It had been almost a year. The wound had completely healed, but he still saw blackness around his vision after hard riding. So Cyren gripped the reins of his horse achingly tight as he, a single member of the large company, cantered up the steep slope of Edoras.
When all the riders, men and horses, pooled into the large courtyard, voices bellowed for them to dismount. The voices, voices of the commanders, seemed to say "good job, we have done our duty to country and king."
As the others dismounted, some walking slowly to the doors of Meduseld, Cyren, too, swung off his beloved horse. A banner flapped in the fierce wind, nearly brushing his face; with long strides, he moved down a large flight of stone stairs to the well.
Éadayn hastened back into her house and plucked a bucket and ladle from beneath the table. She exited the doorway once more and joined the rest of the women, all carrying buckets and ladles and some with cups or baskets of bread and fruit. Together they made their way to the wells, just below where the riders had halted. Already some had gathered there, and Éadayn took her place among the rest of the women, serving the men of her country after a long and exhausting journey. When occasionally her hands were idle, she took a few moments to glance about for a glimpse of either of her cousins, her only remaining family. But no sooner had she taken the initiative to look than a tired and thirsty rider approached, and she was taken to smiling and thanking and serving. This was her lot for one day, not a working woman but a servant to those who served her country, and not one woman in Edoras minded at all.
Cyren ignored the bustle of the women and other riders behind him. He sat down on one of the cool steps, releasing his head from his helm and shaking out his hair. He sat there for long moments, before he rose - slowly, it seemed, but he tried to be lithe - and scanned the faces of the others.
It was as she smiled at the retreating face of yet another of the riders that Éadayn happened to glance to her right. She thought she caught sight of a familiar form rising from the steps, and as he turned his face towards the gathering, she recognized her cousin, Cyren. She raised her arm to wave, but at that moment, another rider approached her. She smiled and offered him water, relieved that at least one member of her remaining family was still safe.
Silent and restless, he returned to Fleetverse. The mare had been whickering softly at one of the young boys who delighted to skitter around the Rohirrim companies. Cyren made as if to lead her back to the stables, but instead found himself standing there, there in the wind, watching the other Rohirrim, and gazing at the women and children who flocked about to help.
Éadayn sighed and glanced about the courtyard. The crowd was thinning around the wells, as most of the riders now sat on the steps or along the low walls, drinking and eating and chatting. Some led their horses to the stable to rest and drink; some held their children, kissed their wives, laughed as they related tales. Éadayn watched it all with a smile on her face, and as soon as she was sure that the other women were growing idle as well, she handed her bucket to the woman next to her and asked her to watch it for a moment. She then plunged into the crowd, seeking Cyren or Ceirden.
The young rider lifted the saddle from his mount's back, draping the heavy leather over a wall. The fight had been swift; a small band of enemy men only had found its way across the rivers into Rohan. The Rohirrim, even this small company, had vanquished it, spearing down yet more of the enemy. In the months since the War of the Rings ended, many orcs and Southrons, and Easterlings, had been slain by the Men of the Mark; yet more there were still.
Cyren tried to think through this as he cared for Fleetverse, out on the square with a horde of others, but found his mind too weary.
Éadayn was growing hopeless of finding either of her cousins. She began to turn back to the wells when out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of the same familiar form as earlier. Her cousin Cyren stood in the middle of the square, tending to his horse, seemingly lost in thought. Éadayn grinned and made her way through the crowd until she had reached her cousin.
"Cyren!" she cried joyfully. "Glad is the hour that I see thee alive and well, still. Hast thou seen much battle? And hast thou word of my uncle's son, Ceirden?"
Ceryn turned at the sound, for it was the voice of his kin. A smile lit his face as he saw his cousin, Eadayn, last of his family. "Greetings.... battle, yes, but nay, not much; the group of men was no hard feat for the skills of the other Riders. Less of a feat, still, when all the women of Edoras stand waiting for them before the doors of Meduseld..." He paused. "Ceirden I have seen not, but know that he was not one of those slaughtered."
Éadayn smiled and rested her hand idly on the horse's back. "That is welcome news indeed," she said. "But art thou weary, cousin? Hast thou been to the wells with the others? Thou shouldst not trouble thyself with cares now; go and rest, and I shall take thy horse to the stables."
"I do not desire rest so much as comfort of being back, and it will help my spirit to tend to my mare with my own hands. And you desire to look for your cousin... I will do my duty to Fleetverse while you search and speak with Ceirden." Cyren smiled tiredly at his uncle's daughter.
Éadayn nodded in assent. "Only do not tire thyself too much, cousin," she said. "Thou hast only just returned, and surely thou wilt ride again soon, if the rumors tell true."
