10. Even in Death
"Are you sure this plan will work?"
Éomer king did not answer at once. What plan had ever worked according to, well, plan? None that he knew of. But he did not voice that thought.
"As sure as I can be, Ingold," he said instead. "We need to consult Aduiar's maps, but I think my memory of the Pelennor is accurate enough. We will need only small adjustments, I guess."
He rubbed the front of his left shoulder. Lightly. Absentmindedly. He had not had time to notice it before, but he would probably have a bruise there from the bars. It would fade before they reached Minas Tirith, but right now it was tender.
"Are you hurt, lord?" Ingold asked.
"No," Éomer said. "Just tender from holding Gwidor restrained. I must be growing old and soft; the bars were so much harder than I seem to recall. But be that as it may," he shot a glance at Bergil. The youth sat slumped in his chair. His eyes were closed and his eyelashes seemed unnaturally dark against his skin. Éomer sighed. "I am not the one we need worry about."
Bergil did not open his eyes but he was awake, for he answered.
"I will be fine once the room stops spinning."
Ingold gave a sound that could only signify disbelief, echoed by Éomer. Bergil must have heard them. He continued:
"I have hit my head before, and the headache will be gone in a few days' time. Before your bruise fades, I wager, lord of horses." He swallowed. Then he lifted his head and opened his eyes. He turned to Éomer.
"Targon will not live."
It was a statement; put so quietly and calmly that Éomer at first could not tie the words and the pale face in front of him together in his mind.
"I fear not," he answered when he heard the meaning. "He was stabbed in the gut; I doubt even the best healer could save him. Unless Asteth can stop the bleeding, he will bleed out before the day." And that might be kinder.
Bergil closed his eyes again and rested his head on the high back of the chair.
"I saw the King bring lord Faramir back from death," he said. "He was burning, burning up from the inside and they could not pull him out. But he just called him, and Faramir came back."
Éomer had his own memories of that day, but he had seen the wound.
"Had the lord Aragorn been here, he still could not save Targon, I fear. Not unless he could make flesh grow, and blood replace itself."
"I should have recognised him." Bergil did not move or open his eyes again. "He said he served in the Citadel Guard. With… I should have known him. I should have recognised him when first I saw him." He turned and looked at Éomer again. "Why did I not know him?"
"He made it his trade not to be known."
"But he knew me."
"From what I know," Éomer replied, "he was a quartermaster; you would not have seen him often, even if he was in the same company." Éomer considered the young man for a moment. He turned to Cearl who had not spoken since they arrived at the Mansion.
"Will you take Bergil back to the room? He should rest, and we do not need his memory of the City for the rest of the plans. But come back as swiftly as you can; you will leave as soon as we have confirmed and finished our plans."
Cearl bowed and helped Bergil out of the room. The door closed behind them.
"He is too young to have served in the Guard," Ingold said.
"He did not," Éomer answered the unspoken question. "His father did. He was in the same company as Targon, before he was lost. Beregond marched with the army and never returned from the Black Gate. Bergil does not often speak of him."
Ingold merely nodded. Few ever spoke of those that were lost.
Éomer sent Ingold to keep an eye on the door; it would not do to be surprised by yet another spy, though he doubted that there were others left, and none as dangerous as Gwidor. But Ingold could tell Borondir and Fastred what they needed to know on the way, and that would save time. Éomer himself went to find Aduiar. It could not take that long to find a few maps.
It was not difficult to find the mayor. Of course it helped that he had told them where he was going, but also Éomer heard the voices. They were loud enough to be heard, but not loud enough that he could hear what they were talking about. He recognised Fastred's voice with Aduiar's, and that was a relief; Éomer had feared that Fastred would not be convinced to trust the mayor easily. The two men seemed to talk peacefully enough.
Éomer opened the door and stepped into the room. Neither of the men saw him; Fastred was too intent on the mural before him, and Aduiar watched Fastred.
"I fear for the king," he heard Fastred say. He had known this, of course, but Éomer had not realised how much this bothered Fastred. That Elfhelm worried, he knew. That his sister worried, she made sure that he knew. He even knew that his men always made sure that he was protected, if it was within their power, but this was their duty. In Fastred's voice he heard a fear he did not expect.
