Targon was dead by the time Éomer reached the room. Aduiar did not say much, but there was little to say.
"Though we linger to mid-day, we will still reach the City in time."
Éomer agreed. It would give them time to bury Targon before they left, and arrange what would be needed. He left Aduiar with his servant, and took Bergil with him.
"I have seen death before," Bergil protested as Éomer shut the door behind them. "I have even helped prepare the dead."
"You hit your head hard," Éomer replied, "and you need to rest. Húrin will take a look before you sleep."
"He knew my father; I should be there with him."
Éomer stopped and turned to face the young man. His eyes gleamed in the light of the candles that lit the hall. Bergil nearly walked into him, and the youth looked up at the man. The king.
"Aduiar worked with Targon for more than seven years," he said. "He was his only confidant, and the only, save myself and Glorfindel, that knew his true alliance. His claim far precedes yours."
"I… I just hoped that he could tell me something of my father," Bergil said. "And he did not. Not really, and now he is dead. Because he would not let Gwidor kill me. I owe him something."
And you do not know if your father was even buried. Éomer kept his thoughts to himself, but his eyes softened. "I believe he would be happy knowing that you will live. And I think he also wanted us to save the lord Aragorn. For that we need you well; therefore you should rest. We must leave tomorrow, and we must travel fast with little chance to rest on the road. You would not wish to slow us down, would you?"
"No, sire," Bergil answered.
It might have prevented talk if they all had returned to their rooms at the inn, but it was late and the mayor had rooms to spare. Éomer did not want Bergil to walk too far, and Ingold had declared that the inn would be shut in preparations for the trip. It had long been known that Ingold had been chosen to accompany the mayor as a representative of the town, and none questioned his decision. The absence of the travellers would hopefully go unnoticed.
Húrin decided to share Bergil's room. He looked at him, and was concerned that the young man might take a turn for the worse during the night. "He will probably be fine," he told Éomer, "but he has not had enough rest, and tomorrow will be hard enough on him. I want to be close, just in case."
Éomer agreed. "Is there anything you need?" he asked. "Asteth is gone home, but she left some of her supplies behind."
"She left them so that we could bring them with us," Húrin answered. "And I fear we will have need of them later." He did not voice his fear; Éomer understood it well enough. We do not know what condition he might be in.
"I am just a little lightheaded," Bergil called from inside the room. "You need not speak of me as if I can't hear."
"You should be sleeping."
"It takes a little longer than a few moments to fall asleep," Bergil answered. He muttered something about loud noises outside his door not helping.
"I heard that," Húrin said. "Speaking does not help; be quiet and close your eyes, and you will sleep in a few moments. Though I must have been amiss in your training; any Ranger, or soldier worth his salt, should be able to sleep whenever he can. Be a good lad and close your eyes now." He ignored Bergil's protest that he was not a child and reassured Éomer that they all should rest. "If I find that there is something I need, I will be able to get it myself."
It took more than moments for Bergil to sleep. He did not toss and turn as one often does when sleep will not come, but Húrin could hear that his breath was too short and shallow for true sleep. It seemed that lying in the dark did not help sleep to come, nor did the silence of the house. Though Húrin would have slept if he was alone, he did not want to fall asleep before the boy. He rose and lit one of the candles.
Bergil tried, but despite his weariness, sleep did not come. His head hurt, a dull, pounding ache that made it hard to think. And the room was moving. Round and round, up and down. He had never been on a boat, but if he had but once felt the movement of the waves underneath his feet, he would have likened it to that. And the room was spinning too, and he was falling.
A hand touched his shoulder. Light and firm. "How are you? I can hear that you do not sleep."
He kept his eyes shut against the light he felt. "I will sleep soon. It just takes some time." He swallowed. Then: "The room will not stand still, and my head hurts, that is all."
"You have not told me. Why?"
"You can not stop it. Why bother?"
Húrin sighed. "Can you sit up?"
