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5
Rescue

Author’s Note: I am sorry for the delay in posting this chapter, but real life events took me away from my computer for a time. A special thank you to my wonderful beta’s, Marsha and J.


~~~

Chapter Five – Rescue


Théodred reined Féle to a stop, yelling at Éowyn to do the same. He couldn’t give into despair; he’d just have to start over, surely he could tie the bandage tighter this time. Or, if the wound appeared worse, then he’d just have to try to stitch it himself.

Keeping one hand on Éomer, Théodred slid off his horse. Grabbing the boy around the waist he carefully pulled him down into his arms and took a few steps away before laying him in the soft green grass at the edge of the trail. The boy cried out weakly and Théodred suspected that the loss of blood was having more of an effect on Éomer than he’d realized. The healing supplies. He needed the healing supplies. Théodred looked around frantically for a moment before he remembered the bag was with Éowyn. After taking a deep breath to calm himself, he glanced over his shoulder to where he’d last seen her, intending to tell her to bring the bag.

To Théodred’s surprise, the little girl was still sitting on her horse. Even more surprising was that she wasn’t even looking at him and Éomer, but was staring back the way they’d come. He called to her, his voice probably sterner than was absolutely necessary.

“Éowyn, come quickly and bring the bag of healing supplies.”

“Someone is coming,” she said, turning to look at him, fear replacing the worry in her eyes. “What are you going to do, Théodred?” He was a warrior and a prince and she knew he’d protect them, though she didn’t know how. It looked like a lot of people riding toward them.

Théodred stood, pulling his sword in one smooth motion and moving swiftly to Éowyn. She let out a small squeal that was part surprise and part protest as he yanked her from the saddle and set her on the ground. While he knew that it was probably a returning patrol – Elfhelm’s was due back – he was taking no chances. He untied the bag of healing supplies and thrust it at her.

“Go stand by Féle and be ready to leave,” he ordered, pushing her toward his horse. If it was not a patrol but orcs or Dunlendings, then he’d ride hard for Edoras and Éowyn would ride with him and Éomer. Although they’d been traveling at a swift pace, it was still only a canter and he wouldn’t trust her to ride Cempa at a hard, full-out gallop.

Shielding his eyes against the sun that was now sinking in the western sky, Théodred stared into the distance trying to make out the fast approaching figures. He immediately ruled out orcs when he saw the horses and he relaxed somewhat, his sword tapping lightly against his high boots. It must be one of the patrols as the Dunlendings did not normally ride horses; only occasionally did they steal a few horses near the western borders of Rohan. A gust of wind blew and a standard one of the riders was carrying flared up briefly and Théodred heaved a sigh of relief and sheathed his sword. It was Elfhelm’s patrol. He turned and hurried back to Éomer, his mind immediately back on the boy and his injuries. The Riders were coming whether he watched them or not.

“Éowyn, bring me the bag.”

“Who’s coming?” she asked as she ran to him and handed him the bag. She knelt down next to him, picking up her brother’s hand and squeezing it.

“Elfhelm.” Théodred did not look up from what he was doing. Éomer seemed to be unconscious again, but he opened his eyes briefly when Éowyn asked her question. He ripped open the bag and began pulling out the cloth torn from his shirt as the little girl continued speaking.

“Who’s Elfhelm?”

“A friend… a patrol captain.”

“C-can he help Éomer?” The color of Éomer’s cheek – the one that wasn’t covered with blood – reminded her of her mama’s not long before she died and she was scared he was going to die too.

Théodred stopped and stared down at Éowyn, thinking. “No, he can’t,” he replied as he slowly shook his head, relief filling him. “But Harding rides with that patrol and he’s a good healer for a Rider. He’ll be able to help Éomer.” He smiled at the little girl and gave her a reassuring pat on her shoulder. Not sure what the best thing to do for Éomer until help arrived, he settled for taking the cloths and pressing them against the bloody bandages already on the wound. Hopefully, with enough pressure, he could slow the bleeding until Harding arrived. Éomer moaned and squirmed against the heavy hand and Théodred spoke softly to him.

“Help is coming… a real healer…” He repeated those and similar words as he watched the patrol rapidly draw near. There were twenty-five men in the patrol and they trotted their horses up close to the three of them before reining to a halt. Théodred could see the questions in Elfhelm’s eyes, but he gave him no time to ask them.

