4. Ghosts of the Past
The dark counsellor of the late King Théoden took the last step that separated him from his prisoner and looked at the puddle next to Éomer.
"What a shame. You should not have disposed of the potion I made quite so quickly. After all, it is the only thing that will keep you alive while you are my... guest." Éomer's eyes became narrow slits, sparkling with heartfelt contempt. Wormtongue's gaze crept back to him. "You know Uruks: they do not keep their weapons clean. Sometimes, so I have been told, they even like to smear their arrows and crossbow bolts with dirt or dung, so that even if the wounds they inflict on their enemies are not fatal in the first place, they will begin to fester almost instantly." With his chin, he pointed at the black shaft protruding from the king's shoulder and grimaced. "It is an ugly death. Messy."
"You are supposed to be dead! Word was that you were slain by Halflings." Even though Éomer was furious over the appearance of his nemesis of old, confusion still ruled him. How could it be? Had he himself somehow brought the slithering servant of Saruman back from his dreams? Was he looking at a ghost? It was something that his practical mind refused to believe, but then again, an army of ghosts had saved them on the Pelennor. Who was he to question the possibility?
His profound consternation brought a thin-lipped smile to Gríma's face.
"Ah, I'm afraid those were but a few well-placed rumours. You find someone with a certain resemblance to yourself, you convince him to follow you... you kill him, put your old clothes and a few tokens people will recognise on him, and make sure he is found. All it takes then to make your own death a certainty to others are a few whispers into the right ears. Men are so easily brought to believe what they want to be true. And of course, the people of Rohan wanted to believe I was dead."
"And dead you will be, once and for all, once the people of Rohan are through with you," Éomer fumed and struggled to sit up. Why couldn't he feel his arms? "Only your death will be much harder now than if you had received it from the Halflings." As he struggled, Éomer realised that his arms were above him, chained to an iron ring driven into the rock. Numb. Useless. Gríma sighed.
"I do not believe, my lord, that you are in a position to promise me any such thing." Turning his back on his captive, Gríma motioned for one of the figures further back to bring him a chair from one of the tents. With a start, Éomer realised where he was, and his eyes widened. Had Wormtongue's army of monsters killed the unarmed herdsmen? Hissing, he forced himself into a sitting position, even if the hammering pain in his head and torso worsened as a result of the movement. He had hardly settled back into a resting position when his foes' attention was directed back at him.
"Quite the contrary: for the time being, my king, I fear that you are indeed at my mercy. I could have let my army kill you on the battlefield, but I have some further use for you yet. I would not want to deprive you of the privilege of experiencing a lesson the people of Rohan have had coming for a long time." Gríma paused, an amused, yet distant smile on his face as he lost himself in his vision for a moment. Éomer narrowed his eyes.
"It was so easy to catch you." The pale blue eyes with their differently formed pupils returned to him. "Far too easy. A shame in fact, considering how much your kind prides yourself of your strength and wits. I knew exactly what it took to draw you out of Meduseld." Another meaningful break. Gríma leaned forward, taking on the challenge of his captive's hateful stare. "You think that by keeping the kingdom shut to strangers, to anyone different than you, you will remain a mystery to them. You think no one who is not of Rohirric heritage can figure out the ways your arrogant, racist, self-loving minds work, but you are wrong. It is painfully obvious to any creature with a brain that there is nothing better than attacking your beloved animal friends, your horses, which you deem of higher worth than actual Rohan-born folk who do not match the conception of what a decent man of the Mark should look like, to have you come looking for them, fuming for revenge."
"Your words are poisonous as ever, snake, and they are false! The people of the Mark know evil when they see it, and our contempt for you was well-earned from the start! Out of self-pity over being unable to acquire what you craved, you joined forces with the White Wizard to avenge yourself. Éowyn would not look at you because she could see the evil in your heart, not because of your dark hair! Because she rejected you, you decided to betray your own people to the death. I truly cannot think of a better definition of evil!"
