1. Lords of Men - by Dwimordene
"I would there had been a happier occasion—for my becoming Third Marshal, and now my rise to Second. We were grieved to hear of Lord Ermenred's fall," Théodred had replied, and the Lord of the Westfold had shrugged fatalistically.
"How many bold Riders do you know, my prince, who see fifty years?" he replied. "My father was content with his lot. To be succeeded by a prince—he would be well content indeed!"
"And you, sir?" Théodred had asked, for though the Marshal's rod did not always pass from father to son, and might at any time be recalled by the king, very often, it did pass within a family, unless there were good reason for it to go into other hands.
Therefore, before he had left Edoras, his father had instructed him: "Sound him out on this matter. I would not have strife at this time, with the Dunlendings looking for war—if there is trouble, send to me, and I will deal with him."
But Erkenbrand had but shrugged again. "I am also content, my prince. Come! We shall ride out to Helm's Deep, and I shall show you the fastness there, and the steadings, and perhaps, too, you would come and see my father's grave? `Twould be a great honor, and gladden my heart…"
Of course, Théodred had said `yes' to all, and especially to that last. Which was how, eight grueling days later, after a tour round the Fords, and all the steadings, and Helm's Deep and all its fortifications, and after countless introductions to captains and sergeants and aldermen and peasant families who came to greet their young lord (and also their prince), Théodred came at last to be struggling up the steep ways of Thrihyrne above the great keep, following Erkenbrand, who seemed part mountain goat as he bounded up the slope.
At long last, with the afternoon shadows lying long along the eastward roads, they came to a halt. Théodred looked about in some confusion, for there was no grave-marker he could see, and he could tell his chief of escort, whom he had had follow at a little distance, was beginning to grow alarmed, for all that Erkenbrand had brought but few with him.
"Come and see, my prince," Erkenbrand invited, waving Théodred forward towards a ledge with him. Cautiously, Théodred advanced, as Erkenbrand gestured broadly. "West-mark," he said. "On a clear day, one can see the heights of Isengard. Thirsty?"
Théodred blinked, surprised by this sudden question, but `twas true, he was thirsty, and so he accepted the skin that Erkenbrand offered. His surprise waxed when he discovered it was not water that the Lord of Westfold kept at his hip.
"The West-march steadings make a very good summer ale. `Tis their main tithe, I sometimes think!" And as Théodred passed the skin back, Erkenbrand raised it in salute, and said, "To my father, and your success, my lord."
"Were we not to visit your father's grave, Erkenbrand?" Théodred asked, after a respectful moment's silence.
"And we have. Look down." Mindful of the cliff, Théodred eased forward a bit to look where the other pointed. Far below, down a sheer drop, there lay a lonely green patch of earth—a patch that had a new mound in its center, and a lone ash spear at the western edge. "There he lies. Father wished to rest on this mountain—he often came here to think, where he could see all the West-mark."
"It seems a goodly ground," Théodred murmured. Glancing sideways at Erkenbrand, he caught the other in an unguarded moment, and saw for once a stillness in the other, and the grief that lay still beneath the bold and cheerful face he had shown this past week. "Why do you not wear the black band?" he asked then, quietly. "'Tis not yet past time to do off mourning, if you wish, as his son."
"Perhaps not, but we do not lack for mourning here, as you have seen. It has been a month. Westfold needs its crops in the ground and its horses well pastured and guarded, and to know that we will not be moved. That we will be here next year, and there will be no more long winters as in Helm's day. So…" Erkenbrand trailed off.
"Do you wish to take your father's burdens all on yourself? Would that reassure the Westfold?" Théodred asked, eyeing the other intently now. Erkenbrand took another artless swig from his ale-skin and shook his head.
"My father was a great man. When we lost him, we lost our lord and our marshal both at once. Should I die, I have but a daughter and a son not yet a year old. Who would care for Westfold then? Better you are here, my prince, so that if one of us falls, the other shall still be here. And it is good to know the king thinks well of us, to send us his son." The young Lord of Westfold gave him an unwonted serious look, as he said, "You need not be concerned. I am content with the arrangement, even as I said."
Théodred was young enough that older men did not always expect him to judge well or keenly. It would pass with time, he knew, and his tenure as Third Marshal had already improved his standing with them. Now he would be second only to his father, and if he desired no longer to be taken for an untried youth, he could afford no longer the mistakes and misjudgments that youth will make. And here was another young man, newly his own lord, but also lord of many others, who would not be taken any more as only an enthusiastic lad. Who cannot be so taken any more, Théodred thought.
So he held out his hand, and when Erkenbrand had clasped it, squeezed hard and pulled the other from his rocky perch to stand before him. "Then we shall together tend West-fold, and be content. Come then, Ermenredsson, let us go down and see to this land of ours!"
Author's Notes : There's not a whole lot in the way of dates for either of these characters that I can remember from the books. I'm relying heavily on Encyclopedia of Arda at the moment, since I'm not at home to look things up. I assume Theodred is in his early twenties at this time, just after Eomund's death. And though there is no record of him ever being Third Marshal, I assume it might have made sense to let him take that post as an interim post before quickly moving him on to a permanent position. There's no canonical reference for Erkenbrand's father, either, to my knowledge.
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