Eomer's lips moved in a wordless prayer, and he squeezed the clump of dirt in his palm. The late afternoon sun shone wanly on the countryside, illuminated the remains of the bloody, black field. He tried to find strength in the oft-repeated words, but the comfort was cold. He wasn't strong enough to do this. He had nothing left to give to his people, his Uncle, his cause. They'd won the battle at a terrible price. There was no way to win the war.
"I am sorry for your loss."
Eomer started, sword already halfway out of his scabbard before he relaxed, let out a slow breath. Legolas merely regarded him out of cool blue eyes, gestured toward the still smoldering remains. "I wish there was time to give them proper burial in the way of your people."
Eomer nodded, refocused his gaze on the smoke trail lingering in the air. "I'm sorry for yours, as well. For your people dying so far away from their homes."
Long fingers touched a smooth forehead in salute before drifting down to rest above the Elven brooch that held Legolas' cloak together. "They died for a cause."
Eomer chuckled, the sound without mirth. "They died for nothing. In the end, everything we've sacrificed for today will be for naught."
"Do you truly believe that?"
"Today I do."
Legolas' reply was gentle, his gaze resting on the forest in the distance. Eomer wondered if he was thinking of his own homeland, so far away. Wondered if Elves longed for home and hearth the same way men did. "You've had a hard few months," Legolas said.
"You think of me as a hard man, don't you?" Eomer asked, glancing over at his companion.
"I think you are what destiny has made you," Legolas replied, calmly. "You are heir to a kingdom in difficult times. Hardness has served you and your people well."
"Aragorn is not hard."
"You are not Aragorn."
"No." Eomer's tone was faintly mocking. "I'm not."
"Perhaps you and Aragorn could learn from each other."
"I hardly think that Aragorn – future King of Gondor – needs my help."
"You would be surprised. And wrong. Aragorn needs you just as much as he needs this Quest. You will teach each other much."
"What could Aragorn possibly learn from me?" Eomer turned away, stared across the desolate plains to the steep ravine. Helm's Deep sat majestically before him – still proud, still standing, still a refuge, albeit a flawed one. Once again, its walls had saved the people of Edoras. It was a small comfort.
Legolas stood beside him, ethereal profile etched in sharp serenity and grace. He didn't seem to stand so much as rise from the earth, blend in with the warm breeze – as much a part of the landscape as the rocks. "You'll teach him leadership. He's never been a leader of men."
"He would do better to follow Theoden King's example," Eomer stated, twisting the sterling silver ring around on his middle finger. It had, until last week, rested comfortably on Theodred's finger. A symbol of the Prince of the Mark.
"You will be the one who rules side by side with Aragorn when it will come time for him to claim the throne. Never forget what you are."
"And what is that?"
"The man who will be King of Rohan."
"No." Eomer's reply was soft, tinged with sadness. "I am no great, destined leader. I was content to serve Theoden King, had hoped to serve Theodred King as loyal liege. I never wanted to be King."
"Nevertheless, you will be king. Whether your Uncle should fall in battle or succumb to the ravages of age."
"I would have given my life for Theodred's."
"That choice is not within your power to give," Legolas reminded him, clasping him lightly around the arm, strong fingers curling his bicep. "You must accept what is."
"Easier said than done." Eomer's hand rested over Legolas' – felt the heat and the poise, wondered if he could channel any of it into his own system. "I've not the wisdom of your kind, nor the infinite patience."
"You have your own strength. One day, you'll accept it."
"I don't feel strong." Eomer smiled again, the motion small. "Just old."
Legolas returned the smile. "You have many years ahead of you, Eomer, Son of Eomund. Do not be so quick to make them memory."
"Many years," Eomer repeated. And his heart wept a little. Those years stretched out before him, infinite and lonely, full of meaningless chatter. Better to fall bravely in battle than to endure such a fate. "What if I don't wish for those years?" he asked, searching Legolas' pale eyes – for what, he didn't know.
"I know you grieve," Legolas stated softly, gaze unwavering. "However, deliberately ending what has been given to you is not a solution."
"Do you know what it's like?" Eomer clutched at Legolas' hand, desperate for contact. "To wake up, shattered and alone, knowing this is no nightmare, but the reality of your hollow life that once had held joy and love?" His breath hitched on the last word, and he struggled to maintain eye contact.
"Yes," Legolas said simply. "I, too, have lost one dear to me because of Sauron's greed, Saruman's conceit."
"A fellow kinsman who fell during the night?"
