Ten Thousand Years will not Suffice

by Agape4Rivendell

II 


24. 
Third Age - 3014 

I. 

Boromir and Faramir accompanied him to Rohan, along with Indis and Listöwel. It was just past the feast of Yáviérë and Gondor had celebrated the harvest day with much rejoicing. Their had been an uneasy peace the last twelve years; Gondor and Rohan had held against the most formidable of attacks by the enemy and prevailed! Denethor had survived an assassination attempt. The farmlands were heavy-laden with crops, spring had been greeted with many new lambs and calves, and the Mark’s slim stock of mares had had many foals. The grasslands of Rohan swayed as waves upon the sea. Denethor reveled in the openness of the land, the wind on his face, and his sons beside him. Returning to Rohan was always a welcome relief for he left the cares of Gondor behind him. Trumpets blared to announce their arrival.

Indis had insisted they celebrate the harvest with their neighbors. It had been too long since she had last seen her sister-friend, Morwen Steelsheen. How Listöwel and she rejoiced when they reached the foot of the steps leading into Meduseld and she stood before them, slightly bent, but her face full of joy.

“Too long, too long has it been!” The Queen Mother cried. They ran to her and held her, tears streaming down their faces. As abruptly as the tears came, laughter followed.

“You are too thin! Your hair has turned white! Where are your swords?” Their instant rekindling of friendship delighted Denethor and Théoden. The three went off, chatting joyfully.

Denethor smiled. Théoden grasped his friend’s hands and held them tightly. “Too long indeed. What has occasioned this visit?”

“Indis. It came into her head three months ago and I could not dissuade her; I did not want to dissuade her. How are you my friend?”

Théoden smiled. “Well. In fact, I have someone I want you to meet.” He turned and motioned to a young man who stood in the shadows. “This is my trusted advisor, Grima, son of Galmod. He came highly recommended from the Lord of Isengard.”

Grima bowed to Denethor. “All know of the might and wonder of the men of Gondor. To meet their leader, their Steward, is a great honour.”

Denethor blinked in disbelief at the pale-faced man who stood before him, yet his own face did not betray him. He bowed to Théoden’s advisor. “Grima - from Isengard?”

“Nay. My family is from the Mark. Long have we lived here. My father was a captain in the Eastfold, under Éomund. He died in the same attack that killed the Marshal.”

“I am sorry for your loss.”

Grima bowed in acknowledgement. “I must be off. I am in charge of today’s meal. I hope it meets your approval.” He turned and walked slowly into Meduseld.

Boromir and Faramir waited. Théoden smiled as he saw them fidgeting like young colts. “You wish to see Théodred and Éomer, I suppose?”

“Whatever is your wish,” Boromir said tactfully. “We wait upon Father.”

“Go, but do not be late for supper,” Denethor said with a smile. They ran down the steps and towards the stables, their usual meeting place.

“Come, old friend,” Théoden smiled. “Let us to my study. It has been overlong since you have visited me.”

Once they sat and had shared wine, Denethor locked his fingers together and sat in silence.

“You do not approve of Grima?”

Denethor snorted. “I do not approve of the Wizard. Anyone or anything coming from him is suspect, in my mind.”

“I know your unease regarding Curunír, but the man has lived with him these last twelve months and I find much wisdom in his words.”

A sharp hiss from Denethor greeted this pronouncement. “Wisdom, in what way?”

“As it regards our land and our people.” Théoden’s voice became sharp. “Is wisdom only for Gondor?”

Denethor looked long at his friend. “Wisdom for Gondor is usually wisdom for the Mark. And wisdom for the Mark is usually wisdom for Gondor, my friend.”

He knew Théoden heard the reprimand in his voice, but his friend stood and walked towards the fire, not speaking. Late autumn and the winds from the mountains were already cold, but not enough to need a fire. Denethor watched as Théoden held his hands before the flames, rubbing them together.

“Are you cold?”

“My bones seem to feel the wind more intensely this season.”

Denethor wondered. “I will send you a cloak from our weavers. Lamb’s wool keeps a body warmer, I think, than the fur of bears.”

“I do not need a cloak of Gondor. What will my people think? That I prefer things of Gondor over those of the Mark?”

Denethor blinked, but otherwise kept his emotions in check. “Your father preferred many things of Gondor over those of the Mark. Particularly your mother.” He smiled gently. “I meant no insult, Théoden. And you know that I prefer the stallions of the Mark over any horse bred in Gondor.”

Théoden turned towards him. A look of consternation filled his face. “Forgive me,” he whispered. “I do not know what came over me.” He smiled. “Mother would agree with you. I think she looks towards Gondor for Théodred and perhaps Éomer and Éowyn also.”

