Disclaimer: I do not own any of the recognizable characters; I am only borrowing them for fun for a little while. They belong to J.R.R. Tolkien.
Many thanks to my wonderful Beta’s, Marsha and J.
Many thanks to my wonderful Beta’s, Marsha and J.
Wending his way through the bushes alongside the Snowbourn, Théodred led his cousins along a different path back toward Edoras. They paused at several spots where the river ran slow and deep in dark pools along the bank, perfect places for fish to hide and Théodred promised to bring the children back when he returned from his next patrol. Eventually, though, the bushes and trees grew too thickly together to continue along the river and they turned and rode out onto the open grasslands.
The ride upstream had taken them out of sight and farther away from Edoras; a spur of the White Mountains now lay between them and their home. Its size gave it a foreboding feel and they urged their horses into a canter as they made their way around it. The steep slope was littered with large boulders and a few scraggly pine trees amidst the ever present grass that covered the lands of Rohan.
Éomer stared at the hillside as they rode past wondering if he might be allowed to come back. Perhaps with those boys he’d met earlier, he thought as he saw what looked like a cave, or maybe just some rocks that were leaning on each other and forming some sort of rough shelter. Whichever it was, the hillside looked like a place where he could have a lot of fun. Glancing at Éowyn when she called to him, Éomer never even saw the birds that came bursting out of the grass right in front of his horse.
Startled by their sudden appearance, the whirring noise of the birds’ wings, and the sound of the calls as they flew past his nose, Cempa came to a complete and abrupt halt, his eyes wide and his body trembling. Éomer, however, kept going. He flew out of the saddle and over Cempa’s head at roughly the same speed at which they’d been traveling. Éomer tried to roll – he’d been taught the best way to land when falling from a horse at a very young age – but he didn’t quite get his head down nor his shoulders tucked in against his body properly. He came out of the awkward half roll and went skittering across the trail with his hands out to try and stop himself. Éomer came to the same sort of abrupt stop that his horse had as he slammed into rocks that dotted the area close to the mountain. The boy cried out briefly before all movement ceased and he lay as if dead.
Théodred leaped off Féle and was at Éomer’s side almost before the boy stopped moving. He swore loudly at the blood that was pouring out of a deep, long gash on the side of the boy’s head. Théodred had no training as a healer but had been in enough battles and seen enough injuries to know that a wound like that could be life-threatening if not treated promptly. Scanning him quickly for other injuries, Théodred glanced at and then ignored the numerous small cuts and scrapes on his stomach and chest that Éomer had gotten when he’d slid across the trail – those could wait. However, his cousin’s left arm was bent at an odd angle and Théodred realized it was broken.
Swearing once again, Théodred gently and carefully moved the boy a few feet away from the rocks onto a softer bit of ground where the grass grew more thickly. Éomer did not flinch or make a sound as he was being moved and Théodred wondered just how badly the boy had been hurt. He’d fallen from plenty of horses in his life and had been knocked unconscious several times, but he didn’t think he’d ever been out even this long. Shaking his head in dismay, he hastened to Féle to get the small bag of healing supplies that he did carry… that all Riders carried.
“Is-is he dead?”
The sound of the quiet, trembling voice stopped Théodred in his tracks and he spun on his heels to look at Éowyn who sat white-face and shaking on her black horse. He had forgotten she was even with them he realized, appalled.
“No, he’s not.” Théodred hurried back toward Éomer, thoughts of getting the bleeding stopped foremost in his mind.
“Is-is he going to die?”
Again, Éowyn’s voice trembled and Théodred heard the note of fear, perhaps even panic in it. He wasn’t sure how to respond because while he didn’t think Éomer was going to die, what if he did? He shuddered involuntarily. Already he was fond of his cousin and he would hate to see the effect it would have on Éowyn. Still, he would not lie to her.
“I don’t think so, Éowyn, but he is badly hurt. Come and help me.” Théodred wasn’t sure if having her come closer and actually seeing Éomer’s injuries was a good idea or not, but he didn’t know what else to do with such a little girl. However, he didn’t watch to see what she would do. As he dropped to his knees next to the still unconscious boy he untied the bag, fumbling with the knot briefly before it came loose and he spilled half of the healing supplies on the ground. He bit his tongue against the curse that threatened, reminding himself that Éowyn was near. Grabbing a cloth from the bag, Théodred folded it and placed it firmly against the ragged gash that started just above Éomer’s left eye and went back into his hair three or four inches.
