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Untold Tales of the Mark - The Rewrite  by Katzilla

UNTOLD TALES OF THE MARK: THE BANISHMENT OF ÉOMER


Chapter 4: First Moves


WESTEMNET

On the fringes of the Ered Nimrais, high above the central plains, Éomer sat in the sheltering niche above his favourite hiding place, and the gaze of his hazel eyes swept the empty landscape below with hawk-like intensity. Somewhere behind these low clouds and the falling snow, there stood the lonely hill of Edoras; and it was his home no more. He swallowed, still not acquainted with the pain this thought caused him. The past morning's horrible events were still too fresh to have settled with all their considerable implications in his mind. Fact was: the Mark was no longer his home; he was no longer welcome here. And his own kin considered him a curse.

With a sharp intake of air, Éomer forced the image of his uncle and the sound of his voice back into the vault of painful memories inside his mind. There was no doubt that they would escape from there again as soon as he let down his guard, but right now, he had to deny them the pleasure of tormenting him further. There were more important things he had to concern himself with than submerging himself in a sea of self-pity, like... his immediate survival.

Once outside the city walls, it had taken the son of Éomund a while to decide where to head. He had been fully prepared to die on the gallows, and the new development had taken him entirely by surprise. He would need a while to think about his further course of action, even though Éowyn's suggestion to head for Gondor had sounded reasonable at first. There was just one thing she had not known: Captain Boromir was dead. Aragorn had told him that. It was highly questionable that someone recognised him once he crossed Gondor's well-protected border.

Come on!" Théodred had laughed at him from that place in his mind he had chosen to occupy. „They will see from leagues away that you are a man of the Mark and not an orc spy! Do you honestly think they would kill you?"

This was probably true, but then again, who knew what else the Worm had instigated? If he had notified all their settlements along the way about his imminent banishment, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to let one of his messengers continue all the way to Gondor with a letter full of lies. What if he had written that the son of Éomund had plotted the Prince's demise? Théodred had been well known and respected in Gondor, not least of all through his friendship with Boromir. If they were out to apprehend the man supposedly responsible for his death, he would jump out of the frying pan right into the fire.

No, Éomer had concluded, his situation required further considerations... and first of all, he needed his weapons. So the decision had come to him to make for this little hanging vale, which was not too far away from the place Éowyn had mentioned. After a wide berth that had taken him out of sight from the city, he had approached the foothills of the mountains from the west, using a little fast-running creek to hide Firefoot's tracks for most of the way. The final ascent along a narrow, rocky path was tricky, especially in the gusty wind, and no rider who did not sit on the back of a calm, experienced horse could hope to master it. Éomer doubted that Gríma's henchmen would be able to follow him here, even if they miraculously found his tracks in these conditions. For one thing seemed certain: they would hunt him. The Worm could not afford to let him get away.

To his intense relief, he had found his hideout undisturbed upon his arrival, and his stash untouched. The clay pot he had stored here last autumn contained stripes of dried meat and fruit, and there were also a full waterskin, an old pan, flints, dry gras and kindling for a fire... and a fishing pole. As soon as he had established that no one had followed him, he intended to go and enrich his sparse provisions with a fresh-caught trout.

Which brought him back to the present. The land beneath him still looked empty and bereft of life, and Éomer decided to leave it at that and head back. Carefully, he crawled behind the shelter of a massive rock before he stood up and began to make his way down the narrow switchbacks. Finally, out of the wind! After a short descent, the massive overhang came into view. The deep recess below was his current refuge, almost a cave, and a low whicker greeted him as he approached it. Éomer could not help smiling when Firefoot's head appeared out of the opening, nostrils flared.

„Hello, Grey One," he chuckled. „Are we comfortable yet?" A hearty snort was the reply he received, and with a clap on Firefoot's muscular neck, Éomer slipped into the twilight of the cave and, after a lengthy swig from the waterskin, began to concern himself with the fire. Soon enough, flames crackled in the little niche and provided him with warmth and light. From the pile further behind, he took a few thick logs and carefully placed them into the blaze.