But movement made the room spin more, made him feel ill, and he told Húrin no. Húrin sighed again, and left.
He found his way to the kitchen. Above the door and all around the wall, the cook had hung dried herbs, and some of them might help Bergil. Húrin lifted the candle to see. There he found sweet mint– it would help against the nausea– but he found little else. The mint was dry, but much as he would have preferred it fresh, it would serve. He found the hearth cold, but wood was piled beside it and he lit a fire to heat water. Fresh water he found, and filled a cup. It would help a little while the rest could warm to boil. He took it to carry back up to the room.
He hardly made it out the door, before he met the mayor.
"Húrin," the mayor said. "I did not expect to meet you here. Could you not sleep?"
"My sleep was not the problem," Húrin answered. "But was there someone else you expected to meet, or is it just I that was not expected to walk the halls tonight?"
The mayor smiled. "Indeed I half expected Targon when I heard the noise." The smile did not reach his eyes, and Húrin thought he recognised that smile. He wore it himself whenever he recalled a fond memory of his brother, ten years gone.
"Silly, of course, since I have just laid out his corpse." The mayor smiled again. "Is there anything I can do to help? I would be a most terrible host if I did not help my guests to sleep. It is such a basic need, so simple, and yet without it we can barely work. The road is not too long tomorrow, yet I fear we will be late enough."
"It is Bergil, Master Aduiar. He could not sleep for headaches and queasiness; I went to see if I could find some herbs to help him."
"And you did not?"
"Oh yes, I did, though nothing more than dry mint. I put water to boil – it should help him feel less ill at least."
Aduiar nodded. "I also find fresh ginger helps," he offered. "But headaches it does little to avail."
"I did not find anything that could," Húrin admitted. "And I do not want to use what little Asteth left behind. I fear our later need will be greater than our present." He noticed the herb Aduiar was holding in his hand.
"Where did you find the athelas?"
"That herb," he said. "Athelas. From what I heard it has not been in much use in Gondor."
"You mean the kingsfoil? I have heard no other name, thought it does not surprise me that you know it. It is forbidden, now, but some keep it still. The cook had hung these to dry. I have heard of its wonders, but I do not know the truth behind the stories. I had thought to bring it with me, but I fear the danger would be too great. If it was found on any of us, it would be more damning than the knife Gwidor found."
"I know it," Húrin said. "Our Chieftain used it. It used to grow many places in the Wild where the Dúnedain once lived, but the enemy destroys it wherever they can. We try to plant new when we can."
"Then it is true as they say? Can it heal even the dead?"
"Nothing can heal the dead." Húrin took the leaves. "We do not use it much, for there are few left that can unlock its powers. I can not, but the Chieftain did. In my hands it would only freshen the room, or cure headache…" He stopped himself and smiled. "You can help after all, it seems," he said. "I know no better herb to help headaches; perhaps it will help Bergil rest. How much do you have?"
"Some leaves," Aduiar answered. "Perhaps eight. But should this herb not be saved? If it has powers in the right hands, we might come to need it, despite the danger."
The mayor was right. Húrin saw that he was right, but it was not all that useful in the wrong hands. And his were not the right ones.
"I would only need one leaf," was his answer. "And as I said: in my hands the leaves would not do much. In Fangorn it grows willingly, we have found. Among the Elves are those that value it and they sow it wherever they can. Around Wellinghall it grows abounded. We will have more, if we need, when we return there. Besides," he added, "you were about to leave all of the leaves behind; they would gain us little here."
"True," Aduiar said. "I did not think… I must have been confused by lack of sleep. But from what you say, it would be prudent not to leave any behind that we could take. The Enemy fears the kingsfoil enough to have it banned. It must have some powers."
"In the right hands," Húrin repeated, "it has. From what I heard, the Chieftain used it to call the Steward and the White Lady back from the Black Breath. That is power the Enemy would not like."