Éomer missed Aduiar's reply, but he marked Fastred's next words.
"He has already decided to go to Minas Tirith. I knew as soon as we heard the news that he wanted to go, even knowing what the orc said. He would want to go even if he knew for certain that there is a trap waiting for him. And if he falls, the lady, his sister, and Elfhelm will never forgive me."
That concern Éomer could understand.
"He is not even wed; his line may be broken before it even begins. If not for his sister-son, I do not think Elfhelm would ever let him leave Wellinghall, let alone the Huorns' Guard."
Fastred fell silent for a while. He was still turned away from the door, but Aduiar had by now seen the king. He did not, however, give Éomer away. Then Fastred turned.
"I did not know that my lack of a wife was such an interesting subject that it would make two grown men tarry so," Éomer said.
Fastred was unable to answer.
"It is, of course," Éomer continued, "comforting to know that my men take such interest in my well-being, but we do not have time for courting or match-making even if there should be any suitable ladies close by."
"The lack of an heir will always cause concern, lord king," Aduiar answered. "And it is not a jesting matter."
"Even if I die today, my people will have a leader, and a king," Éomer answered. "My sister-son will rule after me, should I die before I father a son. I have more pressing concerns than the pursuit of a wife."
"Had you tens of sons, I would still fear for you if you go to the Mundburg, my King," Fastred said. His voice was quiet. Éomer regarded him in silence.
"I will take care," he finally said. "I will take no unnecessary risks, but I will not turn back."
Fastred bowed. "As you say, Sire."
Húrin listened to the ground. It was one of the first things he had learned as a Ranger: the ground carried tidings to those that knew how to listen. He had learned to listen to the sound of the earth, discerning the steps of two-legged creatures from four-legged. It was not difficult. Most animals made little sound compared to Men or Orcs; Hobbits and Elves he had little need of tracking. At the moment the trail was clear and fresh, but the track of the servant-girl had left the forest paths and entered the road. He did not want to meet others, so he listened.
Húrin rose. He brushed damp earth from his hands and cheek. He had felt no other footsteps near, none but his prey, and he could sense no other presences. He might still be seen, for his sense was no surety, but he had little choice. He had to catch the girl.
"Ah, Bergil," he muttered. "You will not like this." He stepped out from the trees and onto the road.
To his left, the road turned back west to Calembel. Oak-trees hid the view of the fields east of the town, and thick ferns grew at the side of the road. To the east the road ran towards Ethring. There were still a few trees that way, but they thinned quickly. Up a small hill the road ran, and beyond, though Húrin could not yet see it, the land was open and flat. Húrin turned east and began to walk.
He had the long legs of his people, and in his life he had walked more than he had ridden; he reached the top of the hill quickly. From there he could se the road stretched out before him, and on the plains below movement. Someone small was moving there. The girl.
It took Húrin no more than half an hour to overtake her. She was out of breath and her movements stiff, unused to such races. Húrin had hardly broken a sweat. He expected her to stop, to give up and walk back with him, too frightened to protest. Or to plead with him. She did neither. She continued to move with a strange half-run, stumbling and twisting out of reach whenever he tried to intercept her.
"I tire of this, girl. You can not evade me," but his words fell on deaf ears. She slipped past him again, doggedly waking on, and his patience ran out.
"Cease this foolishness. Now!"
He grabbed her wrist. She tried to twist away, but he had held on to stronger creatures than she. "You will return with me," he said.
"No!" She fought him, but she was too small to reach even his shoulders. He caught the other hand and held her until she tired. She stilled when she understood that he would not let her go.
"Please," she said. "He will harm me."
Húrin shook his head. "It is too late for pleas," he said. "But you need not come to any harm. Come; you have much to explain."
One last ploy she had. Like a stubborn child trying to get its parents to yield to its will, she slumped to the ground, refusing to put any weight on her feet. Refusing to stand or move. But Húrin had no more patience left. When the girl refused to walk herself, he simply picked her up and threw her over his shoulder. She was small and light enough– he had carried back fallen prey heavier than her. She screamed.
