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Untold Tales of the Mark: The Banishment of Éomer - The Rewrite
Disclaimer: All characters and settings belong to the Tolkien estate. I've only borrowed them for a little entertainment.
Rating: T for some fighting and violence, and overall darkness…
This very AU-story was initially posted more than a decade ago on this site. I was never really happy with the banishment-scenario in the movies (come on, will someone who gets banished be able to take his entire éored with him? He would always be a danger!) In the beginning, it was only a picture in my mind of Éomer standing in the snow, in the process of being surrounded by an éored, not sure how they would respond to encountering their outlawed marshal. I thought that perhaps, there would be 30 pages I could fill with that idea. Well, in the end, it became quite a bit longer... :-)
The original story won the 2008 MEFA AWARDS (Category: Alternate Universe: General)… and now it is being partly rewritten, since I composed a prequel for it ("A Red Sun rises", also on fanfiction dot net and now completed), and some parts will have to be tweaked to make the two stories blend together seamlessly (hopefully). I expect that there will be quite a lot of rewriting be done in the early chapters, and hope it will gradually lessen in the course of this fic, but who knows? I'm definitely open for any ideas that might hit me with unexpected developments along the way! If any of you are new to the "Katzilla-verse", I'd definitely recommend reading "A Red Sun rises" first.
I first started to upload these new chapters over the old ones, but then realised (with some help from Katia0203), that the changes - so far - are rather substantial (over 3,000 more words in only the first four chapters!), and this version would probably be better served being posted separately.
As always, I would be much obliged to read your thoughts on this rewrite (i.e. for those of you who read the original: How does it measure up to the old version?)) and look forward to our exchange!
And so it begins (again) ...
CHAPTER 1: THE VERDICT
Éomer woke to the same flickering twilight to which he had become accustomed over the last days, but something was different today. This was the last day he would ever wake to. These were the last breaths he would ever draw. The thought jumped at him as soon as he opened his eyes to see the iron bars before him, and it took all of what was left of his self-control to not succumb to instant panic. Yet tension had already taken a firm hold over his body. It constricted his lungs and barely allowed him to breathe.
With cold hands, Éomer wiped the sleep from his eyes…to find his face wet from tears he had apparently shed in the night. Puzzled – and embarrassed – he smeared the moisture over his probably filthy face, while he tried to remember what he had dreamed. It was easy and came to him at once, for the dream had been incredibly vivid. And it had been a good dream for once…
His parents… he had seen his parents. They had met in their old home in Aldburg. An Aldburg that seemed to not yet have been ravaged by war. It had been warm and cloudless, and the sun had spent the golden light of a late summer day, his favourite season. He had wandered through the streets, and the people he met had smiled at him and greeted him with an air of carefreeness he had never experienced for as long as he had dwelt there. Children had chased each other through the streets in their wild play, and in their paddocks, the horses had run alongside the fences, testing their strength and speed and enjoying the sensation of the warm summer breeze as it caressed their skin and let their manes fly like banners. It was an ideal version of Aldburg, a city that had never experienced dread or sorrow.
In wonder, Éomer had walked up the hill to the marshal's house where he had grown up until his parents had died, and where he had later returned to when the Eastmark had become his official ward, when he had suddenly been assaulted. A great, hairy beast had jumped at him and almost knocked him off his feet, yipping and whining in a shrill voice that seemed absurd for something so large, and a wet tongue had furiously licked across his face.
Yes, it had been their dog, a gigantic beast of untraceable decent, which Éomer had loved dearly in the days of his childhood. Hryppa had been his companion and protector wherever he had walked, and the day when old age had taken him had been one of the blackest events in the boy's memory. Overjoyed over their reunion, Éomer had sunken to his knees and buried his face in the dense fur as he embraced his old friend, laughing and crying at the same time.
"Hryppa? Who is it?"
