1. Seed of Hope
Der Männer Sippe sass hier im Saal, zur Hochzeit geladen:
ein Fremder trat da herein: ein Greis in blauem Gewand;
tief hing ihm der Hut,der deckt' ihm der Augen eines;
doch des andren Strahl, Angst schuf es allen, traf die Männer sein mächtiges Dräu'n.
Auf mich blickt' er und blitzte auf jene, als ein Schwert in Händen er schwang;
das stiess er nun in der Esche Stamm, bis zum Heft haftet' es drin:
dem sollte der Stahl geziemen, der aus dem Stamm' es zög'.
Der Männer alle, so kühn sie sich mühten,die Wehr sich keiner gewann;
Gäste kamen und Gäste gingen, die stärksten zogen am Stahl -keinen Zoll entwich er dem Stamm: dort haftet schweigend das Schwert. – Die Walküre – Wagner- Act 1- scene 3 (abridged)
(The kinsmen sat in the room here, guests at the wedding.
A stranger came in, an old man in a grey cloak;
his hat was pulled down so as to cover one eye.
But the glint of the other made them all afraid,
when the men saw its authority and sternness.
He looked at me and glowered at them
while a sword flashed in his hand.
This he thrust in the tree trunk, it lodged there right up to the hilt.
The blade would belong to anyone who pulled it out of the tree.
All the men, bravely as they tried, failed to win the weapon.
Visitors came and visitors went. The strongest tugged at the hilt,
but it moved not an inch from the tree. )
Éomer shook his head in bewilderment. "Are you sure he has not lost his wits or fallen on his head?" he asked Aragorn. "Whoever heard of a sword in a tree?"
"He shows no sign of a head injury, said Aragorn. "I have examined him thoroughly. I think we should hear his story. I have a feeling it will not be short in the telling." He gestured to Leofric to remain on the bed, while he, Éomer and Faramir settled themselves on a nearby bench.
"In our village, Dunby, we have a great hall," Leofric began.
"I know Dunby well," said Éomer. "I have ridden through the village many a time. Once when Firefoot cast a shoe, I stopped there to have him shod. The farrier knew his trade well. Oswald, I think he was he called. Dunby is about an hour's ride away from Edoras on a fast horse," he added for Aragorn and Faramir's benefit.
Leofric cleared his throat loudly and Éomer nodded to him to continue his story.
"My grandfather built the hall around a mighty ash tree, whose living branches help to form the roof. Three years ago, my eldest daughter, Signi wed a local farmer. We held her wedding feast in the hall. Everyone from the village came, including my brother Leif and all our kinsfolk. The guests were drinking and enjoying the feast, when suddenly an old man strode into the hall. He was dressed all in grey and his hat hung low over his face. His beard was white as snow and his gaze struck awe into all our hearts. We thought it might even be Lord Bema himself come amongst us. He smiled upon Signi and told her the marriage would be blessed, as indeed it has been. Already she has a fine son. The old man then walked right over to our ash tree, pulled the finest blade anyone of us had ever seen from out his scabbard, lifted that sword high then plunged it deeply into the tree, right up to the hilt.
He then said 'Whosoever draws this sword from the ash trunk, to him it shall belong. Yet for one man alone is it destined!' The old man then turned on his heel and departed. Several of us went after him, but he was already galloping away on a wondrous swift horse. We never saw him again.
As headman of my village, I first tried to draw forth the sword; but it refused to budge. Then my brother tried, and the bridegroom, and all the men there. Some of the women tried too, but none could move it.
The sword has strangely not damaged the tree, which at first we feared might wither and die. There are runes of power engraved on the hilt, though we know not what they say. Guests came and went throughout the changing seasons, but still the sword remains, a silent witness of our failed efforts to draw it forth."
Aragorn, Faramir, and Éomer sat enthralled throughout Leofric's narration. Éomer was the first to break the silence that followed.
