Éomer and Laramir stayed in Minas Tirith three days. Laramir would have liked to stay longer, but Faramir insisted: the three dreams proved more than ever that Gondor just wasn’t safe, and he needed, for his own peace of mind, to know that at least one heir to the stewardship was safe away from the front line. Éomer, on the other hand, was ready to return. Now that he’d seen the White Tower he realized how much he really liked Edoras and missed the gleam of the Golden Hall in the setting sun. And he had to agree with Faramir: Gondor wasn’t exactly a safe haven. He didn’t, of course, trust dreams much and thought what a joke this whole situation would seem to any proper Rohan youth: the first son of Denethor running off to ask the elves how to interpret his dream. But there was other dark news, and war now seemed eminent.
So on the third morning at dawn, Laramir and Éomer set out. Laramir’s saddle bags were loaded down with seeds: too late to plant a garden for this year, but for next year, assuming of course Rohan still existed next year. Gardens would somehow seem out of place in Mordor.
The journey back to Edoras was almost as uneventful as the trip to Minas Tirith. Since Laramir wasn’t as rushed she and Éomer took their time enjoying the return trip. They would stop for lunch (and often a nap afterwards), and once Laramir even convinced Éomer to walk with her a particularly scenic mile, giving the horses a rest. What an absurd sight – a future lord of the horsemen leading his horse behind the daughter of the Steward of Gondor! So while Boromir journeyed west to find Imladris and Faramir looked east toward Ithilien, Laramir enjoyed what she feared might be the last lazy summer of the West.
Finally they saw the glimmer of the sunrise on Meduseld far away on the horizon, and after four hours of solid riding they reached the gates just as the city bells announced the fifty hour. Théoden was “occupied,” according to Wormtongue, but Éowyn and Théodred joined them for lunch and listened gladly to Éomer’s tales of the White City. Laramir, however, was strangely quiet. Finally as the three of them finished their desert of yoghurt, whipped cream, and fresh sliced fruit, Éowyn asked:
“Laramir, why are you so quiet? Is something wrong?”
“I need to talk to your uncle. Do you think he’d see me? I hoped we’d be eating with him.”
“He’s busy,” Théodred answered.” All the time, it seems; he really doesn’t have time for lunch with us anymore. In fact he hardly sees any one these days. But he always liked you. I’m sure he’d see you, if you asked nicely.”
Laramir did indeed “ask nicely”, but not Théoden.
“Master Wormtongue, please,” she said the next morning. “I have pressing news for the king.”
“Well, let’s hear it.”
“I’m afraid my father said I had to tell the king.”
Gríma bowed. “Surely you at least trust – “
“It’s not about whether I trust you, but whether I value my promise to my father.”
“Very well. If you’re so courteous to me the news must be important indeed. But Théoden is very busy these days. You’ll have to be patient, my lady.”
“Of course.” She forced a smile, curtsied, and hurried out of the room, out the palace doors, and across the way to hers and Éowyn’s house where she found Éowyn about to set lunch. (Since Théoden was so tied up these days, Éowyn, Éomer, Théodred, and Laramir often ate together at the house). Laramir noticed almost immediately that Éowyn had only set three places instead of the usual four.
“Word came from Gríma this morning,” Éowyn explained. “Too many reports of orc attacks. He’s sending Éomer to lead a company of riders to search out these ‘imaginary goblins’, as he puts it.”
“From Worm? Not Théoden?”
Three days passed before Háma (by now promoted to Warden of the Palace Door) finally came to fetch Laramir. He took her to Meduseld but would not cross the threshold himself. Théoden sat in his throne with Wormtongue standing at his right hand. Around the perimeter stood maybe a dozen shady men, all armed, though Laramir didn’t recognize them from Háma’s guard.
“King Théoden,” Laramir started as she approached the throne and curtsied, “I have returned from Minas Tirith, and I have news. The Dark Lord has joined with evil men, the Easterlings and the Haradrim. And the Black Riders – “
“Black Riders?” interrupted Wormtongue. “What, pray tell, are they?”
“No one knows for sure… I believe them to be the nine kings that, according to ancient lore, accepted powerful gifts from Sauron before his fall. We don’t know what happened to them, and legend has it that Sauron could postpone death indefinitely and replace it with a sort of half-life. You’d live on, but you’d obey only him and lose your free will. At any rate, whenever a man sees one he cannot stand and fight; he either freezes where he stands or runs.”
“A Gondorian, perhaps. But a man of Rohan – “
“My brothers, in whom the blood of Númenor runs true – even you, Théoden, admit that – well, Boromir froze, but Faramir woke him with a kiss. They were there when these Black Riders attacked, commanding the company that held the last bridge across the Anduín, and they managed to destroy that bridge but lost most of their men in the attempt.
“Théoden, my lord, war is upon Gondor, and Rohan would do well to turn its attention to its own borders. Sauron is not the only enemy. Why your own neighbor Saru – “
“You speak boldly, Laramir, woman of Gondor,” Wormtongue interrupted. “Just now you called Théoden ‘my lord’. But is he really? Do you not put more trust in your books of Gondorian wisdom and in your brothers than in your king? I ask you, Laramir, if Gondor went to war with Rohan, who would you side with? Hmmm? No answer?”
“Can the king no longer speak for himself?”
“The king is silent with shock that a foreign girl would dare tell him how to run his country. I speak for the king, and the king says: you favor Gondor more than Rohan, and would sacrifice Rohan to save your beloved city. You think that the great protect the great, so if Saruman is threatened, Sauron will come to his aid, sparing Gondor for an hour, perhaps, until Boromir returns with that elf’s so-called wisdom. But I say Saruman is our friend and ally, and ever has been – “
But Théoden hushed Wormtongue and spoke for himself. “Laramir, Gríma speaks the truth. Right now Éomer is looking for proof of what you warn: orc attacks from Isengard. If he brings back evidence, then I will consider war. Not before. And not for Gondor.”
“For what, then? For death and glory?”
But Laramir had had enough. She left Meduseld as quickly as she could.