Léo whistled softly to himself as he curried his horse. It wasn't a job he was required to do-there were plenty of stable boys at Meduseld-but he enjoyed it greatly. Roval was his new mount and he hoped the extra attention would help them bond. He sorely missed Mithren who could, Léo swore, read his mind. But he knew the old horse was much happier in the pasture with sweet grass to nibble and sweet mares to keep him company.
The stables were blessedly quiet although there was plenty of commotion in the courtyard where Léo's men, the Second Mark of the Rohirrim, were preparing to ride out. It was to be an escort mission, but with a slight wrinkle. In addition to the shipment of horses for the Minas Tirith guard, the Mark would also be escorting the Princess of Dol Amroth who was traveling to visit the Queen.
Léo wished that Prince Imrahil hadn't picked this trip to request repayment for saving Léo's life during the Battle of the Pelennor. The simple mission would have given his men a much-needed chance to relax, but not with a princess along for the ride. Léo snorted. She was probably a stuffy little prude, and a snob in the bargain-his men would have to be on their best behavior the entire time.
"You've been brushing that same spot for five minutes straight, Léo. That poor horse is going to have a bald spot." Léo dropped the brush as a deep voice startled him out of his thoughts and almost right out of his skin.
"Blast it, Éo- ...I mean your majesty..."
Éomer cuffed his friend on the shoulder. "Thought I'd cured you of that 'majesty' business, Léo."
Léo winced, rubbing his shoulder. "Ow...doesn't seem right to call you just plain Éomer any more. You are the king, after all."
"To everyone but you, my friend." The King of the Mark settled his muscular frame against the stable wall, looking for all the world like any man in Léo's company. Well, Léo amended silently, maybe not just any man. For though he was garbed in the same rough style as Léo's men and had the same fair coloring, Éomer carried about him an air of easy authority that set him forever apart from any other Rider. It didn't hurt that he topped the tallest man in the Mark by more than half a foot either.
"So what do I owe the honor of your exalted presence O great highness?" Léo asked, earning himself another friendly cuff.
"Keep doing that and I'll tell your mother about the time you put mead in the chicken feed. Blasted things were drunk for a week," Éomer teased, but his eyes were serious.
"What is it, my friend?" Léo raked his fingers through his sandy hair, a nervous habit he'd had since boyhood and hadn't been able to conquer. It had the unfortunate effect of making all his blond hair stand alarmingly on end.
"I'm bored, Léo."
"Bored?" Léo rolled his eyes. "Bored. By the Valar, Éomer, I thought it was something serious."
"It is serious. All these endless meetings and protocol and kingly nonsense are driving me insane. And Firefoot is getting fat from lack of exercise." Éomer rode the largest, and most famously bad-tempered steed in all of the Mark. "I need to get out of this jewel box and go for a nice, long ride before I go crazy."
"And what?" Éomer looked injured.
"Don't give me that. There's always an 'and' with you." In fact, Léo thought, it usually winds up with me getting in some kind of trouble.
"All right, fine. I'm coming with you to Minas Tirith." Éomer waited for his friend's excited response and looked disappointed when it was not forthcoming. "What's the matter, Léo? You don't fancy a gallop with your King?"
"Nooo..." Léo said slowly, not wanting to offend either friend or king. "I just don't think it's a very good idea, that's all."
Éomer launched himself forward from the wall and stalked around the stall, ignoring Roval's nervous and prancing and tail swishing. "Blast it, Léo, you're starting to sound like my steward, Aldor...'it's too dangerous, majesty...you mustn't go...'" he mimicked in a squeaky voice.
"Well, it is," replied Léo (quite reasonably, he thought).
"Do I need to remind you that I fought in the War of the Ring, Léo? That I led the charge at the Pellenor? And routed the Easterlings at Cormallen? And..."
"All right, all right...you don't have to wave your credentials at me. I was there too, remember?" Léo held up his hands in surrender. "But the fact remains, Éomer. You're the king. And unless I've missed something more major than I care to admit, you have no heir." He threw a brightly colored saddle blanket-of his mother's fine weaving-across Roval's back.
"My sister has a son," Éomer stated flatly. "Don't force me to make it an order, Léo. I'm coming with you and that's the end of it."
"Fine, your majesty. But when you get killed, don't come running to me." Léo hefted his well-worn saddle onto Roval and tightened the cinches. "We ride in one hour. King or no, if you're late, we're leaving you behind."
The assassin speaks:
So, Éomer rides to Minas Tirith. How convenient. It will be much easier to remove the usurper along the road than in the guarded confines of Meduseld. I shall have to contact my allies as soon as possible and make the arrangements.
At last, victory is within my reach. For too many years I have stood in the shadow of the great Éomer-I who am descended from the greatest Kings of the Mark. His blood is not even pure, tainted as it is by his father's Gondorian leavings.
Yes, I will kill the kingling and emerge from his shadow at last. Then, by the Valar, the Riders of Rohan will bow to me.