With a sigh, the son of Éomund sat down and leant his back against the rock. After the ordeal of the last days, the effort of the ride and preparation of his camp had already exhausted him, and yet the demanding rumble of his stomach served as a reminder that there was one more chore to see to before he would be able to rest.

From the bag, Éomer dug up two old, wrinkled apples, which he threw over to his stallion, keeping a third one for himself. Some of the meat stripes went into the pockets of his cloak. He stood up, feeling light-headed for a moment, and grimaced. The hard ride to the Entwood and back and the days in the dungeon had apparently cost him dearly. He would have to be careful with what strength was left to him.

A particularly strong gust of wind howled along the sharp angles of the mountain, blowing down a little avalanche from the overhang. With a deep sigh, Éomer stepped out. Hopefully, the fish were hungry… A threw a brief look back at Firefoot, who regarded him with his ears pricked up, awaiting his commands.

„Relax, my friend," he said with another little smile. „I'll be right back..."

OOO

Only a short while later, two good-sized trouts sizzled in the pan and spread their mouth-watering smell in the sheltered niche, and although he had already eaten the apple and the meat, Éomer could barely await the moment when they would be ready. For the moment, things were about as good as they would ever be in his current precarious situation.

He leant back against the rock, wondering what Éowyn was doing right now. Had she succeeded in securing his sword and bow? Was someone already on the way to their old playground near the Snowbourn? It would be such a good feeling to know that he would be able to defend himself in the case of an attack! If this worked out, he would be deeply indepted to his courageous, resourceful sister. But if it didn't, it would mean that Éowyn was in deep trouble...

„So... have you already decided on a path, Cousin?"

He sighed. Of course, it had only been a matter of time until this question reared its head again. He needed at least to have an idea before he headed out to collect his weapons. Another look at the pan revealed that the trouts were ready. He pulled them from the fire.

„Gondor seems risky," he mused. „I cannot rule out that the Worm spread his lies all the way to Mundburg... and it would be near impossible to do anything from there."

„Something... like planning a rebellion?"

Éomer stuffed the first pieces of fish into his mouth. They were delicious.

„It is the only thing that makes sense, isn't it?" He licked his fingers. „What would I do in Gondor? Even assumed they would allow me to stay there... I would remain a stranger all my life. I would stick out like a sore thumb. I am a man of the Mark with every fibre of my being, Théodred. I belong here. I could not live anywhere else. There would be no point in that... and it would also mean that I would have to watch from afar how the realm of Éorl the Young is brought to ruin. I could not bear that."

Béma, how he wished that his cousin were actually here with him! He had always had his best ideas in his discussions with Théodred. Éomer inhaled, and a frown appeared on his face.

„On the other hand, I am also tempted to let them taste the consequences of what they allowed to happen. Those cowards from the Council and the Royal Guard... they had it in their hands to change our fate for the better. All it would have taken was for them to stop that filthy halfblood and let me kill the Worm. Was that too much to ask?"

„If you do that, whatever befalls the Mark will also affect Éowyn," Théodred stated matter-of-factly. „And other people you know whom you probably do not want to see hurt... like the riders of your éored... or Elfhelm."

Éomer sighed and scratched his chin.

„I know. Which makes it even more complicated. Will Éothain and the others leave Edoras and join me, what do you think?"

„I fear that I cannot say, cousin. The situation is far too complicated and fragile. I, too, think that something must be done, and probably, going east would be your best bet for now. The Eastmark stands firmly behind you; I doubt that this has changed. And yet even if they follow you, the consequences for the Mark could be catastrophic if Erkenbrand and Grimbold think differently."

"Béma, what a mess…"

For the rest of his meal, Théodred's voice remained silent. At last, Éomer put the empty pan aside and fed his fire another two thick logs, before he wrapped his cloak tightly around his frame and lay down. Time to rest. He would head out once it was dark, thereby granting Éowyn more time for the fulfilment of her promise.