"There were nine," Aduiar said. "Nine leaves. But I gave one to Targon ere he died, and I would leave it with him, if I can. Kingsfoil is often put in the graves of those that fought the Enemy to ward them from evil in death. And grant them rest."
"Then I will take one, and we will bring the remaining seven."
The water boiled, and Húrin brought all back to the room. Bergil slept when he returned, and he would not wake him. Instead he crushed the leaf and let it fall into the cup of hot water, so the room would be light, and their sleep peaceful and refreshing. That much power he could draw from it. It was a restful night.
They buried Targon and Gwidor the next morning. Apart from the gravediggers and those that carried the dead, few people from the town came to witness it. Borondir was there, and the cook. She had worked for the mayor since he and Targon came, and had come to know the servant as well as any could that did not know his true purpose and his task.
She had brought twigs with budding knots of green. No flowers grew yet.
The mayor spoke only those words required of him, and none of the townspeople offered to speak words of remembrance for the dead. Not until Asteth, the widow, stepped forward. She had come as the body of the guard, of Gwidor, was lowered into the ground and the earth was about to be shuffled down into the ground to close the grave.
"The dead should be remembered," she said. "Regardless of what they did in life."
The men stepped back, shovels still in hand.
"The man that lies here, was a stranger," Asteth began. "He came in autumn, and winter was his domain. Like the winter he seemed to us, cold and cruel. A deadly enemy that makes life hard and dangerous as if it was not already cruel enough.
"But now spring comes, when the cold and snow must pass. Deep in the ground the seeds of yesteryear have lasted, sleeping safe from harm. The cruel snow has sheltered them and made them strong, and now the melted water from the ice gives life to all that grows.
"Therefore, do not curse the winter and the snow, for when, in spring, it dies, new life will grow. So may this winter-stranger find his rest, and our hearts regret the cold he met."
She fell silent, and at a nod, the men came forward with the shovels. They filled the hole, and Aduiar, the mayor, spoke again. The words for Targon's body – familiar to them that had seen too many deaths – and he was lowered next. The mayor moved to speak, or so it seemed, but no more words came.
"He was so cold, so uncaring," said some, when the event was spoken of later in the town. "No words for his servant, who had served him loyally for so long."
But none could hear the silent song, winding from his heart and up, up, up beyond the rooftops and the trees, flying on the air and further, to the darkness that is there, up beyond the circles of the world. They only saw his face, as blank and empty as when they lowered Gwidor to his grave.
The cook spoke. Short, with little art she told that he was ever so polite to her. Helpful to reach the shelves too tall for her: a pleasant man to work with.
And Asteth spoke again. She talked of loyal dogs that die in service of their masters. Guarding, fetching, keeping track of all that could harm or hurt their master. In the end, she wished him rest. She said that they should not forget a loyal heart, faithful to the last.
The earth was filled, and the little group dispersed, drifting away to tend their other work: the fields that still must be prepared, and tilled and sowed before the spring-wet passed.
No one saw him stand alone a long time by the grave with eyes lowered to the ground.
The word was whispered, and the sound barely reached his own ears, not beyond. It could not pierce the ground and reach the cold, deaf ears that slept below.
Bergil found him there. He had cried when the body had been taken from the house; Éomer had told him that he could not go with them. Hidden behind the window he had seen the small procession walking through the town, until they disappeared from his sight.
"Too many questions would be asked if any of us came," Húrin explained, but it still felt wrong.
And wrong it felt to stay in the room, in bed, and rest while the others made preparations to depart. His head felt better, so he tried to tell, but Húrin would not hear of it, and Éomer king as well told him to stay put, and leave all things to them. At least they had let him fetch the Mayor, but when he saw him, he half wished they had not. Éomer's words from the night before came back to him as he saw the Mayor stand beside the grave, unmoving.
He had to speak, and tell the Mayor they must leave. It was the hardest thing he ever did.
