1. Bud, Bloom, Wither, Rot
Disclaimer: These characters and lands belong to Tolkien. Hail Tolkien, king!
Summary: All children grow up; all parents grow old. In Meduseld things are no different. Written for the “Confessions to the Sleepless Night” challenge at HASA.
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Note: Italics denote thoughts.
Théoden shifted restlessly under the blankets and squeezed his eyes shut. He had tossed and turned in such a manner for a number of hours. A strange melancholy had taken hold of him that morning, and though it had abated somewhat during the day, it had now returned in greater force. He heaved a great sigh and rose from his bed. Sleep was determined to elude him this night. Wrapping his cloak around himself as protection against the cold night air, Théoden left his chamber and made his way to his son’s room.
Théodred lay sprawled upon his bed, the blankets thrown carelessly across his body. All who knew him agreed that he was growing into his father, though Théoden saw much of Elfhild in him, in his eyes, his mouth, his nose before he had broken it in a fall. He stood six feet and some inches tall, broad of chest, with golden hair down to his shoulders. And of late, glinting in the moonlight, the cause of Théoden’s melancholy – some coarse, yellow hairs on his chin.
Théoden’s chest grew tight and his eyes became hot. So much of Théodred’s life was over. He was a child no more; a skilled rider and talented swordsman, he would soon take his place among the men of Rohan, and be gone from home for weeks and months, securing Rohan’s borders, keeping his subjects safe. Théoden had known this time would come, but he had not known it would come so soon.
Where is the baby I held in my arms? Where is the little boy who would wake me before dawn? How can you be sixteen years old – was it not just yesterday that you were very small?
He turned away and moved closer to the door, for fear he would lose his battle against the tears filling his eyes; he would not have Théodred wake and witness this foolishness. But after a few moments he managed to swallow the lump in his throat, and the tears did not flow after all.
Théodred shifted and Théoden turned his head sharply, afraid he had disturbed him. But his son merely rolled onto his back and began to snore. Théoden smiled as a memory arose, unbidden, of Elfhild, the morning after their wedding night, teasing him about his snoring. How happy they had been, upon learning that they would soon be parents; he had never imagined that he would be left to raise his son alone.
“ I have done my best,” he whispered aloud, and in his heart he knew it was true. He praised Théodred when he earned it, cuffed him when his behaviour warranted it, taught him all that he needed to know. And here was his reward: a fine young man, a son of whom he was most proud.
Théoden looked again at Théodred’s wispy beard, and no longer felt saddened by the passage of time. He left his son in peace, and returned to his own chamber.
Tomorrow he would teach ’Dred how to shave.
Théodred sat in his father’s chamber and watched as his chest rose and fell in peaceful slumber. Théodred had sat there since he helped Éowyn put Théoden to bed. Éomer was abroad, patrolling Rohan’s borders at the head of his men. Théodred envied him.
The moonlight glinted on Théoden’s silver hair. His hands lay over the blanket, their dark veins standing out on his pale skin. He had grown so thin, so light – when Théodred had lifted him, his bones felt fragile as dry twigs. Gone was the golden-haired giant of Théodred’s childhood. Gone was the man who, with one hand, could fling him high in the air and catch him. Gone was the man who could still best him at wrestling and swordplay, even at the age of fifty. Théodred turned away, unable to look any longer.
He knew that all men must grow old – had he not found a grey hair of his own, just that morning? But Théoden’s mind had deteriorated with his body. There were times when Théodred looked in his father’s cloudy eyes and saw no recognition in them – his father, his hero, knew him not. At other times Théoden confused one person with another. He had once called Éowyn by her mother’s name. Théodred heard his youngest cousin crying sometimes, late at night, and he felt so guilty, for he and Éomer could leave when they chose, citing their duties as the reason. They could stay away for weeks if they desired. Éowyn was trapped here, having to face every day something that made him wish he could stay away from home forever.
Théodred looked again upon his father, and found himself overwhelmed by memories of happier days: Théoden picking him up and kissing him when he fell down; Théoden tickling him until he was breathless; the two of them going swimming every morning, even in winter; grooming their horses together in the stables, side by side.
Théoden’s breath was thin and ragged, a handful of withered leaves rustling in the wind. Better if he were dead, Théodred thought, and then hot tears streamed unchecked down his cheeks.
“ Father, where are you?” he uttered hoarsely in the darkness. “Who has left this changeling in your place?”
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.