18. And All the King's Men
Háma son of Héor was not a superstitious man. Or at least, no more so than was any warrior. He kept no set of blessed bones to dice with when seasonal storms threatened, nor looked to eclipses to foretell the future, and in general he heeded not the rumors that circulated among the general populace. Had he done so, he would have looked to see Éorl himself return on the back of a dragon and the resurrection of Helm Hammerhand. In his mind, such wild fantasies and practices were quite distinct from the occasional prayer to Béma or the lock of his wife's hair that he kept on him for good luck, and as a rule, he frowned upon those of the guard who watched their calendars too closely for auspicious days or ill-omened moons. That sort of blind striving to grasp what a man could not in principle understand was an unneeded distraction, a breech in a unit's discipline and a measure of the fear and anxiety that plagued men these days.
At least I can excuse the latter, for my own heart is uneasy and I know full well the root of the malice in this land, he thought moodily. But he had no idea what to make of the latest word that had spread like wildfire up from the main gates, and Háma wondered whether later he ought to speak to Brand of the Gate-guard about the perils of an unguarded tongue.
Never having traveled beyond the borders of the Riddermark, Mundburg was as foreign to him as the moon itself, but the Mark had always enjoyed close ties with Gondor. Even in these dark times, when the king was fallen into decrepitude and despite the efforts of a certain Wormtongue—Curse his name!—the bond was not yet severed that bound the two realms together, and many there were in the Mark who waited anxiously for a positive declaration of war against Mordor. News flowed back and forth between Minas Tirith and Edoras on a fairly regular basis, and so he knew well the rhyme that had drawn away the lord Boromir. And contradictory though it might seem, Háma was willing to accept that worthy's errand as legitimate. For the line of the Stewards is a high one, and ever and anon there is born among them a soothsayer. I would not have taken Boromir for one, but his brother… aye, that I can believe.
But even so, there seemed to be a division in his soul as to what he believed in the abstract and philosophical sense and his expectations as to the unbroken routine of the here and now. Were it not for that split, he might have been less troubled and hesitant regarding the tale that Brand's runner had relayed two days ago when marshall and guest had safely entered the hall: that Éomer's Elf-lord played hostage for none other than Isildur's fabled Heir.
As Éomer himself had not seen fit to mention that fact—Or rather, that unsubstantiated claim—before the king and court, Háma had judged it best to keep his mouth shut and do as he had always done: listen, watch and wait, and be certain that the lady Éowyn knew of the rumor that had come with Éomer. She had been very interested, that was certain, but Háma could not tell whether she believed, for she had been quite pressed for time. She had heard him out, and then nodded thoughtfully ere she had entrusted him with her instructions with a quick press of her hand and a look of silent thanks.
Soon enough we shall see the fruits of that errand, and I only hope that we shall not end by killing ourselves! Háma thought, suppressing the urge to massage the muscles at the base of his neck, for he could feel a headache coming on. I do not need this, he thought grumpily. 'Tis hard enough in the Mark these days simply to do the task assigned one, let alone do it well and as it ought to be done. I do not need to deal now with would-be legends!
But as was ever the case in important matters, the choice was not his to make: fate would present him with perplexities, and he would have to decide what to do to tame them. If they can be tamed! And can I tame them if I do not believe? Such questions ought not to fall within the purview of the captain of the king's household guard, but then again, the king's captain ought not to have to go behind his sovereign's back in order to secure the safety of not only the king but the realm. He ought not to have to watch as the king's sister-daughter worked herself into a most untenable position in order to protect not only her brother but the kingdom; he ought not to have to be a conspirator to be loyal.
There are many things that ought not to be, and which are in spite of that! he thought with sour desperation, but men of the Riddermark did not complain of fortune. They endured, they followed it, and whithersoever it led, they met the devil with a grin. That was tradition, at least. Reality might be different, but for the sake of the Mark, Háma had already perjured himself in the eyes of the law several times, so he supposed that he might as well seek redress of evil in the two wanderers whom Brand escorted now to Meduseld. Assuming one of them was in truth Isildur's Heir, perhaps he might at least show a king's intiative and rid them of one Wormtongue. Mere wishful thinking, that, and without doubt, he would do better to observe the two that Brand even now brought before the doors of Meduseld.
