61. The Funeral of Théoden Ednew XVII. of Rohan
During the night clouds had blown up against the Ered Nimrais. Now the white peaks of the mountains were hidden completely. The clouds hung dark and low, heavy with rain. Accordingly, the morning of the tenth of August 3019 dawned pale, with a soft drizzle of rain. Above the river Snowbourn white mists were floating.
The bright banners and colourful garlands that had adorned Edoras and the Hall of Meduseld during the last three days had disappeared. The town and the surrounding countryside lay eerily silent and sombre in the cool light of early morning.
I was woken way before dawn to get ready for the funeral. In Rohan there was no tradition of wearing black to funerals, but women wore their hair braided and covered with scarves for the occasion. Éowyn took the time to braid my hair in the severe style of Rohirric women, creating a helm of braids coming together at the nape of my neck. My face looked long and bony that way, but Éowyn and Míri liked it. Since it was the proper way of wearing it for the funeral, I offered no further resistance.
Now I stood with Míri and Imrahil in a corner of the terrace in front of the palace, waiting for the ceremony to begin. A chilly breeze was blowing down from the mountains and tugged at my hair. I shivered. After the sunny weeks in Minas Tirith, I was not used to the cold winds of the mountains and the plains of Rohan anymore.
And what a bleak morning this was!
Granted that the weather was very fitting for a funeral, but this dreary atmosphere did nothing to dispel my apprehension about the politics concerning Éomer's coronation. Would the lords Grimsir and Eutharich turn the coronation and acclamation into a test of strength for the young king-to-be? Or would the presence of the King of Gondor dissuade them from their power plays?
Éowyn had explained the Rohirric laws of succession to me. The line of kings had been broken with Théoden's death. Éomer was the lord with the closest ties to the royal blood line. He had also been made heir to the throne by Théoden himself, according to the laws and customs of the Rohirrim. Consequently, there should be no problem with Éomer ascending the throne--especially since no one had challenged his authority as a regent up until now, for almost five months.
But the other five lords could trace their ancestry back to some king or other as well. Lord Grimsir, for example, was a descendant of King Gram the Grim. Therefore, until Éomer was crowned, the lords of the five provinces were his equals according to the laws and customs of Rohan: They would be carrying the bier together, and later at the wake, they would be sitting at one table. We would have to wait and see if they were content with that.
Of course, there had been no time to explain all the intricacies of the Rohirric laws and the snares of the current politics to me. I discovered that knowing a little is worse than knowing nothing. I was terribly worried--and that I did not even know exactly what I should be scared of did not improve my mood at all.
It was possible that either Grimsir or Eutharich would claim that Théoden had not been sane after suffering from Saruman's spells and being brought back to his senses only by the spells and the power of another wizard. In that case, Éomer's position as Théoden's heir could be challenged. It was not likely, but it was possible. There was also the possibility that one of them might demand trial by ordeal to have the Gods confirm the new line on the throne of Rohan. There was also the possibility that nothing would happen at all.
Is it a wonder that I was worried that morning?
I shivered again. We had been standing here for half an hour now. The noble lords and ladies of Gondor and Rohan, as well as the lords and ladies of the Elves of Imladris and Lórien, gathered on the terrace in front of the Hall of Meduseld, were waiting patiently for the pallbearers to bring out the golden bier with the casket that held the dead king of Rohan.
"Are you cold, or are you worried?" Míri asked me in a low voice.
I tried to smile, and failed miserably. "Both," I whispered back.
Imrahil gave me a reassuring smile. "I don't think there will be any trouble, Lothíriel. Théoden died a hero, and Éomer fought in the greatest battle of our times. He also renewed a powerful alliance for his realm. I don't think they will be short-sighted enough to dispute his claim on the throne of Rohan."
I nodded gratefully, trying to get that small voice out of my mind that kept nagging me with a most annoying mantra: shit happens, shit happens, shit...
This time no drums or bells heralded the approach of the pallbearers. Without warning, the doors of the Golden Hall were thrust open. Six men emerged with slow, measured steps. On their shoulders they carried the black and golden casket on a gilded bier.