"I will gag you if I must," Húrin said. "I will let you walk, if you wish to, but you will return with me."
They reached a compromise of sorts: she kept quiet, but Húrin had to carry her. Judging by her stumbling gait earlier, he guessed that it would be faster anyway.
Faster, but more suspicious. He needed to get off the road before he was seen. Even in these days, a man carrying off a girl would raise questions he did not wish to answer. And he did not trust the girl to stay quiet if there was a chance for her to get away. He did not trust the fear he sensed in her to be for the Enemy's soldiers, rather than for himself. On the plains, hidden eyes could see far. Húrin broke into an easy trot.
It did not stay easy. Before he reached the top of the hill, he could feel the strain. His breath was still even, but the girl felt like a dead prey would, and her weight belied her small stature. Húrin no longer doubted that she was a grown woman; no girl would feel this heavy. His anger stirred again. Bergil would not like it. He did not like it himself.
Six men sat in Aduiar's office. The room had not been made to hold that many, but Aduiar did not want to use one of the larger rooms. They were all, with the exception of the one with the mural, empty and full of dust. There had been little use for them while he was mayor, and he liked the smaller, cosier rooms better. Visitors were few.
On his desk, maps of the White City lay spread. He had several, though only one was official. It was of limited use for their movements in the City, but it was the largest and it showed the Pelennor and the land around the West Road as well.
"I remembered correctly," Éomer said. "There is a small wood here," he pointed, "west of the Rammas Echor. It is a bit further away than I would have liked, but if we have a small camp there, it is a shorter ride from there to the Stonewain Valley. We should be able to lose pursuit in the Drúadan forest. If the Wild Men are still there, they might even help us, as they did before."
"The Drúadan forest is likely our best option anyway," Borondir said. "Any other road is too open. Even the speed of horses of Rohan will not help us long. If the Enemy sends his dreadful servants on Winged Beasts, we will need the shelter of the trees."
"And someone that can resist his servants," Aduiar added. "They drive both men and horses mad with fear, I have heard."
"Do you know if he will send any of them?" Éomer asked.
"No, I have not heard. But if he does, my guess is that he will not send more than one or two. The Master of Isengard is said to be uncomfortable in their presence." Aduiar gave a wry smile. "Perhaps you should send for your sister? She does not mind their presence, if the stories are true."
"Éowyn is not leaving Fangorn forest," Éomer said. His eyes flashed, and Aduiar made note not to jest on that subject again.
"The Mayor's words have merit," Borondir said. "We will need help against the Nazgûl, should they be sent. The Halfling might perhaps …"
"Neither he not my sister is coming; I will not risk any of them. Though Master Holdwine fights well enough, we need swift riders. No, neither of them would help us now, I fear. But there is one that could. Lord Glorfindel is said to have had the power to drive the dwimmerlaik away, and I do not think he would want to wait for our return. He and Elfhelm should be able to lay their own plans for our escape, once they know where they can find us."
The others nodded, all but Fastred, who still had misgivings, and Cearl who had no place approving or disapproving his king's decision.
"If there is nothing more that needs to be spoken…"
"Sire, " Fastred said. "One thing. The girl, if she does manage to alert a patrol, or reach a garrison town, then what?"
"You know, as well as I, Fastred, that we may have to withdraw," Éomer said. "Or at least make other plans, plans that do not require all of us."
"She has no reason to suspect me, or Borondir," Aduiar said. "But if she overheard the innkeeper talk with your men…"
"I was there too, Lord Mayor," Borondir said. "You would be the only one she could not bear witness against."
"If she worked with Gwidor, I would be under suspicion as well." Aduiar stood. Had there been room, he would have walked; walking always cleared his mind. "I would probably be able to refute any charges Gwidor might have sent through her, now that he cannot bring them himself, but I would be watched. Without Borondir there to help, there will be little I can do by myself, and none of the Faithful will trust me."
"There are others we can send." Ingold had not spoken much after they resumed their planning. "If we do not at least try, we will have lost too much, for no gain."