They were certainly unlike any others that Háma had ever seen: though grey cloaks hung close about their shoulders, eerily seeming to shift in hue to match the sky or the stones, the rest of their gear was work of mortal hands. Even so, the Dwarf's corselet was clearly of far superior make than any that lay within Edoras's treasuries, and given the reputation of that stout and fierce race, that came as little surprise. The broad-bladed, double-headed axe that the Dwarf bore had the look of a weapon lovingly tended and kept in immaculate condition against all too frequent need. And the scowl on his face matched the one that Háma politely refrained from wearing as he turned his attention to the Man.
Héor's son did not lack for inches and he looked up to very few, but this wanderer had a hand-span on him. He was Éomer's height easily, and might just have a hair's breadth on that worthy as well, though it was hard to tell from this angle. Unlike the Dwarf, whose raiment proclaimed him a warrior well-equipped for battle, the Man wore plain clothes of the sort any common horse-herder or vagabond might wear: shades of brown and dark green, leather and rough home-spun that bore no few blood or grass stains. Naught but the sword that depended from a well-worn sword-belt would have marked him for a warrior. Naught but that, and his bearing, Háma amended. Even the Elf had not made quite the same impression on the warden of Théoden's doors, though perhaps the prince could be excused on account of injury. This wanderer fairly skewered him with his eyes, and Háma had the clear impression that it would not do to cross his will without a very good reason.
"Welcome to Meduseld… sirs," Háma managed after a moment's hesitation, uncertain of how he ought to address this mismatched pair. "I am Héor's son, Háma, and Warden of the Hall."
"Is Legolas within?" the Dwarf asked gruffly, wasting no words on courtesy, and the Warden cocked his head. According to all the tales that he had ever heard, there was no love lost between the Elves and the Dwarves, and he wondered whether that was concern that spoke or less welcome emotions. Need I watch them both, to insure that neither tries to make a dent in the other's skull? He hoped not, but decided to attach a minder to the Dwarf so that in the event that he came near the Elf, there would be a witness and someone close at hand to deal with the doubtless messy aftermath.
"You shall learn the answers to your questions soon enough, Master Dwarf," he replied aloud, the soul of discretion. The Dwarf's eyes narrowed slightly, but Háma continued on quickly, denying him the opportunity to argue his statement: "Who shall I say would come before the king?"
"Gimli, Glóin's son am I," the Dwarf replied, and seemed about to say something further, but Háma had turned already to gesture to the Man.
"I am called Aragorn, son of Arathorn," the other replied, and Háma grunted, cocking a skeptical brow, awaiting some further declaration. But none was forthcoming, so the Warden sighed inwardly and let his gaze drift back to the Dwarf, Gimli, again.
"Then I bid you welcome once more, and must ask that you disarm yourselves, for the law of the land permits no weapons to enter the king's presence, save by his permission." The Dwarf growled something utterly unintelligible, but Háma had been Warden for many years, and he knew a curse when he heard it, no matter what the language. Opening his mouth, he began to explain that there was absolutely no choice in this matter when Aragorn spoke again.
"Hwanon cumath theos æ?"
"You speak Rohirric?" Háma shot him a sharp stare, feeling his heart quicken for no discernible reason. "Or know you but a few words?"
"I speak it, and why should I not, who have lived among the Éorlingas before?"
"Have you now? And when was that, good sir?" Háma demanded, hoping that there would be no cause to inquire after a lot of horse-herders or farmers who had broken the law.
"Many years ago, so fear not for your people," Aragorn replied with a slight smile. "But unless I am wrong, it still stands as law that one who has lived here and served the king is never again accounted a stranger."
"That is so, but even high officers of the court must surrender their weapons," Háma responded. "I would advise you to make no great issue over this, for it is required of all, even of Marshalls of the Mark."
"Then I shall give you no argument, but ask a question instead," Arathorn's son replied even as he unbuckled his sword-belt and motioned for Gimli to hand over his axe. The Dwarf obeyed with grudging reluctance, but said no more. "Having spoken with Éomer, I am led to believe that much goes amiss here." Those piercing grey eyes settled once more upon the Warden, who found himself nodding almost in spite of himself. "Why, then, has not the council intervened?"
"The council?" Háma blinked. "Your visit must have been quite long ago indeed, if you know not the answer. There is no council, sir, only a councilor."
