12. Chapter 12
Edoras – The Riddermark.
Immobilised with shock for the first few moments, now he ladled out orders thick and fast. “All our Riders are to prepare to leave immediately,” he shouted to Éothain – no matter some were still dancing and downing ale, the fresh air would clear their heads – “I want no delay, tell them to travel light.”
Elfhelm caught his arm, as he grabbed cloak and gauntlets from his squire. “I’ll give you half an éored, that’s all I can let go. Wormtongue will shout about that, but you will be gone by then. And take Déor, he can command my lot.”
Éomer nodded his thanks, for it was more than he expected. Now he must depart with all speed. Luckily Théoden had already retired, so he need not stop to offer his farewells to his king, but he had to see Éowyn. Torn between rushing for the stables and searching her out - the decision was taken out of his hands when she appeared in the ante-chamber, her face worried and drawn. “Éomer, what is this? They say you are going already.”
He pulled her aside into the shadow of a pillar. In the hall the fiddler still played, but one by one his men were leaving, snaking in and out of the dancers and hurrying to the door. “We have had word of a great band of orcs. They threaten Eastfeld. We must ride through the night, Éowyn.”
“But Eastfeld is hours away. What can you do? And have you Riders enough?”
“I have enough, but as to what I can do – only hope the villagers will defend themselves for the time it takes us to get there. We have trained and armed them over the past few years and made plans for such an eventuality by constructing a small stockade around the square, but even so…”
“They are not warriors.” Éowyn finished for him.
“No, but if they can hold on, and we make good speed, there is a chance.” There had to be a chance, he told himself. Not wanting to think about anything else.
Pushing aside the guilt he felt for leaving Éowyn so soon, Éomer bounded down the steps and ran along the path to the stables. Men were rushing down the hill, saddle and tack over their arms – most of the horses were grazing in the paddocks outside the walls. Thoughts raged in his head, jostling for place: would Egbert be in time to warn the village – and if he did – could they hold off until relief arrived in the form of him and his Riders? And which way should he go – along the road, or the track alongside the Snowbourn? Would the rain keep up – it would slow them if it did. But the most frightening thought he refused to let surface – would Bergit be safe?
No more time for deliberation, already men were mounted in the stable yard. Éothain came out leading Starkhorn and Firefoot, the big stallion dancing with excitement on the end of the reins. Éomer grabbed him quickly as his rear end swung around, just stopping him from colliding with an indignant roan belonging to one of Elfhelm’s riders.
Éothain snorted his disapproval. “Damn horse needs a lesson in manners.”
“He’s keen that’s all”. Éomer immediately jumped to the defence.
“If you say so.”
Ignoring this, Éomer looked around. “Is everybody ready?” The yard was crowded with a melee of warriors fixing spears and tightening girths.
“Ours should be, we can pick them up at the gate, but I don’t know about Déor.”
But at that moment Déor appeared alongside them mounted on a handsome grey gelding, which unfortunately Firefoot took an instant dislike to, showing it by snapping lethal white teeth at the animal’s neck. But Éomer was in no mood to put up with his pranks and wrenched him away, treating him to a tirade of colourful expletives.
“You ready?” he barked at Déor, having finally subdued the overly enthusiastic stallion.
“Yes, my Lord Marshal,” Déor replied, his face not changing expression. “Which way are we going?”
Éomer didn’t have to think anymore, he had decided. “The shortest – along the south bank of the Snowbourn, and then to the lower crossing. The Entwash is down and this light rain will not make any difference, we can ride across.”
Déor nodded his agreement. “It hasn’t been raining for long, the ground will be hard underneath. But the track will be tricky with so dark a night.”
Éomer looked up. “I am sure the sky is clearing. With the moon nearly at the full we will make good time.”