"All is ready, Lord Mayor," Bergil said. "Lord Rodhaer is drying off his hair and Húrin has the horses ready. Borondir has come too, and Ingold awaits us at the inn." He paused. The grave had not been marked yet, but on the fresh earth of Targon's grave, spring-green twigs of birches lay.
"I will miss the scar," Aduiar said. "Somehow it became to me his being. I grew used to it. If the dead retain their mortal form, I wonder what image he will take; will I know him if the scar does not remain outside this world? It became his mask to hide him from those that might have known him before, but to me it was his face. The only face I ever saw."
He shrugged, as if casting off a vision or a midnight dream that had lingered to the waking world. He turned to Bergil, and his face and eyes were dry. No trace of any tears. His smile was gentle, maybe sad.
"Come, young Bergil. Targon's tasks are now behind him, ours are ahead."
They left the graves, the town, never to return while Sauron ruled.
The men had managed to gather supplies for perhaps a month, maybe two if the hunting would go well. Fastred would have wished for more, but in a month or two Fangorn should have wakened from its winter-sleep. They would not starve unless all other food-sources failed, and he could not call off their quest to hunt for more supplies. The Eorlingas would heed him, but not the Rangers, nor the king. And the Eorlingas followed their king, as would he, damn it all.
The woman and the girl shared a horse; the rest would lead the horses, save one rider to scout ahead. It was the best they could do; they had to trust to luck to keep them safe if any enemy patrol should stop them. Better not to be seen, if they could avoid it, and rather take a longer road. Slow was better than not at all.
The three remaining men followed Fastred. They left early, but not by road. Instead they kept to the forest's edge, hiding from sight as best they could. South of the town they travelled through the wood where Húrin hunted the day before. Just below the hill they camped to wait for Éomer to join them with the rest.
They waited longer than they liked. The Dúnedain were impatient to learn more of the plans than Fastred had revealed, and to hear from Húrin what he had learned. Húrin, not the king, Fastred marked. The man of Gondor, Bragloth, seemed even less calm, but Fastred guessed that the Northern Rangers hid their impatience better than he.
Shortly after midday they heard hoof-beats on the road, and then a piercing birdcall. It was Húrin that pronounced their approach. The sentry called back, and all three remaining men sprang to their feet and gathered their horses. Fastred's mare came willingly enough at his call; the other horses followed her. She opened her mouth to the bit and was ready to be mounted before the company came in sight.
Húrin rode ahead with Borondir behind him. Then the innkeeper, the mayor and someone with dark hair that Fastred could not remember. He was half hidden by the other two, and his horse could not be seen behind the rest. His stance and manner of movement seemed familiar, but Fastred could not recall his name. At the back rode Bergil. There were no more men.
Where was the king?
In the blink of an eye Fastred was on his horse and sped towards the travellers. The dark-haired man moved his horse to the front, and Fastred slowed. He knew that horse, he knew that man. Éomer king flashed him a crooked smile.
"Did you miss me, or is your mare so eager to be bred that she sped away without your wish?"
Fastred snorted. "It was Firefoot, my lord, that pulled the blots out of the wall to greet the little beauty at your side." He nodded towards Aduiar's horse, the small, slender mare that had broken out the day before.
Éomer laughed. "I wondered what had happened," he said. "He never liked the narrow stalls." He shook his head. "How did the food-hunt go? Will we have enough to live a little longer?"
"Yes, my lord," Fastred said. "They have not found as much as we had hoped, but we should manage on short rations a month more, perhaps a little longer if game is found."
"Good news," Éomer said. "I would not like to call off this mission now."
"One question, my lord."
"Yes?" Éomer's eyes twinkled.
"What about it?"
"My lord, it is dark. And you beard is gone."
"Yes, so it is. It will attract less attention, though I fear it does not suit me." Éomer sighed, but there was a sparkle in his eye. "It is well, is it not, that I am not going to Minas Tirith to look for a wife. Then attention would be sought after, not avoided."