"And why has he done naught for the Riddermark's succor?"
"Why say you that he has not?"
"Gandalf Greyhame spoke with concern of the court of Edoras, and Éomer's voice and feel seem to me to justify that concern. Come, I am no spy sent by Saruman," Aragorn chided lightly, and when Háma's eyes narrowed, he added gently, "New spreads, Háma, Warden of Meduseld, and those who have eyes and ears cannot help but note the trouble of this land."
"I see," the Warden paused considerately, passing Aragorn's sword to one of the guard detail to set against the wall. "I fear I am not at liberty to speak much about such things, my lord."
"Then it seems that someone must inquire of this councilor."
"If there were any to do so, doubtless that would be the proper course," Háma admitted. And as Aragorn passed a second dagger to him, he gave the Warden a smile that inspired a swiftly suppressed shiver, for it did not quite reach his eyes. That look I have seen before, the Warden thought warily. Usually it was Éomer or Théodred who sported it, and often after learning of another incursion into the Mark by orcs or another of Wormtongue's plots to be foiled. It was the look a warrior wore into a hopeless or very doubtful battle. A very Éorling expression indeed, that smile and those eyes that betrayed naught but a warning for those who would oppose them, and Aragorn replied in a reasonable tone:
"Then I shall do so. For Ælric Eardstapa left the Mark in good standing, and never lost his rank!" At which pronouncement, Háma could not help but stare, lips parted in astonishment. Ælric Eardstapa … His father's tales of the court came back in an instant, and the warden shook his head as if dazed. Impossible!
"Ælric Eardstapa must be dead," he exclaimed, eliciting confused looks from the younger men of the guard, and hard stares from the older ones. "He would be my father's age at least!"
"Older, actually," Aragorn replied deadpanned, and Háma shook his head sharply.
"'Tis not possible. I would sooner look to see Isildur's Heir than Ælric!"
"Then look no further, Warden, for you have found them both." And with that, Aragorn beckoned Gimli to come and strode past Háma into the halls. And marvel of marvels, the guard contingent parted before them like sheep before a pair of wolves.
"Captain?" his second in command queried hesitantly, and Háma rounded on him fiercely. The other recoiled slightly, automatically stepping back out of range of the Warden's sword. "What means this?"
"I know not," Háma replied, his tone sharper than the other's question merited. Drawing a deep breath, the Warden attempted to calm his mind and quell his astonished disbelief. But do I disbelieve him? All that he had ever learned made the return of Isildur's Heir, not to mention of a man long assumed dead, highly improbable. And yet here comes one who claims to be both, and with him travel an Elf and a Dwarf and who knows what else? A pair of Halflings in a pocket, I suppose? Upon further consideration, it seemed self-evident that either Aragorn was quite mad… or else he was in truth Isildur's Heir. And Ælric, long Thengel's champion! Whatever the case, this promised to breed more than ceaseless arguments at least, and Háma came swiftly to a decision.
"Aldor! Take command here. Cyld, Halróf, and you two!" That last summons was directed at a pair of the younger lads who had only recently joined the guard and had naught to lose. "Follow me and do nothing save by my order alone. Do you understand?" he demanded, pinning each of the four with a hard stare.
"Aye, captain!" the chorused response came back, and he nodded sharply.
"Very good. Come then, and go quiet as a cat if you value your skins!" So there is another councilor in Edoras, is there? Another councilor to counter Wormtongue… to speak for those who need a voice. What is one more act of treachery in the name of the kingdom, after all is said and sifted? At the least, this disruption should shake the court and perhaps someone's claws will lose their hold a bit! And should it go ill—as well it might—I could be in worse company than Éomer's! So Háma followed his guests into the hall with a smile very like to Aragorn's on his face.***
"What was that about back there?" Gimli demanded in a basso whisper as he and Aragorn made their way towards the throne room. "What said you to the door warden?"
"I have told you that I served once in Rohan," the Ranger replied, and the Dwarf nodded. "Under the law, which has not been changed, once a man has offered his sword in defense of the realm and had that offer accepted, he is no longer eltheodig—no longer a stranger, legally. And though he may leave the realm, should he return, he retains all privileges that he enjoyed before, save only in certain cases of dishonor. As I left Rohan a captain and councilor in good standing, I remain one, though one who has been absent for long."