“I need Harding right now,” he barked. There was a stir amongst the Riders before a skinny, middle-aged man rode out from the middle of the group. The man took one look at the situation before him and immediately jumped down from his horse and began removing various bags from his saddle. By the time Harding was kneeling across from Théodred the rest of the men were off their horses and Elfhelm was giving them directions to set up a perimeter around the small group on the ground. He then joined Théodred and the others.

Théodred glanced briefly at Elfhelm as he finished telling Harding what he’d done to try and stop Éomer’s bleeding. Harding simply grunted occasionally as he listened and continued pulling various items from his bags and laying them on a cloth he’d set next to him.

“Some stitches should stop the bleeding, lord,” Harding finally interrupted Théodred. “He’s lost a lot of blood.” He gently touched the side of Éomer’s pale cheek and the boy’s eyes fluttered open and he stared up at the healer for a moment before closing his eyes with a sigh. “But, if we get it stopped now he should do well enough. Now, I need more water than I have in my waterskin.” He looked at the other men expectantly.

“We have none left,” Théodred said, “we used it all for Éomer earlier.”

Elfhelm started upon hearing the boy’s name and he glanced at the little girl, his eyes widening in recognition. “These are Éomund’s children! Why are…”

“Get the water. Explanations can wait,” Théodred ordered his friend. None of the men of this patrol knew of the death of Théodwyn as their patrol had been gone for over a month, but that news would keep until later.

“Bring some of the water to me now, but have some of it heated,” Harding called after Elfhelm as the captain hurried away. The healer paused as he reached for the bandages and he looked at Éowyn, frowning. The child hadn’t moved or said a word since he’d arrived. Harding glanced at Théodred whose attention was fixed on Éomer. “Lord, I think you should take her away from here while I tend to the boy.” That brought both of their gazes to him in a hurry. Éowyn shook her head vigorously and she latched onto Théodred’s arm as if someone intended to drag her away.

Théodred looked down at the girl briefly and then gave the healer a grim smile. “I doubt this will be worse than what she’s already seen, Harding, and she’ll will close her eyes or turn away if it becomes hard to watch, will you not?” he asked her. The little girl nodded once, her eyes wide as she looked between Théodred, Harding, and her injured brother, who was lying motionless. The healer gave a reluctant nod.

While Harding began tending to Éomer, Théodred gently loosened Éowyn’s hands from his arm and put his arm around her, pulling her close. He kept one eye on what the healer was doing, but he began speaking quietly to Éowyn about horses, life in Edoras, her friends in Aldburg, and anything else he could think of to keep her somewhat distracted from the proceedings. Watching him mop blood off of Éomer and set his broken arm were not the same as watching someone else stabbing the boy with a sharp, wicked looking needle. Théodred knew he was successful when he felt her relaxing against him and she began giving him more than simple, one-word answers to his questions.

Harding made it look so easy, Théodred thought as he watched the healer clean the wound and then competently stitch up the long, ragged gash. Taking some of the water Elfhelm brought, he then carefully cleaned the blood away and checked for other injuries before applying a bandage to Éomer’s head. He was also gentle because Éomer only whimpered occasionally as Harding worked, although Théodred thought that it might be because the boy was close to being unconscious. But, Harding had stitched him a time or two in the past and he was gentler than several of the other healers Théodred had encountered in his life.

After setting the pot of hot water near Harding, Elfhelm tossed Théodred a shirt which he quickly pulled on, glad to be fully clothed once again. Théodred saw the puzzled glances he kept shooting at him and Éowyn. But he ignored his friend. He was not going to discuss the death of Éowyn’s mother in front of the little girl. She’d already had a very difficult day and did not need to be reminded of that. Harding fixed Éomer some sort of herbal tea, though Théodred did not know what was in it besides what looked like at least some willow bark. When the tea was cool enough he carefully dribbled it into the boy’s mouth and then sat back with a satisfied smile.

“That should keep the worst of the pain away until we get him home, lord. I’ll check his arm then too, but you’ve set those before so I imagine it’ll be all right. You did well to try and keep him warm,” he said, gently patting Éomer’s chest which was still covered by Théodred’s tunic and the horse blanket. Éomer jerked and cried out softly at the contact and Harding blinked in surprise before throwing back the blanket and tunic and exposing the injuries on the boy’s stomach and chest. He turned a steely glare on Théodred. “Why did you not mention these, Prince Théodred?”

