Smoke lingered in the rafters of the Golden Hall of Meduseld. Wood smoke, candle smoke and pipe smoke mingled with the fumes of ale and wine, making the eyes sting and the senses swim. Théoden had been returned to Rohan, and buried among the mounds of his fathers, but the sorrow and solemnity of the occasion had given way to joy as folk put away sorrow and celebrated the betrothal of Éowyn and Faramir.
“As new bonds are forged between Rohan and Gondor, I will tell you now of the start of our alliance!” Ėomer’s voice held the gathering spellbound as he recited one of the ancient tales. “Listen as I tell you of the Ride of Eorl, and the great battle of the field of Celebrant: ‘The day had gone down in the West, behind the hills into shadow; and a great darkness hung over the land’.”
Elladan turned to his brother with a questioning look, but said nothing. Éowyn, sitting so closely with Faramir, leaned towards them. “This is one of our oldest tales,” she whispered. “It tells how Eorl helped Cirion of Gondor win a great victory, and was granted the lands which became Rohan in thanks.”
“Silence and dread stalked the plains,” Éomer continued.
Elladan edged closer to his twin. “That is not quite how I recall it,” he whispered.
“No – it was midday in summer,” Elrohir whispered back. “I remember the skylarks singing.”
Éowyn frowned at them from across the table. “Hush! Listen to Éomer’s tale. You might learn something of our history!”
“A great horde of orcs swept across the grasslands, driven before a mighty army!”
“Well, they have that part right at least!” Elladan settled back to listen, curious to hear the rest of the tale.
“At the forefront of the charge rode two great horsemen, clad all in grey.”
Elrohir had just taken a sip of wine. He coughed and choked, setting his goblet down with a clatter. “What did he just say?” he hissed.
Éowyn glared at them again. “Hush!” she repeated.
“Aye, hush, little brother,” Elladan agreed. “I want to hear this.” He leaned forward, listening avidly as Éomer continued the saga.
Finally the epic tale rolled on to its close. “Who the two mighty warriors were, legend does not tell. When the battle was won, they could not be found. But from that day on, there was friendship between the lands of Rohan and Gondor!” There was applause and wild cheering, and the Riders stamped their feet in approval.
As the cheers and shouts died away, Éomer crossed the floor and joined his sister. “Well done!” she congratulated him. “I have never heard you tell it better!”
He smiled. “Thank you, sister. Have you ever heard the tale before?” he asked the twins.
“Not quite like that, no,” Elladan agreed. He glanced at Elrohir.
“The two riders,” Elrohir prompted. “Does the legend say any more of them?”
Éomer shook his head. “It remains a mystery – the legend of the Grey Riders. Our historians and masters of lore can find no trace of them.” He shrugged. “Perhaps they never existed. The bards of old were not always accurate.”
“They were there!” Éowyn insisted.
“But were they real?” Éomer argued. He glanced at Elladan and Elrohir. “Forgive me. This is a matter of learned debate in Rohan. Were the Grey Riders real, or a fiction invented to add mystery to the tale?” He laughed, shaking his head. “You do not want to hear the old arguments!”
“Oh, but we do,” Elladan insisted.
“Our father is a master of lore too,” Elrohir added. “He would be most interested in the legend!”
Éowyn laughed at them. “You will regret this!” she warned. “You will never stop him now!”
Éomer rested his elbows on the table, ignoring her. “There are some who believe that the Grey Riders were an intervention of the Valar to save Gondor and force this turn of history. Others think they were the spirits of long-dead warriors or kings; returned to save the land in its direst need. Me – well, we live in more enlightened times. I do not believe in spirits or angels!”
“You did not believe in Elves or Halflings either!” Éowyn pointed out.
Éomer nodded in acknowledgement. “Very well. Some stories and legends may be true. But the Grey Riders?”
He and Éowyn fell into a well-worn debate as they argued the familiar topic. Elladan, still with one eye on the pair, half turned to Elrohir. “I have never been described as an agent of the Valar before,” he murmured. “I rather like it.”
“Aye. It certainly has a better ring than spawn of Melkor as Erestor called us. But to be thought a figment of the imagination of some bard? I do not like that idea at all!”
They watched as Éomer prodded the air to make some point. “He has a look of Eorl,” Elladan commented.
Elrohir nodded. “Aye. But more care-worn.”
Faramir, listening to the heated argument with interest, tore his attention away and turned to the twins in disbelief. “You knew Eorl?”
“You were there?” At Elrohir’s nod, Faramir continued, “Then you would be able to solve this debate once and for all! Did you see these Riders? Were they really there like the legends say?”
“In a manner of speaking …”
Something in their manner gave them away. Faramir stared at the twins, his eyes widening. “You? It was you?” He glanced at Éowyn and Éomer, still locked in a heated debate. “Will you tell them that you are the Grey Riders of the legend?”
Elladan and Elrohir exchanged a swift glance. “Well …”
“It is never wise to become embroiled in an argument between siblings …”
Faramir nodded, his eyes still on Éowyn. “True.”
“Then some mysteries are best left unsolved.”