"Why then did you surrender your sword?"
"Because had I contested the new law, I would have risked my standing. And I shall need it to argue with Master Wormtongue, of whom Gandalf so fondly spoke at the council of Elrond," Aragorn replied grimly.
"But how shall that help you? Surely you would waste your time arguing with him?"
"Agreed. I should perhaps have said that I would argue with Théoden, for all councilors are co-equal in rank and as Ælric, I need not Gríma's permission to address my king."
"Diplomacy!" Gimli sighed softly, shaking his head.
"Politics, which is not always the same thing. Bide a time in silence, Gimli, and follow my lead where appropriate!"
"That is easy enough to say," Gimli muttered. He supposed that Aragorn's plan was a good one, but truthfully, he knew too little of law and custom in Rohan to make a sound judgment. At the moment, Rohirric politics interested him only insofar as they concerned the fate of a certain Elf of Mirkwood, and Gimli chafed at the bit to know what had become of him. Háma's smooth deferral of the question had not eased his mind, and he chewed on his mustaches pensively as he trotted along at Aragorn's side, wishing that the Dúnadan would remember his shorter stride.
And that he would speak Westron! Mahal curse it all, why can they not speak a tongue that all understand? Dwarvish mores aside, it was only courtesy to speak the language of a guest. Or, if that were not possible, to at least speak a common tongue, commonly agreed upon. I suppose, though, that that fellow at the main gate was warning enough! For the hail had come in Rohirric, and although Aragorn had answered all in Westron, the other had been quite content to carry on his half of the conversation in his native (and to Gimli's ears, unintelligible) language. Apparently, though, Rohirric, like disease, was catching, and Gimli had waited with what he considered magnanimous patience while his companion had haggled with Háma.
"Calmly, my friend, and never fear, you shall learn the answers to your questions in good time. If I fail in this gambit, after all, we shall have many a long hour in the dungeon to fill," Aragorn replied with a soft chuckle, leaving Gimli to wonder at the other's sense of humor.
They came now to a heavy set of ornate doors, and the guards there hesitated not an instant to open them and wave them within. A Dwarf's eyes, accustomed to subterranean dwellings, naturally adjusted well to gloom, and in truth, the darkness of the hall had troubled him little. But as they entered the throne room, the Dwarf frowned. Light streamed through a single, unshuttered window set high in the wall, and the contrast between the patch of illuminated floor and the rest of the room was stark. But beyond that, Gimli was aware of a sense of malice, of illness, almost, that clung to the hall, and he wrinkled his nose slightly. 'Tis not a smell… what is it? he wondered as he peered through the gloom, squinting as his eyes readjusted.
Upon the throne sat a stooped and wizened figure, and the Dwarf felt his stomach drop out through the earth as he realized that indeed, this was Rohan's king. Frail as a reed he seemed, with his snowy locks and Dwarf-long beard. Mahal have mercy, this is power that rules the land?! He shot Aragorn a quick glance, but Isildur's Heir betrayed nothing in his expression and strode forward to stand before the lowest step. "Westhu hal, cyning mín," he greeted Théoden, and the king stirred slightly. " Gehyrst thu mé?"
"Sé cyning ne gehierth elthéodas," came a soft voice from the steps, and Gimli jerked his gaze from the king to the figure seated there before the throne. He had not even noticed the Man, which was telling. It was as if the other's voice had made him visible, crafting him a body to contain itself. And I think me that I like not the language he speaks, Gimli decided. And I do not mean Rohirric! Something in that voice grated on the Dwarf's ears, like boulders grinding, or the trembling of the earth, and he liked it not at all. Beside him, Aragorn cocked his head slightly, eyes narrowing as he stared at the man whose nervous blinking began to irritate Gimli further.
"Ne eltheodig eom ic, runwita," the Ranger replied firmly.
"Ah? Hwa cann thæt ús iewan? Nænig!" Even Gimli recognized the sneering contempt in that question, and the Dwarf found his fists balling at his side as anger coursed through him on his friend's behalf. Be politic, he reminded himself, and made certain to clasp his hands behind his back in an effort to obey Aragorn's earlier injunction.