"Who would you suggest?" Aduiar asked. "None of those that were arrested this winter could do it. If I am under suspicion, they would be too."
That gave them pause. Though the Faithful in Calembel were more numerous than in many other towns, most of them were too old or too young. Or women. Not many could be sent on a rescue.
"What of Asteth?" Borondir asked. "None would think that she would be involved in any rescue."
"An old widow?" Fastred shook his head. "None would suspect her, that is true, but for good reasons! She is too old to carry out a rescue, even if she had been a man."
"But she might bring word to others that can." Éomer smiled. "If the Enemy can use a girl to spy, we can use an old woman as messenger. Both Damrod and Mablung know her, and on her word they might come to trust Aduiar. The rest of us can find our way to Drúadan forest, and lie in wait there."
It was the best they could plan for before Húrin returned and they knew more. Éomer was confident that the Ranger could overtake her. The only thing that left for them was to find out what they should do with the body of Gwidor, and what story they should tell to explain his absence. That decision they left for Aduiar and Borondir. Ingold was sent to prepare provisions for the messenger to the leaders in Fangorn, Cearl to ready his horse.
Cearl had little to prepare. With his horse newly shod, he checked it more carefully than usual; making sure that it had no sore or warm spots. At any other time of year, he would have preferred to keep it unshod, but the hooves were soft from the snow. They had had no time to harden, and a sore-footed horse would not make it to Fangorn in time. They could not risk that.
"How is he?" Éomer asked.
"His legs are cool, Sire," Cearl answered. "They are a not as dry as they use to be, and I think he is a little stiff, but that is most likely from being stabled, not shod. If I start out easy, he should loosen up quickly enough."
"Good," Éomer said. He handed Cearl a small bundle wrapped in leather. "Take this. Perhaps Glorfindel has heard news of the owners, but even if not, I would not risk bringing them with us." It was the dagger and the star Fastred had found on the dying orc.
"My lord." Cearl did not know what else to say. He bowed to Éomer.
"Ferthu hál," the king said. "May the mearas lend your steed speed, and Béma hide you from our enemies' eyes. Go by the shortest way, and fear not."
Cearl bowed again. Without a word he turned and led his horse from the stable. Éomer did not follow him out. Did not follow to see him mount or hear the last admonitions Fastred gave. Did not see him leave. He stayed in the empty stables, hoping they had chosen right.
Húrin needed a break. Ranger or no, used to hardship or not: he needed a break. The girl did not fight him, but she just hung there, like dead weight, and if he had not known better, he could have sworn that she grew heavier with each step he took. He paused briefly to look around.
Water trickled up from the moss underneath his feet. Above him the canopy of the trees sprouted small leaves, giving it a veiled green. Not enough to hide the sky, but enough to give some shade and hopefully hide them from the eyes of birds. Húrin saw no birds of prey, but he could hear the songs of smaller birds around. Spring, they sang. Spring! The air was full of moss and spring-leaves and water-scent, of sun-warmed earth and growing things. The oaks and ash-trees stood tall amid smaller birches, the shivering aspen and the silver elms spread around the streams. He drew in the scent.
The girl on his shoulder stiffened.
"Are you sniffing me?"
"You are! You, you… let me go!" she demanded. She began to fight. Húrin could have laughed, but one flailing arm caught him across the face. The angle was awkward and there was no power behind it, still… he had complained that she was deadweight? Kicking and screaming was far worse. He tightened his hold on her.
It only made her fighting worse.
"Stop fighting," he gritted through clenched teeth. She did not listen. He would have preferred a dryer spot, but she would have herself to blame; he flung her from his shoulder and down on the ground, following her down to straddle her and hold her still until she relented.
She did at once.
Limp once more, she did not speak, she did not look at him. Her eyes were closed and her breath was shallow and fast. Húrin waited, wanting to make sure she would not strike out again. Waiting for her to catch her breath and look at him.
Moisture seeped into the fabric on his knees. For each silent moment that passed, the girl's breath grew more and more agitated until the silence was broken by her sobs. Had Húrin witnessed the scene, he would have pulled himself off, demanded to know what he was doing, if she was unharmed.