"I will start with arming myself tonight," was his last conscious thought before exhaustion claimed him. "And I will take it from there, step by step."

OOO

EDORAS

When Gríma son of Galmod left his chambers after his midday meal, he was in for a surprise. On the other side of the hall, before the door to Éowyn's chambers, it seemed to him that most members of the Royal Household had gathered to discuss... what exactly? Purposefully, he directed his steps over to them. Soon, he was able to discern bits and pieces of their agitated conversation.

"What happened?"

"Is it serious?"

"What is the matter with her?"

"But she was outside on the terrace only two hours ago, and there was no sign that—"

„What is the matter here?" he asked in a piercing voice, and the excited din around him stopped cold. All turned around and stared at him in sudden dread, as if he had caught them at something forbidden. Well... had he?

„The Lady Éowyn has fallen ill, Counsellor," a familiar voice answered him sharply – and somehow accusingly - , and when the household members cleared a path in their midst, Gríma beheld Captain Gamling in front of the White Lady's door. He narrowed his eyes. Something certainly smelled funny here.

„She appeared to be in good health only a short while ago," he replied. „What is her condition, is it known?"

"As the healer is not here yet, I cannot say much, but apparently she suddenly developed a violent fever and has trouble breathing. Whether it is a result of the grief she has suffered today or something else, I dare not say. Yálanda will find out. I sent her handmaiden to fetch her."

„Did you, now..." Gríma fell silent, and behind his perfectly bland mask of indifference, rage began to build up.

Was this Éowyn's way of defying him? Was this why Théoden-King had looked so shocked that morning after they had sent him out to discuss... what exactly? That she would kill herself if anything happened to her brother? That she would rather die than become his plaything? It could not be! She could not deny him his reward for all these long years of living in danger, having plotted the end of the Èorlingas right beneath their noses! His execution had been masterful, and so it was only just that he was given the one thing he really wanted. She could not take that away from him!

But of course she could! It was no secret that Éowyn despised him and let no opportunity pass to demonstrate her hatred. And yet, although he had always enjoyed their daily battle of wits and words, Gríma had somehow reached the point where it was no longer possible to deny the truth: that his attraction to King Théoden's niece was not born from the desire to torment the proud nobles of this land who had forever looked down upon him for his mixed ancestry; an act of vengeance. No, to his own surprise, he had found that it was genuine longing for a companion; a need to love and to be loved in return, something he had almost given up on.

Oh yes, certainly he had had his share of women over the years, but he could not pretend that they had shared his bed because of his engaging personality. There was no doubt that he could be charming, certainly, very much so, but he was even better at corrupting, and so what had drawn those women between his sheets had either been fear or greed, a lust to feel the power of a man whose words were commands even to the king of their land. The service they had provided him had been enough to satisfy his bodily needs, and yet it had not stilled the yearning deep within his soul, a yearning the son of Gálmód had long denied to feel at all. There was only one who could quench that thirst; and she could not depart and leave him behind unfulfilled!

With forceful steps, Gríma made his way to the door. First, he would see for himself what was going on, and then- Someone stepped into his way. Gamling. His mien was stern. The red-haired older man seemed uncharacteristically determined to remain an obstacle in his path, and Gríma wondered briefly what caused the bout of heightened protectiveness. Did the man truly think that he would try to take advantage of the situation? That he would try to bend Éowyn to his will while she was weak and unable to defend herself?

It was a good idea. But no, no matter how minuscule his chances of still gaining the heart of the woman he desired had become, this was not how he intended to make her his'. In his dreams, she came to him willingly, as only that way would lead to the fulfilment he longed for. He understood her better than even her own brother; he appreciated her wild spirit, but she just would not see it. Regarded with the bidden realism, it seemed far more likely that if he wanted to have her at all, he would have to take her with force, and it would be the acknowledgement of his failure if it came to that. It would be domination, not love. What a shame!