Théodred blinked in surprise. He’d not truly forgotten about the injuries, but in the rush to stop the bleeding from the more serious head wound, he had forgotten to mention them to Harding. Éowyn interrupted his explanation before he even started when she straightened up and turned angry eyes on the healer.

“Don’t scold Théodred! He saved Éomer. H-he w-would have d-died…” the last few words were lost as the little girl’s pent up emotions finally succumbed to the events of the afternoon. Tears began streaming down her face as she stared defiantly up at Harding for a brief moment and then with a loud sob she turned and buried her head in Théodred’s side.

Théodred sat unmoving, shocked that the little girl who’d been so strong and helpful could suddenly turn into this weeping child who was soaking him with her tears. His heart broke at the sound of the gut-wrenching sobs and he thought about all that Éowyn had been through in the last month and he sighed softly. After a moment’s thought he carefully picked her up and set her in his lap and patted her back gently as he spoke softly to her - telling her that everything was going to be all right and that they’d be home soon. He looked at the other two men and gave a small shrug.

Harding, who had three children of his own, simply gave him a sympathetic smile and turned to tending the wounds on Éomer’s chest and stomach. Elfhelm looked distinctly uncomfortable by Éowyn’s outburst, but he said nothing to Théodred and offered Harding his help. The healer allowed him to grind up a few herbs for the salves he was making and it was quiet except for the muffled sound of Éowyn’s weeping, although that was fading.

“She’s asleep, lord,” Harding whispered after several minutes had passed. He’d paused in cleaning the last few wounds and gestured at Éowyn. Théodred gazed down at the girl in his arms and was amazed to discover that Harding was right. She was sound asleep, her face now turned so that only her right cheek was pressed against his chest. He shook his head and glanced back at the healer who had a small smile on his lips.

“What?” Théodred asked, scratching at his beard.

“Some children are like that, they fall asleep quickly when their emotions overwhelm them.” He turned back to Éomer. “And, it appears it’s been a very difficult day for her… for you all.”

Théodred shot him a look and snorted softly, mindful of the girl in his arms.

“Why is she… why are they with you?” Elfhelm asked with a curious glance down at Éomer before looking back at Théodred.

“Now is not the time to discuss it,” replied Théodred, frowning as he looked at the injured boy. He seemed very still all of a sudden. “Why is he not moving?” he hissed at Harding.

“The herbs I gave him put him to sleep. There’s no reason to keep him awake – not with the ride we still have ahead of us. He’s going to be all right, lord. He’s going to be in a lot of pain for a good while, but he’s going to be all right.” Harding gave his prince a reassuring smile before turning back to his work.

Théodred nodded his thanks at the healer before turning to Elfhelm. “Did you come across a horse on your way here?” He lowered his voice when Éowyn stirred briefly in his arms.

“A black one wearing a saddle,” Elfhelm replied, nodding. “Yes, and we came across the place where he fell.” He indicated Éomer with a gesture. “It’s why we were coming so swiftly… not that we weren’t anxious to get home,” he added with a grin. “It’s Éomer’s?”

“Éowyn’s. It’s too slow to keep up with Féle so she’s riding Éomer’s horse. She did it well, too,” he said with a proud look in his eye as he glanced down at her. Since both of the children were asleep, Théodred explained the tragic circumstances that had brought them to Edoras. Harding was especially grieved as he’d known Théodwyn when she was young. Théodred was just finishing his explanations as Harding began to clean up his healing supplies, finished with Éomer.

“So, you brought them out for their very first ride with you and… this happened?” asked Elfhelm, shaking his head bemusedly. “How?”

Théodred ruthlessly suppressed the twinge of guilt he felt from appearing on his face. While he knew that it had only been an unfortunate mishap, something that could just as easily have happened to him… that was a worrying thought. How would the children have responded if that had happened? He pushed that thought aside to think on later. No matter that it was an accident, Éomer had still been injured while in his keeping and he did not look forward to explaining it to his father even though he knew Théoden would not hold it against him. But he said none of that to Elfhelm, he simply answered his question.

“Birds flew up and startled Cempa… it all happened so quickly.” The image of Éomer flying through the air flashed through Théodred’s mind and he shuddered. He turned to Harding. “When can we leave? Father will be worried… I told him I’d be home by mid-afternoon.” It was hastening on towards sunset now and he doubted they’d make it home before nightfall. Lying in the foothills of The White Mountains brought darkness quickly to the people of Edoras.