Unfazed by the king's outburst, Wormtongue continued, his eyes trailing off to the other side now with a malicious expression. When Éomer followed his gaze, he saw a large group of Uruk-hai, back-lit by the crackling fire and burying their faces in large pieces of meat one of the captains in their midst handed out. It was too dark to see their blood-dripping features in more detail, but the mere thought of what they were feasting on sent an icy shudder through the Rohir's spine. As if it had felt his glance, one of the creatures started towards them with a big, steaming spit in its hand. Gríma watched its approach and then directed his attention back at his prisoner.
"Is that so? Are evil deeds not evil deeds if the noble Rohirrim commit them? We should ask the people of Dunland what they think of this question. What had they done to you to be driven from their lands into the hills where life is almost too harsh to be sustained? Where innocent women and children die of hunger? You drove them away, and those who refused to go willingly were killed. Does this injustice not give them the moral right to hate and pursue you where they find you? How about that as a true definition of evil?"
"I will not discuss the Dunlendings with you, snake," Éomer sneered. "We both know what they did to make us turn on them in the first place."
"I assume it all lies in the eyes of the beholder. Anyway, I was talking about the predictability of the smart, cunning Rohirrim: All I had to do in order to draw you out was attack your precious mearas-herd and make it look as if predators did it. Even though we slew so many of them in just one night that your conclusion should have been this was more than an ordinary wolf pack's work, you were still arrogant enough to come here with only twenty men. I must say I am disappointed. I counted on you to bring at least fifty." He exhaled. "You would still have lost, but... as I was saying, it underlines the point I was making about your supposedly sharp-witted people: You greatly over-estimate your abilities. Your arrogance has no match in Middle Earth, except maybe for the Elves. To your foes, it is a very valuable character-trait."
"You shall find that we 'supposedly sharp-witted people' will not tolerate the likes of you and your foul company in our land, snake! And if you underestimate our abilities, then all the better for us!" The Uruk had reached them, and Éomer watched in disgust as the Half-Orc passed the spit to its master. The pleasant smell of roasted meat was carried to him by the light breeze, but all it did to him was turn his stomach, as it was an easy guess where the meat had most likely come from.
Gríma had already taken the first bite and was obviously delighted by his captive's disdain. Leaning forward on his elbows, he held out the spit within Éomer's reach.
"You must be hungry. Would you like some?"
The answer was an amazing stream of ancient Rohirric curses not even Gríma had been familiar with so far. To drive his point home, Éomer then spat on the meat he was offered.
"I suppose this means 'no', then." Wormtongue would have raised his eyebrows if he had any. Calmly, he peeled the spat-on chunk off and dropped it, then continued eating. "Another point to my theory. Supplies are scarce in your land, people are dying from hunger, yet you refuse to reap the wealth of food in front of your eyes. Pity. It tastes delicious, and you will need to eat in order to get through the next days. You will need your strength... what is left of it." Then his face lit as if a great idea had suddenly entered his mind. "Gods, what am I saying, of course we have not only horse-meat!" He furrowed his brow and held Éomer's gaze. "Although I suppose you would like the other one even less... and the Uruk-hai would be very upset if I took it from their part of the prey. Uruks are not very fond of horse-meat, you know? They prefer a different taste."
It took a moment for the terrible meaning of Gríma's words to sink in. A moment when it became terribly clear to Éomer that he was the only one of his éored left alive. And a moment to envision what his foe's grim company was doing to his fallen men as they spoke. There were no words for the horror and rage he felt. Enough rage to scream into the pale face in front of him and kick out with his chained feet, knocking the very alive ghost from the chair; enough even to force Éomer to his feet and shove the agony his body erupted with into the background of his mind while he struggled with the chains, fighting to reach his tormentor who crept backwards on hands and knees out of his reach, then got up.
"I'll kill you, orc-scum! I'll lay you open and feed your intestines to the pigs, I swear it!" Another mighty tug, but the chains held, and not even rage was able to hold him on his feet any longer. His weak right knee giving way, Éomer tumbled to the ground.
