“It isn’t deep,” Eomer assured his younger sister as he examined her injury. “You won’t have a scar – but have you learned your lesson now?”
Eowyn sniffed and nodded.
“Good.” Gently he wound the bandage around her slender arm. “Then no more playing with Theodred’s sword – or anybody else’s, for that matter. Uncle Theoden will see that you have one the correct size soon enough.”
She nodded again, lower lip trembling, then gave a yelp like a wounded animal and burst into tears.
“Eowyn!” Startled, Eomer reached out and wrapped his arms around the little girl, who burrowed into his tunic and sobbed even harder. “Hush, now. Hush,” he crooned, rocking her like an infant. “Come, little one. It isn’t like you to fuss so over a mere scratch!”
She mumbled something indistinct into the folds of fabric.
“What did you say?” he murmured, stroking her blonde locks.
“I said I wouldn’t cry because of that,” she said, lifting her head, then added with a measure of contempt, “I’m not a baby.”
Eomer chuckled softly as she curled up and leaned against his chest. “No, you aren’t. I know that well enough.” He rested his chin on top of her head. “Then what is the matter? Are you worried that Theodred might be angry?”
“No. It’s only...” She took a deep breath as her voice began to wobble. “I miss Mama, Eomer,” she whispered, and began to sob again.
“Oh, Eowyn.” He held her tighter, and she nestled into the hollow between his neck and shoulder. “I miss her too.”
“And Father,” he agreed. To his alarm he felt a lump form in his own throat, and swallowed quickly. He mustn’t cry, for Eowyn’s sake - besides, he was almost twelve now. He couldn’t be caught in the Great Hall squalling like a child. Nevertheless, he couldn’t stop the lone tear that escaped its prison and slipped down his cheek, landing in Eowyn’s hair and shimmering there like a bead of glass.
This was how Theodred found his young cousins a little while later, crouched on the floor and clinging fast to one another. He hesitated in the doorway, noting the tear tracks on both their faces. They may not welcome an intrusion. As he turned to leave them, however, he heard Eowyn emit a shuddering sob, and his heart ached in pity. He hesitated a moment longer, then moved to sit beside them.
He said nothing at first; Eowyn did not notice him, and Eomer eyed him suspiciously. This didn’t concern him. He knew the pair still felt shy and out of place here, but he sensed that they needed someone to share their troubles with, someone who would listen and take care of them. Even so, he didn’t wish to force their confidence, and so he waited, his eyes casually roaming the room – until his gaze fell on a familiar object lying on the floor nearby.
“Is that my sword?” he questioned aloud, somewhat puzzled.
Eowyn gasped and shrank into her brother, who cradled her protectively. Theodred saw this, then noticed the bandage on Eowyn’s arm. He took in Eomer’s defiant scowl and the proximity of the sword to the children, and felt a smile tug at his lips as comprehension dawned.
“To be sure, it will have been glad to be used,” he said, reaching out for it and holding it in front of his face. “I have been sorely lax in my practice of late.”
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his cousins relax. Laying the sword across his lap, he turned to them and smiled. Eowyn’s lips curved slightly, almost hesitantly, in response; Eomer remained impassive, though his expression was no longer so wary.
“I’ve been told that both of you are skilled with a blade,” he continued. “Who taught you?”
“Father,” replied Eomer, his face immediately darkening. Eowyn let out a slight whimper, and Theodred realised he had pressed too hard already. Swiftly, he changed the subject.
“Have either of you visited the stables today?” he asked.
Eomer shook his head.
“That’s a shame. My mare foaled only this morning, and you never saw a prettier creature.”
Eowyn looked up, curiosity aroused.
“Have you ever seen a newborn foal?”
“Of course,” spat Eomer.
Theodred raised his hands in apology. “Forgive me, I meant no offence. “ He got to his feet and returned his sword to its rightful place on the wall. “Now, if you will excuse me, I should go and visit them. The little one ought to have found his feet by now; perhaps his mother will even let me stroke him. I’ve always found foals to be the most delightful on their first day of life, when they cannot quite walk in a straight line, and their coats are so downy and soft...but then, I forget, you know all this, cousin Eomer, do you not?”
As he turned away, he wasn’t entirely surprised to feel a small hand slip into his own.
“Might I come with you?” asked Eowyn shyly.
“But of course,” he smiled, and swung her up onto his shoulders. She shrieked in delight and mock fear, then giggled as he tickled her bare feet.
“I like you, cousin Theodred,” she said simply, leaning forward and winding her arms around his neck.
He felt his throat tighten as he replied, “And I you, Eowyn.” He glanced towards her brother, still sitting on the floor but now looking rather unsure of himself. “Will you join us, Eomer?”
After a momentary hesitation the younger boy nodded. “I have to look after Eowyn,” he added, as though his acceptance of Theodred’s offer required some kind of explanation.
Though amused, Theodred forced himself to nod gravely. “A noble cause indeed.”
“But I don’t need to be looked after!” chirped Eowyn indignantly. Eomer and Theodred both laughed then, and Theodred held out his hand.
“Friends?” he asked Eomer.
Eomer took it and nodded.
Theodred smiled. “Neither of you must ever feel lonely or unhappy at Meduseld. My father has promised to be as a father to you also - he and I will do all in our power to make you welcome here.”
As they neared the stables, Eowyn said in a confused tone, “I don’t understand – Uncle Theoden is our father now?”
“In a way,” replied Theodred cautiously, uncertain what Eomer would make of this remark.
“Then that must make you our brother,” said the young girl happily, resting her chin on the crown of his head.
Her innocence and trust moved him deeply, but he said nothing, instead turning to Eomer to gauge his response. To his surprise, the elder of his two cousins was smiling, despite the tears threatening to spill over the lower rims of his eyes.
“Yes, it must,” Theodred confirmed. Gently, he lifted Eowyn from his shoulders, set her to the ground and ruffled her fair curls. “Now, hush – we mustn’t upset the foal.”
And he entered the stables with one arm guiding her in front of him, while the other rested around the shoulders of Eomer.
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