"Nænig, secgeth Gríma Gálmódes bearn, mmm? Resteth ne æan ne arweorth her, Théoden-cyning?" Was it Gimli's imagination, or did a round of hisses go through the hall at that, as if every guard in the room had drawn a sharp breath at once? But whatever the guards might think, the apparently pointed question drew an inquiry from the king, which the Dwarf hoped was a good sign as Théoden had not yet spoken a word.
"Hwa eart thu?" the old man's voice came out as a hoarse whisper, and the wrinkled, thin hands that clutched the arms of the throne trembled as Théoden leaned forward slightly to stare at Aragorn.
"Hé is nænig, cyning mín!" the councilor replied quickly, adopting an oily tone that set Gimli's nerves on edge. "An hefigtyme scrithaner is hé! Sceawiath hine, hlaford!"
"Cum her!" Théoden replied, seeming not to notice his councilor, and Aragorn went. Up to the steps, and, at the king's shaky gesture, he ascended 'til he stood directly before the old man, there to kneel in polite obeisance. "Sceawe mé!" The Ranger raised his eyes to Théoden's, and the two men stared at each other in silence. Seconds trickled by, becoming minutes, and Gimli fancied that Erebor began to change its shape as time wore away at it, so long did that silence endure. Even the councilor said naught, though his breath rasped loudly and he seemed to have grown even paler, if that were possible. What passes here in this hall? the Dwarf wondered, frustrated by his inability to understand what was said around him. Guardsmen were watching, unabashedly staring in fascination at the still scene before them: Aragorn on his knees, seeming before the aged, white-haired king rather more young than Gimli had ever thought him to be ere that very moment.
At long last, Théoden raised a trembling hand and laid it upon Aragorn's face, and it seemed to the dwarf that the old man's eyes grew suspiciously bright and glassy. "Ne… ne, thæs cann nic wesan!"
"Oncnawest thu mé, Théoden-cyning?"
"Ic sceawie an mann, hwæt ic in gemynd mín sceawie… an Ælric Eardstapa." Speak Westron! Gimli felt like suggesting, but upon due consideration, he decided that it might be best not to break the mood with any such request. Whatever happened between Aragorn and Théoden, it seemed more wholesome than what churned within the soul of the odious little councilor. Gimli, gazing at the man, felt a shiver pass through him, and the hair on the nape of his neck stood up in response to the other's nearly white-eyed stare.
" Giese, hlaford mín. And mid thín lætanung, thín runwitena sculath thá Riddermearce sprecan!"
At that precise moment, footsteps sounded, and a familiar voice cried out: "Gimli!"
"Legolas!" The Dwarf turned in astonishment to see Háma of the guard escorting a rather startled Elf into the hall. And behind him…
"Éomer!" Théoden murmured as the Third Marshal, hands bound behind his back, dropped instantly to his knees. To the Dwarf's eyes, the man seemed haggard, exhausted, and there was in his face something that bespoke an inner torment that was grievous to behold. But his eyes blazed with some unidentifiable emotion that seemed to give him strength enough to speak the traditional greeting in a voice nearly his own.
Tûrg Mahalu, what is wrong with him? The Dwarf hurriedly looked to Legolas, eyes flicking over his friend in a hasty evaluation. Mirkwood's prince seemed to be in better spirits than the Marshal at least. Indeed, Legolas seemed quite alert, and if there were still a shadow in his eyes, he did not droop or withdraw, but fixed his bright stare upon the king. Gríma, on the other hand, looked about to suffer an apoplectic fit, but that that would rid the court of him too easily.
"Háma!" the councilor snapped, and before the hatred in that voice the captain of the guard drew himself up (and drew a deep breath, Gimli noted), seeming as one who girds himself against a storm he cannot escape.
"Théoden-cyning," the Warden began at almost the same moment, as if he would plead his case quickly, ere the councilor could speak much of him.
"Hlaford mín," Éomer interjected as well, and Gimli shook his head sharply, unable to follow the rapid shifts as the babble of voices reached a crescendo, each man trying to speak at once in a torrent of impassioned Rohirric. Aragorn's silver gaze went swiftly from Marshal to Warden to councilor, and thence to Legolas. Throughout it all, other than to hail Gimli, the Elf had not spoken, nor had he taken his eyes from the king, and the Ranger's eyes narrowed in turn as he glanced back at Théoden.