Éomer walked at the front, to the right-hand side of the coffin. His left-hand companion was a tall, thin man with black hair streaked liberally with silver, and grey, cold eyes under very pencil-thin, slanted eyebrows. His beard, trimmed into a spiky goatee, accentuated the sharp, stern lines of his face. His nose was bony and hooked. Lord Grimsir.
Just a man. He was just a man. Probably he had nothing to do with his brother's treason or the devilries of Saruman. I exhaled slowly. He was just a man, a man of power and politics. Just a man. Nothing more.
What the hell had I expected? Horns at his head and just one foot, with the other the cleft hoof of a goat? A pitchfork in his hand? The smell of sulphur wafting from him?
Stop being an idiot, Lothíriel...
Behind Éomer and Grimsir followed the friendly and familiar faces of Erkenbrand and Elfhelm. At the rear, one grey head, the other with strawberry-blonde, the Lords Berig and Eutharich marched, but their faces were hidden from my view.
Behind the coffin followed Merry, dressed as a squire of Rohan. He was carrying the dead king's weapons and his shield. The usually cheerful hobbit looked serious and sombre. He had loved the old king almost like a son loves a father and he missed Théoden sorely.
After Merry came Éowyn, dressed as a shield-maiden in full Rohirric armour. She was pale and looked tired, and her keen grey eyes were filled with sadness at this final farewell.
Next came the company of the White Riders, the captains of the armies of Rohan on their proud steeds, followed by the King of Gondor and his Queen, both dressed in solemn dark grey silk. With them were Lord Elrond, Lady Galadriel and Lord Celeborn. Behind them, the rest of the Rohirric and Gondorian nobility joined the funeral escort, their heads bowed, their strides measured.
I walked with Míri and Imrahil. The footsteps of boots and slippers on the cobbled stone of the street, and now and again the soft sounds of women weeping were the only sounds that could be heard in all of Edoras.
Silently, the funeral escort wound its way through Edoras, following Théoden King as he was carried to his last resting place. Every citizen of Edoras, every man and every woman within its walls, and quite a number of families from further abroad, stood watching at the sides of the streets. Once we had passed them by, they fell into step behind us to follow their beloved king for one last time, the women with red-rimmed eyes, the men were grimfaced with grief. And the children stared wide-eyed, confused with no comprehension of what this solemn procession meant.
We passed the gates and left Edoras behind us. Just beyond the city-gates lies the Barrowfield, green grave mounds rising up on either side of the road. On the left side the first line of kings, on the right the second line of kings. With the passing of Théoden, it had come to an end now, too.
We walked to the very end of the Barrowfield, passing by seven green hills east of the road. When we reached the eighth mound, we halted. This grave was still open and empty.
But not for long now.
We waited until the escort of Elvish and mortal nobility spread out around the new mound, forming a silent half-circle and facing the dark opening of the tomb, and until the crowd had assembled at a respectful distance. Many were weeping openly, and not just women; quite a few proud warriors of the Rohirrim shed tears of their own for the brave and beloved king, who would be buried here today.
Then it was time. Éomer and the lords of the five provinces walked slowly to the new grave mound and placed bier and casket inside. Afterwards they went to stand in a line before the tomb and bowed deeply, their last tribute to the dead king. Until Éomer was crowned and acclaimed, the five lords were his equal. So they stood in one line, shoulder to shoulder. But Éowyn waited beside them, just a few feet away, her golden hair braided down her back and covered with a white scarf.
Next, Merry went to the grave, a small, stout figure with wind-tousled curls and solemn eyes, clad in the green tunic and the golden-brown leather armour of a squire of Rohan. The weight of Théoden King's weapons and shield that he carried in his arms slowed his steps. But the Hobbit never stumbled or faltered; he marched to the grave and carefully arranged the shield and the weapons on top of the coffin. Once he had accomplished his task, he walked to Éowyn's side. Together they stood, shield-maiden and squire of Rohan, sharing their grief in silence and without tears.
