his feet with Gríma's help. He addressed his nephew directly, his voice querulous, "Ride where you will, Éomer, but hear me. While Théodred meets the true threat to the east, leave your éored here where it belongs, protecting the people of Edoras."
"But my lord --!" cried Éomer, but the king held out his palm, a warding gesture demanding silence, and shuffled slowly out of the room, Gríma at his side. Chairs and benches scraped loudly as people belatedly rose to honor their king's withdrawal, their calls disjointed and uncertain as they hallowed him too late, his retreating back melding quickly with the shadows until he was gone.
Éomer's men protested as soon as they were confident the king and his counselor could not hear. "I will go with you," said one, and the rest followed with avowals of support. Boromir saw Éomer glance round the hall full of courtiers and fellow éored leaders, wealthy landowners and master craftsmen. "My king has spoken, and I obey the commands from my king," said Éomer, and he lifted his cup. "To Théoden King!" Boromir noticed not all joined in the toast, though he could not be sure if they protested Éomer's rashness, or Gríma's.
Éomer settled his men quietly, speaking to them in small groups to thank them for their unwavering loyalty and assure them he had every confidence in the king's actions, but when he retired to his rooms with Boromir for a private conversation he expressed his doubts.
"I feel dirty," he said. He sat on the couch and stared into the glowing hearth, a goblet of red wine in his hand. His cloak he had discarded carelessly on a chair, and he picked at the throat of his formal shirt now. "To have to say the things I said to my éored: near lies they were, and I can hardly wash the taste from my mouth." He took a long draught. "Never has Théoden stumbled so badly. No one has more love for his king, but he fails before my very eyes."
Boromir sat next to him. "He has aged shockingly."
"Aged, aye, and grown far too dependent on his counselors."
"He seems especially reliant on Gríma."
"Wormtongue," said Éomer bitterly. He pulled again at the ties holding his shirt closed but anger and not a little wine made his fingers clumsy, and his frustration became obvious and threatened to tear the fine cloth.
"You do your clothes no favors," said Boromir. He stilled Éomer's hand. "The king gave you permission to ride where you will. I will go with you, with or without your éored." He lifted Éomer's chin with a sure touch and loosened the ties; Éomer sighed and let his head fall to rest on the back of the couch. "We will see the way of things in your land."
"I know the way of things in my land," said Éomer. His eyes closed. "And how could I not when even friends bring evil rumors on their lips?" He raised his hand to halt Boromir's protest, saying, "Stay, friend, stay. Though I bear it ungracefully, still I must know how far the lies have spread." He lowered his hand, and Boromir resumed his task. "I know rumors are merely a symptom of the evil harrying our borders. Théodred knows, Éowyn knows, the éoreds know. But our king? The man who has been a father to me? He remains blind, and I think it is Wormtongue who keeps him in the dark."
"What does Théodred think?" Boromir finished with the last tie and began unbuckling Éomer's leather armor at the shoulder.
"He thinks Gríma is a fool, but he does not suspect him of treachery."
"But you do."
"Théodred is dedicated to the protection of his people, but it is hard to see what goes on in the hall when one is riding endless patrols." The first buckles undone Boromir nudged aside Éomer's arm to unfasten those along his ribs. Éomer's eyes opened lazily. "He will be disappointed to have missed you."
"It will be a merry meeting if he should return from the border before we ride," said Boromir as he slipped free the last buckle, "but I have no burning need to see Théodred just now. Lean forward." Éomer obliged, first setting down his glass. Together they removed his armor, letting the embossed breastplate slide to the floor unheeded, and Boromir urged him to settle back. Éomer said nothing when Boromir pushed the fine white shirt aside until it gaped, baring him from throat to navel, his skin golden in the firelight. The scent of linen, leather, and ale rose from him. Sitting close, Boromir drew closer still.
They had done this before. The last time had been long enough ago for Boromir to curb his ardor and judge the welcome of his advances now, especially after the awkward start of their visit. Restraint was a feat well within his capabilities, though not pleasant -- he had never been abstemious by choice in any of his behaviors -- but it proved to be unnecessary: Éomer welcomed him. Éomer welcomed him, and Boromir indulged his hands and his mouth, feeling oddly gentle.
"We leave ere the sun," Éomer said at last, when gentleness had given way to fervor and both had shed their clothes.
"There is yet time," he retorted.
Boromir dreamed of his brother, Faramir. They walked together along a rustic road furrowed by farm-carts and covered with autumn leaves. Sunlight made colored lanterns of every leaf, as thick above as below, so the road under the leaning trees was a multicolored tunnel, disheveled and serene. A sudden lick of wind disturbed the litter at his feet before him and brushed a gelid fear shuddering in Boromir's limbs. Something waits for us, he said, peering ahead as he loosened his sword.
It is a king's task, not a steward's; let it lie, said Faramir.
What is it?
I cannot tell you, brother, said Faramir, and though his words angered Boromir, Boromir felt the weight of parting come between them. Although we must both take this same road to its very end, each must make his own way. Boromir saw he wore the hard-worked green and brown leathers of Ithilien as he walked on.
Wait! Must you go now?