Théodred knew that head wounds bled a lot, but as he pressed firmly on the cloth he was amazed at how quickly the blood soaked through it and he grabbed another one wondering if he would have enough cloths and what he would do if he couldn’t get it to stop bleeding. He pushed aside that thought; it would do him no good right now. A sudden gasp made Théodred glance down at Éomer hopefully but then he realized that the noise had come from behind him and without looking at her he spoke.
“I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks, Éowyn,” he said in his gentlest voice. “Head wounds bleed a lot. But,” he paused and glanced back at her then, swallowing hard when he saw her. He did not need two children to take care of and he hoped that her pale skin, ragged breathing, and wide, frightened eyes as she stared at her brother did not mean she was going to faint or be sick. “Éowyn, look at me,” Théodred commanded. He spoke softly but there was a definite note of command in his voice and the little girl looked at him, surprise pushing aside the fear in her eyes.
“Éowyn, you cannot be sick now. You’re an Eorlinga and I need you to be strong… Éomer needs you to be strong.” Théodred returned his gaze to the injured boy and winced at the blood seeping through the second cloth he had placed on top of the first one. No wonder Éowyn was shocked upon seeing her brother up close; bright red blood covered the whole left side of his head. His hair glistened with blood, it dripped into his ear, it still moved slowly down his cheek where it ran down his neck before soaking the collar of his tunic and pooling in a small puddle on the ground.
“W-what do y-you want me to do?” Éowyn stepped closer to Théodred to block the sight of her brother from her eyes.
“I need more cloth to stop the bleeding,” her cousin replied without looking back at her. “I don’t know if you or Éomer have any such thing in your saddlebags, but if you do bring it to me. There is some cloth in the bag that held our lunch. Get it quickly.” He called her back before she’d gone two steps. “Éowyn, remember to move slowly around Féle, he does not know you well.”
“I’ll be careful,” she promised as she slowly made her way to the horse that stood watching them a short distance away, its nostrils flaring slightly at the scent of the blood.
Théodred glanced over his shoulder once to check on Éowyn’s progress and was pleased to see that she was able to get the bag from Féle without incident and he turned his full attention back to Éomer. He thought perhaps the flow of blood had slowed with the addition of a third cloth but he couldn’t be sure and he kept a steady pressure on it as he waited for Éowyn to return. Turning his mind to other things he began to think of what he needed to do next. He couldn’t stitch up the wound; he’d never done such a thing and while he’d seen it done numerous times his sewing skills were so poor that he usually begged one of the men of his éored to repair the rips in his tunics and breeches when on patrol. No, he decided, stitching would have to wait until they returned to Edoras.
Setting the arm would be somewhat easier; Théodred had helped do that several times. Broken arms were a fairly common injury among the men and boys of Edoras. All he needed was a couple of sturdy sticks to use as splints and something to tie the sticks to Éomer’s arm. He would take some straps from the saddles or tear strips from his shirt. As for the small cuts and scrapes across the boy’s chest and stomach, those would just have to wait until they were back in Edoras. From what he could see through Éomer’s tattered clothing, Théodred didn’t think any of the wounds were too serious, though blood seeped from several of the longer cuts and he could see small pebbles imbedded here and there.
“Here.” Éowyn thrust several bags at Théodred but he shook his head.
“No. I need you to take out any cloths that are in them and shake them out as best you can. We need them to be as clean as possible, Éowyn.”
The little girl nodded and with a worried glance at her brother she took out the cloth their bread had been wrapped in and began shaking it vigorously.
“Not here,” Théodred said, grimacing. “Over there.” He gestured with his head in the direction he wanted her to go and she quickly moved to where he’d pointed and started over.
“W-why doesn’t h-he wake up?” She hiccupped and Théodred realized she’d been crying, though her red eyes were the only visible sign of her recent tears.