Gríma was well aware of the fact that a few of his Uruk-hai had followed the quarrel from close-by, and now he motioned two of them to step up to him.
"Get him up!" Hissing another curse in the direction of his foe, the king was pulled to his feet and smacked against the rock with brutal force. "Hold his arms!" Wormtongue stepped closer, his expression turned from mocked amusement to deadly coldness as he brought his face close to Éomer's, his voice toned down to a deadly whisper which was hard to hear over the loud breathing of his two guards.
"You are a wonderful example of the arrogant, proud and stubborn people of this land. You embody all virtues the Rohirrim look up to, and despise others for not having. You shall be an excellent object to teach them a valuable lesson before they'll expire."
"They won't listen to a filthy worm!"
" Oh, but they won't have to listen. They will only have to look at you, and then they will see that - once denied your privileges and stripped of your shiny armour and the pomp of the Royal Court - you are no different from them: a simple, weak, over-estimated, under-smart... peasant! The free people will thank us for removing the population of Rohan from the face of Middle Earth!"
With a sudden vicious thrust, Éomer's brow connected with Gríma's lower jaw, splitting the counsellor's lip and breaking off the two lower front teeth. For a moment, the pain brought tears to Gríma's eyes as he stumbled backwards. The fingers he carefully touched his mouth with came away bloodied, and looking up, he glimpsed a triumphant sparkle in the king's eyes, even though his own head-wound bled anew and the Uruk-hai were almost breaking his arms as they pulled him back against the rock.
"You are bleeding, snake!"
It was but a step that separated them, and Éomer's mocking remark was enough for Gríma to forget his own order as he seized the black shaft of the crossbow and forced it further in with the full weight of his body, finally succeeding in drawing the first satisfying scream from his opponent. With a violent jerk to the side, he slowly turned the bolt and saw all signs of mockery or triumph gone and replaced by a familiar and welcome glaze in the dark eyes in front of him. Despite the experience he had just had, Wormtongue brought his face close again to whisper into his half-conscious prisoner's ear.
"Your people shall pay dearly for your stubbornness, Éomer-king. The lesson I will teach them will be one they shall never forget for as long as they live... even if I do not expect them to last the winter." He retreated. "Release him!"
Darkness claimed Éomer before he hit the ground.
Elana was on her way back to the valley, yet she made only slow progress. The way to Edoras had been blocked so thoroughly that passing the fallen rocks with a horse had seemed utterly impossible to her. She needed to think. There was more at play here than first met the eye. Sure, rocks tumbled down from the mountains occasionally, but exactly at the narrowest point of the canyon with a precision that left no gap open to use, and only after the king and his éored had passed it in the afternoon to be now trapped along with everybody else? In her heart the young woman felt a deep-seated fear that there was more to the happenings of the last days than the eye could see, a dread that her clan had been used in an elaborate scheme to - kill Éomer?
Shocked by the thought, a little gasp escaped her mouth, and involuntarily her hands pulled on the reins and forced Áriel to stop. Her widening eyes directed at the dark path before her, it finally all came together in her mind. They were not dealing with animals at all! There had to be humans involved in this - after all, they had heard the sound of sword-fighting! Swords on armour, that was what the noise had been! Their precious mearas-herd had been used as bait to lure their king into a trap - and her task had been to place his head in the sling! 'Béma, no!' It was an awful thought.
Elana had been fond of King Théoden's nephew ever since the ceremony four years back. Éomer's first war-horse had been injured in a battle and was returned to their herd after having been healed to enjoy his last years. Thus, the young warrior had been in need of a new steed, and while Elana had been too intimidated by his stern and distant stance to approach him- all the more since he was standing amidst an entire group of new recruits and seasoned warriors, captains and marshals who all needed new horses - he had somehow spotted her in the middle of her kin, maybe because she had been the youngest one accompanying them on that day, or maybe he had felt her stare. Either way, they had made eye contact, and even though she had instantly lowered her head, there had been an intense heat flushing her face as if he had caught her doing something she wasn't supposed to do.