Many leagues stood between Edoras and Eastfeld, and covering them fast on a dark rainy night would not have been done from choice. But Éomer had no choice if he wanted any chance of saving the village. Nine or ten hours at least and, however much he wished it, neither horses nor men could ride at speed for that long. They would need to walk between times and water the horses and also allow for one good rest stop. That would make it nearer twelve — the best time he could hope to make. However, his optimism was well founded, as two leagues from Edoras a fresh wind sprang up, blowing the clouds apart. Soon the waxing Hunter’s Moon shouldered its way between them, lighting the muddy track.
Taking their mood from their Marshal, the Riders did not talk much on the first part of the journey: concentrating on keeping their horses from stumbling as they splashed through the silver-edged puddles. But with the ground still firm underneath, Éomer kept up a good fast pace. Silent, and deep in his own grim thoughts, he urged Firefoot on. Then reluctantly slowing the pace for a bit, he had another piece of luck. Déor approached him, introducing one of his Riders. “Seldrid here thinks we save a few leagues. He knows a track that cuts off the corner and comes out just west of the crossing. With the moon out he reckons it will be easy to follow.”
Éomer thought hard, the last thing he wanted to do was miss the way and end up in a bog, taking even longer. But Seldrid was confident, so they left the wooded Snowbourn valley and headed out on the plain. For leagues they followed a track that showed as only a shadow of trampled grass picked out by the light of the moon. But Seldrid led unfaltering, and way before he had hoped Éomer emerged on the road that led to the crossing. He called for a halt rather than plunge hot horses into cold water. Hard though it was to rest, he leant against an old tree stump and closed his eyes, but somebody shoved a flask under his nose.
“Keep you warm!”
Éomer opened one eye. “Éothain it that’s what I think it is I’ll never stay on my horse.”
“Go on, it’ll do you good.”
One swig and he started coughing, but Éothain was right. It warmed one amazingly and gave you heart. And he needed that to believe they would be in time.
His third piece of luck: the river was right down and the lines of horses splashed across, quickly pulling up the bank onto the beaten ground that bordered the river. When everyone was across he got them all together.
“It’s a straight track now and we can make good time, but we have to arrive in a state to fight, with horses still on their feet. We will have one more short rest where a stream crosses the track, which might be the last chance for the horses to drink. It’s about ten leagues from Eastfeld. I don’t know what we will find; hopefully Egbert’s patrol will have been in time to warn them. In that case everyone will have barricaded themselves behind the stockade in the centre of the village. If I know orcs, they will have raided all the houses outside, so when we get there expect them to come at us from all directions.” He raised his spear. “Now ride!”
They headed into the dawn; colour crept slowly across the plain – cobwebs of mist still clinging to the drying grasses – clutched at flying hooves. Reaching the stream he signalled the halt, and all around him sweating horses steamed into the chill air. The riders did not dismount but gave their horses free rein to walk around at will easing their tired muscles. When they started off again the sun had risen above the distant Emyn Muil. It fired the plain red but brought no warmth to Éomer, chilled to the marrow by the terrible fear that he was already too late.
They saw the smoke first. Black and thick, it hung over the plain like an angry storm cloud. But the sight of burning homes spurred the will, forcing the last efforts from men and horses. With the village in sight Éomer ordered the horns to be sounded, their challenge would bring hope to the beleaguered and panic to the enemy.
As they pounded between the first houses his worst fears were realised: burnt out smouldering thatch, doors forced and windows smashed. A dog dead in the road, a cow butchered where it had stood. Closer to the square a small group of orcs emerged from a side path, run down before they could turn to flee. Now the shouting and the cries of battle could be heard. A horn sounded in welcome, so some of Egbert’s patrol was still capable of fighting. Éomer ordered the charge.
Assailed by such a force the stockade had given way, and hordes of screaming orcs were throwing themselves at the broken wood, tearing with their hands to pull apart the planks. Already some were through, and in the stockade the fighting was fierce. But Egbert had ordered his defence well, and the bodies strewn outside the walls bore testament to the villagers’ stout resistance.