It was a familiar voice that asked this question, a deep, commanding voice, and it had stunned him at once. With his arms still locked around his dog's neck, Éomer had looked up… and into his father's face. For the longest moment, they had stared at each other, speechless and too moved for words. Then things had turned even more surreal when a female voice had called out from the house. A voice deeply enshrined in his earliest childhood memories. A voice that had caused new tears to blur his vision when the slender silhouette had appeared in the doorway, but Éomer had not needed to see his mother to recognise her.
Somehow, he had suddenly found himself in his parents' embrace, all three of them crying in the overflow of happiness while Hryppa jumped around them with joyous barks. It had been an incredible moment; a moment of sheer bliss, something Éomer had never expected to experience in his life again. He had revelled in it, allowed it to carry him away, never wanting for it to end.
But it had ended, and Théodwyn had laid a loving hand against his cheek in caress.
"Look at you, Éomer! You are a man now! A warrior! I never thought that I would get to see you like this. You look so much like your father!"
"And he, too, is Third Marshal of Riddermark..." Immense pride had shone in Éomund's eyes when he regarded his son. "I always knew that you would walk in my shoes one day, Éomer. Even as a boy, one could see that you had everything you needed to rise to this position. But at such a young age… Safe Éorl the Young, I doubt that there was ever a warrior in the Mark who rose to marshal at only 24."
Not knowing what to say, Éomer had, for a moment, looked awkwardly to the side.
"I thought I would never see you again… Mother… Father… How… how can this be?"
"You are dreaming, Éomer." The smile on Éomund's face had slightly faded, and melancholy replaced the pride in his gaze.
Sudden realisation of what was about to happen to him in reality had then swept away Éomer's happiness.
"Is this… the afterlife? Already? But I do not remember having died."
Compassion had been written all over his mother's face.
"No, léofa. It is not. You are still in your cell. This is only a dream. Perhaps it came to you because you want to know what we think. It is important to you, and you fear that we might not accept you here." A sad smile had briefly crossed Théodwyn's lips. "You can lay those concerns to rest. We are immeasurably proud of you, Éomer, and we know that all you ever did was for the protection of our people. We will gladly open our door for you, should it come to that. Of course, it would also break our hearts, because it would be long before your time. But perhaps, there is no need for sadness, yet. Perhaps, something will happen that delays our reunion, as much as I would love to welcome you here."
To this, Éomer had furrowed his brow.
"The three strangers? Will they arrive in Edoras, at last?"
"We do not know more than you, son," Éomund had said. "But we have not lost hope yet. Things are in motion, and no one can predict the outcome. For what it's worth, you need to continue the fight. It is too early yet to give up."
"But I am sitting in a cell, Father," Éomer had replied. "I can barely walk… and in a few hours, I will be hanged, unless a miracle happens."
"And yet sometimes, they do happen," Éomund had shrugged. "The history of the Mark is full of such incidences where all hope seemed lost. Why should it not happen this time? Have faith, Éomer…in fate as much as in yourself. You are capable of much more than you think."
His voice had sounded distant all of a sudden, like an echo from the past, and with dismay, Éomer had realised that their meeting was about to end. He had not wanted for it to end, had wanted to remain right where he was.
'All I have to do for that to come true is wait and do nothing,' a voice in the back of his mind said matter-of-factly. 'The question is: is that what I really want? Have I given up?'
"Believe in yourself, Éomer!"
Which was the point where he had woken.
Once more, Éomer wiped his eyes with the balls of his thumbs. It been such a comfort to meet his parents after all this time, even if it had only been in his mind. The hole their death had left in his soul ached all the more all of a sudden, but Éomer told himself that, if what he had seen in the dream was real, his parents were occupying a realm far better than the one he himself was currently part of.
'So why should I even fight getting there?'
The distant noise of an opening door brought him back to grim reality. He sat up.
'They are coming. Get a grip!'
Several deep, guttural voices could be heard now, and the steps of at least three or four men. They were indeed coming to get him. Unwilling to face them sitting, Éomer slowly rose to his feet. To his relief, his body obeyed him. Apparently, the effort he had made only last afternoon, when he had paced the inside of his small cell in tight circles for as long as he had been able to, had restored his balance, and at least a little of his strength. His head and torso were still throbbing in the aftermath of the beating, but the pain was more distant now, and certainly manageable. He was as ready as he ever would be for what was about to follow.
