The laughter of children rang through the Golden Hall of Meduseld, leaving naught but indulgent smiles in their wake; especially in the case of the two golden-haired children. Éomer, son of Éomund was a strapping lad of thirteen, nearly too old to be running around with the others, while his sister Éowyn was only nine, her beaming smile a rarity; their parents were both recently dead, and grief had left little room for smiles in the children. But this game with the other youngsters of Meduseld had brought those rare smiles out again, and it brought a sense of joy to those around them when they saw it. Close after his cousin Éomer was Théodred, the son of the King, ten years old and, according to the old women, the very image of his father as a child. The two boys were sparring with old wooden practice swords, dashing and leaping about the main hall, brandishing the worn toys with semi-familiarity while the other children cheered them on. Among the loudest was Éowyn, but a close second was a girl of an age with the King’s niece. Both were anxiously yelling out what they considered help to the boys. Gangly and tall for her age, Hilde was the daughter of the Captain of the King’s Guard, the Doorward of Meduseld, Háma.
The boys, having received what little sword-training they had together, were well matched. Éomer, being older, was taller and stronger, but Théodred was quick, and they were both clever. The young Prince though, was having a slightly harder time of it today, and was trying to trick Éomer with a feint. Unfortunately the older boy didn’t fall for it, and the Prince went down hard, losing his balance and toppling from the bench he had been perched on. He let out a yowl that stemmed more from hurt pride than any real injury, though he anxiously clutched at the elbow Éomer had soundly whacked. Éowyn clapped delightedly along with a few of the other children; she had been cheering for her brother. Hilde could only groan with disappointment. She had been rooting for Théodred, whom she had known for near as long as she could remember. She had long considered him her friend, possibly even her closest friend.
“I told you that wouldn’t work!” she called out. “You were doing it all wrong!” All that earned was an ungrateful sneer from the Prince.
“It’s not like you can do better,” Théodred grumbled.
“Of course I could,” she replied, “I wouldn’t do it wrong.” Théodred pulled himself to his feet, still glowering at the gangly red-haired girl.
“Prove it,” he snapped, his pride still smarting. In an instant, Hilde had the well-worn sword handle in her hand and was being pushed by the dark-haired boy toward Éomer. She was tall for her age, but Éomer was taller still. She had to swallow back a flash of alarm when she realized just what was happening. In an instant the nicked wooden blade was flying toward her, and she almost wasn’t able to raise her own sword in time. But he was going easy on her; she had seen Théodred’s arm shudder earlier under his cousin’s blows. He barely hit her practice-sword at all. It only served to spark her temper, driving her fear away. So she fought back.
Shock bloomed across Éomer’s face at the strength of her attack; she was stronger than she looked, and she knew how to use a sword. Her grandmother had been a shieldmaiden and her father was the Captain of the King’s Guard; of course she would have been taught to fight.
She also knew the move Théodred had been trying to use, and she used it to great effect. With a clever feint and dodge, she ducked beside Éomer and landed a blow to the back of his knee. He went down with a painful sounding thud, earning several groans from the crowd of young onlookers, especially the boys.
The girls all clapped and cheered save for Éowyn; she looked like she was torn between cheering that her new friend had won and groaning that her brother had lost. Hilde couldn’t keep the satisfied smile from her face, boldly walking up to a now glowering Théodred and handing him back his wooden sword. Behind her, Éomer was picking himself up off the ground, brushing himself off with a jovial expression on his face. It surprised her; she had been expecting a similar look to Théodred’s. After all, boys didn’t like being beaten by girls, especially girls who were younger than them. Éomer didn’t seem to mind, though, shooting her an admiring grin.
It was at that point that parents and the older onlookers brought an end to the games; it was nearing time for the evening feast, and the Hall needed to be prepared. The King himself had been watching, and was even now standing next to his son, speaking quietly but seriously to the Prince, who now wore a rather humbled look on his face. At the gentle sound of her mother’s voice, Hilde was called away like many of the other children. Running to her side, she wrapped her arms around her mother’s middle where her new baby brother or sister grew, ignoring her mother’s light scolds that her hair was no longer neatly braided and that her dress was scuffed and dirty.
But looking back, she couldn’t help but notice the shadow that passed over the face of the King’s golden-haired nephew. After a moment, the King called Éomer and his sister away with the same tenderness he used with his own son, but even though it eased, the shadow didn’t quite disappear from Éomer’s eyes. Her mother had already disappeared out the Main Doors on her way out to the homes held by members of the court, and Hilde made to follow, slipping toward the shadowed entryway.
She was startled when a hand grabbed hers, pulling her to a stop just before she reached the doors. Before she knew it, she was looking up into Éomer’s nervous green eyes.
“You’re a good fighter,” he said, his face and his shuffling posture showing how awkward he felt. Somehow Hilde murmured a bashful thanks, but before she could say anything else, he leaned down, laying a quick kiss on her lips. She was stunned, her brown eyes wide as they looked into his. Heat flooded her face.
“I might have to marry you some day,” he said, a crooked grin on his face. In an instant he was gone, but not before she saw his cheeks flame red in a perfect match to her own.
After a moment a giddy smile rose to her face, and she nearly ran the rest of the way to her family’s quarters.