Waking from this brief inner discourse and its grim prospects, Gríma met Gamling's grim gaze in a show of righteous anger.

"Will you please step aside, Lord Gamling? I believe I should see first-hand what has befallen the White Lady, to report it to the King."

He creased his brow as the Captain of the Royal Guard showed no intentions to move.

"The Lady wants to see no one, Counsellor. Hildegard is with her now, and the only other people I am going to allow in are her handmaiden and Yálanda. This day has been very hard on the King's niece, and it would be best not to aggravate her further."

Wormtongue stared at the door as if he could see through the wood. The notoriously mistrustful voice in the back of his mind was whispering unintelligible words, and he could not help feeling a vague twinge of unease.

„When did you send Maelwyn for Yálanda, Captain?"

"Only a little while ago. The smithy is not far, she should be back very soon. All the more as she knows of the urgency of her errand."

„Hmm..."

Creasing his brow in deep thought, Wormtongue cast a long, pensive look at the doors of Meduseld. He had instructed his men very carefully, now he could only hope that they had heeded his words and paid close attention to what Éowyn's handmaiden was doing out there. Éowyn was usually of remarkably good health and not lightly cast down by illness, which made this little unexpected bout all the more suspicious.

With a deep breath, Gríma straightened and looked the old warrior straight in the eye.

„I will go and await her on the terrace. Keep me informed should anything change about the Lady Éowyn's condition, Captain."

He turned away, feeling an unfamiliar nervous flutter in the pit of his stomach. Any delay in the conveyance of information could prove fatal to his plans. If his men had failed, not even the Gods would protect them from his wrath...

OOO

Her heart beating in her throat so loudly that it drowned out even the roaring storm, Maelwyn hastened down the steep path from the Golden Hall to the first cottages, one of which was the smithy and the home of their old healer Yálanda and her husband Bergfinn. She could hardly believe her luck that she was still alone, for even though Éowyn's plan had sounded proper, the young handmaiden had been sceptical whether she would be allowed to leave Meduseld on her own. To her immense surprise, the guards had permitted her to pass without a word of protest.

Apparently, they had forestalled the counsellor with this course of action, but as she ploughed hastily through the snow, Maelwyn still feared that a guard would be sent after her, and made hardly five steps without confirming with a glance back over her shoulder that she was not followed. The snow was still falling thickly and visibility poor, but she seemed to be alone yet.

Slightly relieved, she clutched the collar of her cape and slung it tighter around her neck as she turned toward the noise that emitted from the building next to her destination. It was Élric, she saw with sudden joy – the man she had come to see. He looked up as he sensed her approach; a tall man in his beginning middle-years, strong of build as a result of his hard work and with the blue eyes and flaxen hair that would give his Rohirric ancestry away even in a great crowd of people.

"Élric! Élric! Quick, where do I find your mother?"

"Maelwyn?" He squinted at her against the onslaught of the snowflakes, his expression overcast with sudden concern and the instrument in his hand temporarily forgotten as he sensed the urgency in her voice. "Is aught wrong? Is it the King again?"

"No, it is not the King. A sudden fever has befallen the Lady Éowyn! We need your mother's service very urgently."

"Éowyn?" The blue eyes widened in dismay, and Maelwyn remembered that her mistress and her brother had been well acquainted with Bergfinn's family for a long time. "My mother is in the house. I will get her immediately," He turned toward the main building, which he shared with his wife and their parents. "Come with me!" Another look over her shoulder confirmed to Maelwyn that they were still alone, but still she could not help feeling as if all eyes in Edoras were directed at her every move. "Do you reckon it is something serious?"

"The fever seems to be very high and struck her without warning. Apart from that, I'm afraid I cannot say." She had to tell him now, the opportunity would never be better. Taking her heart in both hands as Élric shoved the door open and called for his mother, Maelwyn laid a hand on his arm. "And Élric, there is something else."