Denethor smiled broadly. “There is hope in such thoughts.”

“Would you consider?”

“Of course.” He was interrupted as the bell for the midday meal rang out. Both men stood and walked towards the Hall.

Long tables were set and food covered every inch. There was hardly room for plates or eating utensils. Denethor was surprised to note that Grima sat on Théoden’s right. He looked for Théodred and found him at the other end of the table, flanked by Boromir and Faramir. ‘What goes on here?’ he thought, concern for Théodred fighting with joy at seeing the three friends with their heads bent in laughter. His heart pinched for a moment as he remembered the times Thengel, Amdir and he had sat thus, rejoicing in their friendship.

The meal was superb. ‘If this is Grima’s handiwork, he has shown himself well. I wonder why Morwen did not plan the event and the menu?’ Denethor thought absently. But his mind was on his sons and Théoden’s plans for them. ‘I cannot let them marry a Rhovanion,’ he thought wildly. ‘The blood of Númenor must not be diluted further. How will I prevent this without hurting my friend? Though Morwen is of Westernesse. Is the blood pure enough? Kin-strife was done in the name of Eldacar’s parentage. I would not let Thorongil…’ His mind whirled with the implications of that thought, but he stilled the thoughts, would not walk that path.

Morwen herself walked towards him. “Forgive my lack of manners when you entered Edoras, my Lord. I was so delighted…”

She did not need to continue; he stood and took her in his arms. “Your love for my sister has always made my heart glad. You are precious to Gondor.” She returned the hug and he held her back in surprise, looking at her with alarm. “Are you well?”

“I have been fighting a cold, I think, of late. But the leech is confident I will be well soon.”

“You have no strength in you. Your embrace is like unto a child’s. How long have you been ill?”

“For two weeks, no longer. And I am as strong as ever I was.”

“You are not! Théoden!” He turned in alarm towards Théoden King. “Have you not noted your mother’s health? Take her hand. It is hot. She has fever.” He picked her up and quickly carried her out of the hall and to her chambers. Indis and Listöwel scurried to their feet. They followed Théoden, who had also jumped up, concern etched across his face.


II.

"We are going to be skinned within an inch of our lives. We have missed the King’s supper. Father will be put out.”

"Hush, Éowyn. If I had known you would put up such a racket…” Éomer hissed. “Why did you come with us, if you were going to be afraid of everything?”

”I am not afraid. And who found this cave anyhow?”

"She is right, Éomer. It is wonderful; it goes back forever. So odd to find such a large one here in the foothills.” Faramir peered into the deep recesses of it. “Might we go in further?”

"There may well be jewels buried here or mithril,” Éowyn said, her voice rising in excitement.

"It looks like someone has been here before us. Look. Signs of digging.” Boromir picked up a stone and ran his finger along the yellow vein that ran through it. Putting the finger to his mouth, he touched it lightly with his tongue. He quickly spat. “Arsenic. The ratter must have been here digging for the poison. Let us be away from here.”

Éowyn had gasped at the news, but refused to leave. “But there might be jewels or mithril,” she complained.

"There is nothing here but death,” Boromir said, grasping her arm firmly and leading her to the cave entrance. “Théodred, do not come back here again. And I suggest you tell the ratter to hide the entrance. The poison here is potent.”

"Then if we cannot stay here, let us at least ride to the river. I would put my feet in and tease the fish.”

"It is turning cold. The stream runs from the mountains. It will be frigid,” Éomer said with a superior tone. “You will take ill and I will have to listen to your moans. I will not go.”

"I would ride,” Théodred said. “I have not raced you for at least a year, Boromir. Are you up to it? Will you accept my challenge?”

"Where to?” Boromir said, his face splitting with a great smile.

"The river. It will stop Éowyn’s murmuring and give us a good long race.”

"Then it is the river.” Boromir jumped onto his horse.

Faramir and Éomer mounted their own horses. Éowyn was still trying to decide whether or not she should go back into the cave. “Come, Éowyn,” Théodred ordered. “Join us.”

"The horse father gave me is too slow. I have no chance to beat any of you.”

"Éowyn, stop whining,” Éomer chided. “We will meet you there. You wanted to go to the river and now you have your wish.”

Théodred called out, “One! Two! Three!” and all four men spurred their horses forward. Éowyn clicked and followed them as best she could.

By the time she reached the river, her sibling and friends were laving their faces in the clean, cold water. She quickly ran to them and unceremoniously splashed them as hard as she could. Amidst their yells, she shouted, “There! That’s for leaving me behind. I could have been Warg fodder or Orc meal. Father will surely punish you for leaving me behind!” She was furious and shook visibly.