Ceirden looked out from under his helm, peircing green eyes scanning the masses. One of the last to make way through the crowds, he escaped most of the hand-shaking and back-slapping and kisses and flowers and... He didn't understand it. No. He understood it. The rider was able to understand the fact that the people were proud of their warriors, happy that their country had once again come out on top. But most other men fought for the honour, and the glory, not only to protect the lord and the land.
He slowed Reinnacht to a halt and slid gracefully from the saddle. Gazing further into the crowd, the young man saw the face of his cousin Eadayn, and led the sleek, black horse in her general direction.
"Cousin mine!" he called, removing his helm and wiping the sweat from his brow. "I have returned."
Éadayn turned from Cyren, and a great joy crossed her face again. "Ceirden!" she cried. "What grace is this, that brings such good news after so much ill?" Beaming, she clasped hands with both her cousins, the only family she had left in the world. "What a happy meeting is this," said she, glancing between the two.
Cyren smiled back at her, though he laughed softly. He nodded to Ceirden in greeting, wrapping the reins of his horse round his free hand. "I ought to take Fleetverse up to the stables, she has suffered as much as I..." he trailed off..
"Go, then," said Éadayn, smiling still. "Go and do what will make thee happy. But be no stranger while thou art at home. Tis a lonely life, to spend all one's days at the loom. And the joy of Edoras cannot be quelled until the Rohirrim leave again; for then we have none to please but ourselves."
"Does nothing else bring the people of Edoras joy? Gone are the days of living in fear, dearest Eadayn, but I fear that people know not how to live anymore."
Ceriden's smile faded as he realized that his words had scattered clouds over the joy of his return. "I mean not to be melancholy." Reinnacht nipped at the rider's hair, bringing his attention back to the present.
"He must be hungry," Ceirden said, trying to sound chipper once more. "Would you mind so much if I followed Cyren?"
"Not forgotten how to live, cousin," said Éadayn. "But forgotten for what purpose. For what do we live if not for our loved ones, and when they have gone, then what?"
She sighed and glanced back out at the gathering of women around the wells, serving still those who might be their family or who had been among their family at one point. Ceirden's question pulled her gaze back, and she smiled again.
"I see now how impossible it is to separate a rider from his horse," she said. "And if thou dost not mind, I shall go with thee, for my hands are of no further use here."
Cyren smiled lopsidedly, still trying to blink the heat and sweat daze from his eye. The young rider silently took his horse, preparing to start for the stables, yet making sure his kin were not behind.
Éadayn smiled and started towards the stables as well. "Answer me this, my cousins," she said. "Dost thou know if the rumors we have heard in Edoras are true? For even now people stumble daily through the gates of the city, claiming their villages have been burned. They say they have walked few days, but still they arrive near death. I have heard tell that Orcs and wild men move close to the city. But tell me the truth; I want no idle chatter of wives and widows. Still art villages burned, and so close to Edoras?"
He sighed, and shot a glance sidelong to Ceirden. "I as yet know little about all the rumors, but there is truth in those you hear of our land's razing and people being harried..."
Éadayn frowned. "Truth?" she said. "I knew that servants of the Enemy still roamed our land, but I did not know how dire the situation. What dost the King say of these? Dost thou slay all, or art some banished or held captive? What is there but our own pride to keep these creatures from overrunning the lands again?"
Ceirden sighed, not knowing what to say. "King Eomer knows what he is doing, and yet I don't know how wise it is to just kill them when the flow never ebbs. There is no use in capturing them. The orcs know nothing of plans, and the men... They have no honour. They will give no information, and we will not torture them."
Under his breath he muttered, "Madness. I cannot be a part of this." He said it too loudly. He felt his cousins' shocked stares burn into him, and knew that there was nothing he could say. Leaving the riders would be treason. And possibly death.
Gritting his teeth, he mounted his horse, and galloped away. a
"What else is there for him to do?" Cyren spoke bitterly after Ceirden. He turned to Eadayn. "What ails him? He may have seen something in the fight that I did not, for we were not side by side...."
Éadayn shook her head. "I am as baffled as thee, cousin," she said. "What madness is there in scouring our lands of these beasts? Unless...unless something else came about. Dost thou know of any other...dangers, let us say, brewing in the East?"
"I know little," Cyren said with calm. "I hope that all the people soon know what the situation is.." he remarked, squinting into the sun, pausing Fleetverse in the walk to the stables.
"Indeed," Éadayn replied quietly, watching as two children ran up the hillside and hugged their father around the knees; he was standing by his horse, still clad in his gear and only just returned. Éadayn turned back to her cousin and smiled. "I've work to do," she said. "Do not let this be the last time we meet before the next ride." She smiled once more and then made her way back down the hill and towards her house.
Cyren smiled lightly and lead his horse to the stable, laughing to himself about the oddity of both his cousins.