Éomer laughed. It was a soft sound, full of warmth. "Ah, Fastred," he said, "you should be glad I have no jesters in my court; you are too easy a target. Forgive me; the day is too fine for gloom, and yet if I think too hard on the object of our quest, the sunshine turns cold and the birdsong to mockery in my ears."
"I do not dismiss your fears as easily as it can seem," Éomer said. "While there are those with lighter hair among the Men of Gondor, it is rare, and so I have dyed it. The mayor's cook, old Gildis, provided me with the dye. And the Men of Gondor shave; at least in Minas Tirith they tell me. Easier than dyeing it anyway. If you wish to keep your hair and beard, you can – one straw-head can be explained away – but it would be safer if you followed my example."
"As soon as I may, sire," Fastred said. How could he not agree, when he had stressed the danger of detection?
They reached the small camp. Éomer quickly filled the men in on the news and their plan while Fastred tried to give his hair the right colouring. Húrin had to help him shave.
They would travel as far as Ethring as one company, and then split up as soon as the road had rounded the mountain-arm that came out from the White Mountains there. The two Dúnedain Rangers would then cut across the land and travel close to the mountain-range; it was the shorter route measured as the crow would fly, but it had few or no roads. A more hidden route as well, but it would be harder to cross the rivers and the roadless lands. It was their hope that the two rangers would be able to move there more quickly than the whole company could,, and so arrive before them and scout out the best road on which to escape. They would make camp in the Grey Wood west of Minas Tirith and await the rest there. If Éomer had not contacted them on the day before the celebrations, they were to make such arrangements as they could.
Éomer would travel with the remainder of the company by road, down to Pelargir and then up to the City. If needed, they might be able to take a boat up the River to reach the City in good time. If Bergil's headache had not improved – he had not complained, but they could all see that he was still not well – a boat might be the better course regardless of the time.
Bergil would pose as Aduiar's new servant, and Bragloth would pretend to be the fourth man that Calembel was required to send. Stepping in for Gwidor, Húrin, Fastred and Éomer would pose as hunters that had been hired by the mayor to accompany them as guards.
If not a perfect plan, it would have to do.
The road was well kept east of Calembel, and easy to travel. The open lands were empty for a while, and Éomer wondered if they had left too late; there should be more people travelling to Minas Tirith for the celebrations. But when he mentioned this to Aduiar, the mayor said they would be there in time. Most of those that came from towns and villages further away would have begun their travels earlier, but soon enough they would encounter others.
"From Pelargir, if not before, there will be many on the road," he said.
They travelled in silence that day. Húrin gave an account of all that Éomer had not seen fit to tell, but even he spoke quietly. Éomer spoke not, neither did Aduiar and Bergil. The land beside the road was all the same; open grass and scattered forest-holts that slowly gave way for tilled soil. That was the first warning that they began to draw close to the town of Ethring.
Across the river Ringló, just above the ford, the town lay. They got there late in the evening; darkness had already fallen and the town's gate was closed, but for a mayor, even one from such small a town as Calembel, they opened.
They left it to Borondir to speak on Aduiar's behalf; he was known, as was the Mayor.
"We left this afternoon," he said. "The news came late, and we had fields to plough. Four men were asked to come: the innkeeper and myself were chosen by the Mayor, lord Aduiar, and with us Bragloth here was asked to accompany us. He has never travelled far outside the town, but we all know him to be an honourable man. The rest we hired to accompany us to Minas Tirith. We have heard rumours that the rebels will try to hinder those that travel to the celebrations, and the Mayor thought it wise to have more men."
It turned out that the guards at the gate were less interested in their explanations than they had thought. They let them through without questioning them beyond what Borondir said.