And what did that look mean? What else did I just miss? the Dwarf grumbled to himself, folding his arms across his chest. The king sat with head bowed, as if unable to withstand the onslaught of voices and pleas. Indeed, Gimli found himself in sympathetic accord with the old man, for the sense of helpless fury and desperation that pervaded the court was nearly intolerable. No small wonder that Aragorn sensed something amiss! Such an atmosphere is well nigh stifling, and it shows. Mahal but it shows! Did Boromir face this, I wonder? Did he know how fragile was the ice upon which Rohan stood—and continues to stand—when he passed through here on his way north?
Such was but idle speculation, though, and there was naught a Dwarf could do but wait out the speeches and hope that something came of this seemingly fruitless exchange. To his left, Legolas appeared to have come to the same conclusion, for he closed his eyes and began to whistle softly to himself, ignoring the bonds and the guards and all the racket with peculiarly elvish aplomb.
Oddly, though, the Elf's tune seemed to have a soothing effect, for one by one, the men fell silent; even Gríma ceased his tirade. But whereas Éomer and Háma looked to Legolas with a slightly puzzled fascination, and Aragorn watched the king with hawk eyes, the councilor's face darkened. His lips peeled back from his teeth, and a hiss escaped him, which seemed to the Dwarf a rather excessive response to bit of music. Even if it is haunting… Gimli thought, frowning thoughtfully.
"Why do you fear a mere song, councilor?" Aragorn shot back in the Common Speech, startling Gimli with his sudden switch.
"A mere song? This Elf tried to put a spell on the king before, and this treacherous fool allows him a second chance!" Gríma replied, rounding on Háma with a malicious gleam in his eyes. "Long have I suspected this one of double-dealing…."
Éomer made a strangled noise, and it needed a moment for Gimli to realize that the man laughed. The Third Marshal climbed to his feet, shaking his head.
"I kneel for my king, but for thee, I stand, Wormtongue! Craven and traitor I call thee, and thou canst but kill me for the naming. Which thou wouldst anyways," Éomer spat bitterly. "But I am told that the council convenes, and though I be but Éomer Éomund's son 'til my king judges me, I may still plead my case before the court. That is, if any man here has the heart as well as the authority to hear me." Éomer turned now to Aragorn, and desperate blue eyes fastened on the other. "Speak for me, I beg, if you be also Ælric whom my father loved well!"
"That has not been proven—" Gríma interjected hotly.
"Then let us put my claim to the test," Aragorn replied. "There is but one man in this hall who knew Ælric, and he is before us. Let the king name me formally, if he will."
As the men gazed expectantly at Théoden, Gimli drifted unobtrusively nearer Legolas and Éomer, for now that they had come to the breaking point, should Théoden's memory fail him, he would not see his friend dragged back below to the dungeon. Aragorn I can count upon to take care of himself, after all, but an Elf? Glóin's son smiled thinly. Théoden sat with his head bowed still, and made no move. Has he expired? the Dwarf wondered fearfully. A glance up at Legolas seemed to tell against that fear, for the Elf's eyes remained closed and he seemed calm enough. Whether in truth he wrought a spell, as Gríma charged, or whether he simply waited after his own fashion, Gimli could not say, but he thought that the Elf seemed… hopeful.
At long last, the king stirred, and a tremor seemed to run through him. He lifted his eyes to stare once more at Aragorn, who remained kneeling before him. Blue eyes touched then upon Gimli himself, and thence the king's gaze roved to find Gríma, Háma, and Éomer. Finally, those eyes settled upon Legolas, who opened his own at just that moment to meet them. Green and blue, field and sky, and for an instant, Gimli had the impression that somehow, the two belonged together, as if a cord more subtle than spun mithril bound them to each other. And then Legolas did something, and the cord seemed to fall, dissolving, and the Dwarf wondered whether it was simply a trick of his eyes, brought on by the contrast of sun and shade.
"I know you," Théoden murmured, never ceasing to gaze at the Elf. "You were with me that night…."
"I was, your majesty," Legolas replied, bowing low.
"He tried to attack you, my king!" Gríma hissed.
"Attack… how odd, for I remember a light in my dreams…" Théoden shook his head sharply, seeming to try to clear his mind as he shifted his attention back to Aragorn. "And you! How is it possible that you are here? You were my father's captain…"
"The line of Isildur is long-lived, my king," Aragorn replied. "And though I have been absent, I have kept my honor and would serve once more… if you will name me."
