3. An Unexpected Calling
Two weeks after Théoden's funeral, the last of the noble guests departed. Éowyn, however, stayed in Rohan, for her brother had bidden her not to leave him yet. So she bade farewell to Faramir, her betrothed, and gave him a promise to return to the South before the year wore out, since their wedding was to be in the last week of November.
After Éomer had said farewell to his friends, he sat on his seat in the great hall alone save for his guards and a middle-aged man named Léofred. This Léofred had just been made the king's advisor, and deservedly so, having long held a position of responsibility at the court. In those days when Théoden King had been poisoned by the treacherous words of Gríma Wormtongue, Léofred had ordered the affairs of Meduseld, settled disputes and taken care of many matters great and small. If it was thanks to Éomer that the Riddermark retained strength of weapons during that time, it was thanks to Léofred that there was still sense and order in Edoras. He was a man of a calm temper, thoughtful, knowledgeable and diligent. To him Éomer now turned and spoke:
"The reign of Théoden King has truly come to an end. And now I must show myself as a king, not just on the battlefield, but on the fields of peace. I shall need your advice, Léofred, for I know little of how to govern a people at peace."
"You will find out in good time, my lord, the things you need and the things you wish to accomplish," replied the older man. "But there is much that must be done right now. Many refugees still remain at Dunharrow and at Helm's Deep and indeed here in Edoras, and they will need help rebuilding their homesteads. All over our lands, many fields and farms have been burned down and food is scarce in some parts, while in others there is more than enough. You would do well to devise a way for sharing it justly. Our horses are greatly reduced in numbers, and we need to take care of their breeding. Some of the stables in the city have fallen into disrepair, as has the granary - "
"I can see that slaying orcs was probably the easier part," said the king with a sigh. He rose and began to walk about the hall. Sitting didn't come naturally to him.
"You will not need to do this all alone, my lord," said Léofred. "There are trusty and able men among the Eorlingas and some that have always been faithful lieges to the king. If you can but find out the whole extent of the undertakings, then you can entrust them with some of these tasks, just as you would have entrusted them with the command of an éored in battle, and I am sure they will fulfil them to your satisfaction. In all that regards the ordering of this hall, your sister will be able to advise you."
"You speak well, Léofred," replied the king. He thought for a while and then continued: "Erkenbrand would see to the ordering of the Westfold anyway. I say that Elfhelm should have charge of the Eastemnet, and Bertwald of the Westemnet, after the lords of these places have fallen. The care of the horses will be overseen by Éothain. I shall speak to these men in the morning. The refuges that remain in Edoras will be under my sister's care while she remains here. I trust in you to give me a clear picture of the situation."
Léofred nodded slowly and thoughtfully.
"I believe you have chosen well, my lord. There is another matter I would draw your attention to. We have a number of men in Edoras who have been maimed in battle and are no longer able to work in their trade. Many of them live on the charity of their neighbours. I believe it would be our duty, my lord, to find suitable employment for them. Who knows, there might be some among them who could help us with the tasks we are now facing."
"Will we have blind carpenters and one-armed builders?" said Éomer, but when Léofred was about to reply, he continued quickly: "Very well, very well. You are right; we have a debt to them. They fought the same battles as those who died or survived unharmed. I will leave it to you, Léofred. See these men and give them employment as you see fit."
"I shall do so, my lord," said Léofred and took leave of the king.
Éomer stood for a while, musing about the fate of his country and even more so about his own. The war was over. Over. It was hard to comprehend for someone who had never known a world at peace. He had spent most of his adult life riding with the Eorlingas, and while he took no pleasure in killing, he had always enjoyed the thrill of the chase, the rush in his veins during battle. He loved the smell of the horses and the sound of their hooves on the grassy ground. That was all over now or at least as good as over. It was not as if he would never ride again, there would still be times when he would have to lead his people with sword in hand. In fact, he had sat with Aragorn just the previous night and they had spoken of the need to rout those orcs and hostile Easterlings that still remained east of the river Anduin. However, most of his time would be spent now staying in one place, sitting on a throne, ordering things that seemed mundane and domestic after the adventures he had seen. He would be a settled man, and he wasn't sure he would like it much.