His fury roused, Éomer speared a brute that tried to run from flying hooves, drew his sword and with one swipe hacked off the head of another that came at him wielding an evil looking pike. Seething with rage he wheeled Firefoot around to plunge steel into the chest of a third. But the stallion was heaving, almost spent, so he pulled him up and leapt from his back. Then he spotted one of the orcs hacking at the splintered wood of the stockade in a bid to open the passage wider. With a yell of outrage, Éomer shoved Firefoot’s reins into his squire’s hands and thrust Gúthwinë straight through the orc’s thick neck.
But whether the orcs were weak after their long journey from the north, or just had no wish to fight, the arrival of the Riddermark’s elite warriors caused a lot of them to give up the attack and scatter into the side streets, heading for the way out of the village. Éomer wanted to run them down, it grieved him to let them go, but he had no wish to murder tired horses. Therefore he gave orders to concentrate on dealing with those inside the stockade and led his men through the gap.
They had arrived just in time: Egbert’s men too few to hold off so many for long, and the villagers not skilled enough to deal with such strength and raw hate. Many bodies lay in the square, orcs and inhabitants of Eastfeld. Éomer knew the stone-built meeting house would hold the women and children, but already its roof was burning. Some villagers broke off from the fight immediately they knew relief had come, running to the well for buckets. But the doors opened and the women started pouring out, dragging children behind them, or hugging babies in their arms. In a vengeful surge of hate a few orcs lunged towards them, but Déor had jumped his horse over the broken wood and speared the leading one as Éomer, Éothain and others ran to protect the women.
As the foe was finally subdued and the stinking bodies began piling up, Éomer despatched riders to search the houses that still stood. He wanted no orcs hiding out and causing mayhem later. Then he spotted Bergit’s cousin cradling an injured man in her lap. “Where is Bergit? Did anyone get Edwick here?” Her eyes looked vacantly up at him, and his stomach cramped when her head shook in denial.
“She never came. I don’t know why. There was not much warning and all the men were busy with the barricades.”
Stunned for a moment – had no one given thought to the crippled man – Éomer stared at the woman before turning on his heel and running out of the square. Not seeing Éothain, he shouted to Déor to take command, but when he reached the lane that led to Edwick’s house he heard footsteps behind him.
“Wasn’t she with the other women?” Éothain called out.
“No!” It was all he could manage.
The houses around had been ransacked, and as he turned a bend in the lane he saw the smashed gates. No! His step faltered – please let them all be safe! Heart thumping in his chest, he reached the gates and stopped. The yard was empty. The stable doors open, the gate to the paddock wide. Had Bergit let Flyhte and the pony run free to save them? Where was Gárbald? No chickens either, everything was horribly and ominously quiet. A creak made him turn quickly – the kitchen door swung on one broken hinge. Éomer started to run, but Éothain grabbed his arm. “No, Éomer. Let me go.” But he shook off his friend and launched himself through the door. The stench of orc and the smell of blood halted him; it hit him like a blow. Bergit’s pristine pantry had been looted. An axe had holed a barrel, the beer mixing with spilled flour to form a brown scum across the floor. Apples from a split bag scattered amongst it like islands of despair. He had squashed one under his boot; it turned the scum to vomit.
Slowly now, he approached the bedroom, reaching out an arm to push the door wide. But he got no further. Behind him Éothain gasped. Éomer forced himself to take a step into the room and stopped again. Involuntarily he fell back, clutching at the doorframe to steady himself as his knees gave way. Drawing his eyes away from the bed, he looked down at the dead orc at his feet. A grimace of surprise still twisted its hideous pock marked face, from when the creature had seen death approaching. The black stinking blood had spurted in a wide arc, spraying a ghastly pattern of dots over one of Edwick’s half finished baskets that had rolled on the floor. Putting off the time when he would have to deal the with horror in the room, the warrior in him started to work out what had happened. The orc was one of the smaller kind, and maybe Bergit had struck a lucky blow. The filth had probably come in on his own, and she had bettered him – gone at him with Edwick’s sharp sword and sliced his throat.. Then what? Another arrived, maybe two. She fought, but would have known she had no chance. There was a knife on the floor – Edwick had used the knife, lashed out, but the orcs would have been out of his reach.