"Théoden King, do not let these sorcerers confound you!" Gríma entreated, clutching at the king's arm. This time, though, Théoden jerked, as if stung and the councilor recoiled slightly before the sharp-eyed glare turned upon him.
"Do not you question me in that tone, councilor. And do not touch me!" Gríma hastily withdrew his hand, and Théoden ignored him once more as he turned back to the Ranger. "I will name you: you are Ælric Eardstapa, captain and councilor, champion of my father in the days of my youth. Other names you have, it seems, but those you shall have to declare for yourself, for I know them not. But yours is not a face one forgets, not though many years pass." And with that, the king stood, and the clatter of his staff upon the floor was loud in the silence. "As for you, Éomer, you would speak, and so I give you leave. You need not seek a councilor's support."
"Béma be praised," the younger man muttered prayerfully under his breath. "My king, I seek redress for wrongs done me and my family! I stand before you with the charge of traitor over my head, and though I do not deny that I rode against our enemies without permission and allowed strangers to wander free within our bounds, surely there can be no such fault laid at the feet of my sister, Éowyn!"
"Éowyn? Where is she?" Théoden demanded, seemingly reminded of her absence.
"Ask Gríma Gálmód's son! Ask him who bought her honor with threats to my life!"
"What is this?" Théoden asked, turning ice-cold eyes upon the shrinking councilor.
"He lies, my king! Éowyn agreed to my suit!"
"Before or after you threatened Éomer's death?"
"I promised him a trial, as is his right. I did not threaten to kill him," Gríma replied.
"You or your minions, 'tis but a small difference! Ask Éowyn! Surely we may hear her voice, for is she not a shieldmaiden?" Éomer replied forcefully.
"No longer," Gríma replied, and smiled before Éomer's white-faced fury.
"A woman wronged has still redress through her brothers or father assuming they live," Aragorn replied mildly. "Perhaps it would be best to judge Éomer first, my king."
"You hold yourself guilty of breaking the law, Éomer?"
"I do, my king, but such laws as were crafted by Worm—by Gríma son of Gálmód I hold suspect!"
"As do I!" Háma interjected suddenly, coming to Éomer's aid. "My king, if you would hear those who would serve you truly, you will learn that there is not an honest man in this court! We are all of us traitors if Éomer is, for we have all sought the preservation of the realm and maintenance of the court against the bans of Gríma. Slay us all, or pardon us!"
There was a long pause as Théoden considered this plea, and Gimli rocked up onto his toes, scarce able to stand the anticipation. Surely he sees the truth now! Come, old man, speak! At length, the king turned to Wormtongue, and the councilor's pale eyes widened. "My king…" he murmured.
"Háma, take this below and see to it that the cell is secure."
"Gladly, your majesty!" The Warden signaled two of his men forward, and they were joined by a pair of men stationed in the hall itself. Gríma recoiled before them an instant, but then cursed loudly as Halróf none too gently laid hands on him and began herding him out of the hall. As the five of them passed before Éomer and Legolas, Gríma gave a serpentine hiss and spat at the Marshal, who flinched back, a look of disgust on his face. Disgust quickly gave way to anger, and he turned sharply to gaze after the councilor.
"Éomer," Aragorn's voice stilled whatever threat the younger man might have made, and the Marshal drew a deep breath. "Let him go, my friend. He has been dealt with."
"Loose them," Théoden commanded, sinking back down upon the throne. Weary he seemed now, but to Gimli, it was a less pervasive fatigue, and one more natural than that which had afflicted him before.
"Gimli!" The Dwarf turned and cocked a severe brow at the Elf, who stood rubbing his wrists to restore circulation.
"Master Elf, if you think ever to land yourself in a dungeon again, I shall send for my axe and spare both you and I much misery!"
"I shall say one thing for the cells of Edoras: the company is better there," the Prince of Mirkwood retorted, eliciting a strangled sound from his companion, and some chuckles from the men surrounding the unlikely pair.
"Then perhaps we should return you to one, so that you and Master Gríma may converse."
"Cyning!" Another of Háma's men appeared just then, bursting through the great doors with a look of cautious hope upon his face. "Hlafordas mín!"
"What news, ceorl?" Théoden asked with a slight frown.