There was a side to it, though, that might make it bearable. Over the last few days Éomer had talked much with Imrahil, and the Prince of Dol-Amroth had promised to visit Rohan again in the springtime, and to bring his daughter with him. Lothíriel was, so her father had assured him, an amiable and handsome young woman, with a warm heart and high spirits, and brought up with all the refinement of a Gondorian princess. She might grace the court of Meduseld with as much dignity as Éomer's grandmother had done. It was a pleasing prospect.
"I am glad to see you smiling," said a soft voice. He turned and found his sister standing beside him.
"I was afraid you would be downhearted now that all our friends are gone," continued Éowyn.
"You are still here," he replied and took her hand, "though it must have grieved you to part from Faramir."
"It won't be long until we meet once more and then nothing shall part us henceforth. I do not grudge these last few weeks that I will spend in my homeland and with my brother. Who knows when I shall see either of them again?"
"Éowyn," her bother said with tenderness, "your coming and going once you are wed I cannot command, but whenever you have need to see me, you only have to send word and I shall come on my speediest horse."
She pressed his hand and returned his smile and thus they stood for a while in silence, for neither of them felt the need to say any more.
Just before dawn he is on the Pelennor again. The air is thick with the smells of sweat and dust and horses. The cries of battle and the sounds of clashing weapons blur together to a deafening din. In the chaos around him he can barely tell friend from foe. He is looking for someone, he knows not who. Is it Halol? Niarl? All he knows is that he has to find him, but his feet are too heavy for moving, they are almost sticking to the ground. With a desperate exertion of will he pulls himself free, and now he is floating over the battlefield, looking down on the fighters and the broken bodies on the ground. He still can't find him, he still can't remember who it is he is searching for so frantically. At last one spot on the ground pulls him downwards and he sees the soldier lying there. He wears the braided hair and the leather armour of the Eorlingas, and when Déoric looks closer to see which of his friends this is, he finds that the broken eyes staring up at the sky are his own.
"Déoric! Time to get up!"
He opened his eyes and looked up at the wooden beams of the ceiling. The images of the dream faded, but the feelings it had evoked still clung to him like the aftertaste of a bitter nut. He sat up. His bed stood in the far corner of the main room, since he found it hard to climb the steep and narrow stair that led up to the two tiny bedchambers under the roof. Déoric looked around at the table, the three chairs, the carved chest, the white sand on the floor, trying to convince himself that this was home and that he was here. He did this daily and never quite succeeded. It was more than a leg that had been left behind on the battlefield.
Like every morning, Dirlayn had placed an earthen bowl of water on the stool by his bed. From the kitchen came the sound of her wooden spoon clanging in the pot. He pulled himself up and washed his hands and face. Then he dressed himself, opened his braids and took a horn comb to his hair. Dirlayn came and put two bowls of gruel on the table, while he plaited his hair and twined the thin leather straps around the ends. He stood up. His chair was about three yards from his bed. When Dirlayn went back into the kitchen to get the jug of milk, he hopped over without his crutches.
They sat and ate in the peaceful hush of the morning. Dirlayn stole glances at her son, who kept his eyes fixed on his bowl and clearly didn't intend to speak. So she sat in silence, a tall woman in her forty-third year, with strong features and wheat-blonde hair that was only just touched by the first hints of grey. When she had finished her meal, she put her spoon aside. Her lips moved soundlessly, as if she was mulling over something she wished to say but couldn't quite get herself to utter.
"I met Fana down by the field when I went milking. She's not looking too happy. You should go and speak with her," she said at last. Déoric didn't look up from his gruel.
"Why?" he replied. "What is there to say? It's not as if there were ever any promises between us. She is free to choose whomever she will."
"Oh, Déoric, what nonsense, no promises! It needs no betrothal when two young people have been frolicking about the country together the way you two have, and forever in and out each other's houses, too. I didn't know where to put my face when you made me send her away from the door."
"Well, she's stopped coming, so you don't have to worry about that anymore."
Dirlayn sighed and let the matter pass.
"You need to get ready to go," she said.
"I am ready," replied Déoric. "I don't see, though, what they would want from me. I don't really want to go. There must be at least a hundred steps leading up to the hall."
"All men so wounded in battle that they can no longer work in their usual trade. That's what they said, and therefore you have to go. Maybe they don't want anything from you. They might have something for you."
"You have much faith in the goodness of the world," said Déoric glumly.
Dirlayn gave no answer, but stood up and took the empty bowls off the table.
