|About Us News Resources Login Become a member Help Search|
Adventures of an Éored: Midsummer
Writing frenzy! This has happened to me several times before (best of all, "Untold Tales of the Mark" had initially been planned as a story of perhaps 30 pages… it ended up being 80 CHAPTERS long), and still it is amazing to me each time it happens that a story begins to write itself in totally unexpected ways. I hope you will bear with me as I keep exploring the many things that can happen during a two-day celebration in the home of the horselords.
Just one more thing: we all know that writing is a lonely business, and writing in a copyrighted fandom results in feedback being the author's only payback for her/ his efforts. If you enjoy this story (or any of my other stories on this site), or even if you have issues that you would like to address, would it be too much to ask for a little feedback? I understand that time is precious, but then again, even a single-lined review would make me very happy and confirm to me that there are people out there truly reading my work. Thank you so much!
And now, without further ado, on with the story:
Chapter 5: A Risky Plan
The silence that followed Théodred's threat was deafening, and for the longest time, only the crackle of the fires behind them could be heard while the two men glared at each other. Éomer held his breath. It was not for nothing that his cousin was deemed the best swordfighter in the Mark, but Thorvald was unpredictable, and even now he stood his ground defiantly, fists balled by his side while he tried to decide upon his further course of action.
"I haven't got all night for this nonsense, Thorvald…" Théodred's voice was dangerously low and left no doubt that he meant what he said. "Will you fight me, yes or no? The festival is about celebrating brotherhood between the Armed Forces, and I will not let you ruin it for everyone with your misguided attempts of unleashing your personal frustration against whoever happens to cross your path. If you need an opponent, here I am! Just be aware that neither will the fight be with blunted training swords, nor will I hold back. The choice is yours."
If possible, his gaze intensified even further. Another breathless long moment passed… until, at long last, Thorvald averted his eyes, and a gasp of relief travelled in waves through the bystanders. For a few endless heartbeats, the possibility of the night finding an unexpected ugly end had been very real. Still Théodred did not permit himself to relax as he addressed his men, his eyes remaining focused on the man before him.
"Anlaf, Déorwine, you will escort Thorvald back to his camp and make sure he stays there. Your relief will be sent within the hour, as I do not want you having to pay for your fellow rider's lack of decency by missing the celebrations. Dismissed!" With a last warning glance, the Second Marshal of Riddermark stepped back and watched as the Westfold warrior obediently turned around to precede his appointed guards. Slowly, the crowd began to disperse, whispering and muttering in reaction to what they had just witnessed as the riders headed back to their places around the various fires.
With a deep sigh, Théodred turned his head to send an unspoken message to Grimbold. 'We need to discuss this now.' The Westfold captain gave him a resigned nod and looked at the silently waiting Elfhelm.
"Come on, old friend. Let's find a place to speak about this in private."
"Bring Bard, too," Théodred added on sudden impulse. "I might have use for him… And Éomer? I want you to come, too."
His cousin looked at him in confusion, so the King's son laid an arm around the younger man's shoulders and steered him away from his friend for a moment.
"This is one of those occasions where there is a lot to learn for you, Cousin," he said lowly. "In a few years, you will hopefully become a captain or even a marshal yourself, and as you have seen today, there are not only battles against orcs or Dunlendings to brave. There will also always be matters between people, be they riders of your éored or villagers of your ward, which you will have to resolve, and trust me, those can be infinitely more complicated."
Éomer nodded, but his eyes involuntarily strayed longingly back to the plate on the ground. He frowned. Well, at least the ants would enjoy the feast. Théodred caught his glance.
"Have you had anything to eat yet?"
"An apple since breakfast."
"Oh well…" Théodred gave him a sympathetic clap on the shoulder. "We can't have that, Cousin. I refuse to be responsible if weakness causes you to fall from your horse during the race. See that you get a new plate; I'll wait here."
"You want me to eat while you are discussing serious matters with the other captains?" Éomer furrowed his brow. "What will they think of me?"
"I won't mind, and I'm sure the others won't, either. I'm bringing you along to observe, and I'm confident that you can do that even with your mouth full, Cousin… as long as you do not speak thus." He smiled. "Now go… oh, and Éothain?"
Céorl's son, who had patiently been waiting nearby for his friend to return, looked up.
"Thank you for having Éomer's back. The gods know that there is nothing more important in a bad situation than having a loyal friend by one's side. What you did was very courageous."
"I did not even think about it. It was simply a reflex."
"Then that is all the better. In these dangerous times, it is a good thought for me to know that the two of you will be looking out for each other."
