Stories of Arda Home Page
About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search

Theodred's Tale  by Elana

Chapter 11 - Farewell

Theodred guided Silverfoot upward toward the royal stables, his business for the day completed. The past months had been hectic, filled with preparations for war. His troops had fought occasional skirmishes, but not yet the major battle he knew must come. Reports from Isengard were few and sketchy, for Saruman was far too skilled at locating and eliminating the scouts Theodred sent, but enough information had reached him to indicate that Saruman was gathering a massive force, which soon must be turned against Rohan. Theodred’s general’s instincts told him that the battle would be joined very soon. Now, when the worst cold of winter was past, but the ground was still firm before the spring rains arrived, would be the prime moment to move a large army. Theodred had been dividing his time between the Westfold and Edoras, seeing to both the establishment of his troops in the field and the defenses being prepared in the capital, along with the recruitment and training of new forces in both places. In the morning he planned to ride west once more, taking his place with the companies camped at the Fords, where he had determined to make his stand. He knew he would not return again to Edoras until after the battle was over, whatever the outcome. Long years as a soldier had taught him not to dwell on that other possibility, always present, that he might never return at all.

Lost in his own thoughts, he had reached the stable yard when a voice hailed him. “Cousin! Over here!” He looked and saw Eowyn, golden hair streaming behind her, cantering around the yard atop a tall charcoal grey horse. He admired them for a moment, then looked more closely at her mount. Could it be the same animal he had rescued a few months before? He hadn’t seen the horse since, and, busy with his duties, had barely spoken with Eowyn, so the change in the animal surprised him. His gauntness was filled out, his coat gleamed with good health, and his gait was smooth and perfectly controlled under Eowyn’s lightest touch. Horse and rider came to a smooth stop alongside Silverfoot, and Eowyn swung to the ground. Theodred dismounted also, and grinned at Eowyn, whose face was beaming with pride.

“Here, take him,” Eowyn said, thrusting out his reins toward Theodred. Theodred approached cautiously, remembering the horse’s fear, but this time the animal behaved perfectly, graciously accepting Theodred’s hand stroking his long, silky neck, and following docilely as Theodred led him around the ring. His injuries had healed cleanly, with faint scars only apparent because Theodred knew where to look for them. Theodred returned his reins to Eowyn, well pleased.

“I’ve been working with him all this time. Elfhelm says he’s ready for service now, and will be assigning him to one of the newly mustered men soon. Once we overcame his fear of men it was easy, really. He’d obviously been trained for battle before. He’s fast, too.” She grinned mischievously at him. “Come ride with us out on the plain and see.”

Theodred hesitated, but the sun still had an hour yet before it set, now that the days were lengthening toward spring. Silverfoot was fresh enough, and restless after a day of only short trots conveying Theodred from place to place, and much standing and waiting. And he welcomed the chance to spend a little more time with his cousin, before his departure. He nodded his agreement and they both remounted, riding out to the practice fields outside the city.

Scarcely had they passed the gate when Eowyn leaned forward with a whoop. “Ay, Windfola!” The horse leapt into a gallop, racing away across the plain. Silverfoot snorted and charged after. He gained on the grey, but more slowly than Theodred expected. Finally he drew alongside, and for a few glorious moments the two horses thundered side by side. Then Silverfoot pulled ahead and the lesser animal fell back, exhausted. Theodred let Silverfoot run a few moments more, then circled back to where Eowyn was walking the grey cool.

“Foal of the wind, indeed!” His tone was teasing, but his gaze was full of admiration. “Quite a feat, to match paces with a mearas, even for a short time. He is well named, I think.” Eowyn smiled in appreciation of his praise, and the two walked their mounts in companionable silence.

After a time, Theodred look sideways at Eowyn, and spoke, hesitatingly. “Eowyn… how fares my father?”

Eowyn returned his gaze with compassion. “His health is not much changed. He spends much time in sleep, and his appetite is small. He eats more when I dine with him, and seems somewhat cheered, so now I take most of my meals with him, and attend him often besides. He likes me to come to him in the evening, and sing until he falls asleep.”

Theodred looked out, beyond Silverfoot’s ears to the horizon. “He refuses to see me.”

Eowyn stroked Windfola’s sweaty neck. “Nor will he allow me to speak of you. Nor Eomer. If I try to mention your names, he sends me away. He listens only to Wormtongue’s slander, that you scheme against him, and crave the kingship for yourself.”

Theodred laughed, a short bark without mirth. “If that was truly what I wanted, can he not see I would have taken it long since? Everything I do is twice as difficult as it need be, because I must always pay homage to the king, and work around Wormtongue’s obstruction, yet I grudge it not, for the honor I owe him. If only he could do me the honor of trusting me….” He was silent for a while. “Eowyn, do you think you could persuade him to let me come to him, if not in the hall, then in private? Tomorrow I ride out, this time, I’m sure, to battle, and… I would bid him farewell.”

Eowyn’s voice was grave. “I will try, though I doubt he will allow it. Yet even so, I might be able to bring you to him. Stay awake tonight, and wait for word from me.”