He dared not trust her tears to be real.
And so he waited until finally she did calm. A little.
"Go on," she said. Her voice was small. Broken.
"Look at me," he said. "Look at me."
"I do not trust you," he said. "And I will bring you back to Calembel, but you need not fear me."
"I know men. You were sniffing me."
"I smelled the air. I had all but forgotten you were there." It was a small lie: how could he forget deadweight that grew heavier for each step? But it was close enough to the truth. "I have no interest in children."
"Then let me go."
"I will let you up if you do not try to run. It will be fruitless effort anyway, but I do not wish to waste time going after you."
He did not wait for her answer. He was wet enough, and she must be wetter. He kept his hold on one wrist and lifted her with him when he rose. "Now will you walk or shall I continue to carry you?"
And she did.
Despite her surrender, they moved slower, for her short legs could not keep up with Húrin's longer. She stumbled beside him, muttering to herself. He never let go of her wrist.
His patience wore out after they had stopped again for a short rest. Too many rests, and she moved slower after each. He sped up, no longer caring that she had to run to keep up, not caring that he dragged her along. And she silenced her mutterings, and kept up with fewer stumbles.
It was dark when they reached Calembel. Small lights from the windows showed the way, and Húrin could see the shape of someone standing at the gate, but nothing more.
He would have to trust to luck, and the planning of Éomer king.
Both held. It was Borondir standing there, and together they took the girl to the mayor's house.
She did not have much to tell them, but Éomer was reassured that there were no other agents of their enemies in the town, and that no words had reached Ethring or beyond.
Gwidor had been given over for burial; the story was that he had attacked and wounded the Mayor's servant, and in turn been killed in the ensuing fight. It was true enough, even if not the whole story. Éomer was satisfied with that, though Aduiar feared he would need a more thorough story later. Gwidor's masters would inquire after him.
"Then you tell the truth," Éomer said. "He was killed by a rebel in the execution of his duty."
Targon died that night.
Bergil sat with him, alone until Aduiar came near the end. The mayor did not say much, but he sat beside the bed while Targon bled out; Asteth had not been able to stop the bleeding. At one point Aduiar brought out a dried leaf of an herb from inside his shirt and stared at it, as if it held some mystery that, once solved, would stop the bleeding. Grow flesh. Replace blood.
"You used to share your thoughts with me," Targon said.
"I will miss it," Aduiar answered. "In time you learned when to let me speak my thoughts to the end, and when to offer advice. I do not wish to train another, it is too much bother. I will have to do without a servant."
"A mayor needs a servant," Targon said.
"No," Aduiar said. "He needs a friend."
Targon smiled. "Then tell me you will find one, one day."
"I already did."
"You will find one again." Targon paused. "Tell me one thing, if you will not share your thoughts. Tell me that you will succeed. Tell me that you will free the King, and make sure Beregond's son will live to know him."
"I found this in the kitchen," Aduiar said. "It hung up under the roof to dry among the other herbs. I have not seen it before, but they taught me to recognise it when I was given my first position. It is forbidden. Just finding it underneath my roof would have given Gwidor more damning proof than he could have wished for. I do not know why he did not find it; perhaps he was not taught how."
He paused, and Targon spoke in his pause.
"Was my other wish too hard to grant? Then tell me," he went on, "tell me that you will send young Bergil safely home. After me there will be none left from my company; Beregond's son will be the last to remember us."
"It is kingsfoil," Aduiar continued as if Targon had not spoken. "A most curious herb, spun with myths and strange beliefs. Orcs shun the smell of it, but Men find the scent wholesome, if the stories are to be believed. And it is said that in the right hands, it can lure even the dying away from death's door. "
Targon's chuckle turned into a cough. Bergil helped him to sit up and supported him until the cough died out.
"Is there anything you want?" Aduiar did not quite know what to do, and that was rare.
Targon shook his head. "Nothing I have not already voiced." There were flecks of blood on his lips.
"No!" Bergil saw the flecks as well, and knew their meaning.
"You hardly know me, son of Beregond," Targon said. His voice was much stronger than would be suspected after the coughing. "Why such distress?"
