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4
Night Games

By: Mike Kellner


~~~

August 3009, Dunharrow, Rohan

Late summer on the plains of Rohan was brutally hot and humid, with few
rains to cool the land. The King dealt with this by moving the entire
court of Rohan up to the mountain stronghold of Dunharrow, because it
was cooler and more comfortable than the Golden Hall of Edoras. Along
with the King came the nobles, and aristocrats, and their families and
servants. It was Rohan’s summer holiday. During the holiday, titles of
rank were less important, and for the most part the adults feasted and
enjoyed each other’s friendship, while the children explored and played.
August was a time to forget your troubles and enjoy the good life.

~~~

The heat of the day had faded to the crickets of evening. The old people
were talking and drinking by the fires or sitting in groups on the
grass, and the sky had just turned to black. The full Moon was rising.

At the edge of the tent city, three young people stood talking. Two
boys, nearly grown to men, and a tall slender girl, the younger sister
of one of the boys.

“’The third full Moon of summer rises,” said Háma ominously, “The Night
of The Wandering Spirits.”

“Hmh,” said Éowyn.

“That is when they come out,” said Éomer. “A night to be wary.”

“Find some little children to scare,” answered Éowyn.

Her brother looked at her sternly and said, “It is when the dead who did
not find their way to the other side, roam and haunt the living.”

Háma moved closer to the girl, “perhaps you need a protector.”

She hit him in the arm.

“Ow!” Háma exclaimed, “Why did you do that?”

“This is just another one of your lame attempts to get me to kiss you,”
she replied, “How stupid do you think I am.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Háma asked, sounding insulted.

“I assume, for the same reason as when you tried last week in the
stable,” she answered,

Háma looked hurt, “I thought you would like it.”

“I did not. I do not kiss boys,” Éowyn said sharply.

“You kiss your horse,” Éomer said, trying to rescue his friend.

“That is different, I love my horse,” She said.

“I think she is changing the subject because she is scared,” Háma said.

“Sacred that you will get too close,” she snorted.

“That is definitely the answer of a scared little girl,” Éomer offered.

“I think you are on to something,” Háma said, feeling the tides
shifting. “These young girls scare easily.”

“Clearly scared of the Wandering Spirits,” Éomer said solemnly. “They
sometimes carry off young maidens, you know.”

“You two should go to the cook tent and try this on the scullery girls,”
Éowyn laughed. “You might get lucky.”

“You cover it up well,” Éomer laughed in return.

“Cover up what?” Éowyn asked.

“The fear, fear of the spirits,” Háma answered gravely.

“I can smell the fear in her,” Éomer said.

“I am braver than both of you put together,” she said defiantly.

“Prove it,” Éomer challenged.

She thought for a moment, and said, “Come.”

She walked off swiftly, leaving the two boys to follow as they left the
glowing the fires of the camp, and walked a path lit only by the Moon.

“Where are we going?” Háma asked as they caught up.

“You will see,” she replied.

After they had walked for a few minutes, it seemed the trees were
sickly, and the Moon wasn’t as bright, as if something was sucking the
life and the light out of things.

“This is not a good idea,” Éomer said.

“Getting scared?” Éowyn asked.

“Of course not,” Éomer replied, “I just do not want to get lost.”

“I am not lost,” Éowyn answered.

She looked at him with sideways with an arched eyebrow and said, “I have
heard that the spirits like to carry off young virgins, be they boy or
girl.” Getting no answer, Éowyn continued, “Of course, experienced older
boys like yourselves have nothing to fear on that account.”

Uncomfortable silence hung over them as they walked on. The air seemed
chill, despite it being a balmy summer night. The boys moved closer to
her, and she took each by the hand.

“We should turn back,” Háma said.

“I am not scared,” Éowyn answered, “I have two brave Riders of the Mark
to protect me.”

Their palms were quite sweaty in her hands when she stopped because the
boys were resisting going any further.

“I have proven my point,” Éowyn said triumphantly. “I have led the both
of you closer to the Dark Door of Dimholt than you care to go. I am the
braver.”

The three pivoted where they stood, relieved that the test of nerve was
over.

“Quiet!” Éomer hissed, “I hear something.”

“What?” Háma asked.

Éowyn’s eyes were as wide as saucers as she scanned the area.

“There, see it is watching us,” she whispered.

The boys strained their eyes, and made out a large shape in the shadows.

“I see it too,” Éomer exclaimed in a hushed tone.

“It is coming towards us,” Háma exclaimed.

Startled, Éowyn let out a loud scream, turned and bolted as fast as her
long legs could carry her. The boys tried to keep up, but she had always
been the swiftest afoot.