Éomer forced his eyes to look at the two people on the bed. Bergit lay half over her husband, she had buried one hand in his hair, the blond strands tight around her fingers. Just before the final blow she must had turned from her attackers and thrown herself over her man, protecting him to the last. Husband and wife had embraced death together: a heavy black spear had been stabbed right through Bergit’s back and into Edwick’s heart. Éomer choked on his own bile: the swine had hacked off her hair again. He stared for a moment longer, fixing the image in his mind. It would be with him always. Every time he had an orc within his sight, he would see her, and they would pay. He had hated them before, but now the hatred burned with a white hot heat that threatened to devour him.
Éothain dropped a hand on his shoulder. “Why didn’t she run?” Why stay here and die? ”
He shook his head, not wanting to think about the last moments of two people he cared so deeply for. Tears squeezed between his eyelids and ran down his cheeks, but he paid no heed. “She wouldn’t leave him because she loved him. She always loved him.” When he eventually pulled his gaze away from the atrocity on the bed, something blue caught his eye – a rag doll on the floor, bloodied and torn…the children! Where were the children?
Pushing Éothain out of the way, Éomer rushed for the door. She would have known he would come, pray the Valar they were there! He belted across the yard. The door to the hut was open but nothing else looked touched. Éomer heaved at the bed. “Éomund! It’s me, Éomer. Are you there?” A child whimpered, and something else – a muffled bark. “Give me a hand!” he yelled at Éothain. Together they pushed the bed away, and Éomer took out his knife, prising open the catch to the trapdoor. Heart thumping he raised the lid. Éomund’s frightened eyes met his, but Félewyn lay curled in a ball. The thumb of one hand was in her mouth, the other wrapped around the old collie’s neck. Seeing Éomer, the dog started thumping his tail against the wood-lined wall.
Éomund ran his small fingers down the white on its nose. “Mama said Gárbald would keep us warm,”
“You look beautiful, Princess. I wish you’d let me do your hair like this more often.”
Lothíriel glanced in the mirror and immediately looked away. She didn’t like what she saw. Wearing her hair drawn back in a plait and with a plain shawl wrapped around her shoulders, the captains and young nobles of Gondor had stared at her. They had tried to engage her in conversation, even when she cold-shouldered them. What chance had she of avoiding attention with luxuriant black tresses tumbling around her shoulders and the neckline of her silk dress cut away to her breasts? Determined to force herself to some kind of understanding, Lothíriel looked back into the mirror, staring at her reflection. Eyes could tell you about a person. But all she saw in the luminous green ones that stared back at her, was death. So much death. Her father’s knights; the villagers killed in raids; even the spies her brothers had executed and hung from the city walls - all slaughtered because of one man’s mad obsession with her. Turning away she dropped her head into her hands in desperation. Why her? There was nothing that special about her. Many women were beautiful, but they did not inspire so much evil.
Suddenly the thought that any other man would even look at her, started her shaking. She would not go! Her uncle couldn’t make her. She would say she was ill, had a headache….
“Princess, what is it?” Hisael’s concerned voice brought her up. But she was saved from answering when a soft tap came at the door and the housekeeper, Moreth, poked her head around it.
“Lord Faramir is here, Princess. He’s come to escort you to the feast.”
“Faramir! Oh!” Lothíriel jumped up, she could bear it if Faramir was by her side. He had returned to the city the night before but she had had no chance to talk to him, for both he and Boromir had spent the evening in conference with their father. Now she longed to see her favourite cousin.
