Character(s) Wanted: Eomer and Eowyn (A/N: Theodred snuck in there too)
A huge thank you to Joey for beta-ing this, even though I ended up rushing him.
Hope you like it.
Fire, Earth, Gold, and Horses
Horses and dragons curled around the pillars, carved into the wood, gold against brown. Her eyes followed sprawling, twisting knots as they curled over themselves in infinite paths. Meduseld was beautiful in the twilight, torchlight deepening every groove and carving.
"Eowyn, are you coming? It’ll be starting soon." Eomer stood half way down the steps, waiting for her.
"Sorry." Her eyes lingered on the spiralling carvings as she turned and joined him. They went down, through the houses to come out on a wide plane.
Burning torches had been set in a wide circle at the centre, throwing shadows dancing across the grass. A great bonfire was piled just beyond it, not yet lit. Musicians were setting up to one side, and a few test strokes on a fiddle were played before being drowned out by thumps as people set barrels on their trestles that sat on the long lines of tables. A tent which presumably held the food was set up a little way away. People were already taking their places around the circle. It was getting crowded.
"I’d forgotten it was so big," Eowyn said quietly, taking it all in.
Theodred came up to them, smiling. "You two here? Good. Father told me to make sure you got a good place. Come, it’ll start in a minute."
They made their way through the crowd, to a slightly raised platform where King Theoden sat. He nodded at them and gestured to the seats set on either side of his. People had filled around half of the circle of torches, and were waiting, excited.
"They get the show over with at the beginning," whispered Eomer, "Before they open the barrels and while the men still know which end of a horse to face."
Eowyn grinned and was about to answer, when a great gong rang out. The assembled crowd fell silent.
A horn was blown, and from around a ridge at the far end of the plane a small group of riders in black galloped up, weapons raised. Their horses had been blackened with soot, their rider’s faces also. Black cloths covered the saddles and bones were strung across their backs. The leader had on a great and ugly helmet; fearsome twisted metal and spikes protruding from all angles, and the horse he rode had a ram’s skull hanging around its neck. They charged into the middle of the circle of torches as the crowd cheered and hissed.
"The Wainriders at Celebrant," whispered Eomer to his sister.
The riders went round the ring, snarling at the assembled people and leering at small children.
A second ring from the gong and another horn. Another host of riders came from the behind the ridge. Their helms were silver, and blue and silver had been plaited into the manes and tales of their horses.
"The Gondorians with King Cirion, yes I can tell, now hush." Eowyn gave her brother a little push as he leaned in to explain again.
The second host entered to cheers, and rode around the ring, gilded arms and helmets catching the firelight. The other host rode just ahead. They parted and took their places on either side of the ring. The crowd went quiet.
Quiet drumming slowly grew faster, the tension building with the audience’s anticipation. A few people shouted and started to take sides.
With a clash from the musicians, the two hosts reared and rode towards each other. They met in the centre, arms clashing in their pantomime. They circled and charged and rode around each other, shouting and brandishing their weapons.
Another clash and the host of Gondor began to fall back, drawing into the centre as the Wainriders rode around them again, joyous in their impending victory and jeering at their Gondorian counterparts. They circled closer. The crowd waited with baited breath. Most of them had seen this many times before, but it would still quicken their pulses. Drums echoed beating hearts, as the circle of Wainriders closed in. Closer and closer they drew, bones slapping against the flanks of their beasts as the circle tightened...
A horn rang out, loud and true through the silence, making more than one man jump. With a great shout, riders erupted from all around the circle, some galloping around the ridge whilst others trotted through the parting crowds. They snatched up the blazing torches as they rode through, gold and green bright in the firelight. Eorl’s men. With a sudden roar the bonfire beyond the circle was lit, flames shooting upwards into the night sky. The enemy host drew back as the two forces joined and advanced. For a second Eowyn could almost see the real battle as shadows stretched and yawned around them, gold and silver glittering as the riders clashed and circled and clashed again.
Another great clash from the gong and the battle was won. The Wainriders rode off behind the ridge as the crowd cheered and moved in to greet the forces of Ciron and Eorl alike, as they raised their weapons in their staged victory.