"No." Legolas' lips curved sadly. "A member of our Fellowship who gave his life to protect two more of our party. The ones we were seeking earlier."
"You speak of Lord Boromir?" At Legolas' slight nod, Eomer tightened his fingers against the Elf's. "You – you – grieve for him?"
"Sometimes so much my heart nearly bursts with it." Legolas' words were barely audible. And each one lanced Eomer's heart anew.
"He was a great man," Eomer replied.
"The best of what man is."
"At least he died with honor, in the service of his people, sacrificing himself for his friends. It was all he ever wanted."
"You knew him, yes?"
Eomer was pierced by eyes so sharp they seemed as diamonds, ready to carve out his soul piece by piece. "I looked up to him as young warriors do with legends," he admitted carefully.
"He spoke once of a summer spent in the company of a young warrior." Legolas' words were just as carefully measured.
"He – " Eomer licked his lips " – did?"
"He had fond memories of that time."
"It was a memorable season," Eomer murmured, lost in the past. Lost in smoky, sharp kisses traded after jousting and a warm body keeping the chill of night at bay.
Legolas smoothed his hand over Eomer's arm. "So, it was you."
"I loved him dearly, as both brother and warrior."
"And as lover?"
"Yes." The admission was soft. Eomer felt the sharp sting behind his eyelids, and wondered for a minute why he would grieve so for Boromir when his tears for Theodred – his blood, his kin – would not come.
"Tessa amin. Amin nauva na-nessa poldora." Eomer didn't understand the softly spoken words, but he did understand when Legolas' hands circled his waist, pulling him close to a deceptively slender body. Legolas began to sing – something of infinite beauty and majesty – soft Elvish words flowing around their twined bodies, wrapping them in a cocoon of warmth. The worst of Eomer's grief and despair evaporated like mist under the heavy spell of the song, the secure feel of Legolas' arms.
In the end, it was easier than Eomer had imagined to glance into crystalline eyes and feel the slow throb of awareness. Easy to lift his chin and cover soft lips with his own chapped ones, wishing for all the world that he could somehow cleanse himself anew. Easy to glide his tongue around a silken one, hold tightly to slimly muscled hips as Legolas matched the kiss, matched Eomer's every movement.
"Would you – " Eomer licked his lips, throat dry. Stared again into Legolas' calm eyes. "Stay with me."
"Of course. As long as you need," Legolas promised.
"Thank you," Eomer murmured, rubbing long strands of blond hair through his fingers. "How does one express gratitude in your tongue?"
Eomer repeated the words, stumbling slightly as his tongue tried to wrap around the lilting, unfamiliar language. "When you say it, it sounds like music."
"You have your own music," Legolas replied, brushing soft lips across Eomer's.
Eomer's laughter was without mirth. "Discordant and jagged?"
"Resonant and full of hope for the future."
Eomer searched Legolas' eyes for signs of condescension, and found only compassion. "I wish I had your faith," he said, running his fingers along Legolas' shirt collar.
"You will find it."
Legolas' eyes flickered past Eomer's shoulder, and he turned. Hama was standing a small distance away, head bowed, stance unyielding. "Eomer Prince," he murmured, then raised his head to meet Eomer's gaze.
"What is it, Hama?"
"The remaining riders are...they need..." Hama's voice faltered, cracked.
"Are they looking for some task to ease their thoughts?" Eomer asked, brow furrowed in concern. His own failures were for him to combat – his men had done their duty and done it well.
"It would help," Hama admitted in a small voice.
"Set up a training exercise in one hour's time – we may be tired, but there is no excuse for sloppiness on the field. Have the lesser wounded tend to the riderless horses. I want double guards at each point on the way back to Edoras and scouts sent ahead. We may have defeated Saruman's army here, but he's wily and cunning. He may yet find a way to seek retribution." Eomer grasped Hama's shoulder, squeezing. "We are the Rohirrim, my friend. The dark forces may batter us, but we must never forget that we are a proud people worthy of song."
Hama's smile was small, but genuine, and lifted Eomer's heart to see it. "I understand, my Lord." He bowed his head again to Eomer, past him to incline his head to Legolas, and walked off, stride a little lighter.
Eomer caught Legolas' smile as soon as he turned back to the Elf. "What thought is it that gladdens your heart?" he asked, his own lips lifting in response.
Legolas laced his fingers with Eomer's and brought them to his lips for a kiss – butterfly-soft, yet it sang through Eomer's veins in soulsweet refrain. "You'll know." And Legolas' eyes were warm when they gazed upon him. "One day, you'll look back. And you'll know."