He waited in the antechamber, and Lothíriel drew in breath when she saw him – so tall and handsome and safe. His black hair had been cut neatly, just touching his broad muscular shoulders; a rich dark blue tunic with an edging of intricate embroidery covered his powerful body. With silver vambraces and a great sword hanging on his hip, he looked to be the consummate warrior. Until you met his gaze, that is. The quality of his character as ever reflected in the grey, farseeing eyes of Númenor. Here was a man both proud and sad, stern and wise. One who would deal justice at need but always temper it with compassion. Suddenly Lothíriel saw a flame flicker across the dark irises, it died and went out to be replaced by a bright white light. She gasped out loud.
“Lothíriel?” Faramir stepped forward and caught her arm, questioning.
“Oh, Faramir.” She hugged him, laughing tears. “You will have a great love. I see it clearly.”
Squeezing her waist, Faramir chuckled as he dropped a kiss on her head. “Oh, do you? Maybe you do not see quite so plainly as you think. I cannot imagine I will ever have time for love.”
“Of course you will.” She replied, quite seriously. “You are not like Boromir and Erchirion, wedded to warfare and glorifying the might of the sword. One day you will make some great lady wondrously happy.”
Again Faramir laughed and shook his head, the sombre grey eyes glittering with amusement. “And what of you, my pretty one. Are you still seeking your king?”
“My king? What king?” Lothíriel asked mystified.
He tapped her gently on her nose with one long calloused finger. “Remember, you told me years ago you would marry a king. You seemed certain of it then.”
“Oh yes.” She had all but forgotten that piece of Seron’s foretelling, so much had happened in-between. “There are no kings to marry, Faramir. And I do not think I will ever love.” No, she would not. She had decided that life would be easier that way. “I will be happy being an aunt to all my brothers’ children. They are bound to have many. Which reminds me,” she said smiling up at him. “I have recently heard good news from Meren: a child to be born before the end of the year.”
“That is wonderful – but I say to you, Lothíriel. Even though you do not think it now, one day you will love, and the man to whom you give your heart will be a king in your eyes.”
Lothíriel grinned, how easily he could push aside her gloom. “There you are. All these so called prophesies can be explained so rationally by my sensible big cousin.”
“Well, your big cousin thinks it sensible that we hurry along. My father does not like to be kept waiting.”
Feeling shielded by the man at her side, Lothíriel ascended the steps confidently, only to falter when she entered the massive space. But no doubt sensing her anxiety, Faramir held her arm against him tight. Bigger than the hall in Dol Amroth, Merethrond thronged with colour, and the hubbub of chatter almost drowned out the organ music. With guests intent on finding their seats she first thought they could pass unnoticed. How naïve, she had reckoned without her cousin’s popularity. As Faramir was spotted, those next to the aisle strived to catch his eye, some reaching out hands to attract his attention and offer greetings. Lothíriel smiled in response to the various salutations directed toward her, trying her best not to look the haughty princess, but she recognised very few. Her fault entirely, she acknowledged, having shunned court life since her arrival. Luckily, to her mind, the Steward rarely entertained so lavishly, but then his sons were seldom in the City together. Although Lothíriel suspected the welcome was really for Boromir, apparent to all how Denethor doted on his eldest. Lothíriel thought it odd. True, she liked Boromir a lot; he was always kind to her. However, he was very different from his father. And although unquestionably valiant, war-hardened and popular with his men, he lacked Faramir’s keen wit and deep understanding. Faramir was much more akin to Denethor in looks and temperament – although not so grim — and, she realised suddenly, to her own father, also. But then her brothers differed, Erchirion much like Boromir whilst Amrothos would likely grow more like Faramir and her father, as he aged. Elphir came somewhere in the middle.
Pleased with her appraisement of her family – it had kept her from worrying that whispered comments, craftily covered by elegant hands, had followed her progress towards the top table – she took a tentative look around when Faramir stopped for a few words with Lord Húrin. All the tables were full, the dark shades of Gondor’s numerous uniforms setting off the bright hues of the ladies’ dresses. The sun had not yet set and only the big candelabras, which hung from the great roof arches, had been lit. But already the heat stifled her. She felt for the organ players, pumping the great pipes continually to provide – at least to her ears – a rather tuneless melody. She hoped that since she had to be here, her uncle would allow some lively fiddling after the meal. If she had to dance she preferred something fast. The possibilities were good, for when she saw Boromir and Denethor coming in from behind the dais, her uncle was actually smiling.