When she had finally dared to lift her eyes again and look out from under her eyebrows apprehensively, she had found to her surprise that his gaze was still on her, but some of the rigidity and harshness in his bearing seemed to have melted away, and he had smiled. Only the hint of a smile, in fact, so distant and with a faraway quality to it that it led her to believe it had not been her he had seen in the first place.
The Gods knew what he had seen in her ragged, thin appearance. Sure, they had all dressed up for the event according to their tradition, but then again, her people were not known for their fancy dresses. All she had done was wash her hair and slip into her likewise freshly washed wool tunic, the white one with the embroidered horse silhouettes on it, nothing special. It had been windy that day, because her long golden hair had pestered her, blowing into her face and her eyes and her mouth no matter how often she attempted to smooth it back behind her ears. Éomer, obviously, had been amused by it, for he had given her another funny look before he had followed the others into the valley to where the horses where.
Their eyes had met again after Firefoot had chosen him as his future rider, and this time, she had not averted her eyes. On contrary, they had sparkled with pride as Éomer approached with the grey stallion, accompanied by her grandfather. The two men had exchanged a few words before Fréod finally nodded her way. The little foal, her beloved, motherless little Firefoot, would be the king's nephew's new steed!
"Lady Elana?" He had called her a 'lady'! She almost fainted. "Your grandfather here has just told me that you were the one who hand-raised this wonderful example of a meara-stallion. 'tis true?"
For a moment, she had thought she would not be able to draw enough air into her lungs for a reply, and when the gift of speech finally returned to her, her voice sounded hushed and shy.
"Yes, my lord. He was always very special to me, and I hope, he will be special to you, too." She looked up, and her voice grew stronger with pride. "His name is Firefoot." She made an awkward attempt at curtseying and felt her face flush to a deep, telling red. How embarrassing! Especially when she heard her hero's laughter! Sullenly, she raised her head, inwardly wishing herself far away, but then Éomer had reached out to gently smooth another nasty strand of hair out of her eyes, and when she looked into his face she saw that his laughter was not meant in mockery of her.
"Do not look at me like this, Elana, daughter of the Mearas! I apologise if I led you to believe even for a moment that I might have laughed at you. I most certainly did not. It is only that you remind me so much of my younger sister. She was just like you at this age - shy at first, but at the same time proud and wild... more interested in horses and fighting and adventures than giving a care for the manners of the court her royal tutors desperately tried to teach her."
"Oh..." she had managed to utter, bereft of words, and feeling no less awkward in his presence. Sensing her discomfort with the situation, Éomer had then pulled his hand back and placed it on the neck of the dark grey stallion.
"You said 'Firefoot' is his name."
"Aye, my lord."
"It is a good name; a strong name. He shall be as swift as fire and as terrible to our enemies. I thank you for raising him for me."
It was a good memory, one Elana held dear to her heart. Which was why she had to find a way to help, even if the path to Edoras was no longer open. Her spirits sank with each of Áriel's steps that took her closer toward the valley and the unspeakable horror it accommodated.
Standing at the place where the path forked - the left way leading south-west and deeper into the White Mountains, the right way leading back to their small settlement and the Meara-valley - she urged her mare to stop and strained her ears. Nothing. No birds, no insects, no voices. Everything lay under a silence as deep as a death blanket. The thought made her shiver. What if all of them were already dead? The king... his men... and her clan? She had to find out, first!
Reluctant to leave Áriel back, Elana pondered for a moment whether she should tie her to a branch, or whether she could risk letting her wait right here, where rock would shield her from unfriendly eyes. The mare would be robbed of her only chance of survival if she were tied up only to be detected by some fell creature accidentally. Yet, Elana could not risk the mare making her way back to the uncertain territory of her family. Áriel was the last horse they possessed, their only means of calling for aid. She could not risk her life. So it was with a heavy heart that she decided to tie the young grey to a root still behind the canyon wall, out of sight - as she hoped - of the evil that roamed their lands.