"Something else? What do you mean, Maelwyn?" He drew his eyebrows together in confusion and then looked down the corridor again as he heard no answer to his call. "Mother? Where are you?"

"My Lady asks for your help in an urgent matter. She made herself deliberately ill by taking a special potion so that they would send me for your mother and allow me to leave the hall. By telling you this, I lay both mine and my lady's life into your hands, Élric! Please, help us!"

She stared into bewildered blue eyes and fell silent when the sound of steps approached them from the kitchen. A moment later, the old healer rounded the corner, and the woman's wrinkled face turned to her in alarm.

"I am right here, Élric. No need to be so impatient. Is that Maelwyn I see there? What is the matter, child? Who has fallen ill now?"

"Alas, it is the Lady Éowyn," the young handmaiden reported dutifully. "She has a violent fever and trouble breathing. They sent me to fetch you."

Snorting angrily, Yálanda turned to take her old fur-cape from the hook.

"I knew it was too much for that poor lass! All this grief she had to endure over the last days had to lead to something like this sooner or later. I hope Counsellor Gríma is proud of himself now." She bent to look for her leathern healer's bag, and then laid a hand on her brow as she suddenly remembered where she had left it. "Béma, what a forgetful old woman I have become! Wait here, child, I will be right back!"

She disappeared into one of the rooms at the far end of the corridor. Still confused, Élric turned back to his unexpected visitor.

"Are you saying Éowyn took poison? Was she trying to kill herself because of what they did to Éomer?"

"No," Maelwyn whispered back with the same intensity. If only she had been granted more time for her task! "She wanted to ask you herself to help Éomer, but the Counsellor wouldn't allow her to leave Meduseld, so she sent me instead. The Counsellor must not know about this!"

Incredulity was written all over the blacksmith's broad features as he stared at her.

"The counsellor forbade Éowyn to leave Meduseld? But he has no such—"

"Things are getting worse within the Golden Hall each day, Élric, but that is not why I am here. My Lady asks you whether you could ride out and deposit weapons for Éomer at their old hiding place, underneath a certain rock. She said you knew of what place I am speaking."

Élric narrowed his eyes.

"I do indeed."

"When they banished the Marshal, they took all his weapons. He is out there all by himself and unarmed, and Éowyn fears some foul play by the Counsellor." From the far room, they heard Yálanda rummage through her things and talk to herself.

"Ah, here it is. I wonder why I left it here."

Her eyes one great plea, Maelwyn shifted her attention back to Élric. Was that a shadow she saw on the other side of the path?

"Please, I cannot say more, and there is no more time! Will you help? Can I tell my lady that she needs no longer worry?"

"Does the Counsellor know you are here?"

"He knows I am here to fetch your mother, and I must return with her, or I will wake their suspicion. Please, tell me, Èlric, what should I tell my mistress?" The shadow was gone, or perhaps it had never been there. Its absence calmed her not.

Following her gaze into the grey-white swirling snowstorm with pensive features, Élric mused: "It would raise questions if I rode out in this weather without a good reason." Deep in thought, he scratched his beard, his thoughts leagues away. The sound of his approaching mother brought him back, and finally, to Maelwyn's utmost relief, he gave her the little nod she had been hoping for. "I will think of something. Tell Éowyn that I will see it done."

"Today?"

He looked at her strangely.

"Of course today. Éomer needs his weapons, doesn't he?"

Thankfulness lighting up her eyes, Maelwyn was already in the midst of throwing her arms around Élric's neck when the sight of the healer behind him stopped her. Yálanda's lined face wore an expression of mild bewilderment as she regarded her son and their visitor, whose demeanour seemed to have abruptly changed from gloomy to exultant, but then she shrugged it off and squeezed through the little opening in the door frame her son left.

"Come, child. Let us help the White Lady before it is too late."





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