Before she could even begin to curtsey, Boromir strode across and enveloped her in a crushing bear hug. His chest was even broader than Faramir’s. “I am not sure why my little brother gets to escort you,” he guffawed in her ear. “Blame my father; he kept me talking about nothing.”
Her cheeks hot, she extracted herself from her cousin’s exuberant embrace, all the hall would be watching. Belatedly, Lothíriel turned to pay her respects to her uncle, but her second attempt at a curtsey was forestalled by him catching her hand and pulling her slightly to one side. Looking into his face surprised her; for his normal sharp dark eyes had softened, misting to iron grey. “Lothíriel, have I ever told you how much you remind me of Finduilas?” She opened her mouth to protest, her father had never said that. But Denethor was looking far away, his mind in the past, so she held her tongue. “Of course your aunt was a lot older when I married her, but when I first set my eyes on her she was about your age.” He sighed, and Lothíriel caught a fleeting glimpse of hidden pain. “I was busy protecting our borders, as my sons are doing now. I always regret that I did not marry her then. We had so very little time together.”
Lothíriel had no idea what to say. Her Aunt Ivriniel had told her that Aunt Finduilas had withered and died, locked in the City of Stone far from her beloved sea. However, she could not doubt the sincerity in her uncle’s eyes. But abruptly, as if he had given away too much, he stood upright, tall and proud, and signalled to the Master of Ceremonies to begin the feast.
She could not get out of her mind the possibility that Denethor had not always been so stiff and formal. In fairness, she realised that in all the years of his Stewardship he had been fighting the creeping darkness. A lifetime spent under such a shadow did not make for lightness of temperament. But she had no time to dwell on her uncle’s character, whilst sitting between his two sons. So different perhaps, but no one could fail to discern the great bond between them. They joked and laughed at each other, remembering instances of their childhood, both in the City and on their visits to Dol Amroth, regaling her also with tales of her brothers’ misdemeanours. It was so enjoyable to listen to them, that if only she could sneak out at the end of the meal, the evening would have been the most pleasant since her arrival in the City.
The fiddler allowed, first she danced with Boromir and then Faramir, but the time came when for a moment she stood alone. Panicking a little when it looked like a tall man wearing a soldier’s uniform was about to approach her, she searched for escape but at that instant Sergion materialised beside her.
“Oh.” She took his arm with relief. “I wondered where you were.”
“Watching you from a distance, as is my role, Lothíriel. I am happy for Faramir to deputise for me, but you looked so lost when someone waylaid him.”
“I don’t like the crowds, you know I don’t. And I know hardly anyone. Also the men look at me, it makes me uneasy.”
“Hmm…, come, I will introduce you to a lady who wants to meet you.”
“Yes, she lives in Lossarnach, and knew your Great Aunt. In fact she met you as a child, but I doubt you would remember.”
“Great Aunt Morwen?” Lothíriel remembered a visit to the old lady when she was little, but not much else. And her aunt had died not long after. But she nodded, and Sergion threaded her through the crowds, leading her up to a tall, grey-haired woman, who was vigorously fanning herself with a bunch of long brown and black feathers, obviously plucked from one of the dressed pheasants that had decorated the tables. Intrigued and heartened by this refreshing lack of taste, Lothíriel sketched a curtsey in deference to the lady’s age.
“Lady Tinusel was a friend of your great aunt, Lothíriel,” Sergion said, performing the introductions.
