Eager as Fire and Staunch as Steel by Zdenka

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Story Notes:

Written for Trick or Treat Exchange 2016.

Set during The Two Towers, between Éomer's encounter with Aragorn and his companions and their arrival in Edoras, during the situation described by this conversation between Gandalf and Théoden:

'But first send for Éomer. Do I not guess rightly that you hold him prisoner, by the counsel of Gríma, that all save you name the Wormtongue?'

'It is true," said Théoden. 'He had rebelled against my commands, and threatened death to Gríma in my hall.'

-The Two Towers, "The King of the Golden Hall"

Éowyn walked swiftly through the outbuildings of Edoras toward the place where her brother was imprisoned. The cells saw more use as store-rooms; there was little need for them save when a Rider who had become riotous with drink was tossed in to spend the night and sober up, or, as seldom happened, someone was accused of a grave crime such as murder or horse-stealing. They should never have held such a loyal heart as Éomer.

The scene in the King’s hall came too clearly before her memory: two of the King’s household grasping Éomer by the arms to hold him back, Wormtongue’s face pale but triumphant, and the moment when Éomer bowed before the King in silence and handed over his sword to the guards. She had a moment of dark satisfaction in remembering how Wormtongue had cringed back from Éomer’s fury. But Wormtongue still walked free, and Éomer did not.

Éomer was confined behind a wooden door with a barred window. Two of the King’s household guarded it, armed with spears. Their expressions were grim and unhappy; it seemed the duty did not please them. “Cenred, I have come to see my brother,” Éowyn said, addressing the nearer of the two.

They looked at each other. “Wormtongue’s orders--” Cenred said under his breath.

“Do not apply to Lady Éowyn, surely,” his companion said quietly. “And she wishes to speak with her own brother--” A moment of hesitation, then Cenred nodded. They moved aside for her. It was a slight comfort, that they obeyed Wormtongue not out of love for him, but in loyalty to the King.

Éomer was sitting on a plain wooden bench, his head bowed. He looked up at her approach and then leapt to his feet. “Éowyn!” He came as close as the bars allowed. “Sister, you are well?”

 “Well enough.” She came closer, putting her hand over his where it grasped the bars.

“That treacherous snake has not dared--?”

Éowyn shook her head. She would not tell him, she decided. At first, Wormtongue seemed daunted, as if still feeling Éomer’s grip at his throat. Only later, once Éomer had been removed from the hall, he sidled up to her, placing his hand on her arm, and whispered: “You see the power I have here, lady. Would it not be better--” She had pulled away, turning on him with a flash of anger. He did not dare anything more; not yet.

“I do not regret my deeds,” Éomer said. “The Wormtongue should have been crushed long since!” His face darkened. “I only grieve that Théoden King is left to the counsels of a craven!” He fell silent for a moment, looking troubled. “War is upon us, Éowyn, whether we will it or not. Riding in pursuit of the Orcs was needful, even without the King’s leave; I still deem it the best course. Nor do I regret letting the strangers go free and lending them our horses. If the King saw them and spoke with them, he too would judge them worthy.”

“The ones you spoke of in the King’s hall, Aragorn son of Arathorn and his companions?”

“He will not fail me,” Éomer said with confidence. “He will come to Edoras.”

“You trust him so much?”

Éomer nodded slowly. “Brief was our meeting, yet I saw courage and honor in him.”

“Then I too will trust him, when we meet.” She was silent for a moment. “Surely the King’s anger cannot last long against you. Whatever poison Wormtongue pours in his ears, Théoden loves you, his sister-son. He knows your loyalty toward him.”

Éomer bowed his head. “The King is mourning his son,” he said. “Sorrow is easily kindled into anger, they say.”

Éowyn’s hand tightened on his. Less than a handful of days, since their cousin Théodred fell at the Fords of Isen. A great loss, not only to them, but to the Mark; Théodred was honored for his boldness in battle and loved by the people, but still more, he was one of the few whose counsel Théoden King would take over Wormtongue’s.

Éomer’s eyes flashed. “That creature is all the more base, using even the King’s sorrow to his own ends. This captivity does not grieve me so much as knowing that there are few left who dare to speak against Wormtongue.”

“I will speak for you,” Éowyn promised, “for your sake and the King’s.”

There was the sound of movement behind her. Éowyn did not turn, until a voice spoke her name. It was Aethelind, a servant of the King’s household. “The King is seeking you, lady.”

“I must go,” Éowyn said reluctantly.

Éomer’s hand gripped hers once more. “Farewell for a time, my sister. Have strength!”

Chapter End Notes:

The title is from a line in Tolkien's play The Homecoming of Beorhtnoth Beorhthelm's Son.

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