They found the inn, and Éomer learned that they were not alone on the road when all was said and done: only two rooms were empty, and the stable was all full. Three beds in one room, and in the other, one. Aduiar was given that; the other beds went to Ingold, Bragloth and Borondir. A mattress was found for Bergil at the mayor's request; he would have his servant close, or so he said. The other three would gladly have given up their beds, but it would be too strange to let the hired men have beds, while they slept on straw outside the pens that had been raised to hold the horses.
The pens had Éomer worried. They were small, but that was not the problem: the one to hold the stallions was right beside the only other one. The one to hold the geldings and the mares. And Aduiar's mare had gone into heat the moment she had smelled Firefoot.
"Look here," he told the stableboy, "that mare is in heat. The stallions may stay behind their fences, but she will not. She will break out to reach them, and then we will have horses all over the town. And I doubt the lord Mayor will be pleased to have his mare covered with any old horse that lacks her breeding."
The mention of the mayor did the trick. One of the geldings that had been put inside the stable was hurriedly taken out to make room for Aduiar's mare.
"Sleep in the stable," Éomer said to Fastred. "Keep an eye on her. None of the others will be able to handle her; you have a way with mares. I will sleep beside the pens with Húrin and the rest."
Fastred nodded, and Éomer went out to make his bed on the ground.
They had been given straw to keep warm, and soften the dirt beneath their heads. Above, the stars wheeled in their eternal dance and the soft horse-syllables from horses happy to be out in the night-air drifted over them as they lay down to sleep. Éomer, stretched out on his back, looked at the sky. Still beautiful, the dark between the stars held not the terror of the earth-bound Shadow, and the lights were fair and strong. In that moment he could almost hear the song the Elves had said gave all things birth. The Song all things dance to. All but Men.
With a last look at the sky, Éomer closed his eyes and dreamed.
He dreamed of a field sown with death and a dark sky. In the East, tall mountains. In the West, forbidding trees. The field stretched out between them, a wide sea of grass.
He began to run.
He ran and he ran and he ran. He ran for hours. He ran longer. He ran for days, he ran for weeks, months; yes, even years. The dream stayed the same: under him the earth, above him dark sky and all around him death and life, mixed and intertwined.
Then, when his run had lasted countless years, he saw a man standing in the middle of the field. He knew that man, had seen him once before, but where? He could not recall, and the man was too distant. But in the manner of dreams, all at once he was there; the man stood before him. In his face the resemblance of a face he'd seen before – fleeting – in another Age of the world. He could put no name to those eyes or the angle of the jaw. He held a staff, and from it flew a banner Éomer had seen before. And knew.
Black cloth, White Tree, and seven stones flashing like stars strewn above it. And hanging above all, a crown wrought of mithril and gold.
The man spoke. "I am dead," he said. "Dead that he might live." He turned to Éomer, pierced him with his eyes.
"Darkness lingered long – lingers still – a dark where not even the gentle stars may shine. The banner, our pride, crumbles from the lack of light.
"But I am dead, and cannot carry it away. I cannot even move it."
And Éomer could see that the man was slowly being covered by a flowing grey; his skin turned to grey stone, cold and unmoving. Above them darkness churned while the stone spread until the man was enclosed, statue-still and cold. And still it spread where the hand held the staff; up it crept, up towards the flowing fabric, and down, down towards the grass. Spreading the stiff greyness where it went.
It touched Éomer's feet. It crept over his boots, fusing them to the ground, trapping him in place while the stone spread across his boots, his clothes, his skin; and trapped him alive inside its shell.
"What can I do?" he cried before it closed his mouth.
"Break free. You are alive." The echoed voice from stone-silenced lips followed him into waking.
Éomer gasped. He struck out with his arms and legs, struggling against the stone that disappeared with the dream. And hit the Ranger sleeping by his side on the ground. Hit him hard.
Éomer was strong.
A moment later they were all awake, on their feet ready to face a foe, but none showed. Bádon was slower than the other two, and Éomer stood there confused from the dream. From behind the fence Firefoot came to see if there was any danger, and the other horses stirred, uneasy because of his concern.