“It hasn’t really been that long yet, Éowyn. Not even ten minutes,” he said in a soothing voice as she rejoined him, kneeling beside him. “It just seems like a long time because you’re so worried.” He did not tell her that he was becoming concerned; the longer the boy was out the more likely it was there’d be permanent damage. He’d seen men who’d been knocked unconscious for long periods of time and the thought of Éomer suffering such a fate frightened him. With a brief smile of thanks, he took the cloth she handed him and, after hesitating a moment, he tied it tightly around Éomer’s head with the thick pad of cloths held snugly in place. Théodred watched closely and let out a deep sigh when only a small stain of blood appeared on the rough, brown cloth.
“Is there cloth in those other bags?”
“I-I didn’t look… I just, just br-brought them.” Éowyn continued to stutter in her fear and anguish.
Théodred paused in his search through Éomer’s saddlebag and wrapped his arm around her, pulling her close to his side. “I truly believe he’ll be all right, Éowyn,” he whispered as he hugged her tightly. “We just need to give him a little time.” He kissed her forehead as he released her. “All right?” Éowyn took a deep breath and let it out before she nodded. “Good girl,” he said with an approvingly smile. “I need you to search for some sticks so I can set his arm. They need to be…”
“What’s the matter with his arm?”
Théodred noticed she’d lost her stutter rather quickly as she demanded the information. “It’s broken and it’ll be easier to set while he’s unconscious; it won’t hurt him so badly.” But it was not to be because no sooner had those words left his mouth when a small moan escaped Éomer’s lips and his eyelids started to flutter. Relief flooded Théodred; he didn’t believe his cousin had been out long enough to cause lasting damage and if they could get him back to Edoras and into the hands of a healer without delay, Éomer should recover completely. Éomer’s eyes opened slowly and he blinked against the harsh light of the afternoon sun, closing them briefly. He finally stared up at Théodred, his eyes dark and cloudy with pain and fear.
“Don’t move,” Théodred said softly, laying a gentle hand on the boy’s shoulder. “I don’t know what you remember but you fell from your horse and you’ve been unconscious for a time. You have a…”
“You broke your arm, Éomer!” Éowyn interrupted her cousin. “And you have blood all over your face.”
Éomer turned his head to look at his arm. A strange expression crossed his face and he turned deathly white. “I’m going…” Further words were lost as he made a gurgling, coughing noise deep in his throat. Théodred quickly turned him on his right side so he could be sick without choking. As careful and gentle as he was, however, he jarred the boy’s broken arm and Éomer cried out in pain between spasms as he emptied his stomach onto the ground. Théodred held his hair out of his face and carefully laid him back down when he was finished and the boy whimpered, biting his lip and blinking back tears.
“It’s all right, you’re going to be all right,” Théodred crooned softly. The sound of retching behind him made him cringe and he knew that Éowyn had not been able to stop herself once the smell coming from Éomer hit her. He sighed deeply; he just hoped she’d managed to keep herself clean. Glancing quickly over his shoulder he saw that Éowyn had moved a short distance away and she stood with her shoulders slumped and her arms folded tightly across her stomach. She had remained mostly clean; only her boots and lower breeches showed evidence of her retching. The little girl’s eyes clearly showed her misery as she gazed at Théodred.
But, young as she was, he needed her help. He didn’t feel he could leave Éomer alone just yet and he didn’t feel comfortable leaving Éowyn alone with him in case he started bleeding again. Théodred glanced down at the boy and swore loudly. Blood was soaking the bandage again; the retching and sudden movement had evidently started the wound bleeding again. For a moment he panicked. What if he couldn’t get the bleeding stopped? What else should he try? Should he just put Éomer on his horse and ride hard for Edoras? No. He took a deep, calming breath. Edoras was more than an hour’s ride away and if he didn’t get the bleeding stopped before putting him on the horse, Éomer would probably be dead before they reached the city gates.
“Théodred?” His voice came out in a low whisper and Théodred could hear Éomer’s pain and fear even in the single word he spoke. It matched the look in his eyes which were bright with unshed tears.
He looked back down at the boy with what he hoped was a reassuring smile. “You must not move, Éomer or I fear you’ll be sick again. Your head is bleeding again… ah,” he grabbed the boy’s right hand as he started to move it toward the bandage. He squeezed it and set it back down by his side. “Stay still. It’s going to be all right, but I need to get it stopped.” Théodred turned to look for Éowyn and was startled to find her standing at his shoulder.