"You knew my father. You served with him."
"Did you see him fall?"
"No. I could not have," Targon answered. "I did not march to the Black Gate; I was left in the City as was most of the Tower Guard." Bergil said nothing to that, but Targon saw his unspoken question.
"Unless your father had left the City with those that fled, he would not have survived the attack. Our company held the Gate. We were the first to fall. I was there, and none of us walked away from that field."
"You are not dead."
"I will be." Targon paused. The tale was painful, but soon he would not be left to tell it. And none would remember those that died.
"The sky was dark," he said. "Even like the Dawnless Day where we against all hope triumphed. But we had sent our allies away, sent the Riders away; the black ships away, and no King would come and drive the darkness off.
"We had asked for the place of honour and peril: to hold the damaged gates against our foe until we could no longer fight, until we could no longer breathe, for those, we vowed, were one and the same. And it was granted us.
"I stood inside the gate, where the attack would come when our archers had shot their last arrows. Two rows of men stood before me, shields raised, and I was ready with my spear, to stab at the enemy from behind the shields.
"We heard when the attack began. The blowing horns, the wailing blasts of trumpets and the cries of orcs and men. How long the archers held them off, I do not know, nor do I know how many they felled, but far too soon, with far too many, the enemy was upon us.
"For a time we held, and the clashing of arms and the cries of wounded deafened me until I could no longer hear it. I stabbed, and stabbed and stabbed again. I twisted out of reach from their weapons, and I stabbed and stabbed. I knew nothing else, could not feel the cuts and scrapes I received. The only warning of the wound that scarred my face was the blood that blinded my eye; I did not feel the pain.
"The pain came later, when the enemy passed and I lay half buried beneath my fallen companions. I could not move, but I could see them pass unchallenged. To this day I do not know what pain was worse: the one that held my body or the one that racked my soul." He stopped and coughed. The Mayor held a cup of water to his lips and he drank.
"I do not know why I was spared. I saw them kill the wounded, but they passed me by. Perhaps I looked dead to them. With my face covered in blood, I guess I could have looked dead. I lay still, and watched them pass.
"I lay there for a long time. Many passed, but I had no strength to rise. Far above me, I could hear the fight continue, further and further away, and still their soldiers passed by, until the din of battle was weak. Then, last of all, their Commander came, the dark Lieutenant of Barad-dûr. Around him, the orcs were still, so eerily unlike their kind. I was sure that they would hear me breathe, and find me; I half prayed it would be so, that I would die among my fallen friends. But they, too, passed, and I was left alone.
"I might have dozed, too tired to stay awake. I do not know how long, but I heard feet, running down from the upper levels of the City. 'Tis one of the boys,' I thought. 'Running errands for the healers, they will find me. They will take me away.' I did not think clearly then. All the boys were gone, as I well knew, but I had forgotten.
"Two runners came– small, whining orcs. Their black tongues hanging from their mouths. They passed. I listened for more, hoping, since I could do nothing more, that they were but the first to flee, and knowing they were not. Then back they came, with others of their kind.
"I could not understand their shouts, but one stumbled and fell to his knees, right before my eyes. It was no Orc I saw, it was a Man. His hands were tied and blood had crusted at his side, dark and old. It stained his clothes of Blue and White. His face was pale and drawn. Then he was dragged to his feet and pushed along. Behind them they dragged a second man, bound as the first with a hood drawn over his face; I could not see it, but I saw the gem."
He paused again. His strength was almost spent.
"When they found me, the Steward had surrendered. The healers patched me up so I could live, but I have ever after worn the scars of that day."
He closed his eyes. He had no more to say, and a great weariness had crept up on him as he spoke. He felt, more than heard, Aduiar's quiet request that Bergil fetch the old woman, and the king. Then the voice turned to him, and he could hear it clearer.
"Linger just a little," Aduiar said. "Listen: we will free the King. Bergil son of Beregond will live. But I will never find a listener like you.
"Here," he placed something in Targon's hand, put it on his chest, "take this. The people say it wards from evil, even in death. That even in death, the herb brings life."