"Be still, little sister. You were not alone. We watched you as we rode. Do you think we would seriously leave you alone on the plains?”

"Did anyone bring anything to fish with?” Boromir interrupted.

"I have a hook,” Faramir said.

"I will sacrifice my shirt for the thread,” Théodred said.

"I will find some bait,” Éomer said and scurried off towards the rocks, shoving them aside. In a moment, they heard an “Ah ha!” and Éomer ran towards them, a small cricket in his hands.

"Éowyn, start a fire. If we catch anything, we can eat it here.” The excitement in Faramir’s voice echoed the excitement of all present. All but one.

"I will not.” She was so tempted to stamp her foot that Faramir, who rarely missed such things, had to stifle a laugh. “I want to fish too.”

"We only have one hook, Éowyn,” Théodred said patiently. “Let Boromir fish first; it was his idea and he is the best amongst us. Then, you can fish.”

"But why do I have to start the fire?”

"Because starting a fire is woman’s work,” Éomer snorted. “And you are the only woman here.”

"Éomer,” Faramir stopped him. “Éowyn is a fine horsewoman and good friend. You chide her for things she has no control of.”

Éowyn scowled. “I do not need a Gondorian to defend me. I can defend myself.”

Her eyes smoldered, but she did not put Faramir off. “Of course you can, Éowyn.”

"Now you mock me!” She wanted to scream, but instead, jumped upon her horse and rode off.

"I caused this,” Faramir said, “I will follow her.”

"We should return anyhow. Dark will be upon us soon and we are already in trouble.” Théodred smiled. “It has been a most pleasant afternoon.”

~*~

When they entered the Hall, chaos reigned. Théodred grabbed a servant’s arm. She squirmed, trying to free herself. “What is going on?” he asked as he held her tightly.

"The Queen is ill. Very ill,” the woman used Morwen’s old title in her fear. “We are bid to scrub down the tables, lest others become sick.”

"Where is she?”

"I know not. The Gondorian took her somewhere.”

"The Gondorian?”

"Father,” Boromir said simply. “He probably took her to her own chambers. If we can find Amma, she will tell us what is happening.” He put his hand on Théodred’s shoulder. “She will be fine. You will see. Your leeches are good, Théodred.”

Éowyn ran down the hall. Théodred and Éomer followed. Boromir put up his hand to stop Faramir from following them. “This is a family matter, Faramir. We should wait and let them discover what has happened. Let us go to Father’s room. He will be there, I am sure. And Amma is probably with him.”

They quickly crossed the hall and soon found themselves in front of Denethor’s guest chambers. Boromir knocked. They waited but no answer came.

"Where would he be?”

"Wait a moment.” He knocked again and their father’s voice bid them enter.

"It is the flux,” Denethor said quietly, after he let them in. “They believe she drank tainted water a fortnight ago. The healer thought she was recovering, but she is not. She cannot control herself, but even worse, she is in extreme pain. Indis is with her.”

"I do not understand,” Boromir stood next to his father. “Rohan’s leeches are very good. How could she have become so ill so quickly?”

"It is the nature of the illness. It does not lead to death. Usually.” Denethor turned towards Faramir. “You look ill. Are you all right?”

"I am sorrowed for her. Is there naught we might do?”

"Nothing. Just keep mischief from you, if you can. Where were you? You were missed at dinner. I did not need to worry about the two of you whilst this was happening.”

"We were distracted, Father. Forgive us. An unusual cave and then fishing.”

Denethor smiled broadly. “Fishing! At least someone in this family can fish. What did you catch?”

Boromir blushed. “Nothing. As a matter of fact, we never did get to fish. Éowyn - she became upset and we deemed our transgressions enough to keep us in trouble for nigh unto a year.”

Laughing, Denethor put his hand on Boromir’s shoulder. “For a fish from that stream, I would have forgiven almost anything. You have set my mouth to watering.” He stopped and his face blanched. “You did not drink from the stream?”

"We did, Father. It is mountain-fed and was clear and clean.”

"Be careful. Only drink that which is boiled and strained, or ale or wine. There is nothing to fear. This sickness is easily remedied, but I would prefer you not to have to suffer with it.”

Boromir smiled. “We will obey you. Faramir and I will retire to our room. If you need us, we will be there until morning.”

"Stop at the kitchens; you have not eaten.”

They bowed and left.

~*~

For three days Meduseld and its people lay in turmoil. Morwen had taken a turn for the worse during the night. Her discomforts, instead of lessening, increased. She was given to convulsions. Horror filled the court and her friends. Grima worked long and hard with the leech to make sure that everything that could be done was being done. He had some books and herbs that the Wizard had given him, and he even tried those. But to no avail. By the afternoon, she was wracked with convulsions and her hair began to fall out.