The large shape was charging behind, and they dared not look back, lest
they fall and be caught. They ran and ran, until they nearly ran into
the standing stone that guarded the Dark Door, the opening to the Paths
of the Dead.

They turned to face their fate, hearts pounding, panting from the hard
run, trapped between the unknown creature and the Dark Door.

It seemed that a river of deathly cold was pouring out of the black
doorway, sending a chill through them that quenched their souls.

The dark shape loomed closer; it too was panting from the chase as it
approached.

“What are you idiots doing up here?” asked the familiar voice of Théoden
King, uncle and foster father to Éomer and Éowyn.”

“Ah, um, a, well, aaa,” they answered as a group.

“That is what I suspected,” the King replied. “Let us leave this
accursed place ere our hearts freeze.”

As they walked away, Háma spoke up, “You see Sire, we were just, well,
it was like we were, I mean…”

“I was young once too,” the King said, interrupting Háma’s fine
explanation. “No need to explain.”

“What were you doing up here?” Éowyn asked.

“I had stepped out behind my tent for a moment, when I saw you three
walking on the path to the Dimholt,” the King said. “I decided to follow
and see that you did fall into danger.”

As they walked, Éowyn slowed her pace just the slightest amount, and
began to fall behind. Háma did the same.

Éomer noticed that Háma and his sister were not with them, and started
to turn his head.

“Keep walking and don’t look back,” the King whispered.

“But,” Éomer began.

The King touched his finger to his lips, and shook his head. “Leave your
sister be,” he whispered, and sped his pace a bit.

“That was fun,” Éowyn said.

“It was?” Háma asked.

“Yes, I was very scared, it was thrilling,” Éowyn answered. “How about you?”

“I was not scared,” Háma said.

“Yes you were,” Éowyn replied, giving him a light backhanded swat on the
shoulder.

Háma was quiet.

“I do not think you a coward,” Éowyn said, “It was just fun, I was
getting even with you and Éomer for treating me like a child.”

Háma walked along silently.

“I thought it was very brave of you,” Éowyn said. “You were quite
scared, and yet you kept walking with me. It is good to know I have a
friend who won’t abandon me in a pinch.”

“I was not brave,” Háma confessed. “I was afraid, like a little child.”

“That is courage,” She replied. “Anyone can do what they do not fear,
courage is when you face up to what you fear.”

Háma walked and said nothing.

“‘Tis a fine Moon tonight,” Éowyn observed, sliding her arm through his,
to walk linked arm in arm.

“Uh, yes,” Háma mumbled.

“I am lucky to have a brave man here to protect me, what with the
spirits about, the Dark Door, and all,” Éowyn said, and leaned against
his shoulder.

Éowyn stopped walking, and they were facing each other, just barely
touching. She looked up to Háma, and her eyes locked on his. After a
moment, he kissed her gently and then they fell into a deep kiss.

After a bit, she pushed him back. “That is all I can handle for now, my
head is spinning.”

“I thought you did not want to kiss me,” Háma asked.

“That is not what I meant,” She answered. “I would not kiss a boy who
approaches me in public. I will kiss the right man, when we are alone.”

Háma tried to kiss her again.

“First you must know something,” she said, putting one finger to his
lips, and looking into his eyes. “You must be discrete; I am a princess.
I have boundaries I must observe, appearances I must maintain.”

Háma started to speak.

Éowyn kissed his lips lightly. “Listen to me,” She said intently. “You
must keep our secrets.” She kissed him again. “If you tell my brother
what we do together, or brag about me to your friends, or speak to me as
anything but a good friend in public, I will never do this with you
again.” She kissed his lips softly and asked, “Do we understand each other?”

Háma nodded his head.

She kissed him deeply one more time before they resumed walking, holding
hands. The other two were a long way ahead of them, and close to the
tents. When they arrived at the King’s tent, they were walking as
friends, not touching. The King and Éomer were standing and talking.

“We must have been walking too fast for you,” the King said. “’Tis a
fine night for a stroll.”

“Spoken truly Sire,” Háma replied, wondering how much the King guessed.

You lads should be off to bed,” the King said, “I would have word with
Éowyn before she retires.”

After bidding them a good night, the boys walked off. The King closely
observed Éowyn as she watched the boys disappear into the night. She was
blooming, the tomboy was fading, but not completely gone, he thought to
himself.

“You and I need to talk,” the King said, motioning his head towards the
door of his tent.

Éowyn flashed her most innocent smile, hiked her skirt a little bit, did
a tiny curtsey, and walked into the tent with a decided sway.

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