Would the Worm truly dare to have him executed right before their people's eyes? No matter what lies the counsellor had been telling the Royal Court about the crimes of which he had been judged guilty, Éomer was certain that the open execution of a member of the royal family bore the risk of sparking long-overdue rebellion. He could not imagine that the filth would risk that… and yet these men were not coming to simply release him, this much was certain.
Bracing himself for the confrontation as the flickering glow of several torches finally reached his corridor, Éomer involuntarily stepped back to the wall. Even though his eyes watered from the painfully bright firelight as the group halted in front of his cell, he could see that he had assumed rightly that Gríma would not risk using Théoden-King's guards for the task of retrieving him. The six henchmen on the other side of the bars were Gríma's own, part of an ever-increasing group of crooked men that had been invading the city over the course of the last months.
"Well, there he is, our mighty marshal!" Felrod roared with a broad grin upon his face. "Isn't he a sight? Come out, rat, it's time to meet the cat!"
Éomer forced himself to remain calm.
"As you apparently saw the need to bring five men with you, Felrod, it would seem to me that it remains open for discussion who of us is the cat ... and who the rat." He raised an eyebrow. "How is your ear, by the way?"
The halfblood narrowed his eyes at his rebuke, and the fingers of his free hand worked at his side as if he could barely wait to wring his prisoner's neck.
"My orders say to bring you to the hearing in unspoiled condition, because my master does not want people to get angry over seeing you wounded. But if we break your ribs, they might never know it. Keep that in mind when we open the door now, forgoil." A short nod at the door. "You will step forward now and lay your hands on the crossbar."
A derogatory smirk pulled at Éomer's lips.
"Why? You've got five men with you, and still you are afraid to open my cell door?"
"Keep making this difficult, strawhead, and you will pay for it. You have my word. They're all waiting for you up there; if you keep them waiting, I doubt it will do you any good." He gave a little dirty laugh. "Not that there is anything good coming your way now, but still… things are never so bad that they cannot be made worse."
For a brief moment, Éomer considered resistance. How wonderful would it feel to unleash his accumulated frustration and rage against these men, even if they were not his main adversaries. He denied himself the pleasure. In his current condition, he would stand no chance against them. Not yet knowing what Gríma had planned for him, it would be best to conserve his strength for the time being. If they brought him up into the hall and the Worm then announced his execution, he could put it to better use by snapping the filth's neck before they killed him. And this time, he would make sure that he succeeded. They would not thank him for this deed right away, but perhaps, he would be regarded as a hero again in the end.
Squaring his shoulders, Éomer stepped forward and did as bidden, his eyes fixed on the big halfblood in silent threat. Daring Felrod to open the handcuffs.
From a ring with many keys, the brute fingered for the right one and found it after two vain attempts. His gaze on his prisoner, he growled: "Make one false move, forgoil, and you will regret it."
Up close, Éomer saw that the man's ear appeared to be badly inflamed, and so he only smirked with satisfaction and remained silent while his adversary opened the locks.
"Now turn around and put your hands behind your back," Felrod barked, annoyed. No doubt had he understood the amused glance his prisoner had given him. "Dorlâk, shackle his feet!"
Éomer followed his orders. This was bad. It was uplifting to see them still so very afraid of him, but with those additional chains around his ankles, and his hands fettered on his back, there was indeed little left he would be able to do. Certainly, he would not be able to snap the Worm's neck chained like this.
"All right," Felrod growled. "Now step back deeper into the cell and turn around."
The rusty door screamed in its hinges as it gave way, and for moment, the seven men stared expectantly at each other. Nothing happened. Felrod drew his sword.
'His sword? He must have taken it from our weapon's chamber, the thief!'