Harding hesitated. While it might be best to keep the injured boy still for a time, there was no doubt that he’d be better off inside than lying out in the damp and cool night air. “We can leave now; I think it’d be best to get him home and warm. He’s deeply asleep and he’ll travel better now than he did earlier with you.”

“Good, then I’ll…” he paused when he realized he couldn’t carry both Éomer and Éowyn in his arms.

“You take Éowyn,” Harding directed as he packed away the last of his supplies. He smiled at the look of surprise on Théodred’s face. “If she wakes up and someone else is holding her, she’d be upset. Éomer is not going to wake up… Elfhelm can take him.” The healer stood and brushed off his breeches.

“I’ll get the men ready and be back for him, lord,” said Elfhelm, returning to his role as captain. He strode quickly away barking out orders to his men who jumped to obey him, anxious to return home.

“Thank you, Harding,” Théodred called after the healer who was walking to his horse to put his supplies away and ready his horse. The man waved a hand in acknowledgement but didn’t look back. Théodred stared down at Éomer and brushed a wisp of hair off the boy’s face. Already it seemed a little less pale. But perhaps that was just his imagination, he thought as he awkwardly struggled to his feet holding Éowyn. She stirred for a moment but settled when he whispered to her.

Glancing around for Féle, Théodred was pleased to see that his horse had not strayed but was standing not far from where he’d left it. A low whistle brought the horse to him and he spoke softly to Féle as he waited for Elfhelm to return. Around him the Riders were mounting and horses were stomping and snorting – as eager to be home as their masters. Elfhelm and Harding returned and the healer held Éowyn while Théodred mounted and then handed her up to him. Harding struggled a bit with Éomer before he was able to get him up to Elfhelm. When the children were both comfortably settled, or as comfortably settled as they could be on the back of a horse, Théodred nodded to Elfhelm and the captain signaled to his men and they set off at a canter.

0-0-0-0-0

Éowyn squirmed restlessly during the ride to Edoras, but Théodred’s softly whispered words kept her asleep until they reached the bottom of the hill upon which the city was built. She started awake, trying to sit up and she looked around wildly, searching for Éomer. But the darkness that had fallen hid him from her eyes and she cried out for him, her voice shaking with fear.

“É-Éomer?”

Féle shook his head and snorted against the noise and Théodred jerked on the reins to settle him even as he spoke to Éowyn.

“Hush, Éowyn. He’s riding with Elfhelm, but he’s asleep now.”

“He’s a-all right?” She looked up at her cousin, her eyes still full of worry and fear. Théodred wondered how long it would take for her to lose that look.

“He’s better, but he’s going to be spending a lot of time in his room for the next few weeks. You’ll have to help him.”

“I can do that.” Éowyn looked around as they slowed to a walk near the entrance to Edoras. “We’re here!” she exclaimed, as if she had just now noticed the city. Perhaps she had, Théodred thought as he urged Féle through the gate and headed straight for Meduseld. As he’d expected, his father was waiting for them. What he had not expected was to see his father pacing back and forth, though he hurried down the steps toward them as soon as they rode into view.

“What happened?” demanded Théoden as soon as he drew close enough to Théodred to be heard without raising his voice. “The men you sent ahead knew nothing except that Éomer had been hurt…”

“Uncle Théoden!” Éowyn tried to wiggle loose from her cousin and with a grunt of surprise at her strength, Théodred let her drop into the arms of his father. She hugged him tightly around the neck and laid her head on his chest, seemingly content just to let him hold her. Théoden rubbed her back and looked up at his son questioningly, but he shrugged and dismounted.

Théodred crossed to where Harding was beginning to ease Éomer down out of Elfhelm’s arms and he took over, not willing that anyone else should carry the boy now that his hands were free. As he trudged up the steps and into the building Théodred heard his father speaking quietly to Éowyn as they followed him. He wondered if he was asking her what had happened… and what she was telling him. Well, he’d know soon enough.