"Aldhelm will come here this afternoon," she called from the kitchen. "He is riding out into the Westemnet tomorrow. There is a man there in one of the villages, who lost his right foot at Helm's Deep. I will send him your spare shoes, if you don't mind."
"Oh, will you stop talking about my shoes, Mother!" yelled Déoric. He grabbed his crutches, hobbled out and slammed the door behind him with his elbow. Three crows that had been sitting outside the door cawed in alarm and took off, the tips of their black wings almost touching under their bodies. They were tossed about by a gust of wind and then they perched on the ridge of the neighbours' roof and watched Déoric making his way up the street.
At the back of the Hall of Meduseld stood a number of serviceable buildings; stables, storage houses and the living quarters of the king's guards. It was into one of these buildings, a long, lofty room which was usually used as a mess for the soldiers, that the crippled men had been asked to come. When Déoric arrived, weary from the climb, he saw that some two score men were already assembled.
Some of them he knew by sight and some by name, for they had been in the Houses of Healing, too, or were from Edoras; neighbours or people he had seen walking about the city for many years. But Edoras was at this time full of refugees. There had been other battles in other parts of the land, and many of the men, two dozen at least, he did not know at all. He sat down beside Wulfhere, a man who used to ride with Déoric's father, but whose sword arm had been so mangled by a troll hammer as to render him useless for a soldier's life.
Before long a grey-bearded man with an air of authority entered the room.
"That is Léofred, the king's advisor," whispered Wulfhere to Déoric.
Léofred greeted the men and explained that Éomer King wished to find them employment if possible. A low mumble of agreement followed his words, and he proceeded to speak to one man after another, asking each the nature of their injury, the kind of their previous occupation, and allocating to them such positions as they would be able to fill. Déoric strained his ears to listen for a while, but then his mind began to wander. In this very room his father had taken his meals at times, and had it not been for the Easterling's axe he, too, might be a member of the king's guard by now. It was an image too miserable not to be dwelt on. His thoughts only returned to the present when he saw Léofred standing beside him and heard Wulfhere explaining that he was a soldier by trade and had never been anything else.
"I fear I am of no use for any other occupation."
Léofred shook his head. "There you are wrong, Wulfhere. You know how to look after a horse, and we seem to have lost far too many stable hands. You can teach your left arm to feed and muck out horses. Go and report to the stable master."
Wulfhere stood up.
"I thank you, Master Léofred."
Léofred gave him a brief nod and turned to Déoric.
"And what is your name?"
"Déoric, son of Féadred."
"How old are you, Déoric?"
"I was nineteen last week."
"You are from Edoras, I believe? You face looks familiar."
"Yes, Master Léofred. I live here with my mother."
"What about your father?"
"He died two years ago during an orc raid in the Eastemnet. He rode in the éored of Théoden King."
Léofred furrowed his brow in concentration. "Féadred, you said? I think I remember him. Tall man, with a scar on his right cheek? Ah, yes. And what trade have you learned?"
Déoric paused. "I was brought up to be a soldier. I expected to join my father's éored," he said at last. He bit the knuckle of his second finger. His cheeks were flushed. Léofred drew breath to speak again, but Déoric continued hastily: "I would rather not work in the stables. It... it would be too painful for me. I am sorry if I seem insolent, but to see others take out the horses and to know that I will never..." He lowered his head.
"Fear not, my lad," said Léofred. His voice sounded softer than it had before. "I shall find you something else to do, if I can. What other skills do you have? Baking? Carpentry? Boot making? You need not be a master of the trade, if you can help somebody else with their work."
The young man shook his head and looked down.
"My father taught me to handle the sword and to mind a horse. He had been a soldier since his eighteenth year, and had never thought of another way of life. There is nothing that I ...that is ... unless ..."
"Well, what is it?" demanded Léofred.
"Oh, I don't think it will be of any use, but I can write."
"Indeed? That is an unusual skill."
"My uncle taught me. He was a scribe in Gondor before he came to the Mark to wed my aunt. I write a fair hand. My mother sometimes asks me to write a letter to her sister in Aldburg, if she can get hold of a piece of parchment."
Léofred stroked his beard.
"Can you do sums, too?"
"Not very well," replied Déoric. He still didn't look up.
"That is a pity. Still... yes, I think we will be able to make use of you. Report to me tomorrow morning."
"Yes, Master Léofred. Thank you." Déoric lifted his eyes, but the king's advisor had already moved on to the next man.
"What is your name?"
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.