"Out with you. If you try something funny-"
"—I will regret it." Éomer nodded. "Aye. I understood that the first time you mentioned it."
With a deep breath, he left the small, uncomfortable rectangle he had occupied these past days and nights. All of a sudden, the relative safety it offered seemed much preferable to what would be awaiting him upstairs. His situation was about to change, and quite likely, not for the better. Swallowing his sudden anxiety, Éomer stepped forward.
One of the ruffians poked him between the shoulder blades with a club he had no doubt brought along in hope to use it, and Éomer continued down the corridor, his steps sounding hollow in the darkness of the hill's intestines, and the rattle of his chains incredibly loud. The halfblood gave him a condescending grin as he passed him.
"Now will you look at this? Dorlâk? Guthlaf? Not only is the noble son of the great Marshal Éomund not a cat, he is not even a rat! Indeed I think that our once proud warrior here is nothing but a little scared mouse!" He spat. "Disappointing. I was hoping I'd get the chance to sweep the floor with your ugly face!"
Éomer bit his tongue. An acid reply lay upon its tip, but it would not improve his situation. Best not to listen to anything his captors said. The important fight was the one in the Great Hall, not this petty skirmish with dimwits. He walked on silently, much to the amusement of his guards.
Up the stairs. The effort made him feel temporarily lightheaded. Before them, the heavy oaken door to the dungeon was opened from the other side, and Éomer squinted as daylight assaulted his deprived eyes. It was only the filtered light of the hall, but after days in the weak twilight of a single torch, even this hurt. Still he recognised one of the Royal Guards. The man's eyes widened slightly at the unruly sight of his disgraced marshal, yet he dared not speak out. Éomer granted the man a dark, accusing glance that made the guard avert his eyes.
"In here, filth," Felrod's gruff voice suddenly rang out from behind, and unceremoniously, Éomer was shoved into one of the empty guest chambers. "Dorlâk, get a piece of cloth." The brute grinned as he eyed his prisoner. "I fear we must first clean up our noble rider, before we can lead him before the King. He is filthy." He sniffed the air. "And he stinks!"
He waited for a reaction, but Éomer remained silent, instead of rising to the provocation choosing to look out of the window. It had been a clumsy attempt, and he knew better than to listen to it. Behind him, the door opened and closed as the other guard left, and heavy silence filled the room. It seemed to snow outside.
"Afraid, traitor? You should be. Your oh-so-noble blood protects you no longer. You will soon be fodder for the crows. They're already waiting for you."
Again, the son of Éomund forbade himself to do what the ruffian wanted. The stick was poked against his back again.
"Swallowed your tongue, strawhead?"
"You are not worth wasting my breath. I will speak with my King, and with my King only. Spare the effort." A strong gust howled around the hall, and all of a sudden, Éomer understood why it had been so cold in his cell the last days.
"Here is the cloth, Felrod."
The big man grunted.
"So… let's teach our pig-lord about cleanliness. Hold him!"
Éomer's arms were violently seized. He offered no resistance when the wet cloth was roughly wiped over his face, followed by a dry, coarse cloth. When this was done, Felrod's broad, ugly face appeared in Éomer's vision again, grinning as if this was the best day he had ever experienced. It probably was.
"Ah, isn't he pretty again? How the maids will swoon over his handsome face when we lead him out! Perhaps we should gift them with his head later on. They would surely appreciate it."
Finally averting his gaze from the window, Éomer stared the halfblood full in the face. There was frost in his voice when he said: "You will get your just reward for this, dog. But it will be a different one than you expect. I might not be around when they skin you alive and use your hide for a doormat, but wherever I may be by then, I will see it… and I will laugh."
A dangerous spark glowered in Felrod's dark eyes. His fist with the stick itched to make use of it.
"We will see about that, forgoil. I have a feeling that we might meet again much sooner than you think… and then we will see who skins whom!" He walked around his prisoner and rammed his hand between Éomer's shoulder blades, shoving him towards the door.
"Let's go and hear what your King has to say to you. I doubt that it is what you are hoping for."