Pausing at the door of Éomer’s room, Théodred’s first impression was that it was crowded. Perhaps crowded wasn’t the right word, he thought as he maneuvered his way into the room, careful not to bang Éomer’s head or feet against the doorframe. But, there did seem to be more people than absolutely necessary: Wynléas standing near the bed looking anxious, several maidservants bustling around, and Fastred – the most experienced healer in the city and the one that attended on Théoden when needed. It was the healer who immediately took charge as Théodred stepped through the doorway.

“All of you out,” he ordered brusquely, gesturing to the women in the room. The servants fled without a word. Wynléas did not move from her place near the foot of Éomer’s bed and she gave Fastred a withering glare.

“I’m not leaving; not until I know that Éomer’s all right.” Fastred only response was a loud humph.

Théodred ignored them as he gently placed his cousin on the bed. Éomer made a noise that was somewhere between a moan and a sigh before falling quiet again.

“What injuries does he have? What’s been done?” asked Fastred as he looked down at the injured boy.

“Well, the broken arm, and…”

“Yes, yes, I can see that,” he snapped impatiently. “What about his head?” Fastred glanced back at Théodred. He frowned at a disturbance at the doorway, but his expression lightened when he saw who had come in. “Harding! Did you tend the boy?” Harding nodded and Fastred beckoned him over. “Come, tell me what you did.”

As the healers began speaking to one another of concussions and infections Théodred stepped back out of the way, leaning against the wall with a weary sigh. He wondered what was keeping his father; he and Éowyn had been close behind him when he’d entered Meduseld. He closed his eyes for a moment, thankful to be home and wondering how a day that had started out so promising had ended like this.

A cry of “Wynléas!” announced the arrival of Éowyn and Théoden. Théodred watched with hooded eyes as the little girl raced from his father to her nursemaid where Éowyn threw her arms around the woman’s waist, hugging her tightly. Wynléas returned the embrace, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. Fastred looked up, scowling, and began to hush them, but a tug on his sleeve and a stern look from Harding stopped him. The scowl did not leave his face as Fastred turned back to Éomer, mumbling under his breath.

Fastred’s scowl was so familiar to Théodred that he almost smiled but he became aware of his father approaching and he immediately pushed all thoughts of the healer aside. Turning slightly, he withstood his father’s concerned, compassionate gaze for a moment before looking away. Théodred only looked up again when Théoden rested his hand on his shoulder as he spoke quietly.

“Are you injured?” Théoden gestured to his bloody hands and blood soaked breeches. “Éowyn’s explanations were rather… vague.”

Théodred shook his head as he gazed down past the mostly clean shirt that Elfhelm had given him to his breeches that were stiff now with dried blood. He scrubbed fruitlessly at his blood-stained hands as he answered. “This is all Éomer’s,” he replied, frowning.

Théoden glanced around the room. Fastred and Harding were still tending Éomer, but had slowed from their initial frenzy and were discussing things that would need to be watched for in the next few days. Wynléas was now sitting on the corner of the bed holding Éowyn in her lap. The little girl appeared to be listening to everything the healers were saying but by the way she was yawning Théoden suspected she’d be asleep very soon. He could leave her in Wynléas’s very capable hands, which left only Théodred.

“Go and get cleaned up. I’ll meet you in my study and you can tell me what happened over supper. I imagine you’re hungry… and thirsty.” A slight smile crossed his lips.

“I should stay…”

“Éomer won’t wake until morning from the looks of things and Wynléas has Éowyn well in hand. Go.”

Recognizing the no-nonsense tone of his father, Théodred took one last glance at his cousins before reluctantly leaving the room.

0-0-0

Freshly scrubbed and in clean clothes, Théodred walked resolutely to his father’s study trying to put the events of the day in some sort of order in his mind so that he could more easily explain what had happened. He frowned. Why did he feel like a little boy caught in some mischief? It was an unfortunate mishap he reminded himself again and while his father could be stern and even demanding at times, he was never cruel or unjust and was unlikely to be in such a situation as this.

The door to his father’s study was open and Théodred only hesitated for a moment before entering. To his surprise the room was empty. A table was set near the hearth but no food lay upon it. He took a seat facing the door, drumming his fingers on the smooth, worn wood of the table as he waited for his father to arrive. The murmur of voices in the hall made him straighten up in his chair. A servant walked in carrying a large tray from which wonderful smells emanated that set his stomach rumbling.

Théoden carried two large tankards and a pitcher of beer as he followed the servant into the room. He eyed his son closely as he poured the beer and handed a tankard to his son. Théodred thanked his father with a nod and took a long drink.