"A most interesting story, Master Leofric, but how can I be of help? Surely a sword in a tree is not doing your village any harm?"
"Not the sword itself," Leofric replied, "but many in the village, including my brother, say it mocks their strength that it remains there in the ash trunk. They threaten to cut down the tree to remove the sword and destroy our hall of feasting! I implore your aid, Éomer King, for I believe that the sword was destined for you, the strongest man in our land today."
Éomer looked thoughtful. "Whether that might be or not, I cannot say," he replied, glancing at Aragorn.
Aragorn nodded slightly. Inwardly, he considered that the villagers had just not tried hard enough. Most likely, when one had been unable to draw the sword forth, the others had simply believed that the weapon was in some way enchanted and their own self-doubt hindered them from drawing it forth. Master Elrond had taught him that the mind had a strong effect on the body, a fact of which Men were often unaware.
"I will visit your village as soon as I can," said Éomer. "Meanwhile, I bid you to stay here and rest until your hurts are healed."
"You are most gracious, Éomer King," Leofric replied, "However, I dare not leave my hall unguarded. I must return home at once."
Faramir appeared shocked that Éomer's people would so easily question their King's commands.
Aragorn looked on with wry amusement, wondering how Éomer would react.
The young king replied firmly. "I shall send some of my riders to guard your hall, Leofric. I command you to stay here until my healer says you are fit to return home."
"And who does he think he is to order me around?" Leofric protested. "He isn't even one of us!"
"He is a famous healer from Gondor, "said Éomer, a twinkle visible in his eye as he glanced at his friend. Leofric, you will obey the command of your king!"
"If you say so, Éomer King," Leofric conceded reluctantly.
The three friends managed to conceal their mirth until they left the room then they burst out laughing.
Aragorn and Faramir were sleeping soundly that night when a loud knock on their door rudely awakened them. Instinctively, they reached for their swords, fearing some calamity.
Before they could open the door an agitated looking Éomer, wearing only his nightshirt, burst into the room. "Lothiriel's having the baby!" he exclaimed.
"What now?" Aragorn asked sleepily.
"Yes, she is having contractions!" Éomer replied. "I've seen many a mare about to give birth. How can I bear to see my Lothíriel sweating and in pain like they were? Whatever shall I do?"
"You should fetch the midwives," said Faramir, reaching for his tunic. Both men had been sleeping in their shirts and breeches. "Lothiriel should not be alone."
"Lothiriel has already sent for them and Alis is with her now," Éomer replied. "The baby is coming!"
"It could be many hours yet," Aragorn said calmly. He pulled his tunic over his head.
"But you told me Elestelle's birth was very quick?" Éomer protested.
"That was highly unusual," Aragorn assured him. "Arwen was in labour for almost a day and Dame Ioreth told me that sometimes first babies take even longer."
"Surely the midwives will have told you all these things?" said Faramir .
"I never paid much attention to women's matters," Éomer admitted rather sheepishly. "But whatever am I to do? My poor Lothiriel!"
"You just have to go about your normal daily business," said Aragorn firmly.
"But how can I? Women die in childbirth. My Aunt Elfhild did!"
"Lothiriel is strong and healthy and has two excellent midwives to care for her," Aragorn replied.
He pulled back the shutters and looked out. The faint light in the Eastern sky suggested that it was almost dawn. It was futile for them to try to get any more rest that night.
"What should I do?" Éomer asked again. He looked suddenly lost and vulnerable.
Aragorn placed a fatherly hand upon his shoulder. "I suggest we all have some breakfast," he said. "The household will no doubt all be awakened by now. You have a long day ahead of you and need to keep your strength up. Try not to worry, I know it is easier said than done, but you can best help your wife by remaining calm."
Éomer took a deep breath then resolutely pulled himself together. "You are right, my friends," he said, "I apologise for disturbing you thus."
"Every father to be is the same," Aragorn reassured him, patting his arm. "I was much the same as you when Arwen went into labour."