This was the signal for the White Riders, the finest warriors of the Rohirrim, to do their duty unto their dead king. They dismounted and strode to the grave. Along with a heap of grassy turves, stones had been set aside for the sealing of the grave. One after the other, the Riders took a stone and placed it into the dark opening of the grave. One after the other, the Riders carried a turf to the new wall, pressing it over the stones thus sealing the grave.
When they were finished, the eighth mound looked almost like the other seven graves in the eastern row, a small sombre hill covered with green grass. The only difference was that the white blossoms of evermind that flowered on the other graves with their star like blooms did not adorn this new mound yet.
The Riders bowed to the grave, their last service to their liege-lord completed.
Now Théoden King would be lamented in a song composed by his minstrel and sung by his White Riders.
For this purpose, the Riders mounted their horses and rode in slow circles around the barrow. The coat of their horses appeared misty and white in the twilight of this rainy day. Only now and then a hint of sunlight made shields and helmets of the Riders sparkle.
They circled the grave in a complicated formation of intertwining rows going in opposite directions at the same time.
Traditionally, the horses of the Éothéod share the lives of their riders as well as their deaths. The impact of this lament of horse and rider owed as much to the graceful round dance of the Mearas as to the deep, dark voices of their riders.
To the rhythm of the hooves beating against the grassy plain, their voices rose in the last song Théoden's minstrel Gléowine would ever compose.
It was a tale of the kings of Rohan, of course, recalling their deeds from Eorl the Young to Théoden Ednew; a slow, flowing lament of many years, and many kings, and many great deeds lost in time and memory.
As they completed circle upon circle and verse upon verse, silver-grey sheets of rain swept across the plains of Rohan. The mists above Snowbourn river danced and writhed.
Finally the next to last circuit around the barrow was heralded by the wailing sound of bagpipes.
As the riders reached the front of the barrow for the last verse, the bagpipes stilled. Deep and clear, the horn of Helm rang out across the plains.
As the notes died away, the clouds parted for the first time that day. The setting sun was already drenching the western sky in golds and reds. But above the Barrowfield, the air was still humid with the day's rains. Above the grave of Théoden, the sunbeams stood out sharply against the darker sky to the east. The golden rays appeared almost tangible as they hit the green turves that now covered the seventeenth king of Rohan in his eternal slumber. And at the edges of these unexpected rays of sunshine, the air sparkled in the prismatic colours of many rainbows.
The Riders rode on to finish their song.
"Out of doubt, out of dark, to the day's rising
he rode singing in the sun, sword unsheathing.
Hope he rekindled, and in hope ended;
over death, over dread, over doom lifted
out of loss, out of life, unto long glory."
As one, the Riders halted their mounts and bowed low from their saddles one last time.
The sun seemed to brighten. Myriads of droplets clinging to the grass above Théoden's grave sparkled like diamonds scattered across the ground by an invisible holy hand.
Was this a sign from beyond? Was this meant to tell us that Théoden had arrived in the hallowed halls of his forebears unto long glory and eternal peace?
I don't know. But I sure hope so.
When the song of the Riders was finished at last, we turned away from the Barrowfield and walked back to Edoras in silence. At the Hall of Meduseld a great feast had been prepared for the wake of the late king. Now there would be no more tears and no more weeping, but instead many songs and many toasts remembering Théoden's deeds--for he had lived to long years and ended his life in honour no less than the greatest of his sires.
For the wake I sat with Míri and Imrahil. I could watch Éomer only from the distance.
He shared a table with the lords of the five provinces and Éowyn. Merry served them as his squire. Throughout the meal, I was preoccupied. The coronation would follow the naming of the kings after the wake. Worried anticipation kept me from even noticing what was served at the feast. But it must have been a good meal, all the same; even the Hobbits were replete afterwards, and quite content.
At long last the dinner was over and the last plate removed by the servants. Expectant silence filled the Golden Hall. Now the litany of kings would be sung.