“Éowyn, take a very small drink and rinse out your mouth... we need to save most of the water for Éomer. Then I need you to find some wood for a fire. I have to make him something for the pain.” As he spoke he removed his waist-length tunic and started pulling his shirt over his head.
“W-what are you doing?”
“We need more bandages,” he said as he began ripping the shirt into long strips. “Now, go.” Éowyn trotted away in search of the wood.
“Hush.” Théodred laid a finger on Éomer’s lips. “I know she’s too young, but I have no choice. And it’s better if she keeps busy anyway.” He stared at the bandage, which was now soaked through, trying to decide if he should take it off or simply apply more bandages on top of what was already there. Why had he never paid attention to such things? What if he did it wrong and Éomer died, he thought with a hint of despair darkening his thoughts. A low whimper broke through his musing and he shook himself mentally. He had to do something. Right or wrong he had to make a decision and he could only pray it was the right one.
It seemed to make little sense to leave on the pads he already had in place; they were already soaked with blood. He carefully untied the long bandage and peeled away the blood-soaked cloths one at a time. Reaching the wound itself, Théodred tried to see if it looked worse than before but there was no way to tell with the seeping blood and buried as much as the gash was in the boy’s hair. As he applied the fresh, folded cloth to the area he wondered how the healers did this sort of thing all of the time; it was not something he could do. It was too difficult watching someone in this sort of pain.
The cloth again became soaked with blood, but not as swiftly as it had earlier; there was a definite lessening in the amount and it was taking longer until he had to add another cloth. Perhaps the worst was over. But the sound of Éomer’s ragged breathing and a quick glance at Éomer’s pain-filled eyes stopped that notion; it was far from over for him. He gently and carefully tied a bandage around the boy’s head, tying it as tightly as he could so the cloths would not slip out of place.
“It’s stopping,” he said, clasping Éomer’s shoulder briefly. “I must see to starting a fire and making you something for the pain before I set your arm, all right?”
“C-can I… drink?”
“Yes, of course! I’m sorry, Éomer, I should have realized.” Théodred picked up the waterskin and then frowned, wondering how best to give the boy a drink. Lifting his head too far would likely cause enough pain that he would retch again, which might start the bleeding again. But lying flat to drink was just as likely to cause him to choke with the same results. Shrugging inwardly he finally lifted Éomer’s head a fraction and began dribbling in the water a few drops at a time. He spoke soothingly to the boy as he eagerly drank what little water Théodred allowed him.
“That’s all,” he said, setting the waterskin aside and laying Éomer back down. “We need the water for the willow bark tea. You’re shivering,” he muttered as he noticed the trembling body. Shock… was he going into shock? What did that even mean? Warm… he had to be kept warm he vaguely remembered hearing. Where was Éowyn with the wood? Not that there was much around here; broken limbs from the few scattered trees. Théodred glanced around and spotted her on the far side of the horses with a few small pieces of wood in her arms. He picked up his tunic which he’d set aside earlier and laid it over the boy, being careful not to touch his broken arm. The tunic stretch from Éomer’s throat to his knees but it wasn’t very warm and Théodred knew he needed something else. They had no blankets… blankets! The horses had blankets of a sort under their saddles and he stood, murmuring to Éomer that he’d return shortly.
The two older horses eyed Théodred placidly as he approached; only his own horse, Féle, seemed uneasy and began edging away. The red horse stopped at Théodred’s sharp whistle and stood, blowing and swishing its tail. Since no one would be riding Cempa on their return to Edoras, he quickly removed the saddle from the bay horse, speaking softly to the animal as he worked. The blanket was worn and it wasn’t large, but it would help keep Éomer warm.
“What are you doing? Where’s your tunic?”
Théodred blinked in surprise as he looked down at Éowyn. She had an uncanny ability to sneak up on him unawares.
“Éomer’s cold.” He looked at the small bundle of wood she carried and sighed softly. It certainly was not enough to keep the boy warm, but hopefully it would last long enough to heat the water for the tea. He started back toward his cousin with Éowyn trailing at his heels. “Have you ever started a fire?” Théodred didn’t know when little girls started doing such things.
“Of course I have,” she replied indignantly, glaring up at her tall cousin. “I helped m-mama cook and she taught me.”
