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The Honored Who Went Before

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September 25, 3019

I had learned early in my life that to ask questions about my parents was to cause pain.

I had heard a few stories from the Riders over the years. Stories of my father’s skill in battle, and of his recklessness. Of victories so improbable that they had become legend, and had surely been highly embellished over the years. They would even give a few hints of how bold their courtship had been, once it had started, though they never spoke of any details when I was near. I suppose because they felt it was inappropriate for a young girl to hear.

But now I am a grown woman, slayer of the Witch King, lady of Meduseld, betrothed to be married… And I find myself wishing that my mother was here to be part of the planning for my wedding.

Faramir and his uncle had departed to return to Mundburg just two days ago, and tonight I am starting to truly feel his absence, and, if I am honest, to feel sorry for myself as I look at the long months between September and April. Between tonight and our wedding.

That thought makes me smile a little, lifting my melancholy mood for a moment. I had pushed Faramir to take advantage of the fact that in the Mark a betrothal was considered to be the same as a marriage for all… practical… purposes. I had pushed him on many occasions, actually; so often that it had become almost a game between us. Until the final night he was in Edoras, when I had again made a serious plea. But even then he held to the stuffy Gondorian standards, and to the promise made to my brother before he was aware of the differences between Gondor and the Mark. I still owed Éomer for that…

Even as the thought crossed my mind my brother dropped onto the other end of the settee I occupied, and quirked a brow in response to the dark look I threw him. He extended his arm to offer me a tankard. I accepted it, and gave him a grudging smile when I smelled the spice and sweetness of the mulled cider it contained. He knew it was one of my favorite drinks at this time of year.

How like him to be a source of annoyance at one moment and a source of comfort the next.

We were silent for a long moment while we sipped our cider, each of us lost in our own thoughts as we watched the fire burning in the hearth. Finally I could bear it no longer. "Will you tell me of our parents?"

He started from his own thoughts, and looked over at me with furrowed brows. "Our parents?". He paused for a moment, and a flicker of guilt flickered across his face, as I remembered from when I was a child. "What brought this on?"

I started to reply, but then sighed, and almost take the question back. I did not have specific questions to ask him, and I didn’t know how to explain to him why I have this sudden desire to know them. How could I when I didn’t know myself?

Éomer waited quietly, for a wonder, and eventually I found my voice again. "I…" I sighed again, and looked down at the dregs that were all that remained of my cider, and finally the words tumbled out in a rush. "I was so young when they died, and everyone was grieving so. Then we were taken away from everyone and everything I had ever known. You yelled at me if I asked of them, and if I asked Uncle he would call for Godryth to come take me. Theodred would find a way to change the subject or to distract me in some way. Even Eadith would sniffle and call me a poor little thing before giving me a sweat and sending me out of her kitchens to go play, with promises she would tell me more when I was older. And… in time I stopped asking..." Anger flared in me, I put the tankard down on the table by my chair with enough force to make Éomer start with surprise. "I don't have many memories of my own, and no one else would share what they remembered of them.” I stood, and walked a few paces away before turning back to look at him again. “They are more like… characters in a story from long ago than real people. And it is not right that it is so.”

Éomer was looking at me with slightly lifted brows, clearly still startled by my outburst, but when I fell silent again he sighed, and then nodded. "It is not right, Éowyn, and I am sorry for my part in it. I had not ever thought of how it might seem to you. I was so filled with guilt…" He put his own tankard down, more gently than I, and leaned his elbows on his knees, looking down at the floor.

I came and sat next to him again, and out my hand on his back. "I know, Eomer. I do not understand it, for their deaths are certainly not your fault, but I have always known you do not wish to speak of them, and... I do not wish to cause you pain. That is why I have not asked before."

He sat back, leaning into the corner of the settee we shared, and shook his head again. “No, there is no need to apologize, sister. I….” He lifted his hands, and then let them fall into his lap again. “What would you know of them? I will be happy to help you know them better, if I can.”

Silence fell for a few more minutes before I spoke again. "I am thinking of my wedding. There are so many traditions that they would be involved in, if they were here. I… Traditionally I would wear my hair as mother had, and maybe her dress as well. But I… I don’t even know if anyone has kept her dress after all these years. Or who I could ask about how she wore her hair…”

Éomer reached over and gave my fingers a small squeeze. “I don’t know either of those things, sister, but I am sure that Ingvild would have thought to save anything that mother would have passed down to you.”

I looked over at him and gave a small smile. “I had not thought of that. Godryth had kept some things from mother’s childhood for me here, so of course Ingvild would have done the same at Aldburg.” This time I squeezed his fingers. “Thank you.” With a small laugh I shook my head. “Each time I think that I have learned patience, to think clearly even when feeling emotional…”

He laughed at that, and reached for his tankard again. “Aye, I know well what you mean! That is our legacy from our father.”

