“I love you beyond measure,” Gamling whispered through the pain.
“And I you. I…I…” Kelda hesitated. She could not do it. She could not tell him; this was hard enough for him. Her heart warred with her mind, but Kelda was spared further internal debate for Éomer King approached. She made to leave but he stayed her before sitting on a stool by the bed and taking his Captain’s hand.
Gamling turned pained eyes to the younger man and smiled as best he could. “You are an honorable man from a noble line—you…you will make a fine King and an even greater man.” Gamling squeezed the younger man’s hand and drifted to sleep.
Eomer looked to Kelda, tears falling unchecked. She smiled softly, her own grief palpable in the air between them. He could not will his voice to offer her words of comfort so he rose and left.
Hardly an hour passed before word reached the weary young King of Rohan—his mentor had passed.
Was there no end to his sorrow? First his sister lay near death, alive but for the power of Aragorn. His Uncle was dead and the heavy mantle of Kingship now rested on his shoulders. Only the thought that Gamling, ever loyal and true, would be there to help him eased those pains but as he approached the Captain’s bedside, that tiny flame of hope withered. Kelda stood and forgetting decorum pulled the young man into a tight embrace. Éomer returned it and together they shed tears for the man they loved.
Finally drawing a raged breath, Kelda pulled away, straightened her rumpled dress and addressed her new King. “Long ago he pledged to serve your Uncle, it is only fitting that he follow his beloved King to the halls of their Fathers.”
Eomer nodded and watched as the woman began to collect his former Captain’s armor. She would wash it, mend it, and have it ready for her husband’s funeral. With one last sad smile, she left Éomer to grieve alone.
Gamling would lie in state beside Théoden King and return to Rohan for burial with the former King. Éomer, much to his displeasure, needed to return to the Mark quickly and see that all was set right. It pained him to leave both the living and the dead. He had already said good bye to Éowyn (and Farimir) and saw to the tending of his uncle; now he came to say a final goodbye to Gamling. As he breached the shadowy threshold, he stopped, unable to turn away from the sight before him. Kelda knelt next to her slain husband, Gamling’s form naked save the small, white linen across his hips. A bucked of steaming water sat next to her. The woman made no sound as she dipped the sponge into the bucket, squeezed it, then gently began to wash Gamling’s hand and arm. Carefully, ever so gently she wiped away all traces of war. It was as if she did not wish to hurt him or…wake him. The tenderness hit Éomer like a rushing wave. He felt like a voyeur, watching this loving moment yet he could not turn away.
Kelda kissed the knuckles of Gamling’s hand and pressed her cheek to the cold flesh. She did not feel the chill of his skin, only remembered the warmth. Kneeling higher, she washed his chest, a barest hint of a smile reaching her lips as a memory fluttered through her mind. The Captain was toned and strong, but not built like a bear, as were so many of the men of Rohan. It was something Erkenbrand had often teased him about. However, the large warrior never bested her husband in challenge. No, Gamling was stronger than people gave him credit—physically and mentally. Standing, she placed a kiss over his heart and again smiled. Gamling also had less hair than most Rohirrim men and for that she had been always grateful.
Tears filled Éomer’s eyes. He should speak up, make his presence known but he could not, lest he break the beautiful spell. So he remained, hidden in the shadows of the doorway, a silent guardian of the lovers.
Kelda had now moved to the head of the cot. Taking a silver comb, a gift from Gamling, she began to work out the knots from his hair. When she was satisfied, she began to wash it. Running cup after cup of warm water over the strawberry gold locks until the water was no longer soiled with dirt and blood. She dried it with a cloth and left it unbound. Gamling hated tying his hair back!
Finally she came to his face, that beautiful, wind weathered face. His trials and occupation had taken their toll. Gamling looked older than he was; but Kelda never minded for she thought him the most handsome man in all Rohan with his warm, compassionate hazel eyes shining brightly. Images of him were forever etched into her mind and she would see them all the reaming years of her life.
With a sigh she stood and surveyed her task. Satisfied that her husband was clean of the dark filth, she bent again and kissed his lips, lingering as if hoping to feel them respond. She had always been able to coax him from even the darkest mood; but not this time…this time the power of her love was not enough and tears stung her eyes.
From the shadow’s Éomer made to leave, silent as a thief. He felt like an intruder, stealing their last moments together, yet as he thought to slip away undetected, Kelda spoke, her back still to him.
“He loved you as a son, never doubt that but he was a Man of Rohan—duty came first.” The woman turned to face the surprised man. Slowly she approached until she stood barely a breath away.
“I beg forgiveness; I did not mean to intrude. I just…the love you shared…how do you survive the grief?” Éomer did not mean to rub salt in the wound, he just could not imagine ever being so in love with someone then loosing them.
“There is nothing to forgive for you are as family to us both. As for the grief, it hurts immensely; but I do believe someday we will be together again. And do not worry--though Gamling was unaware--he did not leave me alone.” She caressed the swell of her stomach, giving a small, knowing smile to her new King as she placed a gentle kiss to the corner of Éomer’s mouth before leaving the room.
Éomer stood for a moment in stunned silence as the truth seeped into his grief filled mind. Then a small light flickered in his dark heart.
The King of Rohan approached the still from, tears again threatening to spill. He bit them back; enough tears! Now it was time for action. Kneeling next to his mentor, friend—surrogate father—and taking the cold hand, Éomer King gave his own pledge.
“Your wife bares your heir; know both she and the child are under my protection now. They will be as part of my own family…this I swear!” No longer able to hold back the tears, Éomer King kissed Gamling’s cold hand and wept.
This came to me even before "It Started With a Bath" was finished. It nagged at me and demanded to be put to paper. This leans towards book canon.
Feedback is always most welcome.