They spoke no more of the matter, and soon returned Windfola and Silverfoot to the stables. Theodred went to eat the evening meal with his men, since Eomer was away in the Eastfold commanding the forces there. Eowyn went, as was her custom of late, to eat with Theoden in his private chambers. The table was spread for the two of them close to the fire, which was built high to drive the late winter chill from the room. Eowyn found it stiflingly close, but Theoden drew his robe tight around him. Theoden was mostly silent, listening to Eowyn talk lightly of the gossip of the court. She entertained him with the tale of how one of her ladies-in-waiting had woken that morning to find that one of the dogs had chosen during the night to bear its litter on the pillow beside her head. The lady had leapt out of bed and ran shrieking through the hall, clad only in her linen shift. As the lady in question was rather old and quite portly, the effect was comical, and Eowyn was pleased when her rendition drew a smile and a rusty laugh from the king. She felt the moment was ripe to broach a more serious subject, so she took a few more bites, then laid down her knife and regarded her uncle.

“Lord, I was speaking today with Theodred, and he asked me…”

“No more! You know I don’t wish to hear of him.”

“But uncle, he is leaving tomorrow, to battle, he said, and he wishes to bid you farewell.” Theoden had turned his face aside and was ignoring her. She leaned forward and implored him. “You do not know what the fortunes of war may bring. How would it be, if he were not to return, and you had refused even to say good-bye?”

Theoden laughed, a short, mirthless bark. “Theodred is far too skilled a warrior to allow himself to be taken down by a few orcs. I have no fear for him. Now speak of him no more. I am weary. Come sing to me.”

Reluctantly, Eowyn complied, her sweet voice filling the chamber, until Theoden, nodding in his chair, roused enough to wave her away, and servants came to assist him into bed. Eowyn slipped out the door, easing it shut behind her, and turned to regard the two guardsmen flanking the door. Since the only assignment Theodred would give her was to guard and protect the king, she had taken the task to heart and made it her business to know everything that passed around him. She had paid careful attention to the men of the king’s personal guard, had come to know each by name, and to ascertain where each man’s true loyalty lay. A few among them were wholly Wormtongue’s creatures, but most remained committed to the king, and obeyed Grima’s orders only in faith that he was the king’s chosen representative. There was a quiet discontent with the situation among many of them, which had only grown as Grima caused the rift between the king and his son and nephew to widen. Such were the two Eowyn now studied, their faces carefully expressionless as they stood at attention.

“Marden, Thendamer, did you hear what passed between the king and I?” The door had been shut for privacy, but it was thin, and it was the guards’ responsibility to be constantly on alert from any sound within that might signal a need for their action.

The two exchanged guarded glances, then Marden nodded. “Yes, my lady.”

“You know then, that my lord’s son wishes to bid farewell to his father, but that Theoden refuses.” She could see from their faces that indeed they did know, but were reluctant to acknowledge it. “You needn’t reply. But I know you must agree with me that it would be a grievous thing for a son to be denied what might be his final glimpse of his father.” They looked at her, stone-faced, but she pressed on. “Whatever orders Grima may have given you, you know that Theodred bears no ill-will toward the king. If I were to bring him here later tonight, I pray that you would let him pass.”

She held her breath as their eyes silently conferred, then let it out again when Marden gave a quick nod. She murmured her thanks as her feet sped toward her own quarters.

Theodred moved restlessly around his house, unable to rest. Eowyn had told him to wait, but he knew not how long, or what summons might arrive. He went again through his belongings, neatly packed in his saddlebags ready for his departure at dawn. Everything was in perfect order. He had already cleaned and sharpened his sword, twice, checked the fletching and points on all the arrows in his quiver, and polished the metal of his helm and shield. He was about to sit down to check each link in his chain mail for rust or weakness, when he heard a quiet knock at his door. He dumped his mail aside and strode to the door, opening it to see one of Eowyn’s servants, who warned him to silence and beckoned him to follow. He led Theodred to Eowyn’s quarters, where she waited with a hooded cloak. “Put this on. I’ve spoken with the guards, but we don’t want any of Wormtongue’s spies seeing you.” She flung it around his shoulders and he drew the hood forward around his face. He followed her through the corridors to the entrance to the king’s apartments. The guards on either side of the door gave no sign of recognition when, at Eowyn’s signal, he pushed the hood back to let them see his face, but they made no move to hinder him when she led him through the door, then back through the suite of rooms to the king’s bedchamber.

The candles had been extinguished, but the fire burned low and warm, giving just enough light to see by. Theoden lay asleep in his bed. The ornately carved headboard warmly reflected the flickering firelight. Theodred caught his breath at the sight of his sleeping father. Under the heavy woolen bedclothes, elaborately embroidered with silk and gold threads, Theoden’s body seemed small and frail. The muscles of his face were relaxed in sleep, and the skin hung limp, the angular bones of his skull showing through. One hand lay outside the covers, palm up, thin bony fingers curved into a claw. Theodred stepped forward and dropped to his knees beside his father’s bed. He cradled the limp hand in his fingers and laid his cheek in it. The hand was cold, but the chill was not the chill of death. Not yet.

Theodred stayed there a long time. Finally he raised his head. He turned Theoden’s hand over in his and stroked it. Knotted blue veins seamed the hand, and brown age spots freckled it. Theodred found it easier to look at then Theoden’s gaunt, drawn face. He tried to speak, but his throat closed and choked him. He stopped, took a deep breath, and cleared his throat. When his voice came, it was barely louder than a whisper. “Father, I wish this barrier had never come between us. Know that I have always remained loyal to you, and my love for you has never faltered. I am doing the best I know, to serve you, and our Rohan. I am leaving, father, and my heart forebodes that this parting will be our last. Farewell…. His voice failed him, and he bowed his head over Theoden’s hand. Gently, he folded it and laid it down on the bed. He leaned forward and kissed the king’s forehead. Then he rose and turned to go. Theoden slumbered on, oblivious.

<< Back

Next >>

Leave Review
Home     Search     Chapter List