Quick-footed, silent and careful, the young woman then climbed up to the little path under an enormous outcrop which overlooked her family's settlement. The sight of a raging fire ahead stopped her heart even though she was still a good distance away, and it took all of her will to stifle the cry that wanted to burst from her lungs. Their barn! Their winter supplies were burning! The enemy had moved on, indeed, and now her people were the next victims. Was her family still alive, or was she looking at another massacre?
Hunching closer into the shadow provided by the rock over her head, she slowly advanced and noticed a great number of people moving between their tents and the fires. People? Elana narrowed her eyes in an attempt to see better, and the vague feeling that something was out of place with the way these shadows moved made her skin crawl. They walked on two legs, yes, but – 'people'? They seemed awfully tall... and broad!
Then one of the mysterious things below her bellowed and turned its head, and she fell flat on her stomach and hugged the ground, a violent trembling shaking her. She had seen the thing! It was not human! And it was no orc either - she had seen orcs once: they were much smaller and no comparison to this hulking, sinister creature!
'Gods, what are these monsters?'
Had it seen her, too? Would it come up here to bite her head off? And what had they done to her family? A guttural roar went up to her as she pressed her face into the sparse vegetation on the ground and her hands to her ears in the desire to disappear completely. Others answered the call, and soon the entire gorge vibrated with the creatures' wild cries to the point where even small rocks were starting to slide from the slopes.
'They've seen me! They must have!'
Elana's heart pounded in a frenzied beat, almost bursting her rip cage, as she carefully raised her head and - despite better knowledge -frantically searched for an escape route, but the path's end was clearly visible in front of her, and there was just no way to make it over the rock blocking it without being seen from below.
'Are they coming right now to get me?'
Anxiously she waited for some more long breaths, before the urge to look became unbearable. With incredible caution, she raised her head behind the cover of a dry bush and peeked down. There was no frenzy among the monsters to climb up and catch her. Rather, they had turned their collective backs on her and went about their own business… whatever that business was. Elana did not particularly care to know, as long as it did not involve her family. Her family…
Narrowing her eyes, she spotted a group of people sitting and standing in the - indeed, in the pig pen. In the pig pen? Where were the pigs then? Trying even harder to see more, Elana could finally make out her grandfather's face in the glow of the burning barn. He seemed to be uninjured, likewise the others. Nobody was bleeding or limping, as far as she was able to see. All were tugging their shabby old furs around their bodies to protect themselves from the chilly night, and their expressions were frightened and worried, but it was a great relief to see them all unharmed nonetheless. A huge load fell off her back, but not for long. What was the intent of those things? Why had they rounded her family up like that? Just to burn their barn and kill their pigs? Surely, this alone was bad enough, but nothing against the fears in her mind as she had climbed to her perch.
A smaller figure clad entirely in black, walked into her view from the right side, talking to those things, and Elana froze. Now, that was definitely a man, and judging by the way the monsters behaved around him, he even seemed to be in command. Who was he? Why was he here? Letting her eyes stray a bit further in the direction he had come from, she detected a motionless figure sitting in a slumped position at the rock-wall, arms chained to the ring they used to tie their horses to, head hanging down in a way which suggested that the man - his broad, tall build betrayed his gender - was unconscious, if not worse. There was an awfully thick, black shaft protruding from his upper body, and even if the person wasn't dead yet, the sight of it was indication enough that he would be very soon if nobody helped him. Straining her eyes to find out who the man was, the girl suddenly felt an cold chill wander down her spine. She knew that tunic. None of her clan wore leather tunics, so it had to be one of the king's men. The long hair hung into the man's face and was partially plastered to it with blood, so she could not be entirely sure, but - she gasped. It had to be Éomer! Had to be!