"It is time. The prisoner is on his way. Bring him out."
It was Wormtongue's voice, and Éowyn narrowed her eyes in disgust when her adversary entered the King's chamber, followed by Gamling. Her heartbeat accelerated as she straightened. She was furious.
"He can barely walk this morning, Counsellor, let alone speak! When Théoden-King visited me yesterday, he was in much better condition. He was stronger, and hale. Now look at him and tell me that it is not your doing that my uncle has – again – been reduced to an unresponsive, hollow shell over night!"
"My Lady, unfortunately we have no time to discuss this for yet the hundredth time. The court is waiting for its king. Your uncle clearly overexerted himself yesterday, for he was already in bad shape when he left your chambers…, which makes me think that you must have played a part in his relapse! When I visited him in the evening, the King asked me for a sleeping draught… which I provided to him. Nothing more happened."
"You imply that I damaged the King's health? How dare you!"
"We can discuss this later, if you like, Lady Éowyn, but right now, the King is needed in the hall!"
"It is utterly unthinkable that he will be able to pass sentence in this condition!" Éowyn wrung her hands and looked pleadingly at the Captain of the Royal Guard. "He barely knows his own name, or where he is! The session must be postponed! Captain, just look at him! Say something!"
The old man's gaze was greatly distressed as he regarded his feeble King, but before he could voice his concerns, Gríma cut him off.
"It is not in Captain Gamling's power to stop these proceedings, my Lady," he sneered. "I remind you that, in the case of the King's illness, it is I who was instated by the Council to speak and act in his stead! Of course, we can do so, if you insist: we lay the King in his bed, and I will pass sentence on your brother. Is that what you want? You only have to say so!"
Horrified, all Éowyn could do was stare back at his vile, pale face. Unable to find the words for an appropriate reply. Unable to think. How could she have actually believed that perhaps, things could still turn for the better after her uncle's visit? Stunned, she shook her head.
'Please, do something, Gamling!' she implored the guard silently. 'Can you not see what he is doing? Where all this is leading?' It was written in his pale blue eyes that he knew it… and yet his hand remind idly on the heft of his sword.
If Gríma had noticed their little exchange, he did not let on.
"Either Théoden-King will sit on the throne to pass sentence on your brother, or I shall do it. The choice is yours, Lady Éowyn."
He turned and left.
As they left the guest chamber, Éomer's guards first led their prisoner alongside the left wall, towards the Golden Hall's exit. For protocol to be followed, the accused man had to walk through the cordon in the middle, right through the members of the court who had betrayed him.
Sensing the crowd's overpowering presence, but refusing to give in to the almost suffocating feeling of dread by turning his head to look, Éomer walked on. He pressed his lips together. Before him, the door grew ever greater, torturing him with the false notion that escape was still possible, that all he would have to do was get rid of his guards and make a run for it.
'Unarmed and with chained feet and hands. Certainly.'
He had to avert his eyes. Not wanting to look at his feet, as it would make him seem guilty, the son of Éomund chose to stare into a distance far beyond the hall instead. His expression was bland. For as long as possible, he would keep his emotions locked inside an inner vault. They would not help him here. If he followed his impulses, he would shout and insult everyone in the room. If he still wanted to avoid the gallows, that mode of action was forbidden.
He heard the mumbling of the crowd as they beheld his deranged state and followed his progress, but deliberately ignored them as they reached the far side near the door and turned around. Now for the most excruciating part…
The door to the King's chambers opened.
"Honourable members of the Court of Edoras…behold Théoden son of Théngel, King of Riddermark!" Háma's voice rang out from the dais.
The great hall fell silent. Slow, scuffling steps could be heard from the other side, approaching.
His view still blocked by the crowd, Éomer could not help tensing, and his heartbeat accelerated. The sound of this did not bode well. Last time he had seen his uncle, Théoden had appeared like his own ghost. What he was hearing now seemed to fit that last image perfectly… which meant that the old man's condition had not improved. Was he still that wraith-like creature that had done so much damage to his realm? And would that wraith-like creature condemn him to die now?