"Cyning mín," and Gimli sighed softly as the man launched into a swift explanation… in Rohirric, of course. Legolas, on the other hand, listened intently, and the Dwarf's brow knit as he murmured:
"Do not tell me that you understand that!"
"Nay, not truly. But I begin to, I think. Éomer has taught me somewhat."
"Oh? Do tell!"
"I fear some of it I ought not to repeat in the company of the young and naïve." The Elf flashed a quick smile at his companion, who rolled his eyes.
Whatever news the man had brought, it caused a sensation as exclamations and murmurs flitted about the hall. Even Aragorn seemed surprised, but a look of grim composure quickly settled on his lean face. And then everyone was moving, the king and the Ranger among them, much to Gimli's consternation. "What now?"
"Éomer?" Legolas demanded, glancing at his cellmate of the past few days.
"It seems that the muster of Rohan has arrived," the Marshal replied with a taut smile. "Someone sent a summons. Would you care to guess whose work this might be?"
"Éowyn!" Legolas breathed.
"My sister never lacked for audacity. But I think me that she may have cut this quite fine indeed, for Balcor reports also that a second messenger returned with his message undelivered."
"He found Saruman's army between himself and Elfhelm," Éomer replied grimly as he and the others reached the doors and passed from the hall to the open air. News had spread swiftly, it seemed, for hails drifted up from the outer keep as people greeted the newcomers. The Marshal paused on the steps and scanned the towers along the ramparts. After a moment, he caught his breath and pointed towards one that had raised a red banner. "There! See?"
"What means that?" Gimli demanded.
"War comes to Edoras," Éomer said softly, and turned his eyes northwest, staring as if he would pierce the layers of stone and see straight through to the host that approached. "It has been a long time brewing, but they are coming." With a shake of his fair head, the Marshal offered a hard-eyed smile as he accepted a sword lobbed him by one of the guardsmen. "Take heart, Master Dwarf and you as well Legolas, for the wait is well nigh over. No man shall sleep tonight unless in death!"
A/N: This soul (tm) now owned in three equal parts by Karaquazian, Alawa, and HF, who answered my pleas and enabled me to further tweak my OE… hopefully I didn't mess it up even more! ;-) Aragorn's Rohirric name changed at the suggestion of Alawa, so instead of being "Ælric Homeless" he is now "Ælric Wanderer" which permits of something much closer to a nice alliteration (another OE trait. Thank you again Alawa).
I hope that you didn't go quite as crazy as Gimli during this chapter, but I wanted Rohan to feel foreign after spending so much time in it with Éomer, Éowyn, Legolas, and finally Háma. If you did, however, get frustrated, fear not, the translation (such as it is) follows. If it really bugged you, let me know and I'll (try to) restrain my impulses in the future.
Hwanon cumath theos æ?—Whence comes this law?
Westhu hal, cyning mín… Gehyrst thu mé?—Be you hail, my king… Would you hear me?
Sé cyning ne gehierth elthéodas.—The king does not hear foreignors.
Ne eltheodig eom ic, runwita.—I am no stranger, councilor.
Ah? Hwa cann thæt ús iewan? Nænig!—Oh? Who can prove that [lit. who can show us that?]? No one!
Næanig, secgeth Gríma Gálmódes bearn, mmm?Resteth ne æan ne arweorth her, Théoden-cyning?— No one, says Gríma Gálmód's son, mmm? Is there neither law nor honor here any longer, Théoden king?
Hwa eart thu?—Who are you? [Who art thou?]
Hé is nænig, cyning mín!…An hefigtymer scrianther is hé! Sceawiath hine, hlaford!—He is no one, my king! A troublesome wander is he! Look at him, lord!
Cum her!… Sceawe mé!… Ne… ne, thæs cann nic wesan!— Come here!… Look at me!… No, no, this cannot be!
Oncnawest thu mé, Théoden-cyning?‡ Do you recognize me, Théoden King?
Ic sceawie an mann, hwæt ic in gemynd mín sceawie… an Ælric Eardstapa.—I believe I see a man, whom I see in my memory… one Ælric Wanderer.
Giese, hlaford mín. And mid thín lætanung, thín runwitena sculath thá Riddermearce sprecan!—Yes, my lord. And with your permission, your councilors must speak of the kingdom.
Ætstand hine!—Stop him!
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.