Stifling a cry, she focussed harder on him, pleading for a movement. There was none to detect, but he had to be alive, or why else would they have chained him to the wall? Resting her eyes again on the arrow in his shoulder, Elana thought hard. It was hard to concentrate with the turmoil of clashing feelings she was caught up in - relief, shock, hope, pity… and at last, rage.
So it was indeed true: the whole time they had unwittingly been used in an elaborate sham to set the king captive. The thought of it made her feel bad and somehow… stained. Was there the mark of evil now on her, or would she have a chance to redeem herself? Everything that had happened to the king and his men was her fault! How could she ever undo this? What to do? The way to Edoras was blocked. There was only just one way still open to her and Áriel - further into the mountains, across the higher feeding grounds, directly the opposite direction. There were a few settlements on that way, too, but Elana was not sure how big their éoreds where, and whether they would be of any help against these awful creatures. It was impossible to count them, the way they constantly moved around, but Fréod had taught her very early how to estimate the number of horses in their herd, and they were not partial to standing still, either. All in all, she figured there were around two hundred of these ghoulish things down there. Too many. How was she supposed to get Éomer out of their grasp?
Below, two of the horrible black things roared at each other and started to fight over something Elana could not make out in the twilight. It was then when she realised that dusk lay not so far away anymore. Soon, it would be morning. : she would have to come to a decision, and soon.
"What have I told you, brother?"
"To never challenge Wormtongue openly. I am sorry, Éowyn." Éomer held her pale face in his hands, stroking her cheeks with his thumbs and seeing the tears in his sister's dark eyes. She was a strong woman, but she knew she would be truly alone from now on. Behind them, Éomer felt the threatening presence of the dark counsellor's personal guards. They had granted him a very short moment to say farewell to Éowyn when she had intercepted them in his private quarters where he was packing a few of his belongings, but that moment would soon be over. He had been banished from the hall of his fathers and forefathers, from the land he was born in. How had it come to that? "I had to try to wake the king with the proof I had gathered at the fords. I was hoping to get through to him. I failed."
"Let me come with you then! Do not leave me here!"
It pained Éomer to see his younger sister so upset. He took her cold, delicate hands into his and hoped the urgency he felt was visible on his face.
"Someone has to look after our uncle, Éowyn. We cannot leave him alone - all by himself - at that snake's mercy. He is still our king! We must attempt to break this evil spell. And Théodred... someone needs to tend to Théodred. I know his wounds are grave and there is almost no hope for him, but I do not want to grant Wormtongue the opportunity to sneak up and kill him, or to poison or stab him, just to be rid of Théoden's heir once and for all. It would not be below him to do so, you know that, and you don't want for this to happen either, do you, sister? He is family. We have to protect him." Éomer squeezed her hands and bent forward under the pretext of giving his sister a kiss on the brow, but just before his lips touched her skin, he tilted his head ever so slightly and muttered in a low voice: "I will be back soon. I will gather all that are still loyal to the king, and when I return, we shall dispose of Gríma the usurper. Fear not, Little Bird, and be strong!" He kissed her and felt her hands squeeze his, then freeing themselves of his grip and pulling him close, not wanting to let go.
"Marshal? It is time."
He ignored the stern voice from behind and looked down to lift Éowyn's chin with a finger until she met his eyes. So much sorrow…
"I know you are strong, Éowyn. We must not let him win."
"He won't." No more tears, but a desperate, haunted look that made Éomund's son feel like a traitor to desert her. 'But I am not the traitor, it is Gríma! And he shall pay for it! For as long as there is a single breath left in me, I shall pursue his death!'
His sister's short reply brought a ghost of a smile to his lips as he took a step back and let go of her, ready to follow the impatiently waiting guards. 'Be strong, little one,' his gaze told her wordlessly before he turned on his heels to leave. 'I will be back!'
"Don't challenge Gríma! Don't challenge Gríma!..."
His sister's voice reverberated through the pounding of his head as the King of the Mark finally came to, spit out into an early twilight by the same black flood which had pulled him under during the night.
