Daughter of Kings

by Evermind

Chapter Twenty two: The Darkness Is Deepening.

Eowyn collapsed beside Theodred's still body. His face was cold, and she could feel no breath upon his lips. She laid her head upon his chest, but not a flutter of a heartbeat could she feel. Then her searching fingers found a slight pulse in his throat, and her eyes grew wide with urgency.

Swiftly she scrambled to her feet, and with her arms about Theodred's chest, attempted to raise him from the floor. His body was as heavy as that of a dead man, but though the Shieldmaiden was slender, she was stronger than iron beneath. With a slight struggle, she raised her cousin to her shoulder and bore him swiftly to his bed. She covered him warmly with blankets, but his brow was still cold beneath her hand.

Eowyn bit her lip in anxiety. This was Grima's doing. Dare she risk leaving Theodred to find a healer? She had no choice, she realised. If she remained, Theodred would be dead within minutes. She was no healer. She must needs go for help.

The shieldmaiden sprang to her feet and ran swiftly from the chamber.
Once she reached the doors to the hall, Eowyn paused for a moment to alert Hama to the situation, and, while she continued her search for a healer, the captain hastened towards the Prince's chamber.
Hama burst through the wooden door, and breathed a sigh of relief. Theodred still lay upon the bed where Eowyn had placed him. But the captain's relief swiftly turned to anxiety as he realised how ill the prince was. Theodred's pale brow was damp and beaded with sweat, yet frozen cold. Hama clutched the Prince's hand in his, and felt the blood pulsing, faint and slow as it spread the poison through his body.
At that instant Eowyn burst through the still open door, her face pink from running, and a bewildered Freda puffing in her wake clutching a basket of herbs and bandages. Hama stood up sharply, and inclined his head to the venerable old healer.

"Freda." he gave her a worried smile "It was good of you to come so speedily."

Freda didn't reply, but pushed the captain of the guard gently aside. She settled herself upon the coverlets beside Theodred, and felt his brow delicately with a plump hand. Eowyn and Hama exchanged a tense look. Eowyn wrung her hands together nervously, ill at ease with no action to occupy her. Freda clucked gently to herself as she took a small leather flask from her basket, and tried to force some of it's thick, gluttinous contents between Theodred's blue lips.

"Well?" Eowyn cried aggitatedly "Will he live? Canst thou do aught for him?"

Freda glanced up momentarily from her work

"Well, we'll have to wait and see." she said quietly. "If I'm right, the boy'll live. Lucky he was that thou chanced upon him just then, but he may yet live to thank thee for it" old Freda smiled at Eowyn's obvious agitation.

"Now get thee gone and make thy cousin some hot broth ere the boy perishes from lack o' food! Thou childer art all too slender for my liking! And thou, young Hama! Get thee back to thy soldiering ere I report thee for leaving thy post!" Smiling, the old healer bustled them from the room.

Theodred sat propped up against his pillows, still too weak to rise, but fast recovering. About his bed were grouped those few whom the prince deemed still faithful. Eowyn and Eomer stood beside the window, and beside them Elfhelm, Grimbold and Hama leant against the white wall. Morwen and Baldor were seated in low chairs at the bedside. Gamling and Erkenbrand were not present, for they could not be spared form the war on the West marches. At a sign from the prince, Hama, who stood nearest pushed the heavy wooden door to.

"Thou knowest why thou art here." Theodred spoke after a long pause.

"We must decide upon a plan of action. No longer can the worm control all as he will, we must make some stroke in our own defence, else Rohan will fall. We can no longer rely upon our King to guard us. This is known to thee all. what we must needs decide now is how we will defend our homeland against the invaders. As most of thee will be aware, it has recently been discovered from whence our enemy comes. it is Saruman the White who guides them, one who was long our friend, and knows all our secrets. We cannot defeat him by subterfuge and secrecy, for he knows all our strengths and all our fastnesses; Yet neither can we defeat him by force. Ever the orcs will pour from Isenguard whilst we pile the fields of Rohan with the corpses of our slain, and still more will come. It is known to thee then, that this war is without final hope. No aid will we recieve from outside the Mark, I deem, and Saruman has powers that we cannot begin to guess at."

Theodred paused suddenly, and his eyes went to the window opposite his bed.

"Where is Grima?" he asked suddenly of Eowyn "For it would be ill indeed if he heard our counsel. He yet deems us weak, and it would not do to arouse his suspicions that aught is amiss with his designs."

"I left him crouched at the feet of the King's throne" Eowyn answered, not bothering to hide the scorn in her voice. "But I left Idis there also. I will not risk leaving thy father alone with the snake. Not after..." Eowyn's voice trailed off, and she swallowed the anger in her voice.
"I have instructed Idis that she is to send word immediately, if Wormtongue shows any signs of stirring." she continued, more calmly. "I guess we have an hour at the least ere the snake becomes suspicious."

"Good." Theodred nodded his approval, and then sighed. "This was supposed to be a council of war," he said, "But there is in truth little to debate. Saruman strikes ever at the fords of Isen, and thither as much of our force as can be spared must go. In this Saruman has the advantage, for he can send forces either side of the river to assail us, and few men defending the fords will be swiftly overcome."

"And what of the Westfold?" Eomer asked "Ever the traitor strikes there also, and we have not enough force to defend both the fords and the western borders."

Theodred's face was grim.

"That I know." he said "But there is little we can do about it. If only the King would let us arm our entire force, we might perhaps break free, but as it is, we can do little more than defend the borders and hope."

"Hope?" Elfhelm's voice was quiet.

"What hope is there? The Gondorians will not aid us, not though the sons of Eorl aided them long ago. But that alliegance is forgotten."

Grimbold snorted. "They have troubles enough on their own borders, I daresay, and they will not risk losing men in the defence of us 'lesser men!' But it is no matter. Are we not the sons of Eorl? We will defend our lands, and we will live, or else not, but we shall not go lightly to death, and we shall do deeds of song, even though none of our sons be left in after days to sing of us!"

There was a silence for a time. Eowyn met the eyes of Morwen, and there was fear there, fear that Grimbold's words should indeed come to pass, and Eowyn realised that Morwen was thinking of her two young children, wondering wether they would live to ever see the days renewed.

"Thou speakest aright." Theodred said suddenly.

"Without valour, what else is there? Eomer, you eorred shall go the aid of Gamling and Erkenbrand in defence of the Westfold. Set out as soon as thou art able. My eorred shall be divided between Elfhelm and Grimbold, and thou shalt defend the fords until I am healed. I will come as soon as I am able. "

"What of Edoras?" asked Hama "What orders dost thou have for the royal guard?"

"Do thy duty" Theodred answered.

"Guard my father at all costs, and do not let any stranger cross his threshold. Eowyn, I commend my father to thy care. Thou shalt remain in Edoras when we ride forth, and see that the worm never comes anigh him."

Morwen and Eomer half glanced at Eowyn, wondering how she would take this new inprisonment, but the shieldmaiden made no sign.

Elfhelm spoke quietly.

"To all thy policies I do agree, my Prince." he whispered

"But I will add this thought: Twice already thou hast near been slain. Be wary my lord. It seems to me, that someone wishes thee dead."