Éomer looked uncomfortable, remembering the near tragedy he had caused that day.
"I fainted when Elestelle was born," Faramir said, eager to draw the subject away from the day of Eldarion's birth.
"You had better get dressed," Aragorn suggested.
"I will," said Éomer. The young King of Rohan hurried from the room almost as swiftly as he had entered.
The two fathers could not resist exchanging rueful grins at the state of the father to be.
"We shall have to think of ways to distract him today," said Aragorn.
Before Faramir could reply, Éomer had returned, still clad in his night attire. "The women won't let me back in my chamber to get my clothing!" he announced indignantly. "Am I supposed to walk around like this all day?"
"You see the wisdom now of husbands and wives having their own chambers as we do in Gondor?" Aragorn could not but help sounding a trifle smug.
"It is a little late for that now though," Faramir, ever the diplomat, interjected. "Maybe we could lend you some clothing?"
"I doubt it will fit," said Éomer doubtfully. "That nightshirt you lent me for my wedding night was far too long." He then looked down at the garment he was wearing. "Still, it would be better than walking around all day in this!"
Aragorn was already rummaging amongst the possessions he had brought with him, hoping his clothing would fit his much broader brother- king. Fortunately, he always insisted on his travelling clothes being generously cut.
He handed Éomer a bundle of assorted garments from which to choose. Faramir started to search through his own clothing.
Éomer pulled off his nightshirt with scant regard for the chilly morning air and set to work rummaging amongst the garments his friends offered him.
King and Steward struggled to contain their laughter when Éomer was dressed. Faramir's shirt and tunic stretched tightly across his chest while the sleeves hung limply over his wrists, whereas Aragorn's breeches were almost indecently tight.
Aragorn was struck by a sudden fit of coughing as he struggled to disguise his mirth.
Stifling his laughter, Faramir had a sudden flash of inspiration and went in search of Beregond, whom he suspected was closer in size to his brother in law. On the way, he bumped into Alis. The maid was hurrying towards Lothiriel's chamber, carrying a jug of steaming water. In his most charming manner, he explained Éomer's plight. A few minutes later, he was rewarded by her returning with an armful of the King of Rohan's clothing which she handed to him with a smile.
Breakfast at Edoras was usually a hearty affair, in contrast to Minas Tirith where a light breakfast was usually followed by a more substantial midday meal. Éomer, however, had little appetite this morning and picked at his food.
"It is so strange not to have her beside me at breakfast," he said morosely when Aragorn tried to coax him to eat. "I never thought that I could come to care about someone so much."
"You will soon have a child to care for too," Faramir soothed. "It is a wonderful thing, being a father!"
"There is no better feeling," Aragorn agreed. "I waited for seventy years and dreamed about having a child, but could never have imagined just how much joy Eldarion has brought me!"
"Elestelle can say 'ada' and when she smiles my heart just melts," Faramir said proudly. "My little girl has the most wonderful smile!"
"My Lothiriel has a smile brighter than the first rays of spring sunshine and a voice sweeter than music!" Éomer said dreamily.
Faramir repressed a strong urge to giggle at such poetic descriptions of a young woman he would always think of as a rather prim little girl in an elaborate frock, ordering her dolls to keep still while she taught them their letters, all the while scolding her boisterous brothers and cousins for interrupting her. Faramir had been her favourite as he did not tease her and tweak her pigtails unlike the other boys.
"I can tell that you have fallen in love," Aragorn said indulgently. "I always thought she was well suited to you!"
Éomer's eyes widened." So it was you who suggested the match then and not Prince Imrahil?"
"Imrahil was musing where he might find a husband worthy of his daughter I suggested you, my brother," Aragorn replied. "I was quite surprised, though, that the Prince approved of my suggestion. Obviously, he was impressed by Éomer's valour on the battlefield. I assumed he would want his daughter to marry a man of Gondor. She has many of Faramir's qualities."