Targon opened his eyes. The kingsfoil smelled, he thought, of the sea and green growing grass and salty air in the morning breeze. "You never spoke what did not come true," he said. "Not even to a dying man." He smiled, and never spoke again.
When Húrin returned with the girl, and it became clear that she had spoken to none, Fastred was sent, under protest, back to the cave to meet the men. What food they had been able to barter, they would send with the three remaining Riders across the border, as they had planned before. They would move slower, but they should be able to reach Fangorn before the food ran out. The two Rangers and the man of Gondor would go with Fastred to rejoin Éomer on the road east of Calembel.
Fastred was not happy to go and leave his king with just one man, and a wounded boy. But one must go, and though Éomer did not say it was an order, Fastred knew he could not disobey. He was readying the horses, his own mare the last, and had just finished tightening the girt when Éomer joined him in the stable.
"I have one more task for you," the king said.
"Sire," Fastred said. "I am yours to command."
Éomer ignored his terse tone. "I did not speak of it before, because until a moment ago I did not know. Borondir spoke to me; he is certain that he will not be able to return here, whether our plans succeed or not."
"That is probably true, sire" Fastred said. "Ingold and the mayor too will not."
"They have no wife." Éomer sighed. "I would not have him come, if any other might serve as well, but he has asked to come, and for Aduiar to come with all new men, would seem suspicious. His wife, too, urged him to go."
"She is a stout woman. Most would rather keep their husbands out of harm's way."
"And even more the father of their child."
At first Fastred could find no words, and when he did not speak, his king spoke on instead.
"He asks that you will take her with you. We will find them some room in Fangorn, or at some other, secret place when we return."
"You are sending me away as well? My King, in this I must disobey; I can not leave you. If nothing else, the Lady Éowyn, your sister, will never let me live."
"Calm yourself!" The king waited for him to calm, and Fastred straightened. He fixed his eyes on the wall behind the king.
"Better," Éomer said. "Do not so readily think the worst; I merely wish you to escort her to the cave; the Riders can take her the rest of the way. It will attract less attention from Isengard's spies to have them travel with a woman, and she can help with the horses."
Fastred bowed his head. "I am sorry, my lord. But this endeavour carries more risks than I would like to take with my King."
"You worry, I know. But you are more jumpy than you usually are, and I do not understand. Have you suddenly lost all faith in me that you think that I will act in reckless abandon? I know my duty to my people."
What could he answer to that? Fastred stared at the wall, not sure if he could meet the eyes of his king if he was ordered to. Just tell him, a voice whispered in his mind. He will understand. But he had never trusted to strange voices, and he had never before had dreams. It was the provenience of the Dúnedain, not the Eorlingas.
Éomer demanded an answer, and Fastred knew he owed him one.
"Éomer king," he said. "I will never lose faith in you. But I need not be a seer to know that we will all be in danger. Even the trip to Calembel has always been a risk, but to travel several days through Gondor… the danger will grow, and the Mundburg will be full of soldiers. I just wish that you did not go yourself, sire."
"He is my friend, Fastred," Éomer said. "And he bought our escape with his own freedom. Even so, I would not abandon my duty to the Eorlingas if I though that the risk was too great. There will be many people in Minas Tirith, and it will be easier for us to hide in the crowd."
"Our hair will be noticed. It has already caused more trouble than we reckoned when we left Fangorn."
"Then we will hide it." Éomer fell silent for a moment. He watched Fastred who still had not relaxed his stance.
"One more thing I will ask of you," he said.
"If the men have not been able to buy enough food, we will need to think of something. If necessary, have one of the Riders return with you with the packhorses that have no burden. We might be able to barter more provisions further east. One of the Rangers will have to forego this quest and help bring the food back."
Fastred relaxed, and Éomer smiled. "I have not forgotten our plight," he said. "And I trust you to not forget either. But you will not be able to order any of the Dúnedain to turn back; better leave that to Húrin or me."
"As you wish," was Fastred's reply.