Only a short while later the two cousins left their celebrating brothers-in-arms to their business to make their way over to the tent Grimbold had temporarily claimed for their cause. The men awaited them outside.
"I believe we are far enough away to not be overheard by others, but if you want to go inside, we can do that, too." Grimbold held aside the flap, but Théodred stopped him with a wave of his hand.
"Naw, I believe you are right, Grimbold. Fresh air can only help with the decision we will have to make." And without further ado, he lowered himself to the ground and crossed his legs, briefly waiting for the other warriors to follow his example before he began. "Do not mind my cousin. Circumstances prevented him from eating all day, so I told him to should bring his dinner with him, as he will certainly need his energy in the race tomorrow."
Blushing furiously while the men smiled at him, Éomer made it a point to seat himself a bit behind the circle of warriors, where he would not disturb the impromptu meeting with his chewing, and where he would not feel as closely under observation from his commanding officers.
"So…" Théodred began and looked at Grimbold. "I had hoped that we would have been permitted to postpone this unfortunate business until after the festival, yet as your kinsman seems quite determined to force our hand, let us recount what happened over the past year. Will you start, Captain?"
The Westfold warrior sighed.
"As we all know, you placed Thorvald in my éored one and a half years ago, in response to the incidence with Bard. Your idea was to separate the two rivals, but it seems that he brought his problems with him, and while it remains Bard whom he mainly sees as his nemesis, it is of little concern to him these days whom he strikes when his mood turns foul… which is increasingly more often. Over the past year, he clashed violently with three of my riders, to the point of bloodshed. One of them even had to permanently leave our éored due to the serious injuries sustained in the fight with Thorvald. He broke his wrist in such a way that it will never fully heal again… That was only four months ago."
Forgetting to chew over what was just being revealed, Éomer could only stare at the warrior.
"And yet you granted him permission to attend the festival?" Elfhelm wondered and wrinkled his brow. Grimbold nodded wearily.
"Aye, I know how that sounds, and seen in the light of today's events, it was certainly wrong. Yet perhaps you will be able to understand my decision once you've heard me out." The Westfold Captain stared into the fire, his thoughts far away.
"Immediately after that incident, Marshal Erkenbrand incarcerated Thorvald for a fortnight to teach him a lesson, and he also threatened to expel him from our éored if there ever was another problem. There were no occurrences since, although Thorvald's mood has been dark ever since he emerged from the dungeon. None of my men feel comfortable around him. He is like an old, lone wolf – unwilling to endure company and quick to defend his territory with violence. If he did not fight so well, I would long since have given up on him. I had hoped to get a positive response from him by permitting him to come along to the festival, but it seems that he never even reckoned he might be left home. He certainly never thanked me."
"Hm…" Théodred scratched his beard pensively. "How about Daléna? Is he still trying to find her?"
"She is still at Fenmarch," Bard replied. "Should Thorvald ever track her down, he will find the people there ready to defend her."
"As Fenmarch lies as far away from my éored's ward as can possible be, it would take a strange coincidence for him to find out where she is." Grimbold took a deep breath. "And yet this cannot go on. Sooner or later, something tragic is bound to happen if we don't act."
"And what are our options, now that another incidence has happened?" Théodred asked, and began to count them on the fingers of his hand after a short pause. "Option One: you inform Erkenbrand and you follow through with your threat of expelling Thorvald from the Armed Forces. That would leave an embittered, yet powerful warrior prowling the Mark with the feeling of being shunned by the world, which would make him infinitely more dangerous."
"And what would our second option be?" Elfhelm asked quietly, the fire's glow illuminating his thoughtful mien. "Béma help me, but I can't think of one. Certainly you are not suggesting that he should be executed. Yes, he wounded his comrades, but as long as he did not kill anyone…"
"Option Two is only theoretical," Théodred conceded. "It would mean proceeding with handling Thorvald like before by punishing him, incarcerating him and humiliating him by stripping him of his titles upon each new incidence. As we have been clearly demonstrated, this doesn't solve the problem."
"Which is why you already have a different plan," the Captain of Aldburg assessed. "I can see it plainly on your face, even if I cannot for the life of me guess it."
"I do indeed, but I must admit that my idea bears a high risk. I will not follow it through unless I have your approval… and by that, I mean the approval of all three of you." With that, Théodred shifted his attention to the silently listening Bard. The warrior knitted his eyebrows in question.
"Marshal… I do not understand. Surely you do not need my permission. It is not my place to question your plans."
"And yet I am asking for it, Bard, as you would play a vital role in them. I must be honest with you: it is very likely that you might be placing yourself in harm's way if you agree to them." Now all four men, captains, simple rider and recruit, stared at him with obvious unease. Sure of their undivided attention, the King's son continued.
