An Act of Desperation - Chapter 1- Theodred
Edit: I just had an error pointed out to me recently that needed to be fixed, so my apologies to those of you who have read this before.
Chapter 1- Théodred
His eyes were on me again.
I could feel them burning into my back as I hurried down the hallway, like a wolf lying in wait for a chance to attack its prey. I shuddered at the thought, but I had no time to do anything about it. Riders were returning from a skirmish by the fords of Isen, and word had been sent that my cousin, Théodred, was among the wounded.
I reached the doors of the golden hall of Meduseld and pushed them open, ignoring the black creature that slinked behind me. My brother was already standing near the top of the stone steps, and turned as he heard the doors. "Éowyn," he said as he saw me, his voice thick with emotion.
I ran over and stood beside him, my eyes gazing past the walls of the city to where I could see the Riders approaching. "They are riding too slow to be bearing the wounded," he said softly. My heart sank as I looked back at Éomer. "He is dead then," I whispered.
Our fears were confirmed as we rushed down to the gate. The small group of men slowly filed in, their horses stumbling with weariness. Several of them carried bodies of the fallen before them on the saddles; leading the way was a travel-weary warrior, the body of Théodred slumped against his breast. "What happened?" Éomer asked as he and another man helped take Théodred off the horse.
The man slowly slid off the horse. His clothing and hands were stained dark with the blood of his foes and that of his captain, his arm bound tightly with cloths soaked with his own. "We were ambushed," he gasped. "Orcs."
Éomer's face darkened. "How many did we lose?"
"Too many men, and more horses," the man answered grimly. He glanced around and lowered his voice so that only Éomer and I could hear. "It was a strange battle- almost as if the enemy had orders to target Théodred. The fighting was always fiercest where he was, and once he fell they withdrew. If not for that, western Rohan would already have fallen. As it is, it is only a matter of time, unless aid comes unlooked-for."
I glanced down, tears forming in my eyes as I knelt beside Théodred's body and took his cold hand. I could see the dried blood soaked through his clothing, and wondered if he had suffered much. I desperately hoped not as images formed in my mind of him dying alone, cut off from the other warriors. I closed my eyes to shut the vision out, and as I did I could hear Éomer and the man continue speaking, discussing details of the battle and such. Though normally I would have listened eagerly to the news, grief overwhelmed me and blocked the words from my mind. I rested my head on my other hand as the tears spilled out.
After a while I became aware that the conversation had died down as Éomer gently laid a hand on my arm. "Come, sister. It's time to go," he said as he helped me to my feet; I could see the cold glitter of tears in his eyes as well. Two men came and gently laid Théodred on a bier that had been brought, then two more came and helped them lift it. My brother and I silently accompanied my cousin as his body was carried up to the hall. The men carrying the bier turned to go to another room and prepare him for burial as Éomer and I entered the king's hall. The room was dark, and the air felt as heavy as my spirits. My uncle sat upon the throne as if carved out of marble. Beside him sat Wormtongue. He briefly glanced at Éomer then turned his sunken eyes to me. I could feel them looking me up and down and tried hard to keep my face from betraying my disgust. The two of us approached the throne and knelt before the king.
"My lord," Éomer began, then stopped as if he was unsure what to say. "Riders have just returned from Isen. They were ambushed by orcs." My uncle did not make any sign that he understood, so I tried. "We lost many men, my lord. Your son..." my voice trailed off. How could I possibly tell him? Would this be the blow that would finally break him? Finally I raised my eyes to his and finished, "he is dead."
"Oh, what a pity," the low voice of Wormtongue murmured. I lowered my eyes in order to mask the loathing I felt at the sound. "To lose his only son and heir; this is a grievous day for us all." I could feel the anger rising within me. What could possibly grieve you about this? My cousin was nothing to you.
"These orcs roam freely across our lands, killing at will; orcs bearing the mark of Saruman." There was a clang of metal on stone as Éomer tossed forward the helmet he carried. A crude hand was splashed across it, white stained with blood. "Every day they grow bolder. If we do not fight, we will soon be overrun. Will you let them go unchallenged?" he asked. Wormtongue's glare at him grew sharper as he continued. "Let me ride out with my men, my lord. We need to protect our people."
"Éomer, I understand your anger, but you must think of your uncle. If your éored rides out, who will be left to protect your people here? Erkenbrand is gone, and Théodred is dead. You are the only one." He turned to the king, his voice low with only the faintest hint of any threat. "My lord, do not let the rash words of your sister-son determine your course in this matter. Saruman has ever been our friend and ally. I advise that you have Éomer remain here in Edoras to guard your city."
There was a long silence as Théoden seemed to be considering what to do. Finally Éomer could stand it no longer. "My lord?"