Straightening in the grip of his captors, Éomer lifted his chin. Whatever followed, he would face it with dignity.
There was movement now before him, in the gap he could see through the crowd. Gríma, slowly making his way over to his usual place on the dais, on the right side of the throne. And behind him…
Éomer froze. It was Éowyn who was helping Théoden up the three steps, assisted by Gamling. She had not left! She had remained here for him, and the Worm would claim her as soon as he was dead! She would see him die in a horrible way!
´Why, Éowyn?' Éomer thought in despair. 'Why did you do this? Do you not know what will happen now? This makes it so much harder for me to go!'
"Théoden-King," Háma's voice could be heard again once the members of the court had found their place on the dais. "…here comes Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of Riddermark, to be judged for his deeds. Will you see him, my Lord?"
Before them, Wormtongue bent toward the King, whispering into the sick man's ear. Then straightening again.
"The King will see him, Háma son Hárlond," he answered, and Éomer felt the short hairs on the nape of his neck rise in reaction. "Bring forth the prisoner!"
A stick was poked into his back, and involuntarily, he took the first step. The rattle of his chains seemed incredible loud in the leaden silence as he slowly walked down the cordon on legs that felt as if they were made of wood. They all turned to stare at him. It felt like a nightmare.
His blood a river of ice, his breath caught in his throat, Éomer looked at the men who formed the corridor. He knew all those faces. Most of them belonged to the Royal Guard, and they were clad in their whole attire and armed with spears and swords, thus underlining the official nature of these proceedings. Among them were the Council members. Lord Aethelmaer, Lord Aldhelm… He looked them in the eye as he passed, and one after another, they averted their gaze, and their expressions became distant and went right through him as he searched for a sign in their features that they were still on his side. His heart sank.
On the other side, the members of the Royal Household stood and watched. Here at least, Éomer detected dismay and horror on their pale faces, and more than one of those people he had known for most of his life was crying silently. What a wretched display this was!
At last, the corridor ended and Éomer stepped out before the crowd to come to a halt in front of the dais, flanked by his guards. His gaze went up to his sister.
Usually of an already pale complexion, Éowyn's face looked ghostly white as she stood behind their uncle, her fingers unconsciously digging into the fabric of her garments. Her eyes were unusually red. There were dark circles underneath them telling of sleepless nights and nightmares, and for the sight of her distress alone Éomer felt tempted to jump forth and strangle the darkly-clad figure at Théoden's other side. His eyes narrowing in disgust and resentment as he slowly dropped to his knees before his king, the son of Éomund finally faced his true adversary.
Seemingly ignorant of the prisoner's hate-filled stare, but secretly casting him a smirk that lay only within his eyes, Gríma raised his voice.
"Honourable members of the Council of Edoras and of the Royal Guard, we have assembled here today to pass sentence on this man who has been brought before you. Most of you were present when Éomer son of Éomund admitted that he planned rebellion with the help of the three strangers he had met on the plains and withheld from his report. His disobedience to follow his given orders put the heir to the throne of the Mark into his grave. And last, but not least, you were there to witness his attempt to murder a high-ranking member of the Royal Court."
Gríma inhaled, and allowed his portentous glance to travel over the listening crowd.
"For all those reasons, the Council of Edoras saw it fit to forego the customary trial. The guilt of the man before you has been proven beyond doubt. The sentence that is now going to be announced has been reached unanimously. Before it will be proclaimed, however, protocol decrees that the accused shall be given opportunity to speak for himself."
The focus of the pale blue eyes came to rest on his kneeling adversary.
"Rise, Éomer son of Éomund."
Slowly, Éomer came to his feet… His hazel eyes blazed as he stabbed them against his tormentor's. If it had been possible to kill a man with his stare alone, Gríma Wormtongue would have dropped dead there and then.
"This is your moment to speak, Marshal. Is there something you have to say for yourself?"