"I believe that there is really only one option left to us in dealing with Thorvald, and that is to drive out the demon that has been tormenting that man for far too long. Let us open the boil that has been festering in his mind for the past eighteen months, and see what comes out."
Grimbold took a deep breath, his eyes skeptical.
"That certainly sounds like an interesting idea, Brother, but tell us, how do you plan to achieve this? And what would Bard's role be in it?"
Théodred turned his head, only regarding the big man now.
"You still want to fight him, Bard, don't you? For what he did to Daléna… and to Gaerwolf."
The Eastfold warrior seemed even more confused.
"I was under the impression that more restraint was being asked of me, Marshal… and now you are, what, offering me Thorvald's head on a plate? Do you plan to humiliate Thorvald? But how will that solve anything?"
"It won't, so that is not my plan. But aye, I want you to fight him… in an unofficial fight, with no rules, and no spectators…"
"—just as long as you can guarantee you can best him! If I sanction this fight and he beats you, the effect might be catastrophic."
For the longest time, the warriors stared at their marshal in dumbfounded silence, their expressions aghast. It could have been a comical image had their business not been rather serious. Grimbold was the first who found his voice again.
"Forgive me for doubting you, Théodred, but what do you hope to achieve by having Bard beat him up? Provided Bard will not be the one who ends up on the ground as a bloody mess! I do not think I have to tell you that there is the very distinct possibility that these two end up killing or at least permanently crippling each other if you allow them to fight!"
The King's son nodded.
"I said that my plan was risky. And that is why we all would have to be there, too, in order to prevent that the fight gets out of hand. All the more as I do not want Thorvald beaten senseless, or seriously hurt. " Again Théodred bent his blue eyes upon the man from Aldburg, the intensity of his gaze leaving no doubt that he knew that he was asking something of his brother-in-arms which he had no right to ask. He leaned forward. "We need to bring him to the point of losing control. Rather than pummeling him, you would have to mainly evade him: float like a butterfly, sting like a bee… again and again and again, until he breaks. And yet that would not be all. We all know that Thorvald likes to ridicule his opponents during a fight; he talks a lot. And you would have to reply to his provocations in just the right manner and make sure that you won't be the one losing control. You would have to walk a very fine line, but I am confident that you would be able to pull it off, Bard, wouldn't you? You are fast, I've seen you fight… and now that you know the particulars of my plan, you would be able to restrain yourself even if he insults you beyond measure."
"I assume I would," Bard replied after a lenghty moment of contemplation, but his expression clearly bespoke his doubts. "And yet I fear that I cannot guarantee you the outcome of such a match, Marshal. Thorvald is, after all, a formidable opponent, and in a fight without rules, there is no telling just what tricks he might have hidden up his sleeves."
"Permission to speak to you as a friend, Théodred?" Grimbold interrupted them rather forcefully, but the King's son only lifted his hand to silence him.
"You want to ask me whether I have just taken complete leave of my senses, Grimbold. I know how it sounds what I'm asking, and yet I do not see any other way to get to the core of the problem. We need to get Thorvald to the point of cracking, and if I know one thing about him, it is that he will never reveal the cause of his torment voluntarily while he is in control of his senses."
"Bard is one of my most powerful warriors," Elfhelm joined in, deep worry edged into the lines of his broad face. "If anything were to happen to him, I could never replace him!" He exhaled sharply. "Why would you want to take such a risk for a man like Thorvald?"
Théodred did not evade his hard stare, and he lifted his chin in determination.
"Because I knew the man he was before. We all did. Or have you forgotten, Elfhelm? Grimbold? Bard? There is none among us who does not owe his life to Thorvald! " His gaze found Éomer, who had put his plate aside earlier, deeming it inappropriate to eat while matters of such weight were being discussed, and offered, by way of explanation: "You must understand, Éomer, that Thorvald was born and raised in Aldburg, and he was the captain of Findarras' éored until almost a year before you joined. In the beginning, he was just like Bard, possessed of a fierce temper against our foes, but respected and well-liked by all who served with him. But then something happened that changed everything. Thorvald was grievously wounded in an ambush, and it took him many months just to regain his feet. On the long path of his recovery, he lost most of his strength and began to feel inadequate and inferior. His whole character changed in those months, and his mood darkened and he became impatient and hurtful to the people he knew."