The name tasted bittersweet on his lips: she had always been smarter at this game than he. While both of them were equally passionate in their loyalty and protectiveness of their kin, Éowyn had somehow emerged as the shrewder strategist, not to mention the better diplomat. Better at keeping her thoughts to herself and her face unreadable, whereas Éomer had a reputation for his bluntness and hot temper. Unlike his sister, he was not adept at hiding his emotions well when he was angered. A deficiency, he had to admit, but something he had so far refused to learn. After all, his reputation as a hothead had served him well in his soldier's life so far. Usually, people thought at least twice before they decided whether having the marshal's wrath upon them was really worth the ill deed they were thinking of committing.
"Gríma is too cunning, too powerful. We cannot touch him yet. Do not challenge him openly, Éomer!"
The stench of cold smoke reached his nostrils, and together with the images of a burnt-down Edoras from his dreams, it was enough to wake the king with a jolt. The voice from his dream faded to the memory of a whisper in the first cold breaths of morning, too frail to resist grim reality. Two muscular, dark-skinned legs obstructed Éomer's view of the proceedings around him, and he raised his head against the hammering pain behind his forehead with a sense of foreboding.
A wooden cup was offered to him, and the stench rising from it told him it was the same potion he had been forced to swallow during the night. Already, his stomach heaved in anticipation of a repeat.
"There are two ways we can do this, my lord," Wormtongue`s oily voice emerged from behind the Uruk-hai's broad back. As he stepped out of its shadow, Éomer saw the damage he had done clearly on his adversary's face - a blood-crusted, swollen lip and a dark bruise that covered his entire chin. He felt satisfied. Very well. At least he had some result to show for his own blinding headache. "One: You give up your resistance and drink this - and keep it inside - without trying to cause further problems to us, or two: You spill it like last night, you continue to be a nuisance, and we might have to kill one of your innocent kinsmen to teach you some respect for all the work that went into the potion that will ultimately safe your life - at least for some time. Choose wisely, Éomer-king!"
Éomer cast a quick glance past the orc's right side, from where he had picked up the notion of being watched. It was the girl's grandfather who was looking at him from behind the Uruk in deep concern, and behind him, he could see the others. So they had left the clan alive so far. It was a relief, but not a great one. Wormtongue was not to be trusted. Surely he had only spared them for now to use them as a means to subdue their king. Éomer hated to admit that it was a smart approach. So it was with reluctance that he finally nodded.
"I cannot promise you that I can keep it inside… but I will try."
The pale blue eyes in Gríma's white face became narrow slits as the dark counsellor taxed his opposite's expression.
"You better try hard, last king of Rohan. You know I will do it."
"Aye, I know…" '…you are vile enough to kill unarmed, innocent people, even children!' Éomer wanted to add, but bit back at the last moment. Insulting Gálmód's son further would not gain him any advantage in his current situation. For now, he would have to try to keep up his strength and be patient; something the young King of Riddermark had always found exceedingly hard to do.
With a guttural grunt, the Uruk squatted down in front of him and pressed the cup against Éomer's lips. Breathing shallowly through the mouth to escape the putrid smell, he emptied it with four deep swigs - and shut his eyes as a wave of nausea originating from his rebelling stomach threatened to overwhelm him.
"Fight it," Gríma said coldly. "You spit it out, it will cost you a man's life… or a woman's!"
The bile had already risen half the way up his throat, burning like fire. He swallowed air to force it down, concentrated, and slowly but surely, the feeling began to subside until all that remained was a hot throbbing in his middle. Exhausted from the effort, Éomer finally looked up to his tormentor and saw the derogatory twitch in the corner of his mouth.
"Very well. After all these years in your and your uncle's service, this is the first true indication that the stubborn descendants of the house of Eorl can indeed be taught! I am very pleased with you." Gríma rubbed his hands together against the cold morning air and turned to go. "The potion will give you strength for the day. We will leave in one hour. Use it to rest."
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.