"Both the good and the bad!" Aragorn added cuffing his Steward playfully. "They are both frustratingly tidy for a start!"
"Unlike you!" Faramir retorted with equal humour while prodding his lord in the ribs.
"Arwen never complains," Aragorn replied proudly.
Éomer got up and pushed his plate of uneaten food aside. "I had better work on the latest negotiations with the Dunlendings," he said. "Maybe you would like to stroll around the paddocks and look at our younglings. There are some noble colts and fillies growing up. I asked a favour of Gandalf ere he sailed and he granted it. He brought Shadowfax back here to cover some mares before he took the noble steed to Valinor. The mearh-lord was in fine fettle indeed, for many of our mares foaled his get. You will easily recognise them by their coats' silver sheen and the proud crest of their necks. Not all are pure blooded Mearh, we brought the best half-bloods to him as well as several Mearas. But these beauties are as fair a herd as you will ever see, a few might even pass their sire in speed and spirit."
"Are you certain you would not prefer us to stay within the Hall today?" Aragorn asked. It worried him that Éomer did not want to show off his precious herd himself.
"There is truly no need," Éomer replied manfully, though the worry in his eyes told a different story. "I will see you later."
King and Steward returned to their room to fetch their cloaks, though both hesitated to leave the hall.
Just before they reached the threshold, a cry came from Lothiriel's chambers. Both men exchanged a knowing glance, remembering all too well the pain that their own wives endured to bring their precious children into the world."
"I do not think we should go far," said Faramir. "Éomer might have need of us."
"I fear so," Aragorn replied.
Just then, Éomer rushed towards his wife's chambers and banged loudly on the door demanding admittance.
"You cannot come in, Éomer King!" Hild's voice replied.
"I want to see my wife!" Éomer demanded.
"You cannot come in," the midwife repeated, opening the door a crack and emerging through it. She then stood menacingly in front, arms akimbo.
"Am I not lord of my own house?" Éomer said angrily. "Whatever are you doing to my Queen?"
"My lord, this most unseemly!" Ivorwen protested, joining Hild in the doorway." A woman in labour must not be disturbed!"
"Lothiriel!" Éomer shouted, trying to get past the women.
"I am well, my love," the queen called from within. "It was just a twinge. Why not take Firefoot out for some exercise?"
"I am not leaving you, my love," Éomer said fiercely." I should be here by your side!"
"This is no place for a man!" Ivorwen said firmly. "What do you know of childbirth?"
"I have helped deliver many a foal," said Éomer, "Surely it cannot be much different?"
"My lord!" Ivorwen exclaimed in horror.
Hild soundly scolded her king. "You must leave here at once, Éomer King. Do not return until after your child is born."
"I shall stay with my wife!" Éomer said with equal firmness. "I cannot wait outside and hear her crying in pain."
" You should have thought of that when you got her with child!"Hild retorted.
"You forget to whom you speak!" Éomer said angrily, trying to push past her." I am your king!"
"And I remember well the puny naked babe bawling its head off I helped your mother bring into the world!" Hild replied.
Aragorn and Faramir had hovered in the background watching the scene with increasing concern. As a healer, Aragorn knew a woman in labour needed calm and quiet. "We must get Éomer out of there," he said quietly to Faramir.
The two gripped the protesting Éomer's arms. "Come, my friend," said Aragorn. "Let us follow your lady's suggestion."
"Keep him out of the way for the next few hours ," said Hild. "This is no place for men." She shut the door.
Aragorn and Faramir firmly shepherded Éomer out of the Golden Hall. Aragorn all the time trying to soothe the agitated young man.
Éomer ceased his furious protesting and suddenly sagged in the King of Gondor's grip. "Whatever am I going to do?" he whispered. "I love her so much. How can I hear her crying out in pain all day and not be at her side?"
"I have an idea," said Aragorn." We will ride out and investigate what Leofric had to tell us. That will surely distract you, my friend!"
A/n. The quote at the top of the chapter was the inspiration for this story.