“Good. Then start one right there.” Théodred pointed to a spot just beyond Éomer’s feet. He knelt down next to the injured boy as Éowyn set to work on the fire. The boy’s eyes were closed but popped open when Théodred spread the blanket over him from the waist down, wanting to keep the heavier blanket off of Éomer’s injured torso.
“T-thank you,” he whispered. Éomer’s pain-glazed eyes traveled over Théodred’s bare chest. “I’m n-not cold.” His cousin smiled.
“I’m not cold, either, and I think you’ll need it before we get home.” He paused for a moment and studied the boy, wondering if he should tell him his concerns. Deciding that he would want to know the truth if he was Éomer, he continued. “Éomer, I won’t lie to you. Setting your arm will be painful and I’m sorry for that, but I’m most concerned about getting you home. It’s a long way and I’m afraid that the movement of the horse will make you sick again, or you’ll start bleeding again. I’m going to make some willow bark tea to help lessen your pain.” He hoped to make it strong enough so the boy might sleep, though he doubted he would. The pain Éomer was in was too great, but perhaps it would at least relax him a bit.
Éomer grimaced at the thought of the tea. It was bitter and left a horrible taste in your mouth after drinking it. But he said nothing; his head and arm hurt so much that the relief it promised was worth the taste. He did, however, ask about his arm. “M-my arm… how bad is it?” He wondered if it would affect his ability to be a Rider.
“I don’t know,” Théodred admitted. “I haven’t examined it closely. But,” he moved over to the fire as he continued speaking, “it didn’t break through the skin and those are the worse sort of broken arms. Most Riders have broken an arm or a leg… some more than once.”
“Even you?” Éowyn asked from her spot near the slowly growing fire.
Théodred was pulling the herbs he needed from his healing bag as he answered. “Yes. When I was seventeen I fell from a horse and broke my wrist. It was only the second time I’d been out with your father’s patrol,” he added with a wry smile. He poured water from the waterskin into the small pot and set it on the edge of the fire to boil.
“Éowyn, watch the water while I find a couple of sticks for setting his arm.” He’d have to be quick because he still didn’t like the idea of leaving them alone, but none of the pieces of wood Éowyn had found were long enough or sturdy enough to work as splints. He hurried in the opposite direction from the way Éowyn had been looking and found one stick within ten feet of where Éomer lay. Finding the other stick took time and he was growing frustrated by the delay by the time he found something he thought could be cut into a splint. Théodred trotted back to the others and quickly noticed that Éomer’s eyes were closed, and he frowned when he saw that the boy was still shivering.
Handing the sticks to Éowyn as he crouched down by the fire, Théodred immediately began adding the herbs he’d set out earlier to the now boiling water. Using a stick he carefully lifted the hot pot and set it off to the side to allow the herbs to steep and to cool it down enough for Éomer to drink. He then turned back to getting the splints ready.
“Éowyn, we need three or four straps to hold these splints on his arm. We might need the cloth I cut from my shirt so I want you to find some laces from other things. Take them off the bag from lunch or the saddlebags. I’ll get the splints ready.” The girl nodded and scurried away to do his bidding. Théodred watched her for a moment, suddenly grateful for her presence. He then busied himself cutting the sticks into the proper lengths.
“Drink this, Éomer,” said Théodred slipping his arm under the boy’s head and lifting it just a bit. A low moan came from Éomer before his eyes opened and he looked blearily up at his cousin. “Drink this,” he said again and held the small pot to the boy’s lips. Éomer opened his mouth obediently and Théodred began slowly dribbling in the warm, bitter liquid. As the first drops hits his tongue, Éomer scrunched up his nose and tried to pull away from Théodred. “Be still,” he said sharply, “you must drink this.” He added more gently, “It will help you feel better, Éomer.”
“Mama always added honey,” said Éowyn from where she sat across from him, holding Éomer’s right hand.
“I don’t carry it,” Théodred said, “none of the Riders do… at least none that I know.” Éomer closed his eyes and opened his mouth with a weary sigh and Théodred began dribbling in the willow bark tea slowly but steadily until it was gone. After a moment, Éomer’s eyes opened and he looked up at Théodred with a pleading expression.