"To the point where he began beating his wife,"Elfhelm added quietly, and Éomer paled. "Daléna was many years younger than he, and friendly with all the riders, especially with Bard, since she had been his sister's best friend since their childhood. So it was Bard she turned to one day in her plight. We had all noticed for weeks that something had been going on, as we had seen her only rarely in those months after Thorvald's injury, and we never saw her smile again after that incidence. On the contrary, she soon began to avoid all contact with us… until that dreadful afternoon." He looked at Bard, wordlessly prompting his kinsman to go on.
For a moment, the powerful warrior seemed reluctant about delving once again into his hurtful memories, but upon his captain's unspoken plea, he cleared his throat and continued with a deep, husky voice.
"Daléna came to my house that day, wrapped into a shawl from head to toe, although it was quite warm. Fighting not to cry in public. Thorvald's éored had just left for patrol, but just before that, he had beaten her black and blue…" He inhaled deeply. "She begged me to take her and the children away from Aldburg that very day, out of his reach… which I did after a quick consultation with Captain Elfhelm. You can imagine what happened when Thorvald returned and found them gone, and their neighbours had seen them leave with me…"
Aye, Éomer could well imagine that. Béma, what a mess! It had been easy to hate the man after everything he had heard in the weeks before the festival, and after what he had done to Gaerwolf, but to hear now that Thorvald had once been an honourable rider and an asset to his éored… Éomund's son knew no longer what to think.
"I had hoped he would come to his senses again when I ordered his transfer to Westfold, and Grimbold's éored," his cousin continued. "That distance would help him to see clearly and understand what he had done. Instead it seemed that he only dug himself further into a hole. Everyone became his enemy, and a few months later, he even lost his wrestling title to Bard when his wound broke open again at the beginning of their final match. Since then, things have been spiraling utterly and completely out of control."
"Would you have fought him?" Éomer asked. "When he attacked Éothain and me? Were you ready to hurt him… knowing all of this?"
Théoded's expression was dead serious.
"Aye, Cousin, I was, if that had been the only means to stop him. There is only so much reasoning to be done with a drunk, bitter man. When words fail, deeds must speak. Thankfully, he understood that my threat was not an empty one…" He inhaled deeply. "So, now you know the whole story, Éomer. Tell me, what would you do, if it was your decision?"
Feeling the scrutiny of the other warriors upon himself, all that Éomer could do was stare back at his cousin, his head reeling. Théodred could not seriously expect an answer from him after the enormity of what had just been revealed to him, could he? And yet, one thing at least seemed painfully clear to him.
"Well, at least I agree with you that things cannot go on like this," he offered, his heart beating furiously in his chest. "I do not know the answer to this situation any more than you, but I share your opinion that a point has been reached where something needs to be done about it."
Satisfied with his answer, Théodred nodded and shifted his attention back to his silently listening kinsmen.
"Which brings us directly back to the decision we need to make, Gentlemen. We have been talking for quite a while now, and all facts are lying on the table while the subject of our discussion sits in Grimbold's camp, still inebriated and watched by two guards. As we can all hear our fellow riders sing and laugh around the fires, my guess is that they have already forgotten about that last incidence. I say the time to act is right now… provided you trust my judgment."
A long, heavy silence ensued, and again it was only the crackle of the fire that could be heard, together with the distant din of the celebrations. Finally, Elfhelm looked up.
"I cannot deny that I am still having misgivings, but I am willing to support your idea… provided Bard agrees to it. It should be his decision whether he submits himself to that risk."
"I agree with Elfhelm. Let Bard have the final word about this."
The warrior from Aldburg inhaled forcefully, and at last locked eyes with his marshal.
"Then let me summarize, Marshal, just to ensure that I fully understand you plan: you want me to fight Thorvald, right now, while he is not in full possession of his senses, in a battle far beyond the rules of wrestling. And while my opponent will do whatever he can in order to hurt me, you do not want me to hurt him in return."
"At least not seriously, no."
"Instead you want me to evade him, yet at the same time deal out pin-pricks which will fuel his rage further and further, until something happens. What exactly are you hoping for? And how should I recognize it, provided I succeed?"
"I'm afraid I cannot tell you that, Bard," Théodred admitted. "I suppose I am hoping for some kind of emotional breakdown, but such a reaction would require a significant amount of guilt Thorvald is keeping locked inside over the things he has done. Whether that is actually the case…" He shrugged. "All I know is that there might be a better chance of unleashing it while your opponent is still inebriated."
The powerful warrior regarded him thoughtfully and inhaled through his nose. At last, he nodded.
"All right, then. I will do it. I have just one last question, Marshal: what if we don't get the reaction you are hoping for?"
The King's son returned his questioning look with brutal honesty.
"Then you will make an enemy out for your destruction tonight."
|<< Back||Next >>|
|Home Search Chapter List|