Éomer glared at his opponent a moment longer. Breathing in… and out. Trying to bring order to his thoughts. He looked at Éowyn, and in her eyes, he found overwhelming horror, and sadness, and compassion. He granted her the smallest, sad smile in thankfulness for her loyalty. At last, his gaze came to rest on his uncle. He had once loved that man like a father. But there was nothing left of him in this aged, hollow imitation of the King of Rohan. Théoden seemed to look right through him, his eyes veiled by a mist and his gaze turned inward. Éomer could not even tell whether the King even knew where he was, and what was happening around him. Addressing this living corpse would be worthless. But aye, there was something he still had to say, and it was important to him. He turned around to address the waiting crowd.
"Aye, Councillor, there is." His gaze wandered along the rows. They were all staring at him, listening. He inhaled… and raised his voice.
"So…you have all found me guilty of the crimes Councillor Gríma recited… or rather, you decided to see my actions as crimes. In your eyes, it is a crime to honour the oath I took to protect the people of the Mark against their enemies… In your eyes, it is a crime to fight domestic influences whose interest is not the wellbeing of the people they once swore to serve. It is a crime to act in the face of evil, while everyone else only watches paralysed, like the rabbit before the snake, how the realm of Éorl the Young is brought to ruin."
His eyes narrowed, and his tone sharpened.
"But it is not a crime to watch idly and then later, lament the death of those who could have easily been saved by a different cause of action. It is not a crime to look evil right in the eye and recognise it for what it is, and still remain silent… out of cowardice, or whatever personal reason. It is not a crime to punish those who still put their lives on the line and risk everything to bring change, and restore the Mark to what it once was."
Éomer nodded bitterly… and was that shame he saw in some of those faces before him? Good. He lifted his chin.
"Be assured that Béma sees what you are doing. Your forefathers see it. And from the course this is taking, it is certain that you will have to answer to them one not-too-distant day. You can order my execution now, but I will walk to the gallows with the knowledge that my ancestors will welcome me in the afterlife…which is more than you can hope for... Rot in hell!" He spat.
Commotion followed his words, outraged outbursts by the so accused, an ear-splitting din directed at the man before them, who could not have cared less as he turned his back on them. There was something wolfish in the Worm's smirk now, something predatory. Éomer did not care for that, either.
"Bravo, Marshal!" Gríma congratulated him, sarcastically clapping his hands. "You certainly know how to make them all weep for you. Now hear what the Council of Edoras has decreed."
He lifted his hand to stop the noise. "Silence! It is time for the King to announce the verdict!" Not everyone heard him, and so he lifted his voice. "Silence! I will not say it again!"
By and by, the shouting subsided, and they all looked at him, some of them with red faces from breathless exasperation. Feeling their full attention on himself, Gríma bent down to the King.
"It is time, Sire. Your subjects await your verdict. In the case against Éomer son of Éomund, Third Marshal of Riddermark, what is it that the Small Council decided?"
With considerable effort, Théoden rose to his feet. For a moment, his milky eyes seemed to clear as he rested his gaze upon his nephew, surprising all who saw the transformation. His voice was low, but it was loud enough to carry through the hall.
"I once welcomed you in my house when you were little and orphaned, Sister-son. I raised you as my own child. I showed you kindness. But it seems that unwittingly, I invited a serpent into my home. Cursed be the day when our bloodlines were united: first your father killed my sister, and now his son has killed my own kin!"
Murmur rose from the crowd. Éomer did not hear it. His attention was exclusively focussed on the man before him; the man whose words were like well-aimed sword strikes. They went straight through his defences, cutting, no, shredding his innards, his soul. Severing whatever tiny rest of kinship he had still felt with his uncle. The hall began to spin around him, but Théoden was not done yet, as he lifted a feeble hand to point at his nephew.
"Be gone, ungrateful curse to my house! You are no longer welcome in this hall, nor in this realm. You are herewith banished from the Kingdom of Rohan, under pain of death should you ever return."