Men dismounted, people flocked towards the tables which had been set during the show, and mothers ushered children to their beds to tired-eyed protests. The night had just begun.
The feasting was showing no signs of stopping two hours later, as Eowyn excused herself from the table. Eomer too had risen from his uncle’s side a little earlier, and was now trying to out-drink his friends at another table. There was a cheer as another round of tankards was drained.
People danced around the stand set up for the musicians. Pipes were in full swing, accompanied by the previously drowned out fiddle. The music washed through the air, carefree and cheerful.
Eowyn made her way to the stand, standing by it and watching as people whirled and stamped and laughed around her. She swayed gently to the music, content just to watch and embrace the feeling.
"What’s this? Can’t have you standing here so sad, Lady Eowyn." Theodred came over, slightly out of breath and smiling. "Come, we must dance."
"Oh, no. I don’t dance." She smiled half-shyly.
"Nonsense, it’s an occasion."
"Fine then. I can’t dance."
"Neither can most of the people here. Come on, humour me."
He took her hand and led her into the throng, encouraging her as she stood and looked awkward. He guided her through a few steps, a spin. She tried her best, feeling very embarrassed as she moved with him and copied the movements of those around her. Her movements gradually lost their stiffness and after a while it was easy. The dance wasn’t about grace or beauty, it was about joy and celebration and the simple thankfulness for their land and their people. To exult in existence.
The music ended and they stopped, out of breath and flushed. They moved off a little way as the next piece started, and sat on the grass, looking at the bonfire. Eomer and two others joined them, a little unsteady on their feet.
"Who won?" Asked Theodred.
"Ealo and Firmest are still at it," said Reon, who had come with Eomer, and whose nose was a rosy shade of pink in the flickering light. "You been dancin’?"
"Yes, as you well know, having watched," Theodred grinned "Though I doubt you have the stomach to dance now. I saw that Esnesib of yours up there."
"Eh, go boil your head."
Theodred frowned a little and shot a glance at Eowyn, but she laughed and rose to speak to some friends standing across by the tables.
"Surprised you got Lady Eowyn to dance though," said Reon, looking after her.
"Oi," Eomer gave him a playful shove with his boot. "Mind what words the drink might make for you."
"I hold my ale better than you, son of Eomund," replied Reon, grinning cheekily. "Honestly though," he said, turning back to Theodred, "You’re the only poor bugger this one ‘ll let near her without breaking his legs."
Theodred laughed. "That’s enough talk from you for one night, thank you very much. Go and have another drink Reon, maybe it’ll work that gut of yours up to talking to your little lass out there and you can make less of a kind gesture."
They lay back one the grass and watched the sky.
"’s getting lighter."
"Mmm," said Eomer, eyes closed.
"The Sun will be up soon. We’d better get a good spot." Theodred stood up and brushed himself off. "Come on," he said, offering a hand to help his cousin up, "Let’s find Eowyn and we’ll get up the hill. You don’t want to miss the best part."
Eomer hauled himself to his feet and eyed his companions.
"You two coming?"
"We’ll get up in a minute."
They left them there and found Eowyn still talking with her friends. The three of them made their way up the steps to the great hall. Below them, people were out on the roofs of their houses and on the slopes, looking to the east as the sky gradually grew lighter.
They found a spot and looked out over the landscape in the dim fresh light that comes just before dawn. The land stretched out below them, mountains behind, the great planes of Rohan below, the river Snowbourn glinting grey-silver in the distance. The sky went grey, then pale gold, then there came a shout as the first rays of the sun broke over the horizon. The three of them watched in silence as it broke and gradually grew higher, bathing the assembled watchers in its slow warmth. The Mark stretched before them, green and gold. Seeing that, the night of celebration was a mere shadow to what this land meant to its people. A celebration of victory at Celebrant, and the gift of land given by Ciron of Gondor to the Eotheod. A land of beauty and light; the Mark of the Riders. A celebration of life and joy and land. Of Fire and earth and gold and horses.