“Just a sip.” Théodred held up the waterskin and shook it; there was the faint sound of water sloshing. “This is all we have left, the other one is empty.” He gave the boy a drink and after glancing at Éowyn held it out to her. She stared at it and then up at him with a worried frown.
“Is there enough?” she asked, unconsciously licking her lips. It had been a long time now since lunch and when she’d last had a real drink and the afternoon was warm. “Doesn’t Éomer need it?”
“There’s enough,” replied Théodred, knowing that she needed to drink even if there wasn’t a lot of water; it wouldn’t do to have her falling from her horse for lack of water. “Just a sip, though,” he cautioned as she took the waterskin. He wished they had enough water to clean up Éomer who still had blood all over his face and neck, but it couldn’t be helped. They sat quietly for a few minutes to let the tea take effect, hoping to dull the pain setting his broken arm would cause. Théodred finally took a deep breath; he couldn’t put it off any longer… it was time to set Éomer’s arm. He tried sending Éowyn away so that she wouldn’t have to see the pain her brother would have to endure, but she refused to leave his side.
“Éomer, I’m going to set your arm now. You can hold onto Éowyn’s hand if you want to, but you must try not to move or you’ll be sick again.”
Éomer opened his eyes and Théodred was pleased to see that they were no longer bright and glazed with pain, but were dulled somewhat. “I’ll t-try,” he whispered.
Determined to do it as quickly as possible, Théodred picked up the boy’s left arm and felt carefully along the forearm, ignoring the whimpers and hisses of pain coming from Éomer. The break was about halfway between his wrist and his elbow and, from what he could tell, it was the smaller bone in the arm. Risking a glance at Éomer’s face he swallowed hard at the tears streaming down his cheeks and beads of sweat on his brow; a sniff from Éowyn’s direction told him she was also crying and he turned back to his task. Grabbing the boy’s arm above and below the break he carefully, yet as swiftly as possible, realigned the bone. There was an audible click as it slipped back into place. Éomer cried out sharply and fainted much to Théodred’s relief. He spoke soothingly to Éowyn to calm her as he quickly bound the splints to his cousin’s arm while the boy was unconscious and feeling no pain. As Théodred tied the last strap, Éomer woke up and looked around with a dazed expression.
“You fainted,” Éowyn informed her brother with a worried frown. “But Théodred finished your arm, so it’ll be better now.” She gently patted his hand as she wiped the tears from her eyes with her shoulder. Éomer turned his gaze to Théodred for confirmation.
“She’s right; I’m done and as soon as we clean up here we’re heading home. Éowyn stay with your brother while I put out the fire and get the horses ready.” He gave Éomer’s shoulder a gentle squeeze before leaving. After stomping out the fire and scattering the ashes, Théodred gathered all of his healing supplies that he’d left lying around and put them back in his bag before heading for the horses. Féle snorted at his arrival, uneasy at the smell of the blood on his hands and clothes, but the horse would just have to get used to it, Théodred thought with annoyance as he checked the saddle and bridle. This was very little blood compared to what he might be covered with after battling orcs.
Cempa and Ósle stood still as Théodred checked their tack. He paused, frowning, as he considered Éowyn’s horse. The black horse was slow, much slower than either Féle or Cempa and he wondered if she should ride Cempa instead. Ósle would follow after them at his own speed and he could send someone back for the horse as soon as they arrived in Edoras. He just wasn’t sure the little girl could handle the larger, more powerful horse. After watching her ride all afternoon, he knew that she had the ability to ride Cempa… as long as she didn’t fear the larger horse. Deciding it was worth trying he turned and called Éowyn to him.
“Have you ever ridden Cempa?” Éowyn’s eyes widened in surprise at the question and she shook her head.
“No, Éomer wouldn’t let me… he says Cempa’s too big.”
Théodred looked the little girl up and down. She was tall for her age, the Númenórean blood she’d received from her grandmother, Morwen Steelsheen, as evident in her as it was in Éomer and himself. While Éomer’s saddle would be too large for her, he could put her saddle on Cempa and it should work well enough he decided. He crouched down so he was eye level with Éowyn and put his hands on her shoulders.