He stumbled, grief-stricken, and only Éowyn and Gríma prevented him from falling down the dais. They helped him back onto his throne, where he slumped, utterly bereft of strength. Hiding his face behind his shaking hands, so that he would no longer have to look at his nephew's aghast expression, Théoden mumbled: "Take him away. I can no longer bear to see his face."
He began to weep.
For an endless moment, the silence in the room was deafening as none of the present dared to breathe. For what felt like an eternity, Éomer continued to stare at his uncle, paralysed. He hardly even registered Wormtongue's voice when the counsellor took over.
"You spoke well and true, my Lord. It was about time this wolfling heard the truth, although I wished you had been in better health for this most unfortunate business." He cleared his throat and turned first to the crowd and then to Éomer.
"The current rules of the banishment were written over a hundred years ago, and so far, it was never necessary to apply them. So for your information and understanding, I shall repeat them here now: the banished will be given his horse and five days time to leave the Mark. Should he be detected within our realm afterwards, he is to be executed without trial and without delay. On his way to leaving the Mark, the banished is not allowed to approach any cities or settlements, on pain of death. Likewise, anyone found helping him in whatsoever fashion, whether by arming him, hosting or feeding him, is to be executed."
Triumph sparkles in Gríma's eyes now as he stared at his adversary's thunderstruck mien, yet his voice remained neutral.
"From this day forth, the banished's name is not to be uttered in the Riddermark ever again. The punishment for doing so will be ten whip lashes… at the first offence. It is to be doubled each time the offender repeats his or her crime. Upon the fourth time, the offender will be incarcerated indefinitely… Lastly, the banished will be lead to the city gates in a public 'Walk of Shame'. All citizens are to be made aware of it at once, and are to gather along the path. No excuses will be accepted. As he passes, each man, woman and child shall turn their back on the banished. Failure to do so is likewise to be punished by ten lashings."
Wormtongue halted. His audience looked suitably stunned. Very well, so they understood the sincerity of these rules.
"These proceedings have already been organised. All cities and settlements were informed, and as we are speaking, the people of Edoras are being called together by the bell, to be instructed. The 'Walk of Shame' will commence in an hour. As mentioned, not being there will have consequences."
Éomer was unable to react. A deathly cold froze his body. This was a nightmare. So he would not be hanged. He would live… as an outcast. In a realm where he did not belong and where no one would welcome him, never to return to the ones he loved and cared about. Where he would remain a stranger until the end of his days. Somehow, this was worse… much worse. They would uproot him and delete his entire existence from their people's memory. He would become a ghost… less than that. Given the choice, he would have gladly walked to the gallows instead. What reason was there for him to live on? What was left for him to fight for?
He looked at Éowyn to see how she took the verdict, and the sight of her anguish mirrored what he was feeling himself. Her eyes were closed, but the tell-tale stream of tears upon her far-too-pale face could not be overlooked. Her pain was too great to be expressed in words…
Théoden, too, was still weeping behind his lined, shaking hands, no longer looking at him.
One more time, Gríma raised his voice.
"According to the law, the banished man has to be escorted by the Royal Guard up to the gate, to demonstrate to the people of Edoras the official nature of the verdict. So I am now asking its members to do their duty. Captain Háma… Captain Gamling…you will take the traitor away and relieve us of his unbearable presence. Make certain that your men are ready for the procession in an hour. My personal guard will accompany you and assist in whatever way you need them."
Wormtongue pierced the two stunned captains with his hard stare.
"I will meet you outside in a moment, but first I need to tend Théoden-King. I fear that the strain of these past days has been too much for him. He needs to rest… I hereby declare this session over."
Éomer hardly felt it when Felrod and another member of his guard grabbed him and shoved him in the direction of the exit. He heard neither their voices, nor the muffled muttering of the crowd. He did not see the stunned faces of the Captains of the Royal Guard as they took up their place beside him, or the council members, or the staff of the Royal Household, although he was led straight through their midst.
Reality had ceased to exist. There was only numbness, the feeling that he had been cast into a nightmare from which there would be no awaking…
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