“You look better… cleaner at least,” commented Théoden as he sat in the chair opposite his son. Théodred grunted an acknowledgement but did not otherwise respond, simply watching as the servant placed the last of the food on the table before departing with a slight bow toward the king. Filling his plate with roasted chicken, potatoes that had been boiled and then lightly fried with his favorite herbs and onions, and a chunk of fresh bread, Théodred began eating while his father watched him, occasionally taking a drink of his beer. His plate was half empty when Théoden finally spoke.

“Elfhelm told me what happened… what you told him. But he knew only the most basic details and, as I said earlier, Éowyn’s details were rather vague.”

“I’m surprised.” Théodred took another couple of bites of chicken. “I mean I’m surprised she couldn’t tell you in great detail.” He tapped his knife rather absently against the side of his plate for a moment. Suddenly realizing what he was doing, he scowled and dropped the knife on the plate, picking up his tankard instead.

“She’s only seven and she’s very tired,” Théoden reminded his son.

A soft snort came from Théodred. “Yes, only seven.”

“Théodred,” Théoden’s voice became bracing. “Tell me what happened. Is there more to it than Éomer falling from his horse? Did something else happen?”

“What?” Théodred looked at his father in shock. “No, no… isn’t falling from the horse enough?” He turned his gaze back to his tankard as he muttered, “He almost died.”

“Yes, so it appears,” he stated, matter-of-factly. Théoden studied his son, who hadn’t even looked up at the comment. “Did you cause Éomer’s horse to stumble?”

“Of course not! Why are you asking me these things?” Théodred’s eyes flashed briefly with anger.

“Because you seem to be taking far too much responsibility for a boy falling from a horse, Théodred! How many times have you fallen from a horse? I do not know what happened because you have yet to tell me, but you know it is not an uncommon occurrence.”

Théodred leaned back in his chair and sighed deeply. “I… know that, but to watch him… fly through the air and not be able to stop it… was terrifying, father. He just lay there and I thought he was… dead.” He took another long drink of his beer and set down the empty tankard, frowning. Théoden refilled it. “There was a lot of blood and I forgot Éowyn was even there.” The more he spoke the easier it became and his father just listened quietly.

“It wasn’t until she spoke to me that I remembered she was there… she was sitting on Ósle… scared…” Théodred gave his father a small smile. “But brave too… she helped me a lot.” He shook his head and scratched his beard. “I wasn’t sure what to do… I need to learn more healing skills… but just when I got the bleeding stopped he woke up and then he vomited. Which made Éowyn sick.” Théoden smiled, but his son didn’t notice because he was staring into the unlit hearth. “That started the bleeding again…” He stopped and looked at his father. “Do you really want to hear more?”

“Yes.” Théoden knew his son needed to speak of all that had happened, and he needed to hear what had happened. Their late arrival had caused him an enormous amount of anxiety and he’d been about to lead a group of his Riders out when two of Elfhelm’s men had arrived with the news.

Scowling, Théodred finished the tale; explaining how Éowyn had helped him, how she’d ridden Éomer’s horse, how he’d set Éomer’s arm before they started for Edoras, and finally, how Elfhelm’s patrol had come upon them. He sat back, cradling the tankard in his hands as he waited for his father to speak.

“Hmmm,” said Théoden after several long moments had passed. “It appears that Éowyn will need a new horse.”

“What? Why?” Théodred was as confused by his father’s response as Éomer and Éowyn had been by his response to their disobedience earlier in the day.

“Do you really think she’ll be content riding Ósle after riding Cempa so well?” Théodred slowly shook his head and Théoden continued. “Well, perhaps I can hold her off for a time. At least until you get back and you can help her pick a suitable one. Éomer should be ready to ride out to the herds by then and you can take both of them.”

“No, I don’t think…

Théoden interrupted him. “Do you plan on never doing anything with them again because of what happened today?” he asked sharply.

“Of course I will. There are plenty of things to do here.” Théodred frowned as he remembered his promise to take Éomer and Éowyn fishing when he returned from his patrol.

“They’ll have friends here in Edoras, Théodred. That is not what they need from you. You cannot let what happened today stop you from being the… brother they need you to be. You did exactly what was needed after an unfortunate mishap – you got both of them home. Before that happened, did you have a good time at the river?”

