Daughter of Kings

by Evermind

Chapter Twenty three: The Leave Taking

It was three months ere Theodred was fit enough to ride again. In that time Grimbold and Elfhelm together strove to hold the fords against Saruman. Strangely, the assault seemed to have lessened somewhat, and none could tell what Saruman's policy in this was. Eomer and Erkenbrand, too, had some success at keeping the enemy at bay, although the assault upon the Westfold seemed to have grown rather than diminished.

On the first day of the new month, Theodred went at dawn to his father's chamber. The old King lay beneath the woven hangings of the bed, feeling for once the blessed release of sleep. Theodred stood silent in the doorway, feeling like an intruder, but as he watched, it seemed to him that the King's face was peaceful, even beautiful. Lined as it was with premature age, yet it seemd that for once the King was no more than any other old man, wearied by long toil, yet still one in full command of all his senses. Theoden's beard and hair white as snow shone still unsullied, and his face, though leathery and hard with the passage of time, was clean, a slight colour was in his sunken cheeks, and he wore a clean tunic of dark green. Eowyn probably had something to do with that. Theodred smiled at his sleeping father, and gently he bent to kiss his cheek. There was no need to awaken him. Theodred would be back soon enough.

When he straightened up, Theodred saw that Eowyn stood in the doorway. A basket of linen was cradled in her arms, and seeing his eyes upon her, she entered and silently began to return the folded clothes to their drawers. Theodred smiled sadly, wondering that she took all this upon herself. He knew full well what he owed to his little cousin. Theodred sighed gently. He could not have coped without her. It was Eowyn who had cared for his father all throughout the long years, alone and unaided she had tended the King in his dotage, protecting him as best she could from Wormtongue's influence. He should have helped her, Theodred thought with a sudden stab of guilt. Always it seemed Eowyn's lot to remain here caged whilst he and Eomer rode abroad, and yet he knew full well that she was the best rider in the Mark, and second in swordsmanship only to himself. Why did he ever command her to remain behind, when he could see full well the pain it wrought in her every time he rode away.

Theodred watched silently for a moment, and then he knelt beside her, helping her at least in this small duty. He watched her face, the penetrating dark grey eyes that communicated nothing. His little Lily. So he still called her to himself, though he knew that she prefered the title of Shieldmaiden in these dark days. What had happened to his cousin? To all of them? He thought of the children they had been, innocent of the darkness in men's hearts. He remembered the day that she was born, when he had cradled her in his arms and watched as Eomer tucked a small white lily between her soft wollen blankets. He remembered the first time he had looked into her solemn grey eyes, and felt love stirring within his breast for the tiny babe.

He watched her as she smoothed out his father's bedcovers, her face expressionless. Eowyn's face, he thought suddenly had become like a dark window, shuttered tight against all love or weakness. Her eyes now were dark, and always he saw there smouldering the terrible hatred, and anger cold as ice. Every time he left her caged, he drove another nail into the prison of her despair. His little Lily.

Theodred put out a hand to stay her, and as she met his gaze at last, he embraced her, then silently, he turned and was gone.

It was three days later that the Prince, riding upon Brego came at last to the Fords of Isen.

Three days, and the orcs were there before him.