"You will remain in Edoras." His voice sounded distant, faded by the unnatural old age that had claimed him. I looked away as despair struck my heart anew to see him in this condition. Éomer turned and left without another word, and with one last glance back at my uncle, I quickly followed so as to not be left alone with the Wormtongue.
That evening, after seeing the king to his chamber for the night, I could hear strange noises coming from my brother's room as I walked down the hall and paused to listen. It sounded as if he was tearing the room completely apart, as I heard the clang of metal on metal and the soft thud of leather on stone. Curiosity took over and I knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" I heard a muffled voice call from inside. "Éowyn," I answered. The door opened, and I could see the disheveled state the room was in. I stepped inside and closed the door behind me as I surveyed the area. His sword-belt lay across the bed, as did a quiver of arrows and a fierce-looking dagger, its hilt carved in the likeness of a horse's head. Other assorted travel gear was piled next to his saddlebag. "Éomer, what is going on? Where are you going?" I asked, though my heart already knew.
"King's orders or no, I cannot stand by and do nothing," he answered, a grim look in his grey eyes as they met mine. "You do understand, don't you?"
Yes, I understand perfectly, I thought. You cannot do what I am forced to every day of my life. I nodded silently. "When are you leaving?"
"Tonight. I have already spread the word to my men, and they are preparing as we speak. We will leave under cover of darkness. With any luck, we will be able to overtake some of these orcs before they cause any more trouble. If anyone asks, you don't know where I am." He paused, his gaze searching my face. "I'm glad you'll be here with Uncle Théoden. I would hate to leave him here alone with that Wormtongue skulking about."
I bit my lip and cast my eyes downward in an effort to mask my fear at being left alone with him myself. After a long pause, I finally looked up. "Be careful."
"I will," he answered, though his eyes still seemed troubled as he looked at me. Finally I hugged him quickly but fiercely and turned to go. My hand was on the latch when Éomer called out, "Éowyn?" As I looked back, he added, "Promise me you'll be careful too? I don't like leaving you here with him either, but the king needs you now. Perhaps more than ever." I nodded and left, closing the door behind me.
Later that evening, I sat alone by the window in my darkened room, unwilling to light a candle lest anyone outside might suspect I was still awake, that I was watching. I could see the dim shapes of men moving in the darkness below, a slight sheen on their armor from the pale starlight. They moved swiftly yet silently, so as to not wake anyone in the city. Even their horses seemed to sense the need for secrecy; not a whinny was heard. They quietly led their horses down in the direction of the gate, where I knew one of the men in Éomer's éored was stationed; he would let them out and not say a word to betray his captain. One by one they melted into the night and vanished.
A solitary tear made its slow course down my cheek. Here in the darkness, the loss of my cousin, my frustration at being able to do nothing to help my uncle and king, and my fears that I would never see my brother alive again pressed in around me, enemies I was powerless to fight. "I wish I was a man," I whispered into the darkness. "Then at least I could go with you. Fare thee well, Éomer." Then I turned from the window, angered at my own weakness, and lay silently upon my bed looking up at the cold winter sky until sleep claimed me at last.
When I arrived in the great hall the next morning, Háma, the captain of the king's guard, approached me. "Éowyn, do you know where your brother is?"
"No, I don't," I answered--truthfully, for Éomer had not told me where he was going. "Is something wrong?"
He lowered his voice and glanced around. "A great number of horses were discovered missing this morning, and no one can find Éomer. I fear for him; the Wormtongue is with Théoden now, and I fear his intentions are to convince the king that Éomer has committed treason."
I nodded and thanked Háma, then approached the throne. My uncle looked up at me with bleary eyes, Wormtongue with a dark glint in his. "Good morning, my lady," he said.
I bristled inwardly at the words. I am not your lady, nor shall I ever be. Carefully keeping my expression free of emotion, I turned to the king and asked, "Uncle, what is going on?"
Wormtongue answered for him. "Your brother seems to have disappeared, my lady, along with many men and horses. It would appear that he has disobeyed the king's order--a most grievous offense." He searched my face as if looking for an answer.
"I know nothing about this," I replied, unable to keep the defiance out of my voice. "But if Éomer did choose to go and fight, he is only doing what he believes is best for our people." And what I would do if I were free to choose, I silently added, unlike you.
Wormtongue stepped down from the dais and stopped within a few steps of me. His dark eyes bored into mine as he lowered his voice. "You know something. It would be wise, Lady Éowyn, to reveal what that something is."
My heart quickened as I lowered my voice as well. "Even if I did know something, Gríma, I would never reveal it to you."
His face contorted into a hideous scowl, his hands clenching in barely-suppressed fury. He stepped closer to me and whispered into my ear, "I would rethink that if I were you. If you want to help your brother, you had best cooperate; the price of treason is high." With that, he turned and walked away, leaving me with heart pounding in fear.