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Chapter 1 – Welcome, Brother
Theodred bent low over Silverfoot’s neck as they galloped the last mile to Edoras. Horse and rider were both weary. Theodred had pushed Silverfoot to the limits of his speed and strength. The mearas had carried him across Rohan far faster than any ordinary horse, but now he needed rest and care. Theodred knew he needed rest, too, after riding with only the briefest pauses through the night and most of the next day, but he feared it would be long before he got any. His work was just beginning.
The grooms at the royal stables hailed him, and were quick to offer their assistance. But as was his custom, he tended Silverfoot himself, departing only when the horse was cool and carefully groomed, settled in his roomy stall with grain and water. By that time, news of his arrival had spread through the city, and Eomer met him at the stable door.
“Welcome, brother,” Eomer said, grasping Theodred’s arm in greeting. “We have needed you here, badly. Where have you been? No matter. We must discuss our strategy and make plans.”
“I came as soon as I heard,” Theodred told him. “Grimbold found me, but I could hardly believe his news. Can Saruman truly be fallen into evil?”
“There is no doubt. Our scouts have seen orcs coming and going from Isengard. Already they have attacked and destroyed the nearby villages. Truly, this turn of fortune is bitter to us, to have our greatest ally betray us.”
As the two men made their way up the streets of the city, Theodred quizzed Eomer on the details of Saruman’s forces, their numbers and locations. By the time they reached Theodred’s house, in the section of the city that housed the warriors belonging to the personal eored of the Second Marshal, Theodred had a clear picture of the situation. It was grim. Not, true, quite as grim as Theodred had feared on his desperate ride. In his blackest imaginings he had pictured returning to an Edoras sacked and burned, nothing left but ashes and the bodies of the dead. That fear had vanished at his first sighting, from far across the plain, of the Golden Hall shining at the peak of the hill. Rohan was still strong. Her armies stood ready to defend her. The military was Theodred’s responsibility, and he knew every company, down to the last man. His mind worked furiously, considering various strategies and possible deployments of his forces.
Once home, Theodred brought out his maps and spread them across the table. He and Eomer studied them and discussed possible courses of action.
Eomer wanted to mount as great a force as they could muster, and proceed immediately to Isengard. “We should attack before he has time to prepare. Orcs are no match for our Riders.”
Theodred shook his head. “I would agree with you if I thought we could truly take him unprepared, but that is a vain hope. He has been preparing for years. Isengard is strong. Other than Mordor and Mundberg, it’s the last place in Middle Earth I’d want to try to take. We don’t have the forces for a long siege. And you tell me he has more than just orcs at his command.”
“Yes, the Dunlendings support him, and there are those new creatures…. Like orcs, the scouts reported, but also like men.”
Theodred’s fists clenched. “They are crossbreeds. Half orc and half human. Saruman has been breeding them.”
Eomer stared at him in horrified comprehension. “Those women you rescued last summer….”
“Yes.” Theodred stared into the distance, a strained look on his face. “They were being used as breeding stock. It must have been going on for twenty years, at least.”
The two men were silent a moment, overwhelmed by disgust and horror. Then Theodred turned with an effort back to the map.
“I think we must abandon the northern villages.” At Eomer’s exclamation of protest, he insisted, “Saruman will have already taken all that they possessed of food and supplies. The people that survive have fled; those who came south we can provide for. We must fortify the Fords. In the mountains the Isen is swift and deep. Saruman’s forces are contained on the west side of the river. The only place he can bring across any sizeable force is the Fords. If we hold there, we can keep him at bay.
Reluctantly, Eomer had to agree that Theodred’s logic was sound. He pondered the map for a moment more, and then turned to the cousin he loved as a brother. “Now all we must do is persuade your father the king to go along with our plan.”
Theodred met his gaze. His voice was low, but like steel. “Whether Theoden agrees or not, we must defend Rohan.”
Eomer nodded. The two men silently pledged each other their faith with steady eyes and clasped hands. Eomer turned to depart.
At the door he turned back. “By the way, did you ever find that missing girl you went looking for?”
Theodred’s face was unreadable. “Yes.”
“Ah, good. That’s one positive thing, at least.”
The door closed behind him as he left.
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