“Could you ride him? He’s much faster than Ósle and we’ll get home much more quickly if you can ride him.” He put his hand up before she could answer him. “I want you to answer me honestly, Éowyn. If you’re too scared to ride him then you need to tell me now. I’d rather go a little slower and make sure we get there safely than to go fast and have you fall because you’re scared or because you can’t control him. I don’t want to have two injured children to tend to,” Théodred said with a half smile as he gently squeezed her shoulders.
Éowyn furrowed her brow as she thought. She looked up at the tall horse and then glanced back at her brother who lay unmoving with his eyes closed. Taking a deep breath, she nodded.
“I can ride him, Théodred,” she said, her jaw set and her eyes narrowed.
“Good.” Théodred stood and began exchanging the saddles while Éowyn watched him.
“What will happen to Ósle?” Éowyn suddenly asked.
“He’ll follow after us and I’ll send someone from Edoras to get him as soon as we arrive,” Théodred said with a quick glance down at the little girl. Tears filled her eyes but she said nothing. “You have my word on that, Éowyn. He’s a smart horse and he’ll be able to find his way.” She remained silent as he placed Éomer’s saddle on Ósle and tightened the girth strap.
“Tell Ósle what you want him to do while I gather the saddlebags; I’m going to put all of the bags on him, and I’m giving you my healing supplies.” Théodred gathered the things from the area near where the fire had been and returned to find Éowyn speaking softly to her horse and rubbing its nose. He stood quietly by for a moment before he began tying the bags to Ósle’s saddle. Théodred patted Ósle and whispered his thanks into its ear as he led Éowyn away.
“Let me give you a hand up,” he said as he gestured for her to mount Cempa. It would have been easier to just lift her into the saddle, but he wanted to give her a bit of self-confidence by simply helping her into the saddle. He held the reins – though the bay didn’t move – while Éowyn used the stirrup and the straps hanging from the saddle to pull herself up and into the seat. She took the reins from Théodred with a half smile and whispered thanks.
“Walk him around a minute and let me watch you.” Théodred watched closely as Éowyn directed Cempa in a wide circle and was pleased with what he saw. She didn’t seem intimidated by the horse and it responded well to her direction. “Trot him,” he called out and she kicked the horse into the faster gait. Again, the horse responded without hesitation and Théodred was satisfied as he motioned her to return. Hopefully, Cempa would respond as well at a canter over the distance back to Edoras.
It was probably Féle he should be concerned about, he thought with an inward sigh as he took up the reins of his horse. The large red horse had never carried two riders before and with one of them covered with blood it didn’t bode well. Still, it had to be done. He stopped several feet away from Éomer and put his hands on both sides of Féle’s head to get the horse’s attention. The horse shifted uneasily, stomping its back foot and swishing its tail; Théodred patted the side of its head, rubbed around its ears, scratched the white star on its forehead, and blew in its nostrils until Féle settled down. He then spoke softly to the horse.
“You have to carry both Éomer and me home, Féle. He’s hurt and can’t ride Cempa. I know you don’t like the smell of blood, but it won’t hurt you. I promise it won’t hurt you. You have to run as fast as you can but as smooth as you can because it’ll hurt him more if you don’t run smoothly.” Each word was punctuated with a gentle pat on Féle’s neck. “Will you do this for me?” Théodred looked closely for some response from the horse. He didn’t have a strong relationship with this horse yet, but it was growing. Féle stared at him and finally gave what Théodred thought might be a little bob of his head. It wasn’t much, but it was better than nothing and it gave him some hope for the ride home. Now he just had to get Éomer on the horse.
Théodred looked down at the injured boy for a moment as he thought about the best way to get him up and on the horse. There wasn’t any good way to do it; anything he did was going to hurt Éomer and he decided that the best thing was to do it quickly. Crouching down next to the boy he carefully lifted the blanket off and set it aside. Éomer opened his eyes at that and frowned up at his cousin who gave him a reassuring smile as he removed the tunic that lay over the boy. He’d wrap that around Éomer once he sat up.
“Do you feel any better since you drank the willow bark?”
“A little,” whispered Éomer as his gaze wandered around. He frowned again when he saw Éowyn astride Cempa. “W-why is…”
“Hush,” Théodred shook his head to stop the boy from speaking further. “Cempa is faster and we need to return to Edoras as quickly as we can. She’ll be all right on your horse, Éomer. Now, I need to get you on Féle and I fear it will not be pleasant for you. I’m going to help you sit up and let you take a breath before I pick you up and put you on my horse.”