Indis and Listöwel never left her side. Grima forced them to eat and drink to keep up their strength, but both women had not the stomach to eat much. In fact, Indis was already complaining of nausea, brought on, she felt, by watching her dearest friend suffer so.

By evening, the leech noted there was blood in Morwen’s fluids. He shook his head. Indis took him by the shoulders and shook him. “There must be more you can do, something you have forgotten!”

"Indis, would you chide Arciryas in such circumstances?

"You know I would, if it meant a friend’s life! I cannot understand this. We boil everything we give her; we give her only soft foods, and yet she becomes more ill. Perhaps it is not flux.” She started to sway. Listöwel ran forward as she fell. She started to shake herself as the leech took Indis from her arms and laid her on the settle by the fire.

"She is just weary. There is naught to fear. She has slept little in the time since she arrived. I will have one of the servants take her to her quarters.”

Listöwel looked at the pale face before her and ran from the room. “Denethor!” she cried when she reached his room. Banging on the door and calling his name, she grew nauseous herself and slid to the floor.

An hour later, a servant found her like that. Calling for the guards, he picked Listöwel up and took her to the chamber she shared with Indis. He laid her on the great bed next to the Lady of Gondor and ran for a leech, almost knocking a guard over as he ran from the room.

~*~

They sat quietly in the stables. “Father said we must return to Minas Tirith soon,” Faramir said, disconsolately. “I would like to stay, at least until your Amma is better.”

"If she gets better,” Éowyn sighed.

"When she gets better,” Théodred scolded.

"Sometimes, the sickness runs such a course,” Faramir said. “I remember we had a servant with the same ailment, and Arciryas assured us he would recover and he did. She will be well again. You will see.”

Boromir looked at Faramir and realized his brother spoke the words to keep his own courage firm. “This is foolish. Morwen would not want us to sit about, worrying. Let us to Aldburg for a day or two. There are wild boar in the mountains near there. We can bring back one or two for a feast in celebration of her recovery.”

Théodred’s eyes lit up. “I will ask Father. I think that wise. She will recover and the people will want to rejoice.”

"I will not be allowed.” Bitterness hung on Éowyn’s words.

"You could at least come to the city with us,” Éomer said. “You could shop and visit old friends.”

"Have you ever been boar hunting, Éowyn?” Faramir wondered.

She snorted. “Nay. Father does not even know that I have trained as a shieldmaiden for the last six years. Grandmother…” Her voice choked. “She helped me find a tutor and encourages me. Father supposes I am learning how to be a proper lady.” She sighed again. “At least he lets me ride. Though that nag he gave me is as lazy as Grima.” Her face contorted in a grimace. “I cannot stand him. He watches me.”

Éomer laughed. “You are imagining things. He is so concerned with ingratiating himself with Father that he has not time for anything else. Grima Wormtongue is not worth your concern.”

"Wormtongue?” Boromir questioned. “Is that his full name?”

"It is a nickname Éowyn and I gave him,” Éomer laughed. “Suites him perfectly. He worms his way into Father’s list of advisors. Yet, I see no wisdom in him.”

"Let us give no further thought to him. We can leave now, with Father’s approval. Let us find our fathers and ask.”

They walked quickly to the Golden Hall and entered. All was quiet, the court still shaken by the Queen Mother’s illness. Théoden sat upon his throne; Denethor stood next to him, leaning over and quietly speaking. His manner was relaxed.

Boromir hoped that meant Morwen was recovering. “Father. Théoden King. We have a request.” He continued on as neither parent spoke. “We would like to journey to Aldburg and bring back a boar or two for Edoras’ celebration of Morwen’s recovery?”

Denethor smiled. “It is good to hear that your heart is not heavy with worry. She will recover. Grima has assured Théoden. So a celebration will be in order. You have my permission.”

"And mine also,” Théoden smiled. “It is a good plan. Éowyn, you will stay behind. I would have someone at my side until your Grandmother returns to her rightful place at my side.”

Éowyn smiled dimly. “Of course.”

Faramir noted her hands were clenched. “Mayhap sometime away from her usual duties would be helpful to Éowyn, my Lord. She has been constantly in contact with Grima regarding her grandmother and helping to care for her. We would most treasure her company.”

Éowyn looked at him, gratitude filling her face.

"I had hoped… Very well. When will you leave?”

”It will only take moments to pack. The horses are ready. We will return in two day’s time,” Théodred said. “Thank you, Father.”

He waved them away and the four almost ran out of the hall. Within moments they reconvened at the stables, carrying small bags with only the essentials. The guards smiled as they left Edoras, golden hair and raven shining in the warm sun of midday, laughter filling the air about them.