Merry hazel eyes twinkled at her from out of a delicate, fine boned face, the skin parchment thin. Lothíriel’s eyes rested on the handful of feathers, which produced a tinkle of laugher. “I am hot, and too old to worry about the niceties of manners, child. And Denethor is stuffier than his father. It’s a shame; he wasn’t like it as a child. You can leave her with me, Sergion,” she said, not stopping for breath. “She will be perfectly safe.”
“Now,” a bony hand rested on Lothíriel’s arm. “I want to give you some advice, my dear. I owe it to your Aunt.”
Not more advice! Lothíriel had an inkling what it might be – something similar to her uncle’s – but at that moment two ladies approached, and Lothíriel caught a whiff of spicy perfume. A familiar warm and sultry fragrance. Quick as a flash she swung her head around, and met cool grey eyes. The lady, tall and dressed richly and becomingly in dark red silk, her black hair intricately coifed into two thick plaits which framed a striking oval face, inclined her head. Giving Lothíriel a pleasant smile, she passed on. “Who is that lady?” Lothíriel demanded of her companion.
For a moment Lady Tinusel looked as if she was not going to answer, but Lothíriel kept her eyes fixed on her, and thin shoulders dropped. “She is Lady Calaerdis, of Sirith in Lebennin.”
“She is married?” Lothíriel held her breath dreading the answer. But she could not believe her honourable father would pursue another man’s wife.
Lady Tinusel shook her head. “A widow. Her husband was very old and doting. He left her a fortune, as I understand it. Consequently, she answers to no one.”
“I see,” Lothíriel said. “Would you introduce me, Lady Tinusel?”
“No, I wouldn’t.” The answer came rather sharply. “Not because she is unworthy. Calaerdis goes her own way, but no stain attaches to her name. But because it is not right, and you know it.”
Maybe, but if she waited for her father to let them meet….
“Lothíriel,” Lady Tinusel’s voice softened, “may I call you that? I did know you as a child. I sense you are lonely. Would you mind if I called on you occasionally. I live in the City now, and like to go for a walk in the mornings.”
Touched, Lothíriel smiled. “I work in the Healing House a great deal of the time, but I would like some companionship when I am free.”
East Emnet - The Riddermark
Of course they were not ready as early as he wished. The wagons were likely to take five days to reach Aldburg, but if they didn’t move out now they would be into their sixth. Éomer tried to curb his impatience: people leaving their homes moved slowly, and goodbyes to relatives who had decided to stay took time. He tucked the blanket tighter around the little girl who cuddled against him, covering up her thick plait. Thumb in mouth, her eyes stared at nothing. She wanted her mama and not anything he could say would ease her pain. He glanced across to Éomund. The boy sat ramrod straight on his pony, refusing to show any of his anguish. He was going to be a Rider, he had informed Éomer that morning. He was going to kill orcs. Éomer remembered that feeling well, although he had been eleven at the time. Éomund was only seven, but already the all-consuming fire of revenge had kindled in his veins.
“I think we are ready,” Éothain rode up. “A couple decided to come at the last minute.”
“They should all come,” Éomer said. “I should have made them.”
“It is difficult, their livelihoods are here. And considering, the death count was few.”
“Because we were warned, because we risked horses to get here, because…” oh what was the use. He had turned it over in his mind, spent hours discussing it with the village elders, but one more threat and he would have them all out.
“What are you going to do with those two?” Éothain indicated the children.
Éomer looked down, Félewyn had fallen asleep. He dropped his voice. “I am hoping my cousin Edyth will take them. She is childless and her husband is a good man.” It was the only thing he could think of: their aunt was staying in Eastfeld. He would have fought tooth and nail not to leave them in danger there, but in the end she had been happy to let them go.
“There will be talk, Éomer.”
“Then there will be talk. But hear this, for I will say it once only. They are Edwick’s children. He sired them, and I shall never let them forget it.”
Éothain nodded, raised his hand, and the lead Waggoner snapped his reins. Gárbald, keeping an eye on his charges from the back of the cart, barked once, and the column started down the long road west.
To be continued.