Faramir returned and clasped him on the shoulder. Think well of me, should I return, he said, and though his hand was warm, his face was gray-tinged with weariness, and Boromir's heart labored, burdened with a leaden grief.
He woke to Éomer's servant, Léofa, shaking his shoulder and saying, "Wake up, m'lord. The horses await. My lord Éomer begs you to make haste."
"Thank you," he muttered thickly, imbued with a lingering sadness from the dream.
"I took the liberty of bringing your clothes here, m'lord," said Léofa. He hesitated. "Should I send for your esquire?"
He realized he was alone in Éomer's bed. "No. Tell him to gather our gear and make ready to ride."
Léofa nodded. "Very good." He gestured to the side table. "There is hot tea and such should you want it. We will break fast for true in the saddle." The young man had served Éomer for years, and, as the occasion arose, Boromir as well; Boromir had come to appreciate his discretion. The dream and its sadness left him as the prospect of the ride and the smell of brewing tea filled him with optimism. He flung back the covers. "Thank you, Léofa."
"My pleasure, m'lord." He bowed and left.
Dressed against the pre-dawn chill and fortified by tea Boromir found Vorondil standing by the open door of Edoras' great stables. "Is it true? The éored does not ride?"
"It is true." Boromir passed him and entered. Vorondil stepped quickly to follow.
"I had heard some talk after the feast." He had not attended; Boromir had set him to arranging suitable quarters knowing full well he would not use them. His tone injured Vorondil continued, "As it was, Léofa cast me from bed in the middle of the night to pack for a five days' journey. I had depended on the pack animals of the éored and the victualing master to deal with food. Had you come to your room, my lord -- had I known -- I would have gathered your things last night before retiring."
"Éomer and I spoke long into the night about today's ride," said Boromir. "Did you manage? Are we set?"
"Yes, of course," Vorondil bobbed his head, "and the excellent grooms have prepared our mounts."
"Thank you, Vorondil," Boromir said and strode quickly to join Éomer standing with several of his men, forcing the conversation to end.
Éomer would not allow his éored to risk the king's wrath, but he did consent to ride with some of his most loyal and stubborn friends. All had encountered the brutal uruk raids or had close kin who had suffered in those raids. Boromir recognized a handful of faces, including the scarred young man from the feast, Elfhelm, and Háma. There was little to say; each rider was a blooded warrior and most had been to the furthest reaches of the Westfold, but before they mounted Éomer said, "We stand here ready to ride, and we know what we must do. 'Where now the horse and the rider?'" The men around him straightened at the natural command in his voice, and Boromir was not immune as Éomer paced in front of them splendid in his embossed armor and gleaming helm. "We ride wherever our enemies threaten our people. We ride to meet them as we always have done, and we ride whether we go in the company of our king and countrymen, or ride alone."
None cheered, but each went to his horse and swung into the saddle eager for the fast pace Éomer set for them, and before long the rising sun shone bright on the golden roof of Meduseld as it sank below the horizon behind them.
They found a body when the red sun made their shadows long. Léofa spied carrion birds descending to the northeast, and Éomer directed them to investigate, galloping to race the blindness of night. The birds lifted in a dark flutter as they approached; it was a young man with thick red braids, his face ruined. "He was a herder," said Éomer, crouching at the dead man's side, "from the east. Look here." He grunted with effort and held up a short black dart wet with blood. Vorondil blanched and turned away.
Boromir bent and examined it. "Orc," he said, "from the Morgal-vale."
"Look at the stains. It killed him slowly." Éomer stood. "Léofa, your eyes are keenest; scout his trail before we lose the sun. See where he came from, and where his mount ran to."
Boromir heard respectful murmurs and an unfamiliar word, eadig, and looked to Éomer, who said, "He wears a talisman of the eadig hleo. His family attends to the most important horses in all the Riddermark: the Mearas. Their home range is along the northernmost border, but they have moved south and east in the past few years."
"A long way to travel with such a wound," Boromir looked to the north, "whichever border he came from."
Léofa returned. "His back trail leads east and north. I could find no sign of horse; he walked."
"A very long way," said Éomer. He put himself apart from the others and faced the setting sun for long moments. Boromir knew he was considering what to do, and he suspected Éomer examined the sky to hide his face from observation as he thought; Boromir did the same with his own men when confronted by a difficult choice. Boromir watched Léofa and the others tend the young herder's body, straightening his braids and clothes, laying him on his cloak. Vorondil stood behind them with his hands clenched and his face sallow.
Éomer turned and said, "Ready him for burial." He took from the body the talisman, a small beaded bag hung on leather around the neck, before they wrapped the body in the cloak and bound it tightly with rope. Three riders cut the turf and dug with their inadequate camp shovels, throwing the dirt wide, quickly making a shallow grave into which the body was tenderly laid. Éomer tamped down the last of the turves over the slight mound, a tiny scar on the rolling plains under the brightening stars.
When all was done, and a cold standing supper had been eaten, Éomer said, "Follow Elfhelm to the Westfold as planned. I will ride east to find what trouble sent one of the eadig on a doomed journey."
"Not alone," said Boromir.
A pale flash was Éomer's smile in the falling dark. "No. Not alone."
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.