Éomer helped him change the tack of the packhorse so that Adulas could ride. They were going to bring some of the pelts with them and leave the rest. The mayor had found some supplies to send, but it was not much, and the horse could carry both her and it if they loaded some of the food on Fastred's mare. She accepted the extra burden with patience, if not with grace.
All was ready when Borondir and his wife arrived. They were followed by Húrin and Ingold, and between them, Sedil, the servant-girl. Ingold looked nervous, Húrin's expression was impossible to tell.
"I have a request, Lord Rodhaer," Ingold said. "I would ask that Sedil be brought with your men when they leave."
"Why?" Éomer asked.
"I am reluctant to leave her here," Ingold answered. "And the mayor shares my reluctance. We cannot send her to another town, for she is likely to give us away, but thought there are cells in the barracks, we have little recourses to hold a prisoner there for long. Anyone accused of crimes where always sent on to Ethring or further to Pelargir."
"Our safest option would be to kill her," Húrin said. He looked at the king, not the girl, though he watched her through the corner of his eyes, wary lest she would try to run. In turn she did not look at him. She kept her head down, and inched closer to Ingold.
"Is that your advice, Húrin?" Éomer regarded the Ranger. He looked calm, but grim. "Would you kill her?"
A twitch– or was it a wince? – passed over Húrin's face. He shook his head, but his answer, when he gave it, was "Yes."
"I would rather not," he continued. "But unless we send her away, I see no other option. I do not trust her."
"You do not trust her," Éomer repeated. "Does that distrust warn you against sending her to Fangorn, to Wellinghall where are gathered our leaders and those we would most protect?"
Húrin shrugged. "The Enemy knows that we hide in Fangorn, and he has left it to his slave to deal with us. Should the orcs of Isengard break through the Huorns' Guard, they will find us in the end, be it soon or late. Whether she should escape to reveal the paths to Wellinghall or not, will make little difference. The greatest risk is that she would reveal how many of our leaders are gathered there, but already she knows too much. And she is more likely to escape from one of our hiding-places outside the Guard."
"And we can ill afford to lose even one of them." Éomer paused. He turned to the girl.
"Look at me," he told her. She did not raise her head. "Look at me!"
Slowly, slowly she lifted her head, reluctant to face the king. But she did meet his eyes.
"Will you try to escape or give away my men if I send you with them?"
"No." Her voice was sullen.
"You are lying," Éomer said. "I surround myself with truth. I know its flavour; I know when I am lied to."
She did not answer. Éomer turned to Fastred.
"Do you think you, and later the men, will be able to guard her?" he asked. "Will she be a risk?"
"She is one girl. A small one. Just one of us should manage." A child, he thought. The Enemy uses children.
"She can cause more trouble than you think," Húrin warned. "She is no child, thought she looks like one."
It was Bergil that spared them from the choice. He came, looking for Éomer as the mayor had asked, and found them all in the stables behind the barracks.
"You should not be here," was the first thing Éomer said when he saw him. Húrin turned, and gave his agreement to the king's words.
"You should be resting."
"The mayor sent me," he answered. "There was no else to send." He hesitated for a moment, not wanting to say it, as if he somehow could stave it off by lingering. "It is Targon…" Then he saw the girl.
She saw him too. Saw the cut on his forehead. She did not turn away, but, unlike in her defiance to the king, she did not meet his eyes.
"Who hurt you?" she asked.
"I think you know," Húrin interrupted.
Her eyes flickered at that. "He hurt you…"
"Why are you here?" Bergil asked.
"I am sorry," she said. She moved towards him. Húrin reached out to hold her back, but Éomer stopped him. She stood before Bergil and lifted her hand to touch the wound, still not looking in his eyes.
"I did not think that you would be hurt."
"Sedil," he said again. "Why are you here?"
Then, finally, she looked at him, at his face, at his eyes, and something changed and softened. Éomer, well used to horses' way of talking – horses tell no lies – smiled to see it. She turned to the king and answered him anew:
He nodded. Without more words – no more were needed – Fastred took the women with him and rode to meet the men.
Holdwine: Merry's Rohirric name. See RotK Many Partings
Dwimmerlaik: Rohirric name for Nazgûl
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.