"Who goes there?" Húrin called. "What business have you here?" He and the third ranger stood back to back, missing the other two to make the circle thigh.
None answered, but Éomer blinked against the night, and Bádon rubbed a tender chest.
"Someone hit me," the ranger said
"I think it was I." Éomer blinked again. His hand missed his knife. The dream lingered on his skin and in his beating heart. He could not move, but that was not right; his hand was light. With ease he moved his feet, and still he felt the stone creep up his thigh, enclosing calf and shin in cold, unmoving stone.
"Your forgiveness; I dreamed some strange and dark dream. My dream-self was trapped and struck out in fear."
Bádon just nodded. "It must have been some dream, lord Rodhaer," he said. "Your punch fits your name."
"I saw a man," Éomer said. "I knew him, but I can put no name to the face. Not even my dream-self could, but I think you might have known him, if he appeared in your dreams. He was one of your kin, I am quite certain."
"How so?" Húrin asked. "What were his looks?"
"Tall, dark hair – like almost all of you. His jaw was square; that was about all I can recall that could have set him apart from all of you, though many of the Dúnedain have this feature."
"You are right; it does not help much. It could well be a man of Gondor too. What made you think of the North?"
"The air," Éomer replied. "And I have seen him before, I just do not recall where.
"He stood beneath the banner of the White Tree, with Seven Stars above, and a high crown; I remember well the first time I saw it fly at Pelennor, when I had given up all hope of victory but not given in to despair."
"It was the Chieftain?"
It was the first time Éomer had heard Echil speak since he had rejoined the king. He sounded young; in the dark Éomer could easily have taken him to be a boy in his first youth.
"No," he answered. "I would have known him, even changed in dreams. The man said: 'I am dead', and I think that he speaks true."
"What did he tell you?" Húrin would know. "Perhaps he is one of the Fallen, come to help us."
"If you believe such things," Éomer said. "I do not think the dead can come back to the living, unless they never left, but haunt still the places of their death.
"As for what he said: he told me he had died to let his Chieftain live, and then he talked about the banner. That it was being destroyed in the dark, with no stars to shine on it. He bade me take it, and then I saw his skin turn into stone, freezing him to an unmoving, lifelike statue, and the banner with him." Éomer shuddered.
"Then the stone crept across the ground. Turned all it touched to grey stone: the grass and wood and cloth. It touched my boots, and crawled further up until I could not move, or breathe for stony air."
"And then you woke." Bádon shook his head. "No wonder you struck so hard."
"That man, the Ranger, told me to break free," Éomer said. "You are alive, he said, as if that would make a difference."
Éomer fell silent, and it was clear to the others that he did not wish to speak more of his dream that night. They fell asleep again, one by one. The last thing Éomer saw, before he too closed his eyes in sleep again, was the shape of his horse, standing close to the fence. Keeping watch while he slept. He drifted off, and if he dreamt again that night, it was of light and life and horses running over green fields in joy.
He woke refreshed to a new day. The sun had just risen above the low roofs of the town. She kissed him awake before she went on her endless, ever-repeating path across the sky. Awake, she called all things, a new day arrives. Éomer smiled at her, and rose. Behind the fence, Firefoot watched him from the same place he had stood when Éomer fell asleep.
"I slept here to watch over you," the king said. The old horse snorted and tossed his head. He stamped once, inpatient with slow-witted men that could not see that the water was gone; the trough was standing right before him. When Éomer just laughed, he kicked the trough.
"I see," Éomer said. "I did not care for us; you only waited politely until we woke so we could fill the trough." The stallion kicked again; his rider was unusually slow this morning. Éomer laughed again, and woke the others before he sent Bádon and Echil to fetch the water. Then he went to find the mayor.
They left early. The fewer travellers on the road, the fewer to see when they split up, and they were all eager to be off.
Minas Tirith beckoned.
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.