It was the best plan he could think of, but he didn’t really think it would be that easy… and it wasn’t. Slipping his arm under Éomer’s shoulders he slowly raised the boy up, stopping as the boy’s breathing turned more ragged, more like panting and his face turned even whiter if that was possible. He clutched at Théodred’s arm.
Théodred turned him slightly and Éomer vomited what little was left in his stomach out onto the ground. He wiped the boy’s mouth off with his hand and then wiped his hand off on his breeches. “I’m sorry, Éomer,” he said quietly as the boy shuddered. A glance at the bandages showed no new blood and he sighed inwardly with relief. Knowing that it was only going to get worse as they moved, Théodred quickly wrapped his tunic around the boy, placing it backwards to protect Éomer’s injured stomach as much as possible. Using a rein that he’d removed from Ósle’s bridle, he gently bound the broken arm to Éomer’s body as tightly as he dared so that the arm wouldn’t be unduly jarred during the ride home. He wrapped the blanket around the boy’s shoulders for warmth before sliding his arms under Éomer’s knees.
“I’m going to lift you up now,” Théodred warned Éomer. With a grunt he stood with the boy in his arms. He staggered slightly under the weight of the tall boy before regaining his balance and moving toward Féle. The horse stood still, his nostrils flaring slightly at their approach. After a momentary hesitation to decide the best way to proceed, Théodred turned slightly and lifted Éomer as high as he could to get the boy’s left leg over the back of the horse. Pushing him gently on the side and back he edged him up into the seat of the saddle where the boy slumped forward, crying out loudly as his injured stomach banged into the hard leather pommel.
Grimacing, Théodred held Éomer in place with one hand before swiftly mounting behind him. He pulled the boy back against himself with his left arm; holding him high on his chest where there was the least amount of damage. Éomer started retching again but nothing came up and he sagged back against Théodred with a long drawn-out sigh and his eyes closed against the pain and dizziness.
Pulling Féle around Théodred looked for Éowyn and discovered she was only a horse length away staring at Éomer with a worried glint in her eyes. She looked up at him as he turned and he spoke in what he hoped was a reassuring voice.
“He’ll be all right, Éowyn. We just need to get him home. Stay as close as you can and yell out if you’re having problems with Cempa or if you need to stop for any reason. All right?”
Éowyn nodded without saying a word, but Théodred did not see any lessening of the worry in her eyes. Well, he understood that. He was just as concerned as she was. Without another word, he turned and kicked Féle into a trot. After glancing back to make sure Cempa was following under Éowyn’s direction, he urged his horse into a canter.
They’d been traveling about a quarter of an hour when Éomer tugged on Théodred’s arm. “Hurts… d-dizzy.” The pain in the boy’s voice was almost more than Théodred could bear, but there was nothing he could do but get him back to Edoras and to a real healer.
“I’m sorry, but we cannot stop. I have to get you home as quickly as possible. You have to hold on a little longer.” While he knew exactly where they were, he didn’t tell Éomer that he couldn’t even see Edoras yet, that it could take close to an hour before they were home. Théodred felt the boy begin to shudder and soon the retching started again. He slowed Féle down a bit and looked over at Éowyn who’d been matching him stride for stride. After giving her a brief, reassuring smile he turned his attention back to Éomer and tried to find a way to help him without slowing further. But with the reins in one hand all he could do was hug him more closely until the dry heaves ended.
Just as Théodred was about to urge Féle on, he felt a splash on his arm. Grimacing, he glanced down, prepared to wipe away the spittle he assumed had come from Éomer’s lips. He swore when he discovered it was a drop of blood and that another drop joined the first one even as he stared at it. Leaning forward to look at Éomer’s forehead he saw that the bandage had slipped and was once again soaked through. He swore again, though it was whispered as he fought against the despair that filled his heart. What was he going to do now?
Author’s Note: Ah, a cliffhanger! I don’t usually do those, but this story just called for one. There should be a new chapter out next Sunday or Monday. I want to thank Surgical Steel for all of her help on this chapter. She gave me a lot of advice about head wounds and the kinds of injuries detailed in this chapter.