“I have heard that of him, that he was bold and reckless. That he rarely took time to truly consider all the consequences before taking action.”

Éomer chuckled again, and nodded. “He could be that way, aye, though most of the time he did consult with his captain and lieutenants, even if it was as they rode. But he was also a good man, and always sought to support the people entrusted to his care as best he could. He took his command seriously, and his men loved him for it. The people of Aldburg as well. They still hold his memory in high regard.” He gave a slightly twisted smile. “I tried to live up to his legacy while I was their Marshal, to do as well for them as he had, but I am not sure that I ever did.” He looked to the fire, and added more softly. “As I am not sure that I will ever live up to the legacy that our uncle left as king.”

I smiled, though my heart was filled with sympathy for him, and leaned forward enough to put my hand on his arm. “You will make your own legacy, Éomer. The people already love you, and are grateful for all that you did to protect them during the war. They know that you are a good man; son of a Marshal that all respected, and raised by a king they knew to be a fair and just leader. Even after all that the Worm did to him, they remember him well.”

He nodded, but remained silent, and I knew that he was brooding as he continued to watch the flames. It would take him time to become comfortable in a role he had never really thought he would be called to fulfill, and to be able to think of the crown without grieving for the man who had worn it before. And for the man who had been next in line to wear it.

I let him brood for a bit of time, but knew little good would come of allowing it to go on for too long. “Tell me more of our father? I have heard what the Riders tell of him, but they would not have known him as a person so well as you did.”

He broke from his thoughts, and relaxed into the settee again. “Aye, that it true.” He smiled. “What I remember best is how he loved our mother. After more than ten years, nearly fifteen, I suppose it would have been, he still could not resist touching her whenever he could. Taking her hand when she stood next to him at ceremonies. Embracing her each time he returned to the hall, even if he had been gone only an hour or two for a quick patrol.” He laughed “She would scold him for it, and tell him to leave her be when he interrupted her work to take her in his arms, but even I could see that she enjoyed it as much as he, and in truth welcomed it.”

I laughed in my turn. “I think I remember that as well, how he would pretend to be affronted by her scolding but then kiss her all the more, regardless of who might be watching.” That made me think of Faramir, and how he had done the same on the walls of Mundburg, making me smile even as the ache of missing him brought the sting of tears to my eyes. I blinked them away before they could fall, and gave a small laugh. “I think I remember his laughing when she did that, too. It was quite loud, was it not?”

Éomer chuckled, and nodded. “Aye, it was. When he laughed all in the hall could hear it.” He looked over at me again, “And he laughed often, especially when you were with him. He delighted in you, Éowyn.” He gave a laugh of his own, which filled the room as he had just described out father’s doing, and made me smile at the comparison. “It was he who first called you a shieldmaiden, you know.”

I looked over at him, smiling. “Truly? I do not remember that… Why?”

Éomer grinned widely, and reached over to give my braid a tug, as he had often pulled my hair when we were children. “Because you kept pestering him to teach you how to use a sword after you saw him starting to teach me.”

I let my head fall back as I laughed, but then sobered slightly. “But it was Théodred who taught me. How would he have known that I wished to be trained?”

“I told him of father’s promise to you, that he would start teaching you when it was warm enough to be outside. It was nearly the last thing father said before he rode out that day…”

His voice trailed off, and I again reached out to lay my hand on his arm once more. “Thank you, Éomer.”

He covered my hand with his for a moment, and then started telling me of other stories, sharing other memories he had, of both our father and mother. We stayed up far into the night, talking and remembering, adding more logs to the fire as needed.

When the hour had grown late, and neither of us could hold back our yawns any longer, he mentioned that Éothain’s father, who had just recently moved to Edoras to live nearer his son, had known them both long before they even began courting, and would likely be happy to share his memories as well. Something in his expression told me that somehow Bernulf was involved in Éomer’s guilt, but I did not press him further on it. Not tonight. Instead I simply agreed to go with him, when his duties permitted.

When at last we said goodnight and sought our beds, my heart was lighter than it had been in some time. I had not realized how much it had affected me, not knowing my parents. But tonight it had almost felt as if they had been there in the room with us as we talked. As if I could hear my father’s laughter at some of the more outrageous stories my brother had heard, if only I listened hard enough for it. Or could see my mother standing behind me if I looked in the mirror that had once been hers, if only I could look at just the right angle.

For the first time since their deaths I felt that they were truly my parents, rather than the legends they had become.