Théodred gave his father a small grin and nodded. “Yes, we did… it was an interesting experience for all of us. But,” he put up his hand to ward off his father’s questions, “I promised not to give you any details.”

Théoden laughed. “All right, but one of them may tell me anyway.”

“They are free to do so.” He slumped back in his chair, exhausted but finally at peace.

“You will take Éowyn to get her horse?” Théoden watched his son closely but he simply shrugged.

“If she is persistent, and I know she will be,” he replied, grinning, “then go ahead and take her. I promised I’d take them fishing when I returned.”

“I haven’t been fishing in years,” Théoden said, wistfully. His eyes sparkled as he looked back at his son. “Perhaps I’ll let you take them to find the horse and I’ll take them fishing.”

Théodred tried to remember the last time his father had done anything like that. It had certainly been years, he thought with a frown creasing his brow. A quiet knock on the door interrupted his thoughts. Wynléas appeared in the doorway at Théoden’s call to enter.

“Excuse me, lord, but Éowyn refused to go to bed without saying good-night to Théodred.” The little girl peeked out behind her nursemaid looking anxiously between her uncle and cousin.

“I would have thought her asleep by now,” Théoden murmured. He smiled at Éowyn and beckoned her in. “Of course she may come in.” She rushed right by her uncle and straight to Théodred. But instead of launching herself at him as he’d expected, she slowed, stopping beside him and resting her hand on his forearm.

“Thank you,” she whispered. “You were very brave.”

“So were you and you were very helpful and followed my directions well.” Éowyn yawned, followed a moment later by Théodred.

“It appears not only Éowyn should be in bed,” observed Théoden wryly. His son nodded once.

“Come along, Éowyn,” Wynléas called from where she still stood in the doorway.

“Good-night, Théodred.” Now she threw her arms around him as far as she could and hugged him. She turned and did the same to her uncle. “Good-night, Uncle Théoden.” He patted her back and wished her a good night before giving her a gentle nudge toward the door. Théoden smiled and shook his head as Wynléas had to steer Éowyn in the right direction – the girl was nearly asleep on her feet. It was time to put his son to bed as well. He stood and Théodred automatically got to his feet, although much more slowly than usual.

Théoden put an arm around his son’s shoulders and steered him toward the door much as he’d done when Théodred was a boy. “Good-night, Son.”

“Are you not going to bed?” Théodred asked when his father turned in the other direction from where their rooms were.

“No, at least not now. I’m going to check on Éomer and I may stay there for a time, perhaps all night.”

“Should I…”

“No. You should go to bed,” Théoden interrupted him. “He’s going to be fine, but he’ll need to be watched during the night in case he wakes up and I’d rather it be me than Harding or Fastred. He’ll need to see family.”

“I could sit with him later,” Théodred offered.

Théoden shook his head and gave his son a brief smile. “Thank you, but it’s my turn to care for him now. You can see him tomorrow. Go to bed.” There was a pause and with a reluctant nod Théodred turned and walked away.

Continuing on his way to Éomer’s room, Théoden chuckled softly. It appeared that the next few years were going to be far more interesting than he’d realized before Éomer and Éowyn’s arrival. He’d never really considered what influence Théodred might have in their lives, although he should have. Everything had happened so quickly that there had been little time for reflection beforehand. Watching Théodred with the children it was obvious that they’d made some sort of bond already and the events of the day would only strengthen that.

But there was no doubt that it would be challenging for both Théodred and for himself. While he had mostly seen the quieter sides of Éomer and Éowyn – undoubtedly caused by all the upheaval in their lives – he’d seen glimpses of their stronger personalities at times. And Théodred had evidently seen a more adventurous side of them today at the river and Théoden knew that would slowly come forth more and more as the weeks passed. With the two of them in his household he had a feeling that the next ten years would be full of mischief, mishaps, and misunderstandings.

It was a challenge Théoden was looking forward to.

0-0-0

The End

~~~

Another Author’s Note: I hope you enjoyed this story and a special thank you to everyone who reviewed. I do hope to write other stories in this series, however I have another story that I need to finish first. It’s been calling to me again and I’d like to get it done before starting anything else. There is also an Éomer and Aragorn story I’d like to write and a story about Aragorn as Thorongil and a story about… well, you get the idea!


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