The air is calm and still this evening; deceptively peaceful. I can see little pinpricks of light from hearth fires in the city. How many houses will our enemies burn to the ground tonight? Will our soldiers be able to stop them? Or will they fall, pierced and slashed by poisoned weapons?
I am here only because my men and I were relieved by fresh troops; because I had grown so weary and slept so little that I could no longer think clearly. A few days at home, my lord Éomer, will see you fit and fresh again. Erkenbrand would speak the truth, had I but a home to go to. Meduseld is a refuge no longer. I can find no rest here, no joy.
I aided Éowyn in putting my uncle to bed. I can hardly believe how weak and enfeebled he has become - not only in body, but in mind also. 'Wyn told me that Uncle sometimes calls her by our mother's name. It is little wonder she no longer smiles.
I have done little to bring her comfort and cheer tonight, for I argued with Théodred yet again. 'Dred and 'Wyn likely think me cold and unfeeling. But one of us must be practical, objective. They cannot. Their father is dying.
It grows cold out here in the dark. Inside there is a fire, and shelter from the wind and rain, but no real warmth, no real safety. I should count myself fortunate: there are many now who have nothing at all.
There are strange noises coming from the hall where we dine. I go to the doorway and look inside.
Théodred and Éowyn are standing by the table, locked in an embrace. Tears stream down Théodred's grizzled cheeks. I do not think I have ever seen him cry...save perhaps at Mother's funeral. He holds his arm out to me.
These tears - my tears - have ambushed me! I go to them: my big brother, my little sister. 'Dred smells of ale and leather; 'Wyn smells of grass and open spaces. There is a smell to sickness and decay; it permeated our house when Mother fell ill, and here it hangs in every room. This will make three parents I have lost, three graves for me to mourn by.
Finally we run out of tears. I have my head on Théodred's shoulder. It seems as though he has grown smaller of late. He is weaving a little on his feet, and his breath stinks of beer.
" Éowyn, put Théodred to bed."
" No." Théodred moves from under me, his face flushing red. " No, that will not be necessary..." He holds onto the table. " I can make my own way..."
He pitches to one side, and I go to catch him, but Éowyn reaches him first.
" Come, 'Dred."
He puts his arm around her shoulders.
" I am sorry, 'Wyn."
" Think no more on it."
'Wyn looks after 'Dred, and I go in the other direction, to look upon my uncle as he sleeps. He lies always on the left side of the bed. Théodred told me that is because my aunt Elfhild would always lie on the right. I remember the first night Éowyn and I spent here. I could not sleep and 'Wyn was crying for Mother, so Uncle let us sleep in his bed with him. He sang Éowyn to sleep and held me when at last I began to cry, cursing Father for leaving us that fateful day, railing against Mother for not fighting harder to stay alive. How wary I was, when first we came here; I had supposed he would be stern, unused to children. Instead he treated us as if we were his own, offering comfort when we were ill, smiling at our games, occasionally joining us in our play.
And now he lies here, wasting away before me.
Father died on his feet, a sword in his hand, his eyes wide open. Mother faded quickly over a handful of dark, terrible days. Uncle is lingering, edging little by little towards the abyss. There are no good ways to die.
Meanwhile Rohan ails with Uncle, besieged by enemies, and I cannot fight them as I will without royal permission.
I could take the vacant pillow - I do not think he would struggle...he lacks even the strength to snore. Théodred would ascend the throne, and we could grieve for him properly, for it would be done, at least...there would be no more waiting, no more anxiety...
Madness! Kill my uncle?! May the Valar forgive me for thinking such a thing!
But who does it benefit to have him lying there, like that?
A shadow flits across the doorway and slithers down the passage.
The corridor is poorly lit, and he has all but vanished in the flickering torchlight. Éowyn stands some yards away from me. She is tense, angry. Gríma's pale face flashes in the gloom. Can he not leave her alone? Curse the day he crawled into our lives! One day he will tire of 'Wyn's rebuffs, leave off his attempts to woo her with words, and instead try to take her by force. And when that day comes, I will not be here; I will be helpless to stop it.
Éowyn flees suddenly. What has he said to her?! My feet carry me swiftly to where she stood. Uncle's 'esteemed councillor' stands by the wall, eyes directed at the ground. Would that I could slit his throat from ear to ear. He glances up at me fearfully. You, sir, are not nearly frightened enough. Be thankful that I have no time to waste on you.
Éowyn is out on the balcony. She leans on the rail, looking down. Fear clutches at my heart.
She turns when I touch her shoulder, and takes my hand. She is so pale, and her cheek is cold when I caress it. Is she trembling out of fear or cold? I am her brother; I should comfort her, offer her warmth and safety, speak words of hope.
It is a good beginning, but I can think of nothing to follow...
Is that a star?
Éowyn draws closer, and lays her head against my shoulder. My eyes do not deceive me - one star has come out from behind the clouds.
" It will be all right," Éowyn murmurs.
I remember the first winter solstice we spent here. I lamented that Mother and Father were no longer alive to celebrate with us. Uncle told me, " We have each other."
At least, in these troubled times, we still have each other.
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.