Written for Teitho's Sound Cue prompt, where it placed second.
March 21, 3004
Noise trickled through the heavy wooden door of her chamber. At first, Éowyn just rolled over in her bed, and sighed as she tried to find the perfect position which would hopefully let her fall asleep. She had gone to bed hours before, but her mind was too busy to let her rest. Théodred was to have arrived from the Westfold in the afternoon, but he had not arrived as expected.
Of course she knew that didn't mean that something terrible had happened. Of course she knew that! Most likely it was a minor incident, such as a homestead on fire that had made the men stop to help. That would be exactly what Théodred would have done.
But while her reasoning mind knew there was likely something simple that had caused the delay, she could not shake the fear in her heart, or block the images that formed. Images of her brother, for that was how she thought of Théodred, lying dead in the shallow water of a bubbling stream, arrows embedded in his chest, face slack while lifeless eyes stared up at the clouds overhead.
After a few minutes, she noticed that the noise from the hall had not only continued but had grown louder. She could hear voices, though none were distinct. Slowly, the speakers seemed to grow closer, but the voices dropped so low that she still could not identify them by the sound. For a moment, the men seemed to stop a little way down the hall, and then the speaking stopped.
Then she heard a new sound, and she lifted her head from the pillow to hear more clearly.
Footsteps echoed in the hallway, and she thought… Yes! She knew that stride! Many times she had heard it go by her doorway in just this way, and found comfort in the knowledge that her cousin was right down the hall from her, and would keep watch over her?
Théodred was home!
She pushed the covers away, and nearly cried out in frustration when her feet became entangled in the sheets. It took only a moment to free herself, though it seemed far longer to the impatient girl, and then she was flying to the door.
The bar had not been dropped across it, so she barely had to pause to lift the latch and dart into the hallway beyond.
Sure enough, she recognised Theordred's stance, his way of walking as he headed towards the door to his own chamber.
Headless of the fact she wore only her thin sleeping shift, she ran down the hall after him, bare feet slapping on the flagstones.
He started to laugh even has he turned, and when she made a flying leap into his arms he caught her with ease.
"Westu hal, Éowyn!" He held her close, her feet well clear of the floor, but eventually set her down and grinned. "What are you doing up so late, little one? You should have been asleep hours ago!"
She scowled at him for a moment, but couldn't hold it long, and grinned once more. "Well, you were supposed to have been here hours ago! So it's your fault that I'm up so late,"
Laughing, Théodred put his hand on her shoulder, and turned her towards her chamber. His boots filled the hall once more as they walked together. "I am sorry to have kept you waiting, cousin. Hamma's horse threw a shoe as we rode, and I did not want to leave him alone to walk to the nearest smithy." He looked down at her, smiling, then stopped right in the middle of the hall, and crouched down in front of her. "What is the matter, Éowyn?"
She gave a quick shake of her head, then impatiently pushed her hair behind her ears. "Nothing! I just… couldn't sleep is all."
Théodred looked at her more closely, and then simply lifted a brow slightly. She returned his look for a moment, then looked away and sighed. "I... When you didn't come home…"
"Oh, Éowyn." Understanding and compassion filled his eyes, and he took her gently into his arms again. "I am fine. Nothing at all happened to put us in any danger."
She wrapped her arms tightly around him, and then nodded as he spoke. "I knew that in my head, truly I did, but…"
Understanding came to him, and he held her more closely. She had been thinking of her father, who had ridden out with promises to return and never had. "I know, little one. I know." He paused for a moment, then continued more softly. I miss him, too." For a long while she continued to cling to him, and he seemed content enough to hold her until her fears eased. When she at last loosened her hold on him he looked at her again. "I cannot promise that I will always come home to you, Éowyn, but I give you my word I will do all that I can to be here for you whenever I can."
With a slightly watery smile she nodded. "I know, Théodred. And I'll be here for you, too." She looked down at her bare feet. "Not that you'll ever need me, but…"
He lifted one hand to cuff her lightly under the chin, and she giggled. "I will always need you, little cousin. Soon enough you'll be old enough to train with a real sword, and I'll sleep better at night knowing you're here to help protect father,"
Her face lit up at the mention of a real sword. "Really? You think that I'm ready for a real sword." She grinned widely. "Éomer didn't get a real practice sword until he was eleven, and I'm still only ten! I'm better than he is! I can't wait to tell…"
Théodred's laugh cut her off, and he just shook his head as he stood. "No, Éowyn, you are not quite ready yet. I said soon enough, not tomorrow."
The speed at which her face changed from gloating to fury made him laugh again. Her hands clenched into fists, and her chin came up proudly, making her the very image of her father and her brother, and it made him both proud and a little sad. When she opened her mouth to protest he cut her off gently. "Éowyn, enough for now. It is late, and I have been riding and walking all day. You may not be ready for sleep yet, but I most certainly am"
For a moment he thought that she might still protest, but then she relaxed her stance and dropped her eyes again. "I'm sorry, Théodred. It was inconsiderate of me to keep you here talking when you're tired from a long day."
Théodred reached out and tucked a lock of hair behind her ear. "No, it was most courteous of you to wait up and welcome me home, even at this late hour, and I thank you for it." He offered her a small bow. "Now, my lady, shall I escort you back to your chamber?"
She grinned up at him, and gave a far less practiced curtsy, then held out her hand, as she had seen ladies do when a man asked them to dance at a feast. "That would be most kind of you, my lord."
With a chuckle, he took her hand, and tucked it into the crook of his elbow, and walked her back to her chamber, and helped her straighten out the sheets before she clambered into the bed once more. She snuggled into the pillow, and gave a huge yawn as she did.
After pressing a light kiss to her brow, Théodred stood and walked quietly toward the door.
He turned to look at her again, noticing her eyes were already closed. "Yes, Éowyn?"
"I'm glad you're home." Her voice was slurred, and he could tell by the way that her face relaxed that she was already asleep by the time she finished speaking.
With a final smile, he answered softly, "I am, too, little one."