7. Trouble in the Westmark
Five years later
The blowing of a horn disturbed the peace that had been in Edoras for many days now. At once the guards at the gates were roused and they climbed on the watchtowers to see who was approaching the capital city of Rohan. A small figure coming closer and closer, continuing with blowing his horn. It did not only rouse the guards of Edoras, but also the people who inhabited the city. All came out of their houses, laying their work aside for a while, to see what was going on.
The rider was near the gates and if they were not opened, then he would certainly crash against them, so high was his speed.
"Open the gates, in the name of Erkenbrand!!"
Seeing as there was no reason why the gates would be closed and that if they didn't, an accident would happen, the guards quickly proceeded to do as was asked of them. They opened the gates as quickly as possible. When they were finally wide open, the men quickly sought a place to stand. For only a few seconds after they had gone out of the way, the rider entered the city. With some difficulty he managed to slow his horse down.
Once he was standing still, the captain of the gates came towards him and helped him off his steed. "Hail," spoke the rider. "I've come with greatest urgency from the Hornburg, carrying a message from the Lord Erkenbrand. It must be brought to Éomer King immediately." The captain guard nodded, seeing how tired and rushed the rider was. "Aye, it will be so. One of my men will bring you to the Golden Hall."
Hearing all the commotion, Elfwine came out of the stables of Meduseld. He had just returned moments ago from a patrol with his éored and had tended Wingfoot. A frown appeared on his fair face as he saw how the messenger was brought to Meduseld.
A messenger from Lord Erkenbrand, he thought to himself, and with greatest urgency. Something must be wrong. Elfwine quickly lay his things aside and walked towards Meduseld himself. Surely he would have to be at his fathers side when he received the message. News from the Marshal of the Westmark also concerned the Marshal of Edoras.
The atmosphere in the Golden Hall was tense when the young prince, now 26 years old, entered. Nearly all of his fathers counsellors were present and he saw his mother was standing next to his fathers throne. All of their faces were serious and stern, as if some great trouble had happened. Then Elfwine saw his father. Éomer's face looked stern and grim, troubled for one thing. He read the message of Erkenbrand with greatest concentration, to absorb everything of it. In front of him stood the Westfold Rider, humbly, with his helmet in his hands and staring at the ground until the King of the Mark would speak.
Éomer's concentration was disturbed when he heard light footsteps. He looked up from the piece of paper in his hands to see who was responsible for that. A certain sign of relief could be seen on the King's features when he that it was his son, standing a few feet away from him.
"Elfwine, it's good youve come before I could sent someone to get you."
The young Marshal of the Mark came closer towards the throne of his father and bowed slightly. Then he came straight to business. "What message has Lord Erkenbrand sent?"
The King sighed and handed the letter to his most trusted advisor and right hand. Elfwine took it and read slowly. His eyes widened as the message was made comprehendible in his mind. There was trouble in the Westmark! Again his eyes rushed over the markings on the paper, as if he wanted to read again to understand it better.
Villages burned down to ashes
Horses mutilated and slaughtered
The harvest taken or destroyed
Men had been killed
Women been raped
Éomer waited patiently until his son had completely read the message. Their blue eyes met as Elfwine looked up and for a moment they did only that. The silence in the Golden Hall was nerve wrecking. All counsellors were getting restless when no one spoke. Lothíriel needed only to throw one glance at her husband and son to know what was going on inside their minds. Their eyes were blazing with fire and the way Éomer held hold of his throne said enough.
After a while all noticed how the king and his heir became calmer again and regained their composure. Their breathing slowed down and their muscles relaxed. A sigh of relief could be heard. But their eyes remained full of fire.
"Who is responsible for this?"
The question was aimed at no one in particular, but Erkenbrand's messenger stepped forward and answered. "No one really knows, m'lord. The attacks happened during the night and no one has seen the attackers. Those that have, are dead now. The survivors are all coming to Helm's Deep to find refuge there, as they have nowhere else to go now. Lord Erkenbrand thinks the attacks come from Uruk Hai, descendants of the Uruk Hai Saruman created."
Éomer frowned and scratched his stubbled chin. He thought long about the steps that should be taken next. It remained silent for very long. Then the King turned to his son and placed a hand on his shoulder. "Elfwine, I want you to take a few of your men, not too many. That would rouse suspicion. Travel to Helm's Deep and meet up with Erkenbrand there. I want you to find out what is going on there."
One of the counsellors stepped forward. At first he seemed hesitant to speak, as he did not want to question his King's orders. But he had to speak and voice his concern. "My lord, would it be wise to send a Marshal to Helms Deep? And not just a Marshal, but your son?"
"Godric, my son is a very capable warrior and if he is to succeed me later, he has to face difficulties. I am sure he is able to handle this situation. I trust him. It would be wise of you to do the same."
The King of Rohan looked sternly at the counsellor and nodded at him. Shyly, the man stepped backwards, under mumbling: "Yes, my lord."
Elfwine looked at his father and nodded. "It will happen as you wish, father. I will report back to you as soon I have found something. Now, if you will excuse me, I have preparations to make."
After bowing, the son of the King and Queen left the Golden Hall and walked towards his quarters. As soon as he had entered, he closed the door and leaned against it. The dark haired young man closed his eyes and thought about his next mission.
Going to Helm's Deep. That meant he would have to face not only Erkenbrand, but his annoying children too. Elfwine cringed at the thought of the youngest of 'em, Heruwyn. The last time he had seen her was three years ago. He still remembered how she had played tricks upon him, teasing him with his Gondorian blood and never ceasing to let him know how she thought about it.
A great sigh escaped from his lips. He had tried very hard not to respond to it and to keep himself from hitting her and so far he had succeeded. But he wasn't sure if he wanted to go through all that again. Nevertheless, Elfwine started to make preparations for his departure.