Éowyn approached her brother, bearing a great golden goblet filled with mead and placed it on the table before him. After the litany Éomer would raise this goblet to the memory of the seventeen kings of Rohan, and every man and woman in the hall would drink to them.
Only when the past kings had been thus suitably honoured, Éomer would be made king.
He would swear the blood-oath of kingship, receive the crown of Rohan, and be acclaimed as king by all lords of the Rohirrim.
My heart was racing and my stomach felt queasy, as I watched a minstrel walk to the centre of the hall. I frowned. Wasn't that the same minstrel who had sung at the Field of Cormallen?
Yes, indeed, he must be--I was sure that I recognized the shaggy grey mane of hair tumbling down across his shoulders, the blind eyes covered with a stained linen cloth, and the mutilated hand. He was one of the travelling bards that roamed the roads of Middle-earth, offering their services to the kings and lords of the lands they passed through. It was unusual for a stranger to be asked to sing the litany of the kings, but remembering this singer's voice from Cormallen I knew why Éomer had asked him to sing tonight.
The blind bard stood tall and proud, holding his simple, ancient harp firmly in his left hand. The lines on his face deepened. For a moment I wondered if the wound on his palm still pained the old man. But then his voice rose to sing of the kings of Rohan, and I forgot everything else.
He sang in the Rohirric language as if he had been born to it. The style of the song was that of a ballad, held in melancholy minor chords with a deceptively simple melody. I did not understand what he was singing, of course, but it was beautiful. As his song filled the hall, the rugged faces of the assembled warriors grew still and full of awe. The music seemed to belong here, almost as if someone had kept singing the melody in the corners of the hall all the time, and I just had not noticed it before.
It was the song of the kingdom of Rohan and all its kings from the first to the last. The melody captured the essence of what it means to belong to the Rohirrim and to the Éothéod in its melancholy strain. But just how the song achieved this, I cannot tell, as I am no musician and at that time did not even understand the words of the song.
But this is--translated from the Rohirric at the cost of much rhyme and beauty--what the bard sang that night:
"Hear now the names of the kings
as of old the minstrel sings:
King of Kings and first was he,
Eorl the Young of mighty bravery.
Second was Brego, who built Meduseld,
not by a sword but by grief he was felled.
The third king crowned was Aldor the Old.
He brought peace to Rohan seventy-five years all told.
Fréa, the fourth king, too, was old,
and gladly had no need to be bold.
Frëawine was the fifth in line,
on his rule the sun of peace did shine.
The sixth king was Goldwine, the Fair,
he ruled for nineteen years with never a care.
Déor was the seventh king,
Dunlendings during his reign war did bring.
The eighth king was Gram, who was also called Grim,
who fought all our foes until his eyes did grow dim.
Ninth was King Helm of the Hammerhand,
who through invasion and winter defended our land.
With the tenth king, Fréalaf Hildeson,
the second line of Rohan begun.
Brytta Léofa was beloved by all, the eleventh king was brave and tall,
and at his hands many orcs did fall.
Twelfth king was Walda for only nine years,
slain by orcs he is remembered with tears.
Folca, the hunter, the thirteenth king
died of a wild boar's deadly sting.
Folcwine, the fourteenth, his own sons did send,
the allied realm of Gondor to defend.
Fengel, the fifteenth's rule was strict,
no year went by without conflict.
Thengel bore the sixteenth crown.
He was a good and wise king of high renown.
Théoden was the seventeenth king, and was known as Ednew.
Neither danger nor sacrifice did he ever eschew."
The bard fell silent and slowly drifted back into the shadows of the hall.
Éomer rose from his seat and raised his goblet. His hand was steady, his eyes calm.
"Hail the Kings of Rohan!" he cried in his clear, dark voice.
The assembled lords followed suit, rising from their seats and lifting their cups.
"Hail the Kings of Rohan!" they echoed Éomer's toast.
Thus they drank to the memory of the seventeen kings of Rohan.
A/N: The first song of this chapter is by Tolkien, the second is due to my own humble efforts at naming the kings of Rohan.
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.